Manitou Island: Part 108
Fight To The Finish
CHARMIAN SCRABBLED TO her feet and flung her hand out at the water, causing a gush to go flying into the air. "X!" she screamed, and the demon flapped forward, landing clumsily on the shore. He focused his attention on the cascading water and Charmian glanced back at Manabozho, panic in her eyes.
"Where is she?"
"She's not there yet," Manabozho said. "She has to travel through the rainbow first. You might be able to catch her, but you have to hurry!"
"I have it!" X'aaru exclaimed, jumping back. Charmian looked at the wavery rainbow, and for once didn't have the time to ask him to do any better.
"What do I have to do?"
"Just as Gitchi Manitou did. That's the only thing that can both stop her and save the Island at once. You CANNOT kill her! Even if you were able!" Manabozho gestured at the rainbow. "You have to entrap her in the Island. I'll be with you; the words will come to you. Go!"
Charmian wasted no more time. She jumped forward and would have landed straight in the middle of the stream, if the rainbow had not caught her first. She felt its buoyancy lift her up, and shut her eyes against the dizzying swirl of colors, trusting her other senses instead. A rushing, whirring sound came from ahead of her, and now she could sense an overwhelming hostility, confusion and rage. She focused on it like a moth focusing on a light and surged forward.
From far ahead, a voice that wasn't a voice bellowed. Where--ARE--THEY?
That's her! Charmian followed the voice and confusion. Manabozho had been right; Ocryana was still in here. If she had been any one of the others, she would have made her way through to the Gemfields by now; Charmian guessed she wasn't used to traveling in such a manner, and thus had no idea which way to go or how to get there. It didn't take too long for her to catch up with the demon. The rainbow must have been manifesting Ocryana's own confusion, for she couldn't make anything out clearly, aside from her own body; everything was swirling and vague, the colors blending into mud. Ahead, however, was one darker spot, something in the midst of it sparking violent, angry purple and red. Charmian recognized this as a spirit stone and let its energy draw her forward before clenching her fists and forcing herself to slow down.
"OCRYANA!" she shouted, though in here now, her voice didn't work at all.
The muddled shape whirled around and she could make out the glint of Ocryana's eyes. They flamed and narrowed and the shape contorted in such a way that Charmian knew she was angry to see her.
She must not have had anything else she wished to say, as she came at Charmian, one tendril of shadow forming and lashing out at her. Charmian managed to dodge it and was surprised to discover that her own body seemed to be made of the same substance. It took her a moment or two more to figure out what exactly they were.
The fifth element--one that, even with all of the subelements she'd learned to control, she had somehow forgotten or overlooked. Upon the entire Island she'd never met an ether elemental, and so supposed that they must not exist. Now that she finally recognized it within the rainbow, she knew what it really was--not an earthly element like fire, or water, or earth, or wind, but a dream element.
I can control my dreams! she thought, her courage growing.
SMASH. Just as soon as she thought this, something solid slammed into her face and she could have sworn a tooth was knocked loose. She landed on her elbows--elbows?--and put a hand to her swollen jaw. The swirling shadows before her broke apart and re-formed and solidified, and a moment later Ocryana was standing over her, her face gloating. Charmian's courage sank again.
SHE can control dreams, too!
Thank you for reminding me, fool, Ocryana said, and with a whirl her tail lashed against Charmian's leg, laying open the skin. Charmian screamed and drew her leg up, pressing her hands against the wound; Ocryana laughed.
You have a very poor memory for a human! To forget that I also have power here? Where has your head been all this time?
You're not gonna have power here much longer, Charmian gasped, grinding her teeth and pushing herself up. She clenched her fists and Ocryana smiled indulgently.
Oh, that's right. The mainlander seems to think that SHE is the one with the power now. I don't know what that was you were pulling back there, but now I am in control. Do you see any of your friends here to help you? She gestured around them, and Charmian knew she was right. Still she stood her ground.
You think I got my power from them? she challenged, stalling for time. Every moment they stood speaking, she could feel...something...growing stronger. And it wasn't Ocryana. The longer she could delay the demon, the more dreams could be freed by Nathalit. I don't NEED to take my power from other people, like you!
And I hardly needed to TAKE it! Ocryana laughed. You still believe that? Even YOU gave up your dreams to me!
