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.
This is the story of an extraordinary man, his draconic best friend, and the elf he loved and eventually married. Well ... not exactly. Common thought lends itself to the perception that this is all there is to his story, that there is little more to the flame-tressed hero than a series of events in which he stepped up and played the part of the hero again and again, flawlessly performing astonishing feats of magic, his doe-eyed, winsome elven woman at his side. That he is friend to the dragons, fearless leader of the Kirin Tor, a man of great and shining destiny.
Common thought would be entirely wrong.
Let's begin again: This is the story of a man who desperately wanted nothing more in the world than to be left alone to practice his magic and attain glory -- not for the good of the world, but the good of himself. Selfish, self-centered, cocky, quick to anger and arrogant, he is drawn inexorably into his destiny not by fate, but by the scaly hands of a meddling dragon. The dragon, however, isn't really concerned with the man at all -- he's merely using the man for his own selfish draconic reasons. And the winsome, doe-eyed elven woman? She may be beautiful, but she's also annoying, stubborn, and just as arrogant as the man, when it comes right down to it.
The man's name is Rhonin, his life is largely out of his hands, and he's not particularly happy about it.
It all began during the Second War, when the Kirin Tor's high council of mages, sometimes called the "Six," were called to a meeting regarding a resurgence of Horde forces in and around Grim Batol. Though the Horde had been defeated, and a large chunk of the orc forces placed in internment camps, some remained and they were a force to be reckoned with. Not because they were particularly brutal; because they had red dragons working with them.
It wasn't a willing alliance. The orcs of the Dragonmaw Clan had in their clutches a device so powerful, so monstrous that it could control any dragon of their choosing -- a device called the Demon Soul. Zuluhed the Whacked, one of the few remaining orc shamans on Azeroth, gave the Demon Soul to Nekros during the Second War. Though Zuluhed wasn't able to use the device, his second-in-command certainly was, and promptly used the thing to enslave Alexstrasza, Dragonqueen and Aspect of Life.
But this meeting was called not because of the captive Dragonqueen, but because the mages had noticed signs, events and attacks near Khaz Modan that pointed to the return of Deathwing. This was disturbing to say the very least, as the Kirin Tor had supposedly killed the former Aspect of Earth mere months before. Though some of the mages in this meeting were concerned with Deathwing's possible return, the others were far more concerned with more pressing matters -- political matters.
For Alterac was without a leader, and the Alliance was under a great deal of political turmoil in regards to who should take hold of the land. The bickering threatened to tear the Alliance apart, and that didn't sit right with the Kirin Tor. As for the strange events happening near Khaz Modan, it was decided that a mage should be sent to observe the situation and report back only if it looked grim. The sixth mage of the council suggested that the one sent to watch should be Rhonin.
But the mages of the council weren't sure that was a good idea. You see, Rhonin wasn't particularly liked by the Kirin Tor, or held in high regard. In fact, at the beginning of this story, Rhonin was actually on probation because he killed five other Kirin Tor mages. The Kirin Tor wasn't sure what to make of Rhonin; some thought him a criminal, some though him mentally unstable, and nearly all thought he was a man that couldn't be trusted.
And he wasn't. Not exactly. The mission that Rhonin was in trouble for was a mission to destroy some leftover Horde forces -- a group of orc warlocks. Rhonin had asked, nearly insisted that he be allowed to go alone, but the Kirin Tor wouldn't allow it. When Rhonin cast the spell that detonated the troops he was sent to kill, those other Kirin Tor mages happened to get in the way. While part of Rhonin felt terrible, horrible for what had happened -- there was another part that duly noted this only served to prove his point: He worked best alone.
Was he a criminal? No -- he didn't kill the mages in cold blood, and if they'd stayed out of his way, they wouldn't be dead. Unstable? Maybe just a little -- after all, his solution to "taking care of the orc problem" was "blow them up." Trustworthy? Not exactly. Rhonin served his own purposes, and nobody else's. His wish to work alone wasn't out of care for his fellow mages; it was because he wanted the honor, the glory, the prestige and reputation that completing these great tasks would bring. And he wanted it all for himself.
