Know Your Lore: Hands drenched in blood

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 Sin'dorei have been a presence in WoW since The Burning Crusade -- and surprisingly enough, as members of the Horde rather than members of the Alliance. This turnaround in events was largely due to the treatment of the blood elves by the Alliance during Warcraft III. Kael'thas Sunstrider watched as his people were slaughtered by the Scourge, and set out to lend a helping hand to his supposed allies, hoping that they would lend a hand in return. However, he was sent to help Garithos, a man who was -- let's face it -- incredibly racist.

And in the face of that not-quite-blatant racism, Kael'thas turned to the only people offering any sort of real alliance; the naga. While Vashj and company helped Kael'thas far more than any of his supposed Alliance allies, Garithos was happy to find an excuse to condemn the leader of the sin'dorei, and had him imprisoned in Dalaran for his supposed treasonous actions. It was this waterfall effect that eventually led to the sin'dorei's withdrawal from the Alliance, and into the arms of the Horde.

Which makes the events of patch 5.1 all the more ironically interesting ... because it's happening all over again, but wearing a slightly different face.

Please note: This Know Your Lore contains spoilers for Tides of War as well as patch 5.1 content from both Operation: Shieldwall and the Dominance Offensive. If you have yet to complete these stories, you may want to veer away.

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Guardian of Quel'Thalas

Lor'themar Theron is firmly stuck between a rock and a hard place. The major issue that the sin'dorei faced, and continue to face, doesn't have anything to do with the Horde. It doesn't have anything to do with the Alliance. In fact, it doesn't even have anything to do with the Burning Legion, Kael'thas, or the Sunwell, either. It's that the blood elves were utterly decimated by the Scourge attacks that originally destroyed the Sunwell -- 80% of the population was killed in that attack.

To give you some idea of perspective here: The 2011 U.S. census lists the population of the United States at 311,591,917. That number has undoubtedly grown, but we'll stick with it. Image an army came tromping across the United States, murdering everything in its path much like the Scourge, and wiped out 80% of the population. 249,273,534 people suddenly cease to be. The United States is left with a population of 62,318,383 people. That's it. That is the state of California, and a handful of other western states worth of people. Everyone else? Dead.

Obviously the blood elves never had those kind of population numbers, but that should give you some sort of a vague idea of how severe the losses were. Lor'themar was left in charge of the blood elves that were too weak to follow Kael'thas to Outland -- anyone strong enough to fight was taken with him. So here is Lor'themar Theron, in a leadership role he didn't really ask for, struggling to lead a fraction of that 20% of the sin'dorei that were left over after the Scourge razed the forest of Quel'Thalas to the ground. These people were weak, some were dying, none were really equipped to fight.

Lor'themar was expected to somehow pull these people back together again. He was expected to give them something, anything to look forward to, anything that would give them a reason to move on. And he wasn't left with any allies -- the ties with the Alliance had been severed, obviously. So when Sylvanas Windrunner stepped into Silvermoon and offered her help and the possibility of a new alliance with the Horde, what choice did Lor'themar have? There was no choice. There was what was best for his people, a race that was on the brink of dying out entirely.

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Tools to be used in the tides of war

The lack of any real choice continued to plague Lor'themar throughout the rest of the expansions since Burning Crusade. When Kael'thas turned on his people, Lor'themar had to step in and lead -- he had to give the sin'dorei some sort of hope for the future. And when Sylvanas showed up and demanded he send forces to Northrend, even though he really didn't have the forces to spare, he obeyed. If Sylvanas had pulled her forces out of the Ghostlands, the remaining Scourge in the area would have ripped through the rest of the sin'dorei population like a hot knife through butter.

We didn't really see much of the blood elves in Cataclysm, because Lor'themar was deliberately laying low. His people were still in shambles, but the war in Northrend was over. And if he kept his head down, if he said nothing at all, it was unlikely anyone would approach him asking for help. If he behaved and kept quiet, it was far more likely that he would be lent a hand if he needed. Garrosh Hellscream treated the blood elves with contempt, not even offering them any kind of real home in Orgrimmar, but that was okay -- because it gave the sin'dorei a chance to rebuild. Let's be clear, here. Lor'themar Theron didn't give a crap about the Horde and Alliance conflict. He didn't care. What he cared about was the continued survival of his people.

