Stronius looked over his militia as they brought up barricades and mounted telescopes on constructed walls. Four other elite Skrall stood beside him doing the same. The outpost was almost finished, only needing several more trenches and tents. The warriors worked diligently no matter how tedious their task was. Those that would begin to grow weary would be shouted back into labor by the screams of Atakus. Though being an Agori, the Skrall respected Atakus’ dedication to the Rock Tribe, and was the only lower ranking official that any warrior would listen too. Out of the five Agori the Skrall had brought with them, he alone stood with hands that had not been made to repair armor or committed to some other demeaning task.
“Stronius, do you think twenty warrior class Skrall will be enough to take down the Ice Tribe? The White Quartz Mountains are valuable. They are hard to navigate, treacherous, and filled with exsidian. No doubt they will send many warriors to claim them. If we lose these mountains, then the Skrall will be severely weakened.” The elite Skrall to the left of the Stronius questioned.
“Ah, yes, young one. All of that is true. But none of those reasons are why the Ice Tribe wants these mountains. The Skrall are the most powerful warriors of all. The White Quartz Mountains are the perfect staging point for them to launch an attack on us and finish the Rock Tribe. But no need to fear, the Ice Tribe will never defeat us. We know every mountain on Spherus Magna like the cracks in our armor. We will slaughter every warrior that comes this way, and one by one, all their fighters will die.” Stronius continued to look at the workers. The other Skrall could not decide if he was talking to them all, or just himself.
Stronius thought back to the time before the Core War, the peace age, without the fighting, death, and mutilation. He realized how boring his life had truly been before the Rock Tribe had entered the Core War. This was his time. This was his calling. He took a tear of pride at the thought of white, red, blue, green, and tan warriors falling to his club in the name of the Rock Tribe. Stronius turned to his fighters and laid down his weapon for the first time in his life.
“Skrall come. For millennia Spherus Magna has lived under peace in the name of the Great Beings. Tribes have flourished and violence has died. Agori have lived without fear and warriors have gone a life of deprivation. But no more. This is the age of war. This is our time. We will ready our weapons for their and our duty. We will conquer and defend the honor of the Rock Tribe. Let the warriors fight us. Let them feel the edge of our swords, the blades of our shields, and the front of our clubs as we tear through their flesh. Let them fall in the name of the Skrall.”
“I liked being a guard. There was no climbing, no rocks, and one hundred other people to die for me. Now there are only eleven.” Strakk complained for the third time in the last hour. He had not been happy about the idea of going to the White Quartz Mountains considering that he did not enjoy physical labor. He had taken up the job of being a guard of the Energized Protodermis Spring to avoid any work. If an attack came, Strakk would mysteriously disappear, sometimes not returning for days.
“They are the perfect place for retreat incase someone takes over the Northern Frost. They are easily defended, dangerous, and no one would dare come this close to the Skrall.” Said Certavus, making an effort to take the edge off his voice. As leader of the group, it was his job to set an example. Arguing with Strakk would just lead to a fight, which was a terrible idea on the side of a mountain.
“If no one wants to be near them, then why are we?” Strakk did no such thing as Certavus, leading to a highly irritating tone.
“This will give us an advantage against them. If we need to invade or prepare for a conflict with them, we are close enough to do it.” This time Certavus was less careful with his tone, and pretended his foot slipped in order to kick Strakk in the shoulder. Already having a loose hold, Strakk slipped and scrambled to regain his grip.
Surel shot Certavus a dirty look. Being as inexperienced as Strakk due to his profession of vehicle piloting, he felt some sympathy toward the guard. His Iron Wolves, however, had no such empathy for him and growled at Strakk whenever he spoke.
“This is starting to grow tiresome. I do agree that we should rest. The cave above seems hospitable.” Surel offered.
