This Sight is Continuously Evolving

Children of the Coyote

Chapter 16


            Bigmouth crosses the broken mountain and spends an uneventful night in a tree near a stream that disappears under the wall of black lava. This is the very same stream that formed the cave where, far to the West Lizardfoot and Tagalong had camped and were attacked by the Puma. As the sun's rays are just touching the upper branches of his tree Bigmouth lowers himself to the ground. He looks around then walks to the creek for a drink. As he dips up a hand full of water he notices an odd looking stone lying on the stream bed. He reaches down to pick up the rock. As he touches it, it moves slightly. He pulls back his hand and watches the rock for a moment, then he sees it split along its side and some thing in side moves slightly. Again he picks up the stone. He studies it carefully then taps it on a large rock at his side. It sounds almost hollow. He strikes it harder against the boulder. He can hear it crack so he inspects it again and finds that it contains something soft. He sniffs at the broken shell.
            "Hmmm, that smells eatable" He mumbles.
            He opens the fresh water muscle. With an index finger he scoops out the contents, stuffs it in his mouth and lets it slide down his throat.
            "Not bad," he exclaims. He steps into the water and searches for more of the tasty creatures. Soon he has collected a pile of the mollusks. He sits down on the bank and in a short time devours the lot. After a satisfied belch he stands and addresses the stream, thanking it for its bounty and then he thanks the clams for their part in his breakfast. When he is finished with his ritual, he stands picks up his spear and begins another day of hard hiking. Bigmouth has been traveling roughly North for several days around the Eastern end of the lava flow, skirting the desert. He has encountered a barren rocky country with only a few streams and little game. Even so, only two days did he go with out some thing to eat. He is becoming hardened to the rigors of the trail and finds the daily challenge to survive stimulating. No more does he question his reason for being here. He has become convinced that he is a messenger from not only Coyote but all the mysterious shadowy world of the supernatural. He has undergone two more what may be called "religious experiences" since his audience with Coyote.
            Each of these enlightenment's occurred on a day when Bigmouth is unable to find game. Therefore he is forced to look for what roots and tubers existed in the country he is passing threw.
            The first of these occurrences happened while he is crossing the narrow eastern edge of the desert. The land is sandy and dry the only vegetation is small clumps of cactus. Fortunately he had filled his water skin that morning at a muddy seep at the edge of the badlands. By mid day his stomach is knotting with the familiar pangs of hunger. He has not eaten since the previous morning and that being only the slightly ripe remains of the deer back strap that he had taken from the wolves. As he travels, he keeps an eye open for rabbits or ground squirrels or even mice, but no game is seen. Finally, he begins eyeing the sparse prickly vegetation. He notices that there are different types of cactus all of witch are small. Some are armed with long spikes with barbed points. Bigmouth learned of this verity in a very painful manner. One misstep brought home a painful reminder of many dangers of this wild land.
            Another verity arouses his interest because of its shape and the fact that it has no painful spines. The plant grows close to the ground in clusters of plump buttons with small tufts of fur in rows down their sides.
            He stops at one such plant and picks four of the plumpest buttons. Sitting on the ground he digs his thumbnail into the skin of a bulb and opens it. In side the flesh is a very light green and moist. He sniffs at the cactus.
             "Doesn't smell bad." He thinks, and pops one half into his mouth. He chews twice and his face screws up into a sour grimace. He chews twice more grimacing then he forces the bitter mass down his throat. Quickly he unties the end of his water skin and gulps the warm liquid to remove the astringent flavor of the cactus from his mouth.
            "Gaughh!" He exclaims as he removes the container from his lips. "That is terrible tasting stuff," he says out loud. "I need to eat some thing though." He thinks. "Maybe If I break the pieces up smaller and not chew them. I can just wash them down with water, at least I will have something in my stomach until I can make meat." In this manner he consumes two of the largest buttons.
            Soon he is back on his feet and traveling. A short time later he begins to feel strange. The first thing he notices is a growing feeling of nausea. Then his skin begins to tingle.
