Mayumi turns to Kyri and says, “I am sorry about earlier. I should not have shouted like that.”
“Well,” says Kyri, “I seem to have touched a nerve – in both you and the Inspector. Mayumi–” Movement catches Kyri’s eye. She looks at Doria, who is sinking into a chair. “My dear...are you all right? You look like you’re about to collapse all of a sudden!”
“I feel...strange.” The half-naiad puts a hand to her forehead, her shoulders slumping. “Like I have no energy at all…”
“Oh, Sweetheart!” exclaims Kyri. “You haven’t drunk the tainted water, have you?”
“No, I…” Doria pauses, then her eyes grow wide. “Oh Kyri...the source from which all the water of Three Rats springs, the tainted source...Kyri...that’s also the source of my water!” She tries to stand, but her legs buckle and she slips to the floor.
Kyri gasps and bends to help her up, just as Mayumi grabs her, then gasps and pulls away. “Noooo,” moans Doria. “D-don’t touch me...you’ll be affected too…”
“But...but…” Kyri looks around for help. The remaining gang members, along with Sundar, pause on their way out of the café. They look at each other, not sure what to do, unaccustomed to the idea of gods needing help from mortals. Meanwhile, the people in line outside the shop seem to be getting anxious at the long delay in receiving their water rations.
From the floor, Doria gasps, barely audible, “Dunno why it didn’t affect me before...somethin’ ‘bout how the water gets to me? Some...delay? Innerstin’... Kyri? You there?”
“I’m here! Oh, Doria, what should I do?”
Doria doesn’t respond. Mayumi calls out to the gang members, “Hey, give us a hand!” The youths approach and stand around the fallen demigoddess in a half circle. They all look to Sundar. One of them says, “Come on, Sundar. You’re the one with the brains.” He licks his lips nervously, then says hesitantly to Kyri and Mayumi, “Maybe, if we put her in one of the barrels of clean water, it will dilute the bad water? For a little while, anyway?”
Kyri claps her hands. “Brilliant! Yes! Oh, that one over there is half empty! Let’s put her in that. Now don’t touch her directly, boys! That’s right, use your jackets, good idea! Right, on three!”
Holding the demigoddess’ jacket-wrapped legs, Mayumi guides Doria’s feet into the barrel first. Precious water sloshes over the edge, soaking her and all the gang members who are helping, and she feels a slight tingle as a very little tainted water from Doria’s skin affects her as well, flowing along with the pure water imported from outside the ward. It’s not enough to have much effect.
Once they have her in the barrel, shoulder-deep, Doria revives a little. “Thank…thank you,” she slurs.
As they reach Chowringhee Road, Sky finishes his conversation with Paolo. “So are you on board with this?” he asks the young man.
Paolo scratches his jawline. “Sure. I mean, it ain’t gonna work, you know. The other gangs, they ain’t got no reason to trust you. They don’t know you. You’re not from Three Rats. An’ you’re Guardia.” He chuckles humorlessly. “You ain’t even mortal.”
“But you trust me,” Sky says.
Paolo shrugs. “I wouldn’t say that. I mean, you seem all right. You come here, you move in, live in the neighborhood, make nice with the locals. Show respect to the old folks. Don’t try makin’ people pray to you. You ain’t been here long, though. An’ you’re still Guardia. You got a long way to go before I trust you.”
“Still, your gang will help with keeping peace in this neighborhood.” Sky doesn’t make it a question.
“Yeah, yeah. Shit, man, it’s our neighborhood! Of course.” Paolo shakes his head like Sky is stupid. “It’s what we’ve always done, without help from no Guardia. You guys only get in the way anyhow, getting’ in our business.”
“There’s someone else trying to get in your business now, isn’t there?” Sky studies the young man’s dark, hard eyes.
Paolo spits. “Fuckin’ Dukaines. Word on the street is all this crap with the bad water is their fault.”
“It is. They want everyone to bend the knee. Is that what you’re going to do?”
“Hell no!” Paolo shoots back vehemently. “They’re outsiders, like you! We heard what they done after they moved in on Little Falls – everybody there is slavin’ for ‘em now, even the Guardia! To Hell with those guys! Where were they when we were holdin’ this place together? Makin’ sure people ate, getting’ kids medicine an’ shit?”
“If you fight,” Sky says, “you’ll need allies. And there’s no bigger gang in the City than the Guardia.” He pauses, puts out a hand. “Talk to the other leaders. Tell them there’ll be Dukaine thugs making trouble, trying to scare people into submitting. Report this to the Guardia – we’ll come to help. We’re on the same side in this.”
Paolo looks at his hand, considering, then takes it. “Sure, sure – for the moment, anyway. Later…we’ll see.”
“Now isn't that better?” exclaimed Kyri, clattering down the stairs, “It’s just as well that we got you out of those clothes before you got sick, or even worse, caught a sniffle!”
“Yes, Kyri,” says May, looking ruefully at the lace blouse and dirndl she is wearing as she wrestles another barrel into position and pries the top off, to start ladling water for the people in line. “How is Doria?” she asks Kyri.
“She’s fallen asleep again,” says Kyri, sadly. “I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not.”
“Maybe we should change barrels soon,” suggests Mayumi.
Kyri shrugs helplessly. “I don’t know what to do,” she says. Then she gasps. “May! Do you know someone named Atheist Jack?”
Mayumi looks mystified. “No, I’m sorry but I don’t.”
“He could help her!” Kyri says. “He somehow stops gods’ powers from working!”
Mayumi stares at her in confusion for a moment, then realization dawns. “Doria’s power is hurting her right now. And this Atheist guy…he would stop her power …”
“Yes!” says Kyri. “Can you find him – no wait, that’s silly! You don’t even know what he looks like. I will go find him! You stay here, all right?” Kyri grabs a shawl and a small hat. “You hold down the fort! I’ll be back in three shakes of a bunny’s tail!”