|Main story folder & table of contents: "Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 29: An Offer He Can't Refuse"
RED BIRD AND X stood outside Sugar Loaf Rock awaiting Charmian when Pakwa returned, dropping her off in the clearing. Red Bird was wringing her hands, an anxious look on her face; X looked more curious than worried. Charmian regained her footing and jogged toward them, pulling the strange smoky crystal from her pocket.
"What did he say?" Red Bird asked; Charmian didn't answer as she squeezed past them inside. Silver Eagle Feather, Drake, and Old Mother Manitou were still there, around Tal Natha; they too looked up at her as she came their way. Now that she had the crystal...spirit...whatever it was...she wasn't certain what to do with it, though she figured she couldn't really do anything wrong by now.
"What is that, Charm?" Drake asked as she nudged him aside and held the crystal out toward Tal Natha's chest.
"Hopefully, what I was looking for," Charmian answered. She placed it on his chest and pushed down on it--Ocryx had pulled it from himself, so how better to put it back in? The others stared as she pulled her hands back, to reveal the smoky-colored crystal sinking down and vanishing inside him. A moment later he took a breath and let it out, and his shallow breathing became normal again.
Old Mother Manitou frowned. She pulled open one of his eyes. It was still dim, but not as dim as before; Charmian peered hard and thought she could detect a faint glow. Her heart rose in her chest. "Hm. Not sure what you did, girl," the old woman muttered, "but it seems to be working."
"He'll be okay now?" Drake asked.
A shrug. "Well...I didn't think so...but now I can't be so sure anymore."
"So...is that good news--?"
"You got it from him?" Charmian turned back to see Red Bird behind her, still wringing her hands. Her eyes were large. "He...gave it to you?"
Charmian nodded. "After I gave him the necklace and told him what he was in for if he didn't hand it over, he finally did. He wasn't very happy about it, though..."
Red Bird walked past her to look down at Tal Natha, taking his hand. Old Mother Manitou stared at them for a moment before turning to the other four and waving her hands at them in a "Shoo-shoo" manner. "Let him get a bit of rest...just about died there, it's natural he'd still be a bit weak...go on, go on, give the two a little privacy..."
"But what about you?" Drake managed to get out before Charmian took his arm and dragged him out of the rock.
They went to sit just outside the entrance. Charmian sat down, holding her arms and shivering; Pakwa, perched atop the rock again, snapped his fingers and a small fire appeared in the clearing before them. She frowned up at him.
"I thought you were an air elemental."
"Fire needs air."
Charmian sighed. It was no use trying to argue with a GeeBee.
She turned back toward the little fire and moved a bit closer, trying to get warm. Pakwa's flight back, with her still dripping wet, had chilled her to the bone. She wouldn't be surprised if she were to catch pneumonia--and stuck on some weird primitive island--well, that wouldn't be good. She wondered if they had doctors.
She thought of Stick-In-The-Dirt treating her and the thought wasn't a very pleasant one...
Drake nudged her arm. She looked at him, sniffling, and he nodded at Silver Eagle Feather. He made horns by putting his fingers to his head, and then flapped his arms like wings. She shoved him back. X, off to the side, let out a huge sigh and flopped over on his side like a dog at the end of a long day. He blinked at the fire a few times before his eyes drifted shut. Once that had happened Charmian got up again and sat down closer to Silver Eagle Feather.
"Silver..." When the woman looked at her she wasn't sure what to say. "...Um...I've been meaning to ask about everything that happened earlier. Whatever it was that that meant. What exactly happened?"
"If I knew, I would tell you." She looked back toward the fire and was silent for a while before continuing.
"Red Bird was part of a bargain," she said quietly. "Her mother gave her to Ocryx when she was still very young. Ocryx raised her. Perhaps this is why he is closer to her than to Tal Natha. After she met Tal Natha...he felt it was no longer safe for her to live with her father, and Old Mother Manitou took her in."
"So she has the same powers that you do? And X?"
"She should. I've always believed she does, she merely hasn't learned to use them yet. Ocryx, of course, wouldn't teach her. Not to use her full powers at least. This was what Tal Natha intended to do. The thing is...now it looks as if she had powers even I've never heard of before." She stared at the fire. "I had no idea she was capable of doing that--shapeshifting--until today. I've never seen it done before. I assumed that those of more than half-Ocryx blood took the form of Ocryxes, and those with half or less looked as we do. I never knew it went beyond that."
