Freebie Mondays: Landslide (Story 19 of 22 Stories in 2022)

Freebie Mondays: Landslide (Story 19 of 22 Stories in 2022)

Since I write roughly 22 stories every year, I thought it might be fun to do a project for 2022.

In 2022, the 22 shorts I write for my blog will be taken from prompts related to the 31 stories in 31 days project from January of 2022. Each will relate to the multiverse that all of my stories take place in, and I will try to keep the main characters that appear on my blog to the background (unless I get a super cool idea).

I’ve written each of these stories on stream. If you want to witness this installment as it was crafted, the VOD is on youtube!

The prompt for this one was: “a landslide devastates a location.”

This short ties in with a project I haven’t written about before which takes place in a steampunk fantasy world that I’m hoping to use in a novel someday.
. . .

Part of the mountain was simply gone. It looked as if a sculptor had taken a chisel to a critical fault and given it just the lightest of taps, sheering away a jutting prominence to leave a deathly plummet among the jagged cliffs.

Elian had never believed in the divine, but looking at the change and considering its rapidity was both terrifying and awe-inspiring. If anything was ever going to make him believe in a higher power, it would be this.

Had it not been for the village nestled at the base of that mountain, his thoughts wouldn’t have strayed far beyond the sheer force of the destruction. But even sitting several miles to the east of the rock fall’s center hadn’t spared its inhabitants the devastation.

It hadn’t been wiped off the map. Which was a relief. But Elian wondered how many of the village’s inhabitants would want to rebuild. If it were him, he would certainly flee back to the center of civilization and leave the mountains a distant memory.

But there are mines in these mountains. That was what brought people out here to begin with.

As their steam-powered scooter crested the final rise of the last snow bank between them and the ravaged village, Elian braced. He always tried to prepare the part of him that couldn’t turn numb for what he was about to witness, but he never quite managed to develop efficient armor.

While the forest-facing portion of the village looked like any sleepy mountain location, the houses closest to the mountain’s base had simply been swallowed. Jagged boulders and overturned trees occupied many of the streets leading between the village’s outskirts, and the houses were peppered with holes formed by falling debris.

Based on the clustering of lights, most of the survivors had gathered in the still intact sections of the village, though dark blots of moving shadow indicated some attempts to repair the less damaged sections of town.

In many ways, the darkness was a blessing. Beneath the bright light of the sun, the damage was bound to be stark and unforgiving, where as the deep shadows beneath the moon softened the blow, granting the entire scene a surreal quality. Had there been light brighter than the lanterns perched at the front of their vehicle, there would also have been a myriad of faces turned in their direction, and Elian would prefer not to see the mixing of hope and terror at this moment.

He’d rather focus on the work.

The driver swiveled the nose of the scooter, and they skidded to a halt just outside a large cabin perched on the edge of the village’s main street. This was obviously some kind of checkpoint, no doubt used by hunters when they departed or returned. It was probably also where the city records were kept and where the miners would go to receive their pay.

It was lucky such an important building had been set so far away from the mountain – though perhaps that was by design. Avalanches were common in this part of the world, and no one knew that better than the people who lived here. Unfortunately, the protections designed to part snow and direct it away from the village had been powerless against the force of rock and earth when it slid free of the mountain.

Elian inhaled deeply just before he hopped off the scooter.

It was time to get to work.

Already, a heavily-cloaked figure was jogging down the shadow-shrouded road, waving a hand to his group.

“Are you the mayor?” Elian asked as soon as the man came to a halt. He was careful to keep his voice neutral rather than stern.

The figure nodded while he attempted to catch his breath. “Well… her husband,” he admitted with a tired smile. “She refuses to step away from the shelter arrangements for even a moment. I assume you are our relief?”

He glanced over Elian’s shoulder, no doubt noting the small size of their party, and frowned.

“We are the advanced team,” Elian reassured. “The doctors and healers will be here within the hour, but some of the bigger equipment can’t be moved without the sun. It would just get stuck in the forest and cost us more time.”

This was enough to reassure the mayor’s husband evidently, because he bobbed his head rapidly. “Let me get you inside,” he said as he laid one hand on Elian’s arm and motioned him toward the door to the large cabin.

Elian glanced at the distant work groups huddling beneath the bright light of many lanterns, but relented quickly. He couldn’t do anyone any good until he assessed where his skills – and the skills of his people – were most needed.

