Here There be Dragons...Tiny, Angry Dragons
Location: Shah-i-kot Valley, Afghanistan, Earth - Tegwyn Tor, Cymeria, Aereth
Timeline: March 2, 2002 (Earth) / October 3550 (Aereth)
Shah-i-kot Valley, Afghanistan
Sergeant Coyle, along with the other four soldiers in his squad labored for breath in the thin mountain air as they clambered over what was little more than a goat trail. They were in the mountains surrounding the Shah-i-kot valley, Paktia Province, Afghanistan. At around 10,00 feet above sea level and weighed down with all their gear the Army Rangers were struggling, though none of them complained. Despite the fact that they were hot, tired, and their new uniforms were itchy. Apparently someone had been concerned that artificial fibers might melt if exposed to a fire, so the Rangers were field testing a new cotton and wool uniform.
Their guide on the other hand, was having no trouble, despite being at least forty years older than the soldiers following him. He was the headman of the local Kho village, who unlike many of their countrymen were always happy to see Americans. The Kho were an interesting group, most of them lived in Pakistan but a handful, like this man were scattered across Eastern Afghanistan. They were a small tribe who spoke their own language and followed their own religion. The latter, was polytheistic and was, at least on the surface, similar to Hinduism. They had, for that reason, been persecuted by the Islamist government and were happy to have the Americans get rid of the Taliban, even if currently that was still a work in progress. That had been good news for the crew of a Kiowa helicopter that had lost lift in the thin mountain air and went down. The Kho had found them and were hiding them in the safest place they knew, their temple, hidden in a cave high in the mountains, safely out of reach of the Taliban. Sergeant Coyle and his men were there to retrieve them.
Sergeant Coyle had managed to teach himself a little bit of their language, Khowar, but most of what their guide said was incomprehensible to him. When he addressed the group the soldiers looked expectantly at Coyle. “Learn how to ask where the shitter is and everyone thinks your a translator.” Coyle turned back to the man and asked him in his own tongue to speak more slowly. The main repeated what he said, again most of it lost on Coyle, but he had caught the keywords ‘not far.’
Thirty exhausting minutes later the trail ended at the mouth of a cave. Their guide once again addressed them, again most of it being lost in translation, but the words ‘Americans’ and ‘inside’ were there and so the soldiers made their way inside. After following a twisting passage they found themselves in a beautifully carved anti-chamber, the walls decorated with images of various plants and animals. Seated there in the middle were the two helicopter crewmen, who were very happy indeed to see the Rangers come in. Beyond them, a silk curtain divided the anti-chamber from what Sergeant Coyle could only guess was the main worship space.
What Coyle experienced then was something very strange to him. While he had always been curious by nature, it felt as though something were calling him in there. He could almost hear a voice beckoning him. So as the squad medic checked over the two helicopter pilots, Richard moved slowly towards the curtain. Their Kho guide spoke, though Richard could not have understood even if he was paying attention, though the others could tell from the frantic tone and gestures that it was a warning. Coyle though was drawn inexorably beyond the curtain.
Stepping through he was in a space that was little more than an alcove, though still beautifully decorated. In the center stood a statue of a gorgeous woman, one of their goddesses. She was dressed in fine silks and bejeweled, her arms held up in a welcoming gesture, a beatific smile on her stone lips. As Richard looked upon the statue, suddenly there was a bright flash, then everything went dark and the world pitched on it’s side as he collapsed unconscious.
Gradually, dim light began to filter into Sergeant Coyle’s senses. He felt like he had the worst hangover in his life and he shivered in the cold and damp. Groggily he sat up and began to take stock of his situation. “What the hell…” He muttered as it became immediately apparent he was no longer in the temple cave. This place was little more than a hole in the rock a few yards deep, undecorated, cold and dripping with water. “Where the hell am I…” Coyle said out loud. No answer came. He was alone.
“Oh shit… no… no, no, no…” Sergeant Coyle muttered as he realized his weapon was gone. Not just his weapon but also his web gear, body armor, helmet, radio, assault pack and even his boots were all gone. “All right Sergeant, they have to rescue you before they can court martial you, so at least there’s that.” He muttered shaking his head. Taking stock of what he had left he found one silver linings. His trench knife, an heirloom from his grandpa from World War II was still there, as was his tan beret, and the beef jerky in one of his pockets.
Cutting up his top he wrapped his feet in the strips as makeshift shoes, put on his beret, and headed to the mouth of the cave. Looking down he blinked in disbelief. The terrain spread below him was certainly not the Shah-i-kot valley, and judging from how green it was, probably not anywhere in Afghanistan. What the hell had happened to him? “Allright, need to find someone who can tell me where the hell on God’s green Earth I am.” Taking a bite of his jerky he sighed. “At least I won’t starve for another day or two.”
Richard remembered an old adage, if you’re lost, walk down hill. Making his way down he soon found himself in a lush green valley, following a stream hoping to find something that might pass for civilization along it’s banks. He had seen the occasional foot print and other signs of activity, but so far, no people. Pressing on he paused at the edge of a clearing and when he did something that looked like a large bird took flight from the middle. It had been perched on the chest of a corpse. Approaching the body Coyle was incredulous. Had he stumbled into a ren fair? The man looked like he was straight out of one with tunic, cloak, tall leather boots, the whole nine yards. “I guess you can’t tell me where I am now can you?” Coyle addressed the corpse. He was eyeing the man’s boots. It was against the laws and rules of land warfare to loot the dead, but his feet were already bleeding despite his best efforts to wrap them.
As he pondered he heard a loud screech and turned just in time for the bird to be clawing at his face. Grabbing it he pulled it off and then stared at in disbelief as it clawed frantically at him. It wasn’t a bird, but a tiny dragon, probably the size of a large crow. He had gotten lucky and managed to grab it by its thin neck. It hissed and bit down on his hand. Coyle yelped in pain but did not let go. Instead he swung it downward, smashing it against a rock. Swinging it up and down he repeated the process until it went limp. Panting heavily and bleeding from his face, Coyle looked at the corpse. “What, in the name of hell, is that thing.” Drawing his knife he decapitated the small creature, as if to make sure it was dead.
Slumping into a sitting position beside the corpse he cut up his t-shirt for strips to bandage his bleeding face and hand. “I don’t know where I am or how I got here, but this was not what I signed up for. Recruiter never said anything about tiny fucking dragons… though when I say it that way it does sound pretty awesome… Join the Rangers, you’ll fight dragons...” Now without so much as a shirt he shivered in the cold, and was apparently just a bit punchy from blood loss. “Sorry buddy, but I need these more than you do.” He said apologetically to the corpse as he pulled off the man’s cloak, tunic and boots. “If this is just a bad dream, now would be a lovely time to wake up…” he muttered and stood, continuing his search for a local that would prove more talkative.