Chapter 50: The Moonless Night

Forward: Co-Writing and Editing credit to Rainsfere

The Next Day - Qarth, Somewhere within the House of the Undying - Kai

The House was truly silent for the first time in thousands of years. Despite all his years living in it, he had no idea what this ancient place's purpose was. All that was certain was that it tapped into the deepest parts of the mind and even time itself, at least in showing possibilities. The encounter with Ciri and Dany had drained its power, thousands of years of contained energy draining between those two young women.

"Such potential."He mused to himself, eyes opening to stare out into the chamber he meditated in. After being reborn and killing the intruders, he had retreated to his sanctum deep within the House. Here, not even the most greedy of the initiates hadn't dared loot these chambers, no doubt out of fear of his calm wrath.

Unlike the other barren rooms of the House, this one was furnished as a living space for the day he would be revitalized. The main chamber was for rest and study, the 'bed' being little more than a silken bedroll and pillows where he could comfortably meditate. To the sides were countless bookcases full of ancient tomes and scrolls that came from lands as far as Asshai. Knowledge, much of which be seen as forbidden, perhaps even the last copies in the known world.

To the left and right were short hallways leading to side chambers. One led a small bathing pool, a place he spent most of yesterday soaking in, washing away the ashes of his selfish disciples who traded their lives for his. Yet he couldn't deny the soothing comfort the water brought, washing away centuries of discomfort being trapped as an Undying.

The other chamber was both a storeroom and vault, holding preserved supplies to sustain him. While most was dried rations, food most would see only fit for peasants. Yet despite their simple tastes, it was like the finest of meals. While he could delve into his memories to remember the finest meals and drinks he had in his long life, nothing could beat the experience of actually eating. For once, he let himself enjoy a bit of excess, to sate the hunger that had pained him for so long.

Lastly was the vault which held his more personal items which he had already emptied out. He donned his dark purple robes stitched with silver and golden thread into arcane markings which formed into constellation-like patterns. Laid across in front of him was his only inheritance, an ornate star headed staff looped with rings of varying metals. It was one of the few remnants of a bygone era, of an empire that outdated even the Valyrians and Yi Ti. How ignorant was his grandfather about the staff, it being little more than a symbol of royalty that he had been lucky to be descended from. It wasn't truly a mark of arcane power, yet the history surrounding it made him attached to it.

Putting the past aside, he focused on the present, of what he could do now that he had this second chance at life. What was certain was that the world was at stake with the White Frost, the Enemy of Life that lurked in the furthest corner of Westeros. He knew the Seven Kingdoms were too ignorant and unified to stand up against such a threat. Even if they were, their combined might may not even be enough.

"They will require more. Daenyrs will be the means to that." He calmly pondered. The question was if her future could be changed despite what the visions showed. She could very much become a savior as much as a destroyer, the power of her bloodline and baring the first dragons in over a century. Yet he felt Ciri could properly guide her, mold her into a righteous ruler despite the bloody history the Targaryens and Valyrians had. Her potential to become a ruler by her own right would be unlike anything history had seen yet.

"But will Ciri be ready?" Her gift was powerful yet she only used it on the most basic concepts. Their battle had shown that she could expand her capabilities, conflict is always the best teacher. Yet he was certain the trials between now and the Long Night would not be enough. The masters of Slaver's Bay wouldn't exactly be…formidable against the unified 'sisters'.

"Is that my fate then? To continue to be both a foe and teacher?" A faint sorrowful smile crossed his lips, accepting the role. Whatever the outcome, they would either submit to his guidance or prevail and be tempered for the final clash to come. With a soft breath, he reached for his staff, the rings looped through it chiming as he used it to ease himself back onto his feet. Slowly he began to cross the chamber, moving for the door back into the maze of the House.

"If that is to be my fate, then I will first need to liberate Qarth." He calmly stated as he pressed his hand to the strone doorway to open it. "Its power and people will serve me once more." Slowly he walked into the darkness of the hall, beginning his long walk back to the city he had built so long ago.

Early Morning - Road Leading to Riverrun - Geralt

The trek towards Riverrun had gone more smoothly than expected for Geralt's group, the trails they had been following linking up to the main road now. They had set up camp far away enough to avoid being noticed, not keen on drawing attention from House Tully soldiers. What they had noticed was that there was a constant cycle of covered carts coming to and from Riverrun. Everyone was in agreement that something strange was going on in the holding.

"I've started to notice something." Willaim muttered to Geralt as everyone was finishing up breakfast and getting ready for the day. "The guards, I've noticed it's the same groups who keep coming and going."

"Must be driven to be marching constantly." Geralt pondered. "Does mean two things though. Riverrun must not have that many troops stationed there and that they must be traveling a short distance to be making such swift trips."

