Manitou Island: Part 100
The Dreamer Speaks
THEY'RE GONE. THEY'RE dead because of me.
Charmian floated in a sort of blackness, unable to tell if her eyes were open or closed, but not caring anyway. No matter what they were, she would have been crying, if she'd felt that sensation. Instead she felt herself crying inside, going over in her mind what had just happened. Red Bird and Tal Natha would not live without each other. And so they'd killed themselves to avoid that fate. And now they, and the Island and everything else, were doomed.
Charmian did something that would have been squeezing her eyes shut if this were real and she were still alive. I killed them, she murmured. It's my fault that they're dead.
The voice was soft, yet carried across the blackness. She ignored it at first, too lost in her own grief. It was only when the call came again, closer this time, that she "opened" her eyes, still seeing nothing at first. Then a pale glow appeared, as if in the distance; it grew as it approached, and took on form, so she could tell who it was. She "blinked," uncomprehending.
The pale Ocryx tilted her head, her large dark eyes on Charmian's. Charmian stared at her for a moment before the grief overcame her again.
I killed Red Bird and Tal Natha, she said, her voice, even though it had not spoken aloud, cracking. I convinced them they could help themselves. And this happened. It's my fault.
You did not kill them, Nathalit replied. Charmian shut her eyes again.
They would still be here if it weren't for me. At least, Red Bird would. And she's the one who'll save the Island...at least she was...now there's nobody. If the Island isn't dead yet, it will be soon, because of me. I let them kill themselves. I didn't even try to stop them.
Even though her eyes were closed, she could still see Nathalit for some reason. Or perhaps Nathalit made it so she would see. Whichever it was, the creature floated back--they were both drifting aimlessly through the dark, yet Charmian could see the two of them just fine--and held out one arm to the side.
They are not dead.
It took another moment for this comment to sink in, and Charmian opened her eyes once more. Nathalit said nothing, but waited for her silently. Charmian furrowed her brow in confusion.
But...I saw them...
I will not let them die before their time. I needed to know if they are the true ones to care for the Island. Nathalit held up her hand, and her fingers started to glow. Two more shapes appeared out of the darkness, and Charmian was astonished to see they were Red Bird and Tal Natha. They were curled in on themselves, floating in space, as if sleeping; she couldn't believe they were still alive, after what she'd just seen. Her heart started pounding hard in her chest, and she turned back to Nathalit.
I don't understand.
You have proven yourself true to the Island as well, Nathalit replied. I will explain all.
She waved her hand, and the darkness vanished. Charmian felt her feet touch the ground, and she landed gently on her hands and knees as gravity returned. She blinked her eyes open--they had been shut again--as light emerged all around her; lifting her head and looking around, she was stunned to see what appeared to be miles upon miles of crystals of every size, shape, and color imaginable, emerald grass sprouting between them, a pristine blue sky vaulting overhead. She pushed herself slowly to her feet, noticing that the others who had been in the cave--Drake, Dakh, Sikt, Red Bird, and Tal Natha--were there now as well. They appeared to be just as confused as she was, glancing around themselves at the bizarre setting. Charmian almost jumped when she now saw Nathalit before her, where she hadn't been before. The others turned to look at her, and their reactions were much the same. They appeared to know just as much about what was going on as Charmian did.
"Where..." Charmian paused, hearing her voice emerge out loud, rather than in her mind. "Where are we?"
You are in the Gemfields. The land of unborn dreams, and spirits to be.
"Unborn dreams...?" Charmian cast a glance at Dakh and Sikt, then back at Nathalit. The creature spoke before she could ask what was on her mind. She gestured toward the crystals.
Each contains an unborn dream, or an unborn spirit. Dream and spirit are inextricably entwined, which is why the Island cannot survive without the Dream.
"You mean that...each one of these things is a spirit stone?"
Yes, and no. Some are spirits to be, and others are dreams that have not yet been dreamed.
Tal Natha stood. I do not understand, he said, his voice carrying more than a hint of confusion. Nathalit gazed at him a moment before looking over her shoulder at the Gemfields.
You are the Dreamspinner. This much has been true from the moment you were born. Yet there were dreams before you came. She turned to Charmian, who nearly squirmed away on looking into those deep black eyes. I will begin at the beginning.
