The fight is out of Charmian's hands as Moon Wolf steps forward...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 92: The Coming Storm"
CHARMIAN, DRAKE, AND Mani instantly huddled into a tighter circle, looking around themselves apprehensively. Charmian swallowed. She knew Ocryana was nearby...but not where. She tried sensing her location, but couldn't get a fix on her.
"She's toying with us," she whispered. "Letting me sense her, but not sense where."
"She knows we're here." This from Moon Wolf, who still stood atop the rock, also looking around the clearing.
"I kind of figured that."
"She knows what we were speaking of."
"What--?" Just as Charmian said it, the wind that had been gusting around them abruptly died, the leaves falling still. She held her breath as if afraid it would be too loud. An unnatural coldness still hung in the air, and she tried even harder than before to figure out where the demon was. Why couldn't she sense her properly?
As if her senses suddenly cleared, she could now detect a presence off to the side of the clearing. She turned this way--and jumped back with a short scream, running into Mani, who ran into Drake. Moon Wolf whirled around, nearly slipping off of the rock. Charmian felt her blood turn colder than a GeeBee's fingers to see two green-and-red eyes glittering back at her. The smile that accompanied them wasn't a friendly one.
"Hello, little girl. You were looking for me again?"
Charmian's throat worked but no sound came out, not even a whimper. Somehow Ocryana had gotten right up to her--and she hadn't even sensed it. What good were her powers when Ocryana's were greater?
Ocryana smiled so her muzzle wrinkled, what would have been a comical expression to see on a wolf on a TV show, but was simply menacing here. "And you've brought your friends...how civil...the mainlander, the weakling manitou..." Her gaze drifted up to land on Moon Wolf, standing over them, and her eyes narrowed as her grin just grew. "...and you." She rose out of the half-crouch she'd been in, the better to startle Charmian, and addressed him directly. "It's been a long time since I've seen you, medicine man."
"Not nearly long enough," Moon Wolf replied, gripping the knife. He kept his voice and his face calm, but Charmian could sense his fear and anger. Somehow it troubled and comforted her both at once to know she wasn't the only one who felt the same way. She put her hand against Mani's flank to push herself up, but Ocryana appeared to have lost interest in her for the moment.
"And so this is how you address me?" Despite the words, Ocryana didn't sound offended; her voice was cloyingly pleasant. "After so long, you have yet to learn how to properly address a demon with the respect it deserves."
Moon Wolf crouched now. "I reserve respect for those who deserve it."
Charmian bit the inside of her mouth and took a step forward. "Moon Wolf...?"
"Stay back!" he snapped, startling her. "Let me deal with this!"
Ocryana peered over her shoulder and smiled at Charmian. "You're afraid the little girl will hurt herself attacking me?"
Charmian scowled. "I'm not a little girl."
"You trained her, did you not?" The Ocryx turned her attention away again, and Charmian felt her anger rise. "Was she good company?"
"You would know little of good company, creature." He tucked his foot under him, as if getting ready to jump. Ocryana saw the knife he held now, and her ear pricked. Moon Wolf just clenched it tighter.
"Your whelp is dead, did you know that?" Now both of her ears pricked, and Charmian could tell he had her full attention. "Killed by the Bad Spirit himself, and tossed from the cliff. The GeeBees will be feasting on his innards for days."
"Kawaduk?" To Charmian's dismay, the tense look on Ocryana's face vanished and she resumed her smile. "He is little loss. For a moment I thought you spoke of another. And it puzzled me, that you would speak of her so poorly."
"He doesn't even mean anything to you?" Charmian blurted out, unable to help it. At first Ocryana didn't even bother looking at her, but when she did, her smile had vanished. "Even at the end he decided to side with you instead of his father! And look what he got for it. And he may as well have been a bug that was stepped on for how much YOU care about it!"
Ocryana's eyes narrowed again. "You'd best learn to speak in your place, little girl."
"I'm NOT a little girl!" Charmian yelled. "And even Kawaduk was a lot more honorable than YOU if this is all you have to say about him!"
"Mainlander," Moon Wolf hissed in warning.
