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Hares On the Mountain

"Excuse me," said a polite British man's voice from behind Nereid, "but are you... human?"

Nereid jumped and turned. A tall, thin, beautiful man with milk-pale skin, cascading auburn hair, and aquiline features was smiling down at her. He wasn't dressed the way the other people in the street were. He was barely dressed at all, covered in an array of scraps that were loosely stitched together, with rags tied around his feet. His slender musician's hands were protected by mismatched, torn, fingerless gloves. She glanced at the side of the building, but among all the other wildly inhuman reflections in the golden light of sunset, his was exactly the same as he presented himself to her eyes.

"I... yes," she said after a moment, looking up at him again. "Are you?"

He looked to be in his early twenties, and his broadened smile made him look even younger. "Yes, yes, I am. It's been a long time since last I saw a human."

Relief washed over her. "Do you, um, live here?"

"Yes," he said, "though I wish I didn't."

"Were you kidnapped?" she asked, entirely certain that this was rude, but, in some corner of her mind, thinking vaguely to test the assertion that he was human.

"A long time ago," he said. "What year is it where you come from?"

This caught her off guard. "2010," she said.

He turned even paler at this. "Then I've been gone for a while." His smile took on a bitter edge. "I suppose everyone is dead now."

"When were you taken from?" she said.

"1882," he said. "In May, if I recall correctly."

"Yeah," she said, "I guess everyone you knew is dead." Then she observed a touch of sadness in his eyes, and hurriedly said, "Unless you knew paras. Paranormals. You know, bulletproofs." He looked confused, so she bulled on. "A lot of paras live longer than people without superpowers, you know. The Damned Yankee was born, oh, a long, long time ago, he was a soldier in World War I, so he's over a hundred years old..."

He smiled and gripped her shoulder. "It's all right. I've got used to the idea, though I couldn't be sure how long I'd been here. What's your name?"

Unlike Wire, she had done a little reading, so she knew better than to give anyone her real name. "People call me Nereid. And you?"

He patted her shoulder and let his hand slide away. "Well done, though you needn't fear another human. I'm Tamas Lane. People call me Tam."

"Nice to meet you," she said, extending her hand.

"The pleasure is all mine," he said, shaking her hand firmly, then bending gracefully to kiss it.

Flustered, Nereid said, "So, um, I seem to have lost my friends along this street. Other humans. I was waiting for them."

He didn't release her hand. "It's unwise to stay still in this land for very long," Tam said. "Why don't we walk on together and see if we can spot your friends?"

"I thought," she said, following the pressure on her hand, "that if I stayed put, they'd find me."

"Have you ever read Through the Looking-Glass?" he asked, leading her along the next side of the skyscraper.

"When I was a kid," she said, looking around for any sign of the Equestrian or Wire as they proceeded.

"Think of this land," he said, "as the land the Red Queen lives in. Everything is moving, all the time. If you stay still, you'll end up somewhere else."

"What?" she said. She thought she glimpsed a horse, but it turned out to be an old car.

"You have to keep moving to keep up," he said, dexterously sliding through the crowd. It was an evening crowd now, the business suits exchanged for clubbing gear of all varieties. Nereid had never seen so many variations on the little black dress in her life. Particularly on men.

A crowd of demure goths sidled by.

"We need to get out of the city before midnight," Tam said.

"What?" Nereid said, alarmed. "Why? I need to find my friends!"

"If they're smart, they'll be getting out too," he said, a little grimly.

"Well," Nereid said, "the Equestrian knows about these things, so she'll probably know to get out. Does it get very horrible?" She tried very hard not to think of the wedding feast.

"So I've heard," he said vaguely, knocking on the door of a small cottage that backed onto the city wall. When a hideous twisted crone opened the door with a hiss and a snarl, Nereid almost jumped out of her skin -- she was still distracted, craning her neck looking for the Equestrian. "Hello, Mistress Alison," Tam said cheerfully. "Can we use your back door?"

The gnarled being squinted at him and then at Nereid, breath fetid with, Nereid was sure, roasted Hansel and Gretel. "Ye've a song for me then, bard?" she creaked.

"Always," he said, his smile turned up to its highest wattage yet. And then he started to sing.

Nereid gaped at him. She'd heard professional singers. She'd even heard the Fat Lady sing. But she'd never heard anything so mesmerizing in her life.

Although, when he was done, she couldn't quite remember what he was singing, or any of the lyrics.

The old woman snorted. "That'll do, I suppose," she said, and hobbled through the neat-as-a-pin front room of her cottage into her kitchen and to the back door.

Tam bowed as if to a queen, which made her snort again. Nereid vaguely thought of curtsying, couldn't remember how it was done, and settled for a bit of a stiff bow.

The woman pulled a silver pin from the back of her tangled, knotted, iron gray hair and gestured at the door with it. "Mind your charm, young man. Next time, I might decide to keep you."

Tam looked just a little nervous, ducked his head and dragged Nereid out the door at nearly a run. A gorgeously stereotypical witch's cackle followed them, and the door slammed shut.


From the Author:
I think Nereid's in ferret-shock. So much shiny! Cannot process, or think, or anything else!

Wonder City Stories has been nominated for the Rose & Bay Award! Check out all the nominees in all the categories here. I'd love for you to vote for WCS. And please do consider voting for Dave or Lucid (I mean aerynvale or badfaun!) in the patron category.

I'm posting twice weekly during February. Thank you for all your comments! Please keep commenting while I come up with new ideas (or steal other people's ideas) for fan involvement. I love all your comments.

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Date: 2011-02-14 05:57 pm (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
From: [personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
I love your description of the city -- you have to move in order to keep up with where you are. Hee!

Re: Yay!

Date: 2011-02-18 03:17 pm (UTC)
heavenscalyx: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heavenscalyx
It's how I feel in real cities more often than not. :)

Date: 2011-02-15 02:35 am (UTC)
kyleri: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kyleri
I think _I'm_ in ferret-shock! I'm loving this storyline.

Date: 2011-02-18 03:17 pm (UTC)
heavenscalyx: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heavenscalyx

Date: 2012-01-28 05:28 am (UTC)
the_leaky_pen: (Default)
From: [personal profile] the_leaky_pen
Tam Lin! Ooh, one of my favourites! :D


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