Charmian faces an eerie presence, and an even eerier revelation...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Return To Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 74: Pressure Rising"
The Wicked Mirror
TAL NATHA PACED in circles while Charmian and Red Bird talked, seemingly oblivious to the demon; Thomas was too busy staring at the various crystals set into the walls, then at the view outside the cave entrance where Marten stood, to much notice him either. Dakh and Sikt remained in their dim corner, curled up beside each other and staring at everyone else in silence. Charmian and Red Bird sat cross-legged on the floor, talking animatedly; Charmian gestured with her hands as she spoke, Red Bird listening and nodding every so often with an oddly serious look on her face.
"Weaver medicine," Charmian was saying. "She said it's all over the Island, but mostly at portals, and underground. It's what works the Fairy Arch and things like my dreamcatcher. Silver Eagle Feather thinks maybe I can use it the way you're supposed to use one. That way, I can get a good look at my dream before Chakenapok even knows what's going on."
"It seems to make sense," Red Bird murmured.
Tal Natha halted his impatient pacing and came toward them. You do not know this for certain, he interrupted, drawing their attention. His tail flicked. I will never speak ill of Silver Eagle Feather, for she is one of the wisest beings I know...yet even she cannot be certain of such a thing. I know how dreams work, Mainlander, and they are not always so easy to predict.
Charmian frowned slightly. "Well...you can be around to help me, can't you? I know you didn't spin the dream, but you still know how to end them if they get out of hand..."
I do not like severing dreams in this manner, the demon replied. Doing so is very dangerous, and I do not appreciate the thought of having to do it again.
"You might not even have to. Like I was saying--the dreamcatcher should trap it, so he can't find me--"
He has already proven his power over dreams, Tal Natha cut in, and they fell silent again at the bite in his voice. Who is to say a dreamcatcher can hold him back? For all you know, he possesses medicine he has not even wielded yet. Your dreamcatcher may be entirely useless. He can take a dream away from you without you even knowing it--thus he may be able to nullify your dreamcatcher, before anyone may even react. He lifted his head and flared his ears. "This is a foolish plan, Charmian," he said aloud, and the sound of his voice, actually speaking, made her jump a little. "At the very least, you should learn more about him before you attempt this again."
"But I can't learn anything more about him," Charmian insisted. "That's why I wanted to see the dream! I think it can tell me what I need to know."
"I could not help you last time," Tal Natha said. "And neither could Justin. I heard how he tried, and failed. If this fails, you cannot even turn to him to help you." He paused. "No matter how badly you may need it."
Red Bird and Charmian stared at him with wide eyes. When he turned away they relaxed, just slightly; Charmian's brow furrowed and Red Bird looked up at her as she got to her feet and dusted sand from her knees.
Tal Natha never talks about Justin. I know he doesn't trust him...so if he's talking about him now, it has to be serious...
"Tal Natha...?" she asked, following him toward the back of the cave where a large crystal sat inset into a rock stand; he sat down beside it, on his haunches, as she approached. She frowned and dropped her voice.
"What's going on?" she almost whispered; the others stared at them for a moment before turning away, pretending not to be interested. "The whole time I've been here, it's been like...you don't want me here. That's really the feeling I've been getting."
Tal Natha flicked an ear. This is not the matter! I have never made you unwelcome here, Charmian. You know as well as I do that the Island is your second home.
"That's just it," Charmian retorted. "You didn't even call me here! I had to come on my own. And you still didn't even know I was here until I showed up. I understand that now, since something's obviously gone wrong, but..." She spread out her arms. "What is it? What did I do?"
Tal Natha frowned in confusion. What do you mean, what did you do--?
"To piss you off so much!" Charmian scowled. "I thought, just maybe, you were only busy or something--being Guardian of the Island has to be really time consuming, right? But I sat back at home and waited almost a year and you STILL never called on me! I waited every single day! I think I'd STILL be waiting there if not for Grandma! Almost ten years seem to have passed, here! And Shadow Water says these Shadow Wolves have been around for ages now! You guys have been having trouble all that time--so why didn't you call me?"