"And what about Shadow Water?" Charmian pressed on, ignoring him. "As if nobody can tell the way you treat her, too. I suppose if she gets killed it'll be 'no big loss'?"
Ocryana's eyes glowed brighter and she finally turned around, her tail hissing across the earth. Moon Wolf's eyes grew and he scrambled to a different part of the rock, trying to keep her within his range as she started to approach Charmian. "You have a sharp tongue, little girl."
"Better a sharp tongue than sharp claws," Charmian said. "Used to cut allies and loved ones to ribbons."
A low rumble started up in Ocryana's throat now, and Moon Wolf scurried even further down the rock.
"You didn't come here for her," he shouted. "I know the reason you came. You always finish what you have started. I've stayed here to finish it for you."
Ocryana halted in her progress, and turned back to him. Her smile returned and she looked at the knife.
"And what are you going to do with that piddling little thing, medicine man? You've played your part well before, but I'm afraid that toy of yours is useless."
"The same way as you finish what you have started." He backed a step or two up the rock again as she drew nearer, though he never looked away. "I'll finish what I have started as well."
"With that?" Ocryana threw back her head and laughed, a harsh, raucous sound. "I think you've outworn your usefulness!"
"I won't kill you," Moon Wolf replied, his voice so deadly low that Charmian had to strain to hear it. "I never claimed that I could. But for everything that's led up to this, I'll atone. And in the end, this little girl will prove to be far more of an enemy than you've ever imagined."
Ocryana glanced over her shoulder at Charmian, eyes still narrowed. Charmian felt her muscles freeze. The demon's stare bore right through her for a moment or two, before she snorted and turned away, going toward Moon Wolf.
"You think this frightens me, medicine man...?"
Her voice lowered significantly, and Charmian tensed. The demon stopped below the rock, looking up at Moon Wolf, who stared back down. They held this stare for such a long time that finally the length of it just fueled Charmian's suspicions; remembering the darkness she'd seen swirling around Moon Wolf's spirit, she leapt forward.
Moon Wolf blinked. Ocryana's muzzle wrinkled and she growled at Charmian, but the damage had been done; Moon Wolf jumped back higher atop the rock, wielding the knife as if he'd just snapped out of a daze. Ocryana whirled on Charmian.
"You're trying my patience, little girl!"
"I said I'm NOT A LITTLE GIRL," Charmian returned, and she dug one foot into the ground, getting ready to run or fight should she have to.
Ocryana's look grew uglier. "I tolerate you so far only because you are brash. I have my limit though, and you test it severely!"
"You think that's gonna scare me?" Charmian snorted. "Then I think you're gonna be tested EVEN MORE!"
Ocryana raised one hand, claws extended, and started forward. At that moment Moon Wolf leapt from the rock and a second later the knife had embedded itself in the demon's shoulder. Her eyes went wide and she let out a scream of pain and rage, arching and trying to pull the blade free. Moon Wolf fell to the side, landing on his knee; he glanced up at Charmian and she was stunned to see his face so pale and his eyes so large.
"Charmian! Go! Remember Nathal--"
His words were cut short when Ocryana's tail slammed into his face, sending him crumpling against the rock. Charmian gasped and pulled herself up straight, fear saving her from running blindly forward. "Moon Wolf!"
Ocryana managed to yank the knife free, letting it clatter to the ground. She bent forward slightly with one bloody hand clasped over her shoulder, an ugly scowl on her face, and turned in a half circle, her voice coming out in a harsh mutter. "Stupid...little...mainlander..."
Charmian stayed frozen where she was, despite Moon Wolf's warning. Ocryana finally turned to face her, and snarled. The knife wound had hurt, but it was only minor. Stone couldn't damage her enough to matter. She had to think of something else, and took a step back, as if that would convince the demon to retreat.
But water and wind...fire and earth I'm okay with, but water and wind I don't have down just yet!
Ocryana's muzzle wrinkled even more. As if it matters, stupid little girl?
I HAVE to learn how to control that.
