Ravandwyr was surprised by the attack of the mana-wraiths, as Seryth told him what had happened after he dispatched the creatures — mostly by siphoning them away into nothing. Ravandwyr speculated it was the nature of the mana-wraiths, who were actually the souls of those who had been trapped in the Outlands when the world had been ripped from its planar moorings. The souls had been so infused with the chaotic energies they were ripped apart, reforming as mana-wraiths, much like the black dragons had become netherdrakes. Perhaps the mana-wraiths had sensed the half-soul of the whelp, Ravandwyr went on, and they were attracted to a vessel they might co-inhabit in the same way they once had living bodies of their own.
Seryth wasn’t at all interested in sharing his “vessel” with the lost and bloodthirsty undead, and asked Ravandwyr how he might avoid them in the future.
“Putting spirits to rest is difficult work,” said Ravandwyr. “If you can find out why they are restless…the ruins of Kirin’Var have stood for years, but the wraiths in it have rarely strayed out of it. Perhaps something there is agitating them down there, aside from you.”
“Kirin’Var,” said Seryth, looking out towards the ruined town. “Yes…I’ll see what I can find.”
Despite himself, Seryth seriously considered Ravandwyr’s words about possession by mana-wraiths. He wasn’t interested in submitting himself to the process, but could such heal the whelpling? Sharing existence with the spirit of a dead human had to be better than sharing it with Ormmoth, the spirit inside the blade of Nathsyssn, at least.
He walked the ruins, tilted oddly as if the land was about to break off and slide into the Nether. His felhound joyfully feasted on the mana in the mana-wraiths, and as none of them seemed friendly, Seryth didn’t try to keep it from doing so.
The ghosts had left behind all of their corporeal trappings, including tools, books, clothing, and furniture. Much of it was now decaying, though Seryth came across an intact book of short stories. He flipped through it, but the stories were all fantasy, useless to him, and he slipped it back on the remnants of a shelf.
A mana-wraith approached him from behind. Seryth swung to meet it, but the creature only passed him, taking the book down and bringing it to the broken remains of a chair. It sat in midair, as if the chair was still fully formed, and began to read. Then the air warped, and the wraith disappeared, only to appear behind Seryth again and repeat the same sequence of movements.
Seryth shivered at the thought of a half-soul like this stuck in a loop, like a rut in the road. Had he been the same, pursuing power and vengeance for its own sake? Or had that been forced on him by the Nathsyssn? He suddenly wished he knew the stories of past wielders of the blade, so he might ask them if they had suffered similarly.
“He stumbled across the remnants of a mana bomb. Seryth had heard of such contraptions before, and could sense the mana still leaking off of it. He set the whelpling next to it, and the little dragon grew stronger as it drank it in. The tingling sense of mana leaking in the area grew less, and the spirits in the town seemed to calm.
Seryth had Malfas lift the remnants of the mana bomb and tilt it off the edge of the world once the whelpling had siphoned its fill. The whelpling now rode on Seryth’s shoulder, and despite its thinness, it seemed to act more like a normal baby dragon now: chirping and nipping at floating motes, and even taking short flights on its impossibly-tiny wings.
“That device caused the suffering of thousands,” Seryth reflected to Malfas later, as they camped on the same ridge Ravandwyr had taught him how to siphon mana from. “Yet I suppose we were able to use it again for good, in the end.”
“Yes,” said Malfas with a yawn. “I told you so. It’s not the power that matters, but how you put it to use.”
“It would’ve been better if it had never been deployed in the first place, and the sin’dorei of old used that power to heal people instead of killing them.”
The dragon rolled its eyes. “I think you are being too sensitive. Destruction is a part of life.”
Seryth prickled. “Am I? I killed thousands myself, when I thought it warranted. You think I don’t regret that?”
“Do you?” asked Malfas, swinging his massive head around at Seryth to eye him.
Seryth didn’t answer. On some level, admitting his mistakes on such a grand scale felt like a betrayal to himself. He had felt he was in the right at the time.
Yet who was he, this “himself”, really? Half-souled, stuck in a rut? Evil, forced to atone for his crimes from his near-death experience? Good, victimized by a demon? None of those identities really appealed to him. He felt depressed.
“I took the book of stories out of the shelf again,” said Malfas suddenly.
“What? Why? That seems cruel! It calmed the spirit, being returned.”
“Dragonkin eat the shells of their offspring,” said Malfas, “once they are finished hatching. It’s not just practical, cleaning up the lair against vermin and, but symbolic. You can never return to your cradle. You have to stop mewling, grow up, move on.”
“Dragons also eat any whelps that come out malformed,” Seryth taunted, “so I’ve heard.”
Malfas shrugged — neither confirming nor denying it, Seryth noticed. Their conversation was interrupted anyway when the whelpling, having thoroughly explored the campsite, landed back in Seryth’s lap with a flump and hungry trill. Malfas watched them contentedly through hooded eyes as Seryth prepared a meal for it. The whelp ate voraciously, climbing on Seryth with its claws hooked into the scaley patch over his heart, as if it was a climbing gym made just for it.
Seryth rubbed the patch after the whelp had finished and curled up nearby to doze. “Does this make me dragonkin?” he mused.
“You don’t have a dragonkin’s four legs yet,” observed Malfas. “Why would you want to be one of those servants anyways? No wings!”
“That wasn’t exactly what I meant,” said Seryth. “For better or worse, this whelp sees me as its parent — its kin.”
“Ducklings follow dogs around if it’s the first thing they see after hatching,” retorted Malfas. “That doesn’t make a dog a duck.”
“I guess not,” said Seryth. “The whelp is still not fully formed in in spirit, though. That makes it malleable. I could shape its growth into anything I wanted it to be, unlike a duck.”
“Oh? In the same way your foster father thought he could shape you away from becoming the Nathsyssn?” said Malfas.
“I wasn’t malleable while that thing was in me,” said Seryth. “Now, maybe I am.”
“There you go mewling like a whelpling again,” Malfas muttered. “Still, if it makes you sleep better at night, have at.” The dragon tucked its head under its wing and went to sleep.
Seryth glanced up at the imp perched further up the rise. If the imp had heard their conversation, it said nothing. Seryth said nothing either, even though he suddenly had ever so many more questions to ask.
The Nathsyssn had been present inside him since he had been a baby. It had been shaping him all that time. Now, without it, could he undo its work? Or was he as hopelessly corrupted as any demon, like the imp was? …or like the duck, that saw a dog and thought it was its parent forever after?
It was that unhappy thought that kept Seryth up the rest of the night, despite Malfas’ words.