Thomas receives a gift, and Charmian spots some mysterious watchers...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Escape From Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 62: The Ire Of The Animiki"
Back To Earth
"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.
CRAP CRAP CRAP CRAP CRAP--!! Charmian's mind thought, while another, tinier part of her mind thought, Isn't my life supposed to flash before my eyes--? Is crap all there is then--?
She heard tiny yelling noises, then it felt as if the world exploded around her. She ground her teeth together hard enough to hurt, and wondered if she were dead, then realized, why would her teeth be hurting if she were dead...?
She tentatively opened one eye, and had to blink a few times as the sight that she saw confused her so much. She found herself looking at the earth, and sky, and the horizon dotted with distant trees, only they were in the wrong order--the sky was below her and the meadow was up in the air. She spat a few feathers out of her mouth and started glancing around wildly; when she saw Thomas and Winter Born running at her, upside-down, she let out a startled yell, the sight was so bizarre. Then she let go of Kenu's feathers and fell on her head with a painful thud, toppling over.
Instantly the field and sky tilted over onto their sides, taking Thomas and Winter Born and the others who were now approaching with them. Winter Born dropped to all fours and crouched to peer into her face, her eyes wide; she blinked hazily at Thomas's feet, before feeling something grasping her arm and gently pulling her up. The field and sky tilted again, but this time they slowly settled back into their proper places, flashing thundering sky above and wet soggy meadow below. Charmian's head swayed.
"What...what happened...?" she murmured, confused.
"Charmian!" Marten appeared, and landed on her shoulder. He waved his arms. "The big bird came back and CRASH!--BAM!--KAPOW!--brought you guys with him!"
"Are you okay?" Winter Born asked in awe.
"Charmian--?" Thomas asked, peering into her face with some concern. He pulled on her eyelid. "Are you all right...?"
"I...yeah...I think so," Charmian managed to say at last, and carefully pulled her arm free and peered around herself. Manabozho sat in a muddled heap off to her right, grimacing and rubbing his neck; Kenu was lying just behind them, his wings splayed out and his eyes goggling. He lifted his head to shake it; at that moment Stick-In-The-Dirt came running up, and thwacked him atop the skull with his turtle-shell rattle so hard that the sound reverberated. Charmian's jaw fell.
Kenu's head shot up and his eyes squinched shut. "OW!!" he bellowed, and everyone stumbled, having to catch their balance; the clouds overhead boomed in response and a bolt of lightning cracked against a tree in the distance. Charmian stared at Stick-In-The-Dirt, mystified, as he shook the rattle and bared his teeth.
"Carrying them off!!" he yelled, his voice cracking. "NO MORE! You'll HARDLY go turning them into Thunderbirds--!"
"Stick--!" Charmian managed to call out belatedly. She got to her feet and held out her hands. "Wait! He wasn't kidnapping us--! We went with him!"
Stick-In-The-Dirt blinked, then lowered the rattle. Everyone else crowded around them now, staring, and he slowly shrank in on himself, his face going red. "He...he wasn't...?"
Charmian shook her head adamantly. "We just went with him to talk to the senior Animiki," she started to say, when Kenu began glowing, and a moment later, the little boy stood there, his face screwing up as tears welled up in his eyes. His pudgy fists crept up to press against them and he started sniffling, shoulders shaking.
"Wh...wh...why did he HIT me?!" he cried, then started wailing aloud, the tears streaming down his face.
Charmian glanced at the others. There wasn't a single mouth that wasn't hanging wide open by now; Stick-In-The-Dirt's seemed to be open twice as wide as anyone else's. "He...he's a..."
Peepaukawiss stuck his head out from behind Mani, where he'd been hiding. "You mean that great big frightening bird is that--?" he exclaimed disdainfully, then a huge smile came to his face and he clasped his hands together. "OOOOOOH! WHERE DID HE GET THOSE LOVELY FEATHERS?!"
Charmian bent down near the bawling Kenu, putting her hand on his shoulder while Stick-In-The-Dirt meekly backed away with much grimacing. "He didn't mean it," she explained. "He's just trying to look out for us, because--you have to admit--you were rather big and scary in the first place--"
Kenu lowered one fist a fraction, still sniffling miserably. "You mean it?" he gulped. "I really was big and scary...?"
"N--" Manabozho started to say, then yelled when Charmian stomped on his foot. He hopped around the group, hissing and scowling, but she ignored him and nodded at Kenu.
