Charmian ponders what she is to do next, and it involves a risky promise to fulfill...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 93: Atonement"
The Student Succeeds
CHARMIAN STARED AT the silver wolf-and-moon pendant resting in the palm of her hand, her eyes blurry; as long as she stared at it, she didn't have to look at Moon Wolf, who lay before her, also staring, but into space. Her fingers were sticky and cold.
"I don't know what to do anymore."
Drake stood beside her in silence for a moment or two, as if contemplating her answer; Charmian truly tried to think of something, anything, else to say, but her mind went blank. She had never particularly liked Moon Wolf much...in fact, she'd often been bothered by his presence...yet now that he was gone, she felt as if part of herself were missing. She couldn't understand why.
Drake waited a moment more before stepping forward, so his shadow fell across her; with Ocryana's disappearance, the sun had again come out, though evening was drawing on. "Well," he said, stooping down beside her, "we'll take him to Stick's tribe then. They'll know what to do with him."
Charmian just looked at him. Drake grabbed hold of Moon Wolf's arm and attempted to pull him up, managing to half drag him into a slump. Charmian flinched at the sight, though Drake merely gritted his teeth and started pulling Moon Wolf along. He whistled, and a rustling noise came from the trees as a large gray manitou stepped out.
"You can ride Mani," Drake said, pulling Moon Wolf to the manitou as it knelt down to the ground. "Silver can probably take care of those injuries...if not we can call Justin. And they can take care of Mani, too. And we can rest there for the night."
"What are you going to do with him?" Charmian finally pushed herself up, standing shakily. Drake tugged on Moon Wolf's arm and got him across the manitou's back, wiping his brow.
"Take him with us. Stick will probably know what to do. I can't think of any tribe he belongs to, can you?"
Charmian shook her head. "There was only Cave of the Woods...I don't even know if he had any family."
"Well, I bet Stick will know. C'mon, before You-Know-Who decides to drop in again!"
Charmian watched him as he guided the manitou back up and around, in the direction of Stick-In-The-Dirt's tribe, and sighed. She reached out to place her hand against Mani's soft muzzle when he approached, and he whistled softly. Charmian took another breath and let it out.
"Yeah...I'm okay." She bit her lip to keep back another potential wave of tears, and climbed atop him, hating to ride him in his condition; nevertheless, he didn't protest, and followed Drake as he led the way with the gray manitou.
Though they weren't very far at all from the tribe, the walk there seemed to take ages; Mani nosed his way slowly along the trail, wobbling a little on each step but holding his balance. Charmian's entire body ached. She winced with each jostle and rubbed at the bruises and cuts lining her arms, nearly dropping the silver fetish when she did so. She gasped and caught hold of the leather strap, bringing it back up to face level. She stared at the symbols engraved on it, and again puzzled over what exactly Moon Wolf had wanted her to do with it. Give it to Shadow Water? What for?
Like I'm even going to set foot anywhere NEAR her, anyway? I'm sorry if it was his dying wish...but he could have chosen an easier one to fulfill!
The pathway to the tribe became visible through the trees, and along with it the glow of the communal fire. A few small children were running about, as they always did; spotting the newcomers, they ran off yelling, seeking the attention of their elders. It was only a moment or two before the rest of the tribe began to gather, crowding the end of the path and murmuring aloud. Apparently the children had spotted Drake's burden, and had spread the word. As they set foot in the camp the adults parted to let them through, falling silent as Moon Wolf was carried by them, then murmuring again once he was past. They closed in behind Charmian and Mani and followed them across the clearing, past the firepit. Charmian could barely even keep her balance anymore, she was so exhausted.
They stopped not far from a wigwam bearing the symbol of a forked branch protruding from the earth, and Stick-In-The-Dirt emerged, pulling the flap aside and peering out. He saw Charmian and the others and his eyes grew wide; he stepped out and approached, slowing to a halt beside the gray manitou to look Moon Wolf in the face. Drake had closed his eyes, but one of his arms hung limp out before him, blood trailing down toward his face. Stick-In-The-Dirt stared at him for a moment before looking up at Charmian.
