|Main story folder & table of contents: "Escape From Manitou Island"
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THE LEAVES OF the Tree rustled, black against black, glittering with sparks of light every so often as they reflected the glittering of the stars overhead. They made a soft shushing sound, like that of water rushing over rocks or rain striking a lake surface; the sound had always been a soothing one...but tonight it did no such trick.
Geezhigo-Quae sat on the edge of the balcony, staring out over the dark land. Her wings hung limp behind her and her eyes barely glowed; she stared at the land that she'd come to know so well, and love as much as the Island, yet she barely saw it. Instead, over and over again, she saw water crashing over limestone, the great Arch and the Sugar Loaf tumbling into the waves, the lake swallowing up the Turtle's Back and every trace of the little Island's existence...and everything with it...
She shut her eyes and tried to imagine the Island as it was now, but that only made the other images worse. Her brow furrowed when she thought of all those now upon it...everyone who had no idea what was happening beyond the bounds of their small home in the vast lake. What grand schemes such a tiny Island became a part of, it always seemed...there were islands much bigger, much more impressive and important, but for some reason, the locus of attention always seemed to be this little one, which most of the world didn't even realize existed...and even most of those upon it had no clue...
Her ear flicked and she lifted her head, eyes opening. She stared at the black hills and meadows before frowning a little, then turned her head to peer over her shoulder.
For a moment, she almost expected to see him there. He had surprised her, a long time ago, by coming right to her Tree...all that she had seen of him was his large ominous frame, silhouetted against the glowing doorway and cabochons, and his glittering blue eyes, before he had come walking toward her, as if he owned the Tree and everything in it...
She shivered. There was nothing there but a feeling.
She slowly stood up and turned around, staring off into space. Her eyes shifted from side to side and she tried to sense him--perhaps he disguised himself?--but he had never been one to do such things. Even when he had trespassed in her Tree, he hadn't hidden himself. She had to give him that, as much as she hated to.
She took a few tentative steps into the room, now peering into the corners and shifting her wings so that they sent out slight drafts, bouncing against objects and coming back to her, telling her that nothing was there but her own belongings. She glanced down as she walked and abruptly halted, staring at the point where the floor sloped downward into a little hollow; as soon as she saw it she shivered again, rubbing her arms and silently sidestepping it to make her way to the entry. She peered into the hallway and saw nothing but the dangling crystals which kept it illuminated. Inside the Tree, the wood was rich golden-brown; she put her hand against the wall and tried to calm her fraying nerves. The Tree, and especially her central room, had always comforted her before...but tonight she had to get out of there before she started tearing things apart.
She made her way down the hall, still feeling uneasy; whatever she'd felt, it wasn't him. But it reminded her of him for some reason. She knew it couldn't be him as he would have made himself obvious by now, and whatever this was, it was almost...hiding itself. The feeling grew stronger the further she walked, until she slowed her step outside the hub room with its numerous cabochon doorways. Her brow furrowed again; she tentatively lifted one hand and watched the door vanish, then looked inside. Of course there was nothing there. She let out a breath, feeling foolish, yet glanced around again anyway before venturing inside. Once over the threshold she looked at each of the cabochons in turn, but none of them were glowing. It made no sense. She was feeling something nearby.
Perplexed, she lifted her hand and held it up toward the nearest doorway. She slowly turned in a circle, repeating the gesture with each door. When she at last reached the one just to the left of the doorway she had entered from, the feeling grew strongest, and she frowned. She wasn't certain what was behind that particular door; its cabochon was dim pinkish-amethyst.
She held her hand out toward it, taking a step back and concentrating to see what might be on the other side, looking back at her, for that was exactly the feeling she was getting.
The cabochon started to glow faintly. She narrowed her eyes a little, wings flaring a bit, as she prepared for the door to open...but that didn't happen.
A faint image started to appear in front of the doorway, almost superimposed on the air itself, and she blinked, brow furrowing. It started to take form and she could see that it was someone crouching, bent over with knees bent up to their chest and one hand touching the floor. Their head popped up as soon as she could clearly make them out, and Geezhigo-Quae and Chakenapok stared at each other in open surprise.
She had enough time to blink again. Chakenapok's yellow eyes widened, then he started fading away. A moment later, there was nothing left but the doorway, which vanished and revealed an image of the Borderlands beneath Manitou Island.