Not really much of a hero, is he? Regardless, the high council of Six finally capitulated to the last mage's suggestion -- not because they thought Rhonin would become a hero, but because they figured at the very least, it would get the troublesome mage out of their hair and off somewhere on a menial task. What they didn't realize is that they were being very deliberately set up; but given the political turmoil in Lordaeron, they weren't paying very close attention.
The sixth mage delivered the news personally to Rhonin: That he was to be sent to Khaz Modan, and then to the depths of Grim Batol itself. Not to watch over things and report back if the situation got worse -- to set in motion the steps needed to free the Dragonqueen, Alexstrasza.
If you're scratching your head and wondering where exactly "go and watch Khaz Modan" turned into "free the Dragonqueen," don't worry, the high council of Six had no idea, either. Except for the sixth mage, the one who suggested that Rhonin go. Because the sixth mage, a man called Krasus, wasn't a mage or a man at all -- he was Korialstrasz, consort of Alexstrasza and right up there with the black dragonflight when it came to being meddlesome.
Krasus was using the Kirin Tor in order to suit his own needs, and he saw in Rhonin not only a powerful mage -- because yes, Rhonin was powerful -- but a man who could be manipulated into doing Krasus' bidding. Offer the man enough accolades; give him a job important enough, and he'd automatically rise to the challenge. If Alexstrasza was freed as a result, then Krasus got what he wanted, the return of his beloved queen. If Rhonin didn't succeed, then Krasus could simply find another mage and try again.
What's interesting is that while Krasus was busy manipulating Rhonin into carrying out his plans, Deathwing -- who was not dead, as surmised by the mages of the high council -- was doing much the same. He had taken on the guise of one Lord Daval Prestor, and was merrily wrapping the high council of Lordaeron around his finger. In fact, most of the political nonsense the council of Six was worried about was a direct result of Deathwing's meddling.
So what made Deathwing and Krasus different? Nothing other than intention. While Deathwing planned to steal Alexstrasza's eggs and use them for his own dragonflight, Krasus wanted to free Alexstrasza from her imprisonment. Though Krasus' intentions were "good," his methods were just as warped as Deathwing's were. And while Krasus was busy uncovering Deathwing's true identity, Deathwing was busy uncovering Krasus' plot.
Rhonin, in the meantime, was pleased that he was sent on a mission of such importance -- completely unaware of the fact that the Kirin Tor thought this mission was nothing more than a survey. In fact, he was under the impression that this was a sign of the Kirin Tor's forgiveness, and he hoped to make it up to them. The fact that he inadvertently killed fellow mages bothered him more than he could say or admit to anyone, and he saw Krasus' mission as not only a chance to redeem himself in the eyes of the Kirin Tor, but to try and atone for those deaths.
He wasn't alone on his mission, however. The first leg of his journey required a visit to Hasic, a small port town with ships that would carry him into Khaz Modan. In order to get to Hasic, he was assigned an escort to watch over him, an elven ranger named Vereesa Windrunner. Vereesa wasn't exactly pleased with her assignment, but as one of the few remaining high elves that stuck with the Alliance, she was willing to carry out the mission and see Rhonin off on wherever it was he was going to go.
Needless to say Rhonin and Vereesa didn't exactly hit it off. He viewed her as an annoying distraction, company that wasn't needed, and she viewed him as an arrogant, pompous pain in the rear end. Complicating the situation was the meddling of the paladins of the Silver Hand, and of the dwarves of Aerie Peak. While Rhonin wanted nothing more than to turn them all away and continue on his own, Vereesa took a different tactic and smiled her way into their hearts, earning their immediate offers of help.
And perhaps that's the first time Rhonin realized that maybe it was better to ask for help with kind words, rather than barking orders and assuming everyone would do as they were told. That's also probably the first time that Rhonin felt a twinge of affection for the annoying elf; despite her stubbornness and arrogance, her manipulation was clever, and it got him where he needed to be. Sort of.
For the dragons of the world were far from done meddling with Rhonin's life, and the next dragon he spoke to made no effort to disguise himself. Deathwing kidnapped the mage and offered to help him free Alexstrasza. Rhonin didn't trust Deathwing in the slightest, but the powers of the Aspect greatly outshone anything Rhonin could hope to do, and so he agreed.
