Manitou Island: Part 24
Dream Into Action
IF AUGWAK'S EYES had gotten any bigger they would have fallen from his head. He opened his mouth and all that came out was a tiny squeak.
Beside Charmian, Drake echoed this sentiment. "Holy shit."
The white Ocryx responded by pushing herself off from the ground, soaring toward the stunned GeeBee. A split second later her hand met his face, slamming across his cheek so hard his head spun. He flew through the air from the force of the blow, crashing into the rock and sliding to the ground in a crumpled heap. All he could do was let out a little puff of breath, blood streaming from his mouth.
There was barely time to take this all in before she had turned in midair, zooming upwards. The other GeeBees hung at all angles, eyes gaping. Only now did a few of them panic and try to escape. The Ocryx's snake tail slammed into one, cracking his spine and sending him crashing to the ground facefirst and unable to move. Claws raked across the face of another, gouging his eyes--he screeched and flung up his hands, vanishing immediately. Most of the rest finally started disappearing into little gusts, but several more were not so lucky. One made the mistake of trying to swing at the Ocryx, and missed; a second later her teeth had clamped on his neck and with a horrid shredding sound she had torn his throat open. The GeeBee gurgled with surprise and collapsed, his body dissolving into dust. Two more, too slow to escape, found themselves slammed into the treetops, cracking through the branches. And one final GeeBee shrieked and started babbling incoherently, pleading for his life, before a horn through the chest finished his plea, and he was tossed through the air as easily as Mitchi Manitou had tossed X. Once he hit the ground he too crumbled into dust.
There was the briefest silence before the white Ocryx whirled around to face Augwak again. Her chest heaved and her nostrils flared; red lined her muzzle, the same color as her eyes which glowed like blood. Her teeth showed and a guttural growl rose in her throat.
Augwak pushed himself up weakly, shaking and frightened. He reached over to pick up the stick, lying beside him; at first Charmian thought he meant to run her through as well, but when the Ocryx started to approach he let out another squeak and turned, scrabbling at the rock, before vanishing. A tiny gust of wind twirled through the air; the demon swept at it, breaking it apart, and Charmian could swear she heard the faintest "Ow!!" before it disappeared entirely.
Now that it was over Charmian had the chance to see everyone's expressions. And everyone looked exactly the same as she felt. X, Silver Eagle Feather, Old Mother Manitou, Drake, Pakwa stared goggle eyed at the bloodstained clearing.
"Charm..." Drake asked in a faint voice. "What just happened?"
She didn't get to answer. The white Ocryx glared around the clearing, searching for more GeeBees, before her gaze fell on Tal Natha. Her eyes widened as if just noticing him. She threw back her head with a gasp and started shrinking, the blue fiery glow surrounding her, until it faded away and she was once more Red Bird, falling to her hands and knees and panting weakly. She stayed that way for a moment before lifting her head. "Tal Natha," she whispered, then, louder, "Tal Natha!" She pushed herself to her feet and stumbled toward him, collapsing beside him and lifting his head in her hands. "Tal Natha! Tal Natha!"
Charmian could finally feel her legs again. "Down! Down!" she said, holding up her arms; Pakwa picked her and Drake up and glided down into the clearing, setting them on the ground. Charmian made sure her legs could hold her before running over to Red Bird and Tal Natha, kneeling beside them.
Red Bird held Tal Natha's head in her lap, rocking back and forth and crying softly. "You'll be all right," she kept murmuring. "You'll be all right." Charmian was relieved to see he was still breathing, although his breath was shallow; she pulled open his eye and then wished she hadn't. It had the same dull milky look that X's had when he'd been wounded. Aside from his breathing, there seemed to be no life to him at all.
"You'll be all right," Red Bird whispered, putting her head to his.
Old Mother Manitou approached. "Come on, come on, let's get him inside, see what I can do."
Charmian pulled away from him. The demon was too heavy for her to even try lifting. X came forward and bent over him, searching his face; he nudged at Tal Natha's muzzle with his own. Receiving no response, he whined and nudged again, then reached down to pick him up. Charmian took Red Bird's arms and carefully pulled her away as well. The girl didn't fight, though she continued sniffling and hiccupping. She took one hand and abruptly started wiping the blood from her mouth as if it disgusted her and her tears came harder.
