Return To Manitou Island: Part 66
Filling The Shell
A THUMB GENTLY pressed against Manabozho's eyelid and pulled it back, exposing one staring eye; his pupil was large and dilated, his eye itself dull. The thumb let it go closed, then a hand tilted his head to the side. Manabozho limply endured the scrutiny, not even noticing it.
Silver Eagle Feather frowned to herself. She placed her ear to his breast to listen to his heartbeat while her visitor sat against the wall of the wigwam, almost completely swaddled in deerskin, with only a few feathers peeking out from beneath his--its--hood.
"You say he ingested some strange medicine," Silver Eagle Feather said.
Her visitor nodded so the feathers rustled. The voice came out muffled, indistinct. "A sleeping medicine--a potent kind, used only by a select few. Even you would not know how to make it, Sister."
The medicine woman sat back on her heels and stared at Manabozho. "Well, he is no longer dreaming. What you described--when he nearly awoke--it sounds as if Tal Natha ended his dream, somehow. He does not do this lightly; he must have sensed some danger to him also." She lifted a light blanket and covered him with it before rising to her feet, her visitor following suit. "I'll speak with him, and see if he can tell me what happened...but as for your friend...I cannot think of any way to safely awaken him. You said you gave this same medicine to the mainlander girl. Whatever woke her should have worked on him as well. Though with the amount he took...maybe he needs only to sleep it off."
The visitor shifted slightly, one eye barely visible. "Yet if another nightmare happens across him--then what? The first one looked as if it came quite near to scaring him to death; I do not like to think of what a second would do..."
"I'll bring this up with Tal Natha. He may be able to protect him until he awakes." She lifted her head and gave her visitor a curious look which made him--it--draw in on himself--or itself--a bit. "You are certain you'd rather leave him with me than with the manitou women...? They are the most skilled medicine women upon this Island, you know..."
Her visitor fidgeted. "Yes, but they are also quite shrewish and crotchety, and I think they would rather bicker than see to his welfare!" Silver Eagle Feather's mouth twitched so her visitor had to pause to gather himself--itself--before continuing. "I had thought that perhaps a party not so inclined to argue would tend to him best. You are the most skilled medicine woman who is not part manitou. I believe he needs your impartiality now."
Silver Eagle Feather nodded. "I will care for him as best as I can." She turned to the doorway and unfastened the flap, her visitor approaching. She held it open as he--it--passed her, and spoke again as the swaddled figure started to step out.
"I am grateful that you still care for this Island, despite how you have been greeted here," she said softly. Her visitor paused and turned its head to look right at her--only the eyes were visible, yet they were wide and surprised. Silver Eagle Feather smiled slightly.
"We do not get many visitors wrapped up as tightly as you, in this weather. I know the others are always too curious of newcomers. And I think it would almost take the patience of the Sky Mother herself to deal with such exasperation."
The wide eyes continued staring at her for a moment, then softened. The visitor reached up a hand to pull a few of the skins aside. Niskigwun and Silver Eagle Feather looked at each other for a moment.
"You will tell no one...?" he asked, a twinge of worry crossing his face.
She shook her head. Niskigwun's shoulders relaxed visibly and he pulled the skins back up around his face, bowing his head to her. She followed suit and stepped aside as he went out the doorway.
"You honor us with your visit, Brother. Be safe," she said, before letting the flap fall closed, and Niskigwun left the tribe with his spirits feeling at least a little less heavy than before.
The shattered section of cave wall had been repaired easily enough. That didn't stop Glooskap from standing and staring at it with a perplexed look. He tilted his head now and then, but no matter how he looked at the vision shifting hazily behind the wall, it didn't clarify the situation any more.
He rubbed his chin. "I still can't get how I missed that," he murmured, and started walking from left to right, staring at the image the entire time. He stopped in the middle of the room and frowned, then made a face.
"You'll always pull something new and nasty, won't you, you old dog? Every time I think I can wash my hands of you...up you pop again! Just like a bad rash!"
Malsum's eyes glimmered.
Glooskap froze, staring, then very slowly leaned forward. He stared at the image so long that his own eyes began to water, but nothing happened. A twinge of doubt flickered in his mind.
Something's not right...
He peered at the image as long as he could, yet still nothing changed. Glooskap sighed and stood back, rubbing his eyes.
"Maybe I'm getting too old for this job. Too bad there's no retirement benefits for Mighty Trickster Heroes." He turned around and lifted his hand to snap his fingers, then made a face and simply stepped through the wall instead. He reappeared in his own cavern just below sea level and stretched, grimacing as he rubbed a crick out of his neck.
