Return To Manitou Island: Part 55
CHARMIAN PUT HER arms up over her head, screaming as the huge gaping-mawed creature bore down on her with a bellow. Its roar made her ears thrum, it was so loud, and for a split second she even felt its hot spittle fleck across her skin before she cut herself off and gritted her teeth, awaiting the agony of its fangs tearing through her arms.
The snarling, rasping sound of it seemed to go on forever--then it cut short with a strange gurgle, and she felt something wet splash against her upper arm. A massive BOOM made her gasp and jump back involuntarily, still shielding her head, but she toppled over backwards and whatever had splashed over her arm now dripped in her face. It stung her eyes when she opened them and she blinked and shook her head, then held up her arm. It was lined with red.
It--did it bite me--?
She hadn't felt any pain. Was she in shock?
She lowered her arms now and gasped again to see that the giant creature was still there, right in front of her, just inches from where she'd been crouching before--only now it lay stretched out on its belly, its eyes glazed and its tongue lolling out over bloody teeth. Glooskap stood just beside it, still holding the shaft of the large spear that he'd thrust through its neck, a grim look on his face.
Charmian pushed herself up onto her elbows. She started shaking now, a delayed reaction, and had to wrap her arms around herself, she trembled so badly. The creature lying on the floor resembled nothing more than a wolverine, yet it was far bigger than any she'd ever heard of, and far uglier as well. Instead of brown with light stripes down its back, this beast was an ugly brownish-black, and scars lined its face and muzzle. Its fur was prickly and patchy, sticking out in some places and matted down in others, and nearly missing in yet other spots. Even its teeth were all mismatched and placed at odd angles, and it was missing an ear. Its muzzle was lined with crusted spittle, and a thin stream of blood now trickled from it as well. Charmian stared at it with wide eyes, trying to get her breathing to settle.
"Wh...what is that?" she finally managed to ask in a weak voice.
Glooskap's look grew dark. "Lox." He pulled his spear loose and looked it over before wiping it off on the creature's hide. It let out a wheeze and Charmian nearly bolted back across the room before realizing it was merely the sound of its lungs expelling its last breath. Glooskap nudged it with his foot and its head rolled a bit to the side. Charmian found her terror slowly being replaced by a bizarre fascination with the hideous thing.
"Lox...?" she echoed.
Glooskap finished cleaning off his spear and stood it up beside him as they stared down at the creature. "The first beast Malsum ever created," he said, then wrinkled his nose. Charmian had to cover her face as the stench of the thing finally hit her. "And thankfully the last...though getting rid of it is a damned nuisance."
Charmian kept a hand to her nose as she stepped around the dead creature and looked up at the shattered wall. There was no cave immediately behind this one, so the hole was merely a jagged indentation, upon which she could still see the superimposed image of the sleeping Malsum. Despite what had just happened, he was still back there somewhere.
Glooskap joined her to stare at the hole while Marten climbed up on Lox's body and bit his surviving ear. "You knew," he said.
Charmian felt her face grow warm and shrugged slightly. "I kind of...guessed. Though I didn't really expect that."
"How did you know, though? That Malsum's spirit stone had been replaced?"
Charmian shrugged again and rubbed her neck. "When I spoke with Chakenapok...I saw his spirit stone, and it was reddish colored, like mine. I remember because it surprised me. Malsum's spirit stone was the wrong color. But I didn't think there would be one there at all."
Glooskap sighed as he surveyed the damage. "Well, that's the only way he could have gotten around this trap. He knows I would be checking on him every so often just to make sure he's still here, and to do that I have to sense his spirit. If there were no stone here, then that alarm system would have gone off, believe me."
"So he replaced his own spirit stone with Lox's? But--if that's so, then how come..." She looked back at the dead creature lying behind them. "Then how come that's here? Where did it come from?"
"I can't say as I know for sure, but knowing Malsum, he's probably come up with more than one trick to try out...I wouldn't be surprised if he found a way to trap something inside its own spirit stone. Maybe just freeing the spirit stone called up Lox's body, or maybe he had both of them placed inside him before I trapped him here; I really can't tell. Either way, it looks like he pulled a bait and switch on both of us." He stepped up to the broken section of wall and peered inside, then glanced back at Charmian with a frown. "What you said about Chakenapok's stone being the 'wrong color'--what exactly did you mean by that? And how does that explain why his spirit stone isn't here?"
