Kaldorei Empire

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NeutralKaldorei Empire
Zin-Azshari.jpg
Zin-Azshari and the Well of Eternity
Type

Empire / Kingdom

Capital(s)
Races
Government

Absolute monarchy / Oligarchy

Ruler(s)
Major settlements
Minor settlements
Languages
Faiths

Elune
Sargeras
Wild Gods (revered, but not worshiped)

Affiliation
Location
Status

Defunct; partly razed during a demonic invasion and torn apart by the Great Sundering

Sacrifices are always required in the name of glorious pursuits.
Azshara, Queen of the empire during its golden age

The Kaldorei Empire[1] (or kaldorei empire and Night Elf Empire[2]) was an ancient night elf civilization spanning most of the continent of old Kalimdor, from Lathar'Lazal in the far west to the halls of Uldaman in the east. During a golden age which lasted for millennia, the empire was ruled by the beautiful and intelligent Queen Azshara, one of the most remarkable and powerful rulers ever to hold sway in Azeroth, and in whose honor the kaldorei capital city of Zin-Azshari (meaning "The Glory of Azshara") was named. Incidentally, kaldorei society was highly class-based, with the Highborne ruling from the very top of the social ladder.[3]

The empire thrived and prospered uncontested for thousands of years until the beginning of the War of the Ancients, when a civil war erupted between Queen Azshara and her Highborne (who were attempting to summon the demon lord Sargeras into the world) and the Kaldorei Resistance (who wished to prevent this). Ultimately, the Resistance succeeded in its goal but in doing so caused the collapse of the Well of Eternity which, in turn, triggered the Great Sundering, a cataclysmic event which not only tore the empire apart, but also the continent itself. In its wake, nothing remained of the once mighty Kaldorei Empire, the surviving night elves going on to form the nation of Darnassus, while Queen Azshara and her Highborne, having become the first naga, began a long stage of plotting and rebuilding under the Great Sea, poised to one day make a return.[4]

At its peak, the Kaldorei Empire was the largest nation that Azeroth has ever seen, with the exception of the Black Empire of the Old Gods, which preceded it.

Regional leaders in the night elf empire subordinate to the Queen were styled as princes/princesses (though any actual relation to Azshara is unknown), such as Princess Aszune, Prince Tortheldrin of Eldre'Thalas, Prince Farondis of Azsuna, and Prince Toreth of Loreth'Aran. The apparent exception to this was Elisande, ruler of Suramar, who had the title of 'Grand Magistrix' instead.[5] Naga and satyr continue this trend, though these might be self-styled.

History

The Well of Eternity and the rise of the night elves

Around 15,000 years before the events surrounding the first opening of the Dark Portal, Ancient Kalimdor was dominated by the troll race. Many different variations of trolls existed, each with their own attributes and differing appearances. Most reclusive of all trolls, however, were the so-called dark trolls, who lived underground and only ventured out during the dark of the night. These nocturnal tendencies led to a change in these trolls; their skin became blue-hued and greyish. Separate from the other, thriving, troll nations, the dark trolls eventually settled in the very center of Kalimdor, having discovered the mesmerizing power that was the Well of Eternity.

Concept artwork of a dark troll

Over time, the dark trolls underwent dramatic changes as a result of their constant proximity to the well, resulting in a greatly heightened intelligence and new, more sleek, forms. With these new physical changes also came cultural and spiritual ones. They abandoned many of their old customs, such as language, in favour of developing their own, more refined versions. Additionally, they began to worship a new deity - Elune, the moon goddess - who the dark trolls believed had a direct connection to the Well of Eternity. Their language was also further influenced by the discovery of titan artifacts in the well's vicinity (as well through communion with Elune) and it was through this that they learned the name of the continent on which they lived: Kalimdor, or "Land of Eternal Starlight". Using their newfound language, and in light of the great changes which had occurred with them, the 'dark trolls' now gave themselves the new name of kaldorei, or night elves, meaning "Children of the Stars".[6]

Eventually, the night elves also came in contact with many of the nature spirits in the region, most notably the demigod Cenarius, who saw such potential in the fledgling race that he began to teach them about the natural world, hoping that they may too become caretakers of it. Now a thriving society in central Kalimdor, with their capital Elun'dris (meaning "Eye of Elune") on the banks of the Well of Eternity itself, the kaldorei began to further explore the depths of the well, and were subsequently introduced to magic and sorcery. Before long, many night elves had become proficient sorcerers, wielding the power obtained from the well to drive the burgeoning nation onward. New temples, cities, and infrastructure such as roads were also created in this era, serving further to advance kaldorei society and power.

