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Glatorian Chronicles #9: Reluctant Allies

Glatorian Chronicles

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#1 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Mar 01 2012 - 09:54 AM

Welcome one and all to the ninth installment of the Glatorian Chronicles series!

"But wait," you may ask, "what IS the Glatorian Chronicles and why should I care about it?"

I can't answer the second question, but the first is easy.

The Glatorian Chronicles is a series of Bionicle fanfiction short stories/short epics that star each of the twelve Glatorian characters released as sets in 2009. All are written in first person point of view from the point of view of the starring Glatorian. Each story is completely independent of the others, so a new reader can jump in at any point in the series with little-to-no confusion on the reader's part. (NOTE: If you wish to read the last eight GC stories, you can find links to them in my library topic here.)

This story stars Ackar and is thus written from his point of view. It is 6 chapters long, so it's not terribly long. Hope y'all enjoy it :) .
 


Contents:

Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI



Chapter I


I fired off several blasts of fire at the enemy soldiers. I aimed to hit instead of scare, but if they chose to run away that was fine, too, because I didn’t think that my small army of soldiers would be able to keep them at bay for much longer.

I dove behind a large rock to avoid an oncoming water blast, which created an earsplitting explosion when it collided with the rock behind me. I winced at the sound as cold water splashed onto my armor. A moment later, a big soldier ducked next to me behind the boulder.

Looking to my right, I recognized the soldier as Malum, one of the troops under my command. His armor was covered in snow splotches, he looked like he’d just been wrestling a Snaj, his sword was broken . . . and he seemed to be enjoying every minute of it. That didn’t surprise me, because Malum always loved fighting and killing, even if his enemies were the ones doing the fighting and killing.

“Ackar, what are you doing hiding behind a rock?” asked Malum as he crouched next to me. “Why are you not there in the middle of the battle, leading your forces against the Water army? Don’t you wish to die in glorious combat?”

“I would rather not die at all,” I said as I fired another fire bolt at the Water soldiers. “We are severely outnumbered. There’re maybe five hundred of us against two thousand of them. If I go out there and face the enemy head on I’ll probably just get killed, which wouldn’t help anyone but the enemy army.”

“Well, if I were in charge of this brigade, I would be out there personally leading my troops to victory,” Malum replied. “And if I died, then it would be in combat. It is what my soul craves.”

“You sound an awful lot like a Skrall.”

“And you sound like a frightened little Agori. Which is better?”

Malum had a way of getting under my skin and right now I wasn’t too happy, what with the cold weather of the Northern Frost, the stress of the battle, and my fatigued body. But I controlled my tongue, because arguing with Malum would get us nowhere closer to defeating the enemy and would just make me more irritable.

I glanced around at our surroundings, trying to think of a strategy. We were in Ice Canyon, the primary route to the mysterious pool of silvery liquid that this whole war was about. Steep stone walls covered with ice and snow surrounded us on both sides, nearly impossible to scale due to their slippery surfaces. We were at the north end of it, protecting the entrance to the pool from the invading Water soldiers. Should they break through our defenses, the silvery pool would be lost and our Element Lord wouldn’t be happy, to put it lightly.

In the no-man’s land between us and the Water army lay the corpses of soldiers from both armies, although it looked to me like there were more red-armored corpses than blue. The sight of all of those dead soldiers under my command made me feel terrible, but their sacrifice would be in vain if I couldn’t defeat the Water army. So I had to keep fighting, no matter how bad the situation looked.

That was when I noticed all of the snow piled high on the cliffs above us. An idea occurred to me just then: What would happen if we were to cause an avalanche? And what if the avalanche, coincidentally, fell on the Water soldiers?

The idea was incredibly risky, but we had no other options. So I quickly relayed my plan to Malum. To my relief, Malum actually chuckled, saying, “Ah, that’s more like it, Ackar! An icy death awaits those who stand before our raging fire!”

“Yeah,” I said, with less enthusiasm than Malum. “Now go spread the word to the rest of the brigade. We’re going to have to get at least five or so on each side of the canyon in order to make this plan work.”

“Never fear, Ackar,” said Malum. “I shall make sure this plan of yours works. It is better than losing the silvery pool to the Water tribe, after all.”

Malum quickly left, moving swiftly across the snow and ice for a being his size. He even managed to dodge most of the Water army’s attacks. However irritating or even downright crazy Malum was, I had to admit that he did have his uses.

Soon Malum reported back to me that all of the Fire soldiers knew about the plan and were even now moving into position. Despite the cold wind that blew through the canyon just then, I had to smile. My soldiers were the best in the army, for they never questioned my orders. Then again, I thought, there wasn’t much to question about this plan, except perhaps the wisdom of it.

Just as Malum had told me, my soldiers began pulling back, as if in retreat. The Water soldiers were advancing now, for they probably thought we had given up. They probably thought we were all cowards. They probably thought they were better than us. They probably thought they were going to win.

I couldn’t wait to prove them wrong.

I reviewed my plan as I joined with the rest of my men in retreating. It was simple, really. Trick the Water soldiers into believing we were retreating, and then cause an avalanche that would fill the canyon with snow. With luck, a large majority of the enemy force would be crushed beneath tons of freezing slush and the silvery pool would remain safe in the hands of the Fire tribe. Easy.

Of course, the whole plan would fall apart without the avalanche. That was why I had five Fire soldiers on both sides of the canyon waiting for the right moment to strike. Assuming nothing will go wrong, as soon as the Water army reaches the center of the canyon, my men will use their elementally-powered weapons to create an avalanche. If my calculations were correct, then the Water army was about to get a very cold surprise.

I realized the canyon would be blocked by the snow, but I reasoned that, if necessary, my men and I could melt it to allow possible reinforcements to arrive without trouble. Fire melts snow, after all, but I didn’t know if we could melt the tons of snow that the avalanche would create. I figured I would worry about that later, when protecting the silvery pool was no longer an issue.

I shouted orders to my men to run faster, in order to make our ‘retreat’ look realistic. I could hear the shouts of the Water army as they advanced, taunting us and yelling victory cries. I mentally counted down the seconds until my men escaped the canyon. Fifteen . . . fourteen . . . thirteen . . . twelve . . . eleven . . .

Just then, I tripped over a rock, of all things. I hit the ground face first and immediately started sliding down the slippery incline. Panicked, I tried to stop, but the iced over rock was too slippery for me to grab onto. I looked over my shoulder and saw that I was sliding straight down toward the oncoming army. With dread I realized I was probably about to die, for none of my men were close enough to save me. In fact, it looked like they didn’t even know I’d fallen, for they were still running toward the mouth of the canyon as though everything was still going exactly according to plan.

“Wait!” I shouted. “Hey! Someone help me!”

But I don’t think my soldiers heard me over the loud war cries of the Water army. They just kept running like their lives depended on it (which they did, in fact). I dug my sword into the ground, which stopped me from sliding any further, thankfully.

At that moment, I heard loud blasts of fire strike the canyon walls . . . and with dread, I realized that the avalanche was heading right toward me and the Water army. I looked to my left and right and saw tons of snow thundering down the cliffs on either side. Even if I did stand up and run for it, I doubted I would be able to escape.

I stood up anyway, pulled my blade out of the icy ground, and looked around. The Water army seemed to have noticed the avalanche, too, for they were now frantically retreating. I doubted they would escape, for in their haste to run away many of them slipped and slid on the icy ground, knocking their companions over in the process. It didn’t take long for the whole army to become disorganized to the point where it was obvious that their fate was sealed.

Mine probably was, too, but I was still standing at least. So long as I still had my two feet, I knew I had to at least try to escape. My instincts as a soldier made it impossible for me to give up even when the odds were against me.

So I began running up the slope as carefully as I could to avoid falling. But it was a doomed effort, for in a minute a wall of cold, rock hard snow slammed into me, knocking me out instantly.
 

-


For a long while there, I was sure I was dead. I neither saw nor heard anything and I seemed incapable of speaking or even moving my body. I had been buried underneath tons and tons of snow, after all. Dying was the only outcome one could expect from being hit by an avalanche of that size and power. Even I, a Fire soldier, knew that much.

After a while, I opened my eyes, slowly and painfully, for they felt frozen shut. At first, I saw shadows playing on the walls of a cavern and was almost certain that I was dead now. But then I felt heat (maybe from a warm fire?) nearby, thawing my body. And then the pain; dead people don’t feel pain. Of that I was certain.

I struggled to sit up, but couldn’t due to my weak limbs. So I tried to look around the cavern, to get an idea of where I was.

It was a plain cave. The walls were not decorated in any way. No carvings, no pictures, nothing. I also didn’t see any furniture, which meant that this cave probably belonged to an animal or at least was not inhabited by Agori (or Gadarians, my own species).

As I had thought, a warm fire was blazing near me. The heat felt good after the cold. All I wanted to do was lie there until I thawed out, and maybe even after that, too. It was such a cozy fire. I could just sleep in front of it forever.

That was when I noticed someone else in the cave, sitting on the opposite side of the fire. She was a female in blue armor, carrying a trident in her hands. The Water soldier didn’t seem to notice me, but I didn’t have the strength to get up and run or fight. I just managed to push myself slightly away from the fire, which I knew was a mistake as soon as I did it because the Water soldier looked at me when I stirred.

The Water soldier started when she saw me move, then relaxed and said, “Oh, you’re still alive.”

“Why? Were you hoping I was dead?” I asked as I sat up, my strength returning to me, although I was still weak.

“Kind of,” said the soldier, but to my surprise she sounded doubtful. “Well, not really. I mean, I know you’re a Fire soldier and all and are my enemy, but I just think it would really suck if you were dead because then I’d be all alone. Being all alone in the Northern Frost would not be fun.”

“Oh,” I said, although I wasn’t entirely convinced by this. “It still would have benefited your army if I had died.”

“You’re right,” said the soldier, nodding. “Then again, I’m not sure if anyone cares if you died. You’re just one soldier, so-“

“Be quiet,” I snapped. “How’d you survive that avalanche and drag me into this cave?”

“I didn’t drag you here,” said the soldier, folding her arms. “I just woke up in this cavern after the avalanche. You were also asleep until just a few seconds ago. So I have no idea how we get here or who started this fire.”

She gestured at the blaze, which burned brightly in the cave.

“That’s strange,” I said. “So you don’t know who did it?”

“Not a clue,” said the soldier with a shrug. “So anyway, what’s your name? I’m Kiina.”

“Ackar,” I answered. I looked around and asked, “So, do you know where we are, at least?”

“Somewhere in the Northern Frost,” said Kiina. “I explored outside the cave mouth a little but couldn’t identify our location. All I know is that it is dark out and there’s a snowstorm blowing through.”

I cursed my bad luck. However thankful I may have been about surviving, I was still angry about being separated from my army, especially since I was stuck with a Water soldier (an obvious trainee at that), and had no idea where we were. I didn’t think it could get any worse.

“Hey, did you start that avalanche?” Kiina asked, breaking me out of my thoughts.

“What?” I said, looking at her.

“The avalanche that probably killed a lot of my fellow soldiers,” said Kiina, looking at me with new dislike. “Did you order that?”

I was about to say yes, I did, but I hesitated. If I told Kiina that I was responsible for the possible deaths of hundreds or maybe even thousands of her allies, she might just kill me here and now without a second thought. It would be too risky to tell the truth in this situation. I needed to be alive and in order to remain alive I needed Kiina’s trust.

So I said, “No. That was someone else’s idea.”