The Ocryx held her stare for a moment before averting his eyes. Charmian's own confusion grew. She waited, then took a step to stand in front of him again. He lifted his head as if startled.
"You really didn't want me here...?" she asked in disbelief.
Tal Natha's face grew dark but he still couldn't look her in the eyes. You well know I would never shun your presence here, Charmian.
Charmian stared at him, then let out a gusty sigh and waved her arms; Red Bird got to her feet. "Then WHAT IS IT? Why didn't you ever call me--not even once? You promised me I could come back, but until that dreamcatcher, I didn't have any way to do it on my own! Even if you couldn't bring me here yourself, you could have called out to me and let me know what was going on! But I never ONCE had a dream that you sent! Why didn't you ever just say one thing...?"
Tal Natha looked about ready to sink into the floor. Charmian opened her mouth to demand an answer, yet cut herself off when she felt Red Bird's hand on her arm. "I think she should take this risk," she said softly. "He already attacked her, but she made it through. I think she's stronger now. And Silver Eagle Feather would not advise this if she felt it stood no chance of success."
Silver Eagle Feather does not properly understand dreams as I do, Tal Natha muttered.
"If he takes control and it turns into a nightmare, then Dakh and Sikt can help. You can sever it, and Lord Justin can do whatever he can. The point is, she's still here." She paused and looked at Charmian. "And she's willing to try it."
Charmian nodded, adamant. "I can stand up to him, Tal Natha; I did it once and I can do it again. I have to figure out where this dream is coming from. It's the one thing I haven't really been able to look at; I think it really does hold what I need to know." She paused, then added, "You were ready to sacrifice yourself for the Island once, don't you remember? How come I don't get the same choice?"
Tal Natha's ears flared as if she'd offended him. You are not grown yet, he almost snapped. You should not be considering sacrifice.
Charmian got ready to retort again but Red Bird squeezed her arm and she bit her tongue instead. She held up her dreamcatcher and turned it about. "I have to try it," she said; when a dark look crossed his face, she lifted her head. "I'm sorry, but I have to."
The demon looked away again. If I cannot help you...
"I know you'll do everything you can." Charmian glanced at Thomas and Marten, then Red Bird, then over at Dakh and Sikt. The twin demons stared back with their odd cool eyes.
I will keep my eyes open, Dakh said.
I will find you if you get lost, said Sikt.
Charmian managed to smile a little bit. "Thanks." She went and sat down next to the wall, Red Bird, Thomas, and Marten following. She held the dreamcatcher in front of herself for a few moments before handing it up to Red Bird, who accepted it in silence. She stretched her legs out in front of her and took a breath, letting it out and looking serious. She pursed her lips.
"I have to sleep," she stated, then closed her eyes. She felt a little stupid--she wasn't tired at all--yet hoped Marten was right somehow. "Sleep sleep sleep," she mumbled, and her face twitched.
She felt Marten's furry tail brush against her and it nearly made her fling him across the room like a stray spider. "You put your hand on 'Bozho before he woke up!" he said. "Why not try doing that--?"
Charmian frowned, eyes still closed. "Put my hands on myself? That sounds kind of redundant, you know..."
"Who cares if it sounds redunundanant! Go on and try it!"
Charmian sighed but obeyed. She lifted her hands and splayed her fingers against her temples and forehead, furrowing her brow a bit and concentrating. "I need to sleep," she said. "Sleep." A pause. "How does this Nebanaubae stuff work, anyway?"
"Maybe you try too hard...?" Red Bird suggested.
"Whenever I try, I can never get to sleep," Thomas added. "Try relaxing or something; you look like you'd rather be meditating."
Charmian, Tal Natha called from the other side of the room, perhaps you should lower your hands...one will never get to sleep with their arms raised in the air.
"You guys are irritating me!" Charmian snapped. "Use your hands--don't use your hands! Concentrate, don't concentrate! Jeez...make up my mind already." She lowered her hands and laced her fingers in her lap. "Satisfied? I don't think it's going to work."
"Whenever I can't sleep," Marten exclaimed, "Glooskap always tells me a story!"
