The Scouring of the Scourge Prologue
The biting winter wind tore across the open tundra, snow billowing in vast droves that whipped around like the howls of a wounded beast. Shadows and phantasms formed in the drifting clouds that shifted from images that resembled bears and dragons, knights and spires that flickered through their images as they drifted on the open air. Drifts of snow stood as resolute as fortress against the storm as they weathered its endless hissing through the empty air. The storm never truly ended, the snow fell in constant withering droves even as it travelled across the vastness of the barren and empty lands, it was no small wonder then that it covered everything in sight, rock and ice became as one underfoot, the few bare and empty trees often stood covered deep at their bases against the freezing winds which served to protect them from being simply blown over at the heaviest of breezes.
This storm went entirely unmarked, no living soul would care to note it for it was as common as any other that tore at this lifeless land. The chill that marked it was as persistent and ever baring as the sun was, on the few slim and fortunate days that it elected to show its face if only for a few moments between the veiled ceiling of the bleak and burnished clouds so very far ahead and yet all around them. And yet, despite that none would live to record this storm and no living soul would even dream to stand out in this midst of the bleak and endless drifting snow and winds, few things could live for long in such a barrage and fewer things still would drive any being out into the cold of their own free will.
And yet a figure did stand in the open winds, enduring the cold and braving the winds even as it tore through the locks of hair, once a proud brown as rich and warm as the bark of a great oak tree now simply bleached white of all colour just as the snow that tussled it and spun it around on the open wind. A cloak of black cloth embossed with silver finery fluttered wildly about on the wind as it tailed behind him, catching in every gust of the billowing winds. His black armour seemed to absorb all light as he strode across the tundra fields. His armoured boots left deep gouges in the frostfall as he walked, kicking up gentle mounds of snow without even noticing it. The icy wind stabbed icicles of cold into his bare face, striking at him with merciless glee but if he felt it he showed no sign. There was no shiver in his step, no stiffening of skin that trapped his face from moving, no response did he give to the pain any normal man would have felt for the empty hours of wondering in the blistering cold, cold so great that any moisture would turn to ice in but a moment.
And indeed, perhaps it was better for the fact that he didn't feel the cold. No part of him felt the pain that would be stinging a man to his core, nor did he feel the chill that should have stopped his blood in their veins as he traversed the open wastes with nothing but his own thoughts for company. His skin was pale, as though he had not known the touch of the sun for decades, his lips were blue though not from the cold around him, his skin was as icy to the touch as the snow upon which he walked and yet all of that was as normal to him as breathing. The cold around him did not bother him in the slightest, nor the snow that breathed heavily into his face that willed him to be blinded by the whirling mass of ice and snow. To him these were as constant companions as the runed sword that sat on his hip, the only true warmth he felt came from its presence.
His journey through the empty desolation continued unabated and unchallenged for mile after empty mile, nothing but endless reeves of snow and ice blasting across the formless land to fill his path. It was no small wonder there was nought to challenge his passing, any living creature had long since fled from the open air, choosing instead to cower at the base of cliffs or deep within the depths of the earth for fear of the endless storm. As for whatever eyes may be watching his presence through the darkness of the empty white, well for those he did not care what they saw of him, they could do little to harm him in his armour of black metal and indeed they would have little cause or desire to in the first place.
As the miles bled away beneath him and the dusk of the endless storm finally broke from constant howling winds to something resembling calm, the snow blew less fiercely and he could see further than the reach of his arm at least. And as he strode ever onwards a mass began to coalesce in a figure, hunched and broken like an old man against chilling bite of the wind. As he approached he saw the creature was a skeletal beast, once a mortal man though no longer did the shroud of life hang over the hideous beast. The wizened husk of the creature lurched forwards on bony legs, shaking under their own weight as in stumbled forwards in the drifts of snow. Frozen flesh hung in thin rags across its frame that had long since stiffened in the freeze. Broken and jagged teeth gnashed emptily against their shattered forms, sinew hanging from between their blackened stumps from prey long since destroyed and from their hands jutted broken fingers that had snapped and sharpened from misuse and damage and transformed into a set of rending claws.
