When one choice can change everything, earn all that you have ever wanted, but could cost everything if you were careless, what would you do? With the deck stacked against you, you even the odds by...
Author:/ Vash The Unholy/
Notes: Id simply like to say thanks to those who have been infinitely supportive and helpful to this project: Nuhuh for being a sounding bored, helping me keep characters as close to canon as completely possible, checking for spelling and grammar, and for being a sport about it. Surarrin for being an ass when I wasn't in canon compliance. Tragedian, Rehio and Sanquinarius for being wonderful sounding boards as well.
It was done. I had done it. I had saved the girl, stopped the thief, and won Mab's support to the Council by proving her innocence; all in the name of saving my own ass. Huzzah!
Lying too tired to move or care next to Aurora's cold and empty body, it felt rather...pointless and anticlimactic somehow. Like there should have been something more. Maybe fireworks or shouts of celebration, something more than the cold body of a well-intentioned, yet misguided woman. I don't know what I was expecting having seen everything I had in my life, but one can hope, you know?
Quarter of an hour later the Queens found me in the same spot, staring tiredly downwards. I became dimly aware of their gold and blue auras dancing behind me and the tingle of their power. Aurora was bathed in a golden light for a moment, before the aura flitted elsewhere, taking the dead flesh with it. I couldn't help but feel minutely jealous of her at that time. To have the freedom death must bring. But I wasn't, I mused with a somewhat cynical smile. I was left cold and tired on the ground, but alive.
Titania lingered only a moment before departing, leaving me in the cool blue aura of Mab. Her fingers danced lightly in my hair as she placed her hand on my head, a gesture surprisingly gentle for one with such potential for cruelty. "You have done well, Wizard. I am pleased."
"Go away, Mab," I muttered in a tired voice.
"Nay, mortal," she commented with a laugh, "It is you who must depart, along with your companions."
"What about Toot-toot?" I asked.
"It is ... uncommon for a mortal to Call even the lowest of faerie into service," she spoke slowly. "But it has happened before. You need not fear for your little warriors. As your weapons, only you will be held accountable for their actions." When she spoke next,
I could almost feel the soft distaste in her voice. "Take their steel and that alone will suffice."
I smiled a little at that. At least Toot-Toot and his gang would be alright. They were odd but a good bunch of faerie. I'd have to remember to get them something special next time I visited; the same for the Alphas. This reminded me, as I pushed myself up to a standing position; that I had yet to check on them. "You are going to live up to your end of the bargain then?"
"Of course. The wizards will have safe passage," she answered evenly.
"No, I meant our bargain."
Mab turned a dangerous, enticing smile in my direction. "Allow me to make an offer first."
With a graceful gesture of her hand the thick patch of thorns cleared. Maeve, clad in her white armor, stood accompanied by Mother Winter shrouded entirely in black. Lloyd Slate knelt before them in obvious pain, his hands shackled to a collar around his neck, the entire thing made of something that looked like clouded ice. He was little more than a muscle-bound addict and pawn. I could almost feel sorry for him.
"There is a traitor in our midst," Mab practically purred, "one who will be dealt with accordingly. After which there will be an opening for a Knight amongst Winter." Mab watched me with a cautious, calculative gaze. "I would have one more worthy of such trust as his successor. I offer you this, accept, and all debts between us are canceled."
Of all my past experiences with the Fae, my reaction should have simply been to turn her down flat. Dealing with faerie was often more a hassle than any gain could outweigh. It probably held more truth when dealing with the Winter Court, which was considered by nearly all to be the crueler and more oft malicious of the Courts. I knew this from personal experience with my own Faerie Godmother, Lea. So why did I consider it?
At worst, I could be treated as I had seen Slate during my brief venture to Undertown; a servant and slave to be abused and kicked about at their every whim. I wouldn't have put it past any of them, though perhaps in different forms.
Mab seemed more subtle from what I had seen of her, while Maeve far more open with her crueler, colder nature. I honestly had no idea what to expect at best. Riches, power, and any woman within the court I should desire? Knowledge any mortal wizard would kill to but glance at? Maybe and maybe not.
I suppose my honest expectation was that I would be treated with little difference than I was now, within my own circle. A bother and a nuisance; a thing to be ignored when unneeded and treated with contempt when interaction was unavoidable.
"What," I found myself asking, "Precisely, would that have me doing?"
