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Know Your Lore: The Burning Legion

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.

They burn worlds to ash. They render the verdant uninhabitable. Theirs is not the evil of mad chaos, leaping to corrupt for amusement or decadence. They are the means by which the mad Titan seeks to unmake everything. They are the Burning Legion, and it is their purpose to end existence. Nothing less will satisfy Sargeras.

Yet even within the seemingly monolithic forces of the Legion, there's room for political intrigue of a sort. While Sargeras has seemingly caused his own exile from the seat of power, his former lieutenant Kil'Jaeden now leads the Legion, a position he seemingly aspires to hold indefinitely. And Azeroth is directly in his crosshairs.

Sargeras starts his war

The Legion was born out of the decision of the Titan Sargeras. Whatever we believe about his motives, his actions are clear enough. Once the champion of the Pantheon, Sargeras' long struggle to protect the Titans' work in ordering the universe led him to battle demonic forces from the Twisting Nether that sought to consume the life and magic from creation.

While Sargeras battled and defeated the entities that he faced, their very existence and the fathomless evil they displayed troubled him. When he faced and defeated the Nathrezim, the shadowy magic and corruption of the dreadlords were baffling and enraging to him. If the cosmos could birth such horrors, what point was there to imposing order on it? In the end, the Titans were doomed to fail.

So Sargeras turned his back on the Titans and their grand project. Now, as relentlessly powerful as Sargeras himself is, he is but one of the Titans. Although the Pantheon let him leave, hoping that in time he would be restored to the champion they once knew him as, he knew he couldn't undo all of the Titan's creations alone. It's a vast universe, after all.

Luckily for Sargeras, his time as the fist of the Pantheon had been spent in defeating and penning up several of the most depraved and evil forces in existence. Sargeras sought out the prisons he himself had penned the dreadlords and other such foul demons up into and shattered them, impressing the demons into his service. Not only did they know he could destroy them if they refused, they didn't particularly want to refuse him. What he wanted to do -- destroy all creation -- fit in nicely with what they wanted to do, which was to batten upon existence and drain it dry.

Sargeras had his army. In his growing fury at his fellow Titans for having imposed upon him a task that could not be completed -- the defense of existence and the Titan's vast ordering of the universe -- he chose for himself a task he believed could be completed, the destruction of that order. But the army he created lacked a crucial element. It lacked generals, commanders, officers, those who could lead and guide it in his name. Searching infinity for just such a body of potential rulers over his Legion, Sargeras found what he sought on the world of Argus, over 25,000 years ago.

Argus meets its fate

Argus was the home world of the Eredar, a race of magically gifted beings whose intelligence and facility with magic made them exactly what Sargeras was looking for. Ruled at the time by a council of three, Kil'Jaeden, Archimonde and Velen, the Eredar were of course amazed by the appearance of the vastly powerful, godlike Titan and even more so by his offer to elevate them to serve as his agents, to experience power and knowledge unlike anything they had ever known.

Both Archimonde and Kil'Jaeden were in favor of accepting this offer, but Velen, despite his close relationship with Kil'Jaeden (they often called one another brother), felt that something was amiss. He soon discovered why. In a vision, he saw Sargeras' true agenda and the fate of his people once they accepted the offer. While Velen received the aid of the mysterious naaru in evacuating himself and those of his people who believed him (who would become known as draenei, meaning exile in their native eredar) from Argus, Archimonde and Kil'Jaeden took Sargeras at his word and accepted the dark Titan's offer.

Thus, the Eredar became the masters of the Legion. Archimonde took the Annihilan, or Pit Lords, as his personal servants. With them as the core of his forces, he began growing the Legion's innumerable armies. Kil'Jaeden, far more subtle, took the Nathrezim in hand and created the Legion's more sophisticated infiltration and subversion programs. While Archimonde's forces would invade and smash worlds to lifeless husks, Kil'Jaeden's forces would find new races suitable to become part of the Legion, bolstering its forces.

We do not know how many worlds the Legion has invaded. We do know (thanks to Harbinger Skyriss) that the Old Gods claim to exist throughout the universe and to be capable of resisting the Legion, which implies that the Legion as well has a pan-universal presence. The visions of the Prophet Velen and statements by members of the Legion indicate that a great many worlds have in their time fallen to the Legion's onslaught.

The usual method depends on the world in question. In the case of Draenor, the Legion used subversion tactics, led by Kil'Jaden himself. This was a special case, however, as it was driven by Kil'Jaeden's personal desire for vengeance on Velen and his followers and not the Legion's usual mandate. It's telling that once the draenei followers of Velen appeared to be destroyed that Kil'Jaeden didn't even bother to bring the orcs he had corrupted with Mannoroth's blood into the Legion proper. He simply abandoned them and their world, likely expecting Archimonde's forces to come destroy the planet when they had time.

Wars, ancient and modern

The first invasion of Azeroth during the War of the Ancients was a far more conventional invasion, but even that was altered by the presence of the Well of Eternity, a force so potent that Sargeras himself decided to become involved directly. The Well's magical power drew the dark Titan's interest, for it was a source of power tapping into the very cosmos with which he could manifest bodily on Azeroth.

