Chapter 1 – No Rest for the Wicked
Jaina Proudmoore had not been there at the Frozen Throne, at the pivotal moment. She had come after it was done to see history written with her frail human eyes when he was finally motionless and silent, and she hadn't flinched. In the armour, with the helm- and his head- struck off into some glowering corner, it had been easy to believe this wasn't a man she had once known but some kind of machine, driven by steam or warped magic. Not a glimpse of flesh within all that metal.
She had cheered in relief with all the rest, amidst a spill of bloodied adventurers and heroes, one arm around Sylvanas' waist as though the two women were friends, not opposing leaders in that moment. They were just so glad it was over.
Except, Jaina thought, it wasn't over.
They had known what was required; a will to replace the Lich King, a soul sacrificed so that the mindless Scourge could be controlled and not run amok across Azeroth. There had been many nights of serious talk and Jaina had listened, but she felt she had a different destiny and had not volunteered. She would lead the people of the Alliance against the Lich King and return to rule Theramore in peace. It would be Tirion Fordring or Darion Mograine or one of the other proud, tragic heroes who would take on the weight of that lonely command.
Instead, as blades and voices lifted in triumph, Jaina found herself drawn to the jagged armour. It was his body after all and it was all she had left of him. Sylvanas, perhaps aware of Jaina's intention, had let her go with a disappointed hiss, melting back into the shadows, vengeance sated. They should have known it wasn't the sort of thing anyone could volunteer for. It just happened. Perhaps Jaina made a choice, though she couldn't remember doing it. Perhaps some force chose her, or guided her, but she didn't remember that either.
She remembered touching the fur trim on his cloak.
There was a chaos of images, ideas and sensations so powerful and simultaneously real that she almost fainted, kneeling beside him, rigid and wide-eyed, and her own voice, harrowed and thin, rose in terror. That was the last thing she remembered. There were no words, no direction or detail in the flow of information, but it brought an understanding which she fought desperately, all the while knowing that there was no reversal, no change, no other destiny. Jaina Proudmoore had succeeded Arthas Menethil as the Lich King.
As Jaina returned to herself, it was clear that her comrades in arms had come to the same conclusion. Shaking, she struggled to keep her composure even as her awareness expanded to include every undead minion, every still-warm corpse, every movement within the Citadel.
"Jaina?" Tirion Fordring approached her. There was pity and horror in his eyes, guilt and a slowly-building fear- of her. Jaina looked back, her teeth chattering and hands shaking.
"Wh-what?" she whispered. She felt sick. Her stomach turned and her vision wavered like a heat mirage, but she was cold, so cold…
"Jaina, look at me," he said urgently. Behind him, she was vaguely aware of others, faded shapes that moved and whispered. One came into focus: Darion Mograine, his hand on the hilt of his runeblade. She drew a sharp breath, sensing his hate for her-but-not-her and his shock. She didn't like his readiness with the sword.
Tirion stepped between them, knelt down before her and suddenly she was looking the Paladin in the face. She blinked.
"What... what have you done? This was not meant to happen," he whispered and Jaina pawed the cold stone floor with sweating hands, fumbling to back away from him. He stopped. "Come Jaina, you must focus on me." She wanted to say she couldn't but even speaking seemed too complex. There were so many things happening around her! Something small and mindless screeched her name- or was it hers?- far away and then a sudden darkness erased it. Jaina jumped. She became aware of a myriad of little unlives, all of them bound to her, all of them listening. What should she say?
"Lady Proudmoore," Tirion was speaking, "come, you must stand, we must talk. You were not prepared for this and there are things you need to know, immediatly."
"I can stand," she managed to reply and struggled to get her feet beneath her. As she willed herself up, a number of downed Scourge within her awareness also forced themselves to stand, straining to accomplish their master's desire. Jaina stumbled, a wave of nausea churning through her. "They're listening to me," she whispered in horror. Tirion was nodding and watching the motion made her dizzy.
"Come with me now," he told her, guiding her by her elbow. Where his mailed fingers touched her it seemed to burn, though she was wearing a thick jacket over sturdy battle garb. She tried to flinch away and almost lost her balance. Tirion caught her, his arm around her shoulders and Jaina hissed with pain.