I made a mistake! Charmian snapped back. Everyone did. But only that once! Then you TOOK them!
Only because you left that door open for me, Ocryana replied, and launched herself up into the air. Charmian gasped and braced herself--but the demon didn't attack. Instead she spun around and flew off in the opposite direction. Charmian blinked in surprise before recovering herself and speeding after her.
HEY! she yelled. ARE YOU RUNNING AWAY FROM A LITTLE GIRL? THE ISLANDERS WILL GET A GOOD LAUGH OUT OF THAT!
Don't fool yourself! Ocryana called back over her shoulder, not slowing her flight. You think I do not know what you're doing? If you're so insistent on a fight, then you'll have to wait until AFTER I see what's on the other side of this!
Charmian gritted her teeth. ETHER! she commanded, and instantly her body melted, merging with the mist around them. Her speed increased tenfold and she found herself hurtling toward Ocryana's back so fast that she couldn't stop; instead, she went straight through the demon, coming out of her chest on the other side. Both she and Ocryana halted at the same time, Charmian solidifying and falling to the ground in a roll, Ocryana grabbing at her breast with a stunned look.
What did you just do?! she screamed, enraged.
Charmian didn't reply. She got to her feet, panting to catch her breath, and hurled herself at Ocryana again. This time her shoulder connected with Ocryana's stomach and they tumbled over each other. Ocryana shrieked in fury and clawed Charmian's shoulder, but by now she barely even felt it. When the demon jumped to her feet and started rushing forward, Charmian grabbed onto her ankle and held on tight, slowing her down. Ocryana tried to kick her off with little success. Charmian's grip was like an iron bracelet.
Ocryana's bellow was high pitched, shattering and panicked. HOW ARE YOU DOING THIS?!
Charmian still didn't answer. Instead she sank her teeth into Ocryana's foot until she tasted blood; it made her want to gag, but she held on as long as she could, until the demon finally summoned enough strength to toss her aside. Charmian broke her fall by rolling and came up onto her hands and feet. Ocryana wouldn't stop screaming, she was so bewildered.
WHAT IS ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THIS? she demanded.
Charmian clenched her fists. Stay and fight a while and maybe I'll tell you!
WHAT IS IT? WHAT IS IT!! Ocryana threw back her head and roared, then forced herself to regain a few of her senses. She lowered her head and her eyes narrowed in an ugly glare. Is it what I think it is? It is! It's power! That's where you're getting it from! Power beyond my wildest imagining! Power that I will take!!
You can't TAKE it this time! Charmian shot back. Ocryana just grinned, as if vindicated.
So you admit it? It is power back there? I don't know how you're doing this, but soon it will be MINE instead!
And what GOOD is power if you're just going to destroy everything anyway? Charmian asked the question, not really caring for an answer, but hoping it would distract her just a little bit longer. It worked in the movies; bad guys always wanted to blather about their plots before blowing everything up, didn't they?
Ocryana's grin grew nasty. You want me to waste time telling you? If it puts your tiny mind at ease, this was NEVER about power! This was about REVENGE!
She spun around, hurtled forward again. Charmian sped after her. The murky muddy haze grew thinner ahead, and she could tell she didn't have much further to go before they came out into the Gemfields. Even though she'd long known what Ocryana had just realized--her power was growing, while Ocryana's was waning--that fact didn't matter much if Ocryana made it through to the other side. The Gemfields were where all dreams were born; once there, she could easily take control of the massive power lying dormant in that land.
I WON'T LET HER!
Charmian called up the growing energy inside her and it felt as if the rainbow's end was rushing at her, rather than the other way around. Ocryana had just enough time to glance back in surprise. Charmian grabbed onto her wings as she went, and they would have crashed out the other side if she hadn't spun around at the last minute. Ocryana screeched when Charmian dragged her along; but this only served to delay her a little more, as she ripped herself free, feathers falling every which way. Charmian slowed and turned and was rewarded with a hand across the face. Her skull felt like it rattled.
DAMN IT!! Ocryana was livid. LET ME THROUGH, YOU LITTLE PEST!!
