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The Trouble With Demonic Accessories
"Northrend..." Prince Arthas Menethil said, gazing upon the lifeless arctic expanse that stretched vast and featureless before him, "you smell like shit."
Singular indeed, in its aroma, Northrend was not impressed. Twink, the icy continent concluded of its newest acquisition.
Shortly, when a memory stirred to instruct him, Arthas sat up from where he had, strangely enough, been reclining upon the frozen ground; he looked around.
There it was. Frostmourne. He hadn't dreamed the sword after all. It stood upright in the snow, gleaming at him.
"Ugh…" the prince muttered, disgusted by the sticky greenish goo that slimed the full length of the perfect blade.
Arthas tilted his head. Oh, right… he grinned suddenly, remembering a certain irritating someone, now exquisitely, painfully deceased, who had apparently once utilized this nasty ooze for blood.
Mal'Ganis, the Defunct (de fucked), demon dreadlord, un-extraordinaire.
"Yes!" Arthas proclaimed, raising a gloating fist. "Bite me, motherfu—"
This was when he noticed the odd vambrace on his forearm, which then led his eyes to the scale mail covering his bicep, and the wildly-hideous, grimacing pauldron above that. He grimaced too.
"Good Light," he muttered, "aren't you the ugly bastard." He looked down, observing the ice crusted breastplate encasing his chest, and across it to the spiky left pauldron. "I guess a reasonable, weight-balanced match is just too goddamned much to ask from one's armor," he grumbled. "And just where the hell did this shit come from, anyway?" he asked, opening his arms questioningly to the inhospitable wilderness surrounding him. It clearly had no clue, nor could it possibly care less, besides.
And there was even more amiss, he shortly realized. Somehow, the chain on his libram had snapped in two, severing their connection. Arthas frowned. Was the intense cold responsible? This seemed unlikely, considering all the magical guards protecting the holy book; but still, there it lay, nearly covered by new-fallen snow.
It was as he pondered this mystery that he noticed the other book – a wee tome, clad in pinkish leather, perched atop the crunchy snow, not one solitary flake to claim its own. It was just within his reach, and so Arthas picked it up, suspiciously eyeing the dainty black tendrils of dark magic that it exuded. These wispy clouds of shadow wound around his fingers, slipping inside his gloves, giving him the sort of quiver that made him wonder if a succubus had been the book's last owner.
Flexing his tingling fingers, and ignoring the Light's insistence that he hurl the small book as far from his person as possible, and then run like mad in the opposite direction, he pondered the elaborately engraved title of the tiny, mysterious volume.
The Procurement, Utilization, and Proper Maintenance of the Demonic Accessory.
Arthas frowned; he tilted his head curiously, pondering a familiar-looking bump at the very center of the book's cover. "Is that a nipple?" he debated aloud, sliding one finger over the pink, cold-puckered nub; and with this gesture, the front of the wee book suddenly swelled into a sizable mound, snuggling comfortably into the palm of his hand.
Take me... a soft, husky voice breathed seductively in his mind.
"Whoa…" Arthas whispered in a reverent tone, his fingers tightening reflexively, gently palpating the soft globe.
Oh, stop that. Use your head, boy. And in case you're confused, I'm not referring to the brainless one you usually heed.
Arthas grunted. Uther. Always with the condemnations. Approval was as rare as a straight, sensible answer to his many questions.
'What is it, anyway?' he mused, watching in wonderment as the book deflated, returning to its original form. 'Is it an owner's manual?'
He teased the cover open with a careful finger.
"Congratulations on your achievement!" the book brayed into the frosty air.
"Goddamn!" Arthas shouted, taken aback, wincing from what was the very antithesis of the provocative murmur that had previously tempted him. "Bring it down a notch, will you? Shit."
"Troubled by the state you now find yourself enjoying?" the book inquired in a slightly lower, but still maniacally-enthusiastic tone. Arthas shrugged. Not especially. "It was probably totally unintentional, yes?" the voice soothed. "Perhaps the very last thing you would ever wish upon yourself?" Arthas was willing to admit it was not particularly rare for him to regret his actions in hindsight.
"Thought you had a future?" the noisy book squealed, "Ha! Ha! Think again!"
The prince sighed. 'That's right, rub it in,' he thought. 'Yes, I'm just a royal mule, harnessed to a kingdom I have no interest in ruling.'
"You now have a new purpose!" he was informed. Well alright, that sounded promising. "Champion of the Lich King! The very first human death knight! Isn't that exciting?"
"Only if I can still rush headlong into senseless battles whenever I want," was Arthas's adamant response. That, and no preaching from Uther, either. He was abysmally weary of everyone (especially his mentor) trying to make him feel guilty for his blood lust. It was a perfectly normal human characteristic. He'd had enough history pounded into his unwilling head to know that as fact.
"All the death, destruction, slaughter, and mayhem you can envision – and then some!"
