Author: Special thanks goes to Laura Redish and her associates, who run an excellent website "Native Languages of the Americas". http://www.native-languages.org/ They are all about education in and preservation of Native American languages. Thier people have been very helpful, and the coming chapters will not have been possible without their knowledge. I highly recommend visiting their website. For those who wish to study these fascinating languages, there is no better place to start. Or simply do a google search for "Laura Redish". Her name brings up links to their site prominently....

Chapter 4
The Paw That Refreshes

Sakituya turned to greet the newcomer. 'Maze.' he said. 'As always, you arrive silently and without fanfare.' He went forward and shook the hand of the man before him.

'And as always, you are here.' Maze answered. 'As seemingly immovable as the mountains.'

Gentle Paw stood in the doorway of a cabin, looking out, but not coming to Sakituya's side. If Rhonda or Grimm had been there, they would have seen he was shivering.

Maze looked around as they walked through the camp, his face dark. 'You are still acting the servant.' he said, shaking his head, his voice disapproving. 'I say again Sakituya, it is disrespectful to our heritage. You are a true chief of the Blackfoot, and do not need to play these silly games for the amusement of spoiled white children. You would do well to close this place and return it to the clasp of nature.'

Sakituya shook his own head. 'And I say to you again old friend, that nature has full claim on this place. How can I give back to nature something that it already owns? If you would allow yourself to see, you would find great freedom and beauty here....'

'I see only the shackles and trappings of the white man.' said Maze, staring around at the cabins and docks.

Sakituya smiled. 'The children who experience the joys of the camp would disagree with you.'

Maze scowled. 'They do not come to be one with nature. They are forced to come here by their lazy parents.'

'Not all.' said Sakituya, and his voice now carried a hint of challenge. 'Even if only one child comes to appreciate this Earth and its wonders through my efforts, that is enough.'

'There are other ways to make people see.' said Maze. 'Quicker and more effective. Hopefully the time will come very soon when those ways are shown. You say that the girl who discovered the artifact is here?'

'Yes.' said Sakituya. 'Though I should warn you - she is not what you would expect.'

''If she was able to find the monument, that is all I need to know.' said Maze. 'Nothing else could be of importance.'

'Then you will see for yourself.' said Sakituya. 'They are there by the docks.'

They walked up to the landing area where Grimm and Rhonda were still seated and looking out over the water. Sakituya cleared his throat to get their attention. 'Grimm Probable - Rhonda Fatigable.' he said as they turned around. 'Allow me to introduce your client, Maze.'

Through Grimm, Rhonda was used to dealing with unusual characters. Mad scientists and evil geniuses with blue or orange skin. Kilt-wearing Scotsmen with exploding golf balls. English aristocracy with genetically altered hands and feet. But the man standing before her sent chills down her spine, not because he was a freak or a monster like their normal super-villain clients, but because he was flat-out creepy.

He had the reddish-brown skin of an Indian, but the difference between Maze and Sakituya could not have been any more stark. While Sakituya was short, roundish and solid looking, Maze was almost skeletal.

He was tall, thin and wispy, with dark hair trailing behind his head. He had a beak-like nose and dark circles under his eyes, and there were two eagle feathers tied behind his left ear. He had wrinkles on his face, but he seemed much younger than Sakituya. A brown poncho with a thin, elongated paw print stitched into it was draped loosely around his shoulders, and in his hand he held a staff which looked more like a spear, tipped with what seemed to be a large claw.

He was shadow-light, and shadow-thin, as if a sudden breeze might blow him away. But he stared at Grimm and Rhonda, a frown crinkling his lips as his eyes narrowed. Despite how dark his eyes were, Rhonda felt as if a winter blast was slicing into her skin as he looked her over. Finally he spoke, and his voice was low and thick, surprisingly deep for someone who was so thin. 'You... are the one who discovered the ancient artifact?' he said, questioningly.

Rhonda nodded. 'Yeah.' she said, wishing that someone else had been with her that day, so it wasn't just her who had found it. She felt uncomfortable that everyone here was expecting her to find it again as if she were some kind of divining rod.

Maze glared, and his voice became even thicker with confusion and an edge of disapproval. 'But... you are white.' he said, as if it meant something.

Rhonda glared back at him. Then she looked at her hands in mock surprise. 'Oh gee!' she said. 'How the heck did that happen?'

Grimm felt the tension flaring between them at once and stepped forward. 'We're glad to meet you.' he said with a warning glance at Rhonda. 'We've been waiting for your arrival. And yes, Rhonda discovered the monument, which we'll lead you to as promised.'

