Manitou Island: Part 98
Force Of Persuasion
CHARMIAN JERKED UPRIGHT in the bed with a gasp. She stared ahead at the dresser that sat at the other side of the room, its mirror shaded. The room was lit in a pale blue tint, so she assumed it must be morning; already the fragments of the dream she'd just had were fading from her mind, but that was enough to keep her awake. A dream? She shouldn't have had a dream.
She pushed the coverings off and put her feet on the floor. It took her only a moment to retrieve and put on her clothes and make it to the door; she opened it and peered outside into the hallway. The silence rang in her ears. She had no idea where they'd roomed Drake, and so had to creep from room to room, peering into each that she could; a few were locked. She finally located him in a room near the end of the hall and went to the bed to shake his shoulder. He grumbled and she had to shake him harder before he opened his eyes and rubbed them groggily.
"What?" he murmured in an annoyed voice.
"Get up. We have to go to Fort Holmes."
"Fort Holmes?" He sat up now and rubbed at his eyes even harder. "What for?"
"I had this bad dream." Charmian paused, fingering the fringe on her top. "We have to get going. Something's happening."
"Wait a minute!" Drake called as she hurried from the room. "What do you mean you had a dream? Charm!"
She ignored him as she made her way down the stairs and to the front door, only then waiting for him to catch up. He stumbled down the steps a moment later, stubbing his toe and biting off a yelp. Charmian waved at him to hurry up and pulled open the large front door, ready to jump down the porch steps when the sky above caught her eye. She froze, Drake bumping into her. They both stared upwards.
Drake's eyes grew. "What the..."
Charmian didn't have an answer; she had thought of asking the question herself. It wasn't early morning, despite what her senses had told her...instead, the sky was an unnatural shade of blue, or rather, several shades of blue, all swirling and breaking apart and merging again like some bizarre aurora. They stared at it for a moment or two before Charmian swallowed and tugged on Drake's elbow.
"That doesn't look too good," he murmured as they hurried down the steps and across the lawn. Only once they'd reached the trees, the branches effectively blocking the strange sky from their view, did Charmian feel a little bit safe. They ran now, their feet skirting the ground and jumping over rocks and roots as if they'd been running like this their entire lives. Charmian gave Drake no response; her mind was too anxious over her dream. The same thoughts kept running through her head.
I'm not supposed to be able to dream anymore! None of us are! So how come that one got through? Is it a good sign? It didn't FEEL like a good sign...
They eventually reached the giant hill atop which Fort Holmes sat, and started their ascent. Drake grumbled a few times about how he wished they'd called a manitou or something, but still Charmian tuned him out. Instead she listened to the sounds of the woods and found it more eerily silent than usual. She couldn't even hear a cricket or a peeper. She grabbed onto saplings the entire way up, pulling herself up the steep slope, once in a while scaling a large outcropping of rock or earth. Drake wasn't quite as agile, but still managed to make it to the top with nothing more than a few scrapes and smudges. He cast Charmian a dark look; she ran around the base of the fort and to the other side, where the bluff overlooking Lake Huron lay. She'd started down already before Drake could even catch up.
"HEY! Would you hold on?"
"Hurry up then! I told you it was important!"
Drake paused at the top of the cliff, a hurt look on his face. Charmian sighed; she hadn't meant her voice to come out so harsh. "Just come on," she said, waving and continuing on her way down. "I have a bad feeling."
Drake watched her for a moment before following, cringing as he went. She could tell he still didn't much care for heights, despite his talent riding Uroona; she couldn't really understand it. They made it down the cliff face unharmed, though as soon as she landed on the small ledge before Tal Natha's cave, a low growl caught her attention. She stood up from her crouch, apprehensive, then relaxed. Drake landed beside her, only not as gracefully; she waved at him again, staring at the four red-and-green eyes that stared back. Drake rubbed his ankle as he got up.
"Is he inside?" Charmian asked the two Ocryxes standing guard outside the cave. She reached up and placed her hands against their heads in a greeting gesture. When she pulled away they pointed their noses at the entrance.
He is within. Mother is with him.
Charmian nodded, biting her lip. She went past them without any further ado, though Drake kind of crept between them, as if by creeping they wouldn't even see him. When they flicked their ears he bolted inside.
"I don't care who they are or how long one of them lived in my head, they still make me nervous..."
Charmian moved close to the wall. A soft light flickered from within and she found herself in the old cavern with the large crystal at the other side. A pallet of furs lay not far from it, and it was here that she saw Red Bird first--the woman lifted her head to look at them and her face was tear stained, her eyes red--and only secondly did she notice Tal Natha, he blended into the furs so much. He lay upon his side with his wings crumpled behind him, his ribs heaving though she couldn't hear him panting from where she stood. Instantly anxiety filled her and she hurried to his side, kneeling on the furs. Red Bird's hand crept out to take her own, and Charmian stared at the demon with a furrowed brow.