"Protecting the best interests of Winter, whatever form it should take," Mab answered calmly in a simple tone.
I pursed my lips into a frown of displeasure. "Forgive me my lack of such elegance and diction, but you want me as a hired gun, for all that its worth. Kill him, steal that, and intimidate him."
"If that is what it should take," the Queen answered simply. "But there is more to Winter than violence and death, Wizard. Were it otherwise, there would be little left of our Court."
Not that I hadn't thought there wasn't. They would have make a lot more enemies if they had, and undoubtedly, there would be a lot more wars going on between Winter and their enemies. But that didn't mean they were any better than Marcone. Johnny Marcone, leader of Chicago's largest crime syndicate, felt he was doing the city a service by crushing his criminal competition. Perhaps he was and perhaps he wasn't, I'm not one to debate the semantics of it. But I had my doubts Mab or any other Sidhe in Winter felt the same. Most probably never gave thought to right or wrong; or whether or not they were helping someone.
"So," I began slowly, "I do all your dirty work and the stuff that might put you at risk. And all I get out of it is power?" I snorted lightly. "Seems I get the short end of the stick here."
"Perhaps that is all that seems obvious, Wizard, but there are other benefits." She smiled conspiratorially. "Freedom from your Council is all too easy to arrange. Money, women, power, material possessions; little is out of your reach."
"Nothing I couldn't gain on my own," I retorted with a shrug.
"A valid point, Wizard," Mother Winter's creaking voice answered. "But could you match the protection from them that we could offer you? Would it not be a short matter of time, should you embrace this freedom alone, before the Council's dogs were at your throat?"
And how they would, I mused. There were already too many who wanted my head for me to count. The Red Court vampires, Morgan, and Marcone, and I've lost count of all the others. Power I have, perhaps in spades or not, skill I have a moderate amount of, knowledge...I have Bob; but still. I've probably made it this far only because of those few allies I have. Like Murphy, Michael, Ebenezer, Susan. Could I survive alone, if I cut off all of those ties? Not likely, I mused.
"So what am I to do in my off time?" I asked. "Scrub toilets?"
Mab shrugged elegantly, "Whatever it is that pleases you, so long as no harm is drawn to the court." Her eyes gazed intently at me. "I do hope you will consider my offer seriously, Dresden. It would be a terrible shame to waste such talent amongst the blind."
"Quite," Maeve's voice floated, "It would be most ... interesting to have you among us under such permanent circumstances." She smiled blandly in my direction, distaste shining in it. "Though, we still have our issues to ... discuss. I'm certain we'll both enjoy it."
I sighed muttering beneath my breath, "Sure, decisions like this are made on a whim all the time, just like lunch. Sure! I'll have the ham on rye." I shook my head slightly looking up at Mab. "I'll think on it. Give me a day or two to decided? Cover all my bases before throwing my head on a chopping block?"
"Certainly," Mab answered pleasantly, "I offer anything that should sway thee, wizard. You need but ask."
"Thanks, I guess," I muttered, walking in the last direction I remembered the Alphas being in. Hell's Bells, this is such a headache.
Three in the morning came, and I found myself sitting on the fire escape of Billy's apartment, staring out at the lights of the city. Looking at it from here, one would never think you could find werewolves, wizards, faerie, or demons down there. Chances are, you've probably passed a vampire on the street and hadn't even known it. All of the things that go bump in the night are out there, creeping about, living like your average person. Or criminal, depending on what's going bump. And as of late, I've had the oppressing feeling they're all coming for me.
Hell, even some of my 'allies' want my head on a pike, I thought with a quiet snort. The Senior Council, the standard wizard's governmental body, had enough of them wanting my head that I knew of. Not to count those in the White Council I didn't know about. The Council, who were supposed to be unbiased and offer protection to all of its subordinates were already willing to throw me to the Red Court Vampires to stop an ongoing war. One that I had been manipulated into starting, one that had cost me the woman I had fallen in love with; Susan Rodriguez.
Susan... Thinking of her and what had transpired always brought a shiver. I should have known better, but I was too wrapped up in trying to be gentlemanly and protecting those around me. Susan was quite stubborn when it came to getting her stories. And then one that had been too tempting to ignore had been thrown at her feet. Of course, my own moronic "No, we can't go, it's too dangerous" speech hadn't done much to sway her.
