Gringill's Pet Black Thing
The White Maidens did not store themselves in apartments and barracks as the Red Guard does. Preferring more communal accommodations, their home spread across the second story of the Ebony tower, taking shape in one giant bedroom/Kitchen/Dinning Room combination with small curtained off areas for privacy. The base of the Ebony tower is huge, for the readers that have never seen it, and the inside is made of marble. The effect of being in the Burrow, a name given to their home by the White Maidens, is staggering. It spills out in a mess of pillows and rugs laid in between a maze of marble pillars as thick as buildings and as high, as well. Despite the lack of walls, new comers have complained of becoming lost.
Madeline and Anna were not new comers, but were equally uncomfertable. Red Guard barracks are tidy and organized. It was all the two Reds could do to suppress their deeps seeded need to clean. Regaurdless, both walked on into the melstrom of madness. At least the smell was perfumed and the White Maidens bathed.
A few directions later and the two found Sarah Gringill wrapped up in bedding with a glass of hot bean-juice precariously balanced on a stack of papyrus. She wore an entire white sheet as her veil and used both her hands, one to hold and read a scroll, the other was petting something black beside her. "Red Guard material." Madeline muttered.
"I can hear you, Madeline Fallbringer." Said Sarah. "Please, pull up a pillow."
When Anna knelt before the Maiden, she nodded inwardly to herself. It was no surprise to see Gringill has a red linie tatooed from her scalp down her body, bisecting her. The White Maidens, also unlike their Red sisters, did not have ranks. Everyone was on the same level of power. Some, however, would be such a remarkable creature that they would honored with the red tatoo, signafying that this particular White Maiden was something truly unique among the church.
"Miss Gringill," Madeline started, but Sarah held up her hand. A motion from a supirior to be silent until they were finished with their current task. Madeline shot Anna a look that clearly asked "Can you believe the nerve?"
Anna flexed her awareness and tried to read Sarah as she finished reading the Scroll. A scroll, she noticed, with the Red eye of Mandra on the seal. Rules, most likely, and the basic principals of the Red Guard. Fingers next. The were well manacured, but with tiny burns on the tips. Anna couldn't say what they were from. Odd. The stack of papyrus under her cup looked like treaties and ixxar documents, as well as a symbol Anna didn't recognize. All together, Gringill spoke of someone who collected knowledge and had a strange hobby she did without her gloves. Ah yes.
"She preparing for the transfer to Major." Anna whispered. "Perhaps liaison with the Ixxar or the council."
"Very good, Anna." Sarah said, smiling. "Now ponder the burns on my hands in silence while I finish this." Anna blushed, but turned her mind to work on the burns. Sarah helped, still reading, by holding up her petting hand to show off the burns. They were dark and dry, not like fire. More like she grabbed an ember with all five fingers. It was the same on her other hand. Black and brown dry burns.
Finally Sarah finished and sighed. She put down the scroll and gave her full attention to Anna. "There. Any ideas?"
"I can only guess that you picked up something ashen with both hands. I'm rather at a loss."
"At the risk of sounding too mysterious, I can only say you may find out yourself before the day is old. Have either of you had breakfast?" The two nodded. Madeline could not un-narrow her eyes. "It's quite alright, Miss Fallbringer. I won't destroy 2,000 years of political structure."
"Just from curiousity, ARE you just to be a liaison between the Red and White branch of the church?"
Gringill giggled. "Oh no. No, I've already worked it out with the High Priestess. I shall be inducted tomorrow, I think. In about a week, I think, all the arrangements I have with your branch shall be fulfilled. Then we'll see the start of something interesting, Miss Fallbringer. Something very interesting." She waved it away. "But I'm not in the habit of giving away surprises." She pulled the sheet off her head and laughed. Her cyan eyes gleemed, especially as they were surrounded by dark dark tan skin. "I must admit, Anna, you're amazing. You're research regarding the council eight seasons ago was beautiful! Somewhere in this mess, I have your report to Major Eleanor. Incredible!" She reached over and put her hands in Anna's lap. "Personally, I didn't have to meet you, I could have sent Gravedust your way, but I'm something of a fan." Gravedust, a name? "Please tell me you still keep in touch with Drate Felfkin."
"Uh...oh yes." Anna wasn't used to praise like this. "He lives south as a clock-smith."
"I noticed your report left out a certain Effee. That was wise."
"What's she talking about?" Madeline asked.
"It doesn't matter, I'm just gushing." Sarah fanned herself. "I've a meeting with the Council-Ixxar at noon, and I must get ready. You see, Anna, I'm just a stepping stone in this conversation. I'll let you two get aquainted." She shook the black thing at her side. "Gravedust, wakey wakey."
