Where has Wabasso gone? What will it take to get him back...?
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Return To Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 118: Playing Orpheus"
PART ONE HUNDRED AND NINETEEN:
Hide & Seek
CHARMIAN DASHED forward, throwing her arms around Wabasso's fading image--only to nearly stumble forward, catching herself on her hands and knees. "Charmian...!" Wabasso's voice echoed faintly in her ears, but when she lifted her head, there was nothing there. She gaped at the empty Spirit Road in confusion. Wabasso had vanished.
"Wabasso--?" Charmian cried, brow furrowing and mouth falling open. She pushed herself up and started casting about, turning in frantic circles. "WABASSO!" She ran ahead several steps, but the Road was empty; she ran back several, but there was nothing there but more Road. Desperate, she clapped her hand against its surface and sent out a mental plea, but the Road gave her nothing in return but a sort of vague shrug. She pulled her hand up and started whimpering, fists clenching and tears springing to her eyes.
Where did he go--?!
"Wabasso?" she yelled, her voice not even echoing; then she opened her mouth and shut her eyes tight, screaming as loudly as she could.
* * * * *
Thomas's and Mani's heads jerked up, their eyes going wide. Manabozho and Niskigwun followed suit, the Michinimakinong's wings flaring wide. Stick-In-The-Dirt and Moon Wolf, sitting over near the opposite side of the chasm, jumped up in surprise, glancing upward. Everybody stared up at Arch Rock, where Charmian still sat as she had for four days, only now she was thrashing about, her eyes shut tight and her face twisted as if in terrible fear. Even as they watched she threw off the blanket that White Deer had given her, and it sailed out away from the Arch, fluttering down toward the lakeshore a hundred and fifty feet below. Charmian let out a cry and pitched backward, slipping from the rock.
Immediately everyone was on their feet, dashing toward the rock all at once. Charmian's cry changed into a scream and she flailed out her hands, managing to grab hold of a stony projection; Thomas and Stick-In-The-Dirt got to her first, reaching down and grasping hold of her wrists to pull her back up. The others hovered at the edge of the land mass, watching anxiously as she was dragged back atop the rock, quaking and glancing around herself with wide eyes. "Wabasso--!" she yelled, digging her fingers into Thomas's arm hard enough to make him grimace.
"Charmian!" he shouted. "Snap out of it!"
"You are awake!" Stick-In-The-Dirt exclaimed. "Charmian--?"
Charmian's yell cut off and she looked around at them, spotting the others all staring at her. She gasped and nearly shot to her feet, but they stopped her, and started scrambling back toward land with her; the others, aside from Mani, reached out as if to pull her along all as one, and even the manitou paced alongside them, whistling loudly and nudging at her with his antler. Within seconds her feet were upon solid ground and she was shaking as if dipped in ice.
"Charmian, what is it?" Thomas asked, gripping her arms and shaking her slightly. "Are you all right--?"
"W--Wabasso!" Charmian gasped, and glanced wildly back at the Arch; everyone frowned and followed suit.
"You found him--?" Manabozho asked, his voice rising.
Charmian nodded hastily. "I--I had him! He was right with me--I had him by the hand and everything!" Her eyes flooded with tears and she dug her fingers into Thomas's arm again. "He was RIGHT behind me! I was holding his hand--we were coming back up the Spirit Road! And--he--" The tears spilled down her face. "He DISAPPEARED!"
Everyone gaped at her. "Disappeared?" Niskigwun and Stick-In-The-Dirt both exclaimed at once.
Charmian nodded again, and turned to Thomas. "He was right with me! I FELT him! I was looking right at him!" She shook so hard now that he put his arm around hers to try to still her before she could fall over. "Then I--I saw through him--it's like he was made of glass or water or--and--then I couldn't see him anymore--and his voice faded away--and I tried to grab hold of him--but he was--he was gone!!" She let out a strangled noise and grabbed Thomas's arm. "He disappeared right in front of me! I HAD him! Where did he go--?!"
