- This article is about the version found in the Warcraft III manual. For other uses, see War of the Ancients.
The War of the Ancients was first referred to in the story of Warcraft III, where it depicts the first titanic battle between the Burning Legion and the Night Elves, also known as the "First Burning Legion Invasion".
Below is the original account of the war as given in the Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos Manual.
The Kaldorei and the Well of Eternity
Ten thousand years before the orcs and humans clashed in their First War, the world of Azeroth cradled only one massive continent surrounded by the infinite, raging seas. That land mass, known as Kalimdor, was home to a number of disparate races and creatures, all vying for survival amongst the savage elements of the waking world. At the dark continent’s center was a mysterious lake of incandescent energies. The lake, which would later be called the Well of Eternity, was the true heart of the world’s magic and natural power. Drawing its energies from the infinite Great Dark beyond the world, the Well acted as a mystical fount, sending its potent energies out across the world to nourish life in all its wondrous forms.
In time, a primitive tribe of nocturnal humanoids cautiously made their way to the edges of the mesmerizing, enchanted lake. The feral, nomadic humanoids, drawn by the Well’s strange energies, built crude homes upon its tranquil shores. Over time, the Well’s cosmic power affected the strange tribe, making them strong, wise and virtually immortal. The tribe adopted the name Kaldorei, which meant “children of the stars” in their native tongue. To celebrate their budding society, they constructed great structures and temples around the lake’s periphery.
The Kaldorei, or night elves as they would later be known, worshipped the moon goddess, Elune, and believed that she slept within the Well’s shimmering depths during the daylight hours. The early night elf priests and seers studied the Well with an insatiable curiosity, driven to plumb its untold secrets and power. As their society grew, the night elves explored the breadth of Kalimdor and encountered its myriad denizens. The only creatures that gave them pause were the ancient and powerful dragons. Though the great serpentine beasts were often reclusive, they did much to safeguard the known lands from potential threats. The night elves believed that the dragons held themselves to be the protectors of the world, and that they and their secrets were best left alone.
In time, the night elves’ curiosity led them to meet and befriend a number of powerful entities, not the least of which was Cenarius, a mighty demi-god of the primordial forestlands. The great-hearted Cenarius grew fond of the inquisitive night elves and spent a great deal of time teaching them about the natural world. The tranquil Kaldorei developed a strong empathy for the living forests of Kalimdor and reveled in the harmonious balance of nature.
Yet, as the seemingly endless ages passed, the night elves’ civilization expanded both territorially and culturally. Their temples, roads, and dwelling places stretched across the breadth of the dark continent. Azshara, the night elves’ beautiful and gifted Queen, built an immense, wondrous palace on the Well’s shore that housed her favored servitors within its bejeweled halls. Her servitors, whom she called the Quel’dorei or “high-borne,” doted on her every command and believed themselves to be greater than the rest of their lower-caste brethren. Though Queen Azshara was loved equally by all of her people, the high-borne were secretly hated by the jealous masses.
Sharing the priests’ curiosity towards the Well of Eternity, Azshara ordered the educated high-borne to plumb its secrets and reveal its true purpose in the world. The high-borne buried themselves in their work and studied the Well ceaselessly. In time they developed the ability to manipulate and control the Well’s cosmic energies. As their reckless experiments progressed, the high-borne found that they could use their newfound powers to either create or destroy at their leisure. The hapless high-borne had stumbled upon primitive magic and were now resolved to devote themselves to its mastery. Although they agreed that magic was inherently dangerous if handled irresponsibly, Azshara and her highborne began to practice their spellcraft with reckless abandon. Cenarius and many of the wizened night elf scholars warned that only calamity would result from toying with the clearly volatile arts of magic. But, Azshara and her followers stubbornly continued to expand their burgeoning powers.
As their powers grew, a distinct change came over Azshara and the high-borne. The haughty, aloof upper class became increasingly callous and cruel towards their fellow night elves. A dark, brooding pall veiled Azshara’s once entrancing beauty. She began to withdraw from her loving subjects and refused to interact with any but her trusted high-borne priests.
