Return To Manitou Island: Part 44
CHARMIAN GAZED UP into the treetops, Moon Wolf following her stare until he too saw the dark shape crouching atop one of the branches higher above them.
Charmian took a step forward. "You can come down, you know."
The shape responded by crouching and then jumping up into the leaves and out of sight. Moon Wolf's expression grew confused but Charmian merely rolled her eyes and sighed. She went toward the tree and placed her hand against the trunk.
The tree immediately started quaking like a sapling tossing in the wind. It flung its branches back and forth and Moon Wolf took a step backward when something let out a yelp and crashed to the ground below, disappearing in a patch of shrubs and dead leaves. Charmian took her hand away from the tree and put it instead on her hip.
"You can quit the shy act already! It seems like every time I meet up with somebody you decide to go running. I don't know what your problem is anyway! You're worse than my dog was when he was a puppy!"
The bushes shook and rustled before a head popped out. Manabozho's feathers flared out to the sides.
"I have an image to maintain! Traipsing about with Islanders doesn't exactly HELP it!" He turned his head to glare at Moon Wolf, which didn't do him much good, considering he had dead leaves sticking off of him at every angle.
Charmian threw up her arms. "Where have you even BEEN this whole time? I was starting to think you'd never come back, and the next you'd hear of me I'd be on my way home! Without a goodbye from you, JUST LIKE THE LAST TIME!"
Manabozho finally stood and started picking the leaves off of himself. "I had some IMPORTANT things to do!" he snapped.
Charmian opened her mouth to retort, then remembered the walk Niskigwun had taken her on, and Manabozho's clandestine visit to the wigwam deep in the woods. She shut her mouth quickly, then flushed and rubbed at her neck. "I'm sorry," she said somewhat meekly. "I didn't mean to yell like that."
"Yes? Well, you should learn to..." Manabozho trailed off and halted in his picking, narrowing his eyes at her. "What do you mean, you're sorry?" He looked around him as if expecting trouble. "Is this some kind of prank?"
Charmian's face went red when she noticed Moon Wolf still staring at them, perplexed. "It isn't a prank! I'm just sorry, okay? I didn't mean to snap at you like that. Of course you have things to do, too. I didn't mean to be so rude."
"You're really apologizing to me?" Manabozho looked at her now as if she had gone crazy, then stepped out of the bushes and pressed a hand to her head. "Are you sick?"
She slapped his hand away. "Look. Both of you guys were my teachers the last time I was here." She spread her hands to indicate both him and Moon Wolf, who looked surprised to be drawn back into the conversation so soon. "That's why I'd like it if you quit hiding in trees all the time, and stick around a while longer. What I was going to tell Moon Wolf concerns you, too."
"Me?" Manabozho tilted his head. "What was it you were discussing?" He then gestured at Moon Wolf. "And what is HE doing here, anyway?!"
"It's a long story, but suffice it to say it involves Chakenapok." That quieted him down, and she took his arm and steered him along the trail; fortunately he seemed too surprised to protest much. Moon Wolf followed. Manabozho finally yanked his arm free of her grip and she stepped carefully down into a small hollow just off the trail, waving at them to follow. Moon Wolf sat on the ground off to Charmian's side and Manabozho hopped atop a fallen log when she carefully settled herself down into the leaves, rubbing at her left arm.
"I think I get how you're feeling," she said to Moon Wolf first of all. "About coming back and all of a sudden everything's so different. That's kinda how I felt when I first came back. But basically, what you need to know is that this Chakenapok is the brother of Manabozho, and he was killed not long after he was born. I think that's how he was able to bring you back after Ocryana killed you. He must have gotten you before you could travel the Spirit Road, and erased your memory. He got your body back too, from the looks of it. Like I said he used you to get to me. This is a game to him, and he knew that you'd be just the game piece to get me off my guard."
"So he is a spirit, then," Moon Wolf said, frowning.
Charmian nodded. "But a powerful one. So far it looks like he can bring and manipulate dreams, like Tal Natha; and bring people back from the dead; and he seems to know an awful lot about what's going on all over the Island, so I take it he can see a lot of things, too. But he's not interested in the same thing Ocryana was. Every time I try to challenge him to fight me, he tells me he's not interested in a fight. The way I see it he's just playing a big game, and as soon as he gets to the one he's really after, it'll be game over. What that means, I have no idea...but I figure it can't be good!"
"You had said he was interested in revenge," Moon Wolf said. "Upon who?"
"It's not me, because I didn't even have anything to do with him until he contacted me," Charmian said. "And I assume it's not Tal Natha, because he didn't know about him, either. He has no reason I know of to hate Ocryx or Ocryana or any of the other Islanders. That leaves one person he has a good reason to hate--Nokomis."
Both of them stared at her. She glanced from one to the other before saying, "What? You mean you didn't get that?"
"You mean the manitou Nokomis?" Moon Wolf asked.
"Noko?" Manabozho said. "He's after her?"
Charmian nodded, furrowing her brow. "Well...yeah. I mean, she's the one who bashed his skull in, isn't she? She said that right from his birth she could tell he was evil. Whether that was true or not, she killed him before he even had much of a chance to live--and if that isn't a damn good reason for revenge, then I don't know what is."
Moon Wolf seemed to accept her explanation, but Manabozho merely frowned. "I find it hard to believe that all of this is over a little old woman..." he said, trailing off into mumbling. Charmian shrugged.
"It doesn't matter who she is now. All he knew of her is that she's the one who killed him. All of this game is probably a giant device just to get back at her." She trailed off herself, and then let her gaze drift to the ground, fiddling her fingers. The other two looked at her for a moment, then Manabozho clambered down closer to her.
"You're not saying something," he challenged. "Tell us what it is."
Charmian bit her lip. "Well...it doesn't make much sense."
"Is it what you would not speak of back in the tribe?" Moon Wolf asked. "You seemed to think it was important."
"Come on and tell us," Manabozho echoed himself.
"Well..." Charmian continued staring at the ground, then furrowed her brow and lifted her head. "Okay. What I don't get is, why Chakenapok would be so interested in getting on my nerves in the first place."
The other two merely looked puzzled.
"I mean, look at it," she went on. "He's interested in Nokomis. He's practically told me so himself. But I didn't even know Nokomis until I met her here--after he started his game with me. I didn't have any connection to her. So why would he go to all the trouble of using Moon Wolf to get to me, if he's interested in Noko? Remember I didn't even know her until afterwards."
"Perhaps he knew you would run into her eventually," Manabozho suggested.
"It still seems kind of roundabout to me...there are a million different people he could've used to get to her a lot sooner. And I don't get the feeling he knew I was going to meet up with her. Why didn't he just target somebody who already knows her well enough? That's the one thing I can't figure out."
"If this is about revenge, then what he does may not make any sense," Moon Wolf said. "He may have gone mad."
"Or been born that way," Manabozho added.
Charmian looked at the ground again and fiddled her fingers. Even with as much sense as her explanation had made, this detail still niggled at her for some reason.
It's obvious he likes to play mind games, so going after Moon Wolf to get to me makes sense. But going after me to get to Noko? What point does that serve? Unless there's some link somewhere that I'm missing...
"If you distrust your own theory so much maybe you should seek advice again," Manabozho said in an almost taunting voice. "That's your tactic of choice now, isn't it?"
Charmian's temper flared. "Hey, I can't help it if there isn't just ONE person here with all the stuff I need to know! All of you live all over the stupid Island! How do you think I feel, running around all the time? I'm not exactly a track and field champion, you know!"
"I'm betting you could run to that Wendigo boy fast enough," Manabozho muttered, at which Charmian scooped a hunk of dirt from the ground and hurled it at his head. It hit him with a THUNK! and he tumbled off the back of the log with a yelp of pained surprise. Moon Wolf watched with wide eyes as he scrambled to his feet, holding his head, Charmian jumping to her own feet as well and clenching her fists.
"If you have a problem with Thomas just SAY IT!" she shouted.
Manabozho rubbed at his head. "It was only a comment," he grumbled.
"Yeah? Well I'm getting SICK of your comments! I don't go harping on everybody you go off and talk to, so you should do the same for me. If you're going to be such a poor sport about everything then I'll do it on my own!" She turned and started to storm from the hollow, before stopping abruptly. "With Moon Wolf!" she added, and the medicine man got to his feet and walked after her. She noticed the two of them share a look before she left Manabozho behind. He stared after them, then raised his voice.
"You'll be back! You can't help but come back!"
"AT LEAST I CAN ADMIT IT!" Charmian yelled in response, and the frustrated spitting noises he let out gave her a small measure of satisfaction. She took several deep breaths as she walked. Moon Wolf still said nothing; she was somewhat confused by his apparent meekness, when the last time she'd known him he'd been so blunt. Maybe death had more than one effect on a person.