Amazingly, despite his own direct seduction of Queen Azshara of the Kaldorei and many of her Highborne, in the end, the Legion's attempt failed. Their forces, although numerous, were incapable of holding the world long enough for its inhabitants to be destroyed. Indeed, they were even pulled back through the very magics they had been using to invade in the first place. The cost to Azeroth was horrific -- the Well exploded, the primeval continent of Kalimdor was torn asunder, and the pieces hurled away from one another forming the current land masses of Azeroth -- but it cannot be denied that the denizens of that tiny world did the unthinkable and balked the Legion.

Amazingly, it was not the last time they would do so. After 10,000 years, the Legion would try again, after Sargeras took another approach and placed his own essence first into the form of a gigantic avatar, then using that form's destruction to implant himself unnoticed into the body of the Guardian of Tirisfal, Aegwyn. Through her, he managed to possess her unborn son, who would grow to become Medivh, the last such Guardian.

In time, Sargeras engineered the invasion of Azeroth, making use of the same orcs Kil'Jaeden had corrupted, then abandoned. However, despite the subtlety of this plan, it was in time discovered, and Medivh slain by his own apprentice Khadgar alongside Anduin Lothar, who had called Medivh friend when both were young men. This seemingly trapped Sargeras' mind outside of his Titanic body, unable to directly affect the reality he sought to destroy -- and Kil'Jaeden wasted little time in pressing the advantage.

The path of subversion

Following the destruction of Draenor, Kil'Jaeden happened upon a plan. Using the spirit of an orc shaman named Ner'zhul who had displeased him during the initial corruption of the orcs, Kil'Jaeden created the tool by which the Legion would finally put an end to Azeroth. Tearing Ner'zhul's body apart slowly, Kil'Jaeden made of his spirit an undead horror, imprisoned in a cask of ice and kept incarnate by a mystical suit of armor. This being, the Lich King, was hurled bodily inside his Frozen Throne into the icy wastes of Icecrown Glacier in Northrend, where it began its campaign to destoy and reanimate an army of undead.

This led to the Third War, which saw Arthas Menethil, prince of Lordaeron, become a death knight under the Lich King. It saw his destruction of Lordaeron itself, the arrival of Archimonde on Azeroth proper and the destruction of Dalaran by him, and the full-scale invasion of Kalimdor by a Legion army seeking to find and corrupt Nordrassil the World Tree, whose roots draw from the power of the second Well of Eternity. In the end, Archimonde died as the kaldorei, the orcs, and the humans banded together to stop the Legion, and the Lich King betrayed them to tear his Scourge away as an independent empire of the dead.

Even the death of Archimonde merely stalled Kil'Jaeden. The Legion forces in Outland were cut off from their control and power usurped over the world by Illidan Stormrage, a former night elf demon hunter who had been instrumental in the Legion's original defeat 10,000 years earlier. Kil'Jaden offered Illidan a deal -- in return for destroying Kil'Jaeden's errant servant the Lich King, Illidan would be granted power and knowledge, the things he'd hungered for his whole life.

Taking the deal, Illidan went to the Tomb of Sargeras at the site where Aegwyn had buried the Avatar and liberated from it the Eye of Sargeras, an artifact with power sufficient to crack open continents, if used properly. In the end, thanks to his brother Malfurion's intervention, Illidan was prevented from destroying the Lich King with the Eye and was forced to make a direct attack on Northrend with his followers Kael'Thas and Lady Vashj and the forces at their command. This too was balked, this time by the same Arthas Menethil.

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Kil'Jaeden's gambit

Ironically, this led Illidan, who needed a place he could fortify against the expected Legion retribution for his failure, to entrench himself further on Outland. For whatever reason, many of the former demons of the Legion willingly served Illidan in defiance of the Legion itself. Perhaps it was due to the principle that whoever seems strong enough to compel obedience should lead; perhaps it was out of dissatisfaction with how Kil'Jaden's rule was progressing or a desire to allow a world to continue to exist so it could be continually fed upon rather than burned away entirely.

Whatever the reason, Outland became a three-way battlefield between the heroes of Azeroth, the Legion, and Illidan's forces, ending with Illidan dead and Kael'thas, now a servant of the Legion, leading an invasion of his own kingdom in order to allow Kil'Jaeden access to the power of the Sunwell. This last invasion was balked, making the grand total of attempts to invade Azeroth by the Legion three failures, an unprecedented event. In all the cosmos, no world invaded by the Legion has ever succeeded in driving them off once, much less three times.

Make no mistake, however. None of these defeats has really done much to actually weaken the Legion. It's lost some troops, and yes, Archimonde is dead and Sargeras may or may not be able to directly act. But as long as Kil'Jaeden lives and the Legion follows his will, Azeroth is at the top of his list. The Legion will return, and when it does, it won't bother conquering. It will simply attempt to destroy, as it has countless worlds before. The Legion's is a crusade that can only end when the universe is unmade, or it is.

For more information on the people, places and history mentioned here, check out other Know Your Lore columns such as:
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, The Burning Crusade, Lore, Know your Lore

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