Chapter 51: A Red Dawn

Forward: Co-Writing & Editing Credit to Rainsfere.

Geralt thrusted his left hand forward, unleashing the Igni Sign into a stream of shearing fire right at Edmure. The flames would be hot enough to heat metal along with setting wood and flesh ablaze. While the flesh golem was caught off guard by the attack, Edmure had his left arm move up to shield his face, the flames washing across the layers of joined arms to set them aflame. The abomination howled out from the searing pain, burning limb flailing across the ground to snuff out the fire.

"Theon, keep your archers back and spread out! Aim for its eyes!" Geralt yelled out, using the time the Sign brought to give out orders. "Dacey, flank him from the side or back, need to limit his movements!"

The two along with their fellow troops just snapped out of their shocked daze. Fear was clear on their faces, the terror from both the battle with the ghouls and now a flesh golem too much to handle. He knew they needed time to calm down, time they admittedly didn't have.

Suddenly a couple arrows flew at the golem's multi-eyed head, each one slotting into an eye socket. "Stop gawking and start shooting!" William snapped, already drawing another arrow to shoot.

Theon scowled at the bowmen before giving orders to his men. "Fan out! Shoot at it from all sides!" The archers seemed rallied, fanning out across the hall, a few using the pillars for cover as they began to pelt the golem with more arrows. Yet it was clear their aim was shaky, fear still gripping them.

By now the flesh golem had put out the fire on it's arm, a layer of arms badly burned though still twitching with life. "Damn your tricks Witcher!" Edmure roared, stomping towards with his right arm swinging out. Despite its massive bulk it moved faster than expected, though not fast enough for Geralt's honed reflexes. He ducked under the arm, fingers flexing for the Quen Sign, a shimmering barrier warping across his body for a moment.

Twisting around to the side of the golem, he sunk his silver blade into gray flesh. Yet layers of bone and muscle got in his way, stopping his blade piercing past a foot. Even if he could get through, he doubted it mattered much, since a construct like this didn't need functioning organs. The golem moved to bash it's side against him, pushing him back and withdrawing his blade.

"See! Not even your weapon can pierce through-"

Ogatto roared as he charged from the other side, giving a short leave before cleaving his arakhi into the golem's right shoulder. The brute strength to that attack cut deeply through, going a fourth of the way into the combined limb.

"We will see, monster!" The Dothraki challenged, the Blood Rider showing no fear to such an inhuman foe. He was forced to pull back when Edmure thrashed back, buckler up to try warding off the blow. While he only got the brunt of that strike across the sturdy buckler, the force of the attack still flung the Dothraki aside and even cracked the hardened shield.

For a moment the golem readied it's arm to slam down on the dazed Dothraki, only for a dozen arrows to riddle it's fleshy form. It interrupted his planned attack, giving Ogatto enough time to get back up. Geralt took the opening to swing his blade at Edmure, focusing on heavy attacks as he hacked again and again at the golem. The blows would normally cleave armored men, yet against Edmure's twisted form, only leaving gashes instead.

This time, Geralt was the one smacked away, unable to backstep away fast enough. The Quen blocked the blow, magical energy shocking the limb though it did little to harm the abomination. Quickly rolling back onto his feet, Geralt could see the lighter cuts across the golem starting to mend themselves, muscle and flesh reconnecting like loosened threads. Already his mind was rapidly trying to remember the abilities and weaknesses of a flesh golem, yet with the monster closing in for another swing, he didn't have much time to think.

From the side, Dacey and her shieldmaidens charged as one, slamming their shields into the bulking abomination. It took their combined speed and weight to make the monster stagger even slightly. Yet they took that small opening, the four lashed out with axes and maces, almost in desperation to beat the golem down. So many blows from multiple directions and shot by arrows was forcing it onto the defensive, with Edmure growling and cursing madly.

"A plan would be good right about now, Witcher!" Ogatto warned, the Dothraki moving up beside him. "Maybe more of that fire trick will do."

"Doubt Edmure is going to just stand around and let me roast him." Geralt muttered back. "Every golem needs a core to function, in this case Edmure is that."

"So we cut the bastard out, then we win."

Suddenly the four women yelled out as the golem's massive fist slammed into their shield wall. The blow threw Dacey and two of the shieldmaidens away, while one was being grasped by the countless hands that made up the golem's limb. The young woman screamed as cold gray hands dug in, some clawing and tearing at her exposed neck and face while she flailed trying to hack her way free.

Dacey at first tried to rush back in, only for the golem's to slam the grappled shield maiden into the ground. The screaming became more gasping and garbled as each blow broke the warrior's body further, until being thrown aside to crash against a nearby pillar. Limbs were twisted, bones piercing through flesh and armor as the woman gave dying gasps.

"Bastard!" Dacey yelled, anger overcoming her fear, having to be held back by her companions to stop her from rushing off to her death.

"Fuck this…" Willaim cursed, the archer reaching to a pouch tucked under his cloak. "Get the hell away from that thing!" Geralt looked towards him, noticing the scarred man drawing what looked like a bomb, not too dissimilar from a grapeshot bomb. It was baffling on how or why Will had such a weapon.

