Charmian explains her plan to defeat Chakenapok--and it isn't an easy one...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Return To Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 44: Realization"
TWO GREAT WINGED shapes soared down from the sky, veering in toward Fort Holmes. Dakh and Sikt Natha had come almost immediately on being called by Charmian, although Moon Wolf had had to help her direct them their way, as they could not sense her. Rather than try to answer his puzzled look with a confusing explanation of her own, she talked about her plans instead.
"It's something you just mentioned to me," she said as soon as they were in the cave of Tal Natha and Red Bird. "About children. And Snow Bear's comment, too. And something I've been thinking about Ocryana."
Ocryana? This from Tal Natha, who sat off to the side. Charmian had filled him and the others in on all that had happened so far, at least, as best as she could. They still seemed mildly confused by some of the details yet didn't ask for clarification. Charmian turned toward the demon and gestured.
"Yeah. I know this'll all sound kind of funny, but bear with me." She turned to Moon Wolf. "You said something about children, and I said something about being alone, and that hit me." She looked at Tal Natha again. "What was it you said about Ocryana the last time I was here, Tal Natha? That she'd gone mad?"
Tal Natha frowned. Yes...I believe I said this. What has Ocryana to do with Chakenapok?
"Nothing directly, at least that I know of, but I think she might've just helped me figure something out." She stepped back toward the cave wall to include them all in her explanation. "There was something I felt about Ocryana when we trapped her in Crack-in-the-Island. I got this sense that she was lonely. That wasn't the first or only time I felt that, either. I think the reason the Crack scared her so much is because she knew she'd be alone down there, just like she was before."
Tal Natha's ear flicked. I still do not see the relation.
"Tell me, the whole time we were fighting Ocryana, what did she make you think of? She always wanted everything HER way--right NOW--and when that didn't work out, she threw the world's biggest temper tantrum and threatened to destroy the Island...just because of some little grudge. If she couldn't play in her sandbox, then NOBODY could. She didn't care that she'd destroy herself as well, just as long as she got her revenge. And the worst punishments for her were being laughed at and being ignored. If somebody didn't give her the attention she demanded, then that was it. And whenever things turned against her too much, she'd break the rules to get her way." Charmian looked from one to the next of them. "What does that sound like to you?"
Silence. Everyone stared at her for so long that she was afraid her point had been lost, when Red Bird lifted her head.
"A child," she said, seeming to understand.
Charmian nodded and pointed at her. "Ocryana just acted like the world's biggest two year old. I can't say why she acts like that...but maybe there's some part of her that just never learned how to grow up, and play by adult rules. When you look at it, Ocryx is a lot the same--he screams his head off and stamps his feet whenever things aren't going his way, and then goes to sulk in the corner for a day or so."
Perhaps they learned it from each other, Tal Natha said. But how does this relate to Chakenapok?
"What Moon Wolf said got me thinking about that," Charmian said. "Chakenapok was killed right after he was born--he never even got a chance to grow up. His spirit might be all grown, but basically he was stuck at being a child forever, because of Nokomis. He's learned things along the way, obviously, but I think his mind still thinks like a child's mind does--at least the basics. He wants things his way, he wants them that way right now, and he'll get pissed off if they don't work out." She gestured at the cave mouth, indicating the Island itself. "He's even doing what little kids do best--playing a game! Every time I try to get it through to him that this is real life, he refuses to buy it. He doesn't care that real people are involved, so long as they play by his rules. He doesn't think in terms of actual people. Everybody is a pawn or a game piece, and everybody serves his own ends. He controls everything. His idea of being generous is of giving head starts or free moves when it suits him best. He doesn't have any understanding of empathy. He only cares about himself and his game, and getting back at Nokomis for taking everything away from him."
This explanation seemed to intrigue her listeners, and she stood looking at their thoughtful expressions. He is much like Ocryana in this regard, Tal Natha finally admitted. It is as if part of them is simply not developed yet, or has been lost; they may focus only upon themselves and their own needs. He glanced up at Charmian. So you are saying he has gone mad, the same as my mother has...?
