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On Down Along the Creek

Tam propelled Nereid out of Mistress Wang's establishment, one hand under her elbow, and they paused to wait in a doorway of a closed shop nearby. When Nereid looked back at the face of the building, she saw beautiful women leaning gracefully on balconies, chatting with men or calling down to passerby. One drunken man staggered up the steps and bellowed up at the balconies, "Lotus Blossom! Lotus Blossom! Where is my Lotus Blossom, my darling Butterfly?"

One of the women bent down and said, "Don't worry, we're all Lotus Blossoms here."

Nereid turned to Tam. "You brought me to a... to a... cathouse?" she said in outrage. She didn't want to call it a "whorehouse" or a "brothel", and "cathouse" -- the word her father used for such things -- sprang to her fuzzy mind.

Tam looked blank for a moment, then smiled. "It was quite an experience, wasn't it? And it wasn't like I took you upstairs or anything."

"She knew you really well," Nereid said, though she wasn't entirely sure where that thought was going.

"Sweetie, a lot of people know me really well," Tam said, putting his arm around her waist. He was very warm. "I've been here a long time. It doesn't mean anything."

Nereid was feeling grumpy, but she let him jolly her. After all, he was helping her.

When Coyote joined them outside, he was wearing jeans and a black t-shirt, and his long hair was caught back in a single braid as thick as Nereid's wrist. The only things that seemed particularly Native about him were the braid -- he'd tied a red ribbon to the end of it -- and the moccasins on his feet. On the front, the t-shirt read in white letters, "Other People's Possessions Come Naturally to Me," and on the back, in a smaller font, "Local Trickster's Union #007."

"Payment in advance," he said with a half-smile at Tam.

Tam frowned. "Half in advance."

"Stingy," said Coyote, narrowing his eyes.

Nereid remembered something the Equestrian had said about bargaining and generosity, and considered poking Tam in the ribs. Before she could gather the courage to do so, Tam sighed, shrugged, and offered Coyote a smile. "All right. You're taking us to where Sherwood is, correct?"

"You asked me to take you by the safest route to where Sherwood is right now," said Coyote. "I have every intention of doing so."

Tam dug something out of his pocket and put it in Coyote's outstretched hand. Coyote peered down at it, frowned, held it up to one eye like a jeweler examining a gemstone, and then popped it in his mouth. "Let's go," he said, and swallowed.

The sun was just rising behind them as they started walking along a hard-packed dirt road among rolling, dry hills. In the distance, craggy, gold-limned mountains broke the skyline. After an hour or two of walking in silence, Tam said, "So, why are you here, anyway?"

Nereid sighed. "My girl..." She paused, wondering how tolerant Faerie was of gay people, but looked over at Coyote, who was striding along cheerfully and who glanced her way with a wink. "My girlfriend," she said. "She was kind of... knocked out of her body. And when we went looking for her, she had walked through a door we were told went here. So we've come here to find her."

"That's pretty impressive," Tam said. "You're on a rescue mission, eh?"

"Yeah," Nereid said. "I'm a regular knight on a white horse."

"Nah," Coyote said. "That's another story and will be told another time." He picked up something small from the road and shied it at the single enormous oak tree that crowned a nearby hill.

Nereid looked at him, perplexed, and wished for the umpteenth time that she could sleep and eat and then maybe she could keep up with conversations here. But probably not.

"So, your friend..." Tam began.

"She's my lover," Nereid corrected, tired of dodging around the point and enjoying the little tingle saying the word gave her.

Tam looked shocked, but then covered it. "Well, good thing she's got someone looking after her then," he said.

Coyote gave him a strange look, then said, "You're here with others, though?"

"Yeah," Nereid said. "My... teammate. She used to be So... Brainchild's lover before me. She came because I didn't want to be alone here with the Equestrian."

"And rightly so, too," Tam said, gazing up thoughtfully at a maple tree that was dropping little green helicopters on the path. "The Equestrian is a strange girl, usually with her own agenda. Never know when she might decide to go off on some other quest or something."

"Huh," Coyote said. "I've always found her honorable to a fault." He skipped ahead to where the road curved around the hill, facing backwards to eye Tam with interest.

"That's because you're you," Tam said. "Everyone's honorable compared to you."

"Mmm-hm," Coyote said. And then the ground dropped out from under all their feet.

Nereid managed to catch all three of them with waterspouts drawn from the ground. It was a rough landing anyway, because her brain was muddy and her reflexes were off, and they ended up in a wet heap on the pile of rocks that had been the road.

"Ouch," Coyote said mildly, pushing himself up a bit to look around. Tam was pinned under him and squirmed a bit before freezing, a look of horror on his face.

Coyote grinned down at him and licked his lips. "Hi there, pretty boy. You can keep moving like that if you want."

"Get OFF!" Tam said, wriggling backward from Coyote.

Coyote let him go with a tolerant smile and bounded to his feet to give Nereid a hand up. "You all right? That would've hurt a lot more if it hadn't been for you."

Nereid nodded, then held her head, which hurt. "Yeah, I'm all right. Just a little head trauma."

"Nothing to worry about!" Coyote said, kissing her on the top of the head. It made her head feel a little better.

"What happened?" she said.

"Oh, well, as to that," Coyote said, examining the high walls of the giant raw hole in the ground. "Here we are!"

"What?" Nereid said.

"What?" Tam said.

"Sherwood," Coyote said. "Was right here until, oh, about twenty, thirty minutes ago."

"Oh, shit," Tam said. "We've got to get out of here! Get on the right road."

"Who's this 'we', white man?" Coyote said, still smiling. "Mission accomplished. I'll catch you later." He turned away and started to slide and hop down the red rocks.

Tam recovered himself and said, "You've got to take us to Sherwood! That's what I hired you for!"

