Wednesday, May 28, 2008
The red domes and spires of Silvermoon City grip the traveler’s eyes upon entry. All the tales I’d heard of the breathtaking Sin’dorei capital paled in comparison to actually seeing it. I stared in awe at the radiant world around and above me. How, I wondered, had the elves recovered so quickly?
The truth is that they haven’t. The wide thoroughfare by the gate is nearly empty even in the middle of the day. There is nothing resembling the clamor of Orgrimmar or Stormwind City. The overall impression is actually rather eerie.
Blood-red drapes flutter on the sides of alabaster buildings along the Walk of the Elders. A few elves gave me curious looks as I passed by, though none spoke. When last in Undercity, I heard a rumor that a visiting Forsaken had been attacked and nearly killed by Sin’dorei rogues, outraged at seeing more undead in their city. However, I believe that this story is fiction, and mostly indicative of the Forsaken persecution complex.
All of the maintenance work in Silvermoon is done by arcane constructs. So is some of the defense; lumbering arcane protectors march through the streets, occasionally intoning some government slogan. I spotted a nattily-dressed elf standing next to an inactive arcane protector at the base of a tower. He appeared to be checking the crystals in the protector’s body.
“The Preservers' Union, headed by Houses Eversong and Spellflame (the latter regrettably destroyed in the invasion), is responsible for ensuring that the wonders of Silvermoon stay in working order,” he explained. His name was Alacaran Flamesong, and was one of the younger union members.
“So the automated arcane constructs are not immune to breakage.”
“Our magic is great, my Forsaken guest. At times it needs some touching up, but very little labor is involved. I mean, it really wouldn’t be fitting for someone of my station to have to work at this all day. I will admit that it has become a bit more laborious after the Third War,” he conceded.
The luxury of Silvermoon had once been a point of contention with the human nations. The political tumult that marked much of humanity's early history kept the peasants in a state of abject misery, too concerned with survival to think much of the idle elven lifestyle. More than a few regarded the stories of Quel’thalas’ wealth as silly legends.
Rule of law, the Holy Light, and increased levels of arcane usage combined to gradually create a more affluent life for the commoner. Though literacy did not become widespread until after the Second War, there was no doubt that the humans of two centuries ago had achieved a level of comfort and worldliness their forebears would never have imagined. They began to pay closer attention to reports of elven magic and, understandably, wondered why their lives couldn’t also be so easy.
Powerful though the Sunwell was, its range could not extend beyond Quel’thalas’ borders. The possibility of a second Sunwell had been actively studied in Dalaran but abandoned for several reasons. One was that the creation of such a powerful magical conduit was exceedingly dangerous. The Sunwell had only been made safe through constant refinement and maintenance, and a new one might attract fiendish attention. Others dreaded the idea of a duplicate Sunwell being seized by Alterac or Stromgarde. The biggest reason was simply that the Dalaranese authorities did not want humans to become physically and psychologically addicted to the arcane, the inevitable result of using a Sunwell. As the elves disliked being reminded of their mana dependency, the archmages chose not to publicize this information.
Dalaranese silence and Quel’dorei condescension led many humans to accuse the elves of hoarding magic. This was especially true in eastern Lordaeron, the land closest to Quel’thalas. Multiple human factions demanded that the elves share their magic, and a few agitators called for war. The haughty attitude of the elves only worsened matters.
Ereil Collister was the spark that ignited the situation. Hailing from Stormwind, Ereil was a traveling preacher gifted with incredible charisma. He accused the elves of forcing humanity to live in benighted misery, and in so doing attracted followers (called Collisterians) wherever he spoke. Ereil castigated the Lordaeronian church for supposedly colluding with the elves, even though the local bishop had supported the moderate peasant factions.
Ereil swayed the governor of Stratholme to his cause and he soon ruled that great city in all but name. He became increasingly outspoken: against the Quel’dorei, against the church, against Lordaeron, and anything else that drew his ire. By his decree, elves were forbidden entry into Stratholme. The crown was reluctant to act directly against him until he urged the Collisterians to withhold their taxes. Ereil claimed that Lordaeron was actually ruled by Dalaran, which was in turn manipulated by Quel’thalas. It is true that Dalaran stayed aloof from events in the east, to avoid endangering their special relationship with the elven kingdom.
When Ereil left to preach at a neighboring town, Lordaeron struck. Elite soldiers, loyalist militias, and royal wizards established a base in Stratholme’s center. Five days of confused rioting followed, killing over a thousand people. Ereil, finding himself a wanted man, sought sanctuary in Stromgarde with a cadre of devout Collisterians. He perished in a house fire three years later. Yet his church survived. To this day, there are small Collisterian communities in human lands, most notably in Stormwind City and Menethil Harbor.
The Stratholme Incident, as it came to be called, soured the already unsteady relationship between the humans and the elves. The easily offended Quel’dorei grew more insular. Humans, on the other hand, found less dangerous (and less powerful) substitutes for the Sunwell in the form of leyline mana taps, gnomish artifice, and goblin engineering. The living standard of the human peasant steadily increased, and did not stop until the Third War.