"Ocryana," she said, her voice dull with fatigue. "Ocryana killed him."
The murmur rose even louder around them now, the natives glancing at each other and sharing anxious looks. Stick-In-The-Dirt sighed and looked at Moon Wolf a moment more, then gestured forward one of the other braves standing nearby. Together they pulled the medicine man down from the manitou and laid him out on the ground, folding his arms close to him. Stick-In-The-Dirt stared down at him, then rubbed his eyes as if tired.
"He has no family, no tribe that I know of. I will bury him near the Cave. This was as close to a home as he had." He looked back up at Charmian, and his brow furrowed. "Did she attack you, too?"
"Kawaduk did," Charmian said, and he frowned, as if puzzled by her answer, but waved again and a couple of the men helped her down from Mani's back. The gray manitou retreated back into the woods; Stick-In-The-Dirt went to Mani and looked him over, while Charmian stood swaying. She felt somebody's arm go around her shoulders, and without thinking leaned against them; they turned and steered her in the direction of a wigwam with the insignia of an elk upon it, pushing aside the flap and guiding her in. She was gently but firmly set down before the fire, and held out her cold hands toward the flames, starting to shake. A fur was draped over her shoulders, and a cup of hot tea placed into her hands. She sat and sipped at it while Silver Eagle Feather sat down beside her and started cleaning and tending to her wounds.
"Why did he do it?" she murmured after a while, holding the cup numbly and staring at the fire. She sensed a slight question from Silver Eagle Feather, but the woman said nothing, only finished binding one of the deeper gashes to Charmian's arm, then reached for more cloths. "He knew he couldn't kill her...he even said so...so why did he do that? Why did he let her kill him...?"
It was a moment or two before Silver Eagle Feather answered, dabbing lightly at the thin cut to Charmian's cheek. She took the cup from Charmian's hands before she could drop it.
"This is the way of things. He must have known you would succeed him."
"What?" Charmian glanced at her in confusion. Silver Eagle Feather didn't bother meeting her eyes, just continued as she had been doing.
"This is simply the way. The teacher must die before the student can succeed."
"But...Moon Wolf is--wasn't my teacher."
"Apparently, he believed he was. The only time a student may set out entirely on their own is once the teacher has passed. It was this way with Stick-In-The-Dirt; it was this way with me. It was undoubtedly this way with Moon Wolf. I know that he trained you; why are you saying now he was never your teacher?"
"Because he...because all he did was train me a little bit. It's not like I was in school or something..." For some reason Charmian felt her ears burning, and she shrank back a bit under the fur.
"Well...it appears he thought otherwise." The medicine woman finished tending to Charmian's face and looked her over again before rising, gathering the stray cloths and taking them away. Charmian rubbed her arm.
"So...what does this mean now? He let her kill him? So I could succeed?"
Silver Eagle Feather now met her eyes, and Charmian had to look away, her own eyes growing wet.
"So that means it's my fault he's dead."
Silver Eagle Feather used one finger to tilt her head back up to look at her. "If you blamed yourself for this, then I would have to blame myself for the death of my grandfather; and Stick-In-The-Dirt would be to blame for his succession also. This is simply the way of things. Moon Wolf chose his own fate. Did he say anything, tell you what you must do, before he died?"
Charmian wiped at one eye. "He said...he was going to finish what Ocryana had started...he also said something about atonement...but I don't understand that. Don't you only atone when you've done something wrong?"
"Let me see your other arm."
"He also wanted me to..." Charmian felt around herself before locating the silver pendant in her pouch and pulling it out. Silver Eagle Feather glanced at it briefly, taking Charmian's left arm and looking it over for injuries. "...to give this to Shadow Water."
"Shadow Water?" She lifted her head now and frowned slightly. Charmian sighed.
"She's the other Ocryx...the one that you and Tal Natha went after at Arch Rock...Kawaduk, he's the halfling, is dead, but she's still around somewhere. With Ocryana. I don't have any idea what I'm supposed to do next. I've just kind of spent my whole time here waiting for something big to happen, but whenever something small happens, I seem to get the crap beaten out of me."
