Charmian accepts her reflection; and a strange mass journey begins upon the Island...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 81: Bad Faith"
X'AARU SEEMED SURPRISED, but didn't ask Charmian why she was interested in speaking with the Dreamer again. Instead he cocked his ears but continued up the hill alongside her.
This time, she wasn't startled to see yet another figure waiting for her, lying upside-down on the slope and swishing one foot through the leaves. She'd been wondering where Manabozho had gone off to, since leaving him so abruptly. He only jumped up once they were past, and it annoyed her a bit when he kept leaping ahead of her. Just because he was a rabbit didn't mean he had to act like one.
"And so she had them?" he inquired, just as Moon Wolf had.
Charmian nodded and rolled her eyes. "Don't you guys communicate with each other around here? It's obvious you know what's going on somehow."
"Moon Wolf, too."
"You spoke with him?" He slowed down a bit and crossed his arms. "What did he have to say?"
"Stuff." Charmian cast him a look. "You don't like each other very much, do you?"
"It's nothing personal. But he's merely a human."
"Well, so am I."
"True, but you are being trained by the best." He jumped ahead again, over the top of the hill.
"I don't mean to sound rude or anything," Charmian murmured to X'aaru, "but your gods around here are really irritating."
X'aaru's ears flicked back. "Well...I would reply to you, but I don't know what to say."
"That's all right, I didn't expect an answer...do you think Red Bird will be doing okay now? Now that they're...delivered and all?"
"Oh. Most likely. Why? You worry for her?"
"I'm just not used to people walking out in the woods to have babies. It doesn't work that way where I come from."
The demon peered at her with some curiosity. "How do your people do it?"
"Well...they go to this place called a hospital...and they lie down in a bed and a doc--um--medicine person tells them to push, they scream a bit, and then they have their baby." Charmian felt her ears burning and wasn't sure why.
X'aaru frowned. "They lie down in a bed? Doesn't that make it difficult?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well...it just seems it would be easier sitting up, is all."
Charmian blinked. "Sit...sitting up...?"
He nodded. "I know it would still be painful...well...at least that's what they tell me...but lying down...that just seems ridiculous..."
He went on, murmuring to himself. Charmian had to shudder--Sitting up!--before following.
Pakwa and Mani were here to greet her when she arrived. She wasn't sure where Manabozho had gone, again. Mani hopped from hoof to hoof--he seemed more comfortable in his deer form lately--and started chattering as she drew close.
Red Land One! She has them! Twins! Two of them! Tiny little windlings! Feathers and fur!
Charmian had to smile. "I know. I saw them! They made it back to the cave?"
"More Ocryxes," Pakwa mumbled, then yawned. "Pups. Tiresome."
"What? How would you know?" Charmian asked, but the GeeBee just floated up a ways before puffing into invisibility. She rolled her eyes again and shrugged him off.
"Come on. I just want to make sure. Oh! Mani. While we're going. I wanted to ask, I know it sounds kind of stupid, but do manitous dream?"
He tilted his head as if to ask what she meant. Dream--? Yes. Manitous have sleeping-thoughts. Same as others.
"What do manitous dream about?" X'aaru asked, nudging his way forward.
Mani looked thoughtful. Oh. Water. Water mainly. Also moon, wind, cave, rock, dark, sand--
"Um," Charmian interrupted. "I think I had something a bit more important to ask first." X'aaru flushed a bit and backed away and she turned to Mani. "Have you been having any lately? Any dreams that you can remember?"
Hm? His ears twitched a bit and he looked skywards, then frowned. Why...no! No sleeping-thoughts, for...hm...several suns now. At least. Lost track! His frown grew, seeming puzzled. Didn't even notice.
Maybe that's the point? Charmian found herself thinking, but wasn't certain why. X'aaru bounded ahead of them.
"I remember! I'll go ask the others! Maybe Old Mother Manitou hasn't left just yet. I'll let you know!" He disappeared over the fort.
Charmian sighed and rubbed her eyes. "Well. We're making pretty poor time. We'd better get to that cave before the week passes."
