|Main story folder & table of contents: "Return To Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 41: The Back Burner"
MOON WOLF BROUGHT his spear up into an attack position, balancing on one hand and knee, his blank yellow eyes fixed on Charmian. Charmian, for her part, clutched the cowrie shell around her neck as if it could offer some sort of protection. She swallowed, and it hurt.
"Hey Chakenapok," she called out. "If you want a fight so much, then why don't you just come here yourself?"
I already told you--that would hardly be an interesting game, would it? Chakenapok said, just as Moon Wolf crouched closer to the ground. Charmian took a step back and put her hand out behind her, to be ready for when he should attack. Now, the defender of the Island pitted against her former teacher...that sounds as if it could be interesting.
It's like he's trying to play mind games with me! Charmian thought, chewing her lip in anxiety. She hated fighting Moon Wolf, but Chakenapok wasn't exactly giving her any other choice. She suspected that was the point.
"Moon Wolf?" she said aloud, her voice hesitant. "Don't you remember me? That whole winter I spent at your cave with you teaching me--doesn't that bring back anything at all?"
He can't hear you, Chakenapok said. He's dead.
Charmian blinked. At that same moment Moon Wolf launched himself forward, seeming to fly along above the ground like a hawk swooping at a mouse. It was sheer instinct that made Charmian duck her head to avoid the swing of the spear, and Moon Wolf went sailing over her. He landed behind her on the trail and swept forward again, but this time Charmian was better prepared.
She lifted up her hand, crooking her fingers, and hurled it forward. "Fireball!"
A ball of fire shot from her palm, zooming at Moon Wolf's face. He easily batted it aside, but in the process had to slow himself down and lose his aim. She'd figured he could easily dispose of a fireball, if he was truly a wabano as Stick-In-The-Dirt had said. She hadn't hurt him, but at least she'd slowed him down.
She jumped back several times, toward the woods, hurling several more fireballs, slowing him a fraction of a second more each time. She managed to reach the treeline, the maples and pines and birches giving her a slight feeling of safety; Mani already stood here, and when she landed beside him he charged forward with a loud whistle before she could stop him.
"Mani--!" She flung out her hand, but he was already gone, lowering his antlers at Moon Wolf's chest. Moon Wolf skidded to a halt and flicked his wrist--only at the last second did Charmian see the knife that Mani apparently had missed. It sailed through the air and sliced along his front leg, laying open the skin up to his knee. Charmian cried out and grabbed at her arm as blood started to seep down toward her elbow. She instinctively crushed it to her chest while Mani sank to the ground. He whistled and tried to get up a few times, but could only hobble a few paces before sinking again. His eyes met Charmian's and she saw the regret there. Moon Wolf, for his part, brought his spear up and crouched in an attack posture again, completely ignoring the manitou by now and focusing on Charmian.
I can't believe it. He disabled Mani--but he knew that attack wouldn't disable me! He doesn't want to go after anybody else--he's just interested in fighting ME!
She gasped and ducked when another knife flew at her head, embedding itself in the tree behind her. She hurled another fireball which he batted aside--then Charmian had to jump out of the way when he threw one right back at her. His was even bigger, and when it struck the spot where she'd been standing the entire ground erupted into flames, every trace of plant life evaporating as if it had spontaneously combusted. Charmian stared at the barren spot with wide eyes, then bolted into the woods when she saw him coming at her.
Oh, come now, Chakenapok chided as she ran, stumbling and tripping over roots and rocks and then racing forward again. Is this any way to honor the one who taught you? At least try to live up to your reputation!
"I'm not--" Charmian had to cut herself off to knock aside a knife when it flew at her. "--Your stupid PAWN!"
Chakenapok laughed. Actually, I had hoped you would be one of the best players--but you're sorely disappointing me now. Should I have him finish you off, then? And with this Moon Wolf leveled the spear and at last threw it as hard as he could, and it was everything Charmian could do just to get out of the way in time. It still managed to graze the skin on her other arm, and she landed in the leaves, pressing her arm to her chest along with the other one. Any more limbs and she would be just as helpless as Mani.
