The first part of the shard quest lines that arguably took the least amount of time (but not effort) was the shard from the Red Dragonflight. Vaelastrasz was who you were sent to talk to, and anyone who was worth their salt in a raid knew that this meant wandering into Blackwing Lair, where Vaelastrasz was being held captive by Nefarian.
Talking to the dragon prior to fighting him as part of the raid indicated that in order to retrieve this part of the scepter, the player had to be able to defeat Nefarian before he destroyed the shard in five hours. This was no trivial feat, even to the best raiders in the game at the time. Most Blackwing Lair clears took closer to seven or eight hours on a good day, so the thought of doing a speed run meant that raids had to beg, borrow, or steal a way of getting through a clear in record time, even if they were not the most progressed raid group at the time.
WoW Insider's own Mat McCurley had his own recollections about how his raid colluded with the other high-end Horde raid teams on his server to secure a safe red shard run:
Raids that did not succeed were given a special note when they finally killed the black dragon, straight from the desk of Victor Nefarius. Those that made it through in time got the first of many special rewards -- not only did they retrieve the red shard, but also epics for their trouble as well.
The biggest [Horde] guild on our server came to us and asked if we needed help with the red crystal part. Our GM [who was our scepter-bearer] gave his account information to the guild and they took his toon from beginning to end and did it for us. It was the only way the server first would have happened with the Horde! Funny.
One of the most amusing parts of the quest chain, once it split off into the shard chains, was having to deal with the blue dragon named Azuregos. He was a giant, world boss-level dragon who would pad in odd loops (along with his spirit, who gave you the quest) around the southern arm of Azshara, one of the few bosses ever who only aggroed after going through quirky dialogue options. Basically, the blue scepter shard was entrusted to the draconic version of a mad Willy Wonka. And you had to build a buoy. And talk to a Gnome. (Who even likes talking to Gnomes?)
This quest line alone was one of most amusing but exhaustingly expensive and time-consuming. This was well before personal flight was available in Azeroth; a lot of people couldn't afford epic level 60 mounts upon first reaching max level, and flight paths weren't connected. You reached Tanaris and gave the ledger to Narain Soothfancy, a psychic Gnome of utmost intricate, magical knowledge. Narain couldn't translate the ledger, so he entrusted you to retrieve items of great importance so that he could; this split into further quest chains of both great deeds, epic rewards, and endless frustration. We're talking Inception-levels of quests inside of quests here.
The quests you were told to complete were: Stewvul, Ex-B.F.F, Never Ask Me About My Business, and Draconic for Dummies, each that were their own mini-quest chains for these objects that Narain needed. The first required you to hunt down Narain's ex-B.F.F. and retreive his lost goggles, which reportedly were dropped inside Molten Core. Regardless of the fact that the goggles dropped off any mob, you still needed to assemble your trusty 40-man raid to clear the trash with the hopes that they'd drop sooner rather than later.
The second part required a 500 Pound Chicken. For the chicken, the Gnome sent you to the Goblin Dirk Quickcleave. Quickcleave realized that there were no real giant chickens in Azeroth and sent you to the Isle of Dread to help him gather Chimaerok meat and other assorted items so he can prepare a recipe for Narain. This isle (as well as Alcaz Island, which you'd encounter later on in the Scepter quest chain) were some of mysterious places in the game that featured level 60-62+ elites, most of them for quests that allowed max-level players to gain attunements to raids, dungeon tier sets or other items of high worth. You had to bring a substantial number of people to clear these mobs reliably, as the damage from them was rather high. Upon getting your Chimaerok meat and killing the mini-boss, the Goblin then took additional ingredients you gave him and created Dirge's Kickin' Chimaerok Chops. This quest rewarded you with a stack of the food and the epic-level recipe book to create the meal for yourself. It still is the only epic cooking recipe and has become first in rarity for collectible cooking recipes (with Thistle Tea being second for non-rogues).
But wait, there was still one more task left: retrieve "Draconic for Dummies." Traveling down to Land's End Beach brought you to a spot in Tanaris that was far beyond the mountain range that ringed the zone. Somehow, you had to head south from there. At the time, there was no easy way to run or swim across the water fast enough to evade the fatigue bar. Help was found in the form of a side quest involving a friendly Naga Meredith the Mermaiden. The buff she gave allowed you to safely swim over to a mysterious, hidden island (which at the time of this writing doesn't exist anymore) and retrieve a note informing you that the book was stolen and required a ransom to get back.
You found out, via a bungled book rescue attempt in Winterspring, that Dr. Weavil was the one behind this and had ripped apart the book, scattering the pages for you to collect. This was arguably one of the hardest parts of the blue shard line. Not only was Dr. Weavil an evil mini-boss you had to defeat with a raid, but you also had to retrieve pages from Molten Core, Blackwing Lair, Onyxia, and two capital cities, Undercity and Stormwind. The last pages dropped off more elite mobs in Winterspring and Blasted Lands. All of these things had either high competency checks or required hours of farming because the pages had low drop rates.
