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Manitou Island: Part 102
PART ONE HUNDRED AND TWO:
More Flies With Honey
CHARMIAN GAPED AT Nathalit, practically with her jaw hanging. The creature stared back, still with the same neutral look, as always. She'd just asked Charmian to do the impossible--to get everyone upon the Island, manitous, GeeBees, Ocryxes and all, to lend a hand. She might as well have asked for Charmian to build a lifesize replica of the Eiffel Tower all on her own. In one day. Using only her feet.
Her fists had been clenched excitedly in the air, but now she let them drop limply to her sides, shoulders slumping.
"That kind of puts a damper on things," she said dully.
"Well, hold on," Drake said, taking a step forward. "It can't be that hard. I mean, once you get right down to it."
Charmian gave him an evil look. "And are YOU the one who's been dealing with Ocryx and Mitchi and Augwak all this time? Like it's a walk in the park? Let me see YOU try to convince them to help us out! Fat chance!"
"It only seems impossible 'cause you're not looking at it the right way," Drake retorted, his brow furrowing in a frown.
"And just how exactly am I supposed to look at it?"
"What way do you deal with somebody who's completely different from you?" Drake said. "You think from their mindset. Imagine what they would do if they were in the same situation."
"And how do I do that?" Charmian sighed, exasperated.
Drake threw up his hands. "It's easy! You've been trying to get in their heads all along, so why stop now? Think like a GeeBee thinks! Like an Ocryx thinks! That's the only way you can get them to do something for you, right? Well?"
Charmian frowned as he spoke, but not out of irritation. She slowly turned to face him, her curiosity piqued. "Can you explain a bit more?" she asked, in all good faith. Drake sighed but complied.
"You have a little bit of Augwak's spirit stone still, don't you? So already you've got him in the bag. Just threaten him into coming along. He'll do it, if it benefits him in the end. That's the way a GeeBee thinks, isn't it?" Everybody around them looked mildly surprised by this suggestion, but he ignored them and continued. "Mitchi Manitou should still be pissed off that Ocryana used him. Just let him know that if he doesn't come along, she'll win out in the end. I think that'll be enough to convince him. He's got this sense of pride, and he'll do anything to keep it from getting wounded any more than it already is." He counted off on his fingers. "If you still need the Windwalkers to show up, just find Chepi. I think she likes you. She's pretty vain, so I don't think it'd take too much to convince her to come along, if it'll keep her alive. She has her sense of pride, too." Two more fingers. "You don't need to convince the Uroona and the tribal manitous, since they already know what's going on; so that's two down. I don't know about the firelings, but if they aren't coming yet, that shouldn't be too hard either. You're good with firelings; they won't give you any trouble." He counted off on his pinky now, and finally Charmian interrupted him.
"And that leaves Ocryx," she said. "And how do you propose I invite him along?"
"He's a bit more challenging than the rest of them, but that shouldn't stop you," Drake said, giving her a look. "There's probably a million ways you can convince him to come. He hates Ocryana, so there's one reason. He's still alive, so I don't think he wants to die just yet; there's another reason. I'm pretty sure he still cares about Red Bird and Silver Eagle Feather, so thinking that they might die, there's a third reason. Fourth--"
"Shadow Water," Charmian said suddenly, remembering. Drake gave her another look, this time puzzled; she turned away a bit and stared at the gems littering the ground.
"He has Shadow Water now...I don't think he's ready to die, either. He wouldn't have taken her with him if he was. He would have left her there."
Drake's face lit up. "See?" he said, and nodded. "There's another reason. I think you can convince him if you really try..."
Charmian turned away from him and slowly walked across the space between Nathalit and herself, eyes focused on the ground. She stopped several paces away and looked up again. Nathalit still stared at her silently, and Charmian bit the inside of her mouth.
"Nathalit? Can we go back to the surface? I think this might take a while."
Nathalit tilted her head forward. You may go wherever you wish. I do not keep you here. You may leave with my blessings, to help the Island.
Charmian nodded. "Thanks." She glanced back at the others standing behind her. "I think it'd probably be safest if you guys stayed here," she said, to Red Bird and the other three Ocryxes. "Ocryana's going to be looking for you and this might be the only place you'll be safe, for now."