Warmth washed over him like an inferno blast when he stepped through the door. At first, it felt unbearable, but when the tingle of returning circulation swarmed his fingers and toes, he realized how much of a welcome relief it would be for the villagers and workers. He lifted his hands, blew hot breath across his gloved fingers and followed his guide to a table covered in paperwork and maps.

It was clear someone had made a rudimentary attempt to organize everything that would need to be managed in the wake of the disaster, but there was far too much for the inexperienced to handle. That was why they had disaster relief teams – and why Elian was here.

He brushed aside a few of the hand-written notes so that he could get a clearer look at the map. “What are we dealing with?” he asked in what he considered to be his business tone. “How extensive is the damage?”

Someone had already begun to mark the map with red lines. Elian’s guide sighed and traced his finger along the outer edge of the marks. “The damage here is manageable,” the man admitted with a humorless smile. “So this is where we’ve been focusing our efforts. The closer you get to the mountain the heavier the damage gets and when you reach this point…” He  tapped a solid line of red drawn through several of the buildings. “Well, that belongs to the mountain now.”

Elian shuffled more papers aside so that he could view the full extent of the damage. It was worse than he thought; the village was larger than it seemed with earth and rock piled along one side of it. He resisted the urge to curse.

“I assume you’ve checked the rubble for survivors?”

“We’re trying.” His guide sighed. “But some of those rocks are still unstable, and we don’t really have the means of getting beneath them without shifting their precarious landing spaces.”

“That’s fair,” Elian reassured quickly. The last thing anyone wanted to do was cause more damage and risk more lives. “We can get a better handle on that in the morning, when the big boys get here.” He hesitated a second, then added, “This might sound crass but… We had an agent stationed here-“

“I’m aware of him,” his guide declared right away and lifted such a fierce gaze to meet Elian’s eyes, he almost took a step backward. “I don’t suppose we were supposed to be, but as soon as the ground started shaking, he appeared out of the mist. It was like a divine sending, I tell ya. He knew exactly what we should do, and none of us wasted any time arguing with him.”

Elian’s heart skipped a beat.

So Domerin is here somewhere.

Like it or not, one of his primary objectives was to recover the lost agent and ensure his safety. People with skills like Domerin’s were hard to find and even harder to train. He was a valuable asset. And more than that, he deserved the loyalty and care of the kingdom given all he’d devoted to it.

Especially if, as this man claimed, he helped lead the evacuation.

“I’m going to guess that he rushed toward the landslide to help people get to safety?”

A hint of good humor tinged his guide’s smile. “You guessed right, my friend. He was damn fierce. Saved dozens if not hundreds of us just with quick instructions.” There was a hint of hesitation before the man added, “Last I heard, he was trying to get those closest to the mountain into a secure place to wait out the slide but…”

Elian squeezed his eyes closed. “Thank you,” he said after a moment. If his friend was dead, there wouldn’t be much he could do about it now, and it sounded like they needed the big equipment before they could learn for sure.

“Extracting survivors from the rockslide is going to be our top priority,” he added then, all business again. “Let us handle the extraction and healing efforts. You focus on where to put people. Anyone who needs evacuation or transportation, we can help you move. But we’re going to have to know how many people and how urgent in order to coordinate those efforts.”

Elian’s guide nodded to show he understood each point. His suspicion was that the man would disappear into the thick of the recovery team to report to his wife, then act on whatever instructions she gave him.

At least we know the people of this village are going to cooperate with us.

*   *   *

Elian’s estimation was correct; by the bright light of day, the devastation of the village was thrown into stark contrast. Now, at last, he could see where the bright painted stone walls of the houses and shops had been cut through by the grey-brown rocks that slid from the side of the mountain. What had seemed like gentle slopes beneath night’s shadow were now revealed to be steep climbs and sharp drops.

The mountain hadn’t just added more material to the village, it had scraped along what already existed, gutting several sections with the force of its momentum.

It had become terribly hard to imagine things being worse.

Luckily, the rest of their team started moving as soon as the thin light of the sun inched above the horizon. The healers had been working tirelessly through the wee hours of morning, and the extraction team didn’t even pause when they reached the village.

They now had half a dozen extraction points where specialized agents searched the rubble, gently shifting the rock to reveal crevices hidden beneath. Already, they had pulled a handful of survivors from the brink of death into the warm, welcoming hands of the healers.

