Character: Bonelord Maraad, Champion of the Scourge.
Sun rose over the Azuremyst Isles, sprinkling light over the blueish vegetation. But upon closer inspection, one could notice something wrong. Between and beneath the trees, the grass was dying and the ground itself was corrupted with evil magic. The same magic seeped through the ground and into the trees which were losing their leaves and their colour en masse. Then one could notice the sources of all this in the distance – the Scourge. Meat wagons and dozens of ghouls and other corrupted corpses ravaged the forest on their path, going straight for one of the last remaining lights of hope on this Azeroth. The Exodar, once a wing of the Tempest Keep, now the refuge for some of the last defenders of Azeroth – most of whom ironically were not from this planet. They were the draenei – stalwart in their belief in the Light and the last to fall to the onslaught of the Scourge. But not all of them are still clinging to that last hope. Some were broken, lost. Even the greatest heroes of their civilization began to fall apart. And this paragon of the draenei was one of the first to fall.
Maraad stood on the ridge of what was once called Azure Watch. Now the only name he saw fit for it was “a feast for ghouls” – because that was exactly what was happening. Ghouls were consuming the bodies of the defenders of the makeshift town, as the necromancers were busy chaining the fallen draenei spirits to their service. Maraad briefly remembered caring about these people and spending his free time with them. Looking at Acteon’s face, he recollected his roaring laughter and tried to feel something… but just couldn’t. The Light was his to command no more, and with the Light, all emotion was gone. The only one left was hatred. Hatred of everything that moves and defies the will of his new master, the Lich King.
Although he could not feel anything, he sometimes still wondered what would life be like if that final battle that freed him from the bonds of ephemeral life went differently. When he laid dead at the feet of Arthas, everything went dark. In that brief moment, he realized he was lied to his whole life – there is no Light, no paradise for the martyrs after death. There is only darkness before him. He thought that if he could go back, he would do everything to remain in this world, even if it meant defying death. But he did not have to go back – his new master brought him back to life with the Frostmourne, among the nine other souls that fought the Lich King on that day. When he woke up, he saw Tirion Fordring dead with the once Light-infused hammer shattered. Soon later, Maraad and his nine compatriots led the charge to wipe out the rest of the Argent Crusaders infesting the Citadel, as well as killing the fool Darion Mograine, wielding the corrupted sword of his father – no match against the Scourge in this state.
Or at least that’s what Maraad believed he had thought at the time. The Lich King was now everywhere. Not just in his minions, on the verge of eradicating all life on Azeroth, but in his mind as well. Everywhere Maraad went, Arthas followed and told him what to do. At his master’s command, Maraad dropped his Light-infused holy hammer and picked up an axe, honed with shadow and blood. He then commanded the undead armies in the field and razed a thousand cities, millions dead by his hand or the hands of his minions. Sometimes, a flash of his former self told him it was so wrong, but Maraad knew that version of him was dead and gone. Vindicator Maraad was no more. Now there was only Bonelord Maraad.
As the charge was about to begin, Maraad saw a flash of light. Something was happening below the Exodar. The ground shook, and the undead minions stood in place, awaiting orders – from their Champion, from their Lord – anyone who knew what was happening. Maraad frowned, looking for an explanation, giving pause to the entire army. And then a thought crossed his mind. No, they can’t be.
With another brilliant display of colours, the mountain surrounding the Exodar shattered to pieces and the great ship slowly rose out of the ground. So, the found a way, those fools, he thought, But no matter. There is no place they can take this ship where they would avoid the wrath of the Lich King. A thought of them escaping to another planet crossed his mind, but he knew the Lich King would not let it happen. This is what they are here for, actually – the dimensional core of the Exodar, and a Naaru to fly it. Without those, his mission would be in vain. But he kept telling himself, or at least a voice that sounded like his did, that they will not let it happen.
“Summon the necropolis,” he said, “They will not fly far.” The lich by his side, Thar’zad, once known as the human archbishop Benedictus, simply nodded and left.
The Exodar was slow. It was after all a dilapidated ship that crashed years ago and never truly recovered. Although seemingly the draenei artificers managed to rebuild enough of it to make it operational, they could not possibly hope to make the jump to another planet – at least not without another crash, one that could possibly kill all of the few hundred remaining living draenei. As it was slowly ascending to the sky, another giant construct appeared. It was the Malykriss, a dreaded citadel that brought death to half of Northern Kalimdor, under command of Bonelord Maraad.
