Elf Boy's Friends - IX
Mission of Mercy
Since Drew had the fastest autogyro, he and Corwin were dispatched to the town farthest from the headquarters of the rescue operation. It was about fifty miles away, so they reached it in twenty minutes or rather what was left of it. The town had been flattened. Brick chimneys were all that were left of many homes. The public buildings had been hit too but at least they were still recognizable as buildings.
The siren at the firehouse had screamed a warning only minutes before the tornado hit, not enough time for everyone to scramble into shelter. Alas their cellars, root cellars, and storm shelters were not always up to the challenge of the monster storm and became their tombs.
As disasters go the area hit by a tornado is one of the easiest to get help to. Not only is the devastated area smaller than from an earthquake or flood, it was a long narrow zone of destruction with untouched territory close by on both sides. By contrast an earthquake did its worst damage at the epicenter which lay in the middle of a wide zone of destruction. Rescuers had to get past collapsed bridges, tree fallen across roads, even chasms in the earth. In a flood, the only way to get around would be by boat of which there would likely be very few which could be pressed into service.
Local folks were doing all they could to help the injured. That included local healers plus practitioners of natural medicine: nurses, midwives, chirurgeons, herbalists and apothecaries, and bonesetters, some of whom were nursing injuries of their own. A young healer named Margot, a pretty brunette, welcomed them.
"At this point I am pretty well tapped out magically, which is why I am mostly doing triage right now. Corwin is it? Can you suture the lacerations on these three teenagers. I have already poured spiritous liquors on the wounds to prevent infection. Now I'll numb the site of their injuries while you sew them up."
Corwin nodded and told her. "Will do," and went to work.
"Meanwhile, I need your pilot to load those other two on his autogyro and fly them to Feldspar for further treatment. We've done all we can do for them here."
Drew Lifted the stretchers with the two injured women, one of them clearly pregnant and set them into the carriers on either side of his autogyro.
"Get back here as fast as you can. A dozen more just like those two need transport." the healer told Drew.
As Drew took off, a young woman came up to Margot and pleaded with her to save her grandfather who was sinking fast.
"I am sorry, but I cannot in good conscience expend any more magic healing him."
"You didn't heal him at all. You just eased his pain and left him to die! You have to do more, much more, and don't tell me that you can't."
Margot shook her head sadly. "All right. It is not that I cannot help him but that I will not. Your grandfather is nearly six score, isn't he? He has had a full life. These other victims are young. Their lives have to matter more. I am sorry."
"You're sorry? Damn you!"
As the young woman rushed off Margot shook her head. Speaking more to herself than to Corwin she said.
"I keep telling myself that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or of the one. I know it is true, but in the face of so much death and injury the words are like ashes in my mouth. So I could hardly expect a loving granddaughter to understand."
"The fact is that even if I were capable of further magical healing today, I wouldn't expend my powers on one old man, not when that young married couple over there has head injuries which I am too spent to remedy. The man with his face in bandages is a firefighter who nearly died rescuing children from a burning school. I healed his lungs, but could not restore his face."
"Maybe I can help you heal these folks." Corwin told her. "You see I am not just a medic. I am a trainee healer too. If I joined my magic to yours, could you fix them up?"
"Why yes I could. Understand, when we join our powers, you must relax your control and let me guide your magic to effect the healing. Don't worry. I will make sure it won't drain you too much."
Both healers knelt beside the stricken couple and invoked their magic. A pearly nimbus engulfed the husband and wife, pulsating in and out as the magic healed them enough that time and their recuperative powers would finish what magic had started. Next it was the turn of the badly burned man. That took longer. He had second and third degree burns on much of his body as well as his face. Not only did the magic have to repair the damage, it had to rebuild his face lest he be shunned for a hideous appearance. A hero deserved better.
Over the next couple of hours Corwin and Margot rationed their store of magic to help as many as they could. Meanwhile Drew flew the seriously injured who could be moved to the teaching hospital in Feldspar.
As all three of them ate supper around a campfire, the young healer told Corwin:
"For a male your healing magic is strong, nearly to my own level when at full strength, and here you are just coming into your powers."
"I should tell you that I didn't become a healer the normal way. My gift was not conferred by nature but by the druids and the New Forest."
Corwin explained that partly in reaction to all the death and destruction he had seen in two wars he had become a medic. He also wanted to be able to help his circle of friends who were always going off on dangerous missions. Later, during a rescue mission to a downed autogyro he had had to watch a young boy bleed out, unable to stop the hemorrhaging. He knew then that he wanted to become a full-fledge healer. His friends the druids joined their magic to that of the New Forest to bestow his gift on him.
"That is quite a story, Corwin. I never encountered anyone who's gift of Healing was not simply a manifestation of their innate nature. We lady healers don't chose our gift. It really chooses us."
"Yes, like my gift of wielding ball lightning, which is terribly effective in combat but has few peaceful applications. None actually that I can think."
"You have a good heart Corwin and a good head. I expect you find some way to use that gift constructively."
With that they took to makeshift beds and slept till dawn when they got up, ate, and went back to work.