"This is only because you're still learning. Did he tell you why he wished it given away?" She took the pendant from Charmian's hand, and Charmian could tell she was just as puzzled by the request. Charmian shrugged, then winced and rubbed her shoulder.
"No. He didn't get to, before..." She trailed off, then fell silent, staring at the floor. Silver Eagle Feather touched her hand and then gave her back the necklace.
"He must have had his reason...even if he wished not to tell you. Your heart will ache for a time, but you must move on for the Island." She stood and put away the rest of the materials she'd been using, leaving Charmian to hold up her hands before the fire again. Though it was summer, she felt cold for some reason. The doorflap pushed aside and Stick-In-The-Dirt entered, brushing himself off and looking first to Silver Eagle Feather, then to Charmian. He took a seat off to Charmian's side, and accepted a cup of tea when Silver Eagle Feather handed it to him.
"What did you do with him?" Charmian asked, and the medicine man peered up at her as he took a sip of the tea.
"His spirit will take four days to reach the Land of Spirits," he said, lowering the cup. "At that time, I will bury him near Cave of the Woods. I know of no mother or father, nor any children I should try to find and tell." His face grew anxious. "You said Ocryana did it...?"
Charmian nodded. She didn't like the look he got next, though he said nothing, just stared into his tea. Silver Eagle Feather spoke up.
"With his death, Charmian succeeds to take his place. Is this not the way of things, Brother?"
Stick-In-The-Dirt looked up and blinked with surprise, glanced at Charmian, then at Silver Eagle Feather. He furrowed his brow, looked at his tea, then up again.
"Take his place?" Charmian echoed in disbelief. "He was a medicine man! How am I supposed to take his place?"
Stick-In-The-Dirt frowned. "Well...she does have some powerful medicine...I've seen her use it before, on the trees and the earth, when she was still but testing it."
Charmian jumped to her feet. "I'm still here!"
"Perhaps that's the strongest proof of all," Silver Eagle Feather said, and Charmian realized she may as well have been tricked. "Few other mainlanders, much less Islanders, could claim such powers as yours."
"It's true," Stick-In-The-Dirt said, his voice rising a bit. "He who's stayed among us the longest, learned most of our ways and travels to and from the mainland with ease...Monsieur LaCroix even doesn't have these powers." His face lit up and he turned to look at Charmian again. "It's true! He chose you to succeed him. This was why he took you as a student. I've never known him to train anyone as thoroughly as he trained you. He must have known."
"He must've JUDGED WRONG!" Charmian retorted, knocking his cup to the floor. "I can't take his place and I can't defeat Ocryana! No matter what he says or WHO says it!"
She turned to the door and hurried toward it, pulling up the flap. From the corner of her eye she saw Stick-In-The-Dirt start to rise, but Silver Eagle Feather stopped him. She managed to escape the wigwam unhindered, and raced across the middle of the camp, everyone who remained outside staring at her as she went. She didn't see Moon Wolf's body anywhere, and felt relief that this was so. Once she'd reached the outer edge of the camp and had gone into the woods a little ways, she sat down on the ground against a fallen tree and wrapped her arms around her knees, staring off into the darkness. The firelight barely reached here, but her eyes were too blurry anyway to make much out. The murky shapes of the leaves merged and separated and merged again.
"Don't tell me you're now going to spend the rest of the night out here sniffling, where I'll have to keep an eye on you."
Charmian glared up. Manabozho hung upside-down from the tree next to her, like a bat or a GeeBee, arms crossed. She scowled and turned herself away from him.
"No wonder you keep getting beaten up, if that's as threatening as you can sound." He climbed down the trunk to land on the ground, dusting lichens from his hands. Charmian burrowed her head into her arms.
"I'm not in the mood right now. So go away."
She sensed him pause, but he didn't leave. She ground her teeth in irritation. "I'm sorry," he said. "But on the Island, you don't wait to get 'in the mood.' He told you that things are coming to a head, and for once in his lifetime I agree with him."
"Only now that he's dead."
"Don't get me wrong. I considered him a poor personality, and only a mediocre teacher. But I do believe he made one proper choice..."
