The noose around Arthas' neck slowly tightened. Despite having problems with incompetent officers, the Argent Crusade managed to establish a foothold in Icecrown, outflanking the Scourge's defenses. Then the death knights of the Ebon Blade leapfrogged over the main army and seized the Shadow Vault, deep in the rear. As Arthas' attention was split between these two threats, two big airships, the Skybreaker and Orgrim's Hammer were brought in to bombard the undead from above. It looked to be only a matter of time before we brought the Lich King down. If our leaders didn't fuck it up first.
I was ordered to report for a special assignment. It turned out that SI:7 had some hints that there might be a vulnerability in Icecrown's defenses - supposedly a way through the mountain would allow us to reach Frostmourne and steal it from Arthas, significantly weakening him. To me, it sounded like a trap. It was just too convenient, too easy. I didn't care, though - the voices in my head were screaming for justice, for revenge, and they drowned out any reason. Jaina Proudmoore herself would lead the infiltration team, which would include several other independent adventurers like myself, and about twenty grunts. Introductions were made, but I paid no attention to the names. I had enough names of former comrades I needed to remember; I had no interest in learning more. There was a cigar-smoking dwarf warrior, an elven hunter with a big purple panther, a human priest, and a gnome mage who would not shut up. Overall, a fairly typical group.
The Skybreaker inserted us at the "Pit of Saron" - an immense open saronite mine, being worked by slaves and Vrykul skeletons. The tunnel that would lead us to Frostmourne was supposedly on the far side of the pit. Within minutes, however, we were discovered. So much for sneaking in. One of Arthas' death knights, spotted us and sounded the alarm. Jaina ordered the grunts to take him down, but he nailed them with a blast of necrotic energy. Then their corpses rose up and and we had to destroy them. It was probably for the best - grunts, even champions with flashy armor, almost always end up getting in the way. We pushed forward, killing guards and necromancers as needed, but trying to avoid them when we could to save time. Here we suffered our first significant casualty. The fool hunter kept rushing over to the free the chained slaves; I guess he thought they could help us, instead of becoming just so much more fodder. The seventh time he ran over to a slave, he was spotted by one of the skeletons, which smashed his skull in with its shovel before the warrior could intervene. We had to leave his panther, which was probably the smarter of the two, behind when it refused to leave his side.
Once we reached the far side of the pit, the resistance stiffened. Vrykul soldiers, both living and undead, fought us as we climbed our way up the side of the mountain. We had to fight our way through a tunnel filled with animated skeletons while the frostwyrm tried to crush us by dropping huge boulders of ice on our heads. When we emerged, the death knight dropped down to face us. Up close, I recognized him. A human, one of the many of our kind who had lost his memories and identity in the dark rebirth, and had adopted the immodest sobriquet Tyrannus. Apparently he had chosen to stay with Arthas instead of following Highlord Mograine, and had been rewarded with a frostwyrm and specially runed armor. For all the good it did him - while the dwarf and the mage kept him busy, I managed to get behind him and bury my axe between his shoulder blades. The voices in my head screamed in triumph as I put my boot on his back and wrenched it free. You always were an asshole, Tyrannus - you should have joined the Ebon Blade.
We rested for a bit and bandaged our wounds, then pressed on. Soon we found a small unguarded gate into the citadel, and there, unguarded, was Frostmourne. Ripe for the picking. It could not have been a more obvious trap if it had had a hand-painted sign announcing "Free Sowrd" and an anvil dangling from a rope above it, as Ratshag would say. But Jaina was blinded by visions of an easy victory and personal glory to see and just ran up to it. With a crash a portcullis dropped behind us, cutting off our escape, as phantom soldiers, the ghosts of those who had died fighting the Scourge and now were Arthas' mindless slaves began to materialize around us. "Hold them off as long as you can!" Jaina shouted at us as she ran up the tunnel. "I'm going to go talk to Arthas - there is still good in him, I can feel it!"
It was a tough fight. At first we were surrounded, and the shades were joined by two of Arthas' oldest death knights, Falric and Marwyn. But we managed to reach an alcove which allowed us to keep the priest and the mage save from attacks, and limit how many of them could get at us at a time. Even so, it was a near thing, and the dwarf and I both took serious wounds. Only the priest's Light-given healing powers kept us going. But keep going we did, and eventually we managed to kill the last of the shades and death knights. Up the mirrored hall we limped, and at the end we found Jaina and Arthas facing each other, tears running down her cheeks. "There is nothing left of Arthas. Only the Lich King remains..." she whispered.
Arthas. The Lich King. Whichever. He let out a raspy chuckle. "Your allies have arrived, Jaina, just as you promised. You will all become powerful agents of the Scourge." There was a strange thrumming sound, and a black aura formed around him, crackling with necrotic energy.
The dwarf and I looked at each other. "People, we are LEAVING!" he hollered. There was doorway leading out onto the side of the mountain. I grabbed Jaina and flung her through it. The little mage was dragging the priest, squeaking "gogogogo!" For once, everyone seemed to agree with a sensible plan. We all ran along a path through the rocks and ice, not caring where it led to, as long as it led away. Suddenly, a wall of ice formed in front of us, blocking our way. Looking back, we could see Arthas' minions pursuing us, ghouls and abominations and risen Vrykul. And behind them came Arthas, surrounded by that deadly black cloud. "I can punch through this - just hold them back a few minutes," cried Jaina. We met the first of our pursuers with a storm of axe swings and firebolts, ripping them apart. The useless frill finally did something right, and the wall came crashing down.
Again and again, Arthas raised an ice wall to block us. Each time we held off our pursuers long enough to break through, but the effort was wearing us down. Eventually it proved too much. Two abominations managed to grab the dwarf by his ankles, and literally ripped him in half. One of them was still beating me with his leg when I cut it down with my axe. We pressed on, but it was only a matter of time before we all fell. The mage became too distracted casting her firebolts, and did not see Arthas coming up behind her until it was too late to avoid his aura. She collapsed, letting out a shriek that was equal parts horror and ecstacy. The priest disappeared under a swarm of ghouls. Hearing her screams, I wanted to go back and try to cut my way through them, to try to save her, but I knew it was too late and there were too many - I'd just give them another body to ravish.
Jaina and I were all that were left of the original strike team. We'd broken through the last ice wall, only to find a dead end - an abrupt cliff in front of us, and walls to sheer to climb on either side. Behind us, Arthas followed at his maddengly slow, confident pace. It was the end. Long ago I had sworn that one day I would kill him or die trying, and it looked like that day had come. I gripped my axe tighter and readied myself. The voices screamed in my head- for justice, for vengeance, for oblivion. Arthas began to cast a draining spell of some sort on Jaina, I prepared to charge him, it was time to end it.
Suddenly, explosions tore into the icy walls between me and my fate. An avalanche of ice and boulders fell with a roar, again sealing the canyon but this time with us on one side and Arthas and his minions on the other. Turning, I saw the the Skybreaker hovering at the edge of the cliff, cannons blazing. The crew lowered a gangway and called to us to get on board quickly. Dazed, confused, I stumbled up to the airship's deck. I had been ready. Ready to face Him, to unleash all my anger and fury and hate and make an end of it, one way or another. But now, it was deferred. Again. I still lived, but was that really a good thing?
As the citadel receded in the distance, Jaina spoke to me. "Forgive me, Vyprania. I... I just had to see for myself. To look into his eyes one last time. I am sorry."
I glared at her, thinking of all the blood and screams and horrors of that day. My voices screamed, demanding her head. My hands flexed, ready to choke the life out of her pretty little neck. Instead I turned and walked away, without a word.