Warning: This poem contains intense topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. This is hardcore hurt/comfort. It includes canon-typical violence, a dragon destroying a city, fire, death, refugees, traumatic stress, interspecies issues, injuries of varying severity, including wings, messy medical details, exhaustion, grief, scar revulsion, loss, repeated trauma, and other mayhem. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.
"Always Time for Pain"
The world was ash and fire.
Everyone was running and
screaming, trying to save
whatever they could.
The great bronze dragon
thrashed her way through
the city of Zayd in a frenzy.
Pandu had seen it all before.
He had seen Janardana destroy
the white cliffs of Shaunaka,
had fled on singed wings
all the way to the desert.
Now Zayd too was burning,
but Pandu knew how to survive.
He grabbed everything that
he could carry, snatching
at healers' assistants and
to warn them, "Take all of
the medical supplies that
you can and run for it."
So they ran, through
the burning city and
over the burning sands.
When the sun was setting
and the city but a memory
in the distance, the refugees
slowed and set up a camp.
Pandu had stayed with
those who had escaped
from the healing hall.
"We need to make a place
for the wounded," Pandu said
to Irmiya, another of the assistants.
Her pink-and-gold skin was gray
with ash, but she shook herself
and said, "I took an emergency tent,
but I don't know how to set it up."
"I know how," Samuil said as he
stretched his yellow-and-orange wings.
"I will help you assemble the tent."
"I'll pass the word for people to bring
the wounded here," said Pandu.
He moved through the camp
as it coalesced, telling people
what to do, and sometimes
helping where he could.
When he got back,
there were several tents,
but nobody in charge.
Pandu wasn't Imran,
wasn't anyone important,
but then again neither were
some of the survivors.
First he checked on
the other Madhusudana,
not because he valued
his people more but
because -- unlike Imran --
they wouldn't speak up.
Most of them were in
no worse shape than he
was, but one had lost
most of the feathers
from her left wing,
leaving it in tatters.
"Wrap the burns and
move on," Pandu said
to Irmiya. "There's nothing
we can do about the feathers.
She'll have to moult new ones."
Some of the other refugees
weren't faring so well, and
the Imran assistants didn't
know how to help them.
The Hachi woman was
gasping in the dry air.
"She needs high humidity,"
Pandu said. "Drape a sheet
over her and put in a bowl of
steaming water. It might help."
"The Hachi are perverse,"
Samuil protested. "I don't
want to go near that one!"
"Do it anyway," Pandu said.
"There are not so many of us
left after the dragons that we
can afford to lose even an enemy.
I'd patch up an Eofor if it came to that."
It wouldn't; the mountain stronghold
of Hildeburh was the last capitol standing.
But Pandu still meant what he said.
Samuil sighed. "You are right,"
he said, and fetched hot water.
Pandu sympathized with him,
though. It was so hard to figure out
how to take care of another race,
especially when you didn't get along.
The goal was to help, or at least
to do no harm, but it wasn't
always clear how to do that --
or even where to start.
It was worse now because,
with so many capitals gone,
people moved around more
as they tried to find places
the dragons hadn't destroyed.
There were fewer healers, too,
more lost with every city's fall,
and never enough to go around.
This would be easier if they could
gather healers from different races
to train apprentices in caring for
all of them instead of just their own,
but thus far it hadn't happened.
So Pandu did what he could
to learn about the other races,
and hoped it would be enough.
An unfamiliar Madhusudana woman
tugged at his sleeve. "Please come,"
she said. "This one, he's injured but
he won't listen, we can't do anything --"
"I'll come," Pandu assured her, and
followed her gray wings into the tent.
When he got inside, though,
the recalcitrant patient wasn't
at all what he had expected.
It was Ansar, with blood all over
his left wing, still hard at work.
Pandu looked around and saw
that everyone else had been helped.
"Enough, sir, you've done what
you could," Pandu said. "Come and
sit down now so I can take care of
you too. You must be in pain."
"I don't have time for pain, and I
can't afford to stop long enough for
healing," Ansar said, grimacing.
Pandu nudged him toward
a cot anyway. "Just like there’s
always time for pain, there’s
always time for healing."
He used soothing oil
to clean away the blood.
Underneath, the skin was
no more than singed from
the fire -- Imran were resistant
to the heat -- but a slash ran
through the brachiopatagium
from just below the digital claws
down to cut the trailing edge tendon.