X picked up Tal Natha and staggered under his weight; the other Ocryx was slightly larger than he was. Silver Eagle Feather came close; "I can carry him," X said, and proceeded toward Sugar Loaf on his own. He tried to walk steadily though he stumbled a few times along the way.
Charmian, Red Bird, Drake, and Silver Eagle Feather followed him, Old Mother Manitou having gone in ahead of them.
She swept off X's pallet and X laid his brother down upon it; Charmian flinched when his head rolled back limply and one arm fell. X whined again and put it across his chest. Old Mother Manitou stepped up and shooed them away from him, but Red Bird refused to leave. She took Tal Natha's head again and Old Mother Manitou simply let her be, examining the small wound in his chest.
The others fell silent, awaiting to hear what she said.
"Hm..." She dabbed a finger at it, poking it a little bit and squinting closer. Then she opened one of Tal Natha's eyes and examined it as well. She checked his gums, then put her ear to his chest and listened for a moment.
She stood up straight and nodded a bit.
"The horn," she muttered. "Not as powerful when it's not attached to its owner--Ocryana--but still effective."
"What'll happen to him?" Charmian asked.
Old Mother Manitou looked her in the eyes. Her face was set and stony. "He will die."
Charmian gasped. Red Bird hugged his head to her closer, soft sobs escaping her. "But--you just said it wasn't as powerful!" Charmian protested. "I thought maybe--maybe that meant--"
"All it means is that it will happen more slowly. But the end will be the same. Once an Ocryx is pierced by Ocryx horn, it dies. There is no medicine that can heal this."
"You have to try something!" Drake stepped forward and held his hand over the wound, as if it would help.
Old Mother Manitou shrugged and sighed. "Why, boy? When I know it will only fail? I know my limitations. I won't get your hopes up. If I knew what to do, I would do it."
"So...what happens now?" Charmian's voice was quiet as she stared at Red Bird and Tal Natha. "What happens if he dies?"
The old woman noticed her use of the word "if" but said nothing of it. "Well," she said. "For one, the dreams of everyone on the Island will die. He is the Dreamspinner. Our dreams die with him."
"For another...he is not the Island's life, but he is its guardian. Without him, the Island will be without a protector. And then the Island will die."
"Too many ways to speak of, child. It may be the GeeBees who cause it, or Ocryx, or Ocryana. Ocryx is the life of the Island but he doesn't fully understand his own power. Or else refuses to use it. Don't ask me why. Ocryana doesn't have the power but she could bring it to ruin. We've already seen what Augwak is willing to do. On the other hand, the Island may simply wither away without any dreams left to sustain it. Dreams have more power in our world than in yours, you see."
"There has to be something more powerful than Ocryx magic," Charmian said. Though her voice was calm her mind was working feverishly, trying to come up with a solution, any solution, anything she could do to help. Tal Natha had brought her here to help the Island. Now he was the one who needed help. She'd made him a promise. She couldn't break it now...
Old Mother Manitou peered at her, then shrugged. "Of course. But I don't know what it is, nor where to find it."
"Could there be somebody, anybody, on the Island who would know what to do?"
Another shrug. "It's always possible, child. I never claimed to know all. But I would not know who this person is, if they existed."
"How would I find out? What would be the best way?"
"Well..." A long pause. "You could search the dreams of everyone on the Island. Go into their thoughts, and find the one who may know what you seek." She raised an eyebrow. "But the only one of us who can do that is the one you wish to help."
Charmian bit her lip. Of course it had seemed too easy. She stared at Tal Natha a moment more and tried to think, as hard as she could. Her brain didn't seem to be working.
This isn't algebra class. It's life or death. You can't just give up when the solution doesn't come to you immediately. You have to keep thinking! Even if your ideas are lousy, you have to try them out! It's better than nothing!
I made a promise. I won't break it now.
"How do I do what he does?" she asked softly. "Search people's dreams."
A long stare from Old Mother Manitou. "You don't, unless you are him." Another pause. "But..."
Charmian looked up. "But?"
"But...one may also accompany the Dreamspinner as he travels through others' dreams. To enter the dream of the Dreamspinner. Tal Natha's dream. It, along with Ocryx, is what helps keep the Island alive."
Tal Natha's dream. She had no idea what it was, or if she would much like it... "How do I get in his dream?" she asked.
