I stared down at the dead bodies and frowned at the results of my own actions. “How many have we lost?”
I’d applied my modified Bubblehead but I could still tell that the air was filled with rot and decay going by everyone else’s expression.
You killed these people. Part of me said. You should at least disable that spell to truly understand what you’ve done. You should be feeling what they feel, smell what they smell. You’re just a coward, unwilling to deal with the consequences.
I didn’t kill them. I argued back pointlessly. The guilt did not wane a single bit.
“It’s hard to say, really.” Bronn said from my side. “Thousands, easy: Dothraki, most of them were. The Unsullied were smart enough to retreat at the first sign of trouble, and they weren’t overcome with fear.”
That was probably due to their training, I mused with a nod.
I was secretly glad the heavily worn man had managed to survive the ordeal. Though, judging from the way he favored his right side…
“You’re hiding an injury, aren’t you? Show me your wounds.” I ordered, turning to face him.
“S’all right, I had it looked at by one of the—”
“Now.” I left no room for discussion.
Bronn stared at my expression for a moment before relenting and lifting his shirt. “All right, as you command, my lord Khal.”
I suppressed a sympathetic wince at the awful burn on his chest, giving him a look of disappointed exasperation, instead. “Why didn’t you say anything? This looks serious.”
“Some lost their arms or legs, while I got this.” Bronn tried to look tough by shrugging it off, and almost cringed from the pain.
“This is no time to be selfless.” I argued.
“Selfless?” Bronn sounded incredulous. “I just wanted to get away from the Dothraki healer!”
That… Actually fit the rogue a lot more than my conclusion.
“Besides, this is nothin’.” Bronn reassured me.
“‘Nothing’, huh?” I repeated, reaching into my pocket for the burn-healing paste. “Don’t move. I’ll make sure it really becomes nothing.”
With a wave of my holly wand, the paste flew to his chest, quickly and efficiently covering the burn. Almost immediately, the man sagged in relief as the healing paste did its magic.
“Fuck me.” He sighed deeply. “You’re provin’ to be one hell of an employer, my lord Khal.”
I rolled my eyes in amusement. “Just make sure not to mess with the paste. It will do its job.”
“I’ll remember tha’.” Bronn nodded in gratitude.
A few seconds later, a piercing scream broke through the momentary levity.
“I should probably help with the healing effort.” I said slowly, giving the man a significant look. “How good are you at leading troops?”
“Led a few squads. Sellswords mostly.” Bronn shrugged, now looking a lot more comfortable than he did a few seconds ago.
“All right. Good enough, I suppose.” I nodded, gesturing at him and raising my voice to get everyone’s attention around me.
“All those who have been harmed, assemble into a single spot!” I ordered, steel in my voice.
Most of them were already in one place, but some of the stubborn ones were hiding their wounds. “I don’t want any of you to try and impress me by bearing the pain! It’s a waste of my time; I want you to be healed. Is that understood!? I’ll fucking beat every single one of you if I find out you’ve been messing around with your lives!”
I got a general positive answer, both in chuckles and sheepish nods, before all was quiet once more.
“General Bronn, here.” I gestured to the man beside me, who almost laughed in reaction to the title. “Will coordinate the troops. General Bronn, make sure we don’t get attacked by anything as we recover our forces. If someone shows up with a flag of peace, invite them in, but make sure there is no foul play.”
Bronn made a deep bow, finally letting out the snort he’d been holding back. “As you command, my lord Khal!”
I felt my lips curl into a slight smile and nodded. “Get to it!”
Everyone went to work.
I took my position among the wounded, and went to work as well.
The next few hours were a whirlwind of pained moans, healing salves and a plethora of spells I’d learned from Daphne and Pomfrey in my time in the Hospital Wing.
It was worth it to see the looks of relief mixed with gratitude on the faces of my subjects. There were a few curious looks directed at my bare right arm, but no one said anything.
Balthazar was currently wrapped around Hestia, who was chattering away with Daenerys’ dragons up in the air.
I could hear snippets of their conversation, but was barely paying any attention to it.
