Another day in Three Rats. Ewá Nanã has not, so far, had much of a chance to explore the ward on her own. When she told Inspector Tuma-Sukai the day before, after meeting the Bunnies – those fascinating creatures – that she needed to understand the ward itself as part of her observations, he had wanted to have her accompanied. “Please, Inspector,” she had insisted. “You are obviously far too overworked as it is, and your Guardia force spread too thin. I am, after all, a demigoddess, and I have been trained by my clan to defend myself. I don’t believe I need to fear moving around the same neighborhood that thousands of locals must venture out into every day.”
It was almost touching, the expression of worry on his face. After the way he stepped in to rescue her… Her childhood stutter, that she’d fought so hard and long to overcome, had returned while she was trying to interview the Bunnies. More like they had interviewed her. And flirted with her. And showed her that they were no mere creations, but people. It had thrown her off badly. Tuma-Sukai’s help had been most welcome. Yet he still regarded her as a tool of the Council, an organization in which he had no trust.
Perhaps he was starting to accept that she, as a member of the Candomblé clan, had no more trust in them than he did. Perhaps they could find a way to be allies. His admission that he had badly misjudged the Bunnies at first – another attempt at bridge building?
But if she went about with a Guardia escort, she wouldn’t perceive the real Three Rats.
And things are tense, she has to admit. She has stopped and spoken with merchants and street children. Breakfast in a pleasant café run by a small goddess who, it turns out, fought the Dukaines alongside the Guardia not long ago. The collapse of the Dukaine command structure has catapulted the entire Fourth Ring into a chaotic transition state. Three Rats is actually better off than some wards. The Dukaines were far less established here, and were weakened further by their failed attempts to monopolize the ward’s resources and then to assassinate the Bunnies. In wards where the gang ruled with an iron grip, the shattering and inter-shard warfare has left behind no authority at all. Despite its small and overstrained Guardia contingent, Three Rats at least has an institution it can turn to other than the gangs.
Still, the ward seems subdued. She has nothing to compare it to, not having been here before, but the locals seem welcoming and warm, for the most part, surprisingly so to an outsider like her. And when she manages to get them talking, they murmur how things have changed, how it was bad before, the poverty and violence, but the arrival of the Dukaines made it worse, and now it is all but open warfare. She is warned a dozen times to be careful.
Such warnings echo in her mind as she slips through a narrow, oddly angled street, more an alley really, the buildings not quite parallel. She has become turned around, and entered the street to find her way back to a house she had passed earlier, one that had caught her eye, and that had sported a ‘For sale’ sign. Considering what her clan expects of her, following her mission for the Council, she will need a residence in Three Rats. But the way buildings come together almost randomly in this ward has her disoriented.
She is thinking about retreating to the wider road when she hears shouting, a scream. Suddenly a half dozen boys, teenagers, are rushing past her. One is bleeding, supported by another. Behind them comes another group, slightly older. Ewá turns to face them, unsure if she should be fleeing or preparing to fight, and as one shoulders her aside, she feels a tug at her belly, a tearing sound and thinks, My blouse! just before the pain blossoms, and she realizes more than her blouse has been damaged. Another impact from the other side and she sees stars, then darkness.
The last thing she remembers is a sharp noise, a whistle.
Pain. Noise. She doesn’t want to open her eyes.
Someone is calling out, “Doctor! Doctor! I need a doctor!”
Someone snaps, “The doctor is busy! You have to wait like the rest of us! Now shut up already!”
“But it hurrrrts!”
“Of course it hurts. You cut your finger off, idiot! But the bleeding is stopped, so you can wait.”
Closer, she hears quieter voices. A man muttering under his breath, very near. A little farther away, a whispered conversation, a male voice saying, “She was just laying in the street, y’know?”
“Lying.” A female voice.
“Huh? No, I’m telling the truth!”
“No, I mean… Never mind. You did good, Wallace, bringing her here so quickly.”
“Heh, y’know May, sometimes you sound so much like you’re in charge, I almost salute you.”
“Sorry… I… It’s hard to explain. I used to…never mind.”
She opens her eyes. Slowly, the blurs come into focus.
“Buenos dias, Miss Sunshine.” A handsome, brown face is near hers, the eyes looking into hers, evaluating.
“Bom dia,” she mumbles back. She moves her head slightly and closes her eyes again when dizziness makes the room spin.
“I was half hoping you would not wake up,” the man says. “Now I will have to numb you for stitches.”
Keeping her eyes closed, she asks, “Who are you? Where am I?”
“I am Doctor Nataniel and I will be your physician tonight on account of there being no one else available in Three Rats. And you are, señorita?”
She doesn’t answer at first, concentrating, trying to make the dizziness pass through force of will. Wishing that, like most gods and some demigods, she could heal herself with ease.
“The numbing is the most painful part,” Nataniel says. “Here we go…”
The pain in her abdomen suddenly spikes, a sharp needle piercing her skin to inject the liquid that makes her flesh burn and distend as it seeps into the tissues and pulls them with swelling. She grits her teeth, not wanting to make any sound. Still, she cannot stop a grunt of pain from escaping.
The female voice from before asks, nearer, “Do you need anything, Doctor?”
“More bandages. You know where they are, sí?”
“There, a few more of these and the pain should go away,” the doctor says as the needle performs its terrible job again.
“Is it bad?” Ewá asks.
