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Know Your Lore: War of the Ancients, part 2 -- Time after time

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.

Well, we touched upon it last week, so let's just get right down to the trouble. Effectively, there are two Wars of the Ancients. Both happened 10,000 years ago, involved the night elves, the dragonflights, the Burning Legion, and the Sundering of the ancient continent of Kalimdor into three separate continents. They were not consecutive like the First and Second Wars were, but instead happened at exactly the same time with many of the same figures involved and with ultimately the same outcome. Yet they were different.

If we think of time not as a river or stream always flowing in one direction, it becomes easier to conceptualize what we're discussing. Imagine time as a chessboard. Ordinarily, pieces are constrained in their ability to move on the board, and time as we understand it is the orderly, ruled progression of the pieces moving along the board. Then imagine that certain players have the ability to move against these rules, skipping whole squares or even going to places on the board that the rules indicate are no longer in use. They can even make moves on those squares that invalidate moves that have already happen and force them to be played again. We know this can happen; we've seen it in the various Caverns of Time, as the Bronze Dragonflight attempts heroically to prevent the Infinite Dragonflight from doing exactly this, with the help of great heroes.

The War of the Ancients suffers from a slightly different problem. In essence, through the actions of the Aspect of Time, three entities traveled to the War of the Ancients and interacted with it. An orc, a human and a dragon did violence to history in an attempt to save it, changing the history that had indeed led to themselves in the first place. It becomes impossible to discuss the War in a linear fashion, because it happened non-sequentially, recursive unto itself. How, then, are we to proceed?

Read War of the Ancients part 1.

Xarantaur's Razor

We proceed by elimination. Specifically, we first discuss the War of the Ancients when no one from the future participated. It is inaccurate in a linear sense to say that one version of the war, one timeline (as those of us familiar with science fiction would describe it) actually preceded another, since we are talking about time travel and both timelines are by necessity concurrent. But in a greater sense, without a War of the Ancients that had no visitations from Nozdormu's haphazardly chosen agents, there would not have been a War with said travelers. So talking about the War, we start at the beginning, at the board with the pieces obeying the rules.

We have already spoken of Azshara and her highborne, and their contemplation of the Well of Eternity. We have talked about Sargeras and how he dominated the minds of Xavius and Azshara, and bid them open for him a portal to the Twisted Nether powerful enough for him to manifest in his full glory. (As many have noted, this implies that the Titans have either never truly visited Azeroth bodily, or if they did, that they possess some system of travel that Sargeras no longer has access to.)

But while Azshara and her servants among the so called Children of Noble Birth (the Quel'Dorei) worked to bring Sargeras to Azeroth, who opposed them? Who worked against this goal?

Two groups ultimately opposed this action. One was far older and more powerful, invested with their roles by the Titans themselves, but ultimately too slow to act and too trusting in their own wisdom, power and incorruptible natures. An incorruptibility that would prove illusory. The other group was led by one of the Ancient divinities and would enlist the aid of many of his brethren, nigh immortal spirits of the world itself. But in the end, it came down to two brothers and the woman they both loved, Kaldorei who would remind their people exactly who they really were, each in his or her own way.

The coming of the feet that leave ash in their wake

Neither the Dragon Aspects and their Dragonflights nor the mighty Ancients understood the great danger the world was in. During the time that Azshara was slowly coming to realize that she was so perfect, amazing and awe-inspiring that no one in the world could ever be worth her love, Cenarius the son of Malorne was making another attempt to turn the Kaldorei from their destructive, arcane-obsessed ways.

In the past, the elves had been more in tune with nature and the natural world, and so Cenarius sought out students whom he could teach in these older ways. He found two brothers, the twins Malfurion and Illidan Stormrage. He also met Tyrande Whisperwind at this time, but the girl, although respectful and clearly strong-willed, was a member of the Priesthood of Elune and thus not suitable for Cenarius' purposes. At first, Cenarius held out hope for Illidan, born with the golden eyes that indicated he was gifted with great inner druidic power. But Illidan did not know what his golden eyes signified and found the druid magics too slow, too cumbersome and lacking in the intoxicating pull of the Well's arcane magics. It was Malfurion, not born with the amber eyes of destiny, who would master the arts Cenarius was teaching.

Perhaps it is amusing that Azshara, too, had the golden eyes of one born with the natural ability to become a druid. She also believed that her golden eyes merely marked her already obvious greatness.

As Azshara's Quel'dorei began to succeed in their task and widened the portal created by Sargeras' probe across the Twisted Nether, more of his servants began to come through and dominate the palace of Azshara in the city of Zin-Azshari. As the Legion came through, as the Quel'dorei demanded more and more power from the Well, those outside the palace began to notice the strangeness. Magic became harder and harder for those outside of Azshara's chosen to access. Creatures unlike any ever seen by the elves began appearing in the countryside, fighting and even sometimes slaying the elven defenders.

