“Next!” Came a guttural yell in the crowd. Sword in hand, the death knight stood guarding one of the few stable portals beyond the veil: into the Shadowlands. Salazar stood, few belongings in hand. He was next.
He stepped up to the portal and turned to the Death Knight, “Anything I should know before I step through?”
Cold dead eyes stared back, offering no emotion or expression to indicate an answer one way or another, “Have you got any enchantments on you, runes, or magically enhanced devices?”
Salazar was perplexed by this answer. He was a mage, after all, most things on him were magically enhanced, “Well, yes, of course,” he started, “but I don’t se-- ooof!” Before he could finish his answer, a rowdy group of Oribos revelers had shoved their way behind him, tripping Salazar over his robe as he tumbled arms first into the portal to the Shadowlands. The Death Knight, amused by the display, creaked an eyebrow up as he watched the mage fall in. “Well, I would’ve said to secure ‘em, or leave ‘em here, but… no telling how the portal will react whatever’s he got on ‘im.” Turning back to the line, he waved the next group forward.
Queasy, dizzy, and disoriented, Salazar found himself falling through an ever-narrowing tube. It wasn’t like other portals he was accustomed to, those that connected two places as if it were a doorway. Instead, he found himself tumbling head over heels through a glistening display of necromantic energy, as if he found himself skiing on the slopes of the northern lights.
Naturally, as any mage, Salazar had magically enlarged pockets, which allowed him to carry countless objects without the burden of a suitcase. This was a mistake. As he tumbled, he found himself pulled left and right as the tube's outer bounds reacted with the magic he was carrying. At first it was a spark, and then a bolt. He tried to scream, but falling forward made words difficult as his various doodads, holobracers, chronometers, and divination cubes reacted poorly with the magic propelling him forward. He could see an end in the far distance, marked only by a single white light at the end of the tunnel; it was too far before it all came crashing down.
Pulled violently off to one side, his holobracer hit the edge of the tunnel, causing the enchantment to explode upon impact. “Fuuuu!” was all he managed to blurt out as the reaction burned his hand. Unfortunately for Salazar, the reaction was the least of his problems, as the reaction temporarily destabilized the portal and collapsed.
“Get up, human scum!” came a voice. Salazar had no idea where he was, or how to respond. He found himself lying face down in a pool of muck by the edge of a pond, as two short creatures approached him. He felt weak, disoriented, and lost. “This isn’t Oribos,” he thought to himself. The creatures pulled him up by the arms and dragged him to a nearby road.
“Ain’t no rest for the wicked,” one of the creatures told him. Through one partly closed eye, he caught a glimpse of the land around him, “No… this is…”
“Revendreth,” said a venthyr waiting by the road, finishing Salazar’s sentence. “And you have been judged unworthy of passing to the appropriate afterlife.”
“What!? I’m not…. I’m not dead, I.. fell...,” Salazar muttered, his hair stuck to his head by muck, his robes spotted with grime. “Hmm, you all say that. “I’m not dead,” “this is some mistake,” bla bla bla, the same old story.” The venthyr turned to one of the short creatures, “Chain him to the rest, and keep the caravan moving. We have a drought, haven’t you heard?”
Still laying on the ground, Salazar attempted to cast a spell, any spell. Anything to get him out of here, “Uh uh uhhhh,” said the venthyr, “there’s no magic for you, little mortal. You are bogged down by the weight of your sins, of your vanity and an engorged sense of self-esteem. No, your magic will not work here at all, especially not in our chains.” Salazar hung his head, dejected, and fell face first back into the muck. “Pick him up,” said the venthyr, and the two gremlins waddled over, chained his arms and legs from behind, and hit him in the head with a rock. Black.
Chained, beaten, and bruised, Salazar awoke to the splash of wine pouring down his head. He jerked but went nowhere. “Where am I!?” he screamed, finding himself unable to move much. He shook his arms forward, but they barely moved an inch before his wrists tightened in what felt like cold steel. The more he pushed his arms forward, the tighter the binds got. His legs were utterly immovable, trapped in stationary shoes bolted to the floor. “Relax, little mortal,” came an ironically soothing voice, “You are here to atone… and so that we may collect your precious anima.”
There was no light, but Salazar’s eyelids weighed heavy like two anchors on his face, not that it would make much of a difference if they were open. “Let me see you,” his mouth produced dryly, “I want to see my jailer!” His pleas were returned with a high laugh, “No no, little mortal, you are not in prison, you are at… how do you say on your world? Ahh, yes. You’re here to confess.” Salazar sputtered, “I have nothing… to confess… to -you.” He attempted to spit on the ground, but his dry mouth produced only a “pfft” from his lips.
Beads of sweat dripped down Salazar’s face, falling with a slight plop to a damp floor below. It was cold, but the chains prevented shivering in place. “Let me out of here…” he whimpered, feeling dejected and hopeless. “Now now, little mortal, first you will atone,” said the faceless venthyr. “But first, a little light.”
