Esther woke and found the camp quiet. There weren't the usual morning murmurs or the smell of a fire and coffee cooking.
Her team had been on a scouting mission, mapping a possible shortcut through the mountain valley. She was a cartographer, but everything in this land wanted to eat them, so the soldiers she brought with her were armed to the teeth.
They'd set up camp half a click from the river in a spot with low vegetation and no overhanging trees. Her men constructed a perimeter with motion sensors and clear sightlines, so she figured they were safe.
Esther hesitated before she poked her head out of her tent. The silence and smell of something sickly and sweet worried her, but she needed to know.
The camp was a massacre. There were bodies everywhere, all of them skinned and bloody. She would've retched if the sight hadn't terrified her so deeply.
She went for her bag, but it rattled as soon as she grabbed it. Carrying it would make her a noisy trackable target. She abandoned it and only took her knife.
Unzipping the opening, she checked the perimeter fence. Still untouched. Whatever had killed her team must've come from the sky. She scanned upwards but saw nothing but a beautiful blue sky without a cloud in it.
Ester needed to get to safety. Whatever had attacked would surely come back.
She stayed low and scuttled towards the perimeter. The ferns surrounding the camp were wide enough that they'd provide cover so she could figure out her next step.
The closest outpost was over sixty clicks away. Ester could call in a rescue, but that would mean going back into the camp and searching for the satphone. She could also try hiking back on her own, but if this thing took out her soldiers, what made her think she'd survive any better?
Her mind raced.
Why hadn't the soldiers put up a fight? If it had attacked from the sky, why hadn't they seen it? Why hadn't she heard a firefight?
Suddenly, she no longer felt safe in her hiding spot beneath the ferns. Maybe her tent had been the safest place after all.
Ester went to move, but the surrounding ferns had wrapped her arms. She shifted her feet, but they also were bound. No matter how hard she struggled, there was no way to break free. The plants had enveloped her.
Her skin itched and burned. Something on the leaves was eating at her flesh. She screamed, but no one was left to hear her.
As the fronds covered Ester's face, her eyes stared wildly upwards at the beautiful blue sky without a cloud, and then darkness and pain encircled her.