So she snuck in, unprotected from the Laws of Hospitality, and no one was above it to take advantage of that. And maybe I am an idiot, but I couldn't just let them kill her. But in the end, perhaps it would have been better to let her be killed, because what happened was worse.
A war started that has claimed too many lives and Susan... Susan was Turned, at least partially. But it was only partially, so there had to be some way to cure it. I had tried as well. I worked for months, to the point of ignoring my job for the sake of getting it right. But then, perhaps barely a day ago, or less, I was given something that could have cured it.
Closing my eyes and resting my head against the cool railing behind me. I could, perhaps through work and bargains, gain another Unraveling from Mother Winter, but everything I've learned and been told says not to deal with Faeries. They were always offering just want you wanted. And it wasn't for the gain, but simply because it is their nature.
"Hey," I looked towards the window to see Billy leaning against it, holding out a coke. I nodded my thanks, taking it. "How you doing?"
"All things considered, decent enough, I suppose," I replied slowly. "How are the others?"
"Banged up, scratched up, bruised and tired, but nothing serious," his voice was tinted with quite a bit of pride.
"That's good," I murmured around the can. "Need I worry about Georgia's wrath since you are out here with me at three in the morning?"
Billy snorted, an amused smile flickering to life. "Nah, she's been taken care of."
"Nice to know." I closed my eyes, resting my head against the railing again.
"So how are you, really?" he asked around his own drink. "Cuz' you look like you have a lot on your mind."
I opened my mouth to reply on instinct before stopping. How did I feel? How would you feel, after experiencing everything that I've been through?
"Tired," I told him honestly. "Confused mostly." Leaning my head away, I glanced at the stars. "You know what happened to Susan." He nodded absently. "I found something that would be almost guarantied to cure her, a job offer, and a shit load of problems to match."
"Ok," he replied thoughtfully. "Cure good, job good, problems bad. I don't personally see a problem, man, but I don't have your experience. So what's the deal? Why is it so sour?"
"The source," I hesitated, unable to explain my thoughts fully at fist. "It's kind of hard to explain. The source... isn't really on the up and up, you know?" He didn't but I rambled on anyway. "It's like Bob says: Mortals; that being us, are too concerned with morality and what's right and wrong. Mab is a Sidhe. They don't see the world like we do. They aren't above killing or stealing to achieve what they want."
"Ah, makes sense," he muttered. "So what does she want from you?"
"...Err," I stumbled. "That I'm not sure about. She tells me she wants me as her Knight, but it's rarely so simple with Mab."
"Well, couldn't you just ask her," Billy offered.
"I could," I conceded. "And she would smile, speak in a polite and gentle if not slightly cool voice, and tell me everything I asked for; and at the same time still tell me nothing at all." I gave a hard, frustrated sigh. "The Sidhe are all masters of deception, and the Winter are rather cruel."
"So," Billy started slowly. "You're going to turn it down then."
"I... don't know, Billy. Really, I don't know." Rubbing my temples lightly, I looked up at the boy. "Everything I know tells me I should, and I know I should, but I have a chance to help Susan. I could cure her, you know? But it's more complicated than that, too."
"The White Council?"
"Not so much the Council, as a group of its members. There are a small group of people that would be thrilled to put my head on a pike for things I hadn't done or were done in self defense."
"So you get treated like shit by the management?" I grunted noncommittally at him and Billy snorted. "That is any job, though, ya know? Hell if I know why, but management is always on some kind of trip." He shrugged in a "what the hell ya gonna do" manner before speaking again, "Doesn't matter who ya work for, someone is gonna dislike you and try to make it harder." He paused momentarily. "But I know what you're saying."
"Yeah," I nodded tiredly. "I think I'm just going to call it a night, man." I grunted in effort as I stood, pins and needles running down my legs. "No rest for the wicked and all that. Could use some help tomorrow, probably. So drop by some time, yeah?" I asked.
"Sure, that's not a problem. Take it easy, man," Billy spoke, yawning himself.
I woke early the next morning, rousing at an unbelievable seven o'clock, though I remained in bed for nearly twenty minutes. My body still ached, and I had too much to think about. I didn't have simply Mab to worry about, but also the Council, Elaine, and my bills. Ebenezer had told me I made a lot of people see red, doing what I did. But honestly, I couldn't be bothered caring at the moment. It was very... disillusioning to see the council and wardens in this light. But I could deal with them later.
