THE CASTLE ON THE FROZEN SHORE

The foreigners had mammoths, and then they shaved them. Tormund Giantsbane had heard plenty of fanciful tales in his time at Ruddy Hall—he'd even been responsible for a tale or three in his own right—but in all his years he'd never heard of anybody ever taking a giant's steed and then shaving the damned thing. It wasn't quite the biggest waste of time and effort Tormund could think of, but it was pretty damned close to it.

It only just went to show that the southern kneelers were queerer folk than he'd ever expected, he supposed. Even the Stark's men showed a little more sense than that. Some of the time, anyway.

The creatures clearly weren't enjoying the brisk air of Eastwatch, either, all huddled up to where the kneelers from over the sea brought all their shiny bits ashore. Even from threescore strides away Tormund could see the poor damned things shivering visibly as they watched the little assembly of kneelers, crows and free folk with a suspicious eye. "Stupid damned idea," Tormund muttered.

"What was that?" The flame-bearded kneeler with the touch of gray said. The man had been eyeing Tormund suspiciously ever since the foreigners had landed, and he'd kept his ears open too. Pity, that.

Unwilling to back down to some shit in shiny breeches, Tormund looked the kneeler straight in the eye and repeated himself, quite clearly. "I said, it's a stupid damned idea bringing those creatures along. I don't know what kind of games you've been playing in the summer lands, shaving giant's steeds like that, but this is the true North. Nothin' that don't have fur of its own or can take the skins of that what grows it natural-like will live long up here."

"The Giantsbane's not wrong, milord," that salt-soaked crow Pyke said in what passed for a mild voice from him. Tormund gave the man a moment's side-eye. A crow standing up for the free folk against a kneeler lord? What a weird fuckin' world we live in. "Autumn's already on the wings here—we're as like to see ice in the bay in the next few nights as it is. Eastwatch tends to be a little milder thanks to the sea, but if it's cold here it'll be worse further inland. Those beasts will likely freeze to death before you make the next castle in the chain, let alone Castle Black."

That little bit of truth didn't sit well with fire-beard, who sputtered like a dying campfire. "The Golden Company is prepared for all possible contingencies—" he started to say before the white-haired boy, the fanciest of all these kneelers, held out a hand to stop him. Tormund studied the boy; they said this was a Targaryen, one of the great dragon kings of the south who had all supposedly been killed in a war years before. Just like a bunch of kneelers to try and kill a tribe and make a mess of it.

"Peace, Lord Connington," the boy said. "It would be ill fortune for our men if we were to ignore the wisdom of our people." He turned his purple eyes to Tormund. "And what would you suggest we do with our elephants, goodman?"

Tormund shrugged. "Depends," he said. "If you want to keep 'em, stick 'em back on yer ships and send 'em home. Otherwise, the crow ain't wrong. It'd be a mercy to put arrows in their eyes now and butcher 'em for the provender. Lot of meat on a giant's steed, and if you plan on walking anywhere you'll be needing that meat in your bellies."

The boy nodded, not happy with what Tormund had to say but—may the gods be praised—willing to listen. "A regrettable decision," he said at length. "But a wise one. Jon, tell the trainers to give mercy to their beasts, then have the men set a fire and racks for drying." He bowed shortly to Tormund. "I thank you for your counsel, goodman. It pleases me to know that there is still wisdom among my subjects despite the Usurper's misrule."

He couldn't help it. The chuckle escaped his lips before anything in the realm of gods or men could stop it, and once that was through there was no stopping the big, hearty laugh at the boy's pronouncement. A few of Tormund's men laughed along with him, and the rest just grinned in a faintly disturbing way. Pyke just rubbed his temples as Tormund laughed, and the kneelers looked confused and angry. "Did I jape, goodman?" the boy asked, a new edge in his voice.

"Did you… oh gods," Tormund chortled. "I'm not one of yer subjects, boy. I'm Tormund Giantsbane, father of bears and Mead-king of Ruddy Hall. One of the free folk of the true North, and don't you fuckin' forget that!" At which point flame-beard and his two kneelers actually drew steel and pointed their pointy cocks right at Tormund.

