Know Your Lore: The Warcraft cosmos, Tinfoil Hat edition

Anne Stickney
A. Stickney|06.05.11

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Know Your Lore: The Warcraft cosmos, Tinfoil Hat edition
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.

Last week, we wrapped up the second half of the Warcraft cosmos series and covered the additional planes of existence within the Warcraft universe. These layers of planes and the way they interlock is a tricky topic that, quite frankly, gives most people a headache when they think about it too long -- myself included. However, now that we've got the basic layers and interaction between all these planes of existence, there is an incredible amount of speculation to be done.

That's right; today's a Tinfoil Hat edition of Know Your Lore. If you are unfamiliar with the Tinfoil Hat concept, these are columns in which we take existing known lore and place our own spin on it to try and speculate on future events. None of the Tinfoil Hat columns should be taken as actual lore by any stretch of the imagination. However, there is a great deal of fun to be had in picking things apart and trying to predict, so let's see what we can come up with, shall we? But first, let's clear up the matter of demonic death.

Demons and death

One of the biggest headaches and questions that people have regarding planes -- although they may not realize it's a question related to planes -- is the mechanics behind the death of demons. Some seem to die for eternity; others keep coming back as if we'd never killed them at all. How does this happen? What makes one demon die and the other merely "banished?" The answer lies in what plane they're physically in when they die.

As I stated last week, much like druids in the Emerald Dream, some demons of the Burning Legion exist on Azeroth, but not in an entirely corporeal state. They may seem real, and they may have a very real effect on the world, but they are, in essence, much like druids sleeping in the Emerald Dream -- their true physical form exists in the Twisting Nether, and killing the form that's on Azeroth simply sends them back to where they came from.

Mostly. In some cases, demons actually succeed in crossing over -- and these are the demons that can actually be killed. In the Kil'jaeden fight in Sunwell Plateau, we are treated to Kil'jaeden emerging through a portal between our world and the Twisting Nether. Defeating Kil'jaeden doesn't actually kill him -- if you watch the end of the fight, he is merely pulled back into the Twisting Nether, and the portal between worlds is closed.

In the case of Archimonde, he was actually summoned to Azeroth. This was no easy task; it required the Book of Medivh and a summoner capable of casting the lengthy spell. However, once Archimonde was summoned into the world, he was able to cause considerably more damage than most demons. His first act? Destroying the city of Dalaran. Once Archimonde made his way to the World Tree, Malfurion Stormrage summoned a host of wisps who surrounded the eredar and promptly detonated. Is Archimonde dead? According to lore, yes. It was his physical form that was present at Hyjal, and that physical form was destroyed.

From these examples, what we can gather is two things. First, a demon has to be physically present on Azeroth to be killed, and it takes a lot to get the demon there, as demonstrated by the summoning of Archimonde. Second, a demon that is physically present on Azeroth can do a lot more damage than one simply visiting via the same methods druids visit the Emerald Dream. Chances are, if a demon is killed for good, it took a lot to get him to Azeroth, and the potential for destruction is far greater with a demon that is physically present than a demon that is only half there.

That's why it was so important to keep Kil'jaeden from crossing through in Sunwell Plateau. What we were seeing in that raid was a minor version of what happened with the Well of Eternity during the War of the Ancients, an echo of the moment when Sargeras tried to shove his way into Azeroth. The end result of that occurrence was the Sundering; in the case of Sunwell Plateau, had we not defeated Kil'jaeden, we might have seen something similar.

Connected points and planes

I mentioned this briefly at the end of the last article, but it deserves repeat mention. Generally speaking, you don't find a commonality in writing unless it was placed there on purpose; with few exceptions, if there is a pattern in events, that pattern exists for a reason. That said, each major event in Azeroth's history was a result of the many planes of existence abruptly crossing paths.

The Sundering The Sundering, the shattering of Azeroth from one continent into the many we interact with today, was a direct result of the compounded efforts of demons traveling through a portal into Azeroth. The portal itself was a link between the Twisting Nether, where the Burning Legion makes its home, and the Material Plane on which Azeroth exists.

Judging from examples in Draenor, we can safely assume that it was this link, and repeated use of this link by various demons of the Burning Legion, that caused the buildup to the Sundering. What sealed the deal, however, was Sargeras himself trying to cross through. The amount of strain put on that portal by the time Sargeras tried to muscle his way through it almost guaranteed disaster. Considering what happened to Draenor, the Sundering was the lesser of two very bad things that could have happened to Azeroth at that moment.

