Charmian seeks her spirit animal--but crosses paths with someone a bit more important...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 69: Scared Senseless"
WATER. IT MADE a rippling sound which filled her ears, slowly bringing her back. For a moment she thought she must be lying on the shore far below Arch Rock, but as soon as she remembered that place, she told herself she couldn't be there. She would be dead if she were.
Could the dead reason like that?
Maybe they could...
She opened her eyes, expecting to see nothing. And that was what she saw at first. A faint humid breeze wafted over her face, and she could still hear the water. She reached out one hand and moved her fingers. They came back wet.
Now something came into view, just above her. She blinked when she saw the strange, deformed-and-yet-somehow-normal face of a lost spirit peering down at her curiously. This one looked to be part GeeBee, part bird, possibly part wolf; one tufted ear flicked and it cocked its head. Another one joined it, from the other side, and they stared at her as if she were some new odd item to be examined. One of them reached down to poke at her but didn't get the chance.
"Leave her alone."
Something long swept through the air and the two of them fluttered away. Far above her now, she could make out a...ceiling? A roof? It was of stone, the same kind as found all over the Island. The breeze grew stronger, the lapping louder. She was sailing through the water. Beneath the rock.
I've passed over.
It wasn't what she'd expected, to say the least...
Whatever the vessel she was in, it began to slow. She could move her head now, and did so, turning it slightly to the side. She could see a sort of shoreline here, and lining it...rabbits? They shuffled and hopped about a little, noses twitching and ears flicking. They started to move aside a bit and she frowned with confusion. Why did the afterlife have so many rabbits in it?
She felt a pang of pain in her head and squinted her eyes shut with a wince. The stone and water and fur faded...
...And simple stone took its place.
Charmian blinked again. The cave roof was still over her, yet it was significantly lower now. And her fingers now brushed against rock, rather than water. She couldn't hear any lapping, or see any rabbits...though the dim shape that now bent over her did bear feathers upon its head, like the two ears of a rabbit...
She winced again and groaned softly. Someone lifted her head and pressed something to her mouth.
Charmian opened her mouth and tasted the familiar woody flavor of the drink Old Mother Manitou had given her several times previously. She swallowed and grimaced; it didn't go down as well this time, her tongue being so parched. She coughed a bit and opened her eyes again.
Stick-In-The-Dirt peered down at her now, head turned sideways. Charmian let out her breath.
"Where am I...?"
"Skull Cave." He paused. "This was the only place I could think of, where I could get you to shelter."
Charmian put out her hand and carefully pushed herself up. Stick-In-The-Dirt set down the cup and helped her. She rubbed her head and looked around. To her left, several yards away, she could see a crack of light where the cave mouth opened to the outside. Here in the back, it was still cold, but dry, and protected. There was a small source of light, and she noticed that it came from what looked to be a gem of some sort. Stick-In-The-Dirt glanced at it when he noticed her staring.
"A little thing I managed to make, long ago. It gives light, but not heat." He handed her the cup. "Here, drink some more. You're weak."
She accepted the cup, although she didn't feel like drinking. "What is this stuff, anyway?"
"Maple bark tea."
"I thought it tasted like bark..."
"It brings strength. You need it now."
"Where did you find me?"
Well...at least that much seemed right. She looked around the cave again, hoping to shake the dizziness that pervaded her.
"I fell...and I saw...rabbits..."
Both of them blinked. She put a hand to her head and frowned. Then she felt the back of her skull, and looked down at her arms, then over her shoulder. Her confusion only grew.
"Where--where's all the blood?"
"Blood?" The medicine man stared at her blankly.
She nodded, a bit quickly. "I felt blood on my head. I should have, with how I fell! And I had cuts and stuff all over me, I know I did--where did it all go? Did you heal it--?"
Stick-In-The-Dirt's brow furrowed. He shook his head slowly.
"No...you were uninjured when I found you. Where did you fall from? The sky?"
"Huh--? What do you mean? I fell near Arch Rock, you said you found me there. I must've gone at least halfway down the slope!"
The look he gave her was one somebody might give a mental patient. "You were atop Arch Rock. Not below it."
Now Charmian could only stare at him as he had at her.
"On...on top of it...?"
Charmian's gaze drifted to the floor and she lowered her hands. "But...how did I get up there?...and who healed me...?"
Stick-In-The-Dirt didn't answer. Charmian looked over her arms again but couldn't find a single scratch. There was no way that was possible. The Ocryx had whipped her soundly...and that went without mentioning the fall she'd taken. Two falls, she reminded herself. Nobody escaped that sort of thing unhurt. Even Drake had broken his neck.