"THAT'S NOT FUNNY!" she screamed at the air.
Chakenapok chuckled. Strange, I thought it was rather entertaining. I would look out if I were you.
Charmian's head jerked up. Moon Wolf spun in a circle, then hurled his hands forward. A great gust of wind whirled around Charmian, nearly knocking her off balance. She saw the spear sweep into the air, turn around, and come at her from behind this time. Instead of letting it impale her like a shish kebab and fly back to its master, she gritted her teeth and crooked her hands in front of herself, ignoring the pain of the cuts on her arms. "Rock shield!" she yelled, and the ground roiled and seethed as a mass of small rocks and pebbles pulled themselves loose, forming a small wall in front of her. The spear tip struck this and it fell to the ground with a harmless clank; Charmian broke her hand through the wall of rocks, which dissolved into its separate parts and scattered around her, and picked the weapon up before it could fly away again. She rounded on Moon Wolf, holding it up just as he had.
"Not so tough without this, are you?" she challenged.
Moon Wolf held out his hand. She gripped the spear shaft tighter, expecting it to tug forward--but instead another spear appeared in his hand, replacing the first. Charmian's jaw dropped and then she fumed.
"That's HARDLY FAIR!"
You can call up whatever weapon you like, Chakenapok replied, so it's only fair that he should do the same. It's not unfair, it's merely the way of the game.
"How many times do I have to tell you--" Charmian held up the spear and deflected a blow sent by Moon Wolf, jumping awkwardly over rocks and tree stumps as she went. "--This isn't--a stupid--GAME!!"
You have no sense of adventure. Charmian wheezed when Moon Wolf hurled a surprise gust of wind at her, knocking the air from her lungs and sending her toppling. She let go of the spear and he grabbed onto it, now wielding one in each hand. Charmian landed on her elbows with a hiss of pain, then jerked her head up to see him standing over her, both spears leveled at her chest. Her eyes grew.
Oh, Chakenapok said, this is hardly amusing. I think you've earned one little head start--but only one, and that just because I like you. Any more than that wouldn't be fair.
She stared at Moon Wolf in surprise when he lifted the spears, but didn't question it beyond that. She scuttled backwards like a crab before rolling over and clambering to her feet. Moon Wolf sprinted forward almost immediately, and a second later she was dodging his blows again.
Some head start! If this is how he treats people he likes, I'll hate to see how he treats people he DOESN'T like!
She hurtled over the edge of a hollow and fell down into it with a yelp, rolling head over heels. She lifted her head in time to see Moon Wolf appear and jump over the edge, and dug her fingers into the soil. "Earth shield!" she yelled, and a wall of earth sprouted up around her on all sides. She heard the spears thud against it, and sat in the middle of the enclosure, panting and shaking.
It doesn't matter what I do. Any of my elemental moves he can just deflect. Any of my fighting moves he'll know! Snow Bear could've at least told me what a wabano's weakness is!
A wabano's weakness--? What about Moon Wolf's weaknesses--?
She squinted her eyes shut and thought as hard as she could. He simply hadn't seemed to have any weaknesses, that she could see, aside from his short temper. She opened her eyes at this thought, the sounds of the spears thudding against the earth growing stronger. It wasn't much, but it was the only thing she had to go on. He might be dead, but maybe she could get through to him if she tried.
A spearhead shot through the earth wall, then retreated. The soil crumbled and collapsed, pouring down around her so she had to shield her head. She spotted Moon Wolf doing the same and took her chance, jumping up out of the pit and climbing back up to ground level. He lifted his head when he saw her trying to escape, and bounded right after her.
"Moon Wolf!" Charmian shouted as she went, and hurled a fireball to give herself a second or two more time. "Don't you remember all that training you gave me? I stayed at your cave all winter! You taught me everything I know!"
Futile, Mainlander, Chakenapok said mildly.
Charmian ignored him. She grabbed hold of a branch and swung it up to deflect one of the spears when he jabbed it at her. "You were one of the strongest people I knew," she went on. "Do you remember you slapped me across the face once? You even tried to take on Ocryana! You knew you couldn't win, but you did it anyway!"
