The Dark Portal and the Fall of Stormwind
Warcraft: Orcs and Humans
As Kil'jaeden prepared the Horde for its invasion of Azeroth, Medivh continued to fight for his soul against Sargeras. King Llane, the noble monarch of Stormwind, grew wary of the darkness which seemed to taint the spirit of his former friend. King Llane shared his concerns with Anduin Lothar, the last descendent of the Arathi bloodline, whom he named his lieutenant-at-arms. Even so, neither man could have imagined that Medivh's slow descent into madness would bring about the horrors that were to come.
As a final incentive, Sargeras promised to bestow great power upon Gul'dan if he agreed to lead the Horde to Azeroth. Through Medivh, Sargeras told the warlock that he could become a living god if he found the undersea tomb where the Guardian Aegwynn had placed Sargeras' crippled body nearly a thousand years before. Gul'dan agreed and decided that once the denizens of Azeroth were beaten, he would find the legendary tomb and claim his reward. Assured that the Horde would serve his purposes, Sargeras ordered the invasion to begin.
Through a joint effort, Medivh and the warlocks of the Shadow Council opened the dimensional gateway known as the Dark Portal. This portal bridged the distance between Azeroth and Draenor, and it was large enough that armies might pass through it. Gul'dan dispatched orc scouts through the portal to survey the lands which they would conquer. The returning scouts assured the Shadow Council that the world of Azeroth was ripe for the taking.
Still convinced that Gul'dan's corruption would destroy his people, Durotan spoke out against the warlocks once more. The brave warrior claimed that warlocks were destroying the purity of the orcish spirit and that this reckless invasion would be their doom. Gul'dan, unable to risk killing such a popular hero, was forced to exile Durotan and his Frostwolf Clan into the far reaches of this new world.
After the exiled Frostwolves charged through the portal, only a few orc clans followed. These orcs quickly set up a base of operations within the Black Morass, a dark and swampy area far to the east of the kingdom of Stormwind. As the orcs began to branch out and explore the new lands, they came into immediate conflict with the human defenders of Stormwind. Though these skirmishes usually ended quickly, they did much to illustrate the weaknesses and strengths of both rival species. Llane and Lothar were never able to gather accurate data of the orcs' numbers and could only guess at how great a force they would have to contend with. After a few years the majority of the orcish Horde had crossed into Azeroth, and Gul'dan deemed that the time for the primary strike against humanity had come. The Horde launched its full might against the unsuspecting kingdom of Stormwind.
As the forces of Azeroth and the Horde clashed across the kingdom, internal conflicts began to take their toll on both armies. King Llane, who believed the bestial orcs to be incapable of conquering Azeroth, contemptuously held his position at his capital of Stormwind. However, Sir Lothar became convinced that the battle should be taken directly to the enemy, and he was forced to choose between his convictions and his loyalty to the king. Choosing to follow his instincts, Lothar stormed Medivh's tower-fortress of Karazhan with the help of the wizard's young apprentice, Khadgar. Khadgar and Lothar succeeded in vanquishing the possessed Guardian, whom they confirmed to be the source of the conflict. By killing Medivh's body, Lothar and the young apprentice inadvertently banished the spirit of Sargeras to the abyss. As a consequence, the pure, virtuous spirit of Medivh was also allowed to live on... and wander the astral plane for many years to come.
Although Medivh had been defeated, the Horde continued to dominate the defenders of Stormwind. As the Horde's victory drew nearer, Orgrim Doomhammer, one of the greatest orc chieftains, began to see the depraved corruption that had spread throughout the clans since their time in Draenor. His old comrade, Durotan, returned from exile and warned him yet again of Gul'dan's treachery. In speedy retribution, Gul'dan's assassins murdered Durotan and his family, leaving only his infant son alive. Unknown to Doomhammer was the fact that Durotan's infant son was found by the human officer, Aedelas Blackmoore, and taken as a slave.
That infant orc would one day rise to become the greatest leader his people would ever know.
