The Kaldorei worgen left the infirmary, her face set. Silver eyes scanned the area, partially to ensure the area was safe but most in search of someone in particular. Upon seeing a group of Eredar, she moved in that direction, her gaze fixed on Nadana.
“Good. Gather everyone in the main building, we can see that anyone who needs it is healed and we can await Duurm as well.” Her tone was commanding and she turned her head to watch the pair she had given orders to turn and leave. Nadana turned and paused as she noticed the worgen approaching her. “Templar.” She greeted not knowing the woman’s name.
“Elli.” Elli automatically replied. “I’m the sparkle cat normally but I’m not taking that form here since that’s the form Theo has accepted as a new companion.” Her voice gained a bit of an edge. “Tell me about Theo. Who was she before her soul came to Revendreth? Why did she stay in Revendreth once she made her atonement? Why is she so loyal to the master here?”
Nadana listened silently until Elli was done speaking then nodded. She lifted a hand to her hood tugging it to make sure it was securely in place. “You seem like someone who wants the summary version.” She noted in a business-like tone and waited only a beat before beginning to answer the questions Elli had put forth.
“Who Theodora was before she came to Revendreth matters little.” Nadana paused for a long minute looking down on the worgen and into her silver eyes. “However, since you seem inclined to help her I will answer you. She was a murderer, countless numbers fell before her. She was the One Who Walks In Blood.” Another beat. “But it all stemmed from fear. Perhaps in the beginning she killed to protect herself, in self-defense, but in the end she made sure that no one else could ever hurt her again. As to why she decided to stay you would get a better answer from Theo herself.” Nadana paused again and glanced to the side thinking. “I believe, however, it is because she was finally accepted. She had worked through her sins, and seen them for what they were apart from herself, and like many who hear of her past sins – thought herself irredeemable. She was here many many decades before she was ready, stubborn and fierce. She stayed here because she was forgiven and accepted. With her new…lease of life – so to say – she wanted to give back to the place and…the Master that accepted her for who she really was.”
Elli’s eyes narrowed. “A hired assassin at the end of her life.” She crossed her arms over her chest and began to pace. “She could’ve been a hunter. A ranger. Someone who knew the wilds and respected them before becoming a murderer.” Her form shifted unconsciously from worgen to elf as she walked and her silver eyes raked Nadana up and down. “You didn’t start off as an Man’ari. Or I assume you didn’t since I don’t know if you were born after your particular group betrayed the rest of your kind by siding with Sargeras. It was the sins you committed as a Man’ari that sealed your fate.” The pacing stopped and Elli wheeled around to face Nadana. “Any number of choices we make while we’re alive lead us down different paths. I need to know who Theo was before her choices led her to egregious behavior. Who was she before her choices in life lead her here?”
“You misunderstand. What she was or who she was in life has no bearing on the now. Those sins have been extracted and dealt with. But you’re right. It is the choices you make in life and the actions that define you which will set you on your path in the Shadowlands. Be that path Revendreth – or any of the other numerous realms of death. You seem to think that only those thought of as vile by their peers set foot in Revendreth.”
Nadana watched Elli, the woman seemed pent up in a decision she was trying to make. “You may be surprised to hear what mortals end up here and for what reasons. Your Vindicator was after all.”
“That doesn’t surprise me. There isn’t much about mortals and our behaviors that surprise me anymore.” Elli shook her head. “But that doesn’t change the fact that I need to know what Theo was before her actions led her here. This place,” she waved a hand to indicate Revendreth, “is about atonement and redemption so what she was and what she did before the actions that led her here don’t matter.” The hand that waved slaps her chest. “But it matters to me.” She started pacing again. “It may matter in breaking her loyalty to a master that doesn’t really care about her.” Her next words were soft and barely audible. “It may matter in seeing if this is truly the place she should be now or if she belongs elsewhere.”
