Manitou Island: Part 4
Dreaming While You Sleep
CHARMIAN LAY IN her bed that night, staring at the moonlight forming patterns on the ceiling. What a weird day. She'd used to enjoy going to see Miss Anne, but now she wasn't so sure. The lady was obviously crazy. And it wasn't a very long step from crazy to dangerous, was it?
The storekeeper had been insistent that she buy a couple of tickets to the Island and set out "at the time of the next big fog." But that was just as crazy. It was September already; she had school to attend, homework to do. She couldn't spend her time traipsing around on some island.
Best to just forget everything the woman had said, get some sleep, prepare for the day ahead.
She sighed and shut her eyes. In the brief moments right before sleep a variety of colors swirled around beneath her eyelids but she could pay them no attention as she was unconscious already. It was time for rest now, not to think about all the strange things that had gone before.
Or did it?
This was odd. She never noticed the passage of time when she was supposed to be SLEEPING! Wasn't that just a bit...abnormal?
Her eyes came open again and she frowned.
Then she frowned harder at what she saw.
Where is my ceiling?
Her ceiling, before studded with flecks of moonlight, had disappeared. In its place was something stony and dark. Something--lamplight?--torchlight?--flickered beyond her field of vision.
She sat up with a gasp, casting a wild glance around the room.
Only...it wasn't her room anymore. She was in...a cave? Crystals, some bigger than her head, lined the walls in areas, though in other areas the stone was bare and smooth. She'd been right, torches lit the space at the far side of the cave. She was no longer in her bed, but on a slab of rock. The thing that shocked her the most, though, was the sudden realization that she wasn't alone.
Something...some creature...stood not too far away, watching her, its eyes glowing in the dimness.
In response the creature's ears folded back and its head pulled away slightly, as if Charmian's shriek startled it. She had no doubt it did; she'd never screamed so hard in her life! She felt she had plenty of reason to do so now, though.
This...creature...wasn't human. It didn't even approach being human, except for that it stood upright. That was where the similarity ended. Even in the dimness Charmian could make out its head--wolflike, with large ears and a long slender muzzle--its body, large and covered with fur--the broad wings spanning from its back, the long thick snake tail curling around its ankle. Its feet looked like a rat's feet, claws and all. And what was somehow worst was that it had horns growing from its head.
No...she'd been wrong about one thing. There were two more things that were humanlike about it. Its hands, for one thing--furry and clawed, but human hands, nonetheless. And number two was its eyes.
They were green and red, and glowed like coals; but there was something...human about them. Something intelligent.
On seeing this, Charmian abruptly stopped screaming.
The creature's ears rose back into their normal positions again. It held up a clawed hand to one, rubbing it slightly, then looked at Charmian again.
Charmian tried to talk. "W...w..."
Are you injured?
"N...no. But w...wh..."
I thought perhaps I might injure you, unexpectedly. I can tell you are not used to such things as this. It appears you can hold your own well enough, however.
"W...what...what are you?" She managed to stammer this out before realizing--he'd just spoken to her...yet his mouth had NEVER MOVED.
His ears quivered. Your mind. I speak through your mind. Out loud, she was suddenly startled to find his voice sounded exactly the same as the one in her head. "It is easier to communicate that way, and more convenient. But if you find it too strange I will speak like this."
"Wh...what are you?"
A blink. Is it important enough that you need to know this now? He shook his head slightly. "Apologies. It isn't often that I speak with others, so I sometimes forget.... My name is Tal Natha. This is probably important enough that you should know it now."
"Where am I?"
"My cave." Her hand clenched at her arm when she thought she detected a faint smile on the creature's face. "Actually, you are still in your bed, in your own home.... You have never left your own house."
"Then--this is a dream?"
"Yes and no. This is a dream, your dream, but it is also a gateway. This is how I choose to communicate with your kind."
A nod. "To fly to your residence, to the residence of anyone I wish to communicate with, whenever I have need to do so, would be inconvenient. As well as dangerous. There is no guarantee I would make it back to my own home, as the time currents are so unsteady where we are."
"Time currents?" Something clicked in Charmian's head. "Wait a minute...no way. Are we where I...where I think we are?"
"Yes. We are on Manitou Island."
Charmian rubbed her forehead. "Whoa. I knew I should have started trying to get more sleep."
More or less sleep would not matter now. "I come to you to prove that what the Miss Anne told you is not a lie or a fanciful story. I know you would not believe otherwise. I have dealt with your kind before, and know how you react to such news. But I must inform you that this time it is true."
"So...what do I have to do to wake up?" Charmian joked, deciding to play along. So what if it was just a dream. Maybe her subconscious was trying to tell her something; maybe if she figured it out she'd ace her test next Wednesday!
"You need do nothing to wake up. I'll allow you to do so when the time is right. Which will be by morning, as always. It is what you decide to do afterwards that is of concern to me. I do hope you decide to believe what the Miss Anne told you. This Island--our Island--is in danger. There is only one who can save it. There is only one who may protect her. That one is you."
"So what do I do, find this damsel in distress, fight a few dragons, something like that? Don't you think a guy would be better suited for the job? I mean, in this day and age, equal gender rights and all, but still, a girl rescuing a girl is kinda funny and doesn't make a very good story..."
You belittle me. I ask that you cease.
Charmian shut up. She noticed the look the creature--Tal Natha--had gotten on his face. His ears had gone back again, but not out of pain. She recognized the gesture from having seen her own dog when he was upset.
