A squabble with Moon Wolf is interrupted by a menacing presence...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 91: Turning The Tables"
The Coming Storm
CHARMIAN GASPED AND jerked to the side, even though the arrow had already missed her. Drake and Mani likewise ducked low to the ground out of instinct. "What was that?" Drake cried, stupidly.
Charmian's thoughts were clearer. "Where did it come from?" she asked, her voice lapsing into a whisper. Drake and Mani pointed and nodded at the slope Charmian had stepped away from, and she glanced back over her shoulder, suddenly apprehensive. Even though the first arrow hadn't hit her, a second one very easily could. She crouched as low as she could and scanned the trees below, but could see nothing. Until a few branches parted, and someone leaned out into plain view, for her to see.
Charmian let out her breath but her confusion only grew. "Moon Wolf?"
"Moon Wolf?" Drake echoed. "You mean HE just tried to take your head off--?"
Charmian stood up as Moon Wolf stepped out of a stand of trees lower along the bluff, shielding his eyes and looking up at her. His aim must have been incredibly good, to have fired past her head from such a distance. He frowned just as she did, and, slinging his bow over his shoulder, started climbing up the cliff.
Drake tugged on Charmian's arm. "I think he's in a bad mood or something! Maybe we should go?"
"I'm okay." Charmian eased her arm free and waited for Moon Wolf to ascend the bluff. He had to go on hands and knees as it was so steep, yet didn't appear to have any difficulty pulling himself up the more vertical parts of the slope. Charmian knew the earth would have crumbled away had she been the one handling it, but he reached the top without incident, rising and dusting himself off. He gave her a confused look.
"What are you doing here? Were you in some sort of trouble?"
"Me?" Charmian retorted, finally losing her temper. "You're the one who fired an arrow at ME! I think I should be asking you if you have a problem!"
"I didn't see you until after I'd fired. I thought you might be Ocryana, or the other demoness."
"What the hell made you think THAT?"
Moon Wolf's mouth twitched in displeasure and he pointed down the bluff. "Because the halfling crashed through, not several moments ago."
"Oh." Charmian's face flushed red. "Well...I don't think your arrow could have done him much harm anyway, since he's already dead."
"Dead...?" The irritated look on Moon Wolf's face evaporated into something close to surprise, and he looked over his shoulder down the bluff again. His brow furrowed, then he looked at Charmian.
"Me?" Charmian felt her ears burning and shook her head abruptly. "No, not me...it was Mitchi. Mitchi killed Kawaduk."
"Mitchi Manitou?" His look of confusion grew. "But why would he kill him? I thought that he...and Ocryana..." His voice trailed off as he rubbed his neck and looked out over the cliff.
"Mitchi broke her hold on him," Charmian said. "I figured it could be done, once he started thinking with his head instead of with something else."
Moon Wolf gave her a sharp look as if she'd just said something insulting, then sighed and rubbed his neck again. "Well, then the halfling is dead. I assume you were the one who tossed him from the bluff."
Charmian nodded. "I don't really feel like digging a grave or anything. Call it petty but I don't feel very sorry for him anymore. Mitchi only killed him because he tried to kill Mitchi first."
"And so what had you planned now? You're short the halfling, yet you still have two others to deal with. They're not likely to be as simple as he was."
"SIMPLE?!" Charmian yelled, before Drake stepped forward and grasped her arm, forcing a smile.
"Look, uh, Moon Guy, we just got out of this kinda nasty little tiff a few minutes ago...it wasn't real pleasant...and it wasn't real simple, either. I mean, Kawawhatever's been around a long time, but you never really tried to get rid of him, either."
Charmian felt like thanking him, and like slapping him at the same time, which was a new feeling. The look on Moon Wolf's face decided her more closely toward the latter, though she only gave Drake an annoyed look. She turned back to Moon Wolf.
"I don't know what I had planned next. I'm pretty much lost on everything right now."
Moon Wolf stared at her for a moment before lifting his head and waving his fingers at her as he turned away. She frowned a bit in puzzlement but followed him as he walked away from the bluff. Mani stood a bit off to the side, and Moon Wolf paused to take notice of him. He glanced from Charmian to the manitou and back again, and with another flush Charmian suddenly remembered she didn't appear to be in the best of shape, physically. He must have been used to seeing her like this, or else had expected it, as he hadn't even batted an eye until now.
