Charmian descends beneath the Earth to find Augwak's body...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 44: Green-Eyed Monster"
CHARMIAN WINCED AND dropped the stick with the fireling, covering her ears. Moon Wolf stared at the screaming man with a mildly curious look on his face. "Quiet down!" she hissed.
"YOU PROMISED!!" Pomiere-Augwak screamed. "NOW MY BODY'S DOWN IN THE CRACK AND IT'S LOST!!"
"I'll just go BACK there and find it, then!!" She glared at Moon Wolf, since he was currently the cause of her problems. The native gave her the same look he'd given Pomiere-Augwak. "Okay, so you dumped it in the Crack. Which means I have to go in there now and get it back to get him to shut up. Happy?"
He shrugged. "I thought it best to toss it out before the rest of his kind came along and lived up to their natures."
Pomiere-Augwak screamed again and ran from the clearing. From the crashing sounds that came from the woods it seemed as if he were running into every tree on the Island.
"So tell me about this Crack before I go in there," Charmian said. "How deep is it? AND is there anything I should know about, first? Just in case?" She scowled at him, hoping he got the point. He shrugged, replacing his pipe.
"If you go in the end further away from the cave, then it's shallower there. About three feet to start with, going down to about seven or eight feet. It gets deeper from there...but hopefully you won't have to go that far."
"How much deeper?"
"Deeper. Hopefully you won't have to go that far."
Which could very well mean, It's a veritable chasm extending to the Earth's fiery core, so you'd best bring your suntan lotion.
"And is there anything living in there?" she prompted.
Another shrug. "Look. I live in the Cave, not in the Crack. You're on our Island, so the best I can say to you is expect something to live everywhere."
Charmian snorted. "Thanks anyway." She turned away from him just as Justin came down toward the Cave, scratching his head. He nodded toward the woods.
"Your...friend...ran off...I'm a bit concerned about him, is he feeling all right?"
"Yeah, he's fine; just a bit hyper. He really liked that pencil."
"Oh...well, I'm...sorry, I guess..."
"I have to go into the Crack to try to find it for him," Charmian said. He gave her a puzzled look. "Um...if you had to get back home, I really can't think of any reason for you to stay around if you don't want to...but I don't want to seem like I'm trying to get rid of you either."
"No, that's all right...I was thinking it's about time I move along also. You'll be all right here yourself?"
"Yeah, I have Mani and...what's-his-name. If you see anybody else, Drake, Pakwa, Silver, let them know how I'm doing, okay?"
"All right. Take care."
"You too...Mani! Come on, maybe you can help me out. ACCOMPANY me," she snapped, when Moon Wolf opened his mouth to speak.
Mani's ears pricked and he came forward almost eagerly, whistling again. Charmian tromped back up the hill in the direction she knew the Crack lay in, having to poke around through the grass for a short while before she could find it.
There it was. Unimpressive as before. If anything, it seemed even more unimpressive in daylight, when its crevices were illuminated more brightly. Pomiere-Augwak had made his way here ahead of her, and crouched down over it, his head practically disappearing into the ground. He was whining loudly and sounded for all the world like some big annoying puppy.
"Oh, shut up," Charmian groused. She knelt down on the other side and peered in. She still couldn't see the bottom. She moved toward the far end, Mani following, and saw where the Crack began, like a large cat scratch on the surface of the Earth. She stepped down into it.
Pomiere-Augwak's head popped up. "What are you doing?" he snapped.
"I'm going to go find your stupid body. I thought you were looking for it?"
He jumped to his feet, wringing his hands and nodding at the manitou. "What's he doing here?"
"He's coming along with me in case I run into anything I can't handle. Don't worry," she added, "as far as I know manitous aren't cannibals."
He curled his lip. "Well, if you find it, be CAREFUL with it. I could have broken an arm or a rib with that fool tossing me down there like so much trash!"
"You better hope that's all that's broken." She signaled to Mani and started squeezing her way down into the crevice. She wasn't certain if the manitou could follow her, but even though he was larger than she was, he was still smaller than the other manitous she'd seen, and it was a tight squeeze but he took in a breath and followed her.
Pomiere-Augwak hissed and shook his fist at the air. "You'd better bring it back in one piece, fleshling!!"
You're welcome, Charmian's mind muttered, and she sucked in her own breath as the Crack grew to seven feet deep, eight, then nine, the ground growing darker beneath her.