"Everyone fall back!" Geralt ordered, with Ogatto and Dacey's group hurrying away.

"Cowards!" Edmure laughed, stomping after them, though his slow pace gave Will enough time to light the fuse before hefting it in hand.

"Eat this!" With a powerful throw, the bomb tumbled nearly between the golem's feet, Edmure glancing down at the sparking fuse before coming to a realization of what it was. The massive arms tucked up in front just as the bomb went off, the blast echoing throughout the hall and spreading smoke all around. The power in that explosive was nearly doubly strong to what the Witcher's own could do, showing just how strong it was.

"Did...did it work?" Theon muttered, though Geralt shook his head.

"No...not enough." He warned as he could see the damage brought onto the monster. The bulky arms and legs had taken much of the damage, protecting the torso and Edmure from the blast. It further proved that the fused noble was essential to the abomination's functioning.

"Agh! Trickery!" Edmure cursed, obviously feeling pain with how he gasped and hissed. The arms were quite damaged, about half of their mass blasted away with hands and arms scattered across the ground. Thick congealed blood oozed from the wound alongside pierced bones, making the freaky arms look more like spiked clubs now. For the moment, he seemed staggered, giving the Witcher's group some breathing space.

"Wouldn't happen to have another?" Geralt asked Will.

"No...and I'm running short on arrows too."

Theon grumbled, eyeing the other quivers. "So are we."

"I have one." Ogatto suddenly admittedly glanced down to a satchel at his left hip. "A tool a friend shared with me."

Questions did come to the Witcher, but this was not time to ask them. "Need to make it count then. If he can't shield himself, that could hurt it enough to rip Edmure out." Looking at Theon, he nodded to him. "Give him the bomb."

"The boy? Let me throw it, I got the better shot." William argued.

"Exactly, which is why we need you using your bow to support us." Glancing to the other archers, they seemed hesitant to give their remaining arrows, giving Will about two dozen to work with now.

The archer scowled but nodded, handing his flint to Theon. "Best not mess it up boy." He warned.

By now the golem was getting back onto its feet, stepping slowly towards the group. "When I give the order Theon, you throw it. No hesitations." Geralt ordered

The Greyjoy nodded, staying back with William while Geralt and Ogatto stepped forward. Dacey took charge of the archers with her group, drawing out short spears, directing them to spread out to surround the golem.

"The left arm...the elbow joint seems the weakest." Geralt pointed out to Ogatto, the Dothraki nodding in understanding before giving a yell as he charged forward, drawing the golem's attention.

The Blood Rider ducked under one bone spiked arm that swung at him, knowing that trying to block such a blow would be a mistake. His heavy blade hacked about, splintering already broken bone and shredded gray flesh, cutting deeper than before.

Dacey led her group forward to attack from multiple sides, she and the remaining shieldmaidens trying to draw the golem's attention from the archers stabbing out with their spears. Dividing the golem's attention made it difficult to effectively fight, with it shifting to try crushing Ogatto before lashing out at the Winter Wolves. From the back, WIlliam kept firing his arrows, taking out a few more eyes along the head while the rest riddled the broad upper body.

Geralt meanwhile casted Quen again before rushing in, using the chaos to get up close to the golem. Edmure saw him coming, suddenly tensing before those short yet powerful legs hunched. The Witcher saw this, instantly knowing what the abomination was about to do, but it was too late to warn the others. Edmure gave a deep grunt before the golem's mass gave a short leap, arms up and slamming down once it landed. The impact shook the floor, knocking everyone but Geralt down who was able to brace himself.

Ogatto was quick to roll to the side, though the golem's attention was on the others. Dacey was able to quickly crawl aside with one of her battle sisters, though the other wasn't fast enough. She struggled to get up, gawking in shock as one massive foot slammed down onto her head, splattering like a melon.

Without slowing down, the golem stomped forward to the tripped archers, the four stumbling to get back up. One slipped in his hurry, leaving him helpless as he screamed out as a bone spiked arm slammed into his body. The spikes drove in so deeply that his body was impaled to the limb which lifted the dead weight with ease. Continuing it's onslaught, it targeted another archer who screamed in terror trying to run away, only to get slammed in the back by his impaled companion. Knocked over, his pleading became garbled howling as the golem stepped onto his back, bones breaking against the stone floor under the great weight of the abomination.

Geralt growled in anger at how ruthless the golem was, Edmure laughing in sadistic joy as well. Yet his moment of triumph was literally cut short as the WItcher's blade went for that exposed elbow, silver blade slicing through the narrow binding of sinew and bone. The massive limb fell away while Edmure howled in furious pain before giving a back hand with his remaining arm.

The barrier of Quen blocked it, shoving the golem back, giving Geralt an opening to then throw down a Yrden to the ground. Edmure showed confusion at the circle of runes around him, yet when he tried to move his already slow movements were sluggish. Being stalled let the other Winter Wolves retreat, though Ogatto lunged back in to give a deep cleaving blow across the golem's back.

