Know Your Lore: The Shal’dorei of Suramar
They are the ancient Highborne dream deferred.
Powerfully magical — to them the magic of the Nightwell is literally food and drink — the Nightborne are the ancient survivors of the grand city of Suramar, the birthplace of many notable Night Elves alive today. Jarod and Maiev Shadowsong, Malfurion and Illidan Stormrage Tyrande Whisperwind — all were tied to Suramar. But the city was long thought lost in the terrifying magical implosion when the Well of Eternity sundered ancient Kalimdor into the continents known to us today.
Unknown to any save its inhabitants, Suramar survived. And within the barrier they created, the Shal’dorei (Nightborne, in ancient Darnassian) endured for all these many thousands of years. But their survival did not come without a price.
This Know Your Lore deals with events that will be spoilers for the level 110 zone Suramar and the Legion expansion as a whole.
In the ancient past
Grand Magistrix Elisande was once merely the leader of a small sect of Highborne sorcerers tasked by Queen Azshara with hunting down ancient magical secrets and items of power. She and her followers were based in Suramar, across the Well of Eternity from Zin-Ashari, a fantastic city that rivaled Azshara’s capital for grandeur. And they were successful, locating many artifacts, including one of the Titan-Forged’s most prized items: the Eye of Aman’Thul. All were collected in vaults in Suramar by Elisande and her sorcerers. Fiercely loyal to Queen Azshara, they would never dream of using the artifacts themselves, as did the rebellious elves of Azsuna.
No, even after Azshara made her pact with the Burning Legion, the Highborne of Suramar remained loyal.
Even after the armies of demons began pouring out of the portal created by Azshara and Xavius, they remained loyal. But cracks were forming in that loyalty. It was clear the demons did not have Elven society in mind, were not concerned with the people of Kalimdor. Still, as Kur’talos Ravencrest and his resistance fought the demons, Elisande did not join them. Taking up arms against Azshara seemed madness — the Queen was so powerful and so beloved, how could Elisande possibly betray her?
The destruction of Azsuna when Azshara shattered the Tidestone of Golganneth and cursed Prince Farondis and his people to an eternity as ghosts was her first wake up call. It was followed by another: Azshara’s demonic allies sought to open another portal, this one in the Temple of Elune across the bay from Suramar itself. Such a powerful magical draw on the Well of Eternity could destroy the city of Suramar entirely in the process of opening it. Still torn, Elisande finally decided that she could no longer serve Azshara. The Queen had either gone mad or simply never cared for her people at all. Either way, her demon allies must be stopped.
In an act of defiance, Elisande raided the vaults she herself had created and used the powerful Eye of Aman’Thul — one of the Pillars of Creation used in the ordering of Azeroth — to seal away the portal in the Temple before it could be opened. But even though she’d done something that was a blatant act of defiance against Azshara and the demons, Elisande could not bring herself to actively fight against the Legion alongside the Kaldorei resistance.
Elisande’s desperate plan
Elisande foresaw the destruction that the Legion would cause to Kalimdor. Rather than attempt to fight them, she chose to preserve what she could. Just as she’d once collected relics of power, she now decided to collect as many of the people of Suramar as possible.
Using the Eye of Aman’Thul, she wove a barrier around Suramar. This was an exceedingly costly act, and much of Suramar (including the Temple of Elune) was not included in the barrier. When the Sundering came and the Well of Eternity imploded, the parts of Suramar City not protected by the barrier were destroyed, blasted to the bottom of the sea.
Trapped within the magical barrier, the survivors believed themselves to be the last surviving Kaldorei in existence. They turned to Elisande as the greatest surviving sorcerer to help sustain them. They saw her as their savior, ultimately, as she was the one who created the barrier that preserved them. This left her with a great problem to solve. If the outside world was destroyed (and she had every reason to believe it was) how would she feed her people? How would they live? The ancient ley line network of the Arcway built under Suramar was insufficient to meet all of their needs. They would wither and die of hunter and thirst, if nothing else. What was she to do?
Once again, she turned to the Eye of Aman’Thul for a solution.
Birth of the Nightwell, return of the Legion
The same power she used to create the barrier was now repurposed and joined with a last remnant of the Well of Eternity’s waters to create the Nightwell, a font of raw arcane power. The Nightwell became everything to the Elves trapped in Suramar. It kept the barrier up and kept the Elves within it alive, and its massive power suffused them all.