"You were on the Spirit Road already?" Stick-In-The-Dirt asked in confusion. "He was safe with you--?"
Another nod. "YES! I cleared it with Pauguk and everything--he was coming back with me! I was going to get his spirit back and he'd come back to life here on the Island and everything would be okay but he just vanished--!"
A stricken look crossed Moon Wolf's face, and he squinched his eyes shut and struck his fist against the end of the Arch. "Damn it!"
Everyone looked at him. "Moon Wolf...?" Charmian said hesitantly.
He lifted his head and gave her such a piercing look that she huddled in on herself. "His SPIRIT!" he shouted. "You were bringing back his SPIRIT!"
Charmian's brow furrowed. "That's--that's the only part of him I could bring back--!"
Moon Wolf clenched his fist. "To come back to the living world a spirit needs a place to RETURN to! Somewhere to GO!" He splayed his fingers against his breast. "A body!"
Everyone's eyes widened. Charmian sucked in a shaky breath, dismay clouding her eyes.
"I...I completely forgot about his body...!" she whispered in disbelief.
Moon Wolf bared his teeth in disgust. "I should have thought of this before the vision! How could I forget--?"
"Wait a minute then!" Niskigwun exclaimed. He furrowed his brow. "If his spirit is not with her, and not in his body--then where did it go--? Surely not back to the Spirit Land!"
Charmian clutched Thomas's arm and gave him a pleading look. "I CAN'T go back there AGAIN--!"
"He would not go back to the Spirit Land," Moon Wolf snapped. "He already crossed over the Road and so that place is closed to him now. His spirit will follow the same route all others do when they are separated from the Spirit Road!"
They stared at him in confusion. After a moment Charmian's eyes grew wide, and she slowly turned to look at Arch Rock. Her fingers clenched, knuckles going white.
"He's a..." Her eyes watered. "He's a lost spirit...?" She whirled back to Moon Wolf and Stick-In-The-Dirt. "Like Chakenapok? Please tell me that's not what he is--!"
Stick-In-The-Dirt flushed and ducked his head. "I...I do not know much about such things," he murmured. "Yet this is what the Mide have taught--that if a spirit is separated from the Road--it will have nowhere to return to. Not the Spirit Land, and not the land of the living."
Charmian pulled herself upright and shook Thomas's arm. "We have to get him back!" she cried. "Everything I went through! I HAD him! He CAN'T be lost!"
Thomas just shook his head helplessly. "I--I don't know what to do, Charmian--!"
She let go of him and whirled to Moon Wolf, gripping his arm so abruptly that he gasped and nearly jerked away. "You were a wabano!" she shouted. "Chakenapok did the same thing to you! You have to know SOMETHING that can help!"
Moon Wolf's face paled; he ducked his head just as Stick-In-The-Dirt had done. "I...I never learned such medicine," he whispered. "I am sorry..."
Charmian let go of him and clenched her fists. "Somebody has to know SOMETHING!"
Niskigwun took a step forward. "If we find his spirit somehow, and connect it with his body--will this work?" he asked, sounding as frustrated as Charmian. "Will he come back then--?"
Thomas frowned at him. "But we don't have his body!"
Charmian's face fell and the tears welled up in her eyes anew. "We don't even know where it is--!"
"Yes we do!"
They all jerked, then glanced toward the land side of the Arch. Manabozho stood here, having said barely a word during the entire exchange; he clenched his own fists as he looked from one of them to the next, before fixing his stare on Charmian. Her brow furrowed.
He gave a sharp nod. "Exactly where we left it," he said, his eyes black.
They all stared at him. After a moment Niskigwun slowly stood straighter, and his wings rose.
"The Fairy Realm," he whispered.
"In the river," Charmian barely managed to say. She glanced up at the Michinimakinong. "Do you really think he'd still be there--?"
He shrugged and shook his head. "If the water has not swept him away--then yes! Exactly where we left him!"
