|TITLE: Alpha & Beta
GENRES: Fantasy, drama, mythology.
SUMMARY: There is always someone more powerful than you...
WRITING STATUS: Completed.
WRITING DATE: Circa 2002.
LENGTH: 3100+ words.
CONTENT WARNINGS: Fantasy violence.
COPYRIGHT: This story and all characters, unless otherwise stated in the Disclaimers, are copyright © tehuti_88 and may not be used or distributed without permission. The reader is free to print out or download a copy of this story for offline reading as long as the author's copyright information remains upon it. Please do not distribute; if you wish to share this story, send a link to this page.
DISCLAIMERS: Ocryx and his "species" are © the Haunted Theatre of Mackinac Island. Certain characters are from Ojibwa mythology. Although aspects of this story are loosely based on Ojibwa mythology and culture, artistic license has been taken as this is a FANTASY story. Please take note that this story was written around 2002 and that my writing style and understanding of the mythology I created may have changed vastly in the meantime.
ADDITIONAL INFO: NA.
RELATED STORIES: "Manitou Island" (serial), "Return To Manitou Island" (serial), "Escape From Manitou Island" (serial), "Tales From Manitou Island" (short stories)
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This short story ties in with the Manitou Island serials listed above; as such, it might not make much sense out of context. This is my "genesis" story for Mitchi Manitou on Manitou Island, as well as how the demon Ocryx got hold of his evil manitou "army."
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THEY WERE PEACEFUL creatures, given merely to wandering about the woods during the day, grazing upon the leaves and grass, and sleeping at night. Some of their kind gathered herbs and plants to carry back with them, but things had so long been placid among their own tribe that gathering wasn't necessary. They had even grown used to living in their deer forms, walking about on four legs rather than on two in their bulkier, bearlike forms. There was no need to walk upright in a threatening manner. It was calm here.
The leader of the tribe of manitous was a great white male, larger than the rest, who because of lack of contest had become leader for this reason alone. The other manitous simply followed him about and none cared to try to take his place; he was more than enough to protect them from attackers if need be, though the service was so far not required. Instead, every day, he rose earlier than the others in order to sniff out the choicest food for that day, and would stand watch over it until they awoke and came about. If any other tribes approached, depending on how much food was available, he would either let them eat or take what they wished, or else ask that they seek elsewhere. There was never any need for fighting, thus there was never any conflict. There was more than enough food for all of them on the Island.
Today, dawn had not yet broken, and the manitous slept still, either singly or in piles, younglings draped atop their elders, careful, even in sleep, that their antlers didn't prick each other. They all snored quietly, once in a while one of them twitching or kicking a foot or whimpering in the midst of some dream. The only thing he ever dreamed of, at least, was of wandering the woods and looking for food. What else would there be to dream about?
He lifted his head from the ground and yawned widely, blinking his eyes open and sniffing at the air. There was still a cool tang that indicated it would be a while yet before the sun would rise--the best time to seek food. He dragged his legs beneath him and pushed himself to his feet, shaking off the damp coolness of the earth and stretching a small cramp out of his neck. He snorted, and his breath misted the air. Soon the leaves would change, and seeking food would be made harder. He knew much about the trees, though, and didn't worry. They would always provide, if he needed it.
With a light snort, he shook the last of the sleep away from him and trudged off through the woods, his hooves sinking into the thick soil and leaves that littered the place. He sniffed as he went, though he paid little attention to his surroundings. Food would come, sooner or later.
His step slowed when he picked up another, stranger scent on the air, and he finally halted and lifted his nose skyward with a puzzled frown. His nostrils flared and his velvety nose quivered, but he couldn't place it. He'd never scented it before. Whatever it was, it was coming closer.
He lowered his head and whistled. Stirring noises arose behind him as the rest of the tribe started shaking themselves awake and yawning. The elders nudged the children from their backs and stood, all of them sniffing and looking about. They could sense it now too, but he could tell they were as puzzled as he was. Their eyes all focused in the same direction--ahead, and upward--and they stood staring with some wonder at what might be heading their way.
A dark shape emerged, black against the indigo sky. The white manitou tilted his head and his frown grew. Even though times had long been peaceful, he had vague memories of when he himself had been young, and things had not always gone so well back then. A barely recognizable emotion tugged at him inside, but he couldn't place it. It had been too long. He simply stood before the herd and watched as the dark shape grew larger and closer, the scent it carried growing stronger--a wet, windy smell that made his nostrils flare. For some reason, he took a step back, and his tribe noticed his nervousness. Their ears flicked but they said nothing, not questioning him. They'd never had reason to before.
The leaves whispered. The shape came down out of the sky to land in front of them, claws digging into the ground, and now he got his first good look at it. His muzzle wrinkled with confusion. It wasn't a manitou, like the rest of them; at least, not one he had ever seen before. It bore the face of a wolf, and wings, and a long tail; the latter of which swished through the air as it looked them over, sniffing the air itself as if to catch their individual scents. Its eyes glowed red and green, darting from one to the next.
Manitous? it said, in their minds. The white manitou snorted and stomped a hoof with surprise. He hadn't thought the thing could communicate as they did.
