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Manitou Island: Part 86
JUSTIN LOOKED UP at Charmian with some surprise. "You need a favor?" he asked. "From me?"
Charmian nodded. She took the necklace before it could slip from his fingers and looked at the glowing jewels, then back up at him. "I know what you're going to ask, why I would ask for anything from you right now. I'm asking because right now, you're the only one who can do it."
Justin blinked. Then he seemed to understand. "Who's been hurt? And where are they?"
It took Charmian a short moment to figure out what he meant. She shook her head. "No, no. Nothing like that. I'm...um...sorry that I've kind of been using you as my personal medicine whore the whole time I've been here." His eyes widened and she hurried on. "I need you to prove something for me. An idea I've had for a while now. I'm pretty sure I'm right, but I can't convince somebody else unless you give me proof."
Justin sighed. He looked around him and selected a boulder upon the ground, seating himself upon it. "Perhaps you'd better explain."
Feeling relieved, Charmian sat down in the leaves. "I told you already that Ocryana did the same thing to him that she was trying to do to you, right? Control part of his spirit. Ocryana's apparently had control over part of Ocryx for a long time, but not enough to overpower him."
He nodded. "He is the first Ocryx. He will always have more power than she does. The only way she can defeat him is if she removes his source of power, kills him directly, or convinces him or another to kill himself." He frowned. "But what..."
"I'll get to it. Ocryana wounded Tal Natha a long time back. She didn't do it directly; she had Augwak do it, but it was the same thing. It was her horn that damaged his spirit. So already, that gave her some slight control over him, as long as he didn't die."
"But the wound from an Ocryx horn is always fatal..."
"Not if you replace the damaged part of the spirit with part of the spirit of another Ocryx. This was where Ocryx came in."
His eyes widened again. "You mean--Father? He gave part of his spirit to Tal Natha?" His brow furrowed with confusion. "But why would he do something like that?"
"I made a bargain with him. Let's just say it was something he couldn't refuse." She shifted her foot underneath her. "I thought that was all I needed to do to make Tal Natha better...but I was wrong. I didn't stop to think about it, like they kept warning me." She paused and then looked down at the ground. "Because like I just said, Ocryx's spirit isn't the best one around either, and if Ocryana has control over part of it, then she still gets control over Tal Natha. I just put off the inevitable...maybe even made it worse."
Justin himself stared off into space for a moment. When he spoke his voice was quiet.
"When we were fighting her off, that one day. He was in pain. That was her doing?"
Charmian nodded. "And mine." She had to chew on her lip to keep her eyes from brimming over. He reached down to touch her shoulder and she jumped.
"You couldn't have known what it would do. You were trying to save him."
"Still I should've suspected it wouldn't be that easy." She wiped at her eyes. "Nothing around here ever is! It's like the Hydra. Every time I fix one problem, three more pop up!"
Justin's mouth twitched. "Welcome to the Island."
"Anyway it's too late to do anything about that now, but prove to him that he has some reason to keep on living." Charmian took a breath and let it out, lifting her head. Justin frowned and she suppressed a sniffle.
"That's what I was getting at. He told me that if he can't control his spirit, then he'll kill himself."
Justin's eyes grew in disbelief. "Suicide...?" he whispered.
Charmian nodded. "He said he'd rather die than give Ocryana control over him, and over the Island. Even if it leads to the Island itself being destroyed. He doesn't see any other way. And every day, he just gets weaker. Have you noticed something funny whenever you go to sleep, Justin?"
He seemed confused, so she answered for him. "No dreams. They're all gone, Justin. I'm not the only one not having any. X and Mani and Old Mother Manitou told me the same. And I know there's a lot more I just haven't spoken to yet."
His look grew grave. "What does this mean, then? He no longer controls dreams?"
"I think he still does, but before they can get to us, they're wrested away. And it doesn't matter. The control he does have is weakening every day. I know that Ocryana is doing it. If his spirit was pure, she wouldn't be able to do this to him. She would never have this kind of power. But since he's weak, she's feeding off of the dreams for even more power, and soon she'll probably even be able to control them, too."
"Dreams?" Justin sounded startled. "That's her source of power?"
"For now at least." Charmian's eyes started welling up again. "And the only way to remove THIS source of power is to--"
Justin held up his hand before she could finish. "I...I believe I understand," he murmured. "Dieu...I had not known it was so complex. You were right about the Hydra. It seems as if no matter what we try to do, the Island will die." His look darkened. "But you said that I had some favor to offer. I fail to see how I possibly could. I am as at a loss as you are."
