Red Bird's purpose is revealed, and Charmian learns of her next mission...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 100: The Dreamer Speaks"
PART ONE HUNDRED AND ONE:
The Power Of Love
TAL NATHA TOOK a step or two back, his ears flicking. His hackles rose slightly, but Charmian could tell he didn't feel threatened. Her dog had once reacted the same way when being confronted by a bigger dog. Nathalit stared back at him with those strange dark eyes.
Tal Natha slowly shook his head. You...you are not my mother, he said softly. Ocryana is my mother.
Nathalit tilted her head. You truly have never wondered, then? Why you are so unlike your father and your mother? Why you were never once tempted to follow their ways? Their blood does run through your veins, Dreamspinner, yet your spirit belongs to another. Ocryx and Ocryana are your parents by blood, but I am your mother, and your father, by spirit.
Drake blinked. "Huh?" he uttered, and Charmian felt like saying the same thing. She took a step forward, trying to understand.
"When you influenced Ocryana...and Ocryx...it was like when you took control of Pakwa...it changed their spirits? Just temporarily?"
Yes. The creature tilted her head again in what seemed to be a nod. When the demons acted, they acted under my will, thus under my spirit. It was not their spirits that were imparted on Tal Natha at his birth, but my own.
"You mean you're not male or female?" Drake asked, rubbing at his head.
I am neither, Nathalit said. And I am both. It cannot be explained properly, in the words of your people.
She turned her head, noticing Red Bird stepping forward now. Red Bird stopped, wringing her hands and staring up at Nathalit as if uncertain what to say. "And so..." she started, her voice faltering; she cleared her throat and attempted to speak louder. "And so you are his true mother? And father?"
"And so he never had to worry..." Red Bird peered at Tal Natha. "He never had to worry about becoming like either of them. Because he took after you." She turned away from Nathalit and went to Tal Natha, who still crouched with his ears folded back. He nearly jumped when she touched his arm, and they looked into each other's eyes. Red Bird wasn't smiling, but her face looked ready to do so, at any moment.
"Do you see?" she murmured, as if none of the others could hear; they pretended not to. "You could never be like them. I always knew that you were different, I just never knew how."
Tal Natha's ears flattened even more. Even if this is true... He glanced up at Nathalit. Even if this is true...what does it do for us? He looked around himself, at the others standing in a semicircle. Are we dead, then? To be in this place?
No. Your sacrifice for the Island was not in your own death. It was in your loyalty to protect and defend. I wished this to be proven, and you have done so. Not quite in the manner I had expected... her eyes seemed to twinkle, as if amused ...yet still, it is done.
Charmian coughed slightly, hating to interrupt what seemed to be the most important conversation she'd ever been involved in. Nathalit looked at her, and she scuffed her foot against the ground--at least, she tried to, only to stub her toe against the crystals. She bit off a yelp of pain and rubbed the sore digit against her other leg.
"Nathalit...you said that...well, you'd explain everything. But I'm still confused. I thought the Island needed a pure spirit to survive."
It does, Nathalit replied. And it has one, already. She looked down once more, this time at Red Bird. Red Bird sucked in a breath and now she backed away as well, shaking her head as Tal Natha had.
You have wondered about your purpose on the Island, Nathalit said. And so now I will tell each of you your purpose here. The sacrifice was but a test I needed to put you through. One who is not willing to sacrifice themselves for the Island cannot protect it. You proved yourself worthy.
"But--I'm not the life of the Island! Father..."
Your father's spirit is the life of the Island, Nathalit confirmed. Yet it has grown corrupt. The Island has long been weakened this way, until one would come who would bring purity with them. This one is you. You are not the life of the Island, but you are the Light of the Island.
Now it was Red Bird's turn to say, "I don't understand!"
You are the Light which brings clarity to the darkness, Nathalit said. Your spirit is the one that sustains the purity of the Island. Your father gives it life, but you are the reason it continues to live. Without you, the Island will grow dark. She held up one hand, and Red Bird gasped when her spirit stone started to glow through her breast. Throughout your life, you have prevented this from happening. This is your purpose. All upon the Island rely upon you for their lives.
The glow faded, but Red Bird stood with her hands pressed to her chest, her eyes welling up. "Me...?" she whispered, in disbelief. "The Island...the Island depends on me...?"
Nathalit nodded. Charmian took a step forward.
"But wait a minute! Moon Wolf said it wasn't Red Bird who would save the Island--it was Dakh and Sikt! If she's the one who'll do it, then what are the rest of us doing here?"
You each serve your purpose, Nathalit said. Do not believe for one moment that any of you are insignificant. Without any of you, the Island may survive, yet it would be irreparably damaged. It would no longer be whole. She looked down at Tal Natha and Red Bird, and gestured at them with one hand.