"Question is for what?" Theon questioned, butting into the conversation. "Got a bad feeling about those soldiers. We may be watching from a distance but the way they move around...can't tell if they're exhausted or just deadmen walking."

"They do act strangely." Ogatto said in agreement. "We should just capture a group. A swift ambush and we can subdue them without issue."

Dacey frowned at the Dothraki's suggestion."And risk raising an alarm back at the castle? All that matters is knowing what's in those carts."

While Geralt welcomed the group sharing ideas, he could tell the subject was drifting towards open argument. "We stick with the original plan. Everyone will make sure the road gets properly blocked while me, Theon and William sneak up on the wagon to check it out. We can't risk being seen, so no heroics or anything."

No one disagreed with Geralt's final say, mutterings and nodding of acknowledgement.

"Good. Now let's get ready. Next wagon should be heading back for Riverrun soon, so everyone get to cover. We won't be getting any second chances on this."

Geralt, Theon and William were prone in the brush by the road, being as close as possible without being noticeable. While the Witcher and bowman were calm, Theon seemed quite tense, making William glare at him. Yet everyone kept silent as soon they heard the creak of a tree further down the road before a resounding slam followed as it fell down. Not long after, the large horse drawn wagon and it's guard escort approached.

They were moving at a normal pace, though up close the three had a better look at the guards. There were around a dozen of them, two of them driving the cart, six on horseback while the rest marched on foot. From a distance, Geralt had noted they seemed quite tired, though up close truly showed how exhausted they were. Their uniforms and armor were dirty from constant travel, skin looking oddly pale and expressions having a tired passiveness.

"Ease up! Ugh..damn road is blocked." One of the leading guards spoke up. The wagon slowed down while the men escorting it began to form up.

"Just our luck. Lord Edmure and the Seers won't take kindly to delays." Another grumbled.

"No more complaining! Let's get one of the horses over to help move this tree aside. Shouldn't take too long."

Already the group got to work, gathering up rope from their packs along with untethering one of the horses to begin moving the tree. With them mostly busy, it was their chance to get close to the covered wagon. The trio crawled from the brush, using their low position and the vehicle to stay hidden. Geralt was at the lead, yet even before he reached the wagon did he smell something odd about it. The sturdy tarp covering across it was rank with vinegar and herbal mixtures, the kind of stuff used to cover more rank scents. His past experience made a dark feeling come to his gut. William and Theon both noted the smell, though they pressed on.

The cloaked sellsword kept an eye on the guards who were already getting the ropes tied between the tree and horse, using it and their numbers to push the fallen lumber slowly aside. Theon meanwhile loosened tight knots that bound the tarp. However, once they were undone, Geralt's keen nose was able to pick up why the covering was doused the way it was. For Theon, he got an up close view of a horrid sight.

Corpses, over a dozen men and women in varying states of decay were piled up in the wagon. From peasants to soldiers, some looked like they had been killed in battle or even dug up from shallow graves. For Theon, he stared wide eyed at the gruesome cargo, the hand holding the tarp away shaking slightly in shock. Geralt knew that this was different from the death and violence on the battlefield.

William was surprised by the horrific discovery, though didn't hesitate as he yanked Theon down as the guards glanced back towards the wagon. "Head down kid!" The three got low behind the wagon, a few of the guards returning to it since the fallen tree was nearly out of the way. They couldn't rush back into the brush, so the three crawled under the wagon, though Geralt and Will had to drag Theon with them.

"Did the covering get undone again?" One guard complained, one stepping around, already working on getting the tarp binded up.

"Doesn't matter. So long as they get to Riverrun and the ritual is complete, the sooner we can move on to High Heart the better." Another added.

"No more bantering!" The lead guard ordered, the horses strapped back to the wagon's front and the other men getting back into their positions.

"Have to roll once they start moving." Geralt whispered, snapping Theon out of his shocked daze.

"Passed the wheels? We'll be crushed if-" Yet he got interrupted as Will glared at him.

"Then better not hesitate!." The wagon creaked, horses neighing as the reigns were cracked. The three tensed, before they twisted and rolled to the sides. It was a quick move, nearly a blur as the three tumbled into the brush, with Theon nearly getting clipped by one heavy wheel. The guards were none the wiser, dead set on the road ahead.

It took them a minute to get far enough, the whole time the three practically holding their breaths. A combined breath followed, though Theon was swift to get up and then suddenly hurry deeper into the woods. Will stood up, baffled at what was wrong with the young man. "The Hells got into him?' Though soon he'd hear retching and coughing, the Ironborn throwing up.

"How would you react to seeing a cart full of dead villagers?" Geralt remarked, making the bowmen grumble as he couldn't think of a good argument for that.

"The boy nearly got us caught!" Yet he sighed, one hand rubbing his scarred face. "Doesn't matter I guess. Question is why are Tully soldiers hauling bodies around?"

