“There is no sacrifice too great if it brings an end to the Burning Legion”
This line almost perfectly sums up the story of Illidan Stormrage, his betrayal, his redemption and everything he sacrificed in between. But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves, the best place to start this story is at the beginning.
Illidan was born a twin, a rare thing with the elves, and he was born with golden eyes, an even rarer occurrence. Like Azshara, another golden-eyed elf, the kaldorei believed this was the symbol of a great destiny. And Illidan would forever try to live up to this expectation.
The Stormrage brothers, Illidan and Malfurion, were both sent to learn the arts of druidism from the demigod himself, Cenarius. This was a great honor and Malfurion soon proved to be a natural. Illidan was not.
I am not sure if Illidan could have become a very great druid if he had stuck to his master’s teachings and applied himself but I do know one thing, Illidan could not stand to be second. Not then, with his brother, and not ever. He also balked at being pushed in any direction not of his own choosing. So, he went his own way and searched out the arcane arts, and the power of the Well of Eternity.
Perhaps the way of the druid was too slow, too full of meditation, balance and rules, in any case magic was a tempting lure for Illidan, volatile, powerful, untamed and full of mysteries yet to be discovered.
Tyrande, a beautiful night elf priestess, that the brothers both happened to love, was torn between the two, and Illidan, searching for a power that would impress her, ended up instead pushing her away. This is a recurring theme in Illidan's life, often he is his own worst enemy.
When Tyrande eventually chooses Malfurion, it is because she believes his quiet inner strength is more important than all of Illidan's outward shows of power, so everything he had tried to do proved fruitless.
Being second to his brother, in love and in the hearts of their people, gnawed at Illidan. It seemed no matter what he did it was never enough, or completely the wrong thing. But Illidan was marked for greatness. In the history of Azeroth he plays a very large and important role, and the losses he endured, helped to shape him better than any successes would have.
When the Burning Legion entered Azeroth with the help of the Zin Azshari and the Well of Eternity, Illidan was a powerful fighter. His mastery of magic and destructive spells was second to none, but even in this he would receive no praise from his people. Malfurion and Tyrande were shocked at how he seemed to relish killing, and how easily he could make decisions in battle that sacrificed their own people’s lives. Often Illidan drew power for his magic spells from groups of mages that channeled their own life power to him, and he drained them recklessly. He flung his powerful spells into the thick of battle, heedless of the destruction they wreaked among his own people, and gave orders that saw many lives lost without emotion or seeming to care.
The truth of the matter is, many of the night elves were unused to battle. As immortal beings they did not know death or strife and many could not make the hard decisions that leaders are forced to make in war. And Illidan was good at it. This gained him no love or admiration, just shock and dismay.
But the more Illidan failed to capture his people’s hearts the more he tried. The Betrayal for which he is famous, of defecting to Azshara and the Burning Legion, was all a ruse. Those who did not know him, who took his actions at face value, could easily believe that he would turn his back on those who rebuked him, in exchange for a chance to be on the winning side and all the power and knowledge that came with it. But this was not the truth.
He sought the knowledge of the Burning Legion in order to better know his enemy, to use their power against them, to gain their trust and then, when he had the Demon Soul, to use it to cast a powerful spell that would send all the demons back into the Twisting Nether and destroy Sargeras, making Illidan the Hero. The Savior of Azeroth. And then they would finally love him. Tyrande would see he was the better choice. He would fulfill his Destiny. They would all see.
But it was too dangerous a plan, too reckless, and it went wrong. Sargeras did not trust him to cast the spell with the Demon Soul that would bring him into the world, and he gave that honor to Azshara’s lieutenant, Captain Varo’then. So in the end Malfurion was given the credit for stopping the Burning Legion, for closing the portal, and in so doing, destroying the Well of Eternity. But as we know Illidan had saved some vials of the water, he meant them to power his great spell, but ended up using some of them, on Mt. Hyjal, to create a second Well.
