What do you do when a Thunderbird and an Underwater Lynx meet? Run!!...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Escape From Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 37: Aunt Grandfather"
MOON WOLF FROWNED. "What makes you think I would know where to find this East Wind...?" he asked.
They were sitting at the base of the great hill in the oak forest, all gathered in a circle below Kenu's head; the Thunderbird had fallen asleep and was now snoring, the tree his head rested against rattling slightly and a few stray manitous milling about looking nervous. As soon as Moon Wolf spoke Charmian's head sank and she let out a sigh.
"I thought you'd know because you're a wabano," she said. When his puzzled look grew she rubbed at her neck meekly. "Shawondassee told us that you guys pledge your devotion to the Morning Star...and that's in the east. I just...well...thought maybe you'd know."
Moon Wolf blinked, then his eyes shifted so that he looked at the others surrounding them. Charmian opened her mouth to ask them to leave, and saw a few of them start to get to their feet as if anticipating her request, but Moon Wolf got up before they could say anything. When she gave him a puzzled look he just waved his hand at her with an annoyed expression.
"If we are to head east, then we have a lot of walking ahead of us," he said. "Back to the bay."
Charmian furrowed her brow but obeyed, clambering to her feet. She glanced at the others but they seemed just as puzzled as she was. Winter Born, Marten, and Remy woke up Kenu--as nobody else was willing to--and the Thunderbird yawned as they started making their way toward the way out of the woods. As they walked, Charmian noticed how Moon Wolf gradually detached himself from the group, and wandered toward him. He was nearly scowling; she peered back at the others and saw Thomas and Stick-In-The-Dirt looking her way, but they turned away immediately as soon as they saw that she noticed.
"I would prefer if you stop bringing up such things in front of everybody," Moon Wolf said under his breath.
Charmian blinked. "But...it's not a secret or anything," she said, confused. "They already know."
"This is not something one goes bragging about," Moon Wolf said.
"But I wasn't bragging--"
"Merely bringing this up repeatedly is enough to be bragging. Do you not know what sorts of things happen to those who show too much arrogance?" he said, giving her almost a glare; she shrank in on herself a little. "I know you don't agree that this is what happened with Stick-In-The-Dirt. But he did boast of a manitou whose patronage he did not have. Take a look at what became of his family. There are reasons why we do not go talking lightly about what we do. And I told you, I gave that up a long time ago."
"You still toss fire," Charmian said obstinately, but ducked her head again when he glared at her. "Even if you did give it up," she persisted, "you STILL were a wabano once! So you must still know what you learned--? Like anything about how to find the Morning Star? If we find Wabun-Anung, then we should find Wabun himself. That's what Shawondassee said."
Moon Wolf let out a weary sigh. "You do realize how I took up this path in the first place, don't you...? The way of the Mide I found too slow. The way of the wabanos is not quite as slow but still a slow process. This is why I made my bargain--to learn quickly. I would have been an old man before I learned everything the hard way."
"But you didn't learn a thing about Wabun-Anung--?"
"Only what is necessary to learn. The Morning Star is where we supposedly gain our powers from." He gave her another look. "But you recall that I didn't earn my medicine this way. I made a bargain for it."
Charmian's head sank. When Moon Wolf had finally admitted that he had bought his powers from Ocryana...the price being his daughter, Shadow Water...she'd been so filled with rage that her anger had cowed even him. From what she could tell, he and Shadow Water had made up long ago, but it was still something she couldn't quite work her mind around. He had been her teacher, after all...it was jarring to learn that her teacher had sold his own daughter to get what he wanted. "I'm sorry," she said after a moment or so had passed; she sensed him looking at her but didn't lift her head. "I just assumed. I didn't mean anything by it, I just thought it was our best shot at finding Wabun. That's all."
There was a moment of silence, then he sighed. "I know this. But it still leaves this problem. How you are going to find the East Wind."
Charmian sighed. "I guess we'll just have to do it the hard way, and head east until we run into him...or until something else happens." She trudged miserably. "Maybe we'll luck out and find another Thunderbird or Lynx to help us..."
