This was supposed to be a happy occasion.
The Horde and the Alliance, together, dancing around the ribbon pole, took some getting used to, but there it was. The war against the Qiraji had brought back memories of the Battle of Mount Hyjal when the Alliance and Horde first worked together and the Midsummer Fire Festival might have been the first holiday in a long time that had passed without bloodshed.
And then the Scourge had crashed the party.
Or, more accurately, they had come early. Already, military analysts in Ironforge and Stormwind were scrambling to explain why Kel’Thuzad had attacked now, and like this, but there was no mistaking his booming voice echoing across two continents nor the flying necropoli near each major city and in a number of other sites.
The Argent Dawn had even made a grudging sort of peace with the zealots of the Scarlet Brotherhood after the necromancer Kel’Thuzad — right hand to the Lich King himself — had flown his necropolis, Naxxramas, into the Plaguelands, casting its shadow over the headquarters of both organizations.
Ringo, Beli and everyone they knew had been fighting to push the undead back from Ironforge, the Blasted Lands — the idea of the Lich King reopening the Dark Portal for his own ends terrified everyone — and elsewhere. The undead seemed endless, and it had broken Ringo’s heart to read the letters many of them had on their bodies, notes written while they had still lived during the Third War and intended to send them home, to family, to sweethearts. He had collected those he could and turned them into the Argent Dawn; perhaps they could find living survivors who would want to hear the last words of their lost friends, families and lovers.
And then, days before the now-haunted festival was to end, the undead vanished. Oh, Naxxramas still hung in the sky above the Plaguelands, but the invasion was seemingly over.
It had been a strange sort of attack, with the bulk of the Lich King’s strength directed elsewhere, away from the capital cities, with only enough of a nuisance directed at them to prevent the full force of the Alliance and Horde from investigating what the Lich King was up to.
Ringo stumped across the dead grass of the plaguelands towards the gryphon handler, having handed the last handful of letters to the Argent Dawn official tasked with tracking down survivors of the slain undead.
As the Aerie griffon’s powerful wings beat the air, climbing upwards rapidly, as eager to get away from the ever-present stench of rot and decay as Ringo was, the dwarf looked out over the Plaguelands. It had seemed so long ago since he had first entered the region and seen what Arthas the Betrayer and the Scourge had wrought here. From here, he could see the ruins of Darrowshire and Corrin’s Crossing and the Plaguewood and Stratholme beyond. They wheeled over Caer Darrow and the farms that had provided the plagued grain that had poisoned the people of Lordaeron. And in the distance, Ringo could just see the borders of Quel’Thalas, where he thought, perhaps, he saw a few healthy trees growing.
But as sharp as his eyes were, he could not see Northrend to the north across the ocean. But it was out there, and Ringo knew that the Lich King was looking back, casting his gaze over Lordaeron and the Eastern Kingdoms.
And it was only a matter of time before the next invasion came and this one would not end mysteriously, with no great harm done.
They would have to take the fight to the Scourge, before the fight was brought to them.