"Don't touch me," she said with a sharp breath. The undead she could sense were instantly alert and ravening for the Paladin's blood. She fought the urge to retch at their slavering savagery. Calm down, calm down, she begged herself feverishly. Calm down? "It's hot," she added, "It burns." Tirion stood back as she found her balance, hands clutching her own shoulders, shivering as though in the grip of hypothermia. Beads of sweat dotted her forehead.
"Darion, perhaps it would be better if you-"
"No!" she said, whirling to stare at the Commander of the Ebon Blade. "I don't trust-" She stopped. There was no reason she shouldn't trust Darion. She didn't know him very well, but he had always greeted her politely and seemed a decent, if broody, sort of man. "I don't…"
A heavy, leather-clad hand came down on her shoulder painlessly. "Don't bother explaining it. It won't make sense to us either." Jaina turned her head, causing the world to fall dangerously off axis again, and found herself leaning against Overlord Varok Saurfang. He and the Dwarven commander of the Skybreaker had put aside their differences- momentarily- and the Horde's thundering airship had helped to transport troops to the higher reaches of Icecrown Citadel alongside the Gnomish craft.
"I didn't mean that," she said, searching for Darion among the blurry shapes filling her vision, "I'll make a better apology when I can-"
The world seemed to melt and pour towards her and Jaina found herself falling, suddenly terrified, and then there was nothing.
Icecrown Citadel was empty and echoing, and Jaina knew she was dreaming. She was barefoot on the frozen stone in a plain lavender dress she vaguely remembered owning when she was about fourteen. It brought back memories of Dalaran. As soon as her thoughts flitted to the city of wizards, the dream became tinted with violet and Jaina's mind leapt from Dalaran to her old mentor, Antonidas, to studying magic, and inevitably to Arthas.
He stood before her in the chilly hall, half-turned away as though she had been following him and he had only just realized it. He was dressed in the cold gray armour he had died in, but the helm was off. His hair was radiant gold and his skin warm and pink. Jaina took two steps towards him, a smile hesitantly breaking on her lips, and he shifted to face her reluctantly. She realized she was holding the helmet under one arm, the jagged cheek plate digging furrows into her bare skin.
"Arthas?" she whispered. Her voice came on a breath of frosty vapour. For a long moment he didn't answer and she didn't move, knowing it was a dream but pleading silently, desperately, with whatever power that governed dreams to let this be more than just her subconscious, to let it be a good-bye, a final brief touch, a reality, an affirmation of goodness.
"You spineless, thieving traitor," he whispered and reached for her with one swift movement, the warmth in his features diffusing out of him and into the Citadel instantly. Jaina dodged, but couldn't bring herself to flee him.
"Arthas, no-" she pleaded and tears welled over her lower lashes. "This isn't you-"
"You let them kill me, Jaina!" he raged and suddenly Frostmourne, unbroken and huge, was in his grip. He slashed at her with the evil blade. "You weren't even there and then you stole the power I fought and died for!"
"I didn't want it!" she whimpered and found her back against the cold unyielding rock wall. "It's a curse!" she sobbed, "It's a death sentence!"
"It was a blessing," he laughed and slowly, carefully pressed his forearm across her throat, "And you will serve in my place."
Jaina woke with a jolt, heart labouring in her chest, real tears dampening her cheeks, on her back on the bare floor with a thick fur blanket wrapped around her legs trailing off a low pallet. A single candle burned just beyond the edge of the furs and beside it sat an earthen mug of water. Jaina disentangled herself from the blanket and sat up dizzily, hot and thirsty and shaking, and reached for the cup. It was bitterly cold against her fingertips and she winced. Something in the dark beyond the candle-flame whimpered in an echo of her pain. Jaina fumbled, almost dropping the mug.
"W-who's there?" she stammered. "Show yourself!" There was a rasp of boots on stone and a decrepit ghoul shambled into the ring of light. Revulsion and hatred surged within Jaina. She could bring herself around to understanding Orcs, Tauren, even Trolls sometimes, but undead creatures woke a visceral, wholly instinctive loathing in her. She recoiled, unconsciously drawing up the arcane within herself- and then stopped. The ghoul had dropped to the floor, hands over its head, cowering on its belly.
"Noooo," it whined. Jaina lowered her shaking hands to her lap. Oh Light, it can speak?
