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Rated: 13+ · Serial · Fantasy · #1554698
Charmian has to dispose of a rather nasty mess...
Main story folder & table of contents: "Escape From Manitou Island
Previous chapter: "Part 73: Let's Make A Deal



PART SEVENTY-FOUR:
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap


THE MISHUPISHU OPENED its jaws, an awful rasping sound escaping it as it came swooping down, teeth practically enveloping Charmian. And then--a horrific CRACK--and one of the giant teeth just barely grazed her arm as the Lynx's muscles went stiff, then loosened, its body rolling sideways and plunging into the river with a gigantic splash.

Charmian peeped out from under her arms, blinking and confused and drenched with water; it was a good thing she was in the shallow part of the river, or she figured she would've been swept away by now. She furrowed her brow at the awful sight of the giant Mishupishu lying in the sloshing water, a pool of darker water forming around it in the pale light cast by its spines. A rasping breath came out over its teeth and Charmian took the chance to scuttle back. As soon as she felt something warm waft across her back she screamed and jumped, slipping and falling so her head went under the water; a second later something pushed her back out, and she sputtered, finding herself perched atop Mishupishu's snout. She clutched at one of his nostrils, ignoring his snort and staring goggle eyed at the bigger Lynx.

"What--?" she managed to get out.

Shouting and rustling noises came from the woods, and everyone came running, Francois and Bouchard in the lead. Both held their guns; as soon as they saw the other Lynx, they raised them and aimed them. Charmian's confusion grew--they weren't loading their guns.

Don't those things fire only once--? If THEY didn't fire that shot, then who did--?

She scrabbled down from Mishupishu's snout and splashed into the water. "What was that?" she cried. "Was it a gun or was it thunder--?" She glanced up at the others on the bank. "Did you guys shoot him--?"

Francois lowered his gun a fraction and gave her an equally confused look. "You mean he was shot--?"

Charmian blinked. The rasping noise came again and she gasped and took a step back; the bigger Lynx raised its head from the river, dripping wet and hissing angry; its eyes blazed and its muzzle wrinkled, forked tongue darting out between its bloody teeth. It opened its mouth and let out a bellow--this time Charmian had the sense of mind to run away from it, and saw Francois raise his gun again, when CRACK!--the voyageurs started and took a hurried step backward, glancing around themselves in bewilderment. Charmian's ears rang at the sound which came from further down the river, too far away to be from their own camp. She clambered back atop Mishupishu's nose and clasped onto him tightly as he swam back, the bigger Lynx again falling into the water, sending a gout of it sloshing over the rocks. This time it let out a rattling breath and fell still; several more shots rang out when Francois and Bouchard and one or two of the other voyageurs hurriedly shot it, but it made no more attempts to move, and judging by the darkness of the water, Charmian was pretty sure it must be dead by now.

She found herself shaking hard, both from fear and from cold; Mishupishu swam her to the bank and gently lowered his head so that she could climb off, Thomas and Stick-In-The-Dirt receiving her. Stick-In-The-Dirt now carried his medicine pouch and looked rather bewildered himself.

"What--what happened--?" he exclaimed.

"That thing came along and tried to attack us--!" Charmian gasped, glancing at the dead Lynx. "But somebody shot--" She cut herself off and gasped again, looking wildly along the riverbank. "Where did that come from?"

Francois and the others finished reloading their guns, raising them again and training them on the Lynx and on the opposite bank. Charmian noticed Francois glance at the Mishupishu, then turn around and point toward the trees just east of them, down the river; Charmian looked that way as well. The wounds to the Lynx were on the side facing their bank--meaning that whoever had shot it, had shot it from not too far from where they now stood.

For a moment, they couldn't really see anything, as it was so dark out; then Charmian lifted her hand and shook it hard, trying to get it to light up; after a moment it did. Moon Wolf raised his hand as well, and Mishupishu lifted his spines, their luminescence gleaming feebly. Charmian couldn't be sure if she saw a shadow move near the trees further down the river or not; but then something did move, stepping down toward the bank. Moon Wolf's fire grew brighter and Charmian blinked again when she saw the face staring back at them, the long barrel of its gun still raised.

She slowly lowered her hand, her confusion growing. "B...Barrington...?"

