Author: Special thanks goes to the "Native Languages of the Americas" website and it's co-ordinator, Laura Redish, and their myriad of experts. 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 5
Use The Forest, Luke

Rhonda struggled behind Grimm, who was following Maze. She felt a bit put upon. 'I thought I was supposed to be leading them.' she thought. Grimm paused at the top of a rise in the trail, looking back at her, his form fading into the dimming grayness which surrounded them.

'Once we hit the first mark on the map, the show's all yours.' he said, as if he had once again read her thoughts. 'That probably won't be until tomorrow morning though. It's already getting dark. But getting there tonight will save us time.'

Rhonda nodded, taking his hand as he pulled her to the top of the rise. An owl hooted in the distance, and she whirled around in fear. 'What wazzat?' she said, looking around wildly.

'An owl hooting in the distance.' said Grimm patiently. There was a faint rustle in the undergrowth.

'What wazzat?' she said again, blanching.

'A rustle in the undergrowth.' said Grimm, sighing. Rhonda was spinning around, trying to stare through the darkness.

'Whazzat? Whazzat? I hear something really, really close....!'

Grimm smirked. 'That's you, scattering leaves and twigs with your feet.'

She stopped, embarrassed. At the bottom of the rise on the other side, Maze stared up at them impatiently. 'If you are finished stamping like an elephant, perhaps we can continue.' he said coldly.

As they went on, the darkness became deeper, fading from gray to an inky purple. The leeward winds of the surrounding mountains rushed through the pines, making a sound like a hissing sigh combined with a low rumbling howl.

Rueful was draped around Rhonda's shoulders, looking relaxed, though she herself was tense, every muscle bunched as if she were expecting monsters to attack at any moment. The journey continued in silence for nearly an hour until at last they reached a large clearing from which several trails split off in different directions, though all those trails were now swallowed up as the black dome of night descended.

Grimm was checking Jade's map on his communicator and taking out a small lantern which cast a pale glow around them. 'This is the main hub for all the hiking trails.' he said. Each trail was marked with a sign, and Grimm pointed to one that had yellow log-shaped letters reading Tenderfoot Dale. 'There's a small campsite a short distance this way.' he said. 'We'll stay there tonight and continue on in the morning.'

They entered the campsite, which was little more than a flat, clear space amid a surrounding army of trees. Grimm unshouldered his pack, taking out a thin bedroll. Rhonda stared, but Grimm was laying it on the ground. 'What?' she said. 'No...tent?'

Grimm smiled. 'Sorry - no room in the packs. Besides, we're both rough and ready. We can handle a night in the wild.'

Rhonda sputtered. 'Speak for yourself....' she said, taking down her own pack. Rueful scampered down, scuttling around at her feet as she took out a tube of repellant cream and started slathering her neck, cheekbones and forehead.

Maze sniffed. He was already lying down, without a bedroll, in the space between two large, knobbed roots at the base of a huge tree and looking totally comfortable. 'By coating your bodies with poison, you disrespect the forest.' he said. 'The mosquitoes who need nourishment to lay their eggs will now go hungry.'

'And all the parasites they carry and the diseases they spread will be lost forever!' she said, squinching one eye nearly shut as she stared at him. 'What a tragedy.' 'No wonder this guy is so thin,' Rhonda thought, 'if he likes letting mosquitoes drink his blood...'

Maze sniffed again and rolled so his back was to her.

'Fine, be that way.' she thought, laying down her own bedroll. Grimm was tying their packs to the line on his grapple gun and he fired up at the lowest tree branch. The line neatly wrapped around the branch, their bags now dangling at least fourteen feet up. 'OK.' said Rhonda. 'The tree - the bags - why?'

Grimm was lying down on his roll, putting his hands behind his head. 'Elementary wilderness training.' he said. ''Side benefit of being an Eagle scout. Food on the ground attracts... bears.' he said, ending with an ominous sounding inflection. At once, Rhonda huddled against the tree trunk, shivering.

Some time later, Rhonda was still nervous. Grimm had shut off the lantern, plunging the forest into darkness. He was lying on his back, staring up through the tree branches at a brilliantly starry sky. 'Still don't see why you hate Kwitcherbeliakin so much.' he said, a drowsy dullness in his voice. 'This place rocks.'

'Yeah,' said Rhonda, pulling a jagged rock from under her bedroll and tossing it aside. 'That's the problem....' She laid back down, and her hand found Grimm's. 'Think our parents would freak if they knew we were sleeping so... close?' she said.

'It's.... probable.' he said, laughing softly. 'They got no worries.' he said again. 'They know we're not about doing anything before....' he trailed off.

'Like.... before....' she said, and then started humming a wedding march.

'Yeah.' he said quickly. 'Before that. Which isn't coming for...'

'...a while.' she said. 'Because we're....'

'...too young.' said Grimm. 'And even talking about it is....'

'...awkweird.' said Rhonda.

'Yeah.' he laughed again. 'Awkweird. But... when it does happen - do you think you'd be able to deal with changing your last name...?'

'Are you kidding?' she said eagerly. 'In like a minute! Do you have any idea what it's like at school when the first three letters of your last name are FAT?'

