My first foray into Azeroth was with the release of Warcraft III.
I didn't know it at the time, but the story was basically built from the ground-up in the third game. The first two games had very minimal story that was essentially window dressing for the game itself. Very generic fantasy fluff. It wasn't until Warcraft III and beyond that the world started to become fully realized and fleshed out.
But during that time of mystique, where the world of Warcraft felt complete, I held a particular fascination for the High Elves.
A race of ancient, magically-inclined beings, known for their wisdom and patience and admiration of beauty. A haughty race that took great pride in their culture and valued learning and the arts. Sounds a lot like Tolkien's elves, doesn't it?
|Quel'thalas, the land of the High Elves, at the height of its prosperity.|
And they were, at least in the beginning. The only thing that made them unique was their affinity for frost magic. That was enough to pique my curiosity, but what really grabbed my attention was their transformation in the expansion, and how they would be treated from that point forward.
For you see, at one point in the story, the High Elves are slaughtered to near-extinction. An undead army ravages their homeland, storms their capital city, and desecrates the source of their magical strength, the Sunwell. Those who survive are left with a hitherto unrealized, painful addiction to magic, an affliction once held at bay by the constant energy pouring from the Sunwell.
|The undead attack Silvermoon City.|
This proud and graceful race is brought low, slammed to the ground, and left in shame. The destruction of their people and their homeland scars them forever.
But those scars transform them into something new, something far beyond the typical Tolkien-esque elf.
Inspired by the deaths of their brothers and sisters, the High Elves, led by their prince, renamed themselves to the Blood Elves.
Where once they dressed in the soft colors of silver and blue, they now dressed in the bold colors of red and gold. Where once they practiced the tranquil magics of frost and water, they now wielded destructive forces of flame. Where once they took the symbol of the unicorn as their icon, they now fell under the banner of the phoenix, a bird reborn from the ashes.
The elves were in pain. They were angry. Their losses ate away at them, changing them, forcing them to take action in a bid for survival, and for vengeance.
|A Blood Elf wielding fire magic.|
When World of Warcraft was announced, everyone expected the Blood Elves to be a playable Alliance race. They were a staple of the franchise, after all. But when the game was released, the Blood Elves were nowhere to be seen. Their homeland of Quel'thalas remained closed off, inaccessible to adventurers.
|The lonely road to Quel'thalas. In the narrow mountain pass beyond, fallen rocks blocked adventurer's paths.|
I used to wander close to that mountain entrance, blocked by boulders, always checking the signpost pointing towards Quel'thalas on the way. What were the elves up to? What had become of their home since its destruction? These questions enraptured me. Their absence only made them all the more appealing.
Come the announcement of The Burning Crusade expansion, Blood Elves were front and center as the major addition to the game. They had rebuilt their home of Silvermoon, now bearing their new red colors. Quel'thalas was on its way to recovery. But it had changed, drastically. The Sunwell was still gone. The elves' magical addiction remained. And in their bid to sate it, many had taken to dark magics, fel energy, a vile source of magical power associated with darkness and demons.
Most surprising of all, however, was that the Blood Elves had decided to abandon the Humans and their allies. They had left the Alliance, and joined their sworn enemy, the Horde.
The elves now had an edge to them. Their scars had darkened them, their desperation leading them to dubious places.
I awaited the release of the expansion with bated breath. I simply could not wait to explore the elven lands for myself, to see what had become of them since their destruction at the hands of the undead. I pored over the pre-release pictures like a vulture, looking at them over and over again.
|An image of a Blood Elf Paladin, or Blood Knight. This was one of the very first screenshots of the race to be released to the public.|
Come the release of the game, the excitement I felt was fully realized when I made my first Blood Elf character, a Paladin named Xanthas.
|He looked a lot like this.|
Silvermoon and its surrounding lands were as beautiful as I had imagined them to be. Floating spires, held in place by arcane energies. Brooms that swept the streets by themselves, like something out of Disney's Fantasia. Gorgeous buildings, inspired by art nouveau architecture, with a fantastical twist to its design. Rolling hills and verdant forests stuck in an everlasting autumn, brilliant colors of red and orange and gold dotting the landscape at every turn.
