Nigankwam has more than a few strange revelations for Charmian...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Escape From Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 61: Head In The Clouds"
The Ire Of The Animiki
WINTER BORN AND Thomas stood in the field, Marten perched atop Winter Born's shoulder, and they stared up at the lowering sky, shielding their eyes from the rain that was starting to pelt down. Stick-In-The-Dirt, Moon Wolf, Singing Cedars, and several of the others came running from the woods, also looking up as they came, but none of them were sure what they were supposed to be looking at.
"Where's Charmian--?" Stick-In-The-Dirt blurted out, confused; she'd been here just a moment ago.
Winter Born and Thomas both turned to look at him, their eyes wide. Winter Born pointed at the clouds. "Up THERE!"
Stick-In-The-Dirt's eyes goggled and his head shot up. There was nothing to be seen but roiling clouds which boomed as they moved, flashing every so often with lightning. Moon Wolf blinked and seemed to finally understand what she was saying; it took Stick-In-The-Dirt a moment longer, and then he sucked in a ragged breath.
"Up THERE?" he echoed.
Marten hopped up and down, waving his arms. "That big huge bird-thing took her up! WHOOSH! Just like that!"
Stick-In-The-Dirt let out an odd cry and dashed into the middle of the field. He yanked out his turtle-shell rattle and started shaking it at the sky as hard as he could. The others stared at him, frowning a little, then peering at each other uncertainly.
"What's that supposed to do...?" Winter Born started to ask, but Thomas put his hand over her mouth.
Moon Wolf stepped up beside them and stared at the clouds. "Nanandawi are supposed to be watched over by Thunderbirds," he said, his voice doubtful. "Though I somehow feel that won't matter here..."
"Thunderbirds?" Singing Cedars exclaimed, making them jump--except for Stick-In-The-Dirt, who was too busy rattling and letting out a weird singsong yell. He came running at them and halted, his eyes wide, and jerked a finger at the sky. "You mean Charmian was carried off by a THUNDERBIRD?!"
"Where've you been?" Thomas said, frowning again.
"But it was a nice Thunderbird," Winter Born insisted.
Marten hopped again. "And Manabozho was with her! Wasn't he--? Unless he fell and broke his head open or something, like a gourd--? SMUSH!"
"Maybe he just took them for a ride!" Winter Born added hopefully.
Niskigwun came up, panting, his wings drooping. "If...if that thing carried them off...for all we know...they could be changed into Animiki themselves!!"
Singing Cedars's jaw dropped. "You mean MY LITTLE SISTER WILL BE A THUNDERBIRD?"
Winter Born started shifting from foot to foot as if she had to go. "Maybe--maybe that's not completely a bad thing--? I mean--" She pointed at Stick-In-The-Dirt, who by now was hopping up and down, waving the rattle like he was beating a rug to death with it. "--Maybe she could watch over him then--?"
Thomas put his hands to his head and grimaced. "We are NOT holding a conversation about Charmian coming back as a Thunderbird!!"
Stick-In-The-Dirt abruptly halted his rattling and whirled around, a stricken look on his face. "You're right!" he exclaimed, and pointed right at Thomas. "HOW WILL YOU TWO HAVE CHILDREN THEN?!" He whirled back around and started rattling madly; Thomas's face went scarlet when the others all fixed their eyes on him at once.
"You two are having children?" Winter Born cried, and clapped her hands together. "Congratulations!"
Niskigwun's eyes looked ready to fall out of his head. "WHAT?"
"She never even said anything!" Marten exclaimed.
Singing Cedars huffed. "Does this mean I have to bring a dish--?"
Thomas clamped his arms over his head this time. "WE ARE NOT HAVING CHILDREN!!"
"Something's happening!" Moon Wolf said, pointing skyward. Everyone stopped yelling and glanced up at the clouds. Indeed, they did seem to be lowering even more, and converging, growing ever darker despite the more frequent flashes of lightning intersecting them; as the others squinted their eyes and looked on, a hole seemed to be opening up, and they all stared at it tensely.
"Is it going to turn into a torned-mato?" Marten asked anxiously.
Thomas lifted a hand to shield his eyes. "Something's going to happen..." he murmured.
Winter Born rubbed her damp arms. "Is it good news or bad news...?"
