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Lalune: London,1888 This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

    Darcelle and Lonan had been sitting at the table in the noisy room for what seemed like an eternity. She glanced at the clock every few seconds, her foot tapping under her dress, becoming more agitated with each passing moment.
    “You look sour.” Lonan didn’t even look her in the eye as he said it, instead focusing on the finer details of the room.
    “Well, I am somewhat sour.” Darcelle frowned. “Carnarvon and Montfort were supposed to meet us here. I don’t like meetings being late when lives are on the line.”
    Lonan’s eyes narrowed as he finally looked at her. “And how do you suppose I feel having to hide my voice? This is uncomfortable for both of us, you know.”
    She scowled. “If they’re not here in ten minutes, I’m going back to the scene.”
    That got a reaction from Lonan. His hands tightened visibly, and his knuckles were going white. He leaned in close, letting his accent out briefly. “And what good will that do? You know it’s dangerous! We have no leads, no clues, no idea who the hell is-”
    “I know that it’s a risk, but let’s face it. If our friends can’t be counted on when time is a precious resource, how can we expect to solve this? The Yard is farther along than we are, and they have next to nothing!” She leaned back in her seat slightly. “Besides, I might find something that they didn’t.”
    Lonan shook his head. “You know Old Abb’s too thorough for that, unless magic’s involved.”
    Darcelle gave a slight grin. “And you know that he hates being called that.”
    They sat in relative silence for the next ten minutes, watching all of the other guests go about their business, oblivious to the two of them, too focused on the recent string of murders to care about two more people.
    Darcelle looked at the clock again. She sighed. “Time’s up.”
    Lonan frowned. “I still think that this is a bad idea.”
    “Then come with me.”
    He shook his head. “What if they get here and we’re both gone?” He took a sip from the wineglass on the table. “Hm. Too sweet.” He turned back to Darcelle. “One of us needs to stay here.”
    She rolled her eyes. “Sure. If they arrive now, I’ll be very surprised.”
    “That doesn’t mean I’ll just let you go off on your lonesome without some precautions, though.”
    She raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”
    Lonan glanced around. “We should probably be outside first.”
    “All right, I suppose.” The two of them stood up, and walked toward the exit. “What exactly are you suggesting?”
    “When we’re outside.” Lonan retrieved their cloaks, fastening Darcelle’s before his own.
    As they walked into the evening air, they walked a short way down the street before Lonan tugged off one of his gloves.
    Darcelle blinked. “You’re splitting? Here?”
    He frowned. “Precisely why I thought it would be safer in the dark. I there was too conspicuous, and if you left unattended, there would be too much attention anyway.” His frown faded into a grin. “That’s how things are, especially in London.”
    “That’s how things are in any city with class.”
    “Oh, but that’s where you’re wrong, my dear Darcelle. After all, there is one city where things are quite-”
    “If you start talking about how wonderful Dublin is again, I’m leaving.”
    Lonan pouted. “What, a man can’t be proud of his heritage, now?” He glanced around, his expression becoming serious again. “Now, for that precaution.” With a barely audible fluttering, a monarch butterfly pulled its way out of the back of his hand before landing on Darcelle’s dress. It immediately went still, and could have passed for a pin or brooch easily.
    Darcelle nodded appreciatively. “Sometime, you’ll have to tell me how that works.”
    “Either way, that time’s not now. If you’re going, you’d best hurry. Otherwise you’ll be out too long after dark. And if that happens…” He twisted one finger of his glove repeatedly, his words drifting off.
    “Don’t worry.” Darcelle crossed her arms and looked him in the eye. “I’ll be fine. Besides,” she pointed at the butterfly, “you’ll know if something’s wrong.” She smiled, an attempt to reassure her Shadow that she could get by. After a moment, he reluctantly nodded, and she walked into the maze of streets.
    A few hours later, she was standing in Dutfield’s Yard, staring at the discolored ground. The body had been found there, mutilated and torn, only two days earlier. She walked around the scene, pulling a Phial of Memory from a pocket on her dress. Reaching down, she took a small piece of the stained soil, sifting it into the phial.
