Return To Manitou Island: Part 32
The Name Of The Beast
CHARMIAN FOUND HERSELF staring into the same strange yellow eyes she'd seen in her first dream on the Island, only this time, instead of being surrounded by a mere shadow, they were surrounded by an actual face. She had the chance now to finally look at him, and noticed that he appeared to be native, just as she'd expected, but aside from that she didn't recognize him. He was leanly built and sparely dressed, his head bald except for a lock of hair decorated with spiky feathers on the side. He wore the same sort of necklaces as most of the others she'd seen on the Island and in the Fairy Realm, one pendant forming something that resembled a flint arrowhead. She couldn't be sure, but in the flickering light it looked as if he had flames tattooed on his face. The reddish light just gave his skin an even redder look, though his eyes stayed the same malevolent yellow as always. Charmian shivered when she realized how much they reminded her of the Shadow Wolves.
The yellow-eyed man offered her a chilly smile.
Charmian forced herself to blink and break the stare, then stood as straight as she could, lifting her head.
"So you're the one controlling the Shadow Wolves?" she said, unable to think of anything else to say.
His smile grew and he put one hand to his chest and tilted his head in what might have been a mock bow. "I won't pretend not to be, as it seems you've figured at least that much out on your own."
"What about that other guy? The one with the wolf mask?"
"He is what you would call a 'pet project' of mine. It is easy enough to control a Wolf; one of your sort is another matter entirely, yet something I thought might be amusing. Aside from that, I'm afraid I can't tell you more; you'll have to find out for yourself."
"So he's one of us--?" Charmian had to cut herself off when he lifted his hand and wagged his finger, shaking his head in an "Ah-ah" gesture. She bit her lip to stifle a retort, then took a breath and let it out.
"All right then--what can you tell me?"
This question seemed to amuse him even more. "You come all this way," he said, "and ask me what can I tell you? This is hardly a good question, Mainlander; try again, and try better this time."
Charmian's temper finally flared. "I don't know what your deal is, but you're getting on my nerves. You could at least offer a straight answer!"
"I came when you called me," he said. "If you want a 'straight answer,' then you'll have to earn one."
"Earn one--?" She had to take a breath again; this guy was truly irritating in person. "What I really want to know is what you want with the Wolves and the Island. I know they're not bad creatures; you changed them somehow. That's not right; you have to change them back."
The look on his face finally changed so he looked slightly sour. "That would hardly be amusing."
"Stop talking about amusing already! Why are you doing this to the Wolves? What did they ever do to you?"
He wagged his finger again. "You ask too many questions you haven't earned the right to ask just yet. You're nosy, for a mainlander. And you still haven't asked the right one."
Charmian clenched her fists. "What do I look like, a psychic? Give me some kind of hint, then!"
He pursed his lips. "That would be cheating."
"Cheating?" Charmian's voice bounced off the low ceilings of the cave, ringing in her ears. "This isn't a game!"
"Isn't it?" This response came out so casually that she had to pause. His eyes bore the same unconcerned look as before, and now she could tell that he really didn't care what might happen because of his actions. He smiled at her again. "I make one move, and you come running from the mainland; I order one Wolf to jump, and you jump up to meet it. It sounds rather like a game to me. At least, it's as entertaining as one." He shrugged nonchalantly. "There are still plenty of moves left, so at least you won't be wanting for any surprises any time soon. If you expect me to tell you all of my moves, then it rather ruins the mood. Don't you think?"
Charmian could only stare at him in disbelief. "What sort of thing are you...?" she whispered, and this comment only seemed to amuse him even more. "You think this is fun--?"
"Of course I do. I wouldn't be wasting my time chatting with you here otherwise." He waved at the cave walls. "I could have thrown you out of here the moment you first set foot in this cave--you know I have this power--yet I refrained, if only to see the look on your face. You really do seem to consider yourself these people's hero, don't you?" His smile grew and his eyes flickered. "How does it feel to not be able to live up to your own reputation?"
Charmian clenched her fists again. "You wanted me here, I came," she snapped. "So cut out all the crap already! Tell me what you want with me, and with the Island, and then you'll either get it or you won't, but at least it'll be a fair fight if you're so interested in games!"