They fell silent again for a moment, even Stick-In-The-Dirt just staring upwards, his rattle still. "For Charmian's sake," Thomas said at last, "we'd better hope it's good news."
There was a boom of thunder, then the sky went silent. Everyone took in a breath of surprise at the sudden stillness. Then, a fearsome light flashed and CRACKED, and they all shielded their eyes and yelled, scrambling back as something slammed down into the field.
* * * * *
Nigankwam turned away. "I would not even waste my time worrying about this Island again," he said. "Now that we are aware not to underestimate the Lynxes, we know sufficiently how to fight them. They will not destroy it again. There is nothing to waste concern on."
Charmian chewed her lip. "But...Geezhigo-Quae is worried about it," she said, having to catch up with the Thunderbird. "And the Red Swan keeps warning me, too--I rather think she--"
She halted, nearly tripping over her own foot. Nigankwam had stopped as well, and she saw how the feathers adorning his head flared, like Manabozho's tended to do; he slowly turned to face her, and his eyes were flaring yellow. She swallowed and took a tentative step back, but his voice, harsh and grating, stopped her.
"Maanaabiziiquae?" he said, and she blinked.
She stared at him for a moment; aside from the quae, whatever he'd just said had sounded like total gibberish. "Mana...mana-what...?" she said hesitantly, growing confused.
Nigankwam stared at her hard for a moment, then his eyes narrowed a little, and then his feathers slowly settled back into place. "Nothing," he said, and turned away from her. He resumed walking, so she had no choice but to do the same, biting her lip and wondering what had just happened. "As I was saying," he continued, as if the odd little exchange hadn't taken place, "my tribe and I will be keeping an eye on that Island from above, and the Lynxes will hardly get the better of it again, even if this Pearl Feather still commands them. Underwater Lynxes are a stupid sort. Now that we know that they can obey commands, we can more effectively fight them. This is the ONLY mistake we made the last time, underestimating them. Now we know better."
I somehow find it hard to believe that Geezhigo-Quae would be this upset over something "not worth worrying about," Charmian thought, but decided to keep it to herself. "Thanks, I guess," she said. "So...all you know about Kabeyun is that he's far to the west, near the prairies?" she said; he nodded and she bit her lip again. "What about Kabebonikka, does he really live in a mountain range to the north...?"
Nigankwam slowed his step and gave her a critical look. "I recommend not seeking out the North Wind," he said.
She frowned. "But...I thought he would know for sure where to find Kabeyun. I just figured..."
"Kenu wondered why I let you have your trifle of tobacco? This is the reason," Nigankwam said. "No amount of tobacco on that land below will be enough to sway the North Wind in your favor."
"But...we already talked with Shawondassee, and Wabun, and they seemed okay with it..."
"You will listen to me, human, when I tell you that the North Wind is not like his fellow Winds," Nigankwam said, a scowl settling on his face; she shut her mouth. "Not even like this Kabeyun you seek. He is a manitou much different from all those I'm sure you're used to dealing with."
"How is he so much different--?" Charmian asked, and winced a little when he glared at her; apparently asking questions was considered somewhat rude, here. Nigankwam seemed to fluff up, like a bird, though she couldn't place her finger on how she got that impression.
"You are familiar with the old ones named the Whittiko," he said, and she furrowed her brow, then shook her head.
"No...no, I'm not. Am I?" she added, when he started huffing and looking as irritated as he'd looked when she hadn't known what a bizhiki was.
"We caught sight of your group wandering along not that long before you arrived!" Nigankwam snapped, and thrust a hand out to point at the ground. "You have TWO such creatures TRAVELING with you, and another who highly smells of them!"
Charmian's face screwed up. "How the hell do we have Whittikos wandering around with us when--" She cut herself off and sounded the word out more carefully in her head. "Oh. Do you mean Wendigoes--?"
The Animiki practically bared his teeth. "If THIS is the name by which you know WHITTIKOS--then YES, Wendigoes!"
Charmian felt like pulling her own hair out. "I can't help it if you say everything differently here! Where I'm from we've always called them WENDIGOES!" She forced herself to take a breath and let it out, as it looked like the Thunderbird was almost ready to blow a gasket--or spit lightning--or whatever it was that Thunderbirds did when pissed off. "What are you saying? What's this have to do with Kabebonikka--?"