Mishupishu blinked now as well. "You know him?" he whispered, just as Bouchard said the same thing.

"You know him?" he asked Francois, perplexed.

Charmian started walking along the riverbank, carefully sidestepping the dead Lynx--she strained her ears, but couldn't hear any signs of breathing--then glanced back at him. The British soldier stood just beyond the treeline, gun apparently reloaded--where had he even gotten that?--and was staring at them as if he felt quite peeved having to waste ammunition on a water serpent. Charmian surreptitiously looked him up and down as she approached. He still wore his clothing from the Island, but judging by the state of it, he'd been through a lot since she'd last seen him; his white vest was stained with soil and mud, and the red of his jacket had faded as well; she was surprised he even still had his hat. She halted several yards away, wondering if he would bite her head off if she got too close. He looked willing enough to.

Her brow furrowed. "But...how did you get here?" she asked. "How did you find us?"

For a moment he continued holding the gun up, then he slowly started to lower it; when it was halfway down he jammed its barrel into the soil and let out a snort that made her jump. "Through that damned Tree," he snapped. "That damned Tree that doesn't make any sense, just like this damned serpent, and damned everything else around here!"

Charmian let out a breath. For a few moments she'd been wondering if maybe this was the shapeshifting oki of before, but now that he'd spoken, she could tell it was him. She couldn't help the relieved smile that spread across her face; Barrington began to scowl, picking his gun back up as if he intended to toss it into the river, and stalking toward them. He cast a dark look at the band of voyageurs, but didn't stop until he'd reached the Mishupishu's head. He picked up the gun and stuck its barrel in one of the Lynx's nostrils and pulled the trigger again. Charmian--and quite a few of the others--let out startled cries and threw their arms over their heads. Charmian grimaced when something wet splattered against her; as soon as the ringing faded from her ears, she blinked her eyes open, gingerly lowering her arms and looking at them. Those on the shore were doing the same; Stick-In-The-Dirt, as soon as he saw the state they'd been left in, let out a scream and went running back into the forest. Charmian glanced after him and spotted Winter Born standing in shallow water next to Pakwa, her white hair stained red; her mouth fell open, but Pakwa must have noticed this as well, for his eyes goggled before he promptly shoved the girl into the water. She splashed out of view, then popped up again several feet away, sputtering and blinking in surprise. Charmian turned back to Barrington and was ready to start screaming at him, until she saw that his jacket had gone brightly red again, and she decided it was best not to even say a thing.

He yanked the gun away from what was left of the Mishupishu's head and came stalking toward them again. "The Sky Tree must have a hundred different ways to go!" Charmian said. "And you mean to tell me that you just out of the blue, chose the right one?"

Barrington lifted the gun to look at it--its barrel was now a hopeless mess of red--and then tossed it in the river where it sank from sight. "Like I'm supposed to know how that bloody thing works!" he snapped. "I just went through one of those silly doors and then asked myself where all of you would be headed!"

"We never said we were going to Lake Superior," Charmian retorted. "We went EAST first. There's hardly any way you could've known that we would be HERE right now!"

He threw out his arms. "Do I LOOK like I came straight this way?! Do you want me to start narrating just what sort of bloody HELL I went through to get this far--?"

Charmian was about to say Yes, when Bouchard hopped down toward the river and began waving frantically. "If you don't mind, maybe we could take this inland just a bit?" he cried, grimacing at the remains of the Lynx. "Please?! Who's to say ANOTHER one of those beasts isn't on its way here right this minute!"

"Wait a--wait a minute!" Winter Born sputtered, still trying to regain her footing; she splashed over to Mishupishu and pulled herself up against him. "We can't just leave him here!"

"He's another one of those beasts," Barrington snapped. "Why should we be HELPING one of them--?"

Charmian clenched her fists, suddenly remembering why she didn't like him that much. "Now hold on! YOU don't make the rules! Mishu here's helped us out more than YOU can know! He was ready to fight that thing off before YOU showed up!"

"But he's a Lynx, and cannot come out of the water," Bouchard protested.

"I'm not just leaving him behind!" Winter Born exclaimed.

Charmian whirled toward her now. "And I'm HARDLY letting you stay out HERE!"

