The Prince from Lordaeron @lord22
The Dead Walk

Chapter Four: The Dead Walk

Parting with Sokka hadn't been easy.

Of course, Sokka had put a bold face on it and had been eager to keep exploring. He and Muradin apparently had gotten on well together. They were planning to head further north with some ice troll guards. Apparently, Muradin to assess the area for valuable resources.

Which left Katara with the ship as they and Zuko sailed toward enemy territory.

So Katara had been training with her water bending. She'd taken to keeping water inside a waterskin that she drew it out of. Once she'd gotten the hang of unstopping it with the water, she took to practicing.

And so she moved, slashing the water around.

As she worked, Arthas came up out of the hold. She looked up and nearly splashed water onto her face as she did. Getting the hang of these movements was... difficult.

"Well, I've finished my prayers," said Arthas. "How's the training going?"

Arthas spent a lot of time praying, and Katara once or twice caught him doing it when no one was looking. To say nothing of when he was downstairs, praying. "Oh, pretty well. This scroll helps a lot.

"You know, a lot of these movements are part of dances that my people have during celebrations. I actually have been doing them for years without knowing. Though, I wish I could do them outside."

Arthas smiled and moved past. "Let's try to keep that a secret for the foreseeable future. Knowledge is power, after all."

"Why do you spend all that time praying anyway?" asked Katara. "We don't have anything like that."

"It helps me focus," said Arthas. "And it helps me attune myself to the lights will. Both are valuable. You should try it sometime."

"Sorry," said Katara. "I wouldn't feel right doing it."

Then a man came down the stairs. "Prince Arthas, we're nearing the port."

Arthas nodded. "Right.

"Katara, would you like to accompany me?"

Katara smiled and tried to suppress her blush. "Of course."

Zuko was on deck when they arrived. He'd spent a great deal of time on this ship, speaking with Arthas. Several times they'd even sparred, and Zuko had proven Arthas equal with swordplay. But now Zuko was tense as he looked over at the port ahead of them.

Katara stopped as she saw them. Before them was a huge port. Nearly a dozen, huge vessels were moored against the shores. Beyond, she saw numerous structures with slanted, black roofs. The entire place was surrounded by a large wall. Men in armor were standing by, ready for war.

"Hmm, these are all war vessels," mused Arthas. "Prince Zuko, should you not be supplied with a better ship than this?"

"My own vessel is ideal for long-distance travel and avoiding notice," said Zuko, looking away. "A larger vessel might attract attention. And also... when I left, Father was not happy with me.

"This is part of a lesson."

"I see your point," said Arthas. "Well, you could consider this exile to be an opportunity."

"An opportunity?" asked Zuko. "What do you mean?"

"You are able to interact with soldiers without a position of authority," said Arthas. "You'll be able to see who people really are. When you become Firelord, you can choose good subordinates."

"Why so confident I will become Firelord?" asked Zuko, sounding surprised.

Arthas shrugged. "You are the eldest son. As long as you regain your Father's good graces, you will be the heir apparent. Unless, well, do you think your sister would make for a good Firelord?"

"No," said Zuko firmly. "Azula used to play tag with other children by throwing fireballs at them. She views people as objects." Well, that was... completely insane.

"Well, if your Father is as wise and powerful as you say he is, he wouldn't have such an heir," said Arthas. "Will he?"

Zuko looked away. "I guess not."

Arthas smiled and clapped him on the back. "Then you have nothing to worry about."

At that moment, Falric came forward. He always seemed to be around, though Katara had hardly interacted with him. "Prince Arthas?"

"Yes, Falric?" asked Arthas.

"A word, if you will," said Falric.

Arthas and Falric then moved over to one side, far enough away that Katara could not hear. Interested, she made her way over to listen.

"I don't approve of this mission we are going on," said Falric.

"You don't think Zuko can be trusted?" asked Arthas.

"I don't think we should have anything to do with the Fire Nation," said Falric. "I saw what Ozai did firsthand during the Second War. The man is no visionary but a thug."

Arthas nodded. "I believe you.

"However, Ozai is going to try and wipe us off the face of Azeroth sooner or later. When he tries, we'll have to dethrone him. Having a contact in Zuko will prove valuable when that happens. And the trade agreement could help both nations in the short term.

"Or do you want a repeat of the Alterac fiasco?"

"I take your point, sir," said Falric.

"I thought your pretensions to kindness were unwarranted," mused Zuko. Had he heard that?

Arthas, however, kept his cool and made his way over. "I'm a Prince Zuko. Every move I make has to be calculated for the betterment of my nation. It doesn't mean I don't consider you a friend."

