Tommy vomited over the side of his Everwyrm.
Ald and Kobai exchanged grins as the three of them traveled through the In-Between on their way to Revendreth. It was Ald’s first time on an Everwyrm himself. The mount seemed to be made of a blue light formed into a thin creature that, for lack of a better word, “swam” through the atmosphere of the Shadowlands. It even wore bronze armor over where Ald guessed its head and body would be.
“This damn undulating thing is making me sick,” Tommy gasped, finally coming up for air. He leaned over and vomited again off the side of the mount into the nothingness.
“You’ll get used to it,” Ald said. He didn’t feel any discomfort, but he also didn’t have a working stomach – being dead and all. Kobai’s training as a monk was likely helping him stave off any nausea. Ald had learned long before that Kobai was a master at mediation and body control.
The three of them had been traveling for only about ten minutes or so when they popped out of the In-Between and found themselves soaring through a large gate into the zone that Ald remembered from his first time touching the map in Oribos. The area was dark and drab with large castles on cragged peaks in the distance. All around the area, he saw ruins and jagged stone. What he could not sense before was the smell of the place, but it wasn’t as bad as he expected. Instead of rot and decay, it smelled musty, like an old and dusty attic.
They landed in a small hamlet in the south of Revendreth. Ald had taken the time to memorize as much as the layout of the zone as he could before they ventured here. Large gothic buildings surrounded a large courtyard. In the center of the courtyard was a round fountain filled with an ominous red liquid. The fountain also contained a large statue of a Venthyr with curling horns atop his head. The statue, he had been told by the Overseers in Oribos, was in the likeness of Sire Denathrius himself.
After Tommy was able to stand completely without bending over and retching, Ald gathered the trio in a huddle.
“Remember, you two. We are not to separate,” Ald said. “I don’t trust these Venthyr with my life. Well, my afterlife, I suppose. Do not let me leave your sight.”
Tommy fixed Ald with a blindfolded stare, but both he and Kobai nodded as two small humanoid figures approached them. The figures were short. Very short. Shorter than Raxx the goblin. They were grey-skinned with glowing green eyes. Their lips were too short to fully cover their large flat teeth, and their toes and hands were enormous relative to their height. Both of them were wearing rags made of either cloth or leather with little caps that reminded Ald of the beggars in Stormwind City.
“Hey, you three!” shouted one of the creatures as they neared the trio. “By order of Sire Denathrius, Master of Revendreth, this land is closed. Please return to your place of origin, or we shall excavate you immediately.”
As soon as the first figure finished speaking, the second one raised a large hand and smacked him on the back of the head. “The word is ‘vacate,’ not ‘excavate,’ you imbecile. We will vacate them immediately.”
“Right,” replied the first one, wincing. “Return to your place of origin, or we shall vacate you immensely.”
The second one slapped the first one again. “Not ‘immensely’…Oh, Master, why did you send an idiot like Cudgelface here. Move out the way,” he said as he pushed the first figure (apparently named Cudgelface) down into the dirt. He cleared his throat and launched into his own spiel. “I, Rendle, must insist that you leave this place immediately. Revendreth is closed. As I told you two already,” he said, leveling two fingers towards Tommy and Kobai.
“Actually, my diminutive dredger,” came the calm, steady voice of Kobaiyashi. “You said that Revendreth is closed to all except for the Maw Walker.” Kobai placed a hand on Ald’s right shoulder.
Rendle fell over and landed on his rear with a small squishing sound. At the mention of the Maw Walker, Cudgelface jumped up from where he had been shoved to the ground and ran away screaming.
After several bewildering seconds, Rendle recovered and stood before the trio again. “Don’t mind him. He’s just a blubbering idiot. I suspect he’s fetching Lord Chamberpot to meet with you.” Rendle brushed the dirt from his clothes, but somehow they looked even dirtier when he was finished. “So, I guess I’ll walk you through the process of entry. Let’s see if I can remember what I’m supposed to say.”
Rendle paused, placing his large hand on his chin. The dredger was deep in thought, and it looked like the action caused physical pain. “Oh, right!” he suddenly yelled. “Come with me please.”
The little dredger turned and began to stroll towards a large gate leading out of the hamlet. As they followed Rendle toward the gate, Ald looked over at a dozen small stone structures that had been placed into the ground like tombstones.
