It turned out Westfall was faring poorly after the attack by gnolls. In desperation, some of the displaced villagers had turned to banditry themselves. A family that had lived a few fields down from Seryth had been attacked on the road and killed.
Seryth was recognized as he rode past, and the investigating deputy stopped him to question if he had seen anything suspicious. Seryth answered, truthfully enough, that he hadn’t been in Westfall for months.
In time it was Seryth’s turn to be attacked by bandits. The bandits were weak and underfed by any standards, and easily dispatched by Seryth’s standards. He accidentally killed one of them by conjuring a shadow bolt so powerful it blew through two of them in a line.
“I knew there was always something rotten about you!” said the second bandit, holding his arm and staring in horror at his dead companion, before taking off at a run.
Seryth didn’t even have time to call back that it had been the bandit who started it. He had known both of them. Temporarily distracted from his goals in Duskwood, he clucked his felsteed faster towards the nearest farmstead. How could Westfall have fallen so far? He needed answers.
The farmer was a generous sort, who had let several of his destitute neighbors camp out in his fields. Seryth went among them, ignoring the usual number of odd looks he got for being a half-elf in a human-dominated province. He parted with a few coppers for rumors, but all anyone could talk about was the murdered Furlbrows.
Seryth, for his part, was trying hard to not let it get to him. Like everyone else in Westfall, he had known the Furlbrows. They were one of the few farmer couples who had gone past tolerating him and even seemed to like him. He had no time or interest for grieving, however.
The rumors held that the murderers hadn’t been other farmers turning to banditry, but the gnolls. The militia were actively seeking volunteers to launch a counterattack on the creatures. Seryth chafed at the delay, knowing the Council was waiting for him in Duskwood. Which people were more important to him? Those he grew up with, or those who understood him now?
He was about to turn away for Duskwood when one of the squatters recognized him. She claimed she had seen his foster father near the shoreline only days ago, and other farmers chimed in with rumors that the old Farstrider had been hunting for them — both for food and for gnoll bandits.
Seryth froze. The disappearance of Daelin was what had set him out on his great adventure to begin with. In some corner of his mind, Seryth blamed Daelin for all his recent troubles — abandoning Seryth, lying to him about how his past, holding him back from what he clearly could’ve become as a warock. Yet, his foster father also would know the answers to his questions about the past: such as any connection he had to Zilv’Natha or the Nathssysn.
Seryth turned towards the northwest, determined to do what had to be done to find the truth.
He cut through a tribe of gnolls on his way to the shoreline, but nothing waited for him on the shore but the sand, the turf, and a scavenging band of murlocs. It occurred to him that in the past, such murlocs would have scared him off, but now, they fell to his spells as easily as all the rest.
He turned next for a farmstead that overlooked the sea cliffs, hoping for some answers.
The farmer living there was nervous but seemed to know something. It was easy enough to threaten him, yet despite all the pain Seryth promised, all the man could say was that his foster father had last been seen investigating an old mine that had supposedly been overtaken by bandits, just over the western hills.
Seryth restrained himself from killing the man in frustration and rode hard for the mine. The felsteed fed on his anger, moving so fast the wind popped and roared in Seryth’s ears.
When Seryth came up over the hill, he could clearly see the bandits and their camp clustered around the mine opening. He was about to ride down to them, when an arrow struck the ground at his felsteed’s hoof. Seryth had a split second to recognize it as a magical arrow of binding, a Farstrider’s tool, when the thing exploded with arcane energies, throwing an unseen net over him and his horse that kept him from moving.
Daelin rose out of his cover then. Seryth was about to exclaim, with what emotion he wasn’t sure, but his mouth was stuck fast by the binding arrow’s magic.
Daelin just looked at him, then said, “Get off your horse, and follow me. Be quiet.”
The arrow’s magic released, and the felsteed, still disguised as a black horse, stamped and fidgetted and shuddered, as if to make sure the arcane energies were all gone.
“You owe me answers,” Seryth growled.
Daelin just looked back at him with the same disinterested sternness that Seryth knew well from childhood. “You will have them. Follow me.”
Surprised, still expecting some trap, Seryth slipped off the felsteed and did so.
Daelin slipped into the mine with the grace and silence that only a Farstrider could manage. He must have extended some of his magic to Seryth, too, for they had little trouble infiltrating deep into the mine’s tunnels. The human bandits clustered mostly about the entrances, preferring the sunlight to the mine’s darkness, but Seryth could smell gnolls deeper inside and hear their voices.
They hid behind a row of crates and old mine carts. Just beyond, a human, a gnoll, and some shadowy figure Seryth couldn’t identify were conversing. Seryth recognized the human as being one of the gruffer farmers in Westfall, one who had never much liked him or his father and whom Seryth was not at all surprised to see becoming a bandit leader. The gnoll also appeared to be a leader of some sort, if the colorful feathers it had braided into its mane and hung from its clothing were anything to go by.
“We haven’t found any swords or even broken swords that match your description,” the farmer was saying. The gnoll affirmed something in grunts, barks, and growls that Seryth couldn’t translate.
“And the elves?” asked the shadow.
“The Farstrider has so far evaded us,” answered the human. “As for his son, no one’s seen him for months. We think he must have left the province.”
The gnoll barked something.
“Not even in Elwynn Forest?” said the shadow. “This isn’t good news. My master will want that blade.”
“Are you so certain they have it?” asked the farmer, and Seryth saw conflicting emotions on the grizzled man’s face. Was it possible the farmer was covering for them? “There was never anything particularly extraordinary about the boy, and Daelin made it clear to us he’d been retired for decades.”
“No stone unturned,” said the shadow. “Capture the Farstrider. Question and kill anyone who aids him. The Zilv’natha must return.”
