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.
For most players, the Kirin Tor are simply one of many factions available during Wrath of the Lich King. They ran the city of Dalaran, once located just north of the Hillsbrad Foothills, then later relocated to Northrend. In Wrath, players both Alliance and Horde could earn reputation with the Kirin Tor -- the Kirin Tor didn't have a faction bias. They were quite happily a neutral organization, far more interested in matters of magic and learning than any political matters.
But there is far more to the story of the Kirin Tor, and to the city-state of Dalaran. And now that the Kirin Tor has a new leader, it's taking those first few steps away from neutrality and into alignment. Because of this, the Kirin Tor has stepped into a dangerous new light, one with some ethical questions that are far, far more political than one would expect from a collection of mages and intellectuals united under one banner.
The founding of Dalaran
The history of the Kirin Tor dates all the way back to before there were kingdoms. In the early days of human history, the human race formed the nation of Arathor; the first human nation of its kind. As a united nation, they built the capital of Strom, came together and by and large thrived. Much later, the nation of Arathor was approached by the elves of Quel'Thalas, who were in open war with the Amani trolls, in dire need of assistance. The ambassadors from Quel'Thalas pleaded their case to King Thoradin, bartering for Arathor's assistance.
In exchange for Arathor's help, the mages of Quel'Thalas offered to instruct one hundred humans in the use of magic. The human race up until this point hadn't really shown any interest or knowledge of the arcane arts at all. Thoradin agreed to this exchange of information and knowledge for military power, and the Amani trolls were soundly defeated in what would later be called the Troll Wars.
But all was not well in the nation of Arathor. Years passed, and the vast reaches of the nation began to shift and splinter. Eventually, the nation of Arathor crumbled into the Seven Kingdoms -- Alterac, Stormwind, Gilneas, Kul Tiras, Lordaeron, and the last bastion of the Arathor nation, Stromgarde. Meanwhile, the human mages had continued their search for further knowledge and mastery of the arcane, and they decided to form a city-state of their own. This was the seventh kingdom: Dalaran.
Dalaran was populated by human mages, but it also had residents of a couple other races, too. When the high elves of Quel'Thalas taught that original human hundred, some of them remained behind to continue teaching, observing, and learning from the human race. According to lore, gnomes were also a part of Dalaran at some early point in history, but their arrival has never really been spoken of.
The Kirin Tor was originally founded as a specialized group that was charged with tracking down, researching, and cataloging every magic anything in existence. Spells, artifacts, items, rare scrolls, it didn't matter -- if it was magic in origin, the Kirin Tor were expected to find it. But the Kirin Tor eventually evolved beyond this one task into the ruling power of Dalaran -- and the Kirin Tor themselves were led by a group known as the Council of Six. The leader of the Kirin Tor was one of the members, followed by five of the strongest and most capable mages. As a council, they led the city.
While Dalaran was a city-state, it remained neutral in the affairs of the other six kingdoms, doing its best not to take sides. It held no allegiance to one kingdom over another, and stayed out of most political squabbles between the other kingdoms. However, when the Second War began and the original Alliance of Lordaeron was formed, it joined that Alliance willingly.
Antonidas and the Third War
It was really the Third War during which Dalaran and the Kirin Tor began to evolve. The leader of the Kirin Tor at this point was Archmage Antonidas, an incredibly powerful sorcerer who began his career of magic and study at a very young age, soon surpassing his elders. Although the city had been ravaged by the Old Horde during the Second War, it didn't take long for it to be rebuilt to its former glory. However, its place in the world and the fact that it housed a gigantic collection of magical artifacts made it a target time and time again. And the last time it was attacked, it had garnered the attention of the Burning Legion.
During the Third War, the Scourge ripped across Lordaeron. Prince Arthas betrayed his people and became a puppet of the Lich King and the Burning Legion -- and the Legion wanted what was inside Dalaran's stronghold. Specifically, the Book of Medivh. The Scourge laid waste to Dalaran, and Arthas himself murdered Antonidas in his effort to obtain the artifact. Once obtained, Archimonde was summoned to Azeroth, and he promptly obliterated the city.
Dalaran lay in ruins, and the Kirin Tor right along with it. But there was more to the story than just the destruction of the city. To the north, the high elves of Quel'Thalas were also attacked by Scourge forces, and the Sunwell, source of their immense powers, was utterly destroyed. This act created a rift in high elf culture that is felt to this day. What remained of the high elf population in Quel'Thalas was gathered by Kael'thas Sunstrider, who renamed these high elves sin'dorei, or "blood elves," in memory of those who had fallen to the Scourge.
To the high elves, the blood elves represented a tainted sect of their people. What the blood elves had done was nigh unforgivable -- they deliberately turned to the very magic that destroyed their people to begin with. And this is what created the rift we see today -- the Silver Covenant represents remnants of the original high elves, while the Sunreavers represent the blood elves.
Meanwhile, the city of Dalaran retreated under an impenetrable purple bubble of arcane wards in the northern reaches of Hillsbrad. Dalaran, it seemed, was silent.
The Kirin Tor and Wrath
This is where it begins to get really interesting, because under that bubble was what remained of the Kirin Tor. They reconstructed the city and continued their task of researching, collecting, and rebuilding their vast collection of arcane artifacts and spells. After Antonidas' death, the Kirin Tor were essentially leaderless. So they sought out the most unlikely of leaders. Rhonin was a powerful mage in his own right, but not what anyone would consider a first choice.