Red Bird wrung her hands, but Tal Natha nodded. We will await your return, then, he said, and Charmian was relieved that he didn't argue. She let out her breath and nodded back, then waved at Drake.
"Come on. If there's any stray Uroona left you can talk them into coming back with us."
Drake's mouth twitched but he said nothing, only nodded. They turned away from the others and went off in what Charmian hoped was the right direction, where the vast field of crystals seemed to thin a bit.
Surprisingly, wherever they walked, the crystals seemed to part to form a pathway so they wouldn't cut their feet, though Charmian never once actually saw them moving. Perhaps the path had been there all along and she just hadn't noticed it. Whatever the case was, once she was certain it was a real path, she started to jog, and Drake followed suit. The crystals formed a rainbow blur as they raced back toward the Borderlands, the Gemfields giving way to swelling slopes of emerald green dotted with patches of dark forest. The terrain began to look familiar, though Charmian couldn't see her fountain anywhere. With a pang she remembered how she'd given it up; the place must only look familiar because she had never seen it any other way.
Eventually, a low cave tunnel came into view, and Charmian's pace slowed as they approached. She dropped to her hands and knees and crawled inside, careful not to cut her palms on the sharp crystals lining the floor and walls. She could hear Drake behind her, and rather wished that Nathalit could have come as well, even if only in a mist form, but understood why she had to remain behind.
"This'll take a bit," she called back to Drake, remembering how long she'd traveled through the tunnel. He was panting already; she couldn't believe he was still in poor shape after all this time, until he spoke up.
"I HATE tunnels," he muttered, practically hyperventilating, and Charmian had to bite back a laugh.
"I thought you hated heights."
"Yeah, well, a tunnel is just heights in reverse!"
"I have no idea what that's supposed to mean."
"Just shut up and keep moving!! If we stay in here I think my lungs are gonna explode!!"
This time Charmian did laugh, but did as she was asked. They didn't talk any further the rest of the way through the tunnel, then out and into the Crack. Drake gratefully sucked in several deep breaths as they made their way upwards toward the surface, running their fingers along the walls of the cleft. A crack of light formed overhead, pale yellowish-pink, and Charmian bit her lip to see the odd color of the sky yet again. Swirling blue had given way to this, and it seemed even eerier than before.
"I wish she'd stop messing up the sky," Drake commiserated.
"I think that's the least of our worries right now," Charmian said. "But yeah, it is kind of annoying. My science teacher would throw a fit."
The Crack widened, and they struggled to pull themselves over the jagged rocks. Charmian managed to grasp hold of the grassy earth at the edge and with a groan pulled herself up, collapsing on the ground and gasping for breath. She dragged herself through the grass until she was free of the Crack and rolled over, panting weakly. She could hear Drake trying to do the same behind her, though with a bit less success.
Something large and dark popped up several feet away, nearly making her scream. Instead she gasped and bolted upright, and the dark shape hopped back as if in fright. Charmian blinked.
Drake finally emerged from the Crack, looking to be in even worse shape than she was. X'aaru stood not too far away, gawking in surprise; Mani arose just off to his side, from his resting spot in the grass. They both looked startled to see the two teenagers pop up from the ground, but immediately X'aaru's tail started swinging from side to side.
"Charmian!" he cried, hurrying forward. "It is you!" He started babbling as she stood up shakily, dusting herself off and trying to help Drake to his feet. "I had this feeling--something going wrong--I don't know what it was, but all of a sudden everything felt wrong--I got worried--"
"That was Tal Natha," Charmian said, finally dragging Drake up so he swayed from side to side. X'aaru's eyes widened.
"He's okay. So's Red Bird. They're in the Crack."
"Oh--? Well--everything felt wrong--and I got this awful feeling, so I wanted to find you, but I didn't know where to look--Mani said we should try the Crack--"
"Mani?" Charmian looked at him in puzzlement, uncertain how he would have known where she was. The manitou whistled.
To sense Red Land One here. Not know why, but decide to wait.
"Oh." Charmian frowned but decided not to pursue it; maybe, as her soulmate, he had some sort of connection? She shrugged and glanced around them, surveying the land. "I'm glad you two are here...I think we're going to need you guys."