A young, brazen scholar named Malfurion Stormrage, who had spent much of his time studying the Well’s effects, began to suspect that a terrible power was corrupting the high-borne and his beloved Queen. Though he could not conceive the evil that was to come, he knew that the night elves’ lives would soon be changed forever…
The War of the Ancients
The highborne’s reckless use of magic sent ripples of energy spiraling out from the Well of Eternity and into the Great Dark Beyond. The ripples of energy streamed out into the Twisting Nether and were felt by terrible alien minds. Sargeras, the Great Enemy of all life, the Ravager of Worlds, felt the potent ripples and was drawn to their distant point of origin. Spying the primordial world of Azeroth and sensing the limitless energies of the Well of Eternity, Sargeras was consumed by an insatiable hunger. The great, dark god of the Nameless Void resolved to destroy the fledgling world and claim its energies as his own.
Sargeras gathered his vast, demonic army, known as the Burning Legion, and made his way towards the unsuspecting world of Azeroth. The Legion, comprised of a million screaming demons, all ripped from the far corners of the universe, roiled and burned at the thought of conquest. Sargeras’ lieutenants, Archimonde the Defiler and Mannoroth the Destructor, prepared their infernal minions to strike.
Queen Azshara, overwhelmed by the terrible ecstasy of her magic, fell victim to Sargeras’ undeniable power, and agreed to grant him entrance to her world. Even her high-borne servitors gave themselves over to magic’s inevitable corruption and began to worship Sargeras as their god. To show their allegiance to the Legion, the high-borne aided their Queen in opening a great, swirling portal within the depths of the Well of Eternity.
Once all his preparations had been made, Sargeras began his catastrophic invasion of Azeroth. The warrior-demons of the Burning Legion stormed into the world through the Well of Eternity and laid siege to the night elves’ sleeping cities. Led by Archimonde and Mannoroth, the Legion swarmed over the lands of Kalimdor leaving only ash and sorrow in its wake. The demon warlocks called down the searing Infernals that crashed, like hellish meteors, into the graceful spires of Kalimdor’s temples. The Doomguard, a band of burning, bloodletting killers, marched across Kalimdor’s fields slaughtering everyone in their path. Even packs of wild, demonic Felhounds ravaged the countryside, unopposed. Though the brave Kaldorei warriors rushed to defend their ancient homeland, they were forced to give ground, inch by inch, before the fury of the Legion’s onslaught.
The Sundering of the World
It fell to the young scholar, Malfurion Stormrage, to find help for his beleaguered people. Stormrage, whose own brother, Illidan, practiced the highborne’s magics, was incensed by the growing corruption amongst the upper class. Convincing Illidan to forsake his dangerous obsession, Malfurion set out to find Cenarius and muster a resistance force. The young, beautiful priestess, Tyrande, agreed to accompany the brothers in the name of Elune. Though both Malfurion and Illidan shared a secret love for the idealistic priestess, Tyrande’s heart belonged to Malfurion alone. Illidan resented his brother’s budding romance with Tyrande, but knew that his heartache was nothing compared to the pain of his magical addiction…
Illidan, who had grown dependent on magic’s empowering energies, struggled to keep control of himself and his overwhelming hunger to tap the Well’s energies once again. However, with Tyrande’s patient support, he was able to contain himself and help his brother find the reclusive demi-god, Cenarius. Cenarius, who dwelt within the sacred Moonglades of the distant Mount Hyjal, agreed to help the night elves by finding the ancient dragons and enlisting their aid. The dragons, led by the great, red leviathan, Alexstrasza, agreed to send their mighty flights to engage the demons and their infernal masters.
Cenarius, calling on the spirits of the enchanted forests, rallied an army of ancient tree-men and led them against the Legion in a daring ground assault. As the night elves’ allies converged upon Azshara’s temple and the Well of Eternity, all-out warfare erupted. Despite the strength of their newfound allies, Malfurion and his colleagues realized that the Legion could not be defeated by martial strength alone.
As the titanic battle raged around Azshara’s capital city, the delusional Queen waited in anticipation for Sargeras’ arrival. The Lord of the Legion was preparing to pass through the Well of Eternity and enter the ravaged world. As his impossibly huge shadow drew ever closer to the Well’s raging surface, Azshara gathered the most powerful of her high-borne followers. Only by linking their magics together, in one focused spell, would they be able to create a gateway large enough for Sargeras to enter.
Malfurion, convinced that the Well of Eternity was the demons’ umbilical link to the physical world, insisted that it should be destroyed. His companions, knowing that the Well was the source of their immortality and powers, were shocked by the rash notion. Yet Tyrande, seeing the wisdom of Malfurion’s theory, convinced Cenarius and their dragon comrades to storm Azshara’s temple and find a way to shut the Well down for good.