That sounded pretty good so far.
"At your Master's command, you will—"
"Hey now, no… stop right there. What's this 'Master' shit? I'm not liking that at all. I'm a prince, goddamn it... nobody is my master."
"Did I say Master? No! Your new mentor!" the book shrieked after a moment of careful reconsideration. "It's not as if Uther cares! He just deserted you, all in a huff when you took control and decided on the only logical course of action!"
Arthas mused silently over those words. Recollections of Stratholme's fall flooded his thoughts… and for one eternal moment, the prince found it difficult to breathe as the world flamed and died. All that was real, in this protracted, agonizing interim, was the indelible stain of red and the stench of burning. He gasped, blinking aching eyes that stung with smoke and bitter tears... his voice hoarse from shouting over the screams of the dying to rally his soldiers... the smell of blood, the taste of ash... Uther's expression of dismay, and worse, his disappointment. The shock of Jaina's response. The desolation of her denial. Arthas still had no idea of what else he might have done; but to be cast aside, abandoned by the two people he trusted most… he had felt so vulnerable, so lost...
"No more questions," the voice enticed. "Only answers."
Arthas slammed the little book closed.
Frostmourne. Arthas looked back to the sword. The demonic accessory in question? Or was it this bizarre, curiously-lightweight armor he was now suddenly wearing? Where had it come from? What had become of his old, dependable paladin's plate? He studied this new possession suspiciously, pondered the peculiar symbols etched into its dark, lusterless surface. It didn't look – or feel – like any metal he had knowledge of. Had it grown upon him like a fungus as he slept? Considering the perfect, actually comfortable fit, it had obviously been made just for him; and then the strangest notion wormed its way into his thoughts, suggesting that, well... there was simply no reason for him to ever take it off.
Arthas blinked, dazed by the cold, commanding presence that had somehow nested in his mind; but its nature was elusive, sliding away from scrutiny, and he was suddenly distracted by what seemed a much more pertinent question:
Why the hell am I out here napping in the middle of nowhere?
"This is ridiculous. I have to get back to camp," he decided, glancing around, hoping for some identifiable landmark to guide him. That must have been one hell of a victory dance he had done, after skewering the aggravating demon, for him to have pranced this far from camp. Well, time to regroup.
There is no encampment, my prince, a voice murmured in his head. No troops.
"Wrong!" Arthas snorted. "You're talking shit. I was just there..."
Many days have passed since you walked into the wilderness. With me. Only the dead await your word…
Despite his paladin training – so rife with the Light's promises – Arthas still rather doubted the dead were waiting for anybody's word. Least of all his. He also reckoned any allegiance to prince, king, or country was more than a bit moot after death as well.
"I don't listen to anybody now," he declared with belligerent volume. "I'm sure as shit not doing so after I'm dead!" Arthas frowned darkly, staring into the deepening gloom. And where the hell was that damned voice coming from? he wondered. Was it Falric, jerking him around? Muradin? The prince scowled. He was starting to feel a powerful urge to punch somebody in the face, repeatedly; and he didn't really care who…
Slain at your behest… as you wielded me…
Arthas realized it was Frostmourne that was speaking. He was beginning to get a clearer picture of why the sword had been hidden away in an ice cave, with its spooky, overly-talkative guardian.
You are the champion of the Dark Lord of the Dead, the sword instructed. You are the chosen one.
"No. Just no. I'm fucking tired of being dragged into shit I've got no say in. Sick of it."
The snowfall had deepened into a blinding, gray veil. Ominous gloom descended. Arthas glanced around, glaring irritably as large odoriferous snowflakes began plopping down all around him. Soon, his head was coned with reeking snow, and he just sat there, quietly seething, as sleet peppered nosily down to join the snow.
"Wonderful," Arthas muttered. It was as he moved to stand that a painful jab of sharpened metal had him cursing his new spiky, skull-bedecked armor. 'Oh, nice boots,' he thought sourly.
He stalked, unaffected, through vicious gusts of pelting snow to where Frostmourne stood, a smoking blue beacon illuminating the blizzard. He took the sword up, feeling better with the perfectly-balanced blade in his hand. "You feel like you were made for me," he commented.
"I was," came the reply; and these were actual words, spoken in a resonant whisper, vibrating the air between them. "I am yours. Forever. I will never deny nor desert you. I hold you close, even now, my prince."
"Just cluing you in from the outset," Arthas said, "I don't really shine when it comes to long-term commitments."
"I am different," said Frostmourne.
Arthas spat decisively for his reply, which was impressive, until the wind blew it right back to splatter and freeze upon his breastplate.
The prince sighed; that was typical. A stirring, factual commentary upon his entire life. No matter what he did, something was always coming back to bite him in the ass.
