Anna wiped her face clean, leaving only her gold eyes red. "It's nothing." She lied. She felt like one of Lily's victims, studdering in her head while trying to explain. "I'll be fine." After placing the book back on her desk, Anna reached under and pulled open a small draw hidden in the desk. Inside was a pipe with a long stem and a pounch and tenderstick. "I'll be fine." She said again, more to herself this time.
Cherry was unconvinced. Her friend was clearly shuttered for some reason. This would have to be remedied now. "Come with me, Goldy."
"No. report first, then what ever." Anna poked a flowery ground into the pipe and lit up. "Did you find Beatrix?"
"Yeah." Cherry frowned at the pipe, but tried to shrug it off. "It was heart breaking, Goldy! That poor womume lost her daughter. She was a mess! Good thing I was there with the Mango, too!" Anna Choked on a puff, but motioned for Cherry to go on. "So, first I had to find the poor girl, right? And that wasn't hard cuz' I know all the mentors in the church, what with me being mentor, and ran into Queensby, this Maiden that teaches calender and rhetoric, right?" Anna thanked the pipe for helping her focus. Cherry's words tumbled out faster and faster like a run away cart going down the great ramp. "Then I was like 'Hey, do you know a Beatrix or something?' and she's like 'Beatrix! I LOVE Beatrix! But, like, she's not been in class for ages and ages and that's not good 'cuz she like rhetoric, but oh well.' Right? And..." So Cherry chattered on...
The Jist of her story was this: Beatrix' teachers sent Cherry to her mother who was still distraught over the loss of her daughter. In fact, the house slaves, seeing Cherry was a White Maiden, quickly welcomed her in and brought her to the mother's bed chamber where the the womume ranted and sweat and screamed. After calming her down, Cherry was able to get something of the story from her. Beatrix had disappeared one morning while playing at the neighborhood fountain.
"Wait, Cherry." Anna interrupted. "What district was this?"
"Northwest. Um...The Stone and Gold district, I think."
"The rich district? Huh." Someone would have noticed a dark clad fellow intent on murder in the morning there. "Continue."
"Well..." Cherry told about how she consoled the poor grieving womume and how she obsessed over finding her daughter. Eventually the mother stationed herself at the morgue office and refused to be moved. The borc who ran the office, Duffworm's employer, brought food and water for the mother. The very night of the murder, when Beatrix' body was found, the Mother recognized the child and fainted. Since then her house slaves had been taking care of her. Cherry used her own training to help ease the pain of loss and gave the peeled mango to the mother. "It was the first thing she'd eaten since finding her daughter, Goldy! Imagine!"
"The very night of the murder?"
"Yeah! She was like 'Lily has her! I know it!' and on and on. I haven't entered a mind in a long time, Goldy, but that poor womume was all tangled up in her head! I was tempted in spending the night, but I wanted to tell you this stuff first, you know?"
Anna leaned back and took a long draw from the pipe to ponder this new loose end. It might had been nothing, but it was still worth investigating. "Good." Anna said, half lidded. She felt the purple haze behind her. Not quiet in a cloud, yet, but enough to think. "You did good, Cherry."
"Goldy, come with me."
"Just come with me."
"Why? What's wrong?"
Cherry yelped in agravation, tore off her veil, and pulled her red hair. "Mandra blast this miasma of black! Lily is wrong, Goldy!" Cherry's eyes were light brown and angry. She used them to pin Anna against her chair before she talked. "This Lily Ripper is black stuff. It's like the bottom of a well or the Jails of Gore below. It's black stuff, Goldy, and it's wrecking you! Look at yourself! You're on the petal again! And you've been crying! You don't DO these things anymore!"
"Don't I?" Anna looked at the end of her pipe. Anna had not told her friend about her trips to the Pleasure house.
"No." Cherry was firm. "You don't. Now put that pipe down and come with me." Anna hesitated. The pipe was still half full. "UGH!" Like a flash, Cherry was pulling Anna out of her chair and put her arms in a wrestling lock. The two womumes were back to back so that Cherry could haul her friend like a back of sand out of the office. Cherry's bare heel dented the door, as she tried to kick it open over Anna's protests.
"Cherry! stop! My door swings inwards!" Another grunt of protest and Anna was thrown on the floor. Cherry pulled open the door and draged Anna out by her boots. "Ow! Cherry! Wait. I at least have to talk to Madeline!"
"It can wait!" Anna's bed bounced off the steps of the stairs. Cherry was a full head shorter than Anna, but she had the strength of a bull Borc.
"Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow! CHERRY!"
In the evenings, all church womume wandered into the baths. I'm not sure of the specifics, but the waters are heated up very hot and let steam while everyone, after washing of course, gets in and soaks. Baths are nothing new to Annalow. Anna tells me, however, that the church baths are quiet large and quiet beautiful.
At one corner of the baths, on the Red Guard's side and near a statue of the hero Car'dine, Anna and Cherry sat, letting the steam unbend their brain. Anna was reclined and thinking, the purple slipping back to be repleaced by warm mist. Cherry sunk in the waters, just her eyes and bright red hair showing. "I'm hunting." she explained.