I had to find Elaine before she skipped town as well. I felt... Well, I don't know what I felt, but I thought I should talk to her one last time. Maybe somewhere inside, I wanted to be let go and be free of her entirely, so that I could commit entirely to finding and helping Susan. Maybe I wanted to be angry and yell at her for running and hiding for all those years. I mean, we were supposed to have been in love, right? But no, I suppose I would have done the same. A part of me shuddered at the thought, but another, deeper portion still wanted to be with her. I knew it was over between us, though. We had changed so much since then, but it didn't stop me for holding some faint desire or hope that it could go back to the way it used to be.
When I finally mustered the energy to drag my carcass out of bed, I noticed it was remarkably cleaner than I remembered. I don't remember paying much attention, but I do remember just shucking off my clothes and throwing them on the floor. And now they were missing. And there was a slightly pine scent to the room as well. Not the artificial, bottled stuff either; but the honest to God pine of the forest scent.
Without really thinking about it, I grabbed the first thing I found from the dresser and tossed it on in a hurry. McAnnally's served a mean breakfast, but they stopped pretty early. I threw on my slightly oversized jeans, reminding myself to put the weight I'd obviously lost back on, and grabbed a pair of grey, simple athletic socks and cotton, navy blue shirt. After dressing, I strutted out to meet the day with all the stubbornness and irresponsibility the name Harry Dresden conjured.
And I froze as I headed for the kitchen-slash-living room.
Sitting in a chair drug from my small kitchenette, Billy was chatting in an amicable voice with Fix, who wore mechanic's overalls. His frizzy white hair floated about him, in an odd way complementing the smile he wore. Lily, the nice, attractive changeling, sat on the withered and worn old couch next to him. Simple dark slacks and a green blouse showed off her shapely figure in quite an appealing way. I'm not too proud to admit that I admired the view for a moment. What really caught my eye about her, though, was her hair. It was snowy white.
Billy looked up and grinned his mischievous little grin the moment I entered. I resisted the urge to bop him one and teach him respect for his heroes. "Morning, Harry! Was going to wake you when I got here like you asked, but," he waved a gesture at Fix and Lily, "they had a gift for you."
Lily blushed prettily but smiled anyway, "I hope you don't mind too much, Mr. Dresden. I asked a few kind brownies to tidy up a bit."
I blinked. "You can do that?"
"Err..." Lily stammered slowly, embarrassment obvious. "Well, with my... new ... position," she continued slowly, rubbing her hands together in her lap. "I'm given certain ... respect. I'm really not used to ...all this attention. It's just all this fuss over one stupid girl."
Fix smiled, patting Lily's arm gently. "You'll get used to it, I'm sure. It'll get easier." He turned his eyes up to me, "Somehow, when Aurora ... passed away, her powers transferred to Lily."
Lily spoke quietly when she interrupted, "Titania says it's because I had the Summer Knight's power already. That it sought out the nearest compatible host. It normally goes to one of the queens until someone can be chosen, but I was there." She shrugged helplessly.
I tried giving what I hoped was my best reassuring smile, "You'll do wonderfully, I'm sure. You're a great person, so I hear. A damned good candidate."
Lily smiled. "Thank you, but I doubt that. I just don't know what I'm doing. Titania says she'll teach me, but I don't know how much good I can do."
I flopped down carelessly next to her on the couch and gave a comforting pat on her shoulder. "You're gonna do fine. You just need some confidence. It'll come to you as you learn more. Just gotta trust yourself, is all."
"Thank you," she whispered genuinely. "And I wanted to thank you for everything you've done for me, as well. I owe you my life."
"Pish posh," I told her. "You don't owe me anything. And if you should thank anyone, it's Meryl."
"You know," Lily said softly, frowning. "You shouldn't blame yourself. You only did what you did because you have a good heart, just like Meryl did. I can't repay kindness like that, and it'll be years before I can use my... my..."
"...power," she imitated. "But if you ever need anything; help, a safe place, anything at all, please don't hesitate to come to me, Mr. Dresden."
I blinked a few times, before giving her my sincere thanks. "But," I added, "You can call me Harry. Now, why don't I go grab us some drinks." I offered with a smile. Looks like I wouldn't be getting any of Mac's spectacular eggs this morning.
