The Scarlet King @lord22
Monsters

Book 2: Forsaken Rising

Chapter One: Monsters

It turned out you couldn't shut the world out. Only yourself in.

Tess Graymane stared out at the harbors of beached ships. Mines were floating in front of them, threatening to blow up anyone who left. Most of the ships that weren't here in port had been sunk on the high seas. If you looked east, to the walls, you saw a shattered and broken wall. It still served as a barrier, but the men who manned it all hid underground.

And beyond that wall were broken and destroyed houses. Great craters were delved in once-prosperous fields. The dead lay rotting openly, for none dared approach that area now. It was a similar story in every other port besides the capital. Buildings shelled to dust, and people desperately trying to find food.

The world had ended.

They'd built a great wall to shut the undead out. And the Alliance had done the inconceivable. Turning from the balcony, Tess brushed aside a strand of blonde hair and walked in. She found Father sitting at a table, looking older than ever. "Father, you called for me?"

"Yes, Tess, I did," said Father, looking almost broken. "Gilneas lies in ashes. The Kul'Tirans have sunk every one of our ships and are now firing over our walls daily. Our farmers can't go out to their fields for fear of Lordaeron mortars. And our attempt to sally forth has failed.

"This... butchery has to stop.

"I have no choice but to surrender to King Terenas."

"Why did he even attack us?" asked Tess. "This isn't the kind of thing King Terenas would do. You always said he was dangerously naive. I never thought he would do... this kind of thing."

"King Terenas would never have the stomach for this kind of carnage. It is not in the man's character. He didn't even exterminate the orcs," said Genn. "It's possible that some other power has taken control of Lordaeron. Especially with all the chaos from the Scourge. Whatever the case, I have had the white flag raised and made arrangements. That is why the guns have stopped.

"I need you to go to meet with whoever is in charge of Lordaeron and negotiate the end of hostilities. I have the details of the arrangement here. You're to offer military support against the undead. If pressed, you can offer full surrender. Once you are there, perhaps you can learn what devilry has possessed the court.

"Deathwing walked there once, after all.

"Whoever is doing this is almost certainly going to want to gain power. A... if it comes to it, you are to offer yourself as an arranged marriage. A party is waiting outside to escort you to Lordaeron City as we speak."

"Are you certain I can do this?" asked Tess, who had heard hints of it before.

"There isn't any alternative," said Genn. "A member of the Royal Family has to go out there. If your brother or I do it, they may just kill us and force a surrender.

"You, at least, can bargain for a political marriage.

"Whoever we're dealing with is bloodthirsty, honorless, and completely heartless. If I had any other alternative, I'd send someone else."

"I understand," said Tess. "I'll... I'll do what I can."

And she prepared, dressing in a crimson cloak and walking out to the gates. The bombardment had stopped. So it was that she saw the broken fences, the livestock splattered by mortar shells. The collapsed and burned-out houses hurriedly fled and never regained.

It was a vision of hell.

But when the opens opened before her, Tess realized she'd only been looking at the first circle. There were no houses beyond the walls, only pavilions, and tents. The ground beneath her feet as she walked was blackened. There were only occasional splotches of green here or there.

On a little hill, she found the man she was to meet. He wore gilded armor, long since chipped into ruin. Though it still looked protective. His sword was drawn, and he was polishing it while his men looked around.

"Captain Falric, we've been waiting here for hours," said a man. "This bitch isn't coming. Let's just restart the shelling and be done with it."

"Calm yourself," said Falric, voice melodious. "Delays often happen. And we are under Royal Order not to fire until this arrangement is concluded."

"I say we just blow the wall down and kill everyone inside," said another. "No way could they resist us now after we did to them."

The sheer bloodlust shocked Tess. And she wondered if she was looking at orcs in human form. Falric, however, looked at the man hard, and the man let out a cry at his gaze. "Even I were willing to accept such butchery, it would be against our interests. Gilneas' armies could be useful to us."

"Your men are exceedingly charming," said Tess, walking forward.

"Tell that to the undead you abandoned us to you-" began one.

"Silence," said Falric.

"Yes, sir," they said.

"Princess Tess Greymane, I am Captain Falric of Lordaeron," said Falric. "I'm here to escort you to Lordaeron City. I shall ensure your safety so long as you are in our charge."

"Ensure our safety?" asked Tess, appalled at the statement. "There isn't a single building within a mile of our walls still standing. Our people are starving for lack of food while you sink our fishing vessels.

"And you speak of ensuring our safety."

"Gilneas was our enemy, milady," said Falric. "Therefore, it is only natural that we should seek its complete and utter destruction. However, as of passing through those gates, you are here under parley. So long as the truce holds, you need not fear us."

That was not the kind of foreign any King of the Alliance had held with other humans. Trolls and orcs, perhaps, but not the good races. How could they be held in such hatred? "What have we done other than close our borders?"

"Embezzle millions of gold meant to ensure the safety of the Alliance as a whole," said Falric. "Taken Alliance troops to ensure your own safety and abandoned us. Used those embezzled funds to build a wall and leave us to rot.

"Insulted our King and his family line. Broke an oath of honor.

