Cypher nodded and looked down at Lilly. “Are you ready?”
Lilly took a deep breath and let it out with puffed cheeks, the air blowing the wisps of hair around her face. “Cypher, sweetie, no one is ever ready for this kind of thing.” She patted him on the back and walked passed him, following Cyn as she started off.
“What brings you to me Perizada, high Fae, friend of the pack, teacher to the healers?” The troll’s voice was deep and gravely, as if he’s spent a millennia smoking Pall Malls.
“Thurlok, bridge master, gate keeper,” Peri gave the troll a slight nod; not because he deserved her respect, but because it never hurt to flatter the one you needed to bargain with. She stepped around so that he and the bushes, which the others hid behind, were in sight.
“I’ve come to make an exchange,” said Peri with deliberate slowness. Trolls were not the smartest of creatures on a good day, and Thurlok had been stationed at the bridge for a very long time. She imagined his brain might be a bit sluggish from lack of use.
“A bargain?” He asked eagerly as his hands rubbed together and his eyes widened like a greedy child in a candy store. Peri nodded and he grew impatient. “Come now, female, what is it?”
Peri was purposefully peaking his interest, leveraging the troll’s natural appetite to possess things of great power or value.
“First, I will tell you what it is that I want in exchange for what I will offer.”
Thurlok motioned with his gnarled hand to get on with it.
“I, and eight companions, would like passage into and out of the In-Between. Upon our exit, we will be bringing back prisoners who were unjustly captured. Nine will go in and seventeen will come out. We will be unharmed as we enter; I fully understand you are powerless to protect us once we enter. Upon our exit, we will remain unharmed. You will not share the knowledge of us ever being here or of the identity of the individuals being rescued.” Peri went over the request in her mind to ensure that she did not leave any loopholes that the troll might use to his advantage.
Thurlok’s stared at Peri, his overlarge eyes growing even bigger. In his time as the guard of this waypoint, few beings ever requested to go in voluntarily and he certainly hadn’t had anyone be rescued on his watch. He knew of the ones she spoke of, the males that Desdemona had cast into the In-Between. He also knew that if they got out somehow, she would be out for blood, and it would probably be his blood she would seek first.
“That is a very dangerous request,” he responded calmly, trying not to show her just how curious he was. “What do you have that is of such great worth that I would give up the witch’s prisoners?”
“Something one such as you could never imagine, ever even laying eyes on.” She paused dramatically before she spoke. “A stone of the Fae,” she finally said.
If Thurlok’s eyes were wide before, now Peri was certain they were going to pop out of his head. She was right to say that he would only ever dream of laying eyes on the stones, very few ever did, no matter the length of their lives.
Peri watched the troll closely. His thoughts flickered on his face. She could tell he was examining the situation from every angle, trying his best to determine if she was trying to trick him somehow. Her plan hinged on his lack of knowledge of the stones; very few understood how they actually worked, or the purpose behind them. She waited patiently, not wanting to appear too eager and stir Thurlok’s suspicion.
“Do you think he’s going to hurt himself thinking that hard?” Jen whispered, as she and the other females watched from the cover of foliage.
“It’s quite possible his head might explode,” Sally answered.
“That would suck, seeing as how we need him to let us into that hell,” Jacque added.
“Okay, can I just ask; is that what you thought a troll would look like?” Jen asked no one in particular as she watched Peri talk to the short male with dark skin, a tuft of white hair on his head and small pointed ears. His eyes were large and black, but his face was otherwise unremarkable. His nose was not large or small; his lips were neither plump nor thin. His body was bulky and he seemed to stand a little crooked. He wore brown pants with suspenders and no shirt. His chest was bare and his belly round and plump. He didn’t wear any shoes and didn’t seem bothered by the rough ground.
“What did you expect them to look like?” Crina asked.
Jen shrugged. “I don’t know. More troll-ish maybe.”
“Troll-ish?” Cynthia snorted, with her brow raised.
“Yeah, you know, less human,” Sally agreed.
“You guys watch too many movies,” Cynthia told them.
“You can only have so much sex you know,” remarked Jen, nonchalantly.
Jacque looked over at Jen and wiped a hand across her forehead, “Whew, so glad you said that. I was beginning to think that being pregnant might have curbed your pension for mentioning sex at the most inappropriate times.”
“I’m a little out of practice. Dec is my inspiration for inappropriate sexual comments. When we get him back I’m going to have to make sure to make up for lost time.”
“Well, we eagerly await all the witty comments that you are storing in that wicked mind of yours,” said Alina.
And, though Jen couldn’t quite decide if the Alpha was being sarcastic or not, she added, “Never fear, I will not disappoint.”
“Of that we have no doubt,” Crina muttered with a sly smile.
As they continued to watch the stalled exchange between Peri and the troll, they all muttered a collective about time when the troll finally spoke up.
“You have a deal Perizada of the Fae.” Thurlok made a motion with his hand and suddenly a dagger appeared. He held out his left hand and sliced open his palm. A thick line of bright red blood oozed from the cut as he held out the dagger to Peri. She took the dagger and, without hesitation, sliced her own palm. She held out her hand to his and he took it in a firm handshake. As their hands clasped, Peri spoke clearly into the quiet forest.
“Blood of yours, blood of mine,
The truths I speak now entwined.
All we’ve said shall come to be,
Or death to you and death to me.
The ties that bind can’t be undone,
Not by many, not by one.
Fulfill this bargain from me to you,
Then it will be finished and finally through.