War against the Lich King

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Wrath of the Lich King War against the Lich King
War against the Lich King
Location: Northrend, Kalimdor, Eastern Kingdoms
Prelude: Zombie Infestation
Provocation: The Lich King orchestrates attacks on major factions throughout Azeroth, causing them to launch a combined invasion of Northrend, with the objective of dismantling the Scourge
Begin: Battle for Light's Hope Chapel
End: Fall of the Lich King
Outcome: Tactical Scourge defeat
Belligerents

Alliance Alliance

Horde Horde

Commanders and leaders
Strength
Casualties and losses

Alliance losses amounted to nearly 50,000 dead; exact number of casualties for other factions unknown, but presumed to be equally massive

Almost complete annihilation of the Scourge command structure and vast losses for all Scourge forces; heavy losses for vrykul loyalists; Scourge as an entity fluid and indestructible

Major Battles: Zombie Infestation, Battle for Light's Hope Chapel, Battle for the Ebon Hold, Scourge Invasion of Orgrimmar, Scourge Invasion of Stormwind, Scourge Invasion of Theramore, Battle of Angrathar the Wrathgate, Battle for the Undercity, Icecrown Gunship Battle and Fall of the Lich King.
Previous: War in Outland
Concurrent: Nexus War, Northgate rebellion
Next: War Against the Nightmare
"It's begun.
Young heroes... I was once like you. You have come to this place seeking to bring judgement upon the damned. You will venture deep into forgotten lands. You will see wonders beyond imagining. But be warned. The land itself will rise up against you. Long forgotten terrors will smother your courage. Sacrifice everything as the final darkness falls... in the end, all that awaits you is death. Only then will you understand - you've been following in my footsteps all along.
So come then, you heroes! Come in all your power and glory! For in the final hour, all must serve the one... true... king."
Arthas Menethil, the Lich King

The War against the Lich King[1][2] (also called war against the Scourge,[3][4][5] battle against the Lich King,[6] war for Northrend,[7] Scourgewar,[8] Northrend campaign,[9] and war in the frozen wastes[10]) was a world conflict fought between the Scourge, led by the Lich King Arthas Menethil, and a coalition of the majority of Azeroth's other races primarily led by the Argent Crusade. In the face of a number of aggressive actions conducted by a newly-resurgent Undead Scourge, a number of organizations were established to bring an end to the threat of the Lich King once and for all. First among these was the formation of the Argent Cursade after the war's first conflict, the Battle for Light's Hope Chapel, which also cemented the independence of the Knights of Ebon Blade, all of these factions immediately declaring war on, and mobilising to oppose, the Scourge.

At the same time, while the Alliance and Horde were also preparing to attack the Scourge, the Lich King preemptively struck first. The Scourge simultaneously launched determined invasions of Stormwind, Orgrimmar and Theramore, escalating the war by forcing the two factions to take direct action. Having repelled the Lich King's forces, the Horde and Alliance declared war on the Scourge and formally launched their campaigns to the continent of Northrend, the Lich King's base of operations.[11] At this time, the mages of the Kirin Tor also joined the conflict by moving their city of Dalaran to Crystalsong Forest, in the center of Northrend; the city would go on to serve as a launching point for many of the actions against the Scourge.

As the Alliance and Horde began to consolidate the holdings they had gained on the continent, the Argent Crusade, under Highlord Tirion Fordring, began to bolster its forces and strike out against the Scourge. In the midst of the War against the Lich King, several other major threats presented themselves which drew the attention of the many factions. These included the Nexus War, the Battle for the Undercity and its aftermath, the Wolfcult, and the awakening of Ulduar. Despite these distractions, the Lich King's collective adversaries continued making gains against the Scourge, eventually taking the fight to Icecrown itself.

Following a brief intermission in major fighting as the Argent Crusade and its champions tested and prepared themselves in the Argent Tournament in Icecrown, an assault on the Lich King's bastion—Icecrown Citadel—was launched. The battle was a coordinated effort by the Crusade, the Knights of the Ebon Blade, the Horde and Alliance (although they came to blows during the event), with the goal of finally vanquishing the Lord of the Scourge. Though the Lich King, Arthas, was eventually defeated, it became apparent that the absence of a Lich King would lead to the Scourge becoming unrestrained, at which point it would eventually destroy Azeroth. Taking the burden upon himself, the once-thought-deceased Bolvar Fordragon donned the helmet of the Lich King, in doing so becoming dormant on the Frozen Throne and binding the Scourge. This event marked the end of the Campaign in Northrend, the united mortal races having achieved a decisive victory over the Undead Scourge (though it could not be fully vanquished), thereby saving the entire world from catastrophe.

History

Prelude

The Lich King reanimates Sindragosa, the Frost Queen

After his defeat of Illidan Stormrage in Icecrown, the Death Knight Arthas Menethil proceeded to ascend the Frozen Throne and don the Helm of Domination, becoming the new Lich King by merging with the spirit of Ner'zhul. Following this, the new Lich King sat frozen and dormant for a number of years, waging an internal conflict against the last remnants of his humanity. Eventually, Arthas overcame both the last vestiges of his former self and Ner'zhul's spirit, permanently becoming the dominant personality of the Lich King.

When the Lich King finally awakened, he set out to rally the vast Undead Scourge, with which he would wage an unrelenting war against the living. First, he traveled to Sindragosa's Fall where he used his necromantic powers to raise the ancient blue dragon Sindragosa, once the prime-consort of Malygos the Spellweaver, from the grave as a frost wyrm.[12] Having also assembled his mighty host of undead soldiers, which now contained his new, elite death knights, he put his plans into action and began his war against the denizens of Azeroth.

Light's Hope

Main article: Battle for Light's Hope Chapel

While the Lich King had been dormant atop the Icecrown Glacier, his forces had not been idle. His new death knights had been training and preparing themselves in their stronghold of Acherus for the coming conflict. The Lich King's first move of the war was to order these elite soldiers to assault the bastions of the Scarlet Crusade and Argent Dawn in the Eastern Plaguelands. Having attacked and annihalated the Scarlet Enclave from their floating necropolis, the Knights of Acherus now turned their attention on the paladins of the Argent Dawn at Light's Hope Chapel. Unbeknownst to even his own troops, however, was that the Lich King had no confidence in his death knights' success, fully realising they would be defeated by the paladins.

