To tell the story of Ras’ta Reedstalker, son of Gorhan and former kinsman of the Razorthorne tribe, one has to start many years earlier. It all begins with the exodus of a band of weary troll travellers who dared traverse the wilderness of the Thousand Needles and the Lower Barrens. Led by a strong and powerful troll priest, the survivors of the maddened Sandfury tribe made for a new home, far away from the atrocities of necromancy, grave defilement and Loa heresy.
The first thing the trolls did upon their arrival in the Barrens was rename their tribe, for the accursed name of the Sandfury was not a name they were willing to bear any longer. The strong vines and sharp thorns they encountered served as ropes and daggers, and seemed worthy enough to name their tribe after. Some say trolls are indebted to their tribe and therefore must honour the tribe till they die, not speak ill of it and forever adhere to its doctrines, but the evil the Sandfury had wrought upon the souls of their dead brethren was more than enough to speak calumny against the Sandfury and lay down the very name. They mayhap be indebted their life, but not their death to the Sandfury, so said the wise words of the High Priest of Shadra, who prayed for good things to come to his new tribe.
They settled themselves in the ruins of the long-abandoned Northwatch Hold. The walls, white and grey limestone instead of the familiar brown and yellow sandstone, made them feel safer inside than out there in the wilds. They were a scant twenty-some after the perils of Thousand Needles and the laborious journey, and they built tents of raptor and zhevra hides. They lived off plainstriders, the spirits of Hir’eek; savannah lions, the spirits of Bethekk; raptors, the spirits of Shirvallah; zhevra, the spirits of Shadra; and many sea creatures, spirits of Hethiss. They lived and thrived and the high priest, a strong troll named Gora’jin – for he was also the chieftain for as long as no stronger troll would come forth – led them in the many rituals for the Loa. The chieftain urged all to make the tribe great and he called upon Mamî-wátä to grant all couples many children: heading his own call, Gora’ta had three sons with his wife Tanja’na.
The tribe grew populous in the mid-western Barrens, undisturbed from goblins and orcs, but they longed for reconnection with their troll brothers and so Gora’jin urged his people to make a boat out of the readily available palm trees so he might sail to Zandalar, to Zuldazar, the holy mountain. There he stepped into the temple hall at the centre of Zuldazar, in the midst of gigantic spires and ziggurats that kept antagonistic tribes separated, and demanded a seat on the High Priest Council, recognition for the Razorthorne tribe and a special ziggurat made in their name.
Upon his return, Gora’jin told his tribesmen what they had all been expecting – troll customs are a rigid and predictable thing. The Sandfury had not sent an emissary for some time, but the Razorthorne tribe could not presume to simply replace such a strong tribe, and their own ziggurat they could build themselves on whatever land they wished – which was not close to the city centre, of course –, but most importantly, they were told to send a High Priest to Zuldazar every six years. Even though he was not admitted to the closed council, he was still permitted to discuss matters with his colleagues. It was a victory; they had gotten recognised by means of their callous demands! Shirvallah danced well in the resulting festivities where Gora’ta was honoured by the entire tribe for all his accomplishments.
But in time, the priest became too old to attend. The tribe was almost on the verge of losing its most important asset, for the one troll was witch doctor, high priest and chieftain all in one. The tribesmen urged Gora to take one of his sons, if not two or all three, and train them in the ways of the priest so the tribe would not be shamed and dishonoured for missing the next meeting. Upon hearing his tribesmen, Gora locked himself up in his home, contemplating, brooding and worrying. In his worries, he turned to his writings and drew up everything he knew of how to be a priest. Long had this seclusion gone on, and the trolls were impatient. They respected the old troll, but needed an answer and one day they amiably raided the chieftain’s house and demanded him to make a choice.
At their mercy and still bitterly stern and of regal stature, he proclaimed what at first seemed as a relief to the tribe. ‘My youngest, G’han, will serve me as apprentice and disciple to the Loa and will replace me should I be incapable of attending the Zandalari meetings.’ G’han stepped forwards from the crowd and bowed his head, upon which the high priest ritually, with one stroke, cut off the young troll’s long hair and instead gave him a small headdress of raptor feathers and a coral necklace. ‘Hold your head high, G’han’Jinnin, for you will be a high priest and a mouth of the Loa, they who demand both piety and strength.’ The night was raucous with laughter and music and the Loa themselves seemed appeased by the vigour with which the trolls dug into the animal carcasses. It was early summer; they could allow themselves a party that was rich in dancing and mirth, if somewhat lacking in fresh produce.
