I smiled as I slipped through the rift in reality. Smiled, in the metaphorical sense, as in my cosmic form, such mortal and physical expressions have no meaning. You see, this isn't the first time I have jumped from one universe to another nor would it be the last – after all, as the immortal Master of Death, I had to keep myself occupied somehow.
However, this was the first universe in the infinite multiverse I had personally encountered where people from my original home world had counterparts. Oh, they would be completely different with unique personalities and characteristics and in a world that was vastly different to my original home world but some part of them would be a reflection of the people I once knew. That was why I was so excited.
Now, usually cosmic beings are not permitted to enter the mortal plane but there are exceptions to the rule – and I, being an ex-mortal, am an exception in my own regard. I could enter the mortal world by way of a spirit merger with a mortal host and then two spirits would temporarily become one – the mortality of the combined spirit would mean I would no longer have access to my cosmic powers and my magic and the Deathly Hallows would not be available to me but equally the cosmic aspect of the combined spirit meant that any latent or potential skills and powers of the mortal host would be unlocked and amplified to its greatest extreme, within the limits of that universe. I didn't mind, really, as being a cosmic entity without any cosmic purpose was rather dull and these little vacations into mortality were quite fun.
But, selecting the right avatar was key. I had to pick a child – as otherwise the host spirit of an adult would have developed its own identity and the merger would be more painful for both parties and could potentially damage the combined entity permanently but children, especially less than ten years old, were the easiest hosts that took the merger in stride as a natural development and the combined spirit grew up as a true amalgamation of both components.
The world I had found was very different to earth. Even the magic was different, primarily based on elemental magic and abilities derived from elemental affinity. Moreover, the system was rather feudal, so I had come down to three criteria for my potential host:
1. A child less than ten years old. For the reasons mentioned above. Mandatory
2. Born to an aristocratic family. After all, if I was going to live as a mortal in a feudal system, why should I opt to be a peasant when I could be a lord?
3. Multiple or enhanced elemental affinities. So, I would be powerful even without my cosmic power.
The first criteria was mandatory and the other two were desirable but not mandatory - I may end up having to compromise in some manner.
Magic, as I perceived it, in this world could essentially be divided into three types:
(a) Elemental Manipulation, the ability to create and manipulate one of the four base elements;
(b) Internal Magic, magic derived from a base element that enhances or affects the individual internally in some manner; and
(c) External Magic, magic derived from the base element that allows the individual to affect his external environment in some manner.
Most magic-users in the world, from what I could see, had one or two Internal or External Magic abilities and never really understood the nature of their magic well enough to develop it further but my spirit merger would allow the combined entity that I would become to do Elemental Manipulation, one Internal Magic and one External Magic, and that is why I wanted to pick someone with multiple potential elemental affinities.
That narrowed down my option to three potential hosts.
Aegon Targaryen, only a few months old, fourthborn and second surviving son of King Aerys II Targaryen and Queen Rhaella Targaryen. His spirit was weak and if I didn't pick him, he wouldn't survive the year, but if I did pick him, I would unlock his Fire Elemental magic which included Natural Healing as a possible Internal Magic that would heal him. Although fire was the only element he had the potential for, generations of inbreeding had meant the Targaryen seed was now so saturated in fire elemental potential that I would possibly be able to unlock multiple Internal Magic and External Magic related to that single element.
Harren Storm, bastard son of Lord Steffon Baratheon and Princess Daena, daughter of Prince Duncan Targaryen and Jenny of Oldstones. He was just about to turn seven, and would die after falling from the walls of Storm's End, if I didn't pick him, but if I did pick him, I would unlock his Air Elemental magic which would cushion his fall and he would survive. The best thing about him was the Baratheon bloodline was descended through the Storm Kings of House Durrandon from Elenei, the daughter of the Wind Goddess and the Sea God whilst the Targaryen bloodline gave him potential for Fire Elemental and Jenny of Oldstones was descended from the long-vanished kings of the First Men who were Earth Elementals. So, he was uniquely placed in that world as the only individual with the potential for all four elements. However, he was a bastard and there was stigma attached to that.
Joanna Arryn, daughter of Lord Jon Arryn and Lady Jeyne Royce, who would be born stillborn after her mother dies in childbed. If I picked her, she would unlock Earth Elemental magic from her ancient Royce bloodline that traced its lineage to the Bronze Kings of Runestone in the Dawn Age, and that would give her the strength and vitality to endure the tough birth. Meanwhile, her Arryn bloodline, truest of the Andals, gave her the potential for Air Elemental magic, a source different to Elenei but yet linked to Air. Multiple elements and a high enough birth was her selling point.
