Voljin: Shadows of the Horde | Chapter 20 of 49

Author: Michael A. Stackpole | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 2329 Views | Add a Review

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Shouted orders heralded chaos, yet they were issued without panic. The Zandalari did not know panic. One squad was to head south, toward the attack; the other two were to cut the road. Arrows flew at targets unseen, not in hopes of hitting anything, but in hopes of flushing quarry.

An arrow flashed past Vol’jin’s ear within a hairbreadth of undoing the work that had sewed it back on. He shot back, not expecting a kill. The arrow hit but didn’t penetrate armor. A shout of surprise became a grunt of good fortune. The Zandalari must have thought luck was with him.

Which be not the same as having the loa favor you.

Vol’jin judged the eager lack of discipline with which the Zandalari harshly crashed through the brush. The Zandalari had, so far, met no serious opposition and had seen no organized defenses. The arrow that had hit Vol’jin’s target was little more than a toy. It was clearly not meant for war and was equally clearly of pandaren manufacture. All of the Zandalari’s experience of the enemy pointed to a serious lack of dangerous opposition.

He acknowledges no threat. His mistake.

Vol’jin, who had crouched as the troll raced down a small hill, rose and whipped the glaive up and around. The Zandalari blocked with his own sword, but late and slow. Vol’jin shifted his grip. He levered the upper blade forward, then shoved and twisted. As the Zandalari’s momentum sent him farther down the hill, the curved blade tip sunk deep into the troll’s neck. Vol’jin wrenched the tip free, opening the carotid artery in a bright fountain of blood.

The Zandalari stared at him as he fell. “Why?”

“Bwonsamdi hungers.” Vol’jin kicked the troll away. He stalked up the hill, slashing low to open another troll’s leg. In one motion he came up, whirling the blade around, then snapped it down, crushing the back of the troll’s skull.

That troll grunted, his eyes glassy before he fell and tumbled through the brush.

Vol’jin smiled in spite of himself. The tang of hot blood filled the air. Grunts and groans, screams and the clang of weapons, locked him into combat. He felt more at home there, stalking foes, than he ever would in the monastery’s peace. That realization would have horrified Taran Zhu but made the Darkspear feel more alive than he had at any time in Pandaria.

Off to Vol’jin’s right, the human hunter shot. A Zandalari spun to the ground, a black shaft with red fletching quivering his breastbone. The hunter finished the troll by stroking a knife across his throat. Tyrathan appropriated more Zandalari arrows from this kill and moved silently through the brush. He was death on tiger paws, stalking, slaying.

The monks ranged to the left and right, moving curiously with the landscape and yet apart from it. Save for the armor he wore, the one closest to Vol’jin could have been out gathering herbs. He moved outside the rhythms of battle, not yet engaged and not long to be allowed that detachment.

A Zandalari warrior charged him, sword raised for a murderous slash. The monk twisted left. The blade whistled past. It returned in a crosscut. The monk grabbed the troll’s wrist and spun so they faced the same direction. The troll’s sword arm straightened and locked against the pandaren’s stomach. The monk twisted his right wrist and the troll’s knees buckled. Before he could go down, however, the monk’s elbow blurred upward. The troll gurgled as the blow shattered his jaw and crushed his throat.

The little monk skipped forward, unconcerned. Vol’jin darted toward him, the bloody blade coming up and around. Unaware of a troll’s ability to recover quickly from nonlethal wounds, the monk had taken the thrashing behind him as the sounds of death. Instead, they were the harbinger of an angry troll gathering himself to strike.

Then Vol’jin’s glaive cut cleanly from front to back. The troll’s head popped free, hanging in the air as the body dropped bonelessly beneath it. Then the head fell, bouncing off the dead troll’s chest. Vol’jin continued forward, and behind him the true death thrashing began.

Vol’jin and the monks plunged deeper into the undergrowth and down into a small grassy bowl that paralleled the escape route. Without conscious thought, Vol’jin raced down into it and the midst of the Zandalari-led force. Even if he had paused to think, it would not have slowed him. He already knew they were lightly armored skirmishers, sent ahead to slaughter refugees. He attacked swiftly not out of any sense of outrage, but simply because such troops were beneath his contempt. They had no honor—they were not warriors but butchers, and clumsy ones at that.