Nigankwam let out a snort. "Kabebonikka as you call him is the REASON for the Whittikos' existence. Without him, they would not be. He simply sat one day, and thought it would be amusing, should he create such a vile creature and unleash it on humans. As if we Animiki do not already have ENOUGH to deal with--though fortunately, we are AWAY when those creatures show their faces!"
"Kabebonikka created the Wendigoes...?" Charmian said, a feeling of unease seeping up inside her.
Nigankwam straightened his robe. "Gitchi Manitou is the source behind all," he said. "But the North Wind created the Whittikos, yes. This is why they come with the cold and the snows. You think to placate him with a handful of paltry tobacco? Consider this as an offering to the one who unleashed such beasts on your pathetic kind in fun."
Charmian gnawed on her lip, fiddling her fingers. Certainly, Shawondassee and Wabun had declared him a bully...and Geezhigo-Quae had hinted that he'd had dealings with the Wendigoes...but she hadn't had any reason to think that Kabebonikka had created them, just for fun. She thought over what Augwak had been like when he'd been temporarily transformed into an Old Wendigo--his basic form the same, but his size even taller than Sugar Loaf, even taller than the treetops themselves, and his powers so strong that he cloaked the entire Island in ice and snow--and she shivered as if the wind he'd cast off were breezing over her right now.
Nigankwam apparently saw the motion, for he lifted his chin and snorted again. "Now you understand my point...?" he inquired.
Charmian was silent for a moment. Then she lifted her own head and met his yellow eyes. "So Kabebonikka's big and scary and basically a sick bastard," she said. "I still have to go speak to him. I have to find Kabeyun."
Nigankwam blinked, then started huffing and sputtering; she took a step back, hoping that he wouldn't suddenly explode. The Animiki clenched his fists and glared at her, his face starting to go red and his eyes starting to flash. "Have you ANY idea how FOOLISH you are being--?!"
"Charmian--!!" The cry came out abruptly, followed by a hard thud and a yelp of pain. Charmian glanced over her shoulder as Nigankwam let out a breath and deflated somewhat; a gaggle of Thunderbird children was coming up not too far behind her, Manabozho still in their midst, just as he'd been before. He'd fallen to the ground, but was now trying to scramble to his feet, a panicked look on his face; he even reached out one hand to her, even though he was still too far away to even think of grabbing her hand. "CHARMIAN!!" He fell again, and the group of children promptly converged so that he vanished from sight.
Charmian blinked, glanced quickly at Nigankwam--he looked disgusted now--and then hurried down the little slope. "Manabozho!" she exclaimed, carefully nudging her way through the yelling waving children--there must have been at least a dozen, probably more--and managing to find his arm and grasp hold of it. She started pulling, and he eventually reappeared, gasping and wheezing for breath, strands of grass sticking out of his hair and his feathers all askew, though otherwise he looked none the worse for wear. He bared his teeth at the pushing-shoving children and suddenly lifted his arms, letting out a roaring monster noise. In an instant the children had scattered, all squealing and running off toward different parts of the camp.
Charmian stood aside as he swept the grass and dirt from his clothes, a foul look on his face. "Are we about done here?" he demanded, giving Nigankwam a dirty look. "Can we go back to NORMAL LAND now?"
Charmian rubbed her neck and hoped that Nigankwam wouldn't start huffing again. "Just about. Kenu's supposed to take us..."
"Kenu?" Manabozho wailed, and whirled toward Nigankwam. "If it's all right with you I can carry her back MYSELF! I AM half manitou, remember--?"
Nigankwam's eyes slowly rolled heavenward and he tucked his arms into his robes again. "You are not half Animiki," he said. "Should you even be able to change yourself into a bird, I can hardly see you flying your way back both with a burden, and with lightning licking at your back."
Manabozho's feathers wilted. Charmian tugged on his arm. "Come on," she said. "It won't be that bad. Kenu's not the best pilot, but...at least he got us here fast." She saw Nigankwam raise a hand and flick it at the air, then glanced down the slope to see Kenu coming, jogging along as fast as his little legs would carry him. She still wasn't used to thinking that this little thing was the same huge Thunderbird that had been following them all along. No wonder he'd seemed so clueless. She'd just thought he was simple.
