Manitou Island: Part 57
CHARMIAN WRUNG HER hands again when Tal Natha rose to his feet and slowly paced the room. "So, you think I'm right?" she asked. "That that thing is--what I think it is?"
You claim its scent reminded you of an Ocryx--and yet when you saw it, it looked like a manitou?
Charmian nodded. Then she frowned. "I think I just thought of something else."
"Well...we already know it's working with that other Ocryx, the female one. And I think she's working with Ocryana. Which would make sense, if this...thing...is also Ocryana's. I was just thinking about how Mitchi hurt X'aaru. Um..."
Please, continue. He sat down with a pained sigh. Whether your thought is right or wrong, it may still be useful.
"Well...remember that guy that we found. That body in the woods, all mangled." She shivered. "The GeeBees got to it first so we don't know how bad it was hurt before then. You said that you smelled Ocryana nearby. You're pretty sure it was her?"
Tal Natha's ear flicked. I hope I recognize the scent of my own mother, by now.
"Oh. Okay, sorry about that. But did you smell anything else?"
Now he frowned as well. At first she thought he was going to tell her no, of course not, but then he tipped his head a bit as if thinking.
I...cannot be certain, by now. This was long ago. If I had scented anything else, it seems I would have made note of it.
"Well, you smelled Ocryana, and probably the GeeBees...so maybe the other scent was lost."
"Other scent?" This from Silver Eagle Feather; she'd been so quiet Charmian had forgotten she was there.
"Yeah," Charmian said, turning so she faced both of them. "I think that...thing...might have been the one responsible for that. Acting on orders from Ocryana." She shrugged. "This is just a guess...I mean, it really could have just been Ocryana if she's who you smelled, but...I saw that thing's claws...and what that dead guy looked like...and...well...that just looks like something it would have done." She shivered again, and rubbed her arms.
I saw its claws as well. Tal Natha's frown grew. And now that you mention this, it could very well have killed that human in the woods. If it were Ocryana's...offspring...I would not doubt she would order it to do this for her. If she manipulated Mitchi into fathering it, I don't doubt she would manipulate it, as well. He lifted his head. Still. There are some questions unanswered. This other female Ocryx. We might as well claim that she is the offspring of Ocryana as well. Yet who is her father?
"That I uh...don't really get yet. Ocryx maybe?"
"I doubt this..." Silver Eagle Feather stared into space. "He already vowed she wouldn't trick him again the way she did before. I won't say that she can't...but he's been on his guard ever since."
He could always fall for the same trick twice, Tal Natha countered. Yet for some reason I feel this is not the case, this time. Who else might her sire be?
"A human? Like with Justin and Red Bird. But I don't know who."
Tal Natha got up again and wandered back to the other side of the room. I wonder why I have not sensed this...
Charmian looked at Silver Eagle Feather. The woman held one hand up to the side of her mouth.
"Being the Dreamspinner, he of course senses all dreams. Including those of young children."
"So he should have picked up on this when they were born?"
Normally I do not focus too intently upon the dreams of a single person, Tal Natha said. This would be intrusive to them. I admit I have not always been perfect with this practice...but still, I had thought I was able to sense the general dreams of everyone upon the Island.
"You mean you can't, anymore?"
Apparently not for all...each of us dreams slightly differently from the rest...a GeeBee's dream can be told apart from a human's dream, for example...and I have yet to sense the dream of another Ocryx, aside from those I already know...
He trailed off, seeming genuinely confused. Charmian chewed on her lip for a moment before daring to speak what she thought now.
"Well...I guess that can only mean, this new Ocryx, she has some sort of power over dreams? The way that you do?"
His head darted up and his eyes met hers. He actually blinked with surprise, then his ears folded back and he looked more confused than ever.
But I thought that I was the Dreamspinner... he murmured.
Charmian's insides did a flip. Well, THIS can't be good, she thought. It was bad enough that somebody else could have control over dreams. It was even WORSE that the Dreamspinner himself had no idea what was going on!
As if thinking the same thing, he got up and wandered from the room, eyes focused on the floor. Charmian shared a look with Silver Eagle Feather before following him, hearing the woman getting up to follow her.
This makes little sense to me, Tal Natha said as they went. I truly believed until now that I was the only one with any control over others' dreams. And now I hear that another may have an even greater power than my own. If this is so, why was I never told before now...?
"It's not like there was anybody who knew who could have told you," Charmian hastened to say. "Maybe we're the first ones to find out."
If she has this power, then there may be others. I should have at least sensed them before they could control it. Why did I not...?