My thoughts strayed to the Mother of Dragons. I’d given Drogon a letter to deliver to his mother. It had taken a while to convince the stubborn creature, but he finally had acquiesced when Hestia said she’d play with him later.
“Dragon playdates.” I muttered incredulously as I spelled some burn paste over the final patient’s wound. I gave a nod as I watched the salve do its magic.
“All better.” I smiled, looking around. “Anyone else?”
There was a series of “no”s and headshakes.
“Perfect!” I clapped my hands together, wings of Lightning erupting from my back. With a single, powerful beat, I took to the sky, easily reaching Hestia in a few seconds.
§You talk funny now, Erebus.§ Hestia lazily flew circles around Drogon, Viseryon and Rhaegal, tagging them lightly with her slender, but powerful tail.
§I’m glad I amuse you, little one.§ Balthazar hissed right back, turning his head towards me. §Ah, our prodigal leader returns! How was the healing effort?§
He really has changed. I stared at the humongous snake coiled around Hestia. Even in presence— it’s like there’s a sort of… regal air around him.
§It was fine. Some were hiding their injuries, but it was to be expected. Are you all having fun?§ I finally asked, easily dodging a playful swipe from Hestia’s tail.
§You see that?§ Hestia called out to her kin. §That’s how you dodge! You watch where the tail is going and move away! If only you guys bothered to really use your bodies, you’d be unstoppable!§
I suppressed a snort. Leave it to Hestia to play big sister with a bunch of previously vicious enemies.
§It’s a blast.§Balthazar answered my question. §If you said we’d eventually be flying around with dragons, way back when we first met, then maybe I wouldn’t have been such a jerk to you.§
I didn’t reply immediately. The topic of home was one we tried to avoid at all costs— at least, one I tried to.
Why was he bringing it up now?
“You know we don’t talk about that.” I said quietly, in English.
“Yes.” Balthazar replied, also switching. “But, I think I understand how we can get back, now.”
I approached the two quickly. “What?”
“Yes, do tell.” Erebus entered the conversation. “How will we be able to return to our realm? I rather thought it was impossible to do so.”
§Our realm, father?§ Hestia seemed confused.
I nodded, landing on her back and reabsorbing my wings. §Yes, little one. I’m not from this land. I come from another one, entirely.§
I massaged her neck as she absorbed the words.
§I don’t really understand, father.§ Hestia replied, even more confused.
I stifled a sigh. §It’s all right. It’s hard for me to understand, too.§
Balthazar slithered around Hestia’s body until his head was in front of mine. Ignoring the she-dragon’s giggles, I fixed the demonic snake with an expectant look.
“So, how will we return?” I asked.
“Simple.” Balthazar paused for a moment. “With a Dark Rift.“
“…” I stared at the snake in bewilderment. “What?”
“We can get home with a Dark Rift.“
“Yes, I heard you the first time. It doesn’t make sense, thought!” I said in annoyance. “Did you miss the part where we deduced that Dark Rift did absolutely nothing, all those months ago? What, were the realm servers under maintenance, or something?”
“As charming as our homeworld’s references are,” Erebus cut in, once more. “I would rather be able to understand your conversation. My rifts aren’t able to open a portal to Nevernever, because we are disconnected from Nevernever.”
“We aren’t. Not really.” Balthazar revealed. “I’ve been absorbing the Keeper’s knowledge. It’s taken a bit of time to sort through this thing’s memories— and boy, are there memories! Races you can’t imagine, Harry. The old Dragon Lords at the height of their powers. The Ten Towers! Yi Ti and the Jade Empire—”
“Balthazar!” I cut him off. “Stick to what we need, we can talk about the rest later. All right?”
“Right, right.” Balthazar nodded, a little dazed by his own thoughts. “Well, it’s true that the Dark Rift doesn’t work right now. That’s because, while there is a connection to the Nevernever, it’s being blocked by something powerful.”
“Blocked?” I blinked, mind whirring with possibilities. Was it the unknown force guiding my path? “Is it… the Mystery?“
“…I don’t think so, no. I hadn’t thought of that, actually.” Balthazar shook his head. “I’m reasonably sure it’s the Others, though. They’re doing something to the connections of the universe. I can feel it.”