"Of course you were. You didn't notice? Just about every time you...um...opened your beak, we were shaking in...um...our moccasins."
Kenu's other fist lowered and his eyes slowly began to light up. "You were...?" he said, hopefully. "Even that big Lynx traveling with you...?"
She nodded again. "Especially the big Lynx traveling with us. Speaking of..." She stood and glanced back toward the camp. "Where is he, anyway? Is he still nearby--?"
"The Wendigoes were keeping an eye on him," Niskigwun said. "At least, the better of them was, while the lesser was complaining a lot..."
"What did you find out up there--?" Singing Cedars asked as they all turned and started heading back toward their camp.
"Not as much as I'd hoped," Charmian admitted. "Basically, that we should have our hands full with Kabebonikka, because he's kind of a tyrant from the sound of it. Nigankwam--um--the Thunderbird up there said we'd have better luck just avoiding him altogether, but that's not really an option!"
"He also claims that HIS people can protect the Island just fine," Manabozho groused. "As if they could! A fine job they did the FIRST time!"
"It's hard to believe that's all you learned the whole time you were up there!" Thomas exclaimed, catching up with Charmian, Winter Born jogging up on her other side. "Was there anything else at all--?"
"Well--" She glanced at Winter Born, then back at Thomas, then bit her lip. "Tell you later," she murmured.
"Are we going, then?" Winter Born asked, skipping. "Going north to Gitchi-Gami--?"
"It's kind of late right now," Charmian sighed, peering at the nearly black sky. "Maybe it'd be best to wait it out under the trees, then head out in the morning. Are your okis still around--?" she asked Singing Cedars.
He blushed a little, but nodded. "It should be dry enough," he said. "They'll stay the night if I ask them to."
"It's a plan, then," Charmian said. They reached the nearer part of the river, and she could just barely make out Mishupishu's horns and eyes peeping out a good distance away. "And as soon as all these Thunderbirds head out, then we're on our way."
* * * * *
The rain began to pelt down harder than ever barely a half hour later, but by then they'd moved all of their belongings, save the canoes, which they tipped upside-down and left by the river, under the thickest of the trees; the two okis lay at opposite ends of the camp, relaxed but alert, staring westward and eastward with their legs tucked under them. Charmian marveled over how well the branches held out the rain before deciding that she had bigger things to focus on. She turned and walked toward the forest's edge, seating herself beneath a tree and watching absently as Moon Wolf walked around the perimeter of the camp, staring into the woods, before heading back toward the fire which had been built. Marten and Winter Born, as well as Peepaukawiss and X'aaru, were quite interested in Kenu now, the former three chattering at him and looking him over in wonder while X'aaru sniffed around. Charmian sighed. At least in this form, he would be a little easier to manage.
I guess I understand why he was so pissy all that time, she thought. If I were just a little kid I think I'd be pissy too, being left behind like that! I bet he was just out playing around and everyone moved on without him...how sad...
Her stomach growled and she winced, rubbing at it. Kenu glanced at her and frowned before bending forward and seeming to look around at his feet. He grabbed at something on the ground, held it up proudly, then hopped down from the rock he'd been seated upon and came running toward her. "Human!" he exclaimed. "You're hungry? I have a great time-honored favorite meal of the mighty Animiki!"
"Really...?" Charmian said, puzzling over what Thunderbirds might eat. Fire? Brimstone? She tried not to make a face, but failed when a wriggling snake was thrust out at her. She let out a yell and bumped her head against the tree when she tried to back away, and almost fell over. Kenu, for his part, just gave her a perplexed look and lowered the snake a little.
"You're not hungry...?" he asked.
Charmian grimaced and bared her teeth. "FOR THAT?! ARE YOU NUTS?! Who the hell eats SNAKES?!"
Kenu's lower lip stuck out a bit and quivered. "Everybody does," he insisted. "Well...all the Animiki do! What else did you think we eat...?"
Charmian opened her mouth, thought, and shut it with a gusty sigh. No use arguing. They both gasped when a hand reached out and snatched the snake from Kenu, and Augwak gave them both a venomous look.
"If YOU'RE not going to take it, then it shouldn't go to WASTE!" he snapped, and she was grateful that he at least turned away before popping it, still alive and wiggling, inside his mouth. Charmian stuck her tongue out and was mildly surprised when Kenu did the same.