Charmian gasped. The scenery around them shifted, melted, swirled while they stood still. Red Bird drew closer to Tal Natha and grasped his arm; his hackles rose, but he didn't dare growl. Charmian clenched her fists; she felt like throwing up, until the swirling went dark, and once more she felt as if she were floating.
"Nathalit--?" she cried out, then sensed the creature's presence, and tried to calm herself. The feeling was much the same as when Sikt had dwelled within her, and she found it familiar and comforting. She could likewise sense the others nearby, and so knew she wasn't alone.
She nearly gasped again when she suddenly noticed tiny pricks of light all around her, drifting past. It took her a moment to realize they were stars. She frowned at them, puzzled.
I am not of the Island, Nathalit's voice came to her, and she stilled herself, listening. Long ago, there were many like me. But as time went on, we became few. Eventually, I was the last I knew of my kind. I did not wish to dwell alone, and so I went in search of others like myself. I would know them when I found them by the way they spoke to me.
I traveled very far, very long. Charmian watched as the stars around her began to speed past at an astonishing rate. Nowhere did I find any who were like my kind. Everything was silent to me. Until I stopped, and listened. The stars slowed in their passage before halting entirely, and Charmian found herself straining her ears. It was very faint...and very far away...yet I finally heard it. It was not one of my kind...but the way it spoke to me was much the same. I had to find it, to know where it was. Until then, I had been alone for years upon years. After so long, I felt joy upon hearing it.
The stars began to move again. I traveled as quickly as I could, lest it fall silent before I reached it. This was when I saw where it came from. A speck of light, larger than the others, appeared; Charmian squinted her eyes to make out a blue and green and white globe spinning toward her like a large marble. Just as she recognized it for what it was, she was being pulled down into the atmosphere, through the clouds and over the ocean and land and trees and water yet again. Out of the vast expanse of blue, a tiny bit of green and brown emerged; Charmian blinked, and felt Drake and the others do much the same.
"That's..." Drake managed to get out.
Yes, Nathalit replied. The voice I heard came from here. Manitou Island.
Their descent slowed until they soared over the Island. I sought about for the voice until I found it, Nathalit continued, and as I knew already, it was not one of my own kind...but the way it thought was almost the same as the way my kind communicated. By dreams. They came almost to a halt over the woods and began to sink toward the ground, ending up at treetop level. Charmian looked around herself to see caves littering the ground; they looked vaguely familiar, though the trees and undergrowth were much younger now, making everything look different. The entire Island looked younger.
I came close enough to finally see the one whose dream I had heard, Nathalit said, and her voice grew quieter. It was then that I realized this was not nearly the one I sought. Though it had a dream much the same as my own kind, it was a dark-hearted creature, bitter and full of poison. It was not like my kind at all.
Charmian gasped and would have jumped back, had she been able, when something stood up from near one of the caves; it had been there all along, yet she hadn't paid any attention to it. She saw it now, clearly, and it was only because she sensed the others with her that she didn't panic. The creature below them snarled and glanced over its shoulder as if it sensed them, looking from side to side, wings hunched. They drifted over it as they passed.
"Ocryana," Charmian whispered. She sensed Nathalit's nod.
Yes, she affirmed. It was she whose dream I had heard upon my journey, which had brought me here. Yet I could not communicate with her. I could sense the blackness in her spirit, and knew she could not comprehend my own. We were too different. I hoped perhaps in time she might change, or I might find another who was not so darkened by hatred; yet the other one I found was almost as bitter as she was.
Another nod. I sensed his dream as well...similar to her own...and knew that I had come here too late. Once, they had been enough like me, that I could have spoken to them...but now, they were far too different to ever understand what I sought. If I grew too close to them, I risked their blackness corrupting my own spirit. Yet I had nowhere else left to go. And so I hid myself upon the Island, and I stayed. Each day hoping that perhaps the two creatures would somehow overcome their hatred, so I could at last speak with them.
