Chapter 30: The Jungle of Verità

Energia: Titans of Verità
Table of Contents (For Catching Up)

While she fell, Anna’s mind calculated for how far she was falling. From what she learned in the last few weeks and from her mother’s notes, the trees of the jungle stood at well over three hundred meters in height. Eyeballing it, she estimated that the jet had flown them up fifty meters above that. Meaning that she was falling from heights upward of three hundred and fifty meters, maybe more.

That’s when Anna realized her mistake.

By then, however, she was already crashing through the top of the trees. Dark green leaves the size of a windshield slapped against against her as she plunged past them. She could hear snapping wood all around her. Bright colors flew past like stars.

She barely had time to recognize the branch before she crashed into it. The wood shattered against the impact, but she couldn’t feel any of the force. Her momentum slowed just a bit, giving her the sense she needed to look around. Above her was a boundless cloud of green. Below her, a ceaseless darkness, broken only by the faint glow of blue and pink… somethings. All around her, a complex web of branches, wrapped so tightly with vines that the wood beneath was almost invisible.

Here seems fine enough.

As she plunged into the darkness, she reached to her belt for the grappling hook. With one hand, she pulled the hook and started twirling it like a lasso. With the other, she reached down and pushed down on the lever, unlocking the wire. She hurled it forward, towards the nearest branch. When the wire wrapped around the branch and the hook sunk into the wood, she locked it back into place.

Her body jerked as her momentum was cut short. A tremendous force pressed against her body, as if all the wind she had trailed behind was slamming into her. The words ‘Shock Absorbers Engaged’ appeared on her visor. Even with that, she could feel the force pressing down on her.

Then everything was still. She dangled there for a while, blood pounding in her ears and her vision blurry. “Ugh…” she groaned, feeling nauseous. Note to self: ask for a parachute next time.

When she had regained her strength and senses, Anna pressed the small button beside the length of unused wire, beginning the recall process and pulling her up towards the branch. As she slowly ascended, she took a moment to look below her. That’s when she realized that the colorful lights she had seen falling around her weren’t stars. Rather, they were massive, glowing mushrooms. The heads expanded in and out, like lungs at work. That’s so weird! she gawked at them, awestruck.

She climbed atop the branch, unhooking the metal anchor and letting the rest of the wire return to her side with a snap! At the sound, her hand reached to the rifle resting on her back, prepared for something to be drawn by the break in the silence. Nothing came.

Now sure that she was safe, at least for the time being, Anna felt her excitement rise in her chest. She struggled to keep herself focused on the task at hand. Everything around her was so… alien! The trees were gnarled and twisted around themselves. The leaves seemed to flap back and forth in defiance of the wind. There was a pungent, overly sweet smell in the air. If not for the filter built into her E-Suit, it would’ve been enough to make her sick.

The scent made Anna uncontrollably excited. Everything in Unity was all the same. Comfortable. Safe. Small. Boring. This place? It was wild! Wonderful! Endlessly huge! What could be more thrilling?

She chose a random direction and bolted, leaping from branch to branch with blinding speed. At first, she had a hard time with it. Gauging the distance between each jump and pumping the right amount of power into her bound. More than once, she had to pull herself back up with her grappling hook. It took her roughly an hour or so before she started getting the hang of it.

But when she did? She was like the wind itself.

Never in her life had she felt so free! Power coursed through her muscles with unparalleled euphoria. The roar of the wind was distant in her E-Suit protected ears, lending to her sense of invulnerability. Wood, leaves, and vines crunched beneath her boots. She quickly lost track of time as she traversed the jungle.

However, as thrilled as Anna was, she was disappointed by the lack of action. Leaping from tree to tree was liberating and all, but where was the fun in that? No, she didn’t want to just run around until her free time was up. She wanted to meet an alien! A true, dangerous inhabitant of Verità! The mere idea of putting her new weapons to the test against a monster made her heart race!

Her first desire went immediately to the Scimmia. Those were true beasts, standing well over three times the size of an average man. From what she had heard, one was capable of folding a bus on top of itself with only two of its eight arms. Killing one of those seemed like a surefire way of shooting up the ladder. Although, when she considered it, maybe one wouldn’t be enough. Maybe a family of six or seven would do the trick? No, that would just make her feel bad.

Her next thought immediately went to the Scavatrice. The insect-like monsters were extremely powerful, capable of severing a tree with a single chomp of its powerful jaws. But they lived on the ground, waiting for their prey. Anna wasn’t a fan of that. She wanted the monster to come to her, not the other way around. Also, she wasn’t sure how far it was to the ground, and she was not eager to repeat her plummeting stunt.

What, then? A Mangiatore? No, that wouldn’t be any fun; a single shot would be enough to kill one. Where was the fun in that? Still, she couldn’t go back without anything to report. That was a surefire way to stay exactly where she was in the ladder.

Wait. she thought, snapping out of her contemplation. What was that?

She came to a sudden stop, perking up to listen in the direction the sound had come from. There was a rustling in leaves, not two trees away. She pulled the rifle from her back and took aim, waiting for whatever was hiding there.

From behind a small, dangling branch emerged the strangest creature Anna had ever seen.

It was small, only about sixty centimeters tall, but it was as thick as a boar. It climbed the trunk of the tree with two arms, reached at small nuts and mushrooms with another pair, and scratched its behind with a third pair. Its fur seemed to change color with every movement, blending into its surroundings just poorly enough for her to see. It looked at her with red, spider-like eyes, a rather horrifying addition to it’s violet, chimpanzee-like face.

Anna placed it after a moment of recollection. Ragno-Scimmia. she thought, her shoulders slumping. Harmless. Damn. She lowered her rifle, though she kept her finger near the trigger. “Hey there, little guy.” she said.

The Ragno-Scimmia tilted it’s head at her. One of its six hands reached up and scratched it’s forehead while another lifted a tiny red nut to its mouth. It shattered loudly beneath the crunch of it’s powerful jaw. All the while, the other four arms held it up and reached for more food.

Disappointment quickly gave way to wonder. Such a bizarre, wonderful creature! Seeing it there, she didn’t feel any sense of hostility towards it. This wasn’t a threat. It was just a hungry little scavenger. Sure, the eyes weren’t doing it any favors. But in a way, it was sort of… cute. Any sense of hostility Anna had vanished immediately.

“Hungry?” she asked, looking down to find any nuts she could pass its way. Even with her enhanced eyes, she couldn’t find any. There were only vines, as far as the eye could see.

Grakak!” the creature suddenly shouted, pointing at her with two of its arms. “Ahk! Ah ahk!

She frowned. What was it doing? It wasn’t scurrying away, nor was it attacking. Did it see some food? That idea made her excited. Was it speaking in its own language? Could it understand her?

Ahk! Ah ahk!” it repeated, more urgently this time. The pointing became more fervent, with two of the other hands joining in.

Anna followed it’s aim, looking out for food. She was so focused on that, in fact, that she failed to notice the very obvious sign until it was too late.

The vine beneath her was moving.


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