Wednesday, April 30, 2008
The Eversong Woods
Eversong Woods’ autumnal glory has long been the pride of Quel’thalas and proof of its inhabitants’ arcane artistry. When the elves first landed in the Eastern Kingdoms, they found a great taiga battered by the icy northern wind. Such a bleak climate was not to their liking.
After driving out the troll tribes (who, it must be said, struck the first blow) the greatest elven magisters sought a way to restore the glory of their fallen empire. Obsessed with capturing the essence of beauty, the elves proposed innumerable ideas. The vision of Lady Safilere Eversong won out in the end. Her heart ached for the enchanted autumn wilderness of Azshara where she had spent her youth. She wished to recreate it in her new home.
Yet her dream was not to duplicate the untamed forests of old Azshara. The new land, she said, must be a place of light and order where all could be illuminated. With Lady Eversong’s guidance, the elves transformed the tangled northern forest into a warm and pastoral idyll. Lady Eversong died before her project reached completion. The elves so loved the artificial forest that they named it the Eversong Woods in her honor.
Grand though this may sound, it represented a shocking rejection of the old druidic ways. The creation of Eversong (and Summer’s Grace to the south), had a devastating effect on the ecology. Many animals died out, unable to survive the sudden alteration. While the environment has since stabilized, one can understand why the Cenarion Circle considers the beautiful Eversong Woods an abomination. That said, attempting to change it back to its original state will create a disaster of similar proportions. The Eversong Woods are here to stay.
Swards of soft green grass stretch out beneath white trees alight with gold and crimson leaves. The Dead Scar runs through Eversong just the same as it does the Ghostlands, though the dark necromantic energies are weaker, and the cursed ground no longer suffocates the senses. Scourge patrols endlessly wander the blighted path, but do not swarm out from the earth. A seasoned traveler can cross it alone.
The Eversong Woods is probably the single safest region on the Lordaeronian continent today. The Scourge’s presence is limited, and bandits and monsters are unknown. This is not to say that it is without danger; Amani trolls to the east and murloc incursions to the west both pose threats. Yet neither troll nor murloc has any chance of being more than a nuisance to Silvermoon.
Most of the travelers I passed were simply tourists on their way to see friends or family. I did once encounter a supply caravan headed to Tranquilien. The elven reaction to me was best described as cold. The Scourge invasion was a recent event, and few elves feel entirely comfortable with undead visiting Eversong. The fact that I was once a human may have furthered their distaste.
Three days of easy travel brought me to picturesque Fairbreeze Village. A velvet dusk was descending over the land when I arrived, and rose-colored windows glowed with a welcoming light. Small groups of elves walked the pathways, many of them drinking wine. Light chatter filled the air, sometimes pausing when the villagers caught sight of me.
The boundaries between town and country are far from distinct in Sin’dorei lands. Though they are not merged to the extent of night elf towns, the blood elves cherish the presence of their (artificial) forest. Stately, circular homes of polished marble are tucked away among the trees. Many Sin’dorei buildings have large second-story turrets and extensions that defy gravity. These are often connected to the first floor by ramps that twist around the structure, also without any support. Sin’dorei architecture is completely dependent on magic; without the arcane, such buildings would quickly topple.
I was quartered in the spacious home of the Amberlight family. Small elven towns do not have inns per se. Visitors (who were almost always other elves) usually stay with friends. If the visitor has no friends in the area, one of the local families will happily receive him or her. Now that the races of the Horde occasionally come calling, the situation has changed. Today, families with more accepting attitudes towards other races offer shelter to non-elves.
The sheer luxury of the Amberlight domicile was a bit overwhelming to me. Marniel Amberlight, the proprietress, did her best to make me feel at home.
“I am honored to welcome you to this gloried land, noble Forsaken. May the Eternal Sun shine upon you,” she said when I walked in.
I was a bit surprised to see that the posh guest quarters on the second floor were communal. It made sense though. The inns are a recent development. Furthermore, the elves consider visitations to other towns an opportunity to make new friends. The only other guests were a pair of women, one orc and the other a troll. They were part of a large and disorganized goodwill community sent in from the Horde territories in Kalimdor.
“I pity the Sin’dorei women; most of them have never before seen a real man, and must make do with these effete scoundrels,” scoffed Kana Grimscar, the orc.
“A real man’s too much for the elf-ladies; it’s best the way it is, I be thinking,” giggled Jidah, the troll. Jidah was sprawled on a silken bed, drinking wine and puffing on a hookah. Kana scowled at her.
“You are a fine huntress, Jidah. Do not spoil yourself with this nonsense.”
“Ah, take it easy Kana. We’re not going to be here much longer, and there’s not any shame in having fun. Besides, we trolls invented the hookah.”
“The hookah’s fine. It’s the rest of this room that concerns me.”
“Just relax, Kana.”
“Suit yourself. I shall sleep on the floor like a warrior should. What do you think, undead? At least your people do not adorn your homes with this junk.”
“It is a touch excessive,” I agreed.
“As for me, I like being able to demand such fine service from the elves, and they got no choice but to do as I say,” laughed Jidah.
