Chakenapok shares his concerns with Nathalit...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Escape From Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 117: Best-Laid Plans"
PART ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTEEN:
Aftermath Of Escape
CHARMIAN LAY STARING up at the mitchi manitou as he cocked his head, then brought his antler straight down at her chest. Too dazed to move, she wondered exactly what he hoped to accomplish by doing that, and opened her mouth as if to ask him.
Just as the tip of one of his points poked at her hard enough to make her suck in a breath, the manitou's head snapped back, then she saw his legs and belly as he flipped head over heels and landed with a crash several yards away, the loose hunks of earth and rock tumbling around him. One of his antlers cracked and he let out a gusty breath, stunned.
From somewhere far behind her, an awful voice yelled, "DON'T YOU TOUCH HER!!"
Even in her muddled state, Charmian recognized Ocryana's voice, and took in another shaky breath, eyes going wide and the skin on the back of her neck prickling. She started trying to move, panicking as she wondered how the demon could have possibly freed herself and followed them way up here--?
She managed to roll herself over, blinking the blur from her eyes. The ground swayed from side to side like a seesaw, and she saw little shapes running toward her. X'aaru, and Winter Born...the two GeeBees a little bit behind them...but where was Ocryana--?
"Ocryana...?" she murmured as they drew closer. Winter Born ran past her, a strangely ugly look on her face, and Charmian had to blink again because it looked like the girl was on fire, and there was no way that could be right.
X'aaru halted and put his head down near hers, eyes wide. "Charmian! Are you all right--?"
"X...?" Charmian said. "Where's Ocryana...?"
The demon's brow furrowed. "Huh--?"
"IF YOU COME AFTER HER AGAIN I'LL KNOCK YOUR HEAD IN MYSELF!!" the same awful voice as before bellowed.
"There she is," Charmian said, and started pushing herself up. X'aaru whined and shifted nervously from foot to foot, trying to convince her to lie still--but when she lifted her head she still didn't see the other demon. Instead she saw Winter Born hurl her arm forward, and the strange fire that seemed to be surrounding her sailed out from her palm and slammed into the already swaying mitchi manitou. He was again knocked from his feet, a loud pained whistle escaping him. When the light around him faded she saw blood streaming down between his eyes and pelting against the ground; his eyes grew, the glow in them as brilliant as Christmas tree lights, and his mouth opened wide so his tongue dangled out. He scrambled to his feet with a whistle of panic; Winter Born drew her hand back again.
"Winter Born--?" Charmian said, confused.
She saw the little girl's spine go stiff, then it relaxed and she turned to look at her over her shoulder, brow furrowing. "Charmian--?" Even as she spoke, the fire around her died down almost as if someone had shut off a light; she gasped and hopped back when the mitchi manitou blared a whistle and lurched around, half-galloping, half-stumbling off toward the two Bearwalkers who were still dealing with the uppity glacier. When the bigger bear saw his approach, he stopped struggling, eyes going wide before a livid snarl crossed his face; Charmian flinched when she heard his inarticulate bellow, and didn't even want to guess what he might be saying.
She opened her mouth at the same time that Winter Born did. X'aaru nudged on her shoulder with his head, whining. "Come on!" he urged. "Before those bears come! I found the tunnel entrance, but you have to come on!"
Charmian grasped onto his shoulder and started to pull herself up, wincing when the daze began to die off a little bit, replaced by pain. She let out a groan and nearly fell over, but Winter Born hurried forward to grab her arm and help her up. Little Wind was still sprawled across the demon's back and she found herself wondering how he'd managed to run so well with such a burden.
Pakwa and Augwak arrived, the latter gasping for breath. "What just happened--?" he exclaimed, teeth bared. "WHAT in Gitchi Manitou's innards WAS that?"
"Charmian--?" Winter Born glanced back to see the manitou reaching Mishosha and Makwaquae, then turned back to the others, confusion on her face. "What happened? He stopped attacking--?"
