“This never used to bother me before,” Seryth told Malfas one evening, as he broke again to the nightmares. “I never cared what others thought of me, besides that they didn’t show me the proper reverence.”
“With the shards gone, your soul is allowed to return to its natural process of growth,” said the netherdrake.
“Oh, great, so I’m going through the teenage years of my soul?” Seryth snorted.
“Not exactly,” said Malfas, showing a rare patience. “Your conscience is your own now, not that of a destructive demon. It has been so weak for so long, that perhaps it can only speak to you in dreams.”
“And that is bad enough,” said Seryth.
“Dragons rarely have such concerns,” said Malfas airily, flicking a wing. “Consciences are for species that can’t live alone. I can only imagine its similar to the mating urge–“
“It has nothing to do with mating,” grumbled Seryth. “Nevermind. I don’t know why I bother talking to you. Just leave me alone.”
“I must have struck a nerve,” said the black nether-drake with a crooked grin.
The truth was, the dragon’s talk of mating reminded him uncomfortably of Jalinde. He remembered how poorly he had treated her, the pain and fear he had invoked in her — and worse — even enjoyed.
He tried to enjoy the same fear and pain now, just as an experiment, signing up for an arena fight against a pack of hyenas from Tanaris. Though they were only animals, he found great reluctance to do anything but quickly put them out of their misery. Even the thought of eviscerating them, coldly trying to learn the secrets of their flesh as they died, repulsed him.
“I’m changing,” he told Malfas.
“You’re remembering how you should be,” Malfas corrected. “Are you pleased by what you find?”
“No,” said Seryth quietly. “Only am I realizing how much I failed in the past, and how I fear to do so again in the future.”
“That’s wisdom,” said Malfas.
Seryth’s long stay at the speedbarge was finally interrupted days — weeks? — later when the whelpling fell sick. It was then Seryth realized he had allowed himself to slide into complacency. A life of shallow pleasure was a life suited to a half-soul, but it wouldn’t keep him truly alive for long. He faced again with the knowing that, one day, he’d have to return to face his old friends. Though he could shove it down while drinking or partying, those doubts would always rise up again in the deepest part of the night.
He pulled out of the arena battles, saving his mana to instead feed into the whelpling. He made plans to return, though at first, he wasn’t sure where or how.
“I can never fix what I’ve done,” he told Malfas in another moment of alcohol-induced weakness.
“That’s true,” said Malfas.
“I deserve damnation. That’s what my dreams are trying to tell me…”
“And then you wake up,” said Malfas calmly.
“To begin the whole thing over again, yes.” Seryth took another gulp of his drink.
“To begin,” said Malfas, “but what you begin is your choice.”
“I can’t undo what I did. I can’t even fix it.”
“Can’t you?” said Malfas.
It set Seryth to thinking, painful remembering. He had brought demons to Val’sharah, twisted the farmers of Westfall, killed or corrupted the innocent and the good, traumatized Jalinde and the others. It was overwhelming at first, and some nights he could only stare at the ceiling as his thoughts chased themselves around like rabbits, but slowly, he started to come upon a solution.
Demons were creatures of flesh and blood once they manifested on Azeroth. That meant they could be killed. He knew how to kill things, and he did it well. Why not start there? Why not start by slaying the demons he had brought to Val’sharah?
The thought terrified him. He would have to go in disguise, he decided. He asked the goblins for their help, meeting up with one goblin woman who was an expert with the clippers, hair dye, and makeup. It felt like living another lie, but at least it was closer to what felt…right. Not good, but right. It was a strange thing to be able to distinguish, but once he landed on it, he wondered how he could have never seen it before.
The whelpling’s fever broke a few days later, and Seryth felt confident enough (not that this was saying much) that it was well enough he could travel to Val’sharah. He saddled Malfas, secured the whelpling in his pack, touched up his disguise, and gathered magical robes around him that he had won from the arena fights. He didn’t feel ready, but maybe he didn’t have to be. Just as digging his own hole had been a process, he realized digging himself out of it would also be one. He had a place to start, and for now, he could focus on that alone.