“Perhaps I have misjudged you.” Varys said appraisingly as we walked through the many hallways in Illyrio’s manse.
It had been a few hours since I had destroyed the Red Temple and launched my modified Dark Mark─ let’s call it a Dragon Mark─ into the sky for all to see.
The children had all been situated and properly fed, since then. I had taken the time to sit with them, and reassure them that, yes, the nightmare was over, and yes, they were free to go wherever they wished.
I also told them that, if they wanted, they could live at the Twins, in Westeros, which, last I heard when I was in Westeros, was being fixed up by my Northmen and Rivermen allies.
It paid to have allies, I supposed.
Some of the older kids chose to go their own way, but the young ones had decided to take me up on that offer.
“In what way?” I replied, staring at my right thumb and trying to bend it with some difficulty. It felt quite stiff.
“I did not expect you to care for the sacrificial children— seeing as you’re a warlock, yourself.” I frowned at his implication, not really understanding. “But you saved them.”
“Why wouldn’t I…” I started, before realization hit me.
“You think my power is derived from sacrifices?” I almost laughed at his befuddled expression.
“You’re saying ─”
“Yes.” I said calmly, raising a hand and channeling my power into it, filling the halls with bluish white light. “My powers exist outside of the boundaries of the lesser mages. Therefore, I do not require something so tedious as blood sacrifices to give me strength. My strength is my own; it has always been my own.”
“I see.” Varys said a few moments later, before shaking his head. “It is difficult to absorb.”
I said nothing in return, merely reining my power back in.
“As for the children, themselves… They shall remain here, for now.” Varys moved on. “Westeros is a dangerous place for children at the moment.”
“Understandable.” I nodded. “I trust my payment was sufficient?”
“Oh, yes.” Varys had a little smile as he replied.
Amused, was he?
Well, I did pay a fair bit of money to keep these kids safe, but neither of the men knew how much money I actually had, so the joke was on them.
A few more moments passed in silence.
“You aim to find the other temples, then?” Varys prodded.
“Of that, there is no doubt.” I replied, finally arriving at the room Illyrio had me stay in.
“Also of no doubt.” Varys said, following me. “You would raze them to the ground..”
“Indeed.” I said and entered the room.
Daenerys Targaryen’s room. Her scent still permeated the room― a soft, gentle thing. Wait… This wasn’t her scent.
§Catching on, are we?§ Balthazar piped up with a hiss.
§What do you mean?§ I hissed back, ignoring the slightly uneasy look Varys was giving me. The fact that he even showed this much emotion meant he was greatly disturbed.
Oh well. Sucks to be him, I guess.
“What he means, boy―” I stiffened at the angry tone Erebus employed as the black falchion pulsed with power. “―Is that you’re feeling the woman’s magical signature. In actuality, there is no real smell remaining except in the bed, itself, and even then, it’s quite faint.”
“I see…” I said slowly, getting a feel for this power by actively linking my own with it. “Such a gentle signature. Is this truly the signature of a woman with three dragons and a people under her control?”
“It’s likely to have changed, somewhat.” Erebus replied from his spot at the balcony, where Hestia was still snoozing. I didn’t even realize she was that tired.
“But, in essence, that will likely be the core of her magical signature.” Erebus added in at the end. “Did you enjoy your trip?”
“Went off without a hitch.” I smiled as I sat on the bed and looked to Varys. “Thank you for accompanying me back to my room, Varys.”
The bald man caught the hint quick and left with a nod.
“So…” I started slowly, wondering how this conversation was going to play out. I’d never actually snubbed my Devil Arm, before, so I had no idea how he would react to my leaving him behind.
“I believe it is in our best interest to part ways...” Erebus calmly said from his spot.
“Eh?” I replied in surprise, I had been expecting irritation, or anger. Not this. “Part ways?”
“Indeed.” Erebus replied. “At least, for a while.”
“Any specific reason?” I asked. “What’s that even going to achieve?”
“I have allowed my power to stagnate, after it being reduced on our trip to this realm.” Erebus replied. “I cannot allow that to continue. I must increase my powers, once more.”
