Old Enemies, Old Friends
“Highlord Fordring. I have a report concerning Northrend.”
Tirion sat on a bench reading in one of his few moments of leisure. He faced the messenger as soon as he heard his voice. “Everything is in order, I suppose.”
Sweat trickled down the messenger’s cheeks. “Actually...sir, there—you better read it yourself, my lord.” The renowned paladin put the book away, stood and took the letter containing the report. “I was only given a brief summary of what the report contains.” The messenger spoke as Tirion opened the seal and began reading. “Some mages of the Kirin Tor offered me safe passage to Hearthglen. Their abilities are at your disposal, sir. They await you at the main entrance,” he said, though he wasn’t sure his words had been heard. Then, for the first time in his life, he saw Tirion Fordring, wielder of the Ashbringer, slayer of the Lich King, become restless.
“I need a horse. Now.”
While the messenger searched for the squire Tirion entered his beloved house. Across rooms and down a stairway that coiled its way far beneath the earth he went. A door, humble in its decoration yet locked in all possible ways stood before him. Only he knew how to open it and as he did so his eyes once again relished the sight of the Ashbringer.
Bolvar gazed at the valley before him. His army looked at him from below, their eyes flashing a blue glow. The world changed in his mind and he stood there atop the icy cliff as Arthas, his immense army screeching, roaring, the rattling of bones even loud and clear at that height. His deathly cold eyes shifted to the right and turned into a fiery orange as Arno approached Bolvar, the memory hiding in a dark corner of his being.
“The army is ready,” Arno said, “though I’m not sure I’d call this...an army. How on Azeroth do you plan on defeating this dreadlord?” He waved his hand towards the rabble of undead, their numbers far from being the machine of death that had once been the Scourge.
Bolvar could sense Mal’ganis’ undead force. They were many yet they were not the massive army he had expected. “It will do. Send the gargoyles and start marching towards the remains of the harbour of the Scarlet Onslaught, it is there where his forces will attack. I will meet you shortly.”
Arno nodded. “We’ll await you there.” He marched towards the edge of the cliff and blew a horn. The sound aroused the undead. Their battle cry echoed across the valley and the gargoyles shrieked as they took to the skies. They flew north towards Hrothgar’s Landing and farther they went the more they appeared as bats.
Hmm, something is amiss.
Bolvar looked down and observed the black ice. To his right there was an immense crevasse and in front of him a hole. Though time had altered it there was no doubt that something very sharp had once pierced it.
This Iron Horde they speak of, Ner’zhul continued. It might not have belonged to this world.
“What makes you think that?” Bolvar asked and began striding in the gargoyles’ same direction.
In your slumber a great deal must have happened, Fordragon. What precisely I do not know, yet whatever it was came from the Dark Portal, or rather, through. There is no other possible explanation.
The snow was thick yet Bolvar waded through without any effort. What was tiring him was Ner’zhul voice.
I think I felt...myself.
That surprised him but he had other things on his mind at that very moment. He arrived at the Argent Tournament Grounds, or what was left of them. Flagpoles jutted out of the snow, the fabric fluttering wildly in the wind, stone and timber lay forgotten around the area, and a graveyard kept watch on the frozen landscape. He stopped when the sea came into view and the gargoyles disappeared in the fog.
They flapped their wings above the frozen sea. The weather this far north was never kind to anyone and in winter it was even more harsh. Shipwrecks encased in ice pointed upwards as if they were skyward bound and as the gargoyles neared Hrothgar’s Landing other shapes dotted the landscape but they were far from motionless.
An undead taller than a human though similar in appearance shambled forward, his beard a mix of hair and icicles. He was followed by more creatures like him, many of them wielding spears and all of them mindlessly marching south-west but his weapon bore more ornate decorations than the rest. Alongside them were undeads shorter but with wider girths. Their round bellies, if they still had them, had turned white in the cold and ribs, broken or whole, were sticking out like pikes. The gargoyles circled above them twice before returning to Bolvar.
“Keep an eye on the living,” he said and they flew to different parts of Icecrown.
His fingers twitched. The battle was about to begin.
“We’re ready,” Arno said as Bolvar joined his army.
No one would’ve believed that the plot of land they were standing on had once been a harbour. The whole place was a jumble of frozen sea spray, snow, stone and charred wood. Any sort of equipment had been looted, though not everything had been taken, Bolvar noticed as his feet tapped against something made of steel. He pulled a round shield out of the snow and tested its weight. He had never gone in a battle without his sword and shield and while he was still missing a weapon having a shield reminded him of the man he was, or rather, had been. Ice caking his newly found piece of metal turned into vapour in an instant as his fingers tightened on the handle.
