Charmian learns a little more than she needs to know about her friends...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Return To Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 39: Invitation"
Too Much Information
CHARMIAN CLIMBED UP the slope from the underside of Arch Rock, her arms and legs thoroughly scratched by the time she reached the top of the bluff. Here Mani still stood waiting for her, and he whistled as she stood, brushing herself off as best she could and retrieving her pack. When she approached he tilted his head curiously.
Red Land One is truly Red Land One.
"Huh...?" Charmian glanced at her arms and only now noticed how red they were. "Oh. Sunburn." She felt her face and her cheeks seemed warmer than usual. "Funny, I never even thought about bringing sunblock."
She started slowly walking toward the woods. The injury Augwak had dealt her spirit stone still throbbed, despite Old Mother Manitou's concoction; she hated thinking about how it must feel to Mani. He seemed puzzled that she didn't climb atop his back, but followed in silence. She picked out the easiest trail she knew in the direction of the Dupries house.
"The four-day vigil," she murmured aloud as they went. "Stick seems pretty hung up on it. It must be important. I guess it is, if it means your spirit's going to be wandering alone for four days..."
She trailed off as a new thought made its way into her head.
Moon Wolf. Did he ever have a vigil...? Stick-In-The-Dirt took his body...but he never said anything else about it. Did he keep watch over him for four days?
If he didn't, then it's not his fault...I was the one there when he died...he didn't have any family. I was the only one there was. I should have kept watch, if I'd known...
Then does that mean...that whatever happened to Moon Wolf, happened because of me...?
Her fingers absently twisted at the corner of her vest. Stick-In-The-Dirt had been worried about Yellow Turtle losing his way from the Spirit Road, if he did not keep watch for him...if no one had kept watch for Moon Wolf's spirit, then had he become lost...?
Is that what happened to him? Is this all because of me?
She shook her head. "Stick said he wouldn't have been able to hit me if he were just a spirit," she said aloud, earning an odd look from Mani. "So something else is going on...but he knew every move I was going to make...not because he could read my mind--but because HE taught me!" She halted abruptly as this realization hit her. "Only Moon Wolf would know all those moves I was going to make," she said. "That's how he knew how to fight me. That means that--"
That means that was really him!
She felt a chill settle over her, and not because of any GeeBees that might be nearby. She rubbed her arms and started walking again, albeit much more uneasily. It had been simple enough to hope that whoever that was she'd faced hadn't really been Moon Wolf, but now...
Mani stopped now, but Charmian kept walking. It was only when a voice exclaimed, "You are still injured! You should not be walking!" that she screamed and jumped, whirling around. Had Mani suddenly learned how to talk--?
Mani only stared at her with big eyes. Charmian jumped and shrieked again when she spotted Niskigwun standing right beside him, glaring at her. She stopped clutching at her chest and clenched her fists.
"You ARE following me!" she cried.
In response the Michinimakinong stalked toward her. "You were supposed to seek treatment for that," he said, nodding at her chest. "Instead you are wandering around the woods!"
"And YOU were supposed to go back to the Fairy Realm!" Charmian snapped. "And instead you keep following me around!"
"Someone must see to it that you don't injure yourself further!"
Charmian's face screwed up. "What are you, my mother?"
She gasped when Niskigwun grabbed her by the wrist and started walking, dragging her along behind him. Mani whistled loudly, bristling and walking around them in stiff-legged circles, yet didn't dare attack the Turtle Spirit. Niskigwun ignored the manitou even as Charmian started trying to pry herself loose. They made quite a commotion going through the woods, and a few pale shapes--Windwalkers--rose up from the trees and vanished silently as if disturbed by the noise. Charmian couldn't blame them.
"What do you think you're doing--?" she cried.
"Seeing to it that you seek help," Niskigwun said. "And I will not merely drop you off this time!"
"I WAS headed for the Dupries place already!"
"First you say you are seeking the old manitou, now one of the long knives. I do not care which, just so long as you stop traipsing about with a wound to your spirit stone!"
"I'm hardly TRAIPSING--!" Charmian yelled, when a great gust of wind overtook them, stirring the leaves and whipping their clothes around them. The three of them halted immediately, ducking their heads and shielding their faces as best they could from the sudden onslaught. Charmian peered out from between her fingers, trying to see if Augwak was near. Had Niskigwun brought any more of those wind crystals--?
