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Rated: 13+ · Serial · Fantasy · #297521
Charmian and Mani decide to pay a visit to Sugar Loaf Rock, when something moves...
Main story folder & table of contents: "Manitou Island
Previous chapter: "Part 47: Breaking The Surface



INTERIM


Hush now, don't you cry
Wipe away the teardrop from your eye
You're lying safe in bed
It was all a bad dream spinning in your head
Your mind tricked you to feel the pain
Of someone close to you leaving the game of life
So here it is, another chance
Wide awake, you face the day
Your dream is over...or has it just begun?

There's a place I like to hide
A doorway that I run through in the night
Relax child, you were there
But only didn't realize, and you were scared
It's a place where you will learn
To face your fears, retrace the years
And ride the whims of your mind
Commanding in another world
Suddenly, you hear and see this magic new dimension

I--will be watching over you
I--am gonna help you see it through
I--will protect you in the night
I--am smiling next to you
In silent lucidity

If you open your mind for me
You won't rely on open eyes to see
The walls you built within
Come tumbling down, and a new world will begin
Living twice at once you learn
You're safe from pain in the dream domain
A soul set free to fly
A round trip journey in your head
Master of illusion, can you realize
Your dream's alive, you can be the guide but

I--will be watching over you
I--am gonna help you see it through
I--will protect you in the night
I--am smiling next to you...


"Silent Lucidity"
Queensrÿche
©1990 Tri-Rÿche Corp./Screen Gems-EMI Music Inc.
All rights reserved


* * * * *

PART FORTY-EIGHT:
After The Interim


CHARMIAN HAD TO grab onto a sapling and watch her step as she worked her way down one of the trails back to Cave of the Woods. Since October she'd learned all of them; the one she and Justin had taken, from the wide road in the woods, wasn't the only one. In fact she'd learned quite a few trails she'd never even known were there before.

She'd also learned some downright strange places to find food in the middle of winter. Right now she stopped and crouched over, peering under some fallen snow-covered tree stumps. The whole trail had been obscured by now, even her own footprints from earlier that day; the snow drifted down from above and landed silently, covering up those she'd just left behind her. She brushed some ice away from the wood and reached under it, feeling around a bit before pulling her hand back out, and with it a dark ugly mass that looked like so much rot. Before, she would have winced and tossed it away, if she'd even reached in there in the first place. By now she knew it was harmless, just a little-known kind of mushroom that could grow in the cold. She tossed it in her pouch with the rest of the mushrooms and winter berries she'd managed to find--quite a handful of them--and, brushing the snow from herself, continued on her way.

She wondered how Drake was doing. She'd last seen him when he'd come to visit a couple of weeks ago, atop one of the Uroona. He'd filled her in a bit on what was going on back at Sugar Loaf Rock. It seemed that things had finally begun to settle again, back to normal.

"Hi Charm! Long time no see!" he'd greeted, waving down at her; when he'd climbed off he'd updated her on everything.

"Tal Natha's doing a whole lot better now!" he'd said as they'd walked along.

"He's awake--?"

"Uh-huh! He woke up a while back, but you weren't there to see it...you were busy, I know!" He'd picked up a fallen pine bough and started sweeping snow out of their way. She noticed that he too was dressed much the same way she was, and could only assume that Francois had paid them all a visit. "He was a little weak for a while, but Red Bird and Silver Eagle Feather and OMM got him all better. Well, almost. They're still nagging him to take it easy. You know--women!"

She'd smiled but nodded at him to continue.

"Well anyway, I don't think he had much in mind anyway, since he's busy keeping an eye on Red Bird, now that she's expecting and all! Oh! She shows a little bit, too! Isn't that cool? She says it's probably due in the spring. I can't wait to see it! I wonder what it'll look like!"

"If it follows the pattern, it should look like...like an Ocryx." Charmian had found herself wondering over that one.

"Oh. Well, that would be neat! Anyway, X'aaru stops by a lot, he's all worried about you, I keep telling him you're okay--"

"How do you know?"

"Huh? Oh. 'Cause you're always okay! Silly! What did you think?"

Charmian had blinked at the reply, but said nothing.

"Anyway, he's kinda flying around the Island a lot keeping an eye on things since Tal Natha hasn't been. He says the GeeBees are acting kinda screwy. They fly around a lot but they don't seem to know what they're doing. He hasn't seen Augwak anywhere! Any idea about that one?"

