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Manitou Island: Part 109
PART ONE HUNDRED AND NINE:
Save The Island!
CHARMIAN SHUT HER eyes against the swirl of color that washed around her, her fingers digging into Ocryana's tail. The demon burst through the rainbow barrier leading into the Gemfields, and it sounded as if a million glasses shattered at the same time. Charmian felt wind rush up at her as they descended, then heard the thud of Ocryana's feet hitting the ground--then felt the impact of her own body crashing to earth, her elbows catching herself from smacking her face. Her teeth clattered against each other, else she would have been gritting them in pain. Then sudden silence surrounded her, and she had to struggle to push herself up, still holding onto the tail, opening her eyes and blinking foggily a few times before understanding what she was seeing.
Ocryana stood still in front of her, her head turning from left to right. Charmian let go of her as it was no use trying to stop her from breaking through anymore, and dragged herself along the ground until she could see the demon's face. Ocryana was obviously confused. Looking up and in the direction she was looking in, Charmian could see why.
Everyone who had been left behind in the Gemfields was lined up several yards away, staring back at them. The assembled GeeBees, Windwalkers, manitous, and other creatures made an odd sight gathered together like that, and their eyes were all focused on Ocryana.
"What is this place?" Ocryana looked around herself, at the endless fields of crystal stretching away under the sun. Her voice came out soft and bewildered. She looked back at the others who still stared silently, and a note of irritation entered her voice. "What are they all doing here?"
Her eyes widened now, when something rose up--or perhaps it had been there all along?--from behind them, shimmering and taking on form. Those who were in the way moved aside as Nathalit emerged, and Charmian's heart started thumping harder. Nathalit's black eyes seemed to bore straight through Ocryana, whose hackles rose.
"Who are you?" she demanded.
Nathalit said nothing. Instead, she tilted her head forward slightly, then seemed to retreat, fading backwards. It was only at the last minute that Charmian noticed who now stepped forward in her place, emerging straight from Nathalit as if the creature had been but an illusion. Red Bird appeared, her face set--Charmian had never seen her look so determined before--and in her hands she held a strange glowing light.
Ocryana gawked at her. "The girl--?" she sputtered in confusion, when Red Bird raised her arms into the air, both the light--and her eyes--flashing as she did so.
"Medicine of ether," she called out, as if reciting something. "Medicine of dreams. Power of purity. Power of light. The dreams of the people. The dreams of the spirit. The dream of the Island." With each word the glowing ball seemed to grow even brighter, if that was even possible; Charmian stared in astonishment as tendrils of light shot out, winding around Red Bird's fingers as she spoke. Red Bird's eyes glittered and narrowed, and Charmian was almost afraid to look at her as her voice rose with every sentence. "The dreams have come home. The dreams have returned. The dreams will bring power."
Ocryana had just enough time to cry out, "What--?"
"The dreams have come home," Red Bird shouted again, as if Ocryana hadn't heard. "The dreams have returned! The dreams will bring power!" Her arms came down and stretched out in front of her, the glowing ball flailing like something alive. Red Bird's eyes flashed again and she bared her teeth. "MEDICINE OF LIGHT!"
The ball exploded, and what remained shot forward, out of Red Bird's hands, in a million tiny pieces. Ocryana gaped at the oncoming attack before thinking to throw her arms up before herself, but it was too late. The light fragments hit her all at once, and it was as if an electric shock passed through her body; she shrieked and bucked, her spine arching as the light zigzagged and crackled all around her. Charmian lay on the ground and watched dumbly as the light grew brighter, Ocryana's cry growing weaker; at last the glow coursed upwards from her feet and out of the top of her head, emerging again in ball form several feet above her. Ocryana crumpled and fell to the ground with a crash, every limb going limp and a little puff of breath escaping her.
The glowing ball, even larger than it had been before, hovered overhead. Charmian stared at it in awe.
