Chapter ?: Living On
I never thought I would grow old in a place like this. In a world like this.
As I unhurriedly put on the elaborate robe and tied the strings that held it together, as I stared into the mirror that reflected the me of now, the piercing dead fish eyes nestled within crow's feet that stared back at me with an expression that I could barely recognize, but I couldn't deny the intimidating regal look that it gave off almost subconsciously. The wrinkles that lined my face were a result of the stresses that had encompassed my life for the decades that I had worked so hard and so long for. A work that I felt some regrets about.
"What was it all for?"
All the preparations that I had worked for. The nation that I had plunged into chaos. The sacrifices that I had made. All of it was done to prepare for the apocalypse, an apocalyptic event that had come and gone without a dust of it remaining.
I should be happy, right? I won. However, it wasn't the fact that it was over that I was dissatisfied with. No, it was more because of how it ended.
I had hired a group of faceless men on the off-chance that they might get an opportunity to help out. They were just one of the many, many mercenary groups that I had brought over which included the Golden Company. I just never expected them to kill the Night King.
Apparently, the Night King wasn't a very good multi-tasker. Two distracted him with a dragonglass arrow each, shot in sequence, while the third shot him in the ankle with Valyrian steel. And that was it. All of the Night King's horde and his brethren perished, just like that.
If that was all it took, why did I even need to do all this preparation?
"Well, aren't you going to answer me, Zaimokuza?!"
The fireplace flickered and lashed about, and out walked a rather chubby-looking Japanese man. Wearing glasses and a messy stock of white hair, he nevertheless had a jovial smile on his face that was accentuated by the glamorous red clothes with gold and black trimmings that adorned his body.
"It's in preparation for our next great adventure."
"That's a lie. That's a complete lie."
"Okay, even I didn't think he would go down that easily," he said. "But still, I'm serious. We'll go to another world, but this time, we'll be an adventuring duo or I could be your twin brother!"
"I never said I was going." Fixing the last string on my clothes, I turned to face him.
"I can wait," Zaimokuza said. "There's always worlds that need saving, and it's not like time is an issue for me."
"Won't your wife get angry at you for running away?"
"It's better to do and ask forgiveness later."
"She's going to chain you up for a thousand years, you know?"
"It'll be fine, it'll be fine." Even though he said that with his usual enthusiasm, I had known him long enough to see the subtle flinching. His voice was a whisper for the next part. "And it's more like a hundred, not a thousand."
"Excuses won't save you."
"She won't be too harsh on me. After all, I'm the reason that it became the Faith of the Eight." For the first time this evening, Zaimokuza's expression took on a more serious look. "I'm not rushing you. Take your time. After everything is over, we can even visit Komachi. I'm sure she would be happy to see you again. I have enough prayer power to do that now, and even more by the time everything is done."
The name brought back memories. Happy memories. However, at this point, I couldn't even remember what her face looked like anymore. The images of Japan, to me, were fleeting, like the blur of a dreamscape. The pictures in frames that lined my bedroom's walls were the images of Japan that I could remember, from the tall buildings to the Shinto temples to the calm river that I used to walk by on my way home. However, the details of each were lacking, and the people depicted in them were faceless. By the time I got artists to render my memories into sketches and paintings, it was too late to salvage them. What colors were Komachi's eyes? Did Yukinoshita ever act shy? What did Yuigahama's smile look like?
I had replaced these irreplaceable memories with knowledge. From how to create more crop yield to mining technology to forging techniques, I had a broad spectrum of technical information that had helped me get to where I am today. If I looked out the window, I would see that, beyond the bridge that connects Casterly Rock to the mainland, that every part of the land, as far as my eyes could perceive, were filled with buildings, some with black smoke drifting upward from their chimneys. It was a massive city that spread out from its humble beginnings at Lannisport. There was no way to stop slums from popping up, not in a city that big, without turning it into a surveillance state, but I mitigated as much trouble as I could using history from Earth as guidelines. I had made so many projects in its from the sewer system to a proper bathhouse, enough to attract so many people to the city from across the continent and even from Essos, such that the city had grown to sizes far larger than even King's Landing. Far larger than the capital city will ever be.