The Darkspear Tribe bears no love for the Sin’dorei, though they do not hate the elves the same way that the forest trolls do. The jungle trolls have long looked down on their forest brethren, considering them lazy and crude. The few surviving troll records from the imperial era indicate that the Gurubashi reached much higher levels of cultural sophistication than the Amani, who were perpetually at war with ice trolls, nerubians, and sometimes themselves. The two empires struggled in a proxy war against each other, similar to the modern conflict between the Horde and Alliance. There is even some evidence that the Frostmane Tribe of Dun Morogh were ice trolls enslaved by the Amani and sent south to act as buffers against the Gurubashi. This is far from certain, however.
I asked Jidah what she thought about Zul’jin. She shrugged, essentially saying that if he set himself against the Horde, he was to be regarded as the enemy.
“It’s these forest trolls; all they ever do is fight. Even down in Zandalar they’re always starting quarrels with each other. Not as bad as the ice trolls to be sure, but not much better. So Zul’jin’s just picking another fight.”
“Do you know what the Revantusk think about this?” As the sole Horde-aligned forest tribe, I was curious to know the Revantusk’s opinion on Zul’jin’s recent activities.
“Actually, I was talking with one of them down in Undercity before I came here. Word is, Zul’jin’s been doing blasphemy. Some Amani holy men fled to Revantusk lands a year ago, saying Zul’jin was using bad magic to control the Loa, which is a sure way for him to lose his war. Here’s the funny part; the Revantusk don’t think it’s the real Zul’jin up in Zul’aman. They say it’s an imposter, a wicked spirit.”
“Do you think this is true?”
“Could be. I respect Zul’jin, so I’d like it if it was. But it truly means little to me.”
I spent the next day familiarizing myself with Fairbreeze Village. While House Fairbreeze is dead and gone, signs of its presence abound. Most notable is the lavish family estate located a mile south of the village center. The house has been turned into a memorial, assiduously cared for by Melestriam Noonsong and her mother.
Art fills the halls of the old house, some of it thousands of years old. Melestriam explained that they were gifts from the village to House Fairbreeze.
“Artisans would always create great works for the honor of their lords. It is how our people give thanks.”
“Almost like a tax system, then?”
“In a sense, but there are many differences. Taxes are coercive, while these were always given.”
“What, aside from loyalty, inspired such adoration from subject families?”
“Are you asking what we got in return?”
“You’re still a human at heart. Loyalty runs deeper among our kind. It is in the blood. The Great Houses managed affairs of state, and often maintained the leylines that supply Quel’thalas with arcane energy. More than that, the Great Houses are descendents of the old heroes. All Sin’dorei seek to share in that glory. So we serve. Those with strong loyalty may receive the privilege of marrying into a Great House. The scions of Great Houses, lord and lady alike, typically marry those from subject houses.”
“Interesting. Human nobles would shun such an idea, fearing that it would dilute the blood.”
“A foolish notion. The blood of true nobility runs stronger and brighter than any other. Besides, we are all nobles here.”
Somewhere in Silvermoon City, there is a great chart that lists every elven family, and how close their bloodline runs to the throne. Such an attitude is illuminating. Money is less important for elves than it is for other races, and most Sin’dorei needs are met by magic. Instead, they compete by jockeying for positions of respect and influence. Organizations such as the Magisters' College or the Aegis give ways for lower families to gain prestige.
All elves now receive some training in self-defense. The pampered Quel’dorei civilians were helpless against the Scourge during the Third War, and the survivors vowed to be better prepared against future attacks. It is not surprising that this self-defense training takes the form of simple attack magic. Every man, woman, and child in Fairbreeze can at least fire off a few basic spells.
Fairbreeze Village is home to Eshensar Sunglory, considered one of the foremost artists in modern Quel’thalas. He introduced himself to me and spoke of his desire to one day make a portrait of Sylvanas Windrunner.
“Truly one of our great heroes,” he said.
Eshensar invited me to his studio, a small house in the forests just east of the town. Stepping inside I was greeted with about thirty artistic reproductions of Prince Kael’thas Sunstrider. In each he rose tall and triumphant, bending the world to his will.
“All my art is now inspired by him,” explained Eshensar.
Not all of his art featured the Sun King. Some portrayed verdant landscapes, or the towers of Silvermoon City. His ability was exquisite, though I saw little variety. Eshensar even showed me some of the work he did before the war. The old art was dedicated to House Fairbreeze.
“To whom do you give your more recent works?” I asked.
“I have the honor of giving it to the state. My work hangs in the plazas of Silvermoon and the manors of Eversong. You see, this art carries a vital message; it attempts to uplift the elven spirit. We live in a strange and troubling time, and it is imperative that we fulfill our new destiny.”
“Your work must be very popular.”
“I think it is. Too long have our people dwelled on the past. Looking to the future does not come easily for us elves. But none can argue with this marvelous kingdom that arose from the ashes, the phoenix of House Sunstrider made manifest! My only surviving son now serves Kael’thas in Outland, making a new home for our people.” His voice swelled with pride as he spoke.