"Charmian!" She turned to see Red Bird looking at her. She pointed up at the ball.
"It's the dream power. Everything she's stolen from us. You can use it now!"
Charmian had to tear her gaze away from Red Bird to look back up at the ball again. It hovered in the air over Ocryana's limp form, pulsing almost like a heartbeat. With a wince of pain she started to work her way up to her feet, stepping carefully toward it, reaching out one tentative hand. She was afraid it would zap her as it had Ocryana...but instead, when she touched it it felt like feathers. She gasped when it flared and worked its way up her arm as it had Red Bird's; she felt it course down into her chest, and up her other arm, and into her legs. Despite her wounds she felt renewed somehow, and recognized the feeling as the same one she'd felt in the rainbow. She looked down at her glowing hands.
"I'm sorry," Red Bird said, and Charmian looked at her again. She seemed sincerely remorseful. "I'm sorry that we took it away from you. But we sensed Ocryana breaking through, and we didn't know if you could hold her back. So we took it away before she could get through. It is yours now."
The power that I lost. That was what happened! Charmian glanced once more at her hands, at the tiny tendrils of light dancing over her fingertips. Of course she'd been foolish to think the Islanders would betray her like that...they just hadn't known if she would succeed. She hadn't known for sure, either. It had certainly felt like the end, a few moments ago.
She lifted her head and beamed at Red Bird. Red Bird smiled back, then her face froze. Charmian opened her mouth to ask what was wrong when she felt a shock to the back of her head, and let out a pained sound as she fell to the ground. She grasped at her head and the power wavered; then she was being pulled up into the air and spun around, and gasped to see Ocryana's ugly glare. The demon held her up by the neck of her top, her claws digging into the doeskin and her muzzle wrinkling.
"I may not have that power anymore," she snarled, "but I can still bite your head off your neck!" Instead of doing this, however, she pressed her free hand to Charmian's chest, and Charmian yelled when she felt the all-too-familiar sensation of her spirit being sucked out. She flailed and dug her fingers into Ocryana's arm, but with her spirit weakening, the dream power was useless.
From the corner of her eye, she saw the stunned look on Red Bird's face melt into fury. There was a flash of light, and a moment later a long serpentine tail whipped across Ocryana's face, making her lose her grip on Charmian. Charmian fell to the ground again and would have started crying if she were able. Everything hurt now!
Instead, she slowly pushed herself up, biting down a whimper as Ocryana yelped and screeched, Red Bird lashing at her left and right with her tail. The white Ocryx attacked her so furiously that Ocryana had barely any chance to strike back, having enough trouble simply defending herself. After a few moments of this, however, she regained her senses and bellowed, swinging at Red Bird and missing. Red Bird wisely backed away, but the two of them continued snarling and lashing out at each other. Ocryana managed to rake Red Bird's arm open, and the smaller demon hissed in pain, drawing back.
Another growl arose--Charmian glanced at the row of waiting elementals. She'd completely forgotten about who else was here--and her mouth fell open as a black shape soared overhead, Tal Natha roaring and crashing into Ocryana so abruptly that she flew through the air, landing head over heels. It didn't take her too long to get back on her feet, however, facing off against both Red Bird and Tal Natha now, her snarl even more enraged than before. The three demons commenced fighting and Charmian struggled to stand up.
Something pushed itself under her right elbow, and kept her from falling over. She gasped and whirled to see what it was when the action was repeated with her other arm. She found herself supported between Dakh and Sikt, the twins' furry necks propping her upright. She dug her fingers into their fur.
Your dream power wavers because of your weakness, Sikt said. You are not strong enough to bear it on your own, as Mother is.
We cannot heal you, Dakh added. Such a thing is beyond our abilities. But you are in the dream realm and we can lend you strength.
