Part 15

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PART FIFTEEN:

The Devil's Lake

CHARMIAN AWKWARDLY DUG in her backpack, searching for her jacket, which she somehow managed to put on without falling off.  After doing this she grabbed back onto Tal Natha's neck as hard as she could without hurting him.  This high up in the air, at this time of evening, the air had acquired a bite that set her teeth to chattering.  She looked up above her and the sight made her too dizzy so she looked back toward the darkening horizon--she thought of her mother, waiting in the Mackinaw City parking lot, and her heart sank even further--she looked down at the ground below and realized that it was too dark to make out clearly.  All she could seem to see were the dark shapes of trees and the lighter shapes of rock and soil.

She wanted to ask Tal Natha where they were going, but decided against it.  It was obvious he was tense about something.  His ears were folded back--whether from the wind or from his current state of mind, she had no idea.

The lesser of two evils.  What is he talking about?

She searched the ground for any sight of Francois or Silver Eagle Feather and their manitous but of course it was too dark, and they were too far up to hear anything except the wind rushing past her ears.

She let go with one hand to rub her arm.  She wished they were on the ground...someplace warmer.  She longed to be back home near the heater, with her parents, in a normal house with normal lighting in a normal world.  Sleeping in the next day, and going back to school on Monday, the same as ever.  She'd honestly thought this would all end up being a dream.  Maybe it was.  So why was it taking so very long?

She'd never had a dream this long or detailed...

She sensed them moving down lower in the sky, and looked around her again.  Her teeth made a horrible racket.

Forget all my dreams of ever wanting to fly.  This is HORRIBLE!

She finally leaned forward to press herself against the Ocryx's back, wrapping her arms around his neck and burying her face in his fur like she did with her dog sometimes in the winter, when it got cold.  Hugging him always made her feel warmer.  Tal Natha looked at her briefly over his shoulder but said nothing, and dove down toward the trees, careful to keep her balanced between his wings.

Hang on, human.  We come in close now.

"All right," Charmian said, voice muffled.

She lifted her head a bit and opened one eye.  It immediately flooded with tears and she had to blink to see.  Below she could finally make out the dark shape of something loping along far beneath, and hoped that it was merely Francois or Silver Eagle Feather.  With a start she remembered where she was.  Devil's Kitchen was barely visible off to her left, and beyond that the lake.  She clung to Tal Natha harder and started chattering again.

The demon made an odd strained sound.  "Human...you're...choking me."

"Sorry!"  Charmian loosened her grip, turning red.  "Isn't that Devil's Kitchen?" she asked, unable to keep the anxiety out of her voice.

"Yes.  Do not be afraid.  The GeeBees are the least of our worries now."

That she decided to hold off on believing for now.  She turned away from the cave so she wouldn't have to look at it--she would hardly be able to bear seeing one of those loathsome creatures after coming upon the ones feasting in the woods--and instead her eyes fell on a dark mass below, blacker and deeper than the others around it, not very large but just big enough to catch her attention.  She frowned at it, wondering what it was.  And then--the trickling sound of water.  And she could see the stars shining up at her from below.  The blackness rippled as the wind stirred it to life.

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