"You might be wrong," Charmian said, pushing herself onto her knees. "Think. You've had the darkness with you ever since you were born, but you held it off this whole time. It was only when Ocryana started trying to get to you that it finally showed up. I think Ocryx and your mom were on the right track. You were a lot stronger than you think you were."
"Little good it did, in the end..."
"But will you listen? Even now you're still fighting it off! And you're winning!" Charmian crawled toward him through the grass. "Your spirit was damaged since birth, but you've fought off the darkness. Tal Natha's spirit was damaged only a while ago. If you could fight it off, so could he!"
Justin shrugged and shook his head. "I don't see how. You've seen how he's in pain. I doubt that he fakes this."
"He only thinks he can't fight it off, because he's been given no reason to try. If he knew it could be done, I think he could heal himself." Even as she said it she knew how foolish it sounded, yet it was an idea she'd staked almost everything on. Justin stared at her curiously, so she knew she didn't sound like a total maniac.
"You're good at healing others," she said, sitting up and clasping her hands. "Now's the time when you help yourself. So Tal Natha knows it can be done. That's the favor I want to ask you. That darkness in your spirit, in this necklace." She held it up between them. "I want you to heal yourself of it, get rid of it. Merge it with the light, or however it happens. Just make it go away, so you don't need this thing anymore."
There was an awkward silence as soon as she finished speaking. Justin gaped at her with such a look that she knew her intent had failed. She grimaced and waved her hand.
"I know it sounds totally stupid, Justin, but you have to try it! For Tal Natha!"
He stared at her a moment more before letting out a small sigh and relenting slightly, sitting back, but still with a dubious expression. "You said you thought my mother was 'on the right track'...now you tell me this--thing isn't necessary?" He poked at the necklace. "I don't understand what you expect from me. The only wounds I know how to heal are those of the flesh."
"I think you can do better than that." Charmian squeezed the necklace tightly in her hand. "Please?"
The brief silence resumed as she awaited his answer. He didn't look quite at her, but neither did he stare off into space. After a moment or two he sighed and reached out his hand. Charmian gave him the necklace, and he drew it toward him. He shrugged again, resigned.
"What would you have me do?"
"I'm...I'm not sure." When he looked at her again she waved her hands. "But let me think! Do...um...just do what you always do. Since that's where the wound is." She nodded at the necklace. "The dark part, in there. Just do whatever you do whenever it's a cut or a gash or something. Try to make it better."
His dubious look remained, but he obeyed. He cupped the pendant in his hands and stared at it intently. It still glowed, but after a moment his fingers began to glow as well. She could almost hear a humming sound, but wasn't sure if it was real or her imagination. Justin frowned in concentration and they both sat and stared at the jewels, waiting for a change, for...anything.
"Nothing's happening," he said after a few moments, his voice indicating his irritation. Charmian winced.
"Please, just keep trying. This is a wound that's been festering your whole life; it's bound to take longer that way."
He didn't reply, though she could sense his lack of belief. Still, he cupped the gems and his look of concentration only grew. The minutes slipped by as they waited for something to happen, and his strain began to show. She bit her lip when she noticed the perspiration on his brow, and the tightening of his jaw, and nearly sighed and told him to give it up. So much for her idea; just like so many others it had proven to be groundless.
Then the gems in the necklace shimmered.
Charmian blinked at them. They had been glowing before, it was true, but now they had let out a tiny flash of light like they'd never done before. She leaned close to examine them and another tiny flash came, stronger than the first, emanating from the hearts of the jewels. It came again, and then again, the spaces of time between the flashes growing shorter, the flashes brighter. Now, she really could hear a humming sound.
"It's working, Justin!" she exclaimed.
Justin bit down on his lip and furrowed his brow. The humming grew louder and the flashing brighter; after another moment or two there was a small pop, and before either of them could speak, the necklace had fallen away from Justin's hands, pattering to the ground. Charmian gawked at it for a moment before lifting her gaze to see that he still held a gem in his hands, only it wasn't one of those from the necklace. A tiny stone glittered in his palms--a rough crystal swirling smoky and amber--and they both stared at it with mild confusion before she could figure out what had happened. She bounced excitedly.
"Your spirit stone! The part Ocryx took out! See the black part? That's what you've got to heal! You must've just freed it from the necklace somehow!"
