As he stood up, he noticed, and not just in passing now that he was no longer burdened with such concerns as food and water and tactics, that he was filthy. His clothes were ragged-out, and of course that could not be helped, but he hadn’t washed for days. And he had been so ravenous earlier, he hadn’t even noticed the dried, sticky berry juice that now stained his hands and chin. Which Bandit had meticulously washed off himself after Max fell asleep.
“Whoa! I musta been really hungry…”
In fact, he still felt somewhat full. It was a welcome feeling. Until now, he hadn’t fully realized how close a companion hunger had become lately. Practically his shadow.
Feeling refreshed and— for the first time in days— fully energized, he wandered over to the pond below the waterfall. Having nothing better to do, Bandit ambled off after him. At first, Max waded out cautiously through a shallow section of the pond, splashing his face several times. And finally just let himself fall in backwards, arms spread, into the cool water.
As he paddled and drifted around on his back, out of the corner of his eye he saw a few small fish cruising aimlessly in the deeper part of the pond. He noticed there was very little algae or growth on the water, which meant it was safe to swim in. Now that he remembered, there were swampy areas on Makando that his elders always warned him about— standing water, they’d called it.
And again that sense of something missing, and the answer always came down to all the people in his life he had left behind. It just wasn’t the same without Lance, Cleo and Carlton splashing around with him. It reminded him of a dream he had a long time ago, about finding a secret pool somewhere in the forest in Layosha. His first thought upon waking, of telling his friends the amazing secret he had discovered… only to realize moments later that it was all just a dream.
Much like how he found himself constantly hoping this was all just a dream, yet no matter how many times he woke up, here he was, still stuck on this mysterious island.
Max swam over near the waterfall and splashed his face several times in the steady trickle cascading down from the rocks above. The cold water was refreshing. In fact, it felt so great that he paddled out toward the center of the crystal-clear pool. He let out a whoop of exhilaration as he flipped and plunged into the water.
Fish scattered in the wake of Max’s joyful dive.
Then he paused. Bandit, who had been his shadow since he woke up here, was sitting at the edge of the water, refusing to go in. He would stick his snout in and lap up water. He would even stick his paw in, giving Max the impression of really wanted to join him, but for some reason holding back. But that was all. He otherwise just stared at Max with a blend of curiosity and an urgent but unarticulated concern.
Max shrugged his shoulders, deciding that the water must be too cold or something. Remembering his conversation about Tygers, Dad had told him that some cats liked to swim, even roaming between close-by islands, and others didn’t. He felt a brief flicker of disappointment that Bandit didn’t want to play in the water.
He only pondered it for a moment before he resumed splashing around, scaring still more of the fish he saw drifting lazily along the bottom.