They both watched as the magic wrapped around their clutched hands, and then around them, digging deeply into their bodies. As suddenly as it had begun, it was over.
Peri stepped back and made a motion with her right hand. As if on cue, the other women emerged from the forest. Thurlok took a step back, but caught himself. Backing away from a predator only encouraged it to chase. The eight other females stood beside Peri and stared at him.
“Are you expecting me to do a trick or something?” He snapped at them.
“Now, now, Thurlok,” Peri crooned. “Play nice. The she-wolves and healers won’t hurt you.”
Someone cleared their throat and Peri glanced over at Elle who was staring at her.
“What?” Peri asked, shaking her head, her voice rising in exasperation. “I can’t guarantee what you will do. You pink haired fairies are always unpredictable.”
Jen started to speak, but stopped when Sally stepped around Peri, directly in front of the troll.
Peri laid a hand on Sally’s shoulder stopping her from speaking. She leaned forward and whispered into her ear.
“I know you are ready to get to your male, but it is never wise to offend the one who holds the cards.”
Sally’s shoulders stiffened, but she gave a curt nod to let Peri know she understood.
Peri motioned towards the bridge as she looked at Thurlok. “We’ve made our bargain troll. Open the veil.”
Thurlok spoke in an unusual language as he drew symbols in the air. His eyes closed as his voice rose and the air around him swirled.
Sally and the others stood transfixed as they watched the veil to the In-Between appear. Suddenly where a bridge and trees had been there was a cavernous opening with stairs disappearing into the darkness beyond it.
“The veil will remain open for 2 hours.” Thurlok told them.
Anger flashed in Peri’s eyes as she realized she had missed a very important detail. Time.
“Is that going to be enough time?” Sally asked.
“Yes,” Alina spoke from Sally’s right.
“How do you know?”
“Because there is no other option.”
“We’re wasting time,” Jen hollered as she headed towards the veil at a jog.
The stairs leading down into the In-Between were narrow and only allowed for them to be single file. Peri had moved Jen out of the way and taken point, and, as usual, Alina pulled up the rear. The stairs were clearly visible but Sally couldn’t figure out what was emitting the light that illuminated them. The walls around them were made of gray stone and felt warm to her fingers as she pressed against it for balance. She followed behind Jacque and, like the others, her eyes constantly moved, watching for danger. Her skin tingled and she felt the magic inside of her welling up, like a charged battery waiting to be plugged into something. As they descended further down the stairs, the air began to grow thick and warm. Sally felt the hair on the back of her neck begin to stick to her as sweat began dampen her skin. She glanced back over her shoulder to Elle and saw that she too was sweating. Elle gave her a small smile and wiped her forehead with the back of her hand.
Finally, the stairs ended. One by one, they each took the final step, emerging into a wide hallway. They all stood restlessly shifting from one foot to the other. The need to move, to take some sort of action was palpable among them. Peri closed her eyes, her lips moved as she murmured. A few moments later, her eyes snapped open and she pointed to the right.
“That way,” she said curtly and began walking. Peri felt the undeniable urgency to hurry, the knowledge of their limited amount of time, foreboding, in the back of her mind.
They hadn’t been walking for longer than two minutes when Jen suddenly stopped. Her eyes were unfocused as she looked down the hallway and her breathing had become labored.
Cynthia stepped up beside her and laid a hand on her shoulder. “Jen,” Cynthia spoke her name softly, trying not to startle her. “Are you alright?”
Jen’s hand went to her abdomen as she gasped. Her blue eyes widened and a sob broke from her chest. “Tell me it’s not real,” she whispered.
Sally stood directly in front of Jen and placed her hands on either side of her face. She closed her eyes and reached into Jens mind. She felt the darkness before she saw it, a swirl of black evil surrounding Jen’s mind. And, in the center of that darkness was Decebel. Sally’s eyes opened and her head jerked back.
“It’s Decebel’s mind that she’s seeing and his emotions that she is feeling,” Sally told them.
“We must be getting close to them if the bond is beginning to open up without any help from the mates,” said Peri. Again, she felt the sense of urgency. Behind that urgency was something just out of her grasp, something more than their ever shortening allotment of time. But, when she tried to pinpoint her fear, it would scurry away and all that was left was the part of her urging her forward. Move fast Peri. Can’t stop. Have to hurry, her mind told her. Even as they stood looking at Jen, Peri knew they should be moving.
“Jen,” Sally patted her friends face. “It’s not real honey. It’s what Decebel is seeing. Come on Jennifer, pull it together.”
Jen squeezed her eyes closed, but then quickly opened them as the images burst forth even more strongly across the back of her eyelids. She nodded and patted Sally’s hand that was still against her face. “I’m alright gypsy lady.” She took several deep breaths attempting to push away the panic attack that was brimming up inside her.
“Ladies, you need to be on your guard. Your minds are your enemy in this place. Your mates are going to be broadcasting and you mustn’t react to the things you might see or…” Peri’s words were cut off by an ear piercing howl and it was joined by another, and another, and still more until the walls shook from the noise.
Without thought Sally took off at a dead run. She knew that howl, knew it like she knew her own voice. She felt the pain radiating in the sound, felt the hopelessness and the loss. Something inside her reached out for the wolf she claimed as hers. “Costin,” she called his name through the bond that had opened when the howl came. “I’m here. I’m coming for you.” Another howl, another lash of pain that took Sally’s breath away as she ran. She heard heavy breathing beside her and saw that Jacque and Jen were on either side of her running just as hard and with just as much determination in their eyes. There were footsteps and heavy breathing behind them and Sally knew that the other women were right on their heels. She had no clue where she was going, but she knew it was the right direction.