I was there for the next few hours. Eshensar was actually a better conversationalist than my first impression of him led me to believe. Though a propagandist for the Sin’dorei, he was also knowledgeable and gracious. As I prepared to leave, a black-robed elf came to his door.
“For the Sun King,” said the newcomer by way of greeting.
“His glory is eternal. I am honored to have you at my home, Magister Whiteflame. As you can see I have a guest: Destron Allicant of Undercity.”
“A loyal servant of Lady Windrunner, welcome.”
Magister Whiteflame was a government representative who determined which of Eshensar’s paintings should be sent where. He was keen on delivering some to the domain of House Sunsail, just a day’s journey to the west.
“We must remind Lord Sunsail to remember his role. It should be something joyous, for he is sorely in need of hope,” remarked Whiteflame.
The Magister asked if I would like to accompany the painting to Lord Sunsail’s home. Whiteflame theorized that seeing me would help Lord Sunsail realize there was a world outside of Eversong. I happily accepted his offer.
Magister Whiteflame waited for me outside the Amberlight home, early the next morning. With him was a wagon, or the Sin’dorei equivalent thereof. Made of brightly painted wood, the wagon was built in the likeness of a lynx, with eyes of polished topaz that gleamed in wooden sockets. Ambulatory, it walked along with us, carrying the paintings on its back. This is how the elves move goods, though they use more practical transports for important items.
The bright elven forest boasts all manner of life. Of note are the dragonhawks, serpentine creatures with wings and great beaks. Daring elves have long used the dragonhawks as flying mounts. The dragonhawk is not a natural beast, having been created by Lystelleron Lightwing, a Quel’dorei mage who lived around a thousand years ago. Lyestelleron’s two great creations were the dragonhawk and hawkstrider. Others, like the dubious hawkfish, were less successful. Many dragonhawks turned feral after the Scourge invasion, and their fierce predation has had a troubling impact on other species. The Sin’dorei spend great resources on retraining the wild dragonhawks, occasionally killing those that cannot be repatriated.
Magister Whiteflame explained to me that House Sunsail had always associated itself with the ocean. Unfortunately, Lord Saltheril Sunsail had become hedonistic and dissipated after the Scourge invasion. Unhinged by the deaths of all his children and many of his subject families, he abandoned his responsibilities. The Sunsail Anchorage, which he owned, was falling into disrepair.
“House Sunsail led our fleets against the orcs during the Second War. Given House Sunsail’s deeds, it would not be honorable to start making demands. As such, we are hoping to remind him of his obligations by giving him Eshensar’s art.”
“What if it fails to rekindle his patriotism?”
“Then we may have to take more direct measures. Currently House Sunsail can do little to help our cause, but it must be ready to do so.”
We heard the jolly percussion of fireworks before we reached the demesne of Lord Sunsail, early in the evening. A great crowd of Sin’dorei celebrated on the grass, dressed in spectacular and immensely impractical clothing.
The celebrants took no notice of our arrival. When I got closer, I noticed that many of the partygoers looked less than pleased with their surroundings. Magister Whiteflame took the paintings from the wagon and walked to a tall blood elf who I gathered was Lord Sunsail.
Whiteflame and Sunsail began speaking in Thalassian, the great aristocrat clearly irritated at the interruption. Lord Sunsail was handling the pictures when he noticed me. His eyes widened in outrage, and he began shouting at the magister. Then he turned to me.
“You! Unclean thing! Get off of my land!” he shouted.
Magister Whiteflame looked to me apologetically. I nodded and turned to leave. Some of the elves cast condemnatory glares in my direction, but others appeared merely curious or indifferent.
I went to the forest’s edge, electing to wait for the Magister to finish his duties. To my surprise, a few elves came to visit me. From them, I learned that Lord Sunsail was constantly hosting galas and inviting people from all around the realm. Many celebrants were surviving members of Sunsail’s subject families, who felt bound to attend but hoped that Lord Sunsail would snap out of his funk. A few were visitors from other Great Houses, going in for a bit of recreation.
“House Sunsail still contributes, in its own way,” said one. “His gatherings allow us to partake in the splendor that is our birthright. Some take it to excess, but most act responsibly.”
Lord Sunsail’s subjects, obliged to both set up and attend these parties, were becoming increasingly unhinged and cliquish. While cathartic for the other Great Houses, it was a problem for the loyal attendants of House Sunsail.
Magister Whiteflame returned to me, looking resigned.
“I fear your presence only enraged him,” he sighed.
“You needn’t apologize. I thank you for making the attempt. Now let us take our leave. Some elves are too self-indulgent.”
I first thought he was referring to Lord Sunsail, but he pointed to pair of celebrants slumped in an alcoholic stupor.
“They say they only come on occasion, but more and more elves are becoming fixtures at the Sunsail manor. Something must be done, but I do not know what.”
Millennia of painstaking cultivation have turned northern Eversong into an elven paradise. Picture-perfect gardens and artfully designed ponds decorate the broad roads. These are meant for public use, typically created by whichever Great House owns the land. A subject family is charged with maintaining the garden.