Moon Wolf shook his head and pushed himself up weakly, pressing the back of his wrist to his bleeding mouth. She could tell from the look on his face that he wasn't pleased with her staying there, but it wasn't as if she had a choice now. He started to get up, and she winced when his voice pierced through her mind.
I told you to GO! This is MY fight! You'll get your chance soon enough!
I'm not going! Charmian snapped back. You told me I had to learn how to fight my own battles! I don't remember you being this chivalrous the LAST time!
In response Moon Wolf bared his teeth and sprinted forward. Ocryana froze and then whipped around, swinging at him; she missed when he ducked, sliding into the earth and grabbing hold of the knife as he did so. He ended up behind her again, and again she missed when she swung at him. He likewise swung at her arm, and missed. For a brief moment the two of them were evenly matched, much to Charmian's surprise. Ocryana snarled aloud in frustration and Moon Wolf leapt to his feet, bringing the knife down at her breast before she could react.
Wrong; she did have the time to crouch back and away, avoiding the blow. Charmian opened her mouth, though she wasn't sure why; Moon Wolf gritted his teeth and raised the knife again, now aiming at Ocryana's head and swinging the weapon down. Something pricked in Charmian's mind. Why was Ocryana lower than he was--?
Words formed in her throat as she finally realized what she'd intended to say, but all she could get out was half of his name. "Moon--"
Ocryana bared her own teeth--a snarl or a grin?--and crouched low, then rushed upward. Her horn sank straight through Moon Wolf's chest, impaling him; he let out a gasp of surprise and dropped the knife. And then almost as quickly as it had happened, it was over, Ocryana pulling her horn free and leaving him standing with a bleeding hole in his chest.
It was as if Charmian felt the pain in her own heart, and the warning she'd been meaning to give burst out instead as an anguished cry. "MOON WOLF!"
Without thinking, she charged toward Ocryana. The demon whirled around, brandishing her claws and grinning in anticipation. As soon as Charmian reached her, she flung her hands palms downward at the ground and rose on a crest of earth that rushed up dizzyingly high. Ocryana's head jerked back in surprise as Charmian flew through the air and landed behind her. She grabbed up the knife Moon Wolf had dropped and with it slashed open Ocryana's tail, earning a hiss. Charmian ducked her head to avoid a blow, rolling head over heels to come out behind her yet again. She missed getting hit by the flailing tail by mere inches, and rolled back to her feet, where she'd first started.
Ocryana finally caught up with her movements. "Creative, but POINTLESS!" she screamed, and charged forward. Charmian stood her ground; Mani whistled and made a move to join her, but she flung up one hand.
"Stay back! It can't be both of us!"
Mani halted, but when she glanced at him briefly to make certain he followed her orders, she could see the anguish in his eyes. Charmian dodged another blow, knowing her luck couldn't hold out long; her injuries were quickly sapping what little strength she had left. She leapt atop the rock vacated by Moon Wolf, then jumped down into the spring with a splash. Her foot nearly slipped on a patch of algae but she caught herself against the edge just as Ocryana vaulted over the opposite side. Charmian raised her hand once more and gritted her teeth. A bolt shot out from her palm, glittering and wickedly sharp, and sank into Ocryana's breast as easily as a knife through butter. The demon shrieked and lurched back, her hands wrapping around the waterbolt as she struggled to wrench it free. This took several minutes before the bloody weapon came loose, and by the time it did Ocryana had tears in her eyes. She gripped it hard enough to cut into her fingers. Charmian wasn't certain she'd ever seen such a look of hate.
"You...WOUNDED...me..." Ocryana growled, her voice grating painfully. Charmian felt a sting on seeing the agony in her eyes, but backed into the middle of the spring and held out her hands. A slender, jagged bolt of water emerged from each fingertip, like grotesque bony projections. The demon hesitated for a moment on seeing them, then lunged forward. Charmian squeezed her eyes shut and let the bolts loose; she heard Ocryana screaming and the sound almost made her lose her nerve, but she continued firing the jagged bolts as long as she could. A loud scuffling noise came, and she opened one eye in time to see Ocryana jump back from the spring, flailing at the bolts which stuck from her arms and face like the quills of a porcupine. She'd never seen her in such pain before.
