The War of the Ancients is a conflict that rocked ancient Azeroth some ten thousand years prior to the First War. It started when the reckless Highborne drew the attention of Sargeras and his Burning Legion, and was ended, after massive casualties, when the Well of Eternity blasted the super continent of Kalimdor apart.
Kaldorei and the Well of Eternity
Ten thousand years before the orcs and humans clashed in their First War, the world of Azeroth cradled only one massive continent surrounded by the infinite, raging seas. That land mass, known as Kalimdor, was home to a number of disparate races and creatures, all vying for survival among the savage elements of the waking world. At the dark continent's center was a mystifying lake of incandescent energies. The lake, which would later be called the Well of Eternity, was the true heart of the world's magic and natural power. Drawing its energies from the infinite Great Dark Beyond the world, the Well acted as a mystical fount, sending its potent energies out across the world to nourish life in all its wondrous forms.
In time, a primitive tribe of nocturnal humanoids cautiously made their way to the edges of the mesmerizing, enchanted lake. The feral, nomadic humanoids, drawn by the Well's strange energies, built crude homes upon its tranquil shores. Over time, the Well's cosmic power affects the strange tribe, making them strong, wise, and virtually immortal. The tribe adopted the name Kaldorei, which meant “children of the stars” in their native tongue. To celebrate their budding society, they constructed great structures and temples around the lake's periphery.
The Kaldorei, or night elves as they would later be known, worshipped the moon goddess, Elune, and believed that she slept within the Well's shimmering depths during the daylight hours. The early night elf priests and seers studied the Well with an insatiable curiosity, driven to plumb its untold secrets and power. As their society grew, the night elves explored the breadth of Kalimdor and encountered its myriad denizens. The only creatures that gave them pause were the ancient and powerful dragons. Though the great serpentine beasts were often recluse, they did much to safeguard the known lands from potential threats. The night elves believed that dragons held themselves to be the protectors of the world, and that they and their secrets were best left alone.
Overtime, the night elves' curiosity led them to meet and befriend a number of powerful entities, not the least of which was Cenarius, a might demi-god of the primordial forestlands. The great-hearted Cenarius grey fond of the inquisitive night elves and spent a great deal of time teaching them about the natural world. The tranquil Kaldorei developed a strong empathy for the living forests of Kalimdor and reveled in the harmonious balance of nature.
Yet, as the seemingly endless ages passed, the night elves' civilization expanded both territorially and culturally. Their temples, roads, and dwelling places stretched across all of the dark continent. Azshara, the night elves' beautiful and gifted queen, built an immense, wondrous palace on the Well's shore that housed her favored servitors within its bejeweled halls. These servants, whom she called the Quel'dorei or Highborne, doted on her every command and believed themselves to be greater than the rest of their lower-caste brethren. Though Queen Azshara was loved equally by all of her people, the Highborne were secretly hated by the jealous masses.
Sharing the priests' insight towards the Well of Eternity, Azshara ordered the educated Highborne to plumb its secrets and reveal its true purpose in the world. They buried themselves in their work and studied the Well ceaselessly. In time they developed the ability to manipulate and control the Well's cosmic energies. As their reckless experiments progressed, they found that they could use their newfound powers to either crate or destroy at their leisure. The hapless Highborne had stumbled upon primitive magic and were now resolved to devote themselves to its mastery. Although they agreed that magic was inherently dangerous if handled irresponsibly, Azshara and her kin began to practice their spellcraft with recklessness. Cenarius and many of the wizened night elf scholars warned that only calamity would result from toying with the clearly volatile arts of magic. But, Azshara and her followers stubbornly continued to expand their burgeoning powers.
As their powers grew, a distinct change came over Azshara and the Highborne. The haughty, aloof upper class became increasingly callous and cruel towards their fellow night elves. A dark, brooding pall veiled Azshara's once entrancing beauty. She began to withdraw from her loving subjected and refused to interact with anyone but her trusted priests.