So, my options were clear: limit myself to fire magic, grow up a bastard or become a girl. I dismissed the first instantly – although becoming a royal prince by choosing Aegon was tempting, I valued magical power more than family status. And then I dismissed Joanna Arryn – part of me just wasn't ready to give up being male – I mean, how would my sexuality turn out if I picked her? Would two parts of me be always in battle as to who I found attractive? That only left the bastard, and so, I elected to pick Harren Storm.
As he had access to all four elements, I had to pick my primary element. I picked Air mainly because it was what I needed to survive the fall from the wall but also because in some ways, it was the most versatile and powerful of elements. After all, wind could extinguish the mightiest of fires, break mountains, turn the course of rivers and create hurricanes. By picking Air as my primary element, I would be able to tap into the magic associated with Air without any difficulty at all from the moment the spirit merger took place and also obtain an elemental form linked with Air. It would be as natural for me to wield magic related to my primary element as it would be to stand up or raise a hand.
After picking Air as my primary element, I could pick either Fire or Water as my secondary element, for Earth was the polar opposite of Air while the other two merely indicated the two different paths possible in the cycle of the four elements. I picked Fire, arbitrarily, but noting that Water would have been as useful. Fire, unlike Air, would not come naturally and I would have to persevere to master fire-based magical abilities. Water would be even harder whilst Earth would be as good as non-existent – I would have very limited and weak Earth elemental magic.
So, even as I readied myself for my spirit merger, my cosmic awareness chose and finalised the magical abilities young Harren Storm would have access to, following our spirit merger.
Air (comes naturally)
1. Elemental: Wind Manipulation
2. Internal Magic: Invisibility
3. External Magic: Telekinesis
4. Elemental Form: Winged Stag
Fire (unlocked after mastering Air)
Elemental: Fire Manipulation - true extent of abilities to be determined in the future
Water (unlocked after mastering Fire)
Elemental: Water Manipulation - true extent of abilities to be determined in the future
Earth (unlocked after mastering Water)
Elemental Manipulation: Stone Manipulation - true extent of abilities to be determined in the future
I woke up with a start. Did it work? Of course, it did, I chided myself in my mind, otherwise how would I have just woken up? Cosmic beings didn't sleep – at least not in the physical manner – and so the fact that I woke up implied I had been sleeping and that implied I was now a mortal.
I glanced around – I was in a chamber. But this looked fancier than the chamber I had been used to. Oh, father was kind to me, but obviously he couldn't treat me the same way he treated Robert and Stannis. That would not be appropriate given I was a bastard. The fact that he had convinced his wife Lady Cassana to raise me in Storm's End after my mother's death during childbirth showed he was an honourable man and that he loved me.
I took a deep breath.
Yes, the merger was indeed completed for I was aware about the cosmic aspect of my spirit and yet everything felt as if I was the same bastard Harren Storm that I had been before the fall.
Of course, I wasn't in my chamber because I had fallen from the wall and perhaps moved to a guest chamber in the keep for healers to tend to me. I had climbed the wall to wave farewell to Robert, my half-brother, who was returning to the Vale after a brief visit home, as he was a ward of House Arryn at the Vale, as a result of agreements reached to forge an alliance during the War of the Ninepenny Kings. I appreciated the significance of the political move better now but before the fall, I had been greatly upset, for Robert was my only friend in Storm's End. Stannis, my other half-brother, disapproved of my existence, influenced by his mother Lady Cassana, who tolerated my presence but in the same way I would tolerate a pimple on my face. The rest of the servants took some king of sick pleasure in reminding me of my low status – as it won them approval with Lady Cassana – whilst father remained blissfully unaware of all of this.
I looked around my chamber and took a deep breath. I was Harren Storm but I was so much more than that as well. For instance, I could feel a connection with the wind around me, and as I raised a hand, I felt a gust of wind blow away from me. By rights, the ability to manipulate wind was in my blood even before the merger but if the merger hadn't happened, I might never have unlocked this ability. When the merger took place, the cosmic part of me willingly gave up all cosmic powers and abilities to become a mortal – but that created a resonance within my spirit – an equal (in mortal terms) but opposite force that unlocked all my latent abilities and amplifying them to their highest state. That was why I could manipulate wind so easily.
I raised another hand and a gust of wind blew towards me, strangely carrying words from the corridor. I could hear my father talk to Maester Cressen and Lady Cassana about how miraculously I had survived the fall. Maester Cressen noted that he had seen nothing like this before and in fact, I wouldn't have any permanent injuries, and we should thank the Seven for my survival. Lady Cassana said something that I couldn't catch - and instinctively, I pulled wind to bring the voices closer to me.