Charmian sighed. "Oh, brother."
"My favorite was the one about the witch lady who could turn into a cat," Marten continued obliviously, "but then again I really like the one where he paddled out in his canoe and it almost sank. Oh! How about the one where I climbed that pine tree and couldn't get down? The more I climbed the taller it got! It was fun going up, but so hard getting down. I didn't notice for a long time though because I really wanted to go up. In fact, now that I think of it, I only went down because I fell. Oh, that's right. I stubbed my toe on a branch. Come to think of it it wasn't a pine tree at all, it was a hickory. Hm, and it wasn't really that tall. I think it only seemed tall because my tail got caught on the way down--because I fell, you know. That was when I stubbed my toe. Right before I fell, I mean. My toe hurt so much, that I went, 'Ow!' and fell. And that was how my tail got caught. But not for long. My tail, I mean. I uncaught it and then kept falling. But my toe kept hurting for a long time. Glooskap had to make a poultice to put on it. But that's another story. Anyway. When I hit the ground, then I hurt my other toe. And that's when I realized I was out of berries, so I shouldn't have been up a tree in the first place, I should have been looking in the bush. I'm not even sure what I was doing in a hickory tree. Oh, that's right, I was looking at the bark, to see if it was really shaggy or not. But that's another story too. Do you want me to tell you that one, instead...?"
Charmian's chin was on her chest by now. She started to slump forward, but Thomas and Red Bird caught her and carefully lowered her to the sandy floor. Tal Natha watched them, ear flicking; Marten scratched his head in puzzlement.
"I didn't even get to start the story!"
"I think you did the trick," Thomas said, sliding his arms out from under Charmian's. He and Red Bird stared at her for a moment, then Red Bird stooped down and held the dreamcatcher over her head.
Marten climbed atop Thomas's shoulder. "How do we know if it works?" he asked.
Red Bird tilted the dreamcatcher downward slightly. She looked down at Charmian and bit her lip.
"She is the only one who can tell us that."
* * * * *
The endless stream continued on its way through space, new streamlets joining it and disappearing every so often. A bright thread of light merged in with the rest, wriggling its way among them, racing toward its destination.
Its arrival was sensed. Something shifted toward it, invisible, reaching out to snatch it away.
Only...right before it could be grasped, it slipped out of reach, a small glowing circle opening up before it. The presence watched, stunned, as the tiny streamlet changed its course and sped through the circle, both then disappearing from sight. The rest of the stream went on, as always.
Chakenapok's eyes opened abruptly, growing wide in disbelief.
* * * * *
Darkness swirled in around Charmian's mind. She felt herself lying on her side, on the sandy ground of Tal Natha's cave, but her eyes were closed and the air was colder than usual; she frowned and shivered a little. When she moved to rub her arms with her hands, she felt a breeze waft over her face. Tal Natha's cave was protected from the wind.
It's never this dark in there...
Wait a minute...
She slowly opened her eyes, dragging herself out of sleep. When she saw the darkness surrounding her, she realized she had that backwards.
Not too bad, Marten.
With a slight groan she pushed herself up, rubbing at her head. Whatever that Nebanaubae medicine was, it seemed to have done the trick, perhaps a little too well. She had to fight to keep her eyes open, even in her sleep, and yawned more than once as she looked around. She blinked in confusion as she rubbed at her eyes and tried to piece together what she was seeing, or rather, wasn't seeing. Everything seemed near pitch black. Until she spotted just the tiniest flicker of light ahead of her, and turned to look in that direction. It repeated itself; she squinted harder, then realized what it must be.
That's right...there was a lake. A great underground lake...
Right on cue...the black waters of the underground lake faded into view before her. Charmian's face lit up as she looked at it.
It's working! This is the dream I kept having! She glanced skyward as if to see her watchers, and bit her lip. I wish I could just tell them right now what it is...just in case when I wake up...
She felt a presence now, and shivered slightly, looking across the water. She rubbed her arms, feeling tense.
That's right...there should be something, across the lake...
She squinted harder, waiting for the image of the great wolf with the glowing eyes to appear.
