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Know Your Lore: Zul'jin and the Amani

Matthew Rossi

World of Warcraft is an expansive universe. You're playing the game, you're fighting the bosses, you know the how -- but do you know the why? Each week, Matthew Rossi and Anne Stickney make sure you Know Your Lore by covering the history of the story behind World of Warcraft.

It is a fact that once, in the distant past, it was the imperial power of the trolls that broke the aqir and nearly ruled Azeroth entire. From the day that a clan of unknown wanderers discovered the Well of Eternity and began their transformation into what we today call night and blood elves, the trolls have found themselves pushed back. They've been driven from their homes again and again. Trolls are often decried for their cannibalistic ways -- but to a troll, is it and can it be cannibalism to eat the flesh of the beings that have never shown kinship or respect for your people? The beings who have stolen your homes, time and again, ever harrying you out of your sacred places and ancestral territory?

Trolls know many secrets. They know much of magic and ancient power. They have lost more than some races can ever claim to have had. Even as they fractured and divided, even as Gurubashi turned against Amani, Drakkari against Sandfury, trolls have never forgotten this one fact.

All land was troll land once. And it will be again, if some have their way.

Ecce Zul'jin, leader of the Amani. Quite possibly, this is the greatest troll warrior who has ever lived. With a certainty, this is the greatest troll warrior of the past several thousand years.

The history of the Amani

Little is known of Zul'jin's life before his involvement in the Second War. But to discuss Zul'jin is to discuss the Amani, their origins, their history and their fierce determination to survive and hold on to their ancestral home in the face of a continued attempt by elves and men to steal it from them.

The trolls were divided into two rival empires following the ancient war with the aqir, when troll warriors and trolls mystics faced the servants of the foul and unspeakable Old Gods and drove their ancient empire down into shattered, divided ruins. Yet the struggle was so costly that the victors suffered the same fate as the defeated. Broken in two, the ancient kingdom ruled and shepherded by the Zandarlar priest-kings was no more.

In its place, troll tribes stared across the ancient continent of Kalimdor, divided at first merely by distance. In time, however, the rise of the kaldorei and their command of arcane magic ripped a kingdom out of the belly of the former troll lands. The elven rise permanently fractured the trollish saviors of the world into warring tribes that even began to become racially distinct from each other and from the Zandalar, from whom all trolls descend. Nursing their strength after the terrible wars with the aqir, the trolls could not pose a serious threat to the night elven people and their new magics.

So the trolls could do nothing when reckless night elven mages tore the world apart. Indeed, to the trolls, the great sundering of the ancient continent of Kalimdor came without warning. No night elf enlisted troll aid to fight off Sargeras or oppose Deathwing. No might kaldorei druid or cunning demon hunter thought enough of the trolls to even inform them that the queen of the night elves had gone mad and allowed an ancient evil loose upon the world. No, the trolls were unaware and unable to prepare for any of the disaster that would come and swallow what was left of their once-grand empire.

Of the two largest troll nations, the Amani were fortunate in that their ancestral lands were relatively far away from the epicenter of the destruction. While no one could be said to have been unaffected by the hideous forces that tore one primal continent into three, the Amani were relatively unscathed and still somewhat unified. Indeed, of all trolls, only the Drakkari to the far north could be said to have come out the other side of this cataclysm less damaged. In what might have been a golden age for the Amani, they were separated from their ancient night elf foes by an ocean and their Gurubashi rivals by an entire continent.

The invaders attack

Sadly for the burgeoning Amani renaissance, events proceeded differently. While the forest trolls of what today is called northern Lordaeron attempted to rebuild, a pack of pallid, magic-addicted elves invaded their homeland and began the slow, interminable process of pushing the trolls out. When the trolls proved too difficult for the elves to eradicate, they found allies in a strange group of aliens who had arrived in the extreme north of what today is known as the Eastern Kingdoms, a people calling themselves humans. The trolls had already been fighting a series of skirmishes with these invaders as they established rude, uncivilized kingdoms up and down the continent, but in no way could the ancient civilization of the trolls possibly imagine that these hairy pink savages could in any way be a threat to them.

