Know Your Lore: Velen and Kil’jaeden
It’s odd, in some ways, just how much Sargeras’ story is mirrored and echoed across the Warcraft universe. The idea of not having a choice — of having to follow one path, and one alone — is one that has been abundant in lore. Arthas and his slow path towards corruption, highlighted by the purging of Stratholme. Illidan and his embrace of both arcane and fel magics, at the expense of his familial and racial ties.
So too, is the story of the Draenei — one that began with Sargeras himself. The Eredar were a race of highly skilled masters of magic, renowned for their skills throughout the Great Dark Beyond. They built an entire advanced, shining civilization and lived peaceful lives…until the leader of the Burning Legion came.
And then their lives changed forever.
Please note: There are some small spoilers for the Tomb of Sargeras end cinematic in this column.
The Eredar were ruled by a triumvirate of powerful leaders. There was Velen, gifted with Sight and renowned for his wisdom and compassion. At his side was Kil’jaeden, known for his intelligence, a genius among geniuses who thrived on unraveling the secrets of the cosmos. And later, the two were joined by Archimonde, younger but gifted in finding the strengths of those around him.
When Sargeras arrived, he appeared as a benevolent being and offered the things that would play on the leaders’ strengths. Power — something that Archimonde was hungry for. He was the first of the three to accept Sargeras’ offer. Compassion — the ability to shape worlds from primitive homes to enlightened sanctuaries of peace and wisdom. Knowledge — answers to some of the cosmos’ most obscure mysteries, including the fundamental flaw of the universe itself.
Once that flaw was revealed, Sargeras wanted the help of the Eredar in correcting it. Kil’jaeden, fascinated with the idea, also agreed to accept Sargeras’ offer. The only holdout in the Triumvirate was Velen, who sensed something amiss with the proposed alliance.
Velen meditated on the offer using an ata’mal crystal gifted to his people by the naaru, long ago. He was answered by a vision of anything but peace. If that offer were accepted, his people would be twisted and warped into man’ari, demonic entities of pure evil. Sargeras wasn’t offering a peaceful future; he was offering death — the destruction of worlds, carried out by his Burning Crusade. Horrified, Velen tried to tell the others, but they didn’t believe him. They were already set on taking Sargeras’ offer.
In desperation, Velen prayed for guidance, and was answered by the naaru K’ure. As instructed, Velen gathered his followers, traveled to the highest mountain on Argus, and barely managed to escape the clutches of the Burning Legion. The Draenei — “exiles” — spent the next several thousand years fleeing from world to world, staying just ahead of the Legion’s clutches each time.
For Velen, the choice was a simple one. He couldn’t allow his people to become corrupted. That strange question of a universal flaw didn’t necessarily matter. What mattered was the safety of his people. The greatest threat he could see wasn’t whatever Sargeras was hiding, it was Sargeras himself, and the demonic army he commanded. And Velen mourned those that were left behind, the Eredar-turned-man’ari. Archimonde, Kil’jaeden. Especially Kil’jaeden — one so close he’d viewed him as a brother in all but blood.
Those views weren’t one-sided. Kil’jaeden felt much the same — so much so that Velen’s flight was viewed as an immense betrayal. Velen was a fool that lacked faith in the future they’d been shown. The Eredar were meant to be part of a grand crusade, one that would reach the ends of creation. It was destiny — destiny that could not simply be avoided.
What Sargeras offered could not be avoided or escaped. It was inevitable. Running was nothing more than cowardice, a flagrant denial of what was best for the Eredar people. Bent on vengeance, Kil’jaeden devoted himself both to Sargeras, and to hunting down the Draenei and wiping them from the face of the cosmos.
Yet the Draenei managed to escape, every single time. And the Burning Legion’s plans were not without their failures. In the case of Azeroth, it appeared that every attempt the Legion made was thwarted. It seemed as though Kil’jaeden’s frustrations were growing beyond measure — and unfortunately, Draenor was discovered just when those frustrations had reached their peak. It seemed vengeance would be his, after all.