The Emerald Nightmare The Emerald Nightmare's existence was explained in the novel Stormrage by Richard Knaak -- but what happened here was that the Old Gods found a way to move from the Material Plane in which they were imprisoned, into the Emerald Dream. Once in the Dream, primarily inhabited by the sleeping subconscious of the druids and green dragons that watch over it, it was a simple task of corrupting those sleeping druids and dragons, feeding them nightmarish visions and waiting for their dreams to become reality -- something that is entirely possible in the Emerald Dream.

There are other implications here, however -- mainly the disturbing thought that the Old Gods have managed to work their way out of their prison enough to cross planes of existence. When the Titans imprisoned the Old Gods thousands of years ago, it was so that they would be unable to interact or affect the mortals of the world ever again. Since then, every action of the Old Gods seems to be designed to break them free of their prison.

However, the Emerald Dream isn't really connected to the Material Plane in a way that the Old Gods could pass through, so why would they bother with it? It's entirely possible that the Emerald Dream only exists because the Titans wanted a backup copy of Azeroth -- a copy they could use to "reboot" the world, should the Old Gods rear their heads again. The Emerald Nightmare may have been a deliberate effort on the part of the Old Gods to ensure that regardless of a reboot, they would still exist.

In Stormrage, the Emerald Nightmare is mostly cleared away -- but there's still a section of it left, waiting to be dealt with. Until the Emerald Nightmare is completely wiped away, the Titans' backup copy of the world remains corrupt. It is entirely likely that we'll have to deal with this at some point -- though whether players will address it in game or Blizzard will simply release another novel has yet to be seen.

Outland Outland is the remnants of Draenor. But while common knowledge states that it was the portals Ner'zhul opened that caused the world to shatter, one has to wonder if perhaps the beginnings of that explosion didn't start much sooner than that. After all, first we have a nebulous version of Kil'jaeden speaking to the orcish race safely from the Twisting Nether. Then we have Sargeras, or a sort of conciousness of Sargeras, present in the sorcerer Medivh.

Sargeras and Kil'jaeden worked together to get Medivh and the orcs together and get the Dark Portal opened. That Dark Portal was a gateway between two planets existing on the Material Plane, so no problem there, right? Wrong -- judging by examples we've seen of interplanetary travel, these portals jump through the Twisting Nether to get people from point A to point B. So there's a degree of plane-crossing there, and it only got worse over time.

Once Ner'zhul began feeling guilty about his actions and desperate enough to try and find his people an escape, he started a ritual to open thousands of portals to other worlds. Each of these portals fed through the Twisting Nether, and the additional stress ripped the world apart for good. What we see in Outland is a world that is half suspended between the Material Plane where it once existed and the Twisting Nether that it was pulled into -- and the chaotic energies of the Twisting Nether bathed the planet in something akin to radiation. This resulted in the genesis of the Netherwing Dragonflight. (Hold that thought; we'll be going back to it a bit later.)

In addition, Ner'zhul leapt through one of these portals to be confronted by Kil'jaeden and ripped apart, his spirit encased in what was then the first incarnation of the Lich King. So here's a crazy, completely out-of-left-field thought: What if the being we know as the Lich King isn't really a being, but a plane of existence in and of itself?

The Lich King Consider the possibility that The Lich King is essentially a traveling plane of existence, housed in a special case of armor to keep it corporeal. When the Lich King kills, it doesn't just murder outright; it sucks the spirits of those its killed into Frostmourne -- possibly another extension of its plane. The resultant bodies left behind are mere shells of creatures, the Scourge. So how did the Forsaken come into existence?

Because the attack by Ilidan, the weakening of the Lich King wasn't just an assault on a being, it was an assault on the casing that housed that plane of existence. Some of those spirits that were trapped within that plane escaped and found their way back to the bodies they originally belonged to -- but those bodies were no longer really alive. Now, we have corpses with free will -- anguished beings that aren't just dealing with suddenly being alive, they are dealing with the pained struggle of a spirit trying to constantly realign itself with a body that is no longer physically capable of housing it.

So what about Ner'zhul and Arthas? Why were they leaders? Well, Ner'zhul was the first Lich King -- and he may very well have been the first resident of that particular plane of existence, making him the logical choice to rule it. Arthas was invited by Ner'zhul to join him, and that seems to be the key. Those who died to the Lich King didn't want to die; but Arthas and, after him, Bolvar both joined with the Lich King on purpose.

