"Yes, I would!  Maybe you call it foolish, but I call it sticking by your friends!"

Now Sikt Natha cocked her head.  "Friends"?  Who here is your friend?

"They all are," Charmian said, suddenly subdued.  "Red Bird.  Silver Eagle Feather.  X and Francois and Tal Natha.  Even Pakwa.  They're all my friends now."  She looked down at her hands, with the sudden strange feeling that she should have something there, anything, that would help her understand.  "I can't just let them all die."

You have barely known them.  And you would still risk your life for them?

"Yes.  I made a promise."

Is any promise worth this?

"Yes!  But...it's not just that.  They really are my friends.  It doesn't matter how long I've known them.  I have to keep my promise because it's a greater risk to break it.  Both to them and to everybody.  And to me personally."  She glared up at them.  "Maybe that's selfish to you two but I still intend to do it, with your help or without!"

Dakh Natha blinked, still with that maddeningly calm expression.  We will not hold you back.  But you must go on alone.  He is lost, and he cannot find his way back out again.

"Lost?"  Charmian blinked this time.  "Who?  What are you talking about?"

Tal Natha.  The poison has made him weak.  It has made him doubt the power of his own dream.  He refuses to fight it, and lets it take him over.

"You're lying.  Tal Natha's not like that.  He always fights when he has to."

He has given up.  His own fear has blinded him to the way out.  He no longer believes that he has the power to protect the Island.

"That's a lie and you know it!  Tal Natha never gives up!  He's stronger than any of us!  You're both lying!"

Dakh Natha started to move and Charmian gasped and jumped back again.  But he merely stepped aside, Sikt Natha following, and Charmian now saw a dark pathway leading back into the forest behind them.  She peered down it, not having noticed it before, yet couldn't see to its end.

If you believe we lie than you may see him for yourself.  We will not hold you back.  If you may convince him that power still resides within himself, not to give up, then perhaps you help save the Island and allow sleeping dreams to be born.  But he is in a dark place, and you may not be able to reach him.

"Watch me try, then.  Because I know you're wrong and he never gives up."  She walked past the two Ocryxes, toward the dark pathway; the gathering gloom made her shrink up inside, but she shoved her fear down, not wanting the two to see it, and proceeded into the woods without a glance back.  She sensed the Ocryxes' eyes upon her as she went, but not for long, as the darkness closed in around her quickly, so thick that it felt as if she were walking through black cloth; she clutched her arms and chewed on her lip, hoping not to fall into something hideous, hoping the tunnel wasn't as long as it looked.

She hoped for a long time.

When the tunnel finally began to open up, a very, very faint blue light forming at the end, she noticed now that that's what it really was, a tunnel and not a pathway.  It opened up into a cave again.  Sometime along the way she must have passed from woods into stone.  She started abruptly when she recognized the cave--it was Tal Natha's cave, by Fort Holmes.  She recognized the large crystals lining the walls, the slight stone outcropping to the right, and especially the large looking-crystal at the end.  It was this which cast out the glow.  But it was nowhere near as bright as it should have been.  Before when she'd been in the cave the torches and crystals had given it a rosy glow.  Now, with just that pale blue, strong enough only to make out vague forms and shadows, the place seemed...cold and empty.  And lonely.

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