“I think you’re lying,” said Kiina, pointing at me angrily. “I know your name. Ackar, the master strategist of the Fire army. I know you were in charge of that brigade. You must have come up with that brilliant plan, didn’t you?”

I had to admit, I was amazed at Kiina’s sharp mind. She’d managed to see straight through my lie right away. She may have been a trainee, but she was a pretty smart trainee, I had to give her that.

I shrugged and said, “Okay, you’re right. I came up with that plan. It was all my idea. I suppose you’re going to kill me now, right?”

“No,” said Kiina, the anger in her voice obvious. “If I killed you, what would that accomplish? Nothing because I’d be all alone in the middle of nowhere without food or water or anything. I have a better chance of surviving with an ally than without one. Doesn’t mean I have to like you, though.”

“What if I try to kill you?” I replied. “Did you think about that?”

“Easy,” said Kiina. “You’re in the same boat as me. If you kill me, your chances of surviving on your own are just as slim as mine. So you won’t kill me because you need me, just like how I need you.”

“You have a point,” I said grudgingly. “So let’s make a deal. I won’t kill you and you won’t kill me. We work together until we find civilization. Agreed?”

“Sure,” said Kiina with a shrug. “Why not? It’s better than fighting and killing each other like two dumb animals.”

“We will leave after the storm outside stops,” I said. “Going out in that weather would be suicide. Perhaps we should rest until it passes.”

“Okay,” said Kiina, nodding. She yawned and said, “I’m tired, anyway. Time to sleep.”

“’Night,” I said.

Neither of us got much sleep that night. Even though we’d made an alliance, I still kept awake for as long as I could, just in case Kiina planned to kill me in my sleep. I suspected Kiina thought I’d do the same to her, but I didn’t know for sure. Even a rookie would know better than to sleep in the same room as an enemy soldier without first being prepared to fight for her life. It was the smartest – and safest – thing to do.
 

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Edited by TNTOS, Jan 23 2014 - 03:59 PM.

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#2 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Mar 08 2012 - 10:00 AM

Chapter II


The next morning I awoke before Kiina did. And for a long while I just lay there, trying to keep as warm as I could. I didn’t want to move, but I knew I would have to get up eventually. Civilization was not going to come to us, after all.

I sat up and glanced out the cave mouth. The sun was rising. The storm was nowhere to be seen, which meant it would be safe to travel. The only things we’d have to worry about were wild animals, avalanches and unexpected snow storms, and any Ice soldiers that might be prowling around nearby. It would be a walk in the park, in other words.

I looked at Kiina, who lay curled in a ball with her trident by her side. I thought about waking her up, but decided to scout the area first and wake her later when I had a better idea of where we were.

As I stood up, I looked at the fire. It had gone out in the middle of the night, leaving nothing but smoking ashes. Again I wondered who had created that fire, because if Kiina had told the truth, we had a mysterious savior to thank. But who was he? Where had he gone? Why had he saved us? Why hadn’t he shown himself to us?

Pushing those questions out of my mind for now, I walked slowly out of the cave, for my legs still hurt from the avalanche. Sleeping on the hard stone floor hadn’t soothed to my bones, either.

I emerged onto the snowy plain. It was still early in the morning, but I could see the sun’s rays shining over the peaks of the mountains around us. I saw no life anywhere. I just saw snow, some rocks and a few dead trees, but mostly snow. The snow was cold and crunched underneath my feet, but that was the only sound I could hear in this dead place, except for the cold wind that occasionally blew through, causing me to shiver.

One look around the place caused me to realize that we were in the center of a triangle formed by three mountains. That, normally, would not have been odd or worth mentioning, because to my understanding such formations were usual in the Northern Frost, except for the titanic ice walls connecting the three mountains together, like the fortifications of a gigantic fortress.

No, there really were giant ice walls. They were just as high as the mountains, if not as thick, and were covered with snow, thus making them look solid white. I didn’t see anyone on the walls, but the walls were so tall that if anyone was up there, I would barely be able to see them even if I had the eyes of a hawk.

I hurried back into the cave and woke Kiina up. I quickly told her all about the ice walls and the mountains.

“Giant walls of ice?” she said as she rose to her feet. “Triangular mountains? That sounds weird.”

“Weird, yes, but true,” I insisted. “Just step outside the cave and see for yourself.”

Kiina gave me a suspicious look, causing me to hastily add, “And, uh, I will step out with you at the same time."

She looked less suspicious now, but I could tell she still didn’t trust me. I had no intention of backstabbing her, but I understood her distrust of me well, for I didn’t trust her much, either. How can you trust someone who is technically supposed to be your enemy?

We both stepped out of the cave (in unison, as I promised) and Kiina saw the walls and mountains for herself. I had to resist the urge to say ‘I told you so,’ so I satisfied myself with the look of bewilderment on Kiina’s face.

“How are we going to get out of here?” she asked as she wrapped her arms around her body, for it was very cold out. “I don’t see any openings in those walls.”

“I doubt my fire sword could melt holes through them,” I said, looking at my weapon, which was bent but still seemed to be in working condition. “They look as thick as mountains, if not thicker.”

“We could climb over the mountains,” Kiina suggested, pointing at the nearest peak. “Of course, that might take days or even weeks and there is no guarantee we’ll survive, but . . .”

“It seems to be our only option,” I said. “Do you think there might be other intelligent living beings in here? Those walls don’t look natural to me.”

“I doubt it,” said Kiina, gesturing at the fort with her arms. “Look at this place. It’s icy, uninhabitable, desolate, and totally unfriendly. There’s no way anyone could live here. And I seriously doubt the walls were built by somebody. They’re probably just a bizarre natural phenomenon, like those rocks that burn underwater.”

“Fine,” I said. “All right, Miss Know-It-All, then lead the way up the mountain. I’m sure you are an experienced mountain climber. You do have mountains in Aqua Magna, right? Or do you just spend all of your time playing in the water?”

Kiina blasted me with a burst of water. Under normal circumstances, the water was cold but not unbearably so. Out here, in the snowy mountains, however, it was absolutely freezing. Only by countering her attack with a blast of fire from my sword was I able to prevent myself from becoming the world’s most realistic ice statue.

“Shut it, melt head,” Kiina said, shutting off her trident at the same time I shut off my sword. “I think all of the cold is freezing your brain. Then again, all of that heat from the Great Volcano probably melted your brain to begin with, so it might actually be an improvement.”

I hurled a fire bolt at her, but she was quick, nimbly dodging the projectile. She landed lightly on the snow and said, “So you want a fight, is that it?”

“Maybe,” I said, my sword glowing with charged energy. “Maybe I’d just like to burn that smug expression right off your face.”

“And maybe I’d like to douse that temper of yours . . . permanently,” Kiina said.

I laughed. “Go ahead and try.”

Before either of us could make the first move, however, a fierce winter wind blew through. It was so numbingly cold that both Kiina and I dropped our weapons and fell to our knees, arms wrapped around our own bodies to keep in as much heat as we could. It felt like a blizzard had blown in, but I didn’t know how that was possible considering the weather had been clear only a few seconds ago.

Just as I thought we were going to die from the sheer coldness, the wind abated and the temperature rose back to normal. Shivering violently, I looked around and noticed a being made of ice standing between us.

At least, that’s what he looked like. His body shone in the morning sun like ice. Yet a thin layer of snow also covered his body, like he’d bathed in that stuff. His eyes were a deep, cold blue, absent of any emotion or feeling. His fingers looked like icicles, excepted sharpened to the point where he could probably cut through steel with those grippers. He was also extremely tall, towering over us both like a large ice sculpture.

I had no idea where he had come from, for he hadn’t been standing there a moment before. But the sheer aura of absolute power emitting from his body was one I recognized, for it was the same kind given off by the Element Lord of Fire, except colder.

And if my theory about his identity was correct . . . I doubted either Kiina or I would survive much longer.

“No way,” I said, shivering, looking up into the face of this almighty being. “You can’t be . . . the Element Lord of Ice, Xocion?”

The Element Lord looked upon me with a cold gaze, and for a moment I felt as though I was standing naked in the middle of the worst, coldest storm in the history of the world. “So I see the brave yet aged Ackar recognizes me. I suppose it is not surprising, for I am famous throughout all of Spherus Magna.”

He turned to Kiina and said, “And the naïve, easily angered Kiina. You know you stand in the face of winter itself, so I would suggest cooling down that temper of yours before it burns you.”

Kiina looked too stunned to be angry. “Xocion? That’s not possible. I mean, why would the Element Lord of Ice bother with two soldiers that aren’t even under his command? I thought you Element Lords had more important things to do than that.”

“Indeed I do, young Kiina,” said Xocion. “Yet sometimes I feel the need to go out and save the lives of pathetic mortals such as you two, just to show my power.”

“You saved our lives?” I asked in shock. “You saved us from the avalanche?”

Xocion turned back to me, his face still devoid of emotion, and said, “Of course. Who else could protect someone from the might of the avalanche but the Element Lord of Ice? I dragged both of your half-frozen bodies from the snow and put you in that cave right there.”

“How’d you make the fire?” I asked. “I thought-“

“Fire is normally your Lord’s domain, yes,” said Xocion with a sigh. “But I used your sword, so I didn’t have to go through the trouble of making one myself.”

“That still doesn’t answer the question, though,” said Kiina, standing behind the Element Lord. “Why did you save us? Do you think we have something you want?”

“Not really,” said Xocion, shaking his head. He stepped back to allow us to face him. He also probably wanted to keep an eye on both of us at once. “As the Element Lord of Ice, I can get anything I want whenever I want it, no matter where it is or how much it may cost.”

“Except for the silvery pool,” Kiina pointed out. “Last I heard the Fire tribe has it.”

For a moment, I thought Xocion really was going to kill Kiina for her disrespect. His face contorted with rage for a moment; the first sign of emotion his face had shown so far.

But then the angry expression faded away, leaving a blank face. Xocion merely shrugged and said, “A minor setback. My army is already moving to recover it, and with it, ultimate power. I shall soon be joining them in the assault, for I believe they will need my help if they are to seize the pool from Slacuvun’s forces.”

“What if we killed you here now?” Kiina said, but I could see her body shivering violently due to the cold. “Didn’t you think we might do that?”

“Please,” Xocion said, rolling his eyes. “Only an Element Lord can kill an Element Lord, and last I checked, neither of you are Element Lords. Besides, you saw that winter storm I conjured a few minutes ago. That was but a mere fraction of my true power. Even Ackar’s flames would be unable to melt the ultra cold ice at my command.”

I didn’t plan to fight Xocion because I was fairly sure he outclassed us both in strength and power. I had heard legends of the Element Lord of Ice’s power and if there was any truth to even half of them, then angering him would be unwise. I didn’t like him, but if he kept us alive for a specific purpose, then maybe we could go on living if we didn’t annoy him unnecessarily.

So I said, “You still haven’t explained why you saved us.” I looked around and added, “Nor where we are, for that matter.”

Xocion looked at the large ice walls and said, “This might be what you would call my private resort and personal fortress. I come here every now and then in order to get away from the noise and chaos of the world. It is my Frozen Fortress, for the ice walls I made are virtually impenetrable, as the walls of any good fortress are.”

“You . . . created these mammoths?” said Kiina, looking up at the barriers that enclosed the area. “No way . . .

”“It is entirely possible, I assure you,” said Xocion, “although they did take many, many years to create. Still, it was well worth it, for even Slacuvun would have a difficult time melting even a tiny hole straight through them. No one else knows of this fort’s location, not even my own soldiers. It is entirely devoid of life, aside from me.”