It's been nearly a fortnight since Mab mad her offer and I wasn't any clearer on what answer I could give her. It was terribly tempting to accept on the spur of the moment and deal with the concequences as they came. It's not like I've not done similar before. But then, this wasn't a case, and more than my life was on the line. A single stupid choice could ruin years of friendship if I was careless.
Like Michael Carpenter, the Knight of the Cross, who had helped me endlessly. He had moments of being truly annoying, and others when he was the greatest thing since sliced bread, but he was always the best friend you could ever hope for. A devout man of God and his family to the end, I don't think I've ever seen him turn down a person in need of help if he could do something. His wife, Charity, and I have never seen eye to eye, but I understood why that was and didn't begrudge her anything. She was only trying to look out for and protect her family. I expect that were I in her place, I'd have done the same.
And then there was Karrin Murphy, Lieutenant of the Chicago PD's Special Investigation Division. She was a good cop, through and through, and I've lost count of the number of times she has saved my life over the years. She has seen some pretty weird stuff over the past few years, but manages to keep everything in order and her head on straight. You have to respect a person like that. It would be a pity to lose that kind of companion.
Shoving the Blue Beetle into park, I made my way down a winding trail heading out of Chicago and the city's glowing lights. It took nearly an hour to walk to a distance I felt comfortable with and by that time the sun had faded partially. The sky had been left painted in dark blues, reds, and oranges as day died beyond the horizon. With the reflection on the lake in front of me, it was quite an amazing sight and one rarely seen in such an area. The city usually muted such effects.
I stood a moment, contemplating what I was about to do. It was insanely stupid, but I couldn't avoid it. I had to do it sometime, or she was going to come to me. And Sidhe were generally dangerous by them selves, not counting one who was angry. And blowing off a heavyweight like her was generally a bad idea. I sighed, wondering one last time what I had done to earn such luck, before turning my face to the wind.
"My Sovereign, O' Queen most fair," I willed in a quiet voice, "I plead thee. An doth it content thee, grace thine subject. I summon thee, Winter's Beauty. Mab, an it please thee, come hither and hold discourse with me." That finished, all I could do was wait.
Five minutes passed and nothing happened when I had finished. Or maybe I was just so tense and nervous it felt that long. But I had started to think she wasn't going to show when the water several feet from the edge of the lake started to swirl slowly. In only a few seconds, the small swirl became a raging two foot wide whirlpool of air, water, and energy. In an instant, a funnel shot form the centre, arcing towards the shore only a few steps in front of me. Before ever touching the ground, the funnel began to form a vaguely feminine humanoid form, a bright light shining through its crystalline visage. So bright I had to shield my eyes.
"Greetings, Mortal," I heard the unmistakeable voice of Mab, subtly powerful, as though it resonated through the elements around me, rather than through sound itself. "Such formality, it is pleasing. Very much so," she hummed contentedly.
"Queen Mab," I spoke, perfidious respect in my voice. "I used only what I had at hand." I smiled politely. "Even with your sudden interest in me, I doubted you'd show if I called you as I have my Godmother."
"Truly," the faerie responded, "and more at heart of such matters, such disrespect would be thine end."
I took pause a moment at that. Mab wasn't someone to trifle with or who gave threats idly. "I've doubts of that, Mab, even if I know you capable," I told her tensely. "But I didn't come here for idle chitchat either."
Mab's delicate white blonde eyebrow drew up slowly in interest, "To business then, Mortal. You've considered my offer then?"
"I've thought about it, yeah," I told her, "But all it's brought is a headache and more reasons to turn you down."
Mab's smile never faltered though did become slightly cooler. "Then you will discard my generosity so carelessly? Return to your flock of trusted and respected allies?" Though her face was polite with a hint of coolness to it, her voice carried a sneer.
"I had questions for you, first," I returned with a glare, "But I've better things to waste my time with. Hell, I could be warm in my bed, rather than standing here in the mud."
"Impudence," Mab returned with only the barest hint of anger, "I could destroy you in but a breath and you'd be powerless to stop it. If we must carry on such banter, then let us away with ourselves."
"If you were going to kill me, Mab, you'd have done it."