"With you?" He blinked now and she sensed he was genuinely surprised; then he started laughing. She stared at him, feeling just as surprised as he had looked, as he threw back his head and crowed at the ceiling. He laughed so loudly that she began to scowl, but he managed to speak before she could interrupt him, wiping at one eye.
"You think all of this is about you?" he exclaimed, still chuckling in amusement. "You give yourself far more credit than you're worth, Mainlander."
Charmian blinked and her fists loosened. "You mean...you're not here to fight me?" she asked, stunned.
He snorted dismissively. "This matter is hardly about you. You are just a trifle. An entertaining playpiece I found along the way. As much as I enjoy making you jump around like a frightened rabbit, you are hardly any of my concern. This game would go on with or without you, Mainlander. Your absence would be no loss." His mouth twitched. "Though I must admit you've made a few things easier for me, and may still do so, as it is..."
"Then what do you want with the Island?" Charmian retorted. "If I'm not the reason you're here, then that has to be it."
He shook his head, baffling her. "Wrong again, Mainlander...I hardly care whether this little crumb of rock lives or dies. It's not my concern. This 'Island' everyone goes on about so much is as much a playpiece as you and anyone else is. It just happened to be the right place at the right time, is all."
"So what do you want?" Charmian cried in utter confusion.
The yellow-eyed man's smile deepened and his eyes flared just as the odd reddish light died down, making them glow even more brightly and throwing his face into shadow. Charmian shivered when he answered, "Revenge."
As if in response to this, the hidden flames flared up with a massive roar, making her jump and glance around, afraid of being burned. When she looked at him again he still smiled in that too-pleasant manner, as if waiting for her to ask her next question.
"Revenge on who?" she whispered.
He shook his head. "That would be cheating," he said, and lifted his hand. Flames formed around it, spilling from his fingertips and enveloping his arm until he was almost completely consumed by them. Charmian stepped back and shielded her eyes as he appeared to spontaneously combust, and the reddish walls of the cave began to fade around her. She glanced up at them with a gasp.
If I wake up now, I might never get back here again!
"Wait a minute!" she yelled as the flames roared louder. "This is hardly fair! You have ALL the moves and I don't have anything to go on! If you want a fair game then you have to give me a hint. At least tell me your name!!"
The word name bounced off the walls as the flames abruptly died, leaving the yellow-eyed man standing there just as he had been a moment before. He tapped his finger against his chin in a thoughtful gesture and then shrugged.
"Very well," he said. "I suppose you deserve one small hint, for making it this far. I must admit I'm surprised you managed to do so." He gave her the too-pleasant smile, and now she saw that his face was decorated with tattooed flames, as were his upper arms, and those plus the flint pendant made it look as if he truly did belong in this fiery place.
"You may call me Chakenapok," he said simply, and then the fire blinded her again, the acrid scent of smoke filled her nostrils, and she coughed as the cave filled with the thick clouds, turning everything black.
Light began to filter thinly through the thick smoke which surrounded Charmian's head, until she realized...there was no smoke...she could breathe again. And the light was coming from above her, and it wasn't the hot red of fire. It was white, and she could hear birds singing.
She squinched her eyes, then tried opening them. Her head throbbed horribly--had she really breathed in that much smoke?--but she managed to force them open, although they felt raw and swollen. Something green moved around over her head and it took her a long while to figure out it was leaves.
Leaves...? Where am I...?
She tilted her head to the side, then grimaced. Every single movement seemed to aggravate the throbbing. She had to turn her head very slowly to hope to avoid crying out, and saw grass and earth beside her. Turning her head equally slowly to the other side showed her a spring bubbling nearby, and now she realized that she could really smell smoke, it was just that it was very faint, and nothing at all like that she'd smelled in Chakenapok's cave.
She tilted her head back now and saw it--a small fire, crackling not too far away. A pole had been erected over it, and something familiar hung from the pole. Charmian stared at it for a long while, then her eyes grew. She gasped and looked down at herself. Somebody had covered her with furs.