So you come, and you hope to remember now.
The voice came from all around her, soft yet echoing. Charmian gasped and scrambled to her feet, nearly toppling into the water. She clutched at herself and glanced around wildly. She looked across the water but there was nothing there.
"Wh--who is that--?" she yelled, ready to panic. Nobody had ever said that to her before!
The lake rippled as a breeze wafted over its surface. You came to see me, the voice said again, and she realized it was female. You sought me out this time. It paused, and she had the distinct feeling that whatever was speaking was drifting all around her, overhead, looking down at her; she shivered. He is already looking for you, it said, and the coldness inside her grew.
"Chakenapok...?" she said, then rubbed her arms again. "So he's not sending me this dream...?"
I am the one sending it, the voice said. He does not understand this dream.
"Are..." Charmian chewed her lip a bit. "Are you like Nathalit, then?"
I am not a Nathali, the voice said, and it sounded angry, as if she'd insulted it; Charmian cringed. I have been here far longer than the Nathali. Her medicine is but a weak echo of mine.
"Sorry," Charmian said stupidly.
So far, you are the only one I could send this dream to, the voice continued, and she was mildly bothered to hear the amused tone in it; Nathalit had never sounded angry, or amused. I tried with the old man...but his spirit was failing him. He came close. I almost reached him. If he had not decided just then to flee for the Spirit Road.
"Yellow Turtle--?" Charmian's frown grew. "He was sick! Did you do that to him--? Somebody's taking people's dreams, and it's funny that the same dream of mine that keeps getting taken, you keep showing up in. Are you Malsum--?"
The water rippled heavily, and Charmian sucked in a breath and took a step back when the yellow-eyed wolf appeared...though this time, he was beneath the water, a reflection without an original image. Her brow furrowed in confusion on seeing this. The image faded away before her eyes.
Do you mean him...? I am not him. You should stop guessing. You seem confused. The air rippled now, and she almost shivered until she noticed that the air was warm. I tried with the trapper, too, the voice went on. But he is not of this Island, though for some strange reason it has accepted him...so he did not see it. I tried the strange woman from the mainland, but she was just afraid; and I tried the GeeBees, but they are just stupid; and I tried the demon of the lake, but his head is too thick to properly understand what he was being told...
"Francois...Morning Star...Ocryx." Charmian's brow furrowed deeper. "Those are all the people who lost their dreams." She lifted her head to look up at the sky, cavern ceiling, whatever lay above, and clenched her fists. "What did you do to them?" she demanded. "EVERY one of those people is somebody who lost their dream! You mean that you both give them AND take them away--? What do you want here?"
What do YOU want here? the voice retorted, instantly shutting her up. YOU are the trespasser here. Things were once right. Now, they are wrong. Do you wonder why the Island is confused? Why when some speak, others may not understand them? Why what was one way one day, is completely different the next? This is your doing. You should look at yourself, before you begin to blame another.
When Crooked Creek spoke Chippewa, Charmian thought, growing confused. I couldn't understand a word! The other times too! "You're saying that's MY fault?" she shouted, and waved her arms. "You can hardly blame that on me! If anything, it's MALSUM you should be blaming!"
Malsum did not confuse the Island. Malsum did not weaken its defenses, as you did. Charmian blinked on hearing this, and her voice vanished in a gasp. She felt the presence shifting around her again, peering down at her...and it didn't feel friendly. She shrank in on herself a bit as it continued speaking.
You wonder why the Island is confused, and weak now? Why he can attack it so easily? it said. You are the reason. You came, and in the hopes of setting everything right, you only made everything more wrong.
"How..." Charmian's voice was faint, bewildered. "...How did I do this...?"
The Island has always cared for itself, the voice said. It has not relied on any mainlander to defend it. It does not matter how much the Island accepts you--you are always an outsider here. You are the one who has turned the Island upon itself. Because of you, it attacks itself, and it will only grow weaker, until it dies.
