The loyal gryphon had brought him out of Jintha’Alor. A Farstrider had found the wounded beast stumbling through the Hinterlands forests and took it to Quel’Danil to be treated. More reluctantly, they had also brought Seryth along.
They didn’t name the Farstider responsible, but somehow, Seryth knew it be Jalinde.
She was nowhere to be found at the lodge, however. Instead, he had been assigned a healer, whom Seryth suspected of being more like a guard, named Fordrellon. Fordrellon was a sour, often-silent paladin, who watched Seryth like a hawk. Seryth wasn’t allowed into the rest of the lodge, instead kept to cottage on the far northern end. When Seryth asked the reason, Fordrellon only frowned and said the quel’dorei were distrustful people.
On the 5th day, Seryth was encouraged to leave the cottage and take long walks through the Hinterlands. He suspected it was just as much to keep him away from Quel’Danil as it was to help him recuperate his strength.
Fordrellon, of course, came with him.
The walks were mostly uneventful, though there was more than once that Seryth swore they were being watched. Yet, when he turned around to look, there was never anything more than a slight rustle, as if something had taken flight through the undergrowth.
The uneasy peace lasted a couple of weeks. Perhaps in retaliation, or perhaps simply because it’s just what they did, the trolls launched an attack on the lodge.
The quel’dorei responded swiftly. Seryth joined the defense, though whether because it was Fordrellon, steering him towards quieter parts of the battle, or a real weakness from inside, his spells did not come as swiftly or as powerfully as usual.
Once the trolls had been routed, the quel’dorei rallied for a counterattack. After a long, searching look at Seryth, Fordrellon voluntold them both for the duty.
They worked well together — better than Seryth expected. As they fought through the troll ruins, it occurred to Seryth the quel’dorei weren’t just here for vengeance or to thin the trolls’ numbers. They were searching for something. The other elves carefully checked each tent, each section of wall, each container.
Whatever they were looking for, they neglected to tell Seryth.
The further they delved into the troll encampments, the more the twisting of the troll magic became apparent to Seryth. Nature magic was mixed with shadow magic, and what on the surface might’ve seemed to be harmony with their natural environment became the breeding of monsters and disease. They once passed through a field of giant spiders and their web-wrapped victims. Seryth spotted pointed ears and red tufts of dwarven beards poking through the webs, the occassional nose-tip or hand. The quel’dorei cut through the stricky strands of the first few cocoons to discover their occupants long-dead, faces pale from drained blood, and grimly left the rest of them alone.
The other elves seemed to take the trolls’ evil as a given, and Seryth caught Fordrellon peering at him expectantly once or twice, as if he was checking to see if Seryth was absorbing the lesson. It reminded Seryth so strongly of his foster father that he prickled, drawing on more power than he normally would for his spells in his frustration, which only gained him more judgmental looks from Fordrellon.
Seryth couldn’t explain the sudden hatred and rivalry he had for the paladin, but neither did Fordrellon comment on it. They continued to cut through the troll territory with barely any casualties of their own.
That evening, they met up with another group of Farstriders to make camp. Seryth was delighted to find that Jalinde was a part of that team, though she had no eyes for Seryth. She spent most of dinner arguing with the other elves, claiming the spiders were natural animals and should be treated with the same respect as they would a gryphon, wolf, or hawk.
The other elves clearly disagreed with her, and thinking back to the grotesque field of cocoons, Seryth was inclined towards the same. Still, he watched her and listened closely to her arguments. Perhaps she would notice.
The voidwalker inside him was quieter now. Only twice did he catch glimpses of the imp in his feline form lurking around the camp, and each time, he looked up to see Fordrellon watching him closely. His hatred began to crystallize for the elf: his judgmental air, his prying eyes, even the ease he slung his sword and Light magic around. Seryth imagined Fordrellon was one of those elves who had it easy: born of a good family, naturally talented, never had to strain or strive a day in his life. Not like Seryth, exiled to be a farmboy far from his homeland, whose foster father seemed to regard him more as a chore than a real son…or so it seemed to Seryth in that moment of bitterness.
It probably didn’t help his disgruntlement that Jalinde seemed sweet on Fordrellon. It conveniently escaped Seryth’s notice that she was sweet to everyone, in a way that certainly wasn’t romantic in nature. It was easier to blame the paladin than find the way through his own complicated feelings.
For the last strike on the trolls, they mounted gryphons to make a strike from the air.
Fordrellon — of course, Seryth thought — leaped from his as they neared the top of the ziggurat, his blade leading the way. Seryth thought his own approach was more rational, circling his gryphon and raining spells down on the trolls from above, though he didn’t like to admit he had at first been planning an entry like Fordrellon’s.
Jalinde tailed him, putting arrows in any trolls he missed. He cheered her on, and she gave him a tiny smile in return.
Below, Fordrellon was facing the consequences for his rash frontal assault. A hulking troll berseker advanced on the quel’dorei from behind. Seryth saw it and saw that he could stop it, saving Fordrellon from a likely death.
Or, he suddenly thought, he could pretend to not have seen, and be rid of the annoying paladin forever…
Jalinde made the decision for him. Four arrows sprouted from the berserker’s back, and it toppled at the heels of the startled Fordrellon. He turned and gave the two circling gryphon riders a grateful salute, and Seryth swallowed his fury to return it.
The trolls had been trying to summon an avatar of their Wild God, Shadra, into the world. The quel’dorei’s timely attack had stopped it. Yet the ritual implements remained on their altar, and Seryth sensed the god was there, watching through the veil of worlds.
The other quel’dorei, Fordrellon among them, counseled to smash the ritual implements and be done with it. Jalinde spoke up then, saying Shadra was a Wild God, an animal god, not inherently evil and instead a force of nature. Restoring Shadra’s power to this corner of the world might even help the Hinterlands regrow after all the wounds the trolls’ twisted magic had inflicted on it.
Seryth privately agreed, but he knew if he spoke up, Fordrellon would immediately discount Seryth’s opinion for sake of it being Seryth’s and argue that much more strongly against Jalinde.
In the end, the leader of the warband counseled they all sleep on it. Seryth caught Jalinde’s gaze, giving a nod towards the altar.
He saw it, and she saw it too: while the others slept, they could complete the ritual themselves.
Shadra rose from the pool beneath the altar like a sea giant surfacing from the depths. Jalinde let out a shout of triumph, but Seryth’s certainty wavered. The spider was black and red, spiked and shadowy, like demonspawn rather than a bastion of nature.
It screeled, splitting their ears, and Seryth heard a voice in his head.
“Why now? What have you done, to complete my summoning at this hour? Who ARE you?”
It didn’t sound like the voice of an immensely powerful Wild God. He sensed confusion and fear. The voice became louder then, and with it Seryth felt like whatever-it-was was driving a spike into his brain.
“The blade of Nathssysn? No! I will not fall to your webs again, Zilv’Natha!”
And with that, Shadra’s avatar attacked, lashing out with one massive foreleg like a spear, aimed right at Seryth’s heart.