“You be goin’ da wrong way m’on,” the troll guide, Drakuru, said, glancing at me.
I stopped, lifted my torch in the air, and looked around the hallway. To me, everything looked the same. The handful of soldiers lined up with me were also looking a little confused, but the troll simply pointed down one of the nearly identical long hallways.
“We be tryin’ to get to da top o’ the temple. You headin’ back down to da dungeon.”
“Right,” I replied. “My mistake. Lead on.”
Drakuru started marching on and I began to follow. Behind me, Surfal was allowing me to lead the way with one hand on the horse’s reigns. I rarely brought Surfal into such dark places, but the Drak’Tharon Keep was so large that without a horse, some of the parts would be impossible to get through.
A short ways behind, Christine was riding atop her charger, named Bitey, and the stallion obediently walked as it should. Unlike Surfal, her prized mount would walk off a cliff if its master demanded it.
We had come to this place for one very important reason. After our successful attack on the Worgen and the defeat of Argual, the news spread like wildfire. Many of the Alliance forces that had been pushed into the Borean Tundra were now being diverted into the Howling Fjord and up through the Grizzly hills. In an effort to fully secure this area, the Alliance had partnered with Angus at Amberpine Lodge, and almost all of the known dangers of this place had been put to rest.
All the dangers except one… Drak’Theron Keep.
The Alliance reported that Dalaran was worried. The keep was one of the Lich King’s strongest keeps. There were concerns that the Lich King might direct his mindless scourge of undead to flood into the Grizzly hills, and their ability to congregate unchecked at the keep would be deadly.
Drak’Theron Keep had to be taken by the Alliance.
I could have walked away by then. I had accomplished my goals, and I knew the Alliance forces would be able to take the Keep, but I had started to grow comfortable here, and when I found out that Christine had volunteered to help lead one of the Alliance attack forces, I suddenly felt myself deeply concerned for her safety. I knew she was a powerful paladin, of course, but I was reminded of Keaira. I couldn’t lose another friend. No matter what.
So I volunteered too.
The first step was getting a small team inside the stronghold. The Alliance had captured a troll, not from the Horde, but from a different race of trolls that had long lived in Northrend. They had been subjugated by the Lich King over the years, and when the prisoner realized that the Alliance could be used to purge the trolls from the keep, he was eager to strike a bargain.
The keep belonged to his ancient brethren, and he wanted it back for his people. If the Alliance helped him reclaim it, he would lead them through the massive structures to clear out the scourge once and for all.
He had fulfilled his promise. After a massive confrontation at the gates, the Alliance had been led on a successful campaign through the keep and the forces had crushed their foes. In the aftermath, the troll informed us there was one more threat that had to be dealt with, but that blood magic was involved, so only a handful of soldiers could come, or the magic we faced could cause massive destruction.
So, as the Alliance secured the ramparts, we pressed on, deeper into the keep.
“Dis be it,” the troll said with a deep grumble, stopping at another hallway. “Up these stairs, then we light the torch. Da monster will appear, and you sill slay it.”
We did as the troll instructed, making out way up to the highest points on the stairs.
The brazier loomed at the top of the stairs, on a platform just big enough for a few of us to stand on without getting burned. I saw the wood in there was dry and ready to burn, so I sparked it with a small blast of fire that quickly spread out across the entire pile.
Then, we heard the cry.
“It’s coming,” one soldier said. “The dragon.”
“Dat right,” the troll confirmed. “Prepare.”
We heard a terrifying screech and I twisted to see an undead dragon just as it landed on the side of the temple, digging its claws in so that it’s massive head loomed just a few dozen feet from where we were perched.
A warlock with our group went to work, casting a magical spell that began draining away the life energy that kept the dragon… moving. The dragon responded as we expected, attempting to blast the warlock with icy fire.
Christine threw a shield of Light to protect the warlock, and I fired off several spells of my own, slamming the dragon’s decaying and brittle bones. The monster screeched in response, then threw a vengeful swing that smashed into the temple stone, shaking it so violently that we all struggled to stay on our feet.
“Da fire weakens it,” the troll shouted. “Fight!”
