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Know Your Lore: A look at the lore of Diablo

Matthew Rossi

This special edition of Know Your Lore presents an overview of the lore of the Diablo games and their setting, the world of Sanctuary. Each week, Matthew Rossi and Anne Stickney make sure you Know Your Lore by covering the history of the story behind World of Warcraft. Enjoy this week's diversion into the world of Diablo III.

The Diablo games are very different from anything in the Warcraft setting, a far more black-and-white morality played out in endless cosmic war between absolute forces of order and righteousness opposing evil and chaos. This war, the Great or Eternal Conflict, is so massive in scale and scope that it can almost be said to be endless. The war predates the world of Sanctuary, the realm where mortal men and women are born and live out their lives. Indeed, Sanctuary itself was created by a rogue angel and his demonic lover and ally as a place to find an end to the war.

But before the conflict, before the universe itself existed, there was only Anu. Anu existed as a pearl, a central point which contained all evil and all good, all possibilities and all dualities contained within its mirrored surface. Yet Anu felt imperfect in its duality and sought purity in the rejection of its negative aspects, casting them aside to become a being of glittering diamond -- a perfected warrior. Yet what Anu rejected, his cast-off impurities themselves became perfection of a dark bent, forming the monstrous Tathamet. This seven-headed dragon declared war on the glittering Anu, who in turn sought to destroy that which he had cast out of himself.

A creation through self-annihilation

Within the pearl that had been Anu's entire existence, the diamond and Tathamet the Prime Evil did battle. The time of their conflict is not relevant, for no time existed before it or during it. In the end, Anu and Tathamet were annihilated by each other. The result of their destruction was the creation of the High Heavens, the Burning Hells, and Pandemonium between them, where the Eye of Anu rested. The heads of the destroyed dragon of death became the Prime and Lesser Evils of Hell itself, while the essence of Anu scattered to the High Heavens coalesced into the Angirus Council and ultimately the Angels.

And so the war for control of everything began, at the very moment that everything itself also came to be.

The Eternal Conflict earned its name, ranging back and forth across creation. Many realms became battlegrounds for the opposing forces of Heaven and Hell. Worlds rose and fell, often destroyed by the very battle to determine who would control them. In time, there were those on both sides who tired of the battle, the endless status quo of two deadlocked hosts playing at eternal battle. Two figures, Inarius of the Angiris Council and Lilith, daughter of Mephisto (one of the three Prime Evils), came together in an alliance neither holy nor infernal but rejecting both. They led many angels and demons to likewise abandon the war without end, seeking a new place to call their own.

The theft of the Worldstone and the Sin War

In order to make that place real, they managed to steal the Eye of Anu, using its great power to create a new world, the world today called Sanctuary by the men and women who live upon it. Those men and women do not know that they themselves descend from Inarius and Lillith and the other angels and demons who retreated to their new world.

Once Sanctuary existed, the self-exiled hosts bred a new generation neither angel nor demon but both and therefore neither, the nephalem. These beings threatened to eclipse the power of their sires and dams, as they were the first beings since Anu to contain myriad possibilities. They could be evil or good, orderly or chaotic, and their might seemed without limit. To prevent them from growing more powerful than their maker, Inarius used the power of the Eye of Anu (now called the Worldstone) to impose limits on these potentially unlimited sons and daughters of his own actions, forcing them to diminish over time. Eventually, they became the humans of today.

Inarius then used the Worldstone to imprison Lilith for her work in using the young humans to overthrow both Heaven and Hell and end the war by destroying both factions. For a time, Sancturary continued on, unknown to the Angiris Council and the forces of Heaven but discovered by the powers of Hell. Inarius fought a shadow war with the Prime Evils for a time, using the untrammeled might of the Worldstone to oppose them in the conflict that became known as the Sin War.

In time, a mortal named Uldyssian proved Inarius' concerns correct when his nephalem-descended powers were unlocked. He led others like himself in combat with both the Cathedral of Light (a religion backed by Inarius) and the Triune, a corrupted parody of faith built around the three Prime Evils. In time, Uldyssian sacrificed himself to defeat Inarius and in so doing proved to Tyrael that the humans of Sanctuary, descended from both angel and demon, deserved a chance to exist.

It was Tyrael's vote that ultimately spared Sancturary from destruction by the Angiris Council following the end of the Sin War, and so the council and the Prime Evil Mephisto signed an accord of non-interference in Sanctuary and the affairs of these strange beings. Inarius was handed over to Mephisto as the price of the bargain, and the Prime Evil took the captive former Archangel to the Burning Hells to be tortured and tormented.

As one might expect, the Prime Evils immediately began seeking a way to break the pact, enslave the mortals to use as weapons in the war, and grab control of the Worldstone for themselves. Even as they did so, the memory of the Sin War and the terrible secrets it revealed about human origins were removed from mankind, which would make its own way free of that knowledge and the dreadful potential the race promised.