But its beauty had an underlying darkness to it. Green crystals that glowed with fel energy powered the elven structures, sinister ethereal eyes trapped within, glaring outward. An entire segment of the city, not yet fully repaired, aptly called the Ruins of Silvermoon, infested with elves who had fallen to their addiction and become twisted reflections of their former selves.
Perhaps most glaring of all was the Dead Scar, a tract of land leading through the forest and into Silvermoon itself, dividing the city between its ruins and its newfound glory, a grim reminder of the path taken by the undead army who had once ravaged their land. The scar festered with shambling corpses, skeletons, and other blights of creation.
Beyond Eversong Woods, where Silvermoon rest, was a place the elves called The Ghostlands. There, Eversong's autumn beauty had never recovered. The earth was sickly pale, and the trees glimmered with cancerous crystals that had seemingly robbed them of their bright colors. The buildings remained uninhabited, and even darker creatures roamed these lands, giant spiders and stitched-together abominations and even lieutenants of the Lich King himself, the man who led the undead.
The Dead Scar ran through there, too.
The manner of speech that the elves used also reflected their transformation.
"The dark times will pass." "We will persevere." "We will have justice." "Remember the Sunwell." "Hold your head high."
They had not forgotten their losses. They were still angry. They demanded justice. But beyond that, they were still a proud and hopeful and graceful race, eager to believe that one day, things would be set right again.
The once-mild mannered High Elves were now a bold and boisterous race, whose lingering pain reflected in everything they did and said - and even in the places they lived.
I truly loved exploring those lands, seeing what had become of this tragic race of people, discovering how they had adapted to their pain and used it to transform themselves into something new.
At the time, I did not like the evil direction in which the race was heading. I wanted them to shy away from their dark magics and reckless behavior. I wanted them to go back to the Alliance, who, like them, valued beauty and nobility and dignity, instead of the loosely put together Horde, who seemed brutal and violent and primitive.
|Allerian Stronghold, one of the last remnants of uncorrupted High Elves. These elves never left the Alliance. Their still-blue tower stands tall among very Human houses.|
Many times, I gazed upon Alliance cities and strongholds from a distance, so much more gallant than the ramshackle huts and sticks of the Horde that my character had decided to join, longing to have that for myself. I wished I could play as a High Elf instead, back when the race was at the height of its prosperity, back before it was broken.
Eventually, long after I stopped playing the game, the Blood Elves did leave behind these darker inclinations, restore their Sunwell, conquer their addiction, and embrace the light. Even in doing so, they retained their more brazen nature. And their eyes never changed back from that sickly green, a lifelong reminder of the wrongful path that they once took, no matter how much they redeemed themselves.
I spent a lot of time in Azeroth as my Blood Elf. I was still in high school, so I had a lot of free time. Many of my high school memories were made through the eyes of my paladin, Xanthas.
That was over ten years ago, now. As an adult, I still think about those times often. As I reflect on them, the Blood Elves and their plight resonate more and more strongly with me as the years go by. Pain, loss, betrayal, injustice, and even death have entered into my own life, as well. And those things do transform you. They eat away at you. They don't really ever leave.
You have to adapt to them, lest they consume you.
Now, I appreciate the Blood Elves more than I ever have. I remember the determination in their voices as they looked forward and fully believed that the dark times will pass, that they will have justice, to remember what they've lost, and to keep their head high. I no longer hold anything against them for allying with the Horde in their time of desperation. I look at their scarlet armor and crimson robes, flushed red in memory of the blood shed by the fallen, flushed red in honor of their new icon of rebirth, the phoenix.
I look at and remember these things and I hold a deep understanding and appreciation for them, which is something that has, in many ways, helped me come to terms with my own transformation in my very real life.
Never let it be said that fiction is worthless.