"Go away," she said. She had a splitting headache and the near omnipotent awareness that had staggered her before threatened to overwhelm her again now. The nearness of the ghoul seemed to intensify her bond to the undead creatures littering Icecrown. "Go away!" she snarled, "Get out!" It scrambled up and ran off with a wild, lop-sided gait. Jaina sat rigid in the furs, seething as panic and hate and despair chased each other around her aching head. The Scourge pressed insistently in on her mind but it was more like a hollow thrum now rather than a blaring cacophony.
"Jaina!" Torch-glow burst in on her and Jaina realized she was in a large tent. Part of her had been conscious of her location from the moment she woke- she was just inside the massive entrance of Icecrown Citadel, at the war camp called Light's Hammer. Tirion Fordring stood in the rectangle of illumination. Jaina blinked and held up a hand.
"I'm okay," she tried to lie, "my head hurts." The Paladin tied back the door and entered cautiously, keeping a distance between them.
"We did not know a Holy presence would cause you physical pain," he began. His eyes were sad but there was a hardness behind them that was almost accusatory. Did he think she had taken this on herself purposefully? Jaina wrapped her arms around her shoulders protectively and looked away.
"I apologize for my reaction," she said softly, "I was… I am very much lost."
"Yes Jaina," replied the Paladin, "but you are not alone. Come. Darion and I have much to explain to you about your new… position." Jaina nodded.
"Thank you, Tirion." He was only doing what was right, of course. It was what Paladins did. He was trying to do it as quickly as possible and it made Jaina's head spin, but she struggled to make her reeling psyche understand the logic of fast control. She needed to know what the Paladin and the Death Knight had learned. It all pertained to her now. You will serve in my place.
Her hands shook as she bound up her hair, a damp, sweaty mess she had no time to coif properly. She was glad that the siege camp had no use for mirrors; she wouldn't want to see what she looked like now. Did her eyes glow, as his had? Was her skin the pallid colour of an ice-bound corpse? But no, she was living yet. She was not undead. Teeth chattering with unfelt cold, Jaina smoothed her skirt and adjusted her intricate cloth breastplate.
"I am ready," she announced to Fordring as she exited the tent. He nodded briskly and lead her out past the curious, frightened, confused eyes of the Ashen Verdict adherents at Light's Hammer. Jaina followed him, staring at his back, resolutely ignoring the attention. The Scourge had installed translocators throughout the Citadel to move more quickly through its vast bulk and this was where Tirion lead her now.
"We must go back to the Frozen Throne," he instructed and raised his hands to the miasma of energy. There was a sound like a gulp and sudden cold and he was gone. Jaina had used the translocator before but she balked now. The Frozen Throne had been a prison for the spirit of the Orc shaman Ner'Zhul, it had held him and trapped him and nearly annihilated him. Jaina trembled. She had no reason to fear it. She was not Ner'Zhul. But I am the Lich King...
"Its naught but a block of ice," rumbled a voice behind her and Jaina jumped, then turned guiltily to find herself facing Overlord Saurfang once again.
"What if it isn't just a block of ice?"
"You were up there last night. It did nothing to you."
Jaina swallowed. "Are… is… is Ner'Zhul still… here? Is he inside my head?"
Saurfang shrugged. "I won't pretend I know how this works. Fordring thought he had it figured out. Look what happened. Maybe Ner'Zhul is there, but he isn't controlling you."
"How do I know? Maybe he's just weak and waiting-"
"Jaina." Saurfang put down the ax and settled his massive paws on her slim shoulders. "Wait and see what happens. Talk to the Paladin. You'll know you've been mind-controlled if you find yourself staring at my weapon rather than my chest." He patted her carefully on the head, cracking a tiny smile around his tusks. Jaina nodded unsteadily and turned back to the translocator, wondering if the smile was for encouragement or because the old warrior had just head-patted the Lich King.
Tirion Fordring was not alone. Darion Mograine stood to one side of him, helmet on, eyes narrowed, arms folded over his chest. To the other side stood Garrosh Hellscream, looking equally uninviting and exuding uncomplicated hatred. Jaina stood her ground, weaving slightly on her feet.
