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Know Your Lore: War of the Ancients, part 3 -- The one betrayed

Matthew Rossi

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.

Before we even get started with this weeks KYL, let's take a look at parts 1 and 2 of our War of the Ancients roundups. Now that we've done that, we'll open up this post with an attempt at a succinct overview of the war and the difficulties inherent to discussing it.

Queen Azshara and her Highborne (quel'dorei) became arrogant and obsessed with the magical power of the Well of Eternity, a font of magical power the size of a massive lake that dominated the ancient single continent of Kalimdor. The wall was the source of all magical power the kaldorei (night elves) used in their world spanning civilization and far, far more as well. Created by the Titans, the Well's incalculable power was so vast that it called across the vast distances of the Great Dark Beyond to the fallen Titan Sargeras, who sought to use the Well's power to instantly enter Azeroth bodily and commence the annihilation of all the Titan's work in creating it. Azshara, whether through domination by or love for Sargeras, sought to aid him, even though it would destroy her own people. The native forces of Azeroth, the Dragonflights and nigh-immortal Ancients, rose to prevent the Burning Legion's destruction, but due to the treachery of the earth aspect Neltharion, they ultimately failed.

With the Ancients forced into desperate holding battles or even slain in their bodily incarnations and the dragons scattered by the rise of Deathwing, in the end, only the Kaldorei remained to fight the Burning Legion's demons and their own deranged and vainglorious Queen. But one night elf began to grow afraid of just what a victory would cost, and more specifically, what a victory would cost him. Having fought the demons alongside his brother Malfurion and their oldest friend Tyrande, Illidan Stormrage had been forced to watch the woman he loved grow ever closer to his twin brother and not himself. Now, having taken Tyrande away, Malfurion proposed an even greater theft. Malfurion would take magic itself away from Illidan as well.

It was not to be borne, and so Illidan took action.

Born to master nature

Ironically, as we mentioned last week, it was Illidan and not Malfurion who bore the golden eyes that signified inherent druidic potential. We often hear that the sorcery of the Highborne called to Illidan in a way the druid arts did not, but one has to wonder if Illidan simply didn't wish to compete with his twin yet again, as they had been rivals over Tyrande for years. Even worse for Illidan, it was a one-sided rivalry that Malfurion never seemed to feel or acknowledge even as he was winning it.

Whatever his reasons, Illidan chose to master arcane magic instead of nature, despite his inherent gifts. It's interesting to imagine what a druid Illidan, with greater inherent gifts than Malfurion, would have been like. How would history have been changed if Illidan had embraced his gift and transcended even the great Malfurion in druidic arts? Would Archdruid Illidan have been the one to decide what would be done with the Well of Eternity, and since he was more comfortable with the arcane, would he have made the choice Malfurion did? Perhaps some day the Infinite Dragonflight will try and bring this about.

Instead, despite a lack of Highborne training or a role within its social order, Illidan soon became one of the strongest mages in existence with more innate power than any of their greatest. As the resistance to the Legion began and those Highborne unaware of Azshara's actions lost their connection to the Well (and thus their power), it was Illidan who showed them how to use the ambient magical energies that fed into the Well itself to draw upon and who therefore gave the night elves a fighting chance against the demons. While Ancients and dragons alike fell by the wayside, Illidan took to hunting the demons and eventually even managed to defeat a powerful demon named Azzinoth in combat, ripping the demon's weapons from its corpse and using them himself. These weapons were long, curved double blades of a style similar to those already in use by night elves, weapons called glaives, which helped him perfect their use in his own style.