The Wayfarer’s Rest is one of two hotels in Silvermoon City catering to foreigners, though many natives patronize the common room on the first floor. Both inns are subsidized, so I was able to get a free room. The only other guests were a married tauren couple from the Runetotem Tribe. The husband was a powerfully-built druid who spent his days sneezing and coughing in his room.
“I believe it is the magic in this city. There is too much of it, and I cannot feel the spirits anywhere,” he wheezed.
His wife was unaffected physically, though she likened visiting Silvermoon City to going naked into a blizzard.
The beds in the Wayfarer’s Rest are so deep and soft that I was half-afraid of being submerged. I found the plush runecloth rug in my room to be far better for a good night’s sleep. I spent most of the next day in the Bazaar. The Bazaar is less commercial than its name suggests. Craftsmen do set up shop among the Bazaar’s palatial structures, but they are more interested in creating beauty than in making a sale.
“With the resources we have here, it only makes sense to have aesthetics as the primary goal,” explained Zyandrel Silverstream. She ran a sort of designer’s workshop called Silvermoon Finery, along with her sister Andra. She held up an emerald gown decorated with embroidered dragonhawks that moved as if alive.
“How much mana does that require?” I asked, watching one of the dragonhawks slide around the waist. I had never seen anything like it.
“It only draws in a small amount of the ambient mana in the area. I would not advise taking it beyond city limits though. The little pets would stop moving.”
That gown was the least of the wonders in Silvermoon Finery. Capes of falling water were displayed next to transparent jackets and fiery hats.
“Do you always sell items of this quality?” I asked, trying and failing to conceal my amazement.
“The clothing you see here today is for the Festival of Youth and Beauty, which shall be held two days from now. It is when all the artists show off their wares to the people of Silvermoon. We auction off some of our work, but the greatest pieces are given.”
“How are you compensated for your work?”
“With nothing as vulgar as money,” she sneered. “Say that Lady Viseelia Sunwind takes a liking to this gown; it is far from our best work, but it will serve as an example. We give it to her, and in return House Sunwind remembers the favor. In better times the respect and invitations were enough. We still receive those priceless gifts. Now, we will also get more access to arcane energy.”
“So if a high noble asks for one of your gowns, she will get it?”
“Not necessarily. When an item is up on the auction stand, those who desire it shall write down why the pieces should go to their Great House, and why it should belong to them in particular. They list the various accomplishments of themselves and their blood relations. These papers are handed to the Festival Masters, who read them and decide which is most worthy.”
“You have no input on who gets it?”
“I should say not! I’d never dream of imposing my will on a Great House!”
“Your own family, Silverstream: it is a subject house, is it not?”
“We are always loyal to House Summerdawn.”
“You are not obliged to give your best dresses to them during the Festival?”
“No. Artists of sufficient skill are inducted into the Artisans' Concord. We serve all of Quel’thalas. Of course, I have given much of my best work to House Summerdawn, but not during the festival.”
“Are there other dressmakers and clothiers?”
“Several. Keelen runs his own workshop next door.”
The elves have not completely ignored the mercantile aspects of tailoring and other professions. Zyandrel showed me some non-magical clothing kept in crates.
“We keep some on hand by decree of the Regent Lord. It is made by magical means; I’d never allow my hands to create something so shoddy.”
They were indeed of poor quality.
“Why must you make these?”
“All elves need clothes, and we no longer have the resources to always wear attire suitable for our race. Thus, we make do with this trash. I eagerly await the day that we join the Sun King in Outland. There I shall create beauty unimaginable.”
I attended the Festival of Youth and Beauty and was surprised at its small size. The grandiose descriptions led me to imagine something that would fill the entire Bazaar, instead of just the area around the auction house. Past festivals were much larger. Today, there simply aren’t enough elves in Silvermoon to recreate the celebrations of old.
The plainer items (still spectacular and ostentatious by human standards) are sold in the morning. The wares are by no means limited to clothes: tools, weapons, furniture, cosmetics, and more were all on display on tables and stands outside the auction house. The structure itself was closed off until noon.
“I beg your pardon, faithful vassal of Lady Windrunner, but I must ask your reason for being here.” The words came from a red-armored guard. His voice was polite but firm.
“I only wished to see the Festival. Is that a problem?”
He looked momentarily uncertain.
“Of course not. We have extended our hands in friendship to your noble and tragic people, and it would be disgraceful to deny you access. However, this is an event of great import to our race. I humbly implore you to not purchase any of the items here.”
“You needn’t worry, I doubt I could afford any of them.”
“Thank you for your time.” The guard bowed and moved to the edge of the festival grounds. From time to time, I spotted him watching me from afar.
When the sun reached its zenith the curtains around the auction house lifted, the matriarchs and scions of the Great Houses quickly going inside. The normal Sin’dorei stayed at the perimeter of the crowd, content to watch.
