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Know Your Lore: The long game of the naaru, part 1

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.

Have you ever noticed that people hate good?

It's funny, and perhaps it's a sign of the times we live in. So many supposedly good people have failed us in some basic way, or used "being good" to excuse really bad behavior, or covered for greed, culpability, fanaticism, or other negatives with a veneer of saintliness. Good doesn't sizzle. And the naaru are very troublesome in this regard, because everything they've done so far appears to be absolutely selfless and beneficial. So from the cynical, modern perspective, the search begins for a string attached.

I'm picking a bit on my colleague Anne Stickney here, who I have (in jest) accused of being a double agent for Sargeras in the past. I'm also picking on Rades, because I just woke up and saw on Twitter that he'd written a "the naaru are secretly evil" post, and my response to that is visceral. I'm very weary of attempts to force the naaru into the role of villain, a role they simply do not fit. At this point, making the naaru secretly evil would be yet another of the "seemingly noble person or persons falls to evil" stories, basically. I think we've had enough of that.

Sometimes good is good enough

I don't find the idea that the draenei are presented as without flaw and thus are uninteresting even remotely accurate. The draenei are vengeful. They are arrogant and wrathful. Just leveling up on Bloodmyst, you are told to wipe out your enemy by Velen, of all people. The draenei are not above deceit and, when pushed, are at this point willing to crush skulls and not look back. I don't find their society depicted as idealized in any way. They're even racist. There's a shocking tendency among the draenei to immediately treat the broken like a disease, to cast them out rather than tend to them, and it's so strong that even today the various broken aren't at all accepted by the draenei of the Exodar.

To argue that the draenei are flawless is to ignore these and other flaws. Being acquainted with the naaru for tens of thousands of years hasn't created a perfect society; it's merely given them an impetus to try and be better. To be honest, the naaru never seem to try and tell the draenei to do anything.

But I should admit my bias here. I find the draenei to be the most interesting race in World of Warcraft, and the naaru fascinating. What are they? Are they entities of pure Light, or are they simply entities with a Light- and Darkness-based life cycle? Are they actually good at all, or do the terms good and evil mean fairly little to them?

It bears pointing out that the naaru rarely actually make any sort of attempt to teach anyone anything. They repeatedly helped the draenei, but they never asked them to behave in a certain way. The stricken naaru K'ure and D'ore prove that the naaru can suffer for this decision, and yet they don't seem to profit by it.

If we assume they don't have a sinister ulterior motive, what does that leave us? What do they get out of it? We know about the naaru life cycle, how they go from the Holy Light to creatures of darkness and entropy (such as in the Sunwell, where M'uru, drained of his Light by the Blood Knights, became Entropius), but what we don't know yet is why. Why did M'uru allow himself to be drained of the Light and become part of the Sunwell itself?

Where do they come from?

For that matter, what exactly is the "spark" of M'uru used by Velen to reignite the Sunwell? When D'ore was injured in the crash of Oshu'gun, his body was sealed away and, over time, regenerated in its void state for 1,000 years, a process of traversing from darkness to light that was said by the naaru in question to be almost finished. Is M'uru doing the same from within the Sunwell?

For that matter, the naaru appear to be composed primarily of crystal, making them similar to the crystalline technology the draenei have learned from them. We've been told that the Exodar, a vessel composed of this crystalline technology, is alive. Are all such naaru crystal creations alive in a since? Was the Ata'mal Crystal more than it seemed? And what of Auchindoun and the orcs of the Shadow Council who held sway there before the destruction of Draenor? Did they tamper with D'ore's body?

If you remember the Ata'mal Crystal, it was a sacred artifact of the eredar before their corruption, which when Velen prayed for guidance revealed the presence of the naaru to him. How it got to Argus, how it is related to the naaru, we don't really know. What we do know is that without the Ata'mal Crystal, the eredar who would become draenei would never have escaped Argus and the forces now loyal to Sargeras.

When Velen, hounded by the followers of Archimonde and Kil'jaeden, held the Ata'mal Crystal aloft, it was struck by a beam of pure Light and shattered into seven fragments. This caused a barrier of pure Light to appear between the forces of the corrupted eredar and the draenei exiles, and the naaru K'ure appeared and rescued them with the enormous dimension ship that would eventually become known as Oshu'gun, a craft made entirely out of one enormous diamond.

