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Return To Manitou Island: Part 60

First Contact

MANABOZHO STOMPED HIS way away from the Fairy Arch, fists clenched at his sides the entire time. He didn't look back to see whether the others had followed him through or not. At the moment, he didn't care.

He was glad that the mainlander didn't follow him through, not yet at least. He certainly couldn't talk to her right now.

His aggressive walk lessened the deeper he wandered into the woods, until he slowed to a normal walk, his feathers drooping. He stared at the ground now, and even sought out a fallen tree to sit upon, hunching in on himself. If anyone had walked by they would have seen only the tree trunk with a ragged stump protruding from it. Manabozho shut his eyes and let out his breath. His heart hurt for some reason.

Glooskap himself said I was the one to have to face Chakenapok. That means that I must do it!

He couldn't figure out why Charmian would be so adamant against him following Glooskap's advice, if he was really the right one for the task. Her insistence on finding his brothers confused him.

Does she not think I would be good enough? After all that I taught her, does she think I am too weak? Has she thought me weak all along...?

He shook his head abruptly to rid it of such stupid thoughts. What a mainlander thought didn't matter right now. A great manitou himself had proclaimed him worthy to fight Chakenapok! He wasn't certain if it was something he wished to do, but if it ended this matter once and for all...

And if it proves that I'm strong enough...

He looked down, frowning in puzzlement to notice that he held something in his hand. On opening his fingers he noticed the rabbit pendant he wore. When he opened his hand it showed white side up, and for some reason this irritated him. He turned the rabbit over so it was brown again, and that made him feel better.

I will go face him. When she comes back, he will already be defeated. I will ask her, what took her so damned long!

This settled the matter in his head, and he stood up, clenching his fists again. He took two steps to the side only to squawk and tumble to the ground in a messy heap, grumbling as he pushed himself up. He had to remember when he was walking on the ground, and when he was walking in midair.

Manabozho rose once more, this time with a slight wince, and dusted the soil and leaves from his clothes before stomping off into the woods again. There were things he needed to do before he set out.

Black waves rippled around a dark shore. They drew further and further away from Charmian, and it took her what felt like ages to hear the rippling sound of the water fade away as well. Only it didn't so much fade as change, another sound fading in to take its place. She watched the water draw away to the sound of a bird singing...only that wasn't right. Birds didn't carry such a patterned tune. As the last shimmer of water vanished from sight she realized that it was flutesong she was hearing...

...and as she realized this, her eyes slowly came open, and the last bits of the vague dream faded away.

Charmian stared off into space for a long while, not quite sure what she should be doing or feeling; aside from the tail-end of the dream, and the soft flute music, she couldn't remember anything. After a moment she started dredging her mind for any little detail--Where was I?--what was happening?--before the image of the black bear, storming down the slope toward her with its teeth flashing, popped into her head as if from nowhere, and in an instant everything came rushing back along with it. She let out a panicked gasp and bolted upright, looking around herself wildly.

"Bear--!" she cried out, then froze in confusion. This wasn't the slope she'd tumbled down, or even the same part of the woods...everything looked...different. And it was nighttime. And something was burning.

The flute music had stopped as soon as she sat up. Now she heard a soft rustling noise, then a voice from overhead said, "You're awake."

Charmian gasped and jerked her head to look upwards. She was still seated beneath a tree, but this was a different one, larger and gnarled, with long branches extending far out from the trunk almost horizontally. Far up in the branches she could at last make out a face looking back down at her, before it disappeared and the rustling noises started anew. She took this chance to glance around her again. She was covered with a mat of woven grass, and a fire burned nearby. She seemed to be in a small clearing ringed by more of the gnarled trees. The slightly wet scent to the air told her she must still be in the same land, if not in the exact same place, as before; yet she couldn't recognize any of it, now that night had fallen. She shivered and rubbed her arms, feeling tense.

Several leaves drifted down from above her, then something landed with a thud several feet away. Charmian jumped, scattering the grass mat and nearly climbing up the tree herself. The young man who'd jumped from the tree merely smiled at her. He was dressed in deerskin and feathers, and held a long thin flute in one hand. He'd landed in a crouch so they practically met at eye level, and seeing his disarming look, Charmian let out her breath.

"I didn't mean to frighten you," he said as soon as she did so, and pointed up into the branches. "But it's the easiest way down from way up there."