"The Frozen Throne was the Lich King's cage," began Fordring, "and within it he was restrained. Now it is sundered." He turned aside and Jaina's mouth went suddenly dry as she glimpsed what was heaped on the ice behind him. "This is the Helm of Domination," he said and held up the grim armoured mask that had become the face of Arthas Menethil as Azeroth would remember him. "It was made by demon magic, crafted to hold the will of Ner'Zhul and contained the power of the Lich King. We assumed that upon the demise of Arthas' shell, the next Lich King would be he that donned this helm but that power was released and held in you, Jaina Proudmoore, though we do not understand the mechanism. It is imperative that you to learn to control the Scourge and we believe this will help you."
Jaina continued staring at the helm, perched between Fordring's pale hands. The last time she had seen it, it contained Arthas' head, though it was no longer joined to his body. She raised a finger hesitantly. "You… want me to wear it?" she whispered.
"That's the idea," growled Hellscream. Jaina didn't remove her gaze from the helm.
"You must control them, Jaina," said Darion Mograine fiercely. "Already there are packs of geists hunting across Icecrown, tearing at any who cross their path!"
But that would be like touching them, she wanted to say. That would mean I am one of them!
"It may have been that the only reason Azeroth was not overcome by the Scourge was some shred of goodness in Arthas still holding them in check," added Fordring quietly, holding out the helm. His eyes met hers and Jaina looked away, a lump in her throat the had nothing to do with Scourge-induced nausea. Uther Lightbringer's spirit, trapped inside Frostmourne, had told her the same once not so long ago. She had clung to those words as she and Sylvanas raced from the Halls of Reflection to the Frozen Throne. She took the piece from his hands wordlessly, closed her eyes and settled the armour over her head. She was surprised how well it fit; Arthas hadn't been a small man and Jaina was rather on the petite side. Then again, if it was made to fit the Lich King perhaps it adjusted depending on the shell that power wore. Jaina opened her eyes and blinked. There was a bright misty haze suffusing everything.
The three men were peering at her with varying expressions of expectation, Fordring earnestly, Mograine with a frown and Hellscream with impatience.
"Well?" grunted the Orc.
"Everything looks glowy," she said and held up her hand. The ache of awareness diminished and the soft glow soothed her spirit. Shafts of light spilled between her fingers from no discernible source. "I don't know what I'm seeing." Jaina turned, gazing up the ice-crusted walls, then looked at the looming form of the Throne. The haze sparkled everywhere in her vision, though it was less bright on the three men.
"Contact the Scourge," urged Mograine, fingers tensing and relaxing on the hilt of his weapon. Jaina scowled. Everything here was hers, everything at her beck and call. She could feel each of the undead in the Citadel- there weren't many remaining- and those roaming the glacier beyond. To her surprise, her awareness extended beyond even Icecrown and she slowly picked her way through the towering heights of the Storm Peaks, shocking Val'kyr and ghouls and frostwyrms with her slow, deliberate census. She could see through their eyes if she tried, feel the pull of arctic wind on tattered wings and the sting of driven snow on blue-tinted cheeks.
"I can see… everything," she murmured, awed.
"Command them," Mograine persisted and she turned, eyes narrowing.
"No," she replied emphatically. "I don't understand this yet, so I will do nothing. They feel me. They acknowledge me. That is enough," she said and she saw Fordring's eyes widen, Hellscream's lips rise in a snarl and Mograine take a small step backward. "I was trained by the Kirin Tor," she continued, unaware her voice had become vast and hollow, "never to play havoc with forces I didn't understand. Just because you can command it doesn't mean you should." Slowly she withdrew her presence from the vast legions of the Scourge, reeling her consciousness back into herself. Then she lifted the helm off and set it gently on the ground at her feet.
Tirion stepped forward again. "I believe your choice was wise, Lady Proudmoore. There will be time enough for you to learn the ways of this terrible power-"
"Will there?" interrupted Hellscream, "Or will her mind be devoured by Ner'Zhul's demon magic just like the Paladin's?" The Orc stabbed a finger at Jaina. "We should force her into the Throne and seal her away, not teach her so she can turn on us!"
"Arthas chose his path," said Jaina deliberately. "There was madness in him, and violence and a will to dominate. I will not make rash decisions, nor will I refuse to hear wise council from trusted allies."
"You say that now, while your mind is still your own," countered Hellscream.
"Yes," snapped Mograine, "she does. We don't know how this power works, but we know where it resides now, at this moment. Lady Proudmoore was chosen for some reason. Rather than lock her up, I would see what a level head can do with this strength. What she said makes sense: if she can learn what this power is, then she can learn what to use and what to leave be." Jaina turned to him in surprise, wanting to thank the Death Knight commander for his support.