"I see," the boy said icily. "I had thought this man was the village headman, Commander," he said to Pyke, who looked torn. On the one hand, he had his oaths, and on the other Tormund was pretty sure the crow wanted to run him through too. "Why are wildlings allowed free on this side of the Wall?"

"Orders from the Lord Commander, Your Grace" Pike said, stiff and hard as one of his masts. "So long as they agree to truce any wildling seeking refuge is welcome in the Gift. I follow my orders… even when I most want to toss the Giantsbane into the sea and let him harrass the Drowned God instead of me." Tormund snorted. The man was a salt-soaked swine of a crow but he could respect the man's bluntness.

"Oh aye, we've all drunk each other's meat and mead," Tormund added. "We've seen what's waiting on the other side of that fucking great thing, and we've no interest in being dead and walking again. Let the sky-witch tussle with the white walkers while we get clear." His men rumbled in agreement.

"I am not happy about this…" the boy said slowly, displeasure clear on his face. "But the Watch has ever been a neutral party in Westeros, since before the time of my great ancestor the Conqueror. I would be… a poor king if I went back on such things. And then there's this witch," he mused, displeasure turning to plan curiosity. "Have you met her?"

Tormund shook his shaggy head. "Nah. Mance met her some time ago, and I know she's been busy setting walkers on fire and suchlike, but haven't had the pleasure yet."

The boy hummed. "Well, perhaps we shall meet once we reach Castle Black." He bowed, turned and walked away, leaving his men to back off behind him, swords still in hand. As soon as they were out of easy earshot Tormund turned to Pyke.

"Well," he said cheerily, "that was different."

Pyke just sighed. "At least we got messages off to the Old Bear before they hit shore," he said. "Fuck. A live fucking Targaryen in the North? Stark'll shit himself when he finds out. This disaster just keeps getting worse and worse."

"Beats being eaten by white walkers," Tormund offered.

"You say that now."


***FLASH TRAFFIC***

TO: HASEGAWA, Cpt. Jade, cmdg FWSC Carefree Victory AGS-3172
FROM: SUVOK, Cdr., cmdg FWSC Kirkwood Gap R-1821

Our analysis of the data agrees with your conclusions regarding the nature of the device. It does appear to be a component of a linear subspace accelerator of some kind, most likely a verteron beam gun though we do not wish to rule anything out. SCE Canaveral has transmitted their own full analysis of the data, which is attached to this message. Cdr. Hebert's team believes that accelerator was constructed using preexisting Builder hardware meant for transwarp conduit maintenance or similar large subspace infrastructure. Canaveral advises that there may be more devices of a similar nature, perhaps planetary installations scattered throughout the system; the reports of Threat activity on FSC-49493 III may provide an indication of location.

I have also been asked by Cdr. Hebert to pass along a personal message, as follows: "You're not allowed to die until I get Wuthering Heights back." I presume that has some inferred meaning.

– Suvok


*** FLASH TRAFFIC ***

TO: SUVOK, Cdr., cmdg FWSC Kirkwood Gap R-1821
FROM: HASEGAWA, Cpt. Jade, cmdg FWSC Carefree Victory AGS-3172

Could I get a clarification from Canaveral, please? Are we talking "preexisting" as in "based on known Builder science" or as in "jury-rigged out of something else?" A verteron accelerator would screw up just about any existing subspace field configuration, and if I was a Builder who called up what I was having trouble putting down it'd make a hell of a way to close the door.

Re: personal message: please relay to Hebert that I'll do my best, but no promises. Still up to my ass in space demons and their zombie minions here.

– Hasegawa


EDMURE

As a boy, Edmure Tully had ventured all over his father's lands. It was part of his education as a lord; in order to rule a place he must know it as best he can, his father often said. But for a young boy just entering the age for squirehood roaming the rivers was almost as great an adventure as going to war. Edmure loved the hills and streams and fields of the riverlands, finding something pleasant in every little cottage and keep tucked away in the dells. And then there was the northernmost part of the riverlands, where the kingsroad met the Neck.

