Charmian meets Nathalit--the Dreamer--for the second time...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 61: Cheating The Cheater"
The Dreamer & The Dream
I HAVE TO get back to Sugar Loaf. I have to get some sleep.
This is what was going through Charmian's mind the whole time she and the others made their way back to the rock in the dark. Without Chepi and Augwak to deal with, the going was considerably quicker; she didn't even think of riding Mani until the manitou nudged her elbow and she realized she'd been dozing off as she walked. She gratefully climbed onto his back and dozed off again as they tromped through the snow.
She regretted having to wake up again when they arrived, but it was nice to be someplace warm and familiar. Drake and Red Bird crowded into the entrance to silently welcome her back, but moved out of the way for her to go inside. After the tea and cookies, she wasn't hungry for anything else, and could only yawn and rub her eyes.
"They kept you out late enough," Drake said. "Didja take care of that weird flying lady? And whatever else you had to do?"
"Yeah, I think it's all settled now," Charmian said, feeling to make sure the sliver of crystal was still in her pouch. She yawned again. "I really need some sleep...it's probably about morning by now. Aren't you guys tired...?"
"Me? Naw!" Drake said cheerfully. Red Bird took a step forward.
"Tal Natha is resting, but I wanted to make certain you came back safe. He told me that you would, I probably shouldn't have doubted him." She gave a small smile.
Charmian smiled back. "I appreciate it, anyway. I hope there's a bed ready...I'm just about ready to fall over."
"Oh, I made you one over by the side of the room, where you were before...here, let me help you."
With one more yawn, Charmian followed. She recognized the feeling; she would be asleep before her head even hit the furs. At least she didn't have to worry about falling off a manitou's back and into the snow. X'aaru, back in his demon form, gave a big yawn of his own, all of his teeth showing, and lay down not too far from her with his wing draping over her as she snuggled down into the furs. She didn't mind the gesture; he made her think of her dog, and she wondered how he was doing, back home without her there. She had to keep herself from thinking about it too long or she would become depressed.
She heard and dimly saw Old Mother Manitou moving about the room, shooing Red Bird to the back rooms where Tal Natha was, and then Silver Eagle Feather coming near and placing a fur over X'aaru, who was already snoring lightly. She shut her eyes with a sigh and Sugar Loaf swirled away like so much snow.
She dreamed this time, as she hadn't in quite a while. Perhaps Tal Natha had been too weak to do it before, but now it was as if her mind were too busy catching up on what it had lost to much wonder where the dreams were all coming from. She sensed Sikt poking around at them, like a cat swatting at a TV screen, but didn't mind; with a name like Dreamwanderer, what else would she be expected to do? She found herself wondering whatever Dakh did when Drake slept. "Dreamrender" just didn't sound as friendly as Dreamwanderer. She'd never gotten to ask them what their names meant exactly.
Charmian. Sikt's voice; Charmian murmured mentally to let her know she'd been heard. She sensed the Ocryx shifting about and then falling still. There was a pause.
I cannot sense what...
Her voice broke off abruptly into silence. Charmian waited for her to continue before realizing, she wasn't going to. She frowned in her sleep and searched around.
Little one. You remember again. There is hope.
Charmian blinked her eyes open with surprise. The familiar voice filled her head, and as soon as she saw what lay before her her surprise only grew. She sat up, pushing off the furs which were no longer there.
A green rolling expanse stretched away from her, as far as she could see. The trees, the flowers, the pathways and birdsongs and the trickling noise of the fountain. The same dream she'd seen in Crack-in-the-Island, in the moonbow at Arch Rock.
"What am I doing here...?" she asked herself, a feeling of dismay entering her breast.
You do not have to fear what your own mind brings.
The same voice she'd heard, as well. She jumped up and looked around but the strange foggy mist was nowhere to be seen. Her tightened fists unclenched, but the anxious feeling didn't leave her.
"Why do you keep bringing me here?" she asked aloud, hoping for an answer.
