Chapter 3: A Shock Before Taking Stock
Slowly, ever so slowly, Kaughn started to come to. At first, he could not process any thoughts, but then recent events started to prevent themselves. 'I finally must have died, finally kicked the bucket.' He floated there for a second, in the vast expanse. but then he began to feel a tingling. Sensations of his limbs returning. First a bit of cold, the smell of must and the hard feeling of a packed dirt floor. Then pain, overwhelming pain. beginning in his left shoulder, traveling to his chest and ribs before ending with the rest of his body. It like he had gone ten rounds with an MMA fighter.
'How am I not dead?' He thought. 'Did the C4 not detonate? Maybe it didn't actually detonate and they knocked me unconscious.'
He slowly opened his eyes to cautiously and inconspicuously get an idea of his surroundings. The thing he noticed at once and with dismay, 'I'm in a cave. Shit, well I can't have all the luck. They must have dragged me back into one of their excuses for a headquarters.'
As he took in his situation he noticed quite oddly, 'There's no one here.'
He looked farther up and saw that the cave was actually quite small. It was just tall enough for him to stand up in and the entrance was only a short distance away, the soft light of dawn streaming faintly through the opening. In fact, it seemed as if there had never been another living thing in there for quite some time.
'Well, now is a good time as any for a sitrep.'
Gingerly, he sat up and checked himself over. Aside from the previously mentioned injuries, he seemed to be OK and the rest of the pain was fading. He felt for his rucksack on his back and noticed something odd. It felt as if it had been blown out away from him. He took it off to inspect it visibly and sure enough, the large front pockets looked like something had exploded out of them. The rest of it seemed largely unscathed.
'Now this makes absolutely no sense. It looks like the C4 detonated, but if it had then the rest of my rucksack wouldn't be intact. Even I shouldn't even exist right now.' He quandered.
He started searching through the intact compartments, finding various items still where he put them, such as; some rations, battle dressings along with a small first aid kit, a small short wave radio, a few maintenance tools for his weapons, some batteries of various sizes, a lighter and even some spare ammunition for his sidearm. The most exciting discovery was that his small iPod was still in the back pouch. James liked to use it on long overwatch missions and also for the rides back to base after completing them. The music helped to calm him down or he'd get the shakes sometimes. Even the small fold-out solar panel was there. James could use it to re-charge his iPod and also the batteries for his radio. He then checked his tac vest and found his weapons and ammo still attached, his pistol laying beside him. The tactical combat knife he always wore was still in it's sheath on his shoulder, the eight inch carbide steel blade was positioned so he could grab it in a quick draw. His throat mike was still around his neck, seemingly whole and undamaged. He quickly ejected the empty from his pistol and the damaged mag from his rifle, replacing them with fresh ones and storing the old ones in his sack.
After doing so, he broke out the first aid supplies and quickly patched up his shoulder. It seemed that the bullet had thankfully passed through and had not hit anything important. He was very fortunate the bullet hadn't some how shattered any bones during it's passage. It would be painful for a while, but he could bear it. His ribs appeared to only be fractured in a couple places, but not entirely broken. he wrapped a few bandages around his torso before pitting his shirt back on.
Leaving his rucksack inside, he cautiously poked his head out of the mouth of the cave, keeping his pistol in a ready grip should he need it. Looking outside he saw he was in some kind of dense forest. Intriguing, considering he had just been in a desert. None of the flora looked like anything you'd find in a desert oasis either.
'Where the hell am I? Lets see; desert, caves, insurgents, more desert, more insurgents, firefight, explosion, forest? No no no no no. something is very wrong here.'
He went back inside and grabbed his rifle, checking to make sure it was ok. Satisfied, he returned outside and carefully climbed a small outcropping he had noticed before. Looking around he saw dense forest as far as he could see. The plants looked to be a cross of stuff you'd find in a Brazilian rainforest and the American northwest. James turned on the short wave and tried to raise somebody.
"Red Lion, this is Red Lion Actual, can anyone hear me?" Just faint white noise was the only response. "Red Lion, this is Red Lion Actual, is anybody receiving?" He tried again on different channels, but it was all in vain.
'Now THAT'S certainly strange.'
He sighted through his rifle's scope, magnifying his view a bit, and looked around. To the east he could see a large mountain range running north to south. South consisted of more forest. Looking north he noticed the forest seemed to thin out gradually before reaching the end of the mountain range. He thought he could just make out some strange structure perched on the side of the last mountain. It almost looked like a large castle.
'That can't be right.'
He turned to the west and saw that the forest ended much more quickly in that direction, though it would still be a few days hike. He also saw what he thought might be a small settlement just on the horizon.
'Well, looks like this area may be inhabited. Better take it slow before I know what I'm up against, or even where the hell I am.'
He descended back to the ground and made his way to the cave entrance. He went inside and took stock of his rations.
