“Now remember: stick close to me. Memorize our route, and if something happens…”
“I go straight back home as fast as I can.” Mayumi suppresses a sigh. Why is Tuma-Sukai making such a big deal about a simple trip outside Three Rats? Still, at least he’s talking to her again, instead of being distant like he’d been since that fight with Alma weeks ago.
She notices he’s fallen silent and she steels herself. Has he noticed her exasperation? But his voice is soft and self-deprecating. “I’m sorry. I know you know. I’m just...nervous.”
She looks at him and smiles briefly. “It’s all right. I would be nervous too. Alma is very protective.”
He looks as if he’s about to say something, then changes his mind. “So...this is a portal. Have you used them before?”
She looks at the tall ovoid frame, made of alchemical silver and other materials, its design utilitarian and relatively new. “I used the portal system to go to the Guardia Academy, of course, and to return after graduation. I didn’t visit home during my studies. It was so expensive – but my father came to visit me twice. Mortals don’t often use it, right?” She leaves unmentioned that she could have scraped the money together for a visit, but she hadn’t wanted her father to think she was weak. She’d never told anyone that she’d cried herself to sleep the first three nights.
“Yes,” he confirms. “Gods can easily use it by giving up some of their mana when they go through. This is the toll exacted by the portal system, a sort of tax. The mana is accumulated and used for various purposes, such as paying me.” He gives her a little half smile. “Paying public servants in general, of course.”
“Because you’re not allowed to have organized worshippers.”
“Right. People can pray to us if they want, as a gift, but no shrines or temples for us.” And no bribery, of course. The rules, Mayumi has heard, are complicated. “Mortals, on the other hand, have to buy tickets – or you can just ride along with a god, and I pay a little extra mana. That’s how we’re travelling today. For now, let’s go.” He touches the frame. The space within glows gold. Sky reaches his hand out to her.
“But where are we going?” Mayumi asks as she puts her hand in his. Rather than answering, he pulls her close to him and they step through together. She feels as if she is falling for just a moment, and then they are elsewhere.