Flameseeker Chronicles: The true nature of Guild Wars 2's Sylvari

Honey, you've got a big storm comin'.

Remember last week, when I made a comment about how neat the little touches in Guild Wars 2's Gates of Maguuma release are? Stuff like a vine poking at a waypoint in Dry Top and making it spark? Hey, it was actually kind of cute! Aww, the big fella probably doesn't know what a waypoint is. Maybe he's hungry. Those aren't for snacking on, you silly vine.

Right. Well, hide your Miracle-Gro because more vines are now spreading eastward across the waypoint network. As of this writing they've gotten as far as Lion's Arch, which as we all know hasn't seen enough trouble lately. Some of them have even fully entangled the floating waypoint doodlehoppers, growing larger in the process. So I may have been right about the snack part, but that doesn't exactly bode well. What exactly is going on?

Do it for the vine

As we saw in the trailer ArenaNet released for GW2's upcoming living world Entanglement content patch, our vine friends are not as fun-loving as their waypointing antics might suggest. The trailer shows the jungle corruption reaching as far as Concordia in Timberline Falls, and the vines also appear to have overrun Prosperity in Dry Top. By the time this article goes to press, the patch will most likely have hit the live servers, so I'm not going to do a lot of speculation on their immediate effects. This is GW2's darkest trailer yet, though: In its brief run time the vines are shown to have most likely murdered two people in particularly disturbing ways. A Vigil soldier outside of ruined Concordia is snatched and then dashed to the ground, while the final shot of entangled Prosperity reveals what appears to be the corpse of Foreman Abe dangling by the throat in the clutches of a vine.

With the story taking ever more sinister turns, the Elder Dragon that Scarlet Briar awoke isn't sitting around waiting for us to come to it, unlike some dragons I could name. Its sheer aggressiveness makes it frightening, and the speed at which the story is progressing means we'll probably soon uncover how and why the jungle dragon -- whose technically unconfirmed name is Mordremoth -- specifically targets Sylvari characters. Other Elder Dragons can corrupt plant matter, but only Mordremoth is able to affect the Sylvari.

The idea that Sylvari may be unwitting minions of Mordremoth has been around in some form since players deduced the existence of the jungle dragon. It's gotten a boost lately since we discovered the specifics of Scarlet's corruption and witnessed the Soundless Sylvari named Aerin undergo his strange transformation. There's likely going to be a lot more discussion of the theory in the coming weeks, so I'm going to lay out why I think it's plausible, starting with the element most often used to debunk it: Malyck.

He's a real fungi

Malyck is a wild card in the story of the Sylvari. His existence changes everything. He's surmised to be the offspring of an entirely different Pale Tree -- or something like her -- but his natal pod somehow ended up washing downriver, and he awoke in Caledon Forest. He remembers nothing of his origins, has no concept of the Dream of Dreams, and at the end of his personal story chapter heads off to try to find his mother tree. Time will undoubtedly tell whether letting him do that was a great idea or a really terrible one.

He's often cited as absolute evidence against the Sylvari minion theory because his moral compass is pretty well calibrated to that of the Grove Sylvari. This would seem to disprove the Nightmare Court's insistence that Sylvari's natural state is one of ruthlessness and cruelty. Sure, Malyck's a little vengeful, but so is Caithe, and overall, he's a great guy. He even says that when he finds his tree, he'll bring back an army to fight the Elder Dragons. If the Nightmare Court is right and the Sylvari are naturally evil, wouldn't Malyck, unaffected by the Dream and Ventari's teachings, reflect that?

This argument is based on a lot of assumptions about the nature of the Dream, the role of the Pale Tree, and the connection of the Nightmare Court to Mordremoth. It also takes the struggle to determine whether the Sylvari are "naturally" good or evil at face value.

Malyck is a special case in every way because he has amnesia and is completely disconnected from his own people. The Nightmare Court can forcibly corrupt others, but from what we've been shown, a large part of the process involves nurture, not nature: They have to work themselves into the correct mindset, and it takes effort to break an unwilling Sylvari and "awaken" him or her to Nightmare. Absent any other influence, Malyck was a moral blank slate, and the first thing he encountered was selfless aid and kindness from the Wardens who found him. His opposition to the Nightmare Court arises from a desire to repay that kindness, even though he doesn't fully understand the difference between Dream and Nightmare. What he has is free will.

Growing stronger

If you're attached to Sylvari lore, it might be upsetting to see it suddenly taking a darker turn. They've always had some sharp edges, but the Sylvari have been primarily presented as good at heart. Why would anyone want to see them at the mercy of an Elder Dragon's whims?

