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Rise of a Death Knight
The town of New Avalon was idyllic, on the outside. Houses clustered around a massive red-roofed abbey, walled in with the same white granite that formed the abbey walls. Farmers tilled their fields, and red-garbed soldiers stood on guard, watching for the signs of any undead presence. The sun shone down cheerfully from a blue sky.
Barely visible against the cloudless arch of the heavens, an orb of blue magic hovered just above the orchards. A closer look might have revealed a darker slit in the center, like an eyeball. It stared unblinkingly at the inn before flying away at speed, all the way back to a floating skeletal pyramid. The long, bonelike struts were interspersed with black stone, a green glow emanating from a circular structure below.
One scarlet-draped knight was lucky enough to see the eye. “They’ve been spying on us!” he exclaimed. The man, young yet already seasoned by combat, turned to his commander. “I saw an Eye!”
His commander cursed. “Ready your swords, brothers and sisters of the Scarlet Crusade!” He warned. “I believe the undead are about to make their move.”
A roar of defiance and bloodlust rose up from the gathered warriors. The dark citadel gave no reply . . . for a few minutes, at least. Then, an ominous horn echoed from inside, ringing like a death knell over the town. Farmers and orchard workers looked up towards the sky, and soldiers felt chills run down their spines.
Beneath the black necropolis, a flood of ghouls surged down the slope in a tide of mindless fury. The gathered Scarlet contingent charged forwards to meet them, falling one by one to the relentless undead. As reinforcements finally made it, they were met not by ghouls, but by undead of all races, clad in black armor.
The Death Knights of Acherus had arrived to pass the judgement of the Lich King. And that judgement was destruction.
Their advance was inexorable, unstoppable. First the Overlook, then the mine, then the town itself. Even the glorious abbey wasn’t exempt from the slaughter. The screams of terrified civilians mixed with the despairing death cries of soldiers, as the scarlet tide was replaced by a black one. Finally, as the battle approached its close, a black-clad warrior arrived at the small prison nestled away from the main town.
• • • • •
She, like all the Death Knights, rode a deathcharger. Saronite armor covered her body, a black hood all that concealed her face. Her skin was ice-blue, the same color as her eyes. Two slanting ears extended through slits in the hood.
Cymdoril pulled up on the reins as she arrived, greeting Knight Commander Plaguefist with a silent salute.
“I was sent by Thassarian to aid in the eradication of the Crimson Flame Chapel,” Cymdoril informed the orc. “I take it there wasn’t much resistance here?”
The Knight Commander snorted. “They’re only flesh and bone – no match for the Scourge,” he replied. “We didn’t find any of our brothers, but we did find something special.”
“What did you find?” Cymdoril asked.
“Argent Dawn prisoners,” Plaguefist explained. Was that a malicious gleam in his blue eyes? “You may still be of use here. There is a blood elf inside, a Lady Eonys. Execute her.”
Cymdoril nodded. Once, she might have balked at the order, but not now. She was a Death Knight of Acherus. Her will was the Lich King’s, and the Lich King’s will was death.
The Chapel of Crimson Flame was small, not much more than a wooden box. Inside, several beings of every race huddled in chains. The Lady Eonys sat in a corner, staring ahead blankly. The blood elf paladin’s head didn’t turn as Cymdoril approached.
“Come to finish the job, have you?” Lady Eonys asked. She looked up at Cymdoril. “You’ll look me in the eyes when . . .” Her defiance faded, replaced by a look of horror. “Cymdoril? What . . . What have they done to you, Cymdoril?”
Cymdoril remained silent. She drew her runeblade from where it was sheathed across her back. Around her, a few prisoners looked up, drawn to the sudden expression of emotion like moths to a flame.
“Think, Cymdoril,” Lady Eonys pleaded. “Think back. Try and remember the majestic halls of Silvermoon City, where you were born. Remember the splendor of life, sister. You were a champion of the Sin’dorei once! This isn't you!”
