Not So Rogue After All
"Talk about timing!" Cherry yelled, pulling Anna away from the enraged crowd.
"N-no. Had to b-b-be timed this-s way." Anna was dead weight. Madeline grabbed her feet and the two carried her away from the mob. What happened with the Captain wasn't their business anymore.
"No one could have timed it THIS good! I told you half a day! That's pretty vague!"
"F-felt it coming earlier. S-s-signaled the Captain when I knew it w-w-would hit."
The three found themselves ducked into someone's house. The owners weren't at home and Madeline didn't care. She laid Anna on a couch. "Maddy, is she gonna be okay?"
The alchemist pointed to the kitchen in back. "Get a pitcher of water. She's going to be talking for a while and might choke."
"C-came... C-cane up with the idea...when I was working at a- a farm south of here. Th-the Cemetery g-girls found me. Of-fered to talk. Nara Nakki wanted to talk on my terms, not hers. P-put herself out of the city t-to talk. M-meant my suspicion was right."
"What suspicion?" Madeline put a cloth on Anna's head.
"She thinks she's a thousand years old, Madeline. Who would she risk dying for to protect?" Madeline shook her head. "Her s-s- Her son." Madeline thought about it. "She couldn't l-let the rest of the girls know her son was k-killing. They're not killers, they're torturers. They're worshipers of Mandra, not d-d-death."
"Yeah. That makes sense."
"B-b-broke my heart. Something you s-said at the g-g-garden, Madeline. Why wouldn't the mume down the ally come to help? Applebone was in the hands of a killer and they acted like this w-was normal? Why? Because...Because she was a vagrant being pulled away by a city guard.
"A Mume City Guard carrying off a dirty mume girl. Seemed normal. S-s-so then I thought of what P-Peter t-t-told me outside of Merick's Mug. He s-said Lily HAD to be a Borc because he saw a borc in a blue hooded cloak. Either Peter was lying or he was paranoid. S-s-suspected he was lying. He was there when I found Beatrix' body and he used his weakness as a strength. His passive attitude threw me off."
Cherry helped put a cup to Anna's lips. "Shhh. Drink a little first."
Anna sputtered and gulped, but started talking again. "It's alright," Madeline pulled the cup away. "She can't help it. The drug keeps her talking. Keep going, Anna."
"S-s-sundely, it fell into place, b-b-but I had no proof. I needed proof and I was l-l-lost. The torture..th-the artistry. B-b-becuase Mumes must try and bring something beautiful to this world. And in his mind, these girls were beautiful. Their screams were music and their bodies were canvuses. It's how he thought. I know." Anna shuddered. "I s-saw it when we made love."
Cherry spit water. "What?!"
"Of course." Madeline laughed. "You had to keep him from heading home while they were searching!"
"M-made sure he was the- ugh. The right one. Wasn't going to send them in without being sure p-p-Peter was Lily."
"You searched first?"
"Di-d-didn't have to. Council-Effee Pindrop was in trouble. It was his word that lead the City Guard into a wild Ibis chase. He volunteered when I t-told him my plan. We worked on the letter's together and sent them to Eleanor, Crateshift, and you two. S-s-spent that last two days living with him in the church." Madeline fell on her rump holding her head. The timing of Anna's choreography astounded her. "T-t-told the Captain exactly what would happen and t-to keep tabs on p-Peter's location, b-but not to let anyone know else Peter find out. T-t-old him to search Peter's house for the paints and dyes."
"Yeah, where DID he get tho's dyes."
"Stole 'em from supplies c-confiscated by the Guard. b-but I can't prove that." Anna shrugged. "Told the Major to fetch Duffworm's books. They w-would match the paintings of the girls Peter made."
"But you didn't tell Nara Nakki all this!"
Anna smiled for the first time since the drug took effect. "N-no. no. Told her to keep to herself and let the play go on or I'd reveal who her son was. Told her there w-was to be a scroll to deliver to the Captain in haste. That was her part. The Captain wouldn't trust a seal from the Church or the council. Had to be someone third party."
Cherry shook her head at the play. "I don't get it. Why do anything like this? Why Lily Ripper? Why Lilies at all?!"
"B-because, Cherry. Peter was taught that p-p-pain is beautiful. But he was beat down. Nara Nakki could not teach him to love feeling pain, j-j-just the value of it. A y-y-year ago he found a shipment of Flash Blossoms in the city Guard Storage."
"My big fat mistake." Madeline rolled her eyes.