Then the elves did the unthinkable and not only allied with these barely cultured, unknown refugees from seemingly nowhere, but they also taught them their arcane secrets. The humans, under the rule of the clever savage Thoradin, united into a kingdom calling itself Strom (no doubt in imitation of superior troll culture), and Thoradin treacherously allied with the elven invaders just as the trolls were finally pushing them out of their stolen settlements in Quel'Thalas. This union of thieves and intruders managed to break the back of the trolls in what came to be known as the Troll Wars.

The coming of the great leader

Thousands of years passed, with the elves and humans slowly nibbling away at what little territory the trollish people of northern Lordaeron had left. But the Amani never fell. And it was to the Amani that Zul'jin came in time, born into a tribe on the decline, beaten into defeatism by the elves of Quel'Thalas.

Slowly, he rose to prominence. Who halted the decline of the Amani and the splintering of the tribes of Zul'Aman? Zul'jin. Who led raid after defiant raid, snatching moral victory from the teeth of the high elf oppression? Zul'jin did. By cunning, by force of arms, Zul'jin slowly began the process of retrenching his people and helping them regain a sense of themselves and the power they had once commanded.

Make no mistake. When Orgrim Doomhammer came to the trolls with offers of an alliance, Zul'jin saw no reason to participate. The Amani were there before anybody. What did they need a bunch of green mongrels from some other world to help them against their ancient enemies? How could these interlopers possibly understand the Amani dream? In the end, however, the orcs of the Horde proved that they were willing to go almost as far as the Amani to destroy the ancient elven and human enemy, and in an act of rescue, proved to Zul'jin that his people still were not at their former pinnacle of power; better to learn from your enemy's successes than to emulate your own failures. And so Zul'jin, uniter of the tribes of Zul'Aman, leader of the Amani, offered a troll's hand in alliance with another race for the first time.

Only he could have done so. In order to understand this, you have to understand how constant was the decline in fortunes for the Amani over thousands of years. The Troll Wars had ended nearly 3,000 years earlier, and in that time until the birth of Zul'jin, the trolls of the northern Eastern Kingdoms had sunk into a savage barbarism of infighting and tribal chaos. Zul'jin changed that by himself. His actions were so notable that even the trolls of the Stranglethorn Vales and the long-absent Zandalar trolls knew his name. His reputation as a leader was so secure that even tribes that had never seen him spoke of him. His joining forces with Doomhammer came as close as anyone had since the alliance with the Arathor to completely destroying the hated high elves.

In the end, Zul'jin's suspicions proved correct. The Horde was not a proper ally. Doomhammer was a strong leader but he didn't keep his house in order, and the push through Eversong was halted while Doomhammer hared off to chastise Gul'dan for his disloyalty. Zul'jin and the Amani were left holding the bag for the Horde in the Eversong Woods, and Zul'jin ended up a captive to the high elves he so bitterly hated.

They underestimated him.

The Never-Ending War

The Gods of Zul'Aman - Vengeance for Zul'jin

During the First War, the Horde offered the forest trolls a place in the Horde. At that time Zul'jin refused, for he felt that his people needed no assistance in battling the elves. He only agreed to join the Horde's ranks when the orcs proved their worth by rescuing a group of trolls shortly before the Second War began. Yet Zul'jin grew furious when Warchief Orgrim Doomhammer not only failed to destroy Quel'Thalas, but also abandoned the siege against the high elves in favor of an attack on Lordaeron. The forest trolls stayed behind and kept fighting. Zul'jin slaughtered countless elves, but even so, he was captured. Chained to a crumbling pillar, he endured hours of torture that cost him his right eye. When his captors were attacked by a small troll warband, the resourceful Zul'jin capitalized on the opportunity, using a fallen spear to cut off his own arm and secure his freedom. Returning home, he began rebuilding his army, and even as he remained behind Zul'Aman's walls, his legend grew.

