"And there is another. Got ya!"
Nalu pressed the button on her camera, snapping her multiple shots of the scene before her. A waterfall many stories high surrounded by the lush vegetation of the jungle she had immersed herself in. The clear blue water, the lush green of the plants and trees, as well as the majestic waterfall reminded her of paintings back home. "No wonder the brass back on Terra call this place Edenia, Man's Paradise."
She sat down on the rock, setting her camera to the side and pulled a notebook from her duffle bag. In it was a log of her activities for the past week, marked in days and categorized accordingly. Today was technically Day 10, though she had only been in the jungle for the last seven.
She took out a pen that was in the bun of dark blonde hair atop her head and started to write. "Day 010. Edenia continues to impress me. Came across a very tall waterfall, and a mountain is visible through a thin blanket of fog in the distance, many miles away. Not sure if I want to go out of my way to take a look, though my curiosity pretty much demands that I do. My colleagues back at camp warn me to stay close because they are not sure what predators are lurking in this otherworld forest. I think I'll go as far as this waterfall and turn back."
She finished that last sentence and dawdled for a moment, lightly nibbling on the end of her pen before she continued.
"Ran into a species of four legged creatures similar to deer or antelope. Had small horns and was vegetarian, not a carnivore thank god. Reminds me of the cute little reindeer except these things were the size of house cats. They had feet with hooves and made some sort of squeal when they saw me walking away. A warning sign to their friends perhaps?"
A roar was heard echoing in the distance and causing birds to fly from the tree tops of the jungle. It made Nalu's skin get bumpy with anxiousness. She didn't want to find out what caused that. It was time to go. "I'd better get going..."
She packed up her journal and made her way across the lagoon and back into the jungle. Dressed in hiking gear consisting of khaki shorts and a green camouflage tank top as well as hiking boots, the tough terrain proved nothing of a challenge to her as she made her way through. The jungle was thick and with no clear paths to take she had to traverse to the best of her judgement. Getting caught in low vines and the occasional spider web aside, her decisions usually turned out to be good and safe.
The rocks that led into the lagoon disappeared and were replaced by thick trees that were covered in moss. A thin veil of mist perpetuated the area, giving it a mystical vibe that Nalu did not fail to notice. She smiled. 'I'm glad I came on this adventure.'
She was excited to be in this jungle. How couldn't she? Shy of twenty and an exceptional photojournalist, she was the top pick to be sent with the Terra World Coalition as their chronicler. Writing down data of the places, plants, and animals this otherworld jungle had to offer, her documents would prove invaluable-as well as priceless-to the big wigs and nerds back home. Should she make it back home she could make a boatload of cash on what she found. That and her pictures would be like a gold mine to
Yet it wasn't the cash that made her want to be here. "It's just nice to be away from the city and enjoy the sounds and smell of nature."
All of this exploring was the genuine deal, not the makeshift virtual reality crap Terra had to make up for it. She had wanted it to be real. Thus, she had to bend over backwards to get on this expedition, and it was paying off splendidly. Save for one thing, "Except for this damn humidity, that is." The jungle had proven to be the most humid place she had ever visited in her life. Her clothes and hair would stick to her skin and perspiration would flow all the time, even the air conditioner she had in her tent gave her little comfort. A more personal gripe she had was it seemed that no matter how often she took a shower she never got dry. It'd be funny if it weren't so tragic in her mind. "Take a shower in the morning, four days later still not dry!"
She groaned and continued her trek through the jungle, her elation quelled for the moment.
Her trek back to camp was only a few miles, though she easily lost track of how much ground she actually treaded as she was easily distracted. The leader of her expedition had warned her to not venture too far into the unknown jungle, but as one would assume about Nalu Ostravak she was easily excited about adventuring. He would have been better off putting a ball and chain on her to keep her safe.
The thick trees continued for a long while, the thickness of the canopy blocked a majority of the sun as Nalu tried to keep her footing. Even though it was mid-day (hard to tell, given how this world didn't play by the rules she was used to back on Terra) the canopy was covered so much it was almost too dark to see where she was going. Only the light in the distance kept her going. It was almost creepy in a way.
