|Main story folder & table of contents: "Return To Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 47: The Cry From The Grave"
CHAKENAPOK STARED AT his hand as if it had been burned, rubbing his fingers which still stung from the severed connection. He grimaced and placed a hand to his chest, feeling as if his heart were struggling to break loose.
She wounded me. That girl wounded me!
His fingers curled inward, digging into his own skin. He took a breath and his heart settled, beating normally again; he let his breath out and stared at the empty spot Charmian had occupied moments before. The demon must have helped her escape.
"Cheating again." His face grew dark. "I have just as many playpieces as you do, Mainlander. And that is one move you will not try again."
* * * * *
The burning, searing sensation which had flared through her chest began to recede. Charmian's brow furrowed as she dragged herself upward out of a doze, and she felt the pain at last disappear.
Chakenapok. Chakenapok hurt me.
Chakenapok hurt me!
Where am I...?
Her eyes slowly flitted open. Something was above her. It took a moment or two for her vision to clear enough to make out the features of the person looking down at her, but that only served to confuse her more.
"Geezhigo-Quae...?" She blinked and looked to her side. "Niskigwun?" Then she spotted Thomas leaning over her from the other side, and put out a hand to push herself up, glancing at each one in turn. Then she noticed where she was.
"The Sky Tree?" She frowned in confusion. "How did I get here?"
"You were wounded," Thomas said, kneeling down beside her. "Do you remember anything...?"
She had to stare at him for a moment before her memory started filtering back. "Chakenapok," she murmured. "I went to see him. He burned me." She started and put a hand to her chest. "He tried to steal my spirit stone!" She glanced up at Geezhigo-Quae. "Should he have been able to do that--? I thought it was just a dream and he couldn't hurt me--but, I've never felt anything hurt that much..."
"Normally, he should not have this power," Geezhigo-Quae replied. "This means he must be much stronger than anyone had thought." Her look grew disapproving. "To face him alone and unprepared was very foolish."
"I was told I couldn't fight him," Charmian protested.
"Well, it looks as if that's true," Thomas said. "You can't fight him because he's too strong."
Charmian reached out to grasp Thomas's arm as Geezhigo-Quae turned back to her balcony. "But that's just it! It did work--my idea! I talked to him!"
"Talked to who--?"
"Chakenapok! The real Chakenapok!"
Thomas's brow furrowed and she could tell he must think she'd hit her head. "What do you mean, the 'real' Chakenapok...?"
"That guy--that guy we've been fighting--it's not him!" Charmian used his arm to pull herself further upright, gesturing excitedly. "I tried to get through to him--and it worked!" Her face lit up. "Whoever this is--whoever's doing all these bad things, it's not him. It's somebody who's taken control of him somehow--the same way he did with Moon Wolf, and the Shadow Wolves. I don't know who he is--but he's not Chakenapok. Chakenapok is still in there somewhere. He's still alive!"
Thomas still didn't seem convinced. "How do you know this," he pointed out, "when he just tried to kill you--?"
"I know because I talked with him. He's sorry! He said he didn't mean to kill his mother when he was born--he's sorry about that, and everything else..."
Geezhigo-Quae, standing on her balcony, turned her head slightly to the side, one ear cocked. She slowly turned around to face them as Charmian talked, and the look on her face was guarded.
"Whoever this is who's controlling him," Charmian went on, "he must be the one who really killed Wenonah--however he did it--but you know what that means, right? It means Chakenapok..."
"Mainlander." Charmian cut herself off and she and Thomas glanced up to see Geezhigo-Quae descending from the balcony again and striding toward them. She stopped, her eyes boring through Charmian's so sharply that Charmian felt like seeping through the floor.
"The circumstances of this Chakenapok's birth," she said. "What were they, exactly?"
Charmian stared at her for a moment before answering. "His mother died when he was born," she said. "Manabozho was born first, but when Chakenapok was born he tore his way out of her. She died because of that."
Geezhigo-Quae's face turned pensive. She turned slightly back to the balcony, head lowered as if lost in thought.