“That is not your call to make. She was given a choice and that is the choice she made. As to her life before the road that sent her here I cannot say. That knowledge is only Theo’s. We are not mind seers, we do not see into the past at a person’s life. Only the Arbiter may do that. If you question where she belongs then you question all of the Shadowlands.” Nadana paused here calming herself before she could get worked up. “But, it is only in ignorance that you do so.”
“We see only the Sin, but still strive to redeem and forgive these lost souls. We do not need to know if they are worth redeeming. If they weren’t they would not have come here in the first place.”
“So when someone comes to Revendreth for redemption, they stay here? They don’t have the chance to go before the Arbiter and see if their soul should spend eternity elsewhere?” Elli eyed the other woman. “I don’t believe that’s true. I don’t believe that over eternity a soul is destined to stay in one place forever any more than when a person is alive they are destined to stay in one place forever. Even in death we make choices.”
“You misunderstand. Have you not met my High Fervents? The Repentant who after redemption passed through the Arbiter once more and found their places in the other Realms. Nemalu, Duurm, and Eos – even if she will become lost to us in time.” Nadana shook her head a little.
“When I- When Theodora completed her redemption and her wrath and other sins were dealt with she was given the opportunity to join us, if she wished. After her time here she faced her final judgement, was fully absolved of her sins and her the choice of being elevated to a venthyr or returning to the Arbiter. She chose the former.”
“And, once you make that choice, you’re bound to that part of the Shadowlands forever? Or is is just what souls are led to believe?” Elli started pacing again. “What about the Forsworn? Isn’t that one of the reasons there’s a rebellion occurring in Bastion? Or why there are also rebellions happening in Revendreth and Maldraxxus? Is it because souls that are in those places aren’t happy or content or can’t perform their duty or whatever anymore? Or did the ones in league with the Jailer not purge enough of their sins here?” She glanced over her shoulder. “Or can a soul change after death and need to go to another area of the Shadowlands?”
“To my knowledge, yes. Once you have been placed in a realm that is where you will remain forever. Revendreth is a unique place though, there are no other realms where you are given this kind of choice. You are placed there by the omnipotent will of the Arbiter. As to why there are rebellions across the other realms, I cannot say. We have been closed off from one another since the drought began, and even before then there was little need for the realms to communicate outside of assigned duties.”
“The Jailer is another matter entirely, but let me start with your last question first. Souls are ever changing, even after they have been placed. Indeed even the redeemed can back slide. Such was cause for the creation of the Harvester of Dominion – our dear Prince…well formerly. His role prior to this rebellion was to keep in check those venthyr that have succumbed to the corruption we are charged with exsanguinating. Likely the reason his intuition set him on this rebellion in the first place. However, once a soul has had its home in a realm made they are subject to those rules, laws, and or punishments.”
Elli stopped pacing and sighed. “Then, even if we can break the master’s hold on Theo, she can never go to Ardenweald to stay.”
Nadana nodded understanding finally the woman’s concern. “It is one of her greatest virtues, that the woods and the animals bring her so much joy. Are there not creatures here then that deserve that same level of love and care?” She tried to be persuading. “That too, I think, is a part of Theo’s old life. Giving care and attention to the dark and forgotten. Perhaps in her life – from what I know of her sinstone – if she had received even as much she would have walked a different path instead of one of blood.”
“I have hesitated to say this, as your Justicar made it very clear when first we met that she valued the lives of her people more than that of my own or the others here in the Shadowlands. I can in essence understand that sentiment – but if possible I want my dear Theodora back.” Nadana clenched her jaw and looked to the worgen’s silver eyes.
Turning her gaze away, Elli looked out over the encampment. Her shoulders sagged a bit and her voice was soft. “I’ll do my best.” She straightened and turned back around to face Nadana. “This master needs to be put down. Are you prepared to do that?”
Nadana didn’t speak giving Elli the moments respite she looked for. “You already go above and beyond. This is Revendreth’s problem, not that of mortals. But I offer you my sincerest appreciation.”
