Return To Manitou Island: Part 58
"SHE'S BEEN SITTING there since before you people showed up from the forest," Manabozho murmured to Thomas as the group of them stood on the side of the slope, staring up at the top. Charmian sat perched atop a rock high above, looking almost like a gargoyle with her pack resting on her shoulders. Thomas, Cloud, and Marten had arrived first of all, followed by Mani and Pakwa, then Moon Wolf trailing far behind. They gathered in the middle of the slope to look up at her, but Manabozho's description of her arrival left them hesitant to proceed.
"If she'd stomped through that grass any harder, she'd have left a crack in the ground," he added.
Mani whistled. Red Land One unhappy...? What for?
"Whatever it was, I think we missed it," Thomas said, casting a glance at Moon Wolf from the corner of his eyes but adding nothing else. Moon Wolf didn't look at any of them, keeping his stare focused somewhere just above the ground.
Marten clambered over Thomas's shoulder. "Well what're we waiting for? You said this is where the Sky Tree dropped you off, right?"
Manabozho glared at him. "What do you mean, 'you said'? I thought YOU knew where to find it!"
Marten made a great show of rolling his eyes. "The Sky Tree portal moves around, DUHHH. It's never in the same place twice!"
Thomas's brow furrowed. "So--how do we even know it's still here--?"
"Oh, it should be okay. It takes a while to wander far. And I think you have to go out it and then through again before it disappears, and--"
"Disappears?" Thomas and Manabozho exclaimed in unison. They proceeded clambering up the slope, Cloud and Mani following. Marten tumbled off of Thomas's shoulder and started rolling down the slope like a tumbleweed before Mani scooped him up in his antlers. Pakwa drifted overhead and Moon Wolf followed behind as they made their way to the top.
"--Like I was saying," Marten piped up when they reached the top, panting and sweating, "the portal hangs around in about the same place until you go back through it, and THEN it disappears, and when it shows up again, it's somewhere else. Gaahh! Learn to listen first!"
"You should--learn to--speak up first," Thomas panted, resting his hands on his knees. Charmian stayed sitting where she was on her rock, glowering up at the spot where the doorway had appeared before. The rest of them looked up as well, but there was nothing there.
Manabozho frowned. "So how do you find the thing if it's invisible? If it's even there?"
Marten rolled his eyes again, hopping to the ground. "Just because you can't see wind doesn't mean it's not there! You're sure you're part manitou? You hardly act like it..."
Manabozho clenched his fists and bared his teeth. Marten ignored him, throwing his little arms up in the air. Right on cue, the air above started to shimmer as if with heat, and a doorway much like the one in the hub room, only shaped out of what seemed to be sky itself, emerged, its blue-green cabochon glowing. Marten turned to give the rest of them a smug look.
They stared at it a moment, then looked back down at him. "So," Manabozho said as if conversationally, "how do we REACH it?"
Marten's face fell. He looked up at the portal, which must have hovered at least ten feet above them, then scratched his ear. "Can't you jump?" he asked.
Manabozho looked ready to skin him alive. "I'm certain some of us can," Thomas quickly said, "but not all of us. I can't, and Charmian and Moon Wolf can't, and Cloud certainly can't."
"Why don't you ask your Chenoo, then?" Marten asked. This earned him several confused looks and he hopped from foot to foot and pointed at Pakwa. "Your Chenoo. Isn't that what that thing is?"
"That's a GeeBee," Thomas said, looking perplexed.
"Oh. Well, he looks like a Chenoo to me." Marten gestured at the doorway. "Surely he can carry you up there." There was a little pop, and the tiny butterfly wings reappeared from Marten's back. He fluttered up toward the doorway and hovered beside it, waving at them. "Come on! One after another, right through. Just as easy as my shortcut!"
"I think you need to reevaluate your shortcuts," Charmian muttered, standing up. The others looked at her, as it was the first thing she'd said throughout the entire exchange. She held up her arms and Pakwa drifted down, took hold of them, and carried her up toward the doorway.