"How did you know Cherry would fetch me?"
"Please, Anna. It's Cherry. She's quite the chatterer."
The black thing uncurled, revealing a slump of a womume, at least Anna thought she was a womume. She was pale as the marble around her, much of her skin covered in blue veins. Her clothes could have been White Maiden, but they had been dyed black. Her purple lips uncovered yellow crooked teeth in a grimace. "Too bright." She said in a low gravely tone. "Where's the dark?"
Sarah Gringill took a sip of her bean-juice and handed the rest to Gravedust. "Drink, it'll help." The thing threw a blanket over her head and pulled the cup under with her. "And with that, ladies, I bid you fairwell. They haven't fitted me for a uniform yet." She drew a thick white veil from under her pillows and threw it over her head. On her way past, she put an ungloved hand on Anna's shoulder. "When you're done, no matter what happens, come back to Annalow." And she disappeared between the pillars.
"I would peel away the flesh from my arm before setting eyes on that dread fire again." Gravedust was in a foul mood. The few times Anna and Madeline were able to see the flash of yellow teeth under the blanket they had been gnashing and biting. "Which one of you is Anna Goldeyes...No, nevermind. It's the one with Gold Eyes, right? Ugh."
"Sorry," Anna started, "but what are you?"
Madeline leaned over to Anna to speak under her breath, "I think she's a Cemetery Girl."
"A what?" Anna didn't get an answer because a set of Manicles flew out from under the blanket.
"I don't need both of you. Just that one." Gravedust pointed a pale finger from underneath. "Goldeyes."
"No you're not." Madeline stood up. "I know you creatures, and she either stays or I come with." Another set of manacles landed at Madeline's feet.
"Before anyting, Gravedust, I need to know what's going on. I wasn't made aware of a summons or plan."
Gravedust gowned. "Typical." She sighed. "Queen Nara Nakki requests you, Anna Goldeyes. For your submission she trades safety in her queendom."
"What's that mean?"
"It means we promise not to torture or kill you." The blanket shook with laughter. "For the other, no promises."
"But...you're a Mume. Surely you don't kill-"
"Oh please. Oh please." The yellow teeth clicked "Spare me your ideology, Red Guard. We won't hurt you."
Anna found herself being pulled upwards. Madeline had had enough. "Don't trust her OR Nara Nakki."
"Queen Nara Nakki never lies!" Burst the dark girl.
"No," Madeline said "But she deceives. You didn't say Anna wouldn't be hurt or killed, just that YOU wuoldn't do it."
"We make no promises what the womume does to herself." Gravedust showed her cruel yellow smile from under. "How could we make such a pact?"
"Come on, Anna." She pulled the Red Guard away and they started walking and stepping around pillows. "These mumes are abominations of Mandra. They ONLY value and trade death and pain. I don't care what they're offering you, if you caught Nara Nakki's eye, something's wrong."
"Miss Goldeyes?" Gravedust could still be heard from behind the pillars and curtains. "Nara Nakki knows Lily Ripper!"
Madeline's fingers slipped away. She turned to see Anna walk right back to the black thing. "Ugh, Mandra grant me strength." Madeline followed.
"How would this Queen even know about my search?" Anna crossed her arms. "And what are the terms?"
"What? No 'Lies and Deciet?' I'm disappointed."
"I thought Nara Nakki never lied?" Anna pulled the blanket from off the girl. She squeeled and shrunk into a ball, protecting her eyes. "You have my attention, Cemetery Girl. Now convince me to follow you in chains."
"We trade in pain, Anna Goldeyes, but only with each other. With everyone else, we trade in information, and only Queen Nara Nakki knows who your ripper is. She wants to help."
Madeline wasn't impressed. "Why? What for?"
The thing rose to show her face, grinning under her black veil. "Perhaps she's tired of Lily Ripper."
Anna squatted in front of Gravedust, then pulled the veil off, forcing another squeel from the thing. "Do you Cemetery Girls have children?"
Gravedust put both her hands over her eyes. "Ugh. So bright."
"Of course we do!" The thing grimaced in pain. "We fight and fuck and birth and eat. Sometimes all at once."
"And you worship death!" Yelled Madeline.
"But we DO NOT KILL!" The thing yelled back. Then she shrugged and grinned. "At least, not on purpose." She struggled to pull her hands from her eyes and squinted to see Anna. Her eyes were cyan, like Sarahs. "And even Queen Nara Nakki, who I have witnessed bathe in the rotted blood of fresh dead, would not kill her own children."
Madeline crossed her arms. She gave the thing a good long look and opened her mouth to speak. She was cut off, however, by the clink of Anna's manacles.