On top of the titan facility Uldir in the blood trolls’ swampy home of Nazmir is a conspicuous note that reads, simply: "Begin at the beginning." This little slip of paper is the first breadcrumb leading to one of World of Warcraft’s most involved and time-consuming secret quests ever. Dozens of players from the WoW secret-finding community, organized through the WoW Secret Finding Discord, followed the trail down the rabbit hole to uncover a talking demon goat, a belt that seems bound to time itself, and hints that this mystery may be far from over.
Joining the Discord server, you'll find an active and voracious community that is always on the lookout for anything that might be a clue. They document random, stealthed NPCs lurking in obscure locations that only appear when in close proximity. They examine runes on the outside of temples and try to determine if they can be translated into any kind of clue. They even observe the patterns of seagulls flying high over Kul Tiras and see if their swooping and circling can be converted into binary code, potentially serving as a hidden message to astute observers. To these secret hunters, nothing is beyond suspicion.
Kicking over stones
Discord user 'Super,' one of the main secret-finders, told me that the sort of elaborate, long-form secret quests their community has been chasing are a fairly recent addition to WoW. “They were introduced at the start of Legion. The first one was Kosumoth the Hungering … Essentially we knew he dropped a mount [found through datamining but not obtainable by any known method], but we had no way to spawn him. That’s when the secret-finding picked up. The developers saw the insane amount of interest, so they started adding more.”
To date, the mystery of this note and where it leads is one of the only secret quests players have found in Battle for Azeroth—but it's likely just the beginning. After reading the conspicuous note, secret hunters traveled all around Zandalar, Kul Tiras, and even zones from previous expansions looking for answers. Due to their extensive searching, though, it should come as little surprise that much of this secret quest’s key locations were already discovered long before the conspicuous note was first found. But once that note was read, players realized that each of these already-discovered locations contained tiny pebbles that they could now interact with hidden in obscure nooks and crannies. Obtaining the final pebble yielded a string of text with a few words capitalized seemingly at random. The capitalized words were actually an anagram, and when the secret-searchers rearranged them they discovered it spelled out the name of an inconspicuous orc NPC from a zone in the Warlords of Draenor expansion along with one of his notable lines of dialogue: "Get back to work!"
Upon reaching the NPC’s location, the seekers came across a unique battle pet (Warcraft's very own version of Pokémon): an adorably demonic taking baby goat named Baa’l. He is so powerful that the only way to defeat him (and consequently use him in battle) was to bring along Uuna, another hidden pet involved in an entirely different secret quest from Legion who is not normally able to participate in pet battles. Once Baa’l was discovered, many believed this particular mystery was solved and were ready to move on. For a time, nothing new was discovered. But a select few fixated on a quote Baa’l whispers when summoned: "Souls fEast on enDless shrieKing, in darKNess they writhe and scream, yOu WiLl join thEm, toGether forEver morE!"
Again, the capitalized letters were a pattern that was eventually deciphered as "SEEK KNOWLEDGE." But, much like the conspicuous note that started everything, secret-hunters were stumped over what such a vague phrase could mean.
"The biggest roadblock was right after Baa'l was found," the staff of the Discord server told me in a statement. "First, the Discord channel got very popular after Baa'l's discovery as many people came in to discuss the clue. This influx of people ironically diluted useful discussion as the newcomers repeatedly suggested things that had already been tried. This even led to a meme forming: 'Has anyone checked Karazhan?' It was by far the most frequently stated thing by somebody who just joined the channel, as Karazhan is the most important library in World of Warcraft and an obvious potential answer for the clue."
The answer ended up being, of all places, in Spires of Arak, back on Draenor where Baa’l was first discovered. Here, players came across an item called a Lit Orb that, when clicked, gave a clue as to the location of another hidden item. One by one, secret hunters found these objects that then gave a clue to the location of a new one. In all, there were 20 spread all over Draenor, Outland, Kalimdor, and the Eastern Kingdoms. Even if you know exactly where you’re going, it still takes around five hours even with the fastest flying mount to locate them in the correct order.
"While we were able to eventually link things together, the Spires of Arak are not even in the top ten things that somebody would think of when told to seek knowledge," the secret-finders said. "In fact, the clue was found largely by accident."