Geezhigo-Quae stared at them for a moment, then flicked her hand so the door returned, sliding back into place and the gem going dark. She fiddled her fingers uneasily--a gesture she'd never really liked much--and bit her lip as she stared at the now dark cabochon.
Him? What was he doing watching me? What does he have to gain from that...?
The doorway didn't answer. Geezhigo-Quae could only stand in the silent hub room and wonder.
* * * * *
Chakenapok's eyes popped open and he let out a breath, blinking and confused.
Why...why would I see HER--?
He stared across the cave, at the dark rippling water. Along its shore, several pairs of blue eyes appeared, the resting Shadow Wolves lifting their heads as soon as they sensed his unease. He stared past them without noticing their questioning looks.
That Red Swan...I know she hides something, or something about her is hidden. Normally I can see these things. But she feels closed to me. When I try to look deeper...why then is that what I saw...?
There had to have been some sort of mistake. He'd had trouble seeing the mainlander for a time, when the wabano had shielded her from him; perhaps this was similar. The Sky Mother was a powerful manitou; he didn't doubt that her own medicine could easily mask even that of the Red Swan. He had no idea why she would shield her...but it didn't matter right now. He shut his eyes and scoured about harder, steering clear of the Sky Tree lest it interfere again. He couldn't speak to the mainlander without the Red Swan being there. But for some reason...he didn't trust her. He wasn't certain why. But he'd never much trusted anyone he couldn't clearly read.
He had trouble sensing her on his own, and so slipped into a dream to find her that way. He was certain to keep himself as vague and unintrusive as possible, so as not to draw too much attention; if she did notice him, he could say that he'd been looking for the mainlander. It was believable.
He at last located her--why did he have such trouble keeping a fix?--and zeroed in, still keeping himself nearly invisible. She seemed preoccupied, and apparently didn't notice him. He slowed down nearby and "stared" at her, mentally, until he realized that she was too distracted to pay him much attention. He sensed confusion from her, and frustration; curious now, he moved in a bit closer, and furrowed his brow to himself.
She's not even hiding herself right now. I can see right through her. Why is this, when I could barely fix on her just a moment ago...?
He decided not to question it. Manitous could be strange that way; he'd learned that in his years of observation beneath the Island. He focused his attention on her before he could lose her again, trying to see what she might be hiding, but her thoughts were as muddled as anything else he'd seen thus far. He nearly growled to himself in irritation before noticing that, while she was still guarding her thoughts, she wasn't guarding everything.
He could feel her spirit stone.
He blinked. That was surprising. A manitou of such power--not concealing her spirit? The mainlander herself could teach her a few lessons on protecting such a thing; he'd nearly torn her spirit out several times over. He found it hard to believe that a manitou would be so negligent, but peered more closely at it anyway.
The spirit stone flared and started glowing...at least, as much as it could.
Chakenapok drew back with a mental hiss, abruptly cutting off his thoughts so she couldn't sense them, and retreating back into the cave beneath the Island. He found himself blinking at the Shadow Wolves and even they seemed to have noticed his apprehension, as they'd gotten to their feet and were staring at him with their ears flattened against their heads. Chakenapok stared at them until he noticed that he was breathing hard, his fingernails gouging into the stone floor, and he forced himself to relax a little.
I COULDN'T have seen that right! If she's really like that--then what--should I--?
He got to his feet and stared indecisively at the underground lake, gnawing on his lip. He paced back and forth a few times, glancing at the walls, chewing on his fingernails. The Wolves silently trotted away with their tails between their legs; Chakenapok stared at the ceiling, shrouded in shadows, and tried to figure out what to do. He hadn't felt so confused and uncertain of what to do since the mainlander and his brothers had taken his medicine from him.
I have to tell her somehow. Warn her. But if I do it this way, I could end up warning HER as well...
How do I reach her then...? I can't spin dreams...
He halted and stared at the lake for a moment. Then he shut his eyes and faded away.
* * * * *
The cave set in the bluff below Fort Holmes was small, barely enough to accommodate three full-grown demons, but Red Bird had never been one to complain.