Grimm held her hand in silence for a few more minutes. Rueful came up out of the darkness and curled up in the crook of Rhonda's left arm. 'See, this place does rock.' he said at last. 'You seem calmer already.'

'Well duh.' she said, sleep creeping into her own voice. 'This time, I'm with you...'

Later, in the dead of night, Grimm Rhonda and Rueful were fast asleep. Across the campsite at the base of his own tree, Maze was wide awake. He still laid on his side, staring out into the darkness, his eyes gleaming. His voice sounded in a low, whispering chant that fell dead only a few inches from his mouth, and unseen by Grimm or Rhonda, the darkness around him became even thicker....

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The darkness receded into a pale grayness as the dawn came, pale and clammy. Rhonda awoke first and found that a tree-root had made a hole in her back and that her neck was stiff. 'Walking for pleasure! Why didn't we drive?' she thought, as she usually did on a longer mission. 'And all my beautiful feather-beds sold to the Sackville-Bagginses! These tree-roots would do them good...'

It was then she noticed that Maze was awake, sitting Indian-style in the same spot where he had fallen asleep, his staff leaned against the tree. His eyes were closed, but he looked like he was chanting softly. It seemed darker around him somehow, but she blinked and when she opened her eyes all seemed normal.

Maze opened his eyes and looked at her, the disapproving scowl back on his face in an instant. 'You sleep long.' he said, as if it were some kind of insult.

Grimm had awakened, and after stretching, he unhitched the line of his grapple gun from where he'd tethered it to the base of a tree, their bags sliding down. He fished out two energy bars and two drink packs, handing one set to Rhonda.

'Eat up.' he said. 'This is all we get until lunch. Jade found us some high-nutrient bars that'll keep us on our feet most of the day. It's not lembas, but it'll do.'

Rhonda smiled. 'I'll have one, yes.' she said. 'But what about second breakfast?' She gave Rueful some, and he chewed eagerly on it.

Grimm turned to Maze, who had not moved at all. 'Did you bring anything?' he said. 'We don't mind sharing....'

Maze looked at him. 'I have already eaten.' he said, and then added, 'You sleep long.'

'Yeah, I heard.' Rhonda muttered.

When they were finished, Rhonda took the drink pouches and the wrappers to a green-painted trash can mounted on a metal pole at the edge of the campsite. Maze glared at her as she threw them away. 'What?' she said, glaring back. 'This is a trash can - it was made for this sort of thing!'

Maze arose, picking up his staff, and hoisted his pack. 'And what will you do when we are deeper into the woods?' he said. 'Strew your trash on the forest floor? I have seen the white man's contempt for nature....'

Rhonda sputtered, but Grimm stepped in again. 'We'll do no such thing.' he said warily, giving Rhonda warning look. 'I'll store and carry any trash myself until we get back. But as long as there's a trash can here, we may as well use it.'

Maze nodded grudgingly, and turned to the trail, walking back towards the main hub.

Rhonda hoisted her own pack, and Rueful scampered up her leg, crawling back to his familiar mount around her shoulders. 'Is he gonna be like this the whole trip?' she whispered, following beside Grimm.

Grimm sighed. 'Probably.'

She gritted her teeth, shaking her head in frustration. 'How are we gonna make this work if he pulls his 'you're disrespecting nature' act every five minutes?'

'He's our client.' he said. 'We'll make it work until the job's done. Just ask yourself before you do anything - would someone with close ties to nature do this?'

'Hey, I'm closer to nature than he is! Does he have an 'animal guide'? Huh? Huh?' She gestured to Rueful, who stood up on her shoulder, striking a set of bodybuilding poses.

By this time, the sun had risen enough that there was plenty of light to see by. They reached the main hub, and Grimm checked the maps Jade had given them on his communicator. 'The first possible trail is this one.' said Grimm, pointing to a sign that read Bunion's Bane. He looked encouragingly at Rhonda. 'Let's see if anything here stokes your campfire.'

Rhonda swallowed, and then stepped ahead of Maze and Grimm, the trail looking like a tangled tunnel carved through a mass of tree branches and trunks. She walked slowly at first, glancing from side to side on occasion, trying to look as if she knew what she was doing. She felt an uncomfortable blush on the back of her neck, thinking that she could feel Grimm's hopeful eyes and Maze's disapproving ones staring at her. She felt both nervous and embarrassed. But as they continued on and time went past, the discomfort faded into boredom and fatigue. She tried to remember as much as she could about that day, trying to remember any shapes, features, anything that might give a clue that they were on the right track.....

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Rhonda staggered behind the other kids in the troop as they made their way down a trail. She muttered and grumbled as they trudged along. Her feet were sore, and her legs felt as if a steel rod was implanted in each knee, fighting to keep her legs from bending and working as they rose up and down over numerous rises and gullys which the trail threaded through.

The counselor halted in a small glen with a number of large rocks. They were all bathed with a yellow-green glow as the afternoon sun filtered down through the forest roof. 'Take five everyone!' he said. 'We loop back to the main hub after this break!'

Most of the youth hikers found seats on the hard, gray boulders. Some sat down on the ground, panting. Rhonda collapsed where she was, leaning against a boulder and gasping. 'Walking tanks.' she wheezed. She had ignored the counselor’s pointing out of various features in the forest during the hike, keeping her head down and focusing on the shoes of the hikers in front of her to make sure she didn't lose them.

