|Main story folder & table of contents: "Escape From Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 47: Bad Vision"
A TWIG SNAPPED, and Charmian's muscles froze. The skin on the back of her neck prickled, and she slowly turned her head to peer over her shoulder. Singing Cedars had just fled--there shouldn't have been anyone else there with her. So what...
Two glowing eyes shone back at her, and the blood left her face. Her bones started shaking and she lifted one trembling hand, wanting to call up--anything--but not having any idea how, so all that she could do was just stand there with her hand raised, looking ready to give a high five.
The glowing eyes flickered a little and then a soft whistle came. Charmian sucked in a sharp breath. A voice came next, but it was only in her head--
You're seeking okis...?
Charmian's breath fled her in a whoosh. Her hand slowly lowered and she stared at the eyes; they shifted as whatever was behind them started coming forward, and as the dimming light fell upon it she could tell that it was some sort of large...
Charmian's fear started fading away into confusion as the same moose that she had seen earlier--when she and Walks-On-The-Shore had gotten separated--stepped forward, tilting its head slightly. Its eyes glowed pearly white rather than blue, but perhaps they were different here...?
"You're...you're an oki?" she asked uncertainly; when it tilted its head the other way and whistled again, she felt her muscles start to relax. She took a step toward it. "I saw you earlier, before the bears attacked," she said. "That was you, wasn't it...?" She paused. "I didn't think anything here would understand me."
All spirits speak the same language, the moose--oki?--said, and its nostrils flared. It is simply the methods of asking which are different. I noticed the way that you tried to speak to the trees...you don't know how to ask here yet...but you looked sincere. Its ear flicked. There was anything you wish to know...?
Charmian stared at it for a moment, then her face started to light up. "I...yeah!" she exclaimed, feeling her ears grow warm. She moved forward to stand directly in front of it, earnestly speaking. "My name's Charmian! I came here from Mich--um--the place with the really big lakes." Her eyes grew. "That's right! Manitous can pick up on thought images if you let them! Maybe you can too--?" She held out a hand and pressed it to the moose's muzzle; it snorted a little, but held still, and she concentrated, sending it all the images of the Island and her home state that she could. "That's where I came from," she explained. "And I'm looking for the East Wind. But I'm in a strange place now...obviously...and don't know my way around or even how to look after myself...so that's why I was looking for mani--um--okis. Sorry. It's just that they call you guys manitous where I'm from." She blushed a little and pulled back her hand. "I have tobacco, if you'd like some..."
There is a reason why you would seek Wabun? the oki asked.
Charmian bit her lip. "It's kind of complicated...but...basically..." She touched its muzzle again and sent it an image of Megissogwun. "Basically, this guy's causing a lot of trouble...and we have to find the West Wind. But we don't know where he is, so we're asking the other Winds...and Wabun's next on the list. If I could just figure out how far east to go."
You say "we," the oki said.
Charmian nodded. "Yeah...I was with a group of others...but we got separated. I came here through a..." She trailed off, then sighed. "Never mind. But I figure they'll be heading east too, so I thought I'd get a head start."
The oki cocked its head and seemed puzzled. You do not know where your friends are--? You have no way back to them, then?
Charmian shook her head and waved west. "They're that way...we were near a river, and there were Pukwudjininees and Mizauwabeekum around...or whatever your people call them...and a tunnel which brought us here. The others should be along shortly if they find it, but who knows." She made a face. "We were being attacked by some weird manitous when we escaped. That's why we got separated."
The oki took a step out of the trees and whistled. I'm not certain if you've been told, it said, but all okis in this land know the location of the East Wind, as he watches over us all. If we had known what you were seeking, we would have easily told you once you came through into our land.
Charmian's face lit up again. "REALLY?" She clasped her hands together. "Could you tell me? Please--?"
The oki started walking and bobbed its head as it did so, passing her. Come this way. I'll show you the path you have to take to get straight through.
