Giant Bird Racing
The next bits of story were pieced together roughly afterwards, so my apologies to Miss Fallbringer and Miss Wondermume if I wrote this down incorrectly.
During the eastern light, Lily's garden fades and quiets. The wind calms as it shifts from landward to seaward, but the rain had just started. Madeline took it all in as she focued on breath sitting just to the side of the cave. First fallen drops of rain water nearly shook her awake, but control was one of her better features.
She was listening.
Patience paid off. It first sounded like cracks of stone pepples falling from above, but only one of her ears burned with sound. Someone was coming. Quietly, she rose and flattened against the wall. Her gloves pulled away. She would shock the killer into unconsciousness and burn his mind away right then and there. Problem solved. No more killing.
The steps grew louder. Focus. Focus. There was no way she knew Madeline found this place. It was too secret. Focus. A bare hand came out and grabbed the side of the opening.
"All too easy." Madeline grabbed Lily, bare hand to bare hand. Shock and fire burned. The screams of child after child lined up in their own garden with different designs of blue lines. Needles grew from the ground and drilled through feet and legs and hips. Madeline was on fire with pain.
She stumbled back, completely dazed by the visions. Something horrible fell backwards as well. Back into the darkness of the passage. It got up and ran. NO!
"Stop! Get back here!" The Red Guard stumbled on her feet, still shaken, but in control. One foot in front of the other turned into a full force run. Who ever the damn beast was, she was faster. Madeline found herself putting her boots on the walls to push herself around corners. Leaping out into the back allies, she tackled for Lily's feet. Blast and blazes, she cursed her failure.
A heavy boot struck hard into her face, breaking her nose and sending electric shock of pain into her face. He Scrambled...He? Madeline scrambled as well, onto her feet, she wiped the blood spattered into her eyes and stumbled forward. Lucky Lucky Lily, she thought. you're going nowhere.
And he wasn't. She blinked her eyes open long enough to see a thick clay pot break her skull. The cobble ground rose to meet her and she crashed hard. The distant sound of boot steps running away was accompanied only by the sound of her last words before oblivion claimed her senses.
"Disgusting black thing."
Not all research is done underground in the dungeons. For the longest time, the Mume's have been trying to find a good mount creature that could run faster than themselves. Mumes rely almost entirly on Ox for cart pulling or tilling the land or the like. But Ox are not fast creatures, just strong, so a joint effort was made between the Red Guard researchers, lead by Major Melony, and the Annalow Territorial Army. Together they bred a new kind of beast and, on that particular day, was showing off over 4 generations of work at the schools.
"GOLDY!" Cherry couldn't believe it! She watched in terror as her friend slid, stumbled, and rolled down the side of the city. Before she knew it, Anna was a black spec, nothing more than an ant rolling down the side of the plateau. She could climb down to get her friend, but she'd be too late. What to do! What to do!
Cherry realized she had been watching and pulling her red hairs out. Down. She needed to get down. Trying to straighten her eyes, she took in all the land marks she could. It was be hours before she would get there and who knows what state her friend might be in.
She ran. Ran harder than she ever had before, back to the church and ducked into a little room where the white maidens keep sandles. Someone said something to her passing by. She turned to see another maiden and a red guard talking to each other. "Sorry. I have to go! Anna jumped the cliff!"
Cherry didn't stick around. She rushed into another room where there were three baskets of healing salves and ointments and rags. By habbit she started playing Eenie Meenie, but slapped herself out of it and just grabbed one.
When she burst out of the medicine room, one fo the white maidens grabbed her and pulled her out. "Blast you, Cherry! You don't have time to play in there!"
"I know that!" Cherry outpaced the other girl and they both jumped out of the window to the Rain soaked streets outside. There was this...thing that the Red Guard she saw was mounted on. "What is...?"
The red guard reached out and grabbed Cherry, pulling her up behind the guard onto the two legged giant bird-thing. "Shut up! Get on!" She said annoyingly. "Alice, fetch my platoon and tell them where we've gone. Uh." She turned to Cherry, "Where are we going?"
"East side of the Plateau!"
The guard nodded at Alice. "Do it!" And they were off. Cherry leaned close to the womume, gripping her hard in one hand with the basket in the other. The ride was not nearly as smooth as running, but the bird-thing was fast and nimble, dodging street-dwellers and hopping over carts and ox.
"What is this," Cherry shook up and down, vibrating her voice, "giant bird-thing?"
"Those aren't even words!"
"His name is Marti. Duck!" Cherry did, along with Marti, the Red Guard, and most of the citizens in the tunnelway that lead to the bizzar. Rain stung Cherry's eyes as they dove back out in the open.
"Can he fly?"
"Oh, Goddess no," the Red Guard laughed, "but he's smart as an Ibis and faster than Ox! That's for sure!" The Guard grinned, tightening her grip on the saddle hitch. "I'm Brandy, By the way!"
"Cherry! Uh...Pleased to meet you!"
