Chapter Sixteen: Dawnkeep and the Ember Court

Life (or afterlife in Ald’s case) was much quieter in Dawnkeep. Away from the hustle and bustle of Oribos and its attendants, Ald was finally able to sit and breathe, to strategize and learn about each covenant.

After many successful meetings with Anth and Arch about the Kyrians in Bastion, Golin and Healpimp about the Necrolords in Maldraxxus, and Fuzzy and Emma about the Night Fae in Ardenweald, Ald had a fairly robust understanding of each covenant’s recent happenings and overall philosophies. However, he cursed himself for his lack of Venthyr and Revendreth knowledge. It was his own fault for not delegating the task like he had the others, but after the less than friendly welcome from Sire Denathrius, Ald had led the talks with Prince Renathal and General Draven, a stoneborn gargoyle loyal to the Prince.

Ald had learned a bit about the Venthyr and their ways, but he knew there was plenty still to learn. And it was upon remarking this statement to Renathal that the Prince offered the worst suggestion that Ald had ever heard.

“My dear, Maw Walker. If you are to ever understand the Venthyr ways, then you simply must participate in one of our most ancient traditions. A party – of course. Draven, I believe it’s time to restart the Ember Court.” The large stoneborn Draven rolled his eyes at the suggestion, but he made no remark.

“I don’t think that’s really necessary, Prince Renathal,” Ald replied, but the Venthyr raised a long-nailed hand in the air to stop Ald’s protest.

“It will, of course, serve more than this one purpose, Maw Walker. If I am to gain the trust and allegiance of key members for our new rebellion, I must adhere to our traditions.”

And that was all that was to be said on the matter. 

Over the course of the next few days, Opie and Anda fitted Ald with various formal suits and ties. Opie studied old books found in Dawnkeep’s abandoned library and designed a suit that would be as traditional as possible but still fit Ald’s bulky Pandaren body. Anda, on the other hand, added a few traditions of her own – in the form of defenses. She ensured the inner lining of his formal jacket was fitted with a strong chainmail. When Ald pointed out his discomfort at the metal rubbing against his fur, she cuffed him around the ears and mumbled something about his being ungrateful. After that, he decided not to mention that he couldn’t possibly die twice.

With his attire prepared, next came his proper training for the formal event. Decebul, who had studied cultures across Azeroth through her work as an archaeologist at Knicks & Knacks, had researched the civil pleasantries of the Venthyr and began teaching Ald how to properly hold a teacup and how to bow while continuing to maintain eye contact. She also taught him as best she could about delivering witty barbs hidden in otherwise pleasant language, but Ald found he wasn’t fond of that particular art.

Then, finally, Prince Renathal himself took the time to describe to Ald the important figures who would make or break the rebellion. Ald learned all sorts of names and titles such as Theotar the Mad Duke and the Countess of Redalav Tower. He was sure he’d forget all of these names before the event, but it was good to show his interest in Revendreth to the Prince.

On the day of the Ember Court party, Ald stood in front of the mirror in his bedchambers in the Dawnkeep ruins. The full-length mirror showed off his fancy new duds, including his velvety red jacket and something called a cravat. Even if it hadn’t been for the chainmail digging into his gut, nothing about this attire was comfortable. Even custom fitted to his furry Pandaren body, every piece of it felt tight and made it hard for him to move with any sort of agility. Which was extremely frustrating to a rogue who relied on dexterity.

“Fancy. You going to raise your pinky while you drink tea, too?”

Ald shifted in front of the mirror and caught the reflection of Kebechet standing in the doorway behind him. Though calmer than his time in Oribos, over the last few days, he had been busy enough that he hadn’t spoken to her as he had intended after Fuzzy’s suggestion in the Maw. He hadn’t even been sure she was going to go to the party before now. But he noticed that even though she wore the garb of a hunter complete with bow and quiver strapped to her back, the hair on her head was tied up into an intricate braid and small golden rings lined the outer part of her canine ear.

“Decebul told me to avoid drinking the tea since my fingers tend to break the cup handles. I’m a bit more used to steins of ale than dainty cups of tea.”

Keb rolled her eyes. “Sure, you’ve never had green tea before.”

“Those cups don’t have handles,” he retorted shortly. “Did you just come in here to criticize my recent choices, or did you have something else in mind?” Perhaps he had indeed picked up a thing or two when it came to barbed language.

Keb’s face refused to betray any emotion that may have been rolling around in her brain. Instead, she just stared at him for nearly a full minute – which was a long time for silence.

“You’re being stupid,” she finally said. “You’re making stupid decisions without thinking about the consequences. You’re flying by the seat of your pants without any real plan, and you think everything is justified for the greater good.” Keb set her chin but never broke eye contact with the Pandaren.