Mani didn't seem to get the joke, but didn't ask; she was grateful for that, as more talk would have just meant more delay. They were late enough as it was.
X'aaru came walking back with Old Mother Manitou not far behind; he couldn't seem to walk at her own pace without wandering ahead a bit, and had to keep slowing himself down. He gave Charmian a perplexed look and tried to speak but the old manitou waved at him.
"I have a mouth on my face, do I not? You said she was interested in knowing? If so, then no, child, no dreams lately that I can think of. 'S about time someone noticed that, I was wondering how long it'd take."
"You think there's something to it?" Charmian asked, frowning.
"I think there's something to it? How long've you been here already? Of course there's 'something' to it. Dreams don't just go off and disappear, you know. They're fickle things but at least they remember to come around every so often. I suggest you quit asking around about it and try looking into it, since I'm supposed to have a dream every night, haven't had one in quite a while. If I haven't had one, suffice it to say something's up."
Charmian's mouth twisted. Kind of got an ego, doesn't she? she thought, before remembering Sikt wasn't with her, and blushing. Old Mother Manitou rolled her eyes and continued past her.
"And you might want to look into controlling that better. My ego is just fine, thank you very much."
"Sorry," Charmian said, wincing. X'aaru came up beside her as she watched the old woman start her way down the slope, and he gave her an anxious look.
"It kind of bothers me, Charmian. I mean, if she says she usually has one every night..."
"I'm sure she must have skipped a night in there somewhere. But you're right, I know. The sun's coming up, where do you think we should go? For some reason the thought of heading back to Devil's Kitchen doesn't really appeal to me right now."
"Well, there are springs, though few falls I know of..."
Red Land One. Mani cocked his head; she almost jumped when he spoke, he'd been so silent. Find a spring, make the water flow, can do; you too?--know how?
Charmian stared at him for a moment before putting a hand to her face and running her fingers down. "Sheesh, I'm stupid. X, where's a good spring?"
"There's one not far from Mother's tribe. And another on the lakeshore, not far from Arch Rock."
"Let's try that second one. I think we need some privacy. Mani, you'll come along? Just in case I can't get it to work. I'm not too good with water just yet."
The manitou nodded. Charmian waved them away from the direction of the fort, where they'd been headed, and they went off back toward Arch Rock instead.
She didn't like the thought of going there, either, with how much trouble she kept finding at that location; yet nothing was to be found, at least for the moment. X'aaru rose into the air and then descended down the steep slope while Mani carried her down, his hooves having no trouble navigating the nearly vertical surface. On reaching the shore they walked along a short ways, X'aaru sniffing at the earth, before he led them to a small trickle of water coming from the ground not too far away. Charmian looked it over and pursed her lips.
"Well...when you said 'spring,' I kind of thought of something bigger..."
"This is it," X'aaru said, nosing at the damp spot on the ground. It was barely more than a puddle. "It comes up from the ground. A spring!" He lifted his head and sniffed again. "It's probably good we came here...the sun's rising in this direction. I never would have thought of that. That was smart, Charmian."
Charmian blushed again. I actually never even thought of that! "Let's see what we can do with it," she murmured, and they all crouched down around the tiny spring, the other two watching while she held up one hand over the water--such as it was--and concentrated. They stared and waited.
Charmian frowned, then bit her lip. The muscles in her arm began to ache from holding it out so stiffly, yet still nothing happened. She started grinding her teeth, and the surface of the water rippled a bit, but who was to say that was her influence and not the wind's?
X'aaru and Mani frowned, looked at each other, then back at the water. The demon leaned closer and sniffed.
"Maybe..." He paused. "Maybe its spirit is sleeping?"
"I should be able to get through to it." Charmian tried a little bit longer before letting out her breath and sitting back on her heels. "I'm not too good with water just yet. I guess I need to work on it a bit harder."
Mani poked his head forward. Try?
Charmian nodded. "Go ahead; I'm not making much progress."
