Know Your Lore, Tin Foil Hat Edition: The final boss of Cataclysm

Anne Stickney
A. Stickney|09.26.10

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Know Your Lore, Tin Foil Hat Edition: The final boss of Cataclysm
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.

The image above was taken from a blog post I made back in January of this year, a post discussing possible links between the Old Gods, the dragonflights and Deathwing. Unfortunately, not more than a month or so after it originally aired, several points in the post were disproved, largely due to the release of the Stormrage novel and revelations contained therein. But with the release of Cataclysm and the events playing out on beta servers, I feel this deserves another look -- because what we are potentially looking at is a sequence of events that prove that Deathwing isn't really the one responsible for all this disaster we're going to see on Azeroth, nor is Deathwing the one we should really be worried about.

Please note that this post is a "Tin Foil Hat" edition. It is pure speculation based on events already presented in Warcraft lore and certain things I've seen lurking around the Cataclysm beta servers. There are potential spoilers for Cataclysm in this post -- but only if my mad, deranged theories are somehow correct. However, I am going to include several screenshots from the Cataclysm servers, so if you'd rather not be spoiled in any way by the upcoming expansion, I'd advise steering away now.

The Old Gods

We've talked about the Old Gods before -- Matthew Rossi wrote up an excellent series of detailed posts on the Old Gods -- so I'll keep this somewhat brief. The Old Gods are malevolent deities that at one point in time in Azeroth's history, way back before the night elves' existence or the Sundering, showed up to essentially wreak havoc on the little planet. In the world of storytelling, every hero has to have a villain working against him, because without a villain, that hero isn't really a hero at all. In Azeroth, there are several good guy/bad guy situations that have been set up. Of course we have the Scourge, and we living mortals of Azeroth are the heroes that combat it.

Then we have the Burning Legion, an organization that's been a thorn in everyone's sides since the beginning of time. With the release of The Burning Crusade, we were introduced to the naaru, an ethereal, light-based race of creatures that have so mastered the use of the Light that they are as godlike as anyone could hope to be. The naaru are dead set on stopping the Burning Legion in its tracks. While some may argue that we mortals of Azeroth are the heroes that exist in counterpoint to the Burning Legion, it's really the naaru -- and more specifically, the Light they wield -- that was written in as the "ultimate foil" for the Burning Legion. And then we have the Titans and the Old Gods.

Where the Titans have been described as being creatures of order, creation and organization, the Old Gods exist purely to wreak havoc and destruction. Why they chose to focus on Azeroth is a mystery in and of itself that has never been fully explained. Whether or not these Old Gods exist on other worlds that have felt the Titan's touch is also a mystery. What we do know, from the foggy bits of history we've been shown, is that Azeroth existed; the Titans came to it to create harmony and order and then left it to its own devices. The Old Gods showed up to wreck the world in their chaotic fashion, and the Titans caught wind of this and returned to fight the Old Gods.

It's the way these Old Gods work that presented a problem, however; the Old Gods had assimilated themselves with the world of Azeroth so completely that the Titans realized that destroying the Old Gods meant destroying Azeroth. This is revealed during the Tribunal of Ages event in the Halls of Stone:
Abedneum Accessing. In the early stages of its development cycle Azeroth suffered infection by parasitic, necrophotic symbiotes.
Brann Bronzebeard Necro-what? Speak bloody common will ya?
Abedneum Designation: Old Gods. Old Gods rendered all systems, including Earthen defenseless in order to facilitate assimilation. This matrix destabilization has been termed the Curse of Flesh. Effects of destabilization increased over time.
Brann Bronzebeard Old Gods eh? So they zapped the Earthen with this Curse of Flesh. And then what?
Kaddrak Accessing. Creators arrived to extirpate symbiotic infection. Assessment revealed that Old God infestation had grown malignant. Excising parasites would result in loss of host.
Brann Bronzebeard If they killed the Old Gods Azeroth would have been destroyed.
Kaddrak Correct. Creators neutralized parasitic threat and contained it within the host.
Basically what happened is that the Old Gods entwined themselves so completely with the world that there wasn't any way to remove them without destroying the world. The Curse of Flesh was created by the Old Gods to weaken the Earthen that the Titans had left to defend the world. The Curse was designed to turn the stone Earthen into fleshy creatures that could be easily manipulated and corrupted. That's how the Old Gods operate; they insert malevolent and chaotic thoughts into the minds of creatures to sway them to their dark cause. If it has a mind, the Old Gods can do something about it.

Since the Titans could not destroy the Old Gods to rid the world of them, they instead imprisoned them deep beneath the earth where they couldn't affect anyone and left them there to rot for eternity. The Titans then created a few safeguards to make sure that nothing would happen to Azeroth in the future. They created a new series of Earthen that were immune to the Curse of Flesh and its effects, and they assigned Titanic watchers to keep an eye on the world. In the event that one of these watchers was killed, a signal would be sent to Alganon, who would come and assess the situation. If it was determined the Old Gods were a large enough threat, this time Azeroth would simply be destroyed and started from scratch.

