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Know Your Lore: War of the Ancients, part 4 -- Time wizards and tinfoil hats

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.

In the past few weeks, we've rather exhaustively gone over the War of the Ancients. Parts 1, 2 and 3 of our series of WotA posts covered the major events. However, while the basic outline of those events remains, we must now content with the effects of time travelers upon the events of the War -- specifically, the human mage Rhonin, the red dragon Korialstrasz, and the orc warrior Broxigar are all sent back either directly or indirectly by the actions of Nozdormu, the bronze dragon aspect of time.

We know that the timelines differed in various ways (for instance, Hakkar the Houndsmaster died not during the War of the Ancients but the Third War itself in the original timeline), but how exactly did they differ -- and more importantly, why?

Read War of the Ancients, Part 1 -- Azshara's love story
Read War of the Ancients, Part 2 -- Time after time
Read War of the Ancients, Part 3 -- The one betrayed


Time, time, too much time

Effectively, what happened can be diagrammed as follows.
  • Timeline A, as outlined in our previous posts, takes place.
  • Ten thousand years of history, including the War of the Shifting Sands, the First, Second and Third War. (We know this because Rhonin's family dies during the wiping out of Andorhal.) In this timeline, Hakkar the Houndmaster died during the Third War.
  • Nozdormu's investigation of a fault in time (perhaps linked to the Infinite Dragonflight in some way) ends up catapuling Krasus/Korialstraz, Rhonin and Broxigar back 10,000 years.
  • Timeline B, the War of the Ancients that is the history of the World of Warcraft game, takes place along with a new 10,000 years of history. In this history, Hakkar died 10,000 years previously to the original timeline.
  • It does not help this post that there are two Hakkars that are completely unrelated. Hakkar the Soulflayer has nothing to do with Hakkar the Houndmaster, although this writer humbly suggests that Blizzard should come up with lore linking them.
Therefore, while we can easily see that timeline A must exist in order for timeline B to have ever happened (Rhonin, Krasus and Broxigar could not have traveled back in time if there was nothing to travel back to), we can also see that timeline B must also exist, since Rhonin, Broxigar and Krasus traveled back. Unlike closed-loop time travel (in which the events of the past are only ever observed with the actions of time travelers taken into account), this is a bifurcating pathway, where time branches due to the actions of those who have traveled.

We are thus left with the following speculation: What caused the orginal anomaly that Nozdormu found himself captured by? Why did it lead to the War of the Ancients? How did sending Rhonin, Krasus and Broxigar back in time to blatantly meddle in the past fix anything? In fact, did it fix anything? Or did it in fact create the problem in the first place?

Subversion and madness

Let us consider the facts first, before we speculate. We know that Rhonin and Krasus were originally caught up in a time anomaly after being summoned by a weakened and trapped Nozdormu, and that this same anomaly in the mountainous regions of Kalimdor drew the attention of the Horde. Thrall, Warchief of the Horde at this time, sent Broxigar (an old orc warrior and veteran of all three wars) and a younger warrior named Gaskal to investigate.

Gaskal was slain by the anomaly, but Broxigar survived, as did Krasus and Rhonin. As soon as they arrived in the past, they began changing it, as Krasus was nearly crippled by the trip (due to his already existing in that time period as Korialstrasz, the youngest consort of Alexstrasza). Rhonin found himself able to tap far more power than he'd ever known due to the presence of the undiluted, unconstrained Well of Eternity. Broxigar was captured by night elves and, in time, made the acquaintence of Tyrande Whisperwind herself. Due to the interference of these three time travelers, the course of the War changed.

Earthen ancestors of the dwarves and tauren joined the night elf ranks, to list just one example. Rhonin now took the place of Illidan in explaining how to draw magical power without access to the well (indeed, Rhonin taught Illidan how to do it!) Even the very motivations of the people involved changed. Illidan now turned to the side of Xavius and Azshara, not out of horror at the idea of destroying the Well of Eternity but instead purely out of jealousy over Tyrande's love for Malfurion (and not him) and the magical manipulations of Lord Xavius. This is because in the altered version of history, Malfurion never actually decided to destroy the Well of Eternity in the first place! Its destruction was a terrible accident, a consequence of the vast forces unleashed and not a deliberate act of sacrifice. Even more interestingly, in the new version of events, Illidan always intended to use the Demon Soul to close the portal and betray Sargeras, thus saving his people and proving himself once and for all.

In the end, Broxigar sacrificed himself to keep Sargeras out of the portal long enough for it to be closed by Malfurion and Illidan (although Illidan found himself manipulated by the Old Gods and had cast a spell previously that they had inspired him to create). But the closing of the portal on a half-manifested Sargeras caused the Great Sundering, perhaps in part due to the spell Illidan had cast, intending to close the portal and draw the demons of the Burning Legion back through it. Thus, rather than a deliberate act by Malfurion, in the new timeline, the destruction of the Well was an accident caused by Old God influence.

