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Know Your Lore: The VanCleefs, the rise of the Defias, and Westfall

The World of Warcraft is an expansive universe. You're playing the game, you're fighting the bosses, you know the how -- but do you know the why? Each week, Matthew Rossi and Anne Stickney make sure you Know Your Lore by covering the history of the story behind World of Warcraft.
Hope? Is that what I was supposed to feel when I saw my father decapitated by your henchmen? Hope is a cruel joke, played upon us by a harsh and uncaring world. There is no Hope, there is only Vanessa. Vanessa VanCleef.
A little girl watches her father's demise, manages to escape, survives, and then dedicates her life to rebuilding everything her father stood for. It sounds like the sort of story heroes are made of, doesn't it? Ordinarily it would be, but the villains in this particular story are the nobility of Stormwind, including its king, Varian Wrynn -- and heroes just like you.

The story of the Defias Brotherhood begins during the First War, when the orcish Horde first burst forth from the Dark Portal into Azeroth with the help of Medivh. From there, they launched an assault on the kingdom of Stormwind. With the help of a cleverly mind-controlled assassin, the Horde took out King Llane Wrynn, and with his death, the city crumbled. Lord Anduin Lothar, forced to make a decision, led the people of Stormwind and young prince Varian Wrynn north, retreating to the kingdom of Lordaeron to recoup and grieve.

The once mighty city of Stormwind lay in pieces.

The Second War saw a united front as the Alliance of Lordaeron formed and the human race, together with their allies the dwarves, gnomes, and high elves, managed to crush the Old Horde. King Terenas Menethil encouraged the Alliance of Lordaeron to fund the rebuilding of Stormwind, and Varian Wrynn, no longer a little boy, returned with his people to the gates of Stormwind, encouraging his people to rebuild what they had lost and flourish into the kingdom his father had once lovingly ruled over.

But the situation, one that should have brought joy to many, wasn't entirely that simple. The Stonemason's Guild, a guild comprised of artisans, builders, and construction workers, was commissioned to rebuild Stormwind City by the Stormwind House of Nobles. The guild worked tirelessly to reconstruct the city, including the shining halls of Stormwind Keep. When at last the city stood whole and restored, the Stonemason's Guild gathered to collect their payment, only to receive a nasty shock: They weren't going to be paid.

It seems like a big mistake to make, but then one has to consider who was at the head of the House of Nobles -- a woman named Katrana Prestor. Prestor wasn't just a noblewoman; she was the black dragon Onyxia, disguised and placed in a position of power in order to keep the humans busy while her brother Nefarian took over Blackrock Mountain. Katrana was the one who made the deal with the Stonemason's Guild and its leader, a man named Edwin VanCleef -- and she deliberately led them to believe they were going to be paid a handsome sum of money for their services.

The Council of Nobles, however, had no idea this arrangement had been made. The money simply wasn't there to pay the workers; it had already been used to expand Stormwind's military presence. Regardless of the reasons, the Stonemason's Guild wasn't happy -- they had worked their fingers to the bone for this particular job under the impression that they were going to be paid, and now, they weren't. Edwin VanCleef, in particular, wasn't going to stand for this kind of treatment -- he and the fellow members of his guild were owed for their time, and they weren't going to leave Stormwind until they got their due pay.

A riot broke out, the members of the Stonemason's Guild furious at their treatment, and though King Varian Wrynn tried to calm the workers, an errant rock thrown by a guild member struck his wife Tiffin, killing her. In response to Tiffin's death and the riot, the nobles of Stormwind had the workers exiled from the city -- with no pay, no acknowledgment for their efforts, and no source for any future work. Katrana soothed the grieving king and, years later, sent him on a diplomatic mission that would result in his disappearance.

As for Edwin VanCleef ... the man wasn't just a simple stonemason. A master engineer, VanCleef was also a former assassin who'd served under Master Mathias Shaw. VanCleef looked at those who had been turned away, tired, poor, hungry and without work or homes. He looked at them, and he looked at what they had done -- rebuilt the city of Stormwind, a city of glory and truly a masterpiece of architecture. It was glorious, grand, and filled with people who used the city, lived in the city, sat on the stone benches, gazed at the beautiful fountains, walked the cobbled streets and didn't give a second thought to who had put those stones in place.

