Manitou Island: Part 65
CHARMIAN, DRAKE, RED Bird, X'aaru, Mani, and Pakwa made their way to Crack-in-the-Island from Sugar Loaf Rock. Once more Charmian thought of what an odd group they must make, three fleshlings and an Ocryx, a manitou, and a GeeBee, but it wasn't as if they had plenty of people watching. They passed within sight of only one other camp on their way there, and this only because of the lack of leaves on the trees and bushes to obscure the sight of the bark wigwams down in their little hollow; the people busily wandering about stopped in their movements for a moment to stare at them as they passed through the woods. At least they didn't have guns.
They walked a part of the way, except for Pakwa, who floated overhead, and Red Bird, who rode upon Mani, but after a while the going got a bit difficult and Drake rode X'aaru--his wing must have improved--while Charmian let Pakwa carry her. They both soared up over the trees; below, Mani picked up his pace, skipping from hilltop to hilltop. Charmian cringed and hoped Red Bird wouldn't fall off. She seemed able enough to hold her own, though, and Charmian had to wonder if she'd ever ridden her father's manitous before leaving the lake.
Riding with Pakwa was another matter entirely. By the time they'd been flying only one minute she was chattering and freezing already. Apparently Wendigoes had not much sense of cold; she glared up at him a few times only to notice he always wore the same annoyingly neutral expression. Drake huddled down between X'aaru's wings and that afforded him some bit of comfort. Charmian had to make do with Pakwa's icy bony fingers gripping her under the arms; she squirmed more than once on the way there.
They followed the wide road as it led back into the woods toward the cave and the Crack. Charmian hoped they wouldn't come across Moon Wolf; she hated how abruptly she'd left him, but she didn't feel like "talking" with him again anytime soon. She'd gotten her fill of that the last time. He was a good trainer, but...she didn't know. He was just too...prickly.
The cave and Crack looked much different in winter and in the daylight. The cave, covered with snow, was barely a white lump rising from the ground, but the Crack was a different story. It hadn't filled up or been covered over with the white fall, and it stood clearly visible between the trees, a black swath gouged into the ground. She shivered on seeing it, whether from nervousness or from the GeeBee's cold fingers, she couldn't tell. She signaled and they started on their way down just as Mani appeared below them, slowing to a halt.
"Wow, that was fun!" Drake enthused, jumping off of X'aaru's back when he landed. Red Bird carefully climbed off of Mani, who knelt down on one knee. Charmian fell to the ground with a thud when Pakwa dumped her, but her hands were too numb to feel the ground when they hit. She chattered and stood up, rubbing them furiously and hoping her look was enough to curse him. She was really going to have to find a new ride.
"Have any of you ever been down in here before?" she called out, taking a few steps forward toward the closer end of the Crack. She could hear them following her.
"I haven't," Drake said. She sensed the negative from X'aaru and Mani, while Pakwa just shook his head and perched in a tree. Red Bird blew on her hands.
"I've never been down there before...is there anything more to it than the Crack?"
"Sort of." Charmian kicked a lump of ice away from the top of the crevice and waved at them to follow. "It's lower down here but you can walk right in. Then it narrows a bit and there's this..."
She stopped and glanced back at Red Bird and the others. Then she clawed at her face. "Aww, NUTS!!"
They all blinked at her. "What is it?" Drake asked.
Charmian felt like pounding on her own head. "How come my stupid brain's not working anymore!"
"There's a problem?" Red Bird said, stepping forward.
Charmian let down her hands and sighed. "It gets a little narrow down in there. I don't know if you'd even be able to get through safely or not. How come I never think of these things in advance?"
"I can squeeze through..."
"But then it turns into a tunnel. A really small little tunnel with rocky sides. I don't like the idea of you crawling around in that, the way you are. And Mani and X'aaru wouldn't be able to fit through at all."
Red Bird looked at the ground. "Oh."
They stood in silence for a moment, Mani pawing a bit at the snow. Charmian chewed on her lip and looked around her, craning her neck.
"X'aaru...she said either the Crack, or through the rainbow." The demon looked up at her. "Can you make a rainbow?"
He nodded, then paused. "Where there's falling water, I can."
"Falling water..." Charmian looked around her again. "Is there anywhere like that around here? It seems everything's frozen over by now..."
"The GeeBees have a spring," Red Bird offered. "It drips down into Devil's Lake. Neither of them ever freezes over." She frowned. "Although I'm not sure how much you would like to go there, with the windlings and such..."
"Actually it's Devil's Lake I'm more worried about," Charmian said, kicking away some more snow and watching it fall into the Crack. "Ocryx made it pretty clear more than once that I'm persona non grata over there."