She wished Moon Wolf had made a better estimate of how deep this thing went.
The crack widened a bit now and it felt as if she were entering a tunnel instead, with how high the walls were getting. She glanced up and saw a split of gray above her where the sky was. She lowered her eyes again and had to let them readjust to the poor lighting.
Sikt, you there? I never got to look at what the guidebook said about the Crack. Mind filling me in?
Well, I already know what Sugar Loaf is. And Devil's Kitchen. What's the deal with Crack-in-the-Island?
A popular story is that a giant once fell into the Crack and the stones above are the remains of his fingers. Whether this story is true or not is not for me to say.
A giant? That didn't sound too good. Anything else?
I know very little about this part of the Island. I would have to get a better look at it first.
Well, we're right INSIDE it, in case you didn't notice...
Keep going, and I'll let you know if I discover further.
Charmian sighed but obeyed. She squinted. "Wish I had a light."
Mani whistled but she sensed he was saying, "Sorry, don't have one."
"That's all right," she replied, whatever he'd said. "Not like there's a dozen ways to get lost here, yet..."
A few times the Crack narrowed again, but for the most part it grew wider and stayed that way, allowing them--or at least her--to walk face first, rather than sideways. She stumbled a few times as the ground sloped downwards. It was only when they walked in near-total darkness that she abruptly stopped, the manitou running into her. This wasn't right.
"Just how far down here did he toss that body, anyway?" she exclaimed.
Mani cocked his head. Charmian looked around them, but there was no way they could have passed Augwak without her noticing. The crack was simply too narrow for that. Which meant one of three things. Moon Wolf hadn't tossed the body; or he had tossed it, but it hadn't ended up in the Crack; or...it had gone somewhere else.
Or something had taken it.
She felt a shiver work its way up her spine.
By now the crack of light above had vanished entirely, so they did walk through a tall, narrow tunnel; thankfully enough sunlight crept through from behind to illuminate the rock around them, however dimly, so when they came to a sudden end Charmian jumped back to avoid running into it. She grew confused, putting out her hands to make sure the stone in front of her was real.
"An...end? Where does this thing go, then? Where the heck is Augwak?"
Mani whistled and nodded his head down toward the floor. Looking down there, she noticed they had reached not a dead end, but a lower ceiling: The crack did continue ahead of them, but it was nothing more than a small tunnel.
She sighed. "Go figure. Do you think you can fit in there?"
He cocked one ear, then cocked his head, and shook it slowly.
"Well...would you mind sticking around out here then, keeping your eyes and ears open? I don't really trust Augwak, even if I have his best interests at heart..."
Mani nodded quickly, as if eager to help. He sat down and hunched over, watching as she got to her knees and stuck her head in the crevice.
"Black in there," she sighed. "See you in a bit."
She took a breath, hearing his responding whistle, and crawled inside.
As she went along on hands and knees, skinning herself who knows how many times, she groused silently. Well, THIS is certainly fun. From the looks of it Augwak won't be getting his body back, which means neither will Antoine. Which means--where the heck am I going to put him?!
What sort of creature would drag off a GeeBee? She supposed it could have been another GeeBee, but as long as Augwak was still alive...would they have eaten him?
"Ugh," she muttered. "This is too gross."
She banged her forehead suddenly on the top of the tunnel and winced, touching her hand to her skin and feeling something sticky. "Just great. I always wanted a concussion." She stopped and brought her fingers down and noticed the tips were stained dark. She gave another sigh. "Sikt, can you make sure I don't pass out or something? You do have that ability, don't you?"
Charmian. Do you notice what you're doing?
"Huh?" She frowned, wondering what the Ocryx meant, before glancing down at her fingers again. She rubbed them together and it dawned on her.
She lifted her gaze and peered ahead. The tunnel vanished into darkness, so the light wasn't coming from there. Neither was it coming from above, or behind, or beneath.
"What's going on, Sikt?"
You left your fireling behind?
"Oops--I think I did." She flushed. "So it's not him. What is it?"
I don't know. Be on guard. I have never been beneath this part of the Island before.