I had left Fairbreeze Village four days earlier, and was headed for the fabled Sunstrider Isle. Enchanted by the beauty of one garden, I took a brief stop to get a closer look. Strange and brilliant flowers flourish around a shining bronze statue of a dancing elven woman. The hedges grow in the spiral shapes and plants blossom in floating stone vases.
By chance I met the gardener, a young woman named Lyria Songflight. Conjured water flowed from her palms as she walked, nurturing the plants around her. Lyria was surprised to see me. She quickly and laudably calmed herself, and asked if I was a guest of Lord Brightsun.
“I am not. I was under the impression that these gardens were free for all to enjoy.”
“Of course they are,” she smiled. “It is simply rare for us to see any Forsaken.”
The Songflight family had tended the beatific garden for thousands of years. Only Lyria and her younger brother remained. She still considered herself fortunate to care for the same garden as her ancestors.
“Through this shall the Songflight line endure.”
Lyria was actually married, and had a daughter of her own. Her husband was one Alamestrius Songflight, a magister stationed somewhere in Outland.
“Even though brute necessity has destroyed the tradition, Alamestrius and I are still undergoing the Trial of Absence, as did our parents before us. I believe it shall strengthen our love,” she said.
“Trial of Absence?”
“Yes, do undead—er, humans, not have that?”
“The humans never did, and the undead have not started. I’d greatly like to hear about it though.”
“I shall tell it to you gladly. We elves live for a long time. As such, our love must be similarly long-lived. When two elves are betrothed they undergo a Trial of Absence lasting for ten years. During this time the lovers must stay apart. Not a single whispered word should pass between the two. If both remain faithful and in love, they are truly meant to be married.”
“It tempers the initial passions.”
“Correct. Unfortunately, no one these days has ten years to spare. So many of our number died during the war, and we must replenish our population as soon as possible. The Trial of Absence that I undergo is not official, yet it is meaningful all the same.”
“Pardon me if this is an inappropriate question, but what happens if one of the lovers is unfaithful? Is the union simply dissolved?”
“It depends. At times, the wronged lover—who is usually the woman—will forgive her suitor. If he convinces her family of his contrition, the trial shall begin anew. Yet when the heart wanders, it is usually taken as a sign that the love was not meant to be.”
“Does this happen often?”
“I would not say it is common. The couple will have known each other for some time before undergoing a Trial of Absence. None take a betrothal lightly.”
“Is there a stigma attached to failing a trial?”
“Only if someone has failed it many times. Those who lack the fidelity to endure have inconstant souls, and should not be trusted.”
Love among humans and many other races tends to wax and wane over time. This is not the case with the elves. Though they may be romantically careless prior to engagement, the Sin’dorei take marriage very seriously. There is some truth to the belief that elves feel stronger and more deeply than humans. Though the Trial of Absence is not practical to maintain, I suspect subsequent generations will return to it if circumstances allow.
I wished Lyria good fortune and went on my way, and reached the Ruins of Silvermoon after a day and a half of travel.
The Scourge’s festering armies conquered Silvermoon City with ease. Most of the Quel’dorei forces were already dead or in disarray by the time Arthas reached the ancient metropolis. A handful of Aegis troops, farstriders, and magisters worked to cover the civilian evacuation. Arthas plowed through the gates, cutting a bloody swath through the center of the city. Not even bothering to organize his forces, the cruel king sent ravening ghoul packs and zombie hordes into the streets. They murdered all that they found while Arthas waited for the Scourge armada to carry him to the Sunwell.
The defenders set up barricades on both sides of the invaders. The ones to the west fell almost immediately. The eastern blockades lasted for a while longer. When they did fall, the Scourge troops did not have the time to raze what the blockades protected. Present-day Silvermoon City is only the eastern half of the old city; the west still lies in a ruined state.
Only the southeastern corner of the western city has been restored. Called Falconwing Square, it was once a haven for artists, many of whom had House Falconwing as their patron. Most of Falconwing died while defending their homes; the rest were killed when the Scourge intercepted the fleeing survivors. Nonetheless, its memory lives on.
Today, Falconwing Square is largely a military outpost. Aegis soldiers go out on constant patrols into the Ruins of Silvermoon. The fallen city has its share of dangers, though the Aegis is more than capable of handling them. Arcane guardians—warriors of enchanted stone and iron—still rampage through the broken streets. This is not as bad as it sounds; the guardians are in such poor condition that a competent fighter can easily destroy one. However, there is another, more insidious threat that the elves do not like to discuss.
Night elves have long shunned arcane and fel energies, citing the corruption it wrought on the satyrs and naga. The existence of the Wretched gives more support to their arguments. The Wretched are actually the biggest concern for Falconwing Square, though this is not immediately obvious. The Aegis guards make vague references to ‘Scourge remnants,’ that haunt the ruins.
I had satisfied myself with this explanation. No one can easily eradicate the Scourge from an area, especially one with as many hiding places as the Ruins of Silvermoon. I did not learn about the Wretched until the next day. A slow and steady rain greeted me that morning. Feeling sluggish, I elected to postpone my trip to Sunstrider Isle.
