Chapter Twelve: Meeting with a Goddess
Mal'Ganis and Tichondrius walked amongst the thousands of corpses even now being raised. The Blackrock Orcs had been considerate enough to put out immense numbers of bodies. A tactic to scare off enemies, he supposed. As it turned out, all those bodies could now be used for Mal'Ganis' plans.
Even now, he saw a Blackrock Clan village fighting against the unending waves. The peons were fleeing up into the hills, toward more fortified positions. With them were the more experienced warriors. At the same time, the younger warriors were fighting at the center of town to try and stop them.
Mal'Ganis' shades told him that the Warlocks had put out the story that the dead had been sent to test them. A means of motivating them to fight to protect against the inevitable. They were holding out for salvation that wasn't coming. Those fleeing toward the main village would be cut down by his agents soon enough.
"You see, Lord Tichondrius, we have not failed. Merely been set back," said Mal'Ganis. "Our purpose was to neutralize the Alliance of Lordaeron. Even if the Scourge has been less successful than we would hope, that effort has succeeded.
"Lordaeron is a broken land. Its allies have abandoned it and have internal strife to deal with. And while Prince Arthas continues to be a thorn in our side, we may deal with him later. Once Lord Archimonde walks the world once more, the human will mean little."
"I do not share your optimism, Mal'Ganis," said Tichondrius. "How do you intend to summon Lord Archimonde without an army or summoner?"
"My forces even now are securing Alterac," said Mal'Ganis. "Arthas is sworn enemies against them and will not interfere. And with the spy I have put into his company, I can observe his actions quite easily.
"You need not divert attention," said Tichondrius suddenly.
"What?" said Mal'Ganis. "What do you mean?"
"Mal'Ganis, you are to preserve the Scourge as a fighting force," said Tichondrius. "Use your contacts in Quel'thalas to find a means of assaulting the Sunwell."
Was Tichondrius losing faith in Mal'Ganis' ability to win? That could not be allowed to happen. Nathrezim may not kill one another. But Tichondrius need only write a poor report to Archimonde to seal his death warrant. "I already have several plans underway. While a direct assault would be ill-advised, the trolls of Lordaeron have fled into Zul'Amon. They may make for a valuable diversion when all is said and done. And with Lordaeron tied up dealing with Alterac, they will be unable to them.
"In addition, my contacts have found an unlikely ally among Quel'thalas. One with access to the most guarded security of the Sunwell.
"With the aid of the Syndicate remnants. Some ogre mercenaries, we may well force our way in long enough to do what needs to be done."
"I am pleased you are not flailing aimlessly," said Tichondrius. "I have some business of my own, however."
Mal'Ganis paused. "What will you do?"
"I retrieve the Kel'thuzad myself," said Tichondrius. "The powers of darkness are ensuring they have not been destroyed. Once I have it, I shall arrange for Frostmourne to be given into the hands of an appropriate champion.
"Continue as you are now.
"I will send a champion to assist you when all is done."
What was he talking about?
A moment later, dragonfire filled the ridge. The Red Flight had come and destroyed the undead meant to ambush the refugees. Most irritating.
It was a shrine to the Dragon Aspect of Life, Alexstrasza.
Once, it had been the greatest of many, but now it was the greatest of a few. There were signs of wear and tear, places that needed fixing. The priests were too few to fully clean the place, though they seemed to be working hard at it.
Arthas felt out of place here.
As if the whole building might collapse from his presence. Sally Whitemane, meanwhile, was leaning against a red wall, looking uncomfortable. Her arms were crossed beneath her breasts, propping them up. Arthas thought she looked very beautiful.
"Prince Arthas, why do we wait here?" asked Whitemane after a moment.
"Queen Alexstrasza requested to meet with us at this shrine to her," said Arthas. "I wanted her to account for her actions, and she shall do so here."
"But she is an enemy!" said Whitemane. "Her flights destroyed many ships during the Second War. And now she is aiding the Blackrocks again!"