"I'm not sure if he's so much gone mad as never really known any other way to be," Charmian replied. "For all we know he grew up completely on his own. He didn't have anyone to teach him morals. Maybe he latched onto somebody or something along the way, to learn what he does know, but it's obvious that whatever happened, he didn't turn out right. I don't think he's crazy, I just think he doesn't know how else he should act. And can anyone really blame him? He had his skull crushed in when he was just a baby--even if he was evil, I still don't think he knew what was going on. In his mind he was killed for no reason. Noko betrayed him, and this is his way of getting back. He can't care for anything if he's never learned how, and never been given any reason to care."
"Even if any of this is true," Moon Wolf cut in, and she turned to look at him; he was the only one of the group who stayed near the cave entrance, partly in shadows. "It simply tells us what is already clear. Reasoning with him will do no good. So what did you have in mind for a solution?"
I do not believe he can be trapped the same way Ocryana was, Tal Natha added, looking pensive. If he is merely a spirit with no body.
"How does one fight a spirit?" Red Bird asked. "Especially if he has no body?"
"Remember what Snow Bear said," Charmian stated. "He said that I couldn't fight Chakenapok and win. He meant that literally--I can't fight Chakenapok, and win. And it makes sense--because when you try to fight a little kid, what does he do?--he digs his heels in and NEVER LETS GO. Even Ocryana was nearly impossible to defeat in this way! And Chakenapok is obviously a WHOLE lot stronger. Trying to fight him would be like trying to get a stubborn kid in the tub, and that's never a pretty sight. Only instead of splashing some water, I think he'd blow up the Island!"
The others--except for Dakh and Sikt, who for all she knew weren't even listening to the conversation--looked confused again. "And so how do you fight someone like that?" Red Bird echoed herself.
"We can't fight him," Charmian said. "Not if we want to win. Which means we have to find some other way to defeat him."
"And so how do you plan to defeat him?" Moon Wolf asked.
Charmian turned to look at him, still standing in the darkened entrance.
"We try to get through to him. To tell him that we don't hate him."
Dead silence. She'd hoped for at least some positive reaction, but all the looks the others gave her were absolutely incredulous. Even Dakh and Sikt had turned their heads to look at her, and although their faces were as neutral as ever, still she sensed they must think she was nuts. She felt her face grow warm.
"You said yourself that reasoning with him is pointless," Moon Wolf stated in a skeptical voice.
Charmian tried not to squirm. "I don't mean reasoning with him. Reasoning is what one tries with an adult. Chakenapok never really grew up. It's emotions we should look at instead--why he's so angry, why he's so hateful." She attempted to regain her lost composure. "Imagine what you'd feel like if you were just a little kid and the world pretty much told you they hated you. Your own family tossed you out, and it's almost like you never even existed. How would you feel about that?"
Angry, Tal Natha answered this time, and Charmian nodded and gestured at him, relieved that at least someone was following her line of thought.
"Exactly. Angry, and hateful, and betrayed. This is how little kids feel when they don't know any better."
And we already know this, Tal Natha added, deflating her mood a little. You have attempted to appeal to his emotions already, and it failed. Why should this be any different?
He had a LOT more confidence in me the last time, Charmian thought, but kept the thought hidden. Instead, she said aloud, "There's a few things we're overlooking because all of his anger makes them hard to see. What else would a little kid given up by his family and hated by the world feel?"
"Envy," Moon Wolf said. "This is why he would build his power and frighten others--so he will not be seen as weaker than they. If earlier on he was willing to allow his defenses to fall, then that time is long past. You could not appeal to that."
"But what else would he feel?" Charmian insisted. "Remember, his own grandmother threw him out. He never knew his mother or father or even his brothers, and it's obvious he had no decent teacher to keep him company. He keeps frightening people to make himself look more powerful, but all that does is makes everybody afraid of him. He picks fights with everyone. How else would somebody like that feel?"
The silence resumed in the cave, and this time it went on for so long that she dug her toes a little bit into the sand, feeling her ears grow warm. The looks the demons and Moon Wolf were giving her made her want to crawl under the furs and disappear for a few weeks. This theory had seemed pretty good when she'd gone over it in her head, but now that she was actually outlining it, it sounded incredibly stupid. Perhaps this hadn't been the best idea after all.
