Manitou Island: Part 91
Turning The Tables
KAWADUK SAILED THROUGH the air, much fleeter than it seemed his bulky frame would have allowed. His feet struck Mitchi Manitou in the back, sending them both sprawling to the ground. Before Charmian could even open her mouth to yell, the halfling had sunk his teeth into his father's throat with a crunch.
Charmian felt all the blood drain from her face. "No!" she shouted, yet she wasn't certain to whom. Mitchi's reaction was much the same. His eyes rolled wildly and he let out a furious roar, which only broke off into a choked gurgling sound as Kawaduk gnawed at him. She'd seen her dog tackle an old blanket once, grasping it in his jaws and heaving it from side to side; when she'd tried to pull it away from him, it had torn nearly in two. Right now, she felt the manitou had no choice but to end up like that blanket.
She clenched her fists and considered running toward them, trying to distract him--but then what? Have him turn on her next? She had only Drake and Mani to protect her--and Mani appeared to be in poor shape. Luckily, Mitchi didn't seem to be through just yet. With an enraged bellow he lurched upwards, tossing Kawaduk from him and jerking his head forward. Red lined his neck, but aside from that he seemed to be intact. His eyes blazed as bright as flashlight beams and locked on Kawaduk. If Charmian had thought GeeBees had the most teeth of any creature on the Island before, now she knew that it was Mitchi who instead held that record.
With another bellow, he leapt up and launched himself at the halfling. Kawaduk blinked, but then stood his ground. Mitchi met him and they slammed into each other with a crashing sound, claws and fangs and horns tearing every which way.
Charmian made certain to back away now. No matter who she wanted to win, if either, she couldn't have any part in this. She moved back to where Drake and Mani still stood and they watched the other two battle, their eyes wide.
Mitchi flew at Kawaduk again and their horns locked, but only briefly as Kawaduk's were smaller. Kawaduk himself was slightly smaller, which seemed to give him an advantage that Charmian didn't like. He easily pulled free of Mitchi's lock and skirted to the side, jabbing the manitou in the ribs. Mitchi's lip curled back and he swung at the halfling but missed when he ducked--then got a head-butt to the chin, which knocked him sprawling. The earth shook when he hit it, and he scrabbled to get to his feet. He didn't have time before Kawaduk landed straddling him, and brought his head down abruptly.
Charmian bolted a step forward. "NO!"
Kawaduk's prong horn sank straight into Mitchi Manitou's middle, right below the sternum. Mitchi's eyes goggled and he started to let out a roar, only it choked off in the middle, lapsing into a pained rattle. Kawaduk twisted his horn with a sound so gruesome Charmian cringed and jerked her head away, tears filling her eyes. Mitchi's body tensed and then sank limply against the ground, and Kawaduk pulled himself free, turning to leer at the others, one horn dripping violent red.
Charmian forced herself to face him again, gritting her teeth and blinking the blur away from her eyes. Kawaduk let out an odd sound that she took to be a chuckle, and her fury grew.
"Not good," Drake said in a weak voice.
Charmian just clenched her fist. "You might've caught him off guard, but you won't catch me." It was the only thing she could think of to say.
Kawaduk's grin grew. Won't have to, fleshling. You are weak enough that it doesn't matter HOW I kill you!
Drake? Mani? Charmian sought out their thoughts and saw that they heard. I really don't have any good ideas left, so anything you two can come up with will be appreciated!!
Drake swallowed nervously but nodded. Mani at least managed to keep on his feet without falling over, so she supposed that was a good thing.
Kawaduk started coming toward her. For a moment Charmian considered what she'd just said to the other two--then changed her mind. She clenched her fists and dug her feet into the ground.
"I think maybe I'd better do this on my own," she said, trying to keep the quaver out of her voice.
Drake blinked. "Are you nuts? You've taken him on before and it NEVER worked!"
"You think you would have better luck?" Charmian shot him a quick glance. "Look, it's not looking good right now and I don't want you two hurt also. If you want to help me, keep an eye on Mani. I think maybe I can hold him off for a little bit."
Kawaduk let out a rasping chuckle. Charmian sensed a silent question from Manabozho in her mind, but pushed it away. When the halfling began to run she thrust her hands downward, and a wall of earth rose up before her, blocking off his approach. He stumbled and slid to the ground, baring his teeth in annoyance before batting the soil aside. It crumbled and sprayed across the clearing. Charmian stomped her foot, and she could tell he hadn't expected what happened next. The ground caved in beneath him and with a startled yelp he vanished into the earth.