Tirion Fordring confronts the Lich King at Light's Hope Chapel.

The Lich King's true purpose for the assault was to draw out the renowned Highlord of the Order of the Silver Hand, Tirion Fordring. During the brutal battle which became known as the Battle for Light's Hope Chapel, around 10,000 Scourge soldiers (not all death knights) battle with some 300 defenders of the Light. Despite their efforts, the death knights were defeated, their leader Highlord Darion Mograine being confronted by Tirion Fordring himself, who told him that Arthas had sent them on a suicide mission. After the appearance of a vision of Darion's father, Alexandros Mograine, the Lich King himself arrived and cynically confirmed what Tirion had stated earlier.

Enraged by the betrayal, Darion launched himself at Arthas, though the Lich King simply threw him back. As the Prince of Darkness then moved to confront Tirion, Darion threw his weapon, the corrupted Ashbringer, to the paladin. Having purified the weapon, Tirion attacked the Lich King with it, driving him back. Leaving their battle for another day, Arthas fled back to Northrend, though warning Tirion that they would meet again, but that next time it "...wouldn't be on holy ground". After the Lich King's departure, Fordring immediately issued a call for the Argent Dawn and Order of the Silver Hand to unite to form the Argent Crusade. Together, he claimed they would pursue Arthas to Northrend, tear down the walls of his fortress, and end the Lich King.

With their free will now their own, Darion Mograine and the other Knights of Acherus pledged themselves to the same cause, giving their order the new name of the Knights of the Ebon Blade. They promptly returned to their Ebon Hold, which they proceeded to seize from Scourge loyal to the Lich King. With their position secured, Mograine sent many of the now-free Death Knights to rejoin their people in either the Alliance or the Horde, and to aid them in the coming war against the Scourge.

The Wrath of the Lich King

Main articles: Zombie Infestation, Scourge Invasion (Orgrimmar), Scourge Invasion (Stormwind)

During the period immediately preceding the outbreak of the war, the major capital cities of Azeroth began receiving large quantities of mysterious packages of grain. Having been manipulated into the food supply, they were ingested by much of the cities' populace. Those who consumed the infected grain subsequently turned into bloodthirsty ghouls, unless first treated by members of the Argent Dawn, who attempted to prevent the spread and damage of the contagion. Before long, the major capitals of both the Alliance and Horde were thrown into chaos and confusion, with authorities scrambling to deal with the impending catastrophe.

During the disorganization, Scourge necropoli began appearing around the world, instigating the second Scourge war. In order to face the invading undead, the Horde and Alliance struck a temporary alliance at Shattrath City.[13] While the Alliance worked toward finding a way to neutralize the necropoli, the Horde worked tirelessly in order to unlock the secrets of the Plague of Undeath.[14] With great effort and sacrifice, forces of both the Horde and Alliance managed to succeed in repelling the advancing Scourge armies. Some semblance of order returned as the Lich King's forces were halted before they could triumph.

Outraged by these events and the perceived treachery, Warchief Thrall and his fellow Horde leaders, as well as King Varian Wrynn and his fellow Alliance leaders, (who had already been making preparations to oppose the Scourge) now planned an invasion of Northrend—base of the Undead Scourge—to end the threat that the Lich King and his armies posed once and for all.

The final act which forced the leaders' to act occurred when, soon afterwards, the Lich King launched direct and determined attacks on the capitals of both the Alliance and Horde. Two large Scourge armies consisting of frost wyrms, abominations and various other undead assaulted Stormwind and Orgrimmar simultaneously. Both factions' leaders, as well as powerful champions, were once more successful in halting the Scourge's advance and driving it back. In the aftermath of these attacks, the Horde and Alliance formed the Horde Expedition and Alliance Vanguard respectively, whose duty it was to organize and launch their faction's assault on the Lich King's icy domain.

Invasion of Northrend

Launching their invasion, the Horde sent a preliminary force, known as the Warsong Offensive, to the continent of Northrend. This sub-faction would spearhead the Horde's efforts throughout the continent. The invasion fleet set sail, consisting mainly of ships built by goblins from nearby Ratchet, assembled near the Durotar coastline where they left for the Borean Tundra. Simultaneously, the forsaken launched their own force, known as the Hand of Vengeance, from the Tirisfal Glades bound for the Howling Fjord on the far side of the continent to the Horde's other landing site. Upon reaching Northrend, these armies immediately began to establish footholds, constructing Warsong Hold in Borean Tundra and Vengeance Landing in Howling Fjord. Soon after arriving, Horde forces encountered the taunka, long-lost cousins of the tauren, who were fighting a losing war against the Lich King and the Scourge. The Horde proceeded to lend aid to the beleaguered taunka, saving them from extinction and gaining their allegiance in the process.[15]

The continent of Northrend

Meanwhile, the Alliance had launched its own invasion of Northrend. Establishing the Valiance Expedition to lead their forces into the Scourge's frigid home, an Alliance fleet set from Stormwind Harbor, bound for the Borean Tundra. Similarly, a second fleet from Menethil Harbor in the Wetlands set off for the Howling Fjord where the Alliance also planned to enter the continent. Upon arriving in Northrend, the Valiance Expedition went about establishing bases of operation in the form of Valiance Keep in Borean Tundra and Valgarde in Howling Fjord. Along with military forces, the dwarven Explorers' League also arrived with the Alliance invasion force, hoping to discover clues relating to the dwarves' past, as well as aiding in the fight against the Undead Scourge. In the region known as Storm Peaks, they found a far-flung faction of dwarves known as the Frostborn, who were embroiled in conflict with the Scourge, as well as other threats. Having received aid from Alliance champions, as well as having befriended members of the Explorers' League, the Frostborn were persuaded to join with the Alliance, pledging to aid wherever they were able.[16]

During this time, the magi of the Kirin Tor also decided to relocate their base of operations to the continent of Northrend to better counter the increasing threat of both the Blue dragonflight (as part of the Nexus War) and the Scourge itself. The order used a great deal of its power in physically moving the freshly-reconstructed city of Dalaran to Crystalsong Forest in the center of Northrend. The city subsequently served as a base of operations for many actions taken against the Scourge by both the Alliance and Horde, as well as the Kirin Tor itself. At this time, the elven factions of the Silver Covenant and the Sunreavers relocated to the city, representing the Alliance and Horde respectively. Both factions also took a direct part in the ongoing war against the Scourge.

