Part 12

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Standing Ground

CHARMIAN AND DRAKE backed away from the woods, moving behind Silver Eagle Feather.  Red Bird moved behind Tal Natha, but a gentle nudge from the Ocryx sent her back to stand with the others.  X backed up until he stood beside but just slightly behind the other Ocryx.  Charmian could tell he was frightened, but she could sense that Tal Natha was, too.  Their fur and their wings stood out, making them look bigger than they really were.

She didn't like the look Tal Natha had gotten on his face.  He looked like a rabid dog just ready to start foaming at the mouth.  It wasn't at all the way she was used to seeing him.  Noticing Red Bird's expression, she could see she didn't like the change, either.

Charmian opened her mouth.

Keep quiet.  Don't speak.  The thought entered her head before she could say anything, and she recognized it as Tal Natha's.  Silver Eagle Feather, Red Bird, and Drake lifted their heads slightly as if they heard it too.  Tal Natha turned to X and the two stared at each other for a moment before Charmian realized they must be communicating--and as soon as she realized this, she could start to "hear" what they were saying to each other, eavesdropping on their conversation.

X's thoughts, apprehensive.  Is it him?

Tal Natha sniffed at the air.  No...not him.  Almost as bad.  He looked back at the others.  Stay back and keep silent.  Perhaps they'll move on.  If not, you'll have to make your escape.

Charmian sensed a telepathic "nod" from Silver Eagle Feather rather than heard anything.  What startled her even more was she sensed something from Red Bird as well.  The girl started forward, holding out her hand, and Charmian could have sworn she started to say something in her mind--only to have the older woman take her arm and pull her back.  Red Bird's brow furrowed with worry but she said nothing and meekly returned to her place.  Charmian frowned.  Had she really sensed what she thought she had?  She cast a look at Drake, and realized it hadn't been just her.  He stared at Red Bird, confused, as well.

What's the deal, Charmian thought to herself, are they ALL psychic here or something?  She tried sending the question to Drake, but he didn't respond.  So much for that theory, or else Drake's head was thicker than she thought.

The crashing noises in the woods resumed.  They huddled closer together and the two Ocryxes crouched lower.  They've sensed us; they're coming this way, Tal Natha said.  X, do not attack them unless I tell you to; I doubt you could handle them as easily as you did the GeeBees.


Who are THEY? Charmian thought as hard as she could, hoping somebody would pick it up.  Silver Eagle Feather and Red Bird looked at her, then Red Bird quickly looked away.  Silver Eagle Feather turned back to keep an eye on Tal Natha.

We're not too far from Devil's Lake.  Someone there must have heard the fight.  Try to keep quiet, and try not to ask any more questions like that.  They can probably hear you; you aren't masking your thoughts very well.

Charmian flushed.  Well, she'd never HAD to mask her thoughts before coming to this place!

The crashing noises subsided a bit, only to be replaced by a sudden long, low moaning sound.  After a moment it was joined by another, then another, rising and ebbing in a strange singsong way.  X's eyes widened and he shot nervous looks all over the woods, tail whipping back and forth.  Red Bird whimpered and burrowed her face into Silver Eagle Feather's shoulder.  Tal Natha's look became angry.

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