Leandra laced up her hiking boots, then checked over her supplies before placing them into her pockets and backpack before leaving her dorm with a heavy sigh. This was not a mission that she had wanted to be assigned to, but she wasn’t going to let her personal concerns affect anything. She was a professional, and she did believe in the adaptability and toughness of her team, developed through extensive training and practical experience. They could handle an expected threat.
She glanced behind her at the sound of footsteps, and smiled at Travis, who grinned back at her. “Ready for the mission?”
She bit her lip, wondering how to word her concerns. Thankfully Travis wasn’t paying too much attention, as he was pulling up a map of their destination on his hologram tablet. He pointed to the mountain with the red circle around it. “That’s where we’re headed. Hope heights don’t make you dizzy.”
They came to the debriefing room, where several of their team had already gathered. Bradley was the easiest to spot, wearing a neon green jacket, that had been in the latest catalogue. He hadn’t needed a new jacket, as his previous jacket, which he had repeated complained about because it was “ugly”, was in far better condition than what Leandra was currently wearing. Only a shallow person would spend their hard-earned money replacing something that was still functional because they defined it as unfashionable.
“Someone’s attempting remote seduction,” Travis whispered, noticing Leandra’s scowl in Bradley’s direction. “Going to attract all of the lady insects instead of us, hopefully.” Leandra had to stifle her laugh.
* * *
Once their commander had gone over the details of the mission, the team was deployed. The helicopter ride was boring, since they were traveling at nighttime. Most of the team grabbed a few winks, but Leandra could never sleep in any moving vehicle. Her thoughts were also racing too fast for her to have been able to sleep in a luxurious bed.
With the first light of day, they reached the mountain range, and floated down with parachutes to land on the slope. Just before Leandra’s feet touched the ground, a guttural roar sounded from around the side of the mountain, just out of sight. Quite likely an annoyed bear who didn’t like the fact that his territory had been invaded. Leandra felt a tremble go through her as her anxiety spiked. It was also possible that it wasn’t a bear, but the zandrog, the cryptid rumoured to live on the mountain. Unlike her, most of her team thought that the stories of the creature were absurd, but she was the only one who knew any of the people who had told the stories, and the man who she knew was no liar.
Bradley was loudly boasting about something, bringing far too much attention to their group, which made Leandra extra uncomfortable. “Let’s get going to the outpost,” she called out, once Travis, the final member of the team, had landed. With perfect timing, the guttural roar sounded again. “Now,” she added sharply.
Bradley paused his noisy conversation to look at her. “Is somebody scared of the monster?” he mocked.
“Someone wants breakfast,” she snapped, not interested in reliving any prior conversations.
“I think someone is a little hangry,” Travis stated, tongue in cheek, his glance at her far more serious than his tone.
Leandra began trekking towards the outpost, the supple soles of her hiking boots gripping the slippery rock of the mountain. Then her attention was focused solely on safely crossing the expanse of loose gravel that separated their landing spot from their destination, without accidentally starting a landslide. One by one, each of her team members also fell into silence, the only sounds the crunch under their boots.
Leandra was the first to reach the relatively safe smooth rock. Ahead of her, the small building was a welcome sight.
She glanced back at her team as they finished making their way across. Something in the distance caught her attention. It was hard to see anything clear or definitive in the morning mist, but she was certain that she saw a shadowed figure with dark red eyes staring at them. Its roving gaze landed on her, held her gaze for a moment, and then it slunk back around the mountain and out of sight.
Leandra peered through the mist, hoping for another glimpse of the zandrog, but her team had finished crossing the gravel, and were all ready to head into the outpost for breakfast, and Leandra was swept along with the crowd.
With a plate of eggs and sausage in front of her, she marvelled at how calm she was as she tucked into her food. The cryptid hadn’t seemed particularly aggressive, and certainly hadn’t attacked her team like her nightmares had mentally prepared her for. It had looked more curious, shy, and like something that simply wanted to be left alone.
Travis thread his way through the busy kitchen to sit by her. “If this breakfast is any indication, this will be a good mission.”
Leandra smiled, and laughed easily. “I’m glad to have been assigned to this mission too.”
This story was inspired by two prompts from Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie.
First, Wordle #242 with this word list: dizzy, define, shallow, behind, tremble, supple, cheek, float, lip biting, believe, remote seduction, guttural
Second: Photo Challenge #367: