An odd reunion leads to a confrontation with Tal Natha...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Return To Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 122: The Return Of White Rabbit"
PART ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY-THREE:
CHARMIAN, MANABOZHO, MOON Wolf, and the others all stared at the strange pale-clad Wabasso who now stood before them, his oddly white deerskin clothing and feathers almost seeming to glow in the dim light. Even his eyes glowed blue, just like a manitou's; and he bore the same look of vague sadness in his eyes that he had in the Ogimah-Quae's cavern, yet somehow, at least to Charmian, it didn't seem quite so bad, here. They all looked at him in silence. The name he had just given for himself was not the name Charmian was used to using.
"Chibiabos...?" she echoed, after a few moments of quiet. Her brow furrowed at the odd name.
She heard a slight shuffling noise behind her, and Niskigwun took a step forward. "Ghost of Rabbit," he whispered in seeming awe, and they all stared at Wabasso--Chibiabos--again.
Charmian let out her breath, not even aware until then that she'd been holding it. "You're really here...?" she asked hesitantly. "I mean...you're really alive, now...?"
Wabasso--Chibiabos--she would never get used to that name--nodded his head slowly. "The Ogimah-Quae," he murmured, and looked down, touching a hand to his breast. "She is the reason why...I could not have come back without her. I did not remember any of you anymore."
Charmian sucked in a breath now. "The Ogimah-Quae," she blurted out, and he lifted his head again. "What happened to her--? She was here, and then, she was gone..."
"She is part of me now." Chibiabos looked almost as if he were about to smile, and her ears grew warm. He touched his chest again and a glow emerged; the others looked down to see his spirit stone. It shimmered pale greenish-blue.
"I was not strong enough to return on my own," he murmured as he stared at it. "Even if I had remembered. She gave her spirit power so that I could rejoin my body and live again."
Charmian's confusion grew. "So--she's not dead--?"
Chibiabos shook his head. "She is here now." A touch to his chest. "I can feel her inside me." He spread his fingers, and Charmian and Manabozho both leaned forward, eyes growing, to see something else appear in his chest, behind or within his spirit stone. It seemed to be another spirit stone, this one glowing deep violet, and Charmian's heart almost stopped on looking at it.
"It's--it's two spirit stones! In one body!" she exclaimed, and glanced up at him in surprise. "Just like what I saw with Chakenapok!"
Chibiabos lowered his hand and the glow began to fade. "As Chakenapok serves as Malsum's 'shell,' so too do I now serve as the Ogimah-Quae's shell. I am the body and the mind, and I control all I do, yet she is still somewhere within me, and the two of us exist as one now." He lifted his eyes to meet her own. "She has never met someone who cares as deeply for the Island as you do."
Charmian flushed and lowered her eyes. "Well, she met herself," she mumbled. "She just did more than I ever did..."
She cut herself off with a slight gasp when Chibiabos stepped forward and held out his hand. Her spirit stone started glowing again--yet this time it was within plain sight of everybody, and they all immediately crowded around her, peering forward at it with furrowed brows. Charmian felt her face grow hot and wanted nothing more than to sink into the ground, facing such scrutiny; yet the looks that they got on their faces were even worse. The looks that Thomas and Moon Wolf got were the worst of all, and she couldn't even look at them anymore.
Chibiabos's own eyes grew sadder. "This is what you faced, when you came to get me."
Manabozho nudged his way past Peepaukawiss and frowned. "That...?" He glanced up at her. "How did that happen--?"
Charmian just huddled in on herself. "Charmian?" Thomas asked, and Moon Wolf and Niskigwun both took a step forward. "It wasn't that bad the last time I saw it!"
"What happened to it...?" Niskigwun asked in confusion.
Chibiabos turned his head to look at them. "Chakenapok wounded it, when once they met. The long knife remembers. When she walked the Spirit Road, she had to take the most difficult path." He turned back to Charmian and lowered his hand. "This is what lay down that path."
Moon Wolf looked stricken. "You went through this willingly--?"
Thomas clenched his fists. "Charmian, he already hurt you once! How could you let him hurt you again--?"
"You could not have taken another way--?" Niskigwun exclaimed.
Charmian's own fists clenched. "There WAS no other way!" she cried, her head jerking up so she glared at them with wet eyes. "You told me to take the most difficult path!" she said to Moon Wolf. Then to Thomas, "And you keep telling me to believe in myself. And you--" she turned to Manabozho and Puka "--wanted Wabasso back. I said I'd bring him back. I don't care about Roads or spirit stones or ice water or anything! I told you I'd get him back!"
