Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Icecrown Glacier: Part 2
Where did my mind end and the corpse begin?
The bones of a griffin carried me across the frozen miles, the clicks of its dead wings possessing a mechanical regularity. Stale winds groaned as they swept through valleys turned into mass graves. Otuura flew ahead of me, the harsh light of her runeblade glowing like some unsightly beacon. The skeletal griffin ferrying me to the north was a loan from one of the other death knights who’d stayed behind in Crusaders' Pinnacle. There is a sense of overwhelming distance in Icecrown Glacier, and no matter how close Otuura flew, she might as well have been in some distant land. Dead eyes stare down from the clouded sky, the entire world around me a tomb. Shadows rise up, the old Scourge isolation returning in mind and soul.
Visions, either dreams or memories, harried me on that lonely flight. I felt myself pulled through the endless nights of my enslavement, sleepless though exhausted, fraught with fear. Pushed forward in a host of thousands, totally alone, cold seeping into my heart until not even the memory of warmth remained. Always the insistent voice, his transmissions drilled into the soul, giving only the promise of more loneliness, of more fear.
“That is the past,” I said. I again thought of home, no longer Dalaran or Lordaeron but Orgrimmar, its messy streets filled with smoke and the aroma of roasting meat, its hot red summers.
The city’s vibrant colors faded, bleaching to the ashen gray of the Scourge. How different was I from a Scourge drone? I, a wandering ghost without meaningful aim or purpose. Was I really less isolated? So few really knew me as more than a visitor. Those who hailed me a hero in the Redridge Mountains knew nothing of my true identity.
Daj’yah. I was on good enough terms with other Orgrimmar mages, but I suspected that most saw me as no more than an associate. She saw me as a friend. I longed to reach out to her at that moment, to hear her wry voice and tell her stories of my adventures, to feel the comfort of shared joy. At the thought of her, my truest friend, I smiled in defiance at the hell around me.
But even that sanctuary wavered, blackened at the Lich King’s touch. Orgrimmar is made a vast graveyard of toppled towers and broken homes, frost lacing the limbs of dead trees. Souls trapped in the prisons of their bodies. Daj’yah stumbles through the streets, an eyeless face rigid in death, unable to signal recognition. She is alone, and so am I. The master’s will reshapes the world and I wander through it a ghost wrapped in flesh, moving to the impulse of a distant mind, the isolation broken only by his voice.
“It is as it ever was, Destron.”
Images crystallized from blackness, monumental cliffs of ice overlooking lifeless valleys as my mount’s wings beat through the thin air. We were ascending, I realized. Scourge fortresses spread across the land like plague boils, saronite hulks in the shape of bladed crowns. The Lich King’s tireless miners bring up endless amounts of the foul metal, building mountains upon mountains.
I focused on Otuura, using her as a lifeline to the world. I will not have any part of the Lich King’s visions, of his endless present without either a past or a future. Such a world has not come to be, no matter what he says. Writing this, I remind myself of that fact, that my mind no longer belongs to him!
Otuura brought me to Aldur’thar, a grim symbol of the Lich King’s might. Called the Desolation Gate, it bridges the gap between mountains, a skin of saronite draped over the masonry. Arcane signal fires smolder along the ramparts, their light soiled in reflection on the mottled metal surface. Bladed buttresses support the impossible structure, the edifice trapped in time.
Aldur’thar soon slipped behind the mountains. My mount followed as Otuura dived into frozen basins, coasting low until she pulled back up and hurtled alongside the windswept ridges. I saw fewer signs of the Scourge amidst the peaks, though the foulness of the Lich King’s presence remained.
We crested a jagged summit to see a flanged metal fortress fused to the ice below us, black and glistening like blood. Two smaller structures, built into the rock, flanked the main citadel. Gargoyles flew in circles around the razor-sharp spire, and for one horrible moment I thought Otuura was leading me into a trap. Then I recalled how the Ebon Blade had appropriated some of the Scourge’s minions, even going so far as to make their own. I scowled at the thought.
We made a few passes around the Shadow Vault before landing in a freezing courtyard, surrounded by dark pavilions that drooped like empty hoods. A few death knights stood at attention, their blue eyes unreadable.