She sat in her small corner near the back of the sandy-floored cave, alternating between working on some quillwork which sat in her lap, and scratching the head of one of the pair of demons curled up at her side. Dakh and Sikt were fast asleep, as was their father, who rested in the far back, near a large crystal set in a stone hollow. The small room was silent but for the small noises of Red Bird's work, and the faint shush of the trees rustling outside; she liked the silence, as long as she wasn't the only one there. Every so often she peered up at her sleeping mate, smiled a little, and then went back to her work, now and then scratching Dakh's ear. The Ocryxes' tails flicked a little in their sleep, but that was all.
She paused in her work to examine it. She was decorating a small box. The tiny figure of a person was upon it; it wore a dress, to show that it was female, even though Red Bird had never seen this particular person wear a dress. She smiled again and ran a finger over the red-dyed quills that formed the figure's hair. Red quills danced over one of the figure's hands as well, simulating fire, and the tiny form of a dreamcatcher dangled from its other hand. She'd heard of the mainlander's return to the Island not that long before; although they hadn't met again yet, she planned to have a gift ready for when they did.
She noticed a spot where she'd missed a quill, and bit her lip, poking at those resting in her lap in search of one of the right color. She picked up one, only to find that it was black; she started to set it back down, when it started glimmering red, and she furrowed her brow at it, perplexed.
Then she noticed the flicker of light appearing before her and gasped, sitting upright and blinking.
Something faint and hazy was appearing just across from her, orange flaring around it. It lifted its head and her eyes grew when she recognized the yellow-eyed spirit who had caused them such trouble long ago; he blinked at her, then glanced right, then left. He saw Tal Natha asleep in the back of the cave, and then turned back to Red Bird. His mouth moved but no sound came out.
Red Bird put a hand to her breast to try to calm the thudding of her heart, and frowned at him, perplexed. He shut his eyes briefly and then opened them again. This time when he spoke, she could hear him, although his voice was very hollow and faraway, as if he spoke to her from the end of a very long hollow log.
"I need to speak with him," he said, so quietly that she had to strain her ears just to hear.
Red Bird's brow furrowed further. "Speak...?" Against her better judgement, she sat forward; the dyed quills spilled from her lap and landed in the sand. Dakh and Sikt snorted awake, lifting their heads and blinking drowsily; as soon as they turned and saw Chakenapok, their ears shot upright, and then they were on their feet, growling. Red Bird ignored them as she crawled a step or two closer to him, reaching out one finger to tentatively poke at his arm. When she felt nothing she drew her finger back and rubbed at it.
"With Tal Natha?" she asked.
He nodded. "It concerns the mainlander," he said, and her eyes grew. Nudging Dakh's tail out of the way, she shuffled through the sand toward Tal Natha and started shaking him. He snorted a little and wrinkled his muzzle, then lifted his head with a great yawn. He scratched behind his ear.
Red Bird...? he murmured sleepily. What is it? Do you wish to...?
In response she turned and pointed at Chakenapok. The demon's ears pricked and he was immediately awake now, staring at the faint spirit crouching beside the wall.
"About Charmian," Red Bird said, and that was all that she needed to say.
Tal Natha pushed himself up and had to carefully pick his way around Red Bird to reach him. Flint--? he asked, and Chakenapok nodded. What is it? Is she safe--?
"For now," Chakenapok said. "But I don't know for how long this may be. I think I may have made a mistake entrusting her to that Red Swan."
You mean this other Dreamspinner she used to reach me...?
Chakenapok nodded again. "The mainlander entered a vision state to better keep in touch with us both, so I might inform her of what's been happening here."
Tal Natha frowned. But if this is the only way she can remain connected to the Island...
"I begin to think I decided too hastily," Chakenapok replied, and held up his hand. His spirit stone appeared, glowing faintly, orangish-red, just like the mainlander's. The other four looked down at it. "This is a pure spirit stone," Chakenapok said. "After she and my brothers cleansed it of Malsum and my own hatred." He swirled a finger in the air, and an imaginary image of a spirit stone appeared, made entirely of blue fire. The others stared at it curiously.
"This is the Red Swan's spirit," Chakenapok said, and swirled his finger again. The pretend spirit stone flared indigo, then began to darken. The others' eyes widened more and more, until black flames writhed in a ball shape, looking like nothing more than smoke and shadows. Red Bird's mouth slowly opened and Tal Natha's head jerked up, eyes fixing on Chakenapok's. His hackles bristled.
Her spirit stone--? he echoed. The Red Swan's--THIS is what she looks like--?
