Aes Sedai of the Age of Legends were frequently devoted to academic endeavors, one of which inadvertently resulted in a hole, "The Bore," being drilled into the Dark One's prison by a group of male and female Aes Sedai looking for a new source of Power that both sexes could use equally. One member of this team was a female Aes Sedai, Mierin Eronaile, who later became one of the Forsaken when she took the name Lanfear. It is likely that the suspected new source of Power was in fact the True Power that the Dark One employs to direct and manipulate his agents. These early events mark the beginning of the War of Power.
The Collapse Edit
The effects were not immediate, but over the next hundred years after the Bore had been drilled the Dark One's influence was gradually felt over society, as his presence tainted every aspect of people's lives.
Where there had previously been a peaceful utopian society, relatively free of major crimes, degenerate practices began to spread, violent sports became popular, and society began to decline rapidly. This period is said to have lasted 80-100 years, before the first people began to declare for the Dark One publicly and the first assaults were made, originally with human armies, but then increasingly with constructs.
Eventually the Dark One's followers tried to break him completely free, and the world plunged into the War of the Shadow, sometimes called the War of Power.
The name of this period of time indicates that there is no first-hand information about the age. Since no records from before the Breaking have yet been found, all knowledge of the age is based on documents written during the first few centuries after the Breaking. Numerous oral traditions have been passed down, but their accuracy is suspect and must therefore be considered "legends." Though the Aiel have the most authentic source of information about the age—a ter'angreal in Rhuidean that allows Aiel hoping to be clan chiefs and Wise Ones to peer into the lives of their ancestors, including those living during the Age of Legends—they do not like to speak of it.
Although The Wheel of Time is quite true to the fantasy genre, on occasion, Jordan slips touches of science fiction into his work; all of these significant departures from pure fantasy fall within this time period.
The War of Power Edit
The War of Power occurred when those taken by the Dark One's influence rose in open war to destroy the existing order through conquest. At this time, the concept of war was unfamiliar to humanity, so the forces of the Dark achieved quick gains before a war of attrition began.
Events in The Shadow Rising show that the War lasted about three generations, probably 50-75 years of fighting before the Breaking began. However, Robert Jordan has stated in the book The World of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time that the war lasted only about ten years or so.
Aes Sedai, both due to their ability to wield the One Power, and as important academic and civic figures, frequently became the leaders of the forces of the Light. However, many Aes Sedai—including some of the most powerful—went over to the forces of the Dark, becoming the Dark One's "Chosen"—called the "Forsaken" by the forces of the Light—as leaders and generals on the opposite side of the battle. One of the Forsaken, called Aginor, was primarily responsible for engineering the Shadowspawn armies: Trollocs, Myrddraal, and Draghkar, as well as constructs like the gholam.
At first the Forces of the Dark advanced against an unprepared populace, taking vast swathes of territory and a number of cities. When the Forces of the Light fought back, they pushed the Dark One's forces back heavily, retaking a number of cities and vast swathes of territory. But it was during this they discovered the terrible atrocities the armies of Trollocs and Darkfriends had committed, both when taking the city, and under the administration of the Dark One's followers. Cities retaken were little more than blackened wastelands, where people refusing to swear for the Dark One were burnt alive at the corners. Retaking a city was a massive loss of morale as well as a drain on resources to rebuild it. Again the Dark One took the offensive and gradually began to push the Forces of Lews Therin Telamon back again, as more and more of his generals defected to the other side convinced Lews Therin and the Forces of Light would lose. It was said that "It was as if with every step forward by the Shadow, disorder and chaos grew, and feeding on that, the Shadow gained strength, so that its next stride was longer, and the next after would be longer still."
Eventually, the Forces of the Light began to succumb, particularly given the willingness of the enemy to use manufactured beasts and constructs such as the Trollocs as soldiers, and to murder much of the population of conquered territories. For several years, they had barely been able to hold their own ground against the attacks, and it had been many more since they had been on the offensive. The Forces of Light could no longer sustain a war, and they were moving rapidly towards defeat.
It became clear that the Light must undertake some sort of war-ending mission, bringing the Shadow to its knees in one fell swoop, but the Hall of Servants was deadlocked on how to do so. Two possible plans were espoused. The first concerned the use of two great sa'angreal, one female and one male, to construct a second prison around the Bore itself, allowing the Dark One the run of Shayol Ghul but little else. These sa'angreal were, in theory, so powerful that either one could draw enough of the Power to destroy the entire world; since no living human could stand that much Power, "access key" ter'angreal would be required to shield the wielder from harm. The other, proposed by Lews Therin himself, was to take a circle of the most powerful Aes Sedai to Shayol Ghul and re-seal the Dark One's prison.
This plan was considered highly dangerous — Lews Therin admitted that there was little chance any of them would return, even if they succeeded; and furthermore the attempt to re-seal the prison might simply rip it open instead. Consequently, a woman named Latra Posae Decume started a pact with the other female Aes Sedai that none would assist Lews Therin. This "Fateful Concord," as it was later called, essentially sunk his existing plans, which relied on male-female cooperation. However, Lews Therin remained skeptical; it was his belief that the Dark One could not be contained with brute force.
Work on the sa'angreal surged ahead, but as the access keys were completed, armies commanded by Sammael overran the place where they were held. Plans were made to retrieve the keys, but never succeeded. They were seen again shortly after the beginning of Breaking, loaded with other artifacts to Da'shain Aiel wagons. Knowledge of their whereabouts was then lost for three thousand years. One pair of undamaged access keys later appeared in Rhuidean, while one half of a female access key was found in Tanchico.
Meanwhile, other offensives by the Shadow pushed the Light to the wall, as massive armies struck commanded by the Forsaken, and other armies caused heavy fighting everywhere. Barely able to contain them with the forces he had, it became clear to Lews Therin that if they could not end the war within a half-year or so, they would lose the war, and the Dark One would win.
With any women powerful enough signed up to the Fateful Concord, and even women too weak signing up as well, Lews Therin took matters into his own hands. By this point, he had enough power and loyalty to secretly gather a guard of ten thousand soldiers and the Hundred Companions (though in actuality they numbered 113) in secret, and set off to strike at Shayol Ghul.
Details are sketchy, since every man of the ten thousand died, the sixty-eight male Aes Sedai that survived went mad instantly, and the rest of the Hundred were thought to have been killed. In any case, the re-sealing was accomplished, despite the hindrance of having no female Aes Sedai on hand; by chance, the thirteen most powerful Forsaken were at Shayol Ghul on unrelated business, and were sealed in as well during the strike, though Ishamael only partially so.
Despite this apparent defeat, it was the Dark One's counter stroke that truly decided the day: he placed a taint upon saidin, plunging Lews Therin and his remaining sixty-eight Companions into instant madness, immediately going on the rampage across the world, spreading chaos and destruction outwards from Shayol Ghul. Lews Therin later believed, as a voice in Rand al'Thor's head, that the Dark One was able to taint saidin because it was touched directly to the Dark One during the sealing. He also states that the seal itself was weak, but does not explain why. It was later theorized by Rand that the seal was weak because Lews Therin was only able to use saidin to create the seal, though why that might make the seal weak is also not explained.
Even with this, efforts were made by the remaining Aes Sedai to restore society, to bring the world back to some semblance of peace. But there were still many remaining bands of Trollocs and Darkfriend armies, and the true extent of the counter stroke was becoming clear, as other male Aes Sedai soon began to gradually succumb to the same fate, and society truly fell apart. These male channelers wandered the world, re-sculpting as they saw fit. This event was called the Breaking of the World, where humankind barely survived the destruction wrought by the insane male Aes Sedai.