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Return To Manitou Island: Part 12
CHARMIAN CRINGED. For a moment she crouched and waited for the Shadow Wolf's claws to tear into her...but then an awful smell came to her nostrils instead, making her gag and cough. She faintly recognized the scent of burnt hair and burnt meat, and tentatively reached one hand up to feel her head. Her hair was intact.
And there was no Wolf tearing into her.
Pressing one hand to her mouth and nose to try to keep from gagging even worse, she lifted her head, tears filling her eyes, the smell was so bad. She twisted around to peer over her shoulder and her eyes widened when she saw the mangled black shape lying in a smoking heap behind her. It took her a few moments to convince herself it actually was the Shadow Wolf that had just been chasing her, and she slowly turned around, crawling a few more inches toward it and looking it over even though the smell was making her ill.
She could barely recognize the Wolf's grinning face, its lips curled back and its jaws frozen open. Its teeth still gleamed white, but the rest of it had been charred the same uniform shade of coal black. No fur remained on its body, and its limbs were twisted at impossible angles in a death spasm. Its eyes and ears were gone and smoke still rose from its body with a faint hiss as if it had just been taken off the spit.
Charmian grimaced. "Ewww."
A soft light fell over the scene, and she gasped and jumped back onto her knees. She looked up to see the strange ball of fire hovering several feet away, at about eye level if she would have been standing, pulsing and flickering. Charmian stared at it in growing confusion.
Ball lightning, she thought, and looked down at the charred remains of the Wolf again. Did I call it...?
She gasped again when the ball rose even higher into the air, flaring and zooming off through the woods. Charmian stood up and watched it go, bouncing from tree to tree as if it were stuck in a pinball game before disappearing completely. The woods once again grew dark, though Charmian stared for a long time at the spot where it had disappeared.
I didn't call on fire or lightning...so who did? Or did I do it unconsciously...?
Shifting rustling noises from further away in the woods convinced her to start moving. She hurried to get away from the dead Wolf before another one could come along and find her. It was a relief to breathe cool fresh air again, and she sucked in a great breath as she went, rubbing the tears from her eyes. She'd never smelled anything so awful in her life.
She had to remind herself of what she'd been doing before the fireball arrived, and slowed her step, putting a hand to her head and closing her eyes. She concentrated and searched the Island, looking for one power signature in particular.
Where are you...?
Her mental net dragged across the Island until finally snagging on something. Charmian zoomed in and determined that it really was Stick-In-The-Dirt before opening her eyes again.
Charmian let out a small sigh of relief. Stick-In-The-Dirt was alive and on the Island somewhere, at least. She narrowed it down and figured out that he must be not too far from Arch Rock itself. That was odd. She'd arrived there in the first place, and he hadn't been anywhere nearby.
A little spark of hope growing in her now, Charmian walked off, hoping to reach him before any other unforeseen creatures popped up to ruin her night.
She made it to the bottom of the huge hill, cutting back through the woods in the direction of Arch Rock. She walked in silence the entire time, but for the soft crunching of her feet against dead leaves and twigs, her hands jammed in her pockets. She thought over everything that had happened recently--Thomas, Tal Natha's confession, Manabozho's comments, the strange ball of fire--but none of it made much sense, no matter how she tried to fit it all together.
Maybe Stick can help me figure it out. He's sure a lot more patient than most of the others are!
It wasn't too long before she wandered up a path and came clear of the trees, the top of the arch showing just barely ahead of her. She made her way toward it and paused in the little clearing, looking around. The medicine man wasn't anywhere to be seen. She felt around for him mentally, but her earlier estimate hadn't been wrong. He was around here, somewhere.
She went to peer down into the hole formed by the arch, seeing the lakeshore far below, trees and shrubs lining the bluff all the way to the bottom. He wasn't on the shore. She looked at the base of the arch, but he wasn't there either. There wasn't anywhere on the rock itself that he could hide. She pushed her way through the bushes to reach the edge of the arch and glanced around. She'd never really noticed it before, but the rock extended far down into the bluff, twisting around and forming a natural cave as it pretzeled around itself. She bit her lip and stared down into the hole.
