Blue and Green
Annalow is a laid back city, dispite how chaotic it can be. This is due to the unusually healthy weather, most of the year, and a strong Mume love of life that penitrates the attitudes of citizens and visitors alike. Traders, tho warey of the womumes (what with the females being the only magi allowed) find their wares generally apreciated and always feel safe, even in the seedier parts of town. It's this literal love of life, the energy of life and souls, that fills that atracts so much business and gold from all over Mash'ta.
So it is little wonder why the dead and dying are hidden away from even the Mumes. Everyone knows the dead are buries outside of city walls. Wakes last for hours as the body, wraped tight in a shroud and hidden from the mourners, is carried by the Mume's best friends and family down one side of the great ramp that leads south from the impossible plateau. Many traders set camps at the base of the ramp, but they know to part ways for the dead. The only other cemetery in Annalow was in the Docks. No one goes that anymore.
Where are the bodies kept until then, or cared for, or wrapped in shroud? The single and only morgue of Annalow, located in a disused dungeon at the south-east edge. It's walls are slick with humidity and the stone is a sickly blue and green that flickers with the lamp or candle used to light the way. No source of light hangs from the walls, an anomaly Anna notice when she visited. She had to suply her own lantern as she steps downward into the slick sick place.
Anna was no stranger to the complex catacombs and tunnles that wound like roots into the plateau. It had saved her life once or twice knowing how to get from the top to the docks without taking the normal side ramp. Still, this area of the dungeons she had not entered, nor did she want to now. This place smelled dead. It felt like something rotting.
Arrat Duffworm was not unknown to Anna. A pale Borc who stood a couple heads taller than herself and covered in more hair that she'de like to remember. She had met him after my rescue during the last murder investigation my master had conducted. Some may say the First investigation Annalow had ever seen. Anna remember Duffworm being a bit unkeped, and seeing him around the corner, he hadn't changed a bit in twelve seasons. His think fingers carefully worked a quill in an unpublishable book. He was making notes, it seemed, about the body now on the slab next to him.
His unnaturally large er twitched as Anna entered the dread room. He turned and smiled with big yellow teeth. "My word. Another one, eh? Well, I don't got a but one chair." He droped the quill, hastely messed with his hair, and pushed a chair toward Anna. "Er...Hope ya' don't mind the mess. I don't get but two visitor's a year an' now it' seems I filled my quota! Kind'a disapoint'n, you know? Noth'n to look forward to until next winter, I guess." Anna carefully examined the chair before sitting down. No telling what gore could be found there. "Well, I says to Betrum, here. That's this fellow. I says 'Wonder what that last one wanted?' She was 'bout your height, too. You got a sister?"
"No." Anna lowered the flame in her lantern before placing on the floor.
"Oh, where are me manners?" The pale borc wiped ink and...something onto his leather apron and held his hand out to shake. "Arrat Duffworm, Ma'am. At yer' service, I am." Anna thanked Mandra she was forced to wear leather gloves as she accepted the hand. "My word, a Red Guard? Seems like yer' in the wrong place 'ere, Ma'am. All these fellows is dead. No souls to read. Er..." Anna gave him a look of discomfert. "...well, you know your business, Ma'am."
"I'm Anna Goldeyes, Mr. Duffworm. We met a few years ago." Duffworm pulled his beard, looking at the cieling for the memory. "You knew Drate Felfkin?"
"Ah, well why didn't you says so. Me an' Drate are still trading letters! Mind you, I have no ideer' how he replies so fast. You'd think he still lived in Annalow, but I know that couldn't be." Anna knew, but she was sworn to secrecy. Red Guard's discretion.
Anna looked at the body on the slab, forcing herself not to look away. This wasn't just to take in the details, but like with the dead child, Heart Magi forced themselves not to run from horrible things. Looking at the dead stung, like a bee in her brain, but it was a sensation and another word for Heart Mage is 'Sensate.' "Who was he?" The words quivered a little as she spoke.
'Who, this fellow? See for yourself, you should." Duffworm motioned to Betrum. He was a naked and pale dead borc, almost as big as Duffworm, with purple at the bottom of the slab, veining upword a quarter way to his front side. "See them spots?" Duffworm pointed at his face. "I seen them spots before. It's a type of poison, see? No need to cut'em open this time. He were workin' with somethin' ta' help tan hides, is what I think. They use some nasty stuff to cure leather and I think he were just exposed to too much too quick. He's not the first."
"What's this purple under him?"
"It's blood, Ma'am."
"Please, just Anna will be fine."
"Anna then." Duffworm flashed a yellow smile again. "See, when a bloke dies, the heart stops, it do. An all that blood ain't got nowhere to go but down. Well, see, it pools at the bottom of the body, unless it been drained out properly. Normally, once I get'em, I make a point to make a cut here." He pointed at the back of Betrum's knees, "Sometimes other places, and I drain 'em first."
"Well, er...to slow down the rotting, you see? I know you mumes don't like thinking 'bout it, but you die and you rot. The blood rots first, 'cuz it's moist-like. Flies and the like enjoy moisture. I think their's something else to it 'cuz bodies rot even without the blood, but I'm still work'n on it, you see? Anyway, Betrum, here, died and stayed dead a while as no one noticed he were gone, so now his underside's all brused, see, an' that's the purple coloring."
"Did you get the body of a little girl in the other day?"
Duffworm looked away. "Oh. You're here for her, are you?" He homed and hawed for a bit. "I seen all the girls Lily Ripper gives me, I do." Something dawned on Duffworm. Something big and he smiled just as big, turning to Anna. "Why of course. You're a Red Guard, you are. You're here to catch Ol' Lily!"
