Return To Manitou Island: Part 74
THE CANOE SLOWED to a gradual halt and sat bobbing in the rippling waters of Lake Huron. Its occupant stared far ahead into the fog, his brow furrowing in mild confusion.
Singing Cedars frowned when he realized that he'd forgotten something. Which shouldn't have been possible, seeing as it was the very reason why he was returning here.
He absently let the end of his paddle sink down into the water, and tilted his head back to stare up at the sky. Whenever he'd forgotten something in the past, doing that had often helped. Yet all it did now was give him a sore neck.
I would not even be coming back to this awful place...I would have easily lied, and told everyone there is nothing to be found upon that other Island. Great monsters with the faces of wolves! Men who speak and understand my own tongue, yet are not my people! Young girls who wield powerful medicine! One would have to be mad to want to go back to such a place!
That had been before the dream, though.
Singing Cedars ground his teeth and rubbed his knuckles against his forehead in frustration. He knew he'd dreamed something, something big enough to convince him to come back this way...and he had been pondering that dream during his entire trip. Yet now...it was as if the memory had simply flown away. When he opened his eyes he found himself staring only at seemingly endless gray water.
How could I forget my dream! I never forget my dreams!
That Island is doing something to me...!
He lifted his paddle again and stared at the place where the Island would be, if it had been visible. He hadn't even bothered speaking with the others, hadn't even set foot back in the camp, before deciding to return. But now...
Singing Cedars let out his breath, and slipped his paddle into the waves again. He turned the canoe about and began paddling, in the same direction from which he'd come. He shivered more than once, and not from the wet coolness hanging heavy over the lake.
If this Island could steal one's dreams, perhaps then it was time for a talk with the elders. And time for something to be done.
Augwak crouched in his little cave, arms raised in triumph, teeth glittering in a wide maniacal grin. The cavern still echoed with his cackling, and he could almost feel the power surging up inside him from the new spirit stone fragment lodged in his breast.
Augwak blinked, then his grin faded. It was replaced by a baffled look, and then he slowly lowered his arms. He dropped his head to look down at himself, feeling his chest. He poked himself with his fingers.
"What...?" He blinked again and his brow furrowed. "Noth...nothing's changed! I'm...I'm still the same!" After another moment or two, this realization at last began to fully sink in, and his eyes grew, then began to glow bright yellow, and then his teeth returned when his lips curled back, and his fingers formed into wicked talons, a hiss of rage escaping him.
"Nothing's happened!" he growled between gritted teeth, and then flung his arms up over his head, letting out a piercing scream which made the rock around him quake.
"THAT DAMNED WINDBAG! YOU DO NOT PULL ONE OVER ON AUGWAK! WHEN I FIND YOU I WILL TEAR YOU TO SHREDS, CONSUME YOU, HURL YOU UP, AND STOMP YOU INTO THE GROUND! YOU WILL REGRET EVER MEETING ME!!"
He jumped up and down, stomping his feet as hard as he could. When that produced no desired result--and when he thunked his head against the low ceiling of the cave--he sped out of the tunnel and into the main cavern, whirling around like mad. He plunged up through the roof and out of Devil's Kitchen, howling and smashing his fists against the rock. It shook under the pressure, and a few birds that had wandered too close to Devil's Lake flapped up into the sky.
"DO YOU HEAR ME?!" Augwak shrieked at the air. "IF YOU EVER SET FOOT WITHIN MY CAVE AGAIN I WILL MURDER YOU!!"
Stupid ingrate! a voice snapped in his ear, and he gasped and landed atop the cave again, blinking in surprise. He glanced around him but nothing was there. Of course nothing happened! I knew you were ignorant, yet not THIS ignorant!
Augwak bared his teeth and hissed. "So you are still AROUND me--?" he snarled, and spun in a circle. Nothing. He clawed the stone. "Go ahead and show yourself! One little puff and you are FINISHED!"
I gave you access to an ancient power, the voice retorted. A power you yourself have NEVER had full access to. What did you expect, that you would become as one of the Old Ones right this minute--? This power has been asleep for hundreds of moons and more! You cannot expect it to just "wake up"!