Knowing that the Well’s destruction would prevent him from ever wielding magic again, Illidan selfishly abandoned the group and set out to warn the high-borne of Malfurion’s plan. Due to the madness brought on by his addiction and the stinging resentment towards his brother’s affair with Tyrande, Illidan felt no remorse at betraying Malfurion and siding with Azshara and her ilk. Above all else, Illidan vowed to protect the Well’s power by any means necessary.
Heartbroken by his brother’s departure, Malfurion led his companions into the heart of Azshara’s temple. Yet, as they stormed into the main audience chamber, they found the high-borne in the midst of their final dark incantation. The raging communal spell created an unstable vortex of power within the Well’s raging depths. As Sargeras’ ominous shadow drew ever closer to the surface, Malfurion and his allies rushed to attack.
Azshara, having received Illidan’s warning, was more than prepared for them. Nearly all of Malfurion’s followers fell before the mad Queen’s raging powers. Tyrande, attempting to attack Azshara from behind, was caught off guard by the Queen’s high-borne guardsmen. Though she vanquished the guardsmen, Tyrande suffered grievous wounds at their hands. At seeing his love fall, Malfurion went into a murderous rage and resolved to end Azshara’s life.
As the battle raged inside and outside of the temple, Illidan appeared from the shadows near the shores of the great Well. Producing a set of specially crafted vials, Illidan knelt and filled each with the Well’s shimmering waters. Convinced that the demons would crush the night elves’ civilization, he planned to steal the sacred waters and keep their energies for himself.
The ensuing battle between Malfurion and Azshara threw the highborne’s carefully crafted spellwork into chaos. The unstable vortex within the Well’s depths finally exploded and ignited a catastrophic chain of events that would sunder the world forever. The massive explosion rocked the temple to its foundations and sent massive quakes ripping through the tortured earth. As the horrific battle between the Legion and the night elves’ allies raged around and above the ruined capital city, the surging Well of Eternity buckled in upon itself and collapsed.
The resultant catastrophic explosion shattered the earth and blotted out the skies...
As the aftershocks from the Well’s implosion rattled the bones of the world, the seas rushed in to fill the gaping wound left in the earth. Nearly eighty percent of Kalimdor’s landmass had been blasted apart, leaving only a handful of separate continents surrounding the new, raging sea. At the center of the new sea, where the Well of Eternity once stood, was a tumultuous storm of tidal fury and chaotic energies. This terrible scar, known as the Maelstrom, would never cease its furious spinning. It would remain a constant reminder of the terrible catastrophe and the Utopian era that had been lost forever… The few night elves that survived the horrific explosion rallied together on crudely made rafts and slowly made their way to the only landmass in sight.
Somehow, by the graces of Elune, Malfurion, Tyrande and Cenarius had survived the Great Sundering. The weary heroes agreed to lead their fellow survivors and establish a new home for their people. As they journeyed in silence, they surveyed the wreckage of their world and realized that their passions had wrought the destruction all around them. Though Sargeras and his Legion had been ripped from the world by the Well’s destruction, Malfurion and his companions were left to ponder the terrible cost of victory.
It was clear that Azshara and her elite high-borne followers had been smashed to the bottom of the raging sea. Still, there were many high-borne amongst the survivors who made their way to the shores of the new land. Though Malfurion mistrusted the highbornes’ motivations, he was satisfied that they could cause no real mischief without the Well’s energies...
An expanded version of the War of the Ancients was given on the Official Site as part of its History of Warcraft, and scattered throughout the World of Warcraft as in-game books. See, The War of the Ancients, The Waking World and the Well of Eternity and The Sundering of the World. See, War of the Ancients (WoW account).
Two more versions of the war were described in the War of the Ancients Trilogy, the 3 books by Richard A. Knaak. One version told of events that occurred before history was altered. The second version was created by 3 characters from the present time traveling back in time 10,000 years ago, and witnessing first hand the events of the war unfolding, and eventually being responsible for changing key aspects of it.
Blizzard appears to consider the War of the Ancients Trilogy as an official, authoritative source of 'true' history, as most articles currently up on the WarCraft Encyclopedia directly reference events in that version, and characters only found in that version have articles there. Please see War of the Ancients (novel account) for more info.
Other sources such as the RPG, and World of Warcraft sometimes expand on the War of the Ancients, as well, by telling stories of lesser known events that occurred during the War.
- From Night Elves: the Sentinels Night Elf History in the Warcraft III manual.