There are three small hitches in Charmian's latest plan...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Return To Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 55: Low Spirits"
Hogging All The Glory
CHARMIAN AND MANI picked their way carefully back through the hidden pool room, the shouts of Glooskap and Marten still echoing far behind them in the caves. Charmian sighed to herself as they went. She hoped their distraction wouldn't last too long, else she'd never get back to the Sky Tree.
"Mani," she said as they went around the pool, "what happened back there when Lox jumped out? Did he startle you? Does he remind you of something?"
Mani averted his eyes and didn't respond. If she hadn't known better she would have thought that even his antlers were drooping. Charmian frowned and slowed until she stopped, and he couldn't pass her without plunging into the water itself. Instead he stopped as well and lowered his head.
"Mani...?" Charmian asked again, growing concerned. She touched his antler. "What is it? You know you can tell me whatever you want, right?"
Mani gave a dejected whistle. Lox One jumps out from wall, Red Land One stays to face it, he said.
Charmian grew perplexed. "I know...so? Why is that bothering you?" She remembered what he'd said before accompanying her through the Fairy Arch, and added, "I'm sorry if you're mad at me for just standing there like that...I meant to move, but I had no idea that thing was even going to jump out! And I couldn't use my powers on it here...so I understand if you're angry with me..."
Mani shook his head. Not with Red Land One. With Mani.
Charmian's brow furrowed. "You're mad at yourself--? Why?"
He whistled again. Even Red Land One, in fear, faces Lox One. Mani does? Runs away! Sees Lox One appear, and runs for safety. Red Land One left alone to look after self. He paused as if seeking to think of the right words, then carefully said, Mani did not protect you.
Charmian blinked. "That's what this is about...?" She turned around to face him. "Mani, I'm not mad at you because of that! Believe me, if my legs would've worked, I would've done the same thing! I think running would've been a whole lot smarter than just STANDING there like I did!"
But Mani did not protect you, Mani repeated himself. Vow to keep Red Land One safe, and fails first thing. What good? If afraid of Lox One, then how to protect from others more powerful? What good is Mani?
Charmian's face softened. "You feel bad because you didn't protect me...?" When he hung his head again she put her hand atop it. "Mani, you can't protect me all the time. I won't be mad at you if you can't. You shouldn't be mad at yourself, either."
She could tell her words didn't do much to dispel his mood, and sighed. "If anybody should be mad, it's me, for taking us all this way just to find out Manabozho's the one I've been looking for," she muttered, attempting to change the subject. She glanced back toward the exit from the pool room. "I sure hope time passes the same out there as it does in here. Crap! I never even thought of that!" She turned now to the way they'd come in, as Marten came bouncing into the cave, promptly jumping up and landing on Charmian's shoulder. She screamed and nearly toppled into the water, Mani's antler the only thing stopping her from doing so; Marten flew back down to the narrow ledge and clenched his fists.
"What'd you do THAT for?" he yelled.
Charmian flailed her arms and made an awful face as Mani pushed her back upright. "YOU JUMPED ON MY SHOULDER!!" she shrieked. "You have CLAWS on your feet! You felt just like a big RAT jumping on me! Don't DO that!!"
Marten puffed up in indignation. "My feet feel NOTHING LIKE a rat's!"
"Like you know what rat feet feel like! Just don't go jumping on me like that, okay? I'm not a pirate, and you're not a parrot!"
"Glooskap lets me sit on his shoulder all the time!"
"Well, I'M NOT GLOOSKAP, am I?!"
"Apparently not! Glooskap's a lot nicer than you are!" And to punctuate this Marten stuck out his tongue.
Charmian got ready to hurl an insult at him before remembering who she was dealing with--the only one who could get them out of here--and forced herself to take a deep breath and let it out. "Fine. Okay," she said. "I'm sorry I called you a rat. But please don't just jump up on people's shoulders without their permission first, okay? It can kind of--freak them out if they're not expecting it."
Marten's lip stuck out and he crossed his arms, but relented. "Fine. But don't scream whenever somebody jumps on your shoulder, either! It's REALLY rude!"
And randomly jumping on people isn't?? Charmian suppressed the thought and grated her teeth. "Fine," she echoed. "I'll try not to."
Marten started turning in little circles. "So can I get on your shoulder now?"
Charmian gawked at him. "Wha--? I thought we just went through this! No offense, but I don't want you clinging to my shoulder!"
"But I asked."
"It doesn't matter! I don't want it!"
"Do you have something against me because I'm little?" Marten cried, clenching his tiny fists again.
Charmian ran her hands down her face. Mani could only give her a sympathetic look. "NO, that's not the reason. I just don't like little things riding around on my shoulder--little things with sharp claws. It just feels weird! It's nothing personal."
