Disclaimer: I don't own either the Dresden Files or the Kingkiller Chronicles.
A/N: A wild plot bunny snuck up on me during the night. I couldn't resist. Enjoy.
The snow crunched under the soles of my feet as I walked through the bleak landscape on the edge of Winter. This far out, there wasn't much to see. Not that I was looking for anything in particular.
The cold twisted around me, rubbing against my magic like a cat. Perhaps it was against Winter's magic, but it was getting harder to distinguish between the two every day. Constant use of both – together and separately – had melded the two together, like a tongue stuck to a frozen streetlamp. Not quite as painful, perhaps, just one more thing to brood over on the empty days.
Mab had called for me. Instead of giving me a mission and turning to another one of her pursuits, she smiled a smile that I was beginning to recognize as her enjoyment at some small torture. "Harry," she'd said, savoring my name. "Find some way to entertain yourself today. On this side of the veil."
I nodded, and walked away. I had made a promise to Mab. If she left alone what I held dear, my friends, my principles, my family, I'd be her Knight in heart as well as name. On the other hand, there wasn't really much for me to do in the Nevernever. I was hardly going to engage in sport – casual sex, that is – and I knew better then to strike up an idle conversation with a fae.
So I decided to take a walk. It was the closest I was going to get to enjoying myself, here.
I sighed and looked around. Somewhere during my musings, I'd wandered into a dark forest. Knowing the Nevernever, it might have sprung up from thin air a minute ago. Fingering my sword, I willed a soft blue light into being around me. I wasn't nervous, exactly. I could count on my fingers the number of beings in the Nevernever that would willingly get in a fight with me, and though I was on friendly terms with only a few of them, some of the others wouldn't dare lay a finger on me. The chances of encountering any of the rest – especially this far out of the way – were vanishingly small.
Still, something felt off. The forest didn't look familiar, but I didn't know the outer reaches of the Nevernever very well. I glanced up, and for a second my mind blanked. There were birds in the trees. Normal birds. Not crows, ravens, or the various monstrosities that inhabited the Nevernever.
Now that I'd realized it, I noticed that the balance of world had shifted. It was something I'd picked up somewhere along the line during my Knighthood, knowing whether I was in the Nevernever or on Earth just by the feel of the world's magic alone. Not that I'd ever needed it, I always knew where I was anyways.
Except until now, apparently, since I had managed to slip out of the Nevernever. By accident.
Things like that didn't happen, as far as I was aware. Dimensional portals didn't just open up and dump unsuspecting Winter Knights into the mortal world without notice.
But this world felt different, not quite like the Earth I knew either, and I didn't think it was just my physical location that was different. The vibrations of magic were quieter, keener, than anywhere I'd ever been. Not as strong, but more focused, more purposeful.
A mystery to investigate, perhaps. Then I shook my head. Mysteries like this tended to be deathtraps, no matter how innocent their appearance. And this one didn't look innocent at all.
As I prepared to tear a way back into the Nevernever, I heard a rustling behind me.
Swiveling around, I drew my sword in one smooth stroke. It sang in the air, shattering the gloom with the crackle of hoarfrost racing down the ground and up the trees.
Facing the intruder, I saw... nothing. A man-shaped being, cloaked in shadows. And a chill prickle of magic that had nothing to do with the frost I had summoned.
My hand tightened around my sword, and it hummed in hand, ready to be used. It was my greatest work of art, crafted in the cold days of lonely boredom when Mab kept me penned up in Arctis Tor. I had poured so much of Winter's magic into its crafting that it had trouble channeling fire, but frostbite was just as good at killing things.
But I didn't want to pick an unnecessary fight, so I kept it loose by my side. "Who are you?"
The shadows shifted, and spoke. "You are Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden."
I flinched, as if struck. He had spoken my name. My Name.
Nobody knew my Name, not anymore. Thirty years ago, a few had known. Not anymore, not after all that had happened. Especially not after the last year.
