Ranting Ryuu: FFFFINALLYY! With over 30,000 words, the chapter is finished! Now I can take a break and play some more-
Tiny Tina: RYUU! (Tackled Ryuu and puts him in a headlock) NO more games until you finish the chapter! Everyone had been waiting for more than a year!
Ranting Ryuu: It IS finished, Tina!
Tiny Tina: Yah, whatever! Back to work for you!
Ranting Ryuu: I'm serious! Start the chapter!
Disclaimer: I do not own either Game of Thrones or Elder Scrolls.
Tiny Tina: Oh, you really are done?
Ranting Ryuu: That's what I said, Dangnabbit!
Beta Note: thank me for fixing this chapter! :D Do you know how hard it is to check 39826 words with size 12 letters?
Ranting Ryuu: Very hard, I imagine. So everyone give Milarqui your thanks!
Chapter 26: Darkness on the Horizon
Several weeks earlier, The Riverlands
It was the Blades' daily training time, and right now Jaime Lannister and Knight-Captaiin Steffen were squaring off from each other. Shifting into a new stance, Jaime felt awkward with the position, not because it was part of the Blades' fighting style, of which he had learned a fair amount, but because they were both holding their practice swords with their off-hands.
Staring at each other for a moment, the two warriors suddenly charged at each other and began to trade blows. And Jaime's feel told him his blows were far off than they should. Either he overreached, the strike went at a wrong angle or it was just too slow and weak. He actually felt like he was back in Casterly Rock, learning how to use a sword.
"You have never practiced with your left hand before. Have you, Ser Jaime?" Steffon asked before he effortlessly knocked the blade out of Jaime's hand, sending him to one knee with the blow.
"No. I guess Casterly Rock's master-at-arms never thought it would be necessary," Jaime replied, pushing himself back to his feet. He was fairly confident that, on a straight fight, he was about Steffen's equal, but using his left hand, or just the Blades' style of swordmanship, put him on a severely outmatched position.
"Foolish. An injury to your sword hand as the enemy is charging you, and you would be left defenseless." Steffen turned to the training Blades, who were still fighting. "Very well, Blades! Let's take a rest and get some food in our bellies!"
The group of trainees cheered, and went to leave their practice swords in their stands before moving to the cook's tent.
"If I'm good enough, I won't let my sword arm get hurt," Jaime stated as plates of food were handed out.
"Your overconfidence in your own abilities is but one weakness, Ser. Your defeat at the hands of Grandmaster Delphine proves it," Steffen reminded him, causing him to grimace as several Blades chuckled. "There are two things you should learn from this. There is always someone better, and no matter how skilled you are, there is no reason to stop improving yourself."
"I guess my defeat does speak for itself," Jaime sullenly admitted. "Being honest, I have learned a lot more in these few weeks with you than I have in all my time in the Kingsguard."
"That is good. If you wish to live with honor and carry out your duty, then you should never stop learning."
Jaime smiled for a moment, as those words reminded him of his little brother, before his countenance changed back.
"Hmph. Duty and honor. Is that all you Blades ever seem to care about?" Jaime suddenly mocked, causing Steffen to look at him, confused. "All these books you gave me to read... many talk about the ancient Akaviri Samurai, and their devotion to what they perceived as their honor and duty. What sort of man offers to cut open his own stomach, simply because he has made some insignificant mistake? Even when your leader is wrong, how do you offer to do such an action? Especially when your leader is wrong?"
"It is that word, Ser. Samurai means 'to serve'. Do you truly despise the idea of serving someone, or the lengths that a Samurai would go to in order to retain his honor?" Steffen asked.
"Honor?" Jaime asked, before letting out a mirthless laugh. "I've had first-hand experience with trying to serve with honor. So many oaths made: serve the king, obey your father, protect the helpless. I don't see how it is possible to serve with honor, when all your duties clash so often."
"Do you know something, Ser? You happen to be somewhat correct," Steffen revealed, confusing Jaime. "The old Samurai may have once served without question, but that sense of duty has changed over the centuries. Now, we believe in serving those who deserve it, those who remember their own duties.
"Tell me... did you honestly think that all of us in the Order, my fellow Knight-Brothers and Knight-Sisters and me, swore oaths of loyalty to the Black Prince only because our Grandmaster chose to serve him?"
"You mean... the Blades didn't swear themselves to William?"
"Oh, we did. But only after we spent several months seeing if the Black Prince was worthy of our service. After all, the fact that he happened to find Dragonbane after it was lost for so long could have meant anything – we chose to stop serving the Targaryen kings, after all," Steffen explained. "However, Grandmaster Delphine saw great potential in the Prince, and after spending time at Cloud Ruler with him, we all saw the same thing. We saw that the Black Prince took his every duty just as seriously as we all did. He was someone that would remember his honor and duty, and we knew he was someone worth serving.
"As you stated, Ser Jaime, we know that it is not easy to follow all of ones' oaths, particularly if the person you swear to proves to be unworthy. That was why we stopped serving the Targaryens... and that is why we respect your decision to kill the Mad King."
"What?" Jaime asked in shock. "You mean... what do you mean you respect that I killed Aerys? I broke my oath as a Kingsguard! I stabbed my blade through the back of the man I was sworn to serve and protect! How can you respect that?"
"Because Aerys forgot his duty as King, that he was just as beholden to his vassals as they would have been to him. We are quite aware that he was planning to burn King's Landing to the ground, and how you stopped both him and his pyromancers," Steffen explained as he turned to look at the Kingsguard. "You were willing to sacrifice your name and your honor to save thousands of lives. Your action was for the benefit of the many, and the Blades definitely respect that, because you may have given up some form of honor, but you retained another form."
Jaime was left speechless. Glancing at the other Blades, he noticed several of them were nodding in agreement with what they were hearing. Ever since Jaime had stabbed his sword through the Mad King's back, he had been called kingslayer, oathbreaker, honorless. Countless lords and knights had painted him in a negative light, all of them giving him the disdainful looks he had endured for years.
And yet, here were the Blades. A group of the most skilled and dedicated followers of duty and honor, doing the exact opposite and praising him for what he had done. It was certainly an... odd feeling... to receive praise for something he had been looked down upon for so long.
"I... actually did not do it for the people. I had pleaded him to surrender when my father started sacking the city, and he ordered me to bring him my father's head, just before he told Rossart to start the fires," he tried to argue. "It was... I couldn't stand it anymore."
"Tell me, Jaime. Even if the Mad King had not ordered you to kill your father... would you have stayed your sword, stood by and done nothing when he ordered the city to be set aflame?"
"I... I don't think I could have done nothing if that happened."
"There you have it. You have more honor than you realize. And, even if the rest of the world does not see it, the Blades most assuredly do."
Jaime felt a strange sense of... gratefulness, as he silently considered Steffen's words and what they truly meant. But there was something he wanted to know.
"I am wondering if you could answer that question I made you when you gave me The Five Rings, about what the Targaryen did that the Akaviri Dragonguard left their service."
Steffen grinned, and gulped down some food before turning to him.
"There are many events that led to the disbanding of the Akaviri Dragonguard, but if we could guess when it began, I would say at some point into King Viserys the First's reign."
"That would be just before the Dance of Dragons, right?" Jaime asked as he realized where Steffen was going to.
The Dance of Dragons had been one of the bloodiest and most destructive wars in the history of Westeros, a Targaryen civil war, fought between the 'Blacks' that supported Princess Rhaenyra, Viserys' eldest daughter to his first wife, Aemma Arryn, and the 'Greens' that supported Prince Aegon, Viserys' first son to his second wife, Alicent Hightower. King Viserys had made it clear he intended for Rhaenyra to take the throne, but when he died, Queen Alicent, his hand Ser Otto Hightower and Ser Criston Cole, Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, convinced Aegon to claim the throne.
"Aye. It was at the dawn of the Dance that the Dragonguard disbanded, but the beginning was much earlier. Grandmaster Musashi and the Dragonguard knew very well of Otto Hightower's ambition, and they advised King Viserys against naming him Hand of the King and marrying the man's daughter, but the King chose to ignore their counsel.
"Another cause of strain was Ser Alonne, Grandmaster Musashi's apprentice, though not all of it was his fault. You may have heard that a traitor once managed to steal a set of scrolls that detailed a certain martial art surrounding the use of spear in combat. It was Alonne who hunted him down. It was him that tracked the traitor down to Dorne, and it was him that slayed the traitor. Of course, you can imagine that Dorne was not happy, being that they were still independent.
"Daemon Targaryen, the King's brother, and the one who would later marry Rhaenyra, seemed to hold a grudge against Alonne for some reason, perhaps because they were rivals, as our archives record that Alonne had fought and defeated him in single combat several times... and then there was the event you are well aware of."
"The fight between the Grandmaster and the Kingsguard," Jaime stated, and Steffen nodded.
"You see, Daemon Targaryen was turning the city guard into the Gold Cloaks when he learned what we do with our katanas. When one of us dies, that warrior's katana is passed down to their descendants or it is placed in one of the vaults that lie beneath Cloud Ruler Temple, honored for what they have done. How many swords do you think are within the vaults below Cloud Ruler, Jaime?"
"I cannot say."
"Every Akaviri Dragonguard, and later every Blade, had a new katana forged for them, unless they already had one passed down from a parent. And we have been making them ever since we first arrived just after Aegon's conquest."
Jaime raised an eyebrow in confusion, as he thought over what the Blade was trying to tell him... and then, he realized what he meant, and his eyes widened in shock.
"That means... there must be hundreds of katanas in there."
"At least a thousand, I believe. At least, in this day and age," Steffen replied with a chuckle. "Some of us call it the Vault of a Thousand Blades."
"But... those blades are pretty much the greatest rival to Valyrian steel. They would be worth thousands of dragons... why would you just store so many of them in a vault?"
"That is what Daemon Targaryen asked. In fact, the first thing he did when he learned about the Vault was to demand the katanas the Dragonguard had stored so he could outfit the Gold Cloaks with them. But Grandmaster Musashi told Daemon that he would not hand him even one of them."
"Why? Why was it so important to keep the katanas?"
"No katana is the same, Jaime. They are all forged to be unique to its wielder." Steffen unsheathed his sword and held it in his hands for Jaime to see. "If you look at mine, you will see that the pattern and images on the guard have a particular design. Each sword has its particular pattern. The thing is, Akaviri Samurai believed their sword was their soul, and the same did the Dragonguard and do us. All the katanas in Cloud Ruler were once carried by honorable members of the Dragonguard: just giving them to some random Gold Cloak who had not earned it would be an insult to the deceased warrior, and of course Grandmaster Musashi would not tolerate this."
"I doubt Daemon Targaryen let that stop him."
"You would be right. Upon his demand being rejected, he took the matter to his brother, expecting him to rule for him. It was a long debate later that Grandmaster Musashi proposed to settle the matter with a competition: whoever won would keep the swords. That was when Daemon chose a Trial by Seven."
"Quite uncommon. The last time that happened was when Ser Duncan the Tall fought against Prince Aerion Targaryen," Jaime noted.
"Indeed. Of course, Musashi refused to face Daemon himself, because he was a Targaryen who the Dragonguard was still sworn to protect, and Daemon reluctantly allowed all of the Kingsguard, including recently named Kingsguard Criston Cole, to participate in the trial.
"So, everyone expected the Lord Commander and his fellow Kingsguard to face Grandmaster Musashi and six more Akaviri Dragonguard. Never had there it been such an event. But when the trial began, Musashi ordered his fellows to stand back and approached the Kingsguard armed with just a practice sword. You already know the result."
"Yes. I remember reading about it in the White Book. I spent days reading about my predecessors' deeds. Some of them were noble acts, others not so much. But that was what shocked me most... that the Kingsguard was defeated by a single man. It took Ser Barristan and Ser Arthur Dayne to believe it."
"All the lords and ladies who witnessed the event were amazed, and both the Kingsguard and Daemon felt humiliated by the outcome of the trial. Not long afterwards, Daemon made a point of trying to goad Alonne into fighting him. Perhaps he hoped to gain some sort of revenge, but Alonne never fell for it. He finally got his chance at a tourney, where the luck of the draw placed him against Alonne... and he was trounced. That was the point when Princess Rhaenyra, who had married Daemon some time before, started to turn against the Dragonguard, which would cost her dearly."
"Indeed. When Aegon II was crowned at Queen Alicent's and Ser Otto Hightower's behest, they tried to have the Dragonguard support them, believing that, because Rhaenyra had alienated them, they would join the Green's cause. They were wrong.
"The Dragonguard were not interested in supporting Rhaenyra, but she was the chosen heir of the deceased king, so they saw Aegon as an usurper, in spite of the belief that the eldest son available should always inherit before a daughter. So, instead of picking a side, Grandmaster Musashi declared both were unworthy of their service, and he disbanded the Dragonguard: any former member was free to join the civil war if they so desired, or they could join the new order Musashi would create.
"Much to their displeasure, neither the Blacks nor the Greens managed to get a single Dragonguard on their side, which would have been a great advantage and added legitimacy to their cause. No, to a man – and woman – they joined the Blades. Musashi would not be one of them: instead, he named his apprentice Alonne as the first Blades Grandmaster and he retired, living as a hermit and writing his books on fighting and philosophy."
"Did the Blades play any role in the Dance?" Jaime asked.
"Yes. In fact, it was one of the first contracts the Blades were hired for. The Greens hired them to kill Cannibal, one of Dragonstone's wild dragons. It took a few weeks, and then fifty Blades firing their arrows at him until he came down to ground, upon which moment Grandmaster Alonne himself finished off the horrible creature. After that, their fame grew, and more requests came.
"Rhaenyra called for us to hunt down Hugh Hammer and Ulf the White, the traitor dragonseeds, who had tamed Vermithor and Silverwing only to turn their cloak and join the Greens. However, those two would later cause trouble to the Greens, as Ulf demanded Highgarden and Hugh was bold enough to try and claim the throne, as Vermithor was one of the largest dragons still alive. So, the Greens decided to get rid of them, and hired us as well to kill them.
"As this happened, Rhaenyra and her council went paranoid over Hugh and Ulf's betrayal, so they tried to arrest the other dragonseeds. Addam Velaryon escaped on Seasmoke and recruited an army, wanting to prove his loyalty, while Nettles and Sheepstealer left Maidenpool thanks to its lord's generosity. This prompted Rhaenyra to try to contract Nettles's hunt, probably out of jealousy because her husband had taken Nettles for a lover. However, Daemon himself flew to Cloud Ruler and, according to legend, begged on his hands and knees to his former rival not to accept that contract. I do not know if that is true, but it is known that the Blades did not accept that contract. But, back to the Betrayers.
"Grandmaster Alonne, along with two hundred Blades, made their way to Tumbleton, where the Greens and the Two Betrayers were, and by pure chance they did it at the same time Addam Velaryon did at the head of an army of four thousand. While the armies fought, the Blades managed to kill the Two Betrayers and their dragons, and above them, Addam and Seasmoke fought Daeron the Dashing and his dragon Tessarion. Only Addam would survive the battle, and he would die days later of his injuries. That was the role of the Blades during the Dance of the Dragons."
Jaime wondered what it would be to meet such famous men like Musashi and Alonne, one who had defeated the entire Kingsguard and the other who had killed several dragons.
Watching the battle unfold in the distance, Jaime wondered what his nephew was planning to do by holding back his men. He had seen the Second Legion move south. He had seen the massive storm appearing out of nothing in the Blackwater Bay, how it destroyed several Ironborn ships, how the entire fight had stopped as the lightning fell and the thunder exploded... only to resume as if nothing had happened several moments later. As the lightning kept falling, he wondered how things were going on in the rest of the battlefield.
The Dragon Gate
A Lion Legionary fell to his knee in a vain attempt to defend himself from the furious blows dealt by Brynden Tully. His shield, even if it was similar to the tower shields used by the Legions, was not the same, and soon the Blackfish had torn it apart and impaled his sword into the man's neck, instantly killing him.
Turning, Brynden barely had time to react as another Lion Legionary charged at him. Brynden jumped aside and tripped, leaving himself open for the Lion to raise his sword for the kill... only for Legate Galmar Stone-Fist to prove himself true to his name and crush him from his left side with a large, heavy warhammer Robert Baratheon would have loved to get his hands on. He then turned to block a strike from another enemy, stunned him by slamming the haft of the warhammer into his face and finished by shoving the man off the wall. As he did, he gazed with pain at the number of fallen from both sides.
The fight at the Dragon Gate had been going very well for the Legions and their Rivermen allies at first, but then Ser Addam had ordered his reserve forces forward to help defend the walls, and the fighting had soon turned into the equivalent of two bulls butting their heads at each other: the two armies kept pushing against each other, trying to force the enemy out.
Helping the Blackfish get back on his feet and then shattering an enemy's shield to pieces, he hoped the situation was better elsewhere on the battlefield.
Blackwater Rush's Northern Bank
Thank the Nine that worked, Delphine thought as she and another Blade called Torvar guided William and Shadow back from the Blackwater's bank, riding north to rejoin General Tullius, while Ulfric and the Second Legion took advantage of the distraction William's Storm Call had provided to withdraw from the Blackwater Bridge and set up the next part of the plan.
Already, Tullius was shouting the next orders while the First and the Fifth Legions reorganized their lines, the Second Legion forming up next to their companions to form a half circle, facing towards the city and bending around to the south, ready to receive their enemies, the fifty-thousand strong Tyrell army that was now advancing across the bridge and forming lines to attack from the south.
Lord Mace Tyrell, his sons Garlan and Loras and Lord Randyll Tarly commanded the Reach forces. As they reassembled, Randyll looked eastwards, where Stannis Baratheon and his men were located, still close to the Fish Gate.
"Where is our other force?" he asked out loud. "They should have arrived already, and we'll need them if we are to deal with Stannis."
"They must have been delayed, traveling through the Kingswood. I'm sure they'll arrive soon and keep Stannis off our backs. Our main concern is the Legions," Mace replied, confident. Randyll just stared southeast, from where the remaining thirty thousand men should have appeared already from, before he turned back to the task at hand.
Unknown to them both, those thirty thousand would not arrive in time to partake in the battle: William's precaution of sending ten thousand Stormlanders to take up positions in the Kingswood had paid off. Under Ser Rolland Storm's command, the Stormlanders had ambushed the Reachmen in the forest, taking advantage of their knowledge of the forest and the shadows within to take them by surprise. The attack had ended causing thousand of casualties to the Reach, but Ser Rolland Storm had then called for a withdrawal as the men of the Reach rallied and regrouped, their numbers too great for his men to handle for long.
As his men continued to cross the bridge, Randyll noticed something in their faces: they were scared. They had yet to properly get into the battle, and yet they were scared. He decided to get them moving.
"Reform the line!" he shouted at his troops, riding and glaring at them. "What are you all standing around for? Reform the line and prepare for battle!"
"B-but, my lord..." one officer spoke up, and like the other men he seemed terrified out of his wits. "The storm..."
Randyll only glared in reply. What good were his men if they were scared off by a simple storm? Granted, it had appeared all of a sudden, and it had destroyed the entire Ironborn fleet, but it had already abated and there was nothing else to it. However, as he stayed there, he heard what the men were muttering.
"Was it the gods? Or something else?"
"The Seven struck down the enemies of the Black Prince!"
"I saw the Black Prince do something before the storm appeared..."
"Could it have been..."
"The legends of the Dragonborn?"
"Is the Black Prince the Dovahkiin? Did he call that storm?"
"With a power like that, he could destroy us all!"
"ENOUGH!" Randyll shouted, making himself heard over the murmuring voices. "I don't know what caused that storm to appear, but if the Black Prince could summon a storm to destroy us, then why hasn't he already done so? Whatever happened doesn't matter! We've still got a battle to win, so get in formation!"
Although there was still hesitation on their faces, the authority in Randyll's voice sent the soldiers of the Reach scurrying to their positions, preparing their lances and swords.
Meanwhile, as the Second Legion took positions next to their fellows, the Blades finally reached the tent where Tullius was trying to make his strategies from. The old general was glad to see the group arriving.
"Grandmaster Delphine, how is the Black Prince?" he asked, worried.
"He's worn out from the storm he called, and is out cold," she replied, before a groan shocked her.
"Not anymore," William said weakly, as he raised his head from Delphine's shoulder and opened his eyes. "Though, I feel like shit now. How long was I out?"
"Only a few moments, my Prince," Delphine informed him. "Your gamble certainly paid off, the Iron Fleet is either destroyed or fleeing, and our men were able to withdraw to continue attracting the Reach's attention."
"Where are the Tyrells now?"
"Forming up to the south, our battle lines are ready to meet them," Tullius answered.
"Did you..." William yawned. "Did you get the message to my uncle?"
"I sent some of the Blades to meet Stannis. Everything is going according to the plans," Delphine said, and William turned to look towards the Tyrells in the south before glancing east to King's Landing.
"Well, then. Let's see if the lion and the rose take the bait."
The Gate of the Gods
Even battered as he was from the constant bombardment the Legions' siege weapons were causing, Tywin could easily see how the Tyrells were preparing themselves to attack. He knew that this was the moment he had planned for, that it was time for himself and his men to go out there and join the Tyrells into attacking the Legions on two fronts.
And yet, he hesitated.
"Tywin, this is our opportunity!" his brother Kevan insisted. "With our strength combined with the Tyrell's army, we heavily outnumber Willliam. We must sally forth and end this war!"
Tywin did not answer. Instead, he continued to stare over the battlefield, because his instinct was telling him something was very wrong. Before the battle started, Tywin believed that William would attack aggressively, so that he could take the city before the Tyrells made their arrival. Instead, his grandson had done the opposite, holding his troops back while using the siege engines to batter down walls and gates, and only at two points had William's troops striked. It would have been a sound strategy in different circumstances, but William did not have time for it to be useful due to the Tyrells' approach. He knew his grandson, and knew there was no chance he was not keeping a hidden ace somewhere.
What is your plan, William? Tywin thought. Why not take the city as quickly as possible, before enemy reinforcements arrive? What are you playing at?
Kevan shifted uneasy in his position before speaking up again.
"Brother, I understand that you have suspicions over what William is planning. I do as well. We would be dumb not to. But if we do not join the Tyrells and attack the Legions, we risk jeopardizing our alliance with them!"
"I am aware of that, Kevan," Tywin replied before letting out a sigh. "Give the orders. Open the gates, and have our troops move out."
The River Gate
"Come on! Harder! Put your backs into it! Bring that door down!" a Stormland commander yelled as his men continued to batter down the gate, while Stannis looked on.