Tal Natha's brow furrowed, confused. But...I had thought she was a GOOD manitou! Why would Charmian trust such a creature--? Surely she shows some sign--?
"She showed no direct sign that even I could see," Chakenapok replied. "Perhaps this is why I suspected! She seems almost...too good!" He frowned and waved the image away; the spirit stone dissipated into thin air and wisps of smoke. "I need some way to reach the mainlander without this Swan finding out. But the only way I can reach her is THROUGH the Swan. How do I warn her--? Without alerting this manitou?" He leaned forward. "Is there any way you can help--?"
Tal Natha nearly scowled as he thought. Well...you say this manitou is a Dreamspinner, right...? When Chakenapok nodded again he lifted his head. Perhaps I have a way you can reach her...through the Red Swan, but in a way that only the mainlander would understand. I can send her a dream myself. You convey it to the Red Swan, and she can convey it to Charmian.
"Will she not grow suspicious of this--?" Chakenapok asked.
Tal Natha flared a wing. It depends on how well she knows Charmian! Dreams are odd things--even I don't understand all of those that I bring. The only one who can thoroughly understand his dream is the dreamer himself. He paused, as if in thought. I will send a dream using some sort of sign that Charmian knows. I've sent her dreams before--so I think I know her a bit better. Even if I do not understand all of her symbols, still, I believe I can spin them in a way that she would understand.
"And the Red Swan won't?"
As I said, unless Charmian has been conversing with her much, then no, she should not understand. But this depends. I do not know how well Charmian trusts her. A tense look came to his face. Let us just hope that she's been more distrusting than usual!
Red Bird tugged on Tal Natha's wing and he looked at her. "Tal Natha! I think I know which images you should use! Something she might understand!" She leaned toward him and whispered in his ear; the demon's other ear flicked, then he looked at Chakenapok.
"You have a dream to send, then?" he asked.
Tal Natha nodded. Yes, he stated. I believe I know just the dream.
* * * * *
The canoes now headed vaguely northeast, as per Manabozho's orders, though so far nobody really knew why this was...only Manabozho knew, and he sat in his canoe, arms crossed and face set, and refused to talk any more about the matter. Charmian fully believed that he was enjoying his moment of superiority, since he got so few of them as it was.
She decided to stop grumbling to herself about being left in the dark, and instead stared at the distant shore as the voyageurs sang. It seemed impossibly far away, and she couldn't even see where the land ended to the east and west, it faded so far away into haze. The sun was beating down now, and that, as well as the neverending singing, were starting to make her drowsy.
"By the clear running fountain
"I strayed one summer day,
"The water looked so cooling
"I bathed without delay..."
Charmian yawned. Thomas, still behind her in the canoe, cast her a look as her head started nodding, and she forced herself to shake it. She rubbed at her eyes.
"Are we there yet...?" she grumbled.
"Not for quite a bit," Thomas admitted. He glanced off to the left and she looked as well; the shapes of the Mishupishus were there, in the distance, but they still seemed to be doing nothing more than keeping track of them.
"Have they caused any trouble...?" Charmian asked.
Winter Born turned around and shook her head. "They just keep following us! They haven't even come close."
"I wouldn't doubt them attempting something yet," Thomas said. "Based on what Winter Born's said about that Mishosha fellow, I wouldn't put a lie past him, especially if he's working for the enemy."
"I rather get the feeling that he meant it, at least this time," Charmian said, ignoring his doubtful look. "I think he's probably got a lot more to gain from attacking us on land than on water. He probably has some other sort of plan." She yawned again and rubbed one eye. "Since they're not doing anything...I'm going to try to get some rest. I feel really tired now, for some reason..."
"Maybe that Red Swan lady will tell you something useful," Winter Born suggested.
"Maybe," Charmian murmured, settling down in the canoe and resting her head against a packet of fur. "Wake me up when we get there."
"If what you said comes out true," Thomas replied, "we might not need to!"
She decided it was better not to respond, and let her eyes drift shut. The sun and the singing lulled her into a drowse, and her senses started drifting.
"By the clear running fountain
"I strayed one summer day,
"The water looked so cooling..."