“Mistress Otuura,” intoned one, his voice as cold as the surrounding landscape. “How fares the Argent Crusade?”
“They hold the line, but their poor constitutions prevent them from going much further. The Argent Crusade continues to provide a helpful distraction,” she replied as she dismounted. I did the same, and both of the skeletal griffins walked towards a battered tent where they collapsed into piles of bones.
“Who is this visitor?”
“Destron Allicant, a mage. I must report to Duke Lankral. Suffer well.”
“Suffer well,” said the death knight, inclining his head. Otuura walked to the citadel without another word, her hooves rasping against the stones. Not knowing where else to go, I followed her without hope, past the long black banners standing on both sides of the gate.
There is light in the Shadow Vault, a pale excuse for it emitted from braziers filled with blue flames, their feeble illumination inspiring fear at what remains unseen. The Vault consists of a single colossal room, the far reaches and vaulted ceiling lost to sight. Narrow pillars fill the chamber, like trees in some metallic forest.
I halted at the entrance as Otuura disappeared into the blackness, the metallic echo of her steps the only sound. The death knights stood, still as corpses. Once-forgotten orders issued from the voice in my memory, becoming clearer by the second.
I faltered, clutching the sides of my head with both hands, fingers digging into dried skin as if to rip the surfacing memories from my skull. For so long my years of slavery had remained a merciful blank, but the images (still faded through the undead gaze) sharpened. Cobwebs in marketplace doors. Streets empty at noon. White rime on blue flesh. Body pits used for storage, skull-faced necromancers weaving magic with their ragged chants.
Stumbling out into the cold, I fell to my knees in the snow. I forced my mind to other matters, to the festive nights of Booty Bay and the green light of Feralas, to the grace of Stormspire and the libraries of the Scryers. A mere distraction, but enough to keep the older thoughts at bay.
Did I dare return the Shadow Vault? However much the Ebon Blade opposes the Scourge, they seem too much a part of the Lich King, his evil inextricable from their souls. Perhaps though, I am no longer in any condition to judge.
Lesser undead occupy the threadbare tents outside the Shadow Vault. Soulless automatons of flesh, the servants of the Ebon Blade each hold a few paltry memories from life, but lack the context to make sense of them, seeing everything through the lens of master and near-mindless servant. I recalled the ghoul, Baneflight, that I’d met in Zul’drak, speaking of his former family as masters for whom he’d toiled, no different from the death knights in his perspective.
Speaking to such a forlorn entity still seemed preferable to the malignancy of the Ebon Blade. Cautious steps took me through the snow and to a dark purple pavilion, its fabric rent and stained. A single eye watched me from the murk, filthy hide straps obscuring the rest of the face. The geist crouched on too-long legs, like a beast ready to pounce.
Swift and limber, the geists act as skirmishers. Strengthened by the dark magic integral to their creation, geists can rip off a man’s limbs with ease, and run as fast as horses. It’s commonly believed that geists are the resurrected corpses of men unjustly hung from the gallows. This is almost certainly untrue. Geists did not appear until after the Third War, by which point the free peoples knew to burn the bodies of the dead. No one would be foolish enough to leave hanged men out for the necromancers, certainly not in large numbers. I believe that the Cult of the Damned is responsible for spreading this story in an attempt to lower morale. A soldier might be more reluctant to serve should he think that there are enough wrongfully executed men from his own side that the Scourge can field an army of them.
“I am called the Leaper. Perhaps I had another name while alive. I do not care,” he said, loosening the straps that held his face together.
“The Ebon Blade raised you?”
“No. I am like you, once of the Scourge. Now the Ebon Blade is my master.”
“They took control of you?”
“Suppose so,” he said, his shoulders jerking upwards in what I realized was a shrug. His body never stayed still, his extremities twitching in quick, sharp movements like that of a man suffering a seizure.
“So you are powered by your own soul?”
“Suppose so. I feel very little. I am a weapon, like all undead.”
“Are used as weapons. Entirely willing ones, yes. Still weapons. Once the Lich King marks your soul, the mark never goes away.”
