Once upon a time, there was a little planet called Azeroth. A shining jewel of the universe, this little planet was chosen by the Titans, blessed by their presence and organized into a perfect representation of order and beauty. But that order and perfection wasn't to last. At some undefined point in the little planet's future, malevolent proponents of chaos, creatures simply called Old Gods, visited Azeroth's surface and quickly decided to ruin the harmonic vision of the Titans with their own brutal, corrupt, and chaotic one.
The Titans realized something had happened and returned to find the world they had so carefully balanced in a state of utter chaos. They immediately launched an assault on the Old Gods, but they discovered something strange. The Old Gods had fully integrated themselves with the matrix of the little planet, placing a strange malaise on the inhabitants. If the Old Gods died, so too would Azeroth -- and so the Titans imprisoned the Old Gods deep beneath the earth where they could do no further damage. They set to work repairing the planet, leaving various safeguards behind to watch over the world. Satisfied, they left -- and they haven't been seen on Azeroth since.
Today's Know Your Lore is a Tinfoil Hat edition, meaning the following is a look into what has gone before with pure speculation on why it happened. The events presented are events that happened in Azeroth's history, but the conclusions are merely theories and shouldn't be taken as fact.
In reality, the only essence not contained in that artifact was the essence of the Earthwarder himself. During a crucial battle in the War of the Ancients, Neltharion turned on the other dragons of Azeroth, leading his flight into a battle that decimated the forces of the Blue Dragonflight and caused Malygos to slip into despair and madness. The Dragon Soul, now called the Demon Soul, was stolen from Neltharion's -- now Deathwing's -- clutches and hidden away, but the damage had been done. The world shattered at the end of the War of the Ancients, the continents slipping apart, the face of Azeroth forever changed.
And the Old Gods, imprisoned beneath that earth, stirred. The ability to influence the mortal races had gotten just a little easier.
The gate remained shut for another thousand years.
But in that thousand years, Azeroth continued to quietly grow and thrive, its inhabitants dealing with attacks from the Burning Legion and the arrival of the orcish forces of Draenor. It also signaled the arrival of the Twilight's Hammer, a branch sect of the warlock-run Shadow Council. Although supposedly loyal to the Horde, the Twilight's Hammer held a much higher belief close to its heart: total, complete annihilation of all life, everywhere. Oblivion, the destruction of creation, chaos. The Twilight's Hammer was led by an ogre mage -- the first ogre mage -- named Cho'gall. Over the course of time, the Twilight's Hammer lost track of their leader, who had disappeared with Gul'dan some time during the Second War.
And over the course of time, it was only natural that the Twilight's Hammer gravitated to these strange, dark areas of Azeroth. They traveled to the Blackrock Depths, intent on serving Ragnaros, one of four elemental lieutenants originally appointed by the Old Gods. And they traveled to Silithus, gravitating towards that mysterious dark force, sealed behind the gate. They set up camps in the desert, worshipping, performing rituals, and listening to the faint whispers of the Old God C'thun. With each whisper, with each ritual, with each eager supplicant bowing down to the Old God, C'thun grew a little stronger.
The Emerald Dream embodied Azeroth's perfection, before the Old Gods arrived. Yet ... something wasn't quite right in the Emerald Dream. Over time, a strange, malevolent presence made itself known -- a darkness that twisted the thoughts of all it encountered. This Nightmare didn't show itself physically, instead making its presence known through the effects it had on the denizens of the Dream and the landscape itself. It twisted the emerald guardians of the Dream, turning them into nightmarish versions of their former selves. It took over the night elves that dreamt within the plane. It threatened to completely eradicated Ysera's domain altogether. And it imprisoned Malfurion Stormrage.
Meanwhile in Silithus, the sudden uprising of Twilight and the discovery of the Old God lying in wait beneath the temple spurred the mortals of Azeroth into action. They chose a champion to assemble the Sceptre of the Shifting Sands, collecting the shards of the artifact and ringing the gong that opened the gates to Ahn'Qiraj. And waiting on the other side was an army of Qiraji that poured forth from the temple grounds and proceeded to slaughter without reservation. The battle was long and bloody, but eventually the Temple was breached and the Old God C'thun defeated. His corpse was left in the dusty depths of the Temple to rot, the mortals of Azeroth satisfied, the Old God dead.
C'thun wasn't as dead as the mortals of Azeroth had assumed. The Old God imbued Cho'gall with power, transforming the ogre into a twisted echo of itself. Though Cho'gall was supposedly defeated and the Old God once again taken care of, one had to wonder -- was C'thun really dead? Was it really possible to kill an Old God permanently?