Augwak growled like an angry dog. "Then when can I expect it to WAKE UP?"
If there is anything you or anyone upon this piddling Island must learn, it is patience. You wanted this power. I gave it to you, at no cost. If waiting a little bit is such a heavy price, then perhaps I should have given it to some GeeBee less inclined to be so childish.
Augwak's eyes goggled and his jaw fell. "I AM NOT CHILDISH, YOU--STUPIDHEAD!!" he screamed, pounding his hands against the cave. A few more birds fluttered away.
He sensed, rather than heard, an exasperated sigh. Deny what you will. But if this is how you react to waiting it out, I hate to think what you will do when you first do not know how to use your new powers. Keep practice in mind before you lose your entire head. Then he felt a sort of taking away, as if the voice--or whatever was behind it--were retreating. He hissed and turned in another circle but there was still nothing there. Augwak gnashed his teeth hard enough to make his jaws ache.
"For your own sake you had BETTER be telling the truth this time!" he yelled once the presence was gone. "Because once I have my full powers back, YOU WILL NOT WANT TO BE AROUND TO SEE IT!"
When Charmian found her way back to the path, she also found Manabozho and Peepaukawiss and Wabasso, all gasping and panting in exhaustion. She flushed a little bit at the sight of them slumped against each other and waved as she passed by.
"Um...sorry about that. Won't happen again."
Manabozho fought to disentangle Puka's leg from beneath his arm and staggered to his feet. "It...better...not," he gasped.
"What was that all about, anyway?" Puka asked, also getting to his feet and helping Wabasso up. He made a face and started straightening his feathers.
Charmian rubbed her neck with her free hand. "Well...it's kind of hard to explain. I think Ocryx came after you guys...? Or way before? In any case, he usually stays in his lake, and..."
Manabozho's feathers stood straight upright, then he grabbed hold of Puka's arm, and Wabasso's, and dragged them protesting into the woods. Charmian stood on the trail and watched in puzzlement as they all vanished from sight among the trees with a loud rustling noise. A moment later more noises came from far ahead, and she turned to see Cloud galloping toward her, Thomas atop him. He reined the horse in as he drew close and skidded to a halt. Charmian stared as he dropped to the ground and came jogging toward her, stopping and leaning on his knees and panting as if he'd been running rather than riding.
"Ch...Charmian...?" he managed to get out.
Charmian nodded, brow furrowing. "Yeah?"
Thomas held up one hand in a "Wait a moment, please" gesture, trying to catch his breath. "Are you...all right?" he asked at last, and she nodded again.
"Yeah...pretty much." She paused. "You came riding all the way out here just to ask me that?"
He spread his arms and gave her an exasperated look. "Last I knew...you were disappeared through that Arch. Then that big demon is flying over the Island...and I don't have any idea where you are! What am I supposed to be doing--?"
Charmian's eyes grew. "OH! The Arch!" She clapped her hands to her face and Marten fell to the ground with a thud. "I'm sorry, I forgot! But--there wasn't anybody there when I came back!"
"That's because you were gone so long! Mani has his tribe to look after, you know. Three of the females are expected to bear their calves today, and there's some sort of argument going on over bedding rights, who shall sleep where..." When Charmian gave him a queer look he shrugged. "We got to talking. You'd be surprised how much manitous can talk, when they're bored." When she still didn't reply he looked irritated. "What? What did I say?"
"Nothing." Charmian made a point of still looking at him oddly as she turned away. "Just finding it kind of weird that you're holding conversations with manitous, is all." She stooped to pick up Marten.
Thomas crossed his arms. "Well, it wasn't nearly as awkward as that conversation I had with Justin, over at the Dupries house--"
"EEEAAAAKK!!" Marten bared his teeth, eyes popping, when Charmian clutched him like a hawk grabbing up a rabbit. She stood up, her own eyes huge and her face completely white.
"YOU TALKED WITH JUSTIN?!" she yelled, loud enough to make both Thomas and Cloud flinch.
Thomas rolled his eyes. "Somehow I knew you'd react like that."
