Shocking news from Chakenapok leaves Charmian struggling for her life...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Return To Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 46: Into The Shadows"
The Cry From The Grave
CHARMIAN STARED WIDE eyed and fearful into Chakenapok's own eyes, that strange yellow staring right back at her. His hand clamped onto her wrist so she couldn't pull away, and he opened his mouth to speak, the sound coming out like a cross between a croak and a whisper.
Charmian froze. Every sort of emotion--panic, confusion, fear--flitted through her head and then mixed all together, so she didn't even remember to try to pull loose anymore. All she could do was continue staring at him in disbelief at what she'd just heard.
"H--help you--?" she echoed, not understanding. He'd just about been ready to kill her a moment ago!
"Help me!" Chakenapok gasped again, and his fingers dug into her wrist even harder, making her bite her lip. His eyes were still yellow, but the look of pure terror there seemed real enough.
Is he trying to trick me--? What would he want my HELP for? Is this part of the game--?
She shook her head, and started pulling on her arm again. He still didn't let go, and even managed to raise his head a little bit, the motion causing a fresh bolt of pain to shoot up her forearm from the cut Moon Wolf had given her. "Ow!" she cried, clasping it with her free hand. "You're hurting me--!"
"You have to--help me!" Chakenapok exclaimed, still in the same whisper-thin voice. She met his eyes again and nearly started when she saw that they were filled with tears. He looked exactly the same as the person who'd just been trying to set her on fire--but he was acting completely different. Had the spirit stone attack worked after all, or was it a trick--?
"I didn't mean it," Chakenapok suddenly said, making her pause yet again. It sounded as if every word pained him, and he had to wheeze for breath. "I didn't--mean it!"
"Mean--mean what?" Charmian stammered, beyond bewildered.
"I didn't mean to--do it!"
"Do what?" By now she was just about ready to run screaming through the wall, if only he would let go!
"Hurt--" She hadn't thought he could possibly grip her any tighter, but he did, and she yelped at the stinging in her wrist. If he was apologizing, he was doing a pretty poor job of it! "--Die--born--" Chakenapok continued, and the last word especially caught her attention so her head jerked up and she looked him in the face. Now that she looked at him again, his grip on her wrist slackened just slightly, and he struggled to suck in a breath to speak more clearly.
"I didn't--mean to--do it," he whispered, and Charmian's brow furrowed in confusion.
"Wenonah...?" she asked. When his eyes showed recognition of the name she felt realization strike her. "You didn't mean to kill her--?"
The tears filled Chakenapok's eyes again and she knew that was in fact what he meant. "I didn't mean to do it!" he echoed himself, and Charmian felt her heart jump. She clasped his hand in her own.
"I believe you!"
The tears finally spilled out of his eyes, and she felt her heart jump again. It worked! I did it! I got through to him! She smiled at him, her own face wet, and held his hand as hard as she could. "I know you didn't mean to do it!" she exclaimed. "I know you didn't mean to hurt anyone. I believe you!"
The faintest glimmer of hope appeared in Chakenapok's eyes--then he gasped and let go of her so abruptly that she cried out and fell backwards, landing hard on the ground. She shook her head and looked up in time to see him start writhing, his hands flying to his chest as if he were having a heart attack. He let out an indescribable sound that made her shudder; still, she clambered to her feet and dashed to him.
"Chakenapok--?" she had to shout over the noise he made. "What is it? Did I hurt you--?"
His face contorted and he rolled over onto his side, curling in on himself. "You--have to--go!" he barely managed to croak out, and between his clawing fingers she could see something glowing. She gasped and dropped down beside him.
"Your spirit stone! What's happening--?"
"Go!" She jumped when he barked this at her in a voice of pure panic; then he dragged his head up to meet her eyes, and she saw that the terror had returned to them, only now much worse than before. His eyes were flaring brilliant yellow and the flames tattooed on his face seemed to be glowing as well, throbbing in unison with the glare from his spirit stone. She almost went running when she saw the look there, yet held her ground, and even reached out her hand to him.
He bristled and bared his teeth, screaming so loudly that the cave seemed to shake. "GO NOW!!"