“As to the Master he has made his decision. Neither I, nor my faithful, will not blindly follow another Master to our ruin. Though I do not know when or why he forsook his duties to the Shadowlands I know that he has. I have even prepared myself to do likewise with Theo – if there is no other way.” Once more she stopped short clipping the last word and biting her tongue. She tsked her tongue sharply and turned to walk to one of the nearby buildings. “Come let me give you a boon. If you’re to seek our Theo I would be amiss to leave you with nothing.”
“I’d rather not carry or have anything that carries the scent of another.” Elli waved a hand. “She thinks I’m a magical cat.” That brought a half-smile to the druid’s lips. “To be fair she’s not far from wrong. But, regardless, I can’t have anything on me that would lead her to believe I’m anything but what she thinks I am.”
Nadana slowed her walk, then stopped. “You make a good point. I sent with your Vindicator a vial of anima – in case an emergency arose. But as you’ve stated I don’t know where you would carry it.. unless you carried it right to her.” Nadana shook her head and turned to face Elli again. “If you can think of anything I can do to make your plan successful. Please let me know.” She continued to hold the strict tone she normally spoke in but clearly meant what she was saying.
A curious look crossed the Kaldorei’s face. “Can mortals use anima? Does it have some sort of long term effect if we use it?” Reaching into a small bag she carried in her armor, she pulled out what looked like a small, blue pinecone. “I found these in Ardenweald. I keep one close to me because …” A slight flush colored her cheeks, “.. I want to keep a bit of it with me wherever I go.”
Nadana looked down at the blue pinecone and nodded. “For obvious reasons I can’t tell you exactly what effects it would have on a mortal, but I believe one of your magically inclined Pandaren mentioned using some when you arrived. I find it hard to put into words exactly what it is, anima, as it has been experienced more as a feeling. The anima of the different realms will also differ.” She motioned to the Ardenweald source. “Anima is…generated by our experiences. Here in Revendreth we work on pulling out the bad experiences when the souls are ready to let them go. And use this as our fuel. We Venthyr can use it for many things, from the frivolous flavoring of wine or tea, down to using it for an emergency such as badly needed healing or energy. I imagine for a mortal it may work like the latter. A jolt of adrenaline or a burst of added strength in a time of need.”
Her words made Elli eye the cone a bit suspiciously. “Sounds like a drug.” Looking back up at Nadana, she tilted her head. “I thought it was more like a … food. In Ardenweald they use the anima to nurture everything in the area and especially the Wild Seeds. The … containers in which the Wild Gods and other forces of nature rest and regrow until they’re ready to be sent back to their world to be reborn.”
“I am having a hard time translating it to what I feel it would accomplish for you. Outside of frivolities in Revendreth we use it to animate the stonefiends, the stoneborn, it is…the energy that ultimately powers, and yes nurtures, everything in the Shadowlands. And it is Revendreth’s duty to provide that anima to the other realms. The other realms can produce their own, in smaller quantities, but it hangs on Revendreth to provide the bulk. Especially to the major realms. I wouldn’t call it a drug – no. Though like all things someone can choose to overindulge, or I guess depending on the individual, it’s a feeling they could continue to chase.” She shook her head. “Perhaps you would ask your mage friend, I haven’t heard of any other mortals ingesting it, but I’m certain many have tried it.”
“I’ll stick with venison I think,” Elli replied dryly. There was a bit of hesitation before she spoke again. “Can each of you use anima from the different areas? Like can a venthyr use anima from Ardenweald?”
Nadana smiled a little. “You don’t think the animals are also fed and grown on anima?” She smiled a little mischievously then continued “I imagine any resident of the Shadowlands could use anima from any other realm it would just have a different…feel to it.” She nodded her head. “Otherwise the other realms wouldn’t be able to utilize what we produce.”