Two other kids stared at Rhonda, who had closed her eyes and was now breathing softly. During the naming ceremony, these two had been named 'Trickster' and 'River Walker'. Trickster waved his hand in front of Rhonda's face, but she didn't stir at all.

'I think the squeebette who never gets tired is finally asleep.' said Trickster, and River Walker nodded. Trickster's face broke into a grin beneath his curly mop of red hair. 'It'd be mean to wake her up.' River Walker nodded again, smiling back at him.

Not long after, the Counselor rose up and gathered the children to continue on. 'Everyone here?' he called out, and there was a dull, tired chorus of the word 'yes' from the assembled hikers.

He led the troop along the trail which would loop towards the main trail center and back to Kwitcherbeliakin. Trickster and River Walker snickered softly as they went on. Back in the glen, unnoticed and still propped up against a boulder, Rhonda remained fast asleep....

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It was mid-day and going into the afternoon when Rhonda finally stopped. 'No.' she said, shaking her head. 'I don't remember anything about this trail.'

'You're sure?' said Grimm, and Rhonda could tell from his voice that he was hoping that she had some more certainty of what she was looking for.

'No, this... isn't it.' she said. She couldn't explain it any further.

Grimm turned to Maze, who was brining up the rear. 'My apologies.' he said. 'We'll go back and try again.'

But Maze seemed to understand, nodding his head. 'I have searched this forest and these woods many times over the course of years.' he said. 'I believe this monument and the trail leading to it are well hidden, otherwise I would have found them myself. I understand the pulse and the rhythms of this place more keenly than any other, except perhaps Sakituya. I would have been surprised if you had found this trail so quickly. But understand that I do not wish to return to the camp until we have found the monument.'

'I hear you.' said Grimm, and he turned to Rhonda. 'Let's go.' he said.

They cycled through another trail this way, but Rhonda found nothing that triggered any memory on that route either. By the time they returned a second time to the main hub, the sun was westering. They continued down the third trail, called Calcaneus Cutter.

The next two hours they spent on the trail could not be described as silent, with the sound of birds in the air, and the occasional whooping noise, as well as the sigh of the trees. But being accustomed to MP3 files, video games, cars and the other sounds of the city, Rhonda found the woods eerily quiet. The sound of their footsteps began to thump loudly in her ears.

Grimm fell in line beside her. 'Anything?' he said softly.

'Not yet.' said Rhonda, sighing. 'Sorry GP.' she said. 'I want this to happen as much as you do....'

Grimm smirked, but the usual edge it carried was missing. 'Just relax.' he said. 'You found it without trying last time. Maybe you just need to not try. Want me to take Rueful for a while?'

Rueful was in Rhonda's backpack with his head and neck poking out, nuzzled against Rhonda's shoulder and plainly asleep. 'He ain't heavy.' said Rhonda. 'He's my animal guide.'

Grimm raised an eyebrow. 'You don't look so tense anymore.' he said. 'You warming up to this place?'

Rhonda snorted. 'You kidding?' she said. 'Bad road, bad road, bad road.....'

'Come on,' he wheedled. 'There must be something you like about nature.'

'Leaves.' said Rhonda, her voice flat.

Grimm looked around at the trees. 'Yeah, the colors will be turning in a few weeks....'

'No.' said Rhonda. 'I mean the fact that I can leave it anytime I want.'

It was a few hours later when the group returned to the main hub, tired, sweating, hungry and silent. Nothing about the Calcaneus Cutter trail had 'done' anything for Rhonda either, making three out of the six main trails that were covered. Rhonda could tell that Grimm was getting concerned, even though he was doing his normal cunning job of hiding it.

The sun was dropping low, and the light that filtered down through the leaves of the forest roof had changed from a pale yellow-white to a golden orange. The light was too weak to shine through the leaves any longer, turning their undersides a shadowy gray.

'There's no sense starting another trail now.' said Grimm to Maze, who nodded, his face still set into his typical stoic mask. 'We'll go back to the campsite, and start again tomorrow.'

Maze said nothing, but turned and started towards the campsite where they had slept the previous night.

Rhonda sighed. 'Great.' she thought. 'Another fun-filled night camping with a guy who enjoys mosquito bites.'

After eating and rolling her eyes at Maze, who frowned at her when she threw away the trash, she sat down beside Grimm. 'Is there anywhere to plug in a PSP?' she said, looking around.

Grimm cocked an eye at her. 'Yeah,' he said. 'Just plug it into the knot on that tree....'

'Is there seriously nothing fun to do?' she said. 'I mean, we watched the 'sun setting' channel last night.'

Grimm checked his communicator. 'There's a lake at the end of one of the smaller trails here.' he said, bringing up the map. 'Two of the larger trails thread around it and loop back to the hub, but there's a sort of lagoon here. Think of a lake view as the HD version of the sun setting channel.'

Rhonda shrugged. 'Well it's gotta be more fun than watching the 'grumpy client' channel...' she muttered, jerking her head slightly towards Maze, who had resumed his spot at the base of the knob-rooted tree across the campsite. 'I'm gonna go see if it's any better than watching paint dry or grass growing....' She got up and left the campsite for the trail.

