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Know Your Lore: Zul'Gurub, a historical survey

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.

The Gurubashi trolls were once the greatest empire of jungle trolls in the world, rivals to the great forest troll empire of Zul'Aman to the north and a power to be reckoned with. Their tens of thousands of years of history have seen wave after wave of humiliation, defeat and loss, and they are without a doubt responsible for much of that defeat. They have consorted with powers not to be trifled with and driven their neighboring troll tribes into slavery or exile.

The empire of the Gurubashi, centered in their great city of Zul'Gurub, was founded after the great war with the Aqir that forever divided the insect state into the distant northern Nerubians and the southern Qiraji. While this defeat was near-total for the arthropod empire, it also fractured troll society forever. Before the war, the Zandalar tribe had stood preeminent, although it was the Amani and Gurubashi who led the charge against the Aqir. Theirs was the hereditary rulership of all troll tribes, theirs was the way of scholarship and it was to them that the hereditary priesthood of the trolls derived its furthest development.

Yet none of these facts could prevent the division of the trolls. After the war, a weakened and shaken Zandalar tribe found itself no longer the center of troll society. It still ruled the ancient birthplace of all trolls, it was still respected ... but the power had forever shifted to the Amani and Gurubashi, and it was not to shift back for tens of thousands of years.

(Spoilers for the Zul'Gurub 5-man are in this post.)

Powerful as they were, and victorious as they were over the Aqir, the troll empires did not foresee their ultimate defeat. Staring at each other with jaundiced eyes, the two mighty troll nations did not conceive of the coming of strange, alien beings from the very center of the continent. These newcomers, so like trolls in some ways yet so unlike them in others, wielded magical power on a scale undreamed of by the troll peoples. Furthermore, they fought united, while no two trolls could agree on a response.

In a short time, the troll empires that had dominated much of Kalimdor for thousands of years were pushed back, unable or unwilling to unite in common defense. The last act of the Amani and Gurubashi empires was to seal themselves in their ancient cities and watch as the world was taken from them as they had taken it from the Aqir.

The Gurubashi after the Sundering

After the night elves, as they called themselves, stole the world from the trolls, they then proceeded to nearly destroy it. This didn't particularly offend the trolls, as we'll see, so much as it infuriated them. The world was theirs to destroy.

Ironically, both the Amani and Gurubashi empires ended up on the opposite side of the world from the night elves. While the Amani ended up with elven invaders on their shores, the Gurubashi entered into a long period with no real rivals for control of the jungles to the south of the continent today called the Eastern Kingdoms. This only led the Gurubashi to make war on other trolls, including the Darkspear tribe, and even their own tribe fractured under the strain of centuries passing under centuries. As they struggled to reclaim their power and even to expand out of the ruined cities they'd been banished to before the world itself had been torn apart, the Gurubashi eventually made a mistake similar to that of the elves. They sought out power from beyond the world of Azeroth and sought to bring it into the world.

Trolls have many gods, known as loa. These spirits are often fickle and dangerous, even as they offer wisdom and power. One group of priests among the Gurubashi, the Atal'ai (a subsect of a priesthood known as the Hakkari), eventually convinced their rulers that Hakkar the Soulflayer possessed the power to help reunite the squabbling Gurubashi peoples and bring about a united Gurubashi empire that could makes its presence felt outside the jungles of Stranglethorn again. In one of a series of bad decisions on the part of the Gurubashi kings, the Atal'ai were allowed to call Hakkar into the world.

Hakkar, however, demanded endless sacrifice. Even the Gurubashi balked at the sheer amount of bloodletting the blood god would have them commit on their own race, even their own people, in its quest to fully physically manifested in a body to rule over Zul'Gurub and then the world entire.

What followed was full-fledged civil war that tore Gurubashi society apart. Even the Zandalar tribe sent advisors to help the Gurubashi drive out those of the Hakkari (especially the Atal'ai) who had attempted to summon Hakkar bodily into the world. These trolls fled to a temple complex in the Black Morass called the Temple of Atal'Hakkar. There, these trolls would be struck by the raw power of the ancient green dragon aspect Ysera, and their temple sunk into the waters of the swamp.

The Gurubashi anger the Tidehunter

Having so narrowly escaped having brought forth a ravenous, blood-crazed loa that would have tried to eat all the world's peoples, the Gurubashi decided that the best possible course of action was to attempt to enslave Neptulon's minions. The ultimate fall of the Gurubashi empire is contained in the texts of four troll legends to be found in the area of Stranglethorn Vale. Specifically, it is the third troll legend collected in that area that interests us today.

Some time after the fall of the Atal'ai, a powerful priest or magician named Min'loth rose to power in the remains of the Gurubashi empire. He appears to have served a position similar to a vizier, serving as Var'gazul's right hand as that last Gurubashi emperor sought a means to reconquer the lands lost to his tribe following the Hakkar debacle. It's unknown what power or powers Min'loth gained his magics from. He's described as Min'loth the Serpent, but that might be in respect of his cleverness. Or he might have served any one of a number of snake loa, from Hethiss to Ula-Tek.