The air was silent for a moment but for the birdsong, the breeze, and the trickling water. When the voice came again it seemed to come from all around her.
I do not bring you here, little one. You come when it calls you.
"When what calls me?"
"And how come you're here? You never explained that!" Her fists clenched again. "Tal Natha's the only one who can come here. Him, and maybe Dakh and Sikt." She started and glanced about a second time. "Where is she--? She was just with me! You took her away the last time. What did you do to her now?"
I have done nothing with her. She cannot wander this dream of yours.
Because it has been lost, and only now you find it.
Charmian opened her mouth to demand to know what that was supposed to mean when another voice cut in, startling her.
"Oh...here again. You come here, a lot, don't you?"
She started and whirled around abruptly. X'aaru sat behind her, yawning and stretching his wings. Charmian's eyes grew.
"X...X'aaru? What are you doing here--?"
"Hm?" He blinked sleepily, looked himself over, then shrugged. "I guess she brought me here too...you like this dream, a lot?"
"She didn't bring me here. At least, she said she didn't." She struggled to get the words out, beyond confused. "X, what the hell's going on? I thought Tal Natha was the only one who could control and wander around in dreams. Now I find out there's others who can do it, and apparently you can, too! This doesn't make any sense!"
X'aaru stared at her. The voice broke into her thoughts before he could speak.
He does not wander dreams, little one. Him, I bring with me, when it suits him.
X'aaru's own eyes widened and he looked upwards. He smiled.
"X," Charmian grated. He looked at her, noticing the tone of her voice. "This is serious. We don't know what's going on. This--whatever it is--might not be friendly. This is twice she's sucked me in here and hasn't even said why. She keeps Sikt away from me." She didn't pause to ponder whether she'd actually told X'aaru about Dakh and Sikt yet. "If she keeps taking you away too, you have to keep your eyes open and try not to let her do it!"
"But she's friendly," X'aaru protested.
"I don't care. You don't know what she wants!"
He knows what he needs to know, the voice cut in, and you already learn this.
"Learn what?" Charmian snapped at the air. "What am I supposed to know, huh? Care to give me a clear answer for a change?"
You remember your old dreams. Those you had forgotten. This one.
"So I remember a stupid old dream. Big deal!"
It is important. She sensed sadness from the voice, resignation, and bit her lip. You help to protect the Island. The Island speaks to you and lets you know what it needs. You remember that which you need to help it.
"My dream?" Charmian paused. "I thought the Island's dream was what was important. That or Tal Natha's. Can't you make up your mind?"
Our dreams are not all so separate. She sensed a shifting, much like Sikt's before she had vanished. The voice came from slightly further away. You do not understand now. But you will learn in time. You will learn all you need to know.
"Well, you're not helping me much."
This is because I cannot help you. You block your mind and try to keep the memory out. Again the odd shifting, the voice once more changing direction. This is but one dream of many of yours that have died. Why do you let them die?
"I don't see why I should trust you enough to tell you anything about myself," Charmian said. She felt rather stupid talking to the air.
A pause. She felt her gaze being mentally steered toward X'aaru, and the demon blinked at her.
He trusts me...
Charmian bit her lip again. "No offense--but he trusts just about everybody."
X'aaru blinked a second time, as if not quite understanding. The feeling in her head seemed to sigh to itself, and moved slightly.
How would you believe me?
"For one thing, you could let me see you," Charmian said. "For another, you could tell me who you are and why you keep showing up in my dreams!"
The land around her grew hazy. Charmian gasped and glanced around, afraid of being stranded--where? In her own dream? In someone else's? It hadn't really felt like her dream since this other thing had shown up. She searched about for Sikt but again when she needed her, the Ocryx seemed to have vanished. Her anxiety only grew when the dream cleared, but a faint glow appeared ahead of her, several feet away. X'aaru stood up and backed away a few paces--she expected his hackles to rise, yet they didn't; he merely stared at the glow with an open curiosity. The glow grew, wider and then taller, brighter as well. She found herself thinking of when she had first met Dakh and Sikt by the lake in Tal Natha's dream. Once the glowing cocoon had shed itself, she found she needn't have wondered why it seemed so similar. Her eyes grew wider than they had been before.
