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The Game Is Ever Changing

“I’ve heard our King has arrived, at last. He’s won at Oxcross, then?” Lord Mallister said as I burst into his command tent. He was sitting down, enjoying a cup of ale, it seemed like. “Uh… Lord Potter?”

I took a few moments to catch my breath.

“Yes.” I answered warily, checking to make sure there were no prying ears. “That’s why I’m here.”

“King Robb has suffered some extensive injuries.” I said and held up a hand to keep Lord Mallister from talking. “He came to us, alone. Likely, his guard has been decimated. I am unsure as to the fate of his direwolf. He must have walked here, on his lonesome— and with his injuries…”

“What sort of injuries?” Lord Mallister queried with a tone of alarm, standing quickly.

“Too numerous to tell. Some were severe enough to threaten his very life.” I waved it off. “He’s fine, at any rate. I healed the worst of it up, and he’s currently sleeping it off. I wanted to question him about what happened, but to wake him now would likely severely damage his chances of recovery.”

“I see.” Jason nodded in understanding, taking a deep breath to settle his nerves. “I will instruct the army to be on high alert.”

I nodded gratefully. That’s exactly what I came here for.

“Okay, good. I’ll take a few men and post them near the King’s recovery tent. Jon, Hestia and Ghost are standing guard around him, at the moment.” I informed the man.

“As safe as he can ever be, then.” Jason replied, giving me a grim smile.

“Indeed.” I returned the smile, though the feeling faded quickly, to be replaced by a sense of urgency. “I’m going back to him, now. Wait for him to wake up.”

Lord Mallister only gave me a nod as I exited the tent.

Along the way back to the makeshift tent I’d made for Robb, I enlisted the help of thirty men, including Tyrion and Jaime, who had been sitting around doing nothing at the time.

“What do you think happened to him?” Tyrion asked me curiously on the way.

I shook my head. “No clue. All I know is that all of his men that he was riding with, possibly his direwolf, Grey Wind, are dead, and that he was so severely injured that he would not have made it through the day without my healing him.”

“Perhaps an ambush? Left for dead, afterwards?” Jaime suggested as we reached the makeshift tent.

Ghost and Hestia stood on each side of the entrance, looking as if they were going to shred whoever dared to attack to pieces.

“It’s possible.” I said dubiously. “It could have been more Faceless Men, hired by Cersei.”

“Not likely.” Tyrion shook his head. “With King’s Landing blocked off by pirates, and my dear father captured here, there would be no way she could afford such an expense.”

“True.” I frowned thoughtfully, feeling like I was missing something. “Wait…”

I shook my head. Damn it! I felt like the answer was right under my nose, and I simply just missed it!

“Just stand guard here, while I try to figure this out.” I ordered. “I feel like I’m missing something.”

“Yes, I’m sure whoever attempted to kill His Grace will tremble in fear at the sight of a dwarf with a small kitchen knife.” Tyrion said sarcastically, waving said knife around.

I stifled an amused grin. “Just follow me. Jaime—”

“Perfect man for the job.” Jaime rolled his eyes and stood guard with the rest of the men. “I’ve been doing it for decades, now.”

“Right.” I said, not really sure what to say in response to that line, before entering the makeshift tent. “Come, Tyrion.”

Jon was already inside, standing next to Robb, who was still sleeping.

“Oh, good.” I smiled slightly at the improved sight around me; it looked like Jon washed Robb’s wounds. “You cleaned up a bit, thanks.”

Then I pulled out my wand and gave it a few sets of complicated waves.

First, a wooden frame was conjured. Then, a soft mattress came into being, resting snugly on the frame.

It wasn’t an overly difficult spell— but Transfiguration was never my forte, so…

“All right.” I took a deep breath. I wasn’t fully recovered from healing Robb, and this wasn’t helping— but whatever was needed to maximize his chances of recovery would be used.

