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Manitou Island: Part 96
CHARMIAN CLENCHED HER fists and dug her feet into the ground. Shadow Water charged forward, horns pointed out before her and teeth bared. Justin and Drake stared with goggle eyes; at the last moment Justin managed to take a step forward, but an explosion from the ground made him stumble and lose his balance.
Just as Shadow Water reached her, Charmian yelled and flung her hands upward. Immediately, the wall of earth rose before her; Shadow Water had to skid to a halt to avoid running into it. She snarled and harmlessly dashed the chunks of soil aside, rushing her way through. She raised her hand to strike Charmian down, but Charmian brought her hands down first--and a wall of fire descended, slamming over Shadow Water's neck like a wall of bricks. She collapsed with a crash and a startled yelp. From the expressions on the onlookers' faces, Charmian could tell that that approach hadn't been expected.
Earth and fire, Manabozho's voice said in her head. Nice touch. But not quite good enough, I hope you know.
"I know," Charmian muttered, flinging her hands up a second time as Shadow Water struggled to her feet. The earth slammed up into her, propelling her into the air. Charmian knew these tactics wouldn't work long to keep her busy, nor would they injure her badly enough to ward off her attack; but maybe she could wear her down, until she got a better idea.
When Shadow Water again descended, Charmian waved at the trees, and their branches lashed out at the demon. She hissed and swiped them away as they were just a minor annoyance; while she was thus occupied, Charmian stretched up her arms and yelled as loudly as she could, as if she hoped to claw at the sky itself.
A gust arose in the treetops, and Drake and Justin had to hide their faces with their arms. Charmian gritted her teeth, the wind making her eyes water; Shadow Water rose from a crouch, glancing upwards in surprise. Charmian let out a scream, and waved her arms forward in a half-circle. The wind scoured along the ground and through the branches, tearing at the grass and leaves as it converged in a giant maelstrom in the clearing; Shadow Water rushed forward, but something slammed into her tail with a vicious CRUNCH. She shrieked in pain as another CRUNCH came; Justin and Drake dropped to the ground when something large and shiny flew overhead, just missing hitting the demon. She flailed and screamed, and only when the wind died down a little could they tell what the offending objects were. A metal trap hung from Shadow Water's tail, another one from her hand; they hadn't pierced completely through the bone, but they looked painful enough. She stood trying to shake them off, whining and yelping.
"Whoa," Drake managed to say. Charmian held her arms up for as long as she could before she had to let them down, gasping for breath. Wind medicine was tricky, and difficult; she'd counted on at least a few of Francois's traps lying somewhere nearby, which she felt was the only reason the ruse had worked at all. Now that she'd done it, though, she'd used up almost all of her power; earth and fire were easy elementals for her to handle, while wind and water were the hardest to control. And go figure that wind and water were the two elements she needed to defeat these demons.
Shadow Water stood thrashing her tail from side to side until she finally managed to lose the trap; then, her eyes watering up, she put her hand against the ground and stepped on the edge of the trap with her foot, freeing herself. She whimpered and licked at her bloody wrist, then gave Charmian a pained snarl.
This is the only time I will let you get away with this!
Charmian let out her breath and let her arms hang limply. "Can't we just have a draw?"
Shadow Water lunged at her. Charmian grabbed hold of the horns before they could pierce through her, and held on throughout the whole charge, her feet dragging against the ground. Shadow Water's eyes flared bright green, staring up at her balefully as they went; Charmian's back suddenly cracked against a tree trunk, and she cried out in pain. Her arm muscles very nearly screamed from the strain of trying to hold Shadow Water back; she dug her feet into the ground, the demon's horns inches from her. If she managed to slip just a little bit to the side, her horn would ram straight through Charmian's chest.
Shadow Water's muzzle wrinkled in frustration and she jammed her head forward, again, and again. Each time Charmian rammed back into the tree and gritted her teeth; her foot slipped, and she had to hold on even tighter to keep from being impaled. She clung as hard as she could to Shadow Water's horn, and Shadow Water started to slowly twist her head.
"CHARM!" Drake yelled, as if just sprung to life. He started running toward her; she wanted to tell him to stay put, but didn't dare yell and risk losing her concentration.