Finally, after all this, Narain would help you translate the ledger and proffer you a fine hat as reward for all of your hard work. The good and bad news: building a buoy for Azuregos, very expensive and rare to make. Its mats were all in high demand and expensive, along with the 10 Elementium Ingots that could only be obtained from several runs of Blackwing Lair, if you hadn't collected them prior to getting the quest.
Once the buoy was made, you could safely fish for Azuregos' minnow. That apparently was 100 feet of death and destruction, swimming in a swirling maelstrom in the heart of Azshara's rocky waters. This fight concluded the blue shard chain but again required the help of at least a raid's worth of people dunked into the ocean. It also spammed the server with a message saying, "The wrath of Neptulon has subsided."
Much like speaking to Vaelastrasz in Blackwing Lair, attempting to communicate with Eranikus for the green shard chain required venturing into Sunken Temple. However, before this is possible, Malfurion Stormrage appeared in the room to tell you that in order to get the shard of the Green Dragonflight, Eranikus must be cleansed from the Nightmare that had a stranglehold on him. You crossed continents to talk to Malfurion's agent in Darnassus, then to Keeper Remulos in Moonglade.
It became evident that in order to try and cleanse Eranikus, he had to be pulled into the world and fought. This is where the green dragon world bosses come into play that were put into the game in 1.8. The next part of the chain required you to grab Nightmare fragments from the trash surrounding each of the dream portals. They originally had very, very low drop rates, requiring days of farming and killing in order to grab the quest items. The final fragment from the dream portal in Duskwood had another mini-boss fight on par with Dr. Weevil called the Twilight Corrupter.
Once you had acquired all the fragments, the final fight (and arguably the big finale of the chain, short of ringing the gong itself) came by pulling Eranikus in his true state into Moonglade. This was an event that most of the server was invited to attend, meaning that the entire area surrounding the buildings was crushed with NPCs, raid teams, and onlookers. The raids fought Eranikus with Keeper Remulos and the Cenarion Circle NPCs, making sure to keep everyone alive. Once Tyrande showed up, Eranikus was cleansed and the server emote, "Eranikus, Tyrant of the Dream, is wholly consumed by the Light of Elune. Tranquility sets in over the Moonglade." The scepter-bearer received the shard and could move to finish the entire quest chain, with the big finish at the gong.
The Might of Kalimdor
Once the scepter finally had been put together and retrieved from Anachronos, all there was to wait on was the realm's finishing the War Effort quest. From there, a gong-ringer had to sit for a full week before the gates became ready to open. It was then that a raid decided when to ring, open the gates, and start the 10-hour event that became legendary for the outpouring of mobs, laggy servers, and glory that accompanied whoever made it to the gong first. On many realms, especially PVP ones, this became a giant fight -- not only with mobs, but with each other. Other realms were notoriously laggy or buggy but still yielded so many memories that the event still holds a spot in every vanilla player's heart. (For more info about the actual event, read the other Archivist on the subject.)
Any holders of the scepter were allowed to accept and finish Bang a Gong if it was during the 10 hours that war went on. This granted the title Scarab Lord as well as the only legendary mount, the Black Qiraji tank, which only went to those people who made it in that short window of time. Any players who rang the gong or had a scepter in their possession at any point after that could receive the epic weapon rewards from Treasure of the Timeless after the 10-Hour War had concluded. Even if you hadn't been a part of the initial gong-ringing, the items themselves at the time were a good enough reward. It was an honor to have made it that far, and you were given relics to show off that time commitment.
Gone for good
Unfortunately, like so many things that were lost in 4.0.3, this quest went right along with it, including many of the places, mobs, and items that made it so special and unique. Some people did the quest when it was relevant, some long after, but a lot of people who did it (for various reasons) still count it as one of the best quests in the history of World of Warcraft. The relics we kept from the quest (like a water-breathing ring or perhaps the white scepter item itself) may or may not be still tucked away in the dark recesses of our banks, but the memories of the process are even fonder. The days of seeing a Scarab Lord riding around on the realm have grown scarce, but the few who can remember who they were still feel a pang of nostalgia when they think about it.
My only hope is that Blizzard takes a page from the feelings of all of us Veterans of the Shifting Sands and remembers that sometimes the best quests worth doing aren't always the easiest or the shortest, but the ones that leave a mark on the people doing them. Nameless island in the South Seas, you will remain forever in my memory.
Many thanks goes to Hamlet of Mal'ganis (US), Vectivus of Black Dragonflight (US), Ruana Llane (US), and Mat McCurley for their input on the quest chain.
The WoW Archivist examines the WoW of old. Follow along while we discuss the lost legendary, the opening of Ahn'Qiraj, and hidden locations such as the crypts of Karazhan.