Chapter 06

he news couldn’t have come at a worse time.
    Thrall sat in Grommash Hold, troubled and brooding as the never-ending council with Varok Saurfang and Garrosh Hellscream dragged on.
    “I tell you we cannot risk open war with the Alliance,” Saurfang sternly admonished his charge. “Not with the Scourge looming so close nearby. Our numbers would be decimated along with those of the enemy, and the only gain would be the Lich King’s as he would acquire free soldiers for the Scourge due to our folly.”
    “Pah! The Horde would crush the Alliance as well as the Scourge. It would do the world good to be rid of them both.” Garrosh fumed. How was he supposed to live up to the Hellscream legacy if these idiots kept stepping in the way?
    “We cannot fight both! The Alliance seeks to destroy the Lich King as we do, and it is the Lich King we shall focus on. Was it not yesterday that Warsong Hold was attacked by the lich Chillwinter? The Scourge poses a threat far greater than the Alliance at this point, young one.”
    Vol’jin shot Thrall a look that clearly said Hellscream was more trouble than he was worth. The Warchief stared at the shadowhunter, silently wondering if this was not beginning to be the truth. What if Garrosh could not be controlled? The meeting at the Violet Hold had been a disaster, partly because of him.
    What had happened to the brooding, depressed Garrosh I met in Nagrand? Thrall wondered. It was almost as though once he learned of his father’s fate and ultimate victory, Grom’s son gained a wild confidence that orchestrated his every move. His strategies in Northrend were violent, savage, and uncontrolled, held in check only by Saurfang; Thrall himself had come to blows with the brown-skinned orc several times now and could hardly reason with him. If the Warchief himself could not control this newcomer, what message would that send to the Horde? To the Alliance? It was unsettling to think about.
    And Thrall had enough to worry about already.
    The Forsaken apparently had their own agenda, one that did not align with that of the rest of the Horde. Furious with Sylvanas, Thrall distrusted her more than ever. The banshee queen always had been a wild card; did she want revenge against the Scourge or both the Scourge and the living, regardless of faction? Although she claimed innocence in what happened at the Wrathgate, Thrall simply didn’t believe she was stupid enough to allow such a plague to be created right under her very nose, and that made him uneasy.
    Worst of all, the king of Stormwind had returned to claim his throne. When he’d first heard the news of Varian Wrynn’s rescue, Thrall dared to hope that the human would be open to peace talks, and for a few fleeting moments it appeared that he was. The peace summit at Theramore had started off well enough with talk of putting past conflicts aside and looking towards the future with thoughts of mutual gain by working together; Varian offered Thrall lumber in an attempt to end the battles at Warsong Gulch, and in return Thrall promised Stormwind exotic animal hides, copper, silver, and other resources readily provided by the Barrens and Durotar.
    Unfortunately the peace talks came to a grinding halt when the Twilight cult invaded the city and by some freak chance the half-orc female Garona, who had murdered Wrynn’s father before the man’s very eyes years before, arrived with them. The instant Varian espied her among the cultists he jumped to the conclusion that the Horde orchestrated the assault and sent her in to kill him. Negotiations violently concluded, Wrynn left for Stormwind vowing that he could never trust the monstrous orcs after what they had done to him over the years.
    And then the disaster at Wrathgate and the Battle for the Undercity occurred…
    As he watched Hellscream pacing about the room while Saurfang continued to rebuke the younger orc, Thrall wished that Jaina would return from Dalaran soon. Perhaps she would have some suggestions on how to harness the uncontrollable Hellscream. He recalled the last time they had met.

    The Undercity had been reclaimed for the Horde. Thrall could not deny the thrill he’d felt as he and Sylvanas slew the treacherous demon Varimathras and the Forsaken rebels while Vol’jin directed the artillery from the outside. What a battle it had been! A true victory for the Horde! But ultimately a bittersweet one as well, for when they went to deal with that traitor Putress the forces of the Alliance led by King Varian Wrynn arrived on the scene.