“I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t use this as a military fortress,” said Kiina, looking all around the area. “If it’s as impregnable as you say it is, it seems to me you could create a powerful army in here.”

“And risk harming the environment?” said Xocion, gesturing around at everything. “I cleansed this place of all life in order to protect the snow and ice already here, for the snow and I are one. Besides, this fortress is too far away from civilization to be a practical military base. It is my quiet place, where I go when I need time alone.”

I looked around the place. Aside from the occasional dead tree dotting the landscape, there really didn’t seem to be any life at all. I saw no footprints in the snow and heard no animals. Killing all of the life in a place just to protect the environment . . . somehow that seemed backwards to me, but I was careful to keep my opinions to myself lest Xocion decided to make me a part of his palace statuary.

“As for why I saved you, I wanted to test you, of course,” said Xocion, folding his arms. “In a way, it is a game. My Ice army is going to be making a direct northern assault on the pool of silvery liquid. Unless the Fire army is made aware of the attack soon, I believe we will easily conquer that place and ultimate power will belong to me once more. The Water army might also be able to stop me; assuming, again, that they are warned in advance.”

“Let me get this straight,” I said. “You are intentionally telling us your battle plans? Why?”

“Because I will be sending both of you back to your armies, of course,” said Xocion. “I will give you one week to make it back to your armies with this information. If you do, both of you will be considered heroes. If not, the pool will be mine once more and both of you will perish in the icy wastelands of the Northern Frost. It is about a week’s journey from here to the pool if you go north.”

“That’s crazy,” said Kiina in shock. “We can’t-“

“It’s either that or I kill you right now and make you statues in my palace,” said Xocion with icy abruptness. “But I don’t need to read your minds to know that you would rather risk a weeklong trip in an environment which you are unfamiliar with than die at my hands.”

“You’re right,” I said. “I don’t like it, though.”

“We can do it,” said Kiina. Her sudden change in attitude surprised me. “We’re battle-hardened soldiers. A week in the snow sounds more like play than work.”

Xocion laughed, which sounded like the howling winter wind. “Oh, yes. Snajs, lethal and unpredictable avalanches, unendurable coldness, and traveling with a partner you cannot trust certainly sound like play to me. Oh, yes, play away while you die. It will be amusing to watch.”

“Why you-!” said Kiina, actually rising to her feet.

“Wait!” I said, holding up one hand. “Calm down, Kiina. If you don’t-“

“Let her try to attack me, Ackar,” said Xocion, waving me off. “It will be amusing to see a mere snowflake like her even try to touch a blizzard like me. She can learn the hard way what happens when you try to attack the Element Lord of Ice.”

At first, I feared Kiina would attack Xocion anyway and get us both killed for her stupidity. To my relief, she backed down without another word, not looking at him. Perhaps she was thinking along the same lines as me, or maybe she just didn’t think she could win. Regardless, I was relieved she had decided not to fight. It meant I wasn’t going to die, at least not right now, anyway.

“You are wise to stand down, young Kiina,” said Xocion with an unfriendly smile. “Now it is time for the challenge to begin. Unless, of course, either of you have any further questions you wish to ask?”

I knew better than to actually ask anything, and based on Kiina’s icy silence, she did, too. Xocion was clearly being sarcastic. If we asked him anything, he’d probably kill us.

“Good,” said Xocion, clapping his hands together. “Then let the journey begin.”
 

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Edited by TNTOS, Jan 23 2014 - 04:08 PM.

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#3 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Mar 15 2012 - 09:12 AM

Chapter III


Xocion led Kiina and I through the snow to the eastern wall of the Frozen Fortress. The Element Lord strode through the slush like he was taking a pleasant stroll through the park, but Kiina and I had a more difficult time trekking through the snow. True, we both were equipped with winter survival gear (which our armies had given us to help us fight in the Northern Frost), but neither of us was used to the Northern Frost’s deep snowdrifts, meaning we had to hustle just to keep up with Xocion. Kiina sunk up to her waist in deep snow once, but I managed to pull her out with help from my fire sword. Xocion didn’t notice.

After what felt like hours of walking, the gigantic ice wall in the east stood before us. The wall had looked big from afar, but up close, it was enormous. It was so huge that the sun’s rays barely streamed over it. The shadow of the wall covered us, making us even colder than before.

Xocion walked up to a hollow tree and pulled out a small bag from it. He then unexpectedly tossed the bag to us, saying, “Take this.”

Kiina caught it in surprise and said, “What’s this for?”

“Supplies,” Xocion replied. “It should be enough for one day, maybe a day and a half if gluttony is not your sin. There are also two full bottles of hot water; cold water would freeze in this weather.”

“Oh, thanks,” I said, staring at the bag as Kiina slung it over her shoulder. “I-“

“Do not mistake it for a gesture of kindness or mercy, Ackar,” said Xocion, shaking his head. “It is only to make the challenge a bit fairer. I value fairness and honesty, so I am giving you an advantage you would never get from anyone else.”

I was about to say it would be fairer if he just took us back to our armies without any of this quest nonsense, but then thought better of it when I saw his icy glare.

Instead, I said, “Should be fun, then.”

“’Fun’ is not the word I’d use to describe our situation,” Kiina muttered.

I looked at the huge wall and saw no doors or gates. “How are we supposed to go through this?”

“Actually, it is more like how are you supposed to go above this,” Xocion said, pointing upwards.

His meaning was obscure until without warning a giant pillar of snow burst out of the ground, sending Kiina and I flying into the air. Shocked and stunned by the sudden impact, we lay on the pillar’s head as it went up, higher and higher and faster and faster into the air, until we were just over the top of the wall.

It was at that moment that I could see why the Ice tribe loves these mountains. True, we were on top of a wall rather than a mountain, but it was a mountain-sized wall that afforded us an excellent view of the area. The morning sun shone brightly, glaring off the white snow. The peaks of the mountains in the distance were beautiful and mysterious, rising above a layer of gray clouds. For a moment, it seemed like Kiina and I just floated in midair, taking in the breathless beauty of the Northern Frost.

And then, without warning, we suddenly dropped like stones. I hate to admit it, but I started screaming for my life as we fell, but Kiina did too, and arguably her screams of terror were worse than mine.

The ground got closer and closer, which meant that we were probably going to end up splattered messes on the ground in a few seconds. For a moment, I wondered if Xocion had lied to us about giving us the opportunity to return to our armies and had merely been planning to kill us all along. If so, I’d say his plan was working quite well.

Just then, another pillar of snow burst from the ground. Kiina and I slammed straight into it, smashing deeper into the pillar the further we fell. The initial impact was jarring -- if not bone-breaking -- but the soft snow actually did slow down our descent until we safely reached the ground.

Then the pillar suddenly fell apart, but remarkably little snow fell on us. Kiina and I lay on a large pile of snow, dazed and in pain. My lungs hurt from screaming, my legs hurt from being pushed up by the pillar of snow, and my arms hurt because the rest of my body hurt and they didn’t want to be left out. I was freezing and cold and felt snow stuck in my armor. At least we didn’t become splattered messes, but my body hurt so badly that I wish we had.

But the warmth of the sun felt good on my body. Out here, the sun shone brightly, although it wasn’t as warm as the flames of the Great Volcano. Still, at least it was better than the cold shadows of the Frozen Fortress, anyway.

For a long time Kiina and I just lay there, panting, trying to catch our breath, warming up in the sun. Finally, with some effort, I sat up and tried moving my limbs. They hurt like heck, but none of my bones felt broken, fortunately.

“That . . . was . . . horrible,” Kiina said, panting. “Next time I see Xocion I’ll-“

“Be quiet,” I told her, although my voice was hoarse from all of the screaming. “You know what happens to anyone who insults an Element Lord, even if he isn’t around.”

“I know, I know,” said Kiina as she struggled to sit up, which she succeeded in doing with some effort. “I’m just frustrated.”

“You survived,” said a voice behind us. “Interesting.”

Kiina and I looked over our shoulders and saw Xocion standing there, arms folded across his chest. How he got there, I had no idea, but considering he was the Element Lord of Ice, he probably had his own, less painful methods of getting over the wall. He didn’t look like he’d been launched up into the air and then caught by a pillar of snow, anyway.

“So you thought we’d die?” Kiina said, bolting to her feet. “Why you-“

“Oh, no, I didn’t think you’d die,” said Xocion, looking at her with amusement. “I merely believed all of the bones in your body would have broken into tiny pieces. I suppose you snowflakes are tougher than I originally thought.”

“Of course we are,” said Kiina, putting her hands on her hips. “We’re trained soldiers. It takes a lot more than being flung into the air by a pillar of snow to kill us.”

“Yes, yes, I’m sure it does,” said Xocion dismissively. “Well, I hope you make it back to your allies alive. Good bye, Ackar, young Kiina. Perhaps we shall be seeing one another again very soon, if you survive your journey.”

A cold wind blew in at that moment, causing me to wrap my arms around myself. Kiina nearly fell over, but regained her balance just in time. When the wind passed, we both looked around. Xocion was gone, but that didn’t mean our troubles were over. Oh, no. They’d just started.
 

-


Kiina and I decided to go north, for Xocion had mentioned it was only a week’s journey from here to the pool if we went in that direction. There was of course the possibility that Xocion had lied but we didn’t want to risk it by going in another direction. It might not matter as we might just perish in the snow anyway, as Xocion had predicted. (It did take me a while to convince Kiina that we should go north, however, because she trusted Xocion even less than I did.)

Before we begun our journey, we checked the supplies Xocion had given us. There were five or six cooked fish, two bags of dried berries (which were somewhat squashed but still edible), a couple of loaves of flat bread, and, as Xocion had said, two bottles of hot water. Now whether it actually would last a day, we didn’t know for sure. To be safe, Kiina and I both ate for breakfast only as much as we needed. The rest we would save for later, but I wondered how we were going to survive for a week with only enough food for a day or a day and a half.

We started trekking through the snow after breakfast, heading north. But it was slow going, for the snow was undisturbed here. There were no roads or villages nearby, meaning we had to make our own paths through the snow. This quickly wore us out and in about an hour we were forced to stop and rest.

“This is ridiculous,” said Kiina, glaring at the snow like it was her worst enemy. “How does Xocion expect us to survive a week in this place?”

“Easy,” I said, sitting on a rock to rest my legs. “He doesn’t, which is why he brought us out here. He probably gets a sick thrill seeing us go through this.”

“If only we had some way of going through the snow easier . . .” said Kiina, her voice trailing off as she looked at my sword.

“What?” I said, bringing my weapon a little closer to my body. “What’re you looking at my blade for?”

“It’s so simple,” said Kiina, clapping her hands together. “Your sword can shoot flames, right? So why don’t you use it to create a path for us in the snow? It would be much easier than carving out a path on our own, after all.”

“You have a point,” I said, looking at my blade and wondering why I hadn’t thought of that before. “Makes sense.”

“Well, come on!” said Kiina, jumping to her feet with renewed enthusiasm. “Let’s get going! We’ll prove Xocion wrong.”

I got up and soon began melting the snow in front of us, allowing us to walk across the flat ground with relative ease.

But that didn’t mean our journey was completely free of trouble. A sharp, cold wind cut through our armor, causing both of us to shiver. As I was still using my sword to melt a path, I couldn’t create any flames to keep us warm. We were forced to brace against the wind, which seemed like it was trying to kill us (if Xocion was behind it, then it probably was). Not to mention the melted snow turned into water, which was freezing cold despite the heat of my flames and made the ground more than a little muddy.