And yet, despite this grim and terrible visage which would cause any sane man to fall back in dread or else feel a deepening sense of unease at the sight of the ghastly ghoul as it lurched forwards on shattered limbs, the man felt nothing towards the creature. Even when the mangled beast stalked forwards to sniff at his passing with a nose that had long since melted away from rot as though it were some great and gruesome bloodhound. He paid it no heed as he strode past in long and meaningful strides, leaving the shuddering creature behind in his wake. Nor did he flinch when another of the ghouls lurched out of the whipping snow beside him, the creature was simply walking where it pleased and did nothing to impede his passage. He cared nothing for these creatures though, all they served to tell him was that finally after countless hours and miles of walking he had finally located his quarry.
The figure loomed out of the snow before him as he approached. It was skeletal as the ghouls had been before him, but this being was something different, something elegant to their bestial nature. No skin still clung frozen to the web of bones and no trace of life still remained in those orbs of blue light that shone from its empty skull. The skeletal creature floated a few feet off of the ground, avoiding the chill of the snow beneath it even as the wind swirled around it, almost daring not to touch the fell creature. Long reams of Valium hung from bony arms inlaid with runes of an unknown language and origin pulsated with a blue light. It was a strange thing to the man as he approached, had it been but thirty years ago the two would have been mortal foes, even yet ten years prior would have seen them ready to destroy one another and yet here they stood at the roof of the world itself, serving the same master.
"Artruis" He called against the wind, despite the chill on his lips and his frozen throat his voice carried clear against the soft moaning and wailing of the winter breeze. The tall, floating creature turned slowly and with a great sense of purpose to look at the man who had dared to utter his name let alone in his presence. These creatures were all the same, no matter their origin, high on pomp and arrogance that seemed to bleed from just as much as the chilling cold did. This particular beast was one of a very particular order, it prized itself on whom it had been in a mortal life, an orc warlock of apparently some skill. The man didn't care who the lich had once been, it had evidently not been powerful enough to prevent what it had eventually become.
"Baron Morte." A vile and rasping voice emanated from somewhere deep inside the floating lich. It was hard to say from where exactly this ghastly tongue originated, there was after all no throat to carry it nor a mouth to speak it, instead the lich seemed to simply open its jaw and a mixture of noise and blue frost crawled between its elongated fangs that it called teeth, no doubt the last reminder of its old heritage. "You finally arrive."
"It is a long journey lich from the masters throne to the edge of his realm."
"And has your steed failed to answer your summons, death knight?" He felt little more than a well of disdain for the creature that had been forced to serve as his steed, not for its presence nor for its use. He cared little that the spectral horse was born of shadow and blue flame but rather he was it as a redundancy, true it could move swifter than he could on foot but what did he need of it? He felt no pain, no drain on stamina, no weakness of the flesh. If he wished to go somewhere he could simply run there and still be there before any mortal foe.
Morte chose not to answer the question however, simply glaring at the lich as it drifted above him. It was no small secret that the first liches and the second death knights had a great deal of animosity between them, some believed it was because of their wars long forgotten. Most of the original liches were orc, not man and a great deal still held onto a good portion of their free will, enough to retain a disdain for humanity. Some, Morte included, believed that the beings were granted too much free will from their great master, it was evident enough considering the sheer number of the necromantic creatures that broke away at the first chance they could whilst the death knights remained loyal. Ever loyal and ever the true champions of his will, just as their master before them, they were his blade, they were the grim sword of the Lich King made flesh.
"I trust there was a reason I was sent to meet you in this desolate place, lich." Morte spat back at the skeletal creature, it was not uncommon for those more free willed beings to look down on each others ranks and use them as a personal insult. The liches seemed to have a natural state of hubris that drew the ire of many, even those that had once been mortal man looked down on all others, believing themselves to be the supreme beings and less the servants of a greater master that they truly were. Instead of answering directly the lich simply turned around and began to drift away through the swirling snow, indicating that he was to follow to where it was he was supposedly being led. It had been a mystery that hung over him his entire journey south, yet he did not question it, all would be revealed in due time, it was not his position to demand answers it was simply his place to obey his masters command.