"True, but it was under duress," noted Arthas. "And I am willing to at least give her a chance to explain herself before I commit to open warfare with a race of dragons. She hasn't attacked us, after all.
"It is possible that she discounted the threat of the Scourge until now and only realized it recently. Assisting the Blackrocks may have been the only place she felt she could."
"Why would that be?" asked Sally. "Surely, the fields of Lordaeron are where the real battle is."
"Oh yes, but an army of undead in the fields can easily flee into the cover of forests or buildings," said Arthas. "And Red Dragons, even in the Second War, went out of their way to avoid collateral.
"In these valleys, however, entire companies of undead could be caught in fire breath. They would have nowhere to go. Alexstrasza may not have had the numbers to aid us before this point."
Sally nodded. "As you say, Prince Arthas. If you believe these creatures worthy of salvation, then it must be so.
"Can I still burn some of them at a stake?"
The usual sort of question, right on schedule. "No. Even if I were to allow it, you'd probably need several stakes. Unless they were in human form.
"In any case, the reports from Grand Marshall Garithos in Tauren Mill are good, at least."
"How so?" asked Whitemane.
"The Mortar Teams have been set up outside of Gilneas, and his troops have been arrayed," said Arthas. "We've started resettling refugees in the area around Gilneas. Right where Graymane can see us. And Daelin Proudmoore's blockade is preventing their fishing villages from operating."
Whitemane blinked. "Why are we attacking Gilneas?"
"We aren't," said Arthas. "They are violating our waters.
"Gilneas has withdrawn it's national borders completely within its walls. The oceans around Gilneas are not within its walls. That makes them our property.
"If Graymane wishes to use them, he must pay an appropriate fee."
Whitemane paused. "Is that really a good idea? And did King Terenas write it?"
"It was Calia actually," said Arthas. "Those walls were built with money embezzled from the Alliance. Graymane was happy to take our troops to assist him against the Horde and gave nothing in return. He's about to find out just how high his debt is when his people start starving."
"Oh, you mean we're seeking revenge," said Whitemane, nodding and moving aside a strand of white hair. "That makes sense; let's do that."
"Revenge is a natural tool of statecraft," said Arthas. "If someone willfully wrongs you and hurts you, you must ensure they suffer for doing so. Otherwise, others will be invited to do the same.
"Wouldn't you agree, Queen Alexstrasza?"
Out of the air emerged Queen Alexstrasza herself. For a moment, Arthas was taken aback by her breathtaking beauty. She had a mane of long, red hair that fell around slender shoulders and was clad in a red leather outfit. It clung to her curvaceous form and bared the tops of her huge breasts, while her long, shapely legs were bare.
Her form was that of an elf, but she had long horns coming from her head, and she eyed Arthas in surprise. "...I must admit, I am impressed.
"How did you detect me?"
"It was a guess," said Arthas. "I thought you might be observing our conversation ahead of time.
"So tell me, Alexstrasza, how do you account for your actions?"
Alexstrasza seemed taken aback by the question. She had obviously expected more formality. "My goal, as with everything else, is the preservation and well-being of life. However, my flights have been weakened by the Second War and are still recovering. I chose to involve myself at Alterac because I perceived it could make a critical difference.
"A defeat here could check the Scourge and delay their victory by a considerable margin.
"On the other hand, if I were to join you in your earlier battles, every victory would lead to yet more battles. And eventually, the undead would compensate for my presence, and my losses would mount. Losses I could not afford."
"And so you took the side of Jubei'thos?" surmised Arthas.
"If I had not, Mal'Ganis might well have conquered the Blackrocks. In so doing, he'd have consolidated his holdings in Alterac," said Alexstrasza. "Even now, he is raising great numbers of corpses that surround the Blackrock Villages. He is and using them against them.
"More importantly, many of my flights roost in those mountains."