An imperious elf wearing black armor recited a short poem in Thalassian. He stood next to a white flame that reached to his waist. The elf stepped aside when finished, and official-looking sorts in blue livery began to show off the best products on display. The most notable of these was a gilded blacksmith’s hammer that, when struck, released tiny songbirds of light and fire in lieu of sparks. Clearly a novelty item, it still drew applause for its impressive (albeit excessive) use of magical energy.
After showing the ten best pieces, the officials lined up before the hovering flame. Incredibly, they proceeded to place these items in the magical fire, instantly reducing them to ash. This was clearly a ritual of immense solemnity and importance though I could not fathom why they would waste such treasures. Later on, I was told that they had been burned in honor of House Sunstrider and the other Great Houses in Outland.
The rest of the afternoon was devoted to the drawn out and deadly-dull silent auction for the Great Houses. I departed after an hour or so.
The mark of Kael’thas is all over the city, most clearly in the titanic statues of him placed in the gatehouses that connect districts. The statues are done with great detail, and appear lifelike. The ultimate effect is grimly farcical. According to the elves I asked, the statues were built in order to pay homage to their beloved master. Everyone said that they thought the statues were beautiful, though I am not sure they could speak freely.
The Royal Exchange is another lavish plaza located on the opposite end of town from the Bazaar. The exchange is where many of the smaller governmental organizations make their headquarters. Both the Preservers' Union and the Artisans' Concord have their home offices there. The Royal Exchange is a verdant spot, with the flowering bushes and golden junipers associated with Quel’thalas.
I found the offices of the Artisans' Concord without difficulty. The ground floor of the building is a museum and library devoted to previous work of note, usually clothes. The administrative chambers are on the second floor. Access to the offices can only be gained via an orb of translocation, which I was unable to activate.
Almost all of the officials were attending the festival, so I had free reign of the first floor. I looked at the progression of elven style. Early examples tended to the simple and streamlined, often sporting natural motifs. Kaldorei aesthetics were clearly a strong influence on those items. Clothes from the days of Quel’thalas’ alliance with the Arathor Empire exhibited bold colors and decorations, sometimes with a distinctly martial style. Fashions grew increasingly baroque after the Troll Wars. Though more adornments and arcane elements were added, they began to look increasingly similar, all being ephemeral and overdone.
I noticed a scarlet-robed elven woman making a sketch of a silver helmet, too high and peaked to be of practical use. Her brow furrowed with concentration, and she did not first take notice of me. She introduced herself as Iridemme Dawngrace, a magistrix in training. Iridemme was not a member of the Artisans' Concord. Her interest was purely academic.
“I’m surprised you’re not out at the festival,” I said.
“There has been very little, um, variation in the past few decades. All they seem to do is imitate earlier styles,” she sighed.
“Why do you think that is?”
“They have no desire to explore new frontiers. I think it because we have lost so much. The familiar provides comfort.”
“You, however, would prefer to see something new?
“I most certainly would! Sadly I do not have the time. Eventually I’ll join the Sun King’s forces in Outland. Perhaps once things settle down over there, I can explore this further.”
“A commendable goal. What are some of your ideas for changing the formula?”
“Yes, orcs. I think you could come up with something very striking by combining Sin’dorei elegance with orcish savagery.”
“Do you think those styles would mesh well?”
“Here, take a look.”
She opened up her sketchbook, showing me concept pieces she had drawn. They were certainly vivid, throwing out the excesses of the current style and going for a rugged and naturalistic look. Iridemme explained that very little arcane energy would need to be utilized for her pieces.
“It’d certainly be an interesting challenge to move away from traditional materials, like mana,” she said, her voice high with excitement.
The designs looked good enough to me, though I really have no eye for such things. Elves like Iridemme are in the minority, but her ideas suggest that the current situation may actually force the Sin’dorei to be less isolationist. It is easier for the Horde races to access Quel’thalas today than it was for the Alliance races in the past. The blood elves may not care for this, but they understand the necessity of cooperating with their allies. Some degree of syncretism is probably inevitable, and it will undoubtedly create some fascinating new developments in Sin’dorei culture.
I returned to the Wayfarer’s Rest and found a half-foot tall insect woman flitting around my room on butterfly wings. She flew towards me, speaking in a high, buzzing voice.
“Destron Allicant, loyal servant of House Windrunner! I bring you greetings from House Sunleaf, and a cordial invitation to a masquerade that shall be held tomorrow evening.”
I paused, taken back by the messenger’s appearance. Her bulging black eyes and distorted metallic body frightened more than welcomed.
“I am honored, but may I ask the reason for this invitation?”
“The masquerade begins at Sundown, but feel free to arrive at your convenience. Elves do not let time rule our lives! The festivities will be held at Sunleaf Tower, in Murder Row. My masters look forward to your arrival. Be sure to wear a mask!”
She gave a quick and jerky bow before fluttering out the door.
