Charmian at last realizes the bizarre source of Ocryana's power...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 82: Reflections Realized"
Dead Dreams Don't Die
CHARMIAN NUDGED X'AARU'S side and he swooped down over the Island. He had to duck and dodge the Windwalkers and firelings as they shot by, only to zoom up again to avoid running into one of the Uroona's backs as it lumbered through the woods. Charmian could hear the creatures "talking" to each other...if the sounds they let out could be called talking. Their great knuckles made booming sounds striking the ground, which she found even more perplexing, considering how quiet they'd been before.
"Hey!" she yelled above the noise, cupping her hands to her mouth. "Where is everybody going?"
None of them answered her. She bit the inside of her mouth and wondered if she'd offended them, or if they simply didn't hear her.
"X!" she shouted, the wind whipping around them. The demon flicked an ear at her. "Where does it look like they're going?"
"It looks like they're headed to the west side of the Island! Do you want me to follow them--?"
"I think we should find out what everyone's up to!"
X'aaru nodded. He banked to the side, wincing when a fireling smacked into him. Charmian grabbed onto it by the legs and it flailed and screeched a bit before going limp in her hand. She held it up by the wings.
"Where are you all going?" she asked. It made a hissing, mewing noise and wriggled.
"Charmian, they're not very intelligent. I don't think it could tell you anything. It looks like some kind of migration!"
"Does this happen every summer, or--?"
X'aaru shook his head and his ears folded back. "That's why it bothers me!"
Charmian sighed and let the fireling go. It whistled back through the air before regaining its balance and flying off. She glanced up at the Windwalkers soaring overhead, all of them whispering to themselves. She considered trying to talk to them, but figured the result would probably be the same. She was supposed to be good at communicating with elementals. So why wasn't she having any luck--?
She felt like slapping herself in the head as soon as she realized, she hadn't even been trying to communicate with them on their own level. If Manabozho had taught her anything, it was that the best way to talk to a windling was to use a windling power...et cetera.
"X!" she called. "Can you fly a little higher?"
The demon flapped his wings and rose. Charmian glanced around for a suitable-looking Windwalker and selected one that came down lower than the rest. She knew she wasn't as good at windling medicine as she was at sandling or fireling medicine...yet the firelings weren't that bright, and the Uroona seemed to be in a world of their own. She had to concentrate for a moment to gather herself before she addressed the creature.
"Um--excuse me!" she called out a moment later. The creature tilted her head down to look at her and she was grateful she at least did that much.
"I'm sorry to bother you," Charmian shouted. "I'm just wondering where everybody's off to--?"
She'd never directly communicated with one of the Windwalkers yet, so wasn't certain what to expect. Which was why when the creature looked away again and continued on ahead that she nearly bit her tongue.
"Well, what flew up her butt!" she snapped.
"Charmian," X'aaru yelled. "Look ahead! I think I see where they're all going!"
Charmian grasped onto his hackles and pulled herself up. Seemingly endless forest spread out before them, yet from here she could see a vast opening of grass. She frowned. There was only one such great opening she knew of...
"Crack-in-the-Island!" she exclaimed. She recognized the grassy open area just above the Crack. "But why are they going there?"
"Do you want me to go down?"
"Just a little. I don't want to get trampled by those Uroona!"
They descended to land carefully at the edge of the great field, the shadow of X'aaru's wings forming a dark blot on the ground as his feet touched the grass. Mani appeared from the woods, leaping to the side as a giant hand came down beside him. He glanced up, knees quaking, as one of the Uroona emerged from the trees. It let out a breath that sounded like a tornado forming. Not that Charmian had ever heard a tornado form.
She got down from X'aaru's back and cupped her hands to her mouth, yelling as loudly as she could. "HEY! DOWN HERE!"
The sandling's tiny eyes flicked in her direction but it continued toward the Crack. Charmian's brow furrowed. The firelings and Windwalkers descended, the small fire elementals hissing and spitting and flinging themselves into the crevice. The Windwalkers seeped down into the ground like smoke being sucked out a window.
"Well," Charmian said, "if that's how they get down there, then how--"
She gasped and backed away when one of the Uroona stepped right beside her. The three of them glanced up at it, then back down at its hand when a cracking sound arose. Charmian's eyes widened. The creature's fist seemed to turn to stone and meld with that lining the Crack, then began to sink into the ground. As she watched, the entire creature slowly vanished down into the earth until only the top of its head was visible. Its small dark eyes stared at her before melting into the soil, disappearing entirely from sight. Around them, the other Uroona were doing the same.
"I think I asked too soon," Charmian said faintly. She blinked and shook her head, then gasped once more and turned to X'aaru, tugging his wing. "Wait a minute! Do you see the pattern here?"