"Thank you!" Charmian exclaimed, following it. She jogged along at first, then stopped and peered back at the woods with a frown. The oki slowed to a stop and looked back at her.
There is something wrong...? it asked.
"Huh...? Oh." Charmian bit her lip. "Well...I had a friend back there who was coming with me, but he's been hurt. And there was somebody else I didn't want to just leave behind..."
Your mission is an important one, is it not? the oki asked; she turned back to it. I may show you the pathway, and then seek out your friends to show them the way as well. You're not certain how long it might take this injured friend of yours to get on his feet again, are you?
Charmian sighed a little. "No...not really." She took one more look at the woods, then came forward again. "Could you tell them to get my pack too...?" she asked meekly as they started moving eastward.
The oki bobbed its head. Of course. You must have many important things in there.
You have no idea, Charmian thought to herself, and her stare drifted to the ground. She hoped that Singing Cedars would at least follow her to the pathway, even if not accompany her, which she doubted he would do, considering what he'd said...That Island was as far as I've ever gone from here, and I hope to never go that far again!...and so she felt a little despondent, not being sure if he would. He had left pretty abruptly...
"What sort of pathway is this exactly?" she asked, just to break the silence.
The oki nodded its antlers forward. A pathway through an arm of the forest ahead, crossing a stream. It passes between two large walls of rock and is quite narrow. Most people keep away from it as the wind breezes through and makes an ominous sound to warn them away. The East Wind does not take well to visitors. But perhaps if you entreat of him properly, he will speak with you. This mission sounds like an important enough one. It whistled. Come along, I'll be certain to tell your friends to come this way and bring your belongings. They should arrive by the time you reach the East Wind yourself.
Charmian nodded. "Right." It has a point...I may as well not stand around wasting time when I can kill two birds with one stone! Shore will know where to find me...and Cedars...well...I'll have to head back west when I'm done, won't I...?
They passed out of the woods and across a small narrow glade which looked as if a stream might have passed through it once, then back into more woods...she sighed. By now, the mixed maple and cedar woods of the Island, crisscrossed with their simple trails and dotted with seastacks and caves, would have been nice. The trees on the Island were nowhere near as tall as the ones here...she peered up at them again and realized it was no wonder that she hadn't recognized them for what they were in the first place.
Not far now, the oki assured her. In case you doubt me, listen and you'll hear the stream ahead.
"I don't doubt you," Charmian said quickly, blushing a little. "I'm just...not really used to it here. And don't know many people." She paused, then heard the trickle of water, and sighed again. "Though I am kind of relieved...I thought maybe we'd have to walk around forever before finding Wabun." She lifted her head and saw how the forest started to grow thinner ahead; the stream came into view, intersecting the land before them, and on the opposite side she could see the huge rocks with the crevice in them. They looked like they had been cut through by a stream or river at some point in the past, but by now the ground between them was dry and sandy and the only water was the little stream headed perpendicularly to them. They slowed their step and halted on the streambank, the oki nodding toward the remains of the trail.
If you'll listen, you will sometimes hear the wind blowing through, it said. This pathway leads to Wabun. I'm afraid I could not tell you what to expect, as I've never gone the entire way myself; but this is where they say he lives. Deep within the rocks, and away from the sight of humans. It turned to look at her, flicking an ear. I do rather wish I could help you more.
"That's fine!" Charmian exclaimed. "You've already helped me a lot!" She reached in her pocket. "You're sure you don't want some tobacco...?"
The oki shook its head. This is best saved for the East Wind. You should go before you lose the last of the daylight. It peered upwards, and Charmian noticed just how much darker it had gotten; she was surprised that she'd even been able to see her way through the woods so far. I will go back and try to find your friends.
"Thanks," Charmian said again; the oki turned away and she started for the stream. "OH!" She turned around. "Their names are Singing Cedars and Walks-On-The-Shore!"