"Well, then, I am satisfied with your explanation. How long do you believe they will last?" asked Arthas.
"At the current rate?" asked Alexstrasza. "It may take a week, but they'll be exterminated. Unless you aid them."
"Excuse me?" asked Arthas, surprised at the suggestion.
"You dare suggest we aid the Blackrock Clan against our common enemy?!" said Scarlet.
"Why not?" asked Alexstrasza.
"We'd much rather see all our enemies die than make friends with them," said Sally simply.
"Are they not sentient as well?" asked Alexstrasza. "Surely, you must know that not all among them are evil. Many have no choice but to support them. Jubei'thos himself was forced to adulthood when he was a child by Gul'Dan's dark magics."
"What exactly are you proposing, Queen Alexstrasza?" asked Arthas, reflecting that using the orcs to destroy his enemies might be worth doing.
"You have contacts among the people of Alterac," said Alexstrasza. "Have them lead your forces to strike at the undead. Once you have relieved the siege of the Blackrock Orcs, you can eradicate the remains of the undead here."
Arthas nodded. "...The plan seems sound. I will discuss it with my officers."
There was silence for a moment, and Alexstrasza looked at him with a strange concern. It was the kind of concern you could only get if you knew someone on a personal level. But they had never met. "Prince Arthas?"
"Yes?" asked Arthas.
"This will not last," said Queen Alexstrasza. "The forces set against this land are such that you can only delay the inevitable. You have bough time, yes, but the darkness is still falling. No matter how many candles you light, it will fall."
"Are you preaching hopelessness?" asked Arthas.
"No, of course not," said Alexstrasza. "There was a Prophet among your people who warned you of what was to come. And I also sent letters that told you what was happening. So did all the other aspects."
"...The Prophet was working on your orders?" asked Arthas blinking. "Sally, did you know about this?"
"I sent dozens of letters to every major Lord confirming his words," said Alexstrasza. "Are you... are you telling me that no one even read them?"
"So when all four Dragon Aspects send you letters, you don't even read them?!" said Alexstrasza incredulously.
"We uh... don't really read anything you send to us," admitted Arthas.
"Why not?" asked Alexstrasza.
"Every single letter you send to us is always preaching peace and mercy with our enemies," said Arthas. "Enemies that we have total superiority over. Enemies who would show no mercy to us were our positions reversed.
"We don't worship you, and you are in no position to make demands."
"Those letters were meant as guidance!" said Alexstrasza. "How... how is it possible that nobody even read our letters!"
"As far as Lordaeron is concerned, you owe us," said Arthas. "And since you don't have any control of any territory, we don't consider your opinion important. Frankly, we find your condescending sense of superiority insulting."
"But the other Dragon Aspects sent letters!" said Alexstrasza. "Didn't that warrant your attention?"
"We're dealing with a zombie apocalypse, Alexstrasza," said Arthas. "We don't have time to translate foreign languages from people on the opposite side of the planet.
"The only communication we had with you was the Prophet. And he broke into Father's throneroom and started making demands. Actually, Sally, do you think we could burn him at the stake when next we see him?
"I think he'd make a pretty good scapegoat. And he did damage morale during a crisis."
"I'll arrange a list of charges, sir," said Sally.
"You can't do that!" said Alexstrasza.
"Why not?" asked Arthas.
"Well, because... because he's Medivh, the Last Guardian," said Alexstrasza.
"Oh, well, that changes everything," said Arthas. "Sally, I want him tortured within an inch of his life and then burned at the stake. Seeing as all this is his fault anyway."
"He's trying to redeem himself," said Alexstrasza.
"What exactly has he done to help my people or me?" asked Arthas.
"...Well, he informed you the war was hopeless," said Alexstrasza, seeming desperate. "It's not his fault that no one save Jaina Proudmoore has listened to a word he said."