Early battles

The early battles of the war consisted mainly of the Horde and Alliance defending their newly-established bases on the continent. Both the Scourge, and their vrykul allies (the Dragonflayer and Winterskorn clans) launched determined attacks on both factions' expeditions, causing massive casualties. The battles became ever more desperate as it became apparent that the expeditions would be driven back into the sea if they were unable to maintain these footholds. With a formidable defence, however, both the Alliance and Horde were successfully able to hold off the Lich King's attempts to rout them. The battle for Icemist Village,[17] the attack on Warsong Hold,[18] and the raids on Valgarde[19] and Valiance Keep[20] represent the bulk of these early battles in the war against the Lich King. Though attempting it several times, the Scourge was ultimately unable to effectively force the invaders' from Northrend.

The Azjol-anak

Within the ancient, sprawling underground kingdom of Azjol-Nerub, the undead nerubians, bound in service to the Lich King in undeath, occupied the reaches of their shattered nation. Although the vast majority of nerubians had been slain during the War of the Spider (and subsequently raised from the dead) years ago, a small group had remained alive; this group became known as the Azjol-anak. Now acting as a resistance to their undead brethren led by the fallen king Anub'arak, the Azjol-anak accepted the aid of members of the Alliance and Horde who had recently arrived on the continent. Together, they were successful in slaying the mighty Anub'arak and eventually breaking much of the Scourge's power within the Spider Kingdom.

Eventually, the Azjol-anak revealed that they possessed vast stores of untouched eggs, which they planned on nurturing in the hope of rebuilding their empire.[21] Upon expelling another grave threat, the faceless ones, in Ahn'kahet, they began the process of hatching a large cocoon.

Counter-attack

Wintergarde Keep in Dragonblight

Having firmly established themselves on the continent, and withstood all that the Scourge had thrown at them, the Alliance and Horde now began to launch their own offensives against the Lich King's forces. Both factions' expeditions pressed further into the continent, encountering fierce resistance from both the Scourge and its allies. A major threat that soon presented itself was that of the vrykul clans who had sworn themselves to the Lord of the Scourge. The Dragonflayer and Winterskorn clans subsequently became the focus of the two factions.[22][23] One by one, the primary vrykul villages and bastions in Howling Fjord were conquered, culminating in an assault by champions of the Horde and Alliance on Utgarde Keep, seat of the Dragonflayer clan. There, the vrykul king Ymiron was slain, marking a serious blow to vrykul power on the continent.

At this time, champions from the two factions also began exploring the region known as Sholazar Basin, where they discovered that, with the failure of several ancient Titan pylons in the zone, ice and Scourge forces had begun to pour into the ordinarily-lush region. In aiding the Avatar of Freya, a guardian of the area, these agents eventually uncovered and made use of an ancient Titan weapon: the Etymidian, a powerful stone construct. Using its destructive power, the Avatar of Freya and her allies were successfully able to rout the massive Scourge army preparing to swarm across Sholazar, in doing so ending the threat of the Scourge in the region.[24]

Pushing further inland from both ends of the continent, the Horde and Alliance now began to establish new strongholds from which they would drive the Scourge ever-farther toward its base of Icecrown. Incidentally, the majority of both factions' resources were focused on the western thrust into the continent, carving a quicker path towards the Lich King's seat of power. As those battling the Scourge pressed on, however, resistance began to grow much stronger. Having established a large base known as Wintergarde Keep in eastern Dragonblight, the Alliance came under heavy attack from the Scourge necropolis of Naxxramas. Similarly, to the west at Agmar's Hammer, the Horde became cut off by Scourge nerubians based from Azjol-Nerub. At this point, the Lich King also began to attack the dragon shrines in the region, belonging to the various dragonflights. The Scourge raised the corpses of slain dragons, turning them into powerful undead frost wyrms, emberwyrms, and magmawyrms. Accepting aid from the Alliance and Horde, the dragonflights were eventually successful in temporarily stopping this threat, although their resources were severely stretched as a result of the Nexus War.

Having repelled the Scourge's major assaults and defeated the majority of their forces in the region, both the Horde and Alliance now massed most of their armies near Angrathar the Wrathgate, a barred entrance to Icecrown Citadel in northern Dragonblight, intending to face the Lich King in a direct confrontation.

Angrathar the Wrathgate

Angrathar the Wrathgate
Main articles: Battle of Angrathar the Wrathgate, Battle for the Undercity

As the armies of the Alliance and Horde gathered in preparation for the assault on the Wrathgate, a temporary truce was agreed between the two factions. Both recognised the Lich King and the Scourge as the ultimate threat, and agreed to work together to defeat them. When the attack began, the Alliance, led by Highlord Bolvar Fordragon, was the first to assault the gate, engaging waves of undead as well as vrykul warriors. Soon, Horde forces led by Dranosh Saurfang joined the fray, and the two sides began cutting through the Scourge. Having defeated their adversaries, Bolvar Fordragon demanded that Arthas show himself. In response, the Lich King emerged from the Wrathgate, challenging the gathered soldiers. Dranosh, charging the Lord of Icecrown, was quickly slain by him.

Before any further conflict was able to occur, however, Grand Apothecary Putress, chief of the forsaken Royal Apothecary Society, interrupted the exchange from a rise, claiming that the vengeance of the forsaken was at hand. Putress and other forsaken atop the rise then catapulted barrels of a newly-developed plague at those below. Slaying Alliance, Horde, and Scourge alike, the plague quickly began to wipe out or rout all those gathered. The Lich King himself, nearly succumbing to its effects, barely managed to retreat back through the Wrathgate. Just as Bolvar began to die, he was able to see dragons of the Red dragonflight from Wyrmrest Temple arrive, bathing the area in flames and incinerating the plague and its wielders (though Putress escaped).

