Charmian heads back to the Cave with Pomiere-Augwak in tow...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 43: The Enemy Of My Enemy"
CHARMIAN IMMEDIATELY ROSE to her elbows and started waving. "HEY! Hey, Shadow--um--Shadow Water!"
Pomiere-Augwak hissed at her and seemed to want to melt into the hill. Her response was to get to her feet and start stumbling down the slope, grabbing onto weeds and saplings in an effort to keep her balance.
The hollow below was wide and dotted with several trees and bushes, probably the result of an ancient sinkhole. As she neared the bottom a face peered out from behind one of them. She'd seen the figure dart back when she'd peered over the hill, so the native must have heard them approaching; now, seeing who it was, she crept out of hiding, her arms folded tightly in front of herself, looking at Charmian cautiously.
"Hi!" Charmian waved again and smiled as she nearly crashed to the bottom. She stumbled and swiped wet leaves from her ankles. "It's me, remember? I got your name right, didn't I?"
"You're the girl from the clearing," Shadow Water said. Her voice was small and quiet, and Charmian had to strain her ears to hear her.
"Uh-huh! So you do remember me? I didn't think we'd meet again so soon!"
Shadow Water opened her mouth to speak before backing away again, looking upward. Charmian followed suit to see Pomiere-Augwak making his way down the hill after them, screeching and falling to the bottom not very gracefully. "Oh," she said, "he's, uh--he's nothing to worry about, just somebody I met. So how are you doing! Oh, that's right--you live around here, don't you?"
"Yes." She squeezed her arms tighter and kept an eye on their follower. "I was on my way back home."
"Oh." Charmian glanced around and tried to sniff the air. The Ocryx scent was still around, not as strong, now, but still distinct. She scratched the back of her head.
"I don't know if it's really safe for you to be around here right now...see, we think Ocryana might be nearby."
"Yeah...I think maybe she and another Ocryx were responsible for that manitou you were taking care of in the woods the other day."
"Really?" Shadow Water's eyes grew. "Another one?"
"Yeah...don't ask how I know...it's kind of confusing. We ran into her not long after we left you. She wasn't very friendly." She rubbed the back of her head again with a silly smile. "But anyway, you said you live around here, but we think Ocryana might live nearby too--and she wasn't far from here--she might be PO'ed that we took care of that manitou, and it's best not to tempt fate, right?"
"Well...I was on my way home..."
"I think maybe you should...oh."
Charmian's eyes widened now. She'd noticed something wrong with Shadow Water's hand. Seeing her stare, the woman folded her arms a bit more tightly, but Charmian stepped forward and took one, pulling it toward her. The palm of Shadow Water's hand was covered with blood. Her other arm, which she had been keeping covered, bore a deep gash, the doeskin torn and stained. A bit of it had started to run down to her elbow.
"You're hurt," Charmian said, unable to think of anything else.
Shadow Water flushed. "Yes...I...I was heading back home to try to fix it up--"
"It's not safe here though, you might get in more trouble if you go back."
"I'll be careful, I promise."
"I don't really like the thought of leaving you alone out here..." Charmian frowned and chewed on her lip for a moment before a thought came to her and her face brightened. "I know! You can come with us! We were heading back to Cave of the Woods. There's somebody there who can help you. He helped the manitou, something like this would be a cinch if we could get there before he leaves."
Shadow Water looked anxious. She must've had some bad experiences around here, Charmian thought. "I don't know..."
"It's okay, really. Are you having any trouble walking?"
"Then just come along with us and we can get it taken care of. It's not too far for you, is it?"
"Cave of the Woods...? No, that's not too far...well...all right...but I can't stay long, I have to get back home..."
"Okay, we can go over that when we get there...but in the meantime, I don't really feel like hanging out around here much longer, not while she's around! So we're all agreed? Cave of the Woods?"
Pomiere-Augwak scowled. "If you'd quit blathering and get going perhaps we could get there before my body starts to--"
Charmian brought her heel down on his foot as hard as she could, and made sure to smile widely at Shadow Water when he started howling and hopping in pain. "Don't mind him, he's got some issues," she had to yell over the noise. The native glanced at them both uncertainly, but offered a small nod. "Oh, I just remembered. I forgot something at the top of the hill. We have to go that way anyway. Think you can make it up on your own?"