Over the course of time, Krasus discovered the error of his ways. His actions so closely mirrored the actions of Deathwing that regardless of intent, it was clear that what he was doing was wrong. He revealed himself to Rhonin, apologizing for his interference in Rhonin's life and begging forgiveness.
Rhonin was understandably furious about the situation. Here he'd been led to believe that he was working for the Kirin Tor, that he'd been granted forgiveness for the mistakes he'd made. He was under the impression that the Kirin Tor actually trusted him again, and in actuality, he was being toyed with back and forth by a couple of dragons who had apparently decided human beings made excellent puppets.
Yet he agreed to help Krasus, agreed to help free the Dragonqueen because in the end, it was the right thing to do -- and Deathwing couldn't be allowed to carry on with whatever scheme he had in mind. Eventually, Deathwing's plot was uncovered, Alexstrasza freed. As for the Demon Soul, Rhonin shattered the thing with a piece of Deathwing's hide. Once the Demon Soul was destroyed, the powers it had been granted by the Aspects were returned to them, and they proceeded to beat the snot out of Deathwing, who barely managed to make an escape.
As for Rhonin, once the battle was over and the Dragonqueen was freed, he found himself in the position of having to return to the Kirin Tor and explain what exactly happened in Grim Batol. While this was an uncomfortable thought, he had Vereesa's company, as the elf had decided that perhaps the annoying mage needed to be watched over for more than just a trip to Grim Batol. And he also had the knowledge that he had somehow played a small part in Azeroth's survival. It was enough, for him.
It would have been a happily ever after of sorts, Rhonin and Vereesa falling in love, getting married, and continuing on with their lives in a quiet corner of Lordaeron. Except that the Third War and the near destruction of Dalaran, the death of the Alliance of Lordaeron, the birth of the Lich King and the ruin of the northern kingdoms quite handily put an end to that idea. Vereesa's homeland of Quel'Thalas was shattered; Rhonin's remaining family died in Andorhal, and the two realized the only thing they had to keep themselves from being alone was each other. Despite protests from both Vereesa's people and Rhonin's superiors, the two were wed.
And that might have ended in a happily ever after, except that Krasus was far from done with the human mage. Nozdormu, the Aspect of Time was in trouble -- and asked Krasus to help him. Not wanting to go alone, Krasus decided to drag Rhonin along back in time to the War of the Ancients. Matthew Rossi already covered the events of the War of the Ancients a few weeks ago, and it's an excellent read. The timeline was saved, and Rhonin was returned to his proper time just in time to see his wife give birth to twins, and perhaps this could have been his happily ever after.
But it wasn't. The near-destruction of Dalaran had left the mages of the Kirin Tor shattered, and they needed a new leader, someone with a different way of thinking. Someone capable of stepping up and taking charge, of giving orders where need be, someone with Azeroth's best intentions at heart. And so they came to Rhonin and asked him to step up and be that leader.
Rhonin took the job -- but not because he wanted to. If he had had his way, he would have remained quietly with his wife and his children trying to live out some sort of semblance of a normal life. He took it because he had, over the course of his lifetime and the meddling of several dragons, been given a sense of responsibility, and he felt he needed to at least try and help Azeroth. If nothing else, he could ensure the safety of himself, his wife, and his children -- and hopefully the rest of Azeroth's population as well.
And it's this man that we see, at last, in the trailer to Ulduar -- a powerful mage in a position of authority desperately trying to save the world from what seems to be a disastrous situation. A man who is quick to anger, and wishing fervently that he could pound some sense into the thick skulls of Varian and Garrosh. A man who will not hesitate to call both parties on their shortcomings in the face of a far greater danger and a threat to all.
A tired man, a beleaguered leader that has had that leadership thrust upon him, and had no choice but to accept it, according to his morals and beliefs. Rhonin is far from a hero; far from the godlike persona people like to attribute to him. He's worn, he's tired, he's fed up with petty political squabbles and he's not willing to take an ounce of attitude from anyone. In that, perhaps he is a great leader, or at the very least one of the better leaders Azeroth has.
For as he states when returning the Reply Code Alpha signal to the Titans, "It's up to each of us to prove this is a world worth saving." To Rhonin, this is an absolute certainty -- he's simply waiting, impatient and annoyed, for the rest of the world to wake up and see 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.