"But he's my blood!"
Wind carried father's words to me in response to whatever Lady Cassana had just said. I heard Maester Cressen tactfully make an exit.
"That is the problem, Steffon," Lady Cassana sounded exasperated. "He is your blood but he isn't mine. Can you not see how much of an insult his very presence is to me?"
"But he's a child," father argued.
"So was Robert when you sent him away to be fostered by Jon Arryn," Lady Cassana snapped. "You sent your firstborn son away… if Robert was old enough, then surely so is… this bastard…"
"Harren, his name is Harren," father sounded pissed off.
"Harren Storm," corrected Lady Cassana. "Not Harren Baratheon. Or do you intend to change that too, Steffon?"
"Of course, not," father snapped back. "He is my blood but I have no delusions that he is a bastard and will remain so. My trueborn sons and heirs are Robert and Stannis, not Harren."
I felt a sudden desolation inside me I hadn't expected. Yes, the child part of me had grown up unloved and somewhat neglected and the continued sharp rejection from father's wife continued to sting but I had become used to them – however, the words from father really hurt me in a manner I hadn't been prepared to endure. Equally, the cosmic aspect of me had also been unloved as a child and while he had grown over it, right now I was a child - all those memories of insecurities and loneliness from two lifetimes resonated against the hurt from father's words.
But then I heard another voice.
"He is my blood too."
I gasped for I didn't know when grandmother joined them, and I pulled the wind to bring me her voice with better clarity. Princess Rhaelle Targaryen was mother of Steffon Baratheon, wife of the late Lord Ormund Baratheon, betrothed to him when she was even younger than me, and so even though she was grandmother to three boys, two trueborn and one bastard, she was still in the prime of her womanhood and outshone Lady Cassana by her beauty and commanding presence.
"Surely, you haven't forgotten that, good-daughter?" grandmother's voice held an edge to it. "And in addition to being my blood, he is also the blood of Prince Duncan Targaryen, firstborn son of King Aegon V."
"The Prince of Dragonflies," mocked Lady Cassana. "Duncan the Small gave up his claim to the throne."
"Yes, he gave up his claim to the throne but he did not renounce his name as a Targaryen," said Princess Rhaelle. "The boy is the last seed of that line, of my dear brother Duncan's get, firstborn son of my father, who was once king. So, good-daughter, you should be careful with words, for if someone else had heard you, they might very well have thought you were saying your house is higher in status than that of the king's. That's the kind of insurgent thinking that got the Reynes and Tarbecks in trouble… and even they hadn't set their eyes as high as the king."
I heard a startled gasp. "I didn't mean that, good-mother," said Lady Cassana in horror, knowing that rumours could spread like wildfire.
"Mother, please," father sighed, sounding tired.
"Son," she addressed him next. "While Cassana is wrong in her words and beliefs, you too are wrong in your actions – your home will only be as happy as your wife so if Harren's presence makes her unhappy, you have a duty to your family."
"What are you saying, mother?" asked father hesitatingly and I too was confused – was she taking my side or was she not?
"I am saying, son, that the time has come for me to return to my childhood home," she declared. "And I will take Harren with me, which will solve all your problems. He can be fostered at the Red Keep."
As father started protesting, I dropped my hold over wind and walked to the window in a daze. So it was happening – I would be sent away from Storm's End, from my father's home. I saw the courtyard where Robert and I used to play, while Stannis would gaze at us enviously – the armoury where I had one day hoped to collect my sword, and the walls which I used to climb. I had no delusions – I had grown up a bastard and every servant and soldier in father's employ took pleasure in reminding me of that – but I had hopes of becoming a knight Ser Harren Storm, perhaps marry a fair maiden, and if I was fortunate, she would stand to inherit a seat, and our children will grow up with a real family name, and not as a bastard's get, little better than the smallfolk.
But perhaps, this wasn't all bad, I mused. After all, moving to the royal court could increase my chances of improving my future. Especially, with my magic.
A smile came to my face. Father and Lady Cassana might reject me but I had my magic and that was all I needed. By the Seven, I would rise above the lowness of my birth, I vowed!
No, not the Seven, I corrected myself in my mind, but the Goddess of the Wind, whose bloodline I laid claim to, and I inclined my head in respect as I held on to the wind, feeling that something in the wind could sense my awakening. They may call me a bastard but in my mind I had no doubt of who I was:
I was Harren, Storm Lord, the Wizard of Westeros.