The glow itself didn't die. Instead it had been replaced by another glow, this one different, stranger, nearly indescribable. It was white, yet no color, yet every color at once, like glitter given life. It appeared to be part of the being it enveloped, yet separate from it as well. Wide shimmering wings the color of rainbow translucence fanned out and down, a stray feather alighting upon the ground before melting into sparkles. Everything else about it...the long winding tail, the heavy claws, the spreading horns, the wolfen face, was the same color/noncolor. Except for the eyes. Where Charmian had expected to see the by-now familiar red and green, instead glittered the darkest black. Out of the whole, they were the only thing with apparent substance, and they met her own calmly, silently. The wings lowered and folded.
Charmian's voice was barely a whisper.
No, the voice, now coming from the creature before her, yet still from everywhere else, replied. I am not.
"But...you look like one..."
I assume this form so you may understand me. The image shimmered. My true form cannot be comprehended by your kind.
Charmian took a tentative step forward, still trying to recover herself. Perhaps she should have suspected it...but the sight of the glowing creature, looking so much like Tal Natha or Ocryana or X'aaru, stunned her so much. And the strange dark eyes surprised her most of all. Perhaps it was them that led her to believe it when it told her it wasn't Ocryx.
"Who...who are you then? Why are you here?"
I have always been here. The creature slightly tilted its--her?--head, and her eyes were patient. I cannot yet tell you why I am here...there are things that you must do, upon your own, that I may not jeopardize.
"Could you at least tell me your name?" Charmian begged. She hated that she did so, yet she felt she had to know or go nuts. This dream-hopping was getting to be more than she could stand.
The creature tipped her head in what might have been a consenting gesture.
My name is Nathalit.
Charmian blinked. "Na...Nathalit--?"
This is my name, in the tongue of the demons. It means Dreamer.
I cannot tell you more. The creature was silent for a moment, before saying quietly, You go to see to Red Bird?
Charmian paused and then nodded. "I was going to."
You will protect her, yes?
"Yes...if I can."
Let her know she is needed. More than she believes.
"I keep trying to." She fidgeted. "Why are you interested in Red Bird?"
You know already. Without what she brings, the Island will be lost. I know that you will not fail her. You are close.
Charmian frowned. She'd never felt particularly close to Red Bird at all; the two of them were so unalike. She decided not to counter what the creature said, and only shrugged.
I know you had thought of bringing her to me, also.
Another blink. "How did--"
"She knows," X'aaru said, startling her since she'd forgotten he was there. "She knows lots of things." He looked at the creature and his ears pricked hopefully. "Can I come see you, too? I promise not to tell anyone. Please?"
The creature tipped her head at him and Charmian wasn't certain if she smiled or not. Of course, little one. You have always been kind to me, I know you would not break your promise now. I promise soon you will no longer have to keep silent. She turned back to Charmian and continued. She still wonders about her own abilities. You must convince her that she is as strong as you. If you feel she doubts you, you may bring her to me. Only she may change her own mind, but she has the right to know that she is important to us.
The creature fell silent again, staring past her. She tilted her head back with one ear cocked and appeared to be listening to something. Charmian did the same, yet heard nothing but the water and the birds singing.
I hear them. They dream.
"They...?" Charmian's frown grew and she looked around her. "I don't hear any..."
She gasped and jumped when Sikt's voice broke into her mind. "Sikt--? I thought you couldn't--"
I bring her here, Nathalit said. The dream around Charmian began to fade. X'aaru whimpered with disappointment. Charmian felt the demon moving about in her mind before settling down again.
I feel you should believe her.
I sense no lies from her. A pause. I may always be wrong, Charmian, I must warn you. Something...something of her seems familiar to me. Yet it may always be some power greater, fooling us. I feel we may believe her. Yet the judgement is yours to make.
