World of Warcraft: Vol’jin, Shadow of the Horde (Excerpt)
An excerpt of the upcoming World of Warcraft: Vol’jin: Shadows of the Horde is available. Slated to ship on July 2, 2013. Pre-order this novel in hardcover or digital format.
That night, visions mocked Vol’jin. He found himself in the midst of fighters, each of whom he recognized. He’d gathered them for that final assault on Zalazane, to end his madness and free the Echo Isles for the Darkspears. Each of the combatants took on aspects of a jihui cube, faced to be at their maximum power. Not a fireship among them, but this did not surprise Vol’jin.
He was the fireship, but not yet turned to display his maximum power. This was not a fight, though desperate, in which he would destroy himself. Aided by Bwonsamdi, they would slay Zalazane and reclaim the Echo Isles.
Who be you, this troll, who be having memories of a heroic effort?
Vol’jin turned, hearing the click of a cube snapping to a new facing. He felt trapped inside that cube, translucent though it was, and shocked that it had no values on any face. “I be Vol’jin.”
Bwonsamdi materialized in a gray world of swirling mists. “And who be this Vol’jin?”
The question shook him. The Vol’jin of the vision had been the leader of the Darkspears, but was no longer. Reports of his death would just now be reaching the Horde. Perhaps they had not yet gotten there. In his heart, Vol’jin hoped his allies had been delayed, just so Garrosh could dwell one more day wondering if his plan had succeeded.
That did not answer the question. He was no longer the leader of the Darkspears, not in any real sense. They might still acknowledge him, but he could give them no orders. They would resist Garrosh and any Horde attempt to conquer them, but in his absence, they might listen to envoys who offered them protection. They could be lost to him.
Who do I be?
Vol’jin shivered. Though he thought himself superior to Tyrathan Khort, at least the man was mobile and not wearing sick-robes. The man hadn’t been betrayed by a rival and assassinated. The man had clearly embraced some of the pandaren way.
And yet, Tyrathan hesitated when he should not have. Some of it was a game to make the pandaren underestimate him, but Vol’jin had seen through that. The other bits, though, as he’d hesitated after Vol’jin complimented a move, those were genuine. And not something a man be allowing in himself.
Vol’jin looked up at Bwonsamdi. “I be Vol’jin. I know who I was. Who I gonna be? That answer only Vol’jin could be finding. And for now, Bwonsamdi, that be enough.”
When awareness came to him again, Vol’jin found himself whole and hale, strong of limb and standing tall. A fierce sun beat down on him as he stood in a courtyard with thousands of other trolls. They had nearly a head’s height on him, yet none of them made an issue of it. In fact, none of them seemed to notice him at all.
Another dream. A vision.
He did not immediately recognize the place, though he had a sense that he’d been there before. Or, rather, later, for this city had not surrendered to the surrounding jungle’s invasion. The stone carvings on walls remained crisp and clear. Arches had not been shattered. Cobbles had not been broken or scavenged. And the stepped pyramid, before which they all stood, had not been humbled by time’s ravages.
He stood amid a crowd of Zandalari, members of the troll tribe from which all other tribes had descended. They had become, over the years, taller than most and exalted. In the vision they seemed less a tribe than a caste of priests, powerful and educated, quite apt for leading.
But in Vol’jin’s time, their ability to lead had degraded. It is because their dreams all be trapped here.
This was the Zandalar empire at the height of its power. It dominated Azeroth but would fall victim to its own might. Greed and avarice would spark intrigues. Factions would split. New empires would rise, like the Gurubashi empire, which would drive Vol’jin’s Darkspear trolls into exile. Then it would fall too.
The Zandalari hungered for a return to the time when they were ascendant. It was a time when trolls were a most noble race. The trolls, united, had risen to heights which someone like Garrosh Hellscream could not possibly dream existed.
A sense of magic ancient and powerful flooded through Vol’jin, providing him the key to why he was seeing the Zandalari. Titan magic predated even the Zandalari. It was more powerful than they were. As high as the Zandalari had been above things that slithered and stung, so were the titans above them—likewise their magic.
Vol’jin moved through the crowd as might a specter. The Zandalari faces glowed with fearsome smiles—the sort he’d seen on trolls when trumpets blared and drums pounded, inviting them to battle. Trolls were built to rend and slay—Azeroth was their world, and all in it were subject to their dominion. Though Vol’jin might differ with other trolls as to the identity of their enemies, he was no less fierce in battle, and vastly proud of how the Darkspears had conquered their foes and liberated the Echo Isles.
So Bwonsamdi be mocking me with this vision. The Zandalari dreamed of empire, and Vol’jin wished the best for his people. Vol’jin knew the difference. It was simple enough to plan for slaughter and far more complex to create a future. For a loa who liked his sacrifices bloody and battle-torn, Vol’jin’s vision held little appeal.
Vol’jin ascended the pyramid. As he moved up, things became more substantial. Whereas before he had been in a silent world, he could now feel drums thrumming up through the stone. The breeze brushed over his light fur, tousled his hair. It brought with it the sweet scent of flowers—a scent just slightly sharper than that of spilled blood.
The drumming pounded into him. His heart beat in time. Voices came to him. Shouts from below. Commands from above. He refused to retreat but stopped climbing higher. It seemed he might be rising through time as he would be rising through lake water. If he reached the top, he would be there with the Zandalari and feel what they felt. He would know their pride. He would breathe in their dreams.
He would become one with them.
He would not allow himself that luxury.
His dream for the Darkspear tribe might not have excited Bwonsamdi, but it provided life for the Darkspears. The Azeroth the Zandalari had known had been utterly and irrevocably changed. Portals had been opened. New peoples had come through. Lands had been shattered, races warped, and more power released than the Zandalari knew existed. The disparate races—elves, humans, trolls, orcs, and even goblins, among others—had united to defeat Deathwing, creating a power structure that revolted and offended the Zandalari. The Zandalari hungered to reestablish rule over a world that had so changed that their dreams could never come true.
Vol’jin caught himself. “Never” be a powerful word.
In an eyeblink the vision shifted. He now stood at the pyramid’s apex, looking down into the faces of the Darkspears. His Darkspears. They trusted his knowledge of the world. If he told them they could recapture the glory that was once theirs, they would follow him. If he commanded them to take Stranglethorn or Durotar, they would. The Darkspears would boil out of the islands, subjugating all in their path, simply because he wished it done.
He could do it. He could see a way. He’d had Thrall’s ear, and the orc had trusted him in military matters. He could spend the months of recuperation plotting out the campaigns and organizing strategies. Within a year or two of his return from Pandaria—if that was still where he was—the Darkspear banner would be anointed with blood and more feared than it already was.
And what be that gaining me?
I would be pleased.
Vol’jin spun. Bwonsamdi stood above him, a titanic figure, ears forward and straining to gather the pulsed shouts from below. It would gain you peace, Vol’jin, for you be doing what your troll nature demands.
Is that all we be meant for?
The loa do not require you to be more. What purpose be there in your bein’ more?
Vol’jin looked for an answer to that question. His search left him staring at a void. Its darkness reached and engulfed him, leaving him with no answer and certainly no peace.
Michael A. Stackpole is an award-winning novelist, game designer, computer game designer, podcaster, screenwriter, and graphic novelist. He’s had more than forty-five novels published, the best known of those being the New York Times bestselling Star Wars books I, Jedi and Rogue Squadron. He has an asteroid named after him and, since undertaking to write Vol’jin: Shadows of the Horde, spends a lot of his spare time “leveling up!”