After everything the Zin Azshari had brought on them, all the pain and death and destruction, through magic and the corruption of the Well, the kaldorei could not fathom why he would do such a thing. They did not trust him, even though Malfurion spoke up for him, and they wanted him dead for his crimes. But Illidan of them all had seen Sargeras. Face to face. He had seen into the darkness of the Twisting Nether and had traded his eyes for the power to see what they all could not. He alone knew that everything they had faced up until now was a drop of water to the tidal wave that was to come. Sargeras would be back. More powerful and more prepared, now that he had seen what they were capable of. And Malfurion had left them without magic. Without their immortality. In Illidan's eyes he had left them weak and defenceless. So he did what he had to do. And in the end his actions were responsible for the immortality of the elves being restored, for the creation of Druids, of the World Tree Teldrassil, and with it, their link to the Emerald Dream.
And for this, he was imprisoned. For ten thousand years.
The night elves thought the war was over. At much cost they had won. Illidan alone knew that it was only the beginning, and he had a lot of time to think about what he would do when the Burning Legion eventually came back. He wasn’t done making alliances with demonic leaders. He would use them, gain their knowledge and power, and then discover a way to defeat them forever. Because you can’t fight the Burning Legion. The demons never die. And they just keep coming. So every war that was fought against them, weakened Azeroth still more, and left the demons essentially untouched. It was a losing battle no matter how you looked at it. And Illidan was playing the long game. He had to discover how to kill the demons permanently. How to destroy Sargeras. How, if it was even possible, to get revenge.
This is why Illidan jumped at the chance to acquire more power, no matter the source, or the sacrifice.
Eventually, when the Burning Legion did return, Tyrande chose to free him from his 10,000 year prison, believing so strongly that the Night Elves needed his knowledge and power, that she killed his jailers, her own people, when they refused to set him free.
And what about Maiev Shadowsong?
Illidan had beaten Maiev’s brother, Jarod Shadowsong, almost to death when the Night elves had first attempted to apprehend him, and she never forgot. She was content that he should stay locked up in the underground barrows til the end of time, and she hated Tyrande for murdering her people and freeing the Betrayer. It mattered not to her that the Burning Legion was again a threat, and that the Night Elves were searching for any help that they could get, Maiev was obsessed at this point with Illidan’s capture and re-imprisonment, it was all she could think of.
Illidan wasted no time amassing power the moment he was free, he still wanted to prove to the Night elves, to Malfurion and especially Tyrande, that he was not on the side of the Burning Legion and that he could be a powerful ally. He led a portion of the Night Elf army to Felwood, where the demons were corrupting the land and the forests, in order to discover the source, which is when he met Arthas.
Arthas and Illidan were evenly matched so neither wanted to fight, instead Illidan demanded to know why Arthas was in Felwood. Playing on Illidan’s thirst for power Arthas told him of the Skull of Gul’dan, a powerful demonic artifact that was responsible for the corruption of the wood. Illidan jumped at the bait. Fighting his way through hordes of demons he claimed the skull and consumed its power.
Now at this point Illidan was already a sight to behold, with the blindfold covering his hollow, burnt out eye sockets, and the glowing fel tattoos that covered his torso, he did not instill in his people confidence or trust.
When he consumed the Skull of Gul’dan, he became part demon. The first of the Demon Hunters, or what would later be called, the Illidari. Huge horns burst from his skull, he grew massive bat-like wings and his hands and feet were like claws. With the power of the skull rushing through him, he slew the leader of the demons, the great Dreadlord Tichondrius with ease.
Almost single handedly, Illidan had defeated the portion of the Burning Legion that had been infesting Felwood. But what was the reaction of the Night Elves? Of Malfurion and Tyrande? When they beheld his demonic visage they recoiled in horror. Malfurion told him that he was no longer a night elf, no longer his brother. They could not understand how he could embrace such tainted power, that he could sacrifice everything that he was. He was exiled.