"Yes, I can."
"Okay. C'mon, let's get out of here."
Charmian started up the hill again, Shadow Water following. Pomiere-Augwak was a bit late, still hissing and cursing at her under his breath as he limped his way up. She hoped the abandoned fireling hadn't started any forest fires while she was gone.
They reached the top dirty and dripping--at least, Charmian and Pomiere-Augwak did, while Shadow Water didn't look much different from before. She glanced around her as if looking out for something, but Charmian couldn't blame her. She retrieved the flapping, hissing fireling and perched the stick over her shoulder. She tried to ask Sikt which way, but when the Ocryx didn't respond immediately she remembered anyway and turned in the proper direction. "C'mon," she said again, waving her hand, and the other two followed.
She had the chance to enjoy the walk this time, as she could see everything around her, and with the ability Sikt had given her she didn't sense any Ocryxes nearby and didn't have to worry so much about them. They were nearing the end of October yet for some reason on the Island the leaves fell more slowly from the trees; the gaps in the sky overhead were fewer than she knew they'd be on the mainland. She wondered briefly how much schoolwork she'd missed before brushing it off. It had been nighttime when she'd visited Miss Anne's dream, meaning at least a day had passed and probably more, but who could say how things would turn out once she got home.
Whenever that was.
"So SW," she said, and it took a moment for Shadow Water to realize that meant her. "What happened to your arm? Did you fall, or did something come after you--?"
"Oh. I...I was trying to gather some berries and reached a little too far. I fell and scraped my arm on a branch."
Charmian winced. "Ouch."
"I cleaned it out a little but it's still bleeding."
"Well, Justin should be able to handle that, no problem."
"Justin?" She gave Charmian a questioning look, and again the teenager thought about how she reminded her of Red Bird for some reason. They looked almost completely different, but they had the same stare.
"Um...yeah. You remember that manitou? He helped it...him...out. He's fine now, not a scratch."
"Mm-hm. I can't really explain it any better but don't worry. I just hope he hasn't left yet, I think he planned on heading back home today...Aug--um--Antoine, do you have any idea where the Dupries house is?"
He curled his lip. "Does it look as if I do, stupid?"
Shadow Water gave him a sideways glance but said nothing. Charmian readjusted the stick over her shoulder.
"Fine, I'll find it somehow if I have to...so SW, you said you didn't live far from Sugar Loaf. Where exactly? Whose tribe are you from?"
"I'm from no tribe."
"Really?" Charmian glanced at her with puzzlement. "I thought everybody was from a tribe around here..."
"Oh...no. My mother...she has no tribe. So I have none."
"What about your dad?"
"Yeah, your father. Where does he live?"
"I never knew my father."
"Oh...sorry about that."
"It's all right..."
"Will she worry too much if you're with us?"
"Well...I think I'll be all right, for a little while. But then I have to go back."
"Are you worried about the Ocryxes at all?"
"They've never given me trouble."
"Really?" Charmian hated repeating herself but she found this comment somewhat difficult to believe. She slowed her step until Shadow Water unwittingly caught up, gasping and jumping back a little rather than run into her. Pomiere-Augwak stopped as well but fidgeted and growled under his breath. "You've never had any problems with them?"
"Have you ever seen them?"
"Well...once in a while."
"Could you recognize them, or do you have names for them?"
Shadow Water didn't answer her this time, just stared again as if asking what she was getting at. Charmian turned to Pomiere-Augwak and tugged at the leather case hanging over his shoulder.
"Hey--!" he snapped.
"Shut up and hand it over! You don't need it right now!" She wrested it from him and pulled the case open, drawing out the big sketchbook. She crouched down and set it on the trail, opening it up flat to the pages with the Ocryx sketches. "Could you take a look at this? Tell me which ones you've seen before and what you call them?"
The woman moved closer and peered down over her shoulder, eyes moving over the page. After a moment she started pointing and speaking.