A little shape broke free of the group and ran down into the water. Charmian and the others watched in puzzlement as Kenu stepped into a dropoff and disappeared; he bobbed to the surface a second later, sputtering just as Winter Born had, and awkwardly swam his way toward the Lynx. Mishupishu's eyes shifted to the side to watch him crawl up his neck and atop his head, clasping at his spines. Kenu halted here, drawing his legs in underneath him and attempting to squeeze the water out of his feathers while looking as dignified as he could--at which he wasn't completely successful. "I will be the one to keep watch over this Lynx!" he announced. "There is none other more qualified for such a weighty task than the mighty Kenu!"

Barrington's nose wrinkled and he turned to Charmian. "What sort of utter rubbish is all this--?"

"If you're this late into the game you're going to have to get a recap from someone else!" Charmian replied. "If the mighty Kenu says this is his job, then this is his job! I know he's little but at least he stands a better chance of knowing how to fight off a Lynx than any of the rest of us do!" She briefly saw Kenu puff out his chest before turning away, making her way back up the bank; Thomas helped her up, Pakwa helping Winter Born when she reluctantly made her way back. "As for us, we're heading back into the woods until daybreak! If we're supposed to head out then we'll need SOME sort of rest, no matter how drenched!" She glanced at Kenu. "You're sure you'll be okay out here on your own--?" she asked, unable to keep herself from feeling uneasy about leaving such a small child behind, no matter how big he might be as a bird.

Kenu started to scowl, but she saw his eyes grow wet, and bit her lip. Another small shape went running into the river and they all watched as Marten vanished just as Kenu had. He popped up again, spitting water, and made his waterlogged way to the Lynx; Mishupishu lowered a spine to let him climb up, his tail sopping wet. Kenu pulled him up the rest of the way and commenced squeezing him out just as he had his feathers. Marten spat a few times before wringing out his cap and sticking it back on crookedly.

"I'll...pfft," he said. "I'll keep him company! We'll be okay!"

Charmian nodded, too weary to argue further. "Fine." They tramped up the slope and into the pine forest; Stick-In-The-Dirt was busily rubbing himself with grass which he'd plucked from the bases of the trees, grimacing and making whimpering noises. Thomas stepped up beside Charmian, wrinkling his nose.

"Ugh...I don't think I'll ever get the stench out..." he muttered, wiping at his own stained shirt.

"They must eat rotten fish all the time," Charmian agreed. "Reminder to self--never blow up a Mishupishu."

"Fleshling!" Charmian glanced over her shoulder; Pakwa came scrambling up, waving his hands. "What about the rest of it--?" he asked, pointing toward the river. "Not going to let it just lie there, are you--?"

"What do you expect us to do?" Charmian said, her own nose wrinkling. "We're hardly going to CARRY it anywhere!"

Pakwa's brow furrowed. "But--well--" He waved again. "What if it draws in more like flies?"

Charmian stared at him. Thomas cocked his head to meet her eyes. "He's right, you know!" he exclaimed in surprise. "They do seem to like attacking each other! What if the rest of them come along now...?"

"Eeww!" Charmian winced. "That's hardly an image I need in my head, thank you very much!"

"What if they come in and go after Mishupishu?" Winter Born asked in dismay.

Charmian let out a gusty sigh. "All right, fine! We'll move it. But I hardly know how or where."

"Maybe it's time to ask for a little favor," Thomas suggested. "Surely there are some manitous or fish-people around here who can lend a hand."

"Yeah, if I have the right payment." Charmian chewed on her lip and glanced around them. "Every time I've had to trade with a Nebanaubae they were really specific about what they wanted. I don't even know if we have anything they could use." She put a finger to her mouth thoughtfully. "Hm. Well...the first time they wanted Chibiabos's flute, because it puts people to sleep--and they're called the Sleeping Ones. The second time, they asked for a Megis shell. It seems like they like objects related to themselves somehow...vain things."

"We don't exactly have fish on us, not that they're in any shortage," Thomas said doubtfully.

"Maybe something else would be appreciated." Charmian walked back toward the river, squinting at Mishupishu and Kenu, Marten just barely visible on Kenu's knee. "Kenu--? I have a favor to ask you..."

The little Animiki peered down at her. "Surely you believe when the mighty Kenu says he can perform a simple task!" he exclaimed.