Charmian decided to pay Mani some attention, and hurried to him before Moon Wolf could walk away again. The manitou was kneeling to give his legs some rest, and he could barely lift his head when she reached him. She bit her lip to see the wounds and gashes all over him, and placed her hand to the worst one, a gouge on his shoulder, as if she could heal it like Justin could. Mani flinched and she felt like apologizing.
Moon Wolf approached and bent to look down at him. "I take it that the two of you were the focus of the halfling's attention, before Mitchi Manitou was."
"I have no idea how this happened," Charmian murmured. "Kawaduk kept attacking me. I never really saw him hurt Mani. How could I have missed all this?" She ran her hand down his flank and winced at the blood that gathered on her fingertips, rubbing it against her knee. She lifted her head and scowled at Moon Wolf to see he was looking her over in an inappropriate manner, touching her arms and her back. "Do you mind? Where I come from that's illegal, you know."
He didn't let her arm go, instead simply lifted the torn flap of doeskin over her shoulder. She grimaced and bit back a murmur of pain; Kawaduk's claws had sliced through her skin as well. Moon Wolf examined the wound for a moment, then looked at Mani. He did this several times, each time examining a different one of Charmian's injuries before she finally pulled herself loose in annoyance.
"HEY! I don't exactly relish the idea of you feeling me up, okay?"
"You and this manitou. Is there something between you?"
The question caught Charmian so off guard that her face went bright crimson. "Wh-what?" she stammered, her eyes growing as large as saucers.
Moon Wolf gave an exasperated sigh. "You, and the manitou. You've shared something? Or bonded? Something like that?"
"Oh..." Charmian let out her breath with relief and ran her hand down her face. "Kind of...if sharing your spirit means the same thing..."
"Spirit?" Moon Wolf stared her in the eyes and she had to avert her own, for some reason. "He shared his spirit with you?"
"This then explains the wounds he was not dealt, according to you." He looked at Mani and the two of them appeared to communicate silently; Charmian found herself annoyed by the private exchange, yet kept the feeling to herself. Mani tilted his head, and Moon Wolf pulled his knife from its sheath and flicked it at the manitou's cheek.
"HEY!" Charmian shouted again, leaping to her feet. Mani winced and she nearly bit her tongue, feeling a stinging sensation on her face. She pressed her fingers below her right eye and they came back with a faint line of blood upon them. She stared at them, uncomprehending.
"You are connected," Moon Wolf said simply, and put the knife away. He stood up, taking hold of Mani by the antlers and helping him to his feet. "When your spirit is shared with a manitou, if the connection is deep enough, it will be physical as well as ethereal. When he is hurt, you are hurt, just as when you are dealt a blow he feels it just as much."
Charmian stared at him in silence for a moment or two before looking at Mani. Her fingers gently curled in on themselves.
"Mani...? How come you never told me?"
Mani's ears folded back a bit and he looked sheepishly at the ground. Charmian hoped he didn't feel guilty; in fact she was the one who felt at fault. She took a step toward him and pressed her hand against his head.
"Mani, if you'd told me I wouldn't have put myself at such risk. I didn't have any idea it was hurting you so much. I thought it was just hurting me."
Moon Wolf finished fastening the knife at his side before gesturing at her again. "There's a spring a ways down the slope. Follow. We'll talk there." He turned to the woods and disappeared into the trees. Charmian sighed.
"Who does he think he is, anyway, just bossing us around?" Drake mumbled. "'How, I'm-um Big Chief Boss-'Em-Around.'"
"For God's sake, Drake," Charmian said, and couldn't help laughing. "Stop being rude. If he wants to talk, let's just go talk and get it over with."
Drake shrugged, but followed when she left. She waited for Mani to catch up, and kept her hand on his antler the rest of the way through the woods. He limped slowly and she tried to keep her guilt to herself so he wouldn't have to feel it, but she wasn't sure if she was successful.