'Don't go any further than the lake.' Grimm called after her as she was swallowed up in the twilight.

Grimm was left in the campsite with a silent and scowling Maze. Grimm stared back at him. Several silent minutes passed. 'You know, the job will go much more smoothly if you don't rag on her.' he said at last.

Maze looked keenly at him. 'You do not seem as frivolous as her.' he said. 'You are more intelligent and reasonable. Why do you endure her lack of wisdom and skill?'

Grimm felt a bit nettled by the backhanded compliment, but he told himself again that Maze was just another client. 'Everyone at my school asks me the same question.' he said. 'What I say to you now is what I say to them. She's my best friend.'

Maze stared in silence for a moment. 'I understand loyalty and friendship.' he said at last. 'But this seems... extreme to me in it's lopsided nature.'

Grimm smirked faintly. 'I don't expect you to understand her.' he said. 'No one else does. But she's always been there for me. And I'll always be there for her.'

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The lowering sun made the short hike down the trail to the lake dim, but still manageable without her flashlight. She found the lake itself without any trouble either, with the trail ending in another wide clearing that sloped gently down towards the lake waters, which lapped softly on the rocky shore. There were a couple of picnic tables in the clearing, dusty and stained from weathering, and another trash can set up on a pole nearby, but otherwise there was nothing around her but the trees.

She sat wearily with her back to the table, looking out over the water. The waves were dark with golden highlights from the setting sun. The lake stretched out several hundred yards to the opposite shore which was lined with yet more trees which rejoined into the forest, marching out beyond sight to where the pyramid shapes of the mountain peaks loomed black against the sky.

The crickets were already droning loudly, and fireflies were winking in and out of sight all along the shoreline. Normally, the beauty of the scene would have been utterly lost on her, but without anything else to occupy her, she found herself admiring the view. She stared in silence for some time, until the sun sank behind the mountains and the darkness deepened. The random glowing spots of the fireflies seemed to flare more brightly. She got up, knowing that it would soon be too dark to see anything, and stood at the lake edge and stretched out her arms in a wide yawn.

She drew back in shock, seeing a number of fireflies right in front of her. Weirdly, there were two arcs of them, hovering in place, the faint yellow glow from their thoraxes forming two sweeping curves in the air in front of her. She stepped back, waving her hands in case any were trying to land on her. The curving arcs followed her, forming into two squiggling, jagged lines.

Rhonda stared. 'What the....?' she thought. The lines of light formed by the hovering insects seemed to have followed the movement of her hands. Hesitantly, she raised her arms again, holding them out and spreading them down in a semi-circle on either side. The soft humming of the fireflies' wings rattled faintly in her ears, and two semi-circles of light were floating in the air before her. She laughed softly. 'Wild....' she thought.

Grimm stepped out from the trees, finding the lakeshore. Rhonda had been gone a while, and he was starting to get worried. Not that he thought Maze would miss her, but he had no idea how to find the hollow without her. He saw her near the shoreline and had to look twice to be sure of what he was seeing. Rhonda was dancing at the water's edge, twirling around, her arms sweeping in wide circles. And surrounded by tiny sparks, her hands left glowing yellow trails as they spun around.

'Rhonda?' he said, staring.

Rhonda started as she heard his voice, but turned to him with an eager smile. 'Hey Grimm - check this out!'

She brought her hands together at chest level, and then spread them out in a circle that rose and fell, coming back together at a point below her knees. Grimm stared as a softly blinking heart formed in the air, made by dozens of hovering fireflies.

Grimm stopped in front of her, and raised his own hands, trying to write the letter G. Nothing happened. He reached out to the hovering insects and they scattered. 'You're scaring them,' said Rhonda, and she reached out with one arm, pointing and tracing her hand through the air. The fireflies regrouped, and a glowing letter R was hovering in front of her.

Grimm moved behind her, laying his hands on her shoulders. 'How are you doing that?' he said, shaking his head and staring at the fireflies. 'This is unreal....'

'Beats me.' said Rhonda. 'Maybe they're bored. Gotta be a dull life, not having a TV....'

Suddenly the fireflies broke formation and spread out until they were surrounding them both, forming a perfect sphere made of pinpoints of light. Grimm's mouth fell open. 'How....?' he said, for Rhonda had not moved her arms this time.

'I donno....' she said, her voice low in surprise. '...I just... thought it would look cool.'

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From the darkness under the trees, Maze looked out on the scene by the lakeside. He glared at Rhonda, confused and amazed. 'She is clumsy, foolish and silly,' he thought. 'She has no regard for nature at all - why does nature reach out to her so eagerly?' His hand clenched around his staff.

When they returned to the campsite, they saw Maze still sitting at the base of the tree, his eyes closed as if resting. Rhonda flopped down on her bedroll, putting another layer of DEET on herself before taking her shoes off and slathering her feet as well.

'Man, my dogs are killing me...' she said, lying down on her back and twitching her feet in the night air. 'Just gonna kick back for a bit...' she said, but her voice was already slurring.

