Chapter One: Flight from Northrend
Upon his dark throne, the Dreadlord Mal'Ganis waited.
He had dwelled in these blackened and terrible halls for some years now and grown quite fond of them. But all too soon, if all went well, the Burning Legion would move beyond them. They would go on to warmer realms than snow drenched Northrend. Sometime after that, these halls would cease to exist. Or at least become only one of many fortresses in a world filled with them.
The doors opened, and Mal'ganis looked to see a Necromancer entering. The man kneeled before him and set his staff at Mal'Ganis' feet. "Lord Mal'ganis, we have a serious problem."
"What is it, Necromancer?" asked Mal'Ganis.
"The troops we sent out to halt the Alliance's retreat, they've been completely annihilated." said the Necromancer. "Prince Arthas has led an uprising of the natives to destroy us. Now they are united and are launching raids across our outposts."
Mal'Ganis nodded. He'd expected such an action and knew well that the Lich King was putting forth his will for that very purpose. "Muster our forces; we must repel them at once. What of Prince Arthas?"
"He is nearing the ships now." said the Necromancer.
Mal'Ganis allowed himself to smile. Baiting Prince Arthas Menethil down the path of darkness had been a hobby. One that he enjoyed a great deal. Arthas was a unique specimen, both devoted to the cause that he called right. And yet willing to do almost anything he deemed necessary. Passionate, yet calculating, and what was coming would be the culmination of his work.
"Then perhaps I should go see," said Mal'Ganis.
From there he shifted and stood upon a high clifftop, flanked by trees. Far below, he could see the shore. There was a fortress that had been assembled by Prince Arthas, but it was unoccupied. The ships there were unguarded, easily destroyable. The only thing that could save the Legion that even now was hacking its way through the trees. How they yearned for their home?
They would never see it now.
For Prince Arthas and Muradin came out of the paths to a clifftop overlooking the ships. With them were hundreds upon hundreds of ogres and trolls. A force hired to destroy the fleet that was to take Prince Arthas home. It was final defiance of his superiors at home — a prelude to their destruction.
Mal'Ganis could not have planned this better himself.
But Arthas halted, hesitating to give the order. The will of the Lich King surged down on him, but still, he stood reluctant. The dwarf looked up to him. "Is it worth it, lad? Is vengeance worth all this?"
Of course, it was worth it. There was nothing not worth doing if it did not achieve your goals. And yet Arthas remained silent. Then he turned to the mercenaries. "You may disperse, you have performed your duties and aided me in ridding your land of the scourge."
"You mean not ta burn da ships?" asked a troll.
"Take your payment and go," said Arthas. "Our contract is fulfilled."
And off they went. Mal'ganis stared in horror as months of work and years of research came to naught. This was impossible. Arthas had slaughtered his people; he'd had everything precious torn from him. He'd been driven to his emotional and physical limits! And he'd said no anyway. How was this possible?
Arthas shoulders slumped as he fell to one knee. "I'm so tired."
Muradin put a hand on his shoulder. "For what it's worth, lad, I think you made the right decision."
Then out of the trees came Arthas' men, clad for war. They ran to the ships with joy in the hearts. They were going home in triumph and victory. "Ah, we've done it, lads. Let's board the ships and go home!"
There was silence from the Lich King. Ner'zhul was speechless. So was Mal'Ganis, come to think of it. Slowly he realized that all his efforts so far had been in vain. His armies in Lordaeron had been crushed. Stratholme destroyed and his plans foiled, the Cult of the Damned had fled into hiding. And now Arthas was just leaving.
He was abandoning the hunt.
"Obviously the Prince is not as strong as the Dark Lord predicted," said Mal'Ganis, trying to reassure himself. "No matter, the Legion has plans within plans. This choice will bear no more fruit than any other."
But he didn't believe it.
All that effort, all those plans within plans had failed. One after Arthas had tripped up each one until at last; he came to the final trap and… left. All that Mal'Ganis had tried had been a waste.
As the Lich King howled in fury, Mal'ganis returned home, feeling miserable.
When he got back, he found the same Necromancer waiting. "Lord Mal'Ganis, we've managed to beat back several of the raids. However, it will be some time before we are able to launch any reprisals. Prince Arthas destroyed most of our standing forces in this region and we-"
"Enough," said Mal'ganis, in no mood for more bad news. "Prince Arthas' has flown the coop, and now the Lich King is without a champion. All our efforts thus far have been for naught. Tichondrius will be displeased when he learns of what has happened. We must find a way to salvage the situation.
"…Take command in my absence. I will see to Lordaeron."
Mal'ganis was on autopilot as he transported himself back to Lordaeron. He walked the blighted parts of the land, trying to think of what he had done wrong. Perhaps a different kind of mockery? He should have killed that Proudmoore girl, instead of letting her walk off. Perhaps if he'd done that…
It didn't matter. The Prince had beaten him.
"Lord Mal'ganis, you are here," said Rivendare.
"Yes, I am," said Mal'ganis, getting a semblance of control back. "And I am displeased with how the scourge has conducted itself thus far. What progress has been made on the mission I gave you?"
Rivendare looked to the others, then back. "All the towns and villages have begun to check their grain shipments. Arthas saw to that. I doubt we'll be able to use the tactic again.
