The sky was drizzly, and the mid-afternoon sun was firmly blanketed behind a quilt of cumulonimbus clouds. A yellow plane puttered through the puffy clumps, the left wing dipping into a turn. Cassandra piloted the plane carefully. The dark storm brewing in the distance was making flying a little hazardous.
Cassandra was a slight wiry woman, her small breasts tucked neatly into a button-up shirt, and she sported a sensible pair of khaki shorts. Her hair was wild and bushy on one side and shaved short on the other. The short side was accented by a leather strap that held a monocle to her face. It was the remnant of a childhood injury that left her vision less than optimal in one eye. The monocle helped with depth perception, which was important while flying.
Moisture beaded down the monocle strapped to her head. Cassandra wiped it away with a handkerchief. She cursed and bit her lip, a feminine habit that made her look adorable and focused her attention on the lake below.
It was the second such lake she had scouted for her employer in the last week. The first had been a crystal clear basin fed from a mountain spring. It was beautiful, but the shattered ruin of the stone archway had been clearly visible on the tiny island in the center, so there had been no reason to land. Her employers were searching for a gate in better condition, and they weren’t going to pay for another broken stone arch.
Cassandra lowered the pontoons with expert precision into the murky water. She cut the engines and slid her amphibian into the center of the lake. This lake was vastly different from the previous one. Located in a valley, it was shallow and boggy. Silty mud had colored it a murky brown. Also, there was no visible archway, which meant she was going to have to land in this dirty forsaken place and search for it. Her prize was probably hidden somewhere.
The coast was a weedy rocky mess, and she wasn’t about to power her plane onto it and chance scuffing the hull. She was going to have to swim for it. She peeked out of the door and grimaced. Nothing below but muck, but at least there was enough liquid to float the plane. Still, she was going to have to swim through that muck to get to shore.
Cassandra glanced around, but she needn’t have worried. Not many people would venture into the woods for this mud hole. The nearest town was twenty miles away, and the locals had some sort of superstitious fear of the place. Cassandra was well and truly alone.
A quick scan of the water’s edge revealed a likely candidate for a gate shrine, a cave just above the waterline. Cassandra wiggled out of her khakis, extracting a personal voice recorder from her pocket. She switched it on and started talking. “Day 151 of my whirlwind tour of the ancient and mysterious gateway ruins of South Victoria. I’m almost out of funding, and if I don’t produce something the bosses are happy with, I could be heading home. So far I’ve found a few piles of rubble. They were covered with some interesting runes but nothing I can read yet. Maybe if I can find a complete structure, I could make sense of it. I know more about these gate ruins than any other scholar, and I’ve barely scratched the surface.”
Cassandra stuffed her shorts into a leather rucksack. She unbuttoned her shirt, slipping it off her shoulders. This left her wearing a white sports bra and tight white panties. “Lu, if you are listening over my shoulder later, know that you’re missing one hell of a show. Maybe I’ll run around in the woods with you half-naked later. We can even invite your wife and make it a threesome.”