The chieftain dropped his soup bowl. “Is it true?” he asked, his voice thick. He sank into his chair and held his head in his hands, until a horrifying thought struck him. “If a great deluge was sent by our ancestors to wipe out the Fire tribe, then what badness could have been brewing there? We should thank the ancestors for sparing us.”
“Half the tribe remains, sir. But there is nobody to succeed their leader. They look to you now, sir.”
Great Wake almost felt crushed under the weight of the responsibility. But he knew he must save them, and provide for them as he did for his own tribe. “We will merge Water and Fire and become a new tribe: Steam. My father would have wanted it. We will travel to what is left of the Fire village, and we will arrange a great ceremony to grieve and to celebrate.”
The clean-up efforts lasted weeks, and even after the riverbanks were restored and reinforced the Fire village was nothing like it had been. Industry had ceased, resources flushed away, and lives destroyed. The old Fire tribe was as poor as the downstream tribes. But the villagers were hopeful, for they knew Great Wake was a driven leader, and he would guide them back to prosperity.
As per tribal custom, as soon as the clean-up efforts were complete, the newly merged Steam tribe held a magnificent funeral ceremony, with bonfires and dancing and weeping and the eating of a lot of steamed fish. But the merriment came to a heavy and somber end when, as all his ancestors before him, Great Wick was laid upon the funeral pyre, ignited, and sent down the river.
Suddenly the thundering of hooves reached a crescendo and messengers from the Earth tribe burst into the funeral.
“Great Wake! You must come! Now!”
The edge of the Plateau was crumbling. Great chunks of rock and land were breaking away from the rim and cascading down the side of the Plateau in monstrous landslides before plummeting into the eternity of sky. The riders brought Great Wake to the summit of the Plateau in the shadow of the Ancient Rule monument, from where Great Gust and Great Root were watching the devastation. Tears were streaming down Great Root’s brown cheeks and into his mossy beard. Great Gust just stared with hollow eyes into the wind.
“The river used to deposit rock and sediment that stabilized the edge of the waterfall. It has eroded,” said Great Gust in a voice as deep as hollow caverns. “Look!”
A deafening crash sounded from the distance as an entire acre of land with its dying forest sank, and then broke away from the Plateau and was sent spinning off into the atmosphere below.
“What can we do, Great Wake? Is this the end of us?”
Great Wake had no answer. His father had never taught him how to save a world. As he stood and watched the edge of the Plateau creeping closer to the settlements, he wondered whether his father was watching from the stars.
Then his eye caught a stream of smoke coming from the river, far below.
“What’s that?” asked the other leaders.
He squinted. What could be burning on the river? And then his heart stopped.
“It’s Great Wick,” he said, wide-eyed. “His pyre. It’s burning with the passion of furious ancestors.”
“It’s heading for the dam!” shouted Great Root.
“So it is,” whispered Great Wake, and sank to his knees in the shadow of the Ancient Rule.
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