“That homunculus got here an hour ago. You are truly blessed to be invited to Sunleaf’s masquerade,” said Jovia Azuredawn, the innkeeper of the Wayfarer’s Rest.
“It did not say why I was invited.”
“Homunculi can only speak in messages it receives from its master. Most likely they are merely extending their hospitality to House Windrunner.”
“Were the two houses close?”
“Not to my knowledge, but the surviving Great Houses must support each other. House Sunleaf is very important. Many of that bloodline serve in the Thousand Hidden Eyes.”
The Thousand Hidden Eyes is the intelligence agency of Quel’thalas, created specifically to spy on human nations. The Eyes always had some trouble justifying their own existence. A number of high-ranking elves thought the humans weren’t worth the effort to spy on, and gave little support to the Eyes. Farstriders handled intelligence on more prominent threats like the Amani tribes. The human governments authorities practiced a policy of salutary neglect on elven spies, regarding them as an unavoidable nuisance.
Fading rays lit the blood-red windows at sundown the next day. I felt a bit anxious as I made my way to the ominously-named Murder Row. As its name suggests, the neighborhood tended to attract shadier types, like elves who have fallen into disgrace with their houses. Such individuals are ostracized from house functions. Some of these unfortunates attempt to make amends, but others drift to Murder Row. Because the Thousand Hidden Eyes number so few, they sometimes accept disgraced elves as members, and use the neighborhood as a headquarters.
Murder Row is still just as lavish as other parts of the city. Though narrower than other streets in Silvermoon, Murder Row does not feel especially dangerous. The elves there are just as peaceable and well-dressed as anywhere else.
I found Sunleaf Tower at the northern end of the street. A pair of guards flanked the entrance.
“Your name, please?” inquired one.
“Ah, the Windrunner representative.”
“Representative? I’m afraid I’m not an official ambassador. I’m only a traveler.”
“Official or not, one’s actions always reflect on his Great House,” the guard smiled. “You need a mask to attend; perhaps the messenger did not mention it...”
“I have one. I did not want to walk around Silvermoon City wearing it though.” I inserted the glass eyeballs into my sockets. The other materials I’d added before I left.
“Oh, how delightfully novel! On that note, it is my honor to welcome you to the abode of House Sunleaf.”
The guards genuflected. I stepped into a lavishly decorated chamber holding a red orb of translocation, inset into a delicate gold apparatus. Seeing no other doors or stairways, I stepped up to the orb and placed my hand on its cold surface.
I blinked into a large, crystal-lit room where costumed elves chattered in quiet voices. Translucent curtains hugged the walls, and a hundred exquisite hors d’oeuvres waited on the tables. A beautiful elven woman in a domino mask played a soft and slow tune on a piano. Around her stood a crowd of ten elves, wearing rather too-real demon masks.
“I’m not sure whether to compliment you on insane bravery or clever thinking,” came a jovial voice. I turned to see an elven man dressed in a robe of shifting colors. A brightly-feathered bird mask concealed his face.
“Insane bravery if you really are a human. Clever thinking if that’s a costume. I jest, I jest. You must be Destron Allicant.”
“Indeed. I hope the costume was not a disappointment.”
“Not at all. I know what you look like, so I was able to recognize the man behind the mask. I am Lord Melurion Sunleaf, by the way.”
“I am honored by your presence,” I said, bowing.
“And I am honored to receive a guest in the service of Lady Windrunner. She was truly one of the greatest Ranger Generals to ever defend our glorious land. I was deeply saddened to hear of her death at Arthas’ hands. Likewise, I was gladdened to hear that she now has a chance for vengeance.”
“Everyone in Undercity wishes to personally kill the Lich King.”
“Ah, they may get their chance soon enough!”
“Pardon me if I’m prying, but how did you find out about my arrival?”
“As your Lady Windrunner had eyes all through the forests, I have eyes all through the city. Enjoy yourself, Destron! Few can surpass elves in merrymaking. If you’ll excuse me.”
Lord Sunleaf drifted off to another group. Wine flowed freely as the night went on, goblet after goblet downed by the Sin’dorei. The race’s natural grace and dexterity cannot completely overcome the effects of inebriation. Many of the older partygoers took off their masks, revealing flushed cheeks and sweaty brows. The younger generation kept their costumes.
Most of the guests only spoke Thalassian, so I began drifting off into a state of bored indifference after a few hours. Nonetheless, I forced myself to stay and was rewarded when I met a knowledgeable elven woman named Serilei Brightdawn. A high-ranking magistrix, she had helped defend southern Lordaeron against the Horde during the Second War, and had stayed until the Third. She fled across the sea with Jaina and lived in Theramore for three years before returning to Quel’thalas. Serilei clearly missed Theramore Isle, and asked me about its current state. I told her all that I knew. In return, she gave me a detailed explanation of how Murder Row got its name.