The needs of the tribe weighed heavily on the old troll. He taught his son in the priestly ways in between writing sessions, and suffered a predictable defeat at his oldest son’s hands for the headdress of chieftain and lived mostly in the dark of his new compartment of the house. The tribe flourished, as all tribes without contest tend to do, and most trolls were happy, but the two priests were not. The father ruminated on his son’s capabilities: the boy had been strong and had hunted raptors long before his brothers did, trapping them in devices he constructed of thorns and long vines; he had the keen mind of a true troll, and he had had visions from early on of disturbed Loa in places where men had battled, but he was unnaturally different from other trolls. He did not care for female trolls and he had a sinister streak of killing almost anything that he was allowed to kill without mercy or afterthought. His mind was that of a Sandfury, while his honour was gained for the Razorthorne tribe; the father feared his own son. And he cursed his offspring for bearing no more than one smart mind.
The son on the other hand feared his father. He wanted to learn so much and become so much more than his idiot tribesmen. He wanted to wield true power, that of which he had heard in the legends of his people and he feared that his High Priest saw through the stern and proud face of the youngest son. But he suspected that his father’s initial reticence was due to his competence as a priest and incompetence as a father… He knew that his father was writing down all he knew. He perceived that the old man, weary and frail, was growing ever more pale and doleful, and that he would not let go of his life before his task was done, for he pleaded constantly to Hir’eek, to Oghma and to Muez’zalá, to grant him life till his assignment of passing on history was complete. And indeed, the troll gained more life than he was allowed, for the Loa favoured his reverence above the sinful pride and heresy of the Sandfury. It was not until Gora’ta had written the last sentence and dotted the last letters that he uttered the words: ‘Now take me, Muez’zalá, and please forgive a foolish heart for beating.’
A large ceremony was held for Gora’ta’jin, the erstwhile chieftain, high priest and liberator and he was buried outside Northwatch Hold, under the trees of Shadra. His skin was flayed by his own, oldest son, to divert the spirits from the old soul’s departure, and the ground was consecrated by his youngest son, while the middle son planted herbs and a spruce tree on the earthen grave of their father, the father of the whole village, and long did they lament his passing. His three sons took up the cup of their father, chieftain, hunter and priest, the separation of the great troll’s unity of spirit granted to him by the Loa.
As part of the sons’ transition into true manhood, the trolls could now marry a troll woman of which their mother would approve. The elder, Torha’jin, married the most beautiful and the loveliest girl in town; the middle, Gorhan’ta, married the second most beautiful, named Nara’na; but the youngest, he married none, though many women would have been proud to love the strong, shrewd and beautiful troll. He despised them. Such Loa-less creatures they were; so devoid of true spirits. Their spirit was inferior to that of males and long did he live without a woman troll. The tribe found this weird, but they accepted him as he was, for he was all they had, and shrugged, for he could train a cousin in the art as well as a son; nothing disallowed such loose association with the priest. Even orphans could be counted as sons of the Loa, and thus of the priest.
Therefore it was not so peculiar that, when Nara’na was with child, he attended to her very privately. She idolised him, adored him, couldn’t get enough of the troll who grew more handsome every day and was so unattainable for all troll women. He used her. Her blind adoration made her susceptible to whatever droughts and potions G’han brewed ‘to strengthen the unborn’. In fact, he had been reading up on his father’s tomes and found among them the rituals and alchemy of the witch doctor, besides the clergihood of priests. In Zuldazar he conferred with the many libraries and the many brilliant witch doctors to improve his knowledge. No tribe had any problems with the Razorthorne, so he could befriend all trolls and learn everything there was to learn. He learned of the dire trolls. He held secret councils with his shadowy brethren in the Atal’ai ziggurat, though all other tribes would forbid it, and there he learned that no dire troll existed without the aid of a witch doctor. Though there were cases where the involvement of the witch doctor could not be verified, no dire troll existed without their doing.
They were meant to make the troll race stronger, and so they would, the old witch doctors figured. Lately however, experiments to perfect the dire troll constitution and intelligence had come to a standstill as the king of all trolls, Rasta’khan, had ordered his brethren to refrain from any further attempts. But here there was a tribe wherein Rasta’khan had no eyes or ears, and G’han’s drive for knowledge drove him to exploit the king’s blind spot. He would brew the best potions to create the a dire troll to surpass all previous specimens: one who would have an even greater stamina than trolls do already; one who would be stronger than any other troll ever was; one who would possess intelligence; And one who would live longer than any troll can.
