If the shard had always been inside of him, it had always been slowly corrupting him. The events at Thelsamar, even the tortured worgen and farmers in his past, made all too much sense. Even though he could lay the blame at the shard’s feet, he couldn’t get around the knowing that it was still him who had cast the spells, who had killed and hurt so many people.
Yet, if it was the shard that had started all this, then perhaps removing the shard from his chest would end the nightmare.
Hours later, the next visitor to the tavern found him there, blood on his hands and spread around him. The shard was too deep, and each time he thought he grasped it, it wriggled a little deeper into him.
The visitor eyed him, then knelt and put the healing Light into him. Seryth looked up and met Fordrellon’s eyes. He didn’t understand, before he blacked out.
“I received your message,” said Fordrellon.
They didn’t talk about what Fordrellon had walked into, or about the shard still inside Seryth, if Fordrellon had even been aware of it. Seryth instead told him of his plans to meet with the Council of the Black Harvest in Duskwood and to turn them against each other.
“I always sensed evil inside you,” said Fordrellon. “My oaths would have required me to slay you, but there was always something else that stopped me. A kind of willingness in you to protect your kin, a yearning for the Light. I thought perhaps I could nurture it into being.”
“Don’t inflict your cult of the Light on me,” said Seryth wearily.
Fordrellon looked offended, and Seryth immediately regretted saying it, but he had just enough pride left to not take back his words. Fordrellon sidestepped the remark.
“I will aid you against the Black Harvest,” he said. “Though I still don’t trust your ultimate goals, slowing down the warlocks’ gains of power can only mean good for the people of Val’sharah who are fighting the demons.”
“Just stay behind me and do as I say,” said Seryth. “I have a plan.”
“So long as you don’t order me to do anything disasteful, I shall,” agreed Fordrellon. They shook on it, meeting gazes again. Seryth read in Fordrellon’s eyes the same hate he held for the paladin in return, but for the moment, they were allies.
They met the Council in a dilapidated cottage a few hours ride out of Darkshire. Fordrellon posed as a servant, though he hated the deception.
“You can let them know the truth as soon as we get to the skull-cracking part,” Seryth told him, “but for now, stay silent and stay out of my way.”
The Council then held their meeting. Though Seryth had made up the story that a magical artifact had been found in Duskwood to pique their interest in the area, it turned out the story wasn’t so untrue after all. Another of the shards of Nathssysn had showed up nearby, and the Council was planning on recovering it and offering it to the returning Ormmoth as tribute.
Still posing as a powerful warlock in-the-know of the mission, Seryth didn’t ask. Privately, he was assigning Ormmoth as Enemy Number One in his head. It seemed he, or it, wanted the restored blade, which put the entity at direct odds with Seryth.
Seryth had no intention of being cut open to give Ormmoth the last shard, after all.
The rumors about the nearby shard — the real rumors, and not the ones Seryth had planted — led the warlocks into Deadwind Pass. Fordrellon muttered to Seryth about how the place made him itch, and Seryth could empathize — it was as if something had passed through the gap in the mountains and had leeched all life away as it went.
The other warlocks muttered of worse. The trail they were following was taking them awfully close to Medivh’s tower.
“Medivh?” asked Seryth. “The same mage who brought the orcs to this world?”
“Aye,” said the human riding on his left side.
“I’m sure he had a very large interest in magical artifacts of the Second War,” muttered Fordrellon from the other.
“Quiet!” said the warlock at the head of their column. He held up his fist, looking around. A chill wind had picked up in the canyon they were following.
“There’s–” started Fordrellon.
“We tripped a ward!” cried the lead warlock, just before a shadowy creature rose out of the land before him and swallowed him and his unfortunate mount whole.
The other warlocks reacted by lobbing felfire at the shadow. Fordrellon fell back, unwilling to use his Light magic and so blow his cover, though Seryth could see how much it rankled in him. He tailed the paladin, glancing back as the shadow ripped through the other warlocks despite the amount of felfire they hurled at it.
