Silver Eagle Feather makes the lake demon an offering...
Previous chapter: "Part 15: The Devil's Lake"
Father & Son
CHARMIAN GASPED AND ducked behind Tal Natha as fast as she could when the demon leapt down from the rock, landing squarely in front of them with a thud. In an instant he was nose to nose with Tal Natha, teeth bared and claws crooked. All it would have taken was one swift sideways swoop and his horns could have impaled the smaller Ocryx or else torn his throat open. Still Tal Natha did not run--he flinched just barely, eyes narrowing more out of fear than anything else and ears pressed close to his head, but he made no move to back away. Now that he was there before her Charmian could see how big and powerful Ocryx really was. He made Tal Natha look almost scrawny.
She gasped again when the creature's eyes focused directly on her, as if he noticed her for the first time. They widened for a moment, and he leaned forward with a great snort, attempting to pick up her scent. Charmian grabbed Tal Natha's wing for protection and squeezed her eyes shut.
"She is of no concern to you," Tal Natha said. "I come to speak with you about your mate, Ocryana."
An ugly look came into Ocryx's eyes. "Don't call her that! I would hardly have such a venomous wench as my mate. She dwells alone because of how full of poison she is."
"Still she focuses on you. Perhaps you believe you have put her behind you but she will have no such thing. She has plans for you right now."
"You of course would know this, would you not?"
Charmian opened her eyes again and saw the look of disgust and--something else?--on Ocryx's face. He backed away from Tal Natha and she felt a bit of relief that he so far didn't attack.
Tal Natha tensed. Charmian looked up at him now and sensed what he felt. He wasn't hiding his emotions from her very well. She could feel pain, anger, hurt, sadness, resignation--what did it all mean?
"After all, you are that witch's offspring." Ocryx stopped some distance from them, tail slithering along the ground, giving them an evil look.
"As I am yours," Tal Natha retorted. "As is X. As much as you say you despise us you have yet to kill us. Why is this?"
Ocryx snarled. "I have better things to do with my time than waste it on you!"
"I think you lie to yourself, Father."
Ocryx reared up and bellowed. "STOP CALLING ME THAT!"
"Father," the word echoed from the woods behind them, only not in Tal Natha's voice.
Tal Natha tensed again and looked over his shoulder. Ocryx froze with surprise. Charmian and Francois turned as well.
A shadow stood just before the trees, barely visible, green eyes glowing softly.
Ocryx blinked, caught off guard; a moment later his flared wings folded back behind him and he lowered himself back to his normal height, looking ready to scowl yet somehow managing to hold his temper. "Silver Eagle Feather. I did not know you were here."
Silver Eagle Feather stepped forward toward the lake. "You know that what Tal Natha speaks is true, Father. You know he would never bother you if it weren't."
Ocryx showed his teeth. Charmian received the impression he wanted to get angry with her but somehow couldn't. In fact, from the moment he'd realized she was there his whole demeanor appeared to have changed. He no longer seemed so threatening as he had before; now he merely seemed...reserved, somehow. As if he held something back.
"What is your purpose here?" he snapped, turning away so as not to have to look at her anymore.
Silver Eagle Feather folded her hands. "You know she detests you--"
"As I detest her. As we detest each other! So get to the point!"
"--yet you refuse to acknowledge the power she has over you. You can't deny this," she said, as he shot her another look which bordered on fury. She gestured at Tal Natha, who lowered his head. "This is the only proof you need."
"A mistake on my part. One which I'll never commit again."
"Can you say this with all certainty, Father? I know the powers that you have over people. She has the same abilities. It's inherent to Ocryxes. She can quite easily fool you without your knowledge. You know this yet you refuse to admit your weakness."
Another bellow. If Charmian hadn't known any better she'd have thought the demon was throwing a temper tantrum. "I AM NOT WEAK!"
"I've never said this, Father. But you do have weaknesses. Why can't you admit that? Why can't you believe that you're in greater danger than you think?"
"And if I am?" His muzzle wrinkled. "Of what concern is this to any of you? I should think you'd all be pleased if I were no longer on the Island."
