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Know Your Lore: Archimonde the Defiler

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.

Let this scar signify the first blow against the mortal world. From this seal shall arise the doom of men, who, in their arrogance, sought to wield our fire as their own. Blindly they build their kingdoms upon stolen knowledge and conceit. Now they shall be consumed by the very flame they sought to control. Let the echoes of doom resound across this wretched world, that all who live may hear them and despair.

He came to destroy the world, and he nearly did. If not for the combined efforts of the orcs of the Horde and their allies under Warchief Thrall, the human refugees led by Jaina Proudmoore, and the night elves under Tyrande Whisperwind, Archimonde the Defiler would have walked up to Nordrassil, the World Tree that sits atop Mount Hyjal, and he would have consumed it utterly. With it, he would have gained all the power of the Well of Eternity that has seeped up the tree's massive roots over tens of thousands of years, making him quite possibly the most powerful entity Azeroth has ever seen, even including beings like Deathwing, the Old Gods, and potentially even Sargeras himself.

In the end, however, the mortal races banded together in a desperate alliance and held Archimonde and his Burning Legion away from the tree long enough for Malfurion Stormrage to play a final, desperate plan that Archimonde couldn't anticipate, because it involved self-sacrifice, the loss of the night elven immortality. For Archimonde, who had lived for more than 25,000 years constantly coveting power, the idea of giving it up was unthinkable. Combined with his ego and arrogance, he was effectively blind to the danger, and so he died.

We hope. Make no mistake -- Archimonde, of all the Burning Legion, came the closest to actually destroying Azeroth. Neither Sargeras nor Kil'jaeden ever walked Azeroth bodily. Archimonde did. Neither Sargeras nor Kil'jaeden ever set eyes on the Well of Eternity. Archimonde stood mere yards from it, drawing the power from Nordrassil. The Defiler very nearly did exactly that to all of Azeroth.

The hunger for absolute power

Of course, Archimonde didn't start out a world destroyer. He was born on Argus, part of its society of eredar who were mastering magic and building a way of life that was beginning to explore the cosmos itself. Archimonde, along with Kil'jaeden and Velen, was a member of the ruling triumvirate for his entire world, greatly respected and honored. But it wasn't enough for him.

For one thing, he wasn't as close to his fellow leaders as they were with each other. Kil'jaeden and Velen considered each other to be brothers, not by blood but by temperament and personality. Both loved the quest for knowledge, loved to study existence and uncover new and startling ways to look at the vast universe. Archimonde did not have that kind of patience. He craved power even beyond that the eredar had already mastered. And so, when Sargeras came to the eredar and offered them power and knowledge, Archimonde was only too willing to take the offer. In the end, Kil'jaeden did as well, his curiosity and desire overwhelming his willingness to listen to his "brother" Velen. Archimonde, of course, encouraged this break between them.

Never to be satiated

Sargeras did in fact empower the eredar who took the pact to serve as the leaders and generals of his vast, universe destroying army, and Archimonde became the Defiler, the fist of Sargeras. While Kil'jaeden took charge of the more subtle operatives, Archimonde's lust for naked power led him to assemble a force of annihilan (pit lords like Mannoroth) and the ered'ruin, or doomguards. This made Archimonde effectively the commander of all of the Burning Legion's armies. When it was time to shift from corrupting a world to destroying it, Archimonde took center stage.

While Kil'jaeden and Archimonde had a kind of rivalry, this didn't prevent them from working together. In part this was due to Kil'jaeden's obsession with finding and destroying his old friend Velen, which Archimonde didn't share. Like Sargeras, he was of the mindset that the Legion was going to destroy everything in time, and that included Velen and the exiles, but Kil'jaeden would have none of it. Archimonde delighted in mocking his colleague over this, which in turn helped fuel their rivalry, as each ruled over his various portions of the Legion and its forces.

Everything went smoothly for Archimonde for roughly 15,000 years. The Legion conquered world after world. Most were simply destroyed or rendered utterly uninhabitable, although a few were converted if their people seemed useful to the Legion. There was no stopping their relentless march through infinity, consuming it as they went, a force of pure nihilism in action. The constant demonstration of his superiority to everything in existence fed Archimonde's already excessive ego, giving him that taste of power he'd always craved. It was never enough, of course, but that just motivated him to keep working Sargeras' will upon the offensive face of life everywhere.

Then came a speck of mud called Azeroth.

Thwarted by insects

At first, the invasion went as smoothly as ever. Archimonde personally led forces to the dirty little world and did battle with its so-called Ancients, snapping the neck of the stag-lord Malorne in one-on-one combat. The mages of the natives who were working for Sargeras worked to open the portal over the Well of Eternity so as to let Sargeras himself walk the planet, a rare honor for so insignificant a world.The Well was a singular font of power unlike anything the Legion had ever seen in the cosmos before, and with its power, Sargeras could well eclipse the rest of the Titans and bring the Legion directly against them.