'I thought you never get....' Grimm started, but Rhonda was breathing softly, her eyes closed. '...tired.' he finished. Rueful curled up next to her and was soon asleep as well.

Grimm stayed up, staring at the night sky, and thinking about what had happened at the lake shore. He thought about Gentle Paw, and Rueful, and their unusually tame behavior around her. There was something about Rhonda that went beyond just having a natural affinity for animals. 'Controlling' fireflies seemed beyond reason. Nothing like it had ever happened back at home. Rhonda spent most of her time in her house when they weren't on missions, and generally avoided nature whenever she could. He stared through the darkness at the trees. There was something about Kwitcherbeliakin; or something about Rhonda and Kwitcherbeliakin together... Unable to explain it to himself any further, he let himself drift off to sleep.

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And in the dead of night, Maze remained awake, chanting so softly that no one could hear him. And once again, the patch of blackness where he lay seemed somehow deeper than even the surrounding shadows...

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The night passed. Rhonda woke up, but lay dozing on her bedroll, not wanting to arise just yet. But then she felt a wetness on her toes, and a warm breathing....

Grimm awoke as he heard Rhonda shrieking and saw her hanging from a high branch in the tree where the bags were tied. He looked back down and saw a medium-sized Grizzly bear staring up at her. The bear did not seem very threatening, but Grimm knew better than to provoke it. It was growling up at her softly. Maze had also awakened and was staring at the bear, then up at Rhonda, the curious, confused expression returning to his face.

'Shoo that thing away!' Rhonda was shouting down. 'Why are these guys always hassling me?'

Maze looked slowly up at her. 'He says your toes...'

'Taste like berries, I know!' Rhonda said angrily.

'They do?' said Grimm, smiling and looking slyly up at Rhonda's dangling feet. 'I've been missing out apparently....'

'Shut up!' said Rhonda, her face suddenly flushing bright red. 'Just... get rid of him willya?'

Maze sighed and waved his staff at the bear. 'Go.' he said, his voice sounding patronizing and cool.

The bear looked at Maze, then snorted and started shuffling back towards the edge of the clearing before disappearing into the trees.

Rhonda was still rattled, but after breakfast, she again took the uncomfortable lead as they went down the fourth trail. But the night's rest didn't make any parts of the woods look familiar to her in any way. They returned to the main hub by late morning.

Rhonda was feeling very nervous by that time. There were only two trails left, and they'd probably cycle through those before the day was over. She could tell that Grimm was getting worried that they might actually fail on the mission. And though she avoided looking at Maze, she could tell he was getting either impatient or disdainful, or both.

She sat at the base of a tree at the main hub, taking a brief rest. Maze was seated by a tree across the way, looking like he was meditating. Grimm sat next to her. 'I've been thinking.' he said quietly.

'Oh boy, here we go...' Rhonda thought, half hoping he was about to admit defeat and suggest returning to Kamp Kwitcherbeliakin. But Grimm was staring thoughtfully around at the hub and the surrounding trees.

'You remember the fireflies?' he said.

'Yeah.' she answered, 'Weird, huh?'

'More than weird - it was super-weird.'

'Suweird.' she said. 'So?'

'Those bugs were obeying you, even responding to your thoughts, or something else.' he said. 'I couldn't do it. I don't think even Maze could. It's got something to do with you. And it's getting stronger the longer we stay out here.'

'And this is important because.....?'

'It may be why we haven't found the trail to the monument yet. I think the longer you're out here, the more in synch with the forest you get. And eventually, you may start seeing things the rest of us can't see - like the trail.'

Rhonda shrugged. 'So... what do you want me to do?' she said.

Grimm smiled. 'Just... enjoy nature for a while and see what happens.' Rhonda stared at him in confusion.

Later in the afternoon, they were nearly half-way down the fifth of the main trails when they entered an area that was slightly more clear, like a wooded glade. Everything was silent except for the forest noises. Grimm called a halt. 'Let's take a break here.' he said. 'I think we should... listen for a while.'

Rhonda winced and glanced at Maze, wondering how he would react to such a bizarre suggestion, but Maze nodded in agreement. 'There is wisdom in what you say, Otaatoyiwa.' he said mysteriously. 'The forest is constantly speaking, and has many voices. Before we continue, we would to well to hear them.'

Rhonda looked at him in confusion. 'What's Otaatoyiwa?'

Maze looked at her with his cold eyes. 'It is the Indian name given to Grimm by Sakituya. Otaatoyiwa - the cunning fox.'

Grimm smirked. 'Cool.' he said. 'This clearing looks like it has several groves. We should each pick one out and just listen.'

Rhonda shrugged. 'Listen for what?' she said.

Maze sniffed. 'It does not matter.' he said. 'You will not hear anything.' He turned and walked towards one of the thickets across the way.

Rhonda stuck her tongue at him behind his back as he walked off, but Grimm was herding her towards another corner of the clearing. 'I did this to give you the chance to enjoy nature.' he said. 'Just park yourself somewhere and commune. Smell the flowers, watch the leaves grow, whatever.'

'You were right next to me and I wound up with a bear licking my toes!' Rhonda said, shuddering. 'Who knows what'll happen if we split up? Where will you be?'

