Manitou Island: Part 66
CHARMIAN STARED AT Red Bird for a moment before glancing down at the little pool and then hurrying toward it. The others watched her as she dropped down beside the water and, taking a breath, leaned over to look inside.
Red Bird's wide eyes stared back.
She pulled back from the water abruptly, her heart pounding in her ears. Red Bird stood nearby, wringing her hands.
"You...you saw it...?"
"No..." Charmian let out her breath. "I...saw you."
Those eyes, already larger than she'd thought possible, got even bigger. "You--you saw me--?" She knelt down by the pool as well and peered tentatively over the rock edge. She let out a little gasp and pulled away as Charmian had. The two of them stared at each other.
"So...I see your face?" Charmian said. "And you see mine?"
Red Bird nodded slowly.
Behind them, Drake scuffed the floor. "WEIRD!"
The two girls only stared at each other for a moment more before Charmian broke it. "Let's look in it at the same time. Try to look over at my reflection and tell me what you see then."
They both leaned over this time. Drake and X'aaru craned their necks as if to see. Charmian saw the top of Red Bird's head emerge where her own should have shown, Red Bird's eyes and nose and face where she should have seen her own face. She could tell from the look Red Bird got that she saw something similarly strange. But when she glanced down to see Red Bird's reflection--which according to her, would be her reflection--she saw nothing but empty water. And Red Bird's eyes told her she saw the same thing.
Red Bird's mouth opened and shut silently. She stared at the surface of the water below Charmian, then below herself. The two of them looked back and forth, as if watching a tennis match.
"I...don't understand," Red Bird finally said, in a small voice.
"This. Why...why we have each other's reflection. It has to mean something...but I don't know what." She looked ready to start crying, and Charmian began to wish she'd never brought her here. She pushed herself up on one knee and reached out a hand.
"Look, it's...um...okay. I think maybe the water's just funny in here...it happened to me earlier, when I went down into Crack-in-the-Island."
The other three peered at her with curious looks, making her ears burn. "Charm?" Drake said. "You never mentioned that."
"I thought I'd sound nuts, okay?" She sighed. "I looked into the water down there and I saw you. I thought maybe it was just me because it was my dream. Now, I...it's both of us having this dream...at least, this part of it. It might not mean anything."
"I don't know..." Red Bird's fingers fluttered over her knuckles and she stared at the rock floor. "Tal Natha told me that most dreams mean something..."
"But this isn't like his dreams. This is...something different."
She looked back up at her again. "And so what is different? What is this place? Only Tal Natha knows how to bring me here...and I haven't been here in so long...where is this and how did we get here, if not through him?"
This is your dream which has died.
Both Red Bird and Charmian gasped, glancing around. X'aaru and Drake didn't gasp, but started looking around them just the same. A shimmering mist appeared over the water and the two girls backed away. It began to assume form, and Charmian could recognize Nathalit. If Red Bird's eyes had grown any bigger, Charmian was certain they would have swallowed the whole room. Her fingers clutched at the wall, knuckles going white.
"An...an Ocryx!" she gasped, her voice wavering.
"No," Charmian was quick to say. She held out a hand again. "She's not an Ocryx. She just looks like one. She lives here; she's the one who brought us here. She can spin dreams, too."
"Spin dreams...?" Red Bird looked at her, then at Nathalit, who had shed her shimmering glow yet still glittered as she hovered above the water, staring at them with those odd dark eyes. Red Bird slowly shook her head.
"No...no one can do that but Tal Natha."
"She can. I don't know how but she can. I don't know. Maybe she gave Tal Natha his powers? It would explain some things. But I know Tal Natha didn't bring us here. You have to believe me."
She is right, and not right, the glittering Ocryx said. Everyone looked at her, Charmian especially, her brow furrowing. What did that statement mean?
As if reading her mind, Red Bird asked the question. "What do you...what do you mean?"
I bring you here, to this dream, Nathalit replied. Yet it has already been spun, long ago. This is your memory of the dream. What remains when it fades away, when you let it die.
Dreams are as living things. They may die when they are neglected, forgotten. The dark sloe-eyes turned to Charmian. You know this as well. Your dream, with your fountain. This you gave up years ago, when you were little. As Red Bird gave up her dreams for ones that are new. Every day, we abandon old dreams for new ones as a snake sheds its skin. Sometimes we merely let go of dreams that are already dying. Yet other times, we abandon that which is still very much alive, or we kill it with our own hand.