Drake made it over halfway to her before something swept out at his feet, knocking him to the ground. Charmian gaped when Ocryana stooped and seized him by the neck, pulling him up so he was at eye level with her. He gripped her hands and gasped for air, his own eyes wide.
"And what do you think you are doing, little boy?" Ocryana said in an amused voice. She held up her other hand, palm flat before his chest; after a brief moment a glow arose, and Drake's eyes grew wider. He started struggling and let out a yell.
"DRAKE!" Charmian wrestled with Shadow Water's horn, trying to break free. She recognized the same thing that had happened with Augwak--and there was no way she would let that happen to Drake! Shadow Water narrowed her eyes and ground her horn into the tree bark, pinning Charmian against it. Drake's yell grew louder and the glow grew brighter; Ocryana started laughing as the light started disappearing from his eyes.
Charmian pulled at Shadow Water's horn as hard as she could, to no avail. Her eyes blurred over. "DRAAAAAAKE!!"
Drake's hands started to slip away from Ocryana's. She put back her head and laughed--then went flying through the air, into the ground with a THUD. Drake collapsed in a heap not too far from where she'd been standing. Shadow Water gasped and yanked her horn free, causing Charmian to go slipping to the ground; she fell to her hands and knees and shook her head, trying to figure out what had just happened.
Whatever it had been, it didn't keep Ocryana down long. She leapt to her feet again with a hideous snarl, hackles rising. Charmian and Shadow Water blinked in confusion, until Charmian remembered who she'd forgotten. Justin stood at the other side of the clearing, in his Ocryx form; with his own teeth bared and wings flaring, the two of them seemed evenly matched. Shadow Water stood gaping in surprise; Charmian took this chance to crawl away from the tree, hoping to reach Drake even though he lay dangerously close to the two Ocryxes.
Ocryana narrowed her eyes and hunched her wings. You'd do well to mind your own business, WHELP.
This has always been my business, Justin returned, his lip curling back. You may send others to do your fighting, but if you wish to fight someone yourself, you'll then fight me.
Ocryana snarled. BIG WORDS! With barely a warning, she was in the air again, only now of her own volition; Charmian gasped and scrambled to her feet just as the two of them met, horns locking with a crash. Their feet dug great grooves into the ground as they pushed against each other like two bucks competing; as soon as they broke free, they started swinging their horns at each other, dodging or parrying each blow. Charmian--and, to her surprise, Shadow Water--stood watching in stunned silence while the two fought, snarling and bellowing. The ground shook from the force of it, leaves scattering from the trees; Charmian finally bolted out toward them to grab Drake by the arms and drag him back to safety before he could be trampled. She pulled him up beside a tree and leaned him back against it; his head lolled, but he let out a groan and she knew he was at least still alive.
"Drake?" She pressed her fingers to his neck, needlessly; he held up one hand and pressed it shakily to his head.
"Wh...what the...hell happened...?"
Charmian let out her breath. "She tried taking your spirit, stupid," she said, though her eyes filled with tears. "How does your heart feel?"
"Like...somebody just...punched me in the chest!" He winced. "HARD!"
Charmian wiped her eyes and grinned at him. "Be happy that's the only thing you're feeling. Are you okay? Do you think you're going to make it?"
"Yeah, I...I guess so..." He rubbed his chest and then his forehead. "I'm gonna need some aspirin, though..."
"Do you know what you just did?" Charmian said. She couldn't stop grinning, no matter how foolish it made her feel. "You just tried to save my life again. Did you know that?"
"Well...when we get home, you're gonna owe me BIG time..."
"I'll carry your backpack home for a week. How does that sound--?"
The ground shuddered. Charmian and Drake flinched and glanced back up at the fight. The two demons had locked horns again...but it looked as if Justin were weakening. Charmian stood up and stared with wide eyes. She'd been certain that of the two, he would be the stronger; yet Ocryana was slowly forcing him to the ground. Charmian could see the way his legs were shaking as he tried to keep his balance, and clenched her fists.
FIGHT HER, JUSTIN!
SNAP. The Ocryxes broke free again, and Justin shook his head dizzily. He barely got out a gasp of breath when Ocryana plowed into him, knocking him onto his back; she raised her hand to swipe at him, but he brought up his feet and pushed her off so she flew over his head. They both jumped to their feet and whirled around, Ocryana snarling, Justin out of self-defense. Charmian could sense he was growing desperate--he wanted her and Drake to leave.
