The Fine Print
NOTE: This story is part of a series. For the recommended reading order, see Tryst's Storyline.
Councilor Katerena Thayle leaned forward across the top of her broad, paneled desk, and motioned for the armed men standing guard beside her office door to draw their swords, which they did. Her charcoal-shaded eyes narrowed as the sound of steel drawing across steel echoed around the small room, and she pointed a thin, pale finger at the visitor who stood before her.
“And what is to stop me from simply ordering my guards to slit your throat?” she asked.
If that question worried Tryst at all, the planeswalker didn’t show it. If anything, the smile on her horned face widened, revealing two rows of sharp, pointed teeth, and a long, black, reptilian tongue, which darted between them.
“Nothing at all, Councilor,” the devilkin said. “As you can see, I am unarmed.” Tryst gestured down at her own body, as though to emphasize her lack of a weapon, and the absence of any place to conceal one beneath her dress. “Were you to order your men to attack me, then, surely, I would lose my life. But you yourself would lose a great deal, too.”
“Is that so?” the Councilor asked, raising a penciled eyebrow. “And what exactly would I lose?”
“I spoke as plainly as I did truly, Councilor,” Tryst replied. “You stand to lose out on a great deal. Literally.”
For a moment, the Councilor fell silent, and the human – one of the most powerful people in all of the Free City – made no attempt to conceal her confusion as she studied the strange woman who stood before her. For her part, Tryst simply stood with her hands clasped behind her back, and she looked deferentially off to one side as she waited for the Councilor to complete her inspection.
Tryst was used to being scrutinized by the natives of Phostus. Her appearance clearly marked her as an outsider, and, since she had no realistic hope of disguising that status, she made no effort to do so. Phostus had more than its share of devils, but she was descended from a different fiendish lineage. Her skin was a bloodless, paper white, her lips and hair were both black as the baleful sun that seemed to drink the very life from her adopted world, and her yellow eyes with their slit pupils gave her face a perpetually predatory look. A pair of short, pointed horns sprouted from her forehead just below her hairline, and her legs tapered to black cloven hooves in place of toes. She wore a simple hooded dress cut from deep black satin, which did little to conceal her figure, and her barbed tail, which extended down to just a few inches above the floor, swished lazily behind her as she stood and waited.
Finally, the Councilor seemed to make up her mind. She waved a dismissive hand at her guards, who re-sheathed their swords.
“Explain yourself,” the Councilor said.
“Nothing would please me more,” Tryst said, before nodding in the direction of the hovering guards. “However, given the… well, the sensitive nature of the topic I wish for us to discuss, it might be better were we to do so in private.”
“And what topic might that be?” the Councilor asked, impatience creeping into her regal tone.
“It has come to my attention that you have approached certain… parties, about the possibility of making certain… arrangements,” Tryst said, drawing small circles in the air in front of her with a black-clawed finger. Then, leaning forward, she lowered her voice ever-so-slightly before continuing. “Arrangements which I am in a position to assist you with, should you so desire. But, again, I hesitate to say more in the presence of others. My clients typically place great value on discretion, and I always honor their wishes in that regard.”
Slowly, a look of understanding dawned on the Councilor’s face, followed shortly by horror, her already-pale cheeks growing – somehow – even paler. The Councilor appeared to hesitate for a moment, before she cleared her throat and addressed her bodyguards.
“Leave us,” she said, tilting her chin slightly upward and pointing to the door. “Wait outside.”
The guards saluted stiffly, then filed out of the room, their heavy armor clinking as they went. The last man to leave drew the heavy wooden door closed behind him, at which point the Councilor rose from her deep leather chair and walked across the purple-carpeted floor to where Tryst stood.
“I’m sure I haven’t the faintest idea what you could be referring to,” the Councilor said. She crossed her arms in front of her chest as she spoke, and there was indignant conviction in her voice.
The Councilor was a good liar, Tryst thought. Good, but not good enough.
“Now that we’re alone, there is no need for evasions, my dear Councilor,” Tryst said, speaking in a calming, throaty purr. “I know that you’ve approached a demon.”
“How could you possibly know about that?” the Councilor hissed, drawing a thin stiletto from the folds of her gown as she did. She held the knife out in front of her, level with the devilkin’s heart.
Again, Tryst simply smiled in response, and held her hands out in a gesture of submission. “Knowing such things is my business, Councilor.”
“And just what sort of business is that?” the Councilor asked, still brandishing the knife, which glinted faintly in the dim light of the office.