Justin took a few breaths to regain his strength before falling silent and concentrating again. Charmian followed suit, knowing how stupid it had been of her to distract him. They repeated the same procedure as before, the amber part of the stone seeping and glowing beneath the black. The colors surged and roiled slowly and she chewed on the inside of her mouth, praying for this to work.
She looked up at Justin's face, and then rather wished she hadn't. He was breathing heavily by now, the strain of the healing weakening his reserves. She could tell he'd never attempted anything so big before, and wondered now if he was truly as strong as she'd thought. Just because he was a healer, didn't mean he could heal anything. And now, come to think of it, could a healer really heal themselves...?
Justin gasped. Charmian's attention jerked back to him, and she saw what he had seen. The amber glow beneath the smoky haze was brightening, growing stronger, and glimmering out in more locations than before. It was as if it poked holes in the darkness, which gradually began to dissipate, drawing in on itself in tiny tendrils as a gold light washed over it all. Within a moment or two the blackness had subsided entirely, consumed by the brilliant glow; and as the hum died away into a whisper, Charmian and Justin sat staring at the small amber-colored stone shimmering in the palms of his hands.
Justin let out his breath.
Charmian felt like her face would crack open, she smiled so widely. "YOU DID IT!" She leapt to her feet and grasped the tiny stone, holding it aloft and laughing and jumping in circles. "I was right! You can heal yourself! You did it, Justin!"
Justin's response was to roll back his eyes and slump forward, pitching off of the boulder. Charmian gasped and hurried to catch him before he could hit the ground, and she lowered him carefully instead. He managed to push himself into a sitting position, rubbing at his head.
"Justin?" Charmian asked, suddenly filled with anxiety. "Are you okay?"
"I...think so." He winced and continued rubbing his forehead. "Only tired. I've never tried something like that before."
"I know it was more draining than usual," Charmian agreed. She held out the stone and smiled widely. "But look what you did! I knew you could make it work!"
Justin lifted his head, his eyes glazed. He blinked a few times at the stone before realizing what it was and taking it from her. He turned it about in his hand as if not quite certain it belonged to him.
"It's changed," he said.
Charmian nodded. "That's what happens. You made the light win over the dark! Just because you tried to!" She picked up the stone and held it before his face. "You see? This is what it's supposed to look like. Without all that darkness and junk clouding it up!"
Justin stared at the stone as it twinkled in his eyes. His brow furrowed a bit.
"This...you mean that...?"
"Uh-huh." Charmian nodded and grinned. "Bye-bye darkness!"
Justin let out his breath and just continued staring at the gem. Charmian couldn't be certain, but his eyes looked wet. She could only guess what he must be thinking. "Oh!" she exclaimed, feeling a little foolish, and took the gem from him. She pressed it to his chest and they both watched as it glowed again before vanishing, Charmian pulling her hand back. Justin felt at the spot she'd touched, a perplexed look crossing his face.
"What did you do with it?"
"Put it back where it belongs." She stooped and picked up the necklace. The stones glittered, but that was all. When she held it next to him, it no longer glowed. She found she rather missed the light it had let out before, then shook her head and handed it to him. He put up his hand and gently pushed it away, rising to his feet.
"I don't need it anymore. You said so, didn't you?"
Charmian flushed, though she wasn't sure why. She nodded mutely and put the necklace in her pouch, then brushed back her hair with one hand. She waited until Justin had composed himself, at least as much as it appeared he would, staring off into the trees. He still seemed dazed by everything that had happened, and she hated bothering him yet again.
"Um...Justin?" He turned to look back at her. "That wasn't all of it though. I was hoping you could promise me something."
He didn't reply at first, so she stood and waited. After a moment or two he furrowed his brow and prompted, "Yes?" so she knew he'd been waiting for her all along. She flushed again and gave an embarrassed smile.
"Um...sorry about that. I wanted to see if you could do this...I really wanted you to help yourself, but I want you to help someone else if possible."
"Tal Natha," Justin said, and Charmian nodded.
"I was going to have you talk to him now but I think maybe it should wait. Until he's ready to give up. I might still be able to talk him out of whatever he might be planning, and now that Red Bird...now that there's Dakh and Sikt he might think twice. At least I'm hoping that he will. But if he doesn't, will you help me? Will you help me convince him it doesn't have to be the way he thinks it does?"
Remembering Justin's earlier reactions to Tal Natha, and vice-versa, she almost expected him to refuse. Instead he nodded without pause, and she felt relief pass over her.