“As you probably know, the Sin’dorei are in love with idleness and frivolity, especially here in the capital. Many of our priests and sages say that such behavior is the mark of true civilization, and the only way that an elf can find happiness. They may be right; doubtless for most elves, this is the case. But idleness is a poison for others.”
“I’ve observed the same among some human nobles,” I said.
“Human nobles are not the same as elven nobles.” She raised her wine glass to her lips and drank deeply before continuing. “Some elves grew bored and jaded. They turned to darker entertainments, forming secret societies. Most were harmless but a few became dangerous, delving into warlock grimoires and summoning demons in hidden cellars all along Murder Row.”
“That’s how the place got it’s name?”
“Not exactly. Souls are required to summon most forms of demons, but these wayward elves culled souls from wild beasts. Distasteful, but not necessarily criminal. Around four centuries ago, one of these outre groups, the Fount of Wisdom, sought to summon a pit lord. They were young fools who had no idea what they were doing.”
“A pit lord?” Those living maelstroms of destruction are among the most terrible demons in existence.
“Horrible, I know. To do this, they kidnapped the daughter of Lord Fairbreeze and sacrificed her on an altar. Evidently the demons were displeased with such a sacrifice. Instead of a pit lord, they summoned an explosion which killed most of them.”
“What happened to the survivors?”
“They were found, admitted to their crimes, and executed. The ringleader was a scion of House Falconwing, but even that could not save him. His own father dealt the killing blow.”
“Was that the last of such societies?”
“Only for a while. Gradually they returned, though none were ever so reckless as the Fount of Wisdom. The only subsequent warlock society of any note is the Laughing Shadow. They proved their worth during the Second War, when the Magisters' College compelled them to share their knowledge of demonology.”
“Does the Laughing Shadow still exist?”
“They’re standing in this room right now!”
She pointed to one of the demon-masked elves I had seen earlier. I glanced over at him, and our eyes met for an uncomfortable moment.
“They practice openly?”
“Why shouldn’t they? They are honored servants of the Sun King, who has now become a master of demons. Make no mistake, my good Destron, for they are not the fools of old. They are a vital part of modern Quel’thalas.”
All through Quel’thalas, I met elves who desperately clung to tradition. Yet in Silvermoon City, many of the old ways are cast aside. Perhaps they are merely taking a more realistic approach. One cannot ignore the fact that most of the Great Houses are dead or depleted. While some element of denial exists in the countryside, the capital has learned to accept this state of affairs.
The main rooms emptied out as the party continued, many elves leaving in pairs and groups for private chambers. Countless hookahs belched sweet smoke into the air. The besotted elves who remained lounged on divans and pillows, giggling mindlessly.
I again encountered Lord Sunleaf. He lay on a couch, carelessly holding a glass of wine in one upraised hand. A succubus sat at his head, teasing his hair with polished ebon claws. This particular demon had a crown of jagged rubies fused into her scalp. A lazy smile spread across the noble’s face, and he spoke in mumbling Thalassian to the fiend. The glass fell from his loose grip, landing with a thud on the crimson rug.
Never before had I actually seen a succubus, though the deeds of such temptresses are well-known. The succubus of legend is a beautiful human or elven woman. The real thing looks rather different. While certainly beautiful, the face looks almost porcelain in its artificiality. Their voluptuous lips are eternally frozen in a half-smile. In contrast to the rest of the body, the calves of a succubus are reverse-jointed in the manner of a tauren or draenei. The lower legs are covered in barbed spines, and terminate in smoking silver hooves. They are simultaneously beautiful and repellent.
The succubus leaned over and whispered something in Lord Sunleaf’s ear, at which he laughed mindlessly. A masked warlock stood in a darkened recess near Lord Sunleaf. Presumably he was the demon’s master. I could not see his face, but the warlock’s stance indicated sobriety. He leaned closer to Lord Sunleaf, listening to the aristocrat’s slurred speech. The succubus giggled and turned her burning eyes to the warlock. She spoke in a harsh and alien tongue, and the warlock responded in kind. Lord Sunleaf noticed the attention shifting away from him, and sounded a pleading cry. The succubus immediately looked down into his eyes. Lord Sunleaf sighed contentedly, while the warlock gave a metallic chuckle.
Sunleaf was not the only one mingling with demons. Nearby, five drunken elves applauded as an eerie mass of shadows shifted and pulsed in the room’s center. They were voidwalkers, flowing into each other in a bizarre parody of a dance. Across the room, I saw running imps leaving little trails of hellfire.
I immediately left the party.
Though concerned about having left Lord Sunleaf’s party so quickly, my fears were allayed when I was greeted by another detestable homunculus the next morning. It relayed thanks on the part of Lord Sunleaf, and expressed regret that I was not able to stay. It gave me a little pastry as a parting gift before buzzing back home. I couldn’t help but laugh.
I made my way up to the Court of the Sun later that morning. An immense fountain splashes in the middle of the court, overshadowed by the looming grandeur of Sunfury Spire. The Spire is a massive and complex structure from which House Sunstrider has ruled for generations. Sunfury Spire also acts as the headquarters for the Magisters' College and the Mystic Hall.
