Credit to MandTeKad who is serving as co-author on this story (along with working in the backroom for my other series).

As always, this chapter was released at least 2 weeks ago to my Pat-re-ons (with every level above tier 1 having seen a draft version, and the highest level seeing the redrafted form, around 2 months ago) and on the story's Discord server (in GDoc form) about a week ago. Hopefully, all the little mistakes have been found and removed.

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Kicking up the Dust

… …

(Circa 296AC)


I knelt at the front of the Trickster – the name I'd given the captured pirate vessel I was using for my assault on Dustspear – as the vessel slowly inched forward. The sails were secured with most of the men below rowing us forward, their timing being kept by a gentle tapping that barely reached my ears on the forecastle as it echoed through the ship.

Scanning the view in front of me was difficult as a new moon had happened last night, meaning everything was bathed in darkness. Yet, thanks to the boost to my sight that came from my bond with Rian, I could just make out various shapes as the Trickster inched its way forward.

The only light to be seen came either from somewhere in the settlement we were slowly approaching at the southern end of Dustspear, or from small fires at the two watchtowers that were meant to guard an approach to the settlement's pier and beach.

Calling them watchtowers was perhaps a joke as neither was much more than a two-storey table, but both were now unguarded as, with the limited light to guide me, I'd tracked and taken out the men at each. My bow had proven itself in clearing those two locations, singing beautifully as it sent forth death, though at first things had gotten a little tricky when my first arrow had knocked the man on the upper level clean off the floor. Thankfully, before the other man could realise what had happened, a second arrow had impaled his chest and pinned him to the wooden wall of the watchtower. With that considered, the second tower had been cleared just as easily, with both men being pinned to their chairs by my arrows.

That had cleared the path into the pirate settlement for the Trickster. The Windchaser wasn't with us because if spotted its silhouette would and chance raising the alarm. Therefore, it and a little less than half the men I'd hired – led by Bronn and Irraro – had beached my vessel further down the coast. By now, that force should've reached the outer edges of the settlement and was just waiting for the Trickster to land and attack to join us.

Inching closer to the shore, my eyes scanned the shore, looking for any lookouts. At my side, Daemon did the same though he'd not spotted the men at the watchtowers until after I'd taken them out. Resting in my hands undrawn was my bow with an arrow knocked to the string.

Seeing a faint shift in the shadows on land, I placed some tension in the bowstring. As the shadow passed near one of the faint sources of light from within the settlement, I lifted the bow off the Trickster's railing. Even as I pulled further back on the bow, I tracked the man. With almost no wind, it was easy to account for that factor, but judging the range was a challenge. Thankfully, I'd spent time in the range in Sunspear practising shooting in the dark at targets that were moving on a zipline, so I had a good judge of how to gauge range when working with little to no light.

As my hand reached my chin, I took a breath and then exhaled some of it. Then, once sure of my mark, loosed the arrow. It vanished into the ether almost as soon as it flew away, yet I knew it'd flown true as the shadow I'd been tracking shuddered. Even as my hands moved to nock another arrow, my eyes watched the shadow, making sure the target was down. Only once I was sure of that, did I return to tracking possible new targets.

"Impressive." That remark came from Daemon Sand who was crouched near me. While he had a bow as well, he was only there if I missed my mark, which I'd so far not done. While I wore mail armour, as I expected to have to fight and move in water, Daemon was in full plate. Though to help hide our approach – which had been my plan from the moment Daemon had been assigned to protect me by Ari – the armour had been dulled down before we'd left Sunspear. He'd not been happy about that, but I'd promised to pay for it to be re-polished once we returned from clearing the island.

I was about to reply to his comment, but a sound from the pier as we neared drew my focus. There, another shadow moved and the arrow I'd nocked was loosed almost instantly. A second later, the sound of something hitting the water echoed around us.

"I hope no one heard that," Daemon said even as I cursed internally.

"Would you rather he lived longer and spotted our approach?" I whispered back while nocking another arrow. The Trickster had just slid past the end of the pier, meaning that even if we were discovered now we could disembark. Now, moving down the pier wasn't ideal, as it'd funnel our forces and leave us exposed to any private that could flank us with a bow, but it was better than being discovered entering the dock under the cover of darkness.

If Daemon replied, I didn't hear him. Somewhere near the end of the pier, where the black walls of buildings began, two shifting shadows moved in the road that seemed to lead into the centre of the settlement. Light shifted from some unknown source, revealing the shadows as two pirates. The pair were moving toward the beach, and not only would they reach it before we landed, but they'd discover the first man I'd taken down just before we'd reached the end of the pier.

As we passed the mid-point of the pier, I pulled another arrow from my quiver and before regripping the string, slipped the new arrow between my fingers. Far enough away that it wouldn't affect my first arrow, but close enough that I could nock and loose it inside a few seconds.

Even as the first arrow was loosed, I nocked the second and it was away just as the first reached its target. The second figure tensed as his partner was dropped by my arrow, and a hand moved to his belt. Before he could pull his blade free, my second arrow slammed into his throat, and he collapsed with a gurgle.

While I was pleased that both had gone down silently, their bodies were now on the main path from the beach into the settlement. That had me wondering if I should've waited a few moments longer until they reached the beach before attempting a double shot. While I could've pulled that shot off at a shorter range, I didn't have much accuracy with it. Not like Sarella.

When she'd learnt I was practising archery at night and decided to join me. For a while, I'd been able to challenge her because of my weirwood bow, but then, a few days before I'd sailed, Oberyn had gifted her a goldenheart bow for her fifteenth nameday. From then on, she'd left me in the dust for accuracy and distance lending credence to rumours of goldenheart bows being the most powerful of any in the Known World.

Also, as much as I still had issues with him, I suspected Theon could match Sarella with my weirwood bow, or possibly even without. Asha's brother was a prick at times, but I couldn't deny his skill with a bow, nor that no matter how much I trained with mine, he'd likely remain a better archer than me.

Putting those thoughts to the side, I nocked another arrow as the Trickster inched ever closer to the beach ready for anyone else who might come into view. Yet, as door and window frames in the buildings nearest the beach came into focus, I knew it was time to shift.

My bow and quiver were placed against the inner hull of the Trickster, wedged as tightly as I dared. I then slowly slid a plank over them which I held in place with two small casks. While it wasn't perfect, it would keep the bow safe especially as everyone knew that if anyone broke it, they'd have to face my displeasure.

Once the bow was secured, I picked up my shield, one like my tabard that was emblazoned with the sigil of the Rogue Viper. It was a simple thing, being a snake shifting through a skull – both in white – against a black background with blood dripping from its fangs, but it would serve me well for any pirate that somehow escaped the island and alerted the other Pirate Lords. That way they'd not realise the person who'd taken out the Grim Prince was connected to Dorne.

Eventually though, I knew the truth would get out and at that point, I'd use a proper sigil. However, I still had to see what mine was going to be. Ari, Alysanne, and others hadn't finished designing mine before I'd left Sunspear. That said, what they had looked impressive as it blended elements of the Houses Stark, Martell and Dayne with the wolf's head of House Stark being black like Ymir.

I pulled Red Rain from its sheath slowly, not wanting the blade to catch any stray light coming from the settlement. A moment later the Trickster shuddered as the keel embedded into the shore.

I leapt over the side, water splashing as my feet hit the water. Thankfully, the water didn't pass my ankles and my splash had been quiet as a fish jumping out of water. Daemon's exit was louder as he was wearing heavier armour, but as we moved out of the water and onto the beach, it seemed none of the locals had noticed us. Behind us, the sounds of the rest of the crew disembarking were marked by the constant, but irregular splashing of water.

Once we reached the first buildings, we pressed up against the wall, discovering it was made of wood save for the corners were stone. Though they looked worn and in daylight, I'd probably be able to locate damage that needed fixing.

I sensed Ymir move to my side and felt his head as he brushed against my arm, the mail he was wearing gently rubbing against mine, though I didn't turn to acknowledge him. Instead, I kept my focus on any sound or movement that came from around the corner of the building I was hiding behind.

