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Know Your Lore: The curse of the worgen and the Scythe of Elune, part one

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.

Though we've speculated time and again as to the origins of the worgen race, and we know for certain now that these worgen were at one time night elves, worgen history itself has been somewhat shrouded in mystery. The druids responsible for the worgen curse -- Druids of the Pack -- were deliberately using a druidic form that was forbidden to the night elves. So why would they choose to use it? What kind of situation would require defying Malfurion Stormrage's orders?

More importantly, we have the case of the Scythe of Elune, an artifact that has been referenced here and there since the early days of vanilla, where both Velinde Starsong and Arugal were tied in to the Scythe's unusual history. But where did the Scythe come from originally? What makes it so peculiarly special? More to the point, how on earth did the worgen get into Gilneas? Interestingly enough, everything ties together -- from the Scythe to the origins of the Druids of the Pack to the unfortunate fate of Gilneas.

Please note: Today's Know Your Lore contains spoilers for the five-issue miniseries Curse of the Worgen -- an excellent series that I highly recommend people pick up. If you do not wish to be spoiled, turn back now!

Ten thousand years ago, the night elves were embroiled in the War of the Ancients, a war that ended abruptly with the Sundering that tore the world of Azeroth into pieces. Some of the fallout from that War has been common knowledge; Azshara and her highborne court sank to the bottom of the sea, where they were transformed into naga. Malfurion Stormrage had defeated Lord Xavius, former night elf turned satyr by the Burning Legion, and the continent of Kalimdor was split into the continents we know today. The night elves traveled to the peaks of Hyjal, where the World Tree Nordrassil was established and the night elves were granted immortality and access to the Emerald Dream.

The War of the Ancients also saw the deaths of many of the Ancients the night elves revered, including Goldrinn, the wolf spirit. Goldrinn was a different kind of Ancient; he represented the savagery and bloodlust of the wild. But what few knew about Goldrinn was that his strength was rooted in anger -- anger against the moon goddess Elune. Legend had it that Elune didn't approve of Goldrinn's savage ways and sought to tame the wolf Ancient, to no avail. When the moonlight, the eyes of Elune stared down disapprovingly at Goldrinn from the skies above, it only drove him to further savagery in an effort to demonstrate his untamable power and ferocity.

It was after the War of the Ancients and the Sundering that Malfurion Stormrage began teaching other night elves the ways of the druid in earnest, shifting forms and mastering the art of transformation. But some night elves dabbled in channeling the essence of Goldrinn into what they called "pack form," taking on the aspect of Goldrinn himself and transforming into savage wolves. This form was volatile, difficult to control and nearly impossible to master, so Malfurion Stormrage forbid its use.

But all was not over as far as the War went. The remnants of Xavius' forces, night elves that like Xavius were transformed into satyr, still roamed the forests of Kalimdor, and they wanted revenge. The satyr struck out, allied with other demons and remnants of the Burning Legion's army, with one purpose in mind: to wipe out night elf civilization for good. Naturally, the night elves rose to fight back, but the casualties of war grew far larger than any of the night elves wished to see.

It was in desperation that one young druid, Ralaar, pleaded with Malfurion to allow the druids to assume the pack form that was forbidden to them. To Ralaar, the form was a purity of ferocity, the essence of rage being exactly what the night elves needed to fight back against the satyr. But Malfurion was firm in his ruling; they had lost many kaldorei to the satyr armies, but they had also lost more than a few kaldorei to pack form. These night elves assumed the form of Goldrinn's spirit and were promptly consumed by rage, turning on each other and disappearing into the wild, never to be seen again.

Ralaar was not alone in his desires. Several of the other druids were foolish enough to think they could control the wild ways of the pack form, including Ralaar's closest friend Arvell and Arvell's love, a priestess named Belysra. Ralaar and Arvell openly defied Malfurion's orders during an attack on the satyr, assuming wolf form in a desperate attempt to save themselves. They managed to escape, but they also managed to succumb to the rage, turning on their own and attacking both satyr and night elf without recognition of who was friend and who was foe. Malfurion managed to stop them and, furious, ordered them to cease all attempts to master pack form.

But young Belysra began to doubt the wisdom of Malfurion's decision. When Arvell, guilt-ridden and ashamed of having defied Malfurion's orders, confessed his guilt to his love, she explained that perhaps the banished form wasn't such a bad thing. After all, it had brought Arvell home to her in one piece. Arvell told her he would not defy Malfurion again -- and when the two discovered a satyr outpost close to kaldorei territory, his stubborn refusal to defy Malfurion's orders resulted in his death. Belysra, grieving and angry, blamed Malfurion and his forbidding of pack form for Arvell's demise.

But there was still Ralaar. And Ralaar and Belysra would not let Arvell's death be for naught. He came to Belysra, sharing in her grief over the loss of his friend and proposing a curious plan. Malfurion was right, Ralaar surmised -- it was impossible to control the savageness of pack form for any extended period of time. But he had also been up to some other dabbling on the side. The druids thought to have been lost to pack form, the Druids of the Pack, had not vanished as previously surmised, and Ralaar had spent time speaking to these feral druids.