There was another set of safeguards the Titans put together, however. The titans used the great proto-dragon Galakrond to create a group of dragons that would also watch over the world. There were five main dragonflights, and each was appointed a leader, an Aspect that was assigned to watch over a particular portion of the world.
  • Malygos was the Aspect of the Blue Dragonflight, charged with watching over the magic of the world and the hidden spells and arcanum, the world's mysteries.
  • Nozdormu was the Aspect of the Bronze Dragonflight, charged with watching over the flow of time to make sure there were no disruptions to Azeroth's history.
  • Ysera was the Aspect of the Green Dragonflight, charged to watch over the natural aspects of the world through the dream of creation, otherwise known as the Emerald Dream.
  • Alexstrasza was the Aspect of the Red Dragonflight, charged with watching over all life in the world of Azeroth. She was also appointed queen of all dragons; Alexstraza had pretty much the largest job out of them all.
  • Neltharion was the Aspect of the Black Dragonflight. Neltharion was charged with watching over the earth, the deep places of Azeroth. It was Neltharion that was responsible for watching over the land that all living things lived upon. But the Titans made a critical error by choosing Neltharion as the Earth Warder, and we'll get into that in a little bit.
There are several different theories about the Old Gods, their motives, their locations, and their numbers. Stories suggest anywhere from three to five of these Old Gods actually exist, but that number has never been pinpointed with an exact figure. For the sake of the map I created, I went with the number five -- because five seemed like a logical choice at the time. We know of the location of at least three of these Old Gods:
  • Ahn'Qiraj Ahn'Qiraj is where the Old God C'thun makes his home. We fought him back in vanilla during the days of AQ-20 and AQ-40.
  • Ulduar Ulduar is the home of Yogg-Saron in the snowy reaches of Northrend. We fought him during the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. Note that despite Yogg Saron's location, his presence can be felt all the way down in Whisper Gulch in Howling Fjord.
  • Tirisfal Glades The Tirisfal Glades have never been 100 percent confirmed; however, the first quel'dorei who were banished after the Sundering had records of their original settlement on the shores of Tirisfal. These records, found in the in-game book The Founding of Quel'Thalas, read as follows:
Forging inland, the high elves founded a settlement within the tranquil Tirisfal Glades. After a few years, many of them began to go mad. It was theorized that something evil slept beneath that particular part of the world, but the rumors were never proven to be true. The high elves packed up their encampment and moved northward towards another land rich with ley energies.
Evil sleeping beneath the earth? That sounds like an Old God to me.

There was a fourth location I talked about in the original article, The Master's Glaive located in Darkshore. It was revealed some time after the alpha's release that the thing I had presumed to be the corpse of an Old God was actually the corpse of something more like a lieutenant of an Old God -- a skeleton reminiscent of General Vezax in Ulduar.

The fifth location I chose on the map above was completely arbitrary and chosen to finish connecting the dots. That star on the map had some sort of peculiar significance, but I couldn't figure out that fifth point to my satisfaction. However, the three known locations plus the addition of the fourth made things a little clearer to me as I was trying to figure out the Old Gods' design and what they were actually up to.

Neltharion and the Demon Soul

Poor Neltharion. After doing a lot of research, I can't help but feel bad for him. You see, what happened to Neltharion wasn't really his fault. The Titan Khaz'goroth charged him with watching the deep places of the world, with forming the mountains and valleys we see on Azeroth today, and it was Neltharion's job to make sure the earth was taken care of. Unfortunately, Neltharion's domain was also the site of a few other guys that weren't particularly happy with the Titans: the Old Gods.

At least one of those Old Gods felt the presence of Neltharion and began to whisper to the great black dragon, speaking of power, of betrayal, of desire. They told him the other flights were simply there to stand in his way. They convinced him that even his own flight could not be trusted, that all dragonkind was out to get him. They spoke to him of a better world, one in which he and the few chosen to serve him would exist alone, and all other flights, all other life on the world would be destroyed. All would bow and serve to Neltharion.

And he bought it. It's unlikely that the Titans thought the Old Gods were this clever or that they actually had thoughts or plans. According to the Tribunal of Ages, the Old Gods were merely parasitic symbiotes -- things, not really creatures that could think or feel, not really living beings that could come up with any kind of cohesive plans. Neltharion's downfall was primarily due to the underestimation of the Titans -- they imprisoned the Old Gods under the earth and assumed that these nasty creatures would simply stay put. And then they assigned living creatures, creatures made of flesh with minds that could be easily influenced by the Old Gods' whispers, to watch over the world. Nice job, Titans.

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