When Red Guards Argue
Uneasy slumber tormented Anna. She dreamed of black clouds. Not dark gray as with rain, but black as pitch and raining glowing blue paint. She ducked under the awning to avoid the crackling of raindrops spark behind her. When she turned around, to her horror, everyone in Annalow was writhing in agony. Nara Nakki stood in the window across the street, smiling that sick mad smile, unable to break eyesight with Anna.
Anna jerked up in bed to scream, but a dry cold hand covered her mouth. "Shhh...Plaything. Be at ease." It was Gravedust... in her bedroom?! "Shhh... I deliver a message from her holy majesty."
Anna knocked the pale hand away from her face. "Leave, black thing. It'll be morning, soon."
"More that I need to speak quickly." Her voice, low and scratchy from screaming annoyed Anna. It reminded her of what she'd done yesterday. "Queen Nara Nakki sends me to warn you of machinations against you. Subtle, but evil." That yellow smile shown in even in the dark. "She wishes you know that there is a place for you with us, when you wish it."
"That will never happen, Gravedust."
"She did not say 'If,' pleasant Goldeyes. She said 'When.' Her words to the syllable."
"Leave with my reply, then. Ask her if she knows Lily Ripper and HOW to catch him, why not have you lot do it? After all, Lily is her creation."
"Believe what you will, Anna Goldeyes."
Gravedust turned to leave, but Anna grabbed her hand. "You don't think so?" Gravedust turned back around and knelt to eye level. "I'm exhausted, Cemetery Girl, but I've a mind that still wonders. What is Nara Nakki's motives? She's seen the same memories as me. She knows the same if not more than I do. Why send me away to catch Lily Ripper and bring him to your queen?"
"We do not question such things. We suffer in safty. Nara Nakki looks after her own and guards us closely so we've no reason to second guess her."
"But that's it exactly, Gravedust. You trade in information, so I'll give you this for free. You already know why she wants me..."
"Your mind is beautiful. Even I see how you would be an asset to us. Yes."
"Has it ever occurred to you that she wants to protect Lily Ripper, but not let you know?" Gravedust turned her head awkwardly to the side, as if trying to look at Anna differently. "You said it yourself. You lot fight and fuck and birth and eat." The dark girl drew away, pulling backwards into the shadows. "And Nara Nakki protects her own. And doesn't kill." Gravedust hissed at Anna. "And never lies." Morning light placed it's sliver of sunshine on the barracks floor. The black thing was gone.
A letter was taped to the outside window that Madeline meditates under. It read "No one would believe us. Went to guard the garden." Anna folded the papyrus and stuck it in her jacket. She wouldn't want to be Lily this morning. Soon, word would come of his capture, and then the real trouble would begin.
Unbeknownst to Anna, it already had. A Red Guard in full uniform stood behind her. "Anna Goldeyes, please attend." Anna spun to see the womume. They saluted each other. "You've been summoned by Major Eleanor. You're to report immediately."
"Ma'am, Yes Ma'am." They saluted again and Anna followed the Guard upstairs into the tower. It was quite a climb, because the Reguard hold their offices and high ranking quarters above the White Maiden's shared quarters. Up stairs was clean and organized. There was some decor, such as well kept candles and vases on pillars next to the windows. Red Banners and tapestries stood out on the white marble. And Eleanor's "office" was a small library of scrolls and tombs, all in order, with a table and chair pushed against the walls.
The Major was doing morning katas. She followed complex routines of movements for fighting. Eleanor had been a dance fighter in her youth and she kept in shape, both in mind and body, in case she ever had to proove it again. Her mind was like her office, smooth and clean, but no decoration. The escort saluted Major Eleanor, turned in place and left.
"Privet Goldeyes. Kind visit."
"Ma'am. You wish to reprimand me?"
Eleanor didn't stop her motions. she continued her slow movements, retracing techniques in dance. "Well guessed. You've never failed me before, Goldeyes. Why now?" Anna had no words. She looked down and thought of how to explain to her superior. "Let's be sure. What are you confesing to, exactly?"
"You..." Be careful. Don't reveal too much, she thought. "I assume you mean the investigation."
"It was inevitable, wasn't it?" Eleanor stopped and turned to her soldier. "You found the body of Beatrix Mellowond, after all." Ealeanor didn't have normal eyes. Mume eyes can be any color in the full spectrum of light, but Eleanor's were piercing silver. When she looked at a person, she looked through that one's head into their brain. She never smiles and rarely frowns. It's unnerving. "MY guess is you want to prove your research is more than philosophy, but you were given orders, Goldeyes."
"I...No, it wasn't for that."
"Orders I specificaly laid down for you." She reached at her desk and read dirrectly from a scroll. "Privet Anna Goldeyes of the Annalow Red Guard, you are not in anyway to investigate the murders of the so called 'Lily Ripper' or give any means of support to the City Guard of Annalow beyond consultation if help is sought through either your superior," Eleanor turned to Anna for enfasis, "ME," and back to the scroll, "or yourself directly. Signed Major Harri Eleanor, 2nd of first summer LAST YEAR!" She slammed the scroll back down on the table. Her anger was clear, but controlled.
Anna could do little more than look at the floor. Angry herself, her face glowed red and she could feel the heat in her ears. "It's...not just a city problem."
"Do not second guess my motives, Privet Goldeyes. You were given a simple order which you disobeyed. Shall I tell you the storm you've started?"
"It's for the city's good!" Anna burst out. "This isn't just a city guard problem, this is an attack on the city. As a military force, isn't it our job to protect the city AND it's citezens?"
