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Return To Manitou Island: Part 28
Prisoners Of The Fairy Realm
CHARMIAN LET OUT a scream. Blue branches started whizzing past her head as the Michinimakinong carrying her somehow managed to dodge between them on his way up through the treetop. Despite his obvious skill in flying, she couldn't stop shrieking, the leaves and twigs sped by so fast.
Manabozho--who must have been picked up as well--yelled from somewhere nearby, "STOP SCREAMING!!"
Charmian clamped her jaws shut, but couldn't stop whimpering. The flight seemed to go on FOREVER! She caught a brief glimpse of the ground far below and nearly passed out; no tree could be so tall! Yet it just went on and on, the Michinimakinong's wings making the dry rustling noise of dragonflies. The other warriors had followed behind them, and it was only when Charmian felt the pressure on her head and shoulders lessen that she realized they were finally slowing down. She looked around herself at the great canopy of leaves surrounding them--now jet black rather than opal white--and then gracefully started to lower toward the dark blue branches. One particularly massive one stood out below and her feet touched against it. She held out her arms to try to keep her balance, the leaves below her blocking her view of the ground, which was probably for the best, considering. She felt the Michinimakinong still holding onto her arm but was grateful for that, at the moment. Her teeth wouldn't stop chattering. She gasped when she noticed that the branch was changing colors before her eyes, shifting from midnight blue to sky blue to ocean blue and back again. Without thinking she clutched the hand that was clasping her, before turning to look into the Turtle Fairy's cold eyes. Then she hurriedly let go.
Manabozho stood nearby with two Michinimakinong behind him, a scowl on his face. The others fluttered up into the branches and vanished from sight. Charmian followed their progress and now noticed the source of the odd lights she'd seen from the ground; small multicolored crystals hung here and there, lighting the way through the otherwise dark tree canopy. The Michinimakinong let go of Charmian's arm but nudged her forward and she and Manabozho started walking again.
"Where are they taking us?" she whispered, knowing full well they could hear.
Manabozho gave her an evil look. "What did I tell you? That I know practically nothing about this place? You were the one who wanted a look at the stupid tree--well, now you're getting it!"
Charmian sighed and chewed on her lip. The branch had been worn smooth from what she assumed to be long usage, so many others must have gone this way before. Perhaps they would take her to see the manitou in charge. She let herself feel a bit of hope again.
That hope was long dashed by the time she found herself and Manabozho shut in a small room in the side of the tree instead, one of the little crystals hanging from the ceiling, and a small window cut in the side and looking out through a break in the leaves, providing the only sources of light. Manabozho simply sat scowling against the wall while Charmian explored the room thoroughly. Aside from it being made entirely of...well, wood...and providing a pretty view of the swaying grasses and stands of pine trees far off...she could learn nothing more useful about it.
By now, the mauve sky outside had turned to deep blue-violet studded with stars, and Charmian started pacing.
"I wonder what they're up to...? They can't keep us up here forever," she murmured.
"Yes they can," Manabozho said. "You should learn to stop thinking so positive."
"It's gotten us this far, hasn't it?"
His dark look only darkened. "Yes, it has. My point exactly!"
"I only learned to keep looking at the bright side from you guys," Charmian retorted. "Stop whining and start thinking! If they don't let us out, then we'll have to find a way out."
"Good luck, if you want to go plummeting to your death."
"All you have to do is turn into a bird or something, or call up some wind--heck, even I could do that..."
Manabozho waved at her. "Go ahead and try it then, if you think it's such a great idea."
Charmian stuck out her lip. "Fine!" She held her hand up at the window. "Wind!" She cast him a look over her shoulder. "Once we get down from here, I'll expect your full apology."
Manabozho just smirked. Charmian blinked and turned back to the window to notice that nothing had happened. She waved her hand a few times and repeated the command, yet the breeze continued the same as it had before.
"Crap!" She let out a frustrated sigh and pulled her hand back in. "The manitous must be cutting out on me again...well, you have power over wood, why don't you tell the tree to do something?"
In response Manabozho put his hand against the floor. His fingers glowed with the odd glitter he sometimes let off, but nothing happened. He lifted his hand and folded his arms again with the same bitter smirk. Charmian frowned in confusion.
"But...I don't get it. I thought you had power over things like this."
He waved at the ceiling. "Remember? We're not on Manitou Island anymore. We're in the Fairy Realm. Think about what happened when you returned to the mainland."
Charmian stared at him a moment, then her face fell. "You mean...they use different medicine here? We don't have any powers?"
He nodded once, and she sighed and turned away again, leaning her elbows on the ledge of the window. "Great...just when I was starting to get the hang of it again, too." She turned and slid down against the wall, clasping her knees. "I wonder how long they're going to keep us in here...? You think we'd get one call or something..."
"Call to what--?" Manabozho started to ask, when a light shone in the opposite wall, and a door appeared where one hadn't been before. They both turned their heads to look at it as a silhouette stepped into the room. Charmian stared at the young Michinimakinong who entered, carrying two wooden bowls in her hands.