"Feels like I am in a horror film...lonely girl walking in the forest in near darkness. Weird noises all over, mysterious creatures watching me. All I need is the feeling that I am being watched and I would feel like Laurie Strode." Her humor made her chuckle, nervously one might add, but she kept on walking.
She leapt down from a ledge made by roots of nearby trees and when she landed she saw something shining in what could only be the only light to bypass the canopy. The light was on a small metal cage that was shaking with a trapped animal inside it. It was clawing feebly at the metal bars with its three toed bird-like feet that resembled puffin feet. The creature itself was the size of a soccer ball with white and red fur and a small stubby beak like that of a parakeet and big black eyes. A single red feather stuck up from the top of its rounded head.
Without a moment to evaluate the situation Nalu ran over to the cage, "Oh, you poor thing!"
The creature backed itself into a corner away from her, obviously scared out of its mind.
Nalu tried to be compassionate with it, try to gain its trust. Her voice reflected this. "I'm not going to hurt you, okay?" She looked at the cage, which was a simple trip and latch design used for trapping small animals. A hunter or poacher's device. Nalu growled lightly as she thought about those people hurting a creature like this for no reason other than for money. "Bastards..." She looked down at the creature. "What did you ever do to them..."
She didn't expect an answer but got one anyway in the form of the cry of "Ah-ah-ack".
Not like a typical bird call, but then again, on an alien planet what was typical?
Turning her attention back to the cage itself, Nalu tried to figure out how to open it. "Shouldn't be too hard...ah! There we go." She found a lever and flipped it, opening the hatch that kept the animal in.
Even though the door to freedom was now open, the animal remained frightened in its corner.
Standing up Nalu backed away from the cage to give it some room. "It's okay. Go on."
Given the breathing room the animal hopped out of the cage without hesitation. Once outside it seemed to realize it was free, crying out as loudly as its little lungs could go. "Ah-AH-ACK!"
While it was free Nalu took the time to capture its elation with her camera, snapping at least two dozen quick pictures before the creature hopped towards her. She took a few pictures of it for posterity, maybe a couple for herself as the it was too cute to not do so.
"Much better," she said, herself feeling better that she had freed a helpless animal from captivity. 'Now about the cage...' Nalu went and decided to do something about it. First she took pictures of it from every angle, turning it on its side to get a few of the manufacturing label on the underside. The Terran Otherworld Exploration Committee? Never heard of that, she thought as she flipped the cage upside down, in order to prevent it from trapping anything again. Only then did Nalu feel satisfied, dusting off her hands as a sign of accomplishment.
The little animal she had freed seem to enjoy what she had done, crying out in jubilation.
"Well, now that's done, I should return to camp," she turned to the animal, which was now about a meter from where she stood. "You take care now, okay? Go find your family."
The creature tilted its head, like it was trying to understand her. "Ah?"
Shaking her head, Nalu knew she had to get a move on. Yet the idea that she'd be leaving this creature here alone didn't sit well with her. Eventually her conscience won her over. "Fine, you can follow me, but once I get back to camp you return home."
The creature hopped once, like it was happy.
As Nalu and the hopper began their trek together through the jungle, the little one following her by hopping along the jungle floor, little did they know that there was a set of eyes watching her in the trees nearby.
Using the shadows and vegetation around him, the silent stalker, with those cat like yellow eyes watched the human intruder with keen interest. His interest hadn't sprung up suddenly, as she had ventured into the jungle alone and seemingly unafraid of the difficulties the place had for its inhabitants. Carefully, he watched from afar, not wanting her to know of his presence unless it needed.
When she vanished in the distance, and he was certain she wouldn't notice him, the hunter leapt from the tree and onto the ground. His feet broke branches under his muscled build as he went to inspect the area. Tattered remnants of clothes covered only his lower half, his upper body bare revealing toned muscles and many scars, hence the name the animals had given him. On his left hip was a sack made of fur that carried important items for him, and most importantly was a head of a spear strapped to his back.
The cage had been overturned by the woman and feathers of the Pompu were all that remained, besides a day old trail of tracks that lead to the northern sector of the jungle where the trees would provide better shelter for them..