Time seemed to slow as I waited for my men to disembark and gather. I could feel my blood quicken in excitement as the moment of battle approached when I'd finally step out of my father's shadow and start making a name for myself as something other than the Northern bastard of Dorne. That title was rarely used, save in jest, but it was one I hoped to lose. The moniker King Robert had given me, The Bloody Wolf, would stick for a long time, but I found I rather enjoyed that one now that I had Ymir with me. And after the taking of Dustspear, it would be hard to argue it didn't fit well.

The shifting of a shadow on the ground at my feet sent the anticipation of what was about to happen flooding through me. My heart was beating calmly but I could still feel the call to battle, the desire to strike out and claim this land for myself building.

"Huh," The shadow muttered with a slur brought on by a hangover. "Bryan, that you?" the shadow shifted forward erratically, further confirming their status, as they moved toward the bodies near where I waited. "Wha…"

The moment the shadow was close enough that his voice sounded as if it was just around the corner, I moved. Pivoted around the edge of the building, Red Rain slashed forward, slamming into the chest of the drunken pirate. Terror and shock rushed through his eyes as my blade dug in and then emerged from his gut, leaving a cut that went clean through.

I relished the look of fear as he understood his death was at hand, yet I didn't let it linger. With a turn of my arm, Red Rain moved skyward, cutting out a swathe of blood from his chest through his neck.

As the body slumped, I brought my shield forward, holding him up. The pirate spluttered, and I felt hot blood leak down my shield and over my hand, but I didn't mind. With him held there, then anyone behind might not instantly realise his fate.

Peaking over the body's shoulder, I looked down the road. About twenty metres forward the remains of a large fire was slowly dying. Around that the bodies of pirates sleeping off their drink from the night before lay. Some were slowly moving, either having managed to stay awake until now or having joined the festivities late. All though appeared entirely unaware of what was happening at the beach.

I grunted in fury as a weak female shriek reached my ears. Following the sound, I saw movement near the rear of the campfire. Three bodies were moving in ways that made clear what was happening, and the sounds confirmed the female wasn't a willing participant.

Pushing down the urge to rush forward and send those men to a painful death, I moved back, making sure the body remained generally upright against my shield. "At least ten men at the centre. Slaves too."

"That could be a problem," Daemon whispered back, and I knew exactly what he was talking about.

One thing I wouldn't stand for during this assault – and any future ones if things went the way I planned – was the raping of prisoners or freed slaves. While I knew it was a common thing in Essos – and probably happened in Westeros during wars even if most chose to pretend it didn't – I wouldn't allow it.

When hiring the men, when we'd gathered in the docks of Sunspear before departing, and then finally before the Trickster and Windchaser had taken different courses to the island, I'd made clear that any reports of rape would be brought to me, and if confirmed the men involved would face justice. None of the men seemed happy about it, but given each had been paid two Silver Moons to sign up – with that being upped to five once we set sail – they'd accepted my word. At least publicly.

If nothing happened before the island was mine, I'd be shocked, and Daemon had spoken to me privately about how expecting them to hold to their word was unlikely as they weren't knights. I'd bit back a comment about how many knights would enjoy the spoils of victory as much as any sellsword. Instead, I'd explained that I hoped that Dustspear wouldn't be the only island we targeted.

If that was to be the case, to show I wasn't just another bastard trying to make a living, I had to set standards. The clearest of which was that no slavery or rape was going to be tolerated. While that might make some unwilling to join my ranks as the moons passed, I hoped word would spread through various slaves and others of my choices. If it did, then I could attract men with at least a hint of honour.

Now, during my research on the Stepstones, I'd come across rumours that there was a Pirate Lord on an island near the coast of Essos who supposedly was from YiTi and targeted slavers. However, since reliable information on the political natures of the Steps – bar the three largest islands of Bloodstone, the Shrouded Isle, and Redwater – was hard to come by on the best of days, I couldn't be sure if it was anything more than a rumour. Though even if it was, then the PR gain from Westeros of me moving to not only take the Steps but crush piracy and slavery in them was worth making the battles harder and – once the truth of my identity was well-known – risking the Free Cities of Tyrosh, Myr and Lys potentially getting involved.

"We shall check on it after," I replied. If Daemon had anything further to add it was cut off by the ringing of a bell. That was coming from somewhere further into the settlement, though where exactly was impossible to tell as it echoed off the various buildings.

Glancing around the body shield I was using I saw the men around the fire slowly reacting to the bell. Their actions were sluggish and disorientated. Still, once they were all up, I watched where the slave was taken. Exhaling in relief that she'd not be present when we charged, I smiled viciously when the men turned away from us. That meant the alarm had come from Bronn and Irraro's force.

As the pirates staggered inland, I moved around the building, pushing the body from my shield. I'd gotten to the next building in from the beach when I heard movement from inside.

Tensing, I waited as the door to the building opened and a small group of pirates stumbled out. The lead one's eyes widened as he saw me, and his hand went to his belt. Before he could draw his blade, Red Rain once more lived up to her name as I slashed the pirate's throat.

Even as he choked on his blood, Ymir rushed forward. The body fell back flailing in a panic, and the pirate staggered. As the one on the ground struggled to free himself, I stepped forward and drove my blade into the gut of a third.

Blood soared into the night sky as my blade tore open the pirate's gut sending steaming guts bursting from the wound. At my feet, a gargled scream was accompanied by the snarl of Ymir as he tore into the tangled limbs. A quick block with my shield and slash from my blade ensured the only pirate still standing was dead, and I turned back toward the fire.

More bodies awaited their fate there, and with the rush of battle and delight at serving out justice to those who deserved it, I rushed forward seeking the next to feel my wrath.

… …


… …

I looked around the carnage as the first rays of light touched the settlement.

Trails of blood were strewn over the dirt, with most leading toward the beach as that's where I'd had the bodies of the dead – which were overwhelmingly pirates – gathered. The fire I'd seen the night before, which marked the rough centre of the settlement, was roaring again. Around it were huddled about two dozen slaves that had been discovered in the settlement and were now getting the same share of any captured food as my men, who were generally keeping their distance.

A few had grabbed at some of the freed female slaves, but when Ymir had growled in their direction they'd back off. While the direwolf had frightened the slaves at first, his actions in protecting them from abuse at the hands of their apparent saviours had endeared him to them, and the youngest slaves – a pair of girls barely older than Elia Sand – were all but clinging to him.

While Ymir was enjoying the attention – something made clear by the constant banging of his tail against the dirt – the man who'd tried to take one of those girls into a nearby building was rotting with the other corpses. I'd not even given him a chance to explain himself when I'd put my sword into his skull. No one else had any issue with my actions though Bronn had warned me that perhaps if such a thing happened again, I might consider some leniency to avoid the risk of a mutiny.

Speaking of Bronn; he, Irraro and Daemon were sitting near one of the larger buildings at the centre of the settlement. The trio were sharing flagons of some recovered wine, sharing stories of battle, and based on Bronn's gestures, beddings.

The building behind them was one of the few that was without damage from age or the elements, which was why it'd become the treasury. The only entrance was guarded by four men, and it had no windows making the odds anyone could slip inside and take an unfair cut of our bounty unlikely. Said Bounty was more than I'd expected as there were three chests of coin and jewellery. While not all of it was from Westeros, nor gold coins, I'd estimate the coin alone was worth north of a thousand Dragons, and that was before anything was counted.

Already, I'd picked out some necklaces, rings and the like to gift to my family while Bronn had acquired a finely crafted castle steel dagger with an ivory handle from the man who'd seemingly been the commander of this settlement.

The Windchaser was now moored with the Trickster against the settlement's pier with both being serviced by the crew of the Windchaser. While the crew of the Trickster seemed competent, I didn't entirely trust them- nor any of my hired blades – which was why when most of us moved out to take the northern settlement, Garreo would remain with a half-dozen men to protect the treasure and freed slaves.

Garreo was currently standing on the pier directing checks of the two vessels, along with overseeing the guard on three pirates that had survived the night-time assault. While many of my men, and all the slaves, had wanted me to execute the trio, I'd delayed doing so.

While I had decent intel on the Grim Prince's capital, it was at least a moon out of date. The trio would be persuaded to confirm if that intel was still accurate, or if not, provide corrections. If they felt like not doing so, then I was sure Bronn would be willing to help me and Ymir loosen their tongues for a few coins.