Red Bird finally lifted her head, hearing the questions, her eyes not daring to be filled with hope but with something that was at least close.
"Well," Old Mother Manitou said again, "that perhaps I can help you with." She moved aside, waving her hand, gesturing Charmian to come closer, which she did. "It's rather simple," the manitou said. "Just a more advanced form of the communication we use. 'Telepathy,' I think your people call it, though that's a cold silly-sounding name. Dreams are merely our deepest thoughts when we sleep. They take a little more concentration to read, not that difficult, but wandering through them--well--that's something only Tal Natha can do. You can be allowed into his dream but only Tal Natha can decide whether to allow you to wander around in it or not."
"Can he let me do that if he's unconscious?"
"Unconscious? Oh, most likely. Remember. Dreams are unconscious thoughts. He is unconscious to us, but he is still dreaming." Another shrug. "As for whether he'll want you to do so or whether he'll even understand...that I'm not so certain about."
"I have to try it anyway." Now everyone was staring at Charmian. She tried to ignore it. "Just to give it a shot."
"'Shot'?" The old woman waved it off. "Fine, then. Sit right here." She pushed forward a log stump that had been fashioned into a crude chair. "Sit and relax. You can't dream if you're all on edge. Place your hand on his." Charmian did so, and shut her eyes. "Eh, good. Looks as if maybe you know how to do this already. I'll help you relax and try to get inside his head, but once you're in, the rest is up to you; I can't help you out anymore. I won't go wandering around inside an Ocryx's head...never know what you might find in there."
"Okay, I'm ready."
"All right, then. Try to relax...go into Tal Natha's dream. And relax."
Charmian tried to let her mind drift into unconsciousness while also concentrating on Tal Natha's dream...whatever it might be. She had no idea what Ocryxes might dream about, and wasn't certain she wanted to know. She wasn't even certain it would work. But she had to try it...
In time Old Mother Manitou's voice faded away...and Charmian could no longer feel Tal Natha's hand beneath her own. That was fast, she thought. She frowned and slowly opened her eyes, anxious of what she might see. As soon as her vision cleared, she blinked, confused, and looked harder.
She...wasn't in Sugar Loaf anymore. She seemed to be in a cave. Much similar to Tal Natha's cave, only larger--a long stone hallway stretched before her, vanishing into eerie blue light.
She bit her lip and stood--as soon as she did turning and noticing there was no longer any tree stump chair--then, rubbing her hands which suddenly felt very cold, started walking slowly down the stone hallway. As she went along, the stone gradually changed over to crystal, large chunks of quartz gleaming at her in the pale blueness. She wondered where that light came from. The tunnel seemed to widen up ahead; it must be the cave, whichever cave it was. She continued toward it.
When she reached the end she had to force herself to keep walking or else stop dead in her tracks and never move a further step, the anxiety gripped at her heart so hard. She didn't know what she had to be afraid of--Tal Natha wasn't a frightening creature, not now that she knew him--but who was to say his dream wasn't the stuff of nightmares? She'd never been in his head, before...
The tunnel opened out into a clearing. Charmian finally stopped and gaped at what lay before her. It was a lake. An underground lake, lit with blue from below, the rippling water casting sparkles of blue from the crystals surrounding it. And...there were trees around it. Trees and grass and plants. A forest, within the cave, under the ground. She heard a distant dripping and thought of Devil's Kitchen, yet there were no GeeBees nor anything else of the sort to be found. The cavern was apparently devoid of life.
She stepped toward the lake. "Tal Natha?" she called, but as in a dream, her voice came out very quiet and subdued, not even echoing off the walls. She'd thought she was talking more loudly, but couldn't raise her voice any further. The anxiety held her back.
What am I afraid of?
As if in answer, a glow appeared beside the lake, not that far from her. She gasped and jumped back a little as a second glow joined it, the first one reddish colored, the second one white. The two lights grew and lengthened and assumed shape before fading, and Charmian found herself staring into red and green eyes.
Two Ocryxes--one with fur the color of copper, the other the palest gray--stood before her, their gaze much like Tal Natha's was when she had first met him, calm and yet somehow amused, as if they knew something she didn't.
She started again when the coppery one spoke.
I am Dakh Natha, it said. The Dreamrender.