The march began.
Onwards and never looking back, a mass of creatures straight out of the nightmare followed the lead of the Lich King, a living flame amongst a host of frozen souls.
“Wait.” He extended his arm sideways. A briny wind whipped up snowflakes and blew them against his army.
Anarak stepped off the beach and onto the frozen water. He stamped one of his feet and after listening for a while he clicked his mandibles. “They’re coming,” he said as he scuttled back to Bolvar. “Big and tall, small and short. They make a lot of noise.”
Another gust of wind and another round of unsettling silence. Bolvar looked to the east, to the west and to the south.
Arno raised an eyebrow. “What’s wrong?”
The first figure appeared out of the fog. Its spear caught the eyes of both Bolvar and Arno.
“Wait for my signal.” Bolvar observed the enemy. A second later he caught a spear inches from Arno’s face that would’ve probably gone through his skull had it not been for his hand. “Focus,” he said and began testing the weight of the spear while the soldier of the Ashen Verdict drew his weapon.
“We’re yours to command, sire,” Anarak said, his many eyes set on the undead that lumbered towards them.
The spear burst into flames, molten lines carving their way across the shaft to its head. Bolvar tossed the weapon in the air and threw it as soon as he grabbed it again. It vanished in the fog after flying through the neck of an undead. The fiend burnt bright and its bones and flesh burnt away, though it only came to a halt once its legs became useless.
“Not yet.” He noticed Arno was eager to fight.
The dreadlord’s forces came forth. Whether they had been enemies in life did not matter. Kvaldir and Tuskarr now fought side by side. Amongst the Kvaldir there were some who could cast spells and even manipulate mist as they pleased.
Bolvar tried to control them. He focused on the Kvaldir with the ornate spear yet all he managed to do was learn his name. Hrothgar, the word echoed in the undead’s mind.
Dreadlords are no fools, Fordragon. The only way to gain control of Mal’ganis’ forces is to slay him.
The enemy army stopped. Hrothgar stretched his jaw and planted his spear, his eyes never leaving the Lich King. In truth, all of the undead surrounding him and still shambling out of the mist looked at no one but Bolvar.
“It begins,” Hrothgar’s rotten lips moved, “my dear king.” His voice was grating and discordant.
Bolvar recognised the dreadlord’s rhetoric.
The Kvaldir stepped aside and the enemy army divided into two, a wide gap between them.
“Something comes.” Anarak leaned close to the ground. “On the frozen sea, though I can feel its steps here too.” He narrowed his many eyes. “There, sire.” He pointed at the mist.
A frosty chitinous shell appeared hovering towards them. A moment later they saw its two arms and huge four legs, a horn that could’ve impaled five men in one swift thrust, two eyes that were full of resentment. The creature had once been a king and had died protecting its kingdom, twice. It had died a third time yet Anub’arak had not gained the peace he longed for.
“He lives.” Anarak rasped after clicking his mandibles as he often did.
Anub’arak stomped forward, the wind blowing through the holes in his body or against loose parts of his carapace. His wings were barely intact.
“The Lich King had many servants in the past,” Hrothgar said. “Let us see how willing they are to serve him again.” He grinned.
Bolvar almost felt pity for the nerubian. “Show yourself, Mal’ganis.” Steam flowed out of his mouth.
Anub’arak stopped beside Hrothgar. “Not fond of challenges?” The Kvaldir spoke. “Arthas was always eager to test his strength, are you not?”
“Let me fight him,” Arno said.
“No,” Bolvar replied and then pondered. “Give me a weapon.”
A sword was what he wanted, but a spear was what he got. A bony finger was still wrapped around it. “It’s the best thing I found,” Arno said. “Might have belonged to someone of the Argent Crusade.”
The ice coating the spear melted and the finger fell. “Don’t drop your guard.” Bolvar marched forward.
He had vague memories of the crypt lord. In all of them he looked less dead and more alive, though he had been as dead as the skeletons that had served the Lich King. He had been one of Arthas’ most loyal servants, yet the prince had always been wary of him. The nerubian had not willingly chosen to slaughter his own people and serve him.
“You are not him,” Anub’arak said, a piece of one of his enormous mandibles dangling in the wind.
Bolvar stared at the nerubian’s glowing blue eyes. “No, I am not.”
