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Author's Chapter Notes:
the Isle of Paradise
Max stumbled into the clearing and staggered into the water. Even as he fell in and glided out to the middle, he felt much of his weariness wash away. Though he could still feel soreness in muscles he never knew he had. He came up for air, feeling that strange, energized peace he always seemed to feel when he was in the water.

Then reflexively, his reverie broken by instinct, he shot a glance over at the blue hole. Or what was left of it, at any rate. Much to his unspoken relief, the entrance was still completely heaped with rubble. After his battle with the devilfish, he had gone down with his laser sword and hacked out the rest of the arch overhanging the cave entrance until only a few small currents of water flowed through. He was very curious about where the cave led to, but wasn’t willing to risk another devilfish attack at his only source of fresh water.

Though he still wondered about how the saltwater was kept in check.

For the past week or so, Max had been a very busy boy, and on top of that, he had been training really hard.

Among other things, he had cleaned up the devilfish mess as best he could, and now one could scarcely tell he had ever fought a battle here at all. He then finished carving up the two creatures, and made jerky out of as much as he could, as they had done with smaller ones back in the Islands; sadly, a lot of it went to waste because he couldn’t get everything set up in time. At first, he ate only a little of the meat, but fortunately it proved edible, so now he had a small stockpile of food. Which he of course had to lock up in one of the wreck compartments in order to keep a certain cat out of it. This gave him time to start building crude crab-nets out of wood and vines.

He had also built a full firepit near the beach, hidden behind an outcropping of rocks. He was still torn between his desire to be “rescued” (just like in Dad’s tales) and fear of being captured (also from his tales). He remembered Uncle Angus always saying it was wise to remain hidden unless you wish to be seen. So for now, as he hadn’t made up his mind, he mostly kept his presence here hidden from view, at least from out at sea.

As both a training exercise, and a practical project, he was dragging the wreck a little farther inland each day. It was slow going. While the sand made it easier to slide things, it also robbed him of much of his leverage.

Though he often slept on the beach, he had made a more elaborate camp farther inland near the pond. While exploring one day, he had found a cave near the base of the mountain. Since he found no threat within, and had found the back wasn’t too far underground, he had hidden a few of his items in there. He also started marking his days in Paradise in the traditional fashion (I, II, III…).

All the same, though, the back of the cave was too small for him to fit, a craggy opening even his laser blade couldn’t illuminate all the way. Bandit could squeeze in a little farther, and seeing the cub crawling around back there made him nervous. Though there was no visible water, he was still spooked by the whole devilfish incident, and feared his feline friend coming under attack by some as-yet unseen threat while completely out of his reach. In spite of Bandit seeming to sense no danger, he was still on edge until the very moment he got back out.

Especially since he very nearly got stuck.

As a result, Max cut down some heavy branches and built a crude barricade across the back of the cave. Figuring that if he was nearby, he would hear it if anything tried to come out, and if anything strange happened around here, he would be able to check the barricade to see if anything had passed through. Still, given how long he had been here now, without any other unforeseen predators popping out of the woodwork, his fear was beginning to fade, replaced by a peace of mind born of unbroken solitude.

On the subject of solitude, he could still find no explanation for what a cat like Bandit was even doing here in the first place. As he continued to explore more of the island, he kept an eye out for tracks or other signs of any animals, but he never found the mark of anything as big as this mysterious cat. Recalling, as he did, something his father said once about big cats swimming between islands, it made him wonder if there were any others around here, but from atop what he was increasingly thinking of as the Crow’s Nest tree, he could see not even a hint of land anywhere on the horizon in any direction, and he doubted Bandit swim that far on his own.

It was as if Bandit had appeared out of nowhere.

He had all the time in the world to think, and he had decided to use it. Robert always told him to make use of his environment, and he had; Alida had always taught him to respect nature and try to fall into the natural rhythm of a place, and so far he had sought to blend in as much as possible.

And, of course, he had also started mentally mapping more of the island.

But for now he was going to relax for a while. In the absence of the devilfish, Bandit no longer feared the pond, and now eagerly splashed in after him. In fact, the cub had proven to be an excellent swimmer, and loved the water, just as Max had hoped.

Earlier, Max had run up and down the level part of the beach, and had worked up quite a sweat. He had since regained his strength, but he had decided that wasn’t good enough. Here he was on his own, and so he decided that he needed to become stronger. To that end, he began training himself in every way he could think of. And Bandit tagged along merrily, always willing to “help” at every turn.

He started with working on holding his breath for longer. Not that he and his friends hadn’t played such games against each other in the Islands, but after his underwater struggle, he now saw a very practical purpose for such an ability. Among other things, he had cut down a sturdy branch, fashioning it into a crude staff. He also climbed trees at random, seeking the challenge of each individual tree, the taller the better.

Today, he had pushed himself farther than he had ever gone before, and he was exhausted. But glad. He just floated along aimlessly for a while, Bandit paddling around nearby.

There on the water, Max nearly fell asleep. He had found a quiet, detached bliss here on the island, far away from all the troubles of the world, but also an eerie loneliness. If not for Bandit, he thought on more than one occasion that he might try to build a raft and risk the perils of the Ocean in spite of himself. He knew he wasn’t prepared for the wrath of the sea, not with such a tiny vessel and so little in the way of supplies. The idea still occurred to him from time to time, but the island itself held its own allure.

His new life here held all the air of a dream; it was as if time passed differently here. In its own way, it reminded him of an old seafaring legend.

Though Mom said it went by different names in different realms, its most common name was Paradise, though where she came from they called it Fiddler’s Green. Yet, no matter how many names it was given, the legend itself went pretty much the same: since ships first set sail upon the Ocean, some old sailors spoke of an island, a beautiful, wonderful island, a peaceful, pristine place. Here the legends diverged, some speaking of treasures and riches beyond count, others of fantastic and wondrous people who dwelt there, still others of eternal youth. All tellers of this tale telling that whatever they had sought in life could be found in abundance on this mythic isle. There was one other thing all the legends had in common.

You could only “end up” there; you couldn’t get there on purpose.

Max sighed and paddled back to shore. His few years of training back in the Islands were enough to tell him that he was going to be really sore in the morning. But he would push on anyway. He knew that at his age he was still too young to endure the full training, but he was going to push it as far as he could. I’m on my own now, he thought as he wandered back to the warmth of the beach, so I’ve got to be strong

Paradise or not, he and Bandit would have to fend for themselves.