I hate the cold. I grew up in Feralas, far away and long enough ago that I can hardly remember anything about my old life there. Not so old that I can remember the Shifting Sands or the Sundering, not long enough ago to count Staghelm or Stormrage as my comtemporaries, but compared to the company I keep now I'm old enough.
I hate the cold. I hate it so much. I'm no shrinking violet like so many of the others here, the guards who…there I go again. These are good men and women who came up here, left their families behind in the warmth of the south and came north to try and do the impossible. Now I'm mocking them like they're cowardly children forced into doing house chores, when nobody else has stepped up like they have. We elves made our own share of mistakes, and when they rose back up as demons we locked them away and forgot about them. These humans and dwarves and gnomes watched their king become a demon, and instead of hiding away they have thrown their civilisation at his gates to break them down and correct their error. Now here we are too, dragged out here north in their wake like fish being sucked in by a passing boat's wake.
Maybe it's the blood. So many of us seem to feel it. Stormrage felt it and drank enough power to drive himself mad with fury and make deals with entities nobody, mortal or immortal, should so much as glance at. Staghelm sought it out to replace the loss of his son and while he hasn't fallen yet it feels like he teeters on that cliff every day. Whisperwind's arrogance and confidence in what she had of it almost cost us a war, when we were offered help in good faith, and took it like we were doing the mortals a favour. It seems like all of elf history has the search for or holding back of power.
I feel it too, staring down on the endless fields of white and grey from the window of this necropolis. Everything is so small from up here, the soldiers and constructs below that towered over us little more than ants. Maybe we're more similar than we'd like to think, the elves and the undead. Both of us view mortals from beyond some plateau they cannot cross; us from the distance that our age gives us and them from the other side of death itself. Maybe that's why we keep underestimating them, why we elves have been content to stay on our island in our tree and be superior while the humans and gnomes and dwarves have spread across the continent. Goblins and orcs have built airships that can cross the world and all we did was scoff. Now here the undead are making the same mistake. The Lich King has looked out over his country and seen it crawling with our forces, and instead of sending the endless ranks of undead to swarm us he has sent a single fortress, one we have seen before no less. He could teach us a thing or two about hubris.
It's a shame but there's nothing else for it, is what they told us. They had learned hard lessons from the last time Naxxramas had appeared and we were leaving nothing to chance. The corruption of one of the human's highest-ranking Archbishops, as well as the loss of almost every soldier who had worn of been exposed to the armour forged from the cursed material of the necropolis, would not be repeated. A small man, not a fighter at all but we paid attention to him as though he was a king, came and talked with us before we ascended;
Bring nothing back. Don't listen to what you hear. Don't pick up their weapons. Don't eat or drink anything no matter how thirsty you become. Don't don't don't…
An endless stream of rules we have to follow here. When we all met up there were older soldiers among the group that would be going in, survivors of the first attempt on Naxxramas, and to look at them you can see the caution in their eyes, in every movement they make. Every mistake they made all those years ago is coming back to haunt them, sometimes literally as ghosts or wights emerge from the walls or dark corners, and they flinch away at the face trying to reach and devour them. Friends long since mourned and forgotten. For them this is a final cleansing, no mistakes or mercy. The necromancer's soul will not be brought back this time, neither will anything else. It will be crushed here, as will everything else we find, and the citadel thrown to the ground and smashed forever, no single artefact or creature taken for study or as a trophy. The risk is too great. I disagree.
It's because they are paying so much attention to themselves and their less-experienced comrades that I have been able to disobey these rules. I have taken precautions and the Night Elve's reputation for skill and aloofness has worked in my favour, I have been left mainly to myself, just one more face in the raiding party. The inside of my robe is filled with rubbings from the walls and small sharps of metal chipped from the fallen. Nothing that could reveal itself, nothing to show from the outside. Some of these pieces are stained red with blood of those who were not as careful as they should have been, but I tell myself their sacrifice will allow the progress we will make. This will be our redemption, if all goes to plan. Nobody except the mystics of Teldrassil knows we are attempting this. Somewhere inside the walls and knowledge of the undead is power enough to make up for all these mistakes and put us back on equal footing with the younger races that have overtaken us. When I return to the south I will be a hero.
The going is harder the farther in we go and progress as slowed to a crawl. My own pace matches them as I become more weighed down with artifacts and words stolen from the books and walls we pass. I have twice been able to pass them off as spells and equipment brought in from the outside, the pages hidden inside my books, but I feel a twinge of fear whenever the old human Vandar looks at me. He is a survivor from the first incursion, I'm sure of it, and he shows the most caution of them all. Blast it, but I cannot allow this plan to be disrupted by a single man. Ever since the fleshworks I don't think he's quite trusted me.
The fleshworks were terrifying and marvellous. I heard the stories from the royal guard and the small contacts we have within the Horde. Massive engines powered by undead magic that slaved away in the mountains to create being strong as twenty men and twice as hardy, if not exactly smart. Inside the citadel the final products were even grander, and I wonder what good works we could twist this knowledge to if only I can retrieve it. I spotted what could have been a lab or a study as we fought past the giant hounds in the depths, and I wish I could find some excuse for us to double-back there. Alas I am not in command here, just one more cog in the machine.
