Manitou Island: Part 56
YOU WOULD HAVE thought that a graceful, fairylike being like Chepi would understand the technicalities of landings. Apparently not. Charmian watched the dark blue expanse of snow pass by far below her as the woman spirited her to Sugar Loaf, glowing like some large firefly; yet when they reached the rock, Charmian's arm slipped--or was she dropped?--and her feet struck the top. She screamed as she fell back over the edge. Chepi rematerialized and ran into the rock herself with an oof. Charmian thought of a bug hitting a windshield and felt a brief bit of satisfaction before a shrubby tree emerging from the side of the rock broke her inevitable fall, and with another startled yell she grabbed onto it to avoid slipping further. This failed, and she ended up falling to the ground anyway. But at least the drop wasn't nearly as long.
She landed in the snow and somersaulted a few times until she came to rest at the base of the small hill the rock sat upon. She let out a groan and lifted her head painfully, shaking out the snow. Chepi popped out of a snowbank at the bottom of the rock and fluttered her crumpled wings. Her face screwed up with misery.
"This is not how the Queen of the Windwalkers should be spending her evenings!!" she wailed.
"Get over it," Charmian muttered, wincing and pushing herself to her feet. She stumbled a few steps before regaining her balance. Her knee hurt a little bit, but it was nothing she couldn't handle by now. She made her way back up the hill toward the rock. "If you think that was bad then maybe you and I should switch places for a while."
"Not for ALL the gems in the world!" Chepi sniffed. She stood up and let out a too-dainty sneeze. Charmian rolled her eyes and tromped through the snow toward the entrance as the woman dusted at her arms and fretted out loud, and she mumbled to herself.
"No idea what he saw in her..."
Sikt replied, I fail to see the attraction, myself.
X'aaru was emerging from the entrance as she approached, and he threatened to jump up and down again. Instead he bobbed a bit on his feet, and she smiled at him. "Oh. Charmian. Those beasts! I thought for certain they'd get us! You weren't hurt at all, were you? You're all right? I can't believe how you fought that thing off before Brother showed up!"
"Neither can I," Charmian said, nudging her way past him. She sneezed herself, and rubbed at her cold nose. "That's kind of why I came back here to talk with Tal Natha...is he hanging around anywhere?"
"He and Red Bird were to go back to Fort Holmes, but they haven't left yet. Oh! He told me! You and Ocryana! You actually faced her down? And you hurt her, too! This is something!" Now that they'd reached the main room he started bounding around like a big dog. "Stuck an icicle in her arm--ouch--" he mock-gnawed at his front limb "--and sent her flying away in fear! How did you do it? I've heard of no human able to drive off Ocryana!"
"I think maybe it was dumb luck," Charmian said, feeling self-conscious.
X'aaru cocked an ear with puzzlement. "But--what about the other monster? The one you stuck with the stick. I saw that too! Twice? You must be very lucky then!" He said it with no sarcasm whatsoever, and again started hopping about. "What have you been doing since then? Tal Natha wished to look about for you a bit but that strange Wolf fellow showed up and told him you were fine. You went all the way back to Cave of the Woods? Aren't you tired?"
"He told you I was all right?" Charmian stopped and glared at him. To think Moon Wolf had been lying about her whereabouts when the Windwalkers had been carrying her off. What kind of fib would he have told if the GEEBEES had dragged her away!
"Oh, yes. He said you were just busy doing something. I don't know...Tal Natha didn't seem to believe him much...but we all met back here anyway..."
X'aaru's ears perked up and he glanced toward the doorway. A small miserable shape stood there, shivering and sniffling. Chepi's wings hung damp behind her back and her feathers were mussed. On seeing that they noticed her, she started making a pathetic whimpering sound; but then, seeing X'aaru, she gasped and straightened, and brushed at her clothing hurriedly.
"I look so awful...so horrid...a mess! Oh awful! This cold air does nothing for my skin!" She finished smoothing herself out and stood straight again, giving a small polite cough. "Ahem...would you be the Dreamspinner?"
X'aaru blinked. He lowered his head and sniffed in her direction.
"This isn't him," Charmian said, trying to keep her mouth from twisting. "This is X'aaru. The Rainbowbringer. Not the Dreamspinner."
"Oh..." Chepi deflated a little. "Well...still, he's an Ocryx, and one must always look one's best before an Ocryx...about how old are you, sweetie?"
X'aaru opened his mouth to answer but Charmian interrupted. "Tal Natha's inside somewhere if you want to talk to him. I think that's why we both came here, anyway."
