Nado began the climb with his usual dexterous maneuvering, using his crippled arm, loosely strapped across his chest to steady or even sometimes grasp a corner or outcrop. However, rather than the usual unremitting drive upward, this time he had only gone a short distance before he stopped, peering down across the back of his left shoulder.
Parlon looked at Daryl who nodded. Stiffly at first, sometimes pausing for as many as two hands worth of breaths, then more smoothly and quickly, she worked her way up until she was just below Nado's soft leather foot wraps. Daryl shaded his eyes with one free hand and met Nado's glance. He waved briefly with a smile. Nado frowned.
They were in the mist. It would be several minutes before they were above it. The rock surfaces were wet to the touch but the stone was of such a nature that it wasn't slippery. The water seemed to absorb most of the moisture leaving no residue.
The three of them worked the face back and forth across the many ledges, most of which were created in the earth move that so changed all their lives. Prior to that cataclysmic event, the face had been almost unbroken throughout its nearly endless expanse, with little more than small vertical cracks on its smooth surface. Since the earth move vegetation grew atop the narrow ledges and pine trees took root in occasional deeper fissures. All of the plant growth helped them in their ascent, but the single greatest benefit they received was from what Nado and Daryl learned on previous climbs. Over time, Nado subtly changed the course of the climb to include more lateral moves wherever opportunities appeared. Daryl came to realize that such subtle changes added little, if any, time to the climb. It wasn't as necessary to stop and rest so often. The safety factor was also increased dramatically, particularly when coming back down the face, or when they climbed in low light. Nado was the true pathfinder of the final section of cliff face that led to the very top. He made an uncountable number of experimental small expeditions to each side of their original course, several times having to be assisted out of a difficult situation by Daryl and, for what it was worth, Tagawan.
The bird flitted back and forth around them, seeming to lead the climb, landing on outcrops or ledges just before Nado reached them, and then diving off in suicidal plunges before squawking into recovery and flapping back to where the three slowly continued to work up the stone face.
Once, when Tagawan squawked loudly right near Parlon's head, she stopped her progress and looked down with slitted eyes to where Daryl climbed just below.
"Yes, he can be a terrible pest," Daryl said, "but he means well."
A breeze began blowing, as they were midway through the ascent. The sun was a long way from mid-day so they continued working in the shade provided by the escarpment itself. Only one place, a ledge jutting out far enough to sit on and wide enough for all three of them, allowed for a true rest. Fortunately, it was situated not too far below the last difficult traverse and the final cleft to the top. Nado carried their water in a sweating leather sack. Parlon drank deeply. Both boys were accustomed to making the entire climb without rest or refreshment, but they were very sensitive to how difficult the first attempt had been for each of them. Daryl thought about how he hadn't been at all certain that he'd ever get back down the face on that first ascent, unless it was in a form similar to one of Tagawan's dives but with a much messier landing at the bottom.
They began the final ascent after their short break. Nado detailed their coming route to Parlon, repeating his warnings about never looking down while making the climb. The short remainder of the journey was the toughest, and Parlon had neither the conditioning nor the long practice afforded the boys.
Once well onto the traverse, moving from one thin ledge to another, Daryl realized with relief that Parlon was going to make it. Her long thin legs gave her a genetic advantage in climbing. Where Nado had to jump fissures across thin air and Daryl was forced to stretch mightily, Parlon took them almost as part of her natural stride. The trick in negotiating the cleft near the top, so long ago discovered by Nado, served her nearly as well. Where Nado had to jump up and twist around to catch an extended pine root above him, Parlon could grasp it while standing and turn her torso to accommodate the strange angle with a simple turn of her supple body. Daryl moved up behind her as she made her move, using his back and shoulders to boost from below until she was over the lip.
Once on top the three of them sprawled upon the soft needle bed formed by the single giant pine leaning out over the grand expanse of the valley below. They remained on their backs without speaking for many breaths. Parlon was the first to rise and approach the edge. She stood with one hand braced against the largest outthrust branch of the tree, her foot wraps curled over the solid stone edge of the lip. She peered directly down the face they'd just ascended. First Nado, and then Daryl joined her, standing a few hands back from the lip and looking at one another behind Parlon's back. Daryl saw the expression of surprise on Nado's face. They didn't have to say anything to one another, as they both knew that they were thinking the same thing. It'd taken quite some time, and several climbs, before either of them had been able to approach the edge so bravely and peer directly down into the great depths below. Parlon stood staring down with open pleasure and without fear.