She glanced at the medicine man again. "The lost spirits...those...thingies that hang around by Arch Rock."
"Can they heal people?"
He shook his head. "Not that I know of. They're simply like you and me."
Charmian sat back again with a flustered sigh and rested her elbows on her knees. "Then what happened? I know I was hurt--how does something that bad just go away?"
"Maybe someone watched over you?"
She frowned at him and he offered a shrug. "Like who? Any ideas?"
"You said you saw something, didn't you?"
"I saw those spirits looking down at me." She blinked. "Oh. And before I woke up. I felt like I was...floating over water or something."
"Yes. No...um...like on a boat. Riding on a boat over the water. Through a cave."
"I don't know, but it had water going through it."
"The only caves like this upon the Island connect to the Devil's Lake."
"It didn't look like them...it was too high. The ceiling was way up. And it was really dark. With rabbits."
His face screwed up. "Rabbits?"
Charmian nodded and rolled her eyes. "Maybe I hallucinated it all?"
Stick-In-The-Dirt leaned back and pursed his lips. He picked up the glowing stone and turned it over in his hands a few times as if thinking.
"How long have you been here now? Was it in the summer or autumn that you arrived?...you think I would remember these things, don't you?"
"No biggie. I forget a lot of things too...it was autumn."
"So by now you've been here at least a few moons. You've spoken with Old Mother Manitou, you've trained with Moon Wolf, you've even faced the demons...this is more than most of us have done. Perhaps you were watched over..." He leaned against the cave wall and looked up at the ceiling for a moment or two. "Charmian, have you ever sought out your spirit animal?"
"Your spirit animal."
Charmian raised an eyebrow. "Is that like a totem or something?"
"I believe that's what your people call them. Have you spoken with yours?"
Her mouth twitched. She wanted to start laughing at him, but decided against it.
"Well...not really. I don't have one."
"Everybody has one." He said this as if she should have known.
"I always figured it was just your people that have them. Not...you know...my kind."
"Why wouldn't you have one? That's a strange way to think. I don't understand you mainlanders sometimes, considering yourselves so different."
Charmian sighed and shrugged. "Well...at least you can't say I'm the only one! So what if I have one, a totem or whatever, what does that have to do with anything?"
"I was thinking perhaps one watches over you. Or if not, lends you strength. If you knew which it was, perhaps you could learn more from it." He stood up, carefully, since the ceiling of the cave was so low. "So you've never sought it out yet, you don't know what it is? Maybe this is what you should do next...instead of chasing and getting tossed about by demons..." His voice faded as he crawled toward the mouth of the cave, taking the stone with him, and Charmian sighed once more as she realized she was meant to follow. The cave was cold, but at least it was shelter. She didn't feel like going back out there right now, especially since it was growing dark.
"How long was I out?" she asked, as he took her hand and helped her out of the low entrance.
"Since I found you. You've slept for hours."
"More like I was conked out for hours...where are we going?"
"I think we should try to find your spirit animal."
"Right now? Doesn't that mean I have to sit out in the snow and starve myself until I start seeing things or something?" The idea wasn't very appealing.
"Well...sometimes. It depends. Do you tend to see things when you're hungry? Or when you've eaten?"
Charmian shook her head. Perhaps she would have been better off chasing Kawaduk.
"Look...if I have to sit out here in the cold for a few days without sleep or food, I think I'd rather wait until summer. It's warmer, and I can always keep my mouth open and hope a bug flies in or something."
"Why would you want a bug to fly into your mouth?"
"Do your people understand sarcasm? Any at all...?"
They wandered away from Skull Cave and into the woods. Stick-In-The-Dirt kept looking about warily and stopped to investigate every noise, even if it was merely snow falling from the branches. It took her a short while to understand why; Ocryana, and the other female Ocryx, must live in this area. Once she realized this she shivered and rubbed her arms and started darting glances around herself also.
"Is it really safe for us to be here?"
"Skull Cave was the closest place I could think of to take you. She lives within one of the other, lesser caves. She's been quiet lately, though, so I hope we may pass through here once unbothered."
"Well, I'm hoping along with you, here."
"Not too far away is the spring that Silver Eagle Feather prefers to...'meditate'?--is this the word?...'meditate' by. I think that since you saw this vision at Arch Rock it would be better to go there...but I don't know if you're in the right condition. We'll be safer at the spring."
"You want me to meditate? You're serious about this animal thing?"
He gave her a look. "Why would I be joking?"
"Well..." She jogged to catch up with him. "Seriously. What's got you thinking about this now? I think I've done fine enough without one until now."
"You said you saw 'rabbits.' Maybe this means something, maybe not. Maybe the rabbit watches over you? Perhaps he is your animal. If not, perhaps he knows who is. Whichever it is. I think maybe he wants for you to know."