The oki whistled an affirmative and went on its way, disappearing into the woods. Charmian stepped into the stream, shivering at the chill of the water and hurriedly skipping out and through the rocks. She cast one last glance back, but by now the spirit was gone; with a shrug she set off on the sandy trail, staring up at the high rock walls as she went. The passageway was already narrow, but at times it grew such that she had to turn sideways to make her way through; she frowned to herself as she thought of Crack-in-the-Island.
Maybe I can just save time and get this all over with with Wabun before they even show up, she thought, a bit skeptically but still with hope. I just hope he has something useful to tell us...Shawondassee was friendly enough but not very helpful...
A soft breeze wafted over her, and she rubbed her arms and shivered, until she remembered what the oki had just told her, and picked up her pace, her hope renewed. "I bet that's him already," she murmured aloud, "maybe trying to warn me off...but still...it is wind...and that's what I'm looking for! According to Shawondassee he isn't mean...just not very social...so at least I don't have to worry about facing a Kabebonikka or a Kabeyun just yet..."
The breeze picked up the further that she went, until it whistled over her head and chilled her bared arms, but she merely chattered and shrugged it off, pressing forward. She did wonder how long this trail went...the rocks seemed to go on forever...but the oki had said that he lived deep within the rocks. She sighed and wished that she had her pack.
The wind gusted, then died down to a whisper; Charmian heard something scraping ahead, and slowed her step, tilting her head. It had sounded like something scratching against the sand, but she couldn't be sure what it was. Perhaps a squirrel, or maybe Wabun was just ahead--?
"Hello...?" she called tentatively, and cringed when her voice echoed back to her, "Hello-hello?" She squinted but by now it was so dark that she couldn't see more than a few feet ahead of her; she wished that she had her flashlight. Maybe it would have been a better idea to wait after all. She took a couple of steps forward and stopped. "Hello? Anybody there?"
Crap...I wish I could at least call up some fire! But I still don't know how to ask the okis...I should've asked that other one to give me some pointers before it left...
She held her arms out to press her fingers against the rock walls, and began walking again; after a few yards the rock wall to her right disappeared and she frowned, leaning away from the left wall to reach for it. She found it and followed it a bit, then wandered left. From the feel of it, the passageway widened considerably here, and she even stepped on a stick; a glance up showed her tree branches far overhead. Well...at least it wasn't so claustrophobic anymore. She took one more step, and the scraping noise came again, closer and louder this time. She blinked, and then two glowing eyes appeared ahead, something obviously tall standing behind them.
"Wabun...?" she asked in a hesitant voice. These eyes glowed blue like a manitou's. She took another step forward. "If you're not him...do you know where I can find him, then? I have to ask him something important..."
You should learn to listen, a strange voice said in her head, and then something ahead of her flared, blinding her. She blinked furiously and let out a small cry, taking a stumbling step back and rubbing at her eyes; she tripped over a stone and fell hard to the ground just as something whooshed over her head. She looked up and managed to see again, albeit hazily, just as the glowing eyes returned, hovering over her, and something let out a hoarse rasping sound when something else lit up over its head and then flamed into life. Charmian's eyes grew as round as platters when she at last made out the great silhouette of a bear, a ball of fire flickering over its head, its breath rasping out over its immense teeth. Immediately all of the feeling fled her limbs and all that she could do was stare up at it mutely.
As if reading her thoughts, the bear's mouth opened wide and it let out a horrific bellow, its breath billowing hot against her face. Fortunately, it was this that brought the sensation back to her arms and legs, and with barely a whimper she rolled herself over and scrabbled at the ground, bolting back the way that she'd come.
A bear--! A BEAR--!! I CAN'T STAND BEARS!!
Her elbow knocked against stone and she slammed into the narrow passageway like a ball bouncing off the sides of a pinball machine. The snorting plodding noises of the bear came just behind her, but it was only when she'd finally managed to squeeze herself through the narrowest part of the passageway, stumbling to a halt and gasping for breath, that she finally realized exactly what she'd seen. She pushed herself upright to stare back into the passageway, shaking all over.
A fireball--? That bear had a FIREBALL over its head!!