Then, after what seemed like an eternity, a soft voice finally answered.
Tal Natha's ear flicked again. He turned his head. Moon Wolf did the same, and Charmian found them and herself staring at Red Bird. She stood with her hands clasped in front of her, her fingers fiddling much like Charmian's did whenever she was nervous, yet the look on her face told Charmian she finally understood.
"He would feel lonely," she said, clearer this time, and Charmian pushed herself away from the wall, her spirits rising a little.
"Exactly." She looked at Moon Wolf and Tal Natha. "A little kid's first normal response to being rejected is to strike out at everybody else in anger...but he's really feeling lonely. And afraid of being rejected again, just like Ocryana. If you could somehow pull away all the hate and fireballs and games, I'm betting you'd see a scared little kid afraid of being left alone again. Only by now he's so used to using his power to protect himself, I bet even he doesn't know this is how he really feels anymore."
"You think he is lonely?" Moon Wolf echoed, sounding even more skeptical than before. Charmian tried to take a little strength from Red Bird's understanding and managed to hold her ground.
"Not just lonely, but that's a big part of it. Noko made him face the ultimate rejection when he was too young to even understand it. He lashed out, like any little kid would do. But there was nobody there to tell him everything would be okay again. Instead he learned how to scare people. And if that gave him some kind of power or attention, then that's all he's been used to all these years." She fiddled absently with the cowrie shell hanging from her neck. "That's what Snow Bear was saying. If we try fighting him, he'll just dig his heels in even deeper, because that's how he's expecting to be dealt with--and he'll never give in. But if we try to reach that frightened part of him...if we can convince him that not everybody hates him, or is scared of him, or will turn him away...then maybe we can get him to lower his own armor, instead. And maybe then we can face him on his own terms."
The others were still silent, though she could tell they at least understood her theory and were thinking over it, which was better than before. She stood and waited, glancing from one to another, and tried not to fidget too much. She had to admit it was rather out there, and perhaps they needed a moment to let it soak in.
If this is true, Tal Natha finally said, after thinking for a while, if there truly is some part of this Chakenapok that has not gone mad yet...then how do you plan to reach it? It must be deeply hidden, if it is even there, for I have seen no sign of this from him. It would take great effort to reach it, if it exists.
Charmian was silent now, scuffing her foot slightly against the sand and turning the cowrie shell over in her fingers. "I could try it," she murmured at last; Red Bird's eyes widened, and both Tal Natha and Moon Wolf leaned forward.
You--? Tal Natha exclaimed in surprise.
"You would face him?" Moon Wolf echoed. He clenched his fists. "Have you any idea how foolish that is? You said yourself that he captured my spirit and made me do his bidding--what makes you think you could escape unharmed?"
"I've already faced him!" Charmian retorted. "More than once! He has yet to even touch me. I know there's some part of him that isn't evil--IF he's even evil at all! Maybe Noko was just wrong, and he's only confused. Whatever it is, somebody has to face him, or he'll go after her, and then probably after the Island--whenever his game is done. He might stop just with her, he might kill everybody. You want to take that chance?"
"You do not know enough about him!" Moon Wolf snapped. "Already you rely on your theories as if they are set in stone! For all you know this is simply a guess at the truth!"
Charmian clenched her teeth, trying to think of any argument that would convince him to back down--when Tal Natha cut in.
She is the only one of us who has faced him and returned unscathed to tell of it, he said, causing the other two to fall silent and look at him. And she is the only one he has shown any interest in communicating with directly. He has the power to spin dreams, and even I have not come across him. When you encountered him, he enslaved you and erased your memory. Yet she has faced him at least twice, and he has not harmed her. She may be the only one who can go to face him and hope to come back as she is.
Charmian felt her heart rise again on hearing the demon's support for her. Until now she'd thought he would be the one most against her idea! She turned back to Moon Wolf.
"He talked over his game plans with me himself. He even said he liked me. Can you think of anyone else who'd be better prepared to face him?"
Moon Wolf merely scowled. He didn't say anything else, so she knew she'd won, at least for the moment. She allowed herself a small sigh, though she felt a little guilty about arguing with him. He'd just come back from the dead, and already they were fighting again; for some reason it didn't seem right.
