Chapter One: King Arthas
Alexstrasza the Lifebinder stood in the heart of darkness. Once it had been a place of life and beauty, adorned with blue banners and guarded by soldiers in shining mail. Servants, courtiers, merchants, and all the rest walked the halls.
Now they had died or fled. She brushed a strand of red hair from her brow sadly as she observed those who ruled in place of a good king. It was three demons.
They were pale-faced, with black horns and long claws. All were clad in fine clothes. The largest, Balnazzar lounged on the throne of King Terenas, sipping a glass of blood. Varimathras, clad in crimson, was at his right hand. And Detheroc in green was leaning against a torn curtain on the wall, arms crossed.
"It's been months since we heard from Lord Archimonde," said Detheroc. "I grow tired of watching over these rotting undead! What are we still doing here?"
"We were charged with overseeing this land, Detheroc.," said Balnazzar. "It is our duty to remain here and ensure that the Scourge is ready for action."
"True, though we should have received some kinds of orders by now," noted Varimathras.
Alexstrasza turned from the window of the secret passage and looked to Kel'thuzad. It was a bitter irony that Alexstrasza should find herself in league with the undead. And working against a race that was among her most beloved. "It amazes me that these Dreadlords could be so out of touch that they do not even realize what has happened." The news has been spreading through your cultists for months."
Kel'thuzad was unphased. "Their ignorance is a subject I find impossible to understand myself. However, the longer they remain in command, the more they run the Scourge into the ground."
Then, suddenly, the doors were struck. They shuddered beneath a blow, and the Dreadlord's looked up. Again they struck, and the doors cracked. Alexstrasza sighed. "He does have a sense of dramatics, doesn't he?"
A final blow was struck, and the doors broke open. Arthas Menethil strode into the hall, clad in the garb of a paladin. His cloak was white as he strode forward, Frostmourne gleaming brightly in his hand.
Behind him came the Cult of the Damned and many lesser undead. The Detheroc backed away to stand at Balnazzar's left as all exits were cut off. Arthas bowed sarcastically. "Greetings, Dreadlords. I should thank you for looking after my kingdom during my absence. However, I won't be requiring your services any longer."
"Prince Arthas!" said Balnazzar.
"This land is ours!" said Detheroc. "The scourge belongs to the Legion!"
Varimathras said nothing and seemed to be calculating.
"Not anymore, demon," said Arthas. "Your masters have been defeated. The Legion is undone. Your deaths will complete the circle."
"Never!" said Detheroc as the ghouls converged. "This isn't over, human!"
There was a flash of green, and they were gone.
Kel'thuzad and Alexstrasza looked at each other. Then the Lich motioned and teleported down to stand before Arthas. "At last, the matter is concluded, Prince Arthas."
"I am aware," said Arthas. "However, you will now address me as King. This is, after all, my land."
"Long live King Arthas!" called a cultist female.
"LONG LIVE THE KING!" cried the other undead that could speak. "LONG LIVE THE KING! LONG LIVE THE KING!" Those that could not roared instead.
The call was taken up, and the undead, ghoul and human alike cried in triumph. Arthas smiled as the cheers resounded throughout the undead infested city. Alexstrasza had never seen such enthusiasm from undead before.
"Now we must secure the Kingdom by forcing the last remaining humans to bend the knee," said Arthas as it died down. "Alexstrasza, were you successful in arranging a meeting?"
"Yes, I was," said Alexstrasza. "Magroth the Defender leads the paladins near to the capital city. He has long been a thorn in the Dreadlord's side. However, he has little love for you, and you will be hard-pressed to gain his friendship."
"I do not need his friendship. Merely his submission," said Arthas.
"That may be difficult to gain, Prince Arthas," said Kel'thuzad. "Perhaps an assassination-"
"No. That will set a bad precedent," said Arthas.
"As you wish," said Arthas. "Serena, take charge of restoring this matter. See to it that none of the Dreadlord's servants escape with their lives. Those who have betrayed the Scourge deserve no mercy.
"Alexstrasza, Kel'thuzad, we will set out with an army at once."