By the time they reached the spring Moon Wolf had spoken of, he already sat upon a rock waiting for them, an impatient look upon his face. Charmian sat down beside the water and pulled a hunk of moss free from the stone, soaking it in the water and pressing it to the wound on Mani's shoulder. She glanced up at Moon Wolf.
"Well? What did you want to rap about?"
"You've surely noticed by now that there isn't much time left. Things are coming to a head. Your time upon the Island will not be much longer now."
Charmian blinked. "Wow. You...really like getting right to the point, don't you?"
"You saw the migration to Crack-in-the-Island."
Charmian sat up straight, nearly dropping the moss. "How did you know about that?" she retorted, but he didn't answer. He continued speaking as if he hadn't even heard her.
"I know that you've spoken with the Dreamer. Surely she told you something that would be of use at this moment."
Charmian bit her lip again and sank back a bit. She'd never told Moon Wolf about Nathalit...in fact she'd tried to tell as few people as possible. X'aaru, Drake, Red Bird, Tal Natha, they were probably the only ones who knew or suspected, that she could remember. For some reason she suddenly felt uneasy, and didn't reply to his comment.
Moon Wolf saw her reaction and paused, then lifted one shoulder.
"If you wish not to answer, then I'll assume I've spoken the truth. I understand your reluctance. But remember that Cave of the Woods is not too far away from Crack-in-the-Island, and you are not the only one who will hear things."
"So what are you getting at?" Charmian asked.
"Surely the Dreamer has spoken to you. When you went into the Crack after the GeeBee, and again after that. I know she would not speak with you needlessly, and so she must have told you something of importance. If you were to remember her words, now is the time to remember them."
"I didn't forget any of them. I just don't see how they figure in to anything."
"Then tell me what they were."
"Why should I?" Charmian retorted. "All you've done is keep stuff from me and boss me around! Like I have any reason to trust you?"
One of Moon Wolf's eyebrows lowered. "Is this how you think of me?"
"Not like it's any big secret! What's it matter to you what Nathalit told me, anyway? She told it to me. If she'd wanted you to know, she would have told you."
Thunk. Charmian jumped when Moon Wolf flung his knife bladefirst into a crack in the rocks, where it stayed upright, quivering, several inches away from her knee. Drake, who had been sitting on the ground nearby, jumped to his feet, and Mani attempted to do the same, but Charmian held them back. She gave him her darkest look.
"Mind telling me what THAT was supposed to mean?"
"It means that you're wasting away your time. For every moment you spend bickering with me, Ocryana spends another moment gathering her strength."
"It takes TWO to bicker, buddy!"
"And so I suggest you either answer my questions, or find the answers for yourself and act on them."
"I already told you. I didn't forget what she said, I just don't know how it FITS IN to anything!"
"Then tell me what she said, and I'll figure it out for you."
Charmian glowered at him for a moment or two before deciding to tell the truth.
"Do you know what, Moon Wolf? I don't trust you. You trained me and all, but how better would the enemy know how to find out my weaknesses than to train me personally? And maybe that arrow wasn't a mistake? And MAYBE you asking me to tell you everything I know is just as suspicious as it sounds?"
Moon Wolf's eyes widened. "You believe that I am with the demoness?" he exclaimed, and when Charmian's look didn't lighten he started laughing to himself. Charmian felt like chewing her tongue off, the reaction irritated her so greatly.
"Knock it off."
"Fine...very well then." Moon Wolf rubbed at his eyes and his laughter faded. "But you have yet to answer my question. The Dreamer didn't only want to tell you something. She wanted you to act upon it. The time has come. And so what are you going to do?"
Charmian opened her mouth, before realizing she had no idea whatsoever of what to say. She sat thinking for a moment, Moon Wolf staring at her intently, then ground her teeth and scowled.
"I told you I have no idea!"
"Then. Tell. Me. What. She. Told. You." He spoke slowly, as if she were stupid.
"She told me a lot of stuff. It was all gibberish! I figured it'd all make sense when it was supposed to, so maybe you're wrong."
"You know the way of dreams. They do not solve themselves. The dreamer must figure them out."
"Then tell that to Nathalit, because as far as I know, I'm wide awake."
"Think. If it made no sense to you, then say it aloud, and maybe now it will begin to make sense."
