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Printed from https://www.Writing.Com/view/1341511
Rated: 13+ · Serial · Fantasy · #1341511
Black Elk Horn seeks vengeance, while Winter Born attracts some unwanted attention...
Main story folder & table of contents: "Escape From Manitou Island
Previous chapter: "Part 41: Telling Tales

Guns & Dozes

THE FAIRY ARCH rose above the shore road, the sunlight just barely reaching it over the hump of the Island and glinting off of its top. It was surrounded by shrubbery and weeds as if it had always been there, although Black Elk Horn knew that it hadn't. He'd heard stories of it when he was younger and it had always been located deep in the woods. That had changed back when that mainlander had made her last visit. Yet another suspicious thing to chalk up to her.

He sat on the road--or rather, at the edge of it, as it had been the mainlanders who'd made that road, and he despised it for the most part--and stared up at the Arch, chewing on his thumbnail with a dark look on his face.

He'd heard more stories about the Arch. When he was little his grandmother would tell stories of the Old Ones, the Turtle Spirits who had once lived on the Island and had fled through the Arch when his own people had first arrived and taken over. He remembered how his sisters had listened to the stories with awe, and none of them had ever gone near the Arch, lest one of the Turtle Spirits grab them up and carry them off. He, however, had always scoffed at the stories. He simply never went near the Arch because who knew what might be in those woods--he could fall and break his neck, and he had a family to provide for. He wasn't afraid of anything, it was just the sensible thing to do.

That had been back when the Arch was up in the woods. Now that it was on the shore, tripping and falling wasn't much of a threat anymore.

Still, he hesitated going too near it, and this irritated him, that a mere span of rock might get to him so. He spent quite a while pacing around its base and making false starts before sitting down and staring at it anew. It had had a guardian before, but he was nowhere to be found. Black Elk Horn supposed that he had gone with the girl. They had seemed to be friends.

Took the red-jacketed man with her...

The Wemitigoji's words echoed in his head and he scowled. He stood and went to the Arch, kicked its base with his foot, and refused to wince when he of course stubbed his toe. He glared defiantly at its wide opening.

A stupid hunk of rock! An ogimah should never be afraid of a mere stupid hunk of rock! Even if it were surrounded by GEEBEES I should not be afraid of it!

He made another few false starts, then turned and began climbing back up the bluff. He scowled the entire way. He wasn't running away from it or giving up; he merely wasn't properly prepared to head through. What if the stories of the Michinimakinong were true after all? He hadn't wanted to believe it, yet that stranger with the mainlander girl had seemed awfully strange...he had spotted him down at the Arch before, and could have sworn that he had wings. Normal people didn't have wings. He didn't like the thought that, if the Turtle Spirits were real, they might come back through that Arch at any time and attempt to retake the Island. It was his Island now, and they didn't have any right to do something like that, just because they'd given it up in the first place.

Perhaps blocking off the Arch would be a good move, once this was all over...

He reached the top of the bluff and started making his way through the woods, not even bothering to be quiet this time, sweeping branches out of his way. A baashkizigan. One of the thundering sticks that the mainlanders had brought with them. He needed one of those before he would be properly prepared to go through that Arch, and as he had never liked the thundering sticks, he'd never traded for one. Arrows and knives had always been good enough, up until now.

A vision of White Coyote collapsing before him flashed through his mind, and his heart hurt. White Coyote had had that same surprised look on his face after he'd fallen. That was the last look he had had on his face at all. Black Elk Horn's lip curled back and he altered his course to make his way back to the house of the Wemitigoji. He considered going to the trapper's cabin instead...but so far, the trapper had never given him much reason to dislike him, as he mostly minded his own business, and at least he blended in. The other Wemitigoji was another story. He was part demon, and that had never sat well with Black Elk Horn.

He didn't even bother to stop and think about Silver Eagle Feather when he thought this, because he'd been over this point in his head a million times, and she was an exception. It might not have made sense to anyone else, but it made sense to him, and that was what mattered.

And so it wasn't too long after that that he was creeping up the porch steps to the front door of the great strange stick-house in the woods, and peering into the window beside it. No one was in sight. He went along the side of the house and continued examining the property; the horse was gone, so at least one of them must have gone along with it. If the Wemitigoji was the one remaining, he could always sneak around him, or knock him out. If it was Little Dove, that was a different story, but at least she hopefully wouldn't be as bothersome. The children, he could always lock them in a room or something.