His eyes--or at least, the one she could see--slowly came open and rolled to look at her. His mouth was open as well, his teeth and tongue showing; her dog had been sick once, bad enough to be taken to the vet, and this was what he had looked like. She'd been worried about losing him then; she was even more worried about Tal Natha now. She placed her hand against his shoulder.
"You came..." he said, his voice almost a whisper. Charmian bit her lip a second time and nodded, blinking to keep the blur from her eyes.
"I came." She paused. "I had a dream."
"Yes..." He paused also, taking several breaths, before continuing. "Sending this...so Ocryana could not steal it...took much power."
"I kind of figured that." Charmian rubbed at one eye and touched him again. She sensed the contact made it a little bit easier for him to speak. "What did it mean? Was it...what I think it was?"
"Your hand..." Charmian lifted her hand, then held it over him and concentrated. A glow emerged from his chest; the anxiety pierced through Charmian again when she saw his spirit stone, or rather, barely saw it, it was so obscured by a dark swirling mass. Every so often it would rally itself and a spark of blue-white would shine through, but just as quickly it would be extinguished, and he would wince in pain. Charmian pulled her hand back and the glow died; Red Bird was weeping silently.
"You see," Tal Natha said weakly. "It...has grown...every day. I've held it off...as long as I could."
"No." Charmian shook her head. "You can keep holding it off. I know it. Have you seen the sky? Something's happening. I know it'll be over soon, if you just hold on."
"No..." He moved his head slightly, a possible shake. "I have tried...just as you asked...but...darkness is more insidious..."
Charmian struggled to keep herself from snapping at him. "You can't..."
"You felt...the pain...in the dream." Charmian quieted when his eye again shifted to look at her. "Did you not...?"
Charmian's gaze drifted to the furs. "Yes..."
"Then you know how...I feel...every moment now. More so every moment now. I did as you asked. I held it off...but now...it grows too strong for me."
"Ocryana's like a virus," Drake, standing behind Charmian, said softly. "Sometimes there's viruses you can't fight off..."
"No," Charmian did snap now. Red Bird lifted her head and looked at her. Charmian swiped a hand across her eyes. "You had the power to send me that dream. Don't tell me you have no power left."
"This is what I tell you," Tal Natha murmured. He could barely seem to keep his eyes open. "I wished to...let you know before it's too late for you. You and the Drake. And the Frenchman and his friend, and...anyone...who feels they may make it to the mainland. You have to tell them..."
"Tell them what?" Drake asked, his own face lined with worry.
Tal Natha flared his wing and struggled to push himself up. He held up his hand--Charmian saw it was shaking--and again presented his spirit stone. As Charmian watched, a strange glow rose around it, a globe encircling a globe; her brow furrowed and she leaned forward as if to get a better look.
"What...what is that...?"
"This is the last of my medicine." The golden glow wavered and faded, then grew again. "You can see...there is not much left, after what Ocryana has done."
"You used it all up?" Charmian couldn't believe it. "But...I thought it was something you never ran out of!"
"One must be strong to build new medicine," Tal Natha said, and winced when the glow wavered. "I have not rested...ever since she attacked me. All of this time I have fought her off. But my medicine is weak now. The dream I sent you...this was the most I have used in a long time. I had to make certain you would see it, even though it only gives her more power." He lowered his hand and the sight of his spirit stone vanished. He lowered his head back to the furs.
"Go and tell those who will listen. Return to the mainland...I will hold her off until you do. But you must be quick. When you are safe...I will use my medicine to stop her."
"Why can't you do that now?" Charmian cried.
Pain flickered across the demon's face. "Because...when I do...my spirit will be destroyed. I will die."
Red Bird lowered her head again to press to his own, putting her arms around his neck. Charmian sucked in a breath, her eyes growing.
"You...you can't! The Island!"
"The Island will die," Tal Natha said. "I have done all I could do...and you as well...if the Island was not meant to live, this is Gitchi Manitou's will."
"It's NOBODY'S will!" Charmian jumped up and clenched her fists. His resignation infuriated her. "How come you're just giving up? You and everyone taught me to keep fighting and now you give up! You're the same as everyone else! You can say it but you can never do it!"
"Charm." Drake squeezed her arm. Charmian's chest hitched and her fists clenched and unclenched. Tal Natha's tail slipped forward to touch her ankle.
"I know you are angry...and disappointed in me...but I tried as much as I could. I would never lie to you. I thought we could stop this...but things have changed. Call who you can..."