Maybe he was down there somewhere...?
Charmian sighed. Of course, he would be in one of the most inaccessible places possible. In resignation she turned around and grabbed hold of one of the saplings sprouting from the cliffside, lowering herself over the edge and slowly crawling down toward the cave.
It was rough going, to say the least. She slipped and tumbled a few times, always managing to catch herself before disaster could strike, but by the time she reached a level enough area to stand, her knees and elbows were bruised. She rubbed one particularly sore bruise and winced as she walked carefully toward the hole in the rock. She could see water out the other side, and realized this must not be an actual cave after all, but simply a twist in the stone. She made her way closer to it and then gasped and jumped, nearly losing her balance, when she saw Stick-In-The-Dirt sitting in the middle of it.
Charmian scrabbled at the rock and pulled herself up once more, shaking and sweating. Due to the way the formation was situated, she hadn't even seen him until she was practically on top of him. She stood gasping for a moment to try to settle her frayed nerves, then approached him. A little torch stuck out of a hole in the rock nearby, dimly illuminating the area, and he'd apparently painted this part of the rock with pictures as little animals danced around him in the firelight. He appeared to be sleeping.
Charmian stopped and leaned down to peer into his face. He sat upright, but his eyes were closed. If he were asleep, at least it would explain why he hadn't reacted to her near fall.
"Stick?" she said, waited for a response, and, when none was forthcoming, tried again, a bit louder. "Stick. This is a dumb spot to fall asleep in; wake up."
Still no response. Charmian sighed and reached out to shake his shoulder. Only now did the medicine man gasp and jerk awake, knocking his head against the rock. Charmian nearly fell over once more as well, but remembered to grab hold of the rock wall at the last moment. Her movement made the torchlight flicker, and Stick-In-The-Dirt lifted his head to look up at her, his eyes growing wide.
"Ch-Charmian--?" he stammered in seeming disbelief. He rubbed his eyes and looked up at her again.
Charmian nodded. "Yeah, it's me...quit doing that, I'm really here." She pulled his hand away from his eyes and he gasped again and stood up--more carefully this time, because of the low ceiling.
"You touched me!" he exclaimed.
Charmian's mouth twitched. "Yeah, I did. I'm not allowed to do that now?"
"You really are here?" He felt himself over, then held his hand over the flame. He brought it back with a hiss, rubbing his fingers. Charmian rolled her eyes.
"I just told you I'm here! You were sleeping. Why did you come all the way down here to sleep? You have no idea how many times I nearly killed myself just coming down here to see you." She looked him over and made a face. "Why are you so thin? Haven't you been eating anything?"
"I wasn't sleeping. I fasted and came here for a vision. I thought that you might be it. How did you get here?" He glanced upward at the bluff. "I never saw any 'big canoes' approach the shore..."
"That's because there weren't any this time. Tal Natha didn't bring me here." She responded to his confused stare by pulling the dreamcatcher out of her pack and holding it out to him. "This is what I used."
Stick-In-The-Dirt took the dreamcatcher as if afraid of breaking it and looked it over. "But...how? A dreamcatcher only guides dreams...it doesn't bring them. How could you have used this?"
"I don't know. But it worked, didn't it?" Charmian smiled and took the hoop back. "I almost get the feeling it's like it wanted me to come here." She trailed off when a cross voice in her head said, Unlike Tal Natha. She brushed it off and gestured at the arch above them. "What are you doing way down here? I practically came out on top of your head, but I don't remember sensing you here before, or anything."
"I might not have been here before. I came down here only the evening before last. I am to stay here for four days."
Stick-In-The-Dirt nodded. "This is how long it takes a spirit to make its way down the Spirit Road."
"Spirit...?" Charmian's memory of the day before yesterday came back and her shoulders slumped. "Oh."
Stick-In-The-Dirt sat back down with a sigh, and Charmian followed suit. He waved at the torch a bit as it had begun to sputter. "I was not there when Grandfather Yellow Turtle died," he said quietly. "So it's only fitting I should stay here and make certain he makes it to the Spirit Land as he should."
