Charmian and X'aaru enter a temporary haven of the oddest sort--but ONLY temporary...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 49: Scent Of Evil"
The Land In The Bow
X--YOU'VE KILLED me.
Charmian gritted her teeth and waited for the pain to hit. She felt hard earth beneath her hands and knew she'd struck the ground far below Arch Rock, but she couldn't understand why it didn't hurt yet. It took her a moment to realize, she shouldn't be feeling anything, with the height she'd fallen from.
Had it really ended that quickly then?
She opened her eyes and lifted her head slowly--just in case her neck was injured--and looked around her. This only confused her all the more.
This...didn't look like the lakeshore.
Wind brushed against her and she heard a loud thud. Turning, she saw X'aaru flop once like a marooned fish before pushing himself over, panting heavily. He flexed his wing a few times and winced.
"I think I hurt it more..."
Charmian stood up unsteadily, still looking around herself. This didn't make any sense. Not only were they not on the lakeshore below Arch Rock, dashed to pieces on the stones, but neither was it dark out. At least, not as dark as it had been. The land around them seemed to be in a sort of eerie greenish twilight.
They stood on a small rise, a grassy green hillock which gently descended toward a forest of large gnarled trees whose branches were thick with leaves. Everything was in shades of green and blue. She heard a faint shushing somewhere, but couldn't tell where it was coming from. As she watched, X'aaru got to his feet and started making his way down the hill and toward the woods.
"X..." She raised one hand, then let it fall. She followed him down the hill and caught up.
"X'aaru," she said, reaching him and falling into step beside him. "Are...are we dead?"
"Huh?" He looked up at her with one ear cocked and a puzzled look. "No, we're not dead."
"You mean, I'm--I'm still alive--? After all of that--?"
"Well, just barely...I wish I had thought of it sooner, then I would not have had to push you like that..."
"You mean, you did this?"
He nodded. "Mm-hm." He lifted his head and sniffed the air. "I wonder if there are apples around here somewhere..."
"X'aaru." She said his name more forcefully this time, causing him to stop and turn around. "Where are we? What did you do? What..." She waved her arms. "What is this place?"
"Oh..." He sat down. "Well...we're in the rainbow."
Charmian gaped. "...Rainbow?"
"Yes. Well...more like a moonbow...since the sun is not up anymore." He gnawed on his shoulder as if searching for a flea.
All Charmian could do was continue staring at him. Finally she found her voice.
"So...you mean you did all of this? You...made a rainbow...or something?"
"Yes, a moonbow." He peered at her. "I thought you knew I could do that."
"Well...you did say your name was Rainbowbringer...but I didn't know that meant you could...bring rainbows!!"
"Oh." His ears folded a bit. "I'm sorry then. Um...yes, I can bring rainbows...it's a very little talent though, not very useful..."
"Not very useful?" Charmian waved her arms again at the green landscape around them. "Take a look! You got us away from that thing!"
"Well no, not really..." He pointed with his nose at a space just behind her. Frowning with puzzlement, she turned to look--and saw a muted arc of color touching the ground not far away. Something pressed against the other side of it, pushing the swirling colors inward. She could hear a faint muffled growling noise.
She took a few steps back up the hill toward it, mystified. The pressing shape took form, and resembled a face--she could see the glowing pits of its eyes, the gaping maw of its mouth. Claws raked against the surface around it, yet failed to break through.
"It's still here," X'aaru said. "But it can't get to us."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. Well. As long as the moonbow is here."
Charmian stared at the shifting shape for a moment more before turning back to him. "So you made this. When you saw we wouldn't make it over the rock, you made a rain--moonbow? And we went inside it? How did you do that?"
"I'm...not sure I could explain how I do it. I just do."
"You can do this whenever you want?"
"No...there must be the sun or the moon. Or some bright light. Usually I need rain or a mist. The snowflakes helped, this time. It's usually brighter than this."
Charmian looked around at their surroundings again. "So what's all of this? Is this what the inside of a rainbow looks like?"
"Yes and no...sometimes it's different." He shrugged. "I suppose it depends. I haven't been in this place for a few moons now."