"How do we get back down?" Parlon asked, quietly. Tagawan squawked from his position near the top of big pine, as if in response, and then fell to twittering happily to himself while using his beak to groom some of his wing feathers.
"Stupid bird," Nado whispered.
"There's only one way down," Daryl answered. "and it's the exact same way we came up."
"The way back down is easier than coming up," Nado lied. "After all, it's down, so you won't get as tired," he added weakly, glancing over at Daryl. The climb down was more difficult than the climb up because footholds had to be felt for rather than seen before using them. There was no need to inform Parlor of that until later, however.
"It's so beautiful," Parlon whispered, appearing to momentarily forget about the eventuality of their later descent. The three stood together shoulder to shoulder. Nado and Daryl knew well the hypnotic paralysis the panoramic view induced. They'd reacted identically to Parlor and they did so again. The very same words had come from Daryl's mouth that first time, and he'd been alone.
The day was perfect with the sun shining fully upon them. The wind blew lightly, as it almost always did on the summit, and the sound of the whirring needles of the pine was a calming addition to the experience. Below, the great falls, which had thundered so loudly below, was silent, too far down to be heard unless you put your ear to the stones near the lip. The huge cloud of white mist was a whitish ball no larger than two fists pulled together. But, from the high expanse of their position, something else slowly caught Pardon's attention. It had taken Nado and Daryl together to figure out what it was.
"The far wall," Parlon said, raising her right hand to point outward, "It's a far wall, like this one but so distant. What lies beyond it?" Nado and Daryl exchanged surprised looks. Viewing the expanse of the valley below, with its winding river, narrowing as one looked upriver and then expanding as one looked down river to near invisibility, eventually required the single conclusion Parlon voiced. Hunters returning from a distant hunt would occasionally speak of the valley as a true valley but the other villagers, unable to see the far wall from their side of the river below, only knew of it's existence from such stories.
"There are many surprises ahead," was all Daryl could think to reply. He knew that some of the coming revelations could only be shown. They were simply too unbelievable to explain and too difficult to describe.
"Lets go," Nado said, after they had stood staring back out over the valley for many breaths. As they turned, Tagawan leaped from his pine perch high and dived down to precede them. Nado broke into an easy trot and began their journey through the smaller, but still toweringly high, pines that formed a small forest running up and down the center of the top of the plateau. The weaving way through the gently swaying trees had become almost a beaten path. The bird led, flying down low, as the branches of the central pines didn't reach out until almost a single man-height above even Parlon's head. Tagawan squawked and flitted back and forth above them while staying just below the hanging branches. They ran lightly over the flat bough floor, cool wind and the whispering pines making their movement easier and almost magical, compared to such travel below.
After a few minutes they reached a solid wall completely blocking the path. The bird landed with a flaring squawk and sat atop one of the central carved stones. Just under a single man height, the wall was low enough for Daryl to leap atop it in one great bound, squatting down as he landed. He turned with a smile, as Nado scrambled up, and then from one knee, he extended his right hand down to help Parlon mount the substantial low wall. She allowed herself to be pulled up, but then dropped immediately to her knees and began to rub the lichen-covered smoothness of the flat stone top.
"What is this?" she whispered, her hands taking in the sharp squareness of the block's edges. She touched her fingers to one of the seams and let out a small sound of surprise. She tried to insert a finger into the crack, but the fit between the massive stones was too exact and tight for anything as thick as a finger. Nado and Daryl smiled at one another. Her reaction was more in keeping with the awe and shock they'd expected to see back at the top of the escarpment.
"Its a wall." Daryl said simply, knowing that the discussion would not stop there, and Parlon didn't disappoint.
"This isn't of nature," she started slowly, realizing the import of what she was saying. Her hesitation was only for a few breaths. "If it isn't of nature then villagers must have made it. But no, that just isn't possible. These stones were cut somehow. What can cut a stone this big?" The villagers used other stones to wear away at such hard rocks, but only to make things on the scale of hand hatchets or small grinding tools.
"Is this the ruins you spoke of yesterday?" she asked.