He turned and continued down the trail. Charmian stared after him before yelling, "Do you always talk about bunnies like they're hyper-smart?"
He gave her no answer, but by now she wasn't surprised. They trudged through the snow away from the cave.
After a short while the terrain grew a bit familiar in shape, though not in looks; she'd never seen it during the winter. She heard a trickling gurgling sound and for a moment feared that she was within her dream again, only to see the tiny spring ahead. Like Devil's Lake, it hadn't frozen over. Moss still clung to the rocks, but it was dried and brown; snow had been swept from their tops. Stick-In-The-Dirt went up here, gesturing for her to follow; they both sat down on the rocks, staring down at the clear water swirling below.
"So," Charmian said after a moment, as he settled and adjusted himself. "Do I sit here and starve myself until I start hallucinating?"
"'Hallu--'? No, I don't think so...just sit and wait for it to come to you. The first animal you see. It may be but a few moments, it may be a few hours."
"How long was it for you?"
"About a week."
"But I had no clear idea what mine might be. You, I think Rabbit may be trying to reach you...for whichever reason...maybe he knows who you are." He shrugged, and she could tell he was about as clueless as she was. "I only think it might help you clarify what you should be doing. That's all."
"I do know what I should be doing. I should be keeping an eye on Red Bird. Some job I'm doing!"
"It may have to wait a little. Will you stay here for just a while? Try to see if anything comes to you? If you become frustrated, you can always leave, try again. They don't come to you when you're frustrated."
I guess I have a long wait, then, Charmian felt like telling him, but she merely sighed yet again and leaned back against the rock. "Okay, okay...maybe I can stand it for an hour. But I can't imagine myself being out here all night..."
"This should be good enough, for now. Would you like something to eat?"
She blinked. "I thought I was supposed to fast."
"Well...true...but you could eat something, first..."
Charmian decided that this vision quest thing wasn't really as cut and dried as she'd thought.
So the snow started falling anew (as she'd suspected it might) as she sat on the rock, staring at the water, at the trees, at the sky, at whatever was most interesting. Stick-In-The-Dirt stayed nearby but appeared to be busy with something...what, she couldn't tell; it looked to be beading, or sorting, or something else small. He was so preoccupied that the snow gathered on his feathers and he didn't notice. Charmian shivered and swept some away from her lap before she could get wet.
She figured, by the light (another thing Moon Wolf had taught her), that about an hour had passed before she sighed and rubbed a crick out of her neck. "You know, I don't really think I'm getting anywhere. I never learned how to meditate."
He looked up at her. "You need to learn it where you come from?"
Obviously we're not QUITE as alike as he thinks.
She didn't get to say it out loud. Stick-In-The-Dirt stood up and she took this chance to do the same, nearly slipping off her rock and falling into the water. He stretched. "Well...perhaps you're right. Maybe it's the wrong time. I thought that one might present itself, after that vision you had at Arch Rock..."
"Maybe I just hit my head hard enough, but not quite as hard as I thought," Charmian murmured, knowing it wasn't true. If it were true, it still wouldn't explain why she bore no scratches or cuts from the female Ocryx. Unless she'd made that up too...?
I hallucinated the whole thing...? It didn't seem believable...but she could think of no other explanation.
Stick-In-The-Dirt was climbing down from his rock. "Would you come back to the camp with me? I think you need something warm to eat."
"Okay, but then I have to get going back to Sugar Loaf to finally keep an eye on...oh."
She blinked and peered into the snow. Something small was moving their way, leaving a little trail behind it. At first she couldn't make it out because of the snowfall, and it was nothing more than a little dark smudge against the white. Then it stopped and stood upright like a prairie dog, and something on its head flicked. Charmian smiled involuntarily, overcome by cuteness.
"Ohh! He's so cute!" She crawled down from the rock to land in the snow. Stick-In-The-Dirt looked at her, then turned to look in the direction she was staring in. He frowned when he saw the small rabbit sitting in the snow, Charmian carefully making her way toward it.
She stopped several yards away so as not to frighten it away. She turned to Stick-In-The-Dirt and giggled.
"Look, he isn't even running off. I've never been this close to one before. Well...except the one in my third-grade class...but that doesn't count." She looked at it again and smiled. The rabbit's nose twitched as it seemed to sniff at her. Her smile faded a bit. "He looks kind of like the one I saw before I got to Arch Rock..."
"You saw another? Not in your vision?"
"Yeah...I forgot about that. It was wounded." She sighed. "I thought maybe I could move it to shelter, but it was so badly hurt, I doubt I did it much good." Now her smile vanished completely and she glanced at him once more. "Don't tell me this is my totem?"
