Shadow Water meets a strange fate; and Tal Natha reaches a breaking point...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 96: Shadow Falls"
CHARMIAN HELD UP her hand to keep her eyes from watering at the gust of warm wind that slapped against her face. Twin orbs of green and red glared directly at Ocryana and herself, and the two of them gaped when the whirlwind before them growled.
Charmian's eyes widened in disbelief. Ocryana's did the same, and her jaw fell open. The wind stopped whirling to reveal a looming dark shape which towered over the clearing; it seemed as if it sucked in all light that came toward it and didn't let any go, except for those eyes. Then before Charmian could even say, "Wha--?" it took one step forward, its foot causing a resounding BOOM to quake across the ground. Everyone still in the clearing cringed and ducked their heads when another rumble came, this one even louder than the last. The eyes narrowed to glowing slits and Charmian tried to swallow, but her throat had gone bone dry.
Ocryana's reaction was something else entirely. Charmian was surprised to see her ears fold back; a pathetic whimper escaped her and she crouched low to the ground, backing away, her belly practically to the ground. She slunk backwards into the clearing as Ocryx came closer, each footfall making the ground shake. Charmian crept to the side, into the bushes, to keep clear of him; going by the look on his face, she didn't want to get in his way!
He didn't even seem to notice her, or any of the others, however; his narrowed stare stayed on Ocryana, who only kept whining and backing away until she'd cornered herself against a tree. Ocryx crossed the clearing--THUD--THUD--THUD--until he towered over her, his shadow casting her into dimness. She stared up at him with wide eyes, trembling; he lowered his head until they looked straight at each other, and his lip curled back just slightly. They held this stare for a moment or two, and Charmian was beginning to think that he'd shown up to kiss her rather than to drive her off.
CRACK. Both Charmian and Ocryana gasped when Ocryx rammed his horn into the tree, inches to the side of Ocryana's head, much the same as Shadow Water had done to Charmian earlier. His muzzle wrinkled and he snarled into Ocryana's face; her fur stood on end and she stared at him with goggle eyes until he wrenched his horn free, leaving a gaping hole in the wood. Ocryana took this chance to slip to the ground with a terrified whine and retreat toward the treeline. Her wings flared and flapped wildly, just managing to lift her into the air; nevertheless, she had trouble keeping herself steady enough to fly, and crashed into a few trees in her haste to depart. Charmian winced each time; the demon would be having some bruises to tend to, once she ever got home. The crashing noises of her flight lasted until she'd gone far enough away that they could be heard no more, and then the clearing lapsed into silence.
Charmian, Drake, and Justin stood or lay where they were, staring back at the looming figure. A moment passed; then he turned about, his tail whispering across the ground and his wings rustling, his eyes focusing on each of them in turn. They each shrank in on themselves a bit when finding themselves the focus of his attention; he finally turned his gaze away from them and started across the clearing again. He barely cast Justin a glance as he passed him, and ignored Charmian and Drake completely; his eyes flicked to the side and his step slowed until he stopped, turning his head. Charmian followed the direction of his stare until she realized what exactly had managed to catch his attention.
Ocryx stared at Shadow Water's crumpled form for a moment before turning on his heel and approaching. She still lay near the woods, one arm stretched out as she'd been trying to pull herself to the safety of the trees; she'd been conscious the last time Charmian had looked at her, but now she lay limp and unmoving. Charmian bit her lip; she couldn't be dead...could she?
Ocryx leaned down over her and carefully turned her over so she lay on her side. Her eye was swollen where Ocryana had lashed across her face, and the rest of her body was marked red and blue from the beating she'd taken. Charmian could see her ribs still rising and falling shallowly, however, and knew she must be alive, if only barely.