Finally, in this version of the War, Illidan was not merely condemned for having created the new Well of Eternity. He was condemned for having killed several of his own people under Jarod Shadowsong while having created the new Well of Eternity. Instead of condemning his brother, Malfurion in fact begged that he be imprisoned instead of being killed.

This is an incredibly condensed version of the new timeline, but it glosses the major differences. The presence of Rhonin, Krasus and Broxigar expanded the scope of the War so that many more of the ancient peoples of Azeroth took part in it. The Krasus of the future actually had his mind read by the Neltharion of the past just before he became Deathwing (which means that the Deathwing of the new timeline could very well have had knowledge of the coming 10,000 years). Broxigar actually managed to injure the bodily form of Sargeras the Dark Titan himself before dying. And thanks to Rhonin's presence, Illidan's character and personality were profoundly altered. ... Not to mention that the very Great Sundering happend entirely differently, or that Jarod Shadowsong actually condemned Illidan to death before Malfurion's intervention.

It becomes impossible not to ask: What exactly did Rhonin, Broxigar and Krasus actually accomplish?

The eternally spinning coin

It's clear that the time anomaly that caused Nozdormu to call Rhonin and Krasus had but one effect, and that was to send them back in time to completely change history. It's not as if they set history right. They in fact repeatedly and willfully altered it, directly interacting with the denizens of the past, teaching them secrets from the future and even explaining to them (in the case of Alexstrasza) who and what they were. In fact, if not for Neltharion's dominating Krasus' mind, he would have told the other dragons everything about Neltharion's plan and the Demon Soul would never have been created. Even without that, Krasus and Rhonin took part in large-scale battles, commanded the night elves' magical forces, and enlisted entire races into the fight who never took part in it in the timeline they'd originally come from.

Furthermore, we know they altered the past rather than simply fulfilling it in a mere causality loop. This was no case in which cause actually followed effect. Hakkar the Houndmaster was alive until the Third War in the timeline that Rhonin and Krasus and Broxigar left, and then, when in the past, they killed him. This one act by itself would be enough to create a complete branching effect, but it was hardly the only act they made that changed the past. They made so many, in fact, that it's nothing short of amazing that they managed to travel back to their own time and find it even recognizable.

Why had the night elf/tauren alliance they forged not remained? Why did the earthen not continue the bonds of fellowship and respect with both of their allies from this most important of wars? Since all three races now knew of the threat of the demons, why didn't they work to prevent their return?

It all seems rather insane until one considers that the anomaly that Nozdormu sensed and was captured by in the first place was caused by Rhonin, Broxigar and Krasus traveling back in time. Indeed, just because the Nozdormu of timeline B was there to greet them on their return doesn't mean that the Nozdormu of timeline A isn't still trapped in that anomaly. In fact, what if the entire existence of timeline B is a destructive anomalous force sweeping through timeline A, and the only ones capable of opposing its relentless march of destruction are the appointed guardians of time, the Infinite Dragonflight -- who are the Bronze Dragonflight of timeline A?

As we discussed in the Infinite Dragonflight post, what if Nozdormu was somehow tricked into changing history? What happens to an aspect of time who violates his charge? Are we effectively all playing in the wrong timeline and have we been constantly going back through the Caverns of Time to keep our wrong timeline intact? Are the Infinites desperately striking at events to try and prevent the bifuraction of the timeline in the first place?

It's telling to remember that when the bronzes sent a small army of time travelers back in time to Mount Hyjal, site of Illidan's "betrayal" during the second invasion of the Burning Legion, we saw no signs of the Infinites there. The war the Legion waged on the slopes of Mount Hyjal was the war the Illidan of timeline A and timeline B both predicted and which they both made the second Well of Eternity to prevent. Why did we go there?

Perhaps we went there too late. Perhaps the Infinites succeeded in making one of the changes they needed, somehow preparing the way to unmake the timeline that is unmaking theirs. Perhaps timelines A and B are like two sides of a coin being tossed, and the Infinites aren't so much interested in actually making the changes they seem to be after when they make incursions into history as much as they're interested in getting us to make incursions, and in so doing, alter the path the two timelines describe through time, to try to in effect influence the coin toss and decide which timeline gets to ultimately come up when it lands.

Then again, maybe not. But one thing is for sure -- we live in a world forever altered, a history warped and stolen from us by the hubris of a man and the impatience of a dragon. Will we be sent back merely to craft weapons, or could it finally be time to return the timeline to its original course? And can we survive such a change if it happens?

Next week, it's about time we take a close look at Broxigar Saurfang.

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.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Lore, Know your Lore

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