From Warcraft: Lands of Conflict
(Blizzard Entertainment / Sword & Sorcery, 2004)
NOTE: Lands of Conflict is written in the voice of the dwarven explorer Brann Bronzebeard.

Lands of the Past

Younger prospectors and explorers — and there are more and more of them with each passing day — often come to me with questions about my methods. How do you do it? they ask. How do you come back from a distant land and know it as well as a native?

They’re looking for some sort of exciting secret — a trunk of disguises, perhaps, or my secret technique for spying unheard and unseen on a remote encampment. Now, I won’t say that I haven’t used a disguise or two in the past, and when the situation is sufficiently dangerous there’s no shame in lurking in the bushes. Yet their faces always fall when I give the real answer:

The way to become an expert on a place is to know it before you leave.

Of course, you can’t know a town’s favorite inn songs until you drink with the locals, but anyone can go to a place to find what it is. Any creature with feet and eyes can do it.

A true explorer knows that some of the most valuable time on a journey is spent in scriptoriums and archives before a rucksack is packed. I’ve spent my life exploring the length and breadth of Azeroth, from Sunwell Grove to Booty Bay. The tree’s worth of friends and stories I harvest in those faraway places is grown from the seed of a helpful librarian who helped me gather the maps and history I needed to get there in the first place.

So, before I begin telling you tales of how things are now, let me set the stage a bit by talking about the past.

Lands of Savagery, Lands of Magic

What we know about our world’s earliest history is wrapped in mystery and legend. Thousands and thousands of years ago, Azeroth was one enormous continent surrounded by the sea. Known as Kalimdor, it was an explorer’s paradise — danger and adventure just a step away, every river and mountain range completely unmapped.

The jungles and forests were ruled by tribes of trolls, wandering packs of beast-men hunting savage sabercats and kodo beasts and offering up their blood in dark rituals. While the explorations of the Guild will occasionally turn up the petrified remains of a troll encampment from these days, the trolls had nothing that would qualify as even the smallest of towns. Metalworking was unknown to them, and their weapons were carved from the bones of their fallen prey. Engravings on these weapons show scenes of the hunt as well as fierce duels between trolls, suggesting that they were much like their modern descendants, a society ruled by the strong, the cunning and the bloodthirsty.

While the dwarves and humans were still getting onto their feet, the elves as we know them had already been running for quite some time. More attuned to nature and the land, they were a nocturnal people known as the Kaldorei. It’s difficult to know too much of this period, as the elves of Quel’Thalas are loath to speak of it. Yet what is known is that these earliest elves were the first to discover the ways of magic through something called the Well of Eternity. A source of enormous power and great reverence, the Well brought the Kaldorei to heights never before seen on Kalimdor. Their cities and temples spread across the continent and left the other primitive races in awe. In the early histories of dwarves and humans, the Kaldorei are shadowy figures of dark perfection wielding incredible god-like powers.

Then something happened that changed the world forever. Something went wrong with the Well, or with the Kaldorei, or with both. Somehow, the Burning Legion entered the world for the first time. Kalimdor felt the searing lash of the demon armies for the first time as they ravaged the countryside and left it a smoldering wasteland. The humans and trolls retreated deep into the wild, and the dwarves sealed the gates of their underground cities… leaving the Kaldorei to face the demons on their own.

In the war that followed, the Kaldorei rallied their forces and fought their way to the Well of Eternity. There, they made the supreme sacrifice and destroyed the source of their power to rid the world of the Burning Legion. When the Well collapsed, it took the world with it. Even in their distant fortresses, far from the Well, the dwarves feared for their lives as the very rocks around them shifted and crawled as though they were living creatures. The great Kaldorei cities fell into the earth, and the sea rushed in to fill the void. Long-dormant volcanoes erupted and the rivers ran black with ash, running toward the sea and the whirling vortex that now marked the lands of the elves.

As dark clouds gathered to blot out the sun and sky for an entire generation, the first great age came to an end.