The rivers snaked away from the Neck, and the forests barely deigned to touch it. For leagues around the terrain was windswept heath broken up by small patches of swampy ground, a taste of the mire that was to come further north. Even the wind had the bitter touch of the North to it, always blowing colder than the gentler breezes around Riverrun even in the depths of summer. A man like Edmure who liked to find the good in things when he could had a hard time accepting the joys of a place like this.

It was a hell of a place to meet one's king.

The king rode at the army's head. Edmure had met Stannis Baratheon a handful of times over the years and aside from the slow disappearance of his hair he remained constant: a lean, hard man with heavy brow and broad shoulders. Kingship had added to this a crown as hard as the man who wore it, a simple circlet of gold holding iron points subtly shaped to resemble antlers. The style reminded Edmure of a painting he'd seen once of the anvil of Redgrass Field, Maekar Targaryen. Let's hope the resemblance is only skin deep, he thought as the king approached. Behind the king came a small knot of young lords with Northern banners, led by a grinning red-haired youth that could only be his sister's son, and a lone woman in red robe and cloak trailing the procession with thoughtful mein.

As soon as Stannis had arrived Edmure had slipped from his horse and went down on one knee. "Your Grace," he said. "Welcome to the riverlands."

"Ser Tully," the king replied in a neutral tone. "Where is your lord father? I had expected him to greet me himself."

"My father is ill, Your Grace," Edmure said, suppressing a wince. "For now he is confined to his bed on the maester's advice." And was not likely to leave it again, but that grief would remain private until it couldn't be hidden. "I have come in his stead to offer the fealty of House Tully and these men in the realm's time of need."

Stannis's jaw clenched. "So few men," he said with a faint undercurrent of anger.

"My household knights and as much of the Riverrun levy as could be spared, Your Grace."

"And why could more men not be spared, Ser Tully, when there is treason afoot in the Seven Kingdoms?" There was a dangerous edge to the king's voice now. Edmure could sense the danger, but also didn't understand why there was danger. Did the king think they were Freys, holding their men back until the victor was certain? Did he not know?

He blinked. Of course Stannis didn't know. He'd likely been taking back paths and avoiding any of the keeps between his landing and the kingsroad, so as to keep the Lannisters in the dark as to his movements. "For the harvests, Your Grace," Edmure said carefully. "Your brother's witch, Lady Hassey, said the seasons were turning faster and we needed to prepare. Indeed, the white raven signaling autumn arrives at Riverrun scarce hours before we set out to join you."

The red woman hissed softly, but not softly enough to escape attention. All eyes turned to the woman, including the king's. "Is there something you wish to add, Lady Melisandre?" he said dryly.

The woman smoothed distress out of her features. "I have given you my counsel already, Your Grace," she said in a tone that demanded Edmure's complete attention. "The Great Other is stirring, and if your man speaks true then events are moving faster than I had foreseen. We must make haste and finish off this trifle—" Edmure's brows went up at the description of a rather large Lannister army as a trifle "—and them continue north to face that which dwells in the dark and cold."

"I am inclined to agree, not," the king said, holding up a hand in warning, "because I agree with your claims. You and the Ulthosi have both made your arguments, and they are not without merit, but I will not allow usurpers to my claim roam freely to knife me in the back. Regardless, the Lannisters are now in the Neck, and I intend to see their own necks cut." He turned back to Edmure, hard eyes fixed on him. "Lord Tully, what do your scouts say of the Lannister forces holding the gates?"

"Perhaps three or four hundred, almost all footmen. No significant chivalry to speak of, mostly just hedge knights and the like securing the Lannister baggage train against bandits." Edmure thought furiously, recalling his travels. "There's a low ridge following a creek to the west of here. If we follow along underneath it we can get to… perhaps half a league of the camp before we're spotted. The terrain is relatively flat around the entrance though, so they will spot us eventually."

"Against a few hundred footmen and hedge knights that's decent odds, Your Grace," his nephew spoke up. "And if we take their camp, that means we have their supplies to add to ours."

"Agreed," the king said. "Lord Tully, take your men and your kinsman's men and lead the van. Let us remind Tywin Lannister of his folly."