"The water was freezing when we were last there," Moon Wolf stated. "If it hasn't warmed too much yet..."
"He can still be there," Charmian cut in, and sucked in a breath. She grabbed Niskigwun's arm now. "We HAVE to go back! We have to get him! It's the only way!"
"Even if you do bring back his body," Stick-In-The-Dirt cut in, waving to get her attention, "then his spirit will still be lost! He was separated from his body at death--he will not know to return to it! You would have to find him and guide him straight to it!"
"Even if this happens, he will probably not be the same as before," Moon Wolf warned.
Charmian opened her mouth to ask him, "Does this matter?"--before Manabozho took a step forward and clenched his fists and yelled, "Does this matter? At least he will be back! I don't CARE how he'll be! Just as long as he comes back!"
Charmian let go of Niskigwun's arm. "I don't care either," she said harshly. "Whatever it takes. I want to bring him back."
Moon Wolf and Stick-In-The-Dirt both stared at her. Everyone else remained silent, then Niskigwun flared his wings and grasped his spear.
"I will go and find him," he said. "And bring him back."
"I'm going too," Charmian said, stepping toward him. Thomas looked as if he wanted to grab her arm, but he merely held up his hands, letting out a frustrated sound. Manabozho moved to stand beside her and glared at him so that he blinked.
"Me as well," he said with a glower.
Stick-In-The-Dirt paused, then hurried forward and lightly grasped Charmian's wrist before letting it go. "I will stay here at the rock and keep watch for his spirit, just in case!" he promised. "If I see it--"
Mani whistled. Will keep watch for him too! Ask other manitous--look all over for him!
Charmian took in a breath. "You'll...you'll both do that? For Wabasso?"
Mani shook his head and whistled. For you! He turned and trotted off into the woods, and a second later was gone.
She glanced at Stick-In-The-Dirt next. The medicine man flushed, then averted his eyes and coughed meekly.
"I...I do this to be of service," he said in a small voice, then turned and headed for the way down into the mini-arch beneath the rock. He disappeared from sight, and the other five were left remaining in a confused jumble.
Charmian looked at Thomas and Moon Wolf and saw the lost looks on their faces; her ears burned. Thomas's own face flushed slightly and he seemed as if he wanted to say something, then shrugged it off. "I'll see if I can find Pakwa," he mumbled. "Maybe he can keep his eyes open too."
Charmian let out her breath. "Thanks, Thomas." She took a step back and continued staring at Moon Wolf. "Moon Wolf...?"
The medicine man stared back at her, then his shoulders slumped slightly; his eyes held an oddly angry yet empty look.
"I do not know what I can do," he said, almost under his breath. "I have no way left to help."
Charmian fiddled with her Megis shell. "You've already done a lot more than you know, Moon Wolf," she said softly, then turned and jogged off after Niskigwun, Manabozho following; Moon Wolf turned to watch them go, an indescribable look on his face.
* * * * *
To their surprise, they were not the first ones to reach the Fairy Arch. Peepaukawiss stood here, wringing his hands and shifting from foot to foot; Charmian nearly jumped when Mudjikawiss appeared, stepping around the rock and giving them all a black look as they approached.
"You took damned long enough!" he snapped.
"I haven't heard from any of you in so long!" Puka whimpered. "I didn't know where to look, so I thought, maybe if I stand here long enough..."
"We have to go back through," Charmian said, and the other two gawked at her as Niskigwun climbed up toward the opening.
"We have to go back?" Puka echoed. "But--I HATE that place! No offense!" he cried to Niskigwun when the Michinimakinong gave him a look. "But it's--well--" His eyes welled up and his lip quivered. "Rather too unpleasant a place to go back to just now!"
"I'm trying to get back Wabasso's spirit," Charmian said, and they looked at her again. "But we need his body first. It's back where we left it--through the Fairy Arch."