Charmian panicked and stumbled backwards, scrambling to her feet again. Chakenapok hissed and curled in on himself as if in agony; she started to back toward the stalagmite, but made herself stop. She clutched the cowrie shell around her neck and chewed on her lip before stepping toward him again.
"I won't leave you! Tell me how to help you!"
Chakenapok didn't answer her this time, just shrank in on himself even more, letting out a strange growling, whining noise which only grew louder and louder. The glow from his spirit stone was so bright that it seemed to surround him, and she feared that the explosion which hadn't come from the beam of light might have merely been delayed. But that made no sense--the light didn't destroy spirit stones. It had to be something else.
"I can help you!" she shouted, and reached out to touch his shoulder. "But you have to tell me how--!"
Chakenapok's head whipped up, teeth still bared--and his eyes flared like two flashbulbs. Charmian had enough time to pause. Then his hand shot up and grabbed her by the throat, cutting off the gasp she let out--and before she even knew what was happening, he had lifted her into the air, her feet dangling. Charmian gasped for breath, grabbing onto his hand and pulling at his fingers, but he was just as strong as ever. If anything he seemed even stronger now--he got to his feet, holding her over him, and the look on his face was snarling ugly and full of hate. She sought any trace of what she'd just seen in his eyes, but it was completely gone. The glow from the spirit stone vanished back into his chest and Chakenapok snarled at her.
"VERY stupid trick, Mainlander! You will not get the chance to try that AGAIN!"
Charmian managed to dig her fingers under his, just enough to loosen his grip over her windpipe, but other than that couldn't do anything. She craned her neck as far as she could, her eyes filling with tears.
"Ch...Chakenapok...!" she wheezed.
Chakenapok's face grew uglier than she would have thought possible. "Fool!" he hissed. "Chakenapok is dead!"
"He's...NOT dead!" She tilted her head down to meet his eyes, still glaring yellow, and swallowed convulsively in an attempt to find her voice. "Chak...Chakenapok! I know you're in there! I know--I know you can hear me!"
He let out a disgusted snarling sound and his sharp fingernails dug into her neck. "He cannot hear you! I KILLED HIM!"
With this he drew his arm back, and hurled her across the room. Charmian struck the cave wall and slid to the floor in a bruised heap. She put out one hand to painfully push herself upright, rubbing at her raw throat and coughing. She dragged her head up to see Chakenapok walking toward her. He lifted his hand and flames appeared around his fingers.
Charmian rolled over and sat up. "Chakenapok!" she croaked hoarsely. "I know you're not dead! You have to fight him!"
Chakenapok sneered. The flames in his hand grew brighter as he advanced.
"Useless attempt, Mainlander."
"I can't fight him on my own!" Charmian cried, scrambling to push herself up. "You have to fight him, Chakenapok!"
Chakenapok hurled the fireball at her. Charmian gasped and dodged to the side, just avoiding it, but her head still spun from the lack of oxygen and she stumbled and fell. Another fireball just missed hitting her in the head when she jumped back. She ducked behind the stalagmite, but he merely swept his arm through the air and a hot wind blasted the mineral to pieces. Charmian cowered where she was, watching him come toward her again, lifting his hand and letting the flames dance around it. The old malevolent amusement had returned to his eyes, and she quailed when she realized that the Chakenapok from a moment ago was gone.
"Chakenapok!" she yelled in a mixture of fury and desperation, clenching her fists. "I know you can do it! FIGHT HIM OFF!"
She had to throw up her arms in front of her face when the fire came flying at her. She felt it sear her arms, yet it didn't burn; she remembered again that this was only a dream, and lifted her head, feeling a bit of her courage return.
I'm imagining it! He can't hurt me in a dream--!
She let out a choked noise when he bent down and abruptly grabbed her up again, pinning her by her neck to the wall. She clawed at his fingers; at least she could still breathe, albeit with difficulty. Chakenapok gave a slight smile and held up his free hand, which started glowing.
"Remember this move, Mainlander?"