"Oh. Of course." Chepi ruffled her wings a bit and followed Charmian further into the room. The teenager noticed her wink and blow a kiss at the young demon as they passed, causing X'aaru to blink a few more times, ears flicking every which way. She had to keep herself from grinding her teeth.
"Hi, Mom," she called out at Old Mother Manitou, who was stirring at something over the fire. The old woman waved a hand at her dismissively. She noticed Pakwa hanging from the ceiling and realized how much she'd missed seeing him; Drake was nearby, hanging from a bit of rock by both hands. He saw her and tried to wave, only to fall to the floor with a thud. Charmian winced.
"Hi, Charm! Just seeing if I can learn to do what he's doing!" He pointed up at the sleeping GeeBee and grinned.
"Um...yeah, okay," Charmian replied. "Where's Tal Natha? I heard he was here, but I don't see him..."
"He and Red Bird and Silver Eagle Feather were talking about something in one of the other rooms. This place has other rooms, Charm! Isn't that neat? You can't even see 'em until you're like in 'em. They're all over the place. I tried checking 'em out, but most of 'em have just roots and junk in 'em and OMM gets mad if I mess around with her stuff..."
"It's not just JUNK, little twit," Old Mother Manitou groused, taking the small pot off the fire and setting it down. She poured a bit of whatever was in it into a wooden cup and came to Charmian, pushing it into her hands and going back to fill another one. Chepi made a beeline for her, a hopeful look on her face; the old manitou scowled and thrust a cup out at her. "Get your hands on the wrong 'junk' and you'll blow this place sky high. Ugh, here, you, drink this before you crumble into dust. Just what I need, another windling in the place."
"There is another--?" Chepi said, before glancing up and seeing Pakwa. She gave a little jump. "Oh! He's so cute!"
"Tal Natha," Charmian prompted, finishing off her drink and looking around. Sikt gave her a nudge and she walked toward the back of the room. When she got close to the wall she finally noticed a rough opening into a stone hallway she'd never seen before, and ducked inside. Like the tunnel below Crack-in-the-Island, the place was well lit, though she didn't bother questioning it by now. Maybe there were firelings hidden in the walls. She noticed an opening into a sideroom and peered inside. She gasped and jumped back when she found Red Bird staring right back at her, and the young woman did the same, hands flying up to her breast. Charmian let out her breath and rubbed her forehead while Red Bird gave a small nervous laugh.
"I'm sorry, Charmian, I heard you talking and was wondering when you'd come back here. I heard you met Ocryana and you stabbed her! Did that really happen?"
"Sort of," Charmian said. She was beginning to hate this. "Tal Natha in there? I wanted to talk to him."
"Yes, he's a bit tired, but I think he was waiting for you to show up as well. We were going to go back home but I think it would be nice to stay here a bit longer...are you all right?"
Charmian blinked. Red Bird tipped her head with a concerned look. She smiled and rubbed her neck this time, not even knowing she'd been looking preoccupied.
"Oh! Yeah, I'm fine. Tal Natha's tired, you said?"
"Yes...perhaps it was the fight with Ocryana, I know he hates to fight...but he never complains. Oh. I'm sorry! You probably want to speak with him alone." She flushed. "I'll go out and see if I can help Old Mother Manitou. Silver Eagle Feather is in there as well, would you like me to ask her to come out?"
"No, that's okay...I think she might want to hear this too." She paused a moment. "Um. Red Bird. I'm sorry if you feel like I'm leaving you out of everything..."
"No, that's all right. I...I realize I don't always understand what all of you are talking about all the time." Her smile seemed slightly apologetic. "Truthfully...I just wish everything were normal again, like it was before. Everything worries me now. Tal Natha tells me it's not good to worry..." her hands drifted down to her stomach and rested there "...but I can't help but think about what might happen tomorrow, or the day after..."
"Look." Red Bird looked up again when Charmian reached out and took her arm. The gesture, the tone of her voice were more confident than she'd expected. "Tal Natha brought me here to protect you, and it's what I'm going to do. I'm...not really the best protector, right now. But I'm working on it. And no matter how lousy I am, I'm still going to do it anyway. Because that's what I promised him, and what I promised you. I know it won't stop you from worrying, but maybe you don't have to worry quite as much."
Jeez...I hope she believes that more than I do...!
She felt both a bit of relief and a bit of guilt when a tiny smile returned to Red Bird's face, her large eyes glimmering. "I know. I believe you. Thank you, Charmian."
"It's nothing, really. But you're welcome."
Red Bird's smile grew a bit and she nodded. She turned and headed down the short tunnel for the main room. Charmian let out her breath and went into the sideroom.
