Charmian makes plans to set off on a mysterious journey...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Return To Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 48: Echoes"
CHARMIAN STARED AT Geezhigo-Quae in disbelief, then stepped up to the round doorway to lean her head out. At first she thought it might be some sort of skilled illusion...yet it had to be a very good one, as when she leaned out she could feel a warm breeze upon her face, could hear birds singing from all around, and could still smell that slight salty scent in the air. She looked to her side, expecting to see the outside of the Sky Tree, yet aside from the round doorway she leaned out of there was nothing but the landscape around her. This startled her so much that she cried out and jerked back inside lest she tumble out and get lost in that strange place.
Thomas caught her arm. Geezhigo-Quae held up her hand and the door which had vanished before now reappeared, moving forward and sealing off the odd sight. The cabochon glowed again and then went dark.
Charmian continued staring at the doorway, rubbing the cowrie around her neck. She looked to Geezhigo-Quae for an explanation.
Geezhigo-Quae just gestured at her pack. "You have something in there, which you used to find your way back here."
Charmian paused, then pulled her pack off and dug around in it. She pulled out the dreamcatcher and held it up, giving it a puzzled look. Geezhigo-Quae took it and held it up as well, running one finger along the web.
"What were you told of where this came from?"
"Not anything, really," Charmian admitted. "I just got it as a gift...I figured she got it from a store or something."
"This may very well be true, yet this is not like the other dreamcatchers I have seen. Do you know what these are made of?"
Charmian looked at the web, then shook her head. "String or something...?" She saw Niskigwun hide his face and could tell he must be snickering at her, and blushed slightly, fuming. Geezhigo-Quae shook her head.
"At least a few of these strands are of the Island itself. They were created by the Weavers. How they came into the hands of a maker of trifles for sale, I do not know, yet somehow they apparently did. It was the Weavers' medicine which allowed you to come to the Island when the moon shone upon your dreamcatcher."
"Weavers?" Charmian took the dreamcatcher back and looked at it with renewed interest. She twanged one of the strands and realized that some of them did seem to have a texture different from the others. "Grandma gave me a magical dreamcatcher?" she asked in disbelief.
"Weaver medicine is similar to that which is used in the Fairy Arch," Geezhigo-Quae explained. "It allows travel from one location to another far distant, in much less time than it would usually take."
Charmian glanced up at the doorway. "So...this door has that kind of medicine, too?"
"The Sky Tree itself possesses this type of medicine. There are some who say all of this medicine comes from the Weavers themselves, as they are of the underworld, into which trees and rocks reach. Every door you see before you leads to a different place far removed from here, some of them in the Island's realm, some of them in this realm or in another."
Charmian looked at several of the doors, then walked toward one with a dark blue cabochon. She gingerly pressed her hand to the crystal and it lit up blue, then the door retreated. She found herself staring impossibly at what seemed to be a wall of water standing on its side. Vague shapes swam around through the water, and a few of them even drew closer as if seeing her. She recognized the same large lazy eyes she'd seen in the stream on the Island, and gasped and hurriedly waved her hand at the doorway. The door returned and she took a step back and let out her breath, turning to Geezhigo-Quae.
"Nebanaubae!" she exclaimed, needlessly.
The old woman nodded. "That doorway leads into their realm." Charmian tried out another doorway with a dark green cabochon and saw a large stand of mixed trees which seemed to stretch for miles. "That is the mainland, of a time much before your own."
Charmian held up her hand and the door returned. "Cool," she whispered in awe. She turned around once more and approached the others.
"So if I go through that door--" she pointed at the first one with the blue-green crystal "--then it'll take me right to Glooskap? I won't have to go back to the mainland and walk for hundreds of miles?"
"This doorway leads only into the land of his people," Geezhigo-Quae replied. "You would have a journey of about two days before reaching the big water, and from there finding Glooskap himself."
"Two days." Charmian fiddled with her cowrie shell and stared at the door hopefully. "That's not nearly as bad as what I thought it'd be." She looked back with a large grin spreading across her face, then faltered. "But--how do you get back through? I'd be stuck over there, wouldn't I?"
"Normally, you would, as you do not know this type of medicine. If you could convince Glooskap to accompany you, however, I doubt he would have much trouble finding his way back to the Island. We knew one another, a long time ago, before the Island was destroyed."
Charmian continued looking at the door and twirling the cowrie shell around in her fingers. She couldn't keep the hopeful look from her face. Two days isn't that bad! All I have to do is go through there and convince Glooskap to come back with me--then maybe he can help me figure out what's going on. If this thing is really Malsum, and if he defeated him once, then he must be able to do it again!
