19 - The White Wind

When an Inuit shaman's village starts starving to death, she goes on a spiritual quest to discover the source of their misfortune, and to reverse it.

Opik is an Inuit woman with some interactions with the supernatural in her past. She’s clearly been touched by the spirits, but she has no interest in assuming the responsibilities of being a shaman, and has rejected that aspect of her life.

Her village is isolated and in the middle of nowhere, but so is every village. They have the occasional, sporadic contact with others, but it is rare. Right now, they’re wishing they had contact with anyone else, because they’re running low on food and want to trade. The lack of food is especially hard on Opik, who is pregnant with her first child.

Opik’s husband, Amaruq, goes out hunting with some others, but they don’t find anything. They hunt for days, and venture far, but return with barely enough food for the rest of the month.

Opik’s brother, Qajak, and a few other members of the tribe approach Opik. They tell her that the village is close to famine, and it must be someone’s fault. Opik agrees, but isn’t sure what to do about it. Determining who angered the spirits is a shaman’s job, and their shaman has been dead for years.

But Qajak knows that Opik has a connection to the spirits, and suggests that she go to them. Opik refuses. She fears the spirits, and fears what might happen to her unborn child if she opens herself up to them. She’s not going to squander the gift that the gods have given to her.

Qajak notes that not listening to the spirits that will only speak to her would be squandering her gift. He tells her he won’t force her to do anything, but their circumstances might. How healthy will the baby be if she doesn’t have any food during her pregnancy?

After the next hunting trip comes back equally empty handed, Opik goes to Qajak, and tells him she’s willing to search for the cause, but she doesn’t know how.

Together with Amaruq, they go to the dead shaman’s son, Sauri, and ask him for help. Sauri advises them on the nature of spirits, and tells Opik that if they want to talk to her, they will. All she has to do is allow it.

Amaruq, Qajak, and Opik wander off a couple miles from the village and erect a small shelter. Opik stays there to wait for the spirits to speak, while Amaruq and Qajak return home.

Opik simply sits and waits. She doesn’t sleep, and allows herself only a little food - as much out of necessity as asceticism.

As night falls, she finds herself in a space between worlds. Sitting across from her is Kigatilik - a vicious spirit known for hunting shamans. She relishes Opik’s terror, but tells Opik that she’s no shaman - yet. What’s more, if she accepts Kigatilik’s help, then she’ll help her become the most feared shaman of all time. Opik rejects her, which infuriates her. Before Kigatilik can do anything about it, though, she leaves in a sudden rush.

When Opik returns to our world, again she has a visitor - a snarling polar bear. She slowly goes for her weapon. But before she reaches it, the polar bear calms down, and speaks; he tells her that would be unwise. He tells her his name is Nanuk, and that she need not fear Kigatilik, for he will help keep her away as best he can.

She asks him why her village is starving. He replies that it doesn’t know, but he will help her find out. For now, he says it’s time for her to return home.

When Opik gets back, the village is in dire straits. Though she only thought she was gone for a night, she’s been gone for two weeks. In that time, the food supply has dwindled to nothing.

Nobody reacts to the polar bear following Opik; it seems she’s the only one who can see him. Moreover, she sees some sort of animal or another following each individual person in the village. Nanuk tells Opik that these are their personal spirits, with each person since birth. She asks him if he’s her personal spirit, and he says that he is now. She tries to pry for more information, but he shuts her down.

Amaruq sees her and runs to her, embracing her; he feared she was dead, but feared interrupting her communion with the spirits more. He asks her if her time in the wilds has given her any insight, and she says yes. She asks Nanuk what he knows, and he says he doesn’t know anything.

Opik notices her husband’s spirit keeping its distance from Nanuk. And moreover, even her husband seems a little - if not scared, at least on edge. She asks Nanuk why, and he explains that he is powerful and feared among the spirits. This gives her an idea.

Opik sets up a new shelter in the middle of the village and tells the villagers that she will question the entire village, one at a time, until she knows the source of the village’s trials. When they question her authority to do so, Nanuk unleashes a monstrous roar, terrifying all of their personal spirits - and them in return. They accept her authority, though they don’t consciously understand why.

When she interrogates someone, they come alone into her shelter. Then Nanuk wrestles their spirit to the ground, and forces it to speak. Opik asks the person questions, and the spirit answers for them - their answers often revealing their human’s lies.

At nights, Opik sees Kigatilik wandering the perimeter of the village, but Nanuk wards her off each time.

One night, after a frustrating day of no leads, Opik asks Nanuk again about what he said before, about how he’s her personal spirit now. Who was her personal spirit? He doesn’t know. Did she ever have one before? He doesn’t know. All that he knows is she didn’t have one when he found her. For all he knows, Kigatilik killed her spirit moments before he arrived.

