Agonycrust, or 'Crust' to her sisters, was faster than any of the bandits had ever seen. Tho barefoot, she ran through the fields and over rocks without a thought or care to the rough terain. She was also hard to see, wearing her blue hooded cloak with black veil and gown underneith. Very hard to spot in an overcast night.
She jumped bounced off a tree and dove on top of one of their boys. He rose his hand to protect himself, but a long cruel needle jammed through it and staked him to rush's home. Two other boys surrounded the black thing, now that she was against a wall. "Get 'er! She's only a girl!"
Crust turned to smile at the bandits. Her grin made them ill. It was sick with sadism and madness. "Er...you first, Bill." Bill didn't hesitate. He swung his sword hard at the black thing who ducked effortlessly under and came up between his arms. She grabbed his skull and sent horror after horror into his borc brain. He stopped screaming the morning after next.
The bandit leader stepped forward with another two boys. "I don't know what she is, but I think we need ta' kill her just to keep her from killing us!" He yelled over Bill's screaming.
"Yesss." The girl hissed. "I like this idea. Let's play some-" She was interupted. The house had a front door to the side of their fight, and that door was kicked open from inside by a heavy leather boot.
"What's going on here?!" It was Bliss. She was wearing a night gown and a sleepy grump's face.
"Ah shit," The Bandit leader snapped a couple of times and everyone scattered. Everyone except for the boy pinned and Bill who was busy wrestling with demons.
Crust smile gleefully. "Something new to play with?"
"Shut up, black thing." The womume stepped up to the boy and pulled the needle out of his hand and Grush's wall. "You, take you friend to a doctor or something."
"Was it those boys again?" Grush leaned out of the house. His hairy head was barely covered by a night cap.
"Go back inside, Grush. They've run away." Most of them, in any case. The boy was trying his best to drag a screaming friend away. "You," Bliss looked Crust over. You look alright. Did they hurt you?" Crust smiled and turned her head. It was hard to see, but it might have been what she was looking for. So hard to see in the retched light of Grush's torch light. "You better come inside. I'll patch you up, don't you worry."
"Yeah yeah." Bliss got behind the girl and pushed her. "Inside, Cemetery Girl. We all know what's going on."
Fields of Silver Wheat waved in the nights wind when Agonycrust was pushed in. "Grush, turn down the lantern. Owr guest doesn't like too much light."
Grush obeyed. "Looks like they got 'er good, they did. Nasty cut there. What...er... What exactly is she, Bliss?"
Bliss shrugged. "She's a thing from the city." She sat Crust down at the table and uncovered a pitcher of Leaf-juice. "Get the bandages, Grush."
"Oh..uh...I think they're out in the shed, Bliss. You know, for the effees in the field and that lot."
"Right right. The bandits won't return tonight, I think. Take the lamp with you. We won't need it yet."
"Right, then." Grush picked up the Lantern and left, leaving the moon's faint glow to light the room.
Bliss sat down across the table and pointed. "They cut you, black thing."
"This wound..." Crust reached to her side. There was a cut bleeding badly. "I cherish it."
"I'm impressed. I've only been gone for two hands of days and Nara Nakki already tracked me down. Red Guard couldn't do that."
"This name you have."
"Bliss. It's what I felt when I saw this farm."
"It's stupid, Plaything."
"Did your Queen tell you to call me that?"
The blackened girl frowned. "Why? Don't you like it?"
Bliss scratched the back of her head. "You people. I'll never understand you. How did you do it?"
Crust smiled again. "Oh, we only trade information for pain, Plaything." She winced as Grush came back with a basket of bandages, salves, and the like.
Bliss took it from him. "What's your name?"
"Agonycrust." She covered her eyes, still unused to the light. "Crust to my sisters."
"Take off your top, Agonycrust."
Grust blushed. "Oop. Don't think I'm meant to see this."
"We'll be fine, Grush. Go back to sleep. I'll see you in the morning before I get back to finishing the fence."
"Right-o." Grush couldn't leave fast enough. The Cemetary girl was doing as told and stripping, leaving just her skirt and belt on. The wound was thin, but went all the way to the ribs. The rest of her body seemed already covered in healed gashes and cuts.
"Now, Agonycrust," Bliss starting working on the girl's wound, applying herbs and wrapping it with bandage, "if it were I looking for me, I would try and track down the post. You were told that my friend, Felfkin, has unusual ways for delivering the mail, but I don't. Somehow, I have a guess to how, Nara Nakki followed the post from me to Drate, back to me, then you just started searching the general neighborhood. How am I doing?"
Crust frowned again. She had hoped ths Mume would call her "crust." "How would we have followed your friend's letter? There is Magic we don't know..." She hissed.
"I used to have an alchemist as a friend who once told me that a flower exists for every race's magic. Magic was used to deliver me my post, so alchemy is used to trace it. Which probably means you have a letter from my alchemist friend, as the Cemetery girls have little interest in alchemy. Interesting because I don't think my friend knows about Effee Magic. Perhaps a hand of people in Mash'ta do."
"A letter, no." Bliss made a noise. "A message. Yes. She just says 'Please come home.'"
"Madeline doesn't know the word 'please.'"
"I was given the message directly, Plaything." Bliss was silent. She finished tying the bandage and began to put away all the healing items. "I see why my Queen craves you so." Bliss didn't respond. She put the basket away and poured herself a drink. "She sends her regards and requests your presence with...different terms." Bliss laughed. "Different terms. Not in her realm. She wishes to meet you outside the city, at the plateau's edge."
"Why would I do that? I've severed all ties with Annalow, Agonycrust."
"Well, how about..." But Bliss knew what she was going to say and held up her hand. "Ah, good."
