One could only imagine the amount of effort a mume requires to fight one of their most basic urges, that of curiosity. When faced with the choice between saftey and the closure that may certainly lead to one's end, for a mume it is no choice at all. Master Drte summed it up most elequently as Anna told us this last part in person.
"You would read the last page in a burning house!"
It was not a complement.
"How long have you been watching me, Gravedust?"
Anna was leading the way, this time, a torch in hand to light the yellow-orange walls of the catacombs.
"You gathered my attention twenty or so seasons prior, Playth- I mean Anna."
Anna smirked. The black thing was in her territory, now, lost in a maze of tunnels and passageways. Occasionally, they would pass a Marf working on the internal structures of the Plateau or outlining plans for future architecture. Gravedust shuddered when they passed. "Their visage disturbs me so."
"I gather that Gringill visited you lot as part of her studies to become Red Guard." Gravedust nodded unconsciously. "And that, no doubt, is where you expressed interest in me. No Nara Nakki."
"My Queen had a passing wonder of you. She did not truly fall in love until you visited. Her words, 'Such a keen brain sits atop that frame would explode every secret of Annalow into view.' I was ecstatic at the thought of your recruitment."
"Why?" Anna stopped. She realized that the girl was no longer following her. "It's a simple Ques-" She stopped because Gravedust wasn't thinking, she was staring at Anna with the district expression of disbelief. Anna looked around. There was nothing special in view. "What is it?"
"Little playgirl, have you never given thought to your own value?" Anna flashed a look of confusion, then turned to continue down the passages.
"It's not something I think about, no. I have rather more important things to process."
"You've heard it before. You are not just intelligent, but remarkably lovely."
"Not enough to warrant obsession, Gravedust." Anna rolled it around in her head. "And just for the record, I prefer the company of males. Not that Cherry hasn't tried."
The black think sighed. "It's just as well. You would make a poor Cemetery Girl, Plaything."
"Finally, you've found how to flatter me."
It was an hour still before Anna lead them to an exit. The doorway left out into the Docks at the east end, perhaps two blocks from the entrence to the garden. There was a 10 foot drop to a nearby building.
"This is no pathway." Gravedust commented.
"It's as close to the grave yard as I know, now help me down, then I'll catch you."
"As silent as the grave" is an excelant description for the Docks Cemetery. The muffled sounds of moans and screams were not present as then entered the gates. No black clothed nightmare to greet them or slither from the coffins of rock played or whispered. The graves were asleep.
Gravedust gripped Anna's fingers as she led the way into the furthest crypt from the gate, on the opposite side of Red Sleep's mound. When she spoke, she did so under her breath. "The Queen waits for only you. Drips of pain fall onto her guest below the filth of the dead, Anna Goldeyes, where no one can hear him protest."
"Drips of...What does that mean?"
"Shhh. Keep your voice low." Gravedust pulled at an iron gate to the crypt. She winced at every creep and rusty squeek. "It means there needs to be at least three dozen more words for agony, my sweet one." Anna was guided in first, the gate closed behind her. "Do not worry, Plaything. The was out is for you to take anytime you choose, but we part here." She smiled. "For now. Watch for my eyes in darkness." She kissed the bars and slid away, presumably under a grave of her own.
Anna jabbed her torch at the dark, clearing a path to explore. At the center of the crypt was a simple stair well that decended deeper than Anna could know. There was a sense of inverted vertigo. Anna spent more than an hour climbing downward, and still there was no bottom to reach. The pathway presented to her did not split or detour, but turned left and right, back and forth. A disgn to hide sound, Anna guessed, because at each turn, there was a noise distant that was being unmuted. The rythem was that of a baby's cry, but as she grew closer to its source, it sounded more primal, perhaps animal.
Finally, at the end of a long hallway, there was a light. Anna extiguished her torch and tucked it under her belt. She made an effort to avoid the few rocks in the soft dirt floor and sneaked closer. The brighter the light became down the hallway, the louder voices could be heard under the cries of the dying animal.
"He's my son." Nara Nakki sobbed to someone. There was a murmur, then "...no one could have known."
The other voice was calm and pleasant. Like a voice Anna heard in a dream she forgotten about. "Things must balance. Anything else and I would lay it bare before you."
Anna braved an eye around the corner. Inside was a simple antichamber with torches of its own. Nara Nakki in her gold robe sat crying against a wall while a womume in white cradled her head. The unknown womume was so pale her skin could be marble, as was her hair. She turned her head to see their voyeur, but Anna pulled away, back against the corner.