I told you he can't hear you, Chakenapok said. Moon Wolf's eyes stayed as blank and yellow as ever as he swung one hand forward in a cutting motion, a blade of fire shooting out at Charmian's neck. She gasped and ducked her head before it could decapitate her, then flung up a handful of leaves at his face.
"LEAF ATTACK!" Moon Wolf had to stop to try to bat the leaves away as they flew at his eyes. Charmian made it to the top of the pit and got to her feet. "You didn't even let Ocryana scare you off!" she yelled down at him. "But you're going to let some dead guy tell you what to do? He's not even ALIVE anymore! And you're going to take ORDERS from him? I always thought you were a lot stronger than that!"
Chakenapok laughed. Oh, I see. Trying to humiliate him, are you?
Charmian gritted her teeth and deflected a knife, sending it falling to the ground. "I think you've already done that pretty well on your own! Like I said, if you weren't such a chicken you'd be out here doing this YOURSELF!"
If you think you can insult me into breaking the game, then you'll have to think again, Chakenapok returned. What is it that your people say...? "Sticks and stones"? Speaking of sticks and stones, you might want to move a little faster or you could gain some broken bones of your own.
CRACK! Charmian yelled when a large rock slammed into her left arm, sending a fresh stream of blood oozing from the already nasty cut. She heard a whistle, and knew that the blow had hurt Mani even more as well. She sensed him trying to come to her aid, and this only fueled her on. She pressed her arm to her chest again and threw out her good hand. "Tree--uh--tree attack!!" she shouted, not even sure what it would do. A tremendous creaking sound filled the woods, and both she and Moon Wolf glanced upwards. The three or four trees closest to Moon Wolf started bending downward, and before he could move, their branches met and tangled around him, trapping him between them. Charmian stared as the trees' tops lifted slightly from the ground, Moon Wolf struggling to pull himself loose of the makeshift trap.
That's different. She shook her head abruptly and raised her hands, wincing at the pain in her arms. "Tree--"
FLOOM! Charmian blinked when the branches erupted in flames, the trees snapping back, their tops scorched. Moon Wolf fell back to the ground, landing on hand and knee, and came running. Charmian threw her arms out to the sides instead.
Moon Wolf flung his arms out, then brought them swinging forward. And instead of surrounding him with a wall of soil as she'd expected to do, she found herself trapped, the earth shooting up to pile around her feet and sucking her into it up to her knees. She struggled to pull herself free, without success.
That's right! My attacks--I have to think them first--!
Shink. One of the spears which had dropped to the ground popped up into Moon Wolf's hand and he aimed it at her. Charmian gawked at him for a second before renewing her struggles, but the earth held fast. She expected him to throw the spear at her, but he came running instead.
At the next-to-last second, Charmian finally flailed her hands at her legs and yelled, "EARTH!" and it let her go. She looked up in time to see the spear coming straight at her face--
Clank! The spear deflected, and Moon Wolf staggered to the side. Charmian opened her eyes in bewilderment to see that it was his silver pendant which had saved her--she'd grabbed it out of her pocket and held it up before her out of pure panic. She didn't know if it was blind luck or some manitou which had guaranteed it would be in the right spot to deflect the spear attack, but that didn't matter. She felt incredibly grateful.
Moon Wolf spun around, regaining his balance. Charmian held up the silver necklace again. "Don't you remember this?" she shouted; he charged, and she turned and dashed toward the trees. I guess not!
This is not very entertaining, Chakenapok said boredly.
Charmian ducked behind a tree just as the spear lodged in its trunk. She bobbed from side to side, now trying to avoid Moon Wolf's knife. "I'd like to see YOU do this and then say that!" she screamed.
So you're tired of the weapons too, Chakenapok said. Perhaps it would be more lively if you fought on your own terms.
"What--?" Charmian got out, before Moon Wolf's spears and knife vanished in a puff of smoke. She stared at him in confusion, but the disappearance didn't seem to faze him any. Instead he thrust out one arm, then brought it swooping forward. An arc of fire sprouted out of nowhere and came whipping at her.