The shard in his chest was vibrating slightly, causing the itchy feeling he was so used to. Seryth closed his eyes and pulled a little shadow-stuff from the blade, sending it out towards the giant shadow as it advanced on them.
“What are you DOING?” snarled Fordrellon.
Seryth didn’t answer. He wrapped his spell about the larger shadow, tightening it like a noose. The creature howled and fought the bonds.
“Shh,” said Seryth, whispering both from the corner of his mouth and through the spell. “You’re mine, now.”
It was a variation on the Subjugation spell he had learned on the prison plane, modified for a creature larger and darker than the demons he’d met. Like the demons, the shadow fought him, but it couldn’t resist the pull of the blade.
Seryth reeled it in, bringing it closer to himself, and then into himself. He shuddered as its touch felt like ice, and the shard almost seemed to sing inside him.
Until it went silent, and the shadow was contained inside it. He raised his head to look at Fordrellon, and smirked slightly.
The paladin looked spooked. “How did you do that?”
Seryth was about to answer, when the shadow the shard had captured gave a little twinge.
“It knows where the shard we’re seeking lies,” said Seryth, rubbing his chest. He signaled down to the warlocks — those that were left — and led the way deeper into the Pass.
The gullies and trails in the Pass curled unnaturally. Rocks seemed to grow from the hillsides, some large enough they could touch others across the way and form primitive-looking bridges.
Seryth crossed out onto one. The shard twitched, and he could almost see the other dark energies of the area like ghosts. He had a faint memory of the place, of leading an army, tossing prisoners off this very same bridge to serve as an example to the town he planned to invade down below…
No, not his memory. The memory of the blade, or perhaps the shadow he’d drawn into it. The Nathssysn was getting stronger, between the shards he kept in his pack, and the one they were seeking. There was a growing sentience to it, too, that Seryth could feel testing his thoughts — such as by pushing a memory like this into his waking vision.
“We’ll try down there,” he announced to the other warlocks, pointing down into the ruins of the same town he had contemplated in his vision.
“Something terrible happened here once,” said Fordrellon as they passed under the eaves of the town’s old ruined gate.
“You think?” hissed Seryth.
“This was one of the first towns to fall to the orcs in the Second War,” said another of the warlocks, riding up beside them. “Medivh promised to protect it, but that had been a lie.”
“What’s the chances Medivh would have taken our missing artifact?” asked Seryth.
“You mean Medivh or one of his servants?” asked the warlock with a laugh. He didn’t answer in the affirmative, Seryth noticed.
Fordrellon took the lead abruptly, though no one really was leading as the warlocks spread out through the ruined town, searching for clues. Seryth followed him to a church on the hillside. Though the windows were missing their glass, remarkably the building still stood.
Seryth paused in the doorway. It wasn’t discomfort with the building, but another memory, that of a shadow sweeping through the place and sucking out the life of those villagers who had once cowered within, thinking the Light would save them from the orcish invasion.
He watched through double-vision as they died up front of him and also while Fordrellon approached their corpses respectfully, whispering their final rites so the other warlocks would not hear.
“The thing about the fel,” the paladin said as he returned to Seryth’s side, “is that though it brings great power, eventually it also swallows what it creates.”
“It wasn’t fel that did this,” said Seryth shortly.
“There is still enough of you to be saved.”
“Be quiet!” said Seryth. Fordrellon frowned at him, but Seryth pointed out the warlock riding up to them in haste.
“We’ve detected a resonance of the shard along the river,” the warlock said.
Seryth just exchanged glances with Fordrellon, and they both followed the warlock in silence.
Behind them, the door of the church creaked and sagged, banging in the cold wind of the pass.
The resonance grew, as did the memory, as they approached the site the warlock had found. Seryth could almost picture himself striking out with a long blade that flashed like obsidian in the gloom, feel the ecstasy as the lives the blade took ran down its length and into its wielder like blood. He shuddered and fought with himself, with the hunger calling on him to do the same to the people around him, both friend and foe.