Through the day, Aegis soldiers went in and out of the Grand Parlor, which had once been the finest restaurant in Silvermoon. The Grand Parlor is run by Delaniel Dawnsong, the daughter of the former owner, who died in the invasion. Most of the elves avoided me, though a few were attracted by the novelty of a talking corpse.
A young Aegis warrior came to me a little after noon. He began by politely welcoming me to the ruins, stating his regret that I had not seen the place in its previous state.
“Though I am sure greater homes will be built in Outland,” he added.
“I look forward to those.”
“As do we all. I take it you are here researching the Wretched on behalf of Falthrien Academy?”
“Excuse me? The Wretched?”
The elf grimaced.
“Alas, I should have been more discreet. We Sin’dorei are loath to speak of the Wretched, but they are no secret to our allies. As you doubtless know my race was crippled by the corruption of the Sunwell. The arcane is part of our essence, and we cannot live without it. Though we have new sources for this energy, some of us...” he trailed off.
“Er, yes. The Wretched appeared in the terrible years after the invasion. In those dark days we all hoarded magic items, draining them of their mana to sate our own thirsts. Some drank too much, too deep. These became the Wretched; hollow elves that live only to take mana.”
“Do Sin’dorei still become Wretched?”
“Only rarely. We have a greater understanding of our own limits, and a more steady supply of mana. The Wretched are now a perpetual nuisance. They are too weak and disorganized to do much harm, but they attack anyone connected to the arcane. Here in the ruins a mob of Wretched killed a magister earlier this year.”
“Is there a way to reverse the process?”
“No. The elves who became Wretched are weak, probably not deserving of our aid. Besides, we do not have the resources.”
“But Falthrien Academy is researching them?”
“Only to better understand the nature of healthy Sin’dorei,” he said. Looking around, he leaned in closer.
“As I said, the Wretched are not a secret. However I would greatly appreciate it if you did not tell anyone that I told you about them. It would be embarrassing.”
“I won’t say a thing.”
“Thank you, kind sir,” he smiled. The elf beat a quick retreat to the bar, where he ordered a glass of wine.
Most blood elves despise the Wretched, seeing them as failures worthy of extermination. Others are more conflicted. Every Wretched is someone’s friend or family. In some cases, the relationship inspires the normal elf to persecute the Wretched all the more fervently. Pitiful though they are, the Wretched are a danger, and I do not fault the Sin’dorei for fighting them.
Heeding the soldier’s warning, I traveled with one of the Aegis patrols that combs the ruins on a daily basis. Two soldiers suffice for patrols on the sedate main boulevard; one a veteran, the other a neophyte. Patrols to the more dangerous areas may have three or even four soldiers. My companions were Captain Erilyea Silvercry and Cirindrolar Lightsong. Cirindrolar spoke only Thalassian, but Erilyea had a decent command of Orcish.
The Ruins of Silvermoon look safe enough. Nothing but the wind moves through the deteriorating palaces and citadels. Nature has returned, inexorably reclaiming the city.
Towards sunset we came across a berserk arcane protector stumbling aimlessly around the northern gates. I was reminded of the rampaging harvest golems in Westfall, and wondered if the Defias still troubled that distant land.
“If you’ll excuse us, Destron. I want Cirindrolar to destroy the protector alone. It will be a valuable experience,” said Erilyea.
I paused. Damaged though it was, a solid hit from the protector’s stone arms could easily kill a man.
“They are weaker than they look. These protectors are slow to react, and a single good strike to the crystal core will destroy it,” she said, as if detecting my concern.
“Do what you think is best.”
She already was. Speaking in Thalassian, she pointed to the broken construct. Cirindrolar gripped his warglaive and broke into a run. Erilyea ran close behind him; apparently she was still willing to provide support.
A heavy blow slammed into me without warning and I went sprawling. I quickly became aware of skinny hands grappling at my sleeves, and a sudden faintness, as mana was pulled out of my body.
I lashed out with my arms, breaking free of my assailants’ weak grip. I heard whispery moans as they fell back. My three attackers were elves, though only barely recognizable as such. With their emaciated white bodies and ragged clothing, they would not have looked out of place in the Scourge. Wisps of stringy hair dangled from their scalps, and mindless solid-blue eyes stared from haggard faces. They were the Wretched.
The Wretched seemed at a loss after losing the advantage of surprise. They slowly circled me, never turning their desperate gazes. One of them charged suddenly, frothing as he did. I stayed on my feet as I pushed him back, but as I saw his fellows rush in I realized I was in an untenable position. There was a brief and confused grapple which ended when I delivered a solid knockdown blow to the lead Wretched.
The two soldiers were already running to my aid. The Wretched began to yelp like frightened dogs upon seeing them. Black froth erupted from their mouths as they spat and cursed.
Two of the Wretched were dead in seconds while the third scrambled to the remains of a nearby house. It was a foolish decision on his part as there was nowhere else for him to go. He stared at us from the darkened recess, his body tensed.