Kenu came to a halt beside them, panting but trying to hide it. He hopped up and down so that his feathers all bobbed.
"Am I carrying them back now?" he exclaimed hopefully.
"Yes, you are carrying them back now," Nigankwam replied. "Make certain that you are easier on them this time, as they are hardly made of the same stuff as we Animiki are!" Charmian and Manabozho both started to fume. "And you will return yourself promptly, so that we may discuss this little absence of yours," Nigankwam added.
Charmian saw how Kenu ducked his head abruptly, his feathers drooping like Manabozho's had, and then remembered what he'd said before he'd first carried them up here. Maybe--maybe you can come up with me and talk to him! I have to talk to him before I go off anywhere on my own--so if you want me to come with you--maybe you can come up and see him...? And as if to remind her of this, he peered up at her over his shoulder, his eyes large and damp; she bit her lip, then sighed and took a step forward.
"Actually..." Nigankwam and Manabozho both looked at her. "I was wondering...if maybe he could come with us. At least for a little bit--"
"WHAT?" they both yelled in unison, their voices combined making the ground shake.
Charmian grimaced and waved her hands. "Please!! Hear me out! Please--?" She took in a breath when they both started silently fuming at her. "He--we're going to have to face some Underwater Lynxes, and I just kind of thought, maybe he would come in handy--"
"Kenu is barely a hatchling and hardly knows how to deal with a Mishupishu!" Nigankwam interrupted.
The little Thunderbird's lip quivered; "Actually, I think he deals with Mishupishus pretty well," Charmian said. "There's one down there right now and--"
"WHAT?" Nigankwam yelled again, and promptly stomped his foot against the ground; Charmian gasped and backed hurriedly away when a hole opened up, and he glared down through it. "WHERE IS IT? YOU MEAN YOU ARE IN THE COMPANY OF SUCH A BEAST--?"
At least now I know where he gets it from, Charmian thought, but hurried to shake her head. "It's not like that, Grandfather!" Kenu cut in, surprising her. He hopped up and down and waved his arms. "It's a NICE Mishupishu! He didn't try attacking me once--"
Nigankwam's face went scarlet and his feathers flared out every which way. "MIND YOUR TONGUE, HATCHLING! HOW MANY TIMES HAVE I TOLD YOU NEVER TO CONSORT WITH LYNXES?!"
"He tried FIGHTING him, first!!" Charmian exclaimed desperately, wanting to stick her head in the ground; Nigankwam gave her a furious glare but she somehow managed to hold her ground. "And he did a good job of it! Mishupishu--um--THE Mishupishu was all scared of him--and cowering in the water--just before we came here, Kenu was running along the water, and Mishupishu had to hide his head, he was so scared of him--"
All throughout her speech, she saw Kenu's eyes grow bigger and bigger, and he slowly started to draw himself up, at least, as much as he could considering his size, his chest puffing out. Nigankwam's look, on the other hand, grew more and more skeptical, until he was scowling at her with narrowed eyes. He looked at Manabozho.
"You claim this happened, too?" he snapped.
Manabozho blinked, gave Charmian a dark look, then turned back. "Of COURSE I do," he groused. "Would a manitou lie?"
Nigankwam rolled his eyes. "They do it all the time!" He let out a gusty sigh and folded his arms. "Very well! Kenu will be allowed to travel with you until such place as you should run into these nuisances, at which point he may attempt to prove himself by fighting one or two, and, should he fail that, he will promptly return, and we shall THEN commence our talk over his unexpected absence!"
Charmian let out her own breath, not quite liking the sound of the Animiki's offer; but Kenu merely started hopping up and down once more. "HOORAY!" he yelled. "I GET TO GO ALONG!" He immediately stopped, coughed, and lifted his chin. "I mean...I, the great war-bird Kenu, shall assist the tiny weak humans in their endeavor against the Lynxes! It is the very least I can do for their tiny efforts to assist me!"
"Kenu," Nigankwam said in a threatening voice.
Kenu shrank in on himself a little. "Oh." He turned to Charmian and Manabozho, who both leaned forward expectantly. "And...I promise not to step on anyone," he said, and they both nearly fell over.