"No." Charmian unclenched her fists and knelt down toward him again so Red Bird had to let go. She looked him in the eyes. "You can fight it off," she whispered, and tried to ignore the pained look he got.
"I KNOW you can." She grasped his hand, felt him weakly grasp hers back. "Don't use your medicine to kill yourself. Use it to heal yourself instead."
Red Bird frowned at her. Tal Natha looked as if he would have rolled his eyes, were he able.
"I do not have this ability..."
"Yes you do. Justin did it. His spirit stone's been corrupted his whole life. And he still managed to fight it off, AND to heal it!"
"Justin is a healer." He spoke slowly, as if she wouldn't understand. Charmian ground her teeth.
"Of bodies, yes. But not of spirits! Don't you think that if he could heal anybody's spirit he would have been doing it from the start? He healed his own spirit. I was there. I saw him do it!" She squeezed his hand harder. "Seek out his thoughts. Let him tell you. He'll tell you it's true. Please. Just do it."
He sighed through his nose but she noticed his eyes grow distant. His ear flicked to the side and she sensed his thoughts fading, traveling across the Island. A moment or so passed. His ear then flicked again and she could tell he'd found Justin; he lay still for a moment as if communicating with him, and blinked a few times at what was said. After a moment or two of this, he drifted back toward them and let out his breath, sinking from the strain. His eyes fluttered briefly shut; he opened them when Charmian squeezed his hand.
"Well? Did he tell you?"
"Even if he has," Tal Natha said. "This does not mean..."
"You have to at least TRY it," Charmian urged. "You're the guardian of the Island, aren't you? Would you give up without trying everything you can? I had more faith in you than that."
The demon's eyes flared slightly. "Go and call them."
"Why won't you listen to me!" Charmian cried, jumping up again. "I know that you can do it if you TRY IT!"
"I have fought this off as long as I could!" A jab of pain pierced through Charmian's chest, and she grabbed at it with a grimace. "Do you not feel what I feel? For me it is many times worse--and constant. She laughs, and she gains more power every moment she tries to control me. The longer I wait--"
"Just use your medicine to--"
"The longer I wait, the closer she comes to gaining me!" His eyes glared so brightly that his pupils almost disappeared, and Charmian gasped and backed into Drake. "I WILL NOT LET THIS HAPPEN! I WOULD RATHER THE ISLAND DIE THAN SHE GAIN CONTROL OF IT!"
As he spoke, the glow appeared again--but this time all around him, gold sparking from his horns and his wings and claws. Charmian and Red Bird both gasped this time, Red Bird scurrying back from him. At the moment he looked almost like his father...and his mother...and Charmian found herself slowly moving toward the cave entrance, her body shaking. She'd never believed he could look like this.
Tal Natha's eyes flashed and his muzzle wrinkled slightly. "Leave the cave," he growled, and Drake took Charmian's arm.
"I think maybe we should do what he says!"
Charmian yanked her arm free. "You're just like those OTHER two!" she shouted, shaking her fist at him. The glow grew to a blinding white and he flared his wings so they brushed against the ceiling, his hackles rising and his teeth bared.
"LEAVE THIS CAVE!"
Drake grabbed both Red Bird's and her arms. "COME ON!" He went running, dragging them toward the entrance. Red Bird stumbled, staring back over her shoulder with her eyes streaming. Charmian hated to think what she must be feeling, knowing the one she loved most in the world had simply given up--and was apparently going to take the rest of them with him!
"We don't have any time to reach the mainland now!" she cried, feeling stupid for stating the obvious. Drake nearly skidded to a halt when two large shapes loomed up before them, until he recognized who they were; he pulled the others forward and then pushed them to the ground behind Dakh and Sikt. The three of them fell in a heap; Charmian tried to get up, but he put his arm over her head, keeping her down. The glow from the cave became overwhelming, even though she didn't look at it directly; she had enough time to see Dakh and Sikt bristle and flare their wings as if to form a living shield to protect them, but knew it was all pointless anyway. He must have run out of time; while they talked, Ocryana must have gained control over his spirit, or else she'd gained enough control that he had to end it. For some reason she found herself thinking of Francois and his canoe before she shut her eyes and burrowed her head against the ground, a searing heat passing over them. Would he be able to paddle his canoe to the mainland...? Would there be at least one person left who remembered Manitou Island...?
Tal Natha let out a shattering bellow. Charmian and Red Bird cried out; Charmian sensed the two other demons' shadows press over them as they stood up to the blaze, then vanish as it overtook them. Like a nuclear explosion, Charmian felt the ground shake, the cave erupt; and the furious light and heat washed over them, sending the Island into oblivion.