"Pattern?" The demon looked at her.
"Yeah! Take a look. We've got firelings, windlings--the Windwalkers--and sandlings--the Uroona. That's three different elementals. What's missing?"
X'aaru frowned and his muzzle twitched. He stared at the vanishing elementals for a moment before answering.
"Um..." he offered, tentatively, "...the GeeBees?"
Charmian snapped her fingers, startling him. "Right! There aren't any GeeBees. Or Ocryxes, or manitous! The firelings are kind of unpredictable, and the Windwalkers are a bit weird, but we've never had much trouble with them. It only seems to be the 'good' guys who are headed toward the Crack!"
"But if that's so, then what about the tribe mani--"
Mani whistled. Charmian and X'aaru glanced back to see him looking from side to side as blue lights started popping up in the woods around him. They all stared, watching the manitous arrive, their hooves plodding against the moist earth, whistling at each other as they went as if it were merely a social outing.
Charmian chewed on her lip and walked toward one. "Excuse me," she said, grabbing hold of the fur on its shoulder. It continued walking, yet she could tell from its eyes that it noticed her. "I'm just trying to figure out what's going on here? Where's everybody going?"
The manitou lifted its head and whistled. Island Crack, it answered. Go there. It nodded at the crevice in the ground. Charmian's frown grew.
"But why's everybody headed there at once?"
The creature tossed its head, and she let go of its shoulder. Bad medicine growing. Return to Borderlands. Safe until medicine gone.
"Borderlands...?" Charmian stopped and watched the rest of the manitous advance toward the Crack. One by one they started at the wide end and galloped down into it, disappearing. She and X'aaru and Mani watched.
X'aaru approached, head low. "What did he say?"
"Borderlands," Charmian whispered. "Nathalit mentioned that place." Her brow furrowed. "But why would they all be going there...?"
"What did she say? Before you came back?"
"That something was wrong. Disorder, I think she said." She peered down into the Crack, even as the elementals continued going down into it. "Uroona, Windwalkers, firelings and manitous." She resisted the urge to add, "Oh my!" "No GeeBees or Ocryxes or lake manitous. Do you think it means something?"
X'aaru frowned with puzzlement. Charmian glanced back at him.
"Only positive or neutral elementals. No negative ones."
The demon's ears flicked and his face lit up. "Like they're separating themselves! Hiding!"
"More like taking cover." Charmian shivered and rubbed her arms, despite the growing heat. "If that's so...then I really don't like the look of this. It's disorder when light separates from dark so completely. Something's going to happen and soon."
X'aaru and Mani both stepped forward with uncertain looks. "What should we do?"
Charmian shook her head. "I don't know." She kept her voice and face calm, but the sight of all of the elementals retreating into the Crack made her more than anxious. She'd spent a good part of the autumn here, and all of winter and spring, and now it was growing close to summer. Why hadn't she guessed that sooner or later the dream was going to have to end--things would have to come to a head?
I guess I knew it all along...I just got too used to things being quiet!
"Come on," she murmured to the two waiting behind her. "I think we should head back to the fort and let Tal Natha know what's going on."
The other two nodded, though their looks told her they were just as confused. She turned away from the Crack, a part of her wanting to go down into it just to see what was going on within. She looked up and noticed a few halfling spirits hovering in the trees like dangling sheets, watching the scene with some curiosity.
"You guys!" she yelled, drawing their attention. She thought of a few months back, when the sight of the strange creatures would have sent her running away screaming in fear. "If you don't go down there just yet, keep an eye on what's going on. And let me know if you can, if something happens. Okay?"
A few of them appeared to nod, though she couldn't be sure, and she started off again. X'aaru and Mani glanced at each other before following, and they both gave her a look.
"Do you want me to fly you there?" X'aaru asked.
Or ride? Mani offered.
Charmian shook her head absently. She chewed on one fingernail. "No...not yet. I have to think. Something really bad must be up if all the good-type spirits are headed for shelter. All the dreams are missing. That's all I know. Ocryana and Kawaduk and everyone have been relatively quiet. I know she has something to do with the dreams, Nathalit wanted to tell me that, but she couldn't. She said something...something about dead dreams."
"Hasn't she mentioned that before?"
"Yeah. That's why I know it's important. But this time she added something. She said dreams don't really die; their power just changes." Charmian's brow furrowed. "What does that mean?"
X'aaru and Mani fell into step beside her. "I don't know," X'aaru said. "All I know is I feel tired, I actually noticed it before, but didn't want to mention it; because maybe it was just me; but maybe again it's because I'm so used to dreaming when I sleep, that..."
He continued talking, yet his voice trailed off in Charmian's mind. Something she'd read once about dreams...what she'd thought about just before Red Bird had gone into labor...came drifting back into consciousness, and her step slowed until she stopped. The other two went on a short ways before noticing and turning back, cocking their heads. Charmian stared off into space.