… …


… …

"I really was not sure you had that in you." I looked from the basin of water where I was washing my hands to Bronn as he spoke. "I mean, I know you not some stick-in-the-arse highborn, but you were raised in a palace."

I chuckled as I shook my hands. "You forget I was raised by Oberyn fucking Martell," I replied as I picked up a rag to dry my fingers now the blood of the pirates was off. "And that both Daemon and I were his squires before being knighted."

Behind Bronn, a crowd had gathered in the centre of the settlement. That had been caused by the trio of pirates being bought out once I finished speaking with them. It had taken some time of discussion, persuasion, and torture – which was proven as the sun had passed overhead – and a promise that afterwards neither I nor any of my men would kill them to get what I wanted, but I got up to date intel on the Grim Prince and his forces.

While the Summer Islander had commanded a dozen or so vessels, only six were known to be in the northern settlement, and even then it was likely two of those had set sail. That removed a sizeable number of men along with two of the Grim Prince's six guards/lieutenants. However, even if those ships and crew were out, there could be around a hundred men in the settlement, giving them about a two-to-one advantage before even considering the terrain.

The other piece of information that was interesting was that the Grim Prince had a goldenheart bow. Having seen what Sarella could do with such a weapon, that was a concern. Particularly when the pirates had suggested the Grim Prince could use it to pierce full plate armour and take a man off their feet with a single arrow strike. Bronn had dismissed that as hearsay, but after watching Sarella with her bow and knowing my weirwood bow could dent plate armour, if not pierce it at the thinner sections on the arms and legs, then there was a very good chance what the pirates had said was true.

A roar from the central area of the settlement drew our attention before Bronn could reply, and as I saw what was happening there, I couldn't help but smirk. I had kept my word that neither I nor my men would kill the pirates. I had, however, not mentioned anything about the freed slaves, and the pirates had forgotten about them. A mistake they were paying for as most of the slaves were attacking the still-bound slavers with whatever they could get a hold of. Many had daggers – given to them by my men – but others were using rocks, planks, or their bare hands. The only ones not involved in the retribution killings were the youngest, who were gathered near Ymir and Daemon.

Bronn chuckled as we turned away from the spectacle in the centre. "Aye, I know that, and I have heard rumours about him. He earned his name poisoning some highborn cunt during a fight over a whore."

"I cannot comment on how much of a cunt Lord Edgar was," Bronn smiled at that, "nor that his paramour should be called a whore, but I have been told that's the basic truth."

Bronn shrugged as I dropped the rag next to the basin. "Eh, any woman who spreads her legs for a man in return for coin or gifts is a whore." Bronn paused as I stood and moved away from the basin. Someone would be along later to pour it out and probably throw away the rags when the bodies of the last three pirates were dragged to join the others. "Though I have heard that not only is your Prince married to a rare beauty but his… paramour is at his beck and call."

"I would never say Lady Ellaria is at his beck and call, nor my mother," I said slowly, taking a moment to push aside any anger at his tone as he spoke of my mother. "Nor shall I not comment on their beauty."

"And what of his daughters?" Bronn asked with a chuckle. "Your sisters are still young I hear, but what of those born from others? I heard stories of the collection of beauties that you shared the palace with. And that the princess may well be the most appealing of the lot."

I closed my eyes and took a long, deep breath. I wasn't sure why Bronn was asking about this now, but I wasn't going to give him any pleasure at seeing how he was annoying me. "I cannot speak for the oldest, my goodaunt Obara, as she is in the North. However, the others are indeed rare lights in the sands of Dorne." My words were kept soft to hide as much as I could my feelings for my stepsisters and Ari.

We walked a short while in silence before Bronn shook his head and looked at me. "Lucky prick," he muttered with a smirk. I smiled back, not wanting to reply verbally. "So," he said after a few more steps had passed, "I heard a rumour in the Shadow City. Apparently, the Princess has a new paramour. You know anything about that?"

I fought desperately to keep a grin from spreading on my face.

"Fucking lucky bastard."

… …


… …

It was just past midday on the day after we'd captured the southern settlement and I found myself, along with most of my men, moving through the forest that seemed to cover most of Dustspear. The day before, along with Daemon, Bronn, and Irraro, I'd refined the plan for taking the northern settlement and removing the Grim Prince. Which was why I, Daemon, and Bronn were leading over half our force through the forest.

The basic premise of the plan was an evolution of what we'd used against the southern settlement, though with a few key differences. This time most of our force would attack over land. On the morning of the fourth day after we left the southern settlement, the Windchaser and Trickster would approach the Grim Prince's capital from east and west. Neither ship was to move into the harbour though. Instead, the plan was for them to draw out at least two of the moored pirate ships. They'd then turn and lure the pirates away, engaging with their scorpions if forced to do so.

While both were outfitted with such a weapon on their forecastle, and the men and crew on each had a dozen bows to defend themselves with, I hoped they weren't forced to defend themselves. While the Windchaser should have little issue staying clear of the pirates – provided there was a decent breeze – the Trickster had the risk of being taken. That was why the crew and sellswords onboard were ones I didn't care about. With Garreo staying in the southern settlement with some of the Windchaser's crew to guard the treasure and freed slaves and prepare the ships we'd captured there for sailing back to Sunspear, Irraro was in temporary command of the ship. I'd prefer to not lose the Trickster, but I'd already taken two vessels of similar size and design in the south, so it had already served its primary purpose of getting me to Dustspear.

Regardless of when my ships were spotted – be that early on, or after getting closer enough to perhaps use their scorpions a few times on the docked pirate vessels – they'd draw some of the pirates present to sea. That would split the Grim Prince's forces and, all things being equal, give my men a good chance of taking the settlement before those ships realised what was happening and either turned back or sailed away with the knowledge the island had fallen to an unknown force. Of course, even if half the Grim Prince's force left after my vessels, there was a good chance my men would be outnumbered three-to-two at best.

Yet all of that was contingent on us being at the wall of the northern settlement by the morning of the fourth day after we'd left the south. At first, that had felt like an easy thing to achieve as there'd been an old but clear dirt track leaning into the forest. However, before the end of the first day, the path had all but vanished.

It had clearly not been used for years, and while the rough path it took was still visible through the tree line, it had become overgrown. Thus, most of the men were now trekking in the forest proper so we weren't strung out for miles all following a path barely wide enough for one man to pass.

The only hints we had that we were heading in the right direction were the sun as it moved overhead and Ymir. While he was built for northern woods, the forest of Dustspear was easy for him to manage. Especially as I was carrying his armour on my back with my bow, quiver, and shield. Red Rain and an axe I'd brought from Sunspear were in hand to help me hack my way forward. While the Valyrian steel blade wasn't designed as a machete, it was more than capable of fulfilling the role, and because of the properties of the metal, I didn't have much concern about dulling or bending the blade by using it as I was.

As I hacked away a low-hanging branch, I felt Ymir's desire to once again run off and hunt. The forest was far from empty – something I'd made a note of for how the settlements could help support themselves when I started developing the place – and Ymir longed to hunt. While the men had caught some rabbits and shot a handful of birds to feed themselves, Ymir smelt far more nourishing and appealing game.

I'd slipped into his mind a few times over the last day and a half, and not only had he caught the scent of prey, but through his eyes, I'd seen a herd of deer moving in the distance and the unmistakable sound of a sounder of wild pigs – if not warthogs. The only thing that held him back, at least beyond my ability to enter his mind, was the promise that once the second settlement was taken, he had free reign to head into the forest and hunt that night. That had settled his bloodlust for the time, though when we reached the Grim Prince's capital, I knew he'd be able to sate that desire properly.

The only good thing about the slow trek was it gave me time to think. While I wasn't trying to get too ahead of myself, I could already see how the southern settlement could be rebuilt, expanded and better defended. Due to its location, it had the potential to be a useful stopping point for ships heading from Dorne into the Narrow Sea, or vice versa. With the quarry the island had, and sources of fresh water – which we'd discovered last night when we'd camped near a narrow but moving stream – the natural resources to turn the island into something more than just a base for raiding and pillaging existed. It would take time to develop, even with potential support from Doran, and would have to worry about raids from other islands in the Steps – though I had ideas for countering those in the early going – but with time, decent bounties from taken out the Grim Prince and others, and effort, Dustspear had the potential to be a solid, if unspectacular holding.

