Manabozho and Charmian both fight mental enemies of their own...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Return To Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 62: Dreamland"
MANABOZHO SCREAMED. NISKIGWUN gasped and jumped to his feet, whipping out his spear and glancing around himself, all senses immediately alert. Yet nothing moved aside from the leaves on the trees--he couldn't see so much as a squirrel nearby. He finally thought to look down at Manabozho, who was lying beside the fallen tree, and frowned in confusion when he saw how he was curled up on his side, clawing at the ground and quaking in his sleep.
Manabozho started whimpering and shaking harder. He tossed his head back and forth. Niskigwun paused, then leaned down to look at him more closely. He was surprised to see tears streaming down his face.
"Manabozho?" He poked at him with the wooden end of his spear but Manabozho didn't respond, merely continued whimpering and shaking. Niskigwun's frown grew and he hopped down from the tree trunk, peering at him closely and looking him over. He pulled back one of Manabozho's eyelids and saw how terrified he looked, yet that drew no reaction either. If anything, Manabozho seemed to quake and whine even more loudly now.
Niskigwun scowled. "I told you one pellet would suffice..." He pulled open both of Manabozho's eyes, then pushed his head so it rolled to the side, then pulled him up by the arms so his head dropped forward. He started shaking him back and forth a little bit. "Manabozho?" When this brought no response he shook him harder, and then harder, until he was practically flailing him about. "Manabozho!" He raised his voice to a yell. "WAKE UP!"
As soon as he stopped shaking him Manabozho's head rolled back over his shoulders. His arms tensed slightly as he attempted to fend off whatever was in his dream, but aside from that he was practically limp.
It's like trying to wake a dormouse! The Michinimakinong bared his teeth in frustration and shook him as hard as he dared until Manabozho's head flew backwards and forwards, then slapped him across the face a few times. He pulled on his ears, and his feathers, and even poked him in the arm with his spear tip, hard enough to open up a small cut. The entire time Manabozho didn't stop whimpering and mumbling to somebody in his sleep, but that was all he did. Even when Niskigwun grabbed up his arm and bit him out of pure frustration, he refused to awaken, and the Michinimakinong was forced to let him slump back to the ground in a quivering heap. Niskigwun panted and ran a hand across his forehead in great consternation. "There must be some way to wake him up!"
Then Manabozho lurched and screamed again, making him wince and cover his ears. As soon as the noise died down the Turtle Fairy again commenced battering him about in the waning hopes that he would come to, yet nothing happened.
* * * * *
In the cave below Fort Holmes, Dakh Natha's head popped into the air and he stared off into space, ears flicking.
His sister noticed his agitated state first, then Red Bird. She stood and took a few steps toward him, uncertain.
Tal Natha lifted his head from his forearm, where he'd been resting, and looked at them as well. Sikt and Red Bird both stared at Dakh, who seemed to be intently focused on the wall. He frowned and rose, making his way toward them.
What is it? he asked.
Red Bird gave him a lost look. Dakh Natha's ears quivered and his nostrils flared.
Tal Natha frowned. He moved to stand beside his son and they both stared at the wall together, though the older Ocryx couldn't sense anything.
Where? he asked, confused.
Upon the Island, Dakh Natha stated. Not too far. His ears quivered some more, as if he heard something. He turned and looked Tal Natha in the eye.
I did not rend it.
Tal Natha's frown grew. He looked up at the wall in vain.
Dreamspinner and Dreamrender, he murmured. It is my job to bring dreams, and yours to bring nightmares...yet neither of us has done this.
Red Bird's brow furrowed. "But...how is that possible? I thought that you were the only one who could bring dreams..."
What Charmian said. Someone else sent her her dreams. Tal Natha's face grew troubled. I had thought perhaps it was a fluke of some sort...perhaps my memory was failing me...yet I think I saw it with my own eyes this time. A new thread in the stream of dreams, yet it was drawn away from me before I could even reach it. I did not spin it. I do not know where it went. I had hoped...
He trailed off, perplexed. He, Red Bird, and Sikt continued staring at Dakh until he finally lowered his head and turned back to them, one ear cocking.