"Um...kind of...let me hear what else you have to say, first."

"Well, they're acting funny, and once in a while they'll attack people, but it's nothing more than usual. And since Augwak isn't there to keep track of them they aren't doing a real good job! Oh, and the manitous? He didn't have very much to say about them, I guess...pretty quiet at Devil's Lake. I dunno, maybe Ocryx got bored. And they haven't seen Ocryana or that other Ocryx anywhere. Kinda strange!"

"How's Dakh?"

"Oh! He's great! I can smell all kinds of weird things now! And whenever I get lost somewhere he helps me out!"

The boy needs plenty of help, Dakh had cut in, and Drake had laughed and rubbed the back of his neck.

"Well...I'm getting better, really!"

"So what've you been doing all month?"

"Oh, hanging out with OMM and the Uroona, mostly. They're real easy to talk to once you get to know them! They know all kinds of stuff! They're...um...'sandlings,' OMM called them, so they know all kinds of stuff about the ground and rocks and such. They taught me how to find this kind of rock that burns!"

"Flint?"

"Huh--? Oh, is that what it's called?"

"Um...I'm not sure. Go on."

"Well anyway, yeah, there's this rock that burns. Isn't that neat? So if I ever get lost and Dakh doesn't wanna help me, I can burn some rocks or something!"

"I've got this fireling to start fires whenever I want it to, and sometimes when I don't..."

"Really? COOL! I'll have to get one of those!"

"Anything else?"

"Huh? Oh...well, no, not really, that I can think of. So! What've you been up to? Anything interesting?"

"Moon Wolf's been teaching me things too. See that thing under your foot? You could've eaten it if you hadn't squished it."

"Oops! Sorry! I thought that was a dead chipmunk or something...so he taught you how to find food and stuff?"

"Yeah, and to fight...kind of."

"Fight! He taught you how to fight? Like how? Kung fu?"

"No, not kung fu...that's Chinese, dolt. They don't know kung fu here."

"Oh, that's too bad. My cousin knows karate."

"That's nice...anyway he taught me to fight a little, but I'm not sure how good I am."

"Wanna fight me and maybe we can find out? My cousin taught me a few moves!"

Charmian had rolled her eyes. "Um...thanks, Drake, but maybe another time."

"Okay then...so you think you'll be ready for her whenever she shows up?"

"Her...?" She'd remembered, he hadn't been there when Ocryana had arrived. He had no idea they'd met already. "Um...well, I'd have to see her to find out."

"Let's hope that doesn't happen until later! Black Elk Horn and What's-His-Name showed up with some food and stuff for us at the Rock and we told them about what was going on and they said they hoped she'd just hide out all during the winter, 'cause things are harder here then. Food not as easy to find, all the Wendigoes, stuff like that. Maybe once the snow melts it'll be a lot better! Ya think?"

She hadn't had an answer for that. Truthfully, she'd been hoping the winter passed peacefully as well, ever since he had mentioned Red Bird's baby. She'd have to make it through the winter if she hoped to have it. If winter was the hardest time of the year...then that just made it all the more worrisome.

"...Yeah, maybe," she'd replied, and with that Moon Wolf had called from somewhere in the woods, and the two of them had said goodbye and had to part ways. Drake had dropped the pine branch and climbed back on the Uroona--it was a relatively small one--and waved cheerfully as it lumbered off. Charmian had walked back on her own.

Not that she was alone, or even alone with Moon Wolf around here...Mani always stayed close by, no matter how much the native tried to shoo him away. And though she'd hoped Pomiere-Augwak had disappeared for good, he still showed up from time to time, sulking and scowling. When she'd first told him about taking his body to Francois he'd thrown a huge fit. Her threatening to crush Antoine's spirit stone had effectively stopped the childish behavior.

"Remember, buddy," she'd said, "I smash this, and then there's nothing to put in your body. If this thing breaks, you die."

"And how do I know I haven't died yet! For all you know I'm half rotten by now!"

"Trust me, Francois's been keeping me in touch. You're not dead yet. Though you're a little on the stiff side. Gotta admit, you GeeBees don't really give up that easily."