Perhaps in another place, I’d have rejected his answer. So near the Lich King, I saw no way to deny it. I left the Leaper in silence, retreating to the hollows beneath the ice-carved ridges. Numbed thoughts flitted through my mind, and I feared that some came from elsewhere.
I am not sure exactly how long I stayed there. Snow spun to the ground in flurries, driven to the Shadow Vault by a northern wind. The undead in the courtyard let the stuff accumulate on their shoulders, mantles of white on their corrupted forms. When Otuura finally emerged from the saronite keep, she studied me with a quizzical look.
“Brother Destron. Isolation is not recommended in this place. I suggest you join the community. We have no interest in harming you.” Her words, sharp and somehow condemnatory, stirred me. I stood up, brushing some of the snow from my own shoulders. Just like the lesser undead here, I thought, with an inward shiver.
“I apologize. I find it difficult to spend time with death knights.” Desperation made me candid.
“That does not matter. You must not be alone. Here in Icecrown, isolation is a threat to the Most Holy Light, and I will not tolerate such within these walls.”
“Very well,” I conceded. I walked over to Otuura, looking up to her dead blue eyes. I saw traces of luminous draenic beauty in her features, her horns chipped and her once-gleaming skin dull and sickly.
“Come inside. There are others there.”
I offered no protest, my feet like lead as they returned to the metal gate. I looked to the floor, a bas-relief sea of skulls forged on its surface.
Raising my head from the macabre decor, I saw a curious sight. A troll death knight sat cross-legged on the metal floor, his eyes closed. Next to him stood a Kaldorei, his runeblade resting point-first on the ground.
“Brothers Madj’ad and Urandil,” explained Otuura. “We have learned how to tap into the Lich King’s psychic network from this place. We use the vestigial remnant of his connection to us. Such is Madj’ad’s task at this moment.”
“A terrible risk,” I murmured.
“Indeed. Those engaged in spying never do so for more than a few minutes. Another death knight stands guard, ready to sever the head of the first should there be any sign of possession.”
“What sort of information do you find?”
“The paths of gargoyle patrols. This how we flew safely across such a great distance. Patrol arrangements change often, of course, and our readings are not without error. Nonetheless, it is a significant benefit.”
“How does Madj’ad stand it? Going back in there like that?”
“He desires victory. The Most Holy Light requires individual sacrifice. In this sense, the Knights of the Ebon Blade are an admirable reflection of the faith.”
“As for you, what is the High Prophet’s view on death knights?” I wondered how a race as religious and communal as the draenei might handle undeath. I knew that the ashem, those poor souls who suffered traumas that split them from draenic happiness, tended to stay at arm’s length. Unlike death knights, however, ashem could be rehabilitated.
“We are a useful tool for the Infinitely Holy Light on this world. Death knights take great joy in their service. Therefore, we add to the collective joy. The High Prophet takes no issue with our existence.”
“Are you integrated into larger draenic society?”
“No. We no longer fit into the draenic ways. Arthas gave my kind a desire for power, alarming in its similarity to the attitudes displayed by the Eredar. This has proven to be too great a block to overcome, and it cannot be allowed to spread. Separation is the only answer.”
“How do you deal with the loneliness?”
“We have found a new collective in the Knights of the Ebon Blade,” she said, referring to the multi-family units that are the building blocks of draenic society.
“Do you miss the old ways?”
“I do not indulge in self-pity. I am dead. Only the memory of Light remains.”
The discipline of past lives rules the Knights of the Ebon Blade. Those who ascribe to the Light kneel each morning and evening, sometimes more often, to recite their joyless prayers. Otuura leads them, her high and perfect voice lifting an ancient Eredun hymn through the tenebrous vault. Her petitioners chant in Common and other tongues, their eyes closed to the nightmare realm around them. Amidst that metallic choir, Otuura’s song dominates but does not guide. Their holy words weigh down on the soul, offering no hope of redemption or liberation. Piety can focus their need for vengeance, but cannot eliminate it.
