Previously: Schoolteacher Michelle Licciardi found herself summoned into the realm of Fae to solve a heinous murder involving forbidden cold steel. With the reluctant assistance of a knight, Edward DeSorcy, the murderer is found, the cold steel is removed and Michelle is rather unceremoniously rushed back to her own world, despite her growing attachment to DeSorcy. Her request for DeSorcy's liberation was answered with a sneer and a cruel joke -- hadn't Michelle ever heard that the only way to break the spell of Fae was true love's kiss at midnight on All Hallow's Eve?
The walk home was uneventful. The front yard was fine, browning slightly in the summer heat as usual, but it looked like the gardener had been showing up regularly. Her car was dusty. When she opened the door, a stack of mail slid partially out. Most of it was junk. From the postmarks, it seemed like it was the end of July. She wandered about, flipping on lights and clicking on the television, running through a list of things to do to get rid of the lonely, musty smell of disuse. "Ah, shit, the fridge," she grumbled as the thought occurred to her. Ordering a pizza would work just as well for tonight.
The answering machine confirmed she had lost five weeks. Also that she needed to call her mother. "Ma? Yeah, it's me." She saw no reason to postpone the inevitable. "No, I'm sorry, Mom, I kind of took a little trip for a couple of weeks. I went down to San Diego with a friend. Yeah, a guy friend. Yes, you're right, I should have let someone know, but then you would have got all huffy with me and pitched a fit, and besides, it was a spur of the moment kind of thing. No, I don't think you're going to meet him. He's married. Besides, he's a cult leader. Yeah, I was supposed to spend the whole summer down there, but I wanted to go out dancing on weekends and all he wanted to do was his stupid blood sacrifices. We just weren't meshing. Plus those death threats from his wife.... What do you mean 'be serious'? When am I not serious? Look, I'll come over for dinner when the track marks on my arms fade, okay? How about this weekend? Cook a lot. Heroin makes me ravenous."
The scolding of her family was the only difficulty she had. She was sure to wear a turtleneck so they couldn't see the bruises around her neck in the strikingly noticeable fingerprint pattern. After a few more outrageous explanations, they were willing to believe she had lost her head and run off for a few weeks with a guy who was a member of the Society of Creative Anachronists.
"The Renaissance Faire people?"
"Dad, they do more than just the Renaissance Faire. There's pirates and Civil War reenactments, too. It's very educational."
"They're a bunch of freaks. I took your mother to a Renaissance Faire a couple of years ago. One of those lunatics chased her around a pub with a pickle."
It was a good cover story to explain the healing gouges on her arm from the hawk, and also for the monumentally spectacular bruising covering her entire upper arm from the musket wound.
"You shot yourself with the musket?" Her father continued to be outraged with what he felt was a rash of stupidity on her part.
"This looks very authentic," her mother examined the musket.
"Well, it is, Ma. The guy I bought it from was kind of drunk, but he assured me it was a genuine antique. He told me how to load it, but when I tried, I did it wrong and, well..." she looked at her arm.
"How is it supposed to be done?" demanded her father.
"Dad, if I knew how it was supposed to be done, I obviously wouldn't be bruised from shoulder to elbow."
"You could have blown your arm clean off."
"That's why I'm not going to try loading it again."
"I wish you would be more careful."
"I think I have it out of my system now. Not being able to sleep on my left side has dimmed my ardor for reckless living."
"I'm serious, Michelle. You could be have wound up dead in someone's basement."
"Or the sewer," she murmured absently, drawing a volatile reaction. "No, Dad, I wasn't trying to be a smartass! I agree with you, I swear!"
The rest of the summer slipped past quickly and uneventfully. Out of respect for DeSorcy's one request, she found herself entering a church for the first time since she was fifteen, to light a candle once a week and kneel in the little chapel for a few minutes. Though the depths of DeSorcy's convictions had made quite an impression on her, she still wasn't sure that she herself believed there was actually a god. Because of him, however, once a week she murmured a few words to a Being who might or might not be there and indulged herself remembering a man whose existence was similarly questionable.
Preparations for the new school year were upon her before she had time to even relax and think about her strange adventure. She would have almost thought that she had experienced some strange sort of dementia after all, except for several things. The first thing was the musket, which she had taken to a few antique dealers. One of them specialized in antique long guns and was of the opinion she could get three to ten thousand dollars for it, depending on how quickly she wanted to sell. The printing press blocks, item two, she found were most likely worthless since there was no way to authenticate them. The last item of interest, however, was the flower DeSorcy had given her. She had pressed it between the pages of her unabridged dictionary. When she took it out the night before classes started, in a sentimental moment, the colors were still as vivid as when he had picked it. Examining the flower in broad daylight, the purple had a luminous quality, but by moonlight the petals shimmered with iridescent rainbows. Colors not meant to be seen under light of day, perhaps to represent words not meant to be spoken aloud. Perhaps she could have taken that to a specialist, too, but in her heart of hearts, she already had all the answers she needed. That gift had been given in private, and it would stay that way.
