March of the Giants
Even the weather is against me.
Arthas knew that strictly speaking, his thoughts were false. In all that he'd seen, and all that he'd read, he'd never encountered anything that would suggest, much less confirm, that the weather of Azeroth was guided by some divine hand. But even so, the weather outside the command tent had taken a turn for the worse. The wind was howling. The snow was flying around like arrows, and cutting through flesh with the force of daggers. Already he'd received reports of frostbite amongst the command expedition, some of which could not be healed by magic. He imagined that if he stepped outside this tent now, he'd hear their cries upon the very wind which had harmed them. As a boy, he'd been told of the horrors of the First and Second Wars, of men who'd had their limbs amputated. Now, as the Scourge wreaked havoc upon Lordaeron, he'd seen it for himself.
But at least there, it had been summer. Strictly speaking, it was summer in Northrend as well, as incredible as such a claim was. Before he'd brought the fleet into Daggercap Bay, Captain Mason had told him that they would have to finish this campaign quickly. That if it dragged on even into autumn, ice sheets around Northrend would reform, and their ships could be encased in ice until next spring. Arthas, for his part, had remained silent. They might defeat Mal'Ganis in the summer, they might defeat him by the following year, they might fail, and their deeds lost to the annals of history, while their bodies were lost to the snow. But in the end, it didn't matter. Either he would return to his father and toss the head of the dreadlord before him, or vice versa.
But even then, the weather. Frowning, he looked at the command table - so far, the map was little more than wavy lines. An amalgamation of maps of Northrend made up to a century ago, along with Muradin's own expedition, along with what the Alliance force had seen of Daggercap Bay itself. So far, a little camp, with little lions, with nothing to represent the Scourge. Not after they'd wiped out the undead forces stationed here in their initial assault, after linking up with Muradin. But...frowning, he glanced at the figurines on the table's side. Carved ghouls, leering their teeth, as if designed by a madman to give him nightmares. No doubt before this campaign was over, he'd have plenty of need for those toy soldiers. He reached out for one of them, putting his gloved hand on the ghoul's head. Not moving it, just admiring the craftsmanship...funny...adjusting its angle, it was almost as if the creature was looking right at him. He'd killed so many of these creatures, and beheld their corpses upon soil and stone...but looking at it now...it was almost beautiful. As if-
He immediately let go of the figure. It fell off the table, and landed on the carpet below. Arthas, however, barely paid it heed. Instead he looked at the man who'd entered the command tent. Clad in golden armour, his hair covered with snow, his gloved hands rubbing together, failing to stop his shivering.
"Captain Falric." Arthas sniffed as Falric walked up to him. "Did you forget to dry after showering?"
Falric looked at Arthas. "What?"
Arthas gestured towards the man's hair.
"No, my lord. Just...well, one does not walk into the tent with their helmet on."
"No," Arthas murmured. "I suppose not."
He tried to keep the disdain out of his voice, watching Falric shiver like a child. He could expect this from lesser men (and over recent months, he'd seen that many within the Alliance lacked the stomach to do what was necessary), but not Falric. Not a captain in the Grand Army of the Alliance, veteran of two wars, sworn to defend the crown of Menethil and flag of Lordaeron with his last breath. If Falric was letting the cold get to him, who in this world could he possibly trust?
Not Uther, Arthas thought to himself. Not Jaina...
"See the game's going well."
Arthas brushed his thoughts aside and looked at Falric. "What?"
The captain was looking at the table. "No Scourge here to fight then, eh?"
"I assure you captain, there'll be plenty of undead to fight before this is over." Arthas walked over to a nearby cabinet, upon which was a bottle of wine and a handful of glasses. "Anyway, speak. You didn't come through here to admire the toys."
"What? Oh, yes, of course." Falric fell silent, waiting for Arthas to hand him the glass. He gave the prince a look. As if wondering why Arthas wasn't having any himself.
"Speak, captain. The days here are long in summer, but they don't last forever."
"Fair point." Falric took a sip, as if steeling himself. "Prince Arthas, Captain Morten has fled the camp."
Arthas remained silent.
"By our count, he's taken about twenty men with him."
Arthas remained silent.
"I've talked with some of the soldiers. They indicate that Morten was ranting about us being doomed to die here. That the ice would take us, or the undead. That you'd led us to our doom, and our only hope for survival was to take our chances in the wastes."
Arthas remained silent.
"And I..." Falric took a sip, before murmuring, "and if it pleases the prince, I would like to take a contingent of knights to find him."
Arthas, ever so slowly, turned around and walked to the far end of the tent. To where a desk was waiting, along with a parchment and quill.
Not that he had any intention of writing letters today. Maybe to his father, to explain what he'd done, and to urge him not to listen to any words of poison that Uther or Jaina might whisper into his ears, but now? Well, suffice to say, those who'd written that the quill was mightier than the sword were wrong. The last two decades had demonstrated that most aptly.