I reached out to the flames in the brazier and channeled them into a fire vortex that ripped through the cold air. The warlock, still busy draining the energy from the creature, barely missed being incinerated as I struggled to steer the fire tornado through the air and into the dragon’s ribcage.
The flame, the magic, and the intensity of the two ripped the creature apart, breaking the unnatural bonds that held its decayed body together. As it began to crumble, it took one more futile swipe at us, but its ancient claws turned to dust as they swept over us.
What was left of the monster fell from the walls, broken and lifeless once again.
We cheered together, offering praise and recalling the danger we had just experienced. With our pride busting at the seams, we made our way back down the stairs, happy to have finally pushed back the biggest threat to the Grizzly Hills.
At the base, Surfal and the other soldiers waited for us. We mounted our horses and started prepping for the ride back out of the keep. That was when I noticed the troll was no longer following us. He lingered at the stairwell, clearly uninterested in leaving.
“Hey, you coming?” I called.
“No’sah,” the troll replied. “Der is nowhere safer for me to be.”
“You sure about that?” I asked. “The dragon is gone, but we still need to fortify.”
“No need,” the troll replied. “Joo gonna be mah prize.”
I wasn’t sure what the troll meant, but before I knew it, I was entangled in a spiral of dark magic. It pulled me right off of Surfal, and I tumbled to the ground, slowly being pulled toward the troll.
“In exchange for joo, the Lich King will leave Drak’Tharon Keep to me!”
“What are you doing?” I called. “Stop!”
Christine and the others had turned to see what was unfolding, most of them equally confused by the situation, but before they could act, the world went wild. Dark portals sprang up everywhere around us, and vile undead creatures began pouring into the halls of the keep. The soldiers pulled their blades, but they were quickly being overrun.
I struggled against the dark magic that the troll had used on me, but then I saw Surfal, my beloved horse, as it charged the troll, bucking up and slamming the enemy with his legs in a defiant kick.
It worked. The spell on me loosened and I jumped up, fireball at the ready.
My horse gave out a terrified whinny, and I saw an icy chain had been thrown wrapping around Surfal’s neck, and pulling him away from the troll. I followed it back to the one that now had my horse in his grips, and my blood ran cold.
Standing before me was the Lich King.
I swallowed my fear, and used my strongest magic to melt the chain that held Surfal. As the horse broke free, I turned to face the fallen prince and fired my best shots. The spells hit harmlessly against the armor of the Lich King.
He swung his blade, and despite being over a dozen feet away, the force of the swing threw me back against the cold stone wall of the keep. I hit hard enough to knock the wind out of my lungs, and I gasped violently for air.
The Lich King stepped closer, but then Surfal intervened once more, attempting to kick Arthas as he had done to the troll before.
Before Surfal had a chance to strike, I saw the Lich King’s legendary blade, named Frostmourne, slice directly across Surfal’s hide. The horse made a whinny that broke my heart. The beast collapsed before me, and I knew it was over.
The Lich King stepped over my dying ally, and he was moving in for the kill.
Then, I felt the power of the Light reaching into my body, and I knew Christine had enchanted me. She was smart, not revealing herself, but she was putting all of her power into a spell that granted me more energy than I had ever felt before.
I stood, hurling blast after blast against the Lich King. At first he knocked the spells away, but then he seemed to grow overwhelmed. The more I fought, the more the Lich King seemed annoyed… confused… perhaps even… concerned?
I was about to laugh aloud. Was I going to defeat the Lich King?!
My empowered spell suddenly vanished, and I heard Christine scream and struggle. I turned to see the troll that had helped us before, slowly pulling her out of her hiding place and holding her by her hair and arm.
“Here be the Lightbringer,” the troll said with great joy. “I have brought joo two powerful fighters.”
The Lich King stepped toward Christine now, and as he pulled his sword up for the attack, I knew I couldn’t let this happen. I felt the magical power inside of me well up like a volcano. I didn’t resist the urge to use it against Arthas. My body became like fire incarnate. I let loose volley after volley of attacks; fire and brimstone rained from the sky, and magical energy electrified the air around me.
At the same time I threw a slow fall spell over Christine and shouted. “Jump!”