"Huh?" Charmian blinked and frowned. "I don't get it. You're saying that--these dreams I keep showing up in--they're--dead, somehow? I--I let them die--?"
Yes and no. They are not dead, yet. But they are dying. The Ocryx seemed to blur and shift before her before clarifying again, and she had to remind herself it was merely a facade. If you keep an animal, and forget to nourish it, it will eventually die. This is what happens when we forget our dreams.
"And this means something?"
All dreams mean something.
Charmian sighed and shook her head. This wasn't making very much sense. "I'm sorry, but...if these dreams were dying already, then I don't see what the big deal is. What's dead is dead, right?"
These dreams were not dead. They were allowed to die while there was still life within them. Nathalit's eyelids lowered slightly in what might have been an expression of sadness. Charmian had to clench her fingers to keep her frustration from showing.
"Then I still don't get why it matters. A dead dream is a dead dream. I don't see the point of dredging them all up again when we must've let them die for a reason."
The scenery around them began to shift. Red Bird and the others looked around as the cave room changed to Charmian's dream, with the rolling fields and forest and trickling fountain. Charmian waved her hand as if to illustrate.
"See? I don't care that I forgot about this. I 'let' it die because it's pointless! What good is this thing doing me, anyway? A fountain? So what? So I dreamed about it when I was little. Big deal. It never got me anywhere, it was just a pretty dream. At the very least I could have one that makes more sense. Pretty grass and water won't help me do anything!"
The dream faded. The open fields slowly changed back to the smooth rock walls of the dripping cave, the little crystals lighting them from above. Red Bird's own eyes grew pained on seeing it return, and she again looked at the floor.
"I...maybe she's right. This dream, it's just an old memory...one I can't have anymore...I outgrew it. Why do I think of it again? It serves no purpose." And with that the cave faded as well. It was replaced by the path in the woods where they had first shown up, and Red Bird lifted her head. "But...this one...I don't want to give up just yet. This one, I still want to remember, for a little while."
Nathalit lifted her head slightly. You give up these dreams? You let them die?
Charmian nodded. "Why keep something old and pointless? Everybody always says to just grow up and move on, right?"
The creature's eyes saddened. Charmian bit her lip and wondered what she'd said that affected her so. One wing lifted a bit, and the dream faded once more.
Then I cannot make you keep hold of them. You let them die, and you give them away. They will bother you no further.
"Give them away--?" The remains of the dream grew even hazier and Charmian recognized the signs of the rainbow fading. She reached out one hand as the others with her looked about wildly, wondering where they were to go to next. "Wait! What do you mean--give them away?"
Nathalit's eyes were pained. I'm sorry. You make me do this to you.
"Make you do WHAT? What's happening--?"
She never had a chance to hear the answer, if there even was one. The air around them rippled and shifted and lightened. Charmian felt the ground beneath her feet disappear, and before she could react, she fell, her elbows striking rock as her body plunged into icy water. She started chattering immediately and splashed to get out. Someone grabbed her arms and dragged her back, and she sputtered and saw that Drake and X'aaru held her, Red Bird and Mani standing nearby. Pakwa still perched at the top of the rock, now staring down at them impassively. A chill passed through her and she started shivering wildly at the bite of the cold air against her wet skin.
"Are you okay?" Drake asked.
"I'm sorry," X'aaru said. "The sunlight faded..."
"It's--it's--all right," Charmian stammered, shaking. They pulled her away from the water and set her down upon the rock. Drake swept the water from her arms and X'aaru lifted his wing to shield her from the wind. Pakwa, seeing things were settled, turned about and stared in the opposite direction.
Charmian shivered and squeezed her arms. "What she was talking about," she hissed between clenched teeth. "She acted like something was our fault! What was that all about?"
She glanced at Red Bird, who stood staring at the falling water as if entranced. She frowned at the strange expression on her face. Her eyes were distant, as though she saw something within the water, yet there was also a sense of anxiety there.
"I feel I did something wrong," she whispered, her hands clutching each other.
"No, no." Charmian struggled to her feet, which was difficult considering how her clothing had stiffened from the cold. She began chattering anew. "I'm sorry, I probably shouldn't have brought you here after all...she didn't act like that last time. Something must be bugging her."
"No..." Red Bird's voice was faint, as faraway as her eyes. "Something...something's wrong." She shut her eyes. "We did the wrong thing..."