During this period of prosperity, a new leader emerged among the kaldorei. Ascending to the throne, the ambitious and deeply beloved Queen Azshara now set the Kaldorei Empire on the path to true greatness, as well as great destruction.[7]

The age of Azshara

The empire of the kaldorei under Queen Azshara

Beautiful beyond compare, charismatic, young yet wise beyond her years, Azshara embodied the most prized aspects among the kaldorei people. She was proficient in sorcery, and constructed a large palace in the night elves' capital city where she and her closest courtiers (known as the quel'dorei or Highborne) resided. Usually sorcerous in some manner, the Highborne served many different roles in service to the Queen, from advisors such as Lord Xavius, to handmaidens like Lady Vashj. All, however, were part of the highest social strata of kaldorei society, and possessed a distinct belief in their self-superiority over the 'lower-born' majority of night elves. This did not impress the other kaldorei who, in turn, developed an ever-present animosity for the egotistic Highborne. Significantly, this resentment did not extend to the Queen herself, who was looked upon with such adoration by the populace that the kaldorei capital was renamed Zin-Azshari or "The Glory of Azshara", in her honor.

Under the rule of Queen Azshara, the night elf nation exploded into a sprawling empire resplendent with impressive architecture, great cities, and ornate temples. Vast, luminescent highways limned by the silver light of Elune herself stretched across the continent, connecting all of civilization together. The empire saw the creation of such marvelous wonders that Azeroth would never see its like again, even in the modern age. Expeditionary forces, too, would be sent to explore and spread the empire's borders, bringing back tales of far-away lands and races, such as dragons, and returning with samples of foreign flora and fauna. The Queen herself personally oversaw the construction of a grand new temple to Elune, a sprawling expanse of gem-encrusted bridges and effervescent lakes at the western edge of Kalimdor. Upon its completion, she named the mesmerising grounds Lathar'Lazal, or "Seat of the Sky". Azshara now lorded over more territory than any other single ruler in history, eclipsing even such previous conquerors as the Mogu Thunder King, Lei Shen. One area, however, which the Queen deliberately avoided was Mount Hyjal, publicly to honor the night elves' previous pacts with the forests, but in truth due to a deep disgust and caution that Azshara harbored for the ancient magics which permeated Hyjal. As a result, it became one of the few areas of the continent left wholly untouched by the empire.[8]

Banner of the Kaldorei Empire

As the Kaldorei Empire continued to expand, Cenarius became increasingly disturbed by what he saw as an abandonment of the ways of nature in favor of the appeals of magic and sorcery, as well as the endless hubris and arrogance of the Highborne. As their nation's power grew, the kaldorei also severed diplomatic ties with the other races of the continent, spurred on by their Queen's dogged commitment to ideas of racial purity and kaldorei superiority. These beliefs ultimately served to create an atmosphere of xenophobia in the psyche of the night elves, convinced that they were inherently better than the lesser, more primitive races.

Azshara, beloved queen of the kaldorei

The only other race which posed enough of a threat (albeit small) to draw the attention of the empire were the aggressive, and openly hostile, troll nations. Small, separate conflicts subsequently broke out between the two races, but the trolls were consistently unable to stand against the kaldorei mastery of the arcane, and were routed as a result. Undisturbed by the trolls' rabid battle lust, and having no desire to control their lands, Queen Azshara ultimately negotiated a deal with the Zandalar tribe of trolls, the unifying force between all the tribes. In return for a halt to all troll incursions and hostilities against kaldorei territory, the trolls would — by Azshara's grace — be allowed to remain in possession of their sacred Zandalar Mountain, south of the Well of Eternity. This humiliating agreement which the trolls had no choice but to acquiesce to led to great resentment of night elves (and elves in general) among the troll race.[9]

Having dealt with all external threats, Queen Azshara began to become more detached from the rest of the kingdom, spending more and more time inside the palace walls. Gradually, she became obsessed with the potential of the Well of Eternity; a potential, she believed, that the kaldorei had only scratched the surface of. Azshara believed that if they should unlock the full power of the Well, the Kaldorei Empire could ascend to new and previously unimagined heights of greatness. Thus she, and the Highborne, began delving into the Well's mysteries, experimenting with its untold power. These reckless experiments, however, sent bolts of magic shooting through the Twisting Nether. It was not long until more malevolent forces took notice, in the form of the fallen-titan Sargeras and his Burning Legion. After aeons of searching, Sargeras had finally discovered the location of Azeroth, and with it, its world soul.