"You have to do something?"
Charmian nodded. She waved at Drake to catch his attention. "You take X'aaru," she said, "and scour the Island. Make sure there aren't any stray Uroona lingering around. If there are, tell them where to go. Any others that you think you can convince, too."
Drake nodded. "And you?"
"Mani and I'll go for the path of least resistance first." Charmian rolled her eyes. "That means Chepi."
Drake's mouth twitched and she felt like knocking him upside the head. "Good luck," he said, and went over to X'aaru, who gave Charmian a confused look.
"Charmian...?" he murmured, not quite daring to ask.
"It's okay," Charmian said. She went to Mani, who knelt down to allow her up. "We have to pretty much find all the elementals and tell them to come here to Crack-in-the-Island. Most of the manitous and Uroona are here already, and maybe a few of the Windwalkers and firelings, but that still leaves some others. Do you think you two will be okay?"
"No problem." Drake waved at her dismissively as he got on X'aaru's back. Charmian considered warning him about what he was doing, then reconsidered; she had to force herself not to grin, taking hold of Mani's antlers. "So do we meet back here when we're done, or...?"
"I guess. Though I'm betting you'll be back way before me." She couldn't help but smile now when X'aaru launched himself into the air, Drake screaming as he went. She waved, even though she knew he couldn't see or hear her by now.
"Bye-bye." She watched until X'aaru disappeared, then nudged her foot against Mani's side. "Um...do you have any idea where the Windwalkers live?" she asked, feeling a bit stupid that in all her time here, she had yet to figure that out. Thankfully, Mani whistled an affirmative.
Not far from the lake, in underground cave.
"I kind of figured that...do you know a way to get there? Without getting all wet?"
The manitou thought for a moment before bobbing his head. A way, near the GeeBees' home...try that?
Charmian nodded. "We might actually need to go in that direction anyway." She sat back, and he bounded into the woods, easily skirting the trails and dodging the trees. Charmian kept a tight hold of his antlers as they raced, making certain not to fall off. To do so now would ensure getting her head cracked open.
For some reason, this reminded her of her mental net, and she would have slapped herself if she'd been able. Instead she cast it outwards across the Island, and found that Mani had been right about the Windwalkers. Their home lay a ways ahead of them, in the direction he was headed. She could sense a mass of GeeBees also, though Augwak was not among them. She frowned with confusion when she found yet another force was lacking, and almost yanked on Mani's antlers when she realized what it was.
"Mani! Hold on!"
Mani's legs almost went out from underneath him, he skidded to a halt so abruptly. He managed somehow to keep himself from falling, and Charmian could sense his surprise. She cringed but waved her arm.
"She's not that way! She's on the other side of the Island!"
Red Land One sure--?
Charmian nodded quickly. "I thought maybe she'd be with her own kind...but she's not there. I can't sense her. I'm picking up something from that way though, near the east shore. I'm really sorry! Do you think you can take me there instead--?"
Mani didn't hesitate any longer. He spun around and bounded off in an entirely different direction, heading further inland. The trees grew thicker and Charmian pressed herself over his back to avoid slipping, all the while cursing herself and chewing Chepi out mentally. What was she doing way over on the other side of the Island at a time like this? Didn't she have any sense of what was going on at all? Her confusion grew when she found she couldn't sense Augwak in her immediate area--had the GeeBee finally managed to ditch the annoying fairy? She had to admit, she couldn't blame him...
With how quickly manitous could travel, it didn't take very long to reach the opposite side of the Island. They emerged from high up on the bluff above the east shore, and Charmian's stomach lurched into her throat as they descended toward the rocks below. She knew she needn't have worried--Mani easily skirted the rocks jutting from the slope, landing on the narrow strip of earth lining the bottom--but she still felt shaky when he finally stopped. The silence rang deafening in her ears and she had to rub at them to dispel it; this was the calm side of the Island, and as such the wind didn't blow here. Even the lake was calm. She sat upright and cupped a hand to her ear in the hopes of hearing something. At first all she could make out was the trickling noise of springs hidden up the slope, but when she listened more carefully she thought she could hear humming coming from the same direction. She frowned.