Charmian rubbed her arms again and looked around the campsite, for that was obviously what it was. "There was a bear--" she started.

"Do not worry," the man reassured her. "She went on her way. She was quite upset with you, you know."

Charmian's brow furrowed. "Upset with me--?"

He nodded with a serious look. "You were wandering too close to her den. She has two cubs there, and of course she has no way of knowing whether you meant them harm or not."

Charmian made a face and pulled up the grass mat to cover herself from the chill. "I kind of got the impression she was going to harm me!"

"Oh, she would not have hurt you if she knew what you intended. I couldn't tell her what you intended though, since you were already asleep." He gave her a curious look. "I hope you meant for her to have that strange piece of sugar, because I gave it to her to apologize for you."

"Yeah, she can have the candy b..." Charmian realized what he'd just said and her head popped up with a frown. "Wait a minute! You can talk to bears--?"

He smiled again and tilted his head. "Not bears specifically, no; but pretty much all that do not speak our language." When her face grew confused he lifted the flute.

"You use that to talk to them?" she asked, puzzled. When he nodded her face started to light up. "So--all that fluting I kept hearing, that was you? You talk to animals with that?"

He nodded again, then paused. "Well; it also plays music, as well." And he smiled as if he'd made a joke.

Charmian pushed the grass mat off and crept toward him a bit. He handed her the flute and she looked it over, but it didn't look any different from any other flute. "So you're the one who scared the bear off," she murmured.

"Not so much 'scared off'...I only had to convince her that you meant her cubs no harm, and give her your sugar in apology, before she went on her way." He paused again. "Though I would suggest not wandering near a bear's den again in the future, and if you see her again, you might wish to apologize yourself."

Charmian furrowed her brow. "But I can't even tell one bear from another. They all look alike. And I can't talk to bears, because I don't have a flute like this..."

He shrugged. "She will recognize you, if you come across her again. And maybe if you give her another piece of sugar, she will accept your apology."

Charmian handed back the flute, shaking her head vigorously. "No thank you! I've had enough of handing out candy to bears!" He smiled in amusement and took the flute back, and only now did she really notice how she was lying curled up next to the gnarled tree, her pack resting off to the side. "You said I...fell asleep," she said hesitantly. He looked at her. "While a bear was coming at me...?" she continued, growing doubtful. He gestured with the flute again and his smile grew apologetic.

"Oh...that's another thing it tends to do. For some reason it has this different effect on humans...and puts them right to sleep. I'm sorry I had to do that, but it was the only way I could stop and speak with the bear. People usually do not sleep quite so long as you have; you must have been tired."

"I guess you can say that again." She nudged the mat aside and reached for her pack to pull it closer and dug inside it a bit meekly. He tilted his head and watched as she examined its contents with her hand, making sure everything she'd set out with was still in there; as soon as she felt the skin wrapping around her dreamcatcher she sighed and pulled her arm back out. "Thanks, by the way. For the bear, and for looking after my stuff."

Another smile. "This is not a problem."

Charmian rubbed her chilly fingers and looked around the clearing, then at the fire. Her stomach growled and she pressed her hands against it, wishing Geezhigo-Quae had given her time to gather some real food to bring along. She got unsteadily to her feet, dusting herself off and shivering.

"Do you have a bow or arrows or anything...?" she asked the stranger.

His brow furrowed but he nodded. "Yes...why? Do you know how to shoot?"

"Well, not much...but I wasn't allowed to pack a lunch, so I guess I'm supposed to hunt for what I want." She made a face. "Definitely not bear...but maybe I can find a rabbit or something. At least a rabbit can't kill me."

The man abruptly jumped to his feet, making her jump back in response, the motion was so sudden. She frowned in confusion on seeing the look on his face; he waved his hands, his eyes wide and almost panicked looking.

"If you're hungry, then you need only ask!" he exclaimed. "I could easily look and find you something."

Charmian's brow furrowed even further. "Did I say something wrong...?"

He seemed to calm down a little bit and sheepishly rubbed at the back of his neck. "It is...I merely do not like hunting very much, is all. But there are all sorts of other things one can eat, if you'd like me to go look for them..."

