Part 11

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PART ELEVEN:

Sheep In Wolf's Clothing

BEFORE CHARMIAN OR Drake could say anything, the creature whirled back to face the remaining GeeBees.  Its lips curled back over its teeth and it looked ready to foam at the mouth like a mad dog.  The green GeeBee who'd been in front paled visibly and hunched in on himself, darting looks to the side, as if seeking an escape.

Noticing this, the Ocryx bellowed again and swung at him.  The GeeBee managed to dodge it, but only barely.  The second time he was not so lucky.  A snake tail whipped through the air and slammed into the side of his face, sending him reeling.  The moment he struck the ground he vanished as if he simply combusted.  The remaining GeeBees, still squawking and shrieking, did likewise, jumping into the air and taking off or shrinking in on themselves and disappearing with little "poof!"s.

The Ocryx's head swung back and forth as it looked around for any more, a loud low growl echoing in its throat.  When it didn't see any more it seemed to remember where it was and turned back to Charmian and Drake, who had stood watching the whole scene, mesmerized.

That was when the color left Charmian's and Drake's faces again.  This Ocryx had gray fur, not black.  Its wings were gold, not scarlet, and its horns curved back from its head like those of a goat, not the horns of an antelope, as Tal Natha's were.  It wasn't quite as tall as Tal Natha was, but it was more heavily built, its muzzle shorter and broader.  Its eyes, on fixing on them, were the same color as Tal Natha's, but the look was not the same.  Whereas Tal Natha's eyes had appeared gentle and intelligent every time Charmian had seen him, this creature's eyes appeared half mad with fury.

Before she could stop it Charmian started screaming.  Drake joined right in.

And almost instantly the mad look vanished from the Ocryx's eyes.  They widened as if with surprise at the teenagers' reaction, then its brow furrowed as if with mortification.  It let out a weird strangled whining sound and immediately backed away from them, ears flattening and wings flaring.  When they didn't let up it simply started howling right along with them, as if all three of them had likewise been startled by the same thing.

It took Charmian a moment to realize that the Ocryx didn't appear to want to attack them as she'd thought it would.  Her scream died down even as Drake's went on, and she found herself staring at it.  It seemed to be just as frightened as they were.  She felt first shock, then surprise, then pity.  Her own brow furrowed and she held up her hand, taking a step forward.

"Charmian?  Drake?  Charmian!  Drake!"

The Ocryx's howl cut off and its ears shot up on hearing the voice from far off.  It started looking around wildly.  Drake was the only one still screaming and no matter how hard Charmian pulled on his arm he wouldn't stop.

The rustling of grass and the scattering sound of falling pebbles came from below, away from the lakeshore.  Charmian and the Ocryx turned to look.  After several moments two figures emerged from the trees--Silver Eagle Feather and Red Bird--and, seeing the others, they ran forward, up a little hill, to meet them.  Red Bird was pale as a ghost, while Silver Eagle Feather's face was lined with worry.  When she reached them she felt Charmian's and Drake's arms and legs, touched their foreheads, squeezed their shoulders.

"Are you both all right?" she panted, looking them over.  "We thought perhaps they might have dropped you along the way.  The stupid brutes.  They don't know when to leave well enough alone."

"No, I'm--I mean, we're fine.  They started to drop us but then they brought us here and--"

Red Bird put her hands to her ears and bit her lip, trying to block out Drake, who was still screaming, even when Silver Eagle Feather shook him.  She turned in the direction he was facing and saw that he still stared at the Ocryx, which was at the other side of the clearing, head hunched and ears back.  She stood up straight and went over to it, holding out her hand.

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