Know Your Lore: The Prophet Velen, the light and the darkness

Matthew Rossi
M. Rossi|09.15.10

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Know Your Lore: The Prophet Velen, the light and the darkness

The World of Warcraft is an expansive universe. You're playing the game, you're fighting the bosses, you know the how -- but do you know the why? Each week, Matthew Rossi and Anne Stickney make sure you Know Your Lore by covering the history of the story behind World of Warcraft.

There will be spoilers for Cataclysm in this post.

The Prophet Velen plays a long game. He thinks ahead and considers not only the past and the present but the future, which befits one who has lived for over 25,000 years and can see into the future (however malleable that future might become). To the Prophet, racial grudges, territorial acquisition, even revenge for injuries done to his people -- none of it matters. Even the great Cataclysm is unimportant. Because Velen has seen that all the battles we've fought are merely harbingers and the greatest conflict in the universe is approaching. And every son and daughter of the Light, no matter how tenuous his or her connection, no matter what forces he or she has chosen to consort with (be they divine, elemental, arcane or even fel), will have to make a choice and pick a side.

The final battle approaches. The world of Azeroth has been chosen. Good versus evil, light against darkness, life opposing death. What side will you choose?

The war between light and darkness

We recently were exposed to the new introductions for each race that will be coming in Cataclysm. For the purposes of our discussion, the draenei introduction will be revisited here.

Draenei introduction
Empowered by the holy light and the undying strength of their convictions, the Draenei led the charge against the Demonic Burning Legion in Outland. Now with the legion's defeat, they have completed the desperate mission that first brought them to Azeroth, through some Draenei were sent back to Outland to revitalize their former civilization, the majority have vouched to remain and uphold their sacred commitment to the Alliance. Driven by a powerful vision, the immortal prophet Velen believes that a great war between the darkness and the light is fast approaching and that Azeroth will be its principle battleground. As one of Velen's chosen you must stand bravely before the shadow and ensure that your people are ready for the war to come.

The first thing to consider here is that this puts the entirety of what was experienced during The Burning Crusade in an entirely new light. The return to Outland, the battles with Illidan's forces and the final confrontation on the Sunwell Plateau with the Legion that led to the defeat of Kil'jaeden and the revitalization of the Sunwell were all chess moves in a much bigger conflict, gambits that helped set up the war to come. Kil'jaeden's "defeat" was, at best, the equivalent of a stumble. He still exists, still commands the Legion, and still desires to do what even Sargeras could not and conquer the exasperating world that has twice now balked the Legion's ambitions. Furthermore, the Battle for the Undercity and the defeat of Varimathras are even more portentous.

It's clear that Varimathras is speaking to some greater power during his attempt to usurp the Undercity from Sylvanas. (To be fair, she usurped it from him and his brother dreadlords after they usurped it from Arthas, although it's doubtful that they could have done so without her help in the first place.) Whom he's speaking to is an open question, but the sound files seem to indicate that it's Sargeras himself.

Varimathras' dialogue - The Battle for the Undercity

Varimathras yells: Welcome to your future -- what little there is left of it...
Varimathras yells: Too long... Tireless, endless planning... It will not end like this...
Varimathras yells: Need more time... The Master is near...
Varimathras yells: Such power! Can you not feel it, mortals? Cease this foolishness and join me!
Varimathras yells: I will not fail! Not again!
Varimathras yells: I cannot hold... Destabilizing...
A distant voice yells: YOU HAVE FAILED ME, VARIMATHRAS!
Varimathras yells: A thousand-thousand pardons, Master! I will deal with these intruders myself!

If, as is speculated, the distant voice is Sargeras, then we have an interesting situation. At present, the majority of the Burning Legion follows Kil'jaeden. But the eredar lord knows his position is tenuous, and clearly the nigh-unkillable dreadlords have at least the potential to be directly instructed by Sargeras. Mal'ganis, Balnazzar and Varimathras at the least seem to have resisted death even from powerful entities such as Arthas wielding Frostmourne. Why we haven't seen Tichondrius or Anatheron return yet is an open question, although one could speculate that Illidan somehow counts as a dreadlord. We know the Nathrezim aren't supposed to fight each other. It's therefore possible to speculate that dreadlords can kill one another. Kil'jaeden is mighty indeed, but he stands no chance at all in a direct confrontation with Sargeras.

The world and all that is in it

It seems that Kil'jaeden intends to usurp total control over the Legion. One of his statements when entering Azeroth through the Sunwell was: "The expendable have perished ... So be it! Now I shall succeed where Sargeras could not! I will bleed this wretched world and secure my place as the true master of the Burning Legion. The end has come! Let the unraveling of this world commence!" This leads us to more questions. Why is the unraveling of Azeroth so important? Why will succeeding where Sargeras could not secure Kil'jaeden's place at all? Sargeras could easily destroy Kil'jaeden and probably whatever forces Kil'jaeden could muster against him from the Legion, even if the entire Legion somehow became loyal to Kil'jaeden over Sargeras, which Varimathras proves is not the case.

