Graymane stood a few feet away from me, tapping his paw as he stared intently at what I was doing. “Your skill in this field unnerves me, cub.”
I feared that if he kept tapping nervously, he might wear out the wooden floor of the little building we were in. It would be a shame to damage what this little village so generously lent us. Even Thornfang, who lay at my feet, was unnerved.
“Don’t worry,” I reassured, flashing him a toothy grin. “I won’t be using it on myself any time soon.”
“That is good to hear,” he said with a faint smile.
“If you’re worried about me making poisons, then why did you decide to teach it to me?”
The old charr shrugged.
“It’s part of herb lore,” he said, “and you’ve changed enough for me to entrust this to you.”
“Changed?” I asked, arching an eyebrow.
“Yes, you know,” he said with large, vague gestures. “You’re not all doom and gloom anymore.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“Oh, it was meant that way, trust me.”
Somehow, I found it slightly entertaining to see the old charr so nervous.
“Then why does it unnerve you?” I asked, bringing the conversation back on the topic.
“Right. Well, you seem to be a lot better at mixing poisons than you are at making medicine.”
“I wasn’t the medic in my warband.”
“I figured as much,” he replied, scratching behind one of his ears.
For several minutes of uncomfortable silence, I continued working with the instructions he had given me. Various mixtures were placed on the counter, most of which were deadly. Combining roots, saps, berries and other materials harvested from plants allowed me to create potent poisons, some of which I would be able to apply on my arrow heads or on my sword.
“Anyway,” Graymane said with a sigh, “someone requested a batch of medicinal herbs. I need to go out and collect them, care to join me, cub?”
The haggard sylvari gorged on the roots and fruits we had gathered for… him? Even after all this time spent with the new race, I still had great difficulty identifying their gender. This worn-down sapling did not make it easier on me. While Graymane looked over the plant’s wounds, I let my eyes trace him top to bottom, absently scratching my chin as I let my mind mill on and on. Even Thornfang was eyeing the sylvari intently.
The sylvari had bumped into to us with terror in its eyes. The leaf-like clothing clung to its body in tattered shreds and several lacerations on its body seeped fresh sap. We managed to calm him down—granted, I knocked it to the floor to stop it from squirming in fear—and Graymane tended to the twig’s wounds while I gathered up some edibles.
“So,” I said, scraping my throat, as soon as I saw his eating efforts slowing down, “what is the problem?”
The twig’s big, round eyes, filled with unease, shot up to meet mine. It swallowed hard before speaking.
“I was walking through the jungle on my Wyld Hunt when I got ambushed by spiders!” Its words were filled with indignant frustration. “Never before had I seen so many spiders! They were intent on killing me.”
Yea, I doubt they wanted to gnaw on a stick.
“I see,” I muttered thoughtfully.
“So you’re a valiant!” Graymane piped, hoping to up the twig’s spirit.
“I am!” the sprout answered, beaming with pride.
“What is your hunt about, then?” I said.
“To be honest, I am not quite sure.”
The child-like eagerness with which these so-called ‘sentient’ beings threw themselves into dangers they knew nothing about both unnerved and vexed me. I tried not to let it show, although I doubted the plant could read a charr’s facial expression.
“Not spiders, then?” Graymane proposed.
“Not spiders,” the twig echoed with a shudder.
“Even so,” I interjected, “your wounds don’t look like the workings of a spider.”
“No,” the sylvari said, its eyes growing wide as he recalled his memories. “The spiders were just the start.”
“The start?” I asked.
“I escaped from the spiders by using my sword to cut through their insidious webs. However, in doing so, my sword got too tangled up and I had to leave it behind. I hope they think it was food so they would choke on it,” it added, shaking its fist in contained rage. “As I was running away, I found myself a bit too close to a base of the Nightmare Court.” His eyes narrowed. “They spotted me, and within moments, I had to call upon all my skills just to dodge their rain of arrows. Needless to say, I wasn’t all that successful.”
Either this sprout was quite skilled, or the Courtiers had a horrible aim. I put my coin on the latter.
“I see,” I said sagely, not giving away what I was thinking.
“But on my way back, I saw the strangest thing,” the sylvari said as an afterthought.
Graymane’s ears pricked. “What did you see?”
“Well,” the twig said, tapping a finger against its chin, “while I was running from the Courtiers, I fell into a small rocky clearing. The stones there were strewn about, as if a giant family of moles tunneled to the surface and plugged up the holes afterwards—“
“Dredge?” I interjected.
“No, not dredge,” the sylvari mused. “At least, I think it wasn’t them. After all, I never saw them before and know so little about them, no more than what the Dream showed me, and that wasn’t a lot.”
I exchanged a quick glance with Graymane and found the same curiosity behind his eyes as I had behind mine.
“However, the stones…” the sprout continued. “The stones were warm.”
“They were in a clearing, right?” I sighed.
“That means that the sun must have warmed them.”
For a couple of seconds, the sprout stared at me, thinking.
“But, it was nearing dawn, and the stones felt warm as if they were heated by the earth.”
Graymane’s eyes shot wide open. “Where is that clearing?” he asked sharply.
We did our best to help the sylvari on his way, even walking with it to the tavern. After that, we followed its directions the best we could to get to the clearing it presumably found. Although I pitted my stakes on it being dredge, an unspoken fear lay behind the old charr’s eyes, and knowing him, he feared not the dredge.
“What do you fear we will find?” I asked him as we hurried through the jungle.
It was the third time I asked him, but like the previous two times, he just muttered something unintelligible under his breath. He seemed to be too worried to get annoyed at my repeated question. In turn, that unsettled me greatly.
Thornfang rushed through the undergrowth ahead of me, but now, he slowed his pace, allowing me to catch up to him. He was growling in a low tone. The scent of burned wood slammed into my nostrils like a cannonball. I took a few staggered steps, confused. Back in Ascalon, fighting the Flame Legion, I was more than accustomed to the scent of fire and ash, but I never dreamed I would encounter those painfully familiar smells in the thick of the jungle. It made me nauseous. With each step we took, the smell got worse and smoke started to drift between the trees. The sound of crackling fire started off as a faint whisper, but by now it was a threatening roar.
Without warning, the trees gave way to a large clearing basked in an orange glow. My eyes were drawn to the raging fire, consuming what looked like a sylvari settlement which must have been the Nightmare Court the twig was talking about.
Coughing, I turned towards the old charr. His face was locked in terror, but he did not look at the fire at all. Instead, his gaze was fixed on the clearing itself. I turned towards the clearing hoping to see what frightened him so. The moment I did, my breath got caught in my throat.
End of Part 5