Monday, March 19, 2018

Still Here


Hey Lovelies,

I just wanted to provide a quick blast: I AM still here. As previously mentioned, I started with Hodoshi to kind of get the blood flowing, but I'm having a small issue with the upcoming scene within Little Island Tales. In short, the scene is actually going to be pretty noteworthy to several character developments, and I seem to be having trouble making it right. It's actually going to define how several things will move forward and, to be blunt, I'm not satisfied with it.

So, I promise that there is actually new content to come and I haven't just dropped dead again. The delays have to do with my dissatisfaction with a very specific scene. It has not felt natural, it has not felt organic, and the exposition and story crafting feels extremely ham-fisted. I promise, more is to come soon, I just need to make sure it feels correct.

I don't often do anything more than first drafts, but I simply can't hammer down this single piece.

Talk to you all soon.

- RB

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Hodoshi (Working Title) - Part 1


    "It's a pleasure to finally meet you, Mr...?"
    Hodoshi quietly stared at the massive, grease stained man before him, his hand extended to shake.
    The big man wore heavy leathers, an off-colored shirt that, before the years of brown and yellow stains, might have been called white, and thick, well-worn black motorcycle boots. The smell coming off of him was some combination of machine parts, probably motor oil based if Hodoshi were to guess, and overwhelming body odor. On top of everything else, he had a glaze in his eyes that suggested he was either drunk, high, or both.
    He was thick, burly, stupid, and everything about him came off as just dirty.
    It made Hodoshi want to spit.
    Hodoshi did not shake his hand.
    "What is it that you want, Mr. Duante?" he asked with plain annoyance.
    The big man stared at Hodoshi in confusion but his associate, Cooper, was quick to translate.
    "The fuck was that?" the big man asked stupidly.
    "My employer would simply like to know why you requested his presence, Mr. Duante." said the slender man to Hodoshi's right.
    "Felix."
    "I'm sorry?"
    "I'm Felix. Ain't nobody called me Mr. Duante since school." the bruiser said wit a sneer.
    "And I'm sure that was quite a long time ago, wasn't it, Mr. Duante?" Hodoshi asked, his face dead pan.
    "The fuck is he doin?" the big man asked, jabbing a finger in Hodoshi's direction.
    For just the briefest of moments, Hodoshi considered snapping it off at the knuckle.
    Only for a moment though.
    "He merely is expressing a brief apology and asks we get down to business." his associate mistranslated, a well-practiced smile tickling at the edges of his thing lips. A subtle, disarming mannerism Cooper had perfected long ago.
    Not for the first time, Hodoshi openly ignored the thug in front of him and glanced around the room, taking in his surroundings with a lingering sense of disgust.
    The little dive bar they were in looked like it hadn't been visited by a Health Official in years. He had seen a sign but didn't really not the name. "Rosie's"? "Roxie's"? "Robby's"? Some sort of name that started with an "R".
    It didn't matter.
    The faux wood paneling was hidden beneath a marbling of oily, black tar stains, likely from cigarettes or something similar, that creeped up high on the walls and covered the ceiling. The bar itself, a long, single piece of mahogany that was probably the only real piece of wood in the place, was notched and splintered from untold bar fights, knife contests, and general disarray. Lights, barely strong enough to illuminate a fridge, lined bleak looking sitting areas and a few, ratty, ancient billiards tables.
    Worst of all, the whole place stank just as much as the big idiot in front of them from untold eons of cheap whiskey, grease monkeys, and the inevitable vomit of putting too much of both in the same place.
    Hodoshi sighed, glancing at the dozen other men that littered the room at various points. As his gaze passed over them, each one looked even bigger and dumber than the next. They were all openly staring, their eyes filled with suspicion, hatred, and mistrust.
    He shrugged and glanced back to Mr. Duante.
    "-get the job done?"
    "I assure you, Mr. Felix." Cooper said in an obviously placating manner. "My employer is the best. If not, we would not have been sent here. Now if you please?"
    "What. Is the job. You fucking imbecile." Hodoshi said, his annoyance beginning to flare hotter.
    Mr. Duante stared at him for a brief second before flatly declaring, "No. I'm not working with this fucking crip'."
    The man appeared to have more to say, but made the mistake of turning his back to him.
    You're right. Hodoshi thought to himself. We won't be working together.


