One of the more interesting facets of playing a game as extensive as World of Warcraft are the legends and mysteries surrounding the game, both inside and out. A lot of these legends, mysteries and unsolved puzzles have developed over time into urban legends -- stories that sound just true enough to be plausible, but usually end up being untrue, dead ends or simply unsolved mysteries that were never meant to be puzzled out. Today we'll be talking about a weapon whose origins were so mysterious and carried so many loose ends that it left players in a tizzy for years: Ashbringer.
The legend of Ashbringer started when World of Warcraft was originally released. The orange legendary weapon was discovered in the game files by data miners, and the stats and proc on the weapon were truly amazing. At the time, even epic weapons were extremely rare, so seeing something with an orange tag on it was more than a little unique and awe-inspiring. However, other than the datamined weapon, there was no indication of it appearing in game -- that is, until players slowly leveled from launch to their first steps into the Plaguelands.
The first mention of Ashbringer by an NPC in game was by Caretaker Alen in Eastern Plaguelands. Caretaker Alen was a little ... unique, and said a host of random things to players who took a moment to chat with him, including "The what-bringer? Oh, ASHbringer? Never heard of it ... What? Stop bothering me!" The mention of the item created a flurry of speculation on the actual existence of the legendary sword in game and how it could be obtained. Other than that one brief reference, however, there was nothing to suggest the sword actually existed and that the legend of the Ashbringer was any more than just that, a legend.
In Patch 1.3.0, players were introduced to a new dungeon called Dire Maul. This dungeon introduced the Shen'dralar, a neutral faction of Highborne who had made their home in the ruins of Dire Maul. The Shen'dralar were led by Prince Tortheldrin -- but more importantly, the library in which the Shen'dralar made their home included zealots who had some interesting news for players:
"Has the Prince recanted the tale of the Ashbringer? It is our most favorite of his stories. His favorite is the follow up to the Ashbringer. Of course, nobody has ever been able to get that story out of him."
"The Master holds great interest in the Lair of Nefarian. If only someone would defeat the dragon and his minions and retell the tale to the Prince. I bet that would loosen the Prince's lips. The Ashbringer could be found!"
Suddenly interest in the sword resurged, although Blackwing Lair hadn't even been implemented yet. Players could already turn in Onyxia's head for valuable quest rewards -- perhaps the head of Nefarian would give some sort of clue as to Ashbringer's location when turned in to the Prince?
Later in Patch 1.5, battlegrounds were introduced. In Alterac Valley, players could loot dead players for random items required to summon ancient creatures that would defend their side. Other items would sometimes drop as well, including Nat Pagle's Guide to Extreme Anglin', a book written by the fishing trainer Nat Pagle in Dustwallow Marsh. The flavor text reads, "This book is missing every page but the last." As far as that last page goes, it read, "...and so that's where you'll find the legendary sword of the Scarlet Highlord, Ashbringer. Ain't it amazing what you run into in an ordinary day of fishin?"
Once more, the flurry of speculation arose, this time accompanied by fishing galore, as players assumed the Ashbringer was probably fished up somewhere in the Plaguelands. This was "proven" by players with the fact that A Thoroughly Read Copy of Nat Pagle's Extreme Anglin dropped in Dire Maul -- the book wasn't a readable item, but surely if it mentioned the Ashbringer, and Dire Maul mentioned the Ashbringer, then Nat Pagle knew what he was talking about and the sword must be in a lake. Yet after time, players were again left with nothing to suggest that the item actually existed. But with the introduction of Patch 1.6 and the implementation of Blackwing Lair, suddenly it was possible to obtain the head of Nefarian. Players that were successful in killing the dragon took the head to Prince Tortheldrin and ...
Nothing happened. No notes, no quests, no suggestions as to where the sword might actually be. This did not stop speculation on the sword's existence, and players worked feverishly on several theories, one of which involved two NPCs in the Western Plaguelands, both with fairly similar stories. The first was Bardu Sharpeye, a tauren who made his home at the Bulwark that bordered Tirisfal Glades and the Western Plaguelands. While Bardu offered no quests or services, talking to him revealed the following:
"Hello. I've set up camp here at the Bulwark to make my preparations for my journey into the Plaguelands. I've heard rumor that a great human wizard took up residency in Hearthglen not terribly long ago. He was commissioned by the Scarlet Crusade to fashion their warriors and hunters with bows and guns. It's said that he completed a remarkable weapon before the Crusade killed him. I guess their mistrust of the arcane has grown."
The other NPC was a dwarf named Alexia Ironknife, found at Chillwind Camp in the southern region of Western Plaguelands. Like Bardu, she offered no quests or services, but her story was oddly similar to the tauren's:
"Greetings. Don't have too much time to talk -- I'm just using Chillwind as a camp to get some rest before heading to Hearthglen. I've heard word that before they went crazy, the Scarlet Crusade had a mage working for them who was trying to create powerful bows and guns for their soldiers. I'm not sure if he succeeded or not ... the Crusade killed him before any of his finished product made it out. Maybe they killed him to keep it a secret ... or maybe they distrust the arcane that much."
Players attempted to put two and two together and came up with what they thought was four: Ashbringer existed, it was created by a mage who'd been killed by the Scarlet Crusade for some unknown reason, and the secret of the sword lay with the dead mage ... wherever he was. It was around this time that players pointed out a curious item that dropped in the Western Plaguelands called Timolain's Phylactery, which dropped off of Large Vile Slime in the Weeping Cave of Western Plaguelands.
The interesting thing about the slime in question was that it didn't quite act like the usual, everyday slime you see in the Plaguelands; it had a mana bar. Along with the mana bar was a series of spells -- Arcane Bolt, Arcane Explosion and Crimson Fury. Mage attacks, Crimson Fury ... Scarlet Crusade? Players leapt to the next logical conclusion: Timolain was the mage referenced by the NPCs, and somehow he'd died. Perhaps slain at the hands of the Scarlet Crusade, and then raised by a necromancer as a lich -- a necromancer like, say ... Kel'Thuzad ... and then slain again. After he died, his phylactery was ingested by a slime, which then absorbed some of the latent spells the mage had known in life.
Timolain's Phylactery was unique and BoP; it didn't start any quests or give any flavor text to indicate exactly what it was for. Players who were lucky enough to get the drop scoured every inch of Western Plaguelands for a lead, convinced that somewhere, somehow, there was a key that would clue them in on where to obtain the legendary sword. Perhaps, players theorized, you had to be carrying the Spectral Essence obtained in Scholomance in order to see the ghost of the dead mage. Perhaps you had to take the phylactery to the Prince in Dire Maul or to Nat Pagle.
Unfortunately, all speculation halted with the release of Patch 1.7, as Timolain's Phylactery was removed from the game. Players continued to search, unwilling to believe that the item that had been referenced and hinted at for so long simply didn't exist. Eventually, a European CM admitted that the weapon was not in game, but this admission was followed by a confirmation by Eyonix:
It wasn't long, however, before players once again let their minds linger over thoughts of the legendary blade ...