Know Your Lore: Cataclysm's end

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.

Patch 4.3 signifies the end of the story of Cataclysm, the moment of Deathwing's demise. Much like patch 3.3 before it, 4.3 features three dungeons that are directly related to the endgame content -- what you do in the dungeons is 100% part of the story that leads to the Dragon Soul raid. So we have End Time, the Well of Eternity, and the Hour of Twilight, all three offering different parts to this story.

All of this information has led to hundreds of questions. If we kill Murozond, what happens to that alternate future? If we take the Dragon Soul from the past, doesn't that mean our future is irrevocably altered? Perhaps most important is the last cinematic for the Dragon Soul fight, which was leaked earlier this week and raises way more questions than it answers.

Please note: Today's Know Your Lore is full of spoilers for patch 4.3 -- we're talking everything from the story behind the new heroics to the new short story to the end of the Dragon Soul raid. It also holds spoilers for the novel Thrall: Twilight of the Aspects. If you're avoiding spoiler content, turn away now.

What are we doing here?

Here's the situation: We cannot defeat Deathwing. It is impossible, no matter how many mortals throw themselves at Deathwing's scaly hide. The Aspects are aware of this, and they know that we will need a weapon far more powerful than anything the world has seen before in order to eliminate Deathwing once and for all. What we need is the Dragon Soul, which I covered last week. But we need the Dragon Soul at the point in which it was the strongest -- during the War of the Ancients, after it was originally imbued with the essences of the dragonflights.

There's a problem with this, however. The Infinite Dragonflight has messed up the timeways so badly that it is impossible to traverse them. Nozdormu is at a loss, because he knows who is behind the Infinite Dragonflight -- it's himself. When the Hour of Twilight comes to pass, Nozdormu is altered into Murozond, and the Infinite Dragonflight is born. In order to eliminate the Infinite Dragonflight and restore the timeways, we must kill Murozond. Once Murozond is defeated, we can safely travel back in time.

Next we go to the Well of Eternity, to take the Dragon Soul at its strongest moment and bring it to the present day. Once there, it must be taken to Wyrmrest Temple, where it was originally created. This is a problem because in the novel Thrall: Twilight of the Aspects, Wyrmrest Temple was nearly destroyed after an assault by the Twilight Dragonflight, led by the mysterious figure known as the Twilight Father. It is revealed at the end of the novel that he's none other than Archbishop Benedictus, who we encounter as the final boss of the instance. Once we defeat him, the Aspects can continue with their plans -- but it won't be easy, because Deathwing is planning to take his final stand and bring about the future we saw in End Time, the Hour of Twilight.

Fractured timelines and other oddities

Along with the heroic dungeons, we also got a new short story that helped further explain what is happening and answer some of those time line questions. Charge of the Aspects takes place just after Ragnaros' defeat in the Firelands. It focuses somewhat on Thrall and his role as not-quite-Aspect-of-Earth, but more importantly, it focuses on Nozdormu and his struggle to come to terms with what he is ultimately to become. It's a great short story by Matt Burns, who also gave us The Council of Three Hammers: Fire and Iron, and it is just as amazing. I highly recommend reading it.

It also addresses the apparent time discrepancy and the trouble with stealing the Dragon Soul from the past. Nozdormu explains all this away, stating that the Bronze Dragonflight can halt the flow of history and hold together the integrity of the time line, but only for a short period of time. Once the task in the future is completed, the Dragon Soul can be returned to the past.

So how is the Dragon Soul supposed to work against Deathwing, if he never put his essence into it? And how are the Aspects supposed to use it, if it literally ripped Deathwing apart when he used it? Once the Dragon Soul is retrieved, Kalecgos will use the powers of the arcane to alter the Dragon Soul enough so that it will actually work against the former Earth Warder. As for the matter of the strange properties of the Dragon Soul ... well, there's an answer to that, too.

The Dragon Soul only does this against dragons; it has absolutely no affect on mortals. Luckily, there is one mortal who can wield the instrument, one who has proven himself to be a formidable ally to the dragonflights: Thrall. He uses the artifact during the Dragon Soul raid. There were several datamined cinematics datamined that show him doing so. But then there's the curious matter of the end of the Deathwing encounter and what exactly it all means.

Twilight's end

The cinematic above is what you see when you defeat Deathwing, and it's got one huge, shocking twist: The Aspects have lost their powers, or so it seems. As Alexstrasza states, the Dragon Aspects have fulfilled their purpose, their ancient powers are expended, and now they must see the world "through mortal eyes." What does that mean?

That's a really good question, one that I honestly do not have an answer for. From the cinematic, we see that the Aspects' eyes have lost their glow, and Nozdormu's hourglass is now shattered and weeping sand. This, and Alexstraza's comment about their powers being expended, seems to indicate that the Aspects are done, they no longer have to perform the duties they were given by the Titans, and that their ultimate purpose is ... well, it flat-out states it in Charge of the Aspects:

"Time is your charge just as life is mine, but what is our duty?" Alexstrasza said.