Over the months, G’han could see his ploy and potions working, and when the time to conceive came, G’han made sure that only one nurse was to attend Nara. The poor troll woman screamed and hollered her lungs to bleeding and she defamed G’han for all the sorcery he had wrought upon her body. In the clarifying pain of the dire troll babe splitting her sides like water when it finds a crack in the ship’s hull, she insulted G’han and despised him more than anything, calling out to all who might have been present near the hut – something G’han had foreseen by placing wards outside –, and when finally the baby had come to life, taking hers with him, soiled with more blood than the juices of life he had lived on all these months, she spat on him. ‘This be no child of mine, witch doctor. I’ll not be offering any blood of mine, for you already took it. Be damned,’ and with these words on her lips, she died. ‘May Hir’eek repel her spirit from the gates of the Loa for her slander and deceit! I mourn for this woman,’ was all G’han said whilst he manipulated the nurse, the only to have witnessed the scene. She was old and of little more assistance to the scene than providing moral support and blankets sewn from tough weeds. She was near blind and near senile, and with the help of G’han achieved both more fully soon after. Death by ritual sacrifice was then necessary to exorcise her ramblings.
When the child was presented to his father, Gorhan’ta rebuked and denied claim to a son. The tribe understood, and in the father’s stead, G’han would call the child his own and raise him for whatever purpose the creature could serve later on in life. And G’han gladly did, for it had been his plan all along to prey upon his middle brother’s sense of honour. He swiftly put down the idea of training the child as a witch doctor, no matter how clever it would be. ‘I had hoped to train this child as my disciple, but now I require a child of the tribe instead, for dire trolls are never blessed with enlightened brains.’ and the tribe agreed reluctantly. With a new tribe came new situations and methods and trolls live to adapt. So they did. G’han chose a boy from a low family that had proven to be bright and taught him over the years as he nurtured the child that had been put into his care.
In some strangely ironic fashion, G’han named the dire troll Ras, which was the troll word for ‘man’. And he waited for the opportune moment to take the boy with him to Zuldazar, to subjugate him to the scrutiny of his peers. He bided his time, and meanwhile trained the unfamiliar boy as a priest, Zan was his name, as a priest and servitor to the Loa. He presented him with the many books his own father had written, discarding them as it were to the boy’s care. The codices on alchemy and potion concoction in which he himself had written more than his father, belonged to him, however, and he let none see them; even suspicion of their existence was quickly wiped out as he falsely burned several books from his father’s estate he deemed heretic. They were empty and they were merely a waste of unused paper.
Some ten years passed, and in those years Ras grew at an alarming rate. At ten he was already taller than any adult troll and was stronger than the strongest warrior: he could beat his uncle Torha in wrestling matches, and he brought home a greater bounty of animals than even he himself could eat. His honour was greater than many trolls’ by that time and, though his real father had refused to take in the child and ignored his presence – even strove to avoid all contact with him, which was fine where G’han was concerned – and though the child had accepted G’han as his real father, Gorhan felt proud of his son. Gorhan despised all trolls who lauded G’han for giving the boy such a good upbringing: teaching him about the Loa, the troll history (the long version! Not just the tribe’s version), teaching him how to hunt, how to fight, how to be honourable etc. His son was still his son and could only do as he did because he was his son. But the loss of his wife still weighed heavier on him than the joy he felt when his son brought home another great predator or a bountiful amount of prey.
By that time, G’han had relieved himself of his priestly duties and coronated Zan as Zan’jin, honourable priest of the Loa in the name of the Razorthorne. He immediately left his house in the village to the boy and made himself a shelter outside the Northwatch Hold walls – since long not called Northwatch anymore; Zul’kaan they called it. There he taught the boy everything he had not been able to teach him inside the village. The experiment had succeeded for a major part, because Ras was, though not exceptionally bright, at least keen and smart enough to learn what every troll knows. A great urge of accomplishment drove the boy on, and he absorbed any and all wisdom and intelligence G’han could impart on him.
