Charmian digs up Augwak's body, but it isn't as obedient as she thought...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 57: Strange Bedfellows"
Mind & Body
CHARMIAN TROMPED THROUGH the snow with Chepi, X'aaru, and Mani following, Augwak leading the way. The GeeBee chattered miserably, rubbing his arms and scowling. It was quite dark by now, but Chepi was glowing, and none of them seemed to have any trouble navigating the woods.
"I...hate...this...fleshling...body," Augwak chattered, rubbing at his arms even harder.
Chepi tapped Charmian's shoulder. "Is something wrong with the poor idiot? He doesn't seem very happy out here..."
"He's spoiled," Charmian said, and then muttered, "A lot like someone else I know."
Chepi didn't appear to catch the hint. She rubbed her own arms and blew on her hands, then fell back between X'aaru and Mani. "You two wouldn't mind keeping me warm, would you...?"
Augwak ground his teeth and glared back at her. "Is she always such a sl--"
"Where are we headed?" Charmian interrupted him, and narrowed her eyes. "I seem to remember Francois's house being a bit the other way. Remember, if you pull anything--"
"The stupid mainlander moved my body to the other house!" Augwak snapped. "The one with the family--the parents and their offspring! The big house with all the gables!"
"You mean the Dupries house? Why did he do that?"
"Why should I know, stupid? I show up one morning and he tells me it's gone! With the Dupries! How am I to know his addled reasoning?"
"Well, you're off a little bit, since the Dupries house is that way. If we kept going in this direction we'd head off onto the ice!"
"THEN YOU LEAD THE WAY!!"
"I miss home," Chepi sniffled. "I miss my Windwalkers."
"I miss home," X'aaru said, and Charmian didn't doubt it.
She sighed and turned around so she walked backwards--a bad habit from Drake, she assumed. "Look. I just need to keep a promise I made, then all of us can head back to...wherever. Except for you two." She pointed at Chepi and Augwak and they both fumed. "This might take a little bit though because I don't know what I'm doing. So I wish everybody would be patient."
"Sorry," X'aaru said meekly. Mani heaved a sigh but said nothing. Chepi flounced and Augwak's lip curled back; he started tromping harder.
"You're welcome," Charmian muttered, and they continued on their way.
As they had been at Sugar Loaf, the walk to the Dupries house didn't take them very long. By the time they had come within sight of the large house, its lights glowing through the trees, Charmian discovered her hand was clutching tightly at her coat. At first she wasn't certain why, until she noticed also the anxious feeling in her chest. Why would she feel anxious? The Dupries had been nothing but nice to her. She scoured around in her mind trying to figure out the source of the feeling only to find herself wondering if Shadow Water would be anywhere near. Was that what was bothering her so much? Hadn't she gotten over that yet? She cringed when she realized she was acting just like one of the dopey teen girls at her school mooning over the latest random pop star. She didn't even know the latest random pop stars' names.
Augwak had picked up his pace and was practically jogging toward the house. He turned around and waved his arms. "Come on, come on! How much do you have to drag this thing out? HURRY UP!"
"You've been lying out in the snow all winter, I doubt you're going to go bad now!"
X'aaru trotted up beside her. "Do you suppose she'll allow us in? Something smells very good around here..."
"I don't know. Maybe if we ask nicely..."
Augwak made gagging motions again as they reached the porch and stomped up the steps. "If I must force one more piece of dead bird down my throat, I'll cough it up and my insides along with it..."
"Lovely mental image, thanks for sharing it."
She reached up and knocked on the door, then rubbed her arms. X'aaru and Mani paced around in the snow, tracing patterns; Chepi hopped around a bit and watched them, as if hoping to gain their attention. Augwak couldn't stay still; he paced to one end of the porch and back, then to the other end and back, muttering the whole while.
"Fleshlings, such slow stupid things, slow, slow, stupid...!"
The door rattled a bit and opened so yellow light flooded out. Charmian held up one hand to shield her eyes and saw Justine Dupries's silhouette staring back out at her. When her eyes cleared a bit she could see the woman blink with surprise, then smile.
"Charmian? It's so lovely to see you again. You bring a guest? Please, come in."
"Thank you, ma'am. Um...is it all right if they come in, too?"