Charmian, Tal Natha said, and she looked back at him. The demon tilted his head slightly. How do you plan to face him this time?
"I thought you might help me with that again," Charmian said. "Since he's talked to me in my dreams so far, that seems like the best place to go."
"You had trouble getting to sleep the last time," Red Bird said. "Will this be a problem now?"
Charmian thought for a moment; although tired and aching, she didn't exactly feel like sleeping. Then her face brightened and she pulled off her pack and dug around in it.
"I just remembered something somebody gave me...do you think it might help?" She pulled out the small pouch Niskigwun had given her, and opened it, showing its contents to the others. They peered inside curiously. "I got it from a Michinimakinong," she explained. "He said it could help me sleep, without any weird side effects like anything else."
A Michinimakinong? Tal Natha seemed surprised to hear this. I did not know they still lived upon the Island.
"He comes and goes every once in a while, but I don't think he lives here. He seemed trustworthy." She paused. "But I'm not sure. I don't know the Turtle Fairies very well...do you think I can trust him?"
The Michinimakinong were the original guardians of the Island, Tal Natha replied. If you may trust anyone, I assume it would be them. They would not wish to jeopardize your mission, if you are truly here to help the Island.
Charmian blinked. "Of course I am," she said, then her brow furrowed. "You mean you don't believe me--?"
I believe you fully, Tal Natha said. Yet the last I knew, the Michinimakinong were not the most trusting. He paused and looked at the little pouch. I believe the fact that he gave you this says very much.
Very much about WHAT--? Charmian thought, but she felt something touch her arm and turned to see that Moon Wolf had come forward. He gave her a grave look.
"If you take these, then you will not take them alone. The Michinimakinong can be deceitful, if they do not trust those they are dealing with. They would not harm the Island, but there's always a chance they do not trust you."
"But--" Charmian started to protest--But they DO trust me!--but memories of her conversation with Geezhigo-Quae flashed through her head, and she bit her tongue. While the manitou woman had apparently entrusted her with this mission, she'd never said that she trusted Charmian to succeed. If anything, she had every reason to believe the Turtle Fairies didn't trust her.
Niskigwun WAS following me for quite a time...is it because he doesn't trust me? Did Geezhigo-Quae send him to do that, or was he doing it on his own? Did she tell him to give me this medicine, or was it his idea? Does either of them really have any faith in me at all...?
"Okay," she said after a few moments spent pondering and getting nowhere.
There is also always the chance that this Chakenapok may attempt something he has not attempted before, should you manage to anger him, Tal Natha added. Having someone nearby is best if you are unable to wake yourself properly.
I remember what happened the LAST time I woke up--though I still can't remember what happened BEFORE that! Charmian thought, and flushed. "Okay," she said again, a bit impatiently this time. "I won't take it by myself, and I won't operate any heavy machinery." She paused and twisted the cowrie on its cord, then turned her head to look at Moon Wolf. "I think I want Thomas to be there," she said.
He gave her a puzzled look. "Thomas...?"
She nodded slightly. "He's...somebody I've met. He isn't completely up to speed with everything that's going on, but I know he'd be worried if he found out I'm trying this. I want him to be there just in case."
Moon Wolf still seemed to want to say or ask something, but refrained. He simply nodded once, and Charmian felt a twinge of relief.
It is best if you attempt this here, or nearby, Tal Natha reminded her. For some reason I still cannot sense you properly when you have gone very far. If you feel that you need some privacy, however, you may attempt it atop the fort; this is nearby enough that I should be able to reach you with little trouble.
It's hardly private if I'm going to have people watching over me, Charmian thought, but nodded. Even with as cozy as Tal Natha's cave was, somehow the thought of falling asleep with the three demons and Red Bird looking on was kind of awkward. Besides, she had no clue what they did in their alone time here; dozing off in the middle of their home didn't seem very polite.
She started. "That's right--I'm not sure where Thomas even is. He said he was going out to help White Deer with some things, but I don't know where he is."
Can you contact him? Tal Natha asked.