Marten made a dramatic flourish and the door slid backwards and disappeared, revealing a small dark entranceway. Charmian put her hands on the rim of the entry and crawled through, vanishing from sight. Mani wiggled his hindquarters and leapt up into the air; Marten looked briefly panicked before waving his arms again, and the doorway grew wider before the manitou passed through it. He wiped a small hand across his brow as Pakwa carried Thomas up and let him through the portal; then Manabozho, then Pakwa carrying Cloud with much difficulty, and then Pakwa and Moon Wolf passed through the doorway. It began to quiver and fade, and Marten hovered beside it, watching as the doorway started to disappear. He bit his lip.
"What if they get lost the next time they show up?" he wondered aloud. "What if the doorway opens up in some really weird place--? They might never find their way back to Glooskap! I'll never know where they are!" He hopped from foot to foot in midair, wringing his hands in distress. Then just as the doorway vanished for good he jumped at it, and with a small pop he disappeared.
Charmian emerged in the hub room of the Sky Tree before anyone else, and let out a gasp as she started to topple forward. Something grabbed her arm and steadied her before she could, and it took her eyes a second to adjust to the dim lighting before she could make out Niskigwun and Geezhigo-Quae. The old woman tilted her head with a slight frown.
"I had thought you would be gone for four days," she said. "How is it that you are back so soon...?"
"Huh--? Oh." Charmian dusted herself off. "We...kinda met somebody who knew a shortcut." She made a face. "Sort of. He led us to Glooskap, and I got to talk with him...he says hello, and that you should visit more often, by the way..."
Geezhigo-Quae blinked, then her eyelids lowered and one eyebrow twitched. "He is incorrigible," she said, simply.
"I kind of got that feeling," Charmian admitted. She tried brushing her hair with her fingers to straighten it out, hating how mussed up she appeared. "Anyway...he pretty much said that he can't help us just yet..."
"He cannot?" Niskigwun interrupted, earning a look from the other two. His brow furrowed and he took a step toward her. "You traveled to see him, and he cannot help you one bit--?"
"Well, it's not quite like that," Charmian started to say, when Geezhigo-Quae held her hand up to still the Michinimakinong.
"I had thought it would not be so simple as it seemed," she said. "And so what is it that he suggests?"
"Well, he said that since Malsum--his brother--seems to be controlling Chakenapok, then he can't do anything until Chakenapok is taken care of first. He can take care of Malsum only when Chakenapok is out of the way. And he thinks Manabozho and--" she paused when Mani appeared from the doorway, then Thomas, then Manabozho "--his brothers would best do the job of fighting Chakenapok off."
Manabozho stood up and dusted himself off. "I can handle it," he said, giving her a dark look. Geezhigo-Quae raised an eyebrow but he didn't even look at her as he stomped toward the opposite doorway. "I don't need any hangers-on slowing me down! And that's all they would do, by the way. If it only took one person to defeat this Malsum, then only one person is what you'll need now."
"But Manabozho..." Charmian took a step toward him as Cloud appeared, snorting and tossing his head. "I tried fighting him already, and it didn't work. Neither did trying to get through to him. Malsum's way too strong for just one person."
"You aren't a manitou!" Manabozho snapped.
Charmian scowled. "And you aren't the one who nearly lost their spirit stone!"
"I can handle this myself!" Manabozho retorted. "Even Glooskap said I would be the best one for the job! All of you were just too caught up in yourselves to bother asking ME!" He turned to the doorway again and exited the room. "I'll just go take care of it right now, and then you can call in Glooskap to clean up the mess. You should be on your way home by the end of the day!"
Charmian got ready to snap something back at him, when Moon Wolf and Pakwa appeared, the door closing behind them. She glanced back at them, then her face darkened. She turned to look at Geezhigo-Quae and Niskigwun.
"If you'll excuse me, I have to go try to talk him out of this," she said, and left the room without a further word. The others stared at the doorway after she'd gone through.
"Manabozho--" Charmian jogged along the hall leading from the hub room, out into the branch system where she carefully slowed her step. Manabozho was already near the end of the large branch overlooking the gateway across the field. He looked ready to jump off. "Manabozho!" she shouted again, in a voice that caught his attention. He scowled back at her.
"You may as well just save it!" he snapped.
"Manabozho," Charmian echoed herself, jogging out to meet him. She had to stop to catch her breath. "There's something I didn't want to tell you before," she said.
He frowned. "Before what--?"
"It's something I thought of when talking with Glooskap. About following the legend. Something hasn't been making sense to me, and I think I finally figured it out. You can't face Chakenapok. You'll be in a lot more trouble than you know."