"Turned it on itself--?" Charmian's voice rose to a frantic pitch. "I never did ANYTHING like that! I always did everything I could to help the Island! The last time, and THIS time! Everyone thanked me! And Geezhigo-Quae said it herself--the Island is accepting me! Yellow Turtle said it! He said I could find a home here--the ISLAND told him so! They ALL told me this!"
They are ignorant, the voice said simply, and the presence shifted back from her, over the lake. Charmian gaped at the invisible sky in disbelief. The Islanders, Yellow Turtle, perhaps she could believe they were ignorant...maybe. But Geezhigo-Quae--? She clenched her fists.
"What kind of thing are you?" she snapped. "That you'll blame all this crap on ME? I've always done EVERYTHING I could to help this Island! If you think I'm doing such a lousy job, then tell me what I have to do to fix it! That's why I'm here, isn't it?"
The presence shifted and the water rippled. I do not think you are strong enough to fix it, it said.
Charmian ground her teeth. "Tell me what it is and then I'll show you! But only THEN can you judge me!" She craned her neck, feeling rather stupid to be talking to air. "Besides, YOU wanted me here, remember? Otherwise why'd you keep sending me this stupid dream--?"
You were the last resort, the voice replied, sounding amused again; Charmian wanted to start throwing rocks, but knew it would be pointless, doubly so since this wasn't even real. In fact I wonder why I place any reliance on a mainlander--particularly the very one who caused all of this in the first place.
The NERVE!! Charmian squinched her eyes shut and yelled as loudly as she could. "TELL ME WHAT TO DO, THEN!!"
Another shifting. The water stopped rippling. Dreams do not tell you what to do, the voice said, and she felt it pulling even further away. She gasped and took a step toward the water so it licked at her toes, and strained her eyes to see anything, though the water and shore were the only things within sight.
"SHOW me, then!" she shouted. "Show me what I have to figure out! Otherwise, you just wasted a whole lot of my time!"
The presence stopped moving and shifted about a bit. You forget, it said; when her face grew confused it added, You forget one part of your dream. Within the water.
Charmian frowned, and looked down at the dark lake. Her brow furrowed.
That's right...my reflection. I never looked at it, this time...
She looked up again skeptically. "My reflection? That'll show me what to do?"
It will show you everything you need to set things straight, the voice said; then, almost as if taunting, IF you are strong enough to do so.
Charmian's temper flared. "Hold on and watch!" She took another step or two out into the water and bent over, looking at her own face. It stared up at her, the only ripples coming from her ankles within the water. She saw her own scowl, her hair falling down around her face, and looked up once more.
"Oh. Wow." She put her hands on her hips. "BIG help. It's my stupid reflection. And how is THAT supposed to help me, when you just said I'm the cause of all the trouble?"
You do not look long enough, the voice retorted. Or are you afraid of what you might see?
Charmian snorted. "Like a stupid reflection's so scary!" She stared down into the water again, trying not to scowl so hard as it contorted her face in an unpleasant manner...had she always looked so nasty when angry? She opened her mouth to snap at the voice again but her own voice died when the wind picked up, sending ripples across the surface of the lake and marring her reflection. She frowned and bit her lip and tried to see it better, but it had hopelessly blurred, re-forming and then breaking apart again.
You are the one who took away what the Island needs to survive, the voice said, and you are the only one who can bring it back. But if you cannot face this task...
"Of course I can face it," Charmian muttered, and the ripples on the lake began to die down, the water starting to smooth out around her. Her face started to emerge in the black water below her. "I did it once and I can do it again."
You are more correct in that than you think, the voice said, and at last the wind faded completely and the water slowed to stillness, leaving Charmian's reflection staring back up at her. Only...
Her eyes widened when she saw how they had started to glow, red and green...then the anger which was still on her face contorted her features even more, until she was practically unrecognizable--except something about her features was familiar...she struggled to place it, her heart starting to pound hard in her chest as her features shifted and changed, her pale skin changing to dark gray, her tousled red hair straightening into thick gray fur, her ears growing longer and pointed, her headband disappearing completely and being replaced with pointed, wicked black horns--
Charmian's mouth opened wide and she screamed and scrambled back in terror, trying to escape the reflection of Ocryana which leered up at her.
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