An encounter with Augwak proves he's actually learned something new...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Return To Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 37: Potential"
The Old Dog's New Trick
CHARMIAN AND MORNING Star stood on the beach and stared as Charmian's pack was effectively cleaned out, its new possessor picking through all the contents and sniffing over each like a curious dog.
Charmian blinked. The creature currently engaged in ransacking her pack was a GeeBee--that much was clear--but as for why he wasn't even bothering to attack either of them, she had no clue.
Then she frowned and peered closer. "Pakwa...?" she said hesitantly, drawing Morning Star's attention. The GeeBee in front of her didn't look like Pakwa...the last time she'd been here, the solitary GeeBee's skin had been coal black in color. This GeeBee was pale grayish, almost wan. Yet the way he completely ignored her as she came walking toward him, instead favoring the thermos of squirrel stew Crooked Creek had given her, told her it had to be him. He had finally figured out how to unscrew the cap of the thermos and was pouring its contents down his throat when she dropped to her knees in front of him.
"PAKWA!" She threw her arms around the GeeBee, who merely continued downing her stew before tossing the thermos aside with a hiccup. She pulled back and took his arm, looking it over in confusion. "You look all different. What happened to your skin...?"
She gasped when he pushed her roughly to the ground and commenced clambering over her, poking in all of her vest pockets as she yelled in protest. Morning Star raised her basket again but Charmian hastily waved her hand.
"It's okay!" she exclaimed. "He doesn't eat people...unless you get a hand in the way or something..." She noticed how he had started sniffing at her breast pocket and reached up to undo it. "Oh yeah...I almost forgot, I brought you something..."
She pulled a slightly smushed candy bar, still in its wrapper, out of her pocket, and didn't even get to hand it to him before he had torn it from her hands and jumped off of her to squat several feet away. He ripped the wrapper open and gnawed on the bar as Morning Star helped Charmian to her feet. The older woman couldn't stop staring at him.
"He is what they call a GeeBee...is he not?" she asked uncertainly.
Charmian nodded. "Uh-huh. His name's Pakwa...not that you could ever get him to stop eating long enough to tell you that." She made a face when he finished the candy bar and burped, then started poking at her pack again. She swooped forward and began scooping its spilled contents back inside. "UH-UH! You'll get more later. Jeez, if this is how you say hello now, I hate to think how you say what's for lunch..."
"Stick-In-The-Dirt spoke of how the GeeBees are Wendigoes," Morning Star continued. "The ice cannibals, to his people."
"Well...most of them, yeah. Mainly they like to blow around and cackle a lot." Charmian rubbed at her stomach, where the creature had left two big wet footprints. "Most of the people are afraid of them, though they're not all that tough; I brushed off their leader not that long ago. This one's Pakwa...he doesn't like people." She pursed her lips. "Except when they bring him food. Then, I think he loves people. People are like the only thing he won't eat." She turned and swatted at the GeeBee's nose when he started poking at her side pocket. "I said NO! You'll ruin your appetite!"
In response Pakwa turned and ambled away on all fours, pulling himself along like an ape would. He disappeared into the undergrowth leading up the East Bluff, and for a moment Charmian could hear the leaves and grass rustling behind him. She sighed and glanced at Morning Star.
"I think maybe I hurt his feelings."
Morning Star's brow furrowed. "Their feelings can get hurt?"
Charmian almost retorted at this, then bit her tongue. She's not from around here, remember? And even if she was, think about what all the OTHERS here feel about GeeBees! "Yeah, I think so," she said instead. "They're...at least, he's not too different from us." She paused. "Except he's like seven feet tall, and has fangs...and flies around...I'll see you later!" she exclaimed, waving and turning to the slope before the other woman could see the flush rising in her cheeks. She ran into the undergrowth and began pulling herself up the bluff as best she could, which was difficult considering its steepness and the proliferation of springs and jutting rocks. She hated leaving Morning Star behind so abruptly, but she hadn't counted on seeing Pakwa any time soon.
"Pakwa?" she called out as she went up the bluff. "Hold on a minute! Jeez, I just meet you again and already you've run off--!"