Zul'jin's healing ability, typical of trolls, could not repair the massive damage he'd endured during the torture and also regrow his lost arm and eye, helping to embitter him further. Over the years, he spent time rebuilding what Zul'Aman had lost, weathering the attacks of the Scourge (while many tribes of trolls fell to it, the Amani did not) and finally preparing for a final attack on the broken elves of Quel'Thalas. Finally, after thousands of years of enduring elven perfidy, there were no humans to come save them (since Lordaeron was a corpse-choked ruin) and their arcane magics were spent in the destruction of the Sunwell. At last, thought Zul'jin, at last we'll reclaim at least that small portion of our home. At last we'll drive these invaders out. After thousands of years, the Amani would finally have their victory.

Then the Horde stole it from him again.

The Gods of Zul'Aman trailer
Dis... was our land. TROLL land. We Amani was here before anyone! Da' elves and dere Alliance came to drive us out. But we never give up. We never forget...

Da' elves took my eye. I cut off my own arm to escape 'dem... and now, 'de fight alongside da' HORDE?! I SPIT on da' Horde! I hate you, I hate you all... But I got a surprise for ya' now, so come on in...

De' Amani never give up! We never forget. We never die. 'Dis is our land: you wanna stay, you stay here forever! We gonna bury you here.

To Zul'jin, it mattered not at all that this "new" Horde had turned its back on demonic magics and servitude to demons he'd never really known or cared about in the first place. Trollish lore is full of such dark powers and ancient magics; he hadn't particularly concerned himself with the magics of the orcs or where they'd come from. All that mattered to Zul'jin was that Doomhammer had failed him, betrayed him and raised a successor who not only failed to recognize the old ties of alliance between the Amani and the Horde (going so far as to let Darkspears, descendants of the hated Gurubashi empire, into the Horde), but he now offered the Horde's protection to the elves. The elves!

The elves who shattered the world. The elves who stole it from the trolls. The elves who pushed his people back, made common cause with the humans to destroy them, the elves who tortured him so ruthlessly that he couldn't even grow back his eye or his arm. These same elves were now under the Horde's protection, a part of it. In his outrage at this betrayal of the blood of many an Amani troll shed for the Horde's aims, Zul'jin turned to the Hex Lord Malacrass and made use of powerful dark magics of his own. Not only would the power of ancient loas be harnessed, but Zul'jin himself would tap into each of their spirits for the might needed to defend Zul'Aman from all outside threats.

In the end, however, it proved to be for nothing. Despite the fury and the strength of the ancient Amani, a pack of selfish treasure-seekers enlisted powerful members of the Horde and Alliance to stage a series of raids on Zul'Aman. Lacking both an eye and an arm, Zul'jin still managed to valiantly fight in single combat against these invaders after they slaughtered their way through the priests of the loa, and for a time it seemed that Zul'jin would triumph over these impertinent graverobbers and tomb despoilers. Yet in the end, not all his power, his cunning, his skill and his link to his gods were enough to stand against the greed of grubby-handed thieves, and Zul'jin died at their grasping hands.

Still, it's possible that Zul'jin might still live. He managed to survive a vicious torture and maiming once, and his would-be murderers only took his blood; they didn't decapitate him. In their lust for trinkets and gold, they overlooked his regeneration, which allowed him to survive what would have killed many others. For all we know, the warlord Zul'jin may even now be plotting a return to greatness for his people.

This land was troll land. Given time, it may be again. Behold the troll, greatest of his people, the chieftain of the Amani, warlord of Zul'Aman, Zul'jin.

For more information on related subjects, please look at these other Know Your Lore entries:

While you don't need to have played the previous Warcraft games to enjoy World of Warcraft, a little history goes a long way toward making the game a lot more fun. Dig into even more of the lore and history behind the World of Warcraft in WoW Insider's Guide to Warcraft Lore.

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