"I have heard this story before," she murmured.
Charmian and Thomas shared a puzzled look. Charmian leaned forward.
"You mean, this has happened before?" she asked. "This isn't the first time?"
Silence filled the Tree. Even Niskigwun said nothing. Charmian waited so long that she started to tap her fingers against the floor. Geezhigo-Quae finally seemed to realize that a question had been asked, and lifted her head to look at her.
"Long ago," she said.
Charmian paused, then turned herself around somewhat. She noticed that her arms had healed as well, and rubbed them a little, glancing up toward the older woman.
"Maybe it has some connection to this," she suggested. "Where was it? What exactly happened?"
"Far from here," Geezhigo-Quae replied. "It is much as the story you told me." She gestured at one of the large cabochons overlooking the balcony, and it lit up; Charmian saw a vast expanse of water within it. "Very long ago, two sons were born to a manitou. The first, he who brought goodness and light, was born as any child should be. But the second...the younger...his spirit was dark from the moment of his birth, and he tore his way out from his mother in a violent manner. If she had not been manitou, she would surely have died. Though she did not live much long after. Ever since, the two brothers have been in fierce contest with one another."
Charmian felt a chill settle over her. The story was so strangely similar to what had happened with Chakenapok and Wenonah that she wasn't sure what to think.
Is it connected? It could be just a myth...and myths are a lot alike no matter WHERE they come from...but...it's all I have to go on. Could it really have something to do with this...?
"What happened to this evil manitou?" she finally asked.
Geezhigo-Quae held her stare. "His brother could defeat him...but he could not kill him. He was imprisoned, far away from the world of light. There are those who say that to this day he dwells in darkness."
Unless he got free somehow...? "Where did this happen?" Charmian asked.
"Far from here, near the shore of the big water."
"You mean Lake Superior? Um...I mean, Gitchi-Gami?"
Geezhigo-Quae shook her head. "Further than this, far to the east."
Charmian stood silent, then blinked. "You mean the ocean?"
Geezhigo-Quae nodded, and Charmian felt the blood drain from her face.
"That's...kind of further away than I thought."
"The elder manitou I speak of is known as Glooskap to his people," Geezhigo-Quae continued. "They are not of our kind, yet we are distant kin. The name of he whom he defeated is Malsum, the Wolf."
An even colder shiver passed over Charmian now, and she wasn't even certain why...she felt as if she should be remembering something, yet it stayed just out of her line of sight. She rubbed her arms again and bit her lip.
"Maybe this Malsum has something to do with Chakenapok," she murmured.
"But he was imprisoned," Thomas said. "So how would he be involved?"
"I'm not sure yet," Charmian admitted. "But it's the best lead we have so far, isn't it? At least, it's better than what we had before." She looked to Geezhigo-Quae again. "Geezhigo-Quae, is this Glooskap still around? Would I be able to find him if I wanted to?"
Geezhigo-Quae frowned. "You would really undertake a task so difficult and dangerous? You've already proven you can hardly stand up to this enemy of yours; what makes you believe you could convince such a manitou to assist you?"
"You said he defeated Malsum once," Charmian said, feeling somewhat hurt by the woman's words. "That means he had a good reason to. If Malsum's escaped somehow, wouldn't he want him imprisoned again?"
"As I said, that was long ago and far away. Aside from this coincidence you have no way to know they are the same creature, and why Glooskap would be concerned about the Island is beyond my understanding. As we have, he retreated from his people long ago when they forgot about him. He would not care what you have to say."
Charmian clenched her fist. What sort of people are these, that they don't care what happens to anyone but themselves? Yet she refrained from saying this and started to push herself up to her feet. Thomas took her arm and helped her up and she dusted herself off.
"I'll find some way to reach him, then. Maybe Manabozho can help me." She had to bite her tongue to refrain from saying anything rude, and turned toward the door, Niskigwun stepping out of the way as she and Thomas started walking toward it. They took several steps before she winced and put a hand to her chest, stumbling to a stop; Thomas caught her arm again before she could fall.
