A Garden of Pain
"I..." Anna felt her insdies pull apart. She covered her face. "I can't go there."
"You can and will, soldier." Madeline finished her beer and put 1 bit on the table. The pub had stopped taking notice of the two womumes, which is how Madeline preferred it. Pulling Anna behind, she left, patting the Marf doctor on the shoulder as she went past. Once outside, out of the crowd, Madeline pushed Anna against the wall. Her eyes were gold on red. Aching from crying and snotting. "Privet Goldeyes, attend to me, now!" Anna stood up straight. Still snivalling, much to MAdelines disgust. "Eyes forward, Soldier! Head up!" Madeline paced in front of the wounded Red Guard. "Where are your gloves?"
"Answer clearly, Privet!"
"Back at the Cemetery, Ma'am!"
"My GODDESS! You've lost them! Is this the way a Red Guard presents herself? Don't you look away from me! Eyes forward!" Anna felt like she was back in basic. "I've been told that the Red Guard repelled the armies of Fargo Ipskin! Is this true, soldier?!"
Anna clicked her boots together. "Ma'am! Yes Ma'am!"
"Someone told me the City Guard were equal to the church Military Branch! Is THAT True, soldier?!"
"Ma'am! No Ma'am!"
"And why not?!"
"Ma'am! Cuz' Red Guard are elite, Ma'am!"
"What was that word?"
"Elite, Ma'am! Best of the best!"
"What are the three principals of the Red Guard, soldier?!"
"Control, Tactics, Action!"
"Tactics, Action, and WHAT?"
"Ma'am! Control, Ma'am!"
Madeline slapped her. Hard and firm, she slapped her. "Then CONTROL yourself!" She stepped back from Goldeyes and yelled, "Who's in control of you?"
Anna stood straight. Eyes forward. "I am."
"I asked WHO is in control of you, soldier?!"
"Ma'am! I am, Ma'am!"
"At ease." Anna relaxed and fell against the wall. "Now, Anna. This is your research into...whatever it is your suposed to research."
"I'm learning about a method of thinking, Ma'am."
"I'm not your superior, Goldeyes. At ease." Anna felt herself focus again. Her head was clearing, like coming out of the purple fog. "Now, soldier," Madeline held her hands forward. "What's to be done?"
The Docks is a strange place. It's not like Annalow Above where everything is in sunlight. The city above thrives on showing itself to the sky. In the morning, curtains pull back from windows and doors open to let the breeze in. In the Docks, especially in the back caves, there's no night or day, just high and low tide. The dark there is soft and blue and made of syrup. It's cold and moist, but not wet. And the docks thrive on hiding themselves from the darkness. The only reason to have windows is for pubs and shops to show their wares. Homes have no such privilege.
I mension this so you can picture what the back allyways and inbetweens of the Docks is like in the back caves. There are no windows, just smooth walls and doors with trash bins around them. It was in such a place that Anna picked up the scent of memories not her own.
"She was stealing from this place." Anna knelt down and searched behind a bin. Madeline sneered at the stick of rotten vegtables near by. When Anna stood again, she held a thin book in her hand. "Here."
"What is it?"
"The girl's name was Applebone, I think. She was stealing this book, but...I don't know why." Anna leafed through it. "It's a diary. Borc writing."
"She was learning to spy, then." Madeline crossed her arms. "That's what the Cemetery Girls are for. They're the spies of the church."
"Makes sense." Said Anna, tapping her chin with the volume. "Someone came from behind her..." She mimics the movements of Applebone. "Someone who scared her...but I can't see who."
"This girl didn't see them?"
"Yes, she saw...but... I can't explain it, Madeline. There were missing chunks the further back I saw in the Memories."
"Assuming the whole thing wasn't a fabrication by Nara Nakki. As far as I'm conserned, SHE'S Lily Ripper."
"Until we know better, we'll assume the vission was true." Anna truned slowly, looking behind her. "Applebone was scared, but not the kind of fear for her life. I don't think she was afraid to die..." The Redguard burst into a run down the street. "She bolted this way, looking for somewhere thin to squeeze into." Madeline followed Anna. "But she didn't know this area. She looked." Anna twisted her left arm in the air in a kind of dance move. "He caught her by the wrist and twisted it. She was mad at herself. Mad at him. In that order. Mommy's going to be angry. Something something punishment. That doesn't make sense." Goldeyes fell to the ground, face first, then twisted her wrists behind her, as if being tied. "Ow. That was dumb."
"Oh, it looked dumb." Madeline quipped.
"She's frustrated. She feels stupid for not casing the area first. Something cold and metal on her wrists."
"Past tense, Anna. It's not a good idea to..."
"She's being dragged." Anna got up and snuck down the ally. "She sees a place she remembers as home..."
"Here." Anna pointed down a small opening in the stone wall. "This was escape. If only I could have made it."
"'She,' Anna. You're not Applebone. Also, remember, past tense."
"Someone sees us...someone down this ally. A bandit? He's waving. The one who has me. No, that doesn't make sense." Anna turned to Madeline. "Why wouldn't the mume down the ally come to help. Applebone was an urchin, yes, but still a child."
"How would I know that? When you say dragged, you mean the girl was scrapping agains the cobble?"
"No, it was more like she was being ushered. 'Dragged' was her word. Then..." Anna winced. "Sorry."
"The ideas and memories are all fragmented. I have to keep working backwards from..." Anna teared up again, but wiped her eyes, determined to keep in control. "It's nothing. She's being pulled this way." Anna lead down another Ally, turned down another, then another, and so on. A long stretch of street put them beside raw rock at the edge of the cave. "She doesn't know what's going on. This isn't where she thought she'd be."
