I guess I should warn that this story does contain a few PG-13 moments. It gets violent, but I assume I haven't crossed any boundaries. Should be acceptable, though.
The island of Zakaz. Perhaps the closest one can get to Karzahni without ending up in Karzahni itself. A land of conflict, misery and death where each day the sun dawns over a fresh field, and comes to rest, drawing away from a newly war torn battlefield. But there was a time before, a time when war wasn’t all that its people knew. Once it had hosted a thriving and peaceful community that shared the land with their brothers and sisters without animosity. But things change. Power corrupts. And it was power that was granted to the Skakdi.
The Makuta Spiriah saw it as his gift that he would bestow upon the people. They saw it as a tool. And so they used it as a weapon. Old feuds boiled to the surface. Fights broke out. War began. Once-powerful cities fell to the ground as warlords rose to power. Spiriah saw the chaos he had unwittingly ignited and fled. But the Skakdi had no choice but to remain in the inferno they created, and so they burned with their island in the unquenchable flames. Precautions were taken by other civilisations and from all but the more devious of islands, they were cut off, alone in their misery. Death became all they knew.
Winter had come. Snowflakes drifted down to a pale sheet that spread across the frozen earth. All around, snow lay sleeping on the skeletal remains of trees and the ruins of buildings. Nature won without seeing so much as a struggle from industry. It smothered all that the Skakdi had created.
Rasinov saw this and kicked out at the white beneath his feet. It rose in a spray that made him feel better. But that feeling of contentment melted away quickly. It had done nothing but reveal a tiny patch of dead earth beneath him. And even that began to disappear as the snow fell to replace its fallen allies.
Around him the echoes of a city stood stubbornly strong. The hollow remains of buildings coiled around them, gutted by raids and desperate flight. Some still had all four walls holding them up. Those were the lucky ones. To their right, they passed blasted chunks of stone, rubble wrapped around a cracked stone circle. Rasinov guessed that there had once been a fountain around that area. Now all that remained was a ghost of a memory.
The small group of Skakdi trudged through the frozen wasteland. Twenty of them marched through the city’s remains in stone silence. Their mouths, so normally curled in grins, were placid and solemn. They had long since lost reason to smile.
At their head their leader, Gorr, marched ever onwards firing insults and jeers at his people. This was his encouragement, or so he thought. Any who took offense weren’t suitable for his ranks. Any who took his words to heart would be asked to leave. If they were lucky enough.
So it was as one that they marched, united in both their movements and their one undoubted belief. That the one who led was insane. He had lost his mind a long time ago, perhaps when Spiriah had cursed them, perhaps even before that. But he was one of Nektann’s most loyal generals and so nobody would dare to encourage an uprising. If Nektann discovered that any had attacked Gorr, the offenders would find themselves mercilessly hunted. And when caught, they would be forced to beg for mercy. Then Nektann would kill them. He took things personally.
They had been marching for two weeks now, battling their way through armies of snow, barracks of ice. Nektann had demanded the unit be moved from the east of the island further south. It was his command that they join the warlord Jurg’s army in a temporary alignment against Rema’s forces in the west. After that it was doubtless what any would do. As soon as victory was declared, the army would turn on itself and destroy any reinforcements. But Nektann saw this small unit as a price worth paying in the struggle for control, so left the others no choice but to follow it.
“I don’t know how much longer we can keep doing this,” Sarren complained. His voice was quiet and Rasinov might even have mistaken it for the wind. He looked at his companion, his bleached white skin and armour almost blending in with the environment were it not for the dull grey highlights streaked here and there. “We haven’t stopped for days. It’s been snowing for weeks.”
“I know,” Rasinov replied. “I’ve been here too.”
Sarren was the closest thing Rasinov could call a friend amongst these ranks. They had been allies since before the wars began, trading partners in the great cities of the west. Sarren won his affection through his quick wit and ability to make light of any situation. But as the days progressed, that old good humour had melted away revealing a colder, harder layer below. His smile was fading, the jokes surfacing less quickly. His temper had begun to lessen.