"I...I don't know." Charmian's voice faded and her ears burned when she realized she actually remembered very little of what Nathalit had told her. "Maybe if it had made more sense I would remember it better..."
"Think of just one thing she said. One thing that confused you. When you went down into the Crack. What did she say to you then?"
Charmian chewed on her lip and looked down into the water. Her own reflection, not Red Bird's, stared back this time, letting her know that this was real...but did that mean that everything else hadn't been? She watched the light reflect off the ripples as if striking the facets of a jewel, leaving glittering trails upon the face of the water. She frowned.
"Trail..." Charmian lifted her head, scouring her memory. "She said something about the Gemfields...and about a trail. Somebody who brings a trail." Her face lit up. "I remember it now! She said she'd tell me everything I need to know after 'new dreams have been born'--that would be Dakh and Sikt Natha--and once the 'path to the Gemfields has been opened for me by...'"
She trailed off, frowning again. Moon Wolf and the others waited for her to continue before prompting, "By...?"
"'By He Who Brings The Arcing Trail.'" Charmian's look of confusion grew, and she glanced up at Moon Wolf. "But she didn't tell me what that means, and I don't have any idea either. The Gemfields, I know those are in the Crack. She made it sound like I wouldn't be able to reach them again without...whoever this other guy is."
While she was mulling this over aloud, she saw the look on Moon Wolf's face change to one of...what? Boredom? Disappointment? She glared at him when he leaned back against the rock, and felt like throwing the knife back at him.
"What? You told me to tell you what I remembered."
"You've been here nearly a year now in our time. And you're still so ignorant?"
"Ignorant?" Charmian stood up abruptly, dropping the moss into the water. "If that's the thanks I get for answering your question, then I guess we don't have anything left to talk about!"
She had already turned away and begun to storm back toward the woods when his voice echoed after her, not slowing her down until she'd almost reached the trees.
"What is a trail that arcs, mainlander? Where have you ever seen one like that?"
"Arch Rock!" Charmian snapped, without thinking. She whirled to glare at him again. "See now? How little sense that makes? He Who Brings Arch Rock? YOU try to figure it out!" She started to turn away a second time, ready to flounce off into the woods.
"And you seem to so easily forget that a trail does not have to be walked upon underfoot, in order to be a trail."
That stopped Charmian. Just as her foot touched the ground she suddenly remembered a trail of a different sort...a path that had led her somewhere, yet one she hadn't even had to walk. An arcing trail. Cast in the air.
She slowly turned back to see Moon Wolf and the other two staring at her.
"You're not talking about a footpath."
Moon Wolf shook his head once. Charmian took a step toward the clearing, feeling as if she were walking through water. She stopped again.
"An arcing trail."
Moon Wolf nodded.
He didn't nod, but his look said everything she needed to know. Charmian frowned and paused.
"Do you mean X'aaru has something to do with this?"
Moon Wolf lifted one shoulder. "I mean you should only listen to what's been told to you."
"X'aaru's the only one I know of who could bring an 'arcing trail.' But he's seen Nathalit before and she never said anything about it."
"Perhaps this was only because it wasn't the time yet. From what I know of her, she tells things only as the time comes." As if to illustrate this comment, Moon Wolf glanced up abruptly. Charmian did the same as soon as the light dimmed, a distant rumble of thunder drawing her attention. She watched with a bit of annoyance as a dark mass of clouds roiled in; she hated getting soaked. The look on Moon Wolf's face was decidedly different, and he stood up slowly, still staring at the sky.
"What is it?" Charmian asked.
He didn't reply for a long while, so she began to feel perhaps he hadn't heard. When the thunder came again, louder and closer this time, Drake and Mani stood up as well, the manitou's fur bristling. They all looked up at the clouds.
Charmian bit the inside of her mouth. "What is it?" she prodded, again.
Moon Wolf's hand slipped down so his fingers curled around the handle of the knife. "Her," was all he said.
Charmian stared at him closely, then glanced up. The dark mass overhead flashed with hidden lightning.
"Are you sure? It just looks like a thunderstorm..."