"I didn't mean anything offensive. I don't really like hunting either," Charmian said, before noticing the pendant he wore suspended from his neck. She paused on seeing it, then leaned closer to look at it better. He seemed to notice her attention and glanced down at it himself. The firelight was dimmer over here, so she stepped down toward him and picked it up in her hand to get a good look at it in the light. It was a running animal, carved out of some sort of shell or bone, a small red dot marking where its eye should be. Charmian frowned.

"A rabbit...?" She ran her thumb over the smooth surface and something sparked in the back of her mind.

A white rabbit...?

She lifted her head to look into the young man's eyes. He seemed mildly confused by her attention, and even took a step back when she peered at him more closely. Now that she thought about it, the way he wore the feathers on his head looked familiar...

"Are you--" She paused, then frowned, suddenly feeling uncertain, and had to summon up the words again, hoping she didn't look like a total idiot. "Is your name Wabasso?"

The man blinked, and as if in response one of the feathers on his head flicked. His brow furrowed and he gave her a perplexed look.

"How do you know my name...?" he asked.

Charmian's face slowly lit up. "It is you!" she exclaimed, then grinned widely and jumped up and down. "I can't believe it! It really IS you! Wabasso! YOU found ME!" She started laughing and waving her arms with glee. Wabasso stared at her as if she'd gone mad as she hopped in circles. She at last stopped long enough to grab him by the hands; he jumped himself, not expecting the gesture, but she was too happy to notice.

"You're not gonna believe this but I was LOOKING for you!" she cried. "I had to go through this Tree--and land in this field--don't ask--and I have no idea where I am or where to look, and I'm thinking it could take months, then BAM, along comes this bear, and then YOU'RE here! You found me! I can't believe it! It was so easy!"

She started jumping up and down again, still holding onto his hands. Wabasso had to move his head up and down to follow her excited motions as she started hopping around him, making him turn in circles.

"But--why were you looking for me?" he asked in confusion. "Do I know you--?"

"Me? Oh--no. You don't know me at all! But I know you!" Charmian at last stopped jumping and let go of him; he rubbed at his wrists as if they hurt. "I actually came here looking for you and your brothers. I came because of Manabozho!"

"Manabozho?" Wabasso frowned slightly, then his gaze drifted to some spot just above the ground. "I have not heard of him in ages..."

"Well, you'll get to see him again really soon! After I find your other brothers, and then you can all meet him! He'll be really excited to see you!"

Wabasso's frown grew. "I was under the impression he would not care to see me again," he said.

Charmian's smile dimmed a bit, then brightened. "Well, of course he would!" she exclaimed. A tiny voice in the back of her head snapped, What are you DOING? but she brushed it off. A little white lie couldn't be so bad, if it got the job done. Besides, Manabozho would probably change his mind once he saw him again. "I know it's been a long time, but feelings change. And Manabozho would LOVE it if all of you met up again!" The little voice spoke up once more, and this time it said, Oh, you are going to burn in Hell for that. Charmian shoved it away again.

One of Wabasso's feathers tilted, just like a rabbit's ear. "All of us--?"

Charmian nodded. "Uh-huh! I still have to find Peepaukawiss and Mudjikawiss--but now that you're here, you can help me find them!"

"But I have not seen any of them in years," Wabasso replied. "I have no idea where they could be by now."

"Oh." Charmian's smile faded again, but she tried to remain hopeful. "Well...still, you know them way better than I do, so maybe you can still help me find them? It's better than nothing! Please?" She clasped her hands and gave him her best smile. "I feel almost like it was fate or something that we met up so soon! And I know Mudjikawiss went west, so that just leaves Peepaukawiss, and maybe Mudjikawiss knows where to find him? Maybe we'll even run into him along the way! Please come along? You're the first living thing I've met here, besides that bear."

Wabasso seemed slightly undecided. Charmian tried to think of something, then reached into her pocket and pulled out the little wooden pinecone, handing it out to him. He looked at it curiously before taking it in his fingers.

"This belonged to Noko," he said with surprise. Charmian nodded and grinned.

"She gave it to me! To help me find the Crooked Tree again, and the Sky Tree, and any other magical tree."

Wabasso lifted his head. "You've spoken with her?"

Charmian nodded again. "A lot! She gave me candied apples and everything." He smiled at that and her own smile grew. "She first told me about you guys--I have to admit I never even knew you existed until now."

