A/N: Need to put something here or the chapter button will eventually mess up the title layout, so... you can support me on Subscribestar (/the-peckish-black-hole).

Also, any information you have on realistic uplift paths will be greatly appreciated.

Chapter 1: Sorry Drama, Your Dragon Is in another Dungeon

"-. 272 AC .-"

Once upon first winter day, my father sat down to watch us play.

Even my youngest brother. For all that he was just five years old and not currently my main project, he'd shown remarkable alacrity in pushing to the point where he didn't need mother to play for him anymore. Well, mostly. Not that it stopped her from sitting him on her lap like she'd done pretty much every prior session. But that just meant I didn't have to spend twice my supply of "Heir's in with The Man" to ensure the attendance of all relevant parties on this most auspicious occasion, so hey, bonus!

"Alright. Everyone remember where we left off?"

"Harrenhall at the beginning of the feast proper," my brother dutifully reported. "The Dragon Prince had just performed his most sad and beautiful song."

"It made Lyanna cry!" Benjen crowed.

"Watch it, twerp! It's not my fault my will saves are so low." True. I'd 'helped' with character creation, seeing as there was nothing else to do when everyone were first-time players. "Besides, those are the pure, innocent tears of love unrequieted that you're laughing at!" She sure was eating up every last one of my big words, wasn't she? It was enough to think she wasn't utterly horrified by the thought of becoming a lady in real life. "You're lucky mom's here."

"Indeed," Eddard said dryly, positioning the figurine I'd carved for him on the grid with pinpoint precision. "I can't imagine what would have happened if you'd actually done what you did afterwards for real."

"Says the boy who embarrassed himself in his first meeting with his maiden fair," Lyanna shot back before father could more than blink. "Oh look at me! Big, strong, secretive warrior that's too shy to ask for a dance!" The way she shoved forth her own wooden avatar was very characteristic at this point. I could easily see her growing into the girl that would pour wine over her little brother's head as soon as she was old enough to drink real spirits. "If Brandon hadn't taken pity on you and asked her on your behalf, you'd probably be drinking yourself stupid along with the extras right now."

"Just so," Eddard said unrepentantly. "For the sake of the Pack I am doomed to belabour under severe penalties when dealing with other people, but such is my burden."

I made sure not to react openly. Since I was basically their unmerciful god no matter how faithfully I played my part in the story, Eddard had fallen into the position of party leader pretty much by default. A good seed planted in the fertile grounds of his mind. And so much earlier than providence might otherwise ordain! That he so quickly grasped the trait/flaw system definitely didn't hurt my designs for this particular scenario either.

All perfectly in line with my master plan to pre-empt his selective blindness in real life.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. "Sing upon the turning of the years, o minstrel, of the Dissonance of the Spheres. When so great and terrible were the plans of rats and men, that many a hero did they yield a prey to dogs and vultures. Sing, o bard, as kin and strife come home to roost! Of the councils of the craven, the godless, the deluded that brought countless ills upon the scions of mankind."

My siblings immediately quieted and got in character despite themselves.

"Lo! The Dragon Prince sings and plays his harp in a most sad and beautiful song that rouses the spirits of men and makes women weep, young and old alike. Thus does the feast begin on a most high note of merry. Even the all but unnoticed pall weighing upon the proceedings since the King's arrival seems to dissipate for a time. And so our tale resumes. Roll for initiative."

My three siblings dutifully took turns rolling the twenty-sided dice that had taken more time and effort to carve properly than all our character avatars combined. Thank heavens for professional sculptors because no amount of brotherly love was worth that amount of stress.

"Lyanna gets to go first, then Benjen and Eddard. Now roll perception… Alright. Turns out Lyanna's too emotionally compromised to care about anything besides her handkerchief right now, but you two rolled well enough. You see a recruiting officer of the Night's Watch trying to convince knights to join the Watch. Elsewhere, Lord Bobby B is already in a drinking contest with the Knight of Skulls and Kisses. Roll will… and you're both utterly captivated by the spectacle."

Skulls and Kisses? Father mouthed silently at mother, confounded by what must seem like the odd inventions of childish imagination. It drew an amused smile from her, but she didn't interrupt.