He'd looked ready to wring her neck, but had retreated. He still showed up every so often to threaten her some more, but she wasn't afraid of him. She felt a little sorry for him sometimes, in fact, with how the other GeeBees occasionally flew over with mindless howls, and he couldn't join them. He would grind his teeth and watch the sky and occasionally snap at one of them. He seemed horribly offended at having to eat fleshling food, which she assumed he must be getting from either Francois or the Dupries, but if it was what he had to do...besides, if his absence made the GeeBees less of a threat, then so be it. It was fun having somebody in the palm of her hand for a change.

She stopped to pick another mushroom, hidden in the snow beneath a pine tree, and moved on.

She thought of Sugar Loaf Rock; Cave of the Woods was nice and warm, but Old Mother Manitou's place had seemed so much more welcoming. She wondered how the others there passed their time in the evenings. She imagined a fire, the smell of incense, everyone smiling and chattering and eating food. She sighed.

Something whistled. Not Mani.

She dropped the pouch immediately and reached to pull out the long carved stick she carried over her shoulder. She managed to drop into a crouch and bring it up just as something cracked against it heavily, the shock of the blow shooting up her arm. She gritted her teeth but bit off the pain and pushed up as hard as she could, propelling her attacker away. It was near dark, but the moon was out and almost full, illuminating the snow in glittering hues. A dark shape lunged forward and swung out at her. She blocked the blow a second time, and a third, before ducking and swinging her own stick out at its legs.

It jumped and landed, avoiding her. She swung again and this time it blocked her and pushed her back. Charmian rolled and attempted to get to her feet but lost her balance on a patch of ice; with a yelp she went down, twisting her ankle, but managed to roll again and end up on her feet. Little jolts of pain shot through her foot but she ignored them. The dark shape came running--another block, another blow--Charmian swung a few times and actually hit it in the arm! It let out a pained sound and backed off, but as soon as she dared to grin the stick swung down at her head. She gasped and stopped it from hitting her, only to feel her feet knocked out from underneath her. She fell flat on her back and the dull end of the stick pressed to her throat. Angry eyes glared down at her.

"Not good enough!"

Charmian scowled. "You sneaked up on me!"

"You think they would not? Learn! Your enemy is not going to be polite! If I were a GeeBee, I would have torn out and eaten your heart by now. If I were an Ocryx, the snow would be red with your blood!"

Charmian sat up, nudging the stick away and pushing herself to her feet. "I get it already. Lay off."

Moon Wolf stepped back, bringing the stick up to stand by his side. He gave her a dry look as she brushed the snow from her clothes and retrieved her own weapon, slinging it back over her shoulder. "We've entered the Hard Freeze Moon. The longest night approaches, and you still have hardly anything to show for it. You would learn well, if you weren't so naive. The world won't be friends with you where you come from, and neither will it here."

Charmian ignored him and started trudging toward the cave again. Tears stung her eyes but she willed them back until they were dry. He had a point--she wished she were much better than she was--but he didn't have to rub it in so much. She had to admit though. She'd always assumed a fantasy dreamworld would be a lot easier to get along in than the real world.

So much for illusions.

She felt Sikt moving around in the back of her mind as she went, and though the Ocryx said nothing, she was comforted that at least she was there. Mani peered at her from the woods, two little blue lights blinking in the dimness. She could recognize his scent, and tell him apart from other manitous by now; Sikt had also let her know the difference between lake manitous and the rest. She waved and he approached, falling into step beside her. He noticed her dejected look and whistled. From long conversations passed with Francois over the past month, she actually understood him this time.

Moon One treats you so poorly. He does not need to be so harsh, stinging like quills on a porcupine.

"No...it's okay." Charmian suppressed a sigh and stared at the snowy trail ahead. "He has a point."

She exited the woods into the small clearing before the Cave. The snow lay here untouched and blue-white. She almost hated putting her prints in it. She made her way toward the cave but at the last minute changed direction and went uphill a ways, behind it. Mani gave her a curious look but followed. She stopped when she reached the Crack and stared down. Under the snow and dimness, it looked like a long black scrape gouged into the soft white. She squinted but didn't see anything down there.

"I wonder if it's still warm," she murmured. Mani said nothing. She hadn't told anyone about the strange place she'd found down there.

With another sigh she finally went back to the Cave. Though it was dark, it wasn't exactly late; this far into the year the sun would set as early as five PM. She knew her way through the strange shifting maze of rocks and stalagmites and made it safely to the well-lit den where the three of them slept. Her fireling hung on the wall, just like Old Mother Manitou's bat; she hadn't been certain what else to do with the thing, so she kept it as a sort of night light. She set the pouch and her stick down on a ledge in the corner and shirked off her heavier outer vest, then, rubbing her arms, sat down in front of the strange sparkling fire and held out her hands for a while. Moon Wolf wouldn't be back for a bit, knowing him.

