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Know Your Lore: The Warcraft cosmos, part one: The Material Plane

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.

Even now, the true battle between the forces of Light and Darkness approaches. We will all be called to join, and in the face of this conflict, all mortal suffering will be meaningless. -- Prophet Velen

Far beyond the tiny planet of Azeroth, beyond the shattered shores of Outland -- or Draenor, as it was once called -- there lies the Great Dark Beyond. This dark, empty void between worlds exists even beyond the Twisting Nether. It is the space between planets, existing in the same material plane as the planets themselves. While the Twisting Nether exists within it, it should not be confused with the Nether, because they are two distinctly different entities.

In the existing universe of Warcraft, only a small handful of planets have been defined, floating somewhere out there in the vast, empty space of the Great Dark Beyond. All of these planets are connected, which gives way to a larger, slightly more tinfoil hat theory regarding the greater Warcraft cosmos and what it all means, when it comes down to it. But before we indulge in any speculation, we should define what lies within that Great Dark Beyond and how it all plays together in the vastness of the universe.

The cosmos of the Warcraft universe is a lot trickier to navigate than one would expect. The universe may only have a small handful of planets actually defined, but within and throughout those planets are planes, other dimensions of existence that overlap each other quite possibly well into infinity. It's has been proven that individuals can travel from one plane to the next just as easily as they can travel from one planet to the next, making the universe a very complicated and multi-layered place to be.

The first of these planes of existence is the Material Plane -- the world of mortals, planets, stars, moons and suns. The Great Dark Beyond encompasses the Material Plane and surrounds all planets in existence on this plane; think of the Great Dark Beyond as outer space, and you've got the general idea. The various defined planets of Azeroth all exist within this material plane.

Argus

Argus is the homeworld of the eredar. Once a utopian world comprised of denizens with great intelligence and an even greater prowess for magic, the planet Argus was ruled by three eredar leaders: Kil'jaeden, Archimonde, and Velen. Those familiar with Warcraft lore should recognize all three of those names, the first two being major figures in the army of the Burning Legion and the last now being the leader of the draenei that inhabit Azeroth today. Sargeras visited the planet over 25,000 years ago, and the eredar people -- most of them -- were transformed from the utopian society of the past into the demonic entities of the Burning Legion we know today.

Yet there were those that managed to escape Sargeras' reach -- the draenei. Led by Prophet Velen, these eredar fled thanks to the help of the naaru, spending the next several thousand years traveling from world to world before eventually settling on Draenor. The naaru blessed the draenei with the knowledge and power of the Light, and they explained that one day, forces in the cosmos would band together into one unstoppable army of the Light and put an end to the Burning Legion for good.

It is uncertain exactly where and how the naaru came into existence, but they play a major role as leaders paving the way for the Burning Legion's downfall. Though little is known of Argus, it stands as a remarkable planet that served as the starting point for the genesis of the Burning Legion from a group of minions mindlessly following Sargeras into the giant, nigh-unstoppable army it is today. It's uncertain whether or not the planet Argus survived after its inhabitants swore allegiance to the Burning Legion; if it did, it is most certainly a base for Burning Legion affairs.

Azeroth

Azeroth is the planet with which we're most familiar. It's the planet we quest on and call home. Azeroth's history is convoluted, to say the very least; the planet was visited at one point by the Titans, mysterious creatures almost akin to gods whose place in the universe seems to be defined as simply giving order to various worlds, Azeroth being one of them. Some call them a progenitor race, but that may be a false assumption, given the fact that life existed on Azeroth before the Titans' arrival, albeit in a fairly primitive form.

Azeroth itself seems to hold great importance within the universe. The little planet is in a constant state of struggle against overwhelming odds -- a frequent target of the Burning Legion. One has to wonder if it's Azeroth itself that is so special to the Burning Legion or if it's the presence of the Old Gods that makes it stand out or the simple fact that the Titans chose the location to visit. Regardless, it has been stated time and again that Azeroth is important -- both the planet and the little mortals that call it their home, mortals with an unshakable will and the potential for unspeakable power that possibly rivals the powers of the Titans themselves.

The reason for the Burning Legion's hatred toward the world isn't clearly defined, but one can make some very good guesses simply by looking at the history of Azeroth. Originally a simple world, Azeroth was visited by the Titans on a routine mission to create a little order on the planet. After completing the ordering of Azeroth, the Titans left -- and the little planet was visited by dark entities called Old Gods that promptly began tearing up any semblance of order the Titans may have put in place.

The Titans returned to Azeroth, devastated at the sheer amount of chaos the Old Gods wrought, and promptly launched a full-out war against the Old Gods, the likes of which Azeroth has yet to see again.