"I sent a question to Nara Nakki before. This was just before I left. Did she send an answer?"
Crust turned her head on it's side. "I have no knowledge of it." The two sat there. Bliss in her night gown, Crust in her veil. Both said nothing for a long time. Crust, after studying the womume for a while, broke the silence. "May I ask you a question?"
"I'll trade if you will."
"Oh, I would gladly suffer for you."
"No." Bliss poured another drink. "Information for information. I don't care if you hurt, Agonycrust."
Crust thought about it and nodded. "Fine." Bliss waved on. "How are you alive?"
"When a mommy mume and a daddy mume find each other atractive-"
"I mean with the edge of the city, Plaything. How did you live through the fall?"
"It wasn't hard. The walls of the Plateau aren't straight up and down, they're just steep. Very Steep. I ruined my cloths, and got a scrape here and there, but otherwise just took care when sliding down. It took about an hour to drop. A traveling merchant thought I was an escaped slave. Pretty funny, now that I think about it."
"Why did you leave like that?"
"Hold on. One deal at a time. How did you become a Cemetery girl?"
Crust smiled her crooked teeth. "I was sold as a child."
"A slave then?"
"It isn't always the way, Plaything. All my sisters are different and come by different means. I was sold when I was 20 seasons old. I was first trained to love our currency, then I was trained to read minds. Then I was trained to control my body. Then I was training others."
"Of course they trained you to love your currency."
Crusts smile broadened. "Pain is an acquired taste."
"I disagree, but go on with your question."
"Why did I leave the City?" Bliss shrugged. "Figured you would know. I was demoted from nothing to nothing in the Red Gaurd."
"No, that is why you left the Red Guard. Why did you leave the city?"
"I told you."
Crust crossed her arms. "That's not a popper answer, Plaything. You left your town, your friends, your office, and everything. Why?"
Bliss stared down into the moonlit tumbler of leaf. "Well, I," It was still there. It had only been two hands of days and Crusts coming meant nothing had been resolved. Lily hadn't been caught, her friends hadn't forgiven her, all that research probably still slept in her office. "I don't know."
"That's not an answer, either." Crust shimmied back into her top and her cloak.
"Who was Applebone?"
"I'll not give an answer for nothing." Crust walked to the door.
"Look at me." When she did, Crust smiled wide. Bliss was wincing as she drove the needle in and under her finger-nail. She spat out the words like bad bread. "Who was Applebone?"
Crust returned to the table and sat gently down. "We each have different ways we enter the Queendom, Plaything. Applebone was one of the rare ones who were born into it."
"Was she your daughter?" Bliss pulled the needle out.
"Can I get another figner?"
"No. It's part of the same question."
Crust sighed. "She was Agetha's, the gate keeper. But we all raised her. Queen Nara Nakki is our protector and ruler, but we are all sisters and daughters of each other, Anna Goldeyes." She stood up again. "She was the daughter of us all. Look, I was going to put this a place you could find it, but..." From out of her cloak, Crust pulled loose a set of black gloves with the eye of Mandra on them. She placed them on the table and walked away. "If you wish to speak with Nara Nakki, come to the east edge of the Plateau three days from now, where the cliffs meet the sea. Come at night. And," She opened the door, "You're friend truly misses you."
"Fallbringer. Her message was to me and not through my Queen. We trade in information..." She looked at Bliss. "And pain." And she was gone.
Anna sat in the dark for a long time, focusing on the gloves. She had wondered if Madeline hurt herself for that message or if it was another trick. Agony crust never explicitly said how she was paid, but Anna believed she wasn't lying.
The light brightened. Grush was there, turning up the flame in the lamp a bit. He hung it on a metal hook that jutted out of the stone wall in an awkward way. "Well, that clears up a bit, I think. Makes sense, it does."
"Seems my life was laid bare, Grush."
"S'aright, Bliss. We all 'ave are worries and problems and such."
"You know," Anna laughed, "she probably started that fight outside to see what I would do. I've no doubt she was testing to see if she found the right house."
"Did us a service, then. If they got this close then they were threatening ta' start somethin' else. So," Grush sat down, "anything else you been lying about?"
Anna motioned him to calm. "Just the name, Grush. Just the name."
"Anna, is it?" He nodded. "I sort of like that better than Bliss. Thought you Mumes were creative types. Bliss. My word." He held his hands out. "Welp. You gonna meet this queen person or no?"
"Meet the...Ha." It wa a genuine laugh. "No, Grush. No. There's no way I would meet Queen Nara Nakki on her own terms. She's so dangerous you wouldn't believe."
"I think after tonight you could convince me of anything, you could. But it ain't right what your do'n here, Miss Anna."
"Just Anna is fine."
"Still ain't right. You got a task 'ere that needs tending to, sounds like. And a friend that need ya'."
"And a fence that needs mending."
The Borc laughed it off. "Fence. My word. I can have the slaves tend to the fence." He pointed. "But you're no slave, Anna, Bliss, or whatever. You're a Red Guard, you is. Someone told me they were elite."
Anna smiled and stirred her Leaf. "You have no idea what that means."
"Maybe not. But I know how ta' farm like a Borc, I do. And I like to think I know when somethin' that needs do'n is done. But Bah, Miss Anna-Bliss-person. You should know all this. Ya' started somethin' and, like it or not, you know you ought ta' finish it. 'Specially if it involves friendship and all that muck." There was silence again in the room. "Also there's that bit you said about the City fall'n apart, you did." Again, nothing. "Well, I figure I can't make you mind up for ya'. I'll either see you in the morning, Bliss, or I won't. Either way, if'n you work an keep them bandits away, I'll still give ya' room and board."
He left for the night.
He didn't see her in the morning.