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Rated: 13+ · Serial · Fantasy · #183638
Charmian takes a dangerous dip into Devil's Lake...
Main story folder & table of contents: "Manitou Island
Previous chapter: "Part 27: No Place Like Home



PART TWENTY-EIGHT:
Head Below Water


CHARMIAN GASPED AND lifted her head. She blinked when bright yellow light met her eyes and it took her a moment to reacquaint herself with her surroundings. She was startled at first to see Tal Natha before her, and thought that she still dreamed, but then realized he was still unconscious; she was holding onto his hand tightly. Her fingers ached and she realized she'd been squeezing it the whole time.

Red Bird sat on the other side of him, holding his other hand. She stared at Charmian with large eyes.

"Well?" Old Mother Manitou's voice came to her ears and Charmian looked up at her. The old woman handed her a wooden cup filled with something; Charmian took it and drank without bothering to see what it was. "Did you find out anything?"

Charmian nodded, swallowing; she didn't know what she'd just drunk but it had a woody taste to it. "First there were two Ocryxes there--Dakh Natha and Sikt Natha. I don't know, maybe they were twins. They told me that Tal Natha lost his faith and I'd have to find him on my own."

As she said this Red Bird slowly backed away, letting go of Tal Natha's hand and balling her fists against her stomach. Her face went nearly white but she said nothing.

"Other Ocryxes?" Old Mother Manitou just muttered. "They spread like flies. What else did you see?"

"I went through this cave and then I found Tal Natha. He's still there, he just can't see or sense anything anymore. He took me in his dream and then showed me the dreams of others. I went looking around for someone, first I went into one person's dream and then another..." She sat up and started patting at herself. "I brought something back...or I tried to..."

She panicked inside. What if her plan hadn't worked out? What if dream objects had to stay where they belonged, within dreams? Just because she'd been able to take the necklace out of Miss Anne's dream and into Tal Natha's didn't mean it would survive its trip back into reality.

But...she felt a small bulge in her side pocket where one hadn't been before, reached inside, and felt velvet. Relief flooded through her. She pulled out the small bag and held it up with a huge smile.

"Ta-da!"

The others frowned at her. "What's that?" Drake asked.

"A little gift for somebody." She opened the bag and pulled out the necklace.

Drake's face lit up. "Hey, I remember that! That's the one you wanted so much back at home!"

"Yep. I'm surprised you were paying attention. This is what I need right now."

The others--Red Bird, Silver Eagle Feather, X, and Old Mother Manitou--merely looked perplexed. "How can that help him?" Red Bird asked.

"It's not this that'll help him," Charmian admitted. "Rather it's the person I give this to. He can help Tal Natha."

A long pause while the others pondered over what she'd said. She sensed they didn't get it. When Red Bird finally spoke, she realized that they did.

"He won't do it." She cast her gaze at the floor. "He doesn't care for Tal Natha that much."

"I don't know about that," Charmian said. "I think he just doesn't want him around because of the--well, it's obvious, they can end up killing each other. But I don't think he hates him."

"You don't understand. I know him better than you do. I lived with him for most of my life." She fell silent a moment, then, remembering that Charmian knew already, went on. "Ocryxes...full-blooded Ocryxes don't get along with each other. There's just too much tension. They think of themselves most of the time. Tal Natha's the exception, of course, but even he's worried about protecting himself and me...I also believe Fa--Ocryx is angry that the two of us found each other. He wouldn't bother risking himself to help Tal Natha."

"Not even if I gave him this?" Charmian jiggled the necklace. "It's no ordinary jewel, trust me. He won't be able to turn it down." Her grin grew. "I'll make him an offer he can't refuse."

Drake was the only one who laughed. The others just looked stupefied.

Charmian put the necklace back in the bag. "In any case...who's going to take me there, to see him? I know it's not very pleasant...but I can't really walk all the way, especially not at night."

X started to step forward when Silver Eagle Feather put out her arm to hold him back, giving him a reproving look so his ears folded down. "You've been out for hours," she said to Charmian, "but I believe Pakwa still waits outside for you."

"Pakwa? Really?" She'd forgotten about the GeeBee; even so, she'd supposed he'd have just gone back to...wherever it was he'd come from. It was strange to think he'd been sitting outside the rock all day. "Okay. He can take me, then. I'll try to be back as soon as I can. This isn't going to be easy, I know...I bet I'm going to have to argue a little bit."

"Please, can I go?" X asked his mother.