As he once more strode forwards through the blistering snow he was almost surprised when the swirling white clouds simply stopped buffeting him, though it was no for a lack of wind. Now the strong smell of salt air assaulted his nostrils as he looked out across an open bay from where he stood atop a frozen cliff, the lich floating just a few paces away from the edge. It was no small wonder the snow did not blow when there was no snow to be blown into his face any more, all that stood before him was the open sea and a battered shore far below, large shattered icebergs had rammed themselves along the coastline that was pocketed with the remains of ships that had been torn apart by the freezing seas. Ghouls and other malformed beings prowled the coast, picking through the wreckages for survivors or anything that might please their necromancer masters. And far away in the distance, gradually approaching was a sight he had truly not expected to be seeing.
A flotilla of ships, all which he felt he recognised from a past life were heading directly towards them. From the short, squat and armoured power steamers of the dwarves and gnomes with their flying machines flocking around them like flies over a bloated corpse, to the great and proud ships of the human nation. There were many to be noted, from the many sails and teeming ships of Kul'Tiras to the short and heavily armed gunboats of Gilneas all the way to the fat and heavy warships of Stormwind with their heavy prows adorned with roaring lions heads and vast ice breakers. And for all these different races and indeed nations one symbol flew on every vessel, the gold and blue of the Alliance, that stylised symbol that meant freedom and prosperity, security and faith to so many across the entirety of Azeroth should have inspired a feeling of remorse or guilt over his actions. And yet, it didn't. When he looked at the symbol he had once proudly looked up to he felt.... Nothing.
"They finally arrive then." Came the guttural voice from the lich beside him as they stood together, watching out across the broken bay at the approaching fleet. Neither of them looked at each other as they stared out at the oncoming invaders with a sense of contempt.
"Are you surprised lich? We have been invading their lands. It was only a matter of time until they retaliated."
"Their lands? Are you so certain it is indeed theirs and not ours you meant to say?" Baron Morte turned to face the lich, his face not betraying the anger he felt within as a hand rested on his runeblade Shattersong, it was a potent weapon even against a being such as Artruis.
"Are you questioning my loyalty? I renounced my ties to the weak of the world, I serve only the Lich King now." The floating creature seemed not to notice the danger at its side, though doubtless had it still had flesh to wrap around its frail form it would be smiling a thin and smug smile at its ability to raise the death knights ire.
"Loyalty? No, only your competence. Your delay in arrival may very prove detrimental to your defence of this coast."
The death knight paused as the lich began to turn away, blue light flicking between his cracked fingers indicating that he was starting to cast a spell, most likely of teleportation.
"My defence? Do you not intend to stay and greet these invaders lich?" Even as he spoke he could feel the self assured arrogance of the lich silently mocking him as the creature didn't even bother to turn to look at him.
"No, the master has other plans for me. I am perfectly sure you will be capable of providing a fitting greeting to these outsiders in one fashion or another." And with that a flash and hum of magic swathed over the skeleton creature, whisking him away to some other unknown part of the world, leaving the black armoured death knight alone atop the cliff face.
Baron Morte looked back over the bay, down towards where the gathering host of undead slowly grew in number as they filtered in from parts unknown. His eyes drifted back up to where the oncoming ships were still coming in like an inexorable tide, watching as a flight of stony gargoyles detached themselves from further down the ice covered cliff and sped low across the water, narrowly avoiding the vicious waves as they sought to destroy the interlopers. No doubt the fly machines would have their time full trying to deflect the gargoyles as more and more of them came in.
As he looked out across the interlopers he felt no remorse, no guilt for his actions. He was a death knight of the Scourge, he would serve where his master commanded and his master commanded this beach would not hold. For ten long years he served as his master slumbered, now once more the hour of doom had fallen upon the world. With nary a word he turned from the cliff to descend to the beach itself, he would defend it to the last if it came down to it. He was loyal, he was the blade of the Lich King and yet it felt like a life time that he had served and indeed to some it was more than a lifetime. And yet he served as was his station, let the Alliance come, let the Horde come, let every being on Azeroth come, they would fall one by one and rise again, it was inevitable.
Just as it had been inevitable to have defied the Scourge ten years ago.