Something snapped--somewhere below her. Charmian paused to look over her shoulder before something grabbed hold of her arms and yanked her up. She managed to gasp in surprise and pain at the sudden movement, but before she could yell she was spun around and a hand was clamped over her mouth. It took a moment for her dizziness to subside enough to make out that she was being held in the underbrush, which surrounded her on all sides except in front; to her surprise she saw it was Pakwa who was holding her. She struggled briefly, feeling both indignation and mild fear at his rather brutish treatment of her--although somewhat brusque and unintentionally inconsiderate, he'd never struck her as being violent before. She could tilt her head back just enough to see his large yellow eyes, and the pupils had contracted to tiny slits. If she hadn't known any better she'd have thought he was ready to murder someone.
She lifted her hands and tried to pry his own loose from her mouth, but his cold fingers seemed locked in place. Then she sucked in a breath when she noticed the leaves and grass around them drawing inward, enclosing and covering them more completely so only their eyes could peer through. She remembered what had happened when the trees had helped hide her before, and only now noticed several dark forms making their way up the bluff, noses to the ground. More rustling noises came from overhead.
Charmian blinked, her own eyes widening. Shadow Wolves. We're surrounded by them!
She stared out of the underbrush with wide eyes. The Wolves drew closer, and one even came right up to her face, its nose in the air, sniffing just inches from her. For a moment she feared that it saw her--how could it not?--but remained as still as she could. The creature was so close she could see its nostrils flaring and hear the snorting noises it made, before it turned and ambled up the bluff, after the others. The rustling noises continued for a moment and then faded away. Still Charmian didn't move, until the branches and weeds started pulling back, and Pakwa took his hand away from her mouth. She let out her breath and glanced up in the direction the Wolf had gone.
"Shadow Wolves," she said aloud. "They couldn't sense us." She stood up and exited the undergrowth, Pakwa coming out as well, though remaining on all fours. She glanced down at him. "Have they given the GeeBees any trouble? Do you know?"
Pakwa shook his head. "Interested in humans. Mostly leave GeeBees, manitous, others alone."
Charmian's brow furrowed. "That's weird. It's almost like they're trying to make a point or something." She sighed and started climbing upwards again, hoping he would be able to hide her again should the Wolves return. "It doesn't matter how many times I run into those things," she murmured as she went. "They always scare the crap out of me." She looked back at Pakwa again, clambering up the slope behind her. "How did you do that, anyway? And what happened to your skin? You're gonna have to start answering some questions if you ever want another candy bar..."
Pakwa halted and bared his teeth with a hiss. Charmian froze in place as well, fearing that the Wolves had turned and come back down the slope after her--but an icy breeze swept over her, letting her know it wasn't them at all.
She gritted her teeth in irritation. "Should've known the idiot couldn't keep away..."
Something went pop against Pakwa's shoulder, and he stopped hissing and jerked upright with a look of surprise. Charmian blinked when she saw what looked like a tiny shard of ice sticking out of his shoulder; the GeeBee looked down at it as well, and had just enough time to reach up for it when pop, he disappeared in a puff of vapor.
Charmian gawked. "Pakwa--?"
She gasped and choked. Something grabbed her by the back of her vest and yanked her up into the air much more roughly even than Pakwa had, whirling her around and then clamping around her neck. Charmian grimaced and dug her fingers into the hand grasping her throat, but the hold wasn't quite tight enough to cut off her air. Augwak grinned at her, baring what looked to be a hundred gleaming needle-sharp teeth.
"I didn't get to properly say hello the last time, fleshling!"
Charmian bared her own teeth. "That's no fault of mine, moron."
Augwak pursed his lips, which was quite an odd look, considering he hardly had any. "Funny, you were a lot friendlier the last time. No matter." He grinned again. "As I was saying, I had to cut my hello a little short before. I never got to show you a nice little trick I learned, and it turns out you actually helped me learn it. Remember that little unpleasantness when you stole my spirit stone?"
"OCRYANA stole it!" Charmian retorted. "I just kept hold of it for a bit. AND I gave it back, in case you forgot!"
The GeeBee's grin just grew. "And I never properly thanked you for that, did I?"
"You? THANK somebody?" Charmian tried to snort but could only gag. "Don't make me laugh!"
"Well, I have to say thanks, then. See, Ocryana might have taken it, but you were the one who gave it back. And perhaps you'll laugh when you realize just how amusing it is that you are the one I have to thank for this." He held up his other hand, palm forward, in front of Charmian, and she ceased struggling, growing uneasy. There was something strangely familiar about the gesture, but she couldn't place it.
"A little trick I learned," Augwak repeated himself. "Ocryana taught me, but you're the one who made it all possible."
