So this is what meeting a real live Thunderbird is like...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Escape From Manitou Island"
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The Mighty Kenu
CHARMIAN'S AND WINTER Born's eyes grew as wide as moons, staring up at the huge yellow eye that stared right back from the little hole in the cave wall. Before she even knew what she was doing, Charmian was screaming, and she bolted away from the wall as fast as she could, Winter Born following.
She caught the almost comic looks of panic on Thomas's, Niskigwun's, and Marten's faces as she and Winter Born ran straight at them, and they turned and dodged out of the way just in time to avoid being bowled over. The floor of the cave started rumbling and vibrating; she nearly fell when her feet went out from under her, only Thomas's arm saving her from toppling over onto her face. She saw the tiny terrified puff that was Marten zipping away into the tunnel, Manabozho glancing after him; he turned to look in their direction before his feathers flew out straight, then he disappeared as well. Thomas yanked her and Winter Born toward the entryway while Niskigwun held his place, wings quaking; she glanced back over her shoulder as they dashed from the cave, and couldn't quite believe what she saw.
The giant yellow eye in the little opening closed, then vanished. A second later, the hole itself vanished, the entire back section of the cave wall crumbling into rubble as a horrific screaming screeching noise rent the air. Crackles of electricity shimmered over everything and Charmian saw a flash of what looked to be an enormous talon, before Niskigwun jumped in front of her, waving them back frantically.
"GO ON! GO ON!!" he yelled in a too-high voice; Thomas yanked on her arm again and she stumbled along down the tunnel. They raced back the way they'd come, finally emerging in the low wide mouth of the sea cave and tripping over wet rocks, feet slapping against sand as they turned and made their way along the beach. Everyone else who had been left behind, including the stranger manitous, turned their heads to watch their progress with what appeared to be puzzlement. Charmian wildly waved her arm at the air.
"GET BACK!!" she shouted. They all just stared at her rather stupidly, then a few of the manitous turned and fled. The others' eyes grew and one by one they too turned and went running, scrambling to make their way back up the little cliff.
Charmian tripped again--at least, she thought she did, until she noticed how Thomas fell with her, Winter Born tumbling into the sand. The ground quaked so badly that she couldn't regain her balance and had to grab at one of the projecting boulders just to avoid going rolling into the water. The stone vibrated beneath her arms. She glanced back toward the cave with not a little bit of tension, fearing what she might see.
First she saw the cave. Then--no more cave. She goggled at the sight of solid stone splintering like mere wood and sailing through the air, landing with tremendous crashes along the beach and splashing against the water. Something arose to take the cave's place, a giant head, followed by gleaming eyes, a wicked beak, and a long feathered neck. By the time that the Thunderbird's wings emerged from the crumbling earth, Niskigwun had arrived to grab onto her arm, and he hauled her forward, Thomas and Winter Born and Marten and all, a look of pure panic on his face. She'd never seen his wings buzz so rapidly before.
"Niskigwun--?!" she cried.
"Keep running!!" he screamed. "Something's got him angry!! VERY ANGRY!!"
They managed to catch up with the lead manitou, who was scurrying for safety over the rocks. "Are you happy?!" Charmian yelled. "You just HAD to shoo him out, didn't you?!"
The manitou blared a whistle. I'M not the one who messed it up, fool girl!!
A thundering shriek arose and Charmian grimaced, her ears throbbing. She pulled herself loose of Niskigwun's grip and let him keep hold of Winter Born and Marten, ducking to avoid the Michinimakinong picking her up again. She held up her hands and focused on the beast charging toward them. Her hands shook like leaves when she finally got her first good look at the Animiki.
It was gigantic. There was no other word she could think of to describe it. The thing was as massive as a small passenger plane, its wingspan even wider, and it came stomping across the crumbling ground, the remains of what had been the cave's roof collapsing down to the shore below with a splashing crash. Its feathers were a strange dirty milky white flecked with grayish-brown, and they stuck out every which way, as if it had been caught in the water itself before charging. Its neck was tremendously long, and its head was bigger than she would have expected, almost absurdly gangly on that long narrow neck. Its giant eyes were as yellow as Augwak's, with glinting black pupils; and its beak was yellow to match, gaping wide open and hooked just as sharp as its long black talons which gouged up the soil as it ran. It spread its wings--they both looked intact, to Charmian--and thudded along, both agonizingly slow and strangely fast at once, and with each step the ground shook. Charmian couldn't figure out why it wasn't flying.
