Out of all the possible ways an escape plan can go wrong...!
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Escape From Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 116: Dude, Where's My Camp?"
PART ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTEEN:
LITTLE WIND RAISED his head and let out a blaring whistle. Keep her back!
The mitchi manitou barely waited for the words to leave him before charging straight at Charmian, hooves tearing great hunks of earth loose from the ground as he galloped. Charmian's eyes goggled and she froze, but not out of fear--it was Little Wind's voice which startled her.
Don't KILL her--!!
Will do whatever I damn well WANT! the mitchi manitou whistled, muzzle wrinkling in an odd simulation of a grin--then something slammed into his side, and he and it both went tumbling head over heels to Charmian's left. Charmian and Little Wind both gawked at them, equally surprised.
The manitou lifted his head and blinked dazedly, shaking it. He whistled loudly and started clambering to his feet as soon as he noticed that he wasn't alone; the other large shape that had landed near him leapt up as well and sank its teeth into his neck. Charmian let out a startled yell to see X'aaru jump into the air, his feet meeting the manitou's back and knocking it down again. His claws raked its fur and came back red; Charmian shuddered, bewildered.
X'aaru managed to lift his head, his eyes wider than she'd ever seen them. "R-run!" he stammered. "I'll t-try to hold him back--!" He yelped when the manitou knocked him off and leapt up, then the two of them were at each other, snarling and swinging.
Pakwa landed beside Charmian and frantically waved. "Come on!" He grabbed Augwak's arm when the other GeeBee came floating back down to earth and dragged him after him as he went running on all fours. Charmian turned on one heel--she hated leaving X'aaru alone--but she knew she barely stood a chance against that manitou. Her eyes briefly met Little Wind's as she turned, and saw the surprise there. Then she was running as well, and a moment later heard the moose following close behind.
"I can't--outrun--a moose!!" she gasped in panic, legs pumping.
"What do you SUGGEST we do then?!" Augwak screamed, hands and feet flying every which way.
"You g-guys keep running!" Charmian felt her legs growing rubbery. "And I'll hold HIM back!!"
They both cast her skeptical glances before running off. Charmian whirled around, pulling something from her pocket and hurling it at the moose's head as he came running at her.
"CHANGE!!" she yelled, and the little scroll that Cutfoot had given her struck Little Wind right between the eyes.
The moose's eyes goggled and he skidded to an abrupt halt. His head fell forward and his antlers caught in the rocky soil so he went tumbling head over heels in a most painful-looking way--but before he could land flat on his back, he'd grown much smaller, his fur pelt shifting into deerskin robes, his long gangly limbs turning into arms and legs, his hooves transforming into hands and moccasinned feet. Then with a thud Little Wind collapsed, and promptly grabbed at his head with a horrible wince.
Charmian took the smallest pause to take a breath before launching herself at him. Little Wind let out a startled yell when she grabbed him by the front of his robe and managed to drag him halfway upright--then she punched him just as she'd seen Moon Wolf punch Black Elk Horn, and Black Elk Horn punch Moon Wolf in return. Then they both yelled in pain, Little Wind clapping a hand to his bruised cheek and Charmian dancing around, putting her bruised knuckles to her mouth. They stayed this way for a moment or two before attempting to recover themselves, Little Wind getting to his feet and the two of them whirling to face each other. Charmian couldn't see or hear X'aaru and the manitou from here, but didn't have much time to think about them.
Little Wind still rubbed his cheek. "What did you just do?!" he cried, voice cracking. "What did you do to my medicine?!"
"KNOW HOW IT FEELS?!" Charmian yelled back. "GOOD! That's what you GET for taking what's not yours!!"
Little Wind clenched his fists. "I never TOOK anything!"
"You're a wabano--which means you take EVERYTHING!" Charmian shot back. "And you took NIGANKWAM'S life!"
Little Wind bared his teeth at her. "I don't even know who that is!"
Charmian's face screwed up. "THAT'S THE THUNDERBIRD YOU MADE ME KILL!" Her eyes opened again, stinging now. "He left a grandson--KENU! And a WHOLE TRIBE of Animiki! THAT'S what you took!"