"Just clean it and leave it," Ansar said.
"That will heal well enough on its own."
"It'll heal faster with stitches," Pandu said.
Ansar shook his head. "I can't do it with
only one hand, and there's nobody else.
Luqman didn't make it out of the city."
So now they were down to one healer
and however many assistants survived.
"I will," Pandu said. "I've seen it done
before. You can talk me through it."
Ansar sighed. "You'll need to block it first,"
he said. "Did anyone bring some foam?"
"I'll go find out," Pandu said. There was
no telling what was left until you checked.
People had just grabbed what they could.
Fortunately, someone had brought
blocking foam, so he took a slab of it.
It took longer to find the surgical pins
that went with it, and then he had
to hunt down a needle and thread.
Pandu was half-afraid that Ansar
might have snuck out in the interim,
but the older healer was still waiting.
"I have what we need," Pandu said,
setting everything down so he could
wash his hands. "What do I do?"
"Clean the edges again, and then
cover them with the numbing paste,"
Ansar said. "Don't waste it, just use
a thin coat, and no wider than a finger."
"If I do that, you'll feel every one of
the pins," Pandu said. "This is going
to be hard enough without you flinching."
"I'm half-numb already," Ansar said.
"Everything's muffled since the city fell."
"Oh. I remember that," Pandu said.
"I'll get started on your wing then."
The cleaning and numbing didn't
take long, but the blocking
felt like it took forever.
Pandu had to stretch out
the wing membrane and
match up the cut edges, then
pin them to the foam, making sure
they came out even at the end.
"Find the trailing edge tendon,"
Ansar said. "It's inside a sheath
of skin -- sew that closed first."
Pandu's webbed hands made it
hard to hold the curved needle
and work it through the skin, but
he managed to close the sheath.
"Good," Ansar said. "Put a couple of
mattress stitches at the top and one in
the middle. Use single stitches to close
the rest, working from the top down."
The pins made it hard to sew
without hitting the foam underneath,
but Pandu needed those to hold
the long flaps of skin in place.
The membrane was tough --
no wonder the needle had
a wedge point like the kind
used for making gloves.
Through it all, Ansar
was quiet except when
He'd learned along
the way that yelling
at Madhusudana was
not at all like yelling at
Imran, and that helped.
"Well done," Ansar said when
Pandu cut the last thread.
"Here," said Irmiya. "I
found some bracing tape."
"Oh, thank the tides!"
Pandu said. "That was
the one thing I couldn't find."
With Irmiya's help, Pandu
pressed a long strip along
the seam on each side, then
crossed it with shorter strips
to support the wing as it healed.
The medicinal glue would help
speed healing, so the cut would
close in a few weeks instead of
taking all year to close itself.
"All done," Pandu said. "If I
remember right, you're supposed
to give that a few days to heal,
then start exercising gently."
"Exactly right," Ansar said.
"I just ... don't know if I can."
Exhaustion and grief
weighed down his voice.
"I know," Pandu said. "It
feels like the whole world
is crushing you, so that
you can hardly breathe."
As the cities fell, more and
more people were left with
nothing but rubble and loss,
stumbling through the remains
of their lives as if in a haze.
"How do you even do this?"
Ansar said. "How do you
keep going when everything
that you knew is ashes?"
"Every day begins with
an act of courage and hope:
getting out of bed," said Pandu.
"I suppose we'll find out tomorrow
if I'm that strong," said Ansar.
"You are," said Pandu,
brushing a gentle hand
over the uninjured top of
Ansar's wing. "This will heal."
"It will leave a hideous scar,"
Ansar said. "No one will want me."
"If scars make us ugly, then we're
all ugly now," Pandu said with a shrug.
"Nobody survives a dragon attack
without scars, inside or outside.
The weak don't survive at all."
"True," Ansar said. "We lost ...
so many lives today. So many."
"We saved what we could,"
Pandu said. "We have
to hold onto that."
"It must be worse
for you than for us,
surviving a second fall,"
Ansar said. "I can't
imagine how bad ..."
"Actually, the first time
was worse for me,"
Pandu said. "Now I
know how to survive
hardships. Before I
was just blindsided."
"Does it really get
easier?" Ansar said.
"Not exactly easier, but
more bearable," Pandu said.
"It's just part of my story now,
and it brought me to work in
the healing hall, so that I
was able to help today.
Those are good things."
"I don't know if I will
ever come to that kind of
peace with it," Ansar said.