Illidan could not win. He had done everything they had asked, he had taken the sacrifice upon himself and defeated the demons. But still they rejected him. He’d had enough. They would never understand. And so he left. Pursued by Maiev.
The Lich King, meanwhile, supposedly a tool in the hands of the Burning Legion, is giving them trouble, choosing to go his own way and upsetting their plans. Eventually they decide he is more trouble than he is worth and look around for a suitable warrior that is equal in strength. Kil’jaeden offers Illidan a deal, get rid of the Lich King and in return, they’ll forget all about his part in defeating the Legion the first time, and give him ultimate power.
This goes right along with Illidan’s ultimate plan of getting in their good graces so he can learn more about them and eventually betray them.
Remember Aegwynn? Remember her battle with the Avatar of Sargeras? How she sealed his body away in a tomb at the bottom of the sea? Well along with his body she also sealed away a powerful artifact called The Eye of Sargeras. Gul’dan died trying to obtain it, but Illidan would succeed. His knowledge of the ancient city of Suramar, where he lived 10,000 years ago, before it sank beneath the waves, gave him an edge, as well as the memories of Gul’dan he had received when he consumed his skull. And he also enrolled the help of the Naga, former Highborne elves who had made a deal with the Olds Gods to save their lives as they were crushed under the waves that followed the Sundering. They responded to his plea for help and pledged to serve him along with their leader Lady Vashj, but it was not because of their history with Illidan, they came at the decree of the Old Gods, who wished to sow chaos through all of Azeroth and in Illidan saw much potential for war and strife.
Maiev followed Illidan as he crossed the sea and entered the tomb of Sargeras. She and her sentinels were hot on his heels but they were not quick enough. When Illidan grasped the eye, and his arcane powers were magnified….well, only Maiev survived, and she was seriously wounded.
Far from discouraging her, this defeat and the death of her watchers made Maiev even more determined never to give up. She sent messengers to the night elves asking for aid and surrounded the temple with what was left of her guards. Illidan was on the search for more power, the Eye was not enough. Gul’dan’s memories were full of the knowledge of ancient artifacts and powerful relics, Illidan searched his own mind and turned towards the great floating city of Dalaran. He sent the naga on ahead to scout it out and turned to deal with Maiev, knowing that she would remain a thorn in his side until she was dead.
The battle between the two was fierce and it would not have ended well for Maiev if Tyrande and Malfurion had not shown up in the nick of time. They were horrified to hear that Illidan was gathering powerful demonic relics and Tyrande especially felt responsible for his actions since she released him.
Illidan was beyond their power, with the Eye alone he could have obliterated them, but he would not. He still had feelings for them both, so he fled for Dalaran.
The Frozen Throne is the seat of The Lich King's Power and it is also his greatest weakness. Illidan, with the magical ley lines of Dalaran, funneled and focused through the Eye of Sargeras, attacked Icecrown Glacier from miles away. The scourge went crazy, directed by the Lich King to attack Dalaran and stop Illidan. The spell conjured up a massive storm that was wreaking destruction, not just in Icecrown but across Azeroth, such was its power. Just before Illidan was about to land the final blow on the frozen throne, a blow that would have destroyed the Lich King once and for all, he was topped, by Malfurion, Tyrande and Kael’thas.
They could not let him continue to wreak destruction across the land with his arcane storm and their forces attacked, throwing his carefully crafted spells into disarray and destroying the Eye of Sargeras in the process.
To Illidan this only proved once again that the night elves were not prepared to do what was necessary to defeat their enemies. If they could not make sacrifices to destroy the Lich King, they could not hope to oppose the Burning Legion.
And now Illidan was in trouble.
He had not been able to keep up his deal with Kil'jaeden and the eredar was sure to punish him.