Much to his relief, more than ten thousand men had managed to cross the Blackwater, and a group of them was now trying to open the gate into the city with a battering ram. The defenders desperately fired arrows and threw rocks and boulders down onto the attackers, but Stannis' men were prepared, covering themselves with their shields and with the boats they had crossed over with, while his archers answered with their own arrows and a few of Davos' ships fired with their own scorpions.
It was then that a handful of horsemen rode from the west, crossing through his forces, and Stannus saw they were Blades.
"Lord Stannis!" one of them called out upon seeing him. "The Tyrells have crossed the bridge and are about to attack the Legions. It is time!"
"Just as planned," Stannis commented before turning to his troops. "Stormlanders! Drop the ram, and form! Prepare to run to the west!"
"Begging your pardon, my Lord, but... are we just going to abandon our attack? The gate is almost down!" Ser Imry Florent asked.
"Our true purpose was another, Ser Imry. We are to prune some thorny roses. When the Tyrells attack, we will hit them in the rear of their right flank... and the Black Prince has a surprise for them as well. Men! March!"
She had no idea of how long she had blacked out. It might have been seconds. It might have been hours. She just... did not know. All she could tell was that the hard floor was under her, and that she felt pain all over her body. It felt like ages before she managed to turn around and get to her hands and knees, and then to her feet. And, as she opened her eyes to look around, she gasped at the sight before her.
This was a land unlike any she had ever seen. To her right, the land was bright, covered in green, fertile land, perhaps a bit too bright to be true. To her left, the land was dark, volcanic and shadowy, far too dark to her taste. Still, this contrast only shook and confused her, and her confusion grew as she saw a stone table sitting right on the invisible line that separated both halves, with a person sitting down on a chair again on that line. After a moment of hesitation, she approached.
The sight welcoming her was just as bizarre as that of the lands. The man had grey hair, as well as a well-trimmed beard and mustache, and his clothes, while elegant and befitting a noble, were oddly colored, for one half was of a purple darker than her eyes, while the other was crimson red. He did not seem to notice her as she neared him, instead, he seemed to be focused on a chair next to him, on which was seated a...
"Ho ho! What a fine joke, Maurice! You always hop right into entertaining people, ha ha ha!" The strange man spoke with a strong accent Daenerys had never heard of before, and it made her feel out of place. "So, Maurice, what should we have for dinner?"
"A fine idea! Cheese it shall be! Or not be. What is to be, or not to be? A fine question, don't you agree?"
"Hey! That is a very rude thing to say, Maurice! Watch where you snap that tongue, or I shall be forced to strangle you with your own entrails!"
Daenerys stared blankly at the strange man, realizing he had to be mad. Who else but a madman would talk to a toad as if he were having a normal conversation? However, when she glanced at said toad, she was shocked to see it react to the man's words as if it understood them, and then it turned toward her, looking at her. This frightened Daenerys, and she wondered if this was a nightmare.
"What? Oh, why didn't you tell me before that our guest had arrived, Maurice?" the man exclaimed, pointing a finger at the toad before standing up and giving a bow to Daenerys. "Welcome, lassie, the Shivering Isles! My realm and kingdom! Pull up a chair, Haskill should arrive with some cheese soon!"
"The... Shivering Isles? Where exactly is that?" she asked, wanting to know where she was, wanting to get back to her fleet.
"What an odd question. I would imagine it to be obvious. It is right here, all around you!" the man answered as he gestured. "To the north, we have Mania! And to the south, we have Dementia!"
"Mania and... Dementia?" she asked. Names as such were not inducing her to remain calm, and the man's unnatural golden eyes were not helping, either.
"Yes! The lands of my kingdom! And, of course, I am Sheogorath! But, you already knew that, correct?" the newly named Sheogorath said while giving another bow.
"Uh, I apologize, but I've never heard of you," Daenerys replied, warily.
"Hahaha! That's a good joke, my lady!" he said, letting out a fit of giggles.
"Forgive me, but... I'm being serious. I don't recall hearing about you before."
"Really? You've never heard of Sheogorath?" he asked, his voice becoming surprisingly dark all of a sudden. Daenerys lept back, in shock and fear of the sudden change in his voice... before Sheogorath suddenly threw his head back in laughter. "HAHAHAHA! That's even funnier! HAHAHAHA! You silly, naïve, forgetful little mortals are always so entertaining! Particularly you Targaryens! HAHAHAHA!"
Daenerys felt even more scared as she stared in bewilderment. This man went from goofy to intimidating and then back to being silly in mere seconds. And then, he proved it again when he stopped laughing and bowed again.
"Well, then, allow me to formally introduce myself. I am Sheogorath, the Daedric Prince of Madness, and these are the Shivering Isles, my Realm within Oblivion!"
Daenerys' lower jaw dropped.
"Close your mouth, lassie, before a fly flies into it. I mean, Maurice here is quick with his tongue, but even he might miss!"
"A Daedric Prince!" she exclaimed, suddenly reminded of that terrible day when she lost her husband and her son because of the Oblivion Gate and the Mythic Dawn... "You mean, like Mehrunes Dagon?"
"Oh, that's right! Old four arms did send part of his army through the gate when it was opened for a short while, didn't he? Nasty temper, though. Just a big meanie who disrupts parties and is simply no fun at all."
"B-but... if you're just like him..."
"Oh, no, no, no, no! I'm nothing like him, lassi! Unless you count that we are both Daedra... and princes... and we both have servants... and we rule parts of Oblivion... and-"
"What I mean is, what do you want with me? Why am I here? I was at that tomb in Old Valyria."
"Oh, you're still there, lassie! Well, your body is. Your mind is here, at any rate," he explained.
"Isn't the answer obvious? This is the Realm of Madness!" he stated with a look of glee, and Daenerys' eyes widened in fear, as she shook her head in denial.
"No... I'm not mad... there's no reason for me to be here!"
"Oh, really? So certain, are you?" he replied with a sinister grin, before he lifted his head in thought while stroking his head. "Wait... was it sane people that said they were mad, or was it the other way? What if... Oh, yes. That thought sounds like fun. Thank you, me!"
His eyes then snapped back onto her, a mischievous grin on his lips.
"Tell me, lassie. What if I showed you the truth about your family? And how easy you all made it for me to enjoy my work? After all, what better way to make someone mad with the truth?"
Before Daenerys could reply or move, Sheogorath snapped his fingers, and everything was gone.
Her husband was a monster. She knew that, and every day he only showed her that he was a monster.
Her second husband, that is. Her first husband, her Aegon, was supposed to be King, but then their uncle Maegor had usurped the throne after her father, and now everyone called him Maegor the Cruel, a fitting title that he actually relished. After his Trial of Seven against the Faith Militant, he had been in a coma for thirty days, and after awakening he had consumed the Sept of Remembrance in fire. Never did he stop trying to lay waste to the Faith Militant.
Aegon had died after trying to reclaim his rightful throne, and after that she had hidden for some time, but she was found, taken and forced to marry her uncle, becoming one of the so-called 'Black Brides'. She had seen his cruelty for too long.
Like what happened with the Red Keep. After it was finished, he had held a great celebration with every man that had worked in it, a great feast where the workers celebrated for three days... and then Maegor had them all put to the sword, so only he and whoever he wanted to would know the secrets of the Red Keep.
It was then that she learned her brother Jaehaerys was fighting for his claim to the throne. So, she slipped in the middle of the night with her dragon, Dreamfyre, to join her brother against the man she was forced to marry. Maegor died alone, abandoned on the Iron Throne, with blood pouring from his wrists, and none would ever feel sorry for him.
Daenerys shook herself. That was... she had felt what Rhaena Targaryen, daughter of Aenys the First, had felt.
"Oh, yes, Cruelty lead by the desire for power and personal gain. It's amazing how far one will go for it. But, how about the other extreme? Shall we take a look?" Another snap of fingers, and...
Her eldest brother, Daeron, had died trying to add Dorne to the Realm, and now her other brother had become King. They called him the Beloved, the Blessed. The smallfolk and pious septons of the Faith of the Seven praised him as one of the greatest kings to live. People talked about his 'miracles' all the time, the first being able to walk barefoot from King's Landing to Sunspear, the second his peace treaty with Dorne.
She knew him better than they did: she knew the true Baelor Targaryen, First of His Name.
She had never got along with him well. She was the youngest child, the youngest daughter of the Royal Family, and because of that no one had raised much of a fuss when she chose to convert to the Nine Divines: she loved the stories of ages long past, told in the ancient writings. No one, that is, except for Baelor. How he pleaded and begged her to leave the 'false gods' and return to the 'true faith', as he called it!
His 'miracles' were blown out of the water. People walked barefoot all over the world every day, his brother had always been under protection of knights and men, and peace treaties were made all the time between houses and nations – and this peace treaty had only come because Baelor had chosen to disregard the Dornish betrayal and ask for forgiveness for what had happened! Why was it called a miracle, when hundreds of people had done it before Baelor?
And then, there was how minstrels sung about how he had walked through a pit of vipers to reach and save his brother, Aemon the Dragonknight, about how the vipers refrained from biting him and bowed because he was holy and pure. None of those songs mentioned that in the end it was Aemon that had to save Baelor from his own foolishness. As is, the miracle was that he had survived the dozens of bites he had suffered, which had left him unconscious all the way from Wyl to Storm's End.
The worst had come when Baelor returned to King's Landing. She and her two older sisters were dragged to what was called the 'Court of Beauty', later to be known as the Maidenvault. She and her eldest sister called it a prison, for it undeservedly kept them from seeing and experiencing the world outside the Red Keep, where she had been confined for so long.
Her hatred for her brother had only grown after being imprisoned. Baelor had tried to explain to her and her sisters that he wanted to preserve their innocence, protect them from the lust of men and prevent them from tempting the men at court with carnal thought. For all answer to that piece of – how did Daena say – bullshit, as well as in protest, she gave him the one thing she valued most: her hair, which was unique even among Targaryens, for the platinum blond was adorned with a bright gold streak down the middle. She had always kept it long, but now she cut it short because she hoped that, if she looked even less prettier, her brother would let her leave her imprisonment. But he refused.
From then on, it was a struggle between the two of them. Every time he came to visit, he asked her to return to the Faith of the Seven. She replied by asking when he would release her from the prison he had put her in. He would try to explain his reasons with words like 'faith' and 'gods'. She would tell him that he was full of shit – something else she had picked from Daena. He then would say that he would pray to the Seven for her soul, and she would reply that she would pray to the Nine Divines for her freedom.
She was surprised at herself for the great pleasure she took in seeing his eye twitch every single time she said that.
However, that might have prompted part of what he did as his zealotry and fanaticism grew worse. He tried to have doves replace messenger ravens. He tried to burn many books he considered heretical because of their contents, especially when they were about other religions or anything he considered sorcery. Some of those books were ones that Elaena enjoyed, for they were about the old histories of the Divines and the Septim Empire, something she would pester him about at every visit.
At one point, he had even tried to restore the Faith Militant, hoping that, by doing so, a religious war could put down the Divine Faith once for all. However, the Seven Kingdoms had put up great resistance, many remembering the troubles it had caused a century ago. None wanted to experience the troubles of an ugly religious war.
So, disheartened and displeased by the lack of faith in the Realm, he fasted as he usually did, and then he tried to eliminate the Divine Faith through non-violent means, such as introducing new taxes that specifically targeted the followers of the Divines. Sadly, this worked, and the number of followers fell to their lowest.
Of course, that was not the end of his brother's madness, for he then appointed a street urchin that had barely passed his eighth nameday as High Septon, because he claimed the street urchin could perform miracles, that he could speak with doves and they answered back in the voice of the gods. Lots of animal trainers talked with their animals, so why was this urchin so special?
She had asked that of Baelor with a rather skeptical tone, asking as well what sort of miracles the boy had performed beyond talking to doves. Her brother, of course, never gave her a straight answer, instead talking about all sorts of blessings and gifts the gods had bestowed on the boy. She thought that he was an idiot, and told him so.
Certainly, the street urchin could not perform any 'miracles' to save Baelor's life when his fasting to ask for forgiveness for the sins of his subjects got him killed. Many had mourned Baelor's death, but for her it was finally the day she could be free to pursue her own life.
They called him the Blessed, the Beloved... but for her, the ones who referred to him as the Beffuddled were the ones closer to the truth.
Daenerys gasped as the memories of Elaena Targaryen, daughter of Aegon the Third of his name, coursed through her mind. She had felt her pain, her rage over the injustice committed unto her and her sisters, as if it had been herself that had suffered through it all.
"I suppose there are those who honestly believe in godly things. I mean, look at some of those priests of the Divines, their faith seems to be well placed... much to my annoyance, I assure you! But, it's so easy to blur the lines, you know? See something strange, and behold! It's a sign of the gods, and even if it isn't, they think it is! But then, there are those of madness who are simply called... monsters." Another snap...
He had been sleeping placidly in his bed, when something – someone – had sat down and shaken him awake. His eyes opened to see the twisted smirk on the face of his brother, Aerion Targaryen.
"Hello there, little brother. Are you sleeping well, Aegon?" Aerion asked with a smirk.
"Aerion! What are you...?" he started to ask before he froze: looking down, he felt fear as he saw his older brother pointing a sharp knife at his privates.
"You remember our family tradition of marrying siblings, brother? Sadly... there is just not enough sisters in our family," Aerion remarked, and he felt himself sweating as the tip of the knife came even closer.
"Maybe I should remove your manhood, then you can be my sister and we could be wed, don't you think so?" Aerion said as he obviously enjoyed the horrified look in his face, but then he pulled the knife away and stood up. "Not tonight, though, little brother. We may get lucky yet and have another sister in the future."
After Aerion left, he let out a sigh of relief: he knew Aerion only did this to torment him, and that he would not carry through with his threat, because their father would be furious if he did. He might have been all smiles and courtesy in front of their father, but when he was out of the way Aerion showed his true nature: a monster who believed himself to be a dragon in human form.
Was it any coincidence that he cheered as Ser Duncan the Tall beat the crap out of Aerion after the monster broke Tanselle's fingers, and then how Ser Duncan destroyed the monster with his own shield? And then, the day he learned that Aerion had drank a cup of wildfire, believing he would be immune because he was a dragon: he had never been so happy as to finally know that his cruel brother was dead.
Daenerys collapsed on a stone floor, gasping and trying not to vomit at the memories her great-grandfather Aegon the Fifth had of his brother, Aerion. She was horrified of how madness had plagued the members of House Targaryen, her ancestors, through the eyes of those more innocent. All her life, she had believed the tales about mad Targaryens were nothing but a lie. She knew better now.
"No, no, no... they are all lies! They must be!" she weakly protested.
"Hohoho! Come now, lassie! You saw all that through the eyes of your own family! You saw those with the spark of FUN insanity! Hahaha!" Sheogorath crackled as he paced behind her and forced her to stand up. "And you still need to meet dear old dad!"
Daenerys stiffened upon hearing those words, but this time there was no snap of fingers. Instead, she was already there. In a throne room. With numerous nobles, ladies and knights standing at the sides, and no one reacted to her presence. It was as if she was invisible.
"You wished for a trial by combat?" a cruel voice spoke from the head of the room. Daenerys did not want to look, but she could not help herself as she turned her eyes towards the voice.
It was a man, or rather, a grotesque caricature of a man. His hair was so long it reached his waist, and was completely unwashed, which gave him a mangy look that was only compounded by his long, equally unwashed beard, and the cracked, sickeningly yellow, nine-inch-long nails. He sat on a large throne made of swords of all kinds, fused together into one body.
The whole image of King Aerys Targaryen, the Second of His name, sitting on the Iron Throne made by Aegon the Conqueror, was shocking, causing Daenerys to feel disgusted and repulsed by the sight.
It... it can't be. This... is my father? she thought.
"Such a fun mortal to be friends with!" Sheogorath exclaimed as he suddenly walked from behind the Iron Throne and casually leaned on the armrest. Much like Daenerys, he seemed to be invisible to the crowd. "I have to be honest, I don't know if I have ever had as much fun in the mortal world as I did when your daddy was on the Throne! And what you're seeing now, lassie, was one of the best things I've seen in a long time!"
His eyes were looking at the other side of the Red Keep's throne room, and she turned to see an elderly man, suspended from the ceiling, wearing heavy armor marked with the sigil of the direwolf, over a pyre, as a man dressed in green approached it.
"You shall be given a trial by combat," her father spoke again, "and your opponent shall be... fire!"
At once, the green-dressed man threw a pot into the pyre, and suddenly green flames sprouted out, quickly engulfing the elder man – Rickard Stark, it had to be, the Lord of Winterfell – and his cries of agony rang through her ears.
"Father!" a strangled voice shouted, and she turned to see yet another horrifying sight.
A young man that resembled Rickard Stark, his arms tied in front of him, a noose fixed around his neck and to a strange device, a sword right out of reach. Brandon Stark struggled to reach the sword in order to free himself and save his father, but the more he struggled to reach it, the tighter the noose was, and Daenerys looked in horror as Brandon Stark's eyes grew more bloodshot, his face redder, as he lost the breath remaining in his lungs.
She could do nothing but stare in horror as Brandon Stark fell from strangling himself to death, while Rickard Stark fell silent as his corpse continued to char and burn, and in her father she saw a look that made her feel ill. For it was obvious that he had already stopped caring about the act that would start the Usurper's Rebellion, and now just watched the burning wildfire with a look that could only be described as lust... a lust for fire.
Again, she wanted to vomit. She could not believe what she was seeing: the tales about her father, which she had long believed to be lies, were painfully clear before her now.
"No... why... why?" she breathed.
"Aww, don't look so sad, lassie. It's all part of the family, just like you," Sheogorath spoke, and she turned to him with a glare in her eyes.
"NO! I'm nothing like my father! Nothing like all those Targaryens you showed me!" she shouted.
"Oh? You really think you can just say no and be done with it? Haha! It's not that easy, lassie!" Sheogorath chuckled, and suddenly everyone in the room vanished... to be replaced with a large number of men and women, all of them white-haired, all of them Targaryens... and all of them sporting insane smiles as if they could now see her.
"Burn them! Burn them all!" Aerys laughed with a grin that put all the rest to shame.
"See? It's a natural thing for your family. Why not embrace what is meant to be?" Sheogorath mocked her. However, Daenerys, scared as she was, tried to stand strong.
"I... I don't care! Even if you are telling me the truth, even if my family is filled with madmen, I will not be one of them!"
"Hahaha! Oh, sweet little poor Dany, madness runs in your family. You can't escape it! Deny it all you want, it just makes things more interesting!"
All the people in the room started to laugh with Sheogorath, and seeing herself surrounded by her mad ancestors, all Daenerys could do was to fall to her knees and close her eyes, trying to block the cruel laughter as the tears began to fall without a way to stop them.
"Please," Daenerys whimpered as the laughter grew louder. "Please... someone... help..."
The room fell completely silent as a woman shouted with great power and authority, and a pair of arms wrapped around Daenerys in a comforting and protective manner, caressing her long hair and trying to calm her down.
"Cease this torment, Prince of Madness! Leave this poor girl alone!" Daenerys' mysterious savior demanded.
"Why, hello, my dear! Haven't seen you in, what, a couple thousand years? How's your old dragon-headed boss doing, by the way? And what brings you here?"
"Don't play games with me, Sheogorath, Daenerys Targaryen has made her choice, so leave her be!"
"Aww, Val, don't treat me like I'm some evil monster. After all, isn't that little strain of madness in the Targaryen family technically your fault? Don't you remember?"
"This is my last warning Sheogorath. Cross me, and you will regret it dearly – and you know I never joke when making a threat."
"Pfft!" Sheogorath replied, blowing a raspberry. "Fine, spoil my fun, will you? Just keep in mind, little Dany here isn't out of the woods yet. Ta ta!"
The mysterious woman, still holding the trembling Danerys in her arms, leaned down to whisper into her ear as the Mad God disappeared.
"Let us go someplace more pleasant, where we can talk. I know you must have many questions."
Her eyes still closed, Daenerys felt herself becoming weightless for a second before her feet landed on warm sand. Opening her eyes, she found herself on a beach. An awfully familiar-looking beach.
"This... this is where I..."
As realization hit her, Daenerys looked around and spotted what she was looking for: the same woman that had helped Daenerys back in the House of the Undying, in Qarth, and who was now walking away from her. The lady looked back and smiled before beckoning Daenerys to follow her as she continued to walk.
"Wait! Please, wait!" Daenerys shouted as she ran down the beach after the dragon-eyed lady.
The Red Keep
"FIND THEM! Find those two Northern wenches NOW!" Cersei screamed as guards rushed through the halls of the keep. To say that Cersei Lannister was furious was like saying the Narrow Sea was wet.
Her worry about the ongoing civil war was a constant struggle for her nerves, particularly where it concerned the safety of her two eldest sons. She still clung to the decreasing hope that William would lose the war and that it would end with neither of her children harmed.
That worry had crossed into anger after learning that Arya Stark had been in her father's custody for several weeks already. She had not recognized the girl when Tywin brought her to court and was shocked at seeing that the girl she had dismissed as a common-looking tomboy had become what could now be considered an attractive young woman... not only that, but one that so closely resembled Lyanna Stark, the wolf bitch that had got her Rhaegar killed and then had ruined what should have been her perfect marriage to a king. It had infuriated her that Arya was pretty much a living embodiment of the woman Cersei despised more than any other.
Then, that opinion had changed, and Cersei found herself despising Arya Stark much more than she could ever hate the girl's aunt. Not only had she bewitched William, not only had she humilliated her Joffrey, she had then gone and humilliated her by proving she knew more about William than his mother did, at which point she had been close to order the damned bitch's head cut off. And now, she secretly hoped that one of the guards would 'accidentally' kill Arya Stark as they attempted to apprehend her.
In another hallway, Arya was trying to drag her sister by the hand while both ran as fast as they could. However, Sansa was not anywhere near as fit as Arya, and soon she was gasping for more breath and respite. They could not do that, because both could easily hear the sounds of guards as they closed in on them.
"Damn it to Oblivion! Come on, Sansa!" Arya urged her sister.
"Sorry... I'm... tiring..." Sansa replied between gasps.
Just a little further. We need to make it to the catacombs! Arya thought, and just then, their luck ran out when they reached a T-junction.
"There they are!" came a shout from a group of a dozen soldiers to their right, a group led by two Kingsguards: Ser Osmund Kettleblack, a former sellsword who had been given the white cloak shortly after Ser Boros Blount's death to Grandmaster Delphine, and Ser Mandon Moore.
"Damn," Arya whispered as she pulled Sansa to the left hallway. However, it only took a few steps in for another man, flanked by two Lannister men, to appear into the corridor: Ser Meryn Trant, hobbling on a crutch, glaring at Arya.
