Know Your Lore: History of the Shen'dralar

The World of Warcraft is an expansive universe. You're playing the game, you're fighting the bosses, you know the how -- but do you know the why? Each week, Matthew Rossi and Anne Stickney make sure you Know Your Lore by covering the history of the story behind World of Warcraft.

There's been plenty of chatter regarding the upcoming expansion, and both Rossi and myself have been doing our best to fill in the background on lore figures and races that will play some kind of part in it. One of the questions I find myself asked a lot in regards to Cataclysm is how the new race/class combinations will fall into play lore-wise once the expansion launches.

The answer to that question is easier than you'd think -- most lore for these new race and class combinations already exists in one form or another in game. Over the next few weeks I'll be giving you some background and history into each class and race, and how these combinations make sense in the face of existing lore, as well as speculation on possible conflicts we might see in the future with regards to these choices. Please note, the following post may contain spoilers for the Cataclysm expansion -- if you'd rather avoid all discussion or speculation regarding Cataclysm, it'd be advised to steer away now.

Today we'll be discussing one of the most baffling of the new announcements -- night elf mages. Although the original announcement left some (including myself) horribly confused, later revelations made the choice perfectly logical. While they've been addressed briefly in the post regarding elven evolution, we're going to take a closer look at the Shen'dralar -- the Highborne that make their home in Dire Maul.

The Shen'dralar's history begins prior to the War of the Ancients and the Sundering that followed -- they made their home in their own capital city, Eldre'Thalas. Originally, the Shen'dralar were among the most favored of Queen Azshara's sorcerers and conjurers; they carried out the Queen's most important demands. A highborne elf named Prince Tortheldrin, incredibly devoted to the Queen, led the Shen'dralar of Eldre'Thalas and made sure the Queen's orders were carried out. During the War of the Ancients, the Shen'dralar found themselves under attack by the Burning Legion -- the same as any elf that wasn't currently in the Queen's palace -- and frantically managed to fend off the demonic attacks.

However, the Sundering did more damage than the walls of Eldre'Thalas could possibly handle. When the world split, Eldre'Thalas found itself at the southern end of the new continent of Kalimdor, far from Malfurion, Tyrande, and the rest of night elf society. The once-mighty walls crumbled, and what was left is what we see today -- the shattered ruins of what was surely one of the more majestic cities of the ancient kaldorei, now known simply as the ruins of Dire Maul. But what of the inhabitants of Eldre'Thalas? Why do these highborne still resemble their night elf ancestors, while the Quel'dorei have a different appearance entirely?

The answer is proximity and practice. While the Highborne that fled with Malfurion and Tyrande were busy doing ... absolutely nothing in regards to practicing the arcane, under penalty of death, the Shen'dralar were under no such restrictions. The Highborne of the north fell into a deep lethargy both because of the sudden removal of the Well of Eternity, and because they simply weren't allowed to practice the arcane arts that were by now as much a part of them as breathing. Eventually the Highborne of the north rebelled under Stormrage's restrictions, summoning an arcane storm, and were swiftly given the boot from night elf society in general as a result. Once arriving in the Eastern Kingdoms, the Highborne of the north found themselves abruptly without their immortality as well as the life-giving energy of the new Well of Eternity, and in its absence, they changed into the quel'dorei we see in game today.

The Shen'dralar on the other hand were never prevented from practicing the arcane arts that kept them alive -- although they did find themselves falling under the same lethargy as their cousins to the north. Unfortunately, the Shen'dralar were nowhere near the Well of Eternity, and could not siphon its powers directly. As the lethargy grew, Prince Tortheldrin came up with a plan to combat it. He ordered the construction of pylons, placed around the western quarter of Eldre'Thalas, to create a force field that would be powerful enough to contain a demon. Once these pylons were complete, the demon was summoned -- Immol'thar. Immol'thar was contained in the force field so that the Shen'dralar could freely siphon the energy from him in order to keep themselves immortal, healthy and spellcasting.

By now you're probably asking -- didn't the blood elves start siphoning fel magic from demons as well? And didn't their eyes turn green as a result? Yes, and yes -- but the Shen'dralar show no physical side effects from their siphoning. Unfortunately we've never really been given a reason why. The only thing I can think of that makes sense at this point is the pylons themselves -- perhaps the pylons were not only a force field, but also some sort of filter that removed most of the fel taint and left behind only arcane magic. Arcane Feedback and an Arcane Torrent surround the pylons which lends itself to the theory a little; but unless Blizzard comes up with something solid we've really got nothing to go on.