Drake shook his fists. "YEAH!"
"Don't get too excited yet!" Charmian backed away from the gaping hole. "I think I'm wearing all the manitous out!"
"He's a woodling, isn't he?" Drake exclaimed. "Hurry up and find a friendly tree or something!"
Charmian felt like slapping herself. They were in the woods, surrounded by trees. Why hadn't she thought of that? As she began to hear Kawaduk growling and struggling up through the hole she ran to a birch tree and slapped her hands against the bark.
Good choice, Manabozho said in her head. I've always particularly favored the birch, you know, as they're quite amiable, for trees--
"Would you shut up?" Charmian snapped. She dug her fingers into the papery bark and ground her teeth when she saw one of Kawaduk's horns appear above the rim of the hole. She squinched her eyes shut in a futile attempt to stave off the fear, but she did temporarily manage to focus herself.
Whoever's living in here, I know I'm asking you for a lot--but I REALLY need a lot of help!!
Two wickedly clawed hands emerged, digging into the soil. A second later Kawaduk popped up, snarling balefully. Charmian shrank back behind the tree and he charged again.
"Here goes," she muttered, and held out one hand, one still pressed to the tree, not quite sure what would happen.
Everything fell still. Then, a whispering sound came, then a humming, then a roaring. The leaves upon the tree quaked and flailed as if in a sudden gust, though it wasn't windy. Kawaduk stopped and glanced up in surprise. When nothing else happened he looked at Charmian with a condescending grin and resumed his approach. Charmian yelled and dug her fingernails into the bark, forcing all the energy she could out through her palm. That was when it happened.
Every leaf upon the tree suddenly tore itself loose, gathering up in a bright green whirlwind. Kawaduk halted and gawked. He started screeching when the leaves enveloped him, swiping and snapping at them as he struggled to break loose.
Stupid trick, mainlander! he snarled. You've tried this before!
That's right, Charmian thought with despair, when a shredding noise caught her attention, and she glanced back just in time to see the bark peeling itself from the tree in a long winding band, like the world's biggest wood shaving. Kawaduk managed to break his way free of the attacking leaves, but he stumbled right into the band of bark. He yelped a second time when it surged forward, winding itself around him like a giant flat snake. It encased him from head to foot, wrapping and rewrapping and wrapping yet again, unwinding from the tree trunk.
"EUGH!!" Drake cried. "It's gonna mummify him!"
Charmian stood numbly and watched the bark play itself out, leaving a large papery-encrusted mass which shook and then fell to the ground with a thud. She let out her breath and her muscles sank weakly. She looked up at the tree and a pain went through her when she touched her fingers to the raw wood. Drake appeared to see the ashen look on her face, as he leaned to the side with a puzzled frown.
"Charm? Are you okay?"
"Yeah," Charmian said, barely managing to get her voice above a whisper. "But this manitou isn't...it just gave up its life because of me."
Drake's look of worry grew. "Will you be okay, Charm...? I'm sure it only did that because it knew..."
"I know." Charmian pulled her hand away from the dying tree. The manitou had provided the tree with its life; likewise, the tree had provided the manitou with its power. With the tree so badly injured, the manitou hadn't long to live. Already she'd felt its medicine growing weaker, fading away; and had to pull away before her own strength left her. She stood beside the tree, shaking slightly, and pressed a hand to her brow.
"I'm okay, Drake." She peered around her hand at the bark-covered shape lying not too far away, and bit her lip. "What about..."
"That thing SUFFOCATED him! Did you see it? Just like a big boa constrictor! CRUNCH!" Drake clapped his hands loudly and grinned. "That was an AWESOME trick, Charm!"
Charmian sighed. She wiped the sweat from her brow and started to turn back to the others, before her head popped up. "Mitchi--"
She saw Drake's eyes grow wide, and Mani whistled in alarm. She ducked, and felt a breeze whistle over her head. Turning and jumping at the same time, she saw Kawaduk tear his way out of the bark, twisting and bellowing, rending it away as if it were mere tissue paper. He kicked a loose coil aside and swung at her again, his eyes mad yellow. Charmian's foot caught on a root--Ironic, she had the time to think--and she fell over onto her back to see him come down at her not with his horn, but with his claws crooked. He was going to tear her chest open. She thought of shutting her eyes, but instead glared straight into his own, one small final act of defiance before he could disembowel her alive.
