After another day of walking, I was finally at Ghoyan Drohe.
But, after searching through the city for a few dozen minutes, I came to the totally astounding conclusion that it was a total dump.
Varys and Illyrio had understated the sheer damage this place had taken. Hell, even understatement was an understatement when it comes to this place.
The city was a ruin, the kind I would have seen in tourist sites, back on Earth.
Most of the buildings had been razed to the ground, and what few buildings remained were so damaged and in a state of such disrepair that it wouldn’t surprise me if a particularly strong breeze knocked them over.
And, to think, all of this devastation occured because the Rhoynar refused to bow to the Valyrian Freehold’s demands.
Tch. Valyrians. I was starting to dislike this people’s way of doing things.
Wherever they went, the Dragonlords of Old Valyria only seemed to bring devastation and misery. Whoever had survived this onslaught was likely taken by the Valyrians and made to work in their mines for the rest of his or her life.
It was a chilling thought, and not one I wanted to dwell on for long.
“But you do the same, no?” Erebus countered shrewdly. “Harrenhal. The Red Temple in Pentos.”
“That’s different.” I said, wincing. It sounded hollow to my ears.
“Is it?” Erebus said in amusement. “The arrogance and ignorance of humans…”
§He doesn’t take slaves, dumbass. Stop trying to make him sound like he’s the root of all evil.§ Balthazar hissed suddenly, making Erebus bristle in anger. §More importantly, Harry, I think I smell someone up ahead. Several people, actually.§
§How far up ahead?§ I replied, tensing slightly. §Should I be ready for a fight?§
§Hmm…§ Balthazar considered by question, and I felt the hole in my palm suck in the air. §Half a mile ahead, I would say.§
I relaxed at his words and took a breath.
§All right. Sounds good.§ I said, before looking up in Hestia’s general direction- she was still cloaked, had been for days now. §Hestia! Come here for a second. I have something for you to do…§
A few minutes later, Hestia came back.
§I spied on them like you said, Father! There’s a woman sitting down the middle of the road up ahead.§ Hestia hissed at me in low tones, like she was being sneaky. It brought an smile to my lips. §Several men are sitting around nearby buildings, just watching and waiting for something, I think.§
“I see.” I smiled, and reached out to pat her on her head… wherever it was. The invisible she-dragon helped me out by placing her head against my hand. §Good girl.§
So, they were doing the old “woman in distress distraction while they ambush” trick?
§What’re you going to do?§ Balthazar questioned.
§Spring the trap, of course.§ I said flippantly. §After all that time in the sort-of-desert, I could use some amusement for a refreshing change.§
§Seriously?§ Balthazar sounded annoyed. §Why do I even bother with you? You seem dead set on getting yourself killed.§
Heh. Get it? Dead set on dying?
Ugh. Nevermind. My humor is lost on you sheep.
§Oh, c’mon. It’s a bunch of bandits using the oldest trick in the book.§ I countered dismissively. §And besides, I’ve got Hestia here-§ I tickled her snout, making her sneeze all over the ground. §-to watch my back. And you, and Erebus. What could possibly happen?§
I was trying my luck by saying that last part.
§Fair enough.§ Balthazar sighed. §One of these days, you’re going to get yourself killed, you know that?§
§True enough. But, as they say in these lands… All men must die.§ I retorted with a shit eating grin.
§Just shut the fuck up, Harry.§ Balthazar said, clearly exasperated at my attitude.
I merely smiled and made my way to the trap at a leisurely pace, taking the time to stare at the destroyed buildings all around me.
If I were still at Earth, there would be a bunch of tourists standing around the ruins, taking pictures to show to their friends.
A strange practice, that; telling everyone else what you were doing- worse, showing it off. A fond smile came to my face as I remembered the time I had browsed an article which talked about this very thing.
USI Syndrome, the internet experts called it.
What’s USI Syndrome, you may ask?
Well, my good man, USI Syndrome is short for Unwarranted Self Importance Syndrome, which most of the people on the internet were afflicted with. They all thought, because a few dozen people liked their pictures, that they had suddenly become a big deal, when in fact, they were all sacks of-
A whimper up ahead distracted me from my current thoughts.
Ah, there she was.