I joined the discordant chorus, my weak voice impossible to hear beneath the song's leaden tone. I shivered beneath my coat, though not from the cold. In my heart I searched for some sense of kinship, the unity of the Holy Light in which the wise take refuge. I found only the mocking shadow of sacred union.
When the last echo faded, the silence dispelled the illusion of fellowship. Yet illusions have their value. Exposed, I again felt his distant eyes, cruel in their indifference. He transmits from his throne, sowing evil in the souls of others, a vast parasite stretching across the north. The weight of his presence is inescapable to those who have felt it before, a heaviness that is godlike but in no way divine.
I wandered like a ghost in that vast metal sarcophagus. In the lonely hours I saw the saronite pillars become the bleeding and twisted trees of fallen Lordaeron, the soil beneath my feet ridden with plague. Bodies pulled from eviscerated homes and given unnatural life. Of all the minds in the universe, who else could understand the horror of those sights, witnessed in isolation? Only the Lich King, who had seen the same atrocities through my eyes. His voice called out to me, renewing the bond of suffering that we shared.
“We too hear his voice, Brother Destron. It only sharpens our will to victory,” said Otuura. She studied her runeblade as she spoke, the weapon long and lithe, a sleeping predator.
“Your kind shares that with him,” I said, my voice thick and awkward.
“I do not see why it should be different for the Forsaken. Perhaps it is because the Forsaken insist on being alone. There is weakness in that.”
“Perhaps. But what were we to do? We were his slaves. Not like you and the other butchers! Armored cowards spilling blood for his sake, raising us to do his will! Light damn all of you—”
I froze mid-sentence, hearing my own rage for the first time, my true feelings shorn of the intellectual blockades I’d so carefully built up over the years. Something stirred in Otuura’s flawless face: anger.
“Watch your words, Brother Destron. I will not hesitate to kill one who threatens the community.”
I fled the Shadow Vault without another word, running into the snow, burning with shame as I again heard his voice in the sky and the stones. Frayed tents passed in a blur, undead occupants lifting their heads on decayed necks to see me run. All strength left as I realized the vastness of his domain, that I would need to traverse leagues upon leagues to escape, and that even then the remembrance of his voice would follow me to the ends of the earth.
I fell into the snow, quaking like a newborn child, sensing his cruel face looking down at me from black clouds. Hands clutched at the snow, my body trying to push itself into the pavement, knowing that he lurked in the ground as surely as he ruled all else.
A grip of impossible strength pulled me back from his will. I stopped moving, not able to resist the armored hand holding the back of my coat, lifting my face above the ground.
“You are suffering. Brother Destron: can you preserve yourself for a while longer? One of our number is headed to Crusaders' Pinnacle tomorrow, and you may accompany him. I will not have you here, controlled as you are by fear and sorrow. Nor do I wish to see you suffer; I do not take joy in that.”
I nodded. Otuura released me. With aching slowness I turned to face her, afraid to look at the eyes of the woman I’d so cruelly insulted.
“I am sorry,” I said in a voice just above a whisper. “I fear I am losing myself here. I did not mean to be a burden.”
“An apology means nothing. If you wish to make up for your failure, be strong.”
Nothing more remained to be said. She could not tell me how. I remained outside, sitting at the top flight of the icy stairway leading down the cliffs. Corpses littered the steps, the hewn remains of the Scourge’s most recent attacks. Almost invisible against the dark stone, the Ebon Blade’s death knights guarded against further attack.
Bleak though the spot was, the Lich King’s influence seemed weaker there than in the Shadow Vault. If one recalls the properties of saronite, it is not difficult to think that the strange metal acts as a catalyst for his malice.
Snow began falling from thick skies, the flakes dark and oily with some unknown pollution. How many miles had I traveled just to return to the grave? His will rules the land. Defiance is impossible; acceptance is unthinkable.
Had I ever been free? For all my years of struggle, I still move in response to his will. Our souls drown in the sins he committed through us. I remember too well his insistent voice, a dry wind in the desert of undeath. My hands red and dripping, the only color on a numbed world of white, reality without substance. I strain to feel my fingertips from the prison in the back of my mind, his voice crushing me. I cannot breathe or move. There is only the cold and the pressure, the darkness of borrowed sensation. I am alone with him, and no god will hear my cries.