Incensed by Durotan's death, Orgrim set out to free the Horde from demonic corruption and ultimately assumed the role of warchief of the Horde by killing Gul'dan's corrupt puppet, Blackhand. Under his decisive leadership the relentless Horde finally laid siege to Stormwind Keep. King Llane had severely underestimated the might of the Horde, and he watched helplessly as his kingdom fell to the green-skinned invaders. Ultimately King Llane was assassinated by one of the Shadow Council's finest killers: the half-orc, Garona.
Lothar and his warriors, returning home from Karazhan, hoped to stem the loss of life and save their once-glorious homeland. Instead, they returned too late and found their beloved kingdom in smoking ruins. The orcish Horde continued to ravage the countryside and claimed the surrounding lands for its own. Forced into hiding, Lothar and his companions swore a grim oath to reclaim their homeland at any cost.
The Alliance of Lordaeron
Warcraft 2: Tides of Darkness
Lord Lothar rallied the remnants of Azeroth's armies after their defeat at Stormwind Keep, and then launched a massive exodus across the sea to the northern kingdom of Lordaeron. Convinced that the Horde would overcome all of humanity if left unchecked, the leaders of the seven human nations met and agreed to unite in what would become known as the Alliance of Lordaeron. For the first time in nearly three thousand years, the disparate nations of Arathor were once again united under a common banner. Appointed as Supreme Commander of the Alliance forces, Lord Lothar prepared his armies for the coming of the Horde.
Aided by his lieutenants, Uther the Lightbringer, Admiral Daelin Proudmoore, and Turalyon, Lothar was able to convince Lordaeron's demi-human races of the impending threat as well. The Alliance succeeded in gaining the support of the stoic dwarves of Ironforge and a small number of high elves of Quel'Thalas. The elves, led at that time by Anasterian Sunstrider, were largely uninterested in the coming conflict. However, they were duty-bound to aid Lothar because he was the last descendent of the Arathi bloodline, which had aided the elves in ages past.
The Horde, now led by Warchief Doomhammer, brought in ogres from its homeworld of Draenor and conscripted the disenfranchised Amani forest trolls into its fold. Setting out on a massive campaign to overrun the dwarf kingdom of Khaz Modan and the southern reaches of Lordaeron, the Horde effortlessly decimated all opposition.
The epic battles of the Second War ranged from large-scale naval skirmishes to massive aerial dogfights. Somehow the Horde had unearthed a powerful artifact known as the Demon Soul and used it to enslave the ancient Dragonqueen, Alexstrasza. Threatening to destroy her precious eggs, the Horde forced Alexstrasza to send her grown children to war. The noble red dragons were forced to fight for the Horde, and fight they did.
The war raged across the continents of Khaz Modan, Lordaeron, and Azeroth itself. As part of its northern campaign, the Horde succeeded in burning down the borderlands of Quel'Thalas, thereby ensuring the elves' final commitment to the Alliance's cause. The greater cities and townships of Lordaeron were razed and devastated by the conflict. Despite the absence of reinforcements and overwhelming odds, Lothar and his allies succeeded in holding their enemies at bay.
However, during the final days of the Second War, as the Horde's victory over the Alliance seemed almost assured, a terrible feud erupted between the two most powerful orcs on Azeroth. As Doomhammer prepared his final assault against the Capital City of Lordaeron - an assault that would have crushed the last remnants of the Alliance - Gul'dan and his followers abandoned their posts and set out to sea. The bewildered Doomhammer, having lost nearly half of his standing forces to Gul'dan's treachery, was forced to pull back and forsake his greatest chance at victory over the Alliance.
The power-hungry Gul'dan, obsessed with obtaining godhood itself, set out on a desperate search for the undersea Tomb of Sargeras that he believed held the secrets of ultimate power. Having already doomed his fellow orcs to become the slaves of the Burning Legion, Gul'dan thought nothing of his supposed duty to Doomhammer. Backed by the Stormreaver and Twilight's Hammer clans, Gul'dan succeeded in raising the Tomb of Sargeras from the sea floor. However, when he opened the ancient, flooded vault, he found only crazed demons awaiting him.
