The Last Stand (The Eleven Years War: Book One)

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Chapter Forty-Three

Elise walked towards the medical core building, relieved to be back. Though she’d enjoyed her time at the castle other than that last part, she’d missed the large building. It wasn’t anywhere near as beautiful as Castle Matisse, but the medical core building was comfortable and fairly peaceful, without the politics and scheming that the castle had. Now, she didn’t have to worry about spying or politics or peace treaties; all she had to worry about was doing the job that she’d come to Semata for: becoming a doctor.

Just as he was the first time she’d walked through the medical core’s doors, Mathis was standing outside the door, assessing the sick and the injured who were brought to his door, and instructing them on where to go based on what was wrong with them.

He’d just finished inspecting a boy who looked to have a fever when Elise approached him. He got a relieved look on his face when he saw her.

“Oh, thank the gods, you’re back!” he said as the boy and his mother rushed inside the building. “We don’t have near enough people, right now; between this flu outbreak by the eastern wall and the war, we’re stretched pretty thin.” Without anyone else coming towards the building, Mathis lead her inside the building.

“So, recruitment hasn’t gone well?” Elise asked. Before she’d left, Mathis and some other officers in the medical core were planning on going on a massive recruitment campaign in the city to try to raise their numbers. It seemed like even that didn’t help to raise their numbers.

“We managed to get a few gutter rats from the international district and a seamstress from the west wall,” Mathis said. “The kids aren’t old enough to do much more than run supplies around, and the seamstress won’t be a doctor for another year at the rate she’s going. As things stand right now, you’re out only recruit we have that’s anywhere near ready to graduate.” They walked up a large flight of stairs to the second floor, where all the patients who had life threatening injuries were laying in the cots that lined the walls.

“Speaking of graduation, Olrick told me that you’ve finished your weapons training while you were gone,” Mathis said. “Is that true?”

By the skin of my teeth. She’d only met the graduation requirement by a stroke of luck. “I did, but barely.”

“Then, you’ve passed off all your graduation requirements,” he said. He pulled a red strip of cloth from his pocket. “Normally, there’s a ceremony with a big dinner and everything, but that was back when people believed that studying medicine was a good cause.”

“That’s just fine, thank you,” Elise said as she took the red band in her hand. Even though it was all a little anti-climactic, she was still excited about it. For a long time, she’d wanted to be properly trained as a doctor so she could be more helpful. Now that she was finally ready, she couldn’t wait to start work.

She tied the red band to her forearm. When she got to her room, she would have to sew one of these onto each of her dresses.

“Where will my first posting be?” Elise asked. Mathis held his arms out.

“This,” he said. “I’m afraid that this room is even more short of staff than the others are. We’ve got a lot of people upstairs in quarantine with the flu patients.” Elise nodded as she looked around her. Most of the patients there were asleep, exhausted from what had happened to them or drunk from the painkillers they gave them when they first arrived. It didn’t seem like they had anyone there that absolutely needed care at the moment.

“Alright,” she said. She’d imagined that they’d have her start off in a part of the building that was a little low key. It seemed that that wouldn’t be the case. “Do I have time to get settled before I start working?”

“Of course,” Mathis said. “We’ve been pretty quiet in here, today. Get yourself settled, then come back-“

“Commander Mathis!” When Elise looked to the side, she saw one of the gutter rats Mathis had mentioned he’d recruited. He looked much cleaner and better fed than most that she’d seen in her time in Semata, but then again, that was probably from being involved in the medical core; no matter the rank, everyone was required to take baths every day and everyone got three good meals a day.

“What is it?” Mathis asked. Judging by the boy’s wide eyes, it wasn’t good.

“Th-there’s been a skirmish a few miles away, sir,” the boy stuttered. “There’s a lot of wounded coming our way.”

Elise bit her lip. It seemed that she wouldn’t get a little down time, after all.

Mathis got a serious look on his face. Things were about to get a lot busier.

“I need you to get General Polain and Commander Silas,” Mathis told the boy. “I think they’ll want to talk to the soldiers when they come.” The boy nodded and ran back down the stairs.

Mathis looked over at Elise. “I’ll take your bag to your room. You make sure our boys are taken care of, alright?” Elise nodded, and Mathis turned his attention to the rest of the room.

“Get ready, everyone!” he called to the rest of the staff as she ran down the stairs. “We’ve got a lot of our boys coming in, and from the sounds of it, most of them need some help!”

When Elise got to the front door, she saw a long line of wounded soldiers at the door. It seemed that most of them at least had tourniquets on, but that was it. Most of them were leaning against their less injured comrades, some lay on the dirty ground, some were on litters, unconscious; they all looked like they’d been through hell and back.

Elise took a deep breath in an attempt to calm herself down. Getting scared wasn’t going to help anyone, especially not these soldiers.

She began leading the soldiers upstairs, praying to the gods that they’d have enough people to help all these men.

