Scourge invasion of Quel'Thalas

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The Scourge invasion of Quel'Thalas
Scourge invasion of Quel'Thalas
Conflict: Third War
Place: Quel'Thalas
Outcome: Decisive Scourge victory.
Belligerents
Commanders and leaders
Strength
Casualties and losses
  • ~ Light-to-moderate
"The hourglass empties. Lower your defenses; grant me access to the Sunwell; and I will reward you with eternal servitude. Refuse... and I will end not only your lives, but the lives of those you love. Your mothers, fathers, and children. None will remain to mourn your passing."
Arthas Menethil's ultimatum

The Scourge invasion of Quel'Thalas,[1] also known as the Fall of Quel'Thalas[2] and the Fall of Silvermoon,[3] was a massive battle that occurred during the Third War, instigated by the twisted Arthas Menethil and his Scourge army. The conflict took place all throughout the Kingdom of Quel'Thalas, including its southern & northern woodlands, capital city, and the Isle of Quel'Danas.

Fresh from destroying his homeland of Lordaeron, Prince Arthas turned his gaze northward, and led his phalanxes toward Quel'Thalas with the purpose of defiling the kingdom's mystical Sunwell, a key component in the resurrection of the necromancer Kel'Thuzad. The elves, who in their seclusion were largely unaware of the calamity about to befall their kingdom, gave Arthas harsh but hurried resistance, and were ultimately unable to prevent the Scourge from advancing. The elven homeland was overrun by the Scourge, the capital of Silvermoon was sacked and reduced to ruins, roughly ninety percent of the high elves were killed – including the elven king, ranger-general, and grand magister – and Arthas successfully managed to defile the Sunwell, bringing forth the dread necromancer as a powerful lich.

His goal achieved, Arthas abandoned Quel'Thalas to its fate, and left to bring about similar destruction to Dalaran.

The Scourge invasion was the most damaging event in Thalassian history, and a blow its survivors, calling themselves the blood elves in honor of their perished brethren, would take years to begin recovering from.[4]

Prelude

The conclusion of the Second War saw a relatively peaceful end to Quel'Thalas' conflict against the Old Horde. The orcs, who had broken off their siege of Silvermoon, had been soundly defeated and subdued, and the Amani, with whom the high elves had shared several millennia of conflict, were further broken and dispersed in their ill-fated attempt to reclaim the land for themselves.

In the aftermath of the war, King Anasterian Sunstrider seceded from the Alliance of Lordaeron, realizing that the Alliance needed his kingdom far more than his kingdom needed the Alliance.[5] The elves spent the next several years in a period of secluded independence, seeing little conflict outside of the occasional Amani raiding party.

News soon began to travel of a mysterious plagued grain epidemic in southern Lordaeron. It fell to the young Prince Arthas Menethil to investigate this threat to his people, though his quest to protect them led him to do quite the opposite: a fateful trip to the icy wastes of Northrend brought the prince into contact with Frostmourne, a cursed blade which, when claimed, corrupted him wholly and twisted him into a servant of the Lich King.

Arthas returned to Lordaeron a triumphant hero, though used this as a smokescreen to murder his father, King Terenas Menethil, and almost completely wipe out Capital City and its neighbouring towns. Raising the dead into his service, Arthas's army steadily grew in number and power, supplemented by a myriad of undead creatures brought from Northrend.

Kel'Thuzad, a necromancer that Arthas had killed during his quest to end the Plague of Undeath, now proved to be one of his most loyal subordinates. Kel'Thuzad led Arthas north to Quel'Thalas, informing the prince that only the elves' mystical fount of power, the Sunwell, could restore him to corporeal form. Arthas led his now-colossal army toward the elven homeland.