"Somebody's controlling Chakenapok," Charmian said. "I know because I got through to him, for a few minutes, and he didn't sound at all like the person who's been causing all this trouble. I saw his spirit stone and it was bright red. I figured Malsum's would be the same color, but it didn't match, so it couldn't have been his...that is, if I'm right." She flushed. "I don't know for sure."
Glooskap nodded. "Go on."
"When I saw his spirit stone something weird happened. It looked like...there were two of them. Two spirit stones. One trapped inside the other. I've never seen anything like that before. I think that might be behind what's going on with Chakenapok--something's taken over his spirit stone."
Glooskap's brow furrowed and he looked up at the wall again. "Is that even possible...?"
"I don't know...I wouldn't have thought so, until I saw that. I thought maybe it was just his spirit that was corrupted, but now..." She stared at the floor. "What I don't understand is, how would Malsum have gotten his own spirit stone out of his body, and into Chakenapok's? It must've happened before Chakenapok was even born. I saw somebody without his spirit stone once, and he was just about dead. And spirit stones just kind of sit there and don't do much on their own, don't they?"
"Like I said, knowing Malsum, I suppose nothing should surprise me," Glooskap replied. "If anybody could've found a way to do something that strange it's him. So you think that he's the one who took over this Chakenapok, eh? And that's why his birth was so much like Malsum's."
Charmian nodded. "Right now it's the only thing that makes any sense. I'm guessing Malsum was looking for a body to take over, since you trapped his; maybe he could find a way to move his spirit stone around without his body, but without his body he couldn't do much else. He just wasn't counting on Noko killing Chakenapok right after he was born--so now instead of running around on Earth, he's coming after us from the Spirit Land." She paused while Glooskap held up his hand and made the image of Malsum fade away, then started when she realized she'd forgotten something. "Mani! He was right here with me before all that happened--where is he--?"
She glanced around herself. Marten was still gnawing obliviously on Lox's ear. She blinked in surprise when she saw Mani standing almost in the entryway to the cavern, his head hanging.
"Mani...? How did you get way over there?" She took a few steps toward him only to see him step back into the entryway, shifting his gaze to the floor. She stopped and frowned in confusion. He looked like a puppy about to be punished for going on the carpeting. She tried walking toward him again but now he simply disappeared through the entrance, and she had to sigh and rub at her head, perplexed. She turned back to Glooskap and Marten. Marten growled as he gnawed on Lox's ear, then hopped across his back, bouncing up and down as if trying to stomp on him.
"Take THAT! That'll show you for going up against the mighty Glooskap! Stinky filthy evil..."
Glooskap waved at the air as he retrieved his spear and came back toward her. "Eh, ignore him; every time I defeat something he has to get in his little 'Take that!' bit else he'll start getting an inferiority complex. Martens. What can you do."
"So you agree with me?" Charmian prompted. "You think Malsum's the one behind all this?"
He gave her a curious look, then held up his hand so the broken bits of rock started sliding back to the hole in the wall. "Well, I don't have any better theories to work on, though I have to admit it's kind of embarrassing to find out my security system didn't work." His mouth twitched as the wall finished mending itself. "Maybe I'd better call those Brinks people after all...do you think they do caves?" He jerked his thumb at Marten. "I wanted to move into a house, but he doesn't think that would be authentic enough."
Marten stopped hopping long enough to retort, "Houses smell like PEOPLE!"--then promptly returned to hopping.
"Well--" Charmian had to step aside, as Glooskap had started walking around the cave, examining the walls for some reason. "Then if it's Malsum, does that mean you can help us? That's the reason I came here--Geezhigo-Quae said you had experience with this sort of thing, so I thought maybe--"
"So Geezhigo-Quae recommended me?" Glooskap threw back his head. "HAH! I knew the old girl couldn't resist my charm! I should really give her a call sometime."
"--Maybe you'd know how to help us deal with Chakenapok," Charmian had to raise her voice to be heard. "Could you? Come back and help us defeat him?"
Glooskap lowered his head again and gave her an even more curious look than before. "Help you defeat Chakenapok?" he echoed; then, "Of course not. He's not my enemy to fight."
Charmian's mouth opened, then stayed that way. She stared at him in disbelief for a moment or two before stammering, trying to think of what to say.