Unfortunately, this was never to be...I waited, and watched, as they grew ever more hateful toward each other, until the excesses of the female led to her imprisonment by the Great Spirit of the Island; and the male was likewise imprisoned when he threatened to become as wicked as she. The two upon whom my hopes had rested were locked beneath the Island, far from my reach. I had the power to free them; yet I would not break the command of the Great Spirit. This was not my Island. I would have to wait yet longer, until my chance should come. I had long been alone; I could wait a while more.
Time passed, and eventually, the male demon was freed, and then the female...by accident, I knew, yet now was the chance I had sought. Their spirits were still too black for me to try to break through to them; I had long since come up with another plan, while they slept. I would no longer wait for them to redeem themselves, when it might never happen; instead, I took their fates into my own hands, if only for a moment, yet this was a decision I did not make lightly. I knew it would influence the fate of the Island for years to come, but I did it anyway. I felt, that with the way the demons had become, it would only help the Island in the long run. For I knew that the Island depended upon their life force to stay alive, yet with how dark they had become, the Island risked this same fate as well.
And so I waited for the right moment to seize my chance, and then did. I used my medicine to influence the will of the female--on which she used her influence upon the male, to entice him to come to her, despite their differences. I weakened his will, only this once, so he would go to her, despite their hatred. Through my own influence the two of them united, but briefly, yet this was all that I needed. I released the male's will, and allowed him to go on his way; yet the female I kept watch over, until such time as she would bring forth that which their union had created.
"Tal Natha," Charmian murmured, her voice numb.
Nathalit nodded again. The scenery shifted, and they found themselves descending into the caves. It took a moment for Charmian's eyesight to adjust to the darkness; she could soon make out a dark shape curled against the cave wall, its sides heaving. She squinted and saw it was Ocryana, panting and obviously in distress. Charmian shook her head slowly.
"But...I don't get it. If you were the reason Tal Natha was born...then how did he get away from Ocryana? If you could have just taken him away, you wouldn't have had to go through all of this trouble just to get this far..."
Wind rushed past them, and she felt herself rising up out of the cave again, into the air, zooming backwards across the face of the Island and toward the lakeshore. You are right, Nathalit said. In the form I had taken, I could not physically interact with the beings of the Island. I could only sway their thoughts. If I took their form, I risked upsetting everything I had set in motion. Thus I needed another to fill this role.
Rock suddenly sprang up all around them as they were sucked down through a mass of stone, and Charmian winced as an odd screaming sound rose in her ears. They came to a halt with a shock, her ears ringing; just as this happened it was as if she saw a spark appear and vanish in an instant, the way a figurative lightbulb would appear over the head of one deep in thought. Another dark shape loomed nearby, its large yellow eyes gleaming dully; its ears quivered as if sensing something, though this was an image in the past, and Charmian knew she could not be seen.
"Pakwa," she blurted out, startled. In response the GeeBee vaulted upwards into the air, vanishing through the cave ceiling; she and the others went after him, though through no will of their own. They sped through the sky, high above the Island, riding on wind currents and dipping and twisting exactly as the GeeBee did; he descended in a rush toward the caves where Ocryana lived, and Charmian and the others followed straight after him, halting only at the entrance. From their vantage point outside, Charmian could still somehow see Pakwa slip into the cave, sneak up beside the now-sleeping demon, and very carefully pick something small off the cave floor beside her. Once he had tucked it close to his breast, he crouched, and in a burst of speed emerged from the cave roof like a bolt, shooting up into the air. Charmian and the others followed suit, and veered to the side as he did, coasting for the other side of the Island.
I influenced the will of the GeeBee, Nathalit said, and used him to take the pup from its mother. I knew that if it were left with her, she would eventually corrupt it, or destroy it. I could not risk this happening after all this time. And so I commanded the windling to take the pup to a safe place, where he would not be found.
Pakwa landed on the ledge above the cave near Fort Holmes, glancing about and sniffing at the air. Charmian would have jumped, were she able, when a horrendous roar rose from the middle of the Island, maddened and enraged. Pakwa's ears pricked again and he leapt off the cliff to land on the lower ledge, then bolted inside the cave. Charmian and the others drifted down through the earth to appear in the cavern; the GeeBee scuttled over to the far corner of the dim room, gently setting down his burden. She could now see it was an Ocryx pup, its fur coal black and its wings deep red; its eyes were still closed and it whimpered before curling in on itself. Pakwa took a step back and stared at it, cocking his head.