Seeking to punish the wayward orcs for their costly betrayal, Doomhammer sent his forces to kill Gul'dan and bring the renegades back into the fold. For his recklessness, Gul'dan was torn apart by the maddened demons he had set loose. With their leader dead, the renegade clans quickly fell before Doomhammer's enraged legions. Though the rebellion had been quelled, the Horde was unable to recoup the terrible losses it had suffered. Gul'dan's betrayal had afforded the Alliance not only hope, but also time to regroup and retaliate.
Lord Lothar, seeing that the Horde was fracturing from within, gathered the last of his forces and pushed Doomhammer south, back into the shattered heartland of Stormwind. There, the Alliance forces trapped the retreating Horde within the volcanic fortress of Blackrock Spire. Though Lord Lothar fell in battle at the Spire's base, his lieutenant, Turalyon, rallied the Alliance forces at the eleventh hour and drove the Horde back into the abysmal Swamp of Sorrows. Turalyon's forces succeeded in destroying the Dark Portal, the mystical gateway that connected the orcs to their homeworld of Draenor. Cut off from its reinforcements and fractured by infighting, the Horde finally buckled in upon itself and fell before the might of the Alliance.
The scattered orc clans were quickly rounded up and placed within guarded internment camps. Though it seemed that the Horde had been defeated for good, some remained highly skeptical that peace would last. Khadgar, now an Archmage of some renown, convinced the Alliance high command to build the fortress of Nethergarde that would watch over the ruins of the Dark Portal and ensure that there would be no further invasions from Draenor.
The Invasion of Draenor
Warcraft 2X: Beyond the Dark Portal
As the fires of the Second War died down, the Alliance took aggressive steps to contain the orcish threat. A number of large internment camps, meant to house the captive orcs, were constructed in southern Lordaeron. Guarded by both the paladins and the veteran soldiers of the Alliance, the camps proved to be a great success. Though the captive orcs were tense and anxious to do battle once more, the various camp wardens, based at the old prison-fortress of Durnholde, kept the peace and maintained a strong semblance of order.
However, on the hellish world of Draenor, a new orcish army prepared to strike at the unsuspecting Alliance. Ner'zhul, the former mentor of Gul'dan, rallied the remaining orc clans under his dark banner. Aided by the Shadowmoon clan, the old shaman planned to open a number of portals on Draenor that would lead the Horde to new, unspoiled worlds. To power his new portals, he needed a number of enchanted artifacts from Azeroth. To procure them, Ner'zhul reopened the Dark Portal and sent his ravenous servants charging through it.
The new Horde, led by veteran chieftains such as Grom Hellscream and Kilrogg Deadeye (of the Bleeding Hollow clan), surprised the Alliance defense forces and rampaged through the countryside. Under Ner'zhul's surgical command, the orcs quickly rounded up the artifacts that they needed and fled back to the safety of Draenor.
King Terenas of Lordaeron, convinced that the orcs were preparing a new invasion of Azeroth, assembled his most trusted lieutenants. He ordered General Turalyon and the archmage, Khadgar, to lead an expedition through the Dark Portal to put an end to the orcish threat once and for all. Turalyon and Khadgar's forces marched into Draenor and repeatedly clashed with Ner'zhul's clans upon the ravaged Hellfire Peninsula. Even with the aid of the high elf Alleria Windrunner, the dwarf Kurdran Wildhammer, and the veteran soldier Danath Trollbane, Khadgar was unable to prevent Ner'zhul from opening his portals to other worlds.