Drake and Mani still stood off to the side, gawking in disbelief. Charmian waded forward and held her hands out a third time. They shook, and she had to swallow and blink a few times until the blur left her eyes.
Ocryana managed to pull most of the barbs loose before noticing that more were aimed at her, and for the first time Charmian saw fear enter her eyes. She took several slow steps back, one hand clutched to the first bleeding wound that had been inflicted, her breath coming heavy. The two of them stayed as they were for a moment or two in a tense standoff; then Ocryana backed down, lowering her head slightly and letting her tail slide across the ground. She bared her teeth and blinked a thin trail of blood away from her eye.
Charmian started when the demon's voice came in her head. From what little she'd seen of her so far, Ocryana had rarely, if ever, communicated in that manner; but she did so now, her voice grinding over Charmian's brain like a cheese grater rubbing against the skin.
You have made an enemy this day, little girl.
She turned away with a pained wince, not even bothering to fly; despite her size she made barely a rustle as she slipped into the trees, and Charmian sank back into the water up to her chest, her hands lowering and the waterbolts shrinking and vanishing like retracting claws. She stood in the water for a moment before lifting her head, remembering.
She turned to the stony side of the spring and pulled herself up and out, dripping wet, slipping a few times as she hurried toward where the medicine man had been left. Drake and Mani took note of her progress and came forward as well. He was lying on his side, facing away from her; and so it was only when she knelt and carefully turned him over that she saw what shape he was in. She bit her lip and her eyes blurred again.
Moon Wolf's face had gone pale, dark circles ringing his eyes. He still weakly clasped his hand to his breast, but it had been stained dark red. There was so much more blood than there had been when Tal Natha had been wounded. She couldn't understand it.
Charmian pressed her own hand over his, biting her lip at the catch in his breath. She used her other hand to wipe her eyes, then switched hands, unconsciously wiping his blood off on her clothes.
"Drake'll keep an eye on you," she murmured, sniffling. "I'll get Justin, and he'll take care of this. You'll be fine."
She started to rise to her feet, but Moon Wolf's grip stopped her. She glanced down to see that he held onto her wrist, blood squeezing between his fingers. He managed to tilt his head to the side, and for a moment the cloudiness cleared from his eyes and he focused on hers.
Charmian bit the inside of her mouth and tried, though not very hard, to pull her hand free. "I have to get Justin," she insisted, but he didn't let her go. She knelt back down on one knee and leaned toward him, sensing he had to say something.
Moon Wolf swallowed, and when he spoke his voice came out as a mere whisper; she felt a tearing inside her, remembering how loudly he could yell when the mood struck him. "Char-mian...I taught you...everything I could."
Charmian nodded, having to wipe the blur away from her eyes again.
"You have everything you need now...everything to fight her...except faith in yourself."
Charmian chewed the inside of her mouth at that. She tried to think of something to say, but nothing came out. It was just as well, as Moon Wolf took another shaky breath and squeezed her wrist tighter. He had to blink a few times as his eyes glazed over, but he managed to focus on her once more, and she couldn't look away. For a brief moment, he stared at her as intensely as he had before he was wounded. It was as if he could see straight into her.
"I know you can defeat her."
She sucked in a breath. Never, once, had he ever proclaimed any confidence in her during their training. It wasn't as if he'd belittled her the whole way, as he hadn't; but neither had he ever told her he believed in her. She nodded mutely, still unable to speak; he started fumbling with his free hand, trying to pull something from around his neck. He winced when he lifted his head, and coughed; when he finally pulled off the silver wolf-and-moon fetish he wore, she could see that blood lined his mouth, and her insides twisted. She grasped his arm.
"I have to go get Justin! He can take care of this. I'll take Mani and go as fast as I can. Drake can keep an eye on you."
"No." He bit off a grimace, then held up the pendant. It swung from its leather strap, and she could see it now bore a hole in it. Ocryana's horn had gone straight through, marring the lower edge of the otherwise smooth metal. Of course it hadn't escaped being touched by the blood that pooled from his chest, so it dripped when he held it up. She stared at it dumbly as it swung from side to side. Moon Wolf had to struggle now to find his voice, and it shook when he spoke.