Seryth gasped despite himself, and Daelin pinched his arm. The gnoll looked their way, sniffing, but Daelin and Seryth held perfectly still until it looked away again, attending to something the shadow was saying.
The farmer expressed his disgruntlement with the shadowy figure’s plans, but grimly agreed, and then all three of them left the chamber.
Daelin turned to Seryth, his blue eyes glowing in the darkness left by the absence of the three’s torches. “Does that answer your questions?”
“How did you know they would be here?” Seryth countered.
“I’ve been tracking them since the attacks began. Gnolls have always harried the farms, but such organization was unnatural for them.”
Seryth scowled. “I thought they killed you! When I came home, you weren’t there. I assumed–“
“–exactly what I wanted you or anyone else seeing the farmstead to assume. Seryth, the gnolls and their masters — and whatever farmers they can sway to their side — mean ill towards us. You should’ve stayed in Stormwind.”
“Yes, well, plans changed pretty quickly when the gnolls attacked me and stole our crops,” Seryth returned hotly.
Daelin shrugged. “The crops are of little consequence. What matters now is we keep on the move.”
“Easier done than said,” said Seryth. “I have things to do in Duskwood. I can get out of your hair in an instant, since that seems to be what you want.”
Seryth’s sarcasm must have stung him, and Daelin ducked his head briefly. “I am glad to see you are alive,” he said.
“But not enough to tell me what’s going on? Why are they after us? Why US?”
“Because of the blade of Nathssysn,” said Daelin, and the frankness with which he admitted it surprised Seryth into silence.
Daelin then led Seryth from the mines, saying a full explanation would come, but that they had best not do it in enemy territory. Seryth followed obediently. His heart was pounding uncomfortably in his chest, each beat accompanied by a little sting.
They didn’t return to the farmsteads, instead making camp in the cottonwood thickets along the stream at the hills’ feet. Daelin didn’t immediately start into his explanation, ordering Seryth to go about camp chores with his usual air of authority, as if Seryth were another Farstrider and not Daelin’s son. It rankled in Seryth now as it always had, but with the coming answers Daelin had promised, he bore the embarrassment.
“I probably should have told you this a long time ago,” Daelin reflected as they settled around the Farstrider’s camping stove, another magical contraption that gave off heat without the revealing light and smoke of a campfire.
“You probably should have,” Seryth agreed shortly.
“I make no apology for my actions,” Daelin replied, “except perhaps that one. The blade of Nathssysn is a powerful demonic artifact from the Second War. It was brought to these lands by the orcs. Orcs I fought, along the border between Quel’Thalas and the Wildhammer strongholds.”
“The Hinterlands,” Seryth supplied.
Daelin glanced at him, perhaps surprised by how quickly Seryth gave an answer, but if so, he didn’t comment on it. “Both sides were preparing for a clash. The allied elves and dwarves were expecting a defeat, because of the power of that blade. There hadn’t been enough time to evacuate all of the lodges. Children and family were sheltering in the hills.
“Then the unexpected happened. The blade of Nathssysn shattered. We never found out why. The orcs were decimated from the blast. The shards flew for miles, including one to where myself, my family — and your family — had been hiding.”
Daelin looked very distant then, pain in his eyes.
“Your family?” Seryth prompted him. He had never known Daelin had married.
Daelin hissed a breath in. “The shard that fell among us killed my wife. It killed your mother, too, when she flung herself on top of you to protect you. We didn’t think you had survived either, until later, when we were able to return and pick through the wreckage, and you were found crying under her body.
“The shard itself was nowhere to be found. Vaporized, we thought, during the impact. You were bloodied, and it was difficult to tell whether it was your blood, or your mother’s. But you survived.
“I took charge of you, for your mother and I had ever been friends… We fled to the north, to another lodge, where I sought healers for you. They couldn’t do anything.”
“Do anything about WHAT?” said Seryth.
“A growing corruption.” Daelin looked at him flatly. “At first I thought it was due your bloodline and your father, but as time drew on, it became clear it was more magical in nature. You reacted badly to any magic being used on you, in particular the arcane, which Farstriders at the time were so fond of. Eventually I was forced to bring you here, to Westfall, where no such magic exists.
“The hole in your chest gradually closed, and I thought that was the end of it. Until the gnolls arrived. And you know the rest.”
Seryth touched his chest. There had always been a scar there, on the left side, but Daelin had always claimed it was from an accident, when he had fallen over as a toddler onto a farmer’s upturned hoe. Daelin nodded slightly.
“I fear we now know where the shard ended up. It didn’t disintegrate. It remained with you, Seryth: within you, and now, the demons have returned for their old artifact. With or without your cooperation, they will have it.”
They didn’t speak anymore that night, and Seryth laid awake, thinking of the implications. It made an awful kind of sense. The itchy, burning feeling in his chest when he used his magic, the odd respect the demons held for him, the interest of the Council, even the imp… The diminutive creature must have been a forerunner for the coming invasion, a scout. It had identified him as bearing the last shard of Nathssysn, and had manipulated him into giving into its power.
Or had it? The imp had helped him to channel the shard’s magic, that was true, but it also had taught him how to chain the manifestation of the blade’s power — the voidwalker — inside himself. It had taught him restraint, among other things, and had always been curiously absent when he was at his worst.
It was not due to the imp, then, that Seryth was corrupted.
Everything led back to the shard.
Seryth slipped from the camp that night, while Daelin was asleep. He knew he had little chance of evading the tracking skills of a Farstrider, and so he put many miles between them with the help of his felsteed.
He didn’t know where he was going, and he was now painfully aware that the choice might not have all been his. His chest itched abominably.