Denathrius raised his arms in the air above his head in a gesture of mock welcome. “Ah, the Heroes have arrived. Come and look upon your fearless leader. Come and see his ritual of atonement.” The Venthyr leader turned back towards Ald. “You were saying, Maw Walker?”
“Stop!” Ald yelled as best he could to the members of his team below the platform. His voice came out strangled and harsh. “It’s a tr-”
Denathrius grabbed Ald by the mouth, squeezed his jaw, and stifled his next word. “The only word I want to hear out of you, Maw Walker, is ‘YES!’ Your pride or your friends: CHOOSE!”
“LeT mE tEaR tHeM tO PiEcEs!” Remornia screamed from her place on Denathrius’s hip. “ThEy WiLL aLL DiE!”
Ald vaguely heard Remornia’s threats. And he vaguely heard Cald tell Denathrius to back away from the Pandaren. But one word kept reverberating inside Ald’s brain: Pride. His sin. His sin had always been pride. He had known it all along, though he had never acknowledged it. Everyone on the team had been telling him that his pride was getting in the way. Anda had made this clear to him outside of Stormwind after the rescue. Cald had told him this while walking around Oribos after his first escape from the Maw. Just days before, Keb had berated him for the decisions he had made because of his pride. All of these conversations…about his pride. About doing what he was doing because he didn’t trust the others or because the weight of the world was upon his shoulders.
They weren’t wrong. Every decision he had made was due to this hubris he had in his heart – that he was the only one who could save the world. Even in his spirit form, he had not allowed others to take his place, to fully delegate his duties.
To break this sin, all he had to do was to let go. Let others be the ones to save the day.
Ald looked over at the team. A few had cuts or scrapes from whatever it was they had encountered upon entering the castle. But each and every one of them had a look of determination upon his or her face. They were all ready to fight. And so was he.
“Denny,” he said at last. “Do your worst.” He turned his head back to the group and gave them a small smile. “HUMPDAAAAAAY!”
The next several seconds flew by so quickly that Ald, woozy as he was from the pain he’d already endured, could barely keep up. Denathrius teleported to the top of the room on a balcony that had been empty just moments before. Upon his master’s exit, Darithos took this as his chance to inflict ultimate damage upon Ald. The creature activated four pillars on the floor near the stage Ald was chained upon. These pillars began to make gentle whirring sounds like the starting of an engine before they turned into vacuums, funneling anima straight from Ald.
The pain was excruciating. Ald couldn’t even scream through the torture. Mere grunts escaped from his lips.
And then the pain receded.
Ald looked down to the floor and saw Opie, Healpimp, and Bastian healing his wounds. Now that the pain had died away, Ald looked over at the chaos on the floor. A burly male gargoyle had flown down from the top of the room with three or four female gargoyles. They were locked in combat with the entire group. Ald could hear his team’s blunt and sharpened weapons pinging off the stone skin of the gargoyles, barely making a dent. Only the hunters’ arrows knocked off small chunks of rock.
As he watched, Anth ponied over to one of the pillars and attempted to break its connection to Ald’s body. The Pandaren could still see that anima was flowing from him, and though he was being healed by his teammates, the pain was rising through his body again. I will trust in my team, he thought to himself. I will not let pride stand in my way any longer.
Without warning, an enormous shade of Ald erupted from his mind and landed on the floor of the chamber amidst the team. The shade looked like Ald in every way except that it was dark gray like a shadow while Ald still glowed a ghostly blue. After some worried cries at the shade’s appearance, the team members engaged the new enemy who was whirling around the room, throwing poisoned knives, and attempting to backstab anyone who looked away.
Magic spells and weapons flew about the room, slamming into the shade who remained silent but was beginning to dissipate as more damage was pumped into it.
Denathrius was beside himself with glee. “It is working, Remornia,” Ald heard him say, the voice echoing down to the stage area. “He is atoning. He is mine! Servants, KILL THEM ALL!”
The team had just defeated the shade, which faded away into nothingness, when the rest of Denathrius’s forces flew down from the rafters. Large male gargoyles, female assassin harpies, stone imps, and bloodsucking Venthyr aristocrats descended upon the team, ready to destroy anything moving on the ground below.
Cald looked up and saw the hordes of creatures heading towards the group. “Anda, now!” he shouted.
Anda risked a look above, then closed her eyes and adopted a strange stance. She murmured her next words, but the words themselves were imbued with a strange power so that everyone in the chamber could hear what she said:
Spirits of Ardenweald, hear my words.
Vorkai and Tirnenn, Spriggan and Fairie.
In the name of the Winter Queen,
Come to my aid; I CONVOKE THEE!
As the enemies from above landed on the floor amongst the heroes, small blue lights began to pop into existence and flit about the room. Then, all hell broke loose.
Stars began to fall upon one section of the room while blasts of heat rocked the gargoyles on the other side. Moonlight, sunlight, starlight, and every color of light in between shot through the room, exploding the stone creatures to rubble and burning the Venthyr to dust. The stone imps screamed in panic and tried to fly back to the ceiling, but they were caught in the deluge of spiritual magic rushing around the room. They were yanked down and pulverized into pebbles.
All the while, Ald felt his wounds recovering. In addition to the spells from his healers, the Night Fae spirits were also healing him. He glanced at the cuts on his arms that Remornia had given him, and they disappeared as he watched. His ethereal body was nearly completely healed, and he began to glow with a special light. With a newfound faith in his team, Ald felt a heat rise in his stomach before a second shade burst from within him.
The shade fought for roughly three seconds before the spirits of the Night Fae destroyed it entirely. It evaporated into a cloud of smoke. Just like that, the room was quiet.
The heat within Ald continued to warm his entire body, and then his skin began to tickle. The manacles holding his wrists unlocked themselves, and the chains fell free, clanging against the stone floor. Ald fell to his hands and knees and looked at his fur. It was no longer ethereal. As he watched, the ghostly blue color that he had recently become accustomed to began to fade away, and his original black and white fur took its rightful place on his body.
“Impossible,” came the shell-shocked voice of Denathrius from the upper part of the chamber.
Feeling wholly renewed in his flesh and fur, Ald looked at himself in the light of the Night Fae as they disappeared from the room, their task complete. He stood and stared down at the team members who were surrounding the only surviving enemy – Darithos. The creature’s face was contorted in fear as he spun in place, looking for an escape. Panicked gasps escaped between his rotting teeth.
Ald hopped down from the platform, bouncing off his padded feet. He felt the agility in his knees again now that they were whole and real. He walked straight towards Darithos, fire in his eyes. Ald held out one clawed paw to his side, and Keb tossed him his dagger, which he caught deftly by the hilt. Without slowing his stride, Ald spun the dagger in his hand and jammed its sharpened point through the bottom of Darithos’s quivering jaw. The monster crumpled at Ald’s feet.
“I have atoned,” Ald rumbled in a furious voice, raising his eyes to the Sire of Revendreth. “And now, I’m coming for you.”
In response, Denathrius teleported from the room.