Charmian opened her mouth to answer, only to find she didn't have anything to say. Her discovery had startled her just as much as it had him. The thought of that other Ocryx--and possibly her half-brother, that monster, as well--having such a power made her uneasy. She'd just gotten used to the idea of Tal Natha wandering around in her dreams...she didn't think she'd ever be comfortable with the thought of THOSE two!
She nearly stopped walking when she thought of something else. Her dream vision down in the Crack, and then again in the moonbow. And X'aaru's reluctance to tell her what he knew.
The only one who's supposed to see others' dreams is Tal Natha.
I probably shouldn't look at them, but they're so pretty sometimes...I come here when everyone else is busy, and so I'm not bored or alone anymore...
Assuming X'aaru wasn't the one who had brought forward the dreams in the moonbow...then that left at least one other who had the power. Charmian hadn't recognized the strange presence's voice, yet it had been female. Could it be the same...?
She felt a hand on her shoulder, and Silver Eagle Feather gave her a look. "Are you all right?"
Charmian nodded hastily. "Oh. Yeah. Just...thinking about something."
She picked up her pace. Tal Natha entered the main room of the rock, still with his head hanging. Charmian caught sight of Chepi at the other side of the room, peering up at Pakwa, before he did. She grated her teeth and hurried forward.
"OH! YOU are HE!" Chepi had spotted Tal Natha out of the corner of her eye, and now her eyes grew absolutely huge, almost taking up her face along with her mouth, which grew just as round. She went through the feather-smoothing ritual once more, frantically checking herself over. "Oh I look HIDEOUS! How is my dress? Presentable? Oh, it's the best I can do. I must be cursed!" She trotted daintily toward the Ocryx, who had jumped as soon as she shouted. He had the same look X'aaru had gotten, and he actually backed away a few steps when she came toward him. Chepi offered a too-sweet smile and gave a tiny bow.
"Oh, you must be he. I doubt you could be anyone other. With that coat and those wings, you must be the Dreamspinner, am I right?"
Tal Natha managed to blink. Ye--
"OH! I knew it! I'm never wrong about these things, you know!" She giggled hysterically before holding out her hand. He stared at it. "Sooleawa Chepi. Um. I mean that's my name. Yes! Sooleawa Chepi is my name. Queen of the Windwalkers and all that stuff, bla bla bla. I know it's a mouthful. You of course can just call me Chepi. I wouldn't mind terribly!" Seeing he wasn't taking her hand, she flushed and brought it back. "Oh, that's right, not an Ocryx practice, that...must learn to remember! I was wondering if I could take but a moment of your time."
"I know you must be terribly busy and all, being the Dreamspinner of course, so I shan't take long. You see, I knew--know--your father, we were quite close actually, though you know how sometimes these things just aren't meant to be?"
I would not--
"Well, you know, none of it was my fault...though none of it was his, either...we just didn't click is all...he's a Water, I'm a Wind...you know how that goes, of course!"
If you would--
"So anyway, I know that you're a Water also, but I don't know, sometimes these things work...I was wondering...do you ever get lonely spinning all those dreams...?"
Charmian rolled her eyes and pushed her way around the demon, who looked ready to bolt. "He's got a name. It's Tal Natha. The Dreamspinner is what he IS."
"Oh. Of course." Chepi fluttered a bit, blushing. "My mistake. Won't happen again! So. Tal Natha. That's a very interesting name. Ocryx, isn't it? Oh! Of course! How silly of me. What does it mean exactly?"
Tal Natha blinked again. Dreamspinner, he said. Charmian was surprised he didn't add, Of course.
Chepi's eyes grew. "OH! What a coincidence!"
"If you're thinking of looking for another Ocryx to shack up with," Charmian muttered at her as she got close, so Tal Natha couldn't hear--Chepi's face went even redder--"then think again. Take a look elsewhere."
"How--how DARE you speak to me in such a vulgar manner! I was simply making smalltalk. Is there something so wrong about this?" She smiled at him sweetly after giving Charmian a dirty look. "But anyway, as I was saying--is dreamspinning a very lonely job?"
Charmian put her fingers to Chepi's jaw and pushed her head around, Chepi protesting loudly, until she stared at the other side of the room. Drake stood holding a bark tray with wooden cups on it, Old Mother Manitou filling them up; he gave them a blank look. Red Bird sat nearby with a basket of winterberries on her lap. She'd been peeling them, but now she seemed more intent on watching what was going on on Charmian's side of the room. When she saw she was being looked at she started and flushed, lowering her head over the berries and peeling at them furiously.