"If I didn't have sharp claws would you like me better--?" Then, where Marten had been, a little poof of smoke appeared, and Charmian started glancing around to see where he'd gone--only to see a young man dressed in deerskin, still wearing Marten's red cap, standing before her. He gave her a winning smile and Charmian would have thought he looked rather cute, had she not been too busy screaming again and backing into Mani.
"Would you like this better?" Marten asked.
Charmian had to gasp for her breath, one hand to her chest. She pushed herself out of the cradle of Mani's antlers and clenched her fists in the air.
The young man's smile vanished and he looked hurt. With a little poof the Mikumwesu reappeared, pouting.
"You said you didn't like little claws! I thought you'd like that better!"
Charmian fought to keep her sanity. "WHAT makes you think that a little kid just suddenly TURNING into an adult man is something I'll LIKE?!"
"Glooskap says that's what young women like! Pretty men!"
Charmian could very nearly feel the blood rushing up into her face. Even Mani backed away. Without a word she snatched Marten up by the scruff and plopped him on her shoulder.
"I think you and Glooskap should have a nice long talk about manners!" she snapped, whirling around. The look on her face convinced Mani to hasten toward the exit from the cave, changing into a stream of water and vanishing from sight. Marten seemed about as tense as he was, and didn't even dare speak as they made their way back out.
* * * * *
Thomas, Moon Wolf, and Manabozho sat outside the entrance to the secret tree, trying to make the time pass. Manabozho traced patterns repeatedly in the earth while Thomas played a card game by himself; Moon Wolf merely sat atop a nearby boulder as if sleeping. Pakwa likewise perched in the branch above, his head nodding. Cloud chewed on a mouthful of grass. Thomas and Manabozho occasionally looked up at the tunnel hole, then back down again.
"What sort of shortcut is this, anyway?" Manabozho groused aloud, destroying the drawing he'd just made.
"Not a very short one, obviously," Thomas sighed, gathering up his cards and shuffling them. "I hope she hasn't gotten lost anywhere down there..."
Manabozho scowled. "If she has, then I don't care what she says. I'm turning that little furball into a hat!"
Moon Wolf lifted his head and looked at the tunnel. The other two did the same when a trickling sound started, and noticed a small stream of water winding its way down from the hole. The water puddled at the bottom and they stood up as Charmian finally appeared inside the tunnel, crawling on hands and knees and huffing, dust smudging her clothing and an irritated look on her face. Thomas climbed over the roots to help her out and she grabbed onto his hand, brushing her damp hair away from her face. She and Thomas descended from the tunnel while the water shimmered and changed back into Mani.
Charmian let go of Thomas's hand and started dusting herself off. "Well, I'm back," she said needlessly.
"Did you find Glooskap?" Thomas asked.
"Kind of." He frowned at her and she said, "Okay, yeah, we did. It's just that he's not quite what I expected..."
"Oh--no," Thomas interrupted. "Um...actually, I was looking at that."
He pointed at her shoulder. Charmian blinked, then glanced down at it. A large hairy spider rested there, wiggling its front legs. Thomas and the others cringed back when she let out a piercing scream and swatted the spider away as hard as she could. It hit the ground and with a poof turned into Marten, who tumbled head over heels before coming to a stop at the base of a tree, his little feet wiggling in the air. He grabbed at his head and grimaced.
"WHAT'D YOU DO THAT FOR!!"
Charmian clenched her fists and waved them at him. "For the last freakin' time, STOP CHANGING INTO THINGS!!"
Moon Wolf attempted to get her attention again. "You said you had found Glooskap--?" he asked, raising his voice. Charmian made a face and dusted herself all over as if she were covered in spiders before even trying to answer.
"Yeah, I found him. At least I hope that was him, or else I wasted a whole lot of time."
Marten righted himself. "Of course that was Glooskap! I don't see why you doubt me!"
"So, what did he say?" Thomas pressed.
Charmian lifted her head and gave him a blank look, still dusting her vest. "Huh...? About what?"
Thomas's mouth twitched. "About what you came here for, remember?"
"Oh!" Charmian flushed and rubbed at her head. "Yeah, I remember...well...I told him about Chakenapok, and about what Geezhigo-Quae said, and then asked him about Malsum."
"And?" Thomas and Manabozho prompted in unison.
"And he showed me Malsum, still sleeping away in his own private cave. He's been down there for years." This comment was met with perplexed looks so she continued. "But I thought we should check him out, just in case. And it turns out that while Malsum's body is down there, his spirit stone is long gone."
"Spirit stone...?" Moon Wolf frowned. "You mean it's been separated from his body?"