It was revealed in the battle's aftermath that the forsaken perpetrators were, in fact, a faction within the forsaken, acting without the knowledge or approval of Lady Sylvanas Windrunner, led by the dreadlord Varimathras. In an ensuing coup, Putress and his allies seized control of the Undercity, leading Sylvanas and the rest of the Horde to launch an assault to retake it, sparking the Battle for the Undercity; the Alliance also launching their own assault in order to exact retribution for the deaths of Bolvar and the many others. Eventually, with the insurrection crushed, the Undercity was occupied by the Horde once more, though not without conflict from the Alliance.

The battle and its outcome marked a catastrophic blow for those fighting the Scourge. It caused severe casualties for both factions, the Alliance alone losing nearly 5000 soldiers in total.[25] Perhaps worse still, the events of the battle veritably destroyed relations between the Alliance and Horde, with King Varian Wrynn fully blaming the Horde as a whole for the terrible events.[26] Cooperation between the two factions virtually ceased for the remainder of the war, and they would proceed to clash on many occasions in the future.

The conflict continues

The Wolfcult

The thick pine forests of Grizzly Hills

Not long after the events of the Wrathgate, in the neighbouring region of Grizzly Hills, all-out war had finally broken out between the Alliance and the Horde, primarily over the rich supplies of lumber and minerals in the area. The Alliance proceeded to attempt to gain allies in the fight against the Horde by recruiting the region's local trappers, the Horde responding to this by attacking the native humans. In the midst of these actions, the Alliance, and eventually the Horde, uncovered that many of the region's inhabitants were, in fact, vicious worgen. This also came with the discovery of the existence of a mysterious faction known as the Wolfcult. With the aid of Ruuna the Blind and the trapper Sasha, agents of the Alliance and Horde were able to learn the source of the curse and the organization. Having been slain in times past, the infamous Archmage Arugal was reanimated on the orders of the Lich King. Now risen, the Shade of Arugal was sent to Grizzly Hills to subvert its trapper communities, forging the second Wolfcult and placing it solely at the service of his dark master.

Those of the two factions who had uncovered this terrible secret now ventured to the Wolfcult's bastion of Bloodmoon Isle with the intention of putting a stop to the group. After fighting and defeating Arugal's greatest lieutenants, the champions engaged the risen archmage himself. Ultimately, Arugal was slain after a fierce battle. With its leadership wiped out, the threat of the Wolfcult was effectively ended, signalling yet another failure for the Lich King's plans.

The Drakuru conflict

With a new war on the continent brewing between the Horde and Alliance, and the Kirin Tor embroiled in a battle on two fronts with the fight against Malygos the Spellweaver, only the Argent Crusade and the Knights of the Ebon Blade had remained fully dedicated to the war against the Scourge. The two neutral factions had rallied their forces and readied themselves to unleash a new offensive against the Lich King and his servants. Working in tandem with each other, the paladins and death knights began by focusing their attention on Zul'Drak, entrenching themselves in the region.

Drak'Tharon Keep, lost to the Scourge

Meanwhile, following the defeat of the Wolfcult, the Alliance and Horde began to focus on crushing the hostile troll tribes to the north. Working with the ice troll Drakuru, champions from both factions succeeded in neutralizing all resistance in the fortress of Drak'Tharon Keep. Unwittingly, however, the Horde and Alliance had handed the stronghold to the Scourge, as Drakuru showed his true colours and became empowered by the Lich King following the keep's fall. With his new powers and authority, Overlord Drakuru conquered the remaining Drakkari trolls in the immediate vicinity and eventually began subjugating the ravaged nation of Zul'Drak, delivering it to the Undead Scourge. This, in turn, brought Drakuru into direct conflict with the recently-arrived Argent Crusade and the Knights of the Ebon Blade.

Working with agents of both the Horde and Alliance, the Crusade and the Death Knights attempted to disrupt Drakuru's plans, which included using the plague to transform the ice troll inhabitants of Zul'Drak into undead minions of the Lich King. Uniquely effective at using the Scourge's own tactics against them, the Knights of the Ebon Blade were able to successfully plant disguised agents inside Drakuru's forces, based in and around the necropolis of Voltarus in western Zul'Drak. Having undermined much of the Scourge's activities and worked their way closer to Overlord Drakuru himself, these agents learned that he had begun to create an army of Blightblood Trolls (once ice troll chieftains). Finally striking at the overlord, a vicious fight ensued atop Voltarus. Upon beginning to lose, Drakuru hastily used his power to summon the Lich King and informed him of the enemy agents' treachery. The Lich King, however, expressed disgust at Drakuru's failure, and amusement at the unusual duplicity. Quickly slaying Drakuru, the Lord of the Scourge allowed those who had infiltrated Drakuru's army to live, citing it as both a reward for amusing him, as well as in recognition of their apparent 'potential'.

Drakuru's death ultimately marked the end of Scourge power in Zul'Drak, the Lich King's enemies continuing to push farther into Northrend.

Advance on Icecrown

With the majority of preliminary threats behind them, the Argent Crusade and the Knights of the Ebon Blade now found themselves faced with the daunting prospect of invading Icecrown, the Scourge's base of operations. With towering cliffs on almost all sides, an attempt to penetrate the region had not been attempted since the disaster at the Wrathgate. Having mustered a large army to fight the Scourge, the Argent Crusade, led personally by Tirion Fordring, advanced into the region from the nearby Crystalsong Forest, establishing a stronghold—the Argent Vanguard—on Icecrown's outskirts. The Crusaders proceeded to create a breach in the cliffs in the northwest of the Valley of Echoes. Advancing through the gap into Icecrown proper, the Lich King's forces in Scourgeholme launched a massive retaliatory strike against the invaders, pushing them back through the gap to the Argent Vanguard.

The encampment immediately came under heavy attack by the Scourge, with waves of undead of every sort assaulting its battlements.[27] The Argent Crusaders fought back with zeal, using melee weapons and cannons to repel each undead attack, aided also by some members of the Alliance and Horde (though the two factions themselves refused to take part[28]). Withstanding even hosts of frost wyrms, the Argent Crusade succeeded in throwing the Lich King's minions back from the valley.

Not pausing, the breach was reopened and the Argent Crusade began working to establish a foothold on the far side. To achieve this, however, the Crusade's leaders deemed in necessary to pacify the Scourge stronghold of Scourgeholme. Under the supervision of Highlord Darion Mograine of the Knights of the Ebon Blade, champions of the Crusade began to make forays into the fortress, targeting strategic areas of the Scourge's military structure, eventually striking at their commanders.[29] With the lords of Scourgeholme slain, the garrison became unable to resist any further action by the invaders.