Mani settled down on the floor with a wide yawn and sigh and shut his eyes. Charmian rubbed her fingers. She went over in her mind all that Drake had told her--how everything had settled down--but that had been a while ago. Things could change so quickly here. She worried about Red Bird.

"Mani, how is it really, around here, in the winter?"

The manitou opened one eye and then lifted his head with a questioning look.

"When the moons are cold. I heard it's more difficult around here then. Is that true?"

His ear cocked. Sometimes. The food hides itself better under the snow. Strange things come out.

"Like what?"

He nodded at the ceiling and she found herself looking upwards. Wind ones. They carry you away into the sky.

"Yeah, I think Justin told me about those...don't they just carry off people, like me? Or is it your kind too?"

They will carry away anyone. Never to be seen again. Water ones fear them.

She knew that by "water ones" he meant his own kind, the lake manitous. "They only come out in winter?"

They are always, yet the cold moon draws them out. Both of his ears twitched. You are interested in the wind ones so much?

"I was just thinking..." She left the sentence unfinished and continued staring at the ceiling as if the stars were there.

"Mani, why did you leave Devil's Lake?"

He cocked his head and blinked. She had to look at him to get him to answer. He gave an uncertain noise.

Eh...

"I heard you could get in big trouble just for leaving the lake without permission, and you just gave it all up. Why did you do that?"

Well...Red Land One saved Mani's life.

Sometimes, his language could get confusing. She couldn't figure out why he sometimes spoke normally, and sometimes reverted to third person. She'd come to understand that manitous often used not only sounds and scents, as Justin had said, but adjectives to describe those they interacted with--and so Charmian had become "Red Land One." When she'd asked him to explain the name he'd told her it was because of her red hair, and the fact that she came from the mainland. When she'd asked him why not simply Red One, he'd matter-of-factly let her know that name was already in use. She didn't have to guess by whom.

"Yeah, I know, but...was that really worth giving up your home? It seems you'd be pretty safe there. Now you're hanging out with me, and already you could be in all kinds of trouble."

None have come to get me.

"Not yet they haven't. Maybe they're just waiting for the right moment?"

You think they will kill me?

"That's what I was told. Well. Punish. But you made a really big mistake."

Another blink. Then his nostrils flared.

Mani made no mistakes.

She sighed. "I know, you did it on purpose...but why? You do know that Justin was the one who saved your life, don't you?"

Medicine One healed Mani's wounds. Red Land One brought him the medicine. Red Land One saved him.

Charmian's mouth twisted. That was some strange reasoning.

"Yeah, but I wouldn't have been able to help you too much if Justin hadn't happened to be around."

If Red Land One had not been around, Medicine One would not have healed Mani. He mimicked her mouth-pursing gesture. This is the truth.

"But was any of this worth it? Really worth it? You had an Ocryx to protect you before, and a whole herd of manitous. Now, you're stuck with me."

Glowing Eyes One and Great White One did not save Mani. You did. If this is not...'really worth it'...then Mani has no worth-it words.

Charmian let out a flustered sigh and fell back into a pile of furs. "You elementals are really annoying," she groused, knowing she wouldn't hurt his feelings. He put his head back down and she kicked around at the air out of pure boredom. She stared at the fire a bit and thought again of Sugar Loaf Rock. Her eyes lit up and she rolled over onto her stomach.

"Hey. Mani." She waved her hand at him conspiratorially. "Want to go for a trip? Just a little one."

He frowned. In darkness?

"It's not that dark, with the moon out. Besides, I've been out in the dark before. This'll be nothing compared to that." She jumped to her feet, grabbing her vest and putting it back on. She picked the fireling down from the wall; she'd figured out how to carry it without burning herself, by grasping its ankles and dangling it upside-down, bearing it like a lantern. Mani rose and watched her poke around for anything she might need.

Moon One returns soon...

"Nah, he'll be gone a while yet. Who knows what he's doing. I just wanted to go to Sugar Loaf for a bit. I haven't seen those guys in ages! What do you say, will you come along? You can get there faster than I can, especially with this ankle. We won't be there too long, I promise."

