Chapter Thirteen: The Hitch

Ald looked around the bright lands of Bastion with their sweeping fields of gold and expansive skies of deep blue. He watched as Anth and BigO, an old friend who had also returned to the Heroes in Ald’s absence, ascended a large stairway to see the Archon, the leader of the Kyrian.

With a swift motion, Ald popped back into Oribos by taking his paw off of the map. This time, he placed his paw on the zone marked Ardenweald. After a flash of bright light, Ald was able to observe Kebechet and Fuzzy traipsing through a zone filled with wildlife and fairies and nature.

Ald felt a hand on his shoulder, and he removed his paw from the map again. He turned to see Cald standing behind him in Oribos. “We have an issue, Ald,” he said, a deep frown etched on his face.

The two stood side by side as they wandered through the city of Oribos. Even though Ald was a ghost now, everyone had treated him as if he were still their leader. Days before, he had greeted them at the Stormwind portal and subsequently filled them in on the events that had come after his death. Then, they waited expectantly for marching orders. He had been speechless at the time, but he urged them to return to their families before venturing into these zones within the Shadowlands. After all, who knew how long the Heroes would need to be stationed here?

The worst part of that exchange had come when Fuzzy urged Ald to return as well. Though Ald didn’t have family back in Azeroth, he could return to his small farm in Pandaria. Except he couldn’t. The portal didn’t work for Aldineri. Being dead meant he couldn’t go back.

But Bolvar was right. This was his sacrifice. One of them, at least.

While the others returned to Azeroth, Ald spent some time speaking with the Overseers in Oribos. The Arbiter was broken, and these Overseers believed that the zones themselves were in dire need of aid. Ald intended to figure out why. When the team returned, he sent them off in groups to all four zones to meet with the leaders of the Shadowlands.

Ald and Cald passed by a few brokers in Oribos who were hawking enchanting supplies. Ald had come to find that there were amenities around every corner. These came in useful as the Death Knights had also opened a portal to Orgrimmar. Alliance and Horde were roaming the ancient city, and the Overseers and guards seemed overwhelmed by the influx of people after so many years in isolation.

“I’ve been aiding Maldraxxus, as you ordered,” Cald said as they passed a group of blacksmiths hammering out plate gear. “The Necrolords there believe many problems with the drought originate in Revendreth.”

Over the course of the last few days, Ald had heard many different reports that all said the same thing. The covenants of the Shadowlands were suffering from a drought of anima. Anima, the lifeforce of souls who enter the Shadowlands, had been funneled through to the Maw since the Arbiter mysteriously stopped sorting souls. Now, the very zones themselves had begun to wither and die. Creatures who feed on excess anima had become starved and hostile, attacking residents of Bastion and Ardenweald. Without the proper process for new souls, the Shadowlands was in great danger.

“What do you mean by that, Cald? Shouldn’t the drought originate in the Maw?”

Cald shook his head. “Well, no. And yes, I suppose. It’s true that no new souls means no new anima. From what I’ve heard, however, there’s supposed to be a large store of anima in Revendreth that makes its way into some of the other zones. The Venthyr of Revendreth have a method of extracting more anima than some of the other covenants. Frequently, these stores of anima help feed the Devourers and keep them in check. It seems these stores have dried up.”

“Well, didn’t I send Tommy and Kobai to investigate Revendreth?” Ald asked.

“Yes, you did,” Cald said. “But they can’t enter the zone. The leader of the Venthyr is Sire Denathrius. Recently, he blocked all passage in and out of the zone. Well, except for one person.”

Ald stopped walking. He already hated the answer to the question he was about to ask.

“And which person would that be exactly?”

Cald stopped as well. He turned to face Ald. “The Maw Walker,” he said, using the title Ald had heard the last few days. “You, of course.”

“How in the Helya has this guy heard of me?”

“Apparently, they all know you, Ald. Every place we’ve been to mentions ‘the spirit who escaped the Maw.’ The one who glows with a light that blinds the darkness.” Cald grinned. “You’re famous.”

“More like infamous,” Ald grumbled. He looked over and saw a short, green goblin with large batlike ears approaching him. “Speaking of infamous…”

“Well, if it ain’t good ol’ Aldineri,” the goblin squeaked as he neared the two. He was wearing leather armor similar to Ald’s with two daggers tucked into either side of his belt. “I heard you was dead.” The goblin looked up and down Ald’s blue ethereal body. “Looks like my sources are solid, as always. Unlike you at the moment, o’ course.” he said, a large grin plastered across his green face.

Raxx was a goblin member of the Horde who led a competing team of adventurers. While the Humpday Heroes and Raxx’s team, nicknamed the Sunday Stabbers, usually had the same goal of protecting Azeroth and its denizens, the very divisive nature of the Alliance and Horde relationship had created some bad blood between the two groups. The two leaders frequently fought against one another just as much as the rest of the opposition in their raids.