"King Terenas took the insult personally, I'm told." He said it like a laundry list.

"King Terenas-" Tess halted. "You would slaughter the people of Gilneas because of a decision their King made."

"The people are what keeps a king in power," said Falric. "They could have stopped Greymane at any time or pressured him to abide by his oaths. When a man saves you from drowning, and you respond by throwing him into the river, how should he think of you? Is he not entitled to seek revenge."

"And what do you gain from shelling us?" asked Tess. "Other than taking valuable troops away from our borders."

"Revenge, of course," said Falric. "Your misery serves as a warning against future people who betray us. The next time one of our allies thinks of abandoning us, they will remember Gilneas."

"And this warning justifies killing innocent people?!" asked Tess.

"Given that none of you are innocent, it's a moot point," shot back Falric without emotion. "Who put Greymane in power? Who restored him after Darius Crowley tried to make Gilneas live up to its obligations? If the people as a whole had risen up, Gilneas would have been forced to help others.

"But they did not.

"Their inaction led to Gilneas abandoning us. And through that abandonment, their inaction led to the ruin of Gilneas."

"You expect the common people to determine the course of their nation?" asked Tess, appalled.

"I am a commoner, Tess Greymane. As is most of Prince Arthas' royal guard," said Falric. "I assure you, Lordaeron is only standing because I and others like me unified against the Scourge. We did not allow ourselves to be led to the slaughter, but united behind a strong leader and made him stronger."

Tess realized she is dealing with a great many bloodthirsty people. And their grievance was not unfounded. She had best be careful. "And what does Prince Arthas think of all this?"

"I doubt he cares," admitted Falric. "His primary focus has been on preventing the destruction of Lordaeron. Doing so in the face of a demonic invasion. At the moment, he is likely not even aware of the arrangement that has been made."

"You mean to say that he was not even consulted?" asked Tess. She was potentially getting betrothed to him.

"The messenger has been sent. But Prince Arthas is conducting an active campaign," said Falric. "And he moves rapidly to attack his enemies. Messengers tend to have trouble finding him. There are other matters to concern ourselves with. And sometimes messengers are killed off.

"Believe me, he has serious things to consider.

"Tell me, how much of your army remains intact?"

Tess guessed she was being grilled. "Father has been ensuring our troops remain fed in preparation for your invasion. They have been sheltered and escaped the majority of the attack.

"It never even occurred to him that Lordaeron might shell peasants out of spite."

"Well, it kind of started with 'fuck Genn Graymane' and went from there," said a soldier.

"I expect you'll find Lordaeron a much more savage," said Falric. He looked to a mage that was checking for a spell. "You can thank your Father and men like him for that.

"Rhonin, teleport us away."

"Is this kind of behavior really befitting Lordaeron?" asked Rhonin suddenly.

"Are you obeying your instructions?" asked Falric simply.

Rhonin shrugged and teleported them away.

This was definitely the third circle of hell. The trees were blackened and dying, and farmlands rotted on the side of the road. Great heaps of grain were burning, and the sky was a greenish, unholy taint. "This is...

"What happened here?"

"The undead, of course," said Falric. "Follow me." And they started walking toward Lordaeron City. It looked less like the golden city of before and more like a terrible and sad castle in this light. "Though I'm not sure why you're reacting this way. This is one of the safer and more intact locations. Further north near Stratholme it is... worse.

"Don't wander off without an escort. Undead prowl the wilderness and feed on human flesh."

And they walked through the terrible path. The trees groaned, and Tess looked about. She was feeling as though she was being watched by unfriendly eyes. Now and then, they passed villages, where armed men stood at guard with drawn swords. Palisades had been newly constructed, and mountains of misshapen bodies were burning.

This was Lordaeron.

This was the Greatest of the Human nations. What had happened to Gilneas paled in comparison. And they had left them to this fate.

"Who are they?" asked Tess, trying to distract herself.

Several ragged men were shambling forward to fall before the ground. The guards stood up to walk toward them.

"Those..." Falric nodded to the guards there. "Plague victims, I believe. It was spread through the grain supply, and one of my responsibilities is inspecting it. We've stopped the spread by now, but there are still isolated pockets that succumbed to it.

"They'll be cured soon enough."

"Please... help us..." said the man before spasming violently.

"Edan!" said the guard. "We've got some more folks with the plague over here. Seems they ate some grain when they were starving."

"Ah, is that it," said another man, Edan. "Bad luck, mate, pretty soon, you'll become undead."

"Isn't... isn't there a cure yet?" asked the man.

"None we can find," said Edan. "Only way out is death, sorry. The Stratholme treatment always works, though.

"We'll give you a last meal if you like, standard practice. Or we could end things right here."

"I'll... I'll take the meal," said the man.

They helped him up and led him away.

"No reason to fret, chap," said the first soldier. "You eat a little something that dulls the nerves. Then we'll put a sword through your throat. Over in an instant, and you're off to a better place."

Tess stared. "...Is this the will of King Terenas?"

"It's mercy," said Falric. "I've seen men twisted into undead at Stratholme, and the first thing they did was kill their families."

"But..." Tess halted. "They're laughing about it."