Wingardium Leviosa.” Robb was lifted a few inches off of the table and was slowly moved to the comfortable bed, before being gently set down. A few more waves of my wand, and he had a pillow, as well as clean sheets.

I gave a final, satisfied nod, before turning to the other two.

“I’ve alerted Lord Mallister as to what happened.” I explained as I leaned back on one of the tables. Using any more heavy magic was not smart— I was already drained enough. Otherwise, I would have simply fashioned a few chairs for all of us. “He’s placed the army on high alert.”

“Good.” Jon nodded, glancing at his brother. “So we have to wait for him to wake up, then?”

“Maybe.” I said, running my hand through my hair as Tyrion made his way to the armor pieces we left on one of the tables.

I began to pace. “I feel like I’m missing something. I just can’t put my finger on it.”

A few seconds passed before Tyrion spoke.

“I think I know.” He said calmly. “I might be wrong.”

I turned to the dwarf in question. “I’ll take anything, at this point.”

“Yes, well.” Tyrion hefted the pierced shoulder-pad. “This is where he was attacked, yes?”

He checked the side of Robb’s chest piece, as well. “Here, too?”

“Aye.” Jon confirmed, staring to get impatient with the Lannister. “What of it?”

“Correct me if I’m mistaken…” Tyrion said carefully. “But, did you not enchant the armor to be unbreakable?”

I took a few moments to absorb his comment, before my eyes widened in realization.

“You mean—”

“Whoever did this—” Tyrion pointed at the damage on the armor. “—was not using any run of the mill weapon. This damage could only be done by Valyrian steel, or other magics.” He gestured towards Erebus.

“Not so.” Jon disagreed with a shake of his. “It could simply be the possibility that Harry’s enchantment wore off…”

I nodded. “It’s true, I did put the enchantments there… over a month ago.”

“It could simply have lost its enchantment.” I mused thoughtfully, before moving towards the piece of armor, myself, and hefting it slightly. “I’ll check for it.”

A few moments later, and my frown turned heavier and heavier.

“Yes. It’s still under the enchantment.” I said in confusion, before motioning for Tyrion.

“Stab it for me, I just want to be sure.” I ordered, placing the armor piece on the ground, and moving back a step. “Is your dagger Valyrian Steel?”

“No.” Tyrion replied with a shake of his head.

“Go ahead, then.” I nodded for him to continue.

“All right.” Tyrion pulled the dagger out and drove it down as hard as he could. The blade clanged against the armor, before bouncing off entirely, sending Tyrion back with it. “Oof!”

I watched the diminutive man scramble back off, the shock of the impact rattling him, judging by his uncontrollably shaking hands. I winced slightly, before directing my attention back at the armor piece, bringing it to eye level for a few moments.

“Not even a scratch..” I mused, eyes narrowing at the implication. “The spell is still active.”

“So it was someone with a Valyrian sword!” Jon exclaimed. “But, what did that mean?”

“Perhaps the Faceless Men have acquired Valyrian weaponry?” Tyrion suggested.

“No.” I rejected. “They’d be going after me, not Robb.”

“A more opportune target?” Tyrion insisted. “You are much harder to kill, after all.”

There’s something else.” Erebus piped up from his sheath. “Can’t you feel it? A taint on this armor.

Tyrion shifted uncomfortably at the sound of the weapon speaking, still not used to it.

“A taint?” Jon repeated. “I don’t feel anything.”

I closed my eyes, and concentrated. “Give me a moment.”

I didn’t see their nods, as a tendril of Lightning snaked into the chestpiece, feeling for anything that was out of place. After a few seconds of nothing, I felt… something.

“What…” I murmured as I moved my Lightning slowly closer to it. “What is that?”

You feel it, too?” Erebus questioned.

“Yes.” I frowned. “Something’s really strange, here. I— Gack!”

“Harry!” Jon and Tyrion cried as I hunched forward and fell to my knees.