"Strength?" Charmian echoed stupidly, then sucked in a breath as she felt all of the pain evaporate from her body, including that still stinging in her chest from Ocryana's foiled attack. She found she could stand on her own now, and held up her hands, staring at the bloody wound still marring her shoulder as if it had been inflicted on somebody else, not her. She gingerly touched it, and could feel her own touch, but it didn't even hurt anymore.
These wounds are physical, Dakh said. We may only heal the wounds she has caused you using the power of dreams. But here you will feel no pain. Your spirit is strong now. You will have no distractions, no matter what she deals you.
Charmian stopped staring at her shoulder and lifted her head. Her mind felt clear now, clearer than it had been in some time, its haze of pain gone. "What do I do?" she asked.
CHARMIAN! a voice suddenly shouted in her head, and she gasped and clutched at it again in surprise, nearly falling over.
"What was that--?!"
I'm sorry I startled you, Manabozho said. But you have to go after her NOW! Before she can go after any of the OTHER dreams!
"Other dreams--?" Charmian glanced at the crystals glittering in the Gemfields now, and understood. Just because she had the dreams of all the Islanders under her own control didn't mean this was anywhere near over. She lifted her head as if to look at Manabozho, though he wasn't there.
"What do I do?"
You have to trap her. But you have to get close to her first. Use everything you have! I'll give you the words you need!
"Right." Charmian nodded and made a dash toward the three demons who still fought each other. She was grateful that for the most part they were fighting in the air, as it was all too easy to get hit by one of those tails. Tal Natha seemed to see her first, and backed away slightly. Red Bird was another story; Charmian had never seen her fight so fiercely, not even for Tal Natha. She actually blinked on watching her.
Is she really doing all that fighting just for me?
Tal Natha noticed her pause, and flew forward again. He nipped at Red Bird's wing, drawing her attention; she glanced back at him just long enough to not give Ocryana the chance to attack. The two must have shared a thought, for they backed away from Ocryana immediately, flying over Charmian's head. Ocryana roared and came down after them. Charmian felt the wind from their wings as they passed, and Tal Natha's eyes met hers, just briefly.
She is yours now!
Tal Natha and Red Bird flew out of her sight. Ocryana approached, intent on following them, but spotted Charmian standing below, seemingly a perfect target. Charmian even raised her hands as if to let Ocryana grab onto them, and the demon's eyes flared, her teeth gleaming. Her claws crooked as she descended in a rush of wind.
Charmian spread her fingers and braced her feet against the ground.
A glowing blast erupted from Charmian's hands, and a gust of air slammed down into Ocryana, knocking her from the sky. She landed just yards away from Charmian in a muddled heap. She sputtered and lifted her head, shaking it in confusion. Charmian lowered her hands, then brought them up into a sharp arc.
GUSSHH! A wall of water, a mirror replica of the wind wall, slammed upwards this time, catching Ocryana under the chin. She could barely even yelp as it dragged her skyward, her wings flapping every which way.
Now Charmian waved from the left and the right. "FIRE! EARTH!"
A wall of fire shot from the right, and a wall of earth shot up and from the left. Ocryana saw them just before they hit and screamed, bringing her arms up to shield her head. The fire surrounded her, sapping all her strength; the earth pummeled her, sending her crashing back to the ground. This time she landed but a few feet or so away from Charmian, and lifted her head with a ragged snarl, tears streaming from her eyes.
"You do not have this power!" she shrieked. "You are just a MAINLANDER! A PIDDLING MAINLANDER!!"
Charmian held out her arms. "There's something you're forgetting, Ocryana."
The demon screamed in rage. "WHAT?"
Charmian tilted her head forward so her eyes locked on Ocryana's. She could see the fear and fury there, and lowered her voice just so the demon could hear.
"This mainlander can defeat you now."
Ocryana's eyes widened. At that moment Charmian flung her arms upward into the air and yelled as loudly as she could.