“No, the Skrall know we are here. Knowing them they have patrols everywhere. There are easily fifty Skrall on our joint of elbow peak. If they corner us in a cave, we will be cut down in ten minutes, nine if they have an elite Skrall with them, eight if he has a name.” Certavus kept scaling without looking back at Surel, even as Strakk and several other warriors cursed him under the wind.
“Stronius, I have found a group of Ice warriors.” A Skrall came to Stronius, keeping his salute even as he talked. With his free hand he pointed toward a telescope.
“Are any of them of prominent ranking? They may be able to be used as a hostage.” Stronius asked.
“There is one, named Certavus.” The Skrall replied.
“Very good. Alert the lieutenants and have them organize the patrol. Bring Atakus, but leave the other Agori here to watch the camp. Release the Spikit. Prepare yourself warrior, your duty is to be fulfilled.” Stronius turned from the warrior who, his message over, left the tent. He squeezed his club and felt his muscles clench on themselves. He could also feel them ache for primal carnage as did. Stronius was ready for battle.
Surel laid his head on a pillow of snow. After an intensive argument with Strakk, Certavus had agreed to camp in the cave for the night. His only condition was that Strakk acted as an all night lookout. Only after a pelting of snowballs and nearly being pushed off the mountain did Strakk agree to his end of the bargain.
Surel rolled over. He could tell the wolves sensed something. Their eyes were slits, and had turned green, a sign that danger was ahead. They looked at the mouth of the cave, but were not glowering at Strakk. The wolves looked at a mountain to the north. The same sense had been nagging at him too, giving him intense insomnia. Unable to bypass the feeling, Surel walked to where Strakk was sitting, looking out at the sky.
“They are coming, Strakk.” Surel spoke softly, as he had been known to do when something was amiss.
“Who’s coming?” Strakk shouted, waking several of his fellow warriors and blatantly disregarding Surel’s tone.
“The Skrall are coming. The wolves sense it, and so do I.” Surel said, not changing the tone of his voice.
“You spend too much time with those wolves. Nothing made by the Great Beings has any sense, and neither do you. Go back to sleep and dream up some real friends.” Strakk taunted.
“Listen you fool! If the Skrall find us while we are asleep, we will all be killed! Do you want that to happen?” Surel grabbed Strakk’s neck and shook him.
“Get off me!” Strakk punched Surel in the face. His helmet cracked and crooked to the right. The warrior crashed into the wall of the cave. As he impacted, Surel could feel his armor crunch underneath him. With the combined force of the strike and the wall Surel slid to the floor of the cave and blacked out.
“Skrall, how far much farther are they?” Stronius asked the Skrall who had seen the group of Ice warriors.
“One mile until we reach the base of the mountain. We should be able to get there before sunrise.” The Skrall responded.
The Skrall patrol was halfway down a mountain. By Atakus’ suggestion, they were buried under the snow and ice that covered the rock. It took much longer to do this rather than just climb down in full view, but the Skrall wanted to be sure their attack was a complete surprise. The hardest part was keeping a famished Spikit quiet and from eating any weapons or warriors.
“Any movement?” Stronius asked Atakus.
“No, but they have one lookout. He appears weary. It is clear to move.” Atakus responded.
“Let’s go.” Stronius whispered. The Skrall released their grip on the rock and slid down the mountain.
“Surel wake up!” A warrior violently throttled Surel.
Surel painfully moved his arms to prop himself upwards. He found his legs were uninjured, though his left was numb with cold. His senses returned one after another, until finally his hearing had been restored. With it came a roar of sound. High screams of the Ice Tribe and low of Rock filled the air.
“What’s happening?” Surel asked the warrior who had awakened him.
“We were ambushed by the Skrall! They sprouted out of the snow like the Skopio of the dunes! There are two-dozen of them! We cannot retreat without the Iron Wolves! Go! Get them!” The warrior shouted. He frantically shook Surel again.