"Charmian--?" he said, then lifted his head and glared back toward Geezhigo-Quae. "I thought she was healed!"
Niskigwun gripped his spear and gave Thomas a dark look. "Grandmother Geezhigo-Quae did heal her injuries! Anything that is wrong is not because of us!"
"It's...it's okay, Thomas." Charmian's features eased slightly and she rubbed at her chest. It felt as if a lead weight had been placed inside it. "I'm okay. It's probably just a bruise or something."
"Your arms were cut up before," he insisted. "If you had any bruises, they would be gone by now."
"I'll be fine. Anything else Justin can take care of when we get back."
She lifted her head and took a breath to steady herself, taking another step forward despite the skeptical look on Thomas's face. Geezhigo-Quae's voice made her halt again before she could get very far, however.
Charmian bit the inside of her mouth now. Doesn't she realize I have a name? She turned to look over her shoulder. Geezhigo-Quae was staring at her, but the look on her face had changed. It wasn't so disapproving anymore, though she couldn't quite place what the look was.
"What you said about finding a way," she said. "Do you mean this?"
"I made a promise," Charmian said. "I don't go back on my promises."
"And if I were to relieve you of this obligation...?"
"I wouldn't let you. I don't make promises unless I want to."
"What if fulfilling this promise endangered your life? Does the Island really mean so much to you?"
Charmian turned around. This line of questioning offended her a little bit, but she sensed that not everybody around here understood what was going on. "I don't care if it endangered my life," she said. "Would I even be here if that worried me? I can't count how many times somebody's tried to kill me. I never have to watch out for my life on the mainland, but I don't care that I have to here. The Island does mean that much to me."
Geezhigo-Quae stared at her a moment more, then came their way. Charmian stayed in her place until the woman was right in front of her; Thomas seemed to want to step in between them, but managed to stay where he was as well. Charmian met Geezhigo-Quae's eyes and suddenly felt surprised to see that the look there was one of...pity?
"You have not looked within yourself since this dream, have you?" she said quietly.
Charmian's brow furrowed. "What do you mean...?"
In response the woman held her hand up before Charmian's chest, palm flat, and the glow of Charmian's spirit stone appeared. She looked down at it, expecting to see the same fiery red stone as always...which was why she gasped when she noticed a few small, wispy strands of black slithering around it. She stared at them with wide eyes, as if she'd just found a cavity in her front tooth.
"What...what is that?" she blurted out.
Geezhigo-Quae's voice was as quiet as ever. "It is exactly as it looks like."
"But...that wasn't there before!" Charmian put a hand to her chest, although she couldn't feel the stone; she stared at it in disbelief. The black wisps were still very faint, yet clearly visible. Those had never been there before!
She lifted her head, giving Geezhigo-Quae a panicked look. "Where did it come from?"
"I could not say with certainty," Geezhigo-Quae said, "yet I would guess that when you were wounded, this is what Chakenapok did to you."
Charmian's breath started hitching and her hands began to shake as she stared at the black tendrils. She wanted to brush them away as if they were spiders crawling over her, yet could do nothing but bat futilely at her chest. "Can you get rid of them--?" she cried.
Geezhigo-Quae lowered her hand and the glow faded, leaving Charmian emptyhanded. "I do not have this power," she replied. "So far, you are the only one I have seen with this ability; and I doubt that you can take this darkness away from yourself."
"Justin and Tal Natha healed their own spirit stones before! Why can't I do it too?"
"Justin's darkness was his own, and Tal Natha's was that of his father, a part of himself. Yours is completely foreign to you. I do not believe you can heal yourself in this manner. The darkness would have nowhere to go but back within you."
"What--what'll happen to me then?" Charmian finally tore her eyes away from her chest, feeling them sting with tears. "What happens if I don't do anything about it?"
"You have already seen what became of the medicine man and the Shadow Wolves," Geezhigo-Quae answered her, and Charmian felt her already-heavy heart fill with dread. Her hands shook even more as she stared at her shirt, still envisioning the dark tendrils there.
