Ald found himself transported to a new place. The abrupt change from the gray, barren wasteland to this building of gold and marble would have made Ald throw up his insides if, that is, spirits had stomachs that could get queasy. Instead, he blinked his eyes a few times until he felt correctly oriented.
Eyes fully open, he saw a gold and silver spear pointed directly at his face.
“An agent of the Maw is attacking Oribos! Defend the Arbiter!” rang the voice of a large robotic man who happened to be holding the spear. Ald’s hands flew up to either side of his face, though he wasn’t sure he was even in danger. He hadn’t had enough time as a spirit to test his full capabilities. Or lack thereof.
“I come in peace,” Ald shouted. “Just don’t stab me.”
Another large robotic man stepped into view. “Hold!” he commanded. “This intruder’s spirit does have the Maw upon him….but there is something else as well.”
“How did you get here, intruder scum?” bellowed the first soldier. The point of the spear never wavered from Ald’s face.
“I…well, I escaped the Maw,” Ald replied. “Using the waystone.”
The spear wavered.
The two soldiers looked at one another. Both of their faces were covered with heavy metal helms, but Ald could tell they were astonished by their body language. The first guard’s spear had lowered at the mention of his escape, but several seconds later, the spear returned to its position, threatening Ald’s view of the building behind the soldiers.
“Would you mind not pointing that at me? I think I’ve been through enough today. Don’t really need to add ‘pierced by pointy spear’ to the list.”
The first soldier let out a growl, but the second soldier placed one hand on the shaft of the spear, lowering its point back towards the golden ground. “Peace, soldier,” he said. “We must escort this spirit to the caretakers. They will know what to do with him.”
Ald followed the guards toward the main building, a large rounded structure constructed of the same marble and gold that seemed to be the going theme. It was only upon closer inspection that Ald recognized it. “Hey! This is the pipe!” he said aloud. His comments earned him a couple of reproving glances from the guards, but they didn’t respond. “I came through here,” he added. “On my way to the Maw.”
One of the guards paused briefly at the words, but he had continued his pace before Ald bumped into the back of him.
The guards led him into the building and to the right where a group of strange beings were congregated. They hovered above the ground with no visible legs, their cloaks draped around them. Like the guards, their faces weren’t visible. But Ald realized that was probably a good thing. From what he could see beneath their masks, they may not have faces at all. Instead, all he saw was a strange blue light emanating from the one eye socket on their golden masks.
“Overseer, this soul was found wandering Oribos,” came the voice of the second soldier. He said it reverently with a slight bow from his head.
“A new development?” replied one of the overseers near Ald. “Perhaps the Arbiter…no. Thank you, Protector Captain. We shall question the soul for now.”
The Protector Captain and his belligerent lackey both gave shallow bows to the Overseer. “The Purpose be served,” they said in unison before walking back towards their post.
Ald stared wide-eyed at two of the nearby Overseers. They were a bit intimidating, and his inability to see their facial reactions was disconcerting.
“Mortal, it has been some time since we have seen a soul fresh from your world.” The Overseer cocked his head a bit to the side. “You have been touched by the Maw. That much is clear. How did you leave that place?”
Ald briefly recounted the tale of dying, flying, meeting Azeroth’s leaders, and escaping the wrath of the Jailer. When his story was done, the Overseers turned towards one another and murmured between themselves, which gave Ald a chance to look around at his surroundings.
More guards were standing at attention around the room. Near one of the walls, Ald spotted a large tabletop with a map displayed. He snuck a glance to make sure the Overseers weren’t looking, and then used the distraction of their conversation to make his way over to the map. Laid out before him were distinct lands with no obvious connections between them. They were varied zones with strange names like Maldraxxus and Ardenweald.
Slowly, Ald reached towards the map and touched the zone named Revendreth. Under the touch of his paw, the map began to vibrate and glow a faint white. As he continued touching it, Ald’s vision began to blur. A bright flash of white made him blink, and when he opened his eyes again, he was floating above a dark zone full of gothic castles and stone ruins. Horse-drawn carriages flitted to and fro. He looked down at his body and realized it wasn’t there. In fact, Ald realized that he wasn’t physically in the zone. There was no smell. No touch of the wind. This sensation was sight only, which was just as well since such a dreary location was sure to smell of rot and decay.
