High above the desolate valley, fire came down from the heavens, blazing through thousands of miserable lives trapped in the anguish of war. High above them, the cliff was steep, bristling with jagged rocks, the torrid site of a landslide that had killed many of his friends. Too many.
Ackar tripped, and fell.
* * *
"I have a bad feeling about this."
"Hey, take it easy, bro. It's not like we are going into the real war. We're just going to make sure that the Rock tribe doesn't take advantage of us while we kick the Ice Tribe back to the desolate rock they came from."
"We're just a bunch of rookies, Rappert. "
"Aw, rookies that are soon to be great leaders! Soon we will rival the Great Beings themselves!"
"If we don't get crushed by the Skrall first. "
"Your pessimism does not become you, brother."
"Nothing becomes me less than being sent into battle without proper training, and on short notice at that. This whole thing looks suspicious. "
"It was authorized by the Element Lord of Fire himself. "
"That guy. Some Great Being dipped him in a pit of power, and he's our 'Great Leader' now. He's gotten us into a war over some silvery magic stuff that's supposed to make us the 'envy of the Great Beings'. Don't find me a leader; find me an escape route."
"We will win, Ackar. This war will be over before you know it. Cheer up, pal. The mind is half the battle. "
Yes, thought Ackar, and on this we have already lost.
* * *
The sight that would have met the two rookie Glatorian as they marched into camp wouldn't have been all that unfamiliar now; the battered tents pitched in grassy knolls, the forest surrounding, the familiar smell of campfires and discharged energy pellets used in weapons to fell game.
The sounds would not have changed much either; the proud voices of some Glatorian, bragging of the feats of which they had yet to accomplish; the eager voices of Agori, talking of heroic deeds of Legend and saying, Yes, this will be even greater.
But around Ackar and Rappert the voices came in whispers. They were the voices of past exploits, of interest born of mischief and ill-gotten gains. Soon after the pair would pitch their tent and make camp, the crowd of followers would gather around their fire, asking for stories.
"What about the time you tricked Certavus into giving you a ride on his Thornatus?" asked one young Glatorian.
"Nah, that's too easy. I could have done that, and I'm younger than you. Tell us about the time someone cheated their way into the intertribe spikeball tournament and you won anyway. "
Ackar smiled. “Well, the big battle is tomorrow, I'm hearing. So how about I tell you both of them, then we all go to bed and rest up?"
"No!" chorused the Glatorian and Agori.
"Look, we all need our sleep" chided Ackar. "If you go into battle without sleep, you'll all be a bunch of droopy soldiers. The enemy will march over you like you were sodden blankets on pegs."
There were a good deal of chuckles at that. "They always tell us the big battle is tomorrow" said one of the smaller Agori.
"Let me let you in on something" said Ackar. He leaned into the ring of Glatorian around the fire and lowered his voice to a whisper. "Rappert and I snuck into Agnes' tent. He has a map in there, tracking the movements of the Earth Glatorian. There is about 2000 kios on that map from where we started, and 2200 from their camp. We set out later, but we move faster then they do. They will be here tomorrow morning."
The party broke out, talking in hushed voices. Ackar knew that he would no longer be able to interest them in a story. Their dread and expectation would make a story of its own, far greater then any of his and Rappert's old tricks.
"What do you plan to do in the battle, Ackar? I plan to crush 100 of those Skrall and make sure that they never get a whiff of silver power."
"I plan to live. "
* * *
That morning came with a rumble that shook the earth itself, shaking the two awake with a start. Ackar leaped to his feet and pulled his energy launcher from his place by his pallet, aiming in preparation for unseen enemies.
"Dude, relax" whispered Rappert, placing a hand on Ackar's arm. "It's just the army approaching. We got this, okay?"
Ackar didn't respond. Instead, he quickly strapped his armor on over his night clothing and raced through the tent flap.
The army was upon them. Rows of Skrall shields were advancing on the sleepy Fire Glatorian, led by the being with rock for armor. Furious, Ackar fired a shot from his energy blaster, hitting and injuring a Skrall by sheer luck. His fellow Skrall comrades trampled him as they rushed toward the scene of battle. Ackar ran back into the tent, already knowing that it was too late, that there was nothing that he could do, only to find his friend, strapping on his armor as if for a casual tournament.
"The Skrall! They're here! Run!"
"Run? What are you talking about?" A Skrall poked its head in the flap. Before he could do anything, he was singed by an energy bolt from Ackar.
"I've got this, Ackar." Without another word, he charged towards the flap, plunging his blade into the Skrall. Ackar ran after him, shooting as much as he could, and then pulling blades and using his bare hands.