"An army?" asked Alexstrasza. "To what end?"
"I would not put it past the Alliance to murder me in parley," said Arthas. "I want an army nearby when I do."
And so they left. Alexstrasza walked with the King. Wherever they went in the streets, the undead rejoiced. It was a dark mirror, a twisted inverse of what Alexstrasza thought of as good. Here was a Prince, beloved by his people being hailed for liberating them from slavery. And yet his people were flesh-eating undead fueled by unholy magic. Their tyrants were even fouler demons. And the freedom they sought was to destroy all that lived.
It disturbed her. Far more than it would have if he'd been a dreadlord, who cared nothing for his servants. What greater threat was there than a virtuous knight in pursuit of evil?
Soon they left the gates, and Arthas was riding. As he rode, she walked beside him. She was unsure how to regard him. "Arthas, do you regret your past actions?"
He looked up in surprise. "No."
Alexstrasza managed to hide her surprise at that. She failed. She supposed she ought to have chiding words for him, but she didn't feel she was in a position to judge. She might proclaim that she must stop him, but they were allies at the moment. "Why not?" Was all she managed to say.
"The Alliance had it coming," said Arthas with a shrug. "The trolls joined the Horde because we were chipping away at their territory. After the Second War, the High Elves slaughtered the trolls in an outright genocide. No one cared.
"Even the Cult of the Damned was drawn from the people who the Alliance were tyrannizing over."
"Is that the only reason?" asked Alexstrasza.
"No," said Arthas. "I've always tried to see the bigger picture when I act. Burning Stratholme will haunt me to the end of my life. But I don't regret doing it because it was the only way to stop Mal'ganis from gaining an unstoppable army. No one else provided any alternatives that would work.
"I did what was necessary. I got my hands dirty.
"But the people of Stratholme were doomed," said Alexstrasza. "Surely destroying your own kingdom must have seemed… different to you."
"Why would it?" asked Arthas. "I admit it wasn't pleasant, but in retrospect, it was an essential part of the plan to kill Archimonde. I saw what he was capable of myself.
"And even if I did regret what I did, what should I do? Beg for the Alliance's forgiveness? They'd kill me without a second thought and go right back to murdering Forest Troll villages. Go into hermitage and whine about my failures? I think we both have better uses for our time.
"No, you'll find no teary proclamations of regret from me. I accept what I have done and what it entails. Besides, if the orcs are excused their actions, so am I."
Alexstrasza looked at him in a new light. She wasn't sure how to regard this. Here was a man for whom pragmatism was morality. That which was best for the greatest number of people was the right thing to do, and all else was a luxury. "If that is the case, are you trying to make amends for your actions?"
"In a manner of speaking," said Arthas.
Alexstrasza considered him. She tried to sense his intentions, but his heart was cold and closed off. "What are your goals in all this?"
Arthas considered that. "To reestablish my power over Lordaeron and unite all the races within into a single power. Not just human, but troll and undead. I will make a new nation, more powerful than any before it."
"To what end?" asked Alexstrasza.
"My own power and also to finish crushing the Alliance," said Arthas.
"And yet you are making peace with them," said Alexstrasza.
"I am ending civil war between my people," said Arthas. "One that the Alliance is directly responsible for." He looked away. "The Alliance is a symbol. Symbols are given power by the people who fight for what that symbol represents.
"And what does the Alliance represent in your view?" asked Alexstrasza.
"Brutality, genocide, narrowmindedness, disloyalty, and ultimately, failure," said Arthas. "It clung to its ideals when those ideals sabotaged success. And it betrayed those ideals when it ought to have held firm. If their priority was safety for the member nations, Father ought to have purged the orcs and been done with it.
"If he put his priority on creating a utopia, why did they inflict such brutality on the Forest Trolls? Why were orcs in internment camps treated like animals, rather than human beings? Why was Alterac treated with such brutality? My Father wanted to be a benevolent king. But the taxes levied to pay for the internment camps were half responsible for the Cult of the Damned."
Alexstrasza marveled at him. Arthas had looked on one of two great hopes for Azeroth in the grand plan of the Dragon Aspects. And he had disregarded it as a petty tyranny destined and deserving of destruction. She was almost impressed. "And what will this Kingdom of Undeath you create offer in its place?"