A Gurubashi, sword raised high, charged at Vol’jin. The Darkspear gestured, lip curled with contempt. Shadow magic staggered the other troll, eating away at his soul. It paralyzed him for a moment. Before Vol’jin could get to him, a Shado-pan monk flew through the air with a kick that snapped the troll’s head back, dropping him dead.

Vol’jin’s double blades whirred as battle thickened. Razored metal slashed open exposed flesh. The blades clanked against swords raised to block. They hissed free of parries. The impact that stopped one blade would drive the other in reverse, hooking behind a knee or up through an armpit. Hot blood splashed. Bodies crumpled, limbs awry, breath bubbling from gaping chest wounds.

Something struck Vol’jin heavily between his shoulder blades. He spilled forward, rolled, then spun, rising. Vol’jin wanted to roar a challenge filled with fury and pride, but his aching throat defied him. He whipped the glaive around, spraying blood in a broad arc, then crouched, the blade held back, ready.

He faced a Zandalari even taller than most and decidedly wider. He carried a longsword—relic of some battle elsewhere. He came in quickly—a bit more than Vol’jin expected—and brought the blade around and down in an overhand cut. The shadow hunter blocked with his glaive, but the force of the blow ripped it from his hands.

The Zandalari lunged forward, smashing his forehead into Vol’jin’s face, knocking the Darkspear back a step. He tossed the longsword aside and swept in, grabbing the shadow hunter by the chest. The Zandalari lifted him high, thumbs driving in at the center of Vol’jin’s chest. He squeezed, hard, then shook Vol’jin.

Iron fingers dug into ribs, reigniting aches. The troll’s thumbs even punched through the breastplate and tore at the silk beneath. The Zandalari roared, defiant and angry. He shook Vol’jin even harder, teeth bared, and looked up.

Their gazes met.

That moment of time stretched forever. The Zandalari’s widening eyes betrayed his disbelief at having found a troll fighting against him. Doubt creased his brows. Vol’jin read it easily and clearly.

He knew what to do.

As Taran Zhu had instructed, Vol’jin cocked his fist. His eyes narrowed. He visualized the Zandalari’s doubt as a shimmering ball. It sank beneath the troll’s face, lodging right behind his eyes. Nostrils flaring, Vol’jin drove his fist through the Zandalari’s face, smashing bone shards through the doubt.

The Zandalari’s grip broke. Vol’jin fell to his knees. He caught himself with one hand. The other snaked around his chest, hugging ribs. He tried to draw a full breath, but something ground in his side, stabbing sharply. He pressed a hand over the hurt, but couldn’t concentrate enough to invoke healing.

Tyrathan hooked a hand under his arm. “Come on. We need you.”

“Did any escape?”

“I don’t know.”

Vol’jin rose slowly, stooping only to recover his weapon and wipe his bloody hand off on a body. Straightening up, he surveyed the bowl. The battle signs read easily enough. The blues had sped along the goat path and come up the hill, engaging the Zandalari waiting in ambush. The reds had blown through the troops set to guard the southern approach. Vol’jin and the others had hit the Zandalari in the flank, rolling them up.

Vol’jin freed his arm from the man’s grasp and hurried after him as best as he was able. They descended the hill to the road and found Chen talking with a young female pandaren leading a group of refugees.

“These are the first ones, Uncle Chen. There are more to fetch. Trolls have hit them before, so they’re desperate to get away.”

Chen, whose fur already dripped with Zandalari blood, firmly shook his head. “You’re not going back, Li Li. You’re not.”

“I must.”

Vol’jin reached out, resting a hand on her shoulder. “You must listen.”

She leaped back into a defensive crouch. “He’s one of them.”

“No, he’s my friend. Vol’jin. You remember him.”

Li Li took a closer look. “You look better with your ear back on.”

The troll stood tall, arching his back. “You must be taking these people south.”