Though savage, these druids were also powerful -- violent, wild, but undeniably powerful. It was the legend of Elune and Goldrinn that led Ralaar to his next decision: If Elune sought to tame Goldrinn, then perhaps an item could be forged that would do just that, an item created and infused with the essence of Elune -- a staff created by Belysra the priestess -- and a special artifact, a fang from the wolf ancient himself, the Fang of Goldrinn. Together, the two pieces would be wielded into one object: The Scythe of Elune. And the Scythe would be used to tame the vicious nature of the followers of Goldrinn and allow them to control their savagery to a point that they could direct their anger, their rage and undeniable power at those who deserved it.

What Ralaar didn't expect was what happened next. As Belysra embued the Scythe with Elune's essence, Ralaar transformed into pack form and prepared to receive the Scythe's power. But instead of the expected taming of the pack form's ferocity, something entirely unforeseen occurred. Ralaar's wolf form continued to transform, twisting his body into a warped, half-humanoid wolf that contained the rage of Goldrinn and the power of Elune, burning Ralaar and searing him to the core until he embraced it.

Instead of a tamed wolf, the Scythe had created the first of the Druids of the Scythe, the worgen we know today. Ralaar abandoned his name, taking up the mantle of Alpha Prime and urging the other wolves to share in the blessing of the Scythe. And the Scythe worked as intended -- the worgen joined the night elves in an attack against another outpost, tearing into the satyr with an unbridled ferocity that shocked the kaldorei. But what shocked them more was the fact that these new, bizarre wolf-men were attacking the satyr and not, as expected, turning on the kaldorei.

As for Belysra, she was satisfied in what she'd accomplished, her thirst for vengeance quenched. The satyr were quickly overwhelmed and decimated, and her love's life was not lost in vain -- for she and Ralaar had forged a new ally for the kaldorei, one that would help them win the War of the Satyr for good. Or so she thought. Once the satyr had been disposed of, Ralaar turned on Malfurion Stormrage, demanding his blood as justice for Arvell's death.

Horrified, Belysra could only watch as the creatures that she had a direct hand in creating turned on her people, biting the kaldorei that leaped to defend Malfurion. These kaldorei immediately began to change, twisting into the same humanoid wolves as Ralaar and the others and succumbing to the rage of the worgen. Though the kaldorei managed to escape, they lost many to this, the first instance of the curse of the worgen. Malfurion was left with a lesson: that the powers of the druid came with an equally powerful price, and that a way of order needed to be established for these young druids so that experiments like this did not happen again.

After consulting with Cenarius, Malfurion returned to his fellow druids and formed the Cenarion Circle, the organization of druids that we see in Azeroth today. The Cenarion Circle was formed as a direct result of the worgen disaster, though few know its origins. It was created as a way to pave a "correct" route for druids, to establish a tradition for druidic teachings that would be followed for generations after, to prevent any further misuse of the druidic arts. It was the hope of Malfurion that the Cenarion Circle and its teachings would give the druids of the kaldorei a path to follow, rather than the haphazard teachings of experimentation that all too often ended in disaster.

The first act of the Cenarion Circle was to find a way to nullify Ralaar and the rest of the worgen who followed him. Though the Scythe created the worgen, it could also be used to contain them -- to tear through the boundary between reality and the Emerald Dream. Within the Dream existed a great tree, Daral'nir, that soothed the savage heart of beasts, and it was Malfurion's intent to banish the worgen into the Dream, where they would sleep beneath Daral'nir and dream the eternal dream of the wild.

But in order to do that, Malfurion needed the Scythe. Fortunately, he had it. Belysra, ashamed at what she'd created in the name of vengeance and seeking redemption, brought the Scythe to the druids of the Cenarion Circle and bid them use it for Malfurion's plan. She took it to the Druids of the Scythe and asked them to meet with the kaldorei to decide Malfurion's punishment, at the foot of the tree where she and her lost love used to spend evenings dreaming of their future together. And when the worgen arrived, she gave the Scythe to Malfurion, and he quickly overpowered Ralaar and the others, sending them to dream eternally at the foot of Daral'nir.

The curse of the worgen wasn't a curse along the lines of voodoo or dark magics inflicted upon others; the curse of the worgen was something far less tangible than that. It lay in the persistent struggle between feral rage and the ability to control it. Though Ralaar and the other Druids of the Scythe thought that they'd mastered the aspect of pack form, in reality, it was the essence of the wild that mastered them, controlling them in a way that guaranteed no matter how hard they struggled, the fierce nature of the beast would always win.

As for the Scythe of Elune and what happened to it after Malfurion's banishment of the worgen to the Emerald Dream ... We'll be covering that next week, as well as the story of Velinde Starsong, Arugal, the Book of Ur and the connection between the worgen of thousands of years ago and the worgen of today.

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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