On landing, one of the Mountaineers hailed Seryth in a friendly fashion, recognizing him from his forays into the kobold-infested mines those weeks earlier. On hearing that Seryth intended to travel further north, the Mountaineer offered him an armored riding ram. The land was dangerous past the Wetlands, and he was going to need it, the Mountaineer said. The dwarf was even kind enough to give him a discount on the animal…as long as Seryth helped the dwarves again with bandits in the area. A bit shame-facedly, Seryth remembered how quickly he had taken leave of the Loch before, and so he agreed.
It turned out that the Loch, too, was beset by gnoll attacks.
“It’s not me, is it?” he asked the imp after bidding the Mountaineer farewell. “Everywhere I go, the gnolls are attacking.”
“Now why would you place so much importance on yourself?” said the imp, rolling its eyes.
It wasn’t a satisfying answer, but Seryth sensed he wouldn’t get any more from the demon. The Mountaineer had told him to make contact with a tracker in town to help him find the gnoll camps. Shooing the imp under his cloak, Seryth stepped inside the tavern to meet her.
The tracker identified herself as Cannary. She was loud, obnoxious, a heavy drinker, and stank of under-washed clothing. In other words, she fit right in with the other dwarves.
She seemed suspicious of Seryth, though he wasn’t sure if it was because he was part elven, because he didn’t stink, or because she somehow sensed the fel taint inside him. Either way, she shooed him out of the tavern almost as soon as he’d come in, saying not to come back until he’d completed her task.
The task? Getting her dinner.
Seryth decided bear meat would make the best meal for Cannary, lightly toasted with fire magic, as he had a way with. Or maybe it was just he was spoiling for a fight with the biggest creature he could find after the long ride on the gryphon.
There was an itchiness in his chest whenever his voidwalker was at his side now, that grew the longer he went without invoking the fel. Though he was certain the imp wasn’t telling him the full truth, it seemed to be right about this, at least: the more he used the magic, the easier the itch was to bear. Nor did the itch seem to come from the imp’s claw-mark: that scratch was almost entirely healed now. It was something deeper, something close to his heart…
Seryth came across one, lone gnoll while he was hunting. He took its ear to show to the Mountaineers. He was sure it wasn’t the last one he’d be seeing during his stay by the Loch.
The gift seemed to placate Cannary, but then she turned around and sent Seryth out again to hunt murlocs for their scent glands. \n\nSeryth was sure it was a joke. And he was getting impatient. Wouldn’t it be easier to simply storm the hills for gnolls instead of play with tricks and traps?
Turning frustration into magic felt good. More than just murlocs fell before him, and Seryth was almost disappointed once he had collected the scent glands Cannary wanted.
When he returned to Cannary, the first thing she said to him was that he stank, her alcohol-reddened face split wide with mirth.
For a second, rage overwhelmed Seryth. In one moment, he was talking to her, then lashing out at her, fire wreathing his fingers; in the next, dwarves were leaping over tables and boiling out of the inn’s rooms in her defense. Seryth had to flee.
Even as he ran into the hills, he could hear her laughing. Some tiny part of him said it was all just a stupid joke and she had meant no harm, but the larger part of him, the part of them that could conjure the voidwalker and incinerate entire gnoll bands, that itched and stung and burned in his chest, demanded retribution — release.
No more tricks or games. He returned to where he had found the gnoll scout, then continued deeper into the hills. If the gnolls were attacking the dwarves, so be it: perhaps he could help them.
He spent several days trying to bargain with the gnolls, even aiding a few with their raids on Mountaineer patrols to cement some kind of alliance. In the end, they turned on him. Through their howling yips, Seryth heard their fear, and it pleased him, even as it provoked him into deeper rage — both over their betrayal and the slights of Cannary he still kept close to his heart.
The itching feeling finally got its release: Seryth unleashed his full magic on the gnoll camps. His voidwalker grew vast with the energy he fed into it, and Seryth felt possessed of an ecstasy he had never felt before, even while first learning of the shadow in Duskwood.
