Ald was quite finished with being bashed in the head.
At least this time, he wasn’t completely knocked out. It hurt to be sure, and he was dazed while Control bundled him into the sack, but he was still conscious and fought her off as best he could. Which wasn’t enough to stop her from capturing him and dragging his body across the floor.
He felt a bump as they both traveled through another mirror. He couldn’t see where they were through the dark burlap of the sack, but the air became chilly and damp.
“Let me out of here! Immediately!” Ald yelled. Although he was certain that she wouldn’t comply with his demand, he hoped his voice might make the others aware of his capture. Though that didn’t seem likely given what the Horde team had done.
It had been a smart plan honestly. Since they wanted to kidnap Ald, they needed to do it at a large gathering so his absence would go unnoticed. But of course, any large gathering of the Humpday Heroes would have security in spades. And this was a rebellion party, as well. So, they couldn’t drag him out through the exit without being seen and stopped by one of the team. But they could turn one of the party’s special events into a trap. And once Ald was away from the other party guests, they could bring him where they needed. And using the Horde team’s most gifted hunter and the element of surprise, Ald could be easily taken. This is the way Ald would have done it if he wanted to kidnap an unsuspecting victim, which impressed him even further.
The real question was why they wanted to kidnap Ald in the first place.
And though Ald’s mind raced to discover their ultimate motive, it became obvious roughly half an hour later when Ald’s body was tossed into a chair, the burlap was removed from his head, and he found himself staring into the eyes of Sire Denathrius himself.
“Maw Walker, it is such a pleasure to see you again. Your first stay in my castle was too short. We must correct that,” he said, the same wry smile as before plastered on his face.
“Heya, Denny, my man,” announced Raxx from behind Ald. “We had a deal, right? Time for my compensation if ya don’t mind.”
Denathrius didn’t look at Raxx but instead continued staring deep into Ald’s eyes. “Darithos, pay the little green man. And then escort him from the premises. Our transaction is complete.”
Ald mimicked Denathrius by not breaking eye contact. “Why, Raxx?” he asked. “Why are you supporting this dictator who robbed his own citizens? You’ve fought others like him before.”
Raxx chuckled behind Ald’s back. “Simple, Aldineri. It’s business, not personal. Those other guys were gonna lose. No doubt about it. I’m not so sure about Denny and the Jailer here. With the anima they have now, I don’t see how they can be stopped. And if there’s one thing to say about Raxxaldin Backbiter, I ain’t ever on the losing side.” Ald watched as a strange and monstrous creature hovered out of sight towards Raxx. The clink of gold exchanging hands. “Pleasure doin’ business with ya, Denny. See ya around.”
Ald heard footsteps walk away behind him. Both he and Denathrius continued to stare at each other for several moments, though Denathrius was the only one who was smiling.
“Darithos, ready our guest’s seat of honor,” Denathrius finally said. The monstrous creature hovered back into view and made its way towards a stool and a set of chains behind Denathrius, all of which Ald could see out of his peripheral vision. A male blood elf was chained there, the stool supporting the weight of his knees. Darithos began to unchain him.
“You are quite special, you know,” Denathrius continued. “I wish I would have seen it on your very first visit. You have escaped from the Maw twice and made a fool of the Jailer. Only someone very special could do that. And once I considered your special nature, I considered the amount of anima that must reside within you.”
“I’m not from your world, Denny,” Ald said, mocking him with Raxx’s nickname.
Denathrius’s smile faltered, and it was quickly replaced with a scowl. “Don’t be a fool, Maw Walker. You are not in a position of power within my domain. Do not take me lightly.” Denathrius finally broke eye contact and stood to his full height. He towered over Ald as he sat in the chair, his body still covered by the burlap sack.
“You are not from the Shadowlands, but everyone is from my world, Maw Walker. All worlds end here. Death is inescapable, after all. And anima is merely the lifeforce that we take from pitiful creatures such as yourselves. But you are different. Something has tied you to the Shadowlands in a most unusual way. And I intend to discover just what that something is.”
Then, Ald heard a second voice. A high-pitched female voice that chilled his blood. “LeT mE rIp HiM uP fOr YoU, SiRe. We’LL tEaR ThE tRuTh OuT Of HiM.”
“In due time, Remornia,” Denathrius responded. Ald looked around but could not see the speaker. “First, let us resort to a more civil approach.”