Mani stepped up before the tiny spring and lowered his antlers to the surface. Their tips touched into the water and it began to tremble and ripple, more so than when Charmian had tried; she rubbed her sore arm and wondered why she couldn't get it to work. The water started roiling and bubbling, and the puddle grew slightly bigger so that she and X'aaru backed away a few steps, not sure why, but knowing they wanted to. Bubbles rose to the surface and burst and the water even began to glow. Charmian's eyes widened and she moved behind X'aaru, when the spring seemed to explode, water gushing up from the ground and splattering back down, leaving them soaked. A slim shape popped up from the spring and collapsed onto the ground with a plop, flopping about like a caught fish. Charmian and X'aaru yelled, and Mani looked as if he wanted to.
Charmian's eyes grew when long wet wings rose quivering into the air, as if they had just been released from a pupa. The sopping figure rose to its feet with a grimace and a trembling lip. Charmian felt like killing her.
"CHEPI!" she shouted, starting forward. The small woman didn't even take notice of her threatening look, instead lifting her hands slightly, her eyes streaming. She let out a small choked sound and Charmian gave a gusty sigh.
"What were you doing in the spring?"
"He...put...me...therrrrrrrre," Chepi moaned, and her mouth formed a cavernous opening as she started to whine. "I'm all weeeeeeeeeeeeeeet..."
"Augwak? He stuck you in the water?" Charmian's face screwed up. "You've got to have something messed up, because he's not able to do that!"
"He used my wind medicine. I let him! He said he wanted to use it because he LOOOOOOOOOOVED me!" Her breast started hitching. "And so I let him and then he shoved me down in the spring and I couldn't get back OOOOOUUUUUUUUUUUT! GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!"
Charmian looked at X'aaru. The demon shrugged, bewildered. She sighed and rubbed her eyes.
"Fine, fine. I can't say I exactly pity you, thinking a GeeBee loooooooooooves you so much!"
"But he SAID he did! He told me so!" Chepi stomped her foot and splattered mud all over herself. She looked at her soiled dress with wide eyes, then her face screwed up again. Charmian jumped back and put her hands to her ears.
"QUIET DOWN!" Charmian barked, and Chepi jumped back with a splash. Her eyes watered and Charmian blurted out, "You know he only did it because he loves you! Right?"
Of course, she immediately felt then like chewing off her own tongue, like some small animal in a trap chewing off its foot, but at least it kept Chepi from screaming. Her eyes widened and she stared at Charmian for a moment before her voice came, faint.
"You...you really think so...?"
"Of course," Charmian said. She turned to Mani. "Can you try that again? Now that the interference is out of the way?"
Mani dipped his antlers back toward the water. Chepi started turning in slow circles, staring out into space.
"Of course...of course that's why he did it...because he does love me! It must have been a joke or something! A little lovers' joke! He meant to dip my head in and then I couldn't get out--and so he went to get help! And--perhaps someone waylaid him along the way! OH! The poor thing! I'LL SAVE YOU, AUGWAK! I PROMISE!" She flapped her wings and fluttered vertically up into the air with a determined look on her face. Charmian rolled her eyes and sighed.
"Well, at least it got rid of her. Are you having any luck?"
Mani tilted his head a bit so he could look at her. Manitou a bit unfriendly. Still working. His ears flicked and the water began to bubble, and then droplets began popping into the air and dripping down again, looking as if rain were hitting the surface. X'aaru leaned forward with an interested look. Mani lifted his head as the water started misting into the air in a thin sheet. Asked her kindly. Rainbow now?
Charmian let out her breath. She hadn't even been aware she was holding it. "That's what we're here for," she said, and took a step forward, crouching and peering into the veil of water. "Think you can make do with this, X?"
The demon nodded. "It should be enough. This will take a moment."
