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Return To Manitou Island: Part 24
Don't Mess With Manitous
CHARMIAN BLINKED. SHE stared up at the huge manitou which loomed over her, completely expecting it to stomp on her, or swipe at her with its antlers, or bellow, yet--it simply whistled.
She'd been holding her arm up over her head, she now noticed. She slowly lowered it, still staring at the large manitou. Even Thomas and Cloud had fallen silent in confusion. The manitou snorted and then whistled again, tossing its head and stomping its hoof. Charmian's brow furrowed when she received the distinct impression that it was...trying to tell her something.
All she could do was stare at it, mystified. Its nostrils flared, then--thud--again its hoof hit the ground. She finally let her eyes wander down to look at its hoof and along the way she at last noticed that its front left leg was wounded, a long ragged cut running down the inside toward the ankle.
She stared at this a moment before beginning to realize what she was seeing. The manitou stopped stomping, as if noticing her attention. She lifted her arm and looked at the bandages wrapping her own wound, then looked back up at the manitou, her brow furrowing even more.
The manitou gave a light snort.
Charmian put out her right hand and carefully pushed herself up, the pain in her ankle not even bothering her as she stood. Thomas held out one hand as if to try to stop her, but his voice stuck. She took a few steps forward until she was just inches away from the immense creature, and leaned forward, staring into its eyes. It held her stare, flickering blue. Then whistled again.
Charmian was silent a few more moments, studying the contours of the manitou's face. Hardly anything about it was familiar, yet...that wound...and its fur, and those eyes...and the way it whistled at her...
"It is you."
She said this hesitantly, still uncertain, but as soon as she did the creature tossed its head and whistled again, ears flicking and antlers waving.
Red Land One.
Charmian's eyes widened on hearing the voice at last in the back of her mind. Her face lit up and her mouth grew into a huge smile. "It IS you!" she cried, then surged forward, wrapping her arms around the manitou's thick neck. Thomas held up his hand again with a confused look but still said nothing as she hugged the manitou and laughed.
"I can't believe it's really you!" Charmian exclaimed, hugging Mani as hard as she could. "I didn't even recognize you!"
Mani whistled. Not forget Red Land One.
Charmian laughed and hopped up and down on her good foot. Thomas approached slowly, still looking confused.
"You...know each other...?" he asked cautiously.
Charmian finally pulled away from the manitou, remembering he was there. She wiped at her eyes and grinned. "Yeah! This is Mani--he's a good friend of mine." She looked up at the manitou. "I met him the last time I was here...he used to be one of Ocryx's manitous."
"The wolf demon, in the lake?"
Charmian nodded. "But he was hurt and so I took him to Justin to take care of him...and we just became friends after that." Her smile grew; she didn't take her eyes off of the creature's face. "He saved my life once--he gave me part of his spirit stone. Ever since then, I can feel whenever he gets hurt..." She lifted up her arm, and Thomas glanced at Mani's leg when he tapped his hoof against the ground. "...And he can feel whenever I get hurt." She looked up at him again. "That's how you knew I was here, wasn't it?"
Mani whistled the affirmative. Thomas came forward, also looking up at the manitou and holding out his hand.
"Well...hello then, Mani--"
Mani snorted and tossed his head, clicking his teeth in a menacing gesture. Thomas quickly withdrew his hand with a startled look. Charmian placed her hand on Mani's nose and rubbed it.
"It's okay, Mani...he's a friend, too." She gave Thomas an apologetic look. "He's a little protective of me sometimes."
"Well," Thomas said, looking up at Mani and then smiling at Charmian. "With good reason, I believe."
Charmian felt her ears grow hot and quickly turned away, rubbing Mani's nose again. "You're a lot bigger than you were the last time I was here," she murmured, at which the manitou turned away from her, whistling back at them over his shoulder, taking several steps into the woods, and then whistling again.
Thomas looked puzzled. "He wants us to follow him," Charmian explained. "He says he wants to show us something." She shrugged and waved at him to follow, and the three of them accompanied the manitou into the woods.