Over thousands of years, the Elves of Suramar changed from their constant exposure to the raw arcane power of the Nightwell. It was their food, their drink, they used it to create weapons and armor and clothing. It was in the air they breathed. Even the High Elves of Quel’Thalas and their Sunwell could not truly conceive of a dependence this total — without the Nightwell, these Elves had nothing. They distilled its powerful energies into Arcwine, which kept them alive in the absence of other sustenance. And they changed.
These changes were gradual but they had over 10,000 years to manifest. They came to call themselves Shal’dorei, the Children of Night or Nightborne. Theirs was a society of isolation that believed itself unique, the last survivors of the Sundering. Those that defied Elisande’s order were exiled from Suramar, never to return. The Nightborne didn’t know their ultimate fate and didn’t care, either. With the Nightwell surging in the heart of Suramar, the old ley line nexus underneath the city was forgotten and abandoned to decay, and if the Nightborne wondered at the cost of their survival and dependence on the Nightwell they didn’t utter these thoughts too loudly, the idea of being exiled was seen as a death sentence.
For ten thousand years Suramar kept on. Then events transpired that would change everything. First, the old Temple of Elune was raised by the Guardian Aegwynn, possibly influenced by Sargeras, and used to contain the corpse of his Avatar and the possessions it had carried to Azeroth. She sank it again, but a few hundred years later the Orc Warlock Gul’dan would raise it again and die within its walls. Finally another Gul’dan would come and open the portal that Elisande had sealed so long ago. Now that it was open, the Eye of Aman’Thul alone was insufficient to shut it again.
Worse, Gul’dan and the Legion resumed their attack on Suramar, battering at the barrier.
The dark bargain
But Gul’dan wasn’t interested in destroying Suramar. No, he wanted what Elisande had used the Eye to create — he wanted access to the unique power of the Nightwell. Created from the original waters of the Well of Eternity and changed by the power of the Eye of Aman’Thul, the Nightwell was the repository of the power of not one but two Titans: Aman’Thul and Azeroth herself. What Gul’dan wanted with it is as yet unknown, but he presented Elisande with a simple offer. Allow the Legion a presence within Suramar and access to the Nightwell, and her people would live. Deny him, and the Legion would eventually destroy the barrier, raze Suramar, and kill everyone inside it, and he’d still get the Nightwell in the end.
Elisande had defied Azshara and the Legion ten thousand years earlier, and her every effort since had been to preserve her people and their culture as best she could. Once a keeper of relics, she’d been forced into the role of leader, but in her heart she was still a custodian and the people of Suramar, the Nightborne, were now the relics she sought to preserve. Better to allow the Legion to have its way than to risk all in defiance. She chose to allow Gul’dan to enter the Nighthold and access the power of the Nightwell rather than see everything burn.
For the people of Suramar, this was a shock. For some, such as First Arcanist Thaylssra, argued that Gul’dan wouldn’t be making deals with the Nightborne if he actually could breach the barrier, Elisande opted not to take that chance. A rebellion led by Thalyssra failed thanks to the betrayal of Advisor Melandrus. The barrier fell and the Legion walked into Suramar.
Nightborne, Nightfallen, Withered, and Fal’Dorei
With the barrier down and the demons infesting their city, the Nightborne have had to adjust quickly to a great many changes. The first shock was to find that they were not the only survivors of the Sundering — they were shocked to discover the existence of Night Elves alive on the Broken Isles and beyond them.
But a worse shock was the discovery that those exiled from Suramar did not simply die — the unnatural power of the Nightwell had corrupted the Nightborne, and denied access to it those exiled from the city became Nightfallen, desiccated husks. At least the Nightfallen still retained their faculties to some extent, however. A worse fate awaited those that could not find a source of arcane power sufficient to sustain them and transformed into the Withered: mindless abominations who existed only to feed on mana from any source. A Nightfallen could still talk and think and reason. A Withered was nothing but a monstrosity lost to endless hunger and rage.
Beyond even these, an ancient evil stirred in the bowels of the earth around Suramar proper: the Fal’Dorei, hideous creatures equal parts spider and Elf, monstrous and sinister. As yet their plans are unknown, but they seek to return to the surface and destroy their ancient kin.
Suramar is a land ancient and the Shal’dorei find themselves surrounded by dangers. To survive, they will have to turn to the outside world they’ve shunned for millennia.
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