"The hell with that," she whispered under her breath, then, louder, "Come on, Justin!"
Ocryana raised her wings and lifted off from the ground, zooming straight toward Justin. He looked briefly panicked, before steeling himself; her horn just missed piercing his arm when he blocked her, his hind claws tearing into the soil as she drove him back. Her tail whipped forward and cracked against him, knocking him down; CRACK, again it came down, over his neck; and again against his wing, snapping the bone. Charmian's face went white, though Justin didn't let out a sound. He grimaced and managed at last to stumble out of the way, avoiding another blow; but her next attack was even closer, and Charmian could tell he couldn't hold out much longer. The only reason he was still fighting, she realized, was because she was still here!
I can't just leave him! I have to do something!
Justin fell down to one knee, panting for breath. Ocryana landed several yards away and launched herself forward once more, grinning maniacally. Her tail rose into the air like a whip, but it was her horns she brought down, making a beeline for Justin's chest. Charmian raised her hands to the sky and sucked in a breath, not knowing what she could do, but knowing she had to do it fast. Justin merely gritted his teeth and prepared himself for the assault.
Something flashed through the air, and instead of ramming her horn through Justin's body, Ocryana ended up gawking and skidding to a messy halt, nearly tumbling head over heels as a voice yelled "NO!"
Charmian froze with her hands over her head. Drake's and Justin's eyes widened--and Ocryana's narrowed to slits.
Shadow Water cowered before Justin, blocking Ocryana's path. Charmian stared at her in confusion--what could she be doing?
Ocryana's lip curled back. "What...are you doing?" she grated, in a voice that told Charmian this had not been planned. She let out her breath. Whatever this was, Shadow Water had just acted on her own.
Shadow Water's tail flicked nervously from side to side and she stammered as she tried to think of a reply. "We...we don't have to kill him," she said. "He isn't important, anyway. It's the girl who's important--and the Dreamspinner and Red Bird. We should go after them!"
Ocryana's face contorted in barely withheld rage. "Are you a fool? You are PROTECTING him?" She seemed to realize now what Charmian had a moment before, and her eyes widened in disbelief. Charmian could tell Shadow Water caught the look--for she hunched in on herself even more, her ears going back. Ocryana's eyes flared red and green and her hackles rose.
"You...are...protecting...him?" she growled, her voice sounding like rocks grinding together. "You would go against me...to protect...HIM?"
"N-no!" Shadow Water stuttered. She pressed herself even closer to the ground. "It's just--he could wound you--and--"
"And?" Ocryana's voice rose and she towered over the other demons. "And you have fallen in LOVE with him? After what I TOLD YOU?" By now she was just about screaming, and Charmian and Drake had to cover their ears; Justin and Shadow Water, right in front of her, folded their ears back and grimaced. "You were to USE HIM! NOT FALL IN LOVE WITH HIM! AND YOU CANNOT EVEN DO THIS RIGHT? YOU ARE AS USELESS AS YOUR BROTHER!"
"That isn't it!" Shadow Water cried, backing up so Justin had to do the same. "I was only thinking of--"
"STUPID GIRL!!" Ocryana roared, and her hand slammed into Shadow Water's face. Charmian gasped as the demon crashed to the ground, a thin line of red streaming from her mouth. "YOU WERE NOT THINKING AT ALL!"
The younger Ocryx got slowly and unsteadily to her feet, pressing her hand to her mouth. Her eyes filled with tears.
"I just wanted you to be safe!" she said. It would have been an exclamation, except her voice had gone so faint and quavery that they could barely hear her. Ocryana seemed to hear her fine enough, as her eyes narrowed again and she bared her teeth.
None of them, not even Shadow Water, had a chance to react before Ocryana sailed into the air. The movement was so fast that they didn't even see it until she came down again, her tail swinging through the air to whip across Shadow Water's cheek. It laid open the skin and sent her to the ground. As soon as she tried to get up a second time, CRACK! She yelped when her mother's tail came down over her back, opening up a slash of red.
