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At least once a week, Agnes found herself with a need to stretch her legs. Sometimes this simply meant walking to a different bar other than her own, there to be a patron rather than a barkeep. On this particular occasion, she had just left Wade’s World after a hearty lunch and good conversation. As she shaded her eyes against the bright sun just outside the door, she felt a call from the Wardings, gentle but insistent. It felt like a young girl’s hand in her own, urging her to come see this new bug she had found. Agnes was never one to ignore her daughter’s spirit when she had something to say, so she turned away from the sun’s glare on the road that would have taken her to her pub. Instead she set out for the south, towards the poisoned river. The same river that had indirectly killed her daughter and left Agnes ill nearly her whole life.

As Agnes hobbled along, her slender ankles hidden under her long skirt throbbed with new sores. She barely paid them mind, however. In her long experience, thinking about the pain only made it worse. As she passed others on the road, they would nod to her and her to them. Many a “hello” was exchanged, and occasionally she would stop and briefly chat, though usually only if the other person had something further to say.

Her slow meander eventually brought the tall stone spikes within her view, rising up like a fence before the roar of the toxic wastewater beyond. She smiled at the familiar sight, watching the glint of the slanting sun off the brown weather-beaten pillars. The shadows between the pillars slanted towards the east, creating the seeming of a black fence that virtually blocked access to the river. Within those shadows were darker, more solid shadows – people. Most were members of the Red Hand - though some, like Agnes, were there because they felt the call of the Wardings.

How was it that she could feel protected and healed amongst the very rocks that had failed to save her daughter? Perhaps because she knew her daughter was with her now, though her physical body had wilted away. The stones called out to mother and daughter alike, them together briefly, though the veil between heaven and earth still separated them.

As she paced the long fence, heading slowly west towards her pub, she absently noted shrill screams as cucumbers were crunchily munched by people leaning against the pillars. Vile things. She could never understand why anyone would eat those. Once, shortly after Alana’s death, she had tried a cucumber offered her by a member of the Hand. It had left her writhing on the ground, sobbing, with no notion of where she was. She had believed herself to be Alana, in the final throes of her life. Fortunately, she had come out of it a few hours later. Some people spent days in a coma after consuming them.

A flurry of activity caught her attention beyond the stones. She paused, and warily stepped through a gap between two of them. A large red barge rested on the gentle slope leading to the river, and a group of Red Hands surrounded it, poking and prodding at something inside. As she approached, she heard a voice that she recognized, and the face that peered up out of the barge was that of one of her pub's regulars, Sam. “Can’t a man get any sleep around here?” he grumbled, batting at the hands that were poking him as he struggled to sit up. She saw a can of spray paint aimed at Sam’s face in the hand of one Hand. Sam saw it too, and smiled at the girl. “There now,” he said, pushing the can aside calmly. “I wouldn’t go wasting that on me. I’d wash it off before anyone could see your pretty art.”

The girl, however, ignored Sam and aimed her can again at his face, her finger about to press down on the nozzle.

“Enough!” Agnes scolded, stepping into their midst and smacking the one with the paint in the face. “Haven’t you lot got something better to do?”
The Red Hands looked at each other, shrugged, and scattered. Agnes looked down at Sam. “And you, best be off,” she said, grabbing him by the arms and exerting every ounce of strength she had. He stumbled to his feet out of the barge and clambered after her along the embankment. Once they were a safe distance, Agnes turned on him. “Don’t you have a home to sleep in?” she asked him point-blank.

Sam blinked at her. “No, ma’am.”

It was as she'd suspected. “Got a job?”

“No.”

“Now look here, young man,” said Agnes, poking a bony finger into Sam’s ribs. He jerked away and put a hand to his side, looking at her like a wounded puppy. “You are half my age. And you don’t see me sleeping all day long, do you now? I got a business to run.” She glowered at him. “I want to see you making something of yourself. Next week, I want to see you at my pub, and I want to hear you say you’ve got a job. I don’t care what it is. You can be sweeping the floor at Wade’s World, for all the good it’ll do you. That place is a rat’s nest.” Agnes considered it only fair to mock competitors to her pub. They did the same to her. “Is that understood?”

Sam stared at her, still rubbing his side, though she couldn’t possibly have left a mark on him. “Why…why do you care?” he asked finally. “What do I matter to you?”

Agnes put her hands on her hips. “You’re one of mine,” she said, meaning one of her customers. “I’m only sorry I didn’t see your need for an ass-whoopin’ sooner.” With that, she turned and stalked away along the edge of the river. She’d seen what her daughter had wanted her to see.