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Know Your Lore, Tinfoil Hat: Destroying this clockwork universe

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.

If you've ever run the Black Morass in the Caverns of Time, you may recall Aeonus' memorable line upon entering the fray: "The time has come to shatter this clockwork universe forever!" A clockwork, as we know, is a precision instrument, an engineered and designed mechanism that proceeds along a rigidly programmed path. A clockwork does exactly what it was designed to do -- it ticks off the seconds in a preordained fashion.

I bring this up because of the revelation that the Titans, when they created the dragon aspects, seemingly knew that one of them would go mad and align himself with the Old Gods. The four aspects who remained seemed convinced that this moment, this Hour of Twilight, is what they were created to avert. The question then becomes, why would the Titans empower Neltharion in the first place if they knew what he would do? Why would they create a powerful entity like an aspect if they knew he would become corrupted?

The answer may be as simple as this: They didn't know it -- they simply anticipated it. The mechanism was designed to accommodate a great many options.

Algalon the Observer
Your actions are illogical. All possible results for this encounter have been calculated. The Pantheon will receive the Observer's message regardless of outcome.

This is a Tinfoil Hat edition of Know Your Lore. It takes established game lore and speculates on what it could, might, or does mean. It contains spoilers and, furthermore, is not to be taken for actual in-game or tie-in story.

If you're a regular reader of KYL, you've read Anne's excellent post speculating that Azeroth exists to train entities that can withstand the corruption of the Old Gods and potentially be used as weapons against Sargeras. Keep that in mind as we proceed, because I'm about to speculate that perhaps, being used as weapons against Old Gods and fallen Titans isn't the be-all and end-all of what Azeroth is for.

What time slays

When the Titans imprisoned the Old Gods and shaped Azeroth to its current formation, imprisoning the elemental servants of their enemies and ordering the world, they create aspects out of powerful reptilian entities like Galakrond. These dragons would be appointed to oversee the world of the Titan's creation, shepherding magic, time, the Emerald Dream, life and the earth itself.

While the Titans left direct servitors behind to watch over their outposts and installations, the dragon aspects were independent, expected to stand at their appointed watches and carry them out to the best of their ability. The Titans always knew the aspects would not perform these roles forever. Nozdormu was shown the time and means of his death, and at least one dragonflight (the blues) had a means to choose a replacement for its aspect when the need would arise. Unique in the Titan's design, the dragon aspects were not following a set formula.

Ironically, that very independence of operation may have been their saving grace. While one aspect, the one who watched over the soil and bedrock that makes up the Old Gods' prison, was vulnerable to their corruption, the others managed to resist it. Here, we must consider Neltharion's fall. Why was he chosen for the arduous task of watching over the very matter of the Old God's confinement? Was he chosen because the Titans saw in him something that may have allowed him to resist the corruption? Was he in fact the best possible choice for Aspect of Earth and the most likely of his fellows to overcome it -- or was he chosen because the Titans saw in him the best odds for Azeroth's survival? Did they calculate out all possible results and estimate in their cosmic calculus what would be the result of each of the aspects' in turn becoming insane servitors to their loathsome, chaotic enemies?

The greatest difficulty in the Titan's struggle against the Old Gods is that they are difficult to anticipate, resistant to estimation. They are madness, abominable truths, the whisper in the dark. Was Neltharion chosen because if he did fall, he was the aspect who provided the best probable results for the experiment?

Examining every variable

In fact, when one considers how orderly and precise the clockwork makers that we call the Pantheon are, we start to wonder for how many moves this was all planned out and how many different variables were accounted for. Did the Titans have a contingency for Alexstrasza going mad, perhaps, instead of Neltharion? Was there an Hour of Twilight plan for each aspect? Did Aman'thul show Nozdormu his future in order to move the Aspect of Time onto the board in exactly the proper configuration for a specific outcome, or did he in fact work out every possible outcome in advance?

It seems possible that it was coming to understand just how thoroughly the Titans had meddled with his decisions, how every choice was in fact not a choice at all but just another variable reckoned and calculated out before the world of Azeroth was even set, that could have started him on the road to Murozond. If you discovered that no matter what you did, distant entities had charted out every injury, every suffering, every possible move of your terribly long life (even your death), you might want to shatter their clockwork universe too.

When one considers Azeroth as a trap meant not only to hold the Old Gods but to lure Sargeras -- Why else leave a fountain of pure cosmic power right at the center of the largest land mass on the globe, if not to lure those that crave chaotic power? -- one then considers why? Do the Pantheon desire to prevent Sargeras from performing his mad crusade to burn all existence clean of life? They've shown no particular desire to meet their mad fellow in direct conflict. Why? Perhaps his actions suit their ultimate purpose. Perhaps Sargeras and his Burning Legion, perhaps even the Old Gods, serve the Titans through their actions, just as the aspects -- yes, even Deathwing served their purpose. What if the goal of the Titans work, their striving, their cosmically calculated odds was to make something they could not anticipate?

