Manitou Island: Part 17
SOMEWHERE A BIRD sang. Charmian frowned as the noise cut through her consciousness and she found herself blinking awake. She expected to see her alarm clock, red numbers lit up telling her what time it was; instead she saw a bat hanging upside down right before her, staring back as if to say Good morning.
For some reason this didn't frighten her.
She just frowned at it some more and finally sat up, rubbing her eyes and looking around.
She was at Old Mother Manitou's place again, inside Sugar Loaf Rock. The bat had abandoned its station hanging from the stick in the wall and now hung from a little bit of rock cropping out just over her head. Aside from it, and X, who lay at the far side of the room on a pallet made of pine boughs, deep in sleep, she appeared to be alone.
She looked down at herself. Someone had placed her on a pallet of her own and covered her up with furs. She wasn't certain who. The last thing she remembered was Tal Natha flying her back from Devil's Lake. From the looks of it she had fallen asleep on the way here; they had covered her up and left her to sleep; and then they had left themselves.
How incredibly rude! she found herself thinking. Here I am stuck on some weird interdimensional Island and they all just up and leave me in the middle of nowhere!
She pushed the furs aside and stood up, stretching and yawning. Her legs felt like rubber, ready to go out from under her at any moment and send her crashing to the ground. She looked back at the bat and suddenly felt lonely again. X would be fine on his own; the others couldn't be too far away. She reached down and plucked it from the wall, wrapping its tiny feet over the edge of her vest pocket, and made her way to the door, stepping outside into the sunlight.
She had to shield her eyes, the sun hurt them so much. Yes, it was definitely morning, and late morning from the looks of it; how long had she been sleeping? What kind of weird things could have been going on all night that she didn't even know about? And they let her sleep through it all?
She heard talking from not that far away--Francois and Marcott, from the sound of it--and went in that direction.
Francois's voice: "...The boy is a natural, there is no doubt about it."
Followed by Marcott's: "Well, it may be true, but there's no way you'll ever get me out on one of those things."
"Hello?" Charmian called, still rubbing her eyes and wandering into a clearing. The cool morning air nipped at her skin and she wished she'd brought her jacket with her.
Something rustled off to the side of her. She turned her head to see who was coming. And then she found that her eyes had to keep going up, up, up, for whoever was coming seemed to go on forever.
A huge, hulking beast, skin the color of mud, reared up out of the woods, so incredibly tall that Charmian almost sprained her neck looking up at it. She wouldn't have been able to describe it clearly if she tried. Its head was round, jowly, mastifflike; tiny eyes sunken into a face lined with folds of skin. Barbels--like those on a catfish--protruded from its lower jaw. Its head was small compared to the rest of its body, which hunched over, giant knuckles pressed into the ground like those of an ape. There was something strangely human about it, yet at the same time, it wasn't human at all.
Charmian started screaming.
The beast hardly responded. It tipped its ponderous head a bit and Charmian suddenly stopped screaming as a strange sound that wasn't quite a sound filled her head. She couldn't explain it. She knew she was hearing something, but it was beyond her ability to describe. It was more a very low pressure that pressed against her eardrums, like a deep hum just below her range of hearing. She knew it came from the giant creature, whatever it was, and gaped up at it with round eyes.
And then a voice from far above: "Hi, Charm!"
She blinked. A tiny head appeared atop the large creature. Drake waved down at her from his perch atop its head. Charmian's jaw dropped as the beast sank toward the ground as far as it could, still leaving Drake high above her, so that if he were to jump, he would most likely end up hurting himself.
"Whaddya think?" he called, grinning.
She could only blink again, mouth hanging open. "Neat, huh?" Drake filled in. "They look really mean but they're really nice. I know, it really freaked me out when I saw 'em too, but then I got to know this one and boom, it's like we've been friends forever!"
"Dr...Drake," Charmian finally managed to force out, "you're...scared of heights, aren't you?"
"Huh?" He paused and looked around him, then back down at her and shrugged with a smile. "Well, yeah, but that's different, I wasn't on one of these things before."
"What is it?"
It is an Uroona. Charmian turned with surprise to see Tal Natha appear, coming into the clearing behind her. Red Bird was with him, holding onto his arm with one hand. Tal Natha looked up at the strange creature as Drake slid down its neck and arm to land safely on his feet. They are harmless. Though I'm surprised that your friend the Drake has taken to them so quickly. Outsiders do not normally appreciate those things they are not used to.
"What have I missed? What's going on?"
You've missed little. You were quite tired last night. I hope you slept well.
Charmian nodded, then frowned to herself. She wasn't certain if she'd dreamed last night or not...but she found herself wondering if he knew. If he'd...been there.
She tried to keep this thought to herself, as she didn't want him to know it. He showed no signs of noticing, though she couldn't be certain. He'd concealed his emotions well enough to fool her before.
For goodness' sake, Charm! Are you getting afraid of him?
She felt guilty.
"So what is Drake doing playing with an...uh...Uroona?" she asked aloud, glancing back at it, and at Drake, who came running her way, promptly stumbling and falling over, skinning his knees.
They came in the night. Tal Natha's look turned troubled. While we slept. When we awoke they had surrounded Sugar Loaf. This in itself is strange. They normally keep to themselves.
