“Does that hurt?” Starskimmer asked sweetly. Cloudfern glanced at his assistant, recognizing trouble in that honey-dulcet tone, but their patient, who lay stretched out on his belly on the workden’s treatment table with his breeches pulled down around his knees, seemed to find the question funny.
“My backside has more quills in it than Whispersilk’s needle-cushion!” Notch snickered. “’Does it hurt?’ What do you think? Of course it — *OWWW!”
Starskimmer smiled serenely as she dropped the bloody quill into a waiting basin of water. “Good,” she purred. “I’m so glad to know that. Because this could take all afternoon, you know.”
Notch groaned in response and buried his face against his folded arms.
“Want me to do that?” Cloudfern asked, putting aside his wound-cleaning herbs to steep.
“Oh no, I’ve got this well in hand,” Starskimmer said, her voice still dangerously sweet. She did, too – her slender fingers had a firm grasp on another quill, and she jerked it out with deft strength. Notch yipped and squirmed in pain, then yelped louder as his mother slapped the unquilled half of his backside soundly.
“Stop squirming,” Starskimmer snapped. “If one of these barbs twists in there, it’ll tear up even worse on the way out. You’re going to scar enough, as is.”
“Hate to see you get infected down there,” Cloudfern added helpfully.
“Serve you right if you did,” Starskimmer snorted, while Notch rolled a woeful gaze toward Cloudfern in search of some sympathy.
“Don’t look at me,” Cloudfern chuckled. “Tell me again, would you Notch, just what exactly were you doing to get a tail full of quillrat-quills?”
“It’s not fair,” Notch lamented, dodging the question entirely. “You’d think I could at least get a little sympathy from my own mother. Instead, she wants to torture me – OW!!”
“There’s another,” Starskimmer smiled, dropping a quill into the basin.
“Heya, who’s being killed in there?” called a voice outside; moments later, Beetle popped in through the workden doorway. “OH!” she cried, finding herself faced by Notch’s bare and bristling hindquarters. “Shards! No wonder you’re squealing like a boar-piglet down here.”
“I am not squealing,” Notch hissed through clenched teeth, as Starskimmer yanked another quill free.
“Suit yourself, dearest,” Starskimmer purred, reaching for another quill.
“What happened to you?” Beetle asked, cocking her head to one side and watching the procedure avidly.
“Questions, questions, always with the questions,” Notch muttered. “What does it look like? I crossed paths with a quillrat, and it took exception to my company.”
“No, really,” Beetle said. “What **really** happened?”
“Nothing happened! I saw a – ouch!! Be gentle, will you? – I was just minding my own business, then I saw a quillrat, and when I turned to walk away it just let loose and attacked me.”
“Just like that?” Starskimmer said, yanking out another quill and getting a yelp for her efforts.
“Such wicked, ill-tempered creatures, aren’t they?” Cloudfern said drolly. “Treacherous beasts, you can’t turn your back on them.”
“So you were up to no-good, what’s new with that?” Beetle asked as she leaned in closer for a view of the injury site. “What I *really* want to know is – these quills are only stuck in your skin… so you couldn’t have been wearing your pants at the time the quillrat got you. So what *were* you doing, flashing your backside at it in the first place?”
“That’s my daughter,” Cloudfern said, kissing Beetle’s chestnut curls. “Glad to know at least one of your children inherited some smarts,” he added to Starskimmer.
“Yes, speak to One-Leg about this one,” Starskimmer said, with another deft yank. Notch muffled a whimper.
“That’s going to leave a fascinating scar,” Beetle observed.
“You think?” Notch grumbled.
“Even worse if these get all weepy with pus,” Starskimmer said.
“If you can’t yank those out clean, we’ll have to cut the barbs out,” Cloudfern said. Notch groaned and hid his eyes against his crossed arms.
“Y’know,” Beetle said, her expression growing bright. “Oh, this is exactly the kind of thing I’ve been waiting for!”
Starskimmer yanked out another quill. “Me too,” she smiled.
“Do you really think it might get infected? Because remember those bat-dung salts?”
“The crystals you sparked and which burned off all of your hair?” Cloudfern said dubiously.
“Exactly, those!” Beetle was grinning with sudden enthusiasm. “We talked about the chance of maybe finding a way to use the quick-flash powder to cauterize a wound. Barb infections are so nasty, so this would be the perfect chance to test—“
Notch’s head came up, and he craned his neck to look back at his half-sister in alarm. “Oh no,” he said. “No, no and no!”
“But it’s a great opportunity to test—“
“You burned off your HAIR!” Notch cried.
“Just a little bit,” Beetle countered. “And it grew back.”
“And you think my backside might? Ow! Hey—“
“Hold still,” Starskimmer warned again. “Because if you squirm enough to make me twist one of these quill barbs so that we have to cut it out, I’m going to have to send your sister for her flash-powder.”
"I'll be right back!" Beetle exclaimed. She rushed away, heading for her own workden at full speed.
Notch groaned and looked again at Cloudfern for rescue. Cloudfern simply smiled and blew on the steeping herbs to cool them.
"Great," Notch muttered to himself. "Just great. The next time I need sympathy and familial concern around here, I'll stick to the quillrats."