They had fallen under Nektann’s command by Sarren’s encouragement. He saw the warlord as the strongest competitor for control over Zakaz. And the more Rasinov saw of the never-ending conflict, the more he believed it. If Zakaz were to have a victor, it would be Nektann.
“Gorr isn’t thinking right,” the white Skakdi continued. “He doesn’t see it as everyone else does. He didn’t even notice when Lox keeled over a few kio back, did he? The rest of us did. But he wouldn’t even listen as we begged him to stop. He just kept going. Said he’d gut us if we kept bothering him. Imagine that, gutting us because we wanted to save one of our own. Because we want to make sure this army is in one piece by the time we get to Jurg’s land. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he belonged to old Rema’s army and that he was leading us to our deaths.”
“But he isn’t. And that’s that.” Rasinov spoke quietly and in a hush. He wasn’t sure if Sarren had noticed but his voice was getting louder. If Gorr heard even a word, they would be taken for conspirators.
“It’s true though,” Sarren continued. He was attracting the attention of those around him, some of whom cast wary glances and distanced themselves, others of whom murmured in agreement and exchanged sombre nods. “The fool could march us to the pits Karzahni and emerge alone and I don’t think he’d even notice we were missing. He’d get to Jurg, look behind him and would probably just think he’d walked on ahead without us.”
His words appeared to be ringing true towards the Skakdi that surrounded him. As each utterance tumbled out of his mouth, they drifted around and fell upon the ears of his partners like the snowflakes that fell over their heads. They looked to one another and Rasinov feared they were beginning to formulate ideas. And when Gorr was involved, any idea was a bad idea.
Sarren opened his mouth to continue speaking, but cried out in surprise as a hand snapped forward and clenched around his throat. His arms bolted forwards and his fingers grasped the wrist before him, but he was too weak to pull away. Rasinov backed off slightly and regarded the brute that had turned around and now held Sarren in a fierce grip.
At that moment, the few Skakdi before them parted to allow one solitary figure to walk through. Gorr regarded Sarren plainly with a cool expression, as though he were no more than snow to brush away from his gleaming silver pauldrons. A crooked grin tore across the edge of his face and he raised a lone eyebrow that twisted his expression. “Please. Continue,” he purred softly.
Sarren’s eyes bulged and he made a choking noise. At Gorr’s command, the brute dropped the pale Skakdi who crumpled to the snow coated ground in a heap and lay wheezing gently. “I was…just…saying…maybe resting…for the night…”
“And why would we do that, soldier?” Gorr said, taking a few steps forward until his feet were directly before Sarren’s croaking form. “I can still walk. The rest of you were still walking. Are you like a twig that would snap under too much pressure? If so, I can think of better uses for you, for what I need is swords to fight with. Not wood that would be better left to burn, warming the rest of us.”
Rasinov felt his breath catch in his throat. A chill ran through his spine as Gorr’s tone of voice pierced his ears and left no doubt as to what his intentions would be. “Don’t blame him for weakness, sir,” Rasinov said quickly, barely even thinking as he stepped quickly as close to Sarren as he could dare. “It was my fault. I started the conversation. My concerns were over Lox and how he fell from exhaustion when only a few of us noticed. It was wrong of me to voice my doubts over your leadership and I’m willing to take any and all punishment for my crimes.”
His words settled down over the remnants of the city, leaving the atmosphere colder than the ice. The soldiers held their breath, their eyes darting between the three Skakdi, waiting to see who would break first. Sarren crawled to his hands and knees and looked up at Rasinov, his lips twitching with desperation to speak. But he couldn’t. Should he contradict his ally, he would only land them deeper into trouble. So he said nothing, and simply lowered his eyes to the uncaring white void beneath him.