Pressing their advantage, heroes of the Crusade next assaulted the nearby height mockingly known as Crusaders' Pinnacle and held the position against repeated Scourge counterattacks. Having sanctified the once-blighted ground, the Argent Crusade began construction of a new fortification, Justice Keep, atop the Pinnacle.[30] The base would mark the Crusade's establishment inside the 'walls' of Icecrown, and stand in direct defiance to the Lich King and the Scourge.[31]

The fight for Icecrown

The gates of Icecrown

With Icecrown now breached, the numerous factions arrayed against the Scourge began to make their own individual sorties into the zone. Among them, the Alliance and Horde deployed their own gunships (of gnomish and goblin engineering respectively) to the region that, when not skirmishing with each other, served as mobile bases and launching points for attacks on strategic objectives against the Scourge.

The Alliance soon launched its own assault on one of the region's first obstacles: Mord'rethar: The Death Gate. Though both factions sought to seize the strategic fortification, the Alliance ultimately struck first, engaging the undead horde manning it.[32] A large Horde reconnaissance party, however, spotted the Alliance force and proceeded to attack it from behind, surprising them and succeeding in breaking up some of their formation. The action served only to leave both sides open to the considerable Scourge army on the Broken Front. Forces of the Argent Crusade arrived late to the battle to discover that the three sides had mutually annihalated each other. The crusaders were only able to recover a portion of the wounded and dead, the Scourge remaining in control of the Death Gate.[33][34]

The events of the battle of the Death Gate were treated by the Alliance as a despicable stab-in-the-back by the Horde, and further damaged the already tattered relations between the two factions. Although the Horde commander in Icecrown, Sky-Reaver Korm Blackscar, notably praised the actions of the patrol (having undermined the Alliance war effort), he was later reprimanded and threatened with execution by Warchief Thrall and Warsong commander Garrosh Hellscream.

A map of the Icecrown region

Meanwhile, the Knights of the Ebon Blade set about securing their own base of operations in Icecrown, from which they could continue to wage their own war against the Lich King. Enlisting the aid of heroes from the Alliance and Horde, the Shadow Vault in the far north of the region was chosen. The death knights assaulted the great fortification and succeeded in slaying the Vault's commander, General Lightsbane, though only after overcoming a ferocious defence. Once the stronghold was secure, the Knights of the Ebon Blade inhabited it fully, turning it into their headquarters in Icecrown. Although their position was under near-constant threat from the Scourge, the death knights began to conduct operations aimed at crippling the Lich King's forces in nearby areas. One of the main targets of the death knights was the nearby village of Jotunheim, home to Scourge-allied vrykul. In addition to this, a nearby Scourge saronite mine in the form of the Weeping Quarry became a major objective for the Ebon Knights. In time, and with the aid of the champions who first helped them to secure the Shadow Vault, each of these targets was neutralized; Jotunheim was attacked and driven into chaos, its ruler Overthane Balargarde slain, and work in the Weeping Quarry was sufficiently disrupted through sabotage and force.

Additionally, after establishing themselves at the Blackwatch in the west of Icecrown, the Knights of the Ebon Blade worked to put out-of-action the Fleshwerks, the location of the Scourge's primary abomination and flesh giant factories. They succeeded in this endeavour, having done irreparable damage to the Fleshwerk's facilities, as well as slaying its mastermind, Doctor Sabnok.[35]

From the gunships Orgrim's Hammer and the Skybreaker, the death knights Koltira Deathweaver and Thassarian directed heroes of the Horde and Alliance against the Scourge. Specifically, they targeted the activities of the Cult of the Damned at Aldur'thar: The Desolation Gate. They succeeded in bringing a halt to the cultists' plans in the area by killing many of them and vanquishing their leader, Alumeth, before he and his followers could complete a vile and powerful ritual.[36]

In addition to battling the Scourge, the Knights of the Ebon Blade also actively dealt with other threats, namely the presence of the Scarlet Onslaught at Onslaught Harbor to the west. Despite the Onslaught's goal of the destruction of the Lich King as well, they were identified as too great a threat, due to their ruthlessness and zeal. Almost all other factions, including the Argent Crusade, were known to greatly disapprove of their ways. On the orders of Lord-Commander Arete, agents of the Ebon Blade attacked the harbor, causing great damage and assassinating much of its leadership. Ultimately, they confronted the Onslaught's leader—Grand Admiral Barean Westwind—only to discover that it was, in fact, the dreadlord Mal'Ganis in disguise.[37] Despite this disturbing turn of events, Mal'Ganis was nonetheless vanquished by his adversaries and the forces stationed at Onslaught Harbor were effectively knocked out of the fight.

Tirion's gambit

During the most intense phase of the battle in Icecrown, the Argent Crusade received information of the existence of the heart of Arthas Menethil. The heart, torn out of his own body by the Lich King upon awakening, could supposedly be used as a weapon against him, acting as the last remaining piece of the Lich King's long-lost humanity.[38] With it, Tirion Fordring decided there could be a chance to make Arthas human again, redeeming him and ending the threat of the Lich King simultaneously. He planned to seize the frozen organ in an ambush as it was being transported from Icecrown Citadel to the Cathedral of Darkness a little to the northwest for destruction. As Tirion and his selected champions entered the Cathedral, disguised as cultists, the heart arrived.

Before the trap could be sprung, however, the Lich King himself appeared, immediately seeing through the paladins' trick and claiming that, unlike last time, they would not be fighting on holy ground and Tirion would lose. After Tirion then threatened to destroy the heart, the Lich King called his bluff, citing that the paladin would never forsake the slight hope for Arthas's redemption that the heart represented. Tirion, however, claimed that he had since seen that there could be no redemption for Arthas, as there was no Arthas left to redeem. He then proceeded to strike the organ with the Ashbringer, critically injuring the Lich King and triggering an explosion that knocked Tirion unconscious. As the Argent champions moved to defend Tirion from the surrounding cultists, Darion Mograine and a force of Ebon Knights arrived, holding back the tide of Scourge forces. As the Lich King began to channel a spell to slay all present, Darion created a portal back to Crusaders' Pinnacle, allowing those gathered to escape.[39]

Despite having failed to redeem or slay the Lich King, Tirion still felt the foray was a success, stating that now he knew for certain that there remained no trace of Arthas Menethil any longer—only the Lich King.