She took a step forward, hoping to convince Justin to heal her somehow...if he still could...when Ocryx placed his hands beneath Shadow Water and gently lifted her from the ground. Charmian halted. Shadow Water's head lolled back, her hair trailing loose; he supported her neck and turned to face Charmian directly; she bit her lip again when she saw how the monstrous creature cradled the unconscious woman against his breast. He looked down into her face for a moment as if seeing if she would awaken; then, still ignoring Charmian and the others, he hunched down and spread his wings, lifting off with a giant flap. He rose into the air as Ocryana had, only much more gracefully despite his size and the burden he carried; Charmian and Drake covered their faces as his wingbeats kicked up a whirlwind of dust until he had risen far above, wheeling on a current of wind and vanishing over the treetops. The wind died down once more, the dust settling, and Charmian, Drake, and Justin were left in the clearing, wondering what had just happened.
Charmian stared up at the darkened sky, brow furrowed in confusion. She couldn't be certain what she'd just witnessed. A soft groan to the side drew her attention, and she gasped and rushed to Justin's side. He was trying to pull himself up, wincing with pain.
Charmian knelt down beside him and took his arm. "Justin...?" She looked at his shattered wing and grimaced. "Can you make it...?"
Justin gritted his teeth and a glow surrounded him. It faded and he was back in his human form, still bruised and scraped, but able to drag himself to his feet now that he had no broken wing to deal with. He made a face and rubbed at his arm; she was relieved that he seemed to be none the worse for wear.
"I'll be all right," he murmured, and rubbed at his neck, still with the same wince. Charmian let out her breath, and the three of them looked back toward where Shadow Water had been lying not long before. A small patch of blood still marred the earth there.
Charmian's brow furrowed again. "Why did he do that...? Why did he save us from her when he's not supposed to care?"
Justin rubbed at a bruise on his forearm. "As much as I dislike to say this...I don't believe he did this for us. I think he did it for himself."
"But still, why does he care? He told me he didn't care if the Island was destroyed; he wouldn't lift a finger to help it. He wanted to die. Why would he even bother?"
Justin stared at the spot of earth a moment more before sighing. He looked skywards.
"Perhaps he merely needed something to live for..."
Charmian blinked. She turned to look at him.
"You mean...?" She glanced again at the ground, then at the sky, and felt a stab of worry. She took a step forward before realizing she couldn't fly, like Ocryxes could. "Do you think we should get her back...?"
"No." His face set, and she felt she shouldn't question Shadow Water's fate any further. He turned to the other side of the clearing and started to limp toward it. "She can care for herself, if she wishes to."
With these words, the three of them made their way out of the clearing and back toward the woods. Drake walked close at Charmian's side in case she felt like falling over...she assumed. His attention was a bit annoying, but at least he wasn't being a nuisance. Charmian realized they were headed back to Justin's house, and the thought made her sigh with relief. Even though she'd been there not too long ago, the thought of going back to someplace civilized comforted her. The walk wasn't too far, though the darkness made the trail hard to follow; Charmian was too tired by now to rely on Apakwaanaajiin to guide her. A light glowed from the windows when they reached the big house, and Justin took hold of Charmian's hand as she trudged up the steps. She felt her ears burning but said nothing about it when they went inside.
Lady Dupries waited not too far inside the door. "I thought that you might be returning," she said, and winced at their current state. She ushered them into the dining room where Charmian had eaten with them and Francois such a long time ago; Gerard Dupries was here, and he looked surprised to see them. He stared at them as they sat down silently, staring at the floor or the table; Justin stooped by Charmian and took her hand in his again, startling her. She was certain her face must have gone beet red, but she felt foolish as soon as she realized he was only healing her.
"It looks as if we have all gotten into it, this time," he said quietly, finishing with her and then taking Drake's hand. Drake flushed as well, though for entirely different reasons, Charmian was sure. "Though it also looks as if your worries are lessened somewhat."
"Mitchi Manitou, Kawaduk, and Shadow Water appear to be down," Charmian replied with a sigh. "So I guess that leaves Ocryana. No luck hoping she might change her mind this late in the game, is there?"