I can't believe those things are INSIDE me! They shouldn't be there! My spirit stone's never looked like that! How long will it be before he's controlling me, too? Who'll free me if he does?
What will I end up doing to everyone else...?
For some reason this thought frightened her the most, and the tears welled up in her eyes. Thomas touched her arm but she barely noticed him anymore. She'd always been here to help the Island--somehow the thought of hurting it hadn't occurred to her!
She felt her knees start to wobble, threatening to pitch her to the ground; Thomas gripped her arm harder, his icy fingers the only thing keeping her from collapsing entirely. All she wanted to do was get out of here, go back to the Island, curl up in Sugar Loaf, Stick-In-The-Dirt's wigwam, the Crooked Tree, anywhere--somewhere where she could think. There had to be someone who could help her out of this--there'd always been someone there to help her before--
Nobody has this power but ME! I'm the only one who can help me--and even I can't do anything about it. What do I do when I end up turning on the Island? My friends...will they have to fight me off, then...?
"Mainlander," Geezhigo-Quae repeated herself. "The obligation you are under. I assume you would wish to be relieved of it now...?"
Charmian's heart thumped hard, once. Her head jerked up and the tears spilled down her face but she bit the side of her tongue.
"I'm not a zombie yet! Until he turns me into one, I'm still keeping my promise!"
Geezhigo-Quae's face grew stern, though not quite disapproving yet. She lifted her head, the two of them staring each other down, then turned, flicking one hand at the air.
Charmian's brow furrowed in confusion, but she obeyed. Thomas kept hold of her arm, Niskigwun falling into step behind them, as they followed the old woman to the right side of the room. Geezhigo-Quae held her hand up before the wood and a round doorway appeared seemingly out of nowhere; she stepped within and vanished from sight. Charmian sensed Thomas's hesitation but he didn't try to pull her back when she went through the hole as well. They found themselves in an interior hallway within the trunk of the tree, she assumed, and Geezhigo-Quae was already far ahead of them. Charmian picked up her pace and the other two followed suit.
Even though the Tree had seemed massive from the outside, still, she hadn't sensed it was this big. The interior hallway seemed to go on forever, numerous doors lining both sides, the dimness illuminated only by the occasional dangling crystal or cabochon set in the walls. She glanced at all of these as they went by. How could a tree even live with such tunnels carved within it...? She reminded herself that this was obviously a special tree, and nearly ran into Geezhigo-Quae when she found the woman stopped just ahead of her. Geezhigo-Quae looked at her, then held up her hand so another doorway appeared at the end of the hall, where none had been before. She stepped inside, and Charmian bit back a sigh and did so too.
Her irritation immediately dissipated as soon as she could make out her surroundings, and she paused where she was, looking all around her. They had entered a round room similar to Geezhigo-Quae's, yet somewhat smaller and not nearly as high; only instead of the balcony and numerous cabochons lining the walls, this room was encircled by doorways, each one of them sealed with a wooden door inset with a smaller cabochon. Each crystal was a different color, yet unlike the others in the rest of the Tree they did not glow, merely twinkling in the light of the dangling crystals. Geezhigo-Quae stopped in the middle of the room and turned to face the others.
"Your promise?" she prompted.
Charmian looked at her, Thomas still holding onto her arm. "I meant everything I said."
Geezhigo-Quae said nothing in response to this, only turned to the doorway directly behind her and pressed her hand to the cabochon. It lit up greenish-blue, and the perimeter of the door glowed with a soft humming sound; the door then seemed to retreat backwards until vanishing from sight, and Charmian could make out light entering through the resulting opening. Puzzled, she stepped forward to peer within, and saw what seemed to be a vast expanse of grassy green hills scattered with tall pines, wildflowers, and rocky outcroppings. She couldn't be certain, but she could almost swear she smelled salt in the distance, and glanced at Geezhigo-Quae in confusion. Geezhigo-Quae merely gestured at the doorway.
"Through here," she said, "is the way to the land of Glooskap's people."
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