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Know Your Lore: Karazhan and the Dark Riders of Deadwind Pass

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.

Sometimes it's the characters that make Warcraft interesting, and sometimes, every now and again, it's the locations themselves that intrigue. Nestled in the heart of the Eastern Kingdoms, in a forlorn stretch of land simply called Deadwind Pass, lies the tower of Karazhan. Once the former home of Medivh, now a demon-riddled raid instance, Karazhan's story has far more to it than simply being the home of one of the last Guardians of Azeroth.

Rumors also abound about Deadwind Pass and its inhabitants -- strange, mysterious riders cloaked in darkness. Their shrill, harsh voices echoed through the hills of Duskwood once upon a time, and the purpose of their journey was an artifact powerful enough to be the genesis for an entirely new playable race. Karazhan, Deadwind Pass, and the Dark Riders all have an enigmatic history that's never been fully explained. But we do have hints, here and there scattered across novels and in game, that clear up a small portion of the mystery.

Please note, some of the information sourced in this article does come from the Warcraft RPG books. The RPG books have been listed as being noncanonical, unless otherwise stated -- so keep that in mind.

Deadwind Pass

Deadwind Pass is a stretch of land that lies between Duskwood and the Swamp of Sorrows -- hardly a charming, friendly tourist destination. According to Medivh, the stretch of canyon was created by some sort of massive explosion that carved out the valley and weakened the reality around it. Deadwind Pass has no towns, no habitable areas save for a small ogre camp near Karazhan itself. But that doesn't mean there aren't points of interest scattered around the barren landscape.

Ariden's Camp Nestled in the northeast corner of Deadwind Pass lies an abandoned camp. The fire still flickers and burns, and there are no signs of any kind of struggle. But the name Ariden has never been mentioned in Warcraft lore; nobody has any idea who or what Ariden is, why he came to Deadwind Pass, and where exactly he went when he disappeared.

The Master's Cellar and the village Huddled around Karazhan are the ruins of a small village, its dead inhabitants still wandering the area. Though the village itself has no name, it is commonly assumed that the small collection of buildings and the cellars beneath them were simply home to the servants of the tower. There is no mention of the village or its haunted inhabitants in the novel The Last Guardian; presumably, whatever servants once lived in the tower were long gone prior to Medivh's death. The only servants mentioned in the book are Moroes and Cook; anyone else who may have inhabited the ivory tower is long gone.

The Crypts of Karazhan Behind the tower of Karazhan lies a small church and a graveyard, riddled with the unquiet dead. But it's what is beneath the church and the graveyard that holds interest here. There have been many tales of the crypts beneath Karazhan and whether they represent actual lore or if they are simply an area that was never developed. Let's look at the crypt as a whole, shall we?
  • Well of the Forgotten The first area you see as you enter the crypt is a small room with an equally small hole -- about the right size for a person to fall through. In fact, if you do happen to fall through the hole, the purpose of the Well and its name are made blatantly clear.
  • The Pit of Criminals At the bottom of the well is a massive pile of skeletons. When I say massive, I mean thousands of people who apparently met their demise falling down that small hole. Or perhaps falling is the wrong word.
  • The Pauper's Walk A less direct way to the depths of the crypts, the Pauper's Walk is a winding path through an underground graveyard. Some of the crypts in the wall are open, some are shut, but the overall impression is simply buried dead.
  • Tomb of the Unrepentant A large underground area with a still water pond. Odd that you'd see a pond in the midst of something that may or may not be a graveyard, isn't it? Why would there be any need for water? Unfortunately, the next area gives at least one good, if gruesome, reason.
  • The Upside-down Sinners This is easily one of the most horrifying areas in World of Warcraft. The room is essentially a giant well, with hooks and chains strewn about the sickly-looking water. Suspended from the chains are the bodies of human beings -- but that's not the creepy part. The creepy part is that the lower corpses have the ropes tied to their necks, as if someone said, "You know, I think the best way to hang someone would be to tie a rope to their neck, fill the room with water, and let the human body's natural tendency to float do all the nasty work."
Judging from the names and the various areas, the crypt doesn't look so much like a crypt as it does a torture chamber or an area once used to dispose of criminals or "unwanted" citizens. The name Well of the Forgotten implies that whoever was chucked down that hole was a person who would be better off forgotten; the Pit of Criminals beneath suggests it may have been a handy way to dispose of criminals. But the Upside-down Sinners indicates there was something far more gruesome at work here than simple dispense of justice; the cruel and unusual methods of demise in this area suggest something incredibly sinister.

Regardless, this is still an undeveloped area. While it exists in game, there is nothing pointing to it, no mention of it anywhere in Warcraft lore. For now, it's a mystery -- much like Karazhan and its origins.

Karazhan

Which came first, Karazhan or Medivh? It's an excellent question, but the answer is as enigmatic as Medivh himself. The explosion that created Deadwind Pass happened long before Medivh came to Karazhan; that explosion weakened reality in that region to a point that someone saw fit to construct a tower there. Medivh eventually took up residence in the tower, but when asked about the tower's origins, Medivh's answer is anything but clear.

"You said there was an explosion long ago that created this place, and it made a place of magical power. Then you came ... "

"Yes," said Medivh. "That's all true, if you look at it in a linear fashion. But what happens if the explosion occurred because I would eventually come here and the place needed to be ready for me?"

Khadgar's face knitted. "But things don't happen like that."