Oh the irony. "Now let's see, Eddard has the Shared Background and Long-Suffering traits with Bobby B, so he auto-passes will and gets a second roll to perception… Right, you can already tell that your foster-brother will win the contest so you lose interest and look around again. You end up laying eyes on Lady Arasha Dayne -"

"Thy Dornish maid with laughing purple eyes!" Lyanna mock-swooned.

"- who has been dancing in turns with various partners. Right now, she's just finishing a dance with a member of the Kingsguard that has the same hair and tanned skin-"

"Oh, oh! I know this one!" Benjen pipes in. "Her brother right? Rathur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning!"

"That's right. Well done, Benjen."

The boy preened.

"I choose to approach her for a second dance," Eddard said.

"Roll for initiative."

He did. It didn't go any better than the first time. The 'Quiet Wolf' mixed flaw/trait was no joke with outsiders. "Sorry little brother, no luck. You don't talk yourself into it fast enough. The Red Snake gets to her first." Must keep face straight. Especially when Rickard Stark looks at you the way he just did.

"I try again." Eddard did.

"Ouch." Critical failure. "But the 'Quiet Wolf' means you get a roll to see if someone in your in-group spots your impending public humiliation in time to… yep, you're in luck."

Eddard made a face at the result and Lyanna promptly burst into laughter. "Big brother to the rescue again!" I wasn't sure if that was in character or not.

For my part, I had to quickly banish any fixed point in time notions when I saw chance conspire to make things fall into place so distressingly neatly. Staging the dance encounter one session early was supposed to protect me from stuff like this! "I maneuver myself into a position to take the Dornish Lady out for a round myself. It takes a while, during which she dances with a man wearing a double-griffin heraldry alternating red and white."

"House… Connington?" Eddard did his best to recall from the independent reading on House Heraldry he'd been doing for the past few weeks as the game progressed. At my nod, he seemed to regain all the confidence he'd lost from all his failed rolls. "Griff Connington then. Good. No rivalry flags, right?"

"That's right."

Both right and good. Allowing them to substitute personal knowledge for rolls was also part of my master plan to cultivate their intellect early. To be honest, it was working even better than I'd hoped.

Of course, after Eddard finally 'got back' at Lyanna by finally getting his dance – her teasing being the only reason his pre-teen self even pursued a romance in the game at all, funnily enough – it became clear that the one who'd blossomed the most was actually Benjen.

"Can I finally take my turn again now?" Lyanna complained after Eddard finally got his dance. "Just because I liked his singing doesn't mean I'm turning into a vapid lady!" She did her best to act like the thought repulsed her. She even had me convinced, but I decided to defer judgement until next decade. "Finally! I look around to spot anything actually interesting. I roll for perception."

"Rolling for quest character as well… Both you and the crannogman spot the three bullying squires. One serves a knight wearing the livery of a pitchfork, one a porcupine and one two towers."

"Oh, let me, let me!" Benjen almost fell off mother's lap reaching for the large sheet of paper I'd spent two weeks drawing on and off. Smiling indulgently, Eddard and Lyanna leaned close to examine the paper as well. "The pitchfork is… this! House… H-a-i-g-h?"

"House Haigh, yes," Eddard said, not noticing Father's astonishment at learning his youngest could already read.

"Right! And then there's House… Blunt?"

"Blount," Lyanna corrected with all the loftiness undeserved by a girl who'd been behind even him until mid-year. Which made Father look at her sharply as well.

"Right, that. So the last boy is with House Frey!"

"That's right," I said. "Well done, Benjen."

"Yes," Father interjected suddenly, almost breaking the atmosphere if not for how low and neutral his voice was. "Well done indeed, son."

Benjen outright glowed at the praise.

I pretended to be unaffected by the intense paternal gaze that locked on me after that and never wholly turned away until well after the game session ended.

Which took a while.

Not the sort of parental regard I was looking for, but then again, I barely ever got any sort of regard from him at all. Even on those rare occasions, I almost always had to be looking away or otherwise seem like I didn't realise he was watching me.

Lyanna pointed the squires out to the three of us brothers. As per the script, I offered to find the crannogman a horse and armor in order to avenge himself. Also per the script, Lord Landhowl Reed failed to reply, torn with indecision. His pride demanded vengeance, but he was afraid of losing and making a fool of himself, bringing shame to his people in the process. He was no knight and was not used to horses and lances. Before going to sleep in Eddard's tent, who'd offered him hospitality without me having to even hint at it, he prayed to the old gods.

