An ailing Augwak gets an unexpected helping hand...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Escape From Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 75: Acting Without Thinking"
CHARMIAN FOUND HERSELF being shaken awake before the sun had even arisen. She blinked and yawned blearily, glancing at the others in the dark camp as they awoke. She had to squint a little in confusion at first, as some of them were glowing; it was a moment before she realized that she was seeing everyone's medicine again. She sighed and rubbed at her eyes, rather wishing that the odd sensation would leave her. It could end up being useful, but it was starting to give her a headache.
Mainlander, if you speak with your Apakwaanaajiin, perhaps she can let up on it for you.
Charmian blinked her eyes open and sat up a little straighter. Her brow furrowed a bit; it felt strange to hear Chakenapok's voice out here in the middle of nowhere, but she had to assume that the Red Swan had patched him through. "How come you're here now?" she asked. "You could've come when I was asleep..."
You need your rest. You're not fully awake yet, so it's easier to speak with you in this state. How are you feeling? If you ask Apakwaanaajiin, perhaps she can help you with these lights you're seeing.
"I think I can manage," Charmian murmured, trying to keep her voice low as some of the others were peering at her as they gathered their belongings. "So there was anything in specific you wanted to say so early--?"
I went seeking information on this manitou who troubles you, Chakenapok said. The one who has been following you, and who you met near the river. Apparently...he was once one of the old ones who watched over the Island, just as we thought.
"But how do you know that?" Charmian asked, confused.
I spoke with Chibiabos, who spoke with the Ogimah-Quae, Chakenapok replied, and Charmian was suddenly fully awake. Be careful, Chakenapok added, his voice fading; she forced herself to calm down a little, taking a breath and letting it out before she could lose him. She says that apparently, there was at least one manitou who went astray before they became the Shadow Wolves. It likely has a relation to these wabanos who are also troubling you.
"That explains why he seems to know me," Charmian murmured. "But does she have any idea why an Island manitou would be after me--? Is he related to Megissogwun?"
We do not know about this yet. All I can say is to keep more on your guard, as this manitou might offer them a knowledge of you that they would lack on their own.
Charmian shivered. "Yeah...you can bet I will. Thanks, Chakena..."
There is another issue, Mainlander, Chakenapok said before she could shake herself fully awake. Chibiabos gave me a warning to pass on to you. He tells of seeing a great web that may somehow endanger you.
"A web...?" Charmian echoed, perplexed. "Well...we just passed through Weaver territory, and it was kind of dangerous..."
No, not a Weaver web. He claims this is different. More powerful. And something fearful. It may be some sort of trap laid for you by these wabanos, or Megissogwun. He could not tell me more, so I suggest that you keep on your guard. Wabanos can easily sway a weaker manitou's spirit, and I sense that these two following you wouldn't be averse to trying this again.
"Do you think they might go after Mani or the others?" Charmian asked anxiously.
She felt a mental shrug. I can only urge you to be cautious. He paused. Do you recall, Mainlander, he said a bit hesitantly, when you passed along the Spirit Road? What it was that the Road attempted to do to you...?
"Yeah," Charmian said. "It tried tricking me every step of the way! It even pulled out a false Wabasso to try to lure me off the path. And my own grandmother!" She trailed off, then started chewing on her lip. "Oh," she said. "You think those wabanos will do the same thing...?"
I would not put it past them, Mainlander. Take this advice: Anything that you know I was once capable of, expect from them. And more. Together, with this manitou, they could be more powerful than I ever was.
Charmian's eyes went wide. "More powerful than you--?" she blurted out, but by the time she was finished speaking, he was gone, and she was staring off into space. "Nuts!" she grumbled, before pushing herself up to her feet and stretching.
"Good morning!" Marten exclaimed, hopping through the camp and waving. Augwak followed him, muttering and yawning and walking as if his joints needed to be oiled. She saw the rings under his eyes and frowned a little.
"Not a morning person?" she asked; he gave her a malevolent glare, then his eyes rolled back in his head and he slumped to the ground. Charmian gasped and hurried toward him even as Marten did the same, the two of them looking him over.