Unfortunately for G’han, however, the next council meeting wasn’t until Ras’s eleventh birthday, and thus his Hunt of Prowess, the rite that would make of him an adult, and he could not delay it. For now that the time was finally ripe to take the boy with him to Zuldazar, he could not and it infuriated him. But what seemed like bad timing, turned out to be perfect timing for Ras. The boy was charged with tracking down and overcoming the scourge of the Barrens: A sour and spiteful kodo matriarch nicknamed Nok’nanna, because she had trampled on many a good farm and crushed many a house. Even for the boy who had attested to being a great hunter, this would be a trial and it would take him too long to still reach the council meeting in time. Thus G’han went alone and spoke of the child, but none would believe him until they saw him for themselves. But they never would.
After two gruelling weeks of savage and back-breaking travel through the wide Barrens, Ras had found Nok’nanna and slain her. The foul spirit was finally put to rest and he carried the carcass home with him, covered in gore and spittle, but with a face beaming with pride and ardour. His homecoming was grand. Scouts had seen a speck drag a kodo carcass with him and when he reached the village’s primary venue, a party erupted and nobody was stupid enough to call the weird, unnatural and introvert troll any defacing names, for he was now proudly called Ras’ta Razorthorne (because he could not carry the name of a family). That same evening Gorhan swallowed his own pride, for his son’s would make up for it by far, and called Ras his own son, gave him his family name Reedstalker (which is still strange, because family names are among trolls matrilineal) and let him live in his own home. This was monumental for Ras. He had found his real father, which he had always wanted and whom he had suspected must live in the village, and he had passed his trial of maturity before Eshû the Pathtreader. He was a free troll. But he was forbidden to seek out G’han again, because Gorhan still mistrusted his own brother as he had once done his own son – for the wrong reasons.
The ships were departing from Zuldazar again and G’han embarked with a fierce mood, not even suspecting that an even fouler emotion would settle in his heart upon his arrival at Zul’kaan. He had not foreseen that the Hunt of Prowess would keep the boy detained from coming with him and he was still livid. When he arrived at the village only to acknowledge that his understudy was taken from him, and his experiment was embraced by the village – he himself had advised the quarry for his hunt and hoped he would fail –, he cursed loudly, so the wind and Iansan Lothspell himself would hear. ‘This village has taken my only child from me! How dare any of you! I am your witch doctor, the only one capable of keeping the spirits at bay, but instead I curse this village with floods, assaults and drought, for you have angered me and you have angered the Loa! Pray to them as you will, but they hear me forever and they will hear you no longer!’ He pointed a crooked, dirt-ecru finger at Ras’ta before he stormed out of the village to his hut, assembled what he needed and departed south. No beauty settled in his features any longer and no female troll wanted him anymore; certainly not enough to want to accompany him or remember him as the troll priest he had once been.
After fighting his way through the open barrens, G’han disappeared inside the stinking bog that suffocated the very air of the southern barrens: he settled deep in the mangroves of Dustwallow March. There he brooded and started reading the voluminous codices his father had left him and those he had taken with him from the Zuldazarian libraries. Among the distant and arcane knowledge that lay in the books was the power of rune mastery. And, instantly, G’han realised where the magnificent power of their ancestors, and even the Zandalari – King Rasta’khan, for example – came from. Dire trolls were not the answer, but what if one power was coupled with another? And again, G’han cursed the Razorthorne for taking his test subject from him.
The tribe, meanwhile, had been left dazed. Zan’jin did everything he could to persuade his tribesmen of how little an impact the conjuring of a Witch Doctor could have on the Loa. G’han was a war doctor, while Zan’jin was a peace doctor, and they were living in times of peace. But nothing could have distressed the trolls more. Their own witch doctor had cursed them. Again, Ras felt looked at, shirked and evaded. He spent as much time as he could outdoors, just to be away from prying eyes. More than ever did the young troll close up and hide in himself. He made sure to always bring back a wealth of meat for the tribe, shrug away the honour of catching it and slouch back home without drawing too much attention, however much he would have wanted to. In secret though, he had been tracking his old teacher and had found where the troll made himself a new home, deep in the marshes. He knew that there was always a home there for him. No acceptance awaited him there, but no ostracism either. Rather, he had always been treated with respect by G’han, without knowing why. Witch doctors only respect what they either cannot comprehend or what goes above their own power. Ras was a bit of both in G’han’s case.