“My business is to serve as a trustworthy intermediary between people who wish to strike bargains, and the demons they wish to strike those bargains with,” Tryst said. The devilkin extended her arms out to both sides, and gave a deep curtsey. “Think of me as a broker for souls, if you will.”
The Councilor tilted her head back slightly, so that she stared down her nose at the bowing broker. “What makes you think I would require such a service?” she asked.
“Anyone who makes a deal with a demon can benefit from skilled representation,” Tryst said. Her voice was syrupy and soothing. “After all, mortals are at a decided disadvantage in such negotiations. Demons trade in souls the way your kind trade in leather or gold. The more powerful the demon, the more intimately they understand the value of a soul, and the more expertise they have trading in such. Mortals, on the other hand, have but one soul to trade, and thus tend not to understand its full value on the open market. They are liable to sell that soul too cheaply, to say nothing of the risk of being swindled outright. Mortals who barter with demons desire something, and when desire is at its strongest, reason is often at its weakest.” Tryst gave her shoulders a little shrug, then flashed another sharp-toothed smile. “But, with my expert counsel, any mortal can be assured of striking fair terms and fetching the highest possible price.”
The Councilor looked skeptical, but she lowered her blade a fraction of an inch.
“Why would I trust you to represent me in so delicate a matter?” she said, sounding wary, but also curious. “Why should I trust you at all?”
“Fair questions, both,” Tryst said, tipping her horns forward as she nodded her head, “and ones which you would be remiss not to ask.” The devilkin brought her hands together and steepled her fingers. “I have represented more than a hundred clients in such transactions,” she said, “and, while confidentiality prevents me from disclosing their names, I can assure you that my references are impeccable – you are, of course, free to make your own inquiries, should you so wish. I can also assure you that am fully-committed to client satisfaction.” Tryst laughed. “My professional reputation depends on it, after all.”
“But why would any demon tolerate your interference in such affairs?” the Councilor asked, her voice falling to a whisper. “Surely they would kill you for the sheer impudence of it.”
“On the contrary,” Tryst said, shaking her head. “Demons of the very highest ranks welcome my intermediation. Most such demons are very practical creatures, when all is said and done. They covet souls, and I deliver souls. My clients sign on the dotted line, precisely because they are so satisfied with the terms I negotiate. I close deals which might otherwise fall through – and, as an added bonus, a satisfied seller is so much less likely to try to shirk his or her obligations after the fact. As such, all parties benefit from my involvement.”
For a moment, the Councilor said nothing. Then, slowly, she nodded her head.
Reaching out, Tryst took the Councilor’s knife between two claws and gently directed its point off to one side. Then, with no deadly edge between them, she wrapped her other arm around the Councilor’s shoulder, and walked the human back over to her desk.
“Now, why don’t we discuss just what it is that you want to barter for,” Tryst said.
The Councilor sighed heavily as she sank back down into her chair, and seemed to shrink in upon herself, as if the weight of the matter bore her down into the leather cushions. “A rival of mine, Councilor Netten, recently took a fetching young man as her husband,” she said. A wistful look appeared on the human’s face, and she rested her head atop one hand. “What such a strapping lad could see in a withered old shrew like Netten I will never know, but that is beside the point.”
“The point,” Tryst ventured, “is that this fetching young man would look much better on your arm than on your rival’s.”
“Precisely.” The Councilor sighed. “I had thought of simply having Netten killed, and taking her husband for my own. But the politics of the Council are…,” the woman glanced up at the ceiling as she searched for the appropriate euphemism, “fragile at the moment. I am this close to swinging nine more Councilors over to my block.” The human raised a thumb and forefinger, holding them just barely apart. “So, for me to be openly involved in such an affair would have undesirable consequences.”
Tryst offered the human a sage nod. “You were wise to consider other, less direct alternatives,” she said. “If you will permit me, I will consult with my most trusted contacts – my little black book, if you will – and I will see what manner of deal might be obtained along those lines.”
Tryst slipped a pair of clawed fingers inside her dress, and retrieved a tiny codex bound in deeply-grained black leather. The book’s deckle-edged pages were brown with age but still supple and flexible beneath the devilkin’s touch, betraying the fact that they had been cut not from paper, but from vellum. Tryst could feel the darkness within her grimoire as a kind of sharp, icy prickling beneath her fingers, and she held the book carefully in both hands as she gazed at the seated human and waited for a response.