Fortunately, I don't think turning the playable faction of Sylvari over to the dark side of the Force is on the table, even if it does turn out that they have some kind of deep, personal connection to Mordremoth. Another theory is that Sylvari are some kind of natural defense system against the dragons. Some Sylvari believe this themselves. It was a lot more plausible before we discovered that the Elder Dragons are actually necessary to the balance of magic, but who knows? They could be a failsafe or a regulatory system or an off switch.

From an in-universe perspective, almost any answer makes equal sense. From a narrative standpoint, however, originating from Mordremoth gives the Sylvari the most opportunities for character growth. The Sylvari story is one of a people establishing its identity and becoming part of the world. With the exception of the Nightmare Court, the Sylvari haven't experienced a great deal of conflict to that end. They've fit surprisingly well into Tyria, to the point that it's hard to imagine it without them. If they discover that they exist to fight the Elder Dragons... well, they don't have to confront any hard questions there. All they have to do is keep doing what they've been doing.

Some players worry that revealing the Sylvari to be uncorrupted minions of Mordremoth would make them too special, but up until recently they've been pretty insulated, Court notwithstanding. No other race has the luxury of knowing that it's been created to do the right thing, and I don't believe the Sylvari will be allowed that, either. Like Malyck, they have the gift of free will. When it comes to fictional characters, doing good means more when characters are given the opportunity to do evil.

Of course, the jungle dragon has already shown that it's capable of taking that choice away, and dark times are probably ahead for the Sylvari, at least in the short term. I don't think it'll be easy for them. But in an unexpected way, they may in fact be Tyria's saving grace.

My dog is cute, not like those Nightmare dogs. Ever seen a thorn wolf sit? Yeah, that's right.

Our last, best hope

To the best of anyone's knowledge, Zhaitan's death stands as the first time anyone's ever been able to kill an Elder Dragon. We have no idea what sort of effect -- if any -- doing that will have in the long term. If the dragons are an integral part of the whole Tyrian shebang, they're probably not on a rotating snack-and-sleep cycle for kicks and grins. I mean, I personally don't have a reason for doing that, myself, but I'm also not a colossal destroyer of civilizations (as far as you know, anyway).

There's some precedent for the idea that magic in Tyria can't be destroyed or expanded but only pushed around or given a new form. When Abaddon was defeated, only Kormir's willingness to accept his power prevented it from flowing wild and bringing about Nightfall, even in his absence. Magic can be stored or released, but it seems necessary for it to go somewhere. And when it is released in a violent and unexpected way, the results tend to be indiscriminately disastrous.

It may turn out that the magic devoured by an Elder Dragon, once released by their death, has similar consequences. This would make killing them all a very bad idea, unless the magic the dragons have absorbed has somewhere to go. It's admittedly a stretch, but if Zhaitan's death is the reason one of its champions started gaining power, it may be that Tyria's salvation lies in redirecting magic through minions who are a little less chompy and stabby and more self-aware.

I don't think it's a coincidence that the plot has veered toward addressing the secrets of the Zephyrites in conjunction with the Sylvari; they're the active connection to Glint, a former dragon champion who had at least one child. The baby dragon Guild Wars players defended showed no sign of corruption, which suggests that creatures intended for minionhood aren't any more "naturally" evil than any other race on Tyria. The direct influence of an Elder Dragon -- as with Scarlet, and most likely Aerin as well -- seems to be the deciding factor. And if minions can be freed on a larger scale, the plot has room to expand from simply killing dragons to changing the cycle of destiny altogether.

This is why you ask before petting strange dogs. And, uh, strange vines.

I've mentioned a great many of the above clues and theories before in passing, but I chose to write this article because I think some sort of reveal that the Sylvari are connected to Mordremoth is inevitable. If it does happen, it certainly won't have come out of thin air, and it provides probably the strongest explanation for many of the mysteries of the race.

I'm not discounting the potential involvement of the ancient Druids or any of the otherplant-basedlife forms that have been associated with the Maguuma Jungle. It's also entirely possible that ArenaNet will put out brand-new lore that completely changes everything and explodes all known theories. But if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, is susceptible to the corrupting influence of the Elder Jungle Duck, and shops at the same pet store it does... well, you get what I'm trying to say. Maybe.

What do you think the answer to the Sylvari mystery is? And how do you feel about our thorny visitors? I expect three pages on my desk tomorrow, double spaced and neatly typed. Be sure to cite your sources. Bribes are appreciated. I'll see you in the Mists!

Anatoli Ingram suffers from severe altitis, Necromancitosis, and Guild Wars 2 addiction. The only known treatment is writing Massively's biweekly Flameseeker Chronicles column, which is published every other Tuesday. His conditions are contagious, so contact him safely at Equip cleansing skills -- just in case.