Ascending the stairs from Alma’s room, Mayumi enters the bar, her hair still damp from bathing. Though the Bunnies have picked out small rooms upstairs and turned them into bedrooms – they finally agreed that they needed a little privacy or they would drive each other crazy – they still use Alma’s room daily for bathing. And quite often they sleep in there as well, sometimes just a few of them together, and once in awhile, as after Chime was chased by that dog-god, all together, to comfort each other and reaffirm their bonds. Exactly what Bunnies are, they themselves are still learning, still exploring, but they have come to agree that they are semi-communal, wanting to be near each other, but not always.
She is wearing shorts and a t-shirt, having come off another patrol with Aliyah and longing to dress in casual comfort. And thus she is surprised to hear Aliyah’s loud voice in the bar, for the Constable had mentioned she was going home to change, and then to return to the bar to meet Sage. It was to be their first date as an official couple, “out” to everyone, as if anyone still did not know. Aliyah’s crisis of confidence in the feasibility of their relationship seems to be past, though Mayumi is sure it will not be the last one. And she was shocked when Aliyah told her on the patrol that there was no need for Mayumi to stop being physically intimate with Sage, that she was willing to accept that part of Sage’s nature. Mayumi cannot help being skeptical about how long it will last, but she intends to make it as easy on Aliyah as she can.
“How did you get back here so quickly?” she asks as she approaches the Constable, who is at the bar, chatting with Cherry and Cala, with Merri serving the gryphon Geryon a drink. Constable Cala Lamore, now the shift leader for her best friend Aliyah, and trainee Mayumi’s shift leader as well, is there but still in uniform. Cala too patrols every day, there being no time for anyone to be stuck in the office all day except for the Inspector, who is still unable to find time to sleep as he coordinates law enforcement for an entire ward. Even if it were not a prime flash point in a Ring-wide crime-family civil war, that would be a huge job, and Cala is catching it as well, looking exhausted.
Aliyah, though, freed of the responsibilities of her own brief time as a corporal, looks positively fresh, even though Mayumi knows she’s working long shifts. She is wearing a cream-colored blouse that sets off her light-brown skin nicely, and a long, flowing, flowery skirt above shoes that look meant for dancing. Her very long, curly hair is also a bit damp, and surprisingly free of its usual braid, flowing over the big woman’s shoulders and down her back almost to her knees, never having been cut in compliance with the rules of Aliyah’s religion – one of the few rules she manages to follow. It looks magnificent, if a bit frizzy, but its volume makes Aliyah look smaller, almost as if she is not towering over everyone else in the room. Her bright smile at seeing Mayumi lights up her face with warmth.
“Hey! I didn’t rush! You just soaked in the bath forever! Don’t you get tired of that?”
“Aliyah…your beauty fills the room,” Mayumi says, feeling strongly why Sage is drawn to her.
The constable blushes and Cherry interjects, “Right? I was just tellin’ her me and Mer are gonna steal her away from Sage if he don’t get here soon. Where is he, anyway?”
“He’s not here?” Mayumi asks, concerned.
Merri, now reclining comfortably against Geryon where he lies on a rug, speaks up. “Oh, he went out to find Chime. That wee scamp has run off again to the Copper Pot! Can ye believe it?”
“What?!” Cherry cries. “I told that boy to get a Popula to do it!”
Mayumi looks at Cala in shock, and the Corporal, who moments before had been listening to the banter with amusement, now looks very serious and sets down her coffee. “Why was I not told this before, Rosemary?” Cala asks, her voice full of disapproval.
Merri quails slightly, probably more to appease Cala than out of any fear. Cala is a dear friend, after all, but even Merri realizes, too late perhaps, that this is a serious matter. “Och, he said he’d be right back, ye ken, cause o’ the date wi’ Allie…”
“When did he go out?” Cala insists.
“Not half an hour ago, I’d say… He said he’d bring us back some o’ Kyri’s pastries.” Her voice becomes smaller as she realizes that half an hour is too long to be gone with the Copper Pot so close. “It may o’ been a bit longer than half an hour?”
Aliyah looks dismayed. “I’ll go out and look for him!”
“No,” says Cala. “You’re unarmed and unarmored, and it’s after dark. With everything that’s going on, you shouldn’t even have walked from your house in that outfit – no sword, no jacket; what are you thinking, Aliyah? Guardia are targets these days. I’ll ask Phillipus for some backup and go myself. You just wait here. I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
She moves fast, much faster than her size might suggest she can, exiting the bar to cross the breezeway into the station proper. Everyone is subdued. Geryon puts one of his leonine forelimbs around Merri and pulls her closer, whispering to her. Mayumi orders a coffee, then reaches out and takes Aliyah’s hand. The woman squeezes the Bunny’s hand back almost painfully. “May…” she whispers.