And what unfolded was about as terribly perfect as four people could possibly get when only one of us had read the script. The tournament happened. The porcupine, pitchfork, and the two towers knights all jousted. All three each won a place among the champions with minimal dice fixing by me to make it happen.

Which was when Lyanna, in an act that I had simultaneously prepared for, hoped to see and dreaded, appeared on the lists as a mystery knight. Though maybe I shouldn't be surprised after the effort I put into acting out Landhowl's prayers with full voice over and in-character pathos on top of that. Of course a girl would decide she was Gods' gift to man.

Even if she had to rely on Benjen's skulking to actually get enlisted.

She came out perfectly disguised too, in a frankly exceptional bit of in-character roleplay by her and Benjen, who'd played the game growing into a rogue specced for support with top ranks in the disguise skill. It was like all my most worrisome second-hand knowledge come full to life. Short of stature, 'his' equipment was made up of mismatched armor bits and pieces that appeared ill-fitting on him, and 'his' shield was blazoned with the image of a white weirwood with a laughing red face.

Lyanna even pulled out an all-new figurine for herself. I recognised the craftsmanship of the same person I patronised. Exquisitely carved. Even painted. But that wasn't all of it, the figurine was also dressed in actual clothing. Hand-stitched in what was obviously her own hand. Only much less uneven than it used to be. Was this why she hadn't been living up to the Lyanna Underfoot title I gave her, these past two weeks?

The mystery knight challenged and defeated all the rival knights, winning custody over their horses and armor. None of them were particularly popular, so I had the smallfolk cheer for her all the while. It made Lyanna's day. Benjen's too. Which was more than fair. The business with the knights didn't really matter now that the mysterious "Knight of the Laughing Tree" had materialised. When the defeated three sought to ransom back their former property, though, Lyanna gave me all the extra reason I never wanted to wonder at her older self's mental development (or lack thereof) in the scenario that may or may not eventually happen: somehow she still stayed on script the whole time. She even used a real helmet and a tight choker to make her voice sound "booming".

I didn't hint at what I was thinking. Instead, I went and had the trio sharply chastise their squires as per rote.

"And so, my mission done, I spur my horse around and leave the grounds with head held high!" Lyanna proclaimed, the satisfaction of a job well done oozing out of her.

"Roll stealth."

Little sister floundered. "Wait what?"

"The mystery knight has attracted unwanted attention." I made a show of rolling various four-, six- and twenty-sided dice. "Bobby B and the Knight of Skulls and Kisses are determined to unmask him, while the Mad King is certain that the man is his enemy. The king is convinced that the tree on the mystery knight's shield was laughing at him. He has decided…" A twenty-side dice landed on 1. Just to mock me, I was sure. "King Reays has decided that the mystery knight is Ser James Lannister. That he has returned to the tourney, defying his order to protect Queen Ellarha and Prince Viserys in King's Landing. Reays is now telling his beliefs to every man who would listen, and has furiously commanded his own knights to defeat the Knight of the Laughing Tree when the jousts resume the next morning, to unmask and expose him."

There was a long silence.

"… You SUCK!"

"Daughter!" Lyarra Stark balked while covering Benjen's ears, scandalized. "I will ground you again, see if I won't."

"Like the first time!" Benjen piped cheerfully, referring to the sad conclusion of our first game session. And the second.

And the fifth.

Lyanna proceeded to spill out a whole litany of complaints while the rest of us waited for mother to browbeat common sense back into her. It was something that took less and less time every session, so I was optimistic she might even gain actual self-awareness one of these days.

Say around this time next year.

"Well," Eddard said flatly. "That escalated quickly."

So he wasn't just sticking to my original, poorly-carved figurine instead of the professional works I later commissioned for everyone. Now Eddard was quoting my words back at me! I manfully contained my reaction, even as I wished it wasn't getting so easy to do. As much as I was a sucker for Big Brother Worship, sometimes I wished someone else could be privy to my inside jokes.

Especially the terrible ones.

"Fine then!" Lyanna finally huffed, but didn't run off. "I roll for stealth."

"Well now, that's not a bad result. You should get away unless… the Dragon Prince rolls a natural critical on his search roll and finds you just as you hang your shield up in a tree."