He tested the front door and took a step back as it slowly swung inward a bit. He bit his lip a little, then chastised himself for hesitating, and peeked inside. He frowned at the strange garish decorations--there was some sort of soft colored substance all over the floor, and colored cloths hanging around the windows, and entire cases with clear fronts full of yet more colored things, and even the furnishings were covered with colored stuff, and Black Elk Horn found it all quite nauseating just to look at. The colored things around the windows weren't even covering the windows up--so what purpose could they possibly serve? And when the furnishings got dirty, what did they replace them with? It didn't look as if they could just toss them out and replace them with whatever they found in the woods. How did any of them even live in this mess? He had to pick his way around what he assumed must be a seat, and another seat, and another even bigger seat, and some sort of small seatlike thing that looked like it would suit only a dog, just to make it to the stairs. He hesitated there again. What was it with Wemitigoji and their odd houses with levels atop levels? One of these days the thing would collapse on itself, and he would have quite a good smirk at their expense.

He hated heading up the stairs, but did so anyway. He'd seen the Wemitigoji in the woods before with his baashkizigan and thought perhaps it would be up here. What better place to put a thundering stick than upstairs, closer to where thunder came from? But he couldn't find it, and that just puzzled and frustrated him. What sort of person kept a thundering stick near the ground? It was a wonder the thing hadn't blown up on him. He headed back down and crept around beside the stairs, fingers running along the wall, and scowled. He hated this place. It was completely stupid, and he never should have had to come in here. Maybe going to the cabin would have been the better idea after all.

His fingertips then brushed over something, and he halted and glanced at the wall. There was a little door set into it, in the area beneath the stairs, and when he pried at it a bit it came open. Black Elk Horn peered within and his eyes lit up when he saw several baashkizigans situated inside.

He started poking in the little room under the stairs and pulled one out. He didn't notice the two little sets of eyes appear above, peeping out under the bannister, nor would he have much cared even if he had seen them. He lifted out the biggest of the sticks and looked it over, running his hands along the barrel and stock and puzzling over how to make it work. All that he had ever seen the Wemitigoji do was hold it up and it would make the thundering noise, just like the one the red-jacketed man had been holding. He shook the gun a little bit, but nothing happened; he frowned and shook it harder, then turned it to look at the butt, then turned it to look down the barrel. He jiggled it and his frown grew. How did they even fit thunder inside such a small thing...?

The two little pairs of eyes shifted to look at each other, then back down at him. Black Elk Horn waved the baashkizigan a little bit, struck his hand against the stock, and peeped into the barrel. He even blew into it in case the thunder was stuck, but that resulted in nothing. He examined the rest of it but couldn't see how or where it might store enough lightning and thunder to kill somebody and that just irked him to no end. He hated the thought of having subjected himself to coming into this disgusting stick-house only to find a broken baashkizigan.

He just barely suppressed a snarl and grasped it by its middle section, looking into the barrel and then commencing shaking it one more time. His hand slipped in some sort of ring and suddenly with an explosive racket that made his ears throb, the wall behind him shattered, and the reek of smoke filled the air; the two little sets of eyes flinched and Black Elk Horn dropped the baashkizigan in fright, gawking at it as it clattered to the floor. A plume of smoke still seeped from its barrel and it was a second before he noticed how badly his ears were ringing, and felt the sting of gunpowder against his skin--what in the name of all the manitous had just happened--?

He blinked down at the baashkizigan lying on the floor and gaped. His hands were shaking, and his teeth nearly chattering; he blinked a few more times, the smoke dissipating, then his teeth slowly ground together and his hands curled into fists, his face going red. An instant later he launched himself at the offending stick, slamming his hatchet down at it over and over and over and letting out an enraged yell. The two sets of eyes ducked back and out of sight but he still didn't notice them. He made quick work of the baashkizigan, chopping into it as much as he could, and nicking what he couldn't chop. When his hatchet refused to do any more damage he kicked it aside, stubbing his toe again but ignoring the sting of pain; he turned back to the closet and yanked out the next-biggest baashkizigan, as well as some shot and powder, shoving them under his arm and snarling the entire way that he stomped back toward the front door. He didn't even bother closing it behind him, merely stalked across the yard, fingers digging into the gun's barrel; he very much hated that a mere stick had humiliated him so much, and so the thought of using its cousin was galling, but it wasn't like he had much of a choice. The red-jacketed man had used one; he would have to use one, too. Just to be on equal footing.