Ner'zhul finally opened his portals to other worlds, but he did not foresee the terrible price he would pay. The portals' tremendous energies began to tear the very fabric of Draenor apart. As Turalyon's forces fought desperately to return home to Azeroth, the world of Draenor began to buckle in upon itself. Grom Hellscream and Kilrogg Deadeye, realizing that Ner'zhul's mad plans would doom their entire race, rallied the remaining orcs and escaped back to the relative safety of Azeroth.
On Draenor, Turalyon and Khadgar agreed to make the ultimate sacrifice by destroying the Dark Portal from their side. Though it would cost their lives, and the lives of their companions, they knew that it was the only way to ensure Azeroth's survival. Even as Hellscream and Deadeye hacked their way through the human ranks in a desperate bid for freedom, the Dark Portal exploded behind them. For them, and the remaining orcs on Azeroth, there would be no going back.
Ner'zhul and his loyal Shadowmoon clan passed through the largest of the newly created portals, as massive volcanic eruptions began to break Draenor's continents apart. The burning seas rose up and roiled the shattered landscape as the tortured world was finally consumed in a massive, apocalyptic explosion.
The Birth of the Lich King
Ner'zhul and his followers entered the Twisting Nether, the ethereal plane that connects all of the worlds scattered throughout the Great Dark Beyond. Unfortunately Kil'jaeden and his demonic minions were waiting for them. Kil'jaeden, who had sworn to take vengeance on Ner'zhul for his prideful defiance, slowly tore the old shaman's body apart, piece by piece. Kil'jaeden kept the shaman's spirit alive and intact, thus leaving Ner'zhul painfully aware of his body's gross dismemberment. Though Ner'zhul pleaded with the demon to release his spirit and grant him death, the demon grimly replied that the Blood Pact they had made long ago was still binding, and that Ner'zhul still had a purpose to serve.
The orcs' failure to conquer the world for the Burning Legion forced Kil'jaeden to create a new army to sow chaos throughout the kingdoms of the Azeroth. This new army could not be allowed to fall prey to the same petty rivalries and infighting that had plagued the Horde. It would have to be merciless and single-minded in its mission. This time, Kil'jaeden could not afford to fail.
Holding Ner'zhul's spirit helpless in stasis, Kil'jaeden gave him one last chance to serve the Legion or suffer eternal torment. Once again, Ner'zhul recklessly agreed to the demon's pact. Ner'zhul's spirit was placed within a specially crafted block of diamond-hard ice gathered from the far reaches of the Twisting Nether. Encased within the frozen cask, Ner'zhul felt his consciousness expand ten thousand-fold. Warped by the demon's chaotic powers, Ner'zhul became a spectral being of unfathomable power. At that moment, the orc known as Ner'zhul was shattered forever, and the Lich King was born.
Ner'zhul's loyal death knights and Shadowmoon followers were also transformed by the demon's chaotic energies. The wicked spellcasters were ripped apart and remade as skeletal liches. The demons had ensured that even in death, Ner'zhul's followers would serve him unquestioningly.
When the time was right, Kil'jaeden explained the mission for which he had created the Lich King. Ner'zhul was to spread a plague of death and terror across Azeroth that would snuff out human civilization forever. All those who died from the dreaded plague would arise as the undead, and their spirits would be bound to Ner'zhul's iron will forever. Kil'jaeden promised that if Ner'zhul accomplished his dark mission of scouring humanity from the world, he would be freed from his curse and granted a new, healthy body to inhabit.
Though Ner'zhul was agreeable and seemingly anxious to play his part, Kil'jaeden remained skeptical of his pawn's loyalties. Keeping the Lich King bodiless and trapped within the crystal cask assured his good conduct for the short term, but the demon knew that he would need to keep a watchful eye on him. To this end, Kil'jaeden called upon his elite demon guard, the vampiric dreadlords, to police Ner'zhul and ensure that he accomplished his dread task. Tichondrius, the most powerful and cunning of the dreadlords, warmed to the challenge; he was fascinated by the plague's severity and the Lich King's unbridled potential for genocide.