We walked for hours, having to take occasional breaks due to the low temperatures and mud. Soon we stopped to have our next meal of the day, lunch.

We sat behind a huge boulder we found, which blocked the wind, fortunately. I planned for us to eat as much food as we had eaten at breakfast, in order to make our supplies last as long as possible, but Kiina started wolfing down more food than her fair share.

“Hey!” I said, snatching the bread from her hands. “We have to make this last a week, you know.”

“But I’m hungry,” Kiina protested, reaching for the food again. “I know we don’t have much food, but we can hunt for some more, can’t we?”

“Maybe, but thus far we haven’t seen anything edible,” I answered as I put the bread back in our bag, which I kept close to me to keep her from getting at it. “In fact, I haven’t seen any other living being around here besides you and Xocion and myself. It would be wiser to conserve our food.”

“I don’t care,” said Kiina, her hand still outstretched. “Just give me the food.”

“No,” I said, shaking my head. “You can eat later, at dinnertime.”

“But that’s hours away!” said Kiina in shock. “And I’m cold and hungry and-“

“Just shut up, okay?” I said, cutting her off. “If we’re going to last more than a day out here we need to conserve as much of our food and water as we can. We’ll die in less than day if we aren’t wise with our supplies, understand?”

Kiina nodded, but I could tell she was still angry about the lack of food. I understood, but at the same time, I couldn’t just let Kiina eat as much as she wanted. She was still a rookie and didn’t seem to understand that sometimes a soldier has to starve in order to survive. As I doubted any of my words could pierce that thick, stubborn skull of hers, I chose not to explain it to her. She’d have to learn from the master teacher: Experience. It was the best way to learn anything, for experience never let you forget the lessons you learned from your mistakes.

So, after resting for about ten minutes, we continued on again. I still used my sword’s flames to melt the snow, but in another hour or so the flames sputtered and died. Panicked, I tried to light it again, but nothing more than a little bit of smoke floated out of its tip and it emitted no heat at all.

“Oh, come on!” said Kiina, looking at my weapon in anger. “Is it broken?”

“No,” I said, shaking my head as I examined it. “I think it just needs to recharge. I’ve been using it for several hours nonstop now, you know. Come to think of it, it’s amazing it lasted even that long.”

“It’s going to take hours to recharge!” Kiina groaned, glaring at the snow, like it had done something wrong. “And by then we’ll be frozen statues. Maybe Xocion will find us and put us in his palace, like he said he would.”

“We aren’t going to die,” I said. “What we need to do is try to survive as best as we can. We can’t just give up.”

Kiina looked doubtful, but surprisingly she said, “You know, you’re right. We’ve got to be tough if we’re going to make it through this. I won’t let Xocion make me a statue in his palace. I won’t.”

For once, I actually smiled. Despite our tribal differences, Kiina and I did agree on some things. Of course, that didn’t mean we were friends, but it did mean I didn’t hate her as much as I originally did. I would still have to be careful around her, though, because she was a Water soldier and I a Fire Soldier. We could never be real friends.

So I said, “Come on, then. I’m getting cold standing around doing nothing.”
 

-


Our renewed determination didn’t make it any easier to travel through the snow. My legs felt like frozen lead, my face burned from the cold, and my fingers felt like they were freezing together. Kiina did not look much better; but we continued on anyway, for stopping would only mean death.

Within a few hours, the sun set, covering the land in complete darkness. Luckily for us we managed to find a cave to settle in for the night. It wasn’t as warm or cozy as the cave at the Frozen Fortress, but it kept us out of the wind, anyway.

After we gathered what little sticks we could, I tried to start a fire with my sword, just to see if it had recharged yet. A tiny flame spat out, burning the sticks and creating a small fire, but my sword clearly needed to recharge for another hour or two. A small fire was better than no fire, I reasoned, even though it emitted barely any heat whatsoever.

As it was now dinnertime, Kiina and I shared another small meal, which was not enough to satisfy either of us. I kept the rest of the food and water next to me, away from Kiina for I could tell she craved more food. I didn’t trust her not to eat it.

Soon we both fell asleep. It wasn’t difficult for me to sleep, for I was so tired I could not keep my eyes open. We didn’t cuddle together or anything, even though it would have kept us warmer. It would have been very awkward, considering our different military and tribal affiliations. I was willing to work with Kiina to survive, but I wasn’t willing to get that close to her. I’d die before I did that.
 

-


The sound of someone eating woke me with a start. The first thing I noticed was what seemed to be a very skinny bear sitting next to me, stuffing its face with our food. It was making the loud chomping noises that that awoken me, not even bothering to be quiet.

I had no idea where the bear had come from, but I couldn’t let it steal our food. Without hesitation I fired a blast of heat at it, sufficient enough to cause it to jump into the air and yell, “Ow! That burns!”

I blinked. Since when did bears say, ‘Ow! That burns!’?

I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and then looked. The ‘bear,’ it turned out, was no bear at all, but rather a slim blue warrior with a trident, clutching the spot where I had burned her thigh. She looked both sheepish and angry, like a child caught in an act of wrongdoing.

“Kiina?” I said, taking a double take. “What were you . . .“

An idea suddenly came to me, causing me to glance at the food bag at my side. To my horror, it was wide open and there was a fish and a half left. The second hot water bottle lay on the ground near the bag, almost completely empty, and the bread was completely gone save for a few crumbs.

I looked back up at Kiina. I was so angry I could barely talk. I just managed to say, “You . . . didn’t . . . dare . . .”

“I was hungry,” said Kiina defensively. “I woke up and I needed something to eat. So I thought-“

“You greedy, selfish moron!” I snapped, jumping to my feet. I pointed at the open satchel and said, “Do you think one and a half fish, some bread crumbs, and a half-full bottle of hot water is going to last us a week? We’re both going to die out here and it will be your fault, Kiina! Yours! Got it?”

Kiina also rose to her feet, looking quite fierce with her trident in her hands. “Oh, shut up! Did you really think we’d last a week with that stuff, which barely constitutes a light snack? Xocion purposefully gave us such a small amount of food just so we would die!”

“I don’t care why Xocion gave us that food,” I said, my sword at the ready. “You’re the reason we’re going to die when we both might have been able to survive for at least a little while longer. You’re the biggest glutton I know, and this is coming from the guy who knows Malum!”

“Glutton? You’re a naïve old man!” said Kiina, pointing at me with her trident. “There’s no way we could have survived out here with that amount of food and you know it.”

I glanced at the food again and said, “There’s probably enough food left in there for maybe one person. That means one of us has to go and I think I know who will.”

Kiina bared her teeth and said, “You.”

“No,” I said, shaking my head. “You!”

I hurled a fire bolt at Kiina, but she fired a water blast at the same time. The resulting collision created a cloud of steam that blinded me. I looked around for Kiina, but the steam was so thick I could barely see even three feet in front of me.

So I listened instead. My mentor had taught me that, if you cannot rely on your eyes in a fight, you must rely on your other senses, including hearing. It was advice I hadn’t used in a while, but I was glad of any advantage I could get in a fight like this.I heard some footsteps to my right and, without hesitation, swung my sword, cutting through the steam. My sword hit something hard and I saw Kiina, my sword caught on her trident. She immediately pushed back, while I struggled against her.

Without warning Kiina moved to the right. With nothing to press against, I was sent stumbling forward. She smacked me in the back with her trident, causing me to hit the ground. I rolled to the side; just in time, for the tips of Kiina’s trident struck the ground where my head had been moments before.

I swept her legs from underneath her, sending her to the floor. I jumped to my feet, but was hit by a huge water blast that slammed me into the cave wall. Stunned, I slid to the floor and dropped my sword, which Kiina blasted away out of my reach with another water blast.

Kiina was on me in an instant, her trident at my neck. She looked me directly in the eyes, while I returned the look. I could see intense hatred burning in her orbs, while mine probably looked the same. I didn’t try to hide it. She was going to kill me anyway; no point in being dishonest.

“So,” I said, panting hard, “are you going to kill me? Or are you too cowardly to do even that?”

“I . . . I can kill you,” said Kiina. “I’m a soldier. A soldier . . . a soldier has to kill people. It’s what soldiers do.”

“I get it,” I said, with a satisfied grin. “You can’t kill me. You’re a rookie. You’ve probably never actually killed anyone up close, have you? Especially someone you know. You’ve only killed nameless foes you don’t know and never met.”

“Shut up!” said Kiina, miserably failing to hide her fear. “I-“

“It’s nothing to be ashamed of,” I said, without a shred of sympathy in my voice. “Some of the older soldiers I know wish they’d never killed anyone whose face and name they knew. Once you’ve done that, though, there’s really nothing else you wouldn’t do. So if you want to kill me, get it over with quickly. You might be able to survive longer on your own without me, anyway.”

I wasn’t saying any of that to throw her off or anything. I was merely stating facts, things she needed to know. Besides, if she’s got a conscience, she might just let me live. I doubted it, for the Water army was notoriously brutal to its enemies, yet I clung to that hope anyway. I really didn’t want to die, but if I had to die here, then so be it. Dying at the hands of an enemy was better than dying in the wilderness.

Kiina continued to stare at me. I saw her finger on the trigger on her trident that would send tons of water into my face, probably enough to kill me. Or maybe she would stab me in the face or throat with her trident’s sharp tips. The only question was when she planned to end my life, and I knew I was about to get an answer to that question very soon.

Hours seemed to pass as Kiina held her trident at my throat. I wondered what she was waiting for when finally, Kiina unexpectedly lowered her trident and took a step back from me, her head down. Surprised, I didn’t move immediately, for I wasn’t sure if this was some kind of trick, maybe stir up my hopes before striking the death-blow.

“Why didn’t you kill me?” I asked. “I’m your enemy, aren’t I?”

“No, you’re not,” said Kiina, still not looking at me. “At least, not right now you’re not. If I kill you, I’d just die out in the snow somewhere. I can’t say I feel the warmest toward you right now, but I know it’d be stupid to kill you.”

“Really?” I said suspiciously. Her words sounded genuine, but I knew how tricky Water soldiers could be. “You won’t kill me?”

“I won’t,” she promised, looking back up at me. “We’ve got to work together if we’re going to survive out here. I’m sure we’d be giving Xocion exactly what he wanted if we killed each other. I don’t feel like pleasing him, so I won’t do it.”

Slowly rising to my feet, I said, “Are you sure? I am an enemy soldier, after all. Not that I want you to kill me, but-“

“Stop complaining,” said Kiina. “I’m not going to kill you. Though I’m so sorry if I disappointed you.”

“Okay, okay,” I said, raising my hands in surrender. “You’re right. We’ve got enough problems as it is without trying to kill each other.”

Kiina glanced at the food bag and said, “I’m so stupid for almost eating it all. It’s gonna be harder to go on with so little food.”

I also looked at the bag and said, “You’ve got a point. Maybe we can hunt down some animals or something.”

“Maybe,” said Kiina doubtfully. “I’m so sorry I did that. I was just so hungry . . .”

No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t stay angry at Kiina. It seemed unfair to me to remain angry at her, especially since she willing admitted her mistake to me. Remaining angry at her forever would not get us more food or bring us closer to civilization, so it was a useless waste of energy to be enraged at her.

So I said, “I understand. I’m the one who should be apologizing, because I started the fight in the first place. Easily the stupidest thing I’ve done so far.”

