A note from UnstoppableJuggernaut

Hello everybody...yes the title is a reference to a Dance of Dragons.

And no, Theresa doesn't suddenly jump on dragon back and burn all of King's Landi-Er, Generasi for no good reason. 


Also a HUGE THANK YOU. Thanks to all of you wonderful, charming, intelligent readers Fool is now number 1 on top web fiction. I'm sure it's only temporary, there's many more stories on there that are fantastic and that have been around longer but seriously. This puts a smile on my face.

Oh and I just wanted to tell you, I thank you, and that you are in no way obligated to do this. Vote for what you like on there, whether that be Fool or not. Or if you don't have time to vote at all, that's okay too. It's up to you. You're all awesome. :)

Let's get into it!

The hunter crouched low in the tree, studying its quarry while keeping its senses sharp.

Mortals moved around wearing face coverings and strange garments that seemed heavy. Good. They would be less mobile; this was to the hunter’s advantage. The quarry spoke with another human, one with a sword belted at the waist.

Another mortal also stood nearby with a sword.

The hunter’s eyes continued to scan the large crowd below.

Many were armed with swords, but some with different types of weapons. Each looked ready for battle. Warriors stood on the perimeter of the large green space and the maze of uniformly shaped bushes near the human building. All were safely tucked behind high walls of stone; the walls themselves were not wide enough for guards to patrol atop.

Those patrolling the grounds inside the walls were clad in metal, and bore weapons other than swords: spears, axes on the ends of poles, and spiked metal clubs.

The lean hunter frowned, seeing so many weapons.

There was something else to concern it too.

A few of the mortals within the walls emitted waves of strong mana: strong enough to suggest that they had a connection to spell craft. Spell users were dangerous: their presence meant capabilities that were unknown or hard to predict.

For a moment, it measured the odds of simply sweeping in unnoticed, or slipping into the ranks of the humans and carrying out the assassination alone. It was tempting. After endless days of hunting, its prey was finally close to its claws. With the right moment, it could eviscerate the creature, escape, and be away to report success to its siblings.

…but much could also go wrong.

If it were caught or killed, its siblings would be without its strength and information it had collected when it failed to return.

The prey was also surrounded by those who were well armed, and those with magic, all together not an insignificant shield. If it attacked now, it might reach and kill The Ravener’s enemy quickly, but if not, then the mortals would be alerted.

If it escaped, then the three of them would still have to complete the assassination by bringing their horde among mortals that were armed, possibly capable of magic, and definitely alert. Staging such an attack with the element of surprise eliminated, would be foolish.

Another possibility would be that the quarry could escape and flee to the city to alert the powerful magic wielders there. Giving them forewarning was something that must be avoided.

No, as tempting as it was to act now, the risk was too great.

The attack would need to be carried out soon, but only when all of their advantages were in play.

So, it slipped from the tree, keeping to the shadows cast by the nearby brush, and hugged the wall, eyeing the surroundings for additional threats.

Nearby, it found barking creatures that mortals often kept close to them, so it took care to keep its distance, avoiding them catching its scent. Taking stock of the area revealed numerous buildings, including one that smelled of flesh and another of grain. More steel-clad humans kept watch, protecting the inside of the wall, while others guarded the front gate.

It prepared to disappear into the countryside, when it felt a strong mana.

A puzzling statue stood by a building within the grounds. The object didn’t move, but the mana pouring from it was enormous.

The lean hunter squinted at the thing, trying to see if it was alive or not. There was a vague familiarity to the mana, but the hunter couldn’t place it.

The assassin growled.

Its siblings would be warned of this potential threat.

Silently, The Ravener’s hunter quickly bounded away with its information.

This opportunity would not last forever.

“Well, he was happy to see us,” Alex said to Theresa.

“He kept apologizing for last time too,” Theresa said. “It feels so strange…at home we never talked to knights. I’ve never even seen the local lord. Have you?”

That is something I would’ve told you for sure. If something like that had happened back in Alric, it would’ve been in the top five most interesting things that ever happened to me,” he said.

He turned to his childhood friend.

The orchestra had switched from a waltz to a slower, calmer song. One perfect for intimate conversations in whispered tones. He noticed that many of the guests were doing just that.

“Shall we?” he asked, holding out his hand.

“Yes,” she said. “Any time.”