Icecrown and the Frozen Throne
Kil'jaeden cast Ner'zhul's icy cask back into the world of Azeroth. The hardened crystal streaked across the night sky and smashed into the desolate arctic continent of Northrend, burying itself deep within the Icecrown glacier. The frozen crystal, warped and scarred by its violent descent, came to resemble a throne, and Ner'zhul's vengeful spirit soon stirred within it.
From the confines of the Frozen Throne, Ner'zhul began to reach out his vast consciousness and touch the minds of Northrend's native inhabitants. With little effort, he enslaved the minds of many indigenous creatures, including ice trolls and fierce wendigo, and he drew their evil brethren into his growing shadow. His psychic powers proved to be almost limitless, and he used them to create a small army that he housed within Icecrown's twisting labyrinths. As the Lich King mastered his growing abilities under the dreadlords' persistent vigil, he discovered a remote human settlement on the fringe of the vast Dragonblight. On a whim, Ner'zhul decided to test his powers on the unsuspecting humans.
Ner'zhul cast a plague of undeath - which had originated from deep within the Frozen Throne, out into the arctic wasteland. Controlling the plague with his will alone, he drove it straight into the human village. Within three days, everyone in the settlement was dead, but shortly thereafter, the dead villagers began to rise as zombified corpses. Ner'zhul could feel their individual spirits and thoughts as if they were his own. The raging cacophony in his mind caused Ner'zhul to grow even more powerful, as if their spirits provided him with much-needed nourishment. He found it was child's play to control the zombies' actions and steer them to whatever end he wished.
Over the following months, Ner'zhul continued to experiment with his plague of undeath by subjugating every human inhabitant of Northrend. With his army of undead growing daily, he knew that the time for his true test was nearing.
The Battle of Grim Batol
Meanwhile, in the war-torn lands of the south, the scattered remnants of the Horde fought for their very survival. Though Grom Hellscream and his Warsong clan managed to evade capture, Deadeye and his Bleeding Hollow clan were rounded up and placed in the internment camps in Lordaeron. Notwithstanding these costly uprisings, the camps' wardens soon re-established control over their brutish charges.
However, unknown to the Alliance, a large force of orcs still roamed free in the northern wastes of Khaz Modan. The Dragonmaw clan, led by the infamous warlock Nekros, was using an ancient artifact known as the Demon Soul to control the Dragonqueen, Alexstrasza, and her dragonflight. With the Dragonqueen as his hostage, Nekros built up a secret army within the abandoned - some say cursed - Wildhammer stronghold of Grim Batol. Planning to unleash his forces and the mighty red dragons on the Alliance, Nekros hoped to reunite the Horde and continue its conquest of Azeroth. His vision did not come to pass: a small group of resistance fighters, led by the human mage Rhonin managed to destroy the Demon Soul and free the Dragonqueen from Nekros' command.
In their fury, Alexstrasza's dragons tore Grim Batol apart and incinerated the greater bulk of the Dragonmaw clan. Nekros' grand schemes of reunification came crashing down as the Alliance troops rounded up the remaining orc survivors and threw them into the waiting internment camps. The Dragonmaw clan's defeat signaled the end of the Horde, and the end of the orcs' furious bloodlust.
Lethargy of the Orcs
Months passed, and more orc prisoners were rounded up and placed within the internment camps. As the camps began to overflow, the Alliance was forced to construct new camps in the plains south of the Alterac Mountains. To properly maintain and supply the growing number of camps, King Terenas levied a new tax on the Alliance nations. This tax, along with increased political tensions over border disputes, created widespread unrest. It seemed that the fragile pact that had forged the human nations together in their darkest hour would break at any given moment.
Amidst the political turmoil, many of the camp wardens began to notice an unsettling change come over their orc captives. The orcs' efforts to escape from the camps or even fight amongst themselves had greatly decreased in frequency over time. The orcs were becoming increasingly aloof and lethargic. Though it was difficult to believe, the orcs - once held as the most aggressive race ever seen on Azeroth - had completely lost their will to fight. The strange lethargy confounded the Alliance leaders and continued to take its toll on the rapidly weakening orcs.