"No, no thanks," Charmian said quickly. "Really, it's okay. I'll have Pakwa there if I have to leave really fast. I'll tell him to keep close by. Tal Natha's already hurt, I wouldn't want you hurt again too. Don't worry, I don't think he's interested in killing me or anything." Though a small part in the back of her mind quailed at the thought of meeting up with him again.

X's wings drooped. "All right. Take care."

"I will." She put the bag in her pocket and went toward the door, walking a bit awkwardly; it had been quite a while since she'd gone to the bathroom, and now she was starting to feel it!

Once outside she glanced up at the rock and saw, indeed, that the GeeBee was still perched up there, yellow eyes glinting in the moonlight. "Hold on just a sec," Charmian called. "I have to go...take care of some business, then you can take me somewhere, okay?"

He didn't say anything, so she took that as a yes and disappeared into the woods. It was a good thing she'd brought along some tissues...this was embarrassing!

When she returned from the woods, the GeeBee still hadn't moved. She stopped in the clearing and held up her arms. "Okay," she called; Red Bird had appeared at the door and was watching. Charmian pretended not to notice her as Pakwa jumped from the rock, caught her under the arms, and pulled her up and away into the sky.

"Where do we go now, fleshling?"

"Devil's Lake. I have to talk with Ocryx."

Well, so far he was the only one who didn't offer her any warning or advice. Instead he turned right and soared in the direction of the lake.

The whole time Charmian's teeth chattered like castanets. It may have been warm out during the day, but at night it was most definitely autumn. She didn't have her jacket on anymore, and wondered how it was that she kept forgetting these things if she was supposed to be so prepared.

"P-P-Pakwa, isn-isn't that it d-d-down there? Think you c-could s-s-slow down now?"

The GeeBee responded by immediately hurtling down toward the water. Charmian bit into her tongue to stop herself from screaming.

He miscalculated this time and her feet hit the ground hard; he let go of her arms and she fell forward onto her knees and then her face. Spitting out dirt, she cast an evil look up at the creature as he hovered in midair.

"Got a problem?" she hissed in a whisper.

"You'd have gone into the lake if I didn't drop you. I just did what I thought best."

Charmian grated her teeth and stood up, dusting herself off for what felt like the hundredth time that day. She looked at the water and suddenly wished she had Tal Natha or X with her; she didn't like the idea of facing Ocryx alone. She thought also of the manitous and her anxiety increased.

"Problem, fleshling?"

"Uh--no. I'm fine. How...where do I find Ocryx? Is he sleeping or something?" To be truthful, she'd expected the manitous to be up by now to greet her.

"He lives in caves under the lake."

"But I thought the lake was...you know...bottomless."

"Lake is bottomless. He lives in caves beneath it."

A frown. Well, little else made sense around here, she supposed this was just one more example. "So how do I get to him?" she pressed.

"Call him. Or go to him yourself."

She didn't like the idea of calling him...if he were asleep, or if one of the manitous responded instead, well...not to mention that Devil's Kitchen wasn't that far away, one of them might come running instead!

"And how do I do that, exactly?"

"Go into the lake." He said this as if it were obvious.

Charmian sighed. "And how do you suppose I do that, huh? I'm not a champion swimmer. If I have to swim to the bottom of a bottomless lake, how much luck do you think I'd have?"

He shrugged. "Have to do it sometime."

Why don't YOU do it if it's so easy, then! Even as she thought it she knew she'd never say it. The GeeBee may be good easy transportation but he wasn't very helpful at the moment. She looked back at the dark water and chewed on her lip, which was starting to feel raw right about now. Maybe if nothing else made sense...neither would this. Everything on the Island had seemed like a dream so far, with nothing seeming to work according to logic. Even the crazy idea with the necklace had worked. Maybe if she believed she wouldn't drown...she wouldn't.

Now that was a stupid idea. But she didn't have any better ones. And part of her thought that it must be the solution.

Well, give it a shot then.

"You wait here," she whispered at Pakwa, and walked down toward what there was of a lakeshore--just a slight sandy area near the edge--and stuck in one foot. And drew it back out with a shudder.

That stuff was icy cold!

She stood chattering again for a moment before taking a breath and running out into the water, letting out little yips all the way as it rose to her knees, her hips, her chest. Then her foot seemed to go out from under her and before she could take another breath her head went below the surface.