Dothraki and Witcher unleashed a flurry of blows, meant more to soften the abomination up for what would follow up. A blind swipe at Ogatto made him dodge away, giving Geralt an opening to Edmure bound in the golem's chest. The mad noble realized this, trying to move his remaining arm to ward off the blow. Yet Geralt was able to skip it into the man's side, making Edmure howl as the blade was cutting along as if to slice him out.

"NOW!"

With the Witcher giving out the order, Theon didn't hesitate as he lit the bomb and threw it out, aiming for the side where that deep gash was made. The fuse on the bomb was short, though for Geralt it burned to a stand still as adrenaline was in full swing for him. Withdrawing his blade, he did a backwards periotie to give himself distance from the golem and the blast. He took a haunched position before he flexed his fingers for the Quen Sign once more, a gleaming sphere forming around him just as the bomb exploded.

The golem gave a inhuman cry alongside a pitiful wail from Edmure, smoke and fire filling around. As it cleared away, the shimmering forcefield Geralt had summoned stood strong, though Geralt looked winded repelling such a powerful blast. As for the golem, it was laying on the floor, little more than a shredded torso. Among the bodies that made up the mass, one clearly moved, Edmure who had been separated from the golem. He only had his left arm left, the rest either blasted away or too fused within the golem's mass. Despite it all, he was still seemingly alive, whatever magic used keeping him going.

The group cautiously approached Edmure who gave wheezing breaths, his dull colored eyes looking about them all. Ogatto loomed over him, gripping his blade in both hands as he was ready to deal a finishing blow. Geralt however stepped forward, one hand to stop the Dothraki.

"Blast it Geralt! Better to kill him now before sorcery plays out!" The Blood Rider cursed.

"Please...Witcher…" Edmure's voice gasped. "I...gods what have I done...become…" Sobs followed as Geralt crouched down beside him. "The Sisters...they promised so much...was blinded by it all...they-"

"You couldn't have known…" Geralt tried to interrupt before Edmure's hand grasped his arm.

"But I should have! Now...thousands...gods thousands are dead because of me!" He grit his teeth in sorrow and pain. "They fueled the worst parts of me...drowned out my reasoning…"

"Forgive me if I find that to be a weak excuse." William muttered from the back.

Edmure nodded in grim agreement. "I...expect no forgiveness. I deserve this...but…I can help make something right." He growled, body twisting as if suffering a seizure. "They claw in my head...they curse at me! But I will...spite them!"

Geralt knew the man was fighting whatever enchantment the Crones had on him, perhaps that hold weakened in his dying state. "Tell me what you can Edmure. Where is Lady Catelyn? Surely you didn't…"

"No! I was mad but...not that far...not yet." He muttered. "Rodrik came. Led my uncle's men to free her. They died...but she escaped. I don't know where she is…" Taking heavy breaths, he continued to speak. "Riverrun. It's infested now. The ghouls...and other monstrosities lurk deeper...under this keep and maybe in other areas of the castle. Have to burn it all...the whole castle down."

"The whole castle?" Dacey muttered. "Riverrun has stood strong for countless eras, yet you ask us to destroy it? Surely there has to be…"

"No he's right." Theon muttered. "We were lucky to hold off those things back in the hall. If there are hundreds more and hundreds more are born, not even a small army is going to clear them out of here."

"Going to be a lot of questions from Lord Robb and the other lords." William muttered. "Even if we burn this place down, what the Hells are we going to tell them?"

"The truth." Geralt stated. "Right now the civil war needs to be stalled until they're dealt with. What we've seen here...it's just a small fraction of the horrors they're capable of."

Edmure nodded weakly. "Yes...start here. In the back rooms...behind the main hall is the oil storage. More than enough...to burn down the whole castle."

"That's all well and good but how in the hells are we supposed to reach the other parts of this castle with those monsters and brainwashed men dogging us every step of the way," William asked exasperatedly.

"The nest is the goal," Geralt replied. "If we destroy the nest then it won't matter if the fire spreads out to the rest of the castle. With the nest gone and most of the men here gone already this castle will be useless to the Crones.

"Sounds like a plan then." Ogatto muttered, nodding to William, Theon and the remaining troops. "Come on. Let's get to work before those freaks show up." The Dothraki took the lead with the others, leaving Geralt and Dacey to take care of Edmure.

"Geralt...if...you find Catelyn...my uncle...tell them I'm sorry that I failed… and please..." Yet he couldn't gasp out the last words, slumped still to the ground, at last dying. Whatever was going to say last the Witcher could only guess. Maybe Edmure didn't want his family to know what he became? Maybe he wanted him to tell them he died as himself and not the monster he became? Whatever it was he wanted to say, the Witcher would never know.

The Witcher gave only a weary sigh, picking up the near limbless corpse to pile with what was left of the golem's remains. With a gesture he cast Igni to ignite the remains, the open windows above at least letting the burning flesh wiff upwards instead of filling the hall.