"Well, well. If it isn't the brute who likes to kneel before false boy kings," Arya remarked in disdain as she tried to figure out a way out of their predicament: already, she could see Kettleblack, Moore and the other Lannister men now casually moving closer, believing Arya and Sansa were trapped.
Had it been just her, Arya would have taken her chances: Trant would be easy, and she could hold off the two Lannisters for long enough to escape down the corridor. But, with Sansa next to her, that tactic was too risky.
And any option of charging through was taken away as five more guards appeared in the hallway behind Meryn Trant, all of them wearing Lannister helmets and cloaks.
"I'm going to make you pay for insulting me, you little northern bitch," Meryn Trant growled as he hobbled forward, followed by the men behind him.
Arya glared back as she shifted into a stance: she was not going to be taken again without a fight. Sansa, in the meantime, felt bad about this: surely, if they had been faster, they could have probably escaped.
"I'm not afraid of you, Trant. I bet you will be running soon like you did the last time you tried to capture me," Arya taunted. Trant had murder on his face, and he continued to hobble forward as fast as he could, and as he tried to unsheathe his sword...
Meryn Trant stopped where he was, and his face turned into shock and pain as a the tip of a sword – a katana, Arya realized – made its way out of the Kingsguard's chest, and the same happened to the two guards flanking Trant. As Arya stared in bewilderment, the three men fell dead as the swords were retrieved, and the five Lannister men – all of them armed with katanas – dropped their cloaks and removed their helmets, revealing their Blades Armor underneath.
"Ser Barristan! Captain Renault!" Arya exclaimed in joy as the five Blades stepped forward and placed themselves between the Stark girls and their enemies.
"You will not harm neither Princess Arya nor Lady Sansa," Barristan declared, glaring at the two knights in front of him.
"You are all traitors, and will die traitors' deaths," Ser Mandon shot back as he, Ser Osmund and the soldiers readied themselves to a fight.
"Princess, I believe these are yours," Baurus said as he held out two swords to Arya: Ice Fang and Needle, to her joy. She immediately dropped the sword and tied both sheaths to their place on her waist, while Sansa stepped back, watching in worry as the Lannister men approached.
Ser Mandon went straight for Ser Barristan, obviously thinking to putting an end to his former Lord Commander. The Kingsguard sent a flurry of blows, but Ser Barristan easily proved why he still was one of the greatest knights in Westeros by deflecting each blow while giving ground, allowing Ser Mandon to waste his energy and overexert himself. Soon, Ser Mandon overstretched, opening himself for Barristan's rising slash into his sword arm, and then being finished with decapitation.
Renault, meanwhile, was fighting with Kettleblack, and as she ducked under his swing she delivered her own slash to his thigh. All of a sudden, he tackled her, trying to take advantage of his larger size, and their scuffle sent them crashing into Arya and one of the soldiers. Arya fell on her right side, her hand holding Needle on the floor. As she tried to stand back up, a foot came down and caught Needle at an angle against the floor, sundering the thin blade.
Arya was left in brief shock as the soldier got back to his feet, but that was all he could do before she quickly twisted Needle's broken edge into a gap in the armor, following through with Ice Fang to finish the soldier off.
A disgusting crack sound out behind her, and Arya turned around to see Renault had just broken Kettleblack's neck, while the rest of the soldiers were quickly finished by the Blades. They would be in the clear for now, but they all knew the fighting would soon attract even more guards.
"Baurus, go!" Renault ordered, and her partner quickly ran ahead, to make sure their exit plan was clear.
"My Princess, Lady Sansa, are you two well?" Ser Barristan asked.
"I'm fine. Shaken, but fine. I'm glad you arrived in time, Ser Barristan," Sansa replied as she approached her sister, who was staring in sadness at her broken Needle.
"It seems like you were on your way to escape when we found you."
"Yes. It was Arya that got us out, but we would not have made it without you."
"Good. I will be able to repay my debt to your family."
"What do you mean, Ser Barristan? What debt?" Sansa asked, confused.
"I should have helped your father when he tried to proclaim the Black Prince as King, but I did not. Saving you and the Princess will be my debt of atonement," Ser Barristan explained with sadness, and Sansa's face fell at the mention of her father.
"We cannot tarry, we need to move," Renault declared. "Lady Sansa, stay close to Glenroy and Acilius. Barristan and I will stay close to Princess Arya. Let's go."
The note of disdain in the Knight-Captain's voice shook Arya out of her sadness, and when she looked over at Renault, she was taken aback at seeing a hint of resentment in Renault's eyes before the Knight-Captain turned to lead the way out of the Red Keep. Arya was confused, but she followed her anyway.
Their quick but quiet advance through the Red Keep was halted when Knight-Brother Baurus met them at a run.
"Our escape route is blocked off, Captain," Baurus reported. "There are too many men to risk fighting through."
"We'll have to find an alternate route, then," Barristan replied, and Arya's eyes lit up.
"Through the catacombs! That's where Sansa and I were trying to go before we met you!"
"I'm not sure if that's a good idea, my Princess," Baurus said. "The catacombs are a maze, and I don't know the path out of the keep."
"I found the way before, it leads out of the city. I can get you all through the catacombs," Arya insisted.
"Whatever we do, we must decide quickly, I hear guards approaching!" Knight-Brother Glenroy called from the rear.
"Fine, we'll follow the princess," Renault said, and her tone shocked Arya again. However, she knew it was not time to start asking questions, and soon stepped forward to guide the group.
On their way, at least twice had Renault hold them up, urging silence as a group of guards passed close by; much to their fortune, every time the guards went in a different direction, and the group avoided detection. Finally reaching the entrance that she had found so long ago, Arya smiled when she saw the large dragon skull she had found so long ago. Sansa, who had never seen anything similar, had gasped in shock.
"It is this way," Arya stated as she led the way down the passage she knew would lead out of the city.
"I hope you are right, Princess. It would be a shame to call all this way, only to get lost in this place," Renault sullenly remarked.
"Captain," Acillus tried to warn her.
"What is wrong, Captain Renault?" Arya demanded, wanting to know the answer. "You've been acting like this from the moment we met up there. What is with your grumpy attitude?"
"My grumpy attitude?" Renault glared back as she stepped face to face with Arya. "Have you forgotten what you did? To me, to my Blades at Harrenhal?"
Arya felt crushed, as she realized why Renault was so angry with her.
Arya yawned as she woke up in the Legionary Camp outside Harrenhal. Will had left the previous day for Storm's End, to negotiate with the Tyrells and his uncle Renly, and already she missed him. After cleaning up, getting dressed and grabbing her swords, she headed out of her tent to start her morning sword lessons, upon which moment she was greeted by an unit of Blades led by Captain Renault.
"Princess Arya, my company of Blades and I have been ordered by the Black Prince to be your protectors."
"What, really? Are you sure this is necessary? I mean, I've never needed any bodyguards before," Arya replied.
"While it is true you've never had any bodyguards directly protecting you, the Black Prince feels that, while he is not around, you require people serving and protecting you," Renault explained.
"Well... that is alright, then."
Arya had often had guards around her in the past, but that was when she was with her father or with Will. This was the first time she had someone protecting her and following her almost everywhere she went.
Much to her chagrin, Renault and her fellow Blades were like shadows to Arya, and they accompanied her everywhere she went, from her sword lessons with Syrio, to her military lessons with General Tullius to her alone time in her tent, which could not really be called alone time anymore.
"Is everything well, my Princess?" Renault asked her once, when she saw Arya sigh.
"Yes, it's just... I'm not used to having bodyguards follow me everywhere," Arya admitted. "I mean, I have had guards around before, but... never shadows."
"I know that we seem like an inconvenience, my Princess, but one can never know when a threat will appear. The Black Prince chose us to make sure no one could threaten you, and we will give our lives, if necessary, to ensure your safety," Renault replied, hoping she could provide some explanation and encouragement. "Don't worry, before long, you won't really notice our presence as much."
In spite of Renault's words, she never got used to the constant presence of her bodyguards. Being a noble and all the responsibilities that came with it had never fallen well with her, and having bodyguards following her everywhere was a constant reminder of her status. She knew she might become Queen when Will won, but she still wanted to go out and get away from being important, from the special privileges that came from being a noble.
So, wanting to relive the times when she could do that as a child, one day she decided to sneak out of the back of her tent and join one of the Legion patrols. She would still have protectors around, in the form of Legionaries, but they would not be breathing down her neck.
It would be an hour before Renault realized something wrong was going on: Arya had spent too long in that tent, longer than usual. So she looked in the tent and was aghast when she realized Arya had disappeared.
"I... I know that what I did was outright stupid..." Arya said, but then Renault interrupted her, her eyes blazed with anger.
"Outright stupid is too small to define what you did! We thought you had been kidnapped, that someone had slipped into the camp and stolen you right from under our noses! I feared I had failed my duty and dishonored myself... but then we discovered you had just left, and that made it feel even worse! And then, you were captured by some random Lannister patrol because of mere chance, and they didn't even know it. And you would have never been captured if we'd been there to protect you!"
"Renault!" Barristan interrupted, standing next to his fellow Knight-Captain. "Regardless of your personal feelings, you must remember your oaths and duty."
"Duty is the only reason I agreed to accept this mission! Duty to the Black Prince, not to Princess Arya, and if it wasn't for that duty, I would have chosen to commit seppuku instead of joining this mission!" Renault shot back.
Arya's mouth dropped: she knew what seppuku was, and the fact that Renault would have preferred to kill herself than come here was shocking.
"Akaviri blood flows through my veins. We value duty and honor above all. We stopped serving the Targaryens because they forgot their duty, and we chose to serve Prince William because he understood duty and was worthy of our service. When he chose me and my company to protect you, I was honored at the fact that he placed his trust in us, and I was honored to protect you with my life, if need be. An honor that you spat on, like it was a pile of shit, when you abandoned us because of your own selfish reasons!
"I may understand that you have never liked responsibility in your life, but I would have thought that, at least, you would understand the duty that comes with your position. Your actions proved that you don't which makes you unworthy of the Blades' service!" Renault accused.
Arya could only stare back for a moment before lowering her head, unwilling to keep facing Renault's furious eyes. She had admired them for years... and now, because of her dumb mistake, she had insulted them in a way that they would despise more than anything else.
"Renault, you are taking this too far," Ser Barristan started to say, but Arya interrupted him.
"No, Captain Selmy. Captain Renault is right."
Everyone looked at Arya, shocked at what she had just said, while she turned away and stared at the giant dragon skull, as she started to speak.
"I made a mistake. I spat on Renault and her fellow Blades' honor. I may not have realized it, but this does not excuse my mistake," Arya admitted. "I wanted to get away, because I have never liked being noble or having to follow all the etiquette of being a proper lady. I wanted to pursue a life of my own choosing. But then I fell in love with Will.
"I know that I want to be with him, stay side by side with him as we face every challenge that life puts in our way. But that means I have to become a princess, and then a queen, and accept all the duties and responsibilities that come with it. And, even now, I struggle to think against what that reality will require of me." She sighed, and turned back to the others.
"I've made my choice. I still want to be with Will, even if I have to give up the dreams I once wanted to pursue. I've been running away from that, but no more. After everything I have learned, seen, and come to realize over these past months, I know that I need to take my duty as Will's future wife seriously." She tehn turned to Renault. "I was a fool, and you have every right to be angry with me. I will do whatever I can to pay back for my slight, and when we get out of these catacombs, you only need to ask, and I will make sure you get assigned to whichever position you want, so that you won't have to waste your time on me."
After that, Arya turned again and started to lead the way out, silently followed by the other people in the group, all of whom had been rather surprised by Arya's declaration, none so more than Renault, who looked taken aback at Arya's words, and held hope that maybe this would turn the girl into someone she could respect.
As for Sansa, she had never heard her sister speak with such maturity before: always, she had thought of her sister as childish, but that was no longer the case: war had changed her a lot. Following her sister along the underground passageway, Sansa was glad to see that there were no Lannisters or Gold Cloaks around them. Either they were combing through the Red Keep and had not though to search here, or they had just not got to it yet. Either way, she began to feel as though things might get better for them all.
As if to mock her, something happened.
Everyone stumbled as a tremor seemed to pass through the castle. Earthquakes were known to happen, but King's Landing had never seen one in its entire existence. Everyone glanced at the ceiling in confusion.
"W-what was that?" Sansa asked, fearing.
"I'm not sure, my Lady," Glenroy answered.
"I've got a bad feeling about this," Arya remarked.
Sometime earlier, outskirts of King's Landing
William's breath was coming out in tired gasps. He wanted nothing more than to lay down and sleep, even if it meant sleeping on the hard ground, but instead he kept himself sitting on Shadow's back as he watched the Reachmen finish preparations to advance.
"Here, my Prince," Delphine said as she handed him a large waterskin.
"What? Not now, Delphine, we are in the middle of the battle..."
"In which you will be of no use if you collapse again. Drink and recover some strength!" Delphine demanded, speaking not as his bodyguard, but as his mentor. William sighed and drunk from the waterskin as General Tullius continued to shout orders at his men.
On the Legion's lines, the First was formed at the left flank, facing towards the city and knowing of the risks coming from that way; the Second stood at the right flank, ready to meet the Reachmen, and the Fifth formed at the center, prepared to fight both the Lannisters and the Tyrells.
As for the latter, Lord Mace commanded the right flank, while Randyll Tarly had been tasked with the left, and both Garland and Loras Tyrell led the Reach's cavalry.
"Ser Garland! Wait for my signal, then take the cavalry and deal with the Legion's cavalry. Once you have dealt with them you'll be free to flank the Legions themselves!" Lord Tarly ordered.
"Understood," Garland replied before riding away to join his men.
Back in the Legions' lines, William took another gulp of water before he paused and stared intently at his enemy. It only took him a moment to read into their maneuvers.
"Right... they plan to go for our right," William said before turning to shout. "Tullius! They are going to commit themselves to crushing our right flank!"
"Our cavalry is strong," Tullius commented as he, too, observed the enemy, "but the Reach's cavalry heavily outnumbers ours."
"The Fifth Legion is at full strength. Take some men from there and have them form up before our cavalry."
"Begging your pardon, my Prince, but the Fifth is forming our center. That could weaken our center."
"It's a risk we'll have to take, Tullius. The Fifth can afford to send men elsewhere on the battlefield, and it is the Tyrell's center that Stannis will strike at with his men. Three cohorts should be sufficient for this task," William ordered. "And try to keep them out of sight, we don't need the enemy to see what we're up to."
"As you command, my Prince."
Soon after, the Centurions were moving along the Fifth Legion, giving orders. Every third man was told the same thing.
"Form up behind the right wing, keep out of sight."
As they received their orders, the chosen men crouched down and moved behind their brethren until they could begin to walk to the right flank: the night sky above them helped to keep them concealed as they marched as silently as possible. Soon, the three cohorts were in place, and crouching down so they would remain unseen by the Reach until it was time.
Not a momento too soon, either, because just then the call to advance sounded out from the Reach's lines, as the Gate of the Gods opened to allow thousands of Lannister troops to form their lines, their left flank meeting up with the Reach's right, thus sealing up the gap before they marched.
"Kevan! Have a detachment of our troops form up to protect our rear, in case Stannis tries to attack us," Tywin ordered.
"Yes, my lord," Kevan replied to his brother, and he immediately sent a courier to warn the appropiate person. Soon, the Lannisters were ready as well.
"Advance!" Tywin ordered, and tens of thousands of men marched to meet William's troops.
"Legions! Prepare for combat!" Tullius shouted, and the Legions answered.
"AHOO! AHOO!" they all chanted, bashing their shields and weapons together to cause as much noise as possible.
"Archers! Loose!" William ordered... and soon the night sky was full of arrows shot by the Legions' powerful longbows. Hidden by darkness, the first volley reaped the unprepared Lannister and Tyrell forces, hundreds falling dead or dying. After that, those men quickly raised their shields as they continued to advance, but there were too many gaps, and many more arrows from the Legions found their mark.
It was soon that the three armies were close enough, and Tywin Lannister and Randyll Tarly gave the order to charge. Those who followed the Lion and the Rose increased their speed, letting out their war cry, to which the Legions responded by throwing their javelins at the enemy and charging as well.
With a mighty crash, the armies slammed into each other, and men and women fought for their lives and for the city.
William contemplated the battlefield, knowing that victory could depend on the smallest of details, and that any turn could bring him either victory or defeat. And it was the right flank where it would all depend on. With that in mind...
"My Blades, get ready for combat. We're joining our cavalry on the right flank!" William ordered.
"NO!" Delphine shouted back. "You're barely able to hold onto your saddle, much less in condition to fight in this battle!"
"Then, be my sword arm, Grandmaster Delphine, as you have always been," William replied. "Give me the flag, so that you know where I am."
Delphine stared at William for a second before grinding her teeth, much like Stannis would have done, and then she drew her sword, with her fellow Blades following suit.
"All of you, form tight around our Prince!" she ordered. "No one reaches him! If you get hurt, hurt them back! If you get killed... walk it off!"
As a squire quickly handed William his standard, the Blades formed around their King, so as to protect him to the best of their ability. William hooked the standard in a pouch on his stirrups, and soon the group rode to join the Legionary cavalry. And, as they did, the Legion began to chant, his presence giving them courage and strength.
"The Black Prince! The Black Prince!"
On the other side of the field, Lord Tarly saw that the infantry was tightly locked in combat, and as the Legions did not budge an inch despite the larger enemy they were facing, ordered his trumpeter to signal Garlan to attack the Legion's right flank.
The second son of Mace Tyrell was about to give the order to advance, when he started to hear the Legions chanting, and then he spotted the reason for the chanting.
"The Black Prince..." Garlan murmured, knowing that they had the chance to put an end to the war. "Men of the Reach, advance!"
"Legions!" William did his best to yell to his men. "Have no fear! Charge!"
The two cavalry forces rushed forth, ready to bring battle to their opponents. The thundering hooves of the horses and the war cries of the men riding them roared loudly for all to hear. And then, the sound was drowned out by the mighty crash between the heavy horsement of the Reach and the Legions.
The magically forged katanas of the Blades cut through armor, flesh and bone alike as their wielders carved their path through the Reachmen's center. Lances from the Knights of the Reach punched through Legionary cavalrymen. The heavy spears of the Legions impaled the knights, sending them flying from their horses.
In a different situation, the much larger force of the Reach might have carried the day as they continued to strike at the Legion, some even making it through their entire line. However, behind the horse was the foot, and the Legionary infantry placed behind the cavalry charged into the fray, using their javelins to great effect, spooking horses and stabbing knights. The Legionaries were turning the odds in their favour.
Closer to the city, Stannis and his Stormlanders finally made their way around the city to reach the battlefield, and they started to increase their pace towards the Lannister-Tyrell rear, where Kevan's forces awaited for them to act.
"For the Black Prince!" Stannis shouted as he charged.
"FOR THE BLACK PRINCE!" yelled the men of the Stormlands as they followed their lord, clashing with the Lannister troops.
The Lannister levies were probably among the best armed and trained soldiers in the Seven Kingdoms, largely due to the wealth that the Lannisters commanded. However, the Stormlands were a tough place to live in: with a land where heavy rains and winds were the norm, and a long history of facing enemies from the south, the west and the north, the Stormlanders were among the toughest fighters in the Seven Kingdoms, and Lannister gold would not change the fact that they were in for a hard fight.
Back on the Tyrell's left flank, Garlan had just struck a Legionary when he managed to spot the Black Prince, surrounded by his Blades, who allowed none to get through to reach him. Flanked by some of his own knights and his brother, Garlan rode forward, not stopping until they were right in front the Blades. A small pause fell where they were as the battle continued to rage around them.
"I challenge you, Black Prince! Come and face me!" Garlan shouted at William.
William met Garlan's gaze. Loras may have been one of the most renowned fighters in the Reach, since he had participated in many tourneys, but William was aware that Garlan was considered to be better than his younger brother: while the latter joined tournaments, the former trained by fighting three men at once, much like William did when training with the Blades.
"If the circumstances were different, Ser Garlan, I would accept, but in my current state I fear I cannot," William replied, making Garlan blink as he took in William's heavy breathing and swaying in his saddle.
"Are you ill, Black Prince? And still you entered the battlefield?"
"Not ill, just exhausted. Summoning a storm takes a lot, you understand," William revealed, shocking Garlan to the core.
"That was you?" he said, pointing to the Blackwater Bay.
"Yes, at the cost of my strength," William replied, causing Loras to smirk.
"He's weakened," the Knight of Flowers told his brother. "We can beat him!"
Delphine urged her horse forward, stepping out of line, and leveled her sword at the two Tyrell brothers.
"If you think you can beat William, you are mistaken. If you think you can fight him without us standing in your way, you are wrong. But, if it is a challenge you wish, I will answer it," Delphine said, pointing her katana at Garlan and Loras. "I'll face both of you at the same time, if you wish."
Faced down with the Blades' Grandmaster, Garlan hesitated. Delphine's reputation had risen dramatically in the last year. She had defeated no less than Ser Jaime Lannister, the Kingslayer, in single combat, and was said to have been close to do the same to Ser Barristan Selmy. And, if there was something he had learned, was that sometimes you had to pick your fights.
All chances to make a decision, however, flew away before he could even do that.
General Tullius was watching the battlefield, and observed that everyone within, the Legions, the Tyrells, the Lannisters, the Stormlanders, all of them were committed to the fight... and that meant the next step of the plan.
"It's time. Give the signal!" Tullius ordered. Horns sounded out, and a dozen archers shot flaming arrows directly up into the air.
On the Lannister right flank, Tywin paused his own observance of the battlefield when he heard the horns, and he saw the arrows. Dread filled him, as he realized that his grandson was now playing another of his tricks.
This time, the answer to horns and arrows were even more horns, coming from points where there should have been no soldiers, and then he saw torchlight into the night from at least three different locations... and his heart sank. He had thought he had this battle at hand, but once more, as it had happened in the Crossroads, his grandson had outmaneuvered him.
Well, at least one can be proud of his smarts, he thought.
To the shock of those who fought for Joffrey, the Seventh, Eighth and Ninth Legions emerged from the dark night and moved forward to join the battle.
After finally finishing their training a few weeks earlier at Cloud Ruler, William had kept them there to mislead any spies until the last moment, and then they had marched at a fast pace to reach King's Landing, arriving just the day before before settling away from the eyes of the city: without the ability to send out scouts, neither Tywin nor the Tyrells had any idea of their arrival.