He brought his hand up before her chest and the glow flared even brighter. Charmian's eyes goggled when she saw her spirit stone revealed--then she screamed, feeling the light searing through her flesh.
It's--it's a dream--! He's not supposed to hurt me--!!
Even telling herself this didn't seem to help the pain go away. Chakenapok started laughing as her scream grew louder, and she kicked her feet against the wall, tears running down her face. It wasn't so much the feeling of her heart ripping from her chest as the flaming agony all around it that made her want to go insane or vanish completely; NOTHING had ever hurt so much!
He's going to kill me--!
* * * * *
Deep in the woods, the wounded manitou resting at the base of the tree lurched as if suddenly shocked, then threw back his head and let out a shattering whistle.
* * * * *
In the cave below Fort Holmes, Tal Natha jerked and hissed, his wings flaring. His eyes went wide, then squeezed shut; he hunched in on himself, shaking hard, and his claws raked against the cave wall.
Red Bird jumped to her feet and hurried to him, Dakh and Sikt moving close as well. "Tal Natha--!"
The demon continued quaking, baring his teeth in a silent snarl. After a moment he lifted his head and bellowed at the cave wall, his wings spreading wide enough to fill the small space. Red Bird cringed back from him, Dakh and Sikt shielding her with their wings; she clutched at their feathers and stared wide eyed at her mate as he turned in circles, shaking his head and growling and seeming to be trying to shake off something invisible.
* * * * *
The gray mist gathered, streams of every size and color--dreams--flitting past, some quickly, some slow. Tal Natha's eyes feverishly scanned every one--a mere second seeming to take an eternity--before he found the one he recognized. He swung out his hand, slicing through the stream with one claw. It snapped in two like a broken cord, one end flailing away, the other continuing on its path along with the others. Then a dull pounding filled Tal Natha's head, and he painfully retreated.
* * * * *
Ping. Chakenapok glanced down when his hold on Charmian's spirit stone evaporated into nothing; he had enough time to look back up into her twisted face, before she faded away before his eyes, leaving his hands empty.
* * * * *
Pakwa leapt several feet into the air, ears flicking wildly. Moon Wolf and Thomas jumped to their feet, eyes wide. Charmian pushed herself away from the fort wall, thrashing and screaming. Her pack fell to the side with a clunk; the two rushed to her sides and grabbed at her arms before she could hurt herself, but even restrained she continued screaming and struggling.
"What's wrong with her--?" Thomas cried out over the noise. Charmian's eyes were still squeezed shut, and she hardly even seemed to notice their hold on her. Pakwa clambered overhead and stared at the scene as if entranced.
"Something's gone wrong!" was all Moon Wolf could say. He pressed his hand to her head, then drew it back with a hiss. Thomas bit his lip and squeezed her arm as hard as he dared.
"Charmian! Can you hear me--?"
Long Knife! Thomas's head jerked upright, and he saw Pakwa and Moon Wolf react in the same way to the sudden voice. She is relieved of her dream. You must wake her now!
Thomas blinked, then turned his attention back to Charmian. He shook her roughly, then when that did nothing, gritted his teeth and squeezed her arm again. Moon Wolf started when ice crystals formed on his fingers and crusted around Charmian's upper arm, and let go of her to rub at his own arms, suddenly cold. Charmian's scream finally died--her eyes flicked open, then squinched shut again and she curled in on herself, shaking and whimpering. Thomas and Moon Wolf carefully settled her back against the fort wall, lifting her head and pulling at her arms. Thomas gaped and Moon Wolf sucked in a breath.
Charmian's clothing was mostly untouched, though the bottom of her neck, just visible over the top of her shirt, was blistered violent red and raw. Moon Wolf leaned forward and very gently took the edge of her shirt in his fingers, pulling it back slightly. The look on his face made it clear that the extent of the injury was even worse than it appeared.
"What happened to her?" Thomas asked in a low voice, as if afraid of waking her up again.
"Something must have gone wrong."
"Should she be burned like that?"
"She said she had to meet this Chakenapok in the dream realm? If so, then no--he should not have been able to do this. This must be why the Dreamspinner severed the dream. Even he could not control it."