Between these events, the arrival of Algalon and his defeat, and the presence on Azeroth of the Well of Eternity, it's clear that there's something special and particularly powerful about the planet. Remember, Algalon points out that he has unmade entire planetary systems and a million million lives. The Titans seemed somewhat nonplussed by the presence of the Old Gods in their creation and yet hesitant to unmake said creation. They didn't destroy the Old Gods because they believed such an action would destroy Azeroth itself, but that would stay their hand only if there were a particular reason Azeroth shouldn't be reformatted -- a reason that Algalon seems to confirm. His arrival and defeat is unprecedented. Never before have the creations of the Titans balked the Herald of the Titans, much less flawed, cursed ones.

Must not give up, must ... remember

So we return to Velen and his prophecy of a coming final battle between the forces of the Light and those of darkness. In a new quest line in the Swamp of Sorrows, Velen points out that the Light does not abandon anyone. It did not abandon Crusader Bridenbrad in the face of the Scourge and their plague. It did not abandon Nobundo when he became stricken by the demonic fel energies and could not hear it anymore, no matter what his small-minded contemporaries said. It never abandoned the Broken or the Lost Ones. Velen directly states that this is the case.

In the quest Remember the Light, players witness the death of Magtoor, the leader of the Broken currently residing in the Harborage. Anchorite Avuun, who came to the Harborage to attempt to reconcile the Broken with the draenei, cannot heal Magtoor with the power of the Light. Desperate, he turns to players for aid, but none of the remedies they help him create can save Magtoor from dying. In the end, in sorrow and grief, Avuun comes close to losing his faith.

Then Velen arrives.

As Velen explains to Avuun, Magtoor's death is not due to his being cast out or abandoned. The Broken are no less beloved by the Light than any other draenei. Rather, the Light is but one half of the cosmos, locked forever in conflict with its equal, opposite force, and soon will come the ultimate battle between these opposites. It is this opposition that has rendered Magtoor and the other Broken unable to hear the Light, and no fault of their own. And Velen proves this in the most direct manner possible. He returns the dying Magtoor to the Light.
Velen's parting words to Avuun make it clear: "Remember, Avuun. Not all who wander are lost." It is made clear to Avuun and to players as well, standing witness over Magtoor's final moments, that the Prophet considers this lesson a necessary one and its message one of great importance. Indeed, the coming war he speaks of is not merely to be fought on Azeroth, but in the hearts and minds of every single one of its inhabitants. It is a war for the souls of all who dwell there, the great cosmic battle of the Light and its dark opposition fought in the microcosm of Azeroth, and also on the much greater battlefield of every single soul placed in its path.

The Light does not abandon its champions

Taken as such, Velen's actions in the Sunwell Plateau take on new significance. Not only did he aid the blood elves who had attacked his people, stolen the naaru vessel they depended upon and nearly killed them when they crash landed on Azeroth, but he did so to help them see that the Light had never abandoned them. M'uru's ultimate fate as the spark that rekindled the Sunwell and brought the truth of the Light back to a people who had once followed it, then believed it had turned its back on them, was the truth brought into relief through conflict. The Light does not abandon its champions. Even in the face of the darkness, even when plague and evil strike and all seems lost, even when its quiet voice cannot be clearly heard -- the Light is waiting for you. Factions do not matter in comparison with this one, ultimate choice. (As a real-life analog, Zoroastrianism is fairly similar.)

Therefore, when defeating Kil'jaeden, it was important to not only defeat him but leave him still active, because in so doing, Velen turned the dark forces' tendency to divide and corrupt back upon themselves. The Legion still exists, but it is broken into divisions squabbling for power, weakened and unable to turn its full attention to Azeroth at the one moment when that world is itself rent by disaster and malevolence. The cataclysm brought about by Deathwing would be a most opportune moment for the Legion to strike, as Sargeras attempted during the war against the Scourge. But Velen has ensured that the darkness finds itself divided and unable to pursue an agenda fully just as it would benefit them most.

Velen plays a long game. The current struggles only serve to temper those who will make up the Army of the Light and hone them in battle against those who knowingly or not heed the darkness' call. Because the Light does not abandon its champions. It wishes suffering upon none. But it does not reign unopposed in this realm.

For more information on the people, places and history mentioned here, check out other Know Your Lore columns, such as:

While you don't need to have played the previous Warcraft games to enjoy World of Warcraft, a little history goes a long way toward making the game a lot more fun. Dig into even more of the lore and history behind the World of Warcraft in's Guide to Warcraft Lore.
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