Nado laughed out loud. "No, this is only the first part of the ruins. Actually, it's a very small part. You'll see." He smiled down at her upraised eyes, but he could see she really didn't believe him.
"More, there's more?" asked.
"C'mon," Daryl said in response, as he and Tagawan leaped from the far side of the wall at the same time. The bird squawked while Daryl whooped, once more running fast among the lush pines. With Nado and Parlon following close behind, he didn't slow until just before the main body of the ruins. Although located high atop the slim plateau, the ruins occupied many times the size of the entire village proper located down in the valley.
Daryl approached the edge of the ruin area, looking out to the broad open expanse where the central pedestal stood to the right, while the old buildings formed debris covered mounds to his left and front. He stopped and waited. Tagawan flew right on to the pedestal, where he landed and began his normal cleaning ritual, as if he was on his own perch far below.
"This is the ruins," Daryl indicated to Parlon, sweeping his right arm from one side of the structures across to the end of the flat stone covered clearing he and Nado called the central area.
Nado started toward the pedestal but Daryl caught him by the arm.
"It's too soon to try to explain a mystery of that complexity," he whispered. Daryl led Parlon toward the robed stone figure that stood at the opposite side of the clearing, the same one the boys had used for throwing stone practice before they realized what it was. From a distance, the figure seemed only a high tree stump covered with many solstices of thick lichen and moss. The extended arm of the statue, holding the hanging stone ribbon, looked like a small branch sticking out of its side.
They approached the stone figure but Parlon's attention was on the large individual mounds that had changed from mounds to obvious structures made from the same, but much smaller, hewn stones she'd examined with such wonder on the wall blocking the path.
"Look," Daryl said, drawing Parlon's attention back to the statue. With one hand he cleared off some of the clinging moss, revealing the green stained, yet very smooth stone of the statue's outstretched right arm. Parlon leaned close, until her eyes were less than half an arm length from the surface. Her eyes widened, then she ran backwards a few steps, her eyes round and staring intently while her mind trying to take in the enormity of what she was seeing.
"What is it?" she whispered before answering her own question. "It's a figure of a person cut from stone. Why would anyone do that? How could anyone do that?"
"We don't know," Daryl answered.
"I didn't believe you, not really, until now," she said, at last.
"Why'd you come all the way up here then?" Nado asked, after a moment.
Parlon looked at Daryl. "I came up just to see if you could really climb the wall," she said, then her chin jutted briefly toward Nado, "you and your little friend. I can't believe you made the climb. I can't believe any of this. But I do."
"We," Nado murmured to Parlon.
"We?" she responded.
"We made the climb. You were with us."
"Come on Nado, lets show her the rest," Daryl said to Nado. "Let's not forget the first day we were here. Let her have some time." The boys had discussed many times the shock they'd experienced when they'd realized that the ruins had to have been built by beings much like themselves, only so far in the past that it was not possible to have any understanding.
Even worse, they'd concluded that the ones whom had gone before possessed a considerable higher form of expertise in almost every area of life. That this contradicted completely what the Shaman taught everyone in the tribe had created some of his or her first discomfort with the man. They never mentioned any of what they found with the tribe since those earlier days of childish revelations.
There was never any argument between the boys about the issue of the superior culture that had come before. The evidence just glared at them every time they were in the ruins. Not their village, nor any they had heard of, compare in the slightest with what existed on the plateau. The tribe had either fallen far for unknown reasons or not existed at all during the time when the ruins were vibrant and powerful.
They walked with Parlon in silence through a small portion of the shambling structures. Daryl explained that it was as if each person or family had had a structure all of his or its own. The thought of such grand capability brought silence between them. Finally, Daryl let her continue exploring on her own and returned to the pedestal device across from the statue, where Tagawan perched, waiting patiently, squawking a few times to welcome him back.
"Little friend?" Nado murmured audibly to himself, but couldn't get Daryl to respond to his complaint. "I'm tall for my solstices. I really am," Nado continued to grouse while Daryl took out his hollow stones and selected the lightest.
He mounted the special stone on the end of his throwing stick and then reared back and hurled it into the side of part of one of the abandoned structures they had laboriously stacked there on a previous trip. The noise caused Tagawan to depart in a flurried rush and take up a position in the one of the higher pines nearby. It also brought Parlon back to see what caused the sound.