Secrets of Ulduar

In the midst of the battle against the Lich King in Icecrown and elsewhere, a threat emerged possibly greater than even the Scourge. The legendary explorer, Brann Bronzebeard had led an expedition deep into the ancient Titan complex of Ulduar, in the far north of the frigid Storm Peaks. There they discovered an evil the likes of which Azeroth had not experienced for millennia. His followers nearly wiped out by Ulduar's titanic inhabitants, Brann fled back to the city of Dalaran to warn the Kirin Tor and all others of what he had discovered: the old god Yogg-Saron was free from its prison.

"May this death god take you all"

In response, King Varian Wrynn and Lady Jaina Proudmoore of the Alliance, as well as Warchief Thrall and commander Garrosh Hellscream of the Horde, were immediately summoned to a meeting in the Violet Citadel by the Kirin Tor's leader, Rhonin. Arriving first, Varian and Jaina were briefed by Brann and Rhonin on the situation. Arriving not long afterwards, and unbeknownst to the Alliance, Thrall and Garrosh entered room, to the surprise and rage of King Varian. Although both Jaina and Thrall attempted to defuse the situation, Varian and Garrosh inevitably came to blows after taunting each other. The fight was eventually broken up by Rhonin, who claimed that they must all be united in the face of the threat of Yogg-Saron.

Varian, citing the perceived treachery at the Wrathgate, claimed that previous truces with the Horde had led to the deaths of more Alliance soldiers than died in battle against the Scourge. He subsequently refused to collaborate in any way, and left the meeting, to the despair of Jaina and Rhonin. The event further signified the toll the war against the Lich King had so far taken on relations between the two powerful factions.

The Argent Tournament

"The call has been sounded. The Argent Crusade beckons. The heroes of Azeroth have been summoned to prove their worth and test their courage to be considered worthy for the final battle ahead..."
Main article: Argent Tournament

The time taken to deal with the threat of Ulduar led to a lull in major conflict against the Lich King, though fighting in Icecrown continued. The Argent Crusade, recognising that the time was fast approaching when they would be forced to finally deal with the Lich King, began to make preparations for the inevitable assault on the Scourge's greatest fortress: Icecrown Citadel. To this end, the Crusade announced the beginning of the Argent Tournament, an event that would, among other things, attempt to create some semblance of order between the ever disparate Horde and Alliance.

In addition to uniting those who fought the Scourge, the tournament would also train this large army in preparation for an assault on the Lich King's bastion. More importantly, it would also serve to determine the very best fighters present, who would then be used to create a small strike force that would lead the charge into the Citadel. The reasoning behind using a small force to spearhead their assault lay in the fact that any great loss of life that they might suffer would only serve to reinforce the Scourge, and subsequently might leave the rest of the world open to attack.[40]

Though criticised by members of both factions, the tournament went ahead, the ground chosen in the far northeast of Icecrown. The tournament achieved a good start, with both factions in full attendance (the Alliance championed by the high elven Silver Covenant and the Horde by the blood elven Sunreavers), as well as the Knights of the Ebon Blade. Both King Varian Wrynn and Warchief Thrall also made appearances and agreed to observe some of the tournament's trials in the Crusaders' Coliseum. Argent Peacekeepers maintained a constant vigil throughout the grounds, policing the tournament to ensure there was no conflict between the Horde and Alliance.

Soon, however, the tournament drew the attention of the Lich King, who sent forces to disrupt it in a number of ways. Near the grounds itself, the Cult of the Damned established a forward base and began capturing aspirants taking part in the tournament. As part of the tournament's program of training its aspirants, potential champions were sent to rescue as many of the captured as possible, before they could be used in the Cult's dark rituals. Similarly, aspirants were also dispatched to the Court of Bones in front of the dreaded Icecrown Citadel in order to begin preliminary attacks on the Citadel's defences. This involved launching forays against the Boneguard, an army of undead guarding the approaches to their master's fortress.[41]

In addition to the Cult of the Damned, the Lich King's Val'kyr also periodically launched attacks on the tournament grounds, partly in an attempt to free some of their kind which the paladins had captured, though they were unable to inflict any lasting damage.[42] Another major part of the Lich King's plans to disrupt the tournament was to infiltrate and destroy it from the inside. To accomplish this, the Black Knight was dispatched to act as a contender in the tournament's events, secretly attempting to sabotage the war effort. Though the Black Knight's true nature was eventually discovered and the spy subsequently slain, he returned again in undeath and attacked during one of the tournament's major trials. The champion contestants, after a heated fight, succeeded in finally slaying the Black Knight once and for all,[43] though the Scourge's plans to undermine the Argent Tournament had not been foiled yet.

Anub'arak, the Traitor King

Towards the end, the Trial of the Crusader was held, the culmination of the entire Argent Tournament where the most promising champions singled out by the tournament's other events would be pitted against some of the fiercest adversaries the Argent Crusade could acquire. In attendance were leaders of both the Horde and Alliance, as well as Highlord Tirion Fordring himself. Despite a brief interruption of violence between the Alliance and Horde, the trial continued as expected. Just as the event concluded, and Highlord Tirion announced the long-awaited attack on Icecrown Citadel, the Lich King himself appeared in the coliseum. Despite being outnumbered, he seemed unconcerned, and reminded those gathered that the nerubian empire—HIS empire—extended far across and beneath the entire continent.

The Lich King then proceeded to shatter the very floor of the arena, dropping the Crusade's champions deep into a series of underground tunnels. There they were confronted by a resurrected Anub'arak who attempted to slay them all. Despite the ambush, Anub'arak was vanquished by his adversaries after a lengthy battle. The act marked the conclusion of the Argent Tournament, and the beginning of the assault on Icecrown Citadel, where the Lich King would finally be forced to face the justice of his enemies.

