Chapter 1: Introductions
Whale Island is a place much treasured by those who live there and mostly ignored by those who don't. It earned its name from sailors who, long ago, saw an island on the horizon and recognized its shape right away. From head to tail, the island could be traversed in half a day by car, if only such a road existed. On foot, it might take weeks, but there was nobody brave enough to verify such conjecture, for this small island was home to some of the most ferocious animals known.
It has one small harbor-side village called, predictably, Port City. A car or two may be seen there, but when the city can be traversed on foot in under thirty minutes, there isn't much point in owning a car. Less than a thousand people call Port City home.
Along the edge of Port City runs a small river that winds its way into the forest and up Whale Back Mountain. About a day's march up this river, a small cluster of houses can be found. Another five minutes farther, and the river wells out into an impressive pond. When the pond was first discovered, it was rumored to be so full of fish that a man could walk across without getting his feet wet. Fifty or so men quickly built huts and moved there with their families, dreaming of becoming rich off the fish.
The pond (which should, perhaps, be called a lake) was soon named The Pond. To this day it continues to holds enough freshwater fish to feed both Port Town, the fishermen, and leave enough left over to trade with foreigners. The men who fish there now, do so with the same spirit as their fathers who discovered The Pond.
The little community thrived on fish. Anything that wasn't fish had to be carted up from Port Town. Next to the grocery store, there was a small wine and beer shop. It was used as a bar or pub at night. The bar was owned and run by a middle age woman, her mother, and her nephew.
When our story started, this little boy was the only child in the area. His name was Gon Freeces. His aunt, Mito, was the only mother he could remember, since his biological mother died soon after giving birth. Gon's father, he was told, had died in a hunting accident before he was born.
Bent on becoming a Hunter, but needing his Mother's signature in order to take the Hunter's Exam, Gon was charged with a task.
"Catch the pond's master, and I'll sign your card..." challenged Mito, "You can't become a hunter if you can't catch that fish."
Some of the men at the bar laughed at that, "We've had three full grown men try to pull her in! She's huge! There's no way a twelve year old boy can do it."
By the time their laughter had settled down, Gon was already long gone, fishing rod in hand.
The morning sun broke on the horizon, awakening the creatures of the day with its gentle orange morning light. Birds, made quiet by the dark, signaled the dawn with their songs. Some began pruning feathers, while others darted about the sky in search of food. None paid any heed to the leaf-covered boy who sat quietly among their branches.
Gon's seat occupied a choice section of one of the eldest trees along the pond's vast shoreline. The tree's old gnarled roots dug wide and deep. Gon suspected that the roots ranged far beneath the pond, absorbing the moisture that slowly filtered through the rich soil beneath. With a base so thick that five grown men, arms stretched wide, would be needed to measure its girth, this tree towered toward the sun without a rival in sight.
A short eight meters up the base of this tree, two short and broken branches forked outward, trying to reach over the water's edge. Those branches, as old as the tree itself were unmistakably large and short. Reaching out only a meter in length before ending abruptly, their true splendor could only be guessed at. While still alive, those two branches must have stretched far and wide over the water's surface. Gon liked to think they were rivals, both seeking the sun where no other branch could wander. Undoubtedly, that ambition had been their downfall. It may have been during a storm, or perhaps simply under their own weight, that both branches snapped, leaving them forever as short stubs of their former selves.
It was right where those two branches started their journey, near the trunk of the tree where they almost met, that Gon sat quietly. So still was Gon that, were an onlooker present, he might have wondered if the bird on Gon's head thought it sat only on a pile of leaves. With a butterfly on his shoulder, a bird on his head, and a fishing rod in his hands, the boy waited patiently. His eyes, sharp as a hawk, searched for the pond's master.
Thought to weigh well over a hundred pounds, nobody had ever tamed the fish that dominated this small corner of the ecosystem. Gon's determination was as absolute as his concentration. He had made a promise to catch that fish, and to Gon, promises were important.
Seeing the monstrous fish approach, Gon's eyes widened, his hands tightened, and the butterfly on his shoulder took flight. First a small tug and the fish was nibbling the bait. Gon's heart raced with excitement. The monster, finally snagged, was irritated by the tugging in its cheek, as Gon began to reel in his line. Suddenly the fish tugged with a force many time's Gon's weight. Gon, holding onto his rod for dear life, found himself suddenly in the air and leaving the tree.
Thinking quickly, Gon spun about, hooked his foot behind a nearby branch and flexing his ankle, held on with all his might. Groaning under the pressure, the branch gave way and Gon began his descent towards the water's shallows. Letting go of the rod with one hand, Gon reached up and grabbed the closer of the two large branches he had been sitting on only moments before.
As luck would have it, the monster chose that moment to swim again towards the pond's surface. The fishing line was no longer taut, Gon was safe for the moment.
"That was close," he said to himself, taking half a moment to hoist himself back to his original position. Looking at the pond, Gon could see the monster begin its descent once again, the fishing line disappearing into the water at a frightening pace. Bracing his back against the tree and his feet against knobs on the two branches below, Gon began to reel in with all his might.
"A contest of strength!" thought Gon. The line went taught and for a split moment neither gave way. Then, somehow, Gon found himself tumbling out of the tree. Inexplicably though, Gon was headed away from the water rather than toward it. Falling four meters, Gon's descent was broken by a pile of rotting sticks which had accumulated at the base of the tree.
Confused, his shirt and shorts both torn, Gon looked about for a sign to explain what had happened. Then, inspecting his fishing rod, Gon found his answer. Reminding him for all the world of the two branches above, only half of Gon's fishing rod still remained intact. The other half, no doubt, was still trailing behind the monstrous fish.
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