"This one is He-Of-The-Glowing-Eyes," she said, pointing at Ocryx. "He-Who-Spins-Dreams," pointing at Tal Natha. "She-Who-Moves-Like-The-Wind," pointing at Ocryana. "He-Who-Brings-Rainbows," pointing at X'aaru. "He-Who-Wanders," pointing at Justin. She paused and stared at Red Bird for a moment, cocking her head and frowning. "I believe this is She-Who-Remains-Hidden."
"Wanders? Remains hidden?" Charmian echoed. The names puzzled her.
"Yes...the brown one, he wanders around often...I've seen him flying over in the evening. The white one, I saw her only once. She does not show herself often."
"Oh...all right. What about this last one?"
Shadow Water looked at the tawny one for a moment, biting her lip thoughtfully. "I've never given her a name."
"No name? Well...I guess that means you've seen her, at least. What does she do?"
"She seems to do little of importance, that I can see..." She stood up straight again, brushing back her hair. She stared at the book as if sad.
Charmian followed suit, examining the picture until her brain had exhausted itself of ideas. "Well, I guess we can just call her--"
"Pup-Of-Ocryana," Pomiere-Augwak said, and started hopping from foot to foot again. "Come on, come on, let us go from this place already!"
They both shot a look at him. "What?" Charmian said, a bit abruptly.
"The whelp lives with the wolf bitch. It's obviously her offspring. So just call it that and let us get OUT of here!"
"FINE, okay." She slammed the book shut and shoved it back into its case. "You have no imagination whatsoever. I was actually thinking we should call her 'She-Who-Attacks-Without-Warning-Whatsoever,' but whatever you want!"
Shadow Water lowered her head, seeming to dislike the outburst. Charmian waved them forward. "Okay, I admit, my fault. Let's just get going so we can avoid another conniption."
They followed her silently this time, and she found herself wondering just how often the people around here decided to simply relax and quit wandering around for a change.
The way seemed much shorter in the daytime, without anything to trip over or run into. Charmian eventually noticed she'd picked up the habit of sniffing the air, and thought that was rather odd, until she remembered why. Strange how it had started to become second nature already. She supposed it was Sikt's doing. The Ocryx was quiet, so Charmian wondered if she'd fallen asleep. Did spirits sleep? Since Sikt had no body she assumed she must be a spirit...
This and a lot of other, less coherent things went through her mind as they walked. She also looked at Shadow Water often, taking note of her appearance, and saw how tired she looked, keeping her eyes downcast and sighing every once in a while. Charmian bit her lip. She must have lost a lot of blood by now as her hand was red with it. Pomiere-Augwak kept stealing glances at her--or rather, at the red fluid dripping from her arm--and Charmian wanted nothing more than to tear his head off for even thinking what he must be thinking. The terrain started to look familiar so she sighed with relief. She wasn't sure how much more of this she could take.
"The woods are looking familiar," she called out, more to distract them than to inform them of anything new. They both looked up. "The Cave can't be that far away. How are you holding up, SW?"
"I'm all right..."
He grumbled. "There had better be some sort of food around that Cave..."
"Not what you're used to, unless you want to rough it."
When Shadow Water gave her another questioning look she waved at him. "He's from France."
By now the sun had passed its zenith and was already on its way toward the west. They crested a small hill and Charmian suddenly remembered where they were.
"OH!" she exclaimed, jumping excitedly. "Okay, it's just over there! Down there! Come on!" She couldn't stop herself from running, not looking back to see if the others followed. "Hello?" she shouted, hoping somebody was still around.
She crested another hill and finally saw the clearing below, with the outcrop of rock. Someone--Moon Wolf--sat out front, tapping his pipe again, and he glanced up as she called out. He stood, and the briefest moment later Mani appeared, whistling. Charmian slowed and turned to wave at the others, to see that Shadow Water had come to a halt, her eyes growing wide on seeing the manitou. Her fingers squeezed her arm so the blood trickled between them.
Charmian approached her and took her elbow carefully. "Come on, it's all right. See how he's all fixed up? Justin did that. If he's still around, he can help you out too...if I can find him anywhere...Moon Wolf! Moon Wolf, is Justin still around?"