It was chaos. Fire Agori and Glatorian in various states of undress used anything they could reach, everything from pans to swords to energy guns. One particularly resourceful group of Agori snagged a group of Skrall in a falling-down tent and set it aflame (The point was lost when the Skrall hacked their way out).
Ackar ran, dodging through trees and past Skrall in various throes of combat. A couple Skrall broke off to follow him, which might have helped Rappert, who was strongly outnumbered but none the less holding his own for the moment. He had given up trying to hold his ground outside the tent but was using said tent to his advantage, trapping various groups inside and using his pulse blaster to take out as many Skrall as he could. This bought him a few seconds before he was hacked to pieces. Soon the camp was lost in a sea of black bodies.
Meanwhile, Ackar blindly sped through the forest, blindly shooting pulse bolts over his shoulder. He reloaded his energy weapon, his clumsy fingers sending sparks into his armor. He heard a groan behind him – one of his shots had struck home – only to see a massive tree crash to the forest in front of him, sending up a torrent of dust into Ackar’s face. He heard the savage yells behind him, knowing that they were shouts of victory, and heard the rumbling of the earth below, knowing it as the sound of doom. Ackar leaped into the dust, felt it rush past him, felt the branches of the trees slap him in their fury.
His hand caught one. He bounced, felt his other hand spring up and slap into place. Just like the arched paths in Vulcanus. You haven’t forgotten your record, haven’t you, Ackar? The day you climbed all the way down to the forges just by using your hands on the lava flume support rods. They couldn’t stop you from having a look at the forges, right? Ackar?
For a second, all Ackar could see was the red-tinged streets and metal rods in his hands, feel his arms burning with pain, the forge entrance a bio from him. This was the point he had always fallen, time and again, before finally achieving his success. He felt his grip slipping…
And then he was back, back in the tree, muscles burning from exertion. His legs kicked frantically like a tottering schoolboy, the flexible limb of the tree bouncing nervously under its new burden. His heart thundered against the walls of his chest, trying to be set free of the body which held it hostage. The very air itself shook, a salivating beast breathing on its terrible prey.
Ancient rock, untouched for millennia, dissolved under the touch of the recent being’s thoughts. That encampment of proud Glatorian and eager Agori crashed to the valley floor, battered into submission by falling trees and shattered by falling rocks. The earth swallowed it whole, baring a sheer precipice of rock bearing witness to too many terrible choices.
* * *
Chains. He could feel them around his wrists, sunk into his armor, armor that dug into fragile skin.
Black. Two inches from his face. A torch. It sizzled and popped, sending light into the barren room. No, it wasn’t a room; its sides pulsed and swayed, breathing like the insides of a savage beast’s throat. It was warm; too warm, and the flames played shadows across the seething tent.
“Runner…” said the being holding the torch. “What do you know about the people of Vulcanus?”
“Nothing, Skrall. Nothing at all.”
The world faded again.
* * *
“Listen, foolish Glatorian. Where are the Fire Tribe going? What are their plans?”
“They are walking straight into the fire, sir.” Straight into the fire…
“Tut, tut, rookie. Where is the fire?”
Ackar sat up, bolt awake. Chains were locked around his armour, and a Skrall was waving a torch in front of his face. He was alone, in a tent, and his friends had been…
Oh, Rappert. My friend, my colleague…Tears started to form in his eyes, and he shut them to wash them out of his vision. His heart burned and ached. Rappert, dangling from a support tower. Rappert, running from trouble he no doubt had caused. Rappert, in disguise, trying to cover his laughter at the absurdity of how he looked. Rappert, gone.
And all because of you. We didn’t mean any harm, just wanted to teach the Ice people that they should share with us.
“Ow!” Ackar winced as the torch was brought down on his flesh again. Ackar, being who he was, had a natural resistance to fire, but he could still feel the torch, and the shock of the blow still unnerved him.
“Where is the Fire Tribe?” demanded the Skrall, pacing the room in utter disgust. “Or can they not do better than a bunch of rookies to face our might?”
“You know what, they won’t” said Ackar. “The silver fluid should be shared equally, among all the tribes. We fight for right, and you attack us.”
“The silver…belongs to the Rock Tribe. We own all that comes from the rocks below, including you, fool. Wasn’t that armor forged in Vulcanus, from heat that comes from our rock? You should serve us.”
“Who told you that?”
“My master, foolish rookie. I’ve learned to mind mine, and you will learn to mind yours, soon enough. Now where is that army?”
“They’ve gone to teach Iconox a lesson.”
