When he slept, he still dreamed, this time of Jalinde. He saw her happy, living back in the Hinterlands or somewhere similar, where he had first met her. She was raising a toddler with Fordrellon in his dream.
Seryth felt a stab of jealousy, and when he opened his eyes, he brooded. He realized he wanted to see her again, and to learn the truth of this paladin who had usurped his leadership.
Then he stopped. Was it only jealousy and hatred guiding his impulses? Would he be able to control himself, if he found them and the answers to these questions weren’t good ones?
Yes, Seryth thought, and he was surprised he truly believed it. The Nathssysn was no longer driving him from the inside, but he had also grown since then. He found truth to be more sustaining than empty emotional pursuits, service more fulfilling than pleasing himself. He felt ready to reveal his existence to the world.
He just wasn’t sure how he was going to do it and not get killed the instant he showed his face in civilization again. He spent a few days more in the Twilight Grove, plotting his next steps.
During his planning, he considered if it would be better for all involved for him to approach his old friends in disguise, to see how they were getting along without him, or as himself.
One way would perhaps allow him to see them in a more honest light, and that honestly intrigued him.
The other was perhaps fairer to them, as they would see him coming and be able to prepare themselves — including by fleeing.
Seryth looked athis reflection in the moonwell. He saw others reflected there — the reactions of the farmers of Westfall when he was young, then again when he returned as an anonymous traveling mage. He saw the honor and prejudice of the paladins, healing and ferocity of the druids, the cunning and cruelty of the warlocks. Some of those traits he had claimed for himself, and some had been inflicted on him.
Out of the gloom, Malfas walked up behind him, silent, also peering down into the moonwell. They stared for a long time without speaking.
“What was Eli’s plan for me?” Seryth finally asked.
“She knew her creations were incomplete,” said Malfas. “The whelplings she crafted of the black dragons’ essence as well as pieces of her own soul and flesh. They could never be whole, for they were always a part of others. She, herself, is part of another… Through studying you, and your soul which had been co-opted for so long by the corrupted Nathssysn, she hoped to find a way to instill in them their own lives.”
“Do you think she succeeded?” asked Seryth.
“What do you think?
“We’re always a part of others,” said Seryth. “Us non-dragons don’t live alone, as you said. Our habits, our accents, our loves, even our looks, are all part of our family or friends. …but there’s also a core of us, that’s purely our own. It’s always there, though it comes out most strongly when we’re challenged or in danger.”
“So, who are you?” asked Malfas.
“A mess,” said Seryth, and he laughed. He continued to stare into the moonwell, until he saw another face begin to emerge, that of another void elf, whom he had seen just moments before the Nathssysn had been ripped from him, standing beside Daelin and Fordrellon in the old temple.
Was that the man who had become the paladin leader? Seryth felt like he had seen him before, though he had never met a true ren’dorei in his life.
“I can’t describe that core of me now,” said Seryth, “but I know it when I am living it. Perhaps the longer I spend living it, the more words I’ll have to put to it. I’m not sure that matters, in the end — the words. Others will know me for who I am. Like…willows under stones.”
A drop fell into the moonwell, and the water faintly hissed as it magically absorbed it. Seryth wiped his cheek.
“Jalinde believed in me. That’s what hurt the most — that I might have caused her to stop believing.”