WABANOS use fireballs! Is that thing a--
The roar of the bear made her cringe and press herself against the rock. The passageway was far too narrow here for it to possibly make its way through...but that was when she saw the flash of light again, and then her eyes goggled when she saw the fireball alone weaving its way through the passage, coming straight for her. Her jaw dropped, then she turned and went running again, unable to believe it.
That's not a bear! That's what Stick told me about!! A BearWALKER!!
"B-BACK OFF!!" she yelled, her voice going shrill with fright. "I DIDN'T EVEN DO ANYTHING!!" She halted long enough to fling her hand out toward it--"Fire!!"--but of course nothing happened, and she went running again. The fireball simply continued bouncing off the walls, zooming after her.
It felt like forever before she heard the trickle of the stream far ahead, and picked up her pace, barely even noticing the way that the rock scraped against her arms and legs. She lifted her head to fix on the sight of the opening--when another fireball popped into view, veering sideways and then zooming straight toward her. Charmian squawked and skidded to a halt, taking a few quick steps back--then stopping again. Just like she'd suspected--there was now a fireball on each side--and no way out of the passageway!
Charmian whimpered and glanced from right to left, all ideas having fled her mind. She glanced at the ground, but there was no way she could tunnel her way out of here--she glanced up, but she couldn't fly--
Her head shot up again, the two fireballs flickering and shifting slightly as if they looked upwards as well. She blinked a few times; something was leaning over the opening far overhead, but she couldn't make it out. The voice had sounded like Singing Cedars.
"Cedars--?" she cried out, hoping that it was really him.
In response she felt something hit her shoulder and gasped, bumping backwards into the rock. "Grab on! Hurry up!"
She scrabbled at her shoulder and found what felt to be a rope of some sort. Without thinking she wrapped it around her knuckles and then began climbing, shimmying up it as fast as she could and ignoring the lance of pain in her injured shoulder. The fireballs wavered for a moment before zooming up after her; with a squeal of panic she kicked out at the second, dimmer one, sending it veering out of the way, but the bigger one kept coming, and she lost her balance and twirled around on the rope with a yell of fright.
Something struck the rock wall and she began climbing again, this time driven by pure terror. The fireball swayed sideways, then back; another thunking noise made it pause, as if it were considering whether to continue or not. Something grabbed Charmian's hand when she reached upwards and she allowed Singing Cedars to haul her over the edge of the rock wall; as soon as her feet cleared the opening, she glanced back, but the fireballs were already gone. She glanced around wildly but couldn't see them anywhere. Where had they gone--?
"They're--they were all around me!!" she blurted out, her voice cracking. "Fire--and bears--"
"The fire's gone," Singing Cedars said. "I think I scared it away." He frowned at her. "Bears...? I didn't see any bears. I don't think one could even fit down there!"
As if to illustrate his point, he looked down into the opening, and Charmian followed suit. Now that she could see the crevice from the outside, she felt rather stupid, as no bear would have fit down there, not by a long shot. She blushed and looked up, meeting his eyes.
"But there was a bear, it was chasing me!" she insisted. "The passage is wider the further you get!"
He furrowed his brow. "But...how would it have gotten down there in the first place? I've explored this place before--it's a dead end. No bear could fit from the open end, and no bear could jump down into it without breaking its neck!"
Charmian rubbed her arms and grimaced. "I...I can't explain it, I just know what I saw." Her eyes grew wide. "Makwamosa! Those fireballs weren't fireballs! They were medicine men who LOOKED like fireballs! They change into bears--"
Singing Cedars's expression was growing stranger and stranger. "Which is it?" he asked when she trailed off. "Fireballs, or bears?"
"Both," Charmian insisted. "They turn into BOTH!" She glanced again into the crack. "They're a kind of wabano, a medicine man, and..."
Singing Cedars sighed and pulled her away from the crack. "That's back where you come from," he said. "Not here! The medicine men here aren't like that! They don't change into fireballs or bears."