Endgame

The Frozen Halls

Main article: Frozen Halls

As armies began to prepare for the assault on Icecrown Citadel, and the Argent Crusade and Knights of the Ebon Blade launched preliminary attacks on its defences, two small forces of Alliance and Horde infiltrated the the outer reaches of the Citadel, led by Jaina Proudmoore and Sylvanas Windrunner respectively. While each possessed a unique, personal interest in confronting the Lich King, the reason for the forays was in the rumour that in the Frozen Halls, the Lich King's legendary runeblade Frostmourne lay unguarded. Fighting their way through many of its defences, the parties eventually reached the Lich King's inner sanctum, the Halls of Reflection.

Frostmourne in the Halls of Reflection

There, they discovered Frostmourne, at which point the force's leader attempted to commune with the spirits of Arthas's victims trapped within the blade. The spirit of Uther the Lightbringer, Arthas's former mentor, then appeared and spoke to them, delivering a dark warning. He revealed that the Lich King must be destroyed atop the Frozen Throne, where he was created, but that its death would not be enough. Uther, delivering the message quickly, claimed that there would always have to be a Lich King; under no circumstances could the position remained empty. Should such occur, the Scourge would be unrestrained and swarm relentlessly, unstoppable across the world. Uther claimed that the only thing preventing this happening already was the dwindling existence of Arthas's old self within the Lich King, fading as it was.

Without warning, the Lich King entered the room, silencing Uther's spirit and taunting those assembled. He then proceeded to summon more slain spirits to attack the members of the party while Sylvanas/Jaina pursued him deeper into the Halls of Reflection. Catching up after defeating the spirits, the group discovered the Lich King battling their leader, and winning. Incapacitating the Lord of the Scourge briefly, the group immediately began to flee the Citadel, closely pursued by Arthas. Ultimately, they just succeeded in escaping via one of their faction's gunships which docked on a platform.

Though they had survived, those who had braved the Lich King's sanctum now returned to their allies and informed them of the terrible information they had uncovered.

Assault on the Citadel

Main article: Icecrown Citadel (instance)
The Argent Crusade begins the assault on the Citadel

In the lead up to the final battle, the Argent Crusade forged a new alliance with the Knights of the Ebon Blade, one which would lead the assault on the Icecrown Citadel's defences, and shatter the Lich King's power once and for all. Thus, the Ashen Verdict was born; united, they gathered in the mighty fortress's shadow to begin the assault.

Having swept aside opposition and seized the Citadel's entrance, the gates were battered down and the Ashen Verdict secured a foothold just inside the entrance, from which they would push deeper into the complex. The champions which had been picked and trained by the Argent Tournament now led the way into the Scourge's base. There they encountered the Lich King's most powerful servants and creations, each eventually falling before the relentless onslaught. As the invaders progressed further into the Citadel, it was revealed by the Lich King himself that Highlord Bolvar Fordragon, once thought slain at the Wrathgate, had survived and been recovered by the Scourge. Now in the Lich King's possessions, he was tortured mercilessly in an attempt to break his will. Though Bolvar's capture came as a shock, Tirion Fordring and others concluded that rescuing Bolvar would go a long way to prevent upcoming conflict between the Horde and Alliance, and steeled themselves to make it so.

Blood-Queen Lana'thel, leader of the San'layn

For the invaders, however, the conflict between the Alliance and Horde soon reared its ugly head. While ascending on their faction's gunships to a platform on the upper citadel, the two sides ultimately became embroiled in a ship-to-ship battle. Though neither side lost their ship (the Alliance's Skybreaker and Horde's Orgrim's Hammer), the engagement only served to distract the two factions from the fight in the Citadel. Regardless, the champions of the Argent Crusade pressed on, storming the upper reaches of Icecrown Citadel and fighting more of the Scourge's most powerful, including a reanimated Dranosh Saurfang, the Horde commander during the Battle of Angrathar the Wrathgate.

After a gruelling battle, the orc death knight was brought down and his father Varok Saurfang tearfully recovered his body for a hero's burial. Another threat to be overcome revealed itself in the form of the chief of Scourge plague research, Professor Putricide, in the Plagueworks. The undead professor revealed to those gathered his recent success in developing a new plague capable to destroying all life on Azeroth. Before anything further could occur, however, he was engaged in battle by the Citadel's invaders and eventually slain, though not before he attempted to use some of his experiments to his advantage.

Also encountered during this portion of the assault was the head of the Lich King's San'layn, a faction of fallen blood elves who were slain and raised during and after Illidan Stormrage's failed attack on the Frozen Throne. The faction was led by Blood-Queen Lana'thel, who had taken the time to revive the three members of the Blood Prince Council who had been slain when the Scourge's enemies invaded Northrend. In time, the San'layn too were defeated by the invaders, opening the way to the lair of one of the Lich King's first and most powerful: Sindragosa, the Frost Queen.

Assaulting Sindragosa and her clutch within the Frostwing Halls, the champions fought a long and ferocious battle against the Queen of the Frostbrood herself. As with the Citadel's other challenges, Sindragosa was finally brought down under the onslaught, as she died expressing her gratitude at finally being free.[44]

With all the fortress's defences either defeated or engaged, and the way to the Frozen Throne open, it was decided that the time to strike at the head of the Scourge itself had finally come.

The Fall of the Lich King

The Lich King raises the fallen champions

The champions, led by Tirion Fordring, now ascended the Citadel further to reach the very top, where the Frozen Throne and Lich King awaited. Upon reaching the location, Tirion ordered the attack on Arthas following a declaration that he would pay for the many thousands he had slain. Before Tirion could enter the battle, however, the Lich King cast a powerful spell on him, freezing and incapacitating him in a block of ice.

Though outnumbered, the Lord of the Scourge used every resource at his disposal, summoning Val'kyr and numerous undead to assail his adversaries as he himself lashed out with Frostmourne to great effect. He even went so far as to attempt to harvest the champions' souls, trapping them in his blade, where they encountered the spirit of Arthas's father Terenas Menethil II, who helped them to escape and weaken the blade from within. As the fight continued to become steadily more desperate, the Lich King began to destroy large portions of the platform in an attempt to throw his enemies from the zenith of the Citadel, though it did not succeed in defeating them.