"Their power changes," she whispered. She lifted her head. "I read something once...about dreams. It said that when people went without for a long time, they'd wake up all tired. Until they dreamed again, and it's like their brain was trying to catch up. It's like they needed to dream in order to keep awake. To feel energized."
The other two just stared at her.
"I felt tired too. I haven't been dreaming lately. Just like everyone else." Her eyes slowly widened. "Dreams have power...dreams are power. When I gave up my dead dreams...she was upset with me. She told me I forced her to do that. I wasn't letting go of a dead dream. I was letting go of power!"
"Charmian...?" X'aaru murmured uncertainly.
Charmian started forward. "Don't you get it?" she exclaimed. "That's why Nathalit was so upset when Red Bird and I gave up our dead dreams. They weren't really dead. They still had power in them! When you give up power, what happens to it?"
The demon looked even more confused. "It goes someplace else--?"
"Exactly! It never disappears--it just changes form!" She turned in a circle and felt like slapping her head. "I learned that in my first year of science. I swore to God I never thought it would actually come in useful anywhere!"
"But--so where is it going, then?" X'aaru asked, shifting from foot to foot. "If we've been giving it up all this time, it has to be collecting, or something--"
"Exactly," Charmian said again, rounding on him and shaking a finger. He backed away, as if expecting to get hit, but she barely noticed. "Something is collecting all that energy. Or someone! Nathalit was upset when I gave it up because she knew someone else would be taking it! She was upset because I was HELPING that someone!"
Mani's ears swiveled. That someone--
"Ocryana." Charmian's mouth tightened, as well as her fists. "Who else would want all that dream energy? We've been wondering all year where she's been getting her power from, right? Well, she's been feeding off of dead dreams, and for a while that was good enough--but now somehow she's taking live dreams, too."
X'aaru's face brightened again in realization. "Why we haven't been having any," he said. "Why we've been feeling tired!"
Charmian nodded. "I don't know how she's doing it...yet...but maybe Tal Natha was right. Dakh and Sikt have power over dreams. Maybe, somehow, Ocryana has it now, too." She forced herself to unclench her fists. "Finding out how she does it isn't as important as finding out how to stop it!"
She started walking off. The other two hurried to catch up. X'aaru came up on her left. "But--how do we find out--?"
"I don't know yet. But I'm willing to bet either Kawaduk or that other Ocryx is involved. Maybe this dream power skips a generation. Ocryana didn't have it, but Tal Natha does. And maybe one of them does, too."
"So you think that if we find one of them, we can find out how she gets the power?"
Charmian stopped again, and nearly tripped. Mani butted her gently to keep her on her feet and she started chewing on her fingernail anew, hating the nervous gesture, yet not knowing what else to do.
"I guess I do!" she said, her voice coming out in a squeak. After all they'd been through, she didn't relish the idea of seeking out one of those two again.
But Charm, aren't you forgetting someone?
She started. The voice was her own, her own thoughts. Which was why it startled her all the more that she heard it.
"I'm forgetting someone," she whispered.
X'aaru and Mani leaned forward, ears pricking. Charmian turned around so abruptly that they backed away.
"Change of plans," she said. "You two split up. X, go back to the fort and tell the others what I told you. All right?"
X'aaru nodded. Mani stomped a hoof.
"You go to Sugar Loaf, and Silver Eagle Feather's tribe, if you can make it. I want Old Mother Manitou and Silver to know about this also. Think you can remember it?"
The manitou nodded also. His eyes grew anxious.
Seeking out windlings on your own?
Charmian bit the inside of her mouth. "Not exactly," she said, and it wasn't really a lie. "I'm looking for someone else. Maybe it's about time I listened to what my gut's telling me rather than my head." She turned away from them, but cast a quick look over her shoulder. "Go on. I should be okay. If not, you two know how to find me!"
Two nods. The demon and the manitou turned and headed off into the woods, disappearing almost instantly. Charmian followed, jogging along, though not nearly as fast as the others. What she hadn't been able to tell them...was that her own thoughts weren't the only ones making sense right now. Something Ocryx had said was starting to niggle at the back of her mind, and even though the feeling had been there all along, she'd never wanted to take notice.
Well, it's about time I did. Drastic times call for drastic measures--or whatever!
She didn't know where to look, or where she was going--only the what. Which was why, when she at last came upon it in the woods not that far along, she knew it was time to finally face everything she'd been hiding from--no matter how ugly it looked.
And this was only made harder, as at the moment, "ugly" looked very attractive. Charmian came to a slow stop when ahead, in the woods, she spotted Justin and Shadow Water headed her way.
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