Mudjikawiss wrinkled his nose. "Bring him back? What for? I already told you I am the only one needed to defeat this weakling!"
Charmian's face screwed up and a scream started rising in her throat. Before it could emerge, however, Manabozho's eyes were glowing, but even more surprising, Puka was already busy striking the big man as hard as he could with his fists. Mudjikawiss gaped and then threw up his arms to shield himself; Puka's blows weren't very effective, but he was raining them down like a feathered jackhammer.
"YOU ARE SUCH AN INSENSITIVE BOORISH ASS!!" he screamed. "HE'S OUR BABY BROTHER!! YOU COULD AT LEAST SHOW SOME PROPER RESPECT! I SHOULD DRAG YOU BACK TO THE CROOKED TREE AND LET NOKO GIVE YOU WHAT FOR!!"
The other three just stood and stared at the scene in awe. Mudjikawiss actually looked somewhat panicked as Puka continued attacking him; Charmian supposed that it was probably the closest he had ever come to feeling fear in his life. She turned to Manabozho and tugged on his arm; the blue glow faded from his eyes and he let out his breath, blinking. "Let's get going," she said. "They'll come, or not, but I want to get him as soon as we can."
Manabozho nodded, feathers sinking; Niskigwun cast them one last look before disappearing through the Arch, then the others followed suit. As soon as they were through, Puka let up with one last smack to Mudjikawiss's arm; he stood flaring all his feathers while the big man continued cringing, and made a horrible face.
"I am FULLY capable of taking every single insult you throw out at ME!" he screeched. "But the next time you go after our baby brothers I'll--I'll shove so many acorns in your quiver that it'll EXPLODE AND TAKE YOU WITH IT!!"
He turned in a huff and clambered up toward the Arch, jumping through. Mudjikawiss was left gawking after him in stunned disbelief before managing to gather his tattered pride and follow.
* * * * *
The snow had completely fled the Fairy Realm, though the fields and trees were still soaked and wet, a tiny chill still in the air. Charmian stared at the Sky Tree as they made their way back toward the lake and the forest river, rubbing at her arms. At least it didn't seem to have been terribly affected by the cold.
"How's Geezhigo-Quae doing?" she murmured. "She wasn't so well off, the last time I saw her..."
"I brought her back the spirit stone," Niskigwun replied, leading their group. "She destroyed it, and the Tree grew stronger. She does much better now, though the land is still out of balance. The Shadow Wolves--"
"I beat down every last one of them I found," Mudjikawiss growled. "It is not my fault the fairy does not want them killed. THIS would have been more effective."
"At the moment they are gathered in the forest near the river," Niskigwun said, making Charmian gasp. He held up his hand as he walked. "They are being guarded by Michinimakinong, so they do not cause more trouble. Something..." He paused, then said, "Something...strange...happened, in your absence."
Charmian's brow furrowed. "'Strange'...?"
He looked over his shoulder at her. "Their eyes have changed," he said, simply, at which Charmian's eyes widened, and she nudged Manabozho aside to step closer to him.
"Their eyes--?" She took in a breath. "That means--Chakenapok let them go! If their eyes changed, they've gone back to normal!" She cast a confused look toward the lake as they approached it. "But--why would he do that? They've been serving him the entire time I've been here!"
"Perhaps he has no more use for them," Manabozho suggested. "Now that he got what he wanted." His face grew dark and he fell silent.
Charmian frowned slightly, then chewed on her lip. "Or maybe he's focusing his attention on something else," she murmured uneasily, and that silenced all of them for a moment.
They reached the lake and started down toward the river leading into the woods. As soon as they set foot among the trees it grew as dark as dusk, and Charmian noticed that she wasn't the only one to huddle closer to the others, casting anxious glances into the forest. They passed near where the manitous had been killed, and Charmian shivered when she saw the tiny blue dots floating among the trees; she hoped that those manitous had made it across the Spirit Road safely. She frowned and wondered if she had even spoken with any of them during her time there.
