Chapter 16:

Swamp and water

Keio (9-K-O-512)

Location: underground, by the lake
Health: weak
Additional effects - enhanced nature-vision, impaired movement

“Great frog,” I wonder.

Indeed, I’ve already realised, based on the catch of the day and the interior of the set, that they’re not suffering from a lack of frogs. In the workshop I saw frogskins big enough for a whole badger. In this very chamber, huge frog skeletons abound, their flat jaws agape.

I point to the nearest one. “Great, like these here?”

I feel the whole entourage chuckling.

“Oh, very funny!” The echo of badger laughter fills our joint consciousness. “Like these here!”

I have to wait a bit until my honorable companions recover from merriment.

“Let us show you,” the sage says gravely, at length.

And already I’m flying along with the badger’s thoughts - through passages and sets, through many chambers, higher, higher, above the grassy ground. Sedge clumps and quagmires rush past, along with burdocks and thorny bushes.

The dirt squelches and the mud bubbles around us. Water seeps in everywhere and lush plants tower high overhead.

There is no clear line between swamp and lake. Tiny inlets full of mollusc shells and dead fish, whole islands of entangled roots rising from the water, along with the occasional crooked excuse for a tree.

We glide over the mud-coloured flats until a higher headland emerges from the distant fog - no, not just a headland, an entire island! A mountain rises from the mist at its heart. Colorful copses of trees grow on its rolling slopes and a dark thicket of reeds lines the steep stretch of coast. Deeper in the bay, sticky frog spawn sloshes between the sea kale and the air is full of the thrum of insects, along with a cacophonous croaking.

“Does the frog live in those woods?” I ask my mental guides. “Or in the reeds?”

“Wait, wait!”

I feel something is amusing the badgers again.

An ancient wall of ice glints in the distance, between clouds of mist.

I hear the roar of falling water - perhaps the waterfall I rode all the way down?

Or another one?

I see a waterfall just as large, cascading on the other side of the mountainous island.

The view of my mind’s eye rises up to the sky and I notice a huge wedge of ice stuck between the two waterfalls and the two rivers.

“The iceberg that the meltwater will soon break free,” the badger sage’s voice explains in my head.

All right, I can imagine an iceberg. But where’s the frog who would cause so much evil?

Our journey of the mind has drawn nearer to the island. Up close, the mountain seems even higher, its slopes even steeper. What strange soil is this, that it sticks together like that? Could the whole island be a volcanic boulder left behind by the melting ice? Or a purpose-built construction?

“Look now,” my mental guide encourages me. “All our experiences and the memories of many generations lie before you.”

I examine the island and the surrounding water intently. In the older memories, the forest on the mountain is smaller, the slopes smoother. The mountain itself seems reduced.

I notice rhythmic ripples low on the water. The mountain shakes with strange reverberations: the treetops shudder first, then the ground itself. I look on in wonder as the ground at the bottom of the hill crumbles, the insects flee… and a deep cavern opens in the depths of the rock. A pink, meaty pillar launches from the cave towards the sky. It grabs a screeching, sharp-beaked bird in flight… and withdraws into the cavern with its feathery prey. I recall Badass’s hesitation and his words: “Well, the badgers too, of course.”

“A giant frog lives in the cave and eats seagulls?” I guess carefully.

“That’s not a cave,” the sage insists. “Look more closely. Towards the crooked birch.”

The branching roots of the old gnarly tree cling stubbornly to the ground on the almost vertical cliff. Suddenly the ground splits open and the sparkling eye of a spring appears under the birch. But how can a spring flow upwards on a cliff?

Only then do I finally realise.

“It’s an actual eye!”

“An actual eye,” the choir of badgers echoes in our joint consciousness. “The eye of the great frog.”

Now that I know what to look for, I can guess at the shape of an immense amphibian in the mossy mountainside.

“But how did it get here?” I ask.

“Came long-long ago from underground, like other frogs,” the sage explains.

“And like us,” notes one of the older badgers.

“The frogs are programmed to grow well,” a third mental voice adds. “So there’s enough food underground.”

“But this one wasn’t eaten in time,” the sage sums up. “It’s still growing.”

Our shared image shifts again: the frog-mountain is smaller, the forest on its back much younger. The wall of ice with its shining curtain of waterfalls has crept much closer and we can clearly hear the streams flowing in the ice cracks. The sound of the water is interrupted by cracking and a menacing boom, distant and deep. The ice wall shudders in the rainbow of the waterfalls.

Suddenly it’s all mixed up: the sky, the earth, the water, the ice. Chunks of ice as tall as clouds come roaring down, cutting into the river mud; the water breaks free of the ice with incredible force.

In the midst of this destruction, the frog-shaped island stretches its legs and waddles toward a drier shore, the earth shaking with each step - toward the towering canopy of giant spruce.

Previous chapter

Next chapter

< Back