The guard stumbled from under Anna and headed to the street. His whistle screaming like a dying bird, a cry for help from any city guards near bye. Off duty, but prepared, the guard was.
Anna realized that she had been pushing herself into the wall away from the body in the shadows. The haze of illusion ran from her mind like rats jumping off a doomed ship, a ship on fire, a mind on fire. The image stung, but she forced herself to look as her Heart Mage training took over. Don't turn away, Anna. Don't close your eyes. Savor it. "No." She wimpered to herself, fighting the urge to run from this place. "Don't make me."
One hand placed in front of the other. One knee in front of the other. Anna realized she was crawling closer to the image, drawing outlines around the curved shapes. It was Mume, once. Now bloodless pale beads of mist polished the flesh and inside. The meat showed underneath, carefully shaped and folded to spiral like sun rays from the heart and out onto the cloth. From the center, also, was a single strand of unused gore pulled and curled down the body toward the crotch with bits cut and peels to look like leaves on a flower stem. The thing's face was at rest, peaceful, with a lily in it's lips.
No, not a thing, Anna thought. This was a life lost. I'm running away again. The was a little girl.
"Great Bear!" The unfamiliar voice came from behind Anna. Two sets of arms pulled her up. "It never ends, do it?" He was another city guard, Borc, elder to the young man who made the call.
"I donno if she can hear you, sir." Said the young guard, also helping Anna up, "I think it's the petal."
"I'm fine." Anna shook off their assistance. "I'm fine. I think this is enough to sober up the drunkest of borcs on a festival night."
"You sure?" Asked the borc.
Anna squatted down in front of the body. "I... Yes, I'll be fine." She turned to the younger Mume guard. "Do you recognize her?"
"Huh? Me?" Anna realized the guard had his head turned away all this time. "I donno."
"Why him, miss?" The borc put a hand on her shoulder to pull her up again. Bare skin against bare skin.
She pulled away again. "I meant no offense. You're night-shift, he's off duty, which means day-shift. I figured he'd be more likely to see the child." Anna turned to the mume, put a gloved hand on his chin and forced him to look at her. "My eyes. Just look at my eyes. It's alright."
"See here," the borc protested.
"In a moment." Anna put her other hand toward the borc, showing her black leather glove. A signle inscribed on the back to prove she was Red Guard. "It's okay, just look at my eyes." The young guard obeyed. "What's your name?"
"Peter. Very quickly, I want to you look away from me at the girl's face, then back. Do you understand?"
"Go." Peter turned his gaze at the child, then back. He looked more confuzed than horrified. "Do you recognize her?"
"No. No, miss. Can I have my chin back?" She let go. Peter quickly turned around and walked away a few paces.
"What's this, then?" The borc demanded. "Is the Red Guard finally helping to catch Lily?"
Anna relaxed. The haze slowly returning. "No, Guard. I just..was hoping we were lucky."
The borc pulled his cloak off. Green. Anna hadn't noticed he had it on which made her curse the petal for the first time in a few years. He covered the poor girl and motioned Peter to return. "Knowing where she came from won't help nothin', miss."
Looking at the cloak, Anna was suddenly too aware she, herself, had neather cloak or jacket. Just her red trousers and white armless shirt, as tho it hadn't been raining for the last couple of days. She held herself and turned away. Nothing more to see. "It would help the parents, Guard." And help me to track down Lily, she thought. "You borc are made of sterner stuff."
"I could barely stand to look at her."
"Oh, that." The borc stood proudly and thumbed at himself. "I fought up north for the empire back in my youth, miss. This is nothing. There's no blood. Heard there never were none." He coughed. "Before I can let you go, miss."
He wanted her address. The city guard didn't investigate or search for killers, but all of them wanted lily caught so they made an exception recently and tried their best to think. Anna had offered to help them with their methods, but they would have none of it. Still, at least this was progress.
"I'm just over around the corner. At the Silver Wheat Inn." Anna offered her hand and was happy to recieve a shake in return. "I'm Anna Goldeyes. Red Guard Researcher Class."
"Lieutenant Morbin, miss. Annalow City Guard...er...Night Watch class, I supose. Peter, over here. Don' worry, son, she's covered up now." Peter still did his best to look away from the body. "I want you to go to the barracks and tell 'em what happened, then head home, son. You look rough."
The haze returned in full force. Tendrils of purple wrapped around Anna's legs and tugged the back to the inn, oddly back the way she entered. "Lieutenant, can you handle this?"
"Sure, miss. You head on back to bed, you should. We'll get this mess taken care of."
Her feet pulled slowly, but she forced them to stop. "Where do you take these bodies?"
"Only one place for 'em in Annalow, miss."
The name "Duffworm" hovered in front of Anna, but she didn't know why. Something about a dungeon. She batted it away. "There's only one morgue. Of course."
The borc tipped his helmet. "Miss."
Anna sunk into fog again. The mist turned purple and blue. Only thin pin-pricks of light indicated her progress through the streets. When she woke the next morning, she was at the inn again. Her hand instinctively shot out to her jacket and she was out the door.