Lady Dupries leaned to the side to look over Charmian's shoulder. X'aaru, Mani, and Chepi glanced up at her hopefully, like three stray puppies, and she nodded and smiled again.
"Of course. Please, before you get too cold."
"Thank you," Charmian said a second time, and slipped inside, tapping the snow off of the leather boots Francois had fashioned for her, for the winter. Augwak scowled and shook his feet off, not minding the carpeting; Charmian felt like hitting him. Chepi nudged her way in next and daintily tapped the snow from her feet and brushed off her wings. Lady Dupries had to back away when the other two entered; X'aaru seemed to want to shake himself off, but refrained, instead wiping his paws against the rug. Mani simply looked around.
"Would you like something warm to drink? It's rather late, but there are also a few scraps in the kitchen..."
"I think X'aaru might be hungry, but I'm all right...a drink would be nice." Lady Dupries left the room and Charmian sat down on the edge of a chair that would have swallowed her up had she leaned back. She fiddled with the fringe at the hem of her coat until telling herself to stop. Chepi poked around at some knickknacks on a shelf, grimacing and sticking out her tongue; when Lady Dupries returned a moment later with a silver tray carrying several steaming cups and something on a plate, she hurried over to meet her, hopping up and down like a child awaiting candy. Charmian had to slap her hand away when she grabbed for a cup. Chepi drew her hand back, rubbing it and sticking out her lip. Charmian glared.
"You say 'Pretty please' and 'Thank you.'"
Chepi's face grew ugly. Nevertheless, she turned back to Lady Dupries and said, in a sarcastic tone, "Pretty please."
The woman nodded, seemingly puzzled; Chepi snatched a cup and moved off with it. "Thank you," she said, not sounding very sincere.
Charmian reached up to help dispense the cups to the others, the plate with its helping of turkey and ham going to X'aaru; Chepi returned and snatched a slice of meat away from him before he could even taste it, and scurried off into the corner to devour it. Augwak just gagged again. "I'm sorry we all just showed up like this," Charmian apologized. "I know you should probably be getting your sleep right about now...but I kind of remembered something I keep forgetting, and thought maybe I should take care of it while it's still in mind."
"You mean the body, yes?"
Charmian blinked. "Um...yep. That's what I mean."
"Monsieur LaCroix brought it by a few weeks ago. He said he has been keeping it outside in the snow beside his cabin...this...is rather unusual, though I suppose I shouldn't find it so, this being the Island and such." She glanced toward the back of the house. "Gerard placed it in the snowdrift out back. It doesn't appear to have...decomposed, any...though I would not be certain about such matters."
"Maybe elementals don't really decay like people do?" Charmian shrugged and sipped her tea. It tasted like apples and cinnamon. "Whenever they get killed they seem to turn into dust or something. So maybe it's different for them. Is he buried very deep...?"
"Buried--? Oh, no. Merely beneath a foot or so; Monsieur LaCroix informed us that the scavengers do not seem to be interested in digging up a GeeBee."
Augwak clawed at his eyes. "MUST we continue to speak in this manner? Finish up that damned drink and let us get this over with!"
"HEY!" Charmian snapped. "While we're here, you're going to WATCH YOUR MOUTH. They didn't have to keep your body here; in my opinion they should have just tossed you in the Crack the moment you gave them trouble. Be thankful you've stuck around this long!"
He bared his teeth, but his eyes had grown panicked at the mention of the Crack. She could tell he wasn't going to give her much more trouble. She finished the tea and wiped her mouth, setting the cup aside and digging in her pouch while Lady Dupries took the cup away. Her hand came out clutching the glittering blue gemstone that had fallen from Pomiere's breast seemingly so long ago. Chepi, licking her fingers in the corner, saw it and her eyes grew wide as marbles. She made a beeline for Charmian and stopped inches away, looking it over.
"Oooohhhhh," she breathed. "Such a pretty gem! Where did you find such a...?"
She reached out to touch it. Immediately Augwak leapt forward, smacking her hand away much harder than Charmian had. "OW!!" Chepi yelled, wings buzzing and flapping.
Augwak raised his fist and shook it, livid. "If you TOUCH that one more time, I'll rip your wings off and shove them up your--"
"I SAID ENOUGH!!" Charmian shouted. Everybody in the room--except Lady Dupries--jumped and flinched. "What the hell does it take to get you guys to just SHUT UP AND KNOCK IT OFF! It's like babysitting TWO YEAR OLDS!!" She winced herself and turned to Lady Dupries. "Um...sorry for the language."