"What else does it look like? You mean it changes?"
He nodded and stood up. "Oh, yes. A lot of the time I like it to look like fields, so I can run without hitting anything. Other times there's a great lake...I think I can hear it somewhere far away...can you?"
"Wait a minute--it changes depending on what you want it to look like?"
He nodded again, then cocked his head. "Well, sometimes others."
"Huh? Others what?"
"Sometimes it looks like what others want it to."
"What...what do you mean?"
"Well...I can't explain it...if you wanted it to look like something here, what would it look like?"
Charmian shrugged a bit abruptly and shook her head. "Hey, I don't know. It's your rainbow, not mine!"
"It doesn't belong to me, I only brought it here." He frowned as if she'd just insulted him. "One can't own a rainbow."
"So where did it come from?"
"I don't know. I like to think they wander around a lot."
Charmian grabbed her head, straining to keep from screaming. "OKAY...so...you BRING rainbows, from somewhere, and then they all look like...like OTHER people's...thoughts? Or whatever?"
"No, not thoughts." He gave a whuffing sound that she recognized as a laugh. "They look like dreams!"
She stared at him with surprise. "Dr...dreams?" she finally echoed, her voice faint.
X'aaru nodded as if this were the most normal thing in the world. Then an uncertain look came to his face.
"Um...you didn't know this?"
Charmian shook her head slowly.
His ears began to droop. "Oh..." He cast a small look to the side. "Um...would you promise me then? Not to tell anybody else? I don't want anyone to know just yet..."
"Huh? Why...why not?"
"Well...they might be angry with me." His snake tail curled around and slipped between his legs. "The only one who's supposed to see others' dreams is Tal Natha."
"So you think you'll get in trouble if anybody knows you can, too?"
He nodded. "These aren't their complete dreams, I know...only he can wander around in those. I probably shouldn't look at them, but they're so pretty sometimes...I come here when everyone else is busy, and so I'm not bored or alone anymore."
She didn't have time to finish what she was saying before the landscape around them began shimmering and shifting. X'aaru's head rose and he glanced around, ears pricked high. Charmian did the same, as the sky lightened a little, the trees changed shape and color, and even the hill they stood upon began to flatten itself out. The shushing noise grew into a gurgle, then a splash; Charmian felt the back of her neck grow cold when a bird began to sing. Her fingers dug into her palms.
"Ohhh!" X'aaru exclaimed, and she heard him get to his feet. "I've never seen that before..."
His voice faded as he walked away, toward the gurgling splashing noise. Charmian could hardly bear to turn around to see what it was. The trees around her, the grassy fields, the sunny sky, although dimmer, were too familiar.
Nevertheless, turn she did, and the peaceful scene she saw for some reason made the dread rise in her throat.
X'aaru stood at the base of a great fountain, peering up into the arcs of spewing water. He smiled and lapped at a few drops, his tail flicking back and forth. He bent over to look at his reflection, and batted at the water. Off to the side a stream coursed by.
Charmian felt like she was going insane. Not...not here again...!
"Charmian?" X'aaru lifted his head to beckon her, then, seeing the look on her face, frowned and pulled himself away from the fountain. "Charmian?" He approached and looked in her eyes. "What is it? Did you see something?"
"This..." Her voice failed for a moment, as she still stared at the fountain which had once been so welcoming, and was now just bizarre. "...This...place...I've...been here...before..."
"Oh. This one is yours?" X'aaru looked at the fountain again and smiled. "That explains it then! I knew it wasn't one of mine...you must have been thinking of this place, where is it? Is it real or is it something you dreamed?"
"It's...it's just a dream of mine. An old dream." Her fists unclenched and she forced herself to let out her breath. "I forgot about it until I..."
She stopped. He cocked his head, a mimic of the dog on the RCA label. His eyes blinked.
I can't tell him that!
Tell him, Charmian.
Sikt's voice. Charmian nearly jumped. X'aaru frowned and blinked again, and she knew he'd heard. Why had the Ocryx done that? Did she want everybody to know about her, now? Charmian felt the demon nipping at the back of her brain and the words suddenly poured out, uncontrolled.