"Be careful what you wish for," Moon Wolf said; she was ready to tell him that that sentiment was well known in her world, but the bay was coming up close, and several of the others had picked up their pace in anticipation. She rubbed her arms and grimaced at the memory of how they had gotten there.
"I wonder if Mishu knows any more tunnels...?" she mused aloud, the bay coming into sight; darkness had almost fallen, and the water glittered blackly in the dying light. "He was pretty useful so far. I hate to say it, but Mishupishus seem to know their way around."
"This is not always such a good thing," Niskigwun said, coming up close. "I would be perfectly content if they did not know the location of the Island!"
"We're heading east now...?" Kenu asked in a hopeful voice. There was a spring in his step as he ambled along, and the ground shook with each step; Charmian didn't even notice how she kept bracing herself until he spoke up. "Maybe we'll run into the other Animiki! They do head east in the summer..."
"Maybe he's right," Charmian thought aloud, causing those around her to glance at her curiously. She dared to let her hope rise a little. "Think about it! If anybody knows how far east to go to find Wabun, maybe it would be a Thunderbird! We could kill two birds with one stone!" When Kenu's head whirled around and he gawked at her in horror she blushed terribly and waved her hand. "It's just an expression!! No offense!!"
"I want to go through another SHORTCUT!" Marten exclaimed, hopping ahead of them cheerily. "That last one was FUN!"
Charmian rolled her eyes--and she was pretty sure she wasn't the only one who did. "Speak for yourself!"
Marten halted just long enough to frown at her puzzledly. "I am! Nobody ELSE is speaking for me!" He hopped on to the edge of the bay and waved. "Yooooohoooooo! We're baaaaaack! You still here...?"
The water rippled and Mishupishu's great black head arose, his copper horns glinting. Marten had enough time to wave up at him before a horrendous shrieking sound rent the air, making Charmian and everybody else gape before slapping their hands to their ears in pain. Charmian glanced up with a wince to see all of Kenu's feathers flaring every which way, making him look even bigger than his already airplane-sized build; he spread his wings, his beak wide open and his eyes flashing dangerously. Mishupishu's own eyes goggled and his spines flared before he plunged into the water and out of sight with a terrific splash. Kenu's scream abruptly cut short, and the silence made their ears ring.
They blinked a few times, then brought down their hands. Charmian's brow furrowed. "What was--"
She gasped and Thomas hurriedly pushed her aside when Kenu went charging past, screaming again. They stood and watched in stunned silence as the Thunderbird splashed into the bay and started flapping his wings madly, beating the surface of the water and shrieking the entire time. Charmian couldn't understand what was happening--he'd seemed to be in such a good mood, before--when he started speaking, his voice coming out in a terrible shrieking roar.
"A MISHUPISHU! AN UNDERWATER LYNX! ENEMY OF MY PEOPLE, THE ANIMIKI! I WILL VANQUISH HIM! I WILL BITE OFF HIS HEAD AND SLICE UP HIS BODY AND GRIND HIM INTO THE GROUND! VILE VULGAR CREATURE! HOW DARE YOU SHOW YOUR FACE AND THREATEN THE TRAVELING COMPANIONS OF THE MIGHTY KENU!!"
Charmian's jaw dropped, then she ran at him, waving her hands. "W--WAIT!" she yelled at the top of her voice. "IT'S NOT WHAT YOU THINK! WAIT!!"
Kenu didn't listen--or more likely couldn't even hear her. "DARE TO SHOW YOUR FACE AGAIN, COWARDLY LYNX!!" he screamed. "I'LL PECK YOUR EYES OUT MYSELF!!"
"WAIT!!" Charmian, Niskigwun, and Winter Born all yelled at once. They ran up to the edge of the water but didn't dare get closer; Kenu's hysterics were wild enough to flatten any of them should he grow even more careless. Charmian gave the others a desperate glance, pleading for help; nobody seemed to know what to do, and she wasn't quite ready to ask Francois to shoot him. She was pretty sure that wouldn't go over well with the other Animiki.
She whirled toward Kwemoo and Maang. "You guys!" The two loons cocked their heads to peer up at her. "You're birds!! Go try to talk him out of all this! I don't know how to approach a bird!!"
"O-ho!" the loons exclaimed. "Shall we imperil ourselves for this request--? O-ho!"
