We leave the shelter of the mixed hard- and softwood trees of the Nalik Woods and hike north into the tundra. The ground is buried in thick layers of snow that never melt. Sparse grasses and shrubs dot the landscape, swaying in the wind. The cold air stings the exposed skin on your face. The rest of you is bundled in warm clothes, but they’re only partly effective in blocking the chill.
We set up the few tents in our possession, and you’re assigned shifts for the night watch. There are two of you on watch at a time. Your job is to keep the fire going more than anything. The few predators that roam this land won’t come near the burning flames.
In the dead of night, two of you are seated by the fire, striving to keep warm, the tents clustered behind you. In front of you lies the large, flat tundra. Above, the sky is filled with stars. There are so many in some patches of sky, it’s impossible to tell where one star ends and another begins.
The flames crackle beside you as you watch the still landscape. Then two glowing blue eyes appear out on the tundra. They’re too close for comfort. One of you fits an arrow to a bowstring, and the other pulls a burning branch from the fire. The eyes watch as you slowly approach. You barely make out the outline of a white canine-like animal. It watches the fire, then turns and disappears into the darkness.
The next morning you ask me about the mysterious creature. It’s called a nivea. They are solitary creatures, but they are also the most dangerous predator here. Shaken by your encounter with the nivea and already tired of the never-ending chill, you request we travel elsewhere. The rest of you agree.
After a breakfast of fish and berries, we pack up our camp. Then we turn around and head south, following the western coast. We hike through the Nalik Woods for four days before finding ourselves in the Homar Grassland once more. Our ship is anchored in the gulf on the eastern side of the plain.
The grassland is home to herds of various hoofed creatures. Some have formidable looking antlers or horns, but we give them a wide berth, and they leave us alone. The prairie is full of wildflowers of various shapes and colors, making it the most colorful landscape we’ve encountered since our river journey through the rainforest.
After four days of travelling across the flat terrain, we arrive at the Mistaza River. You gaze across the wide, slow-moving water to the sandy emptiness of the Feero Desert. It’s a cold desert created by the rain shadow of the Govee Mountains to the south. We save enough fish, fruit, nuts, and water to last us two days. If we travel quickly, we should be in the mountains by the third day.
The desert isn’t completely devoid of life. In fact, there’s more here than there is in the tundra. Succulents, grasses, shrubs, and wildflowers dot the landscape. You see lots of birds eating the abundant insects on the ground and plants. A few rodents hastily take cover in the shrubs as we pass.
The mountains loom ahead of us, but fear not. It would take us weeks to cross them, so we follow the coastline, skirting the foothills of the rocky giants.
Those of you who dread the close confines of the jungle and the dangerous flora and fauna that dwell within are disheartened, for we soon reach the Mistavee Rainforest, which spans the entirety of the continent south of the mountains.
To keep our journey short, we follow the mountains east, travelling along the border of the rainforest where it is less dense and we are less likely to come across the threats that dwell deep in the jungle.
The night watch is reestablished, for there are numerous predators here. Three species of jungle cats, two canines, and a bear-like animal are the obvious threats to our safety. But don’t forget about the scorpions, arachnids, and snakes. Not to mention disease-causing spores from the fungi.
Since we travel along the edge of the forest, we see more winged creatures than anything, though you spot the occasional rodent in the thick underbrush or high up in the canopy.
After many days of hiking, we reach the eastern shore. We circumvent the mountains and cross the desert once more, and then we’re back at our starting place. Now the sea lovers are happy again, for we board our ship and travel east across the gulf. Within a day, we reach the other side and explore a landscape of grasslands, temperate forests, and fiery volcanoes. In the distance, you see a plume of ash and smoke pouring from one of the peaks.
We spend much of our time travelling along the beach. To the west is a sliver of forest separating us from the gulf and our ship. To the north and east are the volcanoes, though none of the nearby ones pose any current threat. To the south is the ocean, the waves sloshing over the sand in gentle motions. Far out near the horizon, you can see tiny lumps that are the Ti Islands. We stopped at some of them on our way here.
The water is a mix of blues and greens, the hues blending together in pleasing combinations. You wade into its warmth, your pants rolled up to your knees, your bare feet sinking in the sand. All around you are colorful sea creatures. The air has a salty tang you can both smell and taste.
Over nine thousand years ago, before the durmiads polluted Kareena and allowed poverty, disease, and conflict to overrun their lives, the bima dwelled here. At first, they and the durmiads remained separate, each one fearing the other. After the durmiads settled on the coasts, they spent more time exploring the oceans and harvesting marine resources. Contact between the two races was inevitable.
There was conflict at first, and the bima retreated farther into the ocean. Being sea mammals, they can’t breathe underwater. If they travel too far from shore, they risk drowning in the deeper water. After their initial conflicts were resolved, they were able to arrange peaceful coexistence.
It lasted for nearly 10,000 years, though there were certainly small skirmishes here and there. The durmiads expanded their domination of land, while the bima were content with their territory in the sea.
Once technology and magic became the driving forces of durmiad society, their relationship began to crumble. At first, the durmiads shared their inventions and discoveries with the bima, and the bima were able to unlock magic, too. But after a while, the durmiads became selfish and hoarded their knowledge. After that, tensions were high, and the two races stopped collaborating altogether.
You stare out into the ocean, imaging what it was like when the bima dwelled there. They aren’t like the mermaids in popular culture. They look like a cross between humans and seals. Their legs are fused into tails with fins. Their skin is light-colored and thick with fatty layers. They have no hair, and their ears are so small, you barely notice them.
“Where are they now?” you ask. You’ll see soon enough.