"My lord, the longer we wait, we-"
"Wait until the storm ends," Arthas murmured. "Then you may find their bodies." He sat down, and seeing the look Falric was giving him, added, "those men are dead to us either way. If they've perished in the storm, then we'll have to burn their bodies, lest they be added to Mal'Ganis's forces."
Falric, looking ill, gave a small nod. Before whispering, "and if they seek to return?"
"Then we..." Arthas trailed off. He was going to say 'use them as an example,' but Falric was demonstrating an disturbing lack of fortitude right now. "Then we'll decide how justice should be administered."
Justice meaning imprisonment or death, after all. There were plenty of pikes that had been set up around the camp's perimeter. Not all the heads on them had to come from skeletons or ghouls.
Falric sipped his wine, before bowing, and turning from whence his came. Leaving the empty glass on the table, right beside a figurine of a footman. For Arthas, it represented what the grog had done to Falric, and what could be done to those who followed him. He would have preferred not to take it at all, especially since ever since Stratholme, his sense of taste had gone to the same place that Uther's spine had fallen into. There might have been a time when they'd be sipping such beverages together, laughing, and reminiscing of old times, but that was before Uther had betrayed him.
Frowning, he took one of the parchments, pressed it against the desk, and began to consider his words. 'Dear Father?' 'To the King?' He didn't want to sound too familiar, but nor did he want to sound too distant. He didn't want to give Terenas II Menethil of Lordaeron too much credit, since if he'd instituted quarantine over the Northlands like the Kirin Tor had pleaded, their kingdom might not be in the mess it was. On the other hand, his father had not betrayed him like so many others had. With quill in hand, telling himself that it wasn't shaking, he-
There was a crash of thunder. And the sound of a voice, with the words "ach lad, it's blowing out there like a doodle's cock."
Arthas winced. From the desk, he looked down to see Muradin enter the tent. Like Falric, he was covered in snow. Unlike Falric, he wasn't letting it get to him.
"Hello, Muradin," Arthas murmured.
That didn't necessarily mean he was interested in company right now.
Despite his diminutive size, Muradin appeared to take up the whole command tent. Behind his bushy beard, Arthas could make out a smile. "Ah. Writing letters are we?"
Arthas remained silent.
"Look at you, come so far, writing all formal like. I remember when you were a wee lad, who-"
"Fortunately for us both, Muradin, I'm not a child anymore," Arthas snapped.
The dwarf's smile faded. "Careful, Arthas. There ain't nothing to smile about, losing youth."
Arthas chuckled. "Losing youth, for Light's sake..." He rubbed his eyes. "I don't care about youth, Muradin. I care about the children yet unborn. About those who may lose their fathers over the coming weeks. And I care about stopping the beast that would rip those children from their mothers' arms."
"Wee dramatic, don't you think?"
Arthas didn't say anything, so the thunder answered.
"But eh, what do I know? I ain't no frost giant."
Arthas knew better than to ask, but couldn't help it. "Frost giant?" he murmured.
"Aye lad, the frost giants. The giant beasties that roam the peaks of Northrend."
"Oh." Another one of Muradin's crazy stories. Stories that he might have enjoyed once, but now didn't have the time or even inclination for. "Well, that sounds fascinating, but-"
Thunder crashed again and Muradin laughed. "Well, that's a good sign, ainit?"
Arthas frowned. "I fail to see how a storm is a good sign. The blizzard is bad enough."
"Oh, blizzards come and go," Muradin said. He walked up to the cabinet that had the wine on it. "But the frost giants, well..."
He looked at the top of the cabinet. He looked at Arthas. Sighing, the prince got to his feet, reached to where Muradin couldn't, and poured him a glass.
"Ain't you havin' none?"
Arthas walked back to the desk. "I don't drink."
"Oh, fancy pants Prince Arthas, too holy and too royal to drink with the lowly commoners, eh?"
"No, Muradin. I just don't drink."
"Ah, well, it's only manling pisswater anyway." Muradin took a sip. "I mean, not too bad...nothing like you'd get from Ironforge, let alone Aerie Peak, but..." He took a second sip. Then a third.
Should I get you the bottle? Arthas wondered. And why are you even here?
He suspected that unlike Falric, Muradin was here on pleasure rather than business. And in another life, that would have been fine. But pleasure had to wait. Muradin had led his dwarves here in search of a blade, Arthas had come here to find a monster that he could use a blade against. Technically, a hammer in his case, but he told himself it didn't matter. Mal'Ganis had to die. Who delivered the killing blow was, at the end of the day, irrelevant.
Thunder crashed again, and Muradin chuckled. "Giants are still marching."
Arthas sighed. "Fine. Tell me about those giants."
Muradin finished off the wine. "Might want to sit down, Arthas."
Arthas grimaced. "I am sitting down."
"Nah, I mean, after you pour me more wine."
