Wherein our hero begins his adventure, meets an * * *
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Once upon a time...
there was a red dog named Stoney. Stoney lived in a beautiful village in a strange and magical land. His village was atop a high plateau, so neither he, nor the villagers, had much contact with the outside world. But then, the plateau was a fantastic place to live, and it supplied the village with all its needs, so there was no real reason for anyone to leave, and no one ever did!
One day, as the villagers were preparing for their mid-day meal, a huge ball of fire streaked over their heads and crashed on the plain below the plateau. The fire was a great distance from the village, but still caused much anxiety and commotion. So, everyone quickly assembled in the village square.
"What was it?" asked one villager.
"Where did it come from?" asked another.
"What should we do?" asked a third.
The whole village was there, and Stoney was there, too. He listened attentively as they discussed what, if anything, they should do about the strange fire all they had witnessed. But, in the end, since no one in memory had ever left the village's plateau to journey in the world below, and the fire itself was really too far away to be a threat to the village, they decided that they didn't have to do anything, and so they didn't.
Time passed by, and although the fire still burned on the distant horizon, the villagers went on about their business, and little thought was given to the startling event.
Many, many days later, Stoney was wandering around the village farmlands, sniffing for adventure, when he happened to climb up on a large boulder that gave him a good view of the lands below the plateau. He turned in the direction of the fiery crash (which, incidentally, was still burning) and saw that the flames had moved considerably closer to the village. As he watched, he thought he could actually see the fire moving about on the plain below.
Being a very smart dog, Stoney could tell that it would only be a short time before the fire reached the plateau and he decided that something would have to be done to prevent it. But, what?
He thought about the villagers. No one had ever left the village. And it seemed, to him, that no one even wanted to leave the village.
So, Stoney decided that he would leave the village, climb down the cliff to the lands below, and investigate this fire. Which is exactly what he did.
He walked for several hours in the direction of the fire, and eventually came to a small hill close to the plateau's edge. He trotted up the hill for a better look.
"Now, how will I get down to the land below," he thought, and he whimpered his confusion.
"You need a helping hand," came a voice from below him.
"Who's there?" barked Stoney.
"I'll be your helping hand," said the voice, and up from the other side of the hill climbed a giant hand walking on a pair of legs.
Stoney barked with surprise as the hand approached, but, recognizing the hand's gestures as friendly, he sat and waited for the hand to speak again.
"I can help you get down from here," the hand began, "but, you must tell me what a little pup like you is doing out here, so far from any sign of his people or village."
Stoney explained with a string of barks and whines and yelps, about the fire and about his village. The hand seemed to understand everything.
The hand laughed, "And what will you do when you find the fire? You're only a pup!"
"Well, I don't know what I'll do when I get there, but I know I won't need your help!" growled Stoney in response. He was more than a little irritated by the hand's laughter, and he turned away and started for the plateau's rim.
"I'll certainly manage very well without you," he said as he walked away.
"But, I want to help you," said the hand, chasing after him. "I'm sorry I laughed. It's just that I've never met such a brave young pup, that would try to save his village by himself. It was unkind of me to laugh. Please, forgive my rude behavior."
The hand sounded sincere, and Stoney, being very well mannered and more than a little curious about this strange creature, accepted its apology.
And strange it was!
Stoney paid particular attention to it when it spoke. As far as he could tell, the hand had no mouth and no ears. Yet it obviously could speak and hear very well, and understand the somewhat coarse speech of dogs, though it responded in the same language spoken by Stoney's villagers. It was also able to avoid branches and large rocks that obstructed their way, so Stoney guessed that somehow it could also see, though it definitely had no eyes. It was just fingers and legs!
Stoney introduced himself. The hand responded with its own introduction.
"I am Shaka Brah," it began, "sent by the Shaka clans to meet with the people of the village on the plateau, and enlist their aid in dealing with the strange fire that moves about on the floor of the plain below. I was just on my way there, when we met."
"Well, you don't have to go any further," replied Stoney. "The villagers aren't about to leave the comfort of their village. I'm the only one concerned enough to go."