“Kill him,” ordered Erilyea.
Reluctantly, I nodded. Enough of my mana had returned to cast a spell, and I propelled a fireball into the ruin. The force of impact killed the Wretched instantly.
“Good work,” she said. “Some Sin’dorei have misplaced pity for these beings. Your ruthlessness is commendable.”
“I merely did what was necessary,” I said. I did not care for the nature of her praise. Cirindrolar was staring hatefully at the Wretched he’d killed earlier.
“Come, we should move. More might be attracted, and while I relish the idea of fighting the beasts, duty demands my attention.”
We had soon left the ruins behind, and stood at the edge of the glittering ocean waters. I could see the golden trees of Sunstrider Isle at the end of a graceful stone bridge.
“Let this be a place of illumination.”
Those were the words of Dath’remar Sunstrider when he first set foot on the island that would eventually bear his name. Though the cold and brambly forest was a grim home for the elves, King Sunstrider’s choice of landing was actually fortuitous. The trolls called the island Jeb'shona, and shunned it as a place of dark magic. No one knows precisely why the trolls thought this. Some theorize it was the site of a battle between Azi’aqir and Amani in the distant past. A few forest trolls even argue that the blood elves grew from the evil that inundated the island, though this is obviously false.
Trollish superstition gave the elves time to consolidate their holdings. Amani society had fallen far from its former glory and the Sundering had destabilized the few remaining social bonds. The trollish presence was still formidable but it could not match the tactical brilliance of King Sunstrider, or the power of the elven magisters. Elven might drove the trolls far to the east, not to reemerge until the Troll Wars a few thousand years later.
The newcomers established the legendary Silvermoon City after scouring the Amani tribes from the forest. By no means was this the end for Sunstrider Isle. Several leylines run through the island, making it a valuable magical resource. The elves also saw it as a culturally important site. In time, Sunstrider Isle became a shrine for the elves. Just as the human faithful would visit the places of saints like Terminion and Cassian, so too would the elves venerate the place where Quel’thalas was born.
The golden forests and gentle hills of the island are clearly the result of arcane alterations. The Quel’dorei began their transformation of the forest in Sunstrider Isle, and it still stands as a showcase of their great efforts. It is like a massive park, decorated with monuments of times past.
Delicate spires and domed houses also dot the landscape. Most of these are museums or libraries, though a few are homes of high-ranking nobles. The largest structure is Falthrien Academy, nestled in the southern hills of Sunstrider Isle. Like many students in Dalaran, I was told tales of the incredible magic resources within Falthrien Academy and its sister school, Duskwither Spire (which is in northeastern Eversong). In those days, the two locales were the bases for the Magisters' College. While both are still used, the College has relocated to a new headquarters in Silvermoon City, part of a general trend towards centralization in the elven nation.
One of the most striking sights of Sunstrider Isle are the Burning Crystals. The Burning Crystals have long powered the arcane experiments conducted in Sunstrider Isle. Mana wyrms, magical creations that feed off of the dead mana that accumulates around the crystals, wriggle through the air around each set. Regrettably, the Scourge invasion disrupted the mana feed and the wyrms now behave erratically, sometimes damaging the crystals they were meant to protect. Overworked magisters must now ensure that the Burning Crystals operate as planned.
“It’s more than just the mana wyrms that are affected,” complained one magister, referring to the guardians. We were standing before a trio of green crystals that hovered above an ornate stone platform. Chains of gold bound the crystals together, and mana wyrms swam lazily around us.
“The Burning Crystals used to tap into the Sunwell. Upon the Sunwell’s corruption, the crystals suffered the same fate.”
“Does it still draw from the Sunwell?”
“No, it now contains energy harvested from Outland. However, something is definitely wrong with this energy. In addition to the wyrms, the local fauna has been driven half-mad. We’ve been forced to cull them several times. Terrible, I know! But we had no choice. It was the only way to keep Sunstrider Isle safe.”
It was with great enthusiasm that I finally arrived at the Sunspire, which stabs into the sky at the island center. The Sunspire contains the personal records of each Great House, along with the original manuscripts of many Quel’dorei histories. Though I could not read Thalassian, I still wished to see the Sunspire’s fabled library. The books themselves are works of art, beautifully illuminated by elven artisans. Unfortunately, I had arrived too late; most of the books had been moved to Silvermoon City after the war, and are kept under lock and key. There is still a decent collection of elven spellbooks, though they lack the aesthetics of the histories.
“We value the histories of our race more than you can imagine, undead. Protecting them from harm is imperative,” explained a librarian.
I was not the first scholar to be frustrated by Quel’dorei records. Elven histories are notoriously difficult to understand or translate. Ever the artists, the elves write history as an epic poem, drowning every fact in several layers of symbolism. As a student I read a direct translation of Quilistus Silverwing’s “Glory Rising,” the preferred history of early Quel’thalas. I could barely make sense of it.
