As stated before, the Ebony Tower doesn't just build upwards, it also spirals down into the Plateau spinning through the center as a twisted network of dungeons and dark passageways of marble and black-stone. At the bottom, the maze empties out at the back of the cave called "Lower Annalow." A thousand years ago, when the Red and White branches went mad, the dungeons were empoyled to the fullest sense of the word and fear of torture shuddered through the town and beyond. The tyrannical rule of Needessa, the High Priestess, deemed all that didn't follow the Living Goddess must be a sin under her eyes to be punished and punishment was cruel beyond words.
It was a dark dark time that all Annalow tries to forget, even the Ixxar who hold an eternal grudge against the Mume race are embarrassed by their deeds that century. So many died that a new cemetery was needed and was designated at the back of the docks where the exit ran out. Dead from torture and starvation were shipped to the lower levels and tossed out into a mass grave, and covered with earth. This mound was called Red Sleep. As time spun on, Red Sleep became surrounded with grave after headstone after crypt, until a small necropolis was developed in the docks.
Then the whispers started.
It was after the fall of Needessa, a civil rebellion that sparked the friendship between the Borc and the Mume (A tale for another time). Ships were encouraged in and trade began with the world. Lower Annalow was turned to "The Docks" and a harbor was built up and inwards by merchants and ship masters. The Annalow Interworld Ship Yard was founded and a free but uneasy peace developed with Annalow once more.
And the Whispers.
It was the merchants who noticed it first. Then the Shipmasters, then the ships. Whispers and moans and screams. A haunt that frightened all in the Docks. On quiet nights, they would carry from the back of the cove out of the Maw of the plateau. A breath of ghosts.
There were dares, of course. Sailors of Mash'ta are hardy and brave folk. Wagers were spent and traded on the quest of exploring the cemetery and they who left their mark on the Red Sleep won much gold. Some came back to report a huge crypt was built up on the evil mound of earth. Some came back mad, jibbering of black specters that wailed and tormented and writhed. Some didn't come back. Few know their name, these specters. The Cemetery Girls.
Anna was blissfully unaware of these stories. Her companion in this mad pursute, Madeline, was beside her, also in chains and grumbling of the stupidity of their endeavor. Leading them through the dark stairwells and passageways was Gravedust who smiled at the moans and sobs still echoing in the halls. It was no halucination, Anna realized. The Dungeons were still in use. Occasionally, Gravedust would peek through a door or into a cage, giggle and clap, then wave the two Red Guards on down the pits.
"It isn't far now." She said, picking up a rat and playing with it. It screamed as she ripped it's belly open and drained it's blood down her throat. Wiping her mouth she waved on. "Keep up." Anna and Madeline exhaged glances. Madeline giving her best "I told you so" look.
Gravedust's bare feet squished into something black and evil smelling. "Good," she whispered to the others. "Bottom floor."
"About time!" Madeline spit. "We've been walking for hours!"
"Good fear comes to those who must wait." The black things yellow smile was wet below her veil. "Keep with me, playthings."
Anna looked around. She didn't feel anxious like she was in the Morgue, even as her boots suck into the mire-like floor. "So, you live in the dungeons?"
"You." The thing pointed at Madeline. "Help me open these doors." Madeline groaned, but obeyed, each womume grasping the knocker of a two large iron gates. They must have been well oiled as the only sound made was of the goop underfoot slogging out of the way. Regaurdless, both womumes strained to move the heavy doors. "Good. Now help me close them from the other side." This, too, was a strain, but when the task was done, they all saw the under of the Docks cave.
If you've never seen the docks, it feels like eternal night. They were so far back that the sunlight shining into the maw of the thing didn't reach them, but the ceiling is covered in high hanging Marf buildings, and marfs use candles like anyone else. The effect is a constellation of square stars in the sky, dimly glowing on yellow and orange stone. A quiet reverb of the Gold Ocean lapping against the harbor and the smell of moist earth saturated the air. It was strangly sweet smelling. Nothing like Anna had expected from worshipers of the dead.
