Chapter Twelve: Journey to the Mountain
The lands of Northrend had a certain desolate beauty below them.
Arthas gazed down upon the broken, frozen land far below. The beat of Tyrygosa's wings resounded around him. Mentally, he directed his men below to battle, fighting elves and naga in the battles below. The combat was dragging out now to a war of attrition, and that gave Arthas the advantage.
Still, a lull had come in the fighting, and he felt a sense of unbearable frustration.
How long was he going to have to fight these endless battles? He'd thought he was nearing the end of things when he destroyed the Dreadlords. But it seemed he'd be fighting for the rest of his life.
Depending on how things went, that could be a very long or short period of time. Still, he decided not to dwell on this. Glancing up to Anub'Arak, he smiled. The Crypt Lord was looking a bit uncomfortable within the baskets. "Well, this is quite a sight, isn't it? Have you ever seen anything like this, Anub'Arak?"
"No," said Anub'Arak. "My area of expertise until now has been focused on the underground, and I have rarely left it."
"Well, you have now," said Arthas.
"So I have," said Anub'Arak. "I do not think I wish to repeat the experience."
"Look there!" cried a cultist. "Dragonhawks!"
Arthas glanced up. Sure enough, saw the Dragonhawks of Quel'Thalas coming toward them. They golden feathered creatures flew forward, with elven riders on their backs. Bolts of magical energy surged toward the Blue Dragons. However, they veered away and breathed frost in turn.
"Damn it, Kael'thas was waiting for us," said Arthas.
Then, just before the battle could be joined, a vast storm of snow flowered between the two of the sides. The Dragonhawks were forced to draw back, and Arthas saw them fleeing away. For minute after minute, a vast blizzard churned, keeping back their enemies.
"A blizzard," said Anub'Arak.
"You do not think we lack the ability to use Northrend for our own advantage, do you?" asked Tyrygosa, flying beside them. "The Dragonhawks will not pass us."
The blizzard lasted for perhaps an hour, yet it did not deter the Blue Dragonflight. They flew on and on, and eventually got into far rockier terrain. Wherever they looked, Arthas saw many strange creatures walking. Vast, savage looking things like centaurs. They wielded huge weapons.
Some waved their weapons threateningly at them, but the Blue Dragons ignored them.
At last, they touched down, coming to rest before a great pass. Arthas stepped out of the basket alongside his forces. Anub'Arak lumbered out as well, stretching a bit as he dropped on the snow drenched ground.
"So, here we are at last at the pass," said Tyrygosa. "I hope you know what you're doing, Arthas."
Arthas considered the possible results if he did not know what he was doing. If he lost here, the results could easily be... disastrous. From a utilitarian perspective, he ought to have brought his forces to bear, no matter the cost. But then, a utilitarian perspective had gotten them into this mess.
"Believe me, so do I," said Arthas. "Though I do not see the entrance."
"We can't take you any further," said Tyrygosa. "The Dragonhawks are out in force, and we've had many near misses. Malygos is calling us back."
"Very well then," said Arthas. "Thank you for taking us this far."
Tyrygosa nodded. "Farewell."
Then she kicked up and flew away. Kalecgos scoffed and did the same alongside the others. Arthas looked at Anub'Arak and his honor guard and sighed. "You're certain we can reach the glacier through these tunnels?"
"Nothing is certain, death knight," said Anub'Arak. "The ruins will be perilous, but it's worth the risk."
"All right. Let's go," said Arthas.
It was an oddly familiar journey they took now.
Something about the way they walked within the craggy stones stuck in Arthas' memory. Had he been here before, in these icy hills? No, no, he had not. But the situation was similar.
Glancing to Frostmourne, he realized he was leaving his men once again. Once again, to seek a desperate hope at salvation because that had worked out so well last time.
Except it had.
Archimonde was dead; the Legion shattered as a result of him taking up Frostmourne. If he hadn't, they might have beaten the Legion. But the Legion's high command would remain strong. Yes, Lordaeron would be standing, but...
Lordaeron would be standing. So would a great many other places.
Did it matter if Arthas killed all of his enemies if Azeroth was left a ruined and dissected husk? What achievement was it to kill a Dark Lord if all that you loved was destroyed by him first? The Dragon Aspects seemed to think that it was one, but...
Well, Medivh said that many other worlds would survive because of Archimonde's death. But who was to say he was right? Medivh had been wrong about many things, and he was only interested in the safest path. If everyday people fought for the right, Archimonde would die anyway. Archimonde had been injured, and if he had been faced by a unified front, some great hero might have defeated him.
Why was it necessary for the races of Azeroth to sacrifice everything? From their homeland to their very identity to kill him? And if they had to do that, didn't it mean the Burning Legion was right? If good could only triumph temporarily over evil and at irreparable cost, what did it mean? Combine it with evil, always coming back stronger; then evil was stronger. And if there were evil factions, the good must ally with, who grew in power and never paid for their crimes...
Then wasn't good just a tool for the wicked? Didn't good exist as a peasant does to a lord. A stupid, slow, but useful tool to be utilized and then thrown aside. A brute who existed to benefit an aristocracy who knew better than to believe in such things as justice.
Arthas remembered Theramore and how it was doomed to be destroyed.
In Medivh's ideal future, Lordaeron ceased to exist. Its people were exterminated by the orcs, down to the last child. Not because they had disobeyed the instructions. Why wouldn't they be? They had outlived their. The only colonies that survived were the ones Arthas founded against his wishes. Medivh had promised salvation to the Horde. But he'd only proclaimed to the Alliance that they were doomed if they stayed in Lordaeron.