    "You are aware the police are coming, Mr. Hodoshi?" Cooper asked as they walked down the side alley, weaving casually by large cardboard boxes and overflowing rubbish bins.
    "Wouldn't surprise me."
    "No concerns then?"
    "They won't find anything interesting."
    "We made quite a mess. It wouldn't surprise me if the entire block heard the commotion."
    "Good for them."
    Cooper stared at him for a moment before realizing his perceived mistake.
    "I apologize, sir."
    "Don't be an idiot. I know what you meant by it."
    Hodoshi took a moment to wipe the remaining blood off his hands along with a few specs that had flicked across the cuff of his suit before continuing.
    "Your statement was correct and nothing to be ashamed of. I was not exactly quiet."
    "You were not." his associate confirmed.
    They moved through alley without further comment until they reached a street several blocks over.
    "Alright, what now?" Hodoshi asked, his gaze wandering across the surprisingly busy area. It seemed they'd found some manner of open-air market. People were wandering too and fro and the entire place was lined with hastily constructed shacks selling all manner of different items under the haze of marijuana smoke and bead lights that ran the length of the street.
    "Well, I don't think Adolpho will be particularly thrilled about the Horsemen..."
    "He'll get over it. We can just call it free advertising."
    "All the same, I suppose we should report it and see if there's someone less taxing to deal with."
    "I don't doubt he knows already and there's no job pressing enough to go running off to. Let's get dinner. My treat. Then we'll deal with the golden haired prick."
    "Of course, sir."
    "What do you think? Ramen or Southern? Could definitely go for some Carolina Short Ribs." Hodoshi asked as he glanced around at a number of shacks near the end of the road that seemed to all be selling different foods. He could easily make out Bar-B-Que in sprawling, maroon letters across the banner of one.
    "Frankly, I'd prefer something with vegetables."
    "Surprise. Surprise." he snarked the thinner man. "We'll look. Maybe there's somewhere with some vegan options."
    "Thoughtful as always, sir."
    "Well, mom told me that if I wanted a bunny, I'd have to take care of it."
    Cooper, a smirk playing off his lips, wiggled his nose and upper lip slightly, and Hodoshi let out an unrestrained laugh. They disappeared into the crowd a moment later, their mind set on food, just as the police arrived to find the eviscerated corpses of a dozen, heavily armed bikers several blocks away.


====

(Hello Lovelies. I wanted to thank you all for being so patient. The last month has been a hell of a rough ride, but I'm finally back on the wagon. With that said, I wanted to open up with an idea I've been playing around with. I'm not sure how long lasting it will be, but it's been in the back of my head and exploring it seemed like a good way to flex my writing muscle again. Don't worry, my Little Island Tales are soon to come, but I figured I'd warm up on a newer project rather than produce garbage when it comes to continuing L.I.T. Keep your ear to the ground, more to come shortly. Love you all.)

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Recovering


Hello Lovelies,

So, as you're aware, I've been kind of missing in action for the last half a month. As it turns out, the reason for this is I've been sick as a dog. I won't go into the finer details, but I ended up catching the flu that was going around and said flu ended up developing into a really nasty case of bronchitis and eventually pneumonia that pretty much put me out completely.

With that said, I'm sick of doctors, I'm sick of medicine, I'm sick of beds and tests, but I'm finally recovering and returning to normalcy.

I intend to return to my normal posting schedule and continue Little Island Tales later this week. After being not only out of work, but out of life in general, I have been having to recover a few things and get life back in order. Thank you for being so patient and I promise more is to come very soon.