"No, Goldeyes, it ISN'T! You will remain in control, girl, because you have VERY few options before you. Right now, word has begun to spread that the Red Guard is hunting for this Lily Ripper and the city council is getting nervous! They think we're returning to a marshal state and have already sent such concerns to my generals! If this gets to the High Priestess, it could start a power struggle between the church and the state."
"That's stupid. This isn't an everyday criminal, this is a terrorist. That's military consern! If anything, the council should worry why we've never offered help before!"
Eleanor walked quickly to Anna's face, poking her with a strong and stout index finger. "You don't get to decide what they think, Goldeyes. They do." She pointed to the ground. "Kneel." Anna did as she was told. Eleanor paced for a bit, trying to calm down, then knelt five feet in front of Anna. "Alright, the damage is done. Let's see how this can be fixed. Report."
"Everything. Bring me up to speed from when you found the body. And Goldeyes," Eleanor crossed her arms and shut her eyes. "I already know about you and the Petal, so don't leave that out."
So Anna talked. She told about her visit to the morgue and Cherry's help with the grieving mother. She talked about Madeline and her guilty conscience. At that point Eleanor put her hand up to stop Anna. "Who is Fallbringer's superior? Do you know?"
"I thought it was you, Ma'am."
Eleanor waved it by. "Don't matter. I can' find out. Continue."
And Anna continued. She got to the point with Sarah and stopped. Eleanor made a noise and rolled her eyes. "Ugh. Gringill. Go on." Anna finished the story right up to the previous day when Madeline and her found the garden. She left out Nara Nakki's direct help and the Madeline had left this morning to guard the balcony garden at the docks.
"Questions, Goldeyes. One, what is your opinion of these Cemetery girl? Can they be trusted?"
"I don't know, Ma'am. They are not unknown to us, I feel. Gringill seemed to know about them and Madeline claims all Priestesses in the Red Guard have met them."
"I'll have to check with Martri." Martri was Eleanor's superior Priestess, but she's not important to the story. "Could they have tricked you? How are you sure you actually read a dead mume's mind?" Anna held up her fingers. She had been unconsciously picking at them this morning, but they were still burned dry and dark on the tips. "I see. Do not tell anyone else about that. Not even your friend, Cherry. Explain to Madeline, too, if she doesn't already know. Hmmm..." Eleanor shut her eyes. Her lips pushed out and pulled back in over and over as her mind started working.
"We can catch this Lily Ripper, Ma'am." She wasn't listening. Her lips went in and out, working working working.
Finally her eyes shot open. "Alright, do not repeat this story to anyone else, do you understand? We'll leave it to the City Guard and take no credit. The council should like that." She got up. "Goldeyes, you are no longer Research class. As of now you are on soldier detail."
"It's too dangerous to keep you in research, but for the Red Guard and for you. I'll give you three days to clear out your office and donate it's contents to the Library of Annalow."
Anna shot up on her feet. "That's not fair, Major! This research has lead us to two, count them, TWO killers that would have vastly damaged the city!"
"It does not matter, Goldeyes. You're dismissed."
"The City Guard could not handle this kind of criminal! If my research is abondoned, there could ealisty be OTHER council impostors! Or Lily Rippers!"
"This is wrong, Eleanor! Just because of your polotics-!"
Eleanor screamed "MAKE SILENCE!" And Anna obeyed. "Privet Goldeyes, I will make you understand. You're research is remarkable in apprehending two unique cases, and more of such cases may occur, but both Church and State are not ready for the free theft of information as you're able to precieve it. The world is a map, to you, and you can read just fine the traces of lives. That is remarkable. Do not, however, think that it is not also extremely dangerous. Twice you've succeeded and both times has put this city in political peril, threatening to rip apart a delicate balance of power between the Church, the State, and worse, the Ixxar." She took her time drawing in two breaths before continuing. "I know you need, yes NEED, to find justice and reason in these things, but we are not ready for it. For all I know, i may lose my position just from knowing these 'Cemetery Girls' exist. Children may die, the city might be run by importers, but power will remain balanced and the city will endure as it has for two melenium."
Anna was so angry she could feel sweat burn down her forhead.
"Privet Anna Goldeyes, remain in control. The is unjust, perhaps, but it will ensure our race doesn't plummit into another war. What's more imprtant, a few deaths or an all out slaughter?" Anna took off her jacket and threw it on the floor. "What are you doing?"
Eleanor narrowed her eyes. "You can't. Now pick that up."
Anna stepped over Eleanor and leaned over. She had just realized she was taller than her former Major. "No."
Eleanor didn't even blink. "I'll grant you your tantrum, Goldeyes, but think on what it means to leave this place."
"Without my research, Harri Eleanor, you won't even be able to find me." She turned and left. Ears still burning, she heard Eleanor say something but didn't want to make it out. How long was she walking? She didn't know. The idea of letting more Lily Ripper's go, more killers getting away with it. More children dying, it made her float on hot coals.
Cherry said something. Anna didn't make it out. She kept walking. All the pain she had endured. Seeing all the dead and mutilated children, seeing one of them die from the inside. Her hands hurt. She didn't know why. Her face burned. She didn't care.
When she finally noticed where she was, she had been sitting on the edge of Annalow looking down at the country below. It was a patch quilt of roads and farmlands. Even on the outside, live went on. Annalow wasn't just the city atop or the Docks below. It spread out. Anna looked beside her. Cherry was there. They were holding hands and she hadn't noticed.
Anna pulled away. "It's over now. I'm done with this."
"What happened?" Cherry leaned over and wiped the tears from Anna's eyes. Was she crying? For how long?
"I guess I'm a rogue Heart Mage. I'm done with the Red Guard. I'm done with this city. Cherry?" Anna grabbed her hands. Both of them. "I'm leaving Annalow."
Then she straightened her legs and slide down the side of the city.