The singing at last faded away as she started dreaming, and by now she was so used to slipping in and out of dreams that it didn't even disturb her anymore. She let herself lie in the dream and relax for a few moments in the warm breeze that wafted over her before at last opening her eyes and sighing. She stared up at the blue sky dotted with clouds overhead, then frowned when a faint trickling noise met her ears, and turned to try to see where it was coming from. She was lying on the ground, and at first saw a wide expanse of grass, but a stand of trees stood nearby and something was in front of it.
She blinked. Then her eyes shot open wide.
A large stone fountain stood just before the woods, sending a stream of water down the slope and just past her head.
Charmian stared at it for a brief moment before sitting up and glancing at her surroundings. Then she got to her feet and approached the stone fountain, brow furrowing. She examined all its details, how it was carved, the way the water splashed from its founts; everything was just as she remembered it.
"This..." She nearly started at the sound of her own voice. "This is my old dream! From the Island!"
She walked around the fountain, still looking it up and down. Her very first time on the Island, she'd given this dream up, and then had taken it back, to take Ocryana's dream power away from her, as the demon had thrived on the power of dead dreams. When she'd forgotten about it, it had seemed negligible enough, but the dreams of scores of people, all given up as useless, had nearly given Ocryana the power to destroy the entire Island. She'd seen this place again on her second trip, but then it had been arid and desolate, the fountain broken and the greenery all dead, as Chakenapok had taken it over for himself. Now, it looked just as it had the first time, green and vibrant again, and she found herself very perplexed to be here a third time. Wouldn't this dream ever go away...?
She frowned a little. "If I'm here again," she murmured to herself, "then it has to be for a reason. I wouldn't dream this place now for no reason."
Satisfied with this conclusion, she turned her attention back to the stone fountain, and bit her lip. "Every time I've looked at my reflection in a dream," she thought out loud, "it's shown me something weird. Like Red Bird...or Ocryana!" She shivered. "I guess that's why I'm here," she concluded, and looked at the water pooling in the base of the ornate fountain. "At least, that's been the reason every other time..."
She realized that she was stalling, and scowled, making herself stop it. She shook her head, steeled herself, and approached the fountain to halt at its side. She clenched her fists at her sides and took a deep breath, watching the water spraying, a fine mist dampening her clothes and hair and beading on her eyelashes. She blinked the blur away and bit her lip.
"Here goes nothing," she said with a quaver in her voice, and looked down into the water.
She blinked again.
Her own face stared back up, just as confused as she was certain its source must look.
Her brow furrowed a little. "Huh...? That's it...?" She frowned, her reflection frowning back, and leaned slowly down toward it. "Myself? What kind of message is that...?"
She halted when she couldn't have been more than a foot or so away from the water, but it was still her own face that rippled and re-formed in the basin. Her mouth twisted in confusion; she searched her features but they were exactly the same as she imagined they must be in real life. "Well...this is stupid!" she exclaimed with an exasperated sigh. "What am I supposed to get from this? Who's even sending this, Maanaabiziiquae--? I think she has a little learning to do yet...oh!" She blinked a third time when her stare drifted downwards, closer to the edge of the fountain, and now she saw that her reflection's chest was glowing. She stood up straighter to get a better look, but that just confused her even more.
She'd been expecting to see her spirit stone, but instead she saw the tiny glowing image of a tree where her heart should be. This puzzled her so much that she even poked at her chest with her finger, but of course nothing happened. She scratched her head and stared at it.
"A tree...?" she said, perplexed. Another poke. "What the heck does THAT mean...?" She trailed off and watched the tree begin to change, shifting from cool bluish-green into yellow, then orange, then red. She opened her mouth to ask if it was supposed to be autumn or something, when the tree stopped shifting colors at brilliant scarlet, and then started to change again. Her voice vanished when the branches pulled in toward the trunk, the trunk growing rounder and fatter, until it shifted into the shape of a ball...and the ball dimmed into a hideous shade of black, swirling like the murkiest, evillest spirit stone she'd ever seen.
Her eyes--and her reflection's eyes--went wide, and she reached up a hand as if to swat the hideous thing from her chest. A noise arose in her throat as she took an abrupt step back.
Her eyes popped open and a startled cry escaped her mouth, then a hand briefly pressed over it, silencing her. She struggled a little and was immediately let go; she sat up, glancing around in bewilderment. The voyageurs' singing had stopped; everyone was pulling the paddles in closer to the canoes, and several of them were reaching for their guns. The air was oddly silent but for the rustle of their movements and the lapping sound of the water. Charmian blinked.