School began with a blur of lesson plans and new faces, extra-curricular activities and papers to grade. The light was beginning to take on an autumny look and the nights were becoming downright crisp when Michelle found herself absentmindedly daydreaming foolish plans again. Have to drive over to the park this time. Anyone out walking at midnight on Halloween is bound to attract attention from the cops. Couldn't stay more than an hour or two because of work. Ridiculous. There were fairy tales and then there were fairy tales. Obviously from the tone in the gorgon's voice, that particular myth was pure rubbish. And then there was the whole true love issue anyway. That was extremely pretentious of her to assume that she might have that kind of place in the heart of a man who had known nobleman's daughters and the Queen of the Fae. What would she do with him anyway? No vaccinations, no way to get a job, no idea how to deal with the modern world& Stupid idea. "Stupid, stupid, stupid," she muttered aloud.
"Huh?" The football player in the desk nearest hers looked up from a project.
"My... lesson plan," she improvised quickly, holding up a blotter with notes on it. "You guys don't want to write a twenty page thesis on the American Revolution, do you?" The comment washed through the class, bringing with it panic and near riot before she 'settled' on a group project for a midterm. She started sitting with her hand covering her mouth to prop up her head. Just in case.
She thought she had successfully driven the whole foolish notion out of her head until Halloween night itself as she turned out the lights on the front porch and headed back to the bedroom to hide from late trick-or-treaters. She found herself browsing the linen closet to make sure she had clean sheets enough to make up the couch in the extra bedroom she used as an office. She heaved a sigh. By a quarter after eleven she was dressed warmly and had the flower out of the dictionary. She got in her car and drove down to the industrial park.
She saw at least one police car cruising by, but they seemed to be paying more attention to residential areas. Once she turned into the industrial park, the street was empty. She parked just past the fence on the commercial side of the empty lot and got out. A glance up at the sky revealed a bright moon. Not quite full, but plenty to light up the field. "All the better to see myself acting like an idiot," she muttered and set out into the litter-dotted dead grasses of the field.
She kept her head down as she walked, watching the ground. It had worked before. A slight sound made her look up. Two red points of light glowed through the darkness about five and a half feet off the ground, in front of shadowy forms. Michelle's eyes widened. It had worked.
"Miss Licciardi?" an incredulous voice asked.
"Oh, shit, man."
"Let's get out of here."
The shadowy forms hit the cyclone fence and went over the top, bolting off through the parking lot on the other side. Michelle gave a sigh of irritation as the faint scent of pot wafted through the air. "That's what I thought! You realize you can get academic probation for this?" she shouted after them. Pulling out her cell phone, she called the police to report an unspecified number of juveniles headed up Main Street with probable possession of marijuana. Disappointed and kicking herself for being a fool to have come out here, chasing after a man forever out of her reach who never wanted to be chased to begin with, she walked over to scuff through the weeds and make sure that pot was all the kids were doing. She kicked around through the grass looking for roach clips or other drug paraphernalia and then frowned as she found nothing. She cast about through the grass some more and then realized that she was not searching by the base of a chain link fence anymore, but by the posts of a split rail. Feeling a giddy surge, she looked up. There in the moonlight was a little house, completely dark.
Schooling herself to a slow, nonchalant pace, she wandered slowly up to the porch. DeSorcy was sitting out on the front steps with a bottle of wine and two flagons, watching her approach.
"Expecting someone?" she nodded her head toward the two silvery goblets.
He looked at them for a moment, then shifted over to make room for her on the steps. After she sat down, he looked back at her. "'Expecting' isn't quite the word, my lady. 'Remembering' might be a better choice. 'Summoning' wasn't quite what I was aiming for, but seems to be more accurate still. Imperiling your soul become a hobby for you? I'd pass your flagon to you, but it was supposed to be rather a symbolic thing."
"I was just passing through the neighborhood and thought I'd pop by to see if you knew anyone who might want their soul saved. Since I was in the mood anyway."
"And you thought of me. How courteous."
They regarded each other for a few minutes. Even in the moonlight, Michelle could see the faint flush on his cheekbones and a peculiar light to his eyes that belied his calm demeanor. Her own heart was racing fit to burst. Looking about for something to discuss, she spied a small bronze and wooden chest beside him. "Brought your pet box out for a bit of night air?"
"This? Oh. Your gorgon gave it to me after I helped complete the clean-up. She said that I'd know by the dawn of All Saint's Day if I needed any of it or not." He reached over and handed it to her. As he passed it off, his fingers brushed over hers and he looked at her for a long moment.
"Is it... midnight?" Michelle asked.
"Hard to say, my lady." He slid closer on the step and put his arm around her waist, drawing her to him in a manner that was at once gentlemanly and surprisingly possessive. DeSorcy looked down at her with that strange light in his eyes again and she decided that it was hunger and reserve vying for dominance. Blushing but not wanting to make him compromise himself, Michelle settled for slipping her arm around him and leaning against his shoulder while she opened the chest. She could feel his arm tighten about her and heard him heave a small sigh of contentment.
She felt him lean forward slightly, even as her own eyes widened at the treasure inside the chest. "What the devil...? Are those buildings?"
Michelle didn't even need to look up to know what he was seeing. A big grin had welled its way up from somewhere around the middle of her chest and was now splitting her face from ear to ear. Birth certificate. Visa. Citizenship. Updated baptismal certificate. Drivers license. Two property deeds, one here, one in England, and the documentation for their being leased. Bank statement where the revenue from the land leases had been accruing for quite some time. She closed the chest and handed it back to him. "Well, let's go take a look," Michelle smiled and pulled him to his feet.
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