In Outland, the mortal forces had put down the latest effort in the Burning Legion's attempt to wreak havoc on the world and moved back to Azeroth, to Northrend, where the Lich King and his Scourge armies threatened to wipe out all civilization. But the Lich King wasn't Northrend's only danger. Miners and explorers in Howling Fjord went mad after spending too much time in Whisper Gulch. In Grizzly Hills, the furbolg of the region have gone mad as well, the remnants of Vordrassil oozing with darkness. It was discovered that the ancient city of Ulduar to the north contained an Old God whose reach extended the entirety of Northrend -- and mortal adventurers worked to quickly put the Old God Yogg-Saron down.
Yogg-Saron was dead. But then, we assumed C'thun was dead, didn't we? ...
Things like the return of Deathwing. His emergence shattered the world again, rocking Azeroth with an explosion the likes of which hadn't been seen since the Sundering. Suddenly, Azeroth was littered with grasping tentacles and whispers of Old Gods. The Twilight Cult resurged with a vengeance, convinced that their worshipping and rituals were about to bring about the world's end. After all, the Old Gods, and the servants of the Old Gods, were suddenly far stronger than ever.
What, exactly, is the matrix of Azeroth? What is the matrix that the Old Gods have tied themselves to so irrevocably? It's never really been clearly defined. My own assumption was that as they were imprisoned beneath Azeroth, the core of the world was somehow tied into the various tentacles and bodies and writhing masses of Old Gods. Destroying them would cause the base foundation of Azeroth itself to collapse in upon itself and the planet to crumble to nothing.
But what if that matrix is something completely different. What if that matrix is us?
The mortals of Azeroth. The creatures who populate the world, the mortals who live and breathe, think and grow as a result of the Curse of Flesh. Most of the major races in Azeroth are a direct result of evolution caused by the Curse of the Flesh. We don't know tauren origins; it could be that at some point, the Curse of the Flesh created them as well. Forsaken are former humans; humans were derived from the Curse of the Flesh. For all we know, elves are a result of trolls being affected by the Curse of the Flesh, rather than some magical Well of Eternity-generated explosion.
If this is the case, we as mortal creatures are irrevocably tied to the existence of the Old Gods. More importantly, the existence of the Old Gods is irrevocably tied to us.
We cannot kill the Old Gods, because our every thought, our every dream, our every fear or nightmare feeds the existence of these creatures and fuels them onward. In the case of C'thun, it was the mass acknowledgment of the Old God's existence that brought him back from the dead -- if he was even dead to begin with. Perhaps we merely thought we killed him, content in our happy dream.
What if Yogg-Saron isn't dead? What if in his house he still waits dreaming, quietly feeding on the nightmares of those left behind, the memories of horror that still lurk amongst those in Northrend who mop up the mess left after the Lich King's defeat? If this is true, if all of this is true, then we can never truly kill the Old Gods -- unless we wipe ourselves from existence, our minds no longer connected and feeding them raw power. Our very existence is the reason the Old Gods exist -- and our very existence guarantees that the Old Gods will never cease to be.
Perhaps it is strength, or courage, or the simple tenacity to survive. It's the fiery perseverance in the hearts of people, random adventurers like you and me, that flares the moment we confront an Old God in its lair. It's that courage, that unwillingness to give up in spite of it all, that ... odd free will, so different from anything Algalon had ever observed, that caused the Old Gods to "die." In that moment of glory, in the minds of all that fought for their lives, there was no doubt, uncertainty, or fear -- it couldn't be afforded.
I have seen worlds bathed in the Makers' flames. Their denizens fading without so much as a whimper. Entire planetary systems born and raised in the time that it takes your mortal hearts to beat once. Yet all throughout, my own heart, devoid of emotion... of empathy. I... have... felt... NOTHING! A million, million lives wasted. Had they all held within them your tenacity? Had they all loved life as you do?
Perhaps it is your imperfection that which grants you free will. That allows you to persevere against cosmically calculated odds. You prevailed where the Titans' own perfect creations have failed. -- Algalon the Observer
We cannot kill the Old Gods. But we can make them weak. The planet Azeroth hangs in a precarious balance between madness and despair, life and hope. On one side of the scales are the Old Gods; on the other, heroes like you and I. Perhaps the only way to truly defeat the Old Gods is to accept Azeroth for what it is: imperfect and corrupt. Embrace it, love it, and continue to soldier on regardless of the odds.
For more information on related subjects, please look at these other Know Your Lore entries:
- Tinfoil Hat Edition: The final boss of Cataclysm
- Tinfoil Hat Edition: Silence of the Titans
- Stormrage and the Emerald Nightmare
- Uldaman, Ulduar, and Uldum, strongholds of the Titans
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.