"I'll have to think up a better mousetrap," he grumbled. "One that can hold a Wolf." He lifted his head and looked around him. "Marten? Yoohoo! Marten! Where are you, little guy?"
He paused to listen, but only his own voice echoed back. He frowned again and scratched his head, then turned in a circle, throwing out a sensory net in every direction, but met only fish and lobsters. His frown grew when he came to a halt facing the direction he'd started from.
"Well, cripes!" he exclaimed. "I can't even keep track of a ten-pound furball! Maybe I should retire! Or get myself an Invisible Fence...it seems like everybody's leaving this place but me!"
He made a face and waved his hand at the air, retreating further into the system of caverns. "Ehh! He'll come home when he gets hungry. Both of them will. They ALWAYS do!"
A trace of light flickered. The Wolf's eyes glimmered, then faded.
You have my sight now, Shell.
Chakenapok's head popped up and he blinked. Something red flickered across his eyes and then vanished. He stared into space for a moment or two, growing tense.
Is something happening to me...?
He gasped when a voice somewhere deep inside him answered his unspoken question.
You were blind before...now you can actually see. This petty little rock limits things...you've seen how it is with the Dreamspinner, how he cannot even leave it for long...but now you may see far more than just this rock...including what you need to see, right now...
Chakenapok continued staring at the cave wall, then his brow began to furrow as images started shifting upon it. He blinked a few times as they began to take form, showing him the Sky Tree of the Fairy Realm. He felt a twinge of irritation, as the sight of the Sky Tree was nothing new...until it was as if he flew forward, and up into its branches, and inside the Tree itself...down numerous hallways...past numerous rooms...into the room with the magic doors with their cabochons, and through one of them...and out again, across a field of swaying grass...over stands of trees, past large tumbled boulders, and through pine forests...across more fields, and groves, and a batch of black twisted trees, faster and faster, until something tiny appeared far below, and his eyes focused on it, until he zoomed downward, closer and closer, and soared out over three small shapes trundling through the grass, and his senses lit up. He didn't recognize the other two, but the red hair of the smallest shape drew his attention instantly.
It's you, Mainlander! I knew you were hiding somewhere!
Now you are not quite so blind anymore, the voice said, and faded away. Perhaps, now, you will not be so useless...
Chakenapok's irritation flared. "I could have discovered this eventually, on my own," he muttered, yet the voice was gone, and so he was alone. He shrugged it off and focused again on the image of the three making their way westward, and his mouth twitched into a smile. He leaned forward as if to get a better look, and accordingly the image grew closer until he could make out details.
"A little Marten," he murmured, "and a Grasshopper...and a White Rabbit. Oh, I'm starting to see a pattern here...would I be mistaken in thinking you're looking to add a Bear to your little party?" His smile grew wider and his eyes glittered. "By all means do so...it'll be much easier with them all in one place. I really intended to go after just Rabbit, but now that I think of it, four in one blow wouldn't be so bad...not counting you." The image began to fade, but he knew he could call it up again whenever he wished, and this thought made him almost want to laugh. Instead he waved his hand as if to dispel the image completely, and smirked at the patterns of light and shadow flickering on the wall.
"I'm glad I've kept you alive so far, Mainlander," he said. "Not only will you make the game more fun, but your end will be most entertaining of all."
Charmian's before-steady trudging slowed to a gradual halt, and she stood in the middle of the tall grass, one hand on the strap of her pack, staring off into space. After a moment Wabasso and Peepaukawiss noticed her absence and paused to look back at her in puzzlement, Marten peering over Puka's shoulder. They all stared at her.
"Charmian?" Wabasso said.
"What is it?" Puka asked.
Marten's tail flicked. "Is something wrong?"
Charmian's fingers fiddled with the strap. She peered skyward slightly, then back toward the ground. Her brow furrowed, just a little bit.
"I kind of feel like someone's watching us..."
The other three frowned. They all started looking around themselves, though nothing presented itself. Marten scratched his head and Puka shrugged at Wabasso.
"Maybe we're coming closer to where Mudjikawiss is," Wabasso suggested.
The other two started nodding vigorously. "I bet that's it!" Marten exclaimed, hopping up and down. "You're just sensing Midgey! He's got to be around here somewhere!"
Puka clasped his hands together. "I can hardly wait to see him! The LOOK on his face when I pull the world's greatest joke!"
"That's not it..." Charmian's frown grew and she stared up at an area of overcast sky, yet saw nothing but clouds. She tried listening, and calling up Apakwaanaajiin, but couldn't sense anything. Whatever the feeling had been, it was gone.