That was the moment the Defias Brotherhood was formed. If Stormwind wasn't going to pay her people for their hard work, the people would have to rise up and take their payment -- one traveler at a time. VanCleef spoke to his fellow guild members, rallying them around the cause, and one by one, they joined the Brotherhood, marking themselves with cog tattoos. Why the cog? Because Stormwind was a machine, a machine run by nobles and those with enough money to order others around, but the machine wouldn't run smoothly if the parts decided to go renegade.

And renegades they were. They terrorized travelers in Elwynn and nearby Westfall for years, taking goods and money from anyone who dared walk the roads. Though the Brotherhood was made up of construction workers and engineers without any formal military training, it made up for this lack of battle prowess through the construction of mechanical devices and equipment designed by the engineers. And the Brotherhood reigned supreme, building an underground base of operations in southern Westfall, in the Deadmines.

Though Westfall and its citizens were regularly assaulted by the Defias, Stormwind sent no military aid, citing no reason whatsoever for its lack of action. The money that was owed the Defias, money that had supposedly been spent shoring up Stormwind's military, certainly wasn't seeing any use in Westfall at all. The king himself was mysteriously absent, his son Anduin, a mere child, having been placed on the throne as a figurehead. So the citizens of Westfall, led by Gryan Stoutmantle, decided to take matters into their own hands as a result, forming the People's Militia.

So here we have two renegade groups, bent on fighting each other in the outreaches of the kingdom of Stormwind -- and both were formed as a result of Stormwind's abandonment. One fights for revenge, because of payment never supplied; the other fights simply to survive and keep a foot in the land they rightfully owned. But though the Defias knew that the problem lay directly at the foot of the House of Nobles, the People's Militia either wasn't aware or didn't seem to care that the cause of all their sorrows pointed back at Stormwind.

But it was a band of heroes, unlikely heroes who traveled the lands of Azeroth just like you, that brought about the end of the Defias reign in Westfall. Gryan sent adventurer after adventurer into the Deadmines, intent on VanCleef's demise. Though many failed, one group finally succeeded and returned with his head as proof of their victory. Westfall was free, or so it seemed ...

Shortly after King Varian's return to the throne and the death of the black dragon Onyxia, Stormwind was under attack once again -- this time, by the Scourge. Forces were immediately dispatched to Northrend. The People's Militia renamed themselves the Westfall Brigade and moved to the Grizzly Hills in order to assist the war effort, joining the Valiance Expedition and the Alliance Vanguard.

This, when you think about it, is a little odd. The People's Militia originally formed due to a distinct lack of support from Stormwind and the military forces. Yet once the problem at hand was dealt with, the People's Militia promptly renamed itself ... and joined the military forces, the same ones that deserted them years before. This pretty much illustrates the kind of man Gryan Stoutmantle is -- a selfless man who doesn't hold grudges and will stand his ground against any enemy that threatens his people.

The war in Northrend was long, bloody, brutal, and expensive. The Shattering caused many homes in Stormwind to be utterly destroyed. Between the expenses of war and the damages of the Shattering, many former Stormwind citizens found themselves without homes and without work. These homeless and orphans of war ended up in Westfall, where they fought tooth and nail with each other over shelter and scraps of food.

This is where it gets interesting, because Gryan Stoutmantle was now on the other end of where he was when he originally formed the People's Militia. Now a Marshal, Gryan Stoutmantle was a member of Stormwind's army. The homeless situation and the problems in Westfall had grown exponentially while Gryan was away, and now he was the one people were turning to in their hour of need, much as he turned to Stormwind years before. Placed in that difficult situation, Gryan now had to try to build Sentinel Hill into a city capable of housing the homeless -- all the while trying to placate them long enough to complete the task.

Given what Gryan did years before, when Stormwind abandoned him, is it really any surprise to him at all how upset, how angry, how betrayed the people of Westfall, the homeless who had come to him for support, felt? It was only natural that the homeless would gravitate to Westfall, after all -- look at the example that had been set. Westfall rebuilt itself and stood strong despite tragedy, despite the lack of support from Stormwind -- so naturally, those cast out of Stormwind due to lack of homes or jobs would have traveled there. But there's a little matter that hasn't been mentioned yet ...