A young, brazen scholar named Malfurion Stormrage, who had spent much of his time studying the Well's effects, began to suspect that a terrible power was corrupting the Highborne and his beloved Queen. Though he could not conceive the evil that was to come, he knew that they were all in danger.
War of the Ancients
The Quel'dorei's unregulated use of magic sent ripples of energy spiraling out from the Well and into the Great Dark Beyond. These waves streamed into the Twisting Nether and were felt by terrible alien minds. Sargeras, the Ravager of Worlds, felt them and was drawn to their distant point of origin. Spying on the young world of Azeroth and sensing the limitless energies of the Well, he was consumed by an insatiable hunger. The great, dark good of the Nameless Void resolved to destroy the fledgling world claim its energies as his own.
Sargeras gathered his vast, demonic army, known as the Burning Legion, and made his way towards the unsuspecting world of Azeroth. The Legion, comprised of a million screaming demons, all ripped from the far corners of the universe, roiled and burned at the thought of conquest. Sargeras' lieutenants, Archimonde the Defiler and Mannoroth the Destructor, prepared for their infernal minions to strike.
Queen Azshara, overwhelmed by the terrible escatasy of her magic, fell victim to Sargeras's undeniable power, and agreed to grant him entrance to her world. Even her Highborne servitors gave themselves over to the corruption and began to worship Sargeras as their god. To show their allegiance to the Legion, they aided in opening the great, swirling portal within the depth of the Well.
Once all his preparations had been made, Sargeras began his catastrophic invasion of Azeroth. The warrior-demons of the Legion stormed into the world through the Well and laid siege to civilization's sleeping cities. Led by Eredar overlords, the Legion cast a shadow over the lands of Kalimdor leaving only ash and sorrow in its wake. The demon warlocks called down rain of brimstone into the many spire and temples. The doomguard, a bad of burning, bloodletting killers, marched across the fields of battle slaughtering everyone in their path. Even packs of wild, demonic Felhounds ravaged the countryside, unopposed. Though the brave night elves rushed to defend their ancient homeland, they were forced to give ground, inch by inch, before the fury of the Legion's onslaught.
Sundering of the World
It fell to the young scholar, Malfurion Stormrage, to find help for his beleaguered people. Stormrage, whose own brother, Illidan, served under the queen, was incensed by the growing corruption amongst the upper class. Convincing Illidan to forsake his dangerous obsession, Malfurion set out to find Cenarius and muster a resistance force. The young, beautiful priestess, Tyrande, agreed to accompany the brothers in the name of Elune. Though both Malfurion and Illidan shared a secret love for her, Tyrande cared for Malfurion alone. Illidan resented hi brother's budding romance, but knew that his heartache was nothing compared to the pain of his addiction...
Illidan had grown dependent on the magic's empowering energies, struggling to keep control of himself. He wished only to tap the Well's energies once again, however, with Tyrande's support he was able to contain himself and help his brother find the reclusive demi-god, Cenarius, who dwelt within the sacred Moonglades of Mount Hyjal. He agreed to help the night elves by finding the ancient dragons and enlisting their aid. The dragons, led by Alexstrasza, agreed to send their mighty flights to engage the demons and their infernal masters.
Cenarius, calling on the spirits of the enchanted forests, rallied an army of ancient treemen and led them against the Legion in a daring ground assault. Meanwhile, the other night elves converged upon the palace and the Well. All out warfare erupted, and despite the strength of their newfound allies, the Legion could not be defeated by no martial strength alone.
As the titanic battle raged around Zin-Azshari, the delusional Queen waited in anticipation for Sargeras's arrival. The lord of the legion was preparing to pass through the Well and enter the ravaged world. As his impossibly large shadow drew closer and closer, the Azshara gathered the bulk of her powerful casters. Only by linking their magics together, in one focused spell, would they be able to create a gateway large enough for Sargeras to enter.
Malfurion, convinced that the Well was the demons' umbilical link to the physical world, insisted that it should be destroyed. His companions, knowing that the Well was the source of their immortality and powers, were shocked by the rash notion. Yet Tyrande, seeing the wisdom of Malfurion's theory, convinced Cenarius and their dragon comrades to Storm Azshara's temple and find a way to shut the Well down for good.