From the dungeon gate bowed an iron fence encircling a plot of soft land speckled in gravestones and small crypts. At the center, on the mound, was a huge two story crypt in light blue-stone. The crypt had two tall and barred windows on either side of a spiked porticulous. It looked eerily like a fearful or pained face. Closer still and Anna began to hear the whispers. They were all female and came from the stone and iron all around. Occasionally she would catch a glisp of pale white fingers withdrawing from around a crypt corner or the bars of a window. Once, she saw the smile in black slip behind a head stone just at the graveyard gates closed behind her.
"These gates are much lighter." Gravedust said, her words followed by a whimper somewhere. She ignored it. "Stay on the coble, playthings. The I cannot protect you on the grounds." And she motioned them to follow.
"Red Gaurds." Something whispered.
"Red Guards. Pet Red Guards." Another something said.
"Not in a long while." Still another said.
Anna felt something brush across her boots, but saw nothing when she looked. At the gate, Gravedust picked up a rock and clanged it agains the bars. "Agatha, you forgotten flesh pile, open or I'll hang you till you pass out! Rotten skin nugget!" She turned to her guests and smiled her rotted teeth again. "We are politely cruel, here."
A sound of turning chains and the gate rose efortlessly. A bloated, but strong looking black maiden barked horsely from the side room. "Gravedust, you whore. I'll slit you from the back of your neck to your heels and pour salt in you."
"Agatha, flirt later. The Queen has guests."
Agatha's purple lips sneered. "So that's why I haven't seen you around." She pointed a thumb inwards. "She's waiting for ya, you pig-gulleted blood-slut. She made me go get..." She shuddered, "Chairs."
Anna noticed a soothing if disturbing music waft out of the double doors beyond. It sounded like echoing lutes and a flute, but the compasision was hard to describe. It felt like looking at a picture of a family, but their limbs were stratched and twisted, not horribly so, just enough to feel uncanny. It grew louder when Gravedust pulled the doors open and they entered.
The huge crypt had few inside walls. It was lit with heavy iron torches on either side, and flickery flame-light licked the stone coffin in the center as well as three Cemetery Girls playing beside it. On top was a throne of clean crow ivory and bone, and in that, the queen sat one leg over the other. No black veil or tattered dyed gown. Queen Nara Nakki wore only a clean black and gold robe that shimmered as if hung loosely from her. It was open revealing most of her pale and black skin. Black because her hands and bare feet looked as if they had been burned to a crisp. Her short black hair held no crown, as Anna might have expected, but her eye, which were also golden, smiled like royalty at her guests.
"My Queen! This is Anna Goldeyes and her companion,"
"Madeline Fallbringer." Finished the queen. Her voice was like a loud honey whisper. "We are so pleased and surprised by your presence."
Anna raised her eyebrows. "You've met?"
Madeline didn't take her eyes away from Nara Nakki. She spoke through gritted teeth. "All priestesses have to visit her at least once."
Nara Nakki smile. Her teeth were white and clean, small and beautiful. "We have a treaty with the Red Guard, you see Anna Goldeyes. And you're never told because they're embarrassed. But we trade well-"
"You tortured my soldiers!" Madeline ran forward, but was kicked back by the Queen.
"We traded, Madeline Fallbringer."
"Pain for information." Anna finished. "But we made a trade, Madeline and I. Our submision for safty. Is kicking my companion safe, Queen Nara Nakki?"
The Queen leaned forward, eyes wide and grining like a mad womume. "YOUR safty, Anna Goldeyes. YOUR safty. I made no promise that I wouldn't hurt your companion." She leaned back, calm again. "And if you wish her no ill done, you should control her better. Isn't that one of your principals? Control?"
Anna helped Madeline up. "Why am I here, your highness?"
Nara Nakki clapped her hands and the musicians stopped. "Everyone leave. Take the Priestess. And bring in the victim."
When Gravedust reached for Madeline, Anna stepped in the way. "She stays."
"That's not what I want. She leaves our deal is over." Nara Nakki shoed Madeline away, but Anna grabbed her by the shains and pulled her toward the throne.
"She stays, or we leave."
"I would not have anyone hear this. And you don't want her to know what we shall both know. No deal."
Anna smiled. "Negotiate, then. As you said, I would not have ill done to her." Nara Nakki throught for a while and tapped her toe. "Not used to changing deals?"
