These are all spoilers -- nothing but spoilers from this sentence on.
For starters, when you report to Hyjal on a character who has done all the quests to date, you get a snazzy new title, Avenger of Hyjal. I was surprised, too! More importantly, in a mere handful of quests, you discover that Ragnaros' forces were barely even balked by Malfurion, Hamuul and Cenarius (and yourself, if you did the quest), and he's got an entirely new plan to invade and destroy Hyjal, as well as a new force to carry out his will.
So let's get started musing over the details.
Upon arriving at the Sanctuary of Malorne, the first thing that happens is you're almost immediately sent into the hills to help Hamuul Runetotem in his attempt to construct a gateway into the Firelands. When you arrive, it's already besieged by fire elementals, and you help Hamuul in doling out the harshness. From a cup, if you prefer.
There's an interesting fire bar mechanic I couldn't tell for sure was working correctly, but what happened after was very clear. A night elf named Leyara steps out of the gate and declares herself a Druid of the Flame, servant of Ragnaros. She attacks, and you help defend Hamuul long enough for Malfurion to arrive and send her packing. He clearly recognizes the name. Declaring that he senses Fandral's hand behind this, he sends you back to Malorne's Sanctuary, from which you are dispatched to find several other druids and ancient protectors (including Thisalee Crow, my second favorite night elf lady), who are being swarmed by fire elementals.
As near as I can tell, this gigantic monstrosity (Lord Rhyolith) is some kind of fire abomination, and it used to be called Lord Anthrycist. (It will almost certainly have a completely new model by the time the raid comes out.) This guy shows up, puts the hurt on Hyjal's defenders, and when all seems lost, a new challenger enters!
And if it needs to be said, he's very miffed. Extremely piqued, one might say. His ire is like unto an astonishingly annoyed giant demigod.
The battle is still far from over, but Malorne's return has managed to stabilize the situation for the moment. What we're left with is a lot to ponder. And some snazzy daily quests, of course. So what do we piece together from all of this?
- Fandral Staghelm isn't just a lone crazy serving Ragnaros. His Druids of the Flame have already recruited some powerful members (Leyara was strong enough to go toe-to-toe with Hamuul Runetotem, an archdruid in his own right), and wherever he's getting them from, they're already making a difference in the war for Hyjal. At one point, we're informed that the Guardians have lost ground they won when you first came through the place. Your efforts and Malorne's prevent complete disaster, but this is definitely a new monkey wrench in the conflict. The fact that Leyara has a part of Hyjal named after her just screams out for an explanation.
- Ragnaros is pulling out all of the stops here. This is not Molten Core, where for the most part you only felt Ragnaros' presence outside the mountain in a few Dark Irons and their crazy golems. Enormous behemoths, flame druids, even entire armies of elementals are being set loose to bedevil Hyjal.
- Just as clearly, his defeat here will be a final one. He's not coming back from this one, and he knows it. The defense of Hyjal is predicated on invading the Firelands themselves, the very elemental plane of fire. Unlike at the Molten Core, where defeating Ragnaros' imperfectly summoned form merely freed him from a kind of torturous imprisonment at a fraction of his true power, this time, Ragnaros is at his full strength. He's in command of an army of followers, and he'll fight as hard as he can because if the Firelands fall, there's no where else he can run. The attack of the Druids of the Flame and Lord Rhyolith proves that Ragnaros is committed to victory or death.
Will there be others? Will we see water, air and earth druids? Who, exactly, are the Shadow Wardens? While Hyjal burns, we have many secrets left to discover.
The news is already rolling out for the upcoming WoW Patch 4.2! Preview the new Firelands raid, marvel at the new legendary staff, and get the inside scoop on new quest hubs -- plus new Tier 12 armor!