All of a sudden, William's forces in the field had doubled in strength, and as the First, the Second and the Fifth kept Lannisters and Tyrells busy, the Seventh moved to circle Tywin's right, thus cutting him off from retreating into the city, the Eighth was joining William and encircling the Tyrells' left flank, and the Ninth moved to the bridge over the Blackwater, both preventing them from retreating and allowing them to attack the Tyrell rear, while Stannis attacked from the east.
They would be completely surrounded.
Tywin immediately realized that he only had two options, and that he had to pick one now. Either he stayed in the field and hoped that the superior numbers of his and Tyrell's combined forces would be enough to defeat his grandson, or he retreated with his men back into King's Landing before the Seventh Legion was able to fully separate them from the Gate of the Gods. The former option ran the risk of a complete defeat, and the latter would mean abandoning the Tyrells to their luck, which would mean that they would be surrounded and defeated... and William would be able to continue laying siege to the city at his leisure.
"W-what's happening? H-how did you...?" Loras stammered as he saw how fast things had turned.
"My reinforcements, Ser Loras. They have just entered the field," William said with a grin, and Garlan stared at William as he considered his words.
"This... this was your plan all along, wasn't it? You never intended to take the city now, you just let us believe you were so we would rush here to break the siege," he said, stunned. "You let us rush right into battle so you could surround us!"
"Yes, that was my plan. Deception is part of war, after all. And you fell for mine," William replied before his face hardened. "You have a choice, Ser Garlan. My grandfather may be able to retreat into the city, but the Tyrells have no way out. Either you surrender to me now, or you can try to continue the fight... and we both know that most of you will die if that happens."
Loras looked to his brother, hoping he would be able to come up with some idea to carry the battle.
"Oh, and those thirty thousand that were following you? I would forget about them for the moment. I placed enough troops in there to keep them delayed for long enough that they will not be able to arrive here for at least two or three days... long enough that they won't play a role in this battle."
Garlan stared blankly at William. The Black Prince had played them all like harps, and there was nothing he could do to change that. Surrendering would leave his house dishonored, but not surrendering would mean his fellow Reachmen would be slaughtered.
"What is your decision, Ser Garlan?" William asked.
He never got a chance to answer.
Everybody jerked in surprise at the sudden, loud crack that had just roared over the battlefield. Men and women looked to the sky, fearing that another storm would appear all of a sudden, but the skies were clear: this time, the source of the noise was different.
In the center of the battlefield, where Legionaries, Tyrells and Lannisters had been fighting until the crack, an orange and red burst of light appeared. All men close to it were brutally blown back. When the flash of unnatural light lessened, a stone archway with eldritch engravings and dark energies swirling could be seen... and then, monstrous forms began to emerge.
"By the Divines... an Oblivion Gate," William whispered.
"Please, wait!" Daenerys shouted as she continued to run after the dragon-eyed lady, down the pearly beach. No matter how fast she ran, it seemed like she could not get any closer to the mysterious woman.
Her rush to reach the woman halted when a large fortress appeared out of nowhere, towing over her. A fortress citadel, made of some sort of black stone she did not recognize, and several towers that stood out, carved to resemble enormous dragons.
It was a fearsome and intimidating castle, many would say. But, for some reason, Daenerys felt the fortress was familiar to her. Perhaps... perhaps even like home.
Lowering her gaze, she saw the lady standing at the foot of a stairway that led into the castle. The woman waved at her, prompting her to follow, and then proceeded up the stairs, walking slowly as if to allow her to catch up. Daenerys only hesitated briefly before hurrying after her.
The stairs seemed to go on and on, spiralling and weaving up the walls, then up a tower, to the top of the fortress, into a balcony where she found the woman sitting at a balcony, a table laid out with drink and food next to her.
"Welcome, Daenerys," the lady greeted with her smile and her musical voice. She then gestured out of the balcony, to a magnificent view of the sea and several nearby islands. "I've always enjoyed seeing things from great heights, and I thought you might be interested in them, as well."
Daenerys tried to speak... but then she hesitated, for she was unsure of what to say, what to ask, now that she was face-to-face with the woman that had saved her twice already. Fortunately, she didn't have to.
"I'm sure you have many questions in your mind, child. However, you've been through quite a lot of stress, between the problems in real life and your encounter with the Mad God. Please, have a sit, drink and eat, it will help you calm your nerves," she suggested, pointing at the table. "In different circumstances, I would prescribe some soup, but in your case, I recommend tea and fruit."
Daenerys considered her options, but seeing that there was no harm in following through her suggestion, she sat down. As the lady calmly sipped some of her tea and watched expectantly at her, Daenerys slowly took some grapes and ate a few, before having some tea herself. This caused the woman to give her a warm smile before setting her tea cup down.
"Now, then... let's get the obvious out of the way."
"You are not human, are you?" Daenerys asked.
"It's hard to get more obvious than that," the woman said, clearly amused by the question.
"You confronted a Daedric Prince, forced him to back down in his own territory. If I had to guess, I would say you are a Daedric Prince... or an Aedra," Daenerys noted, worried about upsetting the woman. However, she simply shook her head.
"I am neither an Aedra nor a Daedra. I am... well, the best way to explain it is that I am a servant for Divine Akatosh. I work on his name, and I carry out his will," she said. "Allow me to properly introduce myself. I am Valeria Targaryen, your ancestor."
Daenerys was surprised, but then her lips curved into a smile.
"So, you are a Targaryen? I'm your descendant? But... I have never heard of you before!"
"I know that, and it is not your fault. I lived and died thousands of years ago," Valeria revealed.
"You're... you are dead?"
"Ascended, might be slightly more accurate. Like Talos, but without becoming a Divine. As I said, I now serve Akatosh. My time among the mortal world is long gone. My name passed into legend, legends became mostly forgotten, and when the Doom of Valyria came about, what little trace of my name that remained was destroyed."
"Your name is quite similar to Valyria," Daenerys noted, and Valeria smiled.
"Well, the name for the Valyrian Freehold had to come from somewhere," she replied, stunning Daenerys.
"Valyria was named after you? But, how?"
"Legends long forgotten, as I told you. A lot more than a simple name had changed over the thousands of years since I lived in the mortal realm."
"But... what happened so long ago, that an entire nation would eventually be named because of you?"
Valeria opened her mouth... and then closed it in hesitation.
"I am sorry... but it is not yet the time for you to know."
"What do you mean? Why can't I know?"
"There are rules that I must follow, rules that even the Daedra must follow. And, after all the shocks you have received today, I am not sure if you are ready for that piece of ancient history," Valeria tried to explain.
"Rules? You said you would answer my questions! Were all the memories Sheogorath showed me true? Were so many in our family really as mad as I saw?" Daenerys asked, fear and anger mixing in her voice.
"I'm sorry to tell you this... but everything you saw was, indeed, the truth."
Daenerys felt her heart ache at hearing that. It had been her last chance to learn that it was not so, and it hurt to know it. She stared at the ground for a second in despair, before looking back at Valeria.
"Sheogorath also said that you were responsible for the Targaryen Madness."
"A long time ago, I made a decision. A decision I felt was necessary at the time, in order to try to save the lives of many of my kind," Valeria began to explain. "But I had no way of knowing that making such a decision would result in a strain in my bloodline that would affect my descendants. A strain that would drive those without the will to resist into madness."
"So, it WAS your fault," Daenerys accused. "What did you do? Did you make some sort of deal with Sheogorath that resulted in the Targaryen Madness?"
"My fault? I, who had no idea of the result of my actions after doing something that no one had done before or since? I did not make any sort of deal with the Mad God, it was my own actions and power that resulted in the Targaryen madness. But anyone of my descendants with a strong enough will could easily resist the strain of madness. Maegor, Baelor, Aerion, Aerys... neither had the desire or strength of character to resist the madness that consumed them. They have only themselves to blame," Valeria refuted before she jabbed a finger at Daenerys. "The only reason I was able to help you is because you were strong enough to resist, which allowed me to reach out to you. Remember what you said? That you wouldn't be like one of them? You are far stronger than your father."
"But, if you serve Akatosh... why didn't you ask him to rid the madness from our family?" Daenerys asked. Valeria sighed.
"The gods don't simply solve each and every one of your problems because you ask. At least, not openly. They have their ways and rules."
"What kind of answer is that? Why don't the gods strive to fix many of the problems that mortals face? Shouldn't the Divines watch over the people?" Daenerys demanded. "I have lived most of my life on the run, just barely ahead of threats and assassins. The Mythic Dawn acted at their own will, with no repercussions! The cities of Slaver's Bay destroy the lives of thousands of people for no reason other than wanting to feel themselves powerful! Why do the Divines, if they truly exist, do nothing about all the suffering that goes on in this world? Do they even care?"
"They care very much. More than you can imagine."
"Then, why don't they do anything?"
"They're always doing something, even if you don't know it," Valeria calmly replied before taking another sip of her tea. "The Divines granted all the people in the mortal realm a very special gift: free will. The right to choose your own path and make your own decisions. Even the Daedric Princes lack that, as they are always driven by their own nature. And most of the problems that beset people everywhere is that because there is always someone that makes the decision and creates those problems. It is true that Daedric Princes like to try to tempt and corrupt mortals to their way of thinking... but anyone can simply say 'no' to them, just like you did.
"The Divines do help mortals, quite often in fact. Thing is, it is not a matter of just waving their hands and say 'Problem solved'. No, they give subtle little messages, they give encouragement, hope and strength to do what's right. You almost never realize when they are helping you, because they never go for anything loud and flashy. Well... usually. Kynareth sometimes likes to mess with the weather, but that's actually part of her job."
"It's just... it feels like there's so much darkness and evil in this world, that it is like they don't care."
"There is a good reason for that. Of course, evil has always existed, but the Faith of the Nine withered over the ages. It was nearly destroyed when Baelor ascended to the Iron Throne after the death of the Young Dragon, and he let his fanatical ways take hold of his every decision. As the number of people that remembered the old ways of the Divines dropped, the Daedra were able to take a stronger hold over the world. Free will is a double-edge sword, after all," Valeria explained, her smile becoming brither. "But people are now remembering the Nine once more. Quite fortunate that William Baratheon sparked this revival, after his own revelation of faith. It may have been cause by a troubling event in his childhood, but it did benefit him in the long run."
"The Black Prince..." Daenerys muttered with a frown. "What do you mean by 'troubling event'?"
"That is not my secret to tell. It's better that you ask him yourself, when you meet him," Valeria replied, confusing Daenerys. "After all, you plan to return to Westeros eventually. I am sure you will meet him, in time."
A thought occurred to her, remembering something she had heard weeks before.
"Is... is he capable of using the Thu'um?"
"Yes, he is. To a rather impressive degree, one that men older would struggle with, too."
Daenerys grimaced at hearing the confirmation of what would be the greatest threat to her restoration of the Targaryens to the Iron Throne, and she wondered about how best to handle the Black Prince.
"May I take a turn in making you a few questions, Daenerys?" Valeria asked, bringing Daenerys out of her musings.
"Yes.. yes, of course you can."
"Tell me, why do you want the Iron Throne?"
"My brother thought that he could retake the throne, but he has proved himself unworthy of a crown, so it falls on me to restore the Targaryens' place as rulers of Westeros in his stead," Daenerys answered, but Valeria shook her head.
"But, why do you want the throne? You have not given me a personal reason. Is it because you desire power and authority?"
"I... no..." Daenerys answered, hesitating.
"So, why do you want the throne, then? Are you letting the ambition of others guide your path?"
Daenerys stared blankly into space. Not even once in all this time had she tried to come up with an actual reason for why she wanted the Iron Throne; she only sought the crown because it was what Viserys wanted, and because it had belonged to her family once. After she did, she hesitantly offered an answer.
"I... I want justice for the wrongs that were done to my... to our family."
"But our family has committed many wrongs itself, and what was shown to you was but a minority."
"I know. The revelation about the truth concerning my father is now clear to me. But, there were still wrongs done to our family as well. Elia and her children..."
"Ah, yes. The murder of your deceased brother Rhaegar's family was indeed a horrible deed," Valeria agreed.
"More than that... I want to improve people's lives," Daenerys continued. "I've seen how many people are slaves in Slaver's Bay. I don't know if I can change that from Westeros, but it makes me wish to make it so that no man, woman, or child has to be shackled and serve another against their will. I want to improve the lives of smallfolk. To give them some of the hope that they desperately need and the good lives they deserve."
"A worthy goal to pursue. One that your great-great-grandfather tried to fulfill. You realize that it will never be perfect, correct? Not as long as there are those who choose the path of ambition and greed."
"Even if I can't improve the lives of everyone, I want to at least try;" Daenerys replied with resolve.
Valeria smiled with content at her descendant... before suddenly jerking her head and looking out from the fortress with intensity.
"What is it?" Daenerys asked, following her ancestor's gaze. "Is something wrong?"
"I'm afraid so... which means I must cut our time short."
"But... there are still things I wish to know-"
"You will get your answers before long, child," Valeria cut off Daenerys. "There is still one being that still lives to remember my name and story. The whole story."
"Oh, trust me. You'll know him when you meet him," Valeria answered with a mischievous smirk, before standing up and placing her hands on Daenerys' shoulders. "Listen to me. You found the Amulet of Kings. Be wary of what you do with it. It is an object that symbolizes power, but only those of Septim blood can wear it. The Septim blood is the life force that forms the covenant between mankind and Divine Akatosh. There have been those who have sought to unlawfully claim its symbol of power, and paid the price for their blasphemy."
"What do you mean?" Daenerys asked in confusion.
"The leaders of the Valyrian Freehold desired to make the Freehold the greatest empire the world had ever seen, even greater than the ancient Septim Empire. To do so, they sought the Amulet of Kings, and started a ritual they thought would corrupt it, and make one of their own capable of wearing it. The only family that did not partake in this foolish act was ours, and that was why we were the only ones spared from Akatosh's wrath."
"You mean... the Doom of Valyria?" she asked, and Valeria nodded.
"As I said, the Divines don't openly interfere with the world often. But, when they do, the whole world feels their wrath," Valeria warned. "There is one more thing. You know of the Wall in the North, correct?"
"Yes, I do."
"Then know this. A great evil has returned north of the Wall. A foul enemy that I have fought in the past has returned and he seeks to reclaim the world as his."
"A great evil? What sort of evil?"
"The World Eater," was the only explanation Valeria offered Daenerys. She looked out of the fortress again, and turned back to Daenerys. "You are free to follow your own path, of course. But if you seek to claim the Iron Throne, if you seek war with the Black Prince... you will only strengthen the true enemy.
Daenerys frowned at hearing this, but Valeria placed a comforting hand on her cheek.
"I wouldn't worry, if I were you. Sometime, our dreams and goals come true in ways we do not expect. Trust your instincts and follow the path you believe you should follow." She smiled and walked away from Daenerys, closer to the balcony's edge, giving Daenerys a last look. "I don't know if we will ever meet again. It all depends on my lord Akatosh's will. So, know this: I'm proud to call you my descendant, Daenerys Stormborn."
She then stepped over and off the balcony, falling out of sight. Daenerys rushed forward, afraid of what had happened to her... only to stumble back as something else soared up in front of her.
Daenerys gasped. It was the most beautiful dragon she thought she would ever seen. She had pure white scales, that shone like starlight or like snow with sunlight bouncing off it. The white dragon hovered above her, before it flew up into the sun. Everything became a bright flash...
… and she opened her eyes.
She was back in the ruined cavern. She felt the pain of having lain on the stone floor for long without moving, but it was still day, so she must have not been there too long. Looking down at her lap, she saw the Amulet of Kings, the thing that had prompted this encounter. After a moment, she stood up, stretched up and began to make her way down the stairs.
"Valeria Targaryen... I hope you are right, and that I will find your true story."
Outskirts of King's Landing
"By the Divines!" General Tullius exclaimed upon seeing the Oblivion Gate. He immediately turned to his officers. "Redirect our archers at the Oblivion gate! Buy some time for the Legions to reorganize!"
The centurions immediately began to shout their orders, and soon enough the Legion's archers let loose a first volley of arrows towards the Gate.
"Tighten formations!" Legate Ralof shouted to his men, the Fifth Legion, which had been the one in the center when the Gate appeared, and now would be the first to face it. "Shield wall! Ready your javelins! Don't let anything through!"
Just then, the arrows began to rain on the Dremora that were already coming out of the Gate. Several of them died, and the rest were temporarily held back, long enough for the Fifth to finish forming the shield wall. However, they could only cover one half of the wall, for the other side was occupied by the West and Reach troops.
In the Legion's camp, Jaime shot to his feet when he saw what had appeared in the battlefield.
"Seven hells, what is that?" he asked, stunned.
"An Oblivion Gate, Ser Jaime, a gate that leads to the domains of the Daedra," Steffen replied, equally stunned.
"Well, are we just going to stand here, or are we going to help with that?"
"Our orders are to guard you, Jaime."
"Then, come with me," Jaime replied, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
"So that you can have a chance to escape?"
"I know that saying this is like the Mountain promising to never kill anyone, but I swear upon whatever honor I have left that I will not try to escape. I will fight whatever comes out of there, and I will return to being your prisoner when the battle is done," Jaime vowed, while Steffen gave him a hard look... and a nod.
Tywin Lannister was not a man who was easy to shock. He had been taken by surprise several times, but he had never shown it.
That said, the fact a grim and shocked face remained long enough for everyone around him to notice was worrying enough.
Tywin, of course, had known of his grandson's religious inclinations. He had seen him use the Thu'um – him and Arya Stark, he realized. But never had he expected for something like this, like an Oblivion Gate, to make its appearance here and then, he noticed the monstrosities coming out of the Gate, and how the Legions directed their attention to them.
It was only a split second. For that long, Tywin thought he could use this to his advantage. With the Legion's attention focused on the Gate, they would be vulnerable to his own troops. But he discarded that idea immediately: the creatures needed to be contained, and he would not be the one that would cut his nose to spite his face.
"Form a shield wall! Shield wall around that gate, NOW!" he shouted, before riding along the battle lines to find his brother.
William glared at the Oblivion Gate. He had been this close to winning, and the Mythic Dawn had sent his plans to Oblivion. He turned to Garlan, who was staring as well, stunned.
"Ser Garlan! The situation has changed again. We need the help of the Reach if we are to contain the Gate!"
"Wha-what is that thing?" Loras asked, while his brother remained silent from the shock.
"A gate to Oblivion, the Seven Hells, whatever you want to call it! If we don't work together, we'll all die here!" William yelled, frustrated. Time was of essence now, and every second wasted could lead to more deaths.
Finally, Garlan seemed to shake himself out of his stupor, and nodded to William before turning his horse to meet his father and Lord Tarly: they had to be warned.
The sight of the gate had also stopped the fighting between Stannis' and Kevan's forces, and Stannis knew that they were in great danger, for he remembered what his nephew had mentioned about his religion, and past events.
"Kevan!" Tywin shouted as he finally reached his brother. "Turn your men around and strengthen our numbers, we must help hold off the monsters coming out of the gate!"
"Yes, brother," Kevan said, content to be able of doing something, and he started to give the opportune orders, while Tywin rode towards Stannis.
"Lord Stannis, in light of the new situation, I must ask for a truce and to put aside our differences, at least until this new threat is dealt with."
Stannis coldly glared at Tywin before turning to look over the battlefield, or, rather, to the Legions, whom he could see had already turned their attention to the Gate.
"Ony because it looks as though his Grace is focusing there. I'll keep my troops behind yours, to make sure you don't get any treacherous ideas," he replied, his disdain for Lord Lannister obvious. Tywin decided to ignore that and rode off again, to meet with the Tyrells.
"By all the gods, this can't be..." Mace Tyrell gasped, as he saw the strange creatures coming out of the structure.
"Father!" Garlan yelled as he managed to arrive. "We need to help the Legions and the Lannisters surround that Gate! It's the only way we'll all survive this night!"
"What?" Mace asked, still in shock and so distracted that he had barely paid attention to what his son had said. Thankfully, Randyll Tarly had rapidly recognized the new situation, and was already ordering the troops to realign themselves, pointing their weapons at the gate and preparing themselves for battle, as monsters born out of nightmares ran to them.
The most numerous of the group was the Scamps, deformed humanoid beings, small and weak, which made them rather easy to kill, but still they were capable of throwing fireballs and could use their claws to attack.
Another creature, which the old Septim Empire would have called clannfears, resembled a large lizard, but bore a bony crest on their head and had a beak and sharp claws capable of killing a grown man.
Yet another was the Daedroths, lizard-lion-like abominations that walked upright, with powerful jaws that could rip a person's arm without much problem.
And, finally, the most dangerous creatures of the group were the most human-like of them: the Xivilai. Those who had suffered the attack in Storm's End saw their resemblance to the Dremora Lords that had formed part of that fight, and, although they were less armored, they carried heavy swords and maces as they crossed the Gate.
The number of creatures coming out slowly increased: first it was only a handful of them, but that became two handfuls, double that, and it was only a few moments before at least a hundred creatures were prowling out of the gate.
However, this fight would not be as easy as others, for the armies of men had quickly formed around the Gate, so such numbers would not easily overwhelm them. Being similar to a funnel, the Gate severely limited how many could cross it, but until it was closed, they would be coming in non-stop, pushing forward and allowing even more of their kind into the mortal realm.
Both Tywin and William soon arrived near the gate where the Tyrells were present.
"William, do you have any idea how to close this gate? If you can use the Thu'um, then you must know something that can help close this gate," Tywin quickly inquired.
"I've only briefly read about the Gates when I was younger," William replied. "I know that the Gate needs some sort of magical anchor to be summoned to the mortal realm."
"The Black Prince is right. The last time this happened was during the Oblivion Crisis, I've studied the many records about the Gates that us Blades have managed to find," Delphine stated. "This must have been summoned by a mage, one from Mythic Dawn, but they must remain in eyesight at all time. If we find them, then the spell can be broken."
Garlan grimaced when she said that.
"Within eyesight? That means he could be anywhere in miles around, hidden in the dark! For all we know, he could be in the city, and that would take too long to search, even if we restrict ourelves to the highest towers and the Red Keep!"
"Is there any other choice? We must find this mage," Randyll Tarly replied.
"There is another choice," William spoke up. "The Gate needs an anchor on both ends... which means there is a way to close it from the other side."
Everyone went silent as they realized what William meant. Mace Tyrell was the first to speak up.
"You mean... go through that Gate, fight whatever many of those creatures you find on your path, and somehow break the connection?"
"That's insane," Loras breathed.
"Insane times sometimes need insane plans, Ser Loras. And it's not just our armies that are being threatened: if the Gate remains open even after that, King's Landing will be under threat," William replied with resolve. "If you are afraid, you are more than welcome to search for the summoner on this end. I'll try the other option."