“My quarrel is not with you,” Anub’arak said after glancing at the Helm of Domination, “but with the prince and the spirit, yet once again my will is not my own.”
The Lich King and the so-called Traitor King looked at each other. “Arthas is no more.”
“That...I can see. My people have been avenged, though the Helm still remains.” He clacked his mandibles.
Allies. “Would your people help the Lich King if it came to it?”
Anub’arak laughed. “Help?” He turned towards Anarak and thought deeply. “Time is fleeting, human. It is time to prove your worth.” He stepped backwards. “Kill or get killed,” he said. “Only one shall stand.”
Bolvar looked to the east and the west, then even to the south but when the ice began to quake his focus shifted to the massive nerubian that charged at him. He stayed put, spear and shield at the ready.
He rolled to the right and poked him with the spear. The nerubian charged and swiped his thick front limbs. Bolvar ducked the first time, then the second and on the third time he thrust, piercing Anub'arak's decrepit shell. Spikes erupted out of the ground and Bolvar leapt, thrusting again and wounding the nerubian close to the head. The nerubian spun and slammed his limbs against Bolvar’s shield. He slid sideways across the frozen sea and this time he took the initiative and dashed towards Anub’arak.
Enough of this, Fordragon. Use your powers and end this farce.
His shield started glowing as if it had come straight out of a furnace. The nerubian roared, the ice shook, the wind howled and Bolvar tossed his shield, scorching and lacerating the crypt lord’s carapace, too fast for him to dodge completely.
Anub’arak brought down his scythe-like limbs as the two clashed, yet Bolvar voluntarily fell and slid, spear still in hand. The ice cracked where limbs fell and the nerubian stamped each one of his insectoid feet as Bolvar vanished below him, all missing him by inches. He appeared behind him and rose from the ground. Bolvar climbed onto his back and jumped into the air, his weapon pointing downwards.
And he thrust.
Anub’arak shook him off his back and Bolvar rolled away with neither shield nor weapon to use. The huge fiend rushed headlong against him. He avoided the horn and wrapped his arms around it, the two skimming across the sea until they came to a stop.
“You are strong,” Anub’arak said as Bolvar wrestled with him, “but he was stronger.”
The air around Bolvar became hotter as he narrowed his eyes and when a swarm of frosty locusts took flight from the nerubian’s back and surged forward they all burnt away before they could even touch him.
The horn snapped and the Anub’arak reeled back, then he closed his jaws on Bolvar but molten hands kept them open. Saliva trickled down the nerubian’s snapping mandibles while Bolvar’s volcanic muscles tensed, the veins in his arms glowing like rivers of lava. The coldness emanated by the crypt lord fought against the Lich King’s searing aura, their eyes fixated only on each other.
Bolvar shoved him away and as Anub’arak attempted to bite him again he curled his fingers into a fist and hit him hard. He punched him twice and a mandible flew away, he punched him a third time, pushing him further back, and the nerubian staggered for a few moment before resuming his attacks. Bolvar pulled his arm back, the air thrumming around him, and drove his molten fist into the insectoid face. Anub’arak slid away and Bolvar rushed to meet him. His left hand struck first, then his right. Left, right, left, right, over and over again until the crypt lord gained some distance and rose. Bolvar stamped one foot and a fiery fissure cut its way through the ice and made the nerubian lose his footing. Another fist came, another fissure opened and as Bolvar ducked he brought his fist upwards. The force of the impact forced Anub’arak to expose his abdomen. Bolvar stepped forward, thrust his hand and a second later a torrent of fire burst out of the nerubian’s back, the smell of charred rotten insect pungent.
Bolvar backed off and the ice quaked as Anub’arak tumbled down, smoke wisping up from the hole in his body. He lay there, defeated, his breathing unsteady.
“Protect...my people.” Anub’arak managed to say, resignation in his eyes.
Raise him, Fordragon. He could be useful in the future.
A molten hand gently touched the nerubian’s forehead. Fire slowly enveloped the whole body of the once king of Azjol-nerub in an almost tender, caressing way. Anub’arak looked at Bolvar and closed his eyes. “Thank you,” he whispered and the traitor king was no more.
“The dead will stay dead under my reign,” Bolvar said.
Then your reign will be a short one.
He turned to Hrothgar yet all the Kvaldir did was grin. “Ah, ah, ah.” Bolvar thought he could hear Mal’ganis voice. “You’re not paying attention.”