"So...do you think you'd be able to do the same?"
For a moment she didn't think Silver Eagle Feather would answer. She stared at her hands for some reason. "I'm not certain..." she finally murmured. "I don't see why not, if it's truly just an Ocryx power and not Red Bird's alone..."
She seemed genuinely not to understand the entire situation, so Charmian backed off that angle. "So...she's another one," she said instead. "Half Ocryx. That explains more than a few things, I guess...do you think she has anything to do with why Ocryx hates Tal Natha so much?"
"He doesn't hate Tal Natha. He only fears him. The more he fears something, the angrier he becomes." A slight smile. "I'm certain you've discovered that. But Red Bird...he would never hurt her, intentionally; so I doubt he would kill Tal Natha. Still he doesn't like that they're together. Perhaps he feels threatened. He didn't raise me, and he didn't raise Tal Natha. Although he has his manitous around him, for the most part he dwells alone."
Charmian blinked. She remembered how Tal Natha had acted when she'd found him, huddled and frightened, within his dream...what he had said to her...For as long as I can remember I was alone. I left my mother very young...I can't even remember being with her. Always in my cave, by myself. Alone...
Perhaps the two were alike in more than just temperament...
"So...he's lonely?" Drake said aloud what she'd been thinking. "You mean he's mean because he's like some lonely old man?"
"This puts it too simply. There are other reasons, I'm positive. But he's had many children, and he's raised very few of them himself. Red Bird is the only one I know of. Once she was gone, all he had left were his manitous. Of course he would be angry with Tal Natha for...taking her away from him."
"No wonder he hates people so much," Charmian murmured, falling back and looking up at the sky. "Keep trying to make contact with them, and keep having them taken away from you."
"Not to mention everybody's probably scared of him already," Drake added.
Charmian only stared at the stars. She was thinking of Ocryana...the one behind the whole deal, the one they hadn't yet faced. Out of everything she'd heard, Ocryana was the nastiest of the bunch. Yet she hadn't even shown her face. If Ocryx wasn't so very evil, could it be the same way with his mate? Could it be she was actually lonely and misunderstood? From the sound of it, she hadn't been able to make many friends on the Island either...and she'd never had a Red Bird to keep her company, however briefly...
From Tal Natha, her own son: Ocryana is...mad...her mind is not well...
Couldn't loneliness lead to madness?
Against her better judgement she found herself feeling sorry for the as-yet faceless demon...
A slight noise from near the rock. They turned to see Red Bird come to the entrance, still sniffling and rubbing her eyes a little. "I'm...sorry you had to wait outside," she said in a very small voice. "You can come back in now...I don't mind..."
They started getting up--Silver Eagle Feather had to nudge X awake again and he sat up, yawning and shaking his head--before filing back inside, out of the cold. Charmian continued rubbing her arms. Once inside she headed straight for her pallet with the furs; it had never looked so inviting as it did right now. She sat down on it and wrapped herself up, sneezing.
Old Mother Manitou made a "tsk-tsk" sound as she came Charmian's way with a bowl of something. Charmian took it and sniffed, to realize it was the same thing she'd been given earlier, the strange hot woody-tasting drink. She didn't mind, it was just what she needed right now. She tipped the bowl to her mouth and drank and the heat going down her throat made her shiver. When she handed the bowl back Old Mother Manitou retreated.
"Going to catch a bug flying around in the cold like that...silly GeeBee...you think they'd have at least a bit of sense..."
"Only way to get her back," Pakwa said. Charmian looked up to notice he was perched atop the ceiling, hanging upside down.
"Feh, stupid windling, no wonder Augwak didn't want you around anymore."
Charmian yawned, suddenly very tired. She couldn't believe all the things she'd been through this day. Bargaining with a demon! She realized just how dangerous that had really been. What had she been thinking?
I was thinking of Tal Natha, she told herself. That's what I was thinking.
While the others continued chattering at each other she decided there was no better time than the present to get some sleep. Dealing with a demon today, who knew what would happen tomorrow. Sleep, right now, was the best preparation she could think of.
As she put her head down and pulled the furs up over her she felt movement, and a moment later something warm touched her and she heard a tired sigh. X's wing draped over her like a blanket. Grateful for the extra warmth, she snuggled up next to him, thinking of her dog at home, and let her eyes drift shut, and let the chattering noises drift away...