    “Let’s see if you had better luck, Elizabeth…” Darcelle whispered. The chances of the memory being intact were next to none, but they needed every possible lead if this was supernatural. If it was, then the Yard wouldn’t be able to solve it.
    Darcelle shook the Phial lightly, forcing the blood to mix with the clear liquid inside. As the entire mixture turned red, she became aware of a pale shape moving nearby. Looking at it, she saw the victim, Elizabeth, walking along the street. That was as far as the memory got before the images became a frantic mess, two figures moving, hurrying, though which was the pursuer was almost impossible to tell. Finally, the figures faded away until a single image was left frozen on the spot where the corpse had been found: a figure in a cloak, masked and clad in black, a knife held with the practice of a surgeon in their hand. The woman was held down, the knife at her throat.
    Darcelle glared as she walked around the image, marking everything that seemed important. Most startling, though, was the medical bag that Elizabeth had seen in the last moments of her life: a blurry afterimage of a doctor’s satchel set on the ground to the murderer’s left.
    “A trained surgeon.” Darcelle felt the bile rise up in her throat as the implications set in. Fae and a few other creatures could mask themselves as humans if they wished, but few of them would have willingly used what they considered “mortal” violence against such a helpless target. Most of those few that would have killed Elizabeth at all would have done so in a way that would resemble a natural death: a magically-induced heart attack, the symptoms of some sudden disease, or something of the sort. That meant that the murderer was either some brutal Faery that they didn’t know was in the city, or- the far more likely conclusion- that the killer was human.
    “But why?” Darcelle swallowed her apprehension and continued to stare at the image, even as it faded away, the Phial’s magic dying down. Taking out a small bottle, she collected more of the stained dirt. “Why would they be killing these women?” There was next to no connection between any of the victims: Nichols and Chapman could have been passed off as ordinary murders- prostitution was hardly healthy in any sense- but Stride and Eddowes had been murdered in the same night, only an hour or so apart. Each body had been mutilated, with the partial exception of Stride, if one could count a cut throat and a slow death by exsanguination as “not being mutilated.”
    Darcelle stood up, bouncing on her heels before leaving the empty yard. She had to get back before the city was too dark- at least, she had to get out of the East End. She didn’t know where the killer was, and she didn’t want to know. Even as a magician, she could be rendered vulnerable under some circumstances.
    The streets were eerily calm and quiet as she walked back towards where she and the others were staying. The grey skies hung heavy above the skyline, and her footsteps seemed to echo in the back of her mind.
    Her eyes narrowed. The street she was on wasn’t built in a way that should have allowed an echo. She closed one eye, letting Seer-sight fill half of her vision. Focusing behind herself, she saw a figure in black, trying to keep step, seemingly to hide his presence.
    Darcelle started walking faster. She’d have to avoid leading him to the safe-house, so she would need to take a different route. But in the end, she did have an out, at least if she played this right.
    She immediately began leading her pursuer on a merry little chase through the East End. All she needed was a good open area where she could disappear before he could catch up, and she would be in the clear. But each time, he seemed to catch up with her to some degree. Every ounce of her concentration was dedicated to finding a way out.
    Finally, she saw it: an alley just off of the latest square. She hurried inside before the cloaked man could follow, taking the butterfly from her dress as soon as the shadows hid her.
    “Lonan? Papillon, I could use a little help here.” There was a moment of silence, before a cloud of identical insects appeared around her.
    “At your service, mademoiselle.”
--------------
    The cloaked man rounded the corner, expecting to find the red-haired girl. Instead, he found only an empty alleyway. He raised an eyebrow. That was unexpected. Quite unpredictable. A fitting end to the chase, he supposed. He would have preferred that the girl be cornered, and whatever she had found be lost, but this was more interesting, anyway.
    He raised his scalpel to the fading light. He supposed that there was always more immorality somewhere else.
    A genuine pity, though: he would have loved to make that girl a masterpiece.




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