And she panicked, swinging her legs around trying to find her footing, only to find there wasn't any. She'd hit a dropoff. She'd always had a hideous fear of those as a kid, and now she'd hit the mother of all dropoffs. Her eyes opened instinctively and so did her mouth--big mistake. She shut it again as it filled with cold water and started paddling her arms in an attempt to reach the surface--only--where was the surface? Apparently she'd sunk deeper than she'd thought, or else turned herself around when she'd gone under--for she no longer knew which way was up, or down, or what. She searched around in vain for a trace of light from the moon but saw none--perhaps it had gone behind a tree--or it hadn't reached the lake yet--she hadn't been paying enough attention when she'd arrived to see where it was in the sky--

She finally caught sight of it--very tiny and far above her, and paddled for it as hard as she could, struggling to hold in what little breath she had left in her lungs.

The moon grew closer, wavering in the water, glowing blue and flickering and then--breaking apart--?

Charmian's eyes felt ready to pop out of her head. She turned herself around and started paddling the other way.

Blue light. That's not the MOON, stupid!!

Still, now that she'd turned around again, she still had no idea where she was, or where the real moon was; for all she knew she'd been heading for the surface and had been cut off. Where was she going now? Up, down, sideways? The more she paddled around, the more panicked she became, the weaker she grew; her lungs were burning for fresh air, and the freezing water sapped the strength out of her limbs. She was fighting a losing battle and she knew it.

Well, the voice in her head said, so much for this bright idea.

Her frenzied paddling slowed. Her arms felt like they were trying to cut through mud. She could kick out only sluggishly, and a haze started to form around her field of vision, the already almost pitch-black water going even darker. She realized what was happening--she was drowning--but couldn't fight it anymore. Her mouth opened; bubbles came out, water went in. She felt its iciness filling her lungs even as the blue lights grew closer, multiplying, surrounding her on all sides; her body went numb and she started sinking, the darkness closing in, and she wasn't even afraid of the lights anymore.

Before she could sink completely into unconsciousness she felt something grab her leg, pulling her up; she dimly saw the face of a manitou, Mitchi Manitou, staring at her, distorted by the water, blue eyes glittering, and she didn't bother fighting back. She just shut her eyes.

And something pressed against her mouth. Her eyes immediately flew open again--the manitou had pressed his mouth to hers, forcing it open, but before she could start fighting again she realized that she could breathe. He pulled away and she clamped a hand to her mouth; then, holding her by the arms, he started swimming down to where he'd come from, taking her along with him. Every time she felt herself growing hazy the manitou repeated the action, breathing into her mouth; until she saw a light growing ahead, a different color of light, the color of fire; and he changed direction and headed for that instead.

She had started to go hazy again when her head broke the surface of the water and she gasped and sputtered, spitting out what water she'd breathed in. The manitou dragged her out of the lake, coughing and drenched, before dumping her on solid ground with a thud. Charmian continued choking and gasping, lifting her head, hair hanging in her eyes, to look up at him.

His eyes narrowed and he snarled at her. Around her, other manitous were emerging from the water and coming up on the land, all staring at her.

She spat out some more water. "You...didn't...have to...bring me here, you know."

Mitchi Manitou's snarl grew.

She continued coughing and struggled to her feet, stumbling unsteadily and taking in her surroundings. The lake was before her--even though that didn't make much sense, as she had been underwater. The only thing she could think of was that they had surfaced in some underwater cave, as it was caves that surrounded her, some lit, others not, many vanishing into darkness. The one closest to and behind her was the brightest; from within she could see the flickering of torches, like in Tal Natha's cave.

Mitchi let out a strange noise and shook his antler in the direction of the cave.

"Yeah, yeah," Charmian said, voice hoarse. "I get you. I came here of my own free will anyway, don't pretend you had anything to do with it."

His lip curled back and his eyes flashed blue so she supposed she'd better quit chatting with him and get moving.

"Excuse me," she muttered at one manitou that partially blocked her way inside. Once she'd gone past it she heard Mitchi thrashing it out behind her, and at least that gave her a tiny bit of satisfaction.

She didn't really know where she was going, however.

She trudged along for a while, rubbing her clammy arms and shaking water out of her eyes, before coming to a stop and yelling back over her shoulder, "Mind letting me know which frigging way I'm supposed to go?"

A harsh, guttural growling noise from the cave branching off ahead and to the side answered her. The voice that came to her mind gave her all the answer she needed.

If you've brought that worthless whelp with you again, then both you and he will find your entrails decorating my walls.





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