Charmian nodded. "I don't really know how, but maybe he's got some kind of power nobody knows about yet. Whatever it is, he got his spirit stone out of there, and I think that's what got into Chakenapok before he was born. Malsum's spirit stone ate up his spirit stone--literally. I saw that when I faced him myself."
"So what does this mean?" Thomas asked.
"It means this is going to be a lot harder than I thought," Charmian admitted, feeling a little stupid. "We don't have to just get rid of the darkness in Chakenapok's spirit...we kind of have to get rid of that whole spirit stone around it. Malsum's what's controlling Chakenapok, and we have to find a way to separate the two before we can do anything."
"You brought the squirrel back out, but nobody else," Manabozho groused; Marten bristled. "Where's this Glooskap everybody keeps talking about?"
"Well..." Charmian peered back at the tunnel. "He's not coming."
The others stared at her as if she had suddenly turned green.
"What?" Manabozho said in a deadly voice.
Charmian held up her hands. "Let me explain! It's not that he won't help us--because he will! And I believe him. It's just...well, we have to do something first." When they continued staring at her she took a breath and said, "Glooskap said that he'll defeat Malsum for us...but first we have to kind of...defeat Chakenapok." She fiddled her fingers and looked at them meekly. At least Thomas and Moon Wolf still gave her the same blank look, but the feathers on Manabozho's head started bristling just like Marten had.
"I thought that's what we came all this way for HIM to do," he grated.
"It is!" Charmian hastened to say. "And believe me, he'll do his part...but he can't fight Chakenapok himself. He can only defeat Malsum, because Malsum's his brother. And, well, he seems to think that somebody else has to fight Chakenapok and break him free of Malsum first--"
"But you said no one could fight him and win," Thomas said.
"I know! But I got that part wrong. You see...um...I think what Snow Bear really meant was, not that I couldn't fight him and win, but that I couldn't fight him and win...it's an honest mistake, really."
"And so who would be the one to best fight Chakenapok?" Moon Wolf asked.
"Well..." Charmian sheepishly looked at Manabozho. "He said he thinks Manabozho would do the best job."
Manabozho had been steadily puffing up ever since hearing that Glooskap was not coming, his feathers bristling every which way; but now that she addressed him, he almost seemed to deflate, his feathers springing upright again, a surprised look on his face. "Me--?" he blurted out; then he blinked and clenched his fists. "Why ME? What do I have to do with all this?"
"He's your brother," Charmian insisted. "Glooskap thinks that Malsum is following the pattern of what happened to him before, so it makes sense. Glooskap was the only one who could properly defeat him--so you would be the only one who can properly defeat Chakenapok!"
Manabozho bristled again. "That THING is hardly my brother!"
"And I'm sure Glooskap thought much the same thing about Malsum. That still doesn't mean you aren't the best one to fight him." Charmian spread out her arms. "Think about it, Manabozho. You always get so riled up when nobody ever respects you right, well, here's your chance to earn some respect--you can defeat Chakenapok, so Glooskap can get rid of Malsum, and then the Island is indebted to you forever."
Manabozho opened his mouth as if to retort, then closed it, then opened it, then closed it, and seemed to think. He stood down and turned away and crossed his arms with a scowl. The others stared at him for a moment or two before he peered over his shoulder.
"Forever?" he echoed.
Charmian smiled and nodded. "I don't think they're likely to forget something like that, do you?"
He turned away again, but from the angle he stood at she could still see his face. It grew dark and his feathers cocked at an angle.
"It would give me the chance to rub that little cretin's face in the dirt..."
Charmian stepped toward him. "So what do you say? It's not every day that the chance to make yourself look good just gets dropped in your lap. You can save the Island, and get back at Chakenapok, all at once. All you have to do is fight him. Tal Natha can put you in a dream, and that's all you need."
Manabozho turned around, clenching both fists. "All right! I'll deal with the worm myself. It's about time he faced someone who can take him on, anyway. No offense to you, but you were obviously not meant to face him!"
Charmian bit back any retort she might have had and forced a smile. "That's the Manabozho I know!" And her mind added, Always trying to look like a Master of the Universe while doing practically nothing. Thomas and Moon Wolf stepped aside as Manabozho turned and stomped toward the trail, looking every bit ready to face Chakenapok then and there, even though they had yet to get back to the Sky Tree.
"Come on!" he snapped. "The sooner we get back, the sooner I can take care of all this! I TOLD you you people don't know what you're dealing with! It's about time you saw things my way. I'll snuff him out on my OWN, no thanks to this Glooskap or anybody else!"
Charmian held up one hand although he couldn't see it. "Um...there's just one little catch," she said in a small voice, though one of his feathers flared and he halted, slowly turning around to look at her. His eyes narrowed.