Streams of mist shot up from the gems scattered over the fields. These joined with the light that shot from Charmian's hands, forming bright glowing bands that coiled and sped forward like snakes on the attack, wrapping themselves around Ocryana's wrists, ankles, and neck. She screamed and flailed but they only grew tighter the more she struggled; her wings flapped desperately, propelling her a few feet into the air, but just as quickly the tendrils dragged her back down to earth. Charmian stood in her place and she and everyone else watched as Ocryana was pulled to the ground, not even able to raise her wings against the bands of light that enveloped her. For a brief moment, Charmian's and Ocryana's eyes met, and Charmian felt a twinge of sorrow in her heart.
Can loneliness drive one mad?
And then her jaw set, and she raised her arms once more, a voice filling her head and coming out as her own.
"Power of wind. Power of water. Power of earth. Power of fire. Power of ether. Power of dreams. Power of the Island." She brought her hands close together, the beams of light brightening and tightening around Ocryana's limbs as the demon continued flailing and shrieking. "Power of all! Powers together! Powers imprison!" The light that still glowed from Charmian's hands flared and burst outward toward Ocryana. "POWERS COMBINE!"
Ocryana's scream shattered the air. The bands whipped and whirled around her in a tightening coil and a pit formed in the earth, the cords pulling her down. She still had just enough strength to fight against them, but by now it was futile. Charmian stood and watched as the demon was dragged into the ground, the bands of light piling atop her, muffling her scream. A cloud of dust rose up in a whirlwind around the pit; a mist of water whipped around through it, and the funnel rose and contracted, the damp earth drawing in on itself to form a huge mass which hovered over the hole. A burst of fire enveloped it, hardening the earth into rock; then a cold wind swirled around it, cooling it off. Then, with a horrible whooshing, sucking sound, the bands of light vanished down into the earth and the giant rock fell with a tremendous BOOM. A puff of steam and dust rose from beneath it, but the hole was sealed, and the scream cut off, everything dying into silence.
Charmian stood with her hands held out in front of her, the breath catching in her throat. She stared at the giant rock before her, unable to understand at first what she was seeing. It took a moment for her to notice that she was shaking.
"I did it," she whispered; then, as if this fact had just gotten through, she said again, louder, "I did it...I actually did it!"
She dropped her arms from their stiff posture and whirled around toward the others, who still stood in groups behind her. She clenched her fists and raised them, a huge grin spreading across her face. "I REALLY DID IT!" she yelled, and started laughing maniacally. Red Bird--now back in her human form--ran forward, and it was only when she threw her arms around Charmian that she finally realized this was real. It was over. Ocryana was gone.
"You did it!" Red Bird cried, and the two of them laughed and hugged each other. After a brief pause the rest of the Islanders began crowding around them, cheering and hooting and babbling. Everyone seemed intent on reaching out and touching her arm or her shoulder, as if trying to reassure themselves that it was real, also. Charmian didn't mind. Red Bird let go of her, and someone else hugged her; she didn't care who or what it was, but hugged them back. This repeated itself over and over, seemingly without end.
She was so preoccupied with this that it took a few moments for her to notice the crowd thinning as someone came forward. She was finally let go of, and lifted her head to see Nathalit approaching. Everyone's chattering died down, and Charmian hurried to rub the tears away from her eyes. Nathalit's face was neutral at first, but then she tilted her head, and Charmian could have sworn that her eyes smiled.
She is imprisoned, she said quietly. I thank you.
"So...that's it?" Charmian glanced back at the rock. "That's all I had to do? She won't get out?"
No. Nathalit looked at the boulder as well. I will cover the stone with signs, to keep her bound and to keep others away. Upon the Island, she was too easily freed; but in the Gemfields, she will be safe from those who would free her.
Charmian stared at the rock, and only now did her dim reservations about imprisoning another come back to her. She bit her lip. "She...she isn't in any pain, is she?" she asked softly, not sure she wanted to know.
No. She merely sleeps. Nathalit gestured at the rock, and glowing symbols began to appear upon it, etching themselves into the surface and fading, leaving only faint carvings. She will not know pain or anger while she remains here...you need not worry. I thank you for helping us, Mainlander.