Mab let a quiet, cold laugh pass through her lips that fell upon my cheeks as a harsh winter wind. "I speak not of death, Mortal." Her face returned to its former visage of polite neutrality. "Mortals are so concerned with death that it is their greatest fear. Nay, dearest Harry, I could do much more. Take everything you have, and leave you but a broke soul."
That I didn't doubt for an instant. "Regardless," I spoke slowly, trying to keep the quiver of fear hidden, "we have other matters to discuss. Will you answer my questions?"
Mab's smile lifted, a calculating gleam appearing in here eye. "Knowledge is power, and power is ne'er free, dear boy. What price would thee place upon such knowledge?"
What could I offer? I had precious little to offer, and less I could give. "My future," I answered with a sigh after a minute of thought. Mab gave me a look that implored I continue. "You have my name. You have my life and my freedom. I know Sidhe, and you are unconcerned with things of material gain."
"True," the resonating whisper came, "but there is much that such young minds doth not consider. A first born child, perhaps."
"I decline," I answered without thought. "My questions dictate my choice as to your offer, Mab. Answer them and I offer you this; my thrice sworn word bound by the Old Laws to give a fair and honest decision here to you on this evening."
"Worthless," the Sidhe Queen sneered, "but I shall humor you but this once, Mortal."
"How very kind of you," I drawled, "but I only have one question that really matters, so I'll not waste any more of our time. Why are you so insistent on my being your knight?"
"Pardon?" Mab asked in a chirping, coolly amused voice. "Ah, you do have much of your mother in you, dear child. To so arrogantly assume I am dedicated to you, it is quite amusing."
"No 'I can have anyone I wanted' speech? You're slipping in your age, Mab. But," I paused, "I won't be distracted from my question so easily. And you are that dedicated. From all I've heard and as much as I've seen, you aren't the type to make such offers lightly. On top of that, you seem to be all but bending over backwards to accommodate me."
"Oh?" Her voice was soft, gentle, but no less cold than it has always been. But now it seemed to be an inviting, seductive cold. "And should it be so simple, dearest? That such base desires quell your fiery might and tame the beast?" she asked, eyes raking across me as she drew up the bottom of her medieval style gown, exposing pale, delicate flesh. "So that be you want," it drew higher as she spoke softly. The sound of her voice resonating from everything and felt as though it shook my very bones. "You need but ask."
"No," I spoke after a moment. Say what you will of her, Mab is perhaps one of the most stunningly beautiful women I had ever seen. It was far too easy to find yourself entranced by her. "No, that's not what I want, and you wouldn't be the one to deliver even if I had. You are the Queen Who Is, all of winter is at your command. It's all too simple for you to call up some other trivial being to sate whatever I wanted."
Mab laughed softly. "But did you not just touch upon my dedication to obtaining your being? And what are a few moments of such base pleasures for such a grandeur prize? Naught but a triviality." The gown fell gracefully back into place and she ran her hand over it slowly to smooth any wrinkles it had gathered.
"Please," sarcasm welled easily in my voice. "Try to contain your desire." I frowned at her. "You want me, that I know, what I want is to know why. So?"
Mab smiled coolly, "It is beneficial to us both. You find yourself oft in need of power, I have more than needed. You have potential as well, dear childe. And I oft find myself pondering about you, if you truly understand how many are frightened of you."
I stared at her for a moment, confused. I knew I had a pretty good list of enemies; built up either from my meddling, my blood, or the man who taught me about magic in the beginning, Justin. But to actually fear me was sort of a ridiculous idea in my mind. I was a one man Shaggy and Scooby team; I meddled and only stayed alive by luck.
"But there are a lot of people like me out there, Mab." I told her in a casual, conversational tone. "I may not be dime a dozen, but the population of the world rules out me being one of a kind."
The Sidhe Queen's smile turned to that of a patient mother. "Ah, but you are wrong, boy, ever so. Perhaps some hold power close to them as you, but your heart separates you from them. That is what makes you so unique, so one of a kind. They do not believe as you do. And it is this that attracts me to you."
"Bullshit!" I glared.
"Take caution your tongue, dear, lest it offend you." Mab spoke, smile still patient. "I speak no dishonesty."
"Perhaps," I conceded. "But you haven't told me the answer yet. My power, potential, my heart, and beliefs, they may have some part of it, but not nearly as important as you make them seem. Why are my powers and belief so important? It isn't anything you can replicate in someone else. You are, without a doubt the strongest Winter Sidhe. I doubt there is all that much you couldn't have if you wanted it badly enough."