Of course, all of that was contingent on us reaching the northern settlement in time, and the Grim Prince lying dead at my feet.

… …


… …

Faint sounds carried through dark leaves and brushes of the forest as I slowly stalked around. Far behind, I could hear the alpha's camp. Those with him were making too much noise for a predator of the forest, but given the noise of the hot, dry place I'd lived before coming with the alpha to this place, it was far quieter. Though I did find myself missing the attention of the alpha's mates.

I was glad to be away from the pack as the smell from many of those now in it bothered me. Plus, clear of their scent, I could once more track the prey I'd been sensing ever since we'd entered the trees. Yet I knew I couldn't hunt tonight. The alpha had another purpose for me.

There was no light from the skies above, and whatever was coming down was blocked by the trees, but that didn't concern me. I saw clearer in the dark than when the sun was overhead, the various shades of my sight adapted for low or no light conditions which made it easy as I lay prone under a bush to watch the enemy pack scouts move.

Somehow this pack smelt worse than those that had joined my alpha, but even if I was downwind of these pretenders, I was far enough away that I could ignore the smell. However, I knew once we attacked them and took their lands, the smell would be an issue. Thankfully, at that time, the alpha had promised bloodshed, thus I was content to remain here for the night and watch.

This other pack had scouts, but they were lazy, slow, and disinterested. The faint sounds of the alpha's pack carried to my ears, but the scouts of the other pack couldn't hear them, or simply didn't care. A fault I would enjoy helping the alpha make them pay for.

The scouts of this pack moved badly, no effort made to remain hidden or watch the forest where I lay. That made it easy to follow their movements, determine their hollows and see the repeated paths they took.

Part of me wanted to attack tonight, to slide from the shadows, take out a pretender and slide back into the dark before the members of that pack knew I was there. Yet I knew that wasn't the alpha's plan. Since his pack also couldn't move well in the dark – though the alpha was better than the other two-legs – the attack would come just as light rose in the sky. That made sense as many animals, be they prey or predator, were disorientated at the moments when the light came and went.

Time slipped away as I continued to watch the enemy pack, moving location only once I was sure of the timings of the scout's movements. There was a moment this night, as there had been each night since we'd left the dwelling where my alpha lived under the protection of another alpha when I swore I heard the howl of my brother carried to me on the wind.

He was far away, back in the lands of white that I could only just remember, the lands I'd come from. He was safe and well with his alpha, yet he called out for me. Each night I wanted to return his call, but I understood I couldn't, not until the enemy pack was destroyed and subsumed by my alpha. This was, I felt, why my alpha was the better leader. He understood the need to leave safety, to prove himself in battle and on a hunt. He enjoyed the rush as blood flowed from the scars he placed on his prey, of the delight of crushing a challenge under his paws. To claim his place at the top of the chain.

The sound of something snapping behind and to my right had me pushing myself lower into the dirt. My ears perked up as I turned my head, trying to determine where the sound had come from, and what had made it. A shift in the trees caught my sight and a faint growl slipped from my maw.

A two-leg was moving in the trees, trying to remain hidden given the way they moved slowly and stayed low.

Keeping low, I shifted my position, wanting to move downwind. To see if this two-leg was from the alpha's pack or the enemy.

It took time, though not as long as if I was stalking true prey, but I soon moved downwind. As his scent reached me, I snarled. I sensed the hints of my alpha upon him. While I didn't understand every sound my alpha made, I knew he had no other scouts out tonight/ no two-leg could do what I did, and certainly not as well. This pack-member shouldn't be here.

Watching them, I saw their gaze was mainly on the enemy pack as if judging their movements. Yet, at times, the pack-member looked back to where I knew our camp was. That made me bear my fangs. If he'd been a scout, his focus would've been entirely on the enemy. I smelt more concern from him when he turned to look back than when he watched the enemy. That meant only one thing.

Betrayal of the pack.

I slipped forward slowly, cautious to not let them see or hear me when they looked back at those they had betrayed, those who would thank me for dealing with a traitor. They inched forward, watching the scouts of the enemy pack, though they were still inside the trees. As they moved, so did I, closing the distance on them patiently. I couldn't have them run, couldn't have them reach the other pack. Yet I had to strike before they slipped from the trees and reached the large earth wall the other pack had around their camp.

Time slowed as I neared, my paws moving with silence and grace that the traitor could never match. My eyes tracked their every move and noted the object at their side. That was something all two-legs, even my alpha, used. Though he was different, special, and smelled of something ancient and powerful. More powerful than anything I'd smelt save from something back where my brother was with his alpha that seemed to be part of that pack's lair.

Closer and closer I moved, the stronger the sight and smell of the prey became their every little movement that generated sound growing clearer, feeding the anticipation of what came next. The restoration of the natural order.

I leapt.

They turned; my movement having drawn their attention.

Time slowed to a crawl. My claws extended. Their eyes widened as fear rushed through every sinew in their body as they understood who I was. What I was.

Their hands moved to their side, for the long, grey object two-legs liked to use. Before his paw could touch it, my claws dug into his chest. His mouth opened to scream but no sound came as my teeth dug into his exposed throat.

Fresh, thick, rich, empowering blood slipped into my mouth as they fell to the ground. My jaw moved back, tearing the throat clean from the neck. Blood squirted up, soaking my fur.

A familiar, enjoyable gargling came from their maw. The sound of prey knowing it was dying and unable to prevent it. Yet, while I wanted to let them continue to suffer, to savour their misery, I knew I couldn't. The longer this prey continued to gargle, the greater the chance the other pack might hear and come near.

I felt bone crack as I crushed their jaw within mine. Thick, delicious blood mixed with their fear in my mouth, ending their existence. My head flipped back, and the warm, enchanting taste of fear and a fresh kill slipped down my throat.

… …

I fell back and blinked, staring up at the night sky as it peeked through the canopy of the forest. My fingers came to my mouth, wanting to wipe away the blood there, yet I felt nothing. Nor did I still taste the mixture of flesh that I'd swallowed, one that had tasted fuller, better, than anything I'd ever eaten before.

"Fuck!" I spat as I processed what I'd just experienced, which I'd just done.

I'd stayed in Ymir's mind when he'd killed a traitor. I'd felt the rush of the hunt. The delight at the terror in the man's eyes when I'd pounced. The ecstasy of ending their life with my claws and teeth. The full, almost overpowering flavour of their flesh as I tore it from their face. "Fuck!" I spat again, this time loud enough to disturb someone outside my tent.

"Cregan?" Daemon asked as he poked his head into my tent. I blinked and shook my head trying to clear the images and sensations of what I'd just done. "Cregan? Are you well?"

"A… aye," I replied slowly as I licked my lips.

"Did something happen to Ymir?" Dameon asked quietly. I looked up to see he'd slipped into the tent, pulling the cover behind him.

Daemon knew of my ability to skinchange and had done so since before we'd left Sunspear. Ari and Oberyn had come to me after she'd assigned Daemon to my side and insisted I reveal the ability to Daemon as I'd need someone to watch my back when I skinchanged. After some thought on the matter, I'd agreed. Daemon hadn't taken the matter well at first, mainly due to him being a regular visitor to Sunspear's sept, but he'd seemingly accepted the ability while we'd been travelling to Dustspear and had served as a guard while I'd wandered the forest in Ymir since we'd left the southern settlement.

"Ymir… we had a traitor." My words came out in barely more than a whisper, my mind still elsewhere as my tongue ran over the inside of my mouth, trying to find any hint of the taste I'd experienced only a few seconds ago.

Daemon came closer. "What?" He asked hurriedly, his voice rising. "Who?"

I looked at my hands, trying to shift the images of them being claws, of them sinking into flesh from a man's body. Of the sensation of my fangs rending the man's throat from his body.

"Cregan!" I turned to Daemon as he shook my arm forcefully. "What happened?"

"I… I was watching the defences of the settlement," I began slowly, almost as if I didn't understand anything. "I, I know where we need to attack and when. B-but then… a man came into the forest. One coming from our camp and heading to the Grim Prince." I paused and closed my eyes, instantly taken back to the vicious, enthralling attack. "Ymir… he killed them."