You're REALLY stupid if you think I will! Charmian shot back. She was crying by now, the pain she'd been dealt almost too much to take, but wiped the tears away as if they were mere dust on her face. She held out one damp hand and this time saw the fear spread across Ocryana's face before she yelled, WATER!
Water shot out of her hand in a spray, smacking Ocryana as strong as a stream from a fireman's hose. She tumbled through the air and landed on one wing, the bone snapping just as Justin's had; Ocryana wailed and gripped the limp appendage in her hand, her own eyes streaming. She bared her teeth and gave Charmian an awful look.
How are you doing this? She no longer bellowed, but her voice came out in a panicky shriek. Charmian couldn't think of an answer; she had no idea how she was able to conjure up water where there had been none before. Moon Wolf and Manabozho had never taught her anything like that. Still, if it was working, she didn't see any need to question it.
Ocryana struggled painfully to her feet. You do not have this power! You CANNOT have this power! You are just a fleshling, a MAINLANDER!
You don't get it! Charmian snapped. It doesn't matter HOW much power you have if you don't know how to use it right! And you've been using it all WRONG! Darkness is more insidious than light, but light is more POWERFUL!
Ocryana snarled. YOU ARE WRONG! Charmian quailed as she saw the rage returning to take fear's place. The demon stood and her fur and wings--the broken one now healed--puffed out, making her look larger than she really was; Charmian felt a sucking feeling, then noticed that the swirls of muddy gray seemed to be drawing inward, toward her. She was summoning up what power she had left for one massive blow.
NUTS! This was thought, not said; but Charmian felt Ocryana got the message anyway. The demon threw back her head as all the power surged into her, a glow that was both black and yet blinding surrounding her. Charmian crossed her arms and braced herself since it was too late to stop it. Still, the blow was so massive that it caught her unprepared--Ocryana let out an ear-shattering scream, and it felt as if a wall of fire slammed into Charmian, knocking her off her feet and sending her whirling through the air. Her skin and hair and clothes were burning; she screamed in pain as she tumbled, landing hard, and curled in on herself, shaking and whimpering. Even her bones hurt. She was afraid to move lest something break or fall off, it felt so bad.
Charmian! Get up!
The voice echoed dully in the back of her mind, and she groaned and struggled to let it in and shut it out, both at once. She felt herself slipping in and out of blackness, and fought to keep her head clear.
CHARMIAN! GET UP!
Charmian gritted her teeth when the voice echoed in her head. "Mana...bozho...?" she whispered, her voice somehow working now. She felt a mental shake, and the fog began to clear from her head.
Get up! the voice snapped. You can still move, stupid!
"Everything hurts," Charmian moaned. "I think she burned me."
It's all in your head! Remember? You're in the dream realm now! Look at yourself and see!
Charmian opened her eyes, dreading what her body would look like; it felt like the skin had been burned to scraps that would fall from her limbs at any minute. She blinked back surprise to see that she hadn't even been singed. Her wounds from before still remained, of course, and her clothing was mussed and torn from the fight...but there wasn't a burn to be found on her.
It was an illusion, Manabozho said. Ocryana doesn't have the power of fire. And even if she used scalding water on you, she doesn't have THAT power now, either! You're STRONGER than she is!
"If that's so, then how come she's beating the shit out of me?" Charmian barked, struggling to roll over and climb to her feet.
Because you're GIVING her that power. Remember! The only power she has is that that she takes! You heard the fear in her voice. She has to use illusions now to fool you. Get up and stop her! She's going through to the Gemfields!
Something sparked in Charmian's head, clearing it instantly. She bared her teeth and got up into a runner's stance. Not if I can help it! And instantly she was off, following the demon's trail; Ocryana no longer even tried to disguise her presence, she was so desperate to break through to the other side. Charmian had delayed that, just a bit--but now every second mattered.
Despite her temporary advantage, Ocryana wasn't that far ahead. Charmian caught up to her as she battered herself against the edge of the rainbow. She couldn't believe she hadn't made it through yet, and supposed that X'aaru must be using everything he had to keep her contained. Still, the side of the rainbow wavered and rippled as Ocryana struck it with her shoulder, bloodying her head when she tried gashing at it with her horns. She screamed and bellowed and wailed like a monster gone mad, raking it with her claws and whipping it with her tail.
WHY WON'T IT LET ME THROUGH!!