DAENERYS

On the fourth day after the encounter with the Undying Ones, Dany awoke from terrible dreams of blue hands clutching at her with a burning desire to see the maegi once more. Ser Jorah counseled against it, as did Xaro Xhoan Daxos. The woman is dangerous, they said. She is no longer welcome in Qarth, and likely will not be welcome in Westeros either. Such a woman should be cast adrift no matter how powerful she might be.

But Dany would not be dissuaded. The maegi Hasegawa was a strange creature who spoke strange words and perhaps smiled a little too much to be comfortable, but she had never lied to Dany. Dany's life was full of lies. Xaro and the great men of Qarth lied to her face without so much as a care. Her brother had lied to her to keep her safe, or so he said. Ser Jorah would do much the same if he thought he had cause. The magister in Pentos had lied to her about her sun and stars and life among the Dothraki. He, at least, had not lied overmuch to her, and there was something about Hasegawa's plain honesty that reminded her of the best of Drogo. The woman spoke plainly at all times and even if Dany didn't understand more than three words in ten when she would start mumbling about strange magics she never got the impression that what she said was false.

And so, on the fourth morning after the House of the Undying she dressed and mounted her palanquin to journey outside the gates of Qarth to where the great sky-ship rested on the red sand.

When she arrived she found the sky-ship perched on great metal legs, proud and white against the wastes, and surrounded by wains large and small. Atop one of these wains a dark-haired woman in sailor's leathers lounged insolently, picking at her fingernails with a large knife. And in between the wains a slim figure in maester's robes darted, accompanied by one of the captain's familiars. Dany ordered the bearers to halt and she descended from the palanquin before the maester.

The boy looked up from a slate in his hand and bowed briefly. "Ah, good morrow Your Grace!"

"Alleras," Daenerys said with what she hoped was a regal nod. "What is all this?" The woman in leather snickered from atop her perch, drawing a short glare from Ser Jorah.

Alleras looked thoughtful. "I believe that this is what we call extortion, Your Grace," he replied.

Dany blinked. "...come again?" she said, not quite she'd heard right.

"After the, ah, recent unpleasantness with the Undying," Alleras said diplomatically, "the great and good of Qarth—presuming the latter exists—decided they didn't want us in or near their city any longer. However, that business showed they can't simply send the guard to march us away into the wastes."

"I see." And she did at that. Leaving Xaro's manse proved to be more difficult after the Undying Ones; if she dared be seen outside stares and whispers would follow her, and those whispers were harsher than before, when she and her dragons inspired greed more than fear. "And the extortion?"

"The captain wishes to reprovision before we turn westwards again." Alleras shrugged eloquently. "It seemed reasonable to ask for aid while we were still grounded her, and it's said one can find anything in Qarth if one wished to. So she asked Master Daxos if he would be so kind to relay to his fellow merchants that if we received certain things in a reasonable period of time it would… shorten our stay. And so." He waved at the collection of wains.

"It's a novel approach to paying the iron price, that's for sure," the woman in leather commented. "Mayhaps if my ancestors had tried it we'd be better off in the Isles."

"Be nice, Greyjoy," Alleras chided.

The woman snorted. "You're not the captain. Besides, don't tell me you're enjoying making these pale shits squirm just as much as I am."

"Oh, I am. I just don't gloat about it in public. It's unseemly." The familiar hovering over the boy's shadow made a flat buzzing noise and Alleras looked up from his slate. The thing's eye had swiveled towards an ornate enamel box sitting atop a jug of oil. "Ah. I did wonder if they would try again."

Dany blinked. "Pardon?"

"The merchants of Qarth are no fonder of being extorted than any other man," Alleras replied. "Most of them submitted because it's the simplest way to be rid of us, but a few would prefer a more direct method." He looked again at the slate and nodded. "Very well, Yakko. Open it."

The familiar chimed and a jet of blue sprang from the eye, striking the lid. An invisible hand gently pulled the lid open and a pair of horrible scorpion creatures leaped out into the blue jet, struggling wildly against the light. Ser Jorah thrust his arm in front of Dany. "Stand back, Your Grace," he ordered. "Manticores are extremely dangerous."

