Manitou Island: Part 76
OCRYX'S SIDES ROSE and fell heavily but slowly. His eyes were the merest slits; Charmian didn't doubt that he slept now, albeit restlessly. Every so often his foot twitched or his muzzle wrinkled, as if in a bad dream. Silver Eagle Feather sat beside him, gently pressing a change of moss to his side. Some more bits of the stuff, soaked with blood, lay beside her on the ground. They were within Tal Natha's cave below Fort Holmes; Charmian wasn't even sure how the demon had gotten inside, in his condition. He growled at something in his sleep and Silver Eagle Feather selected another pad of moss.
"Will he be okay?" Charmian asked quietly.
It was a moment before the medicine woman answered. "I believe so. But he'll be weak for a time. The wounds aren't as deep as X'aaru's were."
Red Bird approached with a wooden bowl full of water and knelt down with them. Silver Eagle Feather soaked the moss in it and wiped away a fresh layer of blood, earning a wince. Charmian chewed on her lip. She glanced back toward the entrance of the cave, where the rest stood or sat silently. Manabozho was tapping a pipe as if he didn't much care to smoke it. Drake craned his neck when Tal Natha rose and came toward her. He stopped and leaned down to sniff at the unconscious demon.
He is lucky, he said after a moment, and rose and moved toward the back of the room. Charmian pushed herself up and followed as he lay down next to the wall, tail curling around him.
"What's happening to Justin," she said, still in a low voice, sitting down in front of him. He looked at her. "It's happening to you, too. You didn't want to tell me, because--because it was my fault."
You could not have known, Tal Natha replied.
"But I'm still responsible. There's a saying where I come from--ignorance is no excuse." She chewed on her lip harder. "A quick fix never works, right? One of you told me this...I can't even remember who now...told me that if I want to do something right, I have to work for it. I made the same mistake Ocryx made. Now look what's happening to him and Justin and you!"
Tal Natha said nothing. Charmian leaned toward him on hands and knees.
"Sikt said you'd rather die. That you'd rather die than let it happen to you. You can't do that. I might've done the wrong thing but there has to be another way to stop it!"
He lowered his gaze slightly. There are none I know of.
"You can't kill yourself!" Charmian pleaded. Silver Eagle Feather and Red Bird glanced her way but didn't speak. She lowered her voice again. "You're the guardian of the Island. You can't give that up. And Red Bird and your baby! You can't kill yourself with all of that!"
If Ocryana controls me, Tal Natha said, then it is all for nothing. The Island, Red Bird, our child, it will all be destroyed. He paused. The Island might be able to find another guardian...
Charmian's eyes grew and her vision blurred. She couldn't believe what he was saying. "You can't mean that, Tal Natha!" She started scribbling random patterns in the sand on the floor, just to keep her hands busy. "Look. She doesn't control Justin yet, I know it. It takes a while. We can figure something out before then! And you're stronger than Justin is! I don't think she even CAN control you, your spirit is so good!"
His ears lowered. Then you do not realize. He held up one hand to his breast as Ocryx had, and Charmian saw the glowing sphere of his spirit appear. Her brow furrowed as she looked at it. Tal Natha's spirit was of a bright, pale lavender, like a glowing amethyst--but through it, seeping like a deepening crack, or a trail of smoke, she could see the dark red of Ocryx's spirit. It seemed to pulse with a life of its own, and took up more space than the gem fragment she had first given him, so long ago.
Ocryana has always controlled my father, he said, at least in part. She can never control him completely. Yet he is always at her mercy. I am proof of this. He lowered his hand and the vision began to fade. My spirit is like neither of theirs. You saved me, Charmian, yet already I am weakened. The darkness grows each day--the dreams are less within my control--and Ocryana begins to control me already.
Charmian shook her head. "No. It can't be true."
This is. When she injured me, while we fought. He pointed his nose at her pocket, where she held the fragment of Augwak's spirit. You have done it yourself. You know the truth, Charmian.
Charmian felt her fingers on the outside of her pocket, clutching unconsciously at the doeskin. She forced them to relax, and stared hard at the floor. She stood, pacing the room a ways, the others' eyes upon her all the way. She turned around again and went back to Tal Natha, dropping down before him and not making an effort to lower her voice.
"If I could find some way," she said. "Some way to keep this from happening. Would you not kill yourself? Would you not destroy yourself to save the Island, if I could do this?"
