Know Your Lore, Tinfoil Hat Edition: The Well of Eternity

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.

Long, long before the rise of human and orc, the world of Azeroth was far different than it appears today. Instead of the multitude of continents we know of, there was simply one: Kalimdor. It was essentially Azeroth's version of Pangaea -- a supercontinent that covered the world. Places that we travel to today, Northrend, the Eastern Kingdoms, even the islands off the coasts of the world were all part of the massive continent. This was Azeroth, back in the day -- one world, one continent, and a lot of Old Gods.

Theories seem to be mixed on which came first, the Titans or the Old Gods. The latest theory came from the Tribunal of Ages, which implies that the Titans ordered the world and left, then the Old Gods arrived, and then the Titans returned to deal with the problem. After imprisoning the Old Gods, the Titans created safeguards to protect the world, safeguards that would prevent the rise of the Old Gods -- and in the event that the Old Gods returned, safeguards that would go so far as destroying Azeroth itself. Watchers and Aspects were both created and charged with protecting the fragile world.

And, according to various pieces of history, the Titans created the Well of Eternity.

Today's Know Your Lore is a Tinfoil Hat edition, meaning the following is a look into what has gone before with pure speculation on what is to come as a result. These speculations are merely theories and shouldn't be taken as fact or official lore.

Know Your Lore, Tinfoil Hat Edition The Well of Eternity SUN

The Well that changed the world

The exact time that the Well was placed is unknown -- whether it came before or after the Old God infestation. In fact, we know very little about the Well of Eternity; it is simply a font of magic water with incredible properties. Supposedly the Well draws its energies from the Great Dark Beyond, the dark void between worlds that is Azeroth's equivalent of outer space. The well was at the heart of Kalimdor, and its waters flowed to all reaches of the continent, nourishing life. The waters of the well are a thing of curious fascination because of the properties they hold and because they have driven much of the history of Azeroth as we know it.

There are tales told of a tribe of nocturnal humanoids, dark trolls, who wandered too far into the forests of Kalimdor and discovered the original Well. These creatures were changed by the energies that flowed forth from the Well, evolving into what we know today as the night elves. And once the night elves came into full power, they were a force to be reckoned with. The kaldorei clashed with the trolls and handed them a resounding defeat, signaling the first moment in the eventual downfall of the great troll empires.

The kaldorei were masters of magic in large part due to the Well of Eternity. Kaldorei sorcerers rose to higher power and rank than those that chose not to use the energies of the Well. Eventually, a social caste system rose firmly into place by the time Queen Azshara came to power. Queen Azshara was one of the most powerful sorceresses Azeroth had ever seen, and she owed a large part of that to the Well of Eternity. Her highborne were the favored kaldorei, those who practiced magic with as avid a ferocity as she herself did.

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The eye of Sargeras

It was this overwhelming amount of magical manipulation that eventually drew the attention of Sargeras, the fallen Titan. Observing the effects of the Well on Azeroth, Sargeras desperately wanted its powers for his own. And so began the events of the War of the Ancients, in which the kaldorei engaged in civil war between Highborne and non, the Burning Legion sought to corrupt kaldorei society and take over Azeroth in the name of Sargeras, and the Aspects -- Titan-created protectors of Azeroth -- dealt with the betrayal of one of their own, Deathwing.

In the end, there was only one thing to be done to prevent the invasion of the Burning Legion: the portal connecting the Burning Legion to Azeroth over the Well of Eternity had to be destroyed. The aftereffects of its destruction forever changed the face of Azeroth. Unable to withstand the force of the portal's closure, the Well literally tore the continent of Kalimdor apart, flinging continents across the sea into the configuration we know today. Desperate to save the source of the powers he carried, Illidan Stormrage filled seven vials with water from the Well prior to its destruction and took them away, to be used at a later time to create another Well.

Undeniable temptation

That's right: The powers of the Well of Eternity were so great, so marvelously powerful, that even those who had witnessed the horrors of the War of the Ancients and the Sundering were still drawn to their use. Despite the fact that it might bring about a second War of the Ancients, the remaining Highborne, including Illidan Stormrage, still sought to use the powers of the Well. Illidan placed three vials of the water into a pool at the base of the World Tree Nordrassil, and in doing so created another Well. It wasn't as strong as the original, but strong enough to do. He was imprisoned for his crimes, the rest of kaldorei civilization horrified at his actions.

The Well of Eternity has impacted pretty much every piece of history on Azeroth to date. The remains of the Well washed out to sea where the Maelstrom now lies, a swirling vortex of water and magical energy left over from the original Well that never ceases its violent churning. For a creation of the Titans, the denizens of Azeroth certainly mucked up the Well of Eternity, pretty much destroying everything it represented.

So why, exactly, did the Titans create the Well in the first place?

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Why the well?

There was certainly no need for a font of magical power on Azeroth. The races of Azeroth at the time were relatively primitive and had no need for magical powers. The planet itself was presumably full of life at the time of the Well's creation. The Titans by all rights should have known that the Well would create issues with the natural creatures on Azeroth. More importantly, as former comrades of Sargeras, they should have known it would draw his attention sooner or later. Why leave a Well of unfathomable power on a planet in the middle of nowhere like that?

The truth is, we don't really know what the Well's original purpose was. We can only speculate on what it might have been. We don't know how long it took for Azeroth to evolve the kaldorei or how long kaldorei civilization was around before Azshara's reign; perhaps the Well was meant as a catalyst, something to jump-start Azeroth's evolution and speed up the developmental process of the world. It certainly managed to do that with the kaldorei.