Matters are not quite so simple as this, Tal Natha cut in. If she gets her way then there will be no Island. Even I know that you are necessary for the survival of us all. If you refuse to admit you can be fooled, you put us all in danger.
Oh, I see. So you look out for yourselves again. His eyes narrowed. "Ocryana no longer has any power over me. If you two are so very afraid of her 'making' me destroy the Island, then I send you on your way with your peace of mind intact. She has no such power."
Every one of us has power, Tal Natha said. Our own kind more than most. You refuse to acknowledge her power, then you admit that you too must be weak.
A roar of rage. Ocryx leapt into the air again, landing and bellowing at Tal Natha so spittle flew in his face. He raised one clawed hand in threat.
Ocryx abruptly broke off, blinking again and glancing over at Silver Eagle Feather. Charmian looked at her. The woman stood with her fists clenched at her sides, an angry look on her face. The way her eyes glowed, now she did look as if she had more than a little Ocryx blood in her.
Ocryx too seemed to realize this as he backed down, lowering his hand. Tal Natha still hadn't moved from his spot, though Charmian could feel him trembling. She felt for his hand and squeezed it again.
"If you do not care for your own safety," Silver Eagle Feather said in a soft, low voice, so that she had everyone's attention, "then perhaps you should be more concerned for the safety of others. You are not the only one Ocryana will target. She will most likely come after Tal Natha as well. And myself. And especially Red Bird."
Another blink. Charmian was startled to see all hostility disappear from Ocryx's face when Silver Eagle Feather spoke the name. For a brief moment he looked almost like X, naive and wide eyed and surprised. But only for a moment. After that his look grew more guarded, though the hostility did not return. He backed away again, ears lowering.
"Red Bird?" he echoed, and his voice was so subdued it was difficult to believe this was the same creature who had been screaming moments before. "What would Ocryana want with her?"
She too has power, Father. Tal Natha shrank back a bit as if afraid of being lashed at for saying that word, then continued. More so than you may believe. I believe she may have more even than Silver Eagle Feather. More even than myself.
A scowl. "How is this possible? She is weak!"
"She is strong," Silver Eagle Feather said. "You know this. Don't deny it."
"She can hardly even look after herself much less help any others!" Ocryx snapped, and even as she continued cowering behind Tal Natha Charmian found herself thinking, How does he know this? "Why do you keep insisting she has power? She would have shown it by now if she did!"
"Because it's in her nature," Silver Eagle Feather said, and left it at that.
Ocryx continued scowling. "I hardly see what this has to do with me."
We are all tied together, Father. Whether you wish it to be so or not. If you die, we all die. If Ocryana wins, we all lose. Tal Natha frowned. I will not pretend that things have ever been well between us. But I know that without you this Island will perish. I am its guardian. It is to be expected that I come to you for assistance when I sense our world is in danger.
"There is little I can do, whelp! If Ocryana wishes to cause her trouble, I'll hardly get in her way. She can destroy herself."
"Then she destroys us all."
A snarl. "Perhaps it's best that way, then!"
He turned on one foot toward the lake, spreading his wings.
Silver Eagle Feather stepped forward. "Father."
He froze and glared back at her impatiently.
The woman walked forward, bending down and placing something on the ground. Charmian squinted at it. When it glinted in the faint moonlight she recognized the small shiny stone Silver Eagle Feather had been holding earlier, at the spring. She stood up again and backed away from it, staring at Ocryx.
Ocryx paused and looked down at the shiny object. He looked torn, undecided--as if part of him wanted to step forward and snatch the stone, yet another part held him back. Finally he scowled and turned away from it.
"Keep it," he muttered. "I don't want your offering."
This time Silver Eagle Feather looked surprised. Tal Natha and Francois both looked over at the stone as if expecting to see it crumble into dust. Charmian remembered what Silver Eagle Feather had told her about Ocryx's tendency to hoard shiny gems, as if he felt they might help him someday. Why would he turn down this one? What was wrong with it?
Indeed, everything about the way Ocryx was acting led Charmian to believe this entire situation was completely abnormal.
