16. HarryMature

Though scattered and dispersed through rubble and remains, there were survivors. The sun rose with a clear blue sky free from blemish or cloud, drawing in birds of prey from far flung corners of the world. Harry's body yelled with pain and was patterned with cuts and blood, but she was alive. And so, more importantly, were others.

Of the village, there was no trace. Where buildings had once stood solid, tall and strong there was now fine white dust. Cherished and valuable items - ceramics, jewellery and statues - had fractured, splintered and crumbled. In amongst this material chaos was ruin of another sort: bones and ashes protruded from piles of dirt and sand, awash with shiny red blood and pocked with bits of stringy flesh.

Harry scanned the horrific scene before her, numb with shock and disbelief, and saw moving black specks in the distance - people.

Fervour gripped her as she stumbled towards them, climbing up steep peaks of sand and sliding down the troughs on the other side. Her feet sunk into the sand, clutching at her ankles like dry claws, but she barely noticed. The Sun was red hot on her exposed neck and back and it heated the sand to a fire. Her skin, where it was not stained by blood, was red raw from sun burn. Each inch of her was patterned with sores, cuts and bruises. However people had lived, and that companionship eased her pain more than any physical healing could.

They were clustered on a small stoned pavilion that had once sat at the heart of Dry Coast, surrounded by trading stands, sculpted arches and grand buildings made with heavy white bricks. Now it stood alone with a border of red rock dyed with blood.

"Wait," she called out to them. They were not leaving, but she was unsure what to say.

They looked over to her and she saw that there were four of them in total - three men and a woman. All of them but one were low men.

She cut through the rock that tangled her feet towards one of the low men that gestured towards her with outstretched, heavily tanned hands. He was a man she knew, though had never spoken to frequently, named Jeff. His hair was almost jet black and he was lithe and flexible, but a strong, quick man who was known to be lethal even without a weapon.

They collided into an embrace and Harry instantly began to cry, tears streaking down her soiled face and weaving with her bedraggled hair. The comfort of another human close to her skin released a little tension, and she slumped towards him, awash with grief and fatigue.

With shock Harry realised the high man had placed a hand of condolence on her shoulder and regarded her with sympathetic deep brown eyes. She knew this man - it was Brandon, the man with the distinctive long brown hair that resembled the mane of a horse.

"We will live," he said in a fluid, calm voice, staring intently into her eyes.

She nodded and let the embrace end so she could study the rest of the survivors. The other low man looked familiar but she did not know him by name, and the woman...

The woman was Kate.

At first, relief and joy flooded over Harry as she saw Kate had survived. Her freckled pale face was free from fault or defect, smeared only with the most conservative amount of blood and dirt. Her brunette hair curled around her chin, disheveled but still beautiful.

But this appeasement was short-lived. Harry could not understand how Kate was still standing, albeit leaning severely on the nameless low man. Her legs had deep gashes that spiralled in a helical fashion down from her thighs to her ankles. Her gown was torn and hung limply at her waist, only just obscuring her modesty.

Her torso was completely bare, but did not show a normal young woman's chest. Her breasts were warped and disfigured, bleeding and sunken. Her chest caved inwards, lined with cracked and twisted ribs. Her breaths were short and gasping, each inhale producing a flicker of pain on her face.

"Kate," Harry managed quietly, her body shaking.

"Harriet, I believe? I don't... think we got to exchanging names."

Each word pierced her like a sword and left her wheezing.

She collapsed against the low man, who helped her to the ground.

"No..." said Brandon, stepping forward, "You must keep your airways open to help your lungs."

"Need to... rest a moment," her eyes fluttered shut and she fell backwards into the dust.

Harry rushed forwards, kneeling beside Kate. Her mind filled with despair and her face was wet as tears gushed down it, blurring her eyes. She was not sure whether her crying had ceased and restarted after the hug, or whether her sobs had been endless. Her love and grief for Kate was overwhelming and disproportionate considering they had only shared one close moment such a short time ago, but it had been the final black drop into the well of anguish that satiated Harry's heart. Now, her heart was bursting.

The two low man sat at either side of Harry, unsure of what to do. Brandon, however, leapt into action. He held Kate gingerly, coaxing her body over to one side and tipping back her head, opening her mouth. He stroked her hair like a father would care for his daughter, and whispered soothing words into her ear.

"There is still hope," he said, lightly pressing on Kate's chest, "If there is bleeding within or if the lungs are punctured, there is little we can do. But if it is the ribs that are obstructing her breathing, we may be able to re-set them and help her."

Harry sprang into action, shedding away her emotions and her ailments, "What can I do to help?"

Brandon instructed her, and with limited medical knowledge they laboured together on Kate's failing body, willing it not to betray her. Harry's weeping and sorrow left her and a steely concentration overshadowed her face. She saw only Kate and Brandon. The heat, the Sun and the devastation that surrounded her were forgotten as her mind channelled everything into saving one girl.

Screams from Kate's exhausted lips ricocheted off the surrounding wreckage as Brandon and Harry worked, and worked, and worked.

The End

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