His brows knit together and she sensed his displeasure. We know no way.
"There HAS to be one. I just have to find it in time." She crept closer, begging now. "If I could find it, would you hold on? Just long enough?"
There is little time.
"I know, but you're stronger than that, to just let it take you over. Look how long Justin's held it off. You can do better than he did! I know that you could hold it off longer than that." She tried to look him in the eyes, but he averted his own. "Red Bird. Your child's due after the winter. Can you hold on that long? Just until then? For her. So it has a father." His ears folded back and she knew she'd struck something. "Just hold on until then, Tal Natha, and I'll find a way to fix this. I know I will. I promise."
He sighed. This is a long time, Charmian...it grows inside me, day by day. I do not know if...
"I know that you can." He looked up, and now her eyes focused on his. "Remember when you believed in me, Tal Natha," she said softly. "Believe in me now. I promise I'll make it right...you just have to hold on for me."
He stared at her for a moment, and she could sense the same weakness, the same uncertainty, that she'd felt from him when she'd entered his dream. She bit the inside of her mouth. After a time he sighed again and looked away, lowering his head, though one ear twitched stubbornly.
At times I feel your strength is now much greater than mine...when a month or so ago, I would have been the one trying to convince you. He pushed himself up from the floor. As you ask...I will try. But I do not know how much longer I have.
"It's enough." Charmian stood as well, feeling her heart rise just a little bit. "I promise I'll set it right, Tal Natha. You brought me here...and I'm the one who did this...so I have to fix it." She suppressed a sigh of her own. "I just have to figure out how..."
She cast a glance toward Manabozho, seated in the entrance. He tapped his pipe and shrugged one shoulder.
"If I knew, I would have told you long ago. I rely upon this Island, also."
Now Charmian did sigh and turned back to the others. "Well...I guess I have to find it out on my own then." She drew her coat closer about herself. "I have to go check on Lady Dupries. Kawaduk left her in bad shape a while ago."
Mani and X'aaru stood. "Mother?" X'aaru called. Silver Eagle Feather glanced up at him and nodded before leaning back down to gently lift the flap of moss.
"Go with her."
X'aaru bobbed his head. Charmian made her way out onto the snowy ledge and held up her hands. Pakwa, perched somewhere above, drifted down and clasped onto them, pulling her up. Mani clambered precariously up the cliff face while X'aaru flapped his wings; Charmian glanced over her shoulder, Pakwa having dropped her to the ground, to see Manabozho appear.
"You have another idea in mind?" he said mildly.
Charmian rubbed her hands together. "I left somebody with her. Plus maybe she knows some about Justin that we don't know. Like how he managed to hold this off for so long. Come on. Mani, can you carry me?"
Mani knelt down on one knee and Charmian climbed up on his back. She grabbed onto his ruff and he bounded up the fort and then down into the woods, the wind whistling past them and freezing in her nose and mouth. She heard X'aaru flap once overhead before she had to shut her eyes to keep them from tearing up too much to see.
Traveling by manitou was probably the fastest way to travel, she reasoned. Aside from traveling by GeeBee, which was downright unpleasant. At least Mani wouldn't dump her to the ground when he'd arrived. They sailed down through the trees, his hooves barely touching the ground, and it wasn't long before the Dupries house came into view. Charmian opened her wet eyes and scanned the yard. The horse was gone; she knew it had been returned to the house after its last scare, so someone must have taken it out again. Gerard maybe? In the freshly fallen snow of that day she saw three sets of footprints, and a set of hoofprints, leading away from the house, one more blurred than the other two, and guessed that the only one remaining must be Lady Dupries. That was good. Mani slowed to a stop out front and Charmian slid off of him to jog toward the door, but it had opened before she even reached the porch.
Lady Dupries tilted her head forward to peer outside. She saw Charmian and opened the door wider as Charmian ascended the steps.
"Is anyone else home?" she asked.
Lady Dupries shook her head. "The father left some time ago. The son and the girl left together a while after this. Come in."
She turned away from the door and Charmian followed her inside, kicking the snow off of her boots. "So...how are you fitting in here?" she queried, looking around.
Lady Dupries didn't look back at her. "I sense some puzzlement from the other members of the family, but nothing I could not handle. I told them of meeting Kawaduk. They believe only that she struck her head when she fell."
"Good...'cause I'm not sure how I would have explained to them that their wife-slash-mom has a demon inside her head."
