Previously: Michelle, summoned to the realm of Fae and guided by the reluctant knight, Edward DeSorcy, has been sent to find who killed a mortal with cold steel in this timeless realm without death. She and DeSorcy have tracked down the murderer and his secret, and now must bring both back to the Gorgon's lair to fulfill Michelle's task.
The trip back took some doing, what with carrying the iron and two detainees. To simplify matters, DeSorcy gave the bookbinder another kick to the head as the man was coming round and just tossed Talbot's unconscious form over his shoulder, though from the way DeSorcy pressed his lips together, the effort cost his ribs dearly. He was able to manage both the bookbinder and a sack, but that left Michelle with the musket and the counter girl.
Michelle had another moment of inspiration and shook the unloaded musket at the girl. "See this? If you don't do what I tell you to, I'll blow you up with it," DeSorcy slid her a skeptical look, but the girl burst into a renewed fit of tears and allowed herself to be dragged several blocks to the corner that held the surface entry to the gorgon's lair. That was the end of Michelle's luck, however.
"Naw, I don't want to go in there! There's hijjous creatures there as aren't fit for daylight!" the girl squealed when they tried to lead her down the stairs.
"Pull yourself together, woman, they just want to ask you some questions," Michelle huffed, planting her feet and holding onto the ropes they had bound the girl's hands with as the counter girl plunged to bolt away down the street. "Don't make me blow you up!"
In the end, DeSorcy had to take the bookbinder's limp form down, set it just inside the door and come back up to help in the tug-of-war. Despite Michelle's best efforts, the counter girl was a hearty lass and had managed to drag her about twenty feet down the sidewalk. To her increasing embarrassment, they were starting to draw a crowd. While some were regarding the little tableaux with suspicion, most were enjoying the spectacle. Michelle wasn't which made her angrier - the fact that onlookers were starting to place bets on who would win the little struggle, or the fact that she was not favored to win.
DeSorcy came striding dourly through the gaggle of onlookers, breaking up their fun with the air of a practiced killjoy. "This mortal has been summoned for questioning," he boomed in a very official tone. "Thank you, madam," he gave a courteous nod to Michelle and then carried the girl kicking and screaming down the steps into the lair. Dusting herself off and straightening her tunic with as much dignity as she could muster, Michelle gave the disappointed crowd a glare and then turned to follow him.
DeSorcy was waiting for her just inside the door, dimly illuminated as he stood at the mouth of the black stairwell. He gave her a questioning look. "Do you think we should announce ourselves?"
"They like you better. Or should I say they loathe you less?"
"But you have a better way with words."
"I am of the opinion that your conversation with the troll refutes that, but even if it were the case, that didn't seem to hold much weight with the gorgon's husband last time we were here. Not that I mind facing peril with you, but my ribs could use an afternoon off."
"Why don't we just run?" whimpered the counter girl.
"Because she would find you," Michelle intoned darkly, earning a look of reprimand from the knight. Flashing him a sheepish grin, she pointed to the door. "I'm going to pull this shut so they don't get mad." The sudden darkness that enveloped them seemed heavy with the weight of being watched.
"They'll kill us all," the girl whispered. "Now that you've done what you've been told, they'll just kill us."
Ignoring her, Michelle reached out a hand and felt for the wall. With something to brace herself, she attempted the first step. "Halloo? Begging pardon, ma'am, but I've come back with the culprit and a, um, witness."
They waited for several heartbeats. Nothing. The darkness seemed to ring in their ears.
"Leave before it's too late," the counter girl begged.
The plea hung in the silence for a few seconds. Michelle broke the stillness. "Can't you gag her or something?"
"Lady Licciardi is correct, young miss. You're overreacting. Provided you cooperate fully, your safety is assured. Your value as a witness will spare your life."
"Um. Well, I guess we head down." Michelle craned her neck to see if she could hear anything in the pitch black. Nothing. "I'll drag Talbot if you've got Miss Goldilocks okay there."
"Let me go first in case we surprise the Master and Mistress of the house in their sleep."
"You have no idea what you're doing, my lady," the counter girl sneered the words as DeSorcy began dragging her down the steps. "He's trying to get himself killed to put an end to his exile and he's willing to take us both to our deaths to do it."
"I'm gonna gag her." Michelle's voice was a bit muffled from bending over and sliding the bookbinder down the stairs. She had him by the heels and was attempting to move him without cracking his head too hard upon the stone steps.
"Is that going to be necessary?" From the direction of the voice, it seemed DeSorcy was asking the girl. They were getting further ahead down the stairs. "I hate to be more discourteous to you than absol&"
Michelle paused and frowned in the sudden silence. She opened her mouth to ask if everything was all right, but the girl screamed piercingly. Her shriek was cut short in a flicker of blue flame. Something large and serpentine brushed Michelle aside and the bookbinder's heels were wrenched out of her hands. With a small cry, Michelle stumbled forward in the darkness, catching herself before she had slipped down a third stair step.
"You reek of the cold filth."
"We did as you asked." She managed to keep her voice steady. She had to be alive to carry the iron back to her own realm. Still, the gorgon and her mate seemed to enjoy terrorizing mortals, and it was hard to guess just how far they might go to do it. "The bookbinder Talbot was the one with the cold iron. He had a musket and a printing press in his shop. I think DeSorcy had a plan for going back to purge the place completely." Give the gorgon a good reason to keep him alive, as well.
