Val’sharah began a green smudge on the horizon, rising out of the sea around it, that grew bigger and taller as Seryth approached. He guided his felsteed to the ground, and the waters of the coastline hissed as its fiery hooves splashed through it.
The Duskwood had been thick, its trees as high as anything Seryth had ever seen, but Val’Sharah dwarfed it. He felt the hunger of his demons as they crossed into the woods. He was tempted for a moment to unleash them and let them wreak havoc to their hearts’ content, but his purpose here was looking for Jalinde and a Wild God. It wouldn’t do to spook their animal friends now.
However, just the presence of his demons were enough to chase the locals off.
Seryth found a trail too wide to have been made by animals, and followed it until he reached a kal’dorei village. Not all was well; imps overran the streets and strange elves with hooves, horns, and tails stalked about. His own demons seemed to have an odd affinitiy to the creatures, hating them and being drawn towards them at the same time, much like they were to Seryth himself.
Seryth was about to approach one of the horned kal’dorei, when an twilight-colored panther leapt from the bushes and mauled the group just in front of him. Then the animal turned towards him, snuffing, and Seryth read a humanoid intelligence in its eyes.
It spotted his felsteed and charged. The felsteed took off, and Seryth, astride it, went with it. The panther yowled behind him in frustration, and Seryth didn’t stop the demon until much later, touching down again and considering his options. The creatures in the forest clearly didn’t like demons. Seryth bit back his pride and asked the imp for a spell to conceal his felsteed as a normal horse. Its black scaly hide turned furry, its horns fusing into one. The resulting courser didn’t look friendly, but at least it looked natural. A calico cat leapt up on its rump and looked at Seryth expectantly.
Seryth continued searching the forest. The first shrine of a Wild God he came to, by following the trail out of the village until it turned into a road, was overrun by the same demonic creatures as he had fled from. Seryth slew a few of them for good measure, but none of the original inhabitants of the shrine were left that Seryth could tell. Wondering at how such demonic creatures came to be in the forest, Seryth turned back up the road.
The road led to a temple, ancient if Seryth was any judge of architecture. It, too, was besiged by the dark creatures. Seryth recognized a real demon within their ranks. He offered his assistance to the defending kal’dorei, and grateful for any kind of help, they accepted.
Instead of facing the creatures directly at their gates, the elves sent him behind their lines, deep into the darkened forest they called the Flow of Nightmare. He would help to cut the creatures off at their source.
He followed a stream that had once been clear, that now dragged at its banks, choked with leafless brambles and detritus. The felsteed, having never shown interest in food before, drank from it and snorted. Seryth could feel its eagerness.
At the head of the stream, Seryth found a massive matting of sticks, rotting leaves, and a gummy lavender substance he couldn’t identify. The felsteed sniffed it and then struck at it with a forehoof, and the whole thing conglomerated and rose into a towering cresting wave that vaguely resembled a creature’s head and arms, reaching for them.
Seryth turned felfire on it, and unleashed his demons on it, gaining pleasure from the feeling of burning away the impurity of the toxic mass.
The destruction of its pet brought out the lavender creature’s binder: another of the horned kal’dorei that Seryth recognized from the shrine and the temple. He was just as curious of Seryth as Seryth was of him, and briefly allowed a conversation, where Seryth learned his name: Thondrax.
“You are more like us than you are like them,” Thondrax said midway through the conversation. “Why aid them? Why not join us, where you belong?”
Seryth told him the truth. “Unless you can tell me more about the Nathssysn, you are useless to me.”
He could see the horned kal’dorei trying to come up with suitable answer, fear in his eyes. Thondrax knew Seryth to be the more powerful, and Seryth knew Thondrax knew nothing about the legendary blade.
“The Wild Gods are more useful to me than you are,” Seryth told the horned kal’dorei, “And so I serve them.” He opened fire, and Thondrax was correct. Seryth was the more powerful.
The magic that had been used to corrupt the forest was strange to Seryth, yet his demons seemed to enjoy killing those tainted by it, so he stayed in the Flow of Nightmare for some days more, though he was certain that slaying Thondrax would have taken care of the invading force at the Temple. In the deepest part of the Nightmare, he was surprised to find a druid of some power being held captive by other horned kal’dorei. Seryth extracted a promise from the druid that he give him audience to a Wild God before freeing him, not caring if the druid was capable of following through on the promise or not.
Luckily (for both of them) the druid was.
The druid led him to Lorlathil, and from there, to the Grove of Cenarius.