The room he was chained in lit up in a dim scarlet hue, a gothic array of dark cherry and black. There are no windows, Salazar thought. He looked up at the tall grey creature, “My sins are my own,” he said, “not yours, wretch.”
“Shall we begin?” The venthyr said, a tall grey creature of aesthetic displeasure. With a way of her hand, she pulled at the anima from Salazar, who released a howl that resonated in the hall. He was alone in this room, chained at the far end where the light ended at his feet. He looked down at his chest, seeing a silk-like substance force its way out of his chest, materializing in front of him in the shape of a gravestone.
“Your sinstone, Salazar Percival Demes, and my my, you have a lot to atone for. Release yourself of your anima, atone for your sins!”
In a violent display of scarlet magic, the room melted around him as the chains on his hand. He felt his feet touch the ground, which turned from hard stone to wet soil. His eyes hadn’t adjusted to the change in scenery, impulsively causing him to bring his hand to his face to block out the light from above. It was raining, and the air was familiar, a little too familiar. Looking around, “Blackmoon?” he asked himself. “Yes, your ancestral home, Salazar. Do you remember this moment?” asked the Venthyr, a few paces behind him.
He turned around, instinctively bringing his hands forward to cast a netherbolt at the venthyr, yet nothing happened. “Tsk tsk, this place isn’t real, Salazar, this is a memory. Do you remember which one? Oh, I think you do.” Darting his eyes back and forth at the scene, he found himself standing at the foot of an open grave. His heart skipped a beat, “This was a long time ago, I have atoned for this over the decades.”
“No, you have not. Do you remember his name?” the venthyr asked, keeping her distance from Salazar.
“I think it’s time you tell me yours, wretch,” he said, gritting his teeth and looking at the venthyr out of his periphery. “Rondrestra,” she replied. “Not, without wasting more time, do you remember his name?” Salazar had long repressed this memory, he was no more than twelve when the incident occurred. “Groundskeeper Loris,” he replied, “an unfortunate accident.”
Pain, insurmountable pain. Shockwaves of electrifying pain shot through Salazar’s body, bringing him to his knees as he grabbed his head in suffering, “No!” chastised Rondrestra. “It was no accident. Why do you lie to yourself? To me? What happened to him?”
“It was an accident!” he yelled back, feeling another course of torment. “You only make things worse if you refuse to open yourself up to the truth, you know what you did.” Salazar was now on his knees, overlooking the open grave. Up above in the distance, he could make out his family home of Blackmoon Citadel, though he knew there was no way he could find comfort in its illusion. “I… I… he was at the wrong place, at the wrong time. It was not my sin to bear, you should know that.”
“And yet, it is written in your sinstone, little mortal,” replied Rondrestra. “What did you do to him?”
“He was where he shouldn’t have been. I was… experimenting with new magic. Bad magic. Forbidden magic. He saw what he should not have seen, he…”
“Almost there, Salazar, atone for your sin.”
“He witnessed a dark ritual in this forest, I had bound my first demon at the time, an imp, no less. I was fresh out of school, didn’t know better, and it was the first time I summoned a demon successfully, here, in this forest.”
Another course of pain.
“I am atoning! I am telling you what you want to know!” he said, scowling. “Yes, but you are taking forever to get the point!” Rondrestra replied. “What did you do.”
“I killed him! It wasn’t a clean death, either. I sent a bolt of fel magic where he stood, watching him burn. I stared at him as he howled, the look of disappointment, shock, and horror in his eyes as his life slipped away, leaving his brimstone scarred remains.” Salazar admitted, forcing each word out of his mouth.
“Yes, yes. Your first murder, wrath, and certainly not the last.” Rondrestra admonished, “And we will go one, by one, by one. We have a long time together, Salazar. Your sinstone weighs heavy on your soul.”
“I am still alive, you idiotic venthyr, my atonement is premature!” He said, turning back to Rondrestra, “I am not some soul at the end of their life, I still have a life to live, things to do. You know I’m here by some error. Just let me go!” Salazar pleaded, unable to cast even a single spell to get him out of his bind.
With that admission, the scenery around him melted away the same as it came to fruition before, with Salazar finding himself yet in another location entirely. This, too, was familiar, for he was at the Stormwind Academy of Magic. “My, this was a long time ago,” he said in a somewhat nostalgic way, almost forgetting that this was a forced illusion and likely not playing out for the memories.
“Do you remember your sins here, Salazar?” asked Rondrestra, “You carried one in particular during your time here, the burden of envy.” She said, offering him a clue. “Yes, I remember these years, I do not deny I carried a bit of envy at the time.”
“And do you remember what you did?” she asked. Looking around, Salazar found himself in the alchemical hall, the same one he’d long ago been a student in once. The beakers, fires, and smells of flora flowed through the room, the sound of bubbles in cauldrons on stoves and burners at the far side. “I always hated this class, to be honest. Alchemy was never my strongest suit.”
“No, but this day was different than the rest, was it not?” she asked.