Meanwhile Donner had given orders for mass graves and incineration sites to be staked out at every large settlement. Axel Jumped the twins to each site in succession. The dead had been inventoried and their bodies laid out in long lines shoulder to shoulder. It was not a pretty sight, not with flies swarming around and maggots breaking out of some of the corpses. The smell was awful.
Jemsen invoked earth magic to make the earth heave and form a deep trench with the spoil piled on the side opposite the bodies. Workers with masks over their faces dropped the bodies into the hole without ceremony. Jemsen gestured as the spoil slumped into the trench to cover the bodies. A simple post and sign marked the interment.
Then it was Karel's turn with the bodies of elves and the Frost Giants. Invoking air magic, he created a trio of sun mirrors, which were mirages in the sky made of hardened air. Two flat mirrors reflected the sun into a parabolic mirror which focussed sun's heat into an intense beam which he swept along the line of bodies.
Neither ordinary combustion nor the subatomic plasma called white fire but simply the concentrated heat energy of the sun, Karel's beam was nowhere near so hot as white fire but was ten times hotter than the flames and fireballs of a firecaster.
Visible more as a shimmer in the air than as a beam of light, it scorched the ground and incinerated the bodies. In that intense heat flesh and fabric did not simply burn; they flash-charred into ashen simulacra of the people they had once been, sculptures which, lacking cohesion, slumped into formless piles of cinders. Finally Karel called up a jet of air which dispersed the remains downwind over the fields.
Nathan Lathrop delved under collapsed structures for people trapped in the shelters in which they had taken refuge. At one house, the weight of the bricks from a fallen chimney kept the family from opening the hatch of their root cellar. At another house, it was a large oak tree that the tornado had dropped as it went by which barred the exit of their storm shelter. At Feldspar he found bank tellers trapped in the vault where they had taken shelter only to have the roof collapse on it.
Workers freed those trapped in the root cellar and the vault, but the fallen oak was too massive to move with the means at hand. Drew stepped in and Lifted the tree and set it next to the local saw mill, which was inoperative at the moment because of a twisted blade. The spares had gone sailing off who knew where. A blacksmith collected the saw blade intending to turn its fine steel into tools like spatulas, kitchen and pocket knives and the like.
In another town the tornado had picked up an entire livery stable and dropped it atop a rambling villa that had seen better days. The inhabitants were trapped inside and the rescuers were worried about a total collapse, especially if the rescuers started shifting timbers and breaking through walls to get at the inhabitants.
Axel said that he could safely Jump the wreckage of the livery stable off the house. It did not matter that it was a jumble of walls and doors and timbers that had lost its original cohesion and integrity all mixed in with bales of hay, sacks of grain, dead horses, and even a rack of bicycles for rent. Even a fetcher as powerful as Drew could never have psychically grasped such an disconnected jumble of objects.
Extending his psychic awareness to encompass the wreckage, Axel jumped it to an empty field then jumped away from it as it slumped to the ground. That made it safe to free the people who had been trapped under the fallen stable.
Over the next five days Matt and the other student healers helped save hundreds. Sadly the need was greater than the resources and natural medicine could do only so much. The result was the deaths of nearly two hundred still waiting for their chance for magical healing, adding their number to those whom the storm had killed outright.
And so it went, day after day until Commissioner Donner announced that the rescue phase was over. The task now was to recover and rebuild. Wagons arrived from nearby farms with foodstuffs, plus tents, and tools including a new blade for a local saw mill from town left untouched by the twister. Meanwhile Sir Ahndray reopened the space portal to return the cadre sent out from the capital six days earlier.
Tired but proud of what they had done, the rescuers were given a couple of days to rest before resuming their daily routines. Drew and Corwin nevertheless worked up articles about the rescue operation in the Capital Intelligencer. They made sure to celebrate the efforts of the locals as much as those of the group they had served with.
Axel helped Corwin start searching the library of Institute of Wizardry and Magic for records of ways in which ball lightning could be used constructively besides as a source of light at night. Unfortunately the indexing system furnished few clues, so they were in for a long slog.
All nine of the roommates plus Matt attended the dinner at the Sign of the Whale to celebrate their success and safe return. By sheer size and his formidable presence Finn seemed to sit at the head of the table though it was actually shaped like an oval. On his left sat the twins, Drew, Corwin. Nathan, Liam, Eike, and Axel sat on his right, while Matt's seat was at the "foot" of the table.
The dishes served at the Sign of the Whale were always hearty stick-to-the-ribs food, just the thing to restore one's depleted energies and engage the taste buds with something better than the bland field rations the boys so often had to put up with on their adventures.
Everyone could see how animated Corwin was, more now like his old self and no longer as troubled by his wartime experiences. The young man was looking forward to dual careers as both a journalist and a Healer. And yes, he still hoped to join his friends on future adventures like that of the Corps of Discovery. However, if he ever got dragged into another war, it would not be as the eager and naive kid he had been during the Lightning War. No, that headstrong boy was no more. He had seen too much death and destruction, and much of it by his own hand.
So things were back on an even keel, though likely not for very long, not with this group of inveterate adventurers.
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