A lake.

The chattering grew louder--it wasn't entirely from cold--and despite his complaint Charmian hugged Tal Natha even harder.

Devil's Lake.

Charmian didn't ask Tal Natha why they were here.  She didn't wish to know.

Maybe if I just keep my eyes closed I'll find out it really is all a dream?

Once more she thought of her mom in the parking lot, imagined her checking her watch and worrying about them...and the tears started welling up in her eyes again.

Until now she'd thought of all this as maybe some kind of weird adventure that would take maybe a day, then she'd go home and it would all be over and things would be back to normal...just like in the movies...nobody is ever really hurt or killed, everybody has fun, but nobody is ever in any real danger.  Then the camera shuts off and everyone goes home.  Back to the normal world.

Why wasn't the camera shutting off?

Tal Natha started to tip upright as he approached the ground for a landing, feet splaying out in front of him and wings spreading to catch the air.  Charmian had to hold on tighter now to avoid slipping off his back.  Not too far away a manitou came bounding out of the woods, only to come to an abrupt stop, letting out a whistle and shying back toward the trees.  Francois whistled back and calmed it down before climbing off.  He touched its muzzle and murmured something to it in the strange manitou tongue, and without another sound the creature turned and disappeared into the woods.  Charmian watched it go, wondered where it went.

"Ch...Charmian.  You may let go now."

She started and turned, noticing Tal Natha staring at her.  He looked very uncomfortable; she realized she was holding him too tightly once more.  "Sorry again," she murmured, letting go and sliding down off of him.  She nearly fell backwards but his tail came up to support her on the way down.  When her feet touched the ground she felt like falling over, the sensation was so strange.  The ground tipped and lurched beneath her and she did kneel, pressing one hand to the earth.  Francois came her way, kneeling beside her to take her arm.

"Feeling all right, ma chère?"

"Yeah, I...I think so...where did your manitou go?"

"The tribal manitous don't much like those who dwell here...this is why they usually try to keep away."

"Those who dwell here--?"  Charmian glanced up toward the lake, realizing where she was again.  She pulled a Drake and moved back to hide behind Tal Natha, taking hold of his wing and peering out from behind it.  Her fingers squeezed into the glossy feathers.

The demon touched her hand.  Do not be afraid.  But do be wise and stay behind me.

Charmian nodded.

Francois unslung his gun from his shoulder.  "I hope I won't be needing this?"

Even if you did it would not be of much use.  I thank you for coming along, though; perhaps if they give us any trouble you can convince them to stay back.

"I'll try.  Though I'm not so sure I have the ability."

Charmian.  She swallowed and looked up at him.  His eyes glowed as he looked down at her.  You do not need to...but I would like if you would accompany me.  And try not to look afraid.  The beings here...they sense when one is afraid, and they use this.  There's nothing wrong with being afraid.  But try to look as one who is not.  Will you follow me?

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