Dacey was silent, looking over the carnage of the hall, from the slain golem and to their fallen comrades. "I don't know how much worse this can get." She muttered, the normally composed warrior shakened. It was surprising to even Geralt, considering she had charged against blood-thirsty mercenaries a week ago. "I thought all those stories you shared were just...exaggerations. Gods though...it's all real."

Geralt was silent, knowing that everyone would no doubt be taking this experience differently. Ogatto and William seemed far more accepting about all of this, making him wonder if they had encountered such creatures already. In fact the bombs they used reminded him of the one that he narrowly avoided many months ago in the King's Wood when those assassins attacked Robert. Already more and more questions were building up in his mind towards his unique allies.

"Geralt." Dacey's voice snapped him out of his thoughts, seeing the distress on her face. "Just...how bad is this going to get?"

For a moment he didn't answer, only leading the way to the back of the great hall to a side passage the others had taken. "If we lose, the Riverlands will be a breeding ground for monsters while the people are forced to do their new masters' bidding. In time they will spread out and invade the rest of Westeros and one by one everything will fall. Any lords who dare resist will be killed with their homes and families destroyed or worse, turned into monsters themselves." Geralt stopped and turned around and looked Dacey dead in the eye, "Either Westeros will submit or it will burn."

Dacey's face became as pale as a sheet as she took what the Witcher said to heart. She was likely thinking of her family now and imagining all the things that could happen to them and her home should they lose. Dacey took a deep breath and exhaled, "Then we best not lose," she said with determination. "'Cause I will not see my island burned down, my family killed and my people destroyed or worse. When Lord Robb and the others arrive, I'll do whatever I can or say whatever I can to make them realize what we're up against. What we're all up against."

"I'll smack him upside the head if none of that doesn't help." Theon jested, busy pouring a small keg of oil across the hallway, stopping by the stairway that led to the basement. There was a rank smell coming from down there, a clear sign that that was where the creatures nested.

"Dacey, best get another keg. If there is a nest, we have to make sure the fire gets it, else they'll just claim the burned out castle." Geralt urged, leading to the Bear Islander and her maidens to hurry off to the store room.

Meanwhile, Ogatto walked by with two kegs in hand, heading for the great hall. "I'll make sure the hall has oil spread around. Should spread out nicely from there."

"Good. Just be sure everyone is ready to run once we cover the basement. Once this fire spreads, everything is going to be crawling out." Geralt warned, the Dothraki nodding in understanding before continuing on.

Once Dacey returned, Geralt took the lead heading down the stairway, the others following close behind. The rotting smell only grew stronger as they reached the basement. The floor was covered in dug up earth and splattered gore, a clear sign of ghoul borrowing. What was curious was scattered work tools around, showing that the enthralled had broken the stonework for the monsters to begin nesting. There were earthen tunnels, big enough for someone to crawl through, scattered flesh and bones crudely supporting these burrows.

"Fuck...this is massive. Biggest I've ever seen." Geralt muttered as he carefully stepped closer to inspect a burrow while the others stayed back, not wanting to draw too much attention. "Could be bigger stuff growing down there if what Edmure said is true...but no time to be certain."

"Then we best get a few kegs down there." Theon remarked, glancing about before seeing some rags and rope on a toppled shelf. "Give these things a fuse and kick them down a tunnel. Should ensure the whole nest lights up."

"Smart idea." Geralt muttered in agreement, Theon already cracking the lid on his oil get before jamming a rag in, Dacey and his maidens doing the same.

While the Witcher was on guard, his keen ears could hear noises above, growls and yells, no doubt fighting. He hoped Will and his group had done their part, but were able to regroup with Ogatto. However there was noise and movement from the tunnels, the ghouls no doubt alerted by their scent.

"Best hurry up!" He warned before a ghoul lunged out of a tunnel. It did take Geralt by surprise, getting a claw to wipe across his armored jacket, but the Witcher armor warded off the attack. His attack was swift, decapitating the monster before it could dodge away.

"I can help!" One of the shieldmaidens spoke out, hurrying over to a tunnel with her shield and axe up. Just as she approached it though, a ghoul with black spotted hide and black spikes on it's back crawled out to snarl at the woman. It seemed exposed as the maiden gave a fierce yell to hack to it's back.

"No!" Yet Geralt's warning was too late as the Alghoul tensed, the spikes on its back extending out. They warded off the strike but also impaled through the woman's arm, making her howl in pain. The Alghoul tackled her down, claws and jaws mauling into her gut as the creature ripped through chainmail and leather, practically eating the screaming woman alive.

Dacey howled in anger, rushing in to swing at the gnawing monster's skull to avoid it's spikes. The full force to the blow snapped its neck and shattered its skull, slumping on top of the gasping maiden. Dacey clutched her dying companion who muttered something to her before trembling and going still, leaving the young noble biting back tears.

Theon didn't let the loss distract him as he got his keg lit with a torch before rolling down a burrow, spilling oil spreading wherever it went. The last maiden and Geralt did the same, picking different tunnels to ensure the fire spread. Flowing smoke showed it was working and that it was time to leave before it spread to here.