The Councilor fixed the barb-tailed intermediary with a long, hard look. Then, almost imperceptibly, she nodded her head.
“Do it,” the human said.
Tryst pulled back the cover of her little black book, and her yellow eyes rolled slightly up into her head as her mind and body filled with dark mana. Ancient, sepulchral words poured forth from the devlikin’s black lips, and the pages of her book started to turn of their own volition, as Tryst reached out to her network of demonic contacts, explaining – in a dozen infernal tongues at once – the broad parameters of the Councilor’s desires, and asking for bids. Suddenly her mind was flooded with a cacophony of competing infernal voices, offering terms and arguing both with her and amongst themselves, and the pages of the grimoire flipped violently one way, then back the other, as the demons whose names were contained within them outbid one another. Then, just as suddenly as the chaos of the auction had begun, a single, malevolent voice inside Tryst’s head agreed to terms, and the pages of her book fell still.
Tryst looked down at her little black book, making a note of the demonic name on the page it lay open to. Then she closed the leather-bound codex and slid it back down inside the neckline of her dress. After taking the briefest of moments to recompose herself, the devilkin again flashed her broad, razor-toothed smile, and she spoke to her mesmerized human client.
“I am authorized to extend you the following generous offer,” Tryst said, clasping her hands behind her back and bowing slightly as she did. “Before the week is out, Councilor Netten will be found dead, under circumstances which, it is fair to say, will be most compromising, and which cannot possibly be traced back to you. In fact, blame for the murder will fall upon Councilor Harvock, with whom I believe you also have acrimonious relations.” Tryst stretched her legs slightly, and her knees bent in the opposite direction of how human knees would – she ignored the small flinch this drew from the Councilor, and continued speaking. “You will dispose of your two bitterest rivals at a single blow, and Councilor Netten’s charming young widower will be sharing your marital bed within a week of the funeral.”
The Councilor leaned forward in her seat. Tryst watched as envy, lust, and avarice all fought for pride of place in the human woman’s eyes, and the devilkin looked discreetly away as she waited for a conclusion which was already foregone.
“And all I need pledge in return is my soul?” the Councilor asked, in the same tone as she might have discussed disposing of surplus bloodstock or unwanted furniture.
“The cost to you will be your immortal soul, payable immediately in an Obol to the demon who holds your contract,” Tryst said. “Plus my commission, payable to me immediately upon the execution of said contract.”
The Councilor’s brow furrowed, and the look of suspicion which Tryst had worked so hard to dispel reappeared upon the human’s face.
“Your commission?” the Councilor asked, her words and manner suddenly dark.
“My dear Councilor, nothing in this world worth having comes without a price,” Tryst said, speaking in the tone of a mother reminding her child of an unpleasant but unavoidable fact. “My services are no exception.”
“And what is your price?”
Tryst gave a demure bow. “My price for broking this deal is a year from your life, Councilor.”
“A year from my life?” the human asked, incredulous.
“A year from your life,” Tryst repeated. She stepped forward, so that she stood directly before the heavy wooden desk. “There is no pain involved, and I think that, if you take a moment to reflect, you will agree with me that a single year from your life is a thin price indeed for the rewards I am offering. Your two greatest enemies, dispatched at the stroke of a pen, with no danger to yourself. That plus the man you desire, sworn to love and honor you, ‘til death do you part – all at no extra cost. Against that, what is the value of one short year – one which would otherwise be wasted living an unfulfilled life?”
Tryst waited patiently as the Councilor played nervously with the stiletto, which she still clutched in her hand. The human regarded Tryst with wary eyes and a clenched jaw, and seemed to be making up her mind about whether or not to attack the devilkin. But she didn’t call out for her guards. And, Tryst noted, she didn’t say “no.”
When the Councilor did speak, what she said was: “I want to see the terms of my deal. In writing.” She pointed the stiletto at Tryst. “Now.”
Tryst snapped her fingers, and, with a little flash of hellfire and a puff of smoke, a roll of thick parchment tied round with black ribbon appeared in her hand.
“I would be concerned if you didn’t want to review the paperwork first,” she said, handing the scroll to the human, who unrolled it and began to read. “After all, I want this to be a good experience for you. I want you to be happy with the bargain you’re making.”
Tryst’s yellow eyes followed the human’s brown ones as they worked their way through the fine print. Once the Councilor finished reading, she hesitated for a moment, before nodding.
“It seems to be as you described,” the human said, sounding only partly assuaged.
Tryst simply nodded.