Surel hurried out of the cave, taking a swift instance to overlook the battle scene. Not including himself and the warrior in the cave, there were only seven fellow fighters. Two of the missing combatants lay broken on the snow, while Strakk appeared to have completely vanished. The Skrall had every single one of their warriors, each well armed and unscathed thus far. Surel could make out each of his Iron Wolves hiding in the snow looking for something. When their eyes caught him, they turned yellow and their pupils became ovular. Surel went through a series of hand gestures. The wolves understood and arced around the worn battlefield, using their light colored fur and armor to blend into the snow. Once they came to him, the wolves circled around Surel.
“Come my friends, let us hunt. At the end of this day, the Skrall will bear our mark.” Surel whispered.
Stronius pounded a warrior with his club. As he was about to provide a final strike to the head, something flew onto him. He fell to the ground as the battered warrior took the chance to roll away. Stronius ripped the growling mass of fur away from his shoulder, and along with it a mouth shaped piece of his armor.
“Come Skrall, do you not fear the power of the Ice Tribe? Only the Sand Tribe has the numbers and strength to fight us, but those Dune Spiders cannot stand the chill of the Northern Frost. How can you?” Surel yelled, his wolves growling it in their own tongue.
“If all of this is so, then why are all of my warriors unharmed, when already two of yours have fallen?” Stronius inquired.
“Let us see if you are right Skrall.” Surel snapped his fingers causing the wolves ears to perk. Two thirds of their number ran for an idle Skrall warrior. He was mauled, and within a single minute, deceased.
“That is the power of the Ice Tribe. If your warrior could not take twelve wolves, then how can you take the whole pack?” Surel asked.
“I do not have to. You are just a distraction for the fools while the real warriors go and fight the true battle. I am no fool. I am a commander. I have a war to lead.” Stronius turned and called over two other elite Skrall.
“I do not have the time to deal with him. You do it.” Stronius said to the two warriors. They were armed with as brutally powerful weapons as Stronius, one carrying a mace, and one a flail. The flail began to spin.
“I hate Skrall!” Certavus shouted as he choked a Skrall warrior with his blade. The unfortunate victim was waving his arms like a lunatic, making Certavus have to dodge his limbs while still having to hold the flailing beast. After another minute, the warrior seemed to be dead, though his arms were still moving like Dune Snakes with their heads cut off. Certavus released his grip and pierced the Skrall’s chest, causing his open flesh to freeze in a combination of the night air and the power of Certavus’ sword.
Certavus noticed another nearby warrior fighting a Skrall. The area was too open, leaving a sneak attack out of the question. Only thinking of one semi valid plan before his fellow warrior could be decapitated, Certavus picked up a rock as heavy as he could carry and threw it at the Skrall’s head. The weight of the rock caused a shift in aim, causing the projectile to hit the Rock Tribe warrior’s shoulder. The damage was not deadly as expected, but the warrior still fell unconscious, allowing the Ice warrior to roll him off the ledge.
“Where is Strakk?” Certavus asked the warrior he had saved.
“I saw him go over there.” The warrior pointed to a small pathway to the left of the war ground.
“I’ll be back soon.” Certavus ran in the direction the warrior had pointed, determined to come back with a pre-beaten Strakk.
Surel dodged another swing from the warrior's mace. The other Skrall was busy dealing with the Iron Wolves. Though he had already killed two of the wolves and injured three, he was starting to wear down from the battle. Surel had no such luck in fighting his opponent, who was the strongest Skrall he had ever seen. All he had to his advantage was the warrior’s girth, which cut down on his speed and agility. Surel could only dodge his blows, and was starting to grow weary. The Skrall began to notice this, and as Surel executed a roll, crushed his knee with his mace. Surel screamed as the lower half of his right leg grew numb. The Skrall closed in.
“No warrior of any kind can defeat me! I am the strongest of all the Skrall! You will die with my name in your ears! Fall before—” The elite Skrall stopped midway into his rant, mace raised, as a blue blade protruded from his chest.
