Fine gossamer wings denied their delicacy from behind the safety of polished glass, their iridescent expanse reflecting a rainbow of before-unseen colors in glow of the near-evening sun from Morrigan's shared dormitory window. Twenty such glass prisons were mounted to the wall above a desk containing at least three more, unfilled. Each housed insects of varying sorts, mostly be-winged, and mostly butterflies, moths, mayflys and their dragonfly cousins. A few large beetles were also included, mostly for the swirling purples and greens their deceptively black exoskeletons reflected.
The intrepid little collector of these items currently flounced through the door, armed with a small jar in one hand, a butterfly net in the other, and a small satchel slung from her shoulder. Her shoes were scuffed with her earlier efforts, nothing polish couldn't remove, but her stockings and blue dress were spotless. Even her long red hair was minimally wind-blown from its braid.
After all, Morrigan was far too experienced to get terribly dirty in her exploratory efforts, anymore.
Approaching her desk, the girl sat the jar next to a collection of others, these empty, and parked herself in the seat. The buttefly net was tossed to her bed, along with the bag, where they would lay indefinitely. Lifting one knee, then the next, she pulled her shoes free of her feet and set them neatly on the floor next to the desk, so that she might remember to polish them before going out again.
She turned back to her catch of the day; a beautiful, large specimen that frenzied against the glass, only to fall to the bottom, exhausting itself from the lack of oxygen inside the jar. Morrigan grinned as she watched its plight, and rudely thumped the glass with her finger.
"You won't be liking what comes next, mate," she sing-songed at the creature, only to turn her bright-eyed attention to the glass cases, choosing one that contained only one other insect. The label at the top of the display case read in a neat print: APATURA. The specimen inside was labeled in a smaller, Apatura ilia, Lesser Purple Emperor.
It was a gorgeous creature, mostly a deep golden, outlined in black, and with bits of purple seemingly watercolored on. It's body was woolly and ash-colored, unlike the wings.
The creature in the jar, meanwhile, was dark brown to the point of being black in spots, with white lines and a small orange ring on each of the hindwings. Its body was also woolly and rather ugly. What really made up for it, though, was the deep royal purple iridescent sheen that covered the insect.
"And now... Apatura iris!" Morrigan announced as she plucked a cotton ball from a bag on the desk, opening a jar of ethyl acetate she'd had stolen from the sick bay. The cotton was soaked with this and tossed into the jar with the live butterfly, the jar tightly sealed.
The creature became more lively the moment the jar was opened, its wings beating rapid-fire fast as Morrigan watched. Gradually, however, their pace started to change, the flutter becoming slower and slower. Finally, it seemed that the insect spasmed and then didn't move at all.
The girl grinned and fetched a pin. Dumping the helpless creature on to her display.
"Purple Emperor, species Apatura iris, genus Apatura," she sang, stabbing the butterfly through the back, then fetching pins for the wings. "Family Nymphalidae, superfamily Papilionoidea, order Lepidoptera," as she fanned out the wings, pinning them, "Class Insecta, phylum Arthropoda, kingdom Animalia!"
It was finished.
Morrigan sat the glass in place and smiled in satisfaction. It was all in a day's work.
Remembering the contents of her satchel, she gasped and rose to her feet, only to collapse on her bed, bringing the bag to her lap. From inside, she pulled a small painted wooden toy; a nesting dove and her three chicks. Turning it over, she wound the small metal key, then held it right again. The plucky sounds of a music box filled the air with an odd little lullaby, the little birds bobbing their heads mechanically.
It was genius. Morrigan ached to take it apart to see its many pieces.
Unfortunately, it was a gift to the prince and princess, and she would have to resist. She had seen it one of the catalogues the mailman had brought to the headmaster. Oh, how she had cried for the mailman's benefit, as he showed her the pictures, as he usually did if she were around.
My mummy used to sing me that tune before she died... oh, I wish, I wish, I wish I had thought to take the doves with me, before they brought me to this awful place!
The poor dear man had delivered her the toy in four days flat, patting her on the head and saying she was a good girl, and that he could not stand to see her cry. She promised him, the next time, that she would sing him the lullaby, and he, in return, promised to find her a birdwatcher's book.
She adored the ease with which grown-ups fell for her tricks. They were the first species she had conquered.
As the song finished, the girl slipped the toy back into her bag where it would not be tampered with. After all, who knew where that nasty girl Natasha was! She was a bad little beggar girl who would steal the very shoes from your feet if you weren't standing on them! No doubt she had a horde of their missing things in her room, at this very minute!
Morrigan made a mental note to arrange for the de-lousing of Natasha's things. After all, it wasn't sanitary for the poor girl that shared a room with her to live in such a nasty space. And while the other girls were cleaning, she would search out things that looked like they could belong to herself, or other members of the court.
But first, she had a sketching of a butterfly to do...