Lands of Chaos, Lands of Empire

The explosion of the Well of Eternity did far more than destroy the civilization of the elves — it reshaped the entire world. Azeroth was one land no longer, shattered into many continents and islands, with the Maelstrom at the ocean’s heart marking the grave of the Kaldorei.

Dwarven history tells little of this period. Except for occasional armed expeditions from one clanhold to another, our people sealed themselves underground. We neither knew nor cared what went on outside our mountain homes. It was during this period, however, when we honed our artistic skills, perfecting the arts of metalworking and stonecarving as we worked out our fears and frustrations on the walls and passages of our homes and turned them into the places of craftsmanship and beauty that we still know today.

For thousands of years, the human tribes teetered on the brink of extinction as their numbers were winnowed by an ever-increasing struggle simply to gather what was needed for survival. For millennia they persevered, wandering ever further afield in search of game, wood and refuge.

Finally, the clouds parted. The sun returned and green sprouts pushed through the ash-fertilized earth of the blasted plains. Centuries passed as forest and jungle once again flourished and the beasts increased in number until herds of kodos once again roamed the plains. Even dragons roused from their long slumbers to soar through the warm sunlight and cooling rains. Slowly, all traces of the cataclysmic death of the Kaldorei were erased save for the ceaselessly hungry maw of the Maelstrom.

The surviving tribes of humans sent out intrepid bands to explore the reborn world and to find their long-lost brethren. Slowly, trade routes were established across the revitalized world. However, the savage trolls had survived their own hardships and emerged to once again harry the human merchants and travelers. Soon the trolls were bold enough to raid settlements, pillaging the towns and taking away slaves and fodder for their heathen rituals. The strongest of the human tribes, the Arathi, convinced the scattered threads of humanity to gather under their rule and wove them together into the empire of Arathor. Though some tribes chafed when their destinies were bound together, the Arathi assured them the land would always belong to all peoples and named the land as a whole in homage to the name of their ancient ancestors: Azeroth.

Together, the humans constructed the fortress city of Strom and raised an army that pushed back the trolls. Yet raids by the trolls continued to prevent any continued agriculture and remained a danger to anyone traveling outside the empire’s protection. The leaders of the tribes had gathered in Strom to try and conceive a strategy when word came of an elven emissary at the city gates. The stunned humans, who had long believed all the elves destroyed in the defeat of the Burning Legion, were quick to bring the envoy into their council.

The envoy explained that long after the destruction of the Maelstrom some of the survivors had made their way to northern Azeroth and established a new kingdom, called Quel’Thalas, and a new source of magical power, called the Sunwell. She also told how the elves were waging their own war with the trolls and how the elven defenses were perilously close to falling under the onslaught. The elves requested assistance from the army of the human empire to stave off an oncoming assault that risked shattering the borders of the elven nation. After discussion, Arathor agreed to help Quel’Thalas — but required that the elves teach humans the ways of magic and sorcery. The elves were quick to agree, and the combined elven and human forces drove back the trolls on both fronts until the bestial tribes were a mere shadow of their former power.

With the threat of the trolls removed, the high elves quickly transformed the lands within the borders of Quel’Thalas into a lush paradise where they could spend the years in peace and quiet contemplation. The humans, on the other hand, spent centuries expanding their borders until the Empire of Arathor nearly covered Azeroth. As their lust for power pushed them to master the arts of magic they were learning from the elves, so did their lust for land pull them northward into the mountains. There, they encountered a dwarven expedition gathering supplies, and our two peoples met for the first time.

We had previously encountered the elves; indeed, they came to us first when they needed assistance against the trolls, but the clan leaders had determined that they wanted little to do with a race they found pretentious and overbearing. Yet the clans of Khaz Modan and the humans of Arathor met under a brighter sun, and they soon became close allies. The humans provided the dwarves with a wide array of surface goods, and the dwarves traded in the finished goods produced in our underground workshops. Passing through our lands in peace, the humans expanded their empire into the northern half of the continent, which they named with a combination of words from the human, elven, and dwarven languages: lorn, dwarven for “land”; daer, the human word for “people”; and ronae, “peaceful” in the elven tongue — hence, Lordaeron.