'Somewhere else in the clearing, doing the same thing.' he said. 'This is Otaatoyiwa you're talking to after all. I'll call for you in twenty minutes. Keep the trail in sight and don't go out of earshot.'

He walked off, and was soon swallowed up in the leafy green of the surrounding trees and undergrowth. Rhonda stood staring around for a while, feeling a sense of deja vu....

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Rhonda woke up and stretched, looking at her watch. It had been nearly half an hour since their hiking troop had stopped in the rocky glade for a rest. She stood up slowly, a feeling of fear rising inside her. The glade was empty, the rest of the troop was gone, including the Guide.

Suddenly every noise around her, from the soft rattle of a woodpecker, to a rustling sound in the distance, had become sinister and threatening. It was late afternoon, and she was alone in the forest. She couldn't remember which way they had been going, or which way led back.

'They ditched me!' she thought, shivering. 'Those jerks actually ditched me! If I don't die out here I'm gonna kill them!'

Her teeth were chattering, her legs shaking, and she fought hard to keep from panicking. 'Easy girl...' she thought, hyperventilating. 'What would Grimm do?' After a few minutes anxious pondering, she said to herself, 'He'd say: how did you get into this mess?'

Finally, because she couldn't think of anything else, she threw back her head and called for help, hoping that the rest of the troop hadn't gone so far ahead that they couldn't hear her....

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Rhonda stopped at the edge of the clearing slightly apart from the place where the trail was. A nearly solid wall of tree trunks was before her, and she sat down at the base of the largest one. Rueful scampered around her for a moment, and trilled softly. 'All right, but don't go off too far.' said Rhonda. And Rueful darted off into the trees. Then she was alone, with nothing but the looming forest surrounding her. Some birds chirped in the tree branches somewhere overhead. She sat down in the Lotus position, and looked around her.

'OK nature,' she thought. 'hit me with your best shot!' Those words started her thinking about the Eddie Schwartz song of the same name. 'Hit me with your best shot....' she sang softly, humming the tune. She didn't even know all the lyrics, but she knew the music and kept humming until she reached the point she knew and then said more loudly, 'Hit me with your best shot!'

Then she heard the tune coming from behind her and above, in a musical twitter. She turned her head slowly, looking up at the tree branches, where a song bird was perched among the leaves. It was cocking its head, looking down at her. It opened its beak, and the notes for hit me with your best shot echoed through the clearing.

Rhonda got up, staring back at the bird. 'Hit me with your best shot...' she sang, and at once the bird sang the notes to match her. Two more birds fluttered down onto the branch, and added their chirping voices to the chorus. She kept humming, staring up as more and more birds turned up and took places in the branches above her, staring down at her and piping in time with her humming.....

Grimm sat in silence at the base of another tree in the clearing. He kept his eyes closed, and listened as he had suggested, but he heard nothing except the rustle of the wind in the trees. His watch beeped, signaling that twenty minutes had passed, and he got to his feet, looking around for Rhonda. He walked back towards the trail, and heard birds singing. But there was something wrong about it - the singing was entirely too regular, too rhythmic...

He stopped at another thicket and shook his head in wonder. Rhonda was standing with her back to him, shuffling from side to side in front of a large tree. She was looking up at the tree branches, where an entire flock comprised of various kinds of songbirds sat scattered among the tree branches. She was conducting them like a choir, pointing at smaller ones for the high notes, and larger ones for the deeper notes. Rhonda was singing and Grimm recognized the tune as 'The Warrior'.

You talk, talk, talk to me -
Your eyes touch me physically!
Stay with me, we'll take the night -
As passion takes another bite!

Who's the hunter - who's the game?
I feel the beat - call your name!
I hold you close in victory -
I don't wanna tame your animal style!
You won't be caged from the call of the wild!

Shootin' at the walls of heartache - bang bang!
I am the Warrior.....!

Grimm cleared his throat and Rhonda jumped, whirling around to face him. 'So, communion's going pretty good?' he said smirking.

Rhonda glanced back up at her assembled songbird choir, which had let out one quavering note in perfect harmony when Rhonda had stopped singing, a note that sounded a lot like 'Awwwwwwww.'

'Grimm I don't believe this - these guys just... started mimicking the song I was humming, and it kinda snowballed from there!'

Grimm had seen a lot of strange things since starting his business as a mercenary, but he was still surprised even though he had half been expecting this. 'Last night it was insects.' he said, 'Now you've upgraded to birds and small mammals.'

Rhonda looked at him, a confused expression on her face. Grimm nodded and gestured towards the base of the tree. 'You were so focused on the choir that you didn't notice the audience....'

Rhonda looked down and saw that Rueful was there on the ground in front of the tree, and he wasn't alone. There were at least a dozen weasels, more wild looking than Rueful, but all of them looking up at Rhonda with the same mesmerized expression. There were also a number of squirrels as well as a few rabbits.

Rhonda's eyes focused on the weasels first. 'Woah - Rueful! Are all these yours?' she said. 'You work pretty fast...'

Rueful shook his head. 'I think he just hooked up with the local gang...' said Grimm, but Rhonda had dropped to her knees, and she let out a squeal of delight. She had scooped up a baby weasel from a clutch of about six in a group in front of her and was holding it gently.

