The Old Gods are some of the oldest, most mysterious, and most dangerous beings to ever dwell on the surface of Azeroth. They are beings of pure darkness and chaos; manifestations of the Void; nightmares incarnate with mountains of blighted flesh and tentacles that spread like cancer over any world they encounter. Their whispers can worm into the mind and drive people to madness and despair. They are physically powerful as well, each one being at least as large as a city, but, as we have never seen their full bodies, they could possibly be as large as small continents. What makes it worse is they are not even acting on their own, but serve even greater evils that have existed since before the physical universe came into being.

Before there was the physical universe, there was the Light. Flowing throughout existence like a sea of living energy, it was dynamic, ever-moving and the source of joy, hope, and peace. However, as it moved and flowed, some areas of existence were left empty of the Light, and thus the energies in those places faded and darkened. They became an incarnation of nothingness known as the Void. As a force of nothingness, the Void was driven to twist and devour all energy and creation, putting it into inevitable conflict with the life-giving Light. As the two forces clashed, they eventually caused several catastrophic explosions in reality, changing the fabric of creation and birthing the physical universe. Shards of Light were flung throughout this new reality, sowing the seeds of life and resulting in the creation of cosmic beings like the naaru and the world-souls that would one day grow into the titans. When the titans grew from their worlds, they set about to order the universe, find more of their kind, and nurture life on the worlds they found.

However, just as the Light sowed life and brought about self-aware beings, powerful beings coalesced from the Void, the void lords. Powerful evil spirits as cruel and hungry as the nothingness from which they were spawned, they sought to twist all of reality into a realm of eternal torment. To accomplish this, they sought to corrupt one of the titans to become an instrument of their will, as they could only exist in the Void and could not enter the physical universe themselves. Failing to corrupt one of the awakened titans, they sought to control one while it was still in its vulnerable infant stage as a world-soul. Not knowing which of the endless worlds actually contained a world-soul, they pooled their power and hurled their own dark creatures into the Great Dark Beyond between the worlds. A large but unknown number of these creatures landed on many worlds, spreading contamination and corruption, and became known as the Old Gods.

Among the countless Old Gods sent through the universe, four landed on the world of Azeroth, a planet which held the world-soul of an extraordinarily powerful titan that was ripe for the Old Gods to corrupt.

Each Old God embedded itself in a different location of the large continent of Kalimdor: C'Thun in the west, N'Zoth in the east, Y'Shaarj in the center, and Yogg-Saron in the north. All the while worming their tendrils through the world’s crust to corrupt the sleeping titan at its heart.

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Two races of minions grew from their bodies who would serve them fanatically as physical manifestations of their will. The first of these were the cunning n’raqi, known to mortals as faceless ones.

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The second race was the insectoid aqir, who would serve as swarming armies for their masters. Over time, the aqir serving different Old Gods would evolve into separate species.

With their new servants, the Old Gods built massive temple-cities around their bodies, with the greatest built around Y’Shaarj, as he was the largest and cruelest of all the Old Gods. Together, these massive city expanses would be known as the Black Empire. The rise of these cities attracted the attention of the native spirits of Azeroth, the Elemental Lords. Seeing the Old Gods and their empire as a threat, Ragnaros the Firelord, Al'Akir the Windlord, Neptulon, and Therazane combined their elemental powers to wage war on the Black Empire. However, they were overrun by the sheer endless numbers of the n’raqi and aqir, eventually being enslaved to the Old Gods’ will and becoming lieutenants in their armies. Due to their chaotic nature, the Old Gods also warred among themselves, sending their armies of minions against each other. At one point, N’Zoth warred with the combined forces of C’Thun and Yogg-Saron at the same time.

A map of the territories of the Old Gods and Elemental Lords during the Black Empire

Azeroth was eventually discovered by the titans while wandering the Great Dark Beyond. Seeing that the corruption of the Old Gods needed to be stopped if the world-soul was to be saved, the titan Pantheon decided to create constructs to act as their hands in battling these dark forces. These constructs would be known as the titan-forged, and the greatest among them would be called the keepers, infused with the titans’ own power. These beings were named Highkeeper Ra, Odyn, Archaedas, Thorim, Hodir, Freya, Loken, Mimiron, and Tyr. These keepers and their armies defeated the Elemental Lords—imprisoning them in the Elemental Plane—and destroyed most of the aqir swarms, driving the rest of them underground.