She resisted for a moment, but then rushed up the stairwell, onto the platform where we’d killed the monster, and then flung herself over the Keep’s wall.
I pulled all of my power and sent another wave of attacks at Arthas. Still, the Lich King managed to stand up against all the attacks I had. Soon, he started moving forward once more. The tip of Frostmourne grew closer to me as he stepped ever closer.
When he closed the distance at last, I thought this might be it, but instead of stabbing me with the famous blade, he slammed the hilt into my chest so hard that I was thrown against the stairwell. I was fairly certain my collarbone had just shattered on impact, but this direction had been good. I started to scramble up the stairs, hoping to escape over the edge as Christine had done. I made it to the top, but before I could jump, I was slammed to the ground by the troll. I kicked him off, but by then Arthas had approached, now towering over me.
“You fought well,” he said, his voice echoing. “Now, join me.”
Arthas pulled back his blade, went for the final blow, but the blade was suddenly deflected away from me, and I felt a powerful shield envelope me. This was not the Light, but raw arcane energy. I looked up at the Lich King, and I smiled.
He lowered his blade, looking at me for answers, but he was suddenly hit with an ice lance that shattered against his plate armor.
I looked to the skies and saw several white griffins, the mounts of the Kirin Tor, each with an Alliance soldier piloting and a mage riding along with spells charged up and ready for the attack.
Suddenly, the platform atop the keep was filled with arcane missiles and ice bolts, the magic raining down a destructive wave of energy that was enough to utterly destroy our troll betrayer. The Lich King, however, withstood the assault with a rageful growl.
There were no more words. The Lich King only stepped back, opened a gateway, and disappeared through it, leaving the keep abandoned.
The attack from above silenced, and the Kirin Tor swooped down around me.
“Hang in there,” an all too familiar voice said. “We’ve got you now.”
I recognized it immediately. “Lady Evanor?” I asked. “How did you find me?”
“Not a single mage in the Kirin Tor didn’t know where to find you, Sionis. Your lifeforce, and the Lich King’s, pulsed through the twisting nether.”
“My horse,” I said, grimacing. “Surfal needs help.”
“You’re hurt. Just calm down…”
“No, you don’t understand… Arthas…”
Christine appeared now, quickly pulling off her plate gloves and placing her bare hand against my chest. I felt the Light pulse through me, warming me and healing me. As the energy revived me, I started to stand, much to Evanor’s dislike.
“Come on,” I said, still sore and in pain. “He’s down here.”
I led Christine to the base of the stairs, to the mess of bodies and survivors that were still hiding from the assault. While Evanor assured everyone it was over, Christine and I reached Surfal. He was lying on the ground, blood pooled beneath him, and I began to weep.
Christine leaned down beside him and placed her hand on him, attempting as best as she could to heal the wounds. She grimaced as she worked, and then pulled her hand back as though the wound had bitten her.
“Dark magic,” she grumbled. “The Lich King’s blade did more than cut. The horse’s wounds won’t heal. I’m so sorry, Sionis, there’s nothing I can do.”
“All I have left of Keaira is in this horse,” I said, desperate. “Please. We have to save it.”
“There may be something we can do,” Evanor said. “Quick, take my hand, Sionis.”
I did as she asked without question.
“Now, hold on,” Evanor said.
I did. I held on. The world around us spun out of existence, and then it snapped back, with us in another place. I knew a long range teleportation spell when I saw one, and Evanor had just taken us a fairly large distance. The cold stone of the Keep had been replaced with ornate cobblestone, and I realized where we were.
In an instant, several other Kirin Tor showed up, and with them were several people dressed in ornate white robes.
“Priests,” Evanor said. “The horse, now.”
The priests said nothing. They leaned over the animal and went to working, weaving all kinds of spells while the Kirin Tor attempted to remove whatever curses the Lich King’s blade had done.
Another priest arrived, this one looking younger, and they approached me.
“I’m fine,” I said.
“No,” the priest said. “I assure you that is not the case.”
“Time to sleep,” the priest said, cutting me off. “I’m not fighting you.”
I felt his spell sweeping over me, but I couldn’t have resisted it if I tried.
My dreams were filled with darkness and death.