"Go away, Drake. I'm trying to sleep..."
She grated her teeth. How bothersome. She blinked her eyes open with a scowl, then blinked some more, uncertain of what she was seeing.
She suddenly sat up, heart rising in her chest. "Tal Natha!"
Then she recognized the Ocryx staring at her, and her mood deflated somewhat. "Oh...it's you."
Dakh Natha tilted his head. You are disappointed?
"No, I just...I thought you were him and he was better." She paused. "I'm asleep already?"
Yes. You were quite tired.
"Yeah, I guess... How am I talking to you?" She frowned and looked around her, noticing they were in what looked to be Tal Natha's cave, and Sikt Natha was there, but Tal Natha was nowhere to be seen. "I shouldn't be able to be talking to you right now, should I?"
We are in Tal Natha's dream. We brought you here.
"Oh...how did you do that?"
We must ask you for something, Dakh Natha said, ignoring the question.
Charmian frowned again. It didn't seem to make much sense...Old Mother Manitou had clearly said Tal Natha was the only one able to travel through dreams, at least on his own...and while the names Dakh and Sikt seemed to strike some chord with him, he hadn't said he knew these two directly. Who were they and what were they doing in his dream? And how had they gotten her in here, as well?
Do you wish to assist us, or to go back?
She shook her head. "No...uh...I mean, all right, I think. Whatever you're talking about. Uh--what are you talking about?"
Dakh Natha glanced at Sikt Natha and tipped his head in a knowing way. She mimicked the gesture and Charmian had the distinct impression they were commenting on her clouded mental state. She pushed herself up further.
"Hey, I'm all right. You just got me at a bad time. What is it you want?"
We ask that we may join with you.
Charmian blinked. Join? "Huh?"
Join. Become part of you.
A pause. "Uh...isn't that kind of pervy?"
The Ocryx actually blinked this time. I'm afraid...you misunderstand. This is our spirit form. Our true form has not been born yet. While Tal Natha sleeps, his dream lies dormant and open to attack from those who know how. As long as we dwell within it, we are in danger.
"Oh. I...think I understand. But what's this have to do with me in particular?"
You have been in his dream, and you understand it. We also have the ability to create and traverse dreams. But our abilities are not as strong as Tal Natha's are. We may create a dream to live in, but not within Tal Natha, as he already possesses a dream of his own. We wish to bring our dream into you.
"But, don't I already have a dream, too?"
Not of the same kind as ours. This...is difficult for humans to understand. Simply tell us yes or no.
"Can I handle your dream?" Charmian asked, remembering the shock she'd felt when Tal Natha had first subjected her to the dreams of thousands of people at once.
Yes. It is just one dream, our own. A place for us to remain safe until Tal Natha has recovered. You will receive your own sort of reward for assisting us.
"'Reward'? What do you mean?"
You recall the vision the Uroona gave you. You have seen how our kind communicates. While we are within you, this ability may be yours as well. Should you be able to tolerate it. That strange, sloe-eyed look again. Will you say yes, or will you say no? We realize you owe us nothing, and so should you decline, we will not hold it against you.
"Say no? Why? You obviously know Tal Natha, somehow." She thought for a moment. "Look, I don't mind the whole mindreading thing...maybe it'll help me out, without Tal Natha around to do it...but is there any way you guys can, I don't know, make sure it stays on the lowest volume, so I'm not hearing everybody's thoughts at once?"
Do not worry. This is within your own control. You may hear things only when you wish to hear them, and when they are open for you to hear.
"Okay, then...if it keeps you guys safe...whatever the purpose of that is." She shrugged. Frankly, she had no idea what these two had to do with anything, so far. "Just...um...do what you have to do, I guess."
Dakh Natha tipped his head. We thank you, human. Tal Natha would thank you, if he were able.
"Why? Does he know you two? Can't you guys tell me anything at all?"
He will know us, Dakh Natha said, before he and Sikt Natha started glowing and dissolving, a reverse of how they had first appeared beside the dream lake. Charmian blinked a few times before a strange rattling noise slowly drew her out of the dream, and...
...she blinked her eyes open groggily to see it was morning. Already?