A furious growl drew Charmian's attention. Justin scrambled to his feet, unable to fly, but still able to run. He let out a roar as he went at Ocryana, but she too had heard him coming--and her tail effectively silenced him as well. CRACK it went, across his face; his head snapped back and he fell to the ground unmoving. Charmian had the urge to run toward him, but Drake grabbed her arm and held her back. Ocryana turned back to Shadow Water and started whipping at her as if she were merely turning over stones with her tail. With each blow Shadow Water yelped again, until Ocryana simply crouched and kicked her in the side hard enough to send her flying. Charmian couldn't quite stop the strangled sound that came out of her throat on seeing this brutality; her eyes blurred, but not nearly enough, and it was only Drake's tight grip on her arm that kept her from screaming.
Shadow Water hit the ground and rolled, a glow surrounding her. When she came to a stop she was again in her human form, which made the lashes and bruises upon her look all the worse. At first Charmian thought she was unconscious; then she put out one hand, and feebly attempted to push herself up, letting out small pained sounds as she did so. Ocryana started sauntering toward her, her muzzle wrinkling.
"Stay down!" Charmian whispered. Shadow Water didn't hear her; she managed to get up onto her elbows, then her knees, shaking like an aspen leaf; blood streamed down her back, and when she lifted her head, Charmian could see it dripping from her mouth as well, a swollen gash underneath her eye. Charmian's insides clenched. Right now it was all too easy to imagine where her earlier injuries had come from.
As if to confirm this, Ocryana raised one hand, claws bared. Shadow Water quailed and drew in on herself.
"P-please," she whimpered, crawling back a step. "I--I still b-believe in you."
"You have betrayed me," Ocryana said, her voice low again but just as menacing. Shadow Water shook her head wildly.
"I haven't! I swear! I would never go against--"
CRACK! This time, a blow to the other side of her face; she fell over with a thud, and Ocryana stepped closer. Charmian cast a panicked look at Justin--but he was only just regaining consciousness, trying ineffectively to drag himself upright. She looked again at the other two. Ocryana stopped, looming over her struggling daughter. Shadow Water had rolled onto her stomach, one hand clawing at the earth, and appeared to be trying to drag herself toward the woods. The demon raised her tail up over her back.
Ocryana glanced over her shoulder with surprise. Drake abruptly let go of Charmian's arm as the scream rose from her throat, her fists clenching. Before Ocryana could do anything she flung her hands toward the ground and the earth quaked, then split open, a ragged crack skittering toward the Ocryx. Ocryana leapt into the air, avoiding being pulled down into the chasm; it stopped just short of Shadow Water, and Charmian flung her hands up into the air. A whirlwind of leaves descended, temporarily blinding the demon. She had to land to avoid crashing into the trees, and she did so not far from Charmian. An ugly snarl crossed her face.
"You wish to feel my lash too? Then bare your back because I will gladly give it!"
Charmian gritted her teeth and held her arms up again. "BITCH!" she shouted, and brought them down. The ground cracked open anew; but this time water gushed out, from some hidden spring. Tendrils of the fluid wrapped themselves around Ocryana's ankles and she yelped, flapping her wings to keep from being pulled down into the earth. With a snarl she kicked herself loose, the water losing form and splattering against the soil; Charmian gasped and blinked, losing her focus. Drake grabbed her arm again when Ocryana's snarl rose and she swept forward, but she knew they wouldn't be able to get out of the way in time.
In one last desperate attempt she flung her free arm skyward, yelling incoherently.
Ocryana halted. Not because of the shout, but because at that moment a great gust of wind slammed into her head on, knocking her back to the ground. She got to her feet but could only crouch, the force of the wind was so great. Charmian and Drake dropped where they were, huddling against a tree as a vicious, roaring howl rose in the trees. It felt as if every hair would be yanked from Charmian's head, and she covered her face, cringing.
This wasn't a GeeBee wind, pressing and bone-biting cold. Instead this one was very nearly hot, searing against their skin and threatening to shrivel the leaves from the trees. She felt flecks of water dash against her body, and struggled to figure out what was going on.
It can't be...
Ocryana--and Charmian--finally managed to raise their heads, still shielding their eyes from the furious gusts. Almost as soon as they did, the wind rapidly diminished until it was only a hissing whirlwind. And in the midst of it, Charmian now heard a rumbling growl, and saw two blazing eyes of green and red.