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When Ryel woke up, she was lying face down and male voices were talking about her back, which was exposed to the air.

“So you bring her to me. Why do you bring her to me?”

“Your excellent reputation,” said the dwarf. “You would not recall but four winters ago you fixed up a nasty pair of leg wounds. It was the winged goblin war. You would remember that.”

“Ah yes,” said Edgardo. “You almost had your feet bitten off. I stitched them back on nice and firm. No fear. Dwarf bones are tough.”

“So is elf hide,” said Arkmar. Edgardo didn’t say anything, but drew something between a long sigh and a deep breath. “How many stings, er, bites, are there, uh, what do you call them anyway?”

Edgardo sighed again. “Well,” he said, “they are bites, if you want a technical answer. These were administered by jaws.” Sigh. “Lots and lots of little jaws. But that doesn’t mean there is no venom. There is something in the bite, a poison. If she were not an Elf, or possibly a Dwarf, she would be dead.” Sigh. “I do not know about half-elves.”

“In many ways you are as good as Elves. Do not sell yourself short, Healer.”

“Thank you for saying so.” Sigh. “I do not think she would agree.”

“Ahem,” said Ryel, “I’m awake.”

Edgardo said nothing. The dwarf just laughed and said, “Glad to hear it.” In the quiet moment that followed, Ryel heard soft sounds, and then she felt gentle hands rubbing something on her back. She closed her eyes, but the stuff immediately began to sting, and the hands were spreading the sting further and further. Her shirt had been cut off her back, a process no doubt made much easier by the chewing she had received from the bat-bugs. So now those hands were spreading that pain from her waist all the way up to her shoulders, her upper arms and her neck, and into her scalp. She clenched her teeth. She remained silent. She was still silent when he pushed her pants halfway off her gluteus maximus and put the stinging salve there too.

There was a pause. Ryel stared straight ahead, her jaws clenched hard. She started to relax after a few moments, and then there was a hard slap on her back, then another on her shoulder, then another at her waist. “Ow, fuck, that hurts,” she said.

“A little hurt is good,” said Edgardo. He went on administering slaps until he had fully awakened every area that had been bitten. There was another pause and Ryel dared not open her mouth. At least she could roll her eyes without him knowing.

Then there was a dribble of liquid on her back, and then he was rubbing some oil into her skin. Ryel grimaced but said nothing: she looked up and saw Arkmar looking at her with concern. She rolled her eyes in the direction of Edgardo; Arkmar grinned and nodded in sympathy. This oil stung in a whole different way from the salve, and now she could differentiate between them and enjoy the best of both worlds.

“Roll over and sit up,” said Edgardo.

“I wouldn’t do this to a dog,” Ryel said to herself. Arkmar laughed. “Doc, my shirt is ruined, can you at least give me a cape or something?”

“Oh, hold the front part on, it’s not damaged.” She rolled over and managed to sit up. He went on, “I didn’t ever want to see you again. But I am a healer. I heal people. So I heal you. Since I can’t exactly heal myself.”

She just glared at him, holding the remains of her shirt on.

“Now what?” asked Arkmar.

“Drink,” said Edgardo, taking a ceramic flask from a drawer. Ryel looked askance at it. “Oh, please,” said the healer, “it’s not as if I would poison you.”

“And he surely wouldn’t waste two layers of treatment on you and then poison you,” laughed Arkmar.

“Sure he would,” Ryel said in a husky voice. “Torture me and then kill me.”

“I didn’t want to do this,” said Edgardo. “You can go fuck yourself. I don’t care anymore.”

“The hell you don’t,” said Ryel. She managed to take the flask, and with some help got a couple of swigs in her mouth. She choked them down. “That’s strong,” she said, and then her eyes rolled up and she fell backward onto the bed.