She sat up, rubbing her eyes and looking around. It was X who had awoken her, letting out a muffled dog-snore; she carefully pushed his wing off of her as she got to her feet, wobbling unsteadily. The others were still there, only now curled up on their own pallets, Red Bird asleep on the floor next to Tal Natha. Pakwa was the only one awake, and he still hung upside-down from the ceiling, watching her as she stretched.
Charmian yawned as she spoke. "Yeah, I guess. Jeez. Who knew Ocryxes snore so loud."
"A noise outside somewhere, fleshling, you should be aware of."
She blinked up at him some more. "Huh?"
"A noise. Outside. Far off. GeeBee ears hear it."
"Well, I know that already, stupid. Mind clarifying?"
"Not so certain."
"Is it a bird or something?"
"No. Strange noise. Not right."
Charmian frowned to herself, then sighed. "Well...looks like the day's off to a great start already." She looked around at the others, all asleep. "I don't feel like waking them up...do you think I can go take a look on my own?"
"Not a good idea, fleshling."
"You know, I have a name, Jeez, this is like me calling you 'GeeBee' all the time, and it's rude."
"Not a good sound, not a good idea to go alone."
"All right, all right..." She glanced down at X, still snoring peacefully, and sighed again. "I guess I'll have to irritate someone."
"Ocryxes are good protection."
"Yeah, well, you should have told him that when Mitchi was busy turning him into a shish-kabob."
She leaned down and gently nudged his shoulder. She hated waking anybody up, no matter how important the reason might be, so it was a moment or two before she could get him to open his eyes. "Hey. Hsst. X. Could you wake up?"
After a minute the Ocryx started blinking awake, snorting and looking around him.
"Sorry to wake you up," Charmian said, feeling her ears growing hot, "but the Gee--Pakwa--said he heard some kind of sound out there, a weird sound, and...well, he doesn't trust me to go off alone, and he's probably right..."
When the demon started to understand what she was getting at he seemed to come more awake, pushing himself up. Charmian backed away to avoid getting hit by his wing or tail. "You want to go investigate?" he asked, and she was thankful he kept his voice low. "To see what it is?"
Charmian nodded. "I can't go alone, Pakwa seems to think an Ocryx would make a better chaperone, and I didn't want to wake any of the others--"
"All right, human--er--Charmian." Now he looked embarrassed. "Sorry. Charmian. Where?"
"Follow," a voice from above them said. Pakwa's feet let go of the ceiling and he righted himself, drifting out the entrance as if swimming through air. The other two followed him as quietly as they could.
"Strange sound," Pakwa elaborated as they started walking through the woods. Charmian rubbed her arms, cursing herself mentally for again forgetting her jacket. "From far off. Not a good sound."
"Someone getting hurt?" X asked, sounding anxious.
"Possibly. Not certain."
Charmian scowled. Of all the GeeBees, why did she have to get stuck with such a terse one.
Pakwa spun in slow spirals as he floated along several feet above their heads. They followed a level trail that was much easier to traverse than any Charmian had been on the day before. Fewer rocks and roots to trip over, for one thing. It finally came to a hill of sorts, as she assumed it would, and now she and X practically had to climb to get to the top. For once the demon seemed to have more trouble than she did.
"Sorry to drag you out here, X," Charmian said, watching him try to negotiate the steep trail.
"No, no apology...if you need somebody to look after you...I'm glad to do it." He tripped and air blasted out of his nostrils; his ears folded back in a most mortified way, but he got back to his feet and continued.
They went on in this manner for perhaps twenty minutes--Charmian was just about to call up to Pakwa to start carrying her if it was so stinking far--when the GeeBee floated down to earth again, hunching over and staring ahead. "Little spring nearby," he whispered, the others coming up close. "Sound from there. Go look."
"Well, gee, thanks." Charmian scowled again and stepped forward. She held up a hand, letting X know he should stay where he was and wait for her if there was any sort of trouble; she went ahead of the GeeBee and poked her way warily through the shrubs and underbrush, hearing the trickling sounds of a spring just ahead.
"Careful, fleshling!" Pakwa whispered. "Bad smell!"
She had no idea what he meant, as she couldn't smell anything, when she noticed what must have caught his attention earlier. She stifled a gasp and ducked back into the bushes, trying not to rustle them. But her eyes stayed focused clearly on the manitou lying limp and bloody in the clearing by the spring, an unfamiliar native woman leaning over it with one hand on its neck.
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