"Then I'll accompany you, Stoney," responded the Shaka. "Maybe together we can find a way to put out this fire."
And, while Stoney doubted that the hand would be much help, he agreed. It had been a long day's journey, and he could use the company.
They walked on together for a few minutes, and quickly came to the very edge of the plateau. Stoney peered over the edge at the long drop to the canyon floor.
"It's no wonder that hardly anyone has ever left the plateau," he barked. "That's quite a drop!" He began to sniff along the edge for the smell of footprints that might indicate that one way was easier, but there hadn't been any travellers to this part of the plateau in a very long time, and he couldn't detect anything but the normal odors of the earth and vegetation.
"We'd better hurry, if we're to get down there before dark," he said to Shaka Brah. "It's going to take some time."
"I can help," responded the hand. "I know a quicker way."
Stoney again looked over the edge, and then gave the hand a puzzled look.
"What do you plan to do?" he asked. "Jump?"
"Well...not exactly," answered the Shaka. "I can fly. I'll fly us down to the plain below." With that he leaped into the air and made several circles around Stoney to demonstrate.
"Come on, Stoney, climb aboard!" The Shaka hovered next to him, and Stoney jumped up onto what seemed to be its back. The hand dove over the edge. Straight down...
They plummeted like a rock, which thoroughly unnerved Stoney, though he tried very hard not to show it.
"If you're trying to scare me, it isn't working," he joked with the Shaka. But he held on very tightly as they fell.
Very near the bottom, too near for Stoney's tastes, the hand pulled out of the vertical dive and glided to a gentle landing on a grassy bank, next to a babbling brook. Stoney quickly jumped from the Shaka's back.
"Now, that's what I call fun!" exclaimed Shaka Brah.
Stoney looked back up at the high plateau wall and scowled at the hand. He turned away, sniffed at the grass, and then trotted over to the stream for a drink.
"I wouldn't drink that if I were you," said the Shaka.
"And why not?" barked Stoney, more than a little annoyed. "I'm very thirsty, and the stream is very inviting."
"Well," began the Shaka, "I don't know about life on the plateau, but down here on the lowlands, you'll find it very useful to ask permission before helping yourself to anything, but especially this stream."
Stoney looked at him with disbelief, but approached the stream cautiously. "Well, if you insist," and he cleared his throat, and with a series of barks and yelps, he addressed the stream.
"Oh, great watery stream," he mocked, "may I have a drink from your waters?"
Suddenly, the stream stopped flowing. A large swell of water began to rise from the stream and formed a giant face in front of Stoney and Shaka Brah. Cascades of water fell from its brow like hair and it spoke.
"Thank you for asking," it said. "It is my pleasure to offer my waters to so polite a young pup, and because you asked before drinking, I shall give you a precious gift. Any time you desire, you shall be able to speak the human's speech. This will surely surprise many, so be careful with this gift, but now, Stoney, drink deep from the Babbling Brook."
And Stoney drank. And drank. And drank. And when he was done he stepped back from the stream and sat down.
"Thank you very much," he said, in perfectly clear human speech.
He jumped back in alarm and looked around. There was only the stream's face, the hand and himself, and the voice he heard wasn't either of theirs. He barked, yelped and whined. Reassured that he still sounded like a dog, he spoke again.
"That was very strange." He stopped again, still surprised at the human sounds he was making.
"Excuse me again, generous stream," he began, "Would you tell me what would have happened if I had not asked before drinking?"
"My waters would have satisfied your thirst," responded the watery face, "And nothing more."
Turning to the hand, Stoney barked, "Indeed, you are a helping hand, Shaka Brah, but now I think it would be best if we were on our way."
"Thank you again," Stoney said as the face fell with a splash into the once more flowing water.
The two walked along the grassy bank of the stream which flowed in the direction of the fire. To their side lay a dense forest, its outer branches so thickly twisted that it appeared absolutely impenetrable.
The stream eventually took a turn away from their desired direction of travel, and it became clear that they would have to make their way through the dense forest.
But first, they would have to find an entrance.
Wherein our hero and his travelling companion * * *
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