“So they can have an even stronger version of you to control?” I argued.
Erebus didn’t answer.
“I don’t think increasing your power will accomplish anything.” I replied. “You possess incredible power, already. You need to achieve a resistance.”
“Of course.” Erebus’ tone was amused. “Have some spare dark priests here to make attempts at enslaving me so I can build this resistance you speak of?”
I sighed. He had a point there.
“You must have a better solution than separation, Erebus.” I said slowly. “We can’t just split up, not now.”
“What would you have me do, then?” Erebus asked. “I am less than useless in a fight with the priests..”
“We don’t know that.” I replied with vehemence.
“Don’t we?” He answered back, the epitome of calm.
“We don’t.” I insisted. “The only reason this happened was because we were unprepared for it. Perhaps it is time we attempt to erect mental barriers. Are you familiar with the art of Occlumency?”
“Stories from my progeny, really.” Erebus replied. “Their aura powers were rendered ineffective when wizards developed the defense aspect of their mind arts.”
“Lucky you, Dumbledore taught me the basics of Occlumency.” I smiled. “I’d never needed it before, as channelling Lightning through my brain removed any need for mental defenses; rather, it was a mental defense in its own right.”
A long moment passed.
I smiled, and sat by him and the slowly waking Hestia.
“Well, the first thing you have to do is…”
§Look! I found lunch!§ I heard something hiss to the side.
Frowning, I turned my head to see a few cobras, slithering along the sandy dunes east of Pentos. I’d decided to walk my way east, following along the Valyrian road to the ruins of Ghoyan Drohe.
I would reach that place any day now.
§Let’s jump him before he realizes we’re there.§ One cobra hissed to the other.
Why was I taking the scenic route, you might ask?
It was a necessary sacrifice to ensure Erebus stayed with me. I had actually seriously considered his proposal of leaving and gaining strength before coming back, before discarding it entirely.
Sure, he could have become stronger, but where would that have led him?
I nodded to myself.
Yes, what he needed was further mental strength. I supposed millennia of being the strongest, and never needing to resist anything’s power had caused his mental defenses to shrivel into almost nothingness.
Hence, the work in prog─ hold that thought.
I took a step to the side, watching the snake fly right past me, before grabbing its tail and, with a nice spin, threw it into the distance.
§I could hear every word, you know.§ I hissed to the remaining snake in amusement.
§You can speak our language?§ It replied in surprise.
§Obviously.§ Balthazar cut in the conversation, sounding amused. §Idiot.§
§Who are you? You sound like a nasty viper.§ The cobra hissed.
Snake racism? All right, then.
§So what if I am? Better a viper than some stick thin race made of pure shit like the cobras.§ Balthazar fired back.
I rolled my eyes, pulled out my wand and banished the second cobra before it could say anything more.
§A dick measuring contest with a bunch of wild snakes?§ I hissed, trying not to smile.
§Both were women.§ Balthazar replied. §Not that it matters, they’re probably dead, now.§
§Eh? I didn’t throw them that far, or even that hard for that matt─ Oh… Well, shit.§ I hissed as I saw a flock of crows tear the two unfortunate snakes apart. §My bad.§
§Nature sucks.§Balthazar hissed back.
“Their own mistake for even thinking they could attack us without any retaliation.” Erebus piped up from his sheath.
“Ah, the prodigal son returns.” I smiled. “How was meditation?”
“It was… Satisfactory.” Erebus replied. “My mental shields are progressing at the speed I expected them to.”
“Ah.” I said, recognizing the tone of voice. “A few steps shy of a snail’s pace, then?”
“Just about.” Erebus confirmed, wry amusement mixed with frustration seeping into his tone.
“Well, time is what we have, right now.” I smiled, gesturing to the road ahead of us. “We’ve been on this road for a good while, now.” I said. “I think, a few more days and we’ll reach the ruins of that city. Can’t quite remember the exact name of it, off the top of my head.”
§Ghoyan Drohe.§ Hestia supplied helpfully from the right, her footfalls barely making any sound on the solid stone road.