My energy had latched onto the taint, and it was all I could do to stop from losing my lunch. It ‘smelled’ old, and foul, powered by endless pain, suffering, and oceans of blood. The sacrificed souls of the men, women and children called out to me in eternal agony. The pain, it was almost unbearable…

“Help us!” They cried. I flinched in response.

I ignored them and pushed on as best as I could. They were already dead and gone, spirits caught in endless torment— there was nothing I could do for them.

Flashes of a great, long bridge city, overlooking the ship-filled sea. An enormity of pillars, steps, bridges, domes and towers flowing into one another; mixing hues of red, yellow, gold and orange until my head felt like it was going to explode.

Stronger than this. Fight it.

But, I powered on through it.

A fortress city with pyramids easily dwarfing the rest of the structure. An image of a golden harpy, at the top. Wait, it was more than one city… The landscapes kept changing, but the pyramids remained the same.

Concentrate.

I moved towards the center of it all, the darkness underneath the color.

I looked deep into it.

It looked back at me, and snarled.

I felt the blood drain out of my face— this was primal, powerful magic.

No! Get out of my head!” I screamed back in my mind. Lightning answered my call, startling the creature and forcing it to flee with a loud shriek.

The next moment, I found myself back in the tent, the faces of Jon and Tyrion staring down at me in worry.

“Harry!” Tyrion said.

“Is that you, in there?” Jon asked quickly.

“Me?” I frowned slightly, cringing slightly as I brought my hand to my forehead. “My head… What happened?”

“I don’t know.” Jon said, eyes firmly on me— wait, why was Ice out? And, why is he pointing it at me?

I frowned. “Why have you drawn Ice?”

Jon hesitated.

“Something took control of you.” Tyrion had no such hesitation.

My blood ran cold as my eyes jumped wildly to him. “What?”

“You were overtaken by… a darkness.” Tyrion explained. “Your eyes became as black as the empty night sky. You began to chant…”

“Chant?” I repeated.

Shit. What the hell did I do?

“But Jon immediately stopped you by slamming the blunt edge of his sword against your head.” Tyrion said quickly. “Didn’t hesitate for a second. I thought he was actually aiming to kill you.”

I reached upwards and poked at my forehead, where a bruise was beginning to form.

“That stings!” I said, before I pushed myself back up. “Did you have to hit me so hard?”

“You were drawing your sword.” Jon replied, giving a meaningful glance towards Robb as he sheathed Ice back.

My eyes widened in realization. Something took control of me, and tried to kill Robb using my body.

If Jon wasn’t there to stop me…

“Erebus?” I looked down at the weapon, encased in his bone white sheath. I frowned. “What happened?”

A long moment passed with no answer.

The entity is strong. I am not Emperor of Darkness here, it seems...” Erebus replied. Was it just me or did he sound… ashamed?

“It’s to be expected.” I replied. “We’re in a different world. It’s unfair to retain your titles. So we’ve just dealt with this world’s Emperor of Darkness?”

Unsure.” Erebus replied, regaining his strength with every second. “It was a strange creature, so much like me— but there was much more. It controlled both Darkness and Light. How?

“You don’t mean—” Tyrion said.

“R’hllor?” I finished. “That… was him? The Lord of Light? Felt more like a Devil than a God.”

§Oftentimes, Gods are merely Devils with promises of enlightenment and power beyond imagining.§ Balthazar weighed in.

“But, in the void…” I said, remembering the first day I came to this world. How long has it been, since then? “In between worlds, we saw him. The red priest. He was scared of us.”

Perhaps he has grown more powerful, as of late.” Erebus mused, tone growing harsh. “I do not know. But, we must stop him. I refuse to take this insult lying down.

“I’ve never seen you like this, Erebus.” I said slowly. “Not even after I beat you.”

Tch.” Erebus scoffed. “You beat me using a Lightning coated Patronus. This one beat me with my own powers… Do you understand?