Manabozho and Puka both stared at her with wide eyes. Manabozho's started to darken--though not in anger--and Puka took a tentative step forward. "You...you did that for Baby Brother...?" he asked hesitantly, gesturing at her spirit stone, which started to fade from view.
Charmian wiped her eyes. "I would've done it for anybody standing here," she said. "And now I don't have anything left to lose!"
Moon Wolf lowered his head and looked as if he wanted to start thrashing himself. Puka's eyes welled up and he started sniffling and rubbing at them. Manabozho paused before stepping forward, toward Chibiabos, and stopped just beside him; Chibiabos turned his head and their eyes met. Charmian peered up to see the hesitation on Manabozho's face.
"It's really you...?" he asked, haltingly.
Chibiabos stared at him for a moment, then his eyes softened. He smiled slightly. "It seems I have bad luck learning to say goodbye to you," he said, and Manabozho's mouth opened, no words escaping him, but his eyes welled up. Puka sucked in a breath and took a step forward.
"Baby Brother--?" he called out; Chibiabos turned to him. "You remember me too, right--?"
Chibiabos's smile grew even wider. "I told you 'Bozho would never forget that trick you pulled with his birds," he said, and Puka's eyes squinched shut, the tears spilling down his face and a weird whining noise escaping him.
"Eeeeeeeeeee Baby Brother!" he cried, and bustled forward to throw his arms around him. Charmian couldn't tell if he was laughing or crying, or both, his feathers trembled so much. Manabozho remained standing where he was, and she bit her lip when she saw the tears streaming from his own eyes. He didn't make a move to throw his arms around Chibiabos but Charmian could tell that he wanted to.
It's okay, she thought at him. I won't think any less of you.
He didn't look at her, though he did bite his lip. You are the only one who... His voice trailed off, then he tried again. No one else ever...
She shifted her eyes and could tell that no one else heard what he'd said. She let out a soft breath and gave him a very small smile, noticing how his own eyes shifted ever so slightly toward her. I know others would, if you'd give them the chance, she replied, and he didn't respond to this, though he did step meekly toward Chibiabos and Puka. He fiddled his fingers a bit, but Puka made up his mind for him, grabbing hold of his arm and yanking him forward into a group hug. Manabozho's eyes goggled and he looked ready to start hitting Puka over the head, but then his arm touched Chibiabos's, and his eyes dissolved into tears again; Charmian turned away to grant them a little bit of privacy.
"Where's Mudji?" she asked the others. "I figured he'd be here too..."
Thomas rolled his eyes. "He dropped Waba...um...Chibiabos off here, and then said he had to go," he replied. "Was quite adamant about it too."
"He said he did not have the time or inclination to deal with such trivialities," Niskigwun said with a frown, "though of course, he did not use words like inclination and trivialities."
"I think this is what he did not have the inclination to deal with," Moon Wolf said, and they all glanced back at the brothers; they were all detaching themselves now, Manabozho rubbing at his eyes and Puka still sniffling and quivering. Charmian smiled.
"I'm not really surprised," she admitted. "Maybe he has more of a heart than I thought."
Chibiabos stepped forward, so that the other two stepped slightly aside, still wiping their eyes. "You wished us together to face Chakenapok," he said, and Charmian stood up straighter, suddenly remembering the reason why she'd gone to all of this trouble.
"Oh--right," she exclaimed, and flushed. "Glooskap said we'd need all four of you..."
"The other one is easily found," Niskigwun said, and his face grew dark. "If not then I will drag him back on the end of my spear."
"You know where you may find him?" Chibiabos asked Charmian, and she knew that he meant Chakenapok.
She nodded, a bit hesitantly. "I think he's in the Borderlands--they're down beneath Crack-in-the-Island. I think he made his way there from Cave of the Woods, and that's how he got near Ocryana, and how he can manipulate dreams--the Borderlands are right near where dreams are born."
"You have been to this place--?" Niskigwun asked in surprise.
Charmian nodded at him. "The last time I was here...there was this creature called Nathalit. At first I thought the Ogimah-Quae was related to her, since she could control dreams too."
"So, how do you get into these 'Borderlands'?" Thomas asked. "Do you just walk down into the Crack...?"
Charmian shrugged, feeling a bit stupid. "Basically..."
Puka started hopping up and down. "Well what're we WAITING for! Let's GO and get this over with!!"
The others all glanced at each other, then Charmian shrugged again. "Sounds good to me!"
