Energia, Web Novel

Chapter 31: Mangiatore

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

The vines shot up into the air with blinding speed. One wrapped around her legs, carrying Anna up into the air. Another curled around her waist and started to squeeze as if it were trying to choke her. The Ragno-Scimmia screamed and flailed its arms wildly in what seemed to be an attempt to scare the predator off. In her surprise, Anna’s grip on her rifle loosened and the weapon fell onto the branch below.

One of the vines danced through the air, stopping in front of her face. The green surface bloomed like a flower, revealing three sets of small and sharp teeth. A red tongue lashed out like a whip, accompanied by a chilling chirping and hissing. Yellow liquid poured down the creature’s tiny jaw.

Mangiatore! Anna realized. She would have kicked herself, had her legs not been bound together. How could she have forgotten about them? Out of all the creatures in the jungle, they were the most numerous of them all. They hid among the vines, waiting for their prey to step on them.

Which Anna had. Like an idiot.

The alien’s head shot towards her, trying to bite at the neck between plates of armor. Electricity sparked loud and bright at where it struck her. The words ‘Shields at 99%’. Not a second later, the number had dropped substantially.

Panic seized Anna. The half of her brain that knew what an E-Suit was capable of protested against the emotion, trying to assure herself that the shield would a) last long enough for her to act and b) wouldn’t even be necessary; its fangs wouldn’t hurt her, though the squeezing would definitely cause some harm if it didn’t stop soon. It told her to pull away, to drop down, grab the rifle, and put a round or two into the monster.

The other half was screaming too loudly for her to hear it. Or was that the Ragno-Scimmia? She couldn’t tell.

‘68%’. Her hand shot to the pistol at her side. At the sight of it, the Mangiatore let out a loud, chirping hiss and started to throw her around. She tried to aim at it’s head, eager to put it down in one shot. Even with the E-Suit’s guidance, she struggled to get a clear shot.

This was another mistake. In both her classes and her mother’s files, she had learned how to properly kill a Mangiatore. It was an agile creature, very difficult to hit even with a guided aim. If the beast rose to attack, the first thing one needed to do was aim down at the branch and shoot. Their bodies were unnaturally long, wrapping around the entire body of the wood. If one could shoot that, which wasn’t hard by any means, the head, it’s weakest point, would be still.

If Anna had remembered that, there wouldn’t have been a problem. Unfortunately, between her panic and a sudden burst of anger, she wasn’t exactly clear headed at the moment. So, like a moron, she tried to shoot the alien’s head.

The Mangiatore seemed to dance around her shots as if it could see them. Between each shot, it lunged to bite at her again, undeterred by the shields pushing it away. The number in the corner of Anna’s visor quickly plummeted. ‘36%’.

Then, in a moment of blind fury, Anna’s hand snapped forward. The monster’s jaw bounced against the shield surrounding her fingers. Before it could retreat, however, she clenched her hand into a fist, capturing the small head in her literal iron grip. It thrashed in her grip, twisting and curling and throwing her all around.

She didn’t let go of it. It didn’t let go of her. Back and forth they wrestled, as if they were flying through the air. Anna squeezed with superhuman strength, but the Mangiatore didn’t flinch. It squeezed her just the same, sending sparks through the air as her shields started to degrade.

‘10%’. Anna put the pistol to the back of the monster’s skull, but it threw the weapon from her hand with it’s wild thrashing. ‘9%’. She grabbed its neck with her other hand and started to pull, trying to rip it off with sheer brute force. No effect. ‘8%’. Dread siezed her chest and she started to punch at it in desperation. ‘7%’.

The Mangiatore bit into her fist before it could make contact again. ‘3%’. The Ragno-Scimmia shrieked loudly one last time, then finally bolted away from the battle. ‘2%’. Anna felt the pressure around her body grow tighter as the shields thinned. When they disappeared, its strength would more than likely breach the metal and crush her bones.

‘1%’. Anna reached for the monster, trying to grab its jaws and pull it apart. It, in turn, opened its jaw to bite at her outstretched hand. She realized her mistake just as the fangs touched the electric barrier protecting her. Blue sparks flew through the air, then vanished.

‘0% Warning: Shields Down’.

