Dusk starts to fall over Three Rats, masking the neighbourhood’s aesthetic imperfections while providing deeper shadows for the most imperfect of its denizens to move in. Inside the bar, Cherry is fuming.
“Where on god’s green earth is that boy?! Ever since he decided to wake up, he’s been disappearin’ on us more often than spiders in dark corners!” she mutters, stalking along the breezeway that leads to the station, looking for Sage, who is currently just finishing off some paperwork for Cala before his much awaited first date with Aliyah.
“He’s probably at Kyri’s,” the gentle Bunny replies, stacking forms with an air of almost absentminded calm.
“I’ve told him time and time again, he needs to be home before dark. It’s not safe for him out there!” Cherry exclaims, her voice betraying a maternal concern that she does not always care to admit to.
Since Alma’s sequestration in the First Ring, Cherry and Merri have taken on the unofficial role of protecting their siblings by enforcing the rules that Inspector Sky laid out for them, especially the one pertaining to Bunnies never leaving the station unaccompanied. Chime keeps either ignoring their scoldings or just plain yelling back at them, which has mainly resulted in Tulip learning the meaning of such big words as ‘agoraphobic’ – along with much shorter words that she is vehemently forbidden from repeating. Well, fine, so maybe there is a bit of agoraphobia in there too but it is more than justified. Well, isn’t it?? After one of the big guys uphill sends a whole gang after you, who isn’t going to turn agoraphobic? Sigh… Chime, of course.
Cherry sighs. “I’ll just go and bother one of the officers to go fetch him. I better not leave the bar for long and I can’t promise that he won’t get a tap behind the ear from me either.”
Sage chuckles, then smiles reassuringly. “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of that in a minute. It’s not dark yet and Kyri’s is not that far away, so I’m sure he’s safe.”
Cherry gives him a hug and a kiss to the cheek in gratitude. “You’re the best.” She starts making her way back to the bar. “And don’t you dare be late for your big date!”
Sage walks the familiar streets that separate the station from the Copper Pot. He had hesitated in hassling a Popula to go fetch Chime. They all seem so overworked lately… And so, he had left the bar after getting ready for his date, intent on making his way back just in time, trusting Merri to keep quiet about his unescorted outing.
Now, he notices the deepening shadows stretching swiftly into the alleys and squares and worries about the wisdom of his decision.
Maybe Cherry was right, it is getting a little late, he thinks, his gait quickening, his gaze becoming cautious, ears straining to hear and interpret every little sound just in case.
But soon, the vision of Kyri’s quaint and homely little café dispels his worries. Walking through the door of the Copper Pot, Sage’s shoulders visibly relax, as he senses the comforting safety of Kyri’s presence.
“Heya Sage, come to collect the young one?” Kyri sings, smiling toward the youth at the piano.
“Hello Kyri, I thought I’d better come get him before Cherry storms in with a lasso,” Sage replies as Chime groans, rolls his eyes under the long bangs that keep blocking the view of half of his face and reluctantly starts moving away from the piano.
“That’s my fault,” Kyri says, “I completely forgot to remind him of the time.”
“And I’m sure that he forgot to look too,” Sage chuckles, glaring teasingly at his younger brother.
“Always the same,” Chime mutters. “Never get to do what I want.”
“Well, I suppose that I’d best let you two get moving. I’d hate for anything horrible to happen, like Cherry getting angry for instance…” Kyri says, picking up a parcel from the counter, “I made some pastries for y’all to take back to the station.”
“Thank you,” Sage nods respectfully, “They will be very much enjoyed.”
“Yeah!” interjects Chime eagerly, “Aliyah keeps saying that your baklava is better than…”
“Any other cake,” Sage interrupts him, softly but firmly stopping Chime before he can finish his sentence.
Kyri laughs. “I’m sure there are many things Aliyah enjoys more than my cakes!” she teases, as Sage blushes slightly even though he still smiles at her.
“We’d better go,” he notes. “It will be night time soon.”
“All right, my dear ones, be safe” Kyri bids them farewell, squeezing Chime’s hand briefly as the Bunnies walk away and out of the café.
“Why did you stop me talking about Aliyah?” Chime asks, looking sideways at his older sibling as they walk quietly through the streets.
“I don’t know, but I’m not sure that Allie would want everyone to know just yet,” Sage replies, shrugging and looking at Chime in that ‘humans are weird’ kind of way that the Bunnies have begun to adopt lately. “I think that maybe human love is more complicated than we are used to… Allie says… I don’t know…”
Maybe it is because they are distracted or maybe the people following them were really, really quiet and standing on the right side of the soft evening breeze (note: smelly alleyways are great for hiding smells), but in spite of their innate prey-sharp senses, neither Sage nor Chime notice the presence following them in the shadows. All Chime hears is a few quick steps before he sees a larger shadow, slightly darker than the ones cast by the buildings, tackle Sage, who falls to the ground, pastries rolling and bouncing on the cracked pavement. Chime himself barely has time and wits to dodge the pale, furry arms that try to grab him from behind but instead only manage to slam him against the wall.
“We want them alive, you idiot!” the black, furry shape holding Sage barks as the Bunny struggles to release himself from strong muscular arms.
The pale assailant, so pale that he almost seems to glow in the dark, mutters a ragged apology before tapping Sage behind the ear. The Bunny stops struggling immediately, knocked unconscious by the blow. The two attackers turn to the terror-stricken, paralysed Chime, snarling at him and grinning through a mouth full of shiny, sharp fangs. The pale one tries to grab Chime again but the Bunny, moved by some unseen force, quickly evades his grasp and kicks his attacker in the shins before running out of the alley, easily outpacing the two goons. At the mouth of the alley, he turns back. The attackers have apparently given up on trying to grab him.
The thought that Sage is still in their power haunts him but there is nothing he can do. He is not strong like Kori or brave like May or scary like Cherry when she gets angry.
But he is fast…
Silently apologizing to Sage for his helplessness, Chime desperately dashes toward the Guardia station in search of help.