In the hunter's mind that was a good sign.
'The birds will have moved on from this area. All that is left of them, that is...'
The hunter knelt down to where the woman had been standing moments before. His ability to track her kicked in, memorizing her foot patterns and even caught a whiff of her scent, which smelled of an exotic flower he had never experienced before. More pressingly she had saved the bird from a torturously slow death, and that gotten his attention. 'I will have to keep an eye on her...'
He had found a flock of Pompu, the little flightless birds that inhabited this area, and they had been systematically slaughtered by unknown means. The one that had been foolish-or fortunate enough, as it were-to get in the cage had been spared their fate. He had stuck around to see if the culprit would return and only then would he pounce and make them pay before releasing the creature. When he saw her at the trap he had assumed that she had been the one to set it up, and had come to gloat over her recent capture.
He hadn't expected her to release the Pompu trapped inside.
Scar ran the tips of his fingers over the ground slowly, his memorizing of her scent, looks, and tracks finished in his mind. He would definitely keep an eye on her, for her compassion was rare in this tropic hell of a paradise.
"Home sweet home."
The return to camp took less than twenty minutes. It would have taken longer had Nalu not put on stones to indicate the path she had taken. Her temporary place of residence was a simple small tent near a clearing covered by a cluster of thick trees. She went over to the spot where her fire usually was and peered up at the sky, where the sun managed to bear down on her with its sweltering rays. While that was unavoidable, Nalu was grateful for one thing.
"Least the rains from the first days I was here are gone."
A monsoon of sorts had prevented her from exploring the jungle the first few days after she had arrived. The amount of rain that had fallen had easily been over a couple gallons.
That had been a week ago, and only now was she truly starting to enjoy herself.
The little creature, the Pompu, pecked the ground near the fire pit finding some low level insects to munch on while Nalu ran through her belongings in her tent.
"Have to change the film in my camera before I go on out again...also might need to let the expeditionary force know I am still kicking out here."
She was talking of course about the water vessel the Darwin, anchored off the shore nearby. A research vessel made out of an old oil tanker ( a fuel largely dated back home), and home to the three hundred plus crew or researchers, explorers, and crew. She was technically part of the group of explorers sent by the Terran government to document the newly discovered planet. At least six others made up the team, with Nalu as the photojournalist. Yet she seemed to be the only one who was enthusiastic about being here to the point she was camping alone on the outskirts of the thicket. Everyone else was more interested in being near the shore, where it was the "safest" place to be on the alien planet.
Though there were a few notable exceptions to that rule.
That voice was loud and scared the little Pompu into going inside Nalu's tent, diving into the safety of her sleeping bag scared out of its little mind.
Nalu smiled, "It's only a friend. "I'm in here, Rose!"
Pulling back the tent's opening, a young woman crawled inside. Wearing similar clothes to Nalu save for hers were white and yellow. A white tank top and yellow khaki shorts. A brunette with her long hair in a high pony tail. "Glad to see you're still alive."
"Nice to see you too Rose," said Nalu. "I suppose your here for my pictures?"
"And to check up on you. It's been three days since we last saw you on the ship. The captain was worried you had been taken away by some carnivore."
Rose was an old friend of Nalu and one of the few on the research team whose brains was matched only by her enthusiasm for adventuring. Rose however had been asked to stay on the ship for the last few days while Nalu had gone ashore. A safety precaution, as it were.
"It would take more than a jungle to get me down," said Nalu before handing Rose an envelope. "The pictures from the last three days. I'll have more ready for tomorrow."
Rose took it from her, and quickly noticed the rummaging under the sleeping bag. "Hey Nalu, I think there's something sleeping in your bed. And it ain't a guy."
Looking over at the bag Nalu pulled it back to reveal the little Pompu bird. It was still afraid. Rose however, was beside herself. "Oh my god! It's so adorable!"
The creature immediately fled, hiding behind Nalu like she would protect it. It was amazing how attached it was to her already.
"Rose, I think you're scaring him."
"Wait...where'd you get him?"