A little part of her niggled at her not to be so optimistic--every other idea she'd had so far had seemed to end in near-disaster--yet couldn't help it; this was the best good news she'd had in a while. "You are going to go through with this...?" she heard Geezhigo-Quae ask, and turned to face her.
She nodded. "I have to go back and get ready first...but I'll try it. It can't be any harder than anything else I've tried so far!"
"And what of your spirit stone?"
Charmian's spirits faltered a little and her shoulders sank. "I guess I'll think about it when the time comes," she said, unable to think of any other response. She'd almost forgotten about it, truthfully.
Geezhigo-Quae stared at her pointedly. "Wouldn't you rather work on resolving that issue, instead of taking up this?"
Charmian had to bite back a flare of anger. "What good is my spirit stone if the Island's gone?" she nearly snapped. "It wouldn't even be worth it. I'd rather have my spirit go bad than watch everybody else's do the same."
There was no further comment, so she turned to Thomas and waved. "Come on. I have to go back through and get some things ready to come back here. If it's two days, then I'm gonna need some food and stuff."
Thomas complied and they both headed back toward the entrance to the room. Just as she stepped through the doorway she heard Geezhigo-Quae speak.
"You do realize that if you manage to defeat this Chakenapok, then your spirit will be cleared. He will no longer have any hold over you."
Charmian halted, then looked slowly over her shoulder. Both Geezhigo-Quae and Niskigwun were staring at her. Her brow furrowed in confusion.
"Why didn't you tell me that earlier...?"
Geezhigo-Quae lifted her head slightly, sapphire eyes glinting. The reason behind all of her questions dawned on Charmian, and she finally understood.
A test. That's what all of that was. She was testing me! To see if I really mean it or not!
Charmian drew herself up. "I always keep my word," she said. "And I never give it unless I mean it."
She felt almost like smirking at the slight satisfied look which flitted through the old woman's eyes. The look on Niskigwun's face was a lot different, however--although he didn't smile, she sensed that he wanted to. She turned away before anyone could say anything else, and waved at Thomas once more. They turned and silently left the hub of the Sky Tree.
* * * * *
"What you said to her in there," Thomas murmured as they wandered out onto one of the wide smooth branches away from the center of the Tree. "You really do mean it...?"
"I wouldn't have said it otherwise," Charmian replied, staring at the worn surface of the blue branch. She fiddled with the cowrie shell. "Though I'm not really sure most of the time if I can follow through."
"So you're really going to go through that door, even not knowing what's on the other side?" Thomas lifted his head and pursed his lips. "You have a real set on you, for a girl."
Charmian's face flushed. Pakwa came clambering along the branch ahead of them and Charmian cast Thomas a curious look. "Did he come through with you...?"
Thomas nodded. "It's a good thing, too, because otherwise I have no clue how I would've gotten up this Tree. Have you any idea how high this thing is...?" He slowed to a stop to look down over the branch, and Charmian saw his face go white. She grinned.
"Don't tell me you're afraid of heights! The last guy I was here with was scared of heights. Not that it stopped him from being a pest." She went red again. "I'm not saying you're a pest! Just that he was, and he was scared of heights too, and...well..."
"I rather think I'd like to get back down," Thomas interrupted, and she saw his face had changed from white to gray. She hurriedly gestured at Pakwa, who was scratching his ear with his hind foot like a dog.
"Let him take you down first! I'm good. He can come up and get me after."
Thomas nodded without saying a word, and Pakwa jumped into the air, hovering and grabbing Thomas under the arms again. A look of pure panic crossed Thomas's face before the two vanished from sight, and Charmian looked down to see them zooming toward the ground, Thomas screaming the entire way. She rubbed at her eyes and made a face.
"He really has to work on his people skills..."
A moment or so later Pakwa returned to carry her back to the ground, and the three of them made their way back to the gateway. Charmian felt a bit of embarrassment that she wasn't able to locate it on her own, as it was so difficult to see; she entered it first, jumping in with her hands spread out in front of her, and felt the strange zooming weightlessness take hold before spitting her out the other side, her hands managing to break her fall so she tumbled in a somersault. She came upright again to see Moon Wolf before her--and he promptly yelled and jumped back, falling over into the bushes, his eyes as large as saucers. Thomas landed off to her side, only not so gracefully, Pakwa coming out last almost like a cannonball and bouncing off a tree with both hands and feet, to perch atop the Arch itself. He settled and started cleaning himself as if nothing had happened while Thomas pushed himself up with a groan.