"We're winning," said Arthas. "Mal'Ganis is fighting well, but everything he is doing is only delaying the inevitable. We've smashed his forces and destroyed his ability to create new undead. Any victory he might win could take decades of recovery and sabotage. And he won't take us off guard again.
"Lordaeron is ours. We made it; our families forged it ages ago. And we're not leaving it just because you proclaim things hopeless."
"There are others besides Mal'Ganis," said Alexstrasza. "He's only the lieutenant of a far more powerful demon, Tichondrius. The Dreadlords are part of an order of demons sent forward to destroy the Alliance.
"The Undead Scourge is the vanguard for the Burning Legion. It is an unholy army that is determined to destroy this world. Not to mention all other worlds. Everything you have seen so far is but the precursor to the true invasion. Tichondrius already has other plans in motion. Mal'Ganis is only distracting you.
"The Scourge of Lordaeron will happen one way or the other and only by... going... why are you staring at me like that?"
Arthas looked to Sally as they realized what she'd just said.
"...Let me see if I understand this correctly," said Arthas. "You knew the details of the scourge leadership from the very beginning. You knew who was running them all this time? On a first-name basis."
"Yes," said Alexstrasza.
"And you didn't tell us this?!" snapped Arthas. "I've been operating on the assumption that Mal'Ganis was a major player. The right hand of the Lich King at that."
"The Lich King is also Tichondrius' subordinate," said Alexstrasza. "Dispatched to scourge Northrend, he is now-"
"You knew about the Scourge in Northrend?!" asked Arthas in horror. "How long have you known about all this and haven't told us? And... we didn't even know the Cult of the Damned was a problem until recently.
"If you'd given us some warning, we could have sailed over to Northrend. From there, we could hit the Lich King while his armies were forming."
"Can I burn her at stake now?" asked Sally.
"No, and stop asking that," said Arthas. "Queen Alexstrasza, this is a criminal level of negligence on your part. Your refusal to give us this information has killed tens of thousands at this stage. How do you explain this lack of accountability?"
"...I'm a God!" said Alexstrasza finally. "I'm the Goddess of Life, entrusted with the task of shepherding the younger races! And I've done it for millennia!
"There are plans in motion meant to save not just your world, but many worlds. And by continuing to fight here, you are jeopardizing those plans. What's happening here is... regrettable, but it's only the blink of an eye in the long term.
"We... in strategic terms, Lordaeron is indefensible. And trying hold, it will only exhaust us and allow the Burning Legion to win when they breakthrough. We are ceding territory we cannot save for luring the Legion into a false sense of security.
"They will get overconfident and will strike at Kalimdor carelessly. The Night Elves of Kalimdor have a personnel vendetta with the leadership of the Legion, and- I've said too much. The Legion has certain moves we know they will take. And if they are overconfident, we know how they will take them.
"With certain sacrifices, we can destroy the leadership of the Legion. In so doing, it could save thousands of other worlds."
Arthas stared. "So, we were going to be sacrificed to save thousands of other worlds then?"
"No, we're sacrificing... something else," said Alexstrasza. "I can't say what. But the sacrifices made there will spell a new age of understanding between the races."
"Which races?" asked Arthas.
"The Night Elves, Orcs, Trolls, Tauren and the Alliance," said Alexstrasza.
"The orcs stop killing us?" asked Arthas.
Alexstrasza was silent. "Well, they gain a new respect for humanity. Though no peace ever lasts forever, off course. But contact will be re-established between the High Elves and Night Elves and... well... they'll relearn much-lost history."
"It would if we killed them all," noted Sally. "People can't raid your villages when they're dead."
"Sally, shut up!" snapped Arthas. "Queen Alexstrasza, I don't even know what half of those races are. And I have perhaps the best education of anyone in this region."
"This is why I couldn't just explain it all," said Alexstrasza. "We are at the climax of a lengthy series of gambits. Our original plans had to be adjusted when Aegywynn made Medivh Guardian. Now, some people have to be sacrificed for all to be saved."
