Charmian can't get even one night's rest in this strange new realm...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Return To Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 50: Crossing Over"
Don't be afraid to be weak
Don't be too proud to be strong
Just look into your heart, my friend
That will be the return to yourself
The return to innocence
(The return to innocence)
If you want, then start to laugh
If you must, then start to cry
Be yourself, don't hide
Just believe in destiny
Don't care what people say
Just follow your own way
Don't give up, and use the chance
To return to innocence
That's not the beginning of the end
That's the return to yourself
The return to innocence
That's the return to innocence
"Return To Innocence"
©1993 Virgin Schallplatten GmbH./Charisma Records America, Inc.
All rights reserved
* * * * *
Land Of Confusion
CHARMIAN FLEW OUT into open space, and saw the edge of the Earth disappear before her--then the blackness of the steep slope below rose up to meet her. She let out a startled cry before her shoulder struck the ground and she went tumbling at an incredible speed, somehow managing to miss the numerous craggy rocks littering the slope but still banging her arms and legs against everything else within reach. She couldn't believe she managed to remain conscious the entire time she fell, cartwheeling for what seemed like forever. At last she struck one of the rocks and yelled in pain again, flying head over heels and then zooming down to meet the ground--when something at last grabbed hold of the back of her vest, halting her right before her face could smack into the earth. She stared wide eyed and dazed at the grass below, and even huffed a bit as if to sneeze, the blades tickling her nose.
Whatever had grabbed hold of her gently let her down so she landed with her hands beneath her. As soon as she could lift her head she saw the others at various spots around her, doing the same and rubbing at their heads with pained looks. Even Manabozho had to grimace and rub at a sore arm, as she guessed he'd tumbled a few times before managing to save himself. Thomas and Moon Wolf seemed to be the worst off of the bunch, but from what she could see they were all right, if somewhat battered. Cloud had landed on his side, and he struggled to push himself upright as Thomas went to see to him; fortunately the horse appeared to be none the worse for wear, despite the awful tumble they'd all taken. Charmian realized she'd forgotten about two of them, and glanced around her. Pakwa sat in a tree nearby, preening his arms, and she knew that he hadn't even tumbled once, windling that he was. She had to look over her shoulder to find Mani. He stood behind her, lifting one foreleg and shaking it. She rubbed at her arm and knew he was the one who'd grabbed hold of her vest before she could hit the bottom of the slope facefirst.
"Th...thanks, Mani," she said faintly. She had to take hold of his antler to stand up, wincing at a stab of pain in her knee and trying to rub it away as she looked around herself. One glance upward showed the extent of the slope they'd fallen down, and she wondered why they weren't in worse shape than they were. The Sky Tree had practically opened out onto a hill. As she looked around at the landscape surrounding them the others limped forward to stand nearby.
"Is everyone okay?" Charmian called out.
"I think so," Thomas replied, making a face and rubbing at his neck. "Although she could have given us some sort of warning about that."
"Where are we, exactly?" Manabozho asked in an irritated voice.
"Geezhigo-Quae said that from here, it's two days' journey to where Glooskap lives," Charmian answered.
He looked at her with a frown. "'Glooskap'?"
"That's the name of the person we're looking for. She said he's a powerful manitou." She started walking, and was grateful that the land sloped much more gently from here. Nevertheless, her legs hurt with every step, and she couldn't stop wincing. Mani limped behind her with one large antler just to the side of her arm in case she should fall. "From what she told me, a long time ago he went through something a lot like what your family went through. I'm thinking maybe then he'll know what to do."
"Even if he's seen something similar, then how is it possibly related?" Manabozho pressed as they made their way down the slope, Pakwa drifting overhead.
"There's just something that Noko said that's been bothering me, is all. She said that from the moment he was born she knew Chakenapok was evil. Something about that just doesn't ring true to me."
"You saw how he treated you," Thomas said, coming up on her left side and leading Cloud by the reins. "What else could he possibly be?"
"That wasn't Chakenapok," Charmian insisted. "I spoke with Chakenapok, and I get the feeling that he's a lot like Moon Wolf was--somebody's using him." She sighed and rubbed at her own neck. "I really can't explain...it's more of a feeling I have. I just can't believe that a baby can be born evil."
"But this story Geezhigo-Quae told you, about Malsum...she said that he had been born evil. You'd doubt her word?"
