The rest of the day was mostly uneventful. Anna spent some time at the Analow Library which, she learned with interest, was taking up the business of copying and trading books with a Felf Library to the south. Likely it was the same town Drate lives, she thought. Later she met Cherry again at a diner where they serve really good Leaf Juice by the pitcher. Cherry had nothing new to report, but did say that Mrs. Mellowond was getting better and Cherry gave the name of a heart healer that could help. The two spent the rest of the day venturing out into back allies looking for trouble, but only found a half drunk marf and a flock of Ibises that stole food from the market.
The overcast broke that evening, letting the sun paint the horizon on its way down. Cherry was sitting in the grass and flexing her almost prehensil toes while Anna brushed Ibis feathers off her uniform. "Why are we here, Goldy?" Cherry could pull apearently pull both her knees to her chest and not fall over. Anna never seen her do that before.
"I'm here to meet a friend, Cherry. You should go and climb a building or whatever it is you do."
"But Gooooldy," Cherry Wined, "I'm bored and stuff always happens when you're around."
"No, you'll spook my friend."
Anna narrowed her eyes and glanced at Cherry, then toward where Cherry was looking. Madeline half hide herself behind a white tree, assessing the setup. "Cherry, Madeline Fallbringer. Miss Fallbringer, this is Cherry Wondermume." Madeline was cautious, but Anna saw she had a cylinder shaped pouch in hand. "Good. If you don't mind me asking, where do you keep it?"
"I do mind." The alchemist gave Cherry and Anna equal staring time. "As an achemist, I tell no one where my stores are. Components are hard enough to come by without threat of theft."
"Fair enough. Follow me. Cherry, you stay here."
"Aw, come on!" Cherry kicked like a brat.
"No. You're not old enough to know these things." A lie. Cherry was older than Anna by 5 seasons.
"Fine, MOM!" Her arms crossed, Cherry moped until Anna and Madeline had been gone for a good while. By the time Anna return with the pouch, the sun had fully set and Cherry was on the roof of the mess hall.
"By the Nine Gods, how did you end up there?"
"Donno. I got bored so I climbed something. I don't think it was the tree, cuz I don't remember jumping. What's that?"
Anna held up the pouch. "A secret for a secret."
Cherry pounced down to the ground and tackled Anna. "That's petal, isn't it!"
"Yes it is!" Cherry pulled the pouch loose and opened it to reach inside.
"Cherry, DON'T!" Cherry yalped loudly and pulled her hand out quickly. She dropped the pouch and busied herself shaking her hand and hopping up and down in pain. "Aw, you spilled it."
On the ground as a glowing blue orchid-like flower. No stems, just the flower itself. As the grass brushed it there was a small crackle of energy. Anna tightened her gloves before handling the flower carefully and placing it back in the pouch which, in fact, had a glass container holding more of the stuff inside. "You're wearing linen gloves, Cherry. They won't protect you from this."
Tear of pain and surprise still hung at the corner of Cherry's eyes. "What is that?"
"None of your nevermind."
"Well my never mind hurts like a beast. I haven't felt that kind of sting since I threw that nest of bees in a pub of sailors." Cherry stopped to giggle at the thought. "Good times."
"This," Anna held up the pouch, "is flash blossom."
On the way to another pub, Anna explained. "In alchemy, from what I understand of it, there are only about seven or eight flowers holding very unusual properties. The least subtle of these is the flash blossom, which holds a tiny bit of lightning. Many seasons ago, it was deemed contraband by the City Council since, at the time, the only use that could be found for it was to cause pain on another. Many of the apothacaries protested its ban, claiming the uses were many and untapped, but the council held firm. So, now, all stores, except the most heavily guarded, are purged of flash blossom, making it impossible to find."
"But Madeline had some?"
"Of course. The church is its own state. City Laws do not apply, so she keeps as much as she needs for her experiments. It certainly wouldn't do for her to go telling the city she keeps a store of it, but it's not illeagal for her to own. It IS illeagal for us to have where we are, because we're off church grounds."
Cherry cocked her head to one side. "What do you need it for, Goldy? You're not gonna punish someone with it, are you?"
Anna shrugged. "I don't."
"I don't need it. I'll put it aside in case I do, but I'm a Red Guard. If it came to it, I could hurt anyone I choose in the name of the church and make them like it to boot. This," she swung the pounch in front of Cherry again, "is only so I could prove a point. That the stuff can be purchased, tho not for gold this time. That brings a bigger question to mind, of course. Why didn't Madeline need gold?"
Cherry Guzzed a full glass of tea and wiped her lips. "Yeah, that's right. You researchers hardly get any allouance. You're...what do you Red Guard call it?"
"Bottom tier, Cherry. We're privets in the eyes of the High Priestess. Just soldiers."
"Yeah." Cherry put her hands on her hips. "So Maddy didn't take gold, huh? She'd need gold more than anyone just to get crazy alchemy stuff. You should ask her about it or something."
"Not yet. Don't you bring it up either, Cherry. I've no kind of leverage to confront her, but I will."
"At least your not thinking of Lily anymore."
"Oh yes I am. Lily Ripper uses flash blossom, too." Cherry spit her drink out. "Oh yes." Cherry could only stare at her friend. "The beast I'm hunting is clever, but its weakness is the exotic nature of its killings. Lily Ripper isn't just a murderer, but the most fiendish of torturers as well. If I'm right, and I hope I'm not, this pouch contains the murder weapon before the cuts are even made to the body."
Cherry swollowed hard. "Is...Madeline Lily Ripper?"
Anna looked down. "I don't know." Her eyes focused on the pouch. "I know that remains of flash blossom were left on a few of the victims, but that doesn't mean Madeline put it there."
"What's the problem. You think this flower killed the girls; She's got this flower; Let's go club her over the head with a tree branch."
Anna reached out for her friend's hand. "Stop, Cherry, and think. If you find a mume stabbed with a knife, would you arrest everyone who owned a knife? The blossom is rare in Annalow, it's true, but that doesn't mean anything. For example, a Red Guard skulking around the Stone and Gold district one morning would certainly attract attention. Madeline is also battle scared from alchemy fires. No child would go with her without a question or notice." Anna placed her face in her hands, running the variables through her head. "The only thing I know for sure about Lily is they are, without question, a Mume. One who delights in the suffering of children. Such a monster is this thing I hunt. Such a monster that is leave behind a miasma of black."