Title: Warcraft – The List
Author: Rowan Seven
Teaser: [One-shot] After obtaining his freedom, Ner'zhul goes through the arduous process of reviewing the list of enemies he made in the process.
Spoilers: Consider the entire Warcraft universe, especially "The Frozen Throne", fair game.
Disclaimer: Warcraft belongs to Blizzard Entertainment. I wrote this story for entertainment purposes and am not making any money or profit off it.
Author's Notes: I'm assuming that when Ner'zhul possessed Arthas he took complete control of the body instead of merging with Arthas' mind. Go Murloc was created by Sumiyoshi. This story was written before I read the recently published "Manual of Monsters" so please don't hold the revelations that book contains against this composition.
Seated securely on his throne, the Lich King Ner'zhul surveyed his kingdom, the inhospitable and ancient land of ice and snow known as Northrend. Exulting in his newly gained freedom, the former orc shaman permitted himself a few moments to lose himself in the symphony of sensations. The methodical rise and fall his chest as he breathed, the feel of his metallic, unholy armor covering and shielding his skin, the presence of the cold Northrend air surrounding and chilling his body, and these were just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Every feeling, every perception, and each sensation was a reminder of what once was and proof incontrovertible that Ner'zhul lived once again. Yes, even the frostbite slowly encroaching upon his toes was…wait a minute? Frostbite?
"Ah drat," Ner'zhul muttered unhappily to himself, tapping his left foot against the ground in an attempt to generate some extra body heat and wondering how to cast a fire spell without melting the iceberg his throne was built on and damaging his precious body in the process. Apparently there were a few inconveniences to being alive that he'd forgotten about.
"My lord, I have completed the task you set for me," spoke the raspy, obedient voice of a crypt lord as the undead creature shambled up to the Frozen Throne and bowed low before his master. Squinting curiously, the former nerubian said, "What's with the tapping, my lord?"
"None of your business!" Ner'zhul replied hastily, unnerved at being caught doing something so embarrassing and immediately putting a stop to it, deciding that he'd deal with his frostbite later by creating a hot tub and savoring his first bath in over a decade. Crashing into Northrend while encased in a block of ice didn't count, obviously. "Now then," Ner'zhul barked, "report."
"As you command, dark lord," the crypt fiend spoke reverently, still in an obsequious position. "Your humble servant, Anum the Crypt Fiend, shall discharge the results of his research."
"…And?" Ner'zhul queried impatiently, mind filled with pleasurable images of a long, hot soak in a bath, when it became obvious that Anum was waiting for his acknowledgement.
"You have a _very_ long list of enemies, sire," Anum stated matter of factly, wincing instinctively from fear of what Ner'zhul might do to him for speaking so bluntly.
"I _know_ that, slave. That's why I ordered you to organize them and compile a list in the first place. Now read it," Ner'zhul commanded harshly, rolling his eyes beneath his helm. Honestly, the crypt fiend was already dead. It's not like he was going to kill Anum and waste the energy to raise him from the grave again just to teach him a lesson…at least not until after he'd delivered his report.
Gaining confidence in the fact that he hadn't been obliterated on the spot, Anum took a calming breath that was physiologically unnecessary since he was undead and didn't need to breath. "Your first great foe, my lord is…Prince Arthas of Lordaeron."
Ner'zhul blinked, trying to discern if this was supposed to be a joke or not although Anum's solemn tone seemed to imply that he was, excuse the pun, dead serious. "I don't follow your logic, Anum. Frostmourne stole Arthas' soul, and I possessed his body. How is he _any_ threat to me?"
"There are those who, ignorant of your overpowering will and spirit, believe that Arthas' soul will, in a tragic act of redemption, regain control of his body and commit suicide, thus destroying both himself and you, my king," Anum replied, shrugging helplessly at Ner'zhul's incredulous look.
"Look, if Arthas was going to redeem himself he would've done so in the ending cinematic for the Warcraft III expansion pack. He didn't, so therefore I'd say the odds of him pulling a Darth Vader or Grom Hellscream on me are nearly nonexistent. Remember, NOW WE ARE ONE, and all that," Ner'zhul grumbled haughtily. "Next."
"Empress Azshara of the Naga Empire," Anum answered simply, grateful for the fact that being undead prevented him from feeling the muscle pains that would normally develop from remaining in his subservient position for so bloody long. Paying tribute to one's lord was all well and good, but with Ner'zhul's court it bordered on the excessive.
"Who in my name is that?" Ner'zhul demanded, puzzled but still pleased that he could curse using a deity's name without committing heresy since he was the god of his own religion.
"Oh, some ancient Kaldorei queen responsible for first summoning the Burning Legion into this world and who might've been transformed by the Implosion of the first Well of Eternity into a Naga with her acolytes who most definitely were," Anum replied nonchalantly. "If she yet lives, then there's a good chance Empress Azshara is making plans to retake the surface world and get her revenge upon the Night Elves who defeated her."
"And since I _also_ presumably plan on conquering this world she'll naturally have to deal with me before succeeding in her goals. I see," Ner'zhul commented absently, deep in thought. "Still, with all the hype and excellent storyline Blizzard's given me so far, I should be able to take down one ten thousand plus years old amphibian. However, how precisely did you come across this information, Anum?"
"I frequently visit certain informative Warcraft messageboards," Anum answered truthfully and, not waiting for his master's response, continued on. "Next on the list is the deadly and feared…Block of Ice."
"You have _got_ to be joking," Ner'zhul replied disbelievingly. "A block of ice is supposed to be one of my most dangerous enemies?"
"Not _a_ block of ice, my liege. _The_ Block of Ice," Anum replied, voice trembling with fear at the mere mention of this great adversary. "Block of Ice slew the mighty Muradin in one fell blow and should not be taken lightly!"
Ner'zhul sighed, reflecting on the lunacy of his minions and wondering if it was a side-effect of being brought back from the dead. "Be that as it may," the Lich King retorted after a moment's pause, "I don't perceive this…Block of Ice…as being an immediate danger. Resume reciting the list." He gestured for the crypt fiend to continue.
"As you wish, master, although I urge you to keep in mind the grave threat Block of Ice poses to us all," Anum advised. "Regardless, your next potential enemy is Warchief Thrall, Son of Durotan."
"Finally, a name that makes sense," Ner'zhul muttered. Louder, he added, "I, too, am wary of this Thrall and his New Horde. The Spirits are with him and must not be underestimated. Why, even now he could be plotting to destroy me."
Thrall scrutinized his opponent with cautious, stoic eyes, his entire body tense with expectation. Across from him his adversary, completely confident in his presumed victory, smirked arrogantly. No mercy and no quarter would be given by either side in the upcoming duel. Thrall knew this. He also knew that the odds of him winning against this foe were miniscule. Still, win or lose, he'd give this contest his all.
"Got any sevens?" Warchief Thrall asked, watching for even the smallest reaction in his opponent and dismayed to see his adversary's smile grow even wider.
"Go Murloc," Drek'Thar replied smugly, looking amused as Thrall growled and picked up another card from the deck placed on the center of the table they were sitting around.
"I'd really like to how Drek'Thar always wins at these games when he can't even see the cards," Nazgrel whispered to Gazlowe, his own cards held firmly and furtively in his hands.
"And _I'd_ truly like to know when Act 2 of the bonus campaign is going to be released," Gazlowe retorted sourly. "Bad enough that I wasn't included in the novel 'Lord of the Clans', but now anymore scenes I might have keep on getting delayed."
"Trust in Blizzard, my friend. Surely they have a reason and will deliver the rest of the bonus campaign eventually," Drek'Thar consoled wisely before returning his attention to Thrall. "Got any fives?"
Thrall's despondent sigh made the answer clear to all.
"Yes, Warchief Thrall could prove to be my greatest mortal enemy yet. He has the motivation, the intelligence, and the long-term character development, and what he currently lacks in power when compared to me be can be compensated by the Spirits," Ner'zhul admitted warily. "The New Horde and fledgling nation of Durotar are worth keeping an eye on. Continue."
"Indeed," Anum concurred, not wanting to disagree with his master and risk incurring the Lich King's wrath. "Following the Son of Durotan, I have the Forgotten Ones marked down."
Ner'zhul nodded his head contemplatively. "Anub'arak and the late Arthas had considerable difficulty merely slaying _one_ of their number beneath Azjol-Nerub. The Scourge would doubtlessly be in serious trouble if the rest of their race ever reaches the surface. Tell me, Anum, what is known about these Forgotten Ones?"
"Everything other than their great power and the danger they pose has been forgotten, my lord, hence why they're called the Forgotten Ones. The name is there for more than its ominous sound," Anum replied smoothly, putting on his best "Don't kill the messenger!" expression.
Ner'zhul closed his eyes and wearily shook his head, beginning to regret ordering Anum to make this list in the first place. True, the concept had merit, and there could be much satisfaction and gloating found in crossing out names after they'd been dealt with, but listening to Anum's inane prattle was beginning to give him a headache. Honestly, it was like he was in a poorly written comedy or something.
Taking his master's silence as a sign to proceed, Anum resumed speaking. "After the Forgotten Ones comes Prince Kael'Thas of Quel'Thalas, Lord of the Blood Elves."
With a start, the Lich King opened his eyes. "That can't be right," he uttered, perplexed. "I distinctly remember Arthas killing him."
"Far be it for me to second guess you, dark lord, but I believe you are mistaken," Anum responded, cowering in fear.
"But Arthas and Anub'arak razed the Blood Elf base, slaughtered the peasants, annihilated all the units, and slew Kael'Thas!" Ner'zhul insisted. "How could Prince Kael'Thas possibly be alive after all that?"
"nodeathdialogue," Anum answered quietly, coming as close to burrowing into the ground as he could without actually burrowing.
Annoyed at how his subject's abject terror and self-preservation instincts were interfering with his task, Ner'zhul decided it was time to re-encourage him. "Speak up or face my unholy wrath!"
Responding with alacrity, Anum immediately straightened out and pressed on with abandon. "Since destroying the Blood Elf base was optional and Prince Kael'Thas never received any dialogue for his death, odds are that the Prince of Quel'Thalas is still alive. Main characters in Warcraft III typically don't die without a cinematic or dialogue, as evidenced by Sylvanas' repeated deaths and resurrections until the banshee transformation scene."