"To preserve thisss world at... all costs. To prevent the Hour of Twilight," Nozdormu whispered.

They've prevented the end of the world, and they did so with the assistance of the extraordinary mortal races that so baffled Algalon back in Ulduar. Now that the end of the world is no longer upon us, the future of our world is in our hands.

This opens so many moments of utter confusion and deliberate chaos that cannot be explained. And since I cannot explain these moments, I am going to share them with the rest of you, so you're at least as baffled as I am.

An Aspect-less Azeroth

Nozdormu stated that he would have his flight take the Dragon Soul, the fully charged and extremely dangerous Dragon Soul, back to the point in which it was taken after Deathwing's defeat. If what we see in that cinematic is any indication, Nozdormu is no longer the Aspect of Time. His charge was to preserve the time lines, but if his powers are expended, what does that mean for the Dragon Soul? Perhaps this is explained further in the Deathwing encounter -- I have yet to face Deathwing, but should be doing so when this article goes live if all goes well, so I'll let you know.

Ysera watches over the Emerald Dream -- which is essentially the backup copy of Azeroth. If Ysera is no longer an Aspect, does that mean the Emerald Dream no longer exists? What does that mean for the druids of the world? Or is Ysera now leaving the Emerald Dream in the capable hands of mortals? If this is the case, we still have that unhappy mess in the Rift of Aln, leftover from the Nightmare War. Of course that was N'Zoth, and we took care of N'Zoth -- oh, wait.

Did we actually defeat N'Zoth? Was it N'zoth we were battling in the Maelstrom, wearing Deathwing's body like some sort of bizarre puppet? Was that Deathwing, or was it the Old God? Well, it certainly can't be the Old God, because as we learned in Wrath, we cannot kill the Old Gods; they are tied to Azeroth in a manner we cannot comprehend.

Most importantly is the strange question of the Aspects themselves. According to Nozdormu, the duty of the Aspects was to prevent the Hour of Twilight from occurring. The Hour of Twilight occurred because Neltharion went mad. In other words, the Titans placed an Aspect on Azeroth specifically so that he would become corrupted, bring about all of the events which led to the final battle between Deathwing and the mortal races of the world, and be defeated -- and the other Aspects were to prevent that from happening.

Why on earth would the Titans do this? What was the purpose of this? If the Aspects were to prevent the Hour of Twilight -- and the Hour of Twilight was because of the Aspects -- why place them on the world at all? Was this some sort of mad experiment only the the Titans can comprehend? Or was there a different reason for this altogether?

Tinfoil hat theories

Tinfoil hat time. This actually goes back to a Know Your Lore I wrote back in February of this year. Consider this: The Titans set this wheel into motion on purpose. They did it deliberately, and they knew when they made Neltharion the Earth-Warder exactly what would happen to him and that the other Aspects would have to prevent it. The duty of the Aspects was to prevent what the Titans set into place. But it had nothing to do with the Aspects' duty and everything to do with us.

This whole exercise in corruption, the fall of Deathwing, the sorrow of the Aspects, the final battle -- it was all an experiment. It was an experiment to see if we, the mortal races of the world, were capable of defending this world from the most dire situation we could ever face -- the end of the world itself. It was to see if we could handle an Aspect maddened and empowered by the Old Gods and put it to rest. And we did it.

Now that Deathwing is dead, the experiment is over, and we passed with flying colors. So the Aspects are doing what comes next, fading out, and letting us handle the world ourselves. Because this event, the Hour of Twilight, the planet Azeroth, the Old Gods ... It's all part of the Titans' mad plan to put an end to Sargeras. If the mortal races of the world can handle the Old Gods and their most powerful agent, then certainly we can handle far more than just that.

I have seen worlds bathed in the Makers' flames. Their denizens fading without so much as a whimper. Entire planetary systems born and raised in the time that it takes your mortal hearts to beat once. Yet all throughout, my own heart, devoid of emotion... of empathy. I... have... felt... NOTHING! A million, million lives wasted. Had they all held within them your tenacity? Had they all loved life as you do?

Perhaps it is your imperfection that which grants you free will. That allows you to persevere against cosmically calculated odds. You prevailed where the Titans' own perfect creations have failed. -- Algalon the Observer

We've proven what Algalon observed, back in Wrath -- that we are far stronger than any of the Titan's creations. And with that in mind, it is time for the Aspects to step away, to take their place among the legends of the past, as it were. It's time to leave Azeroth's future -- and perhaps the future of existence itself -- in our capable hands. We've proven we are worthy, and they no longer need to guide us.

So what are we going to do? We're going to take the lessons of the Aspects and promptly go to war with each other. I'm sure that's going to go over very well.

Mists of Pandaria is shaping up to be something far more interesting than anything we've been led to believe.

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.