"My head," Charmian said faintly. "I think I'm seeing things."
"He hit you pretty hard," X'aaru whined. "Hurry, climb on! It's not that far from here. But we have to get going!"
Winter Born forgot her own confusion and hopped atop his back, grasping Charmian's arm and pulling her up. The demon turned about and started running northeastward, back toward the mountains.
"Why are we going back to the mountains--?" Charmian asked, brow furrowing.
The GeeBees, flying at their sides, both gave her odd looks. "You really did hit your head hard," Winter Born said with concern. "We better have Mudroot look at you when we get back!"
"Back--?" Charmian echoed, just as X'aaru flapped his wings and pushed himself into the air at last. She didn't get to ask further questions; he just barely rose above the foothills, and then coasted between the biggest and the east mountains, looking from left to right, tail flicking from side to side. Winter Born leaned forward and pointed.
"There it is! I remember that funny rock!"
"Hold on!" X'aaru swept down toward it, and again made a crash landing; this time he hit his other shoulder, and Charmian rather wished that she had some aspirin to give him. Then again, if she'd had any, she thought that perhaps she should have taken it herself by now.
"Hurry! Inside!" he cried, shrugging them off but keeping Little Wind. Winter Born grasped Charmian's hand and tugged on it, and Charmian's feet started to move, somewhat jerkily. She now saw the cave opening up before them, set under an overhang of ice; it was just big enough for X'aaru to squirm into, if he held his breath, though a few of the icicles scraped against Little Wind's shoulders before breaking off. Winter Born continued pulling on Charmian's arm until they were all within, the GeeBees crowding in behind them; Charmian looked around them to see that this cave resembled Scott's Cave on the Island, although it was somewhat smaller.
"Yeah, it is," she said aloud, and all of the others gave her strange looks. "What? Didn't you say something?"
"We really need to get her back to Mudroot," Winter Born said matter-of-factly, and X'aaru nodded and started crawling along the tunnel. "Come on, Charmian! It's this way. X'aaru can find the way back; we'll be at the camp in no time!"
"I hope the camp isn't shaking as much as this tunnel is," Charmian said, and with that X'aaru noticeably picked up his pace.
* * * * *
The little group of little figures vanished within the tunnel entrance just above the foothills, and with them, the vision in the wall of ice. White robes shifted before settling back into place, and Kabebonikka's blue eyes narrowed. The corner of his mouth twitched upward.
"Good luck, Fire and Ice," he said.
* * * * *
The mitchi manitou stumbled over the swells of the glacier until it began to right itself, its roiling slowing down to nothing until it was still once again. He staggered toward the two bears, though there were no longer any bears there...instead there was a man and a woman, and they were both staring in the direction that the little group had vanished in. By the time he reached them they both looked moderately composed, Mishosha's hands tucked into his sleeves, but he could tell that they were beyond angry, as soon as they both turned their heads and their eyes glittered almost as blue as his own. He halted, head lowering almost to the ground.
"Not only did you let that little winter girl use her power, and let them get away with Little Wind," the wabano said in an oddly neutral voice, "but you attempted to kill the flame-haired girl, as well, just as I told you not to."
The manitou whistled pathetically. Is a nuisance! Thought it would be better withou--
His whistle cut off in a blaat of pain when the medicine man's hand met his face, his head swinging to the side as if a bear's paw had slammed into it. Mishosha's fingers curled into a fist and flames shot up around it. "NEVER disobey me!" he snarled, teeth bared. "Ineptitude I can tolerate--even blind stupidity! But the moment you disobey me again--you will be lucky if I don't tear your antlers off myself and GUT you with them!"
The manitou lowered his head, cowering. Won't--won't do it again! Promise! he cried.
Mishosha stood for another moment with his hand held up and an ugly look on his face, then slowly lowered it. Makwaquae snorted and tucked her own hands into her sleeves.
"You're far too easy on him," she stated. "I think he would make an excellent dinner."