'Awwwwww!' she crooned, and Grimm stared as the songbirds above let out a crooning chirp that parroted Rhonda's tone exactly. 'Oh Grimm look, these guys are so cute!' she simpered, saying 'Awwwwww' again, which the birds again imitated.

Grimm sighed. 'We are so not taking them home with us....' he said.

'But Grimm - did I mention they're cuuuuuuute?' she said, rubbing her nose against the nose of the weasel cradled in her hands. The birds again followed the tones of her voice.

'Rhonda I said commune with nature, not gross it out with schmaltzyness...' Grimm looked around at the animals. Normally, weasels only came out to hunt at night and they kept their young safely in their burrows until they were able to hunt on their own. Squirrels and rabbits were among their normal prey, but none of the weasels seemed interested in them, their attention being totally fixed on Rhonda. 'So does this mean you and the forest are in synch now? You don't seem too scared of these animals...'

Rhonda shrugged, and the weasels in front of her swayed their thin bodies, imitating her pose. 'Well these guys are OK.' she said. 'I mean they're not seven foot tall monsters like Ikkinikinsstiwa.'

Grimm blinked. 'What did you say?'

Rhonda stared. 'I said these guys aren't scary like Gentle Paw....'

'You didn't say Gentle Paw. You said Ikkinikinsstiwa.'

Rhonda looked startled. 'N... no I didn't...' she said, but she glanced away from him.

Grimm risked stepping a little closer. The animals on the ground that were further away from Rhonda drew closer to her, as if hiding behind her, but they didn't run away. 'So have they... told you anything? Or have you just had them singing moldy songs from the 80's?'

Rhonda let the weasel baby down gently on the ground next to the rest of them and stood up, a mischievous glint in her eye. 'Moldy?' she said. 'So you want something a little more current, huh?' She turned to the assembled animals, looking up at the songbirds. 'OK guys, like we just practiced....!'

The songbirds started chirping, the weasels started swaying, and the rabbits thumped the ground with their feet, making a regular rhythm that Grimm recognized at once. 'Oh no, not this...' he said. 'Ms. Darken gave you a B minus for it in school, wasn't that enough...?' But Rhonda broke out singing while the animals joined in with trills, twittering and thumping, sounding like they had done it dozens of times.

Come on ev'rybody put together your hands,
for a ditty called the long-tailed weasel jam!
'bout a little city girl, in a natural world,
It's an epic story truthful, how Rhonda met Rueful!

Dad's not a puppy man, mama's not a cat gal,
neither parent liked pets that one would call conventional
I tried to find a pet on the internet
Fine'ly found a perfect animal
that wasn't quite normal!

small round ears and a pointy black nose!
ev'rybody do the long-tailed weasel jam!
leaves a great impression wherever he goes!
ev'rybody do the weasel jam!
got a long furry body and a pair of clawed arms!
ev'rybody do the long-tailed weasel jam!
got a pointy set of teeth but he means ya no harm!
ev'rybody do the weasel jam!

Well I heard Smarty-Mart was having a sale
on a predatory mammal with a furry brown tail!
he was cute to the eyes with a sly, sneaky nature,
he wasn't quite illegal but he'd still freak out the neighbors!
Then the manager told me his Latin name,
he said 'It's Mustela frenata!'
I said it doesn't mattah!
And then the guy said:
"He might be meaner when he's older, so you wanna buy a cage?"
nah, I'll keep him on my shoulder!

got a sparkle in his eye and a smile on his face!
ev'rybody do the long-tailed weasel jam!
and he's great to have around when you're in a tight place!
ev'rybody do the weasel jam!
he got a long furry body and a pair of clawed arms!
yeah it's the long-tailed weasel jam!
got a pointy set of teeth but he means ya no harm!
ev'rybody do the weasel jam!

Come on ev'rybody Booyah!
Ev'rybody booyah!
All ya little birdies say tweet!
Do the weasel jam an' say tweet!

Me and Rueful rockin' out like a monster ballad,
He want the Bueno Nacho taco while I order Caesar salad!
with Rueful on my shoulder, I'm feelin' bolder
always helpin' super-villains make a new world order!
Rueful and Rhonda Fatigable
With our best friend - Grimm Probable!
stonewallin' heroes with a timely assist,
I say yo GP, we got your six!

small round ears and a pointy black nose!
ev'rybody do the long-tailed weasel jam!
always leaves a great impression wherever he goes!
ev'rybody do the weasel jam!
got a long furry body and a pair of clawed arms!
yeah it's the long-tailed weasel jam!
got a pointy set of teeth but he means ya no harm!
ev'rybody do the weasel jam!
ev'rybody do the weasel jam!

And Rueful raised a paw in the air, squealing 'Booyah!' The assembled animals chirped and chittered, thumping their feet on the ground or flapping their wings.

'Thank you!' said Rhonda, bowing repeatedly to the woodland choir. 'Thank you! I'm here until Tuesday! No wait, I'm actually leaving as fast as I can manage it - but thanks anyway!'

Grimm was smiling, but massaging his forehead. 'Promise you'll never do that again...' he said.