Little Wind blinked, and she realized again just how young he looked--was he even more than a teenager?--she took pause on seeing the surprise in his eyes again, but didn't stop to think about it. She swung her hand forward and he gasped when a fireball just missed hitting him; a moment later they were throwing fire at each other like two circus performers, being careful to dash out of each other's way to avoid getting hit. Charmian felt a bit of surprise that she herself managed to stay uninjured for so long, what with how tired she was; but Little Wind seemed just as hard to hit as she was.
"YOU'RE the one who was foolish enough to use that scroll!" he shouted, tossing a firebolt at her head.
Charmian ducked it and threw a firebolt right back. "And YOU were the one who TRICKED me into using it!"
"I hardly FORCED you to use it--if you're stupid enough to trust a total stranger, then that's YOUR problem and not mine!"
"You INTRODUCED yourself to me--so we were hardly STRANGERS!" She hurled a fireball; he dodged it, hurled one at her. "And you're an ASS for LYING to me!!"
"You can hardly go believing everybody you run across!" Little Wind snapped, pausing and drawing his hand back.
Charmian followed suit. "Yeah, but I was doing just fine trusting people until I ran into YOUR sort!" And they both hurled fire at the same time. The fireballs struck each other and cancelled each other out; Charmian fell over onto her knee, gasping for breath, only to blink a few times when she saw that Little Wind had fallen over also. They furrowed their brows at each other, confused; it took her a moment to realize what had just happened. Their attacks had been equal in strength. Her mouth fell open just as his did; they both jerked their hands, throwing another blast, which just as effectively vanished in a puff of sparks and smoke. As soon as the light died she found herself staring him in the eyes, and they were just as big as she imagined her own must be.
He's just as strong as I am!
I'm just as strong as HE is--!
"Wh--" Little Wind's voice cracked. "Where did you learn that?!" He shot to his feet, fists clenched. "You rebuke ME for being a wabano--? And take a look what YOU'RE doing!!"
"I EARNED my medicine!" Charmian retorted. "Mine was GIVEN to me by WABUN!!"
Little Wind blinked. "Wabun--?" he echoed, and then something struck him in the side of the head and he grimaced and fell over with a yelp.
"Charmian--!" a high-pitched voice cried, and Charmian's own hands flew to her head, just to check to make sure that she hadn't been hit herself. She couldn't have just heard what she THOUGHT she'd heard.
The thud of footfalls came across the ground, and her head jerked up. Winter Born was running toward her, eyes wide. "Charmian!" she exclaimed again, reaching her and grasping at her arm. "Are you okay--?"
"W-Winter Born--?" Charmian blurted out, beyond confused. "But--what the hell--?!"
"I'll explain later! Come on!" She tugged on Charmian's arm and pulled hard enough to hurt. "We have to get out of here!"
"But--the camp--!" Charmian cried, unable to think of anything else.
"We won't find it here!" Winter Born said, and Charmian finally stumbled as she began following her. "Come on!"
Charmian turned her head to see Little Wind gawk at them again. He struggled to push himself up, gasping and trying to yell at once. "H--hey!!" He turned to look back behind himself. "THE WINTER GIRL! STOP FIGHTING HIM AND GO AFTER HER!"
A loud whistle came; Charmian nearly stumbled again. She glanced to the side just as X'aaru and the mitchi manitou came back into view; they were still fighting, bits of fur and feathers occasionally flying this way and that, but aside from a few scratches and small gashes the demon looked relatively fine, so far. She could see the panic in his eyes though, and knew that he wouldn't be able to fight the manitou off for much longer. She rather wished that Tiiku were there right then--X'aaru would certainly fight that much harder if he was defending his family--then she chided herself, remembering that he WAS fighting for his family, right now.
"Come on, Charmian!" Winter Born called. "We have to get to the tunnel!"
"Tunnel--?" Charmian echoed. "What TUNNEL?!"
