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Manitou Island: Part 9

A Shy Bird Emerges

CHARMIAN STARED UNTIL the girl looked ready to go back into the cave just to get away from her. Then she blinked and shook her head, holding out her hand. "Oh--I'm sorry. I just--I recognize you, and I didn't expect to see you here."

"Recognize me?" The voice that came from her matched her looks, frail and timid. The girl looked Charmian up and down, then hesitantly shook her head. "I don't think I've seen you before."

"Oh--you haven't. But I saw you. In a photograph."


"Photograph. A picture." Charmian found herself patting her pockets, only to remember she'd never actually brought the picture along with her. Darn! She held up her hands again.

"I don't have it with me...but somebody showed me a picture of you. You were wearing this white dress. Amer--um--European clothing. There were a couple of other people with you."

The girl's eyes widened. "Picture? Dupries?" She came forward; Charmian found herself wondering what she'd meant by Dupries. Where had she just heard that name? "You saw the picture they took? Who has it now?"

"This lady on the mainland. Miss Anne her name is. It's in a silver frame."

"Does she keep it away, or does everybody see it?"

Silver Eagle Feather stepped forward before Charmian could answer the odd question. Which was a good thing, as she wasn't sure how to answer. "He's coming back down now. Make some room for your friend; I don't think this will be a very pleasant landing."

Red Bird retreated into the cave and Charmian and Silver Eagle Feather moved aside. The dust around them stirred as if a small helicopter were coming in for a landing; a moment later Drake dropped gently to the ground, only to scramble to his feet with a bloodcurdling scream. He stumbled over to the cave, meaning to run inside and hide, only to slam into Red Bird who let out a startled cry. Drake backed away, eyes boggling, and then pointed at her. "HEY! You're that Bird Lady!" He turned to Charmian and waved his arms frantically. "Charm, Charm, I found her! The Bird Lady! She's right here!!"

"I know that, idiot!" Charmian hissed. "Shut up and quit spazzing out, for God's sake!"

Tal Natha landed on the ledge, raising one arm to examine it. A bit of the fur was missing and he bore a few nasty-looking scrapes. Charmian flushed and shot an evil look at Drake, who also turned red and attempted to brush wolf fur off his hands.

"Um...sorry about that," he murmured. "I'm...I'm not very good with heights."

"It's of little concern," Tal Natha said. He looked toward the cave, saw Red Bird standing just within, and his features, tense a moment before, seemed to relax. Red Bird. You stayed here. Good. I wish for you to speak with these people.

"Mainlanders?" Red Bird looked at them a little anxiously. "Usually when mainlanders show up it means trouble. They say they saw my picture. Are they the people you keep talking about?"

Charmian wondered how much Tal Natha had told her about--the situation--whatever the situation was. Would he tell them more, now that they were all together?

Yes, this is they. The Ocryx spoke in their minds, yet apparently they all could hear him. He turned to the three still standing outside and spoke aloud. "Please, follow me inside. We are not unsafe out here, but anyone choosing to pass by might see and hear us."

Charmian didn't need to ask who he meant by "anyone." Without a word, they all proceeded into the cave.

Charmian had to force her feet to keep walking as they went inside. She couldn't believe what she was seeing. The roof, the walls, the floor, it was all exactly the same as what she'd seen in her dream. The stone bench she'd been lying on when Tal Natha had clawed at her stomach. The torches deep inside burning dimly. And especially the large colored crystals lining the walls, only growing larger and more colorful the deeper inside they went. The narrow entryway widened into a round clearing, the whole thing lined with crystals. At the far end was a sort of crude stand, a stone hollow next to it, in which was set the biggest solitary crystal Charmian had ever seen. It seemed to shimmer in the torchlight as she watched; she looked away, getting the distinct feeling that if she didn't, she'd see something she wouldn't like. Red Bird sat down in a little hollow in the ground as if she were used to being there, tucking her feet under her and watching the others as they came in. Silver Eagle Feather sat on the opposite side of the "room"; Charmian and Drake, seeing nowhere to sit except for the stone bench further back near the entrance, shrugged at each other and sat down on the sandy floor as well.

"A little dirt never hurt," Drake said.

"So says he-who-is-afraid-of-climbing-ladders," Charmian replied.

"I hope you'll clear up what this is all about, now," Silver Eagle Feather said to Tal Natha, and Charmian was glad she said it, since she wasn't sure she could address the creature in such an authoritative way. She assumed it must be because they were siblings that the woman could get away with it.

"There is actually little to 'clear up,'" Tal Natha replied, resting on his haunches near the large crystal. His tail kept him balanced and acted as his "chair." He took a moment to stretch and ruffle one wing before continuing. "Red Bird already knows most of it. Though she refuses to understand, or believe."