Charmian dropped the Mikumwesu and turned back to the trail, putting her hands over her face. "I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU TALKED WITH JUSTIN!!" she wailed, taking several quick strides away. "Why don't you just DIP ME IN HORSE MANURE while you're at it!!"
Thomas tried not to but couldn't help it; he started laughing. "Oh, I already know about you two! I think it's rather cute! He said how you run into things and fall over and get all tongue tied, and that's exactly what you do..."
Charmian stuck her head in the hollow of a tree.
"...And I really don't see why you're acting so silly! I already told you about Silver Eagle Feather, didn't I?"
"I never went around talking about you to Silver Eagle Feather!" Charmian moaned into the tree.
Thomas rolled his eyes again. "Would it help if I let you--?"
"I bet you never tripped over stuff or fell over, either! LEAVE ME ALONE! I just want to die right here!"
Thomas sighed and raised his arms. "All right then! I'll tell you a secret. I went to her tribe to try to see her once. Along the way there, I slipped and fell in horse dung. When I showed up, she had to clean me off." He paused. "My clothes too." Another, even longer pause. "I had to wrap up in a blanket in her wigwam."
Charmian pulled her head out of the tree and turned to look at him, her eyes looking ready to fall out of her head. Her jaw slowly fell open.
Thomas nodded. "Stark naked."
Charmian stared at him a moment or so more. Her eyes watered up and her lip quivered. She let out an odd little choked noise. He frowned slightly, ready to ask her what was wrong, when she turned back to the tree and stuck her head back in the hole and started screaming with laughter.
Thomas's mouth twitched after several moments of this had passed, unabated. "Are we even now?" he asked, having to raise his voice. By now Charmian was laughing so hard that she was crying, and when she at last pulled out of the tree again she had to wipe her eyes. Her face screwed up and she looked for all the world as if she were sobbing.
"J-Justin n-never saw me n-NAKED!" she stammered, and then broke down laughing/crying again. She rubbed at her streaming eyes.
"So, are we even?" Thomas asked again.
"N-no," Charmian hiccupped. "I'm going to be owing you f-forever on THAT one!" She cackled, then covered her eyes. "I CAN'T GET THAT IMAGE OUT OF MY HEAD!!" She sobbed.
"Oh, all right already!" Thomas exclaimed. "There, you have enough to blackmail me until you're twenty-four! Are you happy? Can you fill me in now on how your day was going--?"
Charmian snuffled and mopped at her face. "I f-found all the brothers," she hiccupped. "And r-ran into Ocryx, but he d-didn't do anything...and met with S...S...S-Silver...Eagle...Feather..." She once more broke down, eyes squinching shut and choked laughter escaping her.
Thomas fidgeted. "And the demon--? What was it he was after, if not you--?"
"He w-wanted to talk with...S...Silver." Charmian fought to keep from losing it again, whimpering and shifting from foot to foot from the strain.
Thomas gave a loud sigh. "All RIGHT! Bloody hell, if I'd known you'd have a conniption over it I never would have told. I hate to think what you would've done if I'd told you how I had to walk home in that blanket..."
Charmian's face seemed to dissolve and she let out a weird strangled sound.
Thomas took a step forward and retrieved Marten, dusting him off while Charmian started sucking in giant breaths and rubbing furiously at her eyes. "So, are you feeling better now...?"
"I'm sorry." She continued rubbing her eyes. "Whenever I feel utterly and totally humiliated, I'll just think of you...letting Silver Eagle Feather give you a bath." She threatened to crack up again but he cut her off before she could.
"She did not give me a bath, she just washed me off. It was entirely innocent, I swear." He paused. "She didn't even have a bathtub." When Charmian's chest started hitching he went on. "So you found Manabozho's brothers, and hopefully brought them back with you...?"
"Yeah...they were here just a minute ago." She peered into the woods with a slight frown.
"And this demon didn't cause you any trouble--?"
"No, he's always been more bark than bite when it comes to women. You don't have to worry about him doing anything, at least..."
"Justin acted oddly when he left the lake, though. Does he often do this?"