He smiled as he took Theresa’s hand and the two of them made their way to the dance floor. He activated The Mark temporarily, letting it refresh him on his dance moves, both slow and fast.

He held Theresa by the waist and she placed one hand on his shoulder, their other hands laced together as they joined the other couples on the dance floor.

For a time, Alex just let himself enjoy the music, and the moment. It was perfect. The orchestra was soothing, and the music blended with the clink of wine glasses and the sound of laughter outside.

Then Theresa spoke, drawing him out of his dreamy mood.

“I…want to apologize,” she whispered as they slow-danced toward the edge of the dance floor, out of earshot of other couples.

“What? For what?”

“For…what I said earlier,” she said. “It was kind of selfish, I realized: this Mark gave you a lot of trouble and-”

“Theresa, I-”

“-no no, let me finish. Just because what happened to you made it so that I could live my life in the way I wanted…even better than I imagined it if I’m really honest, doesn’t mean I get to rejoice about my joy that came from your pain. It was a terrible thing for me to say.”

There was a pause.

“Are you done?” he asked. “Because I thought about it…and I kind of agree with you.”

Her dark eyes widened behind her mask.

“Really?” she said. “But…you were so angry about it.”

“I was,” he said. “Sometimes, I still am. But like…I was thinking about it earlier. A lot of good hascome out of it. A lot. I dunno, I told you I liked the old you and the new you…but I think I might like the new me better. No question that there’s bad stuff too, danger and questions and things to be scared about in the future.”

He thought about it. “But even that can be good. Look at all the things we’ve gained from facing monsters. And I don’t just mean money: friends…mentors…all of it. If it weren’t for the mana vampires, Baelin’s class…we wouldn’t have the opportunities we have now. Even the-” He leaned forward, whispering in her ear. Was it his imagination or did she startle a little bit. “-dungeon core is kind of a good thing in a way. And I know…it’s not all going to be sunshine and rainbows, and balls and golems, but we’ve been able to turn them into good things so far.”

“You really think so?” Theresa asked. “We ran away from Thameland so you wouldn’t be in danger.”

“Yeah, but that danger was different. Here I’ve got a chance to learn and grow and take things at my own speed: not be stuck in a battlefield as soon as this thing gets pressed into my shoulder. Honestly, Theresa…one day I want to get rid of it or change it if I can, but for now I’m happy. I’m happy here. I think…maybe life wouldn’t have been as good if I didn’t get it after all.”

The song changed then, growing to a faster beat.

Alex and Theresa startled and then laughed when Thundar came roaring across the room, mug of wine in hand and started to dance. He danced over to a table, drained the mug and slammed it onto the table. His hooves clacked on the tiles as he jumped a tauric jig: often used to celebrate the changing of seasons by his people.

He turned and whirled, and clapped in time with the beat of the drum, laughing all the while. Some guests scoffed at his antics while others—especially younger men who’d had a few drinks—laughed. A few even joined in.

“Alex! Theresa!” Thundar roared. “Join me!”

“You’re on!” Alex called, looking at Theresa. “Shall we?”

“Oh, I don’t know that one.” Theresa shook her head.

“Yeah, but neither do the guests: they won’t know the difference. Come on, just follow my lead and dance like you were at the harvest festival.”

Alex pulled his laughing friend toward the minotaur. They joined Thundar in his wild dance and soon, were laughing along with him and the others.

The orchestra players, encouraged by their enthusiasm, played even more vigorously and a group of tipsy young men and women formed a circle around them, clapping and cheering.

That was when the dryads arrived.

The women of the forest excitedly pushed their way into the circle and Alex was surprised who came with them. One of them—a beautiful dryad with skin the colour of midnight—was dragging the secret prince of Tekezash onto the dance floor. He had a massive grin behind his beard, and his wolf mask suddenly seemed fitting. Several young men and women were brought onto the floor by other dryads, and they all joined in with their own version of a wild dance.

The dryads leapt and turned like deer springing through the woods, while Khalik pirouetted with them. Through the crowd, Alex saw Selina…paying no attention to them. She was with a group of other children clapping wildly, while her eyes were fixed on a jester who was juggling opened bottles of wine without spilling any.

Isolde, meanwhile, was near her cousin.

Her masked face was buried in her hands in shame.

“Isolde’s never going to forgive you for this!” Theresa cried.

