That Evening with Madeline
Before we begin, understand that memories work backwards. From Anna's descriptions, the flow of memory starts from the end and follows into yesterdays where the images get foggier and foggier. I say this because Madeline began with...
The deal with the pleasure house would benifit her without flaw. A simple trade of some of the freshest and best Cocoon Petals for wanderroot in equal portions. It was perfect since Madeline had a surplus anyway in her stores. It reminded her of...
The deal with Anna couldn't be true. Cocoon petal was hard enough to get in the city. It wasn't illeagal, but taboo items are few in number and Mumes and Borcs look so lowly on the petal. What a strange trade, the flash blossom. She must need to itimidate. No, that makes no sense. Anna Goldeyes was already known as a hard womume to deal with, especially if you had something she wanted. She couldn't be Lily Ripper. Or maybe she was. After all, she loved children and perhaps that love drove her mad. Madeline will have to keep an eye on her. Now that she knew Lily uses Flash Blossom to kill from...
Madeline hated this place. It was gross and creepy. Her own dungeon had been cleaner than the morgue. Down here, there was a Borc that Madeline was told about. There he was. The disgusting beast, hanging over the dead like a spectre. Get the questioning over with. She wanted away from this evil place.
"Are you Duffworm?"
Duffworm looked up and ran his filty hands through his hair. "Oh, pardon, Ma'am. Didn't realize I had company, I didn't. Er...Don't get visitors m-"
"I'll take that as a yes. Tell me if you've seen this before." Madeline held out a flash blossom. Its blue glow crackled across the twists in its petals.
"Er...Can't say as I have... Weird sort of thing, that. What is it?"
"Take a closer look." Her gloved hand held out the flower. If he was dumb enough to grab it- He was. The disgusting borc yelped in pain and pulled back. "Careful." Madeline smiled. "It's a little dangerous."
"Ooo, that smarts."
"Have you come across it before? Perhaps on one of the bodies you've been across?"
"Oh yeah. I don't forget some'n like that, Ma'am. Nope. Don't forget."
There was a pause. "Well?"
"Oh. Right. Well, see, it was on one of them child murders you hear about. Only it weren't no flower, Ma'am. It were a kind of resedue." Madeline could feel the blood drain from her face. This had been her fault, and she couldn't stand it. She had to get out of here.
"Thank you." The walls disappeared. It was too dark in this place. The stick of death hurt her nose. The borc said something, but she couldn't hear over the rush of blood in her ears. It was as she thought...
There was a murder in this ally way last night. The city guard had already cleared the scene. Madeline was passing by after visiting a fellow alchemist. She looked into the crime scnene and shuddered. No mume should have such a thing happen to them, especially not a child.
What was that? A slight glint on the stone of one of the buildings. What this where the body was found? Madeline leaned in for a closer look. Perhaps some of the blue dye had scrapped off onto the wall, but that was strange. Rumor had told of a dark blue shroud, not a light blue. With her gloved finger, Madeline scrapped at the wall. The blue mark gave a familiar crackle.
Oh no. No no no. This was flash blossom. If this was here, that might mean that Lily Ripper was using alchemy to... She was torturing the children! Madeline's imagination ran wild with the idea. The blossom could be crushed and mixed with a thickener to make sure it stuck like paint. Then, applied to the flesh... The pain would be inconceivable! It would kill!
She vomited into the corner. This was her fault! She kept close tabs on Flash Blossom. She had to! But...But last year, before the killings started...
It was spring rain again. A month after the bloom of Flash Blossom. Good. Her shipment should come in. Madeline made a good purchase early that year with a vendor on Jerrow. Madeline made lots of deals these days. She had to in order to keep her stores full of alchemical goods. To think, she had once 11 troops of Red Guard under her comand and two of the finest majors. Ah, but the sacrafice of power was worth the pursuit of knowledge. Only now, she had to run a business to keep the goods flowing.
Tonight, she stoof on top a yellow brick building in the rain to make sure the shipment went without a hitch. Flash Blossom was on the menu today. Flash blossom and gold. Below, her agent, a borc named Mortok Meanwillow was buying her suply fresh from the docks. He looked up and waved, causing her to duck. Mortok, you dunderhead. Don't call attention.
New rain like this was perfect because the Marf came out of the ground to celebrate the falling of the water. It's sight was disturbing to most Mume and Borc. As dumb as Mortok was, he was always willing to do anything for a bit of gold here and there. They met after a previous deal involving moss-hair and cocoon petals.
The squeek of cart wheels could be heard aproching from afar. Her stores would be full after this. Full of so many mysteries Madelines head spun. The possibilities.
Wait. What was that? Was that the other side of the building? Madeline leaned over the opposite side and saw 5 fully equipped city guards. No. It was an ambush! She tripped over herself to Mortok's side and waved. The idiot! He was waving back! No! No! Guards over there! Mortok looked confused, then frightened. Without another look, he bolted down an ally and into the back door of someone's home.
Whew. At least he'd be safe. As the back door shut, Madeline saw the guard wirl around the corner to meet the cart. She heard conversation and accusations. One of the guards pulled up the cart's tarp letting a blue glow shower him. This was a huge blow to her business. Finding another to farm Flash blossom wouldn't be easy. Worse, they would confiscate it and put it all in less secure stores. Anyone could snag a bit of that...