"It's not the same. Remember she said that Glooskap and Malsum are both manitous. Maybe it's different with manitous, and some of them can be born evil. But Chakenapok is only part manitou...that means he's part human, too." She paused and chewed on her lip. "I just don't think that human part of him would have allowed him to be born evil. Something got hold of him later on."
"If he killed Mother when he was born, then how could something have gotten him 'later on'?" Manabozho challenged. Charmian sighed again, feeling he was just being obnoxious yet needing to think of an answer anyway. They never would have accompanied her if they'd known she had no real clue what she was getting them into, would they?
"I don't know yet," she admitted. "Maybe that's what Glooskap can help us with."
He didn't seem entirely satisfied with her answer, yet didn't ask anything more. They continued walking in silence until the slope eased out into a slight valley with trees rising on the far side. Charmian found herself sniffing at the air every time a breeze arose, and the faint salt smell gave her a feeling of hope.
He'll have to know something about what's going on. If he doesn't, then I don't know what I'll do next.
They made their way across the small valley, which stretched on longer than it had looked from the other side. By the time the opposite slope at last came close their pace had faltered considerably, and Charmian was stopping more often than she was walking, having to rub the aches out of her legs. It felt like she'd be one giant bruise in the morning.
As if to verify her thought, Manabozho spoke up and said, "Are we going to be walking all night? Because I can hardly see even where I'm going anymore, and my foot is killing me."
"I think it would be best for all if we stopped soon and rested," Moon Wolf agreed, wincing and rubbing at his shoulder. Mani snorted and tossed his head.
They all started to slow to a stop. Charmian paused and peered around them, rubbing at her chilly arms.
"Can we go up toward the woods?" she asked. "I don't like the thought of sleeping out here...it feels too open. We don't know what lives around here or comes out in the middle of the night."
"As if up there would be any safer?" Manabozho groused, gesturing up the slope. Charmian looked at the pine woods rising before them and had to admit that they didn't have the same friendly feel as the mixed woods on the Island, yet at the moment, shelter in an unfamiliar forest seemed better than no shelter in an unfamiliar valley.
"It's not that far up there," Moon Wolf said. "We should be able to reach it before we lose what light we have left."
Pakwa was already drifting toward the trees. Thomas and Mani started up the slope without a word, so Manabozho had to follow, although he grumbled under his breath. Moon Wolf stood and waited for Charmian and held out his hand as she came his way.
"You are hurt badly?" he asked her, quietly enough so the others couldn't hear.
Charmian rubbed her shoulder, refusing his hand. "I'll be okay. It's a whole lot better than that spirit stone thing." She reached him and they continued up the slope together. "Though I admit it'd be nice to go one day without getting some kind of injury."
Together the seven of them slowly straggled up toward the treeline and made their way into the pine woods. They walked far enough so that the entrance to the valley faded away behind them and a rough clearing of sorts opened up ahead. Here they at last stopped, stretching and making faces and looking their limbs over for scrapes or bruises. Thomas and Moon Wolf worked on starting a fire while Manabozho walked around the perimeter of the clearing, staring off into the trees as if looking for something. When Charmian turned to the other side of their makeshift camp she found that Mani had already fallen fast asleep, stretched out beside a log; Cloud stood nearby chewing on the grass and flicking his tail. Pakwa was again roosting in a tree. Moon Wolf tended to the fire while Thomas started digging around in the horse's saddlebags.
"Anyone up for eating tonight?" he inquired.
Charmian yawned and rubbed at her eyes. "I think I'd pass out right in the middle of it..." She glared up at Pakwa, whose own eyes had popped open at the word eating. "I think the REST of us are fine, too."
"Leaves more for breakfast, then." Thomas put away the food items he'd started to pull out, and retrieved a few light blankets instead. He handed one first to Charmian, who received it with a look of puzzlement; she wondered why she hadn't even thought of the need for blankets. Moon Wolf and Manabozho both refused theirs, so he handed Charmian another.
"We'll double up, then. It feels like it might get chilly here tonight."
Charmian nodded and accepted the second blanket, feeling a bit guilty that Moon Wolf hadn't wanted it. She thought of carrying it over to Mani, only to see that Thomas was already draping his own over the drowsing manitou. Her frown grew.