“As a newly arrived soul you should know this is a place of torment and of penance,” Rendle said. “Not to fear though, for as you see by these many sinstones, the road to redemption is possible. Each of these sinstones represents a soul who has come to this place and cleansed themselves of their sins, eventually moving on from this place or accepting the role of a venthyr.”
Rendle stopped and turned back towards Ald, Tommy, and Kobai. “Erm, well, this is normally where I’d call in an enforcer to begin the whole process, but you three won’t be going through that, I suppose. I don’t even think two of you are souls, after all.”
“I can guarantee that at least I have a soul,” Kobai replied.
Tommy looked momentarily offended. However, he turned his head to the side in thought for a moment before giving Kobai a small shrug.
“Right,” said Rendle. “I meant you’re not dead. I mean, this Maw Walker is definitely D-E-D. Dead.”
“You can call me, Ald.”
“Uh, right, Ald,” Rendle replied. “So, I guess we just wait here until Lord Chamberpot -”
“It’s Lord Chamberlain, you insufferable twit,” said an accented voice from behind the gate. Ald looked up to see a Venthyr aristocrat step into view. He wore rich velvety robes of a deep crimson color. Pointed shoes graced his feet, and his hands ended in long, sharp fingernails that would have been claws on any other creature. These fingernails were heavily manicured and painted the same crimson as his robes. His hair was styled into two large buns that were parted on either side of the back of his head. His skin was the same grey as Rendle’s, but where Rendle had large flat teeth, Lord Chamberlain had long, pointed fangs that parted his dark lips.
Cald’s description of a vampire fit Lord Chamberlain aptly. And while Ald couldn’t help but feel intimidated by the Venthyr’s presence, he was more concerned by Chamberlain’s supposed drinking habits.
Lord Chamberlain walked past Rendle, letting out a proud sniff, before facing the three newcomers. “Allow me to introduce myself, Maw Walker. I am Lord Chamberlain, chief servant to Sire Denathrius, Master of Revendreth. The Master is looking forward to dining with you this evening. I will be escorting you to his residence at Castle Nathria.” He looked over Tommy and Kobai. “Your escorts are free to return to Oribos.”
“Actually, they’ll be coming with me,” Ald said. “We’re all representatives of a group – one that is highly invested in aiding Revendreth in its time of need.” Which wasn’t a complete lie.
Chamberlain looked around nervously for a moment, apparently unsure of how to respond. “But…yes, well, I’m not sure the Master will be expecting three individuals.”
Ald smiled. “I’m sure the great Master’s invitation was meant to extend to the Maw Walker and all of his chosen compatriots, not just the spirit himself. After all, he is a generous Sire, from what I hear.”
Chamberlain’s mouth hung open for a few seconds, his fangs hanging down from his lips. However, he composed himself quickly, standing with his back straight to his full height and his head tilted slightly back so that he looked upon the trio past his large nose.
“Of course, Maw Walker,” he said. “Please join me in the awaiting carriage.”
Ald, Tommy, and Kobai exchanged triumphant looks once Lord Chamberlain turned, and they followed him to a large carriage made of dark wood. The windows of the carriage were covered with thick crimson curtains. Cudgelface, or at least Ald thought it was the dredger he had seen running away before, was sitting on top of the carriage with a small whip for the black horses in front.
With a small gesture, Lord Chamberlain opened the door of the carriage without actually touching the brass handle. All four people boarded as Rendle waved them goodbye. “Nice to meetcha, Maw Wa-”
Lord Chamberlain slammed the door in the dredger’s face.
The Venthyr turned to Ald with a haughty smile as the carriage began moving. “Now that we won’t be interrupted,” he said casually. “I was hoping you would care to tell me the story of your escape from the Maw. We have only received rumors and whispers here in Revendreth. I’d like to hear it from your firsthand experience – if you’d be willing.”
Lord Chamberlain’s smile was scarier than his neutral face. Ald couldn’t stop seeing those fangs biting into his own furry neck. And there was another feeling. A nagging feeling of distrust in the pit of Ald’s ethereal gut. Besides the haughtiness and pride Lord Chamberlain had already displayed, there was something else going on that raised the hackles on the back of Ald’s neck. He just couldn’t put his finger on it.