"Do you see that over there?" Charmian whispered between clenched teeth, trying hard to sound annoyingly pleasant. "Dreamspinning isn't particularly lonely when you have a family on the way to care for. Capisce?"
Chepi blinked. Her mouth opened and shut and then her lower lip began to stick out.
"You...you mean...him? And her...?"
Charmian squeezed her arm a bit hard, earning a wince. "Exactly what I mean. So maybe, before you go looking for somebody to spin you a dream and all, you should go looking elsewhere."
Chepi's face screwed up. "Well. They are hardly suited for each other. That waifish little thing...she'll never be able to put up with an Ocryx for long. I could teach her a few things, but she deserves all she gets." She sniffed and turned away from Red Bird haughtily, then directed a stiff bow at Tal Natha. "Well. Sorry I took up your valuable time. Gods know you have much better ways to spend it...huh..."
Tal Natha's ear flicked back and Charmian sensed a mental Thank you tossed in her direction. She gave a slight nod. Apologies you came so far for so little, he thought at Chepi, though I hope perhaps you decide to stay here with Old Mother Manitou, it looks as if the weather gave you some difficulty...
"Difficulty!" Chepi huffed and flounced. "I am the Queen of the Windwalkers--winter is hardly a difficulty for me."
"Unless you've just taken a dip in Devil's Lake," Charmian countered, at which the woman's face went dark red, her wings quivering as if she'd just been hit by lightning. She whirled and stomped away from them, making certain to lift her knees high with each stomp. She stopped and turned in midstomp and made a beeline back for Pakwa, who stared down at her from his perch.
"Hi there sweetie, you enjoy hanging like that? I have a few favorite positions of my own..."
Charmian turned away and had to make a horrible face just to get it out of her system. Tal Natha let out his breath in a sigh and scratched at one ear.
She claims she was once with my father? I do not know how he could stand her...
"Well at least she's keeping her paws off of X'aaru, for now." Tal Natha's head snapped up so he stared at her and she shook her own head. "Don't ask...maybe she'll forget about him. Cross your fingers."
He had a rather pessimistic look as she headed for the tray with the cups on it, rubbing her hands. The dip into the icy lake might not have affected her as much as it would have before...for whatever reason...but she still felt a chill. She wasn't sure if she wanted to stay here or head back to Cave of the Woods. She didn't like the idea of trying to convince Chepi to fly her back there now...
"Everything okay, Charm?" Drake asked, drinking from his own cup when she picked up another one. She nodded, not wanting to explain.
"Yeah. Just a little anxious is all."
"Y'know, Charm, if you're ever worried about something, all you hafta do is tell me."
She looked up at him. He grinned and tipped back his head, emptying the cup. He didn't see the odd look that crossed her face before he lowered it again, and she smiled back.
"Um...okay, Drake. Thanks."
Old Mother Manitou raised her head and sniffed at the air as Silver Eagle Feather and Red Bird came forward for the drinks. She grunted with annoyance and turned back to the fire.
"Yes problem. That fool friend of yours has decided to drop by again."
"Friend?" Charmian didn't like the sound of that.
The old woman flailed one hand at the air, not turning back around. "He stops by every few days, demanding to know where you are, what you're doing, on and on and on. Doesn't matter if I tell him you're running about at Cave of the Woods, if he can't find you there he must look all over the damned Island, from the sound of it."
Charmian frowned. She started to ask who she meant when a loud yell from the doorway answered her instead.
"FLESHLING! I KNOW YOU'RE HERE! YOU CAN'T KEEP RUNNING AND HIDING FROM ME!! I'LL FOLLOW YOU TO THE BOTTOM OF THE LAKE AND TO THE TOP OF THE ISLAND IF I HAVE TO!!!"
This time she had to force her jaws apart, her teeth were grinding so hard by the time the screaming had ended. Everyone in the room stared at the door, then looked at her. She offered a meek smile.
"Um...I knew I was forgetting something."
"What was that horrendous racket?" Chepi inquired, trotting daintily forward. Pakwa lowered himself from the ceiling and vanished into a crack. "Is that a friend of yours? He sounds MOST beastly! Honestly, how do you gather this riffraff about you so easily...?"
"Riffraff!" Old Mother Manitou turned and hurled a spoon at the woman's head. Chepi squeaked and ducked and it struck the wall; the little bat Charmian had brought with her earlier started fluttering around.
The others merely watched with some curiosity.
"Stupid, foolish woman!" Chepi squawked, getting to her feet. "How DARE you do something like that to the Queen of the Windwalkers!"
