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Manitou Island: Part 25

A Demon Lost

CHARMIAN STARED AT the two creatures for a moment before she could find her voice.

"Dream...render?" she whispered.

The creature's eyes never left hers. I am he who tears apart thought.

I am Sikt Natha, the gray one--she now realized it was female--said. The Dreamwanderer. I am she who traverses thought.

"What are you?" Charmian asked.

The copper-colored one--Dakh Natha--answered. We are the dreams which have not yet been born.

"Unborn dreams?" Charmian felt her fear start to drift away and slowly approached the two. She wasn't certain...but she felt they must represent some part of Tal Natha's dream. They looked much like he did, with their long, almost foxlike faces and slanted eyes. And their names--Dakh Natha and Sikt Natha?--there had to be some relation. Perhaps they represented some smaller part of the whole? Like symbols in a dream?

Well, what would an Ocryx dream of, if not of Ocryxes?

Dakh Natha tilted his head and inquired, Why have you come here?

"Oh." Charmian stopped. "I...I came here to help...the person whose dream you're in. Tal Natha. I came here to help him."

Why? From Sikt Natha.

Charmian frowned. "Because he's dying."

Why does this concern you? Dakh Natha asked.

"Because...because he's dying! I can't just sit by and watch that happen!"

If he dies, it is of no importance to you, is this true?

"No, it's not true! If he dies, this whole Island dies with him. You must know that."

But the Island is not your home. It is not of your world. The two Nathas continued staring at her as if genuinely amused that she should find the situation so serious.

"So?" Charmian retorted. "He's the Dreamspinner. If he dies, so does everyone's dream."

Only the dreams of those of us on the Island. He is not of your world. Your people will go on as always without him. Why does his death concern you so much?

Charmian bit her lip and her eyes welled up. What was with these two and why were they making this so difficult? Didn't they care about him at all?

"If he doesn't exist, neither do you two!" she tried.

This is of little concern to you, Sikt Natha said.

"Maybe my concern doesn't matter that much, then!" The Ocryxes' ears twitched as if in interest. Charmian felt she should shut up before she put her foot in her mouth big time but went on. "I made a promise. He asked me if I'd try to help protect the Island. No matter who or what he is. No matter what I'm protecting. I said I would. It doesn't matter if he's my kind or not, if he's from my dimension or not. I can't just let someone die. Maybe you don't understand it, but that's not the way my kind works. When we make promises we try to keep them. Even if they mean something to us in the end or not."

You are willing to risk your life for an Island which means nothing to you once you return to your world? Dakh Natha prodded. You would be so foolish as to do this?

"Yes, I would! Maybe you call it foolish, but I call it sticking by your friends!"

Now Sikt Natha cocked her head. "Friends"? Who here is your friend?

"They all are," Charmian said, suddenly subdued. "Red Bird. Silver Eagle Feather. X and Francois and Tal Natha. Even Pakwa. They're all my friends now." She looked down at her hands, with the sudden strange feeling that she should have something there, anything, that would help her understand. "I can't just let them all die."

You have barely known them. And you would still risk your life for them?

"Yes. I made a promise."

Is any promise worth this?

"Yes! But...it's not just that. They really are my friends. It doesn't matter how long I've known them. I have to keep my promise because it's a greater risk to break it. Both to them and to everybody. And to me personally." She glared up at them. "Maybe that's selfish to you two but I still intend to do it, with your help or without!"

Dakh Natha blinked, still with that maddeningly calm expression. We will not hold you back. But you must go on alone. He is lost, and he cannot find his way back out again.

"Lost?" Charmian blinked this time. "Who? What are you talking about?"

Tal Natha. The poison has made him weak. It has made him doubt the power of his own dream. He refuses to fight it, and lets it take him over.

"You're lying. Tal Natha's not like that. He always fights when he has to."

He has given up. His own fear has blinded him to the way out. He no longer believes that he has the power to protect the Island.

"That's a lie and you know it! Tal Natha never gives up! He's stronger than any of us! You're both lying!"

Dakh Natha started to move and Charmian gasped and jumped back again. But he merely stepped aside, Sikt Natha following, and Charmian now saw a dark pathway leading back into the forest behind them. She peered down it, not having noticed it before, yet couldn't see to its end.

If you believe we lie than you may see him for yourself. We will not hold you back. If you may convince him that power still resides within himself, not to give up, then perhaps you help save the Island and allow sleeping dreams to be born. But he is in a dark place, and you may not be able to reach him.

"Watch me try, then. Because I know you're wrong and he never gives up." She walked past the two Ocryxes, toward the dark pathway; the gathering gloom made her shrink up inside, but she shoved her fear down, not wanting the two to see it, and proceeded into the woods without a glance back. She sensed the Ocryxes' eyes upon her as she went, but not for long, as the darkness closed in around her quickly, so thick that it felt as if she were walking through black cloth; she clutched her arms and chewed on her lip, hoping not to fall into something hideous, hoping the tunnel wasn't as long as it looked.