She didn't get to answer. X'aaru dealt the mitchi manitou one last bite to the neck, flinging him over so he landed hard on his side, before racing after them. He halted long enough to crouch and tuck his wing against himself. "Climb on!" he cried; they did so, and he started running and flapping just as Little Wind started clambering to his feet. Charmian glanced back over her shoulder. The manitou was still lying on the ground, blinking and dazed; Little Wind saw his state as well, turned to look back at them, then lifted his hand and hurled fire at them.
Charmian dug her fingers into X'aaru's ruff. "X'aaru! UP!!"
The demon gave his wings a mighty flap and lurched up off of the ground. The fire sailed by just beneath them, close enough to sear the bottoms of Charmian's moccasins; she heard the two GeeBees yelp as they zipped up into the air and away from it. She gasped when she realized that she could barely breathe, then noticed that Winter Born's arms were wrapped around her middle tight enough to hurt her ribs. She decided not to complain, instead nudging X'aaru in the side with her foot; the Ocryx wheeled toward the mountains, wings straining at the air. She could hear his labored breathing and knew that he was tired.
"What's this about a tunnel--?" she had to yell over the rush of the wind.
"Kabebonikka pointed it out to me!" Winter Born yelled back. "He said it's the shortcut to his mountain and it would go all the way back to Gitchi-Gami!"
"Gitchi-Gami--?" Charmian blurted out, brow furrowing. "But--that's MILES away from here!!"
Winter Born gave her a puzzled look--Charmian realized that she must have no concept of "miles"--then apparently shrugged it off. "That's just what he told me! But he said it went in other directions too! I just counted steps to figure about how far it would take to get back to the bottom of the mountain--"
"You knew how many STEPS it would take--?"
"Well...yes...you mean you didn't?" When Charmian just blushed the girl pressed on. "Anyway--I found out that the tunnel forked right about there--it went in like three different directions! I started taking the one on the right, but..."
"I thought I would try taking a rainbow up to the mountain to see how you were doing!" X'aaru called over his shoulder. "But when I came out of it I didn't recognize anything! It was all snow and ice! COMPLETELY snow and ice! Fortunately there were a few manitous wandering by and I asked them where I was--they said it was this same spot, though it looked so much different, perhaps they were confused?--but they said there was an old tunnel nearby, and if I tried crawling through it, maybe I would find those strange mountains that move..."
"And we just kind of ran into each other!" Winter Born finished, shrugging. "Isn't that strange?"
Charmian opened her mouth, then the two of them yelled and ducked; a fireball sailed over their heads. Charmian looked down again. Little Wind was still running after them, and running pretty well, at that. She couldn't believe somebody could run so fast. X'aaru, on the other hand, was slowing down already, gasping for breath and starting to sink. Charmian craned her neck to see how far away the mountains were and knew that they wouldn't make it there in time to avoid the medicine man. She held up her hand and aimed at him, trying to buy them a little more time.
X'aaru cried out and lurched aside so abruptly that the two of them were nearly thrown from his back. A horrible noise filled Charmian's ears and she grimaced, then screamed when she saw the huge shape barrelling toward them over the foothills. It was the monstrous black bear of before, and not far behind it was the smaller bear that had led her to Mishosha's cave. Her scream grew into a shriek and she dug her fingers into X'aaru's fur, too petrified to even try hurling a fireball at them.
Hold on!! X'aaru practically squealed in her head, and spun about, using his tail to push off from the nearby rocks and zooming back in the other direction. Little Wind, still racing after them, halted in midstep, pirouetted on one heel, and then fell over, landing on his stomach with a grimace. They sailed over him and left him behind, the mitchi manitou now coming into view ahead. Charmian fought down a whimper; at least one manitou was a lot more manageable than two Bearwalkers.
"WHAT'S THE PLAN?!" she screamed anyway.
X'aaru shook his head rapidly. "I have no idea!! We have to get to the tunnel, but not with them in the way!!"
"Maybe we can distract them--?" Winter Born called out.
Charmian shrugged. "How?" She glanced back at the bears as they made their way down, still snarling and bellowing. "They don't exactly look that GULLIBLE!"