The Farstriders' defense

Sylvanas Windrunner, Ranger-general of Silvermoon, had heard several disturbing rumours and reports concerning the state of Lordaeron, though they could no longer be ignored. Sylvanas and her rangers departed to the Thalassian Pass, and confronted the twisted prince in person. Sylvanas instructed him to turn back, though Arthas announced that death itself had come to the high home of the elves. After a failed attempt to kill the prince then and there, Sylvanas and her rangers began an attack on the undead forces, hoping the three Elfgates could hold the Scourge invaders off.

It did not take long for Arthas to crash through the first gate. With hulking nerubian allies acting as sentient siege engines, Arthas's army rushed towards the next elfgate, slaying every elf who stood in its way. The human necromancers among the Scourge's ranks were hastily resurrecting the fallen elves as undead thralls; the rangers attempted to counter this by cutting down the humans, though this too proved a mostly futile effort. With the first elfgate lost, Sylvanas and her surviving comrades were forced to fall back.

The ranger-general acknowledged the unfavourable odds, and knew that she could not win this battle. She maintained that the Magisters in Silvermoon City and the Isle of Quel'Danas, on the other hand, could still turn the battle around, and sent a number of runners to inform them of the impending attack. Arthas and his gargoyle allies slew almost every single runner Sylvanas sent back to the capital, though it did not take long for the danger to become apparent. Sylvanas organized the evacuation of Fairbreeze Village and other nearby settlements.

Given the unprecedented nature of the onslaught, not all of the Farstriders were fighting together, and several ranger companies were initially unaware of the threat. Ranger Lord Lor'themar Theron was among them – patrolling around Zul'Aman, Lor'themar quickly became aware of the presence of an invading army, and rushed west to confront them. However, he had not anticipated the nature of his enemies, and was nearly killed by a group of risen elven guardians, losing the use of his left eye in the process. Fellow Ranger Lord Halduron Brightwing narrowly saved him from the undead, and the two rangers' companies rushed to defend the capital.

Elsewhere, the elves Koltira, Faltora and Merriel encountered a plethora of Scourge warriors and abominations, among them the powerful death knight Thassarian. In turn, all three of them met their end at the hands of the Scourge, the former of whom was risen into a death knight by Thassarian himself.

With the aid of a treacherous magister named Dar'Khan Drathir, Arthas acquired the Key of the Three Moons, allowing him to bypass several of the elfgates and their defenses. Overcoming each of Sylvanas' tactics (including an aerial dragonhawk attack) by using the diversity and practicality of his undead army, Arthas surged forward and obliterated the elves' nearby settlements.

Arthas eventually confronted Sylvanas. Frustrated at the harsh resistance she had given him, he charged her directly, and the two did battle. The exhausted ranger general was unable to match the power of Frostmourne, and was cut down. As a last mockery, Arthas sired her as an undead banshee, binding her to his will and forcing her to battle her homeland in his name.

As the undead army approached the capital, they wrought a trail of dark, unholy destruction upon the land.[6]

The siege of Silvermoon

The Scourge army tears through Eversong on its march to Silvermoon.

Arthas arrived at Silvermoon City, demanding the elves open their gates and allow him passage. He was met by the reigning Grand Magister of Quel'Thalas, Grand Magister Belo'vir, who took over the defense of the city in Sylvanas' place and told Arthas that no army had ever breached Silvermoon. Arthas had Sylvanas brought out and paraded her in front of Silvermoon, as a testament to the fate awaiting his enemies. Still, the elves refused to waver. With High Priest Vandellor and High Priestess Liadrin mending the soldiers' wounds, Belo'vir and his forces attempted to hold the city's entrance, while Arthas prepared for a siege. The sight of Sylvanas and the other atrocities laid bare proved disheartening for the elves, even the most stoic among them.[7]

In spite of the unfavourable odds, the elves were confident that Silvermoon's great Sunwell-empowered shield, Ban'dinoriel – “Gatekeeper” in Thalassian – would be enough to ward off the invaders from advancing into the capital. Arthas, revealing the mooncrystals he had pilfered, dispelled the barrier with them, leaving Silvermoon vulnerable. Grand Magister Belo'vir instructed magi to immediately inform the Convocation of what had transpired, and that the magi needed to raise the barrier themselves in the mooncrystals' place. Seizing the chance, the Scourge began a heavy assault on the city, setting their gargoyles against the dragonhawks and bringing out catapults tingling with filth to further demoralize the elves. Despite Belo'vir's order for the magi on Quel'Danas to raise the shield manually, nothing yet had happened. The Scourge's nerubian allies burrowed underground with Ban'dinoriel dispelled, and did massive damage to Silvermoon's walls from the inside.