"They're a very shy species," Francois, followed by Marcott, said, joining them. He held a little leatherbound book in one hand and his fingers were stained gray. Marcott still carried his little case and glanced up at the beast nervously. "But also very intelligent. Don't be fooled by its looks, it understands all that we're saying."
"The Uroona are...what is the word you use...empathic. They can sense emotions. This is how they communicate with others. Almost like the way Ocryxes and manitous do, only not as direct. If one addresses you you will sense what it is saying rather than hear the exact words."
They come for you, Tal Natha said, abruptly.
"What? Me?" Charmian turned to look at him, confused. "Why do they want me? I--I didn't even know what they were, until you told me."
They sensed your dreams. They've known you were here from the beginning. Tal Natha's ear twitched. Please do not assume they mean to intrude. This is how they determine whether one is well intentioned or hostile toward them. They have every right to be cautious with people such as yourself. They knew you were here, and they came to see you. He paused, and looked at the Uroona again. This is what concerns me. They sense the dreams of all newcomers and yet they prefer to keep to themselves. They study us all from afar, or else when we enter their own domain. For them to come to us...this is strange behavior for Uroona. I sense something is not right.
"So...they came here to talk to me," Charmian said, trying to clarify. "Because they know I'm here. So--what do they want to talk to me about? Wouldn't they want to talk to you, instead? I mean, you're the Dreamspinner, not me."
They will not tell me why they have come. Charmian sensed the edge in his voice, as if the creatures' actions offended him. This is for you to discover, Charmian.
She bit her lip and flushed. The way he'd added her name to the end of the sentence made her feel he was angry about the situation. Red Bird looked up at him somewhat reproachfully and let go of his arm; he glanced down at her with surprise, then his ears lowered and he looked merely sulky.
They come to speak with you. It must be important. You'll have to ask them to tell you what they want.
She faced the creature and walked forward until she was directly before its face. It had lowered its head until its chin lay upon the ground, and still its entire head was taller than she was, by almost twice as much. It could have devoured her in one bite if it wanted to.
The Uroona are not meat eaters. Ask it what it wants.
She flushed again, realizing her thoughts were open to half the people in the clearing. She took a breath and let it out, then stood wondering what exactly to do.
She turned and looked at Francois, silently begging for help.
"Oh..." he said, flushing himself. "Apologies, ma chère. Just touch it...put your hand on its face, and let it in your thoughts, as it won't come in uninvited."
So how does it know what I'm dreaming? Still, she did as she was instructed, placing her palm flat against the side of the creature's great snout. Its skin was warm and tough but also soft, as a dog's muzzle would be. Its small eyes--which were still the size of saucers--blinked once and she saw how human they looked, and then--
A million images seemed to flash before her eyes.
Devil's Lake--Sugar Loaf--Arch Rock--Fort Holmes--Devil's Kitchen--the lakeshore--the forest--the sky--the water--the wind--
The humans--the manitous--the Ocryxes--the GeeBees--
Some creature--some evil--swinging its head in a wide arc, horn smashing against stone, cracking, splintering--a sliver of bone falling to the ground--long bony fingers reaching to pick it up--yellow owlish eyes narrowing, sharp-toothed mouth twisting in a wicked grin--
A voice--a strange voice she'd never heard--speaking as if in her head--
Take this. Use it. It is everything you need...soon there will be no one to bother you, and you may do all that you wish, unhindered...
Someone's doubts--she could feel the emotion in her mind--though the voice did not speak, she could tell what it thought--At what cost? For what payment? For surely you must get something out of this bargain, as well...
And the unfamiliar, harsh and yet feminine voice in her mind again: All that I ask is that you leave me to my actions as I leave you to yours. For you cannot harm me, however you may try...and when you are done there shall be none left who can harm me...but aside from myself, there shall be none left who can harm you, as well.
And white teeth again, owlish eyes glinting with glee--Consider our bargain sealed!
All of this was followed by something Charmian knew was not a memory, something which had not happened, but it was a fear, the Uroona's fear of what would happen--she saw a great horned creature--Ocryx--rearing up and roaring with fury, only to vanish in a million pieces--X, eyes wide with fear, shattering into nothingness--and Tal Natha, snarling and clawing out in defense, dissolving into a sea of red--the dreams of everyone on the Island--dissolving along with him--the red enveloping everything, the trees, the grass, the rock, the earth and the water--and above it all, that harsh feminine voice, a voice that might have been beautiful once, now twisted ugly into a cackling laugh, a laugh that echoed through Charmian's mind and only very slowly died away...
Drake stepped forward, face concerned. "Charm?"
Charmian pulled her hand away from the crouching Uroona, her own face pale and expressionless. The creature's black eyes stared back at her, as if it asked her if she understood. She slowly nodded.
Well? Tal Natha's voice; she was startled to hear it, after seeing him disappear so suddenly in her vision, and turned to face him. The Ocryx was looking at her, and when she hesitated replying, his look became irritated. Well, human? What does it say?
Charmian stared at him for several moments, as if dazed; when her voice finally came it was as if she did not control it.
"It told me...that you're all going to die."