"Fine, so Kael'Thas _might_ conceivably still live," the Lich King conceded reluctantly, sounding slightly discomfited by this ambiguity. "Even so, he probably isn't an immediate threat. With Illidan dead and my ascension successful, it will likely be a couple years before Prince Kael'Thas is in any position to attack me again, and that's provided he manages to survive wherever he's holed himself up."
That was all Kael'Thas could feel. Even now, seated on Outland's throne in the dying world of Draenor, the chill of Northrend froze his blood and suffused his entire being. So many of his people…dead. Illidan Stormrage, perhaps his best, last hope to sate his race's addiction to magic, slain. His many sins and sacrifices…all in vain, and the only thing to show for it all was more sorrow and the demon infested remnants of a planet to inhabit.
"We must be cautious, Kael'Thas. With Lord Illidan dead, Magtheridon's followers are likely to revolt."
The voice of Lady Vashj, his savior. Helping him time and again and risking her own life to rescue the Blood Elves from Dalaran.
"Fortunately, Sage Akama has agreed to continue supporting us and should prove to be a great source of aid on this world."
Lady Vashj, his damnation. Leading him further and further down this path of darkness and beyond the point of no return.
"We must also keep an eye out for any Night Elf survivors. With our assault on their army, the depredations of this world, and doubtlessly continued attacks by the demons, the Watchers are likely weakened and desperate. Still, it would be unwise to underestimate them."
He just wanted to feel warm again.
"Kael?" Vashj questioned worriedly, her normal serpentine self-assurance fading as an unsettling, unreadable expression passed across Kael'Thas' features and he stood up. "What are you doing?"
In answer, the Lord of the Blood Elves drew closer to the Naga until his face filled her entire vision. Held in place by the powerful conflicting emotions flickering in the young Quel'dorei's eyes, Lady Vashj could do nothing but wait to see what Kael'Thas would do. She wouldn't have to wait long.
With sudden quickness and surprising ferocity, Kael'Thas closed the short distance separating them and kissed her. Lady Vashj's eyes widened in shock, but the intensity of Kael'Thas's passion soon overwhelmed her and she found herself reciprocating with equal ardor. Skin to scale and heart to heart, they joined, and a fire was lit.
Neither one would be cold ever again.
"Moving on," Anum spoke, having decided to proceed before the Kael'Thas issue could become more contentious, "your next possible enemy is Lord Khadgar, Keeper of the Eternal Watch and Master of the Mystic Citadel of Nethergarde or, as I like to call him, Archmage Khadgar with the Really Long and Fancy Title."
*achoo* "WHERE IN THE MULTIVERSE ARE WE KNOW?!!"
"I _told_ you we should've taken that left turn at Albuquerque."
"But the lady who gave us directions seemed so nice!"
"She was a succubus, for crying out loud! Had you _not_ been so fixated by her chest you would've remembered that succubi can't be trusted!"
"What's the matter, Alleria? Jealous?"
"You wish, Danath."
"You think Lothar's death was my fault, don't you?"
"Ach. Get o'er yer guilt, man! It's gaiven Sky'ree a headache!"
*sigh* "This is the reason I ended it all."
"…Teron Gorefiend? By the Light, what are _you_ doing here?"
"Er…_that_ is a very good question that I'll be happy to answer provided you put away your weapons and don't attempt to cause me any harm. Please?"
"No. For your crimes against the Alliance, we shall kill you!"
"You can't kill me! I'm already dead!"
"And a quiver of arrows shall ensure you stay that way!"
"I didn't want to do this, but your belligerent attitudes leave me no choice! Prepare to- hey, what's that behind you?" *undead hoof beats that slowly fade away*
"What exactly are we supposed to be looking at?"
*sigh* "Khadgar, old friend, we've just been fooled by the oldest trick in the book."
"Dead, captured by demons, lost in the Twisting Nether, or some other mysterious fate," Ner'zhul retorted with a dismissive wave of his left hand. "At any rate, Khadgar is not likely to become a significant thorn in my side any time soon and, apprenticeship to Medivh notwithstanding, I'm fairly certain I can take him in a duel. Next."
"Lord Kil'jaeden the Deceiver," the undead nerubian answered nervously, terrified at the mere thought of this demon let alone having to pronounce his name. "We both know why he would like to see you *achem* eliminated, and the recent war for the Frozen Throne seems to indicate that he's employing agents to do just that."
Ner'zhul shuddered, the knowledge that his former master was actively seeking out ways to destroy him sending tendrils of fear down his newly acquired spine as he remembered the excruciating torture Kil'jaeden had put him through and vowed never to experience such a fate again. Still, this was one enemy he could not afford to take lightly. Kil'jaeden the Deceiver, mastermind of the orc's corruption and manipulator extraordinaire with power that dwarfed his own by countless magnitudes. Doubtlessly, even now, that mighty Eredar warlock was plotting and scheming designs so devious that they'd fill any mortal heart with horror and dread.