His hand started glowing. Charmian stiffened, eyes growing wide, then let out a choked gasp when a beam of light struck her chest, coming straight from Augwak's palm. Her fingers dug into his hand and she started shaking in pain when her spirit stone was revealed, glowing brilliant orange-red. It felt as if her heart were being ripped out of her body!
Augwak merely continued grinning. "I'm guessing that having your spirit stolen by a demon can have a few lasting side effects," he mused aloud. "This being one of them. Pretty useful, isn't it? I never thought that wolf bitch would be of any real use, but then again I thought the same thing of you, and take a look what you both got me." He threw back his head and cackled.
Charmian struggled to fight against the awful feeling--she'd seen Ocryana do this before, in effect sucking the spirit stone--and thus the spirit--out of Augwak's body, leaving him an empty shell--but if a GeeBee couldn't fight it off, then how could she? Even Drake had nearly fallen prey to the same move. The pain was so great that she felt her muscles growing weak in protest as she tried to stay conscious; she fought to turn her head to the side, croaking over her shoulder.
Augwak stopped laughing and looked thoughtful. "Oh, that's right, I forgot. You see, I sent your friend away for a little bit; it should be a while before he can come back. Strong wind trumps weak wind, as your people would say. I wouldn't waste my time calling for him if I were you."
Charmian ground her teeth. "If...you...hurt him..."
The GeeBee pursed his lips again. "Unfortunately, he should be just fine...if he comes back." He gave a nasty grin, lifting her so they were face to face. The movement sent splinters of agony through her chest. "I can't exactly guarantee that...but then again, I wouldn't say he's your greatest concern at the moment, is he?"
And with this he crowed again and crooked his fingers, so the beam of light flashed even brighter. Charmian cried out.
"Enough chit-chat," Augwak chided her. "I think you get the point now anyway. I'll just be taking this stone of yours, if you don't mind; it's not as if you'll need it anymore..."
He started laughing, the ugly noise echoing off the treetops above them. Then--pop--he immediately ceased laughing and glanced down at his chest. Charmian saw a little shard almost like the one he'd thrown at Pakwa, only bigger, protruding from him. It started making a hissing noise, like steam rising from water, and Augwak gaped in astonishment.
"Wind power--?" he cried, before disappearing just as Pakwa had, in a puff of mist. The glow vanished as well and Charmian collapsed to the ground, rolling onto her side and clutching at her own chest with a grimace.
She dimly heard leaves rustling behind her--the Wolves must have heard the commotion and returned--but didn't bother getting up, her chest hurt so much. Then she felt cool fingers touch her arm, and then lift her into a sitting position. She ground her teeth, but the sharp stabbing pain started to fade into a heavy throbbing. She blinked blearily a few times before lifting her head--it felt as if it were filled with rocks--to see who was with her.
She frowned in confusion when she recognized him. "Niskigwun...?" She blinked a few more times as he stooped beside her and started digging around in a pouch he carried at his side. "What...what are you doing here? I thought you went back to the Sky Tree..."
He didn't answer her, instead pulling out what looked like a small crystal and holding it up in front of her. It glowed, shifting color a few times before changing to fiery orange-red, the same color as Charmian's spirit stone. Its brightness wavered a little bit, but Niskigwun seemed to show relief; he tucked the stone away again and started looking for something else.
"What was that...?" Charmian asked.
"A heart stone. It reacts when placed closely to the spirit stone, and can tell one what condition it is in."
"Oh." Charmian put a hand to her chest as if trying to tell for herself. "Like an x-ray or thermometer or something." She paused. "What did it say?"
"Your spirit is weak, but that's to be expected after what happened. He did not manage to steal any part of it, nor did he taint it."
"Well, that's always good to know, I guess." She watched as he pulled out another stone, this one black and shiny like obsidian, and held it up as well. "I thought that you went back through the Arch," she said, then frowned. "Have you been following me...?"
Niskigwun flushed just slightly, but she couldn't be sure if it was because of her question or because the little black rock failed to react. He tucked it away and she saw his ears had gone red as well. "I do not have the medicine to make your spirit feel better," he murmured, and it took her a moment to realize he was talking about her spirit stone rather than something else. "It will grow stronger on its own, but it could take a while. You may wish to seek the help of another more skilled."
"What was that thing you hit Augwak with--?" Charmian remembered to ask as he helped her to her feet. "He used one on Pakwa right before you arrived. Pakwa!" She halted and glanced around them. "I forgot! Will he come back? What do those things do--?"