Nalu spent the next few minutes feeding the animal an assortment of crackers to calm it down while she explained what she had found earlier to Rose. To top it off she showed her the pictures of the cage to her as well.
As she checked the digital camera for everything her friend had found, Rose's expression was grim. "That's horrible..."
"Little bird has been following me ever since," said Nalu after tossing the last of her crackers to the bird.
"Think it's family is gone? That would explain why it's been following you."
Nalu didn't want to think about that, even though she held on hope there was little evidence to support it.
"Well, it's a good thing you don't come to the ship often. Otherwise people would be on him like a pack of dogs."
Going through her bag of spare clothes Nalu gently petted the bird. "I'd rather keep him all to myself. Ain't that right, Pompom?"
The animal tilted his head, confused at its new and sudden name.
It caught Rose by surprise as well. "Pompom?"
"He looks like a cheerleader's pompom when he's puffed up."
"Oooohhh," said Rose before noticing something. Not about Pompom but about her friend. "Where you going?"
Nalu had gathered up a second bag and was looking like she was getting ready to leave. "Going back out. Might find Pompom's family while I explore."
"True but you packed a second set of clothes..."
Blinking twice, Nalu didn't think Rose would have noticed her doing that. Still she had to hide her true reason. "It gets muggy out there in the jungle. So I bring an extra set to keep myself comfortable."
Rose didn't believe her and grabbed her bag before she could tie it shut.
Nalu reached for it, but it was pulled away. "Hey!"
The other woman rummaged through the bag and gave her friend a discerning look, "Seriously? A whole new set of clothes? I think you're planning something else. Spit it out."
Lightly blushing Nalu lowered her chin and let the truth out. "I saw a lagoon near a waterfall and...Well..."
"Planning on taking a bath in the water?" said Rose.
The cat was out of the bag. "Yup."
"How careless can you be? Do you have any idea what's in that water?"
"Couldn't be worse than on the ship. The shower stalls don't have curtains! That and unless you missed it, you and me are the only two women on board. I get sick of the guys staring at me all the time!"
"You got a point." Rose couldn't help but agree, as she was in the same boat as Nalu. She honestly couldn't blame her for not using the showers on the ship. She handed her bag back to her. "Good thing we're the only people 'round this area then. I best get back to the ship. Got more paperwork to do before the expedition hits the beach tomorrow."
"Huh? You guys start tomorrow?"
Rose nodded and climbed out of the tent. "The captain wants us to secure squatting rights before some other corporation does. He loses revenue that way or some higher level stuff. I just can't wait to go out there and see what this world has to offer us."
Keeping her thoughts in her mind Nalu wanted to tell her of everything she had seen in the last ten days, but again kept it to herself. 'I think I'll let her get excited when she sees it herself...' The devious thought made her giggle.
Rose didn't catch it. "Take care, Nalu, and I'll see you in the morning."
"Bright and early, Rose. Later."
And with that the two women parted ways, and Nalu couldn't wait for the bath. "Let's go, Pompom."
The little bird squawked before following her.
The journey back to the waterfall took a little longer than Nalu had wanted. 'Taking a different path seems like a better, though not the best option when I am out exploring...'
She wasn't one to take the scenic route.
Still, at least this time she wasn't alone in this walk. Pompom had maintained a close proximity to her the whole way, showing little to no interest in venturing out on his own. Looks like she was stuck with the bird for the time being.
Yet she didn't mind the company.
The jungle was getting extremely steamy by the time she made it to her destination. A fog had settled around the lagoon and it made looking in the distance a tough thing to do. Yet the sun was trying to shine through, and it was hot. Still, Nalu went to a rocky area that was closed off, with high rocks around the water. The rocks themselves were huge boulders with smooth surfaces that made it convenient for her to lay out her bags. The pool itself was about hip deep for her, which was perfect with what she had in mind. Pompom found itself a puddle and was in the process of washing off its feathers while Nalu sat down on the rock nearby.
"Seems we have the same idea in mind..." she said as she pulled out her journal and set it to the side. As much as she wanted to write at the moment, she also heard the water calling to her. Clear blue and she could see the bottom of the pool covered in rounded pebbles. Its voice was sweet and extremely hard to ignore.