"You will," Pandu assured him.
"One day you will tell your story
of how you overcame what
you went through and it will be
someone else’s survival guide."
He pulled a blanket over his mentor.
"Get some rest. Tomorrow we
can sort out what to do next."
When Pandu went outside, the sky
was dark and sprinkled with stars,
no hint of the burning city in sight.
He had done all that he could.
* * *
Irmiya -- She is a young Imran woman with amber eyes and pink skin thickly striped with gold. Her curly hair is red streaked with platinum blonde. Irmiya was working in the house of healing with Pandu, Ansar, and Samuil when Aluzza destroyed the city of Zayd. Irmiya helped set up the healing tent for the refugees afterwards.
Luqman -- He was a middle-aged Imran man, a healer who worked alongside Ansar. He died when Aluzza destroyed the city Zayd.
Samuil -- He is a young Imran man with flame-blue eyes. His skin is deep amber with unusual swirls of gold, and his wings are brighter yellow on the membranes with orange fingers. His wavy hair is brindled in golden blond and white. Samuil was working in the house of healing with Pandu, Ansar, and Irmiya when Aluzza destroyed the city of Zayd. Samuil helped set up the healing tent for the refugees afterwards.
* * *
"Just like there’s always time for pain, there’s always time for healing."
― Jennifer Brown
"Every day begins with an act of courage and hope: getting out of bed."
– Mason Cooley
"One day you will tell your story of how you overcame what you went through and it will be someone else’s survival guide."
Pandu and Ansar are first introduced in "Making Waves," after the fall of the Madhusudana capital Shaunaka but before any of the others.
"Always Time for Pain" takes place after "The Nesting Urge of Aluzza," the fall of the Imran capital Zayd, which is the fifth of the six cities to get destroyed by a dragon.
Shu (Earth/Air, forest), Eofor (Earth/Fire, mountain), and Hachi (Earth/Water, swamp) have a strong trade alliance based on practical goods and services. Imran (Air/Fire, desert) and Madhusudana (Air/Water, coast) have a looser alliance based more on exchange of news and entertainment. The two alliances dislike each other. Hachi (Earth/Water) and Beneberak (Fire/Water) somewhat overlap in territory, as the Hachi farm both wet and dry land; but the connection is tenuous. Shu (Earth/Air, forest) and Madhusudana (Air/Water, coast), Eofor (Earth/Fire, mountain) and Imran (Air/Fire, desert) are particular unfriends. The opposed pairings of all four elements, without one in common, find each other confusing and frustrating. Eofor (Earth/Fire, mountain) and Madhusudana (Air/Water, coast) disrespect each other and prefer to avoid contact. Hachi (Earth/Water, swamp) and Imran (Air/Fire, desert) consider each other sexually and politically perverse, but only cross paths occasionally. Shu (Earth/Air, forest) and Beneberak (Fire/Water, grassland) hate each other, conflicting frequently. However, there is a fair bit of travel: the rulers, ambassadors, and other important people like to show off their own great treasures or view those belonging to others.
Imran wing anatomy in soft tissues and bones is similar to that of pterosaurs.
(Some of these references are messy.)
Healing bat wings can involve a wide variety of injuries. Historically these have been repaired with the usual stitches, splints, and so on. Due to the tendency of bats to remove medical devices, current treatment uses rest instead of mechanical repairs, with surprising success even for major injuries. While Imran wings also heal well, this happens faster if they are repaired by hand, and people are smart enough to leave the dressings alone.
Blocking is a technique used for fabric, but it also works for repairing membrane injuries where you need to get the shape exactly right.
(Messy medical details below.)
A mattress stitch is the strongest type of suture, a loop of thread creating two parallel stitches tied together. They are often used to close large wounds under stress, or to anchor the ends securely with ordinary stitches in the middle.
(These links are intense.)
Dire experiences can leave people with traumatic stress. This can cause a variety of conditions. Prolonged Duress Stress Disorder is similar to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but involves a long span of torment instead of a single brief incident. Developmental Trauma Disorder describes the effects on a developing psyche. Traumatic stress tends to have a profound negative impact on relationships and socializing. This encourages isolation, which can cause further problems. Understand how to cope with traumatic stress or help a friend with it.
(So are these.)
Trauma survivors often show worrisome symptoms of decompensation as the extreme stress overwhelms their coping skills. Trauma-informed care offers compassionate, effective ways to help survivors.