"If you think he might listen to me for whatever reason. Then I'll do what I can."
Charmian let out her breath. "Thanks, Justin. I know I've asked you for a lot more than I should have, but it's only because..."
"You don't have to say anything else." He looked into the woods again, as if he saw something there. She didn't want to guess what the expression in his eyes meant. "If he were not my brother I would do it anyway. I've helped enough to put him in the place he's in now."
Charmian bit her lip. "Ocryana did all of that," she said after a moment. "Not you or even Shadow Water." She paused. "I'm really sorry, Justin. I would've tried harder to warn you if I'd thought it was as bad as it turned out..."
He shook his head. "I probably would not have listened to you. Perhaps this was simply supposed to happen." He turned away once more and started off into the woods. Charmian took a step after him but heard him say, "Call me when you need me and I'll come. No matter what the reason. I'll help you however I can."
Charmian watched him walk off among the trees, and it wasn't until he was almost out of her sight that she whispered, "Thanks, Justin," so she wasn't sure he could hear. He vanished and she looked down at her hand to realize she was holding the pendant tightly enough to dig into her skin. When had she even taken it out of her pouch?
With a small sigh she replaced it and rubbed her hands together. She couldn't think of anything else to do; evening was drawing on, and for some reason she didn't want to stay out in the woods much longer. She turned away from the clearing to notice two small blue lights hovering in the shadows, and she forced a smile and waved at them. Mani appeared and lowered his head.
Sorry, Red Land One.
"It's okay. You only follow me around because you're worried about me, right?" She put her hand on his antler as they started to walk along. "So, do you think Tal Natha would take Justin up on his offer? They're both like their dad in that they're stubborn and you practically have to hit them over the head with something before they'll believe it." Her smile grew a little bit as she realized how alike the two truly were.
Mani appeared to have no real opinion. His ears flicked about a few times before he said, Red One and Dreamspinner gone to home of old manitou woman while she gets stronger.
"They made her walk all the way there?" Charmian sighed. "They're going to do her in if Ocryana doesn't do it first!"
Mani's look grew apologetic. Old manitou woman not trusting demon with raising pups right. Need to get Red One to recover before going back to fort.
"Sounds just like her. All right. Let's go to Sugar Loaf. Do you mind if I ride? I'm feeling kind of crapped out."
He didn't seem to understand what the term meant, but bent down on one knee nonetheless. He carried her back to the giant rock and by the time they reached it evening had fallen, yet lights burned within the stone. X'aaru and Pakwa awaited outside, and Charmian couldn't help but get a feeling of déjà vu. She shook it off; X'aaru was busy snapping at fireflies, the GeeBee hanging upside down and snoring slightly. X'aaru landed with a thud and opened his mouth, a green glow lighting up his teeth. Charmian started laughing.
"I heard Red Bird and Tal Natha were here. How is she doing?"
X'aaru let the fireflies go, he was so startled to hear her voice. One flew at his nose and he snorted and sneezed. Mani whistled; it might have been a laugh.
"Charmian! When did you come? I didn't even hear you! Red Bird's inside; she's doing fine. Old Mother Manitou keeps giving her things to drink and so she has to keep going into the woods--"
Charmian's laughter grew.
"--but I think Tal Natha's even more tired than she is, since he sleeps so much."
"Sleeps?" Charmian's laughter faded and she frowned. "Is he okay?"
"I think so...only tired. Maybe he worried himself too much!" X'aaru's look grew cautious. "Do you think?"
Charmian nodded, to keep the demon's worries at bay. "That might be it. Anyway if he needs any kind of help I have something sitting on the back burner. I hope she has something ready to eat in there, and not maple bark tea either. I'm hungry."
"I'll ask her and see!" X'aaru exclaimed, and bounded inside. He struck his head on the roof of the opening and had to stop and shake it before continuing inside. Charmian winced but followed, waving at Pakwa, who merely rolled his head about and yawned at the mention of food.
As she started to cross the threshold she got the distinct feeling she was being watched. Pausing, she turned to look over her shoulder, scanning the woods uneasily. She finally spotted a shape sitting up in a tree overhead, and the fact that they didn't bother to conceal themselves told her they meant no harm. Still, the look on Manabozho's face also told her he had something on his mind, and most likely something that wasn't very pleasant. They met each other's eyes and held the stare for a moment before she turned back to go inside. She could easily have asked him what his look meant...but at the moment, she wasn't certain she wanted to know.