Prologue: Caveat Emptor, Scene IV (Daphne)

"Who was it? Is my son..." Megan said quietly. She stopped, closing her eyes, and swallowing. She needed to get her wits about her. So she didn't say anything, merely breathing in and out for some moments.

"What can you tell me?" Megan said, keeping a firm hold of herself. "And why are you telling me this?"

Daphne relaxed a little and leaned away. She had the upper hand...

Still, she didn't know how much to tell Megan.

"Maybe I could tell you. Hopefully, you will tell no one else because they won't believe you."

She tapped her nails on her knee before answering the last question.

"I am a passerby, and I became interested in your ex-husband's story. I don't have anything to do with those who killed him...well..."

She had more in common with them than she did with humans. So.

"Do you believe in magic, Megan?"

"No." Megan said promptly, but then a muscle in her jaw twitched. She was a rational, free-thinking human being. She'd been in publishing, for heaven's sake. And yet...

Just at the moment, Megan's world was askew. She'd learned her husband was dead, had learned her child may be in danger. He sense of reality was more fragile, more uncertain than it had been ever before. Just now, she was ready to believe anything.

"Yes." Megan said, changing her mind. "I'll believe anything. Even in the charity of a complete stranger. Thank you. For coming here."

"Don't thank me. I'm a passerby, but I'm one of them.

"I can't tell you what that is, but you'll figure it out soon enough. They're looking for you, I think. I can't be sure, my source had unreliable memories. But it would be prudent to leave this side of the country, and never mention me again."

Daphne didn't apologize, didn't explain herself. She watched Megan now like a doctor observing a patient through a window, or a distant creature watching another.

"I should probably go," she finally said.

"Wait." Megan said, raising a hand, here eyes gone wide. "You... that's it? You come here, tell me Thomas is dead, and that I need to run? And I should believe in magic? What is going on here?"

"I don't have the kind of money to leave the country. I... there are papers to fill, or even if I just move north. There's Josh..." Megan Pike said. She turned quiet. When she spoke again, it was in a dead, hollow sort of voice. "Do I have a choice?"

Daphne remained calm, and silent, but an idea started to take form in her head.

"Yes," she finally replied. "We could help each other, maybe.

"If I help you find a new home, new name, maybe even a new face, I am sure there are ways you could assist me. The condition? You never speak my name to anyone."

Daphne sat very still, observing Megan for any kind of reaction. She began to wonder what the human was like when she was happy, calm. Was she helpful? She was protective of her boy, that was good. Would she be willing to sacrifice some dignity?

"I could do that." Megan Pike said, frowning at Daphne. She sat, and she thought, and she considered the offer. It seemed straightforward enough. "Except... that's what Thomas did. He trusted people, too much, and now he's dead."

"Why are you helping me? You said you were a passerby?" Megan looked up at Daphne now. "I'm still not seeing what you're getting out of this? What sort of 'ways'?"

Daphne raised her chin very slightly as she inspected Megan, and she let the woman finish before replying. "There will be no death-clause in our agreement. If you break your oath, you have returned yourself to the dire state you're in now.

"Let me tell you a little about us, Megan. We like making deals. It's in all the stories. Some of us will make very unfair deals, because we want to take advantage of whatever we can. I am only guessing what Thomas did, and I only know how it ended. So let me help you, and in doing so you will help me."

Daphne leaned forward again and held out her hand, palm up. The fingers were long and the skin was not very soft to the touch, but it was sincere enough a gesture.

"I swear to protect the boy, Joshua Pike, to the best of my abilities, barring murder or my own death. I grant you, Megan, a new name, a new identity. On pain of weakened spirit I uphold my bargain for a Year and a Day.

"In return, you, Megan, will never speak my name to any living soul or thing. You will never speak of the supernatural things you may witness. If you break your oath, your identity will be lost and your spirit will be weakened.

"Do you promise to uphold your oath?"

Megan watched her for a long time, trying to make out just what strange thing had blown into her mother's house this day. What had happened to her life in these last few months, since Thomas Pike had gone to the Market, and made the deals that would end his life and give Josh a chance at life.

"I promise."

Megan blew out a breath, and shivered as the faerie magics looped about her soul. She was caught in the oath now, to her someday benefit, and to that of her son. There was a long pause, as for the first time, Megan Pike believed.

Daphne smiled; she had taken the shiver of Wyrd as a gust of adrenaline. It felt good. "That wasn't so bad, was it? I'm sure you know what I mean now."

She stood up. Her eyes took a purple tint for a moment as she turned her head...but it was merely a trick of the light.

"So. Let's get started."


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