“Okay. I didn’t know if the changes in the anima would make it … toxic to someone from another realm.” She rubbed behind an ear. “Sort of like an animal might be adapted to eat toxic plants in one area but not another.”
Nadana nodded her head with a thoughtful look. “I suppose it isn’t impossible for anima to be tainted with something, but it has never been something to worry about, and if anything I feel it would more likely temporarily incapacitate rather than mortally harm. It, however, has never been wielded in such a fashion.”
If Elli had been in one of her animal or worgen forms, her ears would’ve perked. “Is that possible do you think? To … modify some anima to incapacitate someone? Something that wouldn’t harm them but make them … docile enough to capture?”
Nadana furrowed her brow. “For Theo? Both you and your Justicar already struck down the idea of using her sinstone and there would be little difference in doing this. If anything that would be more conniving and backhanded, don’t you think?”
“I wasn’t thinking about Theo.” Elli’s eyes glinted. “I was thinking about the master.”
A tensed feeling relaxed out of Nadana’s shoulders as she considered the idea. “I don’t think it would be impossible, but I believe it would be very difficult.” She finally stated. “Let me ask you, since I inadvertently brought it up. Why do you and yours seem so against using Theo’s sinstone to subdue her so she can be captured without putting yourselves at risk?”
Elli’s features became very feral even on her Kaldorei face. “I don’t know about the others but I will not use coercion on another sentient being.” A low growl escaped her lips. “I look at it the same as I would about putting someone in chains.” She turned her head away but not before Nadana could see amber swirls rising in her silver eyes. “Or forcing someone into a dream from which they could never awake unaided. It’s cruel and cowardly.” Elli inhaled deeply then let the air out slowly, her body relaxing as she did. When she turned to face Nadana her eyes were fully silver again. “This place may require fear and pain to redeem a soul but that doesn’t mean I’ll use them to capture one already redeemed.”
“And what do you think will happen when you set upon her? Will she not be caged? Your Justicar threatened me when first we met that if anything should happen to her people. But you walk full blind into a hunters trap and would lay the blame on me for being associated.” She shook her head. “Things work differently here in the Shadowlands.” She shook her head and paused to think. “Would you not in your mortal world set a sleeping agent on a large animal in order to sedate it for its capture? Not even if that capture was to correct some wound it had to it? And I think not for a moment you don’t use coercion in your everyday life. Many would see the bear form you can take on an unspoken threat when it is worn unnecessarily.”
She paused and narrowed her eyes. “It was Ardenweald who bade me use her sinstone and end this hunt.”
“I don’t use sedatives on animals. I don’t need to.” Elli shrugged. “My bear form is primarily for the protection of others since it can take more damage than they can or my other forms.” She snorted out a half-laugh. “I can’t understand why my bear form is more intimidating to others when it’s the cat form that can do the most damage and is more volatile. As for caging,” Elli looked at Nadana calmly but with a steely glint to her eyes, “if I can’t convince her without caging then I’ll leave it to the others. I’ll restrain a sentient being if they’re hurting themselves or kill them if they’re doing excessive harm and upsetting the balance. Caging is something I will not do.”
“No, I imagine you don’t need to. But Theo is not an animal, as much as some would like to compare her to. And you know very well why your bear form is intimidating. It is large and it is loud.” Nadana shook her head. “Then I hear you, your intention is to kill her. Theo will not waver from the Master’s side.” She sounded sick of her own words. “There is no point in you seeking her out then. At best you will only make killing her harder, and at worst you will be discovered and killed yourself.”
“I won’t kill her or try to. If she kills me,” there’s another of her shrugs, “then she kills me. I’m already in the Shadowlands so my soul will go to Ardenweald rather than travel to the Maw since it won’t have to pass through the normal channels.” She peered at Nadana thoughtfully. “Do you really have such little faith your … protege can be convinced and follow you of her own accord? That she’s not bright enough when the evidence is laid out plainly before her to understand how the master’s betrayed you all?”