"Dacey, we need to go." He spoke, one hand gripping the woman's shoulder to snap her out of her shock.

She nodded before getting up, clenching a charm the other woman had before picking up the last kegs. She sprayed it across the room while the others backed up the stairway, Geralt lingering with Dacey as they made their way upward. Ghouls forced out of the tunnels by the fire were pursuing them, but Dacey roared as she tossed her keg at the leading monster. Shattered wood and slick oil made the creatures stall in their attack, long enough for Geralt to unleash a stream of fire with Igni to ignite it all.

Hurrying up the stairs, they found the others ready to continue upward, Ogatto hacking down a ghoul that was coming from the great hall. The fire there had spread, but it seemed the monsters had gotten through the barred door. Seeing the Witcher, the Dothraki regrouped with them as they continued to retreat back up to the battlements.

Nothing stood in their way as they reached the top, the darkness of the night now lit up with the fires spreading throughout the castle. They were one section away from where the boats were stashed, though along the walls the guards were gathering up. Geralt's sharp eyes noticed a group lining up, angling bows towards them.

"Take cover!"

While he unleashed an Aard to repel some of the arrows, not all of them could be stopped. Despite the warning, the last of Theon's archers got an arrow to the skull, crumpling down beside William.

"Monsters...soldiers...this whole mission has become a shitshow!" Will cursed, not squeamish in yanking the arrow out of his fallen comrade's head only to noc it to his own bow. One of the guards soon got that arrow back right through an eye socket.

"We got through Braavos before, we can get through this!" Ogatto chuckled, leveling his buckler up.

"Need to keep moving!" Dacey urged, as she and the remaining shield maidens got their shields up as well. The loose shieldwall helped cover what Geralt couldn't block with his magic as they made their way across the ramparts. Theon and Will fired back with what few arrows they had, thinning the number of guards.

Passing through one of the corner towers, they were nearing their grapple lines only for a charging mix of soldiers and ghouls to stand in their way. It seemed the monsters didn't see the enthralled as food, at least for the moment. They would have to cut their way through to escape. Geralt drew his steel blade, duel-wielding both swords while giving a sideward glance to Ogatto who grinned in understanding.

The two took the charge, the Witcher's twin blades a blurring whirlwind while the Blood Rider's arakh cleaved through ghoul and armor alike. Everyone else gawked watching the two cut a bloody path, standing back to not get in the way.

Such brutality would let them reach the rope lines down, Dacey and her maidens climbing down with Theon and Will right behind them. Ogatto followed, with Geralt holding the line.

A few attacks grazed him, a spear to the shoulder, a ghoul claw to the side. Yet his armor and adrenaline made him shrug off the blows, countering them with lethal grace. His cold ferocity was making both enthralled and ghoul flee in terror, making him snap out of his battle focus. With an opening to escape, Geralt swiftly stealthed both blades before leaping from the battlement, divine safely into the cold water below. Even before he surfaced, he felt strong hands grasp him, Ogatto and Will pulling him up.

"Gods...and I thought we were the dramatic ones." Will muttered while Ogatto grabbed the oars, already moving their canoe as fast as possible in case any archers tried to shoot at them. Yet it seemed they were in the clear, all the canoes slowing down as everyone looked back to Riverrun. The spreading flames lit up the darkness of the night, the fire spreading to the upper floors of the keep. "We made it...though it was a close one."

"Too close." Geralt muttered in agreement, cat-like eyes drifting between the two. Will and Ogatto could tell the Witcher had some personal questions to them. "Experienced as you both are, you seemed too composed against monsters. Wouldn't happen that you crossed paths with them before."

There was silence for a moment before Will sighed. "Fucking told Marcus…" He muttered. "A few of us had encountered these...things. Marcus wanted to keep things quiet, avoid a panic or cause distrust."

"True we heard rumors you dealt with such stuff, but Marcus didn't want to risk complicating things." Ogatto added in defense to the Northerner.

Geralt frowned sternly at this news, displeased at how Marcus had been holding out on him. "Going to have a serious talk with Marcus then." He muttered, taking an oar to help get them back to shore, all while Riverrun burned ever brighter in the starless night.

Dawn - Qarth - Kai

It was rare that the Thirteen gathered for such an early meeting, yet with the Targaryens gone there was much to be done now. Despite promises that the Prince of Spices would step down, the powerful trade noble had been 'forgiven' by the remaining members. After all, Harito and Siranea weren't around to enforce the ruling, so the Prince's actions were judged as 'misguided' yet honest. What did matter was the judgement brought onto the real traitor in their ranks with Xaro.

The dark skinned noble was on his knees before the council, bruised from past beatings from the guards and fine clothes ruined from being stuck in a cell for multiple weeks. The Warden stood attentively behind him, watching the disgraced noble with calm vigilance through his ornate helmet.

The Prince of Spices smirked seeing his upstart rival so defeated, gleefully eating some dates beside him. "You really should have accepted your place among us Xaro. As usual, you became too greedy for your own good." He cooly mocked.