Illidan, knowing that the Well's destruction would prevent him from wielding magic ever again, selfishly abandoned the group and set out to warn the highborne of Malfurion's plan. Due to the madness brought on by his addiction and the stinging resentment towards his brother's affair with Tyrande, he felt no remorse at betraying his own brother and siding with the queen and her ilk. Above all else, Illidan bowed to protect the Well's power by any means necessary.
Heartbroken by his brother's departure, Malfurion led his companions into the heart of Azshara's temple. Yet, as they stormed into the main audience chamber, they found the Highborne in the midst of their final dark incantation. The raging communal spell created an unstable vortex of power within the Well's raging depths. As Sargeras's ominous shadow drew closer to the surface, they attacked!
Azshara, having received the warning, was more than prepared for them. Nearly all of Malfurion's companions fell before the raging powers. Tyrande, attempting to attack Azshara from behind, was caught off guard by the guardsmen. Though she vanquished the guardsmen, Tyrande suffered grievous wounds at their hands. At seeing his love fall, Malfurion went into a murderous rage and resolved to end Azshara's life.
As the battle raged inside and outside the temple, Illidan appeared from the shadows near the shores of the great Well. Producing a set of specially crafted vials, Illidan knelt and filled each with the Well's shimmering waters. Convinced that the demons would crush all of Azeroth, he planned to steal the sacred waters and keep their energies for himself.
The ensuing battle threw the Highborne's carefully crafted spellwork into chaos. The unstable vortex within the Well's depths finally exploded and ignited the catastrophic chain of events that would sunder the world forever. The massive explosive rocked the temple to its foundations and send massive quakes ripping through the tortured earth. In the end of, the horrific battle between the Legion and the night elven forces raged around and above the ruined capital city, and the surging Well buckled in upon itself and collapsed!
The resultant explosion destroyed half the known world and blotted out the skies in a single moment.
As the aftershocks from the Well's implosion rattled the bones of the world, the seas rushed in to fill the gaping wound left in Azeroth. Nearly eighty percent of Kalimdor's landmass had been blasted apart, leaving only a handful of separate continents surrounding the whirling ocean. In its center, where the Well once stood, there was a terrible scar of tumultuous tidal fury and chaotic energies. This became known as the Maelstrom, and would never cease its furious spinning. It remains a constant reminder of the terrible deeds of the Highborne and the utopian era that had been lost forever. The few night elves that survived rallied together on crudely made rafts and slowly made their way to the only landmass in sight, Kalimdor.
Somehow, against all odds, Queen Azshara and her highborne elite managed to survive the ordeal. Tortured and twisted by the powers they had released, Azshara and her followers were dragged down beneath the raging sea. Curse – transformed – they took on new shapes and became the hateful, serpentine naga. Azshara herself expanded with hate and rage, becoming a massive snake-like monstrosity. It was karma reflecting the wickedness and malice that had always hidden within her core. In the new city of Nazjatar, she rebuilt her power.
By the graces of Elune, Malfurion, Tyrande, and Cenarius survived the sundering. The wearing heroes agreed to lead their fellow survivors establish a new home for their people. As they journeyed in silence, they surveyed the wreckage of their world and realized that their passions had wrought the destruction all around them. Though Sargeras and his Legion had been ripped from the world by the Well's destruction, Malfurion and his people were left to ponder the terrible cost of victory.
The night elves settled around the springs of Mount Hyjal under the watchful gaze of their demi-god, Cenarius. They saught to live out their days as mortals, peaceful and at one with the lands. But Illidan was far from done, having collected his seven vials, and using them to twist and distort the lake into a new Well of Eternity. When the others found out what he had done, they were horrified. Unable to accept that his brother had committed such treachery, Malfurion tried to explain the folly of his ways. The magic, he insisted, was chaotic by nature and it could only bring more death. Illidan refused to listen, and for that was imprisoned in the dungeons beneath the mountain.