"I think he's a little too close to this now anyway," she said after a while. "Chakenapok was his twin brother and he only recently learned that his mother's death wasn't his fault. He has a lot of things to be angry about, I guess, but still."
"You are going to ask questions of someone," Moon Wolf said. It sounded half like a comment, half like a question.
Charmian nodded. "I just need to think of who might know what I'm looking for right now. Definitely not Nokomis, and I still don't want to bother Geezhigo-Quae just yet..."
"Geezhigo-Quae?" Moon Wolf halted and gaped at her. She slowed to a stop and rubbed at her neck.
"Yeah...I've met a few people. You've been gone a long time." She started walking again. "I'm guessing about the only person I haven't talked to yet is Gitchi Manitou! Maybe he'd know what I'm looking for." She glanced at him. "Actually, maybe you can help me out a bit. I know you don't remember anything, but maybe if you--"
Moon Wolf vanished in midsentence. Instead, Charmian found herself staring at trees. She took a startled step back, before realizing that there was no ground beneath her to step upon. With a startled shriek she went tumbling down into another hollow, landing in a messy heap at the bottom. She sat up and started furiously batting leaves away from herself, glancing about wildly.
She turned around to look in the opposite direction and found herself staring into a giant, furry, white face, its tiny dark eyes focused straight on her. Charmian screamed and scrambled back against the base of a tree, cowering in on herself. After a moment of nothing happening she shakily peered out from underneath her arm to see that the bear hadn't moved any, and then her terror melted into indignation. She uncurled herself and stood up, shaking her fists.
"STOP DOING THAT! If you want my attention, then just COME TALK TO ME!"
This is more convenient, the bear said in her head. One does not need to run all about the Island like a crazy squirrel seeking nuts, the way that you do.
"I can't help it that I can't turn into a bear! Besides, I wasn't even LOOKING for you!" She turned and started looking around at the rim of the hollow, not even knowing where she was. "Where did you bring me, anyway? It better not be all the way on the other side of the Island! Or else you owe me a ride back!"
We are merely a short distance from where you already were. And you may say you were not looking, yet your head is so cluttered that you do not know what you want.
Charmian saw a movement above and looked up to see Moon Wolf appear at the top of the hollow. She had just enough time to see a startled look cross his face before turning back to glare at Snow Bear. "Are you saying I'm stupid--?"
Merely that you are still too much like a squirrel, expending all your strength gathering up rotten nuts.
Charmian's face screwed up. "What is it with you and nuts...?"
Running about in search of wisdom may serve its own purpose, Snow Bear said, but only if it is the wisdom which will help you. Seeking out why your enemy is doing what he is doing serves much less purpose than seeking out how to stop him.
"So?" Charmian retorted. "Ever stop to think that maybe the two could be related? Usually the best way to figure out how to stop somebody is to figure out why they're doing what they're doing in the first place. I'm surprised somebody like you wouldn't think of that."
And knowing this creature wishes revenge, Snow Bear said. Has this helped you figure out exactly how to defeat him, yet?
Charmian opened her mouth, then shut it. "No," she said sullenly; then, "Not yet. But that's just because I'm still figuring it out. I'm sure it'll fall into place in time!"
The bear's nostrils flared. You would rely on pure chance to find out all you need to know. This is a very bad approach. Why you have not sought out other means of informing yourself, I fail to see.
"You mean take things like YOU do? No thanks! Asking gets somebody a whole lot further than that! I'm not quite that desperate enough, just yet."
Then you will never find out what you need to know. The bear lifted his head slightly and she saw his nostrils flare again. If you were to face this creature now, upon your own terms--how would you face him? How would you defeat him?
"I don't know yet," Charmian said. "I don't know enough to say. If I have to fight him, then I have to fight him; I'll just find out when I find out." She shrugged and gave him an irritated look. "I'm ready to face that, if I have to."
You cannot fight him, Snow Bear said in response.
Charmian blinked, then her brow furrowed. "What do you mean, I can't fight him...? Is this another one of your dumb suggestions?"
Merely what I have already told you, Snow Bear said. You cannot fight him, and hope to win. This is the second favor I grant you. The white bear started to turn around. You paid already, in tobacco.
"Wait a minute!" Charmian exclaimed. "That was for the FIRST thing!"