"We are very used to compromises, Anna Goldeyes. Gravedust, take the preistess out of the cemetery and remove her chains. Then lock the gate." She smile again. "Acceptable?"
Anna checked with Madeline. Madeline nodded. "That's fine." She said, "I'll wait one hour, Nara Nakki, and then I'm coming inside for her. I'll bring an army if I have to." She squeezed Anna's hands. "Be safe and be warey of her. She's so dangerous you won't believe it."
They all left, shortly followed with Agatha pulling in a small wrapped body. "We thank you." The queen said. "Now shut the doors and leave the Crypt." Agatha must have obeyed because Anna heard the clinking of chains and the gate outside fall with a thud. She was trapped in there, alone with the queen.
"You've gone to great lengths, Nara Nakki."
The queen didn't get off her throne or answer. She just sat, a curious expression wore on her face. "Open it."
Anna hovered over the body and began to unwind the tight shroud. "You've tracked me down, learned you needed as bait to chain me up and draw me into your realm." She looked up at the queen. "Why?"
"Tracking you down wasn't hard, Anna Goldeyes. We are very good friends with the morticieans above." That made sense, Anna thought. Duffworm must have SOME friends, after all. "The 'bait' you claim in the reason I want you here."
The shroud began to loosen and Anna was able to uncover the face. It was a girl. A dead mume girl, pale with hair dyed black, like the rest. Anna continued, but she knew what she would find.
"Do you think of life or death, Anna Goldeyes? I've thought about death for the last thousand or so years."
"You expect me to believe you're half as old as the Goddess?"
"I expect you to deduce what you will. That's your tallent, isn't it." Anna spun around and glared at Nara Nakki. "Oops, I've said too much." Deduce was Drate Felfkin's word. "You weren't supposed to know we've read your letters."
"You leave Drate and Quill out of this." Anna continued unwrapping the rest of the shroud, her suspicions were confirmed. The girl's body was mutilated to form art. This was a delicate pattern made to look like Queen Nara Nakki's face. A tribute in gore and like the rest, there was no blood or bruising. "One of your children was killed by Lily Ripper."
"All these girls are my children, Anna Goldeyes. This girl was no less."
"You want revenge, then." Nara Nakki laughed. She threw her head back and laughed as if over thirty pints of borc brewed beer. "And I'm to be your sword, I guess."
The Queen wiped genuin tears from her face. She could barely calm down enough to speak. "Revenge? Ha Ha Ha HA! Is that deduction? Oh, Anna Goldeyes!" The giggles poured on. "We've not laughed like this in a decade! Revenge! HA!"
Anna began gleening what she could from the body. Dirty hands, grint under the finger nails, think pale fingertips. A digger? Scars all over, probably not from Lily. They were mostly healed. Do these creatures cut their children for fun? On the back there was blue paint. More than normal, the Flash Blossom paint had stained the girl's skin. Anna had not known that was possible.
"More paint than usual?" the queen asked.
"Much more." Anna felt the stain. There was a tingle of electricity still running through.
"Lily Ripper wasn't used to a child that bathed in pain. Look in her mouth." Anna obeyed. There was a bit of flesh loose inside. "It looks like a finger tip. Wouldn't you agree?" She was right. Seems that reminded Anna of something, but what?
"When did you lot find her?"
"Oh, not long, now. Perhaps a week ago."
"You people still dig graves here?"
"Oh yes. We still honor and add to the dead."
Anna stood up and brushed her pants off, as well as she could with the manacles still worn. "If Madeline were to test this paint, she would find traces of Flash Blossom. That's how he kills. The victims are shocked to death, slowly. Like a time swollen lightning bolt."
"We know this already."
"Then you what? Wish to hire me as your assassin?"
"No. We'd not ask you to kill."
"You're highness, why am I here?"
Nara Nakki stepped down from her throne. Her thin legs moved slowly and powerfully, making every footstep deliberate. "You are here because We want to make a deal and to entertain me. Why is anyone else brought to me. To deal or to entertain."
"What are the terms?"
"Simple. We want you to find Lily Ripper in exchange that you search. We want you to know why he kills in exchange that you find out."
"What does that even mean?"
Nara Nakki craddled Anna's face and drew it near to her lips. "Have you ever though you could read the minds of the dead?"