Though all the races thought it was the dawn of a second great age, we little knew that it was already late afternoon.

Lands of Darkness, Lands of Demons

As they quickly embraced the ways of magic, human mages rose in power until they matched and even surpassed their elven tutors. In parts of the empire, human sorcerers cleared fields, hunted dragons and reshaped the earth itself at their whim. To many across Arathor and to some on its ruling council, this seemed at best a too-easy path and at worst an abuse of a sacred power. Confronting the wizards took the Empire of Arathor over the brink of civil war as the “magocrats” carved out their own territory where magic could be practiced without restriction. In some places those fearful or distrustful of magic banded close to one another to prevent the mages from taking power, while others compromised and allowed the free use of magic so long as it was policed by Guild overseers.

When all was said and done, the sprawling Empire of Arathor had fallen apart into seven separate nations: Lordaeron, Stormwind, Kul Tiras, Stromgarde, Alterac, Gilneas, and Dalaran.It was soon discovered that the use of magic without constraint didn’t mean that magic could be used without consequence. Relations between the newly independent human nations were strained as the rulers of the magocracies became increasingly withdrawn and obsessed with amassing magical power. This led them straight into darkness — where they found demons waiting.

What happened in the years following is a secret history that has only been uncovered in recent times. To most people of Quel’Thalas, the dwarven citadels and the seven kingdoms, these were centuries of peace and prosperity. Yet unbeknownst to all but a few, the powerful spells of elven and human mages had quietly called to the Burning Legion. The demons were happy to answer the summons and began to slip back into Azeroth. An elven society called the Council of Silvermoon had long ago sworn to forestall any full return by the Legion and met with the most powerful wizards of the human nations to form the Guardians of Tirisfal in order to hunt those demons who had already arrived.

The Guardians and their agents were tireless in their efforts to track and destroy the demons, who grew increasingly reckless in their attempts to regain a foothold on the world they had lost so long ago. They finally overstepped their bounds when they began to drain dragons of their magic, leading the magical creatures to ally themselves with the Guardians — the first time the usually distant dragons had ever done so in recorded history. With their assistance, the demons were driven back and utterly destroyed.

The world returned to a peace it never knew it had lost. Far, far away, though, the Burning Legion plotted its revenge and gathered its forces.

Lands of Storms, Lands of the Horde

In a Guildhall or taproom, this is usually the point in my history lecture where I see people beginning to nod off or think about quietly ordering another round.

(Incidentally, the gauge of a good storyteller is that the audience should drink only when the teller does. They should be so focused on the story that they only think to raise their mug when the storyteller has to moisten his tale-parched throat. So if you see someone order another drink and you glance down to see a half-full mug before you… it’s likely time to wrap up your tale and save your strength for another night.)

So, lest I begin covering ground that my esteemed liege or my readers in the Guild and elsewhere have likely walked themselves, I will rely on your own memories of the invasion of the Horde and the three great wars that followed. For those reading my words in some far distant land who were lucky enough to live those days in peace, or those in some far distant time when even those momentous events have faded to but another topic of the tutors, I recommend you read any of the innumerable tomes penned on those days for tales of incredible courage and adventure. I could not do them justice if I covered a thousand times a thousand pages in my spider-scrawl.

Lands of Conflict, Shadows of the Past

Though time marches onward, it never leaves the past wholly behind. The ruins of ancient towns, buildings and temples still mark the landscape, the tombstones of times past. Disturbing the spirits of the dead is a distasteful thing at best, and at worst — and often — a dangerous thing. Yet they remain an invaluable and fascinating gateway into their time.

Stories and legends keep the past alive, but physical remains provide proof that the stories are more than the ramblings of an imaginative minstrel. In all my years wandering Azeroth, I have never failed to follow a rumor of an Azotha city in shambles or the entrance to an underground temple to the Old Gods. And when I discover a building from the days of the Kaldorei, when I can step into the earliest days of known history, when I get that much closer to discovering the truth of our origins… those are the moments that drive me to be an explorer.