Even with as big as Mani was now--he looked almost fit to rival Mitchi Manitou when the lake manitou was in his deer form--Charmian was still surprised by how gracefully he walked among the trees, not running into any or even brushing against them. His hooves trod the earth almost daintily now and he hardly made a sound as he wove among the trunks like a wisp of smoke. A few times she even nearly lost him, he was so silent and blended in with the trees so well. After a while several tiny blue dots appeared in the dimness, then several more, then several more. Charmian and Thomas slowed, Cloud snorting, to look around themselves. Thomas seemed tense but Charmian simply waved him forward again.
"C'mon! It's okay. They're friendly!"
Thomas looked skeptical but obeyed. They entered a clearing where the moon shone through somewhat, lighting the grass below in a pale greenish-blue. Mani stood here, watching for them. As soon as Charmian stepped onto the grass the blue dots started coming forward and she watched as more deerlike creatures similar to Mani began appearing one by one from the trees, eyes glittering and nostrils flaring. They were all different colors--white, brown, black, gray, red, tan, spotted--and all different sizes, some almost as big as Mani, some merely fawns--or calves--or whatever baby manitous were called--from the look of it. Cloud tossed his head and Thomas looked around himself nervously as the creatures filled the clearing, but Charmian could only grin widely, staring at each one as they passed, sniffing and milling about.
Mani whistled and stomped his hoof again. Charmian looked up at him.
"Really? This is yours...?" She turned to Thomas, still with that wide smile. "He has his own tribe now!" Thomas cocked his head in puzzlement when she turned back to Mani and touched his muzzle. "I'm really proud of you, Mani!"
"So he's in charge of all these manitous...?" Thomas looked at a pair of calves as they paced by, then started when a female started poking in his pocket.
"Uh-huh. He was...almost like an omega, the last time I was here." Charmian watched now as a ring of manitous gathered around Thomas, sniffing at the air; Mani whistled and they proceeded to crowd around him, their large soft muzzles snuffling at his arms and legs. Thomas looked almost panicked; Charmian started laughing.
"They were confused because you're part GeeBee; they don't like the GeeBees very much. But if Mani says you're okay, then you're okay."
"That's nice to know!" Thomas nearly yelped, craning his neck above a sea of the creatures. "You mean they can smell it--?"
"Well, kinda, plus you're...kind of cold." Charmian frowned. "No offense."
"None taken!" She started laughing again when he let out a cry and disappeared, apparently falling to the ground. The manitous swarmed around him, still sniffing; Charmian poked a way through the crowd and grabbed his hand to help him to his feet. He dusted at his clothing and started laughing himself when another calf stuck its nose in his pocket. "I don't have anything in there," he insisted. "SHE'S the one with all the goodies!"
A neigh sounded, and Charmian turned around to make sure Cloud wasn't being overwhelmed as well. She was surprised to see that the horse appeared to be talking with the more grown manitous, instead. Three or four of them stood around the horse, whistling and murring, and every so often he would shake his head and let out a low horse noise. Her brow furrowed.
"That's weird...I think your horse speaks manitouese, Thomas."
Thomas looked puzzled as well. "That's odd, because I never taught him."
"Maybe it's just something that horses know--? Since they're closer to nature than we are? I never really thought of it, but then again I've never gotten too close to a--"
She cut herself off when the manitous standing around Cloud jerked their heads back to look toward the woods, in the direction Charmian and Thomas had come from. They whistled loudly and vanished so quickly that she could have sworn they'd simply evaporated. The calves poking in Thomas's pockets did the same, until only Mani and a few of the bigger manitous were left, all of them whistling and bristling.
"What is it?" Charmian asked, growing tense.
Mani stomped a hoof and whistled. Thomas looked at Charmian, whose face had gone pale.
"What did he say?"
"Shadow Wolves...I think." She fiddled with the zipper on her vest. "The manitous have a different name for them...moving smoke ones...but I think it's pretty obvious what he means." She gasped and glanced at Mani. "They must've followed us right here! Mani, I'm sorry, I didn't even know they were behind us--"
Mani whistled again and reared up, bringing both hooves down against the ground several times. Thomas took Charmian's arm and led her back behind him where Cloud paced from side to side.