Pain seized her chest and stomach as the Magniatore’s grip tightened around her stomach. The words ‘Warning: structural integrity compromised’ appeared in the corner of her visor. She pushed against it, pulling to free herself from its grip. Even with her enhanced strength, she proved powerless against the creature. A scream escaped her lips as its strength crushed her bones.

The Magniatore hissed and chirped at her, then lunged to bite once more at her neck. Anna’s mind raced for a way out. Punch it before it bit her? Grab it again? Try and find some other way out? All the simplest solutions escaped her, leaving her in a state of uncontrollable panic and fury.

It ended in a flash. There was a rush of wind and heat. Thick yellow blood poured from the seared stump where the monster’s head had just been. Its body went slack, dropping her onto the branch where her guns had fallen. All was still and silent.

Anna blinked, too stunned to do anything else. She lay on the wood, staring at the foliage above. Was all that some strange dream?

“Hey.” A smooth, feminine voice said. Through the radio in her suit, it sounded as if she were speaking right into her ear. “Still alive down there?”

She sat up and looked around, trying to find the voice’s owner. She spotted her high above, sitting on the branch with the Ragno-Scimmia, scratching under its chin while it purred and hugged her. Her armor was surrounded by a glimmering black cloak, which swayed like a strip of the night. Her helmet was carved to resemble a serene, blank-eyed face, its features mostly hidden behind a cloth-like mask.]

Anna felt an odd sense of nostalgia come over her. Where had she seen that armor before?

The words ‘Operative #1567980 Hinata Kurosaki’ appeared in the corner of her visor. ‘Codename: Shinobi’.

“Fun fact,” Hinata said, petting the small, chimp-like creature on the head, “the Ragno-Scimmia is as docile as the average house cat. If you know how to approach one, you can even do this.” she tickled its stomach with a finger, sending the creature into a fit of laughter. “Cute, isn’t it?” her tone betrayed her words.

“Uh… sure?” Anna wasn’t sure how to respond to that. She was still trying to figure out how or why Hinata was there in the first place. That, and she was trying to find a way to avoid having to thank her. Somehow, getting rescued was far more infuriating than having been caught in the first place. “What are you doing here?”

“Top secret.” Hinata said without looking up from her little animal friend. “I heard this little guy making a racket on my way back, so I came to check it out.” Only then did she look at Anna. While she couldn’t see her face, Anna had the feeling that she was being looked down on, both figuratively and literally. “Are you really so incapable that you can’t handle something so weak?”

Anna swallowed the hot lump of rage that built in her throat. “I was doing fine.” she growled.

“No.” Hinata stated matter-of-factly. “You were panicking.” she shrugged. “Don’t worry. Everyone does on their first mission.”

“I wasn’t panicking!”

“That performance begs to differ.” Hinata noted, likely rolling her eyes. “Why are you out here, anyways? Most rookies prefer to stay in the city, take the easy and safe jobs.”

Everything she had said had gotten on Anna’s nerves. But that comment made her more angry than all of them combined. “Do I seem that lazy to you?” she asked through clenched teeth.

Hinata paused to consider. “I guess not. Well, it’s not my business, anyways.” she stood up and gently set the Ragno-Scimmia back on the branch. “Off you go, little one.”

As if it understood her, the creature ran off, using four of its arms to make up for its tiny legs. It hopped from branch to branch with surprising speed, vanishing into the jungle. The sound of its cries slowly waned, leaving the pair of Operatives in silence.

“How much time do you have left in your patrol?” Hinata asked.

Anna frowned. “What do you care?”

Her only response was a shrug.

For a moment, Anna considered not answering. It would be spiteful, she knew that, but between her frustration and embarrassment, she wasn’t above a gesture like that. But then she considered how it would look in her report. ‘Stormed off in a rage without answering a question from a superior’. Not something you wanted your boss to see.

So, begrudgingly, she gave an honest answer. “Two hours.”

She nodded. “You should be fine, then. Just try not to panic again.”

Anna looked up to object. But by the time she did, she was already gone. Without so much as a sound or a blur of movement, Hinata had vanished. She looked around, trying to find any sort of trail. As far as she could see, there wasn’t one.

Shinobi, huh? she thought. Fitting name. Then, with a shrug, she jumped off to continue her patrol. This time, she kept a close eye on the vines.

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