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18 October 2005 @ 09:19 am
13  
People are at their most authentic when they’re wearing masks. – Oscar Wilde

Soon after they’d reached the village of the tribe of the Sahuagin itself, Klein had heard Boko greeting them in their native tongue and telling him the gist of what their response had been like. Basically, he’d asked them for the right to be allowed into their village to go through a cursory observation of it under their strict surveillance and he'd promised to make it well worth their while. While they’d maintained some suspicion of him, having heard someone address them in their native tongue had softened their resistance to a point at which they’d agreed.

- This is going to be the first time you’re going to be living among them, yeah?
- Of course, why do you ask?
- You can already communicate with them?
- I only picked up a hundred words or two while eavesdropping on them two or three times before, so no, not quite yet. As a matter of fact, I didn’t tell them that, but one main reason I want to be able to sightsee for a moment is that I need to be able to listen to them talking to each other in context so I can make out the rest of it.
- Oh, I see.

On the second day, he’d already reached an intermediate level of proficiency in Ichthian, as the Sahuagin had called their dialect. On that day, Boko had explained to them that if they’d be willing to allow him and his friend to live with them for a while, he’d be willing to repair broken huts and to build new ones, to gather and to hunt for others as well as for him. He’d also told them that while he’d be there, he’d be studying their customs and social structure closely, that he’d be telling the world about them so that their best aspects could impress and benefit as many people as possible, so that they’d be more likely to have the public vote on their side whenever territorial law conflicts would erupt, and so that even if they’d eventually disappeared, their ways would have never been forgotten. He’d mentioned that he’d want to take a minimal sample of their vases, clothes, talismans, masks, tools and instruments with him when he’d go, but not enough for them to be missed, and that he’d intended to pay for them in full legal tender which would be accepted by any urbanites they’d come across, which could also give them an advantage in a tight spot.

Boko had had a real silver tongue, and he’d proven persuasive enough that the Sahuagin had eventually accepted his temporary residence among them. On his third day, he’d mastered their language well enough to be considered an advanced speaker of it, and since there’d been no existing alphabet or script for Ichthian, he’d begun to write down a compendium of their vocabulary, syntax and idiomatic expressions. Having learned how to speak and write it, he’d felt confident enough in his vocal and mnemonic abilities that, after he’d spent an evening or two around a campfire listening to them singing and telling stories to each other, in addition to privately cataloguing their songs and stories, he’d begun to sing and to retell them himself, well enough that they’d said they could have sworn he’d lived among them from the day he’d been born. After having spent a week there, he’d started working on translations of them, and when he’d interpreted what they’d said to Klein and what Klein had said to them, he’d not only spoken almost exactly at the same time but he’d made the same facial expressions, had used the same voice inflections and the same body language as the person he’d been speaking for. He’d even taken on their very skin coloration.

- Are you sure you don’t mind having to translate for me like that all the time?
- Not at all. I love translating. It’s such a fascinating concept, isn’t it? You’re taking something to turn it into something else which is ideally both exactly the same thing and also something completely different, all at the same time. It’s almost like alchemy, don’t you think so, Klein?
- I don’t know enough about it to confirm or deny that, but I will tell you one thing: one way or the other, you have got one serious way with words, Boko.
- Thank you.
- Sometimes I can’t believe just how much you’re capable of.
- When you’ll have found an overarching sense of purpose, you’ll find out that you have much fewer limits than you usually give yourself credit for, Klein.

Boko’s gift for imitative learning hadn’t been restricted to sedentary activity, either. As their second week there had just been starting, he’d been observing the native dancers at ritual processions long and attentively enough that during a nightly summer festival, while moving in circles around a bonfire, he’d been able to give an incredibly accurate rendition of every single native dance he’d seen performed until then, squatting, clapping, hopping and spinning. He’d sworn that the rain which had cut the event short slightly before it’d been supposed to end had had nothing to do with it.

While Klein still hadn’t been able to bring himself to follow Boko when he’d gone hunting along with the natives (such a natural at bird calls had been quite an asset), he’d still wanted to be able to make some kind of contribution to the general providing effort, to prove to others and to himself that he hadn’t had to be a good-for-nothing parasite. He’d decided to dedicate himself to discovering how agriculture had worked instead, and the Sahuagin had taught him how, when and where to plant, how often to water and to use fertilizer and how much, how to trim, how to clean and how to harvest tomatoes, corn, lettuce and carrots, in addition to having taught him which wild mushrooms and berries had been edible and which ones he’d have been better off avoiding. They’d taught him that the secret to happiness in life had simply been to cultivate his garden, which he’d remembered having heard somewhere before, just not where it’d been from.