Ocryana! Charmian shouted; the demon didn't even bother to pay attention to her anymore. She rushed forward and grabbed the tail as it swung through the air, halting its progress. I thought you were gonna fight ME? Or are you really as big a chicken as they say?
The sound Ocryana let out in response was indescribable. Charmian took hope from it, despite how fearsome it sounded; the demon was losing her mind, and that could only work to her advantage. She briefly thought of how enraged she must have been on discovering her first imprisonment--then swallowed when she remembered that was what she was going to have to do, yet again.
If the first bond didn't hold, then how am I supposed to make it work--?
AS IF YOU COULD EVER DEFEAT ME!! Charmian got out a gasp and flung up her arm; Ocryana's teeth sank into her shoulder when they would have sunk into her head just a moment before. Charmian wailed, feeling the fangs puncture her skin, a flood of warmth cascading down her arm. With her free hand she grabbed Ocryana by the nose, trying to pry herself free; but the demon's jaws locked and she tossed Charmian from side to side, just like the one time her dog had caught a squirrel and had flung it through the air like a limp toy. Right now, she knew exactly how that squirrel had felt.
For a moment or so, as Ocryana swung her through the air, her teeth tearing even deeper into Charmian's skin, she waited for something to happen--for Manabozho to come to her rescue, for X'aaru to zap Ocryana with another rainbow, for Drake to do--anything, for something to save her from this. Nothing did happen, except that Ocryana continued to fling her around, snarling like a rabid dog. Manabozho didn't even send her any helpful or encouraging thoughts; and it was only through a haze of blood and tears and agony that she realized she had to get herself out of this on her own.
No one's going to help me! She's going to kill me!
Tal Natha. Justin. Francois. Pakwa. Silver Eagle Feather. Stick-In-The-Dirt. Little Dove. Red Bird. Red Bird!
The names rattled off through her head one after the other, unbidden, until she came to Red Bird's; then she focused on that and remembered the entire reason she had come here in the first place. She promised she would help; she promised.
It doesn't matter how much it hurts. If I don't try, they all die. If I die, then maybe I slow her down!
Would you be willing to give your life for the Island?
The question, or one much similar to it, had been put to her before, and she already knew the answer. She'd hoped she could make it through this, to at least see the others one more time before heading home on the ferry--but right now it looked like that wasn't going to happen. She still had one last chance to stall Ocryana from reaching the Gemfields, though--and then maybe somebody else could pick up where she left off--
With this new thought in mind, she cut off her yell, gritted her teeth, and sank her thumb into Ocryana's nostril, her fingers digging into her gums. Though by now the muscles and tendons must surely be damaged, if not yet completely severed, she managed to raise her other hand and did the same on the other side of the demon's muzzle, grasping her jaws. Ocryana's eyes teared up from the pain but she refused to let go, a hideous growl ringing in Charmian's ears. She found herself staring directly into the demon's eyes, just inches away, and they glared at each other furiously as Ocryana struggled to maintain her deathgrip, Charmian struggling to break free of it. They stopped talking, stopped thinking, and froze in place, their muscles straining in one final effort to win.
Then--unbelievably--Ocryana's jaws began to pry apart.
Ocryana's eyes widened in panic. Charmian continued glaring at her, her arms shaking as she slowly forced the jaws open. Her breath came fast and hard--and she knew even without looking, as looking might make her lose her nerve, that the muscles of her shoulder must be flayed by now--but somehow, rather than growing weaker from the loss of blood, she felt herself growing stronger. A strangled sound rose in her throat, a sound of strained effort, as Ocryana's teeth started sliding up out of her flesh. Ocryana was obviously bewildered, and fought to maintain her grip--but Charmian was winning.
Painfully slowly, the jaws were forced wider and wider apart--until Charmian felt her shoulder pull loose, and could hold Ocryana out before her, the demon's fangs sinking into her hands as she pushed, but she couldn't even feel the pain. Ocryana started straining to toss her loose--when Charmian let go on her own, making her fall back abruptly. Something that felt like a rush of both fire and water coursed up through her arms, and with a scream her hands flew out in front of her, fingers spread, and all the energy that had gathered inside her flew outwards in a blinding blast.
Ocryana got out one short yelp before the blast struck her, enveloping her in a blaze of white.