"Maybe," I simply answered. Did I want another life beyond this one? I wasn't sure.
"Think about it," Zaimokuza said, as if I hadn't already been thinking about it. With a wave of his arms, he dissipated into a flourish of flames.
"Tell your daughter I said hi."
"Will do." The disembodied voice, barely a whisper, lingered in the air for a little while.
I stood there for a moment, unsure of what I should be doing. It took a little bit to reset my mind and get back into the motion of things since there was still work that needed to be done. However, as my hand rested on the doorknob, I took a last glance back to my rooms, to the portrait of myself: a middle school student standing awkwardly in between two girls and an effeminate boy. The only one with a face was the awkward student with dead fish eyes.
"…I'll be going."
Opening the door, I took a step outside into the hallway, but instead of it feeling like I was simply leaving a room, it felt more like a stack of pressure descending upon my shoulders. At the side, waiting patiently, was my incredibly large bodyguard in golden armor. The face guard of his helm was pushed up, and he only momentarily glanced at me before returning to the piece of wood that he was carving up in his hand with a knife. He was actually surprisingly skilled despite the fact that he was wearing gauntlets. He probably would be more popular if it weren't for the fact that the figurine he was making was of a person being eviscerated; I could recognize the stomach entrails he was working on because of his previous works.
"Gregor, let's get going."
He merely grunted in response, but when I walked passed him, Gregor blew the wood shavings off his creation and carefully placed it in one of his belt pouches. It took only a moment before he trailed after me, his eyes vigilant. It was a loyalty born from the years that we spent together, one that I reciprocated. He still had a large issue with his anger, but I had curbed it to a large extent through lots and lots of patience, and that paid off. In my war efforts, he had been remarkable, and even in peace, he still had a place to belong to.
That was something that I did for my army as well, out of both moral and ethical obligation. Good pay, good equipment, good training, and a good pension. The fact that I cared about my soldiers helped, which was why I had the best-trained army in Westeros. The people of this era still believed in quantity being better, but I subscribed to the more modern notion that quality was more worthwhile, and that had helped me in the wars and battles I had conducted.
The respect in my soldier's eyes were palpable when they met me at the door to the Grand Chamber. They dutifully pushed open the large double doors as one of the others took a step forward and shouted out my introduction.
"All rise for Lord Hachi Lannister, Lord Paramount of the Westerlands and claimant to the Iron Throne!"
It was a short introduction, but I was never for long ones in any case, even before I had to listen to it thousands of times. As I walked on the long carpet to what was essentially a massive and jeweled throne, I could see the many Lords and Ladies that stood on either side, watching with rapt attention. Unlike other would-be throne rooms, I gave them all comfy chairs such that they would be able to sit when I sat down so it was more like a modern meeting hall than the throne room in King's Landing. There were even people of lower class status in here that I allowed by excuse of their achievements being large enough, overriding the grumbles of my noble-born followers.
…oh, you want to know why they called me a claimant? That was from the start of everything. Many years ago, I had been in King's Landing due to Tywin's demand that I practice my woefully lacking politics skills. That task essentially became just me following Cersei around as she did most of the work. However, that was when the trouble with Rhaegar's cheating came to light. That had escalated fast after Brandon Stark and his posse were imprisoned. Or as fast as a medieval timeline could do, since traveling took days so it wasn't like a television drama that could be neatly wrapped up in an hour. When his father, Rickard Stark, finally made it to King's Landing, it went from bad to worse.
King Aerys made it into an unwinnable game of trying to burn Rickard at the stake while putting a noose around Brandon's neck and a sword to free both of them just out of his reach. Yeah, I was frightened, but if I had stayed still while knowing that I had the power to save them, then it would have haunted me forever. Despite my reluctance, I had already stepped out. Voicing a challenge, another game, in which I would stick my arm into the wood that was burning with dragon fire. If it didn't harm me, then all of them would go free, and we would all receive safe passage out of King's Landing. If I failed, my arm would be burnt to a crisp. Of course, it was a game rigged in my favor, a game that was impossible for me to lose.
