Little Wind unwillingly offers up some unsettling information...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Escape From Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 121: Covering The Dead"
PART ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY-TWO:
CHARMIAN HAD TO frequently rub at her eyes as they walked, the landscape slowly changing the further westward they went. She yawned now and then, and Thomas peered at her as she blinked, but she didn't ask anyone to stop so he didn't raise his voice.
They ventured vaguely southward as well, and after time she began to notice the edge of the glacier slowly creeping away to the north. Trees became more frequent as well, and giant rocks littered the ground more often, left behind by the glacier's retreat. She tried to keep the three mountains in view for as long as she could, but mists moved in and obscured them, and eventually they passed through small copses of trees and she wouldn't have been able to see them anyway. She sighed and rubbed her hands together before tucking them in her sleeves. Her head still throbbed and ached, and she felt sorry for Mani, who weaved a little as he walked, but at least she wasn't keeling over yet.
Thomas kept reaching out to pinch her arm whenever she started to nod off. "You said you got hit in the head...?" he inquired at last, and she nodded.
"With a manitou antler."
He frowned. "Just what sort of stuff did happen up there, anyway...?"
"Basically we learned that Kabebonikka's a giant ass," Charmian said, earning a mouth twitch, "but at least he has some standards." She peered back toward Black Elk Horn, who was near the rear of the group, then sidled closer to Thomas. "If we lose," she murmured from the corner of her mouth, "then he gets Winter Born, and--"
"What?" Thomas yelled, and she slapped his arm. "Ow!" He grabbed at it and ignored the looks that everyone else gave him. "You don't have to do that so bloody hard! What do you mean, he gets Winter Born--?" he whispered, moving close again and ducking his head.
"Just what I said!" Charmian whispered back. "I didn't know what else to do! Winter Born went along with it! She's the one who insisted on it. Kabebonikka wouldn't take no for an answer. He said that if we ALL make it to the plains, alive, then he'll point out how to get to Kabeyun. But if some of us DON'T make it, he still points out the way, but he keeps Winter Born too!" She gnawed on her lip. "I can't even imagine what he wants with her! She's just a--" Thomas put his hand over her mouth and she glared at him before nudging it away. "What? What are you doing that for?"
"Because I know what you're about to say," he replied, and she scowled. "Come on, don't deny it! 'She's just a little kid.'" He put his hands in his pockets. "Funny, but that little kid seems to handle herself pretty well. She hasn't been hit in the head by a manitou yet!"
"Give it time!" Charmian retorted. "We all have a good chance of getting hit in the head by manitous."
"This is a very strange conversation," Thomas commented.
"Yeah, it is." She made a face. "I wish I had aspirin! Or something. I can handle it, but I hate how Mani must be feeling..."
"Just use some more of that black gunk, that seemed to work for a little while."
"I hate it. It smells like mildew." She made another face, but pulled out the jar and rubbed a bit of the black goo on her temple.
"Well," Thomas said, "maybe the mildew manitous will appreciate you now."
"Ew!" Charmian grimaced, putting the jar away. She peered behind them again. Little Wind was even further back than Black Elk Horn, and he walked with his head hanging. Every so often he peeked up at the little fireball keeping them company, but whenever he tentatively reached for it it darted away and he would sigh and drop his head again. She bit the inside of her mouth, feeling a twinge of sympathy for him. Thomas pinched her arm then and she jumped and gasped.
"Ow!" she cried, and pushed him. "What'd you do that for--?"
"I thought you were dozing off," Thomas said, and gave Little Wind a meaningful look before looking at her again. "You looked like you were feeling sorry for him...so I thought I'd wake you up!"
Charmian gave him a dirty look. "I can feel sorry for stupid people! I pretty much HAVE to!" She tucked her hands in her sleeves. "I'm going to at least see if he needs anything," she said, and Thomas rolled his eyes and sighed but at least he didn't pinch her again. She picked her way around the outside of the group, ignoring the quiet chatter of several of them. They all must be as bored as she now felt. Little Wind didn't bother looking up at her as she fell into step beside him; in fact, she wondered if he even really noticed or cared. His eyes were dull and glassy and red from crying, and every so often he sniffled a little.