Sincerely,

RB

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Little Island Tales - Part 14


    "Diego. Wake up, nani."
    Diego grumbled and groaned, rolling over in his spot. He glanced over his shoulder and could see the sun shining through the cracks in the walls and the form of his mother moving at the far end of the house.
    "Diegooo~" she called again.
    "Mmph."
    "Your friend is here, nani."
    "Mmph!"
    "Have it your way." his mother said with a giggle.
    The pitter patter of feet on the floor was sudden and washed away by a high pitched squeal.
    "Diego!" Tamah yelled.
    She hit him from behind, practically tackling him into the wall, and began violently shaking him.
    "Wakeupwakeupwakeupwakeup!" the younger girl said in delight.
    "Mmmph!"
    Diego rolled over and glared up at Ka'lani's sister. Her face was bright and beaming and a smile was stretched from ear to ear.
    "Hi." she said shortly, her smile growing wide.
    "Why?" was all he could muster.
    "I got you something!" she declared proudly, jutting out her chest. "Come see come see!"
    Using his back as a springboard, Tamah jumped off of him and ran back to the other side of the house. He weakly pulled himself from the bed and followed after her.
    "Tamah brought you some-" his mother began.
    "I FOUND YOU SOME BREAKFAST!" Tamah squealed, nearly bouncing up and down as she turned back to Diego.
    Cradled in her arms was a small, woven basket. Tucked into the basket were a number of different fruits. There were some mangoes, papayas, raspberries, dragonfruit, and even a few bananas. They all looked ripe and incredibly delicious.
    Without hesitation he snatched one of the mangoes and began digging in.
    "Thank you," he offered after a few bites. "But...where did you get all this?"
    "I found it!"
    "Tamah has had a very busy morning from the looks of things." Diego's mother offered.
    Diego knew well enough that none of the fruit really grew that nearby and more than a few would even require venturing into the lower forests on the mountain.
    "Did your brother help you?"
    She shook her head.
    "Ka'lani?"
    Again, no.
    "Did you really go alone?"
    Tamah beamed once more, her smile threatening to split her face.
    "I wanted to make sure you had something tasty. I know how tired you've been. And I thought it would be nice to see you."
    Diego spared a brief look at his mom who simply smirked and shrugged before busying herself with something in the kitchen.
    It had been several days since the trek up the mountain with Johanas and he hadn't really done much other than help his mother around the house since then. He had felt strangely detached after the weird conversation with the older man but he hadn't been able to really place the why. His words had really bothered him, enough so that he hadn't given much thought to anyone really, even the recent discovery of the tracks.
    Not that much came of them. he thought to himself.
    He'd heard the warriors talking in the last few days. They hadn't really been able to find anything as the trail had been destroyed along with a chunk of the forest in the night. That, combined with the sounds they had heard the same evening, made many of them believe that if their had been an intruder on the island, they were likely already dead by the hands of the aka-akua. 
    It's too bad really. Diego wondered what someone from outside of the island would have been like.
    "Thank you." he repeated himself.
    Tamah nodded enthusiastically and set down the basket. As she did, there was a soft tinkle from inside.
    "OH!" she shouted. "I almost forgot!"
    Digging into the bottom of the basket, she retrieved several strange, shiny objects. There were four in total. They were cylindrical and made of a yellowish metal. One end of each cylinder was open to reveal a hollow interior. A hole had been punched through all of them with a simple leather cord so they could be worn as a necklace.
    Weirdly, they all smelt like burnt incense.
    "I wanted to give you one." Tamah continued and offered the shiny, little cylinder necklaces. "I thought maybe we could each have one. I found them while I was looking for breakfast."
    "You mean me, you, and your brother and sister?"
    "Mmmhmm."
    Diego shrugged and plucked the cleanest one from her palm. They all had little dents and dings, but the one he picked seemed to look the nicest.
    He promptly tied it around his neck.
    "I think they're kind of pretty." she offered.
    "They are, I guess." he confirmed with a nod. "Although, that reminds me, where is your sister?"
    In the last few days, Diego hadn't really seen Ka'lani. In all honesty, he hadn't seen anyone but his mother and whoever passed by the door. She had been the one person he'd considered trying to visit but hadn't quite brought himself to do so.
    Tamah, for the briefest of moments, appeared to be crestfallen. Her smile dimmed and her eyes fell to the floor for a moment. If he hadn't been staring right at her, Diego would have missed it entirely.
Because a moment later, she was beaming again, although it seemed strangely forced and artificial.
    "She's at Grammy Koula's. She's been over there for a couple days. I was going over there after you had breakfast to give her one of these." she said, holding up the cylinders again.
    "Can I come?" he asked her.
    "You should." Tula said from the kitchen. "As fun as it is to use you as my own personal slave, I think you need to get away from weaving and cooking for a little while."
    "Ok!" Tamah offered. "I'll make sure to take good care of him!"
    Before Diego could ask what that meant, the smaller girl had shoved a few raspberries into his hand, grabbed her basket, and was pushing him out the door into the warm sun beyond.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Little Island Tales - Part 13


    SCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAACCCCCCCCH!
    The roar, if that's what you could call it, was utterly inhuman. Defeaning at best, heart stopping at worst, it grew in fervent intensity as the beast came out of nowhere. It barreled through an entire grove of trees as easily as a scythe through a single stalk of wheat and didn't so much as slow down.
    And she couldn't even see the damned thing.
    It was like fighting the void of space itself.
    The gunshots roared in her ears and she bellowed her own roar of utter defiance. She heard something pop and blood openly ran from her pounding ears. Her entire body ached and her knuckles rattled with each shot, but that didn't stop her from unleashing a torrent of hell against the monster that dared challenge her.
    Unfortunately, the bullets didn't seem to do much.
    Only the tracers, flashing flares jutting out every few rounds, even seemed to make an impact. The burning red pyrotechnic charges seemed to burn the thing's flesh for a moment before vanishing inside the pitch-black beast.
    At least it was something.
    Not enough though.
    Not enough to stop it.
    Her hearing fading with each boom of the heavy rifle, she was forced to use drastic measures. Using the disappearing rounds as a judgement for distance, Jaelyn dove out of the way a half moment before the monstrous creature reached her. She felt her hip and leg bounce off its body as it roared by, sending her scrambling as her lower half was flung hard against a nearby tree with a disturbing crunch that seemed to echo in her failing eardrums.
    "Merde." she cursed weakly under her breath
    She clawed desperately at the forest floor for her gun, her mind doing all it could to focus on anything but the blooming pain.
    She had to fight.
    The beast was already coming about face, having cleaved out another chunk from the forest in a single sweep. Everything about it made her want to scream and hide in a hole somewhere. Aside from the monstrous roars, it was dead silent but for the forest it destroyed. It was just so big. So fast. And she couldn't see the putain de chienne! Once again, she brought her gun up and she didn't hear as much as feel her least favorite sound in the world.
    click
    "No. No! NO!" she heard herself scream, her words distant and echoing.
    She shook the useless firearm, quickly checking the clip and finding that it seemed to be jutting out at a strange angle. She tore at the jammed piece, but her panicked attempt to right the broken weapon was interrupted by a strange sound that made it through the haze. Weirdly, to her addled mind, it sounded like a dragon throwing up.
    Jaelyn, more on instinct than sight, flung herself away as something wet and acrid splashed across the forest floor where she had been only seconds before. She could feel some of it hit her boots and pants and felt a distinct sizzling sensation as whatever had been thrown her way started to melt through the hardened polycarbon.
    Well that's fun. She thought as something slick, hot, and wet started to pool in the bottom of her boot.
    Probably her melting foot if the smell was to be any indicator.
    Taking off at a run, fire running up her leg as her nerves burned with pain, Jaelyn slung the rifle and was about to go for her sidearm when she felt the thing coming at her again. Felt the ground shake as earth was displaced and trees were ripped asunder. She waited as long as she dared, til it was just on top of her, not inches away with its hot, stinking breath warming her neck, before snapping into a hard left and diving through a particularly thick grove of trees.
    And off a cliff.
    "MERDE!!!"
    Open ocean and fresh salt air lay before and under her with nothing else to catch her. In front of her, a massive pillar stuck out of the ocean and behind her the cliff she had come from. Underneath? Nothing.
    She clawed at the open air, reaching out for anything to grab hold of. To find purchase in anyway. If only she'd still had her pack.
    She had just enough time to look up, to see the beast's face poking out of the treeline, and scream up at it in fury.
    Jaelyn hit the ocean at the bottom of the cliff with a sickening crack from her back. Her body spasmed in shock and she didn't feel as much as see the air expel from her lungs into the cold, salt water. A moment later, darkness enveloped her and she blacked out.