But still there was no sign of Domerin.

“We have to get deeper into the mountain,” Elian insisted. His frustration was beginning to show. The sun had already past its zenith, and it would be dangerous to continue some of their searches by night. “If he was trying to find shelter for those that couldn’t outrun the slide, we could have a large pocket of people in need of care and rescue.” Which made him feel less guilty about trying to push Domerin’s discovery as a priority.

“No one disagrees,” the extraction team manager asserted quickly. “We just aren’t sure if we’ll cause more harm by rushing through that portion of the village.”

Another fair point, Elian was forced to admit.

There were always difficult decisions to make during operations like this one. Every life was precious, and no one wanted to risk losing one with a careless mistake. But he was the leader of this team. He had to be the one to weigh and measure all of the possibilities against each other.

In an ideal situation, they could take it slow and risk no one. But if there was a large group of people trapped in a cave somewhere, potentially losing air-

“Sir!” A messenger wearing one of the relief team’s uniforms skidded to a halt so suddenly, she almost barreled straight into Elian’s side before catching herself. She took a moment to regain her balance and draw a deep breath, then she turned shining, eager eyes in his direction. “Team four just found an unexpected gap beneath their rubble. It contains a survivor and we’re pretty sure its him!”

Elian needed no further information. He was in motion before the woman even finished delivering her message. The relief team managers were hot on his heels as he jogged up a steep rubble slope and identified the area where team four was digging.

They were farthest back along the village’s outer line, as close to the base of the mountain as they’d been able to get without taking the kind of risks Elian had spent the last few minutes weighing.

As soon as he was on top the rock debris, Elian slowed. He still didn’t know if there might be people under him or if sudden movements might shift the rock. The rest of the team followed his example, though it seemed to take a perilously long time to tiptoe across the debris field.

Elian’s elf eyes were sharp, however, and he caught a flash of dusk skin against the whiteness of the snow and the brightness of crimson splashes.

Alive and well were two entirely different things, but Elian didn’t understand the extent of that until he finally stood over the newly revealed hole.

Someone had the presence of mind to fold a jacket and set it beneath Domerin’s head to pad his current resting place. Someone else had tucked a blanket around his shoulders, providing warmth while the rubble was shifted enough to finish his extraction.

But no one had covered the leg that sprawled across the battered rocks. Whatever had sheltered Domerin during the worst of the landslide, it hadn’t protected that limb. Now it was pockmarked with cuts and scratches intermingled with deep red lines.

The damage beneath the skin had to be extensive. A glance was enough to notice that his foot had been forced into an unnatural angle, and Elian was fairly sure the bones were twisted, leaving Domerin’s flesh in a wretchedly uncomfortable position.

“Have the healers been with him yet?” Elian demanded, turning accusing eyes on his team.

“Someone is heading over right now, sir,” the original messenger reassured with a sharp salute. “But we’re pretty sure they won’t be able to do much until we get him out of there.”

Elian lifted one hand and allowed it to momentarily rest over his mouth so that no one would be able to see the full extent of the horror and disgust that flitted across his face. Speed wasn’t the only thing of paramount importance here; if they rushed, they could cause irreparable damage to one of their best agents. Not a pleasant concept.

He turned, leaving the matter of healing to the healers, and made his way carefully along the ridge of recently shifted rocks so he could kneel near Domerin’s shoulder. He lay in a rock depression, the top of which had clearly been peeled away like an egg’s shell.

At the moment, his friend’s eyes were closed. His chest rose and fell in a slow, steady rhythm – a good sign, though the man had to be in terrible pain. His dusky skin was ashen pale against the snow, and his midnight hair was spread across his makeshift pillow. He was covered in sweat and grime, and Elian worried his injured leg might develop an infection if they wasted too much time.

But Domerin was alive. And that meant more to Elian than he could possibly articulate.

Domerin wasn’t just a coworker, and he wasn’t just a friend either. They might never be able to define what they were at the moment, and they were unlikely to ever be more than this – there’d be no being everything to one another. Their lives simply didn’t allow for it.

But he didn’t know what he would have done if he lost the precious connection between them. It would have set him adrift, and he couldn’t afford that at the moment.

He leaned down and lightly touched Domerin’s shoulder.

