A dark force, drawn by dreams, approaches the Crack for a final showdown...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 104: Ground Zero"
PART ONE HUNDRED AND FIVE:
Ascent Of Evil
EVERYONE GATHERED IN the Gemfields took a startled step back when Nathalit appeared from thin air. Almost every jaw fell open and more than a few eyes goggled. Augwak nearly tripped over his own feet in his surprise; Ocryx, on the other hand, let out a rumbling growl, his hackles prickling and his eyes flaring.
Charmian quickly stepped in front of Nathalit. "She won't hurt you," she said, addressing the group in general.
"An-another Ocryx?" Augwak stammered. He slunk backwards across the ground, toward the far side of the group. "You mean to tell me th-there's another one?"
Chepi frowned and looked Nathalit up and down. Her eyes narrowed and she seemed more than a little jealous.
"She's not an Ocryx," Charmian said, this time looking at Ocryx as she said it. "She only took this form so we could see her. Her name is Nathalit."
Ocryx's expression changed. She could tell he understood the name, if not why it was being used. She decided to press on before anyone could grow even more confused.
"She's the reason we're all here. Not just here, but on the Island. While you guys have been doing your thing, she's been keeping an eye on everything. She set up Tal Natha to guard the Island, but his power's grown weak. She made Ocryx the life of the Island...but his power's not much to get excited about, either."
The demon's look grew dangerous. Chepi fluttered forward, wringing her dainty hands.
"Wait a minute," she blurted. "What do you mean, grown weak? I thought the guardian of the Island could always protect it. I mean--that's what he's here for, isn't it?"
"Do you remember the last dream you had?" Charmian asked, and that effectively silenced the murmurs that were beginning to arise. Chepi blinked in confusion, then frowned and put a finger to her chin.
"Well..." She paused in thought. "No, that wasn't it...that was just something I fantasized about...hm...that wasn't one either..." She trailed off for a moment before gasping and grabbing at her head. "Oh NO! I don't remember ANY of them! Somebody's gotten into my head and yanked them all OUT!"
She started wailing and sobbing; the manitous began looking at each other uneasily and Charmian could tell they were asking each other the same question. More than a few shook their heads, and even the GeeBees looked confused. Augwak finally grew bold enough to push his way forward again, scowling.
"So what if nobody can remember their dreams! Like this matters at all? I thought you said you had a way to get back at that witch!"
"I'll get to that if you'll let me," Charmian scowled in return. She raised her voice. "So you say that dreams don't matter? You never asked yourselves ONCE where they all went? Why you can't even remember any of them anymore?"
Get to the point, mainlander, Ocryx growled so she could barely hear it. Charmian raised her arms in an attempt to quiet everyone down again.
"So you give up everything you think doesn't matter to you. That includes your dreams," she had to call out over the crowd. "And the whole time you've been doing this, you've been helping her. You've been helping Ocryana."
Dead silence. Everyone gawked at Charmian for a moment before erupting into indignant shouting.
"What do you mean, helping that creature?" Chepi cried. "I've never helped her in my life!"
"You think I would give that dog anything willingly?" Augwak snarled. "After she tried to take my spirit? Someone should knock some sense into your brain!"
A few more voices were raised as well, and Charmian cringed at the thought of trying to shout over them. Fortunately she didn't have to, as another roar silenced them all. Everybody else cringed now and cowered as Ocryx came forward on all fours, his glowing eyes shaded and ominous. Charmian bit the inside of her mouth as he came up before her; even on all fours he was taller than she was, and she had to force herself to look up at him. He didn't bother lowering his head.
Explain, mainlander, he said.
Charmian took in a deep breath and let it out. For some reason, the demon's demand lent her a bit of courage; at least he was listening, which was a lot more than what he usually did. She glanced around at the other elementals, finding all their stares directed at her as well.
"Ocryana can't take over the Island unless she has more power," she said quietly, so a few ears strained to hear her. "Of course most of you wouldn't just give her that power knowingly, so she's had to steal it. The thing is that we were actually giving it to her all along; we just weren't aware of it." She gestured at Tal Natha, who stood a ways off behind her. "She gained control of Tal Natha for a time, but he broke it. She doesn't need somebody's spirit stone to get power over them, though. This whole time you haven't been having dreams, he has been sending them to all of you."
"And so where did they all go?" Chepi asked, sounding genuinely flustered.
Eyes widened. Ocryx rose up slightly and Charmian continued.
"None of you saw dreams as important enough. They were things you could just give up or turn your back on as soon as you outgrew them, instead of trying to change them to be what you wanted them to be. It doesn't matter if you give a dream up to let it die; it never dies. It just changes form."
"And what do dreams have to do with anything?" Augwak grated, shifting from foot to foot impatiently. A few of the other GeeBees glanced at each other and nodded as if he'd just said something very wise. Charmian had to bite down a retort.
