Previously: Michelle has found herself summoned to the realm of Fae by sinister creatures. Her purpose: to find the source of the cold iron used to murder a mortal in this land where death is almost unheard of, and to remove said iron from the realm. She and her reluctant guide, lost knight Edward DeSorcy, have tracked down the victim's last companion and are headed to confront him.
The mist thickened to a drizzle as they hurried along the crowded streets, DeSorcy in front cutting a path through the foot traffic, Michelle behind clutching his tunic so as not to lose him in the crowds. It was not terribly far, and the first fat drops of rain were just beginning as they stepped under the awning of the bookshop. Michelle paused for a moment to watch the rivulets of water form and beginning racing merrily along the cobblestones of the street, thinking about how the rain would have looked coming in the open skylight of the Hall of the Hunt and trickling down the Escher-like stairs. "You know, if this had happened while we were on the stairwell, you would have had to knock me out and carry me down."
"Nonsense. I'd have just pushed, my lady. You'd have found your way to the bottom one way or another."
She gave him a dirty look. "I think I like you better without a sense of humor."
DeSorcy went to open the door, but Michelle reached out and stayed his hand. "Just out of morbid curiosity... if I died here, would my soul be trapped?"
"Your body isn't trapped. Why should your soul be?"
"Then what about Marquisa Ran's soul?"
"I don't really know, but from what I knew of her, I fear she did not die in a state very close to grace. Very, very few people here would be in good shape should they die suddenly."
"So if you were to be killed here... what do you think would happen?"
"I don't know, my lady. I don't know that I'm in a very good state myself. I've not had the sacrament of absolution in a very long time."
She really wasn't sure why it was so important to her. Maybe because she had never given religion much thought before and he seemed so certain that there were no loopholes. "Have you ever thought of... trying to escape that way? You know, by dying."
"Suicide is a mortal sin, my lady."
Michelle frowned. "There are other religions than Catholicism, you know."
"No there aren't. Not really."
"Yes, there are."
"Why don't you find a priest and discuss it with him when you get back to the mortal world? Which, may I add, you can do more quickly if we can get on with the task at hand." He gave her a stern look and opened the door to the shop, entering with a watchful glance to either side.
"Because they're all pedophiles," Michelle lowered her voice to whisper a response, following him.
"Not all of them."
"Yes, all of them."
"Can we discuss this later, my lady?" DeSorcy seemed exasperated.
"Probably not," she pointed out, earning another dark look.
They wandered back further amongst rows of books. Those on the cases to the left had titles on the spines. The books on the right did not. Michelle pulled one of the titleless books out to thumb through it. The pages were all blank. "Interesting."
"He's a binder. He sells blank books for artists and poets as well as repairing damaged books. Because he can offer a better price on the materials, he has a scribe or two working for him making copies and he sells those also."
"Scribes? Every product must be a work of art, huh?"
DeSorcy walked over to a counter against the back wall and peered about. Seeing nothing of importance, he rang the bell. A young woman with a tumble of golden curls came out from the back and broke into a giddy smile as she asked if she could assist him. Rolling her eyes, Michelle turned to browse along the titles of the scribed books. While the girl apologized to DeSorcy that Talbot the bookbinder was not available, Michelle attempted to find authors she recognized. Shakespear. Voltaire. "Huh," she murmured to herself, pulling a book she recognized out to see if it was an actual mortal printed copy or a scribed fae copy. "The Time Machine. Wells. What do you... know." By happenstance, a glint had caught her eye. In the bookshelf, hidden behind the book, there was a small lever. Reaching out, she pulled it. There was a loud clank and the entire section of bookshelf pivoted about six inches. Over at the counter, DeSorcy and the girl had both stopped to stare at Michelle. She returned their wide-eyed gaze for a moment and then craned her neck to peer through the gap.
"Huh. A stairway leading down. With a light at the bottom. Neat." Michelle flashed an innocent smile.
"Saints preserve us! A secret passage!" The girl seemed as surprised as they, then gave a shriek as a red-faced man burst violently from the back room.
"Master Talbot," DeSorcy commented dryly, stepping back and drawing his sword as the man shoved the counter girl aside with enough force to send her to the floor. "Perhaps you could answer a question for me."
"Look out!" Michelle cried as the bookbinder pulled something long and shiny up from where it had been mostly obscured by his leg and his bulk. There was a deafening sound as the musket went off and DeSorcy dropped. "Edward!"
Talbot had already tipped the muzzle up and begun pouring more gunpowder down the barrel. The girl from behind the counter was shrieking piercingly. DeSorcy broke from his crouch on the floor and darted to catch Michelle around the waist, pulling her with him behind a bookshelf. "Are you hit?" she demanded.