"He's not wrong," mused Alleras. "I have a sister who would like these, but sadly the captain would rather not have such creatures on the ship. Such a pity. Yakko, sequence one please." The familiar's eye flashed from blue to red, and in blink of an eye the manticores turned from live creatures to flaming char. The burning remains fell to the ground and smoldered on the sand.

"Hello the lootpile!" The maegi's voice called from somewhere deep in the ship. "What's happening down there?"

"Another attempt!" Alleras called back. "Manticores this time! Also we have a visitor!"

The captain's head poked upside-down out of the ship's belly, her black curls dangling in unseemly fashion. "Oho?" she said. "Be down in a moment." The head vanished back into the ship again, and shortly afterward the captain came down the open ramp. The green tunic had been replaced with a black shirt that reminded Dany of the sort of thing her bloodriders would wear, cut to allow the arms to move freely. "Sorry about that, was working on the autofac tanks," she said. "Nice to see you, Lady Targaryen."

"Her Grace," Jorah snapped. The maegi looked at him, then back at Dany.

"As I was saying, Lady Targaryen," she said. "Nice to see you. Doing well?"

As well as anybody plagued by nightmares of what happened could be, Dany didn't say. "I am," she said aloud. "Maester Alleras says you're planning on leaving soon?"

"Mm, yeah," the captain said idly, examining the burnt wreckage of the manticores. "Between the evil wizards, the comet and you, I think I've gotten most of what I was going to get out of this place, and since the wizards apparently had friends here… the time's good to get gone, you know? So I'll fill up the pantry and the autofac tanks and be on my way."

"By stealing from the city," Ser Jorah said stiffly.

"Not my proudest moment," the captain agreed. "But honestly I need the material, especially since we're doing something hazardous and I don't want to be caught out unprepared."

"What do you need all this for?" Dany asked. "The food I understand; I know what it's like to travel without provision. But the rest of this?"

"Well, most of this isn't useful now, but it'll make for good raw materials. I can break all of this down and use it for other things. Spare parts for the ship, more familiars, and suits. Especially suits. Those I'm going to need pretty soon. And all this mess," she waved at the surrounding wains, "plus the stuff they delivered yesterday and the day before, will all go into the tanks and turn into four hazard suits and a half-dozen more drones, with plenty of spares."

Ser Jorah poked at a small bag of coins that had spilled into a nearby wain. "Most of these are counterfeit," he noted. "The Pureborn are cheating you, Captain."

Hasegawa smiled slightly. "Cheating's a matter of perspective," she said lightly. "They're welcome to think they are, and I'm perfectly happy to take their stuff regardless. Haven't you ever heard that one woman's trash is another's treasure?"

"Do you not require pure metal to work your magic?" Dany asked. The captain seemed more alchemist than warlock despite the blasts of sorcery in the Undying's house, and all the alchemists she had ever heard of in the streets of Braavos and Pentos seemed to demand only the purest of base elements for their work.

"Purifying things is easy enough," the captain said with a shrug. "But I need the material to work with, and the messier stuff like this is, the better. What I really want here isn't the gold or the silver—well, okay, the gold has some small use to it but it's still way more than what I need—it's the hundred other things that get mixed in with the gold by the counterfeiters or just by lousy refining; copper, iron, platinum, palladium, silicon. All of that's more useful than the rest, and now I've got to figure out what to do with a bunch of useless gold."

"Useless?" Ser Jorah choked. "It's gold, woman!"

"Yeah, and?" The maegi seemed confused. "It's soft, heavy and shiny and that's about it. A fraction of what I've got in the tank would be enough to last me a decade's worth of industrial output." She glanced at Dany with something like mischief in her eye. "I don't suppose you'd be willing to take it off my hands, Lady Targaryen?"

Dany's eyes went very wide. "You would do that for me?" Even if there wasn't as much gold as it might look, even the smallest coin would be incredibly useful in finding a ship or men to let her return to Westeros? "Why?"

"Considering that I've probably helped get you kicked out of Qarth too, it seems right to help you make ends meet on your way elsewhere?"