Lady Dupries turned about to stare at her. Charmian rubbed her neck.
"Never mind. Does she know about you?"
"Not yet. You believe she should?"
"Well, it might help explain a few things. I know she'll be wondering what's going on once she wakes up."
"Very well." The woman lowered her head until her chin rested against her breast, then her shoulders slumped. Charmian took in a breath when she felt the demon creep back inside her mind; she'd started to grow used to the empty feeling. Sikt was settling herself down when Lady Dupries gasped and jerked, lifting her head. She put out her hands and Charmian had to grab her arm to keep her from falling over. She looked about herself with surprise.
"H...how...how did I get back here...?" she murmured, confused.
"You walked back," Charmian said, and her voice startled Lady Dupries. She gasped again and flinched back before noticing her, then relaxed.
"Charmian! You're--you're here as well? What happened? How long have we been here?" She frowned and looked around again. "Where is--where is that beast?"
"He's gone," Charmian replied. "Lady Dupries, this is going to...this is going to sound a little strange. Do you remember I tried to warn you about Kaw--about that monster? Before he attacked you? Did you hear me yell anything?"
"Why...yes, I think so."
"I couldn't get you away from him in time so...somebody else helped you." She allowed Sikt's thoughts to touch Lady Dupries's mind, and the Frenchwoman's eyes widened when she sensed them. She stared at Charmian with confusion, as if trying to determine where the feeling had come from. Charmian pointed at her head.
"She's in here. But for a while," she pointed at Lady Dupries's head, "she was in there."
"Wh...what...?" She was taking it a lot better than Charmian had thought she would.
"Her name's Sikt. She's a...spirit." Sikt fidgeted on hearing the lie but remained silent. "Drake has one too, who helped him when he hurt himself falling off a cliff. He stopped him from breaking his neck." She winced when Sikt nipped at her for the second fib. "But he did hurt himself so Dakh--he's the other spirit--helped heal him. He had to stay in him for a while to make sure he was okay."
"What has this to do with that creature?" Lady Dupries asked.
"Well...when he attacked you, you were hurt, so my spirit...Sikt...went inside you to make sure you would be all right. She's been inside you ever since."
"How long ago was this? How much have I missed?"
"A few weeks. I'm sorry I didn't come by sooner, ma'am."
Lady Dupries blinked. "W...weeks?"
Charmian bit her lip and nodded. "I'm sorry I didn't stop by sooner...to get Sikt back...but she was keeping an eye on you, and I was kind of...busy...elsewhere." She squirmed. "Anyway Sikt just came back to me...so you're back too. You don't have to worry, it's just like you took a nap and she took over. Nobody else knows, really, except us."
Lady Dupries stared at her for a moment before turning slowly away, toward the couch. "This is...most unsettling." She sat down and put a hand to her head. Charmian hastened to fetch a pot of tea standing on the table and poured her a cup, pressing it into her hands. Lady Dupries tipped it to her mouth and took a sip.
"I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner," Charmian apologized.
"No...this is understandable. I suppose..." Another sip, and she lowered the cup to her lap. "I should probably thank you...or Sikt...then, for doing this. That creature. What was its name? What did it want?"
"His name's Kawaduk," Charmian replied. "He's the son of Ocryana and Mitchi Manitou." Lady Dupries's eyes widened. "I think what he wanted was to kill me--and you just got in the way."
"Son of Ocryana?" At least she seemed to find this fact as important as Charmian did. Charmian nodded and moved to sit down on the couch beside her, clasping her hands together between her knees.
"That's kind of why I came here...and kind of not. I was hoping you could tell me a little about Justin."
"Justin?" Lady Dupries looked at her a little abruptly, then her gaze drifted to the side of the room. "We argued..." She blinked and shook her head. "How is he? Is he all right?"
"Oh--he's fine, I think," Charmian hastened to reply. "I think he was here earlier--at least there were footprints leading away from the house. I wanted to talk about his necklace."
The woman looked at her pensively again but said nothing. Charmian cleared her throat.
"Ocryx told me about it already. About what he did to help Justin. What he did wrong."
Lady Dupries looked down into her teacup.
"I think Tal Natha might be in the same kind of trouble," Charmian went on, "so I was hoping you could tell me how Justin warded it off. At least until now."
A frown. "Tal Natha...?" She met her eyes. "His spirit? This same thing...?"