Charmian felt like slapping her head. "Duh!" She closed her eyes and started looking around for him...but again the sense didn't seem to be working properly. She frowned to herself. "Everything seems cloudy lately...sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I don't get it."
"Perhaps you can speak to him," Red Bird suggested.
Charmian attempted this, as she had in the woods earlier...yet nothing happened. Her frown grew and she opened her eyes.
"Maybe it's because I can't sense him nearby? It worked just fine earlier, but now it's like nobody's on the other end...am I getting rusty or something?"
Tal Natha seemed equally perplexed, but he lifted one wing in a sort of shrug. Perhaps it is merely the state of the Island, or because you have been away so long. It is no matter. Go on your way to the fort, and I will find a way to fetch Thomas and bring him to the hill.
"But if you go into town there'll be a riot," Charmian insisted.
Moon Wolf took her arm and tugged on it, drawing her toward the entrance. "Trust him," he said simply, and she had to follow or else he would have ended up dragging her. She cast a look back at the demon as they went, and the look in his eye told her he had something in mind--but what it was, she didn't get to find out before they were on their way out of the cave.
"Is he just going to contact him telepathically?" she asked as Dakh and Sikt carried them up over the edge of the cliff and landed on the space of land before the fort above. "That seems like the easiest thing, if I could just get it to work more than a few minutes..."
"Not everyone has this ability," Moon Wolf said. "And even those who do are usually limited in it in some way. This 'Thomas'--has he been in any close connection with the Dreamspinner?"
Charmian thought for a moment. "I don't think so," she said. "But I'm not sure."
"Then he may not be able to find him on his own, at least not in this manner. I do not know enough to say for sure."
Charmian's brow furrowed as she climbed from Sikt's back, the two demons turning and descending over the edge of the hill again. "Then how..."
"He is your friend, and the Dreamspinner is your friend as well; are they not? If so, then just leave it to them. I believe you have greater things you should be concerned about right now."
Charmian's mouth twitched in irritation but she obeyed, and they entered the fort. Fort Holmes was little more than a hollowed-out mound with logs placed along the rim, and a wooden entryway leading inside; they walked into the bowl-shaped depression and wandered about the grass for a bit before Charmian sat down near the sloping earthen wall, Moon Wolf pacing atop the log parapets and keeping watch over the downward side of the Island. After a little while Charmian opened up the pouch again and poured the small round objects into one hand, rolling them back and forth.
"How do I even know how much to take, anyway? It's not like they come with a recommended dosage..."
"I would take only one if I were you, and then if that fails to help, try another."
"Do you really think they'd give me some sort of weird drug just because they don't trust me?"
"I do not know enough of your relations with the Michinimakinong to say. You said you had spoken with Geezhigo-Quae?"
Charmian nodded. Moon Wolf glanced down at her. "She's tall and has long white and blue hair," she said, sensing his curiosity. "Her eyes are blue too. And she has wings. She lives in this big weird Tree with doors and windows all over in it, and its leaves look like the sky."
"The Sky Tree," Moon Wolf murmured, then turned to look into the distance again. "I had heard of it before, but never knew if any of it was real. I do not know of any Islanders who have been allowed into the Fairy Realm." He paused. "That would make you the first."
"Yeah? Well...she didn't seem too confident in me." Charmian looked at the small pellets in her hand. "I thought maybe Niskigwun trusted me a bit more...but if she told him to follow me, then who knows..."
"Niskigwun...?" Moon Wolf echoed, and she realized she hadn't yet told him about the Michinimakinong. She opened her mouth to explain when Moon Wolf suddenly bent over almost double, grasping his arms and baring his teeth. She started to ask him what was wrong when it hit her as well, and she spilled the pellets in her lap, grabbing her own arms and chattering wildly. She had to snatch at the pellets to keep them from flying away when a cold wind started whipping around the hollow, nearly knocking Moon Wolf from his perch; he jumped down into the fort instead and jogged her way, having to keep himself low to the ground. Charmian shoved the pellets back in their pouch and struggled to her feet.
"What--" she had to yell over the whistling noise, though that was all she managed to get out. For as soon as she said it, the wind sucked itself up into a funnel, and something fell out of the sky to strike the ground before them with a yelp and a thud.
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