Charmian opened her mouth to scream at them when a gust of wind sailed over their heads and slammed into the back of Kenu's, and he promptly fell facefirst into the water with a splash. Everyone blinked in surprise; Charmian glanced at Manabozho and Peepaukawiss, thinking them the most likely to have done such a thing, but they seemed just as surprised as everyone else.
She turned all the way around and was the only one to notice Augwak, at the very back of the group, collapse in a quivering heap, his eyes rolling back in his head. She blinked.
"AAAAIIIEEEEE!!" Puka wailed, running forward with all of his own feathers going every which way. "Is he ALL RIGHT--?!"
"What...what just happened...?" Niskigwun asked, confused.
Charmian opened her mouth again, but this time was interrupted when Kenu pushed himself up with a moan. He staggered to his feet, sopping wet and looking like a drowned seagull; he blinked blearily a few times and sputtered water out of his nostrils. He lifted one wing and stared at it in dismay.
"I'm all WET!" he yelled. "I, an Animiki, am all WET!"
"Thunderbirds never get wet...?" Winter Born whispered in puzzlement to Charmian, but all that she could do was shake her head and shrug. She stepped toward the bank and waved at him as he turned in muddled circles and looked ready to cry.
"Kenu! I tried to tell you!" she called out at him, as he didn't seem to be listening. "That was just Mishupishu! He's--"
"A MISHUPISHU! JUST AS I DECLARED!" Kenu boomed, and tried fluffing himself up, though he only half-succeeded, some of his feathers being stuck to his body in odd spots. "DO NOT WORRY, TINY BEINGS! I WILL VANQUISH HIM PROMPTLY!" He turned around and spotted Mishupishu's head peeping out of the water a safer distance away; the Lynx quailed when he saw him, and ducked beneath the water. Before Charmian could stop him the Thunderbird went crashing after him, only to disappear himself with a startled squawk, vanishing in a dropoff.
The blood drained from Charmian's face. She grimaced and waved wildly at X'aaru and Mani. "Guys!! Try to get him out!!" she squealed; the two dove into the water with splashes that seemed a lot tinier in comparison. Everyone crowded near the shore and waited as the water bubbled slightly; after a few moments X'aaru and Mani broke the surface, blinking and confused. The manitou whistled and X'aaru whined.
"It's dark down there!" the demon exclaimed. "I can barely see anything!"
Animiki does not seem to be there, Mani said, mystified.
"Not there? What do you mean, not there--?!" Charmian yelled, waving her arms; Thomas and Niskigwun had to hold her back. "He HAS to be there!!"
They chewed their lips and looked uncertain; splashing noises arose further out, and Charmian thought she saw feathers breaking the surface. She held her breath and waited with the others as the wake came closer to shore, looking for all the world like a rodent burrowing under the snow; they gasped when Kenu splashed out of the water and collapsed on the shore with a gigantic thud, his eyes closed and his tongue hanging out. Charmian turned her head to see Mishupishu in the bay again, gasping for breath, his spines dangling limply. She let out her breath and jogged to Kenu's side, looking him over.
"I...t...tried to get him as soon as I could," the Underwater Lynx panted, "but...he's...so heavy...and...scary...!!"
"Thanks, Mishu," Charmian murmured, pressing her fingers to the Thunderbird's neck, as she had no idea what else to do; she felt a giant thudding pulse which was hard to miss, as it vibrated down into her feet, and pulled her hand away with a sigh of relief. Kenu started coughing and sputtering and a gout of water splashed over Niskigwun, who'd been bending down near his beak. Charmian stared at the dripping Michinimakinong for a moment or two before turning back to Mishupishu. "Are you okay?"
Mishupishu flushed a little. "Well..." He winced and tried to raise his spines, but one of them bent out crookedly to the side. "Mostly...I'll be all right..."
"Ooohhhhh," Kenu moaned, starting to stir. He grimaced himself. "What happened...? Am I on the Spirit Road...?"
"No," Manabozho groused aloud. "HARDLY!"