"So am I." Anna told her. "But the city hunting is different than in the wilderness, Cherry." Cherry wasn't listening. She was planing and plotting to grab one of the other Red Guard's ankles and pull her under. "The traces in the dirt are easy to discern, and it you put your imagination to work, you can see how the animal moved across the floor. What were they doing? Which direction? Why did they turn that way? And so on. You can even track the beast's thoughts if you know it well en-" Anna was interupted. Cherry had settled on her friend's ankles and puller her under.
They fought, but not for long. Eventually, even Cherry succumbed to the relaxing powers of the steam and fanned herself under Car'dine's shadow. Anna spoke on. "The traces in the city are not in the dirt, Cherry. They're in the eyes and ears of the citizens and in the actions left behind. When a real beast enters Annalow, one that can hide among its people, no average hunter can bring the beast down."
"So leave it to the city guard. That's what they're for, Goldy."
Anna laughed. "Oh fine job of that, Cherry. Fine job. Look at all the lives they've saved!" Cherry frowned. "Remember last year? When everyone was scared and went on the Lily hunt? We were all blaming each other. Everyone swore they found the REAL Lily this time, and the City Guard exiled a score of Borcs, Marf, Mumes, and even a few Effee! Dispite their efforts, Lily went on killing, and the guard looked like the pack of fools they were."
Anna felt Cherry's hand on her shoulder. A soft squeeze. "You don't have to hunt this beast, friend."
Anna covered Cherry's hand with her own. "Cherry, I was the one who discovered Beatrix." Cherry's hand puled quickly away. "Not only that, I've seen the Morgue reports about Lily. Seen what Lily has done. I..." Anna swallowed hard. "I think I understand this beast I'm hunting." Even in the hot baths, the chill shuddered through Anna. She sunk in deeper. "I understand why Lily does these horrible things. Lily will never stop and the city guard will never catch them."
Anna woke up in her own bed the next morning. The rain gave way to simple overcast, there was the distict sound of morning chatter down stairs, and someone had left a folded paperus over Anna's face. She sat up and read it. "G, I'm spending the night over at the Mellowond house to help that womume. Lighten up. -C"
Anna followed her morning routine, excersize first, then breakfast, but before meditation she stopped. There was no rain, so most would be meditating outside. Normally, Anna found a nice spot no one knew about in the window on the second floor, but today she had an idea. She hunted for and found Madeline Fallbringer, researcher in Alchemy.
Madeline had Anna's thick gold locks and pointy noise, but she was much older and chemicals had burned some of her skin. Such a mark covered her left cheek bone. Her arms had spots of red welted skin long healed. She knelt in meditation next to a peach tree beside the windows of the mess hall.
Anna knelt in front of her and waited. After ten or so minutes, Madeline spoke. "Yes, Miss Goldeyes?" Neither red guard moved.
"I had heard somewhere that I could get an herb from you. As a favor, I mean."
"Who had told you that?" Madeline's face remained neutral. Was she testing Anna?
"You know how it is, Miss Fallbringer. Someone tells someone tells someone. It doesn't matter. I have a... Shall I say, delicate need?"
Madeline finally broke into a smile. "The Petal, Miss Goldeyes?"
Anna's eyes widened. "Who told you that?" She was not as cool about her question.
"Someone told someone told someone." Madeline shrugged and returned neutral. "As it happens, we have none in stores."
"It doesn't matter much. No, what I need is..." Anna's voice dropped to a whisper. "flash blossom." Madeline's mouth slowly opened. Her expression was one of slow disbelief. "Enough to make maybe a tumbler of paint. Maybe less."
The alchemist stood up and brushed herself off. "We have none of that either, Miss Goldeyes. Besides, you should already know it's contraband in Annalow."
"But not the church." Madeline was not impressed. "I can make trade, Miss Fallbringer. Not just my services, but gold as well."
Maseline squatted in front of Anna, eye to eye, now. Her eyes were green and serious. Was that a fleck of purple in them? "If you want it, I'll wager you already know WHY it isn't allowed in Annalow. What would you use it for?"
The two looked hard into each other's eyes. That was diffinately a fleck of purple. It meant that Madeline was also smoking the petal and it wasn't laced with something. Something not good for her. Madeline pulled away from the stare-down. "Mandra save us, you're serious. Just what kind of research are you doing?"
"I may tell you when I'm done." Anna stood up and held her hand out. "Well?"
Madeline tried to read her. Looking at Anna's gloved hand, then back to her golden eyes. She said "Someone told someone that you can also read minds without touching them. I don't need gold, but I wouldn't mind knowing how you do that."
Anna laughed. It was a full on surprise of joy, lacking all malevolence that Madeline had expected. "Oh Maddy. I needed that. No no. I can't read minds like that." She waved away the idea. "How about this." Anna moved in closer and lowered her voice. "Someone told someone about a place where you can find smooth petal and they take care of you if things go bad. Would that information be of worth?" Madeline narrowed her flawed eyes. "Petal that won't kill you like the smoke you're already inhaling."
There was a pause. Madeline took Anna's hand. "Meet me here at twilight. We'll make the trade."