Know Your Lore > Warcraft > WoWAug 8, 2016 1:00 pm CT

Know Your Lore: The beginning of the Third War

naxx over stratholme

The skies split open. Demons razed the land. Corpses walked. It was the end of the world.

It was the Third War, fought not between Horde and Alliance, but fought by those that lived and wished to continue to do so against the demons of the Burning Legion and their servants and pawns. Having failed to invade using brute force ten thousand years earlier, this time the Legion used guile, crafting a weapon of death out of the broken spirit of the Orc Elder Shaman Ner’zhul, a cold consciousness that emanated death and left those it touched soulless husks.

Yet this was merely the opening salvo. Just as Gul’dan once created Death Knights merely to spare his own neck from Doomhammer’s revenge, the Lich King was merely a tool of the Legion — albeit a tool that would in time rebel against its supposed masters.

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After the fall of Draenor

When Ner’zhul tore Draenor apart using stolen magical artifacts — including the Skull of Gul’dan and the Book of Medivh — he attempted to escape his own folly through one of the portals he’d destroyed Draenor to create. Instead of escape, he found himself in the hands of Kil’jaeden the Deceiver. Kil’jaeden was not a forgiving sort, and he still remembered Ner’zhul’s refusal to willingly deliver the Orcs into the service of the Legion. So he took out his frustration on the Elder Shaman, and tore him apart physically while refusing to allow him to die.

Kil’jaeden wasn’t merely torturing Ner’zhul for his own amusement. He saw a way his former dupe could be useful to the Legion. The torment continued until finally Ner’zhul broke, and agreed to serve Kil’jaeden once again. His body destroyed, what was left of the Shaman’s will and mind were locked in a suit of magical armor and sealed within an object named The Frozen Throne. It was delivered into Azeroth with great force, crashing down on Icecrown glacier. From here, the Lich King would begin his reign of terror.

He fought a war of conquest against the Nerubians with the help of the Nathrezim, who led the charge against the Nerubians in their own tunnels. The battle taught the fledgling Scourge of the Lich King how to win against an enemy that was immune to the Plague of Undeath. And then it was time for the Lich King to initiate the true conquest of the world for his Legion masters.

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The Plague strikes Lordaeron

As his power grew, the Lich King reached out and found many among the people of Azeroth who were strong enough to be his servants. Among these was Kel’Thuzad, formerly of Dalaran, an Archmage of the Council of Six. Kel’Thuzad sought magical power and was ambitious enough to dabble in magics forbidden him by Antonidas. When his abortive necromancy came to light, he was banished from Dalaran and the Council. He made his way north, answering the call of the Lich King, and in Northrend he found the master of the Scourge and became his servant.

It was through Kel’Thuzad that the next stage of the Legion’s plan for Azeroth began. At first it seemed worrisome — rumors of plague in Lordaeron’s most northern areas. At the time, the Orcs under Thrall had just managed to destroy Durnholde Keep and escape the captivity of Aedelas Blackmoore. This event had the whole of Lordaeron in a panic, remembering the Orcish armies that destroyed Stormwind and threatened Lordaeron City.

Therefore, while Terenas was concerned at the rumors of plague, he couldn’t ignore the threat the Orcs might pose (especially since it was his doing that the Orcs had survived at all in camps instead of simply being executed, as many of his allies such as Genn Greymane and Thoras Trollbane had argued) and so, it was decided that these rumors would be investigated.

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The Cult of the Damned

Terenas wasn’t sure what was happening. His court had been visited by a mysterious prophet, a figure who could transform into a raven. The stranger urged Terenas to evacuate his entire kingdom and set sail to the west. This seemed utter madness to Terenas, who couldn’t know that at that very moment the Orcs he was so worried would attack his city were instead following that advice. Under Thrall, the Orcs raided shipyards and abandoned Lordaeron and the Eastern Kingdoms.

