Ch3.57 The Pearl

Mayumi reenters the bar, having gone to the room she shares with Alma and the other Bunnies to change out of the dirndl Kyri had lent her. The tension she feels is plain on her face, but she knows that the longer she keeps her secret, the worse the impact of revealing it will be.

The room is crowded with people, mostly Guardia Popula, just going off-duty after the emergency had brought the entire station into action regardless of watch. She can hear Merri and Cherry at the bar, calling out jovially, ecstatic to be acting as bartenders even though all they are doing is opening bottles of beer and passing them to tired but celebratory officers. Pushing between bodies that keep jostling her, wrinkling her sensitive nose at the sour scent of unwashed human, she suddenly breaks into the open and sees Alma talking with Sgt Gwydion. They both look worn out, but they are smiling, Gwydion a little seductively, Alma a little cynically, still unsure of each other but, to Mayumi’s eyes, sharing a growing camaraderie.

She glances to the next table, and sees Sky talking with that beer god, Brew – the one Cherry keeps talking about. In fact, as she watches, the dark Bunny traipses over, grinning, and holds four bottles of ale up to him, holding two in each hand by the necks. He smiles and holds his hand out in blessing, and the bottles almost seem to glow, some not-quite-visible effect changing them from the indifferent local brew into something remarkable. Cherry bites her lip seductively and leans forward, giving him a good look at her bosom, and thanks him warmly, then returns to the bar and hands the drinks over to Dr Nataniel, Aliyah, and, after being waved off by Cala, to Sgt Machado, keeping the last for herself, and sharing it with Merri.

Mayumi looks back over to Sky, and finds him looking at her. It’s clear from his expression that he knows what she is about to do. He looks sad but resolved, and he nods at her encouragingly.

She nods back, then – feeling sick to her stomach – she approaches Alma, who notices her and breaks off to say, “What is it, dear?”

“Alma...may I speak with you? Alone? I...I have something to tell you.”

Alma looks at Gwydion, nods to him, and stands, taking Mayumi’s hand. “Yes, of course. Let’s go to our room.”

As they start to leave, Mayumi glances back at Sky. He seems to be making an excuse to Brew, getting ready to leave – and then she can no longer see him as the tall human bodies cut off her view.

Going through the crowd is now easier – no one jostles them. Mayumi looks up at Alma’s face. Alma seems to take no notice of the way everyone moves out of her way at her approach, like waves breaking from a ship’s bow, then returning to their places after Alma and Mayumi have passed. Even those who move hardly seem to notice they have done so, continuing their conversations with barely a pause.

They go down the stairs and enter the warm, welcoming room, the sound of the fountain calming. At least I hope it will be calming, she thinks as she sits on the edge of the bed. She finds herself looking down, unable to meet Alma’s gaze. She takes a deep breath...but she can’t form the words. She takes another–

“You are making me worry, little one,” says Alma. “Is there something wrong?”

Mayumi nods. “Alma…” She forces herself to look up, to look Alma in the eye. She sees that the goddess is indeed worried, her face serious and concerned. “Alma, I lied to you.”

Mayumi feels herself go cold at the blooming shock on Alma’s face. The Bunny can hardly believe she actually said the words and wishes she could take them back. She wishes she could take so much back. Alma asks her, her voice stiff with tension, “When?”

“That first morning,” Mayumi replies, hating the trembling in her voice. “After you awakened us. I...I followed Constable Zefretti outside, into Three Rats. When you...were looking for me, I wasn’t in the station.”

Her voice cold and flat, Alma demands, “Why?”

“I overheard him. I knew he was corrupt. I wanted to find out what was going on–”

“Why did you lie to me?” Alma’s voice cuts her like a razor.

Mayumi just looks at her for a long moment. Finally, her voice small, she says, “I didn’t want you to be mad at me. I knew I had made a mistake...and I was scared. I didn’t want you to be disappointed in me.” She can’t look at Alma’s cold face any longer. She hangs her head. “And...I didn’t want you to confine me to the station even longer. I’m sorry! I was stupid, and selfish, and worse...cruel. I let you think that you were in the wrong. I’ve never felt so ashamed in my life. And I…”

She pauses and feels tears filling her eyes and spilling over. “I asked Inspector Sukai not to tell you. He agreed but he only wanted to get me back to the station. And Kyri – please don’t be mad at them! It was my fault!

She looks back up at Alma, only to see the goddess has half-turned away from her to stare at the light in the hands of the statue, dimmed for the evening. “Lied to,” Alma mutters to herself in cold fury. “Lied to from day one.”

“Alma,” Mayumi says in a voice barely above a whisper, “I’m so sorry.”

“You are not going to be the only one,” the goddess grates out as she turns to leave.

“Wait, please!”

Alma pauses at the door, one hand on the handle. Without looking back, she says, “If there is anything in you close to respect for me, you will stay here. Get the others to bed. Don’t wait up for my return.”

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