A murmur of assent rose from the others. Charmian smiled awkwardly and brushed at her eyes again. She nearly gasped when Tal Natha appeared from the crowd, touching his muzzle to her cheek. She hugged him around the neck; when she let go his eyes met hers, and she couldn't remember them ever looking so proud. A lump of pain rose in her throat.
I thank you, Charmian, he said. For everything you have done. And his voice lowered a bit, so she could tell he spoke so only she could hear. I knew that I did not choose you wrongly. And I am grateful you proved me right.
Charmian beamed. She wiped the gathering tears away from her eyes, though by now they didn't bother her so much anymore. It felt like her spirit stone would burst from how happy and relieved she felt.
She gasped. "Oh no!" Tal Natha blinked and she reached into her pouch, digging around; she drew out a tiny splinter of crystal and stared at it, then looked up at him with a guilty smile. "Um...I just remembered. I have to return this to somebody before he gets REALLY mad!"
Red Bird pressed her way back to Charmian's side. "A spirit stone?" she asked, sounding puzzled.
Charmian grimaced. "It's kind of a long story...but I think he's held up his end of the bargain." She tucked it away again and looked around her. "Um...if I'm done here...is it okay if I go back to the surface?" She felt the lump in her throat again and had to swallow to continue talking. "There's a few things I want to do, if I'm supposed to go home now."
Red Bird's eyes welled up when she said this. Nathalit glowed a bit brighter, drawing her attention, and the rest of the Islanders moved aside again.
Your duty is fulfilled. You are free to return to your own home...with our immense gratitude. We will always be indebted to you, Charmian. Thank you.
Charmian nodded and the motion made the tears spill down her cheeks. "You're welcome. Thank you for calling me here...this wasn't a duty. I was glad to do it." She turned away before she could say anything stupider; how come none of the right words would come? She glanced at Tal Natha and rubbed her eyes, sniffling. "Um...are you guys coming, too?"
Tal Natha nodded. Yes...of course. He paused. I feel you will have a few people you wish to meet, before you go.
Charmian nodded. She couldn't speak anymore as her voice was stuck; she was too afraid she'd start sobbing if she even tried. Red Bird took her hand, and the smile the other woman gave her lent her the strength to smile in return; they started walking toward the tunnel where Mani waited, and a shuffling noise arose as the others followed. Charmian cast a last glance back at Nathalit, and the creature tilted her head again, a silent farewell. Charmian swallowed and raised one hand a little bit, though she wasn't sure if Nathalit saw it or not. They entered the tunnel, and the Gemfields and their sole remaining occupant now passed out of her view.
They crowded into the tunnel, the Uroona evaporating as they had before, and walked along until they came to the pool where Mani still waited, a rainbow misting before him. He whistled, and Charmian winced to see how badly he was wounded, blood streaming from his shoulder; she touched his muzzle, and he silently reassured her that he was in no pain. Charmian gestured at the rainbow.
"We have to go through that into the Borderlands...hope nobody minds."
There was some murmuring, but no complaints; Charmian stood beside Mani, her hand resting on his antler, as the others filed into the pool, disappearing through the rainbow. Dakh, Sikt, and Tal Natha went in next to last; Red Bird followed, casting Charmian a look as she went. When she was halfway through she held out her hand; Charmian blinked, then took it, still holding onto Mani with her other hand, and followed her through. A swirl of colors arose, but it was clear, not muddled as it had been in the rainbow with Ocryana; and the time lapse was much shorter before they emerged in the Borderlands. Drake, Manabozho, X'aaru, and the others were waiting here; Drake's face lit up when he saw Charmian emerge, and he ran toward her and grabbed her arm.
"CHARM! Did you do it? Was that really it?"