"Water and wind." The leaves on the trees began to rustle and Drake shivered. Mani's nostrils flared and Charmian could tell the two of them sensed something wasn't right, also. She'd seen her share of thunderstorms on the Island before, and they'd never given the natives any cause for alarm. There was something different about this one.
Rather than continue to argue, she edged closer to the spring, the four of them huddling facing outwards. "What is she planning?" she murmured, hoping Moon Wolf could hear over the growing hiss of the wind. He still stood above her on the rock, looking from one direction to the other. Charmian felt her courage diminish significantly when she saw the uncertainty in his eyes.
"I don't know."
"You don't know?" Charmian's voice cracked in disbelief. "I thought you knew EVERYTHING!"
Moon Wolf stood up straight as if he'd just been hit by lightning, and with the way the weather had turned, for a moment Charmian was afraid he had. He stayed that way, with his spine rigid and his eyes wide, for so long that she finally scrabbled up the rock and grabbed at his ankle. When that elicited no response she tugged on his breechcloth as hard as she dared, but he didn't even move even though the wind was now buffeting them about. Drake ducked his head down against Mani's neck, the gust tousling their hair.
Growing frustrated as well as afraid, Charmian pulled herself over the rock and stood on tiptoe, trying to see into Moon Wolf's eyes. "HEY!" she yelled, striking him in the chest and hoping for once that he would yell at her. At least it would prove he was still alive!
A dim glow caught Charmian's attention, and she sucked in a breath to see his breast glowing beneath her hand. Her first instinct was to panic, until she realized what she was seeing--somehow, during her squabble with Augwak over his spirit stone, she'd gained the ability to occasionally see other people's spirits as they still rested within their bodies. It wasn't something she'd learned to control completely yet, and sometimes, like now, it happened without her expecting it. She caught a glimpse of Moon Wolf's spirit stone, and saw that it was a deep brilliant blue with a throbbing purple sheen--but she furrowed her brow in confusion when she saw the darkness swirling around it. Where could that have come from--?
A flash and a CRACK of thunder snapped her out of her daze, and she nearly tumbled back into the spring, grabbing onto Moon Wolf's wrist with a cry. He also snapped awake, lurching forward and digging his feet into a crevice to keep from losing his balance. His fingers dug into her arm as he pulled her up, but she didn't even feel it. There was a charge in the air now, and she could finally sense a presence around them, weighing heavily enough to make her sink against the medicine man as he pulled her away from the spring and back toward the ground.
"It's her," she whispered, not caring now whether he could hear or not. Drake and Mani struggled their way forward, keeping their heads low; Moon Wolf took her by the arms and shook her so she blinked and looked up at him.
"Go for shelter!" he shouted. "She hasn't come for you yet--but she will. If she finds you here, she'll kill you now!"
"Go what?" Charmian barked. She yanked her arm free. "If she isn't here for me, then what the hell IS she here for? I'm not going to run off like a coward!"
Moon Wolf's face darkened, and for a moment she was reminded of the good old days training with him at Cave of the Woods. "You're in no condition to fight!"
"And you think you can hold her off with THAT thing?" Charmian jerked a finger at the knife he now held in his hand. "Last I knew, that didn't count when it came to killing Ocryxes!"
Something struck her across the face, and she went sprawling backwards to land on her elbows. "CHARM!" Drake yelled, and he and Mani crouched down over her, helping her sit up. She blinked and shook her head in confusion and wiped a fresh line of blood away from her mouth, looking up. She couldn't believe it. Moon Wolf had just hit her.
Drake's fingers dug into her arm this time, and she could tell he was angry. She eased free of his grip and pushed herself to her feet. She didn't even feel angry herself, anymore; aside from the occasional demon or monster, nobody here had ever tried to hurt her like that. Rather than demand to know what he'd done that for, she found her voice had vanished.
Moon Wolf wasn't even looking at her. Instead he had turned to face the woods, the wind whipping his clothes and feathers around him. She managed to take several steps toward him before seeing how white his knuckles had gone, grasping the knife in his hand. She couldn't see his face, but she could imagine what it looked like.
Moon Wolf finally spoke, and even though he did so barely above a murmur, she still somehow heard it over the roar of the wind, for the way it made her ears prick and her muscles tense, ready to fight or flee.
"Part 93: Atonement"
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