Charmian chewed on her lip and nodded slowly. She tried to conceal her thoughts from the creature--Nathalit--but wasn't certain if she succeeded. All right, Sikt. Thanks.
Sikt fell silent and Nathalit stood before her staring at her with those odd dark eyes. Charmian faced her and tried not to look too nervous.
"If I wanted to bring Red Bird to you, how would I do that? And would you really be here waiting to talk to her?"
I exist in the Borderlands. You may find me as you have before.
"You mean through Crack-in-the-Island? Or one of X'aaru's rainbows?"
Yes. Through any place where you may meet the joining of reality and dream.
"And you won't go running off or disappearing as soon as I show up."
I promise I will not.
"Why is it okay for Red Bird and X'aaru and me to know about you, but nobody else?"
You may know because you must. X'aaru may know, because he always has. Red Bird may know because her faith falters, and this could doom us all. Another pause. You will bring her?
Charmian nodded. "As...as soon as I get out of here...or whatever."
You need not hurry too greatly. Take your rest before you do. You yourself may be useless, if your mind is not clear.
Nathalit appeared ready to reply when something seemed to catch her attention. She lifted her head and again cocked it at the air. She was silent for so long that Charmian began to wonder if she'd forgotten she was even there.
"Um...Nathalit? Are they dreaming again?...whoever they are..."
The creature remained silent. Charmian stood and waited for her to answer. It felt as if it would have been rude to ask her again.
After a while her head lowered a bit, but she still listened at the air. One hurts, she said in a soft voice. One brings pain. One sees the darkness and lets it take him. One brings the darkness through another. Two of the three are fooled.
Now whatever that was, it didn't sound good. Had she just gone off the deep end? "What?" Charmian asked, puzzled.
Nathalit turned to her and met her eyes. You will learn things are not as they are. But do not judge too hastily. Many of us are fooled, even you. Even me.
"What are you--"
She found herself mumbling at the air. She blinked a few times to see the roof of Sugar Loaf, now shrouded in flickering shadows, looming far above her. She turned her head a bit and saw X'aaru still dozing beside her, a torch here and there keeping the room lit well enough to see.
Charmian stared at her surroundings for a moment before sighing and rubbing her eyes. This was getting truly annoying. How come dreams always ended right before you found out what you really needed to know? She carefully lifted X'aaru's wing and sat up with a yawn.
Despite her efforts, X'aaru yawned as well and shook himself awake. He blinked and scratched at his ear, then looked at her.
"Charmian...? You saw her too?"
"What?" She stared at him and he fidgeted.
"Well...her. The glowing one. She spoke to you too?"
"I...yeah, she did. You had the same dream--?"
"Oh. Of course." He yawned again as if it were no big thing. "I was confused too...I'm not sure what she meant before I woke up...what do you suppose she was talking about?"
"I'm not sure." Charmian reached down to pull on her boots and the demon's ear flicked.
"What are you doing...?"
"I just have to go to the bathroom. I'll be back in a minute. Keep my bed warm?"
"All right. Watch your step, it's slippery just inside the doorway."
Yawning and stretching, Charmian picked her way across the darkened room, careful not to trip over anything or anybody as she went. She stepped outside the rock and into several inches of snow that had since fallen, covering their trail. The moon was out again; it always seemed to be up there, she realized, and wondered if the thing was ever dark. With a sigh that puffed into visibility before her face, she started down the slope, thankful for the boots which kept her from slipping down the perilous incline. The trees weren't too far away.
She made certain to keep her eyes on the ground just in case her footwear wasn't as reliable as it seemed. Their prints from the previous night were gone beneath the fresh snowfall. She came toward the bottom of the slope and glanced up at the trees, then frowned. She slowly looked down toward the snow again at what had just barely caught her eye.
It was too bad the moon changed the color of everything out here to a dim blue, and that she hadn't thought of seeking out her fireling, wherever it had gone. Because without its light she couldn't be certain if the dark trail before her was blood, or not.
"Part 63: Roadmap Of Pain"
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