In a game as big as WoW, there are plenty of areas one might associate with knowledge, but this relatively obscure tribe of bird people is not really one of them unless you're intimately familiar with Warcraft's staggeringly long-winded lore.
Almost every step of the way, the quest required seekers to consider every possibility—no matter how small—and to even recall elements of older secret quests. For example, the conspicuous note that reads "begin at the beginning" was a reference to the NPC who started one of the Legion secret quests. It was there that players found what should have been the first pebble.
Skeletons in the closet
After hours spend touring all of Azeroth to find these 20 hidden objects, the clues finally led secret hunters to Grimmy, a child-sized skeleton in the Arathi Highlands. Near him was a readable piece of paper titled "List of Friends", referring to NPCs throughout the world. Somehow, players figured out that what each friend was wearing indicated what items a player must wear in order to get Grimmy to talk to them. It requires a remarkable talent for knowing which 3D models pertain to which armor pieces, and how to obtain those armor pieces.
Talking to him with that specific ensemble of armor equipped will unlock his "List of Enemies", containing clues that lead to four specific NPCs who must be the target of a specific emote while holding a specific common item. Once you have "sent a message" to Grimmy’s enemies, he will play hard-to-get one last time, presenting you with his "Favorite Recipe" to peruse before he yields his secrets.
What the text of the recipe is actually supposed to indicate is still unknown as, again, the solution was discovered largely by accident. Grimmy’s kitchen is full of rotten fruits and vegetables that grant a stacking buff when you click on them, and it was originally assumed by the community that these buffs needed to be combined in some specific order to finish the quest. As it turns out, it merely required someone to click on a rotten potato 144 times—because who in their right mind would possibly think of that?
"By sheer luck, one user happened to be clicking a Rotten Potato slowly enough that he noticed an extra buff pop up called 'Marker' for a split second when trying to increase his stacks to 255," the Discord team related. Because 255 is the maximum number of stacks for any buff in WoW, it was only natural to try maxing out every possible buff.
"We were able to replicate this at exactly 144 stacks of the Rotten Potato buff (and zero stacks of any other fruit or vegetable buff). We've found a few explanations for this in retrospect, but … it's entirely possible [our best] explanation is actually wrong, and that we never truly solved this puzzle piece correctly, even after the fact."
I may not be an ace secret solver, but if I may make my own tiny contribution to this enigma, it did jump out at me as I was writing this article that 144 of anything is called a "gross," and rotten potatoes are pretty gross. Maybe that has something to do with how we were meant to come to the solution, but I’ll leave that theory up to the experts to discuss.
Solving the recipe step allows you to open a chest behind Grimmy’s house that contains a transmog belt, The Waist of Time. Aside from the mocking name, Grimmy also chimes in with, "I hope it was worth it!" But is this the end? Not everyone is so sure.
Dataminers who pull apart WoW’s code base to look for secrets from an entirely different angle came across a flying mount called the Hivemind during the Battle for Azeroth beta. There is currently no way to obtain this mount, but the idea seemed to be that anyone who had unlocked it would be able to "join the Hivemind," hopping on like a passenger once someone else had summoned it, with its speed increasing based on the number of players riding shotgun.
"It was originally assumed that this mystery [surrounding Baa’l] would lead to the Hivemind mount," the secret-finders told me. But, at least right now, that seems unlikely. "[Blizzard] generally don't throw out ideas that seem that fleshed out forever, so anything is possible."
WoW game designer Jeremy Feasel addressed the Hivemind in a recent tweet: "To clarify, that idea was super cool, but didn't make it into the shipping product. It might be seen again in the future." He later also tweeted: "The Hivemind mount was actually a placeholder during beta :) It's since been removed from data. The secret hunt is, however, far from over. Good luck!"
Whether that means there is more to be found right now, or we’ll have to wait until Patch 8.1 to discover the next clue, the secret-finders aren’t sure yet. But the hunt for new clues never stops, as sleuths speculate about whether the hands on the clock of the Waist of Time are trying to tell us something, and efforts continue to explore the uncharted seas around Kul Tiras and Zandalar for more hidden caves.