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Manitou Island: Part 95
"I HAVE SOMETHING for you."
Charmian stood up slowly, clutching one hand to the pouch at her side where the silver pendant nestled. Drake did the same, though his look darted between Charmian and Shadow Water. The woman was in her Ocryx form, and Charmian wasn't sure she'd ever seen her look so pissed off before.
"Charm?" Drake said in a nervous voice. "I don't think she's really..."
Charmian held up one hand to hush him and inched her other hand toward the pouch, not taking her eyes from Shadow Water's. "I'm supposed to give you something," she said. "That's all. I don't feel like fighting you again."
Shadow Water stayed where she was, growling and baring her teeth. Charmian looked down to untie the pouch and pull the amulet out. She had just removed it so the string dangled free of the pouch when Drake shouted, "CHARMIAN!"
He rammed into her shoulder, driving her to the ground so he landed on top of her. Charmian gasped for breath as Shadow Water flew overhead, landing at the base of a tree several yards away. She spun around on one foot and lowered herself, still growling.
Drake pushed himself up and rubbed some dust out of his eye. "Are you okay?" he asked, and Charmian nodded. He blinked a few times and then looked down at her. They stared at each other for a moment.
Then Charmian brought her knee up abruptly, making him wheeze in pain. "Get off!" she mumbled, and he rolled to the ground, curling in on himself. She got to her feet again and dusted herself off as he tried to do the same.
"I said I just wanted to give you something!" she snapped at the demon still crouching nearby. "Is that really so much to ask? That I can just give you something and walk away in one piece--?"
She gasped again, and this time dodged on her own. Shadow Water's tail just missed swiping her head off, and she had to jump to avoid it a second time. The amulet almost slipped from her hand; she wrapped the cord around her knuckles and continued dodging the demon's attacks. Shadow Water didn't seem the least bit interested in what she was offering. What had Moon Wolf been thinking? Right now she couldn't doubt that this had been some kind of final test on his part. Leave it to him to keep her on her toes even after he was dead!
"Damn it!" she cried, rolling out of the way of yet another assault. Shadow Water shifted from foot to foot like a stalking cat. "Will you just HOLD ON?"
Shadow Water leapt into the air, baring her claws. I told you the next time I saw you, I would kill you! Another dodge; her claws laid open a strip of earth and she snarled back over her shoulder at the retreating Charmian. I will keep this promise!
Charmian jumped to the side; leaves scattered all around her. "I said I don't want to fight!"
Shadow Water's eyes were livid. THIS IS NOT AN OPTION!
Charmian tried jumping again but took a blow to the arm, knocking her down. She winced as the new pain just brought the old flooding back, and could barely regain her footing. Just as she managed to stand up again Shadow Water struck her in the face--not nearly as hard as she could have, Charmian knew--and when she hit the ground she realized the demon must mean to make her suffer first.
What I did to you before will be nothing compared to what I do to you now, Shadow Water hissed, confirming her fears. It is only because I was weak that I did not kill you before!
"Did SHE tell you that?" Charmian snapped, pressing her head to the ground when Shadow Water's tail lashed over it. Her muzzle wrinkled.
You will not speak of her!
"You were on your way to Justin's place, weren't you?" Charmian said, trying a different approach. Shadow Water appeared to falter, but only for a moment. "That's why you're out here? Were you going to go finish him off, first?"
You have this wrong, mainlander. Shadow Water's eyes narrowed. I came here because I knew that eventually, you would come. I'm here to finish YOU!
Charmian felt like smacking herself in the head for not having suspected a trap; of course she could have been expected to head to Justin's house sometime soon, with the extent of her injuries. She could practically hear Manabozho chiding her for not having seen it sooner.
"So you don't WANT to kill him, after all--?" she blurted out, throwing up her arm to shield her face when that whiplike tail again lashed out at her. Instead of feeling the sting, she heard it crack, then a pained "Ow!"
She opened her eyes and peered over her arm. Drake's arm had taken the blow instead; he stood in front of her in the same position she was in, cringing. He shook his arm, which now bore a long red welt. Shadow Water made a face and clenched her hands.
"Get out of the way!"
Charmian blinked. She doesn't want to kill him--? she had time to think, before Drake pushed her to the ground again.
"Charm! Are you nuts? We have to get out of here! You're not in any shape to fight, remember?"
Charmian started scrabbling to her feet. "I have to give her this--"
"FORGET the necklace!! I really don't think Moon Wolf would mind!"
"I made a promise!" She stood and started forward, holding out the necklace. It was knocked from her hand and skittered across the clearing; she gasped and reached out for it, only to end up slamming into a tree. She crumpled to the ground, agony searing through every limb; she tried to push herself up, but nothing happened. From her sideways view she could see Shadow Water come charging at her with teeth gleaming and let her eyes drift shut. Maybe Manabozho would go back on his word, and bring her back again? If she asked him nicely...?
