Thrall, warchief of Orcish Horde, waking from a nightmare warning him that the return of the demonic Burning Legion is imminent. After a brief encounter with a man called "the Prophet", and fearing that his dream was more of a vision than a nightmare, he leads his forces in an exodus from Lordaeron to the forgotten lands of Kalimdor.
Meanwhile, Prince Arthas Menethil, a Paladin appointed by his father, is fighting demon-worshipping orcs. Arthas then joins Archmage Jaina Proudmoore, with whom he investigates a strange plague that is spreading across Lordaeron. To their horror, they find that the plague kills and turns human victims into the undead. Arthas kills the plague's originator, Kel'Thuzad, then hunts down the dreadlord Mal'Ganis. The Prophet, after previously trying to convince King Terenas, Archmage Antonidas, and Arthas to flee west, begs Jaina to go to Kalimdor as well. Arthas pursues Mal'Ganis to the icy continent of Northrend, where he helps his old dwarf friend Muradin Bronzebeard find a powerful sword called Frostmourne. Upon discovering the blade, Muradin learns that the sword has a curse upon it; Arthas disregards the warning and takes the sword, which kills Muradin. Arthas goes on to kill Mal'Ganis with the sword before leaving his men to die in the frozen north as his soul is stolen by the blade. Some time later, Arthas returns to Lordaeron a hero to the unwitting populace, and kills his father, the king.
Now an undead Death Knight, Arthas meets with the leader of the dreadlords, Tichondrius, who assigns him a series of "tests". First, Arthas exhumes the remains of Kel'Thuzad. He then journeys to Quel'Thalas, the kingdom of the high elves, killing the ranger-general Sylvanas and raising her as a banshee. He destroys the capital of Silvermoon, corrupting their sunwell and reviving Kel'Thuzad as a Lich. The lich then informs him of the Burning Legion, a vast demonic army that has consumed countless worlds before their own. Kel'Thuzad's true master is the Lich King, who was created to aid the Legion with his Undead Scourge, but in truth he wishes for the Legion to be destroyed and to be free of his prison, the Frozen Throne. Arthas and Kel'Thuzad open a dimensional portal so that the Burning Legion can enter the realm of Azeroth. The demon Archimonde is summoned and the Burning Legion begin to destroy Lordaeron...
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