What the Titans didn't realize was that the Old Gods were far more cunning and lethal than imagined. Neltharion's corruption was swift, and the Old Gods convinced the black Aspect that the best way to overcome the dragons would be to create a device that would control all of them: the Dragon Soul. This small golden disk would be infused with the powers of all the dragonflights. But the Old Gods needed a cover, something that would give a good reason for Neltharion to make such a thing and keep the other Aspects from suspecting anything was wrong.
The opportunity presented itself with the Burning Legion's advance into Azeroth and the War of the Ancients. Neltharion told the other flights that this device would be capable of destroying the Burning Legion and defending Azeroth, and so the other flights simply gave parts of their power to the small golden disc, assuming it would be Azeroth's savior. What they didn't realize was that the disc would be turned against them -- and why should they? Until that point, Neltharion had been Alexstraza's strongest supporter, and the five flights had worked in harmony to help Azeroth thrive.
Neltharion took the Dragon Soul, flew to Zin'Azshari and promptly used the thing to kill not only demons, but also night elves, their allies, and ... dragons. Neltharion's betrayal was revealed in full, and the other Aspects rose up against him, but it was too late. The Dragon Soul ripped through Malygos' blue dragonflight, decimating their numbers, then paralyzed those that still lived. Neltharion shattered the remaining flights and they fled from the scene, shocked and unable to comprehend why their ally had suddenly turned on them.
The Aspect of the black dragonflight took a new name, Deathwing, and the Dragon Soul also took a new name, the Demon Soul. By this time, the black dragon's very body had fallen to corruption; his scales cracked open, revealed the molten lava that flowed within, and he had his goblin servants construct plates of metal to literally hold himself together. He hid away in the mountains, planning his next attack, when a druid named Malfurion Stormrage crept into his lair and managed to steal the Demon Soul, intending to use it to stop the Burning Legion.
Malfurion's plans didn't quite work out the way he'd hoped. His brother Illidan stole the Demon Soul and gave it to Mannoroth, the general of the Burning Legion's armies. The Demon Soul was used to power the portal that would bring Sargeras, leader of the Burning Legion, to Azeroth. The events that followed are well known by now -- the portal was destroyed but, in its destruction, caused the Sundering that split the world of Azeroth into the continents we know today. And that Sundering had other effects that hadn't really been considered by any of the mortal races.
Pawns in a game of chess
You see, the Old Gods didn't want Neltharion to have absolute power. They wanted him to make the Dragon Soul, wanted him to go up against the Burning Legion. They wanted Malfurion Stormrage to steal the device; they even wanted Illidan to take it to the Burning Legion. They knew that if all these events worked out as planned, the earth of Azeroth would tear apart. And that would allow them to break free from the prison in which the Titans had placed them and allow them dominion over Azeroth once more.
If we wanted to delve deeper, we could argue that Azshara's mad plans of global domination, the curious fascination her high court held with the waters of the Well of Eternity, all the magical meddling that originally captured the Burning Legion's attentions -- all of it was due to whispers heard late at night. Whispers of power untold, of the greatness that could be achieved through the use of this magic, whispers that spoke of allies from other worlds that would help those goals be achieved. Dark whispers from deep beneath the earth, the same whispers that drove Neltharion mad.
The Old Gods wanted the Burning Legion's attention. They wanted the attention of Sargeras. They wanted him to try and enter the world because it would wreak havoc with Azeroth -- but more importantly, because it would ultimately set them free. And there was nothing in the world they wanted more than release from their prison. Neltharion was simply a tool, a weapon they used to achieve that purpose.
But it didn't work. While Azeroth shattered and some of the Old Gods like C'thun and Yogg-Saron could begin to leech their essence into the earth, others were still imprisoned far below. Their plan had failed to a degree. Deathwing moved on, continuing to try and retrieve the Demon Soul because he was convinced it was the source of his triumphant victory. And in the meantime, he worked against the mortals of Azeroth, disguising himself as a human to earn their trust and ultimately betray them all.
