The Unity Chronicles

The Climbers

Unity Standard Time: 20:56, 19th of December U9. Great Forest of Nara, Arjuna.

It was nearby, that much she knew. She winced against another nauseating wave of pain from her ankle, and took a deep breath before hauling herself higher with the pick. Her lungs were burning, but she could not stop now. The only place to rest was back on the forest floor below, already too far to survive a fall.

She wondered that she had survived her first with only a few scrapes and a possibly-broken ankle. It must have been the number of branches she hit on her way down, she guessed. Her good foot scrabbled for another hold strong enough to lever her upwards, but as she found one and thrust towards the canopy above, she gasped and almost lost her grip on the two small picks; a blinding pain had erupted in her chest. She choked back a cry. She could not give away her position at any cost. Slowly she got her breath back and mentally added broken ribs to her list of injuries.

The tiny amount of daylight filtering down through the matted leaves cast flickering shadows all around her, and as she made her laborious progress higher and higher, the problem only worsened. Every shadow hid eyes and every movement of the forest made her start. She could feel her heart pounding in the back of her throat.

Only once did she glance down towards the distant ground, and thought she saw a form gripping the tree at the very limit of her vision. It disappeared when she blinked, and she wondered if it was just a glimpse of her companion, laying broken where she had been forced to leave him. Something primal inside her, though, whispered urgently that it was not.

Grimly, gritting her teeth, she hauled herself up towards the uncertain height where her PDA could receive a signal. If she could just get word out about what had happened, a rescue team from Arjuna Station could be there in minutes. She shuddered inwardly at the memory of confusion, tumbling, pain, and large, strong limbs flashing through the trees and all around them. She thought she had seen fur on those terrible appendages, but could not be certain.

She was certain, however, with that same cold certainty from her animal brain, that whatever had attacked them was hunting her still.

Her lip was wet. She wiped it on her sleeve and it came away red, almost black in the low light. Sweat ran down her forehead and nose, but that too became blood when she dashed it away. Something dripped on her head and she prayed it was not starting to rain, but then she remembered the bright but distant sunlight that had been trickling through the leaves all day.

She looked up along the thick, fibrous bole of the tree, and saw again those supple, muscular limbs gripping the bark with an ease that she could only dream of imitating with her picks. Bloody drool dripped from a maw that snapped towards her with impossible speed, and she tumbled into oblivion.

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