Everyone stepped back carefully as he started to rise, wincing and shaking his head. "I am thoroughly SOAKED!" he whined in dismay. "What a horrid humiliating state for an Animiki to be in!" He blinked and his head popped up. "The Lynx--! Did I get the Lynx--? Did I kill it--?" He hurriedly whirled around, so much so that he nearly lost his balance; Charmian's brow furrowed. He sounded hopeful.
Mishupishu was busily flexing his spines; when Kenu turned around they gawked at each other, then the Thunderbird started screaming again when the Lynx ducked into the water. Charmian managed to race ahead of him and throw her arms out at her sides before he could plunge into the water again, which he looked ready to do; he froze in place and gaped at her, then started huffing and stomping his feet. He tried to flare his wings, though his wet feathers still weren't obeying.
"OUT OF THE WAY, TINY HUMAN!" he yelled. "I WILL VANQUISH THAT LYNX BEFORE HE CAN SWALLOW YOU UP!"
"HOLD ON!" Charmian screamed at the top of her lungs, and then blinked and blushed furiously in the ringing silence that followed; she hadn't known she could make her voice so loud. Apparently, no one else had known either, judging by the looks on their faces; they looked as if she'd been caught screaming some choice curse words in the middle of a church service. She started shrinking in on herself and rubbed at her neck meekly. She tried speaking but her throat hurt so much that she could only cough a little.
Niskigwun strode to her side and gestured up at Kenu. "Great Grandfather! We know that you only wish to protect us. But there is no need for this here! This Underwater Lynx you see before you, he is the one who brought us here, and he is on his own, not in league with the other Mishupishus."
Kenu stared at him as if he'd gone mad. He looked at Mishupishu, then his feathers ruffled, more than before.
"There IS no such thing as a decent Mishupishu!" he insisted. "They are all the same! Where there is one, there are more! And even if not, you can hardly trust him! Out of my way! I will dispose of him IMMEDIATELY!"
Charmian dodged to keep in front of him when he started toward the water again, and she fell down this time when she tripped in the wet grass; he frowned at her, but she merely pushed herself up and clenched her fists, panting hard. She jerked a finger at him so abruptly that he flinched.
"HOLD...on," she croaked, then started coughing. Everyone stood and waited as the tears began trailing from her eyes; after a moment or two Francois approached and handed her a waterskin, which she drank from gratefully and then handed back. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and glared up at Kenu. "It's JUST like Niskigwun said!" she managed in a hoarse voice. "He's NOT going to kill us or hurt us! He brought us all the way here! He's the one who pointed out the shortcut to GET here, otherwise we'd've been walking FOREVER! He's only ONE Lynx and he's not causing any sort of TROU--" She cut off coughing here, and had to bend over to catch her breath.
"--Ble," Niskigwun filled in, blushing a little bit.
Kenu's brow furrowed. "You--you mean--you have been working in concert with this creature--?" he cried, and waved his wing at the lake; a spray of water pelted everyone on that side of him and they ran to join the others where it was drier. "All this time, you claim to have been ready to fight the Lynxes!--and now you claim to be WORKING with one--?" Charmian stared in disbelief when his eyes began to water up and his beak quivered. "What sort of joke are you pulling on poor Kenu?!"
"It's no joke," Charmian wheezed, leaning on her knees. "Trust me, okay? I thought it was weird too. But he's not that bad. Mishu--?" She glanced over her shoulder; a pair of copper horns and yellow-green eyes peeped out of the water a safe distance away. "Come on over. He won't attack you again." When Kenu started huffing and puffing she glared at him so venomously that he shrank in on himself. "He won't...attack you again," she repeated herself, and the Lynx timidly swam back into the little bay, spines drooping. He pulled in near the shore and the two of them stared at each other in an odd silence; Kenu's eyes looked like murder, and Mishupishu's eyes looked like...they wanted to be hiding under a rock or something.
"There's an exception to every rule," Charmian said. "I didn't believe it either at first! But he's okay."
"He could be tricking you!" the Thunderbird insisted, and gave the Lynx the evil eye. "Lulling you into a false sense of security!"
Charmian rolled her eyes. "I don't quite think that's in his nature." A thought struck her and she added, "He was in Manabozho's company when we found him! You know Manabozho--right?"