Charmian nodded. "Ocryana...kind of tricked me into doing it for her." She bit her lip. "I tried to heal Tal Natha by giving him part of Ocryx's spirit...I guess you can figure out what that means."
"Tal Natha would rather die than let it take him over," Charmian said, leaning forward. "I can't let him do that. Justin's gone this long without a problem. Do you have any idea how? How he lasted so long?"
Silence filled the room for a short while. Lady Dupries gently tipped her cup back and forth.
"...I believe it was the necklace. Ocryx may say that he failed...but I believe he may have given Justin a chance. At least, more of a chance than he had before. Of course it was not foolproof...things rarely are, especially in this place...but I doubt he would have made it this far without succumbing to it." She paused. "And so you believe that I was right. That it's happening? This thing is taking Justin over?"
"I think it's affecting the way he thinks," Charmian said, "but I don't know if it can take him over. I'm hoping...he and Tal Natha are stronger than that."
"This may not be about strength," Lady Dupries replied quietly. "It may be simply about what is dark and what is light. And you know how the two work together."
"'Light is more powerful than darkness, but darkness is more insidious,'" Charmian quoted. When Lady Dupries peered at her she shrugged one shoulder. "Something someone told me...so...you can't think of any way I might be able to stall this, to hold it off at least a few more months? Some way to help him out."
Lady Dupries shook her head slowly. "I'm sorry...I wish that I did know, if only so I could help Justin. But it looks as if Ocryx were right after all. Perhaps he only delayed the inevitable..."
Charmian stood up. "I promised Tal Natha I'd find a way to help him. I'll do the same thing for Justin, too. I know he didn't mean everything he said to you. That was just the darkness talking."
Lady Dupries gave her a hopeful look. Charmian sighed, trying to make it sound more like a sigh of tiredness than of disappointment. "I'll go see what else I can do. I'm sorry I bothered you, ma'am."
The older woman rose as well. "You're welcome here whenever you wish, Charmian. I know that if anyone can do something...it's you."
Charmian nearly chewed the inside of her mouth open on her way to the door, seeing X'aaru and Mani peering in through the glass. I wish I believed that as much as she does.
She pulled open the heavy door and clomped out onto the porch, letting it go shut behind her. X'aaru and Mani moved aside and followed her down the steps; Manabozho perched atop one of the handrails, smoking his pipe.
"Don't those things give you cancer?" Charmian asked.
"Kan-sir?" Manabozho echoed, making a face. He tapped the pipe out over the railing. "No idea what that is, but it doesn't sound friendly. How long has it been since you last trained with What's-His-Name--Moon Wolf? About when was the last time you saw him?"
"Huh?" Charmian blinked. "I don't know. Some weeks ago. Winter."
"What did he teach you of fighting?"
"Well, how to use a stick, mainly. And to listen for people sneaking up on you. And how to dodge and stuff. Why?"
Another face. "That's all? Do you know how to shoot a bow, toss a hatchet, anything of the sort?"
Charmian's mouth twitched. "Maybe my training was interrupted before I ever got to learn that."
"Well...maybe then you can think about what you're going to do while I have to teach you all of that. I told you he wasn't a very good teacher."
"What's so wrong with throwing a stick?" Charmian asked.
Manabozho waved at the woods. "It hardly keeps them all at bay." Charmian started and glanced at the trees. "No, there's nothing there, but imagine if there had been. You would be busy jabbing your stick into Kawaduk's leg, and he would then probably hurl you up onto the roof. Where the Ocryx would take her turn ripping out your insides."
"It's not like you did much better."
"At least I'm alive. Which is what I can't say for you, when I had to rescue you."
Charmian scowled. "You just won't let me live this down, will you?"
He smirked back. "Consider this your payment for what you did to my ears."
Charmian threw up her hands. "That doesn't even make any sense!!" She stomped off toward the woods and X'aaru and Mani followed. Manabozho stretched before dropping to the ground.
"And so this means a yes?" he mused, jogging sideways beside her. "I rather think an arrow would be more effective, especially between that creature's eyes--or a hatchet. Or perhaps you could fashion something else..."
"How did you do that anyway?" Charmian asked, glancing at him. He gave her a questioning look. "When you attacked Kawaduk. He's a woodling and you're not. So how did you hurt him?"
"Wood is related to the earth. Has no one told you this yet?"
"Well...someone mentioned it..."
"And contrary to what you might have been taught, one who is not elemental can be taught to manipulate an elemental power. In this case...my father taught me of it, a long time ago. A few other tricks as well. You'd do good to learn also."