"Give this to her."
"To...to who?" Charmian finally found her own voice, and looked from him to the silver pendant and back again. "To...Ocryana?"
He shook his head, a difficult motion, and she saw his features tense in pain. "The...the other one..."
"Shadow Water?" Even as she said it, she told herself that couldn't have been what he'd meant; yet he nodded, and pressed the disk into her hand, so her fingers curled around it instinctively. She looked down at it, and felt the sharp pressure of the torn hole against her palm, the slick feeling of blood upon her fingers. Her hands started shaking and she met his eyes again.
"Give it to her." He didn't bother to provide any further answer, and instead his face contorted as his body was racked with agony.
Charmian's eyes widened and she grasped his arm. "Moon Wolf!" He let out his breath and relaxed again, slumping against the ground and panting weakly; once more he squeezed her wrist and she felt that his fingers were cold. He had to turn his head to look at her, and she loathed the look of his eyes. They were dim, indistinct, nothing like the sharp piercing eyes that had rebuked her so often before. She quailed inside but took his hand, and his fingers squeezed hers back.
"Don't forget what I've taught you."
"I won't," Charmian promised, her eyes stinging. She couldn't quite believe it when she saw his own eyes grow watery, though he smiled at her faintly. She tried to smile back at him, truly she did, but didn't think she succeeded at all.
"It's unfortunate...I couldn't teach you to believe in yourself. In the end...that's what will matter the most."
Charmian couldn't help it. The tears filled her eyes now, and her chest started hitching. Moon Wolf held her stare for a moment more before his eyes glazed and his smile faded, and his grip on her hand loosened. Her own fingers uncurled from around his, and his hand slipped to the ground. She knelt waiting for him to say something else, but he didn't; she picked up his hand and squeezed it as hard as she could, but he didn't protest. She lowered her chin to her chest and shut her eyes and felt the warmth course down her face to drip to her knees; and it took her a moment or two to realize she wasn't crying for Moon Wolf, at least, not for him alone, but rather for the Island. Despite what he'd said...she felt she'd failed him.
She dimly heard Drake walk up behind her and stop, but he didn't say or do anything. She didn't acknowledge him. Instead she sat in silence for a few moments, but for the small choking sounds she let out, holding the silver pendant in one hand and Moon Wolf's hand in the other. She tried stopping the tears, but it felt as if they would never stop; she was afraid that if she let out the scream building inside her, it would never end, and her tears would literally flood the Island. She hated that when she dug her fingers into his own, he didn't yell at her to stop. Out of all the times he'd yelled at her, why couldn't he now?
Something touched her shoulder, and immediately her gasping breathing slowed, as well as the flow from her eyes; she opened them and stared at Moon Wolf, who stared back, but right through her; and she slowly let go of his hand. She still clasped the pendant, its jagged hole digging into her skin, but she didn't feel it.
Drake's voice seemed unnaturally loud, even though he spoke in a murmur. Charmian blinked the remaining tears from her eyes and wiped the stubborn ones away with the back of her hand. She couldn't stop staring at Moon Wolf, though she wasn't really seeing him anymore. She wasn't certain what she was seeing, but even if she'd known what it was, she couldn't have described it.
Drake's hand left her shoulder and she let out her breath. They both stood where they were without saying a word to each other, and the wind lightly ruffled the grass around them, rippling the water of the spring. Everything seemed so normal now, that what had just happened seemed surreal, as if she had merely dreamt the entire thing.
"What do we do now?"
She shut her eyes again. Out of all the questions Drake could have asked, that was the one she'd least wanted to hear. Even "Are you okay?" would have been a hundred times easier to answer. She clutched the silver pendant, as if hoping it would bring her strength, but all it did was make her fingers feel cold. Her voice cracked, and she hated how much it made her sound like the little girl she'd claimed she was not.
"I don't know what to do anymore."
"Part 94: The Student Succeeds"
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