Charmian grinned and nodded. Drake whooped and hugged her so tight she couldn't even breathe. Chepi let out a tiny sigh and sank to the ground in what seemed to be a faint; Manabozho gave a smug smile, and X'aaru looked relieved. Augwak snorted.
"Glad the wolf-bitch got what she deserved. Maybe now I can eat in PEACE!"
Charmian started gasping for breath and Drake finally released her. A soft shuffling noise came from beside her and she glanced up, gasping and nearly jumping back to see Ocryx looming over her. Drake and Mani backed away a little bit but Red Bird continued holding her hand, albeit with an anxious look on her face. Ocryx's nostrils flared and his wings rose. Charmian could barely hold his stare.
Mainlander... he said, then paused. His wings lowered again, and his stare shifted to the side just a little. Charmian waited, then offered him a small smile.
"You're welcome," she said softly.
Ocryx fidgeted a bit, as if uncomfortable; she didn't pressure him further. Augwak bounded to the tunnel opening and started jumping up and down.
"Come on, come on!" he snapped impatiently. "We're all done down here and I haven't had anything to eat in HOURS! Let's get OUT of here!"
Charmian's mouth twitched as they started filing inside. "I've been meaning to talk to you about that," she said as they went. "You've never heard of tofu here, have you...?"
Augwak started grumbling, not really listening. The tunnel was crowded but Charmian didn't mind. The thought of heading back to the surface filled her with anticipation; right now, she couldn't even think of returning home.
One thing at a time, I guess?
Everyone was silent as they made their way up through the lit tunnel, the only noise the shush of water and the shuffling of their feet. Charmian took the time to glance back at a few of the others around her. The Windwalkers, appearing here and there, looked as neutral as always; the GeeBees looked anxious, as if hating the weight of the earth above their heads, or else just hungry; she couldn't see the manitous as they had changed into their own elements to make it through. Manabozho had a cross look on his face, as he had to carry the unconscious Chepi; though when Charmian looked more closely, she saw Chepi open one eye every so often to look up at him, and she had to turn away before he could see her grinning. X'aaru looked hopeful; he saw Charmian looking at him and smiled. She smiled back, then turned to face forward. She hated having to let go of Red Bird's hand whenever the tunnel became too narrow to walk in anymore.
Eventually, they came out of the odd tunnel and into Crack-in-the-Island, a sliver of light emerging above. Charmian looked up at it and had to shield her eyes, it was so bright compared to what she'd seen before. The light was bluish-white now, different from the strange sky she'd become used to under Ocryana's reign. Her pace picked up and she felt guilty to feel so impatient as she helped some of the others out of the tunnel. The GeeBees refused assistance, instead screeching and zooming up into the air and out of sight; it was likewise with the Windwalkers, though they did so in a rather more graceful manner. The manitous took on their regular shapes and clambered up the slope; Manabozho, for his part, bumped Chepi's head on the rock as he came out, causing her to yelp. This time he was the one trying to hide a grin.
Lastly came the Ocryxes, all of them filing past without saying a word. Ocryx didn't meet her eyes, but the other three did. Augwak vaulted up and out of the Crack, Manabozho dumping Chepi on the ground and ascending after him, forcing her to climb up on her own; Drake and Red Bird waited behind with Charmian, and she was grateful for their company. With a reassuring glance from her, they both turned and made their way upwards; she followed, though not without looking back over her shoulder at the tunnel entrance, leading back to the Borderlands.
For some reason, she felt an almost overwhelming wave of sadness, and wasn't sure why.
Before the dampness in her eyes could grow, she turned back and started climbing up out of the Crack. The jagged band of light overhead grew as she went higher.
As she neared the top, she couldn't stop the tears from finally coming to her eyes, and had to reach up to wipe them away as they blurred her vision. Her other hand grasped onto what felt like grass and the light overhead was almost blinding; she gasped and started to slip back into the Crack, when something grabbed onto her free hand, halting her fall. Charmian blinked and looked upward with wide eyes to see who it was.