What's scary about this is the implication in the novel Arthas by Christie Golden: The Lich King murdering both the essence of Arthas and the essence of Ner'zhul seems to indicate that the plane itself has gained sentience and is therefore absolutely aware of itself as an entity. All actions in Icecrown and beyond were performed by the plane as an entity, rather than having someone in control of it. So we have a walking, talking plane of existence, coldly murdering people in an attempt to populate itself and not really caring one way or another about emotions involved. Why should it? It's a plane; it doesn't do things like care or feel.

There must always be a Lich King, this we know. But how did Terenas and Uther know? Because they were present on that plane of existence. They witnessed what that plane of existence had to offer. Left to its own devices, it would continue to mindlessly devour the spirits of the living in an attempt to populate itself. However, if one were in control of it, able to keep it in check, then it would simply remain, existing and silent, encased in a block of solid ice.

Creepy, when you think about it.


But that's last expansion. This expansion marks a particularly explosive hole torn between two planes of existence, the Elemental Plane to the Material. Deathwing was physically able to cross over these planes, and it appears that this is something all dragonflights are able to do (or at the very least, Aspects are able to do). Ysera existed in the Emerald Dream, a completely different plane of existence from the Material, and crossed over to help us in Hyjal. Nozdormu may very well cross planes of existence when he travels through time. The portals we step through to cross into the instances in the Caverns of Time may very well cross through planes of existence, as the Caverns itself is wound through with shafts of light that look very similar to those we see in the Twisting Nether.

Regardless, Deathwing ripped through two planes of existence, and he did so physically. Why would he do that, if he could travel between them with no interference? Because he wanted the world torn asunder. Whatever Deathwing may have been in the past is no more; he is a creature of chaos now, an agent of the Old Gods. And the Old Gods are trapped, and they want out. What better way to free themselves of a world in the Material Plane than by shredding it to pieces, much the same as Draenor's fate? So we have Deathwing ripping through the two planes and, as a consequence, tearing Azeroth apart.

But wait -- we aren't just looking at two planes crossing, here. Remember the Netherwing? These are dragons, black dragons, former children of Deathwing that have been irradiated with the energies of the Twisting Nether and as a result exist in a semi-translucent state that suggests they exists between planes, able to shift between them at will. Deathwing didn't leave the Netherwing alone, however. He used Sinestra, corrupting her from afar and suggesting a method of creating a new dragonflight -- the Twilight.

The Twilight Dragonflight are a concentrated version of the Netherwing created by taking a dragon egg of any color and infusing it with the essence of the Netherwing. The resultant dragon seems solid enough but can exist on a completely different plane, the Twilight Realm. While I suggested last week that the Twilight Realm existed much like the Emerald Dream -- another plane able to be crossed only by certain individuals -- when thinking about it from a rampant speculation standpoint, the Twilight Realm could be created as another gateway between the Twisting Nether and Azeroth.

This means that the Twilight Dragonflight are able to create portals between the Twisting Nether and Azeroth at will -- and it also means that we have two other planes of existence crossing, Twisting Nether and Material.

Now let's take a look at the laundry list of planes that are crossing, surrounding the Cataclysm expansion:
  • Elemental Plane and Material Plane Deathwing's emergence. We fixed the pillar between Deepholm and Azeroth, but the other planes have yet to be addressed.
  • Emerald Dream and Material Plane The Old Gods crossing over to create the Emerald Nightmare. The Nightmare has been beaten back, but it is still present.
  • Twisting Nether and Material Plane The genesis of the Twilight Dragonflight; all Twilight Dragons are able to create this disturbance.
It's not just a matter of two planes intersecting and creating a disturbance; this time around, we have four that are crossing over with each other and mucking up the balance of the universe. Now consider this: With the Sundering, we only had two planes trying to cross, and that resulted in Azeroth's continent being split violently into pieces. With Draenor, we had two planes intersecting, but they were doing so at multiple places on the Material Plane, resulting in Draenor's destruction.

What, exactly, would happen if four planes of existence opened at multiple points? What kind of explosion would that create? What are Deathwing and the Old Gods really trying to accomplish here? Think about it.

For more information on related subjects, please look at these other Know Your Lore entries:
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 WoW Insider's Guide to Warcraft Lore.
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