She hoped for a long time.

When the tunnel finally began to open up, a very, very faint blue light forming at the end, she noticed now that that's what it really was, a tunnel and not a pathway. It opened up into a cave again. Sometime along the way she must have passed from woods into stone. She started abruptly when she recognized the cave--it was Tal Natha's cave, by Fort Holmes. She recognized the large crystals lining the walls, the slight stone outcropping to the right, and especially the large looking-crystal at the end. It was this which cast out the glow. But it was nowhere near as bright as it should have been. Before when she'd been in the cave the torches and crystals had given it a rosy glow. Now, with just that pale blue, strong enough only to make out vague forms and shadows, the place seemed...cold and empty. And lonely.

She finally noticed another shape she hadn't seen before, a dark shape huddled against the wall, not far from the dim crystal. She squinted hard before it moved just slightly, and she could make out a wing. She gasped and ran toward it, dropping into the sand next to it and touching what she thought must be its shoulder.

"Tal Natha!" she whispered, overjoyed to find him so quickly. The feeling quickly evaporated as soon as he lifted his head to look at her--or through her. His eyes didn't meet hers at all. They didn't glow, and she could tell that he couldn't see her.

"Who's there?" he asked, voice fearful.

"It's me." She bit back the anxiety in her voice. "Charmian."

His eyes softened. "Young Charmian..." He blinked a few times. "Why are you here? How did you find me?"

"I came here to help you out. I came into your dream. I needed to ask you if you could help me help you."

His head lowered. "I can't help you...my dream has no power anymore. The poison has taken it away. I don't even know where I am. Am I at home? It took me ages to get here, and it's so dark..."

"Yes, you're at home." Charmian's eyes stung again. "It's just dark because you don't have the torches lit. If you'd light them up, you'd see just fine."

"No...it's not just this. I'm alone now. I can't hear anyone, feel anyone anymore. There's no one here but me."

"That's not true! I'm here. And so is Red Bird."

"Red Bird?" He lifted his head again. "Where is she?" He sniffed. "I can't sense her anywhere."

"She's right beside you. You're dreaming. But she's still here. She never left you."

His head lowered again. She couldn't believe how he looked--curled in on himself like a frightened child, wings tucked tight against his back, tail curled around him. "No...she's not here. I don't sense her. She and everyone. There's no one left here but me."

Anger flared up in Charmian's chest. "Quit saying that! I'm here, aren't I? And so is she. Why are you acting like this? Why do you suddenly think you're all alone? You of all people know that's not true."

"It is true...you don't understand...I'm the Dreamspinner." A brief pause. "I was the Dreamspinner. For as long as I can remember I was alone. I left my mother very young...I can't even remember being with her. Always in my cave, by myself. Alone. But even then I had the dreams of everyone else to keep me company. I was alone, yes, but never lonely. I could create whatever people wanted and give it to them while they slept. I could bring them some little happiness. And in return I had their thoughts inside me. Every night I could hear the thoughts of everyone on the Island, when they dreamed. They kept me alive. So I decided I would keep them alive. I would protect the Island so they could dream, and so I would never be lonely." He fell silent for a moment; his look grew pained. "But then people began to forget the power of their dreams...or perhaps they never had any power after all...perhaps I've only been fooling myself the whole time. Whichever it was...I feared for the Island then. It needed something to sustain it. I searched for someone with a powerful dream and I found her. I found Red Bird."

Charmian sat silent.

"Her dream...I have yet to come across another one like it. Yours came close, young Charmian...but you are a mainlander so perhaps that's why it pales in comparison. She has such a power within her, or at least I thought she did, as I told her...I didn't mean to lie to her...perhaps I was wrong, and saw only what I wanted to see..."

"You're not wrong," Charmian said. "She does have power. She proved it just today."

"Did she?" A very slight, sad smile. "Little Bird. She finally decides to show it, and I'm not there to see." The smile faded. "But perhaps I am still wrong...I thought she had the power to save the Island, but as long as she refuses to believe, even if she does have it within her, she is useless...at the time I was concerned only with convincing her of her power, and she always refused to believe me; it was most maddening. There were so many times she drove me insane with her lack of belief. Still, after some time...this did not matter anymore. I grew close to her. I had not meant this to happen, but it did. Perhaps that was my mistake. I focused too much on her, and forgot about the power she has."

"It wasn't a mistake," Charmian said. "I think it was the right thing. She's not just some tool to help save the Island, she's a person. With a lot of power. If she thinks she's just some tool, she'll never bring that power out. She told me you were the first person who ever treated her as if she were neither normal nor frightening, as if she were herself. That means something. It means you did the right thing."