"Augwak--?" Charmian asked, shaking his arm. "Hey! You okay--?"
"Wow," Marten said, peeling back one of the GeeBee's eyelids. "I think he's passed out!"
Charmian's brow furrowed. "Maybe he really does need something to eat!" She glanced around at everybody in the camp and bit her lip. "I think he needs human blood," she sighed miserably after a moment, and Marten's face screwed up.
"Eewwwww!" he said. "Glad I'm not human!"
"I guess I could offer some," Charmian grumbled, and gestured at Kenu as he went by. "I need to see your knife again, please."
"What's going on? Aren't you getting ready?" Thomas asked, coming up to them; when Charmian accepted Kenu's knife and sat down on a root near Augwak, pushing her sleeve out of the way and propping her elbow on her knee, he made a face. "What are you doing with that--?"
She waved at Augwak; Pakwa had appeared now, and he and Marten were both poking at the unconscious GeeBee. "I think he's gone without a little too long. Remember when you always got all tired?"
Thomas blinked. Then his jaw fell open. "Don't tell me you plan to FEED him--!" he exclaimed, then, when she tried putting the knife to her arm, he grabbed her up under her arms so that she yelped and dropped the knife. It stuck in the root with a thunk. The two of them started struggling as the others all watched with wide eyes.
"Oh, stop BABYING me!" Charmian snapped, kicking her legs. "I did it for YOU!"
"Yes--AFTER I told you NOT to!" Thomas retorted. "If the stupid bloke's so bloody hungry then let him eat moss or something! He seemed fine enough before, just whiny! Surely he can ride in a canoe just fine!"
"Take a look, he's practically ready to fade away into nothing!"
"And that would be such a BAD thing--?"
Charmian paused, then started kicking anew. "HELP! HELP! ABDUCTION!!" she yelled, everybody halting and turning to look at them. Other than that, nobody really did anything.
Thomas rolled his eyes. "Who's being the baby--? OW!" He promptly dropped her so that she fell over the root with an oof; she blinked and pushed herself up to look back at him. Her eyes grew a little in surprise when she saw Singing Cedars standing behind him, fist still balled; Thomas was rubbing the back of his neck and grimacing.
"Are you bloody MAD?!" he just about shrieked.
"If you have some sort of problem with her, then take it up with me!" Singing Cedars shot back, balling both of his fists now. Charmian's mouth fell open in disbelief, but then she jumped up and pointed a finger at Thomas accusingly. They both looked at her.
"I need to do something REALLY important to this mission and he won't LET me!" she exclaimed, feeling awfully like a tattletale, but not knowing what else to do. Even with as snotty as Augwak had always been, she couldn't stand the thought of just leaving him like so.
Singing Cedars and Thomas commenced fuming at each other. "Well?" Singing Cedars growled; Thomas stared at him for a moment, then turned back to Charmian and gave her an evil look. He and Charmian both narrowed their eyes.
"Fine!" he snapped after a moment. "Go and be a bloody martyr!"
"FINE!" Charmian shouted back; Thomas made an indescribable face before whirling away and stomping back toward the remains of the fire, which Stick-In-The-Dirt and Remy were stamping out while Mani sprinkled water over it with his antlers. Charmian stooped to pick up the knife as Singing Cedars came closer.
"What exactly are you doing--?" he asked, frowning.
"Augwak's a GeeBee," Charmian said; when his frown grew she suppressed a sigh. "A cannibal," she explained. "If he doesn't get...the right stuff to eat every so often, then he might get sick. I'm just going to help him out a little."
Singing Cedars's eyes went wide. A second later her hand was empty, and he was holding the knife. She started fuming anew.
"ARE YOU MAD?!" he yelled, everybody again glancing toward them. Thomas shot her a look that looked like "TOLD you!"
Charmian scowled. "I'm hardly going to just leave him here! He's part of the reason why we're here in the first place. Without him we wouldn't know about Megissogwun!"