Arthas stared at her in a new light. He was stunned at how completely he had miscalculated what she believed. "To hell with you, Lady. Let the whole world die if humanity dies. I don't care about making peace with the orcs, and I won't need to make peace with the other ones at all if I never meet them.
"I'm not interested in protecting faraway, hypothetical continents I will never see. I want to save the people who are here and now. And I'm not going to condemn them to slow death by starvation in a faraway land just because you asked nicely.
"Which you didn't, I might add. Medivh walked in here like he owned the place. I think I will burn him alive eventually. I'll need to get in contact with Jaina anyway."
Alexstrasza sighed. "I will be the first to admit that relations with humanity have not been as good as I would have liked. I... the situation is highly unfortunate.
"But I'm asking you to have faith in us."
"We have no faith in the Dragon Aspects, the Titans, or any other source for your authority," said Arthas.
Alexstrasza looked stunned. For a long moment, she looked at Sally, then Arthas, then back. "...No faith?
"You... you really mean that, don't you?"
"With all my heart," said Arthas. "You're not Gods. There is only one God, and it is called the Light."
"I... I can understand that recent events might have put doubt into your faith, but... you really don't care, do you?" asked Alexstrasza.
"Alexstrasza, you're a minor power with delusions of grandeur," said Arthas. "And you are deeply in our debt after we bailed you out of an orcish prison. You will make yourself an asset to Lordaeron, or you will be destroyed."
"What happened!" said Alexstrasza in horror. Arthas had the feeling she wasn't addressing him so much as humanity. "A century ago, the Dragon Aspects were highly respected! I knew that the worship of the Light had become commonplace, but... what could have done this!"
"There isn't a single human who was alive a century ago," said Arthas. "When was the last time you visited a human kingdom? Or performed a miracle to aid us? How many times have you intervened on our behalf?"
"I..." Alexstrasza paused. "We delegated that authority to the High Elves. They were meant to act on our behalf."
"You trusted the High Elves?" asked Arthas, stunned by her ignorance.
"WHY?!" shouted Sally.
"You trusting King Anastarian sound like an unforgivable sin," said Alexstrasza.
"Stupidity of a certain level is a sin," said Arthas. "What possessed you to let Anastarian have any kind of responsibility? He can't be trusted with a sack of grain, let alone shepherding the younger races.
"And I find the idea that we are considered inferior to High Elves offensive."
"It isn't that you were inferior," said Alexstrasza. "The High Elves are a much older race and in possession of their own wisdom. You are comparatively younger. It's... we've never dealt with anything like humanity before.
"We usually only check in on a race every few decades.
"But humans died so quickly we'd end up finding a completely different chieftain in charge. And the dominant tribe was always changing. We thought it would be good to give the High Elves the task of shepherding you. They had a better grasp of how your politics were going and... well, there were intermarriages.
"We thought they could handle it."
"Well, we certainly ended up as lambs to the slaughter," said Arthas. "So partial success, perhaps. I do note that the High Elves were always parading their good relationship with you around. Always as a reason why they were better, of course.
"At least until you started attacking us."
"I have to take care of all life; I can't give special treatment to any one group," said Alexstrasza. "I thought the High Elves would be able to ensure your survival. Obviously, it was too much responsibility for them too soon.
"Do you really hate them that much?"
"With all my heart," said Arthas.
"There are High Elves helping you even now," said Alexstrasza.
"Yes," said Arthas. "Because they worship the Light. Which is a religion we created. After we found our own nation with no special powers.
"I really have to ask.
"In what possible universe could this kind of plan have worked?"
"It worked in Kalimdor," said Alexstrasza. "There is a race called the Furbolgs in Kalimdor, who the Night Elves shepard. They fight in their armies and help secure the world and in return, are aided with miracles.
"We never expected you to become as powerful as you were.
"You started driving out the other races. You were supposed to be a shepherded and protected by the High Elves. Nobody was expecting you to start devouring the wolves alive."