“If you attempt to cross me—”
“You need have no fear of that,” Tryst said. “As I have said from the moment we met, I am committed to client satisfaction. My life depends upon it.” She was careful not to let any frustration show on her face. The Councilor’s threat was a tiresome one – one that Tryst had heard myriad times before. Yet her clients always made it when they were near to closing a deal – as though they had more to fear from the devilkin than the demons they damned themselves to. “Now, am I correct that you wish to proceed?”
“Yes,” the human said.
Tryst snapped her fingers again. This time a pen appeared in her open hand. It was a thick, black pen, carved from some hard, lustrous material and sharpened on one end to a razor point.
The Councilor seemed to be waiting for Tryst to produce an inkpot, but none was forthcoming.
“I recommend the vein on the inside of the elbow,” Tryst said, indicating the spot on her own arm as she handed the empty pen to the Councilor. “Some clients prefer the wrist, but, in my experience, the wound is easier to conceal inside the elbow.” The devilkin shrugged. “The choice is, of course, yours – I simply have discretion in mind.”
The Councilor stared down at the pen she held. “Is this really necessary?” she asked, a distasteful look on her face.
“I’m afraid it’s non-negotiable.”
The human woman blanched, but she nodded, too. Then, grimacing, she pulled the pen’s razor tip across the inside of her elbow, laying bare the vein Tryst had indicated. Blood welled up through the cut and ran down the Councilor’s arm. After filling the pen with it, she signed the contract, inking her name in large, florid letters as the devilkin bore honest witness.
Tryst collected the pen and the contract from the human, who made a sour face and sucked at the cut on her arm. The soul broker briefly reviewed the document and the blood signature on it, before nodding her head and snapping her fingers a third time, sending the pen and paper back to their owner.
“I believe that concludes our business,” the Councilor said, nodding towards the door. “You may leave. Ask my men to return on your way out.”
The smile vanished from Tryst’s paper-white face. “There is still the matter of my commission,” the devilkin said, her voice suddenly low and dangerous, as her slit pupils narrowed to thin, black slivers.
For a moment, she thought that the Councilor was going to argue. But, instead, the human woman merely rolled her eyes and harrumphed.
“Very well,” the Councilor said peevishly, as though the matter were a tiresome afterthought. “Get it over with. I wish to be done with you.”
Tryst stepped around the desk to stand next to the Councilor’s chair. “I assure you that this won’t hurt—,” she said, placing a black-clawed hand on the human’s forehead, “—too much.”
Tryst began to chant in a dark, infernal tongue. She felt the black, cursed mana of Phostus flow up into her body, and she thrilled at the feeling of power it suffused her with. Beneath her touch, she saw the muscles in the human woman’s face slacken, and its pallor turn gray, as she slowly, carefully, drained the life away from it. As she chanted, Tryst felt a dark urge welling within her – the same one she felt whenever she collected a commission. It was the urge to take more than just a year – to take much more, to drain the venal, capricious, odious woman she held in her grasp dry, to simply chant and chant until she stole every last breath of life in the soulless human’s body.
But, instead, Tryst forced herself to stop. She said the final words of the invocation. As she did, the Councilor’s head shot back, and her mouth flew open with a dry, rattling croak. A dark, smoky miasma poured out from the human’s open lips, and Tryst breathed it in deeply, feeling a surge of power and vitality as she consumed one year’s worth of the human’s life essence.
Finally, Tryst drew her hand away and stepped back. The Councilor’s face was haggard, and the woman was struggling to catch her breath.
“Get. Out.” The Councilor gasped the words more than she spoke them, gesturing furiously at the door as she did.
“Of course,” Tryst said. “But, before I leave, please allow me to be the first to congratulate you on your impending nuptials.”
Tryst, broker of souls, curtseyed one final time. Then she turned on her hooves and walked out the door, the thick carpeting muffling her steps as she put the Councilor’s office and the whole of the Free City behind her.
* * *
Sitting quietly by the side of the small, wooden bed, with its fine satin sheets and downy pillows, Tryst slowly, gently drew the back of a clawed fingertip across the soft, smooth brow of the young girl who lay sleeping before her, taking care not to scratch the child’s skin as she did. The girl’s smiling face showed the gentle contours of untroubled sleep, and her breathing was slow and even.
She looked so beautiful, it broke Tryst’s heart. So beautiful, and so human. Only a pair of small, black horns growing from the child’s forehead offered any hint as to her true lineage, and Tryst carefully arranged the little girl’s bangs so as to obscure the horns beneath them.