Small outdoor cafes are tucked away in the Court of the Sun’s sides. At one of these, I met a high-ranking Aegis official named Fyrillon Whiteflame. He was the younger brother of the magister I’d met in Fairbreeze Village.
Fyrillon had been a guest at the Sunleaf masquerade the previous night. He invited me to join him for breakfast (as he had just risen). As I sat down at a small table, he ordered some coffee for me. The Sin’dorei version of the drink is best described as a cup full of cream, sugar, and foam, with a few drops of watered-down coffee. I can’t stand the stuff, but drank it to be polite.
“I noticed you left a bit early last night. Did the demons unnerve you?”
“That’s entirely understandable. Truth to tell, I think it is unwise to summon such creatures for entertainment. Our race has mastered the Burning Legion, but there’s no reason to include them in all that we do.”
“I’m glad you think so.”
“What is the Forsaken attitude towards demons?”
“It is similarly cavalier, and similarly foolish. Are such events common in social gatherings?”
“You almost always see demons. At least, wherever there is a warlock, and there’s more of them now than ever.”
“Have parties in Silvermoon City always been so extravagant?”
“Hmm, well they’ve certainly grown more so from when I was young. Our city has always adored novelty, but the rest of the nation is more traditional. Even today, a party with demon guests would not go over very well in Fairbreeze Village,” he chuckled.
“Part of the cultural divide between Silvermoon City and the countryside, I take it.”
“It’s always been present. Those hamlets are very closely knit, since everything is controlled by a single Great House. Before the Third War, 26 Great Houses had their homes in Silvermoon City! It’s difficult to hold to tradition when there are so many people.”
“How many Great Houses are present in the city today?”
“Eleven, though only six are still viable.”
“The hierarchy of nobility is less strict in the city, I take it?”
“I should say so. That’s why masquerades are so popular here, and unheard of in other parts.”
“The masquerade erodes social barriers. That fellow wearing the lion mask might be the head of the Great House, or a mere subject. Let me think... the first masquerade I attended was just before the Second War, held by the deceased House Falconwing. I wore a fine wooden mask carved in an orc’s likeness. Tasteless, I know, but aside from a few farstriders and magisters nobody was much concerned with the Horde. We wore the masks all through the night, had quite a grand time. That’s where I met and charmed my late wife, the Lady Ilshesaru Falconwing.”
“Did the masks help in meeting her?”
“The masks made it much easier. Even though Great Houses usually marry elves of lesser blood, it’s still a bit intimidating to actually meet one of the high nobles! When we were both masked, however, I didn’t know who she was. All I knew was that she was a creature of rare charm and grace.”
“Last night, I noticed many people removing their masks after a few hours.”
“That’s the custom these days. I’m not really sure why. In my time, you did not remove the mask until you exited the party.”
“Do you suppose that removing the mask reinforces hierarchical barriers, by making it harder to meet those higher in station?”
“I don’t think that’s why people take off the masks. Being part of a Great House already means much less than it did five years ago. Because class in Silvermoon is now less important, people are more confident in the presence of their superiors. As the Sun King has said, noble blood flows through all our veins, not just those of the Great Houses,” he smiled.
The leveling of traditional Sin’dorei society is a conundrum to me. I have never made any secret of my disdain for hereditary nobility. I regard it as foolish, illogical, and often quite dangerous. But nobility among elves is different than it is with humans. Quel’thalas was never a realm of cruel aristocrats incompetently ruling a beaten peasantry. The Great Houses enjoyed immense power, but they never abused their subjects. This was probably because their subjects were also aristocrats, albeit of lesser standing. The feudalistic nature of Quel’dorei government created a society defined by an intricate web of friendships, loyalties, and alliances, one more stable than similar arrangements among some humans. Even those outside of the Great Houses could gain prestige and influence in groups like the Magisters' College.
Whatever Kael’thas’ machinations, the main determinant in this societal shift came from the Scourge invasion. Kael’thas merely exploited the collapse of society to create a centralized and dictatorial new nation. There is really no serious barrier to the Sun King’s rule. The Great Houses generally support him (as they still get the respect they crave). Even if they opposed him, they are too weak to do anything. Meanwhile, the non-noble power groups are usually intensely loyal to Kael’thas.
The Sin’dorei held a triumphal procession in honor of one Vranesh Eversong two days after the Sunleaf party. Plenty of rumors preceded his return from the eastern lands, where he had campaigned against the resurgent trolls. The elves described his exploits in glowing terms, speaking of a final victory against the stubborn Shadowpine Tribe. As much as they inflated it, even a cursory examination revealed it to be a relatively minor success. Vranesh had simply made a skillful strike against one of the smaller Shadowpine enclaves in elven lands.