"It's not that," Charmian said. "I just wanted to ask if you could..." She trailed off and looked toward the Lynx corpse, as an odd noise was coming from it. "What the heck is that?"

Kenu shrugged. "It is beneath an Animiki to ask such things!" he said haughtily. Then, "Besides, it's gross!"

"Huh...?" Charmian frowned and turned away, making her way around one of the dead Lynx's curves. As soon as she spotted Augwak at its side, digging his fingers into its flesh and tearing a hunk free and cramming it in his mouth, all the color drained from her face and she had to turn away before she could throw up. "OHMYGODGROSS!!" she screamed.

"Told you," Kenu sniffed.

Charmian started waving her arms frantically, refusing to turn back. "Knock that off!! That's the most disgusting thing I've EVER SEEN!!"

"Like you're making any use of it!" Augwak snapped around a mouthful. "I've been tramping around for days, absolutely STARVING, because there's no FOOD fit for a GeeBee! And now I can finally take a bite of this rancid beast and you throw a fit about THAT, too! I thought perhaps I could do a favor, but NO! I suppose you'd rather I ate my own FOOT off!"

"It might be NICER, yeah!" Charmian retorted, squinching her eyes shut. "And like you could eat this whole damn thing! Finish up what you're doing so I can get it out of here! UGH vomit vomit vomit!"

Augwak began grumbling, but dutifully turned away from the Lynx. After she turned around he did tear one more hunk of meat away from it, cramming it into his mouth, and she had to clap a hand over her own mouth, feeling an unpleasant heat rise in her throat. She made a rude gesture at him, which he didn't seem to understand, then hurried into the water just in case her stomach should decide to rebel after all. She had to take a few breaths to steady herself.

"He was just eating, you know," Kenu said matter-of-factly. "We Animiki eat Mishupishus all the time! However, not in nearly as disgusting a manner."

"Okay, fine, fine!!" Charmian hissed, grinding her teeth. "Do NOT need yet another mental image!" She forced her eyes open, took a breath, and let it out. "Kenu! I was going to ask if you'd spare one of your feathers. I need it to make a bargain."

"What sort of bargain?" Kenu asked doubtfully.

Charmian waved at the remains. "To get rid of this before MORE come! You'd like to eat up the rest yourself--?" When his own face went white she gestured at his head. "A feather then, please? It's the only thing I can think of. They're Thunderbird feathers, right--?"

"Of course," Kenu grumbled, reluctantly untying one of the large silvery feathers from his hair. "An Animiki would wear no other! It would be like adorning ourselves with common stones."

"Okay, all right," Charmian said, sloshing over and taking the feather. She turned it left and right; it glimmered in the pale light cast by Mishupishu's spines. One glance at the Lynx showed her that he'd been sleeping through the whole unpleasant incident, and she sighed, wishing she could be so relaxed. She stooped down in the water and started swirling her hand through it, trying to concentrate.

Hello? Anybody there? Hello...!

"I hope there's some nearby," she murmured.

Kenu sniffed again. "If you're seeking water people, there are always some nearby! They just choose not to answer, is all." He turned around and sat down again. "I don't see why you deal with such inferior creatures! I have to admit, I had my doubts about humans, and MOST of you are still rather quite petty and such, but you show promise..."

"Thanks," Charmian muttered under her breath.

"...And I really think that with much training a select handful of you MIGHT turn out somewhat tolerably," Kenu droned on. "Water people, however, are quite a different story, and quite irredeemaAGH!!" He quickly flattened himself against Mishupishu's head; Mishupishu, for his part, blinked his eyes open, stared off into space for a moment, and then started giggling. He giggled so hard that tears sprang to his eyes, and Charmian furrowed her brow, not quite sure what was going on. Then something brushed against her arm and she let out a startled yell and jumped to her feet. Her heart nearly leapt out of her chest when she saw the Nebanaubae swimming right up into the shallow water, raising their heads and looking at her inquisitively. A glance at Mishupishu showed her that there were more of them over there, and they appeared to be tickling the Lynx, so that he giggled and squirmed and flipped his tail. Her brow furrowed even further.

"H-h-human!!" Kenu cried from his vantage point. "Make them stop!!"