Her voice immediately died in her throat. She caught sight of Little Wind again, attempting to push himself up, but the look on his face made her blink and look harder. His skin had gone almost gray and he couldn't do more than push his upper half up somewhat--when the bears charged past him, the smaller one practically running him over without looking. Charmian's face blanched; Little Wind fell over again but didn't even try getting up this time. She saw a dark stain of red on his back and remembered the wound he'd been dealt by Walks-On-The-Shore seemingly so long ago.
She grabbed at X'aaru's ruff again. "X! Back!"
The demon--and Winter Born--both looked at her as if she were crazy. "What?" X'aaru yelped in disbelief.
"Charmian--?" Winter Born exclaimed, brow furrowing.
"Just trust me!" She twisted herself around. "PAKWA!! You and Augwak try to stall the manitou!"
The GeeBee at least bothered to nod as he gave her the same look as the others, and wheeled around and zoomed back toward the approaching Bearwalkers.
"I hope this is a good idea," X'aaru whined, which Charmian knew was his polite way of saying, "I hope you know what you're doing!!"
I hope so too! Charmian thought, but didn't dare say it aloud. X'aaru flapped his wings and headed back toward the Bearwalkers; they both slowed their approach, their bellows dying down as they stared upward in disbelief. Charmian saw Mishosha's eyes go wide before they flashed and narrowed and his hackles rose, lip curling back as if in amusement.
She cupped a hand to her mouth and yelled as loudly as she could. "WHAT, YOU THINK YOU'RE BOSS HERE--?"
The bear rose up on his hind legs, teeth bared. I AM OGIMAH OF EVERYTHING I SURVEY, STUPID LITTLE GIRL--!
He raised his paw to swing it at them. Charmian tugged on X'aaru's fur and he shot straight up, yelping when the Bearwalker yanked a handful of feathers loose from his wing--but then the bear let out an equally startled yelp, and Charmian looked down to see the ground pitching beneath them, the smaller bear losing her balance and tumbling head over heels as Mishosha struggled to regain his own equilibrium. She leaned forward to whisper in X'aaru's ear.
"Down! Just long enough to grab Little Wind!"
The demon whined again but pitched forward. Mishosha's head shot to the side and his eyes went wide, then he let out an awful bellow and started wallowing their way. X'aaru barely managed to land--the glacier was roiling and surging as if it were lava now, carrying them further away from the mountain, but she managed somehow to jump from his back and grab Little Wind's arm. She tried pulling him to his feet, then saw that his eyes had glazed over and he'd apparently passed out. She started cursing him under her breath; there was no way she could move dead weight. She gestured frantically at Winter Born to help, and the little girl jumped off and raced toward her; the two of them dragged the wabano to X'aaru and hoisted him atop his back. They started clambering back up themselves just as X'aaru began shifting from foot to foot.
"H-hurry!" he cried, shaking like a leaf. "They're coming right at us!!"
"Let's go!" Charmian shouted, lightly slapping his neck, and he turned and heaved himself upward much faster than she would have thought possible considering his state and burden. This time it was the smaller bear which just missed them, and the two Makwamosa stood roaring at them as they slowly and awkwardly ascended. They tried running along after them, but the glacier was still moving, and they couldn't both follow and keep their balance. Charmian let out a gusty breath and slumped down over Little Wind, running a hand across her brow.
"Charmian!" Winter Born exclaimed, craning her neck to the side. "How did you know the ice would do that--?"
"Easy," Charmian said. "I just counted on Kabebonikka's pride! I hardly think he'd allow a couple of HUMANS to set foot on his land and call themselves superior!" She took a breath and let it out, trying to keep herself from shaking. "Where's that tunnel again--?"
"It's a bit more to the east," Winter Born said. "Maybe if that ice keeps moving around like that we can actually reach it in--"
The three of them screamed when a fireball blasted past them, singeing X'aaru's other wing and causing the demon to tilt and topple toward the ground. He managed somehow to regain his balance before crashing, but crash he did, landing hard on one shoulder and actually plowing a bit of ice and earth up before him. He lifted his head and shook it with a grimace. A cold gust of air passed over them, then Charmian yelled in surprise when something grabbed her arms.