"Where is he?"
The medicine man pointed upward. "Not far from the rock. This is where he wished to be buried. It is also closest to the Spirit Road."
"What is the Spirit Road, exactly?"
"This is the path one must take to reach the Spirit Land. It takes four days to walk it, and there are many distractions along the way. Not everyone makes it; which is why I've stayed here. I hoped, perhaps, that I might know once he has gotten there; but I'm not sure if I could." He shrugged.
"I bet that you could," Charmian said. She couldn't think of anything else to say, so just sighed and leaned back against the rock. They stayed this way for a while before she finally remembered what she'd come to him to ask, but it hardly seemed appropriate, by now.
Stick-In-The-Dirt sighed and leaned back against the rock also. "Well...I have yet to see anything, besides you." He lifted his head. "What made you come here now, anyway? Did you have a dream?"
Charmian shook her head. "No...though I wanted to. I just wanted to stop by again and say hi to everybody. It looks like I was gone a little longer than I thought, though." She made a face.
"You were gone for many moons...even I lost count." He smiled. "Little Dove missed you, I know. She kept asking when you would be back. I had to keep going down to the lakeshore to drag her back to the camp."
"Yeah, I met her already! She looks completely different!" Charmian paused when Stick-In-The-Dirt's smile faded a bit, and rubbed at the back of her neck. "Um...sorry. I just wasn't expecting her to be dressed like that."
"Oh...you don't have to apologize. I should be used to it, by now." He sat forward and his smile returned. "Did you meet Sky?"
"You mean Page? Yeah, I saw him...he's cute!"
"He already knows how to use a bow and arrow. One of the boys from the camp taught him that. Little Dove is proud, but I wouldn't mention it around Monsieur Justin if I were you!"
Charmian laughed. "That sounds kind of backwards; usually it's the dad who wants his kids to hunt!"
"I plan on teaching him how to identify plants in the woods someday soon. I think he could make an excellent medicine man, if it were what he wanted. Just a moon ago I had him looking all over in the woods for a particular flower."
Well, if that wasn't a decent opening for her to ask her question, she didn't know what was. "That reminds me," she said, and saw that she had his attention. "I was...uh...told to look for something, but I don't know what it is. I thought maybe you would know? At least what it is, if not where I can find it?"
Stick-In-The-Dirt tilted his head and Charmian took it as a sign to continue. "I'm trying to find somebody who can help me figure out what's going on with the Shadow Wolves and everything," she said. "And I was told to look for a wabano. Whatever that is."
She fell silent when she saw Stick-In-The-Dirt's face go white. He sat back a bit, and she wondered what she'd said that was so offensive.
"What is it?" she asked, brow furrowing. "Did I say something I shouldn't have, or...?"
"Who...who told you to look for a wabano?" he asked in almost a whisper.
Charmian frowned. "Well...nobody, actually. But somebody mentioned one and said it might have something to do with what I'm trying to figure out...I just wanted to cover all my bases. I don't know where else to look." Stick-In-The-Dirt seemed to relax slightly, as if believing her story, and her frown grew. "Is it something bad? I didn't mean to be rude..."
"It is nothing you said," Stick-In-The-Dirt replied. He picked up a stick and poked at the torch, making it flare, before resting his arms against his knees and staring at the animal pictures on the rock face. Charmian waited for him to continue, but it was several moments before he did so.
"A wabano is a medicine man. You were told to seek out a medicine man."
"Oh!" Charmian's face brightened. "Well then, that's easy! That means you can help me out!"
Stick-In-The-Dirt shook his head, making her fall silent. "That's not how it is. A wabano is a medicine man, but I'm not a wabano."
Charmian frowned again, confused. "I don't get it."
"There is more than one type of medicine man," he explained. "A wabano is just one type. There are others. Each is assigned to do different things; some have different powers from others. For example--" he pointed up at the rock above "--I can gather herbs to heal the wounded and ill, and see to the burial of our dead. There are some, like Silver Eagle Feather, who can call upon spirits and summon the elements. Some are more powerful than others."
