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Know Your Lore: War of the Ancients part 1 -- Azshara's love story

Matthew Rossi

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.

We've mentioned it, referenced it, and discussed it before, but we've never featured it in a KYL column. The War of the Ancients, the epic first battle between Azeroth and the Burning Legion, is the conflict that shaped the world we adventure in today. Deathwing first became known as a malevolent force during the War of the Ancients. The Burning Legion first appeared. Figures like Malfurion, Illidan, Tyrande, and Alexstrasza all made momentous decisions that shaped the world and everyone who lives in it. Before the war, there were no druids, no high elves. The continent of Kalimdor stretched to include the lands that are today Northrend and the Eastern Kingdoms. There was no Maelstrom. There were no naga, and Azshara was queen of the kaldorei entire, and entirely beloved.

Also, there was a whole lot of time traveling, but we'll talk about that next week. This week, we'll cover the War of the Ancients as it was before time wizards. The biggest difficulty in discussing the War of the Ancients is knowing which one you're talking about: the one before Nozdormu sents Rhonin, Korialstrasz, and Broxigar back in time, or the one that resulted from their trip. This week, we discuss the history and background of the war. And yes, I am fully aware of the irony of using words like "before" and "after" to discuss time travel. Pre and post-incursion still have the sense of before and after attached to them, or I'd use those. Simplicity demands we make use of the most basic terminology and just grapple with the difficulties.

Still, in either timeline, certain things happened. At the heart of it all, the reason the Burning Legion found Azeroth was that a beautiful, intelligent, powerful woman who was queen of all she surveyed fell in love.

What went before

Rather than rehash the history of Azeroth, we'll simply point you to some posts that discuss it in detail. To sum it up:

  • The Titans made the world of Azeroth.
  • The Old Gods came along, liked the place, and infested it, pitting elemental lords and their followers against one another for their own vast, unfathomable reasons.
  • The Titans came back and did not like that at all. A long war followed, and in that war, the Titans ultimately defeated the Old Gods, imprisoning them in the very fabric of Azeroth.
  • The Titans installed Aspects, dragons invested with some of the Titan's own power and given charge over various aspects (hence the name) of worldly existence. They also created Watchers, potent Titanic constructs charged with warding over various strongholds used by the Titans during the design and creation of Azeroth.
  • The Old Gods came up with the Curse of Flesh to help them assimilate the Titans creations and thus escape.
  • The Old God C'thun used the magic of the Titan creation, the Well of Eternity, to alter native Azerothian life into the aqir, a race of sapient servants. The aqir did battle with the rising Gurubashi and Amani troll empires, and in the end, each force inflicted massive damage on the other, splitting the aqir into two nations (the qiraji and nerubians) and halting the rise of the troll nations.
  • An unknown race found the Well of Eternity and became the first kaldorei, or night elves. These first elves quickly mastered arcane arts never before seen on Azeroth and pushed the already floundering troll empires from their positions of power. The empire of the kaldorei rose to dominate the world.
This is the backdrop for the first War of the Ancients. For untold thousands of years, the kaldorei plumbed the depths of the Well of Eternity, drawing arcane magic through the Well and its connection to the Great Dark Beyond. In essence, the Well was a limitless and completely uncorrupted pool of pure arcane power with no fel energies or other leakage from the Twisted Nether. The night elven society embraced these magics, lavishing attention and care to their study and the study of their source in the Well.

Over time, those who were the most able to manipulate and understand these forces became a separate caste of their own, calling themselves the Highborne (quel'dorei, or "children of noble birth" in the ancient language of the night elves) and considering themselves the ruling elite of their people. And to be fair, the people also considered them so.

The rise of the children of the stars

Kaldorei (the word means "children of the stars") society grew radially out from the Well. Cities such as Suramar dotted the shores of the vast lake that contained the Well's power. (The Well itself was indeed a vast body of water, covering the area we today know as the Maelstrom.) In time, the night elves named the largest city after their beloved queen Azshara, dubbing the city Zin-Azshari. This meant "The Glory of Azshara."

The queen was beloved by all her subjects, the common kaldorei and the quel'dorei mages alike, and many things were said of her. She was said to be beautiful and even for a member of a race gifted with tall, elegant, powerful frames, she was lithe and perfect to behold. She was known to be intelligent, a very powerful spellcaster in her own right, and so gifted in conversation as to be able to sway the hearts of even the most stony, impersonal of her followers with a few syllables and an arched eyebrow. All these things were true.

She was also arrogant, spoiled, selfish, and conceited, as many so gifted figures end up, especially when their lives contain no adversity to overcome. Everything Azshara ever wanted, her followers would give her. She never had to struggle, and as a result, even her nearly perfect world bored her. Her followers idolized her, and so she idolized herself. No worldly mate could be her equal, no kaldorei or even quel'dorei worthy of her vast and splendid gifts, her perfect beauty, her pristine mind.

And so Azshara sought perfection in the Well itself. Azshara and her quel'dorei probed the well, growing ever more distant from the people they were supposed to be ruling over, uninterested in them even as they worshipped her. She sought a being worth her time.

The glory of the beloved one

She found Sargeras. The fallen Titan had, in fact, found her and her people first, his will and perceptions drawn to the emanations in the Great Dark Beyond from their ceaseless exploitation of the Well and its energies. So drawn Sargeras used the Well as a bridge between the unfathomable distances and contacted Azeroth, first using Azshara's servant Lord Xavius as a cat's paw. Xavius was chief among the quel'dorei, a potent mage who had replaced his own eyes as part of his endless quest to gain more and more power. It was Xavius who, in his own consuming hunger for magic, found himself unable to stand against the will of Sargeras. It was Xavius who introduced Azshara to the fallen Titan. Xavius, who in his cold, calculating way had sought to eventually dominate and possess Azshara, completely underestimated his queen.

Was it hubris that Azshara saw in Sargeras, the former champion of the Pantheon, the creator and ruler of the Burning Legion, an equal? Where others might quake and tremble at the power of a being who once defended and who now sought to unmake all of existence, Azshara saw the one being in all of creation potent and awe-inspiring enough to be worth feeling anything for at all. And so, Queen Azshara, beloved ruler of the kaldorei and unquestioned leader of the most powerful nation on the surface of her world, sought the means to bring her new obsession to Azeroth. Sargeras demanded a means to enter her world, and she was only too happy to oblige him, for in the face of the mad Titan's absolute raw power, she had finally found something she could love. While it's fair to say that's probably because of her colossal vanity and self-absorption, as well as Sargeras' ability to dominate minds, it's possible that even if Azshara had been aware of his domination, she might not have cared.

So Azshara commanded Xavius and the other quel'dorei to change the Well itself, to use its power to breach the barriers between Azeroth and the Twisting Nether. Sargeras would walk bodily upon Azeroth, a god come to remake the world in his image -- or so Azshara and Xavius believed.

Next week, time travel. Lots and lots of time travel. A young kaldorei finds a new path. The Well dies, and the Well lives on. And a genial, beloved advisor to the dragon aspects becomes a monster.

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 WoW Insider's Guide to Warcraft Lore.

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