"Fleshling!" Pakwa's voice called out. "Think that manitou's pretty MAD!"
"Huh--?" She looked back. The mitchi manitou was turning in circles, snarling and swinging his antlers at Augwak, who was keeping out of his range but apparently growing tired. She bit her lip and climbed off of X'aaru's back, shaking off Pakwa's grip.
"Charmian--?" Winter Born said, her face growing anxious.
"Stay with X," Charmian ordered. "X, do you think you can still fly with these two--?"
"Well..." The demon winced and shook his wing. "Maybe! But what about you--?"
"I'll be along when I can. Just take them to that tunnel and wait for us there! And I'll try to take care of THIS jackass." She held up her hands and jerked her head at them. "Go on!"
Winter Born bit her lip, but X'aaru turned and started running for the mountain, rather than flying. Charmian didn't pause long to watch. She turned back once more to face the mitchi manitou, watching Mishosha and the other bear from the corner of her eye. They were still a good distance away, but that fireball had come pretty close, and she didn't like the thought of having to fight him off, too.
"Augwak!" she shouted, and the GeeBee just missed getting his head smacked off when he glanced at her. "Out of the way!"
He didn't even bother hesitating before obeying, and she told herself to smack him later on once this was over. "WIND!" she yelled, and hurled a blast at the manitou; his eyes went wide, then he toppled over. "Get going!" she shouted at the GeeBees, and waved in the direction that the others had gone in. "I'll catch up!"
"Sure--?" Pakwa asked; when she nodded he looked resigned but went. Augwak cast her a final look before following suit--she furrowed her brow as he left. Had he looked worried--?
The mitchi manitou was already back on his hooves. Stupidest move EVER! he snorted. Leaving yourself ALONE like that!
"Yeah, well, I hear stupidity's catching lately," Charmian called back. "And I've been in YOUR company way too long."
The manitou started to sneer, blinked, then scowled instead. Will smash your head in and slice out that vulgar little TONGUE of yours! he whistled, and charged.
Charmian braced her feet against the ground. Whatever manitous are here, she thought, I hope you all hate this guy as much as I do! She put her hands together, then jerked them down at the ground as the manitou drew close. "EARTH!!"
She felt the ice pitch, then the ground split open right before her. The manitou's eyes goggled before he was lost from view. A geyser of ice and snow and rock and dirt went sailing up into the air, and she had to wonder if Kabebonikka hadn't helped out on that just a bit. She let out a breath and took a step back to run and catch up with the others, when something jutted abruptly out of the spewing mess, and she let out a startled yell.
The manitou swung his antlers through the geyser and it abruptly cut off, Charmian having to put her arms over her head to avoid getting hit by falling debris. She saw an awful sneer work its way across his face. The blood drained from her own.
"Crap," she managed to say, her voice thin. "You're part earth manitou, aren't you?"
SECOND stupidest move, he jeered, then she bit off a cry when his antler struck her in the head. She actually saw lights flash before her eyes, and wondered briefly if she should see a doctor about this, before she felt her elbows connect with the ground. Her breath whooshed out of her; she managed to lift one arm to put her hand to her head, but didn't know whether to cry or yell or simply pass out. Her skull throbbed and she couldn't tell if it hurt or if she was numb, but the sky looked like it was spinning in weird circles and she then wondered if Geezhigo-Quae were drunk.
The manitou came into view over her, and his blue eyes narrowed when he smirked. What's wrong, Fire One? Can't think straight anymore?
"Huh?" Charmian said, as his whistle sounded like a bunch of gibberish to her.
The manitou started whistling and dimly, in the back of her head, she knew that he was laughing although she couldn't figure out why. Don't worry, he said, and now she could vaguely make out his speech, though she had to really think about it hard. Don't like drawing things out, myself, anyway!
He cocked his head back and then brought his antler straight down at her chest. Charmian just lay and watched him, dazed and puzzled and wondering what exactly he intended to accomplish once it rammed through her.
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