"You broke your pact with one Lich King- you would forge another with this one?" Hellscream spat. "You put this power in the hands of a human and only death will come of it."
"Overlord, that is enough!" rumbled Fordring, "This was our joint decision. Imprisoning Jaina will do nothing! We need a mind in command of the Scourge." He turned away from the glowering Orc and approached Jaina again. "I will stay with you while you practice controlling the powers the helm possesses, and we must jointly plan how best to confine- or destroy- the Scourge." Jaina nodded minutely. Truly, the sense of omnipotence that the armour bestowed on her was frightening and unwanted. Darion Mograine took this as a cue to depart, marching smartly to the transporter. Hellscream tarried, eyeing Jaina with open distrust, but finally followed the Commander of the Ebon Blade.
This time she was better prepared for the effects when she settled the fur-padded helmet over her head. She noticed the diffuse light that haloed everything came from the Citadel itself mostly, although when she examined her hands, it seemed to leak from around her fingernails as well.
"Lady Jaina," said Fordring, bringing her back to her task. "See how far your awareness reaches," he suggested and Jaina began to crawl her vision outwards from Icecrown. Again she found a frostwyrm and paused, hovering in its consciousness as the beast soared effortlessly over precipices that made her gasp even though she sat kilometers distant. Its mind was a blank with one directive: destroy the living. That order had been drilled into the creatures very resurrection; it had been raised in undeath for one purpose alone.
"We must kill the frostwyrms," she murmured and was vaguely aware of the Paladin nodding.
She rode the dragon's consciousness over the border into Zul'Drak and then freed herself, pulling back to a broad, inclusive perspective. There were undead here too, in a pitched battle with the Argent Dawn. The Scourge were losing but they strove even more vigorously when they felt the chill hand of their god among them.
No, Jaina seethed, it is time for true death. She groped at the collective awareness of the battling undead and willed them to stand down, flinching in distaste with each and every touch of their base, ravenous minds. There was a moment where time seemed to trip, where every Scourge paused as though hearing some distant order, and then they ignored it. The Argent Dawn battled on.
Jaina yanked herself away, fleeing the hundreds of little mindless existences in her consciousness and floundered west, desperate to leave the battlefield and the grasping worship of the Scourge. She swept from corpse to corpse, using the dead and the undead to propel herself like handholds across the vista.
"Where are you now?" asked Fordring quietly. He must be watching my expressions, she thought suddenly and unfocused her eyes from the snowswept terrain, glimpsing the Paladin's bearded face briefly, as though through mist.
"In snow," she replied, fumbling about herself for recognition. There, a shape through the icefog, a blunt, massive object, something she knew as both Jaina Proudmoore and the Lich King- "Naxxramas," she said.
The flying necropolis had been under siege incessantly almost from the moment it had taken up residence in Northrend. It had finally fallen, quite literally, only six days before the Lich King himself. Now, Jaina found herself presiding over another bitter battle and again the Scourge were taking the brunt. Those that remained had blockaded themselves behind the crashed ziggurat, using the debris from its walls to cut off the legions of adventurers and Ashen Verdict adherents that fought to demolish them. They were backed against the impassable grade of the Storm Peaks to the east and south, and with the bulk of Naxxramas blocking any advance from the west, it was a fortified but suicidal place to make a last stand. The Scourge were out-numbered and uncoordinated. There did not appear to be any solid chain of command and most of them were fighting mindlessly, heedless of direction or comrades.
Jaina took advantage of that and urged one of the larger abominations towards the debris-barrier, ordering it to pull the wall down. Flee! she whispered but the creature hesitated, looking around, peering into the sky, confused. It took a single step toward the wall. Yes! said Jaina, but then it whipped the length of rusty chain it held and sank the hook into an elven rogue who had managed to scale the barricade unseen. Jaina had seen him; the abomination had not looked at the elf, but it knew he was there because Jaina knew. She covered her mouth with both hands, horrified. Arrows and fireballs and lightning swarmed over the abomination then, as the rogue's friends mounted the wall in furious grief. She drew back and watched the victorious living make a breach, shouting to one another, keeping in tight groups and warding their peers. Jaina watched, stunned with guilt.
"What is it?" asked Fordring.