When she got back inside, she saw that, not only were patients flooding the stairs below her, but doctors were flooding the stairs above her; it seemed that Mathis was pulling many of the doctors stationed upstairs, where the sick and recovering patients were, downstairs to help with the soldiers. Some of them were even carrying down spare beds, since the ones they had in that ward were already filled up with soldiers.

With a deep breath of air filled with the sickly sweet stench of blood, Elise got to work.

As she worked that day, Elise saw just about every injury one could imagine: broken bones, sliced heads, crushed hands, amputated limbs; every terror that the Giskens could inflict on them had been inflicted on those soldiers. Whatever happened to them was bad enough that physical injuries weren’t the only kind she was seeing. Those that weren’t hurt on the outside simply wandered around like ghosts, their eyes empty. Though they quickly took those soldiers to the ground floor, where patients’ families were supposed to wait, the memory of the looks on their faces haunted her even more than the gore that surrounded her.

That was only the beginning of the horror that she saw that day. As much as she wished she didn’t have to, Elise ended up having to inflict even more pain on the soldiers

in order to keep them alive. She set bones, amputated limbs, gave stitches, and almost all without pain killers; they ran out of cocca leaves pretty quickly after the soldiers arrived, and most of them didn’t have the time to wait for alcohol to get in their system. Throughout the ward, the soldiers that were conscious enough to know what was happening screamed in pain as doctors like Elise tried to help them all, while some of them just continued to moan in pain.

The worst part of it was watching some of them die. Elise had known the second she saw some of the soldiers that they wouldn’t make it, but some of the boys who died really could have lived, had things been different at the battlefield. Most of them would have lived, if their tourniquets hadn’t been changed on their way to Semata, or if they’d tied them on tight enough. Those were the deaths that hurt Elise the most; they were the ones that she couldn’t help but think that she could have prevented.

Once all the injured soldiers were either dead or stabilized, Polain and Silas were shown up to the ward. Gods, did Polain look tired; he had dark bags under his eyes, and he seemed to have aged by ten years since she saw him last. It looked like preparing to fight the Giskens again had really taken a toll on him.

As Polain walked along the rows of injured soldiers, a solemn look in his eyes, Silas approached her. He now had a big, purple bruise forming on his cheek, likely from some sort of training accident.

He nodded at her hands. “I see that everyone’s favorite pyromancer has had an eventful day.”

Elise looked down at her hands. They, along with her once white apron, were dripping red with blood.

“It looks like I’m not the only one,” Elise said, looking back up at Silas. “What’s that bruise from?”

Silas gently touched his cheek, where the bruise was. It seemed that whatever caused it had been pretty recent. “I made the mistake of doing a few staff training bouts with Eza. Let me tell you, that little shit might be short, but she can pack a pretty big punch.” He began to scan the room, looking around at all the injured soldiers around them.

“I don’t suppose you know what happened, do you?” Silas asked.

“I was told that there was a battle near the city,” Elise said as she watched Polain. He’d stopped at the foot of a particular soldier, one whose skin on one side had been blackened by an attack from a glaciomancer. “Apparently, we lost.” Silas cursed, running a hand through his hair.

“That seems to be a pretty common theme with this damned war,” he said. “I just got a report from one of my men in the Rayal Mountains. Apparently, the bastards are marching their way through the pass as we speak.”

Elise bit her lip when she heard that. Though the Rayal Mountains to the north of Semata were the biggest in the country, they were still pretty small. They would probably have the city surrounded by the end of the week.

Elise looked up at Silas. “We don’t have much time left, do we?” He shook his head.

“Raul’s pretty intent on killing every one of us, at this point,” Silas said. “I thought that we might be able to hold out long enough to get some help from Mirinia or something, but the way things are going, I’m not sure that we can even put up that much of a fight.”

Elise looked down at her feet. Never, before, had this situation been so scary to her. She’d known that the Giskens wouldn’t be very merciful to them when they finished their invasion, but knowing that many of the people she’d befriended in the past month might be dead by the end of the week was really hard for her to hear.

“What are you guys going to do?” she asked. “Are you going to evacuate?” Silas snorted.

“Of course not,” he said with that famous smirk of his. “The army needs every fighting man they can get. Besides, when have I ever said no to a challenge like this?”

Elise tried to smile back, but she just couldn’t. As much as she wished she could, she couldn’t share in his confidence. After seeing all these soldiers in the condition that they were in, it was hard to see how any of this could turn out alright. How would all of them survive all of this? They couldn’t, that was the answer; if the Giskens didn’t kill them during the battle, they would kill them in the weeks and the months following that as they hunted him down like animals.

“Oh, try not to look so sad,” Silas said. “The Giskens are going to have a hard time killing us; the only one of them that’s as good as us is Raul.”

“And what about Bram?” Elise asked. “If he hits you with one good bolt, you’re gone.”

“Then, we’ll just have to avoid him,” Silas said with a shrug, as if that was such a simple solution. “Besides, he’s just one man out of a million. They can’t have too many people like him in their army, right?”

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