"Better," Nigankwam said, sniffing. "Very well. We will keep our eyes upon these Lynxes supposedly 'threatening' this Island, while you...attempt to seek out this North Wind, and make utter fools of yourselves in the process." He jerked a hand at the air and started walking. "Follow."
They started back in the direction of the huge sky lodge. "After coming here," Charmian whispered to Manabozho, "Black Elk Horn is starting to look sweeter and sweeter."
"Told you it wasn't worth the trouble," Manabozho grumbled. "And I bet you didn't even get any information from him, either!"
Charmian lowered her head a little. "Well...not much...basically a warning to keep away from Kabebonikka, but, it's not like that's anything new..." She rubbed at her neck. "And he says not to worry about the Island, because they're the mighty Animiki bla bla bla..." She frowned. "And he spouted some gibberish at me..."
"Gibberish...?" Manabozho echoed, seeming to be only half listening; he glanced continually at the groups of Animiki milling all around them.
Charmian nodded a little. "Yeah...ma-something...mana...manabizzy-quae or something."
Manabozho at last turned his attention back to her, and gave her an odd frown. "Maanaabiziiquae?" he said, and her face lit up and she nodded. His own expression grew even stranger. "Why did he say that?"
"I don't know," Charmian admitted. "What's it even mean? You mean that's an actual word?"
He frowned again. "It means red swan woman," he said, and she found that her voice had vanished. "Why would he say that to you--?" he asked again, and all that she could do was shake her head and shrug.
"I...I don't know," she murmured, after she found her voice again.
Manabozho stared at her for a moment, then snorted and turned away. "Old bat's probably going senile," he muttered, and she cringed, but apparently Nigankwam was no longer paying attention.
They reached the huge lodge and entered it--Charmian frowned to see that it didn't look nearly as big on the outside as it had been inside, but as soon as they stepped within, she was again amazed by the immensity of it. It must have been like Sugar Loaf or the Sky Tree, she supposed. "By the way," Nigankwam said as they headed back toward the hole at the opposite end, "as I said we caught sight of your group traveling along, before we noticed Kenu among you, and I took notice of one of your others. A girl with hair like snow," he said, when she looked at him.
Her brow furrowed a little. "You mean Winter Born...? Yeah, she's with us...what about her?"
Nigankwam stared at her over his shoulder. "I wish to ask what you are doing traveling with one such as her," he said.
Charmian's look grew even odder. "'One such as her'--? She's a human. Why wouldn't we travel with her--?"
The Animiki slowed to a stop and shook his head, nearly scowling. "Now I know that you lie, claiming that girl is a HUMAN! What is she exactly, human, and what is she doing in your company?"
Charmian opened her mouth, then shut it, then her brow furrowed even further. "She's...she's a human," she said again, confused; then her eyes grew a little when she realized her mistake. "Oh...actually...she's part Ocryx...part wolf demon," she explained, when Nigankwam frowned. "They live on the Island...there's only three of them with full blood...but...Winter Born's only one-quarter Ocryx. Not very much," she said. "There's a three-quarters Ocryx traveling with us too," she added.
"The large one with the horns and wings," Nigankwam said; she nodded. He snorted a little. "He is not nearly as powerful as she is."
"Powerful--?" Charmian and Manabozho both blurted out at once, then, without thinking, she rushed toward him. "What do you mean, powerful--?" she asked.
He folded his arms. "Exactly as I say. We Animiki take our duties seriously, and the main of these is to keep watch over what YOUR sort does on earth! And so why you travel about so blithely with such medicine is beyond my understanding. Why you do not have it contained, or controlled, makes no sense to me. You are truly that ignorant?"
"Ignorant of what?" Charmian exclaimed. "She's just a little girl!"
"Still," Nigankwam said blandly, "she is a little girl with great medicine, and why you travel about so foolishly with such a force, unsupervised, is beyond the ability of us Animiki to comprehend." He turned around and resumed walking. "No wonder it is that your sort gets into such troubles, if this is what you routinely do."
Charmian could only stare at his back as they neared the hole, Kenu skipping along happily. She cast her eyes toward Manabozho and furrowed her brow.
Now we know he's senile, Manabozho thought with a snort.
Charmian bit her lip. Manabozho...don't think less of me...but after I got back from that vision, I started "seeing" people's medicine. It sort of glows around them.
His eyes shifted toward hers. And...?