"Well, the spring is actually above the lake, behind Devil's Kitchen, and flows down into it from there."
Charmian looked to X'aaru. "You can make do with that?"
He nodded, with a puzzled look. "I suppose I can."
"The GeeBees...?" Red Bird said, when Charmian turned around with a set look. Charmian waved at her and smiled.
"Don't worry. Augwak's pretty PO'ed at me right now, but I don't think he'll be bothering us for a while." She signaled again. "Pakwa! Come down. Change of plans. We're going to Devil's Kitchen."
She half expected him to offer some sort of protest--she remembered how Augwak had treated him during his fight with Tal Natha--yet he didn't. The GeeBee drifted down to the ground again as if he were a snowflake. The motion was rather strange to watch, considering how quickly the rest of his kind moved about. She let him take her under the arms and they rose into the air, the other four looking up at them.
"Pakwa and I'll lead the way," she called down. "He'll know where to land. The rest of you gather in that area and keep quiet; Augwak might not feel up to bugging us, but I'd still like to meet as few of those guys as possible."
They nodded and prepared themselves to follow. Pakwa rose higher and changed direction, and Charmian gritted her teeth again when the wind started whistling against them, threatening to turn her mouth to ice.
They traveled faster this time, though it still felt like far too long to Charmian, if only because the chill was greater. She could see Fort Holmes in the distance as they flew and realized she hadn't been there since her first meeting with Tal Natha. She hoped his cave had stayed free of any creatures during his absence. Devil's Lake appeared as a great dark blot below them and she had to force herself not to shudder out of the GeeBee's hands. Devil's Kitchen stood off to the left, just upon the lakeshore; she'd never had such a good view of the place until now, in the light. The inland lake was black and eerily calm, its surface like glass; snow didn't cling to the rock formation like she thought it would. This fact alone puzzled her and she tugged one arm.
"Pakwa? Where's all the snow on the Kitchen?"
"Cooking fires. Melts."
"Oh...oh. Never mind." Her face flushed, though it had already gone pink and numb from the wind. She should have known that, she guessed.
They started to descend; Mani again came into view, and then X'aaru, below her. They made their way up from the shore toward the rock and now she caught a faint glint that made her blink. Red Bird had been right. A small trickle of water worked its way down from near the top of the rock, down to the dark lake. She couldn't see where exactly it dripped into Devil's Lake, but the groove it had worn into the stone was clear. The flow was very tiny and she wondered if X'aaru could make use of it after all.
Pakwa dropped her onto the ledge beside it and she nearly fell into a small pool where the water had collected. A thin frosting of ice lined the surface around the edges and X'aaru came forward and poked at it, breaking it just for fun. Drake and Red Bird climbed down, both shivering and shaking.
"W-w-we're all h-here?" Charmian stuttered, chattering. They nodded a bit and said nothing. She didn't feel like speaking, herself. "All r-right...this stream looks kind of small...you're sure you can do something with it, X?"
"It might take me a moment," the demon said. "But I think I can do it."
"Okay, you get started on that. The rest of us'll...just stand here...and try to thaw out a bit."
X'aaru bent his head forward and stared directly into the water with a look of concentration. Charmian was relieved that this early in the day the sunlight naturally shone upon the water; if it had been evening, the light would have been in the wrong direction, lighting the other side of the Kitchen. She rubbed her arms hard and tried to ignore the occasional yapping and yowling sounds of stray GeeBees.
"Augwak," Drake murmured, coming her way and also rubbing his arms. "You said he was PO'ed at you? What'd you do with him, exactly? And c'mon, don't skimp out, tell me the whole thing."
Charmian sighed. "All right...it's kind of complicated. I think it started when Ocryana stole Augwak's spirit back at Cave of the Woods. I went after it and ran into this guy named Pomiere. We went to get Augwak's spirit stone back and instead it ended up in Pomiere's chest, and Pomiere's stone ended up in my hands. So pretty much, Augwak was living inside Pomiere."
Drake's eyes widened. "That's...weird."
"Well, it gets weirder. I left him that way all winter, you saw him come visit Sugar Loaf every so often, asking after me? That was Augwak. I decided maybe I'd better try to get his spirit back in the right body. Francois was keeping Augwak's body stashed behind his cabin."
"But then he moved it to the Dupries' place. So I went there. This Chepi lady went with me...I think you met her too...really short, lots of feathers, has wings? Was hitting on everybody present? Says she's the Queen of the Windwalkers bla bla bla. Anyway, I finally got the spirit stones back where they belonged...and let Augwak go back home...but I kept a little bit of his stone just for insurance."