"How's your shoulder holding up?" she asked.
In response he winced and lifted a hand to rub at it as if merely the act of her asking made it hurt anew. "It would be fine, if not for that friend of yours," he mumbled.
Charmian rolled her eyes. "I'd hardly call him my friend. And I can't help it that you decided to keep running around like that--we did offer to help you out!" She craned her neck to look at his back. "Seems like it's stopped bleeding, at least...if we ever get that far, I know somebody on the Island who could take care of it..."
"There shouldn't be any Island by the time this is all through!" Little Wind interjected, and they both met each other's eyes now and tried to out-scowl the other. Charmian at least managed to hold the stare longer when he lowered his head again, though she was pretty sure that his scowl won in that category.
"So you mean that DESPITE all this crap we've done for you you're still rooting for Megissogwun?" she snapped.
Little Wind jammed his own hands into his sleeves and made a face. "I don't care about Megissogwun! It's Mishosha that I serve. Everything I do is for him and Makwaquae! And I don't care how much of that stuff you slather on my shoulder. There's no sort of bribe big enough to convince me to give him up!"
"He lets you get run over, and leaves you behind, and basically treats you like dirt," Charmian said. "You'd keep working for that--?"
"You don't even know him!" Little Wind snapped back, with such a ferocious look that she flinched. He glared at her for a moment, then turned to face forward again, as if that answered everything. She waited for him to elaborate, then crossed her arms.
"I think I know him well enough, considering that I met him myself!"
"Oh? Well, I grew up with him," Little Wind retorted, and this earned a surprised look. He didn't look at her again but she saw his eyes grow wet, and he huddled into his robes as if cold. "He's the one who took me in when my parents died. I had nobody left in the world! He and Makwaquae are the only family I've ever had, and they've always looked out for me. I owe everything to him. And so if you think I would turn my back on him, then think again! The moment he shows up, I'm going back with him! And it certainly won't be long at all."
"You say you were left all alone but it's so easy for you to give me a scroll and make me kill off Kenu's family?" Charmian asked.
"I didn't know the scroll was that powerful. And I figured you wouldn't even bother using it! And how was I to know that child's grandfather was the leader of the Animiki--?"
"And now you want to help him destroy the Island," Charmian added. "There's all sorts of kids and their parents there! You think it's so simple to do such a thing--?"
"Such things happen in war!" Little Wind grumbled.
Charmian blinked. "War?" she echoed, so loudly that those nearest peered back at them before pretending to lose interest.
Little Wind glared at her from the corner of his eye. "Yes, war! What do you think this is?"
"Manitou Island isn't at war! It's just Megissogwun and this stupid master of yours trying to destroy it!"
"And this is the way it has been for countless moons now! You think Mishosha stays on that island of his and waits for Megissogwun just because? This is the very reason why he stays there, and raised me, and taught me to be a wabano. It's been our mission to destroy this Island for as long as we can recall. Megissogwun called us to it, and even gave Mishosha long life, so that he wouldn't age or die quickly like regular humans. And even should he end up killed, then I simply take his place and serve Megissogwun instead. Either way, this Island will be destroyed. This is the way it's always been and if I fail too he'll just find someone to pick up where I left off--until it's finished for good!"
Charmian stared at him in disbelief for a moment or two. "You mean...it's been Mishosha's entire life's mission to destroy Manitou Island...?" she said, her voice faint and confused. "But...why?"
Little Wind looked at her as if he wanted to answer; then, apparently deciding that he'd already said too much, he turned away once more, scowling at the group of people walking ahead of them.