Singing Cedars looked ready to explode. At last he took a sharp step back; she stepped toward him, ready to challenge, but he gave her such a withering look that she had to stop. "I'LL do it then!" he barked.
"What?" Charmian blurted out, and made a grab for the knife; he held it away. "No way! I don't want you CUTTING yourself--!"
"As if I want my little sister cutting herself?" Singing Cedars snapped, holding the knife up out of her reach.
She clenched her fist. "Oh, knock it off with the 'Little Sister' stuff already! You've played that card too many times! Give me the stupid knife!"
"You're NOT getting the knife!!"
"Damn it, GIVE IT TO ME!!" Charmian dodged to the side and jumped on his back, nearly knocking him over; he still managed to hold the knife away from her, but had to stumble around now, keeping it away from her waving arms. Everybody stood and watched them as they fought over it, nearly tripping over roots and running into trees.
Charmian made one last grab and managed to grasp hold of the knife handle--"HA!"--then yelped when something grabbed onto her from behind and pulled her off of the Onondaga. Singing Cedars spun around and promptly grabbed the knife back; Charmian's jaw fell, and she glanced behind herself. Niskigwun was holding onto her under the arms so that she couldn't get away; he gave her a sympathetic look that just infuriated her.
"Sorry, Mainlander," he said.
Charmian's expression was utterly betrayed. "Niskigwun!" She started fighting against him halfheartedly. "How could you?!"
"You are the leader of this voyage," the Michinimakinong said. "As such, you can hardly afford to go letting blood for some wretched Wendigo!"
"Don't have to be so pissy about it," Pakwa said.
Niskigwun glanced at him. "Apologies, but I hardly count you as a Wendigo anymore, as you do not need blood."
"Eh," Pakwa said with a shrug. "Good enough."
"CRIPES!!" Charmian yelled so loudly that the voyageurs jumped. "PUT ME DOWN ALREADY!!" She bared her teeth at Singing Cedars. "If you even dare use that thing, I'll--I'll hurl a fireball where the sun don't shine!"
"Don't you mean, doesn't shine--?" Winter Born asked in puzzlement. Then, to Francois, "Mother always taught me good language..."
Charmian halted in her struggles just long enough to scream, "ARE YOU ALL FRIGGING CRAZY?!"
"I could easily ask the same thing of one who wishes to save the life of a cannibal!" Singing Cedars groused, pulling up his sleeve and pressing the knife to the hollow of his arm. He winced and turned away a little as blood began to pool around the knife's tip; Marten hurriedly hopped forward and popped a birchbark bucket out of his pouch, holding it up to catch the drops.
"Glooskap always says to be prepared!" he exclaimed. "Makuk--never leave home without it!"
"Glooskap watches too much TV," Charmian grumbled between her teeth; everyone else, save Niskigwun, started heading back toward the remains of the fire. Marten held the little makuk up until Singing Cedars's arm began to shake; then he pulled it away and peeped into it, then hurried toward Charmian and Niskigwun. An evil glare resulted in the Michinimakinong letting her go, and she reached out for the makuk, barely able to keep herself from snatching it away from him; the Mikumwesu had hardly done anything wrong. She stomped toward Augwak with it and bent down beside him, putting the container to his mouth and tilting his head back. "Marten! Come here and hold his nose shut. I think that's how it's done. Either that, or someone's going to have to rub his belly or something."
Singing Cedars and Niskigwun both made faces. Marten scurried over to pinch Augwak's nose shut; he sucked in a breath, then nearly choked when Charmian started pouring the contents down his throat. After a brief sputter he started swallowing, and Charmian thought she could see a bit of color start to return to his pale face. She wrinkled her nose.
"Bleh," she muttered. "Hardly Sleeping Beauty."
"Sleeping Ugly is more like it!" Marten agreed. "Can a GeeBee sleep any other way...?" They both glanced down at the GeeBee again when his breathing grew a little deeper, then Charmian put his head down and got to her feet. She rubbed a cramp out of her arm and grabbed the knife from Singing Cedars, who was already wrapping a torn piece of hide around his arm, his own face pale. He jumped when she took it.
