Ch3.45 The Pearl

As Alma leaves the warehouse, a shadow detaches from the other shadows and walks into the light. It looks like a man-shaped nothingness, a walking darkness, until one arm reaches up and peels away something like a scarf from a brown face, and unwinds it from his body. The scarf, like a blacker-than-black bandage made of the lightest silk, floats in the air until it is fully unwrapped, and Inspector Tuma-Sukai crumples it into a ball that fits into one fist before he shoves it into a pocket. In the other hand, he carries an ugly, bulky gun with what appears to be a thick tank of some sort of gas or liquid underneath the wide-mouthed barrel, the whole thing coated in a matte-black finish.

“That went smoothly,” he says. “Though you had me very worried for a moment there, walking right up to her like that.”

Alma half-smiles. “Considering we now have the Pearl and I didn’t get shot, I am choosing to look at it as a victory.” She glances at the gun. “Do I dare ask what that ugly gadget is for?”

Sky looks at it. “Oh, this old thing. Uses compressed air to fire cloth bags filled with powdered lead. Works fine in low-tech environments. Probably wouldn’t do more than crack a rib, but it sure would’ve knocked her down. I’m glad it didn’t come to that. We might cross paths with her again.”

“I am sure we will,” Alma says, “at least for as long as our paths cross with the Dukaines’.” As they walk, she sighs. “She is little more than a child, Sky. I cannot imagine one of my own ending up like that.”

Frowning at the thought, while at the same time taking note of the warm feeling her casual, friendly use of his nickname creates in him, he says, “Yes...well, they have you, to protect and to guide them. Saira, on the other hand…”

“She had all the wrong people to rely on. But something in her tells me that she is not beyond help.”

“Cala and Aliyah...they did their best, but they were just kids.” Sky sighs as well. “I hope you’re right. I hope she can be brought back to the right side. She would be a valuable ally.”

Increasing her pace, Alma states firmly, “Time will tell. And speaking of time, we don’t have much. The Pearl feels weak and so did the Oracle when I last saw her. Despite his best efforts, Gwydion is exhausted. I cannot imagine the constant focus necessary to keep those spells running. I am afraid he will break very soon.”

“We need to hurry then. Should we go directly to the Oracle’s grotto?”

Alma shakes her head, “It would do little to help her right now. We need to remove the taint first.”

Sky looks uncertain. “I hope you know how to do that.”

Alma smiles sardonically. “Oh, yes. I make a habit out of restoring ancient and powerful magical artifacts all on my own.”

With an annoyed tone to his voice, Sky says, “You’re smiling, so I’m going to presume you know someone who does know how to help us.”

“I hope I do too,” Alma says, smiling more naturally now. “Inspector, I would like to introduce you to my mother. I hear meeting one’s family is the next good, logical step in any relationship.”

Sky guffaws, all traces of annoyance disappearing. “Why Sergeant Alma! What’s next, Sunday dinner at the family home?”

“Sunday?” Alma replies with an arched eyebrow. “Why wait that long? I was thinking we could just get it done today.”

“Just a little joke,” Sky says, thinking, A friend. We still don’t know each other well. We still mistake each other’s sense of humor sometimes. But she is my friend. But the almost overwhelming sense of joy that this thought brings is quickly doused by the memory of the lie that he told her, that Mayumi will soon reveal. He shakes off these irrelevant distracting thoughts and refocuses on the task at hand. “Of course, we need to take care of this right away. Do we need to use the portal system to reach her?”

“I don’t think so, no,” Alma replies. “My room is not that far away, after all.”

“Oh…” His attempt to be all business crumbles into dust as her words shake him. “Your sanctum…I see.” Entering another god’s sanctum is no small thing. He feels nervous, but also honored.

Alma pauses and looks up at him. “Blushing, Inspector? Hard to tell with your complexion, but I could swear your cheeks have a definite rosy cast. One would think you have never been in a girl’s room before.”

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