When the keepers turned to face Y’Shaarj, however, the Old God proved to be more powerful than they could handle, using their fears and thoughts against them. In desperation, the leader of the titan Pantheon, Aman’Thul, reached his enormous hands down out of the stormy sky and tore Y’Shaarj from the world, rending its body apart. It’s lasts breaths would birth the Sha, creatures that would later plague the land of Pandaria.

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Sha creatures in Hearthstone

However, ripping Y’Shaarj from the world in such a violent manner had drastic consequences. The Old Gods had buried themselves so deep into Azeroth that tearing one out had caused a permanent wound in the world, from which now leaked the arcane blood of Azeroth. Knowing that killing the other Old Gods would most likely result in the complete death of the world-soul, the titans and their keepers decided that the only course of action was to weaken and imprison the remaining Old Gods in giant subterranean cells with enchantments to contain their evil powers. Yogg-Saron’s prison would become the titan-forged city of Ulduar, while C’Thun’s would be expanded upon by Highkeeper Ra to become the fortress of Ahn’Qiraj. The titan research facility of Uldir was also created in an attempt to study the eldritch monstrosities and find a solution to their existence. However, these experiments inadvertently created a fifth Old God, G'huun. It was subsequently sealed within the research facility.

Eons later, Yogg-Saron began to stir in its cell, regaining some of the awareness it had lost when first imprisoned. It corrupted the titan keeper Loken and manipulated him into helping Yogg-Saron taint the Forge of Wills— the device that created new titan-forged—with the Curse of Flesh. This curse transformed the previously stone and metal construct bodies of the titan-forged into weaker bodies of flesh and blood that would be far easier for the Old Gods’ forces to kill. Loken also served as the Old God’s pawn in enthralling many of the other keepers, imprisoning them within Ulduar and leaving Yogg-Saron free to work itself from its bonds without the watchful eyes of its jailers to stop it.

In the following millennium, the aqir would evolve. After resurfacing and losing a war to the ancient troll empires, the aqir would split. Those that went west and congregated in C’Thun’s prison of Ahn’Qiraj would evolve into beings known as qiraji and silithid. They would lay dormant in Ahn’Qiraj for centuries.

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Those that traveled north near the prison of Yogg-Saron in Ulduar would evolve into the nerubians, developing their own culture and creating vast underground cities in what would one day become Northrend.

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Some of the aqir traveled south, near the remains of Y’Shaarj, and evolved into the mantid, waging war with the titan-forged mogu in endless cycles.

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From their prisons, the Old Gods hatched many plans over the eons, seeking new servants and ways to escape their confines so they could bring about the end of the world and continue their corruption of Azeroth. These plans included corrupting the Black Dragon Aspect, Neltharion the Earth-Warder, into the mad dragon Deathwing, and the creation of the Emerald Nightmare in the spiritual nature plane of The Emerald Dream. N’Zoth also gained new followers in the form of the night elf Queen Azshara by transforming her and many of her people into the naga after they almost drowned in The Great Sundering.

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Centuries later, a group of night elf druids stumbled on Ahn’Qiraj, accidentally waking up the sleeping swarms of qiraji and silithid. With C’Thun’s will driving them, they warred with the night elves, led by Fandral Staghelm, in the War of the Shifting Sands. Beating the night elves back, they invaded the surrounding lands, even reaching the Caverns of Time, home of Nozdormu and the Bronze Dragonflight. Seeing the threat the qiraji and silithid posed, the dragons joined the night elves and managed to drive the Old God’s forces back and seal them within Ahn’Qiraj.

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The Scarab Wall erected by the Bronze Dragons to contain the qiraji

Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for the 2nd part next week! If you have a specific lore topic you would like to see an article on, leave a comment below and let us know.