Know Your Lore: The War of the Ancients
The War of the Ancients was one of the defining moments of Azeroth’s history — after all, it was responsible for the Sundering that shaped the world into the continents we know today. When people usually talk about the War of the Ancients, it’s to discuss the upheaval in Night Elf society. Queen Azshara and her Highborne meddled with the Well of Eternity enough to capture the attention of Sargeras and the rest of the Burning Legion. While Azshara was impressed and awed by the Legion’s power, others didn’t feel quite the same way. Namely all the “lesser” Night Elves that Azshara happily let the Legion murder.
But while the Night Elves were the impetus for the war, there was another story going on that is less often explored. A story of madness and betrayal, one that similarly affected the world, but wasn’t as immediately apparent. Few talk about the involvement of the dragonflights in the War of the Ancients, but the tale is well worth giving a closer look.
Although the Aspects were empowered specifically for the task of protecting the world, they didn’t really interact with the world’s inhabitants. Instead, they remained by and large secluded, and in the event that any of them needed to interact with a mortal, they usually disguised themselves by assuming a mortal form before doing so. Each Aspect had domain over a particular part of Azeroth, and it was during this stretch of time that Neltharion the Earth-Warder started to go mad — or rather, when the Old Gods began to sink their tentacles into the Earth-Warder’s mind.
The Aspects noticed the incursion of the Burning Legion, and as protectors sworn to defend Azeroth, they obviously weren’t going to simply let the invasion happen. Neltharion began work on an artifact that could be used to combat the forces of the Burning Legion, an artifact he called the Dragon Soul. He told the other Aspects that the device needed to be imbued with a portion of power from each Aspect and every dragon in their respective dragonflights. Once done, the artifact could easily be used to send the Burning Legion packing.
Except…that definitely wasn’t the case at all. While the Dragon Soul was a tremendously powerful artifact, Neltharion intended to use it against his own kind. By giving the Dragon Soul a portion of their power, the Aspects and their respective dragonflights unwittingly fashioned an artifact that could control them, or destroy them — whatever Neltharion wished.
Once the artifact was created, the dragons flew out to Zin-Azshari to confront the Burning Legion directly. For one, brief moment the artifact appeared to work. Neltharion was able to cut down a great swath of demonic forces…but to the horror of the dragons, he also wiped out Night Elves and other allies in the process, seemingly without care.
And that’s when Neltharion turned on them all. Proclaiming himself Deathwing, he demanded that all races — dragon, Night Elf, and demon alike — bow to him. The Aspects didn’t understand what had befallen Neltharion, and immediately turned on him, trying to take the Dragon Soul from him. It might have worked, had they not given over a portion of their power to the artifact they sought to obtain.
Instead, it ended in tragedy. Malygos’ flight surrounded Neltharion, and with one burst from the Dragon Soul, he cut them down. Using the Dragon Soul, Neltharion froze the remaining dragons in place, then sent them flying, scattering them across the skies. Panicked, the Aspects and dragons were forced to retreat, and secluded themselves in hiding, even from each other — for it was absolutely certain that if Deathwing found any of them, he’d kill them without a thought.
But it was Malygos who was hit the hardest by Neltharion’s betrayal. Neltharion was his closest friend, nearly like a brother to the Spellweaver. Neltharion had not only fooled Malygos, he tricked Malygos so thoroughly that the Spellweaver actually helped him convince the other Aspects and dragons to willingly give their power to the Dragon Soul. In return for his trust in Neltharion, Malygos lost nearly his entire flight in an instant.
The guilt over his part in Neltharion’s betrayal and the grief at the loss of so many blue dragons drove Malygos to madness. Yet unlike Neltharion, he didn’t seek to strike out at his kin — he settled for blaming himself. For nearly ten thousand years, Malygos hid in Northrend, far from the eyes of any mortal…or any other Aspect.
As for the other Aspects, they remained by and large hidden away while the War of the Ancients resolved itself, terrified of their own certain destruction should Deathwing choose to use the Dragon Soul again. But Deathwing no longer had the artifact — seeking to use it against the Legion, and only the Legion, Malfurion Stormrage found the location of Deathwing’s lair, and stole the artifact away.
The rest is mostly history as we know it — Malfurion, Tyrande, and Illidan were able to successfully halt Sargeras’ arrival on Azeroth and shut down the portal being fueled by the Well of Eternity. It caused the Sundering, which broke the continent of Kalimdor into pieces and set them adrift to the locations they are today. As for the dragons, Alexstrasza, Ysera, and Nozdormu created the World Tree Nordrassil for the Night Elves, granting them immortality and allowing Night Elf Druids access to the Emerald Dream. The Dragon Soul was hidden away in a location where Deathwing would presumably never find it, and the dragons retreated to seclusion once more.
What makes this interesting is that the Aspects were created to halt the Hour of Twilight — the end of the world, brought about by the Old Gods. The Old Gods and the Burning Legion don’t appear to share the same agenda, but at this point in Azeroth’s history, their paths seemed to cross in a way that made it appear they were working towards the same ends. So while this story falls under the umbrella of the War of the Ancients, these are, in fact, two distinct tales — one surrounding the arrival of the Burning Legion, the other involving Azeroth’s corruption from within.
And while in later years the puzzle of the Hour of Twilight was solved, and the Aspects fulfilled the purpose for which they were created, that threat of the Legion’s arrival still looms. But with their powers expended, will the Aspects be able to do anything to help in the upcoming invasion? Or are we truly in the Age of Mortals, expected to handle these troubles on our own? And although the Aspects may have expended their powers to defeat Deathwing, there’s still the matter of another black dragon with an agenda — Wrathion.
As the creation of a Titan-engineered artifact, how does he fit into the picture? Is the world done with dragons, or is it time for the Aspects and their flights to assume a new purpose, achieve a greater destiny? Legion may involve a lot of Night Elf history, but it’s going to be interesting to see how the other major players in the War of the Ancients fit in when the expansion arrives.
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