The Thunderbird lifted its head on its long neck and let out a horrific scream which made the air itself tremble. Manabozho caught up with Charmian and grabbed at her arm, but she shook her head wildly, trying to focus her attention on the bird.
"I'll--I'll hold him off!!" she stammered over the noise. Manabozho stared at her briefly as if she were mad, then turned and raised his own hands. A second later Niskigwun appeared at Charmian's other side, spear poised. She glanced from one to the other in confusion, before the Thunderbird at last came to a halt before them, lifting itself as tall as it could and bellowing at the air. Everyone grimaced and quailed.
Charmian glanced back to make sure that everyone else had reached safety in a stand of trees some distance away, then turned back to the Animiki and met its eyes. They gleamed at her almost madly, the bird's beak half open, and she gritted her teeth and raised her hands.
"We DIDN'T come to hurt you!" she had to yell, its head was up so high. "But if you keep this up, we WILL!"
In response the bird lifted its head and screamed. It lowered its head again and electricity crackled around it, its eyes flashing; Charmian nearly lost her resolve, but Manabozho's and Niskigwun's presence made her steel herself, and she crooked her hands again.
"LAST WARNING, BUDDY!"
The Animiki let out an awful hissing noise, then came stomping at them again. Charmian opened her mouth, then realized that she had absolutely no idea what element to call up--water?--fire?--she'd never learned how to call up electricity!
"Um--" she stammered, and her mind blanked out. Manabozho and Niskigwun both looked at her with their mouths hanging open, then threw up their hands again as the Thunderbird bore down on them. Niskigwun hurled his spear, but the bird's lightning knocked it harmlessly away; Manabozho flung a gust of wind at it, but it didn't even react, its eyes fixed on Charmian as if the other two weren't even there.
Charmian let out a frantic squeal and tore at her vest, then flung her hand out at the air with an absurdly girly scream. She fell to the ground and threw her arms over her head, hoping that at least Niskigwun and Manabozho could fend for themselves, since she certainly wasn't doing much good--!
The thudding noises of the Thunderbird's feet abruptly halted, as well as its shriek, and a strange electric hum filled the air. Charmian's teeth rattled in her head. She could feel her hair standing on end and smell the reek of ozone all around her; she cracked one eye open, darting it back and forth. She saw a set of jet-black talons gouging the ground only several yards away and her teeth started rattling anew. The bird's breath rasped in its throat far above her...but it wasn't charging or screaming anymore.
She at last dared to peer out between her arms, only to shriek and tumble head over heels when the Animiki bent its massive head down to poke its beak at the ground. Its beak alone had to be longer than she was tall! She started scrambling back toward the trees but slipped in the wet earth and fell onto her elbows; she glanced back at the bird, and saw that its nostrils were flaring as if it smelled something.
Then she smelled it too, and wrinkled her nose. Tobacco--?
She lifted her hand and noticed the small brown crumbs trapped under her fingernails, then patted at her pocket. The pouch of tobacco was half empty now; she couldn't even remember reaching into it. She stared at it in confusion, then looked back up at the bird. It sniffed at the sprinkling of tobacco on the ground, then lifted its head a little, snorting so loudly that the grass rustled around it like a helicopter was landing.
"TOBACCO?" it boomed, its voice harsh and cracking--not nearly as deep as she'd assumed it would be, but still threatening enough. It poked at the tobacco with one talon. "YOU OFFER ME TOBACCO?"
Charmian blinked. She looked at the others--Manabozho made an awful face, but Niskigwun started nodding wildly. She'd never seen him look so flustered before. She turned back to the Thunderbird and swallowed before nodding.
"Um...y...yeah..." She had to swallow again before she could lose her voice. "Um...you like it...?"