"Um..." Anna stood up. "Don't...tell anyone, will you? Technically, I'm not here."
"Oh right." the borc raised an eyebrow. "I suppose you's someone else, you is. Well, no one talks to me anyhow. Still," He shown his yellow teeth again. "It'd be nice to see fewer children in here. Help me get Betrum onto the cart and I'll show you the young missy."
A messy affair, moving a dead body. Anna had never touched one before and disliked the feeling. She and Duffworm maneuvered the cart through some of the darker hallways into a room who's walls were lined with death shrouds folded on shelves. "The Shroud room, obviously." Said Duffworm before motioning Anna onward.
A few twists and turns and Duffworm was leading her into cooler and dryer dungeons. That same sickly blue and green colored the walls. "You lot can read minds, eh?" Anna nodded, afraid speaking would force her to suck in more dead air. "I don't think it'd work, but you ever try read'n the minds of the dead?"
"There's no soul there anymore, Mr. Duffworm. Nothing to read."
"Aw well, just ask'n."
The shine of the walls disapeard completely when they were done climbing downwards. Duffworm lead her to a large room filled with shelves and dead bodies. All of them children. Anna's reaction was one of unutterable horror. She spun around in the doorway and ran down the hall.
So much death. It was hard enough to look at the one girl, but all of them were children. Borc, Mume, Ixxar, Effee, all races, it seemed. All dead and all small. Gastly images. Some in shrouds so with just sheets. All dead. All dead.
The spit of vomit bleed between Anna's fingers. She just realized she almost threw up into her hands. The Borc was leaning over her, seeing if she was okay. How long had he been there? There was something over her shoulders. A sheet? Was it a shroud? Thank Mandra, it was only a coat.
Anna looked up. The borc had enough time to go and get some leaf-juice brewed. He was offering her a cup. She had just realized she'd been sitting up against a wall. "Ma'am? It ain't get'n any hotter." Her fingers were shaking. Anna took off her gloves and grasped the cup. "S'aright. I thought you lot were all soildures and the like. I should'a warned you. It can get a might grim in there."
"Not many, this year. Mostly Lily's do'n with the kid's room. Here." Duffworm held out a hankercheif. Anna looked at him confused. "For your eyes, Ma'am." Her fingertips told her she'de been crying. For how long? It would be a bigger blow to her ego, but she thought even Major Eleanor would have collapsed at that sight. "Sorry, Miss Anna. Folks die. Young folk die, too. You...uh...sure you wanna see the girl's body?"
Anna shut her eyes and reaffirmed her focus. Cup down, gloves on, wipe the tears away, Anna. You're a Red Guard, for Mandras sake. "Yes. I have to."
"I'll just fetch the poor thing, then..."
"No. I'll go in with you."
Duffworm sized her up. Meeting her deturmined look with a nod he said "Right."
The morgue was lit just with Anna's and Duffworms two lanterns. Anna pushed herself to look. First with just one, then the other. It was a kind of mental atricioun. She kept reminding herself that these wern't just lumps of meat, they used to be children. They were the reason people like Lily had to be stopped. The reason she developed her art. The disgust she had before turned to anger and she was ready.
"Over here, Ma'am." Duffworm was in the corner of the room back a ways. All the shelves held little mume girls mostly bound in a shroud. "My boss and I tried to tell people to claim their dead, but with Lily Ripper's girls...er...well few get claimed."
"The mother's don't come to bury their children?"
"I think it's mostly they don't know about this place, Ma'am. Or they're afraid. You're the first to be in this room, but I thought you should see the other girls, what with your hunting Lily an' all." Anna nodded. "This here is the most reacent." Duffworm slowly lifted the sheet from one of the girls. It was the body Anna had already seen, a sun flower carved in flesh still on her chest, but...
"Where's the flower stem?"
"You meant he gut-rope? Oh, I tucked that back in. Not right it hang'n out like that."
"And the other girls?"
"Right." Duffworm uncovered two other girls. "These is the one's that weren't claimed, Miss Anna. Tomorrow, I'll wrap em up to be buried, too. Pity we don't know their names. Er...You should know that this recent one, she's already been seen by her mother."
"And what's her name?'
"Beatrix Mellowond. Mrs. Mellowond told us that yesterday." Duffworm sighed away a frown. "At least she'll get a proper send off."
Anna took a closer look at the other two girls. Designs on the skin were clear and geometric. "Look," she said, pointing at one of the girls, "the skill to do this pattern. This is a ship on it's side."
"Er...Yeah. Lily usually goes for flowers, like on Miss Mellowond, here."
"And this. I've seen painters work with less precision. The cuts are perfect."
"Imagine she got a lot of practice with the knife."
"Not just any knife, Arrat. A very very sharp knife. The movements are fast and sure, like caligrafy, and the depth of the cut. I don't see any purple around them, but there must have been blood pooling, like you said."
"Er...no. None of these girls came with a drop of blood. Only the first one, Ma'am."
Anna spun to face Duffworm. "How do you remember that?"
"Well, I keep notes, don't you know?" Of course. He was writing when she entered. "An after the first couple of bodies, I started a book just on Lily Ripper. Her work does stand out a bit."
"I wonder...Do you..." Anna hesitated. She would be too lucky if, "Do you keep diagrams of the cuts?"
"Oh yes, Ma'am. Ever since I begun studying anatomy and what not." Yellow teethy smile again. "An if'n you can stomp down this Lily person, you can keep the book."