A small team of rebel soldiers were searching for any still usable parts from the battlefield. The Achien garrison on the gate occasionally fired a few shots to discourage them from salvaging anything, but they rarely hit. Under the cover of night, the remnants of the rebel army have already done quite a good job at cleaning up. Many of the fallen have already been piled up at the pyre and burning, and there was a constant flow of scrap material that might still be of use. The still intact artillery and armor have already been transported further east for repairs, but there were still transport trucks that came to collect scraps and parts.
The team of ten were unlucky. In the few hours of searching, they had only found useless, half-melted parts and dead bodies. Some of the team had personally known some of the dead, and they broke into tears when they recognized a comrade, a brother-in-arms. They still hadn’t found anyone injured, and they were beginning to worry if there were anyone still alive out there.
One of them saw a body lying in the distance. “There’s another,” he gloomily said, “let’s go pick him up.” The team walked up to the body. The body was lying on its stomach, still fully armed and intact, but they could see a foot gruesomely twisted. The armor was cracked, and the helmet was missing. There was a pool of blood near the waist of the body, and they estimated it might be what killed it.
A curious member of the team looked at the wound. “That must’ve hurt,” he said, and reached to touch the wound,“The shot punctured a rib as well. It’s a shot wound, and blood is still pouring out of the wound.”
“Wait, still pouring?” Another asked. He quickly nudged the twisted foot of the dead body, and it slightly moved. Shocked, the team realized they weren’t dealing with a dead soldier. In fact, the soldier was still alive, but badly wounded.
“Turn the soldier around so he could lie on his back,” the leader of the team demanded, “ I need a stretcher now!” As the team slowly turned the wounded soldier around, they realized the soldier wasn’t a man, but a woman, her hair trimmed short.
They gasped. “What is a woman doing here in battle?” but they had no time to think. Carefully lifting her onto a stretcher, they quickly rushed to the temporary camp where they knew their substitute leader (it was Avalel, but they still didn’t know his name) would be waiting.
“Where is Avalel?” the wounded soldier whispered, “Take me to him.”
“Save your energy, comrade,” one of rebels holding the stretcher said, “We’re bringing you to our leader so he could get you to a hospital real quick.”
The team soon reached the camp. In the distance, Avalel saw the stretcher and rushed up to them.
“A casualty?” he asked.
“Wounded,” a member of the team replied, “Badly injured, but could still hold a while. Also, the soldier’s a woman. We have no idea how she got here.”
“Quickly bring her to the nearest hospital. So many of our comrades have died on this battlefield, we cannot afford to lose even one more.”
Just then, there was a hiss from the sky. The rebels looked up, and saw the sky brightened not by stars, but by the tail of the artillery shells. The rain of artillery mercilessly plummeted to the ground, setting what vegetation there was left alight. These were not the concentrated energy shot from normal artillery, but touchable, hard shells. The shells exploded, releasing the inner air inside. The air rapidly combusted with the outside air, causing huge fireballs that shot up to the height of the gates of the pass.
“Firebombs! Achien has unleashed their firebombs! Hurry and leave!” a repair engineer cried. He knew what was inside the bombs, and he knew how dangerous it can be. The air inside the bombs was what foresters call “flammable air”, but what experts call “herugen”, an element generated from water, which in the words of the ancients, herrufesta, the drink giver, combined with the word “generated”, forms herugen. Herugen was extremely flammable because of its high reactivity, but also because it was common, its ions were usually a key component of the energy blasts. If the firebombs continue coming, the rebels may lose all their supplies from the fire and finally die in the wilderness.
The battlefield instantly went up in flames, the fire crackling and shuffling towards the rebels. “Run!” many shouted as the rebels fled away from the fire. Many who were caught on fire attempted to stop the burning by rolling on the ground, but most of those had fallen unconscious and died before they had the chance. The repair engineer who warned the rebels of the firebombs was also caught in the fire, and he collapsed, his body burning and screaming. Avalel rushed to one of the foresters that brought him to Rithul, Rehael, and gasped, “Do you know where’s the closest safe place we can go to?”
“There’s an underground settlement of us that I’m sure the Achien military hasn’t discovered yet, but it’s very far away. It’s near the town of Thille. Are you sure you got enough supplies?”
“If there are a few surviving towns along the way, I think we can make it.” Avalel then turned to the panicking rebels, “I know the way to a safe haven! Follow me!” He then carried the injured soldier on his back and began running. It was imperative that they all run now, as one slower step could cause the stampede behind to trample the straggler and kill him. Leaving their dead behind, the rebels now fled away from the Pass, now a burning hell. Firebombs still streaked over them and caused massive chaos, but no longer did they care about their fallen. They cared for themselves, and themselves only.