A gust of wind shook them all. Even Pakwa, atop the rock, hunched in on himself, eyes narrowing. Red Bird lifted her head to look at the sky, and Charmian followed suit, purely by instinct.
The screeching, howling sounds of the stray GeeBees died down even as the wind grew stronger. That in itself was strange. What was also strange was the black clouds that rolled in over Lake Huron, obscuring the sun. It grew almost as dark as evening, and Charmian knew it was still only morning.
X'aaru lowered his head and whimpered. Charmian couldn't help shivering again. "Maybe we'd better get back. I thought it was going to be nice today, too."
The others silently agreed and turned away from Devil's Kitchen. The surface of Devil's Lake was no longer flat and glassy, but was now slaty and choppy from the wind. Charmian's own anxiety grew. She'd never seen a change in the weather this rapid, yet knew it was possible. It could start blizzarding any minute. They scurried down the steep rock face in the direction of the blustering lake, slipping on ice and nearly falling. When they reached the ground the wind was not as bad, but they trudged through the snow nonetheless, chattering and cold, wanting to get back home.
"Jeez," Drake muttered, blowing on his hands. "I'm glad I ain't you, 'cause with that water I'd be freezing by now."
"Give me a minute and I'll turn into a Charmcicle."
"It wouldn't be so bad if it weren't so dark." Drake looked up with a frown. "Dumb weather! If I'd known morning was cancelled, I'd've brought a light!"
Chepi would have a light. Or Justin, Charmian thought, before nearly tripping over her own foot after it refused to move any further. She stumbled in the snow as the thought struck her like a rock wall.
The vision she'd had worked its way back into her mind--Justin--standing in the snow--in the darkness. His eyes not even visible, when they should have been. His face in shadows, when she should have been able to see it. Why hadn't she seen it? Why had that seemed so wrong?
Light. The light was missing...
"Necklace," she said, not even aware she'd said it aloud until the others stopped and looked at her oddly. She blinked. "Justin. He wasn't wearing his necklace."
"Huh?" Drake stared at her, then turned around. "You're worrying about a necklace? Charm, really, there are better times."
"He wasn't wearing his necklace," Charmian said again. She met his eyes, knowing he didn't understand her confusion. "When I saw him. Before he came to Sugar Loaf."
"So? So maybe he decided not to."
"He always wears it." She couldn't understand her own insistence, nor why it was so important, but she felt it was. "Every time I saw him he had it on. He didn't last night."
"Does it matter?" Drake whined, hopping from foot to foot and scrubbing his hands up and down his arms. Mani, X'aaru, and Red Bird all stared at her, unspeaking.
"I...I don't know. I don't know if it matters. Or why. But...for some reason it's bugging me. I want to know why he wasn't wearing it, what happened to it."
Drake sighed. "Why don't you ask one of them, then? And get it over with? Really, I wanna get back home and thaw out!"
"Huh?" Charmian glanced up and Drake jerked his thumb at the woods. She didn't see anything at first, until she peered closer. The snow had begun to fall in great wet clumps of flakes and at first she thought it was merely the way the branches looked upon the trees, bearing their burden of snow, but after a moment or two the strange shapes took form. One, two, more great hulking masses rose into the air, still and silent. She nearly jumped back with a scream, before she remembered what they were.
"Ur...Uroona? What are they doing there--?"
"Sitting. They like to sit sometimes! Especially when there's no one around to bug them. Lucky us, huh?" Drake rolled his eyes. "Look, if something happened to Justin's necklace, and if it's important, they might know. Just ask them, and then we can get going."
"Do I have to do everything?" A great sigh. Drake slid down the rest of the remaining slope and bounded off into the darkening woods. The looming shapes still didn't move until he neared the base of one, then something flicked and Charmian could make out one's ear. The snow had covered their bodies completely; they must have been there even before her group had arrived. She couldn't figure out how she hadn't seen them, in broad daylight.
Drake stopped in front of one and lifted his head. He appeared to be talking to it; as he did it lowered its head almost to the ground, so its great yet beady eyes stared into his. After a moment Drake turned away and came running back, panting.
"Go...go on and ask it. It said it'll answer whatever you feel like asking, if it knows the answer. So go ahead."
"But...you're the one who they like talking to."
