The eighth expansion for World of Warcraft has been around for a fortnight now, and you've certainly had time to roam the pretty (and not so pretty) landscapes of the Shadowlands.
A good opportunity to take stock of the Shadowlands and especially to inaugurate a series of articles devoted to the lore of World of Warcraft, and more particularly that of Shadowlands.
Please note, this article is subject to many spoilers on the history of Shadowlands and World of Warcraft in general.
The kingdom of death
We cannot be clearer. The Shadowlands is the kingdom of death, present in every corner. The first volume of Chronicles describes it to us moreover as in opposition to the Emerald Dream (where life reigns), nightmarish kingdoms [...] where the souls of the dead swarm, from the world of the living.
We can see moreover in Cosmology that the two planes are at the same level, one linked to Life and the other to Death.
But who actually created the Shadowlands? Well, at the moment, we don't know. There is mention in the extension of the "Founders", without for the moment having more details. You can find marks of their passage all over the Shadowlands. The obelisk in the Den, which allows us to find ourselves in Oribos, is for example one of them. We could speak of them as "gods", who would have created the entire universe, therefore potentially still above the Pantheon of the Titans.
The Jailer is also looking for a "final price", which would have been hidden by the Founders (information given during a cutscene, after having recovered 15 Memories of the Runomancer).
Each his role
The Founders therefore created the Shadowlands, but they are obviously no longer there, for one reason or another. It is therefore a council of six members which is responsible for reigning over the kingdom, each representing a faction (congregation) with its own function within the Shadowlands.
The Arbiter is linked to Oribos, the capital of the Shadowlands. She is the judge of all souls, the one who arrives in the Hereafter, after their death. It absorbs everything the soul has experienced (actions, misdeeds, successes, failures, etc.) and sends it to one of the areas of the kingdom according to its past life.
The Kyrians are a congregation of noble souls, acting as messengers. It is in particular they who accompany the souls of the deceased to the Shadowlands. They are led by Archon Kyrestia in the Bastion area.
Based in Maldraxxus, the Necro-Lords form the first line of defense in the Shadowlands, welcoming souls seeking glory and greatness.
The nocturnal Fae, led by the Winter Queen, take care of healing sleeping spirits by infusing them with anima. This was the case for example of Cenarius, defeated by the troops of Grom Hellscream (Warcraft III), then revived in Cataclysm.
In Revendreth, the Venthyrs welcome souls who are not ready for another congregation, especially those who have not been able to leave their lives behind.
Finally, the Antreliges, led with an iron fist by the Jailer, reign supreme over the Den. This is a cursed place, where the worst and the irrecoverable souls fail, suffering eternal suffering.
All was well in the "best" of all possible worlds, until the Jailer stepped in and lashed out at the Arbiter, causing what appears to be a long sleep for her. Souls are no longer judged and they are all sent directly to the Den, thereby increasing the power of the master of the place.
The shortage of souls, and therefore of anima (the vital force of souls, so to speak), is thus reflected throughout the Shadowland, with congregations sorely lacking in manpower, all the more so as infighting, or even almost civil wars, is beginning to emerge.
It is at this precise moment that we, Champions of Azeroth, arrive in Shadowlands, sent directly to the Den. And let the story of Shadowlands begin!
If, moreover, you want a little reminder of the previous events which took place on Azeroth and which led to the current situation, I invite you to reread my little point on history.