Coyote paused and looked up. "The contract was for me to bring you to where Sherwood was right then, when we made our agreement. Accomplished." He glanced around at the dry landscape with an air of satisfaction. The green hills were gone, replaced by watercut canyons layered with different shades of red stone. Overhead, the sky was glazed pottery blue.

"You know that wasn't what we meant!" Tam screamed. "You cheating, lying little rat!"

Coyote climbed back up to stand nose to nose with Tam, and every trace of a smile was gone from him. "You knew who you were bargaining with, little man," he said in a low voice. "I am wearing a damned warning label on my chest," he said, thumping the t-shirt front. "I am Coyote, and you made a bargain with me, and I have kept my end of it. Don't stand there telling me what a cheat and a liar I am when you wear the skin of your ancestors, who have lied and cheated their way through my lands, eviscerating the earth and murdering my people. Do not presume to tell me my business, you tiny zit, because I've been bargaining since long before your people crawled out of the mud." He paused and stared into Tam's face. Tam tried to hold his gaze, but eventually looked away. Coyote sneered. "For the sake of this woman, who is worth a thousand of you, and her quest, and because sometimes even I approve of nobility and love, I will allow another bargain. But know that I will never forget that you called me out of my name. Never."

Nereid kicked Tam in the ankle, and he whirled on her, eyes wide with a fury that drove her back a step. She clenched her jaw and glared at him. He swallowed hard and gave her a halfhearted smile, then he looked back to Coyote. "I am... very sorry for offending your lordship. I forgot myself entirely, and I am grateful for the lesson, sir."

"Spare me your court toadying," Coyote said over his shoulder.

"I have nothing else to bargain with, lord," Tam said.

"Yes you do," Coyote said.

"I?" Tam said, looking startled.

"You know where those documents are," Coyote said.

"I..." Tam sighed. "Yes, I do. If you mean..."

"You know what I mean," Coyote said.

Tam glanced at Nereid, giving her a pathetic, pained look. Nereid's anger melted then; it was clear that this information he held dear. Then Tam inhaled deeply. "Yes, if you will take us to Sherwood -- wherever it is -- I will tell you where the documents are."

"And give me the key," Coyote said.

Tam looked completely crushed. "And... give you the key."

Coyote watched him for another moment. "Very well. The fastest road is yours, lady," he said, looking to Nereid.

Nereid looked around at the increasingly-brightly colored landscape. There was no trace of the road they had followed, or any road. "How?" she asked, trying not to sound pathetic.

"Water runs in a constant direction," said Coyote. "And we won't get anywhere green without it."

Nereid stared at him for a good three minutes before she realized that he wasn't going to say anything else. So she made a river. It was a lot of water and it took a lot of effort; Coyote set off following the course of the water and Tam took her by the hand. Eventually he put an arm around her shoulders and practically dragged her along.

She didn't really snap out of her stupor until, sometime late in the afternoon, Coyote stopped and pointed at a lush green forest with enormous trees. "Sherwood," he said, and held out his hand to Tam.

Tam reluctantly reached into the pocket of his tattered trousers and pulled out a small golden key that glimmered mysteriously. "You take the last memento of my first love," he said, handing it over slowly.

Coyote took the key from him firmly and said, "Look at how many shits I don't give." He gestured over his shoulder. Nereid stared at a broad line of oblong brown objects that stretched along the road behind them, all the way to the horizon. Surely, she thought, Coyote hadn't been stopping that often. When he turned and displayed the key to the enormous crowd of turds, Nereid was horrified by the tiny cheers that went up. She was relatively certain she was dreaming. Relatively.

Her thoughts went out of her in a rush as Coyote swept her away from Tam, bent her back over his arm, and kissed her. It wasn't a friendly peck on the lips, either. What was, perhaps, worse was that she found herself kissing him back. Was that little whimper from her? Oh, god, how embarrassing.

Coyote set her back on her feet, kissed her cheek, and breathed in her ear, "When you leave the greenwood, always follow the sun, wherever it is."

Tam was red in the face and glaring. Coyote smiled at him. "Just a goodbye kiss. You can have one too, if you like," he said, extending an arm. Tam shrank back. Before the argument, Nereid would have thought Coyote's offer was playful, but now she could see the barely-checked rage in the beautiful brown eyes, and viscerally knew that they had had a narrow brush with a terrifying force.

Coyote shrugged and turned away, slouching back down the oddly turdless road. At a turn in the road Nereid didn't recall, he disappeared.


From the Author:
Wonder City tied for fourth place in the Rose & Bay awards, which is pretty good considering we were up against big names like Alexandra Erin and MeiLin Miranda. Thank you all for voting for Wonder City. Maybe we'll have a chance again next year. :) As a quick thank-you, here is a second episode for the week; I hope you enjoy Nereid's continuing quest.

Vote for us at Top Web Fiction! Ooooh! We're back up into the top 15! Thank you! Let's keep us there.

Date: 2011-03-19 05:30 am (UTC)
kore: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kore
COYOTE <333333

....man, now I'm kind of sorry Nereid's traveling with Tam and not him.

Date: 2011-03-19 12:32 pm (UTC)
sythyry: (Default)
From: [personal profile] sythyry
Oh, dear. We are not blessed (and I use the word in its most insidious sense) with many such creatures as Coyote, but one always knows one is in trouble when one deals with them.

Date: 2011-03-19 06:40 pm (UTC)
kyleri: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kyleri
Oh, Tam, really? Really? After this long, and you still don't know better than to mess with Coyote?

Date: 2012-01-28 06:00 am (UTC)
the_leaky_pen: (Default)
From: [personal profile] the_leaky_pen
So was that the key to Carterhaugh?


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