Know Your Lore: Rise of the Zandalari

Anne Stickney
A. Stickney|04.03.11

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Know Your Lore: Rise of the Zandalari
The 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.

In the beginning, there was Azeroth. It existed as one continent called Kalimdor. Prior to the Sundering -- indeed, prior to the rise of the elven race at all -- there were the trolls. The troll race is one of the first sentient races on Azeroth, it's been suggested on more than one occasion that the troll race predates even the arrival of the Titans. Needless to say, Azeroth is full of trolls, from the Darkspear, Horde allies that joined during the orcs' trek to Kalimdor from the Eastern Kingdoms, to the various splinter tribes scattered across Azeroth.

But the troll races share a common point of interest -- once, long, long ago, these trolls were all part of one empire, one tribe of trolls from which all others originated. The Zandalari tribe isn't an unfamiliar name to those that have played through Northrend content. The Zandalari were assisting both Alliance and Horde against the maddened remnants of the Drakari ice trolls. However, players were first introduced to the Zandalari in vanilla, when the mysterious progenitors of the troll race appeared to ask for help from both Alliance and Horde against the combined might of the Atal'ai trolls to conquer Zul'Gurub -- once the capital of the Gurubashi Empire.

Please note: This edition of Know Your Lore spoils some elements of the upcoming 4.1 patch, Rise of the Zandalari. If you'd like to avoid spoilers for upcoming content, turn away now, before it's too late!

While several different "types" of trolls exist, including jungle, forest, ice, and desert trolls; the Zandalari are special sorts that don't really fit into any of those types. They simply exist, and they have existed since the dawn of Azeroth's time. Unlike many of the other troll tribes, the Zandalari are intelligent scholars and historians whose goals have altered over the thousands of years since their origination. Once content to simply live and let live, now the Zandalari seek to maintain troll history and culture.

Originally, there were only the Zandalari, but not all trolls were content with simply gathering knowledge. These trolls were more intent on conquest and proving their might. Rather than stick around with the Zandalari, these trolls left and formed other tribes, tribes that were perfectly fine with the prospect of war. Eventually the defecting trolls and their tribes merged into two great empires, the Amani and the Gurubashi.

Though the Zandalari were left behind, they continued in their task, preserving history and researching and practicing magic. They didn't just preserve troll history, however; they also wanted to further troll society as a whole, something that was nigh impossible given the warring nature of the Gurubashi and Amani tribes. It's important to note that the Zandalari never fought the other troll tribes; they weren't interested in war.

Over the course of thousands of years, the Gurubashi and Amani tribes fought the Aqir, beating them back with enough strength that the Aqir Empire shattered into two, Azjol'Nerub to the north, and Ahn'Qiraj to the south. But another power rose into play, strange creatures that seemed almost as intelligent as the trollish race, creatures with pointed ears and eyes that glowed with mysterious powers. These were the kaldorei, the earliest remnants of night elf civilization.

The kaldorei were far smarter than the trolls realized. Using magic the likes of which the twin troll empires had never seen, the night elves systematically tore the troll defenses apart. The Gurubashi and Amani Empires crumbled, never to be the same again. But the night elves weren't without their own weaknesses, particularly when it came to the Well of Eternity, a font of magical power. The night elves and their reckless use of magic caught the attention of the Burning Legion, and the result was the War of the Ancients, which ultimately ended in the Sundering.

The great continent of Kalimdor shattered, pieces of land flying across the oceans and settling where they are today. Though the Gurubashi and Amani forces were beaten by the night elves, it was the Sundering that struck the final blow -- troll tribes were scattered across the broken continents. From there, the tribes we see today eventually formed. As for the Zandalari ... Well, they were scholars, and they were practiced in magic.

It was this magical prowess that allowed them to shield themselves against the Sundering's destruction. The Zandalari used their magics to protect their lands, and when all was said and done, the territory that belonged to the Zandalari was now an island. Various RPG books have reported this island to be somewhere off the coast of Westfall, but we have not seen Zandalar in game as of yet. Whether or not we will is up in the air, but the island of Zandalar is home to thousands upon thousands of trolls, both Zandalari and other types of troll who sought refuge with their progenitors.

