Manitou Island: Part 81
CHARMIAN AND DRAKE stared at Red Bird with their mouths hanging open. Then they both looked down at the two baby Ocryxes she held. Drake leaned forward and squinted at the red one, then his eyes grew huge.
Charmian couldn't even get out that much. She gaped at the gray Ocryx in disbelief. The pointed muzzle, now rounded in youth--the slanted eyes, still shut tight, the little pointed ears, the hint of a dark gray wing peeking out from the skins it was wrapped in. All a miniature version of the demon that had been in her mind less than a day ago.
She opened her mouth to try to speak, but no sound came out.
Yes, a voice came to her instead, and she looked up. Both Red Bird and Tal Natha were looking at her, as if wishing to see her reaction, and Tal Natha tipped his head in a slight nod.
When you told me their names. From my dream. I knew then with whom you spoke.
"You...you knew who they were...?" Charmian still couldn't quite understand what she was hearing. "But...how...?"
"Their dreams," Red Bird murmured. She held the gray one--Sikt--more closely to her and Charmian could hear it--her--whimper softly. "He could sense their dreams as they slept. He told me, just after I had found out. Two of them. One a brother, and one a sister."
"You knew it too?" Charmian stared at the two pups and put a hand to her head. "But...how come neither of you ever told me?"
"Or me?" Drake added.
Tal Natha's look was apologetic. I had thought of doing so...yet I sensed they had some plan for the two of you. Else you would not have known their names. I knew you spoke the truth in my dream when you named them. I would not interfere, even if I did not understand.
"So you mean, you didn't put them up to this? They did it on their own?"
The demon nodded, then leaned down and licked at Dakh Natha's fur. The pup whined loudly and flailed to get free. I only hope they did not cause you any sort of trouble...?
He left it open ended, which obviously meant he had no idea what the two demons had been up to. Charmian flushed for some reason and rubbed the back of her neck.
"Um...well...no, not really."
"They were pretty helpful," Drake nodded.
"And so they were with you? All winter?" Red Bird looked at her curiously. "Why did they do this? Did they tell you?"
"Oh...um...they said they wanted us to...protect them. That they might not be safe, and you might not be safe, where they were." Charmian's face screwed up. "So that's what was going on? I had a demon's spirit in my head all season?"
"Well hey, so did I!" Drake exclaimed. "So it's not like you're special or anything! Mine even stopped me from killing myself! Did you know that?" he said to the startled parents, craning his neck and waving his fingers at it. "Off a cliff, snap!, there goes my neck--Dakh jumps out of Charmian and into me!"
"Big deal," Charmian groused. "Sikt's helped me out plenty of times, too." She looked at the sleeping pup and stuck out her tongue. "That is, when she felt like it."
A great smile spread across Red Bird's face. "You sound as if you know them already!"
"We do," Charmian and Drake blurted out in unison, before they both flushed and pretended to be interested in the scenery. "That is...kind of. Sort of."
Red Bird looked down at the two tiny bundles, and Charmian had never seen quite that expression on her face before. "I knew there would be something different about them. I'm so glad that they're safe...thank you, Charmian, Drake, for looking out for them."
Charmian and Drake blinked. They'd never even expected a thank you for putting up with the demons. They both started murmuring and looking around a bit awkwardly.
Old Mother Manitou slowly rose to her feet, grimacing and putting a hand to her back. "All right, all right, powwow's over, time to get going back to where we belong. I'll come along back to the cave, just for a bit; I think everything is settled here for now. Can't keep 'em out in the cold all night."
She took Red Bird by the elbow and Silver Eagle Feather helped with her other arm. Red Bird came to her feet even more slowly than the old woman, and winced with pain; Charmian wanted to make her sit down again, considering what she'd just gone through, but the two women were already leading her toward the hill, Tal Natha following. Whenever she stumbled he pressed his head against her shoulder to help her keep her balance. They made an odd group as they went, though for some reason Charmian's eyes felt damp. She rubbed them before they could threaten to cry.
Drake came up beside her. "You okay...?"
"Yeah." She sniffed once and made it seem as if she were only taking a breath. "Just glad that that's over."
She started up the slope after them, Drake following. "No wonder they bailed out on us so fast," he mumbled, and she had to agree.
"You can say that again."
Drake trudged on ahead of her a ways. Charmian stared at the ground as she went up, to make certain she didn't trip over anything; her flawless flight down had been merely luck, she was certain. She lifted her head to see how far ahead the others had gone when she noticed, for the first time, a large fallen tree far to her right. The trunk sank down into the ground, its root system, a giant tangled mass of earth and wood, forming a suitable perch for the one standing there. Charmian blinked when she realized they were staring in her direction, and they looked vaguely familiar.
"Moon Wolf?" she murmured to herself.
Drake slowed down and she nearly ran into him. He looked at her, then at the object of her attention. Charmian waved him forward.
"I'll catch up in a bit."