Cersei tried to stop it, which made King Aerys agree all the faster since harming the heir of Tywin was something he would enjoy. He had never kept his disdain for Tywin hidden, even back when we first came to King's Landing. So when I stuck my arm into there and only my clothes burned, under the surprised gaze of everyone, even he could only gawk in astonishment. Of course, he kept his words since he was a king and allowed us to leave King's Landing with the Starks. What he didn't do was leave us alone. He sent hunting parties after us, and it was only later after we managed to reach Casterly Rock, that I learned that it wasn't to kill the Starks.
It was to capture me. Apparently, they now thought that I had the blood of House Blackfyre somehow from my mother's line because of my abilities. The conjecture had been further cemented as fact when I openly displayed my ability to produce and control fire to fight off the hunting parties. And that…
That became the start of the civil war which still existed even today.
Well, it was more like a cold war now.
The continent had been splintered, but I controlled a majority portion of Westeros. It was a cold war that eventually worked out for me since I could keep up a war economy and a standing army without objection, all for the sake of fighting back against the White Walkers. Mysterious and deadly inhuman enemies who turned out to be far more easy than I anticipated, resulting in the position that I was in today where I had no choice but to finish what I started.
I took a seat on my glamorous throne, a bejeweled furniture that was probably more comfy than the iron throne. I couldn't image a seat made of melted down blades to be a comfortable one. Everyone else sat down on their own cushioned chairs. To my left, I could see some of my closest followers. The Red Priestess Kinvara—since Melissandre had already left the world after the White Walker threat was eliminated—and my high general, Cersei Lannister. Sitting next to her was my strongest knight, Jaime Lannister, who could somehow even beat Gregor consistently, though only barely and through some trickery. I could see Jaime and Cersei holding hands publicly while smiling happily. Normally, society wouldn't accept this open display of incest, but since they thought that we all had a bit of Targaryen blood in us, they thought it was a-okay.
…I didn't have the heart to tell them the truth, especially after their first child was born.
"Let's begin," I said simply and loudly. It wasn't like it was different from the thousands of other times that I had done it so there was no point in being too verbose about it.
Rising from her seat, the Priestess Kinvara walked over to stand in front of me and bowed at the waist. When she stood up straight again, that was when she finally gave voice to the words she wanted to say.
"Lord Tyrion sends word that he and the Viper of Dorne had discovered valuable efforts to counter the Spider had borne fruit. He wishes to arrange a meeting to inform you of the matter personally."
"Send a message that I will meet him at his estate in a week. It's been awhile since I seen his wife, Tysha, and their children, and I bet he hasn't seen them in awhile either."
"As you command, my lord." Kinvara nodded her head once. Raising her head, she said, "There is another matter that I must discuss with you."
"The cities of Slaver's Bay has petitioned once again for trade routes to be opened."
"Tell them I'll consider it when they abolish slavery," I said adamantly. "There's a reason I crushed the Iron Isles."
And that reason wasn't just for their iron mines.
"As you wish, my lord." As I saw her walk back to her chair and take a seat again, I could see one of the lords rising from his own seat with a eager look on his face.
And thus, my trials and tribulations began.
As the hours floated by and my mind was inundated with the mundane and sometimes trivial matters of the nobles' bickering, I found myself longing to extend my court and justice system to include the noble classes, but they would never accept judgment from anyone underneath their class status so unfortunately, it fell to me to deal with matters that could probably be solved by an experienced mother of two or more children. By the time that the day waned and my court was finally closed, my mind was close to shutting down. Thankfully, this was not a daily event, otherwise my brain would give out from pure boredom and frustration.
As I sat alone in the Grand Chamber—well, alone besides Gregor standing by my side—I took the moment to relax a bit. A moment that was shattered by the great doors opening. Not that I could say anything since it was my wife standing there. Janna Tyrell stepped gingerly into the room, more confident than she was when we had first married. Since then, we had grown to love each other. Not sure if it was true love, but it was passionate and enjoyable enough that I couldn't complain. And when I saw the three teenagers trailing behind her, I couldn't keep that burst of happiness from exploding in my chest.
You never really would know what it feels like until you had children of your own. That was apt enough description, and I had lambasted it with my philosophical thoughts about it, but that was before I really had children. There was something about them that, even if I had to sacrifice all my hobbies and free time, I wouldn't really regret it. Even thinking about it now, it felt weird how I had changed. They gathered up in front of me as I stood up and walked to them.
