Despite the fire in my jaw, when I went to Gutwretch Street two days ago I walked slow. In fact, I almost turned back as I approached the first crazy buildings. They should rename the place The Street of Agony and Sorrow. People wandered everywhere, moaning, limping, holding their jaws and clutching their bellies.
A bawling young girl had wrapped herself around a tree, her parents pleading with her to let go. Farther on, two medics were treating an unconscious man. Medical assistants stood in doorways, calling out prices and offers and guarantees.
Hawkers prowled the street, offering quick fixes to everything from head lice to gradek infection. The only thing right about the place was the smell of camphor and antiseptic in the air. It calmed the ache in my jaw.
I pushed past the hawkers until I spotted a surgery that looked promising because it was shaped like a molar when much of the other dental surgeries resembled fangs.
Lavun based pain relief. Fully natural technology.
The dentist’s window picture looked promising too. Dr. Drague resembled a film star, all shiny eyes and shiny hair. The gleam from her teeth lit up the window. And framed around her image were dozens and dozens of glass cases displaying teeth.
Amid the rows of ordinary teeth, sat crooked things, black things, teeth like white bubbles and teeth with barbs. Weirdest of all was a curly white thing that looked more worm than tooth. When I moved closer I saw it was tipped with a sucker.
Gong inside, I found myself in a waiting room filled with chairs, but not much else.
A hatch opened in the wall. A grey-haired woman poked her head out, and said, “Welcome.”
The hatch slammed shut. Minutes later I heard the rattle of a bolt being drawn and Dr. Drague emerged through a hidden door.
“I’m Dr. Drague,” she held out her hand. “And you?”
“My tooth’s killing me,” I replied, not wanting to say who I was in case she tried to charge extra.
She ushered me into the surgery, which was a bare pastel pink coloured room, one wall of which was packed with more cases displaying weird teeth.
“My tooth collection,” Dr Drague said. “Comforts the patients, reminds them I can treat anything.”
Then I saw a stout tree trunk chair sitting dead centre of the room, and I forgot about her tooth wall. The chair appeared to be growing up through the floor. Vines, branches, puff mushrooms and fronds sprouted out of it, making it look alive.
Then one of the vines twitched, and I realised that the thing was alive.
Oddly, seeing a living tree fashioned into a chair, didn’t surprise me as much as it should have. Images of the Waygoth Oaks flashed through my mind. My pulse slowed.
Dr Drague said, “The absolute latest in passive Envelop Plantagen technology.”
The Envelop Plantagen. Though Ganhook had bookcases full of information on that guild and all the known natural security systems they’d custom created for the state, I’d never read anything about them customising living furniture too.
Dr. Drague guided me into the chair. “Sit. Relax.” She pricked my finger with a needle and worked a drop of blood into the armrest. The chair flexed, and moulded tight around me. Before I could spring free, vines whipped through the air, securing my hands and feet to the chair.
“A necessary precaution,” Dr. Drague said. “Your blood binds you to the chair until it’s done.”
“It’s . . . done?”
“The chair performs all the procedures. Under my instructions, of course.”
I was so shocked, all I could do was follow Dr Drague’s hand as she pointed at a tooth dangling from the ceiling. “See that,” she said. “That’s my tooth. It’s also the reason I invested in the chair. Some patients can lash out. The last person to hit me was a crazy old woman who wasn’t happy about losing her last tooth. She belted me, said I needed to lose a tooth too.”
It was only then that I noticed the gouge marks in the timber beneath my hands. Worse still, a broken fingernail was embedded there too. “Release me.” I struggled against the vines. But I may as well have been set in concrete. “I work for Ganhook.”
“Oh good. Maybe you could recommend me. Having him as a client would . . .”
“Of course,” I gasped, desperately trying to figure a way out of this. Being operated on by a tree sounded so very, very wrong. “Certainly. And guess what?”
“The pain’s gone. You’re a genius. Truly. This chair is a miracle so now you can release me.”
Dr Drague smiled, a look of twisted glee that such a perfect mouth shouldn’t have been capable of. “But I must discover what caused the pain. Now, open up.”
I clamped my mouth shut. But a vine pried my lips apart. Sour liquid flooded my mouth, numbing my gums and making my ears pop.
Dr Drague peered into my mouth, “Fascinating.”
“What’s fascinating?” I asked, not really wanting to know.
“Have you been sleeping anywhere near the Gravelands recently?”
“Have you been chewing on peppermint after drinking cadamot beer?”
I shook my head. “Is that what attracted the infection?” Though my tongue felt like it filled my mouth, and the words came out as a babble, she understood them anyway.
“Infection. No infection. But you do have the most fascinating black substance in one of your teeth.” She tapped a back upper tooth with a metal rod. “I’ve heard about how the greadfly lays its eggs, but I’ve never seen it before. Few have. I absolutely must have this tooth for my collection.”
Greadfly egg? Black substance? Ganhook hadn’t mentioned this. And why was she tapping an upper tooth when the pain was in my lower jaw?
“I’ll pay you one gold sovereign for that tooth,” she said.
“What’s . . . a greadfly egg?”
As if I was a fool, Dr Drague sighed, the stink of mouthwash off her breath stinging my eyes. “A parasite. It lays an egg in the hollow tooth of a living creature, seals the tooth with saliva, and lets the egg hatch and grow strong on your blood before crunching its way free.”
More maggots! I couldn’t believe it. Then it dawned on me. She was mistaken. That black substance in my tooth wasn’t Greadfly saliva, it was the filling I’d had last year. Obviously, they’d never seen ‘otherworld’ fillings in this place.
Another vine curled over my head, it’s tip splitting to reveal two gleaming thorns.
“Fear not,” Dr. Drague whispered. “My extractor vine works quickly.”
I thrashed about, desperately trying to tell her the truth. My mouth was so numb I couldn’t get a word out.
Then, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a stringy flicker beneath the vine wrapped around my right ankle, a filament, just like the filaments I’d spotted connecting the traps in the Wrecking Woods.
The filaments only a Dawnhunter could see.
Though this was thinner and duller, it was a filament nonetheless, and the sight of it filled my mind with memories of the horrors of the Wrecking Woods—the snap vines slicing chunks from people, the crawling water, Aisling almost being swallowed by a white hole.
She’d have died if I hadn’t learned to manipulate the filaments.
I never wanted to touch anything like that again. But . . .
With all my strength, I managed to stretch my arm and yank the filament. It stretched. The vine loosened. I kicked my leg free and dragged the rest of me out of the chair and made for the door before Dr. Drague reacted. My last memory of that place was the receptionist laughing through the hatch as I fled.
I didn’t stop running until I was safely back in the compound.
After I told Aisling everything, she said, “The filaments. Does that mean the Envelop Plantagen Guild is somehow connected to the Wrecking Woods?”
I nodded. Yet, all I could really think about was the tooth worm I’d begged Ganhook for earlier. Despite her dental phobia, I was immensely grateful Aisling hung around when I popped the worm into my mouth. Seconds after I put it on my tongue, the thing wriggled to life, numbed my jaw, and disappeared.
That was 48 hours ago. The pain is almost gone. The only thing that worries me now is just how that tooth worm is going to get out of my jaw.