"Dreams are what she's been USING to get her power."
This got their attention again. "Every time you gave up a dream, you also gave up the power that dream held," she explained. "And the more of those that you gave up, the stronger Ocryana's control over dreams became. Until she didn't even have to wait for you to give them up. She simply took them before they ever got to you."
Uneasy murmuring. "So...that's why we haven't had any dreams?" Chepi asked, her voice small and her wings quivering. Charmian nodded.
"We all gave her that power. Even though she stole our dreams, she didn't really have to take anything at all." She paused. "I'm not blaming any one of you for this, because we're all responsible. Even me. I'm sure every one of you must have given up on a dream sometime, when you felt you didn't need it anymore."
Now surprised looks were replaced by more than a few guilty ones. The GeeBees looked as if they wanted to sink into the ground; the manitous cocked their ears and looked pensive. Charmian wasn't certain what to say next; she felt a warmth behind her and turned to see Nathalit, who had been hovering before, lower herself to the ground. She stepped aside as the creature came forward, and the group in general took a few steps back like a herd of timid sheep. Nathalit stopped and looked them all over.
I thank you for coming here.
They seemed surprised to learn that she could actually communicate. Ocryx's ears flicked and Charmian sensed he recognized her somehow, but he wasn't certain how. As if reading his thoughts--perhaps she did--Nathalit turned her head to look at him.
Yes. You have met me before.
Ocryx blinked. Nathalit looked at the rest of them again.
Most of you have met me...in one form or another. Her shape rippled and solidified and a few more murmurs arose.
I have watched over you all, Nathalit continued. I will not turn my back upon you now, whether you know me or not.
Brief silence. Then, "You expect us to trust this thing?" This, of course, from Augwak; Charmian felt like tearing his ears off. Everyone looked at him and he made a face and waved at Nathalit. "Take a look! She looks just like the wolf-bitch! For all we know they are related! How are we to trust a creature like this to help us?"
Tal Natha growled low in his throat. Suspicion began to return to everyone's eyes and Charmian despaired of ever convincing them of the truth. Before she could think of anything to say, even if she would have been able to, she felt movement behind her as someone else came forward. Red Bird entered her line of sight and stopped beside Nathalit. She met the crowd's stares, though her fingers fiddled at each other nervously.
"I trust her," she said quietly.
Everyone stared at her now. To Charmian's surprise, Chepi approached Red Bird, stopping and craning her neck so their faces were mere inches from each other. Red Bird blinked in confusion; Chepi's lip stuck out as she concentrated on Red Bird's face. After a moment or two she backed off, fluttering her wings and smoothing herself down. She waved imperiously at the crowd.
"I'm an excellent judge of character, and I happen to believe she's telling the truth." And she stuck out her tongue, to remove all doubt.
Red Bird let out her breath, her face growing a bit hopeful. The murmuring began but this time it didn't seem quite so hostile as before. Charmian spoke up once more.
"The reason I wanted you all here is because it isn't too late to try to stop Ocryana. But all of you have to work together." She held up a hand in Nathalit's direction. "She'll explain it to you." She stepped aside, hoping the situation was settled; all attention focused on Nathalit, who tilted her head to the side.
Where we are, we are safe, for now, she said. At the moment, the demoness cannot sense our presence here. This is because we are dwelling between reality and dream.
"But if it's dreams that she focuses on, won't she find us out?" Chepi asked, and some of the others started looking nervous.
She will, Nathalit replied, once we set our plan in motion. This is why we must act quickly, to accomplish what we must before she comes. We will have to face her, before this matter is resolved.
"Don't WANT to face her," one of the GeeBees whined, and the rest seemed to agree. Charmian almost jumped with surprise when Augwak of all people backhanded him across the face with a hiss, making the other GeeBee cringe and rub his cheek. Augwak bared his teeth at him and shook his fist.
"Shut up, dungball! She's talking!"
She will always come after us if we do not face her, Tal Natha said. No solution will work if not followed through to the end.
And so what do we do? Mitchi Manitou growled. Nathalit waited for the murmuring to die down before speaking again.
You are safe for the moment, she said, and as long as I can I will protect you. But you must bait the demoness to come after you, and the same thing you use as your bait will be that which will help you defeat her.
Confused looks. Manabozho rubbed at his neck and Charmian couldn't tell if he was joking or not. "If this is a test, then I know this one..."
That was all the answer Nathalit got, until Charmian flung up her hands and stomped her foot against the ground. "Dreams!" she snapped. "Ocryana gets her power from dreams. She'll notice there AREN'T any anymore and she'll go looking for some. She'll find us here--but since dreams are power, we'll use those against her." She gave the crowd an evil look. "Do you get it NOW?"
