After my rather ungraceful dismount from the waterfall, I’d like to think that I would land with some semblance of eloquence. That’s what I would like to think. Instead of landing with any kind of grace, I smack into the lake with an ineloquent thud. It also hurts, and the force of the impact knocks the wind out of me. As I try to get my wits about me, my instincts have me clawing towards the surface. It only takes a few moments, but I feel my head break the surface of the water and I take in a deep breath, sucking in the air and the water mist, dust and leaves, and I’m pretty damn sure even a tiny bit of that damn cloud wall.
I drag myself out of this sorry little lake and lay down on its pitiful excuse for a beach. With a long exhale, I allow myself to relax for the first time in… a while. Unsurprisingly, it’s very short-lived. The wind is still whipping, and when I turn my head to the right I see the familiar glow of that damn wall pulsing – trying to force itself forward.
Staying here is suicide. I know that I need to move. But my back is sore, and despite the countless bugs that are surely crawling through my hair at this point I’m quite comfortable. So I give myself a minute before I eventually roll over, and slowly push my achy self to my feet. I turn, stretching my weary legs before starting my long trek towards the coast.
This far out from the rest of civilization, the sky has a permanent hue to it that gives the whole horizon an amethyst tint. This only works to further the stark color contrast with the reds, yellows, and greens of the massive coral formations that dot the shoreline. As I move further out and the wall becomes ever-so-slightly less imposing, the sky slowly returns to the familiar tint of blue that I’ve developed a whole new appreciation for.
My walk through this forest of coral (thus the name ‘Coral Forest’ – ED) is indescribably relaxing. I’ve always wanted to see this place for myself, but work always pulled me in other directions. Yet now I stand amongst the massive coral formations, and I find it to be as absolutely breathtaking as I had always imagined. As I make my way across the sands, I feel the breeze in my hair, the sun blazing on the back of my neck, and the light rumbling of the sand beneath my feet.
I stand still a moment and feel the ground vibrating underneath me. If I didn’t know better, I’d say that the vibrations were actually moving underneath me, but they remained a minor trembling. I shake off and continue my trek towards the Northern Shores outpost, which is only a short distance away even though I can’t quite make it out yet.
When you don’t sleep, you go through a number of different mental states. Eventually, and only for a brief period, you’ll become hyper-sensitive to your surroundings – this is the only thing, I’m convinced, that allows me to feel the slight shift in the ground vibrations and allows me to realize that not only are they growing more intense, but these ground tremors seem to be moving.
It’s at about this point where every fiber of my being comes to a consensus: run. I do exactly that, fighting against the treacherous sand that sucks at my feet, trying to weigh me down as the rumbling grows even stronger. I eventually climb onto the rock formation, which is actually half-rock, half-coral, and I turn to look back. I swear, in the moment that I turn my head back I see a rolling hump in the sand sink back down. I can’t feel the vibrations anymore – the rock and coral shield that, which could potentially be a blessing.
But I doubt it.
I climb up the rocks and onto a massive piece of coral that almost looks like a seashell bent into the shape of a ‘C.’ Looking around, I notice another rock formation not too far away. I know that if I’m quick, I can make it – if that thing doesn’t pick me up first. Hell, with my luck I may jump down and land on a patch of sand that conveniently covers the mouth of whatever hellish sand serpent has picked up my scent. I stand there for a moment, squatted down for reasons unknown, to think over my options. Well, if it could find me by footsteps, I thought…
I snap off a piece of coral from the formation. This proves to be a far more difficult task than I had counted out, and if this had been during a time of law and order in this part of the world I would’ve been arrested, tried, and sent to prison for ecological terrorism (conjecture – ED). But I have it now, this light-pink brick that weighs much more than I had thought it would. Which is good. I turn away from the direction I plan to go in and walk back a few steps before hoisting the chunk of coral over my head and chucking it to the side.
It lands in a pool of water with a mighty splash, and I am unsure at first whether it actually hit the ocean floor. The intense vibrations that follow shortly after alleviate this worry, and I turn to make my move.
I jump from the top of the coral C, landing with a thud of equal weight on the sandy beach. I see the other rock formation a few meters in front of me and I bolt, thinking nothing of the fact that the vibrations are growing more intense with each step. It’s a short trek, and I climb up the rocks in a panic and feel a sense of relief wash over me as the vibrations disappear.
Well, that’s one obstacle down, but there are many more that I’ll have to conquer and the only coral I could hope to use is about as thick as a tree stump. I shan’t be throwing that across the beach today. I do see that there are a number of small, rocky “islands” dotting the beach, with water that’s a little more than waist-deep. The water may numb some of the vibrations, and unlike some of the poor sods strapped to battleframes I have the mobility and lack of electronic equipment being strapped to my body that allows me the luxury of swimming.
Screw it. I jump in. Holy damn the water is cold, but I make my way over to the rock island without much trouble. I test my luck again, moving north to another small rock and coral island. So far, so good, and I can actually see the Northern Shores outpost in the distance. Unfortunately they can’t see me yet, I don’t think, so I keep moving closer.
After doing this game of aquatic hopscotch for two more rounds I find myself only a couple hundred meters away from the outpost. By now the soldiers there see me and wave in a hurried manner for me to run over. It seems that they know what is going on, and I’ve become their new hope for the area.
Only one more island now. I’m close. I can taste it, though I’m pretty sure that’s actually just the sea water – or vapor from that damn cloud. I begin to climb down the rock towards the water, when I hear a voice in the distance.
“Wait,” he screams, quite insistent that I heed his advice. I’m surely not going to argue with the military man, though I find his ascent up to the top of the coral in front of me before speaking to be somewhat alarming. “Wait for our signal before you run to the outpost!”
“Okay,” I shout back, making sure to inflect on the end of the word to imply question. “What signal am I looking for?”
“Oh, you’ll know it!”
That can’t be a good sign, I think, but then I hear it; that familiar screeching across the sky. I know it well, and I know what’s going to follow. I look up and see it, the trail of smoke marking the sky as the thumper comes careening down and lands with a mighty and glorious thud about six hundred yards away from me.
I know what’s about to happen, but I stare in awe as I watch the thumper do what thumpers do. It’s coming, and I want to see it.
“What the hell are you doing,” I hear the voice call. He’s correct, of course, but I want to see what it was that had been chasing after me. So I stay, and I wait, and I look. It only takes a moment for it to show itself, and in the blink of an eye the thumper is gone, swallowed whole into the gaping maw of a massive scaled worm-like… thing. I quickly take my fill of the beast before I jump into the water, and high-tail it to the outpost.
I don’t know how fast I ran, but I know it was the fastest I had ever covered that kind of distance in my life. I was well into the base before I allowed myself to stop and catch my breath. A couple of soldiers approach me, smiles on their faces as they try to hold back their laughter.
“Well, greenie,” one of them says to me. “Welcome to Northern Shores – the absolute last place in New Eden that you’d ever want to be.”
Well, at least I’m in the right place.