She turned to look at Thomas but he just put a finger to his mouth and shook his head sharply. She again looked at Lieutenant Barrington and Francois and some of the others readying their guns; they all glanced out at the water off to both sides, and behind them as well. Even Augwak was wide awake, perched atop the stern and staring southward, ears quivering and nails digging into the canoe. Charmian finally thought to squint into the distance, but she saw nothing there.
"The Lynxes," she whispered, as she sensed that talking aloud would have been a bad idea. "Where are they--?"
"Disappeared about a half hour ago," Thomas whispered back. "There hasn't been anything since then."
The voyageurs whispered a few things to each other, then resumed paddling, although with much shorter, quicker strokes. Charmian turned back around. She saw now that they weren't very far from the shore at all, the little bay that Manabozho had described looming before them. She could see a dark stand of trees in the distance, but nearer the shore it seemed to be more like mixed meadow and wetland, with a few small trees in clumps here and there, and it didn't look like nearly a good enough place to hide should the Lynxes show up again any time soon. She gnawed on her lip and twisted the corner of her vest.
"That's where we're landing--?" she whispered.
Thomas shrugged, paddling himself now. "Apparently."
Winter Born hugged herself. "Are those Lynxes going to attack us now...?"
Francois turned to look at Charmian over his shoulder. "Ma chère? You have any plans--?"
Charmian's mouth fell open. "It--it wasn't MY idea to come this way--!!"
Manabozho clambered to the front of his canoe again and put his fingers to his mouth. He let out two long whistles, then fell silent, as if listening. Everyone else followed suit, but could hear nothing in response. Manabozho bit his lip but didn't repeat the call, instead retreating back into the canoe. "Hope it's still here," he mumbled.
Singing Cedars got an indescribable look on his face. "Is that some sort of consolation--?"
"We're going to pull into the bay," Francois whispered. "Do you suppose that medicine man is going to be sending those Lynxes after us again?"
Charmian and several of the others looked toward Moon Wolf. "He kept his word about the lake so far," he said, a dark look on his face. "But I doubt he'll let us get much further without trouble."
Francois nodded and turned back around, picking up his paddle. "We plan it out this way, then. Expect some sort of attack, from the Lynxes or from the mitchi manitous, as soon as we hit land. We're going to have only a moment or two to get our footing and make a run for it toward those trees. We'll have to leave the canoes. Bouchard and the others and I will have our guns ready. The rest of you do the best you can to make it to safety in the meantime."
"All these furs..." Bouchard moaned, but he pulled his gun out just the same, sniffling as he loaded it.
"I hope those trees are friendly," Winter Born said in a small voice.
Singing Cedars's eyes widened, then he looked ready to slap himself. He whistled, and a distant whistling noise returned; he glanced toward Charmian's canoe. "My okis will go in and clear a path!" he whispered across the gap. "At least the woods should be safe."
"If we can reach them," Barrington said, but he held his gun just as ready as the others.
Charmian peered down into the water as it slid past and could now see pebbles and sand below them. Her heart started fluttering in her chest, nearly squeezing up into her throat, and she kept looking around for the slightest sign of the Lynxes, or of the mitchi manitous, yet couldn't see anything but for Mishupishu himself, swimming now a bit behind them as he wouldn't be able to make it onto land. She met his eyes and he gave her a look that said he was ready to fight off the other Lynxes himself, which just made her feel worse, considering his wounds. She didn't have much time to think about it, however, as she found Marten clinging to her knee, teeth chattering, and reached down to touch his head.
"I'll carry Winter Born," Thomas whispered. "You can carry Marten. I'm pretty sure Remy can handle it on his own." He waved at Pakwa, who was perched atop Manabozho's and Singing Cedars's canoe. "You carry Kenu! He won't mind the heights."
"I don't need to be carried..." Kenu whined, but other than that didn't put up much of an argument; Charmian could see that he was just as scared as Marten. She scooped up the little Mikumwesu and held him to her, nodding, her face pale. She and Thomas stared at each other for a moment, then he reached out and touched her hand briefly before grasping the paddle and stroking it at the water again. Augwak made a face and turned around to stare out at the lake.
"A minute more," Francois called out softly. "Get ready for it."