"I think we might be safer back here; he held his own against those creatures well enough before, didn't he?"
"Yeah, but--I've fought those things, and they're like cockroaches! They just won't die!"
"These manitous aren't backing down," Thomas said. "I think we stand a better chance here than back on the trail, by ourselves."
"I hope so." Charmian blinked when she felt his hand over hers, and glanced down to see that she'd been grasping his sleeve. Her ears grew warm but she kept her hand where it was and looked up to see what Mani and the others might do.
True to her fears, yellow dots began appearing in the woods now, followed by panting, shuffling sounds. Mani lowered his head so his antlers faced outward, and the other big males with him did the same. Dark shapes emerged, and Charmian swallowed when she recognized the same Wolves they had just faced off against not long before. The leader limped a little bit, but aside from that they seemed just fine.
What the hell does it TAKE? A nuclear BOMB?
The lead Wolf's eyes focused on Charmian for a moment--she swallowed again, knowing that he recognized her--then he turned to look at Mani. He was grinning, tongue lolling, but started opening and closing his jaws, making weird growling sounds. Charmian's face screwed up in confusion--what could he be doing?--then her confusion grew when Mani whistled in response. Looking at the manitou convinced her the two of them were communicating.
"If I didn't know better," Thomas murmured, seeming just as confused, "I would say they're talking to each other."
"That's the feeling I'm getting, too." Charmian's brow furrowed. "The thing is I can't understand a word they're saying!"
"You can't understand...?" Their attention was drawn back to the manitous when Mani shook his head violently, antlers swinging, and the Wolf grinned again, tongue lolling out. They gasped in surprise when the creature launched himself at them--Charmian felt Thomas grab her wrist and start to pull her back--but Mani jumped in the Wolf's way, snorting and lowering his antlers as if to stop him. He had already halted, however, and she suddenly recognized the attack for what it had been--a feint. She frowned in confusion when the other Wolves followed suit, bobbing and weaving; the manitous lowered their heads and held them off, but didn't make any other moves.
Thomas seemed just as baffled. "Why don't they just attack them and get it over with--?" he asked. "They're certainly big and strong enough to kill these Wolves, easily!"
"I don't know." Charmian's brow furrowed. "They have every chance and reason to, but they won't." She looked to Mani, still holding off the lead Wolf, who continued grinning at him. "Mani, what's going on--? Why don't you drive them off? Or throw them up into the trees? I've been trying to fight them off for days now and they just don't die!"
"Tell him that if he kills them off now, you'll be spared a lot of trouble later on," Thomas said, a peevish note to his voice. He glared at the closest Wolf when it snapped, and held up his hand as if to drive it off when it ambled away on its own. "They do seem to like taking potshots at you!"
Mani whistled something loudly, and Charmian's head jerked up, her eyes wide. She stared at the manitou so long that Thomas stepped beside her, looking into her face with a frown. "Charmian--? What is it?"
"He said..." The manitous whistled in unison now, moving closer together and lowering their antlers as the Wolves trotted back and forth and panted. "He said that they don't want to kill the Wolves."
Thomas whirled to her and blinked. "What--?"
The lead Wolf ran at them again. Mani dashed in front of the two and lowered his head so the Wolf clambered up into his antlers. He lifted his head to shake him off but the Wolf braced himself and managed to hold on. The other manitous turned to him to help but had to swing their antlers at the other Wolves, which joined in. Mani started spinning in circles, tossing his head and whistling madly, but the Wolf still held on.
Charmian didn't know whether to think it was bizarre or funny. She gasped and abandoned both options when Mani halted, swaying dizzily, and the Wolf climbed up and over the top of his antlers, hind feet scrabbling. Charmian gawked until she realized what he was doing, a little too late; she jumped forward but fell when her bad ankle twisted underneath her, Thomas just managing to grab hold of her arm before she tumbled over. "Mani--!"
