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.
For my last KYL, a hat made of tinfoil. You know the drill - for the farewell of this column, Anne and I are going to go out speculating. This one's mine. You might want to read this old KYL to get a handle on the concepts I'm going to be throwing around. The idea is simple enough to start with, however. We know that at some point in the distant past, over twenty five thousand years ago, the fallen Titan Sargeras sought out a world whose inhabitants were powerful, with great potential for magic. Their culture was ancient - so very ancient that it had already risen and fallen and risen again, creating not one, but two golden ages. They were the eredar. Sargeras's offer was accepted, and the majority of the race along with two of the three triumvirs that ruled Argus entire became man'ari, corrupted.
Barely a tenth of the race resisted and escaped, led by Velen and aided by the naaru, who sent the mighty Genedar, a dimension ship, to rescue them from this corruption. Velen first contacted the naaru using the Ata'mal Crystal, an ancient artifact of their people which was said to be a relic of their distant past. This has always interested me - the Ata'mal Crystal is said to be an eredar relic, yet it summons the naaru and their dimension ship, and when it is used in this fashion it shatters into seven fragments, each of which manifest strange new powers when used properly.
Where am I going with this? Well, Sargeras was a Titan. Like all Titans, he has strange and almost unfathomable powers, and he seeks to undo the works of his fellow Titans, his former friends and allies in the Pantheon. He sought out the eredar - he went looking for them. This has always struck me as interesting, because the eredar resemble a race created by the Titans here on Azeroth, namely the mogu.
Children of Stone
The mogu were created by the Titans, along with other such seed races (earthen and vrykul in Northrend, tol'vir in Northrend and southern Kalimdor) as both army and workforce. The Titanic watchers Norushen and Ra-Den used the mogu as a labor force as well as led them into combat with Y'Shaarj, and it was through this mogu army that the Old God was destroyed and the sha created. Unfortunately, over time the mogu servants of the two Titanic watchers of Pandaria were stricken by the same Curse of Flesh that wreaked havoc among the tol'vir, earthen and vrykul. By this time, Norushen was confined deep within the earth of what we know as the Vale of Eternal Blossoms, watching over Y'Shaarj's heart, and so the mogu were under the command of Ra-Den (Master Ra, in the language of the mogu), who was inaccessible to them deep within the repository that would become known as the Mogu'shan Vaults. The purpose of Ra-Den's vigil in the Vaults is unknown, but likely related to the Engine of Nalak'sha, the enormous device that powered the creation forge known as the Will of the Emperor, a device capable of churning out more stone mogu (similar to the device in the Halls of Stone in Ulduar that cranks out earthen and iron vrykul) and protected by a construct of pure Titanic power named Elegon.
We know that eventually Lei Shen, one of the descendents of mogu affected by the Curse of Flesh, would find Ra-Den, somehow defeat the ancient watcher, and steal a measure of his power. He altered the Engine of Nalak'sha to blank out Elegon's original purpose and set him to guard the area as Ra-Den once did. Lei Shen, using the secrets of anima to shape flesh and create servitors like the saurok. Now, here's where things get interesting.
The anima used by the Titans to shape life on Azeroth is considered a kind of blood. When Vol'jin encounters anima in the novel Shadows of the Horde, he compares it to fel magic, arguing it to be the blackest of magics. It is, in essence, a form of blood magic (perhaps Titan blood?) and Bloodmage Lynnore argues that blood magic shares many similarities with demonic magics. Meanwhile, the Titans were clearly very aware of how this magic worked - not only does Ra-Den unleash Anima against any who oppose him in battle, but the Titans created the doomguard race and specially attuned them to such sacrificial magics so that they could instantly find and punish mortals that were making use of blood sacrifice. This only ended when Sargeras freed the doomguards from the control of the Titans.
Keep this in mind - the doomguards were created by the Titans. Furthermore, we now have a connection between blood magic and fel magic, the power that drives the Burning Legion. And we have a connection between that and the Anima that Ra-Den used when he was tasked by the Titans to shape life in what would become Pandaria. If the Anima can so easily be turned to corruption, as Vol'jin argues, and it is akin to fel magic (both Vol'jin and Lynnore imply this) and the Titans used it so extensively that they created servitors to punish anyone else using it, there's an implication here that's fairly disturbing. Was all life on Azeroth, all life shaped by the Titans, either created or modified by the Anima? And what is the Anima?