Standing back up Nalu took a light breath before she started to get undressed.
Though the area the woman had decided to bathe in was technically closed off that was only at ground level. Were one to get a slightly higher elevation say, in the trees high above the jungle floor, then they could get a pretty good look at what was transpiring at the secluded pool.
Scar had been maintaining his distance from her since he first laid eyes on her, and while her saving the Pompu had elevated her from obvious threat to a questionable one he still wanted to make sure before he made his move.
He hadn't expected her to take a bath in the pool, which caused him some confusion when he saw her strip down to nothing without an ounce of hesitance. For the first few moments she stood on the rock interacting with the Pompu with her and stretching her limbs. Her build was lean and yet she had slightly toned muscles fitting for an athlete. Long legs and a toned chest, her bosom wasn't big but no less admirable, that showed off the more feminine qualities she hid in her normal attire.
Scar hadn't seen a woman in a long time, including one as beautiful as this one. Yet he kept those thoughts in the back of his head, for the time being.
'She...might be a threat...' he thought as he slowly crawled along the thick tree limb he had climbed onto.
The woman petted the bird before she walked into the pool. The water only just reached her slender hips and it was cold. He knew this because even though he was many yards away high up in a tree, his feline ears twitched when he heard her reaction to how cold the water was to her skin. She got over it in a hurry and started to wash her body with a soap bar, running her hands over her body intending to rid herself of the dirt and grime she had accumulated in the previous few days.
It was only then that the hunter turned away.
Good thing he did too, otherwise he might not have noticed another person lurking in the bushes nearby. A man in combat fatigues with the stench of gunpowder. It permeated the air and thanks to Scar's enhanced nose he felt like he was right next to him. No doubt the man was a hunter. Not only that but this man had his eyes on the bathing woman, who was unwittingly being watched by him.
Scar moved along the branch before hopping from it to the next tree trying to get a closer look. The fog also helped to mask his movements as well as the hide the hunter's location, not that the woman could have seen either man watching her with two totally different reasons.
Barnes had followed his boss' orders and gone to the waterfall to scout for potential targets, but the last thing he expected to find was a woman all alone and with one of those birds he had killed earlier.
Scar could smell the blood on this man as he watched him in the tree directly above. It was sickening.
Barnes was completely clueless to the hunter lurking above him. If he decided to pounce the young man would have no chance to even react before he was killed. Yet, Scar hesitated.
The timing had to be more...perfect.
Barnes, meanwhile, was too involved watching the nude woman standing in the pool. She was completely oblivious to him, not that she could have seen him from where she stood. She also had her back to him and he was taking in her slender form with lust filled eyes.
"Oh man what a sight..." Barnes chuckled lightly to himself. He then spoke in lewd words that Scar found repulsive and no doubt wouldn't have said in front of anyone.
Then the soldier began to move around quietly. Not just quietly but with the skills of a tracker. The woman was washing her hair now, bending at the waist to dunk her head under the water. It was at this time that Barnes made his move. He reached around the rock he was hiding behind to grab the woman's bag which contained the next set of clothes she intended to wear. By the time she had raised her head above the water again Barnes was already at a safe distance yards away from the pool. She got out of the water and went to lie down on the towel she had placed on the rock. Noticing how warm the sun was she put her arms above her head and gave a relaxed sigh. The cold water had given her skin goosebumps among other obvious indications that she was cold. Her chest for one thing was hardened, her nipples erect as she felt the breeze flow over her form. Her cheeks turned slightly red.
"This feels good..."
The bird that was with her seemed to agree as it too relaxed in a spot next to her, its feathers wet from the water. It found the weather to be immaculate.
So did Barnes as he continued to watch her with labored breathing. It had been months since he had seen a woman and he was not going to take his eyes off her if he had a saying in the matter.
He was excited to say the least, and got more so when she rolled onto her right side with her back to him, giving him a view of her well-toned backside.