I did not rend it in the first place, he said, so I have no control over it now. It brings its dreamer great distress.
Red Bird touched Tal Natha's arm. "Tal Natha...?"
The demon shook his head. I did not spin it...and so I cannot control it, either. I cannot even sense it!
Dakh Natha stood and went toward Sikt Natha. They touched heads for a moment, then drew away from each other. Tal Natha and Red Bird stared at them in puzzlement when they both turned to face their parents now.
I cannot change it, Dakh said.
I may find it, though, said Sikt.
Tal Natha blinked. You can sense it...?
Dakh Natha could sense a nightmare much more acutely than I, Sikt replied. Yet I can wander it much more easily. He has told me where to find it. Do you wish me to see?
Tal Natha's ear flicked this time. I cannot control it, but perhaps I can cut it off, he mused aloud. It is dangerous to do this...Charmian did not take it well...but if it's the only way...
"Charmian is stronger than most people," Red Bird said. "Someone else might not take it nearly as well!"
This is a strong dreamer, Dakh and Sikt said in unison, drawing their parents' attention. Tal Natha and Red Bird stared at them but the twins' faces remained as neutral and unaffected as always. Tal Natha finally gave a frustrated snort.
All right then...seek it out, and find out whose it is, and if you can, where it's coming from. I do not like that I do not know where these dreams are from. I cannot even sense them. Once you find this out, leave me a trail so I may find you. I cannot reach you otherwise.
The younger Ocryxes bobbed their heads slightly, and Dakh touched his head to Sikt's again. After a moment Sikt lifted her head high, shutting her eyes, and stood that way for a moment or two. Then she slowly lowered herself to the cave floor and settled her head in the sand, appearing to go to sleep. Even her long tail fell still, her wings sinking down over her back. Her family was left staring at her motionless body, and both Tal Natha and Red Bird fidgeted with distress.
Red Bird edged closer to Tal Natha and wrapped her arm around her mate's, her eyes worried. "We cannot hope that, maybe, this dreamspinner is a good one...?" she suggested, but before she had even finished speaking the demon was shaking his head.
I can only remember what Charmian had to go through before I could free her, he murmured. In all my life I have never severed a dream like that. And that I had to do that tells me this being is not one to be trifled with.
* * * * *
A tiny glimmer of light emerged, then descended toward the ground. By the time it gently struck earth it had formed into a humanlike hand tipped with heavy claws, covered in soft pale fur. Sikt Natha landed softly and lifted her head to look around her.
A vaguely familiar, yet unfamiliar blackened landscape greeted her. Something about the dark, twisted trees and charred ground told her this was supposed to be Manitou Island, though it didn't look like any part of the Island she knew. She looked from left to right, sniffing at the air, and her nose wrinkled. Everything smelled burnt.
A faint noise from the other side of what looked to be a dead field came to her ears, and she paused to listen to it before heading in that direction.
She at last reached the skeleton of a warped tree, its needles long since gone and its branches black and bare. Something was curled up beneath it. Sikt wandered closer and peered down. Manabozho lay curled with his arms clasped over his head, shaking and letting out a pathetic whimper.
Sikt stared at him for a moment, catching his scent. He started whimpering something just barely intelligible, and she cocked an ear to catch what she could. "...Didn't mean it...didn't want to...sorry...didn't mean to..."
A warm yet unwelcoming wind suddenly blustered over them, and the fur on Sikt's hackles rose. She turned her head to see another figure standing some distance away, cloaked in shadows but with yellow glowing eyes. It looked like a woman, and for the briefest irrational second Sikt thought of her grandmother. Her fur prickled.
The dark figure raised one hand, eyes glittering with menace. "You don't belong here," she rasped, and flames started dancing around her hand, a heat haze making her outline blur.
Sikt's ears flared. Her eyes focused more intently, and for a moment she couldn't be certain whether it was actually a woman, or a man, she was facing. When a ball of fire formed over the figure's hand, it no longer mattered. She jerked her head up.
Father! It is here!