DID YOU REALLY THINK YOU COULD ESCAPE FROM MY WRATH, FOOLISH MORTAL? DID YOU REALLY THINK YOU COULD OUTWIT ME, KIL'JAEDEN THE DECEIVER? HEH. YOUR FUTILE RESISTENCE, THOUGH AMUSING, HAS ONLY PROLONGED THE INEVITABLE. I WILL NOT BE DENIED.
I HAVE DESTROYED WORLDS INNUMERABLE AND CORRUPTED COUNTLESS RACES THROUGHOUT THE ETERNAL GREAT DARK BEYOND. MY NAME IS KNOWN AND FEARED ACROSS THE ENTIRE MULTIVERSE, AND MY CUNNING KNOWS NO EQUAL. YOU WERE A FOOL TO CROSS THE POWER THAT IS KIL'JAEDEN, UNDISPUTED MASTER OF THE BURNING LEGION! NOW MY LIMITLESS WRATH SHALL BE BROUGHT DOWN UPON YOU, AND YOU SHALL REGRET EVER BEING BORN!
FEEL THE FURY…OF MY PROTESS CARRIERS!
At the sound of Kil'jaeden's maniacal laughter, the Bloodfiend guarding the door to the Deceiver's private chambers lowered his head and sighed. "Just our luck. Lord Kil'jaeden is playing Starcraft again instead of plotting the conquest of Azeroth. At this rate it'll be _another_ ten thousand years before the next invasion gets started. Argh. Why me?"
"MWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA-eh? What's this? Mass Scourge? NOOOO!"
GR. I APPLAUD YOUR DETERMINATION, MORTAL, BUT IT WILL BE TO NO AVAIL. MY REAVERS AND DARK TEMPLAR WILL ANNIHILATE YOU, AND I SHALL EMERGE TRIUMPHANT! SO DECLARES KIL'JAEDEN THE DECEIVER!
"Our number one priority must be to ensure that Lord Kil'jaeden is never summoned to this world," Ner'zhul commanded firmly. "From the Twisting Nether his options are limited, but should he ever gain access to Azeroth it'll all be over. My power will be as naught in comparison to his, and he'll at long last exact vengeance for my betrayal out of my hide. Understood?"
"Yes, sire. Your loyal followers will do their utmost to guarantee that no large scale demon summonings occur anytime soon," Anum concurred obediently, "even if we have to conquer the entire world to do so."
"_That's_ the spirit!" Ner'zhul spoke enthusiastically, apparently pleased by his minion's response. "Now then, who's next?"
"Malygos the Spell-Weaver, Lord of the Blue Dragonflight and Aspect of Magic," Anum answered, a puzzled expression entering his eyes. "However, logically, he should've attacked and completely annihilated you as soon as you defiled the Great Dragonblight. Why Malygos is leaving you completely alone as you raise undead dragons and slay the few remaining blue dragons still alive is a total mystery to me. As a matter of fact, the apparent noninvolvement of the Aspects in recent events is a perplexing and troubling question that confounds and worries the minds of many."
"Yo, great party Nozdormu, but shouldn't we be heading back to Azeroth about now? I mean, Malygos has drunk so much that he's actually sounding sane these days!"
"There is no spoon."
"Er, okay, I take that last part back. Still, we've been celebrating the return of our full powers for over a decade now! Don't you think it's time we leave your subdimension and return home?"
"Oh lighten up a bit, Ysera. It's not like we've had much to cheer about since Deathwing betrayed us, and I'm confident that Azeroth can look after itself for a couple years. After all, what are the odds that the Burning Legion will invade while we're away?"
"Yeah, I guess you're right. Anyway, it's a pity that Alexstrasza isn't here."
"True, but I can't blame her. After all, she is on her honeymoon with Korialstrasz, and after what she went through in the second war Alexstrasza deserves all the happiness she can find."
"You know, Malygos, I really think it's time you sought some psychiatric help."
"En Taro Adun?"
"Regardless, that question is one that is likely to remain unanswered for some time…unless we're incredibly lucky and the upcoming 'Manual of Monsters' by Dungeons and Dragons explains it," Anum mused thoughtfully, instinctively scratching the bottom of his chin with his upper left appendage.
Ner'zhul gave Anum a funny look. "I'm not even going to ask. Now then, who else will I likely be forced to crush at a future date?"
Emotionlessly, the loyal crypt fiend gave his master the answer. "The entire nerubian race, my lord."
The Lich King shook his head in dismay. "Honestly," he commented wearily, "your people are worse than cockroaches! I crush your empire, corrupt your kings, raise your dead, and _still_ they resist! Why can't they accept me as their new leader and god and leave it at that?"
"Truly, my race's tenacity borders on foolishness," Anum conceded coldly, "for in the face of your overwhelming power and cunning, who would dare oppose you? Present list I'm reciting notwithstanding, of course." If there was any tinge of snideness in Anum's tone, he hid it well.
Either missing or not caring about his servant's possible sarcasm, Ner'zhul nodded his head slightly in agreement and made a beckoning gesture with his right hand, indicating for Anum to continue. The undead nerubian did so.