The Thunderbird raised itself as high as a small building and flared its wings. "NONE HAVE EVER OFFERED ME TOBACCO BEFORE!" it boomed. "YOU ARE THE FIRST!"
Charmian felt her muscles very slowly untensing as she began to realize that the bird didn't seem very interested in attacking anymore...if it ever had been. She carefully pushed herself up and blinked a few times, then got to her feet, but kept her head lowered a bit, just in case. The bird didn't seem to notice the gesture; it continued poking at the tobacco as if fascinated, picking up the tiny crumbs in its gigantic talons and sniffing at them. Charmian's brow furrowed even further and she even took a step toward it.
"Um..." She waited a moment, but it didn't turn its attention toward her. "You've never gotten tobacco before...?"
"NO," the Thunderbird boomed, and took a huge sniff which made her hair fly forward. The bird let out a breath and her hair flew back. It arose again and stomped toward her; she quailed and tripped, scrambling backwards like a crab. The Animiki halted so that it loomed over her, yellow eyes flashing.
"I AM THE GREAT WAR-BIRD KENU," it said. "GRANDSON OF THE MIGHTY NIGANKWAM, THE FIRST THUNDER AND OGIMAH OF THE ANIMIKI! I AM HE WHO FLAPS HIS WINGS AND BRINGS THE GUSTS WHICH STIR THE WAVES, HE WHO FLASHES HIS EYES AND BRINGS THE LIGHTNING, HE WHOSE VOICE RESOUNDS AS THUNDER!"
Throughout this entire speech Charmian held her place, yet it was all she could do not to grimace, and she couldn't help but shut her eyes and wince, as the Thunderbird's voice was so loud that it made her skin hurt. That's nice, she felt like saying, yet forced herself not to; she did grimace this time when Kenu belted out, seemingly at the top of his lungs, "YOU ARE AFRAID TO OPEN YOUR EYES BEFORE ME? IT IS FITTING THAT HUMANS BE AFRAID TO OPEN THEIR EYES BEFORE ME!!"
"Ac...actually..." Charmian managed to get out, and the Animiki fell silent just long enough to cock his head at her, "actually...I was just...kind of wondering if you might...lower your voice just a little...?" She lifted one hand and tentatively pressed it to her ear, opening one eye a sliver and making a pinching motion at the air. "My ears are a whole lot smaller than yours...and your voice is a whole lot bigger..."
"OH." The Thunderbird blinked, then let out an odd rasping coughing noise. "Oh," he said again, and his voice was still abnormally loud, yet not so bad that it made her skull throb. "You mean like this?"
Charmian nodded gratefully. "That's it," she said with relief. "Just like that, thanks."
The Animiki ruffled his wings and raised his head again. "I am the great war-bird Kenu!" he exclaimed. "Grandson of the mighty--"
"We got that part already," Manabozho growled, coming back to stand beside Charmian.
"Oh." Kenu closed his beak and looked mildly indecisive, as if not sure of what to do next. "Um." He looked skyward for a few moments, then coughed again. "I am he who flaps his wings and brings the gusts which stir the waves!"
"Got that too," Charmian said, "and brings the lightning, and thunder, yadda yadda yadda." When he looked confused again she hurried on. "I wanted to talk to you about your cave."
"MY CAVE?" Kenu boomed, then coughed. "My cave--? What of it?"
"Well..." Charmian rubbed at her head; even though the Animiki seemed relatively harmless now that she was talking with him, he was still the size of an airplane, and she found that talking to an airplane-sized bird made her nervous. "There's this little detail that...it's not really your cave...and..."
"NOT MY CAVE?" The Thunderbird raised himself and spread his wings. "I HAVE THE RIGHT TO CLAIM AS MY OWN ANY RESIDENCE I WISH! I CLAIM THIS RIGHT AS THE GRANDSON OF THE MIGHTY NIGANKWAM, THE FIRST THUNDER AND--"
"Ogimah of the Animiki! I know, I know!" Charmian had to yell over the noise; the sky itself seemed to start rumbling as soon as he spoke, and she waved her hands to try to quiet him down. "The thing is, there were people living in that cave before you showed up," she said, and he closed his beak and looked down at her with a frown. "And you kind of--well--scared them off. And that's kind of got them upset."
