While many know that she was responsible for the burning of Teldrassil in Battle for Azeroth and the destruction of the veil between life and death in Shadowlands, not all fans know where her story began. The trials that she went through alongside Arthas Menethil 20 years ago shaped who she was, and since then the World of Warcraft fanbase has grown. She was not always the queen of the Forsaken or warchief of the Horde, she was once a simple Ranger-General of Silvermoon city, and a citizen of the high elves.
Sylvanas Windrunner was the middle sister of the Windrunner family of high elves. Her older sister was named Alleria, and her younger sister was Vereesa. They also had a brother named Lirath, and lived together in Windrunner Spire in Quel'Thalas. When Sylvanas was old enough she joined the rangers, and eventually rose to the rank of Ranger-General of Silvermoon, leading the entire high elven military. Before the Second War, she became known for her fearlessness and cunning, and she recruited the human ranger Nathanos Marris into her ranks; a decision that surprised many high elves.
Rumors began to spread throughout the Farstriders that Sylvanas and Nathanos had formed a romantic relationship as she would frequently visit his home. The prince of the high elves, Kael'thas Sunstrider, took issue with a human being a member of the Farstriders and demanded Sylvanas dismiss him. Nathanos would eventually become the first and last human ranger lord, and was a great asset to Sylvanas' army both during her time as Ranger-General and beyond.
During Warcraft's Second War, the high elves mostly kept to themselves and only sent small support to the Alliance. Alleria Windrunner would take her rangers to combat the Horde, and Sylvanas would take her rangers to investigate mysterious fires in Quel'Thalas. Alleria warned Sylvanas that the Horde were responsible, and they were able to force the Horde to retreat. The Horde was defeated shortly after and the Second War finished, and Sylvanas promoted her second-in-command Lor'themar Theron to Ranger Lord.
The high elves left the Alliance soon after, and Sylvanas was tasked with protecting Silvermoon from any attackers. Arthas Menethil arrived with an army of undead soldiers and Sylvanas was quickly dispatched to discover what Arthas was up to. She threatened Arthas and told him to turn back, but he scoffed and sent his forces to attack the first elfgate. He was able to break through, which forced Sylvanas and her surviving rangers to retreat.
Sylvanas destroyed the bridge that led to the second elfgate in hopes that it would stop Arthas and his army, but it only stalled him as he ordered his soldiers to form a bridge of bodies. Sylvanas retreated to Fairbreeze Village and ordered the citizens to evacuate, making a final stand against Arthas there. Arthas broke through Sylvanas' weapons and stabbed her in the abdomen with Frostmourne. The high elves of Silvermoon were told she died that day, but the true story was much worse.
Shortly after Sylvanas died at the hands of Arthas, her soul was ripped back to the mortal plane, and she was raised as the first high elf banshee. Half her soul was consumed by Frostmourne, and she became an asset to Arthas. Arthas allowed her to maintain self-awareness so she could witness the destruction she wrought upon her own people. He used her to slaughter many of her own people, and he touted her like a trophy in front of Silvermoon.
Arthas continued his trail of death throughout Quel'Thalas. Sylvanas witnessed Arthas revive Kel'Thuzzad with the power of the Sunwell, and throughout her enslavement, Sylvanas would constantly mock Arthas in an attempt to get a rise out of him.
Sylvanas became one of Arthas' primary generals, and was forced to stay behind in Lordaeron with Kel'Thuzad and the dreadlords. After Archimonde was defeated at the Battle of Mount Hyjal, Arthas stormed into Lordaeron and told the dreadlords he was going to claim the Scourge. Arthas tasked Sylvanas with assisting him in purging Lordaeron, killing the fleeing human refugees as a tribute to Ner'Zhul. Sylvanas led her banshees against the refugees, and then she killed all the paladins at their headquarters to annihilate the last civilian presence in Lordaeron.
Ner'Zhul began to lose control of Sylvanas and some banshees, but she kept this a secret from Arthas and Kel'Thuzad. The dreadlords arranged a secret meeting with Sylvanas and said they wanted to seize Lordaeron while Ner'Zhul and Arthas were weakened. Sylvanas agreed to help, and together they crafted a plan to kill Arthas. Sylvanas struck him from the shadows with a venomous arrow. She wanted him to suffer instead of giving him a quick death, but Kel'Thuzad intervened and chased her off.
Arthas fled to Northrend under Ner'Zhul's orders while Kel'Thuzad went into hiding, and this left Sylvanas free. The dreadlord Varimathras invited her to join their new order, but Sylvanas refused to give up her freedom. She ordered her banshees to take control of ogres, bandits, gnolls, and murlocs, which she used to march on Varimathras. After defeating him, she recruited him to her cause, and they marched on the other dreadlords. Together they retook Lordaeron.
Sylvanas Windrunner declared she would rule the Plaguelands as the Forsaken alongside Varimathras. She would go on to free as many undead from the Lich King's control as she could, and organized them into their own nation. She took control of the catacombs underneath Lordaeron and turned it into the Forsaken capital of Undercity.
Sylvanas Windrunner's rise to the queen of the Forsaken was only the beginning of her tale. The Forsaken would eventually join the Horde, and become instrumental in the events of World of Warcraft. Her hatred for Arthas would drive much of her decisions as she built a better life for the Forsaken. She would be granted warchief in Battle for Azeroth, and her story would lead to her betraying the Horde and joining forces with the Jailer. It has been a long and tragic journey that will see its conclusion in the epilogue for Shadowlands, at least until Blizzard likely has need of her again.
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