It was the year 2018. The soldier knew his job, and he did it well: eliminate hostiles. His name was Rad Fredrich, and he was a soldier for the ARA, the Australian Royal Army. He had eyes that, instead of looking like the 'doorways to the soul', they looked more like bottomless pits, as they were so dark. His hair was the same colour and reached just below his eyebrows when it wasn’t tucked up under his hat. He wore a Disruptive-Pattern Combat Uniform (DPCU, or just ‘Cams’). This consisted of a shirt, trousers, hat, all in the Australian bush camouflage pattern, and khaki boots to go with it. The attire made him very hard to see in the forest.
Although he was only at the young age of twenty-two, he had been put in because of his expert ability to hit fast-moving targets with a single shot, which was mainly due to being able to judge speed and distance extremely accurately. The Australians were battling alongside the US Army and the Royal Canadian Army in Northern Canada, where enemies had tried to invade. The taiga proved to be hard to navigate through and even harder to spot enemies.
Rad was running through the forest, being the only survivor of his squad. He had a Walther WA-2000 sniper rifle in his hands and an FN P90 in a holster on his right hip. He had made a custom holster for the WA-2000 on his back, but was carrying it because of the hostile area. He would holster it only if he needed agility. None of these weapons were standard issue in the Royal Australian Defence Force, but he was allowed to use them since HE owned them, and not the government.
He ran into a clearing, and already had ten weapons aimed at him. He knew, right then and there, that he was utterly stuffed. Even if he did manage to take one or two enemies down, he would still receive at least eight bullets in his head from the other rifles for his efforts. Right when he was thinking of ending his short life right then and there, an enormous shadow fell across him and the ten others. Rad looked up to see the source of the shadow.
A draconic shape, at least thirty metres (100ft) from the tip of its snout to the point of its tail, was descending on the group, and fast. The ten soldiers surrounding Rad looked up in terror and opened fire on the massive shape, only to find their compacted bullets raining down around them.
The anthro-dragon landed above Rad, standing almost twenty-two metres high in all its jet-black glory, its deep purple eyes looking over the puny humans on the ground around it. It actually had quite a stunning face, for a dragon. Its two, dark grey horns looked like two massive pillars in a sea of silver hair that danced in the breeze. Its basic body shape told Rad that this dragon was feminine, albeit having a distinct lack of mammalian female body parts.
It swept its tail around in a full arc, grabbing the ten soldiers that were almost dead from fright. It raised them to its eye-level, and held them there for a good ten second before lifting them above its head, opening its great jaws to reveal the entrance to their final resting place.They were all squirming, trying to get out of the grasp of the massive creature’s tail. They got exactly what they wanted: to be released. The side-effect: they fell into the waiting mouth of the hungry dragon, never to return.
Rad was shocked when the dragoness turned to him. Right at that moment, he was sifting through the numerous ways he could try to escape this gargantuan thing, but none seemed logical enough to work, especially since this was of a species said to be the greatest hunters the world had ever seen; with keen eyesight, an acute sense of hearing and extremely sensitive sense of smell, this creature would definitely find him if he ran. But he tried anyway.
He holstered the WA-2000 and sprinted off into the forest, scared out of his wits just thinking about what would happen if the dragoness caught him. He had heard tales in books when he was younger of dragons befriending humans, but, as he had also clearly seen, they also ate people, usually swallowing them alive. He couldn’t think of a worse way to end his sixteen-year-old life than to die in the bowels of this creature, this creature that shouldn’t even exist.
Rad found a place where he thought he might be able to hide while he caught his breath. He crawled into a small crack in a cliff, and into the darkness beyond. He then turned around and peeked out the crack, looking to see if the gigantic dragoness was following him. He started to hear a crashing coming from through the forest, and sure enough, the dragoness came into view, muzzle down, tracking Rad’s scent. She followed it all the way up to the crack, bringing her head back and grinning after seeing that Rad was at the entrance. Then she flew off, disappearing from view.