"A printing press? A crucible of cold iron to churn out repetitious abominations? The sidhe and their foolish whimsy! Why is it that we in the darkness are the only ones who see the pernicious evil you mortals insist on working? You have already poisoned and perverted your own realm, you will not rest until all you have touched is fouled beyond recognition. Our realm will be doomed to sickness and destruction like yours unless every mortal here is removed or destroyed!"
"About that..." Michelle hesitated. Interrupting an angry gorgon on a tirade seemed like a gamble at best, but if the creature was in a mood to kill her, Michelle might as well take a shot before she was &turned to stone? Eaten? Whatever. "When I take the iron back to the mortal realm," a gentle reminder, that, "I wonder if I might ask a reward from you. For loyal and efficient service."
"What?" As reactions went, at least outrage was better than sudden death.
"DeSorcy. I want him to return to the mortal world with me."
A moment's shocked silence, during which Michelle pictured the expression on the gorgon's face. Then cold, echoing laughter. "The sidhe take mortal playthings because they see their own folly mirrored therein. Foolish child, the knight can no longer come and go like you. He was weak and lost his soul to temptations. Much as I would like to send all mortals back to your poisoned and dying world, I cannot."
"He's trapped here forever?"
"Don't you listen to the tales, child? True love's embrace on All Hallow's Eve." The voice was mocking and then there was silence.
"Hello?" Michelle put a hand against the wall again, fighting a disorientation in the complete blackness that reminded her of the stairwell in the Hall of the Hunt. Immediately, she wished she hadn't thought of that, for now even the stairs beneath her threatened to mislead her as to which way was truly "up" and which was "down". She tried again, more loudly. "Hello?"
"I am really growing weary of Master Gorgon," said a tired voice from somewhere beneath her on the stairwell. "I'm afraid I'll remember this visit every time the fog sets in or the weather changes for the rest of my unnatural life."
"God," Michelle breathed in relief. "Are you okay?"
"The gentleman of the house is a brute. We are to leave, he tells me, immediately. Before he changes his mind. I trust you and the mistress had a pleasant conversation?" He was very close now, and reaching out in the darkness, Michelle caught a hold of his arm, then felt his fingers clasp comfortingly over her hand. In the dark, she felt him bring her hand to his lips in a passing kiss that wasn't as personal as she realized she wanted it to be. He tucked her hand into the crook of his arm and continued up the stairs, moving rather slowly.
"Um. I suppose you could say so. Nicer than yours, apparently. Did he go for the ribs again?"
"More wine tonight?"
"More than likely."
They made their way unmolested and unnoticed back to the doorway that led to the small farmhouse. Michelle offered to help him with his wounds, but DeSorcy shook his head smiling. "My lady, there is nothing I can't take of on my own. Let's wrap up your arm and send you on your way. You've been here far too long already."
"Just like that?"
"Just like that," he said emphatically, wrapping strips of cloth around where the bullet had grazed her arm. They were both a little surprised at how much of the muscle around the wound was painful to the touch. "Is that normal?"
"I don't know. I've never been shot before."
"You should get a healer to look at it."
"No, no, no. If I went in to the emergency room with a gunshot wound I had to pretend I didn't know where I received, they'd have me institutionalized. Did I tell you what happened last time...?"
"No," DeSorcy cut her off with a smile as he tied off the bandage and stepped across the room to pick up the neatly folded pile of her clothing. He placed the bundle into one of her hands, the musket in the other, then pointed to the door. "After you, my lady."
"Just like that?"
"Just like that." He was still smiling, but his hand on the small of her back was propelling her firmly to the front door.
"What, are you afraid some bread crumb is going to accidentally fly down my throat?"
"Since making your acquaintance, I have come to expect anything."
"I won't see you again, will I?" she asked as they walked out into the tall grass of the field. The sun was setting, bringing out a richness and depth of color in the sky and the lands beneath that was beguiling. A few crickets were warming up for the evening's concert.
He watched the ground ahead of him with a contented smile. "No."
"Well... it's been a very exciting adventure. I enjoyed meeting you, even if you are a singularly rude individual."
He rolled his eyes as they walked, then stopped as they reached the place where the dirt road began to narrow into a track. "So..." Michelle looked for the right thing to say. "This is it, I guess."
DeSorcy stood facing her, staring down at her with a contemplative expression for the space of a few heartbeats, and for a moment Michelle wondered if he was going to lean in and kiss her. Instead, however, he bent down and came up with a little purple wildflower on a long stem. He handed it to her with a smile that was not the slightest bit sad, but rather so warm that Michelle felt herself smiling, too, though she wasn't sure at what. "Thank you, Michelle. You brought with you light and laughter where there have been none for a great many years. Even if there is no hope for me, you've helped me remember that while God is good, there is no need for despair." He raised his eyes from the flower to her face. "I may be lost, but I no longer feel forgotten."
How could she not be touched by that? "Oh," she murmured, tears threatening to well up in her eyes. "I won't ever forget you."
He shook his head with a grin. "That's not what I meant. Since you bring it up, however, grant me one small favor. Pray for my soul. It would bring me comfort."
"Sure." It was far from eloquent, but she wasn't sure that anything more would be appropriate. DeSorcy stood for a moment longer, regarding her with that odd, tender smile, then turned around and began walking back to the house. She watched him for a while. He never looked back. With a sigh, she took stock of her possessions -- clothes, musket, bullets, printing press letters -- then headed for home. When she turned around one last time to see if he was looking, the house was gone. From somewhere on the main street out in front of the shops, a car with souped up bass thumped its way down the road. She was back in the undeveloped lot. Fighting a surge of disappointment, she struck out along the hot sidewalk.
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