"I doubt this...are you feeling well at all?" He looked at Drake. "She tried to steal your spirit...I remember when she tried this with Augwak. It wasn't pleasant..."
"I think I'm okay." Drake put his hand to his chest as if checking. "Um...how exactly do I make sure?"
In response Charmian held up her hand before his chest and concentrated. After a moment a glow appeared, and the others in the room--Lady Dupries included, as she stepped in with a tray of food--stared as Drake's spirit stone was revealed. Charmian perused the color--a swirling, glaring yellow-green--for a moment before pulling her hand away. Drake gawked down at his chest as if she'd left a hole in it. Charmian wiped her brow.
"Well, it looks intact. At least you don't have any funky dark stuff swirling around in there."
"I'm kinda glad, 'cause I don't think I'd like the idea of being stuck in some other body or something..."
He descended into muttering and took a croissant off the tray and bit into it when Lady Dupries set it down. "I'm afraid I could not tell you the hour," she said, looking up at the clock on the wall. "Things appear to have...gone somewhat askew in the past day or so."
"I think it's the Island," Charmian said, feeling a twinge of worry. "If it can have some kind of effect on people, then I guess people can have an effect on it too...and this looks like a bad one."
"When is the last time you rested? You must be exhausted by now."
"I..." Charmian trailed off and stared into space. The truth was, she couldn't remember the last time she'd slept. Now that Lady Dupries had mentioned it, she finally felt the dragging in her limbs, as if gravity had grown several times stronger than usual. The others all stared at her as if she'd fallen asleep with her face in a bowl of soup; Lady Dupries came her way and touched her arm, having her get to her feet.
"We have a couple of spare rooms upstairs...please, come along. You will have to sleep, if you wish to continue as you have."
"I guess so," Charmian sighed, and turned away from the table. Drake reached for the croissants and started stuffing his mouth with them.
"Be wif you in a m'nute!" he managed to say; a few crumbs fell from his mouth and he widened his eyes at them before meekly brushing them into his hand, grinning at Justin and Gerard so a few more fell out. Charmian rolled her eyes and followed Lady Dupries from the room toward the middle of the house.
She remembered the time she'd taken a bath here, but aside from that and dinner, she hadn't gotten much of a look at the rest of the place. The Dupries house seemed to be full of rooms upon rooms, each one as ornate as the next. She wondered where they got their money; considered the possibility that Gerard might trade in furs; then wondered why, if this might be so, that Francois didn't live in a mansion instead of a cabin. Then she found her head was hurting and she had to stop thinking about it.
Along a narrow hallway with perfect wallpaper and perfect rugs, and the occasional perfect little table or picture on the wall, Lady Dupries led her to a sideroom and unlocked the door, ushering her in. Charmian gaped at the furnishings; the bed itself looked as if she'd sink straight into it if she tried to lie down, it was so poofy. She stared at the thick canopy drapes hanging tied to each post; if she untied them she'd have her own little room-within-a-room. She couldn't count how many pillows there were in here.
"Do you believe this will do?" Lady Dupries asked.
"Huh?" Charmian said stupidly; then, "OH! Yeah, I--uh--this'll be just fine." Sheesh. And I thought that one time I spent at the Grand Traverse Resort was posh! "Thanks, Lady Dupries."
"You are welcome. Make yourself comfortable in here; I'll bring you something to drink and a snack if you like."
Charmian nodded and didn't bother suppressing a yawn. Lady Dupries left and shut the door behind her; Charmian noticed this room even had its own private bathroom with a clawed tub and everything, yet despite how hard she looked she couldn't find a way to fill it up. When she finally realized that would entail boiling several dozen pots of water and dumping them in, she decided to just go to sleep. The Dupries had done enough for her already; she didn't like the thought of bothering them with yet more.