"It won't be a kingdom of undeath," said Arthas. "If I pursued the dream of destroying all life ingrained in us by the Legion, it would destroy us. Once there are no more living creatures, there will be no more corpses. Undeath needs life to survive.
"No, I will not wipe out other races. I will not even force them to worship me. I will create a coalition of races — one where all who are part of it will have an equal say. No more will the Kirin Tor be able to experiment on sentient creatures. Neither will Forest Trolls and Gnolls be free to raid and pillage.
"Disputes will be mediated in council."
Alexstrasza was surprised at this. Arthas had struck her as one obsessed with having control over his situation. Perhaps as a response to his loss of control. And yet he seemed to want to create a loose coalition, founded on similar ideas to the Alliance. But one that held true to the original vision. "And how will you reign over the humans? Surely you do not think they will accept you?"
Arthas shrugged. "I will not rule humankind directly. That much I am certain of. I will take a role as High King, and I will ensure the peace between the races is kept. I will let the races mind their own affairs, but I will have a hold over them.
"I will order things in pursuit if peace and prosperity. The undead shall be my army for this purpose."
"And with this peace, how will you maintain the flow of corpses?" asked Alexstrasza. "You need them to maintain the undead."
"All who dwell within my realms will be free to choose to become undead in exchange for service," said Arthas. "As for the less desirable states of undeath, ghouls shall be created from the corpses of criminals. Murderers and thieves who will work off their crimes in the service of our army."
Alexstrasza found herself both impressed and slightly horrified. Undeath as both a form of ascension and also a punishment. "This seems well thought out.
"Do you believe the paladins will accept such a policy?"
"Not at once," admitted Arthas. "But in time I hope to create a nation where all the races of Lordaeron coexist."
Alexstrasza saw before her many paths leading from this moment. Good and ill, each one with its own heroes and villains. But for the moment, she found she approved of the motives within this place. She smiled at him. "It is an ambitious project, young king. But Camesaeron seems a dream worth seeking."
"Camesaeron?" asked Arthas, voice surprised.
"In the ancient Arathorian Tongue it is translated as Arthas' Kingdom," said Alexstrasza.
"I know," said Arthas. Alexstrasza turned from the line and walked away. She was interested to see where Arthas' story led.
A few days later, Arthas found he missed Alexstrasza.
She was easy on the eyes for one thing, with her majestic beauty and ample curves. More importantly, however, she was one of the few people around him who was not a rotting corpse. He had long since grown used to dealing with such things, but the contrast had ben a welcome change of pace.
It helped that she neither put on heirs of righteousness or judged him. She seemed more interested in understanding. He had not expected her to accept his ambitions so readily. Self-righteous condemnation was something he had grown used to rejecting out of hand. However, she had seemed merely to challenge him to do what he proclaimed he would. Almost interested to see if he would. Arthas did not intend to disappoint her.
"We are nearing the pass where we are meant to meet the humans., said Kel'thuzad. "He will meet us there."
"Leave the troops some ways behind," said Arthas. "We will cross over alone."
Death Knight and Lich made their way into the pass. The hills on either side were high and rocky. Climbing over either would be trouble. And at the chokepoint There they saw Magroth the Defender standing by, hammer in hand. "There he is," said Kel'thuzad as they neared. "Let us hope that Magroth the Defender is in a conciliatory mood-"
"Arthas, you wear your father's crown as though you earned it." scoffed Magroth. "You may kill me, but my brethren will never stop hounding you."
"-nevermind," said Kel'thuzad.
Arthas opened his mouth to speak.
"Whatever demands you make, we will never stop defending Lordaeron!" proclaimed Magroth, his paladins yelling affirmations. "We will never give up! If you seek our submission, you will not get it! If you seek battle, then come traitor and taste the wrath of-"
"I am willing to formally acknowledge you are the rulers of this region of Lordaeron," said Arthas flatly.
Magroth fell silent. Murmurs broke out among the paladins. They obviously had not been expecting this. Finally, Magroth looked back to him. "What do you mean?"