"B-but--" She faltered, and he started opening and closing his mouth, mimicking her. "But--I came all this way just to ask you this!" she at last managed to get out. "You're the one who defeated Malsum--so you'd know how to defeat Chakenapok for sure! And you're probably the only one who's strong enough! If Chakenapok wins, he'll probably destroy the Island--and anything else he can get to--and that might even include YOU someday! You really mean you won't help us fight him--?"
She was flailing her arms by now, her voice rising dangerously high; Marten winced and covered his ears, and even Mani peered in through the entrance. "Don't get me wrong," Glooskap said, raising his own voice above hers as he continued checking the walls. "If I could help you fight this guy--then I would. But it's not possible."
Charmian's arms waved harder. "What do you mean it's not POSSIBLE? Geezhigo wouldn't have sent us all this way if you couldn't do ANYTHING! You defeated Malsum! How can you not do THIS?"
Glooskap shrugged. "I defeated Malsum. Bring me Malsum, and I'll just beat him again. But you're talking about Chakenapok. Malsum might be controlling him, but they're still two completely different people. You need to defeat him first--and THEN I can beat Malsum for you. You don't fry an egg without cracking the shell first. That's pretty much the only way it can be done."
Charmian stood silent in the middle of the cave as he walked along its perimeter, her hands still extended in front of her almost in a gesture of supplication. Several moments passed as her eyes slowly filled up with tears. Her arms sank back to her sides and she started sniffling and huffing, then she squeezed her eyes shut and sank to the floor. She put her hands up to her face and started bawling so loudly that the other three jumped back from her.
Glooskap stared at her in astonishment, then grimaced and inched toward her, waving his hands. Charmian's tears didn't abate. If anything, she only cried louder when he stopped in front of her, waving frantically as if afraid she'd bring the ceiling down.
"Oh, come on, you don't have to do that!" he begged. "If there's anything I hate it's watching a young girl cry! Please stop doing that! I only said what I meant!"
"You--don't--understand!" Charmian hiccupped between sobs, rubbing furiously at her eyes. "I've been--everywhere--and talked with everybody--and you were--the only one--left! I don't have--anyone left to--turn to!" She sniffled loudly and hiccupped again, nearly choking, and lifted her head to look at him with streaming eyes. "And now you say that--you can help us fight Chakenapok--if WE fight him first--which we've already TRIED! And it didn't work!" With this she put her hands to her face again, crying out of pure frustration.
Glooskap made an awkward face. Marten clambered over Lox and hid behind him, ears quivering. Charmian's sobbing abated somewhat, if only in loudness; she continued rubbing at her eyes, feeling too foolish to show her face again. "Geezhigo sent us all this way for nothing!" she cried. "I really thought you might be the one who could help us!"
Glooskap waved his hands again. "Come on, now, I never said I wouldn't help! There just isn't much I can do!" Her crying started growing louder and he waved even harder this time. "But hold on! That doesn't mean I don't have ideas...let's see..." He scratched his head and frowned, then his face lit up. "This Chakenapok--you said he was the younger brother of Manabozho--right?"
Charmian sniffled and managed to nod, still hiding her face.
"Well, there you go, then. Chakenapok isn't my enemy, thus I can't fight him. Maybe the person you need to fight him has been right beside you all along."
Charmian's sniffling abruptly halted, and she peered over her hands at him.
"Wh...what do you m-mean?" she murmured.
"The only person who could defeat Malsum was me--his brother." Glooskap spread out his arms as if this explained everything. "So who do you look to to defeat Chakenapok--?"
Charmian stared at him, then lowered her damp hands, clenching them into fists. "You mean Manabozho?" she snapped. "If he could defeat Chakenapok then he would've TRIED it already!"
"Are you so sure?" Glooskap put a hand to his chin. "Going on what I've heard about him, he isn't always the brightest feather in the war bonnet, if you catch my drift..."
Charmian opened her mouth to retort, then hesitated. Her brow furrowed slightly. "He isn't the most perceptive," she admitted.
Glooskap spread his arms again. "Well there you go. What better way to follow the legend? The brother fights his own enemy."
"But wait a minute!" Charmian retorted. "The wabano said that we couldn't fight Chakenapok and win. And I KNOW that's true because we've tried fighting him already--and it doesn't do any good! Nothing does!"
"Who did he say this to?" Glooskap asked.
