Snow Wars II Draftee: Chrysanthelithium's Epiphany
The only word that came to my mind was "cold".
The word itself seemed to describe everything around me: the frigid air, on which we could clearly see our cloudy wisps of breath; the heavy snow bricks that formed our little fort; and most especially my almost-numb nose, tail, ears, and fingers. The only thing that seemed to hold any warmth was the intense blazing fire in my teammates' eyes. This was what they lived for.
If I had had my way, I'd be warmly tucked into a down blanket, sitting at home reading a book. I am not a fan of Snow Wars II like Lucky is. I'd much rather be checking the Faerie Bookshop for new arrivals, or burying my long nose in Growing Exotic Plants. But Lucky was indisposed today.
"You have to go in my place, Chrys!" my owner had said fiercely with a stuffy sniff. "This cold should only keep me out for a couple of days. But I promised I'd be there to help out today!"
"Aww, can't you make Bella go instead?" I had protested. My Shoyru sister was usually the one who accompanied Lucky on her treks to Terror Mountain when she had nothing else to do. "Or even Bennett?"
"Bennett's in Neopia Central with a friend today, and Elkebella's shopping in Brightvale. You knew tha – a – aaah –" Here Lucky broke off for a monstrous sneeze.
"Fyora bless you," I had said, wrinkling my nose as she honked loudly into a Neopkin. Then, struck with excitement, "Did you tell her to go to Brightvale Books? The Ixi there doesn't usually have much stocked, but if you –"
"Chrys," said Lucky sternly, tossing the Neopkin into a wastebasket, "you need to be on your way, or the other players will start getting worried." Snow Wars II was one of the things Lucky got really passionate about.
I heaved a melodramatic sigh and trudged slowly out the door.
"Take a sweater!" called Lucky.
Now, miles away on the freezing mountaintop, I was very glad I had heeded her advice. I burrowed deeper in the thick sweater, trying to keep in as much heat as possible. Despite my efforts to keep quiet, however, my teeth began to chatter.
"Newbie, eh?" said a voice to my left. I jumped, which brought a hearty chuckle from the Green Grundo standing at the catapult next to me. He was somewhat grizzled, with white stubble about his chin and a twinkle in his eye. "We don't get many Blumaroos around here. No offense, but you don't seem to have much natural insulation."
Looking down at my Green skin and back at him, I snorted. "And you do?"
He guffawed good-naturedly, apparently indifferent to the earlier instructions for pre-battle silence. "I've gotten used to it, over the years." He held out a hand. "Name's Harlex."
"I'm Chrys," I said, shaking his hand, "And yes, this is my first Snow Wars game. Pleased to meet you."
I looked around. My teammates were a hodgepodge of species, as well as a few owners: an older boy with a JubJub, a very pretty Cybunny, a young girl with her Quiggle, a large Chomby, two Bruces, a tiny Lupe, a sleek Ogrin, a Blumaroo (myself), and the four Grundo Catapult Launchers. Everyone looked tensed and ready to protect our snowmen, three of whom sat placidly in our fort, serene coal eyes awaiting the attack.
"Why are we sitting here? What signal are we waiting for?" I asked.
The Grundo nodded with a satisfied look in his eye. I wasn't quite sure what he was agreeing with himself on, but he answered, "We're sittin' here because we're double-checking our snowball stocks and readying our forces. As the game proceeds, we'll add more catapults to our fort to counterbalance the catapults they'll add."
"So what do you need us for? Aren't Grundos enough?" I tried not to sound too unenthusiastic. His feelings might get hurt.
But fortunately Harlex just laughed. "We can't leave our catapults. You players move the bricks into place to repair the walls, and target the enemies so we know where to launch our snowballs."
I nodded. Deciding it was best to just wait for some sort of signal, I settled in to my small ditch and breathed on my fingers to try to keep them warm. Suddenly, a bright red Beekadoodle streaked over our heads, starkly contrasted against the clear blue sky. A deep bell toll echoed across the field.
"That's the signal!" bellowed the Grundo beside me, causing me to jump another foot in the air. "Fire at will!"
All of my teammates clamored for the front wall, peeking over it at the opposite side of the ice-covered river. All at once they began shouting and pointing, some at the scarf-clad Lupes stealthily making their way across the snowfield toward us, some at the huge Snowbeasts launching mighty snowballs at our fortress walls. I took my cue and moved toward the front wall. Shielding my eyes slightly from the dazzling white snow, I scoped out any possible targets.
"There's a Lupe coming up on the left!" I shouted to Harlex, now a few paces behind me. "He's moving pretty fast, too! You could aim a little in front of him just in case he moves before the snowball gets there!"