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Unfortunately, Lor'themar couldn't escape Garrosh's attention forever. The blood elves may be on the brink of extinction, they may be weak, but they are exceptionally good at one thing -- magic. And when the time came to blow Theramore sky-high, Garrosh knew just who would be capable of building the bomb that decimated the city. A combination of goblin technology, and the magical abilities of the sin'dorei.

Did Lor'themar approve of these actions? Not likely at all. While both Baine Bloodhoof and Vol'jin showed up to personally lead their people, Lor'themar sent a well-trained representative instead: Kelantir Bloodblade, a paladin who had trained at Lady Liadrin's side and served under Ranger-General Halduron Brightwing. Kelantir was there to serve, and did so, but she wasn't particularly happy about it. And when she voiced that unhappiness in the Razor Hill inn along with a Forsaken representative, she was killed for her efforts by Garrosh's Blackrock flunkies.

Not just killed. Slaughtered. Malkorok, Garrosh's Blackrock right-hand, had the inn blown to smithereens with frag bombs. And the lesson was very, very clear to Lor'themar -- if you cross Garrosh Hellscream, if you dare breath a word of dissent, you will die. For a race struggling for survival, this was not a good option.

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The Dominance Offensive

In patch 5.1, we see the blood elves again, led by Lor'themar. Garrosh Hellscream has called upon the magical prowess of the sin'dorei again, this time to research old mogu artifacts and try to determine their purpose. It was the sin'dorei that discovered the origins of the Divine Bell. It was the sin'dorei that discovered the mogu were using sha energy to amplify their own power. And when the Divine Bell was taken by the Alliance before the Horde could get to it, it was the sin'dorei that swept it out of Darnassus and returned it to the Horde.

Jaina Proudmoore's reaction to this is completely understandable. After all, in Jaina's eyes, the blood elves were responsible for the bomb that destroyed her home. It's the reason she is now leader of the Kirin Tor, and the Kirin Tor were always a part of the Alliance. If the Sunreavers were helping the Horde with the Divine Bell, it was obvious that Garrosh was up to no good -- and the last time he was up to no good, it ended in the destruction of Jaina's home. So it's no wonder she went off the deep end, started to imprison and murder Sunreavers. Their actions were a direct reminder of all those lives lost in Theramore.

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But the blood elves are not and have never been acting out of pure malice. Certainly there were one or two like Thalen Songweaver that were doing so, but as a whole, the sin'dorei have desperately been trying to keep their hands clean. This was never more evident than in the 5.1 quests. Lor'themar is carrying out Garrosh's orders, but it's not out of some sort of duty to Hellscream -- it's because he cannot afford to die. He cannot afford to let more of his people die. He has to do what Hellscream says, or that remaining 20% of the blood elf population will quickly be wiped out by orcish hands.

When Horde players are sent to retrieve the Divine Bell from Darnassus, it is made blatantly clear in the quest text that no night elves are to be killed. Players are told not to engage anyone, not to fight anyone. They are given a stealth effect so that they can sneak in undetected, retrieve the Bell, and get out. This isn't to protect the Horde player -- it's to try and do what Garrosh wants, without giving the Alliance a reason to be angry.

In fact, every quest given by Lor'themar is presented in a way that no Alliance will be killed, up until that fateful attack in Dalaran. To Jaina, her actions were completely justified -- the Sunreavers stole the Divine Bell and deliberately assisted the Horde. To Lor'themar, Aethas, and the rest of the Sunreavers, this was a sharp reminder of the events from so many years ago, when Kael'thas and his men were thrown into the prisons of Dalaran for having the temerity to do whatever needed to complete their mission and survive.

