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Know Your Lore: Pandaria and the Sundering

Anne Stickney

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.

The earliest days of Azeroth's recorded history of wars and conflicts detail the events of the War of the Ancients, which culminated in the destruction of the Well of Eternity and the Sundering of the great continent of Kalimdor. While we have vague remnants of history before that time -- wars between troll empires and aqir, the Titanic creation of our world; it is becoming increasingly clear that our scope of knowledge of these early days of Azeroth is quite small.

Pandaria was once part of the main Kalimdor continent before it vanished into the mists, forgotten. But even before the Sundering, Pandaria had a vast, rich history that was far more complex than the snippets of tales and legends from troll or tauren. And while we don't know if the pandaren are native to Azeroth, or Titan creation like the dwarves and gnomes, one thing is imminently clear -- the pandaren are a far more advanced civilization than any other native Azerothian race.

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The rise and fall of the Mogu Empire

In the beginning, there were the mogu -- and their origins are just as unclear as the pandaren. This brutal race was built entirely on aggression, domination and fear. They sought to conquer, and they created the saurok race in order to accomplish that purpose. There are stories of the mantid that stretch back equally as far in time, and the mogu and mantid continually clashed.

As for the pandaren, in the dark days of the mogu dynasties they were nothing more than slaves. It was the pandaren that constructed the great wall known as the Serpent's Spine, to keep the mantid swarms at bay. They were allowed no weapons, no means to defend themselves -- and they were far less hardy than the saurok. Where the saurok successfully rose and rebelled, murdering a mogu emperor and slipping quietly into the night, the pandaren failed.

Until, that is, one day when a slave named Kang had had enough. Kang was a slave during the dynasty of Emperor Lao-Fe, a ruthless mogu who meted punishment by separating families. Any pandaren found disobedient would soon find their child sent to the Serpent's Spine to be devoured by the mantid swarms. Kang's child was one of these, and Kang was so stricken with grief that he retreated into himself.

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But in a moment of clarity, Kang looked upon the mogu empire and realized the entirety of the mogu's power lay in the fact that they had slaves. If the slaves were to somehow rebel, the mogu would be defenseless. And if the pandaren were not allowed to carry weapons, they could become weapons themselves. This is how the first monks came to be, and also hallmarks the beginning of the end for the mogu.

The pandaren fought for an untold period of time, but they were not alone -- the hozen, jinyu, and even the grummels began to fight back. It was a campaign of mass chaos, and it worked perfectly. Before the mogu knew what had hit them, they were teetering on the edge of defeat. Having spent so long dependent on slaves, they had no idea how to fend for themselves -- no idea how to grow food, no idea how to provide their own resources.

When the mogu fell, the pandaren rose to power, and stayed there until this day.

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The last Emperor of Pandaria

The pandaren were no stranger to the night elves. In the days before the Sundering, there were pandaren who sought out the kaldorei. Whether or not the two races were on good terms prior to Azshara's reign is unclear. However, once Azshara came into power and her Highborne began experimenting with the Well of Eternity, a small contingent of pandaren explorers traveled to the Highborne with a gift -- a box that contained all the arcane power the kaldorei would ever need.

The box was empty, the message clear. It was a warning to the Highborne from the pandaren people, a warning that the kaldorei didn't bother to heed. During this time, a pandaren named Shaohao was crowned Emperor of Pandaria, the last Emperor Pandaria would ever see. As was his duty, he sought the council of the Waterspeaker of the Jinyu. But the vision of the Waterspeaker horrified he and the Emperor both. He saw a kingdom of sorcerers surrounding a great well, calling forth a host of demons as green fire rained from the sky as the world shattered in response.

Of course, what the Waterspeaker saw was the events of the War of the Ancients, and the Sundering immediately after. And although Emperor Shaohao was warned in advance, he had no idea what to do about it. In desperation, Shaohao traveled to the Jade Serpent, the spirit of wisdom, to ask for advice. The Jade Serpent told Shaohao that he needed to divest himself of his burdens and become one with the land in order to save it.

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Thus began the journey of Shaohao, and the discovery of the sha. The sha are malevolent spirits that are, in essence, emotion in physical form. One by one, Emperor Shaohao sought out the sha and defeated them, imprisoning them in the earth. But he knew that although the sha had been defeated once, negative emotion would cause them to fester and rise again. Because of this, Shaohao founded the first order of the Shado-Pan -- Pandaria's finest warriors whose duty was to restrain and control the sha. The Shado-Pan swore an oath to the Emperor to protect the land, and continue to keep their word to this day.