The shattered remains of the Amani Empire lay far to the north, and the Amani themselves seemed content to war against the native humans and the strange new quel'dorei that had ventured into their sacred lands. As for the Gurubashi ... well, they were determined to build themselves back up to their former might. To accomplish this, a group of troll priests known as the Atal'ai struck a deal with a blood god named Hakkar the Soulflayer. Hakkar demanded blood sacrifices, and the Atal'ai were quick to offer them -- something that didn't sit well with the rest of the Gurubashi.

The Zandalari noticed the sudden rise of their Gurubashi kin, considering it a great victory for troll society ... at first. Further research revealed the exact nature of Hakkar, otherwise known as the Soulflayer. Horrified, the Zandalari traveled to Stranglethorn Vale and filled in the rest of the Gurubashi Empire on what exactly the Atal'ai were up to. Together, the Gurubashi and Zandalari defeated Hakkar and banished the Atal'ai. It was a short-lived victory; as soon as the Zandalari departed, the Gurubashi fell into bickering and infighting, and the Empire crumpled into the splinter tribes we see in Stranglethorn today.

Unfortunately, the victory against the blood god Hakkar was a fleeting one. Hints were dropped here and there throughout vanilla World of Warcraft indicating the Atal'ai were on the rise, and that they sought to bring their blood god back to life. In Patch 1.7, Rise of the Blood God, they succeeded in doing just that by taking over the deserted capital of the Gurubashi and summoning the Soulflayer in the midst of the ruins. The Zandalari had to make a return to the forests of Stranglethorn -- but this time, they didn't have a united front of Gurubashi to work with.

Instead, what they found were the remnants of the Gurubashi, tribes that had split off from each other and continued to fight viciously, trying to establish some sort of domination. These trolls were no longer concerned with Zul'Gurub, Hakkar, or the Atal'ai -- they merely wanted to establish their dominance in the ragged remains of Gurubashi lands. There was no way to unite these shattered tribes.

And so the Zandalari turned to an unlikely set of allies -- the Alliance and the Horde. If the Gurubashi couldn't be convinced to present a united front against the Soulflayer, perhaps these two factions, already united against the horrors of the world, could. The mistake made here is the assumption that the Zandalari were presenting themselves as friends, allies, friendly trolls unlike the Gurubashi and the Amani, the trolls of present day. But in the end, the Zandalari are something we haven't encountered, except perhaps with the Darkspear -- an intelligent race of trolls, far more clever than anything we'd encountered previously.

The united forces of Horde, Alliance and Zandalari managed to put an end to Hakkar's reign in the walls of Zul'Gurub. Later, the Zandalari reappeared in Northrend, concerned with the fall of the once-mighty Drakkari Empire. Unlike previous grabs for power, the Drakkari committed the unthinkable and actually sacrificed their gods, the loa, in order to steal their power to use against the Scourge. The Zandalari present in Northrend were there not to help the Drakkari, who were too far gone into madness to really save, but to try and preserve some of the Drakkari history before it was lost for eternity.

Again, the Zandalari sought out the Alliance and Horde for their assistance -- after all, the Alliance and Horde were quite useful in putting an end to the Soulflayer's reign in Zul'Gurub. Why not ask for further assistance? Though the Drakkari could not be saved, the Zandalari succeeded in their mission, with the help of their "friends."

But in Patch 4.1, that delicate alliance between Troll Empire, Alliance and Horde has come to an end. The Zandalari are scholars, gatherers of knowledge and preservers of troll history and culture. In their efforts to stop the rise of the Soulflayer, to try and preserve Drakkari history before it was utterly destroyed, the Zandalari have gradually picked up on the startling truth: the troll race is dying out. Ever since the Sundering, it's been happening, a slow inevitability.

The combined forces of the quel'dorei and human armies beat down the Amani to the north. Later, despite the Amani's attempts to channel their loa gods and rise to power, they found themselves defeated yet again -- by members of the Horde and Alliance. In Stranglethorn, despite the best efforts of the Zandalari to put an end to the Soulflayer's reign, the remnants of the Gurubashi continued to bicker and squabble in needless acts of violence. It's not just the Horde and Alliance that have been slowly putting an end to the troll race; it's the trolls themselves.