“…I do.” I said, after thinking about it for a few seconds. I know I would be greatly upset if someone just showed up and defeated me, using my own power— now, add in the fact that I was the master of my element for a millennia?

Suddenly, Erebus’ anger made a lot more sense than a few seconds ago.

“Don’t worry. We’ll get him— and their religion of crazed fuckers.” I promised, before turning to Tyrion and Jon, who were beginning to relax. “I got a few flashes while communing with that power. Images— too many to count, but I remember a few, quite strongly.”

“Indeed?” Tyrion questioned, motioning for me to speak.

I frowned, pressing my hand against my forehead as I tried to keep the headache at bay. “A large port city— huge bridge. Pyramid cities with golden harpy statues. Red priest temples at the center of each.”

“The Free City of Volantis, and the Ghiscari cities…” Tyrion mused. “Yunkai, Meereen and Astapor— and anything in between all four?”

“I don’t know.” I said, feeling a little overwhelmed. “I—”

“No!” Robb suddenly cried out and sat up, abruptly, before cringing and falling back down on the soft bed, groaning in pain.

“Robb!” Jon exclaimed and went to his brother’s side. I followed suit.

“Jon— is that you?” Robb said, opening his eyes slowly. “Is it really you?”

“Yes.” Jon replied, nodding furiously. “How are you feeling?”

“Better.” Robb replied, before going into a fit of coughs. “Could use some water, though.”

Jon handed him a pitcher of water, which was emptied in less than ten seconds.

“I’ll have someone bring food.” Tyrion said, before exiting the makeshift tent.

We spent the next few moments in silence.

“What happened?” I finally asked.

Robb gave me this look, a mix between pained and scared, before shaking his head furiously and schooling his features.

Another long moment passed, before Robb started speaking.

“We had slaughtered Lannister’s levies at Oxcross, and had made our way back to Riverrun. We spent the next few days celebrating and resupplying. I split the army into different parts to cover the entry points of the Riverlands— Wayfarer’s Rest, Stoney Sept, Pinkmaiden.” Robb explained slowly. “Their orders were to fortify their positions and remain there until ordered otherwise.”

“I left Grey Wind at Riverrun, as he had eaten some particularly bad meat. He’d been sick for days even before I left. I’ll have to go back and check on him.” Robb mused for a second, before resuming his tale. “I, and a few men, about fifty or so, were making our way to Harrenhal, to assume leadership, and begin the preparations for the march on King’s Landing.”

“I was also planning on speaking to both… Kings Renly and Stannis Baratheon.” Robb continued. “All to ensure peaceful relations with the House my father so dearly respected. That’s when it happened.”

A dark look marred his face and he shook his head. “They came in the night. Shadow men. We could not hurt them, but the weapons and armor had been enhanced enough that they could not fully penetrate it— at least, not without considerable effort.” He gestured towards himself.

“All of my men died.” Robb said simply. “They were about to kill me, as well, but… The sun light killed those creatures; they could not withstand it. They screamed, and screamed— but, in the end, they were… thankful. I did not understand.”

“That still doesn’t explain why you were so paranoid.” I mused.

“I was getting to that.” Robb sounded agitated as he said. “They had hidden under one of the men’s shadow, and in his body. One of our men— a guardsman at Winterfell. Korrig.”

Jon’s intake of breath was heard. “Is he…”

“Aye.” Robb confirmed. “His body split apart… The shadows ate it all up, and attacked us, next. Your horse, Geryon—” I stiffened. “—took the brunt of the attack, before crushing three of the shadowmen. He did not live long, after.”

I stared at Robb, uncomprehending for a long moment, before it finally dawned on me.

“Geryon is dead.” I said.

“I’m sorry, Harry.” Robb replied. “I would have died, right there and then, if it weren’t for Geryon.”

“I— Give me a moment.” I said, and composed myself, trying to ignore the steadily growing lump in my throat. “Keep going.”

