The poem book lay discarded on the ground. Harriet had dragged a table in front of the couch, and the doctor was beginning to lay out bottle after bottle of medicine from a large black satchel. Flare recognized every one. Rather than examine them closely, she contented herself with glaring at the doctor.
The doctor placed one final bottle on the table.
Flare said, “Are you finished?”
The doctor’s gaze snapped up to her, and then snapped over to Flare’s bandaged arm, and then back to the table. The bandage was beginning to stain with blood ever so slightly. Flare ignored it.
Hazel conferred with Harriet off to one side. Harriet was holding the needle still, which nobody had yet disposed of. Flare was already having enough trouble with herself, she didn’t want to have to deal with a whole town of pain-racked people on top of it. She still had yet to put together her cure, and getting enough for a whole town seemed extremely unlikely.
She wasn’t even entirely sure where to find the quicksilver. It wasn’t exactly a household item.
The doctor said, “You haven’t yet told me much about these monsters. What did you call them?”
“Tapeshades,” Flare said.
“So, these tapeshades. What are they like?”
Flare’s teeth ground in her skull, and her nerves ground in her gut. Her words came in a staccato burst, rattling out between the pain before she had to gulp down more breath.
“I know. You don’t. I’m hurt. Can’t talk. Shut up. Let me get cure.”
The doctor stared at her for a moment. Then the doctor said, “I can’t help you if you won’t talk to me.”
“Not. Won’t. Can’t,” Flare hissed.
“Listen, I know that giving up on your professional secrets is difficult, but you need help. You can barely walk, much less cure this on your own.”
The frustration burned almost as much as Flare’s innards did. “I am in too much pain. To discuss. A monster. In detail. With you.”
“Well, I can start you on a painkiller.”
“Listen, I’m doing my best to help, and I’m sure as soon as you take this you’ll feel well enough to talk again.”
“That painkiller will kill me.”
“I highly doubt that. How could it?”
Flare wanted to smash the bottle in the doctor’s hand against the ground and be done with the whole discussion. “I would explain, but–” That was the moment Flare realized there was a better way she could explain. She reached for the poetry book, tugging its weight multiplied by the pain in her veins up to the table. About halfway through the book was a poem about the mind being blinded by the senses, and it ended with pain. Flare shoved the book towards doctor, ignoring the doctor’s wince as several bottles toppled off the table and clinked against the floor.
The doctor looked at the book. “What?”
Flare’s finger jabbed at the poem. The doctor peered at it. “The dream slips away in the face of vividness?” they asked, confused.
Flare stabbed at the book with her finger again, as though that would help with clarity somehow. Her dream had slipped away too hard in the face of the monsters’ vividness, and anything more coherent was beyond her.
The doctor failed to understand the poem, and set the book aside. “How about this painkiller?” they asked. Flare peered at the bottle. She could swear she recognized the herbs inside, but the name and use and exact effects of it escaped her. She simply shook her head. Whatever it was, it wouldn’t help.
Frustration had begun to sneak onto the doctor’s face. A slight vindictive spark of satisfaction caught flame inside Flare. At least the doctor could understand something.
Harriet came over and addressed the doctor. “I’m about to go and throw this away, is their anything you need?”
The frustration on the doctor’s face melted away as they thought, but Flare knew exactly what she needed. “Quicksilver.”
Harriet turned to look at her. Her eyebrows knit. “Isn’t that a poison?”
Harriet looked at the doctor, then at Hazel. Hazel said, “There are better ways to deal with a problem like this than poisoning yourself.”
Flare’s hand gripped her own face, hard. She didn’t draw blood, thankfully, but it was a close thing. She could feel the tapeshades wriggling inside her scalp, begging her to pierce the skin. She could also feel the townsfolk’s concern wriggling outside her scalp, begging her to pierce the skin just as much. She said, “I will use it as a cure, not a poison.”
The doctor quietly said, “Just get it, Harriet.” Hazel made a small noise, but Harriet was already on her way out. The doctor continued, “There’s a vial in the second cabinet on the right in my workshop.”
Harriet said, “Got it,” and then she was gone.
Flare locked eyes with Hazel, was staring curiously at her. Then the pain began to subside, and Flare was able to say, “I’ll need a skilled charm user.”
Hazel shook her head. “Tell me what you would need them for first. Don’t just say the cure, I’m getting awfully tired of hearing that.”
Flare took a deep breath. The pain was finally ebbing to a point where she could think again. “The quicksilver needs light. Engrave light onto incense, coat the incense in quicksilver, burn the incense, nobody else in the room. Dangerous to uninfested.”
The doctor blinked. “How does that work, though? That’s not how medicines work, or cures, or whatever you’d like to call them.”
“It’s how monsters work,” Flare said. “The book, please.”
Wordlessly, the doctor passed the book over. Flare took it, and flipped to where she last left off. The doctor and Hazel exchanged a glance.
“What now?” the doctor asked.
Flare cleared her throat. “Now I practice reading this aloud.”
Hazel looked at the doctor, and then went to grab a pair of chairs. Flare waited until she returned to begin.
“When you Muse on the World,” she started, and not one of the three of them noticed the time passing until Harriet returned.