"Mayhap, childe," Mab answered after several moments of silence. "And I should tell you, I have your word of silence? That it should fall to the ears of none; live, dead, or otherwise?"
Not such an odd request coming from Mab. Cautious and manipulative, if she had a weakness she would undoubtedly keep such hidden form all, even Maeve and Mother Winter. "Thrice bound," I answered. "By my vow, it won't pass my lips, even upon death."
Mab regarded me quietly, as if judging my worth or some similar sentiment. Her eyes held nothing, her arms crossed delicately behind her back in a relaxed pose. "Do you know of the purpose of the Knights, Childe?"
"I've been told some things." I nodded. "Assisting the Queens in maintaining balance, and when a Queen can't act directly, the Knights are used."
"Hmm, but these are simple things. Not at all what they were meant for." Mab's eyes stared off into the distance as she spoke evenly. "They were meant as release for the Queens Who Is."
"Release...?" I questioned.
"Indeed, the power of the Knights comes from within we, the Queens. The power itself is that of our court. A kinetic manifestation of our ways of life."
"I... hadn't known that..."
"Few do," she replied. Measures, we have taken to conceal this knowledge. But for all the gain, there must be loss."
"So what are the downsides, then?"
Mab frowned tightly, speaking slowly and reluctantly, "We are bound at the deepest level to the power. When it becomes too great, it affects us, changes us."
"So the knights release that power, logically, through a connection to one of the queens," I answered. "Because I doubt any mortal would survive a direct connection to a power like that."
"Very much so," Mab answered calmly. "But not from one, but all three. That is why they serve all three. The Knight's connection is, like that of our power, bound closest to She who is, myself in this case." She waved a hand towards a small stream winding into the trees in the distance. "Like a river, it flows through us; waxing and waning between Mother, Daughter, and Childe."
"Ok, so that sort of makes sense. So where do the Knights come into that equation?"
"Our power is as primeval as that of the river. As the river flows and floods, the Knight is to be a guardian, constantly vigilante for the Queen's safety."
"To, as your explanation puts it, take the burden of the flooding river's power and divert it away from the Queen," I summed up.
"Hmm," she nodded. "But quite a bit more complex. Regardless, the more active a knight, the more power is diffused, and the less the Queens are affected."
"What kind of affects?" I was curious.
"They ... are difficult to explain, and not even we, whom wield its might, know of their extent." Mab paused, gathering her words as I watched her cautiously. "It is... It is as I have told you, a kinetic manifestation of everything the Winter Court is, was, and will be."
"So, one could assume so much of it would ... what?" I wondered aloud. "Inflict mental changes? Physical?"
"Both have been noted. Quite some time ago, when I was but a child myself, I remember She Who Is purposefully retaining her power, enabling her to freeze objects on touch." Mab smiled fondly. "I, as Queen of Air and Darkness, would perhaps become swifter than gales, and as misleading and unseen as the wind itself. But with such benefits comes the price, aggression, a lack of caution, unpredictability even to myself."
I stared at her for long minutes, pondering her words. Mab was already dangerous and far more powerful than anything I had fought in my life. To have such changes wrought in her, it was unthinkable, the damage and harm she could cause. The damage she could do to her court, the mortal world, and to herself. And that made me realize something.
"I see now, I think," I told her, a glare set in place. "You aren't necessarily as interested in me as you are in protecting yourself."
"Have I made effort to hide such a fact, dear Harry?" Mab questioned pleasantly. "You are quite cunning and intelligent, and can accomplish much, when given time to plot. I've no intention of enslaving you, or stopping you from your work; it is not in my best interest.
"To ease your qualms, my interest in you is your insistence upon ... doing the right thing, I believe you put it. To place my power with you would place it into a regular circulation. I am free of its effects, and you are gifted power for your desires."
So now what? What choice could I make, knowing I could damn a lot of people to trouble? Knowing I could help Susan, working for Winter, could I turn them down? Could I really accept knowing I could possibly alienate some of the closest friends I've ever made?
I suppose I only had one choice.
"That ... thing," I spoke slowly, "that Mother Winter gave me, the Unravelling. If I did accept, would I be able to earn another from her?"
"Such bargains are betwixt Mother Winter and your person."
Yeah, I hated stacked decks too.