Charmian whimpered, curling her arms in again and shaking. Thomas bit his lip, then leaned toward her and picked her up, rising to his feet. Moon Wolf followed as he made his way to the fort door.
"Where are you going?"
"Justin Dupries can heal her. I saw it myself."
"Wait!" Thomas stopped and turned his head. Moon Wolf put his fingers to his mouth and whistled; a brief moment passed, then two manitous emerged from the side of the fort itself, trotting forward.
Thomas looked at them indecisively, remembering seeing Charmian ride hers. "Can they carry her safely enough?" he called out, then, before Moon Wolf could answer, he turned back to the other side of the fort wall and climbed up it as best as he could, considering he couldn't use his hands. He stopped halfway up and kicked a clod of earth upwards, thunking Pakwa in the head. The GeeBee jumped and shook his head and Thomas held Charmian up toward him.
"Take her to the Dupries place! Go as fast as you can. Be careful with her!"
Pakwa hopped down the remainder of the slope and scooped Charmian up in his arms, then hopped back up to the top and jumped from the wall. He soared over their heads and far out over the hill, vanishing from sight. Thomas grabbed Charmian's pack and turned back to Moon Wolf and the waiting manitous, running to one and climbing atop its back as Moon Wolf followed suit. In hardly any time at all the two bounded from the fort and far down the slope in the same direction that Pakwa had gone.
* * * * *
Little Dove sat in the parlor, trying futilely to embroider a flower design upon a piece of cloth. More often than not she simply succeeded in jabbing her fingers with the needle, and more than a few times she nearly pulled all the thread loose in a fit before forcing herself to calm down and keep going. Lady Dupries always made it look so easy, and Little Dove's fingers were even smaller than hers were. Why then was it so impossible to do even a straight line...?
Something loud thudded upon the roof of the house, and her head popped up in surprise. She heard scrabbling noises overhead, then another thunk from the front porch, and put the embroidery aside to pick up a fire iron. She'd never been afraid of squirrels, but that sounded like the world's largest one.
Page stood on tiptoes upon a padded stool, peering out the front window. He turned to call out to her.
Little Dove stalked toward the window with the fire iron in her hands, wielding it like a bat. She nudged Page down from the stool and pushed the drapes aside, then let out a little scream when she saw the gaunt, yellow-eyed face peering back in. Then she saw what the GeeBee was holding, and gasped and stepped forward again to get a better look.
* * * * *
Charmian was laid out carefully on the small couch in the parlor, Lady Dupries pressing a cold wet cloth to her chest until Justin could be found. Page sat upon the stool, bouncing a toy upon his knee and watching the scene as if curious. Thomas stood nearby, chewing on his thumbnail and pacing a little. The way Charmian grimaced and refused to open her eyes bothered him. Even the two other women's attention didn't seem to be helping her any, judging by the pained whimpers she continued letting out.
Justin showed up soon enough, though it seemed like forever to Thomas. Lady Dupries and Little Dove moved aside as he knelt down beside her and looked at the visible part of her burn, a pensive expression on his face.
"A burn--? I don't believe I've ever seen her burned before. At least, not so badly. Cuts and bruises, but never anything like this..."
Thomas stepped forward. "You took care of her when she had that spirit stone thing. Can you take care of this--?"
"I should be able to. Page burned his hand when he was little; this should not be much different." Justin touched his fingers to Charmian's chest as he had before and fell silent. The other four held their breath and waited. First Charmian's arms glowed, and what could be seen of the cuts on them beneath their bandages faded away. A moment passed...then Justin's brow furrowed, his look growing confused. He lifted his hand and looked at it, the burn to Charmian's chest still visible.
Thomas stared at him, then stepped forward. "Can you do anything--?"
"It's not working." Justin touched his hand to her chest again. Thomas's impatience flared and he raised his voice.
"What do you mean, it's not working? You mean you can't do anything for her?"
"Nothing's happening!" Justin seemed more frustrated than indignant, and he reluctantly pulled his hand away a second time, rubbing at his head. "It's always worked before...I can't see why it would not work now. Her cuts are gone, but not this." He looked at Thomas, who had started chewing on his lip again. "How did she get this injury--?"