     The human king threatened Thrall and Sylvanas and, having slain Putress and seen the horrors of Undercity for himself, proclaimed that the Forsaken had been planning to murder them all and that there would never be peace between the Alliance and Horde. Then he had the audacity to actually attack them! Fool! Did he not see that this was no time for petty faction squabbling?
    Thrall had been prepared to crush the king’s skull without regret, but luckily Jaina stopped the fight before it could even begin, teleporting Wrynn and the Alliance army back to Stormwind. Thrall couldn’t help but smile at the thought. Good, coolheaded Jaina! Thank the spirits for her! As he wondered how Wrynn and the rest of the Alliance must have reacted to her intervention, his heart ached slightly; he knew there would be anger and possibly violence against her and prayed for the sorceress’ safety.
    The battle for the Undercity thus concluded, Thrall bemoaned the loss of peace between the two factions. “It ends like it began. All that we have fought for in this world is lost. The hopes and dreams carried by my father and mother... by Doomhammer… gone...… if only you were here now, old friend. You would know what to do,” he recalled himself saying aloud, thinking of Grom Hellscream.
    Then Varok Saurfang came to his side. “I know what he would do,” the older orc had said. “He would say to you what I am about to say to you: Thrall, lead your people.”
    Saurfang was right. He had to lead his people no matter what. And so he would, to whatever end. But what if, despite everything he’d accomplished so far, he wasn’t up for the job? He had not been watchful enough.
    Thrall’s thoughts were interrupted by the sudden appearance of a blue portal that materialized from the air to his left. Jaina had arrived, late as usual (Thrall had come to expect that now), but as she emerged from her portal and stepped out onto the butte, surprise and dismay filled him as he realized she walked as though she were a million years old, hunched over and painfully slow. There was no smile on her face this time, just lines of worry and fatigue.
    Did she doubt his leadership ability now? Blame him for what happened at the Wrathgate not three days earlier?
    For a long moment they just stared at each other. There were no words to say. Then Jaina strode over and threw her arms around his neck. Accepting the embrace, Thrall wrapped his arms around her, careful as usual not to squeeze the woman too tightly least he break her.
    Pulling away, Thrall looked down into her tired eyes. “Jaina… how could this have happened? How could this have happened? My own allies… I am a fool.”
    “No…you are not a fool, Thrall,” she sighed. “How were you to know?”
    “I should have known. Sent spies –”
    “Spy on your own allies? Don’t be ridiculous. You upheld your end of the alliance while Undercity did not. There was nothing you could have done. Don’t blame yourself for what you cannot control.” Ironic words coming from her, she knew. Continuing she explained, “Varian Wrynn is in shock over the entire thing. I told you Bolvar was like a brother to him. His grief overwhelmed his rational mind. H-he actually thought that Lordaeron could be reclaimed for the Alliance! That man… he is like my father. He isn’t looking at the bigger picture of things.”
    “And now he has all but declared open war against the Horde. Idiot!”
    To his surprise Jaina defended Wrynn. “Try to understand him, Thrall. Varian has seen only betrayals and violence from Orcs. He watched his father’s murder and then his city’s destruction at the hands of the Old Horde. H-he didn’t ever have a Taretha to show him the good of the other side,” she said softly. “All he knows is the savagery.”
    Thrall frowned, considering this.
    “And then he lost his identity, became a slave, and his kingdom was nearly destroyed because of it. And what does he get once he’s reestablished himself as king? He sees poor Bolvar murdered by the Forsaken rebels! That’s enough to drive anyone to madness! Varian needs time to sort out his emotions but war hasn’t allowed it. Remember my words when you are dealing with him.” Her hand slowly reached forward and grasped his. “Please. For me.”
    “It certainly can’t be blamed entirely on him. All of us have a fault in it.” Thrall turned his eyes upwards to the sky. “I’m glad you were there to intervene. Who knows what would have happened next if you hadn’t? Is the king furious with you?”