§Hestia.§ I smiled in her general direction. §Still camouflaged?§
§Yes.§ She replied easily. §If sword-devil is practicing, so should I.§
‘Sword devil.’ I mouthed in amusement.
“Tch.” Erebus sounded only slightly irritated. “At least she’s dedicating her time to getting better. Unlike a certain snake we all know and hate.”
§Shut the fuck up.§ Balthazar retorted. §I’ve been working on stuff, too, y’know.§
“Like what?” Erebus challenged. “Show me this ‘stuff’ of yours.”
A few moments passed with no reply.
“Just as I thought.” Erebus replied triumphantly. “I…”
He stopped as I felt a shifting sensation all over my upper body, followed by the tell-tale clicking sound of Balthazar’s armor coming together… Except, it was forming over my chest!
§Done.§Balthazar said, his tone suggesting a deep concentration.
I smoothly took my shirt off, and stared at Balthazar’s handiwork.
“This.. is impressive.” Erebus said with grudging respect.
“Amazing.” I kept staring.
The hexagonal, nigh indestructible black scales had spread outwards, covering my torso and left shoulder. It looked like a badass version of the Blackfish’s own armor. Where his was bulky and looked downright unwieldy, mine was sleek and form fitting, looking like a second skin.
Which it was.
§How long can you hold this?§ I hissed, still feeling awed as the scales receded.
§Five minutes.§Balthazar replied.
§Only that?§ I said, sounding disappointed.
§Give me a break.§ Balthazar sounded annoyed. §It’s not easy maintaining a surface strong enough to take steel with no scratches.§
§Fair enough.§ I allowed, with a smile. §Well, time to make it easy, then!§
§What do you…§
§Keep the armor on for as long as you can, and then rest up.§ I ordered. §As soon as you’re rested, put the armor back on. Rinse, repeat.§
§You’ve got to be kidding me.§Balthazar whined.
§No one said training was easy.§ I hissed unapologetically, and put my shirt back on. §Now, get to it!§
I heard the sound of scales clicking together as Balthazar’s new scale armor formed over my body once more. I smiled, and put my shirt back on.
“And you?” Erebus piped back in. “What do you plan on doing?“
“I’m not really sure.” I replied sheepishly as I stared down at the Valyrian stone beneath me.
It was truly a wonder to behold. Supposedly, this road was created by the Old Valyrians, with the help of dragonfire. They fused the stone and created roads that linked all of the cities together and modernized trade.
The fact they’re still standing to this day, after four hundred years of wear and tear and looking like they’re still brand new, was a testament to the power of the magic of Old Valyrians.
I shook my head, and focused back on myself.
My control over Lightning, while not absolute, was quite up there. I had already trained the shape manipulation aspect of my magic back on Earth, and that control had carried over even with the loss of a good chunk of my power.
In fact, I would say that my control increased, since there’s a smaller pool of power to work with.
The next logical step: increase my energy reserves, which I already do. Every day, before I slept, I would expend my reserves through the ground. As you all may or may not have known, electricity can bleed into the ground quite easily.
So, I would link up with the ground and expend most of my reserves, before falling asleep. Of course, such a method carried risk, but I always made sure to keep at least a quarter of my reserves up.
You know, just in case someone from the Faceless Men or shadow demons showed up. So far, nothing has happened, but I didn’t trust my luck to hold.
Back to the subject at hand.
Control and energy levels have been covered. What’s left?
My skill with a sword? I regularly went through the forms Jon and Ser Rodrik had shown me many months ago, back when we were staying in Winterfell. Not to mention, I was already a veteran of four different battles, so far.
The only thing that was left was my staff. I hadn’t really used it all that much, aside from the obvious ways it could have been used.
I knew it amplified my Dragonslayer magic, somewhat. Aside from that, I supposed I’d been using it as a glorified club. But it was a staff. There were certain forms to follow.
I sighed, wishing I’d learned some form of martial arts back home.
“You wouldn’t happen to know any fighting styles involving staves, would you?” I asked hopefully.