Kvaldir, Tuskarr, and every other creature Mal’ganis had brought here turned to mist and disappeared in a gust of wind.
Bolvar fell on one knee and grasped his head, overwhelmed by what he sensed.
You fool. The dreadlord wanted to see for himself for you were capable of, and now you’ve showed him.
To the east, to the west and to the south. Countless undead revealed themselves all at once.
“Highlord Fordragon!” Arno came. “Are you all right?”
“Northrend...is surrounded.” Bolvar stood, still grasping his head.
Arno was taken aback. “Surrounded?” He raised an eyebrow. “What?”
“Mal’ganis’ forces...they’re all gathered on the continent’s shores. They’re marching inwards.” He rubbed his eyes. “To Icecrown.”
“Hundreds,” he said but Arno didn’t change his expression. “Thousands.” Concern washed over his face. “Millions.” That made the soldier of the Ashen Verdict gape.
“Millions?” Arno said in disbelief. “We, we must immediately alert the Argent Crusade, Wintergarde, Valgarde, everyone!” His fingers tightened around the hilt of his weapon. “Even the Horde.”
“Do not ever show hesitation, Highlord Fordragon,” Lady Prestor had said. “A ruler must never hesitate, a ruler must never appear weak, a ruler must never fall victim to self-doubt.”
The Scourge made its way across the glacier back within the safety of the tall black walls crisscrossing the area around the citadel. At the head of the column marched Bolvar, followed by Arno and Anarak. The trek through the unforgiving landscape gave him time to think, to plan, to decide.
A gargoyle joined them and screeched. An army, mostly composed of humans, had stationed itself outside Mord’rethar, while a smaller force awaited orders within the Argent Vanguard, the Argent Crusade’s main base in Icecrown. But someone else stood idly by beside a snowy hill north-west of the base, away from the dead and the living.
“Wait outside the citadel,” Bolvar said as he approached Arno and Anarak. “There is something I must do.”
Both Arno and Anarak nodded and Bolvar branched off from the column. More memories flooded his head, some more unpleasant than others. He strode past remains of siege engines and jagged rocks, over the very ground where one of the greatest conflicts of all time had taken place, skirting cliffs that had seen horrors beyond imagining and trudged through the snow until he was on top of a hill. The blade of the Ashbringer gleamed in the faint light.
“Bolvar!” Tirion turned.
Bolvar’s eyes studied him. “Tirion.”
Strands of grey hair swayed in the breeze. “What are you doing here?” Tirion said. “And, by the light, why are the undead moving about?”
Bolvar breathed deeply. He couldn't tell whether the paladin was pleased to see him or not. “A storm is coming.” His gaze went to the mountains in the east. “Get everyone out of Northrend.”
“Out of Northrend?” Tirion was puzzled. “This is madness, Bolvar.”
Kill him, Fordragon. He will only thwart our plans.
“An army of undead advances under the command of a dreadlord. This is only the beginning.”
“Impossible!” Tirion’s tabard fluttered wildly. “We have scouts everywhere. No army can go unnoticed.”
“Yet it has.” Bolvar’s voice was almost toneless. “Valgarde will soon be attacked. I can...sense it.”
The paladin widened his eyes for a brief moment. “No, Bolvar, my friend. You cannot do this, not now, not at this very moment. Everyone thinks the Lich King is dead. Everyone thinks you’re dead. Let the Alliance and the Horde take care of it. Let the Argent Crusade take care of it, for light's sake.”
“Both the Alliance and the Horde have to watch over their lands and your order will not be enough.” He exhaled. “I must do this.”
Tirion shook his head. “No, Bolvar. It would do more harm than good. I cannot allow it. I—“
“Allow?” Bolvar faced him. “I AM THE LICH KING.” The ground shook and a gust of hot wind blew against the paladin.
Tirion’s hand had involuntarily clasped the hilt of the Ashbringer. “Bolvar,” he said as he released his grip, “what...what happened to you?”
Bolvar huffed. “Bolvar Fordragon is dead.”
The paladin sighed and looked away. “I will do what you asked, but I cannot promise you anything.” He took his leave. “Know this,” he said before taking another step, “that if you should ever fight against my people I will have to protect them, even from you, my friend.”
The wielder of the Ashbringer left, the sound of the snow crunching under his feet diminishing by the second. Bolvar grasped his head instead and then observed the frozen wasteland around him. He shifted his eyes to the raven on a leafless tree and the bird cocked its head.