"I will keep my eyes open for that lout," Niskigwun scowled, and started walking ahead of them when they turned to head west. Chibiabos walked along with them, and Charmian felt a little strange and awkward in his presence, but said nothing of it as they stepped among the trees.
Chibiabos slightly turned his head and she saw his eye. You are anxious because I have changed, he said softly.
Charmian blinked. What--? she had to keep herself from saying out loud. No! That's not--that's not it...
It is all right. His visible eye softened and the corner of his mouth turned up. I know I have changed...but much of me is the same. You knew the Ogimah-Quae and she knew you. There is no part of me that is a stranger. And he smiled, and Charmian felt her anxiety melt away, and smiled tentatively in return. Manabozho turned his head and looked at her as well, and she felt her ears grow warm; something took her arm, and she glanced down to see that it was Thomas. Still flushing, she nevertheless hooked her arm around his, not even caring about the chill that seeped up her elbow, and they went the rest of the way in relative silence.
She sighed at the sight of the great field near the middle of the Island, big stands of trees now toppled and torn up by their roots and large furrows gouged into the earth. The others looked at the scene in awe. Augwak had left clear signs of his destruction all around the field, and they kept silent as they passed across it, as if anxious that he might return somehow to finish what he'd started. Charmian knew that this was a silly thought--the Wendigo spirit stone had long been taken care of--but she rubbed her arm just the same, knowing how the GeeBee would be feeling the next time they might meet.
Well, he didn't like it when I hugged him, she thought. Maybe I could always try that again.
She made a face.
"It should be anywhere now," Thomas said half to himself, scanning the ground when they reached the woods. "Aha, there's part of it over there...that's where we hid out." He peered at Charmian. "You're sure there's some kind of place down there...?"
"At least the last time I was here," Charmian said, peeking into the Crack. "Though with the way things are, it could've changed again!" She pulled her arm loose and bent over it, then started working her way down inside, waving at the others to follow. "Way down here...there should be an opening, leading into this really long, really nicely lit tunnel. And then there's all these gemstones..."
Everyone slowly filtered down into the Crack, peering around themselves in curiosity. Even Moon Wolf examined the craggy walls of the crevasse as if never having seen them before. They worked their way down deeper into the ground, having to squeeze around outcroppings now and then, before the Crack finally terminated in a dead end of jutting stone. Charmian put her hands against the rock and then knelt down.
"Opening should be right about here," she murmured, and pressed her fingers against a shadowed spot near the ground.
Nothing happened. She felt stone...and that was it. Puzzled, she sat back on her haunches to look at it more closely, then gestured Thomas forward. "Thomas...think you can get out my flashlight for me--? You know, the stick that lights up and freaks you out."
Thomas flushed and looked annoyed. "I can't help it that you're from a century other than mine!" he retorted, but unfastened and started poking around in her pack just the same. "Here it is."
Charmian took the flashlight as he refastened her pack, and flicked it on. She shined it on the wall in front of her, yet saw nothing but stone. Her brow furrowed.
"Huh...?" She put out her hand and pushed on the rock a few times. "That's weird! There's supposed to be a tunnel right here!"
"Tunnel...?" Thomas knelt down beside her--which was difficult, considering the lack of space--and peered at the rock. He touched it himself. "Are you sure...?"
Charmian tried not to scowl. "Yeah, I'm sure! It was right here!" She glanced back at the others. "Manabozho, you came down here before! Isn't there supposed to be a tunnel--?"
Manabozho shrugged. "The Island changes things! Maybe it's moved--?"
Charmian's face screwed up. "To where--? I mean, it's not like it has a lot of options where to move!" She set the flashlight down and put her shoulder to the stone, pushing as hard as she could, with no result. "I don't understand," she said when she pulled back, biting her lip. "It's supposed to be here. This is exactly the way down here...I remember I hit my head and everything." When the others gave her odd looks she did scowl now. "Stop looking at me like that! I hit my head after I found the tunnel!" She turned to Niskigwun. "Would the Island hide it from me--? Not want me to find it, like the Fairy Arch or Chimney--uh--Sunset Rock--?"
The Michinimakinong shrugged and shook his head. "If you have already seen it, and know of its presence, the Island should have no reason to deceive you again! As far as I know it does this only to protect itself--why would it hide this place from you?"
"You said that you believe Chakenapok is here because of the dreams," Chibiabos said, and Charmian looked back at him. "You said this place is where dreams are born?"