Charmian slowly lifted her head to stare again at the leaves. Manabozho was silent for a moment or so, before venturing to speak again.
"I never much agreed with him, but even I saw the merit in his teaching you."
"So how come you're not getting yourself killed?" Charmian said, giving him a baleful look. "You taught me too, so I don't see why you're still around if I'm supposed to 'succeed.'"
"It's different," Manabozho retorted, then took a breath and let it out. "It's different...Moon Wolf was a teacher. I, I have merely taught. Everything you will need to save the Island, you have learned from him."
"And what about this?" Charmian held up one finger, and a flame appeared above it. Manabozho tilted his head with an impressed look and she shook it out with disgust. "YOU taught me that, remember? NOT Moon Wolf."
He stared at her for so long that she scowled and turned away. When he spoke his voice was slightly annoyed, which bothered her even more.
"And you think that is what will save the Island...?" He gave a mild snort. "Moon Wolf is the one who tried to teach you what you really need to know...and if by now you still don't know what that is, perhaps he did judge poorly." He turned away, stretching his arms, as if to wander off to bed. Charmian felt a sharp, deep ache inside her, and clutched one hand to her breast as if to stifle it. Moon Wolf's last words...which she had to admit hadn't made much sense to her at the time...came drifting back to her, digging into her like Kawaduk's claws into her skin.
It's unfortunate...I couldn't teach you to believe in yourself. In the end...that's what will matter the most...
Charmian slowly stood. Manabozho, sensing her movement, paused and turned his head to look back at her. She stood near the fallen tree, holding the silver wolf-and-moon pendant and staring at it. They were both silent for several moments as she went over her thoughts.
Manabozho finally tilted his head again. "Charmian? What are you thinking?"
"He wanted me to give it to her," Charmian murmured, still staring at the necklace. The dim firelight flickered over its marred surface, catching in her eyes.
Manabozho frowned. He turned away from the woods to face her.
"Truly you're not thinking what I think you're thinking."
"I promised him I'd do it. I have to keep my promise."
"I never heard you promise anything," Manabozho clarified. "You never actually said you promised."
"That was the last thing he asked of me." Charmian glared at him. "If he was wrong to choose me, then I should at least try to do this one last thing for him. Even if in your opinion it's just to prove him wrong."
"And NOW you decide to do so?" He appeared to be genuinely flustered, and she had to wonder what his purpose even was at all. "I think you would be best off if you simply let the men bury him in four days as they said, and then think of a plan. The clouds might be gathering, but I doubt it will start raining all at once."
"He didn't want me to wait a few days. And I don't care if I didn't exactly say 'I promise.' If I'm supposed to succeed him, that means I have to start picking up my own pieces." She looked down at the pendant. "And right now, this is the piece I'm supposed to be picking up..." She turned toward the woods, but Manabozho quickly jumped in front of her and held out his arms.
"If you're supposed to be protecting Red Bird, then you have no business running off and getting killed by demons!"
"Would you get out of my way? I was starting to get the feeling you're a serious coward!"
Charmian gasped and nearly jumped. She looked over her shoulder to see Drake standing at the edge of the woods, a mere silhouette against the dim glow of the fire. She lowered the necklace as he came forward, glancing down at it and back up at her again.
"Where were you going? I know you're upset...but you don't usually run off without saying why."
For some reason Charmian felt a brief surge of guilt, though she tried to hide it and fumbled around to put the pendant in her pouch. "I was just...still trying to think of what to do next..."
She trailed off when Drake reached her and took the pendant from her hand, holding it up and looking it over. "This was Moon Wolf's," he said, then looked her in the eyes. His brow furrowed. "You're not doing what I think you're doing, are you?"
Charmian sighed and held up her hands. "Why does everybody keep asking me that? I have to do it. It was what he wanted me to do! I don't even care why. Maybe...maybe it'll help, or something, if I do it." She gave the disk a curious look, wondering if she could be right.
Drake stared at her for a moment, as if she were crazy. "You do remember that she hates you, right?" he prompted, and Charmian took the pendant back.