Yet somehow, it all fell apart. As the pathetic resistance forces came to face the Legion in combat, Archimonde sought the night elf druid who had so irritated him by refusing to die, a night elf named Malfurion Stormrage. Unable to find him, he took out his fury against Jarod Shadowsong, intending to break the night elf commander's will by killing him with the exquisite slowness learned on countless worlds. Yet the night elf defied him and, despite his injuries, refused to yield. Before Archimonde got around to killing him, Stormrage revealed why he had been so difficult to find -- he had been tampering with the portal over the Well, and as it collapsed, the magical resonance between it and the demons who had used it snapped. In an instant of massive frustration, Archimonde and the rest of the Legion were yanked bodily back to the Twisting Nether.

The Legion had been defeated. Archimonde had been defeated. Not only did Archimonde himself now have a failure on his perfect record of conquest for Kil'jaeden to use to mock and belittle him as he had Kil'jaeden over the Velen obsession, not only was Sargeras wroth with him, but his ego and vanity were personally affronted. The insects dared, they dared to refuse to be destroyed by the Legion ... to refuse him as he came to their vapid little mudball, bringing the purity of pure destruction to their tainted little lives.

10,000 years of waiting

He would not accept it. Could not, really -- the insult was too great. For 10,000 years, he brooded and plotted his way to a return. Ironically, it was a result of Sargeras' scheme to implant himself into a human host and Kil'jaeden's final act of vengeance against Velen that would give Archimonde his chance to act at last. Kil'jaeden's corruption of the orcs and Sargeras' use of them to invade Azeroth from within the body of Medivh set the stage. Although Kil'jaeden's revenge seemed complete and the draenei exiles destroyed by the orcs, and Sargeras seemed destroyed or incapacitated when his host body Medivh was slain, Archimonde knew better than to act precipitously. After Kil'jaeden captured and tortured the spirit of the orc shaman Ner'zhul, transforming it into the Lich King, the two acting commanders of the Legion executed their final plan for Azeroth by unleashing the Lich King and his undead Scourge upon the world as a prelude.
The Scourge did its work, and the death knight Arthas Menethil brought the lich Kel'Thuzad the necessary artifacts, including Medivh's own tome of spells, to open a portal for Archimonde to return to Azeroth. In his overweening hubris, Archimonde summarily dismissed the two as irrelevant (allowing them to work subtly to undermine him) and immediately moved to destroy the nearby kingdom of wizards, Dalaran, by himself.

In so doing, Archimonde clearly showed the personal power he'd accumulated over the tens of thousands of years, displaying a potency of sorcerous power unthinkable to the magi of Azeroth. After so destroying the single most powerful collection of magi in the world, Archimonde set the Legion loose upon the former Lordaeron, allowing his demons to burn and destroy at will.

Not only was this somewhat pointless -- the Scourge had already ravaged most of these lands -- it demonstrated the depths of Archimonde's need for dominance. He was so angry at Azeroth for having dared to not be destroyed the last time, he was willing to waste his power on petty and pointless acts of revenge on people who had no idea who he was or why he was doing it, people who had never heard of him or the Legion.

In victory, Archimonde conquers himself

Finally, after wasting time and effort destroying an already ravaged kingdom, Archimonde made for his actual objective. The Lich King used his servant Arthas to deprive the Legion of the Skull of Gul'dan and Tichondrius, a powerful dreadlord helping to spearhead the invasion. Arthas did this by leaking the information to Illidan Stormrage, who devoured the Skull's power and slew Tichondrius in single combat.

Archimonde didn't even deign to acknowledge it. Despite the similarities to what had happened to the Legion 10,000 years earlier, the loss of vital commanders ad the nibbling away at their positions by local resistance, Archimonde took the bulk of the Legion's forces straight to Mount Hyjal. The combined forces of the orcs, humans and night elves melted away before the Legion, constantly falling back, and the eredar lord imagined himself already more than a god as he contemplated draining the massive power stored in the World Tree.

He would become more powerful than Kil'jaeden, than Sargeras himself. He would ascend to total rulership of the Legion, a dark and terrible force ruling everything, everywhere, and bringing it all into the fold of purity by annihilating it all. There was no stopping Archimonde as he made his way to Nordrassil and assaulted it. It was his moment of triumph. In the distance, he could hear a deep, powerful horn reverberate through the forest, but he paid it no heed. The tree was his, and soon the power would be as well. Little did he realize he would gain exactly what he had craved for so long, and that he would not survive it. Growing to massive size, he began to climb the World Tree.

Malfurion once again tricked Archimonde. The eredar simply could not anticipate the mind of the night elf druid, who willingly summoned the wisps of the forest to feed Archimonde exactly what he wanted, the pure, untrammeled power of the Well all at once. The Defiler, in his moment of victory, was destroyed by the very thing he sought, as the power proved far too great for him to contain in this fashion. The eruption of raw magic blasted the World Tree, scarring its trunk and roots with its fury. Of Archimonde there was no sign, his body blasted from existence.

So ended Archimonde the Defiler, blasted into the nothingness he had brought to so many worlds in his time. His second defeat was the most total the Legion ever suffered, a death that left Kil'jaeden as the unquestioned master of the Legion, but a Legion that had lost many of its strongest leaders (Tichondrius, Mannoroth, Archimonde himself) and many of its forces squandered in petty revenge. The shadow fell over Azeroth, and then the light dawned again.

The speck of mud had the last laugh on Archimonde.

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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