"No idea, but they're active. Some of those bodies had the mark of the Brave Companions on them."

"What? That battle only happened within a week and we haven't had any contact with Riverrun."

"Could be spies...maybe an insider?" Yet even he knew such news couldn't get around that fast, especially without the use of a raven. The guards talking about some ritual filled him with worry, that kind of discussion more suited for his world than this one. There was something very wrong happening at Riverrun and they needed to find out tonight. "Let's regroup with the rest. They need to know what we found out."

William nodded before the two walked into the forest, finding Theon giving a few more heaves before calming. Seeing the Witcher, the young man did his best to stand tall despite shaking. "Geralt...I'm sorry, I-"

"I need to know if you're ready for this."

The question made the Greyjoy go silent, seeing the stern look in the Witcher's cat-like eyes.

"There may be something far worse inside the castle. If you don't think you can keep it together…"

"No!" Theon spoke up, the tremble in his voice gone. "It won't happen again. Right now, I want some damn answers on what Lord Edmure is doing! Just...carting people around like meat, it's just...there is something unnatural about it all."

William had a doubtful look, but Geralt could see a renewed determination in Theon's eyes. "Then you best stick to those words. 'Cause if we make a mistake and this goes south… it's likely none of us are walking out alive." With that, the Witcher already was making his way westward to meet up with the rest of the group, leaving Will and Theon alone.

"He's...just exaggerating right?"

Will just sighed in annoyance, giving a light smack to the back of Theon's head. "What he means is don't fuck up again kid. No second chances."

Rubbing his head, Theon scowled at the sellsword before following after him, feeling today and the following night was going to be a very harsh lesson for him.

Evening - Somewhere North of Rivertree Hall - Hadrian

It had been slow traveling through the wilderness, even more so with the large group Hadrian had to manage. If anything, he was surprised people weren't trying to split off on their own now that they were out of the tunnel. Perhaps some were fearful of whatever lurked in the forest or hopeful now that Lady Catelyn had ended up in their care. Morale was shaky, yet it was better than the doomed mindset everyone had a few days ago.

"Just need to hold it all together." Hadrian sighed, walking into the tent where lady Catelyn was resting. She had been asleep for over a day now, his Maester saying it was from a combination of exhaustion and shock. Right now the old man was inspecting her, making sure she had been given water in her rest and Bethany was there too. Sleeping closely beside her while holding one of Lady Catelyn's hands.

"Lady Catelyn is a strong woman. I don't know what she's been through but it has stressed her body terribly."

"Will she recover? We need to know what happened at Riverrun." Hadrian asked his Maester.

"She just needs rest. If she doesn't awaken by tomorrow, we'll try the smelling salts to awaken her senses."

"Very well. Please go tend to the others then."

Bowing slightly, the Maester strolled out of the tent and into the camp. Hadrian let out a quiet sigh as he removed his raven feathered cloak and draped it over his sleeping sister. Leaning down towards her he gave her a soft kiss on the head before he was about to leave the tent himself until he heard a familiar voice.

"A lost cub seeking a new mother."

Root's growling voice made Hadrian glance to the side of the tent, seeing the Child crouching low to the ground, having crawled under the tarp.

"She is a strange woman. Flawed, passionate...yet foolish." A low hum followed, eyes narrowing in thought. "It will be curious to see what role she will play."

"Did you bring her to that grove?" Hadrian asked, feeling Root had some hand in this.

The question made the halfling chuckle, sharp teeth shown with a grin. "Boy, there is one force that is greater than all things. Gods, magic and reality itself. It's called chance." Standing up, she moved closer to the sleeping pair, every step seemingly silent. "Every choice and action is like a roll of the dice. Success, failure or a draw. In this case, fortune is strong with her to have escaped Riverrun and these...Crones."

"Wait, has Riverrun been invaded like Raventree," he whispered alarmingly.

Root shook her head. "No, it suffered a worse fate. Slowly rotted from within." Yet she paused, head turning as if hearing something in the air before glancing back. "The White Wolf's jaws are near it, ready to rip it apart."

Again it seemed the halfling could know of things happening miles away from how she spoke, much like what she did down in the tunnel. "Did...your earth father tell you, one of the Old Gods?"

His question brought a smirk to her lips. "Yorith's voice is true, but so slow. His younger brother Kari, the god of winds can share information more swiftly, though that's often fickle these days."

The name she spoke seemed unlike any he heard and had a strange power to them. "I have to ask, just how many Old Gods were there? The tales seem so uncertain, maybe a dozen or so."

His curiosity seemed to spark an eager energy in the Child's eyes as she turned to face him, crouching to be more face to face with him. "The tales spoke of many gods in the Days of Foundation, when order was being set for the world." She spoke calmly. "In the time we could weave tales, there were a hundred of them left, the rest having faded or killed by their brethren."

