We listened to this as we worked under the terrible cloud. By ‘we’ I mean eight dragons and many thousands of hovens. By ‘terrible cloud’ I mean a huge black stormcloud that Nrararn and Osoth had put together, obscuring Ze Cheya from above. The Zeanese Minister of Defense was pretty sure that the Peace Everywhere Array could fire through clouds, but it couldn’t see to choose its targets. We (just dragons) wore the Esrret-Sky-Painted and the Hoplonton, in case.
And by ‘worked’ I mean … well, whatever needed to be done that could be done. Lots couldn’t be. My first task was the Mana Masala apartment complex, I picked just the nearest ruined building that I saw really. The twistor ray had hit one of its four towers, Tower Two. That one was simply gone, ripped and spun apart (just like Greshthanu my fiancé, (I was cool and clear-headed and focussed, because that’s how dragons are when there’s danger. I would think about him and mourn him when the emergency is over)). Its beams and girders and hovens and furniture had become missiles, slammed through the other buildings with fearsome force. There was nothing to do for anyone who had been in that building: only by scent could we tell which puddle had been a hoven and which had been a particularly large dog.
But in the other buildings, there was plenty to do. Seven huge boulders of masonry had been flung entirely through Tower Three, and a thousand smaller missiles as well. I levitated and peeked into the topmost hole, where tenasense said that the roof would soon fall in, and plucked out a handful of screaming crying hovens and carried them to the ground. They begged me to go look for their two younger children, so I did. One of them was cut in half by an oven door from Tower Two. The other had only had an arm and a leg crushed. I scooped them both up and flew them to the rest of their family, and put the Arcane Anodyne and the slow healing spells into the one that still lived.
And that was the first of a hundred and sixty apartments in the first of three buildings near the first of dozens and dozens that the twistor rays had struck. There really was plenty to do.
The first hour: Uncovering seventy-three dead hovens of an assortment of ages, mostly crushed, but three of them burnt by fires from the very dangerous and incendiary liquid they use to fuel their stoves. Healing another thirty-one hovens. Refusing to heal another eighteen: fifteen who weren’t that badly hurt and I needed to track down others, three with back injuries that I couldn’t do anything quick about no matter how much I sympathized, who didn’t believe me when I told them the first time about the slow healing spells in them. Picking another ninety-something out of the building before it fell down. Assaulting with ice breath (me) and a localized thunderstorm (Nrararn) on a huge blue-white fire where a tree had been flung through a big tank of that very dangerous and incendiary liquid.
A quick visit by King Zakuna. His guards wouldn’t let him dig people out of the ruins and the rubble with his own hands, like he wanted. But they let him drive around the city, surveying the damage, offering water and encouragement to the hovens who were working. I gave him a quick sad look when he drove to Maya Masala Tower Four, which had fallen down while I was dealing with that fire. I was digging in the rubble with my forepaws like a huge dog, to where someone was calling for help.
“Jyothoky! We of Ze Cheya grieve that our hospitality and protection for our honored guests has become inadequate,” said the king.
“You’re sending us off? We’re going to leave soon anyways. We’ve got a bit of revenge to attend to. But you’re right, your city is in jeopardy as long as we remain here.”
“No, no, nothing of the sort!” called the king. “You are not our enemy. You have brought grace and healing.” (I took a moment to be so impressed with Csirnis for charming Ze Cheya) “To us, I mean. I do not know the truth of what you have brought elsewhere.” (I took a moment to be so ashamed with Llredh and myself for blasting Port-of-Zom.) “We regret that the peace and cooperation that has been the hallmark of your visit in Ze Cheya has not prevailed on your entire visit to Hove, and that other nations have chosen to reply with great violence.”
“I’m sorry too,” I said. “They should have waited ‘til we went back to Ghemelia. One moment…” I prised a huge sheet of building-stone up, revealing four and a half hovens who had been trapped under it. The friable, artificial, overstressed stone crumbled in my forepaws, and chunks of it fell upon the hovens and crushed them. “Oh, no!” I got busy with the Arcane Anodyne and digging, and got three of them out alive.
The king and his guards scrambled out of the limousine. The guards knew medicine. Zakuna threw them his formal jacket, and they ripped it up for bandages. Zakuna scrabbled in the wreckage for a pair of straight sticks, and his guards made them into a splint. Zakuna held the hands of the two daughters while I dug the corpse of their father up, and he started the Zeanese prayer for the dead. I couldn’t help with that.
I smelled at the corpse, though. He was the brave cook who had given me an extra ladleful of sauce.
“I’m sorry. I’m going to keep …” I looked at the father, the cook, who had been alive before the stone had crumbled and fallen on him, whom I might have fought to defend, and never would have killed. I couldn’t think of any good way to end the sentence, I couldn’t say ‘saving people’ when I had just fumbled and killed.
(Afterwards — I’m not even sure if I should count him as a kill or not. Accidental if at all, of course. Would the building-rock have broken on its own? Maybe — it was awfully fragile. Would they have been rescued before some of them died? Maybe — they were badly hurt before I got there, and hoven ears wouldn’t have heard them to rescue them. Actually I think I won’t be counting kills at all today, and not for a while. Even if Dad knows exactly how many of what species he’s killed in his whole life, doesn’t mean I have to know or care.)
And the rest of the day went like that, only mostly with fewer kings and nobody else I knew. Curset swallowed Virtuet, and we labored. Curset relinquished Virtuet, and we labored. The Zeanese brought machines and engines from elsewhere on the island, big scoops to dig and grapples to lift. Many, many hovens came, bringing food and medicine, clothes and blankets, offers of hospitality and refuge. Damma sent supplies and equipment, despite their frequent hostility to Ze Cheya.
Virtuet went behind the Godaxle, leaving the world dim and pink and green. Hovens brought out lamps, bright without fuel, and kept hunting for survivors, though the hunting was getting scanty. We needed no such lamps, and we searched and dug and healed and repaired and, for Csirnis and I and a few others, apologized.
Virtuet came out from behind the Godaxle, and we labored more. Three airplanes with the dagger-and-coin sigil of Trest roared out from Nrararn’s cloud, and we felt their eyes upon us. I touched one of them with lightning, and its engines died and it glided. The other two arced upwards, into the cloud, and escaped. We were too tired to give them chase.
But Zeanese soldiers ran to the fallen plane, and took the pilot and the co-pilot prisoner, and asked them a few quick questions. When they heard the answers, they sent messengers to the king and to all the dragons, saying, “Trest and the armies of Trest now know that many dragons survived.”
We could stay no longer. Trest would surely attack, sooner or later. Ze Cheya did not deserve what had happened to them already. We would not subject them to any more: certainly we would not risk another massacre of hovens to help save a few more. We took Greshthanu’s body. Osoth called up the ghosts of great birds of forgotten ages, and Arilash gave them a dragon’s semblance, and we sent them flying slowly across the Sayanamma Sea. Then we hid ourselves with other illusions, and Arilash gave us spells for speed, and we raced across in a different direction to hide in the mountains of Damma. To sleep — and oh, we needed sleep! — and, when we woke, to plan our vengeance.