"What?" he responded in a whisper he obviously thought was quiet, reaching a hand up to try to clear the ringing from his ears.
"Are you... never mind," she shook her head, seeing for herself that there were no holes in him.
"Something about this man makes me suspect him." DeSorcy quipped just before the top of the bookshelf exploded in a burst of splinters and loose papers. They both yelped and cringed.
A sudden recollection occurred to her. "Here, charge him now." Michelle sprung up.
"What?" DeSorcy's eyes grew wide as she lunged around the side of the bookshelf.
"They're inaccurate as hell," she had just enough time to call back at him as she charged straight for the bookbinder. Talbot's eyes got bigger as he saw Michelle lower her head for ramming speed. He hastily finished tamping down another load and raised the musket to fire. There was another earsplitting percussion, the smell of gunpowder, and a flash of heat and light, then she was flying over the counter to tackle him. Admittedly it would have worked better if she were larger, but at the very least she knocked the musket out of his grasp and sent him stumbling before she felt the bookbinder's meaty hands wrapping around her neck. She jammed both thumbs in his eyes as he started to squeeze, gouging with all her might as Talbot began to pound her head against the floor. Fortunately, DeSorcy was only about two steps behind and came over the counter to drop on Talbot like a ton of bricks. A punch to the kidneys, a kick to the side of the knee, then one last kick to the head and DeSorcy was left standing over an unconscious opponent.
"Devil take us!" DeSorcy roared, reaching down and hauling Michelle to her feet. "If you ever do such a thing again, I will put you over my knee and thrash you like an errant child! You could have been killed! Your neck! And your arm! You're bleeding!"
Offended, Michelle swatted his hands away. "That damned falcon did worse when she landed on me! And you can spank what you like, but if you lay a hand on me you'll regret it." She retreated a few steps and began examining the shallow wound across her arm, leaving him to deal with the unconscious bookbinder. "Muskets take a certain amount of time to reload and their aim isn't real great. Even with the much more precise weapons of my day, a normal person firing a weapon is likely to miss. There was only so much time to try to rush him and it wasn't that big a risk." Actually, when she got home, she was going to have to do a little research to see precisely how big of an idiot she had really been, but she felt her logic was mostly justified.
"It's going to take weeks for his finger marks to fade from your neck." DeSorcy was fuming as he removed Talbot's belt and began tying him up with it. "What in the blazes did you do to his eyes?"
"I was half his size! I know you are not going to give me a raft of crap for fighting dirty. If he was going to fight fair, he wouldn't have used a gun in the first place."
Face still flushed with anger, DeSorcy stood up and glared at her. "If I may set down some rules for our acquaintance? You are a lady. I am a warrior by trade. Admittedly, this is your venture, but when the large villains with deadly weapons begin to attempt to kill people, would you please allow me to take care of it?"
"You can get the next one," she snapped, drawing a sound of outrage from him. While he turned to address the whimpering counter girl, Michelle walked back over to the secret passage and shifted the bookcase slightly so she could get a better look down the stairwell.
"Madam, I trust you are not going to attempt that passage without me." There was a warning note in DeSorcy's voice.
Actually, her windpipe really hurt and her arm was starting to throb like a large fat man in steel-toed boots had been jumping on it. DeSorcy did have a point there about who was trained for this sort of thing and who wasn't. That combined with the fact that if he hadn't been right behind her, the bookbinder would have choked her to death was enough to make her bite her tongue.
DeSorcy came over with the musket and a pouch, which he handed to her. "They should both be secure enough for now. This is all the iron I could find on Talbot. The two scribes must have fled through the back. Let us see what's below, but make haste." At her nod, he stepped through the passage and led the way down the stairs quickly and quietly, sword in hand.
"And this is what he was willing to kill for," DeSorcy uttered as they stepped into the room at the bottom of the stairs. An oil lamp burned on the far wall, illuminating a crowded chamber housing a wooden frame with rows of small metal pieces.
"A printing press."
"Ugh, it's going to take some doing to clear all the iron out of this place. Here, take all the letters that you can." Together they scooped as many of the letters as they could get into Michelle's tunic front. "Now, my lady, stand back." With a few well-aimed kicks -- and one ill-aimed blow that did little but make DeSorcy curse -- he broke the press's frame into a skewed heap. They added several stacks of blank paper, then DeSorcy took the oil lamp and dumped its contents on top. The mound flared and began to smoke as the lamp's flame caught. "That should do for now. We must hurry to your master and mistress."
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