That day, crimson banners lined the avenues of Silvermoon City, all bearing the phoenix of Quel’thalas. Throngs packed the streets, while invisible hands sprinkled rose petals and motes of light from on high. I stood in Farstrider Square, where the parade would terminate. Seeing the seemingly endless crowd of brightly-dressed elves was an impressive sight to say the least. The city had never seemed so alive.
I stepped forward to get a better view. As I did so, I carelessly bumped into a beaming elven woman. More accurately, I stepped right through her.
At first, I did not understand what had happened. I reached out to her shoulder and my hand passed through it as if it were air. Finally it dawned on me that she was an illusion.
“Sir! Please, do not do that!” demanded an elf in magister’s robes.
“My apologies. I wasn’t aware she was illusory.”
“Untold numbers of my kin were slaughtered by the undead. Naturally, we ameliorate the psychological toll with illusions. Most of these towers and palaces are half-empty!”
“I take it this is no secret?”
“It is a glorious lie in which we all share. I think it is only tactful to avoid drawing attention to it!” he fumed.
I nodded and drew away from the illusion, who smiled and looked around as if real. I heard cheers in the distance as the parade drew near.
Vranesh emerged on a black steed clad in bronze armor. The champion himself wore black plate mail touched by crimson trims. A series of knights and Aegis infantry along with a handful of farstriders and magisters followed him. The crowd’s roars rose to a fever pitch, each elf fervently proclaiming the glory of Quel’thalas.
I knew that Vranesh was a blood knight. I was first told of the blood knights back in the Ghostlands. I carelessly assumed them to be nothing more than elite Aegis soldiers. The truth, as I learned later, is that the blood knights are an order of pseudopaladins.
The elves had never fielded any paladins in the past. This was not because they lacked the ability. The problem was that no elves were interested in aligning themselves with the human-dominated Order of the Silver Hand. The paladin’s powers of the Light are distinct from those wielded by priests. Even today, many theologians are unsure as to why this is the case. Most believe that it stems from the intense martial training undergone by paladins. This is further supported by the draenic vindicators, whose supernatural abilities are identical to the paladins of the Silver Hand.
For these reasons, I found it odd that the typically irreligious blood elves would field paladins. Stranger still is the fact that the blood knights are not a religious order.
Vranesh dismounted and made his way up the staircase leading to the Blood Sanctum, the headquarters of his order. He gave a brief and apparently moving speech before striding through the tall and airy gate. I noticed a large group of farstriders who looked less enthused than their peers. None of the elves would explain it directly, but there was some animosity between the farstriders and blood knights. This dislike was worsened by Silvermoon’s assignment of Vranesh to the troll lands. Traditionally, the farstriders had handled trollish incursions.
Carousing still livened the streets when dusk fell. The magisters had discreetly dispelled the illusory elves, returning the city to its normal population. I spoke with one of the blood knights, a zealous young woman named Velia Suncrown. House Suncrown had been a prestigious family with a demesne in what is now the Ghostlands. Velia is the last of her bloodline. She had accompanied Vranesh on his “epic victory,” over the Shadowpine trolls.
“How long have the blood knights existed?” I asked.
“We have served Quel’thalas in one form or another since the end of the Third War. By our reckoning, the conflict did not stop until the Sun King took control of Outland.”
“Have you been to Outland?”
“Not yet, though I soon shall.”
“From where do the blood knights get their power?”
“That is a complicated question. The simple answer is that it lies in our blood. We are the last true elves; the Kaldorei across the sea are a mongrel race. They interbred with trolls over the centuries, which is why they have violet skin.”
I was momentarily dumbfounded by this wildly inaccurate statement.
“Please do not be offended, Destron. I bear no malice towards your Darkspear troll friends, as I’m sure that they have their place. However, nothing good can come from mixing troll and elf.”
Some claim that the elves are trolls mutated by magic. I chose not to mention this theory to Velia, as it would only offend her.
“I see. You said that blood was the simple answer; what is the complex answer?”
“Perhaps it is best that you see for yourself. I shall take you to the Blood Sanctum.”
Velia led me into the gilded shadows of her order's home. Vast braziers squat in the corners of the room, their fiery lights reflected on the polished floor. I heard a faint humming somewhere in the distance.
A short flight of stairs took me to a large open platform. In the middle was a circular pit, blocked by a bejeweled golden railing. A shifting red glow emanated from the pit, and the humming grew louder as I drew closer. A trio of elves stood nearby, each wearing the black armor of the blood knights.
One of them approached us. Velia kneeled and bid me to do the same. I quickly obeyed. The other elf motioned for her to rise, and said something in Thalassian. Then he turned to me.
“I’m blessed to have a son of Lordaeron as a visitor,” he said, smiling. “I was a farstrider during the Second War, and had the opportunity to fight alongside your armies. I’m glad that we are again allies.”
“As am I.”
“Shame on me, I haven’t even introduced myself. My name is Ithelis Lightsong, servant to the fallen House Spellflame. I seek to honor my lord’s memory through service to the nation.”