He leaned forward and stared at the water. Charmian stood and walked away a bit to look out over the lake. The sun was several inches above the horizon; Lake Huron stretched away in dark blue. She knew that if she were to look down on it from Arch Rock, it would shine in all colors--indigo, royal blue, turquoise, green, yellow, even orange and red nearer the shore. It looked for all the world now like the ocean, and for a brief moment she wondered how very far away she was from home. The water seemed endless; she shivered at how small she felt, how short the distance across seemed when she thought of the centuries she'd gone through to get here. That distance was far greater.
She heard a murmur, and had to blink the blur from her eyes before turning back. X'aaru and Mani were staring at a small rainbow that arced up from the spring about five feet into the air. They both looked back at her.
"Done!" X'aaru said with a smile. She had to smile back; he was always so proud whenever he managed to accomplish something. She went over to join them and they looked it over.
"Do you want us to come with you...?" X'aaru asked.
Charmian bit her lip and slowly shook her head. "No...it's okay. You two should probably stay out here in case anyone shows up. I'll try not to take too long."
X'aaru nodded. Mani whistled, Good luck.
"I might need it!" Charmian slipped her hand inside the glowing arc, then shut her eyes and passed through. Her foot came out upon solid ground and she opened her eyes, fearing she might see the dark landscape of the dream Dakh had given her; instead she found herself still standing on the shore of Lake Huron, only facing it now. It was sunset, the shadows falling on this side of the Island, and the water lapped at the shore, warm against her toes. She looked around herself a bit with puzzlement.
She gave a small gasp and jump when a glowing form appeared above the water, slightly to her side. It assumed the form of the strange Ocryx, her dark eyes at odds with her translucent features. Her body almost bent and refracted light, as if she were part of the rainbow itself. She tilted her head.
Charmian nodded and stepped toward her. "I..." She bit her lip again. "I'm sorry I was so rude to you last time. I don't understand dreams the way you and everyone else here does."
She sensed reassurance from the creature, and relief poured through her. This is understandable. Dreams do not hold such power in your world. Your people have merely forgotten.
"I've been thinking lately," Charmian said, and sat down on the shore, wrapping her arms around her knees. She cut herself off and looked around again. "Um--why am I here? What happened to the fountain and everything?"
This is your new dream, Nathalit replied. To replace your dead dream.
It was an odd explanation--she still didn't understand how something that wasn't even alive could die--but she decided to accept it. "I noticed something," she went on. "I haven't been having any dreams lately. Neither has anyone else. I'm wondering...if this might have anything to do with Ocryana. She's been quiet lately and it's starting to make me nervous."
Nathalit's gaze lowered, and Charmian couldn't be certain if she looked...sad or not. You approach closer to the truth, she said, yet I feel it is not mine to tell you. There was one who told you you must learn on your own.
"You mean Moon Wolf?"
He was not entirely wrong.
"So...these missing dreams? And Ocryana? They are connected?"
I may not tell you more than what you already know. Nathalit paused. How is she? The one and her children. They do well?
Charmian blinked. "You mean--Red Bird? Her kids are doing fine. Two of them. Twins."
Nathalit's glow seemed to brighten a little. I know that they will make her proud. And she will be the mother she was meant to be.
Charmian looked out over the lake. "Yeah..."
From the corner of her eye she saw Nathalit tilt her head, her large dark eyes blinking slowly.
Charmian glanced back at her abruptly. "What?"
Your voice...your feelings. They change, when I mention her. She tilted her head the other way. Part of you is happy for her. Yet part of you is sad.
Charmian chewed on the inside of her mouth. "I'm--I'm okay, really."
She sucked in a breath and shrank back when the creature came down over her, long glowing muzzle coming up close to her face. She was forced to stare into those strange eyes, and wanted to turn away, yet couldn't. She saw her reflection cast back, black with an outline of white, almost a negative. And her own eyes in those eyes, and Nathalit's eyes in those, like a mirror into infinity.
Charmian, Nathalit said softly. You must not be ashamed of who you are.
Charmian's brow furrowed. "Wh...what?"
Red Bird. Nathalit's eyes were knowing. When Justin came to her...you were envious. When you saw the love Tal Natha held for her...you felt the same. When she has been gifted with her children, you are happy, and yet a part of you is not. All that she has, you wish for your own.