Nado frowned at her presence, but then turned to place a stone at the end of his own stick. He extended his arm fully and then bent his body backward like a bow. The stick nearly touched the ground behind him before he let his am and body snap forward. The stone traveled the short distance to their makeshift target in an instant, shattering against the flat rock, sending pieces flying in all directions but leaving the larger ones in a small pile at the base.
Nado ran foward to the impact site, fell to his knees and sifted through the debris.
"I've got it," he breathed out in an excited voice. Tagawan replied with a distant squawk high from his overlooking perch in the pine. Daryl walked to Nado, while Parlon stayed back.
"What is it?" she asked, but made no move to join them.
Daryl didn't answer, as Nado dropped the largest crystal either of them had yet seen into his open palm. It was a clear crystal, as thick as a thumb, and filled most of his open palm. The large flat surfaces of the crystal's sides were divided by edges so straight and sharp that Daryl felt they might cut his palm if he closed his hard enough. The hand-length crystal ended with one jagged edge. The other end was exactly the same five-triangles-leading-to-a-point as the crystal that hung about Parlon's neck. The large crystal was almost as odd as some of the things they'd discovered among the ruins, but this object he knew to be of nature.
Daryl closed his hand with the pure clear stone still in it, and shook his head only very briefly when Nado looked over at him.
Parlon approached. "What is it?" she asked again, except this time her voice had recovered its more normal and imperious tone. Swiftly, Daryl scooped up a small handful of the smaller and shorter crystals.
"These," Daryl turned before opening his hand to display the small stones while his other hand casually inserted the larger crystal into his knife pouch.
Parlon didn't try to touch the objects; instead her hand immediately went to the pendant suspended by a leather thong at her throat.
"Yes," Daryl said, with a smile, "this is the origin of your own crystal. I gave you it to you because it was the most special thing Nado and I ever found."
Parlon smiled but said nothing, leaning down to examine the other remains of the hollow stone collision with the stacked rock slabs. She nodded her head, and then walked back toward the structures to continue her examination. They stood silent until she was lost to sight between two moss-covered walls.
"Why did you tell her anything?" Nado asked, but didn't wait for Daryl to answer, before going on. "Why didn't you show her the stone? And why did you have here come up to our ruins, anyway?" He squatted down beside the stone slab, shaking his head. "Disaster. This is going to be a disaster...and that's if we somehow manage to get her back down the wall. If she doesn't make it back down then we might just as well both jump from the top of the rim, because we'll never be able to go back to the tribe."
Daryl retrieved the large crystal from his knife pouch and held it up to the soft light shining down through the pines. Tagawan descended to land on the nearby pedestal, the sparkles bursting forth from the crystal causing him to twist his head back and forth, twittering softly. Daryl handed the brilliant stone to Nado.
"Well, at least Tagawan approves," Nado smiled as he said the words.
Sometimes the way Nado approached problems amazed Daryl. Almost as if there was no prospect for success or any kind of positive result. He himself was slowly coming to realize that each problem they were presented with usually had as much opportunity and adventure trapped within it as cataclysm and misery. Even the earthmove and great wave had affected many things in a very positive way. The tribe never worried about water anymore. The events caused them to build and move into the stone structure, where life was much improved. And the face of the escarpment had been slightly rearranged allowing for climbing and for their very presence there.
"Seems a waste to give this to Huslinth," Nado whispered. Daryl frowned and took the stone back from Nado's hand.
"She's here because it seemed right," Daryl said, gently, answering Nado's earlier question while tucking the crystal back into the pouch and double knotting its securing thong. "And if it wasn't the right thing to do..." he let the words hang for a moment, "then how did she come to be up here?" They hadn't spoken of the climb. Parlon, on her first ascent, had made the difficult passage without complaint; any real need of assistance and without expressing fear at all. "I didn't show her the big crystal because I'm not sure what we're going to do with it yet," Daryl went on, "and I think you know why I told her about the throwing stones." He stopped talking, having spoken his last words like a question, knowing that Nado wouldn't just let his comments pass without expressing one of his deep thought conclusions.
"Because we're already trusting her with so much more?" Nado answered, instantly. As usual, his answer surprised Daryl. He'd thought that his friend would conclude that the future marriage of he and Parlon might be more of the deciding issue, but after a moment of thought he had to admit that once more Nado was the deeper thinker.