Sikt jammed her claws into the ground. The charred soil glowed slightly around her hand. The figure wielding the fireball paused just long enough for another light to flicker down from the sky, and glanced up at it in surprise. The light grew larger and faster as it descended, until the glowing shape of a demon emerged. It landed in front of Sikt and Manabozho, turned its head to look at the dark figure, and then raised one hand and swept it through the air in a wide slicing motion...
* * * * *
...just as Tal Natha's claw tore through the coursing stream of dreams, severing one strand...
* * * * *
...just as Chakenapok gasped and jerked backwards, grabbing at his stinging hand, another connection severed...
* * * * *
...just as Manabozho gasped and stiffened in Niskigwun's grasp, then fell limp, his head lolling and his body slumping to the ground as if dead.
Niskigwun still held onto his arm, a stunned look on his face. He finally forced himself to let go and Manabozho's arm fell to join the rest of him. He stared at him for a long time, yet nothing else happened. He leaned down to stare into his face and saw that his eyes had stopped moving, yet he was still breathing--he no longer dreamed, yet he still slept. The Michinimakinong peered at him for a good long time before poking his shoulder, feeling at his neck, and pulling on one eyelid. Manabozho remained unconscious. Yet at least he wasn't whimpering and shaking anymore.
Niskigwun stood and rubbed at his feathers in great confusion. He briefly considered taking Manabozho to Geezhigo-Quae, as Thomas had taken Charmian, then reconsidered. Manabozho wasn't wounded, that he could tell. Yet on the other hand, he couldn't understand why he was still sleeping, if whatever connection he'd just had to...whatever...had been broken.
When a dream ends that abruptly, then one must awaken! Why then does he still sleep...?
He shook his head, frustrated. Standing and wondering would get nothing done. All he could think of to do was keep Manabozho someplace safe, until he should come to. As much as he detested the thought of babysitting him, it was the only idea he had, at least until Charmian should return.
He flushed a little when he realized he was looking to a mainlander to solve this dilemma. As he took hold of Manabozho under the arms and started pulling him he couldn't stop thinking the thing over.
As a Michinimakinong, I should not even be involved in any of this! What sort of situation have I gotten myself into? I should just leave him here, and head back to my own home. I warned him. He should solve his own problems. I do not need to be here.
...Yet if I leave him, she will not be happy...
Niskigwun flushed even harder. He shoved all thoughts from his head and managed to pull Manabozho's arms over his shoulders, and staggered off through the woods with his unconscious burden.
* * * * *
Chakenapok continued rubbing absently at his hand, watching the Turtle Fairy trudge off through the woods. His eyes flickered with irritation for a moment, but this soon faded and he gave a slight smile.
"Oh well. I think that was more than enough to keep him tided over. And it looks like he might be napping for a while as it is. It was getting tiring playing a woman's part anyway." He waved at the image and was now staring at the three Ocryxes and the human in the cave near Fort Holmes. The cream-colored Ocryx was just rising from the floor and shaking her head as the others gathered around her. The large black one looked apprehensive, and even glanced around himself as if sensing they were being watched. Chakenapok knew he could not sense a thing, and this made his mouth twitch with amusement.
"One point to you, Dreamspinner. However paltry it might be." He waved the flickering image away, promptly losing interest.
* * * * *
By the time evening began to fall in whatever land it was Charmian walked through, she and Wabasso and Marten had made good progress, leaving behind the grassy field and moving into rougher terrain, where the land rolled ahead in numerous rises and dips crowned with pine trees and bushes. The air grew slightly colder as well, and Charmian rubbed her arms when she thought she smelled rain. Sure enough, the sky began to cloud over more the longer they went, until even Marten slowed his bounding step, trotting along beside them and shivering. The sky flickered in the distance and he hopped behind Wabasso's leg.
Charmian peered down at him. "What is it?"
Marten peeked out and pointed ahead of them. "Bright things! They flash in the sky!"
"That's just lightning."
"Glooskap says it comes from giant birds!"
Charmian rolled her eyes. "Lightning doesn't come from giant birds. Wabasso, could you tell him? Since he seems to like you so much."
Wabasso stroked one of the feathers on his head. "Actually, this is what I learned, too."
Marten stuck out his tongue. "Told you!"