As the rebels escaped out into the open fields beyond the mountains, they weren’t thinking of any ambush that may come their way. Suddenly, the ground was blown up from below, maiming and killing the first few that escaped from the Pass. A trap. A large crater was formed from the explosion, serving as an obstacle. The remaining rebels didn’t hesitate in fear of being trampled, and ran towards the newly created crater. As many rebels entered the crater, the Achien fighters again loomed into view, firing their blasts. Dozens every second fell to the blasts, but the worst had yet to come. As the fighters were firing, there was another hiss. The firebombs hit the crater, releasing the herugen inside. Like a burning stove and fireplace, the crater burned and sizzling flesh could be heard. The body fat of the dead fed the fire as it consumed more and more of the unfortunate. The lucky survivors who didn’t enter the crater or had exited in time now scattered, regardless of Avalel’s futile cries for them to stick together. It separated the once-formidable army of the rebels into fragments, but it also diverted the concentration of Achien attacks.
Avalel himself was badly injured. Shrapnel from the initial explosion underground had found his right leg, crippling yet another of his limbs. Although he was lucky enough to not be badly affected by the firebombs, his boots were caught on fire, and now he ran barefoot with blisters on his feet. He still had company, but it was only the forester Rehael, the wounded soldier, and several dozen rebels. They were running, but to a place only Rehael knows. Finally, exhausted, the group decided to rest in a nearby forest. It wasn’t densely wooded, but it offered enough protection from the Achien fighters patrolling above. They hadn’t slept for more than a whole day, and now the Elyfesta was high up, signalling midday.
The attack was a disaster. Although Avalel didn’t know it at the time, he was immensely lucky. From dawn to the final group that assembled in the underground settlement many days later, the 500,000 strong army of the rebels have been reduced to only 15,000, and only about 5,000 are in fighting condition. The rest are either dead, missing, or have returned home. According to later estimates, the Battle of the Pass caused more than 200,000 casualties, and the remainder were so intimidated and fearing for retribution, they either gave themselves up to Achien authority or just attempted to return to their normal lives. Meanwhile, the Achien army of 750,000 had lost around 100,000 drones and no fighters. This basically spelled the end of Rithul and Efla, and without leadership, their territory would soon be occupied by other rebel groups or Achien.
Avalel, unable to sleep because of his wounds, counted his ragtag group of rebels that followed him. 46. Great. He then turned to the injured soldier that he carried all this time, only faintly breathing. He brushed away the tangled hair of the soldier and gasped. He was now staring at the bloodlessly pale face of Kavlina, whom he had thought had died in the battle. There was a small piece of shrapnel that barely scraped the top of her head, leaving a shallow but bleeding wound. Many pieces of shrapnel are lodged inside her armor, but none went as far as to any vital organs. He saw that the blast wound was still bleeding slowly, forming a small stream of blood. Painfully, he hopped towards a small bag of supplies he had been able to pick up in the hurry before. Reaching into the bag, he managed to find some bandages, neat and unused. Grateful, he quickly tore a long strand of the bandages apart and wrapped it around Kavlina’s waist. Just then, a bloody hand reached forward and grasped his wrist tight. Avalel flinched but realized it was only Kavlina.
“Where am I?” a semi-conscious Kavlina muttered.
“On the way to a safe haven,” Avalel whispered, “Stay still, I haven’t finished wrapping the bandages yet.”
“Lel?” the voice was barely a gasping whisper.
“We lost, didn’t we?”
“Yes. Rehael is bringing us to a place he knows is safe, but our supplies can’t last the whole journey.”
“Then where should we go next for supplies?”
“We’ll find a way. You’re badly wounded, so rest. We’re moving by twilight.”
Kavlina stared at Avalel. “You’re not much better off. You should rest too.”
“I’ll rest when I got crutches for you.” He then began hopping to a nearby tree and cut off a branch with the Anapadeia.
“Your right leg...”
“After you get what you need.”
Just then, Rehael woke up, his eyes squinting at the bright light above. He then saw Avalel one-handedly attempting to make crude crutches.
“Hey, Avalel, you haven’t rested yet, right? Let me help you,” Rehael offered, “We’re moving soon. The nearest town is a day’s walking away, but with our pace, it’ll take three days. Our group only has three days’ worth of supplies for ten people, not 46.”
“If you don’t mind starving, I suggest we rest for another day,” Avalel replied, “We all need to rest, especially Kavlina. Plus, if we rest more, we can pick up our pace much more easily too.”
“If you say so, son of Stasibel,” Rehael answered, “Now rest. I’ll finish your job.”
“There are some bandages inside my bag,” Avalel said, and slowly drifted off to sleep, thinking about the journey ahead.