Ald grimaced. “Raxx. I’d say it’s a pleasure to see you again, but I’m always striving to be honest with people.”

“Hehe. And if it isn’t Cald. I heard you got yourself a new lady. She around anywhere?”

Cald’s eyes flashed with anger, but he maintained diplomacy. “Raxx. Been a while. I don’t believe we’ve seen you since the raid on Ny’Alotha.”

The goblin’s smile turned upside down. “That was a dirty trick your crew pulled on us there. Don’t you think I forgot it!”

It was Cald’s turn to smile. “It’s not my fault you don’t know the difference between team sports.”

Raxx stomped his short leg in anger. “You knew full well, Caldmaster,” he said, painting his last word with strokes of sarcasm, “that you was lyin’ to me about that Xanesh chick bein’ a football-lovin’ witch. She made us play soccer with those dark balls of magic! Youse ever seen a dozen goblins trying to kick a ball wit’ the short legs we got?”

“There are many areas in Northrend where ‘soccer’ is indeed called ‘football’, dear Raxx.” Cald’s smile never left his face.

Raxx let out a short growl. “You’re lucky we got tha’ big hitter over there,” he said gesturing towards a group of chatting leatherworkers. A large blood elf was trading a stack of large furs with a Tauren. To Ald’s recollection, the scary blood elf hunter who went simply by the moniker of “Control” was the only non-goblin on Raxx’s team of raucous cohorts. 

“But, it looks like I’ll have to find some new competition,” Raxx said, grinning at Ald’s current situation. “What with the leader of the Humpday Heroes on the sidelines. Ha!” he laughed. “A football joke. I meant to do that!”

Ald crouched down to Raxx’s level, his eyes burning with renewed fury. “Don’t think we’re out of the running yet, old friend. Not even death can stop me from beating you.”

Raxx turned on his heel and thrust a hand in the air casually. “Yeah, whateva. See through ya later!” He giggled and joined the blood elf and the other leatherworkers.

Ald stood and turned back to Cald. The anger must have still been showing on his face because Cald put his hand on Ald’s shoulder. “Don’t let short-stuff get to you, man. He’s a hack, and he’s not worth our time.”

“But he’s not wrong, Cald,” Ald said, his brow darkening. He walked over and sat on a small bench near the jewelcrafters. “I’ve been thinking about something for a while, Cald. I should have said something sooner, but with Giles and the zombies and…” Ald’s voice trailed off, and he stared off into the distance without really looking at anything specific. “No one’s going to want to listen to me for long, Cald. I’m done. The world is going to pass me by. I’m just…not a part of it anymore. You saw what happened when I tried going through that portal to Stormwind. I’m stuck here. And it’s my own doing, I know,” he said raising a paw to stop Cald from interjecting. “But that doesn’t take away that I’m dead, Cald. I can’t lead a team of very alive adventurers. It doesn’t make sense.”

Cald sat next to him. A couple of minutes passed, and the two sat in silence. When Ald looked over at his friend, he saw that Cald was deep in thought.

Off in the distance, Raxx and Control began walking away from the leatherworkers. The greedy grin on Raxx’s caricature of a face meant that the two of them had sold a batch of those fresh skins for a stack of gold coins. He flashed a toothy grin and gave a small wink in Ald’s direction before sauntering off to the flightmaster of Oribos.

“You know, Ald,” the shaman finally said, breaking the short silence. “I don’t see how you being a ghost really changes anything. And listen to me before you argue. Look, I’m not saying it’ll work forever. If you truly can’t get back – and Healpimp has some ideas about that anyhow – then that’s one thing. But we’re not fighting on Azeroth at the moment. I feel with this whole anima thing that we’ll be fighting here. Right now. This is the place to be, and the Shadowlands seems like an excellent place for a recently passed soul.”

Ald gave a heavy sigh. “Cald, you can’t be serious. All of these people have come here to join us again. Many are returning from retirement or working on different teams of adventurers. They need a leader. Someone solid and real.”

“Maybe you haven’t noticed, but you’re pretty solid for a ghost.” Ald looked over and realized that Cald’s hand was firmly placed upon his shoulder. “I’ve been doing some research,” Cald said. “There’s nothing definitive, of course. We’re kinda in uncharted waters here, but it’s possible that the dust from Icecrown Citadel had bits of the Helm of Domination in it, and when you bathed in it before coming here, you changed something about your spirit.”

Ald chuckled. “I figured that out already. But the real question is why. What does the Helm actually do? I just thought it would orient me towards King Anduin. What about the Helm’s shards would change my very spirit?”

“Uncharted waters, Ald,” Cald repeated with a shrug. “I’ll look into it. But perhaps we can get back to the task at hand. Revendreth.”

“Oh. Right. So this Sire guy will only meet with me. Anything I should know about the guy?”

Cald stood and put out a hand, guiding Ald back to the map of the Shadowlands. “Actually, there is one thing. Do you know what a vampire is?”

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