"Yes?" he prompted.
Charmian started fiddling her fingers again. Thomas, Moon Wolf, Mani, Marten, and Pakwa all stared at her and she felt like shrinking into the ground, if only she were able.
"Well...Glooskap seems to think that if you're going to face him...then you should take your other brothers along, too."
Thomas, Moon Wolf, Mani, Marten, and Pakwa stared at her a moment more, then all turned to look at Manabozho. He still stood where he'd halted, and though the look on his face hadn't changed much, still, she felt even more like sinking into the ground. His feathers fanned out to the sides and he narrowed his eyes.
"What?" he grated.
Charmian fiddled her fingers even faster. "He says it's in keeping with the myth!" she insisted. "If Glooskap's the only one who could've defeated Malsum, that means you're the only one who can defeat Chakenapok...you and your brothers. He...he thinks that if all of you go, then just in case you can't on your own...all of you together will be stronger, too, so..."
"FORGET it!" Manabozho snapped so loudly that she gasped and nearly tumbled backwards. Each of the others edged away from him when he clenched his fists and bared his teeth, his eyes flashing.
"I don't see how you can even ASK that!" he barked. "I'm never asking them to come along!"
Charmian swallowed her fear and flung her arms out to her sides. "What's the big deal, anyway? I understand if you guys got in a fight or something, but whatever it was it was a long time ago! What could possibly be so bad about seeing them again? If you could just forget the whole stupid thing, just this once--"
Manabozho threw his own arms up, then brought them swooping down, and the very ground beneath them shook, the trees creaking in protest and a flock of birds scattering up into the sky; Pakwa darted up as well, and Marten leapt onto Charmian's shoulder and scrambled around to hide behind her pack, but she was too startled to notice. The others saw also how his eyes flared blue and stayed that way, so he looked almost like some human incarnation of Mitchi Manitou, come up out of Devil's Lake.
"NEVER!" he bellowed--then just as quickly as it had started, the ground stopped shaking, the trees stopped creaking, and Manabozho's eyes went back to their normal color. He still glared at them furiously, however, and he whirled around toward the woods again, storming off.
"I'll fight him on my OWN!" he shouted as he departed. "Just like I've done everything ELSE!" Then he disappeared from sight, and the last few branches on the trees stopped swaying, the forest returning to normal. Charmian stood rooted to the spot, trembling just slightly; Marten peered out from under her hair as Pakwa drifted back down to his perch, the others standing up straight from the cringes they'd gone into a moment ago. Even Mani looked cowed.
Charmian felt a pain in her chest, and remembered to let out her breath. As soon as her fear subsided irritation took its place and she scowled.
"What's the big deal, anyway?" she muttered aloud. "I understand if they got in a lot of fights, but why can't he just get over it already? What could they have possibly done that was so bad?"
Thomas stepped to stand beside her and stared in the direction Manabozho had gone, running a hand back through his hair. "Well, I've heard of sibling rivalry, but since I'm an only child I can't rightly say. It must've been something important."
Charmian made a face. "I think he's just being a jerk!" She turned away from the woods to make sure the others were still present, and started walking toward Mani. Her step slowed as she put her hand on his antler. She glanced at the woods again and chewed on her lip.
"He's going to do it, isn't he?"
Thomas gave her a frank look. "He sounded as if he meant it."
Charmian sighed and climbed atop Mani's back. "I can't believe he's going to be so stupid just over something like this! Glooskap was pretty clear about it. Since Chakenapok has more than one brother, all of them should face him. I can't believe he'd put the Island in danger because he can't get over some stupid grudge!"
Mani started walking; Thomas climbed atop Cloud, and Moon Wolf and Pakwa followed behind. "I get the distinct feeling it's a bit more than a grudge," Thomas offered, but that was all. Charmian nudged Mani in the sides.
"Well, at the very least, we should try to beat him back there. At least I don't think he'll be getting very far without Marten along."
Marten hopped onto Mani's head. "I know a good shortcut!" he exclaimed. "It's between--"
"Don't you even say two rocks," Charmian warned him, "or I'll make sure to tell Glooskap the next time I see him."
Thomas and Moon Wolf gave her puzzled looks. Marten's face fell and he pouted, but then turned back to face the trail.
"Spoilsport! That's the best shortcut EVER! But there's one almost as good off to the south a little."
"Is it between two rocks--? Or going underground?"
Marten shook his head. "Nuh-uh. This one goes way up a big CLIFF!"
Everyone in the group let out an audible sigh. Marten could only look at all of them curiously as they went on their way, and scratched his head.
"Was it something I said...?"
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