"Sorry," she found herself saying.
The creature paused, as if testing to make certain she meant her word, then continued. "We have little time. I like to think of this Island, this beautiful place, as mine. The truth is, it is not. I am only guardian of the Island. It belongs to someone much more powerful than myself. His name is Ocryx. He is a demon, and he is evil."
"Ocryx?" The name came off Charmian's tongue before she even knew she was saying it. "A demon? Does he have something to do with what's supposed to happen to the Island--this danger or whatever it is?"
"Yes. He will play a major part. But he is not the greatest of our worries. There is another demon, not quite as powerful, but even more evil than he is. Her name is Ocryana. She was meant to be his mate, but she has instead become his greatest enemy." His ears quivered again. "You see...there are only two ways in which an Ocryx can die. You may deprive him of his source of power, or you may impale him with the horn of another Ocryx. As Ocryx and Ocryana are both of the same kind, it is in their best interests that they keep away from each other. Ocryx, he is evil and causes much trouble for the natives here, but he knows that the Island is sacred, it is his very life, so he would never think to destroy it. Ocryana, however, is..."
Charmian waited for the beast to continue; when he didn't, she quietly prompted, "Is--?"
One ear bent to the side. "How to put it properly...Ocryana is...mad...her mind is not well...she has always detested Ocryx, for being more powerful than her, for ruling over the Island...and even though the Island is her life as well she would rather destroy it than continue to live under his rule."
"You mean, she'd destroy the whole Island just because of some grudge?"
"Yes. This is exactly what I mean. And while Ocryana may not possess Ocryx's power, she does possess the means by which to obtain more power. She will do anything to see her supposed mate dead."
Charmian bent over a bit, balling her fists to her stomach. The sheer morbidness of the situation--the weirdness of it--was getting to her.
If I never have another dream like this, it'll be too soon.
Tal Natha cocked his head slightly. Trust me, human, I would never have called you here if I hadn't believed you are the only one who can save us all.
Charmian felt like shrinking in on herself. He could obviously read thoughts should he choose to. She felt like an idiot; her ears started burning.
The creature turned away from her again to look to his right. Charmian turned also and saw that his cave overlooked the lake. Lake Huron, she reminded herself. The moon was glistening on the water. The night was clear.
"You still may not make it to the Island. The time is not yet right. The Miss Anne was correct, you will have to wait for the next great fog."
"And then what?"
"Take one of your 'ferries' here. You do not need to worry about the details of the trip, you will make it without incident. It is getting back that causes problems." He peered at her out of the corner of his glowing eye. "That is the risk in this, the reason I ask you first if you will help us, rather than force you to do so. You may come to the Island in safety, but it may be difficult--or impossible--for you to leave. Very few of your kind have ever made it back to the mainland of their own time. Most of them choose to stay here out of necessity--they face either the Island, or some time and place they do not know--so they stay here. For the rest of their lives. And since time does not have the same meaning here, such a period may last forever. You and your friend--the Drake--should you choose to come here, the chance is you may never make it back to your home. Would you be willing to take this risk, Charmian?"
It was the first time he'd spoken her name. This time she blinked. This was still the most bizarre dream she'd ever had, but somehow...she felt compelled to believe him. That...human something in his eyes...if there was something of humanity in this strange creature, what of the rest of the inhabitants of the Island? If she was really their only hope, how would she feel simply saying "No" and leaving them all to their fate--whatever that was?
She knew she'd have a major guilt complex, at the very least.
And maybe, just maybe there was still the slight chance this was all just a dream...if she agreed to help him, maybe it would end and she would get some REAL sleep that she deserved.
What could it hurt?
She swallowed, and...found herself nodding.
"Yes," she said, her voice coming out in barely a whisper. "I'd do it. I will do it. If it helps all of you."
Not even knowing who "all" of them were, yet.
Tal Natha lifted his head, and she could see the look in his eyes. Good, human. You honor us all greatly by risking yourself to help us. It is true you do not know us yet, but you will, in time. And I feel there are friendships to be made here, as well, should you choose to pursue them.
Charmian smiled. "I'd like that, too."
"Then you are decided? The next great fog is coming soon. You will find your 'ferry' and come to our Island?"
"Good. I must thank you, human, for all that you are about to do. I understand this is still too much for you to believe, but I promise to give you as much proof as you need to make the journey a necessary one for you to make." He lifted one hand, and looked at his claws.
"Wait a minute," Charmian interrupted. She felt she had to ask him whatever she wanted to ask him now, before the dream "ended." "You told me your name, but...well, you never told me what you are. What are you? And why is it your job to guard the Island, if the Island isn't yours to own?"
These are good questions. The second may be answered by me providing you with an answer to the first. I do hope your knowing what I am will not give you any hesitations on keeping your promise.
"No, no hesitations at all...why?"
Tal Natha came toward her, and she noticed how he held his right hand up, one claw extended. As he approached she felt an anxious feeling welling up in her chest. What was he up to? She tried to shrink back against the stone wall, and her eyes widened when she saw him draw his arm back, hand raised in a striking pose.
You may continue to know me as Tal Natha, for this is the true name I bear. I am the Spinner Of Dreams. I am also the only child of the union of my mother and father. He reached her, and his eyes flashed; Charmian gasped and threw up her arms as his hand descended, one claw slicing across her abdomen, a searing pain slicing through her skin. As the pain jolted her awake, she heard his last words:
As are they...I too am Ocryx.