“But there are more trolls coming, and more people need rescuing.”

Chen pointed toward the sea. “And most of them have never been outside their village. Take them to the Temple of the White Tiger, Li Li.”

“Will they be safe there?”

“More easily defended.” Vol’jin waved the flight master over. “You need to ferry people. Slow people. The blues gonna gather them.”

“Good plan.” Tyrathan looked over at the reds. “I’ll use the other monks to harry the Zandalari.”

“You?”

The man nodded. “You’re hurt.”

“You limp and I heal fast.”

“Vol’jin, what has to be done here is my kind of war. Slow them down. Delay them. Sting them. Hurt them. We will buy you the time to get these people clear.” Tyrathan patted a quiver of Zandalari arrows. “A number of the skirmishers dropped these and I mean to return lost property.”

“Very kind.” Vol’jin smiled. “I be helping you.”

“What?”

“Many arrows, and the refugees, they be trusting everyone else. We be providing them cover.” Vol’jin nodded to both squads of monks. “Gather people, arrows, and bows. We gonna retreat south and east. We gonna draw them off.”

Tyrathan smiled. “Use their pride to deflect them?”

“Zandalari always need to be learning humility.”

“Right.” He addressed the monks. “Look, stash arrows and bows at standing stones, like those, all the way up into the mountains.” The man gave Vol’jin a half smile. “I’m ready to die when you are.”

“Then it gonna be a long time.” Vol’jin turned to Chen. “You command the blues.”

“You’ll have the left; he’ll have the right. I should have the center.”

“Ours gonna be thirsty work, Chen Stormstout.” The troll rested both hands on the pandaren’s shoulders. “Only you can brew what gonna slake it.”

“You will be terribly alone.”

“What he’s trying to say, Chen, is that we’re not going to be fighting out there so you can die with us.”

The pandaren looked at Tyrathan. “What about the two of you?”

The man laughed. “We’re fighting to spite each other. He’d be mortified if he died before I did, and I feel the same way. And we will be thirsty. Very thirsty.”

Vol’jin nodded toward the refugees. “And they, Chen, be needing leadership of a pandaren.”

The brewmaster paused for a moment, then sighed. “I find a place I wish to call home, and yet it’s the two of you who fight for it.”

The troll accepted a Zandalari war bow and quiver from a monk. “When one be without a home himself, then fighting for a friend’s home be the most noble act.”

“Ships have dropped anchor. They’re lowering boats.”

“Let us go.”

Vol’jin for a moment found it curious to be stalking down a cobbled road with pandaren monks fanned out before him on both sides and a man apace with him. All he had known in his life had not prepared him for this. Hunted and hurting, homeless and believed dead by many, yet he felt completely alive.

He glanced at Tyrathan. “We should be shooting the tallest first.”

“Any special reason?”

“Bigger targets.”

The man smiled. “And it’s four and a half inches.”

“You know I not gonna wait on you.”

“Just get the one that gets me.” Tyrathan tossed him a salute and cut east, following the blues as they moved into the village.

Vol’jin kept on straight as reds hustled shocked pandaren from shadows and doorways. They’d clearly seen trolls before and, given how they cringed from him, it had been commonly in nightmares. Even though they might understand he had come to help, they could not help but fear.

Vol’jin liked that. He realized it wasn’t because, as with the Zandalari, he wanted to rule by fear, or felt that his inferiors should fear him. It was because he had earned their fear. He was a shadow hunter. He was the slayer of men and trolls and Zandalari. He had liberated his home. He led his tribe. He had advised the warchief of the Horde.

Garrosh so feared me that he had me murdered.

For a heartbeat, he considered marching straight to the quay that several longboats of Zandalari were approaching, and revealing himself. He’d fought against them before but doubted his presence would surprise them. Worse, it might alert them to the fact that their understanding of their enemy was incomplete.

Part of him realized that, in the past, he might have done just that. The same way he confronted Garrosh and threatened him while taking the Darkspears out of Orgrimmar, he would have roared his name and dared them to come after him. He would let them know that he wasn’t afraid and that his lack of fear should inspire fear deep in their hearts.