Like Sylvanas before him, Belo'vir, unnerved, came to acknowledge that defending Silvermoon was impossible. The grand magister tasked Archmage Rommath with the evacuation of the city, instructing him to transport as many elves as he could to the safety of Quel'Danas. Accompanied by Liadrin's apprentice, Galell, several ships (filled mostly with evacuated children) took sail from the port, hoping to find safe refuge with the Wildhammer clan, though were attacked and destroyed by the Scourge's gargoyles. Most of the children drowned; the survivors were forced ashore, most of whom were also slain.[7]

Betrayal

On Quel'Danas, the treacherous Dar'Khan went about binding the Sunwell's energies. Empowered by his “blessed lord Arthas” and following the careful instructions of the prince and an unseen advisor, Drathir individually murdered roughly half of the Convocation of Silvermoon in cold blood, then prepared his binding ritual.

Dar'Khan wasted no time in sealing the Sunwell's power, killing several of its unsuspecting defenders and methodologically eliminating any magi who may had been able to discern what he had done to the well. Dar'Khan, who had been a long-time friend of Lor'themar Theron (who, in addition to his Farstrider background, had been a warden of the Sunwell for several years), had used this friendship to gain intimate knowledge of Quel'Thalas' defenses. Coupled with the sacking of An'owyn, An'telas and An'daroth, which resulted in their hidden mooncrystals passively fuelling the shield being seized, Dar'Khan's ritual resulted in Ban'dinoriel becoming impossible for the Sunwell's magi to invoke.

Drathir had been promised unlimited access to the Sunwell, provided he wait until Arthas' arrival. Playing on the magister's ego and lust for power and recognition had worked well on Arthas' part, though Dar'Khan couldn't help but disobey and attempt to gorge on the well himself.

With the capital evacuated and the troops being transported to Quel'Danas, Belo'vir, Vandellor, and Liadrin left to defend the Sunwell and King Anasterian. Without the shield, Silvermoon was quickly invaded, sacked, and overrun by the Scourge. Its fires and smoke could be seen from across the ocean.[7]

Battle on Quel'Danas

As the elves began their retreat to the Sunwell on the Isle of Quel'Danas, the wielder of Quel'Delar, Thalorien Dawnseeker, made a last stand on the southern shores of Quel'Danas, holding off waves of Scourge so his men could safely reach the Sunwell. He was killed by the death knight Morlen Coldgrip, the legendary elven blade lost for the time being.[8] During the elves' retreat, some of the Scourge split off from the main army to attack the docks and Sunstrider Isle, with nothing else left in sight to destroy.

Grand Magister Belo'vir rallied the soldiers on southern Quel'Danas. With Silvermoon conquered and the lion's share of Quel'Thalas under Scourge control, Arthas created a path of frost to cross the ocean to Quel'Danas, giving the elves little time to marshal a counter-attack. Crossing his icy bridge, Arthas and his Scourge legions rushed to the Sunwell, where they were met by the high king of Quel'Thalas himself, Anasterian Sunstrider, armed and armoured. The king destroyed Arthas's path of frost with his fiery magics, shattering the unholy pathway and forcing the undead to the ocean. Anasterian began battling the Scourge, his might, even after several thousand years of life, giving his people heightened morale.[9] Arthas confronted Anasterian, and the two leaders began a fierce battle. The elves knew that the duel unfolding before them would decide the fate of them all.[7] The Scourge fought with less velocity for a short while, as they turned to observe their master doing battle with the elven king. High Priestess Liadrin used the opportunity to assist Belo'vir and Vandellor, both of whom were killed in the ensuing battle. Before he was overwhelmed by the Scourge, Belo'vir teleported Liadrin to safety.

