Chapter Four: Nootau
"Welcome back," the old medicine man answered. "I had believed we finally lost you this time."
Nootau rolled away from the prying hands, grunting from the pain. What in the Gods' names had happened? Why did he hurt so much?
"Do you remember?" Waban asked in not so helpful cryptic words.
"Anything at all from the last seventy-two hours."
That disappointed tone made Nootau open his eyes. He glared as he got defensive. "I just woke and you want me to recite—"
"There was a wolf attack at Camp Stone."
Jerkoffs probably deserved it. "And that has to do with me how?"
"You showed up on my doorstep, a transformed wolf."
Maybe it was important Nootau remembered the last couple of days. "Let me wake up before you start bombarding me with questions."
Nootau sat up. Or he tried to. Pain shot across the left of his chest and his ass hurt in ways no ass ever should.
"What?" He doubled over, going fetal. Gods he hurt everywhere.
"I think I should also mention I took three bullets out of you."
"You did not think to say anything before I tried to get up?" Nootau snarled.
"I thought it would be a good lesson."
Nootau gawked. "Really?"
The old medicine man chuckled. "Yes."
"You are a cruel man."
Waban heaved out a long breath and patted Nootau's arm. "Only when necessary."
They stayed in silence together, Waban sitting next to Nootau while he tried to remember how to breathe. The deafening absence of sound grated against Nootau's nerves something bad. He'd rather have the chanting back than have to listen to himself gasping for air.
"Don't you have something?" Nootau managed to say after an eternity. "I hurt. It's like I've been cut in two. Wait, how am I back in my human skin?"
"I found the wolf hide connection while removing the bullets."
Nootau rolled, facing Waban. "Were you trying to kill me?"
"I thought about it."
Is he serious? It certainly looked like it from the disapproving frown and the seriousness in his gaze.
"Ahanu gave up so much to protect you," Waban said after a moment. "The SWG would've strung you up and bled you if he hadn't taken the blame, but he chose to protect you, your parents. He turned himself in for your mistakes, and for your family's. To protect the tribe and the registered walkers like him still here. How could you do something so foolish as to attack the camp, Nootau? Why?"
The box. Oh Gods. Nootau sat up, crying out. Waban steadied him. Nootau glanced down at Waban's wrist, snarling. How could he not hate the mark the government forced on the walkers? The line about sacrificing for the many who were not blessed to be spirit brothers rang in his ears but it no longer brought him comfort. How could the tribe not fight against it? Gods, were they really such cowards? His parents hadn't been. Nootau yanked his arm away from Waban.
The old medicine man exhaled. "Don't be—"
"Did I have a box?"
"What?" Waban pulled back.
"A box." Nootau wheezed but slid off the table. He immediately fell to his knees. His head hummed and his body pulsed hot. Gods, he wanted to upchuck. "A small wooden box. One with walkers on it. Ahanu left it for me."
"The camp administration said—"
"Ahanu left it in our hiding spot!" Nootau yelled. "We had a place along the fence we'd meet sometimes."
"Would you not interrupt, Nootau," Waban replied. He'd folded his arms, but he didn't look as perturbed as before. "You're being disrespectful as always."
He pushed up, chest heaving. "We're being sold."
Waban's startled gaze sent a surge of satisfaction through Nootau, but it was temporary. They needed the box, and Nootau had to figure out who to get it to so people heard about the selling. It wasn't like the government was going to listen.
"We're being sold, for parts, for study, who knows?" Nootau said, leaning against the table leg. "But a guard, or guards, in Camp Stone are selling skin walkers. Ahanu figured it out. He was killed for it, Waban."
"Is that why you transformed? To go after the guards?" The old medicine man sounded more defeated than Nootau had ever heard him. "To spread more blood?"
"No, I just wanted to poke around the camp. See if I could turn anything else up." Nootau's head fell back, and he implored to Waban., "Did I have a box? Inside it held the evidence Ahanu gathered."
"Then why did you attack the guards, Nootau?"
Were they really going to do this? Now? They didn't have time for it. "When I saw them I got angry. Then... then..."
"Oh, Nootau," Waban said, sighed. "What are we going to do with you?"
It was the sadness in Waban's tone that cooled Nootau's rising anger.
"You have so much talent. You can call to the spirits so easily. Transform better than any skin walker in recent memory, yet you always lose control." Waban stood, walking over to his kitchen counter. He leaned against it, shoulder slumped. Nootau had seen that discouraged stance many times growing up. "It is because you are human, your humanity is what separates you from the beast."
"And the men who killed Ahanu? Where is their humanity?"
"Lost, like yours when you transform."
"I know who I am!"
"You didn't even know yourself when you showed up on my doorstep!" Waban still clung to his worn formica countertop, as if he needed it to hold him up. "Think about our people, about the rest of the tribe for once."
"My best friend is dead. My kind, our kind, is being sold to untold horror most likely. What is it you would have me do? Pretend I don't exist?" Nootau pulled himself up, using the table to help keep his balance as he shuffled toward Waban. His throat hurt just as much as the rest of him, but he pushed on. "Pretend something bad isn't happening at Camp Stone? Ignore the walkers?"
"For the safety of the others? The registered walkers who can still move about freely? For the rest of the tribe? Our people, the Chippewa, have faced much in our time. Yes."
"Then how are we any better than the humans who are selling us? How can I say I have any humanity left?"
For once, Waban didn't have an answer for him.