Tal Natha. Without you, the dreams of the Island fade. Dreams are the energy of the Island; without them, it will grow weaker, and will no longer be the place we know it as now. You are also the Guardian. Long have you watched over a people who fear you, yet you have not complained. You are he who protects the Light from the darkness. You are the Dreamspinner and the Guardian of the Island.
Her gesture turned to Red Bird. Red Bird. You are the purity which protects the Island from the dark. You sustain your father's spirit in giving life, and to you, all creatures upon the Island owe their existence. You are the Light of the Island.
Dakh Natha. Sikt Natha. Now everyone's stares moved to the other two Ocryxes. You were the hope reborn when the Island had begun to grow dark. Through you, your mother has regained her sense of purpose. Yet you serve your own purpose as well. As your father and your mother are needed to protect the Island, I had hoped you would serve me, by protecting it as well. You will defend the dreams of the Island from those who would destroy them, and you will thus serve us all. You are the Guardians of Dreams.
Nathalit held her hand up now, glancing vaguely skywards, so Charmian was tempted to look up as well; she saw only sky. Ocryx. His spirit is what gives the Island life. Without him, the Island will die. Though his spirit has grown dark, the Island is sustained through his daughter, whom he raised. He is the Life of the Island. She gestured toward the ground. Ocryana. Her will is to destroy that which gives her life, yet still she serves her purpose. The Island will not live long without her either. Indirectly, she lends it some of her power, and the Island fights to live. She is the Will of the Island.
Charmian tried not to squirm. After hearing that even Ocryana had a reason to be here, she felt a little bit like a speck. Which was why she almost jumped back when Nathalit gestured at Drake and herself. Drake even put a hand to his chest as if to ask, "Me?"
Charmian and Drake, Nathalit spoke. You are the outsiders called to defend the Island from itself. We needed to seek you to bring focus to this mission, when the eyes of those upon the Island are clouded by their emotions. You had no need to help us. Yet help us you have. We also needed to know for certain that the death of the Island would not be in vain. You are the Defenders of the Island.
"The Island can't die," Charmian blurted out, hating that she interrupted, yet unable to stop it. "It means too much."
She sensed agreement from the creature, and let out her breath. This is why you were called from the mainland. The mainland can survive without the Island. Most of your kind will never know of our existence, and will never care should we meet our end. I wished to know if there were any who found our existence necessary, even if just one. You are that one, and you as well. As long as an outsider wishes for the existence of the Island, then we will not have lived without purpose.
"So that's why you called outsiders in," Charmian said softly. "Through Tal Natha."
Yes, this is why. Nathalit's form shimmered briefly. We are important enough to ourselves. Yet I needed to know if we were important to more than ourselves. You have proven that we are...thus I know that my efforts were not wasted.
"Of course not," Drake retorted. "We would've come here anyway even if we didn't know we were needed...even though we didn't really know...I guess...until now...um...at least..."
And so we are not meant to die? Tal Natha interrupted, his gaze focused on Nathalit. The sacrifice is unnecessary? If this is so, why have we been called here? What is there left to do?
The sacrifice was to prove that you are loyal to the Island, Nathalit said. You have proven this. Red Bird's spirit is pure enough to defend the Island from the darkness. This does not mean the Island cannot be overcome by other means. Already you know Ocryana plots her next attack.
"But what can she do?" Charmian asked, growing confused. "If the spirit of the Island can't be corrupted now..."
This is not her only way. Nathalit shimmered again, then descended to the ground. Charmian rubbed at her neck; she hadn't realized it was sore from staring upward, until now. The creature's wings stretched and folded behind her back and she looked at Charmian. An Ocryx may die if its spirit is wounded, or if its source of power is removed.
"Yeah?" Charmian said, not understanding. She then paused and thought over the comment for a moment; Nathalit wouldn't have said it if it didn't have something to do with the current situation. She bit her lip.
"So you're saying the Island's the same way...its spirit can be corrupted, or its source of power can be removed...?"
Nathalit tilted her head.
"But what would that..." She trailed off, staring into space; after a moment she slowly turned to look at Tal Natha. The demon stared back, seeming uncertain as to why he was now the target of her attention.
"Dreams," Charmian finally said. "The source of power for the Island is dreams."
Yes. Nathalit nodded.
Charmian turned back to Nathalit. "I think we're in big trouble."
"Why?" Drake asked, furrowing his brow. Charmian turned to him now.
"Remember what I told you? About dreams. How we haven't been having any lately. Ocryana's been intercepting them before they can get to us."
Drake nodded. He still didn't look enlightened.
