World of Warcraft Lore: Road to Damnation Page 2

A nub'arak led him through a number of tunnels that took them far beneath the earth. At last Kel'Thuzad and his guide emerged into a vast ziggurat whose name, so Anub'arak said, was Naxxramas. From its architecture, the building was another product of the half-spider creatures. Indeed, the first chambers Anub'arak showed him were populated by the undead things, which swiftly lost their novelty. Actual spiders also skittered here and there among the undead, busily spinning cobwebs and laying eggs.

Kel'Thuzad hid his distaste. He wouldn't give the enormous majordomo the satisfaction. Indicating one of the undead spider-things, he said, "You bear them some resemblance. Are you all derived from the same race "

"The nerubian race, yes. Then the master came. As his influence spread, we made war upon him, foolishly believing we stood a chance. Many of us were slain and raised into undeath. In life I was a king. Today I am a crypt lord."

"In return for immortality, you agreed to serve him," Kel'Thuzad mused aloud. Remarkable.

"'Agreed' implies choice."

Which meant that the necromancer could compel obedience from the undead. Kel'Thuzad might be the first living being to come here of his own free will. Faintly disquieted, he changed the subject. "This place is full of your people. I take it you rule here "

"After my death, I led my brethren in conquering this ziggurat for our new master. I also oversaw the process of altering it to serve his design. However, Naxxramas does not fall under my authority. Nor are my people its only occupants. This is but one wing out of four."

"In that case, lead on, crypt lord. Show me the rest."

* * * * *

The second wing was everything Kel'Thuzad could have hoped. Magical artifacts, laboratory equipment, and other supplies that put his old laboratories to shame. Huge rooms that could hold a veritable army of assistants. Undead beasts that had been cleverly sewn together from a hodgepodge of animals and reanimated. Even a few undead humanoids composed of body parts from assorted humans. The human body parts bore no wounds: unlike the nerubians, the humans had not fought their fate. The necromancer must have acquired the bodies from a local graveyard. Wise to avoid drawing notice. The Kirin Tor would have taken immediate action.

Unfortunately the third wing proved less interesting. Anub'arak showed him an armory and an area for combat training. Next the crypt lord led him through chambers filled with hundreds--no, thousands--of sealed barrels and shipping crates. Why would Naxxramas need so much in the way of supplies Well, the pyramid was well stocked in the unlikely event that it was besieged.

At last he and Anub'arak reached the last wing. Giant mushrooms grew in a garden area and gave off noxious fumes that made Kel'Thuzad feel ill. The soil beneath each mushroom seemed unhealthy, possibly diseased. Going closer to inspect it, he stepped on something that squished: a fist-sized creature that resembled a maggot.

He shuddered and hastily moved on. The next room had a number of small cauldrons filled with a bubbling greenish liquid. Curious despite the substance's revolting odor, Kel'Thuzad took a step forward, but a massive claw abruptly blocked his way.

"The master wishes you to remain among the living. Your time has not yet come."

His breath caught in his throat. "It would have killed me "

"There are many who will not serve the master in life. The fluid resolves that difficulty." At Kel'Thuzad's blank look, the crypt lord said, "Come. I will show you."

Anub'arak took him to a cell that held two prisoners. Villagers, by their homespun clothing. The man was cradling the woman in his arms; she was ghastly pale and soaked in sweat. Alive, both of them, though the woman was clearly ill. Kel'Thuzad glanced at the crypt lord uneasily.

Her desperate glassy eyes found Kel'Thuzad and brightened. "Mercy, my lord! My body fails. I have seen what will happen next. One bolt of flame, I beg of you. Let me rest in peace."

She was afraid of becoming the necromancer's thrall. According to Anub'arak, she would have no choice. Kel'Thuzad looked away queasily. After all, she couldn't live much longer anyway.

She struggled out of the man's arms and clung to the cell bars. "For pity's sake! If you will not aid me, at least take my husband to safety!" And she wept hopelessly.

"Hush, sweetheart," the man murmured behind her. "I will not leave you."

"Make her be quiet!" Kel'Thuzad whispered fiercely at Anub'arak.

"The noise distresses you " With one lightning-quick motion, Anub'arak shot one claw through the bars and speared the woman through the heart. Then the crypt lord casually shook the corpse off onto the floor.

Her husband howled with anguish. Guiltily relieved, Kel'Thuzad began to turn away, but froze when the corpse started thrashing and arching against the stone floor. The male villager gaped in shock and fell silent.

The dead woman's skin was changing color: shifting to a faintly greenish gray. Gradually the spasms died off, and she scrambled unsteadily to her feet. She rolled her head to one side, then shivered as she spotted her husband. "Guards, get this man out of here." she rasped.

The guards didn't move. With a groan, she raked her fingers through her tangled brown hair, and Kel'Thuzad got a good look at her face. Blood vessels were darkening under the skin, and her eyes seemed feral, crazed.

Her husband asked doubtfully, "My love Are you all right "

A bitter laugh escaped her and twisted into a snarl when he took a hesitant step toward her. "Don't come any closer."

The man ignored her protest and went toward her, but she shoved him away with enough force to send him flying. He hit the cell bars and slid down, stunned.

"Stay back." Her speech was becoming more guttural. "Hurt you." She wrapped her arms around herself, backed up until she bumped against the opposite side of the cell. "Hurt you, hurt you," she whined, and something began to be wrong with the way she said it.

Uncomprehending, Kel'Thuzad watched her slowly, jerkily lift a hand to the hole in her chest. She hissed, grimaced, and brought her fingers to her mouth. Licked them. Sucked at them. Then in a blur of movement, she was leaping at her husband, lashing out, baring her teeth--

The man screamed, and blood spurted onto the cell floor. Kel'Thuzad flinched away. Closing his eyes didn't help; he could still hear unspeakable sounds. Ripping, shredding. Chewing. A soft, wretched mewling that he very much feared meant the undead woman was aware of her actions on some level, but unable to stop herself.

Sickened and horrified, he teleported out of Naxxramas altogether, staggered a little distance away, and threw up. Finding a patch of unsullied snow, he scooped up handfuls and scrubbed viciously at his mouth and face. It felt as if he would never be clean again. What had he gotten himself involved in

One by one, his scattered thoughts fell into place. The necromancer was no simple academic, interested in studying a widely condemned field of magic. Nor did he plan to stop at fortifying his home against attack. He was mass-producing a fluid that converted people into zombies. Naxxramas also had an enormous stockpile of supplies, weapons, armor, training grounds....

These weren't defensive measures. They were preparations for war.

A sudden wind buffeted him with an unearthly shriek, and a group of cold wraiths coalesced in front of his eyes. He had read of them years ago in the Violet Citadel. The vague description of their cloudy, translucent forms had mentioned nothing of the frigid malice in their glowing eyes.

One of the wraiths drifted closer and asked, "Second thoughts As you see, your little trick will not avail you. You cannot escape the master. At any rate, what could you hope to accomplish Where would you go More to the point, who would believe you "

Fight or flight: those would have been the heroic choices. Heroic, but pointless. His death would serve nothing. By agreeing to become the necromancer's apprentice, Kel'Thuzad bought himself time in which to bolster his own skills. With enough training, he could surpass the necromancer or catch the man off guard.

He nodded to the wraith. "Very well. Take me to him."
Road to Damnation page3


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