As if his old home had somehow been rearranged.
In the spirit of his old friend Cleo, he gave his new little friend his best devil-may-care shrug and hefted the grip of his laser sword as he entered the wall of trees that guarded the edge of the beach.
Cautiously at first, but with increasing confidence in his solitude, Max ventured forth into the jungle, the little cub bounding happily beside him. A part of him kept trying to pick out the old trails of the Islands— and was repeatedly disappointed to turn up nothing but a few vague trails that at most might belong to small animals. The like of which could only be found with any frequency in the deeper parts of the Islands, especially Makando, with its swampland and large uninhabited areas.
Thus attempts at navigating by past landmarks only made a mockery of his ordinarily reliable sense of direction. Once he was in deep enough that he could no longer hear the crashing of the waves on shore as easily, the fear of getting lost haunted him once again, and he had to remind himself that he was on an island. That as long as he picked a direction and stuck with it, he would always find his way back to the beach. All the same, though, the trees were denser here than in most parts of the Islands, and he couldn’t see very far ahead of him most of the time.
Which brought him back to worrying about potential enemies. Yet, just as he had while traversing the shore, he again found no signs of habitation. No buildings, no camp signs, no sense of any human being having ever set foot in this place before him. The cub also seemed relaxed, prowling in and out of the underbrush as if his explorations were just some big game.
When he stumbled over an exposed tree root, his canteen fell out of his shoulder bag. Picking it up as he got back on his feet, he heard the few swigs’ worth of fresh water sloshing around inside, and began to wonder if he instead should have taken the time to try to rig up something to distill sea water to replenish his supply before heading inland. He mulled it over in his head for a moment, and was about to turn back, when he noticed a faint sound of water splashing somewhere up ahead.
After a short while, he came upon a fresh-water pool with a narrow cascade of a waterfall splashing down a short cliff higher up the mountain that seemed to be near the center of the island. He could almost see the top of the mountain from here, and he wondered if he could see the rest of the island from up there, like on the mountain lookout above Shipwreck Bay.
Max stopped at the edge of the pond near the waterfall and gratefully refilled his canteen with fresh flowing water while the cub drank deeply of a small pool near him. He was greatly relieved to know that at least that problem had been solved. Now he could use water more liberally on the climb.
Once they were up higher, the terrain became much more rocky, the dark, jagged stone edges softened by the scattered footholds of green that persisted all the way up the narrow mountain. There were places where he had to struggle from one hand- or foothold to the next, and since he was still sore and stiff, he had to stop and rest several times. The cub, meanwhile, was a true feline, an expert climber, and bounded effortlessly from point to point while Max struggled. Max took inspiration from his new companion, and began to imitate him as best he could.
As the sun climbed, so did they.