As if on cue, a head appeared out of nowhere right above her, and even though her brain was still foggy she recognized Walks-On-The-Shore. He smiled and held up his hand in belated greeting.
"So we meet again," he said; then, "Yes, you can thank me for cleaning you up and making you presentable."
Charmian opened her mouth and SCREAMED.
"YOU TOOK OFF MY CLOTHES!!"
This shriek echoed all throughout the woods, bouncing off what seemed to be every single tree on the Island. Walks-On-The-Shore winced and covered his ears, backing away as Charmian sat up, clutching the furs to herself and gawking at her clothes, which hung over the fire. She struggled to stand up without dropping any of her coverings, which was quite an effort, considering how badly her head throbbed and how her stomach lurched.
"They were all soiled with mud and stinking of whiskey," Walks-On-The-Shore groused. "I thought I was doing you a favor, but if this is how you're going to thank me--"
"YOU TOOK OFF MY CLOTHES!!" Charmian shrieked again, unable to think.
Walks-On-The-Shore made a face at her. "It's not as if I saw anything I've never seen before!"
Charmian threw back her head and screamed even louder than she had already, if that was even possible. "YOU'VE NEVER SEEN MINE!!"
"I wasn't even looking at anything!" he protested, as she reached the fire and managed to pull down her clothes, hunching down in the furs and trying to cover herself up as best she could, scrabbling to put them back on. He stood and watched her curiously the entire time. When she was done she threw the furs off and stomped toward him, jabbing her finger at his chest.
"I don't care if you're Ocryx himself! NOBODY takes off my clothes without my permission!!"
He made another face. "So you'd rather I left you with those two louts who soused you up? You couldn't even walk, you know. But if you like drooling all over yourself, you were in good company...and I suppose drooling is good every now and then..."
He started blithering to himself, and Charmian took the chance to turn away and clench her fists, letting out the most irritated sound she could, short of using four-letter words. Just out of frustration she jerked up her hand and yelled, "FIRE!" and blasted a fireball at the earth. The sight of the smoking and curling leaves made her feel a little bit better, and she took a breath and let it out, turning to face him again.
"...and in some cultures, spittle is supposed to have medicinal properties, so I've heard," Walks-On-The-Shore was saying, gesturing earnestly at a tree as if conversing with it. "Though I haven't had the chance to try it out for myself, still, it would be one way to garner strange looks..."
"I'll GIVE you a lot more than a strange look if you don't go away and leave me alone!" Charmian shouted. She picked up her pack from the ground. "And STOP TALKING TO THAT TREE!"
Walks-On-The-Shore glared at her, then pressed his hand against the trunk as if covering something up. "It has a name, you know! And it's fit to bite your fingers off if you don't address it more respectfully! And I'll have you know its bite is worse than its bark!"
Charmian stared. She mentally felt at the tree and sensed no such impression from it, then mentally slapped herself for checking in the first place. She ground her teeth and got ready to let loose a barrage of four-letter words after all. There were some things fireballs just couldn't relieve.
"You've got the wrong tree!" another, familiar, voice said, and someone came stomping into the clearing. Charmian and Walks-On-The-Shore turned to see...Walks-On-The-Shore coming their way, and the second Walks-On-The-Shore stopped just before the first one, glaring back at him. He gestured at another tree standing some distance away. "THAT'S the one whose bite is worse than its bark!"
The first Walks-On-The-Shore blinked. He looked at the first tree, then shrugged and said, "Honest mistake." Then he looked back at his double and frowned. "Do I know you?"
"I'm you!" the second Walks-On-The-Shore returned. "So yes, I suppose you know me!"
The first one furrowed his brow suspiciously. "How can you be me if I'm standing right here? That seems a little impossible, you know."
"How can you be me if you're standing right there?" the second one challenged.
The first Walks-On-The-Shore opened his mouth, then shut it again and rubbed his chin. "Oo. That's a good one."
Charmian turned and fled into the woods, screaming. The two stared after her in puzzlement as she went.
