Chapter Twenty: Blood on the Dance Floor

Arch was the first to react, his mace bouncing off the neck of the closest gargoyle. The monstrous creature reeled back from the blow, falling into the gargoyle closest behind him. The two crashed loudly into a heap of stone on the floor. A third gargoyle swung a stone fist at the group but was interrupted by Cald’s earth elemental, which burst out of the floor and gave a single uppercut to the attacker. It landed unceremoniously on top of the other two gargoyles.

In the distance, the three guests of honor pulled out their weapons. Lord Stavros unsheathed two warglaives from his back. Castellan Niklaus unhooked a long-handled axe from his belt. Baroness Frieda levitated to a nearby torch bracket on the ballroom wall, grabbed it with both of her clawed hands, and ripped it from its place. As she pulled it from the wall, the metal screamed but she didn’t appear strained in any way.

Niklaus swung his axe through the air, testing its weight. “This isn’t quite a battlefield, but it will have to do.” While he was lazily testing the axe, an arrow pinged off of the metal. His head snapped up, and Keb fired off another arrow – this one he dodged.

“He’s mine,” Keb said in a small but angry voice to Ald and Cald. “He should know better than to hit on a pregnant worgen.” She fired another arrow at him and directed her pet tortoise to spin in his direction.

Anth watched the huntress run off towards Niklaus with blood in her eyes. “I sure am glad there are other baddies around here, or I’d feel useless.” He and Tommy ran through the crowd of gargoyles, knocking a few down to the ground, as they zipped towards Stavros.

With the evil grin still locked on her face, Frieda began to stalk towards Ald as she swung the litch torch bracket around her body, creating trails of ash and flame. One small dredger waiter was unfortunate enough to stand between the two of them. With one swift motion, Freida swung the torch at the creature. His uniform was still on fire as he landed nearly thirty feet away on the tiled floor.

“Okay,” Ald said, looking at the creature who was rolling around on the ground attempting to put out his uniform. “Looking for some ideas right about now.”

“I have one,” offered Emma. She stepped forward towards both Cald and Ald. “Why don’t we-” 

She was interrupted by a second flaming dredger who landed in a heap at Cald’s feet. This one had not survived the hit.

“No time for explaining!” Cald yelled. “Just do it!”

Emma smiled. She stepped forward and raised the small blue orb she typically held in her off-hand. Pointing it towards the advancing Venthyr, she murmured a few words in a demonic language, creating two gateways: one directly in front of Frieda and the other several yards away by the head table.

Without having enough time to react, Frieda walked directly through the gateway, ending up on the opposite side of the room. Emma said another few words, and the gateways disappeared. “There,” she said. “I bought us a bit more time.”

“We’ll take it,” said Ald, watching as the Baroness lost her cool and upset the head table, spilling food and drinks across the tiled floor. Tommy flew over to the fallen food, grabbed an eclair from the ground, stuffed it into his mouth, and engaged Frieda with a swipe of one warglaive.

While the tanks and Keb kept the guests occupied, the rest of the team contended with the waitstaff and members of security. Trelander and Bastian were a two-man wrecking crew as they spun, kicked, and slashed gargoyles down in pairs. Healpimp and Kobai were slinging fists and spells at a few dredger waiters who had resorted to throwing the food from their silver trays. 

Cerust, Fuzzy, and Nia joined Keb as she battled Niklaus. The hunters were slinging arrows from every direction at the Venthyr, but he was remarkably agile. He danced through  their hail of arrows, and counterattacked them when possible. When Fuzzy made the mistake of backing away too far from his allies, Niklaus took the opportunity to slam the handle of his axe into the worgen’s chest. If Fuzzy hadn’t been wearing the chainmail carapace as his chest armor, the hit could have cracked a few ribs. As it was, Fuzzy didn’t immediately stand up, and Liady must have thought the wind had been knocked from his lungs. She ran over to help him to his feet.

“SWAP!” yelled Anth as Stavros lunged from behind him. The paladin was having a terrible time with Stavros who seemed to have some roguish tricks in his toolkit. Every few seconds, the Venthyr would teleport behind Anth and rush towards him with his warglaives brandished. Anth hadn’t been hit yet, but a few near misses had caused a few beads of sweat to appear on his brow. “This is Demon Hunter stuff, not Paladin stuff,” he added, yelling towards Tommy and Frieda.

Tommy, with his advanced hearing, heard Anth and turned to reply when Frieda took the opening. She delivered a vicious backhanded slap that sent the demon hunter hurtling over to Anth’s position. “Okay, I’m here,” Tommy said dazedly as he jumped to his feet and nearly fell over from a sudden case of vertigo. Stavros teleported behind Tommy, but the demon hunter still had the gift of reflexes as he spun on the spot, and the warglaive missed him.

With no tank taunting Frieda, she turned her attention back to Ald and rushed him. She closed the distance before Anth could get into position, running at a terrifying speed with a mad glint in her eye. Ald quickly gathered his will and stepped into the shadows between beams of weak light in the ballroom. But the vanishing charm he used didn’t offer enough concealment to hide from the keen vision of a Venthyr. Frieda grabbed him around the throat with one long-clawed hand and levitated back into the air. Both of Ald’s daggers clattered to the tile, and as the top of his head grazed the stained-glass ceiling of the ballroom, Ald realized just how much danger he was in.