And so life for the Shen'dralar progressed as usual, if a little more demon-enriched than before. The Highborne continued to practice the arcane arts quietly and in seclusion, and most citizens of Azeroth had no idea that Dire Maul held anything but ruins and ogres that had taken over the area. However, centuries later the powers that kept the pylons going and the force field intact began to wane. As the Shen'dralar Ancient explained it:

Thousands of years passed and the power required to keep Immol'thar imprisoned while sustaining life within Eldre'Thalas began to shift. The cost to keep Immol'thar bound grew to overshadow the rate at which energy could be siphoned and distributed. The once net gain turned to loss.

To sum up: The force fields could only sustain so many people draining off of the demon and remain functioning and intact, and as more and more people fed on Immo'thar's energies, those force fields suffered and weakened. Prince Tortheldrin, by now half-mad from sucking demon energy for thousands of years jumped to the most logical conclusion: There were simply too many Shen'dralar. In order to fix this, he needed to come up with a way to limit the number of Shen'dralar that were siphoning the magic. The quickest way to accomplish this? Wholesale slaughter. The Prince began murdering his people, limiting the siphoning of magic to only himself and his most loyal zealots.

Every Highborne ghost you see in Dire Maul today was once a Shen'dralar, murdered by the leader that they followed and trusted. Few managed to escape alive, including Azj'Tordin, who can be found at the Lariss Pavilion in Feralas, just north of Camp Mojache. Oddly, the zealots of the Shen'dralar, while apparently loyal to Prince Tortheldrin, are neutral to players that venture into the Athenaeum in the western half of Dire Maul. Speaking to the zealots results in hushed warnings about the folly of interrupting Prince Tortheldrin's meditations. Players can even speak to the Prince, although he has very little to say:

For 10,000 years I have ruled this kingdom. In that time, I have heard many fascinating tales from those that would walk the hallowed grounds of the House of Shen'dralar. As I am bound to this place, I often exchange stories with visitors. Do you have a story for me or perhaps you would like to hear a story?

It doesn't really matter if you'd like to hear a story or not, the Prince will say nothing else. While the Shen'dralar Zealots that roam around are more than willing to tell players that the prince knows all about the Ashbringer and is keenly interested in Nefarian, nothing will actually cause the Prince to tell the story. But speaking of stories, they seem to be one of those things that the Shen'dralar are all about -- collecting knowledge and keeping records of various historical and magical documents. Players that wander around the Athenaeum may hear the zealots complain of missing books -- these books were class specific, and if a player happened to find one of these books and turn it in to the Shen'dralar, they would be rewarded with a Royal Seal of Eldre'Thalas that was appropriate for their class.

While most remained ignorant of the Shen'dralar, a few eventually found their way into the halls. One individual who did so was Kariel Winthalus, a blood elf who fled after the destruction of Quel'Thalas. Kariel had one known follower, another blood elf named Mathredis Firestar, who can be found in the Burning Steppes. Mathredis has only this to say regarding Kariel:

They are lost, <race>. Librams written by the elven masters. Scattered across the world when the Scourge was unleashed upon Quel'Thalas. Now we search for these librams. Search to find the secrets they hold -- to restore power once had. I search for the ten written by Master Kariel Winthalus. Should you find a libram, allow me to absorb its magical properties and for you I shall craft an amalgamation of power... of course, all things come at some cost. You will find my cost to be high; but pay you shall.

There are five known librams, and they all share the same text when read:

<The pages are covered in ancient elven runes.>
The pages herein contain memories of events that transpired in the collection and creation of the reagents required to craft lesser arcanum.
May our enemies never gain access to these libram.
May I live to see the pallid light of the moon shine upon Quel'Thalas once again.
May I die but for the grace of Kael'thas.
May I kill for the glory of Illidan.
--Master Kariel Winthalus

Mathredis is searching for the librams because using them will give him power -- essentially, Kariel had found a way to satisfy the addiction that plagued the blood elves after the Sunwell's destruction through using these librams. The byproduct of this was an arcanum of some sort. Players that take librams to Mathredis will receive the arcanum as a reward for giving the blood elf something to feed on. As for Kariel ... he traveled to the ruins of Dire Maul. Though the reasons aren't outright stated, it can be assumed that he was after more librams and secrets of funneling magic, the secrets that kept the Shen'dralar alive for 10,000 years. And so he sought out the Shen'dralar and Prince Tortheldrin in order to find what he assuredly thought was a cure.

It did not end well. The Prince incinerated Kariel for his troubles, and the remains lie next to Lorekeeper Lydros -- coincidentally, the Shen'dralar that is responsible for what else? Librams. Above all else, the Shen'dralar appeared to value privacy, and trespassers were not treated kindly.

Next Page >>