She didn't go very far, just far enough to get out of immediate hearing range of the clearing, and collapsed against a tree, her chest heaving. The throb in her head still pounded as hard as ever--so this was what a hangover felt like--but it was nothing like what was going on in her chest.
What the HELL was THAT--?
"For the spirits' sakes!" a different voice muttered from a little ways behind her, making her gasp. "I thought he'd NEVER leave!"
Charmian sucked in a breath and glanced around the tree to see Manabozho headed her way, stomping and scowling. She let out her breath and shakily stood, having to lean against the tree as the pain in her head increased and the contents of her stomach surged. She managed to hold them down, but had to swallow just in case. Manabozho saw her looking at him and threw up his hands with an exasperated sigh.
"Well, I got rid of him for you! Not that I expect anything in return, of course..."
"You...you did what...?" Charmian swallowed again. "You mean--that was you?"
"Of course that was me! Who else do you think it could've been? Cripes--" and she briefly wondered where he'd learned such a word "--he's even worse than that WENDIGO boy! At least he knows when to leave well enough alone...but this one...I swear something's wrong with his head, with the way he blithers on like that..." He dusted a bit of glitter off of his arms and strode past her. "Well, did you learn anything?"
"Wait a minute," Charmian said, pushing herself away from the tree. "Which one of him were you? The first one, or the second one?"
He cast her an irritated look as he walked past. "What does it matter?"
Charmian's face went red and her eyes blazed. "It matters a HELL of a lot if you were the FIRST one!!"
Manabozho simply threw up his arms again. "See what good my help does anyone! I give up! The next time, I'll just LEAVE you with him!" He turned away toward the woods. "So was all of that firewater even worth it? Did you learn anything?"
Charmian blushed and pulled her vest around herself as she followed, making sure her pack was on her shoulder. "Yeah, I learned something...I don't know how useful it is, though. All I really got to learn was that this guy's name is Chakenapok, he's not even interested in me or the Island, and he seems to think everything he's doing is a game." She paused before adding, "A revenge game. But he wouldn't tell me against who."
Manabozho frowned at her as they walked. "Chakenapok? I've never even heard of him..."
"Me neither, of course...but maybe Geezhigo-Quae would know? She seemed pretty smart, I thought I might stop by and ask her if she could clue me in."
"Are you sure you want to go back there so soon...?" Manabozho stressed, slowing his step so she wandered ahead of him a few paces. She slowed as well when she thought of how she and the manitou woman had parted ways. Although she hadn't said as much, Charmian got the feeling Geezhigo-Quae wasn't very interested in her returning unless she had significant news.
I learned his name...but that's about it. Does that really warrant bothering the Turtle Fairies again...?
She chewed on her lip as Manabozho caught up with her, peering into her face. "You're right," she murmured. "I should only go back there when I've got something conclusive...I think Nokomis would be the next-best person." She started walking again, altering her course. "She seems to know a lot about the Island too, maybe not as much as Geezhigo, but maybe enough to help."
"Finally, an idea I agree with," Manabozho muttered, following. They walked in silence most of the way back across the Island, Charmian having to rest more than usual because of the pounding in her head and the churning in her stomach. She even felt like throwing up once, but held it back; by the time they reached the west side of the Island she was pale and sweating, frequently reaching up to wipe her hand across her brow. Manabozho stared at her the entire time as if expecting her to crumble into dust.
"You know," he said as they reached the general vicinity of Chimney Rock, "you could have just called your manitou and had him carry you over here."
"Mani's got a life of his own...and I can still walk on my own legs. I don't see you offering a ride, so shut up." She grimaced. "Besides, he's probably as sick as I am right now. Ugh, I hate the crap I must put him through."
Manabozho just rolled his eyes. Charmian stopped and shielded her own from the glaring sunlight and peered ahead into the opening through the woods, seeing the hazy branches of a squat tree rising into the air some distance away. She started walking toward it, the little pinecone in her pocket jiggling.
"The Crooked Tree. I can see it now."
"That's because she lets you see it."
"Geezhigo-Quae told me the Island would start to let me see more things I couldn't before. Up until now I really thought I'd seen all there was to see."