He had to quickly back out of the way when Thomas moved forward and picked Charmian up from the couch, turning and heading for the door. He fumbled to get it open while the others stared at him, perplexed.
"Where are you taking her--?" Justin called out.
"To someone who can help!" Thomas yelled back, before disappearing out the door.
Moon Wolf and the manitous waited out in the yard. The medicine man rose to his feet on seeing Thomas still carrying Charmian; he frowned but said nothing as Thomas handed her back to Pakwa, who still crouched on the windowsill.
"Take her and go the Fairy Arch, on the East Bluff. Wait for us there. Be careful!"
"Fairy Arch...?" Moon Wolf craned his neck to watch Pakwa fly up into the air and off over the trees. He cast Thomas a confused look as Thomas climbed atop the manitou again.
"What are you going to do?" he demanded, pulling himself atop his own manitou and following Thomas as he bounded from the yard and into the woods.
"That Michinimakinong gave her those sleeping pellets," Thomas had to shout over his shoulder. "The next thing we know she's waking up like this!"
"It was Chakenapok who wounded her."
"How do we know it was not something the Michinimakinong planned? For all we know this is THEIR fault! He told her those things would be harmless!" They stopped talking now, as the speed of the manitous made it impractical to continue yelling. The creatures leapt from hill to hill, reaching the East Bluff and descending as easily and quickly as if they were rappelling down upon ropes. It was only the presence of Pakwa which alerted them to the need to stop, as the Arch was barely visible from above, the area so choked with undergrowth. The GeeBee perched upon the rock, but he drifted to the ground when they clambered down from the manitous, which then turned and trotted away, and pushed their way through the weeds and bushes. Thomas took Charmian from him--she looked to be unconscious, though she still occasionally shivered and let out a tiny whimper--and then turned to stare at the Arch in silence. Moon Wolf came up beside him, staring at the rock as well.
"Why here?" he said after a moment.
"She went through here before. She says it leads to the Michinimakinong."
Moon Wolf frowned. "This is not just a story, then?"
"Apparently not." Thomas took several steps back from the rock. "If that Niskigwun is the one who gave her those things, then he'll be through there." His face set almost in a scowl and he suddenly ran forward, ducking his head and plunging through the archway with Charmian in tow. Moon Wolf had enough time to throw out one arm and open his mouth in surprise before the two vanished from sight. He stood and gawked in disbelief when Pakwa bounded forward and jumped through as well, leaving him completely alone in the woods. He looked at the rock with his mouth hanging open, but there was nobody there, not even when he peered through the hole. He reached one hand forward to gingerly poke it through, then withdrew it before he could, and rubbed at his fingers as if cold. He stared again at the Arch instead, his brow furrowing in consternation.
* * * * *
Just before entering the archway, Thomas closed his eyes tight, not knowing what to expect. He thought he felt something tug at him as he made it through the entrance, then again as he suddenly felt the presence of gravity again, and fell from wherever he'd been seconds before. He opened his eyes in time to see the ground rushing up at him and he tumbled down the slope from the exit, clasping Charmian to him the entire way. He landed on the ground half on top of her, and for once was grateful that she was unconscious so she couldn't see the color rise in his face. He started to get up, only to be halted by a pain in his arm and a rustle from just above him. He lifted his head abruptly.
His eyes almost went crossed focusing on the spearhead pointed right between them. He recognized the Michinimakinong Charmian had been talking to before--at least he hoped it was him, unless they all looked alike--and felt a twinge of anger.
"Niskigwun--?" he blurted out; the Turtle Fairy blinked, and he knew it was him. Then he remembered why he'd come in the first place, and pushed himself up and moved back. Charmian lay on her back on the ground, one arm clasped to her chest and a wince on her face. Niskigwun's eyes widened on seeing her.
"She's wounded," was all Thomas said.
Niskigwun stared at her a second more, before stooping and picking her up. One flick and his wingcase fell to his side; his wings spread, and before Thomas could even speak he had leapt into the air, taking Charmian with him. Thomas stumbled to his feet.