Lady Dupries nodded.
Charmian turned back to the others and held up the stone. "It's Antoine Pomiere's spirit stone, so NO, you're not getting it. It belongs in him." She pointed at Augwak. Chepi looked at him as well with a frown. "Meanwhile, the stone he's got in him belongs in the body outside. Long story. I just need to figure out a way to switch them."
"You mean...he has a body that's been without a spirit within it?" Chepi's frown grew and her wings trembled faintly at the air. "That doesn't sound good...does it?"
"He's been out there for quite a while, I don't see the harm in it..."
"Well that's not what I meant. Perhaps his body isn't going yet, but his mind most likely is."
Augwak's eyes bugged and Chepi stuck out her tongue at him. Charmian looked down at the stone, not certain what to think.
"I...nobody told me about that..."
"Well, it's very much true, because I told you so. How long has it been lying about in the snow?"
"He!--ME!!" Augwak screamed.
"A couple of months now...how bad do you think it'll be...?"
"I don't think it matters very much--" she quickly dodged to the side when he swung out at her, just missing the table Charmian's cup sat upon "--but at least some change must be expected. If you haven't figured out how to switch the stones yet, then you'd best just put that one in the body, for now."
Charmian bit her lip and rolled the gem back and forth in her palm. Augwak stomped toward her, fuming.
"If you even consider sticking that thing in my body, then any remnant of a bargain we have is OFF!"
"You want your body back and not your mind?" Charmian shot back. "Then all righty. You can be a drooling babbling idiot for all I care. Oh, wait--YOU ALREADY ARE!!"
Augwak's face contorted and for a moment she thought he would rip her head off right then and there. He raised his arms and shrieked and his hands came down to his eyes again. Only instead of tearing her to bits he started bawling so loudly her ears hurt.
For a moment the rest of them just stared at him in surprise. Then Chepi pointed at him with her finger. "Ha ha!"
Charmian slapped her away a third time. "Enough of that. You think he'd be any better wandering around WITHOUT half a mind? X'aaru, you can help me dig him out." She got up and pulled her coat around her again. X'aaru finished gulping down the rest of the meat and hurried to follow her.
Lady Dupries stepped aside and waved her close. "This way. There is another door in the back."
Charmian followed her, not really caring who came after aside from the Ocryx. They passed through a long narrow hallway and some other rooms she didn't take the time to examine or identify; needless to say the house had plenty of them. At the back was what appeared to be another kitchen, different from the one she'd been in before; maybe it was for the servants to eat in. The woman unlatched a door here and pulled it open to reveal a tiny stone stoop swept free of snow. Charmian looked out over the backyard framed by trees. She could see the log Dupries himself had been chopping at off to her left; the horse was gone. A snowdrift rose to her right, against the house and just beside what she assumed must be a woodshed.
"I'm guessing he's over in there?" she asked, pointing at the snowdrift.
Lady Dupries nodded. "Buried just a bit. He's been there for a while, so he may be frozen."
Charmian heard a sniffle from far behind her and rolled her eyes. She stepped off of the stoop and wallowed into the snow. X'aaru followed, sinking to his chest before gaining his balance. Mani came out as well. The teenager stopped before the drift and stuck her hands in, feeling only snow. She started digging, and the other two joined in.
Chepi's head appeared from the doorway. "Ew, ick. Getting all wet and cold like that! Do you have anything else to eat?"--looking up at Lady Dupries.
The woman blinked before nodding. "Ahm...yes. Please follow." She disappeared inside and Chepi followed. Now that there was room, Augwak stuck his head out and waved his fist.
"CAREFUL WITH THAT DIGGING! IF YOU INJURE ME IT'LL BE YOUR HEADS!"
Charmian turned to snap at him when a great hunk of snow dislodged itself from the roof and fell on his head. She couldn't keep herself from smiling. Once in a while, the spirits were friendly. She turned back to her digging and finally located a thin pale hand, almost translucent against the snow.
"Here he is! Help me get him out. You get his feet, and you find his head."
