"Anything?" the older man asked through a soft cough and a very clear wince of pain.
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?"
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.
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.