    Some ways down the mountain, the village stirred; awoken by the sounds of battle from the forests unseen. They knew they roars of the aka-akua but not that strange popping, booming sound that hid risen to challenge them. When nothing further came of it, Diego, like many of the other children, rolled over and went back to sleep.

====

(A short entry today, but potentially critical. If you'll forgive the length, I felt that this entry was important to introduce a few things into the world of Little Island Tales. I hope you enjoyed and will join us for more soon.)
   

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Little Island Tales - Part 12


    "Johanas?" asked a familiar voice from beyond the foliage.
    The older man visibly relaxed as Joun, one of the warriors from the beach, pushed through the underbrush. He was bare chested, his shirt tied around his pants, and he was holding a spear tightly in his right hand. His face was flushed red and he was soaked with sweat from head to toe, no doubt from the growing, steamy warmth of the jungle.
    "And Diego." the warrior quickly added, glancing past Johanas. "The hell are you two doing out here?"
    Before Diego could respond, Johanas spoke for them.
    "Felt like going for a little walk." Johanas he said casually. "Little Diego here wanted to come with so it seemed like a good chance to show him a thing or two about tracking."
    Joun's eyes narrowed more in confusion than suspicion and he very plainly glanced down at the cripple's damaged leg and his cane. The older man, in turn, simply smiled wider.
    "Ain't that right, boy?" he said, glancing over his shoulder.
    "Eh...yea. That's right. My mother wanted to make sure someone was with him so I went with." Diego confirmed the half truth.
    Joun nodded.
    "That wasn't you we heard then, was it?" the warrior asked.
    "That popping sound? No. We were wondering ourselves." Johanas confirmed as he took a drag from the cigarette.
    "We think we have an intruder on the island." Joun stated flatly.
    "Explains the tracks." the older man said with a nod. "Was wondering why they looked so weird. Diego pointed em out to me."
    Joun glanced back at him again and looked a little impressed.
    "Really now? I would have figured it the other way around. Maybe you've got the workings of a hunter in ya, Diego."
    Diego shifted uncomfortably.
    "Maybe." he muttered.
    "Alright, you two head back to the village. We don't need anyone wandering around here while we're looking for someone, particularly not someone...eh..." Joun seemed to get stuck on his words for a minute before finishing. "...as venerable as yourself."
    Johanas burst out laughing which quickly broke down into a mild coughing fit.
    "Venerable! Ha! Yea, alright. Come on, Diego, let's get my old ass off this mountain."
   