The Wolf landed on Mani's back, whirling around and sinking his teeth into his neck. Mani whistled loudly and started trying to shake him off, but the Wolf's jaws were like a vise. The manitou tried scraping him off but his antlers wouldn't reach so far; the Wolf responded by sinking his teeth in deeper. Mani's legs and neck stiffened and Charmian abruptly cried out and grabbed at her neck, the feeling of needles digging into her skin. She fell to her knees as Mani did the same, the Wolf's grip moving to his throat, and started gasping for breath.
"Charmian--!" Thomas grabbed hold of her, but she couldn't respond. The Wolf shook his head and blood started running down Mani's neck and between Charmian's fingers. Her view of the manitou started fading; she saw Thomas run into view as if running in front of a camera lens, and saw his arm go up in the air. A split second later the Wolf had hit the ground, shaking ice crystals out of his fur; Mani heaved himself to his feet with a choked-sounding whistle, and Charmian started sucking in air, her chest heaving. Thomas glanced at Mani only for a moment before turning back to her, and she realized who his concern was really aimed at.
She kept her hand pressed to her neck to stop the bleeding and opened her mouth to thank him when the Wolf snarled, his yellow eyes glinting and ice spikes still rising from his hackles. Her eyes widened and she scrambled to her feet, ignoring the lance of pain that shot up her leg. Both she and the Wolf ran at Thomas at the same time, but the Wolf was closer.
"Thomas, LOOK OUT!"
He didn't even bother looking behind him. His eyes grew and he ducked just as Charmian flung out her hand--she had no idea what she was going to do, what element she would call when none of them worked, but it was the only thing that came to mind. The Wolf didn't stop his approach, and she saw the grin he got on his face as he leapt into the air, coming down straight at Thomas.
Something flared in Charmian's chest and she gritted her teeth so hard they felt like they would break. "NO YOU DON'T!" she screamed, and jerked her arm forward as hard as she could, as if to shove the Wolf away with mere willpower alone. Only she'd never had that power. And so it didn't happen.
What did happen--was a bolt shot out from her palm, so forceful that it knocked her backwards with a thud. The beam stayed connected to her hand, however, and the loose end of it struck the Wolf in the chest, suspending him in midair. He let out a screechy yelp and froze with his legs out in all directions, his fur on end, the bolt turning into a glowing ball which enveloped him completely. Charmian and Thomas gawked up at him as he hovered in the glowing ball which still connected to Charmian's hand like a giant yo-yo.
In the middle of the violet glow, the Wolf just barely managed to tilt his head far enough for his eyes to focus on Charmian's, and his lip curled back in a harsh growl. She shivered at the depth of hatred she saw there, when the ball flashed white, obscuring her view and growing larger. Thomas got to his feet and took hold of her elbow, pulling her up, Mani flanking her other side with a whistle.
"I think it's going to break," Thomas had to yell over the terrific humming the ball let out. Charmian nodded mutely--the ball resembled nothing so much as a giant bubble now, and she knew what happened whenever bubbles got too big. The three of them started backing away toward the woods, the other Wolves, manitous, and Cloud retreating as well. Charmian pressed her bloody hands to her ears to try to block out the humming when it grew into a shattering whine, then grabbed Thomas's arm when he pressed it against her chest to knock her to the ground.
The explosion knocked them over first, hunks of light flinging themselves out into the treetops in every direction and sending the Wolves fleeing. Charmian gasped in pain when something heavy fell across her legs, guessing it must be either Mani or Cloud; it just as quickly rose again, and then Thomas was dragging her back up, supporting her as if her legs were made of rubber. Leaves lined his hair and his eyes were wide.
"It blew--?" Charmian wheezed. She heard Mani whistle, and Cloud whinnied; they both backed away from the clearing that now lay ahead. Charmian couldn't even remember having run into the woods, it had been so sudden.
"It blew," Thomas said. His fingers dug into her arm and she winced, getting ready to protest when he added, "And I think he's going to be mad!"
Charmian sucked in a breath. That's right--the Wolf! I can't kill them--!
She pulled herself the rest of the way up and leaned on Thomas's arm, getting ready to run--or fight--or whatever pathetic thing she could do--when the light in the clearing faded, revealing what it had left behind.