What Rough Beast, his hour come 'round at last

When seen in this light, Algalon's defeat was the first sign that Azeroth has done exactly what it was designed to do. The Legion, in corrupting the orcs and introducing them to the closed system of Azeroth, added that final spark to set the reaction in place. Deathwing's travels through the Dark Portal and his leaving black dragon eggs to be infused with the raw chaotic power of the destruction of Draenor helped bring the Twilight Dragonflight into existence. It helped bring Cho'gall to create the Twilight's Hammer. It showed Deathwing exactly what could happen when you destroy a world. It gave the Destroyer all the pieces he needed to usher in the Hour he was made to create, because you can't survive a test you never experience.

The events of the War of the Ancients, the creation of the Dragon Soul (which required a demon from the Legion to complete, remember), the luring of Sargeras, the attention of Mannoroth who would corrupt the orcs of Draenor ... Every moment is a part of those anticipated possibilities, all rushing forward to cascade into events that would bring to pass beings that could do that which the Titans could not predict.

Algalon the Observer
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.

One meaning of "perfect" is "complete." Something that is completed cannot change, cannot grow, and cannot surpass its design. Imagine, then, that the Titans always intended their creations to do more than simply exist. The imprisoning of the Old Gods gave their new creation that spark of chaos, of madness and unpredictability necessary for development. The Curse of Flesh sets the Titan's constructs free from their preset, preordained limits.

"Imperfection" means "not done," and only that which has not been finished can become something greater than it is. The aspects were chosen and created entirely because, as creatures born from proto-dragon entities like Galakrond, they too could make choices. They were intermediaries, shepherds, midwives in the birth of beings that could do what the Titans could not.

The interlocking teeth of mathematical madness

The Old Gods provide the chaos. The Legion and Sargeras provide selection pressure. If not for them, the Titans would have to prune their own gardens, as we see with Algalon. Clearly, the Titans have a procedure for this: Loken's death and Algalon's arrival and analysis of the world, and the existence of the Halls of Origination in Uldum even show us a great deal about how this process works.

But it's fair to say that this only provides a world with the chance to prove it has not grown too chaotic to thrive. The existence of the Legion and its bleak, entropic march across existence actually provides a world with the chance to overcome bleakest order, the flip side of the Titans' rigidly preordained path of creation. The Old Gods provide chaos in opposition to the Titan's order, while the Legion supplies an object lesson in the danger of too much order.

I doubt it was merely coincidence that Deathwing alone of all the aspects has traveled to Draenor before its destruction and was the only aspect with a bolthole on one of the elemental planes. Deathwing alone of the aspects was capable of dealing with elementals as peers and thus was the only one who could enlist so many to serve him. He was the only one with experience in what exactly could happen to a world if pushed too far. Draenor had no aspects to oppose him.

All of this made Deathwing the perfect harbinger of eschaton. Through defeating Deathwing, Azeroth has now twice proved it can stand against a creation of the Titans, one wrought out of their power and functioning according to their design and now one twisted by the Old Gods out of alignment, infused with chaos. All that is left is the excess of order. In defeating the Legion twice, Azeroth has set the stage for that final confrontation as well. I postulate that the defeat of the fallen Titan isn't the goal at all, but rather the means.

A childhood's end

Where do Titans come from?

How do they propagate? What is their ultimate goal? Is it merely to wander the stars endlessly, populating the Great Dark Beyond with worlds shaped in their wake? Are they cosmic gardeners, landscapers who seek reality as a park with orderly paths wrought to their aesthetic? Are they clockmakers, tinkering with mechanism, forever crafting order that ticks and tocks according to its gears and cogs, forever predictable, always within their ability to analyze and ordain? Do the Titans want a universe that can never surprise them? Do they wish to be alone forever?

I believe Azeroth is nothing less than the means by which the Titans can surpass themselves. That they are aware that they, too, are limited by their very perfection. The Titans, even Sargeras, cannot grow. They are perfect. They are complete. And in the fullness of time, they can and must be transcended. They have in Azeroth worked with all their craft to make a crucible that can forge something they themselves cannot predict, harnessing the madness and unfathomable pure wildness of the Old Gods in order to make that which is both chaos and order at once. They set their creation on a collision course with another world eons before any living things were born, caused the cross-contamination that would lead their careful calculations to that place which they could no longer calculate.

The purpose of Azeroth is to make that which the Titans could not, beings that the Titans could not foresee or anticipate, entities that could be either order or chaos, good or evil, who made their own destiny. Peers. Replacements. Offspring.

According to all the calculations, Azeroth should have been destroyed by now. Algalon should not have lost. Everything the Titans have done has been done in the hopes that the experiment will surprise them. Deathwing's fall, the Hour of Twilight, this is all stage two of a long-running experiment that tests to destruction in the hopes that those calculations will turn out to be wrong.

Now here we stand, at the moment where even the Titans' math fails, and all that's left is what has happened. The loops are all closed, the charts no longer show us the way. Stretching out before us is nothing but terra incognita. Behind us, there were dragons. We no longer need them. Ahead of us lies the unknown, which is our proper element. The Hour of Twilight has passed, and what new dawn we see is ours.

The Titans are great and powerful, shapers of worlds, makers of life. In time, we shall surpass them.

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, Cataclysm

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