The Dark Exile

What happened next set the stage for the events of the three Diablo games. The three Prime Evils, Mephisto, Baal and Diablo, were seemingly overthrown and cast into Sancturary by the four Lesser Evils in what is called the Dark Exile. While the four Lesser Evils then turned against one another in an attempt to destroy each other and become sole ruler of Hell, the Primes were now free to act on Sancturary, having subverted the pact with Heaven. Tyrael, the Archangel of Justice, took action to prevent the Prime Evils from succeeding in their plans by helping found the Horadrim, as he feared that informing the rest of the Angiris Council would lead to the destruction of Sanctuary and the humans.

Since it was humanity at stake should the Prime Evils corrupt their world, Tyrael turned to human magi and taught them powerful magical secrets of binding, allowing them to imprison the three Prime Evils and temporarily halt the danger to Sanctuary. Yet even this was twisted and corrupted by the Primes, who slowly used the binding magic against those who would bind them.

It should be noted that the angel Izual seemed to believe (and having defected to Hell, he was in a position to know) that the Prime Evils set the whole Dark Exile in motion as a means to circumvent the pact and claimthe power of the nephalem to use in the war against Heaven.

Each of the Prime Evils was bound in a Soulstone, a fragment of the Worldstone specially designed to contain their spirit. Baal destroyed the Amber Soulstone during the effort to capture him, but a Horadrim mage named Tal Rasha volunteered to complete the ritual using his own body and contained Baal for generations within himself even after the Prime Evil of Destruction had destroyed his very identity. Diablo, however, was imprisoned successfully, and his soulstone buried in caves, then a Horadrim monastery erected atop those caves to watch over the site.

Still, once all three of the Prime Evils were supposedly safely locked away, the Horadrim had no motivation to exist and began to drift apart. However, unknown to Tyrael, his former ally Izual had betrayed the secrets of the Soulstones to the Prime Evils.

The fall of Tristram, the rise of Diablo

For nearly 200 years, Diablo lay imprisoned deep beneath the old Horadrim monastery, even as a town began to take shape around it. It was named Tristram, and the monastery became known as Tristram Cathedral, its original purpose lost to history. Then came Leoric. a follower of the Zakarum faith, alongside his advisor Archbishop Lazarus to settle the town and declare the region of Khanduras his kingdom. Tristram became his cathedral.

At first, Leoric seemed a righteous and noble king even to those who viewed him as a foreigner, because he was a righteous and noble king. Sadly, Lazarus was far from the kindly man of faith he pretended to be. Instead, nearly as soon as he arrived in Tristram, Lazarus made his way down into the depths of the earth below the Cathedral and found Diablo's soulstone, shattering it and freeing the Lord of Terror from his confinement.

Many of the Zakarum had been corrupted by Mephisto, whose Soulstone had been entrusted to the Zakarum by the Horadrim. Lazarus, one of these corrupted clergymen, influenced Leoric to settle in Tristram in order that he might find the Prime Evil's prison and then served Diablo by aiding the demon in attempting to drive Leoric mad. Thus insane, Diablo believed Leoric would be a suitable vessel for his demonic spirit. But even in madness, Leoric defied Diablo.

In time, the Prime Evil forced Lazarus to bring him Prince Albrecht, the younger son of King Leoric, to serve instead. As a result, Lazarus formented discord among Leoric's men and even eventually led them and many of the people of Tristram into the Cathedral to be slaughtered by the demons within. It fell to Aidan, estranged elder son of Leoric, to slay his possessed brother and defeat Diablo. But in his victory, Aidan foolishly attempted to recreate the act of Tal Rasha and placed the Soulstone within his own head to attempt to contain Diablo.

The coming of the Dark Wanderer

Contained the demon was, but controlled he was not. Instead, he seized control of Aidan's body, transforming him into the Dark Wanderer, and led him on a march through Sanctuary. The ruins of Tristram were infested with demons, as was the Rogue Monastery held by Andariel. At the tomb of Tal Rasha, the Wanderer did battle with Tyrael.

However, Marius, a man drawn into the Dark Wanderer's orbit, freed Baal from Tal Rasha's body, and the two Prime Evils together overpowered Tyrael and set Duriel the Lesser Evil of Pain to watch over the trapped archangel. In the end, the three Prime Evils were reunited and a portal to Hell erected, but while Mephisto and Diablo both perished at the hands of mortal heroes, Baal reclaimed his soulstone and made his way to Mount Arreat, the place where the Worldstone was concealed following the Sin War. Despite the efforts of the heroes who slew his brothers and Tyrael as well, Baal managed to make his way to the Worldstone and began to corrupt it before he was slain. In the end, Tyrael destroyed the Worldstone, and in so doing, removed the power that held the nephalem blood in check.

Thus ends the story to date. Diablo III takes up the events of the story some 20 years after the supposed defeat of the Prime Evils and the destruction of the Worldstone by Tyrael. How the civil war in hell between the Lesser Evils has been progressing in the absence of Duriel and the seeming destruction of Mephisto, Baal and Diablo -- well, that's what we're all waiting to play the game to find out, after all.

See you there.

Evil has returned! 1.2 million WoW players are getting Diablo 3 for free thanks to the Annual Pass. You can get prepared for the evil with WoW Insider's launch coverage. From the lore of Diablo, to the important blue posts and the basics of Diablo gameplay, we'll get you on the inside track for the return of evil.

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