To understand an elven history, one needs intimate familiarity with Highborne symbolism. Historical figures will rarely if ever be referred to by their real names. The writers refer to them by titles, sometimes of the author’s own invention. This is even true when discussing organizations. For instance, Quilistus often made mention of the “Shining Eye.” This baffled me, and I first thought it was some sort of magical entity. Then I learned that the Shining Eye was another name for the Conclave of Silvermoon, though it could alternately mean the Magisters' College if used in a different context. I think I stopped reading at that point.
Quel’dorei records stymie more than just foreigners. Only the most educated elves can understand their own histories. The populace relies on simplified (still highly poetic, though less symbolic) oral recitations of the elven history. But in a sense, the normal elves are not missing very much. The written histories are slanted and fraught with inaccuracies. Modern blood elf scholars infuse their nation’s history with mythic importance, considering a triumphant narrative more important than objective fact. This is not necessarily uncommon, but the Sin'dorei pursue this ideal with unusual dedication.
The calm environment of Sunstrider Isle led the elves to turn it into a sort of training ground for specialists such as magisters and farstriders. Island authorities assign them to low-risk tasks that typically involve the destruction of errant mana wyrms and similar entities.
I met one of these trainees the morning after I first arrived. She was a priestess by the name of Hestrielle Goldendawn. The high elves were never a religious people, though they did not completely neglect spiritual matters. When we met, Hestrielle asked if any of the Forsaken still followed the Holy Light.
“A few do, and I number myself among them. Most have abandoned it for newer, more esoteric faiths.”
“Truly a sad time for all the peoples of this world. The folk of Lordaeron were long steadfast in their faith, and I hoped they would continue in their cursed state.”
Hestrielle came from an unusually devout family that had once ministered to the people of Windrunner Village. I decided to ask her about the Sin’dorei church. While I knew the basics, I had never before heard it explained by an actual elven priest.
“For my race, the Light was a gift from Princess Ireesa Sunstrider. Hers was a mystic soul, given to strange thoughts. When she heard of Cassian’s message, she grew intrigued. Ireesa took pains to familiarize herself with the Common tongue so that she could read the Exegesis of the Light.”
“She wrote the Thalassian translation, did she not?”
“She did. By writing the Light in her own words, she converted her brother, High King Belereos Sunstrider. The other Great Houses soon took to the faith, as did their subjects.”
“Fascinating. She got the conversion that really counted.”
“In a manner of speaking.”
“I know that there are some doctrinal differences between the elven and human churches. Could you explain these?”
“Yes. You must remember that the Sunstriders have been gifted with great perception since time immemorial. I believe that Princess Ireesa understood aspects of Cassian’s message that were not thoroughly observed by his human followers. I do not say this to denigrate the theologians of Lordaeron; even the wisest may miss something.” Hestrielle paused, appearing a bit flustered.
“Cassian said that joy is transcendental. Yet happiness can be a distant abstraction for those who labor all day. Only when there is enough arcane power to take care of the dreary and mundane tasks can a people truly arise to spiritual transcendence.”
“This describes Quel’thalas?”
“Essentially. The Light is like a fulfillment of our birthright and our art. The other races can take part in it as well. Tragically, there are many obstacles for them to overcome.”
“How did the elven priesthood regard the humans?”
“That depended on the priest. A few of the early mystics claimed that humans would never be able to experience happiness, and that the Quel’dorei should shun them. Yet Princess Ireesa herself refuted that ridiculous statement. Still, we have always been reluctant to interact with the misery to the south, preferring to cultivate our own joy.”
“Cassian did say that a life lived for the self is not worth living,” I pointed out.
“And he was correct in saying that. However isn’t it also selfish for the miserable to spread their unhappiness?”
I paused. While that was not a direct quote from the Exegesis, it was not an entirely unreasonable interpretation. Cassian did warn his followers to avoid being dragged down by the chronically bitter and unhappy. It is certainly true that some people do not really want to be helped.
“Furthermore,” she added, “the Quel’dorei did not live for the self. The Light brought the Great Houses closer to each other and to their subjects.”
“I see. I know that some elven priests did attempt to help the humans. What was their rationale?”
“The Order of Boundless Redemption,” she said. “My grandfather was a member. They were priests that sought to increase the level of magic in other lands, so that they too could have the same joy. They had the full support of the Mystic Hall.” The Mystic Hall is the official name of the elven church.
“There were a few of them in Dalaran, though I did not really know them.”
“Dalaran was popular destination due to the leylines on which the Kirin Tor built that noble city. The Sunwell’s energies could not really extend beyond Quel’thalas. The Order hoped that properly harnessed leylines could replicate the Sunwell’s power.”
“Was the Order based in Tranquilien? I know that many of the Quel’dorei expatriates hailed from that town.”
“The headquarters is in Silvermoon City, though many of the Order’s number did come from Tranquilien.”
“What happened to them?”
“The Boundless Redemption still exists, but its mission is in indefinite suspension. Too many things are afoot. The Scourge schemes in the north, while the demonic Naaru and their draenic minions threaten us in Outland.”
Like all things elven, religion is inextricably tied with magic. The human church never made a secret of its disapproval for elven religious interpretation. Even the most generous theologians placed the Mystic Hall on the borderline of heresy.