"WHO DARES DISTURB MY DOMAIN?" an imperious voice boomed, and Charmian gawked. That was not Augwak's voice--it was female. GeeBees weren't female! She lifted her head now, braving the gust and glancing around. She spotted Niskigwun reaching for a hollow pipe and one of the little splinters he'd used before, and opened her mouth to yell at him, but before she could he put it to his mouth and blew, sending the sliver flying up into the trees. There was a gasping sound, then the wind immediately died and the same voice, only now much less imperious, cried, "YOU TORE MY DRESS!!"
Charmian, Niskigwun, and Mani all blinked in the abrupt silence. The treetops ruffled again, then a pale shape descended into the middle of the path before them. They stared in surprise at the small woman, all adorned in beads and feathers, who lifted the edge of her frilly outfit and snapped, "Look what you did to my dress!!"
Charmian blinked again. "Chepi--?"
Niskigwun bristled. "You!" he barked, at which Sooleawa Chepi finally took notice of him, and her eyes went wide and her jaw dropped.
"YOU!" she exclaimed in horror.
Charmian's face screwed up. "You guys know each other?"
Niskigwun whirled to her, pointing at Chepi as if he were flinging an arrow at her chest. "SHE is the reason the Fairy Arch was broken!"
Charmian turned to gape at the small woman. "That was YOUR fault--?!"
"How long is it going to take you to get OVER that!!" Chepi wailed, clenching her fists and stomping her tiny foot. "Every single time I see one of you people--it's Fairy Arch this, Fairy Arch that, Fairy Arch Fairy Arch Fairy Arch! SHUT UP ABOUT THAT STUPID ARCH ALREADY!!"
Niskigwun gave her a withering glare. "It is the gateway between our lands! If you had not sold yourself to that DEMON, the Arch would likely have remained open!"
Now Charmian's jaw dropped. "You mean to tell me that all that trouble I had with that Arch was because of YOU AND OCRYX?!"
Chepi's face went crimson. "I did NOT sell myself! That was a thoroughly private affair! And I cannot help it that he loved me so much that he gave me PAYMENT!" She whirled to face Niskigwun now, clenching her fists again; Charmian was almost certain she saw tears in her eyes. "And YOU are the one who keeps bringing that up! You will never let me live that down, will you? One small tryst and you would think it's the end of the world! I cannot help it that he loved me so!"
The Michinimakinong flung his hands up, looking ready to swallow his own tongue. "If this is so, then he loves EVERY WOMAN UPON THE ISLAND!!"
"Hold on!" Charmian cried, waving her arms to try to still them. The two backed down, still huffing, but at least she could hear herself think. "Niskigwun--you said this is Chepi's fault? For being with Ocryx?"
Niskigwun nodded, then shot Chepi a dirty look. "You would not believe the amount of grief she has caused us--this was merely the last straw!"
"But--I don't get it," Charmian said, confused. "Why is this Chepi's fault?"
Chepi nodded vigorously. "Exactly! I am hardly to blame!"
Niskigwun looked as if he wanted to tear all the feathers off her head, but managed to calm himself down somehow. "She broke Michinimakinong custom," he stated. "She conversed freely with one not of our kind! And what's more, she was not even ASHAMED of it!"
The feathers on Chepi's headdress stood on end and she bared her teeth. "He was MUCH better than any of YOU would ever be!" she hissed.
Niskigwun's mouth dropped open. Charmian waved her hands again before he could scream or pass out, she wasn't certain which. "WAIT A MINUTE! If she broke Michinimakinong custom, then that means--" She cut herself off, then looked at Chepi, her brow furrowing. "You're a Michinimakinong?"
Chepi sucked in a breath and her lip quivered. Charmian just now noticed her wings, also quivering, behind her back--she'd seen them before, as they'd been hard to miss, but she'd grown so used to seeing them there that she'd taken them for granted. Now that she thought about it...Chepi and Niskigwun didn't look all that different from each other. Their faces and bodily builds were different, of course, yet they were both shorter and slighter than average, both wore feathers and had pointed ears, and both bore wings. Charmian glanced from one to the other in disbelief, before turning to Chepi again.
"You're a Michinimakinong?" she asked.
"Was a Michinimakinong," Niskigwun grated. "She was removed from our society, before the Arch was broken."
Chepi's lower lip stuck out and she stomped her foot again. "And I don't miss it one bit, either! Stuffy stupid bothersome rules--I don't miss one bit of it!"