    “He’s not happy with me, that’s for sure. But he’s not clamoring to have me hanged for treason unlike some of the populace. The Alliance is eager for war against the Horde after what happened.”
    “I cannot blame them. It was a tragedy for both sides. We both lost good soldiers and there is much cause for grief. But we cannot afford to let faction wars get in the way while the Lich King is amassing his army to destroy us all.”
    “I agree. I agree,” she sighed wearily. And she kissed him.

    Varian Wrynn lived a bitter, angry life, Thrall knew as he recalled Jaina’s pleas on the man’s behalf. The king had lost his family and almost his entire kingdom at the age of twelve due to the original Horde, and as if that weren’t bad enough he’d only recently come out of captivity from the Crimson Ring’s gladiatorial pens and recovered his true identity. Yes, the human had plenty to be angry about… but Thrall’s life had been no cakewalk either and he managed to overcome his dreadful past and could look past it and towards a peaceful future, putting personal grievances against humans aside for the good of his people. Why couldn’t King Wrynn do the same?
    As much as he wanted to completely blame the man for the hostilities at Theramore, Undercity, and the Violet Hold, the orcish leader could not deny his faction’s own part in ruining the peace. Garrosh Hellscream who clearly wished to wipe the race of humans off of the face of the earth goaded the already embittered Wrynn every chance he got; perhaps Wrynn wouldn’t have been so hasty to blame the Horde for Garona’s presence at Theramore or to attack at the Violet Hold if Hellscream hadn’t riled him so. Not to mention the Forsaken traitors at Wrathgate made the Horde look -
    “I do not see why you would pass on an opportunity like this!” Garrosh slammed a fist against the map on the table, bringing Thrall back to the conversation at hand. “You have said yourself that we need shipping lanes! If we take Valgarde and claim it for the Horde before the Alliance has a chance to rebuild, we shall have not only a stronger hold in the Howling Fjord but a shipping lane as well.”
    “No,” Thrall cut in, tired of this nonsense. “If we take the ruins of Valgarde and claim them for the Horde, what message will that send to the Alliance? The king of Stormwind does not need an excuse to declare war upon us just as we do not need to push our luck by intruding upon an Alliance held camp.”
    “That fool human has all but declared war on us already! You saw how he acted at the Undercity! At the Violet Hold!”
    “Do not remind me! You goaded him on at the Violet Hold, Garrosh! You are as much to blame for that disaster as he if not more so. And what happened at Undercity was a misunderstanding.”
    “Misunderstanding? From what I heard he called us cowards, said it was time to rid the world of us! I say we rid the world of him instead!”
    “You be makin’ a big mistake, Garrosh,” Vol’jin snapped. “You think reckless! Da Scourge will be crushin’ us all if we create widespread war wit’ da Alliance.”
    Saurfang nodded, saying, “Get the idea out of your head! We are not attacking Valgarde, no matter how vulnerable it is at the moment.”
    Thrall did not hear Garrosh’s reply. A messenger from the Kirin Tor had just arrived from Dalaran bearing an urgent letter from Rhonin himself, one of the Kor’kron informed him discreetly and turned the letter over to him. Eager for the distraction, Thrall took his time opening it.
    “Think of the consequences for once,” Saurfang spat at Garrosh.
    “Yah, mon. Da Horde –”
    The Warchief again tuned out the conversation as he read his note.

    To the revered Warchief Thrall of Orgrimmar

    Dear Warchief,

    It grieves greatly me to write you this news. Lady Jaina Proudmoore was visiting Valgarde Keep when the Scourge attacked and destroyed it two days ago and she hasn’t been heard from since. The Kirin Tor is investigating the matter and I’m sure King Wrynn will be sending his own representatives to the Howling Fjord. I am of the opinion that the lady is not dead but captured, perhaps by the Dragonflayer Clan, and I know everything in our power will be done to ensure her safe return. For the time being Lady Proudmoore’s chamberlain will be presiding over Theramore. Lady Proudmoore is an irreplaceable leader in our peace efforts as you know well, and I know the Horde will react as its leaders see fit.