“I was hoping to perhaps share this story with Sire Denathrius when we met,” Ald replied. “He should probably be the first to hear it, don’t you think?”
Lord Chamberlain didn’t miss the evasiveness in Ald’s response. His smile dropped, but he didn’t push the issue. The Venthyr simply folded his clawlike hands in his lap and gazed out the window quietly.
Kobai closed his eyes and placed both of his hands in his own lap, with their palms facing up. Ald could hear a slow rhythmic hum as the monk calmed his inner soul in preparation for a deep meditation.
Tommy, on the other hand, stretched out a bit, placing his hands behind the back of his head. “Now this is transportation I could get used to,” he whispered with a small smile. “I could imagine a personal driver bringing me around in a cushy carriage during our next battle.”
“It’s not quite as fast as the Everwyrm,” Kobai replied, his eyes still closed. “We can just attach a small bag to the saddle. For your constitution.”
Tommy sat up as if to heatedly respond, but Ald placed his paw on Tommy’s knee. The demon hunter settled with merely glaring at Kobai as the carriage moved in silence.
“Lord Chamberlain, how long is the journey to Sire Denathrius’s castle?” Ald asked.
The Venthyr sighed. “It should be nearly half an hour. However, that is assuming we are not attacked by ruffians along the roadside. This area has seen a rise in common thuggery recently.”
As if on cue, angry voices erupted from outside the carriage. Ald pulled aside the crimson curtains and saw dozens of figures fighting over the landscape. There were a number of venthyr aristocrats fighting with what appeared to be some sort of blood magic. Their opponents were large gargoyles with batlike wings and stone armor.
“This seems to be a bit more than common thuggery,” Ald said, still staring at the combat outside the carriage’s window.
Lord Chamberlain let out an arrogant sniff but didn’t reply.
Half an hour later, the carriage carried the four occupants through a large courtyard. Ald snuck another glance out the window and saw an imposing castle that reached so far into the sky that its upper turrets were obscured by dark clouds.
Once the carriage came to a stop, a pair of dredgers dressed in short tuxedos unfurled a roll of red carpet to the vehicle’s door. Chamberlain, Ald, Tommy, and Kobi stepped out and followed the dredger butlers through the castle entryway.
If the exterior of the castle had felt imposing, it was nothing to the interior. Four large stone gargoyles on tall stone pillars were placed about the entrance hall. Each wall was adorned with portraits of a regal venthyr with his own set of horns. Like the statue in the fountain outside, Ald knew this to be in the likeness of his host, Sire Denathrius.
On an upper platform above the pillars was a large reddish mirror in a golden frame. The mirror seemed alive, and Ald watched as it swirled and hummed. One of the dredger butlers walked through the frame, and moments later he came back again. “The Master is ready for you,” he said to Lord Chamberlain who promptly led the trio towards the mirror.
Perhaps doorway or portal was a better word than mirror. Ald tentatively put his hand through the center and could feel a steady breeze on the other side. He gave a cautious eye toward Kobi and Tommy. Though neither of them said anything or even nodded that they understood, he knew that they had. They were to be on guard. For all intents, it was likely that the Master of Revendreth was not an ally.
The breeze Ald had felt through the mirror was a steady gust of air that beat against the castle itself. The mirror led to the upper part of the castle that Ald had been unable to view earlier. He could now see the tops of those dark clouds, which was a good thing considering he didn’t want to see just how far up he was. Being dead already, he likely wouldn’t die from a fall from the top of the turret. But they weren’t called irrational fears for nothing.
Lord Chamberlain led the trio to a small room at the top of the castle tower. A table had been set out with five chairs, and sitting in the center chair was a commanding Venthyr. He was by far the largest Venthyr that Ald had seen yet, and his curling horns were simply the cherry on top. Sire Denathrius wore a simple yet elegant outfit of black and red with a plunging neckline that gave Ald the impression he didn’t much care what others thought of him.
“Ah, the heroes have arrived,” came the sultry, refined voice of Denathrius as he stood from the table and spread his arms out in a welcoming gesture. Lord Chamberlain knelt at the door of the room. “That won’t be necessary, my dear Lord Chamberlain,” said Denathrius. “Please, all of you, come and partake of this humble meal before us.”