War of the Ancients

To fully prepare for a world of perfection, all the imperfect must be swept away.
Queen Azshara
Queen Azshara commences the demonic invasion.

Around 10,000 years before the events of the Dark Portal, unbeknownst to the rest of the kaldorei, their queen and the Highborne had been contacted by a mysterious entity, not from their world. Queen Azshara and her followers eagerly began to communicate with this entity, who desired a massive gateway to be opened using the Well of Eternity itself, so that it may come to Azeroth. The entity, Sargeras, intentionally played on the night elves' arrogance and hubris, having first contacted the Queen's chief advisor, the cunning Lord Xavius, who immediately brought it to the attention of Azshara. Queen Azshara was utterly enthralled by what she saw as Sargeras' glorious perfection. So enamoured was she, that she immediately ordered the Highborne to make preparations to summon Sargeras and the Burning Legion. The Queen intended to rule at the demon lord's side in a paradise where all she considered impure — including her own, non-Highborne, people — was purged. As the Highborne began their summoning, many kaldorei had gathered outside the royal palace, curious and frightened about the now-raging currents of the Well of Eternity, and wanting to receive guidance from their revered and beloved monarch. What they received, however, as the gates swung open, were waves upon waves of demons who swept across the grounds, slaughtering any they came across. Thus began the War of the Ancients, a conflict which would, quite literally, shape the face of the world and ultimately tear the mighty Kaldorei Empire asunder.

Meanwhile, a promising young night elf called Malfurion Stormrage, who had been training with the demigod Cenarius to one day become the first mortal druid had become aware of something very wrong occurring in Zin-Azshari, even before the actual summoning began. Following the commencement of the ritual, countless demons began to spread out from the Well of Eternity, storming across the empire and laying waste to forests, cities, and all else which they came across. A night elf resistance movement was subsequently formed to halt this threat. Although aware of the Highborne's treachery, all those surviving kaldorei fighting the demons refused to believe that their Queen had any direct part in it. They convinced themselves that she was, at the very least, their prisoner, and at worst being totally mislead by her duplicitous counselors. Thus, the resistance felt that they were not only fighting to save their way of life, but also to save their exalted leader, unaware of the fact that Azshara was, herself, the chief instigator of these events.[10]

Lord Kur'talos Ravencrest of the House of Ravencrest, leader of the night elf resistance

Among the ranks of the resistance were three young night elves: Malfurion, his sorcerer brother, Illidan Stormrage, and their childhood friend and priestess-in-training, Tyrande Whisperwind. Led by kaldorei general Lord Kur'talos Ravencrest of the House of Ravencrest, the resistance initially suffered resounding defeats at the hands of the seemingly-endless demonic legions. It was not until Malfurion made the daring move of entering the druidic Emerald Dream and using his powers to slay Lord Xavius, that the kaldorei's fortunes began to change. Following more minor successes, some brought about by Illidan, who had become a skilled sorcerer, and Tyrande, who was a member of the Sisterhood of Elune, a militant order of all-female warrior priestesses, the resistance even succeeded in gaining the initiative. However, they were simply unable to overcome the Legion's impossible numbers. Many of the Highborne had also been turned into a new type of demon, the Satyr, which bolstered the demons' ranks. At the desperate request of Malfurion, Cenarius agreed to rally Kalimdor's mighty Wild Gods against the Legion, but warned that it would take considerable time. Meanwhile, also at the night elf's request, the Dragonflights resigned to join the fray in their duty to defend Azeroth. At the suggestion of the Earth-Warder, Neltharion, the Dragon Aspects agreed that the best way to combat the demons would be to collectively infuse a large portion of their powers in an artifact known as the 'Dragon Soul'. Having done this, however, Neltharion (to be known ever after as Deathwing) betrayed the other dragons at the behest of the Old Gods, taking the Dragon Soul for himself and using it to attack all in his vicinity; dragon, night elf, and demon alike. Although Deathwing was forced to retreat, the event marked a terrible blow for those resisting the demonic invasion.[11]