"… I knew it!" Lyanna jumped to her feet on the chair and pointed a finger at me dramatically. "This is just an elaborate scheme to turn me into a lady after all, you snark!"

Ah, the self-absorption of an egocentric girl that hadn't yet realised she wasn't the main character in anyone else's life.

It would have been a lot more convincing if she didn't then proceed to deliberately act out the "secret romance with my sweet prince" scenario out of spite. She even put enough roleplay into it to cut the number of needed dice rolls by half. She exploited Benjen's childish sycophancy for all it was worth too. Somewhere amidst it all, she even nailed the full set of "this is why I won't marry Bobby B no matter what" reasons I'd ever read of.

Lyanna was understandably vindicated when the Dragon prince crowned her the Queen of Love and Beauty. She genuinely thought it was an admission of defeat from me to her. That she'd bitten this hook with the intent to fight against the notion that she could be a proper lady seemed to have slipped her mind at some point in the quest. Maybe I might have left it at that if she hadn't gone that last mile to throw it in my face. It was getting fairly late.

But then she went and eloped with her Prince Charming.

"And they lived happily ever after," Lyanna gloated at the conclusion of her make-believe Best End.

So, being the fair and unmerciful god that I was, I gathered up all the hooks they didn't bite and laid out the True End.

"-. .-"

"-t my fault he never stops throwing things at us, there's never enough time to do everything and he never tells us who's important or why they're important, and then he punishes us for setting us up to fail in the first place! There's never a way to figure out what all we're supposed to do. If I fail my knowledge skill, how else am I supposed to figure out what's going to happen? There's no way to figure it out, that's how! All we can do is act at random until one of us stumbles on something important, right? I mean, it's one thing if it is a KNIGHT with a LANCE riding a BARDED HORSE wrapped in LIVERY in a TOURNEY range. You can guess pretty easy that you're going to make him eat lance or bust! But the love story was nothing like that at all! He ruined it! He ruined a perfect love story! And it's not just a one-off, he always does this, he never lets us win!"

Did she already forget who it was that actually got burned alive and strangled to death for the sake of her maiden romance?

Also, they never actually went and did anything. They just waited for the story to happen to them and then reacted here and there. And that was just one of a long list of things I could unpack from Lyanna's latest blubbering attempt to turn her mother into a shield against the consequences of her actions. And the consequences of her lack of actions, but there was even less use in trying to point that out when Eddard – the only one who seemed to have wizened up to that crazy idea known as being proactive – had long since absconded with Benjen in tow.

It really was a shame.

Also, rather worrying. Their lack of initiative as players – as opposed to the stats of their characters – was the one, true, major problem of them all. They didn't set out to gather information, they didn't go off exploring unless I tossed a random encounter at them, they didn't follow up on even half the quest hooks I dangled in front of them. Eddard very maturely had assumed responsibility for that failure before leaving, but that only made Lyanna wail louder about everyone but Benjen constantly conspiring to upstage her.

For someone who didn't want to become a lady, she sure was acting like a spoiled princess.

Oh well. Odds were that a serious talk between us right now would just segue into what would have happened if the She-Wolf hadn't agreed to elope with Prince Charming.

Wouldn't that be fun?

And I hadn't even thrown the three-headed prophecy or the Prince that Was Promised at them yet.

Segmented revelation. Slow and steady. Maybe over a year or three before I nuked that particular comet from orbit. It was the only way to be sure.

Unfortunately, with how things were going, I might not even have two before I never see them again for the next and possibly last seven years of my life.

"Alright," Lyarra Stark said, having finished wiping off Lyanna's latest batch of blotchy tears. "I can see we have a lot to talk about, daughter mine. Let's go to your room so we can talk in private."

Translation: let me take you to someplace secluded because you're too proud to admit fault in the company of anyone who dares hold you to any sort of standard you didn't choose for yourself.

Because it's not like a six-year-old girl might possess less than perfect judgment or anything.

Finally, Father and I were the only two in the room.

I turned in my seat just enough to face him without actually facing him. Because this, too, seemed too fragile a scene for anything other than slow and steady.