The river flowed freely now, bits of ice still occasionally passing by, and eventually the roar of the waterfall could be heard. They made sure to stick to the bank rather than end up upon the bluff, and soon enough they could see the water falling through parts in the branches. Charmian's pace faltered; she felt something gripping her elbow, and looked to see that Manabozho didn't look ready to go any closer, either. She bit her lip. Peepaukawiss scrunched up on her other side and chattered loudly.
Niskigwun and Mudjikawiss halted and looked back at them. "I can go alone..." Niskigwun offered, but Charmian bit her lip harder and shook her head. She carefully pulled herself loose of Manabozho's grip and stepped hesitantly forward.
"I...I should go too." Misery settled upon her face. "Since it's my fault it even happened."
Niskigwun opened his mouth, then shut it and lifted his head. Charmian turned to see Manabozho walk ahead of her and toward the river. His face was pale but set, yet she could tell from the tremble in his feathers that he was afraid of what they'd find. After a moment she and Puka and Niskigwun followed, Mudjikawiss taking up the rear.
When they reached the pool Manabozho was already standing there, staring down at the water with his fists clenched tight at his sides. Charmian stepped up beside him to peer into his face and saw how glassy his eyes were, the water reflecting in them. She looked down into the black swirling pool and shivered again.
"Do you really think...he's still down there...?" she murmured.
Niskigwun rubbed at his neck. "If he is not...then he is in the lake." He made a slight face. "But this water is very deep and none of us have ever gone in it for very long. We thought it best not to anger the manitous who live here."
"The only manitous I've seen so far are those in the woods, and the Shadow Wolves," Charmian said.
Niskigwun blushed. "No one has ever really seen them," he retorted. "But they still live there!"
Charmian nodded hastily. "Okay--okay." She started digging around in her pockets and pulled out Laughing Lynx's pouch, opening it and peering inside. "Do you think they take tobacco here...?"
Niskigwun gave her a curious look. "You carry tobacco...?"
"Lately, yeah." She stooped forward and sprinkled some atop the water, then paused and waited. They all peered at the water for so long that she thought she was seeing things again, like the walking leaves, then she blinked a few times when she realized that something really was moving around down there.
Her brow furrowed. "Manitous...?"
Something made a shuffling noise and they all lifted their heads and looked back. Mudjikawiss stood at the edge of the woods, gripping onto one of the trees; his face had gone gray and his eyes were as round as marbles. Charmian's brow furrowed; Puka took in a long gasping breath and flung a hand up at him.
"YOU'RE AFRAID OF GHOSTS!!" He started waving his arms frantically. "I WOULD BE LAUGHING AT YOU IF THIS WERE NOT SO SERIOUS!!"
Mudjikawiss bristled and bared his teeth. "I AM NOT AFRAID OF GHOSTS! I SIMPLY DON'T LIKE THEM!!"
"But--ghosts are just the same as spirits!" Charmian protested with a frown. "If you're afraid of ghosts, why aren't you afraid of all those halfling spirits floating around Arch Rock and everywhere else on the Island--?"
She cut herself off as soon as she saw the last of the blood drain from Mudjikawiss's face. His eyes were the size of saucers now. Without a word he crept back behind the trees and vanished from sight.
Manabozho tugged on her arm. "Something--something's coming up," he said in a strained voice; Charmian turned and looked down into the water again. Vague shapes drifted beneath the surface, but the water was too dark to make them out clearly.
She bit her lip, then stooped down beside the water and leaned over it. The other three gasped and surged forward but she waved at them. "I'll be okay! Aside from Kawaduk I have yet to have a manitou try to bite my head off!" At the memory of the halfling manitou, the hideous son of Mitchi Manitou and Ocryana, she shivered and made a face, but shook it off and leaned over the water again. She sprinkled a bit more tobacco just to be sure. "I'll just try to ask them if they can help us any."