The manitou's eyes widened and he paled. "Perhaps after the next time," Mishosha mused. "Seeing as Little Wind is now gone, we still need an extra pair of hands...so to speak." He gave the manitou a critical look, then jerked his hand at him; the manitou flinched and hurriedly backed away. "So Kabebonikka helped them again," Mishosha continued, eyes narrowing as he and his wife looked back toward where the others had vanished. "I find it strange, that the North Wind would suddenly be so accommodating toward humans. It must be that winter girl with them."
"Did you see that medicine she used?" Makwaquae asked, frowning. "He's one of your more powerful manitous, and he's familiar with the medicine the demons use. How could a little girl do something like that? Is this something we should be worried about?"
Mishosha shook his head. "Hardly. Have you noticed? She seems to only display it when she's out of her head, and afterward she can't even remember it. How do you harness such power when you don't even recall what you did in the first place? And right now that flame-haired girl is rather helping us by refusing to teach her much. This is working in our favor as it is. Besides..." He started walking, gesturing briefly for Makwaquae to follow; the manitou kept his distance, head hanging. "I've sensed some strange things from that Swan. Her medicine is acting oddly, too. I know she's somehow in touch with that girl--perhaps even both of them." His mouth twisted in a smirk. "Won't it be a sight when they find out exactly who she is? I rather wonder if they'll regret ever setting eyes on her in the first place."
"I think it may be foolish to grant them such easy access to her," Makwaquae warned.
The wabano let out a light snort. "Even she doesn't know who she is yet. You wanted some fun out of this, didn't you--?" He looked back at her, raising an eyebrow. "Didn't I promise you this would be entertaining? And once it's all over, we will be free of that obnoxious Pearl Feather, and free to do our own things." He dug in his pouch and pulled out a little lock of hair, his smirk turning into a grin. "And then the real fun will begin."
Makwaquae caught up with him, smirking herself. "Why haven't you made use of that yet?" she asked with a mock pout. "I'm itching to see just what he tries doing when he finds himself under your thumb! What a pathetic third-rate wabano."
"Our little trick with the camp didn't keep them busy for long," Mishosha said. "I say we follow them back, and see it play out for ourselves. Even if he allowed them to escape, and delayed us, I still know Kabebonikka better than they do. There's no way he will give up his game, not for anyone but Gitchi Manitou himself. We may hardly need to do a thing, as it turns out."
Makwaquae got a sour look. "That hardly sounds amusing! I assumed we would play some part in this!"
"Of course we will," Mishosha assured her. "Remember! We have everything we need on our side. All we have to do is let the pieces fall into place."
"A little nudge shouldn't hurt here and there," Makwaquae grumbled.
Mishosha let out a sharp laugh. "True! What say we head along and start nudging--?" He wrapped his hand around the lock of hair and the two of them shared a particularly nasty sneer, then started glowing. The mitchi manitou ducked his head again and watched nervously as they changed into balls of fire, and started darting and drifting along above the ground. He suppressed a whistle and hurried to follow them.
What--what to do--? he gingerly asked, making sure to keep somewhat away from them.
YOU can just stand back and WATCH for now, the bigger of the two fireballs replied, and he winced and bobbed his head. And see how such things are TRULY done...so that the next time you butt in, you won't end up losing your head!
The manitou nodded again, letting out a meek whistle. Let's head off for that tunnel and see what amusements lie ahead, Mishosha-fireball suggested, and Makwaquae-fireball bobbed up and down in an apparent nod; they floated off toward the mountains. The mitchi manitou cringed before following, albeit quite reluctantly. His face still hurt and he believed that it would hurt for quite a while.
* * * * *
Chakenapok's face had formed into an almost-permanent scowl, his fists clenched at his sides.