He nodded, verifying its assumption, and its muscles seemed to relax a little. It came toward them, walking almost on all fours as it did so.
Something lit up inside of him. He couldn't place it, nor understand it--but this creature now threatened him. It hadn't made any threatening gestures, yet the warning feeling was there. He recognized it at last as what he'd felt before--a feeling telling him to run, or else fight. It was too late to do the former; he and his herd could run, but there was no way they could outrun something that could fly as this creature did. And something in its smell told him he wouldn't want to try anyway.
All he knew was what his gut was telling him, and that was to keep as much of a distance between this thing and his tribe as he could.
With a heavy snort, he took a step back, toward the other manitous, yet placed his hind hoof against the base of a tree. He lowered his head so his antlers faced the approaching creature, and when it didn't appear to notice this, he pawed at the earth and growled loudly.
The other manitous' ears flicked again. They'd never heard him growl before. The approaching creature seemed just as surprised as they. It stopped and its own ears pricked, its eyes blinking. The white manitou's eyes flashed blue and he shook his antlers, just slightly. He kept his hoof wedged against the tree, surreptitiously drawing strength from it. The creature's own eyes narrowed and it hunched forward slightly.
You challenge me? What sort of fool are you?
He bared his teeth now and flashed his eyes. The growl rose long and low in his throat. The other manitous pawed nervously, milling about in aimless circles. He sensed their confused questions but couldn't answer any. He wanted to tell them to run, yet didn't dare. Not until the creature was distracted, at the least.
The wolf creature snorted with contempt and flared its wings. Go right ahead, mindless dolt, and see if you can threaten me. We both of us know who holds the most power here. Go ahead and see what you can do. Your little tribe is watching.
The feeling of alarm only grew ever stronger. He knew for certain now why the creature was here, and it was as he'd suspected. The way it had looked over the other manitous, scenting them out--it was here to challenge him. Fear filled him at the thought of losing his tribe to this monster, but instead of making him freeze, it spurred him on. With a bellow like the sound of a horn blaring he pushed himself up onto his hind legs, giving a mock attack. His back hoof never left the tree. The creature didn't even notice this, and snarled with some surprise, baring its claws and fanning its wings. The manitou's front hooves came down again with a thud and he repeated the gesture several times, thumping his forehooves against the ground. The creature, realizing he wasn't attacking, stood up straighter from its crouched posture and blinked, then scowled. Its eyes narrowed.
Amusing! You have any other petty little tricks, or should I merely--
It didn't get to finish. With a blaring whistle, the manitou launched himself away from the tree, energy surging up from his hoof, searing through his breast. He lowered his antlers and managed to catch the creature square in the chest, hearing the gust of its breath whooshing out over his head as he ran on with it hanging over him. He stopped abruptly and flung the creature from his antlers so it crashed to the ground and rolled to a stop. To his astonishment, the attack barely seemed to faze it. It got to its feet almost immediately, snarling and biting. Blood was smeared in its fur, yet it didn't even act as if it were wounded!
A noble defense, it hissed, but you might as well give it up. They are mine, now.
They are not yours! the manitou shot back, and, again lowering his antlers, lunged at the enemy. He just barely saw the creature grin nastily before the impact--before realizing there wasn't one. He halted in his tracks, all right, but only because he could move no further. Something grabbed his antlers and wrenched them to the side, dragging him down with a shrill whistle. His legs flew out from underneath him and he fell to the ground with a thunderous crash.
The herd started whistling and pawing in alarm. He whistled at them to run, yet none of them did. His warning turned into a high-pitched bleat when the creature grasped him by his thick neck and swung him up into the air, then down again. This time he landed flat upon his back with his legs sticking upwards, but the impact had felt a hundred times worse. His breath wheezed out and his limbs crumpled, blood trickling from his nose.
Upside-down, he saw the creature appear before him. It sneered.
You would like to try that again?
He blinked the dizziness away and winced. Shaking his head, he rolled himself over painfully, staggering to his feet. The creature rolled its eyes--did it view all of this as merely an amusement?--then shook its head.
Suit yourself, fool. I hope you don't mind your tribe witnessing this...it won't be pretty.
They are not yours, the manitou wheezed. Go on your way!
The creature laughed. "Stupid! I've won already! Even they can see it. Just give up and quit wasting my time!"
In response the manitou gave another blaring whistle and galloped forward at him. The result was the same. The creature grabbed onto his antler and tossed him to the ground. He got to his feet again, and the move was repeated. No matter what side he attacked from, or what dodges he tried, he always ended up upon the ground. By now the other manitous were whistling mournfully as if he had lost already. He feared that he had; yet knowing that they were still there, depending on him, made him refuse to admit it. He braced himself, struggling to draw forth what little power remained within him, and staggered forward. He leaned briefly against a tree and asked it for its medicine, when a great clawed paw slammed across his face, raking open the skin and sending him crashing to the ground with a squeal. The tree snapped in half, the upper half creaking and leaning until its branches caught in those of a companion, halting its fall. The manitou lay gasping upon the ground, trying feebly to push himself back up. His front hoof slipped and he fell. With a surge of panic he realized he couldn't get up this time, the pain and exhaustion were too great. Still he struggled, kicking at the earth until hunks of it began to fly every which way; the agonized looks on the faces of the other manitous filled him with even more pain than what the creature had dealt him. He saw it step into view, and it sneered down at him again.