"Where did she think she was?"
"I don't know. It doesn't make sense. But he's no borc. And he's wearing..." Anna stood up straight. "Oh." She slapped her forhead. "Oh, of course."
"What is it?"
"Nothing. Something someone said earlier. I..." Anna shook her head. "No. Nothing i can do about it now. I have no evidence and I'm not even sure if I'm right." She put her hand on the rock wall. "Besides, this comes first. If the memories were right, then..." Her hand seemed to sink into the stone. Madeline did a double take to make sure what she saw was real. "Here. It's an illusion."
When Madeline got closer, she could see from another angle that the stone actually opened up into a passageway, but from the other angle it looked like solid rock. "Clever. Marf trick, no doubt."
"At this point, Applebone knows something is wrong. She was taught different ways to get to the City above, but this isn't one of them."
"What about you? You used to play in these tunnels as a child."
Anna smiled. "You make a lot of Marf Friends in the tunnels. Ask Cherry about it, sometime. Anyway, no, I don't recognize this, either." She went in deeper, trying to force her eyes to adapt to the new deeper dark of the cave passage. "I can smell it, Madeline. Not Applebone, me. We both smell it."
"Smelled. Past tanse. I keep saying. Look, get out of my way." Anna was pulled backwards. Madeline pulled a small wooden stick from her jacket and hit it against the wall. A blue spark later and the stick caught fire. "Larger version of a tender stick. My own invention."
Anna complemented her companion and the two search into the caves. It wasn't long before the flame of the stick drew forward. "That means air." Said Madeline.
"I know what it means. Keep going."
There were not twists or turns or splits in the pathway. The cave slowly curved northward until a dull light could be seen up ahead. Eventually, the two Red Guards were forced to cover their eyes. The sky was bright gray, overcast but still so much brighter than the Docks.
"Oh...Oh god, Maddy." Anna could not take her eyes from in front. She left the cave, then backed up against the wall. Covering her mouth, she whimpered "This is it."
It was a small cliff, perhaps ten by fifteen feet. A balcony looking over a drop of 100 feet of grass below. On the balcony was a small garden of sparkling blue Flash Blossoms and dark blue lilies, all lined around it were yellow stones from the rock wall.
"Wow. i can see some of the farms from here." Madeline found herself impressed by the view.
"Maddy..." Anna whispered and pointed at the garden.
"Don't ever call me that in front of people."
"Are those chains?" A flood of horror filled Anna. Fragmented memories of waiting under the raining sky, but the pain was there. Constant and cruel. And then he showed up to cover her with the blue paint.
Madeline tugged at a cuff and chain. "Pretty small. I guess they've have to be. Here's another." She pulled a new chain from the opposite corner. "Oh, I see, to hold the girls in the flowers."
"How can you be so calm?!" Anna was getting fed up with this. The dead memories, Madeline's apathy. The killers. This place.
"Why? You idiot, because I'm happy." Madeline's smile was uncharacteristic. "There's no child here, Goldeyes. That means Lily is bound to return." She dropped the chains and cracker her knuckles.
A long time passed. The two sitting under a natural awning and listening to the rain fall. No Lily. No Child. And it was starting to get dark.
"You said," Madeline wondered, "that the electricity didn't kill them."
"You would ask." Anna had calmed down significantly, but she would rather not remember anything else. "You see that wooden box over there?"
"I figured it was gardening stuff."
Madeline did as she was told. Inside was a covered pot that crackled slightly when she opened it. Blue glowing paint. Beside that were different paint brushed, a small sack of fertilizer, and seeds and bulbs of different types. "I've never dared to test how much flash blossom it was take to kill someone." The alchemist picked up the pot and smelled its contence. "This is potent, tho."
"She was chained there, in the flash blossoms where they could brush against her." It's not your memories, Anna. Read them like a book. You are separate. "She was naked and he would come and paint her with that."
"Did you see his face?"
"No. After a while, she didn't see anything when he was there. It was always too bright for her."
Madeline shrugged. "Cave people."
Anna wiped something off her forehead. Was that sweat? "The flowers tormented her. Kept her awake. I guess even Cemetery Girls sleep. Durring the mornings, when it was brightest, he'd come and paint her. That's when the pain really sets in." Anna squeezed the bridge of her nose. Need to focus, she thought. "The flower's can't kill you. The pain does it. It was so great that her mind couldn't escape." Yes, that was sweat. There's more of it. Come on, Anna, pull it together. "You know how, when something is bad enough, the soul pulls away from the body and runs away?"
"Soul sickness. I know it." The Alchemist put everything away. "We all know a little of it."
"She couldn't. Something about this place attracts the soul back. She came from a place where they hurt each other for fun, but this was more than her soul could take. The pain was so bad, the Keb snapped loose and she just died." Anna waved at the garden. "The body just gave up. Everything stopped." She pulled her knees in close. "And then he drained her into the garden."
Madeline knelt over the garden and checked the earth. "Yup." She showed wet red on her gloves to Anna. "There's your evidence."
"I want to be gone from this place, Madeline."
"Then lets." Madeline stood up and dusted herself off. From her jacket, she pulled a small glass vial, took a sample from the pot in the wooden box, and capped it. "I think we should have someone wait here tomorrow morning."
Anna agreed and the two took a long trek back to the barracks. It took about two hours of walking.
Anna had bad dreams that night.