"If this is to just belittle me, then you should tell your lapdog to kill me now." Xaro replied, voice hoarse from lack of water. "I won't grovel...not to the likes of you."

It made the trade prince frown, expecting some pleading from his rival. Looking to the others, they all seemed keen on getting this trial over with so they could focus on more personal matters. "Fine then Xaro. By the ruling of the council you are judged a traitor to Qar-"

Suddenly the doors to the chamber opened, one of the royal guards stumbling in. The man was gasping for breath, having sprinted the long length of the citadel to reach them. "M-Masters...something...gods...something is happening…" He stammered between breaths.

"Steady yourself soldier." The Warden calmly urged. "What is going on out in the streets? Is there a riot?"

"At this hour? No one knows of this meeting...nor care to protest this scum's actions!" One of the trade princes remarked.

"I...it started from the plantations near...the Warlocks. The House of the Undying." The soldier answered. "People...started gathering up, following a lone man. He's walking...nearing the docks from what we saw."

"One man?" The Prince of Spices muttered, a clear nervousness crossing his face. "Warden. Round up the guards, all of them."

"All of them?"

"Yes you oaf! Take no chances, kill anyone who dares approach the citadel!"

The Warden bowed his head, ignoring the insult as he gestured to the soldier to follow along, leaving the council with the remaining guards. The council muttered between each other in concern, with Prince of Beasts leaning in nervously to whisper.

"Surely this is just some trick...it can't be him."

"Yes...a trick...nothing more." The Price of Spices muttered, trying to be calm despite the gawking fear in his chest.

It had been too long since Kai had personally walked the streets of Qarth, having to rely on his psychic powers to walk in the feet of his stronger disciples to do so. He welcomed the feeling of the rising sun across his skin, it's light casting a beautiful red light across Qarth. The city had changed so much since his powers had waned, the farms near his home now lavish plantations, the docks now thick with countless ships and the markets brimming with wealth.

Yet all of it was hollow, excess driven to the extreme. There was nothing wrong with wealth, only that it was controlled by the few, hoarded for their benefit instead of for the people. The Grand Warlock glanced behind him as countless people followed him. Slavers, workers, merchants and nobles stared at him in awe as his mastery of illusions made him look truly divine in their eyes. Everyone would perceive him different, for every mind was unique in their perception of such things. This was little more than a gentle show of force, a reminder to Qarth of what he was capable of.

"Nearly there." He calmly said to himself, his bare feet patting across the smooth cobbled road while his hooped staff softly clanged with each step. As he strolled, more and more people joined the crowd, making it seem like the whole city was with him.

Yet as he reached the center of the market, he stopped, left hand up to signal for the masses to stop. Ahead he could see a barcade set up, the full might of Qarth's lavish soldiers blocking the way to the Citadel. This was to be expected, the Council after all no doubt fearful of his return.

"Do not follow me any further." His voice seemed to echo across the crowd. "I welcome your reverence, but will not risk a single one of your lives." People would plead out, not wanting him to go alone, yet none disobeyed his command. Calmly he continued to walk forward, heading towards the barricade.. He could hear them giving out commands, archers lining up and drawing their bows back.

"Not even bothering with threats." He mused, golden eyes glancing up as a rain of arrows were let loose. As he kept walking, his left hand gestured slightly as if trying to shoo a fly, the falling missiles coming down at him seemingly knocked out of air by a great wind. The men gawked in disbelief before preparing another volley. The same result happened, Kai once more repelling the arrows with a wave of his hand.

"Shoot right at him then!" Someone ordered as he was halfway to the barricade. The archers aimed right at him instead of arching their shots. They let loose, only for the same result to follow as every arrow aimed at him barely missed. At this point the archers were panicking as they had a better look of Kai. Just as he could make the crowd see him as something divine, he made them see him as something horrifying. The men quickly began to flee, unable to handle the terrifying vistage he made them see, while others barely held their ground.

Soon, Kai reached the barricade, stopping before it. The lithe and towering warlock gazed at the soldiers, sensing the fear flooding their open minds. He eased the illusion of terror, the men clearly relaxing as they gazed at his true appearance.

"I wish to speak to the Council. The founder of Qarth has returned...and seek's to parley with them." He politely spoke. There were quiet mutterings from the soldiers before one stepped up, the imposing Warden standing forward. Kai could feel the strength in this one's mind, meaning he'd have to rely on words instead of power to get through. "I seek no conflict with any of you. Violence is not needed."

"You speak of peace, yet your disciples have been nothing but a blight on our city for centuries." The Warden calmly stated. "They conspired with Xaro to take over Qarth."

"Yes...my students have abused the knowledge I taught them. They worked behind my back for their own gain. That is a mistake I will amend in time." Kai took a soft breath before locking his gaze with the Warden. "Yet can you say the same of Council, the Trade Prince is clear of corruption? After all you've witnessed over the years...in the recent months...do they truly care for the wellbeing of this great city or only about themselves?"

The Warden was silent at Kai's question, yet the warlock sensed the stirring doubts at the edge of his mind. "Just what do you hope to do, Grand Warlock?"