" could gods kill...other gods?"

"Hah! You think all the gods were made equal? Many varied in power, some made weak while others lost strength over time. They also were flesh and blood, powerful yet killable with the right methods...methods you humans eventually discovered."

The growing revelations were mind boggling, concepts too alien to really comprehend. "I don't understand. The tales spoke about wars between the First Men being at peace with your kind and the Old Gods. The legends like the Long Night, the founding of the North and the war against the Andals."

"Aye, all that did happen, though your ancestors wrote it how they saw fit." Root replied. "You are too believing of the stories you hear, listening to only one side of them. Humans have found more comfort in lies and falsehoods than the truth."

"Truths that you will share with me?"

Root just grinned back. "In time Inheritor. At the least your curiosity is-" Yet suddenly Root bolted, the halfling crawling back under the tent with the speed of a rabbit, disappearing into the brush just outside.

Hadrian was left baffled, yet a low murmur made him glance to the bedroll Catelyn laid on. The noblewoman began to stir, weary eyes opening up. "Lady Catelyn!" He hurried to get the waterskin nearby, getting a small cup filled for the woman who meekly sipped from it. "It's good you are awake, everyone was worried about you."

"It seems I wasn't...seeing things then." She replied, gaze drifting to Bethany who was still asleep. A warm smile crossed her lips, hand brushing the girl's dark hair before returning her gaze to the young man. "I have to thank you. I...take you're related to Lord Blackwood. I recognize that cloak as his."

"Yes I'm...his bastard. Hadrian Rivers."

It took Catelyn a moment to remember the name, recognition showing in her eyes. "Yes I remember now." She took a deep sigh, eyes closing for a moment. "Raventree has fallen has it?"

Hadrian was silent before nodding. "Father is...gone. House Bracken betrayed us, they invaded with…" He couldn't say the word, worried how insane it would be to her.

"Monsters." Her response surprised the young man, though seeing the worry in her eyes showed she meant it. "The Seers...those witches made them. They drove my brother to madness and now…" She bit back a sob, refusing to shed any more tears. "Where can we go now?"

It seemed Root had been right, Riverrun was truly taken over. "All that is left is Fairmarket. Father told me that your son Lord Robb was to arrive there and that someone called Geralt is leading a vanguard force."

The name brought hope in her eyes, Catelyn sitting up more. "Geralt. Yes...if there is anyone who can save us from this horror it's him!" She spoke with such certainty. "Then we must get there swiftly! We have to warn him of what is out there before it is too late!"

"Calm yourself my lady!" Hadrian urged. "I understand the risks, but I don't plan to abandon anyone out here. Our scouts believe it will take a week to get there, considering the forest and numbers we have."

A tired sigh escaped from Catelyn before she laid back down, the spark of energy fading fast. "Then let us pray we aren't too late." She paused to take a tired breath, eyes closing slightly. "Forgive me I...must rest further."

"Of course Lady Stark. If you need anything, call for one of the guards. I'll be sure to check on you in the morning." He left the waterskin close to her before standing, giving a respectful bow before leaving the tent. Staring up at the setting sun, he noted the lack of a moon over the horizon. "I have a bad feeling about tonight." Despite his dread, he went off to speak with his knights and soldiers, feeling that tonight the watch should be doubled.

"It's going to be a dark night. A dreadful one."

Nighttime - Riverrun - Geralt

Everyone was on edge after the dark discovery about the Riverrun convoys. It was baffling as to why the Tully's would be committing such a gruesome thing. There were varying theories, the militia members within the party believing someone had taken over within Riverrun to organize such madness. What was certain was the answers laid within the keep.

"Our objective now is to determine the fate of Lord Edmure and Lady Catelyn." Geralt detailed "Either could be a prisoner in there, but there is a chance Edmure has turned against us. In which case, we are to capture him and take him back to Fairmarket."

"Beyond that the infiltration plan is the same." Ogatto added. "We have our canoes carved out and Will has made sure the tarps are properly dyed for cover. Claims it's his personal mix."

"They'd have to practically shine a bullseye lantern to see us." The sellsword gruffly boasted.

"They better work." Dacey warned. "If we're noticed, we'll be helpless out on the water, even with Geralt's magic tricks."

At this point, Geralt spoke up again. "I will ask that the militia members stay on shore." This drew complaints from the group, many keen on getting inside Riverrun. "I know you want to help out, but considering what we found...there are risks. If we fail, someone has to return to Fairmarket to report what happened."

Considering the Witcher was that uncertain, it made everyone concerned on what would await them within the keep. The militia didn't argue any further, understanding Geralt's reasoning.