I could not care for the pup on my own, Nathalit said. Pakwa vanished through the cave ceiling. And so I had the GeeBee care for him for me. While he was still small and weak, the windling brought him food, kept him company, and saw to his needs as I deemed fit, until he should be old enough to care for himself. Charmian watched as Pakwa reemerged, carrying a rabbit with its neck broken; he squatted in the middle of the cave and proceeded to gut and skin the animal with his bare hands, making her wince and turn away until he was done. Instead of eating the pathetic remains, he hopped over to Tal Natha, and nudged the meat forward until the Ocryx could smell it. Some time must have passed, for he looked somewhat older and his eyes now opened; he started to gnaw on the raw meat while the GeeBee watched. Charmian and the others watched as well, mesmerized.
In time, the pup grew old enough to care for himself, Nathalit continued, and the GeeBee's service was no longer needed. I released him from my command, and freed him to go on his way. The scene shifted to outside the cave, and Pakwa was perched on the cliff edge, staring out over the trees. He sniffed at the air, tilting his head from side to side as if trying to sense something, before launching off and soaring away, but not back toward Devil's Kitchen. However, the GeeBee's will was weak, and my own will had influenced him permanently. Thus he was no longer like his own kind. I must confess that I do not regret this accident overmuch; he separated himself from the rest of the windlings, and went to live upon his own. In the meantime, I swept away what little memory the pup may have had of his former life, and gave him the power he possesses now. The power to spin dreams. For he was the one I had chosen to take the place of his mother and father, and to communicate in the manner of my own people. Before then, dreams were frail, rare things that happened by chance; with the coming of a Dreamspinner, they would gain strength, and the Island would gain strength as well, with them.
"So you were the reason the Island got a Dreamspinner," Charmian said. "To strengthen the Island, because it gets its power from dreams."
Yes, Nathalit replied. I had lived upon the Island while I awaited my chance...and I had grown close to it. It was the closest I had come to my own home, ever since the loss of my people. I knew that there were those here who would be able to carry on much as my own did, but only if I influenced them. This is not in my nature, yet I felt it necessary. Both for my own kind, and for the Island. I believe still to this day that I did not make the wrong choice.
"And so you did this to save the Island? And to continue your own kind?" Charmian pressed, still slightly confused. Nathalit tilted her head.
These are two of the reasons. Yet they are not the only ones. I have said already that I traveled many years, to find one who spoke and thought much as I do...only to find her spirit corrupted beyond repair, and her mate little better. I could not bear the thought of continuing on again, for possibly many more years. I could not stand the silence that came with the wandering...I had grown lonely.
Charmian blinked. The comment suddenly brought flooding back her own conversation with Tal Natha so long ago, when she had wandered around in his dream; the silence he himself had been afraid of, unable to sense the dreams of others. She peered over her shoulder to see that Tal Natha's face held the same look her own must; he came slowly forward on all fours, his wings folded and his ears bent slightly back. He stopped off to Charmian's side, staring up at Nathalit.
You were the one...who then convinced my mother and father to bear me. And who changed the will of the GeeBee, and the fate of the Island. Even if you were lonely...these are great troubles to go to, simply to save an Island that is not yours to save. You did not have to stay here, after you had accomplished your wishes. And so why did you remain? And why does our fate concern you now?
Nathalit tilted her head forward, her eyes dark and yet luminous both at once. I could not leave the Island after this was done, she said, for I would have abandoned all that mattered most to me.
You could have continued to seek your own kind, even if you were lonely. There could have been others. Tal Natha tried to keep his voice level, but Charmian could tell he was confused. Why did you stay?
Nathalit gazed at him for a moment or two, one glowing ear quivering slightly. Charmian could tell the demon's questions hadn't annoyed her; she seemed to possess a limitless patience. Still, when she next spoke, she did so in a voice that was like that of an adult speaking to a child.
Once you came, there was no longer any reason for me to leave the Island. All that I needed, all that I had sought, was now here. And I could not abandon the one whose life, whose spirit, I had created. I could not abandon you, Tal Natha...as no mother should ever abandon her child.