Trying to keep himself from steaming too much, he made his way back to the East Bluff and clambered down to the Arch without even one thought for his safety. A broken baashkizigan wouldn't scare him; then neither would a stupid hunk of rock.

Back within the Dupries house, Little Dove came thumping down the steps, eyes wide and empty washpan in her hand. The explosive sound from downstairs had been quite enough to draw her attention; but the sight of her children Sky and Flower dashing by her room had convinced her even more to check out downstairs. She vaulted around the bannister at the bottom of the steps and halted abruptly when she spotted the mangled gun lying on the floor, and blinked, lowering the washpan and furrowing her brow in confusion. Her eyes wandered up to see the hole blasted in the wall, then back down to look at the gun. Her mouth fell open and she let the washpan fall with a clatter.


* * * * *

A night was spent near the river without incident; and early the next day, the canoes set out eastward again. The second night that Charmian went to sleep under strange trees, she hoped the woman in red would accost her, just to relieve the tedium...yet for some reason she had no dreams that she could remember. She briefly wondered if someone might be stealing them, but who would?--and why? Nobody knew her here...

The third night spent eating what Francois and Walks-On-The-Shore had managed to shoot, and then resting under strange trees, found her tossing and turning more than actually sleeping. The noise of crickets kept her awake, and her head popped up every time an odd howling yipping-yapping came in the distance; at least Peepaukawiss and Marten seemed to like this about as much as she did.

"What is that?" she blurted out on the fourth night, sitting upright in frustration.

"Coyotes," Walks-On-The-Shore mumbled from his own bed. Charmian looked to Puka and Marten, but after hearing this explanation they both let out their breath, and promptly fell asleep. And so she spent a good part of the night just sitting with her knees drawn up to her chest, staring in the direction of the water and wishing either that she had a map, or that she were home. The Island, she corrected herself; she wished that she were on the Island. She sighed and her heart hurt when she thought of White Coyote; the yipping noises in the distance didn't distract her any.

He should've reached the end of the Spirit Road by now, she thought absently. It takes four days...I wonder how he made it...

I hope he knows that we didn't mean it...at least, I know that
I didn't...

I hope he's not angry with me...

She chewed her lip. She'd barely even known him--before their encounter this time around, she'd even thought that he hated her--but she still couldn't stop hoping that his spirit was at least at rest. She tried making out the river but the night was moonless and it was too dark. She tried to satisfy herself looking at the stars instead. At least they were moderately the same. She peered up in the direction of the Big Dipper, just barely visible from here, and sighed to herself.

The next day out on the water, Winter Born voiced her thoughts exactly.

"I never knew a canoe ride could be so boring," she murmured, her fingers trailing in the water.

"I don't think it's too boring!" Marten exclaimed. He hopped up onto the stern, nearly knocking the obstinate Augwak aside--the GeeBee had clung to the stern throughout the entire voyage so far, refusing to relocate. "Look, over there! POPLARS! Isn't that interesting?"

Winter Born rolled her eyes. "Whatever."

"I have to admit," Thomas said, pausing long enough to surreptitiously rub at his shoulder, "it all starts to rather look the same, after a while."

"That isn't exactly so," Francois said; Charmian wondered how he managed to keep paddling without ever once rubbing a sore muscle. "If one looks long enough, they see little changes. For example, there were not quite so many poplars a day back."

"Ooooooooo!" Marten exclaimed, eyes growing wide. Winter Born sighed and sank into the canoe, twiddling her fingers and tapping her feet boredly against the side. Charmian rather wished she had some way to entertain her, but couldn't think of much.

She blinked, then dug in her pocket. "Hey. Winter Born." The girl tilted her head to peer back at her, upside-down. Charmian held up Nokomis's little pinecone and Winter Born rolled over to frown at it in curiosity. "Want to know what this is?"

Winter Born nodded and scootched forward. "What?"

"It's kind of like a compass," Charmian said; then, realizing that she had no idea what that was, said, "Like a way to find things, almost like following the stars. Only it finds just one thing."

"Really?" Winter Born cupped her hands when Charmian placed the pinecone in them, and she held it up between thumb and forefinger to look it over. "What's it find?"