Wait, he considered Zuko, a friend? Since when? Yes, they'd been together for that past few days but...

Saying it seemed to effect Zuko, though.

"I will never betray the Fire Nation," said Zuko.

"And I'm not expecting you to," said Arthas. "But if your father does invade us, we have to have a plan for that eventuality. We were betrayed by Alterac during the Second War. After we dethroned King Pernolde, we spent years trying to find out the succession.

"In the end, there was none.

"We had to absorb it into Lordaeron, which damaged the Alliance overall."

Zuko said nothing as they slid into the port. On the dock before them was an old man, short of build but stocky. He had a long, white beard, and with him was a taller, muscular man with a brown beard and hair. They stood waiting, messages having been sent ahead.

Arthas led them down the ramp to meet them.

"Uncle," said Zuko.

"Zuko, you're here at last," said the old man with a smile. "Though you seem to have brought some unexpected guests."

"Yes, that is to put it lightly," said the other man.

"Captain Zhao," said Zuko to the other man.

"Commander, now," said Zhao. "I believe..." And then his eyes were laid on Falric. "Falric."

"It's been some years since you and I last saw one another, Zhao," said Falric. There was hatred in the voice, a very personal kind.

"Ah, you two know eachother," said Zuko's Uncle. "Excellent! It's odd how paths cross..." And then he noticed the quiet stare of loathing between the two men. "I take it the two of you meet again under happier circumstances."

"One could say that," said Falric.

Arthas looked between the two and cleared his throat. "...Perhaps I should introduce myself. I am Prince Arthas Menethil, and I take it you are Iroh, the Dragon of the West."

Iroh laughed, and Katara thought that he seemed far too nice. "Well, I haven't gone by that name for a long time. Still, he is me."

"You know, the officers in Lordaeron are often taught your tactics," said Arthas.

"Really? I'm flattered people so far away should take an interest in my own accomplishments," said Iroh.

Arthas smiled, nodded, and then looked to Zhao. "Commander Zhao, I'm thankful for coming to meet me in person. I'm hoping to establish relations between our respective colonies in Northrend."

"And you wish to negotiate with me?" asked Zhao, sounding pleased.

Arthas shifted. "Well, I was certainly hoping you would be part of the negotiations. But a member of the Royal Family ought to be present for such negotiations, wouldn't you agree?"

"Yes, it would seem appropriate," said Zhao, before glancing to Katara.

"Splendid," said Iroh. "May I recommend the tea here? Some of it is truly splendid."

It was only once they were inside a drinking hall that Katara realized she'd been forgotten. It was a nice place, though, lit by torches. On the far wall was a map of the entire world, while swords were on the walls. Zhao seemed to have guessed that she was someone important enough to be seated with Arthas. However, he did not ask after her.

"So, Commander Zhao, perhaps you could tell us a bit about this colony," said Arthas. "What interests the Fire Nation so far north?"

"It is not complicated," said Zhao. "Because of certain strategic windfalls, the conquest of the Earth Kingdom is inevitable. Within a single year, we will have conquered the rest of it. As such, Firelord Ozai has chosen to focus on other potential threats.

"The only other potential game-changer is the Northern Water Tribe.

"We've long since seen to the Southern Tribe, as your... servant can attest."

"You should speak to her with respect, Zhao," said Zuko hotly. "This is Katara, she is a leader of the Southern Water Tribe."

"I see," said Zhao. "My mistake.

"In any case, the Northern Water Tribe is isolationist. However, we are concerned that they may decide to move against us. If they made open war on the Fire Nation, it could make our war far more costly.

"Thus, I have been dispatched here to establish a number of ports along the coast.

"If war should break out, the Fire Nation will have a fleet standing by to check the Northern Water Tribe."

"Well, I expect they'll want to come to terms before that ever happens," said Arthas.

Katara realized that there were two different conversations going on at once. And then she realized that the same could be said for most of Arthas' conversations. Zhao smiled at the response. "Better safe than sorry, as they say."

Arthas sipped the tea and blinked. "Hmm, this tea is actually good."

"You see!" said Iroh triumphantly.

"Well, we do try to have certain comforts available for officers," said Zhao.

And then a door opened, and soldiers marched in. "Commander Zhao!

Zhao sighed. "Excuse me.

"What is it, soldier?"

"They've returned!" said the soldier. "A vast horde of undead came out of the recent blizzard and is heading this way!"

Zhao sighed. "I see. Ready the men for war. And have my armor made ready.

"We'll have to continue this discussion later. There are threats in Northrend that need attending. The undead have been sighted coming out of the snows now and then. A few weeks ago, they attacked us, and we narrowly fended them off.