Charmian nodded. "He was about to sell out Ocryana, if she hadn't sold him out first. He'd probably sell out his mother if GeeBees had mothers. I wouldn't trust him one minute even if he DID owe me his life."
"So what does this mean, exactly? You having a bit of his spirit stone?"
"I'm not sure...but I think it means I can keep a tight leash on him, at least for now. So if any of those guys..." she motioned at the wind whirling around them, whistling and snapping "...decide to get all funny, I can call him in to slap some sense into them. So the GeeBees are the least of our problems, for now."
"Wasn't he pissed when he found out you took part of his spirit? I'm assuming you told him?"
"Yeah, he was, but then he was too busy running away from Chepi to much do anything about it..."
"Running away...?" Drake frowned but didn't get to finish his question. Red Bird let out a small sound and they turned to see her, Pakwa, and Mani gathered around X'aaru, a tiny arcing light forming over the pool. The Ocryx's ears flicked and he got a pleased look.
"Look, Charmian!" He pointed at the tiny rainbow and gave a huge smile. "See?"
"Good job, X." She leaned forward to peer at it. "Is it a...bit small? Can we fit through it?"
"Through?" Drake echoed.
X'aaru frowned a little. "Well, it would be a tight squeeze...let me see if I can make it any bigger first." He concentrated a bit more and the arc expanded, its color paling but its size increasing. The demon sighed. "There...I think that's as big as it can get, seeing how small this stream is..."
"I think it's just right." Charmian looked at the others. "Um...X'aaru. She said Red Bird...and I guess Drake should come in too." Red Bird and Drake looked at each other with a questioning expression. "Pakwa and Mani...you two think you could stay out here? Keep an eye out for Augwak and company?"
Mani stared at her for a moment but then nodded. Pakwa floated up toward the top of the rock without a further word.
"Thanks, guys." Charmian turned toward the wavering rainbow. "Come on, you two. We have to go in there, and..."
"Um...in there?" Drake echoed once more, and she glanced at him. He didn't seem convinced it was possible, and kept shooting looks at it. Red Bird was just as puzzled.
"Yeah..." Charmian suppressed a sigh and turned back around. "Don't worry about it, X has this power. He...um...calls rainbows, and then he can go inside them if he wants." X'aaru lifted his head proudly. "That's what I wanted to show you, Red Bird. There's...something...in there I think you should see."
"Oh...oh!" Her eyes grew and she smiled as well. "I've heard of this! I've always wanted to try it. All right! Is there...anything special I have to do...?"
"Nope, we just walk right through." Now she looked at X'aaru. "Maybe you should go in first? Just to make sure it...works...or something."
He got a look that told her he wasn't certain why it wouldn't work, but obeyed, sticking his head inside the small arc. He pressed his way through and disappeared over the water. Charmian shivered; the sight was rather unnerving. She hadn't seen how they'd done it the first time they'd slipped inside the moonbow, and to see it now...she wondered if they'd run out of room along the way.
Red Bird and Drake looked just as perplexed as she felt. Charmian stuck her hand in to show it was all right, then went inside, having to shut her eyes as she did so. She felt a pressure against her face as if she were sticking her head underwater, and her first reflex was to suck in a breath in case it was the last chance she got. Someone grabbed onto her outside hand--she sensed it might be Red Bird--and followed her inside. She didn't open her eyes or take a breath until her foot hit the ground and it felt solid beneath her; letting out a gasp, she stumbled forward a bit, letting go of the hand, and stood up and rubbed at her eyes. She blinked around, almost expecting to see X'aaru's dream, or her own, which was why she was surprised when she didn't see either.
Instead of X'aaru's rolling hills and lake, and her own fields and woods and fountain, she found that they stood within the woods, upon a small trail. It looked just like any other part of the Island. Drake and X'aaru glanced about with mild interest, but Red Bird stood frozen with her eyes wide and mouth slightly open. Charmian could tell she recognized the place.
"Red Bird...?" she said; when Red Bird's eyes met her own she tipped her head slightly. "You've been here before?"
She stared at her for a moment, then nodded slowly, as if in a daze. "I...I remember this place." She turned in a bit of a circle, looking up at the trees. "This...this is where Tal Natha and I met. When I left Devil's Lake. He...he spoke to me here, told me I should come with him back to his home." She paused and stared away into the woods. Charmian felt she was remembering seeing something there. "...This was where he told me I wasn't normal, but I wasn't strange, either. I was just me. Like him. He told me he could help me find my power, if I would let him." She finished her circle and turned back to Charmian. "He...he brings me here sometimes, when I'm dreaming. So we can remember it. But...I haven't dreamed about it in a while now. I almost forgot about it." Her brow furrowed. "Charmian, what's going on? How come I'm here now?"