I stared at the crouching woman in the distance. Her back was to me, showing me her shaking shoulders. The woman wore rags which passed for clothes. Every inch of her skin was covered in some form of dirt, or worse.
The whimpers slightly increased in their intensity, and the loud sniffles followed shortly afterwards. Likely, she thought I couldn’t hear her, and raised her voice for a better reel in.
Hot damn, they were so obvious about their intent, it was almost comical, in a way.
I stifled an amused smirk and took the bait, making my way to her at a brisk pace.
“I say! Dear lady!” I said in my best Gilderoy Lockhart impersonation as I knelt next to the damsel in ‘distress’. “Are you all right, my lady? Are you hurt? Has someone attacked you?”
The bait-girl pulled out all the stops and began to ‘sob’ uncontrollably, grabbing at me and holding on in such a way that I couldn’t quickly move in case I was attacked.
“There, there…” I soothed her as I heard the sound of rushed footsteps. “It’ll be all right. You’ll see. I shall protect you from whosoever decides to harm you.”
She just sobbed louder to cover up the sound of incoming attackers. If nothing else, she was committed to her cause, even if the cause was despicable.
Not that I had any right to say anything. I would be called a murdering scumbag if I did the things I have done back home.
Wait, I was losing track of what I was doing.
Where was I?
Oh, right, bandit ambush.
Unto the breach, then!
I pretended to turn my head in fake shock and forced myself to cringe in fear- amusingly enough, still a passable imitation of Lockhart’s face back when Ron and I threw him down the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets.
The ruse seemed to work, as the men surrounding me gave me condescending smiles as they approached with their various weapons.
“Heh, looks like we caught another one. This is shaping up to be a really good month.” One of the men chortled, a look of unadulterated glee on his face.
“This’un looks like he’s gonna piss his pants, he will.” Another grunted with a heavy accent which I couldn’t place.
“Make any move and you die.” I heard a rough voice say a few feet behind me. That was probably their leader. “Now, get up and give me all of your valuables. Any coin, jewelry, maybe that pretty little sword at your side, too.”
“I thought you j-just said I shouldn’t move?” I pretended to stammer like I was deathly afraid of violence, let alone a fight to the death against a bunch of bandits. “If I get up, you’ll kill me. Don’t kill me! I don’t want to die! Please!”
“Don’t get smart with me, pretty boy!” The man snarled as he came into my view. It was a man nearing his middle age, with a grossly receding hairline, dressed in a dark brown tunic and carrying what looked to be a finely made saber. Likely, he had stolen it from a previous victim. “I’ll cut your tongue out if you do.”
All right, I couldn’t help myself, any longer.
I let out a full, throaty laugh, which took all of the men off guard, before stunning the woman with a point blank, silent Stunner, hidden from all their view.
As expected, the woman’s grip on me slackened, and I pushed her away, using the momentum to get back on my feet.
“Oi. Narin!” One of the men said. “What the hell did you let go of him for, you idiot!?”
I turned to look at the man who’d said it.
“I think you’ll find that, Narin, was it? She’s out cold.” I smiled at the men in amusement as they gave me a wary look.
“Get him!” The middle aged bandit shouted before I was attacked from four sides.
I grinned and charged at one of the men, easily dodging past his thrusting spear and tackling into him with the power of an ox, sending him tumbling back with a few loud snaps- the sound of bones breaking- along the way, before turning and sidestepping the downward strike of a greataxe.
The axe hit the stone pavement with a loud crack, the axe blade easily cracking through the rock. I lashed out with a front kick, smashing into his face with a satisfying crunch and knocking him flat on his back. He didn’t get back up.
Whether he was dead or alive was not really my concern- he’d forfeited his right to live the moment he attacked me.
I turned to the remaining three men and gave them a bored look.
The leader bristled at the subtle threat.
Good. I wanted him angry.
Angry opponents made more mistakes, after all.
“Who is this guy!?” The one to the right said. “He took Ban out without even drawing his sword! Can we even beat him?”
“Of course we can! Stupid fool. The idiots overextended.” The gruff man in the middle dismissed it as a fluke while berating the remaining two men alongside him. “Any decent fighter knows how to exploit another man’s weakness. Now, let’s get him!”
“R-Right!” The one on the left said uncertainly, before all three charged at me with loud cries. The two, younger men, flanked me from the side as I engaged the middle aged man.