    "Why did you lie to him?" Diego asked as they broke through the tree line and they stepped out into the blazing sun of the open beach.
    "What?" Johanas asked indigently. "Well I never! Ain't never lied in my life."
    "You lied to Joun, though."
    "Nope."
    Diego ran out in front of the cripple, stopping him from walking any farther.
    "You told him I showed you the tracks."
    "You did, didn't you? I didn't know about 'em til you told me."
    Diego faltered.
    "And that you were out for a walk."
    "And I was!" Johanas confirmed. "You even said it yourself: your mother didn't want me going alone. After all, he didn't ask why I wanted to go for a walk or what I was doing while walking."
    "But..." Diego stammered, not sure where to go with this. "You know there's an intruder!"
    "I figured there was based on the tracks and what you told me." the older man said, his grin threatening to split his head in half. "Joun only confirmed my suspicions further."
    Diego was speechless.
    In the moment, he had felt confused and even a little ashamed that Johanas had seemingly lied to the warrior. Now, with him plainly explaining how expertly he'd gotten around the man's questions, he couldn't decide if he actually felt better or not.
    "Listen, Diego, let me tell you something." Johanas said, his voice taking on an air of sincerity. "You're smart. You always have been. I blame your mother personally."
    The older man punctuated his statement with a short, barking laugh.
    "Problem is," he continued. "Most people think they are smart. Now this can mean that someone who doesn't know any better than you is going to make a decision that might effect whether you live or die. But, in return, it also means you can also use that same lack of smarts against em."
    Johanas tapped his head.
    "Make 'em think what they think is actually the case. People will always presume something. It's natural. Tell 'em what they want to hear and they'll believe it. Even if you tell em the truth to their face, if you tell em the right way, they'll do the lie for you."
    "I don't understand."
    "I know. But give it some time."
    Diego couldn't accept that.
    "But....why?"
    "Because..." Johanas began, his expression growing dark and distant. "Sometimes it's easier to let people believe one thing than face the pain of having to correct them. Sometimes people are scared to admit something to themselves as much as they are to others."
    Diego stared at the older man, stared at the normally vacant, smiling face, and how stern it had grown in a moment. The weary, sweat soaked lines and wrinkles and a horrible weight that seemed to lie across his entire being made him seem eternally older and more abused than he'd ever seen before.
    And, all at once, he wasn't sure they were still talking about the same thing.
    "So the tracks-?" he asked slowly.
    Johanas' face lit up again once more.
    "The tracks are fine. If we told em we were just following em, they'd get upset and worried. Easier to let em think we were just walking."
    The older man's smile returned in full force but Diego was still picturing the darkened facade from a moment prior.
    "Okay." he agreed softly.
    "Now come on." Johanas said with a pat on the boy's shoulder. "Let's get back to the village and see about stealing another bowl of stew from your mom."
    Johanas started off and Diego followed him down the beach. Occasionally, he found himself glancing back towards the woods where they'd come from, his mind chewing on the strangely cryptic and bizarre lesson that the older man had just imparted. He couldn't put his finger on it, but something about 'people too scared too admit something' continually rolled about in his head even after he'd gone to bed that night.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Little Island Tales - Part 11


    Despite the encroaching heat, the pair pushed forward through the forest; Diego leading the way and moving aside branches and underbrush while Johanas did his best to hobble along as fast as he could.
    "Anything?" the older man asked through a soft cough and a very clear wince of pain.
    "No."
    It had been thirty minutes since they heard the poping noise come from the mountain side but hadn't managed to find anything in the thick groves of palms and plants. Aside from the tracks, the most exciting thing they'd seen were a few wild pineapples.
    Diego wanted to take them with but Johanas encouraged him to grab them on the way back.
    "Won't do to carry it til you need to." he told the boy.
    As they walked, the older man continually pointed out things about the trail of footprints. Not only did he comment several times about how leisurely of a pace their mystery man seemed to be moving at, but also that this person wasn't just out for a simple stroll.
     With a stick, he pointed at a few tracks that were weird to Diego. Ones that were twisted or deeper into the mud. Prints that showed caution when they were moving and that moved slower than the majority of the trail.
    Prints that showed their man was checking his surroundings.
    "In short..." Johanas winced. "He's probably some kind of warrior. Or at least a hunter of some kind. He moves quickly but he's not oblivious to how dangerous the forest is."
    "But the warriors don't know about him?" Diego asked with a tilt of his head.
    "Not one of our warriors. Someone from somewhere else."
    "Like another island?"
    "Could be." Johanas said through a strained smile.
    They kept walking, kept following the tracks, but the heat and the frustration were started to get on Diego's nerves.
    "There's got to be something around here." he whined.
    "There is..." Johanas panted weakly. "And we'll find it..."
    For the first time since they started, Diego stared back at Johanas and really took stock of what he was seeing. He knew the man was a cripple. Anyone with a pair of eyes could see that. But the energy he had always shown despite that had made him seem, well, beyond that somehow. Now, as the man panted and fought against his broken body, it was readily apparent that wasn't completely the case.
    His concern ebbed his enthusiasm.
    "Yea." Diego said thoughtfully. "Maybe we could rest? I'm pretty thirsty," making up a quick excuse.
    Johanas, face red and sweat pouring down from his brow, still managed that same grin as he always did.
    "Okay. In that case we need water." the old man chuckled weakly. "So here's what you look for..."