"Next time," she vowed, "if EITHER of you tries something like that, I'll knock your HEADS in--TOGETHER!"
"Bottoms up!" Marten said, tilting the makuk to shake out its last contents. He watched the GeeBee swallow, then hopped down and scampered off toward the river. "Gotta wash the dishes out! Glooskap taught me that, too!"
"You might want Stick to see to that," Charmian said to Singing Cedars, who looked down at his bandaged arm. She jerked a finger at Pakwa and pointed at Augwak. "Pakwa! Carry!"
Pakwa rolled his eyes in a very odd manner, but ambled forward obediently. He grabbed onto Augwak by one arm--"Come on"--and started dragging him across the ground. When Augwak's head hit the root, he didn't even slow down or look back.
"Now we are going up that river," Charmian stated as Niskigwun fell into step beside her. "No more delays! Mishu thinks he's in good enough shape to come--?"
"Actually--this river leads to some falls ahead," Niskigwun said, having to hop over a root as she made no attempt to step aside. "And so the Lynx thinks it would be best if he sought an alternate route. He suggested taking a tunnel to reach the lake."
"But aren't there more Mishupishus out there--?"
"He says we are more likely to meet them at the lake, by now. The Lynxes who followed us this far were acting quite oddly. A river this size is usually too small to accommodate them, and they do not like traveling along falls. He is guessing that they've headed on and are likely to try capturing us ahead."
Charmian sighed. "Why am I not surprised. Okay. He can take a tunnel. But I'd really rather he have some company, especially in his condition."
"I will speak with the demon and see if he will go again," Niskigwun said, and hurried on ahead of her. He halted for a moment and rubbed at the back of his neck.
"Go on!" Charmian said. "I know you didn't want me to cut myself. Bygones. But the next time, I'm going to pull your wings off and beat you with them."
Niskigwun blinked, then blushed a little, turned, and hurried off again.
"You do know he likes you, don't you?" Singing Cedars said, and she almost jumped; she'd completely forgotten that he was there. She gawked at him; when he raised an eyebrow she started steaming, and jerked on his arm so that he yelped.
* * * * *
Charmian figured that getting the cumbersome canoes back in the water would be the most difficult part of carrying on, yet it seemed to be the easiest. What was most difficult was actually gathering everybody and everything in an orderly fashion. Just as they started lining up to climb in, as luck would have it, a group of pine manitous drifted out of the woods to whistle at them; Francois, Mani, Charmian, and Singing Cedars all slowed in what they were doing, and turned back to them. They all talked pretty quickly, and a bit oddly--Charmian assumed it must be a vaguely different dialect from that on the Island--and she could only catch a word here and there. Francois seemed to have more luck.
"They say that they've been listening in on us, and they're advising us on how best to approach the falls ahead," he translated. "Manitous live there and are willing to help us along to the lake. They say it is just as the Michinimakinong stated--apparently the Lynxes have already moved on and are likely to try to reach us at the shore."
"Won't Mishupishu be in trouble then?" Charmian asked anxiously.
Francois shrugged. "I suppose it depends on how tricky he is, ma chère."
"X'aaru's with him!" Winter Born exclaimed; she popped up at Charmian's side. "I know he'll keep his eyes open! He always keeps me out of trouble."
Francois whistled a thank you to the pine manitous, who turned and drifted off into the forest again. Charmian couldn't help but feel anxious about what they'd been told.
The lake...everything seems to lead back to the lake! That's where the Lynxes are supposed to live, isn't it? If they're waiting for us there...doesn't that rather sound like they're definitely in league with Mishosha?
Who is this Mishosha guy and what does he have to do with the Island...the Shadow Wolves...everything...?
She lifted her head and stared northward. All that she could see from here was trees, an endless expanse of forest, the river cutting a narrow trail through it. She bit her lip and fiddled her fingers against her vest.
I suppose if there's any way to find out...we'll find it out there.
* * * * *
Something was swaying. Augwak felt like he was being rocked back and forth on the branch of a tree. It seemed like it took forever just for him to open his eyes a sliver, and he stared up at the color blue, which passed over him in a narrow band, dark green hemming it in on both sides. He groaned and lifted a hand, putting it to his head.