"Your next potential great enemy, master, is a creature who hides his great cunning and craftiness behind a mask of nonchalance and amusement. He is ancient beyond reckoning and virtually invincible. Rarely does anyone who lays eyes on this leviathan live to tell the tale, and those few who do survive do so only because this devious mastermind wills it. I speak of the great and mighty Penguin King, my lord," Anum intoned seriously, shaking in fear at the mere name of this threat.
For his part, Ner'zhul blinked. Glaring at Anum in bewilderment, the Lich King spoke. "Do you mean to tell me," he asked with some irritation, "that I should take a _dancing_ penguin seriously?"
"That dancing penguin has invincible armor and assisted Arthas in his quest to reach and protect the Frozen Throne, master. Undoubtedly the Penguin King, using his terrifying guile, lent his aid to Arthas so that the young king would destroy Illidan's invading forces as well as eliminate the subterranean threats that have of late surfaced. Now that Illidan is dead, his armies scattered, and our own forces considerably weakened, the Penguin King could be raising his penguin phalanx and seal siege right now and preparing to completely annihilate us, thus gaining absolute dominion over Northrend and beginning his campaign for global conquest!" Anum explained passionately, trying desperately to convince his master of the (believed) danger he was in.
In a move he wasn't likely going to regret later, Ner'zhul carelessly disregarded his servant's advice as, elsewhere on Northrend, the Penguin King squawked in triumph at his victory…in Dance Dance Revolution – the Warcraft Variation.
Realizing with sadness that the Lich King wasn't taking the latest entry seriously, Anum sighed and unhappily continued his task. "Next on the list is the Sorceress Jaina Proudmoore, leader of the Lordaeron survivors and ruler of Theramore Isle. As you know, she used to be romantically involved with Arthas, and because of the love they once shared Miss Proudmoore might feel that it is her duty to put a stop to you and lay Arthas' soul to rest."
A pensive look crossed Ner'zhul's face, and he stroked the bottom of his chin in contemplation, realizing with some annoyance that he was going to have to start shaving if he didn't want to grow a beard. "Their love, even though the fire is gone and ashes are all that remain, could result in my greatest defeat…or lead to my ultimate triumph," Ner'zhul mused to himself, momentarily ignoring Anum's presence. "Emotions can be manipulated, and the more powerful the emotion the more damage it can cause. I foresee that Jaina Proudmoore may yet have another role to play in the future of this world."
"That's almost certain, my lord, since she is slated to appear in the orc bonus campaign and-"
"SILENCE!" Ner'zhul bellowed, putting a stop to what Anum was about to say. "We shall not reveal what we learned about the future of Kalimdor one year after the World Tree battle from the Warcraft RPG book! That would be unfair to all those who have been patiently waiting for Blizzard to release Act 2 without looking at the spoilers!"
Anum blinked. "But my lord, what does it matter if we spoil it or not? Aren't we evil?"
"Actually, I believe my motives and goals are uncertain enough that I meet the requirements to be classified as morally ambiguous," Ner'zhul spoke thoughtfully before realizing that he was going off on a tangent. Shaking his head once to clear it, the Lich King fixed a baleful glare on his servant. "Never mind that! It's just something that is unnecessary and potentially dangerous since Blizzard is known to change their minds, and I'd rather not make a statement that later turns out to be false. Continue."
"At least he didn't ask about her talkshow," Anum muttered, sounding slightly relieved, as he bowed again and resumed reading the list.
"Ladies, gentlemen, and various extradimensional entities, please give a big round of applause for our hostess, the lovely Jaina Proudmoore!" the booming voice of the announcer spoke over the sound system as cheesy music played and overhead lights turned on, illuminating a comfortable looking stage with a sofa and desk set up next to each other. A moment later and in a flash of light, a grinning Jaina teleported in and was greeted by the enthusiastic applause of the audience and a couple wolf whistles.
"Welcome, one and all, to 'Jaina in the Morning'!" the human sorceress spoke with enthusiasm, garnering another wave of applause and several shouts of, "We love you Jaina!" from fans in the audience. Trying her best not to look embarrassed, Jaina continued. "I am pleased to announce that former guests Malvindroth, Hunter of Darkness, and his girlfriend Kim will be reappearing on our show tomorrow to announce their engagement. Now, we all know that they've had some difficulties in their relationship caused by…well…Mal being a Pit Lord and Kim not, so let's make sure to give them our congratulations and well wishes, okay?"
The audience responded with cheering and clapping.
Nodding her head in approval, Jaina smiled at the crowd congenially. "As for today, we have a special guest lined up. Please give a warm welcome to the famous Terran outlaw Jim Raynor!" The crowd went crazy as Jaina made a beckoning gesture and the Starcraft hero appeared from offstage, waving at the audience and looking pleased by the reception he was receiving.
"Let me just say that it's a real honor to have you on my show, Mr. Raynor. You're a role model to humans everywhere," Jaina said kindly, extending her right hand.
Jim took it, and they exchanged a handshake. "The pleasure's all mine, Miss Proudmoore," Jim replied smoothly, adding, "And please, call me Jim. Raynor sounds so…formal."