Maze was still glaring darkly at Rhonda, but his eyes flicked to Grimm. 'When can we leave?' he said simply.

Grimm paused for a moment, but his voice remained smooth. 'First we should make the exchange we agreed on. Half the amount now - the rest once the job is done to your satisfaction.'

Maze lifted a case he had been carrying in his free hand and laid it on one of the green-painted picnic tables with a thud. Grimm stepped forward and opened the case, which was full of bundles of cash. He started flipping through them.

'I see no need to waste time with foolish negotiation.' said Maze. 'Search the case if you wish, it makes no difference to me. The entire amount is there. Just lead me to the monument without delay.'

Grimm looked back at Maze, then closed the case. 'All right then.' he said. 'We'll leave as soon as we've gathered our supplies and secured your payment. We'll be back in a few minutes.' He nodded to Rhonda and she followed him as they walked back through the camp towards the storage cabin.

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When Grimm and Rhonda had gone out of sight, Sakituya spoke, his voice low. 'The years have done nothing to cure your rudeness, Maze.' he said. 'These two have done nothing to you, but you already speak to them as if they were enemies.'

'They are whiteskins.' said Maze flatly. 'They are enemies.'

Sakituya shook his head. 'Then why hire them? Why give them such wealth? Surely that money represents the value of many artifacts you have spent years collecting.'

Maze's eyes narrowed still more. 'If this bear monument is what I think it is, then the other artifacts are nothing. Though I admit - I am surprised that someone who is not of our blood was able to find it.'

Sakituya looked evenly into his eyes. ' I warned you - they are not what you would expect. And I warn you now - I think this journey you take with them will show you many other things that you do not expect.'

Maze scowled. 'So long as the end result is what I expect - I will endure these two.'

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Rhonda followed Grimm as he went to the storage cabinet and unlocked it. He then opened the storage compartment in the back of the bike, taking out their packs, and closed the money case in the trunk, hitting a series of buttons. The trunk sealed with a satisfying hiss and a soothing female voice sounded from the dashboard.

'Holding compartments secured - have a nice day.'

He re-locked the storage cabin before hoisting his pack and handing Rhonda hers. They had started back towards the docks before Rhonda finally spoke. 'What's with all that 'you are white' crud?' she said darkly.

'Forget it.' said Grimm. 'Besides - he's right. You are white.'

'Well duh.' said Rhonda. 'But what difference does it make?'

Grimm shrugged. 'He paid the full amount for the job in advance and it all looks legit.' he said. 'He can call us Snuggle-Bumms or Takkelmaggots if he wants to.'

Rhonda sighed. Grimm had never cared about the disposition of any client, and the only color he was ever concerned about was the color of their money. Rhonda felt a growing unease though. She still wasn't sure she could find the hollow again, and Maze seemed like the type who could lose patience very fast. She hoped she could find it quickly so they didn't have to put up with him for very long.

Grimm paused suddenly, taking out his communicator. 'Almost forgot - we've gotta touch base with Jade.'

Jade's faced popped onto the communicator screen, which was still fuzzy with light static. She looked up from working on an MRT. 'Hey G-man!' she said, her voice chirpy. 'You hitting the trail?'

Grimm nodded. 'Yep. Any updates on the map?'

Jade shrugged. 'Not much.' she said. A map of the surrounding forest flashed up in her place, and amid the glowing green blotches which represented the woods there was a smaller blotch of blinking orange. 'All the nature hike trails had this area as a hub where the sub-trails split off. It's about five miles away. I've highlighted two trails in yellow that are probably the ones where Rhonda was ditched. But you're gonna have to go there and see what you can see.'

'Got it.' said Grimm. 'Maze paid us the full amount, so we'll be staying out there until we find something.'

Jade's face popped back up, looking surprised. 'He paid in full, in advance?' she said. 'Mega-unusual...'

Grimm nodded again. 'Do you have any information about Maze? I get the feeling the more we know the better.'

Jade's fingers were smoothly dancing across the keyboards in front of her. 'There isn't much.' she said. 'An expert on Native American artifacts and folklore, recognized as a leading specialist. Not many friends or colleagues though. Looks like he spends most of his time alone in the field searching for artifacts. He's Blackfoot by birth, but he doesn't seem to discriminate between tribes in his work. He's recovered several famous relics for the Haida tribes, the Spokane, the Apache, the Crow, the Comanche....'