It was then that Tryst suddenly saw the room around her grow dark, and she felt a powerful presence thrumming in the air behind her. She did not have to turn around to know who it was.
“You seem particularly pleased with yourself this evening,” came the familiar voice from behind her – a low, rumbling, malevolent baritone. “I can smell it on you.”
“I brokered two deals this week,” Tryst said. She didn’t turn around, or even take her eyes off of the sleeping girl in the bed before her. “Two souls for your kind, and two years for me.” She carefully arranged the girl’s blanket, tucking its edge just beneath the small child’s chin, before adding: “One for me, and one for her.”
“I’m curious,” the voice said. “Who did you approach first – the woman, or the man?”
“The man,” Tryst said. “I only had to take one look at him to see that he had married in haste, and, when I offered him the heart of the woman of his choosing, he jumped at the chance.” She sighed. “Although, why he preferred Thayle to Netten – or why he wished for either one of them, for that matter – I will never know.”
Behind her, she heard the Demon King chuckle.
“For many, power is the ultimate aphrodisiac,” he said.
“Maybe for some,” Tryst said, then shook her head. “Anyway, once the Councilor was in love, it was only sensible to approach her as well.” A faint smile appeared on the devilkin’s face. “When the chance to represent both halves of a deal appears, I seize it.”
The demon laughed once more, a low rumble that seemed to wash over Tryst. “Another pair of satisfied clients, then – and none the wiser.”
“Yes,” Tryst said.
“I suppose I ought to share in the credit,” the demon said. “You learned from the best.”
“Yes,” Tryst said.
For a moment, a heavy, uncomfortable silence descended upon the room. Eventually, the Demon King spoke again.
“What does she dream of?” he asked, with something that sounded almost like a sigh.
Tryst ran a finger through the sleeping girl’s black hair. “She dreams of a room. A human child’s room, with human toys, human friends.” Tryst tried to hide the tears that were forming in her yellow eyes. “Human parents who love her.” Then a hard edge crept into the devilkin’s voice. “She dreams that she’s someplace far, far away from this hellish nightmare of a world.”
Again, Tryst heard laughter. Dark and rumbling again, but hollow this time.
“After all you went through to get this child,” the Demon King said, “after all you sacrificed, you lock her away in a dream. It seems a pity. A waste.”
Tryst whirled around to face Adys – the Lord of Artrix, the Soulbroker – to stare right into the black abyss of his eyes.
“She wasn’t supposed to be born here!” the devilkin shouted.
“A provision which you forgot to include when we made our deal,” the Demon King said, in a matter-of-fact tone which cut deeper than any barb.
Tryst couldn’t hold the Demon King’s void-like gaze. She had to look away.
“I’ve gotten much better at crafting deals since then,” she said, quietly.
“So you have,” Adys said. “And to what end? To keep yourself perpetually alive in this pathetic state?” The Demon King shook his massive, broad head, sending ebon hair cascading across his shoulders. “How long do you think you can carry on like this?”
“As long as it takes,” Tryst said, her clawed fingers curling into fists. “So long as there is jealousy, lust, avarice in the hearts of men and women, there will be deals to be made, and I will be there to make them. I’ll keep living, and she’ll keep dreaming, until, one day, someday, I find a way to take her away from this place.”
“Do not forget – you possess something which rightfully belongs to me,” the Demon King said. His voice was almost a whisper, but the implied threat was clear.
“Correction,” Tryst said, sharply. “So long as I live, it still belongs to me. And, when I leave, I’m taking it with me.”
Adys drew himself up to his full, imperial height. “I should have killed you the moment I laid eyes on you,” he said, his face furrowed into a deep frown. “Lilin was right – your kind are always more trouble than you’re worth.”
“I made my mistake, and you made yours,” Tryst retorted. “And now we both have to live with them.”
“We shall see who manages to do that for longer,” the Demon King said, before vanishing in a swirl of shadows and brimstone, so that all that remained of him was a final, echoing statement: “I know where I place my coin on such a wager.”
Tryst sat down again next to the bed, and she stared at the peaceful look on the sleeping child’s face.
“We shall see,” she said.
Adys is an original character created by Barinellos for the Expanded Multiverse.
Magic: Expanded Multiverse is not associated with Wizards of the Coast. This is a transformative work of fanfiction, protected in the United States under the laws of Fair Use.
All works copyright their respective creators.