Instantly, the dark-skinned elf’s eyes snapped open, though the tension eased from his body as soon as he laid eyes on the figure hovering over him.

“Try not to move,” Elian suggested, his voice just loud enough to carry over the chaos of the extraction.

He could tell instantly that his warning had come too late. Domerin’s face twisted with agony, but eased soon enough. A glance over Elian’s shoulder revealed that one of the healers had finally arrived on the scene to provide pain blocking – if nothing else.

“We need to get this set as soon as possible,” the woman announced, her voice terse and her lips pressed into a thin line.

Elian ignored the agitated response of the extraction team and focused on Domerin instead. “We’re going to get you out,” he promised.

Domerin nodded, accepting this promise for what it was and likely knowing it wasn’t as simple as that. Without hesitating, he shifted, dragging one of his hands free of the blanket tucked around his shoulders so that he could point.

At first, it was difficult for Elian to follow the direction he indicated. He didn’t see anyone approaching from the direction Domerin indicated. He seemed to be pointing at a space closer to the mountain near the edge of the rockslide.

In fact, assessing the lay of the land from here, Elian was fairly sure Domerin could have gotten out of the danger zone if he had just a few more minutes to move. Probably he’d activated a pocket spell to keep him alive when the rubble caught up with him.

“I don’t-” Elian started, shaking his head.

“Safety site,” Domerin managed to rasp. His voice sounded raw, as if it scraped across the remains of the mountain to escape his throat.

Elian turned to one of the team members and demanded access to water. The moment someone thrust a canteen into his hand, he unscrewed it and carefully helped Domerin drink.

Already, the meaning of the man’s simple statement dawned on him. “That’s where you evacuated the people who couldn’t get out of the way?”

Domerin nodded, spilling a few drops of water down his chin before Elian managed to lift the container away. “As many as I could.”

“You damn bastard. You’ve never have had any sense of self-preservation.” It was an empty lecture, of course. Domerin had done more than just the job he was supposed to do. No one could fault him for that.

Sliding to his feet, Elian grasped the shoulder of an extraction team member and helped them bend over so that they could address Domerin more directly.

Muffled voices indicated the flow of the conversation as Domerin explained to the best of his ability the relative location of the cavern where he stashed the evacuees. He had chosen a sturdy section of rock, back a little ways from the mines. Hopefully it was deeply enough within the mountain’s structure to have survived the onslaught.

“It’s going to be rough,” the extraction team manager informed Elian when he returned to his feet. “There’s a lot of rock between us and them.”

“But we know where we’re looking now,” Elian retorted. “So it’s going to have to be a priority.” There could be a hundred souls huddled in that rock, and no one knew how long their air would last or if they had a reliable source.

Already the extraction manager was shouting orders to organize his crew.

Elian bent back over Domerin. “You did good,” he murmured.

He had to step back at that point because the relief team was finally ready to lift Domerin free of the crèche of rock in which he rested. He shuffled down the line so he could add his arms to the lifting efforts and eased back down onto the ground beside Domerin as they laid him on a stretcher.

Instantly, the healer set hands against his injured leg, causing the man to hiss sharply with pain. But already healing magic flowed along his wounds, attempting to correct the worst of the damage.

“He’ll be lucky to ever walk again,” the healer muttered, perhaps not realizing she spoke the words aloud.

“Fuck that,” Elian growled, hoping to override the fear that flashed across Domerin’s face. “You’re lucky to be alive,” he asserted. “You’ll have the best care the kingdom can muster, of course. But none of it would matter one whit if you hadn’t survived.”

“Luck had a lot to do with it,” Domerin admitted, his voice still horse and raspy.

Elian set a hand on his friend’s shoulder again and squeezed gently. “It doesn’t matter. You’re safe now.”

“Sir?” It was the same messenger from before, speaking just over his shoulder.

Elian only half turned to receive the message.

“We think we’ve made contact with the people inside the commander’s safe site.”

Elian snorted, then flashed Domerin a grin. “Mission successful, old friend. Get some rest. We’ll handle this.”

He waited for Domerin to nod before he rose and rushed in the wake of his messenger.

The devastation here was great. This little mountain town would never be the same, even if it decided to persist in the wake of the incident. But it wasn’t all bad. There was hope hidden here among the rubble thanks to the hard work and dedication of the kingdom’s protectors.

That was enough to bolster him through the rough days ahead.

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