The trail led them back into the dense forest, and they were soon forced to ground the hippogriff and continue on foot. Jalinde, being the tracker, led the way, but even she lost the trail after a few minutes. Seryth was about to tell her to leave off the hunt and not take it personally, when she told him to wait. She’d been studying with the druids, after all, and knew a new trick.
She kneeled and spoke arcane-sounding words over the last print she could discover. Nothing seemed to happen at first, and then the undergrowth began to shake around them. Seryth stood up in alarm when he saw what he first thought were imps pushing through the brush, only to catch the flash of sun off brown, green, and red skins as the creatures came out into the clearing. Not imps. Grell.
As Seryth could only stare in shock, Jalinde spoke to them in their own language. They mostly laughed and cat-called as far as Seryth could tell, poking her in the belly and chest with their spears and claws. He was about to lose patience when Jalinde stood, and nodded to him.
She walked to the edge of a fall in the forest: a cliff face that over the ages had become overgrown with vines and covered with their detritus. The grell followed her, still chattering, and she spread her arms.
Seryth shouted in alarm as she leaped from the cliff.
Feathers sprouted from Jalinde and she flew back to him: not quite a bird, but no longer an elf: she reminded Seryth of a better-looking (much better-looking) harpy instead. She gestured at him to make the same leap, and Seryth scowled at the grell.
He hated them as much as he hated the imp.
Still, Jalinde was waiting, and she seemed to detect no foulplay in the giggling horde. So Seryth stepped from the cliffside, heart in his throat.
Wings caught him, and it took him a moment to realize they were his own. Yet they didn’t quite seem to follow his commands — they led him after Jalinde, who was gliding through the trees, following a trail only she could see. The giggling and cat-calls of the grell slowly faded behind them.
They passed over a darker part of the forest. Demons had been here and had had their destructive way with the flora. Jalinde’s lips thinned, but she didn’t stop, giving her wings a hard flap to carry her up and over the grasping branches of the blackened, tortured trees.
“What did they tell you?” asked Seryth as they circled the darkened forest, Jalinde seeking some sign he didn’t understand.
“I don’t know,” said Jalinde distractedly.
“You don’t know?! Jalinde, they’re grell. They’re more interested in pranks and mischief than in helping. We probably just signed our souls away–“
“Hey, look, I don’t speak their language, but they’re creatures of nature, and our allies. As for signing our souls — look! I think I see Elothir!” She interupted herself to point out the hulk of the treant below.
They landed next to the great archdruid. When Seryth folded his arms to his sides, the feathers shed off of him, disappearing before they hit the ground.
Jalinde ran for the archdruid eagerly, asking for tidings.
“Jalinde, wait!” cried Seryth, spotting something odd about the treant’s foliage.
She managed to jump back just in time as the burnt and blackened treant swiped at her.
The burning of the forest and of himself had driven the archdruid mad with fury. Or that’s what Seryth told Jalinde after: he wasn’t sure himself if the treant had attacked them out of helpless rage, or if because he finally recognized the demonic taint in Seryth and struck out accordingly. Either way, Seryth put him out of his misery, burning him until he was a pile of ash and nothing more.
The experience shook Jalinde, but she said nothing. It was a sign to both of them of how far the demons had managed to invade while they had been focused on…other things. Seryth was carefully not thinking about what had happened to Fordrellon’s camp. That was easier now that he had a goal. The demons were still coming for Val’sharah, and he finally had the power to stop them.
Jalinde was insistent that they continue to hunt demons in the burnt out forest. Seryth was reluctant, wondering where the main force of the demons were, and if they were not better off regrouping with his army.
Jalinde pressed him however, saying they were close to one of the holy shrines of the Wild Gods. They couldn’t lose the foothold to the demons, and besides, she had seen Seryth’s power exercised more than once by now. She was confident Seryth could take any straggling forces of the demons on by himself.
Elothir wasn’t the only force of nature so corrupted. Other creatures and plants attacked them, including dryads and keepers of the grove. They were more obviously infused with fel, fallen under the demon’s sway.
As Jalinde fought them, the Nathssysn weighed on Seryth’s mind again, encouraging him to kill her, stab her in the back, or escape and let the demons murder her for him. It would be easy, after all. Seryth would have allies among the other demons, the true masters of this world, and he already proven he could after slaying his foster father, Daelin —
“NO!” Jalinde jumped back in surprise at Seryth’s shout, saving her from the downward swing of a keeper’s clawed hand and the fireball he sent after the keeper at the same time. The fire engulfed the keeper, ending what was left of its life, and Seryth turned to Jalinde.
“We’re leaving this place. Now.”
His tone brokered no argument, and nor did she argue as he summoned his felsteed so they could be away.
Seryth placated her by raining shadow and fire down on the forest from above as they flew away, incinerating any demons he saw. She soon joined his volley with her arrows, some glowing with nature magic she hadn’t possessed before.
Seryth laughed as a particularly big spell of his collided with Jalinde’s arrow and detonated just before it hit the ground, laying low both the trees and the shrieking demons that had been hiding in them.
“We work well together,” he told her.
“Like a fish and water,” said Jalinde with a grin.
“Like a bat and air!” replied Seryth and gave her a kiss. For once, the Nathssysn was silent as he exhulted in her touch.