Charmian stayed standing--indeed, she couldn't have broken the attack had she tried--until the blast died down, then collapsed immediately to her knees, her lungs heaving for breath. Now the pain finally came back to her, and she grimaced and bent over double, pressing her shaking hand to her shoulder. It came back coated red and she knew the damage was serious.
Justin's not here...
She winced at the shout, pressing her hand to her forehead and getting blood in her hair. She dragged her eyes open and fought to focus on the voice, to tell what was going on.
Are you all right?
My shoulder...she bit me. I think I'm gonna faint...
You can't faint just yet. You HAVE to get Ocryana!
But...but I did that already. Charmian's head felt like its insides were swirling around, and she swayed from side to side.
You wounded her, Manabozho corrected. Her power is very low. But she's NOT down yet.
She's...she's not? Charmian couldn't believe it. Not after that attack! But--I gave her everything I had! That was all I had left!
Then you'd better find something else, because she's heading into the Gemfields!
Charmian sat upright with a jolt.
She could barely sense Ocryana anymore, as her power was so low; but she knew which direction she would have gone in. Her vision blurred, then cleared; she staggered to her feet and winced, calling up ether to float her through the air. Even with that it didn't feel like she was floating nearly fast enough, and she tried to propel herself along.
A screeching noise, and a blinding light, suddenly startled her, making her lose her concentration and sink closer to the ground...or whatever there was of it. She lifted her head and could see Ocryana now, again at the end of the rainbow; she had one hand up against the surface, her claws raking at it and her teeth bared. Charmian couldn't believe what she saw next. Ocryana's claws, at first sliding down the rainbow wall, began to sink through it, and it was that that caused the noise and the light, like somebody running their fingers along a blackboard. A very big, very strange blackboard. Only now instead of clawing it, she was going through it!
Panic surged up in Charmian's chest. She CAN'T!
But as she watched, Ocryana's hand broke through the barrier, and the demon let out a hysterical laugh.
See what good this trifling thing is? she yelled. All I needed to do was work at it hard enough and it melts like ice at my touch! Remember a rainbow is nothing more than light and WATER! If you had not distracted me so much before, I would have realized that sooner! She laughed again and her arm went through up to the elbow. Charmian's panic was replaced with rage.
Not if I have anything to do with it!
She shot forward, hand reaching out before her as she called upon the power again--whatever power that had been. She knew it must have come from the Gemfields--Nathalit must be nearing completion of her duties, and the Islanders were sending their dream power through to her as Ocryana's dream power weakened. So she didn't have much fear as her hands grasped onto Ocryana's tail, the demon still intent on breaking through the wall, until--
It felt as if something inside her snapped, and sputtered--
--and she gasped in bewilderment as every single ounce of power that she had just felt, coursing stronger and brighter through her body, vanished, draining out of her and leaving her with nothing more than a bloody wound to her shoulder and her hands wrapped around Ocryana's tail.
Charmian blinked in disbelief at the sudden empty feeling.
Wh--what--? What's going on? What happened to all my power!
Ocryana's head fell back and she howled with laughter. They abandon even YOU when you need them most! Stupid girl! Now you know how it feels! I hope you enjoyed that while it lasted, because I'LL be taking it back now!
With this, she plunged her other hand into the wall, the rainbow still straining to hold her back, but wavering beneath her assault. Charmian refused to let go of her tail, but the confusion that filled her also weakened her resolve. She'd had that power--Nathalit had even said it would be given to her so she could hold Ocryana back! She was so close! The Islanders knew they needed her help--why would they take all of that back, right at the last minute--?
Do they not need me after all--? Why would they do that to me! Do they not trust me anymore?--
Ocryana shrieked and plunged her foot through the barrier. Though the betrayal Charmian felt was devastating, she still didn't let go; even if the Islanders decided they didn't need or trust her anymore, she'd still made a promise. So she gritted her teeth and dug her fingers into the demon's snake tail, pulling as hard as she could; but since her power was all but gone now, it had little effect. She felt herself slipping, and shut her eyes tight, hoping she'd made at least a little bit of a difference.
This was the only thought she had in mind when Ocryana finally burst through the rainbow barrier, dragging Charmian along with her out the other side.