I will bide my time.
He suspects something, I know it now. We have been inside for two days now, the longest of any of the squads, and when we rest we do not return to the surface, but only to the central wheel, now secured and empty. I can look through cracks in the slabs and walls down to the fields below and feel the icy cold. An hour is all I need, my man is down there in the walled town, waiting for me. But I can't get to him! Vandar suspects me clearly but not enough for him to call me out as breaking the rules. I will not allow this knowledge to be lost, burned down by people too afraid to see what lies in front of them if only they would reach out and grasp it. I have talked with some of the other lower-ranked soldiers, those who also wonder why we are not relieved, those sick of endless fighting in these stone corridors. With luck enough grumbling and we will have no choice but to return.
The things I have seen. I hardly feel the cold now. At nights I have been reading the notes I've taken from the walls. Extraordinary. Whether these spells come from the Legion or the Lich King or someplace even darker I cannot deny their effectiveness. I've seen outlines of magic that if complete could command the undead to drop their weapons and turn on the necromancer. I know the risks and the knowledge remains safely dormant inside these pages, but a simple heating spell will surely not corrupt my mind, and we have not been down to the surface for days now. Vandar keeps us moving and fighting, and the discontent is growing I am sure. Earlier today we passed through the training grounds of the Death Knights that haunt the land below, and we lost a dozen to those frenzied creatures, some frozen to the core and left for dead, others simply stabbed and gutted. Every death I see in this place only cements my purpose here. The undead are puppets on a string, and if I can cut that string – or take the controls into my own hands – so much life can be preserved.
Found out. Damn you old man, damn you and your cowardice! He took a small group of us out to range for the next assault and then turned to me and demanded everything I had. One of the discontents was anything but, and that plus his suspicions have been enough. He isn't fooled by my excuses, he knows the books I carry are full not with the knowledge the cover says they contain but the rubbings and notes taken from the dead citadel. I had a choice to make; hand over everything I had and be turned over to alliance command when we returned to the surface, or be killed for a traitor.
I only escaped because he thought me like any other soldier, not a trained mystic. I regret what I had to do to the man but I had no choice, this knowledge must be preserved. I have been studying and learning what I can from here and it was simple enough to do. The spell I had been using to bring warmth was in truth a spell to simply move around the cold, and I moved it all straight into the soldiers surrounding me. I ran while they were still shivering uncontrollably on the ground. I pray they get up soon, they are short-sighted but not bad men. I will double-back as much as possible, leave the citadel before they return to the gateways and be at the town and out before they suspect. Form there I do not care if they call me cultist or traitor, what I know will be safe in the great tree and from there we will work miracles.
Unbelievable! I knew they feared the place but not so much as this. Vandar evidently recovered faster than I had hoped, and took the straight route back to the camps while I had to move around the secured outer ring of corridors. They have left, all of them, at last. Undone by my own planning, the discontents would have presented no arguments when the old man said they should leave. Whatever excuse he gave for his next step I cannot imagine but it seems that too was obeyed. The gateways outward are inactive, the green hues leading to our mounts outside locked down. I am trapped inside the citadel until the next assault is mounted.
I take it back. Those short-sighted fools. What kind of power might the Alliance have had if the humans had simply been strong enough to grasp it? The first attack on Naxxramas was a brutal mess of death and mistakes, and now we stride it's halls like we own it. If they only taken the same approach to the magic inside as well, what could we have done? I will survive this, find a way out and down and back to my home, and then the mortal races can see what true magic elves can use.
Magic, of course! Somewhere in these halls must be the keys to the gateways. Undead still swarm the surface below, there must be a way down open to them. All I need to do is search. Three wings have been cleared, the Death Knight wing is my best chance. Between my own skills and the powers I have gleaned from this place there will be an answer, if only I dare look.
Or more. I have pages in my robes, pages more memorised. Spells to command the dead and cold. What else is this citadel but bones wrapped around stone? Some power keeps this place aloft, keeps the engines of its forges and fleshworks running. If I can but find that key I can make this place my own, bring to the Alliance not just new knowledge but the fortress itself.
To hell with the humans and their overcaution, I will return in triumph. Let them make their accusations of heresy when I stride into Dalaran with Naxxramas behind me like a faithful dog. Let Vandar arrest me with an undead army at my back.
The next team is inside, and they are hunting me. I see now my mistake. I had assumed he was afraid simply of the necropolis and the things inside. But it goes deeper than that. He is afraid of me now. I went up to them when they first arrived and although they smiled at me and told me that if only I would come back down I would be given a fair chance I could see the daggers at their sides. I walked back into the shadows here and they shouted to wait, but I will not be fooled by so simple a trick.