Cymdoril paused. As a matter of fact, she did remember Silvermoon City. It had burned to the ground just a few days before she’d lost her powers as a priestess. And . . . yes, it was the Lady Eonys who had comforted her in their shared loss.
“Listen to me, Cymdoril,” Eonys implored. “You must fight against the Lich King’s control. He is a monster that wants to see this world - our world - in ruin. Don't let him use you to accomplish his goals. You were once a hero and you can be again. Fight, damn you! Fight his control!”
Cymdoril was as frozen as the ice she commanded. Why couldn’t she just do what needed to be done? Something stirred, deep in Cymdoril’s deadened soul.
“What’s going on in there?” Knight Commander Plaguefist snarled from outside. “What’s taking so long?”
Cymdoril couldn’t answer. Before she could do anything, Eonys spoke again.
“There . . . There's no more time for me,” the elf whispered softly. “I'm done for. Finish me off, Cymdoril.” Eonys looked Cymdoril in the eyes, determination back in her face. “Do it or they'll kill us both. Remember Silvermoon. This world is worth saving!” Desperation crept into the elf’s words. “Do it, Cymdoril! Put me out of my misery!”
Whatever spell Eonys had put over Cymdoril suddenly broke. Cymdoril leveled her sword, and swung without hesitation. A single sweep had it done. Cymdoril felt strangely excited. It was a sensation she hadn’t felt before.
Cymdoril walked out of the Chapel of the Crimson Flame puzzling over the strange feeling inside her. The Knight Commander stood outside, smiling knowingly. “How did it feel?” he asked.
“It felt . . . good,” Cymdoril remarked. “As if . . . I’d been waiting to do that for a long time, but hadn’t known.”
Plaguefist smiled. “You’re not one of them anymore, Cymdoril. You’re Scourge. You’re one of us. Forever . . .”
• • • • •
Barely an hour later, Cymdoril again sat on her charger. This time, however, it was in familiar territory – the Eastern Plaguelands. Just a few miles north of where she sat in rank with other Death Knights, she had died. The thought didn’t bother her as much as it should have.
Up ahead, Highlord Darion Mograine sat on his own charger. Abruptly, he wheeled around, raising the legendary blade Ashbringer high.
“Death Knights of Acherus, the death march begins!” the Highlord roared. “Soldiers of the Scourge, Death Knights of Acherus, minions of the darkness – hear the call of the Highlord! RISE!”
A war horn blew, and the ground rumbled. Any normal mount would have startled and agitated, but Cymdoril’s deathcharger remained still and steady. Thousands of ghouls and skeletons climbed up from the ground, desiccated bones clawing towards the sky. Soon, the small group of 300 death knights had swollen to an army of Scourge, stretching as far as Cymdoril could see through the dying trees.
“The skies burn red with the blood of the fallen!” Highlord Mograine shouted. “Leave only ashes and misery in your destructive wake!” With that, the Highlord wheeled his mount about once more, this time charging towards Light’s Hope Chapel behind the ghouls. Cymdoril and her fellow Death Knights spurred their horses on, joining the tidal wave heading towards the tiny chapel. That strange feeling that she’d felt earlier after killing Eonys returned in full force as she leaped off of her mount and began to cut down Argent Dawn soldiers. An almost crazed smile broke through Cymdoril’s face. This was what she was meant to do – kill.
“Spare no one!” she heard the Highlord shout over the din. Cymdoril happily obliged, blocking the blow from the nearest soldier’s sword with one of her blades and gutting him with the other. A hard blow hit her from behind. Cymdoril spun, bringing a flurry of blows down on the hapless attacker.
Suits of armor, clashing swords, and the death cries of men and horses alike all blurred together as Cymdoril hacked and slashed, cutting slowly through the seething current of men and blood and dirt. The monotony was broken when lightning abruptly crashed down, fingers of power seeking out Scourge minions. Rotting flesh seared and skeletons collapsed as the sudden storm of lightning moved through the swarm of living and undead. Soon, the only undead left alive were Death Knights.