        Rhonin of the Kirin Tor

    His stupefied brain took several seconds to confirm the news. Thrall stared at the paper in his hands as though the words written there would jump off of the page and bite him. Jaina missing. Scourge attack. In Thrall’s mind there was only one rational conclusion and it sure as hell didn’t involve simple Vrykul as Rhonin seemed to believe.
    It has happened! He has abducted her! Stolen her from -
    “YOU are all the fools here!” snarled Garrosh, frustrated beyond belief that the others couldn’t grasp his point of view. “If I were Warchief I would –”
    Saurfang clenched his fists. “You are not Warchief, young Hellscream, and you’d better not forget that fact!”
    At this point Thrall stood from his chair stoically, his eyes unseeing. The others turned to him and instantly recognized that something was terribly wrong as he struggled to hold back a torrent of emotions.
    “What’s wrong, my friend?” questioned Saurfang with concern.
    “… Jaina Proudmoore. She was at Valgarde at Rhonin’s request and hasn’t been seen since the attack.” His deep voice was flat.
    Vol’jin’s eyes widened. The Loa spirits had warned him of some impending disaster during his daily ritual not two days ago, and he wondered if this was the tragedy they had spoken of but hesitated to speak about the matter in front of Garrosh. He would wait until he could speak privately with Thrall. “Bad business indeed, mon,” said the troll sadly. He glanced at the Warchief. “Couldn’t ‘a been helped.”
    “We should make contact with Theramore at once.” Thrall hardly recognized his own voice.
    Garrosh stared at Thrall, irritated by his words. “Contact with Theramore?” he snorted. “What? This is a perfect opportunity! We should attack Theramore now while it is leaderless, not contact it! We can gain control of the entirety of southern Kalimdor –”
    “Garrosh! Are you insane? Break our promise? After all we’ve achieved? Unlike the Horde of old, we have no interest in conquest or murder!” Saurfang fairly shouted.
    A new argument began, but Thrall was not thinking of Garrosh now. He was thinking of Jaina.
    Jaina Proudmoore was the only person in Azeroth who glimpsed all of him. Around her he was not simply the unflappable Warchief of the Horde; no, he was Thrall in his entirety, able to reveal his fears and concerns as well as his gentle, joyful side with no fear of ridicule or disdain.
    What started as a hesitant friendship after Hyjal developed into something bigger. As the barrier lifted between them, they ceased to only speak of possible solutions to diplomatic issues or to gently argue as they sometimes did when they didn’t exactly see eye-to-eye with one another, and snippets of more personal conversation slipped into their words. Their problems would suddenly melt away as they sat together under the beautiful blue sky of the Barrens and spoke of their past experiences and their hopes and dreams for the future, and it pleased him beyond words that she looked past racial differences in the name of friendship.
    He slowly learned about the person behind the diplomatic façade and loved what he found: a shy, studious woman who instinctively knew how to read people and their intentions. A woman who put her own needs aside and dedicated herself to the greater good of the world, but also a woman who, like any other human being, harbored insecurities and vulnerabilities. Thrall learned about her past as an apprentice of Antondias and, inevitably, about her very serious relationship with Arthas; Jaina swore that she hardly thought of her old flame anymore but the pained look in her eyes as she spoke told him differently. Pity for the woman filled him in such moments… but to his surprise he had also felt relieved for reasons he dared not admit to himself.
    Likewise Jaina learned of his past, his time as a gladiatorial slave, his friendship with Taretha, and countless other matters that involved him; truly he had experienced more in his young life than most orcs would in several lifetimes, and the fortitude and bravery which remained within him despite his many horrible struggles impressed the sorceress.