    To Diego's amazement, it was only a matter of minutes before they found themselves in front of a small, burbling waterfall. The little spring bubbled out of the side of small cliff-face and poured down into a crystalline blue pool some feet below.
    With Johanas' instruction, it had been incredibly easy to find the pond. First, he started by pointing out a number of tracks that Diego hadn't even seen: animal tracks. After following them for a moment or two, he made the boy stand perfectly still and listen for, of all things, the buzzing of insects. They repeated this several times until on the fourth attempt, Diego didn't hear insects, but the splashing of water.
    "Incredible." was all Diego could manage as he stared at the idyllic scene.
    With the exception of a wild boar snoozing nearby, the pool looked untouched. The little pig, a young male based on the size, snorted as it woke and quickly scampered into the forest with a squeal as they approached.
    "Of course, running water should always be your first try. Green-water can make you really sick. Just like how you don't drink ocean water." Johanas said as he sucked hard on his cigarette. "But the plants and stuff have water in 'em too. I'll show ya later."
    They both drank deeply of the pool and, to Diego's surprise, the water was almost ice cold. The chill both shocked and refreshed him and it seemed to have the same effect on Johanas as well, who now seemed to be regaining a little of his composure. After drinking their fill, they both plopped down in the moss and sand next to the pond.
    "How do you know all this stuff?" Diego asked.
    His mind was still wondering at the sounds they'd heard earlier, but he had never really been into the woods before and with the old cripple showing him so many new things, it was hard not to get caught up in the moment.
    "Used to be a warrior." Johanas replied simply.
    "No. I know that."
    "And do you know it's not always lookin' pretty with fancy hats and spears down in the village then?"
    "I...no?"
    Johanas' smile only grew larger, his pain seemingly washing from his face for the moment.
    "The warriors that venture away from the village have to know how to take care of themselves. When we train up, we learn to hunt and fish and track and just survive out here. It's kind of necessary."
    "But don't the hunters do that?"
    "They do." the older man said with a nod. "But what good are the hunters if you're alone in the woods?"
    Diego thought about that for a moment before nodding in understanding.
    Johanas, in turn, took a long draw off his cigarette and blew it up and away from the boy. Diego was getting used to the smell in a way but was thankful all the same for the consideration. The smoke made him feel weirdly light headed if he smelt it too long.
    "Hell," Johanas continued and held out the cigarette for inspection. "That's how I found out about this stuff."
    "You found it out here?"
    "Yep. Big field of it on the other side of the mountain. Plus it grows quite a few other places too. It's like a weed. But it gets the job done."
    "What is it?"
    "Dunno, honestly. Found it because of a pig. Saw him eat it and, a little while later, it was really chill and calm. Gave me a laugh at the time. After I got hurt, Kaula was describing an herb that pretty much matched so a few of the other guys helped me get some and start growing it. She always just called it Pakalolo."
    "Does it help?"
    Johanas smiled bigger. "Decently. Not for the worst though. That's just good ol' suffering."
    Diego dipped his head, feeling a mix of pity and shame for the older man, but quickly got a soft pat on the shoulder.
    "Hey. Stop that kid. Ain't nothin' to look so sad about."
    "I just...I'm sorry you hurt all the time."
    "Ehh, me too." he said, taking another drag before letting the cigarette once again dangle precariously from his lips. "But you get used to it in a way."
    Diego offered him a smile and Johanas returned it with a wink.
    Shhishiishhh
    They both glanced up quickly at one of the bushes near the edge of the pond. It was still softly shaking from the moment before.
    Exchanging a quick glance, Diego stood and wrapped his hands around the older man's arm. Together, they struggled to slowly pull him up off of the ground, Diego groaning from the sheer weight and Johanas from the pain of the quick motion.
    "Shh." he hushed Diego as he hobbled in front of him.
    Johanas moved slowly, keeping himself between Diego and the bush. To Diego's surprise, as he moved, the older man seemed to lean to one side, his good side, putting more and more weight on his non-crippled leg. And, as he did, his hand wrapped threateningly around the base of his cane as though he might start swinging it like a sword. For the first time ever, the man didn't seem calm or even pained, but rather like the warrior he supposedly once had been.
    And, as if in response, the bush rattled once again followed by the sound of heavy footfalls moving towards them.