I frowned heavily. They could even do that? I thought they simply had control over the cold and darkness.
“I’m not sure what they’re doing is intentional, though.” Balthazar continued. “It’s hard to say, considering I haven’t laid eyes on them, myself. However, I have the Keeper’s memories, which give me a rough idea of what’s going on. There’s a kind of seal around the world, not allowing for anything to enter or leave.”
That didn’t make sense.
“Then how’d we get—”
“I had the same thought. I have no idea.” Balthazar shook his head once again. “From what I am able to tell, the Keeper detected a breach in the seal the moment we arrived, but it was repaired quickly afterward. It also detected our attempt to leave. That’s how they first knew about us and our possible allegiances.”
“Their ‘future sight’ ability might have had something to do with that, too, though.” I mused, scratching my cheek. “So, you’re saying that if we end the threat of the Others, then we can go home?”
“It should get rid of the barrier, yes.” Balthazar nodded hesitantly.
I frowned. That wasn’t quite the answer to my question.
“You don’t know, do you?” I asked.
“No… Not really.” Balthazar replied. “We’ll be able to leave this universe, for sure, but remember how we got here in the first place.”
“How can I forget?” I laughed, suppressing a shudder. “One does not forget Mundus so easily.”
It had taken the combined power of Dante, Vergil and myself to just sucker punch the Demon Emperor out of the realm between worlds!
“The realm between worlds.” I realized. “We didn’t leave Earth. We left that place.”
“We’d been in the Nevernever beforehand.” Balthazar added. “So, when we beat the Others, we’ll have the chance to open a portal. Whether that portal leads to the realm between worlds, the Nevernever itself, or Earth, I have no idea.”
“We’d be jumping into the literal unknown.” I concluded, a heavy feeling setting itself over me. Was there really no hope?
No. I couldn’t think like that.
“We were lucky enough to reach a universe that had conditions similar enough to ours that it only caused a slight setback in your power growth.” Balthazar explained.
“He’s right.” Erebus agreed somberly. “There’s no way we can know if the portal will lead us where we need to be, or if the place we end up is even hospitable.”
“No! I have to try.” I said suddenly, a sort of panic seeping into my words. “They are all waiting for me. Sirius, Ron, Hermione, Daphne are…”
“You want to stake your life on love?” Erebus expectedly did not understand my motivation. “Humans are all the same, I swear…”
“I want to go back, too, Harry. I do.” Balthazar began to merge with my arm, linking his energy with mine. “But I’m not sure we can. We might go somewhere completely different, or worse, get stuck in some multiversal tunnel from which we can’t escape.”
I sighed in frustration as I felt the warm scales click into place over my right arm.
“It’s kind of nice, being small like this.” Balthazar shared with me. “My power is much more compressed this way.”
I let out another angry sigh, before calming myself with a few measured breaths.
“I can’t give up…” I muttered, patting Hestia on her neck and staring at the three smaller dragons who were flying towards us.
Were they attacking us?
“Hestia.” I said quietly, banishing all previous thoughts from my mind and getting ready for another fight.
§They’re not going to attack us, father.§ Hestia replied instantly. §But, there’s something weird about Drogon! He’s not flying smoothly.§
Once I’d fixed my gaze on the red and black dragon, I understood why.
Just as she’d done in the throne room of Meereen, Daenerys cut an impressive, if slightly awkward figure. She looked a little more disheveled and fierce, but I found that it suited her.
I sympathized: riding a dragon took some getting used to. This was probably her first time.
Now, how to go about this…?
“She sought you out.” Erebus whispered. “She’ll speak. Try to be a little more… diplomatic this time.”
Coming from a demon, that was rich. Was my immediate thought.
“Even demons have allies.” Erebus countered gently.
“True.” I conceded the point, giving the Dragon Queen enough time to acclimate to her seating position and address me.
“Lord Harry Potter.” Daenerys spoke loudly, staring at me with her violet eyes. Her silvery-blonde hair fluttered wildly in the strong winds.