"Janna, you didn't have to bring them to this messy place." The chairs that the lords and ladies were sitting on were now misaligned and even scattered. Such was the mess they made when they all left the room. Not to mention that it was a bit dirty from dropped food when they snacked and drank during the session.
"They wanted to see you," Janna said cheerfully with a bright smile. "They said something about getting more Hachi points."
"Yukino." My oldest daughter turned to look at me at my call. With long golden hair that was meticulously cared for, she was definitely showing signs of being a beauty on the level that Cersei was famous for. However, the cold gaze that she stared back at me with, even though I was her father, was enough to send most would-be suiters scurrying away. Still, as frosty as she could be, there was always a hint of warmth in her eyes when I looked at her. Before someone says I named her after Yukino because of a first crush or anything like that, I will tell you outright that is not it; I originally wanted to name her after both Yuigahama Yui and Yukinoshita Yukino, but when I combined Yui and Yukino, it came out as Yuikino, and that offended my Japanese sensibilities so Yukino it was. Still, she really took after both of her namesakes, though it is considered a strange "Eastern" name, such that a prince of Yi Ti had even sent a marriage request for Yukino just because of her name. Not that I would accept something like that. I turned to my second daughter.
"Alysanne." She was already looking at me when I took a look at her. Janna had named her, especially since I gave our first daughter her name. Alysanne, for her part, was a charming and energetic young girl who was constantly hopping about. I had already gotten hints from Brandon Stark about a secret alliance through a relative of the Starks marrying her, and that wasn't even mentioning the obvious overtures from the Vale for Robert Arryn. Of course, I wasn't going to accept something like this either. It wasn't my choice to make. I finally turned to my youngest.
"Hatch." Maybe it was out of nostalgia for my (second) mother, but the name that I was supposed to be given was the same name that I gave to my son and heir. To tell the truth, I wasn't sure how to interact with him too much these days because…
He was the very definition of an ikeman. His appearance was beyond A grade, and that wasn't even mentioning his intelligent and studious nature which was far above me. His swordsmanship, taught by both Jaime and Gregor, was increasing at a visible rate, and the two had even said that he might surpass them when he reaches the age of majority. Everyone kept telling him that he acts like a king, and to be honest, he really does act like one. Yet, in spite of all these superb qualities that outshine me in every way, he practically idolized me. How do you interact with a son who wants to write down everything you say as gospel and frame it in a golden picture frame?
"So, Lord Father," Hatch said with a charismatic smirk. "Comforting you after a long day must be worth a lot of Hachi points, right?"
… and all three of them were absolutely obsessed with the idea of Hachi points.
"It was supposed to be an arbitrary grading system!"
Hatch simply grinned brightly in response, a cocky smile that could have made any girl in attendance swoon. How much more of an ikeman can he be?! And for what? Hachi points?!
If that wasn't enough, then the fact that it had spread among my followers should be. None were more fervent for it than Cersei and her followers. She even kept an official ledger that recorded down how much Hachi points everyone had, though last I heard, she was quite a bit in the lead even over my own wife. Why was my wife reporting it to her in the first place?!
"And for god's sake, there's nothing to redeem Hachi points with!"
Of course, my words might as well have fallen on deaf ears. If they were listening, they wouldn't be smiling so widely at that. Even the chillest of my daughters was smiling, and that wasn't even mentioning the laughter coming from my wife.
Still, the sight of them having fun made the corners of my lips curl up and a sense of warmth spread through me.
All of this was something that I could never have expected.
A small time skip in a sea of time skips. I could go into the day to day menial tasks, but I would like to spare my mind. My memories have a finite storage space, as evident by my fading memories of Japan.
A week had passed before I had met up with Tyrion and his family at his estate. From what he told me, apparently, I had gotten another invitation to a secret liaison, one that I had repeated throughout the years. Who was this lucky lady who I deemed to have an affair with?
Yes, because I wasn't a NTR scumbag. And no, I did not have sexual relations with that man, so perish the thought. This was a secret meeting between two leaders of Kingdoms embroiled in a cold war in which the actual citizenry didn't really pay much attention to anymore since there wasn't any real restriction on trade or even open fighting between us.