William turned Shadow towards the Gate under everyone's gaping expression, but Delphine quickly reacted by having her own horse trot to him.
"You are in no condition to try and enter Oblivion, my Prince. Let me and the Blades handle it!" Delphine insisted.
"William! This is foolish!" Tywin shouted. "Our men will hold off those monsters and find this Mythic Dawn mage. There is no need for you to risk your life!"
"Sorry, grandfather, but we both have different ways of handling things, and the way I see it, my life is no more important than anyone else's. If you wish to come with me, Delphine, it is your choice, but I will never order anyone to enter a hell like Oblivion, much less while I remain here."
Delphine shook her head.
Stubborn boy. Always reminding me why I made my choice.
"That is why I serve you, my Prince," she told him with a smile. "Shall we?"
With a smirk on his lips,William urged Shadow forward, while the rest of the Blades joined him, forming a wedge around him, rapidly galloping towards the Oblivion Gate.
As they did, Garlan could not help but stare in amazement at the Black Prince. He was barely an adult, so tired that he could barely stay upright on his saddle... and there he was, putting his every strength and will to run into a mission that could get him killed for a chance to save not just his family, but his enemies and an entire city.
That... that is how a knight is supposed to act, Garlan thought. William has not been knighted, and there he goes, while I stay here, doing nothing... No. I am a knight. I swore a vow, to defend the innocent, to protect the weak! Regardless of the cost!
With a determined look in his eye, Garlan urged his horse forward, and soon he was galloping behind the Black Prince and the Blades.
"Brother! No!" Loras said, chasing after his brother, but whether to stop him or join him, he knew not.
"Garlan! Loras! Come back! Come back now!" Mace Tyrerll yelled in vain, as around twenty or so Knights of the Reach, those who had served alongside Garlan and Loras as close friends and companions, quickly followed after the two Tyrell knights.
Forewarned by calls, the Legions rapidly opened a hole for the Blades and Knights to get through. The dremora thought they had finally managed to open a point where they could continue to kill, but the last thing those who tried saw was a large number of horses, the edge of some of the finest swords ever made in the world and the furious face of humans intent on destroying them: they had not expected a horsemen charge, and it showed as the Blades managed to open their way through, and as the Knights decapitated and trampled those dremora who had managed to avoid the wedge.
Their charge got the entire group through the lines of dremora and in front of the gate... but the horses, save for Shadow, who seemed to have no fear, stopped short of entering, letting out screeches and refusing to get any closer to the gate.
"Dismount! We'll have to go on foot!" Delphine ordered, and the group rapidly dismounted.
William hopped off of Shadow, stumbling and falling to one knee. He was still dead tired from summoning the storm, but he pushed himself up, intent on carrying out his mission. Shadow butted him with his nose urging him to get back on.
"No, my friend. You're not going in there," William said. Shadow pawed at the ground with his hooves and huffed, but William shook his head as he moved towards the gate. "Not today, my friend. Take care of the other horses for us."
Just as he talked, a group of dremora made their way out of the Gate, but taking a step into the mortal world was the last thing they did, for their passage required the payment of a fee, which the edge of several katanas gleefully took in blood and limbs.
"Enter now! While we still have a chance!" Delphine yelled.
William summoned his resolve and charged at the gate, Delphine and several Blades running right besides him, ready to protect him, and the rest behind. He reached out with his hand as he stepped into the gate...
Deadlands, Plane of Oblivion
… and emerged into a place deserving of the word hell.
William stumbled as he stepped away from the gate, with only Delphine managing to grab him on time preventing his fall. As she helped him stand upright again, he took a moment to look around him.
The world around was barren, nary a piece of vegetation around, and a jagged land where the only things that stood out were the lava lakes... and the towers. Towers made of dark, twisted metal and rock, in forms alien to them, that shone with strange energies. The sky was hazy and orange in color, but even this took undertones of something... evil lying around here. And, as they took in the cruel land that now surrounded them, the Blades fanned out to form a defensive circle, in case any threat came.
But, much to their surprise, there was nothing waiting for them. No horde of dremora planning to tear them apart... and this made William very worried.
"By the Seven..." came a voice from behind him, and William turned to see it was Ser Loras, who stood next to his brother and several knights of the Reach as they crossed the Gate.
"You shouldn't have followed," William said. "You shouldn't be here."
"None of us should, actually, but we have to," Garlan replied as he stared over the twisted landscape and stepped up next to William. "There were hordes of those – Dremora, is that what you call them? - coming through the Gate just a moment ago, where are they now?"
"There's multiple gates here, in this part of Oblivion. See?" Delphine answered as she pointed at over a dozen similar portals that were perfectly visible from their elevated position. And around all of those gates, endless dremora waited for their chance to go through. "Every gate will be able to connect to the one out of King's Landing, so they'll be able to send wave after wave."
"Our forces will be able to hold a good defensive line, since the attack is only coming from one point, but with endless waves coming through, they will eventually be overwhelmed," William noted. "We don't have much time, we need to hurry."
"If there's multiple gates, do we need to close them all?" Garlan asked.
"Luckily for us, no. See the lines of energy attached to the top of the gates? They are all linked to that tower," Delphine indicated, pointing to their own gate and then the large tower that stood before them. "The records indicate that there should be something called a Sigil Stone that acts as an anchor, standing at the top, or near the top, of that tower, in a special pedestal. Should we remove or destroy the Stone, all of the gates will be closed."
"Let's not waste any more time, then," Garlan replied.
"But, why weren't there any dremora here? Why is this place empty?" Loras asked.
"Because they expected us," William grimaced, marching towards the tower. "Be on your guard at all times."
The heterogeneous group marched up the pathway towards the tower, surrounded by an eerie silence, only broken by the sounds of rumbling volcanos and bubbling lava in the distance. A sense of dread permeated the air, a feeling they all shared, that none of them belonged to this world at all. Still, they persevered, for the destiny of thousands of lives rested on their shoulders.
It was as they finally reached the tower when the nature of this situation became clear. As Delphine went to open the door, one of the knights at the back yelled out a warning.
"Behind us! A horde of dremora approaches!"
"Damn," one of the other Blades muttered as they turned and saw an assortment of dremora charging uphill towards them.
"Looks like our presence has been finally noted," William remarked as he held up Dragonbane.
"No, William, we will hold the door," Garlan interrupted. "You and your Blades are the ones that know how to close those Gates. This is for us to do."
William nodded at them, thankful, before turning to follow Delphine into the tower, leaving the two dozen Reachmen behind, and, as the dremora drew closer, the Knights of the Reach readied their weapons.
"Do you think this is our time to die?"
"Perhaps. You ready?"
"I thought I would be... but now, I'm not so sure," Loras admitted.
"That's alright, little brother. I feel the same way," Garland replied.
The knights kept their stances, their hearts beating hard as the dremora, with the clannfears in the lead running on all fours, finally crossed the line where confrontation was unavoidable.
"For Highgarden!" Garlan and Loras shouted.
"FOR HIGHGARDEN!" the knights of the Reach answered.
And their particular battle for their lives commenced.
Skewering one of the creatures with a rapid stab, Loras pulled the sword and then dropped to one knee as a clannfear jumped at him: with his shield, he sent it tumbling over him, giving him enough time to turn and stab the clannfear in its exposed belly. Without pause, he turned back and parried a Daedroth's paw, its claws leaving scraps on his shield, before slashing and beheading the monster.
Next to him, one of his companions managed to knock another clannfear on its back, stabbing its throat with a spear and putting an end to it. However, this opened him for another clannfear, which managed to leap onto him and latch its beak to his throat, ripping it and killing him.
Meanwhile, another knight was getting torn apart by a daedroth that had got through his defenses. The knight had the last laugh, though, for in his death throes he managed to pull out a dagger from his belt and stabbed the monster in an eye, blinding it and allowing a fellow to stab it through the back of its head.
Slightly further, one knight was unlucky enough to find himself surrounded by Xivilai. Twirling, he was able to keep them off, and even kill one, but then one of them was lucky enough to find a kink in his armor and pierced his back, which paralyzed the knight and allowed another Xivilai to smash his head with a mace.
Garlan's shield was suddenly ripped out of his hands by a daedroth's mouth, but that did not mean he was helpless, and he proved so by disemboweling the beast with one strike. Not having the time to get his shield back, as three Xivilai were charging at him, Garlan swooped low and grabbed the sword from a fallen knight close to him. With rapid swipes, he deflected their attacks, and then set out to prove why he was one of the greatest knights in the Reach.
A rapid twist to his right caught them by surprise, and the Xivilai in that direction barely had the time to do an imprecise attack before Garlan's right sword parried it and his left found its way through its gut. Ducking, he avoided the other two Xivilai's attacks, which found their way into their fellow's body, and while they tried to pull, Garlan managed to get the sword out and shift it into a reverse grip, which, when he spun, meant that the swords stabbed both Xivilai, dropping them dead at the same time. A fourth Xivilai thought he had Garlan dead to rights, but the second Tyrell son showed otherwise when his swords scissored at its neck, decapitating it.
Outskirts of King's Landing
On a hill a mile and a half northwest from the battlefield, hidden from view, two people stood observing the fight. Or, rather, one of them observed the fight, while the other kept his gaze trained on the Oblivion Gate. The former was obviously distressed about something, and she turned.
"How are they doing this?" Ruma Camoran asked, astonished. "They should be getting slaughtered, like the Dothraki were when you unleashed an Oblivion Gate on them!"
Mankar Camoran kept his focus on channeling the spell that kept the Gate open, but it did not prevent him from speaking with his daughter.
"The Dothraki were distracted when the Gate opened, and even then several were able of giving our Lord's servants a good fight. I admit it, I am surprised that those armies that had been fighting each other would stop doing so and then focus on the Gate... but it won't last. Their defenses will wither down, and their destruction is assured. It's merely a matter of patience."
Tywin observed as the temporarily allied armies continued to fight off the creatures coming out of the Gate. Spears stabbing into the monsters and a shield wall well affixed, they were more than capable of holding off and killing any dremora that got too close. Now that it was not fighting against him, he could admire the moves made by his grandson's Legions, how they relieved their partners in timed intervals to give everyone a chance to rest, how the archers were precise when shooting their arrows, how the men in front coordinated their moves to strike the enemy.
His observation of the ongoing battle was cut short when a group of horsemen charged the Oblivion Gate, much like William, the Blades and the Knights of the Reach had done earlier. This time, though, the group was formed by more Blades and... and someone he could easily recognize.
Deadlands, Planes of Oblivion
William's breath was coming out in gasps as he and the Blades managed to reach the tower's center, where a large spiraling staircase traveled up through the tower all the way up: Delphine knew this had to lead to the Sigil Stone. However, when they reached the bottom of the stairs, several Mythic Dawn cultists and dremora came out from adjoining corridors and attacked the group.
"Up and kick, now!" Delphine yelled as she lead the way. The group followed right behind her, running as fast as they could while two Knight-Sisters fought off the enemy that tried to follow. With a coordinated move, one parried the leading cultist's weapon, the other cut off his arm and the two of them kicked him into the others, tripping them all and freeing them to follow.
Delphine found herself facing even more dremora that tried to kill her, but she had not reached the position of Grandmaster by collecting wine corks, and she demonstrated by gutting the first two Xivilais that got too close, sending the third over the railing to his death, literally disarming a fourth before impaling him in the back and setting up a fifth for a fellow Blade to finish it off before it could even understand what was going on.
It was like this that the group managed to reach what was obviously the second-to-last floor, and they made out a second staircase that led to the top of the tower. Unfortunately, this time the floor did not only have regular dremora among them: at least a baker's dozen Dremora Lords were waiting for them to arrive, and were already raising their weapons, while the Blades readied themselves.
"My Prince, as soon as you see an opening, make a break for the stairs. The Oblivion Gate must be closed, no matter the cost."
"I know, Delphine," William replied as the dremora roared and charged.
Delphine roared back and counter-charged, going straight for one of the Dremora Lords, knowing they were the most dangerous opponents they had to face. With the dremora distracted, William was capable of skirting around the edge of the room, making his way towards the stairs and wishing he could join in and use Dragonbane against them.
Down at the tower entrance, Loras finished off a daedroth and fell to one knee, placing his hand over the standing one, which had several gashes on it from a daedroth's claws. As a Xivilai charged him, he tried to stand, but the pain was too much: thinking he was going to die, he closed his eyes, but Garlan managed to place his sword in the middle, stopping the Xivilai from killing his brother.
However, Garlan was injured as well, and his struggle against his opponent ended with his sword knocked out of his hand. The Xivilai raised his weapon while shouting in triumph, but his shouting was cut short when a sword burst out of its chest, ripping through its innards and killing him painfully. As the creature fell, Garlan saw his savior, and became stunned.
"No time to talk, where's my nephew?" Jaime, dressed in his white Kingsguard armor and carrying his sword, asked, while Captain Steffen and his Blades finished off the rest of the dremora.
William's struggle to reach the last set of stairs was noticed by one of the clannfears, which immediately leaped at him. He raised Dragonbane to defend himself, but it was not enough to stop the charge, which sent William on his back, with the creature on top of him. Much to William's luck, the clannfear made the grievous mistake of trying to bite him with its beak, instead catching Dragonbane in its mouth. Immediately, the power within Dragonbane flared up, and lightning coursed through the blade as it sliced through its head like a hot knife through butter. The top half of its head fell off, and William managed to push the rest off him before stumbling towards the last stairs.
Finally, William thought as he saw the Sigil Stone keeping the Oblivion Gate on the other side of the room, sitting on a pedestal, behind which the room opened up to a balcony with a large view of Oblivion. Tiredly walking to his objective, he noticed movement out of the corner of his eye and brought Dragonbane up, blocking a scimitar strike.
"Hello again, Viserys," William told the Targaryen scion.
"This time, you will die, Black Prince," Viserys growled as he continued to attack, using both the scimitar and Mehrunes' razor like in their previous encounter, but this time he wore Mythic Dawn armor over his robes.
William was forced to give ground as he tried to defend himself against Viserys' furious attacks. In a different situation, William would have been able to deal with the Targaryen: while he had improved somewhat since their last encounter, Viserys was still unwieldy and wild in his movements, which made him easy to predict.
However, William was still tired, which slowed him down and prevented him from taking advantage of Viserys' continuous mistakes: defending himself was hard enough. Viserys' speed allowed him to land three blows into him, but none of them got past the defense of William's ebony armor, which nonetheless started to show cracks on its surface due to the Razor's magical effect. In the end, though, William's tiredness won out against his determination, and after deflecting Viserys' scimitar he fell to his knee with heavy breaths, while Viserys stood before him, with his sword pointed at William.
On the floor below, Delphine had managed to strike down the first Dremora Lord and was now engaging a second one, trying to kill it fast enough to aid her friends. However, this left her unaware of another Dremora Lord approaching her from behind, and it raised its weapon in what could be a deadly strike. Before it could attack, a longsword sliced its side, making him stumble and turn to face the new threat.
"Now, now, it's not nice to attack someone when they are not looking," Jaime said sarcastically, smirking at his enemy before jumping into the fight.
Jaime and the Dremora Lord traded several blows back and forth, trying to measure their enemy. A strike made them lock blades, and the Dremora tried to take advantage by sending a fist into Jaime's face. Jaime, however, was fast enough to roll with the blow and brought up his sword to parry the Dremora Lord's next strike, counter-attacking with a fast swipe that bit deeply into the Dremora's leg. Doubling in pain, the Dremora Lord nonetheless swung again at Jaime, who parried, laid his sword at the Dremora's throat and split it open. Then, choosing the side of caution, he brought his sword back and sent the Dremora's head flying.
"Steffen! Why did you bring Jaime Lannister here?" Delphine demanded as she struck down a Xivilai.
"A hunch, and a gamble, Grandmaster," Captain Steffen replied as his sword digged into a clannfear's skull.
"At last," Viserys said, grinning at William, his sword still pointed at him. "I finally have you on your knees before me, Black Prince. I've been dreaming of this moment for so long."
"This is the second time you have attacked me when I was unprepared to fight properly. What makes you believe it is going to be any different this time? We both know how pathetic you are at fighting," William retorted, trying to draw the white-haired man into an argument to buy time.
"I'm not the one on his knees, Black Prince! You better watch what you say to the Dragon!" Viserys warned. "Not that it will save your life, of course. After I kill you, I will enjoy watching the armies of Mehrunes Dagon crush those who dare deny me my rightful throne!"
"Dragon?" William snorted. "You are no dragon. You are just an unbearably entitled idiot with delusions of grandeur, like my brother Joffrey. Especially if you think Mehrunes Dagon actually plans to help you at all. You probably don't even rank as a rabble piece in his eyes."
"And you are nothing, Black Prince. You are just an obstacle for me to remove. I've been waiting to kill you enough."
"Waiting, huh? Well, you waited for the wrong moment," William casually said with a grin, causing Viserys to pause. "You shouldn't have given me the chance to recover."
"Recover?" Viserys asked before laughing. "You cannot even stand to fight me!"
"Oh, I didn't meant that. I mean this," William explained... and then he drew a large breath. "FUS RO DAH!"
So short was the distance between them, Viserys could barely show surprise before the Shout slammed into him. For a second, it seemed like he would fall off a window, but instead he crashed into the wall, landing on the ground unconscious and bleeding.
William dropped to the ground as well, as the last of his strength left him. Using the Thu'um had been a gamble, and while he had managed to save himself in the short term, now he did not even have the strength to reach out to the stone.
Damn, this armor is now too heavy, William thought, before he heard footsteps approaching him. Targaryen's still able to move?
With a struggle, William managed to turn so he could look up to whoever was coming for him, and he blinked in surprise.
"You look like shit, nephew," Jaime noted with a half-grin.
"What... in the name... of Talos... are you doing here?" William asked between gasps.
"Apparently, today is the day I save the day," Jaime replied, his grin becoming full. William groaned, both at the pain he suffered and the bad pun, and pointed to the pedestal.
"The Sigil Stone... remove it, please."
Jaime nodded and headed for the pedestal. He barely spared a glance at the unconscious Viserys, deciding he was not an immediate threat. The strange sight of the Sigil Stone made him hesitate for a second, but he reached out, grasped the Sigil Stone and pulled it free from its socket.
Immediately, the energy streams connecting the pedestal to the outside of the tower started to sputter and fade away. Within seconds, the Oblivion Gates that surrounded the tower started to fade.
Outskirts of King's Landing
The battlefield was suddenly filled with a cracking sound, and those who were looking towards the Gate saw as the orange and reddish energy swirling within the arch slowly faded away. With a scream of defiance, the soldiers attacked the dremora, which had started to run away, trying to get back into the Gate before it disappeared. Only a few managed to do it, before the energy fully banished and the stone arch cracked and partially crumbled away.
"What? No! What happened?" Ruma Camoran yelled.
"Impossible! They have managed to break the connection!" Mankar exclaimed as he saw his plan falling apart like the arch.
As the stone arch finished crumbling, men held their breath for a split second before they started to cheer, and with renewed strength rushed to finish off the still living dremora, who were trying to find a way to escape, without success.
"The gate is gone, Tywin! It's over!" Kevan breathed in relief. Tywin, however, frowned.
"What happened to those who entered the Gate?" Tywin asked, causing Kevan to blink at him and then turn back to where the Oblivion Gate used to be in fear.
Deadlands, Planes of Oblivion
"Now, then, if I may make a suggestion, perhaps we should gather everyone and leave," Jaime suggested as Delphine and Steffen slung William's arms over their shoulders to help him stand.
"What do we do with the Targaryen?" Steffen said, nodding at the still unconscious form of Viserys Targaryen.
Before William could make a decision, though...
… the tower began to shake as what seemed like an earthquake sent tremors through the damned land. William, Jaime and the two Blades looked towards the open balcony in shock as a massive, four-armed giant, just as tall as the tower, appeared before it.
"Oh, great, Mehrunes Dagon..." William said under his breath.
"YOU MORTALS DARE INTERFERE WITH MY AFFAIRS! YOU SHALL PAY FOR YOUR TRANSGRESSION!" the Daedric Prince of Destruction roared, walking towards the tower with the obvious intention of destroying it and all the mortals within and around.
Before the Daedric Prince could unleash his wrath, though, a burst of white light suddenly exploded, forcing even Mehrunes Dagon to shield their eyes to avoid going blind.
After the flash disappeared, they were all stunned to see a magnificent, beautiful white dragon hovering right between the tower and Dagon, which glared at the dragon.
"You shall not harm anyone else today, Daedra!" the dragon yelled, a voice that clearly denoted it was a female, as her light pushed back the darkness.
"YOU DARE, VALERIA!" Mehrunes Dagon roared in fury.
For all answer, the dragon Shouted, and the power behind her voice sent the Daedric Prince stumbling back, before she swooped towards the tower, her wings spreading like rays of light around the tower. All the mortals within felt themselves being raised up...
Outskirts of King's Landing
A bright flash of light appeared where the remains of the Oblivion Gate stood, causing men to quickly raise their weapons, in fear that the Gate would return. Instead, the light faded away to reveal the survivors of those that had entered the Gate, and their fallen companions.
"It's the Black Prince!" a Legionary yelled, and immediately soldiers moved forward to give aid to those who had been injured. Much to William's relief, Steffen and Delphine were still supporting him: at least, he would not be sprawled on the ground, unable to stand.
"Garlan! Loras!" Mace Tyrell exclaimed as he spotted his sons, hurrying forward and hugging them both as best as he could. "Thank the Seven you are back!"
"Father," Garlan said, still stunned at the fact that he had fought creatures that seemed to come straight out of the Seven Hells and survived. "Loras is hurt, he needs help.
"I'll be fine, father," Loras tried to insist, but his bleached face and his reddened armor said otherwise. Much to their relief, a maester had already arrived and started to staunch Loras' biggest injury.
"My Prince, are you well," General Tullius asked, worried, as he reached William.
"I don't suppose you brought me a bed to sleep in, right General?" William wearily asked, causing men and women around to chuckle. Tullius smiled at his liege, and nodded at the Blades, silently thanking them.
"Help the Prince back to camp for some rest. He, and everyone else, has certainly earned it."
As William was helped back on Shadow – who had managed to kill his share of dremora this night, while helping protect the horses – Tullius turned to find himself facing Tywin Lannister. Men and women noticed this, and all of a sudden, the distended atmosphere became tense. They had been able to put their differences aside with the appearance of the Oblivion Gate, but now that it was gone... would the fight resume?
Tullius and Tywin continued their staring contest only a few more seconds, before Tullius stepped forward and raised his left hand.