I merely gave her a nod in response and gestured to an empty field in the distance, before turning to her once more with an inquisitive look. She wasted no time, urging Drogon to fly in that direction.
I smiled slightly, patting Hestia on the neck. §Let’s go, little one.§
§I’m not little!§ Hestia protested.
§You’ll always be little to me.§ I smiled. §Even if you become bigger than a castle!§
§You’re so silly, Father!§ Hestia chirped as we easily kept pace with Daenerys. She looked back toward Hestia in surprise.
I suppressed a snort: Hestia’s chirp always caught people off-guard. She really was like a big, adorable birdie.
I loved her.
I gave the she-dragon another affectionate pat as we all landed in the field. It was a little oasis many miles away from Meereen.
What few animals were here had run long ago. I dismounted Hestia, patting her neck twice more before making my way to the water. It felt odd, placing my feet on the rich grass. I’d been either on foot in the sand, or on the back of a horse the whole time I’d been in Essos.
I knelt and ran my hand over the grass.
“Soft.” I murmured, before standing back up and turning to the woman standing behind me.
The intrigued look in her eyes was concealed by a slightly haughty and guarded demeanor. I stifled a wince.
“For what it’s worth, I’d like to apologize for how I behaved.” I started, feeling a little unsure and nervous. “I did not specify that my men were only hunting the Red Priests down. They did not lay a hand on the cityfolk, otherwise. It was the Keeper that did slaughtered them.”
“The Keeper?” She repeated, her voice just as rich as it had been in the throne room. She, like myself, moved to sit by the water. “You are referring to the fiery titan that was spawned from the Red Temple.”
“Correct.” I replied, watching as Hestia and Drogon took to the air, with Drogon trying his best to hit Hestia, who flew circles around him.
It was adorable.
“She’s beautiful, you know.” Daenerys said. I blinked, turning my gaze to the woman, who looked… solemn?
“She is.” I agreed, before calling out. “Hestia! Get back down here, and say hello!”
Almost instantly, Hestia complied, smacking Drogon in the snout one last time for good measure, before diving toward us. With a single, powerful beat of her wings, she hovered a few feet off the ground and landed.
Drogon flew down to slam into her, but with a warning chirp from Hestia, he slowed his descent until he was beside her, instead. Rhaegal and Viseryon continued to circle each other in the air.
“She listens to you, without question?” Daenerys was amazed.
“I am her father.” Was my reply.
“Of course.” She seemed almost amused. I supposed this was her first time seeing things from an outside perspective. “May I?”
“I’m not the one you should be asking.” I directed my gaze to the she-dragon.
“I see.” Daenerys nodded and approached Hestia. “May I touch you…” She gave me an inquisitive glance.
“Hestia.” I supplied. “Her name is Hestia.”
“Hestia.” Daenerys’ lips pursed in confusion. “That is not a Valyrian name.”
“It is not.” I confirmed with a nod. “Where I’m from, however, Hestia is known as the ancient Goddess of the Hearth. She is the bringer of warmth and safety. I thought it would be a fitting name for her.”
“Then, it is indeed a beautiful name, for a beautiful dragon.” She smiled up at the preening she-dragon. “May I touch you, Hestia?”
§You may.§ Hestia allowed and lowered her head to meet the Dragon Queen.
Daenerys finally showed her hesitation, running her hand over Hestia’s blue scales.
Her violet eyes lit up with surprise and delight. “They’re so soft!”
§The Dragon Queen feels strange, Father.§ Hestia hissed. §She feels familiar.§
§She shares blood with Jon.§ I explained. Daenerys’ amazed eyes now fastened onto me. §She’s his father’s sister.§
§Is she!? That’s amazing!§ Hestia seemed excited, nudging the woman in question from behind with her tail. Daenerys jumped in surprise. §I like her!§
§I’m glad you approve, little one.§ I rolled my eyes.
Daenerys moved her gaze to me once again.