"Oh, for GOD'S SAKE!!" Charmian fell flat to the ground to avoid the flames--only to feel a sharp pain in her face before her head whipped back, sending her tumbling. She sat up dizzily and put a hand to her cheek, tasting blood.
"Did you just kick me--?!"
Moon Wolf responded by running at her yet again, raising his other hand to repeat the attack. The flame-whip reappeared and started arcing forward.
Charmian's anger flared. "FIRE!" She put her hands together and sent out a billowing flame which managed to cut the flame-whip in half, sending both halves flying past her harmlessly.
That's more like it! Chakenapok exclaimed.
"He's really starting to piss me off," Charmian muttered. She gritted her teeth; Moon Wolf made an odd gesture with his hands and arms, crossing them in front of him. Charmian opened her mouth and then--"Aaak--!"--ropes made of leaves encircled her, twisting and squeezing tight. She hadn't even noticed the trees moving!
As if that weren't bad enough, he then flicked his hand and flames started shooting up the leaf ropes!
Charmian yelped and kicked her foot, trying to shake off the fire. She looked around herself for any sign of water--wind was likely to just make the flames race even faster--but here in the middle of the woods, finding a lake or a puddle wasn't likely.
Still, out of desperation, she screamed, "WATER! ANY WATER!!"
For a second, nothing happened...then a whooshing sound came, and then, to her immense surprise, a spout of water shot into the clearing seemingly from nowhere. "Douse!!" Charmian yelled, and it splashed over her, putting out the flames and making the leaf ropes sag and go slack. She yanked them off and glanced around. There weren't any springs nearby. Where had that even come from--?
She heard another whistle from further away, and then remembered.
That's right! Mani--a water manitou! He did that!
"Thanks, Mani--!" she called out, then gasped and ducked again. Moon Wolf renewed his attack, now seemingly more intent on just plain hitting or kicking her than on tossing out fireballs. She nearly tripped in the loose earth, and when he came at her she fell back, bringing her foot up as hard as she could. It struck him in the chin, knocking his head back and sending him staggering. He halted in the middle of the clearing and rubbed at the bruise forming there while Charmian got to her feet and clenched her fists.
"That's for slapping me in the face!" she snapped. "I still owed you one for that!"
Some tiny part of her hoped the injury would wake him up, but his eyes were as blank as ever. He came running, raising his arm; she raised her own to block it, only to feel his fist strike from the other side, and now she fell as well. How come she hadn't guessed he would pull something like that--?
"Not fair!" she sputtered, wiping blood from her mouth and trying to push herself up before he could attack again.
You dislike weapons, you dislike fighting with fire, Chakenapok said, so what DO you like?
"I'd like it if you LEFT--MY FRIENDS--ALONE!!" Charmian dug her fingers into the ground and flung two handfuls of soil and leaves up into Moon Wolf's face. He managed to avoid most of it, but the split second it took him to do so was what she'd hoped for. She abandoned every plot of how to attack him and simply started swinging and kicking, screaming the entire time. Moon Wolf blocked her first kick and punch, but she swung at him so much that she finally started to land a few. They didn't seem to be hurting him much, though, and he finally hit her in the face again so hard that she slammed back into a tree, knocking her head. She slumped to the ground and put a hand to her temple, dazed and foggy.
And so, how does it feel? Chakenapok mused. The great defender of the Island--beaten to a pulp by her beloved teacher. Her DEAD teacher, might I say. He started laughing. You are the one they call to protect them, yet you cannot even fight off a dead man...?
"He's not DEAD!!" Charmian screamed, flinging out one bloody hand, palm open and fingers crooked. She would have called any and every elemental she could think of--only she was no longer thinking. Instead she shrieked in a fury, as if every thing which had frightened and enraged her so far was struggling to get out. She felt her heart thud hard, then--
Something blasted, slamming her into the tree again. She blinked her blurry eyes in confusion and saw the blinding bolt of light shooting from her palm. What happened next must have been instantaneous, but it was as if it happened almost in slow motion. She saw Moon Wolf's eyes fix on the bolt right as it came at him, and opened her mouth to scream again.
