Leaping, spinning, crouching, kicking...muscles burning as Mayumi performs the kata she was taught in her dreams. It is a variation on the standard Guardia combat training, modified for one of her smaller stature and greater speed. As she passes a broom leaning against the wall, she seizes it and immediately changes the kata from unarmed to armed, making quick debilitating jabs at her imagined opponent’s vital spots. There is little that is flashy about this style. It is meant merely to end a fight as quickly as possible, nothing more.
She feels a breeze waft across her sweaty skin and realizes the door to the bar has opened. Automatically, she turns to face the intruder, weapon at the ready...then sees the tall form of Inspector Tuma-Sukai in the doorway. She straightens to attention, controlling her breathing, and bows as she says, “Keibu.”
In Japanese, his voice mildly amused, the inspector replies, “At ease.” He looks around. “Where is everyone else?” he asks in Urbia. She sees he is holding something in his hand, something spherical wrapped in a colorful cloth.
“In Alma’s room,” she says, setting the broom back against the wall. “She’s resting.”
“Good. And you? It’s getting late and I know you got up early.” He moves over to the bar, leaning against it, looking at her, then around the room. She glances down at herself: a pair of shorts, modified for her tail, and a too-loose t-shirt with a cutesy pony on it and PONY!!! in huge rainbow-colored letters, now soaked with a broad V of sweat down the front. She frowns and longs for a chance to buy her own clothes. Cpl Kaur's choices don’t quite suit her.
“I was...restless.” She goes to the bar and hops up to sit on the edge of it, near him. “Thank you, for not telling her,” she says quietly.
“Well...I’m not sure that was the right thing to do, but she won’t find out about your excursion from me. And Corporal Kaur knows it’s a secret as well.”
Mayumi hangs her head. “I’m sorry. If she finds out, she’ll be very angry at you, too.”
He chuckles ruefully. “Angrier, you mean.” He shrugs. “It’s done.”
They remain silent for a moment, not looking at each other, then both try to speak at once, then fall silent.
Tuma-Sukai smiles and says, “Please, go ahead.”
“I, uh...I was just wondering about Constable Zeffretti.”
“Ah...Zeffretti has resigned.”
“Oh.” Mayumi reflects on this, surprised at her mixed emotions. Was he a good cop, otherwise? Should he have been given another chance? She shakes her head to clear it of unworthy thoughts. He was corrupt. There is no place in the Guardia for one such as him. But she is still unable to free herself of a feeling of guilt, for her part in ending the man’s career.
After a brief period of silence, the Inspector says, as if attempting to change the subject, “What did you think of all that at the Copper Pot?”
She laughs, almost silently, and looks at Tuma-Sukai. “The singing and dancing?” He nods. She considers, then says, “It was...well, it was a lot of fun. But a little strange, to let myself be...controlled like that. Even a little frightening. A bit like being drunk.”
“Yes. That power...it would be terrible in the wrong hands. We’re fortunate that Kyri is so benevolent.”
“Sorry about hopping onto your lap like that.” She laughs again.
“Oh...nothing to be sorry about. I’m just glad you didn’t miss.” He looks away, smiling, and she’s surprised to detect a hint of a blush in his dark face.
Then he looks at her again. “You said it was like being drunk. Have you ever been drunk? Did you mean, in your dreams?”
“Your dreams. I don’t really understand how that works. Did you really live twenty years of life there?”
“But...who raised you? How did you grow up?”
She thinks. “I don’t really remember the early years. I...I think I must have been like the younger Bunnies are now. Asleep. Not knowing my name. But I was pretty young when I began to...think, be aware. Maybe ten years old?” She pauses, straining at memories. “There was a man. I lived with him. He was strict...but also very kind. He taught me everything. How to read and write, how to eat and dress properly. How to fight. How to read a crime scene and handle evidence...”
“He was a cop.”
“An inspector, actually. Like you.”
Tuma-Sukai raises his eyebrows in surprise. “Popula, or Dei?”
“And you grew up speaking Japanese with him?”
He studies her face. “Was he a father to you?”
She nods and is shocked to feel her eyes filling with tears. Still seated on the bar, she pivots away and squeezes her eyes shut, but the tears spill over onto her cheeks as she does. She wipes at them with the back of her wrist, angry at herself.