As for Emperor Shaohao, defeating the sha had lifted him to a space of enlightenment. His mind was clear and unclouded, and his spirit was at peace. Even on the final day of the War, when green fire rained from the sky as foretold and the world shook in response, he remained calm and composed. The Last Emperor of Pandaria delivered one final proclamation to his people -- that they live each day to its fullest, and sleep each night with the peace of a mind unburdened.

With that, Shaohao ascended to the Terrace of Eternal Spring to separate Pandaria from the rest of the world. But as hard as he tried, he could not make the continent move, and doubt and fear began to creep in and manifest as the sha. He called to the Jade Serpent for help, and the Serpent pointed out that Pandaria was far more than just the Pandaren Empire. It was all creatures, both enemy and ally, united in an eternal whole.

As Shaohao finally began to understand, his spirit became one with the land. And legend states that the Last Emperor of Pandaria simply faded out of existence as Pandaria drifted into the oceans, and the mists rolled in. According to the tales of old, he became one with the land, and he hid Pandaria away.

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The mists of Pandaria

These are, of course, legends -- tales of days before the Sundering, tales of over ten thousand years ago. The pandaren are an eloquent race, and have kept records of history over time unlike races like the tauren and troll, whose earliest tales are lost somewhere in the annals of time. What records we have of troll and tauren from before the Sundering are rudimentary at best, and read more like a tall tale than a historical account at times.

But with the history of Pandaria, it seems as though these records have been very carefully kept. With a faction like the Lorewalkers, you can be certain that the pandaren hold their history in high regard, and keep their records as detailed as possible. If this is the case, then it can be presumed that the tale of the Last Emperor is completely true, down to the moment that Shaohao disappeared and became one with the world.

Which leads one to ask -- what, exactly, are the mists surrounding Pandaria? Were they truly brought into place by the spirit of Shaohao? Were they his legacy? Were they a physical manifestation of his spirit? And if they were put into place to shroud the world against the Sundering, why did they remain for ten thousand years after the Sundering was over and the world resumed some semblance of normalcy?

More importantly, why did the mists go away? It wasn't the Cataclysm that cleared the mists. Is this a sign that Shaohao's spirit has abandoned Pandaria? There has to be a reason that the mists suddenly cleared, what is it? Were we meant to discover Pandaria at this precise moment in time? If we were, why now? Why wait until after the world has nearly been destroyed, yet again? Is this part of this "Age of Mortals" that the dragonflights have declared is suddenly upon us?

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Speculation and theory

There's one really huge, momentous thing in Pandaria, and it's been locked behind a wall for who knows how long. In the Vale of Eternal Blossoms lies the Terrace of Endless Spring, the place where Emperor Shaohao supposedly ascended to his final rest. It's also surrounded by water -- the same water that bubbles forth in the Vale of Eternal Blossoms at the foot of Mogu'shan Palace.

And that water is key. That water is the water that leeches out over Pandaria. It's the water that flows into the Valley of the Four Winds, the water that keeps the plants growing larger than anything we've ever seen anywhere else in Azeroth. It's the water that the jinyu race supposedly originated from, ascending from a squat, aquatic race to the intelligent, humanoid creatures they are today.

It's also water that shimmers and pulses with the same quiet energy as the water at the foot of Nordrassil.

Think about that for a moment. Pandaria was once connected to the continent of Kalimdor. The water that the jinyu in the Last Emperor's tale spoke to when he saw his horrific vision of the Sundering. Pandaria was close enough in proximity to the kaldorei that pandaren travelers could get there and deliver a gift, a warning that the night elves refused to heed. It was close enough that Shaohao could see the green fire as it rained from the sky, close enough that it presented an immediate danger to Pandaria itself.

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It is entirely possible that the Vale of Eternal Blossoms is hiding a secret -- and that secret is the remnants of the Well of Eternity. Not the diluted version created by Illidan on the peaks of Hyjal, the original. The Well that was used to attempt to bring Sargeras to this world. A Well far more powerful than what lies beneath Nordrassil, or even the one that was restored to the blood elves via the heart of a dying naaru.

If this is the case, it's no wonder that Pandaria needed to be hidden away. It needed to be kept secret, so that the kaldorei didn't discover what was left. To make sure that the Highborne would not be tempted to use the Well for their own gain. To make sure that the Burning Legion would not be alerted to the presence of that source of power. And if that Well is now uncovered and clearly out in the open for all to see ... what does that mean for the future of Azeroth?

This is all speculation, of course. And as we begin our journey through this expansion, there will be far more history to uncover, clues to be found. Whether or not we'll ever discover the rest of Pandaria's secrets remains to be seen.

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.

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