She spotted Tal Natha now. He was lying down near the corner, and for the briefest moment she thought of how he'd looked when she'd visited him in his dream. She took a step forward, heart squeezing into her throat, only for him to lift his head and look at her. Silver Eagle Feather sat opposite him, and she looked up as well. Charmian wasn't sure if they'd been communicating telepathically before she entered, but their attention was on her now.
"Hi, I'm back," she said, feeling self-conscious again.
"Charmian." She nearly jumped when Tal Natha spoke out loud; she wasn't used to him doing that. He was curled up with his tail lying along the floor and his wings folded behind him; looking in his face she saw he seemed tired, as Red Bird had said, and felt a pang. He appeared to relax a little bit and his voice came in her mind instead. You had no further troubles with Ocryana? I had worried she might return for you after you left.
"No, not with her...somebody else instead." She cocked her head, listening, and didn't hear anybody approaching. She hoped Chepi had found something else in the other room to keep herself occupied; maybe poor Pakwa was now the object of her attention. She turned back to the others. "I wanted to ask you both something. I think...I think there might be something wrong with me."
Her voice faltered. The other two lifted their heads again and their looks told her to continue.
She walked further into the room and sat down on Tal Natha's tail. Her hands fiddled in her lap and she stared at her knee. "It's...kind of hard to explain, since I'm not even sure what it is or if it's just me."
"Maybe you should try," Silver Eagle Feather said, and Charmian nodded. She took a breath.
"When X'aaru and I were fighting that...thing," she said. "Near Arch Rock. You two showed up just as things were getting tough and drove it and the Ocryx off. I was...kind of hoping I could do it myself, but...I probably wouldn't have been able to anyway."
They didn't say anything so she went on.
"Before you showed up I picked up a stick like Moon Wolf taught me and I jabbed that thing in the arm. And it acted like I really hurt it. When we sensed it before, we couldn't figure out what it was. I kept thinking maybe it was an Ocryx, but then when I saw it...it reminded me more of a manitou. But it wasn't one of those either. We don't really know what it is yet. All I know is that when I stabbed it with the branch, it got really mad."
More silence. She pressed on, her fingers fiddling a bit faster.
"Well...then Ocryana shows up and I jab her with an icicle. I know this wasn't right, because of the way you and Justin looked at me when I did it. I think I understand why it wasn't supposed to work like that. When you tackled that GeeBee a few months ago, Tal Natha. And then when Pakwa had trouble. 'Wind controls wind.' A wind elemental can fight another wind elemental because they're of the same elemental nature...right?"
Tal Natha nodded. This is correct. Please, continue.
"So I'm starting to take it that that means, a wind elemental can also subdue another wind elemental, if it's strong enough. But it has to be an elemental doing it, or else it'll be useless. Like, a regular person attacking a fire elemental using fire won't work on it, because it has to be an elemental wielding that power. If it's just a regular person, they can't hurt the elemental like that with their own element. Only elementals themselves can. Um...stop me if I'm wrong."
Tal Natha's ear flicked and he turned to look at Silver Eagle Feather. She looked back at him, and then they both looked at Charmian. Charmian chewed on her lip.
What you're saying. She looked back at Tal Natha. His eyes met hers, a pensive look on his face. You're saying that the reason you hurt Ocryana was because you attacked her with her own element, water. And yet you shouldn't have been able to wield this power on your own.
Silver Eagle Feather frowned. "If it did harm Ocryana, that means she would have to be..."
"You see?" Charmian blurted out. "It doesn't make any sense. I'd get it if it were a lake manitou doing it, maybe one of them could have hurt Ocryana. Or a GeeBee or another Ocryx since they're part waterling and part windling. But--I shouldn't have been able to!"
This is what Justin and I myself wondered, Tal Natha murmured. Though we didn't dare think on it too long...
"So what does it mean?" Charmian asked. She was wringing her hands by now--a bad habit. "I'm not a GeeBee or an Ocryx or a manitou, I'm just a mainlander. I shouldn't have been able to hurt her! So how come I did? What's going on? Is...is something...changing?" Even as she said it she felt stupid for asking, yet dreaded that it might be true. Tal Natha frowned and his gaze lowered to the floor.
I...I must tell you, Charmian, that I'm not certain what's happening, if anything. Perhaps you held this power all along?
"Then how come I've been attacked and beaten down so many times so far? Wouldn't I have been able to defend myself?"
I don't know...perhaps it was your training, with Moon Wolf.
Charmian bit her lip again. "I don't know...but for some reason, I can't believe that that's it. Moon Wolf might be a good teacher but he never taught me anything about elementals. He's just a human, too. I mean, maybe humans can control the elements once in a while, but I don't think we can take on elementals so easily or else I never would have had to come here in the first place!"