“Skrall aren’t supposed to have names.” A voice came from behind the Skrall. The blade glowed for several seconds before dimming. The defeated warrior began to spasm, and then stopped, dead. The blade withdrew, and the Skrall fell, revealing a being of the same species as Surel. His armor was gorgeous, a combination of pale teal and lime. It was faint enough to blend in with the surroundings, but distinct enough to be remembered.
“Who are you?” Surel asked the warrior.
“I am Gelu the bandit, and this is my home.” The stranger gestured to the entire mountain range.
“Why did you save me?” Surel wondered, still surprised by the whole event.
“The Skrall are my enemies, and they appear to be yours as well. It looks like you could use some help.” Gelu pulled out a weapon Surel had only seen in the trophy room of the Element Lord of Ice’s fortress. It was a long, slender, silver device only used by the Sand Tribe. In it was a golden spiked sphere.
Gelu shot the weapon and hit the Skrall fighting the wolves in his neck. The projectile exploded violently, slaying the elite Skrall.
“I never liked using these. They are barbaric and disgusting. But they are perfect when you are in a fix.” Gelu said. He fired another three rounds. Two hit the targets, instantly killing them. The third Skrall warrior blocked the sphere with his shield, and charged at Gelu. Unable to use his launcher at such close range, Gelu was forced into melee combat with the Skrall. Surel could only watch as the fight went on.
Strakk sat dangling his legs over the cliff. This seemed a perfect hiding spot. The only one who had found him was a Skrall warrior who had been so surprised by his finding that Strakk was able to push him off the side of the mountain. Then he heard footsteps. They were getting closer. They sounded too soft to be a Skrall’s. After his fear had subsided Strakk realized that it was Certavus who was coming. Having nowhere else to run, Strakk fell down in the snow and played dead.
Once Certavus arrived to Strakk’s hiding place he saw exactly what he suspected. The warrior was obviously not dead, as he was unwounded and his armor pristine.
“Strakk, get up.” Certavus shouted. Nothing. Certavus kicked him. Nothing. Certavus picked up Strakk’s bladed shield and threw it off the cliff.
“What did you do that for?” Strakk rolled over and got up. Certavus smacked him with the back of his hand, tripping him afterwards.
“We are losing a serious battle. Come on you moron.” Certavus pulled Strakk upwards and dragged him back to the battle unarmed.
Surel screamed. He could feel his armor fracture further as Stronius’ foot ground it and his shattered leg into the snow.
“I didn’t think you and your pets could take on my two top warriors. I’ll give you I hated both of them, but no one can kill Skrall and leave with their limbs and their life. Soon you won’t have either.” Stronius crushed Surel’s right arm under his club, its thorns digging deep into him. The Skrall then arced his weapon over his back and onto Surel’s other arm, egging another scream. Stronius was about to smash the Ice warriors face when a dagger cut into his hip. The warrior of the Rock Tribe wailed in pain and grotesquely removed the dagger. He barely kept himself from falling by using his club as a crutch.
“I thought Skrall were proud. You denounce your species by torturing the wounded and unarmed. Let us see if you can take on a real warrior.” Certavus shouted. Behind him Strakk could be seen, dueling with three Skrall warriors in hand-to-hand combat. Another five cheered as Strakk became weaker and his fighting more uncoordinated. It was easy to see that Strakk would not last long in the fight.
“The honor of the Skrall lies in their power and strength. Which warriors fall to our might does not matter to us. The Skrall fight for victory.” Stronius swung his club at Certavus who blocked it with his own weapon. The two were evenly matched. Stronius was strong while Certavus was quick and agile.
Surel noticed something galloping toward Strakk and Certavus. As it grew closer, its colors became more apparent. It had a black body with a green spinal cord protruding from its back. Only after seeing its two heads did Surel realize it was a titan sized Spikit. The beast was pulling a chariot manned by a black Agori carrying two glowing black swords. The Agori slew an Ice warrior as he went by, leaving only Strakk, Certavus, and Gelu to face the Skrall.
