Ch3.04 The Pearl

“This apple pie is amazing,” Sky enthuses.

“Indeed,” replies Alma. “Many a First- and Second-Ring baker would be shamed in their work by the quality of these pastries.”

“I don’t think I’ve had anything even approaching this in, oh, thirty, forty years...”

“The scent... It reminds of a very small, dim-lit bakery I used to walk by on my way to the Guardia Academy.”

Sky looks at her in delight. “I know that place! It was run by Mrs, uh, Braunmüeller, right?”

Alma smiles reflectively. “A lovely lady. She has passed already. Took her recipes with her to the grave.”

“Oh.” The delight flees from Sky’s face. “But...of course. She would be well over a century old by now.”

“It was a good death. I used to collect souls in that neighborhood back then. She died in her sleep, in a house full of loving family members. Not a bad way to go.”

“You collected her soul?” He smiles, and looks quite curious. “I’m happy to hear that...and so happy to hear that she was with her family.”

“She was happy as well. To see someone she knew in her final hour.” Alma looks away at the memory for a moment, smiling softly.

As she looks back, she sees the Inspector studying her face. He looks down as she catches his eye. “Well,” he says, “I feel sorry for the students these days then. She was like a mother to the whole neighborhood. She reminded me of my...um…of someone.”

She takes note of his trailing off, his hesitation. Perhaps he’s learning to hold his secrets close, she thinks. Aloud, she says, “Today’s students seldom care about the scent of freshly-baked pastries at dawn’s first light.”  

Sky chuckles. “They would if Mrs Braunmüeller were still around.” He takes another bite of pie.

“Yes,” she replies, smiling again. “She had that way about her...”

They finish their desserts in comfortable silence, and thank Kyri as she refills their coffee cups. Sky waits until the proprietress moves away before speaking again. “So, um, how are the Bunnies doing? I’ve been so busy with the aftermath of this Eater of Frogs thing... I’ve only chatted with them a couple of times in the last week.”

She takes a sip of the excellent coffee. “They are doing well. Developing more or less at the expected rate. Kori is now awake so there are only two Bunnies left to gain self-awareness.”

That look of curiosity takes over Sky’s face again. “What was that like...Kori waking up?”

She looks aside to remember. “It was... strange...in a sense. One night – later that same night you fought Eater of Frogs – as I left to perform my...other duties, I heard a very faint voice, like a wandering thought brushing against my awareness. And that name, Kori, was part of that thought. The next morning, as the Bunnies woke up from slumber, the one we now know to be Kori looked different. He looked at me as if he were actually seeing me for the first time. I called him by that name and he smiled and bade me good morning.” She smiles brightly. “The other young ones...they don’t smile or cry or show emotions the way you would expect in a child. It was then that I knew he was truly awake. He has been developing intellectually at an amazing speed since.” She looks and sees that once again Sky is smiling at her, and composes her features, realizing how unrestrainedly she was smiling.

“I look forward to getting to know him,” he says. “The other bunnies – Mayumi and Sage and Cherry and Rosemary – they must’ve been pretty surprised? Or did it all just seem natural to them?”

Considering the question for a moment, Alma replies, “They seemed pleased but not exactly surprised. It was as if this is just an expected event in their lives, even if with no pre-determined onset.”

After a sip of coffee, Sky says, “Mayumi told me that she thinks she woke up when she was about ten years old.”

The goddess nods slowly. “That would be around the time I first heard her name. Whispered to me in thought, like Kori’s.”

Softly, he asks, “Were you able to visit them at all, when they were in stasis?”

She hesitates, looking sad. “Just a few flashes and glimpses at their dreams. Like pieces of memories I don’t remember acquiring. No more than that. I wouldn’t dare try for more than that.”

Sky looks confused. “Why not?”

She falls silent for a long moment, struggling to compose her emotions. Just as the Inspector seems about to speak, to apologize for his inquiry, she says in a low voice, “It is a long, convoluted story. In summary, I had been ordered to destroy them myself. As is obvious, I did not.”

She glances up to see his eyes are closed, as if in pain. At first she thinks it is his still-unhealed wounds, that stubbornly resist even her own healing magic. But then she understands it is an emotional pain, a mix of anger and sorrow.

He shakes his head and sighs. “It is no crime to refuse an unjust command. And thank goodness you did. Even the two youngest...as you say, they don’t act the way a human youngster might, but...they are still more present, more ‘real’ than any other constructed – no, sorry, created being I’ve met. And the ones who are awake...they amaze me.”

After another pause, he asks, “Did Mayumi tell you much...about her life in her dreams?”

Wondering why he is speaking of Mayumi specifically, she answers, “None of them did. They don’t speak of it. It is as if they expect me to know it and I don’t dare to ask. It is their past. It is...private. And, in some sense, I robbed them of a past with me. I have no right at sharing the one they had to build on their own.”

Looking quite concerned, almost reaching out to touch her hand, he says, “Are you sure that they feel that way? Perhaps they want to share that with you...but fear that it would hurt you.”

She sighs. “Well, the winds that brought me their thoughts may yet bring me their words. We will see.”

“The reason I mentioned it...I was just wondering to what extent that dreamworld came from you. Mayumi speaks Japanese as her first language, and Rosemary...I could swear she has a Scottish accent. Have you encountered these Earth cultures?”

Alma tilts her head. “I seem to remember hearing about an ‘Earth’ somewhere. Are you referring to some other world?”

Sky nods, with a slight smile. “Well, that answers my question. Yes, it is a world that sometimes connects with the Insula Caelestis. This very ward, in fact, came here from there. But...it does appear that the dreamworlds are, at least to some extent, independent of you.”