I dodged their coordinated strikes with an almost preternatural agility- I hadn’t even channelled Lightning into my nerves, yet. I sidestepped the leader’s downward swing, before moving forward and grabbing his hand, redirecting his sword to intercept one of his lackey’s horizontal strike, all the while grabbing the leader and pushing him hard into his comrade.
The two tripped over each other and landed in a heap, having received a few cuts from each other’s weapons in the tumble.
The remaining fighter tried to come in from behind, but I leapt to the side, rolling on the ground to reduce my fall damage. I got back up in time to see my attacker thrust his sword at my form, following up with a wicked horizontal slice.
I sidestepped it, once more, before ducking underneath the slice and moving into the man’s guard. I threw a hard right uppercut, feeling his jaw crunch under the power of my armored fist.
I turned away from his downed form, and focused my attention on the battle- if you could have even called it one.
“Two to go.” I smiled at the remaining two. “Which one of you will go down, first, I wonder? Let’s find out.”
A few seconds passed, as the reality of the situation began to dawn on the two bandits.
And then, the middle aged man gave the younger man a rough push, before running away. Abandoning your own crew? That was low, even for a bandit.
I parried whatever clumsy strike the idiotic youth attempted, before quickly drawing my wand and casting “Petrificus Totalus.”
Instantly, the older man froze mid-run, falling on his face with a loud crack. Most likely, he’d broken his nose from that fall. I couldn’t find it in me to feel sorry for the guy.
A growl of frustration turned my attention back to the young man the bandit leader tried to sacrifice. A fairly handsome youth, with bright blue hair in a ponytail, held by a red band.
He lashed out with his foot while he lay on the ground, trying to break my shin with all of his strength. For the first time in that fight, I finally channeled Lightning to my shin, reinforcing the skin, muscle and bone as I took the hit.
It rattled me slightly, but nothing more.
A moment passed in silence as the situation began to dawn on the blue haired, young man.
“But, how? Such a thing is not possible! You took that kick head on!” The man- perhaps he was too young to be called that, judging by his voice- exclaimed, looking at me with dawning fear and apprehension.
“But it was possible.” I said calmly, a confident smirk forming on my face. “You didn’t even pose a real challenge. At most, you were only a mild annoyance.”
I let out a breath, staring at my handiwork for a few moments.
“What will you do to me?” The boy tried to say, his voice hitching slightly at the possibility of his imminent demise at my hands.
The fear in his vocie… He was younger than I’d thought he was. Shit. I would rather not kill a kid if I could help it.
“It depends.” I said easily, looking around the clearing.
“O-on what?” The boy stammered.
“Well, I have a few questions I need answered.” I said genially, patting the dust off of my clothes. “If I like your answers, then you won’t die. If I don’t…”
It was an empty threat; I wasn’t going to kill some kid over being forced to steal to live.
But, he didn’t know that. The fact that I’d pretty much killed his other, much older companions would lend some credence to that threat.
The boy paled and began to stammer incoherently, pleading for his life and saying he would do anything to let him live.
“All right, calm yourself, boy.” I pinched the bridge of my nose in irritation. “Have you been to either Norvos or Qohor?”
“What?” The boy was confused.
“Just answer the question.” I snarled, taking a threatening step forward. “Or would you rather meet your end, here and now? Cause I’ll do it!”
“Yes!” The blue haired teen almost shouted in panic. “I’ve been to Norvos a few times!”
“But not Qohor?” I questioned.
“No. I haven’t. Please don’t kill me!” He pleaded when he saw my dismayed look.
Meh, he’s only been to one of the nearby cities.
Well, one is better than zero.
“That’s all right.” I said, and he sighed in relief. “When was the last time you were at Norvos?”
“A few weeks past.” The boy replied.
I nodded. His information might not be up to date, but it was probably the best I could have gotten with the circumstances.
“Tell me about the practiced religions in the city.” I ordered, and the boy frowned.
“There is only one belief in Norvos.” The boy said strongly, losing his stutter as he recalled the information. “And the name of the god is not known to any, save the initiates of the Bearded Priests.”
“The Bearded Priests?” I questioned.
‘I wonder why they’re called that.’ I thought to myself sarcastically.