Becoming desperate and losing patience, the Lich King then called upon all of the fury contained within Frostmourne for a powerful spell which effectively finished off all of the Crusade's champions. Standing above the corpses of his foes, the Lich King, exultant, began to cast a spell to raise from the dead those he had slain. As he did so, he revealed that he had both foreseen and intended for all to happen as it did, that each challenge the champions had encountered since arriving on Northrend had been specifically placed by him in order to test them, and that now Tirion had delivered those who he now knew to be the most powerful in the world into his very hands. He would now raise these champions as lords of the Scourge, and they would usher in a new age of Scourge dominion on Azeroth.

"Tell them only that the Lich King is dead, and that Bolvar Fordragon died with him"

With a prayer to the light asking for the power to escape from his bonds, Tirion, without warning, shattered his icy prison and leapt at the Lich King as he was in the midst of his spell. Glowing with light, and with one swing of the Ashbringer, Tirion shattered Frostmourne, still in the hands of a stunned Lich King. Immediately, the souls of the many thousands slain by the blade escaped, swirling around Arthas, raising him into the air, and incapacitating him. Terenas's spirit, also released, used his remaining power to quickly resurrect Tirion's slain champions. Together with the Highlord and Arthas's father, they struck at the now-vulnerable Lich King, mortally wounding him. The newly-freed spirit of Terenas Menethil comforted his son as he died, then reminded Tirion that someone must take Arthas's place as the Lich King in order to maintain control over the Scourge, before disappearing.

With Arthas's body at his feet, Tirion picked up the Helm of Domination, intending to take on the burden himself. At that moment, however, a voice spoke from the direction of the throne. It was that of Bolvar Fordragon, who had been horribly burned (if consequently saved) by the dragonfire during the massacre at the Wrathgate; the dragonfire had been all that had saved him from Putress's plague. He told Tirion that he no longer had any place among the living, that the paladin and his champions still had parts to play in the world. He insisted that he should be the one to make this ultimate sacrifice. Reluctantly, Tirion agreed and proceeded to place the helmet on Bolvar's head before stepping back. As the ice of the throne began to envelop him, Bolvar, his voice now changing to become that of the Lich King's, told Tirion to inform the world only that the Lich King had perished, and that Bolvar Fordragon had done so with him.

Aftermath

After the battle

Arthas's death and Bolvar's ascension to the position of Lich King marked the conclusion of the war against the Lich King. Scourge forces on Northrend became pacified and the threat they once posed all but vanished. True to his word, Tirion kept hidden the truth of what had occurred atop Icecrown Citadel to all, save for Darion Mograine.[45]

Throughout the assault on the Citadel, Darion Mograine was involved in the creation of a new and powerful weapon known as  [Shadowmourne]. Together with one of their champions, Darion directed the collection of various powerful reagents throughout the Citadel, culminating in his ordering the champion to use it to slay the Lich King, which they did.[46] Following this success, Darion entrusted the weapon to his champion.

When the Arthas was slain, a mysterious sealed chest was discovered in his possession. One of the champions who vanquished the Lich King subsequently brought the chest to Darion Mograine afterwards in the hope that he might be able to open it. This he did, which revealed the contents to be an assortment of personal effects from Arthas's days before his becoming the Lich King. Items belonging to Jaina, Uther, Darion, Muradin and even Sylvanas proved that, despite his transformation into the Jailer of the Damned, a small piece of the old Arthas remained intact even to the end. Each of these items was eventually returned to the appropriate person, evoking different, but profound emotions in each recipient.

Post-war period

A victory statue in Dalaran dedicated to those who fell during the war

With the end of the war, and the defeat of the Lich King, the majority of Scourge forces on Azeroth were largely destroyed, either in the war or in its aftermath; those that remain were mostly made passive by Bolvar's will as he remained dormant in Icecrown. Such an outcome began to bring hope to areas ravaged by the Scourge, such as the Western Plaguelands in the Eastern Kingdoms, which may now be set on a path to recovery.[47] The members of the Ashen Verdict now pursued their own specific agendas, with the Argent Crusade relocating back to the Eastern Kingdoms' Plaguelands to begin healing any lingering traces of Scourge influence on the land. Meanwhile, members of the Knights of the Ebon Blade now began to take part in many of the world's conflict independently or as part of either the Alliance or Horde, though they still remained loyal to their neutral order that remained active.

The last remnants of the Scarlet Crusade leadership, which had essentially been destroyed when the Scarlet Enclave fell to the Death knights of Acherus, and were further devastated in the destruction of the Scarlet Onslaught in Northrend began to dissapate. The Crusade would go on to lose their holdings in the Eastern Plaguelands and Stratholme to the forces of Balnazzar, while Tirion Fordring and the Argent Crusade retook the stronghold of Hearthglen. The majority of the Crusade itself then fled into the Tirisfal Glades and took refuge at the Scarlet Palisade and Scarlet Monastery.

Hearthglen, the Argent Crusade's new capital in the Plaguelands

With the major crisis over, Vol'jin of the Horde's Darkspear trolls began work towards liberating the Echo Isles.

Similarly, High Tinker Gelbin Mekkatorque of the gnomes of the Alliance, after calculating that another potential catastrophe only "had a 12.7% chance of actually happening", called for the launch of Operation: Gnomeregan, the final assault to reclaim the gnomes' lost city of Gnomeregan.

The war between the Horde and the Alliance, which was declared during the Battle for the Undercity, despite fighting in Northrend, did not explode into a full-scale war after the fall of the Lich King. Though with the occurrence of a new catastrophe a while afterwards, tensions once again began to flare, reminded of the bitter actions during the war against the Scourge.

The war took a heavy toll on all involved, with the Alliance alone losing nearly 50,000 lives. As a result of the war, many Alliance citizens were left homeless and unemployed, and would eventually move to the region of Westfall where they would take part in the recreation of the Defias Brotherhood.[48] This threat proved nearly disastrous for the Kingdom of Stormwind, which found itself unable to effectively prevent the Brotherhood's rebirth.

References

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  23. ^ A [71D] Into Utgarde!
  24. ^ N [78] Reclamation
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  28. ^ N [78] Honor Above All Else
  29. ^ N [79] The Air Stands Still
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  34. ^ H [80] Avenge Me!
  35. ^ N [80] A Visit to the Doctor
  36. ^ B [80G5] No Rest For The Wicked
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  39. ^ N [80] Tirion's Gambit
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  42. ^ B [80 Daily] You've Really Done It This Time, Kul
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