Arthas sighed. "I am here to negotiate. Negotiation traditionally involves both factions giving something up. Do you really think I would have arranged a meeting with you simply to gloat and make demands?
"If I were interested in giving an ultimatum I would have given it after I killed you. I'm fully aware they will have no effect on paladins."
"What trickery is this, then?" asked Magroth.
"Put down your hammer and discuss it with me," said Arthas. "Then you may feel free to make a judgment on the subject."
Magroth lowered his hammer. But he did not drop it. "Say what you will, we will listen."
"The Dreadlord's are driven from the capital," said Arthas. "The Scourge has arisen to overthrow them, and now I am the leader of the undead. Very soon I will have purged the remaining demonic loyalists. I have many allies already, the Forest Trolls and the Ogre Legion. Even the remnants of Alterac.
"Once the Dreadlord's have been swept away, the pressure will be on me to claim all that remains of Lordaeron. However, I do not desire that. I have freed myself from the Lich King; I have no desire to become a new one."
"You betrayed the Kirin Tor," said Magroth.
True, but Arthas doubted Magroth had proof. "Who told you as much?"
"Who else could have managed such a thing?" asked Magroth. "The Forest Trolls all departed once it happened."
"An experimental magical portal can collapse on itself," noted Arthas. "As for the Forest Trolls, do you blame them? Grand Marshall Garithos is well known for his racism. They had no desire to remain in his service.
"But this is not relevant. I do not wish to rule over humanity as king. That time has long passed. But if I am not perceived to rule over them, the pressure will be to wipe you out."
"What do you want, then?" asked Magroth.
How many times was he going to ask that in different words? "You and your order will pledge loyalty to me when I at last rule over Lordaeron. You will then be left in place to rule over the domains you protect as Lords. We may negotiate the details once all that has been achieved.
For now, all that I ask is that we create a truce. No more undead will go against your forces. In return, you will not longer persecute members of the Cult of the Damned, or raid our forces."
Magroth turned and spoke with his paladins. Arthas was annoyed that he was not asked for time to confer with his associates. There was no good reason for Magroth to refuse. If Arthas wiped out the Dreadlords, they could gather strength whether he kept his word or not. If the Dreadlords defeated Arthas, they'd be weakened and the paladins no worse off.
Of course, paladins were not chosen for their skill at negotiation. They were a hammer and the undead until recently had been the ultimate nail. Arthas was just about ready to order a retreat when Magroth turned to him. "Very well then, Arthas. We will defend against any assaults with our lives, but we will not attack you. However, we are not blind. Should the Silver Hand see that you are purging the living, you will suffer our wrath."
"Of course," said Arthas. "As of today, the vendetta between us is put on hold."
And so Kel'thuzad and Arthas returned to their army. Arthas allowed himself to smile as he returned. "At last we have taken the Alliance out of the fight! Once we've gathered our forces, we should be-"
And then agony seized him. He fell from Invincible's back and hit the ground. Reeling, he saw a vision. A black-cloaked figure moved toward a suit of armor, lying broke and surrounded by ice. A voice echoed within his thoughts.
"My champion, I have awaited your arrival." said a voice within his mind. "Soon our powers will be as one…"
The Lich King.
Arthas was pulled up and fell forward to kneel on Kel'thuzad's shoulder. "My King, you are not well."
"Take me back to the capital," said Arthas. "We'll finish our business here and make preparations to make. I must speak with Alexstrasza soon."
Things had just become far more complicated.
Well, here is the first chapter of Legacy of Salvation, the next installment of the Mercyverse. I've had this one well planned out from the very beginning. What I didn't count on was Alexstrasza's presence. I'm afraid there has been something of an aborted arc in this series, though it will probably come up later. I went to all the trouble of foreshadowing a character in place of undead Sylvanas, and then Alexstrasza just sort of walks in.
For now, enjoy.
In case you missed the reference, Camesaeron is a reference to Camelot. I felt that it was necessary for a new name to be brought in for what Arthas intends to build. It is more or less unprecedented within the context of Azeroth.