She continued crawling, and the tunnel continued growing lighter, but she couldn't find the source. If she hadn't known any better she'd have said the light came from the rock itself, though it didn't appear to be glowing...it was just as if a light illuminated the entire space evenly, and she even cast a shadow, but its location seemed to change depending on where she looked. If she looked to the right, it was to the right of her; if she looked down, there it was, beneath her. If she looked up a faint shadow hit the ceiling. The only dark places were the tunnel ahead and behind her.
"This is just too weird."
At least the place opened up a little, so she didn't have to crawl as much. She wondered if this could now be considered a cave. She remembered Pomiere's theory about a network of caves beneath the Island...well, it seemed as if she were about to prove him right. Where did this one lead?
She slowed to a stop again, her eyes growing. "Um...Sikt..."
What is it?
"Correct me if I'm wrong, 'cause I know I've been down here a while now, but...do you smell...flowers?"
She sensed a brief silence on the demon's part. I...cannot be certain. Yet something does carry a scent.
"It smells just like lilacs or something...how could lilacs be underground?"
The Ocryx didn't answer. Charmian chewed on her lip and moved forward a bit before stopping again.
"I'm getting a weird feeling. Do you think Augwak's even down here at all?"
I did not sense deceit from the medicine man when he told you of what he did. The Wendigo should be down here; and if he is not, then something has become of him.
This I cannot determine. A mental shifting. Continue. I will let you know if I sense anything.
Charmian nodded. Relieved that at least Sikt seemed to know what she was doing, she moved ahead, and the light only grew. So did the scent of the...lilacs...or whatever they were.
She put her hand down and it slipped to the side, slitting the heel of her hand open. She cried out and yanked her hand back, pressing on the cut.
"More blood? Just what I need! This place sucks!"
What did you cut yourself upon?
"It felt like GLASS! What is glass doing way down in..." She peered down below her at the tinge of red where her hand had slid. Her eyes grew.
"Crystal. It's crystal!" She rubbed her fingers across the shiny stone beneath her, and looked up and around at the walls. "They're all changing to crystal down here! It's rock back there, but take a look--a hunk here and one over there...and it looks like it gets shinier ahead!"
"Do you suppose this connects in any way to Tal Natha's cave? Or to...Ocryx's?" The first idea had caused her heart to rise, while the second caused it to start shrinking in on itself.
Crystal is very common here. You will most often encounter it in caves. So it is likely that you approach a cave, but which one, I cannot tell you.
"Well, it's got to be better than crawling around like a bug." She sat down and dug around in her vest pocket for a paper towel. Finding one, she wrapped it around her hand as best as she could. The blood soaked through it immediately, but at least she wouldn't get dirt in it. "Here we go, then."
She got back up and crawled along, faster than before. Eventually the tunnel became as bright as a well-lit room, the jagged walls a rosy orange color in the yellowish light. Every so often a large hunk of pale blue or rosy crystal would glint in her eyes, and every time she wanted to stop and stroke the smooth surface, but kept going. The lilac smell wafted through the air.
She bumped her injured hand against another stone and focused her eyes beneath herself instead.
After a moment or so she sensed the walls moving away from her, and Sikt said, abruptly, Charmian.
She lifted her head and her eyes widened.
There was Augwak, or more like his body, ahead of her. She didn't have the chance to wonder how it had come to lie so far beneath the Earth. For several creatures hunched over it, all of them gaping at her mutely with large pale eyes.
Without thinking, Charmian shouted, "HEY!"
The creatures--all of them looking much like the body they had been dragging, with pointed ears and round eyes and gangly limbs--immediately let go of their burden, letting out odd hissing, rasping sounds and bounding away. Charmian had exited into a cavern, its sides encrusted with crystal of all colors; the pale creatures vanished through an opening on the other side, a continuation of the tunnel she had just come out of. They had disappeared almost before Augwak had a chance to fall to the ground, his head rolling to the side.
Charmian scrabbled into the room as fast as she could. She could still hear the creatures--whatever they had been--bounding away further up the tunnel, but chose not to follow them. She stooped over Augwak, looking him over. His eyes were still open and had gone a creepy milky white, and he didn't twitch like he had before, yet he was still breathing. Just barely.
She took his hand and found it clammy cold. She shuddered and looked up toward the tunnel.
"Sikt, what were those things?"
I...cannot tell you.
"They looked kind of like GeeBees...but they were the wrong color...and they didn't act like GeeBees!"
They were part Wendigo, at the least. This much I could sense.
"Part Wendigo? Then what's the other part?"