The fall of Zin-Azshari and the sundering of the world

Commander Jarod Shadowsong and kaldorei resistance fighters

Soon after, Illidan, having changed sides in the conflict, managed to steal Deathwing's artefact (now also known as the 'Demon Soul'), delivering it to Azshara and the Highborne who immediately used it to hasten the summoning of Sargeras himself. As the resistance began to lose more and more ground, a new leader rose among them (following Lord Ravencrest's assassination). Jarod Shadowsong was young, intelligent, and an excellent strategist. Under his encouragement, the resistance expanded to include many of Azeroth's other races, such as earthen, tauren, and furbolgs, (many of whom had been regarded with disgust in previous times) which significantly aided the night elves' now diminished forces. This was coupled with a large defection among the Highborne, led by Dath'Remar Sunstrider, who refused to help Azshara advance her megalomaniac plans any longer, and pledged themselves to the resistance instead. It was at this time that the Wild Gods, now roused, also arrived to lend their aid. With a revitalized and powerful force, Commander Jarod Shadowsong now prepared to launch a massive, desperate assault on Zin-Azshari itself, where Sargeras' summoning was nearing completion.[12]

Countless individuals fell on both sides in one of the bloodiest engagements in history. Meanwhile, having learned that the Well of Eternity itself was being turned into a massive portal, Malfurion and his companions, now joined once more by Illidan who claimed his previous allegiance to have been a ruse, succeeded in reclaiming the Demon Soul from the city and used it to launch a devastating attack on the demon and Highborne forces. With their spellwork now unraveled, the Well of Eternity destabilized and the portal collapsed, sucking many of the demons and their lord back through. The earth itself began to shake as the unstable energies emanating from the well started to cause the ground to tear apart. With the surviving night elves fleeing to the safety of Mount Hyjal, the Well, unable to endure any more abuse, finally collapsed, triggering an implosion so large that it tore Kalimdor apart, destroying most of its landmass and leaving only the Maelstrom where once there was the majestic kaldorei capital. When the earthquakes and destruction had ceased, the surviving kaldorei emerged to discover that over 80% of Azeroth's landmass had disappeared in what became known as The Great Sundering. Nothing remained of, what once was, the Kaldorei Empire.

Legacy

At the height of its power, the Kaldorei Empire was one of the largest and most powerful the world has seen. Its cultural, technological, military, and magical advancements surpassed almost all others, before or since. Even following the catastrophe that was the Sundering, echoes of the once mighty nation can be seen across Azeroth in the form of ancient and neglected ruins.

Future of the kaldorei

The kingdom of Quel'Thalas.
Lady Vashj, a naga

With the conclusion of the War of the Ancients, the largest group of surviving night elves founded a new nation built upon a worship of nature, and led by two of the war's greatest heroes: Malfurion Stormrage and Tyrande Whisperwind. Unlike the empire which preceded it, this new country (called Darnassus) institutionally shunned the arcane arts, blaming them for the near-destruction of the world and forbidding their use. As a result, many of the surviving Highborne were exiled when they refused accept this law. They ventured far to the east to the newly-formed continent of the Eastern Kingdoms. After much wandering, and a dramatic change in appearance due to a disconnection from the Well of Eternity's power, these quel'dorei, now calling themselves high elves, eventually founded the kingdom of Quel'Thalas. This new nation, unlike Darnassus, ultimately ended up sharing many similarities with the Kaldorei Empire of ages past. This included an overbearing reliance on magic, which they received from their own, smaller Well of Eternity, the Sunwell.