I would strongly question Hestrielle’s statement of luxury being a prerequisite for happiness. Human nobles enjoyed easy lives, but were often listless and bored. Likewise, many blood elves are known to have neurotic and melancholic tendencies. The elves seemed to use the Light to justify their own idleness. Further evidence for this exists in the fact that the Mystic Hall was never more than a minor player in elven politics.
That night I was greeted by a young magister named Elnerion Sunbrand. Elnerion had lived among the humans of Kul Tiras for 24 years, and had great respect for human arcanists. Elnerion explained that he would be going to Falthrien Academy the next day to check on an experiment, and invited me to accompany him. I accepted his offer.
Elnerion was able to procure a pair of hawkstriders to speed up the journey to the Academy. I had some difficulty maintaining my balance on such a swift mount. While en route, I learned that Elnerion would soon be traveling to Undercity to confer with the Forsaken mages there. To prepare, he wanted to learn as much as he could about Forsaken society. I told him as much as I could, warning him that the Forsaken tended towards hostility and xenophobia.
“That is not so different from us Sin’dorei,” he laughed.
Falthrien Academy is a breathtaking example of elven architecture, a labyrinthine complex of floating towers and spiraling walkways bedecked in the red and gold favored by modern Quel’thalas. Much of the academy is open-air, though an invisible shield protects it from the rare instances of inclement weather.
“Quite a sight the first time,” remarked Elnerion.
“Indeed.” After the first impression, the academy did strike me as ostentatious. Dalaran had its share of floating buildings, but they never took that style to the same extremes as the Quel’dorei.
An arching bridge led us to the foyer. I was surprised to see no signs of habitation, or even of recent use. I knew that some of this was due to the nature of the academy. Elven wizardry schools never utilized classrooms or lecture halls. Education is on a person-to-person basis, with one or two apprentices being taught by an experienced magister. The academy is purely a venue for research and experimentation.
“My laboratory is higher up,” said Elnerion.
We ascended a long ramp that twisted around the spires of Falthrien Academy. The upper levels gave a stunning view of the surrounding countryside.
“Is Falthrien Academy always so quiet?”
“I’m afraid it is. When I first came here, under the tutelage of the esteemed Sepethrea Skydreamer, the halls were full of mages conducting or observing magical experiments. All of the serious research is now done in Silvermoon City. This is so the Magisters' College can direct arcane development in an optimal direction.”
“Do you think that is a good thing?”
“I suppose it is necessary, but some of the greatest discoveries came about through eccentric individual research. Now that so many magisters are dead, we only have time for the most vital of arcane study.”
“What sort of research do you undertake?”
“I’ve spent the last year studying how mana is altered when it undergoes long-term isolation from any outside sources of arcane energy. I’m hoping to find a way to ameliorate the Sin’dorei thirst for magic. That is to say, I want to see if we can make a little bit of mana last longer.”
“That seems like valuable research.”
“The Magisters' College disagrees. That is why I’m going to Undercity. This work is of great value to the elves! If I can discover a way to make isolated mana last longer it will make things much easier for everyone!”
“I’m surprised the Magisters' College thinks it unimportant.”
“They do not say it is unimportant. They merely think it should be postponed for when we take Outland. But long-lasting mana could make the logistics of the Outland campaign much easier! As a scion of House Sunbrand, I am permitted a certain degree of independence in my research. Nonetheless, the college grows ever more restrictive.”
“Are you not obliged to obey the Magisters' College?”
“I am also obliged to aid House Sunstrider and the blood elf race to the best of my ability, and I can do more good through my research! Everything I do is for the Sin’dorei! My father agrees with me, and I must certainly honor his wishes.”
Elnerion’s lab was nothing more than a long table, over which hovered several glowing crystal shards. He excused himself, saying that he would need a few hours. I explored the academy grounds while waiting. He finished in the late afternoon, looking disheartened with the results.
“I was not able to reach any real conclusions. Hopefully, I’ll have more luck in Undercity,” he sighed.
We walked out of the Falthrien Academy in silence. Elnerion did not speak again until we returned to the hawkstriders.
“Sometimes I fear that the Scourge invasion hollowed our people. More and more loyalty is demanded by the government and its institutions. I have hope for the future though, and I suspect we are over the worst times.”
His voice did not sound as confident as his words. I cannot tell whether Elnerion was a dedicated researcher or a spoiled scion of nobility. Perhaps he was both. Torn between loyalties to his House and the Magisters' College (an extension of the blood elf government) he serves as an interesting example of blood elf society.
For all the respect given to Great Houses, it is clear that they were critically and perhaps permanently weakened by the Scourge invasion. As such, groups like the Magisters' College have risen to take their place. Such institutions act as a more direct representation of Kael’thas’ will. The Sunstrider Dynasty has at last achieved a strong and centralized state. While I am not one to mourn the weakening of hereditary aristocracy, this new system is hardly one conducive to freedom, rationality, or morality. Rather than being managed by a multitude of Great Houses and institutions, the blood elves are now ruled by a single force.