In his early days in Dalaran, he was a stubborn, willful, complicated mess of a mage who bucked against the leadership of Kirin Tor and what it represented. Long after his exploits in the Second War, Rhonin was approached by the Kirin Tor for that very reason -- he represented a new way of thinking, and quite possibly a new direction for Dalaran and the Kirin Tor to take. And while he wasn't particularly happy about the idea of being a leader, he took the position. Dalaran could not remain leaderless, not when there were still people looking to Dalaran for guidance.
Rhonin brought the Kirin Tor together again, and it thrived under his rule. But there were two things that bothered the mages of the city -- first, the Lich King had once again reared his head and presented a direct threat to Azeroth from his icy throne in Northrend. Second and perhaps more importantly, Malygos, Aspect of Magic and leader of the Blue Dragonflight had regained his "sanity." In doing so, he determined that the source of the world's problems lay in the mortals that abused magic and the arcane arts seemingly at whim.
To Malygos, this was an absolute affront, and he not only declared war on the Kirin Tor, he began redirecting Azeroth's ley lines to Northrend in an effort to claim all magic for himself. This could not be allowed to stand -- and Dalaran lifted from its hiding place in northern Hillsbrad, and moved to Northrend as a result.
Politics and neutrality
Unfortunately, the Kirin Tor still had the same troubles as before. Here were mages, powerful mages, attempting to take care of two entities of immense power at the same time -- yet those mages were far from enough to put a stop to anything. It was at this point that the Sunreavers came into play. Blood elf mages, former high elves, seeking entry into the Kirin Tor as mages in their own right -- and the high elf regiment, the Silver Covenant, was incredibly unwilling to let that happen. In fact, there were members of the strange new Horde that also sought refuge in Dalaran's walls as well.
And that's where Rhonin had a choice to make. On the one hand he had his wife, Vereesa Windrunner, as the leader of the Silver Covenant. Vereesa wanted nothing to do with the Sunreavers. On the other, he had the looming threat of not only Malygos, but the Lich King to think of. The situation, it seemed, remained the same, although the factions had changed over the years.
In the case of Dalaran's early years, it had taken a place of neutrality within the Seven Kingdoms. Those kingdoms may have bickered and even warred with each other as time went on, but Dalaran did not choose sides. Yet when a threat to the world raised its head in the form of the Old Horde, Dalaran united with the other kingdoms and fought alongside them. And in the case of Wrath, the world had the Lich King. Perhaps far greater, far more terrifying than even the Old Horde had been.
But there were no Seven Kingdoms. There was, instead, Alliance and Horde. Both were strong, both were interested in the Lich King's defeat -- and in fact, it was entirely likely that without both, Azeroth would fall to the Scourge. There was only one logical choice to make, and it was the same choice that Antonidas had made years before -- remain neutral, and join both sides in a united assault against a common enemy.
The Alliance and the Silver Covenant had their side of the city, and the Horde and the Sunreavers had theirs. Old hatreds had to be put aside, to united against a foe far greater. It was something that Jaina Proudmoore had experienced firsthand in the Third War, when human, orc, and night elf regiments had come together to defeat Archimonde. As a diplomat, Jaina not only understood, but agreed with Rhonin's decision. In fact, he may have been the one person on Azeroth who wholeheartedly understood her viewpoint on the matter.
The ethics of Jaina Proudmoore
And here is where we begin to dig in to the Kirin Tor of today. There is one irrefutable moral line that Dalaran and the Kirin Tor have always drawn in the sand -- a line of neutrality. Antoinidas held that line amidst the bickering of the Seven Kingdoms. Rhonin held that line amidst the bickering of the Alliance and Horde. In both situations, one outcome was an inevitability -- Dalaran and whoever it supported, triumphed.
It was only natural that Jaina Proudmoore would be next to lead the Kirin Tor. Not only was she a powerful mage, she shared the same vision that Antonidas carried all those years before, the same vision that Rhonin also held close. A world standing united against whatever greater foes rose to fight it. Yet Jaina's rise to power in the Kirin Tor was marred. She became leader in the aftermath of her city's destruction at the hands of the Horde, led by Garrosh Hellscream. And therein lies the quandary of the Kirin Tor's path.
They are no longer seemingly led by someone who holds those shining ideals of a world united. They are instead led by a woman stricken with grief, a woman who has lost everything she holds dear, a woman who discovered mere moments before her ascension to leader that the ideals she held, Rhonin held, Antonidas held, were perhaps nothing more than a fever-dream, a silly fantasy that shattered in the face of the raw brutality of the world. What becomes of the Kirin Tor, when the Kirin Tor loses the leader that is a moral compass? Chaos.
So here we are, in the quandary as it stands today. The Kirin Tor, led by Jaina Proudmoore, have now fully taken a stand with the Alliance. The Horde stands as their enemy, for as far as Jaina is concerned, it now represents a threat to Azeroth that is just as great as the Old Horde, just as great as the Lich King. The Sunreavers have been ousted from the Kirin Tor and from Dalaran itself, either imprisoned in the Violet Hold, killed outright, or having escaped to Silvermoon.
And it really makes one wonder. Yes, Jaina Proudmoore has every right to be angry, every right to hate the Horde -- they destroyed everything that she worked for, loved, and believed in. But is her anger emotionally compromising her ability to lead? Is she, in her hatred and grief, unable to see any threat greater than the one that destroyed her home and family? And if it comes to pass that a greater threat does rear its head, can she look past her loss -- or will the Horde, whatever form it takes in the years to come, forever be Jaina's worst enemy ... and therefore the enemy of the Kirin Tor?
Patch 5.2 will delve into these questions and more, and hopefully by the end of the expansion, we'll have our answer.
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.