An old man dressed in paladin’s garb now stood in the center of the battlefield, a white-armored horse by his side. He looked directly at the Highlord, who now knelt on the field of battle, Ashbringer in hand.
“You cannot win, Darion,” Tirion Fordring said. Cymdoril looked at the paladin with fascination as a pair of Argent Dawn soldiers leveled their swords at her. So this was the leader of the outcast Silver Hand. The bombastic entrance did not shock her so much as what came out of Darion Mograine’s mouth.
“Stand down, Death Knights,” the Highlord ordered. “We have lost. The Light . . . this place . . . no hope . . .” A group of silver-armored paladins marched the Highlord, Thassarian, and Koltira Deathweaver to the steps of the chapel, where the trio knelt in submission.
“Have you learned nothing, boy?” Fordring asked the Highlord. “You have become all that your father fougth against. Like that coward, Arthas, you allowed yourself to be consumed by the darkness, the hate . . . feeding upon the misery of those you tortured and killed!
“Your master knows what lies beneath that chapel. That is why he dares not show his face! He’s sent you and your death knights to meet their doom, Darion. What you are feeling right now is the anguish of a thousand lost souls! Souls that you and your master brought here! The Light will tear you apart, Darion!” Tirion exclaimed.
Without looking up, Highlord Mograine replied, “Save your breath, old man. It might be the last you ever draw.” Cymdoril tensed in anticipation. A gnawing sense of “not right” began to eat at her brain. Something was wrong . . . but what?
Suddenly, a man materialized behind the gathered group. Darion Mograine stood unbidden, and turned to look at the man. Cymdoril also shifted, the better to see what was happening. The swords at her throat tapped against armor.
The image spoke, it’s voice joyful. “My son! My dear, beautiful boy!”
“Father!” The Highlord’s voice was awestruck. Abruptly, Mograine fell to one knee, clutching his head. “Aargh . . . What . . . is . . .?”
Another image appeared, a human youth. The young man moved towards the image of the elder Mograine, embracing it.
“You’ve been gone a long time, Father,” the new image said. Cymdoril’s eyes widened.
“Nothing could have kept me away from here, Darion,” Alexandros Mograine’s image replied. “Not from my home and family.”
The young Darion Mograine looked away for a moment, as if summoning up courage. “Father, I wish to join you in the war against the undead. I want to fight! I can sit idle no longer!” As the young Mograine made his pronouncement, Tirion Fordring walked up towards the present Highlord, standing just over his shoulder.
Alexandros Mograine adopted a stern look. “Darion Mograine, you are barely of age to hold a sword, much less battle the undead hordes of Lordaeron! I could not bear losing you. Even the thought . . .” The sheer pain that the idea caused was enough to cut off the image’s words.
The image of Darion Mograine was undeterred. “If I die, Father, I would rather it be on my feet, standing in defiance against the undead legions! If I die, let me die with you!”
This snapped the elder Mograine out of the haze of imagination. The image placed a hand on the shoulder of the other image. “My son, there will come a day when you will command the Ashbringer, and with it, mete justice across this land. I have no doubt that when that day finally comes, you will bring pride to our people and that Lordaeron will be a better place because of you. But, my son, that day is not today.”
The image of the young Darion Mograine faded away, leaving only the ghost of the father. It hovered in the air in front of the Death Knight that it’s son had become. Cymdoril heard its words on the wind. Do not forget . . .
Even undead, Cymdoril felt a small bit of sorrow for the Highlord. But . . . I’m not supposed to feel . . . The sense of wrongness grew more powerful.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a fiery blue portal. It appeared behind the image of Alexandros Mograine, and the Lich King himself stepped through. Cold blue eyes appraised the scene, and a hand rose up from his side. Inside the hand, a glowing purple stone hovered. Cymdoril knew that crystal, had seen others like it before. The soul shard activated, and the image of Alexandros Mograine vanished into the crystal.