    As the meetings grew in frequency, a new factor shyly entered upon the scene. It revealed itself slowly, starting as a simple touch on the arm or a fleeting glance between the two, but evolved into holding hands without fear and gazing fully into each other’s faces. Thrall would find himself thinking of her touch when he was back in Orgrimmar when his focus should have been elsewhere, and he almost wished that she would not touch him so gently.
    The first kiss came as a complete surprise. As they leaned against the plateau rocks to gaze up at a star-lit sky after a long political discussion, her hand pressing firmly on the top of his as usual, Jaina had shyly told him that she knew no one as wonderful and thoughtful as he in any race. Touched, Thrall turned and gazed into her bright eyes.
    “I don’t believe I could receive a finer compliment from anyone, Jaina,” he informed her sincerely. “Thank you.”
    “It’s true,” she affirmed. “There is no one else like you. You are like a diamond; beautiful, unique, and rare. I never want to lose you.”
    He’d begun to tease her about comparing an orc to a diamond when she smiled, leaned forward, and tenderly kissed his forehead; the action stunned him to such a degree that he almost pulled away. His body trembled and he found his hand tightening on hers.
    Jaina looked deeply into his eyes, unflinching, and lowered her head to press her lips against his, her cheeks brushing his tusks. And he had known then that she too felt more than just a warm friendship between them.
    Things escalated from there although they still kept their relationship a secret for obvious reasons. They were not intimate, not yet; Thrall hesitated for fear he might hurt her with their physical differences, and for now just seeing and speaking to each other when at all possible was more than enough pleasure for both of them. However not even the spirits knew what the future might bring…
    Now the woman he cared for was gone, almost certainly captured by the Lich King, a part of whom had been her former fiancé. The thought unsettled Thrall but what could he do? No matter his feelings for Jaina, his people came first, and he very much doubted that, despite the peace treaty with Theramore and the alliance at Hyjal, most of them would support wasting resources and, more importantly, lives to search for and rescue a leader of the Alliance. The rest of the Horde would feel the same way with the Blood Elves and Forsaken in particular speaking against it.
    Still, it was Jaina. He couldn’t fail to protect her as he’d failed to protect Tari. He had to do something. The Warchief longed to charge headfirst into Icecrown – surely that was where she’d been taken – himself but for the time being that was out of the question.
    First and foremost Thrall decided it wise to contact Rhonin to see what the Alliance was planning to do regarding the matter. Tirion Fordring would need to be informed at once; perhaps through the Argent Crusade Thrall could help Jaina. Aegwynn would also need to be contacted.
    Stay strong against him, Jaina. Help is on the way.

    The fool had tried to be strong and failed, failed within a few minutes. As a turtle curls into its shell when poked at by a predator, she’d frozen and withdrawn from reality. How pathetic. But it was ultimately predictable as well; the shattering revelation she just experienced would put any weak mortal into shock, he supposed. Out of an eagerness to study her further rather than pity, he allowed her to remain still, not bothering to shake or slap her out of her stupor.
    The physical changes were even more evident than when he’d looked her over previously. No longer the fresh faced twenty two year old he remembered, Jaina Proudmoore clearly had been through more than most thirty year old women. Her face, while still pleasant to look upon, betrayed the sorrow and stress she’d experienced over the years with pronounced lines that creased under her eyes enhancing the overall tired appearance of her skin. Although she was still in outstanding physical shape, his critical eyes noted the slight thickening of her waist and the fullness of her hips that hadn’t been present before.
    Her clothes were drab and scraggly, a far cry from the regal robes she’d always worn.
    As he looked over the small figure that ignited such hatred still, Arthas felt a surge of power rush through him. He reveled in the fact that he had her. No longer would he be haunted by the past! Now that he was the master of this woman, the one who had hurt him the most as a mortal, the one who troubled him still even as the Lich King, he truly was the most powerful being in the world. Nothing and no one would hinder him now.
    His hand loosened on her neck and he released her from his ice sorcery.