“Your soul will stay wherever you are when you die, if it does not go to the Maw.” Nadana corrected. Clearly the worgen woman had been able to make her more emotional then she had displayed throughout any of the other interactions Elli had witnessed.
“I don’t know what the Master has been telling her, but I do know her unwavering loyalty, or her loyalty to a fault is one of the minor sins the Master did not want expunged from her before she became a venthyr.” She frowned and tried to keep the venom from her voice, it wasn’t meant for Elli anyway. “I worry my only hope to convince her of this would be to finish the training she should have received when she first arrived as a soul. Or at least keep her still long enough to present the facts to her without her being a danger to those around her.” Nadana shook her head. “She has been unraveling. She has been sloppy. This is not like her and I don’t believe I can accurately predict what she will do any longer.”
“She’s wounded.” Despite her normal standoffish behavior, Elli seemed genuinely to care. “Like a companion that’s been good and faithful that’s suddenly kicked in the teeth and thrown out or injured and left for dead. Or,” once again there’s that shrug coupled with a look of knowing concern, “that’s the impression I got from the little time I spent with her. She’s more like me than most of the others will realize I think.” Elli’s eyes became unfocused like she was seeing something far away. “More at home with animals than people. More comfortable in the wilds than gilded hallways. More at peace in the forest on a bed of leaves than in a bedroom with the finest mattress and covers.”
Her eyes regained their focus. “Though she’s not an animal, she’s closer to animals in her emotional behaviors and reactions than a humanoid. Or that’s what I think anyway.” Elli shrugged again. “I could be wrong. You’ve known her for far longer than I have.”
“She is angry at having been betrayed.” Nadana visibly winced in the face as she said that word. Nadana closed her eyes for a moment then opened them again, her eye eyes settling once more on the worgen and her face returning to a neutral look. “I wish you the best of luck.” She said in a blunted statement and raised her chin again. Of course she had hear what else Elli had commented on but chose not to respond at least directly or yet.
“Thanks.” Uncharacteristically, from what Nadana had seen of Elli up until now, the druid’s eyes softened. “I’ll do my best to bring her back to you.”
“Thank you, Elli.” She added nodding sharply. She paused to see if the druidess had anything to add, and if not turned to approach the building that the eredar had been gathering in since Elli had stopped to speak with her.
Elli watched her leave and turned to go as well, her body morphing into a deer before she leapt away to return to Ardenweald.
The great feline wandered through Revendreth, blending with the background while her nose searched for the huntress. While she searched, Elli ruminated over her conversation with Nadana. Are things really as cut and dried in the Shadowlands as she’s making them out to be? Her cat body shook its shaggy head. Maybe that’s the way it used to be or she’s deluded herself into thinking that’s the way it is. Nothing in this place is as black and white as she says. If it was, the Shadowlands wouldn’t be in its current state.
She paused as another thought came to her. Why do she and her followers retain their Man’ari forms? Everywhere in these lands, souls take on the shapes that already exist here. Bastion they all turn into blue … people that eventually get wings. Maldraxxus, except for a notable few, take on some form of undead or Nerubian. Ardenweald they become an animal spirit or one of the Fae. Okay to be fair some of the Kaldorei have their shapes but they just got rescued so they haven’t had time to become what they’re meant to be. Revendreth they become one of the Venthry. If she and her followers have been here so long, out of all the venthyr, why do they retain their Man’ari shape?
Why was she thinking of these things and asking herself these questions? Because you’re stupid enough to spend time in “civilization” rather in the wilds, idiot. Snarling at herself, she couldn’t disagree with that. Face it, if you wanted surety in your life, you’d never interact with anything humanoid again. People were so damn annoying. Like cursed burrs you just walked by them and they stuck into your fur and clung to you. Then, when you weren’t paying attention, they’d make you itch or wince as they pricked your skin.
Shaking her head once more in an attempt to clear her mind, the druid put her nose back to the leaf-littered floor to find the elusive huntress’s scent.