After a struggle, Anasterian managed to severely wound Arthas's necromantic steed, Invincible, by severing its forelegs. The act only served to enrage the dismounted Arthas, who charged Anasterian. Seizing the chance, Anasterian warped behind the rampaging prince and attempted to decapitate him, though was caught in an icy blast and immobilized. Wielding Frostmourne, Arthas shattered the king's blade,  [Felo'melorn], and was undeterred even when Anasterian buried the broken sword deep in Arthas's thigh. Arthas ran Anasterian through with Frostmourne, piercing the king's heart and stealing his soul. With his most powerful obstacles all removed, the prince began his final assault on the Sunwell Plateau.

The brothers Solanar and Falon managed to secure the king's body during the battle, taking it away from the carnage and saving Anasterian the fate of undeath that had befallen most of the prince's other formidable enemies.[7]

Defilement of the Sunwell

Bound by Dar'Khan's magic, the Sunwell proved little boon to its defenders, who were unable to overcome the invaders. Having finally reached his destination, Arthas submerged Kel'Thuzad's remains within the Sunwell, bringing forth the necromancer as a powerful lich and tainting the Sunwell in the process. Arthas then killed the treacherous Dar'Khan Drathir for good measure.

With no more reason to linger in the elven homeland, Arthas left Quel'Thalas to its fate, believing he had dealt the elves an irrecoverable blow.[10]

The mighty red dragon Korialstrasz arrived too late, and witnessed the Sunwell's defilement. However, something of its energies remained behind.[7][11]

Aftermath

With the deaths of Quel'Thalas' highest authority figures, it fell to Lor'themar Theron, Sylvanas' second-in-command, to rally the high elven survivors and protect them from the Scourge remnants. Theron and Halduron led search parties all over to find any surviving elves, eventually taking over a portion of Silvermoon, the Bazaar, and barricading it off from the undead. This served as a point of congregation for other survivors, who made their way to the safe portion of the city. Among them was Archmage Rommath, also searching for survivors, who cleared out hordes of undead on his lonesome using his powerful magic. The brothers Solanar and Falon arrived at the scene, with the king's body in tow; and Lady Liadrin had also survived the battle's climax, though had sworn off using the Light, believing it had failed Quel'Thalas in its hour of greatest need.[7][12]

The elves were also forced to deal with another potential calamity: the tainted Sunwell, pulsating with dark energies, threatened to deal fatal damage to the land and the elven survivors, who had relied upon the Sunwell to sustain them their entire lives. However, Quel'Danas was teeming with undead stragglers, and was also the target of a resurgent Amani fleet hoping to crush the Scourge and use the elves' dire circumstances as a chance to reclaim the land (and secure the Sunwell) for themselves.

The Prince's return

When the elven prince Kael'thas Sunstrider learned of what had befallen his homeland, he returned home from Dalaran to reconcile with his people and take up the mantle of leadership in his father's place. He traveled with his advisors all over the country, surveying the damage done first-hand. Kael was also forced to set certain portions of the forests ablaze, as an act of scorched earth to halt the Scourge remnants. Knowing what the enemy was capable of, the elves also began burning their corpses to avoid reanimation. Returning to Silvermoon to rally the survivors, Kael informed them of the danger the corrupted well presented, and prepared an invasion force to destroy it before the Amani could take it over.

Just as Arthas and Dar'Khan had used the mooncrystals to subvert Ban'dinoriel, Kael, Rommath, and Astalor planned to destabilize the tainted well using the same principle, hoping to overcharge it with the crystals and destroy it, taking the gathered trolls and undead with it. A raid including Rommath, Astalor, Falon, Solanar, Lor'themar, Liadrin, Halduron, Galell, and Kael himself left for Quel'Danas.