"All right, but only if you call me Jaina," Jaina agreed with a warm laugh, breaking off the handshake and gesturing at the couch. "Shall we have a seat?" Not waiting for a response, Jaina teleported herself behind the desk and sat down.
"I have _got_ to find out how that's done," Jim muttered to himself, amused, as he walked over to the nearby couch and took a seat next to Jaina's desk. "So," he asked warmly, "what shall we talk about?"
"Tell us about your love life!" somebody in the audience shouted.
Jaina smiled weakly, discomfited by her audience's poor manners, and turned to face Raynor. "Well Jim, though the question was asked _very_ rudely, I suppose it's as good a place as any to start, provided you don't mind."
Raynor laughed heartily. "Not at all. It certainly beats discussing how the Zerg are overrunning the entire galaxy and slaughtering all those who stand in their way."
"You definitely have a good point there," Jaina agreed companionably, her smile beginning to regain its usual shine. "So, tell us Jim, is there anyone…special in your life right now?"
"Not really, but there used to be someone," Raynor spoke wistfully, nostalgia creeping up on him. "We met shortly after I joined the rebellion against the Confederacy. She knew what I was thinking at our very first meeting, and although we never became more than friends, there was something so beautiful and precious about her that…well, I just wish things had worked out differently."
"Was there somebody else?" Jaina asked inquisitively, probing for more information. The audience held its breath in anticipation.
Raynor chuckled coldly. "Oh, if only it had been that simple. No, Jaina, what happened was far worse than if I'd merely lost her to somebody else," he spoke painfully, voice overwrought with emotion. "She was betrayed by her leader whom she trusted implicitly. Left alone to fight against impossible odds, I thought she died. Now I wish she had."
The audience was so quiet that one could hear a pin drop.
"She was transformed and corrupted by an alien intelligence of indescribable evil," Raynor continued, struggling to complete his story. "Ambition and hunger for power consumed her. She became a force of death and destruction, mercilessly slaughtering anyone who stood in her way. Even after she broke free of the monster who'd done this to her, her humanity was gone. Letting nothing interfere with her plans, she betrayed and manipulated the various forces that could oppose her into destroying each other, and now she's launched a campaign to conquer the entire galaxy. Nothing is left of the woman I once…yes, of the woman I once loved. All that remains is a memory of times past and the creature known and feared by all as the Queen of Blades."
The audience 'awwwww'-ed sympathetically.
"I apologize for depressing you all with my burden," Raynor commented sadly. "It's just so…painful, knowing the good woman she once was and the queen b*tch of the universe she's become now. Do you have any idea what it feels like to see somebody you care about transformed into the worst enemy of your entire race? For that same someone to brutally betray and murder your friends? To witness the one whom you love walk further and further into madness and darkness and knowing that there is absolutely _nothing_ you can do to save her while at the same time consumed by the guilt that maybe, just maybe, had you done things differently, you could've prevented this nightmare?"
Jaina, her smile by now incredibly strained and a mournful look in her eyes, answered simply, "Yes I do. Now then," she said, changing the subject, "let's talk about more cheerful matters. So…um…how's the war against the Zerg going?"
Scanning his list, Anum quickly located the spot where he'd left off and resumed his task. "The next person who may be out for your blood is the Night Elf Warden and Commander of the Watchers, Maiev Shadowsong."
Ner'zhul sighed and rested his head on his right hand. Would this list _never_ end? "Tell me," he asked wearily, "who is she, what did I ever do to her, and why might she want to kill me?"
"It's not what you did to her, my lord," Anum answered reverently, "but rather what you did to Illidan."
"Please don't tell me she's one of his fangirls," Ner'zhul muttered sulkily. "The postal service is threatening to cancel my address due to all the death threats and complaints they've sent me."
Anum held back a laugh. "Hardly, my master. Miss Shadowsong was Illidan's jailor for the past 10,000 years and was rather…unhappy about Tyrande releasing him. Apparently she embarked on a quest to hunt down and capture him, becoming increasingly obsessed and ruthless as she did so and even going so far as to follow him to Draenor where her current fate is unknown. If she learns that Arthas killed him, it's possible that her hatred will transfer to you for taking away her chance of punishing Illidan for his crimes."
A calculating expression crossed Ner'zhul's features. "She's that obsessed, you say?" he queried, leaning forward in interest. Anum nodded his head. "Excellent," Ner'zhul spoke, pleased. "I could do with a replacement for Arthas now that I've possessed his body."
"My lord?" Anum questioned, wondering what his master was getting at and both fearing and anticipating the answer.
"Don't you see?" Ner'zhul asked rhetorically, grinning gruesomely. "If she is truly as obsessed as you assert, then I can manipulate and corrupt her as surely as I did Arthas. If she ever manages to return to this world, I'll slowly whittle away her morals and humanity until all that remains is a burning, overwhelming desire for vengeance. Then, in a moment of weakness, I'll offer her the same deal I granted Arthas – the power to obtain vengeance, but at the price of one's soul. If I've done my job well Maiev will accept regardless of the consequences, and I'll have another champion to add to my forces."
"Your plan is brilliant, my lord," Anum commented in awe, adding, "I truly fear for this Maiev's soul should she ever escape from Draenor."