A faint smile crossed the man's pale green lips. "Bring change. To make Qarth more than just a city of wealth, but of progress and learning. Where all are welcomed, judged by their personal worth then just their status." His golden eyes kept staring back, unblinking the whole time. "I will only move until you allow it, Warden. Know that I will not bring any harm to your Council."

There was a long silence as the Warden at last broke his gaze with Kai, taking deep breaths as he could feel the warlock's great will pressing down onto him. Yet he knew he had the resolve to make this choice, a choice that would determine the future of this city.

"Make your choice Warden. Do you choose to be a slave of the Council...or protector of Qarth?"

It had been a bit over an hour since the Council had rallied the guard, though so far no one had come to report anything new. Most were calm, yet for the Prince of Spices his fear just grew. He couldn't help but nervously eat at the bowl of dates or sip wine, anything to distract himself. Yet from the hallway, everyone heard the familiar stomp of the Warden's heavy boots.

"That was quick." The Prince of Beasts muttered, only silenced by a stern stare as the heavy doors were opened.

"Warden, have you dealt with-" The Prince of Spices started, only to stop as he saw the robed figure stepping in from behind the imposing soldier. Kai stepped closer before the Council, everyone muttering in shock and awe at the quite alien appearance of the Grand Warlock. In this moment, Kai didn't use his mental powers to affect the trade princes, wanting an even discussion with them.

"Good morning Thirteen...or I guess the Ten if you prefer." Kai spoke formally, though his words had dry sarcasm to them. For a moment his golden eyes drifted to Xaro, the beaten man showing clear worry on his face.

"How...how are you alive?" The trade prince growled. "The sisters said you burned in dragon fire! You have to be a fake...and damned pretender!"

Kai gave a low sigh, which made everyone at the table tense. "You are correct. I should not be alive...but fate decided otherwise." His gaze looked to the Prince of Spices, the portly man leaning back nervously. "I have come to take my place as the leader of Qarth, to bring it out of its isolation and end the wastefulness this...council has brought."

"Waste? We have brought nothing but wealth to this city!" The Lady of Silk countered. "When you disappeared hundreds of years ago, our forebears had to take charge in your absence!" The others at the table muttered in agreement.

Kai bowed slightly in agreement. "That is true, though my...absence was beyond my control. Not a day passed that I worried about the well being of my city." He then gazed across the gathered nobles. "Yet in that time you tainted the freedoms Qarth was built on. Slavery, greed and vices now dominate life here."

"Is it wrong that we strived for success Kai? How is it our fault for being more...fortunate than others?" The Prince of Spices questioned.

"Ah yes. Because you were 'fortunate' to be born into a wealthy family, to a father that many praised as selfless and generous." Kai spoke back. "It was tragic the day he passed, a week of mourning. Yet how swifty were you to flow his wealth for those in need...to peddle your drugs across all of Essos."

The Prince sweated visibly as Kai seemed to know more than he should, even the other trade princes eyed him questionably. "Enough! We can debate all we like, but it is certain that we will not surrender Qarth to you! You may have real power unlike your students, yet it can't outmatch all of us!"

"Can it?" Kai muttered, voice so low yet piercing to the man's ears. "You speak boldly, if only to hide your fear. Fear of loss...be it your wealth, power or health." His gaze looked to the bowl of dates before continuing. "Tell me, have you ever heard of the Marrow Beetle?"

The sudden change of topic left others muttering, with the Prince of Spices, gawking in confusion. "No...but I assume it's from the Bone Mountains." He muttered.

"Yes, a quite horrid bug that can chew through flesh and bone to reach rich marrow. Yet when they are starved, they curl up into a ball until a fresh meal comes." Kai began to explain. "As you may know, the best dates grow within those mountains. When gathered, those beetles at times get collected...often mistaken for the fruit." There was a long pause as the prince stared at the bowl as if it was filled with a deadly poison. "Tell me? Have you felt an aching in your gut, almost a crawling feeling in your veins?"

The prince breathing picked up as he glanced at his arm, eyes widening as he saw it. A small bump traveling under his skin, a biting feeling at the flesh within. "T-There is one in me!" He stammered, rubbing his hand along, nails scraping as if to pry the bump away.

"W-What?" The Prince of Beasts asked before the chubby noble's arm was in his face.

"See it! It's right there!"

Yet the other prince saw nothing, no bump under the fat skin. "There is nothing there! Please, you are being hysterical!"

Yet the chubby trade prince yelled as he squirmed in his seat, shirt rolled up as he seemed to see more movement along his belly. "You! You did this, didn't you!" He growled at Kai, the warlock standing there calmly, still as a statue. The Prince of Spices doubled over as if suffering a stomach ache, clenching the table edge for support.

"When you feel that clawing sensation, they need to be cut out. Once they reach the bone, they can never be pried out." Kai continued to explain, seeming to have a calm amusement in the man's growing panic.

"Knife! I need...need to cut them out now!" In desperation he grappled with the Prince of Beasts for one of the curved daggers on his belt.