"Then let's do this!" Ogatto chuckled, the Dothraki putting some life back into the group as they make their short hike through the woods for the shores of the Red Fork. Tucked away in the brush were the canoes, each about to hold four people each. Quietly got them slid into the water before climbing on, tugging the dark tarps over before beginning the slow paddling towards Riverrun.

"Gods it's dark." Theon hissed, sharing Geralt's canoe. "Can hardly see Riverrun. Place barely has any fires out."

"That is odd." Geralt muttered in agreement, since a major keep like this would be busy with activity.

It took them quite a while to paddle close to the keep, the walls clearly in view now. The Witcher's keen vision noted some movement along the wall, though what should have been dozens of guards on this side of the keep was only half that much. Either there were less soldiers stationed there or Riverrun was going light on security.

Everyone was dead silent as they began to drift towards the rocky shore, carefully mooring the canoes as close as possible. This was the riskiest part since all it would take is a guard to glance down to notice them. It took careful timing to wait for the guards above to pass before grapple lines were readied and thrown up, Ogatto and Geralt being able to toss each one up with ease.

Geralt was the first one up his rope line, scaling up the rope swiftly to the awe of most of the group. The battlement was clear of guards, though the Witcher knew one guard's patrol would be coming through the corner towerway soon. As the others would climb up, he stood beside the entrance arch, sharp hearing picking up nearing boots. One of the pale guards rounded the corner, startled seeing a towering Dothraki pulling himself up from the ledge. Ogatto just grinned back before Geralt grabbed the surprised guard by his shoulder, turning him about to face him.

His fingers making the Axii Sign, eyes glowing faintly as he then spoke. "Fall asleep." The guard's eyes rolled to the back of his head as he passed out, only the Witcher's grip keeping him from toppling over.

"Heh, a useful trick." Ogatto complimented, seeming more fascinated by the use of magic. He helped Geralt tuck the guard in a corner as the last few people were climbing up.

"It would be easier to just cut his throat." William muttered, earning a glare from Dacey.

"There is a difference between Tully soldiers and mercenaries. These men are no doubt being misled by whoever is in charge here."

"Doubt they will care if they corner us."

The quiet debate ended when Geralt gave a stern glare to the two. Everyone followed the Witcher's lead along the battement and into one of the towers nearest to the keep, their route set for the great hall which linked to the other sections of the keep. Considering the late hour, it was doubtful anyone would be there as well. It was a cautious trek down to the ground floor, though it was strange for Geralt. Beyond his group's own footsteps, there was a lack of activity throughout the halls.

"Is it just me it too quiet in here." Theon muttered further back.

Ogatto grumbled in agreement, gripping his large arakh slung over his shoulder. "There are far too few guards. The place feels practically deserted."

Everyone else was on guard, Theon and the other archers having their bows out while the rest had a grip on their own weapons. They passed through a few chambers, interlinking storage rooms or servant quarters that were seemingly empty. It was like everyone had just dropped everything and left without a trace.

The further down they went though, Geralt felt a tremble around his neck, the medallion shaking gradually stronger as they reached the last spiral stairway. Without a word, Geralt suddenly stopped, hand reaching back to draw his sword which none of the Winter Wolves had seen yet.

"Uh...Geralt? Why the Hells is that medallion shaking?" William questioned, being sharp eyed enough to notice it.

The Witcher glanced back, unsure how to properly explain what it meant. "Danger. The kind I'm meant to deal with."

"Heh, the monstrous your stories." Theon chuckled, though he became nervous seeing the Witcher's unblinking stare. "I mean they were just stories right?"

"You should all turn back. Get back up to the wall and-"

"No." Ogatto calmly stated. "I don't know what has worried you, Witcher, but no warrior should abandon another. I will follow on."

The others muttered in agreement, emboldened by the Dothraki's words. Yet despite such loyalty, Geralt's serious gaze didn't falter. He knew he couldn't dissuade them, making him all the more worried he was leading them to their deaths. "Just stay close."

They walked down to the ground floor, though even before they reached it there was a horrid stench of drying gore and filth. Somewhere in the back of the group someone retched, unable to endure the smell. When they reached the main hallway that linked between the main hallway and courtyard, everyone stopped in pure shock.

"Gods...what the fuck happened here?" William muttered, even the hardened sellsword appalled by what he saw.

The hallway had been the sight of some battle or more of a beastial slaughter. Dried blood and gore was scattered across the hallway, even streaking high across the walls and to the ceiling. There had been some crude barricades set up, broken and ripped apart despite how they could hold up a whole troop if properly manned. Broken armor, weapons and even what seemed to be stray body parts hinted across the carnage.

"Keep watch. I need to look over this." He calmly ordered, no one speaking up in disagreement.