"Lord Tywin, considering the situation, I believe it would not be amiss to call for a ceasefire, and retire both armies from the battlefield. I daresay, enough blood has been spilled this day."
Lord Tywin looked around himself, noting the faces of everyone looking at him, as he weighed the pros and cons of all potential choices he could make, and made a decision.
"I have no problem with your suggestion. We'll return to the city, and you can return to your camp."
"Both sides will be allowed to tend to their wounded and dead, unmolested?"
Tywin and Tullius shook hands, and everyone let out a breath of relief.
"Kevan, have our men return to the city, form detachments to help the wounded, start taking account of our dead," Tywin asked his brother.
"Legions! Back to the camps!" Tullius ordered, and all soldiers began to march back to their fortifications. Jaime Lannister looked at everything around and sighed, turning to go with the Legions, absent-mindedly playing with the Sigil Stone he had taken earlier.
"Jaime," Tywin said, just loud enough for his son to hear. Jaime looked at his father, seeing that he expected him to take this chance to slip away, back with his family. But when he glanced at where Captain Steffen stood, carrying the Black Prince back, the Blades Captain glanced back, sending him a look of wonder about what Jaime would do. The Kingslayer shook his head as he turned to his father.
"I'm sorry, father. I made a vow... and this is one vow I have to fulfill," Jaime said as he turned to follow the Legions. Tywin watched him go, and groaned and shook his head in frustration before making his own way towards King's Landing.
As the armies went their separate ways, the first rays of sunlight began to appear in the sky, marking the end of the night and the end of the battle.
"I'll go find Colette, my Prince," a Blade spoke before heading off to find the healer.
"I don't think she'll be needed, I just need to sleep it off," William said.
"We're almost to your tent, my Prince."
"Good. I don't think anything can keep me awake much longer," William said with a weary sigh.
William froze. He knew that voice.
"Arya?" William breathed. He let one of his arms free from Delphine's support and turned towards the voice. Upon seeing her, he felt his breath go away, and it had nothing to do with how tired he was.
Arya had definitely grown up since the last time they had seen each other. Her hair was shorter, way shorter than normal, but he found out that he actually liked it this way. He also could not help but notice how much more mature looking she was... which made him blush as he tried to reach out to her.
"Ary-AARGH!" William yelped as Arya tackled him, sending them both to the ground with Arya lying on top of him.
"By Talos, why did you have to do that?" William wheezed.
"Why didn't you take the city?" Arya retorted.
"Seriously? That's the first thing you say? In case you didn't notice, I had a fucking Oblivion Gate to deal with-" William said, but was interrupted when Arya put her hands on the sides of his head.
"I saw that. Here's your reward," she said before bringing her mouth down to William's.
William's eyes widened for a second, before he melted into the kiss, bringing his arms around Arya's lithe body. All around them, both Blades and Legionaries, who knew quite well about the two of them and their reluctance to do anything about what they felt for each other, started to laugh, whistle and cheer at the sight. Neither William nor Arya paid attention: as their first kiss deepened, the only thing that existed in the world was each other.
In the end, nature won, and they had to break up as they gasped for air, looking into each other's eyes.
"Oblivion, I should have done that sooner," Arya remarked. William stared at her before he started to laugh, bringing her closer to him.
"I've missed you so much, wolf girl."
"I missed you too, silly stag," Arya replied before she stood up, frowning when William didn't. "What's wrong?"
"The storm and the fight took out a lot out of me. Can't get up by myself."
"What? Why didn't you say so, earlier?"
"I would have, but you didn't give me a chance!"
The Blades started laughing, and Delphine and Steffen once again helped William to his feet, carrying him to his tent, and between the two of them they managed to help him remove his heavy armor, placing apart what had suffered from the battle for Fultheim to fix as soon as he could.
Arya had also walked into the tent, and watched as her betroth was helped into his bed, being sorely tempted to join him, which left her unaware of the figure that had just entered the tent and stepped right behind her. The person's hand proceeded to raise and slap the back of Arya's head hard enough to make her stumble a step forward.
"OW! Who... oh," Arya said as she turned around to find herself face to face with Aela the Huntress. "Uh..."
"Say it," Aela growled like a wolf.
"Say. It," Aela repeated with her arms folded.
"I was wrong," Arya finally admitted.
"Yes, you were," Aela agreed.
"You were right..."
"Yes I was."
"I shouldn't have stayed in Harrenhal..."
"No, you shouldn't have."
"I should have escaped with you."
"Yes, you should have," Aela said before give Arya a look over. "Have you been practicing or working out during your captivity?"
"Yes. As best as I could. I practiced in my cell, did pushups and more." Arya insisted.
"Good, because I feel like 'testing' you tomorrow," Aela said with an evil smirk. "A couple dozen laps around the camp in heavy armor for a warm up. Then we can start on the real workout."
Arya gave a pleading look at William, who grinned from the bed.
"Leave her be, Aela. For now, at least. But she does need to get back to her training."
"As you wish," Aela relented. "You two reckless fools better enjoy your time together before the work starts again."
It was not too long before William and Arya were left alone with each other, and Arya crawled into bed, taking advantage of their solitude to snuggle up to William.
"I wanted to sleep... but now I don't want to... now that you're here," William whispered.
"I'll be here when you wake up. I promise," Arya warmly replied, kissing his cheek. "Rest, my silly stag."
"As my wolf princess commands," William smiled back before closing his eyes. He was out in seconds.
"Never, in all my life, did I imagine I would see the Amulet of Kings, let alone hold it in my hands," Farengar breathed as he held the Amulet.
Daenerys had just returned to her fleet, and had just revealed to her advisors all that had happened, including her little jaunt into the Mad God's realm. All of them were relieved that she had returned alright, only to be amazed with the discoveries Daenerys had made.
"So, all this time, it was in the Valyrian Freehold," Arcadia remarked.
"Yes... although I cannot wear it," Daenerys answered.
"Even if you cannot wear it, Khaleesi, it is a symbol that you have and control," Jorah remarked.
"Perhaps... but I do not intend to usurp what it symbolizes. It does not belong to me, and, in any case, I do not wish to meet the same fate as the Freehold."
"You said you encountered the Daedric Prince of Madness, and that this Valeria Targaryen, the dragon-eyed woman you met in the House of the Undying, and your ancestor, saved you, right?" Farengar asked.
"Yes. She said she was a servant of Akatosh. After we spoke for some time, and she answered some of my doubts... she turned into a white dragon and flew away," Daenerys replied, causing a look of wonder to appear on Farengar's face, while Arcadia turned to her old friend with a questioning look.
"Do you think this Valeria is the Messenger of Akatosh?" she asked.
"Perhaps," Farengar replied.
"Who is this messenger?" Daenerys asked.
"In the books of the Divines, there is mention of a white dragon that serves as Akatosh's messenger when speaking to humans. A divine being, just under the Divines in the hierarchy of the Aedra, who serves Divine Akatosh and carries out his will," Farengar explained. "However, nothing in these writings suggests that Akatosh's Messenger could take the form of a human. Then again, little else is known about the Messenger."
"Valeria told me there is someone still living who knows her whole story," Daenerys reminded. "I hope I can meet this person someday."
"I, most assuredly, would love to meet such a person as well, my lady. The things they must know..." Farengar remarked.
The group fell silent for a moment, as they contemplated the mysteries Daenerys had unveiled, before the would-be Queen of the Seven Kingdoms spoke up.
"Well, we won't get any more answers here. Have the fleet resume its course. You're all dismissed."
Everyone bowed and left to do as ordered. Except one.
"May I have a word, Khaleesi?" Jorah asked when he and Daenerys were alone.
"What is it, Ser Jorah?"
"You said you encountered a Daedric Prince," Jorah said with concern in his voice and on his face. "Are you sure that you're alright? If I can do anything to help..."
"It's alright, Ser Jorah," Daenerys interrupted with a small smile. "I'm fine. Or, at least, I feel better than I did earlier."
"I'm glad to hear that, Khaleesi. Everyone was worried about you."
"I'm sorry for worrying everyone," Daenerys said before her face fell a little. "There was a moment there, when I was facing Sheogorath, when I saw what my family did... what my father did... I almost broke. But then, Valeria saved me. She made me realize that I have a choice. She saved me from myself."
"Farengar said that there was nothing we could do to help you. It was out of our hands... and he was right. What you needed was family. Well... the right sort of family," Jorah noted.
"He is a wise mage. He may have spied on me, but I can't bring myself to hate or despise him," Daenerys admitted.
"He is a brave man. He told you the truth, regardless of the consequences," Jorah said before he stared at the wooden boards of the ship. "I do not possess the courage to do the same."
Daenerys looked at Jorah in confusion at hearing this. Jorah slowly fell to his knees before Daenerys as he gave her a mournful look.
"You may know that I went into exile to avoid being executed for selling poachers into slavery. When I was sworn into your service after your marriage to Khal Drogo, I was told I would receive a royal pardon and be able to return to Westeros if I sent information about you," Jorah confessed.
Daenerys stared at Jorah with a blank face. For some reason, she wasn't as hurt or shocked at hearing this as she thought she would be. Perhaps it was because she already suspected something like this when Farengar revealed he was spying on her.
"Did you receive this royal pardon?" Daenerys slowly asked.
"I did. Just before the attempt to poison you happened," Jorah admitted.
"But you stayed, and you saved me. Why?"
"I've wanted to return home for many years, just like you have, Khaleesi. But the more I served and followed you... and then, after I saw you walk out of that pyre, carrying your dragons..." Jorah shrugged, unsure of himself. "I realized that the chance to return to Westeros paled in comparison to my wish to remain by your side."
He lowered his head in shame.
"As I said, Farengar has more courage than me. I... was afraid. Afraid that, if you ever learned the truth, you would send me away, and I could not bear to have you despise me, Khaleesi."
"If that is so, why are you telling me the truth now?"
"Perhaps... perhaps it is because I now know that, with all that has happened to you and the rest of us... you deserve to know the full truth," he said, looking up to her for a moment before lowering his head again. "I have sworn myself to you, Khaleesi, which means it was wrong of me to hide the truth from you. If you wish for me to continue being in your service, I shall do anything you request of me. If you wish for me to be executed... then I will accept that. And, if I die serving you, then I shall die happy and content."
Jorah continued to stare at the deck of the ship, unwilling to look up at the woman he had come to love in such short a time, even if he knew she might never feel the same towards him, waiting for her to decide his fate. He almost jumped when he felt her hand on his shoulder.
"I may not be able to fully trust you anymore, Ser Jorah, much like I cannot fully trust Farengar," she softly spoke. "But I will not have you executed. Instead, you will stay by my side and prove that you have decided to serve me. Do you understand, Jorah the Andal?"
His face could have broken into a smile, and his eyes nearly teared up, but he sobered himself as he answered.
"Good. Stand up, Ser Jorah. We still have a long ways to sail until we return home," Daenerys ordered.
Candlelight flickered in the tent as Lord Gawen Westerling looked over several reports, which spoke of the lands that the Black Prince had granted his family. As he set the papers down and took a drink of ale, the tent door opened, allowing his daughter enter with Lord Stark.
"Father," Jeyne greeted him with a heartfelt hug, which he returned.
"Hello, my dear. And to you, Lord Stark," Gawen returned. "What brings you here at this hour?"
"Well, father... I... we... well," Jeyne stammered, biting her lip, as she normally did when she wanted to ask something. Gawen raised an eyebrow in confusion, before Robb stepped forward.
"Lord Westerling, I've come here to ask you for your permission," Robb explained, just as nervous as Jeyne, but under better control.
"Permission? Permission for what?"
"I'm asking for permission... to marry your daughter."
Gawen blinked, and then he looked at the two young people in front of him.
"Did I hear correctly, Lord Stark? You wish to marry my daughter?" Gawen whispered.
"Yes, Lord Westerling. Your daughter... she is a wonderful woman. I love her, and I want to marry her," the young Lord replied, holding Jeyne's hand and lacing their fingers together.
"By the Nine... I knew that you two were spending much time together, but I never considered that..." Gawen took a deep breath before turning to his daughter. "Do you feel the same way, Jeyne?"
"I do, father. Robb is kind, strong, and caring. I want to marry him. I love him," Jeyne confessed while giving Robb a warm smile.
"But, didn't you swear to marry one of Walder Frey's daughters, Lord Stark?"
"I did," Robb admitted, and the look on the young lord's face told Gawen everything he needed to know.
"Oh, dear. What a difficult situation this has become," Gawen sighed before meeting his daughter's gaze. "And you know I've never been able to deny you, Jeyne, particularly when you give me a look like that. I'm assuming that neither of you intends to change your current course of action?"
"Aye," both said.
"This... will have to be handled carefully. Walder Frey was expecting to unite his family to a High Lord's, and what I know of him is enough to know this will have sequels. If you intend to marry, you need to provide compensation," Gawen said. "We might be able to offer some payment by means of the lands the Black Prince has provided to House Westerling, but it will take a couple of years after the war has ended for that to be useful. We need something that we can offer to Lord Frey right now."
"I was thinking that I can promise to marry one of my future children to one of his descendants," Robb suggested.
"I'm sure Walder Frey will demand that, at least, but we need to offer something that he can receive immediately, before he dies."
"What about Harrenhal, father?" Jayne hesitantly suggested. "It's been lordless ever since Lady Whent's demise, and the Black Prince has yet to grant it. Should he give it to the Freys, then one of Lord Frey's sons will become high lords, like they wish."
"That might work. Will told me he would help me if I faced this situation, and granting Harrenhal is perfectly within his power," Robb agreed.
"Well, we can pray that will be enough. I'll try to bring it up if we meet soon," Gawen hoped. "When do you two plan to marry?"
"Well..." Jeyne blushed.
"There is a septon prepared already," Robb confessed.
Gawen stared at them for a moment before chuckling.
"Normally, I would protest, but considering that you two have already spent a lot of time together..." He then stepped forward with a serious look directed at Robb.
"I like you, Robb Stark. You strive to be an honorable and just lord. But, I'm entrusting my daughter into your care. You understand how much her happiness and safety means to me?"
"I do, Lord Westerling. I will never stop taking care of her. I swear it," Robb said with determination.
"I'll hold you to that, Lord Stark."
That night, Robb and Jeyne stood under a heart tree, illuminated by lamps. Apart from the officiating septon, only Gawen, his son Reynald, Catelyn Stark and Brienne of Tarth stood: they wanted to make it a private moment.
As the septon started the ceremony, Catelyn watched the brightness in the eyes on the two young people standing before the tree. She was happy for her son, but, at the same time, felt apprehension.
"I can't help but feel like they are rushing into a mistake," Catelyn told Lord Westerling.
"I can't really offer much of an argument against that," Gawen replied.
"Then, why did you agree to let them marry so soon?"
"Have you looked at them, Lady Stark? How their eyes shine when they look at each other?" Gawen explained as he indicated towards bride and groom. "You can see how much they love each other. Whether they do it today or tomorrow, it doesn't truly matter. This marriage would end up the same way."
"There is love, yes, but there will be trouble."
"Every marriage faces trouble at some point. It's overcoming that trouble together that makes the relationship grow stronger."
Catelyn could not argue against that. Her own marriage to Ned had been rocky enough at the beginning, particularly where it concerned Jon Snow, but they had made it work and eventually their love for each other had been undeniable. And, in truth, she had come to like Jeyne after spending time with her. Now, Catelyn had her duty as a mother to try and help her son and his new wife in their future struggles.
She continued to watch, and could not help but give a small, warm smile as Robb and Jeyne finished saying their vows and kissed each other, now husband and wife. She only wished that Ned was here to see it.
It was the day following the battle. The sun was already past its mid-point, and outside William's tent, Delphine and a group of Blades stood guard, as usual. Barristan Selmy approached them with another group of Blades, and soon the change of guard was done, with only Delphine remaining out of the initial group, as Barristan stood beside her.
"How is our Prince?" the knight asked.
"He's... mostly recovered."
"That's good to hear," Barristan said, before turning slightly towards the closed tent flap: he could have sworn he had heard someone else there. "Is he alone?"
"No. Princess Arya is with him, discussing, ahem, war strategies," Delphine answered with a small smirk and wiggling her eyebrows.
"Ah. 'War strategies'. I understand," Barristan said with a chuckle.
Inside the tent, Arya moaned as her lips pressed against William's, while she lat on his lap and with their arms wrapped around each other. Holding each other closely as their kiss deepened, they only let go when they were forced to catch their breath.
"Had I known how much I would enjoy this," Arya said while breathing deeply, "I would have kissed you a long time ago."
"Had I known how much I'd enjoy this, I would have said 'screw my promise to let you decide when to kiss' and I would have kissed you all the time," William chuckled.
"Part of me wishes you did."
"And the other part?"
"Glad that I fell in love with a man who strives to keep his promises," Arya answered with a chuckle before they kissed again. As they broke off, Arya gave a small wince.
"Are you still sore from Aela putting you through a workout?" William asked.
"A little, but I deserved it."
"Well, I can try to help you feel better," William grinned before kissing Arya's neck.
"You already are, but I thought you wanted to talk about war strategies."
"Ah... but that's the secret, Arya. The plans have already been made," William revealed with a smile.
"Yes, which means more time to spend with you."
William moved to kiss Arya again, only to blink in surprise as Arya stopped him with a finger over his mouth.
"Nope. No more kisses until you tell me what you're planning, silly stag," Arya said with a smirk.
"Oh, great. The wolf girl I love has discovered the best way to torture me," William joked. "Very well, I'll tell you."
"Good," Arya said as she straightened up with an eager look. "So, what is the plan to take King's Landing?"
"We're not going to take King's Landing or continue the siege. At least, not yet."
Outside the tent, a squire was leading a horse pass the tent...
The squire jumped at the sound of Arya shouting, followed by a loud thump, and a yelp of pain, and he stared at the tent in confusion.
"No need to worry, young man," Barristan assured, placing a hand on his shoulder.
"Just the Black Prince and his princess having one of their talks," Delphine chuckled.
William winced. He was still on his chair, but Arya's sudden move had pushed the chair, with both of them on it, onto its back. So now, he was trapped between the chair and Arya, who put her hands on his shoulders.
"What do you mean we're not continuing the siege?" Arya demanded.
"If you let me get up, I'll explain why!" William insisted.
Arya kept glaring at him, but in the end she got off him, wanting to hear what he had to say. After setting the chair back up, William sat on it and brought Arya into his lap. This time, Arya refused to snuggle up to him, but William just wrapped his arms around her to pull her close.
"Arya, with the Seventh, Eighth and Ninth Legions joining us, we may have the men we need to lay siege to King's Landing and take it, even with the Reach supporting the Lannisters," William told her, "and if the Mythic Dawn hadn't summoned the Gate, we would have. However, the Tyrells still have thirty thousand men south of the Blackwater, which is a considerable number even now. Now that Stannis and the Rivermen are here, we may still beat them all... but it would be a long and costly siege in which many people would die."
"This is war, and men die! I understand you don't want deaths to happen, but sometimes it can't be avoided," Arya argued.
"No, they can't, but have you forgotten about the warnings we have received about the threat beyond the Wall?" William asked, frowning. "Have you?"
"No," Arya admitted.
"That's why I'm doing this. I need every possible soldier to fight against that threat. I need today's enemies to become tomorrow's allies. There will be more battles and men will die, yes, but right now I have to pick a strategy that will minimize that," William insisted.
"Very well, fine. How do you intend to do that?"
"I just need one more major victory. Or rather, I need to take one valuable target to start breaking up the alliance between Lannisters and Tyrells that will end the war. And, much to our fortune, there are two available." He gestured to a map that had been placed on a close table. "General Tullius will be given command of the First, Second, Fifth, Seventh, Eighth and Ninth Legions – six in total. Meanwhile, I will take the Third to Harrenhall, while the Fourth returns to Cloud Ruler in order to replenish their numbers."
"What will Tullius do with six Legions?" Arya asked, confused.
"I thought he had taught you something about tactics and strategy," William replied with a grin. "The Tyrells thought they would be able of attacking us in the back while we besieged King's Landing. If they surprised us, then they could defeat us and become the saviors of King's Landing, ending the war without losing little more than a handful of men, and then they would be elevated to a higher standing and influence.
"However," William's grin turned predatory at this point, "by bringing all the troops they did, they have made a huge mistake, and General Tullius is going to show them that, in war, such mistakes are paid dearly. How do you think he'll do that, my lovely wolf girl?"
Arya stared at William and then at the map, before her eyes widened.
"Highgarden," Arya breathed in realization. "Since the Tyrells have brought all their forces to King's Landing, the Reach is completely undefended!"
"Not exactly. They do have several troops there, mostly in the coast to handle any potential Ironborn attacks, along with most of the Redwyne's navy. However, while those troops are enough to fight off the Ironborn, they will be too insignificant to pose a threat to Tullius' troops."
"But, what if they chase Tullius or worse, what if they decide to attack you at Harrenhal? I'm not sure if one Legion and the Riverland forces under my great-uncle will be enough to defend the place against the Tyrells and your grandfather's army."
"Ah, but you are forgetting about my uncle Stannis. He commands a good number of Stormlanders, and, most importantly, the only fleet worth anything in Westeros' eastern coast, which allows Stannis to threaten King's Landing at little cost, so they cannot leave the city undefended in fear for my uncle to take it. And what do you think will happen when my brother, my grandfather and the Tyrells find out not only that I am at Harrenhal, which I will most definitely leak to them, but that Tullius is marching on Highgarden pretty much unopposed, and that the closest army is made of thirty thousand Reachmen that will be harried all the way through the Kingswood and beyond by ten thousand Stormlanders?"
Arya mulled over it for a second, and a grin slowly appeared on her face.
"The Tyrells will want to send their troops to save their home, but Joffrey will demand they kill you. Your grandfather will try to find a balance between both possibilities, but your brother will not listen because he is an idiot, and it will take days for him to make a sensible decision, if he actually reaches it. If they try to go against you, Tullius will take Highgarden, weakening the Tyrells. It will be unlikely that they catch up with Tullius, since the Legions are much faster than levies, and there are not enough knights to fight off six Legions. If they try to go after you and Tullius while leaving troops at King's Landing, they risk spreading themselves too thin. And, as they will be in the field instead of hiding behind walls, you would be able to take their armies out one by one."
"Sounds about right, my wolf princess."
"But, you're still rather vulnerable at Harrenhal," Arya insisted.
"Indeed. However, the Legions know that place's vulnerabilities inside out, and are more than capable of countering them. Stannis can sail up the Trident and join us, if need be. And, if it comes down to it, I can retreat to the Crossroads and Cloud Ruler. From there, with Stannis and the Blackfish's troops helping, we should be able to fight a defensive battle on our terms."