She sighed when she could tell that not all of them did. But Chepi offered her best smile.
"Well, whatever you say will work, Charmian, then we'll do it...if you're sure."
Charmian clenched one fist, ready to tear her wings off. Tal Natha stepped forward and she resisted the urge, just barely.
My dream power is unfettered here, he said, which means that I can give you your dreams, without you falling asleep. But you must be willing to accept them, whatever they may bring. You are the ones who gave your dreams away in the first place; you must now take them back.
No one moved. Even Charmian stayed rooted to the spot; she hadn't expected this stipulation. Tal Natha stood and waited but nobody seemed willing to comply. Finally, though, after a tense several minutes, a bit of movement arose and a few of the manitous stepped aside. Charmian watched as X'aaru made his way through the crowd, his head and ears low; he approached Tal Natha and stopped before him, peering off to the side meekly.
"I'll take mine back," he said in a soft voice.
Charmian held her breath. Tal Natha stepped toward him and pressed his forehead to X'aaru's, surprising the other demon. He looked him in the eyes.
You are braver than many I know, Brother.
X'aaru blinked. Charmian saw his eyes fill with tears, but she could sense his pleasure as well. Before he could say anything, if he was going to, a glow emerged from Tal Natha's forehead and spread to X'aaru's, making him gasp. His eyes widened and everyone began to glance around themselves as the scenery began to shift and melt, swirling in all different colors before re-forming again. Charmian frowned in confusion at what she saw before her now.
Instead of the seemingly endless expanse of the Gemfields stretching every which way, there was now only a hazy replica of the Island itself, with trees and springs and woodland trails. Charmian heard a noise and looked up. She nearly cringed back when she saw Ocryana fly overhead, only to then see X'aaru appear not far behind her, and then realized that this was nothing more than a dream--X'aaru's dream. Everyone else around her watched the scene as well. Ocryana spun about in midair, snarling and lashing out at her follower; X'aaru managed to avoid her blow, but lashed out in return with his tail, driving her back. The two of them fought what was possibly the oddest fight Charmian had ever seen; no blows were actually exchanged, but the younger demon succeeded in driving Ocryana back, and finally she whirled around and flew off over the trees. X'aaru began to descend, only to fade into nothing; the Gemfields came back into view, the dream vanishing. Charmian was left staring at the real X'aaru, who still stood before Tal Natha with an embarrassed look on his face.
"X'aaru," she said, and he peered up at her. "Your dream is to be brave?"
X'aaru folded his ears back. "I gave it up a while ago," he said softly. "I couldn't ever see it coming true..."
Charmian stared at him for a moment before smiling. She approached and put her hand against his shoulder, earning a puzzled look.
"Your brother's right," she said. "You're a lot braver already than a lot of other people I know."
X'aaru blinked at her a few times and his eyes filled with tears again, but he smiled in return. Red Bird came forward now and took his place before Tal Natha, wringing her hands. Tal Natha pressed his forehead to hers--for a brief instant Charmian was reminded of the time she had seen them together so long ago, before leaving the cave near Fort Holmes--and the glow emerged again. Again, the Gemfields shimmered and faded, replaced now by walls of water-rippled stone lit with crystals; Charmian recognized the cave she'd seen in Red Bird's discarded dream near Devil's Kitchen. She glanced at Ocryx, and saw recognition on his face as well; he seemed surprised to see the old room around him before it vanished. Red Bird stepped back, looking a bit embarrassed herself; she moved aside and now Chepi scuttled forward.
"Oh, let me get mine out of the way, move it, move it! Anything to get this over with. I don't have all day to wait down here!"
She halted before Tal Natha, standing as straight as she could, wings quivering. Still, Tal Natha had to bend down to reach her, and she grimaced a little bit when he touched his head to hers; the scenery shifted to something Charmian didn't recognize, appearing to be a large pool, or perhaps a spring, surrounded by trees. It made her think vaguely of Devil's Lake, though she knew she'd never seen this body of water before.
She gaped in a bit of astonishment when she saw something come swimming through the water toward them, flipping and dipping and popping up again, shaking droplets from its gleaming locks. She couldn't believe she was seeing Chepi swimming around in the spring; certainly, she'd seen it before, but Chepi seemed so...free and unself-conscious here. She even got a floating plant stuck in her hair, and giggled as she pulled it out, tossing it back into the water before paddling out into the middle of the pool. Charmian felt her own eyes stinging. This was nothing like the uptight, hysterical Chepi she knew now.
As if to prove this point, the real Chepi popped up before the crowd, flinging her arms out to her sides and spreading her wings as wide as she could. "OOOOOHHH! Stop looking! Stop looking!" she cried. "This is MY dream! Stop looking!!" She hit one of the ogling GeeBees with her wing and made a horrendous face, looking ready to cry. "You're not supposed to see all this! STOP LOOKING AT MY DREAM!!" She stomped her feet and jumped up and down, wailing.