    She staggered backwards into the wall, dazed and desperately trying to control her emotions. Her limbs slowly recovered from the freeze, tingling sensations stirring on her skin. Her teeth chattered uncontrollably, and she lifted her heavy arms and attempted to wrap them around her middle in a bid to warm herself. Her eyes remained closed.
    This is a dream, she repeated to herself numbly. Grief and pain long covered by politics and duty spread through her shocked body. Her heart was torn asunder. This isn’t real. This isn’t happening. How can this be happening? Arthas…
    No remnants of the visage she’d put on as ruler of Theramore moments before could be seen. At the moment she was simply a woman in terrible shock and hurt. No possible way she could pretend to be anything else, and she found herself not caring. His too-close-for-comfort presence suddenly stirred her, and she felt as though she’d explode at any second if he didn’t disappear right then and there. A wave of despair overcame her. She had to get away from him. Jaina’s eyes snapped open, and she startled as one waking from a dream. Her gaze lifted to the black saronite ceiling of her prison for a moment before shifting to the Lich King and then to the door that lay beyond him. With a burst of force she channeled her energy and blinked as quickly as a lightning bolt, vanishing and reappearing past her captor. Trembling, her hands grasped the iron ring which served as a handle and with all of her might she gave a powerful tug, but to her great consternation the door proved too heavy and opened only a couple of inches. Despite knowing well that there were probably guards on the other side, she prepared to blink again only to slam into some sort of magical barrier which left her stunned.
    An arm snaked around her middle and another wrapped itself under her arms. Her feet lifted off the ground and pressed against a heavily plated body, the dazed woman was carried back over to the corner of the room and unceremoniously dumped in her original position. Arthas then placed himself pointedly between her and the door, his arms crossed and the edges of his mouth curled up in a cruel smile.
    Her attempt at flight unsuccessful, the instinct to fight kicked in. Adrenalin pumped through her body and she sprang to her feet and lunged at him, raising tapered fingers to scratch at the exposed part of his face and baring her teeth. Using her nails to claw at him and pounding against his chest with her fists, Jaina utilized all the physical strength left in her drained body to attack her foe, clinging to him like an angry cat. The wound in her right arm screamed at the movement but she paid it no heed. Even after Arthas easily seized her wrists and pinned her against the wall, rendering her attacks worthless, she continued to fight.
    Thrilled by this interaction, Arthas grinned down at her. She was responding perfectly. A small part of him had worried that her love for her people and certain others really had destroyed her feelings for the human Arthas Menethil, but now he could tell that she loved him still no matter what she said or how she acted. If it had been otherwise, she would not have reacted so violently.
    Her blond hair fell in strings over her red face and her chest heaved in and out fiercely.
    Payment? For not aiding you in your murderous rampage through Stratholme?” she whispered through snorting breaths as his words sunk in. It was much easier to call the massacre a murderous rampage than mercy killings at the moment although secretly she’d often thought of it as the latter. Her voice grew loud and shrill as she continued. “You think I will aid you? Love you again? Never, you son of a bitch! Not even hell itself could bring us together after all you’ve done!”
    “You have no choice in the matter.”
    “If you are going turn me into a banshee or some other abominable thing,” she hissed, “get on with it. That’s the only way I could ever love you: as a mindless undead creature.”
    “We shall see.”
    “Do it! I have nothing more to say to you.”
    “I’m not going to turn you into a banshee, Jaina,” Arthas said coolly. “I don’t need another mindless minion. You are far more valuable to me in your current state… for the time being.”
    The wild look in her eyes softened slightly as he took both of her wrists in one hand and raised his free one to caress her cheek. His touch unsettled her even through his gauntlet. For seven long years she’d privately longed for it, craved it, and a tiny part of her desperately wanted to give in and enjoy it now. But common sense and anger overrode that part and pushed it deep into the recesses of her mind just as soon as it surfaced. However that didn’t stop the memories from rushing back.

