Let's be up front about this. The Cataclysm was Deathwing himself. The events were the result of Deathwing's assault on the world of Azeroth - his eruption from Deepholm, his rampage through the Twilight Highlands, his summoning of Ragnaros into Mount Hyjal, the machinations of his minions. Deathwing, in all his rampaging insanity, was exactly what he claimed he was. He was the end of the world, and had he not been stopped, Azeroth would be no more. From the Twilight Highlands to the depths of Vashj'ir, the events Deathwing set in motion unraveled the world.
Let's look over the world, cast our eyes from the jagged peaks of Hyjal to the submerged depths of Vashj'ir, descend into Deepholm and then comb the deserts of Uldum for answers to the question - what did the mad dragon want? Why did his Twilight's Hammer erect their bastion in the Twilight Highlands, where the Maw of Iso'rath erupted from the very soil? The old gods seemed on the verge of their ancient goal, thanks to Deathwing.
At this very moment, Hyjal burns
We mentioned last week how Queen Azshara herself made an appearance in Ashenvale, taunting Malfurion Stormrage that all her naga minions had done had distracted him from the danger to the slowly healing World Tree. Malfurion made his way to the crown of the world, to discover that the danger had been understated - the Twilight's Hammer had invaded in force. On their way to support the beleaguered druids of the Cenarion Circle adventurers witnessed Deathwing himself, and saw the next stage of his plan unfold - for the self-styled Aspect of Death summoned forth the Firelord, Ragnaros, unleashing him and his fire elemental minions on the already strained ranks of Hyjal's defenders.
At the same time, the upheavals of the Cataclysm had caused a small island to push its way up out of the waters off the western coast of the Eastern Kingdoms, and both the Horde and Alliance saw that these islands would make a strong staging ground for further Horde incursions into the very heart of the Alliance in those lands, the human Kingdom of Stormwind and the dwarven citadel of Khaz Modan. Soon Horde and Alliance forces and assorted mercenaries were streaming steadily into what turned out to be a trap, as the naga saw an opportunity to refresh their ranks of slaves by using Ozumat, a dread kraken leviathan, to sink their ships and seize them as they nearly drowned. The Earthen Ring, knowing that the naga presence so close to a rift to the Abyssal Maw (home of Neptulon the Tidehunter) was a bad sign, intervened.
The Destroyer and those who destroy
These two events signaled that Deathwing was actively recruiting elementals, and if they would not join with him by choice (as Neptulon did not) then the Old Gods would offer whatever aid Deathwing needed to bring them into line. In addition to the Naga, legions of Faceless Ones swarmed the deeps to assault Neptulon - in time, Ozumat himself poisoned and battened upon the elemental lord, dragging him bodily away from his own demesne. His fate and even location were left unresolved, but with him removed from the board, the elemental plane of water was ruled no longer and water elementals could be summoned with impunity. Troubled by these events, the Earthen Ring turned to even more troubling ones - Deathwing's entrance into Azeroth had created a crisis that needed to be solved immediately.
The World Pillar, a Titan created magnetic artifact with the power to keep Deepholm separate from Azeroth (think of it as an axis around which the various elemental planes were kept in delicate balance) had been shattered by Deathwing upon his return. In so doing, the Aspect had set the planes out of their Titan-created alignment, and Deathwing was taking full advantage of it. The reason that he was able to summon Ragnaros onto Hyjal's slopes, and that the Abyssal Maw was breaching the oceans, was related to its destruction. Worse, the rift between worlds that was called the Maelstrom was widening. If it continued, Azeroth and Deepholm would collapse into each other with catastrophic results. Former Warchief Thrall, now one of the leaders of the Earthen Ring, contacted mortal heroes to aid in the stabilization of the rift by finding the fragments of the World Pillar. This led them on adventures throughout the plane of Deepholm itself, and in time, even an alliance of convenience with Therazane the Stonemother (whose own daughter, Theradras, had been slain by mortal adventurers) to oppose Deathwing and his Twilight's Hammer followers. A raid on the Stonecore led to the discovery of exactly where Deathwing had hidden while his armor was rebuilt with elementium. It did little to explain what he was planning or how to stop him, however.
Following the restoration of the World Pillar, a Titan waygate was discovered linking to Uldum, the long-hidden and mysterious land to the south of Tanaris. Indeed, until the Cataclysm it was believed to merely be a long abandoned Titan installation, notable for its mention in the Discs of Norgannon found in Uldaman. The devastating geological changes caused by Deathwing revealed that the myths were true - Uldum existed, a vast hidden valley of shifting deserts and oases no longer concealed by Titan technology. And the Skywall, the palace of the Elemental Lord of the air, Al'Akir, was floating over the skies of the desert. Like Ragnaros, Al'Akir had willingly joined forces with Deathwing, as he had once served the Old Gods directly. But it was only after aligning with the Ramkahen tribe of the tol'vir people that the true purpose of Deathwing's attack on Uldum was revealed - for it was within Uldum itself that the fabled Halls of Origination lay, and it was that very complex that contained the machines that could destroy and recreate Azeroth in a few moments. It was these devices that would have activated had Algalon sent Reply Code Omega from within Ulduar, and it was these devices that Deathwing sought to directly activate now. The Halls were breached and the machines deactivated to prevent just such an outcome, leaving Deathwing no choice but to proceed without access to the world engines of Uldum.