The dream vanished and everyone forced themselves to look away, if only to spare themselves from her wrath. Unfortunately, Charmian found she couldn't quite think of the fairy in the same way anymore, not after having seen that. Chepi was left standing off to the side, bawling like a lost calf; all attention shifted away from her toward Mani, who tentatively approached Tal Natha. He cast Charmian a look as he did so, and, understanding, she turned away and closed her eyes. She heard a few murmurs, and after she opened her eyes again noticed that more than a few of the others were looking at her, but didn't say anything. She felt it wouldn't have been right to intrude on Mani's dream. She found herself doing the same thing when Drake went up, just in case she were to see something she didn't want to see. When she again opened her eyes he walked past, rubbing his forehead and looking puzzled.
"Huh," he said. "That wasn't the dream I was expecting...I thought for sure it'd be that old one where I used to turn into a Transformer or something."
Charmian rolled her eyes. "Maybe you should feel lucky that that WASN'T the one," she said, as Augwak clambered past. He stopped in front of the demon and scowled.
"Go on and get it over with! Like I need a bunch of fleshlings eavesdropping on my dream!"
The look he got was even worse than the one Chepi had had when Tal Natha granted his request. Charmian waited with some interest to see what Augwak's dream would reveal about him. The Gemfields disappeared; they were replaced by high cave walls, and she figured this must be the interior of Devil's Kitchen. She couldn't see Augwak himself, but instead saw shadows cast upon the walls by the flickering fire. She heard somebody screaming in agony--more like several somebodies--and from the shadows, she could pretty much tell what the GeeBees were doing. When the dream faded she whirled on Augwak, grating her teeth.
"You WOULD have a dream like that!" she snapped.
"And so it isn't flowery or fluffy or heartwarming!" Augwak snapped in return. "SO I EAT HUMAN FLESH! LIVE WITH IT!"
Charmian, Tal Natha called. She cut off the tirade she'd been preparing and glanced toward him, flushing when she realized he was waiting for her. Suddenly the thought of everyone else peeking in on her dream, no matter how mundane it might be, was a threatening one. Still, she went over to him and let him press his head to hers, wondering just how red her face was. She saw the few people within her view looking around themselves in anticipation, and had to bite her tongue to avoid yelling at them as Chepi had.
Thankfully, once her dream appeared--rolling green hills, deep forests, fountain and all--they seemed to lose interest. She supposed that as Islanders they were used to seeing more unusual things than this. The dream dissolved and she backed away from Tal Natha, rubbing at her forehead as Drake had done. Manabozho stepped forward and Drake took her aside.
"So do you really think this'll get her to come down here?" he whispered as the Gemfields faded away; Charmian didn't even think to pay attention to what Manabozho dreamed about. "You know she's not really that stupid, right?"
Charmian nodded slowly. "I know...but she's got to be hurting right about now, without any energy to feed off of. I'm thinking she won't care whether it's a trap or not. Who knows, she might get sloppy." She bit her lip. "I hope."
Drake frowned. Charmian glanced up as the Gemfields reappeared. "Ya think?" he said, sounding uncertain. "I hate to be the negatory one for a change, but I think that instead of being sloppy, she's gonna be wary."
Charmian didn't reply at first, unable to think of something to reply with. She watched Ocryx move toward his son and wanted to see what he dreamed of, but Drake tugged her arm just as the two demons met. "I think maybe we should be trying to think of some sort of plan," he said.
Charmian stared at him. "Wow, Drake. You're starting to sound like me."
"Well, you've got this overbearing personality so I guess I can't help but start to turn into your clone." Charmian's brow furrowed at the odd comment. "What I'm saying is that it's always better to be safe than sorry, right? And--eegh," he made a face, "I really AM starting to sound like you."
Charmian rolled her eyes. "Don't worry; I'll make sure to put you out of your misery before it gets too hopele--"
A resounding BOOM shook through the Gemfields, and Charmian could have sworn that the scenery around her actually quivered even though Ocryx had not received his dream yet. Everyone looked up at the sky, Tal Natha and Ocryx included, as if expecting to see the source there, for it had seemed to be from above them that the sound had come. Drake's look grew anxious, but he didn't dare take his eyes off the sky.
"What was that?" he asked in a quavery voice, as if not really wanting to know. Before Charmian could speak, the BOOM came again, but louder this time, and now she was certain she'd seen the sky ripple in protest at the sound. She slowly began to recognize the sight from what she had seen when Kawaduk had tried to batter his way into X'aaru's rainbow, and dread filled her breast.
"I think she just found us."
"Part 106: Torn Asunder"
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