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.
We talked this week about the tol'vir and the new backstory for them revealed last week. It occurred to me afterward that for a lot of this story, we're casually throwing around names -- silithid, aqir, qiraji, nerubian -- and not bothering to really explain exactly what these things are or what they were doing enslaving ancient titan constructs. So for this installment of KYL, we're going to cover the ancient history of these arthropod-like entities: who they are, where they come from and why their actions left ripples that reach down the eons to affect the present day.
It all began with the war between the titans and the Old Gods. (This is often the case.) Despite their elemental lieutenants and enormous power, the Old Gods that infested Azeroth were eventually defeated and imprisoned within the planet. It's claimed the titans couldn't kill the Old Gods without doing irreparable damage to their work on Azeroth, and perhaps that's even true. But whatever is true in that case, one thing is indisputable and that is once the Old Gods were dealt with, the titans began to shape Azeroth to their liking. They created the dragonflights to monitor and control the evolution of their creation.
In the land today know as Silithus, a titan and an Old God met in furious combat. In the end, both fell. The titan's name is lost to us; the Old God we know today as C'thun.
C'thun was defeated in that battle, but not utterly destroyed. And so, in his sleep that was not sleep, death that was not death, he watched the coming of the beings we know today as the silithid. Like the night elves, the silithid were once a different order of creature, touched by the mysterious power of the Well of Eternity itself and changed by the experience. C'thun, for its part, saw in the silithid potential for a perfect servitor race, one that it could use to destroy the world that bound its fellows in its grasp, created by the beings that had defeated it so long before.
The Old God's touch created a race of servitors out of the silithid, servants and slaves but also the powerful avatars of the Old God's revenge. It's interesting to note that C'thun was as changed by its creations as they were changed by it.
It's now known that these claims are somewhat grandiose. Ahn'Qiraj wasn't created; it was stolen, and this event took place after the war between the Gurubashi and Amani Empires of the trolls and the aqir. This war splintered the aqir, driving some north to what would become Northrend and others south to what is now Tanaris and Silithus. It's important to note that these wars and the division of the silithoid races all took place thousands of years before the Sundering.
However, we can be fairly sure of the following. The aqir, the original creations of the Old God that they themselves would call C'thun, were a rising power in the world when they came into conflict with the bloodthirsty and audacious troll empires of Gurubashi and Amani. The wars they fought devastated both peoples, breaking the back of the troll nation and splitting the aqir across the globe, and leaving a power vacuum that would be filled by another race that would discover the Well of Eternity in due time. As the aqir splintered, one group went north in what now seems like a deliberate attempt to make contact with the servitors of the Old Gods that were still remaining in that land. In the process, they enslaved the Titans' tol'vir creations. These northern aqir seem to have been more like beetles and spiders than the southern tribes, and they were the forerunners of the nerubians would would come to rule in the ruined remains of the tol'vir cities of the north, carving their capital of Azjol-Nerub from its very bones.
The southern tribes of aqir, however, came to rest in the very location that the Old God C'thun slumbered in. As a result, while the nerubians were far from free of Old God interference, they were less directly manipulated as distance isolated them from their "creator."
C'thun shaped these aqir into what would become known as the qiraji. He led them to ransack a former titan complex connected to Uldum and they renamed it Ahn'Qiraj. Like their northern cousins, the qiraji enslaved tol'vir (and possibly other titan constructs) and experimented on them, learning dark wisdom imparted perhaps by their ancient patron, learning to bend these obsidian constructs to their will and even possibly to alter them (as they did with Ossirian).
Even after the Sundering itself, the Qiraji built their forces up and waited for the right moment to strike. While their silithid ancestors continued their ancient life cycle and their nerubian cousins lived in an unchanging cycle to the distant north, C'thun's chosen people marshaled their forces until nearly 9,000 years passed from the time of the War of the Ancients. When they struck, they did so with overwhelming force in what would become known as the War of the Shifting Sands, the battle that drew night elf and bronze dragons together and ultimately saw dragons of the other flights assisting, as well. The tale of that great war -- the cost in lives, the death of Fandral Staghelm's son Valstann, Staghelm's ultimate rejection of the dragons he blamed for his son's death, the mysteries of Un'goro -- while important, has been told many times before. The important fact for this story is that in the end, the dragons worked a powerful ritual that trapped the Qiraji inside their own stolen city. Three mighty dragons willingly imprisoned themselves to prevent C'thun from being loosed to walk the land of Azeroth again. Entities like the Prophet Skeram, Battleguard Satura, and even the fearsome General Rajaxx (who killed Valstann Staghelm) were locked away, unable to continue their crusade.
A thousand years passed before the qiraji managed to penetrate the dragon's wards by making use of their silithid slave-subjects. The magic of the bronze drakes kept the qiraji and C'thun imprisoned, but over the passing thousand years, the silithid (who were, as we noted before, a perfectly natural and native race to Azeroth, changed only by the Well of Eternity -- the silithid are what the qiraji and nerubians would be without the interference of malevolent Old Gods) managed not only to escape Ahn'Qiraj but to infest many locations from Tanaris and Un'Goro to Thousand Needles and even the Barrens and Feralas. While the silithid weakened the wards, in the end it was their spreading presence in southern Kalimdor that rallied the enemies of the qiraji to stand as one to defeat them. While adventurers recreated the Scepter of the Shifting Sands and faced the legions of the qiraji and C'thun itself, the Might of Kalimdor (a joint Horde/Alliance force led by Varok Saurfang and staffed by members of the Seventh Legion) held the qiraji tide at bay until victory could be achieved.
Since we know C'thun's involvement with the Twilight's Hammer and their expanded role in Cataclysm, it seems likely that the qiraji might take center stage again soon. Next week, we'll talk about the nerubians.