He peered at her for a moment before shrugging and leaving her behind. She turned right and made her way to the fallen tree just as its occupant sat down upon the roots and pulled out a pipe, tapping it against his knee.
"She has had her children?" he asked quietly as she climbed up the trunk toward him, her hands sinking into the partially rotted wood. She pulled her legs up underneath her to sit down beside him and let out her breath with a nod.
"Twins. One a boy, and one a girl."
He nodded and looked down at the pipe pensively. She waited a moment for him to speak, before it became clear he wasn't going to. She frowned at the look on his face.
"What is it? I know you wouldn't show up just to say hi and congratulations or anything..."
"The reason you came," he said, and tapped the pipe again before setting it down, unsmoked. He stared up the hill. "To protect Red Bird, you said."
Charmian nodded. "That's what they told me."
"They were not correct."
Charmian blinked. "What do you mean?"
"You were never meant to protect Red Bird," Moon Wolf replied, still not meeting her eyes. He stared up the hill as if expecting one of the group to come back down. "You were meant to protect her only because of what she would bring."
Silence. Charmian stared at him with some confusion before it began to dawn on her.
"Her children. I was supposed to protect her because of her children?"
He nodded, and finally looked at her. "Red Bird is not the one who will save the Island. She merely brought about that which will change it."
"Wait a minute--change it?" Charmian frowned. "If she wasn't the Island's salvation, then I'd understand it if it's Dakh and Sikt who are. So why did you use the word change? Do you mean change for the better, or--?"
"I do not know." He shrugged and his eyes darkened. "I can't see that much. All I know is that the birth of the Dreamers will change the Island. Whether they will save it, or destroy it, I cannot tell."
"Destroy it?" Charmian stood up. "Why would they?"
"For as much as you feel you know them, you do not know why they are here. Did they ever tell you this? Once? What it was they intended to do once they were born?"
Charmian opened her mouth to retort, then realized she had nothing to say. She lowered her fists, which had started clenching, and looked down at the unsteady trunk she stood upon.
"No," she said, after a while. "They didn't...but that doesn't mean they're planning something. Tal Natha and Red Bird are their parents. Why would they plan against them?"
"Ocryana and Ocryx are their grandparents. Who is to say which path they will follow?"
"They wouldn't follow Ocryana," Charmian insisted. "And neither would Ocryx."
"He already has," Moon Wolf returned, standing now as well. His eyes were black in the dim light, though she felt they would have been just as black in daylight. "As have Mitchi Manitou, and Augwak. And Justin Dupries. And Kawaduk, and the female Ocryx. You do not realize it yet? She controls half the Island. Every day, more comes within her control. Even Tal Natha, soon."
Charmian's fists clenched again; she allowed them to. "Not Tal Natha! She won't!"
"You know that she will either do this, or he will kill himself. No matter what he's told you."
"He's stronger than that. You'll see!"
"Is he?" Moon Wolf crossed his arms. "Even Justin fended off the darkness longer than he. Do you see him fending it off any longer?"
"Justin's...different." Charmian's voice faded.
"And how? Not so long ago you trusted him with your life. Now you're so ready to turn upon him? How long before you turn upon Tal Natha for his weakness? Ocryana has weakened us all, not least of all you, for lulling you into believing you stand a chance of defeating her."
"And what good are YOU doing?" Charmian shot back. "Telling me to just give up? So maybe we're all doomed. At least I'm trying to do something about it!"
She expected him to yell back at her, yet he only stared at her coolly. She was ready to start fidgeting when he turned away.
"You fight the wrong enemies. This is how Ocryana gains her power. She divides, and lets us destroy ourselves. The one you trust today will not be the one you trust tomorrow. The one whose hands you would put your life within may be the one to throttle it out of you tomorrow."
"How do you know so much about Ocryana?" Charmian muttered.
He glared back at her over his shoulder, and she could tell she'd struck a nerve. "We all have our reasons to distrust her. You especially, now. If you wish to truly have any chance, then you'll stop placing your faith in others, and place it in yourself. Where it belongs."
"I won't turn on my friends."
"Are they your friends? Where are they now? Sikt, gone and away. The Drake, in his own world. Tal Natha, fighting off the darkness. Justin, giving in to it at last. The Rabbit, following his own motives. Who can you trust here, mainlander?"
"I can trust Red Bird!" It came out of her mouth before she even knew what she was going to say, and she blinked again with surprise. One hand went up to cover her mouth, then she decided against it and glared back at him, challenging. He stared at her before the corner of his mouth twitched.
"Not long ago," he said softly, "you trusted others who are now no longer your friends. Things change. There were those I felt I could trust myself, once."
"And now how do you feel about them?"
In response he reached to his waist and pulled something free, brandishing it before him so it glinted in the dim light. Charmian could make out the jagged blade of a stone knife, and gaped at it in disbelief.
"When I meet her," Moon Wolf replied, "then I will plunge this through her heart."
Charmian said nothing. Moon Wolf replaced the blade and tilted his head forward meaningfully.