Charmian nodded. "The Gemfields. First you go through a tunnel, then come out in this crystal cave, then another tunnel, then another cave...then another tunnel...and then a little while later you end up in this big field of flowers. And there are crystals nearby. A big, huge field of crystals. This is the Gemfields. That's where dreams come from before Tal Natha spins them."
Chibiabos looked thoughtfully at the wall. "Dreams," he murmured. "I would take it that the dream medicine in this place is very strong." He looked at her again. "You had difficulty having a vision, I remember. And the Ogimah-Quae remembers your difficulty with dreams, when this difficulty never existed before."
Charmian frowned a little but nodded. "Yeah, that's right...Tal Natha can't seem to reach me unless he knows where I am...and Chakenapok kept stealing my dreams, at least until you--um--the Ogimah-Quae stopped him. That's pretty much the only clear dream I remember ever since coming here, the one she sent me."
"You are normally good at recalling your dreams?"
"Well...I don't know. I guess. I mean, I usually remember at least a few a week." Her brow furrowed. "Why?"
Chibiabos brushed his fingers against the wall beside him and looked it over. "Perhaps your medicine has grown weak," he murmured. "Perhaps dream medicine is needed to reach this place. The Ogimah-Quae says the Dreamspinner called you here the first time, because your dreams were strong...maybe the tunnel cannot feel you here now."
"Feel me--?" Charmian stared at him in confusion. "So--what do I do if that's it, then?"
Chibiabos moved back a little bit, Puka and Manabozho shifting out of his way. "Perhaps Tal Natha could help," he suggested. "Since he is the one in control of dreams."
Charmian's voice caught in her throat. "Tal Natha...?" she finally echoed, and a feeling of unease settled over her. She averted her eyes and fiddled with her vest. "Are...are you sure there isn't someone else I can talk to first--?"
The others frowned at her so that she wanted to shrink away and disappear. "Charmian?" Thomas almost whispered. "I thought the demon was your friend...why don't you want to see him?"
"That's not it!" Charmian insisted, yet no alternate reason came to mind, and she flushed. "It's just--well--"
"I believe he could help us greatly," Chibiabos went on. "His dream medicine is strongest of all, and could likely help us find the tunnel and the Gemfields."
Charmian started to stand up, only to nearly hit her head on an outcropping of rock; Thomas grabbed her arm and pulled her back down. "Look! How about I stay here and keep my eyes open, and one of you go and talk to him then. I mean, I am the one who first found the tunnel, so maybe I'm the only one who'd even be able to see it--and what if it's not here for long? I--"
"Charmian, you're not making sense," Thomas said with a frown; when she glared at him he glared right back. "Did you hear what you just said? You would go through alone when you need everybody to fight him? What sort of good would that do?"
"You and the Dreamspinner are close," Moon Wolf said, looking equally puzzled by her reaction. "Why do you not want to face him now--?"
"It's nothing!" Charmian insisted, and bit the inside of her mouth to keep from scowling; she knelt again. "Fine! We'll go see Tal Natha then. I really don't see why I'm needed though..."
"The exact same reason you just gave," Manabozho said. "You were the one who found the tunnel!"
Charmian gave him a withering look and he nearly shrank behind Puka. "Back up we go then, I guess," Thomas said with a sigh, and turned about, tugging slightly on Charmian's arm; the others turned around and started filing out of the Crack in the reverse order of the one they'd entered in. Charmian stared ahead sullenly the entire way, and even when they had reached the field again and started back on their way toward Fort Holmes, she scowled to herself and didn't meet anyone's eyes. They glanced at her now and then, but didn't ask any more questions.
The evening was setting in as they walked, so the land grew steadily darker, settling into dusk; bats emerged and started flitting among the trees and peepers chirped down in the swamp near Croghan Water. The great ancient hill which the fort rested upon gradually came into view, and they started on their way up its sloping side, having to hold onto trees just the same as the way grew steeper. Charmian wanted to call Mani or somebody to help carry her up, but refrained; nobody else made a move to shapeshift or call for assistance, so she could climb on her own. Despite the growing chill, by the time that they at last reached the top, the sun long since having set, they panted and wiped the sweat from their brows, their faces flushed. Only then did Charmian realize just how grubby she felt, and remembered with longing the wonderful bath that she'd taken at the Dupries place her last time here. She shoved this thought out of her head as they walked around the silent fort and toward the bluff on the other side, near where the ledge of land overlooked Round Island and Bois Blanc, and she lifted her head at last to see their shapes looming dark out in the just vaguely lighter water of Lake Huron. Aside from the peepers and the fluttering of the bats the Island seemed to be perfectly still.