"I'm...I'm not jealous." For some reason her eyes felt like tearing up, and she had to fight it back. "Why would I be jealous of Red Bird? She's..."
She is what?
Those dark eyes bored through her like bottomless caverns. Charmian's voice came faint, almost as if she did not control it.
And she blinked.
Nathalit's ear cocked. You truly believe this?
"No!" Charmian jumped back with a splash, realizing the shout had come from herself. She flushed. "I mean--of course not. She's not weak! She proved it. She's strong, she just doesn't know it yet."
And this strength, you long for also.
"I'm not weak either. Manabozho's teaching me!"
Yet you feel it is not quick enough to help you fight Ocryana. The creature drifted back a bit and Charmian tilted her head to stare down into the water. Red Bird's dark eyes stared back, her long red hair falling forward around her face. Yet she carried the exact same expression Charmian was certain was on her own face. Her eyes watered and the image blurred.
She looked back up at Nathalit. "Why do I keep seeing her? Why don't I have my own reflection here?"
She is your reflection.
"I don't understand."
You will. Nathalit held out one clawed hand and Charmian's reflection disappeared entirely. Empty water stared back up at her. For some reason that was worse. You must not fear that which is a part of you, Nathalit said. Long you have denied that you are like Red Bird, and she has denied the same of you. You cannot protect the one whom you fear the most.
"Red Bird?" Charmian stood up. "But--I'm not afraid of her! Am...am I...?"
Your fear is not the terror that Ocryana brings you. It is the fear of that which is too unlike you, yet more like you than you may know. She felt a calmness coming over her, and knew that the creature was doing it. Be patient. You will understand all, in time. Remember what the Dreamrender told you. You are reflections, yet you are not so very different. Your fears and your hopes are the same. You must accept this, before you may help her.
Charmian stared down into the water once more. Her reflection...Red Bird's reflection...returned. She held up one hand to touch the side of her face, and saw Red Bird do the same. She was too far away to tell what was reflected in Red Bird's eyes...if it was her face, or the native's...yet felt it didn't matter.
"We're...the same...?" she whispered.
No. You are not the same...yet you are of the same being. We are all, yet there is always one who may reflect us more strongly than others.
"Reflection." Charmian took in a breath as she felt she began to understand. "The things I'm afraid of. The whole time I've been here. Her too--? She's afraid of them too?"
"I was afraid of being weak. She was afraid of being powerful." Charmian knelt down in the water toward the other face. "But we're both just afraid of being alone. I keep...I keep brushing her off..." Her brow furrowed. "I never wanted her around me," she murmured. "I kept telling her to stay behind...because...she's more powerful than I am. I was afraid she wouldn't need me. That nobody would. I wanted her to keep thinking she was weak and that I wasn't. That I was the hero. I saw everybody loved her and I was just the new person here. I was jealous of her." She shut her eyes as tears started streaming from them. She couldn't look at the reflection anymore; it felt as if those eyes were judging her. She wiped at her own, chest hitching. "How could I treat her like that?"
She felt Nathalit draw close, and a warmth touched her shoulder. We are always afraid of that which we do not understand. You are no different. You must not be ashamed. We all discover that which we have tried to push away, eventually.
"But...I was supposed...supposed to be helping her." She sniffed loudly and scrubbed at her eyes. "It's like you said. How can I help her if I keep pushing her away?"
You have just learned of your mistake. You will do it no longer. We all learn, this way. The warm pressure against her shoulder grew slightly. Look, at her. See what she feels.
Charmian opened one eye, just slightly, afraid to look down. The blur of her reflection resolved itself and there, again, was Red Bird. Instead of angry eyes, as she had expected, they were anguished, confused...like her own. Charmian stared down at her in silence.
And so you see, Nathalit said softly. She feels the same as you, as she learns what she has done.
Charmian could only stare at the face staring back at her for a moment or two. She blinked a few times, and noticed that Red Bird's eyes didn't seem so confused anymore. She wiped at them and turned away.