Charmian just stared. "You mean--this is some kind of mermaid torture or something--?" she asked in confusion, before shaking her head and waving at the Nebanaubae. "Okay! Thank you! I need to ask you something!"

The rest of the Nebanaubae began drifting toward her, Mishupishu letting out a great sigh of relief and sinking into the water. They gathered in a small school before her and she looked them over; she'd never gotten such a good look at Nebanaubae before, and could see that each of them was in fact slightly different from the others. One was slightly greener in appearance; another more blue; another more silvery. Even their fins differed slightly, looking like those of different types of fish, and she found herself wondering if any of them had ever been human, before shaking her head again and telling herself to snap out of it. She held up the feather and they all looked at it.

"I wanted to ask if you would do away with that," she said, gesturing at the Lynx corpse; they all looked. "Every part of it, even the blood. Just carry it away so it doesn't lead back to us. And maybe keep watch over the river in case any others come along...?" she added hopefully. She waved the feather. "I'm willing to give this in exchange. A real Animiki feather."

"From the m-m-mighty Kenu himself!" Kenu cried, keeping his face pressed to Mishupishu's head. "Don't forget to tell them that!!"

"From the mighty Kenu, grandson of the Animiki ogimah Nigankwam," Charmian added, hoping it sounded impressive. The Nebanaubae started giving her doubtful looks. "I know it's a Thunderbird feather," Charmian said. "But...Thunderbirds create storms, which you guys like, and Thunderbirds fight off Mishupishus. It's kind of related." She waved it again. "Pretty, see?"

The Nebanaubae pursed their lips thoughtfully, peered at each other as if conversing, then nodded. One of them reached up for the feather and she handed it over a bit reluctantly, hoping that they wouldn't stiff her; the one with the feather swam away with it before she could say anything, but the rest of them swam over toward the dead Lynx. They tickled Mishupishu as they went and he started giggling anew. Charmian's face screwed up; she really had no idea what to think of this situation.

She stood and watched, along with the other three, as the Nebanaubae grasped hold of the dead Lynx and pulled it down into the river, where it sank from sight; a small current swirled in the water, so she could tell that they were pulling it away. Several more swam in circles where it had been lying, and she grimaced when she saw that they were opening and closing their mouths, apparently drinking up the blood. The rest gathered up what little pieces of the Lynx they could find and spirited them away as well. "Maybe make a false trail!" Charmian shouted as they began drifting out of sight. "To lead the rest away from us...?" She caught a brief glimmer and waved her hand. "Megwetch!" She let out a breath and ran a hand across her forehead. "Cripes, this is the most disturbing night ever." She let out another shriek and leapt back onto the bank, making Mishupishu twitch and Kenu's head pop up in surprise.

Charmian put a hand to her chest, gasping loudly. Another Nebanaubae was floating in the water where she'd just been, staring at her. It tilted its head a little and it took her a moment to realize that it was just a little one, probably the same age as Winter Born or Remy. She craned her neck forward to stare at it, confused and perplexed. It just fanned its fins a little.

"Yeah...?" Charmian asked, then took a few tentative steps toward the water again. "What is it...? Did they leave you behind?"

The Nebanaubae shook its head and pointed at the surface of the water. Charmian bent to dip her fingers into it.

I wanted to tell you something, the Nebanaubae said, its voice slurry but solitary.

Her frown grew; she wasn't used to them talking singly like so. "What is it?" she asked, squatting down on one knee. The Nebanaubae drifted a little closer and peered behind itself, first one way, then the other, and then back at her. It actually cupped a hand to its mouth, and lifted its head from the water. Against her better judgement, Charmian bent down toward it.

"I'm not supposed to tell you," it whispered in her ear, "but we have seen something. In our sleep."

"Yeah?" Charmian whispered back. "That's nice. What'd you see?"

The Nebanaubae fanned its fins again, its large glassy eyes fixed on hers. "Something about you," it replied, simply.


Continue:

 Part 75: Acting Without Thinking  (13+)
A Nebanaubae offers some strange information for a puzzling trade...
#1554699 by Tehuti, Lord Of The Eight



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This item is NOT looking for literary critique. I already understand spelling/grammar, and any style choices I make are my own. Likewise, I am NOT seeking publication, so suggestions on how to make this publishable are not being sought.

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