Moving through empty streets and dark alleys, Saira follows the silent crowd without ever blending with it. Shuffling their feet in absent quietude, like mindless drones, the people drift toward a single place, following in an almost religious trance. Their destination? A building adjacent to the Guardia Station where a Popula, almost definitely a Probe Constable from the way he looks so out of place in his uniform, stands by the door, welcoming people and making sure no one walks in armed.
The people leaving the building carry pitchers and bottles of clear water and look overall somewhat less weakened than the people walking in.
Hmm… First Kyri’s and now this place gets turned into a water-distribution spot, Saira cogitates. Machado would never put his neck out against the Dukaines like this. This must be the Dei’s doing, she reasons. What’s the name of that Inspector, again?
Now moving into the crowd, lowering her head to try and blend in, the woman searches her memory for the name.
Tuma-Sukai… she remembers it finally. Hmm… Why do I feel like I’ve heard that name before?
Walking past the GP with ease, Saira enters the building to a silent mess. Well… not exactly silent. The large room into which the door opens is absolutely packed with locals, too weakened by the poisonous water to be loud and rowdy as would be expected in any case where free stuff is being given away. But, in the background, behind a long wooden counter, clear, cheerful voices sound, warm and inviting, like they belong to people who are having a world of fun doing their job.
“Come along, dearies! Dinnae be shy!” someone calls out.
“Yeah, there’s water for everyone and when you’re done drinkin’ you can take some home too!” a second voice rings. “Come an’ take it while it’s on the house!”
“Cherry, we’re not going to charge people for water!” the first speaker scolds the latter.
“Well, not now, of course!” the owner of the second voice retorts. “But once this is over and done with…”
“Oh, OK, OK! We’ll talk about it later on!”
Without really meaning to, Saira smiles. The cheerful tone of the female voices, whose owners she can’t quite see, vibrant and infectious, brings a long-drowned memory to her mind.
This used to be a bustling bar when I was growing up. If only the owners hadn’t refused to pay for protection… she recalls with a sigh.
A small pull at her jacket sleeve and a glass of water coming into view bring her back to the present. Looking down, she sees the vessel of appetizing liquid and beyond it, a dark-skinned graceful face topped with…
“Bunny ears?” Saira whispers in disbelief.
The short young man looking up at her from somewhere at chest height, nods slowly with a gaze of infinite patience, like that of one who is getting used to answering the same question over and over again.
“Yes, they are real,” he says in a soft, kind tone. “I am a Bunny and my name is Sage. You look thirsty,” he remarks, moving the glass a little closer to Saira, inviting her to take it.
After a moment staring back at him in silent shock, Saira focuses on the glass and takes it slowly from his hands. Gazing at the crystal-clear liquid, she realizes for the first time just how parched she is. In her quiver, the Pearl hums slightly, as if parched as well. Her throat dry, both from water deprivation and amazement at the novel creature, Saira gulps the liquid in a single go.
“Thank you,” the woman says, drying some spilled liquid on the corner of her lips with the back of her hand.
The Bunny called Sage smiles and produces a full pitcher, asking “Would you like some more?”
“Uuhh…” Saira hesitates. “Save it for the rest of these people,” she finally replies, giving him back the glass.
“That is very kind of you,” Sage states softly. “But we do have plenty of water for them too,” he claims, pointing at a patch in the crowd a little further to his right. “See?”
Looking at where he is pointing, paying slightly more attention to the crowd, Saira spots another male Bunny, this one fair-skinned and blonde, carrying a water pitcher and glasses. Not very far away, a couple of overturned boxes provide a secondary counter, where three slightly younger looking Bunnies, two males and a female, fill and line up bottles and jars with water from a large keg for people to take home.
“The ones at the counter, are they like you too?” she asks Sage.
“Yes. There are seven of us in total,” the Bunny states. “And the ears are real on all. As are the tails,” he adds.
“I’ve been to lots of places and seen many things. But I had never heard of Bunnies,” Saira notes in wonder. “Well, not your kind of bunny, anyway.”
“We moved here recently with our mother, Alma,” Sage explains. “She’s with the Guardia Dei.”
“Did she put you up to this?” Saira asks, gesturing to encompass the crowded room.
The Bunny nods in response. “We are glad to help. It is our gift to everyone.”
Saira nods slowly as the information sinks in.
A bar and a station full of gods and Bunnies. Three Rats is getting interesting for the first time in all its history, she muses.
“Thanks for the water, Sage,” the woman says aloud. “I won’t keep you any longer.”
“Take this,” Sage offers, producing a small, tin-plated canteen from the belt hugging his tunic. “So you don’t go thirsty again.”
Absent mindedly taking the canteen, Saira offers a small smile of thank you. “Take care of yourself, Sage,” she states, turning to leave.
“You too, Miss,” the Bunny replies with a nod and a smile at the woman’s back before going back to his duties.
Exiting the building as fast as possible, Saira blends with the crowd, only half conscious of the way she is clutching the canteen as if it were a precious treasure. Glancing back just as she turns to disappear into a shadowy alleyway, she sees a familiar face staring intently in her direction over the ever-growing mass of people flowing toward the building.
Oh, crap! she swears inwardly. Cala…