    He had snuck over to where she slept, gently waking her in his usual fashion. She’d propped herself up on one arm as he reached out and caressed her face. After a few moments of silence, he finally spoke.
    “I-when this is all over – maybe we can… talk. You know.”
    “About what ended at Winter Veil?”
    “No. Not about endings. About beginnings. Because things have felt very incomplete to me without you. You know me like no one else does, Jaina, and I’ve missed that.”
    “I have never been able to deny you, Arthas. And yes. It feels incomplete to me, too. I’ve missed you very much.”

    It was unbearable to remember. She turned her head away; Arthas took the opportunity to press her cheek into the wall, trapping her face so she couldn’t resist. Clenching her teeth to stifle the pain in her arm, she turned an eye towards him. “You are making a big mistake, Arthas. One that will be your undoing. I’ll make sure of it.”
    “Brave words, my lady. Brave words.” That sickening smile still on his lips, he continued to stroke her cheek almost affectionately, asking, “Are you afraid, Jaina?”
    “I am trapped here in the lair of the monster all alone, surrounded by the Light knows what kinds of horrible things, and he asks if I am afraid!” she muttered as though speaking to herself. Jaina was terrified, afraid to even think of the future, and she wasn’t above admitting it to herself. “How long were you planning this?” she demanded to know. “How long were you watching me, waiting to strike?”
    “For years. You have always been in the back of my mind.”
    She wasn’t surprised but all the same an indignant sniff escaped her. “Oh, really?”
    “How could you not be?” the Lich King snarled, tightening his grip on her. “You deceived me, betrayed me when I needed you most. You know as well as I that petty vendettas are useless in the greater scheme of things and in most cases I wouldn’t waste my time on them, but for you, Jaina, I am making an exception.” He paused. “I was planning to wait until after the final battle to capture you – my lieutenants would have been instructed to take you and you alone alive – but when I saw you in the Howling Fjord, there was a change in plans.” His demeanor softened slightly. “Give in to me now and spare yourself the torture.” He knew she wouldn’t and took joy in it; the very thought of torturing her delighted him. “You’ve missed me. Missed this…”
    His body leaned into hers.
    “I’ve missed the Arthas I loved,” she whispered. “And you are not him.” Another rush of fury shot through her and she stood tall despite her position crushed against the wall. “I would kill you if I could, destroy you with my own hands!” she cried, struggling against him anew. “No, I am not afraid of you!”
    Arthas held her fast and resisted the urge to laugh out loud. “You could have fooled me. A frightened animal couldn’t be acting more pathetic than you.”
    “You deserve nothing less than the deepest place in hell after all you’ve done, you traitor!” Her voice trembled with rage. “And I’ll send you there myself!”
    “Very well then.” Releasing his captive and shoving her harshly against the wall, Arthas stepped back, opening his arms as though inviting her to try.
    The sorceress knew better than to attack. Jaina stared at him for a moment before she sank to the floor, humiliated. Her cheeks flushed crimson with shame, and she dipped her head forward so that her long hair covered her face. The tears she’d been so desperately holding back began to leak out. Setting her jaw, she glared at him through watery eyes.
    “Brave words,” he repeated with a sneer. Then his stance softened, and resting a hand against the wall he leaned to the side. “So,” he began in a ridiculously conversational tone, “how’ve you been these past years, Jaina? It really has been too long.”
    “Not long enough.” Jaina propped herself onto her knees and leaned back against the wall, weary and feeling ill. She chided herself for allowing him to unsettle her so.
    “Being snide will not help your situation, I can assure you. Now, do you enjoy ruling your pathetic colony in that mud pit, holed up in your little tower, signing treaties all day while praying fruitlessly for peace? ”
    Anger and doubt gnawed at her insides. In truth she’d experienced leadership problems ever since the founding of the colony. Deserters and corrupt nobles still roamed about freely, denouncing her and attempting to usurp power, often using the name of her father as a rallying cry. Theramore itself was a virtual prison within towering walls with the citizens trapped inside and fearful of pirate attacks from the Great Sea on one side as well as threatened by the inhabitants of the marsh on the other.
