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Part 2

Only the most highly-attuned senses could have detected anything amiss around the Scourge encampment. Gargoyles flapped lazily in the frigid air, and abominations ambled aimlessly in the courtyard. From time to time a necromancer wandered in or out of the ziggurat.

Just beyond the reach of the ghostly blue torches, one of the shadows yawned.

Kalizai was crouched at the base of a rocky outcropping, perfectly melded into the gloom. A ghoul could have passed within an arm's length of her position and not noticed her presence.

She had been spying on the camp for several weeks, observing the comings and goings, mentally keeping notes that she later committed to paper back at her base of operations. It was only an abandoned yeti cave, but it was a safe distance from the Scourge camp and provided shelter from the bitter Northrend air.

Her long-honed techniques of stealth and subterfuge told her to stay downwind of the enemy to ensure that they would not detect her scent. She had adhered to this despite the unpleasant stench of undeath.

She had learned a fair amount about the Scourge's method of training ghouls and abominations--as much as such mindless creatures could be trained. So far, however, she had failed to witness the necromancers in action. That was what she really needed to learn. After all, Staghelm wasn't interested in the shambling skeletons and lumbering monstrosities. He wanted to know the secret of the initial reanimation itself.

Easy, she thought with a sniff. Should be lounging in luxury on a balcony in Booty Bay in no time. Sipping a fruit drink, paying a goblin to massage her feet...

The bitter cold now made it difficult to feel her feet, however. She didn't dare move at the moment, warily eying a flock of gargoyles circling nearby.

As usual, there was no sign of any necromancers coming out to do a free demonstration. She set her jaw in frustration and finally admitted that this passive, distant reconnaissance wasn't likely to yield the information she needed. It was time to step things up a notch. It would be even more dangerous, of course, but that was why the archdruid was offering such extravagant compensation.

When the last gargoyle had disappeared behind the tree line, she began to move, one foot at the time, finding her way across the rocky, snow-dusted hillside. She made sure each foot was securely placed before moving the next, taking no chances on slipping. Haste was often fatal in this line of work.

At last she reached the perimeter of the camp, pausing in the shadow cast by the ziggurat to get her bearings. The pall of death felt like a physical weight on her chest as she inched closer to the front of the building. She melted into the darkness in a nook where she could see the steps leading to the front entrance, and waited. Minutes ticked slowly by, but Kalizai remained as motionless as a statue. Once an abomination wandered within ten feet of her but the simple-minded creature completely ignored the intruder.

When the coast was clear again, she stepped forward a bit further and took up a position against the side of the stairs. With the side of her head resting against the icy stone, she listened for any sign of activity inside.

There was an anguished wailing--a banshee, perhaps, or a prisoner. She also detected a boiling, bubbling noise that reminded her of the tar pits she had seen once in Un'Goro. Other strange noises reached her more faintly: scratching, groaning, banging, and distant voices speaking a language that was unfamiliar to her. It had to be the necromancers. She strained to make out their words, but only snatches of the strange language were clear enough to make out.

Kalizai frowned. Even if she could hear every word, there was no telling if the incantations they were chanting now were the ones she needed. There were probably other elements to their magic, anyway: potions, gestures, fire... The great mages might make it look easy, but she knew magic was complicated. One wrong move and a simple spell could have drastically different results than the caster intended.

Did she dare try to sneak inside the ziggurat? Even if she had a front-row seat for the necromancers' rituals, she doubted it would be enough to enable her to successfully recreate them. How in the world did Staghelm expect her to do this? Short of personal tutoring, there was no way--

"That can be arranged."

The breath caught in her throat as a cold, ghostly voice suddenly echoed in her head. She did not blink or twitch a muscle, trying to determine where the sound had come from.

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"You wish to learn the secrets of undeath?"

An involuntary shiver ran down her spine. The voice sounded almost like the icy north wind itself, but its words were clear. It seemed to be coming from inside her mind, from the darkest recesses of her soul.

She released the air in her lungs to whisper, "Who...?"

"You seek knowledge...power... I can taste your greed, elf. I can see your heart."

Kalizai's eyes darted around, looking for an escape route. But how could she escape from something that spoke within her head?

"Yes...you will do nicely."

Seemingly from out of nowhere, a crypt fiend closed in on her. Numb with terror, Kalizai managed only a few wild swings of her daggers before the giant arachnid knocked the weapons from her hands. Before she could cry out, the slashing claws sliced across her throat. There was a burst of pain, then...nothing.

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She was not cold anymore. She was not afraid. She could no longer smell the miasma of death. A strange new power hummed in her veins.

She was dimly aware of her hands moving, as if of their own accord, to grasp the hilt of a heavy broadsword.

The same haunting voice was speaking, but it no longer came from within her mind. Its source was nearby, slightly above and in front of her.

"You wish to learn the secrets of the Scourge? You wish to wield death itself as a weapon? Very well. Then you will serve me. You will have the knowledge you seek, and I will have you...mind, body, and soul."

Her eyes opened and she raised her head, knowing even before she did so what she would see. Although she could not remember how she got there or how she came to be clad in plate armor of shining ebony, she was kneeling before the Frozen Throne.

Some tiny flicker of awareness deep in her mind told her to be terrified, to resist, to fight, to reject, to...

A piercing blue glow shone from the eye sockets of the Lich King's helm, and she remained riveted to the spot.

"Master," she said with hushed reverence.

The Lich King smiled.

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Part 3 --->