Charmian opened her mouth to reply when the woods around her began to shift and change. This time all of them looked around, waiting to see what it would turn into next. Red Bird jumped and darted a startled glance upwards; Charmian wished she'd warned her about this before, but what would she have told her? That Tal Natha wasn't the Dreamspinner like she'd thought? She was still confused about it all, herself.
The forest around them disappeared into mist. The trees changed slowly to rock, and the sound of the wind into a distant dripping. The look on Red Bird's face likewise changed, brow furrowing again in anxiety, fingers clutching at her sleeve. She whimpered as she looked about her. Charmian studied the dripping rock walls and determined that this must be Devil's Lake, though not part of the small area she had seen. They stood within a great tunnel which widened off into a smallish round room, and from here the loudest dripping noise came. Charmian peered into the cave to see a pool within, water trickling from a crevice in the wall. The walls and floor were worn smooth as if water had filled the room in its entirety at one point in the distant past; a few crystals lined the ceiling and a strange light shone through them, illuminating parts of the water in different colors. It sparkled as it rippled and sent tiny shards of blue and green and red dancing across the ceiling. Charmian and Drake stared.
"Wow," Drake whispered.
"Devil's Lake?" Charmian murmured. "Is that where we are...?" She looked again at Red Bird, who swallowed and nodded, still with the same strange look. She tried to speak a few times and failed before her voice finally came.
"I...I used to come here when...when I was little. Father...Father put the stones in the ceiling and placed fires behind them. So they would light the room for me. He...he knew I liked the different colors." Her face grew pale. "But...I haven't been here in so long. I dreamed about it, for a while, after I left...but then I forgot about it. I stopped dreaming about it. I didn't...didn't remember it until now." Her eyes focused on Charmian's and the teenager could see the fear there. "Charmian, how is this happening? How am I here? Tal Natha's not with us--what's going on?"
Charmian bit her lip. "It's kind of hard to explain...it's kind of why I brought you here. Somebody wanted to..."
She trailed off as Red Bird appeared to lose interest in what she was saying, instead advancing toward the pool. It wasn't like her to walk away while someone was speaking, which was why Charmian allowed it; the situation was obviously distressing for her. She stopped a few feet away from the water, wringing her hands, before slowly going to her knees beside it. She leaned forward a bit and touched her fingers to the surface. She drew them back, wet.
"No," Charmian said, drawing her attention. "It's not. It's a dream, just like you thought."
Red Bird stared at her for a moment, then looked back at the water. She was silent for a short while.
"I used to play here when I was young," she finally said in a quiet voice. "That was why Father put up the crystals for me. He knew they made me happy...why did I forget about this place?"
Charmian offered a lame shrug. "We all forget about old dreams sometimes. It doesn't mean very much."
Red Bird slowly shook her head. "It has to mean something...we wouldn't be here otherwise...right?" Charmian blinked when she realized that Red Bird's words had to make sense. Her fingers swirled through the water. "I was always so happy here...whenever something upset me I would come running here and I would look into the water. Sometimes, Father would come and he would stay with me. But...after some time I just didn't come here anymore. Even though I wanted to. So much, sometimes. I guess I was afraid that if I came back, it wouldn't be the way I remembered it. It wouldn't be beautiful anymore. You know how, when we see things as children, they're so much more beautiful than they really are. I was afraid I would come here for beauty and I'd find that I'd outgrown it all. I even stopped dreaming about it. But it looks the same, even now."
She cut herself off, then leaned toward the water, at first, Charmian thought, perhaps to get a drink, but then she realized she was merely going to look at her reflection. As soon as Red Bird peered over the edge into the pool her eyes popped wide open and she gasped and scrabbled to her feet, jumping back from the water even further than Charmian had thought possible. The motion startled all of them so they all jumped in turn. Charmian had never seen her eyes so huge.
"What is it?" she asked, when all Red Bird could do was gasp and clutch at her throat.
Drake stepped forward. "Is it the baby? Is it coming yet?"
Charmian grated her teeth and smacked him in the back of the head. "It's too EARLY for that, dumbass!"
"I...I..." Red Bird stammered, and Charmian came toward her, holding out her hand.
"What was it? Did you see something? In the water?"
Red Bird's eyes focused on her own once more. Charmian stopped and her arm slowly lowered on seeing the look there. Even though she hadn't seen it before, she felt it was familiar somehow. At least, the emotion that went along with it. She knew she herself had felt it not that long ago.
"My...my reflection," Red Bird whispered, and suddenly Charmian was glad she was too far away to see her own face in her eyes. "It...it was you."