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Against the Tide of Outer Darkness

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Once upon a time, they were Harry Dresden and Molly Carpenter.

Once, they were friends, children, parents. Apprentices and masters.

Once.

The Winter Queen and her Knight stood upon the ramparts of the outer gates and waited for the tide to roll in.

They could not have looked more opposite, those two who had once been close.

The Queen’s white hair was cropped close to her scalp. It stuck up in spikes, a surrogate crown. Her armor was glacier white. It looked like it had never seen a battle, though it had seen many, passed from queen to heir. Or perhaps it had seen only one, a battle that stretched through long days and longer nights since the birth of the Winter Court. The sword on her hip was ceremonial, the bone-carved wands in her hands were not.

The Knight, beside her, wore his dark, spell-armored coat. Years ago, he’d forgotten why he wore the garment, but it was old and powerful and glowing with protection. When the fighting slowed, he ran slow fingers over its folds, laying magic in every wrinkle and seam. In the light, it was jet black. Empty. His hair was dark and long, white streaks only starting to touch it though his face was scarred and wrinkled. The sword on his back was old and notched, its rune-carved hilt made of plain, old oak.

They could not have been more alike, those two who had once been different.

The Knight, once straightforward and brutal, learned the art of subtlety. When his queen ordered, he could infiltrate any sanctum, any mind. His power had become silent and inevitable as frost on a window pane, until the time came for his enemies to shatter. His curses fell like snowflakes and he buried his victims gently, all the more cruel for his softness.

The Queen, once forced into creativity by her weakness, gained power beyond imagining. There are few, in any realm, who have dared challenge the Queen of Air and Darkness, and fewer still who have survived it. The power of Winter can move mountains, its Queen bound only by her own laws. For the time being, she consented to follow them.

He did what was best for his daughter. It was the only way.

The Merlin of the White Council stood over six feet tall. Her hair and dark skin were her mother’s. Her nose, her father’s. Her Senior Council is made of children, or near enough. Their elders were dead, killed long since in a war whose cause is forgotten. Like her father before her, she prepares her children to die fighting.

She did what was best for her mother. It was the only way.

The Mother was infected. She fought it for years. Longer than her daughter expected. The parasite latched to her soul contended against a thousand years of iron will and nearly lost. But a dormant parasite is not a dead one, and ice can form in the smallest of cracks. When the Queen fell, she shattered. No one knew which of her daughters planted the parasite. No one would ever find out.

They thought they could defy Winter. They failed.

The Queen had not counted the years since she killed her predecessor. Time does not work that way in Faerie. In the mortal world, a century slipped past, generation by generation. Here, it had been a moment and an eternity since the Lady plunged an icy knife into her Queen’s heart. In the last seconds of the Queen’s life, icewater blood running between her lips, she murmured, thank you. The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen.

The Knight counted the years since he killed his predecessor. One hundred and sixty one. So many things were lost, the count of the days, the date of his birth, the name of his daughter, but he still had the years. He marked the date on Halloween. The reason mattered, once. The Knight’s murder was not clean. It was not kind. He got no thanks, though the Knight before might have offered them. He fought for and against the Queen until he couldn’t tell the difference. Until they were one and the same.

They are not people anymore, any more than the wall they stand on is a true wall. They are symbols. They are reflections. They take a thousand different shapes and a thousand different names.

And now they stand, side by side, against the tide of outer darkness, having already lost the war for their souls.