Some speculated that some strange disease, contractible only by orcs, brought about the baffling lethargy. But Archmage Antonidas of Dalaran posed a different hypothesis. Researching what little he could find of orcish history, Antonidas learned that the orcs had been under the crippling influence of demonic power for generations. He speculated that the orcs had been corrupted by these powers even before their first invasion of Azeroth. Clearly, demons had spiked the orcs' blood, and in turn the brutes had been granted unnaturally heightened strength, endurance, and aggression.
Antonidas theorized that the orcs' communal lethargy was not actually a disease, but a consequence of racial withdrawal from the volatile warlock magics that had made them fearsome, bloodlusted warriors. Though the symptoms were clear, Antonidas was unable to find a cure for the orcs' present condition. Then too, many of his fellow mages, as well as a few notable Alliance leaders, argued that finding a cure for the orcs would be an imprudent venture. Left to ponder the orcs' mysterious condition, Antonidas' conclusion was that the orcs' cure would have to be a spiritual one.
The New Horde
The chief warden of the internment camps, Aedelas Blackmoore, watched over the captive orcs from his prison-stronghold, Durnholde. One orc in particular had always held his interest: the orphaned infant he had found nearly eighteen years before. Blackmoore had raised the young male as a favored slave and named him Thrall. Blackmoore taught the orc about tactics, philosophy, and combat. Thrall was even trained as a gladiator. All the while, the corrupt warden sought to mold the orc into a weapon.
Despite his harsh upbringing, young Thrall grew into a strong, quick-witted orc, and he knew in his heart that a slave's life was not for him. As he grew to maturity, he learned about his people, the orcs, whom he had never met: after their defeat, most of them had been placed in internment camps. Rumor had it that Doomhammer, the orc leader, had escaped from Lordaeron and gone into hiding. Only one rogue clan still operated in secret, trying to evade the watchful eyes of the Alliance.
The resourceful yet inexperienced Thrall decided to escape from Blackmoore's fortress and set off to find others of his kind. During his journeys Thrall visited the internment camps and found his once-mighty race to be strangely cowed and lethargic. Having not found the proud warriors he hoped to discover, Thrall set out to find the last undefeated orc chieftain, Grom Hellscream.
Constantly hunted by the humans, Hellscream nevertheless held onto the Horde's unquenchable will to fight. Aided only by his own devoted Warsong clan, Hellscream continued to wage an underground war against the oppression of his beleaguered people. Unfortunately, Hellscream could never find a way to rouse the captured orcs from their stupor. The impressionable Thrall, inspired by Hellscream's idealism, developed a strong empathy for the Horde and its warrior traditions.
Seeking the truth of his own origins, Thrall traveled north to find the legendary Frostwolf clan. Thrall learned that Gul'dan had exiled the Frostwolves during the early days of the First War. He also discovered that he was the son and heir of the orc hero Durotan, the true chieftain of the Frostwolves who had been murdered in the wilds nearly twenty years before.
Under the tutelage of the venerable shaman Drek'Thar, Thrall studied his people's ancient shamanistic culture, which had been forgotten under Gul'dan's evil rule. Over time, Thrall became a powerful shaman and took his rightful place as chieftain of the exiled Frostwolves. Empowered by the elements themselves and driven to find his destiny, Thrall set off to free the captive clans and heal his race of demonic corruption.
During his travels, Thrall found the aged warchief, Orgrim Doomhammer, who had been living as a hermit for many years. Doomhammer, who had been a close friend of Thrall's father, decided to follow the young, visionary orc and help him free the captive clans. Supported by many of the veteran chieftains, Thrall ultimately succeeded in revitalizing the Horde and giving his people a new spiritual identity.
To symbolize his people's rebirth, Thrall returned to Blackmoore's fortress of Durnholde and put a decisive end to his former master's plans by laying siege to the internment camps. This victory was not without its price: during the liberation of one camp, Doomhammer fell in battle.