"We will triumph," she said shakily, "the last resistance from Naxxramas are falling at this moment." She paused. "They had built a wall... the Ashen Verdict has broken through it. Our heroes will corner those that remain. The Scourge... won't heed me. They hear but they don't do as I tell them. They are utterly without thought or guidance."
"Who told them to build the wall, then?" asked the Paladin, his thick brows furrowed. Jaina paused and swept her will back and forth across the few remaining Scourge.
"I don't know. They're panicked and have little mind to speak of as it is." But it was a good question. It wasn't a random collection of rocks pushed into the approximation of a barrier; it was a carefully planned and structured obstacle. Jaina narrowed her eyes.
"Whoever directed them must be dead. One of the commanders of Naxxramas, I assume. There is no one left with the capacity to plan such a thing." As she said it, she noticed a geist, sprinting for its unlife, hurl itself up the steep side of the necropolis, scrabbling for handholds, then skitter along a crumbling ledge that took it around the corner of the ziggurat. Jaina followed.
The geist slid down the broken edifice and landed in the snow with a hard 'plop'. It rolled to its feet, cast about itself wildly and galloped off eastward.
"I'm following one that managed to escape," she said and stayed with the fleeing Scourge until it slowed and stopped. It turned in circles, confused and then ambled away, apparently satisfied with its safety. "if it got away, then others must have."
"Whoever ordered that wall built," rumbled Fordring. "Find them, Jaina."
Resurrection, although immensely useful, was difficult, unnatural and justifiably rare. That which was dead should remain dead and submit to the order of rot and reintegration, spreading its matter and energy to other living things. But the act of resurrection defied that order, withdrew flesh from the mouth of decomposition, returned breath to flaccid lungs and warmth to cooling blood. It was a plethora of confusion and incoherence for a living creature. They woke gasping to the knowledge that decay started immediately following death, that they were only so much food and grease and calcium. It was the stuff of nightmares.
For a lich, it was a little different being that they were undead to begin with. It was part of their life-cycle, so to speak, to suffer death and resurrection repeatedly. They were made for it. It did not make the experience more pleasant.
Kel'Thuzad, founder of the Cult of the Damned, right hand of the Lich King and Lichlord of Naxxramas, had been killed and resurrected several times. He found it inconvenient to die. It was also humiliating, especially now that adventurers had taken to testing their prowess by attempting to slay him in less than formidable numbers. And it was time-consuming since it necessitated a group of dedicated necromancers who would have been ordered to flee far and swiftly upon attack lest their services be required.
Unfortunately for the Archlich, when he re-animated this time, cursing first the band of adventurers who had no doubt earned themselves lasting fame by destroying his physical form, and second everything else he could think of, he realized that something was profoundly wrong with the world. He was alone, save for six necromancers- the absolute minimum number needed to complete the ritual. He was miles from Naxxramas somewhere in enemy territory, and he was utterly, disturbingly, mentally alone. There was a deafening silence where his connection to the Lich King should have been. The necromancers, his personal elite the Thuzadin, seemed as unnerved as the lich, though they knew better than to speak it.
Master? Kel'Thuzad waited patiently for a response to his query; likely his King had something more important to attend to than reassuring his subject that he was alive. Likely too that he was rightfully irritated with Kel'Thuzad for allowing Naxxramas to fall a second time, but there was no response, not even the echo of acknowledgment.
Kel'Thuzad had been the Lich King's minion for a long time. He had heard fear through their link, raw fury, physical agony, desperation, brazen triumph and creeping sadism. He had never heard silence. A terrible suspicion began to unfold before him.
Master, where are you?
One did not pester the Lich King, even one who was generally considered to be that entity's only 'friend'. He hovered inches above the snow, motionless, thinking. There had been adventurers and heroes assaulting Icecrown, pushing slowly through the Scourge's defenses. It was a grueling, bloody struggle for the living. When one of their own fell, they were forced to either torch the corpse to ash or risk seeing their ally rise against them. It took a grim toll on the collective psyche of the Ashen Verdict and their supporters and made their incursion that much more costly.
