The boundaries between the worlds have fallen. Forced to integrate the creatures of fantasy into real life, humanity struggles against its disillusionment, prejudice and an inevitable feeling of inadequacy.
Once an agent for the embassy that mediates between the worlds, Elizabeth Larson has abandoned her past and slipped into a world of nostalgic addiction to fairy revels, dancing, and the dark lure of her own memories. But when Lockland Sheen, her former partner and lover, goes missing, she is pulled reluctantly back into service. She must venture once more across the borders, into the land that haunts her, facing a string of gruesome murders, the imposing Sidhe rulers and her own addiction in the process.
While the Embassy’s agents attempt to soothe tensions between the races, Liz and her new partner search the fairy realm for Lockland. Fighting the constant temptation of the revels, they piece together the trail of an unknown enemy. But the longer they follow it, the more it appears that the man they came to rescue is more villain than victim. And the more they rely on Elizabeth’s ties to the fairies, the closer she inches toward the madness that lurks behind her fantasies.
Frances Pauli was born and raised in Washington State. She grew up with a love of reading and storytelling, and was introduced to Science Fiction and Fantasy at an early age through the books kept and read by her father.
Though she always held aspirations to be a writer, she chose to obtain her Bachelor’s degree in visual arts. The stories, however, had other plans for her. By the time she entered her thirties, they were no longer content existing solely in her head. Compelled to free them, she set aside her easel and began to write in earnest.
Her original love of Speculative fiction combined with her covert excursions into the Romance section led her into the realms of Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance, where she finds herself quite comfortable. Her fascination with Science Fiction and a growing passion for the NASA channel divert her happily into tales of the far future, alternate dimensions, and the wonders of space, usually with at least a touch of romance.
Frances currently resides smack in the center of Washington with her husband and two children. When not writing she dabbles in insane things like puppetry, belly dance and playing the ukulele. She collects rocks, and is a firm believer in good wine, fine chocolate and dangerous men. Her short fiction has appeared in Alternative Coordinates magazine.
Visit Frances online at http://francespauli.com
The dancing would kill her eventually.
Her brow furrowed slightly at the thought—suicide was not her style. She stared out the window and scanned the star pricked sky. The fairies were late tonight. Running a finger slowly along the painted frame, she considered closing the blinds and ignoring the little monsters when they finally arrived.
Instead she sat, pulling Lockland's letter from the pocket of her worn Levis. It began: "Dearest Liz, It pains me to write this." She mouthed the words silently without opening the folded paper.
Color flashed past the dark window. The gentle "tap, tap" of miniature fingers against glass immediately followed. Elizabeth's eyes slid sideways. A tiny yellow face flashed her a wicked grin and pressed itself into ridiculous contortions against the pane. Translucent blue wings buzzed gently behind the slim body.
"Hello, little one." Liz fought against a smile that threatened to break across her features. "You're late."
By the time she emerged from her apartment, half a dozen more had manifested. They swooped and fluttered around her as she descended the staircase to the city street below.
"You're making this difficult." Probably on purpose. Snorting, she followed the growing cloud of multi-colored fairies down the black asphalt that wound between silent buildings. The fairies continued to swarm around her, taking turns in the lead and motioning her ever forward toward the night's revel. A brilliant red male settled on her shoulder. She admired it for a moment then stood slightly taller and strode with more intent in each clipping footstep.
"If you weren't so beautiful, you'd be demonic," she mused to the flock in general. They would lead her to the park, or someone's garden, or a strip of plantings on no particular street. It didn't matter. She would dance with Lockland tonight.
The gateway, as it turned out, lay in the park. A circle of sticky brown-capped mushrooms guarded the passage. Liz scowled at the ugly things, drab and mundane considering their purpose. Still, the circle would serve. The frenzied fluttering of the little ones confirmed it. She stepped into the center without hesitation and began to slowly turn in place.
Her surroundings shifted. The manicured park slipped away to be replaced by a silver landscape. Wild and twisting growth sprang up around her, appearing as dark shadows against the gray light of an ever-full moon. The sharp metallic scent of the Middle World pierced her.
The fairies cavorted overhead. Lilting music tumbled toward them from beyond the surrounding trees. Liz stepped from the mushroom ring and found the bare and winding path that would lead her to the revel grounds, the promise of her memories driving her quick, springing steps.