Tense, Mayumi says nothing, just holds Aliyah’s hand even more tightly. Sage and Chime, like all Bunnies, are fast. Given their choice, they don’t just stroll along – they dash. They take joy in running, in dodging between lumbering humans from place to place. And Sage would surely not make them all worry by getting into a long conversation with Kyri. And he also has Aliyah waiting for him.
The three Bunnies look toward the door at the same time, their sensitive ears picking up an increase in commotion from the station. Mayumi can’t make out words, but she recognizes Sky’s voice, and it is not pleased. Cala’s voice. And then, is that Chime’s? He normally speaks in nothing above a low mumble, unless he’s singing, but this sounds like a wail of distress.
She squeezes Aliyah’s hand more tightly. Now the tall woman has noticed something wrong, and Geryon as well, perhaps from Merri’s reaction, or perhaps because he too has sharp hearing. Mayumi isn’t sure. But now the station door to the breezeway opens and there are heavy steps that even Aliyah’s poor round primate ears can hear. Then the door to the bar opens, night wind blowing in as first Cala, now wearing her chain-reinforced jacket and her shortsword, enters, followed immediately by the Inspector, who is holding Chime’s hand. The boy looks traumatized, as bad as after his earlier run-in with gangsters, and he breaks away from Sky and runs to Mayumi. She releases Aliyah’s hand and kneels to catch him in an embrace, holding him as if she will never let him go as he trembles in her arms.
Over Chime’s shoulder, she looks up to meet Sky’s gaze. His face is stony, but his eyes are distraught. He holds her gaze for a moment, then breaks away to say to them all, “Sage has been taken, perhaps by these Snatchers, perhaps by someone else.”
“NO!” Merri wails, bringing her hands to her face. Geryon holds her closer, eyes closed in sympathy for her guilt and pain. Cherry stands still, staring at Sky, her hands flat on the bar, looking as if she is trying to wish this all away. Aliyah slumps, in shock, and Cala catches her arm, helping her to sit.
“Chime witnessed it,” Sky continues, his voice softer now. “I’ve spoken with him, and we have Corporal Stathos and constables already on the streets and rushing to bring in those off duty. Sergeant Machado will be here soon; until then, Corporal Lamore will be in charge.” He looks at the gryphon. “Geryon…I know you are not Guardia but…how is your wing?”
Geryon opens his eyes in surprise. “I-I can fly. Just not for long distances.”
“And your night vision?”
“I can see better than a human, but these are no owl’s eyes on my head, I’m afraid. Eagles hunt in daylight, Inspector. Besides, how many kidnappers do you know who stroll down the street, carrying their prey in plain sight?”
Sky nods. “I thought so, but I had to ask. If you could stay here and help guard the Bunnies, then, I would greatly appreciate it.”
Mayumi speaks up. “Sir, where will you be?”
“If we had our god of magic, I would be working with him to find something. As it is, I have some resources of my own. I will be on the streets.” He looks at her for another moment, a flash of tenderness as she continues holding Chime, then turns to leave.
“Wait!” Cherry’s voice rings out. She leaps over the bar and has a firm hold of Sky’s jacket before he can turn back toward her. She pulls him down toward her, so he has to bend at the waist as she demands, “You bring him back, Sky! You bring him back! You hear me?!” She starts to cry and he puts his arms around her. She repeats herself, though her words are now almost incomprehensible, sobbing into his chest, and he says softly into her ear as he strokes her back, “I will not fail him.”
Merri slips away from Geryon and gently pulls Cherry away, giving Sky a kiss on the cheek before telling him, “Go. Bring our Sage home, dear.”
He nods seriously, then turns and leaves.
Aliyah says, her voice shaky but determined, “I’m gonna run home and change back into uniform. What part of town you want me coverin’, Cala?”
As Cala is about to reply, Cherry suddenly says, “Wait a minute!” She wipes her eyes. “We got us a wizard right here! Geryon!”
“Oh yes!” Merri exclaims. “Geryon, can ye not work some sorta magic to find our Sage?”
Mayumi stands, finally letting Chime go, her hand still on his shoulder. “You are a wizard, Geryon?”
The gryphon looks distinctly uncomfortable. “Yes. I mean, no. Ladies, I…”
“Do ye not ken that sorta magic then, love?” Merri’s ears droop in disappointment.