But it wasn't a simple victory. The Old Gods had worked their way so far into Azeroth that simply destroying them would destroy the planet itself. Oddly, the Titans did not choose to simply destroy and re-originate Azeroth; instead, they imprisoned the Old Gods deep below the surface of the earth and created protectors to watch over the world and ensure that the Old Gods did not rise again.

In addition to this, the Titans created the Well of Eternity, an endless font of magical energy, the heart of Azeroth's magic that drew its powers directly from the Great Dark Beyond. It was the Well and the kaldorei who used the Well for their own magical tinkering that drew the attention of Sargeras to Azeroth in the first place. Sargeras wanted the Well's powers for his own, and he would stop at nothing to get it.

This was the beginning of the War of the Ancients. Sargeras managed to convince the highborne night elves to try and open a portal between Sargeras' home in the Twisting Nether, and Azeroth. Unfortunately for Sargeras, his plot was foiled by another group of night elves, led by Malfurion Stormrage and Tyrande Whisperwind. Sargeras was banished back to the Twisting Nether, the Well of Eternity destroyed and the continent of Kalimdor sundered.

Judging from all of this, it isn't the Well that has Sargeras' attention anymore. It's the fact that for all the power in the Twisting Nether, for all the strength the former Titan had at his beck and call, he was foiled in the end -- not by his former brothers and sisters in the Titanic Pantheon, but by a simple group of mortals. In that defeat lay the knowledge that these mortals possessed power -- far more power than the Well of Eternity. For they were not only able to resist the urge to manipulate and play with the Well's energies, they were also able to defeat a Dark Titan. That sort of power is the kind of thing Sargeras dreams of possessing. This is all speculation, of course -- but given what we know of the War of the Ancients and Sargeras' history, it doesn't seem too far off the mark.

Draenor (Outland)

Draenor was a simple world much like Azeroth, though whether or not it was visited and organized by the Titans is unknown. Unfortunately, Draenor also represented a curious intersection of other worlds and motives. The draenei who fled Argus eventually settled on the little planet, landing at the site of Oshu'gun and peacefully coexisting with the native orcs of the world -- peaceful, that is, until Kil'jaeden, former co-leader of Argus, caught wind of the draenei presence on the planet.

What happened next was total devastation. Kil'jaeden cleverly tricked the orcs of the world, promising ultimate power and eventually goading them into drinking the blood of Mannoroth, changing the orcs from primitive shaman to the bloodthirsty savages we remember from Warcraft: Orcs and Humans. He then goaded the orcs into attacking the draenei, resulting in full-out slaughter. But this wasn't the end of the Burning Legion's plans for Draenor.

Sargeras, leader of the Burning Legion, wanted to use the orcs Kil'jaeden had corrupted against the planet of Azeroth, because he was still obsessed with having Azeroth under his control. Having made a home for his spirit of sorts in the sorcerer Medivh on Azeroth, Sargeras worked through the sorcerer and opened the Dark Portal, allowing the orcs to travel between worlds and subsequently ravage the lands of Lordaeron (and ultimately, the rest of the world).

While those plans backfired, the Burning Legion still seeks to put an end to Azeroth. As for Draenor, the orc Ner'zhul, attempting to create a way for the remaining orcs of Draenor to escape their planet and the Burning Legion's reach, attempted to open portals to other worlds, worlds we have yet to see.

The result was catastrophic. The presence of so many dimensional portals on the planet literally tore the earth apart, leaving only fragments of the world floating in the Twisting Nether. The planet Draenor existed in the Material Plane; however, its shattered remnants -- Outland, as it is known today -- exist in the Twisting Nether instead, a direct result of the shattering of the world. The fact that Outland now resides in the Twisting Nether makes it much, much easier for the Burning Legion to invade -- hence the considerably large presence of the Legion on Outland's surface.

K'aresh

K'aresh is the homeworld of the ethereals -- astral travelers akin to goblins in that they collect and trade rare artifacts for profit. Little is known of K'aresh beyond what we've heard from the ethereals themselves and a small snippet of information delivered in the first round of Ask a CDev:

K'aresh was an arid planet, home to a thriving ecosystem and several sentient species before the arrival of Dimensius the All-Devouring. How the void lord found K'aresh is still hotly debated among the surviving ethereals, but the effects of his coming were unmistakable: he opened countless gateways into the void and the Twisting Nether around the planet, bathing K'aresh in arcane and dark energies.

