A terrified scout entered the grand hall of of the Paladeia, taking in deep breaths and gasping for air. “Your Greatness! They’re killed! All of them!” He cried, his voice echoing from the walls.
Nasition turned. “All of them? What about Lerathaer and all the others we hired?”
“Killed, Your Greatness! All killed!”
“Calm down. I sent you to give me a report, not giving me something as nonsense as this!”
“Your Greatness, please, this might even endanger your life!”
“Then shut up and give me what you got!”
With that, the scout gulped and reported what he has seen. “I can’t see how they were all killed, but there were bright flashes and I saw many knives landing on the ground. I am positive there were only two people, but somehow they killed the company that had almost 50 people and more than 30 H-2s! When one of the dead landed near me, I can clearly see the letter ‘A’ marked on his back! I even heard one of them saying that they would bring the trouble to you!”
“Very good,” Nasition managed to make a slight smile, “Any more?”
Just then, another scout came running, his expression clearly similar to the first scout. “Your Greatness, trouble is near!” he shouted, collapsing onto the floor.
“What is it now?” Nasition demanded, “Tell me everything you have.”
“The rebels of Rithul and Efla have allied together and are gathering their forces at the Pass of Elethien! They claim they are now the merged New Kingdom of Achien! They are going to overrun our forces and head straight for the capital!”
Frustrated, Nasition thrust his scepter on the marble ground. “We cannot let the same event happen 16 years ago, when an incompetent leader led his forces to destruction because of frequent mistakes,” he proclaimed, “Only nine years later, with a gruelling six-month campaign and a three-month battle did we recapture the pass. I will not let them access to the ‘Gate of Achien’.” Turning to the scouts, he demanded, “Gather all teravezas you have and transport all nearby troops to the pass. I expect to see at least 200,000 fighters by three days. I will personally lead this battle and witness the doom of our two largest threats. Prepare, New Kingdom of Achien, for your end is nigh!”
The crickets chirping in the background, Avalel, Kavlina, and a handful of foresters now sat around a campfire. The Irrenl Mountains, named after the first Smarinian that reached the summit of Mount Elephya, lay before them. Exhausted after their trips to the respective leaders of Rithul and Efla, they now only have a short time to rest before the assault would begin.
They cannot imagine that only weeks earlier, they had just left the forester village in haste, carrying only the barest of supplies. They had returned to their huts, both thinking about the slaughter they had carried out. Just the two of them have been able to completely annihilate about 50 battle-hardened soldiers with quite a few unknown machines. They assumed the Achien government would soon find out about their doings and may attack the Tarevuen again. Even though it was already eight years since the last invasion, the village was still recovering, and there were still traces of the battle before. Every now and then there would be a discovery of rusted machine parts or even a bone fragment from the deceased. Both had experienced the destruction of the last battle, and both knew the Tarevuen may not hold out against another attack like the one before. They decided to leave the Tarevuen and search for a safe haven beyond the forest.
After a brief period of packing, they left notes on the doors of the huts, briefly describing their situation, but there was nothing about the slaughter, nothing about their journey. They met at their usual training grounds. It was night, and the stars shone dimly in the sky, blinking every now and then. The trees and the grass reflected a little of the light, making the scenery quite mysterious yet calming for their journey ahead.
“Where do you want to go, Lel?” Kavlina asked, “I brought enough supplies for three days, but that’s it.”
“If we rush and gather some fruits on the way, I’m sure we can reach the rebels of Rithul in about five days,” Avalel answered, ”You brought your knives?”
“Rithul? The same murderers of your father?”
“They are the closest organized group we can reach. Plus, the reason why they rebelled against Achien rule was because of the corrupt rule of my father and the Achien government. I’m sure we can convince them of our cause.” There was something about Avalel that was different from the Avalel Kavlina knew from before. The radiance of confidence, the clear tone of his voice, the leader kind of character that he had left behind in his childhood. He had finally gone back to his old personality and has finally fully recovered from the trauma he received from the death of Faresoenn.