So saying, she sucked in a breath and plunged her head under the water. She shook at how cold it was--then forced herself to open her eyes. The vague shapes still floated around, and she sensed that she was being watched. She sent out a thought, as she knew that she could hardly whistle underwater; as soon as she did, they started drawing nearer, and she waited as they approached before trying to address them directly.
As their eyes finally came into clearer sight she had to pinch her mouth shut tighter, she was so surprised.
Those aren't manitous--!
She yanked her head up out of the water with a gasp, sputtering and shaking droplets from her hair. Everybody jumped back and gaped at her. She glanced back at them with wide eyes.
"That's--that's not manitous!" she gasped. "It's Nebanaubae! You guys've been avoiding Nebanaubae!"
Niskigwun's mouth fell open. "Nebanaubae--?" He dashed to the edge of the water and peered within. Sure enough, the faces looking back out at them possessed the same large round eyes and green pallor as the fish people. The Michinimakinong let out a sputtering noise of dismay. "This entire time we've been propitiating Nebanaubae?"
"Well, if anybody knows the bottom of the river, it's fish people, right?" Charmian asked, and turned back to the water. She slipped her head under the surface this time and opened her eyes, almost pulling back when she saw a Nebanaubae face right before hers. A bubble escaped her nose and drifted over its own; then she tried her best to smile without opening her mouth, though she was sure that she must look nuts. The Nebanaubae just tilted its head curiously. Two or three more came up around it, also staring at her as if she were the fish and they were the viewers.
Charmian shut her eyes to concentrate. I'm looking for...somebody. Somebody who fell in the river. She bobbed her head toward the waterfall. Up there. We need to find him...do you know where to look?
She opened her eyes now, and found them still staring at her. They blinked their large lazy eyes and fluttered their fins slowly, and for a moment she thought that they didn't understand, until an odd slurry voice came in the back of her head.
We know everything that goes beneath the water. You look for the White Rabbit person?
Charmian blinked, then nodded her head. That's him!...you know where to find him? When they slowly moved their heads in a sort of nod she let hope enter her eyes. Can you bring him to us?
He is dead, the Nebanaubae said, and she paused when she realized that they were all talking in unison. You do know this, don't you...?
Charmian nodded again, feeling her lungs start to hurt. What will you give us? they asked, and she furrowed her brow, then pulled her head out of the water. She coughed and looked back at the others.
"What...what do fish people like?" she sputtered.
They all just stared at her stupidly. "Like...?" Niskigwun echoed.
Charmian waved her hands. "You know! LIKE! They want a trade! I have to give them something before they'll get him back!" She looked at each of them pleadingly. "Don't you have anything they might like?"
They all looked at each other, stricken, then started poking in their pouches. Puka frowned and held up what looked like a stick with a piece of leather attached to it. "I have this game if they want it!" he offered, furrowing his brow.
"All I have is my arrows!" Niskigwun said in an exasperated voice.
"I don't think they'd be much interested in that!" Charmian patted at her own pouches and pockets, but all that she could find was her tobacco and Noko's pinecone. She bent back to the water and stuck her head back in, feeling incredibly foolish.
I don't know what you guys want! she exclaimed. Would you take a rain check--?
They stirred the water with their fins. You have something we can use, they said, at which her face screwed up in confusion.
They nodded vaguely. Before Charmian could ask them what it might be, something flashed in her head, and her eyes widened. She blinked.
That's what you want--? But--what can you do with that--?
They just continued staring at her with their odd lazy eyes, and she reluctantly pulled her head out of the water again, coughing. She turned to look at Manabozho.
"They...they want this." She dug in her pocket and pulled out Wabasso's flute.
Manabozho's eyes grew huge and his feathers flared. In an instant he snatched the flute away from her, clutching it to himself.
"They can't have it!" he snapped.
Charmian pushed herself up. "Manabozho, it's the only thing they're interested in! We can't get Wabasso back without it!"
He bared his teeth. "It's the ONLY thing I have left of him!"