"Aren't you going to get..." He turned his head to look at her and she suddenly felt stupid, remembering who she was talking to. "...Never mind," she finished.
Thomas smiled slightly as he finished tucking the blankets around Mani. "Saves me money on winter clothing, at least," he said, and she blinked before realizing it was a joke. She smiled then, and folded one of her own blankets up on the ground, wrapping the other one around her.
He smiled at her. "Goodnight."
Manabozho climbed up a tree opposite Pakwa's and Moon Wolf settled down at the base of another. Charmian turned over onto her side and closed her eyes. The fire seemed to crackle forever, as she felt strange trying to sleep in such an unfamiliar place...yet eventually drowsiness took hold, and the sound faded away.
* * * * *
The sound of lapping water filled Charmian's ears. It took her a while to notice it, as it seemed faraway, yet it grew closer, until she could have sworn she was right next to it. She frowned in her sleep.
The ocean--? Geezhigo-Quae said it would take two days. And we were in the woods. How could the ocean be...
She gasped and jerked upright and found herself lying on a sandy lakeshore, staring out over a black cavernous lake. Instantly all her memories of the odd dreams she'd had before came flooding back to her.
That's it! I've dreamed of this before! How could I forget it...?
She carefully climbed to her feet, dusting herself off and looking at the lake. If this thing follows the pattern, she thought, then first I'll look into the water and see my own reflection, and I'll probably be crying...then this wolf thing will appear over the water...then another wolf thing will appear under the water...and then...well...then I'll probably wake up.
She frowned at this thought, but proceeded toward the lake. Almost mechanically she bent over and peered into the water. Sure enough, the expression her other face wore wasn't the same as the one she was truly wearing...not unless she was looking evil, and she was pretty sure that she wasn't.
Charmian's frown grew, and the reflection practically bared its teeth at her. "Since when do I look like that?" she asked aloud. She tried giving it the widest smile she could, and shivered when it leered back.
Then its eyes started glowing green and red.
Charmian gasped and leapt back, kicking at the water as she did so so it splashed around her. A menacing growling sound filled the air, and she ducked down to the ground and put her arms over her head.
That's not me! I don't look like that--!
The growling noise grew louder and she opened her eyes, staring blindly out of the hollow formed by her arms. She could hear her heart thumping hard in her chest. Although she really didn't want to now, not after seeing that, she made herself lift her head and peer over her shoulder, wide eyed, at the giant yellow-eyed wolf face hovering over the water. Its tongue lolled over its teeth and she could have sworn it was laughing at her.
Charmian sucked in a breath when she thought of what Geezhigo-Quae had called the evil brother of Glooskap--the Wolf. Although wolves didn't frighten her, this one did, and she dragged her gaze down to the reflection rippling beneath it. The blue-eyed wolf stared back, and Charmian let out her breath, trying to take some strength from seeing it there.
Then, something which had never happened before--an unfamiliar voice filled her head, and her eyes fixed on those of the wolf's reflection, feeling that it somehow came from there.
You do not always expect what you see beneath the surface...do you?
Charmian's mouth opened. The blue-eyed wolf began to fade away, and the yellow-eyed wolf grew bigger and more distinct, as if sucking its power from its own reflection. Even as she watched it pulled itself up, tongue still lolling, and started trotting across the water toward her, its feet barely even skimming the surface. Its eyes glinted almost cheerfully.
You wanted to face me? I am closer even than you think...
Charmian screamed and jumped up, throwing her arms over her head. She cowered, shaking, for what seemed like forever...yet the wolf didn't approach. After some time she grew conscious of the ache in her muscles, and the chill against her skin; then the faint scent of salt, and the rustling of pine needles, made her eyes pop open. As she had a moment ago she stared into darkness for several moments before determining that the wolf must have gone. After several more moments she at last dared to peek over the edge of her arms, just barely, and saw...nothing more than the faint flickers of the dying fire before her, and the dim forms of the others of her group still sleeping. She even did a head count--Manabozho still rested in his tree, Pakwa in his, Moon Wolf and Thomas and Mani on the ground, Cloud sleeping nearby. Aside from the rustle of the pines and the distant cheeping of crickets, there was nothing to be heard.
Charmian let out her breath. She shakily ran her hand across her forehead, then pulled it down and stared at the sweat gathered there as if it could tell her something. She wiped it off against her vest and looked at the fire.