Charmian scowled but didn't bother replying. A fat drop of rain smacked against her nose and she snorted, rubbing it. Wabasso noticed and started glancing around. He pointed.
"There is a grove of trees over there. We can rest until it passes."
Whenever that might be, Charmian thought, but didn't protest. They made their way to the nearest stand of trees, a small group of pines. Halfway there Marten bounded off into the trees, tail flicking. Charmian let out a sigh. At least she wouldn't face an argument about this.
The rain started to come down just before they reached the trees, though they didn't get too wet. They wandered to the middle of the stand and sat down beneath the thickest branches. Charmian peered out at the dark gray sky looming around them and rubbed her arms.
"I'm going to hate when it gets too dark to..." She saw something flicker, then turned to look behind her. A fire was already burning, and Wabasso gave her a sheepish smile.
"One of the few things Mudji taught me before he went away," he explained. "Other than this, I'm not very good with fire."
"Don't worry, I'm not good with it at all in this place," Charmian said, going to sit down on the opposite side. Marten crept out onto an overhanging branch and stretched out on it, his little arms and legs dangling. Charmian rubbed her chilly hands and stared at the fire, wishing she had at least one small power left.
"Wabasso," she said, drawing his attention. "Noko kind of told me why all of you went away, but I'm wondering if it was true or not? Why you guys all decided to leave."
Wabasso tilted his head. "Mudji...well, I will be truthful. Mudji did not like being stuck with little brothers. He is not a bad person, he just doesn't care much for play, or caretaking, or staying at home. He took after Father the most; he preferred hunting and fighting and such. None of us got along very well with him, although it was not for lack of trying. We were simply too different, is all."
"So you're not mad at him for leaving?"
"Oh, no. This is just the way he was. I would lie if I said we never fought amongst ourselves, for we did, but this is the way brothers are. I did not get to see him much before he left for good. Puka is the one who got to know him best."
"What about Puka, then? Why did he leave?"
"Puka...is Puka." Wabasso smiled wistfully. "He can simply never sit still for long before he grows bored with something. He was always so delighted with everything beautiful. You should have seen how he would exclaim over flowers or feathers or little animals or anything like that. He drove Mudji mad sometimes. He liked to play jokes on everybody. I'm afraid I took them much better than Mudji or 'Bozho ever did, though they could be exasperating. He could not ever take anything seriously."
"He sounds like he should be a little brother," Charmian said with a smile.
Wabasso's own smile grew. "If it weren't for 'Bozho, I'm sure he would have easily been the baby of the family. I do not think he left for any specific reason like Mudji did. I think he simply grew bored one day, and wandered off, and just forgot to ever return. He did come back a few times, but only for a short while, since he's always moving around. I think staying in one place makes him feel stifled. He doesn't so much set out to leave as he sets out merely to find someplace else."
"So...why did you leave, then?" Charmian asked.
Wabasso's smile faded. He turned to look at the fire, rolling his flute in his hands.
"It was not from spite or not wanting to be there...I just felt it was what I had to do."
Charmian frowned a little. Before she could ask what he meant, he lifted the flute to his mouth and started playing. She opened her own mouth to protest when she felt her eyelids start to grow heavy. Her head drooped and she leaned forward, dangerously close to pitching over onto her face. She felt dimness start slipping in around her when the flute music stopped and her head jerked up again. Wabasso sat staring into the trees. Charmian rubbed her eyes and looked up to see that Marten was staring in the same direction. She turned to look and just barely caught sight of something gray disappearing into the shadows. She blinked, then turned back to Wabasso in confusion.
He offered an apologetic look. "Sorry...I keep forgetting. It seems we are close to a wolf's den, and he thought we might be trespassing. I let him know otherwise."
"You mean there are wolves here...?"
"Of course. There aren't any on the Island?"
"Well, there are," Charmian said, and rubbed her arms against the chill. Then under her breath, "It's just that they haven't been very friendly lately..."
He gave her a curious look which told her he hadn't heard what she'd said, then shrugged it off. "There's no reason to be afraid of them," he said. "Most problems come about because of a lack of understanding."
"And you've figured out a way around that?"
He looked at the flute and smiled slightly. "Sometimes I like to think so."