"Gods." Daemon sank to the floor. "You mean…"

"Aye. I was there when he killed the man," I replied slowly.

I'd broken one of the supposed rules of skinchanging, one I'd learnt from Old Nan in Winterfell back when I'd been a child. Now, I didn't know if the rules were such things, or merely guidelines, but as the heightened sensations of Ymir's kill continued to flow through me, I felt Old Nan might've been onto something.

"Gods," Daemon muttered again. "How… What does this mean?"

"I do not know." I steeled myself and turned to face him fully. "However, whatever this means is something to worry about later. For now, we need to go over what I saw through Ymir's eyes, and determine how to use it to our advantage before the battle begins tomorrow."

Daemon nodded slowly, seemingly just as willing to move on from what Ymir had done – and I'd experienced – to more practical, relatable matters.

As he settled down, I started recounting what I'd learnt from seeing things through Ymir's mind.

As for what I'd experienced.

That I would deal with once the battles were over and I had the time to process everything I'd experienced, and how it might well change me.

… …


… …

As the hazy dusk that came just before dawn crept into the forest, I found myself crawling forward through the forest. I was moving quietly, slowly creeping into position near the Grim Prince's capital. While I'd rather not draw on what I'd seen through Ymir's eyes earlier during the night, I needed that info to make my way toward the settlement without alerting the lookouts.

With my own eyes, I could confirm the wall was nothing more than a decently high earth embankment, one that when stood upon would place a man at a height to see over the canopy of the forest. While the watchtowers would grant further range to any lookout, the flaw was that the forest had been allowed to encroach on the embankment for decades, if not hundreds of years.

That level of neglect seemed to extend to the watchtowers that dotted the embankment. They weren't too far apart – perhaps a few hundred metres between them – but with my enhanced sight, I could see the signs of decay in the wood. Plus, between the towers was nothing, not even hints of a rotted wooden wall that such a defence should've had. Because of that, the only issue with the defences was the embankment itself, which was reasonably, but not impossibly, steep.

Far to my left, there was a gap in the embankment where a path entered the forest. Ymir had scouted that out as well and found the towers and gate there in better condition with more men manning them. However, like those in the other towers, they appeared lax in their duties.

Seeing the defences now, I could see changes that would have to be made to secure the settlement, starting with cutting down the forest to leave it at least two hundred metres back of the embankment with that wood then changed into planks to make a basic wall around the top of the embankment. However, that plan, and others like it would have to wait until after the settlement was taken.

Feeling I was close enough to target two of the four watchtowers we'd take out to begin our assault, I slowly shifted behind a tree and knelt. Once that was done, and after waiting for some time to ensure the lookouts hadn't reacted, I peeled my bow from my back, placed my quiver against the tree and waited.

Behind me, thanks to Ymir, I could sense my men slowly moving closer, though they'd stay back from where I and the other archers would position ourselves.

After that, it was simply a waiting game for now as before we could risk breaching the defences, I had to be reasonably sure the other part of the plan was still on track.

… …

About an hour later, as the first rays of light started to kiss the embankment, I stood with an arrow nocked but not drawn on my bow. The faint shifting of earth behind me had me tensing, but when Ymir didn't growl out any warning I kept my gaze forward.

"Scouts are back," Bronn whispered from somewhere behind and to my right. "The Windchaser's on the move. No idea about the Trickster though.

"Good," I replied in a voice just as quiet. "Send word to the archers. The moment they see the first man go down, take out their targeted towers. Have the rest of the men ready to move quickly once I give the signal." While I replied, I tracked the men at the closest tower, making sure our voices weren't carrying to them.

The pair there now, and at the other towers that I could see, had recently changed shift. They'd come up the banking from behind the towers, and the ones they'd replaced had gone down the same way. That suggested that there were steps that led into the settlement. Given the size of the barrier, there'd be a lot of ground inside the settlement. Still, from what I'd gathered during my interrogations, the men inside only used a handful of buildings, which I'd been assured I'd be able to spot easily as all were marked. Hopefully, the barracks the guards used was near the embankment so we could, ideally, enter the place quickly and quietly and take out those guards settling down for a rest.

"Aye, I know the plan. Men do too, though if they listen is another matter."

I smirked even as my eyes tracked one of the men at the nearest tower pulling a chair out from it. "If they fail, then either the pirates will kill them, or I lower their cut."

"Either way means more for me," Bronn replied. "Just try not to get yerself killed now. As much as it may mean a bigger cut for me, I would likely have to fight for that share."

The shuffling of feet in the dirt and branches being pushed aside followed the remark, and it drew a faint growl from Ymir. "I know you may not trust him, or any of them after last night, but he is a good and predictable fighter." Since returning to the camp last night, Ymir had growled at everyone in my force, save for Daemon.

Knowing the attack would begin on my actions, I lifted the hand holding the arrow against the string and pulled another arrow from the quiver. After resting it between my first and middle fingers – but far enough away that it wouldn't interfere with the already-nocked arrow – I slowly lifted my bow, placing tension in the string.

After taking a deep breath I pulled the string to my shoulder. Aiming at the man in the nearest tower, I released some of my breath. A split second later, the arrow was flying. Even as the arrow slammed into the chest of the man in the tower, sending the flagon of no doubt cheap rum in his hand flying, my second arrow was away.

The body of the first man stumbled back out of sight, and I had to hope it didn't fall out of the tower and roll down the inside of the embankment. The sound made the second stand, meaning the arrow aimed at him didn't strike his head, instead embedding itself just below his ribcage and pinning him against the wall of the tower.

Even as he pulled at the arrow with one hand and the other grabbed his axe, a third arrow left my bow. It slammed into his jaw, securing him against the tower's wall. The axe clattered from his grip as he no doubt tried and failed to cry out a warning. Though instead of any alarm being raised, I heard nothing, though just before my gaze drifted toward my second tower, I smirked at spotting the flow of red surging from his face.

Two arrows flew at the second tower, repeating the attack. Though since the man outside was standing, that arrow struck true in his chest, piercing his heart, and trapping him against the tower's wall. The man upstairs didn't tumble away, simply falling enough that I could see a leg poking up into the air.

Even as I slipped from behind the tree I'd been using as cover and picked up my quiver, I caught sight of two more towers being targeted. Since no one else had a bow even close to rivalling mine, each of the other towers being targeted had two men targeting at the same time. That would ensure the guards went down quickly allowing the next phase of the plan to be implemented.

I slipped from the trees, an arrow nocked on my bow, and sprinted for the base of the embankment. Ymir, as expected, beat me there. As I slid the arrow back into my quiver and slung my bow over my back, I saw movement in the forest. That would be Bronn leading the men forward, ready to rush out and climb once I gave the signal. Daemon was further away, commanding the rest of the men who'd be breaching the wall at the other towers.

Once I had my axe in hand, I started my climb using the weapon to grip the solid earth. I'd barely gotten halfway up when Ymir raced past me. He paused for a moment near the top and then slipped from view. As I neared the top, I heard a muffled cry of terror and felt Ymir's delight at a successful kill.

Sliding onto the top of the embankment, I discovered a rough, well-worn path that led to the two towers I targeted from the forest. I'd told the men last night before we'd camped, and then again before we'd moved out to stay low as they breached the horizon at the top of the embankment. Hopefully, those that didn't listen got themselves killed as I didn't need men who couldn't follow simple instructions. If they didn't and I learnt of their mistake, then I'd handle the matter.

After hooking the axe back to my belt and then unslinging my bow from my back, I crawled forward. As I moved close enough to see into the roofs of the settlement I ended up having to push what looked like an arm out of my way. As the sounds of Ymir tearing apart something that had to be the body of the arm, my thoughts drifted back to his kill last night.

The sensation of raw, freshly torn flesh sliding over my tongue and then down my throat swirled in my mind, just as it had done over breakfast. While the meals we'd been having since leaving the southern settlement hadn't been great, that meal had felt even worse. Almost as if it was devoid of any taste. I hoped that was only because it was the last of the rations we'd brought with us for the hike, and not a sign that everything would taste bland because of what I'd experienced last night. However, I couldn't be sure of that until I was back in Sunspear eating freshly roasted meals dipped in spice.