"Moon Wolf...?" Charmian peered at him with a puzzled frown, pushing herself up as well. "Why didn't you come through with us...?"
Moon Wolf carefully pulled himself up and looked her up and down, his brow furrowing. Charmian looked at herself as well. "Oh, yeah. I'm better now. Well...mostly." She turned to Thomas, who was grimacing and dusting off his clothes. "Thomas! I need some people to come with me, obviously. Do you think you'd be able to?"
"What?" He lifted his head to give her a surprised look. "You mean you'd want me to come along--?"
She scowled and swiped at his arm. "I could leave you behind, if you want!"
"No, no, I was only joking. Of course I'll come...that doorway seemed rather intriguing, if you really think we'd be able to make it back again."
"Well, aside from those weird pellets, I don't really have much reason to think they'd lie to me. And maybe I just had a bad reaction. You know, non-drowsy cold pills make me all drowsy." She stuck out her tongue, then turned back to Moon Wolf, her face lighting up. "You too, Moon Wolf! Would you like to come?"
"Come...?" Moon Wolf echoed, brushing leaves from his arms.
"Oh, right. We just came back from the Sky Tree--that's where Geezhigo-Quae lives." His expression changed to one of seeming awe and she found herself rather surprised that anything she did would awe him. "She thinks that Chakenapok might be connected to somebody else named Glooskap..."
"Glooskap." Moon Wolf frowned. "This is the name of the manitou of another people."
"...And said that maybe if we found him, we could figure out how to deal with Chakenapok."
"These people live very far away," Moon Wolf said.
"I know. That's what Thomas and I were just talking about...Geezhigo-Quae has a way for us to get there in about two days, but we have to go through the Sky Tree, and I don't really like the thought of going through alone. So I have to get some stuff ready and figure out who to take with me." She smiled at him. "What do you say? I could use you along, if things get tough."
Moon Wolf stared at her for a moment, then looked at the Arch. She sensed he wouldn't answer her, at least voluntarily, and so walked past him, tapping him on the arm as if tagging him. "Okay, you're in," she said, and he opened his mouth in surprise, though she didn't wait for him to protest, if he was even going to. "Now I just have to find Manabozho..."
"I'll head back to town and pick us up some supplies," Thomas said. He looked at Pakwa and made a face. "If he would be so kind as to drag me back there, at least to the main road..."
"Don't worry, he'll drag you anywhere I tell him to," Charmian said, and she waved at the GeeBee. "Go on, you're the one who picked him up in the first place."
"Dreamspinner said to do," Pakwa said in a blank voice which she assumed was as close as he'd ever come to protesting.
"Yeah, but you still need to learn manners. I'll give you another candy bar when you get back, if you set him down outside town without breaking any bones."
Pakwa jumped up again and grabbed Thomas by the arms. Thomas let out an odd strangled sound before yelling, "MY bones or HIS bones--?!"--and then they were gone. Charmian stared at the spot where they'd just been and chewed on her lip.
"Hmm...he's right...I didn't really say which." She sighed and turned back to Moon Wolf. "I guess they'll manage." She started on her way back up the bluff, grabbing onto saplings. "Come on, I still have to find Manabozho somewhere, and he's hard to find."
They made their way back up to the top in silence, at least, as silently as they could considering they had to grab onto every nearby plant along the way to avoid falling to the lakeshore below. Eventually the land leveled out somewhat and a trail appeared from the undergrowth, and Charmian sighed tiredly and brushed at her arms and legs as they walked. She didn't even know if she remembered the exact path to the hidden wigwam deep in the woods where Manabozho's daughter lived, nor if he would even be there, but she supposed it was the best place to start.
They had already walked a good way before Moon Wolf spoke up and said, "Your spirit stone."
Charmian blinked and looked at him. He gestured at her chest, his face guarded.
"He did not simply burn you. I have seen you fight, and a burn would not disable you like that."
"I got it in the dream realm."
"This makes little difference. I know you better."
Charmian's gaze fell and she stared at the path a moment or two as they walked. They both came to a gradual stop and stood in silence for a while before she sighed and lifted her hand to her chest. A faint glow appeared, then Moon Wolf leaned forward to peer at her spirit stone as it revealed itself. She could tell he noticed the black swirls now forming around it, and his expression grew troubled, as if despite his words he hadn't expected to see them. He met her eyes, but she had to look away.
