Zhaitan… a name that was written in the legends of the dwarves. A name that has not been uttered on the world of Tyria for several millennia. However, it is not the name, but the untamable, destructive force behind the word ‘Zhaitan’ that strikes despair and horror into the hearts of free Tyrian beings. The very power that may bring an end to life as humans, norn, charr, sylvari, asura, hylek, ogre, grawl, kodan, quaggan, skritt, or even centaurs and krait know it. But what is the true story of Zhaitan? What can we learn of this nigh indomitable foe?
The deathless Dragon of Orr hibernated for thousands of years below the area where the gods of humanity built their divine city, Arah. It is currently unknown when and why Zhaitan fell asleep there, but upon his reemergence it became the heart of his decaying domain. Had the Cataclysm in 1071 AE not happened, Zhaitan’s awakening in 1219 AE could have easily become the most catastrophic Dragonrise to date – possibly even more horrible than Kralkatorrik’s branding flight. Imagine, as a gigantic, primordial beast erupts into a densely populated (we can assume that the population of Orr would have only increased in that one and a half centuries), bustling capitol and seaport, corrupting, devouring, and destroying everyone and everything in his path. Maybe the death toll would have been smaller, and Lion’s Arch would be still standing in its bygone form; however, Zhaitan’s initial forces would have been far larger compared to what he created and commandeered on the day of his rise. Without the Cataclysm he would have had the might of whole kingdom at his disposal, with all its military prowess that an undead lich had used to invade Kryta 150 years before. In addition to that, the demoralization and the ensuing chaos and despair originating from the absolute massacre, the violent reanimation of the dead and the desecration of the majestic city would have shook the free and living Tyria even stronger than the carving of the Dragonbrand. After all, it is the lesser evil to see the corrupted ruins that lay underwater for years than to see the same ruins after more than a millennium of being the cultural and holy center of humanity.
Still, it is no use crying over what is lost. If we are to ever rout the dragon and reclaim Arah, we must understand what we are fighting.
It has been lately speculated by scholars that the human gods harnessed the power of the dragon when they were building Arah – maybe even after the completion of the construction. The hypothesis was ignited when a historian met and conversed with a mysterious oracle who spoke about the nature of the power the gods had tapped and what is now reflected in their draconic facets. We can only speculate on what might have been the reason, for the true nature of the gods eludes us. Could it have been a method to drain the dragon of the power necessary to rise? Or were they simply empowering themselves? Or using Zhaitan as an energy source for Arah?
Zhaitan’s actual state is also a mystery as of yet. Is he living? Is he undead like the hordes he surrounded himself with? Or is he neither? An insatiable, almighty hurricane that took on the form of an enormous dragon? We cannot know it until we examine its carcass, but there is an interesting train of thought that is worth elaborating. Could he be a living turned undead creature? Now, it is possible that he had died and returned to undeath prior to entering hibernation, but if we think of ‘recent’ events, we might reach a startling conclusion.
The Cataclysm, unleashed by Vizier Khilbron, advisor to King Reza, on the fateful day when the charr reached the capitol, came from the forbidden catacombs deep below the holy streets of the city… a place dangerously close to the sleeping Elder Dragon. There are numerous theories regarding the detonation that sank an entire peninsula, but I will not list all of them, just the one closely related to Zhaitan. The ‘official’ explanation was that the Vizier, tricked then led to the worship of the fallen god, Abaddon, read the incantation of the powerful and forbidden Lost Scrolls, which resulted in the Cataclysm and his following return as a lich. However, what if the Lost Scrolls described the process of tapping into the Elder Dragon’s power, but being obviously inferior to the gods, Khilbron could not maintain his focus and hold the destructive energy at bay, which in turn overpowered him and set itself loose in the area. In addition to that, the residual energy of Zhaitan left in Khilbron’s corpse – or being exposed to the leaking “essence” of the nearby dragon – could have resulted in his reanimation into an undead lich.