"Lordaeron city is practically impenetrable. Dozens of sorcerers are checking the place daily.
"However, if Prince Arthas were to-"
His failure was rubbed in his face again. Mal'ganis felt himself shaking with fury. He was angry, very angry. Angrier than he'd ever been. "Prince Arthas has chosen his side. And it is not ours. With his seal, we might have plagued the city of Lordaeron easily. But we do not have it.
"We will have to improvise."
"Then let us launch an all-out assault, Lord Mal'ganis!" said a cultist. "We may summon forth our reserves from Northrend! If we could destroy the capital, our enemies will be thrown into chaos! From there we may harvest the corpses of the dead and use them in an unstoppable army!"
Mal'ganis liked the idea. To assault the capital even as victory celebrations were underway. To burn and destroy everything that Arthas had worked for at the hour of his triumph. The idea was appealing beyond measure. "It is a pleasant idea." But reality struck him. "Still, we have not performed well in direct confrontations so far. Though if we were to strike hard enough…" He could summon frostwyrms and gargoyles. He could burn the city, kill Arthas, and force him to serve anyway. But he had underestimated the Prince before and here he would be at his strongest. "No.
"No, we will have to improvise. Send word to all your necromancers. Have them begin raiding graveyards. Pay cutthroats to provide us with fresh corpses. Avoid direct confrontation if you can and bolster our forces. If we strike at weak targets, the humans will be drawn out to face us."
Mal'ganis had lost. But a new game began now.
The people of Lordaeron welcomed home their returning troops with cheers. They cast rose petals down upon the soldiers, who marched in great ranks. Woman swooned, as choirs sang and church bells rang in celebration. On and on it went, as Arthas walked the main street of Lordaeron City, flanked by Falric and Marwynn. Muradin walked alongside him. The two friends had spoken little since they arrived in Lordaeron. Arthas had wanted to go back to making war on the undead right away. But everyone had insisted that his most important duty was to be the hero.
That had always been his duty. Everyone looked at him to inspire them. Yet he had never felt colder and more distant from his people than he had right now. His faith in the light was shattered. How could he have faith in a power which had allowed this to happen? Its warmth had gone out of his heart. Worse still, he suspected that his friendship with Uther destroyed. The man who had been a second father to him was not among the guests as he entered the castle. His only desire right now was to see Jaina and speak with her about something. Anything really, just as long as he was with her.
He scarcely noticed the palace halls as he passed through them. Everything had become a terrible, dark filled blur. He and Muradin entered the throne room. Then went through the front door, being careful not to slam them against the walls. They fell to one knee before the throne of his Father.
King Terenas looked far older than he was. The failing years of the Alliance had weighed heavy on his heart. Even so, he rose to greet the two.
"Ah, my son," said King Terenas, "I knew you would be victorious."
"Victorious?" asked Arthas. "Mal'Ganis is still alive. He will return. This war is far from over because Uther had my forces recalled."
"This task was far greater than any man can undertake alone, Arthas," said Terenas as he made his way down the steps. "Even so, you have caused our enemies great harm and rescued a Prince of Ironforge. That is accomplishment enough for now." He turned to Muradin, a wryly amused smile coming to his face. "You look much the same as you did when last I saw you Muradin."
"Well, I'm a bit older," said Muradin as he arose, returning the smile. "Not any wiser though."
There was a mutual laugh which Arthas did not share. He remained silent, barely remembering to stand up as he looked down at the floor. King Terenas looked at his son with a certain understanding. "Lord Uther has informed me about the situation, in particular, Stratholme. I want you to know that, given the situation, I think that you did the right thing. "Sometimes, a few must be sacrificed for the good of the many. It's a bitter lesson I had to learn as well when I became King."
"Do the Paladins share your optimistic assessment of the situation?" asked Arthas darkly.
"Of course not," said Terenas in frustration, "they lack perspective." Silence overtook them. "I've taken steps to ensure that all grain shipments are inspected from this point forward. The dreadlord will not take us by surprise again." He clasped Arthas by the shoulders. "I want you to know that I am proud of you."
It meant a great deal to Arthas. Far more than he thought it would, and he felt a lump come to his throat. Suddenly he found himself wanting more than ever to speak with Jaina. "Father, where is Jaina? I have not seen her among any of the guests."
Terenas fell silent. "Regrettably, the Prophet who came through here convinced her. She contacted the rest of the Alliance and convinced them to undertake an expedition to Kalimdor. You missed her.
"I see," said Arthas darkness returning to his tone. "Is there anything else?"
"Well there is to be a great feast tonight," said Terenas, voice light. "the like of which has not been seen since the second war ended. It will help peoples spirits I think. After that, there are some other matters which will need to be addressed. But don't concern yourself with those right now.
"We've won a great victory, and soon we should be able to finish the war."
Arthas almost believed him.
So, for a while, I've had this idea for a fanfic called the Scarlet King. Originally I was not going to write it. But when I drew a bit of fanart for it, and someone requested I write fanfic on it the gears started turning. Part of the problem is that it and A Strategic Withdrawal have the same divergence point. So I settled on having the same scene be from Mal'ganis perspective.
I wouldn't even be posting it, but I've completely drawn a blank on my daily chapter.