Picking up from where we left off, Zul’jin joined Doomhammer’s Horde for glory and vengeance but came out of it short an arm, short an eye, and without the favor of the loa or the God-king. What’s next for the Warlord of the Amani?
When the Scourge stormed into Eversong and began to break through the elves’ defenses, he was tempted to offer his services, but refused. He never trusted the death knights Gul’dan had created, and he had no reason to think that these new death knights were any different. Besides, they paid no attention to any trolls. Why interfere?
By the end of it, when the army of the dead had left Quel’thalas in ruins, Zul’jin’s scouts told him that hardly any elves were left, save mewling children and frail women. The warriors were all dead. There was no one worth fighting.
On the one hand, Zul’jin was relieved, but on the other annoyed. He would never have his vengeance in a meaningful way, but his people had no need to destroy the elves any longer. He took little comfort in having outlasted his enemy, and sat in Zul’Aman to brood on his “victory.”
Years passed. The Scourge rose and fell without ever troubling the Amani. Well, they may have troubled Zul’Mashar, but Zul’jin didn’t care, and the shadow hunters who had abandoned him never asked for help anyway. Satellite settlements in what became called the Ghostlands eventually started reporting that the elves were beginning to build some strength again, bolstered by dead soldiers. The irony that the elves would be saved by the same kind of power that had destroyed them in the first place gave Zul’jin no end of amusement. But even with their new (old?) allies, Zul’jin felt the elves were no longer worth his attention. He let the months and years flit past, bored but complacent.
Malacrass, it turned out, had ingratiated himself to Zul’jin by always speaking simply. He never talked about the chief’s arm, or the war, or promises of glory, or anything in the future or the past. Malacrass was focused on the moment, as it were. So when Malacrass came, telling Zul’jin about something he’d meticulously tortured out of some elven whelp, Zul’jin found he was interested simply because it was so outlandish.
The elves had captured some kind of divine being from the shattered homeworld of the orcs, and had learned how to siphon its power to strengthen their newest crop of warriors, granting them abilities they never had before. At first Zul’jin was willing to ignore this, because the elves were just trying to survive, and now they might actually be worth fighting again. But then Zul’jin thought of divine beings, and thought of all the times that the loa had been invoked as though they had some great power over the lives of trolls, and how the loa had never done anything.
Now he saw a way to put the strength of the loa to work. Something tangible. Something he could SEE.
Maybe he had been too ambitious before. Bringing truth to the world? Maybe that was too much. Could he use this power Malacrass had discovered to crush the elves at last? Now that they might actually be a threat once again, he’d get some grim satisfaction from it. He heard the elves weren’t alone, that they had allies, but since when had that ever stopped the trolls from fighting them?
There were allies aside from the dead, though. They are orcs, his scouts told him, and Sen’jin’s whelp of a son from the Darkspear. Zul’jin spat at the mention of the orcs. Maybe he couldn’t put the blame for his losses entirely at their feet, but they’d proven to be less than reliable friends, and they deserved to die just as much as anyone else who’d stepped on the Amani before. And Sen’jin’s leavings? Jungle trolls were nothing more than blood-guzzling nihilists who’d sacrificed their best to an abomination, and anyone who could be cast out of what remained of the Gurubashi couldn’t be much of a threat.
Malacrass made all the preparations. On the northernmost ziggurat, they started the ceremony with Akil’zon, summoning the loa into the material world and then siphoning his essence into a mortal champion, who arose bristling with power. Zul’jin looked into the distance, and saw among the trees an Eye of Rastakhan looking balefully on as the Amani cheered the rise of their new weapon.
Zul’jin laughed again, for the first time in a long while.
“Tell de God-king, if ya like,” he said to the wind, wondering if the Eye could hear him, “tell ‘im ev’ryt’ing ya see. I don’ care. Ya can tell de whole world what ya be seein’, and it won’ change a t’ing.”
“No one gonna threaten da Amani. Come and try. We’ll put ya in da ground, where ya belong.”