"Then what were those things?" Charmian demanded. "Because if my explanation doesn't fit, then I'd sure like a heads-up!"
Singing Cedars rolled his eyes. "I can't say what those things were. In all honesty I think they came through with you! We've never had wandering fireballs here until you showed up; why should I think they came from anywhere else but that Island of yours--?"
Charmian clenched her fists. "I DIDN'T BRING ANY FIREBALLS! I didn't bring any BEARS, either!" She waved her hands. "You saw that oki!" When he gave her a strange look she started growing desperate. "I know you did! It was right behind me!! You went RUNNING, for cripes' sakes!!"
"I saw a moose," Singing Cedars retorted. "A small one but dangerous nonetheless! I ran back to get this!" He lifted up a bow that had been resting against his leg; she glanced at it in confusion. "Lot of good that it did," he muttered.
Charmian started blinking. "You--you ran off and left me with it--?" She shook her head abruptly. "It wasn't a moose, Cedars! It was an oki! I talked with it! Didn't you see how its eyes glowed--?"
"Animals' eyes glow," Singing Cedars said, frowning at her a little. She wondered if they had straitjackets here.
She lowered her head a little and let out a defeated breath. "I know it was an oki," she said weakly. "I even talked with it...it told me where..." Her eyes lit up and she scrambled to her feet; Singing Cedars followed suit, reaching out to grasp her elbow so she didn't fall backwards into the chasm. "I have proof! That oki was what told me to take this way. It told me where I can find Wabun!"
"Who?" Singing Cedars asked.
Charmian gave him an incredulous look. "WABUN!" she yelled, making him flinch. "The guy we've been LOOKING for all this time!!"
"I thought you said you were looking for the East Wind!" Singing Cedars shot back.
Charmian threw her arms up. "DUH!! Who do you think Wabun is?!"
He clenched his own fists and huffed at her. "That isn't what we call the East Wind around here! This 'Wabun' stuff is from YOUR people, not mine!!"
Charmian's breath left her, and she stared right through him for so long that he started to fidget. She slowly turned her head to look at the chasm in the rocky ground, her brow furrowing.
That oki called him Wabun...even before I said his name. Why would it call him that if that's not...
Her fingers fiddled against her vest. "Why would it..." she murmured, then slowly turned back around, dazed. Singing Cedars stared at her with a frown, yet his eyes were worried; she barely noticed. "Why would it send me here then...?" She lifted her head to look at him at last. "You said it's a dead end," she said, and he nodded. "Are you sure--? You've been down in there and looked and there's no cave or tunnel or anything at the end--?"
Singing Cedars shook his head, looking perplexed. "Nothing! It's a dead end. Just a rock wall." He leaned forward a little. "Are you sure you're all right...?"
"It said I could find Wabun through here," she whispered. "Right through the crack." She turned around and stared at the ground. "It said Wabun was right through there," she said, more loudly.
The rustling noise of leaves came, and Singing Cedars stepped up beside her. "Doesn't it strike you as odd that this thing would send you off down there, right when you say those bears showed up?" he said.
Charmian's spine stiffened and her eyes grew. She stared down into the crevice as if she could see something there, although all that it was was dark.
That oki! IT sent me that way! It WANTED me trapped--!
She started shivering. Singing Cedars stiffened as well, then grasped her arm. She took a step back from the crack and he didn't protest, stepping back with her as if the motion relieved him. He tried to look into her face, seeming beyond concerned by now, but she didn't meet his eyes, just turned away and rubbed at her arms.
"I think we should go back," she murmured. "I think I did something really stupid."
He let out a gusty sigh. "Finally, something I AGREE with! Though I could've told you that ages ago..." He tugged on her arm and they started walking in the direction of the opening in the rocks.
By now, darkness was settling in so thick that she could barely see her way, though Singing Cedars appeared to have no trouble finding the way back to the camp without falling. She did glance back over her shoulder more than once, however, and although she didn't see any more fireballs, still, she couldn't help but feel that they were being watched, and that something--someone--was displeased.
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