Ending the Beginning of the End
In the Twilight Highlands, the forces of the Horde and Alliance waged war against one another while also seeking to recruit allies (the Alliance seeking Wildhammer dwarves and the Horde allying with the Dragonmaw orcs) in order to secure bases both to fight each other as well as the Twilight's Hammer infesting the area. Grim Batol, the former Wildhammer base and then Dragonmaw fortress (where Alexstrasza had been kept imprisoned by them) was now infested by agents of the Twilight's Hammer, and needed to be cleared out. The Bastion of Twilight, a redoubt of the cult, dominated the sky of the Higlands, daring any to oppose them. Led by Cho'gall, these madmen sought the ultimate in nihilism - the destruction of everything - and dared the forces of the Horde and the Alliance to try and stop them. Meanwhile, inside Blackrock Mountain, Deathwing's son Nefarian sought to return his slain sister to life, and had to be stopped before he could unleash his host of abominable experiments upon his old enemies among the mortal races.
Up until this point, Deathwing's minions drove events forward - aside from occasional appearances flying around the world destroying things, the big dragon didn't seem particularly interested in how their plans were unfolding. Therefore, after scrambling across the planet, fighting Ragnaros back into the Firelands, trying and failing to save the Abyssal Maw, rebuilding the World Pillar and preventing Deathwing's servants from accessing the Halls of Origination, those minions were the ones targeted by the mortal heroes of the world. Deathwing's son Nefarian and daughter Onyxia were halted within the boiling heart of the Blackwing Descent. Deathwing's ally Al'Akir was destroyed in the Skywall, the first of the elemental lords to be destroyed within his home plane. Finally, upon the storming of the Bastion of Twilight, the true horror lurking in the depths of the earth was revealed - the prime consort of the destroyer, Sinestra, who in her ravaged form (seared horrifically by Deathwing's attempts to force her to breed despite his own body's molten degradation) watched over the last brood of stolen red dragon eggs that were to be transformed into twilight dragons. Although it cost him his life, Caelastraz of the red dragonflight aided in her destruction.
There was barely enough time to contemplate the next move when both the Horde and Alliance was forced to divert their attention to long forgotten threats. The Zandalari, last seen recruiting heroes to aid them against the Blood God Hakkar and studying the fall of the Drakkari in Zul'Drak, now had their own difficulties to deal with - Deathwing's assault upon Azeroth had led to a calamity on Zandalar, and the Zandalari prophet known only as Zul sought to unify all trolls in a war of conquest for their survival. Only Vol'jin of the Darkspear tribe rejected his proposal out of loyalty to the Horde, and moved to assemble forces (behind his nominative Warchief's back, no less) to enter both Zul'Gurub and Zul'Aman in order to defeat the Zandalari before they could bring these two tribes fully under their sway.
The situation on top of Mount Hyjal grew ever more dire, however. Although Ragnaros himself had been pushed back, the minions of the Firelord surged into our world with ever greater frequency and savagery, as if Ragnaros would empty his fiery domain out of pure spite. The Guardians of Hyjal needed help to put an end to it before Nordrassil itself was destroyed, and with it, perhaps all of Kalimdor. After several sorties and raids into the Firelands themselves, a full-fledged incursion stormed the plane, striking down several of Ragnaros' servants, dealing with the traitorous Alysrazor and then the demented former Archdruid Fandral Staghelm, first of the Druids of the Flame. Then the battle was taken to Ragnaros himself, and alongside Hamuul Runetotem and Malfurion, the heroes of Azeroth dealt Ragnaros the death blow he'd long avoided. The Firelord joined the Windlord in death.
Deathwing's schemes were hardly done, however. While the heroes of Azeroth sought to end Deathwing, Thrall had endured an assassination attempt by Deathwing's minions that had torn him apart and scattered his being to four elemental locations. After aiding Aggra in reuniting the World Shaman (as he was now known) there was little time for rest, as the Blue Dragonflight had finally moved to choose a successor to Malygos. Two candidates, Kalecgos and Arygos, contended for the position during the lunar conjunction called the Embrace. It was revealed that Arygos was in league with Deathwing, however, and ultimately Kalecgos was chosen (although not without the sacrifice of Tarecgosa, an intimate confidant of Kalecgos, whose life was only saved by binding it to that of a mortal hero) which led Arygos to fully betray his flight, and the world. In so doing, he joined the schemes of the Twilight Father, which ultimately led to Arygos' death and the awakening of Chromatus the fivefold dragon monstrosity. After an extended sojurn through an alternate timeway, Thrall joined his power to the four aspects, and Chromatus was defeated. Unable to destroy the creature, the last product of all of Nefarian's twisted experiments in Blackwing Lair, the four Aspects were forced to imprison it in an arcane vault.