“No, I started the fight,” Kiina insisted, shaking her head. “If I hadn’t eaten the food in the first place, we would never have come this close to killing each other.”

“Perhaps,” I said. “But I shouldn’t have attacked you. It wasn’t the right way to handle the situation.”

“It doesn’t matter,” said Kiina. “Let’s say we’re both at fault and that we're both stupid.”

I chuckled at that, but then I felt tired, and by the look on Kiina’s face, so did she. “Now that we’ve got that all figured out, we should go back to sleep. We’ve still got six days of walking through blizzards and who-knows-what-else ahead of us. We’ll need all the energy we can get just to survive.”

“Yeah,” said Kiina with a yawn. “It’s the middle of the night. We really should be asleep.”

So Kiina and I quickly fell asleep. As I lay trying to fall asleep, I was unsure how I felt about Kiina. On one hand, she had just tried to kill me, but on the other hand, she hadn’t intentionally meant to do it. She really didn’t seem to be planning to backstab me, which meant that maybe I could trust her for now. I couldn’t trust her too much, of course, but I needed to trust her if I was going to survive the Northern Frost. If I couldn’t trust her at all, then my chances of survival were less than zero.
 

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Edited by TNTOS, Jan 23 2014 - 04:22 PM.

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#4 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Mar 22 2012 - 09:00 AM

Chapter IV


The next three days were fairly uneventful, save for the frigid temperatures and snow storms. We were having an increasingly more difficult time to find good firewood, however, and there were not many caves for us to sleep in at night. That we managed to survive this long at all, however, was an accomplishment in itself, in my opinion, and gave me some hope for our future survival.

The food situation wasn’t doing well, however. We ran out of food and water on the second day of our journey. The water itself was easy enough to deal with; we just filled our empty bottles with water from Kiina’s trident and then I heated them up to a drinkable temperature with my sword.

But we couldn’t live off water alone. So we were forced to hunt for any animals we could find that might be edible . . . which, suffice to say, weren’t much.

On the third day, we found a snow rabbit hopping through the snowdrifts. It was small and probably wouldn’t fill our stomachs much at all, but as we were both extremely hungry by then, we thought it looked like a gourmet dish ready to be cooked. I tried to crisp it with my sword, but it was too fast. I just ended up melting the snow while the rabbit hopped away.

Just when I thought the animal was about to escape, Kiina leapt into action, firing a stream of water from her trident. The water struck the rabbit, knocking it to the ground and stunning it. We quickly captured the rabbit and killed it. Then we cooked and ate it, although it didn’t taste very good and, as I had thought, didn’t fill our stomachs much. It was better than nothing, though.

The rabbit gave us enough energy to continue on, although we briefly stopped in the area to look for any more rabbits. We didn’t find any, but we did find a frozen river, which fortunately had fish in it. Catching the fish was the difficult part, for we didn’t have any fishing lines, but Kiina managed to spear a few on the end of her trident. She also accidentally dropped her water bottle in the river, but we managed to get it out before it floated away.

“Hey, what river is this?” I asked Kiina as she cleaned the fish.

Kiina glanced at it and said, “No idea. I’m not familiar with the Northern Frost’s rivers.”

“Whatever it is, I think we should follow it,” I said. “Agori generally live near rivers. Maybe if we follow it we’ll find civilization.”

“I don’t know,” said Kiina as she glanced up and down the river. “I don’t remember there being a river near the silver pool. What if this leads us off track?”

I had to admit that she was right. From what I could remember, there were no large bodies of water near the silver pool. I insisted that we at least keep the river in sight, however, just so we could fish whenever we needed to. I also hoped we would be run across a village, perhaps, although considering how untamed the wilderness seemed to be, I doubted that.

On the fourth day, our journey took us to the foot of a large mountain. Oddly enough, we saw what looked like an Agori-made path leading up the mountain. Did that mean there were other people nearby?

Neither of us knew the answer to that question, but as we could not go around the mountain, we took the path through it. The mountain looked huge, imposing, and cold; but so did everything else in the Northern Frost. If there were any beasts or unfriendly people up there, we could probably deal with them.

The path wound up and up the mountain, getting rockier and rougher the higher we went. I wondered how long ago this path had been abandoned, by whom, and, more importantly, why they abandoned it in the first place. We saw no other signs of civilization, which meant that this path had probably been solely used as a travel route at some point, but that still did not answer any of my questions.

Just then, I took a step forward and slipped. Stunned by the fall, I slid back and slammed into Kiina’s legs, knocking her over in the process. We went sliding down the mountainside extremely fast, both of us screaming as we slid, bumping over all of the rocks beneath us. I looked over my shoulder and saw a large boulder right in our path. If we crashed into it at this speed, I doubted we’d survive.

So I grabbed Kiina’s arm and, heating up my sword, plunged it into the ground. But to my dismay, my sword’s tip broke off because the rock was too thick for my blade to pierce. So we kept sliding to our doom, and there was nothing I could do about it.

Then Kiina acted. As we slid down, she grabbed a rock sticking out of the ground, which was stout enough to stop us from sliding any further. The jarring stop caused me to smack my head against the ground. I felt blood trickle down the side of my head, though it wasn’t much. My heart beat rapidly and I panted hard because my body was bruised all over.

“Whoa,” said Kiina, looking up the mountain. “What was that?”

“I slipped,” I explained as we both slowly and carefully rose to our feet. “The ground must be covered in ice. Wasn’t watching where I was going.”

Kiina rolled her eyes, then said, “Well, be more careful next time. Maybe I should go ahead, since you’re so clumsy.”

“Clumsy?” I said. “You’re the one who dropped your hot water bottle in the river back there. Seemed pretty clumsy to me.”

“Just shut up,” said Kiina. “I’ll lead. You can stay in the back and cover me.”

“Fine,” I said. “I never liked having my back to you anyway.”

Kiina glared at me, but said nothing. Instead, she turned away and kicked some snow up behind herself, then started up the path again. That wouldn’t have been a problem if the snow hadn’t got all over me. Grumbling and wiping the snow off my armor, I followed her up the path.

As we continued through the mountain, I thought about Kiina. Ever since that fight on our first night, we’d been working together much more smoothly. In fact, I almost considered Kiina a friend now, or as close to a friend as a Water soldier can be to a Fire soldier, anyway. At least I trusted her more now, despite what I said about disliking having my back to her.

Still, Kiina was stubborn and aggressive. She always had to have the last say in an argument and usually rejected my ideas in favor of her own. This wasn’t always bad, but combined with the cold weather, lack of adequate food, and lack of sleep it did get a little annoying after a while.

Thinking about Kiina’s flaws wasn’t useful, so I thought about my sword. The tip was broken; the sword itself would still work, of course, but it would be harder to aim correctly, especially because my sword was still bent. I felt stupid for breaking it, especially because Kiina managed to save us without having to break her own weapon. I’d get it repaired if – no, not if, when – I got back to the Fire army. Or maybe just get a new one, if this one was irreparable. It was dangerous to travel in unfamiliar territory with a broken weapon, but seeing as it was impossible for me to repair right now I’d just have to make do.
 

-


The higher up the mountain we climbed the colder and thinner the air became. We were freezing, but still we marched on, the wind and snow battering us like the heat of a volcano, until Kiina stopped suddenly, looking at the ground before her as though something had magically appeared out of nowhere right there.

“What is it?” I asked, stopping behind her and looking over her shoulder to see what she’d spotted.

A huge footprint was imprinted in the ground before us. The footprint was round, with three long toes. I had never seen such a strange footprint before, so I didn’t understand why Kiina seemed so unnerved by it.

“What’s the problem?” I said. “It’s just a footprint.”

Kiina turned to look at me, fear in her eyes. “Just a footprint? Ackar, do you know what this footprint belongs to?”

“Uh, no,” I said, shaking my head. “I don’t.”

“It belongs to a Snaj,” said Kiina, wrapping her arms around her body. “You know what Snajs are, right?”

“The name sounds familiar,” I said. “It’s some type of giant snow beast, right?”

“Yeah! They’re huge!” said Kiina, spreading her arms wide. “They live in the Northern Frost’s mountains, preying on anything that lives. A friend of mine, Tarix, told me about it. Some say Snajs grow to be ten-feet-tall, but others have reported seeing twenty-foot-tall Snajs. They’re absolute monsters.”

“Twenty-feet-tall?” I repeated. “You’re serious?”

“Completely,” said Kiina. “What’s even scarier is that they walk on two feet, just like us. And they have really long, sharp claws that can-“

“Okay!” I said, holding up my hands. “I don’t need to know any more, thank you.”

“But that’s not even the worst part,” said Kiina. “Snajs stalk their potential meals and strike only when they think the time is right. What if this Snaj decides to stalk us? We’re probably pretty tasty-looking compared to rabbits or fish.”

“You’re nothing but skin and bones,” I said with a laugh. “What monster could possibly want to eat you?”

Kiina hit me on the head with her trident and snapped, “Get serious, Ackar! I was told that wild Snajs can kill even trained soldiers. They aren’t afraid of Agori and other sapient species like most animals are. Maybe we should head back down the mountain and find another way around.”

“No way,” I said, shaking my head. “There are two of us and one of it. Besides, what if the Snaj doesn’t even know we’re here? This footprint might be from yesterday, so the Snaj could be long gone by now.”

That probably wasn’t true, of course. If the footprint had been created yesterday, it would have already been filled with snow and indistinguishable from the rest of the ground. Still, I didn’t want to climb back down the mountain, not after everything we’d gone through to get up here in the first place. And I was reasonably confident that we could take this Snaj, even if it was twenty-feet-tall. After all, we had elemental weapons and it didn’t.

“Okay,” said Kiina “But if we get killed, I’m blaming you.”

“Fine by me,” I said, gesturing at the path. “Lead the way, wet feet.”

We continued our trek up the mountain, but we went a bit more slowly now, for Kiina was still apprehensive about the Snaj. It didn’t help that we found more Snaj tracks the further we went, but neither of us suggested turning back. We knew it was too late to do that.

As we walked, I looked around the foothills and snowdrifts around us. It seemed to me that, even if a Snaj was stalking us, we’d be able to see it if they really did grow to be twenty feet tall. We’d have probably heard it, too; something that big couldn’t be very quiet. The howling wind made it difficult to hear anything, of course, but I reasoned that a twenty-foot-tall monster couldn’t be that silent or stealthy.

An hour or so later, Kiina and I had to take a break at a small clearing in the heart of the mountain. We were both weary and tired and cold, but we still had a long way to go, for we hadn’t reached the other side yet. I glanced around the area and saw nothing but snow and rocks. I didn’t see any place that a twenty-foot Snaj could hide.

To keep my mind off the Snaj, I began talking to Kiina. We talked about a lot of things, including the war. To my surprise, I found that Kiina didn’t really like the war, but was in the army because it gave her the opportunity to leave her home region, Bara Magna.

“Bara Magna?” I said, shivering as a strong wind blew through. “I’ve heard about that place. It’s just one big desert, right?”

“Yeah,” said Kiina, nodding. “I live just to the north of it, by the Dormus River, but that’s still too close for my liking. It’s all sand in every direction, although there are some oases. It’s boring and bleak, but a lot of warmer than this place.”

“Perhaps I’ll go there someday,” I said. “If it’s warmer than the Northern Frost, then I’m all for it.”

Just then, a long, loud howl pierced the wind. Both of us froze (not literally, of course) as the howl sounded down from the mountains. It sounded terrifying, causing me to jump to my feet in fear. Kiina did the same.