Geryon’s feathers flatten. “It has been years since I have cast a spell. Ever since I became a gryphon, really. The gods know what could happen if I tried… I may not even be able to do it anymore.”
Cherry goes to him to stroke his head. “How come you ain’t been castin’ spells, babe?”
He lowers his head. “Because I was turned into this by a spell Dion cast. An accident, really. But since then, I have avoided magic.”
Aliyah, who had paused to listen before leaving, asks, “Wait…you can cast a spell to find Sage?”
Geryon raises his head to her. “I fear that it may interfere with Dion’s spell on me. I do not know what could happen if I tried.”
Her jaw agape, Aliyah is speechless for a moment, and then splutters, “You…you…you’re just scared! You don’t even know if there’ll be any problems!”
Merri says, “Oh Allie…” while Cala tries to calm her, saying “Aliyah, please.”
But Cherry interrupts them. “No, she’s right. Geryon, even if it weren’t an emergency, I’d be tellin’ ya to get over this and start castin’ spells. You don’t even know if anything’s gonna go wrong!”
Mayumi, who has not been especially close to Geryon in the time he joined them, despite her appreciation for his attempt to defend them against the murderous Archon Nekh, walks over to him and takes his head in her hands, kneeling to look into his golden eagle eyes. “Geryon, please. Losing Sage would be like losing our heart.”
The gryphon lowers his gaze, clearly wanting to hide his face, but not quite willing to pull his head from Mayumi’s hands. He sighs before looking back into her large, pleading brown eyes. His own eyes are filled with trepidation, but he says in a defeated voice, “Very well. So what if it could kill me…?”
Mayumi becomes very still at that, and Merri and Cherry fall silent as well. After a moment, Mayumi, her hands still on the sides of his face, whispers, “What?”
Before he can answer, Cherry and Merri have both moved closer, concern plain on their faces. “Sweetie, what are you talkin’ about?” Cherry asks. “This could kill you? Oh no no no…”
Geryon steps back, pulling free from them, closing his eyes and shaking his head. “It’s not… Look, forget I said it.” He opens his eyes and looks at them sharp as a blade. “I need a map of the ward, and a bowl of pure, untainted water.” His voice does not invite any further comment.
Cherry says only “But–” before Merri touches her arm and, catching her eye, shakes her head. “Water, darlin’,” she says to Cherry, who nods and, with a worried look at Geryon, runs into the kitchen.
Mayumi leans forward and kisses Geryon on his yellow, sharp beak, pauses to lock eyes with him and whisper, “Thank you,” then dashes off to the station to fetch a map.
“I just know I’m going to regret this,” Geryon mutters under his breath. “Worthless, even as a monster…”
Merri takes a step and kneels beside Geryon, gently stroking his ruffled feathers back into place. “Oh, ye silly, brave, wonderful man,” she softly chides, her voice thick with admiration as she rests her forehead against the top of his skull.
“Should we be wearin’ eye protection?” Cherry asks in a worried tone.
Geryon’s reply is dry and strained. “I hope not. Though it has been a while since I have scryed.”
By now Tulip and Kori have come down to join them, wondering what all the commotion was about, and after a brief cry at the news about Sage, Tulip and Chime are being cared for by Kori, talking in low voices in the corner.
Cherry leans over Geryon’s shoulder. “Do you think it’ll work?”
Geryon clears his throat. “Cherry, dear, I require silence to do this, if you don’t mind. And maybe you could avoid staring over my shoulder as well? Charming as it is, it can be a little…distracting.”
“Sorry…” She strokes his neck feathers and steps back.
“Thank you.” Geryon breathes deeply, concentrating to ignore the warm spot just behind his cheek where Cherry’s delightfully firm bosom had been pressed, and tries casting the spell again. He must visualize the entirety of the area he wishes to scry, in considerable detail. The map is a help, along with the times he has flown over the streets, though those are not many. Most of his time here he has been grounded.
In addition to visualizing Three Rats Ward, he must bring to mind a series of symbols which, though carrying no meaning in themselves, serve to reshape the flow of his thoughts in ways that are thoroughly unnatural, but which allow the mundane mortal mind to access mana. Gods like Dion have no need of this: their thoughts already flow in those twisted patterns. But humans require these mental gymnastics.
And how about gryphons? Who has ever heard of a spellcasting gryphon? The border between body and mind, between the physical and the psychic, is fuzzy; there is considerable overlap, and one affects the other. Anyone who has ever had a fever can attest to that. Change the body’s temperature by the tiniest amount, and the brain’s function changes drastically. Geryon’s mind is the same one that he had when he was human, but his body is different. Not just the brain, but the form entire affects the workings of the mind. Hormones, humors, modes of digestion and excretion. Carnivore rather than omnivore. Perceptions: eagle eyes, and feathers exquisitely sensitive to air movements. Padding on four limbs instead of two has more of an effect on one’s mental state than might be supposed, and that doesn’t even take wings into account. And his brain structure is far from human as well. Can it manage human spellcasting techniques at all?