Something--something large--CRASHED beside her, causing the earth to vibrate. Instinctively she flinched and her eyes popped open; she saw Shadow Water staring upwards in fear, backing away slowly with her hackles rising. And then Drake was tugging on her arm.
"Come on, Charm! We have to back off! You can give it to her later!"
"The...n...necklace..." Charmian managed to get out. Drake let go of her arm, scurried across the clearing, and then came back with the pendant in tow. He grabbed her arm again and dragged her to her feet, letting her slump against his shoulder. She could still barely see Shadow Water fidgeting at the other side of the clearing, her fur standing on end and her teeth clicking. Charmian dropped her head and allowed Drake to lead her around a giant tree that she didn't even remember seeing there before...she gasped and nearly fell over backwards when she saw it had knuckles. Drake caught her before she could topple over, and continued hauling her forward.
"Come on!" He stopped at the base of the giant limb and cupped his hands below his knee. "Climb up! Before she gets all PISSY again!"
Charmian did as she was told, putting her foot in Drake's hands and pulling herself up the Uroona's side. The great beast stayed still as she and Drake clambered atop its back and up to its head, but as soon as Shadow Water started edging closer it let out a rumble and swung its head slowly to the side, convincing her to step back. She gave the teenagers an ugly look.
Charmian clung to the creature's leathery hide, her head swirling. "What did you do?" she murmured dazedly. Drake pressed his hand to the Uroona's brow and it turned ponderously about, its neck rising above the trees. He took hold of her arm so she wouldn't fall.
"I called him when you were getting the crap kicked out of you! You think I'm going to just sit there and let her do that? As long as we're up here, and in the woods, she won't think of coming after us. As for afterward, though, that's another story!"
Charmian glanced over her shoulder to see Shadow Water's shape growing smaller and less distinct among the trees as the Uroona lumbered away. She could still, however, feel the hatred emanating from her, and shivered. Drake squeezed her arm, slipping the pendant over his head, and pressed his other hand to the Uroona's head again.
"I think the Dupries place would be the best place to go right now. Are you with me for once?"
Charmian nodded, then grimaced. It hurt even to nod. "Drake, you...you saved my life back there. Twice."
He gave her a startled look, as if surprised that she'd even noticed. "Well...you'd do the same thing for me, right?" he stammered, and she could swear she saw him flush. She tried to smile back at him, but he started growing hazy and dark. She saw his brow furrow as he leaned toward her, and felt him shaking her shoulder as everything faded into black.
And his voice echoed in her head, and it seemed as if it were ages before she heard anything again.
Charmian furrowed her brow and tried to ignore the dim echoing voice in the back of her head. Something cool pressed to her forehead and she let out a breath; the headache that had been throbbing in her brain no longer seemed to be there. She started shivering as if with cold, and felt something cover her up.
Nobody called her name anymore, but she could still hear a crackling sound. Dragging her eyes open, she blinked a few times, finding herself staring up into someone's face. For a brief, strange moment, she thought it was Miss Anne...until she remembered that she'd never seen Miss Anne wear her hair up before. She blinked a few more times in confusion.
Lady Dupries smiled at her gently and pressed a cool cloth to her forehead. "For a while, you were with fever...you will do better now."
Charmian put a hand to her head and slowly sat up, the woman helping her; she rubbed her eyes and looked around the room. She was in the Dupries' parlor, the same couch where they'd placed Mani seemingly so long ago; a fire was burning in the fireplace, and she shivered again and pulled the quilt around herself.
"Where's Drake?" Even as she asked this, she started looking over her arms, noticing her wounds were gone. She felt her face for any cuts or scratches and found none.
"Your friend is in the kitchen, getting some food. Justin tended to you while you slept. You are fortunate Drake brought you here; I doubt you would have lasted much longer, with your injuries."
"Yeah." Charmian retreated into the quilt, shaking. "I guess I couldn't tell how bad it was until now."
"Oh." Lady Dupries sat up straighter, then reached behind herself, looking around on the little end table. "I almost forgot it..." She picked something up and held it out toward Charmian. "He brought this along with him. He said you needed to keep it close by?"
Charmian looked down into her hand to see Moon Wolf's pendant. She bit her lip as she felt a sting in her breast; she'd never gotten the chance to give it to Shadow Water, as she'd intended. She numbly took it from Lady Dupries's hand and let it dangle from her fingers like an albatross around her neck. She hadn't felt quite this miserable in a long time.