Charmian opened her mouth to retort, then remembered where she'd heard those words before--she'd said them herself, about her dreamcatcher. She let out her breath in a whoosh, then sighed and rubbed at her forehead.
"Manabozho," she murmured, "I'm sorry...but you have to give it up. Would you rather keep it, or have Wabasso back? Do you really think Wabasso would care so much about it if the choice were up to him?"
Manabozho looked stricken. "Please, Baby Brother!" Puka coaxed. "He can always make another one, or I can, even! It's just a silly little flute..."
"If it brings that weakling back, won't you be happier without it?" Mudjikawiss's voice called from back among the trees.
Manabozho's eyes welled up, but he bit his lip and seemed to be wavering. After a few moments of shifting from foot to foot, his feathers sank and he reluctantly held the flute out. Charmian took it, but she had to tug to pry it loose of his grip. She hated the look in his eyes once he relinquished it, and gave him the most sympathetic look that she could.
I'm sorry, Manabozho...but you know it's for the best.
Just make sure they keep their promise, he thought miserably.
Charmian nodded. She turned back, and put her head beneath the chilly water once more. The group of Nebanaubae continued staring up at her.
Here, she said, holding the flute under the water. What you wanted.
The Sleeping Flute, they said, and the lead one reached up to gently take it from her hand. It held it out and the rest floated around it, peering at it closely. Its medicine is much like ours at times. It is odd that a land person could have made such an item.
Wabasso was part water manitou, Charmian thought. Maybe his power was related to yours; who knows. She fidgeted. Will you bring him back now? You got what you wanted.
The Nebanaubae started drifting away, though the lead one remained in its place. We will bring him back up to you, it said, and she paused when she realized that it was speaking alone now. It tilted its head and she frowned slightly at the odd look on its face. There is one more little thing you could grant me, it said, and Charmian blinked when she realized that this fish person looked familiar.
Puka, Manabozho, and Niskigwun leaned far over, staring at Charmian as she bent over the river with her head submerged beneath the dark water. They frowned when her spine stiffened, then she yanked her head upwards, gasping and sputtering at the air. She jerked backwards and started spitting and gagging, clawing at her mouth and making a horrific face.
"EW! EW! EUGHKK!! AAGHHKK!!" She leapt to her feet and stuck her tongue out, shaking her head wildly as the others jumped back as well and gaped at her.
"What is it?" they all chorused in a near-panic.
Charmian could only continue spitting and gagging for a moment or two. "That--that--thing--KISSED ME!!" she screamed at last, and commenced sticking out her tongue and hacking. "GROSS FISH LIPS KISS GROSS GROSS!!"
Everyone's jaw hit the ground. They dashed forward and looked down into the water--but the Nebanaubae was already turning and swimming away, casting an odd sort of half-smile back at them as it went. Puka gasped and pointed, hopping up and down.
"Oh! Oh!! That's the same one! THE SAME ONE FROM THE BUBBLE!!" He clapped his hands together and squealed. "I THINK HE LIKES YOU!! OOOHHHHH HOW CUTE!!"
Charmian took enough time to launch herself at him and shove him violently toward the woods so that he fell over with a crash. She continued shaking her head and grimacing in disgust.
"This is the LAST time I am ever doing something like that for ANYBODY!!" she yelled. "Mitchi Manitou was bad enough--THIS WAS JUST PLAIN PERVERTED!!"
Niskigwun tensed and pointed at the water. "Look--! I think they're back!"
Charmian stopped rubbing at her tongue, and she and the others crowded upon the river's edge again, staring anxiously into the water. The vague shapes of the Nebanaubae slowly faded into view as they ascended toward the surface, and the harder she squinted, the more she could make out something pale that they carried between them.
Manabozho's and Puka's eyes widened, then grew wet.
Niskigwun put out his spear in front of them to nudge them all back, and they stepped away from the water, just before the surface broke, as the Nebanaubae appeared with their burden.
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