"No, that's… I'm grateful, truly, but I mean why?" Dany waved a hand at her and Ser Jorah, and Qarth, and maybe the entire world at that. "Why do you do what you do? Why broker a peace between the Usurper's men? Why did you come to me? Why did you save me from the Undying Ones, when they could have given you the secrets you needed? Why offer me gold in aid as an apology?" The questions had been burning inside her for days now, and she needed to know the truth. "Why are you throwing yourself into peril fighting monsters for the sake of ungrateful dogs?"

Silence fell upon the encampment. Alleras looked to his master with nervous anticipation, and the Greyjoy woman looked at the maegi with naked interest. Captain Hasegawa stilled and seemed to look at something far, far away that only she could see. "There are a bunch of reasons," she said slowly. "I've sworn oaths to defend life whenever I find it, and I will not fail those oaths without a fight. It's the right thing to do, regardless of anything else. It's the kind thing to do, and I want to be kind whenever I can be. But there's one reason that's very selfish of me."

"And that is?"

Something small and sad glimmered in the maegi's green eyes. "I want to go home too," she said. "And if I have to save your world to go home, then that's what I'm going to do."

Dany took in a deep breath, ignoring the rest of the world for the moment. "I cannot convince you to be my councilor?"

"I'm afraid not. And you don't want to come with me either; where I'm heading next is incredibly dangerous, even for me."

"Then where shall I go?" Dany demanded. "Xaro Xhoan Daxos has not said it outright but you are not wrong that Qarth will no longer keep me. I have Ser Jorah and my khalasar, but that is not enough for me to sail to Westeros and claim my throne. You tell me my realm, the whole world is under threat and I am helpless. I have been helpless before, Captain, and I do not want to be helpless ever again. Where do I go? How may I help?"

The maegi had stepped back as Dany's words flowed out once again, her eyes wide with surprise. "I," she said, then stopped. "Right. Okay. If you're dead set on being part of this mess then you need to be part of this mess and not screwing around in the east. The best option I can give you right now is to grab what you have and set out for Westeros as fast as you can. No stops, no dicking around, just grab your shit and go."

Ser Jorah bristled. "You would send Her Grace to her death," he growled. "Without an army—"

"I have a plan. Maybe. Sort of." Hasegawa held up a hand. "If things go exactly right I can convince enough of the claimants to hold a council, let them fight with words instead of soldiers," she said with a knowing look. "As the last living Targaryen you've got enough of a claim to have a seat there."

Dany grasped where the captain was going. "But to make that claim I must be in Westeros," she said. "Though King's Landing is closed to me, and Dragonstone as well."

"Head for White Harbor," the captain said. "From there you and your crew should head to Winterfell and join in the defense preparations there. By the time you get there I'll have either sewed things up for a council… or it'll be such a clusterfuck that one more claimant won't matter in the broad scheme of things."

"And how will she survive Stark's dogs?" Ser Jorah's anger had not abated; if anything it had increased. "Will you descend from the skies and reduce the Manderly's castle to rubble as you did the Undying? Or will you just leave her to rot in a Northern cell, forgotten?"

"Ser Jorah, enough!" Dany snapped. "The captain has made this offer in good faith, it is not your place to judge her for it."

"You Grace, this woman was the Usurper's pet and conspires with the men who killed your father," Ser Jorah argued. "If she offers the gold out of guilt, then let us take it and find our own way. We have enough coin to buy an army from Mereen or Yunkai. An army of Unsullied would be enough to crush any of the Lannister boy's men and the people would cheer for you. Let the madwoman float away on her delusions, not drag you under with her!"

Dany turned back to the maegi, who just shrugged in reply. "I won't make your mind up for you," she said. "I can give you a token or two that should keep the Starks from doing something dumb if you show up, if you're honestly worried about that. But if you want to help—however you can help—then that's the way you need to go."


LOG ENTRY: SURFACE DAY 259

I am so completely done with Qarth. If the regular stream of poisonous "surprises" in the loot wasn't enough, last night we had a visitor try to breach the ship. To give the guy credit, he figured out that the hull patch was the best possible point of entry with the ramp closed up. Unfortunately he didn't quite figure out that the other side of the patch didn't have a lot of man-sized spaces to work in, or that I would have intruder sensors, or that the drones could fit where he couldn't.