The other three were staring at her. She shifted her pack again, feeling a little foolish and taking a step forward. "I guess it was just my imagination," she murmured, and the others shared a look before following.
By the time nightfall came, the seemingly endless expanse of prairie had evolved into a landscape much like the first one Charmian had encountered here, scattered now and then with small stands of trees, and a mountain range rose in the distance. She felt a little dispirited looking at it, and hoped they would reach wherever they needed to be before having to cross over them; she hadn't exactly included climbing gear in her pack. As they settled under some trees, the other three dozing off almost immediately, she stared up into the leaves and thought of the Sky Tree, and the Crooked Tree, and the Island; it was only when she realized that she couldn't see any stars that she thought of how much she missed them. Something twinged in her chest and she flinched and placed her hand against it, peering down. The glowing shape of her spirit stone appeared, an angry slice of black cutting through it. Anxiety flitted across her face.
It's gotten worse... She pulled her hand away and the image faded from sight; she looked back up into the trees. Please let me hold out long enough.
She sighed miserably and tried making herself comfortable against the base of the tree, wrapping herself in one of the blankets Peepaukawiss had luckily brought along. The breeze riffled through the leaves and she hoped it wouldn't rain any further; with how much it had been raining in this place lately, it was a wonder they weren't walking across a giant lakebed by now...
Her eyes opened and she frowned at the air.
That reminds me that I'm supposed to remember something!...but what am I supposed to remember?
She sat upright now like a bolt, and the blanket fell from around her. My dream! The one with... Her thoughts trailed off, and she searched futilely for whatever had sparked her memory; but nothing would come. Her brow furrowed in growing confusion as she searched and each time came up empty. She was usually good at remembering her dreams, ever since returning from her last trip to the Island; she supposed it was a small aftereffect of traveling to the place. Yet for some reason her head felt cloudy and...empty right now. Like walking into a familiar room and finding an important piece of furniture missing, only its prints left in the carpeting to remind one it had been there...something had left an imprint in her mind, yet as for what it had been, there wasn't any other trace. Merely a large empty spot where it had sat before.
But...that's not possible! I know I had a dream...one I wanted to remember...and I had it again in Glooskap's land...and something made me think of it...but, it's like it's not even there now...
Why can't I remember it anymore? I know it was so clear...what does it mean when you can't remember your dreams...?
Back on the mainland, she knew it could mean anything from a lack of proper sleep to just having a poor memory. On the Island, however, she knew it could mean something much more sinister. Ocryana had made her living stealing dreams, and rescuing the discarded dreams of others...and feeding off of their powers. She had nearly been able to destroy the entire Island, because of the carelessness of everyone else about their dreams...
I know it was telling me something--but what was it? Charmian ground her knuckles against her forehead in frustration. "Why can't I remember anything?" she said aloud, but aside from Marten shifting in his sleep, nothing answered her. She sighed and leaned back again, picking at a piece of nap on the blanket and wishing more than ever that the stars were visible from here; at least they were one thing that always stayed the same, no matter what land she was in.
Maybe...I'll remember when I wake up, she thought, and managed eventually to drift away into sleep, but if she did still dream, by the time she awoke the next morning it was even hazier and less distinct than before.
Halfway through the next day, with the mountain range still almost impossibly in the distance, the group was surprised by a small herd of manitous moving across the field. At least, that was what they looked like, to Charmian; they bore the same deerlike bodies and mooselike antlers upon their heads, and their eyes glowed the same shade of blue. Yet there were subtle differences between them and the Island manitous, although they were difficult to pinpoint; Charmian guessed perhaps it was their size, or their antler shape, or the shape of their muzzles, or how their eyes were set in their heads, or how they carried themselves. Whatever it was, they were not quite the same as the Island manitous, and when she whistled to get their attention she further realized the differences. The herd slowed ahead of them and peered at them with wary curiosity, but none approached. She got the distinct feeling that they weren't certain what she'd said.
"Well," she said as they drew closer to the manitous, "I was told my powers wouldn't work here...and maybe they speak a different language or something."
Puka and Marten gave her odd looks. "It at least sounds much the same," Wabasso said, almost hesitantly. "Perhaps your skills have gotten a bit rough?" He pulled out his flute and put it to his mouth, and only when her head started to tip forward drowsily did Charmian remember to plug her ears, though she could still vaguely hear it, and still had to keep shaking her head to keep from dozing off. The music seemed to have no effect on Puka or Marten, but the herd of manitous started milling about, whistling loudly in return. Charmian waited to see if they should prove to be hostile or not; they were warier than Island manitous, in how they made certain to keep a distance, yet at least they didn't look aggressive. The biggest one, a reddish-colored male standing in the front, tilted his head back and whistled in Wabasso's direction. Wabasso stopped playing and turned to the others with him.