Arthas put the pieces together and came to the logical conclusion. "...That's why you did nothing to help us in the First War.
"As far as you were concerned, we'd overpopulated and needed to be culled. You let the orcs rampage through Stormwind as a counterweight to humanity."
"You were doing the same thing to others; the orcs distracted you," said Alexstrasza. "If the orcs hadn't invaded through the Dark Portal, the world would be forming an alliance against you.
"And it wasn't as if victory was impossible in the First War; Stormwind very nearly managed it. If Llane had let Terenas help him, you'd have won. And certain agents within the Kirin Tor encouraged it as well-"
"You mean Krasus?" asked Arthas.
"...When and how," said Alexstrasza.
"You shouldn't have had your secret agent spend all his time in a city of wizards," said Arthas. "The Six knew about it all this time. As soon as Kel'Thuzad was kicked out of the order, he sent every single dirty little secret they had to King Terenas.
"When were you going to tell us that Deathwing was slated to become my brother-in-law?"
"...That isn't important at the moment," said Alexstrasza. "The point is that I had prepared countermeasures. My mistake was not being aware of the Demon Soul.
"If Orgrim hadn't gotten that, he'd never have been able to get half as far as he did. At most, he would have created an orcish nation. There would have been many smaller wars. It would have given the creatures you were persecuting the opportunity to survive.
"Orgrim would have destroyed the Dark Portal as soon as he'd gotten the rest of his people through. Once he was stalemated, he'd have had no choice."
"Small comfort to those who were slaughtered en masse," noted Arthas.
"You might not want to hear it, Prince Arthas. But the universe does not revolve around humanity," said Alexstrasza.
"Yes, just around our enemies, it would seem," said Arthas. "Very well, I will make a trial of this plan you suggest. I will save the Blackrock Clan and will not wipe them out. However, I have a condition."
"Yes?" asked Alexstrasza.
"I want the complete submission of the Blackrock Clan," said Arthas. "They will become vassals to Lordaeron henceforth. And what is between us is an alliance. With all the obligations, and retribution for treachery, that entails."
Alexstrasza remained silent, seemingly torn between two terrible alternatives. "...I understand.
"But I must press you, make efforts to go west. You will not be able to stop what is coming, no matter how hard you fight. This land will fall to the undead, one way or another.
"Destiny itself has determined to give Lordaeron into their hands. And I have no control over it."
"I believe we've exhausted the possibilities of this conversation," said Arthas.
At that moment, a door opened, and a man rushed in, clad in messengers armor. "Prince Arthas."
"Yes?" asked Arthas.
"I bring word from Lord Uther," said the messenger. "He has been making efforts to destroy the remains of Kel'thuzad, but..."
"But what?" asked Arthas.
"The tomb will not allow entry," said the messenger. "Some force denies any who try to enter it a way in.
"The initial men sent to do it came back screaming in horror. And when we tried again later with armed guards, nothing came of it. Eventually, we sent priests, but they couldn't do much more than stave them off. They spent hours trying to get past the front gate of the tomb, but it wouldn't admit us.
"We even tried using mortars, but the spells are that strong."
"Has Uther attempted to break the spell?" asked Arthas.
"He is en route to do it as we speak," said the messenger. "However, there are whispers that the lands itself have been turned against us. The blight...
"It's coming back.
"We haven't found any undead or anything."
"We have not lost Lordaeron, and we are not going to lose Lordaeron," said Arthas. He looked to where Alexstrasza stood silent, looking very sad. "Alert the villages to stand on full alert and prepare to defend on a moment's notice.
"I will return when I can.
"There is a war to fight."
"Send me, my Prince," said Sally.
"No, not yet. I need you beside me, Sally," said Arthas. "Mal'Ganis is to be finished here and now."
The battle with Mal'Ganis would soon be upon them.
Arthas would remove him from play, at least.