"He touched them and realized he w-w-was onto a new kind of torture. He heard of them, b-but never encounter them. The first girl, she w-w-w-was a test. He didn't know she would die. B-but it was so beautiful to him. C-couldn't let the body rot without making it something pretty to show the world. And the blue shroud was a funeral cape."
"He was Burying them?!" Cherry's jaw dropped.
"Respecting them. Th-Thanking them for suffering. He l-l-loved them for what they were. N-not who they were, b-but. But as hurt little girls." Anna winced. "He loves little girls." She spat out, disgusted. "They scream in his head. A quire of victims, painted with Flash Blossoms. It was both a pleasence and a guard to keep others from his mind." Anna looked to Madeline. "You saw it, too."
"Couldn't figure you out, Madeline. Y-you read my mind without touching me. Th-thought it was your alchemy."
"I was touching you, Anna. My soul was on you while I was smoking the petal."
"W-wondered if it was something like that. Nara Nakki knew about the garden, too. D-didn't want to interfer. She's d-dangerous, Madeline. Dangerous, but not stupid. She'll leave me alone, now that I have blackmail on her, but-but I couldn't use it and live anyway. W-well she probably wouldn't kill me. Not on purpose."
"I think that about wraps everything up, Goldy." Cherry put a cloth to Anna's head.
"Ch-Cherry, you remember Hilmire?"
"My first Boyfriend? Gosh, that was a long time ago."
"I slept with him."
"On the night he was suposed to show up to your birthday."
Madeline covered her face. "I told you, should can't help herself. She'll do this until the drug wares off."
"Martin Berrymill, too. After he left your place."
Cherry pulled her veil off. "Okay...No biggy. Stay calm."
"And Randy Flailmume."
"This was after I dumped them, right?"
"Cherry," Madeline leaned toward her. "Don't ask for-"
"No" Anna answered. Madeline found herself as the defense line between Cherry, who was sanctimoniously pulling her own hair and scratching at Anna, while on the other side Anna could not shut up.
This lasted for about an hour.
Anna woke up in Cherry's corner of the tower. At first, she couldn't figure out what the deal was with all the pillows. She sat up and took in her surroundings. She didn't know how she got here or how the bed-gown got on her or who was pulling her back to the pillows. Last thing she remembered was telling Madeline she could stand to lose some weight.
Cherry's soft fingers stroked her hair. Anna figured she had been forgiven. It was bright. Was it morning? They must be near a window, but there was no rain. Anna's arms instinctively wrapped around a pillow in the shape of an Ibis. She looked up to Cherry. "What day is it?"
"You've been out, like, maybe all night or something. That whole mess with Lily happened yesterday. I been hiding you here, Goldy. Figured the Red Guard wouldn't look for you in the Maiden's quarters."
"Ugh." Anna covered her eyes with the stuffed Ibis. So, she was still rogue.
"Yeah, Gringills, for some reason, REALLY wants you, so Maddy and I dragged you up here. Were you awake when that family returned home and argued with Maddy?" Anna shook her head under the pillow. "Well, we got the whole story, then were kicked out in the rain. Can you believe that? Some people, huh? Anyway, Yeah, Peter totally spouted how he did it and stuff. Hid the girls in a burlap sack. No Cloak, no nothing. Since he was a guard, no one questioned him when he walked off with the girls. Crazy! Just like you said. When the stones started flying, the Red and City Guard had to step between them all to protect him. Heard it was quite a speech by Captain Crateshift, or something."
"I'll bet. Blah Blah Blah, mumes don't kill, blah." Anna rolled away from the window. "Where is he now?"
"No one knows. I think the City Guard have him chained and locked up in one of the guard's house until they can figure out what to do with him. They're afraid of letting him escape, cuz you know, people might kill him. I guess even evil people count."
"Bravo to the Captain for at least not being a hypocrite." Anna sat up and scratched her head. "Breakfast."
"Oh, I gotta go bring you something."
"No. I'm no rogue. I'll eat at the mess hall."
"Anna, that sounds really dumb."
"Nah, just... I'm not a rogue, I just... I don't know, Cherry. Gimme my clothes. Gloves included."
Anna saw them come into the hall and point her way. "Here they come." She stuffed as much of her bread and egg down her throat as she could before they aproached, washing it down with a full pitcher of Leaf.
"You'll have to take your fruit."
"You can have the orange. It's something to peel."
Cherry shrugged. "Peeling fruit is SO last year."
Two tall womumes in full uniform cast a shadow over Cherry and Anna. "Anna Goldeyes, you're company has been requested."