"Magical trees," Charmian replied. "Trees with really strong medicine...like the Sky Tree we went through, and the Crooked Tree where we got it. If you keep that thing around, and it starts hopping and jumping, then you'll know there's a magical tree somewhere nearby, and it'll sniff it out just like a...ahm..." She racked her brain trying to think of an appropriate simile. "...Just like a wolf sniffing out a rabbit." Manabozho shot her an evil look from his own canoe but she ignored him.

Winter Born's eyes grew. "WOW." She clasped the pinecone in her hands. "Can I keep an eye on it? Please? I promise I won't lose it..."

Charmian nodded as she carefully tucked it in her little pouch. "Just make sure to pay attention to it...if it starts moving around, you should speak up. We wouldn't want to go missing any magic trees!"

Winter Born nodded vigorously. "I will! Promise!" She turned around to look ahead, then, with barely a pause, pulled the pinecone back out and let it rest on her palm. She sat this way, staring at it, as still as a statue, for much longer than Charmian would have thought possible for a child. She let out a small sigh and relaxed against Thomas's knee. His elbow bumped her and she glanced up to see him smirk a little.

"Buying her off already...?" he murmured. "Let's hope she doesn't lose interest the way other kids do..."

"You're just jealous I didn't give you anything," Charmian retorted.

He rolled his eyes. "You're right, you didn't give me anything! And here I thought you were going all gift-happy on everyone, except me..."

Charmian blushed and sat forward again. "I'll give it to you when I'm good and ready!" she insisted. "Stop badgering me!"

Marten hopped onto Winter Born's shoulder, tail flicking. "BADGER?! WHERE?!"

She opened her mouth to answer, only to notice that Francois was carefully starting to steer the canoe toward the shore. "What is it?" she asked, frowning. "We usually don't stop for a good several hours yet..."

"From the looks of it the water might get somewhat rougher ahead," Francois said; she frowned further and craned her neck to peer up the river, but couldn't tell what he might be talking about. "It would probably be best to rest early today, in case we have a lot of work ahead of us." He turned to look over his shoulder. "Any of you want to stretch your legs, so to speak--?"

Winter Born promptly leapt to her feet and hopped onto the edge of the canoe so that it tilted wildly; Thomas and Charmian both grabbed onto the sides, Augwak gasping and clinging to the stern like a barnacle. "Last one there's a rotten acorn!" she exclaimed, and vanished into the water with a terrific splash.

Charmian's jaw fell and she stuck her hands in the water, splashing them around frantically. "Winter Born--?!"

She gasped and jerked back; Winter Born's head popped out of the water several feet away and she sputtered, shaking her wet braids and grinning at them winningly before turning and paddling away toward the bank. Charmian let out her breath, then immediately felt irked beyond belief. She couldn't believe that the first thought that had flown through her head had been, Black Elk Horn's going to kill me.

"I suppose that decides us," Francois said, and steered the canoe to the bank. The others followed suit; Charmian stood, holding her arms out to her sides and wobbling a bit anxiously as the vessel swayed, but Francois leapt out as easily as anything and took her hand. She knew that he would have lifted her out if she'd let him, which she almost did; yet one glance at the others made her decide to step out on her own. Her ears burned that she'd let him take her hand in the first place and she trudged up onto land, feeling idiotic. A little bit of water, and she was afraid of what--getting wet? Stubbing a toe? She'd gone through a lot worse her last time on the Island...

She glanced up at Thomas and bit off a sigh to see that apparently he had noticed her reaction; still, he said nothing, and they all started wandering toward the trees, looking for the best place to settle down for a bit. It had been sunny enough before, but low clumps of clouds were moving in, and already a slight drizzle or two had passed over; it would be just their luck to be hit with a downpour. She glanced up at Kenu, who continued flying in circles high over the water, his own eyes fixed skyward. She wondered if he hoped to find a Thunderbird up in those clouds, then frowned to herself. Would they recognize a Thunderbird, when they saw one...?

She stood among a stand of trees and watched everyone set out to do their own things; Stick-In-The-Dirt and Moon Wolf began poking around at the plants, occasionally picking one and putting it in their pouches. Francois sat down and tended to his gun; Marten and Puka went looking around curiously, Pakwa dozed off on the branch of a tree, and Augwak sat beneath it scowling blackly. X'aaru went sniffing off into the woods while Remy started worrying a large frog slowly hopping its way across the ground.