I suggest we leave this place. She sensed the Ocryx shifting uncomfortably, as if nervous. The feel is not right here.
"I think I agree with you..." she pulled a little bit on Augwak's arm "...but how exactly am I going to get him out?"
Sikt said nothing, and Charmian could tell the Ocryx had no solution to give. She stifled a sigh and tried pulling him toward the tunnel. His body slid across the floor, but then his head hit a rock, and the going was slow. The jagged ground would tear his back to shreds before she reached the surface. She stopped and let him go.
"I don't think this is gonna work..."
I have no ideas to offer you. If I believed he might not be useful later on, I would tell you to leave him here.
"Those other things might want to eat him!" Charmian shuddered again. "No...I said I'd get him out...there's got to be a way, but how?"
Perhaps I could...
Sikt cut herself off, letting out a mental growl. Charmian felt the hair on the back of her neck rise. She hunched in on herself and scanned the room, in particular the tunnel opposite, her skin prickling. She didn't know if it was the demon inside her, or if she'd been able to sense it on her own, but something was up.
"What...what is it?"
No vocal reply, but she could sense Sikt becoming more hostile by the moment. And then she saw it.
Something started coming through the tunnel toward her. But it wasn't one of the pale creatures, and it wasn't...solid. A wispy, amorphous mist began to emit from the dark hole, moving silently through the air, then she began to hear a soft, whispering noise, just beyond her ability to tell what it might be saying.
She backed away and huddled against the wall, not thinking to go back into the tunnel she'd crawled out of, hoping the--whatever it was--would just go away. It didn't. The mist flowed slowly into the room, spreading out and almost dissipating before clouding together again, almost forming a shape, and...did she see glowing eyes in the midst of it?
Charmian's nerve broke. Letting out a tiny shriek, she flipped herself around and scampered back into the tunnel. She cast a glance over her shoulder as she went, and saw the mist coalesce and come after her, gaining speed, just like in some cheap horror movie. Only this was real.
A terrified whine rising in her throat, she squinched her eyes shut and turned back to face the front, hurrying along as fast as she could. She felt it now, creeping around her ankles, and once more Sikt began snarling as if trying to ward it off. She dropped to the floor, panicked, and covered her head with her arms, unable to stop a scream from escaping her as she felt the strange mist surround her completely like a thick, wet fog. It surged forward around her, and then sucked back.
And a moment later, it had gone.
Her heart thumped steadily in her throat, but it began to slow. She opened her eyes and could see only the jagged rock beneath her, made dim by her shadow. Sucking in a ragged breath, she tentatively lifted her head, peering up, then back, dreading what she might see.
The tunnel stretched on behind her, and she could see the cave room at the end, though not Augwak, at least not from where she crouched. The mist was nowhere to be seen.
She let out her breath, her anxiety dying down. Whatever it had been, apparently it hadn't been as dangerous as she'd thought. It was probably just a cloud of noxious fumes...didn't that sort of thing happen in caves sometimes? The eyes could have been just an illusion cast by the light. The crystals could cause refraction, or something, like a mini rainbow, making it look like glowing eyes in a cloud of ominous mist...couldn't they?
She couldn't remember most of her science schooling for some reason, but it sounded plausible, and the idea was a whole lot more appealing.
She pushed herself up and over, heaving a sigh. Well...she'd have to go back in there and get Augwak out, somehow. She still didn't know how, but ANYTHING was easier than staying and dealing with something like that again!
"I'll t-tell you what, Sikt," she murmured. "Maybe you can give me some 'strength' or something...to let me drag him out...or maybe you can do a shapeshifting thingie...you must be able to do something, right? If you and Dakh can keep us alive even with a broken neck, you must be able to drag a GeeBee out of a tunnel...right?"
Sikt didn't answer. Charmian searched all over in her mind to elicit some sort of response; she didn't want to be ignored right now. The sooner she was out of here, the better.
Now that her terror had sufficiently abated, she noticed something she hadn't noticed before. Sikt's presence. She'd felt it all along, since the demon had taken up residence in her mind; even when not thinking about it, she could have told the Ocryx was there. Now, when she searched, she found her mind surprisingly empty, but for what had been there to begin with. The demon was nowhere to be found.
Her heart squeezed up into her chest again as the anxiety came rushing back in a flood.
Sikt was gone!
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