Soon the downstream forests began to die out from the reduction of high floods. This in turn affected the diversity of the species harbored within the forest’s great depths, and the boar dwindled. “Thank goodness the ancestors are blessing us by removing the poisonous meat of the boar so it is no longer a treat,” said the downstream villagers, and their stomachs rumbled.
One day, while Great Wake was enjoying pea and ham soup made with the biggest and juiciest peas ever harvested, and the healthiest, safest boar ever hunted, one of his advisors knocked on the door of his hut.
“What is it, Droplet?”
“Uhm…I have some news from some of our environmental researchers, sir.”
“It appears the dam is causing a bit of an adverse environmental impact.”
“Is that so?”
“Yes, sir, I’m afraid so. The gravel in the riverbed was an important habitat for insects, mollusks and crustaceans that have now died out. The river also used to flush out the backwater systems, which have now become toxic.”
“Mollusks? How on the Plateau is the welfare of mollusks any of my concern?”
“Simply in that any suffering of our neighbors is a suffering of the Plateau and so a suffering of our own, sir.”
“Spare me the sentimental philosophy, Droplet. We’ve got everything we need, there is no suffering here. Do you see any sad faces in the village? Any hungry babies? Well then. But send some more baskets of fish to the Earth and Air tribes, as a sign of our charity and goodwill. Otherwise, don’t talk to me any more about mollusks, please. I find the thought of them distasteful.”
“Yes, sir,” said Droplet, bowing his head. “Ah, just one more thing, sir.”
“It also seems the river used to be pivotal in depositing millions of tons of rocks and sediment at the rim of the Plateau, and, well, there are reports that the edge is becoming unstable.”
“The talk of sediment has the same effect on me as that of mollusks,” said Great Wake, screwing up his nose. “It’s distasteful. Oh, but let’s have another fishy feast with the Fire tribe! Make arrangements with Great Wick, please.”
“Yes, sir. Should we invite the other tribes?”
“I would love to say yes, Droplet, but they never bring anything to parties anymore and I’m starting to get a very uncomfortable feeling that they’re scrounging off us.”
“Of course, sir.”
Downstream of the dam, the riverbed was cracked and parched, the flood plains ravaged, the forests dying and the fauna long gone. The birds that used to inhabit the great trees by the edge of the Plateau had flown upstream, so the Air tribe had none left to hunt. The villagers of both the Air tribe and the Earth tribe were starving. Without crops and game, they had to resort to selling their tribe specific skills, and pretty soon Great Wake knew the secrets of flood plains, astronomy and mineral extraction. But his father had always told him that with great power comes great responsibility, so he reassured his poor neighbors that the benefits of his wealth would almost certainly trickle downstream.
When the downstream tribes had completely exhausted their food production capacity, Great Wake had a genius idea. The mineral ore in the Earth tribe’s sludgy riverbed could be completely extracted, measured and stored somewhere. Then trade would be much more easily controlled. He’d know exactly how many fish he could afford to spare. He commissioned the Fire tribe to invent smelts to purify the mineral, and mints to create coinage from it, and soon the banks of the river near the Fire village were lined with heavy industry. Clinking and clanking and banging continued into every night, the twinkling stars obscured from view by heavy smog.
But the riverbanks upstream of the dam were already under great stress. The pressure of the millions of tons of additional water was straining the banks, and on one devastating morning the reinforcements finally burst. A great deluge broke free and with a colossal hiss swept through the fire village, crushing homes and extinguishing the lives of almost half of the villagers.
Great Wake’s advisor knocked carefully on his door.
“What is it, Droplet?”
“Very sad news, Great Wake. Great Wick, the leader of the Fire tribe, has perished in a vast deluge along with many of his people.”
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Featured image: Alvord Desert Oregon by Lance66