Following the death of Aenarion, first Phoenix King of Ulthuan, the Elves faced a difficult choice. Some argued that Malekith, Aenarion's lone surviving son, should succeed his father. Others, however, feared what Aenarion had become after he drew the Sword of Khaine and worried that the dread sword's curse had been passed on to Malekith. In the end, it was Bel-Shannar who was chosen to lead the Elves, and not Aenarion's heir.
At first, Malekith concealed his lust for power and his hatred of the Elves who had denied him his birthright. Instead, he made allies and won great victories in war, rising to a position of prominence among his people second only to the Phoenix King himself. It was then that he made his move, assassinating Bel-Shannar and proclaiming himself the rightful Phoenix King. Only one thing now remained. Malekith would have to prove his quality by entering the sacred flame at the Shrine of Asuryan, to be judged by the greatest of the Elven gods.
When he did so, however, the flame rejected him. Malekith was burned and disfigured, and his servants rushed the ambitious lord to the land of Nagarythe in the north of Ulthuan. When truth of the assassination came to light, the High Elves made war upon Malekith and his followers. When he was defeated by the new Phoenix King, Caledor the Conqueror, the son of Aenarion hatched a mad plan to undo the magic of the Vortex and let the raw power of Chaos spill into Ulthuan, destroying his enemies. The attempt was only partially successful, but the results were devastating.
Violent and apocalyptic energies were unleashed, tearing the northern lands of Ulthuan apart. A wall of seawater a thousand feet high crashed into Nagarythe and drowned countless thousands. At the last moment, Malekith and the other surviving Sorcerers chanted spells to preserve their greatest fortresses, transforming them into floating Black Arks. These sailed westward, eventually coming to rest in the north of the New World. Malekith named this land Naggaroth and his exiled people, now called Dark Elves, made a new civilization for themselves.
What little remains of Nagarythe is a tortured and twisted land, blasted by fire and seared by destructive magical energies. Strange, mutated creatures stalk this gloomy, barren wasteland of gray earth and black stone. The High Elves named this cursed place the Shadowlands, for it seemed always to be in darkness.
It was not long before the Dark Elves returned to claim their ancestral land, and the two sides have fought ceaselessly for control of the region ever since.
Though the Shadowlands are forever ruined by the catastrophic wars of the Sundering, the armies of the High Elves and Dark Elves have once again converged here to do battle. The invaders from Naggaroth are searching for more of the ancient menhirs that anchor the Vortex, and the High Elves have come to make sure they do not gain control of these standing stones. The menhirs are sources of great arcane power, but any tampering with that power could have far-reaching effects that mirror the ancient Sundering.
The Shadowlands have other value for the Dark Elves. Artifacts and relics from their distant past can be found here as well, and these are prized by the nobles of Naggaroth. Eager-eyed scavengers search the blasted wastes for some trinket they can offer to curry favor with their lords, or perhaps even with the Witch King himself.
Complicating matters for the warriors of House Uthorin is the appearance of their great rival, House Arkaneth. These two houses despise each other deeply, even by Dark Elf standards. The Witch King has commanded the rulers of both noble houses to take control of the Shadowlands menhirs, pitting his two most powerful rivals against one another. In this way, Malekith intends to ensure that neither Lord Uthorin nor Lady Arkaneth become powerful enough to pose a threat to him.
While the warriors of Naggaroth scour the Shadowlands for pieces of the past, it is the High Elves who make the most surprising discovery. Following a battle at one of the invaders' dig sites, ancient scrolls are found that complete a prophecy once thought lost. The events described in the antiquated scrolls bear a disquieting reference to the unfolding Age of Reckoning, but the prophecy also offers a slim hope that the Dark Elves' terrible plan can be stopped.
More time is needed to research the prophecy and convince the rulers of Ulthuan that it must be pursued. Time, however, is a luxury that the High Elves are quickly running out of. Their armies are spread thin, as many of their legions are still in the Old World fighting to aid the Empire and the realms of the Dwarfs. The Shining Guard has barely been able to slow the advance of the invading army, and if the Dark Elves move on the great gates that grant passage to the Inner Kingdoms, there is grave doubt that they can be stopped.
The spark of hope, it seems, may be extinguished before it has truly been kindled.