His dextrous agility generally helped when falling from a great height. And his Pandaren body helped him bounce a little bit rather than the alternative of smashing with extreme force. But this height was absolutely lethal!

Of course I get my real body back just before this happens, he thought to himself. The fact that he had been able to survive terrible falls before from the top of Castle Nathria and down into the Maw flashed through his mind. But it wouldn’t happen this time. He was real and alive again, and his body would bash against the ground and break like a china teacup’s handle in his own clumsy paw.

“Ah, Maw Walker,” Frieda said, a hint of playfulness in her voice. “We’ve had such good times. It’s a shame things have to end this way.”

“Who says they do?” Ald gasped, her hand tight on his throat. “Why are you defending him?”

Frieda’s laugh came out like the tinkling of crystal champagne glasses. “For the same reason that the Master already told you. He’s won. I won’t join the side of those who are fated to lose.”

“He also told me that no one would come and get me. That I was alone and friendless. But look below you, Baroness. They came. And they are fighting by my side.” Ald twisted in the air, not fighting her grip but trying to breathe more freely. “Denathrius is a liar and a traitor to all of Revendreth. Surely you can see that!”

The wicked grin dropped from Frieda’s face, and a flash of concern washed over her features. “Sire Denathrius will always do what is best for Revendreth,” she said, almost to herself.

“Will he, though? He has given all of your anima to the Jailer. All of the Venthyr of Revendreth are suffering, and those who aren’t now will as the supply runs dry. It’s all in the Maw.”

“Maw Walker, you don’t understand the plan.”

Ald looked deep into her reddened eyes. “Do you?”

The answer was apparent on her face. But so was her stubbornness.

“I don’t have the patience to argue with you, Maw Walker. Your fate has been sealed since the moment you denied the Master your atonement. He gave you many chances, and you failed to act in the logical way.”

Ald stopped twisting and furrowed his brow. “Hold on a minute. How do you know what happened in that chamber? How do you know what Denathrius told me and how I responded?”

Frieda’s fangs gleamed in the light issuing through the stained glass ceiling. “Well, that’s simple, Maw Walker. I was there. Along with quite a few nobles of the Master’s court. I saw him cut you down. I saw you struggle. I saw you bleed.”

The fur on Ald’s neck bristled as a heat rose over his face. He felt his teeth grind, and his eyes focused solely on Frieda’s smiling face. Ald’s paws curled into fists the size of bread rolls, and with a quick motion, he punched up through the air with such force that the stained glass above him smashed. Small shards of glass rained down on their heads and downwards to the floor below.

Through the hole in the ceiling, a weak light shone into the room. The sun was completely blocked out by dark storm clouds that generally swirled around Castle Nathria, the sky maintaining a dark red aura. Frieda looked up into the sky and then back at the Pandaren, her face maintaining its wickedness.

“Oh, dear Maw Walker. The sun has no power here. Did you really believe I would burn so easily?”

Ald smiled unexpectedly, and a quizzical look flitted over Frieda’s face. “Of course not, Baroness. But I do know you’ll bleed easily.”

His paw still in the air, Ald gripped the largest shard of glass still remaining in the ceiling and pulled hard, the sharp edges cutting into the pad of his paw. The shard popped off with a grating sound, and he plunged its pointed tip deep into the space between Frieda’s neck and shoulder. 

An otherworldly scream rang in Ald’s head, and Frieda dropped him as she reached for the glass weapon embedded in her clavicle. The wind rushed past his ears, and he flattened his body as best he could to increase air resistance and slow himself. But it was unnecessary. Tommy’s hand grasped his leather glove, and the two glided smoothly to the floor.

Ald had completely expected the Humpday Heroes to be too preoccupied with the other threats in the room to save him from the fall, but he looked around and saw the devastation the team had wrought. The gargoyles were nothing but rubble with Trelander and Bastian standing on top of the stone heap. Niklaus had so many shafts of arrow sticking out of his head and body, he looked like a vampiric pincushion. And Ald couldn’t even see where Stavros’s head had rolled.

All members of the team were now looking at Frieda near the top of the ceiling as she yanked the glass shard from her wound. A quick stream of blood decorated the remaining stained glass above her head.

“NOW!” Cald yelled, lowering his arm as if to trigger the start of a race. At his command, all of the team’s hunters unleashed volleys of arrows at the bleeding baroness. She ignored the oncoming projectiles as she stared hotly at Ald on the ground, her shoulder bleeding down her formal dress.

With a shout of triumph, Nurfhurder’s arrow was the one that first struck. It lodged straight into her heart, a wooden stake in the area that was most fatal to a Venthyr. Seeing this, the rest of the hunters lowered their bows and rifles.

Frieda sank slowly to the ground, her dress again acting as a parachute to slow her fall. She had one clawed hand around the shaft of the arrow protruding from her heart, but she made no effort to remove it. Her strength had completely disappeared. Once her feet touched the ground, she slumped into a crouching position, her breath ragged.

“Maw Walker,” she gasped between pants of pain and death. “You will die. Again.”

Her final words uttered, Frieda fell to her back and crumbled away into dust.

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