Charmian shook her head. "Not really. That's why I was so late. There's been this...problem...kind of...and that's why I was headed back. To try to find you guys," she added quickly, blushing a little.
"Riiight." Thomas looked down his nose at her. Marten started groaning and he handed the Mikumwesu back. "What are you doing with him, anyway? I thought you were supposed to go through there alone?"
Charmian's face grew redder. "I didn't know he was stowing away in my backpack, honest! Otherwise I'd've kicked him out!" She looked the Mikumwesu over, turning him about as if he were a ball.
"What was this thing you were getting at? This problem?"
"Oh. That's right." She tucked Marten away again and gestured with her arms. "It's dreams! Somebody's STEALING them! Left and right! Not a lot of people, but some important ones--Ocryx, and Francois, and Yellow Turtle--"
Thomas frowned. "Stealing dreams...? How does one go about doing that?"
"Well...I don't even know. But it explains something. I've been having this weird dream too, but I can never remember it, even right afterward! I know it must be important, but all else I know for sure is that Tal Natha's not sending it, and Chakenapok's not sending it. And they're the only two I know of so far who have that power. It's kind of scary."
"So what were you planning to do?"
"Well...Silver gave me a great idea." She dug out the dreamcatcher and unwrapped it, holding it up. "This brought me to the Island because of the Weaver medicine inside it. She thinks that same medicine might help me use it for what it's supposed to be used for--catching dreams. I let it catch my dream before Chakenapok can steal it, and then I can finally remember what's going on. Basically, all I have to do is fall asleep." She paused when she noticed the odd look Thomas was giving her, and frowned. "What? Do I have something on my face?"
Thomas cocked his head. "You do remember what happened the last time you tried this, don't you--?"
"Oh, come off it!" Charmian scoffed; Marten started squirming again and she set him down on the trail. "That was different. I went there to face Chakenapok that time. And it WOULD have worked, if he hadn't been taken over! That won't happen this time because Chakenapok won't be there--get it?"
"But if he can steal dreams, that means he can find them." He crossed his arms. "What if he happens to find you?"
Charmian blushed. "I'll just have to be careful, is all. And wake up before he can do anything really bad."
"So are you feeling tired--?"
Charmian opened her mouth, then shut it. She blinked a few times, then her brow furrowed.
"Well...not really." She made a face. "Crap, how come I'm always wide awake when I need to sleep? Is somebody spiking the water around here with caffeine or something?"
Marten finally sat up, rubbing at his head. "Well," Thomas said hesitantly, "you could always try those little pellet thingies...though judging by the way you reacted the last time, I wouldn't recommend that course of action..."
Charmian dug around in her pack for a moment or two before sighing. "I must have left them at Fort Holmes or something. And Manabozho ate all of Niskigwun's!"
Thomas frowned and rubbed at his neck. "Do you think they grow on trees or something...?"
Charmian slipped her pack back over her shoulders. "Maybe Noko can think of something," she mumbled. "Though she's all the way on the other side of the Island..."
"My heaaaaaad," Marten moaned. He sucked in a breath and held it.
"After what happened with those pellet thingies, I think I'd be leery of trying anything prepared by the locals here," Thomas warned, picking up Cloud's reins. Charmian scuffed one foot at the soil.
"Well, it's not like I can just conk myself out or something! I want to be sleeping, not unconscious! Besides, Noko said she had a safer way..."
"What're you trying to do?" Marten asked, letting out his breath in a puff and grimacing.
They both glanced down at him briefly. "Trying to get to sleep," Charmian said in a dry voice. "For some stupid reason, it's a whole lot harder than it seems."
Marten got to his feet. "Well why don't you use your OWN medicine!" he cried. "Duh!"
Charmian's face screwed up. "Don't DUH me! I don't HAVE any sleeping medicine! That stuff I got from the Turtle Fairies is missing!"
"Not THAT kind of stuff! The sleeping stuff you used on 'Bozho!" He waved his little fists. "I saw it! Don't deny it!"
Charmian looked at Thomas, who furrowed his brow. She looked back at Marten.
"What are you talking about...?" she asked, mystified.