Anna sucked a date down and talked with her mouth full. "You're supposed to tell me by whom." She felt their hands on her shoulders. She said "Cherry finish this." and then as she was being pulled away, "But save me those dates!"
It didn't take them long to escort her to the office level. A sign hung crooked on the door. "Wait to be called on" The three waited in front of the purple curtain. On the other side, Anna could hear a debate...
"I don't see how the nature of understanding could lead us to discover itself." Said one voice.
Another said "But by discovering it, we could find a better connections between the Tha and the Keb. Think of the possibilities."
"However, just as the eye cannot see itself, your asking 'reason' to examine 'reason.' Either change the nature of your research or give me an example of how the soul can understand without logic or reason. Be off." Another Red Guard, half in uniform, grumbled as she passed through the curtain. Anna hadn't recognized her. "Anna, come in." Anna was perplexed as to how this womume knew it was her, but obeyed. "It's alright, girls. I can handle her."
The office wasn't like any other office Anna had seen on this level of the tower. Most are organized, but this one was jumbled by stacks of scrolls and books, all out of order, on either side of the room and covering a desk that Sarah Gringill could barely be seen over. She was standing, but her cyan eyes were all Anna could see.
"Let's see, philosophy of the mind and it's effects on the soul should be..." Major Gringill searched around for a stack of scrolls. "I'll be with you in a moment. Kneel and be at ease for now." Eventually the Major found was she was looking for and filed the papyrus, picking up another under a stack and forcing it to tumble over. "Here we are, the philosophy to detection and use for tracking events." She knelt in front of Anna, reading over the scroll. Anna knew what it said. She had writen it herself. "But this is out of date by several years."
Looking at the Major was strange feeling. She was so unlike other Red Guards with her rd-line tattoo and her straight blonde hair let flow over her shoulders. Not short and not pulled back. "Anna," Oh, Gringill was talking to her. "Eyes on mine. Why is your research out of date?"
"This doesn't feel like a disciplinary trial, Major." Anna looked behind her. The guards were gone, as far as she could tell. "And I haven't been told what this was about." She turned back to Gringill. "So, I'm afraid I'll have to refer you to my superior, Major Harri Eleanor."
"Ah," Gringill crumpled up the scroll and tossed it into a pile of crumpled scrolls. "I had imagined Madeline had already told you. I suppose not. Bean Juice?" She poured a cup for herself first.
"No. I preffer it hot, Ma'am."
"Anna, over the last two months, I've been catching up with all research groups in both the Red Guard and the White Maidens. I've also been pushing myself to try and keep up with our fighting styles and the principals of the Red Guard. Why, would you observe, would I do that?"
Anna gave it some thought. Finally she said "My best guess is you've seen some similar thread of through between all forms of research, or found a more efficient method for discovery and were assigned by the High Priestess to keep us in line. Perhaps to police us in some way?"
Gringill nodded, her smile growing. "You are very close." She took a sip. "Durring the winter, I was privileged to encounter the High Priestess and spoke with her about her research teams. There were 41 teams consisting of 1 to 5 mumes, male and female, under 35 different majors and treated as simple unthinking soldiers in the military. I told her the best way to dicover and explore was with the cross pollination of different studies and this was how we did it at the schools. Every child learns caligraphy, Rhetoric, History, art, and so on in order to mix the disciplines together. I told her it would be to the Red Guard's benefit to have a similar system for her research, to keep them under one rule, not 35, and have them talk with one another. Do you know what she suggested?"
Anna tipped her head forward. "She suggested you do it, and now all researchers are your troops."
"Excellent. You're faster than the others," Gringill took another sip, "as I expected. What I found was of the 41 teams, 18 of them had been working on similar or identical subjects. So far only 5 have been worthless endeavors that I've deemed frankly lazy in their methods and shut them down. We now have 26 teams...and you."
"You're now my superior?" Anna had to laugh. "Eleanor probably didn't like that." the Major nodded. "Did she tell you I quit the Red Guard?"
"She did, but I didn't believe it and you don't act like it. You may have faked your death, but it was your movements that eventually lead to the capture of Lily Ripper, a.k.a. Peter Leftgood, and even though you left the city, you have returned and even still eat in the mess hall."
Anna nodded. "You are oddly well informed, Major Gringill."
"Although the Cemetery Girls could be considered a third branch to the Church, they are classified as a research group for the Red Guard. How are your fingers, by the by?" Anna unconsciously rubbed her finger tips. "I'm told they should heal fully in a few weeks. Now that you're up to speed, why is your research out of date?"