"WHO LIVES IN MY CAVE?" Kenu asked. "WHAT SORT OF TINY BEINGS DWELL WITHIN?"
"Manitous," Charmian shouted. "You frightened out a family of manitous! The cave manitous lived there before you showed up--"
"MANITOUS--?" Kenu blinked, then seemed to shrink a little. "Manitous lived in my cave?"
Charmian nodded, relieved to finally be getting through to him; if he represented all Thunderbirds, then she assumed that they must be rather self-centered. "Until you moved in," she explained. "Then your thunder scared them off. They've been wandering around here ever since. They don't have anywhere to live now that you've moved in."
"Nowhere to live?" Kenu seemed to wilt even more, and Charmian blinked in surprise when she thought she spied guilt in his eyes. She hurried to press on.
"They were the cave manitous," she said. "Where else would they live? And they're kind of upset now that you pretty much threw them out..."
The Animiki lowered his head so it sank down between his wings. "I didn't mean to throw anyone out," he insisted. "I didn't even know anyone lived there." He raised his head. "HOW IS THE GREAT WAR-BIRD KENU TO KNOW WHAT LITTLE MANITOUS DWELL WITHIN HIS CAVE IF THEY DO NOT SPEAK UP FIRST?"
A loud whistle came, and the lead manitou stepped up on Charmian's other side, her fur bristling. Stupid Animiki! she snapped. Just moved in without even a hello! DID speak up first! But Animiki's voice so damned loud he couldn't even hear! What sort of things has been taught to not know that we live everywhere? Even in caves? Especially in caves! Should hop back under Nigankwam-One's wing and learn some more! Have obviously not learned enough!
Charmian winced, Niskigwun doing the same. Throughout this speech Kenu seemed to grow smaller and smaller, his head sinking between his wings until it looked like his neck had disappeared, and he looked like he wanted to creep back into the cave. "I...didn't mean it," he said in a very tiny voice which also surprised Charmian; she hadn't thought that he could talk in such a small voice. "I would've been quieter if I'd noticed anybody there!"
"Well..." Charmian captured his attention again. "It's okay! They're still hanging around, so you didn't scare them completely off. I know you didn't mean to--everybody knows Thunderbirds are nice guys, just--um--" She chewed her lip, then shrugged. "Well--anyway, all you need to do is be quieter, and I'm sure you can live alongside them--" She turned to give the lead manitou a pleading look. "Right?"
The manitou glared at her so that she wilted this time. She whistled and tossed her head in the direction of the shore. Take a look! she retorted. See if we can move back into our cave!
Charmian, Manabozho, and Niskigwun looked. Charmian felt her shoulders sink when she saw the gaping jagged area where the cave had been, not long before...until Kenu had plunged up out of the ground, that was. Kenu apparently noticed this as well, as he sank until he was practically crouching, at least, as much as such a giant animal could crouch. Charmian started walking toward the remains of the cave and stopped at the edge of the debris, taking a tentative look down. The entire front section of the cave had collapsed upon itself, leaving an entirely new section of cliffside and an entirely new field of rocks and rubble upon the shore. The water lapped against what had before been the cave roof, and she could only imagine what had happened even deeper within the caves.
She rubbed meekly at her neck and peered back at the manitous gathering nearby to also look at the wreckage. "Um...well...at least it's empty," she murmured. "And...it's got a skylight now..."
The manitou blared a whistle at her. Thanks for nothing! Now we must find NEW caves to move into, or perish! Will have to search and search for empty ones or crowd into old ones with other manitous who barely spare the room! Very much megwetch!
Charmian's jaw fell. "I--I can't help it!!" she exclaimed in dismay, but Manabozho took a step forward and put out his arm to nudge her back. She glared at him, ready to snap that this was hardly the best moment, when he held up his other hand toward the cave and gave her an aloof look.
"If you'll excuse me?" he said somewhat loftily. "I am part sandling, remember? I'll just take care of this little setback, just like always, and then you can talk about your piffling trivial stuff."