The question still remains, however: did Zhaitan’s body die in the Cataclysm, only for his “soul” to return and possess his corpse? After all, the sheer force of the explosion in both the official and the speculative theories destroyed and sank a whole nation. How come it would not kill an Elder Dragon, too? If Zhaitan was only scratched in the Cataclysm…
It is possible that the Cataclysm might have set Zhaitan’s awakening back by generations, but as we all know, it eventually happened in 1219. On a seemingly normal day, the dragon stirred and opened his eyes to an underwater scene. He may have not liked it, since the twisted, once-beautiful spired towers of Arah rose from their watery tomb with the new lord of Orr. The rest of the story is all too well known: his soulless armies surged from the waters and killed the corsairs who hid in the once-shattered islands of Orr, only to have them return as undead sailors of the dragon. Meanwhile, the giant tidal waves unleashed by the emergence of the peninsula raced across the sea’s surface to flood and drown the Krytan coastline and the Battle Isles. Lion’s Arch was seemingly lost – until 11 years later, when a coalition of corsairs, former inhabitants and mercenaries from other races took it back from the undead.
Since his rise, Zhaitan has strengthened his hold over the peninsula and the Strait of Malchor as well. His navy made of black-sailed, rotting vessels stretched out from Orr and blockaded Tyria. As far as we know, no one leaves or enters Tyria from the Sea of Sorrows. Unfortunately, that is not the end of Zhaitan’s atrocities. Even now, his decaying armies, led by horrible, deathly lieutenants, march north to extinguish life and civilization where they still thrive. Also, we have heard rumors of the undead dragon’s forces fighting another undead lord’s army, which consists of both living as well as undead soldiers. Indeed, King Palawa Joko is locked in a brutal conflict with Dragon of Orr near the northern Elonian border. And even if these were not enough, the minions of the dragon desperately search for ‘food’ to feed their master. For Zhaitan woke up with a voracious hunger. At this very moment he craves to feast, no matter in what form it comes: flesh of the prey, a powerful, living entity, a magical artifact… it does not matter to him as long as he gets what he longs for.
As the last point, I feel necessary to speak about the very essence of Zhaitan that corrupted land and creature alike, turning them into images of decay, undeath, sickness and pestilence. Zhaitan’s magic – and for that matter, the magic of the Elder Dragons – is beyond our understanding at the moment. We cannot fathom how it can corrupt with a single exhalation. We believe that the magic is so strong in these beings that every fiber of their being, every product of their metabolism – assuming they have one – is teeming with power. Perhaps, their greatest curse is the fact that they are still bound to a physical body. A body that cannot handle such an incredible amount of power, which results in the dragon literally exuding the excess energy. Of course, if this turned out to be true, the situation would be even more ironic: they could possibly diminish, if not terminate their excruciating hunger just by realizing that the more they consume, the more they lose, thus leading to an even greater hunger. However, their addiction to power would possibly still prevent them from this striking realization. On the other hand, reports of the members of the legendary but disbanded Destiny’s Edge claim that the Elder Crystal Dragon, Kralkatorrik, was more magical than physical, having turned into an actu al, raging sandstorm at one time during the Battle of the Crystal Desert. However, it may come down to the question whether they are magical enough to shrug off the negative effects of their addiction, or they need to shed their physical bodies completely to break the vicious cycle of hunger forever.
With that I reached the end of my knowledge about this horrible monstrosity. I wish I could tell you more, dear reader, because the day of reckoning draws close. We will need all the lore and information that is out there if we are to stand a chance against this nearly invincible opponent. Steady your strength and courage, pray to whatever you revere or believe in… you will need those and more on the day when the free races will stand side by side to defeat Tyria’s Decay once and for all.
This article was the first in a new series of lore articles here over at GuildMag. Each thursday forward we’ll be presenting you with a new lore article, trying to unite the quality of our usual articles with the great catalogue of lore that’s behind the Guild Wars and Guild Wars 2 series. As we all prepare for the Guild Wars 2 release later this year, shaping up your knowledge of lore should help you understand the story behind Guild Wars 2 even better!