“Look there,” said Fordrellon, bringing him back to reality. He was pointing to a sewer grate along the river’s bank.
Seryth tore the old grate from its moorings with ease. He wasn’t sure if it was an access tunnel, or if someone had come along and widened the sewer after the town had been invaded, but the passageway led into a catacombs. As they entered the halls of old graves, Fordrellon said they must be under the tower of Medivh by now.
Other ghosts of the past rose up front of Seryth, but this time, the other warlocks could see them — and the ghosts could attack them.
“This shard is the most powerful we’ve encountered,” said one of the warlocks after the ghosts were dispatched. “It must be protecting itself.”
“Yes, but from what?” muttered Seryth. “We wish to make use of it, not destroy it.”
Fordrellon grunted, and Seryth wondered if he had his answer.
They came to a part of the catacombs that looked more recently kept up — not that that was saying much. Cobwebs still clung to the walls, and the air smelled musty, like a library that hadn’t been disturbed in years.
When Seryth closed his eyes, he could see the shard like an afterimage burned into the back of his eyelids. He didn’t even know what the one inside him looked like, or if perhaps this one was the one they sought. The shard in him was humming and itching, growing stronger the nearer they drew to its cousin.
They finally entered a set of rooms with all sorts of ornaments and artifacts on the walls. The warlocks murmured their appreciation, but Seryth hissed a warning. Wards were strong in the place, and every artifact was protected by a deadly trap. “Don’t touch anything, unless you wish to anger the spirit of Medivh.”
He quickly reneged on his own advice, when he turned his head and saw the shard there, suspended in midair as if held up by an invisible string. It was the largest shard Seryth had ever seen, and a hilt of demonic design was still attached to one end.
He reflexively reached for it. Fordrellon shouted and knocked his arm away. Which one of them triggered the ward, Seryth wasn’t sure, but they were both knocked back as a magical construct pulled away from the walls. Hefting a scythe, it advanced with deadly intent on the warlocks.
They fared well against the construct, despite the obvious care and skill with which it was assembled. Then, it picked up the shard of Nathssyn itself and the tide turned. Darkness akin to that Seryth had seen sweeping through the ruined town above now leaped from the broken blade in waves, tearing the lifeforce of another shrieking warlock away with each swing.
Fordrellon glanced at Seryth. “We should retreat. No artifact is worth dying for in this manner!”
“The blade is mine,” Seryth hissed, though he wasn’t sure if he had said it himself, or had been compelled from within.
As the last warlock fell before them, Seryth stepped forward, reaching toward the sword. The construct ground to a halt, seeming confused, as the blade’s hilt rattled in its hands. The shard inside Seryth began to vibrate so hard he was a little concerned it might pierce a heart or lung, but he grit his teeth through the pain.
“You ARE mine,” he told it. “Blessed by demons or not, a blade is nothing without its wielder, and that. Is. ME!”
The shards still in his pack burst from it then, ringing like a hundred pieces of falling glass. They swirled around him, reforming into a ghost of a blade with the hilt and half its length missing. The construct turned its diminutive head as if watching the shards, in awe of their deadly beauty.
Then it swung at them with the blade it held.
It was a mistake. The hilt leapt from the construct’s hands, snapping to with the rest of its shards. Seryth gagged as the shard in him gave a great lurch, and he felt blood trickle down his chest. He was becoming dangerously close to dying, he knew, if he couldn’t control the shard’s movement.
“You are MINE!”
He reached out his hand again, and this time, like an obedient hound, the rest of the blade leaped into his palm, fully formed except a large chunk missing from its center.
The construct tilted its head, regarding Seryth, then it began to crumble apart. The blade had returned to its rightful owner, and its enchantment was spent.
With a grin of triumph, Seryth turned back to Fordrellon.
Fordrellon only stared, and Seryth couldn’t read the paladin’s expression.