They watched Parlon flit in and out of narrow corridors between the structures, the sun high, the pines murmuring and Tagawan occasionally taking flight to check on Parlon's progress, before returning to his perch with a squawk. Both boys sat down with their backs pressed into the stacked target slabs.
"What of our other problems?" Nado asked, trying to poke one fingernail between the flat stones upon which they sat, but having no luck. They were cleaved impossibly flat and straight and fit together with only a barely visible line.
"We're a poor tribe and, I suspect, a small one," Daryl said to his friend. "Compared to the other tribes upriver, we have little, if we're to believe our warrior brothers at all. We don't even have much of anything to trade, unless it's our own food brought in from hunting." Daryl turned to look at his friend when he finished, but Nado merely returned his stare with a quizzical expression, one eyebrow upraised.
"Our problems are greater than I would ever have thought before coming here, no matter what happened with the earthmove or even the Mur. Look around us." His arm swept quickly to take in the ruins around them. "We have nothing approaching what we see here, and we don't have any idea of how it was all made." He pointed at the line Nado had been attempting to penetrate with his finger. "How was this stone cut, because it was cut, and it was cut by someone like us, a very long time ago. And how was it carried? This stone didn't come from up here on the plateau. Do you know what that means?" Nado simply shook his head, his expression having changed to one of surprise at hearing his friend speak so long and in such an impassioned manner.
"And what of that statue? What does it mean? And why would anyone make a villager of stone? And the pedestal, with its unknown special metal at its top. What is it?" Finally, Daryl lapsed into silence, only the bird's constant self-attention to grooming making any sound audible above the wind. A moment went by before Nado responded.
Nado considered for a few breaths of time. "I understand that this is a wondrous place, but what do we do about our own troubles in the tribe?"
Daryl smiled. "These are our troubles in the tribe. We're warriors now. You're even on the council. The Tribe's troubles are now our troubles and we have to help it recover."
"Recover?" Nado almost yelled the question he was so surprised. "Recover from what?" He held both hands shoulder high, hands turned up in question.
"I don't know," Daryl said, quietly. "Whatever caused this place to be abandoned? Whatever caused the beings that lived here to either leave or forget the things that they knew. Whatever caused these villagers to lose everything is our problem and the Tribe's problem."
"But what good will that do?" Nado asked, perplexed.
"Look at us Nado," Daryl said in a low and forceful tone, and then looked deep into his friend's eyes. "Whatever caused this place to lose everything caused our Tribe to lose everything."
They sat looking at one another, unblinking for many breaths.
"I don't understand you at all sometimes," Nado said, after awhile. "With that girl...Parlon...you seem as dumb or dumber than that stupid bird. But then you talk about something like this..." he paused, obviously having a hard time either forming the proper phrase or in saying the words at all, " you seem smarter than me."
Daryl bit off a smile, somehow managing to keep a straight face. He doubted if he would ever hear his arrogant headstrong young friend ever again make such a deprecating admission.
"What makes you think the our village came from this one?" Nado went on.
"I'm not sure," Daryl replied, truthfully. "Its a deep strong feeling. A feeling like this is home. The village just seems like a place to stay, in comparison." He looked over at Nado for some kind of response and saw the boy nodding hesitantly, looking about, and then nodding faster and deeper.
"I don't know if you're right, but I feel as you do. Of course we are going to have just a little bit of difficulty ahead. The Shaman, the Chief, your father and the senior warriors. They aren't exactly easy to convince about anything, much less something as wild and strange as all this."
Before they had time to consider the import of Nado's words, there was a distant female cry from far within the ruins. Tagawan launched from his perch with a great flapping dive, squawking as he went. Daryl instinctively rolled to one side pulling loose the thong to his stone tube, slipping the belt of the throwing stick over his head and mounting a stone quickly into the weapon. He then followed Nado's darting lead, as they zigzagged through the broken down corridors, surrounded by the rubble and half-walls of the time beaten structures. Nado followed the flight of Tagawan right to a still standing, but ragged arch of mortared stone. A dark rectangular opening, slanted downward, lay just through the arch, and it was from there that another cry issued forth.
"Daryl," Parlon yelled, her voice echoing upward, as both boys stood poised to dive headlong into the opening. Tagawan squawked almost as loudly from the center of the arch above their heads.