Half-understood memories revealed escape as an illusion. Still he controls me. The channel between my mind and his never truly closes. Had I dreamed the world I’d traveled, all its richness and splendor? His voice is the answer, his words weaving reality. I, a helpless spectator in a rotting prison, a canvas for his cruelty.
As if in a trance I watched the procession snaking through the sky, an endless train of black bones lashed together by magic. Flashes of lightning revealed the gaping skulls of ancient dragons, and below that the gargoyles, stony wings churning in the air. Time coagulated, made dry and black.
Winds erode the mountains, wearing them down to rubble as darkness clogs the sky, leaving behind a world of dust and stone, so cold, so cold. I hear his voice, a reminder that I am not alone in the bone-white multitudes, and I thank him for that as I try to remember what it was to weep.
In darkness, light is freedom. Reality flickers as a memory, fragments of illumination in the deepest recesses of the mind. I imagine the faces of others and realize I am not alone, even if they despise me for the corruption that he stamped on my soul, even if they cannot hear or see me.
My mind lurched as the world reasserted itself. Only then did I truly see the undead aerial fleet, a black cloud disappearing into the southwest. An iron alarm trumpet blared in the mountains, the death knights giving the news to their fellows.
“Are we under attack?” I asked a nearby death knight, an orc. My mind was still fogged.
“Did you not see those monsters?” he growled.
“I saw them. They were going away from here?”
“Yes. A great portion of the Scourge’s fliers are headed away from Crusaders' Pinnacle, away from the front. Something is amiss, and we do not know what.”
With surprising speed he ran towards the Shadow Vault, where there already gathered a black-armored congregation. I hurried towards it, grateful for the distraction despite what it might entail. Had the Lich King been trying to control me? Or were the memories of my time in the Scourge, so mercifully forgotten, finally surfacing? Both? I could not know.
I caught Otuura’s eye. She walked up to me as the rest of the Ebon Blade argued over the meaning of the event.
“Brother Destron. You saw the frost wyrms, yes?”
“I did. I could not get a very good look, but I saw them.”
“Had they struck the Shadow Vault with that army, I do not think we would have prevailed. Yet they bypassed us completely. Arthas would not send such a large aerial force without reason; something is stirring in the southwest, and we must find out what.”
“How did your spies miss a troop movement of this size?”
“I do not know. Perhaps Arthas knows we are watching him, and has taken steps to block us. Perhaps he only wanted us to think it worked.
“We cannot spare anyone to return you to Crusaders' Pinnacle. You will accompany us on our flight; the skeletal griffin of a fallen death knight will be provided.”
“Perhaps I could fly it back—”
“You do not know how. The griffin will be slaved to my own, as it was on the way here. I will destroy it if you show any sign of corruption. You pose a security risk, but a minor one, and you may be useful besides. This is an unfortunate state of affairs, but there is nothing to be done.”
“I’d be going even closer to his seat of power.”
“You may not stay here. Battle, or the possibility of it, might at least bolster your resistance to Arthas’ influence. Adversity inculcates strength. I have no doubt that you will fall to his will if you remain. Follow us, or I will kill you now.”
“Very well. I will go.”
Numbed, I said nothing as they marched me to the steed, its bones darkened by the stains of lost flesh. Lowering myself to the saddle I watched as the death knights wrenched piles of bones into invisible frames. The dead once again moved to the desires of others.
Did I fear death so much that going further into Icecrown seemed desirable? A swift cut of her blade, and Otuura could end my torment. The Ebon Blade would destroy my body, consigning my soul to the safety of what lies beyond. Never again would I hear his voice, or feel him disinter dark memories.
As much as I feared him, perhaps my soul still burned with the desire to spite him. To make him feel my hatred like a dagger in his heart, though he is surely beyond such concerns. So great is my loathing that any thought of causing pain is enough motivation.
With that thought, the future of the Forsaken spread out before me. He’d made his own race of bitter creatures, willing to risk damnation to inflict on him a shade of the suffering he’d caused. I’d once thought to reject the Scourge, but what else besides loathing could motivate me to resist? Our Dark Lady had defied him, a freedom born of hatred releasing us from bondage.