He bared his teeth and kicked his legs. They wouldn't lift him. He tipped his head so his left antler dug into the ground, and then used it to lever his head upwards. He managed to slip his left foreleg beneath him to push himself up, then his left hind leg, then the others. The creature was approaching his herd.
You, it said, nodding at one of the other, bigger males. Take lead of them, and follow--
The white manitou whistled madly. He galloped forward, antlers lowered; the creature turned around with a stunned look to receive another blow to the stomach, which sent it flying back toward the tribe. The manitous scattered when it landed with a loud gasping sound, one of its wings cracking. It fell still, and for the briefest moment he allowed himself to think that maybe this was over--maybe--
Too late, his reverie snapped. An enraged ROAR filled the woods and the creature leapt to its feet--he had just enough time to quail inside--before its tail met his face, twisting his head around so he spun in a circle, his legs giving out underneath him. Another crash to the ground, and his head was spinning, his sides heaving. He didn't even know which direction he faced anymore; a pain shot through the torn muscle in his neck, but this was superseded by the pain of the claws digging into his skin. The creature pulled him up by the throat, muzzle wrinkled in an ugly snarl.
You are obviously the leader here! Allow me to make it clear for you! I am the leader now! I had a thought of you keeping your place as a secondary--yet you are quickly making me change my mind! His claws dug further and the manitou wheezed for air, his eyes flashing with panic. Make your decision now, fool! You and "your" herd come with me, or I take your herd and leave your corpse for the Wendigoes! It is as simple as that!
They are MY tribe! the manitou protested weakly, still struggling against the creature. It sighed gustily, but he noted with alarm that it seemed more amused now than angered. As soon as it spoke to him again his alarm grew tenfold.
I had hoped to spare myself the trouble, but it appears you give me no choice. I truly would regret losing such a useful underling as yourself. Perhaps other means are required besides brute force.
With this, its fingers again sank into the manitou's neck, though not in a death grip. His eyes bulged as soon as he realized what it was doing--he felt his resolve, his will to protect the herd, begin to wane, something else replacing it. He felt the sudden urge to follow this creature, to do its bidding--whatever that might be, whatever the risk might be to his tribe. His struggles slowly began to cease as the creature's influence took him over, calming his panic and sapping away his determination. He began to give in to it--why fight something so much more powerful than he was?--he could never win--when his eyes rolled and he once more spotted the tribe. They still hovered at the edge of the clearing, eyes wide and mouths hanging. As soon as they saw him looking at them they whistled. He heard the fear in their voices, saw a vision in his head of the creature doing the same thing to them that it was doing to him--and gave one last weak struggle.
The grip tightened. Do not even try. It will be one way or the other--but either way they will all follow me! He gasped and wheezed as his breath caught in his throat. DECIDE!
His legs gave out. He finally decided, though by now the decision was hardly his own. His eyes flashed blue, a willful look in them, though the look was not his own either. He saw the creature smile at him as its grip finally released, and he sank to the ground, panting but no longer afraid. Indeed, all of his panic had vanished, so a calmness filled him, calmness and resolve. Something...felt right. He wasn't meant to be the most powerful here. This other one was even more so. How could he be so foolish as to fight the one with the most power? The one with the greatest power ruled the tribe--protected the tribe. That was what he had wanted all along...wasn't it?
He got once more to his feet, but didn't charge or run away. He looked on as the creature approached the other manitous, who whistled and bunched against each other, eyes rolling and ears swiveling. It turned back and snarled at him with annoyance.
He turned to face them and whistled, loud and clear. The manitous stopped bustling about and looked at him, their attention solely his. He tossed his head, antlers waving vaguely in the wolf creature's direction; the wolf creature's wings flared.
To the lake upon the other side of the Island! Each of you!
They stared at it, then back at him. The white manitou tossed his head again, the gesture obvious. Their own heads lowered a bit, but they didn't protest. The two most powerful stood by and watched as they started filing past, heading in the direction of the lake. None of them questioned either of the watchers; they had never been given any reason to.
The manitou watched them file past until he felt a nudge in his ribs from the wolf creature. Before, the gesture would have threatened or, at the least, annoyed him. Now, he obediently turned about once more and trotted off after them without question. The creature flexed its injured wing and then rose up into the air to fly above them, leaving them free, yet none of them attempted to flee back to their territory. The white manitou followed up behind them and nudged at them with his antlers whenever one strayed too far to the side. They didn't think to think twice about what they were doing.
When the creature barked down at them, announcing their arrival at the dark lake, the white manitou whistled in return. Nothing felt wrong about entering the cold waters after the creature. As his head went beneath the surface, the water flowing over his nostrils and into his ears, he thought about the honor of being a secondary. Somehow, it felt right. That was the way it always was, always had been, always would be.
The one with the most power would always lead.
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