"Um..." She lifted her head and meekly met Lady Dupries's eyes. "Can I ask you a favor?"
Lady Dupries tilted her head in what looked to be an affirmative gesture. Charmian looked back down at the necklace, then held it out.
"Could you hold onto it for now? Keep an eye on it for me?...for just in case I ever come back here. To the Island, I mean. I'm supposed to give it to somebody, but that might take me a while."
Lady Dupries looked mildly surprised, but after a moment she took the necklace back. "All right," she said, seeming a bit puzzled, but she didn't ask any questions. Instead she stood and turned away, heading to a great crystal-fronted cabinet mounted on the wall. She took out a key attached to a ribbon and unlocked the doors, setting the pendant inside behind a china plate; Charmian let out her breath to see it go out of sight, the doors closing and locking again. At least it would be safe, even if it wasn't in quite the right hands just yet.
Drake came wandering into the room, gnawing on what looked to be a turkey leg. He spotted Charmian and his eyes lit up and he picked up his pace.
"Charm! You're awake now!"
"How long was I out?" She rubbed at her head again, looking at the window. It was dark outside.
"Not too long. The light's going all wonky. Y'know that in Alaska the dark can last for like six months altogether?" He started gnawing on the leg again.
Charmian carefully got up--she felt that if she got up too quickly she'd either fall over, or upset Lady Dupries--and walked over to stare outside. She rubbed her arms, wishing she hadn't left the quilt behind.
"So, now what? Obviously Shadow Water's not going to get her necklace. So I guess we have to move on to the next step...whatever that is."
"You said you didn't have any ideas, last time I asked...that changed any?"
"Not really." She stared out at the dim silhouettes of the trees, just barely visible across the lawn. "I've been out of ideas for a long time."
"Didn't you say something about X'aaru and Crack-in-the-Island? And have you ever figured out exactly how Ocryana's gotten so strong?"
Charmian nodded. "Nathalit told me...she gets it from dead dreams."
"Dead dreams?" She could see Drake's and Lady Dupries's reflections in the windowpanes as they both furrowed their brows. She nodded again and sighed, turning back to the room.
"All those dreams we left behind or gave up...and I know X'aaru has something to do with all of it, but I'm not sure what..."
A long, low howl from outside made her freeze. She saw the others do the same; when the howl came a second time, trailing upon the echo of the first, Justin came thumping down the stairs, carrying his gun. He hardly even glanced at Charmian, but stared at the window with a tense look.
"What was that?" Drake asked in a quavery voice.
"Exactly what you thought it was," Charmian said in reply, slowly turning to the window. Justin crossed the room and put his hand against her shoulder, making her take a couple of steps back. He peered outside, keeping the gun pointed forward.
"I've had a feeling all day she was somewhere close by; but that's all it was, was a feeling. Have you seen her yet?"
"Not around here, no. Just Shadow...um...Shadow Water." She felt her ears burning, and told herself to get over it. "Are you sure that wasn't Shadow Water...?"
"I would recognize her cry. This one is different." His eyes darkened and he finally looked at her. "It was a good idea your friend brought you here when he did, if you mean to face her again."
Charmian swallowed. The howl came again, but this time it was joined by a second, higher pitched and not quite as far off. She stiffened and felt a chill course through her; Drake looked ready to faint. Justin's mouth set and he took a careful step toward the door, motioning to Charmian. She was surprised that he did so, but also a little pleased that he recognized how important she was; she followed, Drake doing the same. Lady Dupries stood in the parlor and watched them leave; Charmian could hear the door bolting after they had exited the house, and was relieved that she would take such a precaution. They went down the porch steps and out into the yard, a pool of dim light falling across the grass; the woods were nothing but a large dark mass looming before them. They stopped and stared into the darkness, trying to make anything out.
Charmian tossed out her mental net, trying to capture any sensation within reach. As soon as she did this she gasped and felt almost like falling over as the net was repelled by a stronger force; and two small lights appeared among the trees, a low growl accompanying them. A second pair appeared, and the three standing in the yard crept closer to each other. Charmian had to force herself not to instinctively back behind Justin, though she stayed right at his side. Knowing that one of the pairs of eyes belonged to Shadow Water made her feel nauseated. The half-Ocryx had done so much damage to her before, that even though she was healed now, the memory of it made her physically ill. Even Ocryana hadn't been quite so violent with her as her daughter had.
She let out her breath in surprise as Ocryana emerged from the woods, stepping into the yard--slithering would probably have been a better word--with a sleek grin on her face. Shadow Water appeared somewhat off to the side, though from the way she held her ears and wrinkled her muzzle, Charmian could tell she was in a poor mood.