"And you know 'Bozho as well?"

Another nod. "The last time I was on the Island he taught me all kinds of things! He hangs out there all the time. He even has a--" She cut herself off abruptly, just as the word family was about to pass her lips. Wabasso noticed the pause and cocked his head expectantly; Charmian's mind raced to think of anything to say. "...Um...he even has a pretty good reputation there! Well--for the most part."

Wabasso smiled cheerily, then looked at the pinecone, then handed it back. "Well, if you're on such good terms with him and with Noko, then I guess I have no choice but to follow. I really would like to see them again. 'Bozho was still just a boy the last time I saw him."

"He's all grown up now!" Charmian exclaimed, putting the pinecone away. "I'm sure he'll be glad to see you. Noko talked about how close you two used to be."

Wabasso's smile faded and his stare seemed to drift into space. Charmian fell silent, hoping she hadn't said something offensive, but he merely turned and started climbing back up to his spot in the tree.

"Uh--" She moved to the bottom of the tree and watched him ascend to sit out on a low branch hanging over the little camp. "Did I say something wrong? I'm sorry if I did..."

"No," Wabasso replied. "It's merely...I remembered that I did not say goodbye to him when I left, is all." He burrowed a little bit into his deerskins and pulled out his flute.

"Oh," Charmian said. "Well...that's okay. Now you can say hello to him instead!"

He smiled again, faintly this time. "I would like that." He held up the flute. "It's late to start out now...do you think you will have any trouble sleeping?"

"Oh." Charmian noticed that she had started to pick up her pack, and she set it back down, feeling a little bit foolish. Night had long since settled in, and she didn't like the thought of walking around in the dark, even in somebody's company. She sat down on the grass mat. "I don't know...I had these pellets, but they do some weird things when you take them..."

The sound of the flute drifted to her ears and her eyelids suddenly felt very heavy. She was able to get out one yawn, and lie down on her side without covering up, before sleep overtook her.

Chakenapok fumed. He stared at the empty spot before the wall until his eyes burned, yet her image still refused to appear. He had spotted her, just briefly, but then she had disappeared again. And again she seemed to be beyond his reach. No matter where he looked for her, he couldn't find her anywhere.

Where are you hiding, Mainlander? I know you've been to speak with someone...far away...does that old crone think she can hide you forever? I know how that Tree works, as well...she can shuttle you in and out of doors as much as she pleases, but in the end you will always come back here, to your Island...

He had managed a brief glimpse into her dreams, still nestled in the back of her head, before she'd vanished again, and it had disturbed him somewhat to see the dream with the lake. He had removed that--how had it come back? The Dreamspinner hadn't given it to her, he knew that already. The Dreamspinner could not even sense her properly; he'd needed assistance to give her her last dream to bring her here, and even that had almost failed...

He'd reached out, ready to snatch the dream away, when she had vanished once more...beyond his sight. For now, the dream remained with her. There was nothing he could do.

His lip drew back in a silent snarl. Until she comes back, he added. I can do nothing, until she comes back...then I should trace that thing back to its source, and finish with it for good! He lifted his head to look at the empty spot in the air, and the ugly look on his face slowly faded, a slight narrow-eyed smile taking its place. The fire that had been flaring in his eyes died down as he looked up at nothing, and began to speak in singsong.

"Where are you, where are you, Mainlander?" he asked softly. "I know you're out there somewhere...hiding in your Tree. You won't be hiding forever, if I know you--and I do know you, better than you think; or at least, someone else does." He briefly glanced at the far wall, which shimmered slightly, and his smile grew as he turned back. "And she will be very useful to me. You've seen her already, haven't you? You think you are safe, but she is nearer than you think--and so am I." His eyes darkened to orange, and he clenched his fist tight enough to draw blood from his palm. "And I know you will not hide when everything you care for is in danger. So where do you hide now, Mainlander...?"

Something flashed. Chakenapok paused, puzzled, and looked more closely at the empty space. It took form before his eyes, and he stared at the resulting image in some surprise, before the same unsettling smile returned to his face as he watched the figure in the image wander through the woods.

"Well," he murmured, "look who else is seeking a dream...perhaps we should oblige him?"

And he raised his hands so small bright crackles started dancing on his fingertips, his eyes lighting up yellow with glee as they focused on the disembodied image of his twin brother.

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