'Any personal information?' Grimm cut in.

Jade shook her head, staring at one of her screens. 'Just that he's always looking for more. He's made some public statements demanding the return of more land to the Blackfoot, more political influence for American Indians in general, the usual stuff. He's passed up several opportunities for some well-paid positions at a number of universities...'

Grimm's eyes narrowed. 'Interesting.' he said. 'No criminal record?'

'None that I can see.' said Jade. 'You smelling a double-cross?'

'All of life's a game, Jade.' he said. 'I just like to be two steps ahead at every stage, and I'm barely feeling one step ahead at the moment.'

'Watch your backs then.' said Jade. 'If you're going into the forest now, there's not much I can do for you.' Grimm signed off, putting the communicator in his belt pouch.

Rhonda looked back towards the storage shed. 'Why don't we just take the bike?' she said. 'We could skim every mountain top in like five minutes on that thing...'

Grimm shook his head. 'We're better off on foot for this.' he said. 'Even small mountains are big, and each one probably has dozens of hollows. We could fly right over the bear statue without seeing it unless your 'spider sense' goes off.'

'But it would still go faster...'

'Not really room for three on the bike.' he said. 'Unless you and Maze both want to hang off a nacelle at a thousand feet up...'

Rhonda gulped. And Grimm smiled. 'Just concentrate on trying to remember the way you went last time.' he said. 'The sooner you find it, the sooner this will be over.'

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Maze stood by the docks, staring impatiently towards the cluster of cabins. 'Where are they?' he said. 'They said they would return....'

'...In a few minutes.' Sakituya finished. 'In that, they spoke truly. It has only been a few minutes. Patience has never been your strongest trait Maze - take this as an opportunity to develop it.'

Maze's eyes darkened. 'What do you know of these two? If they have already fled with their payment....'

'They have not.' Sakituya said quickly. 'I know Rhonda, and through Rhonda, I know somewhat of Grimm as well. They will not betray you - unless you betray them first. So long as you do nothing to break your arrangement with them, you have nothing to fear.' He paused, looking firmly at Maze. 'And I would strongly advise you to do nothing to provoke them. Grimm is like Otaatoyiwa - the cunning fox. He expects betrayal - and so arranges things so that those who try to betray him end up suffering the consequences of their own actions. You may think him young and inexperienced - but he is no fool, and he is much more dangerous than you might think. As for Rhonda....'

Maze sniffed. 'A fool if ever I saw one.'

Sakituya shook his head. 'You judge her too quickly. There is much more to her than meets the eye.'

Maze stood looking out over the lake at the forest. The wind gently moving the decorative ties near the top of his staff and the feathers behind his ear. 'I find that hard to believe.' he said.

Sakituya sighed and looked at one of the larger docks across the way, which served as an enclosure for the main swimming area....

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Rhonda stood in her swimsuit, shivering, even in the summer heat. She looked at the rippling surface of the lake as if it were a gigantic pool of sulfuric acid.

'But I don't wanna go swimming!' Rhonda whined, looking up at the instructor. 'Can't I just make some more lanyards?'

The instructor got into the shallow portion of the water, holding out his arms. 'Learning to swim can be useful and fun.' he said. 'If you ever find yourself in water, knowing how to float can save your life. That's what we'll practice today.' Rhonda eased into the water until it was up to her knees. The floaties on her upper arms looked like puffy orange pillows.

Sakituya watched from a distance with Gentle Paw at his side. With sincere hopes that the lake would not catch on fire, he felt a sense of relief as Rhonda began treading water with the instructor's directions.

But it was not long before he heard a shriek and saw Rhonda floundering to the shore, her skin pale white and her eyes wide with fear. He hurried to the dock, looking down at Rhonda, who was quivering on the shore.

'What has happened?' Sakituya asked, turning to the instructor. 'Is she hurt?'

The instructor looked baffled. 'A whole school of trout came out of nowhere and were swimming around her in circles.' he answered. 'Some of them were jumping over her. If I didn't know better I'd swear they were playing like she was the lead in some kind of synchronized swimming number....'

Sakituya shook his head and walked over to Rhonda, to make sure she was all right. He saw Gentle Paw looking at her from the shadow of the cabin door. With a look and a gesture, he ordered Gentle Paw to stay where he was. Now was not the time to shock Rhonda even further.

Rhonda was glaring at the lake, her face changing from shock to anger. 'What is with all the animals in this camp?' she said, her voice high and shrill. 'Why won't they just leave me alone?' She was taking off her floaties.