You already paid for that favor. If you wish for anything else, then you will just have to pay again. The bear started lumbering up the opposite side of the hollow now. Charmian stared after him with her mouth hanging open, incredulous; when he was near the top of the rim she clenched her fists and yelled.
"I CAN FIND OUT WHAT I WANT ON MY OWN! Bad nuts or no bad nuts! YOU'RE THE BIGGEST BAD NUT OF ALL!!"
She immediately cringed. I REALLY wish I could have thought of something better to say than THAT.
She gasped then when she sensed something beside her, and looked up to see Moon Wolf. He was staring up the slope at the disappearing bear. As if sensing him as well, the creature turned his head and they looked at each other; she saw Moon Wolf's jaw tense, before the bear turned away again and vanished from sight. Charmian sighed.
"You made a bargain with him?" Moon Wolf asked, not taking his eyes from the spot where the bear had disappeared.
"Kind of. More like he made it."
"What sort of bargain?" He looked at her now, his eyes and voice sharp. She shrank in on herself a little bit and fiddled her fingers.
"Well...it's kind of what I used to free you from Chakenapok." She held out one hand and Moon Wolf's chest started to shimmer. He looked down as his spirit stone appeared, glimmering blue and purple. "There were dark things around that before," Charmian said. "They disappeared when I...used what Snow Bear gave me...and I'm guessing that's how you broke free of Chakenapok. I did the same thing to a Shadow Wolf earlier. I didn't really mean to, it just kind of happened."
She lowered her hand and the glowing disappeared. Moon Wolf took a step forward and grasped her wrist in one hand.
"You shouldn't use this medicine," he said in a tone which reminded her of old times. "Any medicine one gets from a wabano comes with a high price attached."
"I know that already," Charmian said sulkily. "I didn't even mean to use it anyway. And like he said, I paid."
"There is always a higher price attached than that which you know," Moon Wolf persisted.
"He said I paid already!"
"Wabanos are not truthful! Anything he has told you so far may be a lie."
Charmian pulled her arm loose. "So does that mean I should just forget everything you've taught me?" she snapped, knowing it was a low blow but unable to stop herself from getting at least one jab in. Moon Wolf stared at her with open surprise, and now she felt a tiny niggling of shame in the back of her head. She rubbed at her wrist as if he'd held her tightly, and let her eyes wander over the ground around them.
"Look...Stick told me all about wabanos. So I know already. But he said you never used any of your medicine for anything bad." She looked up at him. "So it's okay. I know you're not like that."
During her words Moon Wolf's expression changed, and he averted his eyes. She couldn't tell if he was ashamed or embarrassed or what; but considering how he himself had just described wabanos, she knew her comment had stung a little deeper than intended. "I didn't mean what I said," she added, her own guilt growing. "I know you didn't teach me anything bad. Besides, I didn't want to use that power anyway...it just kind of slipped out. I don't plan on using it again, if that helps any. But I'm still glad it worked."
Moon Wolf at last lifted his head and met her eyes. "You place too much trust in others sometimes," he said in a stern voice which almost made her want to smile; despite his reserved facade she could tell he was worried about her. "No matter how much you may know now or how much you may have done, you are still a child to many here and there are people who will take advantage of that."
"I know," Charmian sighed with a twinge of exasperation. "It was just one little favor I didn't even ask for, really! And I prefer asking for help rather than taking it. Wabanos aren't ALL good for nothing, you know; at least they've taught me that." She turned and started on her way up the side of the pit again, careful not to slip on the leaves. "What is it they say? Even every bad experience can teach you something..."
"I have certainly never taught you anything like this," Moon Wolf said, following.
"Yeah, well, of course you'd never say it directly, but then again you've never been the most upfront person I know. You probably get that from living alone in a cave all the ti..." Charmian trailed off and came to a stop, still clinging onto a sapling with one hand. She stared at the leafy slope in front of her yet saw nothing.
"Child..." she whispered. Then, more loudly, "Alone." Her face abruptly lit up as Moon Wolf slowed beside her, and she started moving again, scrambling upward as quickly as she could this time and slipping more than once, but ignoring the scratches and scrapes. Moon Wolf frowned.
"What is it?" he called out, as she'd reached the top of the slope far ahead of him.
Charmian clambered over the edge of the pit and got to her feet, brushing herself off. She whirled around and clenched her fists, a huge grin spreading across her face.
"I think I get it!" she exclaimed excitedly. "I know how to defeat Chakenapok!"