The gargoyles flew past the mountains of Icecrown, past endless icy expanses and barren lands until the clouds above Sholazar Basin enveloped them whole.
A crunching sound and a gargoyle was gone. One by one they vanished and soon Bolvar lost contact with them. His fingers twitched.
Once again he stood on the dam overlooking the Crystalsong Forest, brooding. There was no sound there except for the wind. No drums of war, no grinding or clicking of teeth, no roars or voices, not even the spirit in the helm bothered him and while his silence was unusual Bolvar dared not ask. The peacefulness was welcome.
“You’ve been awfully silent, orc,” Bolvar said hours later yet the spirit did not answer.
It was then that he felt the eyes of someone else, though he already knew who it was. The Knights of the Ebon Blade had been studying him for some time and even before he had awakened they had never been too far from Icecrown. Bolvar turned and while his eyes saw nothing his mind saw everything. Fear, he sensed briefly, then rage, then calmness, and when the knight disappeared Bolvar focused on the dreadlord, his armies advancing every second that passed.
Most of the Howling Fjord was now part of his domain and now the dead forced their way into the Grizzly Hills. Zul’drak would be next, though Mal’ganis already had a few servants there and their numbers were bound to increase, even though the Drakkari trolls would have none of their filth in their land. Bolvar doubted they’d have a say in the matter.
All outposts and fortresses had been evacuated. Both the Alliance and the Horde in the Borean Tundra fled to the coasts surrounding the Dragonblight, thousands of refugees flocking to Moa’ki Harbour, overwhelming the tuskarr. The taunka on the other hand did not intend to abandon their beloved villages. Northrend was their land, the only place where they would live, or die.
Bolvar thought the nerubians were of the same mind, seeing that he hadn’t received word from them or spotted any of them on the surface. He hoped their king would truly help when the time came and not cower below ground. Bolvar would know soon, as the dreadlord’s forces were crossing the tundra at an unbelievable speed, leaving death in their wake.
The dead had also begun flooding Sholazar Basin and though wolvar, gorlocs and whatever other creatures dwell there would slow them down, he hardly believed they’d pose a serious threat to them.
I’ll say this once again, Fordragon. Raise the dead in these lands before it's too late. You cannot hope to defeat the dreadlord with these numbers and Icecrown's walls won't stand long against his endless army.
He huffed. “I've already told you, orc. I will do no such thing.”
His body moved uncontrollably as both he and Ner'zhul came to blows. Fool! His legs, arms and fingers trembled. Fool! Do you not see how blind you are? Don't you understand that this will be the end of both you and me?
“Then so be it.”
They wrestled again, the chaos in his mind unbearable. His legs gave in and he fell on his knees while his arms and the rest of his body wouldn’t obey him. He reached for his head, roared and struck the dam with his fists, ice falling down below as the whole structure shook.
Bolvar panted, and though Ner'zhul was a mere spirit trapped in a helm it was as though he too was struggling to breathe.
We can fight as long as we want, human. Ner'zhul paused. But in the end we both know what must be done.
He pulled himself up and rested on the balustrade. “Get it into your head, spirit. I will never be Arthas,” he said. “Never.”
And as he regained his composure he returned to the citadel, the cold embrace of the wind the only thing that soothed him. The repairs were almost complete, he saw, yet as it pained him to admit, the walls would only give them a few moments of respite. Icecrown had already been breached once, after all.
“Let them come. Frostmourne hungers.”
Arno raised an eyebrow as he saw Bolvar shaking his head and rubbing his eyes. “Highlord Fordragon, is everything all right?”
He curled his fingers into a fist and then his chest rose and slowly fell as he opened his hand. “They’ll be here soon.”
Arno nodded. “We’ll be ready for them, but—”
“But we do not have enough soldiers to defend all of Icecrown, I know.” Two figures appeared in the distance. “That is why we must concentrate our efforts on this very place, right beside the citadel.”
“Corp’rethar cannot fall at any cost,” Arno agreed. “Though it would be wise to attack them while our outer defences are still intact.”
“Indeed. Have you found anything?”
“Not much, just a few explosives and a couple of catapults. Some work fine, others need to be repaired. The thing is, these undead aren’t exactly the best at making repairs. Also…”
“I…I think I may have some of your power. I never had any interest in magic yet somehow I have control over fire.”