Ald felt a touch upon his shoulder and seconds later, he was back in the city with the guards and the Overseers. He looked over, and the Overseer who had spoken to him already was gazing intently at him from behind the large mask.
“Where were you, mortal?”
“Um. Castle Town? I don’t know. It was dark. There were castles and ruins and carriages.” Ald felt like he was going crazy, which was quite an accomplishment after having raided with both Anth and Fuzzy for years.
The Overseers gave each other a knowing glance. The main Overseer turned back to Ald and gave him a low bow. “I have to apologize, mortal. Your presence amongst us caused me to forget my manners. My name is Kah-Delen. I am an Overseer here in the Undying City of Oribos.” Kah-Delen stood straight again and gave Ald a look over. “May I ask, mortal, what did you bring with you here into Oribos?”
“Um. Just this,” he said as he unwrapped the cloth that contained the broken piece of the Helm of Domination. Kah-Delen and the other Overseer behind him both flew back a few feet. “This was the Lich King’s helmet. Before it was shattered.”
Without a word, Kah-Delen extended a spindly finger towards the map. Ald raised an eyebrow but understood. He placed the shard on top of the map, and it began to glow again. Slowly, the helm began to levitate in the air until it reached Ald’s height. A strange light that alternated between white, black, and gray swept over the Helm until it emitted a flash of white light.
Within seconds, a death gate opened beside the Overseers. And through it strode Bolvar Fordragon himself.
“More outsiders!” said the Overseer beside Kah-Delen.
“Be at ease. I am Bolvar Fordragon. These knights and I are here to help,” he said, gesturing towards the Death Knights pouring in through the death gate behind him.
Overseer Kah-Delen floated towards Bolvar and looked him up and down, much the way she had done to Ald when he had first appeared. “You have the touch of the Maw upon you as well. Perhaps you can aid us.”
Bolvar turned towards Ald, and while he did not outright smile (Ald wasn’t even sure the former Lich King had the muscles in his face to smile anymore), he did soften his usual stern gaze into a friendly stare. “Aldineri, you made it to the Shadowlands,” he said.
Ald nodded. “Yes, but not quite in one piece,” he said, as he displayed an ethereal paw.
“We must all make sacrifices for Azeroth,” Bolvar replied in a solemn voice.
Bolvar was not one to use that phrase lightly. He had been badly burned during the raid on Icecrown Citadel, but he had still pledged what life he had remaining to holding back the forces of the dead by placing the Helm of Domination on his head. Ald hadn’t been there personally when he made his sacrifice, but many of those who were on his team of heroes had been.
Ald simply nodded again. Kah-Delen had been watching this exchange with extreme interest. When both Ald and Bolvar turned towards the group of Overseers, Kah-Delen floated towards the map table where the Helm was still levitating. After a few moments of intense study, Kah-Delen returned to Ald and looked him over again.
“You emit the same light as the Helm you brought, mortal.”
“You can call me Ald,” the ethereal pandaren replied.
“Yes, of course. Ald. I believe it is time you visited the Arbiter. The power within you may alleviate our situation.” The other Overseers began to protest, but Kah-Delen held up a spindly hand. Their cries died away, and Ald gave a wary glance towards Bolvar. The former Lich King leveled his own gaze towards the Pandaren.
“Go, Aldineri. My Knights will set work to opening a portal back to Azeroth. By the time you return, your friends should be here in Oribos.”
Kah-Delen gestured towards a large Overseer near the group. “Tal-Inara will lead you to the Arbiter. Perhaps your presence will be the cure we need.”
Ald silently nodded and began to follow Tal-Inara towards the center of the city. A series of glowing conduits on the floor were set around a large hole in the very middle of the circular room. Ald recognized the hole as being the one where he flew as a spirit towards the Maw. Even now, he noticed an influx of souls flowing from the top of Oribos down through to its bottom on their journey towards the swirling doom that was the Maw.