What is known is that his seat of power, mighty I'lalai, rose to rival Zul'Gurub itself and eclipsed sites such as Zul'Kunda in the empire. Together, Min'loth and Var'gazul schemed to restore and then expand the empire.

However, exactly what those plans were is no longer known, because they managed to so anger Neptulon the Tidehunter that he sent many Krakken to destroy Min'loth and his city. In the end, despite a display of magical power so great it may well have been the single greatest mortal spell ever cast by a single being, Min'loth only succeeded in enraging Neptulon's servants, and the empire of the Gurubashi was nearly entirely washed into the sea. Min'loth's seat of power ended up underwater (today, I'lalai ended up as what is today called the Vile Reef), and so many trolls were killed that Var'gazul came forth from Zul'Gurub in the mountains and wept at the sight of his dreams of conquest washed out to sea.

Neptulon's attack had effectively broken the back of the Gurubashi. While they remained, festering in their once great city, there would be no more dreams of conquest. When humans and other races pushed south into the jungles, they would find disorganized sub-tribes squabbling in the ruins of the once-great Gurubashi nation and incomplete tablets hinting at, but never stating, what had gone before. Even these fragments were enough to drive men like Colonel Kurzen insane with the hints of long-lost troll lore and enormous powers.

The return of the Blood God

Even broken as they were, the Gurubashi never truly died. They lost their greatest magicial and emperor on the same day, but they endured. Sealed within their city, they would at times send forth patrols to raid the other trolls in the area as a reminder of who the true power in the jungles was, but these were the actions of an aged bully who seeks weaker targets to mask his own weakness. In time, even these raids might have ceased as the Gurubashi settled down to decay in their great city, dreaming of lost empires and the time when they ruled over almost half the world.

But in the swamps, the Atal'ai were not idle. Even trapped as they were by Ysera's wrath, they managed to find a means to call forth an Avatar of Hakkar, and it whispered to them. There was a means to return it to full existence, to finish the ritual they'd begun so long ago. Disrupted but not stopped, the spell lingered on and merely needed to be completed. And it could be done in the very place it had been halted, the cyclopean ruins of Zul'Gurub.

Despite a valiant effort by a band of heroes to dispatch the Avatar, it was too late. Armed with their forbidden knowledge, the Atal'ai returned to Zul'Gurub and quickly managed to convince the brooding Gurubashi that it was better to live in a world where their enemies were the ones on the chopping block. And so, the Gurubashi helped bring Hakkar forth in full power to the world of trolls again.

The Zandalar again sent advisors, powerful servants of the primal loa gods Bethekk, Hir'eek, Shirvallah, Hethiss and Shadra. Each fell to Hakkar and became his servants as well, using the power of their primal loa patrons against those who sought to halt the Soulflayer's rise. The leader of the Atal'ai, Jin'do the Hexxer, underestimated just how significant the Zandalari antipathy for an unbound, unfettered Hakkar truly was. He underestimated how far they'd go to stop him. Even as he sought to bring about a return to greatness for the Gurubashi under the Atal'ai and their rapacious blooddrinking deity, outsiders were recruited by the Zandalar.

A small army besieged the city. 20 of their greatest made their way inside the city, struck down the primal loa priests, defeated Mandokir the Bloodlord himself, and even dispatched Jindo before marching on the great temple where Hakkar drew power from the sacrifices. With those sacrifices disrupted, this small army destroyed the physical manifestation of Hakkar, banishing him to the spirit world from which he'd been called.

Quiet settled over the city for the next few years. Mandokir was taken and tortured to death by the Bloodscalps as a sign of the final destruction of the Gurubashi. It didn't last.

That is not dead that can eternal lie

Death itself did not prevent Jin'do from using all he'd learned at Hakkar's knee to claw and scratch his way back to the world of the living. Eventually, after using his powers to defeat and bind many, many spirits, Jin'do himself returned as a shade, recruiting the Gurubashi exile Zanzil (a master of potions and necromancy) to help return Zul'Gurub and its most powerful servants to life. Mandokir was raised from the dead, a juggernaut of hate and fury still serving Hakkar even as Jin'do sought not to summon the Soulflayer at all.

While the Zandalari were usually opposed to the practice of spirit binding they'd witnessed in Zul'Drak, the lesser form practiced by Hex Lord Malacrass of Zul'Aman had never particularly offended them. However, Jin'do sought to use the Drakkari method of complete destruction on Hakkar himself, binding the blood god and draining his vast powers to become a powerful Avatar much as the priests of the Drakkari had. Jin'do would no longer worship Hakkar; he would instead devour him.

This seems to suit the Zandalari fine, or at least the faction of the ancient priest caste that has come forth to try and reunite troll society after tens of thousands of years. It's likely they think a dead Hakkar infinitely preferable to a live one.

So now Zul'Gurub again resounds with the cries of the Gurubashi. The ones who once sent an army in to destroy it are the ones supporting and defending it. And at its heart, the Soulflayer is himself flayed.

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.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Lore, Know your Lore, Cataclysm

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