There was seemingly no end to the depths of Kil’jaeden’s viciousness and depravity. Each action taken on Draenor served two purposes: Build an effective army for Sargeras, and make the Draenei suffer as much as possible in the process. He tricked the Orcs into thinking the Draenei were enemies. Then he corrupted the Orcs and sent them on a mission of wholesale slaughter.
Unfortunately for Kil’jaeden, Velen managed to escape the slaughter — but he was still around to witness it. Perhaps that was enough, for the time being. Because Kil’jaeden had one more instrument of destruction just waiting to be deployed — Velen’s son. Captured eons ago, Rakeesh was tortured until his mind broke, trained to serve the Burning Legion in earnest.
It wasn’t a card Kil’jaeden was willing to immediately play. No, he bided his time until the moment was right, then set High General Rakeesh loose on the Exodar. The High General’s mission was to kill the naaru O’ros — last descendant of X’era and viewed as one of the few true threats to the Legion’s plans. Or at least, that’s what Rakeesh was told.
But was he really sent to defeat O’ros, or did Kil’jaeden deliberately send Rakeesh with the knowledge that the High General would surely die? Did he hope that Velen would be the one to strike that final blow? Was he reveling in the thought of what kind of mental torture that would inflict on his former brother?
The answer to all of these questions is almost certainly yes.
There was one thing that made sense to Kil’jaeden: Everything he had ever done was only what was best for his people. Their fates were inevitable. The Legion would conquer the universe, as foretold. There was no way to overthrow or resist a creature as powerful as Sargeras. To do so was inconceivable.
And yet…there Velen was, traversing worlds, escaping time and time again. Doing what was supposedly impossible. And the Burning Legion…continued to fail. It may have taken millennia, but Kil’jaeden began to see the truth. Sargeras’ plans were not infallible. And sometimes, such as the case with the Orcs, something as simple as free will was more than enough to thwart those plans and keep the Legion from succeeding.
In other words…Kil’jaeden was potentially wrong.
Perhaps that’s what fed his rage. It wasn’t the failures — it was what those failures represented. It wasn’t Velen’s flight across the cosmos — it was what that flight represented. Freedom. A freedom the Eredar would never attain, thanks to what Kil’jaeden and Archimonde had done.
Kil’jaeden’s final days were spent desperately trying to prove that he was right. That fate could not simply be avoided, that there was no other way. Anything less meant that he failed — not the Burning Legion, but his people. He failed to lead the Eredar down the correct path. In doing so, he failed himself.
In those final moments, Kil’jaeden at last laid eyes on his once-brother in all but blood. And he was able to confess his sins, as simple as they were: He envied Velen. He was the one who lacked faith. Velen laid his hand upon Kil’jaeden’s head, whether in blessing or final condemnation, who can say.
But I like to think that Velen understood, and forgave. It’s what the Light would have him do.
In some ways, Kil’jaeden and Velen were very much alike. Both were dead-set on doing what was best for their people. They simply didn’t agree on what the best thing was. And both were, in a way, responsible for their people’s destruction. Kil’jaeden’s path led the Eredar to corruption and death in the service of the Burning Legion. Velen’s path led them to death at the hands of the Legion.
That’s where the parallels with Sargeras’ story come in. Sargeras looked at what was corrupting the cosmos, and found an enemy too great to defeat. In his infinite wisdom, he decided the best course of action — the only course of action — was to destroy the universe before it was devoured by the Void. Despite the Pantheon’s efforts to find another way, Sargeras created the Burning Legion, and set about his task.
But here we are, halting his efforts again and again. As Algalon once said, perhaps it’s our imperfections, that which grants us free will that allows us to persevere against all cosmically created odds. In the end, Kil’jaeden saw that fragile sliver of hope — that perhaps there was another way. Perhaps we would prove him wrong. Perhaps we’ll prove Sargeras wrong as well, in due time.
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