Finally, the four Aspects were ready to take action. Empowered as he was by the Old Gods, Deathwing was a bloated mass of hatred and power, as Alexstrasza had discovered attempting to battle him in the Twilight Highlands - even the Aspects could not strike him down directly, as the might of the Old Gods would simply return him from seeming death. Nozdormu proposed a way - the only artifact powerful enough to defeat Deathwing was the Dragon Soul once created by Deathwing as the urging of the Old Gods eons ago, during their attempt to escape their prison in Azeroth by taking advantage of Sargeras' arrival. However, the Dragon Soul had been destroyed by the mortal sorcerer Rhonin in a battle with Deathwing earlier, and the last fragments of it were drained of power by Sinestra when she first created a stable twilight dragon, Dargonax. There was no way to use the Dragon Soul against Deathwing, as it no longer existed. But what Nozdormu suggested was simple enough - it all hinged around the words 'no longer'. They would simply go back in time to when the Dragon Soul was first created and its power at its greatest, and take it from that moment in time to use it against Deathwing. Heroes would be pressed into service to achieve this end.
But first they had to travel to the End Time, the horrible potential future of Deathwing's victory and the devastation of all life from the surface of Azeroth, and defeat Murozond, the head of the Infinite Dragonflight who was preventing Nozdormu from sending the heroes back to the creation of the Dragon Soul - because Murozond was himself a future version of Nozdormu. The Aspect of Time witnessed his own demise, the closing of his own time loop, and then sent the heroes back to the time of Queen Azshara's attempt to bring Sargeras bodily into Azeroth, allowing them to defeat the demon Mannoroth and retrieve the Dragon Soul. Thus began the final confrontation between Deathwing and those that sought to halt his rampage.
The Dragon Soul was placed in Thrall's possession, and the shaman was escorted to the base of Wyrmrest Temple while the sanctuary came under the full assault of the Twilight's Hammer and the minions of the Old Gods, including the maws of Sh'uma and Go'rath, kin to Iso'rath. Thrall's arrival at the base of the Temple was intercepted by Archbishop Benedictus of Stormwind - aka the Twilight Father, servant of Deathwing. He demanded the Dragon Soul, but received only his own destruction. However, the attack on the temple by the forces of Twilight only intensified - leading an army of allied heroes to storm their way through the elementals attacking and make their way to Tyrigosa within the Temple. After battling their way through two generals of the Faceless Ones, they found themselves ascending to the pinnacle of Wyrmrest, where the Aspects and Thrall were debating the proper use of the Dragon Soul. After Thrall objected that infusing his own earth-derived energies into the Dragon Soul and using it would kill him, Kalecgos suggesting retrieving the Focusing Iris last used to help give life to Chromatus and using it to channel the Dragon Soul's energies safely.
After destroying Hagara the Stormbinder and her Twilight forces, the heroes brought the Focusing Irish to Wyrmrest, and then protected the Aspects from the last weapon in Deathwing's arsenal, the voracious energy vampire Ultraxion, greatest of the twilight dragons. With Ultraxion dead and the Dragon Soul fully charged with power, Deathwing barely managed to avoid Thrall's first attack with the artifact, fleeing the battlefield. However, he was not allowed to escape this time, for fear that he would simply return again later - he had to be stopped once and for all.
Climbing aboard the Skyfire, the combined forces of the mortal heroes and the Aspects (along with Thrall) flew in pursuit, only to be ambushed by Warmaster Blackhorn in a display of the strangest timing anyone's ever displayed. (A hint, Warmaster - next time, attack while the Aspects are busy charging their Dragon Soul up and we're busy fighting a lot of adds anyway). Blackhorn and his servants manage to stall the Skyfire's engines and stage a protracted battle on the deck, but it fails to prevent the Alliance airship from ultimately catching up to and dropping several heroes onto Deathwing's back, where they begin working to peel up the elementium plates in order to allow Thrall to hit the Aspect of Death directly with the Dragon Soul. The blow Thrall strikes with the artifact goes straight through his chest, dropping him into the Maelstrom in a shrieking plummet that appeared to have killed him, for a moment.
Only a moment
Mutated even more by the Old Gods, Deathwing rose from the Maelstrom a thing utterly devoid of a stable form, seeking only to expel the stolen power of the Old Gods to fuel a titanic spell that would potentially rip open the Maelstrom and undo all the work of securing the World Pillar. No more did Deathwing even pretend to schemes - dying, he sought to drag Azeroth down with him. Once again the heroes of Azeroth were forced to engage the monster in combat, and in the end, their victory allowed the Aspects to gain the time needed to use the Dragon Soul to expend their own great power in a way that utterly destroyed their former brother - and removed their Titan granted gifts forever. Thus dawned the Age of Mortals, in the end of the Aspects' power.
There were loose ends of course - the Focusing Iris would be stolen by Horde forces and used to empower a mana bomb to destroy Theramore, killing Rhonin of the Kirin Tor in the process. The machinations of the red dragon Rhea led to the creation of Wrathion, the last of the black dragons. The successes of the Horde during the Cataclysm led to the events of the Siege of Orgrimmar, ultimately. But for a brief moment, the world sighed in relief as Deathwing finally died.
Next week - when is intelligence not a good thing? When it is linked to ambition and divorced from wisdom. Come see how the mind of a dead god can still be thought.
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.