He nocked an arrow. This be what they need deep in their hearts. He drew and let fly. The arrow, with a barbed, flesh-rending head, arced out. His target, the troll hunched at the bow, waited to jump out as soon as keel scraped sand. He never had a chance of seeing the shaft. It flew straight out at him, a lethal flyspeck. It caught him in the shoulder, nicking the backside of his collarbone. It slid into him, running parallel to his spine, burying itself to the feathers in his body.

He collapsed, crashing into the gunwale. He bounced up, then slid over the side, his feet the last thing going under. The boat, unbalanced, listed to starboard, then righted itself again.

Just in time for Vol’jin’s second arrow to pin the tiller troll to the rudder.

Vol’jin ducked back and turned away. As much as he might like to watch confused soldiers in an unsteady boat, that luxury would have cost him his life. Four arrows thudded into the wall against which he’d stood and two more overshot him.

Vol’jin pulled back to the ruins of the next building. He arrived as a monk helped a pandaren with a crushed shoulder crawl from beneath rubble. Farther out in the bay, where the last boat was coming in, an arrow slammed into the pilot’s ear. It twisted him around and flung him from the boat.

The lead boat grounded. A few Zandalari sprinted for cover. Others tipped the boat up and huddled behind it. The middle two boats backed water quickly in an attempt to stop. The last had a hardy soul take the pilot’s place at the rudder. An arrow transfixed him through the guts. He sat hard but kept his hand on the tiller, guiding the boat shoreward as the other trolls pulled on the oars.

The troll commanding the invasion from a ship farther at sea signaled furiously. The ships in the harbor renewed their assault with siege engines. Stones arced out, slamming into the beach in a great spray of sand. Vol’jin thought the half-buried stone a waste of effort, but one of the Zandalari sprinted toward it and threw himself down behind it.

And then another stone hit, and another.

So the game began. As Zandalari advanced, Vol’jin moved to the flank and shot. Spotters aboard ship would then turn the siege engines on his hiding place, smashing it to flinders. Off to the east they did the same with Tyrathan’s hidey-holes, though how they saw him Vol’jin had no idea. He couldn’t.

Each wave of stones drove Vol’jin back and let more trolls advance. The ships lowered more boats. Some of the Zandalari even stripped off their armor and dove into the bay with bows and arrows tightly wrapped in oilskins. The ships lay waste to a wide arc in the center of Zouchin, and troops moved ashore to occupy it.

The shadow hunter made every arrow count. He didn’t always kill. Armor blunted some shots. Occasionally a target provided him only the glimpse of a foot, or a patch of blue skin through a tangle of fallen timbers. The simple fact was, however, that for every arrow he possessed, the ships had a dozen ballista stones and half that many soldiers.

So Vol’jin pulled back. He found only one monk’s body as he went. She’d been struck through by two arrows. From the tracks leading south, she’d shielded two cubs from the shots that had killed her.

He paced after those cubs, trailing them back through the village. Just when their trail broke into the open behind a home collapsed on splintered pilings, Vol’jin heard scrabbling. He turned, quickly, as a Zandalari warrior slid into view. Vol’jin reached back for an arrow, but his enemy shot first.

The arrow caught him in the flank and punched out his back. Pain pulsed from his ribs, staggering him. Vol’jin dropped to a knee and reached for his glaive as the other troll nocked another arrow.

The Zandalari smiled broadly in triumph, flashing teeth proudly.

A heartbeat later, an arrow arced down between those teeth. For a half second, it appeared as if the troll was vomiting feathers. Then eyes rolled up in his skull and he pitched backward.

Vol’jin turned slowly, looking back along the arrow’s line of flight. Long grasses closed at the crest of a hill. Shot through the mouth. Four and a half inches. And he was wanting me to get the one who got him.

Dust still slowly settled over the twitching troll. Vol’jin reached back and snapped off the arrow’s head, then slid the shaft from his chest. He smiled as the wound closed; then he pilfered the troll’s quiver and continued the fighting withdrawal.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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