The golems empowered by the Anima are called blood golems, and it's clear that when Lei Shen defeated and stole Ra-Den's heart, he inflicted grievous wounds on the Titanic watcher. Is the Anima his blood? Or the blood of something else?
This is already fairly disturbing. We have the Titans seemingly engaged in some strange form of blood magic using a substance that far and away exceeds what we expect blood to be able to do - a blood that changes and warps life, shapes and controls it. And this leads us to remember that the Titanic army controlled by Norushen and Ra-Den weren't just shaping the world - they went out of their way to find and destroy an Old God. Now, it's not hard at all to justify doing that, but think about it - the Old Gods are beings of chaos personified. They are the originators of the Curse of Flesh, which they unleashed on the perfect stone creations of the Titans. Transforming the perfect, rigidly orderly creations of the Titans into beings that change, age and die is all part of their purview.
So consider that we first see the Anima in Pandaria, where the Titans army struck down an Old God. Consider that the mogu were stricken by the Curse of Flesh to a much greater degree than the creations of the Titans in Northrend, where a change to their creation matrix made new servitors who were immune to its ravages (although many earthen and vrykul had already succumbed by then). And consider that after stealing Ra-Den's heart, Lei Shen learned the secrets of the Anima, perfected Flesh-Shaping by experimenting on the proto-saurok, and reverse-engineered the Curse of Flesh, transforming himself and other mogu back to their stone forms.
Imagine this - the Titans were so intimate with blood sacrifice that they created an army of powerful entities that could range the cosmos and instantly appear when it was being used to punish those that did. They considered it a secret fit only for themselves. Why was this? Because they'd mastered the ultimate act of blood sacrifice - they'd hunted down and killed an Old God for its blood. And then they used its utterly chaotic blood to help shape the world of Azeroth. The Titan watchers in Ulduar and Uldum never display any knowledge of or use of the Anima, because they didn't have access to any - it was only Ra-Den who did, because only Ra-Den and Norushen had access to the only mortal remains of Y'Shaarj, the creatures' still beating heart. Why was the heart buried under the Vale? Was it merely to contain the creature, or was it to make use of its blood?
Nonetheless, with the death of Lei Shen, the release of Ra-Den, the death of Norushen and the destruction of the heart of Y'Shaarj, the mogu are now incapable of preventing the Curse of Flesh from working upon them. Their attempt to impose order on Pandaria, to deny the Curse and retain some semblance of the culture they inherited from their distant, unknowable Titan creators, is no more. Whatever future the mogu have, it's not one of rigid, unyielding order, of a fascism of power and stolen arts used to control an unchanging populace. No more creation forges, no more stone. The future for the mogu is flesh.
How distant could that future be?
Time beyond Time
When the draenei escaped Tempest Keep, they did so in the dimension ship Exodar, similar in size and scale to the vessel Genedar that took them from Argus to many worlds, including their eventual crash landing on Draenor. Genedar lays a ruin on the plains of Nagrand, called Oshu'gun by the native orcish peoples. Exodar, however, survived her crash in far better shape, and over time was restored by the draenei - and it is made clear in the short story Prophet's Lesson that not only is the Exodar once again a dimension ship capable of traversing the infinite void of the Great Dark Beyond, but it is also a sapient being - Exodar is alive, thinking, a friend and ally to the draenei.
This is apparently true of all naaru crystalline technology. All of their ships, from Tempest Keep to the Genedar, including the Exodar. And the Ata'mal Crystal, too, lived and had a personality, as did all of its fragments when it broke apart. The smaller fragments seemed capable of tapping into larger - for example, when the Ata'mal Crystal called the Genedar. It's difficult to say if the technology of the naaru is technology at all, ultimately - and this brings us to consider the naaru. Crystalline entities with a life cycle equal parts Light and Void, who traverse the Great Dark Beyond in ships that pierce dimensions. And our recent trip to an alternate Draenor at a different point in time makes me curious - how do we know the draenei are from the same dimension as Azeroth?
The mogu were created in the distant, distant past of Azeroth. They resisted the Curse of Flesh, rebelled against their Titanic watcher Ra-Den, and stole his power and knowledge to prevent themselves from becoming beings of flesh. So terrified were they of the Curse that they chose stagnation, and allowed Lei Shen to essentially freeze their culture in an endless frozen fascism, so paranoid about becoming mortal that they forgot to live. But as we've seen, one timeline's history doesn't have to be another's - as Garrosh Hellscream found out when he and Kairoz traveled to the Draenor that currently holds the Iron Horde, sometimes there are just a few key differences.