"He said it to me! He said I couldn't fight him and win. And if I can't fight him, then what makes you think Manabozho could?--he trained me, after all!"
"Think," Glooskap said pointedly. "What exactly did this medicine man say? Did he say that you couldn't fight Chakenapok and win, or did he say that you couldn't fight Chakenapok and win?"
Charmian opened her mouth to reply, then froze. Her eyes slowly widened in realization.
"It--it could've been either way," she stammered, half to herself; then, raising her voice, "He could've meant either one of those!" She dropped forward onto her hands and knees. "Do you think that's it, then? That that's what he meant--that I can't fight Chakenapok, but Manabozho can?"
Glooskap shrugged. "It follows the legend, doesn't it? If Malsum's playing by the same old script, then shouldn't the hero fight his brother?" He grimaced. "As much as one can call him a hero...running around like a bunny rabbit all the time..."
"So all I have to do is talk to Manabozho about it," Charmian continued, more to herself than to anyone else. She chewed her lip. "I get the feeling that won't be easy...but maybe if I flatter him some..." She pushed herself to her feet. "And if he does that, then you'll take care of Malsum?"
He shrugged again. "That's what I'm here for, since I don't think Brinks does caves." He peered at the ceiling. "Which is a shame, since this place would look great with some modern utilities...you think I'd at least have indoor plumbing by now..."
Charmian turned and jogged toward the entrance. "I'll go tell him then and get this all sorted out!" she exclaimed. "And then you can take care of Malsum, and all this junk can finally be over with!"
Just as she reached the entryway, Mani stepping out of the way and Marten trotting along at her heels, Glooskap spoke up again.
"Hold a minute. You said Chakenapok is Manabozho's younger brother. Does he have any older brothers?"
Charmian paused and turned back. "Yeah," she said uncertainly. "Three of them."
Glooskap crossed his arms and tilted his head. "Well...don't you think it'd be best if you asked them to help him out in this, too?"
Charmian furrowed her brow. "But...I don't know where they are. And he doesn't seem to get along with them very well."
"You can always look for them, and I think there are a few kind of bigger things to worry about than some argument."
"But wouldn't Manabozho be enough? You fought Malsum on your own just fine, didn't you?"
Glooskap shrugged once more. "True, but I don't have any older brothers to help me out. If Chakenapok's Manabozho's enemy, then it stands to reason he'd be their enemy, too. I just think you'd stand a much better chance if you had all of them there, not just one. They're all connected, you know."
Charmian fiddled with her cowrie shell, biting her lip again. "I don't even know where to look," she murmured.
"You got here through the Sky Tree, didn't you? Surely old Geezhigo-Quae has a few other doors you could check out? They're bound to be somewhere out there."
"Somewhere out there" doesn't exactly narrow it down any! Charmian suppressed a sigh. "Okay, then...I'll see if she can point me in the right direction. You really think it would make a difference...?"
"It can't hurt to try," Glooskap said.
Charmian took a step backwards. "So you're not coming with us...?"
Glooskap glanced around the cave. "Eh...I have to look after this place. And maybe kick Malsum upside the head a few times for pulling a fast one like that. If he ever wakes up I'll make sure he has a hell of a headache."
"But I don't know how to get back to the Sky Tree from here. It's hidden to people like me."
Marten hopped up and down. "I can find it! Can't I, Glooskap?"
Glooskap waved at them both. "Take him with you, he can see things like that just as good as I can." He glared at the Mikumwesu. "Just make sure to follow his one shortcut, and none of the others. Especially not that one between the rocks."
Charmian frowned. "What happened on that shortcut...?"
Marten bounced up and down again, waving his arms. "It's a GOOD shortcut!" he snapped at Glooskap. "I made it myself!"
"Yeah," Glooskap retorted. "It's really good if you like being carried off by GIANT BIRDS!"
"I can't help it that they like you and not me! Your kind just smells funny!"
Glooskap waved his arms this time. "EVERYTHING SMELLS FUNNY TO YOU!! DID YOU EVER STOP TO THINK THAT YOU MIGHT SMELL FUNNY?!"
Charmian inched back into the entryway to stand beside Mani. "I'll be going now," she called out; when the two continued squabbling she added, "We'll just wait outside the shortcut," and slipped from the cave, gesturing at Mani to follow. They made their way back through the cave system, leaving the manitou and the Mikumwesu to yell at each other in peace.