"When you're under MY roof, I am the queen!" Old Mother Manitou snapped, jabbing a gnarled finger at her breast. "If you don't like it--then you can always go traipsing back to your furry friend!"
Chepi went white. Charmian decided who was the lesser of two evils right now and headed for the entrance. "I'll get it."
The air grew slightly colder as she neared the hole in the cave wall, and she knew it wasn't entirely due to the fact that there was snow on the ground outside. Augwak had visited her repeatedly at Cave of the Woods, and Moon Wolf and Mani had told her of how he'd show up when she wasn't around. Not a week passed that he didn't pop in at least a few times, sometimes more than once in a day. She couldn't believe she'd managed to put him off as long as she had, but then again, it wasn't like there was much he could do about it.
It seemed everywhere he went he brought a bit of the cold with him--and such was the case now when she went to the exit and found him standing in the snow, huddled and miserable looking. His eyes flashed when he saw her and he immediately stood taller, clenching his fists. He still bore Pomiere's body, but by now he'd gotten the facial expressions--and even the voice--right; she could almost forget she wasn't looking at Augwak himself when he spoke.
"Two moons you've been putting me off, fleshling!" he shouted as soon as he saw her. "TWO MOONS! Have you any idea how DISGUSTING this is? Creeping around in this useless sack of flesh? Eating--TREE RODENTS and BARNYARD POULTRY to survive! This is BEYOND disgusting!"
"Francois's been keeping you well fed?" Charmian returned. "I wouldn't complain then, it's better than starving."
He made a gagging motion. "MAINLANDERS! You are WORSE than the Islanders! I did not believe one could be any worse, but you ARE!"
"For the love of..." a voice behind her muttered. Charmian moved aside as Chepi nudged her, and the small woman looked Augwak up and down. She sniffed with distaste and frowned at Charmian.
"This is what you're wasting your time on...?"
Augwak bared his teeth. "Go back inside where you came from, little fool! We have business to attend to here!"
Chepi sniffed again. "It can hardly be more important than any business I may have had already."
Augwak looked ready to start screaming again. Charmian held up her hands to shut both of them up before he could.
"NEVER MIND, SHUT UP. I hate to say this Che--um--Queen Chepi but he's right. I guess I've been putting that off for quite a while..."
"This is certainly what your people call an understatement, fleshling!"
"...So I'm going to have to head out for a while. X'aaru?" she called back to the demon who stood not too far behind Chepi. "Where's Mani?"
"He was sleeping in another one of the rooms, waiting for you to return. Should I wake him?"
"I was going to head over to Francois's place and see if I could get something done. I might need a little help. I don't think the Queen of the Windwalkers would be much interested in carrying a body."
"B-body?" Chepi stammered.
"Queen of the Windwalkers?" Augwak gaped.
"I'll wake him," X'aaru said, and disappeared.
"Now YOU two," Charmian said, turning to the two windlings. They both stared at her. She pointed at Augwak first, then at Chepi. "You're going to lead the way, since you're the one who keeps getting all antsy. If you even try anything you're toast anyway. And you're coming along for the ride, if only because you're not safe at the lake, and I don't feel like leaving you behind where I can't keep a close eye on you. Got it?"
Augwak grumbled. Chepi fluttered.
"But...but where are we going? If I heard correctly to the house of another fleshling? This is hardly a visit befitting a queen...!"
"Get used to it." She turned back to the door and made certain to bundle herself, X'aaru and Mani appearing behind them, the manitou yawning. Augwak muttered again and stomped back out into the snow. Even in human form his pace was a bit fast to follow, and she had to hurry to keep up. Chepi was falling down already. As the others moved ahead the little woman rolled over and fluttered her wings pathetically.
"Oh," she cried. "I've fallen and I--I can't seem to get up! Won't any of you nice strong gentlemen help up a defenseless lady?"
Charmian ground her teeth and stomped as fast as Augwak was stomping. She couldn't believe she actually couldn't wait to get to Francois's place...even if she had absolutely no idea what she was going to do once she got there.
I may as well face it now, she thought as she went, X'aaru and Mani slowing down behind her to see to the fallen Chepi. I wouldn't have put this off so long if I knew how that stupid stone worked.
She cast an uneasy glance at Augwak, disappearing into the darkened woods ahead of her, and thought again of the GeeBee chief impaling Tal Natha with Ocryana's stick...and then of how quickly he and Ocryana had severed their ties. A strange sense of foreboding filled her. She knew she had to keep her promise...but right now she rather wished it had never been made.
And...do I even want it to work?