“What was that?” I said, looking around. “Some kind of wolf?”

“No,” said Kiina. “Wolves aren’t that scary-sounding. I don’t want to stick around and find out what it is, so how’s about we just keep on going until we get to the other side of the mountain, okay?”

“All right,” I said, trying not to show any fear. “That . . . that sounds like a good idea.”

Kiina and I made to exit the clearing, but just then, something huge burst from the peak above us. It crashed hard in front of the exit, blocking our escape.

For a moment, I thought our path was barricaded by a giant snowball. But then four limbs and a big head sprouted from its body and the titanic creature stood up on its hind legs, towering over us both. Giant snowballs didn’t do that.

The creature was probably fifteen-feet-tall, maybe taller, with thick fur that was the same shade of white as the snow around us. Three long, thin, metallic claws extended from its hands and feet, which looked like they could rip and tear through armor with ease. A long, black tongue sniffed the air, while its saliva hit the ground like raindrops. It had big, slanted eyes that seemed to track our every movement. And it was extremely muscular; it could have probably lifted the entire mountain with one claw if it wanted to.

“Oh no . . .” said Kiina with a gasp. “It’s a Snaj. A big one.”

“No kidding,” I said, sword at the ready. “Was it following us?”

“Maybe,” said Kiina, holding her trident in a battle position. “I don’t know. You can’t expect me to know everything about Snajs.”

“Well, whatever it’s doing, it doesn’t look friendly,” I said. “But maybe it isn’t interested in us. Maybe we can go around it or-“

The Snaj raised its claws and slashed at us. We just barely managed to dodge the claws, which ripped through the ground where we had been standing. The Snaj snarled and raised its claws again, a hungry glint in its eye.

“No, I think it’s very interested in us,” said Kiina, her voice slightly trembling. “In fact, I think it would like to have us for dinner, probably.”

“Let’s try scaring it,” I suggested. “Wild animals are afraid of fire. If I make even a small spark the Snaj might run away and never bother us again.”

“Worth a try,” said Kiina, shrugging. “Go ahead.”

I nodded and aimed my sword at the ground. Fire flew out of my sword’s tip and hit the snow – not quite where I had wanted it to, due to the broken tip. It seemed to work just the same, however; at the sight of the flames, the Snaj took a step back as if afraid it might get burned.

Yet it didn’t run. Instead, after a minute or two, the Snaj actually drew closer to the fire; hesitantly, of course, but still it came nearer, as if attempting to get over its fear of fire by facing it head on.

“Oh, that was a smart move, Ackar,” said Kiina, rolling her eyes. “I think you forgot that we are in the Northern Frost. Even the animals need heat out here, so it is probably attracted to the fire’s warmth.”

“Shut up,” I said, glaring at her. “You’re the one who told me to do it.”

Before Kiina could respond, the Snaj lost interest in the fire and then looked at us, like it suddenly remembered we were here. Then it leapt over the fire, landing with enough force to shake the ground beneath our feet.

It charged, causing Kiina and I to scatter to avoid its razor sharp claws. The Snaj stopped and looked in both directions, as though trying to figure out who it should go after first. Its eyes fell on my sword – which was still emitting heat – and it immediately started lumbering toward me with impossible speed.

Alarmed, I hurled a fire bolt at it. The Snaj roared in pain as the fire burned its fur but, to my amazement, it started patting snow over the burned area. Soon the flames had gone out and the Snaj no longer appeared to be in pain, although its fur was still blackened by the fire. I had never seen an animal use its environment to put out a fire like that, which made me wonder just how intelligent Snajs really were.

Then the Snaj charged. I tried to fire another fire bolt, but due to my sword’s broken tip I missed. The Snaj slammed into me, sending me flying into the mountainside. I crashed into the ground and lay there, stunned. Every bone in my body felt broken, but I had no time to worry about my pain. The Snaj – which was advancing on me now – was obviously not going to give me the time to heal.

I tried to stand, but groaned and fell back down. My right leg felt broken; if so, then there was no way I could escape. It looked like the Snaj was going to eat me after all. Never thought I’d die getting eaten by a giant snow monster. It was a depressing thought.

A blast of water hit the Snaj in the back, causing it to screech in pain. The Snaj whirled around, probably to find out who had dared attack it, only to get more water in the face. I looked around the beast and saw Kiina standing before the Snaj, relentlessly firing water at the snow monster from her trident.

Apparently the Snaj couldn’t handle the water anymore, because it soon ran off, surprisingly quick for such a large beast. Kiina hurled another blast or two at the Snaj as it left, but that wasn’t necessary, because the soaked animal was clearly too afraid to come back and fight. Soon it was out of sight, hopefully never to return.

Kiina ran up to me and stopped, bending down to check on me as she asked, “Are you all right?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I said with a groan, grabbing my right leg. “Just broke my leg, that’s all. Anyway, why’d the Snaj run away like that? Don’t tell me it’s afraid of water?”

“No,” said Kiina, shaking her head. “I just figured it out. The Snaj likes warmth. Fire hurts it, but it enjoys the heat the fire produces. I figured it must dislike extreme cold, so I decided to drench it with ice cold water. It didn’t want to freeze to death, so it ran away. Simple.”

“I see,” I said. “I would never have figured that out myself.”

“Well, your weapon can’t shoot water, so it wouldn’t have done you any good even if you had,” said Kiina. “Here, let me help you up. We’ve still got a long way to go.”

“You’re right,” I said as Kiina helped me up. My right leg was sore, so I tried to shift my weight onto my other leg to lessen the pain. “But we’ve got to do something about my leg. I’m afraid I’m useless with a broken leg.”

Kiina led me over to a rock and helped me sit down on it. Then she found some wood and made a makeshift splint out of it. It wasn’t the greatest or fanciest, but it made walking a little more endurable, at least.

“There,” said Kiina, after finishing her work. “Oh, and you’ll need this.”

She picked up a long, thin stick and handed it to me. “A walking stick.”

“Oh, thanks,” I said as I took the stick.

I looked at her and she looked at me. It just now occurred to me what she was doing. As a Water soldier, she should have left me, with my broken leg, here to die. Yet she not only gave me a splint, but a walking stick as well to help me balance. We’d been through a lot since we started this journey. Maybe she really did consider me a friend now.

Kiina just nodded, like she accepted my thanks, and said, “Now get up. I don’t want that Snaj to tell its friends about us. I’ve heard Snajs don’t like it when one of their own is attacked. So we’d better get going.”

“Right,” I said as I slowly stood up. “Lead the way, Kiina.”
 

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Edited by TNTOS, Jan 23 2014 - 04:32 PM.

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#5 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Mar 29 2012 - 03:16 PM

Chapter V


We were halfway down the other side of mountain by sunset. As we agreed that it would be too dangerous to travel after dark, Kiina and I found a good place to camp: a small gathering of rocks that protected us from the wind. Kiina managed to squeeze into the area between the rocks easily, but due to my broken leg it took me several minutes before I managed to slip in with her.

Due to the possibility of a Snaj attack, we took turns staying up that night. We debated whether to start a fire because we didn’t want to attract another Snaj accidentally, and decided to make a small one. If there were no Snajs nearby, it wouldn’t make sense to freeze to death; on the other hand, if there were some Snajs around us, it made sense to keep our fire as small as possible so they wouldn’t sense the heat. We’d definitely get cold, for the small fire didn’t give off that much heat, but we reasoned that it was better than getting eaten by a Snaj, although I privately questioned that as I tried not to freeze to death that night.

Fortunately, we weren’t attacked by anything during the night. In the morning, Kiina and I set out down the mountain again, until at long last we reached the foot of the mountain. But that was only several hours later, for we had to walk slowly because of my broken leg. Not to mention going down a mountain, we discovered, is much more difficult than going up. You have to be more careful, lest you trip and fall to your death, as we saw happen to a poor mountain rabbit.

Now we stood in a wide, empty plain boxed in between the mountains. I frowned and said, “Kiina, do you see any roads or anything that might lead us to the pool of silvery liquid?”

“No,” said Kiina, shaking her head. “But if we keep going a little father, maybe we’ll see something. Xocion said it would take us a week to get there. We’ve been out here for five days; there’re still two more days of traveling ahead of us.”

“Assuming we survive that long, that is,” I said, with more than a little bitterness. “We have no idea what kind of dangers are out there, after all.”

“Well, we can’t really go back now,” said Kiina, glancing over her shoulder, “unless you want to risk the mountain again.”

I shuddered. “Good point. Besides, maybe we’ll find a village or something soon. Then again, any village around here is likely to be an Ice Agori village. I doubt they’d be happy to see us, since our tribes are at war with theirs.”

“They don’t have to like us,” said Kiina. “I just want to find civilization again. Even if we run into enemies, it’s still better than being eaten alive by big, ugly Snajs.”

So we began walking across the long, white plain broken only be the occasional hill, which seemed just as empty and lifeless as the rest of the Northern Frost. But I remembered the Snaj and so kept a careful eye on my surroundings. I didn’t want any of those ‘hills’ to turn out to be giant snow monsters or something even worse. The towering mountains on either side didn’t exactly reassure me, either, for they blocked the sun. Or perhaps it was the gray clouds in the sky that did that.

After a brief stop to rest and eat, Kiina and I walked for several more hours, until a small village came into view. Both of us briefly stopped in shock, because we had not seriously expected to find any settlements out here. The possibility of sleeping in a warm hut tonight snapped us out of our shock, however, causing us to continue walking, this time a little faster than before.

The closer we drew to the village, however, the worse it looked. The huts all seemed old and decayed. Many of them were covered in snow; in fact, one hut had so much snow on it that the roof collapsed, sending the snow cascading into its interior. We saw no sign of any Agori in the village; we didn’t even see any lights on in the windows. The village looked totally lifeless.

“Whoa,” said Kiina as we stopped at the village’s limits. “It looks like a ghost town.”

“’Ghost town’ is an understatement,” I said, looking around at the huts. “Where’d all of the villagers go?”

“Maybe they left,” Kiina suggested. “This is in the middle of nowhere, after all. Personally, if I lived here and was given an opportunity to leave, I’d be gone without thinking about it twice. I’m not a big fan of creepy ghost towns.”

I took a step forward and grunted, for my leg still hurt. Ignoring the pain, I said, “Let’s go in anyway. The huts are probably warmer than the wilderness. Even an abandoned house is better than no house at all.”

So Kiina and I walked through the village. We saw no one; we didn’t even see any animals hiding among the ruins. Like nearly everything else on our journey, this village felt dead.

We searched several huts, but found absolutely no one. The lack of people was odd, but what was even stranger was the fact that all of their furniture and belongings were still in the buildings. Nothing appeared to be missing and it didn’t look like a struggle had taken place. What could have caused an entire village of Agori to just up and leave without bringing any of their possessions?

Kiina suggested that it might have been a mining town at one point and the villagers left when they exhausted the mine. But as we saw no mines or mining equipment or anything to support her idea, I dismissed her theory. Something else had happened here, but what, we didn’t know.

We decided not to worry about it. Instead, we chose to stay in a large hut that looked like our kind had perhaps once used it, for the beds were about our size. Despite what I’d said earlier, this hut was not much warmer than the wind outside. If anything, the lack of life seemed to make it even colder, somehow.

During our lunch – which consisted mostly of burned fish (I wasn't much of a cook) and hot water – Kiina discovered a scroll in a dresser in the hut. It was a small paper scroll, which Kiina handed it to me. It felt old and frozen, like it was about to break apart any minute.