As he stepped further down the hallway, he focused his senses to detect the most miniscule details. Along the stone floor and the barricade, it was clear that no normal weapons caused such damage, the markings too rough and more aligned like a claw. At a glance, the blood across the floor would all seem to be the same, yet he could see pools that were a darker color and carried a more rank smell. Lastly was the body parts, the torn pieces seeming like they were forcefully torn off or chewed at. All the clues were obvious, considering he had hunted hundreds of these things back in Velen.

" the hell are there ghouls here!" He muttered, hand gripping his medallion as it was shaking harder the more he stepped towards the t-section of the main hallway.

The big doorway leading to the great hall was hastily blocked off with scrapped metal and wood, even a crossbeam slotted between the massive door handles, the sturdy wood having cracks to show someone or something on the other side had been trying to get through. At that point he knew they had to get out of here, if there were truly monsters here then Edmure and Catelyn were surely gone by now. As he turned to speak to his group, there was a sudden echoing roar, the familiar snarling of a ghoul somewhere in the hallways. It seemed at last they had picked up their group's scent.

"What the fuck was that!" One of Dacey's shieldmaidens cursed, drawing her axe and shield, her battle sisters doing the same.

"That didn't sound like any animal I've heard before." An archer muttered, fumbling to notch an arrow.

"I can hear something coming. Hallway on this side...upstairs even." William added, already moving backwards towards the hall's intersection.

Ogatto chuckled, seemingly unfazed by all of this. "Been too long since I've faced the unknown! Let them come to us!" He challenged, drawing his arakh and strapping his buckler onto his left forearm.

"Form up on me now!" Geralt yelled, everyone looking at the Witcher. "We're exposed in this hallway. Too many directions for them to come from."

"Then what do we do? We can't go back the way we came." Theon said as everyone hurried over to the Witcher.

Glancing to the doorway, Geralt cursed as it was clear they only had one way forward. This was clearly a trap, either die here or to whatever was inside the great hall. "The hall. If we get in there we can circle around, get back to the walls or even the courtyard." The feral sounds and scampering feet were growing closer. "Dacey, have your shieldmaidens make a shield wall. Theon, your archers are only going to get a shot or two before they reach us. Get a shield or spear, anything you can use to hold them back."

Both groups nodded, moving into position to be even split between the two hallways. William stayed in the middle, getting his bow ready with a serrated arrow. "Don't expect me to fight in melee. Better off here." He muttered, Geralt not arguing on that point.

"Ogatto, help me with the barricade. Need that strength to get the way clear."

The directions did deflate the Dothraki's eagerness to fight, yet he growled in understanding as he sheathed his blade. "Fine, let's be quick about this!" Stomping over, the raider grabbed at scrapped furniture in the way, grunting and heaving it aside, something that'd take two men to move. Geralt in turn showed off his own lifting strength, yanking away metal that had been roughly hammered into the doorway. Despite being focused on his task, he could tell the ghouls were closing in.

"Here they come! Don't hesitate or we all die!"

At that point the first filthy monster sprinted down the west hallway, nearly tumbling with how quickly he moved. The sight of the malformed creature made the other gawk, only snapped out of their shock when it snarled out. William didn't hesitate unlike the others, firing two arrows right after each other, one right into the beast's chest and another into its eye, making the monster skid to a halt across the floor. It seemed the power behind an ironwood bow and those razor arrows were effective enough.

"One for me!" Will jested, just before two more tumbled down the stairway from the otherside. Theon and his archers fired their own shots, yet only could take down one ghoul with the volley they made. The surviving one had an arrow sticking out of it's shoulder as it slammed against the Dacey and one of her battle sister's shields, the force making them skid back slightly. It snarled, teeth biting into the top of one shield while one claw raked against another.

"Fuck off!" Dacey swung her mace down, angling it well to bash across the monster's head, partly smashing half it's skull and splattering gore about. Despite that, the ghoul still weakly attacked, only for an axe cleave from the shieldmaiden to put it down.

"More coming, west side!"

"Got another east!"

More and more ghouls were gradually coming, be it a single or pair, though it was gradually building up. The pack mentality of the creatures would simply draw more and more until they overwhelmed them. By now Geralt and Ogatto had cleared enough of the barricade to reach the crossbeam.

"I got this! Help the others!" Ogatto yelled out.

Geralt nodded as he drew his crossbow, the powerful hand-crossbow aiming up to shoot a ghoul on the far end of the east hallway. The toughened blow pierced through the monster's toughed skull, killing it. "Shouldn't be that easy." He muttered, something about these ghouls seeming more fragile, at least from his experience.

Three more were pressing at the shieldwall, the three shield bearers barely able to attack while keeping the creatures back. Geralt lunged in at a gap, silver blade piercing the toughened hide of a ghoul like it was butter. With an upward slice, he nearly bisected the creature, giving the shieldmaidens a chance to hack down the other two. Another trio were charging in, only for the Witcher to throw down a Yrden, a glowing purple ring surrounding the group.