The monstrous Darithos reappeared and grabbed Ald roughly by the shoulders. He tossed the Pandaren out of the sack, knocking the wind out of him, and secured him with the chains before Ald could mount any sort of defense. Now chained with his arms raised in the air and his knees on the stool, he could see the entire room. He was on a stage of sorts – or perhaps more like a gallows platform.
Denathrius waved a hand and the stool under Ald’s knees flew out from beneath him. The strain on Ald’s arms was unbearable. A scream of pain twisted in the air and the blood rushed to his head. His breath came out ragged, and stars danced in his vision.
“Tell me, Maw Walker,” Denathrius said, the smile back in place on his lips. “What makes you tick? What makes you different?”
Ald gasped for breath. “I’m not different. I’m not special,” he replied as best he could.
“Not good enough, Maw Walker.”
From the sheath on his belt, Denathrius pulled a long thin blade which sang subtly as it left the sheath behind. “LeT mE fEaSt On HiS bLoOd, O siRE!” Ald cringed as he realized it was the sword talking.
“Not quite yet, Remornia,” Denathrius gently chided. “But soon. Especially if the Maw Walker continues to respond…unsatisfactorily. Let’s try again. What makes you special, Maw Walker?”
“Well,” Ald gasped between grunts of pain. “If I had to choose one thing, I am pretty good-looking. A sight more handsome than your ugly mug, Denny.”
Without hesitation, Sire Denathrius released Remornia. Instead of clattering to the ground, the sword floated in midair and twisted at an angle so that her blade was pointed downwards. Then, she rushed at full speed towards Ald, slicing a long shallow cut along his right arm. The wound burned like fire, and another scream echoed inside the room. When Ald reopened his eyes, which had watered with pain, he saw the sword back in Denathrius’s hand.
“Your impertinence will get you nowhere, Maw Walker. I just want a civil conversation, but please understand one thing: I’ve already won. You are trapped here. I will extract every drop of anima from your broken spirit, and no one can save you from my stronghold. You’ve lost. And you will die here again. Forever…unless…” Denathrius sauntered up to Ald. “Unless you atone. Atone for your sin. Become a Venthyr, one in my own image. After we take your anima, we can shape you into a reckoning force. One who could quash the rebellion and fulfill the Jailer’s hopes and dreams. What is your sin, Maw Walker?”
“Wrath apparently,” Ald replied. “Because I want to smash your face in.”
Denathrius chuckled. “Still insolent, I see. But that’s because you haven’t truly considered my offer.” Denathrius lowered his face to within an inch of Ald’s. “Think, Maw Walker. You are nothing but a ghost here. You have the body of a spirit, unable to make any real change on the world. Your team doesn’t need you anymore. You are stuck for an eternity in a world you don’t know or understand.
“With the power I could give you, you could reinvent yourself. You could relive the glory days you once knew. You could command not a team of miscreant rodents but instead an army of bloodthirsty soldiers. As a lieutenant for the Jailer, you could achieve any victory you want, accomplish any goal set before you. You would be unstoppable. And you could rule in whatever way you chose.
“Or stay like this. Broken and unloved. An unwanted spirit. And die a second time to be forever gone from this world, any world. Make your choice.”
Aldineri maintained his scowl.
And then he spit in Denathrius’s face.
For the first time, Denathrius wore a look of shock. A look that quickly turned to anger. His eyes bore into Ald’s, while Remornia screamed expletives in her fury.
Placing a soothing hand on the sword at his hip, Denathrius stood and turned away from Ald. “Darithos, I would like for you to switch priorities from the blood elf. Teach our new friend what happens if he continues to refuse our hospitality.”
A deadly grin spread across the monster’s face.
* * *
Ald had no sense of time going forward. With no clock and no view of the sky outside of Castle Nathria, he couldn’t tell if days or weeks had passed. He was aware only of Darithos, Denathrius, and the pain he felt in his ethereal body.
A cycle developed. Darithos or Denathrius would come to his chains and demand that he atone for his sins. He would refuse. Then, they would either cast a harmful spell on him or, in Denathrius’s case, allow Remornia to slice a fresh wound on his arm or leg, and then he would pass out from the pain. Once he awoke, the cycle repeated itself.
Darithos in particular was a master of torture. The spell he cast on Ald locked his body in spasms of pure pain. Ald’s screams would echo across the chamber, which only seemed to make Darithos place more willpower into the spell.