While this was happening, Terenas’ son and heir Arthas, a member of the Order of the Silver Hand, went north along with his childhood friend Jaina Proudmoore, a powerful mage of the Kirin Tor. Together they found evidence of a new organization, the Cult of the Damned, serving Kel’Thuzad. They were spreading a new plague via tainted grain. Taunted by Kel’Thuzad at the town of Brill, Arthas and Jaina soon discovered that the Plague of Undeath had been spread throughout the area by seeding it into the granaries at Andorhal.

Rebuilding Andorhal

Since it was Andorhal that supplied grain to half the towns in the north, they knew they had to act quickly. The people there were already rising as Scourge. Arthas and Jaina fought to stem the tide, eventually reaching and destroying Kel’Thuzad for his crimes against Lordaeron. Before he died, Kel’Thuzad told Arthas that he served the Dreadlord Mal’Ganis, who commanded the Scourge, as part of the Lich King’s plan to gain a weapon against the demons that served as his jailors.

Arthas and Jaina made their way to Stratholme, first fighting an army of undead at Hearthglen and uniting with Uther’s forces. Arthas explained what he knew of the plot — the Scourge, the Plague in the infected grain, the presence of the demon Mal’Ganis in Stratholme spreading it further. But Arthas had sent Jaina to find Uther while he and his men fought to defend Hearthglen, only to see the people he tried to save turn into undead themselves, a horror that deeply affected the heir to the throne.

Lordaeron was his kingdom and these were his people, yet he found himself powerless to save them. When the mysterious prophet revealed himself to Arthas, repeating his words about abandoning the kingdom and fleeing to the west, Arthas refused. Jaina found herself believing the Prophet’s words, but after Hearthglen no force would be enough to convince Arthas to depart. He would go to Stratholme and destroy the demon that awaited him there, or die in the attempt.

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Stratholme Burns

Upon arriving at Stratholme, Uther, Arthas and Jaina found that the infected grain from Andorhal had already been distributed. Images of the people turning as they had at Hearthglen filled Arthas’ mind, and he saw only one way to prevent the people from becoming mindless shambling mockeries in the service of Mal’Ganis — who Arthas still believed the leader of the Scourge thanks to Kel’Thuzad.

The people of Stratholme would need to be purged. As far as Arthas was concerned, they were dead already, and only by destroying their bodies before they rose as monsters could the rest of Lordaeron be spared. Uther and Jaina disagreed. Both were horrified at the idea of destroying the city.

Uther refused a direct command from Arthas as Prince, saying that Arthas wasn’t King yet, nor would Uther murder a city of innocent people even if Arthas was the monarch. An angry Arthas disbanded the Silver Hand and ordered the Paladins to depart — his actual authority to do this is questionable at best. Uther quickly rode off with his Paladins, his destination the city of Lordaeron, to speak to Terenas. Jaina attempted to argue with Arthas, but he would not be swayed. She too departed, refusing to have any part in the deaths of the people of Stratholme.

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Arthas and those men loyal to him rode into the city and began their grisly work. It was interrupted by the appearance of Mal’Ganis, who mocked Arthas and caused the people to burst into undeath. Soon the city was ablaze as Arthas and his men fought their way through the streets, waves of undead assailing them. Arthas still struck down those who had not yet succumbed, while Mal’Ganis raised many to throw them at Arthas.

When it was over, the city was destroyed, and Mal’Ganis mocked Arthas again, telling the enraged Prince to come find him in Northrend.

Jaina and Uther returned to Stratholme to bury the dead after Arthas’ departure. The prophet also returned, this time finding in Jaina a receptive listener, and explained that the only hope to fight the Legion and its servants was in the west. He told here she had to go, with as many as would travel with her. Horrified at what Arthas had done and believing the truth of the Prophet’s words, she chose to depart the Eastern Kingdoms.

Next time: A demon is betrayed, two nations fall, and the Defiler walks on Azeroth again for the first time in 10,000 years.

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