Kenu's eyes slowly went wide. "The Great Rabbit...?" he said; Manabozho, somewhat behind him, stood straight, feathers flaring, and then dashed forward to stop beside Charmian, crossing his arms; she had to keep herself from rolling her eyes again at his obviousness. "You know the Great Rabbit?" Kenu asked Mishupishu directly, though all that the Lynx could do was sink back into the water so only his horns and eyes showed.
Charmian nodded, feeling somewhat relieved. "Yes, we know Manabozho!"
"Is he REALLY as great as everybody says?" Kenu asked excitedly, his head starting to bob.
Manabozho lifted his nose. "Of course!"
Kenu's beak fell open and he started shifting from foot to foot. "Can I meet him?!" he cried, and Manabozho nearly fell over. Charmian made a face and waved.
"Maybe...maybe later," she said, Manabozho steaming; she turned and waved at Mishupishu again and he lifted his head tentatively. "So...are we all right with this now? Nobody's going to attack or vanquish anybody else, are they...?"
Mishupishu shook his head. Kenu pouted sullenly but scuffed one talon against the ground. "I guess not," he grumbled, sounding just like a sulky child; and Charmian let out her breath in relief.
"We head eastward," she said, looking around. "Which means...we go that way." She pointed left, and winced a little; the thought of running into the cave manitous again made her feel a little sick.
"It looks as if we'll run straight into the lake if we head that way from here," Francois said. "Perhaps we should find an alternate route."
"I'm not sure of which way to go..." Charmian murmured, glancing down to see Kwemoo and Maang waddling toward the water. They flapped their wings and skimmed the surface, then turned in circles, their weird voices echoing over the lake.
"O-ho! We, Kwemoo and Maang, shall search for an alternate route!" they exclaimed, and one flapped away east, and the other west. Charmian opened her mouth; "O-ho!" echoed in the air, and she shut it and rolled her eyes with a sigh. She sat down on the edge of the bay and rubbed at her head wearily, not even bothering to object when Marten hopped upon her shoulder and Winter Born sat down beside her, sticking her feet in the water.
"One down," Charmian said, and they looked at her. She sighed again. "I didn't really expect to find answers so fast, but who knew a Wind could be so clueless? That leaves Wabun and Kabebonikka." She grimaced. "And based on what Shawondassee says, I don't think Kabebonikka would exactly be helpful, either."
"Well..." Winter Born splashed her feet and chewed on her lip. "Like you keep saying, it can't hurt to try, can it...?"
Charmian chewed on her own lip. Who knows anymore, she thought. By now, I think ANYTHING could hurt, if we try hard enough! These Winds don't seem as friendly as I'd thought they'd be...what if we do end up having to go look for Kabebonikka? Has he changed any since back then...?
She hoped to herself that this was so, even while common sense told her it probably wasn't; Geezhigo-Quae's comments on the North Wind hadn't exactly been flattering, either. "In any case, we probably have a long walk ahead of us this time," she said, as the two loons came winging back into sight, "so I hope everybody's shoes...and moccasins...and whatever...are in order."
"O-ho!" the loons cried, and splashed down in the water, swimming in circles. "We have found the way to head east!"
"So fast?" Charmian said, face lighting up. She got to her feet. "Well--where is it and how do we get there?"
"O-ho!" Maang--or Kwemoo?--exclaimed, and turned in a circle to point north. They all looked up across the water and Charmian frowned a little.
"Um...that's where we just came from," she said, growing annoyed.
The loon turned back around. "Yes, and it is also the quickest way from this place! O-ho!"
Winter Born peered up at Charmian. "Charmian, how do we get east by going north...?"
"That's exactly what I was thinking," Charmian growled, glaring at the loons. "Mind filling us in on what you MEAN by that?"
"O-ho!" Kwemoo and Maang said, and both turned to point north again, tails wiggling. "It appears there has been a sort of miscalculation, a misunderstanding, a misassumption, o-ho! For you see, north is merely the quickest way by which we may head east--you can get there by traveling east or south or west as well--but it will take much longer."
Charmian threw her hands up. "What the hell does THAT mean?!"
"O-ho!" the loons cried. "It means, we do hope you know how to swim quite well! We appear to be on an island, o-ho!"
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