"Then this is why you came sniffing and whining back to the Arch?" Niskigwun challenged.
Now Chepi puffed up in shock. "I DID NOT! That must have been SOMEONE ELSE! I was quite happy when I was given my precious Windwalkers--much better company than YOUR sort!"
"They are hardly yours. They were not even the demon's to give!"
"Take it up with him, then! They seem to appreciate me well enough!"
"What's this 'my domain' stuff, anyway?" Charmian interrupted. "Last I knew you were living in a cave on the other side of the Island!"
The fairy sniffed disdainfully. "I wished for a change of scenery! That damp hole did dreadful things to my hair." She gave Charmian a curious look. "Do I know you...?"
Charmian gawked. "Know me--?" She waved her arms. "HELLO! Charmian! Ten years ago? Island? Ocryana? If I hadn't been here you and everyone else would probably be DEAD by now!"
Chepi merely rolled her eyes skyward and tapped her chin as if thinking, then nodded. "Oh, yes...you were involved in that bit of unpleasantness a while back...I remember now."
Charmian couldn't believe what she was hearing. "Bit of unpleasantness?" she yelled. "Do you even remember ONE thing that happened--?!"
Chepi clapped her hands. "Oh yes! Charmian! I remember you...I remember your name because it starts with the same sound as mine. Ch!" She giggled. "Yes, I remember you now!"
Charmian had to dig her fingernails into her palms to keep from throttling the small woman. "That WOULD be the only reason you remember my name!" she hissed between clenched teeth.
"Anyway, as I was saying--" Chepi continued, waving absently at the air and patting at her feathered headdress, "the damp cave air does horrors for delicate hair such as mine, so I thought a move to this side of the Island was warranted--even though it's a bit far away from the lake--"
Now both Charmian and Niskigwun started yelling at the same time--"Do you really think I want to talk about your stupid hair?!--all of that trouble you caused with the Arch--DO YOU EVEN KNOW WHAT'S GOING ON--?!"
The voice cut through the air like an arrow, and immediately the three--plus Mani, who had started whistling loudly--stopped squabbling and turned their heads. Chepi gasped and then vanished with a poof. Charmian's jaw dropped when she saw Thomas and Cloud standing further down the trail, staring right at them. Her eyes shifted to Niskigwun and she saw he was still in plain sight, right beside her, looking as much like a deer trapped in headlights as she did. She glanced at Thomas again, speechless.
Rustling, snapping noises came from the woods even further beyond Thomas, and he turned his head when someone called his name--"Thomas?" Then he turned back to the other three with the same surprised look, yet didn't call back. Charmian took his silent message and turned to Niskigwun.
"I'll get it taken care of. I promise," she whispered, touching her hand to her chest. The Michinimakinong looked skeptical but she pushed on his arm. "I mean it! I promise!" She let go of him and with a reluctant look he turned and slipped into the woods, silently disappearing with only the slightest of glances back at Thomas. Thomas watched him go before starting forward with Cloud.
Charmian fiddled nervously with her vest. "It's a long story," she said when he reached her. "I'll explain later--" Then Thomas's name was called again, and they both turned to the trail just as another horse emerged, its rider brushing a few stray branches out of the way as he approached. Justin spotted them standing in the path and immediately climbed down from the animal's back, coming toward Charmian with a concerned look.
"Charmian? Are you hurt?" He reached her and looked her over. "I was told you'd been injured..."
"It's not that bad," Charmian admitted, feeling slightly self-conscious as he glanced at her arms and legs as if expecting a nasty wound. She couldn't blame him, considering all the other things she'd had him heal, as well as all the bruises still littering her, from her fight with Moon Wolf. She knew she must look pretty pathetic. "It's just my spirit stone," she added, as clarification.
Justin's brow furrowed. "Your spirit stone?"
Charmian nodded when he lightly touched his fingers to her chest. "Augwak tried to steal it," she admitted as his hand started to glow. "But he didn't get any of it. It's okay, it just hurts a little."
The dull ache in her chest, as well as all the bruises and cuts, faded away before the glow did, and Justin pulled his hand back. He knelt in front of her and took one of her arms to look it over as if unconvinced that she wasn't further injured; Charmian saw Thomas raise an eyebrow, and flushed, having to avert her eyes. "This could have been much more serious, you do know that?" Justin said, checking her other arm before taking her hand so she had to peer down at him. "Some things have changed since you were last here, so you have to be very careful. What if you come to me someday with an injury I cannot heal?"