The native spat on the ground and gave the small group a sour look. "Unfortunately. He seems to think you wouldn't be able to make it back here on your own. Looks as if he's been proven wrong. Who are these and what are you doing with them?"
"'These' are Antoine Pomiere and Shadow Water. They're accompanying me, if that's okay with you."
His look remained skeptical but he said nothing.
Charmian sighed. "Look, I met Antoine along the way and he just helped me find some caves. That's all. After that I did everything on my own. I met Shadow Water earlier. Her arm's hurt, so that's why--"
"Charmian?" a voice called. There was a rustling noise and Justin emerged from the cave, pulling himself up and looking around. He glanced up at her and she saw relief enter his eyes as he dusted soil from his knees and came their way. "I thought for certain you would be in some sort of trouble by now--oh...who is this?"
He stopped several feet from her, further down the hill, looking from Pomiere-Augwak to Shadow Water with open curiosity. Pomiere-Augwak scowled and Shadow Water very slowly crept back a ways, behind Charmian. "This is Antoine Pomiere. I found him near the caves. He said Ocryana's supposed to be living in one. He...uh...hit his head, and he's not feeling like himself."
"I...think I noticed." Justin eyed the gash still on Pomiere-Augwak's head, but the GeeBee didn't seem interested in having him heal it. His expression plainly told him to keep his distance. Justin's eyes wandered back to Shadow Water and froze.
Charmian glanced over her shoulder to see that the young woman stared back. They stood looking at each other for so long that she scuffed her foot and cleared her throat before saying aloud, "This is Shadow Water. She hurt her arm." Her voice came out pretty loudly, and she almost flushed.
Justin blinked and looked down at her arm. "Oh," he said, coming up. Shadow Water started backing away again before he caught her hand and pulled her arm forward, examining the gash. She stood still and let him, but she squinted her eyes and chewed on her lip in a manner that said she was in pain.
"This isn't much," Justin said after a moment. "Easily taken care of."
Shadow Water's tensed muscles seemed to relax. "You can fix it?"
Justin hastened to reply, "Of course!--I mean--yes, of course I can...this is little difficulty. Just hold still a moment."
He placed his hand over the wound and seemed to be concentrating. Shadow Water's eyes grew when she saw his fingers begin to glow, and she stood and watched until the glow died away, the blood disappearing with it. She pulled her arm back toward herself and flexed it a few times, turning it this way and that with a curious expression.
"Justin's good at that," Charmian said. He offered an embarrassed-looking smile and rubbed the back of his neck. Shadow Water looked up at him.
"Thank you," she whispered.
He blinked a few times, his hand freezing. They stared at each other again.
Charmian could only stand this for so long before she started fuming. Pomiere-Augwak was already grinding his teeth and craning his neck to look around the woods, and now she knew exactly how he felt. How long can they look at each other, anyway? she groused. For God's sake, their eyeballs are going to dry out!!
"WELL hey!" she said loudly, attempting to attract their attention. They only slowly tore their eyes away from each other to look at her again, and both of them flushed, following Pomiere-Augwak's example and looking in every which direction but at her. "Glad that's taken care of, huh?" she continued, forcing an overly large smile. "Kinda cutting it close there, too! Your arm feeling better now, SW?"
"Oh--yes," Shadow Water murmured, rubbing her arm. She pulled up the torn sleeve to cover it and stared at the ground. "Thank you."
"Uh..." Justin seemed at a loss for words. "...It was no trouble."
An awkward pause; Charmian coughed before they could decide to start staring a third time.
"Well...you said that you had to get back home, SW?" she said, and one half of her mind felt like pummeling the half that had made her say that. You IDIOT! With that OCRYX flying around out there? You just said you thought she should stay with US!
That was BEFORE all the googly-eyes started!! the other half sniped. And now Charmian felt like pummeling the whole of her mind just for having this conversation.
JEALOUS?! I am NOT jealous! I just...think that maybe our priorities should change...that's all! Who is this lady, anyway? Do we even know a thing about her? She could be a bad guy, for all we know! Better to send her home than keep her here where she could wreak all sorts of havoc, right?