            Soon the nausea is overpowering. He stops in his tracks and vomits up a green slimy incredibly bitter mass. Again he washes away the taste with his dwindling supply of water and continues walking. The tingling in his body increases and he can feel his energy levels begin to elevate. A feeling of euphoria sweeps over him. He stops and looks around him. His vision and hearing have become noticeably more acute. Although he is filled with a feeling of great energy his knees feel loose and wobbly. A wave of euphoria washes over him and he begins to giggle. He sits on the ground and the giggle turns in stages to a full belly laugh. He lies on the ground holding his sides laughing with tears rolling down his cheeks. After several minutes he regains his composure and sits up. He looks around at a world that has been transformed. The drab gray's, brown's, tan's, and dull green's of the desert have been transformed into a kaleidoscope of color. The grains of sand sparkle like a field of precious gems. The small clumps of now iridescent green cactus are edged with pulsating color's that are totally out of Bigmouth's experience. He hears a loud crunching sound as if some large animal were approaching. Looking to his right he sees the creature. A small lizard with a ridiculously bright blue belly scrambles to the top of a rock next to him. The sun reflecting off the scales of the reptile flashes electric shades of green, blue, yellow and red as the lizard does pushups on the rock.
            Bigmouth stares amazed at what he is experiencing.
            The lizard stops it's exercising, turns it's head to look at Bigmouth and says in a voice that sounds like sand blowing across the desert. "So, what are you looking at."
            Bigmouth's jaw drops and he scoots away from the little creature a short distance.
            "What's the matter human, are you afraid I am going to bite you?" The lizard hisses.
            Bigmouth moves closer and inspects the sparkling little critter. When he looks at the lizard's face he is again shocked for the face appears to be that of his fellow Fug-a-we Lizardfoot.
            "Lizardfoot, Is that you?" Bigmouth asks the little reptile.
            "Of coarse not you idiot." The lizard replies. "I am a complete lizard not a lizard's foot. Any one can see that, you fool."
            This causes Bigmouth to begin giggling again, the giggle soon escalates into uncontrollable laughter.
            For several minutes the lizard does his pushups and watches the curious human rolling on the ground contorted by spasms of mirth. Soon he becomes board and scampers off in search of an insect meal.
            When Bigmouth is back under control he sits up and looks to where the lizard was sitting. The rock is bare. He begins to think that perhaps the lizard was never really there. Then he hears a loud scrabbling sound and the lizard emerges from under the rock with a large insect in it's mouth. Setting the bug down the reptile places one foot on it's prey's head and begins to chomp on the creature's abdomen, eating it in a few large bites. When he has finished his meal he looks up at Bigmouth who is staring at him stupidly.
            "So, what brings a member of the tribe of human beings into the wilderness alone." He asks Bigmouth, after a loud belch.
            "I am on an important mission for The Great Coyote." Bigmouth replies proudly.
            "The great who?" Asks the lizard with an expression of bewilderment on it's face. "The Great Coyote." Bigmouth repeats.
            "Great Coyote, Great Coyote," the lizard mumbles. "Nope, don't think I know him." "Does he have an other name perhaps?" The lizard inquires.
            "Well, some call him .... Tim," Bigmouth answers uncertainly.
            "Oh, That one." The lizard says disgusted. "You look like a nice young fellow so I will give you some free advice. You would do well not to go around blabbing to everyone you meet that you are working for Tim the trickster.
            "B, but" Bigmouth stammers.
            "I know, I know, He seams so helpful and fatherly" the lizard continues.
            "You don't understand" Bigmouth interrupts. "If it were not for Coyote the Fug-a-we would still be prisoners in the dark of the world below ground."
            "You see!" Shouts the lizard. "What did I tell you? That Tim is not to be trusted. He drags innocent creatures such as your self from a safe secure home under the ground and cast's you adrift on the surface of this merciless world to be prayed upon by it's horrible beasts. And what is this scoundrel having you do for him ey? Strangle little rodents in there nests? Or possibly he wants you to torture turtles, or maybe he wants you to slay a vicious rabbit, or insure the extinction of some of his competitors. Arrgh! What fowl days have come upon this world when innocent creatures can't go about their daily lives without being set upon by ruffians and agents of the evil Tim!"