Using every scrap of its advanced technology, one of the mortal races hastily attempted to construct magical barriers around its cities, but it was only partially successful; although the dark energies were blocked, the unimpeded flood of arcane energy tore away the mortals' corporeal shells and infused their souls with enough energy so that they could subsist without a body... barely. Members of this race, now called ethereals, took to binding themselves with enchanted strips of cloth to provide their souls with enough structure to survive.

This altered state proved to be a blessing in disguise, as their enhanced minds and magical abilities allowed the ethereals to fight Dimensius and his limited forces to a standstill. Over the years, however, Dimensius eventually grew powerful enough to summon armies of fellow void creatures, forcing the ethereals to flee into the Twisting Nether.

Now how, exactly, does K'aresh tie into the rest of the Warcraft universe? It takes a little leap of speculation, but consider this: K'aresh was taken over by a void lord and his void minions. The creatures of the void -- including the voidwalkers that warlocks commonly summon -- are essentially demons of the Twisting Nether, the same Twisting Nether that currently houses a hojillion agents of the Burning Legion. There's the Burning Legion/K'aresh link, but there's something a little more out there to consider.

The naaru -- the agents of the Light who assisted the draenei in their flight from Argus, the same agents of the Light who seek to put an end to the darkness of the Burning Legion -- have a very odd sort of life cycle. When reaching the end of their life cycle, the naaru enter a "void state." As mentioned by the naaru D'ore in the quest What the Soul Sees, "Regrettably, there is nothing that can be done to stop this cycle. It is a facet of the naaru condition -- without the void, the Light cannot exist."

This indicates that there is a direct correlation between the naaru and the void -- and perhaps a direct correlation between the naaru and the voidwalkers of the world. Whether they are simply fragments of a dying naaru or corrupted naaru themselves, these void creatures are now demonic entities; and while some serve only themselves, others clearly serve the Burning Legion's cause. The destruction of K'aresh, therefore, could be construed as an example of what the Burning Legion is capable of when it succeeds in taking over a world. This also indicates that K'aresh was somehow important; the planet was somehow powerful enough that the Burning Legion wanted to possess it. This is, of course, speculation -- but it does connect K'aresh, albeit indirectly, with the rest of the known Warcraft cosmos.

Xoroth

Xoroth is a planet barely mentioned in World of Warcraft, and the original mentions of it have now been wiped from existence. Xoroth is the fiery, chaotic home of the Nathrezim, the Dreadlords. It is also the home of the Dreadsteed of warlock fame; the original quest to obtain the Dreadsteed mount mentions the Nathrezim home world. Xoroth itself and the Dreadlords who inhabit the planet play directly into the events on Azeroth and Draenor -- because it was the Nathrezim who ultimately led to Sargeras' creation as Dark Titan and leader of the Burning Legion.

Sargeras was originally a creator of order, much like the rest of the Titans who visited Azeroth. His role in the Pantheon of the Titans was a little different, however; while the other Titans directly contributed to the ordering of worlds, Sargeras was a defender of that order, his task to defend order at all costs. This role pitted Sargeras against the darkest of the dark, including the Nathrezim.

But viewing all this darkness, corruption and evil in the universe had an unintended effect on the Titan. After seeing how much darkness, chaos and discord there was in the universe, Sargeras began to despair of the Titans' ever completing their tremendous task. Slowly, he began to fall into corruption -- after all, if the natural state of the universe is one of chaos and evil, perhaps the Titans themselves were actually the enemy, trying to impose a way of life on the universe that wasn't natural. It was the observation of the Nathrezim that led Sargeras to this line of thinking, and when he formed the Burning Legion, the Dreadlords were one of the first races to join the dark army.

Whether Xoroth still exists is up in the air -- but the fact that warlocks can summon dreadsteeds from the world indicates it's a possibility. In addition to this are the words of Mal'ganis, the dreadlord ultimately behind the Scarlet Onslaught in Northrend, who flees with the words, "Enough! I waste my time. I must gather my strength on the home world." This indicates that Xoroth is still very much a part of the Warcraft universe (though it, much like Argus, is probably a corrupted shell by this point that houses countless agents of the Burning Legion).

Seem like a lot to grasp? It is -- and we haven't even begun to delve into the other pieces of the Warcraft cosmos. For though there are only a scant handful of known planets in the Material Plane, there are several other planes of existence out there that we haven't even touched on yet. In addition is the curious matter of how all these planes and planets interlink in the Warcraft cosmos -- and more importantly, why they seem to be so interlinked. But that's a story to be told next week, when we look into the slightly muddier concept of multi-dimensionality.

For more information on related subjects, please look at these other Know Your Lore entries:

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: Lore, Know your Lore

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