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Manitou Island: Part 106
PART ONE HUNDRED AND SIX:
BOOM. THE SOUND shook the very sky of the Gemfields, making everybody awaiting their turn with Nathalit glance upwards with a start. X'aaru ducked his head low to the ground and whined loudly. Charmian nearly fell when the sound shook the earth as well; Manabozho grabbed her arm to keep her upright.
"So okay," Drake said in a jittery voice. "The old lady's here. Now what do we do?"
"Do we really have anything to be afraid of?" Charmian asked. She gestured at the scores of GeeBees, Windwalkers, Uroona, manitous, and other assorted creatures waiting nearby. "Even if she does make it in here, can't they do anything?"
"You mean all gang up and whup Ocryana's ass?"
"You have a small problem," Manabozho cut in. Charmian glared at him, though in truth she dreaded hearing what he had to say. She'd known that idea seemed too easy.
"What is it?"
He gestured at the others as well. Nathalit had ceased before giving Ocryx back his dream, and they all stared at Charmian.
"The dreams," Manabozho said to her in a low voice, as if trying not to let the others hear. "Most of them haven't yet been returned to their owners. They are still free for the taking here, and--"
"Aw, NUTS!" Drake exclaimed with dismay. "I get it. The minute she gets down here, she'll be helping HERSELF to them all! It's like one big smorgasbord down here!"
Charmian glanced back up at the sky, her heart feeling like it was going to cave in on itself. "So now what?" she asked, trying to keep the panic out of her voice. Her mind had never been so blank of ideas in a long time. "You saw how long it took each of us to get our dreams. If there's that many people left, Nathalit will never be done in time!"
"There's nothing else you can do," Manabozho said. "You'll have to fight her off until the Dreamer is done."
Charmian whirled around on him. "Are you NUTS? Have you SEEN me fighting her? She'll rip my head off if I give her the chance!"
Manabozho's eyes narrowed. "Then don't give her the chance."
"It's not really MY decision to make!" Charmian yelled. "I could barely even fight off Shadow Water, and she was a lot less powerful than Ocryana!"
Manabozho finally lost his temper, flailing his arms. "What do you expect me to do? Pat you on the head? Hold your hand? This is what you're supposed to be doing! You DID come here to protect the Island, didn't you? Protecting the Island doesn't mean I pat your head and tell you she'll go away if you close your eyes!!"
Drake tugged on Charmian's elbow before she could retort; when that didn't work, he pulled her around to face him. "Charm! You don't have to defeat her; you just have to hold her off. Until Nathalit's done. I know you can do that. You've done it before!"
"But not nearly long enough--" Charmian started, and the BOOM came again. She peered at the sky and felt her eyes sting, and actually chewed on one thumbnail, something she hadn't done since she was in elementary school. Drake shook her arm.
"Yes you can! I saw all that crap that Kawaduk and Shadow Water and everybody dished out at you. You've even faced off against Ocryx! Does it look like anybody else here would have been brave enough to do that?" He waved at the crowd waiting nearby, all of them still staring at her. "Just hold her off until it's all done. Then I know you can do this, and we'll be back on the ferry in no time."
The ferry. Charmian's eyes filled with tears when she suddenly remembered the boat that had brought them here--the Shepler's ferry, her mother waiting in the parking lot, Miss Anne at her store, her dog and her dad back at home. All of her unfinished school work. Even her social studies teacher with the funny glasses. She'd been here so long, she'd nearly forgotten about them all, and now that she remembered them she missed them all so much that it hurt.
Then she looked back at the waiting manitous and GeeBees and others, and thought of what they must be feeling. Her home wasn't faced with destruction, like theirs was.
This is what I came here for. This is what I promised Tal Natha. I can't back out because I'm afraid. I can't.
She blinked and looked at Drake, and the tears spilled down her face. He squeezed her arm and though he didn't smile, his eyes were the most hopeful things she'd seen in a while now.
"What do you say?" he prompted.
Charmian bit her lip. She turned and looked back toward the tunnel that she assumed would have brought them all here if it hadn't been for X'aaru's rainbow, and Drake let go of her arm.
"I'll be right there with you."
"I'll come," a quavery voice said, and she sensed X'aaru sidling up beside them. A whistle came, and she knew Mani had appeared as well. She tried to swallow but her throat felt blocked. Even with all the times she'd doubted herself and everything on the Island, the Islanders--some of them, at least--never seemed to doubt her.
She finally steeled herself and nodded, taking a breath and letting it out. "I don't know if there's enough room for all of us in there," she said; at this, Manabozho stepped up beside her and snapped his fingers, and the tunnel entrance expanded from a small hole into a gaping cave, the tunnel beyond widening as well. Charmian blinked while he just gave her an aloof look.
"Is that good enough?"
Charmian nodded again. Without a second thought she bolted into the tunnel, not minding the crystals beneath as they cut at her moccasins. She heard the others following her, and tried to take strength from their faith in her. God knew she needed it.
I know they'll help me every way they can. But I'm the only one who can really fight her now.