Thomas rubbed his arms. "Never going to get used to this place."
"The Dreamspinner lives near here--?" Puka exclaimed, bustling toward the ledge. "Ohhh, I SO want to see him! I've heard such WONDERFUL things about him--that he has the most GORGEOUS red feathers on his wings...!"
"I could just stay up here in the fort," Charmian mumbled. The others frowned at her again, but Thomas took her by the elbow and started steering her forward.
"You can't possibly mean to tell me that after all of those stunts you pulled to get Waba--um--Chibiabos back here, you're not willing to go through with this," he protested, and picked up his pace so that she had to nearly jog along with him to avoid falling on her face. "Come on now, it's just as they say--you're his friend, and if anybody can convince him to assist, it's you."
"I'm sure he'd listen to you guys if you asked," Charmian said, but sighed and gave up. After waiting upon the edge for a moment, the faint beating sound of wings came, and Dakh and Sikt Natha at last appeared, their great wings fanning the air around them as they gracefully landed. Puka clapped his hands and hopped up and down in delight; Thomas looked nervous, and Moon Wolf and Niskigwun both looked awed. Only Manabozho, Chibiabos, and Charmian seemed unfazed.
"Hello, hello, good demon-friends!" Puka cried, prancing around them and waving wildly. "You have such LOVELY feathers! You would mind if I sampled a few...?" He commenced plucking a long end feather from each of their wings, gleefully tying them in with the rest of his feathers while the two demons stared at him almost curiously. Manabozho rolled his eyes and slapped his arm as he walked by, and leapt off of the bluff.
Thomas's face went white and he had to drag his feet as he approached the demons, reluctantly climbing atop Sikt's back. Charmian and Moon Wolf were left to Dakh, while Puka and Chibiabos followed Manabozho and Niskigwun flew down to the ledge below and out of sight. Charmian sighed miserably as the demon turned and spread his wings, jogging forward a few steps before launching off and drifting toward the cave hidden among the trees.
Moon Wolf squeezed Charmian's elbow. Charmian, what is this? I know you have always considered the demon your friend. And he has thought the same of you. Why do you not even want to see or speak with him anymore?
It's nothing, Charmian thought sullenly. I just don't want to bother him, is all.
Moon Wolf frowned. Why should you be bothering him...?
She didn't have an answer, but she did get to sigh in relief, as just then the two demons landed upon the rocky ledge, pulling their wings forward so their riders could dismount. Niskigwun and the others stood in the entrance already, warm firelight spilling outside; Charmian caught sight of Red Bird just within, and the woman smiled and waved as soon as she saw her.
"I was hoping you might find time to return!" she greeted. "Please come inside!"
Charmian sighed to herself and kept her head lowered as they did so, filing into the small cave, which immediately filled up and seemed even smaller once they were all within. Tal Natha sat near the large crystal in the back, peering at them; he rose as soon as he saw who they were, and his tail moved from side to side.
I was not aware anyone was coming to visit, he said; Charmian surreptitiously looked at him but saw no displeasure on his face.
"The snow is all gone now!" Red Bird clapped her hands together. "I'm just sure you had something to do with that!"
"Actually, it was more Niskigwun than me," Charmian said, gesturing at the Michinimakinong; he flushed and gave her a reproachful look. Red Bird looked at him, frowned a little, then her eyes roved him up and down. She stepped behind him to look at his wings and touched one tentatively.
"I've never seen something like you before," she murmured curiously.
He is a Michinimakinong, Tal Natha said, coming forward. He too looked Niskigwun up and down. One of the old Turtle Spirits. I had thought they had all gone from the Island long before I came.
"That's pretty much right," Charmian said.
Red Bird lifted up Niskigwun's wing. "They're so pretty!"
I had hoped things were going better now that the Wendigoes are gone, Tal Natha said, and cocked an ear. Has something else come up since then--?
"Apparently we're going to have to head through Crack-in-the-Island to get to the Borderlands...you know what those are, don't you?" Thomas asked; Tal Natha's brow furrowed but he nodded. "Chakenapok seems to be hiding out down there...and we started on our way through, except the tunnel appears to be gone now..."
The demon seemed puzzled. And so you came here...?
Thomas waved at Chibiabos. "Apparently, he believes dream medicine might be needed to get us through...since we can't seem to find the tunnel anywhere."