When the Cataclysm occurred, the Zandalari witnessed another shattering of the world -- a smaller one, but a shattering nonetheless. Between the upheaval of Azeroth's soil and the arrival of Deathwing, it's become clear to the scholarly Zandalari that unless actions are taken, the troll race may very well be on its way to extinction. And so the Zandalari have called the last remnants of the Gurubashi and Amani Empires together, with one cause in mind -- to unite as one single, mighty empire and begin to rebuild the trollish race into the sovereign, united nation it should be.

You'll notice a distinct lack of Alliance or Horde input in these preparations. This is because it is a troll matter -- not a matter for strange, former allies. This is also because the Alliance and Horde had quite a bit to do with the current state of the troll race, just as much as the warring troll tribes. The Zandalari are done with death, done with the destruction of the trollish race. Instead of taking a back seat, this time, the Zandalari are establishing themselves as a sovereign power that must be recognized if the trolls have any hope of continued survival.

So why would the Zandalari, formerly content to continue their scholarly efforts in protecting troll history and culture, suddenly take an interest in the warmongering ways of their splinter factions? It has something to do with a mysterious prophet called only "Zul," who has apparently convinced the Zandalari that in this instance, might is the only way to recover true troll culture and return the troll civilization to greatness.

Who is this mysterious Zul? We have absolutely no idea, but he shares a name that is a part of many, many places in troll culture -- Zul'Aman, Zul'Gurub, Zul'Farrak, Zul'Drak, Zul'Kinda, Zul'Mashar -- and many important people in troll culture -- Zul'arek, Zul'Brin, Zul'Lor, Zul'Marosh, and most notably Zul'jin. Supposedly the prefix means "voodoo master," but it may also have different meanings that we aren't aware of yet.

The word Zul by itself has been encountered before in WoW in the gemstone called Eye of Zul. More notably, there is an Altar of Zul in the Hinterlands, indicating the altar is either the "Altar of Voodoo Masters," or perhaps that there is a troll god out there named Zul that we simply don't know about. Regardless, the fact that the Zandalari are following a mysterious prophet we know nothing about is disturbing. Even more disturbing is the fact that they seem to suddenly be all right with the idea of war, something that they have avoided literally since the dawn of Azeroth's creation.

While most of the troll tribes have leaped at the opportunity to rebuild, including the battered Amani of Zul'Aman and the shattered pieces of the Gurbashi in Stranglethorn Vale and Zul'Gurub, not everyone is behind the Zandalari's plans. The Darkspear Tribe, pushed out of Stranglethorn years ago by their Gurubashi kin, is now allied with the Horde. And while Vol'jin seems to understand that what the Zandalari are up to doesn't spell anything particularly pleasant, it's going to take more than just the Horde to put a stop to the Zandalari's plans.

That's right -- Vol'jin has very discreetly gone behind the back of Garrosh Hellscream and sent emissaries directly to Stormwind, in an effort to gain the support of the Alliance, along with those Horde members that were already prepared to fight against the Zandalari. As we've mentioned before in Know Your Lore, Vol'jin and Garrosh are definitely not the best of buddies. Vol'jin's representative in Orgrimmar is a spirit-talker named Bwemba -- and she is in the troll district, nowhere near Garrosh's chambers, giving the distinct impression that Garrosh is being left largely in the dark when it comes to troll matters.

This, in the end, is what makes this upcoming patch so interesting. It's not just the mysterious Zul who has led the Zandalari far from their scholarly path and into the realm of full-on warmongering; it's the fact that the tensions between Garrosh and Vol'jin are apparently still in full effect -- or at least still tense enough that Vol'jin isn't going to go out of his way to ask Garrosh for help directly. Instead, it is up to Azeroth's adventurers, players like you and me who are far from the political maneuverings of the Horde, to go into Zul'Gurub and Zul'Aman and put a stop to the Zandalari's plans.

Will we see more sparks fly between Vol'jin and Garrosh -- especially when Garrosh learns of Vol'jin's peculiar outreach to the Alliance that Garrosh so detests? It's all up in the air, but given the story-driven progression of the Cataclysm expansion so far, it may very well be likely.

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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