"Not so long ago there were those I trusted. Now I'm willing to kill them to protect this Island. What are you willing to do? You made a vow to do the same as I will. Would you be willing to kill to do it?"
Charmian bit the inside of her mouth, trying to steel herself.
"What if I don't have to?"
His fist tightened on the handle of the knife. "We will all have to. In our own way. The question is would you?"
She narrowed her eyes. "Just because you had one bad experience with the people here doesn't mean it holds for me too. I still believe in people, unlike you. I'm just sorry you decided to let it make you all bitter inside."
His eyes grew a bit, and she realized she'd caught him off guard. Then they softened and he took his hand away from the knife.
"You still don't understand...do you? This was never my choice. Only at the beginning, when we all made our mistakes. Myself as well. Now we all live or die with the consequences. If you feel we will all make it with no losses to bear, I know not whether to pity you or envy you your ignorance."
"Pity me then," Charmian said. "Because I'm not changing my mind."
She turned away and started to navigate her way down the slippery log before his voice stopped her.
"Who do you place your faith in, Charmian?"
She glanced back over her shoulder. He stared after her with a neutral look. She bit the inside of her mouth before replying.
"Me," she said. "And Red Bird. And Drake. And Mani. And Francois. And X'aaru. And Tal Natha." She lowered her foot to keep her balance. "Tal Natha said I would make friends here. I don't have any reason to stop believing him now."
"Even after what you've seen happen?"
"No one's betrayed me."
"You forget so soon?" He came her way, then leapt off the log to the ground below. He held up one hand and she hesitated taking it. His mouth twitched again; he pulled away and she jumped down on her own.
"I see you have limits on who you trust," he mused. She felt her ears burning but said nothing. "And what of those you trusted once who you trust no longer?"
"I said nobody betrayed me, didn't I?" When would this guy leave?
"I see. So this is why you've been spending so much time lately at the Dupries house."
This time she felt her whole face flush. She picked up a stick, simply to have something to hold onto, and stalked off up the hill. He followed at a distance.
"Am I right? You've spent time there without me knowing it?"
"Why would it be your business?"
"Which means you haven't been spending time there."
She didn't hear him say anything in return, and hoped that he'd taken her suggestion. Only when she'd gone on several more yards did he reply, from far behind her.
"He'll find out soon what you already suspect."
She stopped again. The comment, vague as it was, confused her. He who? She looked at him once more, brow furrowing.
"What are you talking about?"
Moon Wolf met her eyes and adjusted the knife at his side. "Those that seem most helpless may be those who are the most dangerous. You will learn. You learn quickly, here." He turned away and disappeared among the trees more quickly than she would have thought possible. She was left blinking, trying to figure out where he had gone. The woods, which had seemed so silent before, now faded in around her, the sound of birds singing and screeching all around and the raucous chorus of faraway peepers nearly deafening her. She looked back up the hill, chewing on her lip in confusion.
He, who? Helpless? What did that mean? What's got him so rattled?
She blinked once more and a shape came into view above. It cocked its head.
"Are you all right?"
"Yeah," Charmian called to X'aaru. She dusted rotted wood from her knees and hands and went up the slope toward him. "Coming."
The demon stood waiting for her as she approached, then accompanied her on her way back to the fort. He seemed to notice her silence but didn't interrupt it. She could sense his worry for her, and was grateful that at least somebody understood.
What am I talking about? Of course he understands. So would everyone else I mentioned, and then some. I can't let Moon Wolf get to me. I already knew he had some grudges of his own.
But grudges only formed when something bad had happened. Some perceived wrong. She frowned. What could have happened to Moon Wolf?
X'aaru cocked his head and now she could sense him straining not to speak. She reached out and patted his neck.
"X? Have you been having any dreams...?"
His ears lowered a little. "No...but I thought I was the only one."
She stopped and looked at him, dropping the stick. "You mean, not any? At all?"
He shook his head, then paused. "Do you...think maybe that something is wrong?" he asked meekly. "I wanted to say something, but I worry a lot...I thought maybe..."
"I think you thought right this time." Charmian put her hands in her pockets and nearly scowled at the ground. "There's got to be some kind of connection going on. I know Tal Natha's weak, but he never said anything about stopping spinning dreams...yet so far you and Drake and me, we're not having any. How many other people?"
"What do you think we should do?"
"First we go back to the cave and let them know we're all right. Then maybe we should ask a few more people...I suppose I'll ask Mani, I don't know if GeeBees dream..."
"I'll ask too," X'aaru said, his ears standing upright. "And then do you want me to tell you? If nobody else had any dreams either?"
Charmian nodded. His eagerness relieved her right now. "And if that's so I'm hoping you can help me out just a little bit more."
The Ocryx blinked with surprise. "You--you are? How?"
"That talent of yours. Remember?" She gave him a crooked smile. "It's not such a tiny little talent after all. I need you to get me back in touch with Nathalit."