Charmian waited until the silence started to drive her crazy. "I already know Megissogwun's got a huge grudge against the Island," she said, her voice starting to rise a little, "but that hardly explains how YOU guys got dragged into it! What does Mishosha get out of all of this--? I know wabanos, and they hardly do things for free!" When he didn't answer she got in front of him, walking backwards; he just ducked his head further and looked vaguely off to the side. "Especially not Mishosha! So what is HE getting out of this deal--?"
Little Wind bristled. "Such things aren't for little people like YOU to know!"
Charmian ground her teeth and clenched her fists. "In case you forgot YOU'RE the one with Little in your name!" She pointed at the hovering fireball. "I take it then that you don't want THAT back any time soon!"
Little Wind pulled his hands free of his robe. "It's entirely YOUR fault that it left me!" he cried. "I never had ANY problem with it until you people got involved! My manitou ALWAYS obeyed me! Now you have it all messed up!"
"Ever stop to think that maybe it only obeyed you because HE was always around--?" Charmian retorted. "Look at it! He's got you under his thumb, right where he needs you. At least until you prove to be disposable! Now that he knows how weak you are, he won't want you back. You were basically his prisoner until you proved you aren't as useful as--as the Red Swan or something!"
Little Wind promptly halted and gawked at her. "Maanaabiziiquae--?" he blurted out, and that halted Charmian as well, her own jaw dropping. That was the same word that Nigankwam had said as soon as she'd mentioned the Red Swan to him.
"You know her--?" Charmian exclaimed, at the exact same moment that Little Wind exclaimed the exact same thing. Their eyes goggled as if they'd both turned purple, then Little Wind whirled away and started walking so hurriedly that he nearly crashed into Stick-In-The-Dirt, who hopped out of the way.
"Hey!" Charmian hastened to catch up with him. "That's the Red Swan's REAL name!" she hissed when she fell into step beside him. "You KNOW her! You know Mishosha's got her captive! What the hell is that all about? Who is she and what do you guys know--?"
"None of your business!" Little Wind barked.
"DEFINITELY my business!" Charmian yelled. "Considering that I've TALKED with her and all!!"
This time the young wabano's step slowed down and he met her eyes again, his own wide and surprised. "You...you have...?" he said, his voice suddenly so soft that Charmian nearly tripped over her own foot. She stopped and glared at him, but he didn't seem to notice her animosity. He turned around to face her. "You spoke with her?" he echoed himself, not sounding in the least bit angry anymore.
Charmian couldn't keep up the glare. She blinked a few times, furrowed her brow, then bit her lip. "Why?" she said at last, unsure of how else to respond.
Little Wind glanced at the others, still walking ahead of them. Several of them, Thomas and Moon Wolf included, had practically stopped to stare back at them, and she saw how uneasy Little Wind looked when he noticed this. She waved her hand surreptitiously; Thomas looked hesitant, and Moon Wolf looked irritated, but they both turned and went on their way. Charmian waited until they were a good distance ahead before starting to walk again, hoping that Little Wind would take the hint.
"Why do you want to know?" she asked in a low voice once they were moving again.
He started gnawing on his lip. "I shouldn't even be talking to you!" he said at last.
She reached out and grasped his wrist, squeezing it until he winced. "You're already on damn thin ice! In case you didn't know, I rather wanted you to get your manitou back--but Kenu WILL end up getting it if you don't start talking!"
"Mishosha's not even here. Haven't you noticed that?"
Little Wind started gnawing on his lip anew and glanced over his shoulder. Charmian sighed and let go of him. "Look," she said. "I can sense when certain people are around, if they don't hide themselves..."
"So can I," Little Wind said, as if to best her.
She blinked. "You can--?"
He made a face. "How else do you think I knew where you were? EVERYBODY knows how to do that!"
Charmian huffed. "No they DON'T! You won't believe the crap I went through just to learn how to do that!"
His brow furrowed. "You mean...not everybody can do that...?"
"Of course not, stupid! You probably got it from your manitou!" She glanced at the little fireball, then waved at it. "What the hell is that thing, anyway--?" She reached up to poke at it a few times.
Little Wind waved his hands frantically. "STOP THAT! Stop harassing it!"