Letting slip that this could kill him – it might have been a bit dramatic, but he hadn’t been kidding. The fact is, he simply doesn’t know what will happen. And the students at the Academy of Magic who cast spells when they do not know what will happen at every single step are the students who are lucky to be expelled. The unlucky ones end up in a padded room, or get cleaned off the walls with a hose.
Face it, old chap – you don’t have a chance in Hell of pulling this off. He growls softly as he wills that tiresome old voice of self-doubt away. All his life it has held him back. Every precious success he has ever achieved has arisen from ignoring it. He once again clears his mind and concentrates. “Now, where are you?” he whispers.
Aliyah steps behind May and puts her arms around the Bunny. The tallest of the Bunnies still looks quite small in embrace of the big, brawny Constable. May reaches up to hold Aliyah’s hands, her worried face reflecting gratitude for the comfort from her friend.
Lines matching those of the map begin to appear in the still water contained within the bowl. They change colors as Geryon uses his wizard sight to examine the neighborhoods in different ways, looking for a hint of Bunnyness. But there is nothing, nothing.
“Nothing!” he whispers. He can feel the disappointment around him, mixed with confusion at the triumph in his voice. “Here!” he says, making one part of the water-map glow brighter. “I see it! Nothing!”
“That don’t sound too helpful, sweetie,” Cherry says.
“No! It’s… See here, darling Cherry.” He zooms in on that brighter place on the map. “Sometimes, one must look not for what is there, but for what isn’t. Like this building here, on the corner of Catinga and Sharva. It is the only one I cannot see into. There must be a mage at work here. I would be willing to bet we will find our young friend right here.”
Aliyah lets go of May, leaning forward to study the map. “Right, I know where that is! Cala, I can take a team there right now! Howsabout we send May to find the Inspector?”
“No, Aliyah,” Cala states matter-of-factly. “I don’t want any of the Bunnies out of my sight until we get them all back together again.”
Aliyah looks around. “Uh…May? Where – oh no… Door’s open.”
Cala mutters some incomprehensible curse. “That hot-headed little… Aliyah, go get her, now! Before she kills herself!”
“Oh come on! She’s like a Bunny and all that! I can’t catch her!” Aliyah exclaims in bewilderment.
Geryon cancels the spell and blinks, a wave of dizziness washing over him as thoughts reassume their normal patterns. “I can catch her well before she reaches the warehouse. Hop on.”
“Seriously?” Aliyah gasps.
Geryon, his voice full of confidence now that he’s found he can still do that to which he devoted his life before his ‘accident,’ suavely says, “Gryphon rides are free today.”
Aliyah’s jaw drops in sudden, unbelieving excitement. “Cool!”
“Aliyah, you’re still dressed for a date, not for Guardia work.” Cala sounds worried.
Aliyah looks disappointed. “Maybe you should go then instead of me.”
Geryon looks over both of the women. Aliyah is taller and more muscular, but Cala is rather more…heavyset. Cala catches his look and rolls her eyes, but says, “No, you go.” She mutters, “I’d probably break his wings off,” before resuming her normal voice. “Here, take my sword at least. And get back here quickly!”
“Sure, bring the sword,” Geryon says. “I can use it to sharpen my beak. Now climb aboard!”
Merri and Cherry grab Geryon and give him kisses while Aliyah belts on the sword and then gingerly mounts him. “I don’t know about this…” Aliyah says.
“Careful with the feathers,” Geryon warns.
“Ya Allah!” Cala shouts. “Go!”
Kori rushes to pull the door, left ajar by Mayumi’s silent departure, all the way open as Geryon unsteadily pads toward it. “Don’t sit so tall!” he orders. “The center of balance is too high!”
“Sorry!” Aliyah shifts to lie along his back. “Better?”
“Much.” They move outside, down the breezeway, and onto the street, where Geryon can finally spread his wings fully, snapping them out and beating the air with them. He wonders if this was such a good idea as his right wing twinges with pain.
As if sensing his hesitation, Aliyah puts her mouth near his ear. “You got this, man. Let’s go.”
“Right,” he says with determination. And with a charging takeoff, powerful flaps of his wings, and a half-terrified, half-exhilarated scream from Aliyah, they are airborne.