The figures came closer. “Then burn them.” Bolvar said. “Burn them all.”
Arno felt his hair prick up and a chill take hold of his heart. Bolvar’s voice was usually never that blood-curdling. Then he looked backwards.
A huge skeletal construct shambled towards them. A crack run across its skull and ended where its nose would’ve been. It ground its teeth as it came to a halt and all it did was stare at them with its glowing blue eyes.
The vrykul that had come with the construct was just as fearsome. “My life for the death god,” the warrior said as he knelt, the axe on his back as big as a human.
Between the two of them was another former servant of Arthas. Arno had not noticed him and in truth neither Bolvar would’ve if he had not been the one who summoned him. “Boom!” The gnome raised his hands in the air, bombs in each one of them. “Boom!” he repeated. “Boom, boom!”
“What about them?” Arno said, his hand clasping the hilt of his weapon.
“They will aid us in the battle to come.” Then at the mere thought the construct, the gnome and the vrykul went on their way.
“Arthas was certainly fond of foul creatures.”
“Fond of war…and death.” His head tingled. “We must make haste.”
“I shall get back to work right away, Highlord Fordragon. But what about the Wrathgate? They will attack us from the south too, if what you told me is true.”
“It has been reinforced.” Then Bolvar remembered Tirion, Alexstrasza and the nerubians. “There’s naught more we can do.”
Arno bowed. “As you say, Highlord Fordragon. It will be a pleasure fighting alongside you.”
His head tingled again. The time is nigh.
Smooth crystal-like walls surrounded him, outside lush green grass bent in the breeze. Dozens of orcs communed with their ancestors, others uttered prayers or simply remained silent.
The ghost shook its head in disgust. “Do not ever return, Ner’zhul. You have shamed yourself, you have forsaken everything you stood for and betrayed your people. You have betrayed me.”
Another vision, another place Bolvar had never seen, another event Bolvar had never experienced. A red demonic creature channelled a spell, massive pain consuming whoever owned the eyes Bolvar was seeing through as his body was being torn apart and his soul pulled forth. All he heard were screams, deafening screams that would’ve made anyone’s ears bleed, and laughter, loud and unrestrained. The demon before him relished every second that passed, yet the pain inflicted to his victim did not completely sate his desire for vengeance.
A second vision and the frozen throne appeared, black armour encased within.
Mind your own memories, Fordragon.
The air was heavy with death.
No wind dared howl through Icecrown, no sound dared disturb the surreal quietness, no living creature dared show itself.
Weeks had passed and now his head tingled for the third time. “They’re here,” Bolvar said.
Gargoyles were perched on any peak that gave a good view of the oncoming enemy, their bodies turned to stone. They blended in well with the dreary environment and even if they were attacked their stone forms made them almost impervious to anything. Dozens were stationed around Icecrown and Bolvar had kept the strongest and the swiftest close to the Avalanche, a path that the previous Lich King had used to invade and taint the paradise that was Sholazar Basin. He wondered if the Titans’ queer devices would thwart the dreadlord’s plans, or give him the upper hand, if he managed to exploit them.
A few gargoyles kept watch over the Dragonblight’s western border where the undead were bound to appear. So far they had only espied refugees.
But it was not Mal'ganis that now concerned Bolvar. Something dark, sinister and evil, something all too familiar had found its way into Icecrown. He looked to the south-east and saw Anarak skittering towards him.
“Sire.” The nerubian bowed. “The Cult of the Damned wishes to have an audience with you. They claim to have recovered all of Frostmourne’s fragments.”
The news caught both him and the spirit by surprise, though Ner’zhul had suspected it all along. Of course.
Somehow his hand was eager to grasp the weapon's hilt while his mind and heart flinched at the name of the cursed blade. “I will meet them now. Fetch me the other fragment.”
The Cult of the Damned had waited him out in the cold close to the citadel, none of them complaining. Anarak had come and gone, leaving the last piece of Frostmourne in the Lich King’s keeping. All of the fragments had been laid on a slab of saronite and the mere sight of them stirred something inside Bolvar. Thousands, millions had lost their soul to the weapon, not just commoners or mindless aristocrats, but kings, such as Terenas Menethil II or Anasterian Sunstrider, people he had admired his entire life such as Uther the Lightbringer, men and women who had made a name for themselves like the great Antonidas or the ranger-general of Silvermoon, Sylvanas Windrunner. The list went on and on. One could spend a month counting how many people Arthas had slain with Frostmourne, and maybe that wouldn’t be enough.