Charmian's face flushed brilliant red and her muscles tensed, but Niskigwun hurriedly pulled her away before she could start clobbering him. "Easy," he urged under his breath. "Just let him do his thing. It's the one useful thing he can do for a change! The sooner we placate all of them, the better, and then we can seek out Shawondassee. Remember, he does it for Turtle as well!"
Charmian let out her breath and rubbed at her head. Under such odd circumstances, it was quite easy to forget the little girl; now that she thought of her she felt a pang, and hoped she was doing all right. Megissogwun hadn't seemed interested in hurting her, just yet...but what if he got impatient during all of this...?
"Just be careful with it, okay?" she called out to Manabozho; he gave her a snooty look, but turned back to the ruined cave and raised his hand over it. There was a brief silence but for the cries of gulls down nearer the shore; then the ground started rumbling slightly, and the group watched as great black hunks of rock rose slowly into the air, rolling over the edge of the cliff and sinking back into the ground where they'd broken from. Charmian stared on in awe as the cave began to reassemble itself; it was just like watching the thing collapse, only while pushing a giant rewind button. Every boulder and rock and pebble fitted back into its proper place, and even the hunks of turf which had torn out of Kenu's way settled back, until the ground was left intact just as it had been before the Thunderbird had crashed his way out of it. Everyone, including the manitous, stared at it in awe as Manabozho turned around and dusted his hands self-importantly. He gestured.
"There," he said, as if they couldn't see the results for themselves. "Satisfied? We'll take our instructions to find Shawondassee, now, if you don't mind."
The lead manitou stared at him with wide eyes, then the fur on her ruff started bristling every which way. Manabozho's composure faltered and he took a tentative step back, suddenly chewing on his lip. Everyone else did much the same; Charmian jumped and gasped when the manitou whirled on her, practically spitting at the air.
Head back to mounds in woods! she snapped. Take meadow trail south until coming to oak forest! Keep going! Go and go and go! Enter forest glade! Bottom of small mountain here! Seek about for entrance! There find South Wind One! She tossed her head and blared. Go on now! Take stupid Animiki with you! And don't bother coming back!
Charmian's eyes grew bigger and bigger until they felt ready to fall from her head; Manabozho's did the same, as well as Kenu's. Niskigwun grasped her arm and started tugging her toward the others waiting near the stand of trees. "Come on," he hissed under his breath, and she obeyed without a word. They shuffled around the lead manitou and crept toward the trees; when the manitou glared furiously at Manabozho he jumped and hurried to do the same. Kenu lowered his head meekly, then followed suit, at least, as well as a Thunderbird could creep, considering that every step he took left a huge clawed footprint and the earth shook a little every time. The group of manitous started whistling and making their way excitedly toward the cave; the others stood and watched them go, the lead manitou shooting them an evil look before retreating as well. Only once they were gone did Charmian, Manabozho, Niskigwun, and Kenu dare let out their breath all at once, and most of the others did the exact same, a few of them rubbing at their heads in relief.
"Cripes," Charmian muttered when she was sure that the lead manitou was gone. "Somebody's PMS'ing today."
"I actually took a peek at her spirit stone as you conversed with her," Niskigwun said. "It was bright red...pretty much the same as yours."
Charmian shot him a look just as evil as the manitou's and he flinched back. "You!" she exclaimed, and Kenu ducked his head. "Um...Thunderbird." She rubbed her neck awkwardly. "It looks kind of like you're going to have to find someplace else to stay. But the other Animiki will likely let you tag along. They have to be somewhere nearby because it seems to still be summer..." Kenu's head began to sink again until it nearly touched the ground. "Did I say something wrong...?"
"Well..." Kenu looked as if he bit his lip, even though he was a bird and had no lips to bite. "I would have gone with the other Animiki...and not stayed in this cave so unwelcomely..."
"So why didn't you?" This from Manabozho; he stepped forward and glared at Kenu before she or Niskigwun could stop him. "Why did you stay here and cause all this trouble!"
Kenu's wings hunched now and his beak quivered. Charmian frowned when she saw that his eyes appeared to be wet. Did Thunderbirds cry--?
"I would've gone along with the other Animiki," Kenu said again. "But I don't know where they went!"
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