II. Healing or not

Ryel managed to follow Arkmar across the attic-like crawl space they were in until they had traversed the entire width of the tower. She heard flutterings and scurryings around her, but she wasn’t sure they weren’t just fluttering and scurrying in her mind. The crawl seemed interminable, but on the other hand, in Ryel’s state of consciousness, she wasn’t feeling much of anything, including horror, nausea or boredom. It was all just putting a hand in front of a hand, and a foot in front of a foot.

“You okay?” asked Arkmar after they had gone some distance.

“Oh, just fine,” said Ryel. “How would a human have handled this?”

“A human,” said the dwarf, “would have died.”

“Ah.” Hand in front of hand, foot in front of foot. The flutterings did not increase, nor did the scurryings, but there were other noises now. She shut them out.

At the far end of the crawl, Arkmar stopped beside a hole in the floor. Ryel caught up and looked in. “So now what?” she asked over the marginal noise of some sort of large rat cavorting in piles of dried leaves.

“Go downstairs the fast way, as my brother used to say to me,” replied the dwarf. Ryel looked down it and didn’t see anything whatsoever. She gave him a dazed version of her sarcastic look. “Sort of a demon laundry chute,” he explained.

“A what.”

“Come, sit on the edge with your legs dangling down.” She stared at him. Those noises again. The dwarf gave the noises the briefest worried glance, then smiled invitingly. “Come,” he said, “the vampire cockroaches are closing in.”

She stared at him for four seconds, then said, “Did you say vampire cockroaches?”

“I did, yes,” he replied quietly.

She shuffled forward, still staring at him, and swung her feet over the edge. He looked around, then gave her a quick push with the words, “Bend your knees at the bottom!”

Ryel found herself shooting down a flat metallic slide, catching occasionally on bolts and flipping about into a new position. Soon she was tumbling. At one of the 120 degree corners, the chute dropped a foot and turned, and every time it happened it was a new surprise, a new world of pain for the elf. Every square inch of her back was on fire, her neck itched terribly and her head was in a grey haze, shot through with messages of torment. It was utterly dark, and it had a blend of the smells of the incense from five different temples and shrines and ritual chambers. After an eternity of this tumbling, Ryel felt the floor of the chute disappear, and ten feet later she landed, butt first, on a space of flat stone pavement.

She lay there moaning. Four seconds later, a dwarf in light chain mail, laughing like an idiot, fell from the sky like some sort of peculiar precipitation. He landed square on her stomach.

“Fuck my life,” she moaned.

“I’m sorry,” said Arkmar, rolling off her. “Is anything broken?”

“A rib, I think.” She felt herself. “Oh yeah. That one.” She thought a moment. “Other than that, I think my bones are intact.”

“How do you feel otherwise? Can I administer a cure? Either of the two?”

“The pain is incredible, Arkmar, since you asked. It’s everywhere, even my toes ache a little. And since you asked, some of both cures would be good. Where are we?”

“We are in the laundry room, actually,” said Arkmar. “We came down the laundry chute. From here, we descend to the subterranean and follow the interconnected basements till we can emerge by the dock. A dwarf has to know these things.”

So Arkmar led Ryel through a series of not very obvious side doors and down some steps and up some more and then down yet more, and finally, just as she was about to collapse once and for all, he made her go up six steps and they were out onto the wharves.

“You know the way from here?” he asked, rubbing his forehead. “I’m good in buildings, and underground is a cinch, but put the sky over my head and I get confused.”

“I do, actually,” Ryel said. “Know the way from here.”

“Are you going to make it? Are you okay?”

“I suck, thanks for asking.” She set off now ahead, plunging into the busy front street. They were no longer in Dylath itelf, but in its seaside suburb Atyannath. The black walls of the metropolis loomed just a few blocks behind them. “Those vampire cockroaches,” she said, not looking anywhere but ahead, “did they get you at all?”

“Nah,” said Arkmar. “I got thick skin.”

“Ah.” She plunged ahead and he pursued her in silence. Two blocks later, she was turning in a door of a row house with a decaying stucco front, and doggedly heading up a narrow stair. Arkmar, feeling better about his directions, nodded at the stairway and the little straight hall. They went to the end of it and knocked on the door, which had a sign saying, “Edgardo Ramona, Healer.” They knocked several times, over the course of two minutes, and only then heard something inside.

“Who is it,” came a male voice, a little angry.

Ryel looked at Arkmar. “It’s me, Arkmar the Dwarf,” he said. “I have a patient.”

The door opened. There he was, half elven himself, his dark hair showing just a touch of grey. He was wearing a dark silky tunic over dark pants, a thin silver chain nestled in his chest hair with a bluish amulet on it. He gave Arkmar a glance, then turned his eyes on Ryel, who was exactly his height. He turned and started to shut the door in their faces, saying, “You didn’t tell me it was her.”

Arkmar put his boot in the door, then looked up at Ryel. “What do I say? What did you do to him? I need to know what to tell him you’re sorry for.”

“I’m sorry,” Ryel said. “I’m sorry I’m going to expire on your doorstep. It will look bad.” She swayed and toppled onto Arkmar, and everything went black.

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