“Where is your human?” William asked.
Clarissa shot him a look as she reached the top of the hill, making it clear that she had noticed his lack of greeting, but she said nothing. She let the look linger to further impress upon him that the word he should have used was “friend.” Everyone was trying to shake off the old phrasing and lose the quiet implications that humans were things they could own.
William blinked back at her, expression unchanged as he leaned against the side of a rock twice his height. Unmoving, and as square-shouldered as he was, he managed to make it look like he was supporting it instead of the other way around.
“She’s coming,” Clarissa said. She held in a sigh. She hated it when her best glares didn’t even leave a scratch. “I know there’s no real argument about who is faster – our kind or theirs – but it turns out, when you wake a human up at midnight and ask her to hike a mountain, the answer is quite definitive.”
William grunted. “You told her to hurry, though? You told her we were in a rush?”
“No,” Clarissa said flatly.
William stared at her in the dark for a moment. He seemed to want it to be a joke, though her tone denied it. Clarissa would have smiled, if it wouldn’t have ruined her victory.
“Why the hurry, anyway?” she asked lazily instead. “You have plenty of time.”
William straightened, stepping closer with his arms crossed over his chest. Miraculously, the stone stayed standing. Planting his feet in front of Clarissa, he met her eye with half an apology in his gaze. It was well hidden by his lowered eyebrows and straight mouth. “I’m over a hundred years old,” he said. “All the humans my age are getting crotchety and impatient.”
“Yes,” Clarissa said. “But they’re running out of time. You’ve still got a good chunk of forever ahead of you, assuming you can keep from annoying anyone who carries a butter knife or an especially sharp wit.”
“That happened once,” William murmured. “And I learned from it.”
“You have time,” Clarissa repeated.
William looked at her out of the corner of his eye as he turned on his heel. Then he tilted his head back and looked at the cloudy, gray-black sky. “They don’t,” he muttered.
“They?” Clarissa asked.
“Humans,” William said. “You leave them alone for five minutes and they’ve gotten themselves lost. Leave them for a month and they’ll be a hundred miles from where you left them. Leave them alone for a year and they’ve gotten themselves tied to each other in an ancient ceremony of union and they’ve got miniatures of themselves crawling around on the rug.” He refolded his arms over his chest, letting out a heavy breath in annoyance.
Clarissa snorted before she could hold back a laugh entirely.
“And then,” William said, turning to look at her again, with eyes just a little too wide. “You never know when they’re going to up and die on you.”
Clarissa covered her mouth with her hand and started to turn away as well.
“You turn your back for one second and they’ve broken their leg and died of a horde of monsters too tiny to squash. It’s ridiculous,” William told her. “I’ve got time? Of course I’ve got time! I’ve still got to move fast if I want the little buggers to have any chance at the fun before they’re gone.”
“She’ll be here soon,” Clarissa promised.
“Tell her to pick up the pace,” William said.
Clarissa shook her head. She turned back to the road to see how far her friend was from the top and hide her grin.
I’m a thief! I stole the first line of this piece from the madwoman who runs Machete Diplomacy. Be sure to stop by her blog to read her original work of fiction, then check out rest of the ring of thieves.