Mani scraped at the snow with his antlers. X'aaru pawed about to Charmian's left. When he located what he was looking for he pushed his muzzle into the snow and pulled back, a pointed ear clasped between his teeth.
"AAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH!!!" Augwak screamed from the porch. He was flailing and kicking snow off of himself, yet still saw what they were doing. "BE CAREFUL WITH THAT!!"
Charmian ignored him this time. The three of them swept off the rest of the snow and pulled the limp cold body out of the drift so it rolled to the base. She couldn't believe his appearance. He looked much the same as he had when she'd left him; he wasn't even frozen, as Lady Dupries had suggested he might be. He was no longer breathing, however, at least not that she could see. She frowned and pressed her ear to his chest.
X'aaru sniffed at him a bit. "He's still alive...he's not thinking, yet he has thoughts. Little...um...bits that drift through the mind by no will of his own. I can sense them, a little bit. They're very weak..."
"Let's get him inside and warm him up first."
The demon nodded his agreement. Charmian stepped back and let him and the manitou pick the GeeBee up. His head lolled back and she had to look away from those weird half-open white eyes without any trace of pupil or iris. Augwak hopped and fretted on the porch like a worried mother.
"Careful, CAREFUL! Don't drop me...!"
Chepi stood in the small back kitchen munching on a plate of cookies as the others came in, their burden slowing them down and making the going awkward. They had to navigate the narrow hallway once again, which was even harder than before. Lady Dupries cleared off the small couch where they placed Augwak's body; he was too tall for it, so his head lolled off one end and his feet hung off the other. Then they stepped back, stood, and stared at him for a time.
Augwak himself wrung his hands and gnashed his teeth. "WELL? Don't just STARE at me all day! Wake me up or something!"
Charmian took out the little blue spirit stone again and looked it over. She bit her lip.
"I'm not really sure if it'll work..."
"Juft try it out," Chepi said, mouth stuffed full and fingers covered with crumbs. "Can't hurt anyfing."
Augwak gave her a venomous look. "So say you!"
"All right, just hold on. It didn't work with Pomiere's body because he already had Augwak's spirit in him. Augwak's body doesn't have anything in it, so maybe it'll be easier...at least until I can figure out how to switch them, but that's another story..."
She held the little gem between thumb and forefinger and pressed it to the GeeBee's chest, applying more pressure when it at first refused to do anything. When that produced no results, she started grinding it into him.
Augwak looked ready to cry.
"Oh, don't be so wussy," Chepi said, dusting herself off and wiping her mouth. "You can't be pokey with things like this. Just give it a good shove like that!"
She reached forward and brought her fist down on the crystal with a whomp. Everybody's eyes bugged and they all surged forward at once as if to grab the gem away. Before they could, a bright glow shot from it as it sank out of view into the GeeBee's sternum. A pale green began to stain his skin, starting at his torso and moving outward until his limbs regained their former color. His eyes beneath their half-closed lids turned yellow. Everyone leaned over him now and all held their breath.
A moment passed. The GeeBee's hand twitched. Then his head rolled upright and forward, and his eyes opened. The dark pupils, looking askew, straightened and centered on Charmian's face. He blinked.
Charmian's fingers clutched at her chest again. She chewed on her lip.
The large yellow eyes stared into hers for a moment, blinking a few more times. Charmian opened her mouth, to explain what had happened, when with a hiss he leapt up into the air so suddenly she was knocked back against the others, taking Chepi with her. They all glanced upward even as they hurried to get out of the way. The GeeBee landed upside-down on the ceiling, bounced off, then ricocheted off the wall, the glass in a picture frame shattering. He flew across the room as a great green blur, propelling himself off the opposite wall, hissing and sputtering all the while. The other six followed his movements like spectators at a tennis match; when he came zooming toward them, fast as a rocket, they shrieked and scattered. Except Charmian--who for whatever reason didn't get to move in time. She was still trying to figure out if it was because she was afraid or because she was brave that she didn't move, when the gleaming yellow eyes again focused on her own, sharp-fanged mouth hissing, and two bony hands slammed into her chest, knocking the breath out of her.
"Aaaahhh!! Ooohhhhh!!" Chepi screeched. "Charmian!"
Charmian opened her eyes and gritted her teeth. She would have replied, only it seemed too rude to talk to someone else while a slavering hissing GeeBee with teeth inches from your face was pinning you down.
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