            As The lizard speaks, he becomes increasingly agitated. The rapidity of his pushups escalating to the point that his body appears a colorful flashing blur to Bigmouth's eyes. Foam gathers at the corners of the lizard's mouth and spittle spews forth as it rants.
            Bigmouth tries to interrupt. Several times he attempts to explain, but to no avail. The raving lizard will not relent it only renews it's attack on Coyote's character.
            Finally Bigmouth can stand it no more. He gets un-steadily to his feet . For a moment he considers clubbing the lizard to death with his spear but he thinks about his audience with Coyote and decides that even though this reptile is extremely exasperating It is still a living being and as such deserves, if not friendship, at least life. To kill it would only make truth of its slanderous ravings.
            Bigmouth storms off in a roughly Northern direction. For several minutes he can still hear the ravings of the crazed lizard. Due to the heightened energy levels produced by the alkaloids in the cactus buttons Bigmouth is soon far away. After a few hours of hiking, he leaves the barrens and enters a hilly country sparsely forested with twisted juniper's on the lower slopes and long needled pines further up the hillsides.
            Bigmouth looks back over the country he has covered and is surprised at how far he has come in such a short time. He drains the last of the contents of the deer bladder and enters the sparse forest of junipers. Water is not abundant in this country, and Bigmouth is becoming quite parched when he comes to a small mossy spring seeping through a shale outcrop on the side of a gully. A thicket of black raspberries grows near the spring. Bigmouth is quick to make a meal of the tiny sweet morsels. Hunger causes him to ignore the sharp thorns that lacerate his skin.
            He sits by a small trickle that is falling from the lip of a flat piece of shale protruding from the dripping moss covered out crop. Cupping his hands under the flow he drinks several times. When he is satisfied he fills the water skin, then he leans back against the cool bank and closes his eyes.
            He becomes aware of a strange phenomenon. The sounds around him cause dancing colorful lights to play across his eyelids. Bright reds and oranges flash when the birds sing. A flickering electric blue background appears when the wind blows. Yellow lights flash at the sound of a grasshopper flying by. An explosion of green and brown startles him as a large toad croaks near his right ear.
            Startled by the sound of the toad so close to his ear, Bigmouth sits up and jerks his head to the right. Less than an arm's length from him is a very large, extremely warty, quite ugly toad.
            Bigmouth blinks his eyes to make sure they are open. The toad blinks back and in a deep base addresses Bigmouth.
            "Good afternoon, I am Toad." It announces in its resonant voice. "Who, or what might you be?" It asks.
            I am Bigmouth. I am Fug-a-we. I am a human being. Bigmouth answers confidently.
            He is becoming accustomed to talking to strange creatures, and sees nothing unusual in the fact that he is having a conversation with an extremely ugly toad.
            "Bigmouth? Fug-a-we? Human being? Which is it? Or do you have many names as do one or two others of this world?" The toad croaks.
            "I have only one name and that is, Bigmouth. I am a Fug-a-we, a human being." Bigmouth answers.
            "Ah yes. It is all perfectly clear now, Bigmouth of the fugawee human beings." The toad says.
            "No, no, it's not the fugawee human beings," Bigmouth instructs. "You see I am a human being of the Fug-a-we tribe."
            "Let me see if I have this right." The toad pleads. You are a human being but you call your self a Fug-a-we. Is that correct? The toad asks.
            "Yes!" Agrees Bigmouth.
            "Why?" Asks the toad.
            "Excuse me?" Bigmouth asks, frustration evident in his voice.
            "Why do you call your self by so many names? Isn't one sufficient?" The toad asks seriously. "I should think that one name would be enough for any one to keep track of."
            "I, it, we, Oh never mind Just call me Bigmouth" He says exasperated.
            "Oh, okay that's simple enough," the toad agrees. "Why didn't you say that in the first place," he mumbles.
            "So, Bigmouth of the fugawee human beings. What brings you into the wilderness alone?" The toad asks after a bit.
            Bigmouth shakes his head slowly and groans.
            He takes a deep breath, sighs and says. "I am on an important quest for my people."
            "Oh, A quest ey? How exciting" the toad croaks. "And what is your quest?" He asks.