"Focus on striking them, the circle will slow them down!" He explained, the bear islanders baffled by the use of magic. Yet with their lives on the line, they didn't pause as they readied their weapons, the rushing ghouls suddenly coming to a slow crawl when they entered the ring. A few powerful swings had them tumbled over, adding more to the growing pile.

"Ugh! I got it! Get the blasted doors open!" Ogatto yelled, the Dothraki's biceps bulging as he hefted the crossbeam like a club. "I'll hold them off!" Theon's group backed away as the raider yelled, swinging the beam wide to sweep two ghouls into a wall, before slamming one end down to crush a crawling one's skull into mush.

"Hah, just like that time in Braavos." William jested, the sellsword backing up his companion with his deadly aim.

Theon and his group slammed into the doorway, grunting out as they put their full weight against one door. "Move! Damn it, move!" Theon cursed as gradually the heavy doorway was sliding open.

"Dacey, help them. I got this side." Geralt ordered the young woman, who seemed confused at first. Yet she trusted the Witcher to hold the line, waving for her group to aid Theon's.

This time four ghouls were coming for him, a hint of a grin crossing Geralt's face. Despite the worry for his companions, a thrilled bloodlust was coming to him. Deep down he had missed this, the primal joy of killing monsters. One ghoul leaped over the pile of dead, only to get it's head cut off in mid-jump. The next got an arm cut off before being stabbed right into the heart, getting kicked off the blade with a metal heeled boot to the face. The last two moved together, only to be flung away like ragdolls as he unleashed an Aard that coursed down the hallway, bodies breaking across hard stone.

"It's open!" Theon yelled, his and Dacey's group hurrying into the great hall beyond it. William followed, giving a few more shots while on the move while Ogatto and Geralt backed up for the doorway.

"Hah, you did this for a living?" Ogatto laughed, seeming to be having the time of his life despite everything.

"More or less." Geralt muttered, unable to hide a small smirk. "Going to have to seal the door on the other side."

"Understood. Just keep the bastards off me." The Dothraki gave a final swing at a lone ghoul before turning for the doorway, hauling his crossbeam forward.

Geralt backed up to the doorway as the largest group of ghouls followed up, six in total. With them bunched up, he unleashed a duel Igni, putting his full focus into the Sign as the flames set the beasts on fire. He leaped back through the doorway, helping the others slam the door shut. With a roar, Ogatto shoved the crossbeam through the handles, bracing the doorway before it was slammed into.

Everyone was panting after that tense fight, even if the air in the great hall seemed just as rancid as the hallway. "Close...too damn close." Geralt muttered before looking at everyone. The great hall was dark, pitch black thanks to nothing being lit in the room and the new moon denying even moonlight through the large windows. "Anyone hurt?"

"Ugh...a few cuts and scrapes." Dacey replied. "Can't see shit in here!"

"Stinks worse in here than out there." Theon muttered, cursing as he seemed to trip on something.

Geralt could see far enough, able to make out torches along the wall or scattered to the ground. A short casting of Igni would light the nearest ones up. "Pick them up. Ghouls don't do well with fire as well." He urged.

"I'm having a feeling this was a bad idea Geralt." William muttered. "Should have fucking left when your trinket started dancing."

The Witcher couldn't disagree on that reasoning, but what was done was done. "Let's just get out of here. Should be side passages near the back." Taking the lead, Ogatto was close beside him, blade and buckler at the ready.

As more light filled the hall with each torch Geralt lit with his Sign, the more devastation was shown. It seemed the gory mess wasn't limited to the hallway, bloody drag trails and loose entralls leading to the back of the hall. Nearing where the head table would be though, Geralt heard something deeply breath before making out a bulky shape further ahead.

"You…" A tired male voice spoke, yet seemingly echoed throughout the hall. "Who dares come to Riverrun...ughh...unannounced?"

Geralt was silent, mind quickly realizing who the voice may be. "Lord Edmure?"

"LORD?!" The voice roared, a cracking slam as if a hammer was breaking stone. "I am King Edmure, sole ruler of the Riverlands!" Geralt had his sword at the ready, yet continued to move closer, soon making out the gleam of a pair of eyes in the dim light. "Yes...Geralt. My sister spoke of you. Fondly. The Seers...hatred. Tales of your wickedness and greed."

"Lady Catelyn? Edmure, where is she!" Geralt demanded.

"Gone! She betrayed! Her brother, her own flesh and blood!" The mass surrounding those eyes shifted, as if a massive pair of shoulders were flexing. "She feared the bargains I made with the Seers. Jealous of my power, just like my dear uncle." A low mad chuckle followed before it turned into sobbing. "Left me...left me...abandoned me."