Nataniel, in that slightly distracted voice that indicates he’s focused on more important things, says, “Nothing is spilling out. But the blade caught the first muscle layer. You will need to be careful.”
“I just need to be able to make it to a healer,” Ewá gasps.
“I know a good healer,” the doctor says, “though she’s currently facing charges. But you will make it, if you stay still and don’t fight me.”
“I surrender myself to your expert care, Doctor,” Ewá manages to say.
“Good. This should only hurt you.”
Ewá’s eyes fly open at the doctor’s words. “Wh…what?”
“Maldición, a bit! It should only hurt a bit! Perdón, my tongue slipped on the truth.”
To keep her mind off the pain, Ewá asks, “You are not…from here, are you?”
“There, the pain should disappear now. No. I’m from another ward, far away. Guardia duty saw me stationed here.”
“I see… Duty has also brought me here, from far away. Is it always so dangerous here?”
“Only when you go into a dark alley to fight people with knives,” Nataniel chides while he stitches her up. “Even if you are immortal, there are better ways to spend your time, you know?”
“I…was lost. I am usually more cautious. Something about this place…”
As he stitches away, the doctor agrees, “Hard to ignore, difficult to love and nothing left in it to hate. I have prayed at that altar already. Hence, this clinic.”
Ewá looks around, seeing an old building with new, or at least newish furniture and trappings. “Is this clinic new?”
“Sí. The only one in Three Rats too. And already I have trouble finding time to sleep.”
She sees a slender young woman, long, erect ears marking her as not quite human, come in bearing a tray with folded gauze bandages. She recognizes Mayumi from their brief meeting on her first day in Three Rats, which was…only yesterday. So much has happened so quickly.
“I see you have an assistant, at least.”
Mayumi’s ears go back a little and she looks reluctant to be there, but sets the tray on a metal table beside the bed.
“Ah, sí, May comes to help sometimes, but she has her own job at the station,” the doctor replies. “There, stitching done. And the blow to the cabeza, the head, seems to be no big problem. But you are going to lie here for one hour at least. You have lost blood and I don’t want you going off to your healer just to fall face down in the street again.”
“Obrigada, Doctor Nataniel. Perhaps I could wait here with your assistant. I have been needing to speak with her.”
“Ah.” The doctor looks at Mayumi, who reluctantly nods. “Very well. I shall attend to my next patient.”
After he leaves, Ewá weakly pats the narrow bed she lies on. “Please, Mayumi.” The Bunny sighs and slowly sits on the edge of the mattress. After a moment, the Eye of the Council starts with a neutral question. “Who is Wallace?”
A very brief look of confusion flits across Mayumi’s face. “Oh, Constable Longshot. He brought you in, with Paolo.”
“A young gang leader. From what I gather, you were caught between a local gang – that’s Paolo’s – and one of the new ones. Paolo did not stay long, but he claimed a member of the other gang attacked you. I’m inclined to believe him. Paolo’s gang are not known for using violence against anyone they are not warring with.”
Ewá nods. “And here you are, away from the station. Are you not worried about the violence in the streets?”
Mayumi shakes her head. “This is my home now. My streets. I’m not going to hide.” She stands and pulls the thin blanket up a bit higher, tucking it around Ewá Nanã, fussing over her. “And forgive me, Observer, but I would have known the danger was coming far earlier, and avoided it.”
“The ears. And an ability to read the streets.” Mayumi sits again.
“I’ve spoken with your… I’m sorry, what do you call them? Your brothers and sisters?”
Again Mayumi shakes her head. “Not really. It’s not the same. We just think of ourselves as family.”
“I see…I think.” Ewá pauses. “It was an enlightening interview.”
Mayumi looks at the Council’s Eye for a long moment, then asks, her voice flat, “So what do you think, then? Are we worthy of existence?”
Ewá feels a pang at her earlier assumptions. “As much as anyone I have met. But I noticed something. They were not at all happy that you were not there. Neither was Tuma-Sukai.”
Mayumi responds to this only by looking away, not guiltily, but resolutely. Her expression is one Ewá has seen many times before: This is none of your business.
So the lawyer says, as if talking to herself, “It seems as if young Chime is exploring the neighborhood as well. As I was leaving, I told the Inspector, ‘You cannot keep them all under control. You have not the time nor the hold over them. They do not see you as a parental figure or a commanding officer, but as a friend. And thus you cannot keep them safe.’ He did not look happy at this, but I could tell I was not teaching him anything he did not already know. And that he was very worried by it.”
Mayumi nods, but remains silent.
“I need to ask you, May… I’m sorry, is it all right if I call you May? Some of the others did. And the doctor, just now.”
“My name is not really amenable to shortening. The closest dimunation would be ‘Ma’, but nobody calls me that. I prefer Mayumi, but I tolerate ‘May’ from those I love, even though I find it silly.” She glances back down at Ewá.
“Thank you. Then…Mayumi, I need to ask you about that day, when Archon Nekh was killed.”
Mayumi stares at her, her eyes hard. Just as Ewá is starting to think the Bunny will remain stonily silent, Mayumi speaks. “Alma did what she had to do. That is all I have to say at this time.” She stands. “Now if you will excuse me, while I am no nurse, there are things I can do here to make the day easier on Doctor Nataniel. He will be by to check on you soon, and if you are ready to leave, I will fetch a constable to escort you to the portal.”
And before Ewá can say anything else, Mayumi slips out of the small room.