            This time Bigmouth has an answer. "I am to travel the land and search out the creatures of this world to learn all I can from them, then to return to my people and instruct them on the proper way in which to live in harmony with the other peoples of the world."
            "Very admirable. Oh yes, very admirable indeed." The toad declares "Tell me. Who's idea was this quest of yours? I mean, did you just wake up one morning and say to your self, I think I will go on a quest today?" The toad inquires.
            Bigmouth thinks about how he came to be on this important mission for the people and the truth of it causes his Face to redden with shame.
            "I was hunting and became lost." He lies. "I wandered for many days without food then I came upon someone who showed me the need for such a quest and I under took it. That's all" he finishes.
            "And, who might this someone be?" The toad insists.
            "It was a very old man. He appeared to me in a clearing along a stream far to the south of here." Bigmouth says avoiding a direct answer.
            "Appeared? You mean like out of thin air?" Asks the toad.
            "Well, uh, yes I guess so. I mean I think he did. I mean he wasn't there when I climbed from the tree.
            "Mm, hmm." The toad says thoughtfully. "This uh, this, apparition, did it not tell you its name?"
            "Well, I, well kind of." Bigmouth hedges.
            "What do you mean kind of? Either he did or he didn't. Which is it?" The toad badgers.
            "His name is Coyote." Bigmouth mumbles under his breath.
            "What, what was that?" The toad demands. "Did you say it is Coyote that has set you on this course?"
            "Well, ah, yes actually it is Coyote, but....." Bigmouth tries to explain.
            "But noting!" The toad interrupts. "Why didn't you say so in the first places. Why, The Great Coyote and I go back a long, long ways. Of course I was already an old toad long before he first came on the seen, But I still have the greatest respect for the young pup. He has a great sense of humor. Why, I could tell you stories..... Did you know that it was I who taught him to change his shape?" The toad confides, pushing his chest out proudly. "Yep. Of coarse all toads, and frogs too for that matter, know the secret of changing one's shape. Unfortunately we can only do it once when we change from a tadpole to an adult. But Coyote? Now there's a piece of work for you. He figured out a way to change his shape at will. He can make himself appear to be almost anything he desires, you know."
            On and on the toad prattles, telling one anecdote after another about the adventures and pranks of his old friend Coyote.
            Bigmouth listens with his mouth agape, occasionally inserting an, "Oh?" Or a, "You don't say." After a while he begins dozing with his head resting against the hillside.
            Finally the toad's enthusiasm wanes and he sits silently for a bit watching Bigmouth.
            "Hay, you! Human!" The toad croaks loudly.
            Bigmouth sits up quickly rubbing his eyes.
            "I'm sorry I must have fallen asleep." He apologizes.
            "Aw, that's okay son it happens all the time. I'm always croaking on about something," the toad confides.
            "There is something that I don't understand" Bigmouth says.    
            "Yeah? What's that," the toad rumbles.
            "Well, A short time ago I was having a conversation with a lizard in the barrens." Bigmouth didn't stop to think how strange that sounded. "The lizard went on and on about how Coyote was wicked and a scoundrel and much worse. I was compelled to leave his presence before I smashed him." Bigmouth continued.
            "I don't understand how anyone could have such strong negative feelings toward someone who is apparently benevolent and selfless." He concludes.
            "Benevolent? Selfless? That doesn't sound like the coyote I know," the toad confesses. "But, neither is he wicked or a scoundrel. Well, no mater. You should not listen to the ravings of lizards anyway. They are all crazy you know. I think it's because they spend to much time in the hot sun."
            Bigmouth stands, yawns and stretches. "Well, Toad I have enjoyed our conversation but I must be going as it is getting late and I still must find a place to hide for the night."
            "Wait! Hold on there now youngster. What's your hurry?" Croaks the toad. "Sit back down and listen to what I have to tell you."
            "I just told you. I have to find someplace to hide before dark or I will be eaten before dawn," Bigmouth says, frustration evident in his voice as he sits back down.