He mused. Not that he could presently think of anything that troubled him. Other than Uther's grouchy scowl. But there was certainly nothing new about that. As if his memories had clouded over, Arthas could not seem to recall why his old mentor was pissed off this time; but it was hardly a rarity, considering that most of the great paladin's gray hairs had the name Arthas on them in one capacity or another.
Jaina's tear-filled eyes. Allergies, maybe? He knew she had a problem with that. The fine reward for keeping your nose in a dusty book twenty-four seven, right? Right.
Voices. Garbled, indecipherable words, grunted from decaying throats. No, they weren't indecipherable, he realized. He could understand them now. They were calling out to him, weren't they? They wanted to join him, they wanted to obey him – to serve him.
"They wait for you," Frostmourne murmured; obviously the sword could hear the voices too. This was good – that meant they weren't in his head. It was not a good sign to hear voices, Arthas knew – unless you happened to be a crazed prophet or something. A state of being that had never held even the remotest appeal for the prince. Of course, there was absolutely no reason to think that having a meaningful conversation with a sword was much better than hearing voices, he reminded himself.
"Okay then, who exactly is waiting for me? And remember, clarity is good."
"Your army, my prince."
"I'm pretty sure you said they were dead," Arthas reminded the sword.
"They have transcended life; they have been elevated, perfected. They are creatures of the Darkness; they are the Scourge. Yours my prince, to command."
"Not liking that name," Arthas replied. "Nope. Not one bit."
"They will cleanse the world of life," Frostmourne assured him. "You will be the Dark Lord's spear-point in this annihilation. Your word, their will."
"Oh? And what's in it for him?"
"The price is your soul, my prince," said the sword. "It is his now, through me."
Arthas reflected on that for a moment. Soulless? Really? He didn't feel any different. "Can't say I'm missing it," he decided, "but if this dark lord wants to be all mysterious, well that's a big whatever." He shrugged, "Okay, tell me more about my army."
"They are the undead – raised to serve you, by the Dark Lord of the Dead."
"Undead?" Arthas snorted. "Well, that just won't do; they happen to be the problem. They are why I'm here. I didn't come here to collect them, goddamn it! I came to destroy them, and the crappy demon who rolled that shitstorm to begin with. Well, he's history… ha! And if I'd wanted an undead army, all I had to do was twiddle my thumbs at Stratholme like Uther did, and wait for the bloom!"
"Behold your destiny, Arthas Menethil. From the day you were born, you have belonged to the Dark One."
Arthas sighed. "Always something," he grumbled. "Always getting harnessed to some damned responsibility. Why can't I just have an ale or fifty and get laid like everybody else?"
"You will have all you desire, my prince. Power immeasurable shall be yours…"
"Okay. That sounds pretty good. How do I go about getting it then?"
"You will leave Northrend…"
"I'm liking it already," said Arthas.
"You will return to Lordaeron, and take what is rightfully yours."
"Well, that's sort of what I'm hoping to avoid – all that shit that's rightfully mine."
"You will seize your father's broken, bloody crown…"
"You will raise and command legions of undead, amongst your own countrymen, and your most powerful allies will seek you out, drawn to the aura of your great power. The Baron Rivendare will die to serve you, you will raise into your service the necromancer, Kel'Thuzad…"
"I think I killed him," Arthas commented, "which pretty much negates his usefulness."
"He welcomed the death of flesh, at your hand. He will be exalted in undeath, becoming your closest confidant. He, you will trust above all others - a trust he will earn through unwavering service to you. Anub'arak, the Nerubian king, will follow. The mighty Sindragosa, herself, will rise up from an ice grave to serve you. There will be many, my prince. My King. Your fate is sealed. Your time has come."
"My son," King Terenas II cried, rising from his throne, and opening his arms, as he stepped to the edge of the raised dais. "I knew you would… Oh! Whoopsie!" he squawked, tripping on the dragging tail of his luxurious robe, even as Arthas hurried to the low flight of steps, raising Frostmourne proudly.
"Dad!" he cried excitedly, "Look what I found at… Ah, SHIT!"
For indeed the good king had tumbled forthwith from his perch, impaling himself upon the extended blade without further ado.
"Oh, that's very nice, my son…" Terenas said with a bewildered smile. 'Oh dear Light, what has the boy done this time?' he wondered, just before succumbing to the massively-lethal rent in his chest.
"AHHH!" Arthas yowled, staring at the king's corpse, still faintly smiling as it limply dangled from the brutal point of the softly-snickering Frostmourne. "Oh! Holy LIGHT! He tripped! I swear he did! I—" He stared wildly around, only to find the royal guards rather peculiarly dead at their posts.
His two hooded companions – Falric? Marwyn? Faithful carousers, his hell-raising drinking buddies… What the hell? They were smiling at him expectantly, fresh blood on their plague-smeared daggers.
"My King…" they both intoned like twins, bowing before him, with shining fanatical eyes.
"Oh crap," Arthas sighed.