Prologue

Slush squelched under the tires as I pulled into the gas station's gravel parking lot sniffling and coughing. I cursed the flu, the weather, and the dealership's service scheduling policies. Two hours to the dealer, three hours there, and two hours back, alone the whole way, was a shitty way to spend a Saturday.

The gas station was the last stop before crossing the long earthen dam over Lake Sakakawea. I needed to piss, grab some Hals and maybe some Dayquil. The flu hit me that morning. It was complete and total bullshit since I'd been vaccinated. Apparently, the scientists and doctors guessed wrong and a different strain had jumped from bird to man or where it was the flu came from. The vaccine was worthless and the new batches being made were being distributed to children and the elderly first.

Heading inside, I made for the bathroom first; then I worked my way through the shelves looking for a chemical solution to my biological problem.

Inside the building, there was a surprising number of people consider my car was the only one in the parking lot. A man and woman in their forties sat at one of the two booths by the coffee and hotdog machines. They seemed to be in quiet conversation. Wandering the shelves with me was another Airman, a jacked one at that, by the look of him. His hair was close-cropped, his bearing proud.

'Probably some security forces guy looking to be a PJ or maybe just a muscle head.' I gave him a nod and didn't spare him another thought.

There was a greasy bald mechanic busy working on the busted slushie machine. He worked silently, but his eyes drifted off the machine as he worked. A younger girl, high school age, maybe just past, was working the counter. She was flipping through a magazine and checking her phone every few seconds. Near her was an older woman, hunched over with a cane, looking through the lottery tickets.

There was also another guy there, but absolutely nothing about him stood out. He kept surprising me as I searched for the medicine section of the shelves. Every time I saw him was like seeing him for the first time. He was the perfect stranger. Total average. A part of any crowd. Even if that crowd is eight people in a gas station service mart.

I found the medicine I wanted, grabbed a bottle of water, and went up to the counter. As I reached the counter I thought I saw a quick flash of light, but no one else seemed to notice it. I paid, got in my car, downed a couple pills of Dayquil, threw a Hals in my mouth, took a sip of water, and drove away.

The snow was picking up and I fishtailed a bit pulling onto the highway. My wipers were struggling to keep my windshield clean. I was starting to think if I should've waited at the gas station for the snow to stop when I sneezed violently, losing sight of the road for a second.

When I recovered, I saw something, a horse, a deer, maybe a small moose in the middle of the road. I slammed the brakes and tried to swerve away from it.

Instead, I slid on the slush, fishtailed, and I found myself heading off the dam and into the ice-covered lake below. I braced for impact as my car rushed over the edge. For a second I flew through the air. Then I hit the ice.

The ice was weak and swallow. My car slammed through it and cold water began rushing in through the ruined windshield. I tried to get out, but my seatbelt failed to release. The water filled the car, and then my lungs, and the world turned dark.

XxX

On the bridge stood seven forms, free of their disguises.

"Was that entirely necessary? Surely there would have been a better way to bring him over." The maiden asked.

"We had few means and less time. The Weave is weak here and now. We need a new champion and so we took what we could." The old crone answered, raising her lantern to illuminate them all.

"He is without family nearby. He will be mourned, but no one is doomed by his disappearance. No children will go without a father. No wives without a husband." The mother said.

"He is a warrior of this land. He will overcome his death and rise to meet the challenges he faces with honor and justice." The knight said, slamming a fist against his breastplate.

"He is learned. A man of numbers and designs. While not a creator himself, he will be able to inspire others to light their forges and remake the world as is needed for the coming future." The blacksmith said his leather apron shifting in the breeze.

"He is a man of law and order. He has made oaths and kept them. He will demand the same of others. He will bring justice with him where he goes and woe be those that would deny it." The father said sternly.

The maiden nodded her head. "This is all true as you each have said. We saw this and more when we inspected the one choice we have been given. Why did we come to the here and now? Surely there would have been a better time and place. Why choose one from here and not one of our own."

Five of the other six sighed and shook their heads as one.

"They profess our name, but who could we choose that another would not try and wield. The burning beast continues to spread, the old ones slumber and pass, and the drowned fool is still unwilling to listen to reason. He is too slippery to kill and too stubborn to change. No, we must take this risk." The crone and father said in unison.

"There is also the matter of the Trinity only allowing us into the here and now. We must accept the help he will offer and wait for a chance to repay his kindness." The mother and the knight said.

"Fine, but was this the best way? We have drowned him to bring him through. Will he survive the transit and where will he arrive?" The maiden asked.

The other five turned to the sixth and he chuckled. "Aye, he will be drowned and the slippery eel in his halls will have noticed. I imagine he will awaken to a field of iron." The strange one held up a finger to forestall their protests. "He is our chosen champion and will not fall to the eel's grasps like he no doubt hopes. He is blessed by us and will survive for I do not want him back so soon. He also carries a gift as you surely noticed. That gift is one of many he carries. While he will surely suffer from my littlest gifts back home, I will not accept him from them. His will burn across the world and change more than he himself alone could hope."

The other six shivered as they processed the stranger's words. The father spoke. "Then we best return to judge those about to stand before us. It seems we will be busy for a time."

The seven joined hands, collapsed into each other, and became one. A seven-pointed star appeared in the air before the one and he disappeared into it. On Earth, the snow continued to fall as a now empty car sank to the bottom of the lake. Elsewhere a body floated to the surface and washed to shore on stony island.

The body was found by men bearing a coat of vairy vert and sable. They thought the strangely clad man to be dead until he began to cough water and collapsed. They then rushed to take him to the castle. Some then went to find a Drowned Man, for surely this stranger must have been sent by the Drowned God. Others rushed to find a maester to ensure the man did not die. Others rushed to find their lord and tell him what had transpired.

Two days later the coughing started.

XxX