Ocryana spotted the gun Justin carried and her smile grew. "Do you know that your father once attempted to shoot at me with one of those?" she inquired, as if she had come merely to chat. "He didn't succeed. Of course. I still must wonder why he even tried. Perhaps he was unhappy when I decided to terminate our arrangement, for as Ocryx proved, your human father was lacking in one area. Still, he was amusing while it lasted."
Justin's grip tightened on the gun. "So you decided to look elsewhere? I suppose you and Father have more in common than you'd care to admit, then."
Ocryana ignored his last comment and turned to Charmian. Again with the smile, though there was a narrowing to her eyes that Charmian didn't like. "And again the little girl...take a look, little wench..." Charmian crept closer to Justin as the demon circled slowly around them "...do you see anything amiss here tonight?"
Charmian frowned, perplexed. She looked Ocryana up and down and her eyes widened. When Ocryana saw her confusion she grinned widely, all glittering teeth.
"Your..." Charmian's voice came faint. "...Your wounds...they're all..."
"They're all gone!" Drake cried, his eyes also goggling. Charmian cast a sharp look at Justin, unable to believe he would have done such a thing, after what he'd gone through with his spirit stone. But the look on his face told her that the source of Ocryana's healing hadn't been him.
He glanced at Charmian in open disbelief. "You tell me she can heal herself--?"
"I didn't know! I thought maybe YOU did it!"
Ocryana's laughter overrode their startled exclamations, and they both turned back to her, apprehensive. She flicked her tail in amusement.
"You would like so much to know, wouldn't you? Perhaps, if you can defeat me, I'll let you know...before I tear open your throats and let the GeeBees gorge themselves on your blood."
"There isn't going to be any gorging tonight," Charmian said, nearly cringing at how pathetic the line was, when a crash next to her made her gasp and jump back. Shadow Water had landed, and she hunched forward, fur bristling and teeth bared. She gave a guttural growl and Ocryana chuckled.
"I believe she said she has some unfinished business with you...is that right? If so, far be it from me to deny her..."
Great, Charmian thought, and swallowed again. Justin still stood next to her, and she could very nearly sense him telling her to keep back--but then she thought of Moon Wolf again, and tried to fight down her fear. She only half succeeded, and met Shadow Water's eyes. This only made the demon's snarl grow.
I told you I would kill you, she said, as she had before. You'll be forced to believe me sometime.
"Because she told you to?" Charmian blurted out, hoping to strike a nerve. It appeared to work, but not in the way she'd hoped. Shadow Water's look grew positively ugly; Ocryana smiled.
"You insist on trying to turn her against me? You have a long fight ahead of you, then. I believe you waste your time, little girl."
"I said I'm not a little girl," Charmian said with a glare. "And from where I stand, it looks like somebody is being forced to do the dirty work--but it's certainly not you."
Shadow Water lifted her head and screamed. "I FIGHT MY OWN FIGHTS!" She launched herself forward; Justin grabbed Charmian by the arm, dropping his gun and clasping Drake as well, dragging them back with him so the demon met only empty air. They stumbled and nearly fell in the grass when she faced them again, snarling.
Ocryana narrowed her eyes in mild annoyance. "Stupid whelp. If the little girl wants to fight, then let her."
"My fight isn't WITH Shadow Water!" Charmian shouted. "It's with YOU and you KNOW it! Stop sending other people to do everything for you!"
Ocryana's almost bored look barely even changed. Shadow Water, on the other hand, bellowed in rage, wings flaring and claws extended. Charmian yelled above the din before she could be drowned out.
"I already told you, Shadow Water! Can't you see it yet? She won't fight her own battles, but you will! Stop being her slave! If you're going to fight, then make it your OWN fight!"
To her surprise, Shadow Water's roar cut off and she lowered her head. Her eyes narrowed, flashing bright green. The fur standing up on her hackles made her look almost as big as her mother, her wings only adding to the effect. Charmian felt as if a shard of ice had pierced through her heart on looking at her, and shrank back.
"This is my fight," Shadow Water growled, her voice deadly low. "It always has been. My choice, to kill you."
"Fight it off," Charmian whispered. "What Ocryana's told you! Why can't you see it? The way she treats you? You still have a chance! Justin did it! I KNOW you have good in your heart! Just try to fight it off!"
"You know NOTHING!" Shadow Water cried, her voice breaking. Charmian saw her eyes glitter, and was shocked to see they were filled with tears. "You will DARE NOT speak of her this way!"
Charmian clenched her fists. "She's using you!"
"SHE LOVES ME!"
Charmian recognized the enraged note in her voice. Justin clenched her arm, but she pulled free and planted her feet squarely against the earth, tears filling her own eyes. She stood her ground as Shadow Water lowered her head again and charged straight forward.