"YES, I remember. It doesn't matter. You think I wouldn't face Mitchi or Ocryx because they're not friendly?" She put the pendant in her pouch and made certain it was tied shut properly. "I'm tired of putting things off. I'm going to see if I can find her."
"You're not going to go see Justin?"
"I think I might lose my nerve if I went to see him first." Though what Drake suggested made good sense--her wounds still hurt, a lot--she didn't relish the idea of facing him at the moment, especially since she planned on facing the one who'd caused the both of them so much trouble. She chewed on the inside of her mouth, then turned away again. "I'll try not to take too long."
She halted and Drake came up beside her. "I'll come along," he said, earning a look. He shrugged. "You're not in very good shape, you know."
"I can't ask you to do that, Drake."
"Neither can you ask me to stay behind, can you?"
Charmian's mouth twitched. "Not really." She sighed and started off down the trail, not even bothering to wonder where Manabozho had gone...as he was no longer standing anywhere in sight. During her training...or whatever it had been...with him, she'd learned to expect such behavior. "All right...you can help me find her. And if she gets pissed off, then...you can stand off to the side...and say snarky Drake things. Like 'Feel the Force!' and stuff. Does that sound good?"
"I don't say snarky things!" Drake snapped, and hurried to follow Charmian down the trail. Every so often she would touch the pouch to make certain the amulet was still there, though she had no reason to believe it would fall out. She looked up and saw that it was growing dark...and suddenly couldn't remember what time of day it had been just moments before. Something hadn't seemed right about the time lately...it was as if days and nights were running together, or arriving all out of order. She wondered if she was the only one who noticed this, then decided it didn't matter. Perhaps it had something to do with the growing tension on the Island.
They walked for what seemed to be a long time, away from Stick-In-The-Dirt's tribe; they headed roughly in the direction of Skull Cave, until Charmian halted and took a different trail. Drake tilted his head.
"Any particular reason we should take this trail as opposed to that trail?"
"Apakwaanaajiin's telling me something," Charmian said, not sure he even understood. "I don't know. I'm getting a feeling SW's not there." She slowed to a stop. "In fact, I don't think she's in this direction at all."
"Then where should we be going? The only other way is the one we just came from."
"Well...then that leaves the area not far from the town." Charmian frowned and turned slowly to face the trail behind them. "The Dupries house isn't too far from there..."
"Didn't that Shadow Water lady have a thing for that Justin guy--?"
Even before he'd gotten the question out, Charmian had jogged off down the trail again. Drake let out a gusty sigh and followed. They passed by the trail leading back into the camp, going deeper into the woods.
"I'm starting to think this Apakwhatchamacallit doesn't know what it's doing!"
"The last time I saw her, she was REALLY PO'ed at Justin and me. She hasn't come after me again yet, so I hate to think what she might be doing over there!"
Drake started to say something about "Hell hath no fury," but Charmian didn't catch it all. She jumped a little ridge and was grateful to land on her feet, despite the screaming jolt that coursed through her aching muscles; she paused only long enough to gather herself before jogging on. Drake's footsteps came up from behind and he ran to be at her side.
"So, are your spider senses tingling yet--?"
He suddenly gasped and fell over as if tripping on a root, landing hard on his elbows. Charmian skidded on one foot to try to catch hold of his hand when something blasted against her from in front, catching her in the shoulder and sending her back. She fell even further than Drake had, and winced in annoyance at yet another pain she'd have to deal with. Before she could complain aloud another blast came, nearly flattening them both to the earth; the leaves on the trees above them tore away and whirled about on the air and Charmian had to shield her eyes from a flurry of dirt kicked up by the wind.
Such a violent gust could be caused by only one of two creatures. And she knew the GeeBees were nowhere around.
Drake pushed himself up onto his elbows to stare ahead. Charmian followed suit, still trying to shield her watering eyes; the wind died down, but her reasons to be afraid didn't. Still, she stared straight into the livid red-and-green eyes drilling through her and tried to ignore the fangs and horns that accompanied them, swallowing to find her voice before addressing the demon directly.
"I have something for you."
"Part 95: Offering Denied"
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