It wasn't that he hated beauty and light and colors...but he found that the glittering gems lying at his feet hurt his eyes, and they were hurting his feet too, the sharp edges cutting into his moccasins whenever he accidentally stepped on one. In all his time spent in the Borderlands before, he'd confined himself to the area owned by the mainlander, considering the rest of them not worth his attention. And so now he strode through the Gemfields, glancing from left to right and trying to find the faint source of power that he'd detected back at the stone fountain. And he felt incredibly peeved that there was no sun yet the gemstones glinted bright enough to make him wince. He held up a hand to shield his eyes from the glare of red and orange and blue and violet, then hissed and hopped to the side when he cut his foot. He shook it before continuing, fingernails digging into his palms. How had he managed to live so long in such a place? He must have been crazy.
He slowed down after a while to stoop and rap on one of the gems with his knuckles. "Must they really be so damned irritating...?" he muttered, peering inside it and thinking that he could make something out, then losing the image, like a word on the very tip of his tongue. He stood again and looked around. "How far does this place go on? Is it endless, then?"
He fell silent and stared at the rolling fields coated with gemstones. It certainly looked endless. His frown grew.
"Are there really that many dreams in this world...?"
There are many more than this, in other worlds just like it, worlds with other Borderlands and Gemfields and Dreamers.
Chakenapok tensed, then turned his head, eyes narrowing slightly. He saw nothing but a vague mist hovering over a patch of gems--just like all the rest--nearby, but it drifted closer as he watched. He turned around completely to watch it move slowly along, coming up before him. It wavered and undulated a little, and he frowned and reached out a finger to try to touch it. It felt slightly warmer than the air around it, but that was all that he could tell. He drew his hand back.
"So you are Nathalit," he stated, frowning again.
I sensed you coming, the mist replied. I felt you are lost here...and this concerned me.
Chakenapok tried to keep the sour note from his voice. "It's not for lack of trying to find my way back out," he said, and the mist shifted a bit more, glowing a little more brightly and then fading. He blinked when he felt like it was "quieting" somehow, even though it wasn't noisy to begin with.
I did not mean to accuse you, it said.
Chakenapok blinked again, then bit off a scowl when he felt his ears grow hot. You are angry now, the mist added, and he forced himself to let out a breath and relax somewhat.
"I do not...blame you," he said at last, grimacing a little. "If all were right, I would be back under Croghan Water, and nowhere near this place! I seem to have been brought here against my wishes this time."
I see, the mist said. In this case, let us try to find a way back for you. It started drifting sideways. Over here is a path where you may walk without stepping on any dreams.
Chakenapok's eyes grew, then he looked down at the gems glittering at his feet. His ears practically burned now as he hurriedly hopped out of the gems and onto the path, shaking his feet as if stung. "I was not aware!" he exclaimed. "These hold them already--? I thought they were spun by the Dreamspinner!"
This is so, Nathalit said, yet this is where they are born. Do not worry; dreams are tough things, and it rather looks like they were a bit harder on you than you may have been on them.
Chakenapok let out his breath and started walking. They made their way along the meandering path for a time, his feet no longer hurting so much, but the sunlight glaring just as brightly. He held up a hand to shield his eyes; after a time the mist drifted up and overhead, and he lowered his hand when it floated above him, dimming the light just a little.
You say you were brought here...? it asked.
"Yes," Chakenapok replied. "By some strange manitou woman who calls herself the Red Swan. Perhaps you have heard of her?"
I cannot say that I have, Nathalit said. She is new to the Island, then? Because I do not sense someone there so powerful...
"She is not anywhere near the Island, as it is. We don't know exactly where she is, but she can spin dreams just like your sort, and she appears to have become cross with me, judging by how she dumped me off here without a second word."
A Dreamspinner...? The mist slowed to a stop, shifting over his head. Chakenapok sensed its emotions quite easily, and this fact made him frown to himself; he wouldn't have left himself so open to inspection. The only Dreamspinners I have known are the one upon the Island and myself, Nathalit said. And he gained his abilities only through my intervention. I know there must be Dreamspinners elsewhere, many of them, yet...I have never even crossed paths with them. I assumed we were too different. You are certain this being is really a manitou?
"This is what she claims," Chakenapok said. "But she seems rather suspicious by now, so who can say for certain."