Inquiries to the palace went unanswered. In Suramar, the Sisters of Elune noticed the strangeness as well, as did Cenarius. Informed of the disturbing changes in night elf society by his student Malfurion and former student Illidan, the demigod stirred into action.

The Ancient contacted his peers, the demigods of Azeroth, and made overtures to the dragons led by Alexstraza the Lifebinder. In turn, Alexstraza contacted each of her fellow aspects. It was one of the most respected of these dragons, the Black Dragonflight's leader Neltharion the Earth-Warder who proposed a plan should the worst truly be coming to pass. Alongside his old friend Malygos, Neltharion proposed that a simple golden disc, imbued with the power of each of the aspects in turn, could be created that would be so powerful that no force on Azeroth or indeed even from outside could possibly stand against it. Should all these strange portents really be true, dragonkind would be ready. Convinced by Neltharion's arguments, the other aspects agreed. The Dragon Soul was created.


When the war came, it came suddenly in a torrent of demons flooding the very centers of night elf civilization. The magic-addicted Quel'dorei and Queen Azshara worked under Sargeras' direction to channel the awesome power of the Well of Eternity into a portal large enough for Sargeras. Even before it had reached such titanic dimensions, it was potent enough for waves of demons to flood the shores of the Well. Zin-Azshari, Suramar and other cities fell under full-scale attack by rampaging demons. The warriors of the night elf armies were hampered not only by the loss of much of their arcane strength and the sudden appearance of armies of demons in their cities, but also by their complete unfamiliarity with what they were facing. Infernals raining down on their lands, felhounds devouring the magic of those who managed to overcome the drain on the well ... The elves lost battle after battle while those who were supposed to rule and protect them instead worked to accelerate their destruction.

Into this chaos, the young scholar Malfurion and his tormented, jealous, gifted brother Illidan found themselves thrown fully and completely. Malfurion's growing druid magic was a power that did not depend upon the Well, while Illidan's mastery of the arcane was so instinctive that he could to great degree work out ways to tear power from the very demons they were fighting. Meanwhile, their childhood friend and the woman they both loved, Tyrande Whisperwind, soon proved to be the most capable servant of Elune in generations. Working with Lord Kurtalos Ravencrest, these figures managed to slow the Legion's expansion out from the cities ringing the Well, although the city of Suramar suffered terribly and the streets of Zin-Azshari were thronged by demons.

The war soon grew to include the Ancients themselves, taking bodily forms in order to wage bloody battle against the seemingly endless waves of demons pouring out of the rift feeding from the Well's power. Even these incarnate demigods found themselves overwhelmed by the fel corruption and endless numbers of the Legion, as both Ursoc and Goldrinn perished in battle. As dire as these losses were, they were nothing compared to the loss yet to come.

Lest I find myself a beast

Neltharion's great weapon was unleashed against the Burning Legion at the height of the war, and indeed, it was devastating, powerful, and did all that he had promised. But Neltharion himself was not all he appeared to be -- not any longer. For an untold time, the Aspect of Earth had found himself intrigued by the whispers of the Old Gods pinned within the very earth he was assigned to watch over. These entities, the ancient rivals of the Titans, knew full well who Sargeras was and what his appearance signified for Azeroth. Having worked over the course of thousands of years to suborn Neltharion, they now sought to make use of their newest and most powerful weapon. Why let Sargeras open a portal to anywhere at all when they could divert the power to themselves and crack Azeroth open like an egg? After eons of imprisonment, they could be free.

Neltharion, in the midst of directing the war against the Legion, suddenly turned the Dragon Soul on his own allies. Under the Old God's maddening whispers, he had refused to apportion any of his own power to the device, and so, while the other four aspects were helpless to resist it, he sought to use it to seize control of all dragonkind forever. For attempting to resist him, the Blue Dragonflight of his oldest and closest friend Malygos was nigh destroyed. In a wave of power, Malygos' consort Sindragosa and many of her kinfolk were blasted and hurled away, crashing to land far from even the Wyrmrest Temple and its surrounding dragonshrines to die. Malygos was driven mad by the loss of nearly all of his children at the hands of his oldest friend and the weapon he himself had done so much to create.

However, having not donated any of his own power, Neltharion was unable to endure the combined fury of the other four aspects contained in the Dragon Soul. As his body began to twist and rip open from the manifested volcanic fury of his own seething corruption, he was forced to quit the battle himself, even as his actions drove the other dragons away as well. The power of the dragonflights was broken, and they would play no more role in the war.

Last and first

So in the end, it was neither the demigods of the Ancients nor the Titan-empowered Aspects who halted the Legion's advance. It was the actions of the three elves who had first stood against their Queen who would end not only the war, but the world as it had existed before it.

Next week, the final battle. Then we start to talk about time travel, and things get entirely confusing.

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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