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Troubles began to stir in Lordaeron. Orcs broke free of their internment camps, and there was distressing news of a plague that had gripped the northlands. Arthas and Uther were sent to Strahnbrad to defend the town from orcish raids. The young prince defeated the black drake Searinox to retrieve its heart for the dwarf Feranor Steeltoe to forge into an Orb of Fire. Arthas used this magical item to help defeat the orcs and kill the Blackrock clan blademaster leading the raids.
Weeks later a more vile threat arose in the form of the Plague of Undeath. Jaina and Captain Falric were sent to help Arthas, now 24 years old, investigate the strange disease. They fought against the undead at an infested granary, then encountered the necromancer Kel'Thuzad in the town of Brill and pursued him to Andorhal.
Kel'Thuzad had already infected the stored grain in Andorhal and shipped it out to outlying villages. Before Arthas killed him, Kel'Thuzad spoke of Mal'Ganis, a nathrezim demon who led the Scourge. Jaina and Arthas traveled north to confront him in Stratholme.
Along the way, Arthas and Jaina stopped at Hearthglen where they hoped to rest. Instead, they were warned of an approaching army of undead. Arthas ordered Jaina to find Uther and seek his aid while he remained behind to defend the town. To his horror, Arthas discovered that the plague was not merely a means of mass murder, but rather the means of turning innocent townsfolk into undead creatures. Arthas's forces barely held out and were on the verge of defeat when Uther arrived with reinforcements and saved the village.
While traveling to Stratholme, Arthas was met by the enigmatic prophet Medivh. He gave him the same advice he gave Terenas — to travel west to Kalimdor. Arthas argued that his place was with his people, and vowed that he would not abandon them. Jaina suggested that the prophet might be right, but Arthas paid her no heed and continued to Stratholme.
When he arrived at Stratholme, Arthas found that the grain had already been distributed. He knew the people of Stratholme would soon become undead, and ordered Uther and his knights to purge the entire city. Horrified, Uther rebuked him by saying he would not follow such an order even if Arthas were already king. Proclaiming that Uther had committed treason, Arthas relieved him of his command and suspended his paladins from service. Several soldiers, such as Sir Thomas Thomson, left with Uther — as did Jaina — while those who remained loyal to Arthas joined him in slaughtering the infected citizens.
As Arthas began to slay the citizens of Stratholme, he was met by Mal'Ganis himself, who was working to claim their souls. Arthas sought to destroy them before Mal'Ganis could reach them, and eventually demanded a final showdown with the dreadlord. Mal'Ganis slipped away, however, vowing to meet him in Northrend. Arthas then set fire to Stratholme, and those fires burn to this day.
Arthas followed Mal'Ganis with a detachment of his troops. They arrived a month later in Daggercap Bay. As they searched for a proper place to set up camp, Arthas's men came under gunfire before being recognized by the dwarven explorers' guild. Arthas was shocked to come upon his good friend and former mentor Muradin Bronzebeard. At first Muradin thought Arthas was leading a rescue party sent to save his men, who had been besieged by the undead as they searched for the runeblade Frostmourne, but Arthas admitted it was mere coincidence. Together they destroyed the nearby undead camp, but there was still no sign of Mal'Ganis.
As Muradin and Arthas continued their search for Frostmourne, an emissary from Lordaeron arrived in a zeppelin and spoke to Captain Luc Valonforth. He bore orders from Uther and Terenas, instructing Arthas and his men to return home. When Arthas returned to his base, the men had abandoned their posts and were making their way through the forest towards their ships. Arthas had no intention of leaving before Mal'Ganis was destroyed. With the help of some indigenous mercenaries, he managed to reach and burn his ships before his men got to them. When his men arrived, Arthas betrayed the mercenaries by accusing them of destroying the ships. To Muradin's disgust, they were promptly killed. Arthas told his men they had no means of going home, and the only way they were leaving Northrend was through victory.
Arthas and his troops continued to press on to Draktharon Keep in search of Frostmourne. As he arrived, Mal'Ganis appeared to him, and foretold his death. Arthas went to search for Frostmourne with Muradin, leaving his captain to defend the camp.
Using an ancient waygate Arthas, Muradin, and a small group of men traveled to the vicinity of the fabled runeblade. Arthas was soon confronted by the Guardian, who tried to keep him from Frostmourne, apparently for his own protection. The Guardian fell, and Arthas and Muradin claimed their prize. Muradin, reading an inscription, reported that the blade was cursed. He pleaded with Arthas to forget his desire for vengeance and lead his men home, but Arthas was adamant. Arthas asked the spirits of the cavern for the sword to be released from its icy prison, proclaiming that he would "give anything or pay any price, if only they will help him save his people". When the weapon broke free, Muradin was struck by a rogue shard of ice, rendering him unconscious. Arthas moved to help Muradin, but was dissuaded by the call of Frostmourne in his mind. Arthas discarded his holy warhammer, then picked Frostmourne up and returned to his base, leaving Muradin for dead. With Frostmourne in hand, Arthas defeated Mal'Ganis's army, destroyed his base, and finally confronted the demon.
Mal'Ganis told him that the voice he was now hearing was that of the Lich King. However, Arthas replied that voice was instructing him to destroy Mal'Ganis, much to the dreadlord's surprise. After slaying the dreadlord, Arthas fled into the frozen north, leaving his troops to fend for themselves. Arthas soon lost the last remnants of his sanity.