Stick-In-The-Dirt gave a small shrug. He peered at the rabbit uneasily.
Charmian put her hands on her knees and turned away from the small creature, exasperation welling up inside. "Oh COME ON! I sit out here in the snow for an hour and when my animal shows up it's a rabbit? What kind of totem is that?" She waved at the creature, which wiggled its nose at her. "They don't even DO anything but twitch and jump around!"
The medicine man bared his teeth and winced, holding up his hands. "Quiet! Quiet! Every animal has its strengths. Rabbit the same as all of them!"
"I was thinking something like a--I don't know, a--a bobcat, or a deer, or--or a crow even! Who gets a rabbit as their totem?" Charmian stood up and waved her arms in disgust. "I'm sorry, Stick, but this is really a waste of time. I'm not anything like a RABBIT!"
With each word Stick-In-The-Dirt seemed to grow even more uncomfortable. He was cringing by now and looked ready to crawl into the water and drown. "Will you be QUIET! Check your pockets--do you have any offerings to give him? Any food? Roots? Something?"
"Why would I have roots in my pockets...?" Charmian grumbled and dug around a bit, finding nothing but the sliver of Augwak's spirit, then pulled her hands out again, empty. "No, no carrots. He'll have to go without."
Stick-In-The-Dirt looked devastated. "You don't even carry around offerings?! You expect a meeting such as this to be timed or something?!"
"I can't help it that the dumb thing shows up when I'm emptyhanded! Don't you guys have bait piles around here--?"
The rabbit, which had been sitting, sat up again on its hind legs. Its ears flicked about.
"I come all this way and she doesn't even have so much as one root to eat?"
Charmian's eyes bugged from her head and she leapt back with a scream. "THAT RABBIT TALKED!!"
Stick-In-The-Dirt winced again and held up his hands to silence her. "Yes, yes--I'm sorry. I should have hunted about for some myself...apologies. I didn't think ahead this time. Forgive her, she's from the mainland."
The rabbit's nose twitched and it--he--sat down again. If Charmian hadn't known better she'd have said he looked annoyed. "Well, the mainland excuse can work only so often before it becomes overused. You would think they would know by now." With that he started cleaning his whiskers.
Charmian gawked. "He...it...that thing is...it's talking!"
The medicine man glared at her. "Would you show some respect! He's not an it. You wait in the snow, you finally receive recognition, and you treat him so horridly!"
"Who is he?"
The rabbit lifted his head with large eyes. "She doesn't know? What do they teach children nowadays?"
"Forgiveness, friend, they learn differently on the mainland." Now he practically bared his teeth at Charmian over his shoulder, and hissed. "Would you at least PRETEND you know who he is!!"
Charmian shook herself out of her shock, instantly growing irritated. She hated how they liked to keep springing surprises on her here--like she would know that rabbits could talk!--and not only that, but now they were blaming her for not knowing what to expect! She returned the glare he gave her. "Like I'm supposed to know! Excuse me, but where I come from, rabbits eat pellets and get made into coats--they DON'T talk!"
The rabbit stood up and chattered. "Is she ALWAYS this way?!"
"Forgive her," Stick-In-The-Dirt hastened to say, but Charmian would have no more of it. She strode forward and reached down, grabbing the small creature by the ears. He squealed and kicked as she lifted him into the air. She knew this wasn't the proper way to handle a rabbit, but obviously this wasn't a normal rabbit...else he wouldn't be talking. She assumed he must be some sort of elemental, like Chepi. With pretty much the same attitude.
She shook him a little bit and he squealed louder. Stick-In-The-Dirt's face went absolutely white, making his already-wide eyes stand out even more. "Look. I've had enough attitude from wind spirits and cannibals and BUNNIES! I hardly need any more! If you go around assuming everybody knows who everybody else is, then you know what'll happen--you'll make an ASS out of U and ME!"
Stick-In-The-Dirt waved his hands wildly. He looked ready to be sick. "Maybe we can still salvage--"
He didn't get to finish. Charmian had just enough time to see the rabbit's eyes flash blue, and she could swear he was giving her an evil look. She blinked--and then her hand filled with a blinding glaring brilliance that made her drop the small creature to the ground so she could shield her face. The glow didn't stop, however. It surrounded the animal until she couldn't see him anymore, and then grew, larger, and larger, rising up to meet her eyes. She cringed as what had moments before been a small furry mammal now grew even bigger than she was, looming ever and ever closer as if getting ready to grab her by the ears.
And the thought she had was a silly one, but apt.
I think I messed with the wrong rabbit!!
"Part 71: Great Rabbit"
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