"Nice ass..." he said with vivid fantasies of him smacking her bottom going through his mind. Then he turned his attention to the bag of hers he had stolen. He pulled out her journal and set it on the ground. A box of matches, stick of deodorant, a box of pens...nothing of interest. But then he got to the gold, so to speak. He pulled out a green and light blue tank top and khaki shorts before he found what he had been looking for. A black bra and thong, and his disappointment was heard when he discovered she was a Size A. Still, she made up for it in other areas. He stuffed her undergarments into one of the pockets of his vest. "Now..." he said as he began to stand up. He removed his vest and sweat drenched shirt. "Time to introduce myself-grrgh!"
Too bad his libido had blinded him to Scar sneaking up on him. Wrapping one arm around his neck while his free hand covered his mouth to silence him Barnes found himself trapped. Taken by complete surprise Barnes wildly threw his fists and legs to dislodge himself but despite being scrawny Scar's strength was well above that of a normal human and his grip was stronger than iron. Even as the poacher in his grip struggled he was unable to make noise even as he was pulled back into the bushes.
Scar's hands moved around the man's head, one hand on his chin and the other on the back of his skull. Barnes' eyes went wide just before the hunter jerked his neck in two different directions. The action had snapped his vertebrae clean in two. Barnes' arms fell lifelessly to his sides before Scar let his body fall to the jungle floor.
That was for his Pompu friends. Now to deal with the woman...
Nalu sat up from her spot. Though the sound of the waterfall mostly drowned out the noises of the jungle she thought she had heard bushes rustling nearby. "What was that?"
Not that she had anything to fear but she still felt a bit uncomfortable that something could be moving around out there and she didn't know it. The idea hadn't crossed her mind until now. Then again there were the hunters too...
"Better get dressed then-huh?" She had turned to look for her bag and noticed it wasn't in the spot she had left it in. "Where..." She got up and wrapped the towel around her naked body before going around the rocks. "I swear I put it here." She went around the boulder next to where she thought she had placed her stuff.
And there leaning on the rock was her bag, sealed tight and seemingly undisturbed.
"There it is. Thank god, I thought I had misplaced it." Yet the thought next did occur to her on how it got over to a totally different spot.
She picked the bag up and went back to the water's edge to get changed.
Besides the woman being clueless to her bag being put in a different spot altogether, she also failed to notice the dirt around it being smooth and flatten to hide the imprints of the boots of the deceased poacher that had been stalking her for the last hour. Scar had made sure to hide evidence that anyone-other than Nalu, that is-was ever at the lagoon.
He didn't need her to panic, to think that she was being watched, especially by him.
Not until he was sure she could be trusted.
The hunter watched the woman from the tree; the body of Barnes slumped over a thick branch nearby, and continued to Nalu. She had only put on her undergarments before sitting down on the rock. Seems she wanted to relax longer before making her next move. Pompom, the Pompu bird as she named it, kept her company. It seemed to enjoy the occasional petting atop its head the woman gave it. Pompu were a very timid bird and didn't take to trusting any animal easily, so for it to trust a complete stranger over one simple act was unusual but enlightening to Scar.
It was an hour or so later before Nalu decided to leave the lagoon. But she didn't return to her tent back on the edge of the jungle. Instead she dropped off her bag at her tent and went further, heading due east towards the shore that bordered the ocean and where a large water vessel was docked.
The Darwin was a vessel commissioned by the Terran governments to be the exploration vessel to this new planet, and while she had arrived on the ship Nalu had only spent a collective two days in total aboard. She didn't like cramped spaces, preferring to be in the wide open jungle.
A single row boat was on the beach, left there for her to return to the ship.
"Better see what I need to know before the expedition commences tomorrow," said the woman before turning to the jungle. At the tree line she saw Pompom hiding behind a bush. It had never been to the shore before and was rightfully so frightened by the smell and sight of the vast salt water ocean.
"You wait there. I'll be back soon," she said aloud before beginning to push the boat into the water.
Yet as she began to row towards the ship, Nalu couldn't help but feel anxious.
'...I feel like I am being watched...' She took one final look at the jungle, and thought she had noticed the flash of a pair of bright yellow eyes looking out at her. She shrugged it off as part of her imagination before rowing further.