"I must go, precious Queen. Be well."
And then silence. The music of cracling torches spun their tale of stillness. Even Nara Nakki had stopped sobbing, opening a case filed with something. "It's alright, Anna. You can come now."
When Anna leaned around the corner, it was hesitantly. She had felt like the first time she witnessed her parents making love in the living room. As if she had interrupted something personal. The chamber had no other exit than the heavy stone door behind Nara Nakki and the way Anna came. "Who...what was that?"
"Unlike Gravedust, we offer nothing for free, Anna Goldeyes." Nara Nakki hadn't moved and her eyes were still red from tears, but she had two long stemmed pipes. She stuffed petal into one of them and offered it to Anna. "Shall we pick up where you left off? It's alright, we're quite alone."
"Have you been told that your voice sounds like you've eaten too much honey?"
Nara Nakki smirked. "Sit." Anna obeyed. "I've only been told that my screams were beautiful and I shouldn't leave the world poor of them." Nara Nakki stuffed the second pipe. "I am new to this, so be on guard."
"I don't think I'de ever want to understand you lot." Anna said, pulling a bundle of tendertwigs from her jacket. She struck one and lit her pipe, pulling on the petal slowly before lighting Nara Nakki's. The Queen choked and coughed, unable to hold the smoke in. Anna chuckled. "Yeah, you're new, alright."
Nara Nakki regained composure before trying again. "We do not strangle each other, Anna Goldeyes. It's too dangerous, and I'll not lose my girls if I have to." The second breath ended with another cough.
"You're trying to hard. Pull the smoke into your mouth, but don't inhale, yet." The Queen tried it. "Now pull away the pipe, open your mouth and breath in. Good, do that a few times before you start really breathing the petal."
So it was for the next few minutes. Anna taught the Queen of the dead how to smoke the purple flower. Eventually, Nara Nakki got the hang of it. "This is quite nice."
"Draw it in slowly and hold it as long as you can. Madeline showed me that." The two womumes leaned agains the wall. A quite scene if not for the animal noises behind the door. "You may want to stop at one pipe tonight, Nara Nakki. You'll feel sick later on."
"Is it night? We have no concept of it here in the Docks." the Queen sudelly jerked toward Anna. No, that wasn't right, she was jumping away from something. Anna saw it and giggled. "You can see it? What is it?"
"It's just a ribbon of smoke. They gather around you as the fog sets in." Anna shove the Queen back over. "You're very strange when you're not being strong for the troops."
Nara Nakki tightened her skeletal grip on her pipe and stuck the stem back in. "We've not had a good day, Anna Goldeyes." She sighed a purple wisp from her lips. "But we are doing our best to keep things even. You're Mister Felfkin that you speak with, he said something that stuck with me."
"Stop reading my letters."
Nara Nakki ignored her. "He said 'For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction."
"Things must balance." Anna quoted the strange womume.
"Yes. Things must balance. And for us, the coins and trade must be equal."
"And since you value pain." Anna looked behind them at the door. "I think I understand, but there's more, isn't there?"
Nara Nakki's smile was weak. "We have birthed perhaps 100 children, Anna Goldeyes. Most of them girls."
"And yet you've never had the petal!" Anna laughed.
The Queen rolled her eyes. "Technology is getting out of hand these last fifty years. Alchemy is no exception." She looked at her pipe. "Who thought it would be a good idea to inhale a smoke that stangles you when you try it?" Back into her mouth the pipe went. "We can count ever boy we've sired. Welton Nakki, Mortemer Nakki, Achlen Nakki, all beautiful creatures and all understood the value of pain, giving and receiving." She took a moment to draw long on the pipe. As she spoke, tendrils of purple left her. "Never have I had a child so determined to resist this idea that pain is for trade. That when you hurt another, there needs to be a trade of something equal."
"You're insane, Nara Nakki. You think you can equalize this by torturing your son?"
"Oh," Nara Nakki shrugged, "that's an easy chapter to write. He lessens his suffering by offering us something in return. You have such a thing on you now." Anna subconsciously fiddled with the needle in her jacket. "But lives were lost, and that's harder to replace."
"And hearts broken."
"Yes, there's a lot of debt. So much to be put into balance. And he is not strong enough to replace all he's stolen."
"So you're...what? Going to have him sire twenty or so little girls?"