I rode on my horse next to his as we traveled across the vibrant green plains. Far behind us, our troop of bodyguard knights on horses followed us, even as they gazed warily at each other. It was understandable though, since the two Kings of Westeros were riding on the fields.
"I believe this civil war has gone on long enough," Rhaegar said.
"Yeah." My words were simple, but we were not really enemies in the first place since we both weren't interested in mutual destruction. Because of that, back then, Rhaegar had come back as soon as he heard what happened and subtly deescalated the war. However, we had kept up the cold war because it suited both our purposes since we both believed that the Long Night was coming. Him, because of an ancient royal prophecy. Me, because of Zaimokuza, which is honestly a better source of information. We worked toward our goal in different ways, with him focusing on the Prince Who Was Promised.
"To that end, I propose a marriage between our children to seal the peace," Rhaegar said. "My heir, Aegon, to your eldest, Yukino, and my daughter, Rhaenys, to your heir, Hatch. It will be a Targaryen and Lannister on both thrones."
"I told you before, and I'll tell you again. I won't force my children into political marriages."
"I know you are close to the Hightowers, but you take too much to their ways," he said. "This is for the sake of Westeros."
"So was fighting the White Walkers, but we fought them together just fine. We'll find another way," I said. "I'm not going to decide their future for them."
Rhaegar sighed, but then the corners of his lips began to curve up.
"I'm not satisfied, but still, that is what I like about you, Lord Hachi," Rhaegar said with a honest smile. "You don't play games with lives."
"No, I do," I said as I looked up at the clear skies. "I do."
Everything that I had done, there was a reason. However, that didn't erase what I did, the people I manipulated and used, the lives I had destroyed, and the corpses I left behind me. It was far too late to go back now, far too late to apologize. They might say, in the far future, that I saved far more people than I broke, but even one person is still a life, and that life weighs on me. A burden that I must carry for the things that I did and the things that I will do. Before I leave, before I lie down to rest or head off with Zaimokuza, I had to finish what I started so that the lives that succeed me won't have to bear that burden. That is my responsibility, as a leader…
…and as a father.
"This really is a troublesome game..."
The skies stretched out before me, as far I could see.
Well, that was a crazy ride, and I hope you enjoyed everything you read. Thanks for reading! Now I'm going to go into the nitty gritty so if that's not your jam, you probably shouldn't read on.
So why did it take so long and why did I decide to just finish it off. To tell the truth, I was going to write it out, but I tried. I really tried. I have literally made 60k words worth of failed attempts that floundered after two or three chapters. I couldn't understand why, but I didn't want to abandon the story because I loved it. For all its flaws, when I read back on it, I enjoyed it which is something that I couldn't say the same for some of my older works. I worked hard to try to do it, but I couldn't. I made excuses, and I made up reasons like it was because season 7 and 8 of Game of Thrones was terrible. It wasn't until a couple of months ago that I realized the true reason for that.
So I am a strange type of writer. I write more on instinct than anything else. So the problem that I was having was that I was doing the usual method that writers usually do. I was trying to think and plan for the various paths the story could take. The problem was that I would think too hard and plan far into the future, such that the present became boring and uninteresting to write. Somehow, that is my inherent writing trait. I of course still tried to plan and write which had led to 60k of work I couldn't use. So a couple of months ago, I just decided to do another quest-style story which I had some people voting on what I write next for it, and after a couple of weeks of that, I found out that I could write a lot.
Yes, I could write a lot when I didn't really have to think. Consistently too.
So, wanting to finish out this story so there would be closure, I went to my good friend, Vahn. He is one of the people who liked my story, so I talked with him about the ideas and such. Using that information and his own ideas, he made me an outline for the chapter here.
I finished the first draft within one day. I didn't follow the outline strictly, injecting new ideas and switching things around, but that still doesn't change the fact that it made things a lot easier for me.
So what's the moral of this story? Apparently, I write better when I don't have to think much. Everyone has their own traits, something that they are born with. I just never thought it would also apply to writing too.
Well, at least now I know now the reason and solution, which should make it easier to do future works.