"Hm." She pushed herself off Mani's back and nearly fell over when her feet touched the ground, her head still spinning. Mani leaned against her to steady her, and she nodded at him. "Thanks...I think I heard something over here. Wait for me, will you?"
Mani whistled, and Charmian proceeded back toward the slope. The trickling sounds grew louder, then the humming. After a few more steps she could tell it must be Chepi; it sounded like she was singing to herself. Charmian ground her teeth in irritation and started climbing up the bluff a little bit. That woman had no sense of urgency whatsoever.
The undergrowth was thick and scrubby up here, so she found her arms badly scratched by the time she reached the spring Chepi must be near. She reached out one hand to sweep the leaves aside, ready to give her a good chewing out--her fingers grasped the bushes and parted them and she opened her mouth to shout, only for her eyes to goggle instead.
Chepi shrieked and ducked down into the little spring, her arms crossing her chest and her wings flaring. "YOU PERVERT!!" she screamed, and commenced tearing hunks of moss from the rocks, hurling them at Charmian. "SPYING ON ME LIKE THAT! WITH THAT LOOK ON YOUR FACE! I SHOULD HAVE YOUR HEAD, YOU PERVERT!!" Her mouth opened as wide as a cave and she started bawling; she was devoid of her ornate feathery clothing now, so Charmian could plainly see her delicate, pointed ears and tousled black hair, shot through with deep red. Charmian's surprise gave way to annoyance and then irritation when her wailing wouldn't stop, and she pushed herself up out of the undergrowth, clenching her fists.
Chepi's squeezed-shut eyes opened a bit, then wider, then they grew almost to the size of platters. She let her arms drop down into the water, but was already submerged up to her shoulders so Charmian didn't again have to see something she would rather have not seen. She blinked in confusion, and Charmian saw that her eyes were completely dry.
"Charmian?" she said, her voice puzzled. "I thought you were someone else--why were YOU spying on me?!" Her look grew indignant now, and again she crossed her arms over herself, though there was nothing to hide.
"Do you have ANY idea what's going on?" Charmian snapped, not even bothering to answer the question. "The Island's practically on its last legs and you're taking a BATH?"
"I have the right to take a bath!" Chepi snapped back. She held up one arm and dribbled water over it with her other hand. "Persons of my stature should always be fresh and presentable...especially for SPYING PERVERTS LIKE YOU!"
Charmian flung up both arms now in frustration. "HAVE YOU EVEN NOTICED THE SKY TODAY?!"
"Sky--?" Chepi's tone changed again, back to mild puzzlement. She peered upwards innocently. "What about the sky?"
"The COLOR, moron!"
"I hope that 'moron' is a good thing else you'll be in trouble!" Chepi scowled. She glanced upwards again. "What about the color, anyway?"
Charmian felt like strangling her. "IT'S THE WRONG DAMN COLOR!!"
"I happen to LIKE that color! I don't see what's so wrong with it! Besides..." Here Chepi moved toward the side of the spring, feeling around for her clothing. "I thought maybe somebody changed the color for me. A little present, or something, befitting the Queen of the Windwalkers..."
"You have no clue what's been happening since I last saw you, do you?" Charmian growled. "For your information, the Island's going to END pretty soon if somebody doesn't do something about it!"
"So?" Chepi said disinterestedly. She located her feathered cap and dusted it off, straightening out the plumes. "I thought you were the one in charge of all that."
"Like I can do it all on my own? That's why I even bothered coming here. It MUST be the end of the world, because I have to ask for your help now."
"M...my help?" At least she had Chepi's attention again, as the little woman's eyes widened in surprise. She placed a hand to her breast. "You...you're asking me for help?"
"Yes," Charmian grated, "so get your butt out of the water and get dressed and let's go. Please."
Now Chepi's eyes did fill with tears. Charmian blinked, then cringed, getting ready for another outburst; instead, Chepi put her hands up on the rock, then blushed and waved at Charmian to turn around. She did so with a sigh, hearing a slight splashing sound, then a rustling; a few moments later Chepi cleared her throat, and Charmian turned around again. The small woman was still straightening out her dress and her feathers, flexing and stretching her wings. She peered up at Charmian as she settled her feathered cap on her head.
