Prologue: Caveat Emptor, Scene I (Daphne)

Prologue: Caveat Emptor, Scene I (Daphne)


“Morning and evening
Maids heard the goblins cry:
'Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy'”

Christina Rossetti, Goblin Market


February 21st, 2007
Late Evening

"So good of you to join me, Apothecary." The crow-faced woman said, a sardonic smile creasing her hook-nosed face as Daphne entered the underground, so far from the sun and fresh air above. She dipped her long, black-nailed fingers into a jar of honeyed nuts and crunched them in her mouth. "I'll try not to keep you too long."

The crow-faced woman (she was not literally crow-faced, though there were feathers in her hair and her eyes were beady-black) was named Cordelia Corbin among the mortals, and went by the name of Rook in the Autumnal Court. Tall for a woman, just a hair under six feet, and strangely angular, a slim, androgynous creature that was all sharp elbows and cutting cheekbones. Her boyish figure was swathed in a stained, off-white labcoat as she swooped silently among the dead.

For Rook, you see, was the assistant medical examiner of Guy's Hospital, that great, imposing edifice that loomed over South London. One of the largest hospitals in the world, a teaching hospital, where thousands of employees labored every day to heal tens of thousands of patients. Sometimes, however, the patient could not be helped. Some wounds too grievous, some sicknesses too malign. And in those cases, the corpse, covered by a sheet like a latter-day burial shroud, would be trundled on into the elevator and down deep below the ground. There in the mortuary, the medical examiners would look it over and sign it off, and if there was something peculiar about the body, Rook made certain that it went to her, and only to her.

"This sorry soul came floating down the river Styx to me." Rook said, pulling out the long drawer from the wall, upon which lay a shrouded form. "According to the report, he dropped dead in the middle of the street. Just a routine heart attack, except..."

Rook pulled back the shroud, her air that of a magician unveiling some great trick. Lying on the slab was a middle-aged man, caucasian, a little overweight, a little flabby, but otherwise normal (aside from being dead). And yet, not quite. He had been cut open, rather precisely, by Rook's surgical scalpels, and so Daphne could see into his chest. There, blooming quite prettily, in the place where there should have been a stilled heart, was a red, many-petalled flower.

" have a heart attack, one first needs to have a heart." Rook said dryly. She turned her attentions towards Daphne, her beady-black eyes reflecting the dim light of the medical examiner's chambers. "Quite naturally, I thought of you, dear Apothecary, when this mystery showed up."

Daphne, all in all, was amused by their similarities. Rook was sharp and pointy, Daphne was angled and willowy. It must be the affinity of the Autumn court, she thought. There is no smooth ending to the year, when the leaves shrivel and crunch harshly on the ground. So everyone must imitate it, the roughness of the dry leaves and wind, of the deadening sky.

They had both professional and courtly run-ins, and, as far as she recalled, they were all reasonably amiable. So now here they were again, staring at some mystery. Curious, really. Neither of them were disturbed by the sight of it, though surely they were intrigued. Rook, she might even go as far to say, had her interest positively piqued, if not her suspicions.

"Are you suggesting something, dear Rook?" she asked. Though her face was wooden, her voice was light and danced through the cold air of the basement morgue.

Her eyes returned to the corpse. Could this have been her own work? It was possible, perhaps probable. Question was how it was done, really. Spellcraft, transmutation, or maybe an implanted seed?

Dice Roll: 6d10s8e10
d10 Results: 10, 5, 3, 3, 10, 5, 4, 3 (Total Successes = 2)
Dice Roll: 7d10s8e10
d10 Results: 1, 10, 5, 4, 8, 6, 3, 6 (Total Successes = 2)
Dice Roll: 5d10s8e10
d10 Results: 5, 5, 1, 2, 2 (Total Successes = 0)

"Suggest something, Apothecary?" Rook said with another one of her sardonic smiles. She swooped by the corpse, her fingers dipping into the jar of honeyed nuts and crunching them loudly. The crow-woman swallowed, and then tapped her long, taloned fingers on the dead man's chest. "I wouldn't dream. But I'm a specialist in dead things, particularly dead human things. You're the person to talk to about plants. Any idea what it is?"

It was certainly something strange. The flower was a lily, that much Daphne knew at her first glance. But not a lily that Daphne could recognize. On closer inspection, one could see the little root system threading into the veins, spreading out throughout the entire corpse. A moment's poking about, with Rook providing a long pointer, discovered the torn and half-digested remnants of a heart, the organ dessicated and wrapped in thorny roots. The question, perhaps, was not how this man had died. The question was how he had lived as long as he had.

This was black magic, that much was certain. An enchanted seed, or else the spore of some bizarre and alien plant from beyond the Hedge, swallowed and let to grow in fertile ground. Off the top of her head, Daphne didn't know just what the specific method was, but the basic idea was easy enough to determine. How? was a question easily answered. To What End? seemed also clear enough, as there was a body on a mortuary slab in front of Daphne. But the question of Why? Was still unanswered.

"Interesting, isn't it?" Rook said, smiling darkly, her metal pointed lifting up the petals of the flower. "I might keep it, take some cuttings certainly. But I wanted to show you first. Something else of interest here as well. The man had this in his digestive tract when I opened it up."

Rook took out a slab, where under glass was a piece of bright green paper, a flyer of some kind. "Any thoughts?"

"So what you're telling me is that this corpse is an advertisement for the Market?" Daphne shook her head, her hair rustling oddly.

She wasn't particularly fazed about Rook taking the plant for her own purposes. She was more concerned with the eerie feeling she got from looking at the poster. And why this man was chosen to carry it. "He was up to something," she mused. "Do you really think he's a bystander? I say he must've eaten Jack's beans without permission."

Daphne had been to the Market. It couldn't be a targeted message...okay, it could, but there was no real reason to get her attention like this...

Unless they thought she wanted magic beans for herself.

"If it's an advertisement, it's one of the most abstruse ones I've ever seen." Rook said, shaking the glass bin in which the half-digested flyer lay. "A paper flyer in a corpse's stomach. A postcard would've been more straightforward. My bet is that he got burned in a deal and was made an 'example' of."

Rook poked the body again, and then covered it up with a shroud. Absently, she grabbed some more honey nuts and crunched on them as she moved things about. Perhaps the sugary sweets distracted her from the odd and unpleasant smells of the mortuary. Or perhaps Rook was just hungry.

"I wonder which market. Are they talking about the Goblin Market at Picadilly? Or the Spider Span? Or something different alltogether." Rook mused. She looked up at Daphne, sardonic smile back on her hook-nosed lips. "I can get you the man's contact information if you like, Apothecary. He was a sales associate for an insurance company in life."

Daphne flicked her fingers as she contemplated, a quirk she'd picked up trying to get the dirt out of her woody nails. It was just habit.

"Yes, I suppose that would be best. Thanks, Rook." She glanced back at the munching changeling, and then the glass bin.

"Good luck, Apothecary." Rook said, and when she said it, she meant it. Whatever the complexities of the two women's relationship, Rook had no wish to see Daphne hurt or worse. "I'll email the information when I have it."

On to Scene II

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