Charmian sighed and rubbed at one eye a bit. "I'm going to look around a little," she said, to no one in particular, and she wasn't sure if anyone would follow her; she started walking off somewhat in X'aaru's direction. "Maybe I'll find something that says where we are," she muttered under her breath, not wanting anyone else to know that she was starting to doubt Francois's sense of direction. Even their trip to Shawondassee's mountain hadn't taken so long. How far east was Wabun, anyway...?

I wish I could've asked that red lady more, she thought absently, nibbling on one fingernail as she walked. She seemed to know a lot about things. She probably could've told us where to go...I could've asked her about so many important things, but of course I asked her about the stupidest ones...

I wonder where she is? If she's all right? I didn't like how that ended...

A skipping noise came behind her and Winter Born appeared at her side, smiling up at her. "Hello! Mind if I walk with you?" She modified her pace and Charmian had no choice but to let her stay. "I didn't want to say it back at home," she said confidentially, "but I took a peek at White Deer's book, and I already know most of those plants. Mother taught me! I learned them all a long time ago."

"She teaches you a lot of stuff, huh?" Charmian said, sensing that the girl was looking to brag.

Winter Born nodded brightly. She turned around and started skipping ahead of her, backwards. "Father's not really into all the medicine things," she admitted. "But I think he likes that I know so much. He taught me how to use a bow and arrow, and says that after I have my vision, he'll teach me how to use a hatchet and a knife."

Charmian suppressed a wince. "How old are you again?"

Winter Born held up the fingers of both hands, paused, then halted and balanced awkwardly on one foot, sticking out a toe. "I'm this many old."

"And already he's teaching you to use small weapons?" Charmian asked. They started walking again. "Where I come from that's kind of weird."

Winter Born tilted her head curiously. "You mean, you don't know how to use a bow or a hatchet...?"

"If I did, I wouldn't've learned it at age eleven," Charmian replied. "Where I'm from I'm not even allowed to get married yet." She glanced down at the girl. "You have any plans of getting married?"

Winter Born stuck out her tongue. "Ewwwwww! I'm too YOUNG for that! Besides, I don't like anybody. And I'm going to be so busy with all my medicine that I won't have time for being married." She started skipping again, braids bouncing cheerily. "I'm going to set up my own business as a medicine woman, just like Mother, and I won't charge a thing for any of my medicine, because that's the way she is. I'll help everyone for free no matter what their problem is. I'll learn the name of every single plant on the Island and I'll know exactly where to find them all. I'll learn how to talk with all the manitous, and they'll all help me whenever I ask, because they'll know I'm a good medicine woman. I'll have a really good vision to make Mother and Father proud of me, and--"

"Don't you do anything for yourself only?" Charmian said, and Winter Born immediately halted, looking back at her with furrowed brow. "No offense," Charmian said, "but everything you say you're going to do--it's because of Silver Eagle Feather, or your dad. Didn't you ever want to do anything else? Be anything else?"

Winter Born frowned a little, then pursed her lips thoughtfully. "No...not really," she said after a short while. "I've always wanted to talk to manitous and do medicine."

"Don't you get bored of studying all the time?" Charmian asked.

A shake. "I don't study all the time! I don't have to! Mother's a good teacher. And so is Old Mother Manitou, and Stick, and everybody else. That's why I'm going to be the best at what I do." She raised herself up to her full height, then whirled around and started skipping again. "That's kinda why I hoped you'd teach me some things, too!"

Charmian nearly tripped. Winter Born halted and thrust out one hand, pointing into the woods; she glanced over her shoulder and smiled. "See? What'd I tell you? I must be getting better!"

Charmian slowed her step and peered ahead. "I don't see anything."

"You're not looking hard enough," a voice said, and she nearly screamed, jumping as high as she could. Winter Born frowned and Charmian whirled around to glare furiously at Walks-On-The-Shore; how had he sneaked up on her so silently--? She was ready to yell at him, until she noticed that he had pine sprigs sticking out of his nose, and then she decided not to bother. She let out a breath, glared at him again, then turned back to Winter Born.

"What is it?" she asked, flustered.

Winter Born chewed her lip, her enthusiasm a bit dimmed. "Well...you mean you can't see them?"