Interestingly, K'ure and D'ore, the naaru pilots of Oshu'gun (which itself may have been or even may still be alive in the same sense as the Exodar and Tempest Keep itself) have both entered the dark phase of the naaru life cycle. While they moved the ship and its draenei passengers many times to evade the Burning Legion, they were at risk.

The naaru aren't infallible or perfect, and they even admitted that it was Velen and not them who had the gift of prophecy. The naaru take these giant risks without knowing for sure how they'll turn out. One naaru, M'uru, even submitted himself to the hands of the blood elves based entirely on the knowledge that he would be drained into his void state that he gained from Velen's prophecy.

And it is that fact that has me wondering. What was the Ata'mal Crystal, and why did K'ure come to Argus when it was shattered? Why did it shatter in the first place? And how is it that the naaru are reliant on Velen's gift of prophecy?

Are they of Light or from it?

The Ata'mal Crystal apparently predates Velen's awareness of the naaru's existence. It existed on Argus as a sacred mystery, predating Sargeras' arrival, and was accessible to all three of the Triumverate that ruled the eredar. Yet Archimonde and Kil'jaeden showed little interest in it. Clearly it dated back to before their time. How did it arrive on Argus? Did the eredar create it, or did they discover it in their long climb to utter mastery of magic?

And then it hit me -- why would the naaru risk thousands of years trapped in their void state for the draenei, work so hard to preserve them? Then I realized that the naaru are beings of Light in the same manner that salmon are beings of water. In one sense, all biological life on earth is composed of water. Fish that swim in a river are at once beings composed of that water and also beings that exist inside that water, that move through it, following its flow. They can't see the water's direction or path because they are too much a part of it. So too for the naaru.

Why does A'dal insist that the Light does not abandon its champions? Clearly, for better or for worse, the naaru have refused to abandon the draenei, and it has cost them.

When reading about the coming of K'ure to Argus, I'm struck by the method of his arrival. The beam of light that shattered the Ata'mal Crystal and released the barrier of Light reminded me instantly that the naaru themselves appear to be made up of fragments of crystal. We are told repeatedly that the crystalline construction of the Exodar is alive, in a fashion. It's also a very sophisticated form of construct, a kind of super-golem along the same lines as the arcane golems we see in the various Tempest Keep structures and patrolling the Sunwell, Magister's Terrace and even Black Temple.

What if the Ata'mal Crystal was a naaru? What if the naaru aren't born but were made? And what if the ancient eredar made them? The naaru fit the role of constructs very well. They're dependent on the Light to the point that if deprived of it, they enter into a void cycle and begin siphoning the Light from the area around them until they regerate. In essence, they go into a dormant phase and draw in energy to repair and restart. The beam of Light that struck the Ata'mal Crystal could easily have been an attempt to power it up before it was ready. It seperated into fragments, just as the naaru themselves seem to bve fragments orbiting a central core, but it didn't have the power yet to truly operate as a naaru, and so K'ure came to evacuate it and the draenei.

This of course leads us to wonder if the naaru are effectively allowing the draenei and even others to make weapons out of their bodies. The crystal the Ashbringer was made out of certainly seems akin to the Ata'mal Crystal; it even goes through Dark and Light cycles. You can charge it with either kind of magic, and it will respond. Was it one of the missing fragments of the Ata'mal Crystal or even a piece of D'ore's body stolen from his tomb in Auchindoun by the Shadow Council? Is the Exodar made from the naaru?

It becomes possible to imagine the naaru as having their origins as a kind of artificial life, constructed by the ancient eredar long, long before the rise of Velen, Archimonde or Kil'jaeden and abandoned as the eredar society moved away from exploring the Light and the cosmos and turned insular. It's interesting that the Ata'mal Crystal sat there as a high holy mystery, untouched for unknown eons until Velen turned to it in desperation.

I find the idea that the naaru aren't the shepherds at all but rather simply eager to save and preserve those that made them possible a fascinating possibility -- that the naaru aren't unknowable cosmic entities but rather children seeking to do for their parents what was once done for them. Brothers, in a sense, both the naaru and the draenei descending in their own way from those ancient eredar.

Next week, we'll talk more about the dark/light cycle of the naaru, their potential origins and how they reproduce, and how good doesn't always have to have a brimstone lining.

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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