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Know Your Lore, TFH: The Aspects of the Titans

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.

Y'all know the drill here - this is a speculative jam. Nothing in this is to be taken as what Blizzard is actually saying.

In the distant past, Azeroth was formed by the hands of beings potent even beyond gods. These beings, known to us as Titans, have left the evidence of their presence in many ways - huge, magnificent complexes of astonishing construction, races shaped by their will, the prisons that held Yogg-Saron and Y'Shaarj's heart, and much more besides. From the Mogu'shan Vaults to Uldaman, from the fantastic jungles of Un'Goro to the Sholozar Basin, including the magnificent Vale of Eternal Blossoms the Titans left their mark in the very structure of Azeroth.

Recently the black dragon Wrathion consumed the heart of Lei Shen the Thunder King, a mogu warlord empowered by the stolen power and knowledge of Master Ra (known as Ra-Den to them), a Titan Watcher similar to those left behind in Ulduar. When he did that, he spoke the following words: "We have fallen. We must rebuild the Final Titan. Do not forget." I've wondered long and hard what that could mean. But it wasn't until I considered the powers the Titans bestowed upon the five Dragon Aspects so long ago. Their control of life, magic, dreams, the very land beneath our feet and time's ebb and flow was so absolute that it beggars the imagination, and it also asks us a question - could they bestow this power, if they did not have it themselves, and more besides?

We casually discuss the vast oceans of time that separate us from the Titans. Untold tens of thousands of years, perhaps more - indeed, none can say exactly how far in the past the Titans began their ordering of the universe, much less arrived to create Azeroth. Sargeras had already fallen to be the Dark Titan over 25,000 years ago, but how far before that is unknown to us. But it brings a question to mind - how could such powerful entities seemingly vanish? Why have they left their creations to their own devices? Why are emissaries such as Algalon watching over their creation, rather than the Titans themselves? Is it merely that they are so distant from mundane mortal concerns, living on a scale vastly beyond our comprehension?

I submit it is something else entirely. To determine what, we must look at their actions, and the servants they've chosen to enact their will.

The Titans have shaped many worlds - we're told by Algalon that he has seen countless worlds bathed in the Maker's flame - and yet Azeroth is clearly of great importance, and not merely due to the presence of the Old Gods. The Titans went to great efforts to keep Azeroth intact. It was possible to simply re-originate the entire planet with the threat of the Old Gods totally excised - they chose not to do so. We've speculated in the past that they made this decision based on the dire repercussions of slaying an Old God, and the creation of the Sha certainly indicates that there are dire repercussions = but the final defeat of Y'Shaarj's heart seems to indicate that those consequences are manageable. In other words, the Titans weren't unable to kill the Old Gods. They just knew that they'd have to risk the planet's utter destruction to do so, hence Algalon's re-origination message. For whatever reason, the Titans didn't want to re-originate the planet all those countless thousands of years ago, and instead chose other mechanisms to try and keep their experiment functioning.

Many other mechanisms, in fact. Besides the many installations left behind by Titan hands, staffed by Watchers and other Titanic servant races, their servant Tyr chose five dragons to be empowered, to become Aspects capable of wielding and controlling vast powers over, well, aspects of existence. Each had real as well as metaphoric significance - Neltharion was to ward over the earth beneath our feet, from the rich loam and topsoil to the chaotic violent fury of its molten heart. Ysera commanded not merely the dreams of mortals but the Emerald Dream that served as the dream of Azeroth itself. Malygos' quick wit allowed him to be the master of the magic power criss-crossing the world entire via powerful ley lines, Nozdormu in turn was vouchsafed with safeguarding time itself, to prevent variant timeways and keep the servants from the Old Gods from corrupting time, and Alexstrasza was chosen to shepherd and protect life itself.

Some of these things, it's fairly easy to see why the Old Gods would want to corrupt or control these forces. The earth that Neltharion warded was where they were imprisoned. Malygos' magic helped bind them. Ysera's dreams were debased by their very presence. And as corruption itself, life is made warped and insane by their existence - horrors like the Maw of Madness show us what happens to things that live if the Old Gods have their way.

So let us ask ourselves - why should they want to control time? The easy answer would be that they wish to escape their imprisonment by making it so it had never happened, and that's a good reason, but ask yourself how they would do that. Simply going back to the point of their defeat wouldn't work, because then the Titans would presumably just re-originate the planet (as reluctant as they might be to do it, Algalon was fully prepared to send the signal and start the process) so they'd need to prevent the Titans from ever existing, yes? It's the only way to keep the Titans from imprisoning or destroying them. So you'd expect their efforts to be extended towards altering the distant past, where the Titans presumably originated.

But they don't. Look at each attempt by the Old Gods and their corrupted version of Nozdormu, Murozond, to alter the timeways and change history. They never reach far into the distant past - in fact, the most distant trip back at the hands of the Bronze Dragonflight was to the War of the Ancients, and Nozdormu was behind that, in order to steal the Dragon Soul from history. The Old Gods were presumably aware of Nozdorumu's agents in the past, but they didn't even try and stop them - they focused instead on playing their parts and causing Neltharion to suffer the damage caused by the Dragon Soul, the festering corruption that would bedevil him for the next ten thousand years and lead him to forever plating his body in arcane materials to hold it together. The only action of the Infinite Dragonflight under Murozond was to attempt to prevent us from making that trip in the first place - they were, so far as we can tell, attempting to ensure that the War of the Ancients went as planned and that the Dragon Soul was indeed lost as it had been before Nozdormu sent us to alter history. Which we did. We altered time in order to bring the Dragon Soul out to battle Deathwing.