“That is a noble mission. I am Destron Allicant, an itinerant scholar.”
“I hope you’ve found our city educational.”
“I certainly have.”
“Excuse me a moment.” Ithelis spoke for a while with Velia. I noticed that, while Velia’s voice was fast and strident, Ithelis spoke with a paternal calm.
“Fortune has smiled upon you, Destron. Velia wishes to show you our prize: the Demon. It’s a sensitive matter, but it is no secret. Would you like to see it?”
“I’d be honored.”
“Wonderful. Velia, I’ll attend to Destron. Enjoy the festivities outside. Duty shall call us soon enough.”
“Understood, master.” Velia bowed and left the Sanctum. A faint grin played across Ithelis’ face.
“Velia’s one of our most promising adepts. Please, come this way.”
Following Ithelis, I journeyed down a labyrinthine series of dark corridors. I tried to learn more about the nature of the blood knight order from Ithelis, who was more personable than Velia.
“The strength of the blood knight lies in his dedication. Everything we do, all that we sacrifice, is done for our people. Many think that we are similar to the paladins of Lordaeron, and they are right. The paladins put their faith in the Light, and their faith was the wellspring of their powers. We put our faith in the noble cause of our race. Our blood enables us to take power, and use it for beneficial purposes.”
“But from where do you take the power?”
“The Demon. We shall be there soon enough. The Demon is an overwhelming sight to many. This is an especially wicked entity called a Naaru. It once ruled Tempest Keep, where it was worshipped by draenic cults.”
“The Sun King defeated it, did he not?”
“I was with him when it happened. Most would have fled from such a nightmarish being, but Kael’thas bent it to his will. Now it serves us.”
“Forgive me if this question causes offense, but are you ever worried about using demons for energy?”
“No. As I said, our great heritage guides us. We can no longer concern ourselves with the old ideals in this day and age. Power alone will save our race. As far as I’m concerned, saving elf-kind is the only moral thing to do. If it requires the manipulation of demons, than so be it. I understand if you are worried, Destron. The Burning Legion is no laughing matter. Rest assured though, that we have rendered them harmless.”
Ornate designs in gold and silver coursed through the walls in greater abundance as we walked, though the darkness gave the place a decidedly menacing air. I had no idea what to expect, but I well knew that the Naaru were not demons. I tensed myself as I approached the containment chamber.
An unseen force lifted my mind into a realm of glory. My worldly cares vanished, replaced by transcendent joy. Visions of light danced before my eyes, accompanied by an awesome celestial chorus.
Ithelis’ hand jogged my shoulder, yanking me back to a hollow and material world. I tried to remember how to speak.
“The Demon has that effect. You must learn to block its message from our minds. Here, stand up. It’s easier to face evil on your feet!”
I realized I was prostrate before the Naaru Lifting my eyes, I winced at what I saw above me. I had always envisioned the Naaru as angels but the actual form is quite different. It is best described as a calligraphy of light, looking almost like some kind of sigil. Segments of the entity moved and rotated in place, hauntingly suggestive of cosmic harmonies. I forced myself to look away.
“Do you want to leave, Destron? Do not feel ashamed. I was affected the same way when I first saw it. The Sun King is a truly remarkable man to have withstood its psychic assault.”
I wished to look at the Naaru again, though a faint reddish cast spoiled its otherworldly beauty. Elven magisters stood on balconies placed around the Naaru, weaving enchantments to keep the entity in place and to drain its power. Their faces were set in expressions of zeal and hatred.
“These mages must undergo exhaustive training to do this. Even they can only operate for a short while before being overwhelmed. They work in six-hour shifts. Destron, are you sure you’re all right? You haven’t said a word since we arrived.”
“Yes. I’m fine.”
I slowly stood back up. Angelic testaments interwove with the sound of magical activity in the room. I no longer doubted that the Naaru were good. I sensed no compulsion in these strange sensations. The Naaru was attempting to communicate. It allowed me block them out.
“I think I would like to leave, actually.”
“Certainly. Let’s have some wine back at the surface. There’s no better way to settle the nerves. I’m sorry that it was such a shocking experience to you.”
“You needn’t apologize, just take me up please.”
As I walked away, the sound of the Naaru faded into the background. My soul felt purified, yet also outraged that the Naaru would be treated in such a fashion. Once I had left the vicinity of the Naaru I began to really examine what I had experienced. No one can encounter the immutable without feeling a bit frightened. Moreover, I was troubled by my sudden emotional surge in the containment chamber. They were positive emotions to be sure, but part of me still felt disturbed. Then again, theologians of the Light warned of undue pride. Perhaps the problem lay in my own intellectual vanity.
The blood elves had certainly hardened themselves to the Naaru.
I do not know where Quel’thalas’ actions will lead it. Yet I suspect dark times are ahead for the nation. Their outward strength hides a corrupt and decadent interior. The blood elves are a people capable of incredible discipline, courage, and talent. They may need all of these traits to survive the trap they have set for themselves.