"There isn't anything to understand." Red Bird this time; her hands were balled against her knees and she kept her eyes on the floor. "You're wrong."

The demon cast her a look, then sighed as if they'd gone through this many times before.

"It's true," Red Bird insisted. "I don't have this power you keep saying I have. I don't have any power like that. I'm weak."

You underestimate yourself, human. You always do.

"You overestimate me! You always have! I don't care what you say. I don't have the power to help this Island. If anything I just seem to make things worse whatever I do. If I weren't here, there probably wouldn't even be any problems."

You are not the cause of our concern, little Red Bird. You well know who is. Tal Natha turned back to the others. "Red Bird refuses to believe that she is the one who may save this Island from whatever Ocryana may have planned. The real truth is, I cannot be positive she can save the Island either." Charmian's heart almost skipped a beat. "However...I have been searching the dreams of everyone on this Island for a long time now...and Red Bird is the one who comes closest to what we need. You can tell much about the strength of a person from their dreams. Red Bird has dreams of power. I believe she has very strong medicine, if she'd only believe herself and try to bring it out."

"You can't bring out what's not there," Red Bird retorted.

Another knowing glance. You well know that your power should be greater than most. Stop denying it. To do so is foolish.

"Just because the others have it doesn't mean I would. I'm different from the rest anyway. Even you don't know what to make of me sometimes."

Now Charmian was beyond puzzled. "Others"? What on Earth was she talking about?

Tal Natha's wing twitched as if in irritation. Silver Eagle Feather broke in.

"Tal Natha...if you say that Red Bird has a power, let's believe for a moment that she does. Even so. These two here don't know what's going on. Neither, truthfully, do I. Please enlighten us."

"Yes, I apologize. I've told you already that Ocryana has plans for the Island. What these plans are, I do not know. Neither do I know how she will go about gaining the power she needs. Which she will, as she needs strong medicine to overcome Ocryx and myself." He paused. "I've told you that the Island belongs to Ocryx. But he is not its true guardian. That would be myself. We tolerate each other, for the most part, if only because we know we both need the other to survive. I have never had reason to have a conflict with him."

"But he could still kill you, right?" Charmian interrupted.

"Kill, yes. He knows better than to do that though. His mind is not so perpetually clouded as Ocryana's is." A pause. "However...he is sometimes quite easy to fool. There are moments when he allows his pride, his anger, his greed to interfere with his reason. Ocryana has fooled him many times. The events that led up to my coming into this world are one example of this." He looked at his claws for a moment as if not really believing they had any right to be growing out of his hand. "Ocryana is not as powerful as he is, but Ocryxes have the inherent ability to cloud others' minds. Ocryana, perhaps more than others. She is female, and she was intended to be Ocryx's mate. I don't doubt she would be able to fool him again. If he feels the tradeoff is good enough, he'll hardly hesitate to assist her without thinking of the consequences."

"You mean, she could trick him into giving her what she wants, helping her get the power she needs? And he wouldn't even know he's been tricked?" Charmian asked.

A nod. "This is what I mean exactly. He would realize, but only when it's too late. My father does not often think ahead. This and his greed are his two main faults."

"What do you think she has planned for the Island?"

"The Island is her life, as it is mine and my father's. For some reason, all Ocryxes are tied to the Island in one way or another. Do not ask me to explain why; this is beyond my understanding. I believe Ocryana has in mind nothing less than the complete destruction of the Island."

"That...that would pretty much do her in, right?" Drake said.

"Yes. But I have already told you she does not care about this. Her mind has never been well. It was she who first cursed Ocryx with the form he bears now, because she did not wish to be submissive to him." He shifted and the tip of his tail slithered in the sand. "This has little to do with the task at hand...to put it shortly, she does not seem to care about her own fate, just so long as she destroys Ocryx and all that he represents."

"Destroy the one who gave her the power...to destroy himself?" Charmian shook her head. "Man, this is getting confusing."

"I apologize, human. I admit the affairs of Ocryxes are often difficult for your kind to understand. I also admit I do not understand them completely either." A slight smile. "I suspect I have grown too far apart from my own kind, after all."

"We are all one kind, only with different faces." Silver Eagle Feather put a hand on her knee. "Why do you believe Red Bird is the one who can help the Island?"

"Yes, Red Bird...I said already...I've sensed a great power within her, in her dreams, even though she denies it. I believe that out of everyone on this Island, she is the one who may find some way to stop Ocryana--and indirectly, Ocryx--from destroying this place."

"It's not true," Red Bird murmured, a bit petulantly.