"Well, what is it--?"
"It's a fireling! Can't you tell just by LOOKING at it--?"
"It's more than a fireling. Regular old firelings are stupid little twits! This isn't acting like a stupid little twit." She looked at him. "What did it look like when you saw it in your vision?"
Now Little Wind started huffing. "I'LL HARDLY TELL YOU THAT!"
"Did it look like a little fiery bat--?"
Little Wind opened his mouth to speak, then his eyes went to the size of dinner plates, then his mouth grew big enough to match. "HOW--!!"
"Because mine looked like a bat!" Charmian hissed, waving at him to lower his voice. His mouth snapped shut and he actually clapped his hands over it. "What I was trying to tell you is, Mishosha's nowhere near us right now! So whatever you say won't go in his ear."
"He can hide himself," Little Wind protested. "I learned that myself!"
"Well, if he can HIDE himself, that means he's a COWARD," Charmian said loudly, earning a grimace. "There. Think his ego could stand that?"
"What do you want from me?!" Little Wind cried in a near-panic.
"I want you to tell me what it is that you know about this Red Swan. Like why you're so interested in whether I've been talking to her or not!"
"For all I know you're just trying to trick me and you've never even set eyes on her!"
"Oh? How about I tell you that she's this little lady dressed all in red and she lives in a cave, and likes to ride around in a stone canoe? That sound convincing enough for you?"
Little Wind's eyes went round, and he slowly shrank in on himself a tiny bit. "No one...no one's supposed to see her," he whispered in a very small voice.
Charmian's brow furrowed. She was ready to snap something at him, when she sensed just how uneasy he was; she bit her tongue and took a step toward him.
"Who is she?" she whispered.
Little Wind shook his head. "None of us know. Not even Mishosha! He only knows it's his duty to guard her, always! If she escapes--"
"Escapes--? Then what? You mean if she's freed?"
The young wabano took in a breath. "You've spoken to her!" he gasped, then started shaking his head again, almost frantically. "She asked you to free her--didn't she? You can't! That's the one thing you SHOULDN'T be doing!"
Charmian's face darkened. "Because Mishosha said so--?" She snorted. "Hate to break it to you, but if Mishosha says not to do something, then I'm sure as hell going to do it! That's kind of the point behind all of this walking!"
"You don't know what you're getting into!" Little Wind begged. "You have to leave her where she is--exactly as she is! It's dangerous that you've simply TALKED to her!"
"And why is she such a danger? She looks as harmless as a field mouse."
"You don't know that!"
"And what do YOU know! You just said nobody knows what the deal is with her!"
Little Wind clamped his jaws shut and started gnawing on his fingernails. He cast several glances around them; the group had moved substantially further ahead, and Charmian grasped his wrist to pull him along a bit, though they kept their pace slow so as not to catch up too quickly.
"Talk," she ordered. When that resulted in nothing, she added, "Or I'm going to free her no matter what anyone says."
He let out a strained noise. "I tell the truth when I say none of us know who she is!" he insisted. "All I know is what little Grandfather Mishosha told me. When he took me in, he never said a word of her. I suppose he didn't know I could sense her yet, the way you sense things. I finally went down into the cave to look at her."
"The cave beneath the island?"
He nodded. "I saw her--just a little peek. She looked at me and that was all. Grandfather Mishosha came down then and caught me. I thought he was going to thrash my behind, he looked so furious! But he just took me out of there, and back up into the upper cave. He set me down and said that now that I knew she was there, it was my duty to learn how to keep her there, just as it was his duty. So in case he should ever be killed, I would carry on after him. Ever since then I've learned from him!"
"What's his business in keeping her prisoner?" Charmian asked, perplexed. "She looks so harmless!"
He shook his head again. "She's not--trust me!" When that earned him a dirty look he shifted from foot to foot. "Grandfather Mishosha told me from the start not to ever pity her, or listen to her when she begged to be set free. He said that she's one of the most powerful manitous alive! And that if she's set free, dire things will happen! He told me it was the Pearl Feather who ordered him to do this, but..." He trailed off and started gnawing on his lip, a pensive look coming to his face.