"Right!" said the Grundo, firing off a snowball. It soared high into the air, made a tall graceful arc, and smacked the Lupe right on the shoulder as he was about to dart forward. The Lupe shook his fur and trotted disappointedly back behind his team's catapults.
"Nice!" called the Chomby, grinning. "Your instinct is pretty good, newbie!"
"Good call, kid!" agreed Harlex, nodding appreciatively. "Keep watching!"
Five minutes later at the toll of another bell, the round was over. Our team leaned against the walls, panting, grateful for the brief break. "Good work, everyone," grunted Harlex. (I had guessed by now that he was sort of the leader.) "You players are going to need to rebuild the walls while I call in more catapults. You only have a few minutes, so be quick!"
We dashed off to plug up the holes in our fortress walls with new snow bricks. I bounced over to the nearest empty space, carrying a heavy brick with me. Shoving it into the hole was easier than I expected because I could lift myself up on my strong tail. I filled two more gaps before I heard the Grundo shout, "Great job, the wall is done! Now reinforce any weak spots you see!"
I looked around for thin places in the wall. Most of the players were running for the corners, which I realized must be the easiest to compromise. I began to add some extra padding to a particularly slipshod wall section, but in a few short moments the bell was ringing again through the field.
"Battle stations, team!" boomed the Grundo, and I bounded back toward the front wall. As we waited for the second Beekadoodle and bell, I realized something. My heart was pounding, my breathing was heavy, my cheeks were flushed, and – I blinked in surprise – I was smiling! This was actually a little fun!
But before I could think much more, a flash of red and a deep bell note started the second round. The shouts of upcoming targets began anew, with the heavy swoosh of the catapults as they launched fresh snowballs at the opposite side.
We played three more rounds, eliminating Snowbeasts' catapults and repelling the Lupes. We couldn't afford to be strategic with our wall repair work, so after those three rounds our fortress was looking pretty complicated. It was hard to maneuver to where we could plug up some of the more remote holes. There were random bricks in the middle of the fortress where old walls had been broken down by enemy snowballs, which made it hard for the new catapults to find spots. Some of my teammates noticed this problem as well, but there was no time to plan. We were barely making repairs in time, much less reinforcing weak spots.
Another Beekadoodle, another bell. "Get ready, everyone!"
The yells of my teammates were mixing with the paw-thuds of the Lupes, who were now very close. Snowballs rocketed through the air on both sides, sometimes landing with a dull whump on the snow, sometimes hitting their target with a victorious smack! I alerted the catapult crew to a Lupe just a few paces outside our front wall. The Lupe must have heard the snowball whizzing toward her, because she dodged at the last moment. The snowball smashed into an ice brick from an old wall that had been severed from the main one, knocking it to rubble.
Suddenly, I had an inspiration. Amidst the chaos and confusion of shouting and snowballs, I looked back at the cumbersome bricks inside the fortress. An idea struck.
"Harlex!" I called. "Turn the catapult around!"
"Turn it around?!" he yelled. "Are you crazy?"
"Just do it!" I answered, dashing off toward the middle of the fortress. The Grundo heaved and rotated the catapult around so that it was facing me. He looked uncertain. "Shoot at this brick!" I called.
He shrugged, still looking somewhat doubtful. "Couldn't hurt," he muttered.
The snowball completely demolished the old wall.
"Now this one!" I yelled, bounding to another old brick. Harlex launched another snowball, and it was destroyed as well.
All at once, Harlex began to realize my plan. "Brilliant, newbie!" he boomed, a grin spreading across his rough face. "We'll have plenty of room for more catapults!"
I grinned back. "Thanks!" I replied. At the end of the round, the team scrambled to rebuild the outer walls.
"We won't make it!" squealed one of the Bruces in dismay. "Ten seconds left!"
"Yes, we will!" Harlex hollered firmly. "Almost done!"
We just barely got the ice blocks in place before the bell. When the team looked around, five new catapults were set and ready for launch.
"Hey," said the Ogrin. "Where did all that catapult space come from?"
"It was the newbie." Harlex grinned with a hint of pride. "She had the idea to clear blocks from the middle of the fortress with snowballs so we could fit more catapults."
"Wow, great idea!" said the girl with the Quiggle, her cheeks pink from the cold.
"That'll make it a lot easier to get rid of enemy catapults," nodded the Cybunny with a pretty smile.
I grinned, pleased with the compliments. As the bell tolled and the Beekadoodle sailed overhead, I had to admit that I was beginning to see Lucky's fascination with the strategy of this game. Peeking over the front wall, my warm sweater now more than comfortable, I readied myself for the fresh attack.