“It is an order of priesthood in Norvos.” He explained, completely unaware of my inner monologue. “The Bearded Priests effectively control the entire city, as well as any surrounding villages who pay homage to them. The magisters of Norvos rule in name, only, but the Bearded Priests’ word is law. Any man, woman or child who breaks it would be met with severe repercussions, the least of which would be expulsion from the city.”
“And the worst?” I got a little curious.
“You truly don’t want to know.” Was his shuddering reply.
“Fair enough.” I said, and urged him to continue with a significant look.
“All that I know of that particular religion is that they believe the Black Goat of Qohor is a powerful demon.” The teen informed me.
Interesting, but not really relevant… Unless the Black Goat was an actual deity?
“And, are there any Red Priests there?” I questioned, just in case. “A temple, perhaps?”
“Not really.” The boy shook his head. “Any attempt by any religion at gaining a foothold in Norvos’ society is met with extreme violence. The Norvosi are the people who refused the Valyrians’ way of religious tolerance, and warred with them over this.”
Of course they did.
“Right.” I said, my mind working furiously to assess the information I’d just been handed.
Heading to Norvos would be a waste of time, considering the lack of Red Priest presence there. I couldn’t lose sight of the mission.
Destroy the influence of the Red Priests by obliterating their places of worship and killing the members of the priesthood until there were none left.
“I know you don’t know much about Qohor as you’ve never been there, but do you know if the Red Priests have a foothold, there, at least?” I questioned further, annoyed at the fact that Qohor was the city he’d never visited.
It had potential; the city of Qohor was known by another name, I learned when I was researching anything pertaining to Valyrians.
The City of Sorcerers, everyone called it.
It was there that blacksmiths knew how to re-work the legendary Valyrian Steel. It was there that the Dragonlord Aurion had amassed an army to reclaim his homeland of Valyria.
Aurion, the man I claimed was my distant ancestor.
I shook my head.
The likelihood of me getting an actual army from the people Aurion had completely disappointed after the Doom was small at best.
Still.. The possibility was there, even if it were remote.
“Yes.” He said. “The Red Priests are allowed to pray in Qohor; however, the Black Goat is the most important god, there. Daily blood sacrifices are offered to him.”
At my widening eyes, he quickly said. “Animals, they sacrifice pigs and other livestock! On holy days, they sacrifice their criminals. And, in times of great danger and distress, the leaders of the city sacrifice their own children, in the hopes the Goat will defend them in their hour of greatest need.”
I frowned, absorbing the information.
“And, does it?” I questioned.
“Huh?” The young man said intelligently.
“Does the Goat defend them when it’s needed?” I repeated slowly, as if he were touched in the head.
“Oh.” He looked sheepish. “All I know is, the city has never fallen.”
How cryptically ominous.
Could this Black Goat be the one who dragged me into this realm? Or was it simply some kind of myth? It could be that the city had never fallen due to luck; or, more likely, its geographical location must have provided some very impressive defenses.
“I see.” I said slowly, before dismissing him with a wave. “Thank you for the information. You may leave now.”
“W-what?” To say that the blue haired boy was shocked would have been an understatement.
“Did I stutter? GO!” He fled instantly.
I sighed and stared the remaining downed bandits for a few seconds, before scowling and calling for Hestia.
§Yes, father?§ She answered my call quickly, landing beside me as her camouflage finally came off.
§Take us out of this city. I’ve completely lost interest in this place.§ I hissed, and leapt onto her back.
§Where to?§ She hissed back and flapped her great wings, springing into the air with a grace belying her size.
§Just fly east, for a while. We’re not really going anywhere, for now. I just need space to regroup and figure out what needs to be done.§ I replied as we zoomed out of the city at great speeds, the buildings growing smaller and smaller as the seconds passed.
“You know, you left the bandit leader under the paralyzing effect of your spell, back there.” Erebus pointed out, sounding oddly amused.
“Yeah.” I smiled slightly. “Hopefully a snake crawls up his butt, or something.”
I closed my eyes, sorting through a hundred thoughts and one, trying to make sense of it all.
§What’re you thinking?§ Balthazar asked.
I remained silent as Hestia put her camouflage back on, disappearing from sight.
“Most likely, he’s trying to figure out what to do from this point.” Erebus replied for me.