* * *
On one particularly violent day when Ald had again refused to atone, Remornia sliced a long cut across his scalp. While he bled on the floor, he noticed movement near the entrance to the room. Moments later, a small dredger, who was dressed smartly in a butler’s uniform, ran towards Denathrius while he wiped Ald’s blood from Remornia’s blade.
“They’re here, Master! They’re here for the prisoner!”
At the dredger’s words, Denathrius whipped around to face the little messenger, dropping Remornia as he did so. She hovered in midair as she had done before but did not make any movement towards Ald.
“You fool!” Denathrius yelled at the dredger. “How dare you deliver sensitive matters in front of our guest!” He pointed one long finger at the dredger, which Remornia took as her cue. She was as quick as an arrow, and she cackled in pleasure as she stabbed the dredger. Ald closed his eyes tightly to avoid seeing the aftermath of her gleeful rage.
“It is no matter, Maw Walker,” Denathrius whispered into Ald’s ear while the Pandaren did his best to keep his eyes closed. “Your motley group won’t make it past our first sentry. Wish me luck as I go and welcome our new guests. I don’t think they’ll be staying long.”
With his eyes still closed, Ald heard Denathrius large footsteps walk away. And though Ald didn’t hear Darithos gliding towards him, he could smell the rotting breath of the monster as it hovered in front of his face.
“They’re coming, Darithos. You’re about to lose your plaything,” Ald mumbled. Darithos made a sound that Ald couldn’t decipher. Was it anger? Or fear?
* * *
An hour or so later, Ald was still conscious when Denathrius teleported into the torture chamber. The smile had vanished from his face, but he still confidently sauntered towards Ald. The Pandaren’s hopes seemed to be affirmed. Not only were the Humpday Heroes still alive, they were on their way to this very room.
“Maw Walker,” Denathrius addressed him, “You can wipe the smug look from your face. I have come to make a bargain with you.”
“I refuse to atone,” Ald repeated for the hundredth time.
“Actually, you haven’t heard my offer just yet,” Denathrius replied as a haughty smile spread across his lips. “You see, I’ve changed my mind. I was on my way to welcome your acquaintances when I had an absolutely fantastic idea. I want something from you, but I don’t believe I’ve been able to offer you something of value in return. So I set out to acquire a gift for you. Are you ready for your gift?”
Ald stared blankly at Denathrius.
“Here’s my gift: I won’t have your friends killed if you atone.” Denathrius held a single finger in the air to stop Ald from commenting. “I have lulled them into a false sense of security. I’ve placed obstacles in their path that are mere inconveniences to guide them to this very room. Now, why would I do that, you ask? Do you notice anything unusual about this room, which you have recently spent so much time inside?”
Against his better judgement, Ald flitted his eyes about the torture chamber. Nothing seemed…wait. Was that?
Denathrius let out a deep chuckle. “Yes, this room is now a trap. Gargoyles, Venthyr, and imps stand at every nook and cranny ready to spring upon your compatriots once they arrive here. Look around you, Maw Walker. There are dozens of them. Many more than there are ‘heroes’ raiding my castle. They will be ripped to shreds much like that poor messenger over there.” Ald could still see the blood stains where Remornia had had her fun.
“This is your final chance, Maw Walker. Atone. Become one of us. Serve as my right-hand man. With your special abilities, we can rule all of the Shadowlands beside the Jailer. Refuse again, and your friends die right here in the heart of my domain.”
Ald had refused before for the very reason Denathrius had said. Physical torment would never sway the Pandaren into betraying his principles. Yes, it hurt. Yes, Ald’s body was broken and injured. But, his pride remained. His principles were intact. He would never succumb to this villain just as Ald had denied other villains their satisfaction.
But as Ald looked around the room, he could see that his friends were in real danger. They had faced hordes of enemies before, but these were well-trained soldiers that vastly outnumbered the group. Even if the Humpday Heroes ultimately defeated the gargoyles and Venthyr stationed about the room, there would be casualties. And he couldn’t bear losing any more friends to this campaign.
Principles be damned if it meant his friends would die.
“I’ll-,” Ald started, the words on his lips when a voice from the entrance interrupted him.
“He’ll wipe the floor with your horns, Denathrius. Once we free him, of course,” yelled Cald. And behind him stood every single member of the Humpday Heroes.