VanCleef had a daughter. And when those supposed heroes of the Alliance came through and took her father's head, she was watching from the shadows. This bears an eerie, striking resemblance to what Varian Wrynn witnessed when his father was killed. He had watched as his father was murdered, watched as Garona tore his father's heart from his chest. Vanessa was a child of indeterminate age, her mother an unknown figure in all of this, yet she witnessed the same kind of horror that a young prince of Stormwind did, years before.

Vanessa found her way out of the Deadmines and stumbled into the home of the Saldean family, who took her in, named her Hope, and raised her as their own child. What they didn't realize was that the little girl who stumbled into their home was the child of the leader of the Brotherhood, the group that had been terrorizing them for years. Hope grew up, dedicating her life to tending the homeless and destitute of Westfall, a charitable act -- and also preparing those selfsame homeless for an eventual return to power.

Because Vanessa, as a child, didn't know anything other than what her father told her. That the kingdom of Stormwind was corrupt; that it was full of promises it didn't keep and jobs it didn't pay for. That it was responsible for the home in which she was raised, deep in the Deadmines and far from sunshine. That every ounce of suffering she had to endure as a child, every once of suffering her father and his people had to fight their way through, was the sole responsibility of Stormwind's simply not caring about its people or their hard work.

And every single last one of these statements was absolute truth. Stormwind didn't care -- because it was entirely too busy being wrapped around the fingers of a black dragon posing as nobility, who was intent on sowing as much discontent and discord as she possibly could. Onyxia, were she alive, would doubtless be proud that the efforts started in Stormwind so long ago were still in full effect, years after her death.

That's the biggest tragedy in all of this -- Onyxia was dead, yet her efforts still plagued the kingdom of Stormwind as if she were alive and still breathing over the king's shoulder. Had Varian sat down and spoken with the leaders of Westfall, Redridge and Duskwood, this would probably all have been sorted out upon his return to the throne. But there simply wasn't time -- the Scourge attacked so soon after Onyxia's demise that forces were sent to Northrend before Varian could begin to sort out the damage Onyxia had done.

Once the Northrend war was over, it made little difference whether Varian talked to anyone or not -- because there were no funds to pay anyone what they were owed due to the expenses of that war. And now with the Shattering, Stormwind has even more chaos to deal with. Thoughts of what Onyxia accomplished while she was in the House of Nobles were very, very far away.

Vanessa watched as Gryan Stoutmantle returned from Northrend, proudly wearing a tabard of Stormwind. She watched as he forced the homeless out of Sentinel Hill. Here was a direct example of everything her father had taught her -- a man who, once he had been accepted back into Stormwind's loving arms, turned his back on his people. And Vanessa gathered those people, rallied them together and rebuilt the Brotherhood from the ground up.

The entire story of Westfall is a story of oppression and standing up against that oppression. It's a story of justice and injustice, of people taking that justice into their own hands and meting it out accordingly. It's a story with no heroes and no villains, simply misunderstanding after misunderstanding, an avalanche of needless death and poverty that can all be traced back to the meddling fingers of a black dragon who is no longer alive.

When we kill Vanessa VanCleef in the Deadmines, we are literally killing Hope -- and figuratively killing hope, as well. For Vanessa represented the hope of what could have been, the hope of an eventual understanding between the Defias and Stormwind, if justice had only been met and people had only sat down to talk. If they had only had the time. Vanessa met her end in Cataclysm, and with her death, Stormwind continues to struggle. Ironically, though the city of Stormwind was rebuilt after the Second War, its heart remains as broken as it was the day King Llane Wrynn died.

For more information on related subjects, please look at these other Know Your Lore entries:

While you don't need to have played the previous Warcraft games to enjoy World of Warcraft, a little history goes a long way toward making the game a lot more fun. Dig into even more of the lore and history behind the World of Warcraft in WoW Insider's Guide to Warcraft Lore.

Filed under: Lore, Know your Lore

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