“Fifty men, against two of these shadowmen. Our weapons could not harm them, but theirs could. It was a slaughter. My men— they all tried to protect me.” Robb was getting more and more upset. “Good men. They had proven themselves in the battles we’d fought, only to be defeated by… These creatures!”

“R’hllor’s followers created them.” I said, motioning towards the damaged chest plate. “Very powerful magic. It almost completely overwhelmed me when I attempted to commune with it in order to ascertain its origin.”

“R’hllor?” Robb mouthed, and began to speak. “The Lord of Light from Essos?”

I nodded.

“Why would the Essossi wish to attack the North?” Robb asked in confusion, as well as frustration. “We have not wronged them in any way!”

“I don’t know.” I replied with a shake of my head.

“Wait.” Jon cut in.

“What is it?” Robb looked at his brother.

“You remember, Harry?” Jon was addressing me. “You said that there were two Red Priests on this continent, a fortnight past? Maybe more.”

My eyes unfocused for a few seconds, before I nodded in confirmation. “Yes.” I nodded a few times, starting to understand. “I see where you’re going with this. You think this other priest carried out the attack?”

Jon nodded.

“Spawned those soldiers of shadows…” I mused. “But, why would I have seen the temples in Essos, instead?”

I believe I understand why that is.” Erebus clattered in his sheath, gaining everyone’s attention. “Yes, it makes sense.

“What does?” I asked back.

“…Magic comes from belief. It comes from pouring your entire being, your soul into it.” Erebus explained slowly.

I absorbed the words for a few moments, making the logical connections in my mind.

“…And belief in their power is gathered by their devout followers at the temples!” I concluded. I frowned. “Or, at least, the majority of it lies there.”

Correct.” Erebus confirmed.

“So, what?” I asked with a thoughtful frown. “Destroy the temples? How’s that going to stop the followers? I’d have to de-convert them…”

Likely unnecessary.” Erebus waved it off. “As long as you destroy the temples, as well as the priests, you should be fine. The people will forget, quickly enough. Either by fear, or by conversion to another one of this world’s religions— like the Old Gods, who seem to be on our side. Or, something useless, like the Seven.

I nodded in understanding, before turning to Robb.

Everything seemed clear, now. I knew what I had to do.

“I’ll have to go ride to—” I stopped, and swallowed the lump in my throat. Geryon was gone, and he was never coming back, thanks to this Red Priest. “To a port; have them take me to one of the Essossi cities.”

“Harry?” Jon said in confusion. “What about—”

I shook my head in irritation. “This takes precedence. You can protect Robb. I’ll leave Hestia with you, as she listens to you. You may need her fire.”

“I can’t! Won’t you need her more?” Jon protested vehemently. “You’re going right to their domains..”

“No.” I replied immediately, beginning to lose my patience with the fellow teen. “You and Hestia will stay with Robb. Protect him with your lives. Without Robb, there will be pandemonium. We’d lose control over the Westerlands immediately. We can’t let our efforts go to waste.”

“Harry.” Robb said calmly from his bed. “Are you sure you’re not going because of—”

“Don’t say it.” I retorted frostily, piercing Robb with my gaze alone and suppressing the explosion of rage that was about to come out. “Don’t you fucking say it.”

Robb unflinchingly stared right back, proving why he was the King in the North and Trident. Even while grievously wounded and bedridden, he still stared me down.

It was then that I looked down. My hands were shaking. I was out of breath.

Completely emotionally compromised.

What a joke.

I huffed, and looked away, before pinching the bridge of my nose in wariness.

“Fine, fine.” I sighed, sagging in exhaustion. “I’ll take Hestia with me when I go.”

And?” Jon added, motioning for me to keep going while giving me a look identical to that of his brother.

“I’ll rest up and plan our moves with great care and forethought.” I replied.

“Good!” Jon looked pleased, as Tyrion came in with a large tray of food. “Let’s begin, then. Shall we?”

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