Glancing back, Geralt could see the rest of his group readying themselves, sensing another fight was approaching. Ogatto seemed ready to lunge right in, only stopped by Geralt having his free hand out. "Who are the Seers? What are their names?"

There was a long silence before Edmure chuckled again. "Oh you know their names well. They haunted you for so a children's rhyme in the back of your mind." The mass began to move, the gaze of Edmure raising a good few feet taller than a normal man should.

A stomp followed, a legs melding into one as thick as a small tree trunk stepped forward. Another followed as the fleshy mass walked into the torch light, revealing a torso as broad as two men. The 'chest' of the mass was just like the legs, many torsos melded together in some fused embrace. From a face frozen mid-scream, a flexing hand or a twitching foot, it seemed like every exposed feature was still partly independent, alive. At the center of the torso was a more clear body, the lower body and arms fused into the mass with only a stretched face and broad chest. A twitching grin crossed Edmure's cracked lips, worn tongue licking across them.

"Look at what I have become! Brewess and Weavess' ritual has combined the might of a hundred fused into one!" Much like his legs, the arms were fused together into a combined limb that touched the floor. The ends and sides of the limbs had grasping hands that moved on their own, as if reaching for someone. "This strength will only continue to grow once all of you become part of me." Surrounding his head, pair after pair of eyes opened up across the 'head' mass, rolling in the fleshy sockets to stare widely around the chamber.

Geralt stared down the abomination, a creature he had only read in old mage books. Golems all came in many forms, yet there was none more vile and forbidden than the flesh golem. The fusing of countless bodies, the more used, the greater the golem. If what the warped Edmure said was true, something no one in arcane theory had ever done. If the Crones, the vile relics had somehow returned and seemingly on this world, it made sense on how they could achieve such a horrid rite.

Glancing back to his companions, he could see they had all backed up far back. The archers all held their bows with shaky grips, the only one being steady was Will. One of Dacey's maidens was whimpering, muttering some hurried prayer at the horror she saw. Even Ogatto, the normally cocky and emboldened warrior, had lost his confident smirk, having only a stern expression across his scarred face.

Geralt knew they were not prepared or armed for such a creature, even he was unsure considering his own lack of preparation. "No…" He muttered, shutting out the doubt in his head. If the Crones were back, then that meant all of Westeros would face damnation and Ciri's own life would be at risk. Gripping his silver blade tightly, while one hand reached back to one of his pouches. He gripped one potion, a small bright yellow vial of Thunderbolt. It had been too long since he used one of these, but right now it was the right moment.

"Ha! A last drink Geralt?" Edmure scoffed, lumbering another step, right arm arching back for a prepared blow.

The others were just as confused at what he was doing as he downed the potent liquid. It's bitter taste flowed down his tongue and throat as he swallowed every drop. The veins along his brow and eyes darkened, spreading further to his neck and forearms. His mutant heart raced as the toxic nature of the potion was balanced, a normal heart would have torn itself apart. The pain eased, a low sigh escaping the Witcher before his stance shifted to a readied one. His left hand clenched to crush the vial in his hand, breaking glass into fine powder.

With blurring speed he threw the glass powder out, the still air letting it fly right into that mass of eyes. Edmure howled as he could feel the digging pain in each socket, blood and tears leaking from them. Geralt didn't hesitate as he lunged in with lightning speed, free hand flexing for Quen, the shielding energy pulsing around his body. The pillar of an arm swiped at him, the Witcher leaning under it while his blade slices off reaching hands and stray fingers. His momentum didn't slow as his sword tip aimed for Edmure's body, the warped noble only able to spare himself by using his other arm to shield himself.

The two stared near face to face, Edmure's deranged confidence faulting for a moment as he stared into those cold eyes. "Witcher…" He snarled, rage filling his mind before his arm flexed back, shoving Geralt back multiple yards. "Kill you...kill all of you!" An inhuman roar followed, the fused faces along the golem's body joining in which made everyone cover their ears in pain. The glass of the windows cracked, some even shattered to rain glass into the hall.

Geralt was the first to recover, standing strong and already stepping forward. His left hand flexed the Igni Sign, swirling flames surrounding it as he readied himself. Right now he had to give it his all for this fight, for the lives of his companions and everyone else in Westeros.

Notes: Well many of you have been waiting for it! I can say this chapter is fitting to release with Halloween, considering the abomination Edmure has become. I can say I borrowed much of his monstrous design from the creature from the short-horror film called Zygote. It's a really horrific creature from a movie a lot of people don't know about. Check out an image of it to get a clear idea on it's looks.

Also I am proud to say we've reached over 3,500 followers! The Winter Wolves continue to grow! I'm eager to know what you all think about the horrors of Riverrun and the fate of Edmure. Expect a long fight for Geralt and his companions in the next chapter. Also, I am nearly finished with the first chapters for a short crossover involving young Vesemer and the Predator.