Know Your Lore: Ebon blades against the Legion
Legion and the events we’ve just experienced will be felt in Azeroth for years to come. Both beneficial outcomes, and less positive ones. We’re not dead, the Legion’s power is broken, Sargeras is imprisoned in the Seat of the Pantheon and the demons no longer have a master. One of the most interesting things about this expansion has been all the hints for what’s coming in the future. We move into our post Legion future with the Alliance and Horde once again heading for conflict. But there’s more going on beyond that.
One of the most disturbing aspects has been the rise of the Lich King. In life, Bolvar Fordragon was a mighty Paladin. He was a servant of the Holy Light, gifted in battle and steadfast in his convictions. But he was also once the dupe of a dark, malevolent force. It seems clear that his time as the Lich King has not done much to gentle the office. Mastery over the Scourge has brought out dangerous tendencies in him.
For an example of Bolvar’s turn to a more deliberate and cruel way of thinking, look at his interaction with Acherus’ Deathlord. The quest Amal’thazad’s Message starts off a disturbing chain of events.
- The Lich Amal’thazad creates a method for the Lich King to communicate more completely with the Deathlord. With it, the Lich King is capable of projecting visions directly into the Deathlord’s mind.
- The Lich King sends the Deathlord north of Icecrown Glacier and projects a vision of a scourge army under Arthas’ command. The army heads north to find the bones of an ancient Red Dragon.
- To find this Red Dragon and pervert the life energy that suffuses its bones, the Lich King sends you to Wyrmrest Temple. At his behest you torture a member of the Bronze Dragonflight for information.
- You storm into the Ruby Dragonshrine, killing members of the Red Dragonflight and stealing their ancient records. You learn of Kyranastrasz, who died fighting a forgotten darkness in Northrend.
- On your way north, the Lich King informs you that if you die, he’s going to seize control of Acherus. This is just before you arrive, murder a ton of feral undead atop Kyranastraz’s body, and then pervert the life magic that resides within the corpse to raise it into undeath as a powerful servant and personal mount.
On the surface, this seems like a trip to get a sweet new ride. But there are a variety of aspects to consider. The Lich King is in control of the Ebon Blade, an order of Death Knights that Arthas lost control of. In his Four Horsemen, he has a weapon of war equal to that which once terrorized Lordaeron. This includes Darion Mograine, the man who once led the Ebon Blade against Arthas. Now he serves Bolvar.
Death was only the beginning
But it gets worse. The Bolvar incarnation now has a means to beam his thoughts directly into the mind of the most powerful Death Knight since Arthas Menethil took up Frostmourne. Please remember, the reforged remains of Frostmourne are just one of the horrific weapons at the Deathlord’s command. At his behest, you defile the grave of one of the Red Dragonflight’s most revered members. You corrupt the inherent life magic bestowed on that dragon, presumably by Alexstrasza herself. In so doing you raise a monster the equal of Sindragosa. The scene where you do this even hearkens back to when Arthas did that.
Meanwhile, Bolvar flat out tells you he has plans for Acherus. If you die, he’s just going to take the place over. And why shouldn’t he? Who’s going to stop him? Darion, who is directly under his control as one of the Four Horsemen? Amal’thazad, who is already taking his orders? You? You’ll be dead. And even when you’re still moving, you’ve done less to hinder Bolvar and more to completely assist him. You raised the Four Horsemen, rescued Koltira from Sylvanas. You smashed your way into Light’s Hope, tortured a Bronze Dragon. And you killed several members of the Red Flight inside their sacred Dragonshrine, corrupting one of their greatest heroes into undeath.
We can ask what Bolvar is planning. And I think Chronicle Volume 3 may have spilled the beans on that one.
A world that needs saving
When Arthas was twisted by his grief and rage at the horrors he saw fighting Kel’Thuzad, he gave way to his anger, eventually tricked into taking up Frostmourne. After he became the Lich King, he was no longer the man he had been. But he was still Arthas. He brought who he had been with him. In Chronicle Volume 3, the following passage discusses his state of mind as he began his campaign from atop the Frozen Throne.
When the final battle was through, nothing remained of Ner’zhul but a wail of sorrow in the back of the Lich King’s consciousness. Arthas found it easy to ignore.
He spent a few years recovering his strength and planning his next move. As a paladin, Arthas had always sought to bring order and justice to Azeroth. That desire remained, but it was now far more twisted than ever before.
Arthas sought to corrupt the mightiest heroes on Azeroth and turn them into an unstoppable army of Death Knights, and he nearly succeeded. If not for Tirion Fordring and the actions of the ghost of King Terenas Menethil, a wave of darkness would have rolled forth from that citadel. An army of destruction that would have rendered Azeroth a Scourge world.
Arthas came to this idea because, even twisted as he was, he’d been raised to think of Order as a good thing. He went astray entirely because he loved order and justice. He sought to bring that justice to the monsters who used the plague on his people. Now that his mind was more or less his own, Arthas sought to bring order and justice again. The order of a world united in undeath, the justice of all being subject to the rule of an absolute, unquestionably singular will.
A new kind of Lich King
If you look at Bolvar’s actions through this lens, things start to get scary. Bolvar wasn’t just a Paladin as Arthas was. He was a Paladin who’d actually ruled a nation and led armies into battle successfully. Arthas was heroic, but he never actually won battles until he was a Death Knight and could throw the Scourge at a problem. His most notable military victory was against the High Elves. He only managed that via the treason of Dar’Khan Drathir and a practically unstoppable army where attrition simply didn’t matter.
You could certainly argue I’m being unfair but it’s more a matter of scale. Arthas as a heroic Paladin defeated Legion-worshipping Orcs, Kel’Thuzad, and the Cult of the Damned. He just never had the opportunity to lead forces the way Bolvar did in Northrend.
So imagine Bolvar sitting atop the Frozen Throne. Do the Alliance and Horde seem likely to stop fighting any time soon? No. Throughout Legion, Bolvar has taken pains to strengthen his position at every step. Has he fought the Legion? Absolutely, but often, he’s managed to benefit while doing so like when he used Aman’thazad to prevent the Legion from creating a new Scourge to oppose his.
A new master
With Sargeras defeated and the Legion in disarray, Bolvar can sit back and wait and prepare for the Void on his own terms. He’s more of a planner than Arthas was. Arthas liked grand gestures. Bolvar likes winning. Co-opting Acherus, gaining control over powerful new minions only serves to give him more options. Make no mistake, he’s spent all of Legion assembling them. When the time comes he may well decide to save Azeroth the way Arthas wanted to, and worse, he’s far more likely to succeed.
Atop the Frozen Throne, we have traded a man who allowed his rage to overwhelm him and whose plans were always overblown and lacking in subtlety to one who has managed to turn an organization that loathed and opposed his predecessor into allies and servants underneath everyone’s noses. A man who can balk the Holy Light in its own home ground, wrest secrets from the Dragonflights. One who has done all this without anyone really noticing. And he is only getting started.
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