So she went to the closet and found a gown that was big enough to fit her, even if she had no idea whether it was for a man or a woman. Taking this, she returned to the huge bed and, feeling a bit self-conscious, crawled in and untied all the canopy drapes so they fell around it, concealing her. Who could tell when a perverted GeeBee or some such might float outside the windows looking in? She removed her old clothes and put on the gown and stepped out again, folding them and setting them on the dresser...or vanity...or whatever it was called here. A ringing noise caught her attention and she looked around for an alarm clock before remembering they didn't have any; that was when she noticed it was coming from a small door in the wall at the other side of the room, and her face lit up. She made a beeline toward the door and pulled it open to reveal a tray with tea and pastries.
"Cool!" Charmian pulled the tray out and stuck her head in the dumbwaiter, examining every side of it. She'd seen them in old TV shows and had read about them in books, but had never seen one for herself. She sat down on the edge of the bed rather than in one of the ornate chairs and ate a few of the pastries and drank a cup of the tea, making certain, unlike Drake, not to get crumbs all over the place. When she was done (she kept a pastry folded in a napkin on the dresser just in case she got hungry in the middle of the night...or whatever time of the day it was) she returned everything to the tray and set it back in the dumbwaiter, ringing the bell; it disappeared from view and she closed the door. With another yawn and a stretch she went to the bathroom, and then once more to the bed. She crawled under the thick covers and pulled them up as high as she could without smothering herself, burrowing into the pillows. And she didn't even have any time to go over her thoughts before lapsing into sleep, she was so tired.
For what seemed to be a long time, and yet timeless, Charmian floated around in the dark. Oddly enough she found that after she had fallen asleep, she could think. Was it because she usually spent this time dreaming instead? And needed to fill up the void? She had no idea, but she certainly wished she could lucid dream. She briefly remembered how she had met Moon Wolf, through Tal Natha's dream, and the memory brought a pang to her chest. One moment he had been with her, and the next he was gone. She tried not to think of him, but then realized she didn't have anything else to think of, and just floated there, blank.
Well...if I can't have a dream, maybe I can make one...
She closed her eyes...such as they were, in this disembodied state...and concentrated, trying to bring up anything--the Borderlands, the rainbow, the crystal cave, the spring near Devil's Kitchen. None of them came to her, but she did sense an even greater floating feeling like the one she got before dreaming. Well, it was a small success. She tried to sink into it, perhaps in the hopes of coming across another clue to help her on her way...advice had been hard to find since everyone had stopped dreaming. An even deeper darkness surrounded her, and she sank down as deeply as she could, immersing herself in it more thoroughly than in the waters of Devil's Lake.
As she sank down into the darkness, Charmian sensed a faint thrumming far off, too far away to determine what it was. She decided to ignore it and continue on her way, only to find that the more she tried to block it out, the closer and louder it became. It wasn't too long before the hum throbbed against her eardrums, making her wince; she tried to plug her ears, but the hum grew higher now, drilling even through her hands. She ground her teeth and only now noticed a brightness growing beyond her eyelids. She opened them to see a blinding blue-white light flaring before her; it throbbed in tempo with the humming noise in her head, like some gigantic heartbeat. She could barely stand to look at it, it was so blinding.
And then right before her eyes, a black tendril shot out and wrapped itself around the light, another one joining it, and another, and another, hissing and whipping like snakes as they merged and tightened and constricted. Charmian stared in bewilderment as they coiled around the throbbing light, more and more joining them, until only the tiniest slivers of blue-white showed through. She leaned forward to watch this with some curiosity when it suddenly felt as if the tendrils were wrapping themselves around her--although she saw none touch her, still something grabbed and seemed to tear at her heart, and she grasped at the invisible tendrils and screamed. They only coiled more tightly, and the more she tried to fight them the more it hurt.
She struggled to regain a bit of her composure, trying to summon up what powers she had. Tears poured from her eyes at the constricting pain; she managed to turn her head just enough to see the weakening light once more, the tendrils overtaking it, and it was only when it imploded on itself, the light vanishing and collapsing into dust, that she finally realized what she was seeing and leapt up awake with a scream on her lips.
"Part 98: Force Of Persuasion"
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