The group of exhausted rebels have reached their destination. A little mound rose slightly above the relatively level plains around it. They had traveled for a little more than a month on foot, and have reached an area with a colder climate than the Tarevuen. Here, the cool autumn winds gently grazed their faces, and the few leaves there bobbed around in the air, following the current of the wind. The town of Thille lay in the distance, the old but sturdy homes standing proud near a stream.
“Here we are,” Rehael happily announced as he knocked on the partially hidden door in the mound.
“Who is this?” A muffled voice inside bellowed.
“Rel,” Rehael shouted, “I got companions who needs help and hospitality.”
The door creaked open, revealing an inner chamber. A forester rushed up to Rehael and embraced him, temporarily stunning him. “Rel! Welcome back!” the forester cried.
“Leth! I never thought you would welcome me!” Rehael laughed, as the both of them shed tears of joy.
Leth looked at the injured rebels behind. “Are these your companions?”
“Taq also brought a larger group here to request the same assistance, and I think we still got space. We’ll try our best to accomodate all of them.” Leth looked at Avalel with a certain curiosity, and stared at the Anapadeia closely. “Is this the Heir? Son of Stasibel? The one whom Taq said saved the army from annihilation?”
Avalel stepped forward with his crutches. “Yes. I kindly beg you to treat us well and heal us of our wounds, because we have nothing to offer.”
“Don’t worry,” Leth replied, “We have good relations with the government here, and they offered us an advanced equipment to heal even the most fatally wounded. They say it’s called the Pod. Come, follow me.”
They slowly descended down the elevator, Rehael (or Rel) and Leth talking endlessly about recent events. This was a much cruder environment than even the smallest town they had passed by. The area was like a cave with dwellings situated inside the rock. As Avalel walked by the settlement, he found that many of the residents were, in fact, traders of precious metals in spite of their crude dwellings. Machines in the area constantly dug holes inside the settlement for dwellings, for corridors, for chambers, for mines. A steady stream of water trickled down to a covered reservoir, and slits above opened pathways for the natural light to penetrate and fill the settlement.
Leth led the group to a corridor. “This corridor goes towards sector 20. You all will be assigned to chamber 105 in that sector. It’s just been completed with no inhabitants there yet, so feel free to claim any residence there as long as you report it back.”
“One question,” Kavlina asked, “Are you a forester?”
“Well,” Leth replied, “We are called the Thillish by the locals, derived from Thille nearby, also known as foresters in your land. However, because that there are little forests here, we are still called the Thillish, people of Thille. Now, welcome to the real Thille.”
The rebels quickly divided up the residences in chamber 105, or the base camp. Avalel was assigned to Residence 3, a residence with a small living room and an even smaller bedroom. As Avalel rested in his new home, he can’t help but think of what next. What is our next step? Have I travelled this far just to hide from my enemy? He stared at the Anapadeia, the Arachma inside glowing softly and the carved phoenix head on the pommel stared back, its gaze filled with life. Suddenly, he felt a small voice speaking, as though it came out of the Anapadeia itself.
The Enemy is coming. Leave quickly, or you will doom your allies. Surprised, Avalel gazed at the Arachma again. Now it glowed ever-increasing fervor, urging him to move.
Instinct took over. Rushing out of his room, he ran into Kavlina, both falling over and groaning in pain. The Anapadeia rattled as it fell on the ground, the shining red light reflecting their shadows on the wall.
“What are you doing here?” Kavlina asked.
“We’re in trouble,” Avalel gasped, “The Achien army is marching right to here. I have a voice in my head saying they’re looking for me, so I have to leave to prevent any of you from suffering at their hands.”
“How?” Just then, Kavlina saw Avalel’s still numb left arm. “Oh, no. A tracker.”
Avalel quickly grabbed the tracker and pulled it away from his left arm. Immediately, he felt his left arm was moving again and responding to the commands of his brain. He quickly raised up the Anapadeia and crushed the tracker with the pommel. “So it was this all along,” he said, staring with disgust at the crushed tracker.
He then turned to Kavlina. “Please, I have to go now. Tell the group that the Achien army is coming and that I left because of it.”
“No,” Kavlina stubbornly replied, “I have accompanied you this far, and I’m not going to just stop now.”
“But your leg...” Avalel paused. The voice was speaking again. The girl will be healed, but let me release myself. Avalel suddenly found his hands hovering just above Kavlina’s injured ankle. Two transparent hands exited from the palm and grabbed Kavlina’s ankle, holding it firm. Kavlina suddenly felt energy coursing through her crippled foot and into her body, and then, pain. The transparent hands twisted Kavlina’s foot, the sickening cracking sounds emulating from within. Kavlina breathed heavily, but she felt there was no air coming in. Soon, she found the pain had subsided, and the energy she had felt left her. The transparent hands now retreated back into Avalel’s palm, leaving a moment of aura before it disappeared.