Thrall took up Doomhammer's legendary warhammer and donned his black plate-armor to become the new warchief of the Horde. During the following months, Thrall's small but volatile Horde laid waste to the internment camps and stymied the Alliance's best efforts to counter his clever strategies. Encouraged by his best friend and mentor, Grom Hellscream, Thrall worked to ensure that his people would never be slaves again.
War of the Spider
While Thrall was liberating his brethren in Lordaeron, Ner'zhul continued to build up his power base in Northrend. A great citadel was erected above the Icecrown Glacier and manned by the growing legions of the dead. Yet as the Lich King extended his influence over the land, one shadowy empire stood against his power. The ancient subterranean kingdom of Azjol-Nerub, which had been founded by a race of sinister humanoid spiders, sent their elite warrior-guard to attack Icecrown and end the Lich King's mad bid for dominance. Much to his frustration, Ner'zhul found that the evil nerubians were immune not only to the plague, but to his telepathic domination as well.
The nerubian spider-lords commanded vast forces and had an underground network that stretched nearly half the breadth of Northrend. Their hit-and-run tactics on the Lich King's strongholds stymied his efforts to root them out time after time. Ultimately Ner'zhul's war against the nerubians was won by attrition. With the aid of the sinister dreadlords and innumerable undead warriors, the Lich King invaded Azjol-Nerub and brought its subterranean temples crashing down upon the spider lords' heads.
Though the nerubians were immune to his plague, Ner'zhul's growing necromantic powers allowed him to raise the spider-warriors' corpses and bend them to his will. As a testament to their tenacity and fearlessness, Ner'zhul adopted the nerubians' distinctive architectural style for his own fortresses and structures. Left to rule his kingdom unopposed, the Lich King began preparing for his true mission in the world. Reaching out into the human lands with his vast consciousness, the Lich King called out to any dark soul that would listen....
Kel'Thuzad and the Forming of the Scourge
There were a handful of powerful individuals scattered throughout the world who heard the Lich King's mental summons from Northrend. Most notable of them was the archmage of Dalaran, Kel'Thuzad, who was one of senior members of the Kirin Tor, Dalaran's ruling council. He had been considered a maverick for years due to his insistence on studying the forbidden arts of necromancy. Driven to learn all he could of the magical world and its shadowy wonders, he was frustrated by what he saw as his peers' outmoded and unimaginative precepts. Upon hearing the powerful summons from Northrend, the archmage bent all of his considerable will to communing with the mysterious voice. Convinced that the Kirin Tor was too squeamish to seize the power and knowledge inherent in the dark arts, he resigned himself to learn what he could from the immensely powerful Lich King.
Leaving behind his fortune and prestigious political standing, Kel'Thuzad abandoned the ways of the Kirin Tor and left Dalaran forever. Prodded by the Lich King's persistent voice in his mind, he sold his vast holdings and stored away his fortunes. Traveling alone over many leagues of both land and sea, he finally reached the frozen shores of Northrend. Intent on reaching Icecrown and offering his services to the Lich King, the archmage passed through the ravaged, war-torn ruins of Azjol-Nerub. Kel'Thuzad saw firsthand the scope and ferocity of Ner'zhul's power. He began to realize that allying himself with the mysterious Lich King might be both wise and potentially fruitful.
After long months of trekking through the harsh arctic wastelands, Kel'Thuzad finally reached the dark glacier of Icecrown. He boldly approached Ner'zhul's dark citadel and was shocked when the undead guardsmen silently let him pass as though he was expected. Kel'Thuzad descended deep into the cold earth and found his way down to the bottom of the glacier. There, in the endless cavern of ice and shadows, he prostrated himself before the Frozen Throne and offered his soul to the dark lord of the dead.