"So...you need my help? Truly...?"
"Yes, I need your help. You and your Windwalkers."
"My Windwalkers? What for--?"
"It's kind of hard to explain. I'm going to need you to go fetch them all and tell them to follow you to Crack-in-the-Island."
"Crack--?" Her voice grew slightly indignant. "You expect me to go down into that dark filthy thing? Have you any idea what's down there? It's murder on one's hair and wings, and I hear that--"
"CALL YOUR WINDWALKERS and meet them at the Crack!" Charmian shouted, overriding the other's voice. Chepi winced and fell silent. "I'm going to need ALL of you there or the Island will probably die. Do you want to do your part for the Island? If so, then shut up and do what I say! PLEASE!"
Chepi's wings ruffled a bit and her face grew red, but she somehow managed to avoid blowing up. She took a deep breath and let it out as a snort instead, forcing herself to settle down. "And so when are we expected?" she said in a clipped tone. Charmian rubbed her eyes and sighed.
"As soon as possible. Just go call them and wait at the Crack. I'll explain it more when we all get there, but it'll take me a bit because I have a few more things to do. Okay?"
Chepi huffed a bit and fluttered her wings, but turned away obediently. "Only doing it 'cause you said please," she mumbled under her breath. Her wings flared and she crouched a bit, ready to spring upwards; Charmian called out abruptly, nearly making her fall over.
"Hold on! Where's Augwak? I'm going to need him too. I thought he was hanging out with you."
"Huh--?" Chepi glanced over her shoulder, then stuck her nose up. "Oh. Him. I do not associate with vulgar GeeBees anymore."
Charmian blinked. "I thought you two were made for each other," she said. "Or something."
"Well...perhaps I had merely a bit too much fresh air or some such...I'm over that temporary befuddlement now. We are much TOO different to ever understand one another. For one thing, I am a brilliant queenly Windwalker, and he is but a petty, vulgar little Wendigo."
Charmian rolled her eyes. "He finally got away from you, didn't he?" Chepi's face threatened to start glowing, it turned so red, so Charmian waved at the air. "Never mind, I get it...you're too good for him...or something. Please go get your Windwalkers and go to the Crack. I'll be there as soon as I can."
Fortunately, her comment managed to mollify the offended windling; Chepi huffed again, but spread her wings and took off into the air. She disappeared quickly above the treetops and Charmian let out a huge sigh, turning away from the spring and slowly making her way back down the slope. Ten Augwaks would probably be easier to reason with than one Chepi, anytime.
Mani still waited for her on the shore when she reached the bottom, rubbing at the scratches on her arms. He whistled once more and she nodded.
"Done...now we have to go find Augwak, if possible." She wrinkled her nose. "If I were him I think I'd be hiding way, way underground somewhere."
Mani gave her a curious look but said nothing. She climbed up and he took a few steps back, then vaulted up the hillside in the direction Chepi had taken off. Going up was worse than going down, Charmian realized, and she had to shut her eyes to avoid getting too queasy. It wasn't long before she felt Mani crest the bluff, and gravity told her they were pretty much vertical again. She opened her eyes and watched the trees sweep past.
"Devil's Kitchen, Mani," she shouted. "Augwak wasn't there but maybe if we show up and cause a little commotion he'll come running."
Mani jerked his antlers to indicate he'd heard. Charmian sighed to herself and settled down to wait out the rest of the ride, when she suddenly felt the manitou jerk again as if freezing in place, his legs flying out from underneath him. With a yelp of surprise she went flying over his head, unable to hold on after such a violent jolt. She spun head over heels before remembering to go limp, and crashed to the ground on her elbow, grimacing with pain. Her first thought, however, was for Mani. She lifted her head to see him on his back several yards away, his legs kicking at the air. She couldn't believe it. He'd just tripped.
She winced and started to push herself up to her feet to go see to him when a blast pummeled her in the chest, knocking her down again. This time she landed flat on her back--and before she could scramble up, two bony feet slammed into her chest, knocking the breath out of her. Charmian gritted her teeth, but the face above her only grinned nastily in response, an equally bony hand crooking jagged nails that could tear open her throat in an instant.
Well, at least she hadn't had to find Augwak. He'd found her.