Very apologetic about the whole thing once we decanted him, though. Which I am told by Thoros is apparently a hallmark of the local assassin's guild, which is… definitely a thing I'm not sure how to respond to. Might've seen that in one of Dad's old movies once? I'll make a note.

But anyway yeah, I've been here for what must've been no more than two weeks but it feels like forever. Unless one of the local leaders has a change of heart (ha) and decides to allow me access to their libraries or some other archive of useful information I think we've gotten everything out of Qarth we're going to at this point. The attempted assassination is just the cherry on the cake.

"So why the hell are you still here," you ask, you unknown Starfleet archivist who's reading this with a growing sense of dread. And that's a very fair question! Normally I don't like to stick around places where the people are trying to kill me. Even the Sherman's Planet posting where the killing was more recreational because that's how the Imperium rolls was kind of uncomfortable. But I'm holding position because if it comes down to it I can button up and be basically impregnable to anything short of very heavy siege weapons and I'm not moving the ship until we're good and ready for the next step.

And the next step is going to be nasty. The whatsit in cometary orbit was trying to talk to a ground station here on Planetos, and that ground station is in a region called Valyria. Now Valyria has a history of being the home of some sort of wizard/warrior nation that ruled most of western Essos for thousands of years until something happened and their entire homeland blew up. Why the homeland blew up is something of a mystery, though I'm starting to think that mystery might be solvable, and the place has been effectively abandoned and lifeless ever since. Which is weird, because even a big volcanic eruption zone will see recolonization in pretty short order. But it becomes less weird when I had the survey array do a full-spectrum survey of the general region and found a lot of spots almost glowing with gamma and delta radiation.

If I didn't know better—and hell, maybe I don't—I'd say that there'd been some kind of massive warp core accident down there. It's the kind of the signatures that you only see when you slam matter, antimatter and subspace fields together in the wrong way in an atmosphere. But that's clearly crazytalk, right? None of the histories about the Valyrians say that they had that kind of technology, or even anything "magical" that resembled warp drive. How in the hell did a bunch of wizards manage to saturate large sections of their country with delta radiation of all things?

I have to assume that the Valyrians were messing about with Builder toys to some degree. They seem to have been the trusted custodians of the dragons, and that was part of the overall defense grid against the Unbidden. So maybe they had some other stuff? If the whatsit's ground station was in Valyria then maybe they were talking to it to some extent? I have no clue, and the next place to find clues is, well, there.

And that is why I'm not moving from Qarth yet. If Valyria is as unpleasant as the remote data says then we're not budging until we're good and ready to tackle it. That means more drones to do remote work and protection for us in the inevitable event that we've got to go outside. With the radiation flux I figure a couple good heavy hard hazard suits should keep us all safe, and those will be another couple of days before they're done and properly fitted. So here we sit.

In the meantime, we're likely going to part ways with the dragon princess for a while. She seems amenable to going to Westeros with a few tokens of protection from me, even though I'm pretty sure I'll be chasing her bodyguard out of the ductwork in the next few days. I kind of want to stick around and study both her dragons and that bracelet—clearly it's all part of either a Builder or successor Valyrian culture design to keep the dragons under control—but honestly I'll be glad that the temptation is gone for a while.

Targaryen's dangerous in a way I hadn't expected. I mean, if she was the same sort of entitled idiot like… well, like a lot of the Westerosi nobles I've met, then I probably could've dismissed her and moved the hell on, dragons or no dragons. But the girl is so fucking earnest and innocent despite all the shit that's landed on her head. It's really, really hard not to look at her and think "You know, if I gave her just a couple of pointers, maybe leaned on some of the nobles in her direction then maybe we could end this a lot more cleanly." And holy shit is that a thought that could get me locked up in the deepest hole of forever jail if I followed through on it, Section Three or no.

So yeah, better that she's out of my hair for now, one way or the other. Either she goes to White Harbor in which case I can expect to see her in a couple of months, or she vanishes into somewhere else in Essos and I hear news of her after the fleet gets here. Right now I can focus on Valyria, finding the whatsit's ground station and maybe transferring control from there to Victory.

And then maybe take in the charming sights of a blasted, radiation-soaked hellscape. Yay.