"Very well. You have planned for that. Now, you said there were two important places we can target. If Highgarden is one of them, where is the other?"
"Casterly Rock," William revealed. "Between the numbers my grandfather took out of the West and the men Stafford Lannister lost at Oxcross, there might be about twenty thousand men left to challenge Robb, all of which are falling back to Casterly Rock and Lannisport, rather than try to keep fighting Robb in the field, particularly after he has managed to take the northern half of the Westerlands. Between Robb, Edmure Tully's troops and our Western allies, they should have little problem in laying siege to the Lannister seat.
"As you can see, my wolf princess, it does not matter what direction our enemies decide to go. Whether they stay or they go, the noose will tighten. They will fight amongst themselves to make a choice, they will try to figure out what to do... and when they finally come up with an idea, it could well be too late for them."
"I can think of one problem with your plan, Will," Arya brought up.
"By all means, share it with me."
"There's still the Vale and Dorne to consider. Your grandfather has already tried to make an alliance with the Vale. You may have stopped it, but as long as Littlefinger is with Joffrey, they could try again. And they might also try to make Dorne fight for them, as well, since they have betrothed your sister to Trystane Martell."
"Dorne? Fight for the Lannisters?" William laughed. "As long as Doran Martell sits in Sunspear, Dorne will not lift a finger to help my grandfather under any circumstances. He knows he would be lucky if he could convince them to stay out of the fight. And even then, I think I know why Myrcella was sent to Sunspear, but more on that later.
"As for the Vale, you are right. There is a chance that our enemies will try to convince Lysa Arryn to have the Vale join them. Recent events make me suspicious about certain goings in there," William mused. "However, I don't plan to sit idly in Harrenhal while my grandfather acts: I will send an emissary to the Vale. Many lords of the Vale support me and our cause, so there is a chance they can be convinced to join, even if Lysa Arryn intends to stay cloistered in the Eyrie."
"You'll find a way. You always do," Arya smiled in encouragement before leaning forward for a light kiss. "I hope your plan to let our enemies strangle themselves works. When do we begin?"
"Tomorrow, we'll march under the cover of night and get a head start on our enemies," William revealed before nuzzling close with Arya. "That gives us a couple of days for making up lost time."
"Good. I can tell you about how I met the Dark Brotherhood," Arya said with a smirk. William blinked.
Two days later, The Red Keep, King's Landing
One would be very generous in calling the moment 'morning', when the city was still asleep for the most part and the sun barely peeked from the sea. However, Tywin Lannister cared not for that, and had called for a meeting, making sure all the people that had to be there would come: the Small Council, Joffrey, Cersei, Tyrion and the Reach Lords.
"Why, in the name of all the gods, did we have to come to a meeting before there is any daylight?" Tyrion asked with a large, cracking yawn.
"It is very simple. With all the dead from the battle tended to, the siege will commence again soon. We must make plans to repel William's forces when that happens," Tywin answered with a frown.
"I'm disappointed this is even happening, grandfather," Joffrey spoke up with a sneer. "You should have beaten the traitor, but instead you foolishly agreed to a stupid truce when that thing appeared."
Tywin's gaze turned dark as it centered on Joffrey, who squirmed in his seat while everyone else held their breath as they watched the exchange.
"The interference of the Mythic Dawn and their Oblivion Gate could have caused the destruction of all our armies, your Grace. The situation demanded that a truce be made."
"We are fortunate that my sons, Ser Jaime and the Black Prince were able to close the Gate as quickly as they did. If they hadn't, the death toll would have been catastrophic," Lord Mace Tyrell added. "We are lucky that the final death toll was so low. The fact that these cultists have the ability to create such a monstruos thing... it is alarming."
"Lord Tyrell is correct," Randyll Tarly stated. "The Mythic Dawn cult has been declared an enemy of the Crown for several months now, but we have clearly underestimated the threat they pose to us. We must commit a greater effort in hunting them down and destroying them, before they can summon another such Gate."
"Fine, these cultists are a threat," Joffrey said with a sigh, and it was obvious to all that he certainly thought otherwise. "That doesn't change the fact that you made a mistake, and didn't end my brother's treason when you had the chance. What do we do now?"
"Before we continue, there is one matter I would like to bring up. The Royal Fleet was destroyed by wildfire... the wildfire we had stored." Cersei said, her gaze narrowing into Tyrion. "Clearly... there is a traitor who planted the wildfire on our ships."
"Are you blaming me, sister?" Tyrion asked with a raised eyebrow.
"You were one of the few people who knew about the wildfire," Cersei accused him, "and you are also under suspicion of sympathizing with William."
"I'm not sure whether to consider it a compliment or not that you think I would have been able to transport it all without being seen by anyone," Tyrion replied with a smirk. "Besides, I was in the Red Keep the whole time, sister."
"That is most certainly true," Varys offered up. "I spoke with Lord Tyrion during the battle, and nothing I can find indicates he had any hand in the disaster that occurred on the Blackwater."
"He wouldnt need to be there, he probably had someone do his dirty work for him," Cersei said, with her eyes still accusing Tyrion. "And what about the Stark girls? Someone snuck in several Blades who escaped with both Stark girls!"
"Do you have any proof that I'm responsible in any way for these things?" Tyrion replied, relaxing as Cersei just glared at him.
"We will later look into what happened on the Blackwater. As for the Stark girls, they are out of our hands, and there is nothing we can do about it. Now, we must plan our defense against the next attack," Tywin interrupted, his voice preventing other arguments from sprouting, as he gestured at the map of King's Landing and its surroundings, marked with small flags that indicated the position of William's forces. "Now that he has three new Legions, William can better surround this city, and Stannis Baratheon commands a fleet stationed in the Blackwater Bay, which means the city is completely surrounded. The closest allied force outside this city is the Reach's second army on the south of the Blackwater, but with a Legion guarding the bridge now, it will be unlikely for them to take it."
"That army, or perhaps part of it, could travel inland along the Blackwater to the next crossing. That way, they should be able to attack from the west."
"Yes, the thought occurred to me, but considering what I know about him, I am sure William has already prepared for that eventuality, and in either case we have no means of communicating with them. Now, we should have our cavalry prepare to launch sorties out of the city, so that-"
Whatever Tywin was going to say, it was interrupted when the door opened and a soldier dressed in red quickly entered the room.
"Your Grace, my Lord Hand, forgive my interruption, but Ser Addam Marbrand sent me with an important message. The Black Prince and his Legions are gone!" the soldier said.
Tywin stared at the soldier with his typical hardened gaze, but in his mind confusion reigned. His grandson had earned a tactical victory, and he had the upper hand right now: he would not give up the siege so easily unless he had a plan. And, if he had a plan, Tywin knew it would ill bode for him and his alliance.
He had no shame in recognizing – in the privacy of his mind – that his grandson had outmaneuvered him during the battle: hiding those Legions and springing them up by surprise had been a master move. As much as he hated it, he knew he had to be grateful for the Mythic Dawn's intervention, for, without the Gate, William would have destroyed the Tyrells and then taken the city. Only bad luck had prevented William from putting an end to the war, as victory was in his grasp.
However, if he had truly abandoned the siege, then that meant that William not only had changed his plans, but was already at least a step or two ahead of him... and the Black Prince had enough advantages already, as it was.
"Gone? What do you mean, gone?" Lord Mace asked, confused.
"Ser Addam is sending scouts to ascertain the situation, my Lords, but he has sent word that some of the forces, probably led by the Black Prince, have started to head back north in the direction of Harrenhal."
Joffrey laughed at hearing that, which Tywin knew meant he did not understand anything.
"Well, it seems that the traitor knows he has been beaten, and now he is falling back. We must run him down immediately!"
"No, your Grace! This could be a trick," Tywin interrupted, turning back to the messenger. "You said some of the Black Prince's forces are returning to Harrenhal. Where are the rest?"
"Ser Addam believes that at least five of the Legions, possibly led by General Tullius, are now marching west, following the Blackwater towards the Reach."
"The Reach?" Mace Tyrell asked in shock and confusion. Tywin immediately made the connection and slumped back into his chair, pinching his nose.
"Highgarden. They are marching on Highgarden."
"What? It's undefended! I shall gather my troops and chase after General Tullius at once!" Mace Tyrell declared.
"NO!" Joffrey shouted. "If the traitor is heading north, then he must be dealt with immediately!"
"Y-your Grace, I understand what you're saying, but the pride and joy of the Reach..."
"We won't march anywhere yet," Tywin interrupted, trying to gain control of the situation. "We will must first confirm if our reports are accurate, and not deceptions by our enemy. And then, we can plan as needed."
In spite of his words, a shouting match developed between Cersei, Joffrey, the Tyrells and pretty much anyone else in the room, save for Tyrion, Varys and a few others. Feeling weary, Tywin covered his face with his hands and realized what was his grandson's actual plan.
Well played, Willian. Divide and conquer. You're turning us against each other... and it is working. Very clever, indeed.
The Narrow Sea, near Dorne
It was amazing what a difference of a few days could do to an Ironborn's morale. Barely a week ago, this fleet had been sailing up the Westerosi coast, full of boast and song, convinced that the Drowned God would be proud of his followers taking the iron price.
Now, a calm northerly wind and the waves of the sea was all that could be heard as a small group of longboats and warships limped through the water, its crewmen completely silent as they listlessly completed their tasks on the ship. Even the captains just spoke their orders in a normal voice. And leaning on the ship's railing, Victarion Greyjoy stared out over the empty sea.
It had been a complete, utter disaster.
Before the Iron Fleet had even reached the mouth of Blackwater Bay, Victarion had already seen himself as victorious – it was in his name. He was confident that the Iron Fleet would take the fleets of the Black Prince and the Lannisters by complete surprise and crush them. They would have taken many of those ships and eliminated the threat of another invasion of the Iron Islands by the greenlanders. There was even the chance that he could have led reavers to land in King's Landing and take plunder by the iron price before withdrawing and returning to Pyke.
Instead... it had been a complete disaster. As soon as his ships started to hit the sellsails the Black Prince had hired, a storm, a fucking storm, had appeared out of nowhere, and lightning had started to strike his ships, as if the Storm God himself had protected that dammed boy of a prince's ships.
Out of the once mighty Ironborn Fleet of two hundred and fifty ships, the pride of an entire kingdom, now only a mere six and twenty remained, and many of them showed signs of what had almost befelled them. Both the vanguard and the main fleet had been struck by the storm, and only Victarion's ship and five others had somehow managed to escape through the confusion after the storm ended. Joining up with the rear fleet of twenty ships – which had been suddenly glad that they had not been on the vanguard – they had retreated west to reach the Narrow Sea and make the long journey back home.
Already, Victarion knew what his brother would say when he heard the news. 'You got scared by a fucking storm', 'You should have won against those greenlanders, Victarion! It was as simple as that!' and, of course, the always popular 'Why the fuck am I surrounded by incompetents!'. But, it was not as if he had a way to protect his ships from the storm, a storm that had discharged all of its furing on them without affecting the enemy: as much as the storm's brutality had stunned him, it had been worse when he realized the Lyseni sellsails that were practically touching his ship had pretty much got through the storm unscathed.
Now, as the small, battered and beaten remains of the strongest fleet in the Seven Kingdoms limped home, Victarion was left wondering one thing.
What would the Ironborn do next?
Water Gardens, Dorne
The sounds of nature from the gardens could be heard as Sara carefully stabbed a needle into Doran's back, joining the dozens of needles she had already placed, and twisted it in a precise way, while Areo Hotah was, as usual, standing vigilant against the wall.
Prince Doran, laying on his belly over a table with only a towel laying over his waist, let out a groan of relief as Sara's acupunture numbed the nerves from his lower back to his feet. The gout he was cursed with, that had been the bane of his existence for a long time already, caused enough pain that he could not even walk, at least not without help. He was thankful for the day he had met Sara, whose talent meant that Doran could enjoy, however temporarily, moments of painless bliss.
After placing the last needle in the correct spot, Sara then rubbed some ointment on her hands and began to massage Doran's upper back and shoulders. Doran had yet to encounter or hear of anyone who could give better massages than Sara.
"Yet again, words cannot express my gratitude, Sara," Doran murmured with content.
"You honor me, Prince Doran," Sara smiled as she continued her ministrations. "Although, I am certain you could find someone to replace me, if needed."
"Anyone with the skills to replace you, Sara, must either be a well-hidden hermit, or lives on the far side of the world," Doran chuckled before posing a question. "How is it that a young, beautiful woman with so many talents has not found herself a husband yet?"
"Perhaps the right man simply hasn't come along yet, my Prince," Sara replied. "He would have to be someone who truly appreciates my abilities... someone like you."
"That would be music to my ears... if I were at least a decade or two younger," Doran replied with a chuckle.
"I've seen plenty of men more than half as young as you, and none of them able to be half as handsome as you are."
Both of them shared a laugh with each other at that. Then, a small look of sadness found its way onto Doran's face.
"I miss my wife... I miss my beloved Mellario," Doran confessed. Sara also became sad at hearing Doran's tone.
"It's unfortunate that she decided to return to her home of Norvos. It was hard on your whole family when she chose to leave. You two loved each other very much."
"It was for the best. We married for love, but it wasn't enough to contend with the differences between where and how we were raised," Doran said with memories flooding his mind.
Mellario was a noblewoman from the Free City of Norvos, in Essos, whom Doran had met during a visit several years before becoming Prince of Dorne. They had fallen in love at first sight, and when Doran returned to Westeros, she had followed. However, in spite of the love the two held for each other, their marriage was not a good one, mostly because of the great difference in customs between Dorne and Norvos, which was the cause of many an argument between the two of them. Mellario, in particular, disliked the custom of fostering children in different houses of kingdoms, as she hated being separated from her children: for her, his having sent his eldest son, Quentyn, to foster with the Yronwoods, was unforgivable, and eventually she had returned to Norvos. They were still married, but they had not seen each other in years.
"I'm sure she still thinks of you, Prince Doran. Despite the issues between you two, I could see that the love was genuine," Sara encouraged.
"At the very least, I'm certain she thinks of her children," Doran replied before grinning. "She was never very fond of you, Sara. Perhaps it was jealousy, but it could be that she was uncomfortable in letting a spy live in our house."
"Oh, whatever could you mean, Prince Doran?" Sara replied with a grin of her own as she fixed a knot in Doran's shoulder. "Such odd things you say to a simple person like myself."
Doran let out a small chuckle. It was a game they played for years. A person with Sara's skills did not simply appear out of nowhere. Doran had long suspected that Sara was a spy and answering to someone else. He even had a strong suspicion on who that person was. However, as time passed, he found himself simply not caring. Sara had long proved herself capable in handling any task that Doran gave her. From her massages, to carrying messages for him, to reporting on any notable events taking place in Dorne, the list went on. She often acted as his eyes and ears in Dorne. Sara was perhaps the most reliable person that Doran had, besides Oberyn and Areo Hotah.
Despite knowing that Sara was most likely reporting to someone else, Doran secretly wished that no proof of this was ever brought to him. He simply did not want Sara to leave his service. He was too fond of her.
"You are a wonderful and capable woman, Sara. I hope that you never leave," Doran admitted.
"I hope to never leave your service, Prince Doran," Sara replied. They were silent for a moment, as Sara continued pressing into Doran's back, before he spoke up again.
"Sara, will you please have my brother sent for? Then, I regret I must end this session," Doran ordered.
"At once, Prince Doran," Sara said, leaving the room to ask a guard to fetch Oberyn, before returning and starting to carefully remove the acupuncture needles, putting them in a bowl full of water for later cleaning. It was as she pulled out the last one that Oberyn entered.
"You asked for me, Doran?"
"Yes, brother," Doran said as Sara helped him into his wheelchair. "Sara, please, have the rest of my family gathered, as well as Princess Myrcella, and have them wait for me."
After Sara left to do as she was bid, Doran turned back to his brother.
"Have you heard of the latest news?"
"Have I? It seems like there's a lot of rumors the people like to talk about, the market is full of them. Some say that the Lannisters and the Tyrells drove the Black Prince from King's Landing, but others say he willingly retreated to set a trap for them. Others claim that the Black Prince is a god in human form that destroyed the Lannister fleet with green fire and then summoned a storm to destroy the Ironborn armada. And even more are claiming that this cult, this Mythic Dawn, was able to open up the gates to hell, and that the Black Prince went through them to close them from the other side."
"It turns out that those of some rumors are true. The reports I have recently received indicate that there is a half-broken Ironborn flotilla trying to make its way around Dorne, and, most importantly, that the Mythic Dawn succeeded in opening what is called an Oblivion Gate, a doorway that leads directly to a realm in Oblivion ruled by the Daedric Prince of Destruction," Doran revealed with a serious face. "It concerns me deeply, brother, when bedtime stories and myths suddenly appear to be true."
"We should see if they have some sort of base of power in Dorne. If they do, we must eliminate it," Oberyn advised.
"I've already begun to look into it," Doran replied, with a bitter smile. "As for the Black Prince, he wasn't forced to retreat. A truce was called... and the Prince chose to withdraw. As to why he decided this, I do not know, but I do suspect. What I do know, is that the rumors about the Black Prince being Dovahkiin continue to grow."
"Dovahkiin..." Oberyn murmured as he gazed out a nearby window. "I remember reading stories about the Dragonborn when I was a child. People blessed with the soul of a dragon. I used to think that meant the Targaryens. Noble Rhaegar seemed like he did have a dragon's soul."
"There is a difference between having the blood of a dragon and having the soul of a dragon. From what I remember reading concerning the Dovahkiin, creating a storm is within their power," Doran mused.
"Then... do you think the rumors about the Black Prince are true? That he is Dovahkiin?" Oberyn asked.
"He might be, he might not. Either way, I believe that we have been uninvolved with the events concerning the world long enough," Doran revealed, surprising Oberyn. "With these events occurring, I'm changing some of my plans."
"This isn't like you, brother," Oberyn noted. "You've always choose patience and caution above all."
"And I wish I could now, but that was before I learned that dragons, magic, Daedra, and Dovahkiins are not only real, but becoming more and more common."
"What do you want me to do, then?"
"I'm sending you to King's Landing, immediately. You will assess the situation with your own eyes. And, you will meet with Tyrion Lannister, and see how much his offer is truly worth. His actual offer," Doran ordered.
Oberyn nodded before an intrigued look crossed his face. "Perhaps... we can request more from the Black Prince?"
Doran gave his brother a knowing look.
"And what would that be?"
"Justice. For our sister and her family."
"Agreed. Let us go share with our family that you are leaving for King's Landing."
Beyond the Wall
Jon's eyes scanned the land around him as he and the Wildlings continued their march. His hand rested on Dawnbreaker, ready to draw it in case of the threat he was looking for appeared.
"Why do you look so worried, Jon Snow?" Ygritte spoke up from behind Jon in a playful tone. "We've already decided not to hurt you. Afraid we'll change our minds?"
"That's not what has me on guard," Jon denied.
"You needn't worry. You're not a Crow, you're a Night Hunter. The Free Folk don't hate Night Hunters... well, most of us," Ygritte admitted. "You Night Hunters don't usually try to harm the Free Folk, just the creatures of the dark. If you were a Crow, we'd probably kill you on the spot. But, as a Night Hunter, most of us won't bother you because you don't bother us... usually."
"It's not you Wildlings that have me worried. When I escaped Castle Volkihar, I was told that I was prey. I expected the vampires to find me by now."
"You're with a band of the Free Folk, Jon Snow. The Nightwalkers aren't going to attack you when you will have help," Ygritte refuted.
"Maybe... although that didn't matter the first time we met, remember?" Jon pointed out.
"Your pet nightwalker may have had something to do with that," Ygritte argued.
"Serana has been helping us to fight our enemies. She didn't betray us."
"She's a bloodsucking vampire, Jon Snow. How many times does she go off on her own to feed? How many Night Hunters and Crows do you think she makes thralls out of?"
Jon couldn't help but let out a laugh at hearing that, causing Ygritte to frown in annoyance.
"Serana has already crippled at least two members of the Night's Watch for trying to lay their hands on her before I even joined the Dawnguard. I don't think she's interested in making any of them into a thrall."
"Maybe not them... but what about you? You think she'd enjoy sinking her teeth into your neck?" Ygritte said with a frown. "I'm curious... is an undead like her warm or cold to lay with in the night?"
"I don't know. I've never laid with her," Jon answered while rolling his eyes.
"Really?" Ygritte said with a hint of disbelief. She stared at Jon for a second before a look of realization crossed her face. "You've never been with a woman before, have you?"
Jon didn't reply. This time, it was Ygritte's turn to let out a laugh.
"That's surprising to hear. One of the famed Four Brothers of War, never spent a night with a woman," Ygritte mocked.
Before more could be said, the band reached the crest of the snow. Jon's eyes widened as he looked in the snowy valley below, filled with huts as far as the eye can see. A hundred thousand Wildlings gathered together.
"Hope you're ready to talk with the King Beyond the Wall, Jon Snow," Ygritte remarked.
Jon glanced at Ygritte as she began to walk down into the valley below. Jon glanced behind, still wondering why the vampire hadn't found him yet. If they weren't hunting him, where were they?
Fist of the First Men, Beyond the Wall
Icy wind swept over the Fist while dull grey clouds covered the sky. Lord Commander Mormont strode to the edge of the Fist and stared out over the icy wasteland before turning to a sentry.
"No, Lord Commander. No Wildlings or anything out there except a few of our men gathering wood for fire."
Mormont grimaced before turning to Isran, who had just walked up beside him.
"No sign of Jon Snow... no idea if Mance Rayder got our message for parley... and no sign of our true enemy," Mormont summed up with a sigh.
"The silence won't last long. Our enemies won't ignore us forever and something will happen soon," Isran replied.
"Lord Commander, Grandmaster," spoke up the voice of Qhorin Halfhand. "Let me take some men out and see if we can cause some trouble. I'll see if I can find Snow and get our enemies riled up."
There was silence for a moment before Mormont glanced over at Isran.
"What do you think?"
"The Wildlings might think that Qhorin and his men are targeting them when we want to negotiate," Isran answered.
"Aye, that could happen," Mormont agreed. "From what I can see, we have several options. We either send Qhorin out, we wait longer, or we fall back to the Wall. Personally, I'm tired of waiting and I'm not ready to fall back with my tail between my legs."
"Nor am I," Isran agreed. "I'll pick out some Dawnguard to accompany you and..."
Isran trailed off as his eyes landed at the base of the Fist. Mormont followed his gaze.