* * *
Sunlight. Ackar felt the chains dig into his arms as he was dragged behind his captor. Well, mostly dragged. His ordeal had left him too weak to keep up with the Skrall’s pace, so the black-hued being mostly just yanked him along. Skrall paused in whatever task they happened to be engaged in to gawk and jeer: “Vulcanus’ pride and joy, right there.” “Our Skrall brother’s got a little taglong.” Raucous laughter. But the words just bounced off of Ackar. Exhustion conquered all emotion, his damaged limbs aching from his fall from the tree. He must have hit his head; his world swam dangerously a few times, and he thought he might black out again. He was forced into another tent. Fortunately for the ravished Glatorian, the top of this tent had a vent to let in air, which also let in a wave of dusty light.
“So, Glatorian, where is my army?” said the being inside. His body was black; his jaws crunched as he spoke, his voice surrounding like the deep rumble of a landslide about to be unleashed. Ackar gagged; his stomach heaved, but it was empty, and he only received a sour taste in his mouth. His legs gave out under him, and he fell to his knees, gasping for air.
“Heading toward Iconox, sir” said the Skrall that held Ackar.
“Does he know anything specific?”
“They are camped on the hill opposite Iconox, between there and the mountains” Ackar lied, his face to the floor.
“Aye, so I see that Vulcanus in quite easily fooled. They will come up through the mountain pass…I see.” The Element Lord did not hesitate. “Assign him to a work detail at once. If I find your information to be false, you will be killed.”
* * *
The water pail banged against the tub of it as Ackar dragged himself away. “Next.” barked the Skrall next to the tub. Ackar stumbled away, heading for the stream to draw water. His wrists stung, and his mind swam.
I hate Skrall. The cold water of the stream washed over his swollen wrists, yanking him out of his exhausted stupor. Rappert would have called them black trees with leaves. See the branches on their arms? He would laugh. He would call me names just to cheer me up.
“No dawdling down by the river. We have an entire camp, and that camp needs water!” The Skrall at the tub lashed out with his whip across Ackar’s bare back, sending the Glatorian stumbling in a haze of pain. Mindlessly, the Glatorian trotted back to the stream, grabbed a bunch of water, and stumbled back. I hate this stupid war. Silver substance. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Let the stupid Ice people have it. He shoved the water into the trough with a force, sending water surging up the sides. Take this, Skrall! He drew the water up, sent water over the banks. Take this, Element Lords! He threw his bucket into the tub. Take this, Spherus Magna!
Grabbing the bucket, he went back to the stream. He filled the bucket, walked back, and poured the water all over the waiting Skrall. Take this, death! Rappert will live on, and I will live, and you will fall!
* * *
Flames licked the sky.
“I hear the vine-weaving Agori are joining the war.”
“Oh, the tree-chopping Glatorian. I’m trembling in my booties.”
“Have you heard the one about the green Agori who lost his way?”
Heads shook all around, but Ackar could notice the knowing looks. They were just humoring him, trying to get him to go on.
“He walked up to a Skrall and asked where the nearest vine was!”
Chuckles all around, but Ackar could tell they were forced. He went back to eating as best he could. Once again he was chained to a Skrall. He knew that soon after, he would be dragged back to his sleeping pallet for another few precious hours of sleep before his day would begin again, too early. Only his anger kept him on his feet. I will right this wretched planet, even if I have to kill all of you to do it.
The flames in the pit roared higher, answering an unseen voice that even Ackar could not yet command.
* * *
Snow whirled about the assembled Skrall, forcing them to shield their eyes in order to see. Knees knocking, they trudged onward towards Iconox. Ackar shivered. He could not see in front of him, and only the chains’ hold on his wrist kept him moving.
* * *
Six Glatorian huddled together in the tent, chilled though and soaked to the bone. A vent cut in the top of the tent let the smoke escape, but it was a useless measure; the tent was drenched in it, and the Skrall around Ackar shook with coughing. The cold still leeched in though the walls of the tent, and the icy wind tore at the canvas walls, threatening to set them free from the ground. The Element Lord of Rock had assisted them in finding the rock beneath the layer of snow…most of said snow was in the air around them, Ackar guessed, being blown and tossed about. It doesn’t matter much, seeing as I am going to die, and soon. The Fire Glatorian would have never taken this pass; too open and exposed to the winds which could blow up this snow; they would take the faster route from behind the city, and descend upon this mountain villa down the slope and into Iconox. Of course, that is what any resident would logically expect…But nonetheless, they are probably long gone now. This war is over, and I’m still fighting it. His rage built up again. Oh, to join my comrades under the earth! Rappert, you had it easy; I’m still fighting someone else’s war.