Nanuk asks Opik what she’s looking for. Why does she keep interrogating the villagers instead of going hunting for food? She explains that she’s trying to figure out which taboo was broken to anger the animals such that they’d avoid the hunters. Nanuk asks why she assumes that the village’s trials are a punishment. She tells him that there are some immutable laws in the universe. He accepts that answer.

pik notices the villagers getting more and more unstable. Yes, they’re worried about starving to death, but that doesn’t explain the extent to which they’re freaking out. Then she notices that many of their personal spirits are wounded - and the bite marks look suspiciously like Kigatilik’s doing.

Opik and Nanuk hunt down and tree Kigatilik. She taunts them, warning them that the village is dying, and they’re no closer to finding out why than when they started.

Something in the way Kigatilik says it implies that she knows something. Nanuk charges up the tree and pins Kigatilik, and he forces the evil spirit to reveal her secrets. Kigatilik tells them that she’s the reason the animals are gone - she threatened all of the animals for dozens of miles around to stay away, permanently. They’re gone, and they’re never coming back.

Opik demands to know why, and she agrees tells her, at the price of her and Nanuk swearing not to harm her until the next sunrise - it’s because of Opik. Because she hates Opik. Because it was the only way for Kigatilik to kill her.

Nanuk is forced to let him go, bound by the agreement to let her live. But she has no such compulsion. She kills Nanuk, and then proceeds to torment Opik, taunting her with her failures. Opik tries to attack Kigatilik, but every time she lands a blow, Kigatilik attacks her, as well.

Opik takes cover behind Nanuk’s dissipating essence, and suddenly, he’s absorbed inside of her. Kigatilik is outraged to the point of tears, but it seems to be more at Nanuk than at Opik. She wails that Opik doesn’t belong to Nanuk, and he cannot give himself to her. Then she runs away, promising destruction for Opik and the village.

Opik returns to her village distraught. She tells them all what she learned - the animals are gone, and they aren’t coming back.

The village panics. They don’t know what to do. Everyone blames everyone else. Everyone else blames her. She tells everyone that it doesn’t matter whose fault it is, because they’re all going to die if they stay here.

The people don’t listen, but their spirits do. The spirits are in awe of Opik, all of them noticing a spiritual coat of white fur growing on her back. They whisper in the ears of their people, and the people listen to them - and thus, to Opik. They don’t know where to go, but they pack up anyway. Everyone gathers everything they can carry, and they all march off together.

The spirits are restless. They know of Nanuk’s death, and of Kigatilik. What will they do when she returns? Opik assures them she can keep her at bay, though she’s not certain if that’s true.

As night falls, Kigatilik’s howls keep everyone restless - though most of the village doesn’t understand why. Opik leaves them to wander alone into the cold. She tells them all not to wait for her if she doesn’t come back. Amaruq tries to stop her, but she assures him that this is the only way. She hugs him tearfully, and thanks Qajak for helping her to attune herself to a part of her that she’d neglected all her life. Then she leaves.

It doesn’t take her long to find Kigatilik - or rather, for her to be found by Kigatilik. The spirit tackles her from behind, savaging her, but the polar bear hide that’s grown from her back protects her from the worst of it. She lands a couple blows, knocking Kigatilik off of her, and the two of them square off.

Kigatilik taunts Opik, warning her of her inevitable doom. She can’t win this fight. Opik agrees. That’s why she has no intention of fighting.

Kigatilik is confused, and angry about it. What does she mean? Opik tells her that she knows what happened to her personal spirit.

It’s Kigatilik. Her spirit is Kigatilik.

That’s why Nanuk didn’t think she had one before. And that’s why they can’t harm each other without equal harm coming to them. They’re one and the same, attached to each other.

Opik weeps openly, apologizing for rejecting her like she did. She’s rejected Kigatilik her entire life. Even when Kigatilik went to extreme lengths to force Opik to accept her, Nanuk stepped in and took her place. Even in death, Nanuk shields her from Kigatilik’s attacks.

Kigatilik offers no forgiveness, and no acceptance. She has suffered like no other spirit, and thus Opik shall suffer like no other human. Opik tells her that that’s not necessary - if Kigatilik will take her back, they can be reunited, as they’re supposed to be. But Kigatilik rejects her, promising that they will both die here.

The fight is vicious, with neither of them able to harm the other without an equal counter attack. Opik protests the fight, but isn’t able to resist fighting back.

Finally, Kigatilik pins Opik to the ground, a massive clawed hand at her throat, while Opik reaches up and grasps Kigatilik’s neck. They strangle each other, each of them drifting closer to unconsciousness.

Before the light leaves Opik’s eyes, her polar bear pelt starts to glow. The glow travels down her arm, and her hand sprouts massive claws. She stabs the claws into Kigatilik’s belly, and suffers no counterattack. She rips straight through the spirit, killing it. It cries as it dies.

Opik unleashes a feral roar. All of the animals for a thousand miles hear it.

Opik returns to her people. Everyone is awake and alert. The spirits whisper about Kigatilik’s death, and Opik confirms it. A dozen howls echo from the horizon - the animals, returning Opik’s call. They will return.

Opik leads her people home.