That one desire, that one emotion, was all the warden Maiev Shadowsong could feel as she secretly crept about Magtheridon's Citadel, her destination the throne room and her target the presumed demon hunter seated on that throne. It drowned out any sympathy she could feel for her few surviving troops who were now trapped on this remnant of a world. Its powerful song deafened her to the cries of her conscience and her soul. All that mattered to her now was vengeance, and she would obtain it at any cost.
^Naisha, I do this for you,^ Maiev thought as she finally came to the closed doors behind which the throne room existed and quickly and silently dispatched the few sentries guarding it. Nothing would stand in her way now, and even if she died in the process she'd make sure she took Illidan down with her. With a silent prayer to Elune, Cenarius, and Malorne asking for success, she blinked into the throne room.
"Illidan! You will pay for what you've do- gah!" Maiev trailed off in shock and incredulity as, instead of Illidan Stormrage, she was treated to the sight of Kael'Thas and Vashj passionately making love to one another. The Blood Elf and Naga, mortified at being caught, looked up from what they were doing as Vashj unwound her tail from around Kael'Thas. The two met Maiev's stunned gaze, and Magtheridon's Citadel was soon filled with three incredibly embarrassed screams.
Apparently, the Night Elf gods did not answer Maiev's prayer.
Ignoring the sudden and inexplicable urge he felt to roll his many eyes, Anum read the next name. "Another Night Elf on this list is the Arch Druid Furion Stormrage, spiritual leader of the Kaldorei and Illidan's older brother. He might, just might, want to avenge his sibling, and even if he doesn't, with the Night Elves no longer isolating themselves from the rest of the world, Furion may decide to go after you simply because of the threat you pose."
"Or maybe he'll go back to sleep for another thousand years and stay out of my way," Ner'zhul grumbled, knowing as well as anybody else that the scenario he'd just painted was very unlikely to happen. Troubling enough that the Alliance, the Burning Legion, and the Horde all have good reasons to come after him, but the Night Elves too? He was going to have to do an awful lot of manipulating and plotting if he wanted to stay alive. Still, the Lich King mused as he beckoned the crypt fiend to continue, at least I'm in a Blizzard series where evil can do quite well for itself and doesn't have to constantly worry about being foiled by a bunch of meddling kids.
Predicting his master's reaction to the next name, Anum frowned and took a few cautious steps backwards. "Your next potential enemy is Illidan Stormrage, my lord."
Ner'zhul groaned in vexation and glared at his servant with incensed eyes. "Didn't you just get through telling me that by _killing_ Illidan Stormrage I'd made two new possible foes? Gr. Bad enough you waste my time with mentions of the Penguin King and Block of Ice, but now you're contradicting yourself!"
"But there are those who insist Illidan yet lives, my king!" the crypt fiend pointed out fearfully, cowering before the Lich King.
"Arthas ran him through with Frostmourne!" Ner'zhul retorted angrily.
"It was only a flesh wound, my lord!" Anum countered quickly, praying to…well, his lord the Lich King that he wouldn't be killed again for his impudence.
"Frostmourne is a magic sword that steals souls!" Ner'zhul shouted in response, eyes flashing with rage.
"I think I saw one of his wings move," Anum said very, very quietly.
"Even if he survived that battle, when the ice broke up he would've fallen into the glacial waters of Icecrown and drowned!" Ner'zhul insisted, beginning to understand how Arthas felt when he realized that nobody seems to stay dead around here.
"Perhaps Prince Kael'Thas or Lady Vashj rescued him before that?" Anum suggested nervously.
"Arthas murdered them both, and even if Blizzard says he didn't Anub'arak was holding them off!" Ner'zhul yelled in a rage, not about to add somebody who's supposed to be dead to his list if he could help it. He already had enough enemies for crying out loud!
"Maybe the Skull of Gul'dan contained the warlock's soul in addition to his power and memories, and now that Illidan's dead Gul'dan has reanimated the Night Elf's body and taken control of it himself, escaping death to continue his mad quest for power and determined not to let you or anything else stand in his way?" the crypt fiend hypothesized weakly.
"Where, pray tell, would you ever get a silly idea like that?" the Lich King demanded before deciding he'd rather not know. This discussion had already gone on long enough. With a wave of his left hand to indicate that this debate was at an end, Ner'zhul sent his servant a look that stated in no uncertain terms that the next person on the list had better be worth his time…or else.
Gulping instinctively, Anum wisely decided to skip over Tom the Tuskarr who hadn't even been mentioned in the game and go straight to the next major threat to his master's life. "The Banshee Queen and Ruler of the Forsaken, the Dark Lady Sylvanas Windrunner."
"My, how the lofty have fallen," Ner'zul commented sardonically, sounding faintly amused. "Don't worry, my servant. Though her need for vengeance and sheer ruthlessness will make her a tenacious foe, Sylvanas has abandoned the principles and morals that made her such an unrelenting and fearful opponent. As she is now, a battle between us would be darkness against darkness, corrupted versus corrupted, and I have sunk to depths she can't even begin to fathom in order to survive. Besides, she has only the Forsaken to aid her, is surrounded by enemies, and Kel'Thuzad, if he wishes to remain in my good graces, better be making things difficult for her. Perhaps if she had allies Sylvanas could threaten me, but the Alliance will have nothing to do with her, and it's not like she's going to join the Horde or anything."