Dream medicine? Tal Natha's look shifted into mild confusion. Why was it you thought that I could help?
Thomas blinked. "Well--you are the Dreamspinner--right--?"
The demon shook his head. I am, but I fail to see how I could assist. The tunnel is revealed to those who can see it. If it appears, then those in their company should see it also. You say the tunnel is gone now--?
Chibiabos stepped forward now; Charmian realized what he was going to say before he even said it, and reached out a hand as if to stop him, but he'd already started talking. "Charmian is the one who first found the tunnel in the Crack," he said. "Therefore her dream medicine is what first revealed it. You brought her to the Island because you found that her dream was strong--is this right?"
Tal Natha tilted his head far to the side, an odd look on his face. Yes--this is right! But do I know you at all--?
"This is Wa--um--Chibiabos," Thomas explained, scratching his head a little. "Formerly Wabasso," he said, as if that might ring a bell.
Puka hopped up and down. "My baby brother! And 'Bozho's BIG brother!"
Tal Natha's eyes widened. Oh--you are the brother of the Rabbit. The perplexed look returned to his face and he craned his neck forward to sniff at Chibiabos. Your...scent is odd.
"We had hoped that perhaps you could help Charmian strengthen her dream medicine somehow," Chibiabos said.
Tal Natha pulled back slowly, and lowered his ears a little, seeming uneasy. Strengthen it...? He paused as if thinking, then shook his head. I am afraid I do not have this ability...I never did. I spin and bring dreams, but I do not strengthen them, and I do not make them weaker.
"Oh really?" a voice snapped, and everybody jerked a little, turning their heads. Charmian pushed her way forward and glared at the demon so hard that he blinked. "Is that so?" she demanded. "Then how come I can't find that tunnel now? How come my dreams are so weak--? The only ones I've gotten came from the Ogimah-Quae! NOT you!"
Tal Natha's brow furrowed again and his tail swished. I have told you this, Mainlander! Until you set foot in front of me I did not even know you had arrived! I can barely sense you anywhere on this Island!
Charmian jerked her hand at the air. "Ever think that maybe that's because you made my DREAMS weak?" she snapped; everybody stared at her in surprise. "Either that or you LET them get weak! Either way, it kind of goes against what YOU promised you'd do the last time I was here!"
The demon's mouth opened in bewilderment. What--
Charmian clenched her fists. "YOU SAID YOU'D CALL ME BACK!" Tears sprang to her eyes but she ignored them. "I ASKED you if you'd call me back if you ever needed me again--and you PROMISED me you would! And then I went home and I WAITED and WAITED and you NEVER once sent me a dream! Even HERE you still don't! You think I can't tell that you didn't want me back? You weren't even happy to see me! What's wrong, you thought you'd let my dreams get weak so I'd never come back, then when I find another way here you have to think of a way to drive me off AGAIN--?"
"Charmian." This from Thomas, who squeezed her wrist hard enough to hurt. "Are you sure you want to be doing this...?"
She pulled her arm free. "Care to answer me for a change?" she demanded; Tal Natha took a step back, and Red Bird moved to Charmian's side to take her other wrist, but that didn't stop her. "Care to let me know why you made me wait and you NEVER ONCE tried to contact me again--? Even after you PROMISED you would? Care to let me know why you promised when you never meant it?"
She fell silent, gasping for breath; everyone stared at her with wide eyes. Tal Natha's were the widest of all; she felt a twinge of surprise to see that it looked as if she'd really caught him offguard.
His ears started to lower again. This...is what you think? he asked, his voice faint. This is what you truly believe...?
Charmian clenched her teeth. "What am I SUPPOSED to think? I never dreamed of this place ONCE! And those Shadow Wolves were acting up WAY before I got here! Which means you NEVER called me! You never even TRIED!"
Tal Natha let out a breath. I did not refuse to call you because I did not want to, he insisted, tail flicking. This was never the reason! When I made you this promise, I meant every word of it. I thought that you knew me better than to think such a thing!
Charmian angrily swept the tears from her eyes. "Then how is it that you NEVER called me back?" she snapped.
The demon stared at her for a moment, as if trying to determine whether she truly had no idea or not; no idea of what, she had no clue, but he must have decided that this was so, for the fur on his hackles lowered and he gave her a look that was half reproachful, half...regretful? That didn't seem right...it looked more...sympathetic.
Her brow began to furrow.
I did not refuse to call you because I never wanted you here, he echoed himself, and Charmian's breath caught in her throat. I refused to call you because you did not want to come back.
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