"I have found myself a busy man."

"Have you informed my Father of this?" asked Zuko incredulously.

"Does the Firelord need to know every detail of our occupation?" asked Zhao, moving away. "These undead have not been more than a nuisance."

"Be that as it may, perhaps you'll allow Zuko and myself to assist you in this?" asked Arthas suddenly. "We have experienced soldiers with us, and I'm in need of fighting a real battle."

Zhao looked back warily but finally shrugged. "I have no need of your assistance.

"But I suppose it cannot hurt. Gather your forces and meet us on the walls."

And he walked out.

Arthas stood up. "Falric, get the men. Zuko, can you get your crew to join us in the fight?"

"Of course," said Zuko. "Though we haven't fought much worse than pirates."

"Good," said Arthas. "Then, I'll get my armor."

Everyone headed off to do what they had been tasked with. Arthas and Katara got to the ship, and Arthas immediately began putting on his armor. It was a difficult task and took several servants to do effectively.

"Katara, you've been very silent of late," said Arthas as they waited.

"Well, there isn't really very much for me to say, is there?" asked Katara. "You've had everything planned out here. You didn't even introduce me."

"I'm sorry, Katara," said Arthas. "I'd planned to, but when I found out Falric's archenemy was running this base, I forgot. The two crossed swords more than once during the Second War."

"And here I thought I was a Princess of the Water Tribe," said Katara, feeling a bit bitter. It was becoming apparent that the titles Arthas addressed her by were a formality.

"We can discuss this later," said Arthas. "You'd best stay on the ship."

"I'm coming with you," said Katara firmly.

"That doesn't seem like a good idea," said Arthas. "Do you have any combat experience? You can't use your bending here."

"No, but whatever it is they are fighting is near where I live," said Katara. "I have to see these undead for myself."

Arthas nodded. "Point taken. Don some chainmail and grab a mace."

What had Katara gotten herself into?

Later, on the wall, Katara reflected that she hated chainmail.

It was heavy and sad on the shoulders hard. Even after a belt was tied around the waist, it clung to her like a milestone. The mace felt rough and heavy, even though her gloves. And the air was cold.

Looking out across the frozen lands before them, Katara saw what they were facing.

Ranks upon ranks of walking corpses.

Katara had seen dead people before, but never like this. These were decayed and rotting, with hands like claws. They moaned and walked forward, mostly consisting of trolls and rushed at the walls. Glancing to the left, she saw Arthas and his men arrayed on the wall alongside the Fire Nation troops. To the right, she saw Zuko's men further down the wall.

It had all happened so suddenly.

Now she was going to be in a battle.

Why had she told Arthas she wanted to be here? What had she been thinking?

"Fire!" cried someone.

And then there was no more time.

Canon bellowed as smoke filled the air. Balls of iron shot through the air and smashed through rows of corpses like dominos. Rifles fired into their ranks, as Firebenders made their moves. Flame and shot tore into them, even as more came. Some of the dead continued to walk, burning like torches until they were consumed.

It was breathtaking and terrifying, and Katara dearly hoped they didn't make it onto the walls.

Yet all too soon, ladders began to be brought forward. Thrown upward, they hit the walls. Several men tried to shove them down, only for them to be brought up again. Soon there were undead clambering upwards. Falric gave orders, and swords were drawn to fight them off.

Then a ladder was raised up above her. Katara froze, clutching her mace and unable to move. Then it came up, a slathering, eyeless corpse with an unnaturally long tongue. It bound up over the ladder and came at her. Katara stepped back and swung her mace wildly, catching the thing upside the head. The skull caved in, and it fell backward, only to rise and come at her again.

The men around her began to waver.

Then Arthas brought down his sword and cut the creature's head from its shoulders. Turning to where another undead was scaling up, he stabbed upward. Catching it through the heart, there was a flash of light. Then the creature fell backward with a screech.

More of the undead were rising up, however, they were meeting heavy resistance. With the walls crowded with troops, they could not get a foothold. As Katara stood, she saw Zuko wielding flames to burn creatures to ashes. Elsewhere, Zhao was...

Being impressive.

Zhao was unleashing flames in an uncontrolled blaze. It was so hot that a full twenty foot of the wall was being held by him alone. The flames burned without relent, reducing the undead to ashes. And Falric had survived fighting him multiple times?

All of a sudden, a man was bowled over, a Fire Nation soldier. An undead was on him in a moment trying to strangle him with boney fingers, and a scream came from someone else.

Snatching up her mace, Katara smashed the creature. It fell back, and she struck it again and again until it stopped moving. Then something slashed her from behind. She felt a biting pain, even through her chain suit, and everything went black.

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