Ackar reached his hand toward the fire, and felt nothing, only icy wind. The flames curled around the Glatorian’s hands, but he felt nothing, only the cold, hard rage of the White Quartz Mountains. The Skrall next to him tried to batter his hand away, only to withdraw it on pain of the surrounding flames. Ackar closed his eyes. The cold seeped into him, despite the vibration of the shivering Skrall around him. This is the end.
And then he felt something hot. His foot burned in pain. His eyes snapped open. The chain. Hard and brittle from days of shivering in the cold, the heat was breaking it. The armor from Vulcanus was only singed, but the Skrall metal of the chain had broken, lying across Ackar’s foot.
He jumped. To a standing position. The metal came free, liquefying some of the slush on the floor. The remaining chain snapped at his tug. And then a Skrall blade came back to Ackar’s throat.
Ackar fell backward into the snow, then scrambled to his feet. He moved, grabbing a stick of wood for the fire, and reaching past a Skrall, he plunged it in, sending sparks toward the tent ceiling and bringing the wood to blazing life. He ran out of the tent flap before the Skrall could react, plunging into the maelstrom beyond.
* * *
The tents, in their way, formed a semi-windbreak. Ackar’s torch did not go out. The lone aspect of red in a sea of black and white trudged through the snow, heading for the armory tent. The shields, stacked like pancakes. The battle lances. Ackar set them aflame. This was the time when the Skrall had wood shields on an iron palatte – designed to take and hold arrows – the lances were laced with the lighter material to make them easier to carry, a practice quickly abandoned after this battle.
Yes, it was a battle. Ackar, Glatorian of Fire, left the camp of the Skrall, heading toward Iconox. He had spent four days with the Skrall as they had traveled this route up the mountain, which journey began two days after the end of the battle which Ackar’s friends lost. The battle was known later as the Battle of Iconox, for lack of a better name.
It began with a single Glatorian, a prisoner of the Skrall, who had left the camp to die…
* * *
It must only have been a few minutes, thought Ackar. The snow whipped past his face; ever since he had left the camp of the Skrall, the only thing he saw was swirling snow. He took another step forward, and his vision resolved itself.
A village, wedged between three grand and forbidding peaks.
He trudged forward, full of new purpose. He would warn the villagers of the army on their doorstep and beg for mercy. He could see the guards, posted on the route to the pass now…just a few more steps…and then Ackar heard a horn. Vulcanus.
Red beings descended across the landscape, crashing down on the Iconox defenders. Flames burst out against the structures, bouncing off the solid mineral of the houses, only scorching it. The Ice tribe defenders appeared from behind structures, slashing at warriors as they stumbled and slide down the white slope.
“Ackar! Give us a hand!” shouted one Glatorian. One of the Ice warriors had cut down three of the Glatorian of Fire.
“It’s lost!” Ackar bellowed. “We lost. The Rock tribe is coming!”
Ackar could see the flaming mass of being that was the Element Lord of Fire coming down the hill, urging them on. “No, retreat!” Baffled, the Fire Glatorian paused in mid-fight, giving their enemies an opportunity that few would miss. Ice formed on the armor of the already cold and miserable Glatorian as the Element Lord of Ice came out to defend his people.
Steam wafted across the landscape as the ice was melted. Fire blazed through the afternoon, but it was too weak for Iconox. “The Rock tribe is coming!” yelled Ackar. “Get out!” He saw the lights of familiarity dawn. He was Ackar, their friend. Weakened as they were, they could not take on two tribes. Slowly, the Glatorian of Fire scaled the heights, their enemies curtailed by fire blasts in his immortal fury.
Below, the floor erupted with a battle cry as the armies of the Skrall charged into Iconox. The charge was too long…the fire Glatorian heeded the cry and finished the climb up and down the mountainside, headed for relative safety.
The Skrall charged into Iconox…only to find no one but a few not so surprised Iconox defenders. The battle was pitched, because the Skrall’s shields and lances were on fire, dealing dangerous blows to the defenders of Iconox. The battle was long, but skill and strength would carry the day, as the embers in the shields went out. To this day the Skrall evoke these surprising effects of this battle – from that day forward the shield fronts are black, the maze design shown in red to effect the blaze of the burning coals. What they won’t remember, or can’t, is who set them aflame.
Many proud defenders of Iconox perished that day. And Ackar remembered. This is my war. I will take you all down, for taking my friends away – you will pay for it!
Edited by fishers64, Nov 09 2012 - 01:04 PM.