Arthas silently obliged.
"Right," Muradin said. "So the frost giants. Brann could tell the story better than I could, but-"
"The abridged version, Muradin."
"Abridged, eh? Well that'll take the fun outta it." Muradin sipped more wine. "Alrightie. Well, frost giants are big beasts that live in the peaks of Northrend. Said to be children of snow, and the fathers of blizzards. That they stay in silence, watching the snow war against the land."
War. Arthas knew about that.
"That in the beginning of the world, things were good. The snow was pure. The blizzard was grand. Only as time went on, things changed." He took another sip. "Little things, at first. Less snow upon the ground. Less strength in the storm. The blizzard began blowing in other directions. That the blizzard was less interested in waging war against the land, and remaining on top, and more interested in other things."
"Other things?" Arthas murmured.
"Aye lad. Women, gold, power, all that fun stuff."
"Women..." Arthas tried not to think of Jaina. "Well, guess the storm had the right idea then."
"Right..." Muradin looked confused, and a bit concerned, as if he might be talking to a eunuch. "Well, it's said that when the frost giants move, war will begin again. That a glorious age will return. Oh yes, the blizzard will continue to blow, but the blizzard will never commit to the battle the way the frost giants will."
"And who are the frost giants fighting against?" Arthas asked. "The land?"
"Oh, that. Anything and everything really. I mean, the frost giants stay true to themselves, keeping the purity the blizzard lacks and…well, you wanted the abridged version, right?"
Arthas shrugged, and Muradin sipped more wine. "Blimey, it's still pisswater," the dwarf said.
Arthas was barely listening. Instead, he murmured, "don't suppose you could turn those frost giants of those on the Scourge then."
"I dunno lad. Why don't we take a hike up the mountains tomorrow and see, eh?"
Muradin smiled. Arthas didn't.
"Or not. Point is, then...that I…well, I'm worried about you."
Arthas rubbed his eyes. Here we go.
"Mean, back in the capital, you could be a right ol' pain in the arse, but-"
"Times change," Arthas said. "People change. Armies change. Yes, Muradin, armies. The entire nature of war could change against the undead, since we can't win by attrition. We might need smaller armies of elite heroes, rather than games of grand strategy. This might be the last time I...we...fight a war like this. But even if that isn't the case, I'll be damned if I lose."
Muradin frowned. "Ain't worried 'bout no armies, Arthas. Worried about you."
"Well don't be," he snapped. "Because what will happen tomorrow is that we'll begin scouting the area. Not for frost giants, or magic snow, or anything like that, but Mal'Ganis. And as long as you're here, you and your dwarves will do your part, understand? If not, then..." He chose his words carefully. Choosing to whisper, "then I can arrange a ship to take you back home."
It wasn't lost on him that he was showing Muradin more sympathy than his own men. And given the look on the dwarf's face, it wasn't lost on Muradin either.
"Do what you have to do lad," he said, putting the empty glass on Arthas's table. "In the meantime, you wanna talk? I've still got an open ear."
Arthas knew that Muradin meant well. Nevertheless, his lips curled in a frown, he gestured to the tent's exit. The fabric flapping in the wind.
Muradin bowed, and headed out. Thunder crashing in the sky as he exited, adding to the howling of the blizzard.
Frost giants, Arthas thought to himself. Spare me.
His feelings didn't. Ten years ago, even five years ago, things would have been different. Simpler times. Innocent times . Timeswhere he'd dared to hope that...well, that the world would be better than this. That for the third time in recent history, the Eastern Kingdoms wouldn't be facing annihilation. That he wouldn't be at the roof of the world, waging a war that no-one seemed interested in fighting. That he wouldn't be fighting against the Scourge, but the weather as well. He looked at the empty glass, before, with a yell, knocking it aside.
It shattered, as it hit the army table. And for an age, Arthas sat there. In silence. Beholding the broken pieces of something that was once beautiful, never to be made whole.
Listening to the howling of the storm.
And to the thunder of frost giants.
So recently, a number of Blizzard ex-devs formed Frost Giant Games, apparently with the desire to get back to making RTSes. Gave me the idea to drabble this up.
...okay, that's not the whole story. Reportedly, there's been reports that people within Blizzard have been trying to make more RTS games for years, only Activision doesn't see any value in the genre. Whether that's true or not...well, here's the facts. There'll never be a Warcraft IV, Warcraft III: Reforged was a disaster, and recently (as of this time of writing), development for StarCraft II has ceased. Obviously it's up to a studio as to what kind of games they've made, but it's a bit disheartening to see Blizzard completely abandon the genre that put them on the map, and with said genre being pretty dead. Anyway, drabbled this up...before I realized that frost giants already existed in Warcraft lore, but meh.
Also, I rarely plug my own oneshots, but I've posted another oneshot titled Long War's End. If this covers the "Warcraft side" of things, that covers the StarCraft side.