The bolt slammed into Moon Wolf's chest--and she finally saw an expression cross his face, his eyes widening in sheer surprise and his mouth flying open. The beam actually lifted him several feet into the air, the rays at the end spreading out and enveloping him on all sides. The main beam itself, still attached to her hand, flared as if gathering more energy, and the light bubble did the same--Moon Wolf arched and shrieked in obvious pain, the bolt hissing and crackling at his chest.
Charmian clambered to her feet. "No no NO!!" she wailed, flailing her hand and trying to pull the beam back. "NOT THIS WAY! I don't want to do this! Not like this! LET GO!"
The light's buzzing and Moon Wolf's screaming nearly drowned her out. The sight of him impaled on the beam as if on some huge spear filled her eyes with tears, and she had to shake her head to clear them, biting on her lip so hard it hurt. "Moon Wolf!" she cried; then stumbled to the side, then the other way, trying everything she could to break him loose from the beam. She even waved her free hand in front of it, pressed her palm to the ground, and went behind the tree--but nothing worked. It stayed connected to him as solidly as ever, and now she even saw another light flaring from his chest, and stopped to stare up at it. She saw what seemed to be a hole emerge, something glowing inside it--and recognized the sight of his spirit stone. It was glaring blue with a purple sheen, black tendrils snaking all around it like smoke--as she watched, these black tendrils began retreating like spiders' legs, pulling back and beginning to dissipate. The spirit stone throbbed even brighter, then the bubble surrounding Moon Wolf did the same, and his scream grew even louder. Charmian put her hands to her ears in a futile attempt to block out the horrible sound. She couldn't help staring at him though, in a sort of terrified fascination, as the light bubble grew and expanded, just as it had around the Shadow Wolf. It grew so bright that she could hardly see Moon Wolf within it anymore, and in a panic she scrambled behind the tree, covering her head and clenching her teeth, tears running down her face and nose.
I'm sorry--I didn't mean to do it--I'm sorry--!
CRACK. That was the only way she could have described the sound that came next, and even that didn't describe the force of the explosion, as the light flared one last time before giving way, sending hunks of itself hurtling all throughout the woods.
* * * * *
In his cave, Chakenapok jerked his hand back with a startled hiss, a stinging pain running up his fingers as something seemed to snap loose.
* * * * *
CRACK. Charmian cringed, then lifted her head. The light shot away from Moon Wolf in every direction when the beam and the bubble snapped--he seemed to hang suspended in midair for just a second--and then he went limp and fell, hitting the ground with an awful thud which made her wince. He landed on his back with one leg bent beneath him, his mouth still open and his eyes staring skyward, still wide and surprised. A faint mist rose from his body before fading away in the air, then a silence so loud that it made her ears ring filled the woods.
Charmian cowered behind the tree for several moments, her breath hitching. She couldn't stop herself from trembling. It was only when she heard Mani whistle from far off that her senses started to come back to her, and she crawled out from behind the tree, slowly making her way toward Moon Wolf's body, grimacing with each lance of pain that shot up her arms. She finally reached him and stopped, staring down at his wide eyes. Her eyes filled with tears again.
I've killed him--I must've killed him--maybe the Wolf could've taken that, but the Wolf was alive--he isn't...
She blinked, and the tears fell from her eyes. She almost leapt back when Moon Wolf sucked in a shaky breath, then let it out...and sucked in another.
He's...he's still alive...?
He's still alive--!
"Moon Wolf?" She leaned over him and looked at him more closely now, daring to feel the slightest bit of hope. His breathing was shallow and shaky--but at least he was breathing! He continued staring blankly heavenward, and she saw his eyes were still yellow; biting her lip, she reached down and touched his chest, then gently shook his shoulder, smearing it with blood.
Moon Wolf blinked. He sucked in a breath, then the yellow in his eyes began to swirl and break apart, just as the black tendrils around his spirit stone had, and then faded away. His breathing slowed and he blinked a few more times, his eyes dark now; Charmian sucked in her own breath when they at last cleared and fixed on her own, and then, weakly, Moon Wolf spoke.
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