This rationalization sounded legitimate, and calmed her down. Until she glanced at Shadow Water out of the corner of her eye, saw how shy and meek she was, and wanted to just punch herself for being such a snot. Even if no one else had heard the internal argument.
Well...almost no one. Pomiere-Augwak sneered and she realized she hadn't been masking her thoughts as well as she should have. Not a WORD, she groused, and his expression dimmed somewhat. "Weren't we supposed to be LOOKING for something?" he said aloud, and she remembered what they'd actually come back here for.
"Oh. That's right. Justin, I'll be back in a few, I was going to help Antoine find something he...lost."
"Lost?" He looked at her. "But...he hasn't been around here before, at least, not that I know of. What are you looking for?"
"It's kind of complicated." Charmian tried to keep the red from rising up in her face, before inspiration struck. "He's a sketch artist. He wasn't that far away a while ago, and he--lost his pencil."
My damned PENCIL? I came back here for my damned PENCIL?!
She heard the whistling noise again and remembered that she'd forgotten about Mani. "Oh! Mani, hi!" She grabbed Shadow Water's hand, as the native didn't seem to be going anywhere. "Hey SW, here he is. Look, he's all better now. And he was a lot worse off than you!"
Shadow Water pulled her hand back but followed a bit. Mani, coming toward them and still whistling at Charmian, stopped several feet away and fell silent. He stared at Shadow Water as well with large dark eyes.
Charmian sighed inwardly. "Oh, come on, you remember her, right? Well...you were pretty out of it, but I know she remembers you...right?"
Shadow Water said nothing. Mani slowly leaned forward and stretched out his neck, sniffing in her direction. She drew back the tiniest bit as if afraid of being attacked, but didn't duck behind Charmian as she had before. The manitou's nose wiggled a few times, then he gave a tiny whine and carefully backed away a few steps, his ears twitching.
Charmian frowned. "What's wrong?"
Mani whistled at her again and then went back toward the Cave, always keeping an eye on her. He didn't say anything else.
"Huh..." Charmian stared after him, confused, then shrugged at Shadow Water. "Um...sorry about that. He must not remember you. He's kind of shy. Maybe you smell like Ocryx or something."
Shadow Water's face screwed up. "Oh."
"Well, I have to help Antoine get his head together...were you going to head back to...um...wherever it is?"
"Oh...yes. Thank you, again. I'm grateful."
"It's nothing...thank Justin." And from one half of her brain: WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?
"Ocryx scent?" This from Justin. He flashed a look at Charmian. "Does she live near any of them?"
"Well, kind of--not too far from Ocryana--"
"Send her back alone? Would you rather stay here?" he said, turning to Shadow Water again. Charmian started grinding her own teeth. "Or somewhere else safer? Sugar Loaf Rock isn't too far from where you live, and you'd be more protected there."
"Oh--no, I have to go back home...I'm sorry...sorry to impose." She started back up the hill, keeping her eyes on them all as Mani had. She still rubbed her arm and her eyes darted like a small animal's.
"I could accompany you," Justin offered.
"No!" Shadow Water forced a small smile. "Really...it's all right. I've lived there this long, had little trouble aside from this. I'll be all right. Thank you. Thank you both." She turned now and hurried down the other side of the hill, disappearing from view. Justin stared after her for a moment or two. Charmian coughed again--for some reason she felt relieved--and waved at Pomiere-Augwak. "C'mon. Body."
"It's about time," he muttered, following.
She tromped through the dirt and leaves toward the Cave, where Moon Wolf still stood, not having moved since they'd arrived. He gave her an odd look as she drew closer, and she found herself scowling even before she'd come to a stop. He was starting to become annoying.
"I'm looking for Augwak," she said. "I know I left him out back."
"Then that's where he is."
"How was he? Was he still alive?"
"As far as I could tell. You were planning on doing something with him?"
"Sort of. Where exactly was he again? You didn't do anything to him, did you?"
He shrugged one shoulder and removed the pipe from his mouth. "He's still out there. I tossed him in the Crack."
Pomiere-Augwak put his hands to his head and started screaming as if the world had ended.
"Part 45: Crack-In-The-Island"
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