The Lich King was pleased with his latest conscript. He promised Kel'Thuzad immortality and great power in exchange for his loyalty and obedience. Eager for dark knowledge and power, Kel'Thuzad accepted his first great mission: to go into the world of men and found a new religion that would worship the Lich King as a god.
To help the archmage accomplish his mission, Ner'zhul left Kel'Thuzad's humanity intact. The aged yet still charismatic wizard was charged with using his powers of illusion and persuasion to lull the downtrodden, disenfranchised masses of Lordaeron into a state of trust and belief. Then, once he had their attention, he would offer them a new vision of what society could be - and a new figurehead to call their king.
Kel'Thuzad returned to Lordaeron in disguise, and over the span of three years, he used his fortune and intellect to gather a clandestine brotherhood of like-minded men and women. The brotherhood, which he called the Cult of the Damned, promised its acolytes social equality and eternal life on Azeroth in exchange for their service and obedience to Ner'zhul. As the months passed, Kel'Thuzad found many eager volunteers for his new cult amongst the tired, overburdened laborers of Lordaeron. It was surprisingly easy for Kel'Thuzad to achieve his goal: namely, to transfer the citizens' faith in the Holy Light into belief in Ner'zhul's dark shadow. As the Cult of the Damned grew in size and influence, Kel'Thuzad made sure to hide its workings from the authorities of Lordaeron.
With Kel'Thuzad's success in Lordaeron, the Lich King made the final preparations for his assault against human civilization. Placing his plague-energies into a number of portable artifacts called plague-cauldrons, Ner'zhul ordered Kel'Thuzad to transport the cauldrons to Lordaeron, where they would be hidden within various cult-controlled villages. The cauldrons, protected by the loyal cultists, would then act as plague-generators, sending the plague seeping out across the unsuspecting farmlands and cities of northern Lordaeron.
The Lich King's plan worked perfectly. Many of Lordaeron's northern villages were contaminated almost immediately. Just as in Northrend, the citizens who contracted the plague died and arose as the Lich King's willing slaves. The cultists under Kel'Thuzad were eager to die and be raised again in their dark lord's service. They exulted in the prospect of immortality through undeath. As the plague spread, more and more feral zombies arose in the northlands. Kel'Thuzad looked upon the Lich King's growing army and named it the Scourge, for soon it would march upon the gates of Lordaeron and scour humanity from the face of the world.
The Alliance Splinters
Unaware of the death cults forming in their lands, the leaders of the Alliance nations began to bicker and argue over territorial holdings and decreasing political influence. King Terenas of Lordaeron began to suspect that the fragile pact they had forged during their darkest hour would not last for much longer. Terenas had convinced the Alliance leaders to lend money and laborers to help rebuild the southern kingdom of Stormwind, which had been destroyed during the orcish occupation of Azeroth. The higher taxes that resulted, along with the high expense of maintaining and operating the numerous orc internment camps, led many leaders - Genn Greymane of Gilneas in particular - to believe that their kingdoms would be better off seceding from the Alliance.
To make matters worse, the high elves of Silvermoon brusquely rescinded their allegiance to the Alliance, stating that the humans' poor leadership had led to the burning of their forests during the Second War. Terenas fought back his impatience and quietly reminded the elves that nothing of Quel'Thalas would have remained if not for the hundreds of valiant humans who'd given their lives to defend it. Nonetheless, the elves stubbornly decided to go their own way. In the wake of the elves' departure, Gilneas and Stromgarde seceded as well.
Though the Alliance was falling apart, King Terenas still had allies that he could count on. Both Admiral Proudmoore of Kul Tiras and the young king, Varian Wrynn of Azeroth, remained committed to the Alliance. Furthermore, the wizards of the Kirin Tor, led by the Archmage Antonidas, pledged Dalaran's steadfast support to Terenas' rule. Perhaps most reassuring of all was the pledge of the mighty dwarven king, Magni Bronzebeard, who vowed that the dwarves of Ironforge would forever owe a debt of honor to the Alliance for liberating Khaz Modan from the Horde's control.