Charmian frowned. "But what?"
"Well..." He rubbed at his neck. "I got the feeling...he wasn't being entirely truthful." He paused. "A few times I've sensed the Pearl Feather...at least, I think it was him. I couldn't say with certainty. But I got the feeling that..." He trailed off, then finished, "That he has no idea she's down there, and if he does, he had nothing to do with it in the first place."
"Megissogwun's not behind her being trapped...?" Charmian said, growing even more confused. "But...she looks like Geezhigo-Quae did when she was younger. I just figured it was some kind of trick on Megissogwun's part. Mishosha couldn't know what she looked like when she was little! So how could Megissogwun not have anything to do with this--?"
Little Wind shrugged and shook his head. "All I can say is, whenever I thought I sensed him, he knew nothing about her. He also spoke with Grandfather Mishosha a while back, when I was present, and the moment I started to mention her, Grandmother Makwaquae hushed me up! Whoever she is, she's terribly powerful--and he has every good reason to keep her imprisoned! He said she would act helpless, and try to trick me. And she always has!"
"You said Mishosha has no clue who she is, yet apparently it's been his duty to keep watch over her from the beginning, AND Megissogwun never tipped him off! How can you say he has no clue about her yet he somehow knows how powerful she is--?"
Another shake. "I don't know! Personally, I see no need to question! I have a feeling he knows somewhat--but not everything." His face blushed furiously. "And I've already told you far too much!"
"Like I'm going to go on Mishosha's word not to do something!" Charmian snapped. "That's the stupidest thing ever. ESPECIALLY considering that lie you told me when you gave me that scroll!"
He reached up to grasp at his hair. "I'm not lying about this!!"
"Excuse me if I don't believe you just yet," Charmian said. She turned and picked up her pace to catch up with the others. "I think you're going to have to do a BIT more proving before then. In the meantime--you just chill out until we get back south and free her!"
She heard him suck in a breath, then come jogging after her. She blinked in surprise when he ran right past her--until she saw how he jumped, snatching the little fireball down from the air before it could even zip away. Her eyes goggled and he whirled around to brandish it at her; it wriggled in his hand and she could tell that he'd somehow managed to gain a little power over it again, and right on cue, it glowed even brighter.
"I can't let you do that!" he cried.
Charmian's mouth fell open. Everyone else had halted by now, and began turning back around, looking surprised. Moon Wolf raised his hand just as Lieutenant Barrington and Black Elk Horn raised their guns, and she wondered if this were the only time the three of them had ever agreed on anything.
"Charmian--?" Thomas called with a frown.
Charmian waved at them. "It's nothing! He just needs another spanking!" She glared at Little Wind. "Like you think you can order ME around? Take a look! 'Grandfather' Mishosha's nowhere around and there's no way I'll start kowtowing to YOU in his place!"
Little Wind held up both hands now to make the fire flare brighter, and dug his feet into the ground. "I d-don't care what you do," he stated. "It's my duty to keep her where she belongs, and to see to the destruction of the Spirit Island! Grandfather Mishosha's duty is my duty as well. And always will be! Nothing you say will change this fact!"
Charmian scowled and clenched her fists. "Your head must be made of maple!! I'm not taking orders from you!"
Little Wind's hands started shaking but he raised them further. "I mean it!!" he cried, voice cracking.
"Charmian--?" Winter Born called.
"Go ahead!" Charmian retorted. "See if you can control it! Even if you can mine cancels YOURS out!" And she made a dash at him, throwing up her hands.
Little Wind let out an oddly silly squeal and hurled the fireball. Charmian could tell just by looking at it that the little manitou wasn't under its own control, judging by the way that it sailed right at her face; eyes going wide, she held her hands up before it and got ready to call up her fire when a blinding light suddenly flashed, and a horrific CRACK-BOOM! deafened them all.
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