Just a dream. But here is it fair to call ANYTHING "just a dream"...?
That's the same as the one I forgot before. Twice! How can I forget a dream once, much less twice...?
She sighed and pushed off her blanket, rising with a wince--she'd forgotten how much her bruises hurt, and now that she'd been lying immobile for some time her muscles were stiffer than ever--and padding over to the waning fire. She picked up a few of the sticks Thomas and Moon Wolf had gathered and placed them in the flames, poking at them a bit before standing straight and looking down into it. The fire rippled and shimmered. Charmian stared.
Cheating. That's what I heard the last time I had this dream. Somebody said something about "cheating."
Who keeps talking about cheating...?
Has he been stealing my dreams...? Why would he steal them if he's the one who sent them? Unless...somebody else sent them...but who...?
She sighed again and turned away. Staring at the fire wouldn't do anything aside from burning her retinas. She started back toward her bed, yawning and rubbing at her eyes, when a tiny flicker of movement made her freeze.
Her eyes grew huge. Something was moving around near her backpack!
She stood where she was, immobile, wishing she could see as good as Manabozho did. It looked as if some sort of small furry animal were poking in her pack, possibly looking for food. She slowly reached down to pick up a small rock, ready to scare it off, but her movement standing upright again caught its attention. Its head popped up and she saw a strange little face with pointed ears and large dark eyes staring back at her. Charmian's brow furrowed in confusion. She'd never seen any animal that looked quite like that before--it looked almost human.
Then she saw the little parcel it held in its tiny paws--hands?--and recognized the covered shape of her dreamcatcher.
Charmian's jaw fell open. "That's mine!" she gasped, as if she'd lost her voice; in response the little creature turned and bounded off into the woods, carrying the parcel in its hands. Charmian's eyes nearly fell from her head. "THAT'S MINE!!" she yelled this time, and charged after the disappearing shape as the others started sitting up, rubbing at their eyes and looking around.
"Charmian--?" she heard Thomas exclaim before she left the clearing.
She ran fast enough that she caught up somewhat with--whatever it was--as it bounded along the ground at full speed. Whatever it was, it had a long bushy tail trailing out behind it, and it looked over its shoulder more than once as if to gauge her speed. She gritted her teeth and pumped her arms, trying to go faster.
"I'll be damned if I'm gonna let some stupid SQUIRREL make off with my stuff!!" she shouted, hoping to frighten it. Instead it zoomed right and she had to catch herself to avoid crashing into the trees ahead, skidding as she made off after it.
"I KNOW SOMEBODY WHO COULD MAKE YOU INTO A GREAT HAT!!" she screamed. "If you even SCRATCH that thing I'll turn you into STEW!!"
The little furry creature practically catapulted itself along the rough trail between the trees, and before she could even say anything it had launched itself at the trunk of one and started scrambling up toward the branches. Only now could she see that her dreamcatcher was slung over its shoulder, and when it scrabbled at the bark she saw that it did look just like it had tiny little human hands. This interested her only for a split second, before she jumped up at the trunk herself, somehow catching hold and grabbing onto the creature's long bushy tail. It let out a squeak and she yanked it down from the tree.
"That's MY dreamcatcher!" she panted, giving it the most ferocious look she could muster. The creature wriggled and flailed around in her grip and she tried reaching for the little bundle now hanging from its shoulder, but it hissed and clicked its teeth and tried clawing at her. She wrinkled her nose in distaste and started shaking it just as she heard the others start emerging from the woods behind her.
"Go ahead and try! I might be the one to get rabies shots, but YOU'RE the one who'll get put down!" The furry creature pulled the bundle up and clasped it to its chest so she growled under her breath and swung it a bit to turn it around to face her. "I said GIVE IT BACK, you little rat--!"
The furry creature spun around in her grasp and she at last got a good look at its face--those strange dark rodentlike eyes and pointed ears, and the even stranger smooth skin and tiny nose and small humanlike mouth. Its little hands were bare of fur and sported five little fingers each--and it was wearing clothing. She blinked in surprise before it bared its teeth at her--and they were all needle sharp. Then its face changed, growing larger and pointier and contorting into an ugly snarl--and then its body changed, also growing and sprouting dark coarse hair every which way--and then its hiss changed into a hideous rasping growl, as Charmian found herself staring stupefied into the eyes of an enraged wolverine.
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