So it's fairly clear that while the Old Gods seem to be willing and able to forment the Infinite Dragonflight in its actions, these actions so far seem focused on recent events - prevent Thrall from becoming Warchief of the Horde, prevent Medivh from opening the Dark Portal, prevent Arthas from becoming the Lich King, prevent us from going back to the Sundering. They're not trying to alter the distant past - they seem perfectly happy with how that worked out. So why? Why do they want to alter our time? How will that keep the Titans from existing, keep them from being imprisoned in Azeroth?

It's fairly clear that the Titans must have greater control over these forces than the Aspects, or their Watchers. So they can control physical matter, the mind (dreams), magic, life and time, and they can do so with skill and mastery that would dwarf anything we've yet seen. The fact that they could create living beings from unliving stone and metal, craft natural laboratories where millions of years of evolution could be compressed, create an entire world of pure thought in the Emerald Dream, craft the elemental planes... their power and knowledge is vast. We've accepted this about their skills with every one of the Aspect's gifts except time. We know that Aman'Thul, the Highfather of the Pantheon and supreme among Titans, was the one to empower Nozdormu.

Unto you is charged the great task of keeping the purity of time. Know that there is only one true timeline, though there are those who would have it otherwise. You must protect it. Without the truth of time as it is meant to unfold, more will be lost than you can possibly imagine. The fabric of reality will unravel. It is a heavy task--the base of all tasks of this world, for nothing can transpire without time.

When we kill Murozond, he cries out to Aman'Thul. Not to the Old Gods.

Aman'Thul is the master of time, it seems clear. His control over time makes him the most powerful and important member of the Pantheon, supreme among the Titans. Even the awesomely powerful Sargeras cannot stand directly against him. So I ask you Why do we believe the Titans exist in the distant past when Aman'Thul has utter mastery of time, and time travel?

When Sargeras 'fell', he began working to destroy the Titan's creation. He did this by breaching the ancient prison of the Nathrezim and by selecting the Eredar, over 25,000 years ago, to be his chosen servitors, his generals and magisters. Sargeras has worked unceasingly and openly since that time, invading world after world. His behavior is perfectly understandable and causal, as is that of the Legion. Indeed, the first time we see any sign of Sargeras or the Legion having any access to magic that bends time, it's within Karazhan. Sargeras in Medivh's body notes the unusual properties of the tower, but doesn't move to use them, and Prince Malchezaar himself uses the tower's properties to outpocket it in dimensions but again, not in time despite us knowing that the tower could give one visions of the past and future. Why did Sargeras show no interest in this property?

Perhaps because he knew that Aman'Thul would feel another Titan infringing on time. Now, consider the Old Gods and their efforts to alter the recent past, to change our history. Why? Because we lead to the Titans. The Old Gods don't try and alter the distant past because that could affect them as negatively as it would their enemies, but their enemies origins lie not in the distant past. Instead, imagine the Titans as hailing from an unimaginably distant future. Their knowledge and power so greatly exceeds our own because they have all of history's knowledge and power, and all that which will come after history, and the ability to travel anywhere and anywhen to learn more. They aren't our unknowable, distant creators - they are our unknowably distant offspring. Perhaps not literally so, but figuratively - they come from a future so distant that we can't conceive of it, and everything that happens now is part of their design because it leads to them. It's literally their design.

There is only one true timeline from their perspective because it is the one that leads to them. They have reached back throughout time to safeguard it, preserve it, appointing Watchers and Aspects and Observers but making as few changes as possible because that more that Aman'Thul says will be lost is everything they are. Imagine that they reached back to observe their own genesis - the small planet that they knew their progenitors were to be born on - and found it corrupted, infested, utterly unable to support the life that would lead to them, and trapped in the chaotic yet stagnant grip of the Old Gods, they could never come to pass. Would this be enough to cause Sargeras to fall into madness, enough to shake his certainty in the Titan's work to order the universe? It's doomed from the start! It could never even happen. Sargeras falls, retreating from his fellows into the distant past, stranding himself in history that he seeks to unravel as it has unraveled him.

Aman'Thul, however, simply acts. As a master of time and time travel, he's willing to accept a predestination event - the universe of the Titans will come to pass even if it requires the Titans to engineer its creation. There is only one true timeline, says Aman'Thul. And so, he and his Pantheon reach back, and engineer their future. Of course it will need protection. And they have to be careful - too much interference is as dangerous as not enough. Why do the Titans send Observers, why do they leave Watchers alone and unattended for centuries, millennia at a time? Because to them, safe in their unimaginably distant future, with power and knowledge gathered from every era, a few thousand years is nothing. They have infinity to engineer.

Creating a Neltharion to go insane, a Nozdormu to manage time and slay himself, these things are trivial, the vastly distant past to them. As long as it moves towards their perfect future, these are costs paid long before they ever were, meaningless to them. The Old Gods seek to prevent their future from coming to pass, because that is where the Titans are most vulnerable and the Old Gods least so. For the Final Titan that we seek will in fact be the first Titan, the yet to be born progenitor of their existence. The maker of the Makers. And if the Old Gods prevent it from being born, then their enemies can never reach back in time to thwart them in the first place.

These unimaginable entities, these masters of time and reality, these makers and shapers. These Titans. Our parents, our children.


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, Wrath of the Lich King, Cataclysm

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