Waves of gargoyles and frostwyrms erupted from the Vile Hold, assaulting the Exodar, trying to take it down before it could warp away. Even if all the draenei died in the crash, the dimensional core and the Naaru would remain out of the Scourge’s reach, and the Lich King cannot allow that. The few draenei who learned how to fight in the air on the hippogryphs fought valiantly, just as the couple of brave gnomish refugees did in their flying machnes. But ultimately, their sacrifices were in vain. The dead know no rest, and when some fall, more come in their place, without an end to their numbers. Finally, Maraad landed his frostwyrm before the ship’s entrance and prepared for a triumphant entrance.
The goblin champion, Deathbringer Strongarm, would have simply blasted everything in his way apart with explosives. But Maraad liked to think he was a bit more subtle than that. He simply cut through the defenders with his axe. In the end, the amount of gore left in his path was about the same, but he did it with a weapon of… No, there is no honor. There is no sense to petty bickering which weapon is better. All that matters is that enemies of his master die and come to serve him. As he cut through the corridor, he mentally commanded his minions to search for the Naaru that was piloting the ship. They obeyed, but surprisingly another presence entered his mind. A calm, soft voice that felt like needles in his rotten brain.
“A Naaru will never serve your dark master,” the voice of his once Prophet echoed in his mind, “This ship will never be yours.”
“Silence, old fool,” Maraad responded out loud. “I know you’re somewhere close. Show yourself!” Light flashed again, and there he was – Velen and his four servants, called the Shields, all concealed with their holy magic. “Did you forget the Auchenai already?”
“How could I ever forget?” Velen spoke out. “My children who were lost, just as you are now.”
Maraad just laughed with his booming, undead voice. “And what really lied at the heart of their corruption? A corrupted Naaru. We will find O’ros and corrupt him. He will become a beacon of darkness greater than D’ore, than M’uru.”
“He will not allow himself to be corrupted,” Velen remained defiant.
“He will have no say in it. Just like I never did, or thousands of others that now serve the Lich King. But with his guidance, O’ros will see that all life ends, but death… death is eternal.”
“And you really think you, or your master, can control a being of such power? Naaru are strong.”
“Stronger than dragons who try to defy time to undo our success? Stronger than servants of Old Gods? Stronger than a couple of delusional trolls?” Maraad laughed again. “The Naaru is simply means to an end. The end, even. The end of all life, everywhere.”
“That is the only thing you will succeed at this way,” Velen continued, undeterred, “Without all the heroes you have slain, Azeroth will fall to the Burning Legion, and so shall your master. You have sealed your fate.”
“Are you really that stupid, ‘Prophet’? Why do you think we are doing this?” Maraad shouted back. “When we take this ship, we will have devices capable of pouring our armies against the Legion worlds. When we are finished with Azeroth, we will use your precious Naaru to do what you could not because you sat on your ass inside a weapon of great power. We will destroy the Legion.”
“And then proceed to destroy all life. Just what Sargeras wanted.”
“And then proceed to turn all life to death. To give everyone… eternal existence.”
But the Prophet no longer responded. He just cupped his hands together and closed his eyes. Maraad realized something was happening, but it was too late.
A violent explosion rocked the ship, which immediately began plummeting to the ground.
“What have you done?” Maraad shouted, barely clinging onto the wall.
“The core of the ship was just destroyed.” Velen responded calmly, floating above the floor, cracking beneath his hooves as he spoke.
“You did what? You killed your precious Naaru?”
“I’d rather see him die than let him fall to enemy hands. And we knew you would corrupt him. So he sacrificed himself to stop you from achieving the means of bringing more death.”
“You old fool,” Maraad said, looking below him, into the burning chasm that remained of the engine. “You have doomed everyone. All of your followers will now die with this ship. Soon, death will spread its wings over all of Azeroth.”
But the Prophet remained calm, despite his impending death.
“Life always finds a way.”
Maraad’s hands finally slipped and as he plunged into the inferno below him, all he could do was roaring in defiance of a man he once called his leader.
Next time: Trollbane