"Two people... near the slope leading up the Fist," Mormont stated.
"And not from any of our parties," Isran remarked.
"Some of you bowmen, be ready!" Mormont ordered. Some men quickly moved to position while Mormont and Isran watched the two figures struggle up the slope. One of them was supporting the other one, whose feet were being dragged through the snow. Isran wondered how they managed to get so close without being spotted by sentries. As the two figures got closer, Isran's eyes widened in surprise.
"Are you people going to help me?" Serana yelled up the slope once she was close enough. "Or am I just going to have to carry him by myself?"
"Serana!" Sorine yelled in shock before they all moved forward.
"So, you're alive after all," Isran stated as they got closer.
"We were wondering what had happened to..." Mormont started to say before his eyes landed on the person Serana was carrying. "Benjen? Benjen Stark?!"
"C... commander..." the First Ranger weakly replied, as Mormont took in the man that he had not seen in months. He was a mess, his body skinny and showing signs of severe malnourishment. Red welts and jagged scars could be seen through the rags he was wearing underneath his cloak.
As a group of men began to carry Benjen up the slope, covering him up with fur cloaks and treating his injuries, Serana explained about what happened when they were captured and how Jon and her deceived the vampires.
"After my father released Jon, I waited until the right moment to free Benjen and escaped the castle through some of the hidden passages my mother showed me ages ago," Serana explained. "Of course, this probably means that my father now knows who really betrayed him in the past."
"You say your father released Jon Snow?" Isran pointed out.
"Yes... wait, you mean he's not back yet?" Serana demanded with sudden concern in her voice.
"We thought he'd be with you," Sorine replied.
"If he's still alive, I'll find him," Qhorin spoke up. "My men and I will find him and flush out our enemies."
"Not without me, you won't," Serana insisted.
"Before you go out there again, you are going to tell me the location of Castle Volkihar." Isran demanded, "which I remind you you never told me about in the past."
"There was a good reason, and that was that I was not sure if they were using the castle after all these years. I will tell you now, but you cannot attack the castle yet. There are dangers within besides vampires that can only be overwhelmed with good strategy," Serana replied.
"Understandable. But you know that I'm not some fool who rushes headlong into battle. I know that strategy is important. To plan a strategy, I need to know about the location and the land surrounding it."
"Fine. Castle Volkihar is..."
Serana stiffened as she felt the cold wind pass over the group. Everyone else had also stiffened as they felt an unnatural sense of dread. Serana then turned and looked out from the Fist of the First Men.
"Oh, Gods... they're here..."
At the foot of the Fist, Sam was gathering animal droppings for fire kindling alongside Edd, Agmaer and Grenn, and as he did, he was talking about Gilly, which was getting Edd annoyed.
"You know, the thing I find interesting about Gilly is that, after all that Crastor has done to her, she still hopes that life might get better," Sam remarked.
"The thing you find interesting about her is that she said more than six words to you," Edd replied.
"And the thing I find about you that is interesting is absolutely nothing," Sam shot back.
"Well, who knows? Sam might get lucky," Agmaer said in support, grinning. "And I doubt Grandmaster Isran will tolerate Craster forever."
"I hope so. I want to help all those poor girls and women," Sam said with a depressed look on his face, thinking about the horrible way Craster treated them.
Their conversation stopped as they heard a horn sound out from the Fist. Grenn and Edd looked up towards the Fist, confused, but Sam turned with a hopeful look on his face.
"Jon and Serana must be back!"
A second horn blaring proved Sam's hopes wrong. Immediately, Agmaer pulled out his axe.
"Wildlings," Grenn declared as he threw down a shovel and unsheathed his sword.
"You don't fight them alone. Come on!" Edd ordered.
They all began to follow Edd back towards the Fist... when the third horn blast sounded out. They all froze in place, remembering what Sam told them before about three horn blasts.
"Three blasts..." Grenn stated.
"By the Divines..." Agmaer murmured.
"RUN!" Edd shouted and they all took off.
"Come on, Sam!" Agmaer yelled as he grabbed Sam's arm and pulled him towards the Fist. The four ran as fast as they could through the snow and rock, knowing that every second counted, but as they reached the bottom of the slope, Sam slipped on a rock and fell.
"GRENN!" Agmaer yelled as he stopped and tried to help Sam to his feet. Grenn hesitated for a second before running back to grab Sam's other arm.
"Come on, Sam! Keep moving!" Grenn ordered, trying to pull him up.
Edd looked back as well and felt his blood freeze as he saw shapes in the fog that was rolling over the land towards them. After a moment of inner debating, he rolled his eyes and grudgingly unsheathed his sword as the others reached him.
"Grenn, Agmaer! Keep Sam on his feet. Sam, keep those pudgy legs of yours moving, before you get your ass frozen!" Edd shouted. Fortunately, Agmaer and Grenn managed to get their friend on his feet, and the four of them ran up the steep slope, just barely ahead of the encroaching fog and icy mist. At the top, both the Night's Watch and the Dawnguard were scrambling into their positions, as men were given torches and Sorine handed out crossbows from her sleigh to her fellow Dawnguard.
"Archers, get into position! Everyone else, grab a torch!" Commander Mormont ordered, grabbing one for himself from one of the bundles of torches that had been placed near campfires, lighting it. They had known they would be useful, and now Mormont was glad he had ordered them prepared.
"Remember," Isran shouted out for everyone to hear while hefting his Warhammer on his shoulder. "Wights cannot be killed with a sword unless you hack them into a dozen pieces! Use fire instead! Keep a torch in hand so that you can light the bastards on fire! Those of you who don't have a torch, keep the dead distracted so that those who do can finish them!"
Sam, Grenn, Edd, and Agmaer finally reached the top and moved behind the battle line that was forming. After the men were in position, Mormont glanced down the slope at the icy fog. It was silent for a moment... before an inhuman screech sounded out.
At the foot of the slope, on the east side of the Fist, the fog seemed to clear away to reveal a horde of shambling wights approaching. With the thick fog in the valley, it was impossible to tell how many there were in total, but there had to be at least a couple thousand. Among the horde, several figures on the backs of dead horses could also be seen. The tall, mummy-like White Walkers began to shout in unison and the dead army surged forth like a river.
"Sam," Isran spoke as he turned to face Sam. "Go send a raven to the Wall. Let them know we have been attacked!"
"Yes, Grandmaster!" Sam replied.
However, as Sam turned towards the back of the camp, where the sleighs that carried the ravens were located, screams sounded out. The men watching the camp were attacked by shadowy figures: one leaped on a Watcher and sank its fangs into his neck, while the others suddenly shot fire from their hands, incinerating the ravens.
"Vampires!" Sam shouted in fear as a dozen more of them climbed over the western cliff's edge at the back of their camp. A confident hand clasped Sam's shoulder, and he looked back to see Isran giving him a look of encouragement.
"Calm yourself, Sam. Get your crossbow ready, and do what you can. Dawnguard! Form up on me!" Isran ordered before he turned back towards Mormont. "Commander Mormont, you handle the wights. The Dawnguard will do what they do best."
Without waiting for an answer, Isran turned back towards the snarling vampires and let out a roaring battlecry as he led the charge, his fellow Dawnguards following while Sam and the other crossbowmen let loose some bolts, killing at least one vampire and injuring several more. And then, those who had been mortal enemies for thousands of years clashed into each other.
On the east, Mormont shouted another order, and the Night's Watch's bowmen shot a volley of flaming arrows at the approaching army of wights. Countless of them fell screeching as they burned up, but this was not enough to halt the advance of the encroaching undead.
Then, from among the undead horde, a spike of ice flew out. It was quickly followed by a hail of spikes that landed among the Night's Watch. Mormont's eyes then landed on the monster that was casting the spells: a figure holding a staff, floating in the air, wearing some sort of scale armor and with an ancient mask covering its face.
Then, two more similar undead appeared, one firing lightning spells at the Night's Watch, the other throwing fire balls. The undead magicians' attacks scattered some of the Night's Watch's ranks. Some men tried to fire arrows at the undead, but they floated through the air at a surprisingly fast speed, avoiding most of the attempts to attack them.
"What in the Seven Hells are they?" Mormont growled.
"Dragon Priests!" Serana answered. "They are extremely dangerous and powerful undead mages!"
"How do you fight them?"
"However you can!"
Sam was near the cliff edge on the north side of the Fist as he continued to fire bolts at the vampires fighting his fellow Dawnguard, when he heard a noise and looked at the cliff... only to see a figure he did not expect to see climbing over the ledge.
"Draugr! On the north side!" Sam yelled, recognizing the tomb-dwelling creatures that were somehow capable of climbing in spite of being long-dead corpses. The leading Draugr made to charge at Sam as more of its fellows appeared over the edge, but Sam's bolt caught it in the chest, stopping its charge and causing it to fall back out down the cliff. But Sam grew more fearful as he could not load his crossbow fast enough.
With a battlecry, Agmaer rushed and intercepted the Draugr, with several more Night's Watchers and Dawnguards, including Grenn and Edd, joining the fight to hold off the undead on the Fist's northern face.
Serana noticed what was going on to the north and west, and rushed as fast as she could towards the north, firing bolts of lightning at the undead or using her dagger to kill those few that had managed to get past the defenders' lines. She knew that they could not hold out for long, so he needed to find Isran to warn him that they needed to break free and flee south.
However, just as Serana spotted the Dawnguard leader, a loud thump signaled something landing on the ground behind her. Serana softly swore under her breath as she slowly turned with a hint of fear, facing her father in his Vampire Lord form.
"So... it wasn't your mother who really betrayed us. It was you all along," Harkon stated with a glare. Magic shimmered around him as he turned back into his regular form. "Your mother lied and took the blame, didn't she? She always was so soft on you. Tell me why, Serana. Why did you betray your family?"
"Two reasons. One, you actually made a foolish agreement with the White Walkers. They're only using you for their own gain. They will wipe you out one they don't need you."
"That's why I need the Elder Scroll, Serana! You don't even know the true power that is backing the White Walkers. With the Elder Scroll in our hands, we could bring about a new age. Our age!"
"You're still obsessed over that stupid prophecy that might not even be real? I never believed in it because it sounded foolish. A false hope for you to cling on to the idea that Volkihar could rule the world! Your blind ambition and lust for power was clear to me a long time ago," Serana shouted at her father.
"Serana..." Harkon growled, but was cut off by Serana.
"You want to know the second reason? I will never forget or forgive what you allowed to happen!" Serana shouted. Confusion crossed Harkon's face before Serana explained. "That day, ages ago, where you let that... that monster... Molag Bal, do what he did to me? I'm your daughter, but you let that thing do what he did to me? Your own flesh and blood?"
Serana's usual calm face was gone. Her face was filled with pain as she stared at her father with the weight of his past betrayal in her eyes. Harkon actually had a split-second of regret on his face.
"Yes... I did allow Molag Bal to take from you," Harkon admitted. "But have you not gained so much in return? Was the power you received not worth what you endured to gain it?"
"If you think I will forget or forgive the horrible wrong that was done to me, than you truly are a fool, father," Serana venomously replied.
"Then, you leave me no choice, daughter," Harkon stated as his face hardened, and he slowly pulled out his sword. Old and unique, the sword resembled a katana with a bat-like crossguard.
Harkon shot forward with inhuman speed and slashed with his sword forth. Serana jumped back while deflecting with her dagger. She tried to dart forward past his guard, but Harkon step-sided and brought down his sword on her, forcing Serana to block, but then she cast a bolt of lightning at him, getting enough space to breathe.
Serana was no slacker with her swordsmanship. In fact, she was better at swordsmanship then she was at magic. But her dagger did not have the reach that Harkon's sword possessed and she was forced on the defensive. Plus, Harkon was able to put more power into his strikes.
Then, a powerful blow knocked the dagger out of Serana's hands, as she screamed in pain as Harkon's sword impaled through her shoulder. Serana fell to her knees while gripping the sword in pain.
"It didn't have to be this way, but I won't hesitate in completing my goals," Harkon said, preparing the death blow.
But then Isran appeared, slamming his shoulder into Harkon and sending him flying. Harkon got back up to his feet while Isran readied his warhammer.
"Grandmaster Isran of the Dawnguard."
"You must be the leader of the Volkihar vampires. A displeasure to make your acquaintance, I assure you," Isran replied. "Now I'm going to make sure your threat ends."
Harkon merely hissed and charged. The vampire ducked under the swing of the warhammer, and then unleashed a furry of blows, which Isran rapidly deflected with the the haft of his warhammer. Isran then swang the hilt of the warhammer forth and caught Harkon on the chin, and brought down the warhammer's head, but Harkon barely step aside and slashed with his sword, which caught Isran's side but did not injure him thanks to the Dawnguard armor. Then, Harkon tried to charge again, but Isran decided to bring out one of his best assets: releasing the warhammer from his left hand, he cast Stendarr's Aura, and a sphere of sunlight apperaed around him.
Harkon started to yell in pain as the spell burned deeply into him. Isran took advantage of the momentary distraction and swung his warhammer, breaking through Harkon's haphazard guard and sending him flying back, losing his sword in the process.
As the Vampire Lord fell, Isran charged forward, seeking to finally put an end to the leader of the vampires, but as he brought the hammer down on the monster, Harkon's hand snapped and grabbed the hammer, halting it as dark energy started to form around him.
"You think your petty sunlight spells will stop me?" Harkon growled, and the energy burst forth, revealing Harkon in his Vampire Lord form, and as he still held the warhammer with one hand, the other backhanded Isran so hard that he fell several meters away.
Harkon then tossed the weapon aside and stalked towards the Dawnguard grandmaster, but Isran, for once, was faster, thanks to years of practice: tasting blook in his mouth, Isran managed to force himself to his knees and load his crossbow, firing it without needing to aim.
With inhuman speed, Harkon grabbed the bolt but a few inches from his face.
Next to one of the Dawnguard's sleighs, Sam shot a bolt into another draugr's eye, killing it instantly, before he saw Isran was in trouble. He also gasped upon seeing the form of the Vampire Lord as well as it catching a bolt out of the air. Unsure of how to help, he suddenly had an idea, and rushed to the sleigh, rummaging through it to see if what he needed was there.
Isran tried to load another bolt, but this time Harkon reached him before he could pull, and it grabbed him by the throat, lifting him off the ground.
"Die, Dawnguard!" Harkon screamed as he raised his arm for what would have been a lethal attack.
That was when Serana grabbed her father's sword from the ground and stabbed him in the back, giving out a raging scream of her own while the sword pierced its owner.
With a roar of pain that was more animal than human, Harkon threw Isran away and tried to swing an arm behind him, in an attempt to strike Serana, but she managed to jump away and settle in a stance with the sword, trying to ignore the pain in her shoulder.
"You've disappointed me for the last time, Serana!" Harkon yelled while Serana readied herself.
"Serana! Duck!" Sam yelled from behind Serana as he raised his crossbow.
Serana dropped to the ground and Sam let the bolt fly. Like before, Harkon caught the cross bolt, smirking at the futility of the action.
That was when he noticed the bolt's tip was burning.
And then, it exploded.
Knowing of their enemies' vulnerability to fire, Sam and Sorine had spent some time working on what she had called a 'exploding firebolt', which had something in the tip that caused an explosion several seconds after shooting, long enough for the bolt to reach its objective. As it happened in this occasion.
The explosion covered Harkon in fire, which made the vampire let out a high-pitched scream of pain. He suddenly raised his bat-like wings and jumped off the edge of the Fist, gliding away from the fight. That seemed to be the moment in which all other vampires chose to flee as well, disappearing over the ledge and climbing down as fast as they could. While some of the Dawnguard with crossbows continued firing at them, the rest rushed to aid the Night's Watch against the army of the dead.
Qhorin Halfhand roared as he stabbed a wight, which nonetheless continued to struggle in an attempt to kill him, until Qhorin jabbed the torch in his left hand into the wight, putting it on fire and allowing him to continue the fight. Meanwhile, Lord Commander Mormont sliced a wight in half with Longclaw, only that this one did not get back up. He had noticed this during the fight, and how he did not have to kill them with fire, and wondered if maybe it was his sword, made from Valyrian steel, that was killing them.
Despite the efforts of the Night's Watch, it was clear that it was a struggle. A man screamed as he was overwhelmed by a group of wights, another fell as an ice spike from a Dragon Priest pieced his head, and yet another Night's Watcher was dumbfounded as his sword shattered from a White Walker's ice sword before his head was separated from his shoulders.
Taking a quick look around, Commander Mormont saw they were being quickly overwhelmed by the dead army.
"Fall back! Fall back to the next position!" Mormont shouted. The Night's Watch quickly did as ordered, abandoning their defensive line on the slope, falling back to a pre-prepared secondary line, with the dead army hot on their heels.
"Qhorin! Light it!" Mormont ordered.
Qhorin reached the marked spot on the snow and stabbed it with his torch, lighting up the line of oil that had been placed at the top of the slope leading up to the fist. The line of fire quickly lit up, forming a barrier of fire that separated the army of the dead from that of the living.
The wights halted before the line of fire, screeching an inhuman sound as their quarry escaped them behind their natural enemy. The handful of White Walkers stepped in front of the army, but they simply stood in place, staring at the Night's Watch and the Dawnguard.
"I don't think that's going to hold them for long," Qhorin stated.
"Everyone gather up! We'll have to break free and try to retreat south to the Wall!" Mormont ordered.
"How are we supposed to break free with an army of dead in front of us?" a Night's watchman said with despair in his voice.
"It's our only chance to survive!" Isran spoke up with a heavy gasp from the injuries Harkon had inflicted on him. "If we stay here, we all die."
Before more could be said, the screeching from the wights suddenly stopped. The Dawnguard and the Night's Watch look on uneasy as the wights suddenly stopped moving... save for several figures moving through the horde.
An icy figure stepped out from the horde. It resembled the White Walkers, but was wearing dark black clothing with silver armor. On its head, there were jagged spikes that resembled a crown. Two similarly dressed figures flanked him.
"High Others... and the Night's King," Serana whispered, although everyone heard her through the silence.
The Night's King's cold and unfeeling gaze passed over them. Then, the Night's King raised his arms and the sounds of rumbling ice could be heard. The Night's King then thrust his arms forward. A massive wave of snow suddenly flew up from in front of the dead army. It shot forward and slammed down over the line of fire, smothering it... and clearing the way for the dead army.
"Now that's fucking unfair," Grenn swore.
"Stand fast!" Commander Mormont ordered as they all prepared to fight.
The Night's King raised up a single hand, no doubt to order the horde of dead forward...
Everyone froze at the sound of an unearthly creature ranging over the land. The Night's King paused and glanced at the sky before lowering his arm. Then, to the shock of the Dawnguard and the Night's Watch, the White Walkers and the dead wights began to back away.
"What's going on? What's happening?" Grenn asked in fear.
"I've got a bad feeling about this," Qhorin muttered as everyone glanced around, trying to understand what was going on.
Fwoosh... Fwoosh... FWOOSH...
"What's that sound?" Edd muttered.
"It sounds like... a bird's wings," Sam said. "But, much louder."
It was Serana who looked up and saw what was coming.
"There! In the sky, to the northwest!" she shouted, and everyone looked to see what Serena was pointing to: once gain, they were shocked at what they were seeing.
"A dragon," Isran muttered.
The dragon was black as night, no, even the darkest night seen in the far north wasn't as black as the dragon flying towards the Fist of the First Men. It flew just below the clouds, like a dark shadow in the sky.
As the dragon reached the Fist, it suddenly dove upwards, disappearing into the grey clouds above them. The men of the Dawnguard and Night's Watch held their breaths, wondering what would happen next.
Appearing above the clouds, the World Eater hovered and looked back down, his red eyes piercing the clouds better than any hawk as he stared at the men below.
"Soon, my war shall begin. Until then, the time has come for this world to hear my voice once again," Alduin spoke before Shouting a Thu'um.
Still silent below, the Dawnguard and Night's watch continued to stare at the sky. Then, something began to peer through the clouds. An orange and reddish light. As it cleared the clouds...
"By all the gods..." Mormont gasped.
"Wh-wha..." Sam gaped.
"Sam... could you wake me up? I'm having this terrible nightmare..." Dolorous Edd asked.
Serana fell to her knees as she stared up at what appeared from the clouds. She had seen many things throughout her long immortal life. But none of it could prepare her for what she was seeing now.
"Divines... anyone... please... save us," Serana begged.
Serana, the Dawnguard, and the Night's Watch could do nothing but gaze in helplessness at the sky, as dozens of flaming meteors fell towards the Fist...
... Heralding death and destruction.
Author's Note: Well, season two of the story is finally finished. Very sorry on how long it took. Anyways, I thought I'd let everyone know that I'm going to try and aim for the third season (or arc, whichever you prefer to call it) to be the last one. It's possible there might be a fourth season, I'm just not sure yet. I just know that this story is already rather long and I feel like we need to try and get the ending in sight. Not to mention, there are other stories I want to start writing. Speaking of which...
ANNOUNCEMENT! You may or may have not seen it already on my profile page, but one of my readers approached me about a story idea. His profile name on is cjboughton, and he asked me if I would consider writing a fanfiction about a webcomic called Girl Genius. cjboughton describes himself as more of an 'idea man' rather than a writer, which is why he asked if I would write a story about Girl Genius.
While I do enjoy the webcomic, I'm afraid that there are other fanfiction ideas I've been wanting to pursue for quite some time and reluctantly told cjboughton that I wouldn't be able to write a story about Girl Genius. At least, not for a long time
However, I did tell him that I would help in seeing if there is anyone else who is interested in taking up the task.
SO! If you haven't read the Girl Genius Webcomic, I would recommend that you at least give it a try. If you have and are interested in writing a fanfiction about it, contact cjboughton about it and discuss some potential story ideas. I'm willing to offer some input as well if anyone wants to hear it, so please send a private message to cjboughton if you're interested. Webcomics need more love here on fanfiction!
Second Announcement! If you haven't seen it yet, I uploaded something called tales of the Ranting Realm. It's mostly to get some story preview out for all of you to see and give me some feedback on.
After I get several chapters of that posted, and many previews shown, I will post a poll for you to vote on what my third story will be. I still have limited time due to collage, but I hoping to never take a year to update a story again. It sucks.
Ranting Ryuu: Whew, finally got this chapter done. Now I can take some time to relax.
Tiny Tina: NOPE! You need to start writing the next chapter for Inquisition of the Elf Prince. Plus, you need to write and post the other story previews in the next chapter of Tales of the Ranting Realm!
Ranting Ryuu: ... Dangnabbit...
Tiny Tina: Work never ends. See you all in the next chapter!