'I only got enough MREs for about a week. Two if I stretch them out. The forest seemed to have abundant wild life and I'm sure I could find some edible plants. So I can supplement my rations with that.' For once, he was glad his training had been so detailed and hellish.
It had been about three days now by his count. Kaughn had made a small, almost comfortable, shelter with the cave. He had even found a bush of blueberries and even a few wild apple trees. Yesterday he had managed to capture a few squirrels, using the berries as bait. They didn't have much meat on them, but it was better than nothing. He barely had to even touch his MREs.
He decided to hike west today and get a better look at the small town he had seen. He couldn't stay in the wilderness forever. Besides, his radio wasn't getting anything, even though it worked just fine, and he wanted to see if the locals were friendly. Maybe he could find out what happened and make his way back to his team somehow. And beer. If anything, he could definitely enjoy a nice, ice cold pint of stout right now. And a juicy steak. His mouth watered just thinking about it.
He quickly packed up the essentials; his is rations, ammo and equipment, and left his little shelter and camp behind. He could always construct a new one. He donned his armor and weapons, setting out about mid morning. He was carrying a lot of gear for what was just going to be recon, but this was going to take a few days and he wanted to be prepared since there were too many unknowns. At least he didn't have the C4 weighing him down anymore. Hiking through the forest was tough going as there were no paths or roads.
At the end of the second day he had nearly reached the tree line. He had set up camp only about a two hours hike away from the edge. It was late afternoon and he planned to get to the tree line early the next morning. He was tired and wanted to be ready for anything in the morning. He took this time to just relax and enjoy the setting sun. He loved this time of day. The sun fading sleepily below the horizon as the moon took it's first peek at the land, stars poking through the thin fabric of the night sky. His reverie was interrupted by a long and loud howl from the darkness.
He jumped to his feet, rifle snapping to the ready as he looked around for the source.
'So there are some large predators here.'
It sounded a ways off though, and animals, even predators, usually steered clear of campfires. So he sat back down and hunched closer to his fire, preparing for the oncoming cold of night.
He was startled again by another howl, this one sounding much closer and accompanied with something that really set him on edge. The sound of screaming children.
Kaughn ran and ran fast, rifle cradled in his arms, legs pumping towards the source of the screams. As he neared he could distinguish the panicked breaths of what sounded like three small children as well as the growls of what could be large wolves. Looking ahead, he spotted a clearing and ran up to the edge. Stopping at the tree line he could see four bulky forms. He flipped down his NVGs and turned them on. The sight that he saw was a small pack of large wolves, that seemed to be made out of wood?
Then he heard coming from the bushes the wolves were growling at: "HELP! SOMEPONY, ANYPONY HELP!"
'English? Where am I? Wait, somepony? What are they talking about? Don't they mean 'someone' ?'
Regardless of this confusing choice of words, he could tell it sounded like three little girls were cornered by these beasts. He flicked the safety off his rifle, putting it on semi, and lined up the shots. Four soft coughs slipped out the end of the barrel and four bodies hit the ground, unmoving. He waited a minute before stepping out into the clearing and flipping up his NVGs in case there were any more, but there weren't. He looked at the corpses. They looked just like wolves, but made of branches and twigs.
'I'm definitely not in Kansas anymore,' he thought to himself.
Putting that thought aside for now, he moved over to the bush he assumed the kids were hiding in.
"Hey, it's OK. Nothin' out here is gonna hurt you anymore," he said gently, "let's get you kids out of this forest."
Kaughn stepped back as the bushes started rustling, still cautious. He watched as three little foals crawled out, all very colorful. One was yellow with red hair and a bow, the second was white with a pink and purple curled mane, and a horn? The last one was a dark orange with dark purple hair. Also, it had a set of small wings on it's back.
'Huh?' Now he was confused, but there were still three kids in danger and possibly hurt.
He stepped forward again and spoke up, "Hey, kids you can come out from the bush."
Upon noticing this strange being approaching them, the three foals cried out, "AHHHH! MONSTER!" and took off running towards the direction of the town.
Kaughn just stood there, frozen. Did those little horses just scream, words? He checked the bush, no one there. He checked the surrounding area, aside from the corpses of the wolves, nothing. So was it those three little foals yelling for help?
'No no no no no, this is wrong. I definitely heard that. That happened. No, I must be dreaming, or I survived the blast somehow and am in a coma.'
Just to make sure, he poked his shoulder. Still painful. It definitely hurt when he fired his rifle. Then he gave his side a slap. 'Big mistake,' he realized as he doubled over in pain.
'No, this can't be real. No, wait. I'm freaking out over a couple of talking baby horses, it's just a one time thing, yeah, I'm still feeling the blood loss, that's it,' he tried to reason.
He started back towards his temporary camp site, the fire now a smoldering pile of embers. The moon was now starting to reach its azimuth as the revived the comforting source of light and heat. He ate part of an energy bar, saving the rest for breakfast. Stretching out to enjoy the night sky he thought, 'Well, maybe tomorrow will be better,' before drifting off to a peaceful sleep.