The city was ringed by fire, all the land routes cut by the leaping flames. It was the season for bushfires and this had almost happened before. Almost was the important word in several ways. The last time ground traffic had been able to get out of the city unimpeded to the southwest and the flames had not been confined to the immediate vicinity of the roads and rail lines. Satellite pictures gave a clear picture and it wasn’t pretty. The fires were deliberate.
Both the Rural Fire Service and the Fire Brigade were ropable. The elf narrowed his eyes and commented, “They’re escalating their resource commitment.”
“Sir?” The duty officer was getting used to his new boss but it was still an unsettling experience at times, particularly when things like this were going on.
“They started with five Knights of the Sun and a lot of sea serpent lures,” the elf explained, “moved on to throwing a lot of gold they didn’t have to pay out at the problem and now they’ve deployed at least eight people, or eight small teams, equipped with magical and non-magical means of starting fires and keeping them going. It’s more resources than they’ve committed to unseating me from here before but their potential gains are still more than their potential losses.”
“How do we handle it, sir?” The duty officer had some ideas but his grip on magic was best described as ‘has yet to do the courses.’
“Take out the instigators, secure and deactivate the equipment and put out the fires.” The elf looked at the map on the computer screen. “We have the people to take out the instigators but our folk are inside of the fires and it’ll take too long to get them in position cross country, they’ll have started moving the fires inwards by then.”
“Drop them in by helicopter, sir,” offered the duty officer. “There are enough holes in the ring for helicopters to get through.”
“They could meet up with the local brigades on the outside,” added the Rural Fire Service liaison. “Our lot would be happy to help a security team going in to arrest a bunch of high tech arsonists.”
“High tech arsonists?” The elf raised an eyebrow at him.
“They’ll believe that, sir,” explained the fire fighter, “and it explains devices they don’t understand and shouldn’t touch.”
At that point one of the communications techs raised a hand for attention. “Yes?” That was the duty officer.
“Incoming call from a Rural Fire Service brigade on the northern train line, sir. They say they’ve caught some arsonists.”
The elf gestured for the Rural Fire Service’s man to take the call.
A few minutes later he reported, “They’re a fireboat unit out of a brigade along the river that were able to come up on the fire’s seat from behind. They saw three men, challenged them, and when one of the men threw fire at them, they turned the fire hose on him and his friends. Kept turning it on them until they surrendered.” The liaison officer smiled, “So now the arsonists are all tied up nice and tight but our boys are still having trouble with the fire. Their brigade only has the one boat at the moment and the only way in is by water, air or train.”
“I think I can help,” said the elf thoughtfully. “Show me where they are on the map and warn them it’s going to get cold but they have to keep pumping water.”
The flames were leaping high over the men’s heads as they played water on the blaze but at least now they were acting like normal flames. Overhead the rapidly gathering clouds were growing darker, heavier and lower, making the river men look at them nervously.
Then the temperature dropped. The fat clouds began to let fall their cargo of snow over the fire. At first it melted before it reached the flames and evaporated back into the clouds. Then it didn’t melt as much and was sent back up to refreeze and fall again as smoke-infused hail, some of which became heavy enough to make it to the ground as the cold air reduced the volatility of the gases that helped fuel the fire and the water from the river slowly reduced the area of the fire’s base. Finally, when the flames were reduced to the height of a man, the snow reached the ground to sizzle on the burning trees and ground cover. On it fell until the sizzling stopped, coming in a deluge of big, fat, soot-infused and smoke-stained flakes that cleaned the air as they formed and smothered the hotspots.