When I exit my shack it is still dark out, but several villagers have already begun their day. One woman walks past with an armful of flowers. An older man gives a brief nod as I stroll by. I don’t actually live in this village so much as take refuge here from time to time. It’s one of the many places on Rook Island where I lay my head at night.
The people here are nice. They tell stories around the fire. They smile and wave at one another. It almost feels like home.
I make my way through the gate and head up a nearby hill, passing close-knit trees, my boots scraping through the dense foliage as I continue my ascent. By the time I reach the top of the hill the sun has just started to peek over the horizon. What greets my eyes is a portrait of paradise. The island slopes down to the north, giving a grand view of the nearby coast; long patches of white sand are hugged by the ever-present jungle. There are smaller islands about a hundred yards off of the coast, waiting for me to go and explore them. The sun is burning a dull yellow as it crawls into the sky, reflecting its radiance off the calm water.
I could see myself being happy here.
It’s mid-morning and I’m on the hunt. I’m told that there are boar in the area, the hides of which would make an excellent wallet. I’m constantly finding trinkets as I explore the island and the local merchants pay top dollar to take them off of my hands. Having some extra room to carry all of that cash couldn’t hurt.
I move out of the forest in a crouch, bow at the ready, watchful for motion in the tall grass on the far side of the clearing I’ve just entered. Before long I see the swaying of leaves that I’ve been waiting for, signaling that my prey might very well be making its way into the clearing.
I never even knock an arrow, though. What crawls out of the ocean of green is a small deer, quiet and harmless. I tell myself that I’ll likely need a deer’s hide to fashion equipment for myself somewhere down the line, but still I choose to let the little guy go free.
I give up the hunt for the time being.
I am soaring over Rook Island. The waves crash against the shore beneath me, the greens and golds of the landscape slowly moving past. From up here, everything looks so calm.
After my failed attempt to bring down a boar, I decided to take an ATV down the shore and up to Doctor Earnhardt’s house, where he keeps a hang glider handy. The ride up was uneventful. I passed a couple of trucks carrying local tribesmen back toward the village. Otherwise, it was just me, the sandy trail and the hollow rush of wind blowing past as I made my drive up the mountain.
This ride through the air is even better, though. The world is whipping past and I am once again taken aback by how beautiful it all is.
Up here, nothing can touch me.
I landed the hang glider on the beach, touching down easily enough on the giant sand runway. I check my map and see that my chances of running into a shark in the area aren’t too high, so I decide to go for a swim.
On Rook Island, the ocean can be just as beautiful as the land. I step into the shallows and take a deep breath before plunging in, watching as bright red fish dart away from their intruder. Out in the deep I see the translucent pink and blue glow of jellyfish moving lazily by.
I decide to stick to the shallows, despite the fact that I just spotted a long-sunk ship laying crumbled on the ocean floor a few hundred feet out. There might be a bit of treasure hidden in its rusted hull, but the area I’m swimming in is crawling with stout kelp, ripe for the picking. If I mix these blue leaves correctly, I’ll be able to make a medicine that will allow me to run or swim faster for a short period of time. Pretty handy.
Sunset has arrived and I’m making my way back to the village. My afternoon swim took me up and around a rocky outcropping where I discovered a hidden cave to explore. Inside, I found some valuable loot and a strange idol carved into the shape of a spider.
I spot the pirates well before they have the chance to see me, preoccupied with the two captives they are leading – hands held behind their heads – in a slow procession down the hill.
I debate heading into the treeline to avoid any sort of confrontation, but then I start thinking about the hostages being forced to march in front of the pirates. There’s a good chance that any rescue attempt will result in their inadvertent death, but leaving them as they are will all but guarantee it. Maybe if I’m careful I can make my way behind the convoy of slow-moving bodies and catch the pirates off guard, killing the first with an arrow and giving the hostages a chance to run before I spray the second with bullets.
Besides, I could probably use the target practice.
I had to fight hard to carve out this little slice of heaven for myself. I’ve killed all manner of wildlife before they had the opportunity to do the same to me. I’ve slid my knife across countless throats, drowning pirates on their own blood before they have the chance to scream for help. I’ve dug slugs out of my arm only to bury one of my own between the eyes of a stranger, fired silently from my rifle.
I’m reminded that Rook Island is a lot like the wild animals that call it home. Sometimes it’s calm, complacent, and lets you go about your business. You get lulled into a false sense of security. You get comfortable. And then the island reminds you that it has teeth.
Sometimes I have to show mine.
About the Author:
Ryan Winslett is an Arizona-based journalist and freelance writer. He is a contributing writer for Gaming Blend and his work has also appeared on Joystiq, Gamasutra and Joystick Division. His only crime is loving too much.
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