Probably the biggest thing I wanted to accomplish with this was to juxtapose Zul’jin against Vol’jin. Where the former was revered by virtually all the forest troll tribes for being the baddest, meanest, most accomplished Forest Troll of all time, Vol’jin was mostly spat upon (by most trolls aside from the Zandalari) because the Darkspear got their asses kicked by murlocs. The Amani and the Darkspear had something in common when it came to allying with the Horde, but when Zul’jin did it the reason was destruction and vengeance, while the Darkspear did it for survival.
And where the Amani lacked any love or value for Doomhammer’s orcs aside from their value as cannon fodder in a bid for conquest, the Darkspear came to love Thrall’s Horde as brothers.
Maybe the biggest difference is that Zul’jin is never painted as being anything other than a warlord, while Vol’jin is a shadow hunter. Shadow hunters are as much shaman as they are warriors, when it comes to their role in the tribe; they guide the tribe, they protect it, sometimes by doing stuff the tribe itself might not really dig. Zul’jin doesn’t really seem to have anything going on aside from sheer strength and greater-than-average tenacity, but Vol’jin demonstrates not only his combat ability but his devotion to shepherding his people.
I think it’s actually fairly easy to draw a line comparing Zul’jin and Vol’jin with Garrosh Hellscream and Thrall. The former is only interested in leading through strength, while the latter is interested in guiding through a blend of battle competence and spiritual conviction. While this strengthens the rationale for why Vol’jin is a great warchief in potentia, it also reinforces why Garrosh was a bad idea: if the orcs (or in Zul’jin’s case, the trolls) focus only on strength as a tactic, with weapons escalation as their trump cards and domination as the only victory condition, they’re doomed to failure.
One of the other major elements I was aiming at, though, was this: Zul’jin and Vol’jin are both confronted by crippling physical injury, and experience a crisis of faith in the loa. While Vol’jin is able to converse directly with Bwonsamdi and is clever enough to figure out the death loa’s game, Zul’jin evidently doesn’t have that connection. The idea that he’d be willing to weaponize the loa shows a level of disregard that I think can only be born out of bitterness, and losing an arm and an eye permanently (when trolls are used to coming back from that kind of damage) would certainly engender that bitterness. So the idea that Zul’jin bulls forward, ignorant of the huge affront he’s committing against the loa because he’s just deaf to them is a good contrast against Vol’jin, who even in the eyes of the Zandalari is begrudgingly respected as someone who has an exceptional insight to the loa.
Therein lies what I feel is the critical difference between Vol’jin and Zul’jin: because Vol’jin is able to come to the realization that Bwonsamdi revoked his regeneration because he’d “forgotten what it meant to be a troll” he’s able to correct himself, become a troll again, and regain his regeneration. Zul’jin can’t come to that realization, not only because he’s not getting told that by the loa but also because he’s too proud to admit it, even after all the trauma he’s suffered.
This ties into a bigger discussion about the Zandalari, though: Vol’jin eventually gets more personal assistance from the loa than the Zandalari themselves, when the Zandalari’s entire role in troll society is being the center of culture, the high priests, the servitors of the God-king, who himself is supposed to be the MOST favored of the loa. One shadow hunter from a disgraced tribe that couldn’t survive without relying on aliens for aid shouldn’t have been such a challenge to them, and yet at the end of the Pandaria Campaign, the Zandalari are still adrift, their offensive crippled, with Vol’jin being a non-trivial part of the reason why.
So where does this leave Zul’jin? Dead and buried. Maybe he’s even vilified or just plain forgotten by whatever remains of the Amani, because he dared to abuse the loa and wasn’t clever enough to win even with those weapons. His downfall is a great contrast against the rise of Vol’jin’s star, not only as an exceptional shadow hunter, but as Warchief of the Horde. But if Zul’jin represents the stubbornness of the Amani, and the inability for the Amani to adapt to a world that hurtles inexorably towards the future, it serves as a prologue to the similar stagnation of the Zandalari; they dare not abuse the loa as the Amani and the Drakkari did, and they dare not offend them as the Gurubashi did, or ignore them as the Farraki did, but neither can they simply carry on assuming that they are still the favored servitors of the loa.
The Zandalari must adapt or die. Zul’jin failed to do that. Vol’jin has demonstrated that he is exceedingly adaptable. So the question is whether the Zandalari will figure out how to do the math.