Another eye roll. "Are you kidding me? I like hanging out with them, that's all. You're the one they talked to last time, remember? C'mon, go ask it or I will, and you know what you always say about me, if you want something done right--"
Charmian tuned him out and walked toward the Uroona. She could see only several yards ahead of herself now, the snowfall had grown so heavy. When she finally noticed the Uroona she was almost upon it, and jumped back with a squeak. Its head rested in the snow and she reached out and put her hand flat to its muzzle. She swallowed.
"Um...Mr. Uroona...or Ms....or whatever..."
"Just ASK IT!!" Drake yelled.
Charmian gritted her teeth. She sensed the large creature encouraging her and swallowed again and shut her eyes.
"The necklace," she murmured, almost to herself. "Justin's necklace...where did it go...?"
Blackness. Then red and green flashed before her eyes, with a spark of silver. She saw the necklace that Justin wore, as she'd first seen it around his neck. It seemed to float by itself within the air, close enough to touch. Almost as quickly it was gone again, and another scene flashed before her eyes, followed by another, and another, each more rapid than the last, staccato as gunfire...
The necklace. Justin. Dark wide eyes staring at the gems. A delicate hand touching the silver. A question--"You wish to see it?" Hands holding the necklace out so the dark eyes could see it closer. The strands of silver trailing like liquid over those slender fingers. Dark eyes softening, a voice, speaking softly.
"It was a gift..."
Silver, green and red reflecting upon that dark surface. A smile. Different eyes, lighter eyes, blinking with surprise. And then another smile.
"You would like a gift...?"
Shock. Surprise. Fingers clutching the silver reflexively.
Eyes meeting. The smile growing.
"Anything, for you..."
Charmian let out her breath, her chest burning and her head swirling. Her hand trailed down the side of the Uroona's snout. Drake caught her arm as she slid to the side, threatening to fall over into the snow. She gritted her teeth; her head hadn't hurt the last time she'd done this. It did now, as the flashing images faded away. She groaned and rubbed her forehead.
She sensed the others drawing close, huddled in on themselves against the rising cold. Only Pakwa appeared impervious to it, his bony feet clasping a tree branch. "Did you see anything?" Drake asked. "Like the last time. Did it show you anything?"
"It...kind of...yeah, it showed me something." She opened her eyes and blinked a few times, shaking her head and trying to shake off the feeling with it. Now that she knew for a fact where Justin's necklace had gone to, her feeling of foreboding had only increased. She still wasn't sure why...but if she'd learned anything around here, it was to trust your instincts. Right now, her instincts were all over the map, but they were all causing her a distinct sense of unease.
"So where is it?"
"He...gave it away. As a gift." She blinked. "Shadow Water."
"Shadow Water...?" Drake frowned. "Wasn't she that chick that you brought by yesterday? With her arms all cut up?"
"Yeah...that was her."
"Isn't she his girlfriend?"
"No," Charmian snapped, then shut her eyes and took a breath. "Maybe. I'm not sure. They spend a lot of time together, is all."
"If he gave her a necklace, it sounds like it might be serious. What kind of necklace was this, anyway?"
"A special one. A gift from his father."
Her eyes shot open. A gift from my father. He'd told her that before she even knew who his father really was. She remembered what else he'd said, when she'd asked.
It was a...'gift' from my father. He's sparing in his gift-giving so I suppose I should be more grateful...
Sparing. Stingy. Likes crystals. Ocryx.
He gave up part of his own spirit for a piece of pretty glass. Why would he give something else so precious to Justin?
She knew the answer even as she asked herself.
Because it was important. That Justin have it.
"He gave it away," Charmian murmured. "He was supposed to keep it, and he gave it away..."
She turned away from the Uroona and started walking, wobbly, in the general direction of Sugar Loaf. The others stared at her for a moment before Drake and Red Bird hurried after her to grab her arms before she could fall.
"What is it?" Red Bird asked.
X'aaru loped along behind them. "Where do you need to go?"
"Justin," Charmian said. "I have to speak with Justin."
They all frowned at her, now. She'd spoken with him just the night before; why again, so soon? None of them asked the obvious, however. Drake gave a frustrated sigh when X'aaru offered his wing, and Charmian climbed atop him before they could say a further word even in parting. As they rose ponderously into the wet air, she wondered briefly if she should speak with Ocryx first...but knew that would probably be pointless. The demon would likely be even angrier if he found his son had given up something of such importance...for whatever reason that was.