"Fuck!" The curse slipped quietly from my lips as I reached the inner side of the embankment. While I'd known from outside it was larger than the Grim Prince needed, I'd expected it to be generally empty. Or failing that, have most of the buildings clearly unusable. Yet, from where I rested, not only were there more buildings than I'd expected, but only a few looked damaged enough that they'd not be used.

Now, the buildings nearer the docks, including a two-story building that appeared to be made of stone and a large wooden structure that had to be a store, were in better condition, but the overall state of the settlement appeared, at least on first look, to be higher than I'd expected. While that would be useful for what would come after, for the assault it would make things troublesome.

The odds of us finding the main barracks that the guards used before we assaulted the dock were slim. The pirates likely were spread out fairly evenly. To say nothing of any slaves that were being held either for sale or enjoyment. The settlement had three piers though only four vessels were docked there. The spaces against the piers looked large enough to house another four to six vessels the size of the Trickster, which fit with what I'd learnt of the Grim Prince's fleet and operation.

My ships should draw two, if not three of the docked vessels out before we assaulted the docks, and while I'd be fine with them sailing away once the settlement was taken, I hoped they could be tricked into coming close enough that they could be captured. While I didn't have the men currently to man ten ships, provided the freed slaves were plentiful enough, then it would be nice to sail into Sunspear's docks with a small fleet of vessels to either refit or sell.

After giving the roofs a long look to gain a rough guide as to their location, I shifted back. My gaze stayed inward, watching for any movement that might signal someone realised the watchtowers had been taken out. Yet by the time I'd moved back enough that the settlement slipped from sight, that hadn't happened.

As my feet popped over the outer rim of the embankment, signalling I was there, I held up an arm. That was the signal for the others to advance, though I wasn't going to look back to be sure of that. Instead, I crawled forward again, a nocked arrow resting on my bow.

My eyes returned to scanning the settlement even as I saw the faintest of movements to my sides. If all was going right, then Bronn had two teams moving to the towers. The bodies would be thrown down the outside of the embankment while those teams moved inside the towers and assumed overwatch. The one to my left would focus their attention on the main gate of the settlement while the right would track movement in the settlement.

As rough paths toward the docks formed in my mind, and I once more wished Rian was here for a clearer picture, I felt someone crawl closer. "Tower's secured," Bronn whispered. After a nod from me, he slid down the inner embankment followed by the rest of the men with him.

Once they were down, and the maps were in my head, placed the arrow back in the quiver and prepared to move only for a bell to sound in the settlement. "Damnit!" I cursed, my gaze moving to the harbour. While the settlement didn't have a full harbour, the southern half was enclosed by an outcropping of rock that jutted out and around, providing shelter from the sea, and most of the storms that drifted up from the Summer Sea. There, just at the edge of my vision, I saw a shift in colour against the waves signalling the Windchaser. It seemed the outcropping had guards on it as my ship was still out of sight of the settlement itself, had been spotted. Still, that was something I'd prepared for.

My eyes shot back to the docks, and I saw men rushing from the buildings. My focus was on the stone building as a group of five emerged, particularly the shining ebony skin of the leader. While the four with him looked impressive, my gaze lingered on the Grim Prince. Clad in a coat of armour as deep and rich as the emerald leaves of the deepest forest, my attention was drawn not to the attire that cloaked him, but to the bow he wielded.

The sunlight kissed the wooden curves of his weapon, revealing the unmistakable gleam of goldenheart, akin to the radiant sheen that adorned Sarella's bow, yet this one surpassed it in both size and grandeur. That didn't surprise me though, for the Grim Prince loomed over those around him, an imposing figure with a musculature that would undoubtedly dwarf that of my stepsister.

The Grim Prince gestured with his free hand and two of the men with him moved toward the pier. Others soon scampered to obey and over two dozen surged toward one of the piers, readying two ships.

The bell sounded again, and I watched as everyone near the docks tensed. Someone ran toward the Grim Prince, and after he listened the pirate lord turned and started barking out new orders. More men ran toward the piers, and a third ship was readied even as the crew pushed the first of the other pair away from the pier.

I stayed where I was, watching patiently until the third ship slipped its moorings and moved away. The lead ships were just emerging past the outcropping that protected the harbour and beyond them I saw the Windchaser turn even as the Trickster slipped into view. Offering the crews on my ships a silent prayer, I pulled the arrow from my bow and slipped it back into the quiver. I then crawled forward.

As I slid down the embankment, I saw my men were gathered behind three buildings, with any at the building I was sliding toward avoiding Ymir. That was understandable as the remains of the man he'd killed were all over the ground near him, to say nothing of his maw which had blood dripping from it.

"Hey boy," I said to Ymir as he came over, letting my hand slide over his head and giving him a quick scratch behind his ear. Moving to secure my bow all I could do for now was place it against the side of the building and hope it stayed safe. After that, I moved to the corner of the building, securing my shield against my arm before my other hand drew Red Rain.

"Looks like we kicked up the hornet's nest," a man named Jaeronos whispered from across the path where he huddled with other men. From what I'd learnt, Jaeronos had come to Sunspear from Volantis. I didn't know the full story, but he'd proved himself during the battle of the southern settlement, showing at least a partial understanding of tactics and command which was why he had command of a unit of my men.

"Aye, but they are not hornets. Simply jumped-up ants," I replied with a smirk. That earned me a chuckle, yet before anything else could be said, I slipped around the corner, my shield raised to cover my throat and body.

Nothing appeared in front of me, and I cautiously moved inward. Jaeronos and the rest of my men followed behind. As I reached the first intersection, I paused making sure no sound was coming from either side. As sure as I could be, I stepped forward, crouching low to shrink my profile.

Once sure the intersection was clear, I moved across it, passing between two new buildings. Before I reached the next intersection I stopped when Ymir growled softly. Glancing back, I saw his head was low, pointed to the door of one building. Looking at the door, I saw a faint marking on it, one that matched what the pirates I'd interrogated had mentioned was a symbol used to indicate secure buildings. The pirates might have used more than one type of mark, but since Ymir was smelling something from inside, I felt certain several targets were inside.

I jabbed my blade at the door and three men came forward. The door creaked as Jaeronos pushed it open and he then slipped inside with the other two. Part of me wanted to enter, to claim the first – well second – kill inside the settlement for myself, but I understood the risk that posed. Not only would it draw me away from commanding those outside, but there was a chance I'd get caught inside when the Grim Prince learnt of our attack. If that happened, either Daemon or I had to engage him and his guards. While anyone had a chance to kill the Grim Prince, if the fatal blow wasn't mine or Daemon's it would not look good.

A short, muffled scuffle could be heard from inside and a few moments later, Jaeronos stepped out. "Three, all dead."

I nodded, accepting his words and returned my attention to moving forward. The next intersection was empty as well and we moved through it. However, once we moved alongside the next few buildings, Ymir growled again though this time his head snapped from one side to the other.

Trusting his senses, I sent teams into each building. Yet, barely after the last man had entered a frightened woman's scream came from the left building. I bit back a curse of annoyance at the scream and braced as I heard movement from the next intersection.

"Wha' thfds…" The pirate's words died in his throat as Red Rain buried itself in his head. As his eyes widened in shock, I wrenched the blade free, taking good chunks of his bones and brain with it. Even as he slumped to the ground, I was moving.

"Hey!" shouted another pirate behind the man I'd just killed. He and his partner pulled their weapons from their belts as I rushed forward. Before they could get their weapons – an axe and a mace – into defensive positions, I was on them. My shield slammed into the one with the axe, driving them back into the wall of a nearby building even as Red Rain came in low, slashing the other pirate.

The pirate blinked in shock as his arm fell to the ground and blood and guts poured from a deep slash across his stomach. Yet before I could finish him off the other one recovered and stepped forward axe streaking towards my head. I backstepped raising my shied to catch the axe and then passing stepped as Red Rain came around in a backhand to carve out his throat.

As he stumbled back, I twisted. My shield moved around to protect me from an attack from behind while Red Rain cut a crimson swathe through the air and the man's throat.