'Oh we're just getting warmed up.' said Rhonda, smirking. 'OK guys, now let's do The Fighter...' At once the animals perked up and the birds looked down, waiting for Rhonda's direction. She started singing again, waving towards the smaller songbirds.

In comes the crew with a mission to perform,
Not an easy matter, but they've got good form....


A dark voice barked from across the clearing. Maze was walking towards them, looking angry. The animals stared sidelong at him. He stopped a short distance away, staring at the scene before him. 'This is the respect you show to the forest and it's creatures?' he said, glaring. 'These woods were once a sacred place before the corruption of the white man. You were to listen for the natural rhythms and music of the forest - not force them to conform to your own voice and whims!'

Rhonda felt her cheeks growing red. 'Who's forcing anyone?' she said, getting angry in her own turn. She turned to the animals. 'Hey guys - did I force you to sing?' The animals erupted into a wash of chirps and squeals, their heads shaking back and forth. Grimm heard the birds singing in a two-note trill that sounded a lot like 'nuh-uhhhhhhhh'. She turned back to Maze. 'Sounds like you're the one trying to order them how they should think and feel - Captain Killjoy.' Then she glanced at the assembled birds, squirrels and weasels that surrounded her. 'Everybody point at him and laugh!' she said, pointing towards Maze herself and letting out a braying, exaggerated belly laugh. Immediately, the menagerie of animals chittered, chirped and squealed, either raising one wing or one paw in the air towads Maze.

Maze's eyes flamed, his hand clutched tightly around his staff, and he let out one growling breath. The animals scattered, with the birds taking flight and the weasels and squirrels darting away, disappearing into the surrounding trees and undergrowth. Rueful scampered up her arm and curled behind her shoulders, peering out from her hair.

Rhonda waved, grinning sheepishly.

Grimm stepped in again. 'I think we've communed long enough,' he said. 'Let's have lunch and go on.'

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Lunch was a grimly quiet business. Maze ate strips of cured meat from his pouch and drank from a waterskin. Rhonda ate another trail bar and drank another drink pouch. Both of them were staring daggers at each other until they finished and started down the trail again.

Grimm felt a growing anxiety. He couldn't fool himself into thinking that he could keep the peace between Rhonda and Maze for much longer. If things didn't improve, or if they didn't find the trail, they'd wind up throwing rocks at each other. He didn't want Maze to be the first dissatisfied customer he ever had.

It was well after lunch, and they had been on the trail for about an hour when Rhonda paused, looking up and around. She kept walking, then stopped again. 'Are you whispering at me?' she said, turning back to Grimm.

'No.' said Grimm. 'Why?'

She looked at Maze. 'What about you? You saying anything?' Maze simply scowled and shook his head.

She turned and started walking, but had only gone two steps before she whirled around as if trying to catch Grimm or Maze doing something. 'I heard it that time!' she said. 'Fess up, either of you got something to say?'

Grimm stared. 'No one said anything.' he said, but his face was eager. 'What do you hear?' Even Maze was looking more interested.

'It is the voice of the forest.' he said. 'The woods have a secret they wish to share.'

Rhonda stiffened, and she heard, so faintly that she couldn't tell what it was saying, but seeming so close that it was right next to her ears, a rushing sigh that was not the wind. Rueful stood up on her shoulder, chittering softly, his head looking off into the distance.

Maze was stepping forward. 'What is it?' he said. 'What do you hear?'

Rhonda shrugged. The whispering rustle in her ears rose and fell like a voice on the very edge of hearing. 'I... don't know....' she said.

'Listen carefully, you silly girl!' said Maze impatiently, his knuckles whitening around the staff in his hands. 'The words - what do they say?'

Rhonda closed her eyes, straining to try and hear, and even Rueful's breathing suddenly seemed so loud it was a distraction. 'Shhh!' she hissed, and she listened with all the concentration she could muster. At last she could make out what she thought were syllables, and tried to repeat each of them as she heard them.

'kah... tah... sist... sih... koh... wah...' she said softly, repeating the syllables twice before she was sure what she was hearing.

Grimm glanced at Maze. Maze was standing there, looking at Rhonda, his gaze cold and calculating. 'What does it mean?' he said. He didn't like not knowing things that other people knew, and liked depending on others for guidance even less.

Maze's eyes gleamed. 'The words are Blackfoot.' he said. 'Katasistsikoowa. It means, "never gets tired".'

Grimm looked slowly at Rhonda. 'Indefatigable.' he said. 'Rhonda - the voice is calling you.' Rhonda gulped, feeling as if she were trying to swallow a softball. Grimm smiled, but only faintly. 'I guess we finally know your Indian name - Katasistsikoowa.'

Chapter 6
Liars and Fighters and Bears, Oh My!

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Again, special thanks goes to the Native American Languages website:
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 useful pronunciation guide:
I have found the experience of study most enlightening thanks to their efforts, and it's well worth finding out more about these languages.

Rhonda Fatigable: Katasistsikoowa - (Kah-tah-sist-sih-koh-wah) 'Never Gets Tired'.
Grimm Probable: Otaatoyiwa - (Oh-tah-ah-to-yi-wah) 'Cunning Fox'.
Gentle Paw: Ikkinikinsstiwa - (ick-kih-nih-kinse-stih-wah) 'Gentle Paw'.