A small sigh. "Perhaps, perhaps not...it matters little now. It's dark here. And cold. And I can't hear anyone anymore. They're all gone now."

"Who's gone?"

"Everyone. The thoughts and dreams of everyone." He closed his eyes. "I used to hear them, every night; they were always there, as long as I can remember. Now it's silent. I don't know if they've stopped dreaming, or if I've stopped hearing. But it's so quiet now and I'm alone."

"You mean...you've lost the ability...?"

"I don't know. Has everyone stopped dreaming because I have failed them? Or have I failed because everyone has stopped dreaming?"

"I don't think it matters which...because you haven't failed anything. You only fail if you don't try."

"There's nothing left to try. I can't see or hear or feel. There is no one left but me, and even I don't matter anymore."

"Everyone is left. Just because you can't sense them doesn't mean they're not there." She was growing desperate inside, trying to think of something, anything, what would convince the demon she was right. She wasn't even certain she was right. "Look. I just had to chew out two Ocryxes who said you'd given up." He looked up at her--eyes still not focusing on her--but she went on. "I told them I didn't believe them, and I still don't. Don't make me look stupid, Tal Natha. Let me prove them wrong."

"Two Ocryxes...?"

"Yeah. Dakh Natha and Sikt Natha. They said they were the 'dreams which have not yet been born.' If you want to salvage any respect I or anybody else has left, then you'll help me figure out how to help you, and quit whining that you don't know how because I know you do."

"Dakh Natha and Sikt Natha...unborn dreams..." Tal Natha stared off somewhere past her before blinking again and looking in the direction of her face. "All right, young Charmian. If you believe you know some way you can help me...I'll try to help you in return. But you must tell me what to do."

"Me tell you what to do? Nuh-uh, no thanks. I have no idea. You tell me what to do. After I tell you what I had in mind." She cleared her throat, trying to sound confident. "I'm looking for someone who can help you. You were hurt by Ocryana. Her horn pierced you. Old Mother Manitou doesn't know what to do to help but maybe someone else on the Island does."

"And what if not?"

"We can't think about that right now. We have to at least try. The thing is I don't know who this person is and I don't know how to find out quickly. I have to search everyone's dreams to find out. When I come across the dream of the person who might be able to help, I'll know that's the person I'm looking for, to help you out."

"But...I can no longer hear anyone."

"Maybe this doesn't matter. I'm the one who has to do the searching, not you. But you've got to put me on the right track because I don't know how to do it." She paused. "You're going to be my...guide dog. And I'll be yours. You can't see, but you know your way around. I don't know where to go, but I can see. If you let me know which way is the right way to go, I'll point you in that direction and we'll go, and I won't let you stumble and fall."

Tal Natha was silent for a moment, as if not quite certain this was such a good plan, but then she heard him sigh, just barely. "It's not difficult," he said. "This is merely the projection of my dream. I let you into my real dream. Then you can search the dreams of others, the way I do. But I'm not certain you can handle it."

"Why not just let me try? You're doing that thing again. Telling people they've got power but then not letting them prove it. Stop being the big tough guy and let me try it out!"

"I'm not trying to be the big tough...'guy.' The reason I can do what I do is because I've done it since birth. I was alone and the dreams kept me company. I could tolerate them. You, you have spent your life with others...you have your own dreams, and you're not used to the dreams of others. You would suddenly have to deal with them all at once. Do you truly believe you could handle this?"

Charmian threw up her hands. "Would you just let me try already?"

"All right, all right...but I've warned you. You should expect what you get."

"I know, I know. Just do it already! Jeez, you're even worse than those other Nathas!"

Tal Natha sat up and before Charmian could back away, he had pressed his forehead to hers. Her eyes went wide and she started to draw away before his voice entered her mind.

My dreams to yours, he said; it was the first time he'd communicated with her like this since she'd come upon him in the cave. Your dreams to mine. The dreams of all. The dreams of everyone. Their dreams to your dreams. Their dreams are yours. It looked as if he were staring right in her eyes, though they still didn't glow, and she knew he couldn't see her. Accept. You must accept their dreams as your own.

I accept them, Charmian replied. Their dreams are mine now.

It was as if a hammer slammed into her head. Charmian gasped, the pain stripping her words away. Blinding light flashed in her eyes and she clamped her hands to her head, afraid her skull would break apart as seemingly millions of foreign thoughts and voices and visions filled her brain, rattling and buzzing and screeching and humming and clanging and shrieking, a giant confused chaos of noise. Her voice finally came back to her and she screamed with pain and fear but the clamor was so great she couldn't even hear her own cries.

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