Sakituya stared at her left arm. A dark red spot, with five smaller tear-shaped spots above it, was on her left bicep. He took in a short breath, gripping her arm and inspecting the mark closely.

Rhonda flinched. 'Hey, let go of the arm Chief!' she said.

Sakituya stepped back. 'Forgive me.' he said. 'I merely wished to make sure you were not hurt. That is a most unusual mark on your arm.'

Rhonda looked at her arm, shrugging. 'Just a birthmark.' she said. 'Not like it's a hickey or something....' She was drying herself off with a towel and moving away from the docks. Sakituya stared after her, and turned to the water, suddenly hearing a loud plunking sound. He saw a large trout leap in a silvery arc and then poke its head through the water surface, staring with glassy eyes at the path Rhonda had taken. Then it disappeared beneath the water.

Later in his own cabin, Sakituya went through a collection of drawings painted on what looked like canvas made from animal hides. They were old and stiff, and he handled them tenderly as if they were very precious.

He paused and looked intensely at one that was branded with a paw print of the exact shape as the mark on Rhonda's upper arm. Beneath the paw print mark were some simple drawings of a figure engaged in what seemed to be acts of strength and power. Sakituya let out a low breath and bent his head closer to the canvas.

'So as old as this is, it is still mistaken.' he said softly. 'Proof that even the ancient ones were not always right. This is not a man - it is a woman...' He moved his hand very softly across the drawings of the figure, which were crude enough that it was difficult to determine the gender.

He turned to Gentle Paw, who was curled up on the floor like a dog sleeping at his master's feet. 'Is this why you reverence her, Ikkinikinsstiwa?' he said, looking down at the cub. 'She is the....'

Before he could finish, Gentle Paw snorted and gave an unmistakable nod. Sakituya stood up and went to the window. 'This changes a great many things.' he said. 'Now it is more important than ever to prepare this girl. A storm is coming. And the spirits of this world will be moved to action after a long sleep...'

Gentle Paw snuffled, and nodded again.

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Grimm and Rhonda returned to the docks where Maze and Sakituya stood waiting. 'We're ready.' said Grimm. He looked Maze over. He was carrying only a small pack and pouch at his side. 'Do you need anything else? I'm not sure how long this will take.'

Maze nodded curtly. 'I have everything I want already.' he said. 'If the search takes more time, the forest will provide for my needs.'

'And you don't mind spending the night out there? The sun's already starting to set.'

Maze shook his head. 'The woods and the darkness hold no fear for me.'

Grimm nodded. 'Let's go then.'

Rhonda whispered to Grimm as Rueful resumed his perch on her shoulder. 'I think I forgot the shark repellant....'

Maze stared. 'You already carry more than is wise.' he said. 'All you truly need is your animal guide.'

'My whuh?' said Rhonda, and Rueful cocked his head.

Maze looked at her stoically. 'Your familiar.' he said.

'My whuh?'

Maze's eyes narrowed. 'Your... pet.' he said, his voice thick with distaste.

'My whuh?'

Maze now looked angry. 'Just come.' he said, turning and walking away towards the camp entrance.

Grimm nudged her. 'He means Rueful.' he said, quietly.

Rhonda let out a frustrated breath. 'Well jeez!' she said. 'Why didn't he just say so?'

The group left the camp in silence, and trudged along the trail that led into the forest. The sun was already lowering behind the clouds on the horizon, and a yellow-orange glow flooded the camp, though darkness was already advancing from the forest edge. They reached a sweeping curve in the trail that led towards the hiking areas, and Rhonda looked back at the camp. She distantly saw Sakituya standing on a grassy bluff with the huge form of Gentle Paw beside him. They looked grave somehow, with the sun behind them silhouetting their forms and casting long shadows that mingled with the ones creeping from the trees.

Sakituya waved a hand as they disappeared from view into the shrouding woods. 'Good luck, young Rhonda.' he said quietly. 'I have faith in destiny - but I cannot help being afraid for you. Like a newborn foal, you must walk now, or perish.'

Chapter 5
Use The Forest, Luke

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Again, special thanks goes to the Native American Languages website: http://www.native-languages.org/
Through their generous assistance, many character names have been translated into the Blackfoot Algonquian languages, with more hopefully on the way. Some were included in this chapter, and readers who are curious can go to their website and find a pronunciation guide: http://www.native-languages.org/blackfoot_guide.htm
I have found the experience of study most enlightening thanks to their efforts, and it's well worth finding out more about these languages....