"I know. You tried to warn me." She lowered her hand and the glow disappeared, then she fiddled with the cowrie shell around her neck. "You know," she said after a moment, "I never even really meant to use it. It just kind of happened, each time. I even told Snow Bear I wouldn't use it, and I really thought it would be easy not to...but it's like I'm not even thinking when it happens. When it brought you and Chakenapok back, I didn't even feel bad about it. I thought, maybe since it's working..."
"The easy path is usually not the best one," Moon Wolf said. Charmian sighed and nodded.
"I know! And a wabano won't give you something for nothing. When he said I already paid, I thought he meant the tobacco. He didn't bother telling me otherwise!"
"This is the way wabanos are. You're best advised not to deal with them again."
"What's worst is even he tried to warn me, but of course I didn't get it until now." She let go of the cowrie shell and started walking again, more slowly than before. She concentrated on the sound of their feet hitting the earth for a time.
"Moon Wolf...why did you become a wabano if you didn't want to use your powers?"
He looked at her again, seeming wary.
"Stick told me you never used them for anything bad," she clarified. "Since that seems to be the point of being a wabano, then why did you become one if you didn't want to use them?"
He stared at her for a little while, then turned back to the trail. "They were not worth the price," he said quietly.
Charmian tilted her head. "You mean, wabanos have to pay a price, too?"
"Everyone must eventually pay for what they've taken. Nothing comes free."
"What did you have to pay?"
This time the silence was even longer. She started to think he wasn't going to bother replying, and turned to look back at the trail in anticipation of the end of their conversation, when at last he answered.
"A part of myself."
Charmian frowned. She looked at him again for clarification but he continued up the trail ahead of her. She had to shake herself out of her daze and jog to catch up, and pulled up beside him, panting slightly.
"A part of yourself...?" she echoed. "Who did you have to pay it to?"
"This was long ago," Moon Wolf said, not bothering to look at her. "It is in the past and doesn't matter. You are the one now figuring out how to work out your payment."
"Yeah..." Charmian put her hand to her chest, feeling a little foolish. "I guess I am. Well, Geezhigo says that if we can find a way to defeat Chakenapok soon enough, then I should be okay. So as soon as we find Manabozho, and get all our stuff together, then at least that step will be out of the..."
A loud whistling sound from ahead interrupted her, and they both lifted their heads to look. A large shadow came moving through the woods and for a moment the hairs on the back of Charmian's neck prickled as she thought of the Shadow Wolves--it had been quite a while since she'd been attacked by any--but when Mani appeared she let out her breath. She held up her hand to greet him but he immediately clomped toward them, swinging his head and whistling loudly so they both stopped and winced at the noise.
Mani reached them and stopped as well, still whistling. His eyes flashed blue and Charmian swallowed when she could make out what he was saying.
Red Land One vanish! Gone from the woods, did not seek the healer. Stayed injured, got injured again. Badly! Leave in the woods, do not call for help. Forget? Not care? Red Land One could have died! And Mani would not be there!
Charmian had to lift her hands and wave them, still wincing at the piercing sounds the manitou let out. "I...I know, I know," she tried to cut in. "I'm sorry! I didn't want to brush you off like that...but I didn't want you coming after me and getting hurt even more. It's bad enough that you get hurt every time I do..."
Mani does not care. To protect Red Land One! Duty! Can take being hurt--but Red Land One, what if you cannot? What would Mani do then?
"I just thought it'd be best if you stayed with your tribe and had them look after you until I was done. I didn't think that whole thing with my spirit stone would happen, honest! I'm sorry I left you behind, but if I'm in danger, I don't want you to be in danger too."
Mani's nostrils flared. Moon Wolf stood off to the side watching the scene. Does not matter! Red Land One matters. Protecting the Island. Mani protects Red Land One. Will not leave behind again.
Charmian's eyes widened. "But...you have a tribe to look after," she tried, pathetically.
The manitou simply snorted and whistled. Tribe fine on own! Where Red Land One is going, Mani is going too. No fighting. Will not change mind.
Now Charmian's jaw dropped. "You mean you're going to follow me?" she cried.
Mani tossed his head again. Red Land One already tricked once. Will not fall for it again. Where Red Land One going, Mani going. He raised his antlers in an imperious gesture. End of fighting!
Charmian groaned to herself. Moon Wolf stepped forward and touched her arm.
"I believe you have a shadow now," he said, and then continued up the trail, past the manitou. Mani watched him go, then turned back to Charmian and snorted, bobbing his head. She sighed and trudged past him.
"Fine, you can come...but don't blame me if you hurt your leg again."
She yelped when he butted her as she passed, and she made sure to cast him a dirty look over her shoulder as the three of them continued on their way.
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