"Eeewwwww!" the little Thunderbird exclaimed. "He didn't even CHEW it first!"
Pakwa came ambling up to see what was going on, and must have spotted the snake in Augwak's mouth, for his eyes immediately went wide, then he made a gagging noise and hurriedly scrambled away. Kenu turned back to Charmian and fiddled his fingers. "If you want," he said, "I can get another one! I'm really good at hunting!"
Is it really HUNTING if... Charmian didn't even bother finishing the thought, before shaking her head. "Um...no thanks," she said. "I appreciate a snake-free diet."
Kenu gave her a quite odd look. "Really...?" He turned his head to the side when X'aaru sniffed at his hand, then his eyes slowly lit up and he started patting the demon on the head. "AWWWWW! You're just like a big dog!" He pointed excitedly into the woods. "Want to go hunt snakes?!"
X'aaru's tail started wagging; Marten hopped atop his head and waved his hands. "I'LL HUNT TOO!" They turned toward the trees and hurried off, Marten exclaiming, "Y'know, where I come from, there's this person named Glooskap, and he's the greatest snake-hunter EVER!"
"Really?" Kenu said in awe. "Is he a really big Animiki at all...?"
Charmian sighed and sat back when Thomas approached and sat down beside her. "Well, at least they're getting along," she said. "Which is more than I can say for how Manabozho and his brothers would be acting..." She got a wistful look, then peered at him. "Don't you kind of miss those times? I mean, sure, they were a big pain in the ass, but still, it was kind of fun finding them all and getting them all together..."
Thomas rolled his eyes and pressed a hand to her forehead. "Feeling well? For a minute I thought you said you'd enjoyed all that."
"Well, I did, kind of...after the fact, at least..."
"Well, if this is the game we're playing, then I think it was kind of fun...doing whatever the hell it was that I did when I got that Wendigo spirit stone." He got an odd look. "What exactly did I do when that happened...?"
She rolled her eyes. "Trust me, you do NOT want to know. You were annoying enough when you just drank blood!"
Thomas nudged her arm and stuck out his own tongue. "You're just jealous that I can freeze stuff and you can't! By the way," he said, eyeing her pack when she pulled it off and set it beside her, "I believe you promised to give me a little something. You know--like you did everyone else?" he prompted, when she gave him a questioning look, and he indicated Stick-In-The-Dirt, who was sitting near the fire, scribbling something in the journal she'd given him while Winter Born looked on.
Charmian blushed a little. "I said in private!"
He rolled his eyes. "Nobody's looking! What could it possibly be that it has to be THAT private--?" He made another face. "Do I even want to know--?"
She had to keep herself from hitting him, and started digging in her pack. "Fine! If it'll get you off my back! SHUT UP!!" she yelled as Walks-On-The-Shore happened by, opening his mouth as he did so. She pulled out a little box, hesitated, then thrust it out toward him with a scowl. "Here! I don't know if you'll like it."
"Well, that's a glowing endorsement," Thomas said, but accepted the box and looked it over. "Gee, Charmian...I don't know what to say...it's just what I've always--"
She hit him in the chest now and he doubled over with a gasp. "Just OPEN it!"
Thomas sat up again, wincing a little and rubbing at his chest, but obediently opened the box. He frowned a little, then pulled out its contents while she sank down into her vest and scowled at her knees.
"A locket?" Thomas said, and turned it back and forth. He gave her a quizzical look.
"I know, I know," Charmian grumbled. "It's girly. So open it."
"And inside will there be a smaller locket...?" Thomas inquired, but popped it open. He blinked, then looked up at her with some puzzlement.
Charmian reached out a hand to poke inside the locket. "This is a little bitty piece of stone," she said. "I found it stuck in my sandal when I got back home the last time. I think I tracked it out of Chakenapok's cave. It must've been knocked loose when one of us was hurling fireballs...it's got a little teeny singe on the side...see?" She poked at the object beside it. "And this is a little teeny bit of that ice flower you made me...it took me forever just to chip that little bit off...I don't know what it is, but that ice of yours is hard. SHUT--UP!!" she yelled when Puka walked by, opening and then shutting his mouth. She sat back against the tree and resumed scowling. "It's supposed to be a little bit of fire and a little bit of ice--you know--mine and yours." Thomas's mouth started twitching and her scowl nearly grew into a snarl. "So I suck at romantic-type things!! I couldn't think of anything else! I would've brought you a pint but it's not like you drink blood anymore!!"