A mental picture of Sylvanas notching an arrow and shouting, "For the Horde!" suddenly cropped up in his mind, and the Lich King threw his head back and laughed at the sheer absurdity of it.
"Mwhahahaha! Bwhahahahaha! Whahahahahaha! How's that?"
Inside the throne room of the fallen city of Lordaeron, capital of the Forsaken, the dreadlord known as Varimathras did his best to hide his frown and lied through his teeth.
"Excellent and most terrifying, mistress," Varimathras said subserviently, bowing before Sylvanas Windrunner who was seated on the elevated throne. "Truly a skillful display of maniacal laughter, but might I inquire why you feel it is necessary to practice your diabolical cackling, dark lady?"
"Because I want my triumphant laughter to chill Arthas to the bone and haunt him forever before I kill him, Varimathras," Sylvanas answered smoothly, not concerned by the inherent contradiction in the statement she'd just made. "He shall pay, mind, body, and soul provided he still has one, for the torment he's put me through!"
"Yes, but-" Varimathras began only to be interrupted by the ringing of his cell phone. Sighing, he took it out and answered the call. "I swear, if this is Darkness again I'll- Hello?"
A surprised look crossed his features, and Varimathras walked over and held his phone out for Sylvanas. "It's for you."
Sylvanas frowned in irritation as she took the proffered cellular phone. How _dare_ somebody interrupt her while she was practicing her sinister laughter! The sheer _gall_ of it! "_This_ had better be important. Blizzard? You want me to do _what_? Why would I ever…I _see_. In that case, you have yourselves a deal. By the way, is there any chance I'll be getting my own action figure soon? Hello?"
Shaking her head in dismay, Sylvanas returned the cell phone to Varimathras. "They hung up," she explained testily, noticing the dreadlord's puzzled look.
"Yes, but what did Blizzard want?" Varimathras asked, curiosity getting the better of him.
The Banshee Queen smirked in pure amusement. "They wanted to inform me that in the upcoming 'World of Warcraft' the Forsaken will be a playable race," Sylvanas explained and, seeing Varimathras' pleased expression, added, "and aligned with – believe it or not – the Horde."
Varimathras' eyes widened in shock. "I…see. Well, I guess I'd better go find somebody who can teach all of us orcish. Farewell, mistress." Bowing once, the unsettled dreadlord turned around and unsteadily walked out of the throne room, wondering what in the Twisting Nether Blizzard was thinking and half-expecting to find the world imperiled by plagued and exploding sheep if the logic of recent events was anything to go by.
Meanwhile, Sylvanas' imagination conjured up an image of herself notching an arrow and shouting, "For the Horde!" Unknowingly echoing the Lich King, she threw her head back and laughed at the sheer absurdity of it.
"For some reason that idea no longer seems funny," the Lich King stated curiously before shrugging and deciding not to worry about it. "Continue your task, Anum."
"Your next and last potential enemy on this list, my master," the undead nerubian spoke, sounding distinctly relieved, "is the young King Anduin Wrynn of Azeroth. He likely wishes to avenge Lordaeron and all the lives you destroyed and, while his current strength is unknown, one should not underestimate the power of Azeroth."
"Anduin Wrynn?" Ner'zhul questioned, sounding confused. "Don't you mean Varian Wrynn, the son of the late King Llane?"
Anum, despite looking like he'd really rather be somewhere else, faithfully answered his lord's question. "No, according to the latest word from Blizzard, the current ruler of Azeroth is King Anduin Wrynn. Whether Varian Wrynn changed his name, was assassinated, or had his identity conveniently…altered by Blizzard remains unknown."
"So be it. Despite this uncertainty, I will not let King Whatever-his-first-name-is Wrynn stand in my way. Should the Lion of Stormwind dare challenge me he will learn the folly of angering the King of the North!" Ner'zhul declared, voice laden with determination and the desire to survive.
"Regardless, what do you plan on doing now that you are aware of the opponents who might stand against you, my king?" Anum inquired, wondering what the Lich King would do with the results his work.
"…Good question," Ner'zhul commented, entering a state of deep thought. Over 15 enemies to worry about and virtually an entire world against him. How does one prevail against such unfavorable odds? Suddenly, the solution came to him, and the Lich King marveled at its sheer simplicity and beauty. Rising from his throne with cold lethality, the former orc stood up and faced the world, confidently and proudly. Yes, the answer was perfect. The Lich King would prevail.
"I'm going on an extended vacation. Call me when 'World of Warcraft' starts, okay?"
With those words spoken, the Lich King turned around and departed for a warmer climate, visions of sunny beaches, good food and drink, and attractive women filling his head. As for Anum, he remained standing at the Frozen Throne for some time, a single, unanswered question burning through his mind. Finally, unable to remain silent any longer and in a bewildered, uncomprehending voice, he gave sound to the doubts that assailed him.
"What kind of plan is that?!"