As Atakus charged Strakk, Gelu shot the chain linking the chariot to the Spikit, sending the Agori out of control. The loosed Spikit was attacked by three Iron Wolves, and fell from their weight. The chariot smashed through the Skrall surrounding Strakk, giving him an opening to escape. Another Skrall had joined the fight between Certavus and Stronius, overwhelming the Ice warrior.
Strakk walked over to Surel, half dead and broken. He picked up the fallen warriors Ice Axe.
“Strakk, please help me. My wounds are severe.” Surel pleaded.
“I have no reason to help you. You’re just dead weight. You always were. And now with you defeated I just have to take care of Certavus and I will be the only survivor. I will be honored as a hero. Better pay, higher ranking, I will receive both of those once I return. Betrayal is the name of the game.” Strakk spoke coldly and indifferently before he smacked Surel with the flat of the axe. Surel fell unconscious, one of many to fall in a day.
Strakk edged to where Certavus was fighting, wedging Surel’s axe into the rock. He twisted the weapon and heaved it upward. A crack spindled from the break point upward through the stone, reaching in different directions in a fashion reminiscent of the growth of a warped tree. One limb reached out over Certavus and Stronius, causing rocks to hail down on the combatants. Stronius’ heavy armor and his fellow warrior’s shield gave the Skrall protection from the volley. Certavus was knocked unconscious and buried, making him an easy prize for the Skrall.
Stronius carried the fallen Certavus over his back. After the battle fourteen of his warriors and only two of his lieutenants remained. He later located two of his warriors bruised and unconscious at the bottom of the mountain. Though the Skrall had suffered some losses, they had still captured Certavus, a prize worthy of the battle. The soon to be Branar had been injured when he had helped Stronius fight the Ice warrior, but he wore the scars as badges of honor. On arrival to the Skrall’s fortress in the Black Spike Mountains, the squad would be glorified for their capture. The battle of the White Quartz Mountains had been won.
“Everyone except Certavus is dead. It’s just us.” Gelu said grimly. Strakk and Gelu had managed to make an escape while the Skrall were regrouping.
“They are gone.” Strakk said heartlessly. He was still unhappy that Gelu was coming with him, as he expected it to downscale his glory of being the lone survivor. The warrior was amazed by the magnificence of fighting for a cause and the exhilaration of genuine fear. Only after his repeated insistence did Strakk let Gelu come with him to join the Ice army. The two warriors continued on the long path back to the Northern Frost, both unchanged by the battle.
Upon return Strakk would be promoted to head guard for being the lone survivor of all the warriors that had been sent to the White Quartz Mountains. Later Gelu would become one of the Element Lord of Ice’s twenty lieutenants for his successful raid on a Skrall fortress and rescue of Certavus.
Surel opened his eyes, surprised. The surprise came from two things, the first being that he was alive, and the second being that he was moving.
“Where am I?” Surel asked, dazed. As he looked around he saw an Agori riding in a chariot. Pulling it was a Spikit, which he realized had been the one Atakus had used. Beside it were six of his Iron Wolves.
“You are in the White Quartz Mountains.” The Agori said.
“Who are you, and why did you save me?” Surel asked.
“I am Sahmad. Everyone, even what was left of my people, betrayed me. You and your kind have shunned me from their society. I was banished to the wastelands with nothing for three thousand years. They were all afraid of death, and now I am the only one that is not. But now you will know. You will know what it is like to be alone with only yourself every single day. I will leave you in these mountains, and you will never be able to leave. You will be trapped here, as I am trapped to my fate. You will feel my pain.” Sahmad’s voice escalated as he spoke, only reaching a soft note on the last sentence of his speech. He pulled Surel of his wagon, using his whip to fend the wolves. Sahmad climbed back into his chariot and prompted the Spikit, leaving a shattered warrior in his wake.