“What is it?” I said, looking at the scroll.

“I don’t know,” said Kiina with a shrug. “I just thought it looked important. Why don’t you check it out?”

I nodded and unfurled the scroll, although I had to do it carefully because it was old and felt like it would break if I was too rough with it.

I peered at the writing. It was faded, making it difficult to read. As I was not a very good reader, I handed the scroll to Kiina, saying, “I can’t read this. It’s too faded. Why don’t you give it a try?”

Kiina took the scroll and tried to read it. Then she said, “I think . . . I think it’s a diary. Yes, that’s what it is. Someone named Digo wrote it, although I don’t know if he’s an Agori or an Gadarian.”

“Okay,” I said. “Then what does his diary say?”

Again Kiina studied the writing, then she said, “Now I might be wrong, but the date seems to be a few thousand years ago, around the time the Element Lords were created, I think.”

“Hey, do you think this diary might explain why this village is abandoned?” I asked. “I mean, it’s not particularly important to our journey, but I have to admit that this mystery intrigues me.”

“I’ll see what I can find,” said Kiina.

A minute later, Kiina sighed in frustration and said, “No. Nothing on the village. Just Digo talking about his daily life; his hopes, dreams, and whatnot.”

“Well, what does the latest entry say?” I asked.

Kiina glanced at it and frowned. “It’s only one paragraph long. It says, The Element Lord of Ice arrived today. He’s gathering all of the villagers outside of the village to show us something grand. My friends are waiting for me outside, since we’re all going together. I’ll write more when I get back.

“That’s odd,” I said. “What could Xocion have wanted to show to them?”

“Who knows?” said Kiina as she threw the diary to the side. “And who cares? It’s not important. We really should get going now. We shouldn’t waste time pondering mysteries we can’t solve.”

“You’re right,” I said. “We’ve got two days to get back to our armies. We shouldn’t waste them, not if we want to get back in time to warn our friends of the . . . Ice army attack . . .”

It was then that I remembered that Kiina was a Water soldier and I a Fire soldier. We’d been so worried about just surviving that it hadn’t occurred to me what would happen if Kiina and I did manage to return alive. Our armies were trying to destroy each other; it would be difficult to explain a friendship between the two of us. I couldn’t just hand Kiina over to the Fire army as a prisoner, though, and Kiina probably wouldn’t do the same to me.

That didn’t mean our friendship could realistically work, though. Not as long as the war continued. We were technically supposed to be enemies, after all. I didn’t like it, yet there was nothing I could do about it except end our friendship entirely, which didn’t exactly comfort me.

Discarding that uncomfortable thought, I said, “We don’t have time to solve strange mysteries. The sooner we get going, the sooner we end this mad journey.”

“Yeah,” said Kiina. “You’ve got a point.”

Something in Kiina’s voice told me she was thinking the same thing that I had, about our impossible friendship. I chose to say nothing about it, however, because I didn’t think it was a subject either of us were very interested in discussing right now. It was too depressing to talk about.
 

-


The first thing we saw when we exited the village through the north was the huge collection of Agori ice sculptures.

At least, that’s what they looked like, anyway. Their general shapes and designs looked like Agori, except in this case, they were literally made of ice. Thick layers of snow covered the sculptures, like no one ever took care of them. One of the sculptures had even fallen over and lay half buried in the snow like a forgotten piece of equipment.

“Who do you think made these?” I asked as we walked through the statuary, which was eerily quiet.

“I don’t know,” said Kiina, shaking her head impatiently. “Some mad ice sculptor, maybe. We’ve got enough problems as it is without adding this mystery on top of it.”

“I guess you have a point,” I said.

Just then, a fierce wind blew through the garden of statues. We stopped, bracing ourselves against the wind. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the wind blow the snow off of one of the sculptures . . . revealing two eyes staring right back at me.

Startled, I jumped, then groaned as the pain in my leg exploded from the movement. Kiina looked at me in surprise and asked, “What? Did you see something?”

“I think so,” I said, glancing over at the statue. “I’m not sure, but does that sculpture . . . have eyes?”

“Eyes?” said Kiina, looking over at the same sculpture. “What are you talking about?”

I hobbled over to the statue and began dusting snow off of it. “Look, Kiina, this . . . I can’t believe it.”

What I saw chilled me worse than any blizzard. With the snow no longer covering it, I was now staring at the head of an Agori; a real one, not an ice sculpture. The Agori was encased in thick ice and obviously dead. His eyes sightlessly stared out at me, wide, like the last sight he had seen before he died was a terrible one.

“Oh my . . .” said Kiina, one hand on her mouth. “Is that . . . is that an Agori? A real, living one?”

“Real, yes, but not living,” I said, turning away from the dead Agori. “He’s dead, probably froze to death. Let’s check the other statues just . . . just to be sure.”

After quickly checking of a few of the other statues, we discovered that they were all Agori, frozen to death by the extreme cold which contained them. We figured the other several hundred statues must also be frozen Agori, but the few we had seen disturbed us so much that we chose not to investigate any further. We already knew what we were going to find; there was no reason to go looking for it.

“This is horrible,” said Kiina, shaking her head. “But I think I know who did it.”

I looked at Kiina, puzzled. “Who could have the power to do this?”

“Xocion, of course,” said Kiina. “Remember what Digo’s diary said? It said Xocion gathered all of the villagers outside of the village to show them ‘something grand.’ After that, Digo’s diary just ends. Seems to me that Xocion probably froze them to death once they were all gathered together, including Digo. He’s the only one who could do this to an entire village of Agori.”

“But that still doesn’t explain why he did it, if he is the culprit,” I said. “I mean, these people were his subjects, weren’t they? Why would any ruler kill those he is supposed to rule?”

“Who knows?” said Kiina, throwing a distasteful look at one of the frozen Agori. “He’s a monster. Isn’t that obvious? Maybe he just did it because he could. The Element Lords are strong enough to do whatever they want, even if they don’t have a reason for it.”

“I know,” I said grimly. “It’s horrible.”

“Well, this just gives us another reason to get the silver pool and defeat the Ice tribe,” said Kiina, gesturing at the collection of frozen Agori. “Xocion is clearly an unjust dictator if he unfairly kills innocent Agori like this. Overthrowing him would actually be doing these people a favor, in my opinion.”

I didn’t say anything. The way Kiina spoke, it was like we were both members of the same army. That was not the case, of course, but it did show how far our friendship had come in the last week.

It made me uncomfortable. Even if we managed to return to our armies, we might be forced to fight each other again at some point in the future. We might even have to kill each other, just because our leaders told us to. It left a sickening feeling in my stomach and I couldn’t think of a way to explain this to Kiina, so instead I just silently nodded, hoping against hope that we would find a solution to our problems.
 

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Edited by TNTOS, Jan 23 2014 - 04:40 PM.

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#6 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Apr 05 2012 - 08:49 AM

Chapter VI


After the frozen village, Kiina and I were forced to travel through the open plains all day, stopping only briefly to have dinner. Our food supplies were running low again, but I figured that, as we only had about a day left on our journey, we could survive off what little we had if we were frugal. Kiina promised she would not eat any more than she had to, but I already knew that, for I knew she had learned her lesson about gluttony earlier.

The wind was icy, piercingly cold, even between the mountains, and, when the sun set, we agreed to find a place to stop and rest. It was difficult to find something to keep us out of the wind, for the area around us was mostly flat and there were no large gatherings of boulders. We managed to find a large, dead tree, though, but it offered us little protection from the cold air that night. Sleeping was doubly uncomfortable for me, because I had to find just the right position to lie in so my broken leg wouldn’t hurt so badly.

In the morning, I was so cold that I could barely move. We huddled around the fire I had made with my sword in order to thaw out before continuing. My broken leg still hurt like crazy, but I forced myself to ignore it. As a soldier, I had taken far worse than this before, but that didn’t diminish the pain I felt.

As we walked, I became increasingly aware of what we were walking into. True, we were heading back to the welcoming arms of our comrades, but the fact remained that Kiina and I weren't truly on the same team. Kiina was a soldier of the Water army; I, of the Fire army. Enemy soldiers did not become friends and didn’t remain friends with each other, either. It was a bitter truth, but one that would remain true so long as the war continued.

As far as I could tell, the only thing we could do when we got back was terminate our friendship and pretend like we never knew each other. It was the only way to avoid the pain of having to fight and kill a friend, although that didn’t mean I liked it. It just meant that that was our only realistic option.

I decided that now was the best time to talk about this with Kiina. After all, we were nearly at the end of our journey. In time we would be forced to separate and become enemies once again. Better to get it over with sooner rather than later, in my opinion.

So I said, “Kiina, there’s something I’d like to talk with you about.”

“It’s about the fact that we can’t be friends, right?” said Kiina, glancing over her shoulder at me.

Startled, I said, “Uh, yeah. Have you been thinking about this, too?”

“Yeah,” said Kiina, nodding grimly. “I know that, when we get back, we’re gonna have to go back to our own armies. I doubt my superiors would be happy if I were friends with a Fire soldier. Our armies are supposed to be at war with each other; they wouldn’t let me be friends with you, no matter what.”

“Well, I thought that maybe we should stop being friends, then,” I said. “I mean, practically-speaking, we won’t be allowed to be friends when we get back home. A friendship between two soldiers who are supposed to be enemies is impossible. What will we do if we’re forced to fight each other on the battlefield someday?”

Kiina stopped and turned to look at me, causing me to stop, too, so I didn’t bump into her.

“We could run away together,” Kiina suggested. “Run away from the armies, the war, everything, just so we can be together and not have to fight each other.”

“Whoa, Kiina,” I said, feeling alarmed and, for some reason, embarrassed. “That’s a little extreme, isn’t it? I mean, I like you, Kiina, but the way you’re talking, we might be lovers.”

“Oh,” said Kiina, looking very embarrassed. “Oh, er, you’re right, Ackar. I . . . sorry. It was a stupid idea. I didn’t really mean it. It was just a joke, you know?”

I nodded, but something in her voice told me that maybe it hadn’t been a joke. “Well, even if you were serious, your plan wouldn’t have done us any good. There is not a single place on this planet that hasn’t been touched by the war. We couldn’t escape it even if we wanted to.”

“Good point,” Kiina said with a sigh. “Then what should we do?”

”Like I said, the only thing we can do is stop being friends,” I said. “I don’t like it any more than you do, but that’s the only option I see available to us. It will be much less painful for us that way.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” said Kiina, turning away from me. “Sure. If we’re forced to fight each other on the battlefield later, it’ll just be that much easier for me to kill you.”

“Don’t take it too hard,” I said. “I mean, there’s always the possibility that we may never fight each other again. Maybe the war will end before that. Maybe after the war ends, we can restart our friendship.”

“Whatever,” said Kiina, who was clearly unhappy with any idea I came up with, no matter what it might be. “We can do that. So let’s just get going already, now that we’ve decided what to do. Not much farther now.”

I did not consider myself a particularly observant person, but I noticed Kiina sounded a bit hurt. I understood her feelings, but I had no way of making her feel better because I didn’t feel very happy myself. I just followed her as we continued our journey, trying to ignore the pain in my leg as best as I could.
 

-


The farther we walked, the more I wondered if we were heading the right direction. Sure, Xocion had told us that the silver pool was north, but what if he had been lying? After all, besides the frozen village, we had yet to find any Agori or Gadarians, roads or houses, or anything to suggest that we were anywhere close to finding civilization again.