Rad waited a couple of minutes, just to make sure the dragoness wasn’t still outside, and sat back against the cave wall, letting out a long, drawn-out sigh of relief over his huffing as his stamina sluggishly returned to him. This was when he realised the sheer size of the cave, thinking that the dragoness could easily fit inside. He glanced out of the crack in the cliff, noticing the sky starting to get darker.
“Aha! What do we have here?” said a slightly-deep-but-feminine voice. Rad turned, not knowing what he would see. “Well, looks like you weren’t as smart as you thought, kid.”
Rad grabbed his P90, took off the flashlight that was attached to it, holstered the P90, and shone the light around the cavern. The dragoness that he had seen dispatch ten men without much effort whatsoever was standing about five metres away from the boy. She bent down so she was eye-level with the quaking boy.
“Okay, relax! I’m not going to hurt you, and I never intended to,” she said, noticing how violently the boy was shaking. “If I was going to do that, I would have long ago. My name is Mardi. May I hear your name?”
“R-Rad Fredrich,” stuttered Rad, not knowing what importance his name could be to a dragon. “Why did you help me?”
“I noticed those soldiers around you, pointing their...uh...weapons at you, and I decided to intervene,” said Mardi. “Someone as young as you shouldn’t have to die in war. I was rather hungry, too. So tell me, why did you join up at your...juvenile age?”
“I-I’ve...uh...b-been told that I’m a crack-shot w-with a rifle,’ said Rad, shifting the holster on his back which still contained the German-made rifle. “I didn’t have much of a choice. My parents agreed, letting the Army take me over here, saying that I would return home when it is over. I’m still a bit speculative about that...”
“Well I’m sorry, but you won’t see home for a while,” said Mardi. “I need to take you back to where I came from.”
“What!?” exclaimed Rad. He wasn’t expecting this turn of events!
“To you it may be a long time,” Mardi explained, “but when you get back, you won’t have aged and no time will have passed.”
“Uh...hmm,” said Rad as he thought, but he just couldn’t say ‘no’ when he looked up into the big, pleading, violet eyes that belonged to Mardi, also noticing that she had dropped down onto her stomach in front of him. “Mmm...okay, then.”
Mardi started getting excited that the first person she had asked to come with her had complied. Suddenly, Rad was hit in the back with a stray instant-effect tranquilizer dart, one that mustn’t have hit its target on the battlefield. He toppled forward onto his knees, then onto his stomach in the palm of the hand that Mardi held out for him so that he wouldn’t hit the ground. He started losing consciousness. The last thing he saw was the worried look on Mardi’s face as she quickly picked him up and pulled the tranquilizer from his back in an attempt to stop Rad fading from consciousness, but she was already too late. She just hoped he would wake up soon.
Rad woke in darkness. As his senses came back to him, he noticed he was lying in something wet. Liquid was also dripping onto him from somewhere. He opened his eyes, not that they were any use since his vision was blurry (a side-effect of the tranquilizer), but he did notice light. As his vision began to sharpen, he sat up and waited for his ears to stop ringing. He looked around, finding himself in a mountain-side cavern, sitting in a shallow pool of water. He looked up, finding the roof leaking. His ears had stopped ringing, so he stood up and had a wander around the cave.
Rad went over to the mouth of the cave, expecting to see modern human settlements, but instead just saw forest surrounding his mountain and the other two mountains near it. He began to wonder where he was and how he got here, when he remembered accepting Mardi’s offer to come with her. He looked around for the massive dragoness, not seeing her anywhere.
Then a strange thought came to him: ‘I’m in another dimension!’
He didn’t know why the idea just popped up into his head, but he didn’t have time to go over it as he could see a black dot on the horizon, rapidly getting larger. He moved back into the cave, and hid behind a large rock, back to the rear of the cave. He heard a rush of wings, and a large black shape landed at the mouth of the cave. Rad, seeing who the newcomer was, stepped out from the hiding spot after the dragoness at the entrance gave a worried glance around the room after noticing Rad not being where she left him.
Seeing Rad was awake and well, instead of being in the forest below probably getting torn to bits, Mardi walked over to him. She had brought some food.
“Ah, good,” said Mardi, “you’re awake. I was beginning to think you were never going to wake up.”