"You yourself said what Glooskap said!" Manabozho retorted. "You can't go back on it just because you have some 'feeling'!"
"It's not some feeling. Aren't you getting it? All this time, I've had this whole thing all wrong." He let out a gusty sigh and sat down on the branch, so she joined him. "Remember when I was trying to figure out why Chakenapok would take such a stupid route to get to Noko?" she asked. "At first I thought he was mad at me. But he told me I had nothing to do with it; I'm just a playpiece. Then I thought maybe he had something against the Island, but again that had nothing to do with it. So I assumed that meant he was after Noko, for killing him. But I couldn't figure out why he would use me to get to Noko, especially since I didn't even know her back then."
"Easy!" Manabozho exclaimed. "He knew you know me, and that I would introduce you to her!"
Charmian shook her head. "Cut out one link, Manabozho. He was never trying to get at Nokomis at all."
Manabozho blinked. Then his brow furrowed uncertainly.
"Noko's the one who killed him," Charmian stated, "but there's somebody he hates even more than her. Somebody who's taken the place he would've had if he'd lived. The one person left around who could pick up where Glooskap left off in the story, and really threaten him." She paused. "He doesn't want revenge on Noko. He wants revenge on you."
Manabozho's face screwed up in confusion. "Why me? I never even knew he was alive--so to speak--until all of this!"
"I just told you why. He would've been the lastborn if Noko hadn't killed him, and he would've gotten everything that you got. You got it all instead. You got the Island, the Islanders, everything he could have wanted. And Malsum is only following the pattern he followed before--where Glooskap trapped him. All of your brothers left long ago, so you're the only one here to threaten him with that. That's why he used me--to get to you. He knew you'd pop up sooner or later to help me out, just like you did the last time. He's been set on you all along." She leaned forward, clasping her hands in her lap. "Manabozho, that's why I don't want you to go off to face him alone. I can't help but think that's exactly what he wants. You might be the person who's closest to him, but I've met him in person--and this is not somebody you want to face on your own!"
His eyebrows started to draw downwards again and she sighed inwardly. "Like I said," he stated, "you're not a manitou. If this whole thing follows the old pattern, then why don't you believe I can trap him? I'm the only one left. You said so yourself!"
Charmian threw up her hands. "That's EXACTLY what he's anticipating that you'll do! Even Glooskap had a hard time trapping Malsum, and I don't mean to offend you, but I got the feeling he's a lot more powerful than you are. Plus you keep forgetting that you're not just facing Chakenapok, you're facing Chakenapok AND Malsum. Even if you could get past Chakenapok, there's no way you could deal with Malsum on your own. But Chakenapok would never even expect it if your brothers--"
Manabozho jumped up again. "STOP TALKING ABOUT THEM!"
Charmian jumped to her feet as well. "What the hell is so bad about them?" she shouted. "So they all left! GET OVER IT! EVERYBODY leaves eventually!"
"You don't even KNOW what happened!" Manabozho shot back, and jumped out of the Tree. Charmian instinctively reached out for him, but he was already gone; looking downward she saw a brown bird flapping its way toward the ground. She stood atop the branch and watched it descend, feeling her heart sinking along with it.
Her fingers curled in toward her palms. You can't keep letting your anger get in the way, Manabozho, she thought, half-hoping he could hear her. I know something bad must have happened but that was ages ago--and it's affecting how you think! Chakenapok's expecting this to happen! You can never beat him if you're this blind!
"Mainlander." Charmian let out a tiny gasp and her head jerked up to look back over her shoulder. Thomas, Mani, and the others were filing out onto a branch further away, but Geezhigo-Quae still stood in the entrance to the Tree. She gestured and Charmian turned to go to her. Thomas cast her a glance as she went back into the Tree, but didn't follow.
She again passed into the dimness of the Tree's interior, and she and Geezhigo-Quae headed back in the direction of the manitou's private room. They crossed the threshold into it and Geezhigo-Quae went to stand at her balcony, looking out over the landscape below; Charmian wandered down toward the sloping middle of the room and fiddled her fingers, looking around herself.
"You were taught by him, were you not?" Geezhigo-Quae asked after a moment.