A shuffling noise came and then a face peered down into his own. He had to blink a few times to recognize it. The little Thunderbird brat. Augwak stared at him for a moment or two before beginning to scowl, but even that made his head hurt, so he grimaced instead and rubbed his forehead. "Oohhhhhh," he moaned. "What do you want?"
Kenu's lip stuck out. "Be that way, piddling Wendigo!" He pulled back and sat down with a thump on the bottom of the canoe--for that's what they were in, Augwak realized, as soon as he bothered lifting his head. He'd been placed in the middle of one, and couldn't help but feel that he'd been tossed in there rather haphazardly, if the pain in his head was any indication. He ground his teeth together as he sat up, blinking blearily at the voyageurs swinging their paddles and singing; he hated singing. The only thing worse was drumming. And fires. And drumming around fires. While singing.
"Where are we...?" he muttered, looking around.
"On the river," Kenu replied snootily, sitting with his legs and arms crossed, spine erect. "Where else! You are truly a stupid piddling Wendigo." He sniffed. "I regret that my knife was used for such an ignoble purpose!"
"Knife--?" Augwak's eyes grew, and he commenced patting himself down. "What did you do, you little rat with wings?!" he hissed. "If I have even ONE less body part than I started out with--!"
Kenu stuck his tongue out at him. "As if I would allow my knife to touch a foul creature like YOU!" he huffed. "It was one of the humans who used it, to HELP you! You passed out in the woods back there, you know, and likely would have died--no big loss!--if they hadn't given you some blood to drink!"
"Blood--?" Augwak stared at him dumbly for a moment. "I--I drank blood?" His mouth fell open. "And slept THROUGH it?!" He frantically started sucking on his teeth...yes, there it was...a salty taste in his throat. His eyes watered a little--he hadn't had blood in AGES, and now he'd MISSED it!--then he blinked them dry and scowled again. "Whose blood?" he snapped.
Kenu stuck his nose in the air. "As if it matters! It was assuredly undeserved!"
The GeeBee clenched his fists. "IF YOU DON'T STOP USING STUPID WORDS--!"
Kenu pointed at the canoe off to their right. "It was HIS blood!" he exclaimed, and Augwak glanced at the stranger in the canoe--the one who'd come to the Island with his tribe the last time, and now had just started accompanying them from the east. "But the flame-haired girl COMMANDED it, AND gave it to you!" the Animiki finished, then turned and crossed his arms again, apparently ending the conversation, such as it was. Augwak was left staring into the other canoe. The mainlander--Charmian--sat near the front, as always, and was talking with the other long knife, the one who was part GeeBee himself. They didn't notice his stare, even though he stared at them--or more like, at her--for a very long time.
She fed me...? HER? She commanded it...?
But she would have left me to die the LAST time around! Kicked me and hit me and everything!
But...she didn't leave me to die the last time around...she gave me my spirit stone back the first time...and left me alone the second...and now, she promises to get my medicine back...despite everything I've done...
Why would she go to that trouble? What sort of stupid fleshling trick is this...?
His eyes narrowed a little. Somehow...it didn't feel like a trick. At least, if it was one, it had been going on for years, and he knew she didn't have that sort of patience. So why...?
Charmian's shoulders stiffened. She turned her head to peer over her shoulder toward the other canoe, feeling as if she were being stared at. But by then Augwak had quickly turned away and settled himself in the bottom of the canoe, scowling to himself and blushing furiously.
Please REVIEW if you rate.
Please DO NOT RATE if you won't review.
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.
This item IS looking for people who are simply interested in reading, especially in long/multipart stories, and who like to comment frequently. My primary intent is to entertain others, so if you read this and find it entertaining, please let me know so and let me know why.
If in the course of enjoying the story you do find something that you feel could use improvement, feel free to bring it up. Just know that that's not my primary purpose in posting this here.
If you have any questions about the story or anything within it, feel free to ask.
I do hope you enjoy! :)