I can only with difficulty recall the frenzied flight from the Shadow Vault, hurtling past white mountains and the dust of dry vales. Consciousness came and went, the world a static background to horrors half-seen in the snowbound wastelands below. We kept distant from the great mustering grounds where chained ghosts marched to his will, instead flying high between the knife-sharp peaks. On the slopes, fleshless armies chipped away at draconic bones gripped by ice, their movements swift and stiff like marionettes.
We seemed beneath the frost wyrms’ notice. Their bones must have been culled from the bodies of great old patriarchs, each the equal of Orgrim’s Hammer in size. The Lich King’s might kept them aloft. I could not bring myself to look at them for long. They symbolize his power, the awful weight that crushes the mind and spirit.
Mumbling prayers and half-remembered conversations with friends long absent, I only dimly saw the chaos below us. Soaring over the mountains we reached a shallow canyon coated in a hazy film of green fog. Saronite towers riddled the icy rock walls like a dozen black needles. An acrid stink choked the air, the smell of a hundred poisons mixed together. Abominations and worse shambled through the fog, seen as pale slugs from on high. At the edge of the toxic pit, shining even in the darkness, stood the white and gold banner of the Argent Crusade.
Comprehension slowly dawned as I observed the battle being waged. Swarms of undead scurried down the paths, cut down by massed rifle fire as the Argent Crusade inched towards victory. Mounted gunners rode ahead of the columns, firing incendiary shells that exploded into plumes of white flame. A fleet of zeppelins hovered at the edge of the fray, the Steamwheedle logo on proud display from the patchwork balloons.
My exhausted mind tried to figure out how the Crusade, already pushed to the limit, had managed to breach the deadly southern mountains. With the bulk of their troops at Crusaders' Pinnacle, they must have reserved their elite units for the attack. A combination of mobility and firepower had sent the defenders reeling.
The Lich King’s response wound its way through the freezing air, black bones almost invisible against the endless night. That he sent so many of his greatest weapons revealed the scale of the threat to his realm. As the Argents attacked the south, did they also make war against Scourgeholme in the east? His domain, ensconced in ice and cursed metal, no longer seemed invincible. Once I’d have rejoiced at the idea. In that awful place, exhausted in mind and soul, I felt only a vague satisfaction. Though his realm crumbled around him, he pressed on in my mind, his whispers a ceaseless rush unheard by the living.
Otuura unsheathed her runeblade, drawing it back like a scorpid’s tail as the Ebon Blade soared up to break the Scourge’s aerial reinforcements. Shifting bones blocked the sky, creating a morbid hemisphere over the battlefield, and I knew that I’d reached the last of my days. Here my body might be destroyed on death, if not by the enemy than by my allies. An end to feeling his hate corrupt my soul. An end to the curse I thought I’d escaped.
Flocks of gargoyles flew down to intercept. The death knights’ hollow laughter dripped contempt on their attack. Currents of darkness leapt whip-like from mailed fists, splintering wings and arms. Bodies rained down on the mountains, yet his forces had only begun. More gargoyles split from the main body, flying father apart from each other. Dropping like flies, each took with it a portion of the death knights’ energies.
Torrents of blue light flooded the sky, draconic skulls lowered to blast their fury on us, mighty roars muted by death. Otuura flew nimble between brilliant columns of killing frost, my own griffin following close. Did she fly for my sake as well? Or did luck alone keep me whole? I’d not have much time to do any damage, I realized.
A shadowy form slammed into me from on high, and I felt ribs splintering in my chest. My upper body fell back, and I raised my arms in instinct. Claws, rough and ponderous, scraped at sleeves and skin. I saw the bat-like snout, the vast wings buffeting the air. Beneath me the griffin twisted to the side, the gargoyle somehow able to keep its place. It raised a stony paw, perhaps to break the wings or neck of my steed. I struck first.
A sphere of arcane power burst just above the gargoyle, the kinetic force snapping its head forward. I followed the attack with a barrage of arcane missiles, the spell slamming into my adversary’s face. The monstrosity slumped, the sudden weight causing the griffin to dip in its flight before the gargoyle slid into oblivion.