"I thought I already had these powers."
"You do, but I'm certain we would all be more comfortable if you relied upon your practice, rather than upon blind luck. That tree you drew your power from? It could very easily have decided to deny you that much. You're lucky the tree was in a good mood."
Charmian rolled her eyes. "Oh brother."
"Where are we going now?" X'aaru interrupted, a bit meekly. Charmian's step slowed.
"I don't know," she said after a moment. She put her hand to the back of her neck and frowned. "I'm just so used to wandering around until something happens...what am I supposed to do now?"
"Train?" Manabozho suggested. She shot him a dirty look. "It was only a thought."
Charmian sighed and dropped her hand. "I'm going to just go back to Fort Holmes then. I keep talking about keeping an eye on Red Bird, then this crap keeps happening. I wish you guys would learn how to take care of your own Island."
Manabozho only gave her another smirk as she headed into the woods. X'aaru and Mani hurried to catch up and when she got tired she climbed up on Mani's back again. She felt stupid leaving Fort Holmes only to almost immediately return...but as Lady Dupries had said, she had no idea what to do.
I guess it's something nobody can tell me, she thought as the wind whistled around her, Mani's bounds taking them far. I'll just have to figure it out on my own. The way Moon Wolf taught me.
She laid her head down against Mani's neck and shut her eyes. The day's failures had left her feeling tired and dejected; she wasn't sure what to do anymore. Usually, there was one more person to talk to, one last thing to ask, or at the very least, one final confrontation to face. Without any of these, she felt stuck. There was no way to make any progress.
She hadn't thought she could fall asleep while riding a manitou, but evidently her exhaustion was enough that she could. She even recognized what was happening this time as soon as everything around her went dark and silent, the wind dying down, Mani's form disappearing beneath her. She didn't bother to question it. Stranger things had happened. She knew that soon enough this wouldn't seem strange at all.
She lay where she was and listened to the silence for a while, before her ears could finally make out the faint sound of lapping water. She frowned and thought of the place where she had ended up after her fall near Arch Rock--and this thought panicked her so much that she finally opened her eyes to see where she was. She couldn't have died again. She wasn't even injured.
Instead of the dim cave walls, and the damp clammy air, she saw...almost nothing. Everything around her was dark, except for a faint shimmering ahead. From here came the lapping sound--she slowly pushed herself up--and looking higher, she saw the dim glow of the sun, an impossibly faint orange disk in a blackened sky. Its reflection barely registered in her eyes. Something large and dark sat beside the lake, and it turned its head to look at her. She recognized the glowing green and red eyes immediately, and stepped forward.
"Sikt...? What's going on? I'm dreaming, aren't I?"
"Yes," Sikt said aloud; Charmian almost started, she was so used to hearing the demon speak in her mind only. Her voice sounded different, now that Charmian could actually hear it. She turned away to look at the lake again. "Do you recognize this place?"
"Well..." Charmian frowned and squinted at the lake. "...Yeah...kind of. I had a dream like this when I was little. A few times. What are you doing in my dream?"
"What a Dreamwanderer does." Sikt rose so she stood on all fours, and turned about halfway. Charmian jumped when a hard wind suddenly picked up, the balmy air growing rough and whipping her hair about her face. Sikt looked skyward, sniffed a few times, then took a few steps away.
"Sikt?" Charmian called over the growing whine of the wind. "Where are you going? What are you doing?"
"Giving way to he who belongs here more than I," the Ocryx replied. She stopped and looked at Charmian again. "Do you remember the whole dream? This part, and all that came after?"
Charmian's teeth chattered, but not from cold. She grasped her arms tightly. The wind--the strangely dim sun in the black sky, even the rippling dark lake--filled her with anxiety.
"I don't remember it. It's just a dream anyway."
Sikt tipped her head. "Then it will not bother you." She turned once more and wandered off into the darkness.
Charmian panicked. "Wait! Sikt!" She tried to run after her a bit but could barely even see her own hand before her face. The sun dimly glinting on the lake was all she could make out. She stumbled to a stop as the wind began screaming, and two more glowing dots appeared above her, looking down. She fell on one knee, and even though she recognized the face staring back at her, and could think of no reason to fear it, it frightened her still.
Charmian, Dakh Natha called, holding out one clawed hand. Come. I will show you what it means to be the Render of Dreams.