“Not really.” Erebus replied. “I knew a few demons which had them, but I had never cared to learn it, myself. I was never exactly a full on physical type. I daresay, fighting with you is the closest thing I’ve done to fighting, and even then, it’s you swinging the sword..“
I nodded, remembering Erebus’ wraith-like form.
“Fair enough.” I said and tried to pull up everything I knew about staves as I pulled my staff from its makeshift sheath on my back.
I stared at it for a few seconds.
“This can’t be too hard.” I said to no one in particular. “I mean, fighting styles were created by people. I should be able to create my own.”
“True enough.” Erebus agreed.
I smiled. It would be a worthwhile challenge.
“All right, the top of the staff is almost spherical, while the bottom is sharp like a spike.” I said to myself, spinning the staff and making bashing and stabbing moves with it as I walked along the stone path.
“Bludgeoning and stabbing… And I can increase the effect by channeling my Lightning into it. As for the wood’s properties itself. Perhaps weirwood can fight off the Others.” I mused, remembering the aura I felt at Winterfell’s godswood. Whether it was lethal to the Others or not, I didn’t know.
But it would definitely come in handy. I was sure of it.
The potential of this weapon was high. With my Dragonslayer magic, its spherical end can be turned into a hammer, and its spiky end could be turned into a spear.
I began to move through a clumsy kata, correcting my stances, thrusts and swings as best as I could.
§Go father!§Hestia cheered, and I faltered from the sheer amusement of it.
§Heh. Thanks, kid.§I grinned and went back to training.
And so the days passed…
I would wake up, eat, train for a bit, walk for five to six hours while Erebus, Balthazar, and Hestia trained in their respective abilities. When we were all done, I would drain most of my power, before finding a place to set up camp and then finally sleeping.
As the days passed, I began to notice the earth below my feet turn greener and greener. I began to spot more animals than before.
It was nice to see something aside from scorpions, beetles and snakes for a change. I’d been in that desert-like environment for a while.
At any rate… More greenery meant there soil’s water content had increased, meaning… I was most likely close to the river Rhoyne.
And, if I was close to the Rhoyne, then I was also close to my next destination.
I ended up getting a little excited that particular day, and sprinted for over four hours.
I paid for that mistake in the next few days. The muscle cramps were something else; I hadn’t felt like that since the olden days of “Harry Hunting”. But on the third day of recovery, I caught sight of the ruined city, thought it was too far for me to make out any details.
I sighed as I leaned closer to the campfire I set up that night.
Though it was hot during the day, the nights were frighteningly cold. There was a chill in the air, the cloying stench of the Others’ power slowly sinking its claws into the world itself, choking the life out of it.
“Harry Hunting, huh…” I muttered to myself in the dead of night, with nothing but the howling winds and the crackling of the flames to keep me company.
Balthazar, Erebus and Hestia were all sound asleep; their respective trainings was taking quite the toll on them.
As for me, I simply couldn’t sleep. My mind wandered to thoughts of home.
I had left them quite abruptly, hadn’t I? I wondered how they were doing.
Voldemort was still alive. Most likely, at this point, I’d have been assumed dead.
Who would take up the fight against them? The Order? Sirius had gotten alot stronger, from what I saw in Temen Ni Gru. Dumbledore was also in a league of his own.
But, could they really do it?
So many other questions warred to grab my attention. What about the Weasleys? What about Hermione? What about…
I clenched my fist, trying and failing to banish those thoughts away.
I had left her too, hadn’t I?
The last thing I remember of her was her slapping me, and then kissing me right afterwards. It was when I’d told her I was going to Temen Ni Gru.
I never came back.
How was she feeling right now?
Did she think I was dead, too?
I stared up at the night sky, hoping to make sense of it all.
I sat up, and scooted closer to the fire.
“Still awake, then?” Erebus’ voice came.
“Ah.. Yes.” I replied, not taking my eyes off of the flickering flames. “You, as well?”
“I don’t really sleep.” Erebus explained. “It’s more of a meditative process.”
“Is it really?” I mused, glancing over to the sword lying at my side, before looking right back at the flames. “I was just thinking.”