"Sort of," Charmian said, then added, "You do mean Manabozho, right?"
The old woman nodded. "As much as it pains me to admit this," she said after another pause, "he is much to the Island what I once was, before we came to live here. The wolf demon is the Guardian, but Manabozho is and always has been of the Island, even more so than the demons can ever be. It is his home, and he loves it more than almost anything. To see him act so rashly concerns me also."
Charmian blinked. "You're worried about the Island...?" she asked; the look Geezhigo-Quae gave her over her shoulder made her flush a bit and scuff her sandal against the floor. "Sorry...I just got the feeling..."
"That we did not care? This will never be so, Mainlander. For as much as we value our ways, we value the Island even more. I did not wish you to know this so long as I was not certain you had the Island's best interests at heart."
"I told you, I love the Island too. It feels more like home for me there than it does on the mainland sometimes."
"And I believe you, now. Yet it is far too easy for someone to say they love something and not truly mean it." She turned around, folding her hands behind her back. "And so what are you going to do?"
Charmian sighed. "I don't know anymore. I was hoping Manabozho would help me, but he's being such an idiot..."
"Help you what? I had thought he gave you all his training already."
"Not training. His brothers! I thought maybe if I got through to him..." She made a face. "He's even more stubborn than Chakenapok! At least Chakenapok weakened for a little bit."
"What was it you planned on asking him, if he were not being so foolish?"
"Well, where I might find his brothers, for one thing. Noko didn't seem to know where they are, so I thought maybe he would know. And even if he didn't, at least he has more ways of finding out than I ever would." She sighed again and sat down in the middle of the floor, leaning her elbows on her knees. "All I know is one of them went out west...and after that, I don't have any clue where to look. Manabozho's going to go off and get himself killed if I can't help him." The full impact of this realization finally hit her, and she dropped her head. "Every time I take one step forward I just fall ten steps back..."
She sat this way for a moment before hearing Geezhigo-Quae walk across the room, her footfalls merely a whispering sound. A humming noise and a soft glow then drew her attention, and she lifted her head to see that the manitou had placed her hand against the same large crystal in which she'd shown Charmian the Sky Tree earlier. It was glowing, and when she pulled her hand away, a mist seemed to swirl inside it.
"I could not help but hear what you said to him," Geezhigo-Quae said quietly. "That everyone leaves, eventually. At some point, we are all alone."
Charmian's brow furrowed slightly. Geezhigo-Quae met her eyes.
"Would you be willing to give up everything you have to help this Island?" When Charmian opened her mouth she added, "Not just your life--but everything that means even more to you. Every single thing you've ever fought for or believed in. Everything that makes you, you."
Charmian sat silent for a moment and then swallowed, feeling uneasy. "I was hoping it wouldn't come down to that," she said in a small voice.
Geezhigo-Quae stared at her for a moment so that she felt like squirming. At last she turned back to the cabochon and her wings shifted.
"It may yet, Mainlander." She lifted her hand and waved it in front of the cabochon. Charmian saw a grassy field similar to the one outside the Tree emerge, and frowned in puzzlement, getting up and stepping forward to peer at it more closely. This field was scattered with small stands of trees, their branches swaying in the wind. For a brief moment she could have sworn she heard the faint lilting strains of a flute, but it must have been only her imagination.
Geezhigo-Quae turned to her again. "There is something you do not know about the Sky Tree," she said. "I told you already of the Weaver medicine."
Charmian nodded. "That's how people get from one realm to the next."
"The medicine of the Sky Tree is yet more powerful in that it serves another purpose. But it is not a purpose served lightly. I would not even tell you of this, if I did not feel you wish the best for the Island."
Charmian felt like grinding her teeth. Won't she EVER trust me...? "What does the Tree do?" she asked aloud, instead.
Geezhigo-Quae looked again at the cabochon and its glowing image. "Brothers are connected by blood," she stated. "The Tree senses all who are or have ever been within it. Although he is not here now, it senses Manabozho, his thoughts, and his past. It senses also the things which are connected to him most closely. In your world, like a hound picking up a trail."
Wary understanding started to come to Charmian's face. She looked at the glowing crystal.
"You mean that...?"
"There is one last thing this Tree may do for you," Geezhigo-Quae said. "It may help you find that which you seek. It may help you find the brothers of Manabozho."