Avalel and Kavlina stared at each other. “What was that?” Kavlina demanded.
“I don’t know… but, your foot. It’s healed. No bruises whatsoever,” Avalel stuttered. Kavlina looked at her legs, and found her left foot was twitching.
“How...” she began to lift herself up, and her legs responded. When her left foot made contact with the ground, she felt no pain. Instead, she easily stood up, and found that all her injuries were healed. The blast wound on her waist had now disappeared, as if she had never even been inflicted with that wound. “Is this… a miracle?” she asked Avalel, “What is that? How can it heal me so quickly?”
“As I said, I don’t know!” Avalel exclaimed, “I just can’t believe it! You are healed!” He suddenly felt a tingly sensation on his left arm. “Huh?” The wounds on his arm had gradually disappeared, and he suddenly felt he was filled with energy again right after a hearty meal despite the fact he hadn’t eaten anything since his arrival. He looked at the Anapadeia. The Arachma now glowed a warm orange, and the carved phoenix seemed to be smiling at him.
“You too? Whatever is inside you is simply amazing!” Kavlina laughed, as their bodies were not only removed of wounds, but also of filth. Their clothing were clean, their minds clear with thought, their hair removed of lice. It was as if they had never embarked on this journey before.
As they just stared in disbelief at each other, Rel had arrived at the scene. “Oh, here you two are,” he called, his gaze fixed on Avalel and Kavlina, “How did you have the time to clean yourselves? Where did your wounds go?”
“Never mind,” he abruptly interrupted, “We have a meeting with Leth and the others soon, so come quickly to the Main Hall in our sector.”
“Rel…” Avalel called.
“Quick!” Rel cried, as if he hadn’t heard Avalel’s words, “We don’t have all day!” He then ran past them to the other floors above.
They rushed down the corridor to the Hall. They’re lucky, as Avalel’s room was only in the 2nd floor. Once they had arrived at the hall, they found a great number of people gathered in there, their chatter filling the hall with noise. Leth stood in the center with some of the other foresters that made it here. Avalel found empty seats in one of the rows and sat down with Kavlina. While waiting for the others to settle down, Avalel stared at Leth and the others with him. Leth wasn’t as tall as the foresters he knew back in the Tarevuen, but he was much more sturdy in build and seemed to be more able to fight in a battlefield than the Tarevuen foresters.
Soon, all the seats have filled up, but there were still people filing in. Avalel noticed that they were injured, as some hobbled, or dragged themselves to the empty space left. Some were carried on stretchers by several others, but there were a few that caught his attention. Those were lying in an enclosed but transparent coffin-like box. There was a certain liquid inside the box, surrounding the ones inside. These boxes were not carried by people. Instead, there were small thrusters that gently lifted the box out of the ground and pushed it near Leth. That must be the Pods, Avalel thought.
Finally, the flow of people have stopped, and Leth motioned for all to quiet down. The gates to the hall slowly closed and shut with a thud.
“Hello all,” Leth started, “If you don’t know me, I’m Leth, one of the residents here in Underground Thille, Thille for short. I don’t know if you all have already known the purpose of being here, but I will tell you anyways. You all here are the remnants of the combined armies of Rithul and Efla that attempted an assault on the Pass of Elethien a month ago, and I have assembled you in here to elect a new leader and to discuss your future. As you may know, Rithul and Efla are already conquered by Achien and other rebel organizations, including us, the rebels of Thille. We have always been in good relations with Rithul, and now that their soldiers are injured and begging for help on our doorstep, we are willing to help. I have been assigned by my leaders to assist you in fighting the forces of Achien and to revive the success and prosperity that has so long deserted us. Now, back to the topic. Since the leaders of Rithul and Efla are deceased, I would like you all to nominate a few to this position, and we will cast a vote later on. Who do you think is fitting for this position?”
“Taq!” a member in the audience cried, “He led many of us away from danger and led us here to safety. Even when we were injured, he encouraged us to continue, and we ended up arriving even earlier than some of the smaller groups. He should deserve to be our leader!” A roar rose from the left side of the hall, chanting Taq’s name.
“Taq,” Leth called, “why don’t you come up? It seems that many of us are willing to elect you as our leader.”
Taq slowly shuffled to the center of the hall. “Thank you all for your support for me,” he smiled, “If that is your thanks for me caring for thousands of you in our harsh journey across to Thille, then I am greatly pleased and grateful for this opportunity. However,” he continued, “there is one person that I would be very happy to nominate. Even though he was only part of a group of 46 according to Rel, he, in fact, had saved all of our lives from the closing jaws of Achien. I want to nominate the wielder of the Anapadeia, the Heir of Stasibel, the forester of Tarevuen, Avalel.”