The Old Gods carefully orchestrated Deathwing's defeat at the hands of Rhonin and the other Aspects. They couldn't let him simply take over the world; they needed the world shattered, not run by a black dragon. His refuge in Deepholm was planned -- because there, deep under the earth, they could continue to speak to him. They could push him even further into madness, until he at last ripped through Deepholm into Azeroth, destroying the pillar that balanced the two worlds and once again ripping apart the continents of Azeroth.
The Cataclysm that Deathwing brings about with the next expansion isn't the actions of Deathwing -- it's the actions of the Old Gods that continue to speak to him. It's the actions of ancient, malevolent creatures that want to be released, and it's the reason that in Cataclysm, we not only have Deathwing, but we have the Twilight Cult that openly worships the Old Gods. We may defeat Deathwing, but his defeat only leaves the Old Gods with one less weapon in their arsenal, and his explosion into Azeroth has left the world weakened and malleable.
While the Horde and Alliance fight for territory in this new, shattered land, the Old Gods continue to plan and thrive. Strange tentacles have emerged at the other points of the star that I put together on that map, ages ago. Ashenvale is littered with the things. The Twilight Highlands seem to be the actual location of that Old God that managed to reach all the way to Tirisfal Glades, and as we've seen with Northrend, an Old God can influence places far, far from its original location. Down in Stranglethorn Vale, reports are coming in about Colonel Kurzen and his allies and their strange descent into madness -- which suggests that fifth Old God I'd speculated about months ago really does exist.
One of the arguments most often used to refute the map that I made was that it wasn't a proper star, and nothing really lined up. Take a look at that from another perspective: It didn't line up because the Sundering didn't properly do the job that the Old Gods intended. It was sloppy because the Sundering was sloppy, and it didn't exactly work like the Old Gods intended it to. It was a job half-finished, rather than the completed, perfect final product. So let's take a look at what that map looks like in Cataclysm, now that Deathwing has ripped the world apart:
Right. Notice what's at the heart of the star: the Maelstrom, the link to Deepholm and the World Pillar that holds Azeroth and the elemental plane of earth together. That's where Deathwing rips through the world in Cataclysm, and that's where the chain reaction that settled the world into place began. It is highly unlikely that the way these things line up is unintentional.
But what is intended is the assumption that Deathwing is the final boss of Cataclysm. Every bit of information released about Cataclysm to date has emphasized Deathwing and his horrible plot. The Old Gods are mentioned, but they are deliberately presented as a side sort of enemy. The end boss of Hyjal is Ragnaros, the Elemental Lord of fire. The end bosses of Vash'jir are the naga that pollute the depths of the water and seek to destroy Neptulon. The main goal of Deepholm is to put that World Pillar back together so that Azeroth doesn't fall apart.
The Elemental Lords were originally lieutenants of the Old Gods. The Old Gods created the naga, when Azshara and her court sunk to the middle of the ocean after the Sundering. The destruction of the World Pillar would decimate Azeroth and cause it to shatter in much the same way as Draenor.
Rossi theorized in his article regarding Deathwing's conspiracy that Outland was a deliberate "test run" created by Deathwing to observe the effects of a world shattering into pieces, and that he was deliberately trying to see how far he could bend a world before it broke entirely. I theorize that yes, Outland was a test run -- but Deathwing isn't working under his own mind. He's working under the influence of the Old Gods. They wanted the world torn asunder as a test run for what they were planning to do to Azeroth. Splitting the world into a floating chunk of rocks? Not quite what they'd imagined.
But the world of Cataclysm, a world split apart just far enough that they can begin to emerge, is exactly what they had in mind. Deathwing is not the final boss; Deathwing is a tool, just like every other evil faction that features in Cataclysm. The real threat behind Cataclysm? It's the Old Gods -- and even Deathwing's defeat will not sway the malevolent deities from their plans. After all, they have many other tools to work with, now that their reach has been sufficiently extended as a result of Deathwing's emergence. They have the Twilight Cult. They have the naga. They have the Elemental Lords.
And they have you.
For more information on the people, places and history mentioned here, check out other Know Your Lore columns, such as:
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.