Tal Natha's tail flicked. "It doesn't matter how many times I try to convince her. You would think she would take the word of the Dreamspinner, would you not? If she won't believe me, she won't believe anybody."

Charmian had to suppress a smile. The way the two talked to each other, they must have been friends a long time. A rather strange friendship, but a real friendship, nonetheless.

"You never really said what we have to do with anything, did'ja?" Drake inquired.

"No, I don't believe I have, human...apologies. This I admit is a bit more complex. I may also travel the dreams of those who do not live upon the Island. As much as I believe Red Bird is the one to help us, she is vulnerable, especially since she refuses to believe in the power within herself." He looked at her and she averted her eyes again. "Until she admits to that power, she is weak. She needs someone to protect her until that moment comes. I could not find anyone on the Island who I believed could fulfill this task, although there were some who came close." Now he looked at Silver Eagle Feather. "Truthfully, I wished for someone who was not so far involved. That was when I came across your dreams, young Charmian. They are similar to Red Bird's. There is much power there, only you have not realized it yet. One cannot tell much from a single dream, however, so I decided to keep an eye on them for a time, to make certain you were the right one. As soon as I believed you were I planted a few seeds to steer you in the right direction. Your visits to the antique shop...your interest in the photo of Red Bird...your desire to go to Mackinac Island when the time was just right. I visited the dreams of your parents as well, so they would bring you to the Island--and the Miss Anne--so she would show you the photo--and you and your parents as well, young Drake, so you would come along, to provide Charmian with some company. This is not a journey I would like for someone so young to make alone."

Charmian blinked. Everything Tal Natha had said made perfect sense, when she thought about it...but she still found it difficult to believe. It had been odd, her intense interest in visiting an antique shop for the past year, especially when she could never afford a thing inside...and Miss Anne's strange story about the photo...not to mention her mother's all-too-convenient, nonquestioning agreement in driving them to Mackinaw City without any good prior notice, and her promise to stay in the city all day if need be. It had all seemed to fall together a bit too perfectly. If Tal Natha had been influencing them all along...it explained everything, didn't it?

"I'm sorry," she said, her voice a bit flat. "This is just kind of strange and..."

"Invasive. I know the word you look for. Once again, I apologize. I know that your kind does not appreciate your dreams being intruded upon. However, these are special circumstances, and I felt it was warranted." He stood up and stretched one foot. "I have a few things I must do before this day is out. Time passes most quickly when you have much to do and many places to go. I can't expend more words explaining right now, as it will only waste more time, but I hope you'll understand. Sister, please accompany them to the mouth of the cave; I have a word to speak with Red Bird before we go."

"Of course." Silver Eagle Feather stood up and motioned for Charmian and Drake to follow. They did so, a bit reluctantly; just as soon as they were beginning to understand things, the demon apparently had something else he wished to get into. It was all too confusing for one day.

Drake hopped up to be beside Silver Eagle Feather as they walked away from the little room and started chatting with her, albeit onesidedly. Charmian fell behind, lost in her own thoughts. Her step slowed and by the time she realized this the others had moved on ahead of her, exiting the cave. She started to hurry to catch up but heard a voice behind her, and against her better judgement stopped, listening.

"You always think too much of me," came Red Bird's voice, plaintive. "I don't see why you can't just stop. I'm not like you, I'm not like Silver Eagle Feather, I'm not like anybody. I'm only me. I don't fit in anywhere."

"You know very well these are lies, Red Bird. You are just confused. You haven't yet learned who you are. We have all been like this at one point, even those children, I would bet. You just need something to convince you to believe in yourself. Perhaps, if you do what is needed, you will finally believe."

"I can't do what's needed! How many times must I tell you? I'm not like you! I don't have any power!"

Tal Natha's voice came in her head now, and Charmian had to wonder if the others outside the cave could also hear it, or if it was just herself and Red Bird.

Human. Little human. Do not worry about this now. Only trust me. You've trusted me before; why do you refuse to do so now?

"Oh, Tal Natha...I don't distrust you...I just don't believe your judgement is right this time. I don't know what to do anymore."

Just listen to me and you will be safe. Trust Silver Eagle Feather, and trust Charmian and the Drake. I do this only to protect you.

"I know, Tal Natha...I'm sorry."

The cave fell silent. Charmian strained her ears, then leaned back, peering inside. The torches still flickered, and Red Bird and Tal Natha still stood back in the cave. Red Bird was staring at the floor again as if ashamed; Tal Natha touched her face as if to reassure her, then stepped forward and placed his head against hers. Instead of backing away, Red Bird let out a small sigh, and took his hand when he offered it to her. A moment later they were heading toward the entrance.

Charmian ducked back out of sight and rushed out to join the others before she could be noticed.

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