Maybe she could. Just a little...
But it's all her fault. She ordered such a large amount of Flash Blossom, and someone could easily steal a bit of it. Someone like Lily Ripper.
Anna pulled away. "You blame yourself?"
Madeline shrugged. "As much as anyone. I provided the weapon."
"Brishah." Anna held out her dagger to the house mother. "I'm sorry. Please, take it." Brishah took the knife hesitantly. Unsure of what just happened. "We'll be okay, now. I promise." The mother looked at the two knives in her hands. She nodded and left. "So, how do you think Lily got the Flash Blossom?"
Madeline took a slow draw from her pipe and held it. She didn't talk for a long while. "It's easy." She say finally, letting the purple smoke out. "The stores of contraban in held at the city gate. During a rainy night, when the Marfs come out of the ground, someone can sneak on top of a certain abandoned house and into the window of the stores. To be honest, it looks like the guards set up such an access. Nothing to do with my influence, I assure you."
"A criminal, you said. Instead of a priestess."
"Of course. I deal in hard to get things, now. I have to. I need money for supplies, else my research ends." Madeline looked at Anna, really looked, for the first time that night. Her eyes softened into someone with a soul. "But if it weren't for my blunder, thoughs little girls would not have to suffer so much. I'm to blame, Anna."
The two sat in silence. A dull pluck of the sitar snuck in from the main room. "For what it's worth, Madeline, you're no more at fault than a brewer for alcohol poisoning." Madeline returned her gaze to the flower patern. "And your memories have tied up a loose end I wondered about. Duffworm told me I was the second mume to see him. No wonder he thought the Red Guard are investigating Lily Ripper."
"Be you careful, Anna Goldeyes. The question has already arisen, 'Which Red Guard found the last body?'"
"I know." Anna stood up. "I need to see Duffworm again anyway."
"We're not done here." Anna gave Madeline a look of confusion. Madeline could not have seen it, but spoke "Don't give me that face, child. You're invasion of my dreams has nothing to do with the meeting I must host. Sit. Smoke. Draw in the petal slowly, Anna."
Anna did as she was told. It didn't take long for her to pull free of herself again. The world was purple and she twirled her fingers around the chain of smoke linking her to her heart. Madeline made shape with her spirit, like a flake of ash drawing grace in the winds of a fire. "The world," she said to Anna, "has so many perspectives and layers and shifts. If we think of it like an apple, then our senses can only see one paper thin slice of it through the middle. But the Crynt, Anna. The Crynt can change the angle of that slice. You understand?"
"It doesn't matter. Even if you don't see the machenery for the gears, you'll understand the outcome just the same. Now, touch me."
Anna found she could. Her soul touched Madelines and was gripped. She felt her heart beat as if she were back in Madeline's memories. This must have been how Madeline read her mind without touching her. Madeline pulled her in an unpointable direction and the world fell away. A thin line of the room remained, but the rest of the world seemed like a mass of dark blue outlines in all directions. Anna could see and trace the catacombs under her and the alleyways outside.
"This is wrong." She said, both calm and alarmed. "Madeline, this is wrong."
Madeline hushed and held Anna. "You will find your way back. I'll not let you be lost. Now come with me. We have a child to find."
The world bent in ways it shouldn't. Anna held nothing in her heart but virtigo. Panick was bearly held back by Madeline's spirit wrapped around her, the way her mother held her hand at the edge of the world when Anna was just a girl. They moved, or the world moved, until Anna recognized the outlines of the allyway she had first seen the body.
"No." She repeated to herself, crawling toward the body as that first night. "Don't make me." Her words exactly, but she was compelled. Not by her training as she had first thought, but by...
"What's happening?" Anna asked, her smoke quivering.
"You were meant to see, Anna Goldeyes. Anna who's eyes flash at the sight of children." Madeline turned the world and the body returned in the corner. The little mume girl lay in the shadows, a carved flower on her check, spread out like a sun. Only, her eyes were open and following Anna.
"Please, show me no more, Madeline. I beg mercy."
"This has nothing to do with me, Anna. She drew you close to begin with."
The child's head twisted at an impossible angle. Her features limp, but in pain. Eyes open and folowing. Were her lips moving? Anna crawled closer. Closer to the horrible image of cuts and bloodless gore. Art made of pain. She could feel the girls lips touch her ears now. A whisper. "it hurts so much."
"I know." Anna whimpered. "I know, and I'll make them pay."
"flowers." the child said. "blood into flowers."
Anna stood up from the pillows. It was involuntary, like a jerk away from a fire. "Flowers. Lily likes flowers."
Madeline blinked away the purple, trying to come to terms with the world again. "Huh? We were..."
"Madeline! Don't you get it?"
"Lily uses flowers for everything. Flowers to kill, Flowers to morn. What's blue dye made from?"
The alchemist rubbed her head. "Er...Flowers?"
"All this time, I've been looking for a slaughter house! But what I should have been looking for was a garden! You know about growing things. Blood can be used as fertilizer, especially for certain alchemical herbs."
"Sure. Yes." Madeline pulled her sheets closer, trying to shake off the effects of the petal. "Yes, that makes sense. And, if you're right, then the reason Lily kills in the spring is..." It fit together in Madeline's head. Her eyes widened. "Oh."
"Flash Blossoms bloom in the first month of Spring. Lily grows her own weapons."