She hears him move nearer. “Mayumi...I’m sorry. Are you all right?” He very lightly lays a hand on her upper back.
“I am, I just...I...I don’t know whether I’ll ever see him again.” She tries to get herself under control, but suddenly she sobs loudly, just once, and buries her face in her hands. Her shoulders shake as she cries almost silently. She can feel the god’s hand resting on her back.
After a few moments, she takes several deep breaths and reasserts control over her emotions, internally cursing herself for her childishness. She feels the warm, friendly hand leave her back, and when she takes her hands away from her face, she sees in front of her the brightly colored cloth that had served as a wrap for the spherical object the inspector had been carrying.
“A furoshiki?” she asks, recognizing the large square of cloth, decorated with images of plants – bamboo – in front of geometric patterns of gold and blue on a field of crimson. It seems old, the stitching of the narrow hem unraveling at one corner. Where she had grown up, in her dreams, such beautiful but utilitarian cloths were used for many purposes: as small tablecloths, as scarves, as wrappings for lunchboxes or other packages, and even as handkerchiefs.
She takes it and wipes her eyes and cheeks. “I’m sorry...I don’t know what came over me.”
The god says gently, in Japanese, “Now, everything is different, isn’t it?”
She sniffles. In the same language, she replies, “Yes. I was there. I had my whole life. Friends and...family. My job. Now...”
“Now you have reality. And you have your family...a wonderful family. And...you have friends too.”
She turns back toward him and looks up. Even though she is seated on the bar, he still towers over her. His smile is kind. She holds the cloth out to him. “Thank you.”
He gestures for her to keep it. “You’ll need that, to wrap this in again.” He holds up a sphere made of a smoky glass, filled with a thick liquid that seems to slosh about more slowly than it should. Within it, motes of light wink in and out of existence. It seems to be all of one piece, with no way to open it.
Seeing her puzzled expression, he says, “This is mana, in its liquefied, transportable form. The stuff of magic, and the result of prayers.”
She looks up at him, confused. “Why...?”
“I would like you to hold onto it until Alma is fully recovered. And if she is in need of it – if there is some emergency, for example, and she needs to be able to function at peak efficiency – I want you to give it to her. If she hesitates, I want you to tell her, from me, that I order her to take it.”
Mayumi looks concerned. “Why would she need to be ordered?”
“Well...she’s very proud.” He smiles a little at that, and she can hear admiration in his voice. “I don’t know if she would accept it. But this mana...it’s not my personal mana, you understand. It’s just from my monthly allowance as an officer of the Guardia. Part of my pay, really, just like the mana she receives each month. It’s gathered from the millions of daily prayers directed at the greatest gods, so homogeneous that it has no particular resonance.”
“But if it were your personal mana, from prayers you received, it would be more...” She remembers Sgt Gwydion’s offer to share his mana with Alma.
“Er...that could be a bit more...intimate.” He looks embarrassed. “Anyway, just please keep it for now and, if she is fine tomorrow or the next day, you can give it back to me.”
She spreads the damp cloth on her palm and accepts the sphere from him. It is warm, like something alive. She carefully wraps the cloth around it and ties it so that there is a little loop at the top, making it easier to carry.
“I’ll make sure she takes it, if she needs it, sir.”
“Mayumi, if you really want to call me ‘sir,’ go ahead, but I would be pleased if you would call me by my name, as I call you by yours.”
“Tsumasukai?” she asks, altering it to fit Japanese phonetics.
“Sky is better.”
She nods and smiles. “You can call me Mai, if you like.” She pronounces it like ‘my.’
He chuckles. “The others call you May, don’t they? It’s not really a proper way to shorten your name, is it?”
She shakes her head, smiling ruefully. “But I think I’m stuck with it.”
“All right, Mai-chan.” Hearing him say her name with the affectionate, diminutive suffix, the same way the man in her dreams used to, tugs at her heart, but she keeps it from showing on her face. Even so, he corrects himself: “Sorry, perhaps I should say ‘Mai-san’.”
“‘Mai-chan’ is good,” she says, quietly.
He grins. “I’ll leave you to your exercise. I hope you can find sleep soon. And...I hope that you can still find that other place, in your dreams.”
He leaves, and she finds herself alone again in the dimly lit, empty bar.