He held it up and started playing again, though not as loudly, and not the same type of tune as before. It still made Charmian drowsy, but not enough to fall over unconscious. She moved to lean against a tree and sighed, pulling her arms partway inside her shirt. Thunder rumbled slightly, just enough to make Marten scuttle toward the trunk of the tree and disappear from sight. Charmian lifted her cowrie shell and stared at it for what seemed to be the hundredth time. She turned it over in her fingers as the flute played.
I just felt it was what I had to do.
There was nothing I could do...
Her fingers stilled. She remembered seeing the same sort of shell around Moon Wolf's neck, and for a moment almost felt like pulling hers off and tossing it into the woods. That was how much the things must mean, if such people could be given them so easily. She started to grip it in her hand and tug and then remembered who had given it to her, and paused. She opened her palm to look at it again. Stick-In-The-Dirt wore the same shell. Silver Eagle Feather did as well. Yellow Turtle once had.
How can Moon Wolf even have one? With what he did? How could they have given him one?
He got it before he did all of that...that's how. They didn't know what he would become...they didn't know he'd turn away from them and cause all that trouble. The Island could've been destroyed because of him! I could've been killed!
...But I wasn't killed...he stopped Ocryana. He stopped her before she could get me...even though he knew he didn't stand a chance...he gave his life protecting me...
But he couldn't protect Shadow Water! Not even once! Why could he protect me but not her?
Is it like he said--? Was he trying to atone for everything he did--by saving me...?
Her hand closed over the shell again and she shut her eyes tight, trying to fight off the confusion. The Moon Wolf she'd just learned about seemed like a Moon Wolf completely different from the one she'd always known, the one who'd joined the Mide, who'd taught her everything he knew before sacrificing himself. But they were the same person. He'd seemed so wise when he'd taught her. How could he have done something so stupid and selfish...?
"Something weighs on your mind?"
She blinked her eyes open and peered up. Wabasso still sat on the opposite side of the fire, his flute lowered and his head tilted. She swallowed the lump in her throat and let the cowrie shell drop back to her chest.
Wabasso set the flute across his knees. "They say that when you speak, weights lift from your mind and drift away down the stream." When she looked at him his smile grew. "Actually, they don't say that, but I thought it sounded impressive."
Charmian's mouth twitched slightly but her confusion overtook her again and she sighed, staring down at her lap. She couldn't think of a way to explain her state of mind without launching into a longwinded story about her whole ordeal with the Island, and that didn't sound very appealing, this late at night. Instead she fiddled with the edge of her vest before venturing to speak.
"Wabasso...do you think even the wisest people make the stupidest mistakes? I don't mean just dumb mistakes anyone can make, either; I mean really stupid ones. Ones that can almost contradict everything they say they stand for. Can wise people do that?"
He sat and stared at her for a moment, then leaned back so the shadows crept over him. "Of course," he said.
Charmian's brow furrowed. "But if somebody's so wise, then how can they do something so stupid? How can they contradict themselves so much without being a hypocrite? How can anybody ever trust them again?"
Wabasso shrugged. "Wisest men are the ones who make the most mistakes," he said. "There is no other way to learn. And perhaps we must all contradict ourselves sometimes, in order to find out just how much we believe in something."
Charmian looked at him for a moment, then down at her shell. "So...somebody can do something that completely goes against what they stand for, and still be trustworthy? They wouldn't be a hypocrite?"
"They are only a hypocrite if they do not learn from the mistake and act on this learning. As for trustworthy, this is up to the person deciding whether to trust them or not. We have no control over who will trust us. One may do all he can to earn trust, but in the end trust is a gift which is given by another. At some point someone must decide whether it's worth giving or not."
Charmian stared at the cowrie shell for a long time, watching how the firelight hit it. Her eyes stung as her own voice echoed in her head.
You're just as bad as Ocryana!...
I pitied even Ocryana once...I understood her. And she's the one who hurt Shadow Water in the first place.
Why is this hurt so hard for me to let go of? Is this about Shadow Water or about me...?
She covered the shell with her hand again and closed her eyes. Wabasso didn't play a sleeping song, and so she had to drift off to sleep on her own.
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