"Oh." Charmian tilted her head. "I think I get it. A wabano is just a type of medicine man who specializes in a certain area...right? Like different doctors treat different problems?"
"So, what is it that wabanos specialize in?"
He paused and averted his eyes as if uncomfortable. Charmian waited for a moment before he spoke again, hesitantly.
"A wabano...is one who practices a certain type of medicine." He paused. "I'm not certain how to describe it. The only thing I can say is that it's a dark medicine."
He nodded. "Bad medicine. That which most of us will refuse to practice."
"You mean wabanos are...evil?"
Stick-In-The-Dirt shook his head. "No...I don't think I would say this. Merely that the medicine they practice is a dangerous one...this is why there are so few wabanos, and why one is best advised not to seek them out. There is something not right with a wabano's medicine. It will work, yes, but the price one pays is always great. It is best not to look to a wabano for help, for you never know what you will have to pay in the end."
Charmian stared thoughtfully at the ground. "I think I understand," she murmured. She lifted her head. "So...are there any on the Island?"
Stick-In-The-Dirt looked stricken. "I told you," he said. "One should not go seeking out wabanos! You will get only grief if you do so!"
"But I only want to ask one something, that's all."
"You don't understand, do you? Merely asking for help can have its price. I beg you, please, seek out someone else instead. Perhaps another has your answers."
"I was told only a wabano could help me with this. I can't ask anybody else. It has to be a wabano." She stood up, and Stick-In-The-Dirt followed suit, as if to manually stop her though he held his place. "Please, Stick. It's really important." Taking note of the anxious look on his face, she added, "I'll be really careful, I promise. All I want to do is ask one something. I'll be polite about it and everything. If anything happens to me, it's not your fault, because you did warn me; I won't hold you responsible. Besides, how bad can one be? I fought Ocryana, didn't I?"
She hated using bragging rights to make a point, but this was the only comment that seemed to make the medicine man waver. He finally sighed and lowered his head. Charmian seized her chance and took a step toward him.
"Please, Stick? Do you know any on the Island?"
It was a long while before he answered. "There was only one I knew of for certain," he said. "And that was long ago. And you cannot turn to him now."
"Who was it and why can't I ask him?"
"Because he is not here anymore." He lifted his head to see the expression in Charmian's eyes when he explained. "I know that, at least for a time, Moon Wolf was a wabano. But from what I heard, he gave up those ways, and took to teaching others who sought his knowledge."
Charmian felt the blood drain from her face. "Moon...Moon Wolf was a wabano?" she whispered in disbelief.
"You mean, he practiced dark medicine? Bad medicine? But...he didn't say a thing about that when he was teaching me...!"
"This is because he had given up those ways long before you met him. He did not teach bad medicine," he hurried to say, as if understanding the look on Charmian's face. "So what you learned was not tainted. He only helped others understand what skills they already had."
Charmian shut her eyes and shook her head. No matter how confused and conflicted this revelation had just made her feel...she still hadn't found what she was looking for. Reactions could wait until later.
"All right...then...do you know of any others? Another wabano? I still need to find one, to help me figure this out..."
Stick-In-The-Dirt gave a heavy sigh. "There is only one other I know of," he admitted reluctantly, "and I can't be certain if the rumors are true. He may or may not be a wabano. All I know is that he practices in secret. I couldn't even tell you exactly where he lives, as nobody knows. I do not even know if he has always been here or not."
"What's his name? And do you know what he looks like so I can find him?"
"His name is Snow Bear. He is tall..." Stick-In-The-Dirt held a hand up in the air "...and wears long deerskin robes. He carries a walking stick made from the root of a tree. And his hair is long and white..." He trailed off when he saw the odd shade of gray Charmian's face had gone on hearing his description, and tilted his head to the side, looking puzzled. "What is it?"
Charmian swallowed, suddenly feeling as if a golf ball were stuck in her throat. "I think I already ran into him," she said in a miserable voice. "Literally."