- "We have vanquished the daemonic hosts and driven back the roiling clouds of Chaos that plagued the lands. Let the world rejoice, for we have won its sanctity, and the air bears not the foul tang of the Daemon. But at what cost to us, the valorous and the brave of Ulthuan? What sacrifices have been made upon this, the altar of hope?"
- —The Lament of Bel Shanaar.[3a]
A year to the day after Aenarion disappeared, the princes of Ulthuan convened at the Shrine of Asuryan to elect a new Phoenix King. The obvious choice was Malekith, Aenarion's son by Morathi. He had grown to be a mighty warrior, a great sorcerer, and an excellent general, but there were those amongst the High Elf nobility who remembered the cruel days of Aenarion's court in Nagarythe and they doubted that any child raised there could be entirely wholesome.
Malekith said that he desired the kingship not for himself but in honour of the memory of his father. However, if the princes did not call upon him to serve, he would willingly swear fealty to whoever was selected. The princes thought this handsomely said, and took Malekith at his word. From their own number they chose Bel Shanaar, Prince of Tiranoc, an Elf who had distinguished himself in the war and yet was seen as a voice of peace and reason. Morathi shrieked her protests at her son not being chosen, but Malekith calmed her and agreed that the selection was a good one. He was the first to bend his knee to the future Phoenix King. Elf astrologers and geomancers studied the portents to divine the best time for the new king to begin his reign, and calculated the best time for him to pass through the flame. On the day of his coronation the Priests of Asuryan chanted the warding spells that enabled Bel Shanaar to pass unscathed through the flame.[5a]
So began the great days of exploration. Colonies were planted across the face of the world. Contact was established with the Dwarfs and a great era of trade and friendship began. Bel Shanaar, a seaman of wondrous skill, personally visited the new colonies and even ventured to Karaz-a-Karak in the Worlds Edge Mountains to swear the Oath of Friendship with the High King Snorri Whitebeard. According to the Book of Honour of the Dwarf hold, Bel Shanaar gifted Snorri a single casket of Ellyrion wine of tremendous value. Keen to show his appreciation, the High King broke the lid with his axe and guzzled its contents in one go, wiping the spillage with his beard as his subjects cheered. It isn't known what the Elven courtiers thought of this, nor what Bel Shanaar felt about receiving twelve barrels of Gutstrangle's Owd Nasty Dwarf Ale and a two gallon tankard in return.
Afterwards, Malekith became his ambassador there. Thus, though none could yet know it, were sown the seeds of tragedy.
As the Elves spread and multiplied across the face of the world, wealth flowed back into Ulthuan. The Elven cities became places of beauty and wonder once again. And, though the folk did not realise it, Chaos returned -- slowly, softly and insidiously. It came in a new guise, and so there were no defence raised against -- it spread in the form of Cults of Luxury and Pleasure. As the cults' influence spread, and their excesses deepened, the Phoenix King grew ever more concerned. Rumours abounded of living sacrifice and unwholesome association with the very darkest of forbidden gods. So it was that on his return to Ulthuan, Malekith found a realm in the grip of suspicion. The Cults of Excess were strongest in Nagarythe, his homeland, and his mother, the Lady Morathi, had long been a devotee. Indeed, legend has it she was one of the founding members, and their High Priestess.
Malekith appeared horrified by what he found in Nagarythe. He denounced the entire coven of pleasure worshippers, including his mother, and handed them over to the Phoenix King. Ingratiating himself further with the Phoenix King, he championed the hunt for hidden members of the cults. It seemed that cultists could be found in all levels of society. Nobody was safe from his scrutiny. Military action against the cults seemed inevitable. Malekith called Ulthuan's lords to a Council of War at the Shrine of Asuryan. On the eve of the council, the worst of horrors was revealed: Malekith claimed the Phoenix King himself was a secret member of one of these cults. Before Bel Shanaar could deny this, Malekith had him poisoned.
With this act, Malekith had gone too far. No-one could believe that the king had been a worshipper of the cults, certainly not the assembled princes who had all known Bel Shannar long and well. Too late, the light of suspicion fell on Malekith. He and his followers already had the Shrine of Asuryan in their possession. The princes and their bodyguards were trapped within his grasp, and a secret treaty with his kin in Nagarythe meant an army of cultists would impose Malekith's will on the leaderless Elves. The Dark Elves instead tell that Malekith led Bel Shanaar to the Stone of Destiny within the Chamber of Days, which showed Bel Shanaar the future and that he and his usurpation would cause the downfall of the elves. Bel Shanaar took his own life with poison rather than face his shame, but none of the other princes would believe Malekith's testimony.[4b]
Believing that all he had to do was crown himself and slay the princes to ensure his ascendance, Malekith marched into the sacred flame, confident that, like his father before him, he could endure the ordeal. He was wrong. The flame of Asuryan would not suffer his polluted body to pass through it. Thus did the flame that brought Aenarion miraculous rebirth bring nothing but ruin to his deceitful and treacherous son. Malekith was caught within the fire, his body terribly scarred and burned. It is said that his screams were so terrible that none who heard them could ever cast them from memory. However, Malekith's twisted will was not yet spent. Unable to pass through the fires that even then ravaged his body, he managed to cast himself back into the side of the platform from which he had entered. The Dark Elves claim that the assembled princes had cursed the flames in an act of spite, twisting their purpose to harm Malekith instead of recognizing his rule.[4b]
With their leader on the verge of death, Malekith's followers took up their master's body and fled the shrine, leaving most of the Elf princes dead within and massacring all who stood in their path. The Sundering, an age of tragedy and conflict was about to begin.