“My king,” one said after he and his followers knelt. “We have brought you Frostmourne, as you requested.”
Bolvar glanced at the fragments once more before addressing them. “You shall be rewarded when the time comes,” he said, though he meant none of that, “but not now, not here.”
“Aye, my king. The lich has informed us. He sends his regards.”
“Kel’thuzad, my king. He eagerly awaits you in the Eastern Kingdoms, but he knows that you currently have other matters to attend to. We shan’t delay your plans any further.”
So the lich is behind all of this. That explains much.
Bolvar gave them leave yet he had to get rid of them sooner or later. He couldn’t have the Cult of the Damned roaming about, but he couldn’t simply put them to the torch. Not at this very moment, not when Mal’ganis was knocking at his door.
Kel’thuzad was a much bigger problem. Cunning and wise, he had probably been Arthas’ most useful and loyal servant, and the Book of Medivh had only made him a greater asset. His knowledge was unlike anything the world could imagine.
There is still power contained within these fragments, Ner’zhul said as Bolvar stood before the fragments. Reforge it, Fordragon. Frostmourne hungers.
Even Bolvar sensed the power in them as his hand hovered above them. “No.” The fragments began to vibrate and whatever magic was in them writhed and shrieked as it seeped out and wisped upwards, vanishing. They rattled continuously and became a molten red as they moved closer to each other. To Ner’zhul horror they merged, the heat and glow comparable to the belly of a volcano, and moulded themselves into the weapon that Frostmourne was never meant to be.
He stared at the weapon and for a moment he was Arthas again, gazing at Frostmourne encased in a block of ice and then gripping it, testing its weight. He thought he could still feel its cold hilt, its perfect edge. But this was no Frostmourne. There was no price to pay, no curse to bear.
Yet there was no reason to rejoice. He had already paid the price, he already bore a curse.
His fingers wrapped themselves around the hilt and instantly power surged through his body, the sensation stupefying. It weighed nothing, Bolvar noticed as he studied it, and the runes were different, as was the energy radiating from it. Unlike Frostmourne, it felt pure, cleansing, life-giving.
The sound of a horn bounced off every wall and stone in Icecrown. Bolvar marched west, his mind monitoring the undead that would soon cross into the Dragonblight and those that were making their way out of Sholazar Basin. Firemaw glimmered in his hand, snowflakes turning into vapour as they touched the blade.
He passed the Horror Gate, leaving the rest of his army behind him. The sky was swamped with grey clouds, unmoving, threatening, foreboding. The Valley of Fallen Heroes, as it was called by the living, was a bitter place, much more than the rest of Icecrown. Relics of war still haunted the valley, reminders of a time that many would like to forget.
From far away he had seen his soldiers gathered behind the battlements and when he reached the wall and walked upwards to the top they all turned towards him. Arno nodded but wasn’t sure whether he wanted to smile or frown at the sight of Firemaw, while Boom, the gnome with an obsession for explosives, and all the other undead only stared at him, awaiting orders. Behind him on the ground were most of the catapults that had been salvaged, boulders and chunks of saronite ready to be fired.
Bolvar looked beyond the wall, to his left a gargoyle observing the landscape from a lofty vantage point. The enemy army loomed in the distance, an endless sea of black that quickly rose up the slope and poured through the mountainous path into the frozen wasteland surrounding Icecrown.
A swarm of bats brought the army to a standstill. Mal’ganis appeared, grinning as always.
“Death knocks at your door, my puny king.” He bellowed as he extended his arms.
Firemaw rose high into the air for all to see and then Bolvar pointed it at the dreadlord who smiled no longer. The air around the whole weapon shimmered, its runes gave off a warm glow, and soon after the tip of the blade became as bright as fire.
“I am death.”
The land before the wall burst into flames, fissures and cracks spreading in all directions, fiery tongues within the inferno. Mal’ganis narrowed his eyes and clenched his jaw as the chaos settled down and gave the signal to advance.
The damned surged forth, and the flames of hell welcomed them.