"In the normal world, no, they do not."

Karazhan is far, far from normal -- players who go through the Karazhan raid may wonder at the properties of the place and how it seems to be much larger on the inside than it initially appears on the outside. The reality of space in Karazhan doesn't exist, and neither does the concept of time. Those who sought to traverse Karazhan often found themselves caught in errant pockets of time -- past, present and future -- and experiencing events as if they were actually present for them. Which, perhaps, they were.

It is believed that all ley lines on Azeroth lead to a location beneath Karazhan, and if that were the case, the actions of Malygos up in Northrend would have had an effect on the tower and its properties. After Medivh died, the tower remained deserted and empty, and any sane traveler avoided the area like the plague. It wasn't until The Burning Crusade that the Kirin Tor took a renewed interest in the deserted tower. Karazhan used to emit arcane currents, and at some point after Medivh's death, it instead began devouring energy, with no currents in sight -- just a faint, demonic echo.

Malygos regained his sanity just before the events of The Burning Crusade and spent most of that expansion pulling the ley lines of the world to the Nexus in order to prevent mortals from accessing the arcane energies. This was addressed in Wrath of the Lich King. But it's entirely possible that by disturbing the ley lines of the world, Malygos also disturbed the very nature of Karazhan, whether he realized it or not. With the absence of the arcane, it was much easier for the Burning Legion to simply swoop in and make themselves at home.

Nowadays, there's nothing new about the tower, just that it lies empty and deserted at the southernmost point of Deadwind Pass. The demonic entity has been dealt with; Prince Malchezaar has been defeated. Deadwind Pass remains deserted and forlorn, with little of interest to note -- except for the tales of the Dark Riders of Deadwind Pass.

The Dark Riders of Deadwind Pass

"The Scythe of Elune." one of the Riders shrieked in a voice both harsh and shrill, like the grinding of an axe on stone. And the last word - Elune - it croaked, as if choking on the sound.

Dread gripped me when I heard that voice, both from the horrid sound of it, and because...I knew the Scythe of which the Rider spoke. It must be the same cursed thing I drew from the rocks of Roland's Doom days before. It was what the Black Riders sought!

And it was what would kill Sven's family.

The Dark Riders of Deadwind Pass were a brief mention, a terrifying footnote in the tale of the worgen of Duskwood. When a miner named Jitters discovered the Scythe of Elune buried in a mine appropriately named Roland's Doom, he naturally decided to heft it out of the pile of rubble it was stuck in, and that was, of course, a terrible idea. Once freed, the Scythe brought forth a host of angry worgen from the Emerald Dream -- and the worgen immediately began chomping on anyone nearby.

Jitters managed to escape and lost the Scythe during his panicked flight through Duskwood, finally coming to a halt at the Yorgen farmstead. In his journal, Jitters details what little he knows of the Dark Riders -- only that they come from Deadwind Pass, and they appear to be after the Scythe. In fact, it was the freeing of the Scythe that drew them out, and they killed Sven's wife and children once they realized the Scythe wasn't in their possession. Jitters fled once again, taking up a post at the abandoned town of Raven's Hill, just outside the cemetery of the same name.

The only other mention of the Dark Riders is a reference made in passing that the riders were allies of Morbent Fel. In the RPG guides, it's suggested that the Dark Riders originated from Raven Hill, but every reference we've seen in game points to Deadwind Pass rather than the cemetery on the other side of the zone. What we do know is that their physical description consists of cloaked riders and shrill voices. The RPG books also mention that the Dark Riders are accompanied by hellhounds, but we've never seen mention of this in game. So far, they've been linked to Deadwind Pass, Duskwood, and the Scythe of Elune; some suggest that perhaps they were working for the worgen. But it doesn't appear the Scythe is their only interest.

World of Warcraft Comic Special Issue #1: Beginnings and Ends was a comic released at the end of the original series run. It introduced a bunch of different characters in preparation for the Horde and Alliance splinter comics, which have been scrapped in favor of graphic novels instead. In the special issue, a priest named Revil is sent to Westfall to recover an artifact stolen by the Dark Riders.

At the San Diego Comic Con, the title of the Alliance graphic novel was revealed as World of Warcraft: Dark Riders -- and the cover art suggests we will finally learn the story behind the Dark Riders of Deadwind Pass. The panel at the convention also mentioned the Scythe of Elune quest line and that the comic would feature the Scythe, the worgen, and the Dark Riders. Perhaps this will be the full story of Jitters, Sven, and the Dark Riders -- although that seems a little odd, when you think about it.

In the Curse of the Worgen miniseries, the Scythe of Elune storyline was very clearly wrapped up, and as far as the timeline is concerned, the Scythe is safe. So either the Scythe has once again been lost -- or the Dark Riders have a different artifact in their hands, and the Scythe storyline is simply a mention or flashback. We'll have to wait and see.

With Cataclysm, Azeroth has transformed from a fairly static world to a dynamic, story-driven one. Each zone has its own storyline and quests behind it, and while some are more developed than others, there's still more than enough there to keep those that are interested in the lore entertained.

Yet despite the overwhelming amounts of story and lore that are available, players are inexplicably drawn to the areas with the least lore and the most mystery. Deadwind Pass easily tops that list, from the unnerving crypt to the heights of Medivh's former home. Whether or not those mysteries will ever be fully revealed ... well, that's mystery in and of itself.

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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