"Please," Silver Eagle Feather said. "Whatever it is...whatever might be different now...don't be afraid of it. So far it has yet to harm you. Perhaps you're right, and this is some kind of change...there are things about the Island, how it affects people, that we do not understand yet."
"You...you mean it might be the Island itself doing this to me?"
"I offer it only as a suggestion. But if this is so, then you shouldn't be afraid of it. All of us have some power within ourselves. We need only the right moment to bring it forth. Perhaps that moment is now."
"But--I'm not an elemental! Only THEY have this kind of power!" She hated how high pitched her voice was becoming, but fear overrode her embarrassment. "I understand if maybe the Island's making me go all wonky, but if all it's doing is bringing out what power I already had--where did I GET this power in the first place? I'm just a mainlander!"
Charmian. Listen to what Sister says. If this power has yet to harm you, then do not fear it. Try to use it when you can. Tal Natha met her eyes. You already used it upon Ocryana. It may be to your advantage to try to cultivate it further. Sometimes we do not ask why. We simply accept.
We simply accept. Charmian stared at her hands as her fingers fell still. She'd never been one to simply accept anything; even in school she never simply accepted, she always questioned. That was probably how she'd maintained the grades she had so far. When she didn't understand something, she always questioned why. That was what everyone around her had taught her to do as well. Now...she was supposed to just forget all of that? Quit questioning, and let things happen? It didn't feel right. It felt...strange.
Tal Natha stretched his wings. But Charmian. You spoke also of this other creature.
"Huh? Oh." Charmian glanced up. "Yeah...the weird monster. I stabbed it in the arm with a stick."
So you mean to say you believe this creature to be a woodling. As you were able to injure it using wood.
Charmian nodded. "I might be wrong, because I don't even know if it's an elemental or not...but I don't know. I just got this...feeling from it. It seemed pretty strong, and that other Ocryx was teamed up with it. I don't think she'd team up with some regular old monster unless she knew it had some kind of power against us."
If the creature is a woodling, then you prove your powers more. As I said though, do not fear them. Try to make use of them; perhaps this is the medicine you've been looking for.
"Well...that's not really the only reason I brought that one up," Charmian said. "Chepi--um...somebody told me something today that made me curious. About Mitchi Manitou."
The demon cocked one ear. She sensed he was waiting for her to go on.
"I was told that Mitchi wasn't always a waterling, that he was a wood elemental. But I don't know if that's true. Is it?"
Tal Natha looked to Silver Eagle Feather. The woman nodded.
"I don't know all of the story...but from what little was passed on to me, many of the manitous now dwelling within Devil's Lake used to be tribal manitous...much like the ones Francois calls upon. It was when Ocryx took control of Mitchi that they went to the lake, and became waterlings."
"So they were different elementals before that?"
"Some of them, yes. Some were woodlings, perhaps some were sandlings. Some were already waterlings. This is what I heard."
"But they all became waterlings when they went to the lake, right? Well what about the kind of elemental they used to be? Did they just stop being that or something? I don't understand how this works."
One never "stops" being one type of elemental, Charmian. The basic nature is always there. It may be..."superseded" by another elemental nature, if a more powerful element takes control of them.
"I guess that would make sense," Charmian murmured, trying to work it through in her head. Granted, this wasn't basic algebra. "Chepi said she used to be a waterling but she's now a windling...but she didn't seem to have any problem with the water either..."
"Charmian." She looked up to see Silver Eagle Feather staring at her intently. "Please...what is it you are trying to say?"
More lip-chewing and finger-fiddling. Charmian felt rather stupid now that she'd brought the whole thing up; what if she was wrong about this? She hated looking like an idiot, especially when she wasn't even sure how things worked yet.
"Well...that creature that attacked. I hurt it with wood, so I thought maybe it's a woodling. Whenever I was around it, I kept thinking it reminded me of an Ocryx, but it also reminded me of a manitou. Whenever I looked right at it it made me think of Mitchi so much it was just weird."
"And from what you guys just said, Mitchi was a woodling once. I, um...I'm not sure how to put the rest of it."
She fell silent. The other two stared at her with surprised looks on their faces. She hadn't put what she was thinking into so many words, but she could tell they understood what she was getting at.
She heard a low growl and both she and Silver Eagle Feather looked at Tal Natha. His ears had flattened and his lip curled back.
I knew this, he growled. I knew that his will was weak, and she would get to him. I knew this months ago, and yet my father refused to listen. She got to him exactly as she got to Ocryx. He lifted his head and his eyes smoldered, green and red.
Ocryana. She has "control" over Mitchi now...much more deeply than I had believed or feared.