Ocryx put one foot in the water. "Stay away from my lake," he said to Tal Natha, though he didn't look back at him. "As I stay away from you. You'll live longer this way." He did turn his head, slightly, now, and Charmian could barely make out the strange look in his eyes, the same look he'd had when speaking with Tal Natha earlier. She believed she could finally place it. Guilt.
"Silver Eagle Feather." She looked up at him. I...I must apologize for what happened to X. This was not meant to happen. Mitchi Manitou will pay dearly for this. I will not tolerate my manitous doing such things without my knowledge.
Before she could respond, if she intended to, he had turned back to the lake, lifting into the air before plunging down into the water. The tip of his tail vanished from view beneath the surface and wide ripples drifted away, fading and disappearing.
For a while the four of them stood staring out at the water, its surface brushed just barely by the faintest breeze. Francois turned to the woods and let out a whistle.
Charmian squeezed Tal Natha's hand. When she thought, she tried hard to focus the thought at him alone. What was that about?
She felt him squeeze her hand back, sensed his gratitude at her support. My father... he paused ...my father still has feelings for her. Silver Eagle Feather. I do not know if it is love or merely the Ocryx part of her that attracts him. She does not do this on purpose, as she already has a mate. But it is just as I said, Ocryxes have this ability, whether they try or not...but I do feel that he genuinely loves her, as well. He looked over at his sister as she approached the little stone sitting before the lake, stooping and picking it up, looking it over as if searching for flaws, any reason why he would have refused it. She knows this herself...and she does care for him. Though not in the way he cares for her. It is complex, you see; I believe he's not certain how he should treat her...
"Because of the...relationship thing," Charmian murmured. "Like, should he love her as a father or as a--well--you know...I think I understand..."
Yes, I believe you do. Do not be embarrassed, this is the way with my kind. I'm certain she must have felt confused at one time also. Another pause. Perhaps it all would have been for the best if we Ocryxes had never been allowed contact with humans...I do believe a lot of your problems, of all our problems, would never exist if this were so.
"Don't say that," Charmian said aloud. Then in a lower voice, "Really, I said I'd come here and try to help you, no matter who or what you are. You asked me if it made a difference whether you were human or not. You didn't really give me the chance to answer...but I came here, didn't I? None of you seem horrible to me, not even Ocryx himself. You're all a lot more like we are than you think. If I didn't know any better I'd say Ocryx is feeling bad because he never really got to know you or Silver Eagle Feather the way he wanted to."
Tal Natha glanced down at her, surprised. After a moment a small smile came to his face.
Little Charmian...you appear to be wiser than I gave you credit for. Although I can't be so positive my father is as concerned for me as you say, I do believe he has feelings he refuses to show. He is proud that way. He will not admit when he is wrong. The smile disappeared and he looked pensive. This is what will cause us problems. He knows that Ocryana is a threat. Yet he refuses to admit that she still has a hold over him. Which I know she does. Personally. His ears lowered a little and he looked uncomfortable; when Charmian waited for him to clarify he didn't. He let go of her hand and turned back to the others. We'd best leave this place. I trust him when he says his manitous will no longer give us trouble, but that does not mean he can control them all the time. Perhaps Ocryana gains power over them as well. It worries me that they would act so harshly without his orders.
"You think she might already have power over him and he doesn't know it yet? He could be acting on her impulses at this moment?"
"Perhaps, yes. But not likely. I did not...sense this from him. His mind is for the most part clear. It is his judgement that is cloudy. But it would not take long for her to gain the influence that she needs. Despite what he says he is weak, and his inability to admit this makes him even more vulnerable." His head lowered. "Perhaps he is even more vulnerable than Red Bird is."
Red Bird! "What was that about?" Charmian asked, jogging to catch up with him. "He acted all...funny when Silver Eagle Feather mentioned her name. How does he know her?"
Tal Natha's eyes grew sad even as he didn't look at her. He has known her for a long time.
"Here we are," Francois called, managing to coax the two shy manitous out from the woods. "Took a bit of convincing but I finally got them to come out. They find it a bit difficult to believe the 'other' manitous are a bit leery of showing their faces right now." He smiled. "I sense that Mitchi will have wished he were dealing merely with Old Mother Manitou now rather than the Ocryx, eh?"