“Yeah, the pool helped me to wake up,” stated Rad. “How long was I out for?”
“Between about two and a half to three hours.”
“Where are we?”
“We are...” started Mardi, trying to describe the place, “in another land, so to speak.”
“How did we...ARGH!”
Rad fell to the ground, clutching his head in agony, as if something were trying to burrow into his skull. He rolled around on the hard, rocky surface, tears streaming down his face as he struggled to stay conscious. The pain was near unbearable as a feeling like red-hot lava pouring into his brain came over him. Mardi felt totally helpless, watching her new companion rolling on the floor, wishing there was something she could do. Suddenly, Rad stopped thrashing about and lay still. Slowly, he raised his head, as if expecting something else to happen. He got to his feet, dizziness coming over him. He started to sway, Mardi holding out a hand to catch him if he fell over. Rad’s vision started to go blurry and darken as he fell into Mardi’s hand, again losing consciousness.
Rad woke, this time surrounded by grass. He seemed to be in a clearing, with trees bordering the edges. As he got up, Rad started thinking that his meeting with the creature he had always dreamed of meeting was, in fact, just another dream. He was wondering why he couldn’t hear gunshots when, out of the blue, a great, draconic shape blotted out the sun.
‘This looks familiar...must be déjà vu...’ Rad thought as he turned and ran. One thing he hadn’t noticed before: he wasn’t weighed down by 11.31 kilograms of sniper rifle and SMG. He must have left them in the cave! He got to the tree line just as he heard a thump behind him, signifying the dragon had landed behind him.
His legs wouldn’t stop, as if they had a mind of their own; his stamina didn’t seem to waver, like he was running on robotic legs. It was as if his mind could just sit back and let his body do its own thing. But he always kept focused on the chase, and nothing was going to stop him to face the hungry dragoness at his heels.
Branches whipped past his face as he ran, and he noticed the distance between the two getting smaller by the second. He took a sharp right turn, his shoes struggling to get a grip on the uneven ground. All of a sudden, Rad burst out of the jungle and onto a narrow path, a ravine on his right and a cliff face on his left. The pathway he ran on was only seventy-five centimetres wide. Nevertheless he kept on running, shoving all thought of practicality away from his mind.
Behind him he could hear the dragoness still coming. Nothing could stand in her way. All the trees before her were thrown away as the dragoness that Rad had believed to be his friend never stopped persisting to catch him. She reached the edge of the forest and stopped as she saw the near-impossible climb for the dragoness, who would never fit on the narrow walkway.
Rad stopped to regain his breath, thinking he had bested the giant in front of him. But he had forgotten one key feature of almost all dragons: they have wings. Mardi took to the sky in a great rush of wind, angling for Rad as she did. Rad could see the grin on her face as she closed the gap between the two, and rad decided that now was a good time to run. So he did.
Rad ran for what seemed like a kilometre before the ledge he was running on became a pathway between two cliff faces, which in turn opened onto a massive flat-floored crater that seemed like an arena fit for gods. Rad spotted a crack in one wall, but discovered that it was too small for him. He was trapped, with the gigantic dragoness just landing to block the entrance to the arena. She took her time, walking slowly forward as she knew Rad couldn’t escape. Rad just looked up at her in fear.
When she was standing right in front of Rad, Mardi knocked him to the ground, putting a hand over him to block him from escaping. She stooped low, parting her waiting maw, and when Rad was getting the idea that these were most likely his last few moments on Earth (if this place still was Earth), he received a great lick up his left side. He opened his eyes to see Mardi rolling on the ground, clutching her stomach, laughing as if it were the last thing she’d ever do.
“What?” Rad asked, a questioning look crossing his face. “Was it something I did?”
“You!” Mardi managed through her laughter, tears streaming down her face from laughing so hard.
“What about me?”
“The look on your face when I caught you!”
“Oh, is that all?” Rad asked rhetorically, starting to laugh himself.
In the distance, there was a sound like thunder. Although it wasn’t given much thought by Rad or Mardi, the source was something that could change their destiny...