Blood soared as I used my momentum, and seeing the first pirate still recovering from the shock of his missing arm, angled my shield. The edge struck his face, sending him stumbling to the ground. As my pivot continued, Red Rain transitioned into a thrust through his back, severing his spine and making him fall face-first into the dirt. I felt my shield slam into the other pirate, sending them flying into the wall of a building, but before I could finish that one off the bell sounded again.

Realising what that meant, I turned and looked at my men – some of whom seemed surprised about something – and shouted. "Unleash hell!"

Before I could set myself to move, two of the men rushed past me, racing toward the docks. I moved to follow only to spot a new pair of pirates coming at us from down the side path. The pair held swords at the ready and bore shields smaller than mine.

With my blood pumping in my chest, the taste of blood in my mouth and a smile on my face, I moved to engage them.

The pair attacked together, blades coming in from two angles.

I blocked one with my shield while the other blade broke in half with a tortured squeal as it clashed against Red Rain. The man's eyes widened in confusion, though that turned to shock as my blade carried on, and dug deep into his side before slicing part of his other arm clean from the bone.

The pirate lurched back in surprise, though I couldn't strike him again as his partner brought their blade in for another attack. Angling my shield, I guided the blade away. Red Rain came around and carved part of his shield away. Before he could process that, I stepped forward as he backpedalled frantically.

Pulling my arm back, Red Rain' thrusting forward to stab through his shield and sliced deeply into his arm before I wrenched my blade to take his shield off line. My shield then rushed forward, the edge of which clattered into their chest.

As they stumbled back Red Rain sliding free, I turned to the first pirate, the one missing part of an arm. He'd recovered enough to pull an axe from his belt with his remaining hand and was swinging it toward me. Given the side he was on, I had to shift my weight and twist to bring Red Rain around to block.

The axe was severed mere inches from the pirate's hand, though the head continued onward. I grunted as the bit of the axe slammed into my shoulder, but kept moving. The pirate screamed as my shield slammed into the stump of his arm and as he shifted back, I flicked my arm, and my blade cut a deep gorge from his waist to his shoulder.

As he took another few steps back, his innards pouring out the cut, I pushed off one leg, shifting my momentum back to the other pirate. Yet, as I turned, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up and an odd sensation rushed through me. Feeling the urge to trust the sensation, I leaned back as something flew across my vision and slammed into my arm or shield.

I tumbled to the side, the force of the blow costing me my balance. I hit something, drawing a pained grunt and then I fell to the ground, tumbling in the dirt.

I shook my head, clearing the cobwebs from the fall, and looked at my shield. My eyes widened as I saw that an arrow had not only struck the inside of my shield right where the strap secured it against my arm but had punctured a hole in the steel. Not only that, but the arrow had embedded in the gut of the pirate I'd been turning to engage.

I broke the shaft of the arrow with Red Rain, and when I looked closer, I saw the arrow had cut the strap enough that it would only take a decent pull for what remained to break away. I yanked the shield pulling the arrow out of the pirate, which drew a pained grunt as he slumped to the ground, yet as my shield came free of the man, I had another sensation of danger.

Planting my feet into the dirt, I pushed myself back and went flat, watching as another arrow flew in. This one clipped my shield, driving it into my chest. However, when it not only deflected in the pirate's arm but ripped it clean from the shoulder, I started to panic.

Scrambling to my feet, I looked to where the arrows had come from to see the Grim Prince glaring at me. Another arrow slipped onto his bow and as he drew the bow back, I scrambled for cover.

That sensation of danger rippled through me, and I dove for the nearest building, drawing a confused look from one of my men. Mid-dive, something hit my shield and my arm was twisted awkwardly. On pure instinct I let go of it as the strap snapped and landed in the dirt awkwardly, Red Rain bouncing from my grip.

After scrambling to regrip my blade, I turned, planning to get my shield, only to stop. While it was lying face-down in the dirt, my eyes were on the man pinned to the wall of a building by an arrow through their gut. The man was still alive as his eyes sought me out for help, but given where the arrow had struck him, there was little I could do to help. Plus, trying to do so would result in me being in clear sight of the Grim Prince again.

Turning, I moved away, using the building I was behind for cover even as I ignored the pained grunts of the man behind. While it was callous, it was better he died than me. As I moved, I pulled my axe from my belt.

I'd done some training using the axe with Red Rain and while I wasn't bad, it wasn't my most practised style. However, I knew that often in combat, beggars couldn't be chooser about what weapons they had. Plus, Red Rain wasn't built to be used as a bastard sword. The grip wasn't long enough for a second-hand.

Around me the sounds of battle echoed gloriously; the clashing of steel against steel, the cries and grunts of pain as someone was wounded, often fatally. However, my focus was on the Grim Prince and how to get to him. In my head, I worked out roughly where I was and plotted a route that would move around to his flank without letting him spot me too easily.

I slipped around the corner of two buildings without any issue. At the third, I ran into two men fighting outside my path. Seeing one of those was one of my sellswords, I whistled. The pirate turned, caught out by the distraction, which allowed the sellsword to gut the man. As he pulled the blade free, he gave me a nod which I returned as I moved onward.

Reaching a fifth building after dispatching a pirate who'd staggered out into my path, I came across Bronn and another of my men engaged with six pirates. While it looked like the pair were holding their own, I was behind the pirates and not wanting to lose Bronn's blade, I moved to help.

As my axe embedded itself in the shoulder of one pirate, Red Rain came around, slashing two more across the back with the arm of the second being all but severed from the shoulder. The man who'd all but lost his arm screamed even as I pulled back on my axe, taking that man to the ground.

As two of their compatriots turned to face me, I drove my axe into the downed man's chest. Even as they brought their steel toward me, Bronn and the other man – who I saw was a bastard from the Vale called Cayde – countered. Cayde drove his blade into the gut of one of the men still facing them. At the same time, Bronn parried an attack from the other before ramming a dagger I'd not spotted under that man's armpit.

I leaned back to avoid a thrust from the cutlass of one pirate who'd turned and then sheared through the low-quality blade of the other as it clashed against Red Rain. Before the man could understand what had happened I buried my axe in his gut. The bit to the side tore out his stomach and before his partner could attack, Bronn thrust a blade through his back.

"Not that I needed the help," Bronn began as the man he'd just stabbed fell to the ground, "but thanks." Cayde gave a nod in agreement.

"You can return the favour by helping," I said as I started to move. The pair fell in at my side. "The Grim Prince is in play, and that bow is as dangerous as advertised," I explained as I reached the end of one building. If I was right, this would lead directly out onto the dock area and place us slightly behind the Grim Prince's line of sight. "Bastard knocked me down just by striking the inside of my shield. To say nothing of the man he took from his feet and pinned to a wall with a single arrow."

"Fucking wonderful," Cayde remarked as I paused at the building's corner. "Got a plan?"

"Use others as fodder," I shot back. I turned and flashed them a smirk. "Not you two, though," I added as I didn't want them to get the wrong idea. The pair were good, if not great, blades and I'd do what I could to ensure that some of the less useful sellswords died before the pair. Though if it came down to it, I'd sacrifice the pair to save my hide, something I suspected both would do in return. Hence my quick add-on.

"Good to hear it. Would hate to deny the ladies from Volantis to the Wall the pleasure of my company." I chuckled at Bronn's comment before stepping around the corner.

While there was a reasonably clear line to the docks, I couldn't see the Grim Prince. The sounds of battle made it clear most, if not all, of my remaining men, were now fighting in or near the docks, so it was likely he was busy sniping others.

Pushing forward as quickly as I dared, I had another odd sensation. Leaning back from the corner of the building I was moving past, I barely avoided being knocked over as a man crashed to the ground. A black mound was on him in a shot, snarling. The man's scream was smothered as teeth tore into his throat and blood seeped from the wound.

"Gods, that beast is scary."

I chuckled. "Ymir's still small," I replied to Cayde. "His mother was the size of a horse." I laughed softly as Cayde coughed, either in worry or shock. That laughter died as Ymir turned to me, blood dripping from his maw. Memories of what I'd experienced last night shot through my head, and I shook it to clear the images. "Hey there boy," I said as Ymir moved closer.