"That hasn't happened yet," Charmian said, carefully pulling her hand free and hoping he wouldn't take offense. He didn't seem to notice her discomfort as he stood and touched her shoulder, then stepped away, back toward his horse.
"But it always could. I realize you're a lot stronger than most young women your age, but sometimes you worry me."
Charmian felt her ears burning. I do? she felt like saying, yet no words came out. Justin reached his horse and pulled open a pack hanging from its side, rummaging around in it.
"That reminds me, I have something to give you. Little Dove said she had meant to give it to you before, yet she forgot. Apparently Mother told her about it. You left it at our house the last time you were here."
Charmian's face lit up as he pulled something out of the pack, an object wrapped in leather, and started unwrapping it. He turned back to her and held it out as he approached, and she recognized the familiar silver crescent-shaped plate resting within, emblazoned with a moon and a wolf's head. It wasn't even tarnished after all this time.
"You brought it!" she exclaimed, receiving the amulet and looking it over as if it were a Christmas present. Thomas leaned over her shoulder to peer at it as well, Mani sniffing at it from the other side. She looked up at Justin with a grin. "It's still shiny!"
Justin's mouth twitched in seeming amusement. "Little Dove insisted on keeping it clean for whenever you might show up again," he said. "Which is why I'm surprised she forgot to give it to you...but she's like that sometimes. She polishes it every week. She said that such a pretty decoration must be important enough to keep spotless."
Charmian ran her fingers over the beaten surface of the necklace, smiling until her fingertips traced over the rough hole punctured just slightly to the right of its center. Her smile faded then and her hand stilled, poised over the hole. Thomas and Justin both seemed to notice the change which came over her, and stood in silence for a moment. Charmian stared at the ragged opening, remembering what had caused it, what had taken Moon Wolf away.
"She was going to try to fix that," Justin said quietly after a while. "I told her to let it be." He paused, then took his horse's reins. Charmian lifted her head and watched as he pulled himself atop its back again and turned it about, the horse starting back up the trail.
"Justin?" Charmian called out.
He turned his head to look at her over his shoulder. She held up the pendant slightly.
Justin smiled and tilted his head in a sort of nod. A moment later he was gone, leaving Thomas, Charmian, Mani, and Cloud behind. Charmian continued staring at the trail in a daze, her thumb running over the smooth metal of Moon Wolf's necklace.
Thomas cleared his throat.
Charmian gasped and jumped, then flushed and rubbed her head. "Sorry." She headed for Mani and pulled herself atop his back, just to give herself something to do. Thomas stared at her curiously but climbed atop Cloud and turned the horse about to follow her when she went up the opposite trail. He didn't ask anything about Niskigwun and Chepi, for which she felt relieved for some reason.
"You had a crush on him, didn't you?"
Charmian blinked, then whirled her head around to look at Thomas. "Who?" she blurted out.
He seemed a little surprised by her question, but then his smile returned. "Justin," he said, as if it should have been obvious.
Charmian actually let out her breath. I thought he meant Niskigwun! she thought--then, Why would he have meant HIM--?
"I don't have a crush on him!" she exclaimed, feeling her face grow hot.
Thomas's smile now looked more like a smirk. "I said had a crush on him."
"I..." She trailed off, then turned to face the path, nudging Mani in the sides. "I don't have a crush on him!"
Thomas let out an amused sound and nudged Cloud to keep up with her. "Come on, you can tell me. I saw how your face kept going scarlet, just like it's doing now. Do you still have a crush on him?"
"Of course I don't!" Charmian snapped, indignant. "He's a lot older than I am and he's married! I'm not that kind of person!"
"You don't have to be that kind of person. It was only a question, I didn't mean any offense."
"I'm not offended! I'm just telling you the truth. Why do you think I'm offended?"
"Because you're either offended right now, or embarrassed, and if you had no crush then I don't see why you should be embarrassed."
"I'm--it's--oh--shut up already!!" Charmian practically kicked Mani in the side and he flinched just as she jerked and yelled, "Ow!" and grabbed at her own side. She hated being so rude, but Thomas's conversation was really getting on her nerves.
Okay, so MAYBE I had a little teeny crush on him, like, when I was FOURTEEN. But that was ages ago, and it's not like anything ever would've come of it! People get crushes all the time. It doesn't mean anything. It's just hormones!