Free of my assailant, I saw the chaos surrounding me. I flew in a maelstrom of darkness, catching impressions of toothy skulls and vast spines. Gargoyles flew in swarms between vaulted ribs, like flies from a corpse. Whether we fought towards victory or towards defeat, I could not tell.
The griffin careened into a mad spin and I heard the raw crack of breaking bone. Something had struck us from below. My mount rolled into the waiting claws of another gargoyle, the sharp hands locked in a deathly grip as the griffin struggled to regain control, its wings flapping helplessly.
I knew I’d not be able to last for much longer. Dragons flew above and beneath us, their breath weapons as bright as noon. Mental commands shot through the dead air, the entire battle a reception locus for his will. My fingers trembling, I unbuckled the straps holding me in place, refusing to look at the world tilting around me. The gargoyle tore off the griffin’s right wing with another wrenching snap.
Loosing the last strap I threw myself off the saddle. I’d put myself into the hands of fate. Instinct replaced thought, my body operating on a primeval level resistant (though not immune) to his will.
Beneath me the frost wyrm’s spine undulated like some giant snake, vertebrae shifting as it moved, carrying ribs and vast wings. Spikes as sharp as teeth ran up the dragon’s spine, growing in dense clusters from the bone. If I missed, I’d hit the ground or the sharp points, finding obliteration either way. If my aim was true, I’d live long enough to bring the Lich King that much closer to destruction.
A field of bone sped up to meet me and the shock of impact tore through my body. Pain, almost like a living man’s, quivered up my arm from the left hand. I looked to the source of this agony, and saw the hand impaled on one of the barbs. Ruined, I immediately knew. Fingers drooped at unnatural angles, my hand’s bones splintered and pushed through flesh by the impact.
It no longer mattered. Just as pain assaulted my body, the Lich King bore down on my mind. I tried to shut out the barrage of words. One might as well fight the tide. Knowing this, I pulled my hand off the spike and crept forward. Far to my right, a frost wyrm plummeted to the ground, its master's last orders manifesting as helpless twitches through its body. At least some of the death knights still fought.
The frost wyrm on which I’d landed seemed to be making a slow circle around the battlefield. Its size worked against it, allowing me to sneak unnoticed on the broad shoulder blades. At times I saw the wyrm raise its head and open its jaws, frosty light bellowing out at death knights who flew too near.
Keeping low I crawled up the neck towards its great head. A little longer, I promised myself, and then I could surrender myself to darkness. Just enough to deprive my master of one favored servant.
Bony plates suddenly lifted beneath my feet, and I began to slide over the edge. Reaching out with my good arm I grabbed hold of the nearest spike as the dragon’s head turned to again loose its breath. I prayed that the hold wouldn’t break under my weight when the frost wyrm’s right eye, the same lifeless blue as the death knights’, swung into view, holding me fast in its glare.
When the head turned forward, the bones shifting again, I realized that it had not seen me.
“Grant me this, Light, give me the strength of my fellows,” I uttered.
Standing just behind the head, I got down on my belly, inching towards its brow. Keeping to the side of the narrow spine, I wrapped my left arm around the nearest spike and focused at its right socket, the cavity brimming with cruel light. Fire sprang to life, my maimed hand trying to shape it into a sphere. I hoped that the frost wyrm would not see the pyroblast as it grew.
The body swerved to the left as a death knight flew by, and the great thorn I held to dug into my arm. Still I kept my mind on the arcane currents, forcing them to my will. When it was ready, I smiled for what felt like the first time in an eternity.
Fire launched from my hand and into the frost wyrm’s eye, the blue light flickering red as the spell rushed in. For a moment the world seemed to wait in expectation. All at once the skull jerked back, a dull boom audible through the thick bone. Fire and smoke poured out from both sockets as a dying shudder ran through the frost wyrm’s body. Loosened by the blast, the skull split from the spine and fell, and the headless body dipped into a sickening plunge. Still holding myself to the corpse, I prepared for the end.