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.
Warning - this entire post is going to be full of spoilers for Mists of Pandaria.
The unveiling of Pandaria after over 10,000 years is an opportunity to explore a land unlike any other. It's a meeting of cultures separated and evolved independently of each other, a chance to see vistas undreamed of by the people of Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms. It's a new world, one some will wish to conquer, others explore. It's a fantastic, wonderful place.
And it will be the death of us all. Pandaria has many dangers, but the true threat of the island continent isn't the Sha, the mantid, or the mogu, terrible though they are. No, Pandaria itself is the greatest threat the world of Azeroth has ever seen. The parting of its famous mists was the start of a doomsday clock, and we are ticking down the moments to our extinction.
This is a Tinfoil Hat edition of Know Your Lore, it speculates on the lore of the game and is not meant to be taken as established story.
Standing on the edge of disaster
The first danger presented by Pandaria is also a danger Pandaria itself is in - when long isolated societies are exposed to each other, they can quickly destabilize as new ideas upset the established order. In Pandaria, this is even more of a threat thanks to the presence of the Sha, who exacerbate any negative emotions experienced on Pandaria's shores. Being filled with rage, sorrow, fear, doubt on Pandaria can lead one to being possessed and manipulated by the Sha, who cannot truly be destroyed or overcome. Both the Horde and the Alliance bring different ways to deal with such emotions, and the danger is that the people of Pandaria might embrace the outside perspectives (to a degree the Hozen and Jinyu in the Jade Forest have done exactly that, and we see the fallout in the destruction of the Serpent's Heart) and if they do, the Sha could grow even more powerful. Imagine the effect on Pandaria of a full-fledged war between the Alliance and the Horde, with support from native allies? Imagine the effect on the Horde and Alliance themselves?
Furthermore, the inverse is also possible. It may not seem dangerous to have Pandaren ideals and ideas cross back to the respective factions, but imagine the already divided Horde attempting to hold together while dealing with full-fledged revolt from within led by those that have experienced the new land themselves? And what if, as an example, Anduin Wrynn returns home more convinced that peace is inevitable and necessary at the wrong moment, and weakens the Alliance's already shaky unified front at a key moment? Civil wars could blossom, and spread out of control.
The risks of exploration
None of this even considers the danger of Pandaria itself, however. The land itself is home to secrets of extreme potency - one example is the mogu's spirit rending, flesh shaping magics, an entirely new and alien kind of sorcery unlike anything currently known elsewhere on Azeroth. Now, it's true that the peoples of Pandaria have lived for thousands of years without learning these arts... but it's also true that the Zandalari have displayed a certain facility to learn at least enough of them to raise Lei Shen the Thunder King, who now lives and walks the world again. By itself, that's alarming. But consider that both humans and orcs have displayed the ability to quickly master unfamiliar magics. We already have the example of former Twilight's Hammer cultists working below Orgrimmar in the Ragefire Chasm, and a cabal of warlocks called the Council of Six Daggers working to master the stolen powers wielded by figures such as Illidan, Ragnaros, even Deathwing. Could you trust the mortal races of Azeroth with the power to reshape and combine souls? To transform unliving stone to live flesh?
Imagine if Sky Admiral Rogers, whose family was wiped out in Southshore, got her hands on a mogu weapon from the Mogu'shan Vaults. We've already seen that, given the chance, the Horde used the Focusing Iris unwisely - why would we or should we assume the Alliance is any more likely to use such power wisely? Can either faction be trusted with new, alien sorcery it doesn't understand? Pandaria is littered with such powers, left to lie fallow by those that overthrew them because of their outlook on life and the world. But outsiders don't share that outlook. They have no thousands of years of learning control over one's baser emotions to prevent them from seeking revenge. While the hozen that have allied with the Horde have no great magical secrets, the jinyu have the gift of waterspeaking, a magical art that allows them to connect to the very rivers of their native continent and draw wisdom and insight from them. Can outsiders learn their ways? Can the humans who took barely a year to learn the sorcery of the high elves learn jinyu arts? And what would the consequences be?
The true threat is the land itself
But as dangerous as this is, even this is not the true danger that Pandaria poses. No, the real threat is the Vale of Eternal Blossoms itself, especially the powerful waters of the Vale.
In the past several years, Azeroth has attracted the attention of beings of vast power. The Burning Legion has twice attempted to destroy the planet and failed. The Titan Sargeras implanted his essence into a mortal, then the awakening of the Old Gods attracted Algalon to the world. The Hour of Twilight, long planned for by the Titans, has come and gone. It bears considering that the original invasion of the Legion was due to the awesome power of the original Well of Eternity, whose waters uplifted the Kaldorei and gave them great mystical might, untrammeled sorcerous puissance that they used to shape and control their world and build a vast empire. Now, in exploring Pandaria, we have gained access to the Vale of Eternal Blossoms and learned of its potent waters which changed both the mogu and the jinyu, elevating them and granting them unique magical powers. In recent years, Nordrassil was gravely injured when Malfurion Stormrage sacrificed the night elven immortality to destroy Archimonde, and in so doing ended the pact between the night elves that shielded the Well of Eternity atop Hyjal from outside detection. Now, with the mists gone, and the Vale open, there are effectively two Wells of Eternity on Azeroth, and the one in the Vale might be even more powerful than the one atop Hyjal, as the water contained in it could be from the original source.
The waters of the Vale can elevate intelligence, size, strength, grant magical power, even change a being's very nature. By their very existence, they are a power to be coveted and feared. But beyond that, they are a beacon to draw outside interest, dangerous outside interest to Azeroth. Wrathion's presence on the newly discovered land and his demonstration of Azeroth's fragility is no accident. The mists that shrouded Pandaria hid the Vale from those that would misuse its power, absolutely, but they also hid the place and its power from those from outside that would covet them. But more than that, the sudden parting of the mists could attract the attention of something far more dangerous than even Sargeras or the Legion.
It could signal the return of the Usurpers, come to check on their experiment. And the experiment is very likely not ready to be so checked. We've proven ourselves capable of fending off Old Gods, the Burning Legion, even Sargeras himself (although to be fair we've never defeated the Burning Titan straight up) but the Pantheon? If the Titans return, they are hardly guaranteed to be friendly to beings so beneath them. If they find the world in the state it is now, the continent blown apart, Titan vaults looted, the Hour of Twilight come and passed, Algalon balked in his duty, the Sha rampant and the Old Gods on the rise... they may just decide to reoriginate and start again.
Pandaria is a land of wonder and mystery, and its revelation may well be the first step on the path to our end.
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.