            "Lookie here sonny. I am The chief croaker in these parts and since you are on a mission for my old friend Coyote I want to help you. I will call a council of all the croaker's tonight at a place near here. We will send out word that you are to have safe conduct through our land. In the meantime you follow this gully to the west for a ways. It will become a small stream and then a little further it empties into a pond that has no above ground exit. on the south side of the pond is a bluff with some small caves. One of these caves should make a suitable hiding place for you. The council will be held at the pond. You may attend the council if you wish but it may be safer for you to wait until morning before leaving your hole, as the word will not be sent out until late. I wouldn't want you eaten on your way to or from the pond. There are plenty of berries in the area of the caves for you to eat. Stay put until morning and you will be safe to the limit of our lands." The toad instructs.
            "How far are the limits of your lands?" Bigmouth asks.
            "That depends on which direction you are traveling" answers the toad.
            "I am heading for the smoking mountain in the Northwest" Bigmouth says.
            "The smoking mountain ey. I would advise you to stay clear of that mountain lad. It is the abode of evil. Strange and terrible creatures populate its slopes," Toad warns.
            "I feel that the mountain has some part in the completion of my mission and I am bound to go there" Bigmouth says quietly.
            "Okay, if you insist, I won't try to stop you but be very careful when you enter that place" Toad says seriously. "Our lands extend close to the foot hills of the black mountain. If you travel west for several days you will come to a large river running south along the chain of the western mountains. This stream is wide, deep and fast, and I know of no easy fords along it's length. The stream is called The Smoke River, For along its shores are fuming fishers, boiling mud pots, and holes in the earth where poisonous vapors escape into the air. One sniff of some of these vapors it is said will drop an adult mammoth in its tracks. The truth of this you will see in the piles of bones along the margins of these fishers. In some places scalding steam jets leap unexpectedly hi into the air from holes in the ground. The river runs a dark sickly gray color and in many places hot vapors rise from its oily surface, the water itself smells of death and decay. It is a horrible, frightening place. We croakers seldom venture there" Toad says with a shiver.
            "What is the country like between here and the river?" Bigmouth asks.
            "If you go directly west from here, which is the most direct rout to the river. Within a days walk you will again enter a rough baron land with no game and little water. After two more days if you survive, you will enter the edges of the desolation caused by the Black Mountain and the end of our domain. From there to the Smoke River you will pass through a land of blasted forests and scorched earth. Beware of this country for here, what does not bite or sting you will poison you if you eat it." The toad warns sullenly.
            "Is there no other way?" Bigmouth asks dismally.
            "Well since you asked, yes there is" reply's Toad, and then he remains silent.
            Bigmouth watches Toad expectantly for a moment, then he realizes that the amphibian is not going to continue. "Well!?" He prompts aggravatedly.
            "Well? Well what?" Asks the toad.
            "Aren't you going to tell me about the other way to the river." Bigmouth asks spreading out his hands helplessly.
            "River? Oh, my! Yes, I suppose you would want to know the other way to the river. That never occurred to me," the toad apologizes. "If you look North from the pond in the morning you will observe a high ridge that runs to the West as far as you can see" he begins. The ridge is about two days fast walk to the base. There is some game and a little water between the pond and the ridge but be sure to fill your water skin before attempting the assent. You will find nothing to drink until you reach the valley on the other side. Near the top of the ridge you will have to make your way through a maze of vertical spires of rock. There is a trail through the rocks but it is not large or well marked. Unless you find the correct rout you will never make it to the other side and you may not find your way back," Toad warns.
            "Are their no land marks or other sign to find the trail by?" asks Bigmouth.
            "Yes There is" replies the toad. "Overhanging the trail balanced on a tall slender chimney rock is a boulder the shape of a raptor's head."
            "Well that should not be too hard to find" replies Bigmouth.
            "Ordinarily I would agree with you but on the ridge are many such raptor rocks and most days of the year low clouds obscure the vision so that it is quite difficult to find the pass." Toad says.
            "This sounds almost impossible" Bigmouth grouses.
            "It is" replies Toad. "Only those who are truly meant to enter the valley will find their way."
            "What do you mean?" Asks Bigmouth.
            "The Valley is a very special Place and as such is protected, By oh, shall we say forces beyond our understanding. Nothing can enter the valley with out their permission and once in the valley nothing may leave except by their consent." Toad concludes.
            "What is the valley like?" Bigmouth asks.