“Is that all?” Ald replied. He could hear the pain in his own voice even if he was attempting to hide it behind anger.

“No, it’s not. Your self-doubt is astonishing and over-the-top given your years of experience. Your recent choices,” she added, mocking his tone with these words, “are hurting those around you. And your outfit makes you look like a fancy zeppelin. There, that’s all!”

She turned on her heel and was set to leave.

“Stop right there, Kebechet!” Ald yelled. Keb was not generally one to follow orders lightly, but the force of command in Ald’s voice stopped her in her tracks. She continued facing away from him, but Ald could see her ears were turned in his direction. “You don’t get to sling thorns at me and then walk away without response. No matter what you may think of me recently, you at least owe me that.”

Ald trudged over to his bed and sat down, the springs silent under his ethereal weight. Keb turned around and stared at some point behind his head, not truly looking into his eyes.

“Listen, Keb. Everything I’ve done-”

“Has been incredibly stupid,” she interrupted. “You joined in with a war against an unknown enemy because your friend died. You mounted a rescue mission into Stormwind without any intelligence on the situation. You ventured into unknown territory on the terms of an obvious madman who threw you back into a hellish landscape where another obvious madman is currently tracking you. And do you know what dumbest action you’ve undertaken?”

Ald paused. This didn’t appear to be a rhetorical question.

“Sacrificing myself?”

“No, dumbass! That wasn’t a sacrifice. You killed yourself. We would have found another way. It’s not like Bolvar knows everything there is to know about the Shadowlands. If he did, we wouldn’t be discovering everything on our own. We would have found some portal somewhere or some potion or some ancient spell. But no! We couldn’t wait and see. We couldn’t plan. You just took action. And you hurt this team in ways you don’t even understand yet.” Keb stopped talking, her breathing close to hyperventilation. She took one single deep breath to calm herself, and looked down at the floor. “And you hurt me,” she said in sullen tones.

Ald hadn’t thought she was still this angry over the situation. But in all honesty, he hadn’t thought much about it at all. She was right that he had been flying from one disaster to another without full consideration. His job on the team had been to lead everyone through careful strategy and planning. He had failed them in this regard.

Still, Keb was acting differently than she had ever acted to Ald. She had always told him what she thought. Her internal filter wasn’t the best. But this was different. His eyes wandered to her abdomen. And it clicked.

“When are you due, Keb?”

Her eyes widened and fury filled them. But it quickly died away, and her voice came out in barely a whisper. “Six months. You were going to be the godfather. Dumbass.”

“I still can be, Keb. I’m not gone.”

“Yes, you are!” she yelled. Ald wondered if other members of the team were listening in on this conversation. “You’ve tried to go back to Azeroth! You can’t. The portal doesn’t work for you. Once we solve this thing – once we defeat the Jailer, you are stuck here. Forever! I need someone who is going to be there for him,” she said, cradling her hand around her womb. “And there for me. I’m not going to ask a ghost to babysit.”

Ald smiled. “We’ll figure something out, Keb. We will. Didn’t you just tell me that Bolvar doesn’t know everything about the Shadowlands? Well, we don’t either. There may be a portal somewhere I can use. Or some potion or ancient spell. I’m not gone forever. I just know it.”

***

The Ember Court party was even worse than Ald had first imagined.

Renathal had placed a small stone fiend named Temel in charge of the decorations and party events. The duty had gone to the stone fiend’s brain. All morning, Temel had been ordering around members of the team until Tommy snapped, grabbed the fiend, and stuffed his mouth shut with a party eclair. Since then, Tommy himself had taken over the festivities, leveling a blind glare at Temel if the stone fiend dared to pipe up.

And Tommy ran the party like a well-oiled machine. Hors d’oeuvres were set out around the Sinfall grounds, Venthyr and Stoneborn waiters had their ties straightened and trays polished, and the security team was guarding every entrance and exit. Ald was surprised how well it came together under the Demon Hunter’s guidance, but he made a mental note that Tommy should plan the team’s next birthday celebration as well.

“What would you like me to do, Tommy?” Ald asked as he padded over to the Demon Hunter.

“You can stand there and look pretty while the guests come in,” Tommy replied, his eyes watching the waiters as they loaded their trays. “You know all of their names from Renathal, right?”

“Oh, of course,” Ald lied, having already forgotten the vast majority of Renathal’s lessons. Prince Renathal himself was standing in the middle of the party with a teacup in his hand. He was chatting up another Venthyr who had an umbrella raised above his parted hair. The Venthyr were a strange bunch, for sure.

