The barrow-dens in Steelclaw Vale were quiet. The archdruid heading the place told Ezran that Seryth had put them to rights from a demonic taint weeks before, along with his companion, Jalinde. Ezran recognized the name.
“The couple were fighting against demons?”
The archdruid nodded. “Jalinde also expressed interest in joining our ranks, but she has yet to return.”
“Is that so?” It didn’t seem important at the time, but sometimes important clues didn’t. Ezran filed the information away in his brain. “If all is well, then, I’ll take my leave.”
He came upon a dead courser, with nothing to show what had killed it. Ezran rode ever-widening circles around the corpse, until he came over a hill and saw a flock of harpies nesting in the grove below. He stood watching them for some time, but he detected nothing from the harpies that suggested they were allied with the demons. Sometimes the dangers of the wild were better left alone, and Ezran moved on.
A nightsaber attacked him as he was riding under some long-hanging trees, dropping from the branches onto his horse’s rump. Ezran slew it. The nightsaber was showing signs of demonic corruption.
He stayed the evening at a cottage inhabited by a druid that liked to take the form of the bear. Ezran didn’t get much information out of him, due to the druid constantly dozing off. In the morning, Ezran left a few coins next to the sleepy bear and quietly closed the door behind him.
The path he followed led him down into a glen of sprites one day. They reacted to him violently, and Ezran fought them off with some reluctance, for he knew sprites tended to be more mischievous than aggressive.
Ezran laid out a mat of little trinkets: things he knew the sprites appreciated as an offering from past experience. He was rewarded by little tendrils of roots reaching from the ground to bind his feet. They reached halfway up his legs, then suddenly withdrew. A woman walked through a gap in the trees, as suddenly as if she had just appeared out of midair. She looked like a night elf, but as she got closer, Ezran could see the tiny twigs making up the shape of her face and hair, the broad leaves forming her dress.
“I have tasted your blood before,” said the woman, “but not from your veins.”
“A complicated way of saying you know me?” remarked Ezran.
The woman only eyed him with a faint smile.
“Then not me…one of my kin. And I think I know which one, since my daughter has not been to this part of the world in ages.”
The woman nodded slightly.
“Did you kill him?”
“We enjoyed each others’ company for a while. Then, he proved his worth and departed.”
“It’s not often a mortal gains your favor, I’d imagine, Queen of the Sprites.”
“It was not my favor he gained,” said the Queen, “but that of the lunarwings.”
She pointed, and Ezran squinted. He realized that some of the leaves the sprites were wearing were not leaves after all, but the wings of faerie dragons.
“Ah…” said Ezran, and he suspected this conversation was about to take a very nasty turn. He was right, as the roots returned, exploding from the soil like striking crocodiles, and the sprites closed in about him.
The sprites were little match for him, though Ezran was careful to focus not so much on them as getting outside the reach of the Queen’s magical grove. He fought his way back up to the night elven road, and the woman paused on the edge of it, the plants making up her form writhing so much it made Ezran a little dizzy to look at her.
Then they abruptly calmed. “As friend of the wildbringers, there is something I would tell you,” she said. Ezran wasn’t sure if she meant the druids or something else, but he motioned at her to go on, not sheathing his sword.
“Your first instincts were correct about this one they call Zilv’natha. The wilds are close to his heart, or he would have not found his way here. Cultivate that, if you would defeat him.”
“Thank you, Mother Sprite,” said Ezran. The woman nodded and sank back into the ground, her form becoming shrubs, then grass, then little seedlings that shrunk into the soil.