"Stop! Gods, let us call for a healer if you-" One of the ladies pleaded, only for the man to pull out a dagger.

Clumsily he sliced his own arm, hissing out as he tried to cut out the beatles, only to cut again at a different spot. His other hand pried into the open wound, blood squirting out which made the other nobles gasp in disgust. "G-Get them out...got to get them out!" He stammered in fearful madness as he kept cutting into his forearms and wrists. Blood soaked his robe sleeves and front, the man having slit his own wrists. His voice became tired mutterings as he didn't have strength to hold the dagger which clattered to the ground. Slumping back into his seat, fibbly trying to claw at his sliced arms. Everyone, even the Warden, was too shocked to do anything as the man bled out right there at the table.

The Prince of Beasts leaned in, finding no breath coming from his fellow noble. "He's...dead…" He muttered before the Warden drew his blade, having it pressed to Kai's neck.

"What magic did you use?! You swore that you wouldn't harm the Council!" He sternly demanded.

"And I didn't. The prince simply lacked the will to separate reality from imagination." Kai calmly stated. "What I demonstrated was the weakness this Council suffers. Under my leadership you will all be forged into peerless leaders and guide our city to the future." Stepping forward, he placed a hand on Xaro, the man flinching before Kai calmly undid the bindings on his arm. "I am also a forgiving man. Despite Xaro's actions, he has the vision for what our city can achieve." The Council was mostly silent, only whispering in both worry and excitement over such promises. It seemed in the end, no one spoke in opposition to Kai.

"I...thank you for this mercy, Master Kai." Xaro muttered, head bow in submission.

"You still have a part to play Xaro, one that I expected you to follow dutifully." Yet the hand gripped down strongly, making the beaten noble tense up. "Yet if you ever work behind my back, scheme against me, you will wish the Warden had cut your head off." Those words were not spoken, not physically at least, resounding with a terrible promise to him. All the noble could do was nod in submission. "Good. I will see to it that your estate is partly restored...with a portion returned to your dutiful workers. For now rest while I speak with the others."

"You are generous, Master Kai." Xaro praised before limping back, a few guards escorting him away.

Kai looked around the remaining Council, pausing as more guards carried the Prince of Spice's heavy corpse out of his chair and from the room. "Now then my Council. Let's discuss the future of our fair city."

Evening

It had been too long since Kai had to debate and converse so much. His voice was hoarse from it all, still unused to having a working body after so long. Standing on a balcony at the Citadel, he watched over Qarth as the city was buzzing with activity with the nearing sunset. There was much to be done, preparations to be made to test Daenerys and Ciri.

As he sipped his glass of water, he set it down before giving a low sigh. "Quaithe. I'm surprised you waited so long to show yourself." He calmly stated, only glancing back slightly to the red masked woman. "Then again your skill in Shadowbinding outmatches even mine. You could make the world forget you ever existed."

Her sandals steps were silent, only the slight cling of her golden necklace hinting her movement. "We have known each other a long time, Kai. It is good to see you whole again." She spoke calmly as she stood beside him. "Quite bold to reveal yourself so soon, but I suppose you didn't have much of a choice."

Kai didn't reply, though even his passive expression couldn't hide the truth from the woman.

"I know your intent, the plans you have set for the two women. You will risk so much in what you seek to achieve."

"Yes. It is a risk I am willing to accept." Kai stated before glancing at her masked face. "And what of you? Do you plan to play the quiet observer, just as you have all this time."

Quaithe, for the first time since Kai knew her, gave a faint chuckle. "I feel events across our world demand action." Her delicate hands touched across the stone edge of the balcony, fingertips just tracing over his own. "Do what you must here in Qarth. I will see that the sisters are ready for your lessons." As she turned to leave, only for Kai's hand to just hold it.

"When...Will I see you again?"

His words were laced with an emotion he rarely shared, a longing stretched across an era. Quaithe gently squeezed his hand before shiny eyes met his golden gaze, her other hand reaching to touch his smooth cheek. "At the end Kai. I will see you at the very end."

With a low breath, he closed his eyes for a long moment until her hand disappeared from his face. When he opened them she was gone, taken away by the fading sun at the western horizon. Bracing over the balcony edge, he took deep breaths as he bowed his head.

"To the very end." Kai whispered, staring off to the west, to where destiny would be decided in the coming months.

Notice: A lot of action and intrigue in this chapter! With the true horrors haunting the Riverlands revealed, Geralt will have his work cut out for him rallying his allies against an unnatural threat. Also I do hope everyone also enjoyed a happy thanksgiving!

I am also curious what everyone thinks of Kai's intentions, though expect the Warlock to be silent for a time. Ciri and Dany will be returning quite soon, though expect the two to have quite the power trip when they at last arrive at Slaver's Bay.

Next chapter we will continue the tales in the Riverlands along with seeing what is happening in King's Landing as Zarin and the Lannisters make their plans to crush Renly and the Tyrells.

As usual give a review, PM or ask for an invite for my Discord to get early previews of chapters.