“Yes... They are all very independent,” she says sadly, a mild disappointment creeping into her voice. “Regarding that, Mayumi and Sage have been expressing a growing desire to ‘become useful,’ as they say. I believe they could now be brought into the station without much danger of any... adverse reactions from the Popula. At least none I cannot handle myself.”

The Inspector nods. “Excellent. I assume they would be on your watch, then?”

“Yes. And closely under my gaze.”

He smiles. “I am sure they’ll prove worthy of your trust in them, those two in particular. Um, how do you see them being useful?”

Alma considers the possibilities for a moment. “Sage is well-organized, thorough and balanced. He would make a good assistant or secretary. As for Mayumi... she is strong willed and disciplined but... mostly in body. Her mind is restless. She would need something to help her focus and develop some sort of mental discipline.”

Sky nods. “I’ve actually given some thought to that. I’d like to put her in charge of case files. I want her to be the person we can turn to, when we want to cross-reference cases, find connections. GC Lamore has the right head for that kind of thing, but she has her duties, and really, her focus is elsewhere, on law and bureaucracy. I think Mayumi could excel at that and be extremely useful.”

“Yes,” Alma says, nodding. “And maybe Kori can accompany her. I have yet to find what it is that drives his will, and he would be safe with her.”

“And Sage...I’ve been having Constable Lamore help me with all the paperwork, and she excels at it, but as I said, she has her duties. Perhaps Sage could be an assistant to all the officers.”

Alma says, “Yes, I think he would be good at that. Perhaps he could assist Constable Lamore at first, to learn.” Alma sighs. “As for Rosemary and Cherry...”

Sky chuckles. “Well...I’ve been looking into their request. And I think I’ve found something. Probably would’ve found it sooner with Cala’s help, but...with her religious prohibition to alcohol, I didn’t want to put her in an uncomfortable position. Anyway...it does seem that, according to our lease and the Guardia rules, we can use the building as a community center, in whatever form, as long as it benefits the community. It can even house a small profit-earning business, as long as it is also used for nonprofit activities. And, well, I’m pretty sure that a safe, decent, well-run bar, right next to the Guardia station, would be a definite benefit.”

“I will let them know,” she says with a half smile. “And then consider moving my quarters elsewhere.”

Sky looks stricken. “Oh...would you have to do that? I hadn’t even considered the noise...I’m sorry.”

“No, the noise will not bother me. Nor would a drunken customer wandering in looking for the bathroom.” Sky laughs at the idea of a drunk knocking on Alma’s door...something he himself has not yet dared to do. “I have taken my precautions. But those two Bunnies will be absolutely insufferable for a while...anyway, Inspector, that was no more than a joke. I guess I have just inherited a very...peculiar sense of humor from Father.”

“Oh...rather, um,” he pauses as if he knows he’s about to say something really stupid, “...deadpan?”

She looks at him, eyes narrow, in silence for a moment, before suddenly giggling. Sky bursts out laughing in relief. “Most literally. Truly fitting of Death’s children after all.”

“Well...um...oh! I meant to ask...when would you like to fight?”

She looks at him, confused. “Well, Inspector, I was not planning on it but any more puns like that and fighting may ensue without delay.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you knew...I’ve been doing some combat practice with the cops, mostly random, but I didn’t want to get in the way of your busy schedule. Just twenty-minute sessions, to get to know them, see how on-the-ball they are, and, well, keep them sharp.” He looks chagrined. “Not that you need to be kept sharp! I mean...um, it’s a good way to get to know how people handle themselves.”

“I understand what you mean. A rather wise decision, I must say. I will be available at your convenience. Provided I can find a... Bunny-sitter.”

“Well, Corporal Kaur and GC Lamore seem to be quite taken with them.”

“Yes. Let us see if they survive their very first attempt at watching over the Bunnies.” She smiles with a hint of pride. “My little ones can be a handful.”

In the pause that follows, Sky looks down at his empty coffee cup, struggling with how best to put his words. “Listen, Sergeant...I don’t want to make you uncomfortable by saying this, and if you’d rather keep things quite formal then that’s all right with me but...”


“Well, I was wondering if you’d do me the honor of calling me by my name, in informal situations like this. Only if you’d like to, of course...” He looks at her as if wondering how badly he’s crossing her upper-class lines of propriety.

She gazes at him steadily. “Trust is a terrible thing, Inspector. Too much or too little of it can prove quite harmful. And, while the latter invites distance, the former invites abuse. Knowing this, is that truly what you wish?”

He nods. “We must learn to trust each other, Sergeant. I just wanted you to know that I would not be affronted by such informality. That indeed, I would welcome it. But I want you to do as feels right to you.”

“Very well,” Alma says, pausing, “...Sky. I will do as you wish. But do keep in mind that I will hold you to your words.” She reaches across the table and takes his hand, reaching into his body with her divine talent and once again healing, a little more, his stubbornly resisting poisoned wounds. His eyes close in pleasure as cool relief soothes, if only briefly, the constant pain he has been feeling ever since his fight. “Trust is repaid with trust.”

Sky nods, his face still locked in that smile of relief but his eyes revealing his apprehension at the goddess’ tone. The feeling disappears when he hears her say, “And my name is Alma.”


  1. Well, this was good. None of the stuff that's been going on for a while, a break from the main plotline. I'd have read this earlier, but I've been quite busy recently. On the plus side, there's only a day or two to go until the next one!

    1. And the next one is already up! It certainly is nice not having Alma hating Sky, but as we know, if she finds out about his lying to her, things could get bad again...