Thwunk. If she had had to describe the noise she heard next, that would have been the closest approximation. Charmian stared in surprise as Kawaduk grew another horn--from his chest. Kawaduk seemed just as surprised as she was. The new appendage disappeared, then THWUNK--it appeared again, longer this time--a palm shape tipped with spikes protruding just below his breastbone. And then all of a sudden Kawaduk rose into the air.
Charmian scrabbled back with a gasp. Kawaduk flailed and rasped, in pain now, as Mitchi Manitou hoisted him into the air on one antler, the same as he had X'aaru so long ago. The manitou twisted his head from side to side and the antler tore further through the halfling's body so he let out an agonized scream that echoed off the treetops; Mitchi sank his foot into the ground to gain leverage and flung his head sideways, sending Kawaduk soaring. He crashed to earth with a wheeze, his dirty white fur now stained crimson; when he started to push himself up, panting weakly, Mitchi lurched up to him and promptly sank his antler down into his chest, twisting it to the side and crushing his sternum, his lungs and heart, Kawaduk's limbs stiffening and his eyes widening before the light left them. His tongue lolled from his mouth and he sank back to the ground with one last puff of breath, a dreadful silence again filling the woods.
Charmian sat where she'd been left behind, shaking and pale. Her fingers clutched at the front of her top but she couldn't even feel her arms or legs.
Mitchi Manitou stood over Kawaduk, the majority of his own body stained red, panting thickly with narrowed eyes. After a moment or two, the halfling no longer moving, he turned away with a pained look, limping slowly away from the body. Charmian put her hand to the ground to push herself up, leaning against the wounded tree as she didn't trust her own legs to hold her weight yet. Something grasped her hand, and she allowed Drake to pull her to her feet. She clutched at his arm and they and Mani stared at Kawaduk's battered form.
After a moment or two Charmian swallowed the bitter taste rising in her throat and let go of Drake, starting forward. She walked slowly and unsteadily toward the halfling, stopping every few steps as if expecting him to leap into the air once again. It was difficult to believe that he didn't. She finally halted so she stood over him, looking down. The yellow glow was gone from his eyes; they had glazed over into a milky color, and blood and spittle oozed from his mouth, his tongue protruding. She could barely look at the mangled mess that was his chest without feeling ready to fall over. She could see a cracked rib or two from the corner of her eye, and she didn't want to guess what the red parts were. It looked as if he'd broken his leg in the fall.
She heard Drake and Mani approaching, and, taking another breath, reached down and gingerly pressed her fingers to Kawaduk's neck. She held out her other quaking hand over what had once been his chest.
Drake hunched down and peered at her for a moment, not speaking. He looked down at Kawaduk, and then back up at her again and bit his lip.
"Charm? Is he..."
"He's dead." Charmian let out her breath and pulled her fingers away from his neck, her other hand away from his chest. "I can't sense his spirit anymore."
Drake's brow furrowed and he stared at Kawaduk again. "Are you sure? He was pretty stubborn..."
Charmian nodded. She stood up and looked at her bloody fingertips. Drake saw this as well, and grabbed her hand and wiped it off before she could say anything. She didn't protest, and they stood in silence for a moment or two.
"So..." He frowned as he perused the halfling. "Now what?"
"He was the weakest link," Charmian said, and when Drake didn't pipe up with "Goodbye!" she was actually surprised. "That leaves Shadow Water and Ocryana."
Her friend's expression changed to a grimace. "After hearing that, I think I liked dealing with Kawaduk."
"Well, he's not the problem anymore." She blinked as she realized they'd forgotten someone. Turning, she saw that Mitchi was still slowly limping away, stopping every few feet to gain his breath. She didn't know how badly he'd been injured, though that wound had looked nasty. She turned around fully and started after him, stopping halfway across the clearing with Drake and Mani close at her heels.
"What do we do with him?" she shouted, as the wind began to pick up, rustling the leaves, a few whispery giggles floating on the air.
Mitchi Manitou stopped. His shoulders hitched with each breath and she felt a pang for him. After a moment the fur on his hackles prickled and she sensed his thoughts.
Leave him for the Wendigoes to feast upon.
He didn't bother looking back. Without any further reply he shuffled into the woods, vanishing among the trees. Charmian bit her lip and fought back the sting against her eyelids. "Charm?" Drake said again, uncertainly; she turned around and faced the others, yet not looking at them.