Ald could see the table was filled with pastries, candies, fruit, and sweets of all kinds. Each item of food was set on expensive looking china next to spotless silverware. Large gold goblets were set out as well, next to half-empty bottles of what Ald hoped was wine.
Ald chanced a glance over at his compatriots and could see the drool reaching the corners of Tommy’s mouth.
“We thank you for your time and generosity, Sire Denathrius,” Ald said. “We have been looking forward to this meeting.”
“As have I, Maw Walker,” Denathrius said as all four visitors took a chair around the table. The Master sat back in the center chair. “I must admit that I have been most eager to meet the spirit who can travel from the Maw so easily. I had heard that the place was quite…inescapable.”
“Well, I suppose it’s not as inescapable as advertised then,” Ald replied. He watched as Tommy picked up an eclair and shoved the entire thing into his mouth in one quick movement. Ald gave him a reproving glare, but Tommy merely shrugged in response.
“Apparently not,” replied Sire Denathrius who had chosen to ignore Tommy’s display. “Still, a soul has escaped. It does upset the usual order of things. I cannot help but wonder what you have in store for the Shadowlands, Maw Walker.”
“You can call me Ald,” he said for what felt like the hundredth time since he had arrived. The denizens of the Shadowlands had a habit of using nicknames, it seemed.
“Of course, Maw Walker – Ald, I mean,” Denathrius said as a wide smile touched his lips.
Ald eyed the table but felt no hunger. Hard to eat when you’re dead.
“I hope you don’t mind if I ask you a few questions, Sire,” Ald said.
The wide smile again. “Oh, I am certain you have many questions, Maw Walker. As do I. What say we play a small game. You ask a question, and I will answer it in the truest way possible. Then, I ask a question, and I expect the same from you. A bit of give and take. What do you say?”
Kobi shifted uncomfortably to Ald’s right.
“Of course. I’d expect no less. I’ll go first then. Why have you closed Revendreth to all traffic besides myself?”
Denathrius threw his head back in raucous laughter. “Haha! You don’t dance around the thorns, do you Maw Walker. Just run straight through the bush. Careful that you don’t get cut.” Denathrius’s eyes bore into Ald’s own. “My answer is simple. You…have piqued…my interest. I wished to have this conversation alone, of course, but I still had to know the details of your escape. The Jailer himself cannot escape the Maw. But what has allowed you to do so. What is special about you? I simply must know.” Denathrius folded large hands on the table. “Now, my question-”
“One moment, Sire. You didn’t actually answer my question. I asked why you had closed Revendreth.”
A flash of anger flew across Denathrius’s face, but it was gone as quickly as it had appeared. Ald noticed the Sire’s right hand had flown down to his side, and for the first time, he noticed that Denathrius wore a sword on his belt.
“Of course, Maw Walker. I must have focused on the wrong part of your question. With this unfortunate drought we have been suffering, I deemed it prudent to cease the visits of interlopers who may try and pilfer what anima stores we have been able to maintain.” Deanthrius smiled again. Ald noticed he had not mentioned anything about the fighting they had seen on their way to the castle.
“Now my question, Maw Walker,” the Master said, his hand still clinging to the sword at his side. “Rumors have surfaced that you possess an item that aided your escape from the Maw. Tell me, my dear friend, what was it?”
Ald debated his answer in his mind. Should he tell Denathrius about the Helm of Domination? Was there a power linked to the Helm that he should keep private? Could Denathrius even get to the Helm if he wanted? After all, it was currently held in Oribos under the protection of the soldiers surrounding the city.
The Pandaren settled on the truth. Most of it, at least.
“The shattered helm of the Lich King was the source of great power. I had it when I touched the waystone in the Maw.”
“Ah,” sniffed Denathrius. “Of course, you don’t seem to have it on you. But then what gives your soul such a glow? It is unlike anything else I have seen on other spirits that make their way to my kingdom.”
“I believe it is my turn to ask a question, Sire,” Ald said. The flash of anger rose on the Venthyr’s face again, and Ald flicked his eyes to Lord Chamberlain who had shifted uneasily in his own seat. A slight scowl on his lips, Denathrius raised his hand, urging Ald to continue this game of theirs.