"Cherry, Hang on! When Marti here hits the great ramp, you're gonna see some serious shit!"
It was like a mad play and the Ramp was the stage. When they got there, the morning crowd of merchants and visitors ducked and jumped out of the way, and they who didn't make it got a free emu foot print. Cherry heard one man behind them cry about his cabbages after Marti jumped on top of it and turned it over.
When they hit the bottom of the ramp, Marti took a sharp turn left toward the east and slid over sideways, panting. "Off!" Brandy cried, jumping and pulling Cherry with her. She leaned down and pet the poor beast. "He's not used to so much weight. You'll have to go ahead."
Cherry leaned down and pet Marti on the head. "Thank you, Marti. You did great." And Cherry was off.
"Don't worry!" Brandy yelled behind her. "They're coming!" Cherry hadn't the slightest idea what that meant, but she was grateful to the Red Guard because what should have taken an hour of running only took half as long.
Plateaus are not straight at the base. They slope at the bottom, makinging is hard to deturmin where Cherry should run. Too close and she would ware herself out, but too far and she would lose time. She poundered this, still running and trying to ignor the fatigue when she heard a rumbling behind her. When she looked behind, there were five more mumes, Army, it looked like, riding five more Dire Birdy-Thingies. "Oh, THAT'S what she meant."
It was an hour still before they got to the location Cherry recognized. The thin grass and wild wheat was green with rainfall, which you would think would make Anna's red trousers easier to spot, but they saw nothing and no one. The troops spread out, later joined by Brandy, and searched with Cherry for an hour more.
Cherry took it on herself to climb perhaps a hundred feet up the rock face. The most she got was a scrap of cloth that she couldn't be sure of. Bit of her gown tore as she half slid, half fell down the side. Anna was nowhere.
She planted herself aside the rock face and drew her knees in close. Her friend was gone. Anna was gone.
"There's no body, Miss." One of the soldiers rode up, sheilding his eyes from the rain. It looked like a salute. "There's every chance she's still alive." Cherry didn't answer.
They never found her.
Madeline sat at the corner table of Merick's Mug, nursing a lunch beer. It was think with gold-wheat and bitter, but a it helped numb the pain. Her nose was full of cotton and caked with blood. The church doctor and been rough with her, upset with the "Bar Fight" wounds Madeline collected from the Docks. Cherry soon showed up and waved down Glassneck for a pint herself. She sat with Madeline and neither of them said a thing.
"Rough day." Cherry said, leaning on her elbows. She was wet from head to toe, thin linen glown so soaked there was nothing left to imagine behind it. She rung her veil dry and put it aside the beer before drinking.
"Oh, you have no idea." Madeline touched her nose. Still tender.
Peter walked up and sat down. "Hi." He said, meekly. He looked at Cherry. He looked at Madeline and winced. Then he looked down at the table. "Where's Anna?"
"She hopped off a cliff." Cherry sunk lower in her hands, now hunched over her mug. Madeline chuckled behind her brew. "I mean it, Maddy."
Madeline's face froze. She shook her head. "You're strange, Wondermume. I'm sure she's in some dark crowded dungeons hovering over the traces of Lily Ripper right now. Maybe she went back to the Docks."
"She just hopped and slid down the side of the city." Cherry could feel the tears burbling up her nose and into her eye holes. "And left me... And you... And you... And the rest of..." The tears poured forth. Sobs of a lost friend, a sister even, tumbled forth into Cherry's hands.
"Not possible." Madline stood up. "I don't believe it!" She looked at Peter who was turned away, hiding his face toward the ground. "No. No no no. Show me a body." Her gloved fist pounded on the table like a roll of thunder. "Show me a body and I'll think twice."
"Shut up, Maddy. She's dead, okay? I saw her jump myself." Cherry's angry face looked unnatural.
Madeline shut her eyes. "Stay in control, Cherry." She sat down quietly. "Let's all control ourselves. Now, what happened?"
"She said she went rogue and..." Cherry snotted over her beer. "And then she said she was done and..." Snotty beer, she thought. That's gross. "And then she tumbled off the side of Annalow. And that was it."
"I... I mean. Sorry." Peter bowed over the table. "I was... I mean, I didn't know. I was going to ask her about something and thought she'd be here."
"Well she's not!" Cherry put her head on the table and cried. "She's not."
Madeline folded her arms. "Alright. Let's go down there and look-"
"We already did."
"Me and some army guys on birds."
"Oh yeah. The bird troop. Stupid idea." Madeline muttered under her breath about the idiocy of chicken-riding. "Did you find her?"
"No. There was nothing there but...stuff. Dumb stuff." She grabbed her hair and pulled. "Stupid Goldy! Stupid stupid Goldy!"
"Cherry, you moron."
"She's not dead. There's no body, remember? Anyway, she left us with a task."
Peter looked up. "What do you mean?"
Madeline smiled. "Idiot. We're going to catch us a murderer."