“Touching . . .” was all the Lich King said. “He is mine now.”
Upon his words, the Highlord raised his head. “You . . . betrayed me,” the Highlord said, anger sharpening his voice. “You betrayed us all, monster! Face the might of Mograine!”
The truth of Darion Mograine’s words hit Cymdoril like a thunderbolt. Since the start of the battle, she hadn’t felt the Lich King’s thoughts in her head. That was what was wrong! No, no, NO. That couldn’t be right, it had to be something else! But despite what Cymdoril told herself, she knew in what was left of her soul that she had been abandoned. And she felt it more keenly than any pain she’d ever known.
Memories of her own intruded upon her consciousness. Giggling with Eonys over a few of the more handsome priests in Silvermoon, the undead swarming through the forests of Quel’Thalas, her sister Laenaris watching as she left for the Eastern Plaguelands . . . The faces of Cymdoril’s parents watched her just a few feet away. She felt their anger. How could you betray us so, daughter?
A flash of light brought Cymdoril back to the present. Highlord Darion Mograine lay to the side, corpselike. Tirion Fordring hovered in the air, surrounded by glorious golden Light, the sword Ashbringer in hand. But this was not the Ashbringer Cymdoril was used to – this was an uncorrupted Ashbringer, an instrument of Light, not darkness.
And for the second time that day, Cymdoril experienced something she had never thought she’d hear: the Lich King sounded surprised. “What is this?” the Lich King asked.
“Your end.” Tirion Fordring’s voice was as deadly as sharpened steel. The paladin charged towards the Lich King, bringing the purified Ashbringer down towards the very first Death Knight. Armor dented, though the Lich King was able to step back before more damage could be done.
“Impossible. . .” the Lich King denied. “This . . . is not over! When we next meet, it won’t be on holy ground, paladin!” With that, the Lich King stepped back through the portal, blue fire vanishing. Cymdoril stared for a moment at the space where the Lich King had once been. The undefeatable had just been defeated. The invincible . . . had been harmed!
Once again, Tirion Fordring’s voice broke through her thoughts. “Rise, Darion, and listen.”
Cymdoril turned, the swordpoints at her neck forgotten. The paladin stood over the Highlord, who knelt where he had fallen earlier. Tirion walked a few steps away, then turned to face the Death Knight.
“We have all been witness to a terrible tragedy,” Fordring began. “The blood of good men has been shed upon this soil. Honorable knights, slain defending their lives – our lives! And while such things can never be forgotten, we must remain vigilant in our cause!”
The new wielder of Ashbringer turned to face the rest of the crowd. “The Lich King must answer for what he has done, and must not be allowed to cause further destruction in our world. I make a promise to you now, brothers and sisters: the Lich King will be defeated!”
A ragged cheer rose up from Death Knight and paladin alike. “On this day, I call for a union,” Highlord Tirion Fordring announced. “The Argent Dawn and the Order of the Silver Hand will come together as one! We will succeed where so many before us have failed! We will take the fight to Arthas, and we will tear down the walls of Icecrown!”
Fordring turned, raising Ashbringer high to point at the floating necropolis in the distance. “The Argent Crusade comes for you, Arthas!” Fordring roared. Cymdoril cheered along with the rest of those gathered. What could she say? She was a sucker for a good speech.
The cheers quieted as Darion Mograine stood. “So too do the Knights of the Ebon Blade,” he said solemnly. “Although our kind has no place in your world, we will fight to bring an end to the Lich King. This I vow!”
Cymdoril nodded, half to herself. Now, she could feel again. She felt rage as she looked down at her hands, and complete hatred at what the Lich King had done to her. The remnants of the depression she’d suffered after the fall of Quel’Thalas and the loss of her Light-given powers also rose to the surface. She had used up all her second chances when she died; she was a creature of the Light in the same way a Voidlord was. Cymdoril would never be able to heal another person again.
The Lich King would just have to pay for that.