Charmian's face lit up and she sat up further, though Manabozho merely scowled and huddled in on himself. The girl approached Charmian first and held out one bowl; Charmian wasn't surprised to see it contained what appeared to be soup, but she was grateful for the gesture of apparent friendship anyway. The Turtle Fairies couldn't be all bad if they were going to keep them fed.
"Thank you," she said as she took the bowl. She started sipping at it as the girl turned to Manabozho next and held out the second bowl. Charmian frowned at the even darker look he got on his face, but she wasn't prepared for when he lashed out, knocking the bowl from the Michinimakinong's hands. Both she and the girl gasped, and the bowl hit the wall, spilling its contents all over the floor.
"Manabozho!" Charmian exclaimed, giving him a furious glare. He simply drew back in on himself with the same dark look, and said nothing. The fairy turned back toward the doorway, rubbing at her hand; "I'm sorry," Charmian said, which earned her a brief look, before the girl stepped out and the door disappeared again. Silence and dimness resumed, and Charmian glared at Manabozho once more.
"What's wrong with you?" she demanded. "Can't you just accept a gesture of goodwill when you see it?"
"There is no goodwill here," Manabozho grumbled.
Charmian scowled now. "Well, I wouldn't be surprised if there isn't any now, thanks to that." She gave an exasperated sigh and set her own bowl down. "Look, if you have to be all pissy, at least keep it to yourself, okay? I'm trying my hardest to make peace with these guys and I don't want you ruining it all just because you're in a snit."
He didn't bother replying this time, so Charmian picked up her soup and resumed sipping. At least it tasted different from all the soup she'd had so far on the Island, though when she thought of this it only made her feel...homesick? How could one be homesick for something that wasn't even home? She finished the soup and balanced the bowl on her knee, looking up at the little glowing crystal and wondering how far away, physically, they were from Manitou Island. It seemed almost like the same place here, yet different, somehow. Almost like the difference between the Island and the Borderlands.
The Borderlands...I almost forgot about them.
She let her thoughts drift. The Borderlands were the strange region which lay beneath Crack-in-the-Island, the place where dreams were born; indeed, the land was said to lie halfway between dream and reality. It was where the Gemfields were, the place where all unborn dreams resided in the form of numberless crystals sprouting from the ground. A strange being known as Nathalit, "The Dreamer," resided here...Charmian felt another pang thinking of her...him...it, and wondered how she...it...whatever...was doing. It had been Nathalit who had led her here, through Tal Natha, and she realized she missed the strange creature almost as much as she missed...
A light appeared again, and her head jerked up and she blinked. Manabozho looked at the emerging doorway as well and a bigger silhouette appeared this time, the door disappearing behind it. Her eyes widened when she recognized the Michinimakinong who stood before them.
"You're the one who caught us," she said softly. The Michinimakinong gave her the same cold stare he'd given her before, and he still wielded his spear, but made no aggressive moves. She got the chance to look at him more thoroughly now; aside from the spare clothing and turtle tattoo he wore, his head was adorned with a seeming mass of feathers which sprouted out every which way, yet somehow seemed appropriate on him. They were of all different colors and Charmian found herself wondering what types of birds they'd come from. He wore an armlet of feathers as well, and longer ones decorated the leather coverlet for his wings. They even hung from his spear, and for some reason Charmian got a vague feeling of déjà vu which she could not explain.
The Turtle Fairy stared at her for a moment, then at Manabozho, then noticed the spilled soup on the floor. He looked at Charmian's empty bowl, then back at Manabozho.
Charmian stood up tentatively. He looked back at her. "Um...I was hoping we could maybe talk with the person in charge around here," she said. "That's why we came through..."
"How did you get through?" She started on hearing his voice; until now she'd only heard him speak in his own tongue, and only one word, at that. She paused at the sharp tone in which he spoke, but the unpleasant look on his face convinced her to answer.
"We came through the Fairy Arch. I was--"
"The Arch is broken," the Michinimakinong interrupted. "The gateway was sealed. How did you get through?"
Charmian bit her lip at the rude interruption but forced herself to hold her tongue. "He fixed it," she said, gesturing at Manabozho. The Turtle Fairy looked at him again. "I was told that--"
"The Arch was broken for a reason," he interrupted again. "Your kind is not welcome here."
Charmian ignored the Told you look Manabozho gave her. "I was kind of starting to get that," she said, struggling to keep her voice neutral. "But it was important that we talk with--"
"You are trespassing upon Michinimakinong land," he continued. "You are not welcome here. Why you did not take the broken Arch as a sign, I do not know."
"I'm sorry already!" Charmian blurted out, her temper finally flaring. Manabozho raised an eyebrow but she continued to ignore him. "We didn't mean to trespass, okay? It's just that it's important that we talk with whoever's in charge around here. I didn't mean to break any of your rules. But it's important. The Island depends on it."
"The Island is not our concern," the Michinimakinong said curtly.
Charmian blinked in disbelief. "What do you mean, none of your concern? You guys live on it!"
"We live here. The Island is no longer our home. People such as you ensured that."
Charmian ground her teeth. "We reached here from the Island."