She chewed her lip harder. Well...her glow was about as strong as yours was.
Manabozho tripped and nearly stumbled. Nigankwam glanced back at them but he managed to regain his balance before being spotted; the Animiki gestured at the hole in the bottom of the lodge, and Charmian peered down through it. The sight of the clouds swirling below made her feel a little ill.
Kenu hopped up and down. "Don't worry! I, Kenu, will carry you down safely upon my mighty back!"
"Goodie," Charmian muttered. Somehow, she'd felt safer catching a ride with him before she'd known that he was barely more than a hatchling.
Nigankwam folded his arms. "If anything happens with the Island, do you think you could let us know...?" Charmian ventured, and he gave her a very unpleasant look in return.
"It is not our duty to go about keeping your sort informed," he said curtly, and nodded at the hole. "Kenu? Make certain they land with no broken limbs."
That's a comforting thought, Charmian thought, and sighed; she took a few steps back when Kenu lifted his little arms, and started glowing again. This time she watched him as he shifted and expanded, until the airplane-sized bird of before was standing before them. She felt like slapping herself for not having realized he was so young a lot sooner; his dirty-white feathers sticking out every which way made him look like nothing more than an eaglet. He promptly lowered his wing and she was thankful that at least he seemed to be in much better spirits than his grandfather.
"Let's go!" he exclaimed. "I'm LOTS better at landing on the ground than I am at landing on clouds! Honest!" He coughed and raised his head; Charmian and Manabozho appropriately covered their ears. "I MEAN, I, KENU, AM PROFICIENT IN ALL SORTS OF FLIGHT AND LANDING, BUT THE GROUND HAPPENS TO BE MY SPECIALTY!"
"Whatever!" Manabozho hissed, then, "OW!"--Charmian glanced at him in surprise to see a little wisp of smoke drifting up from his head, and an awful grimace on his face. Kenu's eyes were wide but Nigankwam merely folded his arms back in his robe and nodded once more at the hole.
"As I said," he stated. "We will take care of these Lynxes, and you people...will go do your own thing."
Charmian slipped up atop Kenu's back and dug her fingers into his feathers. "Okay then," she said as Manabozho reluctantly joined her. "Um...thanks, and see you later..."
"Hopefully not," Nigankwam said, and with that Kenu jumped into the hole, and they were zooming down through the swirling clouds, rain and wind pelting them again.
"I REALLY hate this part," Manabozho growled between his teeth.
"AT LEAST HE ISN'T COMING ALONG!" Charmian had to yell, jerking her head skyward. "NO OFFENSE, BUT HE GIVES A WHOLE NEW MEANING TO 'WET BLANKET'!"
"MY GRANDFATHER, THE MIGHTY NIGANKWAM, HAS INDEED GOTTEN MANY BLANKETS WET!" Kenu yelled.
Charmian glanced over her shoulder at Manabozho and shrugged.
"SO KENU," she shouted, feeling rather silly to be trying to converse with a giant bird in the middle of a raging thunderstorm, "YOU'RE REALLY UP FOR ALL THIS? I MEAN, GOING WITH US TO GITCHI-GAMI? IT'S PRETTY FAR AWAY FROM HERE, YOU KNOW!"
"I, THE GREAT KENU, HAVE FLOWN GREATER DISTANCES THAN TINY HUMANS SUCH AS YOURSELF CAN EVER COMPREHEND!" Kenu replied. "IN THE FLAPPING OF ONE WING I HAVE FLOWN FURTHER THAN INSIGNIFICANT BEINGS LIKE YOU CAN WALK IN TWELVE MOONS!!"
Manabozho leaned forward. "YOU KNOW, YOU CAN CUT IT WITH THE 'TINY' AND 'INSIGNIFICANT' COMMENTS ALREADY!!"
Kenu blinked, peeping back at them. "OH...YOU MEAN YOU DON'T LIKE THAT...?"
"KENU!!" Charmian shrieked, hurling her arm forward to point ahead of them. Kenu turned back and let out a squawk which came out as a crack of thunder--the clouds had opened up before them, showing the ground zooming up at them at an impossible speed. Charmian shoved her head down between the Thunderbird's shoulders, Manabozho following suit, as Kenu flew out of the clouds and plummeted straight at the earth.
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