He hadn't mentioned they'd only be given a delay in their execution if they went to Kalimdor. The Prophet had literally brought Jaina west to die. Arthas imagined a future where he had succumbed fully to the Lich King.
What would have happened then?
Visions of never-ending carnage-filled his gaze. A world where victory was shallow and hollow. A place where the same, meaningless speeches were paraded around over and over again.
Sudden anger filled Arthas. Why was it that good people had to pay the price for wicked men's sins? The orcs had sought the complete extermination of this entire world. Not out of any compulsion, but because they ruined their own. The Cult of the Damned, meanwhile, was raised from the desperate. Peasants and persecuted people who the Alliance had abused and failed. How was it fair for the orcs salvation to be a priority to the point where entire worlds must die. But the Cult of Damned was to be annihilated completely.
Arthas would not concede defeat.
He would not abandon his principles as inconvenient to the greater good. Nor would forget grievous atrocities to his people. Nor would he forgive those who had not even admitted to their misdeeds. The Scourge had a right to exist, just as the Alliance and Horde did.
And he would ensure their survival.
Why was he thinking about this? It changed absolutely nothing. And anyway, Arthas had done his fair share of atrocities as well. How was it fair for him to pass judgment when he was hardly better.
Arthas decided that he was glad he'd left the bulk of his forces behind. Even if he failed, he was certain they'd find a way to survive and thrive. He'd already won them several victories while on this journey.
"We've been walking for hours," said Arthas. "We've got to quicken our pace. Kael'thas may grow still more powerful while we wander."
"I left many of my warriors on the outskirts Icecrown before I came to find you, death knight," said Anub'Arak. "They will keep the enemy occupied while we come to reinforcements."
"Tell me, where are all of your people?" asked Arthas. "Shouldn't there be nerubians around here-undead or otherwise?" They neared a set of ground doors built into the mountain, engraved with many strange symbols.
"You may thank Captain Falric for that," said Anub'Arak.
And then the doors were flung open, and many dwarves with guns trained them on them. Others emerged from the rocks and trailed them downrange. "You can thank us, ye rotting bastards! We've been watching ye all along!"
"Muradin's dwarves," said Arthas with a sigh. "I might have guessed." Mentally, he urged his men to take cover behind some nearby stones while facing them down.
The dwarf scowled at him and raised his gun. "We've been wandering this forsaken land ever since you tried to kill Muradin and left us to rot, Arthas. Our leader, Baelgun, led us into the ruined city to survive."
"But there's no way we're letting you in!" said another.
And then someone apparently decided to open fire. There was a bang; smoke kicked up and a lot of other bangs. One of the shocks bounced off Arthas' shoulder pad as he ducked for cover. Invincible neighed and leaped behind the rocks as well.
Hitting the ground, he plunged into the snow as more bullets smashed into the stone walls. Anub'Arak went for the rocks, unable to duck low and was hit several times. Not that it helped any.
Quickly crawling across the ground to cover, Arthas slipped behind the stones. Bringing up Frostmourne, he glanced at the blade in annoyance and waited for the guns to stop.
They did not stop. In fact, a bunch of other dwarves came by and starting firing as well. And someone apparently was feeling festive, because they brought in beer.
"For Khaz Modan!"
"Kill 'em all twice, that's what I say!"
"This is for Muradin, ye bastards!"
"A pint for every ghoul ye blast!"
"Shoot anything that shuffles or skitters!"
"Shall we attack, Death Knight?" asked Anub'Arak.
"No, don't bother," said Arthas. "At the rate they are firing, they'll run out of ammunition in an hour or two. We'll suffer fewer casualties this way, and they can't have supply lines."
And then Arthas glanced back and saw them bringing up mortars. Loading shells they launched. The first of them smashed into the ground, leaving craters. Soon the dwarves were starting to get nearer to the mark.
"Shall we pull back?" asked Anub'Arak.
"They might pursue us," mused Arthas. "If so, we could catch them in an ambush. I had hoped to avoid massacring them, but they did shoot first." Looking at Frostmourne, he motioned to Anub'Arak.
"Hold where you are, stop it now!" said a very familiar voice. "Stop wasting the ammo! We've little enough of it as it is!
"Bloody hell, didn't you get the message from Proudmoore! We're not fighting these undead; we're neutral!"
Hmm, so Jaina had been busy then, hadn't she? What had she done to manage this? Either way, Arthas pulled himself up and saw a familiar, blonde-bearded dwarf. He was making his way across the field under the flag of parley. Motioning to Anub'Arak, Arthas stood up and moved toward his old friend.
Arthas considered begging for forgiveness, but he didn't really feel any remorse. The Alliance had more or less had its fall coming for years. Besides, it wasn't as if anyone had given him the opportunity to abandon his wicked deeds.
The Paladin Order had jumped at the chance to butcher him.
Frankly, Arthas thought he'd handled things fairly well. Everyone he'd killed had been in a fair battle. And Uther had been a rebel against his legal authority as King. Father hadn't had any idea what he was doing anyway.
Besides, if he hadn't done as he'd done, things would have been much worse. So said the Gods of this world. Still, how to approach this?
Ah, yes, how he automatically approached self-righteous people presuming to judge him.
Muradin scowled at him. "It's been a long time, Arthas."
"Muradin..." said Arthas with a rueful smile. "Doesn't anyone stay dead anymore?"
Muradin punched him in the face.
This was going to be one of those days, wasn't it?