For six long years the tribe stagnated, despite daily encouragement from the young High Priest. Then came the day when a ship from Zuldazar demanded his attention and the pride of his tribe lay in the balance. He had no choice but to go, but everyone was scared. Women were scared for their children, men were scared for their families, fathers for their sons, mothers for their daughters. A menace hung in the air that directly or indirectly related to G’han and the curse he put on the village. The Razorthorne had become fearful and even more superstitious than trolls already are. Most afflicted of all of them was Torha’jin. He feared for his claim to leadership. He knew that his newly reintegrated nephew, now a valid member of the community and soon old enough to vie for leadership, would be a true contender. It was a matter that was on everybody’s minds. The strong must rule, so it was dictated, and for a strong troll not to take up his rightful place was simply wrong; it would mean refuting all the gained honour. Ordinarily, dire trolls are not bright enough to accord a full troll’s due, but no such exceptions could be made for Ras, it was felt.
In the weeks leading up to his 17th anniversary, the animosity towards Ras grew and more than ever did he feel himself compelled to show his strength to all, but his father disallowed it – something Ras’ta could have laid down beside him as a free troll, but did not as a dutiful son –, and so he kept calm. Upon the second departure of Zan’jin, the entire village became submerged in doubt and misery once more. The hunters brooded while the old trolls lamented and the young trolls idled. Women moaned while children cried and wailed for no good reason. And there came Ras, strolling into town, carrying yet another great raptor and laying it down near the great fire. The old woman that oversaw the dinner didn’t utter a word of praise, not even a false one, and this time Ras reacted. ‘Aren’t you going to thank me for feeding you, woman?’ he demanded. She stared at him and uttered a short no. In a fury of limbs Ras took the raptor in his giant hands and threw the carcass on the sizzling fire, creating a waft of heat and gruelling flames to torrent around it. The woman had been in such close proximity that most of her flesh was scalded, and she lay wriggling on the floor to douse the fire that had taken to her skin and skirts. Some children had also been near, and they too had suffered injuries from the flames in their faces and on their hands and knees. Ras, however, was standing unperturbed like a statue, looking upon the scene of confusion: ‘Respect me, woman!’
Several troll men had regarded the incident from their front doors and homed in on Ras’ta without remorse. ‘Respect you, whelp? You may be powerful, but you are deformed! We don’t have to respect you; certainly not when you kill or injure our women or deform our children!’ Ras was ready to swing a javelin at the troll who had said it, but a hand stopped him. It was his uncle Torha’jin. He reluctantly bowed his head, scowling. ‘You are no longer welcome here, Ras. Begone,’ was all the chieftain said. Ras was now outcast and his father defamed. No lower could his head hang than his feet could tread the known earth. And so he packed his favourite weapons, a little food and water and some trinkets from his life in the village and departed. He knew he would be tracked for a while, so he headed west instead of south until he was sure he wasn’t being tracked anymore.
‘There you are – after all these years bereft of my counsel –, my son. You are my pride and joy and it saddened me greatly that you did not come with me when I, your father, asked it. And here you stand before me an adult and an honourable troll with skills and powers you cannot control and a mind you have not disciplined as I told you to. You will see the greatness that you hold still. Come into my home and eat crocodile. You must remain strong!’ so said G’han as his test subject returned to a life of vile manipulation, and yet one of cherished familiarity. G’han could smile again, wickedly.
After the meal G’han lashed out at his apprentice for abandoning him and – on a daily basis – would continue to do so for his own pleasure. Ras knew that there was nothing he could bring forth in reply. While G’han’s travel south had soured him, Ras’s had been more of a humiliating catharsis and had served to weaken his resolve to vie for honour and strength; he had done all that already and it had failed him. G’han had broken him the second he called Ras an honourable troll, because from an outcast like G’han, it anathemised Ras’s spirit. At G’han’s command Ras built the old troll a boat for one last travel to Zuldazar, where he could finally show off Ras; He made no secret of it, teaching Ras all the knowledge he possessed, knowing that the spiritually crippled troll could never overcome his master either way: the spirit of Oghma protected the troll codger. Except in his sleep. And one day, when Ras had mustered the resolve to live free, he uprooted a tree deadened by the witch doctor’s meddling and flattened his adoptive father on his bunk. Ras left everything his master had made to the ravages of Dustwallow and set off for the Sandfury Ruins to learn of the shadowy powers once wielded by the trolls. Ras has lived in the desert, the rain forest, the plains, the woods and the prairies ever since and has picked up a variety of tricks and trades from infringing upon the fringes of civilisation. He can’t help standing out, but has learned to leave few tracks…