    Despite the peace treaty with Durotar, many of the populace still hated the Horde and wanted nothing more than to destroy the so-called savages that surrounded them; plenty of the soldiers, especially those who’d originally been in the Kul Tiras navy under her father, had deserted and fled into the marsh, determined to stir up trouble and proving such a problem that members of SI:7 actually came in from Stormwind to help deal with them. Relationships with the Horde as well as the Eastern Kingdoms were strained, especially since the return of Varian Wrynn, and there was nothing she could do to fix it. And despite being almost thirty one years old and having several good years of experience as a leader, she still had a mentor, her chamberlain Aegwynn, to correct her mistakes and help her make the right decisions as though she were a child, and she was ashamed to admit it.
    Still, did she not lead those people out of Lordaeron and save their lives before the plague destroyed them? Did that count for nothing?
    Jaina betrayed none of this to Arthas, of course. Her face remained completely frozen save for the tears that slowly fell down her cheeks.
    “You know you’re not cut out to be a leader, Jaina. You never were. Best to leave such affairs in the hands of others.”
    “I’ve done just fine, thank you!”
    “Perhaps your father could show you a thing or two about commanding that city.” He feigned ignorance. “How is your father? He is with you in Theramore, is he not?”
    Jaina nodded slowly, not letting him fool her. Daelin Proudmoore was indeed with her in Theramore, albeit in his grave, and she was sure the Lich King knew it. She winced. The memory of her dreams and her father’s passionate hatred for her in them flustered her a moment. Did her father’s spirit really linger on, invading her dreams to make his displeasure known? Did he truly want her dead for making peace with the Horde? For… betraying him in the name of peace? But pondering such questions would do little to help in her current situation and she quickly dismissed them, turning her attention back fully to Arthas as he spoke again.
    “Really, Jaina. And you call me a traitor.”
    “… his death couldn’t be helped,” the sorceress said, her voice heated as she found herself defending her actions, and although her voice spoke boldly she found that she could not look him in the eye. “My father betrayed ME and usurped control of my city. He wouldn’t listen. The peace Thr- I had worked for would have been destroyed because of him.”
    Arthas snorted as he caught her omitting the Warchief’s name.
    “Many would needlessly have lost their lives. I couldn’t let that happen.” She paused before snapping, “At least my actions were justifiable! Unlike yours!” A strangled laugh escaped her throat. “To think, your father was simply welcoming you home, a father glad to see his son alive, and in return you stabbed him through the heart!”
    “Through the neck, actually.” There was no regret in his voice.
    “You bastard! You -”
    I have your well-being in my hands, and you’d do well to think before you speak,” he growled, rounding on her. “Be careful, Jaina; you might say something you’ll regret.”
    Jaina cringed as he came closer but stood her ground. “I refuse to live the rest of my life as a prisoner to anyone... especially not to you!"
    “You won’t be an unwilling prisoner forever. I shut you away from the world long enough and you’ll give in eventually. They all do. You’ll be groveling at my feet as the Alliance is crushed without their little leader of Theramore. Not that you will be missed. You are nothing but a doormat to Varian Wrynn –”
    “That isn’t true!”
    “– following him blindly while speaking out against his actions at the same time like the hypocrite you are. You will be easily forgotten, and no one will come to save you.”
    “I’ll escape this place on my own,” she declared but her words faltered as she considered her dreary location. Icecrown Citadel was by all accounts gigantic, and she’d easily lose herself among the many corridors and rooms, provided that she could escape from her cell in the first place.
    “You won’t be leaving. Now that I’ve got you, I’ve no intention of letting you escape. Try if you must but know that I will always find you.”
    The last statement was almost a dare. One that she wouldn’t hesitate to take him up on.