“Now that’s the Avalel I know,” Kavlina smiled, “Let’s go, before someone notices we’re here and starts notifying other people.”
Running through the forest, they cut through any overgrown bush, any tree that stood in their way. After many hours of finding their way through the forest, they finally reached the end of the Tarevuen and the foot of the Irrenl Mountains. Exhausted, they sat down at a nearby boulder and began munching on the food they prepared.
“Hey, Kavlina, can you give me two of your knives?” Avalel asked.
“You got your Anapadeia. Is that not enough?” Kavlina responded, munching on another bite of her crackers and bread.
“Well, I guess.” The Elyfesta had just emerged from the mountains, shining its rays on the forest. Illuminated, the forest turned from a dark and mysterious place to a bright paradise. The birds flapped above Avalel and Kavlina’s heads, momentarily blocking the light above. As soon as they had eaten their first ration of crackers and collected water from a nearby stream, they immediately packed and began hiking up the mountains.
It was an exhausting journey. Not utilizing any technology in fear of surveillance, their path was filled with obstacles and uncertainty. Their heavy bags weighed them down, forcing them to walk even slower. As time passed, the Elyfesta’s light seemed to morph from a warm embrace to a burning choke. It was midday now, and without many trees to shield them, they were under full exposure of the light. If any lucky scout or drone managed to spot them, they would have no place to hide and would most definitely be slaughtered. Their tunics were now damp from perspiration, and sweat was trickling down their hair and skin. They have now emptied their canteens and are desperate for water.
Finally, they saw a stream and coincidentally, a flat area just enough for them to set up camp. Relieved that they had reached a good place to rest, they quickly dropped off their bags and rushed to the stream. The cool water splashing into their faces and trickling down their throat was more than just relief. It was a gift from paradise. They filled up their canteens again and began setting up their camp for the night. The sun had begun to lower itself to the horizon and the sky gradually transforming into a fiery orange.
As the shadows slowly took over the light, Avalel began thinking of how to get back down. They were now high above the ground and a clear view of the Tarevuen can be seen from their position. The trees below were like little bushes sprouting out of the ground, a stark contrast from when they were back down in the settlement.
“Hey, Lel, you think someone made this flat place? It feels like a path to me.” Kavlina surprised him as she spoke. It had never occurred to him that this could be artificial, but as he put the pieces together, he was starting to worry.
“I think we should see for ourselves if this is artificial or not,” Avalel eventually murmured.
“How about this: let’s rest for now and we’ll investigate tomorrow at sunrise.”
“Sure, then.” They began walking back to their camp, both wondering if this was actually made by someone, or was it just nature doing its job.
Entering his own primitive tent, Avalel just couldn’t find sleep. His mind was filled with possibilities and potential consequences. What if there was an Achien patrol here? What if the rebels decide to kill me? Should we even continue? Eventually, he shrugged off those thoughts and almost dozed off to sleep when he heard a sound coming from outside the tent. He realized it was someone opening the entrance to his little tent. Already disturbed by his thoughts of an Achien patrol, he sat up and immediately grabbed his Anapadeia. When the intruder opened the entrance, he thrust the Anapadeia forward but halted when he realized it was just Kavlina.
“Why aren’t you asleep yet? Why are you holding your sword?” Kavlina asked.
“Well, maybe I should ask this: Why are you entering my tent?” Avalel responded.
“Oh, I was just trying to find a torch.”
“Don’t you have one?”
“Oh right, I forgot. I did have one.” With that, Kavlina exited the tent, leaving Avalel confused about what actually was Kavlina trying to get from his tent. However, he was again interrupted when he heard loud noises and the sounds of metal. Frustrated that he just couldn’t fall asleep, he emerged from his tent to see what is going on. When he poked his head out of the tent, he was shocked by the sight. Twelve foresters were rounded up and pinned down to the ground with knives. Kavlina stood by, satisfied, and now held a knife next to a forester’s throat.
“What the Elyfesta?” Avalel cried.