CHAPTER 1: INTO THE UNKNOWN
It'd been a stormy day. Heck, who was I kidding? It'd been a stormy week. I huddled on the highest tower of our castle, watching the waves out in the bay dash against our island with ever increasing fury. Grandfather Ardrian had already had our trading cogs, those that were in dock, at any rate, safely ensconced in the massive cove just off the bay. Indeed, the Valyrian Freehold had chosen this island well. That cove could hold a thousand bloody ships. We had more than enough space. Too much, in fact, for our modest fleet. Something which annoyed me daily.
I rested my hands on the pitch-black battlements.
Nine years. Nine damn years of being stuck in this murdery hellhole. Seven of which had only been half me. I'd only been inhabiting this body with its awfully girlish looks for two out of those nine years. Things should start kicking up any day now.
We'd been preparing ever since I dropped in here. Grandfather had been very resistant at first. To be fair, I'd have been doubtful too. It's a wonder he didn't pack me off to the Faith. But as the months ticked on, and a lot of things I had detailed to him began in clockwork, one after the other, he'd grown more and more receptive to my 'dragon dreams'. If Muna had believed in any gods, she'd have said that I was blessed by Saagael, or perhaps Bakkalon. Uncle Daemon (everybody said 'Nuncle' on this stupid continent, but I had stubbornly referred to him as Uncle and refused to add the N. Uncle shrugged it off as a quirk of mine and loved me all the same), who was pious, said I was blessed by the Crone herself.
They were all wrong, of course.
I exhaled a breath, shakily.
Finally, at long last, the event around which I was betting everything on. I had to be sure it would come pass. Of course, it would never be the same, even now, I knew there would be much that differed from what I knew, and what was to come. But this. This, had to happen. Else all was lost.
My fists tightened.
We would not survive the coming storms, if I did not do what needed to be done. No matter how vile. No matter how cruel. There were threats in this world, aye, but the ones made of flesh was the least of them. Monsters and worse lurked in the dark, in the far North, forgotten. Whatever the gods of the North or the Ironborn were, they were hardly benign to me and mine. A hivemind of ancient spirits, peering and observing everyone and everything within their reach...
It gave me the creeps. As for the eldritch monstrosity that the Reavers of the West worshipped, well. The less said the better.
I looked at the intricately carved motifs on the wall behind me, the spiraling arches and wicked spikes, the talons jutting into the sky. The tops of the fourteen towers of Castle Celtigar. Frescoes of the glory days of the Freehold of Valyria adorned several parts of the castle. Sphinxes, dragons, gargoyles, manticores, tigers, creatures which seemed half-human and half-animal. All of that was tame. What was the worst was the hundreds of hapless men, women, and children, their mouths open, screaming in a never-ending wail of agony. All in all, a rather standard fort outpost, as commissioned by the Freehold for her furthermost strongholds meant to be held fast for the Empire. A castle fortress around the same size as the Eyrie.
Records from Naath, the Island of Butterflies, showed that the outpost there was a twin to this one. At least, what little had managed to be scavenged, pieced together and amalgamated from the few survivors of those who survived that fatal isle. It was tale of uncommon luck which had seen us, humble House Celtigar, a lowly merchant family which traced its origins from Oros, in the Lands of the Long Summer, become the absolute lords of one of the last few castles of Valyrian make still in the world.
The Lands of the Long Summer. A beautiful, bountiful land. It put the whole of the Reach to shame. Fields of wheat, grain and barley which stretched as far as the eye could see. Orchards of the most succulent fruit. Grapes and oranges, apples and figs. Gold in the fields, gold in the ground. No man or woman of Valyrian descent, born to a woman freeholder, was ever left hungry there. Not like Westeros, at any rate. But it was stagnant beneath the surface. In the Valyrian peninsula itself, it was almost impossible for you to raise your station much higher than what you were already born into. Freeholder, slave, Lord Freeholder, Dragonlord, sorcerer, priest. The latter two were one and the same, hah. There were many exceptions of course to this rule, neither were these the only occupations of a Valyrian Citizen but the vast majority did conform to it. In any case, we had been merchants in Oros for nigh on two thousand years, and had had no wish to be so come two thousand years later.
We had applied for a charter to be given governance over one of the Freehold's provincial strongholds. As an old and respected family in Oros, with perhaps not as much money as our peers, nonetheless we were granted a contract of viceroyalty over one of the minor islands of a border sector, the island of Claw Isle, under the Archon of Dragonstone. It was a lucrative opportunity to be sure. We had been lowly indeed in Valyria, not even among the greatest of the merchant clans, let alone the august blood of those of the Azure Sky. Here, we were granted a license for trade with Westeros and its barbarian kings, whose wealth even distant Valyria had begun to take note of. I did wonder sometimes whether Dragonstone and its sworn vassals had been intended to be a staging point for invasion of the Sunset Kingdoms. Of course, it was a moot point now.