"I went down into Crack-in-the-Island to find Augwak and when I went down there there was this weird glowing tunnel and these white things that looked like GeeBees and when I followed them I came to this big field with trees and a stream and a fountain and it was just like a dream I had when I was little only I knew Tal Natha hadn't spun it so I don't know what it was doing down there."
She sucked in a breath this time, and let it out. X'aaru still stared at her.
Tell him all of it.
"And there was this...funny white mist...that spoke to me, and told me it would watch after me, that I had to help save the Island and the last Great Dream. And then it floated away and I came back up."
As she said this, X'aaru's head lowered almost to the ground in a crouching posture, and he crept back away from her a bit, mouth slightly open and eyes wide. "What?" she asked, hating the thought that her babbling had scared him. But he seemed more stunned than frightened.
"You..." he began, softly, "...you...can hear her, too?"
Charmian blinked. "'Too'?" Another strange feeling entered her breast and she took a step toward him. "Her who? Who do you mean? And 'too'?"
"I thought that I was the only one who could hear her..."
"Who are you talking about?"
"The...the white one. The mist." He paused and looked around him again. "Nobody told you to say this to me?"
"Of course not, X. Please, can you tell me what you're talking about?"
"Well...sometimes when I come here, she's here too. And she talks to me."
"Who? This...cloud thing?"
"What does it...she...say?"
X'aaru didn't answer. He only stared at her. She was reminded of her dog, when she knew he'd done something bad, yet couldn't quite get him to look guilty about it.
Charmian sighed. "Okay...look, it's obvious we've both seen this thing, and heard it...her!...talk. I told you what she said to me. Can you please tell me what she said to you?"
"You promise you will tell no one else?"
He hesitated for a moment. "Sometimes...she only talks of small things. I come here and listen to her. I think she likes someone to come and listen. Other times I talk to her and she listens. When I'm worried, she tells me not to worry. When I was worried about Tal Natha, she told me he would be all right."
"She knew this?"
X'aaru nodded. "She said that you had healed him and he would be fine. She also told me you would be all right, though she didn't tell me where you were. I decided to believe her."
"What else does she talk about?"
"Well...she talked about what you said. The Island. What's going to happen."
"What is going to happen?"
"She wouldn't tell me this...but she told me not to worry...that things were in motion, and there would be a great change, and that all of us would have our part to play, but not to worry about it." He gave a small shrug. "I decided to believe her...she's never lied to me before."
"X'aaru, do you have any idea who she is?" Charmian asked, stepping closer. "I think I'd like to know what it is we're talking to before we go trusting it too much."
"But she's never been wrong before..."
"This doesn't mean anything. It could always be a trick. Why do you trust people so much?"
He blinked. "She's never given me any reason not to."
Charmian sighed and rubbed her forehead. "X...sometimes I wish I were like you, other times I think I'd kill myself if I were. If somebody else didn't kill me first." When he gave her a puzzled look she shook her head. "Never mind...but do you have any idea who she is? What she is?"
He shook his head. "No...she seems familiar to me, but I don't know who she is. She told me she has always been here, though I met her only several years ago. She says that she watches over the Island."
"But Tal Natha does that."
A shrug. "This is only what she told me. Can there be two guardians for the Island?"
"I don't know...but none of this makes any sense. She's never told you who she is? Where she came from or why she's here?"
"No, but I've never asked her...I thought it might be rude." He scratched his ear and she could tell he was losing interest. "She seems to know a lot though...so I don't doubt her very much..."
Charmian sighed again and looked around them. Her dreamscape looked much the same, only a bit less distinct now. Perhaps concentration was needed to sustain the land here, and her concentration hadn't been the best. "Well, look. It--she--didn't really give me any reason to worry either, it's just that I keep running into people--things--who know more than they should around here, and that makes me nervous. It should make you nervous, too. A well-informed enemy is the most dangerous enemy of all." She blinked and thought, Did I really say that? That sounds like something DAD would say!
X'aaru cocked his head at her before yawning. "Well, if you say so..."