He cut himself off with a gasp when something grabbed onto his shoulders and yanked him upwards as well. Swiveling his head around, he could see the GeeBee--Pakwa--above him. Without a word he lifted Thomas into the air and followed right after Niskigwun and Charmian, who by now were disappearing in the direction of a giant...tree?
Thomas blinked and drew in a breath when he saw the massive Tree rising before them, its opalescent leaves glimmering in the sunlight, its trunk shifting from midnight blue to powder blue to cerulean and back again. The Michinimakinong was fast, but Pakwa seemed to be a little faster; still, the other two had already landed and dashed off by the time Pakwa dropped him off on a wide limb, and Thomas had a few false starts before making out the direction they'd gone in and running after them. The whole place was a labyrinthine network of intersecting and overlapping branches and limbs and ladders, with the occasional sections blocked by leaves or dangling crystals; he nearly fell so many times that he wondered how anyone could live up here and hope to live for very long. He came across numerous doors and entrances, and each time slowed, yet kept on running; something in the back of his mind told him none of these could be the right ones. Instead he kept to the main pathway, and at last caught sight of Niskigwun ahead, just as he reached a large round doorway in the trunk of the Tree. Thomas watched the door disappear as the two stepped inside, then it faded back into view behind them. Without thinking he went running at it. Even if he couldn't open it in the same way, perhaps he could batter it down.
* * * * *
A soft noise from the opposite side of the room made Geezhigo-Quae's ear flick, and she turned her head. Niskigwun appeared from the shadows, stumbling toward the center of the room. He halted abruptly, panting, and only now could she make out the limp form he carried in his arms, and her eyes widened.
"Grandmother--" Niskigwun said, before the soft noise came again, and both of them glanced toward the hall leading past the doorway. A third figure came running in, elbow crooked before him as if expecting to batter something down; Thomas lost his balance on the sloping floor and tumbled down toward the middle of the room, landing not far from Niskigwun. He pushed himself up, glancing around with wide eyes; he spotted Geezhigo-Quae first and his face went white, then he saw Niskigwun and Charmian, and he got to his feet again. He pulled her from the Michinimakinong's arms before he could even protest, though the look Niskigwun got on his face as Thomas turned away from him was livid. He turned to the tall woman in white himself, lowering Charmian and settling her gently on the floor so her head rested against its slope. He looked up at Geezhigo-Quae again, meeting her sharp blue eyes.
"Can you help her?" he asked, his voice desperate.
Geezhigo-Quae stared at him, ears flaring; then nodded once sharply at Niskigwun, who had put his hand on his spear and was giving Thomas a malevolent look. The Michinimakinong reluctantly retreated, though not very far; Geezhigo-Quae descended from her balcony and knelt down by Charmian, looking her over. By now Charmian was breathing shallowly, her face pale and damp. One hand clutched at her chest as if stuck there. Geezhigo-Quae frowned.
"What type of injury is this...?" she murmured.
"She got it from Chakenapok," Thomas said.
Geezhigo-Quae lifted her head and furrowed her brow at him. "Did she not contact him within a dream?"
"With sleeping pellets he gave her," Thomas said, jerking his head at Niskigwun. Niskigwun's wings flared and he clutched his spear.
"They are good medicine! This injury has nothing to do with us!"
"And how do I know that for certain--?" Thomas retorted, but a gesture from Geezhigo-Quae halted their argument. They both fell silent when she held one long hand out over Charmian's breast, not touching her as Justin had, but keeping it just inches from her body. As they watched, her fingers slowly grew white, and then the whiteness spread over Charmian until she seemed to lose all color, her hair and face and clothing going pure white. Thomas sucked in an anxious breath but managed to hold his tongue; after a moment the white began to recede, drawing back toward Charmian's chest like milk flowing down a drain. When it had reached the spot of her injury it vanished into Geezhigo-Quae's hand again, and she pulled it away, staring down into Charmian's face. Thomas and Niskigwun leaned forward and did likewise.
Charmian lay on the floor in silence for a moment. Then after a tense pause she sucked in a breath, and opened her eyes.
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