"Huh...?" Charmian squinted into the woods for a moment; just as she was going to ask again what she was looking for, Walks-On-The-Shore took her head in his hands and gently turned it a little to the right. She ground her teeth together in irritation...but she did see it now. Several little blue dots glowed far ahead, staring back at them.

"Oh," she said, then frowned. "How long have those been there?"

"Just noticed them," Winter Born said, perking up again. She began skipping toward them. "Maybe if I say hello they'll lend us a hand! You think?"

Charmian opened her mouth, then closed it, uncertain. The little blue dots looked the same as any other manitou's eyes...yet something about them bothered her. She couldn't even place it. Nothing about them seemed any different but she felt uneasy anyway.

What am I afraid of...? she wondered, truly puzzled. Even the cave manitous were just unfriendly, and they had good reason to be; they weren't going to do anything to us...why am I getting so paranoid, is it because we don't know this place?

She rubbed at one eye and sighed. Winter Born's skip slowed a bit and she finally just started walking, though she weaved a bit from side to side. Charmian glanced up at Walks-On-The-Shore and frowned again.

"Mind finding someone else to latch onto? I've already got a hanger-on of my own, in case you hadn't noticed."

"Now, now," the Huron said, yawning and stretching, "you shouldn't go wandering into strange forests on your own, you know that. I will be your self-appointed chaperone. I know your tendency of getting limbs broken when you're on your own."

Charmian glared. "You've been talking to JUSTIN? I should kick your leg for that!"

"But you are far too kind a person to do such a thing," Walks-On-The-Shore replied sweetly, when Winter Born halted, and then fell over right where she stood. They both stopped and stared at her in puzzlement; then, anxiety pricking her, Charmian jogged toward her.

"Winter Born--?" she asked, ducking down and shaking her shoulder. "You okay?"

"I...think so..." Winter Born murmured, rubbing at her eyes blearily. "I just feel so tired..."

Charmian bit her lip. "Riding in that canoe too long without sleep," she said, and started to help her up. "Maybe I should tell Francois to pull over a little earlier every night from now on..."

Her voice trailed off when she felt it. Her own limbs were beginning to feel like lead--in fact, she'd been feeling slowly wearier and wearier the further they went into the woods. Confused, she turned her head to look at Walks-On-The-Shore; he was still yawning, but now he was rubbing at his eyes, too. When she turned back to Winter Born the girl seemed to have fallen completely asleep.

"Winter Born--?" She shook her, then dragged her head up. She blinked the blur from her eyes and focused as well as she could on the blue dots.

"M..." She took in a breath and her grip on Winter Born tightened a little. "Mitchi manitous...!" She rolled Winter Born over and pressed the girl's hand against her ear, her other ear against Charmian's knee; she then pressed her hands to her own ears and glanced up at Walks-On-The-Shore. "Plug your ears! They must be singing--we just..." She had to shake herself awake. "Can't hear it!!"

Walks-On-The-Shore tottered sideways but shook his own head and managed to do as she'd advised; Winter Born murmured and started moving a little, and Charmian looked up at the blue dots. As soon as she focused on them again, the strange feeling that she'd gotten passed--and her head cleared, as if a light had just been turned on in a dark room. She blinked, then shook off the remnants of the drowsiness and grabbed Winter Born's arm to pull her up; the girl protested a bit, but got to her feet when Charmian started pulling her back. "Charmian...?" she murmured, blinking. "What is it--?"

They all turned to look at the blue dots in the woods. Now that the feeling had passed, and their minds were clear, Charmian could place what exactly had been going on--the manitous must have been singing. Whenever manitous sang, it made humans drowsy, and they couldn't always tell what they were doing. She had only ever heard one type of manitou do this before, however. The ones which lived in Devil's Lake, with Ocryx.

"Mitchi manitous," she said again, and Winter Born's eyes widened. That was all she got to say before the trees started shaking and rustling, and a loud whistle blared through the air as the blue dots came charging forward.


 Part 43: The Underground Railroad  (13+)
Charmian and Walks-On-The-Shore flee underground, with some unusual help...
#1341513 by Tehuti, Lord Of The Eight

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This item is NOT looking for literary critique. I already understand spelling/grammar, and any style choices I make are my own. Likewise, I am NOT seeking publication, so suggestions on how to make this publishable are not being sought.

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