"This does not matter. The land of the Michinimakinong would exist even without the gateway." His eyes bored through her. "Your reason for being here is insufficient."
"Fine," Charmian snapped. She waved her arms. "Punish us, then. Or kick us out, or whatever. But at least let me talk with the person in charge first, okay? Let me explain it to him. Then if he still thinks the same way you do, you can get rid of us or whatever it is you guys do. But it took a lot of trouble for us to get here, and the very least you can do is allow us that. Please?"
She forced herself to say this last word, even though it tasted bitter in her mouth. The Michinimakinong continued staring at her coldly. She was beginning to believe he would dismiss her yet again, and they would be tossed back through the Arch...or something even worse...when he glowered and flicked his hand sharply. The doorway reappeared.
"Follow," he ordered.
Charmian let out her breath. Though his brusqueness still bothered her, she reminded herself that at least they'd gotten this far, whatever it meant. She stood and stepped toward him, then glanced back at Manabozho. He hadn't moved.
"Manabozho...? Are you coming?"
The dark look on his face didn't change and he didn't move a finger. Charmian sighed but decided not to push it.
"All right, you stay here." She followed the Michinimakinong toward the door. "I'll be back," she promised, looking back at him as she stepped out. She couldn't be sure if he met her eyes or not, before the doorway disappeared once more, leaving a wall of smooth wood. She and the Turtle Fairy stood out on a wide branch, the black leaves rustling above them.
He flicked his hand again. "Follow." He started off further up the branch and she obeyed, having almost to jog just to keep up with his brisk pace. They walked up the branch a ways before turning off onto a smaller branch, then crossing a hanging bridge to another large branch...they walked back and forth over so many of the limbs that Charmian found she couldn't even be sure what side of the tree they were on now, nor how far back they had left Manabozho. She started to wonder if this had been a good idea or not.
"This thing's like a giant maze," she said aloud, hoping to prompt the Turtle Fairy into conversation. He didn't even look at her. She suppressed a sigh, then picked up her pace to walk beside him. He cast her an annoyed-looking glance but still said nothing, only continued walking quickly, feathers flaring in the breeze. Charmian stared down at the smoothed branch path for a while, going over in her mind how she had come to be here.
"My name's Charmian," she said after a time. He didn't reply. She put her hands in her pockets and fiddled her fingers.
"What's your name?" she finally ventured, after several moments had passed.
He looked at her again, with apparent suspicion this time, then turned back to the path. So long a silence passed that she started to resign herself to never talking with him.
"Niskigwun," he said at last.
"Niskigwun?" Charmian tested the odd name. "What's it mean?"
Another pause. He didn't meet her eyes, simply stared ahead. Then, in a more subdued voice, "Ruffled Feathers."
"Ruffled Feathers." Charmian smiled slightly. "Well, it fits."
One more look, this one both suspicious and puzzled. She had to keep herself from laughing at him, feeling that might make him clam up again. His pace began to slow, and it was only then that she saw the carved doorway ahead of them, in the wide trunk of the tree. When he waved at it it opened, the round door vanishing so Charmian couldn't tell where it had gone. She slowed to a stop, but followed him when he went inside. She glanced over her shoulder to see the door reappear behind them, then hurried to catch up with Niskigwun. They walked down a darkened hallway and passed through another door. She was so absorbed in keeping up with the Turtle Fairy that at first she failed to notice her surroundings, until it began to grow lighter around her; her step faltered and she stopped once more, staring in awe at the huge room which surrounded her.
Its floor and walls and ceiling were made all of wood, of course, hollowed out and smoothed by what must have been years of use. The floor sank slightly toward the middle like a shallow bowl, and crystals of all shapes and sizes hung from the ceiling and protruded from the walls, offering their multicolored light. Charmian stared at the large rounded ones set up in a ring around the walls, then gasped when Niskigwun nudged her in the back with the flat of his spear. She glanced at him and he nodded shortly toward the other side of the room. She followed his nod to see that a wide opening yawned across from her, offering a view of the land outside. The leaves still rustled in the breeze, and the stars twinkled over the darkened landscape. A tall, shadowy form stood here, silhouetted against the deep blue, and Niskigwun bowed his head.
"I apologize," he said aloud, "but she wished to speak with you. She is...persistent."
Charmian saw the dark form turn its head slightly, as if perusing her. "That's him?" she whispered to Niskigwun. "The manitou of the tree...?" He frowned at her but she broke away, walking toward the middle of the room and stopping there. "Um...Sir?" she called out, feeling a little stupid now that she was finally here. "I'm sorry I caused so much trouble, but it's important..."
The shadow turned and nodded at Niskigwun, who bowed again and turned away toward the door. Charmian watched him as he disappeared, and she felt a twinge of anxiety at being left alone. He hadn't even told her the manitou's name. How was she supposed to address him?
"You may call me Geezhigo-Quae," a voice said, and Charmian jumped and gasped, spinning back around. The shadow was moving toward her. Even before it stepped into the light, she found herself confused by the pitch of its voice...but everything was explained as soon as the manitou stepped into the light. Charmian's own voice disappeared when she found herself staring up into the stern face and sapphire-blue eyes of a woman.