After giving him a quick pet with a few fingers, I moved forward again. As we crossed the last intersection before emerging into the dock area, a group came toward us. I braced, expecting a fight only to relax when I saw the group of four was my men.

The leader of the unit nodded as he realised it was me, and moved to join us. As he did I looked down at Ymir. "Stay back." He whined as he looked up at me. "No. That bow can kill any of us with a single hit, and I shall not lose you," I explained as I placed my hand – the one holding the axe – upon his head. "Take him from behind well we engage."

There was a moment of silence before Ymir tilted his head to one side. After a quick yap that I took to mean ' don't get yourself killed' he turned and took off, slipping into the shadows that covered the paths between buildings with frightening ease.

"That mutt is far too smart," Cayde commented as Ymir disappeared into the darkness.

"Just glad he's on our side," Bronn added, drawing approving murmurs from the other men.

I looked at my men. "He's on my side," I said with a smirk that possibly looked deranged to them. "So long as you stay there as well, he's harmless."

I turned back, preparing to rush the docks. "Harmless he says," one of the other sellswords muttered. "Going to have nightmares about what I've seen him do."

"It gets worse," Cayde replied to the man who'd spoken. "According to our fearless leader, he's only a pup."

"Fuck me."

I bit back a retort to the banter, choosing inside to step to the corner that would lead to the docks. Taking a breath to centre myself, I slipped around the edge of the final building before the docks. Chaos was the only way to describe what greeted me.

Men were engaged in battles throughout the open area, usually in smaller groups mixed into the larger battle. However, my eyes were only on one man, and catching the light glint of his bow, I spotted my target just in time to see an arrow soar from his bow.

Tracking its flight, I saw it slam into one of my sellswords, taking the man off his feet. That man had been fighting beside Daemon as they engaged two of the Grim Prince's bodyguards. While that now left Daemon outnumbered, if the path of dead pirates leading to him was any indication, he seemed to be holding his own. His shield deflected the thrust of a spear even as his blade clashed against the blade of his opponent.

Trusting Daemon to hold his ground, I rushed forward for the Grim Prince.

Two men slipped into my sight, blades held high and ready to strike. I slipped to one side, letting Red Rain slip under the attack of the nearest man before slicing clean through his stomach. The other man couldn't get an attack in as I raced toward the Grim Prince even as his partner slumped behind me.

An arrow flew from the Prince's bow, slamming into one of a pair of sellswords that were rushing him. That man clipped his partner as he fell, leaving the second man open to an arrow that took him from his feet.

At that point, the Grim Prince turned toward me, nocking another arrow. His reactions were impressively fast, but given how the few men that had gotten close had been killed by arrows, I suspected he either wasn't as skilled with a blade as he was with his bow, or preferred to use the bow even a close range.

As the bow was pulled taunt, I stepped to my left before diving to my right. I felt the arrow fly past, and heard it slam into someone behind me, even as I rolled. Coming out of the roll, I resumed sprinting toward the Prince and his remaining guards.

Seeing him readying another arrow, I summoned my magic. Flames danced along my blade and the Prince hesitated, caught unprepared by my trick. He recovered well, yet before he could loose the arrow a black shape rushed into him.

The arrow soared harmlessly away as his bow was knocked from his hands as Ymir smashed into his arms. Even as he scrambled to recover the bow, one of the guards moved toward Ymir. The direwolf took off quickly, the man in pursuit, yet he didn't get far as, with him distracted by Ymir, he failed to spot my axe as it slammed into his side.

I didn't know if the edge had dug in deeply, but the impact forced the guard from his feet, which was enough. Returning my attention to the Grim Prince, his eyes met mine and, caught between picking up his bow or drawing his blade, he froze. When the remaining guard rushed toward me – and whoever was behind – he moved for the bow.

The bodyguard coming at me had a large, two-handed arakh. Yet even as he snarled, readying for the clash of steel, I caught something in his eyes. Hesitation mixed with fear. I confirmed that by moving my blade slightly, drawing his eyes to the flames dancing along the metal, giving Red Rain a sinister feel.

I smirked at his reaction, as it was the same hesitation Oberyn had the first time we'd sparred with my blade alight. Oh, Oberyn had quickly grown used to it during our sessions where I sparred with Red Rain, but he'd commented regularly about how disconcerting it was to face a blade on fire. Truthfully, it was to me too at first, but I'd learnt that since I commanded the flames, I wasn't at risk of them burning me. With time, I'd learnt how the trick with a lit blade was to move quickly, always appearing to attack as it forced any not used to facing such a weapon problems as they were distracted by the flickering flames.

As we closed on each other, I flicked my wrist and commanded the flames to rise further. The guard hesitated, stopping an attack before it could truly begin. That was all I needed.

As I grabbed his raised arm a roll of my other arm and Red Rain swung low. I felt the blade bite into, and then slice through his leg just above the knee. I wasn't sure if the strike had taken all the leg, but it was enough that he was already falling as I raced past him toward the Grim Prince.

The Prince had an arrow nocked on his bow, and as I saw fear in his eyes, he pulled back quickly to get off a snapshot. I moved to the side as late as I could, but the arrow clipped my arm. Thankfully, it wasn't a full strike and was my free hand. I knew the mail I was wearing was torn as I felt something dig into my flesh.

With the arrow having missed, the Grim Prince realised he didn't have time to nock another arrow. The bow was discarded – callously in my opinion – as he pulled a cutlass from his belt. Yet even as he shifted his stance, I saw his eyes drifting to the flame rippling along my blade.

When I reached him, he thrust forward, almost hesitantly.

I moved to block the thrust, only to roll my wrist at the last moment. The flames hid the shift, and I brought the edge of my blade down on the flat of his.

The Prince shifted back, his eyes struggling to track me through the flames leaping from my blade. While I had a similar issue, I'd trained to counter this and twirled my blade, my magic making the flames shift in ways it shouldn't have been able to.

The Grim Prince watched with concern in his eyes, and when I thrust forward he slapped at my blade. A scamper back was caused by me making the flames leap from my blade toward his hilt and I smiled in amusement at the fear I saw growing in his eyes.

He swatted at the flames which continued to rush toward him, I used the distraction. Red Rain swept low, sliding under his blade, and sending a scarlet mist into the air.

A hand came to the wound as the Prince moved back, and as he snarled in anger I sent him a smirk Oberyn would've been proud of.

After steeling himself, the Grim Prince approached his blade forward to defend. There was no rush for vengeance, nor rash actions in his movement even as blood seeped onto his clothing which spoke of his experience. Yet even as we started to circle each other, I could see the doubt in his eyes whenever my blade moved as streaks of fire trailed behind it.

His cutlass cut forward, attacking my arm, yet because of the flames, his aim was off. A faint shift of my arm ensured the attack missed and I slapped the flat of his blade again. Ignoring the odd sound that emitted from his weapon, I pushed forward, sliding my blade down the edge of the cutlass.

He pulled back his hand with a hiss of pain as the guard of the cutlass crashed uselessly to the ground, fingers going with. Even as he tried to move, to shift the blade to his other hand, I lunged forward.

His eyes widened as Red Rain drove into his chest. With my free hand, I swatted his cutlass away. As the blade hit the ground, I pushed forward, sinking the flaming blade deeper into him until I felt any resistance end.

As I commanded the flames to crawl over his armour and clothing, I stepped back, pulling my blade free. The blade hissed as it came free, blood boiling from the heat of the fire.

He fell to his knees; realization and acceptance of his fate clear in his eyes.

A twist of my free hand had the flames rushing over his body, though not crossing his neck.

I swung my blade, severing his head clean from the body.

It tumbled away as the flames engulfed what remained even as it crashed onto the dirt.

I turned, ready to face the next pirate only to be greeted with a cheer.

Around me, pirates were backing off, dropping their blades, and falling to their knees.

A wave of delight rushed through my men.

I thrust my blade high and roared.

The men joined in, as did the loud, powerful howl of Ymir.

The Grim Prince was dead, his men defeated; his lands conquered.

Dustspear, and all it contained, was now mine.

… …


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A/N: And now Cregan has a holding of his own, though it's in the chaotic Stepstones, and none of the Lords of Westeros would see it as anything important. Still, it's a good first step.

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