A dream is a powerful thing, Nathalit said. It is not easy to take away from another.
"That's what I was starting to think." Charmian gave Nathalit an anxious look. "You told me what I was doing when we went to Devil's Kitchen. My dream with the fountain. I gave it up because I thought I didn't need it anymore."
"Charm," Drake said. "I'm not getting it."
"Your dreams." Charmian turned back to him now and pointed at him. "Are there any you felt like you outgrew? Any you didn't need anymore? Especially lately? Think. Can you remember?"
Drake blinked, then flushed and averted his eyes. "Well...kinda. I mean...I hadn't really dreamt about it in years, so when it popped up again here, I thought it was kind of stupid..."
"And the cave in Devil's Lake." Now pointing at Red Bird. "You didn't want that dream anymore, so you gave it up."
Red Bird nodded, eyes wide. Once more Charmian turned to Nathalit.
"I'm willing to bet that almost everyone at some point's given up on a dream they thought they didn't need anymore. If you add all those dreams up, it makes for a huge source of power."
Red Bird put her hands to her mouth with a gasp. Drake's frown grew. Charmian could tell she hardly needed to say what came next, though she said it anyway.
"We've been helping Ocryana all along."
"What?" Drake cried, even though she knew he knew.
When one releases a dream, Nathalit said, no matter how small or unwanted, one brings ease to the task of taking other dreams.
"When we gave up those dreams," Charmian explained. "We were saying we didn't care about them anymore. That gave anybody else permission to take them. Like throwing out the trash. Ocryana was the trash collector. And when we gave them up, we made it easier for her to take all the dreams we hadn't given up yet. WE opened that door for her!"
Drake looked disgusted. "That sucks!"
"What do we do?" Red Bird asked, her voice soft but fearful.
Charmian twisted the fringe on her clothing and bit her lip. "I don't know." She paused. "How do you get back dreams? Especially if they aren't even yours to get back?"
"Maybe if we have more dreams?" Drake suggested. "Y'know, make up for what's been lost?"
"But if Ocryana just keeps taking them, that won't work."
There is one thing you may try, Nathalit interrupted quietly. Charmian glanced at her almost in surprise, but the creature held up one glowing hand.
It will not be an easy task. And I do not know if it will work.
"So?" Charmian clenched her fists excitedly. "Tell me what it is! I can try it!"
Nathalit gestured toward the Gemfields behind her. The Island attempts to take care of its own. Already others are trying to heal what has been damaged. You have seen how they traveled.
"Traveled...?" Charmian frowned. "Do you mean all those Uroona and manitous that were headed for the Crack?"
Red Bird and Tal Natha looked at her. Nathalit nodded.
They know that dreams have become weak. They attempt to set things right.
Another gesture at the glittering fields of crystal. I have told you. The Borderlands lie between reality and dream. Here, dreams have a different power. As this is where dreams are born, they follow a different rule before they have been spun into sleep. She paused, but Charmian couldn't help but look confused. She was glad the creature appeared to have limitless patience. Ocryana cannot reach dreams here, Nathalit continued. It is only after they have been sent into the real world that they are vulnerable to her.
Charmian's eyes slowly lit up. "I think I get it."
"Mind explaining it to the rest of us, then?" Drake asked, looking sour. Charmian walked past Nathalit to stand at the edge of the thickest "growth" of crystals, staring out over their glittering points.
"Ocryana can't get dreams here. That means they're safe. The Island protects its own, and the good elementals know that. They want to repay the debt. That's why they all headed for Crack-in-the-Island. The Crack leads to the Borderlands, and the Borderlands are where dreams are safe." She turned away from the Gemfields. "Nathalit, does that mean that all we have to do is have them gather down here? Tal Natha can give them their dreams, and that should be enough to help the Island against Ocryana!"
Drake and Red Bird looked hopeful. Tal Natha looked skeptical, while Dakh and Sikt simply looked neutral, as always. Charmian felt her heart sink a little when Nathalit, instead of nodding as she'd expected her to, shook her head.
It is not so simple. You understand the idea, and are on the correct path. Yet there is more to it than this.
"Well..." Charmian suppressed a sigh. "What else do I have to do?"
The Island does not choose who it will protect, Nathalit replied. All are considered equal. No matter what their element, no matter what their alignment. The Island will protect them all, and all are needed to protect the Island. She held up her hand, and the gems all seemed to glow, their facets catching the sunlight and bouncing it back. The dreams of far more are needed to help the Island. You will need not only those who are here, and those who have come. You must convince those who have not come...the GeeBees...the lake manitous...and He Of The Glowing Eyes...to assist, as well.
"Part 102: More Flies With Honey"
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