The manitou continued watching her until she'd bundled herself up and stood before the exit, then he sighed. Well...if we stay not long. Moon One is prickly and unpleasant. Like a porcupine.

She peered at him. "You got stung in the nose by one of those things before, didn't you?"

Mani actually snorted and flushed red, and his ears folded back. Charmian waved for him to follow and left the cave.

Wind ones will be out soon, he said anxiously as they made their way to the surface.

"Don't worry, I bet we can outrun them...besides, I haven't seen one in the past month yet, maybe they're still sleeping or whatever it is they do in the summer."

He didn't say anything, but she could tell he wasn't convinced. She felt a little bad in that she was essentially using him to get to Sugar Loaf, but as long as he went along with her, she didn't want to head back.

They crawled outside, Charmian brushing snow from her knees before Mani shapeshifted and she climbed on top, holding onto his antlers. He turned and headed into the woods, hooves sinking silently into the snow. Charmian leaned over him to keep warm and peered around her at the darkening trees. The moon still glinted upon them, rising in the sky, but the colors had shifted from pale blues to dark sapphire and indigo and jet. The trees themselves were nothing more than black spires rising out of the ground. She briefly thought of the alternating sogginess and crunch of the autumn leaves, lying somewhere beneath the white. That seemed like ages ago now that she'd last smelled autumn spice.

Mani had started trotting, gliding smoothly along, and the wind whispered around her face. She pulled up a hood on the jacket she had put on over her vest and the fur lining tickled her cheeks.

The whispering grew to a soft moan, and her glance darted up, toward the sky. Mani's followed. She saw nothing up there but stars; the sound came from far away, and she thought of the wide lonely road in the woods that she and Justin had traveled in the darkness, with only his necklace to guide them; she brought the fireling up closer now as if for protection, and Mani picked up his pace. Her own thoughts echoed what he must be feeling.

There's no way I want to get caught out in the middle of nowhere right now of all times!

They had made a good deal of progress when Sikt barked in Charmian's mind, Charmian!--and something made a crashing, slashing sound further out in the woods. Mani immediately dropped to the ground, his antlers mimicking fallen tree branches; Charmian rolled off him into the snow, keeping herself pressed flat, peering around them with her heart hammering in her chest. She'd caught the faint musky smell of an Ocryx nearby, and Sikt's warning only added to her anxiety.

Mani sniffed a few times and looked around as well. The crashing noise--quieter yet closer this time--repeated itself, and they both turned in that direction, far away to the left and slightly ahead. The trees were thick here so at first they couldn't see, but after a moment a dark, hulking shape appeared between the trunks, shuffling, almost apelike, as it walked. The two stared at it in silence. Neither even dared think at each other.

The big creature stopped for a moment and its head swiveled around so two glowing eyes focused on them. Charmian held her breath. The eyes were an ugly greenish-yellow, and she heard it give a low rattling growl before it turned and lumbered off into the trees. There were a few more crunching sounds as it stepped over branches and fallen logs, but after a while this faded away, until the forest was silent once more. Even the wind seemed to have died down.

Charmian and Mani--and even the fireling, surprisingly--lay in the snow waiting to make certain it was truly gone. Only when her hands were starting to go numb from the cold did Charmian push herself up, the manitou slowly following. She picked up the fireling, which had melted a hole in the snow, and held it up high, looking around.

"Seems like it's gone," she murmured.

Mani said nothing, but she sensed his fear. Sikt shifted around nervously in her mind.

"It's strange," Charmian added, a bit uncertainly. "It kind of smelled like an Ocryx. But...it kind of smelled like a manitou, too. Do you have any idea what it was?"

Mani shook his head. Too strange. Not a water one. Not a wind one. Neither. Not certain what.

I tried to sense its thoughts, Sikt added, but even I could not read them.

"You mean it was disguising them? Like that Ocryx did?"

Perhaps. If so it is experienced. It knows of our abilities.

"Which means it knows of us." Charmian shivered and put her hand on Mani's shoulder, pulling herself back up. She hung the fireling from one antler to act as a light. "Come on. We'd better get to Sugar Loaf before it shows up again. Maybe somebody there will know what that thing was."

She sensed Sikt's approval, and Mani immediately started off through the woods again, so it appeared they were all in agreement on this matter, at least.


Continue:

 Part 49: Scent Of Evil  (13+)
Charmian and X'aaru run straight into something unpleasant...
#302881 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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