However, in his arrogance, he pressed deeper into gnoll territory than perhaps was wise. One gnoll, larger than the rest and wielding shamanic totems, shot lightning bolts at Seryth’s voidwalker while the last of the gnoll warriors swarmed around them. The shaman’s repeated blasts pounded the voidwalker into the ground, until it dissipated like fire quenched by water.
Seryth felt it like a punch in the ribs. He staggered, gagging for breath. In desperation he flared fire out from himself in a protective ring of inferno. Gnoll warriors died. The shaman gave one last shriek and fell silent. The flames burned green, then red and clean. Seryth reeled and sat down hard on his tailbone as the last of the magic poured out of him, gasping as he lay in a circle of char and smoke.
And for the first time since entering Loch Modan, as the fire died off and the smoke drifted away on the wind, he could think clearly. What a fool he had been. If he had stayed in Thelsamar to fight, if the gnolls had allied with him after, the blood of many dwarves would now be on his hands. How had he let himself go so far?
He stumbled back to his feet and down the hill. His riding ram, grazing from the shrubs it had been tied to, jumped and shuddered at his touch, and Seryth took a moment to calm it, rubbing its cheeks and ears. It was reacting to him like he was a monster, and a monster he had almost become.
What now? He looked back in the direction of Thelsamar. What was he going to do now?
That evening, as Seryth sat alone by his campfire, pitched in the lee of a hill so the Mountaineers couldn’t see him from the road, he thought hard. His chest still ached, and he put it down to smoke inhalation. The anger and the itch that he was starting to associate with the demonic magic he’d learned was curiously absent.
The gnolls were still a problem at the Loch. Though he was considerably less well-inclined towards the dwarves, he had seen how the hyena-like bandits had affected the townsfolk of Redridge and Westfall. They had likely killed his foster father. They needed to die, if for no other reason but that.
Seryth closed his eyes. No, not for that, but for the reason they would likely kill other fathers, along with mothers and children. Seryth’s desire for revenge had burned itself out. He knew his own father was long gone.
But the gnoll bands were also stronger than him. Seryth had believed, perhaps arrogantly, than his new magic and the voidwalker was a match for anything he might face in combat. Now he knew better. Cannary, curse her face, was right. Tricks and traps were needed if he was going to defeat the gnolls for Thelsamar.
Seryth unrolled his backpack. The scent glands were still in there, stinking up a storm. He could use those, Seryth thought. What was it Cannary had said? Murlocs used their scent in communication with each other. Maybe if he spread these scent glands around, he could confuse them, manipulate and lead them, so that they attacked the gnolls.
Seryth felt a stab of conscience as he reflected this was probably exactly why Cannary wanted the scent glands in the first place — not to embarrass him. Well, apologizing was off the table. He would no longer be welcome in Thelsamar. He could at least make sure the gnolls wouldn’t threaten it again, however.
Getting close enough to the murlocs to use the scent glands without scaring them took some doing, and Seryth relied to a large extent on his riding ram’s speed and surefootedness. The murlocs seemed excited by the smell of the scent glands, and Seryth laid a trail with them, back to the gnoll camps. Then it was just a matter of sitting back and waiting for the evitable clash between the creatures.
Seryth had done what he could, and now it was time to move on, before the dwarves found him and punished him for what had happened in Thelsamar. He had heard rumors before he had left that the gnolls had migrated up from the Wetlands. If he was going to stop the gnoll threat, he would have to travel there.
Seryth eyed his ram. Though still a bit skittish around him, the animal was fast, agile, and brave, and after all, Seryth had earned its keep, in a way. Though he doubted the original owner of the ram liked him much, he resolved to keep the steed…for now.
Seryth tacked up and moved out under the cover of night. The yips and gurgles from the battling gnolls and murlocs faded behind him. He felt satisfied that he had helped the region, even if the dwarves would never fully know or appreciate it.