Niskigwun grasped her arm to stop her from spinning around, and pulled another object from a different pouch, holding it up so she could see it. It looked exactly like the little ice shard that had pierced Augwak's chest, just slightly bigger than the one that had hit Pakwa. She frowned and squinted at it as he held it between thumb and forefinger, then gave him an anxious look.
"It didn't kill them, did it...?"
He shook his head. "It is a type of wind and ice medicine...it only changes one into their original element, for a certain amount of time."
"You mean, Pakwa and Augwak just turned into wind?"
He nodded. "It should wear off sometime soon. Depending on the strength of the medicine."
Charmian looked at the little shard again. "Yours looks somewhat bigger than Augwak's was."
"This is because his is a weaker medicine. He will be gone for at least a few hours."
"And Pakwa should be back sooner, then?" Charmian let out her breath. "The jerk...he could've saved me a lot of worrying and just TOLD me that!" She winced when a flare of pain shot through her chest, and pressed her hand to her heart as if to make it go away. Niskigwun stepped forward and took her arm again; she was surprised by the look of concern on his face.
"Another with better medicine may be able to tend to that. You should seek their help."
Charmian let out a shuddery breath when the pain faded again, rubbing her breastbone. "M-maybe Old Mother Manitou knows something about it," she murmured weakly. "She's the most powerful medicine person I know on the Island."
"She is the old manitou woman who lives in the standing rock, is she not?"
Charmian nodded. "Sugar Loaf...it's not too far from here." She started walking in the right direction, only to nearly topple over when a wave of dizziness passed over her. Niskigwun stopped her from falling and she rubbed at her head this time with an embarrassed look. How on Earth had a klutz like Drake managed so well after Ocryana had tried the same thing on him...?
Niskigwun got onto one knee in front of her, and she blinked. Before she could say anything he gestured.
"Climb onto my back, and I will carry you there."
Charmian's eyes grew wide. "Your back?" she echoed, and took a step away from him without meaning to. Her face went red. "But--I can still walk."
"Not without placing yourself in danger of falling."
"But what about your wings?"
They shifted a little, as if responding to her comment. "You will not hurt them," he said, and then gave her a look that plainly said, "Would you climb up, already?"
Charmian chewed on the inside of her mouth before reluctantly stepping forward. Not sure what else to do, she looped her arms around his neck; he stood and held onto her legs for support, then started walking. She couldn't stop her face from flushing, and she wasn't certain why.
Jeez, it's not like he told me to climb into his arms or anything!!
Still, she couldn't help but feel awkward the entire time he walked. She kept returning to the fact that he always seemed to show up at the strangest times, right when she could use his help the most. And come to think of it, he hadn't actually answered her when she'd asked if he'd been following her.
Did that mean that he was...?
She bit her tongue to keep from asking questions. He worked for Geezhigo-Quae; and the Sky Mother couldn't be a bad person. Could she...?
She noticed Niskigwun's step start to slow, and glanced up to see the looming shape of Sugar Loaf Rock rising above the trees. After another moment or two the entrance became visible, and she could see two large shapes lounging out front. Niskigwun stopped.
"You can make it from here on your own...?" he said, sounding somewhat reluctant.
Charmian frowned, then nodded. "Yeah, sure." She eased herself down from his back, rubbing at her still-aching chest. She looked at the rock, then back at him. He fiddled with the feathers on his spear and stared at the rock as well, looking as if he wanted to accompany her, but then turned back toward the woods. His eyes briefly met hers.
"I'll be fine," Charmian said, not sure why she said it. Then, "Thanks for helping me."
In response the Michinimakinong turned and disappeared into the woods, almost as if he had not even been there. Charmian was left staring at the space he'd left behind. She'd caught the change in his eyes right before he'd turned away, and it confused her.
If I didn't know any better I'd say he's...worried about me.
She shook her head and sighed. With a rustle she turned and walked the rest of the way to Sugar Loaf.
* * * * *
"Hm." Old Mother Manitou's lower lip stuck out and the creases in her face stood out even sharper than ever as she stared at Charmian's chest as if she bore a gaping wound. She waved her hand in front of it a few times, tilted her head, and muttered again. Charmian's ears felt hot.
"I swear," the old woman grumbled after a moment. "You get yourself into the strangest kinds of trouble. First that Wendigo boy, then those Wolves, now that stupid windling again...where is that Wendigo boy, by the way?"