"For starters. And this," Nara Nakki waved at the screams, "will never end. We have ways to keep him alive for many many years. We, personally, have ways to make him immortal, tho that won't be necessary." She rubbed the door softly. "When he's allowed to die, his debt will be paid. By then, I expect, he will be quite mad. Insane with years of unending agony. We've seen what that can do to someone. It changes them in horrible ways and twists their minds with spite," She shrugged sadly, "but things will be equal. And we will continue to replace the sprinkler over his body with his own blue paint."
"Why are..." Anna almost didn't want to know, "Why tell me this? I thought you gave nothing away from free."
Anna's head was pulled to the Queens breast. They weren't as clammy as she expected. They were warm and natural, contrasted against the burned boney hands that held. Was Nara Nakki crying?
"You gave mercy to my son. You're retrieved him in such a way that would heal a wound on the city he afflicted with this savage outcry that was the last girl's body."
"Idiot womume," Nara Nakki sobbed. "Still ignorant of the waved you make in this pond. If he was simply captured, Annalow would be in chaos and the debt he'd have to pay would last forty life times. Now, at least, he will be allowed to die."
Anna shook off the queen. Her tears confused her and her praise was strange. "You make no sense, Nara Nakki. I didn't do this for him!" Anna stomped, trying to regain control of her anger. "I don't care if he burns in electric fire until the Gods claim back all of Mash'ta! I did it for the souls who suffer still, haunting that broke ally ways of MY CITY!"
"And yet, it doesn't matter, Anna Goldeyes. When you see justice done, you do everyone a goodness." Anna grunted in frustration. "Even the thieves of lives." Angrily, Anna ploped down in the dirt, opposite the Queen. She bit hard down on her pipe and pulled in the smoke, trying not to look at the pale womume. "It doesn't please you that Peter Nakki suffers so much like this victims?"
"No." She mumbled. "It doesn't bring back the children."
"And do you think it pleases them?"
"No. They don't care, either. Mandra save their spirits that curse the allyways."
"She shall." Nara Nakki drew again on the pipe. "Do you think that we don't already know his burning pain satisfies no one?" Anna stared hard at the Queen, giving no answer. "Because we do. So the question stands, Anna Goldeyes, Why do we torture him so?"
"Because," Anna pointed the pipe at her, "you Cemetery Girls are the twisted inmates that assume it matters. Because you think everyone else values pain, just like you."
"Please. Tomorrow, go into a tavern and mention that you know what happened to Lily Rpper. Say that he suffers perhaps for eternity at the hands of his brethren for the crimes he's committed. Ask them if that's justice."
Anna said nothing for a long time. They say and smoked and entered the fog together. Eventually, the pipe ran dry and Nara Nakki put her's down. "It seems that's all we should try for today. Thank you, Anna Goldeyes, for helping me understand this new thing with Petals. Is there anything I can give in return?"
"Yeah, tell Gravedust to stop stalking me."
Nara Nakki opened her red eyes wide, her look of insanity. "Oh no, Anna Goldeyes. She's more fond of you than I am. But I will say she's spoken of watching you bath at night. You may want to do that during the daylight from now on."
"Thank you." Anna stood up and emptied the pipe on the ground. "That does actually help." Stretching her mussels, Anna tried to clear some of the purple fog. "Are we equal, now?"
Nara Nakki didn't move. She took the pipe from Anna and put both away in a rumorwood box. "I feel you hold the upper hand, still."
"Then I have one other question, which has bugged me since I left the farm. You must have traced me there with effee magic that seemed to have come from Madeline. Even she seems aware that the Effees have magic, but she didn't seem to know what you were talking about when you mensioned my friend's delivery methods. How did you get Maddy's help with the alchemy when she herself didn't know how to use the effee flower?"
"She told you not to call her that." Anna shrugged. Of course Nara Nakki would have overheard. "And to answer your question, she didn't, I used it. We made a trade for the flower, not for her help. We used to be High Priestess, after all." Anna coughed and sputtered. "Of course we would know how Effee Magic works."
"Are you..." Anna slapped her forehead. "You couldn't be...Needessa?"
The pale womume smiled and closed her eyes. "We believe that settled our trade, Anna Goldeyes. Leave in peace. The next time you come, we would like to do things to you. Gravedust especially."
Anna lit her torch and did just that. She left first at a study pace. Upon hearing Nara Nakki's laughter she walked a bit faster. The echo left behind spured her to climb the stairwell quickly, and when the silence was behind, she decided that she was done with the Cemetery for life. She left through the gates of the grave yard in a dead run.