The slight pressure to her shoulder returned. You will be all right...?
Charmian nodded. She sniffed. "I feel stupid. Dakh tried telling me before, but I didn't listen."
It is always difficult, once we find out. Nathalit drew her hand away. Charmian noticed how her glow reflected off the surface of the water, indistinct. I feel you will be fine. You need not blame yourself. Not only your people, but Red Bird's have long forgotten this also.
"You think I'd know better, being here for so long and all, huh?" Charmian rubbed the last of the tears from her puffy eyes and looked up with a forced smile. "You're right, as always; I'll be okay. I just have to stop feeling like an idiot."
Nathalit's eyes softened and she may have smiled again. You learn quickly, more so than many I have seen. You need not worry. All else that you must know, you will also learn as you need to. She cut herself off and lifted her head, looking abruptly to the side though her motions remained fluid. Her ears flicked. Charmian frowned and pushed herself up from the water.
"What...what is it?"
Disorder. Nathalit's eyes darted from side to side as she appeared to study the air in front of her. Charmian followed her gaze yet saw nothing.
"What's going on out there?"
Movement. Much of it. Nathalit's ears lowered and she glanced back in Charmian's direction, yet didn't meet her eyes. Her very image seemed to waver and blur; Charmian's brow furrowed in confusion. Nathalit's voice was distracted, growing further away as her form began to dim.
You must return now. The Island. Things are not right.
"What do you mean?"
You must go. Nathalit's shape grew even hazier, and Charmian started forward, panic surging up inside her. The landscape about her began to dim as well, and she recognized the signs of the rainbow fading. Please, Nathalit said, capturing her attention again. Charmian looked up at her. Please remember. A dead dream never dies. Its power only changes. Her eyes took on a pained look, as if something hurt her, or as if she knew she'd said too much; with this she faded into nothing, leaving Charmian standing in the rippling water. The sky began to grow darker and the wind picked up.
She took another step forward and clutched at her upper arms. "Nathalit!"
Of course there was no reply. Before the storm could come too close, the rainbow faded away entirely, and Charmian fell down in the spring, getting her knees wet. She jumped up, expecting Mani and X'aaru to help her, yet saw that they stared upwards into the trees lining the shore, their ears pricked just as Nathalit's had been.
"What is it?" she asked, wiping her knees and looking skywards.
"Something...I don't know." X'aaru's nose twitched. "Something...changed while you were in there. I don't know what it is."
Feel it too. Not sure. Mani's ears folded back and he lowered his head. Not a good feeling.
Charmian looked up over the trees. She could see seagulls wheeling about in the air, squawking more loudly than usual, but nothing else. Yet she too felt something, a heaviness in the air; the sunlight had dimmed here as well and the waves had picked up, a chill brushing against her skin. Shivering, she grabbed at X'aaru's nape, startling him.
"Take me up there. Let's see what's going on."
She pulled herself up and he crouched low, then beat his wings and ascended toward the treetops. Mani disappeared into the woods below, his hooves clacking against the stones. Charmian had to hold her breath as they went higher else the wind would have taken it away; she looked down as they cleared the branches, and her eyes widened. She clutched herself to X'aaru lest she fall, the sight below startled her so much.
The woods, the Island, appeared to be alive with movement. Great hulking shapes lumbered between the trees, rustling their leaves just barely as they went. They were all headed in the same direction. It took Charmian a moment to realize what they were. Uroona. As she watched, she felt a gust of cold wind pass over, and, glancing up, the pale forms of the Windwalkers swept by over her head. Their amorphous forms sped off in the same direction the Uroona were going. Every so often, a little red spark of light would reveal a fireling, tumbling and tossing the same way. Charmian and X'aaru--and below them, she was sure, Mani--stared with open confusion.
"What are they doing?" X'aaru asked softly.
"It looks like..." Charmian lost her voice for a moment, thinking of what Nathalit had said, before the waking-dream had ended. She swallowed, throat suddenly tight.
"It looks like an exodus."
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