We also don't know if the Well existed before or after the Old Gods' arrival on Azeroth. If it was before, it's possible that the Well attracted the Old Gods in the first place. If after, it could have been something additional to keep the Old Gods at bay -- magical water seeping into the foundations of the world, deep beneath the earth where the Old Gods were held imprisoned, used to simply strengthen the world to seal the prisons and keep them locked tight.

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Some sort of sense

If this is the case, the actions of the Old Gods and the involvement of Deathwing in the War of the Ancients make perfect sense. Use Deathwing to create the Dragon Soul, which will eventually be used to detonate the Well of Eternity and send the continents of Azeroth spinning out of control. Theoretically, this would weaken the prisons of the Old Gods enough that they could break free and resume their chaotic rampage. As Neltharion, the dragon was closely entwined with the deep places of the world, so the Old Gods could get to him -- but the rest of the world was largely unaffected.

But once the Sundering occurred, the reach of the Old Gods extended, which meant that they could contact Azshara directly and offer her rescue in favor of her servitude. This also plays incredibly well into the creation of the naga race. If the Well of Eternity and water were so important to the conditions of the Old Gods' release, then naturally they would want to take control of the oceans and find any remaining pockets of the original Well to detonate those, as well.

This is what they very nearly did when Deathwing tore through the Maelstrom into Azeroth. The Maelstrom isn't just any whirlpool; it was a whirlpool created when the energy-infused waters of the Well of Eternity met the waters of Azeroth's oceans. Perhaps the Old Gods sought to create another detonation -- only they weren't particularly successful at that task, either.

Yet this theory, while plausible enough, still leaves a significant question unanswered. The Titans took great care to place failsafes around the prisons of the Old Gods, as evidenced in Ulduar. Where, then, were the Titans when the Well of Eternity faltered? Why weren't they notified when the world virtually exploded?

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Like a bee to a flower

I have a hummingbird feeder on my deck. It's a very nice hummingbird feeder, but it tends to attract just as many bees as it does birds. This is a problem of course, because we don't really want the bees bothering the birds. So I purchased a bee trap of sorts, one that isn't full of poisons or sticky glue that might hurt the hummingbirds. It works very similarly to a hummingbird feeder -- you fill the top with water, but you also use a tube of smelly stuff that apparently attracts the bees to the bee trap. Once inside, the bees can't fly back out, and eventually fall into the water and drown. It works remarkably well.

What if the Well of Eternity was Azeroth's version of a bee trap?

What if it wasn't meant to contain the Old Gods? What if it had nothing to do with the Old Gods at all? At the end of the Dragon Soul raid, Alexstrasza notes that the Aspects have fulfilled their purpose in the world and that the age of mortals has begun. This could mean several things, but the most obvious is that the Aspects were charged with protecting the world, and the mortal creatures of Azeroth just proved that they were more than capable of protecting the world on their own.

Think about it: If we as mortals are powerful enough to not only kill an Aspect but kill an Aspect that has been fully imbued with the powers of the Old Gods, that makes us a formidable force to be reckoned with. The Well of Eternity was tied directly to the Great Dark Beyond, the void between worlds -- the void that exists between the various dimensions. It should have been obvious to the Titans that creating an object that powerful would eventually catch Sargeras' attention.

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The world as a developmental experiment

And perhaps it was meant to all along. I've theorized before that Azeroth itself is an experiment, a developmental weapon meant to eventually take down Sargeras and the Burning Legion. Signs in game, mentions of ultimate battles between Light and Darkness, they all point to the same thing -- that one day we will be called upon to face the ultimate Darkness. Right now, it appears that darkness is the chaos of the universe, which has Sargeras as its ultimate champion. Taking out Sargeras would be a massive undertaking, only capable by the most powerful beings in the universe.

We, as mortals of this odd little world called Azeroth, are those champions. We didn't start out that way. The planet certainly didn't start out that way at all. But through the process of evolution, of wars, of sheer history, we've come to a point where we have proven we are stronger than the strongest of enemies the planet can throw at us. What if the Well were placed not just as an evolutionary speed boost, but as a test?

Bait Sargeras and the Burning Legion to attack the world and see how the world handles the problem. While we didn't do the most remarkable job of keeping the world completely whole, we did manage to halt Sargeras' attempts. And this had the added effect of infuriating him to the point that he continues to place particular effort on getting his revenge on our world, sending various lieutenants and armies for the purpose of harnessing power. Archimonde was sent to the World Tree, which just happened to have another Well beneath it.

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The Well survives

Maybe that's why the Well's powers are so addictive and why the Titans never responded to the Well's destruction -- because they knew the Well would survive in one form or another. They knew the mortal races of the world would be not only fascinated but bound to the Well's powers, to the point where they would recreate it if necessary. Illidan took seven vials from the Well of Eternity. Three were used to create the new well, one was used to create the Sunwell, and two were given to Illidan's lieutenants, Kael'thas and Vashj. This leaves one vial unaccounted for.

Perhaps the Well of Eternity was meant to attract Sargeras, like a bee trap. It was meant to bring him to Azeroth, to test the mettle of the mortal races. Though they succeeded, they would continue to be tested again and again over the centuries, and at each point they would theoretically succeed and grow stronger. A biological weapon that adapts to every attack. The Titans wouldn't bother responding to the destruction of the Well, because this was simply part of the plan -- part of the evolution of the weapon.

The original Well of Eternity was a creation of unfathomable power. The effects of its creation and subsequent destruction still impact Azeroth to this day. Though the mortals of Azeroth may have risen above the need of the Aspects, they still remain in some ways bound to the mysterious Well, and its waters still affect the world in ways we cannot comprehend. And although the original Well may be lost to the Maelstrom, Azeroth may yet see its influence in years to come, whether it be through the manipulations of the Old Gods and their servants, or the return of the Burning Legion.

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.