“You can speak to her? Truly?” She sounded hesitant again, showing the difference between the powerful ruler and the lonely little girl whose energy I’d felt in that manse in Pentos, all that time ago.
She still held onto her roots, despite all she’d been through. It was both a powerful and tragic thing to see.
For a reason I could not fathom, I wanted to bring that little girl out again.
“Is this your saving-people-thing Balthazar has spoken of?” Erebus mentally relayed.
That’s about as best as we can put it. I replied.
“Yes, I can speak to all dragons.” I revealed finally.
The following silence weighed in the air as Daenerys seemed to struggle with something. I didn’t need to read minds to know exactly what.
“Ask your questions.” I smiled.
Daenerys stiffened in a mix of nervousness and irritation as she realized she hadn’t been able to hide her emotions well enough.
“I was simply wondering if…” Daenerys stopped, steeling herself. “If you could speak to my children, as well.”
“Oh, yes.” I confirmed and pointed to Drogon. “How else did you think I got him to give you the letter?”
She didn’t answer, but I had an idea of what it would be. I didn’t really blame her.
“You thought I cursed him.” I sighed. “I understand, our meeting did not go over too well—”
“You threatened my men, humiliated my Royalguard and almost got Meereen destroyed!” She exclaimed incredulously. “I would not say it went well, at all!”
“You’re right.” I gave a crooked smile. “It was a disaster on my part. I was caught up with my goal to defeat the Others and forgot that diplomacy can sometimes yield better results. It is my mistake, and I openly admit to it.”
That cut the wind from her sails.
“I did not curse Drogon.” I nodded when her expression changed to surprise. “I merely asked him to deliver this letter, in exchange for some playtime with Hestia.”
Daenerys absorbed the comment, looked to her eldest ‘son’, and back at me.
“A play date.” She deadpanned.
“…Well, they’re still babies, by our standards.” I said wryly. “Can you really blame them for wanting to play?”
Daenerys did not reply.
“What do you want to say to your son?” I asked, moving the subject back to what she wanted.
“I…” Daenerys hesitated. “I’m not sure. I’ve never been able to speak to them, before.”
“I guess we’ll start with something simple.” I blinked and switched to Parseltongue.
§Drogon.§ I hissed, getting the young dragon’s attention. §Come here.§
§No.§ He rejected.
I rolled my eyes with a snort.
“What did he say?” Daenerys’ eyes lit up with curiosity.
“I told him to come here, and he refused.” I supplied. “Strong willed, that one.”
“That, he is.” Daenerys smiled fondly, walking to Drogon and caressing the underside of his chin.
§How well do you understand your mother?§ I asked as he enjoyed his mother’s touch.
§No-scale dragon asks stupid questions.§ Drogon replied. §Mother makes her wants known by how she moves. Sometimes she says ‘fire’.§
“What did he say?” Daenerys was excited.
I looked at her for a moment, before replying. “He insulted me. He understands you by how you move, and said that you sometimes say ‘fire’. I’m guessing you use the Valyrian word for fire, though how he understands Valyrian is beyond me.”
“An in-built understanding of the language through magic rituals.” Erebus theorized. “Mundus loved doing that sort of thing with his own spawn. Berial never had a chance to thrive because of it.”
I pondered Erebus’ words as Daenerys hugged Drogon’s neck. Drogon merely let her do it. He might have been a vicious little shit to me and any other human, but with his mother, it was almost like he was a whining puppy.
As if reading my mind, Drogon fixed a glare on me. I gave him an unimpressed look in return. After the thrashing I’d given him, he should know better.
Hestia, reading my intent, flicked him on the nose, surprising Daenerys and enraging Drogon, who made to leap at the she-dragon. With another smack of the tail, she made the black dragon flinch, giving her enough time to gracefully take to the air.
Drogon followed soon after, roaring in challenge.
“Looks like they’re getting along well enough.” I smiled up at the two.
“Yes, they are.” Daenerys said softly, the sound of rustling hitting my ears. She’d sat down by the water again. “Would you care to join me, Lord Potter?”
“… Call me Harry.” I sat down, as well.
Maybe things weren’t as bad as they seemed.