“Don’t hurt yourself.” Erebus immediately quipped.
Someone’s been letting Balthazar rub off on them… Bet he’d get pissed if I said that, though. Heh.
“Very funny.” I said in a monotone. “But, really, I was just thinking of home. What we’ve left behind.”
“And?” Erebus prompted.
“I don’t know.” I said. “What if we can never go back? Even if there is a source of magic powerful enough to break through the dimensional barrier set in place, how will any of us know how to direct the energy and make it obey our whims?”
“The Dark Rift-” Was all Erebus said before I interrupted him.
“The Dark Rift is a technique used to tear a pathway into the Nevernever. It was neither designed nor intended to be used for a situation like this.” I said. “Nevernever might have been separated from the real world, but it wasn’t always so, was it? The two worlds used to be one.”
“You’ve figured that out?” Erebus questioned with a hint of surprise.
“It was hard not to.” I said. “Nevernever was basically echoes of the real world, though changed dramatically due to the whims of whoever ruled that particular bit of it… Just look at Temen Ni Gru’s Nevernever version. Its worst qualities were enhanced even further.”
“It is a good supposition.” Erebus praised as I looked up at the stars again. “Still. I’m sure we can figure out the workings of the dimensional barrier, given time.”
I said nothing in return.
“One thing is for sure, though.” Erebus added, grabbing my attention once more. “Whatever is blocking us from leaving is linked to the power of the Others. When I was being controlled by the Red Priests, I felt it. It was like we were chained down.”
“… And you waited this long to tell me, why exactly?” I questioned a little frostily.
“Because I’ve only been recovering my memories only recently.” Erebus replied, sounding a little irritated at my reaction.
“The Occlumency training?” I questioned.
“Yes.” Erebus simply said. “It has yielded results. As to who exactly is chaining us down, it was neither the Others, nor the Red Priests. It was something else entirely. Though, whoever did this chained us to the Others. I doubt they even notice the link between us and them.“
That gave me pause.
“Another player, in the shadows?” I asked, a little wariness seeping into my tone. “You think they’re pulling our strings to kill the Others for them? Even now?”
“Pulling our strin- ah, yes, like a marionette?” Erebus mused. “No. I doubt it. We’ve not felt anything on ourselves.”
“Unless it’s so pervasive that we don’t even notice it, anymore?” I countered.
“Unlikely.” Erebus denied. “Your power possesses purifying properties.”
“Eh?” I questioned. “What do you mean by ‘purifying’? I thought all my Lightning was good for was destruction.”
“While it’s true that Lightning is capable of massive amounts of devastation, it remains a magic possessing holy properties. Nowhere near as powerful as Holy Light magic, but the properties are there, regardless.” Erebus explained.
“Interesting.” I said, interested. “How do I bring it out?”
“You already do.” Erebus replied. “That’s what I was trying to explain to you. Your Lightning purifies your body every time you immerse yourself in its power. It is impossible that we’re being overtly controlled.”
I nodded, absorbing the logic behind it.
“So we were pulled in here on purpose, but whoever did the job isn’t directly controlling us?”
Then came the next logical question.
“You think we’re being controlled indirectly, then?” I said uncomfortably.
“The possibility hasn’t escaped my notice.” Erebus said quietly. “What are the odds of us deciding to go to Winterfell, ally ourselves with a Great House, join their side and turn the war against the Lannisters into a slaughter?”
My blood ran cold at the implication.
“You’re saying something orchestrated all of this?” I asked, running my tongue over suddenly dry lips. “Who could possibly.. How? It sounds too farfetched, Erebus.”
“Nevertheless, it is what my instinct tells me.” Erebus said.
“It doesn’t make any sense.” I said. “A plan of this scale.. Me befriending the Starks, allying the North, Riverlands and Westerlands together, coming to meet the Targaryen girl to ally with her to fight the.. Others.”
“You understand, then?” Erebus sounded both pleased and worried.
“What the fuck are we dealing with?”
My only answer was the howling wind and the crackling flames.
The next day, I trained twice as hard.