"Hate to break this to you, but there's a lot you've been missing. Now that the Island's apparently decided you're worthy enough, though, you'll start seeing some strange things."
She didn't get a chance to ask him what he meant by the time the Tree came into direct view, just across the little hollow they'd had to navigate before. She picked her way carefully down one side and back up the other, Manabozho putting his hand on her back every time she threatened to topple over, and she felt infinite gratitude when another hand finally reached out and took her own and pulled her up to the Tree itself.
"Saw you coming a mile away," Nokomis said as they made their way up into the roots. "You feeling ill, child? Your face is the same color as a frog's underbelly."
"I think I need to sit down," Charmian murmured, the three of them entering the Tree. Manabozho pantomimed drinking one too many and Nokomis nodded.
"Ah, I see...I didn't picture you as the type, but who knows anyone nowadays. You sit right here; I've got just the thing to take care of that..."
Charmian sat down on the same wooden seat she'd occupied before, holding her belly and moaning. Manabozho stood off to the side as the old woman dug around in a hollow at the other side of the room, then returned, mixing something in a little bowl. She handed this to Charmian who downed it without question and wiped her mouth, them commenced rocking back and forth and moaning again.
"It'll take just a moment, dear," Nokomis promised, returning the little bowl to its place. "What's got you into drinking that stuff in the first place? Bad stuff, it is; 'Bozho here himself once got into a flask of it when he was younger, he was dancing around and singing all throughout the woods for an entire night, he was."
Manabozho's feathers flared upright and he glared at his grandmother in what looked to be furious disbelief. Charmian finally stopped rocking and burped, putting a hand to her mouth and blushing. "'Scuse me." She burped again and blushed even harder but Nokomis only waved her hand.
"Don't worry, that just tells you it's working. Well? What were you doing drinking that stuff anyway?"
"I couldn't sleep," Charmian admitted. "Alco...um...whiskey was the only thing I could think of that might work."
"Well, why didn't you ask me for any help? I have a root here somewhere that would've done the job nicely, and wouldn't have turned you that unpleasant shade of green, either..."
Charmian glared at Manabozho. "Maybe I would have, if somebody had bothered to SUGGEST it..."
He stuck out his tongue. "You would've refused anyway, just to spite me!"
"Whyever did you need to fall asleep so badly?" Nokomis asked, bringing Charmian a cup of tea and waving at her when she made a face. "Go on, I know you don't feel like it but drink it. You'll thank me later. You had a good reason for wanting to doze off now, I hope?"
Charmian nodded and downed the tea, grimacing not at the taste but at the feel of it descending to her stomach. She nearly retched but managed to keep herself from doing so, then let out a shuddery breath as her stomach settled again. "I had to go looking for that guy who's controlling the Shadow Wolves," she explained as Nokomis went to put away the cup. "We visited Geezhigo-Quae and she told me I had to look for him in my dreams...Tal Natha sent me one...and I met with him there. He wouldn't tell me much, but I did get his name. He said it was Chakenapok."
Thunk. Charmian and Manabozho both looked up when the little wooden cup struck the floor, rolling toward the center of the room. Nokomis still stood at the little hollow in the wall, hand outstretched, but her fingers were empty and she stared off into space.
"Nokomis--?" Charmian stood up, and Manabozho took a step forward at the same time.
"Grandmother? Are you all right?"
Nokomis didn't answer them at first, simply continuing staring at the wall. She finally turned her head a little bit and Charmian bit her lip when she saw the old woman's hand was shaking.
"Chakenapok?" she echoed. "You're certain you heard him aright, child?"
Charmian nodded. "That's what he told me." She frowned. "You've heard of him before...?"
Nokomis lowered her hand and rested it against the edge of the hollow. "It's been ages since I last heard that name," she murmured.
Manabozho blinked, then furrowed his brow in confusion. Charmian felt like doing the exact same thing. "Noko...you've heard of him?" he asked. "You know who he is?"
The old woman nodded. She at last turned to face them, and Charmian didn't know what to think of the strange look now on her face.
"Aye, I know him..." she replied. "I am the one who gave him the name Chakenapok."