“Is that so?” Gorr whispered quietly. He looked over his ranks and soaked in every expression they wore. “I thought it clear to you all that I was the one who led this army. I direct you to the fields of battle so you may lay down your lives for the sake of the glorious Nektann. You live for Nektann. You breathe for Nektann and by the Great Spirit you will die for Nektann. And it is Nektann’s words that gave me power over every single one of you!” Every utterance boiled with rage. His anger sizzled beneath the surface until finally it burst through, like a flood exploding through a dam. He charged forward and balled his hand into a fist. The Skakdi had little time to react, so merely watched as it connected and sent him sprawling into the snow. Even as while he fell, Gorr leapt forward and kicked him in the side, delivering blow after blow. Spittle flew from his lips as he howled, deranged, wild shrieks bursting from his lips. “So it is not-” He aimed another kick. “For any miserable-” Kick. “Worthless-” Kick. “Meaningless piece of trash to direct you and to fill your head with commands that contradict MY ORDERS!”
He lashed out one final time, and then walked away. He breathed deeply. He pinched the bridge of his nose and looked skyward. Then he started laughing. Rasinov rolled onto his side and groaned in agony. Something had definitely broken. He would have to find out later what it was. “You have my apologies. And my assurances that this will not occur again.”
“No…No, it will not happen again.” Gorr looked down and the sickly, unpleasant smile slithered across his face once again. He looked down at Sarren who shivered on the spot, not daring to move, even to lift his eyes from Rasinov’s bruised and battered form. “You all need a lesson. Something to show you that my authority is…unwavering.” He reached down to his waist and withdrew a wicked knife that gleamed even in the sun-starved landscape.
“What are you going to do…?” Rasinov asked quietly, choking for air. His breath came in ragged, short burst, barely enough to sustain him.
“I’m going to teach you to still your tongues…” Gorr declared, spreading his arms wide and spinning on the spot to address all his subjects. He caught their eyes each in turn as span. Finally, he finished rotating and fixated his gaze onto only one, lone, solitary figure. Sarren. “By stilling his.”
And with that he leapt forward. Weakened as he was, Rasinov couldn’t muster the strength to leap to his feet. Sarren cried out in horror as Gorr’s hands clamped around his face as wrenched his jaws open. None of the other Skakdi dared to intervene, dared to prevent the following actions their leader would perform. They knew that any action would cause Gorr to lash out. A battle would follow that would only end in a death. And killing Gorr would result in retribution from Nektann. So they stood. And they watched as Gorr slowly slid the knife further and further towards Sarren’s face.
Finally, the work was done. Sarren lay in the snow, weeping softly to himself. Gorr stepped away, clearly shaken by his loss of control, but determined not to lose face. He stowed his knife away then stepped forward. “And I won’t hear any more objections from any of you,” he said bluntly. And that was that.
Rasinov said nothing in objection. He simply looked in horror at Sarren, who hugged himself to comfort the pain and kept his eyes shut tightly to the world. Rasinov felt his anger grow, bubbling away within him. But with nothing to vent it at he could only allow it to sizzle within him, burning him, corrupting him. It was his fault. Daring to confront Gorr. Correcting him. Gorr may not even have reacted so had he not seen the potential for a conspiracy. It was his mouth that had ended them in this mess. And it would certainly not be his mouth that would get them out of it.
So he said nothing. He simply got to his feet and brushed the snow from his knees. He walked forward and tried to offer his comrade assistance in clambering to his feet, but Sarren simply lay there, dead to the world. “We’re going,” Rasinov said, surprising himself with the harsh tone of his words. Something stirred within his old friend. He looked up with bleary eyes and met those of Rasinov’s.
The two linked for that short moment in time. And finally something crossed between them, cutting off that bond forever. A shadow passed over Sarren’s expression, and his lips curled in snarl. He icily regarded the hand that Rasinov answered and knocked it aside. Then with an intelligible grunt, he pushed himself to his feet and strode away, never looking back.
Rasinov followed in silence, staring at the spines that riddled his old friend’s back. He didn’t blame him for his anger. It was understandable. But it hurt to lose his closest friend. Maybe he deserved it. But maybe he didn’t.