She groaned and put a hand to her face. "I can't believe I'm thinking about hormones," she muttered to herself.
"If it helps any," Thomas called from behind her, "I had a crush on an older person too when I was younger."
"I'm serious. You think only girls get crushes?"
"Okay, so if you're telling me the truth, then who was it?"
"I'll tell you if you stop trying to outrace me!"
Charmian pressed on Mani's antler, causing him to slow. Cloud pulled up beside them, tossing his head, and Thomas leaned toward her as if taking her into confidence.
"Silver Eagle Feather," he said, and Charmian gawked at him before bursting into laughter.
"Silver Eagle Feather?" she cried.
Thomas grinned again, sitting back. "She would come down to the town on occasion to trade. Not very often. But every time she did I'd be the first out there to see her. I was only about ten years old, but I wanted to follow her all over the place. She was the most beautiful person I'd ever seen."
Charmian burst into laughter again.
"And she was very kind about it when she had to let me down, but I was heartbroken anyway." His mouth twitched. "What's so funny? You don't believe me?"
"I'm...I'm sorry." Charmian had to wipe her eyes, still hiccupping with laughter. "I'm not laughing at you...it's just...Silver Eagle Feather?"
Thomas pretended to be insulted. "What, do you think she'd be too good for me?"
"Like...YEAH!" Charmian started laughing. "And she's so much older than you are."
"Oh, and your crush wasn't?"
"Not THAT much older! Besides, Silver is married. To Black Elk Horn!"
"And your crush isn't married?"
"He wasn't at the time!" Charmian turned Mani in the direction of Fort Holmes and Thomas and Cloud accompanied them up the trail and further into the woods. "Besides, have you even met Black Elk Horn...?"
* * * * *
A small spring rippled and bubbled in the interior of the Island, shaded by trees. A few birds alighted on the tree branches overhead, preening their feathers and tweeting at each other. A stray bit of sunlight filtered through the leaves and hit the water, making it sparkle; one of the birds even fluttered down to land at the edge of the spring, then hopped in, splashing about in the water. It twittered as if inviting its fellows to come down.
POP. This picture of serenity was abruptly ruined when a large gangly shape appeared out of thin air, descending with a squawk to land in the spring with a terrific splash. The birds flitted away, squeaking in panic. The waters continued roiling and splashing all about until one bony hand grasped onto the rock surrounding the spring, then another, then a head popped out of the water, shaking itself furiously as the liquid streamed from its pointed ears.
Augwak bared his teeth, grinding them so hard that it was a wonder they didn't break. He let out an enraged noise--too loud to be a growl, too contained to be a snarl or a scream--though it was close. His fingernails gouged into the rocks, making the stone chip, and his yellow eyes burned so hatefully that they almost turned red. When he spoke, he didn't even move his jaws, his teeth were so firmly clenched together.
Splash. With a heave the GeeBee pulled himself out of the water, landing on his feet on solid ground. He shook himself off like a dog before hunching over, still snarling and steaming. His claws dug into the soil now, leaving huge ragged holes in the earth.
"If I ever, EVER get my hands on her again...I'll rip that stone right out of her chest...and CRUSH IT!!"
With this vow, he turned about--his large foot slipping out from beneath him, nearly sending him plunging into the spring again--and hissed in rage, rising into the air, catching a current of wind, and flying away toward the other side of the Island.
* * * * *
One yellow eye narrowed, and one eyebrow arched in amusement.
"Hm." Chakenapok stared at the image which wavered before him, of the GeeBee leaping from the water, cursing aloud, and flying away. Whatever agency which was spying upon Augwak followed him, so he watched as the Wendigo zoomed over the trees, making his way back to Devil's Kitchen. As he watched Chakenapok shifted a small piece of flint between his fingers, rolling it over one and under the next, then back to the other side again.
"Interesting," he mused as Augwak located the lakeshore cave and began to descend. "A rather foolish sort, but quite obstinate also." The piece of flint stopped moving when he held it between thumb and forefinger, and he stared at the cave a moment longer before willing the image away.
"I believe he could be quite useful," he said...and the little piece of flint began to glow, smoke rising from it in dark tendrils as its shape and color changed, from a thin black sliver to a glinting purplish-tinged crystal. Chakenapok turned his head to look at the changed stone, an odd bluish glow emanating from its heart.
"With just the right modifications, that is," he said, and a crooked smile spread across his face as the dark crystal shimmered.
"Part 41: The Back Burner"
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