I have found the study inside the fleshworks. Rows upon rows of books, filled to bursting. It is like a dream. I sat down to skim a page and before I noticed it the candle I used for light had burned to a nub. No matter. With what I can do now my eyes do not need light to see. The fleshworks here have parts to spare, and my old eyes are not suitable to the task at hand. If I am to bring this fortress to heel I must know everything. The food and drink inside the study is pale and tasteless compared to the inns of Dalaran but I have no mana to spare to conjure my own. I am confident I can find a solution to thirst and hunger before the meagre stores here run out. There are shelves upon shelves to read here, and the command runes I have on my hands now do well enough to keep the lesser creatures of the citadel away. Command of the will be soon, and of the greater creatures sometime after. But I am confident.
I am in this, as the humans say, for the long haul.
It works. I am certain of it now. I attempted it against the body of one of my fallen ex-comrades and felt the power flow through the runes in my arm. The pain was harsh but manageable, and it was worth it to see the dead rise and obey. Freshly-dead, the fallen Alliance soldier must not have been under the command of Kel'thuzad, leaving me free to place my mark of ownership first. Now I have a spare pair of hands to fetch and carry while I dig deeper into the storehouse of power in this place. It is unfortunately that I must rely on the freshly-dead for my servants, but due to the assaults there are a dozen or more bodies I can use.
I was not quick enough. Either the necromancer above has snatched them up or the teams that wander through here still clearing the necropolis are taking their dead back with them. Either way I am stuck with the few I was able to raise before my presence was noticed and countered. With few servants I will be unable to usurp the lich until-
Of, of course. How silly of me.
The answer is obvious.
Now I have enough to make my putsch. The teams did their job well before I found them and the necropolis is mostly clear. Vandar was not among the freshly-dead, so he still hunts me. Now at least I will be able to defend myself. I no longer need to eat or drink, I cannot be starved or waited out. My miniature army is small but a good beginning. The runes course down my arms painlessly now that I have extracted the nerves I have no need for. The discolouration left behind is annoying but purely aesthetic. it is unfortunately that the original plan has fallen so far down the wayside, but soon irrelevant. Instead of taking back scraps of knowledge to my fellow mystics I will bring back a whole carcass. Instead of one cog in a large machine I will command that machine. A day or more and the final seals will be unlocked, and then we will see what the Lich King's lieutenant is truly made of. For him to make the same assault twice I doubt he is anywhere near as fearsome as the old man and his fellow survivors say he is.
I have taken the final step. Forced to really. The trap was well-set and only my new power allowed me to escape. I did not feel Vandar's blade as he pushed it through me but the results were obvious enough. My minions beat him back and fulfilled their purpose, allowing me to slip back into the depths. I will not fall here. The threshold has been crossed now, and even in death I remain myself. I am chosen, I am convinced now. Now that the final shrouds of life have been lifted from my eyes I can see so much farther. Let Vandar have his comrades back, I no longer need anyone to face down Kel'thuzad and claim Naxxramas as my own. The grand bone dragon does not even stir as I pass. I can wave a hand and the ghouls and wights that assaulted me when I first came here step back. Only the lich ahead prevents me from assuming total control of the power inside them. The power to control death itself.
I alone shall have that power.
The doors stand ahead of me, bone twisted and wrought like fine iron. Icy wind blasts at me from between the bars even though my body can no longer feel it. I can see shapes twisting there in the distance, as if the room beyond is massive.
Something is looking out at me. I can red eyes. This is him. The power flows out of him like black waves, washing over the undead surrounding him, seeping into their pores. The throne behind him is huge. It will be mine. I am convinced of this now. Destiny has brought me here. Has led me here to take his place.
The gate crumbles as I touch it and there is nothing between us but ice-cold air. I can see no expression on the skull, but I like to imagine there is a glint of something in those eyes? Fear maybe? Does he know I have come for him? Doe he-
I cannot move.
He is holding his hand out, beckoning, but I am frozen to the ground. I realise the gesture is not meant for me as around us the shadows fade away, replaced by huge glass panes looking out onto Northrend, and before all of them teen masses of undead. I reach out with my power and try to grasp hold of one, any of them, but his grip on them is like steel and I feel my own influence slapped away.
Icy fingers in my mind. No. It cannot end here. I was meant to be picked to come here, meant to overthrow you. Every step I took inside this place was destiny guiding me to this pinnacle of undead power, fate leading me to…
My thoughts are growing fainter, oozing through my brain like liquid growing thicker by the second, like freezing water. I fixate on the words I can still see as the ice and snow and rune-etched stone fades and all that is left of my vision is two red eyes staring into my soul. I don't feel angry or afraid anymore. I feel nothing. Strange, I spent so long learning the secrets of how to control the dead, learned as many tricks as I could from the books inside the citadel. In my hubris I forgot who wrote those books, forgot that the thing standing before me knows all those tricks, and better. The skull of Kel'thuzad grins at me as my vision fades and the strings of his power grasp and entangle me. The hand vibrates gently and I feel my body jerk forward, to join the other ranks of the undead. Vandar, old man, I feel we will meet again, and soon.
I've made a huge mistake.