Naxxramas, simultaneously, had been under attack without respite. For the most part, Kel'Thuzad was not troubled by these incidents- most of his work was done either in his chamber or at staging points outside the necropolis which he could teleport to. In recent weeks however, he found himself occupied full-time rebuilding fallen Scourge and occaisonally decimating parties of surprising tenacity that made it to some important location within his domain. And then this past week, one group of heroes had systematically demolished each wing of Naxxramas, eluding destruction in a running battle that Kel'Thuzad himself had lead. The adventurers had not slept for six days straight and it had cost them fully half their original number.
But they had managed to bring down Sapphiron, holding the lich off at the same time. And when they finished with the frostwyrm- tattered, bloodied, staggering, grieving, nearly catatonic with fatigue and horror- the remaining twelve had bested him and Kel'Thuzad was banished back to the brief, hazy sleepwalk of lich-death. Really, if the Lich King was annoyed with him, he fully deserved it.
Master, I am here! I wait for your command! There was no severing that connection save through the death of the one who wrought it and as Kel'Thuzad waited, forcefully quelling his rising panic, he began to despair.
"What news is there from Icecrown?" he asked his minions finally. The six Thuzadin, four men and two women, were seated in various attitudes of exhaustion around him in a circle. As soon as he spoke, one of them struggled to his feet.
"Dire news, my lord," stammered the man. "Our master, our King..."
"Has been slain, hasn't he?" hissed Kel'Thuzad. The man nodded. Another of the Thuzadin stood. Unlike the other five, who wore the black and purple robes specific to their rank, this woman wore shining plate and the white tabard of the Argent Dawn. It was smudged with grime and blood and Kel'Thuzad thought it looked better that way.
"Our lord was murdered," she whispered, "assassinated at the Frozen Throne."
"They- they say the souls that Frostmourne had devoured broke free and tormented him to distraction. One of those was the soul of Prince Arthas' father and it freed Tirion Fordring from the prison where our Lord had trapped him. The Paladin resurrected a party of adventurers our Lord had dispatched and they... they killed him, master." The spy folded her hands and lowered her eyes to the snow. Kel'Thuzad straightened.
"No," he said, frosty voice slithering out between inhuman fangs, "our master does not know death. The Lich King is death. The Lich King is immortal. These foolish adventurers have only murdered his physical vessel." The Thuzadin shifted, looking up, dark hope taking over their tired expressions.
"When will he return?" asked one.
"How will we know?"
"Silence," murmured the lich, "I will know. Leave me now. Seek out all the living among the Cult and convene them in hiding." The Thuzadin rose, stiffly, obediently, and melted into the landscape leaving the lich to his plotting. Kel'Thuzad pursued the link once again, listening intently.
We await your command.
There was utter silence for nearly half an hour, during which Kel'Thuzad began to pace, flitting to and fro over the snow, leaving no trace of his movement. With each passing minute, he felt his strength returning. It would be days before he was in fighting form again, but his mind never dulled.
Then, without warning, the mental link bloomed with connection. The being he sensed at the other end was something fluttering and scared, something uncollected, untried, unfamiliar but blazing with arcane power. He slammed down on the link, concealing himself from psychic inspection, paranoia suddenly overwhelming him. The Lich King was created by the Burning Legion- have they taken back control of their rogue minion at last? I will not answer to some half-trained warlock!
Who are you? Why can you talk to me? None of the others do.
This was certainly not a minion of the Burning Legion, Kel'Thuzad decided immediately. So many emotions, so much disarray; it had none of the control or finesse that Kel'Thuzad was accustomed to but at the same time it was unequivocally the same power that had called him north so many years ago. That swirl of emotion though, he recognized that: this being still had a soul, an uncorrupted, painfully noble soul. Master, what do you wish of me? There was a stretch of silence while the presence recoiled.
Who are you? I demand your name!
And Kel'Thuzad found he could resist this presence. It wasn't because the being couldn't psychically pick him up and wring him out, it was because it wouldn't. It didn't know or it couldn't comprehend, or perhaps, he thought as he mused on its request for his name, it couldn't stomach the idea.
I am your servant, he replied hesitantly. You forged this bond, Master, so we could communicate at distance. What has happened? What have you become?
I will not discuss anything with you. The link abruptly went dead again. Kel'Thuzad hastily made certain his own telepathic shields were impenetrable. They would have been transparent to the Lich King- indeed he would never have used such a tactic with his former master- but this new host poked around them helplessly, baffled and effectively repelled.
I must go to Icecrown...
Update schedule: every 2 weeks, school willing. :)