I brought up these concerns with Kiina, but she just shrugged them off. “Even if we are going the wrong way, we can’t go back. Forward is our only option.”

After that, I kept my mouth shut. Kiina was right. It would be too impractical to turn around and head back, especially since the only thing waiting for us back there was Xocion. We could do nothing but keep going and hope Xocion hadn't lied to us, which seemed increasingly likely to me the further we traveled.

Yet soon – almost abruptly – we came upon a long road, slightly covered with snow. It looked like it had been used recently, for wagon trails and footprints had crushed all of the snow into the dirt of the road. Interestingly, the road went east, then turned north again.

“Think this road will take us to the silver pool?” I asked Kiina as we walked upon it. “It leads north.”

“I think so,” said Kiina, looking excited. “I mean, I don’t know for sure, but there are a lot of roads leading to the silver pool, so-“

It was at that moment that we heard the sounds of heavy feet pounding against the ground. At first, the marching feet sounded distant, but soon the sounds got closer and closer. Kiina and I looked around for the source of the footsteps, but neither of us could see anything. I figured the sounds must be coming from beyond a nearby hill, which this road went over, which meant a lot of people were coming over that hill. It sounded like a marching army; the Ice army, perhaps?

There was nowhere for Kiina and me to hide. After all, aside from a few small hills, this was mostly flat country. You’d have to dig a hole to hide anywhere and we didn’t have the time to dig anything. So Kiina and I just stood there, watching, waiting, wondering who was coming and if they were friendly. We would fight if we had to, but considering how weak and cold we were, I doubted we’d last long against even a small battalion of untrained soldiers.

Finally, after what felt like forever, a group of red-armored beings appeared on the hill crest. With joy in my heart, I recognized them as my own soldiers from the Fire army. They looked weary and beaten even from a distance, but I was so pleased to see them all that I would have jumped for joy had my leg not been broken.

“Hey!” I said, waving my arms up and down. “Hey, you guys! Over here! It’s me, Ackar!”

The Fire soldiers stopped and seemed confused at first. Then they spotted me, screaming and hollering like a lunatic, and to my relief they started forward again, this time faster than before. I began hobbling toward them as fast as my bad leg would allow and soon I reached the head soldiers.

They looked even worse than I thought. Their armor was dented and battered in many places, more than half of their weapons appeared broken or heavily damaged, and at least a few were shivering so violently that I thought they were going to fall apart. Malum was in the lead and looked about as good as the rest of them, with his right arm in a sling.

“Ackar,” said Malum, sounding shocked. “How . . . we thought you were dead!”

“It’s a long story,” I said. Then I looked around at the soldiers and said, “You guys look like you might as well be dead. What happened? And why aren’t you protecting the silver pool?”

For the first time since I’d known him, Malum looked away from me. The other soldiers also did not make eye contact with me, as though I had just mentioned something shameful and embarrassing.

I was puzzled at first, but then realization slowly dawned on me. “You lost it, didn’t you?”

“Well . . . yes, we did,” said Malum, still not looking at me. “The Ice army attacked and kicked us out and took it.”

My temper, which had been smothered by my joy earlier, flared as bright as a raging flame. “How? How did they do it?”

Malum looked at me again and said, “I will give you no excuses, Commander Ackar. We did our best. We fought the Ice army with the amount of bravery you would find in a much bigger force. I myself took on the strongest of their soldiers and won-“

“I don’t care who you killed,” I said, keeping my voice as level as I could. “What I want to know is how you lost. Tell me everything.”

“Fine,” said Malum. “After we thought you died, a lot of the soldiers deserted. Seemed to think there was no reason to stick around now that you were dead. I tried to keep them all under control, but the morale was definitely at its lowest the morning after we thought you died. Quite a few simply left, as I said, no matter how many I punished to teach the deserters a lesson.”

“Punished?” I said. “You don’t punish deserters. It just encourages them to leave.”

“I thought you wanted me to tell you everything, sir?” said Malum, in that irritating way of his. “Or would you rather I whitewash it for you?”

“Go on,” I said, scratching the back of my head. “But just so you know, as of this moment I take back my status as commander of this platoon.”

“You can have it, commander,” said Malum, shaking his head and folding his arms. “Being a leader doesn’t work for me. Anyway, there were no more enemy attacks until a day or two ago, when the Ice army struck from the north.”

I said nothing, although I wondered why this was so. Xocion had promised to me and Kiina that he would give us a week to return to our armies. Unless a week had already passed and we didn’t know it – which I doubted, for I had kept very good track of the passing days – we still had a day to return to our allies. I realized Xocion must have gone back on his word and attacked a day before he promised he would, which made me even angrier than before.

“It was a terrible, uneven fight,” said Malum, his good hand balled into a fist. “The Ice army was thousands strong, while we only had a few hundred. We fought valiantly and bravely, but we were no match for the Ice army’s wrath. So we retreated. We are the only survivors.”

I looked over the group. There were probably around 150 or so left out of the 500 that had been there before the avalanche. It was better than no survivors, I supposed, though I wondered if maybe Xocion had given the Ice army specific orders to be extra unmerciful towards my men. Knowing him, that seemed very likely.

Before I could say anything, I heard Kiina shout behind me. Turning around, I saw that two of my men had circled around behind us and had grabbed Kiina. She was struggling fiercely, but even in their weakened state they were strong enough to hold her. Her trident lay on the ground out of her reach.

Reacting instinctively, I fired a jet of fire at the two soldiers. It didn’t actually hit them or Kiina, but the two soldiers immediately let go and backed off, causing Kiina to jump forward and seize her trident. She then aimed it at my men, but I said, “Kiina, don’t!”

“Why shouldn’t I?” said Kiina, still aiming her trident at us. “Your men attacked me!”

“Commander Ackar,” said Malum, looking at Kiina quizzically. “Who is this Water soldier? Were you traveling with her?”

I ignored Malum’s questions and said to Kiina, “Kiina, you know better than that. I did not order them to attack you. Right, guys?”

One of the two soldiers nodded, while the other said, “Well, we just thought that because she’s a Water soldier, we should-“

“I don’t remember telling you to capture or attack her,” I said to the soldiers. “Did I?”

“No, Commander Ackar, sir,” said the second soldier. “But-“

“No buts,” I said as I lowered my sword. “Don’t attack anyone else I specifically give you orders to. Otherwise, I might not miss next time. Understood, soldiers?”

“Yes, Commander Ackar, sir!” said the two soldiers in unison.

I smiled. It felt good to be back in charge. For a while there I’d nearly forgotten what it was like, but seeing those two acting without orders from me jogged my memory. I would punish them later, I decided, after we left the Northern Frost.

“You didn’t answer my questions, sir,” said Malum. He pointed at Kiina and asked, “Who is she and what were you doing traveling with her?”

“My name is Kiina,” said Kiina, glaring at Malum. “And I am-“

“A temporary ally,” I said quickly. “She also survived the avalanche and we’ve been working together for nearly a week now, trying to find civilization. She’s okay.”

I had interrupted Kiina for a reason. If my men knew Kiina and I were friends, they would probably stop respecting my authority. And for good reason, from a military perspective; would you respect your leader if he was best friends with the enemy that had tried to kill you?

They would understand if I had temporarily allied with her for survival, but if our relationship was any closer than that . . . well, I didn’t want to put either of our lives at any unnecessary risk.

“So, are we going to take her prisoner now?” asked Malum. “Even if we have lost the silver pool, if we can bring back at least one prisoner, maybe Lord Slacuvun will not be as displeased.”

“She’s not going to be our prisoner,” I said. “It’s because of her that I managed to survive out in the wilderness for as long as I did.”

“Yet we can’t just let her travel with us,” said Malum. “She’s a Water soldier! If what you say is true, then she was part of that army that tried to take the silver pool nearly a week ago. I’d say it’s too dangerous to let her travel with us, am I right?”

The rest of the soldiers nodded in agreement, a few muttering their agreement.

I didn’t want to treat Kiina like a prisoner. She was my friend. To repay her kindness and loyalty with chains would be wrong and unfair.

Yet my soldiers obviously didn’t trust her. They had no idea of the things she’d done to ensure my survival. All they knew was that she was a Water soldier; a Water soldier, moreover, who had probably tried to kill them all at some point. There was nothing I could do to change that.

To stall for time, I asked Malum, “Where are you guys going?”

“Back to the Great Volcano, sir,” Malum replied. “To get reinforcements. That was the plan, until we ran into you and the Water soldier. We couldn’t defeat both the Ice and Water armies, after all, although I think we could have given them a run for their money if we had-“

“Wait,” I said. “Did you say Ice and Water armies?”

“Of course,” said Malum. He gestured toward the hill and said, “We passed the Water army on our way out. They’re preparing to take the silver pool from the Ice army. They didn’t attack us; maybe didn’t think we were worth the trouble or something.”

I wasn’t paying attention to Malum now. The fact that the Water army was here suddenly made everything that much easier. I would still have to approach this professionally, however, otherwise I might mess everything up.

“Well, then,” I said, turning back to Kiina. I looked her directly in the eyes as I spoke to her. “Looks like this is your lucky day, Kiina. According to Malum, the Water army is not very far from here. Unless you want to wear chains all the way from here to the Great Volcano, I suggest you get moving now.”

“Really?” said Kiina in surprise. “Where are they?”

I looked at Malum, who sighed reluctantly and said to Kiina, “The Water army is just a day or two from here. You will probably reach them if you follow the main road north.”

“So you’re just letting me go?” said Kiina, looking at me. “Why-“

“Because I feel like it,” I said. “It is only fair. You and I have had to rely on each other for this past week just to survive. As a token of thanks, I am allowing you to return to your allies unharmed. But remember, Kiina. Next time we meet, we won’t be allies.”

Kiina just stood there and looked at me. For a moment, I feared Kiina’s stubborn attitude would prevail and she would start arguing with me, trying to get me to change my mind and let her come with us. I didn’t see any reason why she would do it, but I knew Kiina enough by now to know that she wasn’t always a logical or reasonable person.

But then, to my surprise and relief, Kiina nodded and said, “Thank you, Commander Ackar. You are truly an honorable warrior, allowing me to return to my allies even though I am your enemy. I will remember this act of kindness always, even if our next meeting is on the battlefield.”

Kiina’s formal words were a bit odd-sounding coming from her, but we really couldn’t have a tearful farewell in front of my men. They might just mutiny if they saw me crying about this. Not that I was going to cry; it’s just that I figured our farewell would be much more emotional if this had been in private.

So I barked orders at my men to let Kiina through and not to lay a finger on her unless they wanted their behinds whipped. So it was that Kiina passed through the ranks of my men, unharmed and unbothered, like a military commander. She didn’t look at me as she passed, but I looked at her, watching my friend as she went over the hill and disappeared.

I didn’t know when I’d see Kiina again, but I didn’t look forward to it, because Kiina and I would be enemies next time we met. Those hadn’t just been fancy words; I had been serious. Next time we met on the battlefield, only one would live and only one would die. The thought didn’t comfort me at all.

At an order from me, the small remnant of the Fire army continued their journey south. For now, I had to worry about all of us living long enough to see the next battle. The Great Volcano was far away from here, closer to Bara Magna, so we had a long journey ahead of us. I figured we would probably make it, but when we did, we would just be sent back out into battle. I sincerely hoped the next battle wouldn’t be against the Water army, because that would mean I would have to fight Kiina. And I didn’t want to kill her. I didn’t want to kill her at all.
 

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Edited by TNTOS, Jan 23 2014 - 04:49 PM.

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