He looked to the sky, as though Mata Nui would provide an answer to his questions, written in the one cloud that hid them from the suns. Unsurprisingly, there was nothing but the vast, vapid whiteness, a void that stretched as far as the eye could see. The white flecks still fell around them, roosting on the trees, settling on the ruins, melting as they came to rest on the Skakdi’s armour. He was lost in the empty beauty of it all, immersed in this frozen world that consumed him and all he held dear. Dead to it all. Until the first arrow struck.
It fell from the sky, at first a black smudge, then growing larger until it fell amidst the ranks and soared directly into the snow. The group parted and backed away from the feathered end that still protruded from its white grave, as though it might explode at any moment.
Gorr snarled and turned his attention to the land around them. All was silent. He growled to himself like a wolf. He remained perfectly still, focusing deeper and deeper into the nothingness with his telescopic eye vision. “There they are!” he cried out suddenly. Rasinov craned his neck to see, but could make out nothing beyond the white veil.
Gorr reached to his side and withdrew his blade, four feet long and lethally sharp. He raised it skywards and bellowed: “So they sought to head us off, did they? And the cowards dared to try and catch us unawares! Well, let them try. We are of the great Nektann’s army! We are mighty! Unstoppable! Un-“
What they were would be forever lost to Rasinov. He doubted he cared much. But he knew he would never find out, as at that very moment, heralded by a high pitched screech, a second arrow fell from the sky and found its target. It lodged itself firmly in Gorr’s throat. The insane leader choked momentarily in surprised and staggered backwards. He wheezed in complaint, and then fell down dead.
A dreadful silence washed over the small group. They looked at one another with an uncertainty that threatened to drown them. The decision came. Sink or swim? The sudden storm of arrows answered for them. Swim.
They turned on their heels and charged away as the arrows fell from the sky as thick and fast as the flakes of snow, but heavier and more lethal. Death rained from above and took those who weren’t fast enough. Rasinov felt himself shoved aside in the flight and nearly stumbled, every inch of his body screaming in complaint. But he resolved he could not die hear, not now. So he shoved back.
They made it perhaps half a kio before they found themselves lured into the trap. A swarm of Skakdi soldiers leapt from behind the ruined buildings and rushed forwards holding their tools high for all to see. Spears, swords, axes. All lethal. All promising death.
Still the arrows rained from behind though far fewer in number now. They pattered to a slow halt like the last moments of rainfall. Finally from behind the curtain of snow, the archers marched into view. Behind them followed another line of Skakdi warriors.
Rasinov turned to flee to the left but the sight of movement made his heart sink. He didn’t even have to turn around again to know that the remaining seven Skakdi of their group were surrounded on every angle. Sarren had been right. Gorr had walked them straight to their deaths and not even realised it.
He felt himself grow faint. There would be no escape. In just such a short time he had lost everything. His leader. His friend. His freedom. How could he have spent so many years in peace to have just five minutes snatch away what millennia had built up?
But he would have plenty of time to dwell on that, he realised. For now his attention would have to be focused on the being in golden armour that stepped before them. Behind him followed another Skakdi, a female in dazzling emerald armour who wore a wicked grin across her pointed face.
Nobody drew weapons. Nobody even stepped forward to challenge the figure that looked down at them, grinning broadly with his arms outstretched as if to embrace them. The sheer numbers around them were indication enough as to just how pointless such efforts would be. They weren’t dead yet. That meant they were wanted for something. They still had a chance to survive.
“I’m so glad we could reach you in time,” the golden figure said slowly. His voice rocked high into the air and coiled itself around not only the seven defeated Skakdi, but around the entire army that encompassed them. “My spies report that you were intended to join the fool Jurg’s armies. I’m afraid that will be quite impossible. My name, as I’m sure you well know, is Rema. And you may now consider yourselves my prisoners.”
Edited by Sechs - King of Facade, Sep 15 2012 - 04:56 PM.