So what if one of those key differences is that, when given the chance to betray the watcher of his people and steal his power, Lei Shen didn't do it? Perhaps he failed, or perhaps he simply didn't try. Ra-Den, when we find him, is enraged at the perfidity of the mogu and believes Azeroth isn't worthy of his help. But what if it was? What if instead of ripping Ra-Den's heart out of his chest, Lei Shen convinced the watcher to help his people adjust to their new condition? We know that the Curse of Flesh could be reverse engineered, and that flesh could be shaped with the power of the Anima. Is that all it can do? The mogu demonstrate the ability to put spirits, souls, into stone forms as well, carving life out of inanimate objects. Norushen, he who the mogu were apparently designed to emulate, displays great faciity with the Light and uses it to purify the corruptive taint of the Sha of Pride - perhaps together with a Ra-Den who is whole, they use this mastery of the light to purify the sha entirely. Rather than enslaving the other races of the land which would one day become Pandaria, they bring enlightenment to them. Instead of an army of conquerors who remain penned in on one corner of the globe, the mogu expand, carrying the message of the Light to the very shores of the Well of Eternity.
Imagine the civilization they could build, with this vast source of magical power, their own inherent skill with the arcane, and these ancient sources of knowledge to consult. In time they would contact the other Titanic enclaves, reaching the gates of Ulduar and Uldum and Uldaman. In this world, their only rivals would be primitive trolls and tauren, and those might not even exist yet - the trolls had legends about the second coming of the Titans, but both trolls and tauren appear in the Halls of Stone, in the sparkling celestial murals of the Titan's creations. In this world, perhaps they failed to thrive, or perhaps they were absorbed into the expanding mogu nation. With Ra-Den's help it could even have been as peaceful as intermixture.
When we first hear of the eredar, they're on their third golden age. They built at least two previous world-spanning cultures, had them collapse, and rebuilt from there. That implies many, many thousands of years. The eredar who existed before Sargeras weren't paragons of the Light - they were magically gifted, living on a world where the rivers sparkled with precious metals and magic flowed like water, and clearly they produced prodigies like Velen, but also they produced beings like Kil'Jaeden and Archimonde. They were at times aggressive. And ultimately most of them fell for what Sargeras was selling. What if they'd lost their way, forgotten the lessons their ancestors had learned... what if they were throwbacks to the more aggressive 'mogu' that had birthed them? And the naaru that came to rescue them were the result of using the secrets of placing living spirits in inanimate matter - essentially, the descendants of Ra-Den, Norushen and the other Titanic watchers, returned from a long journey in the Great Dark Beyond? Naaru crystal technology is alive because it literally contains their souls, and the ultimate example of what devices like the Engine of Nalak'sha could accomplish after tens of thousands of years of refinement. The ultimate fusion of spirit magic and mundane matter.
Imagine, then, that the draenei we know today aren't from some alien world. They come from Argus, yes. But Argus is, and always was, the same world as Azeroth, just as the Draenor we are visiting now is as much Draenor as Outland ever was. A different choice, a deliberate rejection of a certain path, and the mogu change and evolve over thousands of years instead of stagnating in rock bodies. They become living things - smaller in stature, yes, but truly alive, just as humans are to the iron vrykul or the dwarves are to the earthen.
Argus is here, now, beneath our feet. Perhaps it is an alternate world, another Azeroth where different choices were made. Or perhaps now that the sha are destroyed and the Heart is gone, and there's no more Anima on Azeroth, the mogu can start to evolve, to cast aside the darkness and seek the light. And perhaps the Genedar didn't just travel sideways through alternative dimensions - perhaps it traveled backwards in time, and the Ata'mal Crystal that Velen used to summon it was in fact the last remnant of an old friend that crashed on Azuremyst Island so long before. Perhaps it was a piece of the Exodar discharging its last service to those it had not yet met, yet had carried so long ago.
Perhaps. Perhaps not. It's awfully recursive, I admit. Did Sargeras travel to the distant future, to recruit servants from the one planet that always balked the Legion? Will Azeroth become Argus? I sure can't say. I can merely speculate - and that's what I've done here and now, today.
And thus ends my tenure on Know Your Lore. I hope you've enjoyed it.
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.