Everyone remained perfectly silent now. The paddles made little splashing noises, then the bottoms of the canoes began to scrape against sand and rock. Charmian squeezed Marten so tightly that it was a wonder he didn't squeal; he dug his fingernails into her arm but she didn't even feel it. The waves splashed the pebbly beach and the voyageurs started scanning the nearby trees, then the water. Charmian tensed, ready to spring up and out, and saw the others doing the same; she couldn't keep herself from glancing between water and land, not sure what to expect. Mishosha hadn't been clear in his threat. Those Lynxes and that manitou had looked equally willing to attack. She decided to look toward land; she probably stood a better chance against the manitou. The others could handle the Lynxes.
Francois's paddle struck the shore and the canoe made a grinding noise as it pulled up on land. Immediately, he was jumping out and grabbing onto the prow, hauling it after him; the others started jumping out, Charmian stumbling and nearly falling in the water as she tried to stagger up the shore. She had to hurry out of the way as the others pulled the canoe onto the beach and then let it go; Thomas dropped his paddle and scooped up Winter Born, and Pakwa hopped from the other canoe to grasp onto Kenu, hauling him up into the air. Charmian paused to watch them fly off before a hissing noise made her tense, and she glanced over her shoulder. Thomas jerked a hand at her and gave her a look that said she must be remarkably stupid.
Her eyes grew. Long serpentine shapes shot up out of the water further behind--Mishupishu reared up as well with a hiss of his own--and that was all that she got to see. Thomas and Winter Born came at her, and he shoved her shoulder so that she was forced to go running. She tripped on a clump of grass before regaining her footing, and suddenly her feet were pounding against the damp grassy ground as if she were running in a relay race on Field Day. She'd always hated Field Day, and she'd always especially hated relay races.
More thudding noises came, and she glanced from left to right to see the others following. Despite Francois's instructions, Bouchard had grabbed onto a packet of furs, huffing as he ran along, the packet clasped to his chest as if his life depended on it. She opened her mouth to yell at him to just toss it, when something large and black shot up behind him, making a horrific CLACKing noise and just missing his behind. Bouchard's eyes goggled and he put on a fresh burst of speed.
Winter Born let out a squeal. Charmian's knees nearly tangled when she saw the great Mishupishu winding along the ground, snapping and hissing and spitting. "I THOUGHT THEY COULDN'T COME ON LAND!!" she screamed in disbelief, but that was exactly what it had done. She could see its tiny forelegs digging into the sandy ground, and the way it humped its body along like a monstrous inchworm; but after following them for a short bit, it was forced to stop, and she saw it start to turn and head back for the lake, its muzzle wrinkling hatefully as it retreated. Back at the shore she could see the stringy forms of the other Lynxes writhing about, and hoped that Mishupishu was all right.
"OOOOHHH!!" Peepaukawiss howled. "AHEAD, AHEAD!!"
Her head whirled around, and she almost fell where she was. At least two or three dark shapes had appeared from the smaller stands of trees and were now sprinting toward them; Charmian could tell that they were mitchi manitous, as they looked almost identical to the one in Mishosha's cave--almost, since none of them were quite as big as that one. She looked wildly from left to right, trying to spot him, but he didn't seem to be among them. Was he still waiting ahead, then--?
"Charmian!" Thomas yelled. "STOP LOOKING AND START MOVING!!"
"I AM MOVING!" Charmian yelled back, her voice cracking; her lungs were burning and her legs felt like rubber! The large stand of trees ahead didn't seem to be getting any closer. She stumbled again, Marten letting out a squeak as she did so; her hair flew in her eyes and she wondered if she had any reserve strength left, seeing as she was practically running on nothing but fear, by now--
"CHARMIAN!!" Marten yelled right in her ear, making her grimace.
She opened her eyes--when had she closed them?--and saw one of the large dark shapes headed her way. It whistled and lowered its antlers and all of a sudden it was as if her legs were possessed by crawling ants, they started jerking every which way. She veered left, then tilted right, having no clue what to even do. If she tried stopping fast enough, she'd fall right over. As it was, all that she could do was squish Marten to her chest and hurl out her hand, hoping that fire would drive it off long enough for her legs to decide what to do.
Her fireball went flying through the air. The manitou dodged it, lowering its head again and whistling almost derisively--when something else large and dark flew through the air, landing on its back and sinking its teeth into its neck so that it squealed.
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