Thomas started laughing as he closed the locket. "Stop it! I think it's cute!"
"Figures," Charmian grumbled.
"What, there's something wrong with cute--?"
"I wasn't aiming for cute! I thought..." She tried to think of something to say and came up completely blank, so just made a face. "I don't know!!"
"Charmian," Thomas said, "I think it's sweet then. And cute, and romantic, and...a bunch of other fluffy things I can't think of just yet, and had better not say, else you'll start hitting me again." He slipped it over his head. "See? I'm wearing it already."
"You don't have to wear it if you don't like it," Charmian said.
He rolled his eyes. "I'm wearing it, aren't I?"
"But you don't have to." She fidgeted.
"I want to wear it," Thomas said with an air of finality. Then, "Besides, you'll kill me if I take it off, won't you?"
"Yes," Charmian said.
He started laughing again. "So see, I want to wear it. I think that was a nice idea for a present. Thank you very much."
"I got you something else if you don't like it," Charmian added. "But that one has to wait until later!"
He made a show of letting out a huge sigh. "Very well..." He got up and headed toward the woods. "I'm going to go check after that little boy-bird and the others...be back in a bit."
Charmian nodded and folded her arms around herself, shivering a bit in the nighttime chill. She glanced at the two okis to see that they were now dozing, but the trees were as dry as ever, and most of those gathered were either around the fire, or starting to doze off at various spots a little further away from it. She sighed and rubbed at her arms as she peered up into the branches overhead, seeing the occasional firefly flicker here and there.
Kabebonikka is supposed to be one of the Four Winds. Geezhigo-Quae even called for his help once. So why is it that Nigankwam makes him out to be such a bad guy? Even Shawondassee and Wabun weren't as nasty about him...but they are his siblings...maybe they couldn't see him as clearly? Or does Nigankwam just have something against him? He did fight Megissogwun while all they could do was try to fend off the Lynxes...and they didn't succeed...is this all just some jealousy or something...?
If it is...then why did he mention Maanaabiziiquae...? What could he possibly know about the Red Swan? And what's Winter Born got to do with all of this...?
She leaned her head against the tree trunk, and turned it to look deeper into the woods when she thought she caught another flicker of firefly. Which was why she had to blink when she saw just how large and bright this firefly was.
Charmian's muscles tensed. She slowly leaned forward, away from the tree, her eyes fixing on the glowing light drifting through the woods. The hairs on the back of her neck prickled, and she turned to look the other way; another fireball drifted far off over there. She stared at it for a moment and chewed on her lip, wondering what she should do.
They're trying to intimidate us. Otherwise, we would never know they're there.
She blinked again, then turned to look toward Moon Wolf. He sat a little distance away from the fire, huddled in on himself with his arms wrapped around his legs; his eyes flicked toward hers briefly, then away again. They appeared when you were in the quarry. Since then they've been keeping watch around the camp.
Why are they following us? Charmian asked.
He shook his head slightly. I do not know. But I sensed them long before I saw them. They want us to know they're there, otherwise, I wouldn't have sensed them. Either that, or they're very poorly trained. He paused. But I do not get this feeling from at least one of them.
I saw something just like this back near Cedars's home, Charmian thought somewhat anxiously. She peered toward the first fireball again.
They want you to be frightened, Moon Wolf said again. When she continued chewing on her lip he added, They cannot enter the camp. I set up a barrier to keep them out. If they want to enter, they'll have to assume their real forms...and I doubt they'll do this, just yet. No matter how strong they are, they're no match for everyone in this camp combined.
Then why are they here? Charmian asked, confused.
Moon Wolf stared at the fire in silence for a moment. They're trying to make a point, he said at last. I assume they don't want us to reach the North Wind.
Charmian frowned. Then they'll just have to stuff it! She turned and glared directly at the first, smaller fireball, and felt a twinge of smugness when it actually appeared to waver a little bit. After a few seconds it bobbed and then drifted back out of sight, and she snorted and turned back to the second, sticking out her tongue.
Hey wabano! See you at Gitchi-Gami!
The bigger fireball flared a little, then dimmed and drifted toward the trees. You can bet that you will, a voice in her head said, and her skin prickled as if the temperature had suddenly dropped thirty degrees, but by then the fireball was gone.
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