“Why is there fighting in Revendreth? We saw gargoyles fighting Venthyr on the way to your castle?”
The same haughty smile touched Denathrius’s lips again. “There are always struggles in any kingdom. This particular uprising is an effect of the drought, of course. In these trying times, I have had to increase the number of tithes from our citizens. It is a pity, of course. But no one wants to give up more anima. So, there are those who fight. We need these anima tithes for the kingdom, but the simple folk never understand that.”
Ald’s suspicions had been right then. The drought was causing problems here in Revendreth as well.
“My next question, Maw Walker,” Denathrius said. “It is the same as before. Why does your soul glow like none other before you.”
Ald began to answer but felt a hand enclose on his arm. He snuck a glance under the table and saw Kobi’s hand on his wrist. Kobi gave his wrist a gentle squeeze, and Ald understood what he meant. But he had already committed to this game and intended to play it right.
“I believe shards of the Helm were covering me when I died on Azeroth. It appears as if I was imbued with some power of the Helm itself.” Kobi released Ald’s arm. The monk unclipped the staff at his side.
The reason was clear. Denathrius had a new hunger in his eyes. The light within them swirled with the same color red that Ald saw in the mirror. Perhaps it was just his imagination, but Denathrius’s sharp teeth appeared just a bit longer than before.
“One more question, Sire,” Ald said.
Denathrius’s tongue lashed over his fangs. “Yes, one more. I do feel like our game is coming to an end.”
“My question is simply this: are you the reason for the anima drought?”
Lord Chamberlain gasped, and his hand flew to his chest. The quick movement spurred Tommy to action. The Demon Hunter stood up quickly, knocking his chair to the floor. His glaives were unsheathed.
Denathrius, on the other hand, had thrust his head back in another raucous laugh. He stood from the table elegantly and extended a hand to Ald. “Come, my little soul. I will show you the true reason for our drought.” The Master of Revendreth left the table and walked out of the room back to the whipping winds outside his castle walls. He leaned over the railing. Ald followed. Both Kobi and Tommy had their eyes locked on Chamberlain.
Ald looked over the edge and noticed that the dark clouds had dissipated. He could see straight down to the ground below. But there was only a small amount of land beneath the balcony. Off this side of Castle Nathria, just beyond the small patch of land, Ald could see the swirling vortex of the Maw far below. A fear settled in Ald’s gut. Of all places in the Shadowlands, he had no idea that the Maw was so ever-present. It seemed to be everywhere.
“Well, Maw Walker – you wanted to see the cause of the drought. It’s right over there,” Denathrius said, pointing down below. Ald peered down at the ground and saw more fighting. Gargoyle vs. Venthyr. Commoner vs. aristocrat. Ald watched as the fighting pushed to the very edge of Revendreth’s border, where the ground fell away and the Maw awaited eagerly below.
Then, as Ald watched in horror, the land exploded. Ruins caved in, and the ground fell away. Red substance fled the explosion in a torrent. It flushed itself over the edge down towards the Maw itself.
“In answer to your question, Maw Walker,” Denathrius said as Ald continued to stare down in horror at the events unfolding below him. “Yes. I am a reason for the drought. After all, the Jailer needs it all now. Every bit we can give him.”
Ald tore his eyes away from the anima flowing straight into the swirling vortex. “But why?”
With an evil grin, Denathrius waggled a large finger in Ald’s face. “Oh, no, Maw Walker. Our game is done. And unfortunately, so are you.”
With a quick motion, Denathrius grabbed Ald by the throat and lifted him high over the ground. Ald heard a scream from Tommy and Kobi’s direction. The two were locked in combat with Lord Chamberlain. The Venthyr was using dark magical powers to throw stone statues at the two of them, stopping them from reaching Ald and the Sire.
“You were lucky once, Maw Walker,” Denathrius said, his voice brimming with malice. He leaned forward and whispered into Ald’s near. “Let’s see if you can escape again.”
Before Ald could reply, Denathrius flung the Pandaren over the edge of Castle Nathria. Ald’s spirit missed the small patch of ground beneath the platform, and instead he fell deep into the swirling vortex of the Maw far below.