            "I don't personally know what lies in the valley, our lands end at the foot of the ridge and I have never journeyed there," replies the toad. "The only one that I know to enter the valley and return is Coyote. He told me that it is a paradise with swift clear streams, green meadows and cool forests. He mentioned that the streams are choked with fish and the meadows are replete with game so tame that a hunter has only to walk up to one and ask politely and the animal will lie down and die for the hunter's meal.
            "The stream?" Bigmouth asks. "Does it empty into the river that runs between your domain and that of the Black Mountain?"
            "Yes, I am told That the stream which Coyote called the 'Wa'ste River', splits around a mountain that sits at the Western entrance of the valley protecting it from the ravages of Black Mountain. One fork flows North to meet the Smoke River up stream from the mountain. The other flows South to join the Smoke down stream from Black Mountain."
            "Is their anything more that I should know about this special valley?" Bigmouth asks.
            "Well, maybe I shouldn't mention it but it is said that the valley is haunted," confides the toad.
            "The valley is what?" Asks Bigmouth, not understanding the term.
            "You know. Haunted, Inhabited by ghosts, spirits, um wraiths." Toad instructs. "I'm sorry Toad I do not understand. Please tell me what kinds of beasts are these, Spirits, ghosts and.... I'm sorry what was the other one?" "Wraiths," supplies Toad.
            "Oh yes wraiths. Are they grass eaters or predators?" Asks Bigmouth.
            "Spirits are not beasts exactly although if the stories are true they some times do beastly things." Begins Toad. "They are supposedly invisible and poses power to do great mischief or good at there will."
            "Wait just a bit there Toady" protests Bigmouth with a little chuckle. "Are you telling me that you have no first hand knowledge of these so called spirits or what ever they are?"
            "Well," hedge's Toad. "I haven't actually seen one you understand but I have it on pretty good authority that they actually do exist. I mean, I have heard lots of stories about encounters, you know and 'I' believe they are real, I think."
            "Well, I will wait until I see a beast before I throw my spear at it" Bigmouth replies. "I will only believe what my senses tell me is true" he continues.
            "Then, do you believe that I exist?" The toad asks.
            "Of course you exist, I have been talking to you all afternoon" Bigmouth answers.
            With a 'pop' the toad disappears.
            Bigmouth opens his eyes, sits up quickly and looks around. The sun is just above the western mountains and sinking steadily. He realizes that he has slept the afternoon away by this cool spring. "My conversation with the toad must have been a dream," he thinks. "It was so real," he says out loud.
             "No mater, I have to find a place for the night. I will follow this gully for a ways, maybe I will find something along it's banks."
         Bigmouth gets to his feet. He stands weaving for a moment until his head clears, then he starts off down the gully. After a short distance he notices a small trickle of water running along the bottom. A little further on the trickle becomes a small brook babbling between sandy banks. Further along the cannel the sand becomes gravel and even further the brook becomes a strong creek foaming around rocks and cascading over small falls into deep pools. Finally the stream ends in a leap of two men's height into a large oval pond with no out fall.
            The pond is clear and very shallow along the margins which are choked with cattails. The center of the pond is a deep cobalt blue with virtually no bottom the water sinks deep into the bowls of the earth and is expelled as steam near the Smoke River.
            Seeing the cattails reminds Bigmouth of duck eggs. He carefully works his way into the reeds near the south shore. In a short time he emerges from the water carrying an assortment of tubers, eggs, and cattail parts. Setting down his load at the water's edge he places the eggs and tubers in the bundle he has been carrying over his shoulder at the end of his spear. When the bundle is re-tied, he picks up his spear and the groceries and walks south toward the bluffs not far away. To approach the bluffs he must work his way through thickets of service berries and a few clumps of black raspberries. He moves along leisurely grazing on the delicious fruit.                 When Bigmouth reaches the base of the sand stone bluffs he quickly finds a suitable hiding place and is just settled in as the sun begins to disappear behind the mountains. He sits at the entrance watching the sunset and marveling at the ever-changing patterns and colors as the fading light paints the world with broad strokes. As he looks north he can just make out the long line of a ridge with the only clouds in the clear summer sky hovering above it. The color of the clouds ranges from yellow on the Western edge to a deep purple in the East. He is surprised to see an occasional flicker of light in the clouds. As he watches the clouds their color shifts to crimson and then begins to fade as the sun gives up its dominion and night descends upon the land.