Azshara

Azshara, and those who had followed her to the end, were looked back on by subsequent night elves as being evil and arrogant traitors who had almost brought about the end of the world. Unknown to the survivors, however, the Queen and her followers had not perished in the ruinous events of The Sundering. As her city sank into the depths of a new ocean, Azshara was offered a proposition from an unlikely source. The Old Gods promised her that, in exchange for her future service, they would not only save her and her followers from drowning, but also transform them into more than they ever were. Thus, Azshara and her remaining followers became the first of the naga, and began the reconstruction of a new empire under the waves of the Great Sea, Azshara herself now ruling as Empress of the Naga from her sunken capital of Nazjatar.[13]

The Highborne

The banner of the Highborne

Although many Highborne perished during the war, became naga during The Sundering, or were exiled to the Eastern Kingdoms following the foundation of Darnassus, some still managed to survive in various ruins across the world. Eventually, thousands of years later, they are beginning to make a revival in night elf society. Having become more accepting to the use of magic once again, Darnassus has begun to allow many Highborne to return to their society, resulting in a surge in new night elf mages; something which had been rarely seen since the fall of the Kaldorei Empire, over 10,000 years before.

The nightborne

Unknown to the majority of surviving night elves, the city of Suramar survived the Sundering due to the efforts of its mage leaders, led by the Highborne Elisande. These Highborne reluctantly rejected Queen Azshara's allegiance with Sargeras and succeeded in preventing a demonic invasion of Suramar by sealing an inter-dimensional portal that was opened in the city's temple of Elune using the Pillars of Creation.

The city of Suramar

Following this, they sealed the remainder of the city in an impenetrable magical barrier and would continue on living thinking that the rest of the world had been lost to the demons. For 10,000 years, they would continue to further develop their mastery of the arcane, placing emphasis on discipline and control, and utilizing the power of their own arcane font, the Nightwell. They would, significantly, find themselves separated from nature. This would lead to an unorthodox corruption in their power source that would ultimately change their physical appearance. These changed kaldorei, known as the nightborne (due to their distinctive black-grey skin) became a new variation of the night elf race. The nightborne, and Suramar, were only rediscovered when events precipitating the third coming of the Burning Legion triggered the collapse of their protective barrier, soon followed by a brutal occupation by forces of the Legion. A nightborne resistance has subsequently emerged and works to free the city and its people, as well as to enact justice for what they consider to be an affront to all they have stood for, fought for, and endured for the last ten millennia.[14]

Religion

The statue of Haidene, Elune's first high priestess, in the Temple of the Moon

The Kaldorei Empire was one which possessed a deep devotion to religion, and religious rituals. Their goddess, Elune, was seen as the personal patron of the kaldorei, and was revered and honored through the construction of vast and elaborate temples and shrines across the empire. Additionally, within kaldorei society, those who served the goddess, most notably the priestesses of the Sisterhood of Elune, were deeply respected and elevated to a position of importance above many others.[15]

Although not worshipped in the same manner as Elune, the kaldorei also held a deep respect and devotion for the forces of nature, most significantly the Wild Gods and other guardians of the world such as the demigod Cenarius. While never a full religion, nature worship remained prevalent in kaldorei society well into the waning days of the empire. This form of nature worship would ultimately be vigorously adopted by the empire's immediate successor, in Darnassus, encouraged by the druids.

An almost universal cult of personality also developed around the revered Queen Azshara throughout her long reign. While not quite deified, Azshara was praised and adored to such an extent that it bordered on treating her as a divine. It is perhaps accurate to say that the individual citizen of the Kaldorei Empire had a deeper personal connection and love for their queen than they ever did for any particular deity.

Organizations

Notes & trivia

  • The Kaldorei Empire (and the kaldorei themselves) was the last of numerous nations to dominate the continent of Old Kalimdor.
  • Some cities managed to survive the demonic invasion and subsequent fall of the empire, such as the western metropolis of Eldre'Thalas.
  • Certain contemporary night elf structures still bear resemblances to those of the Kaldorei Empire. For example, the Temple of the Moon in Darnassus shares certain distinct similarities with Queen Azshara's Eternal Palace in old Zin-Azshari.
  • It can be said that the nation of Quel'Thalas is something of a spiritual successor to the Kaldorei Empire (despite not being inhabited by kaldorei). It was founded by a member of the Highborne and its society and structure bears striking similarities to the late empire.
  • Many "imperial" characters can be find in the ranks of the nightborne, including Arcbinders, Arcanists, Conjurers, Servants and Spellbreakers. These may all have been members of the Kaldorei Empire.
  • It seems that the demonym for items and customs dating back from Queen Azshara's reign is "Azsharan", as indicated by  [Azsharan Councillor's Clasp],  [Azsharan Court Scepter] or  [Azsharan Queensguard Blade].

See also

References