He needed to escape to somewhere far away where he would not be bothered, out of the reach of the do-good night elves and the demonic lord. And he needed to replenish his forces and make new allies. Much of his ranks had been destroyed by the scourge and the night elves.
Using the memories of Gul’dan once again he hit upon the perfect place. The destroyed and blasted out lands of Draenor. The orc’s homeland. Here he could regroup and build his power unopposed.
He sent Lady Vashj to find more allies and searched for a way to get to Outland. There was a rip in the fabric of reality nearby Dalaran that suited his purposes perfectly and he made a portal to Draenor.
Followed by Miev.
Illidan's memories of outland were those of Gul’dan, so he expected to find a dead world, bereft of life. Instead he found demons. Lots of demons. He was going to have to wrest the planet from the grasp of the Burning Legion before he could make it his stronghold.
And that's when Miev trapped him. In a magical cage, built to contain his power. Don't ask me how she got it through the portal.
So back on Azeroth, Lady Vashj approaches Kael’thas. She has been watching him from the shadows and sees his distress. The Sunwell has been destroyed, to keep the corruption of the scourge from spreading, and his people are suffering greatly because of their addiction to magic. He is desperate to save them and that is her opening. If he will go with her to Illidan she promises him they will find a solution for his people. Kael’thas is not being treated well by the night elves or the humans of Dalaran and so he turns to Lady Vashj, and Illidan for help. He is willing to do whatever it takes to save his people. Just the kind of mindset that Illidan likes to work with.
In Outland Lady Vashj and Kael'thas discover that Miev is traveling through the desert searching for a way to get back to Azeroth, with Illidan trapped in a cage. Miev is in unfamiliar territory with strange enemies on all sides and she is not at her best. The naga and the blood elves attack her convoy and free Illidan.
Illidan is very pleased with his new allies. Kael'thas is a very powerful sorcerer and his elves are well trained fighters. He tells Kael’thas flat out that here is no cure for his magical addiction, but he will find him and his people a new source of power. One even stronger than the Sunwell. Kael’thas is disappointed but also intrigued, he decides to throw his lot in with Illidan.
With a new force to work with Illidan starts to plan. First he will shut down all the Legions portals, cutting the demons off from the Burning Legion, then he will defeat the leader, Magtheridon and claim Outlands for his own. Along the way Illidan gains new allies; the Broken. Draenei that have lost their link to the Light, and have no love for the Burning Legion. They see Illidan as a means of regaining their holy land (Black Temple) and redeeming themselves.
Magtheridon had captured most of the remaining orcs on Draenor and infused them with his own demonic blood transforming them into red skinned fel orcs that were savage and mindless brutes. Demons and fel orcs fought against the combined might of Akama, Kael’thas, Lady Vashj and Illidan. They were unstoppable.
Instead of killing Magtheridon, Illidan only jailed him. He wanted to use the pit lords blood to make more fighters like the fel orcs. He saw them as a powerful tool and was willing to use all the tools at hand. He gave the demon’s followers a choice, serve him or die.
Akama and Kael’thas were disturbed by this alliance with demons but Illidan persuaded them that they could teach them much about the Burning Legion.
Kil'jaeden chose this moment to appear. He gave Ilian a final ultimatum. Go to Azeroth and destroy the Lich king, or he would bring the full might of the Burning Legion down on Illidan's head. Illidan agreed, he would take a small force with him, and face Arthas again. In the end it came down to a one on one fight, in full view of their respective armies in Icecrown Illidan vs Arthas. Frostmourne and the Twin Blades of Azzinoth. Arthas was the stronger. And Illidan returned to Outland in disgrace.
Here he would lick his wounds and turn his eyes back to the main conflict. No longer would he pretend to serve Kil'jaeden, now he would openly defy him and start to build his army. The one he would use to defeat the Legion forever. He used Magtheridon's blood to make hundreds of fel orcs, he used the naga to control the limited water in Outlands to support his troops, and he began to crete the Illidari. Demon Hunters. Made in his own image. Night elves and blood elves like him. Desperate, without hope, filled with anger and the desire for vengeance. Elves who had lost everything, who would do anything. Even take on the powers of a demon.