They’d taught him how to carve wood and stones into various shapes which combined practicality with aesthetics. They’d taught him that the web of life and the social fabric had been inextricably interwoven. He’d learned that the Sahuagin sense of property had been totally different from what he’d grown up having had to become used to. Among them, he’d begun to treat everything he’d owned as though it’d also belonged to everyone else and to treat what everyone else had owned as though it’d also belonged to him, provided that he’d asked for it and had intended to return it.

One late afternoon, Boko had come back from the hunt alone, panting, stricken and panicked.

- What’s the matter, what happened? Are you all right...?
- Something very regrettable just happened, Klein.
- Where are the others?
- They’re all dead.

Klein had felt the shock rippling through him from head to toe, curdling his blood on its way down like an internal lightning bolt. He’d been through some less than stellar moments in his life, but he’d never been near death, never so close to it.

- The mountain lion may be more endangered than the Sahuagin, but that’s certainly not because it doesn’t know how to defend itself, let me tell you that. I tried to save them, but there was nothing I could do. I’m not sure how the others are going to feel about that, but I think it could be time for us to take our leave before we’ve overstayed our welcome. Come on, let’s head back.

And they’d left the village without a word to anyone, just like that.

After they’d spent a few hours on their hurried way back to the safety of the confines of Noah’s Vault, Boko had abruptly come to a complete stop, he’d perked up his head, had sniffed something in the breeze and it’d been the first time that Klein had seen a scowl on Boko’s face, one of intense concern mixed with subdued fury. Klein had realized that Boko’s senses of hearing and smelling must have been much more highly developed than his own.

- What’s going on?
- This is an old growth forest, Klein.
- What’s that got to do with anything?
- My eardrums are being drilled into by a cacophony of shrill, electric and mechanical sounds, and the stench of iron cleanser and burning fuel is making my poor lungs wilt. It takes trees from dozens to hundreds of years to grow to the kinds of sizes you can see around here, and it only takes a few minutes for them to come down. Something very rotten is going on, Klein, and just knowing about it is making me feel like something sharp and pointy is cutting through my very flesh and bones. I can’t take much more of this. Come with me.
- Hey, wait!

Boko had suddenly started running twice as fast as he’d been until then, and Klein, who’d been having trouble keeping up and who’d been feeling like he’d been running faster than he’d ever run, couldn’t even conceive of the fact that Boko had been holding back for his sake. What he’d been even more surprised about had been that while he’d been staring firmly at Boko in action, even though he’d have never thought himself capable of it, he’d been able to keep up with him after all. He’d begun to wonder if some of Boko’s imitative learning abilities hadn’t been beginning to rub off on him.

When they’d reached the clearing in which the logging team of beavers and woodpeckers had been active, Boko had leapt at them, a mask of demonic rage on his face and his skin looking like it’d had a million bugs swarming all over it, sliding, springing, scuttling and bouncing from one to the other as he’d tongue lashed them into unconsciousness, sunk his fangs into them, spit venom in their eyes and tail whipped their chainsaws out of their hands before snatching them away with it to crush them in its coils. Klein hadn’t been able to believe what he’d been seeing, but he hadn’t had any time to think and even less time in which to act.

No limits, no limits at all.

With an improvised battle trill, he’d leapt into the fray along with his travelling companion and despite his relative combat inexperience, he’d discovered that, when he’d been paying complete attention to what he’d been doing with the advantage of surprise and passion bouncing around inside him driving him just beyond the edge of sanity, he’d been able to dodge, kick, headbutt and spray well enough to be a terrifying adversary, enough to frighten the living hell out of someone who’d been armed even though he himself hadn’t been. That day, Klein had let out all of the accumulated resentment which had been piling up inside of him throughout everything he’d ever had to put up with, and he’d finally unleashed it on the world with everything he’d had, consequences be damned. The twisted joy he’d experienced at what he’d been able to get himself to do had made him feel as though blood had been running through his veins for the first time in his life. Villainy was so underrated.

He’d deduced from how easy it’d been for him that it mustn’t have been Boko’s first carjacking, but it’d sure made their trip back to Noah’s Vault a whole lot faster. To prevent the car from giving away their location, Boko had asked Klein to keep watch while he’d gone inside to get his tools, he’d dismantled the car so he could take its separate parts in, and he’d hung them up on the walls and ceiling like Christmas decorations. That night, Klein had decided he’d been holding his feelings in long enough, and Boko had returned them.