§It’s simple, isn’t it?§ Balthazar hissed. §Go to Qohor and destroy the Red Temple, there.§
“Waging a one man war against an organized religion is hardly any way of making allies to fight the coming Long Night.” Erebus replied grudgingly. “Much as I would love to kill them all myself, you have to admit that they consider the Others to be the true enemy.”
“And us, by extension.” I said slowly, eyes still closed. “Since I possess you.”
“I’m not saying I want you gone.” I added quickly, opening my eyes when I realized what it was I had just implied. “What’s done is done. They’ll most likely try to kill me, no matter what. I’ve already destroyed a temple. We’re too far gone to do anything else, but commit to this task… Even if it weakens us against the Others.”
§Unfortunately.§ Balthazar added.
“Tch.” Erebus scoffed. “Weakens us, nothing. They’d be hindering our own allies in some idiotic attempt at forced conversion every step of the way.”
And, he was right.
Yes. This was the correct path. Whatever good the Red Priest might do was overwhelmingly imbalanced by the bad.
§Uh, father?§ Hestia hissed.
§One thing’s for sure.§ I said to Balthazar, not having heard Hestia. §We need an army. I was hoping to get one in Qohor, but they have a Red Temple, there. I’d be dealing with constant dissent in the ranks if I destroy one of their sacred temples.§
§Should we go back to Westeros, try to get their army here?§ Balthazar suggested instead.
§Father.§ Hestia tried again.
§Are you insane, Balthazar?§ I blurted out. §The Free Cities would ally together and destroy whatever fleet we could have mustered.§
§What, then, the so called Mother of Dragons?§ Balthazar hissed. §Are you going to become her cuntboy, Harry?§
I opened my mouth to reply with something equally offensive, when Hestia cut in.
§FATHER!§ Hestia growled, stopping whatever it was I was about to say.
§I’m sorry, Hestia.§ I apologized. §What is it you were trying to say?§
Hestia snorted grumpily, but got over her irritation quickly as she angled us downwards so I could see.
§Look, there’s people down there.§ She hissed.
Wow, she was right, there were people out in the distance.
Was I that distracted?
Wait a second…
Were those what I think they were?
Hundreds, upon hundreds of horses with riders traversed below in the open, grassy plains at a leisurely pace, and the numbers just kept increasing seemingly without end.
“Dothraki?” I said, feeling slightly surprised. “I’ve already reached their territories? How many of them are there? Thousands, at least. Maybe six thousand?”
“You’re counting in the wrong magnitude.” Erebus informed me. “I’ve counted at least fifteen thousand.”
I pulled out my wand. “Homenum Revelio.”
A number popped up in front of me: 22,523.
A veritable army, then?
A memory came to me, just then. Many months ago, when I was accompanying King Robert’s Court on our way to King’s landing, Robert had said something about these people.
About a Khal Drogo having a hundred thousand men at his beck and call.
“An army, huh…” I smiled and patted Hestia on the neck. §Good find, honey. Very good find.§
§Thank you, father!§ Hestia trilled happily.
I smiled even wider at her delight.
“How do I get them to join me?” I said to myself, staring down at the army, grateful that they couldn’t see me thanks to Hestia’s camouflage skill.
§They’re Dothraki.§ Balthazar said dismissively. §Just kill their leader, and they will follow you.§
§It’s that simple?§ I sounded incredulous.
§It’s that simple.§ Balthazar confirmed, before relenting. §Maybe you need to fight a couple of the flunkies to prove you’re strong enough to fight the leader? I’m not really sure what you need to do, exactly.§
§..Right. Okay.§ I hissed. §Hestia. Set me down near them, little to the left, that’s it. They’ll reach me in a few minutes.§
§What should I do, father?§ Hestia hissed in concern as she landed and I began to dismount.
§Well, if push comes to shove, I can fly away with my own wings.§ I replied. §But I want to fight their leader, so I might have to fight their men to even receive the right to do it. So, just stay up in the air.§
§Okay, father!§ Hestia said excitedly. §If you need my help, I’ll come down and roast these weaklings for you.§
A smirk overtook my facial features as the deafening sound of hooves began to fill the air. §I’m sure you will.§
I began to walk in their direction.
Daddy needs an army.