"Nathalit!" she called out over her shoulder as she went. "Keep it up! I'll try to hold her off as long as I can!"
Be careful, Nathalit thought back at her, and then she and all of the others were out of sight around a bend in the tunnel. Charmian, Drake, X'aaru, Mani, and Manabozho made their way through the twists and turns as quickly as they could.
"Do you even have any idea where we're going?" Charmian asked as they went. "Is Ocryana on the outside by the Crack, or somewhere in between? Aren't we going to need another rainbow or something?"
"This tunnel mirrors the one to the Borderlands," Manabozho called. "It's inaccessible from there, which is why you couldn't use it, but that isn't how Ocryana's trying to reach the Gemfields anyway. She's trying to simply break through from the outside--and from the sound of it, I think she could make it." He pointed ahead of them. "Ahead is where the tunnel diverges. Stop following the main path and go to the side. There should be a room there that will take us to the right place."
He scowled as he ran. "It's been a while!"
"How do you even know all this, anyway?" Charmian frowned over her shoulder at him. "I thought you were just as confused as everybody else by the Gemfields!"
Manabozho bared his teeth at her and his feathers flared. "I have to maintain my air of mystery! I happen to have friends in such locations, not that it's any business of yours!"
Charmian resisted the urge to stop running and smack him in the face as he passed. Within moments, as promised, a side tunnel appeared; she ducked into it and found herself almost immediately in a small rounded cave, just as well lit as the rest of the place. She had to skid to a stop, nearly tripping over her own feet, as a pool lay within the room, filling up almost all of its floor area; the water was emerald green and lit from below with a strange luminescence, and fed by a small trickle from the opposite wall.
Charmian clenched her fist. "Yes!" She waved at X'aaru and Mani. "X. Mani. You guys know what to do." The other two came forward and she stepped aside to allow them room, peering out of the tunnel with an apprehensive look. She found herself chewing on her thumbnail this time and nearly told herself to stop, then decided that there were more important things to worry about. The boom came again, but it was far away now, faint and distant.
"I hope the barrier's a little bit stronger than X'aaru's was," she murmured. "Kawaduk probably could have gotten right through that if we'd given him the chance."
"I don't think it matters too much," Drake replied. "If the barrier's stronger, then she is, too."
"I hate it when you start to make sense."
"Charmian!" X'aaru raised his head, and he and Mani looked toward her. She glanced back to see a misty rainbow hovering over the pool. She'd been worried that it wouldn't work with the lack of direct sunlight, but somehow it had. She eyed it a bit, uncertain.
"Do you think you can make it a little wider?" she asked. X'aaru turned his concentration back toward it and tried again; Charmian looked at Mani. "The others are going to need a way to get back out of there if X'aaru isn't with them. Could you stay here and keep the water misting until then?"
Mani nodded. X'aaru turned toward her and flicked an ear, a silent question. She looked the rainbow over and nodded.
"That's good." She gave Manabozho a suspicious look. "Where will it be taking us? If you know?"
"To the Borderlands," he said, giving her a dirty look in return. "Where do you think?"
"Just making sure." She stepped toward the rainbow and realized that she had to go into the water to get to it; X'aaru looked sheepish but she patted his head to let him know it was all right. She gingerly put one foot in the green water; even though she wore moccasins, she could still feel the temperature, and it was only lukewarm. She waved at Drake, who followed, then Manabozho and lastly X'aaru. She peered back out at Mani before passing through entirely.
"Keep an eye out for anybody, Mani." She wanted to say goodbye, but couldn't quite find the right words. He flicked an ear and she sensed his return thought, sent so only she could hear.
Good luck, Red Land One.
Charmian felt a pain in her throat and turned away before it could grow worse. She slipped through the rainbow and for a brief moment, it was almost as if she were in the strange halfway land that she and X'aaru had hidden in near Arch Rock, seemingly so long ago. This feeling didn't last very long, however, before the swirl of color died away and she nearly fell down in the grass. She blocked her fall with her hands, staining their heels; she pushed herself up and rubbed them unconsciously against her clothing, looking around. She let out her breath to see the Borderlands; at least something had worked as expected.
Manabozho stood several feet away, dusting more glitter from himself. "Told you so," he mumbled. "One should always trust a half-manitou."
"If that's so, then we should have trusted Kawaduk, too," Charmian returned. She nudged Drake and they peered around themselves. "Do you have any idea where that noise was coming from?"
"I'm pretty bad with directions. My mom said I'd get lost in my own clos--"
BOOM! The four of them almost fell over with a collective gasp, the sound was so horrendously loud by now. Charmian instinctively looked up and noticed the odd color to the sky--or rather, to one part of the sky. In the direction looking out over the original tunnel, the otherwise blue vault was marred by a hint of gray. It looked almost like a fold or a ripple...and it was growing.
"That's where she is." Charmian shielded her eyes. "So now what?"
"If you know of a way to get up there and try to seal that, go right ahead," Manabozho said. "Otherwise, I don't think there's anything you can do but wait her out."