The mist was silent for a moment or two. How is it that you've crossed this manitou? it asked after a while, its voice quiet.
Chakenapok bit the inside of his mouth. "She first contacted the mainlander girl, and put her in touch with the Dreamspinner himself. They lost contact though, and so called upon me to keep the path of communication open. They've been communicating back and forth since. Until I tried nudging her aside for a bit. I thought it might be in the mainlander's best interests that she not be so closely involved." His scowl started to return. "This was when she cut the connection and dragged me here. I do not know if the mainlander is even aware yet that she has no more contact with the Island!"
You believe this manitou may have ill intent? Nathalit asked.
"I do not know," Chakenapok replied. "But her spirit is dark and her actions are more than suspicious."
Her spirit--? Nathalit echoed, seeming surprised.
He nodded. "I saw it, and tried to warn the mainlander of it...I do not know how seriously she takes me. She's too trusting; I feel that if that manitou comes across honestly enough, she might believe anything she says."
Where is this manitou? Nathalit asked. That she might be found?
"She seems to dwell to the far north, somewhere in Gitchi-Gami. Supposedly beneath a strange island much like this one."
I am not tied quite so closely to this Island as the Dreamspinner is, Nathalit said. Perhaps I can seek her out. If she can spin dreams, then her powers must be at least somewhat similar to mine. Chakenapok turned and took a step toward her. I may also take you back to where you belong, the mist offered, and he let out a breath and nodded.
"Normally I would go there myself," he said, looking around, "but for some reason my medicine doesn't work this way." He paused. "I wish to ask you something else."
There is a portal this way by which you may reach the spring without assistance, Nathalit said. What else was it you wished to ask?
"This manitou gives me bad feelings," Chakenapok said as they resumed walking. "I know the mainlander would never shun her based on my word alone. Which is why I was wondering if there might be a way for you to keep an eye on her, should she attempt such a thing as this again." He paused. "Without her knowing. I have the feeling she may be in contact somehow with the manitou who's currently threatening the Island, even if she isn't aware of it yet."
You believe Charmian is wrong to trust her? Nathalit asked.
Chakenapok paused before biting the inside of his mouth. "I believe Charmian trusts people more than she should," he answered.
Nathalit paused as well. I will look into it, the mist answered at last, and drifted to the side. In that direction, keep going until you reach a hill. The path leads directly into it. This will take you back into the cave beneath Cave of the Woods, where you stayed the last time. You know your way to Croghan Water from there?
Chakenapok remembered the little cave system he'd stayed in for so long, and felt a squeeze of anxiety in his breast, but hid it. "Yes," he said. "I believe I can make it the rest of the way. Megwetch, Dreamer."
He felt a sort of mental response, then went on his way. He did glance back once to see the mist going on in the other direction, and paused to watch it for a moment or two before moving on himself.
After a while of wandering up through a tunnel, Weavers' webs and oddly placed crystals lighting his way, he found himself brushing a few of the webs aside and stepping into a small open space. When he lifted his hand, flames lighting the walls, he stared at the waterworn stone within, silent but for the soft shush of the fire.
This is where they defeated me. Every one of them...where they took my power away from me, and turned me into a pile of ashes.
This is where my second life ended.
He stood staring at the cave walls, then at the floor. His eyes shifted to the side, and he could even see the smudge of ash left so many moons ago that he couldn't be sure of how long it had been. He remembered the feeling of his medicine being sucked out of him, the looks on everyone's faces--his brothers, the medicine man, the Mikumwesu, the crying mainlander girl--and he remembered the look in her eyes when she'd stepped up to him and held up her hand, aiming at his spirit stone, her voice still echoing in his head as both of their spirits changed and grew lighter...
This is where she changed me, and practically killed me...
Chakenapok blinked. His heart thudded hard, once, twice, three times. His fingers curled into fists, and as he stared at the faded smudge of ash his eyes narrowed and flared fire yellow.
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