After a struggle, the elves succeeded in taking over the site of the Sunwell, and Kael'thas destroyed the tainted well. Though this had averted the damage he had feared, another issue presented itself: magical addiction.

With the Sunwell gone, the elves were struck with severe withdrawal symptoms, whose effect proved fatal to the sickly, the very young, and the very old. The elves realized how dependant they had become upon the Sunwell, and how much they relied upon the constant flow of arcane energies it provided them with. Overcoming this addiction became another goal.

Rise of the blood elves

Having paid his respects to his father, Kael'thas decreed that Anasterian would be the last king of the high elves. He prepared to leave for Lordaeron, to battle the Scourge alongside the New Alliance, and named Lor'themar Theron Quel'Thalas' regent in his absence. He instructed Theron to protect the kingdom from the Scourge remnants, and to seek a cure for the elves' addiction to magic. Halduron Brightwing was named the new Ranger-general of Silvermoon, and assisted the regent lord with this daunting task.

Before leaving, Kael'thas proclaimed the high elves reborn as the sin'doreiblood elves in Thalassian – in honor of their fallen brethren.[7]

Reclamation and rebuilding

The Scourge had left most of Quel'Thalas dangerous and uninhabitable, and the beleaguered elves, wracked by the pangs of addiction, made little progress with countering the Scourge remnants. However, Lor'themar, Halduron, and the Farstriders frequently ventured out into the wilderness to battle the Scourge. One such outing led them into contact with Kalecgos and his comrades, who were searching the realm for their companion, Anveena. After initial distrust, the blood elves joined forces with the group to battle the newly-returned Dar'Khan Drathir, who had captured Anveena for his own purposes. Anveena was revealed to be the mortal avatar of the Sunwell, and following Drathir's second death, was placed under sin'dorei protection.[11]

The prince's campaign in Lordaeron eventually resulted in his abandonment of the New Alliance, and his exodus to the broken realm of Outland. Kael'thas pledged himself to the half-demon Illidan Stormrage in return for the knowledge to overcome his people's addiction to magic, though the demon lord ensured him that there was no way to conquer it – only to sate it. Illidan passed on the teachings of siphoning arcane magic from objects and creatures bearing mana power, which was spread among Kael's forces. The prince sent back Rommath to Quel'Thalas, with the mission to spread these teachings, reinvigorate the people, and rebuild the country, finally giving the blood elves a method by which to sate their cravings.

Reinvigorated by this new technique of acquiring arcane magic – which Rommath smoothly attributed to being that of Kael'thas's doing, not Illidan's – the blood elves began a true counter-attack on the Scourge. Rommath led the Magisters in the reclamation of Silvermoon City, annihilating the lingering Scourge with their powerful magics.[4] The magi rebuilt the city almost overnight, and the blood elves, after years of fighting a losing battle, began taking back much of their lost land, aiming to drive the Scourge out completely and restore Quel'Thalas to its glory.[7][13]

Impact

The state of the Ghostlands following the Scourge attack.

The Scourge's wildly successful attack had many lasting consequences for the Thalassian people, and included several military achievements of note. Among them:

  • The Scourge army was the first force in 7,000 years to successfully breach Silvermoon. Many others had tried, none had succeeded.[7]
  • The balance of power between the elves and Amani, which was hugely favouring the elves by the time of the Scourge invasion, became much more even with so many high elves killed. The Amani, who had watched and waited as the Scourge did its work, re-emerged and began attacking blood elf settlements almost immediately after the bulk of the undead had departed.
  • The Sunwell's destruction forced a lethargy on the entire Thalassian race. Having been empowered and sustained by the well their entire lives, the elves were forced to deal with a heavy addiction to magic becoming apparent without its energies for sustenance. Even now, with the Sunwell restored, the ramifications of this remain.
  • Debate continues even now as to whether Anasterian pulling his nation out of the Alliance of Lordaeron in favour of independence was a contributing factor to the elves' losses. In Quel'Thalas' seclusion (along with royal decrees for citizens not to further involve themselves in the outside world), only rumours abounded of the fall of Lordaeron, and the elves were generally unprepared to face Arthas after the prince had arrived at their lands. Among the first things both Kael'thas and Lor'themar did after coming into power was reach out to potential allies.
  • The Scourge invasion put an end to the “high elves” as a significant power – 90% of the high elves were killed during the battle, while 90% of the survivors began calling themselves “blood elves,” leaving only 1% of the original high elf population to continue identifying as such. Those in Quel'Thalas were eventually banished on the grounds of political dissension, and have generally integrated into other kingdoms (Dalaran, Theramore, etc.).
  • Many Thalassian followers of the Holy Light renounced their faith following the Scourge invasion, blaming the Light for failing to protect their homeland in its hour of greatest need. The Blood Knight order was founded by several such individuals, most prominent among them Lady Liadrin.
  • The Scourge's Dead Scar, a large, plagued tracing of land stretching from the Ghostlands right to Quel'Danas (across the ocean), has still not been healed despite the blood elves' efforts. Several investigating magisters theorized that the tainted portions of land may be irrecoverable, a permanent reminder of the Scourge invasion.
  • Similarly to the above, only half of Silvermoon has been rebuilt, though the blood elves have turned their attention to reclaiming it.
  • The elves had previously had positive relations with most of Eversong's denizens and wildlife, though the Scourge's attack and the loss of the Sunwell had driven some mad, others erratic and hostile. Much of this is addressed in the blood elf 1-20 zones.
  • The death of Anasterian during the Scourge invasion marked the beginning of the end of Quel'Thalas being ruled by a traditional monarchy. Kael'thas decreed that his father would be the last king of Quel'Thalas, a proclamation his own successor, Lor'themar Theron, would also uphold.
  • The southern half of Eversong Woods (now called the Ghostlands) was deadened by the Scourge's march. Its woodland and vegetation became sickly and corrupt after the Scourge invaded, and what healing is possible, if any, is unknown.

Notes

  • The aftermath of the Scourge invasion is the main focus of the 1-20 levelling experience in Eversong Woods and the Ghostlands. It explores many of the above plot threads.
  • According to author and Lead Story Developer Micky Neilson, Kael's counter-attack on the tainted Sunwell is his personal favourite lore event he would like to see in-game in some form.[14]
  • Ironically, though Arthas' storming of Quel'Thalas resulted in the near-annihilation of the elves (with a huge 90% of their people slaughtered), it was an entirely impersonal and incidental conflict on his part, done solely to resurrect Kel'Thuzad. It was not until the waning moments of the invasion that Arthas, vexed by their resistance and refusal to surrender, chose to bring about the doom of their people.[3]
  • An in-game book, titled Sunwell - The Fall of Quel'Thalas, briefly details the Scourge invasion. It inaccurately notes that not a single elf was left alive in Quel'Thalas after the attack, when in fact most (85%) of the blood elven people remained behind in Quel'Thalas.[4] Though possibly a retcon of sorts, this error is somewhat justified: in-universe, the book was written at least two years before Rommath's return to Quel'Thalas, prior to which the beleaguered survivors had made very little progress with reclaiming their kingdom. The state of the kingdom beyond its devastation would likely not have been common knowledge at that point in time (Lor'themar himself notes in the Sunwell Trilogy that outsiders would have to be mad to enter Quel'Thalas in the state it was in), thus the author's perhaps logical assumption that nothing living remained there.

Speculation

Questionmark-medium.png
This article or section includes speculation, observations or opinions possibly supported by lore or by Blizzard officials. It should not be taken as representing official lore.

The Royal Guard first entered the ruined Quel'Thalas alongside Prince Kael'thas[15] who left Dalaran prior to its destruction.[16] Whether there was any Royal Guard of Quel'Thalas is unclear but if there was, it would be decimated or utterly destroyed.

Gallery

References