The demigod was not well, however. The same creatures who had been attacking Val’sharah had struck at him, and the Wild God was in no condition to be able to speak to Seryth.
Seryth was infuriated. After the disasters at Thelsamar and the Wetlands, he cared little for getting involved in other peoples’ wars. He agreed to help the druids restore their Wild God only because Seryth still had use for Him personally.
Two of the archdruids Seryth appealed to for help said they were much too busy with their own concerns to help Cenarius. Seryth thought them selfish for not seeing to needs beyond their own, it conveniently escaping his notice that their concerns were also quite dire, and that he could be considered guilty of the same selfishness.
The third turned out to be located in the same region where Seryth had almost been dragged from his felsteed by the twilight panther. With trepidation, and checking that his illusion on the felsteed remained strong, Seryth ventured back down that dirt-packed trail.
It was easy to get lost in the thick forest, and Seryth had fled from the twilight panther’s grove too quickly to note any landmarks, anyway. He followed a trail that turned down into a bog, and not just a bog, but one infested with mischevous sprites.
They plucked at the mane of Seryth’s felsteed-pretend-courser, and worried they might undo the illusion, Seryth sent blasts of fire at them. Laughing, they disappeared into the undergrowth, and Seryth pursued them.
It turned out Seryth was not the only one the sprites tormented. Faerie dragons were also being lured into the depths of the bog and caught up with roots and thorns, tearing their delicate butterfly wings as the plants latched onto them.
Seryth freed the faerie dragons, thinking it better if the sprites were distracted by the release of their pets, though he was also motivated by a rare impulse of compassion.
The tricks were only part of the sprites’ power. Still laughing and taunting him, they lured Seryth into a cul-de-sac. As soon as Seryth stepped onto the quivering roots lacing through the bog’s pools, the roots rose up around him, creaking and dragging him upward like massive pythons. They brought him before a large sprite sitting on a broad silver leaf, with more roots twisted about her to create an awning. She introduced herself as the Mother Sprite, Riverbreeze.
She wanted to be entertained by him, of all things.
First the Mother Sprite called him to dance with her children, but it was a dance of death. She seemed amused by his spell attacks on her sprites, rather than angered. So Seryth added power to those spells, incinerating the creatures where they stood, but rather than impressing her further, she grew bored. Death only ever had one outcome, she said. It was the dance of struggle and hardship that created so many colors, so many stories, so much diversity in the species that walked the forest.
Seryth corrected her, telling her that what she really craved was the essence of life. She seemed intrigued by his suggestion. She asked him if he knew what he was offering. Seryth didn’t, remaining silent.
So she took him in her thorny embrace. This was how the grell were created, she said, showing him. This is how they were corrupted into their kin, the imps, she said, showing him that, too, how his tainted blood became theirs. Seryth recalled his own imp, so often liking to run about as a cat, and shivered.
All life fell to corruption, the Mother Sprite claimed, as she snuffed out the twisted imps then, one by one. The name of corruption was greed, she said, metastasized from natural hunger. “Zilv’Natha, you are that cancer. And though your antics would amuse me for centuries, I cannot allow that corruption to live. I will rip you from the world just as you have ripped so many souls yourself.”
She struck at him with a vine, but Seryth’s vision was blocked by the sudden multitudes of butterfly wings. The faerie dragons he had freed from the sprites’ clutches had come back to him. Flying in formation, their colors dazzled and confused the Mother Sprite, until she didn’t know where to strike. In the meantime, a larger one lifted under Seryth and bore him safely away…
The queen of the faerie dragons flew him to a branch far above the bog, wide enough to count as a road in any normal human or elven village. It set him down on it, and alit before him, looking at him with multi-faceted eyes like gems.
Seryth asked the queen if she could sense the same corruption inside him as the Mother Sprite had, and she said yes. When he asked why the queen didn’t just kill him too, as the Mother Sprite was planning, the faerie dragon shrugged. A kindness returned a kindness, she said. The Mother Sprite was right that death had only one outcome, but even an evil like Seryth’s could be put to good use before that death, should he learn how to nurture it properly.
“You want me to grow more powerful, bring more demons to your woods?” he threatened.
“No,” said the faerie dragon calmly. “I believe you were on your way to help an archdruid cleanse the forest of other demons, using your own. Everyone has a bestial and bloodthirsty nature, no matter how smart or magical. Us faerie dragons prove that better than anything.”
She refused to speak anymore to him after that, but, dipping her wing, she offered her flight to him again. A kindness returning a kindness.
Uncertainly, Seryth mounted up. In minutes, she bore him to the grove of the twilight panther.