“So it’s my last night alive, right?” Thundar laughed. “So, then I’ll dance like it!”

He called to Alex and Khalik, and the two young men joined him. They switched to a jig from Alex’s homeland, and danced in perfect step in a line, much to the surprise and delight of the others. All of that practicing together had paid off and they actually looked like they knew what they were doing.

Then they went into a dance from Tekezash, of which Khalik was the master. Alex followed the complex steps and jumps well—thanks to The Mark—but Thundar stumbled through a couple, laughing it off.

Finally, the orchestra slowed again and many of the young folks stumbled off the floor, laughing, sweating, and looking for more drinks.

Thundar was being pulled along by a dryad who’d been dancing near him.

Another waltz played and Alex and Theresa stepped into it along with Khalik and his new lady friend.

“They look like they’re getting along well already,” Theresa said.

“Oh, of course, they are,” he said. “It’s Khalik. You’d have to be a pretty half- dead fun hater not to get along with Khalik? I mean, look at him!”

Theresa laughed. “Point taken…hey, do it subtly, but take a look at that.”

Alex discreetly glanced to where she was looking to see that a young man had worked up the courage to ask the statuesque Isolde to dance. He was quite a bit shorter than she was too.

“Well good for her,” he said. “Glad to see she’s having fun too.”

“Yes, it’s not fair for us to hog all the fun,” Theresa giggled. “I’m not sure if I ever want this night to end.”

“You and me both.” He looked at her, slowly being drawn to her eyes. If The Mark had helped him get to this point in his life, then he had to admit, there was a lot to be grateful for.

His hand closed around hers a little tighter.

It was time.

“Come on, let’s head out to the garden,” Alex said. “I want to talk to you for a moment.”

“Oooh, I want to keep danci-” She paused, looking at his face very closely. Alex saw excitement go through her eyes. “-no, nevermind.”

“Uh, if you want to keep danci-”

“Alex, take me off of this dance floor right now and tell me what you have to say, I want to hear it,” she said.

Excitement rose in his chest.

Was she so insistent for the reason he hoped she was?

The two of them smiled at each other like two delighted children and began moving quickly across the dance floor. They made their way into the gardens and Alex spotted a quiet bench.

Holding hands, they started toward it.

Then they heard the sound.

“Hello, Alex, hello Theresa!” Giuseppe DePaolo’s voice boomed over the festivities. Alex slowly turned and saw him approaching them with an, ‘I can’t wait to have a long chat’ smile on his face.

If he didn’t know better, he could have sworn he heard Theresa swear under her breath right before they greeted their host.

The first hunter listened to the report from its sibling very closely. The news was good. Very good.

Their quarry was close: no longer in the protection of the city. Now only a few mortals that might wield magic were nearby, and there were other mortals bearing weapons and armour that patrolled where their prey was.

These things would have been an obstacle had they come alone.

The first hunter looked back, appraising their small horde.

Now, they would not be so challenging.

‘Forward,’ it commanded the little furry creatures. ‘We are ready to hunt.’

The little creatures hesitated at first, but slamming its clawed fist into the closest one quickly brought all of them in line. Bone creatures and large humanoids also stepped forward swiftly. They were starving, and the threat of punishment mixed with the promise of food nearby was enough to get them moving.

Night had fallen and moonlight illuminated their force as they streamed across the countryside. They avoided isolated houses that lay between them and their goal: they could not afford to be distracted.

Faster and faster the creatures advanced, and soon, the large building where the mortals awaited loomed in the distance. Beside it was the forest where the first hunter had fought creatures whose heads were capped with leaves.

They would avoid that approach.

Barking out orders in unison, they drove their bestial force of monsters toward the human settlement. The small furry ones surged forward fastest, keeping low to the ground. They would start the attack with stealth, following their instincts as ambush predators.

A rush of satisfaction went through the first hunter.

This was the way. This was their purpose.

To terrorize mortals while fulfilling The Ravener’s purpose. To send them fleeing and dying.

And…when they were frightened and disorganized, the hunters would strike. They would do it in that precious moment when their prey was most surprised.

The three siblings slowly followed their horde, ready to take advantage of the confusion.

And chaos.

A note from UnstoppableJuggernaut

Summing up this chapter in one image:

Ahahaha, you're not out of the game yet, Alex! Go for it, boy!

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