And this stranger – and I was sure I had never met him before – had said it. Not with any power behind it, but I still felt it. It had sounded strange, too, a rolling hiss of syllables that I would be hard-pressed to write down but my mind quite firmly insisted meant Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. My Name, no matter what it sounded like.
Anger rushed in on the heels of fear and surprise, as it was apt to do, and with it came Winter's power, conditioned to surge forth at the first hint of violence.
"Who are you?" I asked again, my voice a twisted snarl.
"You are mine, Wizard," the shadows said, ignoring my question. "I know the shape of your Name, and you belong to me."
"You know," I muttered, swinging my sword up, "people keep trying that line on me. They usually end up on fire."
All except one. And she only owned what had I given to her.
The shadows gave a dusty laugh, reminding me of the way Nicodemus had laughed during our ever-too-plentiful conversations, and I felt blood surge in my ears before I realized that this couldn't possibly be him.
Their mannerisms were too different, for all that they exuded a similar ancient-evil-from-beyond-time vibe. It just made me want to ram my sword through him all the more.
"I don't know where you get off on thinking I'm yours, buddy," I growled, "but the only part of me you can have is my sword shoved up your ass."
For all that it was possible to bind a human – even a wizard – to his name, it took a being of considerable power to do it without a ritual. Ferrovax had done it to me once, but he had been a Dragon, a peer of Mab herself.
I'd learned to pick up on when I was standing near demi-gods and the like. This prick may have been old, but a heavy-weight sorcerer he was not.
"Oh?" the shadows whispered, amused. "Is that so?"
Then he spoke my Name again, and I felt myself sinking to one knee.
Rage built up in me, cold as a snowstorm; the attack had come out from nowhere, and I still couldn't feel the fucking shackles, and my magic exploded into a tarnished lance of ice racing toward him, about to strike him through the heart-
He spoke another word, and the ice disappeared.
I was pissed, and I was still kneeling to the bastard. So I did the only thing I could.
I subsumed myself in Winter.
Cold flooded me, racing along every nerve, freezing away all the impurities. My rage, fear, and loathing froze and shattered, leaving behind only the steel edge of determination.
I still couldn't fucking move.
Placing a figurative hand on my bond to Winter, I concentrated.
Come to me, my Queen.
Then she stood there, at my side, and I rose from my knee, freed. "My Queen."
She ignored me, which was unusual. Her eyes were fixed on my assailant.
A second passed, and just as I began to feel lost, the shadows spoke again.
Something alien and twisted, long and incomprehensible, yet familiar beyond description. My eyes were drawn to Mab, and I knew I had just heard her Name.
I felt the entirely inappropriate urge to laugh. Mab looked unruffled, a single eyebrow raised, but this guy, whoever the fuck he was, he was dead. He had dropped Mab's name like it was gutter trash.
His corpse just hadn't stopped breathing yet.
I watched in cold satisfaction as Mab smiled. It was a smile that promised pain beyond anything Lloyd Slate, the former Winter Knight, had ever suffered. And he had suffered quite a lot.
My expectations were shattered when she spoke.
"Seven," she hissed, and her malice skittered up her spine. The only reason I wasn't writhing in agony on the ground was because I was her Knight. "Why do you intrude upon mine?"
"Not yours," the shadows replied. "Never yours, Mab. But mine... yes, he will be mine."
"You know nothing." Mab's voice dripped with contempt. Her hand wound into my hair, and I stifled the urge to pull away. Experience said she would just pull my hair out. "He will never be yours. He gave himself to me, freely. And he will stay mine." Her eyes narrowed. "Speak his name again – or mine – and I will crush you, Alaxel."
"He will be mine," the shadows repeated, with the air of one making a promise. "And you will be dead."
Then the shadows shifted, and were gone.
I shivered, the adrenaline leaving me after the confrontation. Mab wrapped her arms around me, possessing me, and I shivered again, for an altogether different reason.
Her breath tickled my ear as she whispered to me. "Your boredom has come to an end, my Knight. I have a new task for you. You will find the Seven. And you will end them."