            As the moon appears above the Eastern slopes Bigmouth can hear a subdued chittering, beeping and croaking as if the frogs and toads are talking quietly together as they gather at the pond for a large meeting. After a bit a very loud frog or toad begins to croak in a steady cadence. Soon all the others become silent. The loud voice continues for a while and then also becomes silent. The silence continues as Bigmouth sits at the lip of his cave eating duck eggs and cattails, listening intently. Then he can hear the deep resonant voice of Chief Toad as he makes his opening remarks to the council of croakers. When the Chief has finished his speech, all the frogs and toads begin to speak at once. Each vying for the attention of the leader and voicing there points of view at full volume. Over the din can be heard the steady drone of the bailiff toad calling for order. Finally he succeeds and all becomes quiet once more. After a pause the Chief begins his plea again in deep rumbling patient tones enumerating each point. Again the throng erupts in a cacophony of croaking, beeping, whistling and screeching. On and on the discussion goes. It continues well into the night and long after Bigmouth has slipped into the purple haze of sleep.
            By midday two days after leaving the cave by the pond, Bigmouth reaches the palisade of sandstone that tops the ridge. The journey across the croaker's domain is uneventful. Game and water were sufficient for his needs.
            The bundle that he had originally hung from his spear has been modified several times. It has become a large bag suspended on his left side from a strap over his right shoulder. In the bag are not only food and his water skin, but an odd assortment of bones, stones and feathers that he has picked up along his trail. Some of the items remind him of a particular landmark. Others are items in which he imagines a power or an attraction. One stone in particular is black, about the size of his thumb and mostly rounded with one flat side that reflects the light. When ever he stops for an extended break, he digs this stone from the bag and examines it closely. He sits for long moments rubbing his fingers across the shiny black surface of the flat, with his eyelids half closed in deep concentration as if he is trying to communicate with the stone to learn its secrets.
            Now he looks up at an almost unbroken wall of stone. It soars several hundred feet above him and as far to the East or West as he can see. Looking to the East he notices that the forest appears to grow right up to the edges of the wall.
             "Perhaps I can find a tree growing close enough, that I can climb and access the top." He thinks.
            Turning to the West he sees the same thing.
            He decides that he will go west since that is more in the direction he needs to go anyway and there is a slight down slope.
            As Bigmouth nears the place where the forest appears to touch the wall he finds that it is only an elusion. From where he stops the land drops rapidly to the rolling country that he has just left. The high wall of stone marches off West across the blasted lands to it's terminus at the Smoke River. Bigmouth retraces his steps to the East. As he travels, mist boils over the barrier and obscures the forest and the wall behind him. After a time Bigmouth notices that the ridge he is following is becoming steeper.
            Where he began the terrain was clear and open between the wall and the forest. As he climbs higher he finds his progress more often partially blocked by weathered stone that has fallen from the cliff. He is forced to scramble over these obstructions to continue. The clouds over the ridge have blocked the sun and mists curl around Bigmouth caressing his skin with cold damp fingers as he struggles upward. Dark fishers appear in the surface of the stone edifice. Bigmouth inspects each one in hopes that it will lead to the secret valley. Some of the fishers are shallow others wind through the rock twisting and turning until Bigmouth becomes confused and only by following his own tracks in reverse can he return to the margin between the wall and the forest. On he goes, higher and higher. As he climbs along the cliff, the air temperature steadily drops. A steady wind begins to blow along the wall, sending the now freezing mists stinging against Bigmouth's naked body. Several times he stops in the lee of a large boulder or takes shelter in one of the now numerous fishers. After short rests, occasionally eating a piece of half frozen meat, he is again on his way fearing to stop for too long lest he never start again.
            Abruptly the ridge ends in precipitous fall of a thousand of feet or more. Propelled by the wind and blinded by the freezing mist Bigmouth never notices the edge and disappears into the mist. The only witness to his fall are the stones, shaped like the heads of raptors perched on chimney spires on East wall of the valley of the Wa'ste River.

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