Salazar looked around, hearing the bell as thirty or so students entered the room. To them, it was as if he wasn’t there until he saw his younger self entering the room with books in hand. Behind him was a group of people dressed in violet instead of blue, carrying the sigil of the Kirin Tor on their arm, “Students from the Antonidas Academy,” Salazar said, remembering exactly what this memory offered.
“Yes, yes, you were always jealous you went to Stormwind Academy, feeling dejected from not being admitted into their violet academy.” Rondrestra told him, “That feeling of rage and jealousy whenever you saw one of them, and especially here, in your school.”
“It was an exchange, some of them from Dalaran had been visiting Stormwind to learn from our professors, who were as good as theirs, some even better,” Salazar said.
“Of course, of course,” Rondrestra continued, “But you wanted to make sure you came out on top, did you not? What happened on this particular day?”
“It was a competition. They didn’t only visit, but there was an alchemical competition to see who could make the best brewed Elixir of Nightfall, concocted to knock someone out. Lethal in large doses, though strong enough to knock someone out in smaller.” Salazar said, observing the students set up at their stations, barely even talking to one another. The competition was fierce, and the sense of winning was brewing in them all. Younger Salazar made his station neatly, though current Salazar noted with how much disdain he looked at the violet students through the corner of his eye. “You wanted to ensure they’d lose, did you not?”
“I did, I’ll admit I may have gone too far in my… competitiveness.” Salazar offered, walking toward his younger self. “So much has changed since these days.” Salazar watched the scene play out, listening to the instructor as he explained the rules of the competition, displayed the timer, and wished them all good luck. As the students used to call him, Old Man Brimley was an older man with a curled back who used his walking stick as an extension of his arm, occasionally haranguing students by poking them with the bottom end. “Now,” the professor said, “You may begin.” All the students got to work, including Salazar, with twenty minutes passing by without incident.
“Here it comes…” said Rondrestra, patiently waiting for the crescendo. Within a few moments, one of the Dalaranian students dropped a beaker on the floor, quickly getting on his knees to pick up the pieces. It had contained a vital ingredient, which meant he’d lose precious minutes to catch up. Younger Salazar jumped over to help; at least, that’s how it appeared.
“You certainly were a helpful one, so virtuous, so generous.” said the Rondrestra with irony in her voice. The younger Salazar went over to assist, but in the process slipped in an additional ingredient into the Dalaranian student’s pot that he’d removed carefully from his robes. “Did you know what that was, back then?” asked Rondrestra. “No,” Salazar replied, “Only that we’d been warned not to touch it or use in our classes.”
“It was Dreadshade,” replied Rondrestra, “And you nearly killed him.” Salazar turned to the venthyr, a bit surprised, “I… I had heard there was a medical emergency. He drank the potion at the end of the competition. It was a requirement to see if it worked… and well, not everyone made it.” “No, but this one ended up in a coma for six years, and they never did quite find out who poisoned him with such a… deadly substance. Your first attempted murder, Salazar,” said Rondrestra.
“Well, I did start young, didn’t I? Hmm?” Salazar said, not sounding entirely remorseful. Pain, insurmountable pain. “You must atone for your sin, Salazar. We are not here to watch your failures, but we are here for you to atone for them,” cracked the venthyr.
“I… I don’t know what you want me to do here! This was decades ago! I don’t even know who he was, or is, then or now. This was a different lifetime. I can’t be held accountable for what I did in my youth!” Salazar decried, followed by another course of pain.
“Hmm,” replied Rondrestra, before the scene melted away again and Salazar found himself in the chamber he was chained to begin with. “Let us… explore a few more,” she said, with the scene melting away into yet another, and another, and another, each reliving a past sin, each with its successes and failure.
Some time later, whether it was days, weeks, or months, Salazar was used to his condition. The chains had been removed from his wrists and ankles, and he no longer tried to escape. He had grown accustomed to his newfound fate, atoning and extracting each sin, one by one. Greed, envy, wrath, and pride all playing out in scenes before him, one after another. He was still trapped in the dimly lit scarlet room, but he felt different about it. He felt at home.
He sat at the table, with a toolset before him given to him by his keeper. “Still working on your little project, Salazar?” asked Rondrestra, coming into his cell. “Yes, dear venthyr. The perfect armor fit for my atonement.” Salazar said, smelting and forming a chestplate with a jewel in the center, plated cuffs, and covered with an ethereal silk. “The fusion of nethermancy and the beyond, in unity with an unburdened soul,” he said, not even looking up at the venthyr as he continued to work. “Hmm, I’ll be back to cross more sins off your sinstone. We are making good progress,” Rondrestra said. Indeed they have, with the anima excised from Salazar’s soul in part forming the basis for his otherworldly design. He continued to work.
Unburdened, unbroken, unbound. He thought to himself until he heard a scuffle outside the gates of his cell, and the sound of Rondrestra’s voice screeching as it disappeared into nonbeing. The gate to his cell opened, and it’s as if Salazar saw a ghost.