I used to play World of Warcraft, and in that game there was (and is, as far as I know) a particular dungeon called Karazhan. Accessing the dungeon required a series of quests, and the dungeon itself was long and complex. I was quite taken with this particular part of the game, and once wrote this description of the process of entering and clearing Karazhan.
So you’re standing in the tenements of Shattrath, a place (not really a city) filled with refugees from all over the ruins of the wrecked and demon-haunted Promised Land, there to buy apples from a vendor or maybe to smelt some ore, and a beggar approaches you in a bar named for the apocalypse. His name is Tasserel, and, like any mystic, he stands bewildered by the secular world and cosmopolitan Shattrath. “Do you remember Karazhan?” he asks you, and your ears hear for the first time that sacred name. He seeks aid in reaching Karazhan, and he cleaves to you over everyone else in the city, as the person to help him in his task.
Spurred on by his request, you make the long journey from Shattrath to Deadwind Pass, worlds away. There a small cabal of adepts stand at the gates of Karazhan, the Ivory Tower, where once the greatest magus in this world’s history wrought his greatest works, for Karazhan was the home of Medivh, the wise, who nearly destroyed the world, then died saving it a generation later.
The spokesman for this cabal of gawkers, this Violet Eye who seek to pore over the secrets of their better, is a man named Alturus. He bids you speak to his superior, the head of the order, a grandmaster named Cedric. Cedric is not in Deadwind; he dwells miles away in the company of an enormous egg, Dalaran-that-Was.
So you make the trip to the unhatched egg, which rumbles sometimes at night as if whatever is inside might still burst forth one day, and you meet Cedric, and Cedric takes one look at you and knows that you are the person he must send to find a way into Karazhan. The tower has been
sealed up since the last days of Medivh, and them whom the Violet Eye have impelled in to brave its trials have not returned, nor even passed the entryway.
“Two keys were made,” explains Cedric. “One for the master, one for his apprentice. The master is gone, but find the apprentice and you find the key.”
You find the apprentice, Khadgar, in Shattrath. He dwells in a temple stripped of its idols and occupied by angels. Khadgar remembers Karazhan, and wants nothing to do with the place. He introduces you to his angels, but will not give you his key, for he no longer bears that burden.
“Evil came, and I broke the key into three parts, and cached each fragment in a different holy site where they would be safe. Then evil came again, and conquered this demon-haunted land. Return the fragments to me, and I will reconstruct the key.”
You venture forth into the broken world and find the key in three parts, scattered and hidden in the holy places. You bring the fragments back to Khadgar, and Khadgar admits his understanding is flawed; he lied. He cannot reconstruct the tripartite key to Karazhan: that power is ppossessed only by Medivh, and Medivh is dead twice over.
Here your quest would end, save for the fact that you are inside a spell. Magic is happening around you, speeding you on your way and smoothing the path before you. By seeming chance, you have already fallen in with a mystic order of chronomancers, who seek to preserve the web of history by interfering in a picked handful of events. Ignorant of your larger purpose, they ask you to travel through time to the day Medivh tried to destroy the world, and help him. Upwards and outwards you fly, ascending to the singular event of Medivh’s failed apotheosis, and there you come face to face with a shard of the Master of the Tower himself.
“Who are you and what do you want?” asks Medivh, but his demeanor softens when you show him your broken key. Immediately he sees it for what it is — the Apprentice’s Key to Karazhan, ruined and needing reconstruction — and you for who you are. He takes the Key of the Apprentice from you, and with a wave of his hand makes whole what had been sundered, but he does not give you the remade key. Instead, he declares, he will pass the key on to his apprentice whose possession it rightfully is, Khadgar, and for you he has a different gift, something he will not need where he is going: the Master’s Key to Karazhan.
Thus anointed, you return to the present day and demonstrate your prowess by displaying the key to Khadgar who stands with angels.
Khadgar, who stands with angels, bids you enter the Tower. It is, he says, the greatest repository of magical knowledge and the home of miracles.
Alturus, who stands at the foot of Karazhan, bids you enter the Tower. It is, he says, the focal point for all telluric energy on the planet; it is where all the ley lines meet.
Cedric, who stands by Dalaran-yet-unhatched, bids you enter the Tower. It is, he says, the gateway to the infinite and a beacon of wisdom visible from the Heaviside Layer.
Leryda, who stands in the shadow of Karazhan, bids you enter the Tower. It is, she says, the fixed point, unique along all axes, sole systematic absence in the world lattice.
Darius, who stands under the apex of Karazhan, bids you enter the Tower. It is, he says, only the outer reflection of the hidden Inner Tower, inverted and underground, where everything in the world unites into singularity.
And so you enter the Tower. You are the bearer of the Key of Karazhan, and only you can enter; you open a gate sealed since Medivh’s departure decades prior. The first place you see within the Tower is the stables, where unquiet dead walk in silent ignorance of the evil that permeates them. Below there are only beasts and distractions; above there is everything. The ruler here is Attumen, once master of Medivh’s hounds and Karazhan’s huntsman. There is a threshold that separates Karazhan from Not-Karazhan, and Attumen stands upon it, guarding with his bare presence. Attumen rides a black horse, for he must traverse the infinite fractal space at Karazhan’s edge.