Charmian rubbed her forehead and glanced toward the fountain. She started walking toward it. "May as well clean myself up while I'm here--"
A weird tearing, rending sound stopped her in her tracks, and X'aaru's head shot up as well. They both looked back toward the moonbow wall to see that whatever it was was still there, and still trying to get in--only now, one of its claws managed to slice a hairline tear in the material, and they could hear its breath snorting as it clawed yet again.
Charmian's eyes grew. "What--"
X'aaru leapt to his feet, fidgeting and fussing. "The moon must be clouded over. The moonbow is fading!"
"You mean that means it'll break through--?"
"That's exactly what it means!"
"Oh, great!" Charmian glanced around before running to the treeline and scrabbling around for a branch. She found one, relatively straight and devoid of twigs, and brushed it off and brought it up to her side, racing back to the moonbow wall. X'aaru still paced where he was, but he kept one eye on her and one on the growing tear and the snarling beast behind it.
"What happens when the moonbow fades?" Charmian asked. "It gets weaker, and that thing can break through to us?"
"Yes. You need light for there to be a bow."
"It was starting to snow when we got in here. It must've clouded over all the way since then." She faced the tear and held up the stick in front of her. "Are we still near Arch Rock, or are we on the shore?"
"We should be near the arch, perhaps a little lower in the trees."
"Can we reach the top?"
"We're going to have to fight it off," Charmian said, keeping her voice level but forceful enough to hold the Ocryx's attention. X'aaru peered at her and then at the tear, his face anxious, but nodded. "Maybe I can keep it away for just a minute. But then we have to make a run for it over the arch. Do you think you can carry me and still make it? Can you make just one flying leap?"
"Okay. I go at it and you head for the arch. When it backs off I'll follow. You grab me and carry me across before it can catch up, but you'll have to fly to the other end to beat it there."
Charmian looked up and around once more. The haziness she'd noticed before, the lack of distinction, had only increased, so the trees and grass and water were beginning to merge and blend into one another in a shapeless bluish-green mass. The colors began to fade into one another and the hole only grew larger, until an entire hand--or paw--with great black claws came through, waving wildly, retreating and then slashing through again.
X'aaru whined and backed away.
"Get ready," Charmian whispered, holding the stick out, point forward and upward, as Moon Wolf had taught her. She didn't have one bit of confidence that she could fight the monster off, but it was the only thing she could think of. Too bad this wasn't just another test she could fail and then gripe about.
The moonbow seemed to collapse around them at the exact same moment that the creature tore through, its body shredding through the fading fabric and lunging toward them. Charmian got her first clear look at it now. It stood as tall as Mitchi Manitou--even taller--and even resembled him in some respects, with its blunt snarling muzzle and claws and pale shaggy pelt, yet it also bore great pronged horns and a long scaled tail which whipped out and from side to side. Its yellow eyes focused on the two of them almost immediately, and it bellowed and came their way.
Charmian hoisted the stick to her shoulder. The beast raised one paw to strike her down and she screamed at X'aaru.
She heard the Ocryx tromp down into the snow toward the reemerging arch. Her foot slipped back on a bit of ice just as the creature's paw swung over her head, missing her by inches. It swung with its other paw and she somehow managed to block it. This was how she knew it wasn't even fighting with all of its strength, else the stick would have splintered to pieces. Pure blind luck. She had to seize her chance while she still had it.
The beast roared and now its fist came down toward the top of her head to crush her skull as easily as she would smush a puffball. Charmian ducked to the ground, jabbing the stick upwards so it rammed through the creature's forearm, snapping when it wrenched itself back with an outraged bellow. Blood squirted down onto her shoulder but she ignored it and scrabbled to her feet.
"Charmian!" X'aaru barked, his voice panicked.
"I'm coming!!" She regained her footing and started running for the rock, only to stop so abruptly she had to grab onto a sapling to avoid falling to the lakeshore below. The little tree saved her life, but she wondered whether the reprieve was even worth it.
X'aaru still crouched at the near end of the arch, wings flaring and hackles raised. And at the other end, teeth bared and eyes glowing menacingly, crouched the tawny Ocryx.
Charmian's own eyes widened once more when she realized.
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