And this is where we learn how demon hunters are made. They must consume the flesh of a demon. From that point on, they and the demon are joined, they have access to its power, but it constantly fights for control. With this new sight, they could see the Burning Legion for what it was, and many went mad, or were overcome by their inner demon. One and all took their own sight, they transformed, grew wings and horns and were branded with fel tattoos.
All this Illidan kept a secret. Even Kael’thas only heard rumors about what went on in the Black Temple.
Illidan and his Illidari went on raids in the demon's worlds, in the twisting nether, gaining power and knowledge. Illidan searched for Argus, the homeworld of the Burning Legion, and the eredar. And he searched for a way to destroy it.
Kil'jaeden finally realized that Illidan was a danger, he must be dealt with before he found Argus. But Illidan was powerful, he had a huge army and demonic warriors, also he had closed many of the portals the demons used to get to Draenor. Kil'jaeden needed a plan.
Illidan, in using all of these...disreputable allies, had alienated both Horde and Alliance. They did not distinguish between him and the Burning Legion. If he could somehow convince the Horde and Aklincr to come to draenor….to fight Illidan for him...it would leave Azeroth defenceless against another attack by the legion and weaken both forces fighting each other. Kil'jaeden watched and waited for his chance.
Soon he decided that Kael’thas was the weak link, and he worked to turn the prince against Illidan.
Akama and the Broken were also becoming disillusioned. They had been promised that their Holy Land, The Black Temple, would be returned to them. It had not. They were beginning to wonder if they had traded one demonic master for another. Eventually Akama searched out and made an alliance with Miev. They worked together to take down Illidan.
Illidan saw this and turned it to his advantage. He had discovered a world, a world that would hold the key to the legion’s destruction. He needed to build a portal to this world but it would take power. It would take souls. He used Akama to lure Miev and her watchers into a trap and harvested their souls to power his portal. He and his Illidari travelled through to the demon planet of Nathreza. This dreadlord homeworld was a place of great knowledge and power, and it also held the artifact he needed to find Argus; The Seal of Argus.
As they left Illidan practiced the spell he had been working on to destabilize Argus and destroy the Burning Legion. The entire planet was destroyed, every demon on it perished. It was the greatest defeat the burning Legion had ever suffered.
Kil'jaeden needed to act, he must find a way to get the world of Azeroth, the Horde and Alliance to attack Illidan for him. He opened the Black Portal and invaded Azeroth. Not with any ntent to win or even seriously fight, but to stage a retreat and lure them through. And It worked. He sacrificed highlord Krull and Doomlord Kazzak and hordes of demons to give the Horde and Alliance forces a win that would entrench them in Outlands. They built bases from which they would launch their armies. All Kil'jaeden’s plan.
Everything that Illidan had done to build a power base in Outland cementeed the two forces view of him as the villian. The fel orcs, Coilfang reservoir, they saw him as no better than the Legion. He must be stopped. They gathered at the gates of the Black Temple.
Illidan was running out of time, he now knew where Argus was but it was protected by powerful enchantments that prevented him from opening a portal there. He need the Sargerite Keystone, a powerful artifact hidden on the planet Mardum.
So he sent his Illidari to get the Keystone, and he stayed behind. To face the united armies of the Horde and Alliance. In the chaos, Akuma freed Miev, imprisoned in the depths of the Black Temple.
We defeat Illidan. And we believe we are the heroes. We help Miev to bring him down, ignorant of the fact we are all being manipulated for the Burning Legion's greater gaol. Toward our own end.
The Illidari manage to retrieve the keystone but when they return Miev is waiting. Along with Illidan’s body, they are imprisoned in the Vault of the Wardens. And along with them, the secret of Argus, and the sargerite keystone.