The conduit was a teleportation pad, and Tal-Inara led him to the very top of Oribos where a sleeping being who resembled a giant version of the Overseers rested.
“Welcome to the Crucible, mortal. I am the voice of the Arbiter,” Tal-Inara said as she peered up at the giant Overseer. “For uncounted eons, the Shadowlands was in perfect order. Infinite afterlives, with Oribos, the Eternal City, as the shining heart. Every mortal soul came before the Arbiter. And she, ever wise, experienced all that had shaped a soul in life. With this knowledge, she consigned every soul to the afterlife it justly deserved. Until…” Tal-Inara gestured towards the dormant being.
Ald looked up at the giant Overseer and realized this was the Arbiter. Spirits swarmed around her before funneling straight through the city of Oribos to the Maw below. She didn’t appear to be doing much consigning.
“In that dread moment, our perfect order was shattered. And so it is that every soul, kind and cruel alike, is denied its rightful afterlife, and instead is damned to the inescapable torment of the Maw.” Tal-Inara stepped around to face Ald. “Please, mortal. Ald. Step before the Arbiter. The glow within you may call her back to us.”
Ald nodded and stepped towards the giant Arbiter. She remained ever dormant.
A long sigh issued from Tal-Inara behind him. “Come, Ald. Let us return.”
Ald could easily see that the hope and faith Tal-Inara had only moments before had evaporated. She hovered with a noticeable sag as they returned through the teleportation pad and back to the other Overseers.
As Ald approached the map table again, he saw a familiar face. “Tommy?” An old teammate of Ald, the Demon Hunter was looking around at the architecture of Oribos. This keen sight shown by the Demon Hunter had always been odd to Ald since Tommy’s eyes were covered with a thick bandage.
A toothy smile graced Tommy’s face as he saw the ethereal Pandaren. “Aldineri! I hear the rumors were true. You have indeed shuffled off the mortal coil.” Tommy placed a very solid hand on Ald’s ghostly shoulder. Curiously enough, Ald felt the hand.
“You’ve returned to battle, Tommy? I thought you were taking a nice retirement in the Broken Isles.”
“Ha! Retirement? We’re rebuilding what was broken during the invasion. The Legion were a blight of mayhem and destruction, and there is much to be done.”
“Wait,” Ald said, a smile touching his lips. “You’re going to fix the Broken Isles? Like pull them together or something?”
Tommy did not smile in return. “You may want to make your way to the Stormwind portal, Ald. The others are coming through the portal now.” Tommy pointed a long finger towards the area Ald had come from after escaping the Maw. With a chuckle, Ald ran off towards the portal where a few Death Knights were channeling.
Already around the portal were a few familiar faces. Cald, Tess, Decebul, Anda, and Bastian had arrived. Emma was stepping through as Ald appeared before the group. Cheers rang out and tears streaked faces and they embraced. Everyone started speaking very fast, telling of their journeys from Icecrown to Stormwind. Ald noticed Cald and Decebul were holding hands as they animatedly told their tales.
In the meantime, they were joined by Anth, Opie, and Fuzzy. Arch joined as did Trelander, Nia, and Liady. The entire team was pouring through the open portal, and as each did, the volume grew as more cheers rang out.
And then Kebechet stepped through.
The rest of the team quieted immediately as they saw the Worgen Hunter’s gaze fall upon the ghostly shade of Aldineri. However, instead of cheers or tears, Keb’s stony face remained steady as she walked up to Ald. With a swift motion, she slapped him across the face.
Just as before when Tommy had touched his shoulder, Ald felt every bit of the slap, and his ethereal face ached from the force of her paw.
Seconds later, he felt her arms around his body in a warm embrace. “You stupid Pandaren,” she muttered as her felt tears fell on his shoulder. The team cheered again, and the chatting resumed. Keb remained quiet, and Ald said nothing. Let them have their moment, he thought to himself as he watched and listened to the excitement in his team’s voices. We will have work to do shortly.