Ascending from the stables you leave behind the unquiet ghosts who do not seek rest and encounter those who understand their position somewhat better: shades of memory and long-ended celebrations forcibly embodied. To reach the apex of the Tower, you must withstand every form of temptation, and thus temptation takes physical form. It does this for you, because this is all about you.
In the midst of the hedonistic spectral celebrants stands Moroes, Steward of the Tower, guardian of every secret and master of ceremonies. In his train are reflections of former guests — living and dead — banqueting and toasting. Though they appear barely past the gates of Karazhan, they celebrate their ascension and flatter one another with false praise. No progress can be made until this cotillion is ruined, for it is an empty pageant which distracts the aspirant from rising further in the tower.
Rising further within the Tower, you trade one set of carnal delights for another more basic. Where once stood the Tower’s guest quarters now has been placed a bordello-ambiance of pornographic obscenity. Lust, forced into humaniform shape, endlessly patrols the bedrooms of the Tower, climaxing in a physical representation of the Maiden: a woman forty feet tall, Virtue standing above Sin.
With Sin defeated and Virtue triumphant, you ascend to the highest level of the lowest portion of the Tower. There you cut through distraction and avarice to enact a mystery play, demonstrating with dramaturgy your mastery over Wrath, Sloth, Gluttony, and Lust.
Further progress requires leaving the boundaries of the Tower and approaching from a new angle, because access to the Upper Realms cannot be forced and must be finessed.
Ascending the Broken Stair to the higher level, you soon find yourself at the entrance to the great storehouses of Karazhan, Secret Kingdom of the Invisibles. Here there are no revels and no revelers: the temptations of the upper halls hold a higher tenor. Instead you must encounter and surpass dreams forced into the shape of monsters, magical horrors and living footprints of long-dormant spells. The lights, the colors, and the smells are illusory; their purpose is to distract you and make you lose your way.
This is the Menagerie of Karazhan, where longago exotics and archaic grotesques once dwelled. Now the exhibits are gone, but Medivh’s Curator remains, a massive construction of metal and mana who blindly follows obsolete instructions and will not temper its logic with emotion. Irrational and doomed, the Curator patrols empty halls and represents the blind obedience to authority that you must overcome.
Beyond the Menagerie lies the library proper. Here you encounter more cautionary tales. For the first time echoes of them who will follow you present themselves. You possess Medivh’s anointment, and the Master’s Key to Karazhan, but self-proclaimed agents of the Violet Eye and their ilk haunt the upper galleries of the library. They followed you, came after in search of hidden lore. But Karazhan is timeless, and exists outside history; those who become seduced by its secrets lose touch with the world outside and time’s ebb and flow. Wravien, Gradav, Kamsis: they will
never leave the Ivory Tower.
Here too you find thieves of knowledge, unreal denizens of the library who burn its books and loot its secrets. They are not real of course, these ethereals: they are merely physical representations of the temptation to steal, to plunder, to loot the Ivory Tower of its power and its glory.
The ascent into the Secret Kingdom is fraught with peril on all sides; you climb on the edge of a knife, and to fail even a little is to plummet into the depths of depravity. No better example stands than Terestian Illhoof, satyr, who in ages hence will enter the Tower seeking Medivh’s lore, and fall into hubris and self-destruction, turning away from the face of God and towards blood sacrifice and degradation in service to lower powers. He cannot truly die, for he does not yet live, but nevertheless you must defeat what he stands for if you seek to fully master Karazhan.
In a high place where once Medivh stared up into the heavens and witnessed the dance of angels, the dead dragon Netherspite embodies a very different kind of corruption. Barely conscious, the entity once commanded primal nether and made the stars dance to its whims, but now it is an addict, incapable of resisting or withstanding the dark magics that infuse it. For Netherspite, there is only the rush of magic, and the pangs of withdrawal as the rush ends. Once it was a majestic lord of creation, flying through the Twisting Nether. Now it is a husk, a discarded thing, and you must take care not to let the same happen to you.
Authority attacks one final time as you continue your ascension. This time it is not the empty orders of the Curator, but rather that which Medivh called authority’s true face: his father Nielas Aran. Aran himself is years dead, but inside the Secret Kingdom of the Invisibles time has no meaning, nor does life. As the son surpassed the father, you must follow in his footsteps; the path up the Mountain of Rigor is through the dead man’s bones.
Beyond the library, the Tower falls away as you progress further into the Secret Kingdom of the Invisibles. What it is you are climbing collapses into symbolism, as you play chess with Medivh. Madness and emotion swell and rise and overcome, and in the darkness at the top of Karazhan among the castoff flesh of them who have moved on into the world of spirits, you duel Malchezaar the Imaginary, Prince of Demons, General of the Burning Legion, and claim your place in the sky.