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.
The great tragedy of the high elves of Silvermoon is mirrored in the personal tragedy of the last of the Sunstrider line, Kael'thas. The rise of the blood elves of Silvermoon is the story of the first prince of the Sin'dorei, Kael'thas. Betrayed by old allies, abandoned by old friends, shattered and on the verge of destruction, Kael'thas Sunstrider did what he believed he had to do to save his people.
If you only know Kael'thas from his appearances during The Burning Crusade, then you do not know him. You know a man weary of broken promises, seduced by the lies told by the greatest manipulator the Burning Legion can hope to boast. You have not seen a young man stripped of everything -- his father, his city, most of his people, even the frail chance at a love he never really believed he could have -- and thrown headlong into a war he had no way to fight, to watch his people used as disposable fodder by hateful zealots that were supposed to be their allies.
Last week, we discussed Kael'thas' role in the foiling of Illidan's attempt to destroy the Lich King. This week, we will discuss how the sin'dorei went from members of the Alliance to, eventually, members of the Horde. One man, bitter, angry, and treacherous, helped foment the annihilation of tenuous bonds between the former high elves and the humans. That man's name was Garithos, and it is thanks to Garithos that the division came.
The king is dead but the fool remains
Grand Marshall Garithos was a leader by default. He took no orders from Stormwind or any nation that would today be recognized as part of the Alliance. Rather, he was a survivor of Arthas Menethil's initial rampage across Lordaeron as well as the following atrocities of the demons of the Burning Legion. A native of Lordaeron, Garithos' forces were whatever survivors of the Lordaeron military he could scrape together, and his authority was that of a commander the chain has defaulted into command. In essence, he was the leader of the living remnants of Lordaeron entirely because everyone who outranked him was dead.
As you might imagine, while he wasn't the most competent leader imaginable, he had to be good enough to evade the demons and undead and bring a sizable force together, keep it more or less intact, and continue to wage warfare on the various undead and demon forces left in the area after the Burning Legion left for Kalimdor and its ultimate defeat. Cut off from any and all possible reinforcements (which would have been coming from regions fairly distant at best), Garithos simply assumed sole command.
In addition to being handed command because everyone else was dead and his main qualification to lead being that he was good at hiding from zombies, Garithos was a remarkably unpleasant individual. For one thing, he was racist to the point that he barely considered his own dwarf and elf allies worth using as cannon fodder. Kael'thas made the mistake of bringing those blood elves who could fight to the New Alliance led by Garithos (assuming that it would maintain the policies of Lordaeron), only to discover that his nominal commander viewed him and his people with barely constrained contempt. One could argue that Kael'thas would have been better off taking his people south to Stormwind or even just to Aerie Peak, but to Kael'thas, the fight against those that had destroyed his city, his Sunwell, and his father (and nine-tenths of his people) could not be ignored.
After the events of Illidan's incursion, Kael'thas attempted to report to Garithos what had transpired, only to find his report dismissed. In fact, Garithos barely wanted the blood elves in his forces at all and used them as scouts and holding forces instead of making use of them on the front lines. It was this treatment that ultimately led Kael'thas and his forces to be assigned to repairing observatories while the Scourge marched on the New Alliance forces camped in the remains of Dalaran. Garithos didn't even deign to bring Prince Kael'thas along for the battle but instead forced the sin'dorei troops to do menial labor. Worse, it was labor they were neither supplied nor qualified to perform in the first place.
Lady Vashj and her naga, left in the area without Illidan following Malfurion, Tyrande, and Maiev's actions, took advantage of Kael'thas' situation and Garithos' insipid behavior. The more Garithos handed Kael'thas and his sin'dorei unreasonable tasks, the more Vashj appeared and offered Kael'thas the aid he needed to accomplish them. When Garithos found out, he not only handed Kael'thas a dressing down, he also ultimately ordered the blood elf prince to hold out against a Scourge attack while simultaneously withdrawing all possible support, in essence setting up Kael'thas and the blood elves to be annihilated. This of course forced Kael to take more aid from Vashj and her naga or be destroyed.
As you might expect from a jumped-up racist, when he returned to Dalaran and found that Kael'thas had survived the Scourge attack from the west despite his having diverted all possible support to the south, Garithos rewarded Kael for his success despite impossible odds and repented his punitive and boorish behavior. Well, if he'd had an ounce of sense, that's what he might have done. Instead, he declared that for allowing the naga to help instead of dying, Kael'thas was a traitor to the New Alliance (said Alliance consisting only of the soldiers under Garithos' command, really) and that he would be executed -- and all his blood elf soldiers with him.
That's right: A man whose entire command only existed because everyone good at their jobs had died doing them and whose primary skill as a general consisted of knowing how to hide and how to win a fight when you have six-to-one odds on your side decided he would not only execute the ruling monarch of an entire people, but the entirety of that people's military as well. Garithos didn't take his stupid racism lightly.
Twisted and pinned
Kael'thas had already completely fallen out of any sort of delusions about his "commander." Realizing that Garithos was not only dangerously unstable, racist, and incapable of leading any sort of successful campaign against the Scourge, he viewed Vashj and her naga forces as the only possible way out of a dead-end situation for his people. Since the destruction of Silvermoon and the Sunwell, Kael'thas and his people had felt a growing emptiness, and it was Vashj who explained what it was to him. They were addicted to the magical energies of the Sunwell, just as the Highborne ancestors of both the naga and the high elves had once been addicted to the Well of Eternity's magical power. Kael'thas now needed to find a new magical font for his people or watch them waste away as the addiction grew in ferocity.
It's important to note here that at no point did Kael desire to betray the New Alliance. Garithos repeatedly put Kael into positions in which his only options were to accept the aid of the naga or fail in his missions, perhaps even losing many of his people in the process. Furthermore, while Garithos erupted into hateful suspicion every time he learned of Kael accepting naga aid, it's important to note that at this time, he had no reason to do so. Garithos knew nothing of the naga, their origins, their motivations. While in hindsight we can easily deduce that the naga then were as evil as we know them to be now, all Garithos knew was that a people he knew nothing about were helping Kael'thas to defeat the Scourge.
As Garithos had proved his true intentions by imprisoning Kael'thas and his people in the prisons of Dalaran, Kael chose to heed Vashj and her plan. Using Dalaran's ley lines, the two constructed a portal through which the blood elves and naga could escape before Garithos and his soldiers could stop them. In the end, despite having to overcome the ghosts of the wizards slain when Archimonde destroyed the city, Kael'thas and Vashj held the portal open long enough for the naga and blood elves to escape Dalaran through it.
Imagine Kael'thas' shock when he found himself on a barren world of floating prominences of rock, a desolate red land that Vashj called Outland. Somewhere in this deserted waste, Vashj informed him, was the one being who could help him and his people with their addiction. So once again, Kael'thas Sunstrider found himself looking for Illidan Stormrage.
Next week, Magtheridon's fall. 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.