"Better to laugh at death than to cry," said Falric. "Those men have the job of killing anyone who is found to be infected with the plague. That and burning the bodies, it's only natural they'd stop caring.

"Everyone handles it differently.

"I don't even see them as people, just enemy units; my men don't attack automatically. If I kill them before they become hostile, I'm doing a good job.

"It helps when you have to do the things I do."

"Why didn't we teleport straight to Lordaeron City?" asked Tess, feeling sick.

"The whole place is sealed against teleportation. It's in order to prevent people from getting in unnoticed," said Falric. "It helps against smugglers and the like, who might take in plagued grain. Also, we thought it would be good to look at just what Gilneas has done."

"We didn't do this!" said Tess.

"You didn't do anything to stop it," said Falric. "And you swore an oath to support the Alliance. You accepted the agreed-upon payment and then broke that oath—multiple times.

"That makes you as bad as the undead as far as most people are concerned.

"You're extremely lucky that cooler heads have prevailed so far."

"...Cooler heads prevailed?" asked Tess. What did the extremists look like?!

"Oh yes, most people in Lordaeron have gone mad in one way or another," said Falric brightly. "Who wouldn't go mad, watching a good land twisted into this. Everyone in my family is almost certainly dead and burning on a pyre by now. If they're lucky anyway. And if they are alive, I'll probably never see them again.

"I haven't made any inquires, but my hometown was amid the worst of the fighting.

"So I focus on my work. I make sure all the corpses are burned and try to reign in the more aggressive members."

"But..." Tess thought about the visions of horror she'd seen in her home. "Do you know what you did to Gilneas?!"

"No," said Falric. "No one thought through the decision to shell Gilneas. The world was going to hell, and you were sitting behind your defenses and laughing at us. Someone in Grand Marshall Garithos' army decided to launch mortars over the walls.

"Garithos didn't stop it, so pretty soon, we had a full-blown bombardment.

"Princess Calia read about the attack and decided that since we were in for a copper, we might as well go in for gold. So she asked the Kul'Tiran navy to start shooting all your fishing ships. And once they'd sunk all of those, individual officers started shelling your coast. Once they did it, everyone else wanted a piece of the action."

"So... this wasn't planned?" asked Tess.

That made it even worse.

"No, not really," admitted Falric. "We're still debating whose authority the campaign was carried out by. Garithos, Daelin, or Calia are the likely contenders. See, no one is sure if they want credit."

Tess strove to speak, staring at this affable man who had done such things. "You mean...

"You destroyed my nation on an accidental whim?!"

"You were an obvious target, we had a huge navy we weren't using, and everyone hated you," said Falric. "It was less a case of 'why' and more 'why not.' Of course, now Daelin's moving his fleets to interfere with the undead in Quel'Thalas.

"So we don't have a use for you as a target anymore.

"But if it's any consolation, our inexperienced crews got a lot of practice. It should help a lot with the war to come. It's probably the most useful thing Gilneas has ever done."

It was a genuine attempt at consoling her. This land had gone insane. "...You really hate us that much?"

"We hate everyone, Princess Tess," said Falric. "Because everyone had betrayed us when we did no wrong. Including the gods, if the prophet who was ranting and raving earlier was any indication. In fact, to be honest, we probably hate the other members of the Alliance more than we do the orcs and undead. At least with them, we know where we stand.

"Really, why should we pass up an opportunity to make everyone else suffer? Our situation isn't going to get any better if we forgive and forget—quite the opposite.

"So it's probably best to regard everyone as an enemy to be destroyed. At least until we can threaten them into becoming an ally. Which is, of course, what this is all about."

"What happened here?!" said Tess, finally unable to contain herself. "Ten years ago, Lordaeron was the greatest of the human nations! It had great cathedrals and... it was trying to help everyone! King Terenas was renowned both for his generosity and benevolence!

"Now... what could have turned such a good and just land into this crazed place of warmongers and monsters!"

"You did," said Falric. "You and every other fairweather friend who promised eternal loyalty and cut us loose. Did you think we wouldn't learn a lesson from that experience? That we'd simply continue to fix all your problems while you hurt us again and again?

"Well, we are going to fix your problems. Your problem is your extraordinary naivete.

"Gilneas' troops are going to be transported by the Kul'Tiran Fleet to Quel'Thalas. They are going to support the elves in their fight. Because the elves have done something to help us."

Tess stared as they walked. Was he dictating terms to her? "And you speak for King Terenas?"

"He's already put his seal on the operation," said Falric. "Gilneas is going to take part in that operation, or it's going to die. Princess Calia specifically instructed me to intimidate you. It wouldn't be seemly for royalty to treat royalty so brusquely. But, a point had to be made.

"Now, why don't we go to the palace. You can exchange pleasantries with Princess Calia. Then everyone can pretend to be friends. And then you'll do what we tell you to do because we are powerful and you are not.

"Woe to the vanquished."

Tess really couldn't argue with that justification. But she resist it. "...Gilneas does this under protest."

"No one cares," said Rhonin miserably. "You don't get to complain about the monsters you create."

Tess couldn't argue with that either.

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