"She's actually been taking less and less time to get over herself every time this happens," I threw out randomly, because why not? I liked efficiency and I appreciated it even more when others were around to appreciate it as well. "Eddard, meanwhile, has basically memorised the houses and words and heraldries, which is a lot sooner than I did it. And Benjen's basically set a record for the fastest any Starks learned how to read! Why, another session or three and-"

"Boy," father interrupted me. "You wanted me to sit in on your childish games, and I have." Rickard Stark spoke from where he sat in his chair at the other end of the room. Strongly. Sternly. Without facing me any further than I did him. "But after the lengths you went to buy these scant few hours, all I see is a reason to seriously wonder if you've any ability to weigh a deal at all. I can't even begin to fathom what you thought this would accomplish."

"You could hug me every once in a while, for starters."

Dumbfounded was an unprecedented look on my father face. It was usually so long and stern and filled with quiet dignity. It was a damn shame I had to refrain from looking at it, seeing as he could barely stomach the sight of me even on our best days.

"I tried to figure it out, you know, this thing between us, but I'm officially giving up on trying." The air seemed to become unnaturally still even though Father barely twitched. "At first I wondered if it was something I did, but if that's the case it happened too long ago for me to remember. I wondered if the problem was all of me, since you've been like this as long as I can remember. Maybe you thought I'd been switched at birth or something? Eddard, Lyanna, Benjen, there's nothing between you and them that's anything like this thing between us. But since I'm a dutiful and respectful son that's reasonably mediocre in most things and even gifted in a couple of niches, I have to conclude it's not me." It's you could have been yelled from the roof of the Broken Tower. And yet Father didn't interrupt me. "So, if it's not about me, I asked myself, what could it be? Maybe Maester Walys. He's shady. Entitled too, seeing as he acts like he actually owns those books and that tower. Also, always on my case for reading at my pace instead of his. Among other things I have issueswith, but enough about me."

Rickard Stark shifted and did that half-glare that usually preceded him coming down on Lyanna in full Lordly wrath after she disrespected the Maester, but somehow he refrained once again.

"The weirdest thing is that you're not even a bad father." Lord Stark actually gave a small start. Too bad I couldn't interpret it any better than his usual contempt, fake or not. "You didn't abandon me, you've never struck me, you haven't neglected my basic needs or education even though you did pawn me off to Walys and whoever else can keep me out of your sight the longest."

"… Is that what it seems like to you?"

It was about as soft as his voice ever got.

It took all my self-control not to react the way I really wanted to the fact that he finally replied to me. "Yes."

Truth be told, Rickard Stark was about as good a father as an aloof parent could be, at least to anyone who wasn't me. And as someone who's all too experienced in matters of abusive parenting, I'm probably the highest authority on the subject that's been born in the Stark family for several generations.

With me, though, he was always the same way. It was always the same thing. This tense nothing. For everything I did that was good and bad.

I rose from my chair and started pacing the room. Even now, he was retreating behind his stern silence all over again. It was a real shame that it all was the absolute opposite of what I wanted.

"It should not have taken the establishment of an entire industry to buy leverage with my own father, especially this little of it, and especially when smallfolk get in one audience more of your time than I get in a week. For free." A slap in the face, but having to go so far just for this was a slap in mine. Besides, strong statements had their place as well. "Granted, it's bizarre in the extreme that nobody in Westeros thought to figure out paper for this whole century and a half we've been importing it from across the Narrow Sea. You'd have thought someone at the Citadel might have known the secret, especially with how simple it turned out to be. Now granted, it worked out for me. But having to pay this is kind of price every time I want to have the merest conversation with my own father is not a sustainable enterprise."

I waited.

"Especially since this thing between us has only been growing worse."

I waited again.

"More so when there's just one way it can proceed from here, at least if there's to be anything resembling release. For one of us, that is."

And even here, at the cusp of the obvious end of this strange conversation I shouldn't have had to force as a ten-year-old, my Father still wouldn't tell me anything.

That was fine. I had patience too.

And unlike him, I did have the wish and the will and the ability to completely destroy our relationship.

Stopping in place abruptly, I turned to face my father, looked him in the eye and pretended not to catch his too clear flash of guilt. "I will not be fostered away just to bandage someone else's emotional ineptitude, Father. Not even yours!" I swept a hand to silence him then, trading his fake scorn for much more satisfyingly real outrage at this glimpse into the audacity I'd been bottling up my whole life. "Don't worry though. By Winter's end, I'll be such a valuable resource that even you won't stomach the thought of shunning or pawning me off ever again."