The provincial capital was always made on the Freehold's resources. But the strongholds sworn to it were a different matter entirely. As newly minted Viceroys, we had had our choice of having the motherland's greatest liquid dragonstone builder-mages construct our new citadel. A double-edged decision. On the one hand, having our new abode being constructed of dragonstone would have rendered our holdings virtually indestructible, stalwart in the face of the most relentless and destructive siege machines, a most welcome addition in service of our lives, so close to heathen lands and their endless hordes. On the other, having to do this would have us have to pay nine-tenths of all profits generated by our trading outpost, and less autonomy in ruling. The Lord Viceroy at the time decided that the payoff was worth it and assented. Something every single Celtigar after him blessed his dearly departed soul for. One of the few truly competent lords of our House.
A decision which was in stark contrast to the Velaryons. Older than us by five hundred years, richer and better connected in Valyria itself. They decided to forgo the benefits of a Valyrian castle and built their own seat with the full money acquired by their trade and familial fortune. It was not even a bad decision; for they had possessed their own fleet already, and had been supplied settlers as well from the heartlands. With this and the resident Dragonlord in the provincial capital of Dragonstone as Lord Archon, they might be even forgiven for thinking the ruinous consequences of a Valyrian fort not needed.
Before the Targaryen relocation to Dragonstone, a dragonlord would be posted here for five years at a time. But with them making the island their permanent residence, and having sold off their lands in Aquos Dhaen, Rhyos and Valyria itself were able to purchase the right to hereditary ownership of the title of Lord Archon of Dragonstone. Fools, others had thought of all of us. House Velaryon had constructed Castle Driftmark with their own coin and moved there some thirty years before the Doom, around ten years after us. They had thumbed their noses up at us, as the journals of Lord Viceroy Aegor Celtigar attested.
We'd had the last laugh, in the end. Once the Doom occured, the Velaryon lands and wealth in Valyria were lost. All they had left was Driftmark, the western part of their fleet and the castle they'd erected in the Westerosi style, devoid of protective magics in the stone. But it was but a momentary drop in their fortunes. They'd bounced back stronger than ever, with a combination of a series of canny lords, closer and closer relations with the Targaryens while we sank into obscurity.
Lord Archon Aerion Targaryen's mother was a Celtigar, making the Conqueror and all his siblings Celtigar grandchildren. The one and only Targaryen who married into House Celtigar was directly after the Doom, and no Targaryen since has ever wed a lord of Claw Isle. Our relations with the Velaryons on the other hand, had risen and fallen through the centuries. Ironically, whenever they were on the outs with the Targs, we'd closed ranks together. And when they were high in favour, before the Dance and just after, we were forgotten.
All ancient history now, though. Grandmother had been a Velaryon, after all. Ever since the Usurper won his war, we were kind of each other's only friends. Most Houses had been pardoned and welcomed back into the fold. But both Houses Velaryon and Celtigar had been cast to the sidelines by the new King. I supposed we reminded him too much of the Targaryens. No lord in Westeros save Stannis, Bar Emmon, Sunglass, and Massey dared even be seen with us. And that was more due to the fact that we were all sworn to Dragonstone. We were alone.
Claw Isle had no great army. Grandfather Ardrian had, even before my arrival, nearly multiplied House Celtigar's fortunes by an order of magnitude. My insights of this planet had increased it even further. We had a mighty trading fleet, greater than any House Celtigar had boasted in all its history, and many warships to defend them with. Useless, all of it. Two shaking hands, attempting to hold back the might of a snowstorm. As we were, even now, we stood no chance against the coming horrors which would assail us from all sides. No way for us to increase our army in the paltry few years we had left, save hiring sellswords, and those had their own risk, not to mention it wouldn't even be possible to do so until the Kingdoms were at each other's throats. We had an unassailable castle; fat lot of good that would do when facing potentially infinite armies. With a loyal populace, we could hold out stocked with supplies for two years, maybe three. Against human enemies.
There was but one weapon that could conceivably deliver us out of the dismal circumstances we found ourselves in. That could probably, maybe, have the smallest chance of success. Something I'd devoted all my endeavours to searching for, the crux of all my schemes ever since arriving here. We were doomed without it. Even with it, there was no small chance of oblivion.
This, I promised, though. My family would not go into the night quietly. Our claws would drip red ere we were done.
AN: Heavily inspired by A Twelve Step Program to Omnipotence by Bakkughan, and Return of Valyria by Jaenera Targaryen.