"I asked them if they are the manitous of this region. He tells me yes--his name is Fire Fur One. They've been scenting us for the past day or so and are wondering what we're doing on their land, as we obviously do not belong here."
"Tell him what he needs to know. Let him know the truth," Charmian said, and Wabasso obliged, blowing on the flute. "Tell him we don't intend on taking or ruining any of their land, either," she added, just in case, and that was apparently included in the music, for the manitous started milling about again, all of them whistling as if chattering. The bull manitou lifted his head and whistled again, pawing at the ground as he paced.
Wabasso cast Charmian a look. "He says we will be left alone then, given that we pass straight through. They will keep watch to make certain no one bothers us on our way."
"That's nice of him," Charmian said. She looked at the mountains, then back at the manitous. "Do you think you could ask him for another little favor?"
Perhaps ten minutes later, she was clutching desperately to keep hold of her own manitou's fur as it, plus two others carrying Wabasso and Puka and Marten, raced across the plain. The wind whistled through her hair and her teeth chattered with cold, but at least catching a ride seemed like a better idea than walking all the way to the distant mountain range.
By perhaps late afternoon, they were within sight of the base of the mountains, where the land started to rise in rugged, rocky hillocks. Charmian shivered at the desolation of the place but said nothing as she climbed down from her manitou, having to rub her fingers together to ward off the numbness. Wabasso and Puka dismounted as well, and one of the manitous whistled something before they turned and dashed away, leaping off through the tall grass and out of sight. Charmian watched them go, then turned to look at Wabasso questioningly.
Wabasso waved at the mountains. "They say that, just beyond those, there is a valley, and beyond that a great forest; this is the extent of their travels west."
Charmian sighed. "Well, at least it isn't more going up." She adjusted her pack and started trudging forward. "Maybe we can climb a little bit, and find a nice place to camp, before nightfall."
They started making their way toward the foothills, picking their way up winding paths and around fallen rocks. Puka seemed to dislike clambering around the most, and stopped frequently to rub his knees or let out a dramatic moan. Charmian rolled her eyes more than once. When they had to ascend a tall rock, Wabasso making his way up first and then pulling up the others, Puka groaned loudest of all.
"This--reminds me," he panted as he struggled up, "of a--joke."
Charmian let out a gusty sigh. "ANOTHER one?"
"Apparently--a long time ago, a good strong brave--by the name of Falling Rock--was lost up in the mountains. And so--"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Charmian groused. "To this day you can still come across signs that say, 'Watch for Falling Rock'!"
Puka clambered over the edge of the boulder and started cackling insanely. "YOU'VE HEARD IT TOO? ISN'T THAT THE FUNNIEST JOKE EVER?! HAHAHAHAHAHA!!"
Charmian ran her hand down her face before reaching up for Wabasso's assistance. "If he dies horribly in his sleep, check my fingernails for blood."
Wabasso helped her up, then glanced skyward, rubbing his arms. "Night will be coming soon," he said. "We'd best find a place to sleep for the night...hopefully, there is a cave nearby..."
Puka started hopping around excitedly. "Oh, oh, oh! This is the PERFECT time to try this thing out!" He dug around in one of his pouches and pulled out something that looked like an acorn. Charmian gave him a curious look when he grinned from ear to ear, looking almost like a GeeBee with a fresh kill.
"It's quite simple, really!" he exclaimed. "To set it off, all I have to do is THIS--!"
Charmian's eyes goggled. "Not YET--!" she and Wabasso both yelled at once, but before the words had even left their mouths, Peepaukawiss had hurled the acorn-thing at the ground as hard as he could, where it let out a small pop and scattered into fragments, a little puff of dust rising from the impact. The other three ducked and covered their heads, while Puka simply looked skyward, and they waited.
Charmian peered out from under her arm and her eyes grew dark. "That was it...?" she grumbled in a dangerous voice.
Puka just waved his hand impatiently. "Give it a minute!"
They stood still and waited. After another moment or so, Wabasso and Marten lifted their heads as well, frowning in puzzlement. Charmian glared at Puka's back, fists clenching.
"I THOUGHT you said this would help us find--"
Her words were cut off when Marten leapt into Wabasso's arms, tail all apuff, and Wabasso's eyes widened as he ducked to the ground. Charmian's reaction was much the same when the sky immediately went black, and then filled with a gigantic explosion of red and orange and violet fire.