I choose magic over all

Illidan came to believe that the only possible victory for the night elves in the War came from overcoming Azshara's Highborne and their control of the Well of Eternity. With complete access to the Well, it would be simplicity itself to overthrow the demons and banish even Sargeras from Kalimdor. Therefore, when Malfurion proposed his plan to Tyrande, Maiev, and the remaining Ancients to destroy the Well entirely, Illidan was sickened and horrified. Not only did he believe the Well was their salvation, not their destruction, but he alone of those involved in first hearing the plan knew the cost to those accustomed to the Well's energies. Destroying the Well would plunge all of the Highborne (the majority of them actually fighting on the side of Azeroth and not for Azshara at this point) and Illidan himself into agonies as they attempted to cope with the sudden loss of the magics that sustained and energized them. Worse, it might well kill them and even vastly shorten the lifespan of all night elves, who were themselves born out of the Well's energies.

Enraged by what seemed to him a betrayal not only of himself by his own brother but of his entire people's future, Illidan formed a desperate plan. He needed sufficient power to defeat the Burning Legion before his brother could destroy the Well, and the only source of such power on Azeroth was the very Dragon Soul that had nearly done so before Neltharion had become Deathwing. In order to obtain the Dragon Soul, Illidan actually embarked upon the most perilous gambit of his life: He sought to deceive Sargeras himself.

Illidan engaged with Lord Xavius,Azshara's chief among the Highborne, and while Xavius was sure Illidan was manipulated by him into jealously over Tyrande, Illidan believed he successfully fooled the father of all satyrs and presented himself to Azshara and Mannoroth as a new convert to their cause. In time, Illidan even found himself before Sargeras himself, who believed Illidan's plan to retrieve the Dragon Soul (now called the Demon Soul) had merit. Unfortunately for Illidan, Sargeras was so impressed with him that he made a few improvements to the kaldorei sorcerer and demon slayer.

Blessed by Sargeras

It's known that Sargeras carved out Illidan's eyes and replaced them with burning orbs that could see all magic, and his famous magical tattoos were also a gift from the fallen Titan. It's unclear how much of Illidan's original purpose was left to him after Sargeras' ministrations, but it is known that alongside Azshara's thrall, Captain Varo'then, he hunted after Deathwing's hiding place and was there when his brother managed to gain access to the Demon Soul. Delivering the device into Varo'then's hands, it seems that Illidan was at least partially under Sargeras' thumb.

Yet it is telling that Illidan took no part in the epic battle that followed as Malfurion's allied forces and Azshara's met in battle. While Malfurion and Tyrande fought to prevent the coming of Sargeras and to destroy the well, and Azshara met them in full force, Illidan took action, his true plan manifest. He no longer cared which side won, so long as the Well endured.

Seven vials of the seething waters of the font of all Azeroth's natural magic did Illidan take, and so, when Malfurion ultimately succeeded in his mad ambition and destroyed the Well, shattering Sargeras' portal and preventing the Legion's invasion force from succeeding, Illidan was prepared. It was Illidan who found the small lake atop Mount Hyjal and poured three vials of the Well's waters into it, kindling the creation of a new Well to serve as a font of magic for the new world that came into existence following the first Well's destruction.

Although found and chastised by Malfurion for this, it's clear that without Illidan, the original plan of the Titans (creators of the Well, remember) would have been utterly beyond salvaging. For his choices and actions, for having dared to disagree with his brother as to the importance of arcane magic, Illidan was imprisoned for 10,000 years beneath Mount Hyjal. (If you've quested there and gone into the den containing Fandral, you've been to the place Illidan spent 10,000 years.) Yet it is impossible to argue that without Illidan, there would be no Nordrassil, no sacred mountain, no druidic order as it currently exists, and no arcane magic on Azeroth.

So Illidan Stormrage became the architect of the modern world of Azeroth. Slayer of demons, preserver of the arcane, he could have been the greatest druid ever to exist. His brother took the love of his life from him, threatened to take the only consolation he ever found, and then took his very freedom for the crime of defiance. It would come to cost them both very, very dearly.

Next week, time wizards change everything.

While you don't need to have played the previous Warcraft games to enjoy World of Warcraft, a little history goes a long way toward making the game a lot more fun. Dig into even more of the lore and history behind the World of Warcraft in WoW Insider's Guide to Warcraft Lore.

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