She hesitated only briefly at the edge of the meadow. Revelers decorated the grassy expanse standing in small groups or sitting in pairs on soft blankets. Teenagers, artists, authors, and vagrants, the draw of the fairy ritual appealed to the curious and the skeptical alike. The little Fey swarmed by the hundreds here, and her own hosts darted away to join their cousins.
Elizabeth moved toward the center of the clearing. Weaving through the bystanders, she sought the small cluster of Dancers and the music that pulsed without source from the air above them. There were only five tonight, and, unlike the crowd, they had no interest in socializing. They were addicts.
Liz appraised them without speech or eye contact. Scruffy, she thought, pathetic, hollow-eyed shadows of their former selves. Then she chuckled at her own hypocrisy. Studying her feet in lieu of her counterparts, she noted the dire state of her sneakers. A new pair was long overdue. Come to think of it, she couldn't remember the last time she'd purchased a decent pair of jeans either. She checked her back pocket. The letter was still safely nestled between the layers of fraying denim.
Just leave. She scolded herself. Turn around and get yourself out. The feet within her sad shoes disobeyed. They remained firmly planted in the glistening grass. What the hell was taking so long? She shifted her weight and scanned the surrounding throng for the appearance of the offering.
The music increased in volume and fervor—the tray had come at last. A score of low flying fairies carried a silver platter piled with the trance inducing food. An oversized goblet gleamed in the center surrounded by mounds of glowing, salmon-colored treats. More trays appeared. More of the wicked Fey carted in their gifts: sweets and Fairy wine and, as always, enough for all.
The spectators immediately settled into a reverent silence. Elizabeth watched only the gravity-defying journey of the offering. It hovered and bobbed in the many hands of those winged beauties, hands that would deliver her blissfully into the comfort of her past.
Run. She stepped toward the tray without wavering. Run now. But the candy was in her hand, and the hand, in turn, abandoned it on her tongue.
Warmth shivered through her. The wine was on her lips, chasing the food, chasing away all sentience. Her spine arched violently. Her head tossed back against the numbing spasms. With liquid grace deprived of any conscious control, Liz rose. Her body turning and undulating, it danced above the revel grounds while her mind drifted happily elsewhere.
To the side of the shimmering grounds, secreted in the depths of the surrounding shadows, two men watched the Dancers. Five bodies twisted in the air before them. One rose above the others, favored by the little ones that dove and hovered around her.
"She's good." The bolder of the two nodded in Elizabeth's direction. He leaned against the nearest tree trunk and pretended indifference.
"She's mad," the other replied.
"Not yet. She's still new."
"Give her time. That one doesn't come back anymore. I've watched him." His over eager companion gestured casually toward one of the vagrant Dancers. "He stays gone, when it's over."
"Fabulous." The word held a ring of impatience. It was a signal to get down to business.
"Did you get some of it?"
"Of course." The man slipped a glass vial from his inside jacket pocket. He waved it briefly at his skeptical partner. The offering glowed within.
"What will it do?"
"We'll just have to wait and see, won't we?" He quickly replaced the vial. "In the meantime, I believe you have a few requests of your own, Jeff?"
"Of course." Jeff handed over his list, watching his friend's response very carefully.
"No problem. When do you need it?"
"You're kidding," Jeff stammered. "Did you read all of it?"
"Do I look stupid?"
"How exactly do you plan to get that stuff across the borders?"
"Let me worry about that. I believe you have more than enough to concentrate on."
"Jeff. Have a little faith."
"Fine. Whatever. Just get me as much of it as you can swing." The other man only widened his thin grin and shook his head. His lack of concern was irritating. Jefferson felt a mild desire to strike him. Surely, he thought, I can think of something better than that. An image of electrical wires and twisted skin came directly to mind.
"When are you heading back across?" his partner asked.
"First thing in the morning."
"How long until you follow?"
"Who can say?" He tapped at the place where the vial rested. "It all depends on this."
"But you are coming across?"
"Yes, Jefferson, I'm coming across."
"And the woman." Both men returned their attention to where Elizabeth hovered. "You'll bring her to me?"
"Soon enough." The tempo of the fairy music was fading. The Dancers' bodies swayed gently now, and some of the crowd was already departing. Liz's long dark hair was knotted haphazardly with colored ribbons, placed with great care by miniature hands. "Patience, Jeff, you'll have her soon enough."