"Not here," Charmian stated, clenching her teeth. "And I can't help it that Augwak can suck spirits out, now. Would've been nice if somebody had seen fit to tell me this earlier."
"It's not like he ever tried it on me, girl, else he'd have no more fingers left to pick things up with!" Old Mother Manitou stood, rubbed at her back, and hobbled over to the other side of the room. X'aaru and Khiieta, who'd accompanied Charmian inside, moved close to sniff her over; X'aaru yelped and jerked back when the old woman hit him on the head with what looked like a gourd.
"Go on! You know what she smells like!" She stopped before Charmian and stooped forward again, holding out the gourd. Charmian peered inside and saw it contained some sort of paste. "I'll let you spread it on. I know how your sort is regarding privacy and such. Go on, take it. Smells a bit funny but it should help the pain a little, though if I were you I'd seek out that healer fellow you like so much." She turned to the two Ocryxes standing behind her and flung her arms in the air. "Why are you two even still here! You do not live here! Yet one would think you do! If it were not for the fact that I know how little alone time you'd get in that lake, I'd have kicked you out long ago!"
"Alone time--?" X'aaru echoed, then his face went bright red. Khiieta's jaw dropped and she whirled around and fled from the room with a cry, the other demon following with his tail between his legs. Charmian stared at the paste, hardly paying them any attention.
"You mean Justin?" she murmured.
"Yes, I mean Justin. I doubt you'd have much of a problem with him putting his hand on your chest."
Charmian felt her eyeballs nearly fall out. All of the blood drained from her face just in time for Old Mother Manitou to see her expression and say, "What, is it paining you again?"
The little gourd started to shake in Charmian's hands. Old Mother Manitou stared curiously as a few firelings popped out of the fire, hissing and spitting and flying across the room before disappearing into puffs of smoke. The paste in the gourd started smoking as well before Charmian's hands clamped around it, nearly cracking the shell. All of the blood rushed back into her face, turning it even more brilliant a red than X'aaru's.
"I'M ONLY FIFTEEN!! HE'S AT LEAST FIVE YEARS OLDER THAN I AM!!" she screamed, so loudly that the roots and pouches hanging from the walls swung to and fro. Then she turned and ran after the others, only ran couldn't quite describe the way her feet pounded against the rock hard enough to make it shake as she left. As soon as she vanished from the room, the fire returned to normal and the walls stopped shaking. Old Mother Manitou glanced at the rock surrounding her and pursed her lips.
"Why does she keep bringing up that age thing...?"
* * * * *
Charmian stomped down the slope away from Sugar Loaf Rock, grinding her teeth almost hard enough to break. She passed X'aaru, who was too busy trying to console a weeping Khiieta to notice her. She hardly noticed the two herself, she couldn't believe how...pissed off she felt.
"A girl and a guy hang out and everyone automatically assumes there's SOMETHING going on!" she fumed aloud as she stomped. "Does EVERYBODY think I'm that easy?!"
Her hand hurt, and she looked down to realize she still held the little gourdlike bowl Old Mother Manitou had given her. Seeing this made her finally halt and take a breath. She let it out shakily and the dull ache returned to her chest. She'd completely forgotten about that, but now that her mind was back on it it hurt again. With a scowl she poked three fingers into the paste and scooped some out, giving it a critical look. It was a dark brownish-green and looked like bad guacamole. At least its smell wasn't as ugly to match. She made a face as she poked her hand down her shirt and rubbed it against her chest. The cool mucky feeling made her want to gag.
"The next time I come here I should really look into bringing an actual doctor along...maybe they'd learn something...like how to make aspirin!"
She finished rubbing the strange substance on, then put the bowl in her pack and stooped down to pick up some dead leaves, pressing them against her chest to keep the paste from getting all over her clothing. After that the only thing she could do was rub her mucky hand on some moss, sticking out her tongue as she did so. Whatever this stuff was, it didn't want to come off easily.
She gave up on the moss and started simply rubbing her fingers together as she resumed walking. She hadn't gone three steps, however, when a rustling noise came from the woods beside the path ahead. Charmian halted and peered forward, expecting X'aaru or Khiieta--more likely both of them--to come out and join her. Then she remembered that they were behind her...back at Sugar Loaf.
Most people she knew and trusted didn't usually go sneaking around among the trees...
Charmian's dirty hand grasped at the cloth of her vest and twisted it, purely an anxiety response. When a masked figure stepped out of the woods ahead and faced her, she knew that her sticky fingers were the least of her problems.
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