The previous account, including the strange hallucinations, were written and delivered by me to Master Drate along with the following querry.
"Recall my conversation with Brishah. Is it possible to deduce information about a subject with only the results of the crime or action they've left behind?"
After the incident, for record, Anna was pleasant enough to send back the letter Master Drate had sent to her.
"Anna, what you ask is of course possible. Remember our creed when searching; For every action there is an opposite reaction. A foot in the snow will leave an outline of a foot for later. It takes a genital hand indeed to leave no trace at all, or a mind trained in our invented art to remove the traces forcibly. With that in mind we know that this 'Lily Ripper' is at a disadvantage, especially if your mistress would set you loose upon him or her.
"Let's create a definition first. The subject, or prey of our investigation, is unknown to us. We shall refer to him or her as the Unknown Subject, or 'Unsub' for brevity. 'Lily' brings to mind a female subject, but we do not know if this is true. UnSub is a thrid, neutral gender and a 10th neutral race of person until we know otherwise.
"Now we look at UnSub's actions and see what we can see. The first trace is the missing children themselves. After two years, I'm sure mothers and fathers guard their children closer during the spring rains, and that means UnSub is someone who doesn't look like a shadowy figure or brutish monster, rather they look normal, unassuming, or worse, trustworthy. Someone that not only the children would allow close enough to them, but the parents would as well.
"We also know there is death and, strangly, the draining of blood. That fact speaks volumes for it's absurdity and uniquness. Dear me, I've never even heard of such a thing, but it's act still requires specialize location in the city. There must be a place quiet enough to muffle any of the sounds of assault on the child. More importantly, there must be a place that one can dispose of blood without notice and often enough to accommodate 10 bodies a year. Have you an unused slaughter cabin in the city?
"UnSub's artistic attitude tells us there is significance to their reason. This sort of murder is not made from passion that you and I are aware of, rather some unknowable significance. From what I know of your race, do not take offense if I say that UnSub is most likely a mume. Quill tells me that mumes have it in them a calling to bring something beautiful to the world. She says your race is compulsed to art. These murders appear to me to be a form of art. I'm also told that the blue Lily is a mume funeral flower. Perhaps UnSub has affection for their victims? Motivation may be a mystery to us even after the murderer is captured. Keep that in mind.
"The one things about UnSub I find most interesting the their ability to place the bodies without notice. After so many assaults, you would think a concerned citizen would notice UnSub with a blue sack large enough to hold a child slung over their shoulder and report it to the city guard. The fact this doesn't happens baffles me. The expensiveness of the blue dye used on the cloth is a good indicator of UnSub's wealth, but it's their ability to hide that smacks loudest of their cleverness. That will be your biggest challenge.
"I recommend you track down parents who know their children were taken. Also check with my friend Duffworm at the morgue. He's a bit uncouth, but do not underestimate his intelligence. To me he has proven loyalty, friendship, and a powerful ally, especially if he has examined the victims. If you can contact the City Guard without word getting back to your supeiror, you may find other things, such as the other locations of the victims, useful toward the investigation.
"Finally, with luck I wish you, but also to easy your mind. Your superior may not agree with your investigation, but I'll wager one of my finer clocks that they would agree with your results. After all, is it not the Red Guard's duty to protect the city from threats of assult and terror? I believe UnSub has already afflicted Annalow with both.
Anna placed the letter on the table in her tiny office. It's stone walls harbored more shelves with papers and books that bricks. One would scarsly believe it was once a prison cell. The level directly under the White Maiden's shrine was transformed into reseach office and phasilities. If the White Maiden's value feeling and dignity so much, Anna thought, you would think the Red Guard would pay more attention to reason and method. Not that it mattered to her. Most of the time she spent her days in her head or outside observing random populous to practice, then asking them if she was right.
For every action there was an opposite action.
Anna walked outside and looked for someone she didn't recognize. Only one walked down the steps into the now well lit dungeons where her aquatences milled about with their own work. Ah, she thought, practice.
White Maiden, meaning face unseeable as they all wore veils that just cover their eyes. Hands, then. Calloused and carrying a pouch of something. Bits of dirt in her finger nails? Same with the gown she wore, tho she's done her best to wash the grime away in one of the fountains. Knees are wet. Okay, she's a gardener. White Maidens must keep bare feet in the church, but her feet are clean and dry like the rest of her dress. She's done plant work off the grounds or in a green house. It has been raining all morning. Green house, then. That means works with flowers and herbs. Both are used with alchemy research which means Madeline Fallbringer on the other end of Research.
The Maiden saw Anna watching and walked up. "Uh...excuse me..."
"Fallbringer is down that way to the left. You'll smell the alchemy labs before you see them. Can't miss it." The maiden's mouth fell open. With all Heart Magi, you would need physical contact to read minds, but somehow Anna had done so without being near her.
"Th- Okay. Thank you." She bowed and left Anna with a smile on her face.