Sister? Tal Natha called. Silver Eagle Feather looked up at him. She still knelt near the lake, looking at the stone. Do you come with us?
Silver Eagle Feather looked back down at the stone in her hand. Charmian broke away from Tal Natha to join her. "Yes," she murmured after a moment. "I'm coming." She stood up, still clutching the stone, only when Charmian reached her she put back her hand and tossed it out into the lake, as far as it would go. Charmian watched it circle through the air before disappearing with a tiny splash.
"Why did you do that?" she asked, mystified.
"Because he wanted it," Silver Eagle Feather replied softly. She stared at the water. "He wouldn't accept it because he saw it as a bribe...an insincere offering from one he should not accept an offering from." A pause, and she looked up at the sky as if searching for something there. Charmian followed suit, but saw only stars. "As soon as he refused it, it was his to keep. He does have a bit of honor. I thought so but I couldn't be certain until now." She turned back to Tal Natha, folding her hands again. "He's being stubborn again...but I do believe he may try to help us. If not directly, then he'll keep his eyes open from now on. He knows what you say is true. He only needed to hear it from another to believe it. I think he's known all along but didn't wish to admit it to himself."
Tal Natha frowned. I did not receive such a favorable impression from him, Sister. Are you certain you don't judge him too kindly?
She smiled. "Yes, I'm certain. I can tell." Tal Natha made a slight chuffing noise and scuffed at the ground, averting his eyes. "I know him better than you do, remember. He may be proud and impulsive and stubborn but he's not stupid. He'll be aware of Ocryana's efforts now."
So I suppose our meeting was not entirely fruitless, after all...if you are correct, Sister.
"I'm correct. Try not to worry about it so much. We warned him and this was all we could do as far as he is concerned. Now we have to focus on ourselves."
I suppose this also is true... He cast a final look at the lake, then started moving away from it. We go back to Old Mother Manitou's for the night. It is safest there. It grows late and you must need your sleep, he said to Charmian.
Charmian didn't say anything in return. Although worn out from the long day she wasn't certain if she'd be able to sleep at all.
Tal Natha noticed her pause. What is wrong, human? You think of something else?
Charmian shook her head. "Oh--well, sort of...my mom was supposed to pick us up at eight o'clock...it must be past eight by now...she's going to be worried about me."
Tal Natha looked at her for a moment, then one ear twitched. Do not worry about your mother. Remember what I told you. Time passes differently here on the Island from the way it does on the mainland. Perhaps you have been gone a day, perhaps a year, perhaps but a moment.
"A year?" Somehow that didn't make Charmian feel any better.
Please do not worry. Francois will tell you. The currents of time are not steady or predictable but they most often seem to move more... He trailed off, tilting his head, obviously at a loss. He made a growling sound and Francois cut in.
"Your mère will be fine. While we spend a whole day here, she is probably spending but an hour or so, perhaps even less. I have come and gone from the Island many times and so far have nothing to regret of it."
"Okay," Charmian said, uncertainly.
She watched Silver Eagle Feather head back to her manitou and climb atop it with a distracted look upon her face, as if she thought of something else. Tal Natha touched Charmian with his wing and she climbed up on his back, putting her arms around his neck again. Now that nightfall had come and they were ready to go back to...whatever there was of normalcy on this Island, she felt sad. As if there was so much more that she needed to do, yet hadn't had the chance to finish. With a pang she realized she was also homesick.
Granted, the furthest she'd ever slept away from home was over at a friend's house. Now here she was in a different dimension.
Needless to say she suddenly felt very lonely and far away from home.
She shut her eyes and started chattering again as Tal Natha pushed off and soared up into the sky, the manitous disappearing into the woods. She managed to cast a brief glance back at the lake as they rose higher, and wasn't certain if it were friendly stars she saw down there now or the malevolent glow of manitou eyes. And as they swept away from the lake she was just about positive she heard the not-too-faraway gibbering and cackling of GeeBees.
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