"Let her into the Borderlands?" He nodded, and Charmian chewed her lip. She looked at the growing blemish on the sky and swallowed.
"All right...there isn't very much for her to mess up here, anyway, I guess..."
"Charm," Drake said, and when she looked at him he pointed at her hands. "You're shaking."
Charmian clenched her fists and tried to still her tremors. She walked toward the rent in the sky, keeping her eyes trained on it; the closer she got, the louder the noise grew, and she could even hear another sound just beyond it, a fearsome, ugly snarling sound. It sounded almost like a dog locked up in a room in the back of some building--distant, but on the verge of being threatening, should it escape. It grew into an awful screeching sound every time the BOOM came, and Charmian was filled with all kinds of choice worries about what would happen next.
As if sensing her, the thudding noises stopped, and a hollow, distant voice replaced them. Charmian sucked in a breath on hearing it and stumbled backwards.
"I know you're in there, GIRL! You can't keep hiding from me forever!"
Drake and Manabozho grasped Charmian's arms as she nearly fell over. It felt as if all the blood had left her body, and now she couldn't stop shaking. Drake squeezed her arm.
"C'mon, Charm! You're not the only one here. Remember how much you hate her calling you a little girl!"
"That doesn't seem to matter very m-much right now," Charmian stammered. The BOOMing resumed, and she bit her tongue just to try to stop herself from chattering. "How long will it take h-her to get through that?" she asked, turning to Manabozho. He shook his head and shrugged.
"I don't know. It looks as if she already has a good start, though. I think it would be best if you prepared yourself."
"C'mon, Charm," Drake said again. "Remember what you can do with water and fire and things."
"Remember when you fought off Kawaduk! And all those others!" X'aaru added.
"You even scared me a few times," Manabozho said. "What are you worried about? It's nothing you haven't faced before. Only now...well...the fate of the Island depends on you and everyone will die if you fail and such, but it's not like that's any different either..."
"Thanks a lot!" Charmian snapped, pushing him away from her. She clenched her fists again and stared at the sky-tear. Her fingers felt icy cold; would she even be able to control any elements here? She felt like every power had suddenly left her, but Drake leaned toward her ear and whispered:
"If you need anything, I'll be right here backing you up!"
"You don't know anything about elements!" Charmian whispered back. He lifted one shoulder and smiled.
"If it gets real bad I can just hurl chunks of dirt at her or something, right?"
Charmian let out a bark of terrified laughter. "You are so STUPID sometimes!!"
SHRAAAK. She gasped and looked upwards again when a hissing, tearing sound grated against her ears. She felt her ears literally quiver, and saw X'aaru's do the same; she could distinctly hear claws gouging against the fabric overhead, shredding open a hole where before there had been only a fold. Another set of claws emerged from the hole, pulling it open wider; then a muzzle full of sharp teeth, the nose wrinkling and snarling and trying to force its way through. Charmian started shaking again.
"She's coming," she murmured, too afraid to even scream. She could sense the demon's hatred, all of it aimed directly at her. Drake took her hand and squeezed it.
"I know that if anybody can make her hurt, it's you."
Charmian nodded. She steeled herself, feeling him let go of her hand; as the muzzle poked its way further through the tear, she held her hands out slightly at her sides, palms down and fingers straight. X'aaru crouched low to the ground, hackles prickling and tail darting from side to side; she had no idea what Drake and Manabozho planned to do, but at least they were better than nothing. Ocryana's snarls grew louder and her motions more frenzied as she attempted to force her way through the small tear, when--her nose and paws withdrew, and everything fell silent.
Charmian grimaced. The sudden silence rang in her ears, and she hated the confusion that set upon her now. She squinted at the tear, trying to see anything that may lay behind it, unsuccessfully. She glanced over the rest of the sky with no luck.
Where is she? She was so close--there's no WAY she would give up when she's so close!
You're not doing it right! another voice cut in, and she recognized Manabozho. She looked at him and he glared at her in return.
Remember! Your spirit animal! What are you supposed to be doing when you can't see your enemy?
That's right! Charmian sucked in a breath and shut her eyes, blocking out the sky and everything else around her. She called up Apakwaanaajiin and cast out a sensory net, scouring every inch of the Borderlands. Ocryana was not there. She hadn't broken through yet.
Charmian furrowed her brow and concentrated. Where are you? I KNOW you're here somewhere! You can't think I'm THAT stupid!
You're right, little girl.
Charmian gasped and her eyes shot open. "SHE'S COMING THROUGH--!" she managed to get out, when the small tear suddenly shredded open with a hideous screech, the blue sky separating into light and dark.
The other three jumped back instinctively, but Charmian was frozen in place as Ocryana lunged through, her claws spread and teeth snarling. Without even a pause she flew straight down at Charmian, who only stared back up at her with wide eyes, feet rooted to the ground. Unable to think of anything else to do, she flung her arms upward and shut her eyes, praying for anything but what was obviously going to happen if she didn't move fast.