The Mikumwesu let out a huge sigh. "HelLO! You woke him up out of his sleep, didn't you? Duh!"
"Well, that's just because the...um..."
"It's just because NOTHING! When that fish pulled you under the water, I knew he was up to something!"
"Fish?" Thomas turned to Charmian and put his hands on his hips. "All right, you're going to have to fill me in on these things."
"That Nebanaubae?" Charmian exclaimed, gaping at Marten in disbelief. "You're saying THAT thing was responsible for that--?"
"Well, what ELSE?" Marten retorted. "Nebanaubae are the Sleepers! They have control over sleep! He was trying to turn you into one!" He puffed up his chest. "Until I scared him off--you got their sleeping medicine instead!"
Charmian fell silent, staring off into space. Her fingers fiddled at her vest. "That thing gave me its medicine...?" she murmured after a moment.
"Some of it," Marten corrected. "If you'd been down there too long you'd be a FISH by now! Luckily, you had me with you." He puffed up again.
Charmian turned away and he deflated. "So...that's how I woke up Manabozho from that sleep?" she asked. "Because of what that Nebanaubae did? I can control that sort of thing?" A line of worry formed on her brow. "I don't know if I like having that kind of power..."
Thomas stepped to be beside her. "Think of it this way--at least you won't have to go all the way to the other side of the Island! And if Manabozho takes one too many of those things again--"
"He won't even HAVE to!" Marten cut in, hopping up and down. "You can put him to sleep YOURSELF!"
"So what am I supposed to do, huh?" She glared down at him. "Tap myself over the head and say, 'Sleep!'? I bet you'd have me drill my own teeth, too!"
Marten opened his mouth, then shut it. He made a face.
"Drill your teeth...?"
"Why not do what you did the last time?" Thomas caught her attention again. He gestured at himself. "Have a lookout. It turned out pretty handy, the last time."
Charmian still wasn't convinced. "But once I'm asleep...how do I wake up again?"
"Well DUH!!" Marten yelled. "Wake yourself up, stupid!"
Charmian almost kicked him. "It's kind of hard to wake yourself up when you're already SLEEPING, stupid!"
"Duh! The medicine works whether you're awake or asleep! Just 'cause you're snoring doesn't mean you can't snap yourself out of it!"
Charmian's face went deep red. "I DO NOT SNORE!"
Thomas caught hold of her arm before she could deck the little Mikumwesu. "Let's just find the place where you'd feel safest going through with this," he offered. "I'll be there, and whoever else you think might be helpful--we can round them up first. Where would you feel most protected from Chakenapok?"
Charmian's face grew anxious. "I don't think I'd feel safe from him anywhere!" She paused and chewed on her lip a bit. "Well..."
"How about near that fort, where the demon lives? He seems to have a grasp on what's happening, and he did snap you out of that dream when you had trouble."
"You mean Fort Holmes...?" Charmian thought for a moment, then shrugged a little. "Okay, I guess...if Tal Natha doesn't mind."
Thomas gestured toward Cloud. "All right, then, it's settled. And if anything untoward happens, I'll call--"
"Don't EVEN!" Charmian yelled.
Thomas just shrugged. "Very well." He stood aside as she climbed atop Cloud, Marten hopping up in back. "You'll never get the chance to tell him about my nice bath, though."
Charmian hunched over Cloud's back, covering her face and letting out weird choking noises as they made their way up the trail. They disappeared from view and the woods fell into silence for a moment or two, before the undergrowth began to rustle slightly. Eyes peered out from the woods, then Manabozho, Peepaukawiss, and Wabasso emerged, brushing themselves off.
"OoooOOOOOoooo!" Puka exclaimed, staring up the trail as if he could still see them. "Who was THAT she was with--?"
"Her friend," Manabozho muttered, picking burrs from his feathers.
Puka clasped his hands together and turned to Wabasso. "They make a CUTE couple! Don't you agree--?" Wabasso nodded, then they both cried out when Manabozho plowed his way between them, shoving them both aside as he went up the path.
"They are NOT a couple!" he shouted as he went; the other two peered at each other, raised their eyebrows, then followed in silence.