"We're not like him," she muttered, and though she meant Kawaduk, when he'd assisted Ocryana and Shadow Water in their attacks on the man in the woods, Mani, Lady Dupries, and who knew who else, leaving them lying close to death, she couldn't tell if Drake and Mani understood her or not. They gave her confused looks as she marched toward Kawaduk's corpse, over which a small flock of GeeBees had begun to descend, licking their lips greedily and settling to the ground and starting to pull at the dead halfling's limbs. Charmian ground her teeth and began to run. She reached the gruesome scene and swung her arms at the GeeBees so they leapt up with squawks of surprise, flying every which way like flies dispersing from roadkill.
"GO ON!" Charmian yelled. "Get out of here! GET LOST!"
She managed to drive the GeeBees off with little difficulty, Drake and Mani coming up behind her. She noticed the odd look they shared but said nothing, only grasped Kawaduk's arm and started pulling on it. She dug her heels into the ground and tugged as hard as she could, just barely succeeding in moving him an inch or two toward her.
"Charm?" Drake said, for what felt like the hundredth time.
"We have to get him to Arch Rock," Charmian replied, gritting her teeth and pulling again. The other two shared another look before Drake sighed and stepped forward. He grabbed hold of Kawaduk's other arm so they managed to hoist him into an upright position; Charmian was grateful that what remained of his innards stayed in place despite the movement. She and Drake grabbed hold of him under his arms and dragged him toward Mani, who knelt down on one knee. They succeeded in pulling him atop the manitou's back so he draped over Mani's sides, one arm hanging loose; Mani struggled to his feet again, trembling under the weight but holding. He turned himself in the direction of Arch Rock, and Charmian moved ahead to lead the way.
"What did you have in mind?" Drake asked her quietly as they went along.
"It's the Passing-Over Place," Charmian said. "The least we can do is drop him off somewhere near there. It would be better than what HE would have done."
"And then what?"
"Then...I don't know." Charmian fell silent but for the rustling of their feet through the grass. "I didn't think ahead that far."
Her ears burned a little bit at the admission, but Drake simply turned to face the rough trail ahead. "Well...we'll think of something when we need to, I guess."
She let out her breath and rubbed at the back of her neck. "Drake...thanks for standing up for me back there," she murmured. "Such as it was."
He looked at her again and gave a wide smile. "Aw, it was nothing! I've always wanted to do that anyway!"
Charmian's mouth twitched and Drake started laughing. After a while she started laughing too, and they didn't speak the rest of the way to Arch Rock.
The imposing land formation finally came into view over a crest and they tramped up through the woods toward it, Charmian shaking an ache out of her ankle. Mani limped a bit but held on. They reached the cliff leading down under the rock and Charmian had to suppress a shudder, remembering the time Shadow Water had nearly killed her here. Only back then she hadn't even known that was Shadow Water. Things had certainly changed since then, and not necessarily for the better...
Charmian blinked and shook her head. Mani and Drake stared at her expectantly and she grabbed hold of the halfling's arm once more, the two teenagers dragging him off the manitou's back. They managed to drag him to the ledge and then Charmian nudged Drake to let him go. He slid down into the grass. By now blood had oozed all down his body, and an unsettling smell had arisen. Charmian wrinkled her nose and waved her hand to ward off a fly.
Drake opened his mouth to speak, but didn't get to before Charmian bent down, using all her strength to roll Kawaduk forward and off the edge of the bluff. He sailed out into open air before striking a rock--Charmian and Drake winced and jerked their heads away, not willing to look until the crashing sounds had faded, a few stray birds rising out of the trees and flapping away. The old silence resumed, and the two of them peered over the ledge. Drake swallowed.
"Um...what I was going to say was, why didn't we try to get him closer to the water or something?"
"It's too far from the shore...the GeeBees will probably just end up getting him anyway. But at least we got him to the right place. Come on, I want to see if maybe we can find Stick, or Justin." She made a face and rubbed at her bleeding arm. "I don't really relish the idea of getting some weird infection around here. They've probably never even heard of antiseptic."
He turned from the ledge, but Charmian leaned over to take one last look. Kawaduk's body had fallen clear out of sight; there was nothing left to see. She let out her breath, realizing she had been expecting him to come charging up the slope at her, as alive as ever--but finally made herself pull back and away, the sting in her arm reminding her of what was more important now.
Perhaps it was best that her arm hurt so much, as the moment she pulled away from the ledge, a whistling sound cut through her attention, and she whirled around to see something whisk past her in a blur. Drake and Mani spotted it as well. All three of them followed its flight until thunk--an arrow embedded itself in a tree just centimeters to the side of Charmian's former position, its shaft still quivering.