Five minutes later, Renathal rang a handbell and announced the start of the party. Ald walked around as the events began. An all-vampire band was playing a gentle dance tune with instruments that looked older than Arch. Guests were encouraged to participate in a small maze connected by a series of magical mirrors that acted as portals to other nearby areas. 

But the most interesting event, in Ald’s opinion at least, was a small staging area set up with one powerful Venthyr leading some sort of legal trial. She would call forward a soul who was imprisoned in a set of chains.

“Soul! You have been accused of sins in your previous life. What sin have you committed?” she asked in an imperious tone.

The soul in chains wailed loudly. “I didn’t do nothing wrong!” it screamed. “It wasn’t personal, it was just business.”

The accuser leveled a pointed finger at the soul. “You have been accused of greed, soul. Your fate is sealed. It is time for your atonement.”

“Quite a ritual, eh?” came a voice from Ald’s side. He turned and saw Raxx the goblin watching the atonement event as well. The goblin was decked out in garb very similar to Ald’s. Even his eyepatch was adorned with golden designs surrounding the red velvet.

Ald returned his gaze to the soul who was being escorted to a different area of the party grounds. “How did you get in here, Raxx? I thought there was security at every door? Do I need to talk to Tommy about the guest list?”

Raxx chuckled. “Is dat any way to treat a guest? You’re not the only one dat wants to help ol’ Revendreth. I secured an invite from Renathal himself once he found out there was more than one guild who wants to help these vampires.”

Ald walked away from the atonement ritual and followed the soul towards the next area where a large well of anima was bubbling and churning. Raxx followed beside him. “You seen one o’ these atonement thingies before?” he asked, excitement in his voice at knowing something that Ald likely didn’t.

“No. I’m going to watch one now.”

“They’re amazin’! The soul is nearly tortured to confess their sins. Then, these blood creatures pop outta that well. Then, the soul gets its new form. Sometimes it looks just like the soul did on Azeroth. Sometimes, they change into a vampire themselves!”

“Torture?” Ald asked, his curiosity getting the best of him. “Why torture?”

“Dis is the last chance for these souls. They was sent here cuz they was full o’ sin in their lives. If dat sin ain’t purged, they go straight to da Maw.” Raxx shivered in spite of himself.

Ald watched as a different Venthyr began to cast a spell on the soul. He was muttering under his breath, but Ald could clearly hear the word “greed” being said in the chant. Just like Raxx had said, manifestations of the soul’s greed popped out of the anima well. Nearby party-goers attacked the manifestations until there were none left.

“Your sins are purged,” the Venthyr said finally. “We recognize you as Grenvield Smallfight of Azeroth.” The soul transformed in front of Ald’s eyes. Where once there was an ethereal spirit, there was now a short ghost-like goblin who bowed to the Venthyr.

“Told ya it was amazin’,” Raxx whispered next to Ald. “Anyways, I wanna try dat maze o’ mirrors. I hear it’s a blast! Ciao!”

Ald continued walking around the party, meeting people whose names he couldn’t remember. Even with all of his preparation, this wasn’t his scene. He was used to large-scale battles and small team meetings. Drinking tea and chatting with vampires in a formal party setting wasn’t how Ald lived his life. He thought back to his time as a child on the farm in the Valley of the Four Winds, and he chuckled at what his dad would say if he knew his son would end up here.

After some time, the party began to wind down. Ald could see many guests were leaving now that the hors d’oeuvres had run dry. He looked over and saw that Raxx was still hanging out by the maze mirror. He was laughing excitedly with another goblin from their team of Horde adventurers. Despite not wanting to speak with Raxx again, Ald walked over to the mirror. The maze had been a highlight of the party, and he did want to see it for himself before it was deconstructed.

“Well, well. It is ain’t Aldineri here to try da maze!” Raxx yelled loudly as Ald approached.

Without responding, Ald faced the mirror. In its dormant state, there was no doubt that it would be smooth glass that offered a reflection just like any other mirror. But in this enchanted state, Ald couldn’t see himself in its reflection. It didn’t reflect. A deep red light swirled inside its ornate frame. The Pandaren tentatively put out his paw to touch the surface, but it went through the other side of the mirror as if there were no surface at all.

“Heh. I’m not sure the frame is big enough to let you through,” Raxx mumbled.

Resisting the urge to punch the goblin in his overly large nose, Ald stepped through the mirror and found himself inside a large stone room. The room was empty save for one person. A tall blood elf hunter at arms’ reach who was facing Ald and holding a large sack in one hand and a club in the other.

“Nighty-night,” Control said as she swung the club at Ald’s ethereal head.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s