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Crumbling alliances

Lor'themar Theron has been stuck between a rock and a hard place for quite some time. He cannot defy the Horde, because doing so means the end of his people. And so he sought a solution -- he actually began talks with the Alliance to see if perhaps the sin'dorei could rejoin their ranks. He couldn't simply refuse to help Garrosh, because those negotiations had not yet gone through; but he could avoid killing any Alliance while he carried out Garrosh's plans.

On the one hand, Garrosh has use for the blood elves, but it's not in a way that is beneficial to the sin'dorei at all. They are not allies or equals in Garrosh's eyes, they are tools to be used. If some of those tools happen to be broken along the way, so be it -- it's not as if the sin'dorei have any real worth beyond their magical abilities, as far as Garrosh is concerned. And so he set them on tasks that ended in plenty of blood elf casualties, yet showed absolutely no remorse when Lor'themar reported the losses.

On the other hand, the Alliance extended a quiet opportunity of alliance, hoping to rekindle what was lost. Lor'themar couldn't just snap at that offer, it was something he had to consider. He took great care to ensure that his people did not directly harm anyone in the Alliance. But because he had to help Garrosh, he had to help steal that Divine Bell, his people were summarily condemned in Dalaran, and either imprisoned or simply murdered in the streets.

Die by Horde hand, for not offering to sacrifice yourself in the name of Hellscream. Die by Alliance hand, for having the temerity to try and keep yourself out of harm's way while avoiding harming anyone else. Lor'themar has been struggling with this question of who to put his people's allegiance behind since the end of Cataclysm. And in patch 5.1, he discovered the answer -- in the end, it doesn't matter. It doesn't make a difference either way. The path of caution, the path of preservation that he has been trying to shepherd his people down has ended in death, and it doesn't make a bit of difference which fork he takes.

Lor'themar watched as his people were used by Garrosh Hellscream, and concluded that this was the same racist attitude that led the sin'dorei from the Alliance in the first place. He sought to re-join the Alliance, and encountered the same attitudes from that direction, right down to the forced imprisonment in Dalaran. And now he's been taught a valuable lesson. It doesn't matter which direction he turns, his people appear to be considered worthless to both sides.

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The pride of Quel'Thalas

What kind of pressure does that put on a man? What kind of pressure does that put on a man who ultimately never asked to lead anyone in the first place? Lor'themar and the sin'dorei are quickly discovering that they have no real worth in anyone's eyes. They are tools to be used, they are pawns on a chessboard and if they make the wrong move, they are dead. The sin'dorei follow Lor'themar, desperate for some semblance of hope, of pride in who they are, but who does Lor'themar follow?

And in the end, 5.1 is the straw that breaks the proverbial camel's back. There is only so much careful weighing of options that one man can make. There is only so long that he can sit there as the rock and the hard place draw closer together, there is only so much pressure he can take before he snaps. Lor'themar Theron, Regent Lord of Quel'Thalas, has had enough.

Yes, the Sunreavers are now working for the Horde. The Alliance, through the unwitting actions of Jaina Proudmoore, have made it perfectly clear that whatever attitudes Garithos held once upon a time still exist. Years have passed, Garithos is long gone, but nothing has changed. The sin'dorei are still members of the Horde. Garrosh Hellscream has made it clear that as far as he is concerned, he is the Horde. And so the sin'dorei will continue doing as he asks. In patch 5.2, Lor'themar and the Sunreavers have moved to the Isle of the Thunder King, to continue serving the Horde, such as it is.

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The sin'dorei follow Lor'themar, but who then, does Lor'themar Theron follow? No one. He has finally realized after years of struggling to find an alliance that offers a light at the end of the tunnel that he stands alone. His people stand alone. As far as Lor'themar is concerned, the next move is his to make. Not as a member of the Horde, not as a member of the Alliance, but as a man confronted by the notion that his destiny, his people's destiny, lies forever in his own hands.

And he will not let the sin'dorei idly die out.

For more information on related subjects, please look at these other Know Your Lore entries:

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.