She’d been wandering for what felt like days, but surely had only been hours at best. The Unknown Depths were notorious for being hard to fathom or even follow despite the ancient and obvious markings that lay here and there and all about. From one supposed creationist species to the next, the Depths were riddled with those who’d claimed to have created the whole of the fairy tale realms, from the mundane to the outlandish, and then, to the human. Humans did indeed have their hand in creating the legends and myths that now existed on their own, but had long ago forsaken them for the exploration of science, which had meant the eventual death of her kind.
They’d given up on their first creation in favor of another, like a child that has grown bored with a particular toy. Her kind had been deemed unnecessary, juvenile, and even useless at times, though they still existed to remind humans of their more basic roots, their beginnings, and the reason they’d feared the darkness in the past, and delighted in the coming of the light. She’d enjoyed their favor at one time, had even basked in their attentions and tithing, no matter how minor they might have been. Each and every moment of belief had been enough to sustain her, to keep her faith in the race that had done so much to elevate her and others of her kind to such heights.
But the fall had done her no favors. When the maddening practice of science and reason had come along, Mab had been forgotten and relegated to the dim memory of humankind like any other. She had faded like any other, and in doing so had grown quite mad, both in mental stature and emotional state. Throughout the time when men and women had learned to move forward without looking behind, she had sat and festered within her own anger, promising to herself that one day, mankind would come to realize just what had been left behind, and how truly dangerous it had been. They would be reminded why they had feared, and why they had prayed to beings such as her.
So lost was she in her own ruminations of the past and all that had occurred to this point that she nearly missed the commotion from ahead, the clamoring that finally drew her back to this place, this time. Walking along at a steady pace, her dark robes trailing upon first earthen floor and then stone, scattered, dirt-streaked marble and then bare rock, Mab had become so lost in her own faded glory that she nearly came upon the quarreling trio, or foursome including the snake, as they made their way frantically towards her.
Rounding another bend she stopped, hands folded in front of her as she witnessed the sudden fiasco, and saw just who it involved. Rage, cold and white hot at the same time, flooded her heart as she saw the flash of white that was cowardly White Rabbit being chased by none other than the dust-ridden, sorry excuse for a legend she’d found not long before upon the surface, wandering amidst the ruins of Underland, pining for something or other she did not care to recall at this particular moment.
And then she saw the Cheshire, and her rage spilled over into manic hatred, her teeth exposed as she pulled her lips back into a feral grin, almost like the wolfish smile of a hungry predator that has finally cornered its prey. It wasn’t the children, the only reason she had come to such lengths, but in this instance, the interloping feline would prove good enough to stem her undying hatred just enough.
She watched as Pecos Bill, her unwanted and unwitting servant, chased both the White Rabbit and the Cheshire about, snapping that silly snake he used as a lasso at each of them, hitting nothing but air until he finally, just once, struck the Cheshire, but to no effect. The rainbow-eyed cat simply stiffened for a moment in shock, as well as a good amount of pain, before disappearing once again, no doubt smarting greatly from the serpent’s strike.
She almost laughed in derision as the White Rabbit implored Pecos Bill to stop, but kept her place as the furious range rider came forward, his supposedly well-aimed strikes missing again and again until finally his eyes caught sight of her, and he stopped. And that was when all three of them saw her, and her smile turned absolutely deadly.
“Imagine this,” she said, her voice a deadly purr as she turned her gaze upon each one of them in turn.
She blinked slowly, parting her lips as she drew her teeth back, savoring the moment as she looked over the herald, the cowboy, and the reason behind why the Dhei’read had become necessary. It was almost difficult to decide just who to fix her ire upon first, but the decision was made before the others could react.
“You promised me!” Pecos Bill roared at her, his lasso already coiling once again to strike, “You said that-!”
“Silence,” Mab spat, pointing a single finger at him, “You are nothing, not even the dust beneath my heels.” And just like that, the cowboy was gone, his lasso, his dusty trail clothes, all of it, a fading memory within her mind, and not even that within others. She could easily see the confusion upon the faces of the White Rabbit and even the Cheshire, though she cared not a bit that they knew nothing of what had just occurred. To them it would seem as though they’d just woke from a dream, or a nightmare, and could recall nothing of the particular episode. But they would remember what came next, or at least one of them would.
Her gaze fixed upon the White Rabbit next, burning with such ire that the herald, or former herald, froze where he stood, unable to even twitch as she raised her right hand, spreading her fingers as the ground opened up beneath the rabbit, plummeting him downward as he cried out in fright. That cry was cut off suddenly and without warning as she clenched her fingers into a fist, smiling as the White Rabbit was cut in two, the sound of bone crunching and being pulverized echoing within the passage as his upper half flopped lifeless to the ground.
Her attention turned to the Cheshire next, only to find that he had already disappeared, as was his wont. Mab spun about, her long, dark braids and robes swirling with the movement as she sought out any sign of the wretched feline. She saw the furred creature only a breath later, further down the passage from whence she’d come, grinning at her in that implacable way that only he seemed capable of.
“Interesting as it might seem, unleashing the Dhei’read is unwise,” the Cheshire purred, the low rumble emanating from his body seeming to surround her as Mab faced the cat squarely, mentally preparing an entire host of spells that would be rendered useless if the Cheshire knew they were coming. Powerful as she was, the strange, enigmatic feline was elusive to the point of irritation, and knew far more than he reveled at times. He would escape her clutches this time, of that she was almost certain. But then the question of why he hadn’t retreated in his own self-serving manner as was usual reached her, and she paused. Unfortunately, the Cheshire saw this.
“Are you afraid then?” she almost hissed, “You should be. You and all the others should be absolutely terrified of what is to come.”
“What a curious hatred,” the cat said, “Does it stem from any one source, or a gathering?”
That set Mab on her heels just a bit, though she did not waver as she stood her ground.
Setting his paws upon the passage floor the Cheshire lowered himself to the ground, striking a rather contemplative pose as his rainbow eyes gazed at her curiously, as though attempting to sort out her motivations, her reason for being. Mab was not comfortable with this, but she would know what the cat was speaking of, and then she would attempt to get rid of him.
“You desire an end, that much is obvious, though in releasing the Dhei’read you do not promise oblivion, only a never-ending horror that will sweep throughout the realms without fail. Interesting as it might be, and even considering that I myself am not immune, it would be somewhat counterproductive.”
That confused her a bit, though her mind started to unravel the complex web of deceit and lies the Cheshire was so often thought to spin, only to realize that he was indeed telling the truth in a somewhat roundabout way. The realization hit her just as he began to speak again.
“If you do unleash the Dhei’read, then to erase the entirety of the realms, you must, given their nature, erase the creatures that make up the exiled lot, if only to keep humanity from even guessing that there is something beyond their otherwise mundane world. It is a quandary, truly.”
Mab had nothing to say to that, and as the Cheshire disappeared, she found herself at a loss. The Cheshire had actually made sense for once.