Voljin: Shadows of the Horde | Chapter 23 of 49

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

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Vol’jin hunched over, one knee on the ground, his right forearm pressed to his side. He’d made it farther up the mountain than the spot where he’d spoken to Tyrathan, but not much beyond. It was steep going past that point. He wasn’t unfamiliar with climbing, but the pain in his side wouldn’t let him attack the mountain the way he wished.

He’d very much wanted to join Chen and Tyrathan on their scouting mission and was looking forward to their reports, but he was happy that Taran Zhu had agreed with the man’s assessment that Vol’jin was needed to plan defenses. Not only had he more experience in that discipline, but, being a troll himself, he also knew trolls and their behavior better than anyone else.

“Do you not find it curious, Vol’jin, even after the poison has left your system, why you have not fully healed?”

The troll’s head whipped around, his chest still heaving.

Taran Zhu stood there, a half dozen yards down the trail, looking as if he’d been out for a simple stroll.

Vol’jin decided that was because the monk was in far better shape than most, not because Vol’jin was in much worse shape. “It be not unknown. Zul’jin lost an eye, cut off his own arm. They did not heal.”

“Regrowing a severed limb or a complex organ is not the same as healing a cut.” The pandaren slowly shook his head. “Your throat makes it difficult for you to speak. Your side, for you to run and endure in battle. We both know that had you gone with your friends, you would have slowed them down.”

Vol’jin nodded. “Even with the man’s leg.”

“Yes. He’s had more time here, granted, but he has recovered better than you have.”

The troll’s eyes tightened. “Why do you think that be?”

“On some level, he thinks he is worthy of recovering.” The monk shook his head. “You, on some level, do not.”

Vol’jin wanted to roar a denial, but his throat simply wouldn’t allow it. I be not having enough breath either. “Go on.”

The pandaren smiled in an infuriating way that could have justified the Zandalari invasion. “There is a species of crab that appropriates shells for a carapace. Once a pair of them, brothers, grew side by side. As they got bigger, one found a skull. The face had been smashed, and he made his way inside. The other found the helmet that had guarded the skull. The first loved the skull and grew into it perfectly. The second regarded the helmet as just another shell. But when it came time to move on, the first did not want to leave the skull. It had defined him, so he stopped growing. The second, though reluctant, had to leave the helmet and his brother behind. He could not stop growing.”

“Which brother be I?”

“It would depend on your choice. Are you the skull-crab who is content to have trapped himself?” Taran Zhu shrugged. “Or are you the crab who continues to grow, seeking a new home?”

Vol’jin scrubbed a hand over his face. “Be I a troll, or be I Vol’jin?”

“After a manner. I would reverse them. Are you the Vol’jin who nearly died in a cave, or are you a troll seeking a new home?”

“Home, that being an allegory.”

“More and less.”

Have I trapped myself in that cave? When he thought of how he’d been lured there, shame roared through him. Yes, the fact that he’d not died was a victory, but he never should have been in that battle anyway. Garrosh had tossed out bait and Vol’jin had swallowed it. Had Garrosh invited him to dinner, just the two of them, he’d have expected treachery and arrived with the entire Darkspear tribe.

The troll shivered.

I’ve trapped myself in that shame. As he looked at it, Vol’jin saw the terrible cycle. No self-respecting troll should have been taken in like that. Even a man like Tyrathan wouldn’t have fallen for so transparent a ruse. His shame anchored him, and the fact that he couldn’t remember how he’d gotten away meant he didn’t have the tools to cut himself free. In that, Tyrathan had been right. Vol’jin feared what he didn’t know.

Yet, in looking at the cycle, he noted the weakness in it. How he survived was immaterial. He could have been dragged from the cave by virmen to be washed up in the river and eaten, and it didn’t matter. What mattered was that he was still alive. He could still grow. He could continue. He didn’t have to be trapped.

And there it is. Because no troll should have been trapped the way he was, and because he had been, Vol’jin had mentally exiled himself from being a troll. He’d fought hard, as a troll would and could, but only to prove his trollness to the pandaren and the Zandalari. And a man. How far gone be I?

He shook his head. Trapped like that be no place for a troll. But only a troll could have survived being trapped like that. Garrosh had sent a pet orc assassin to kill him. Only one. Did not Garrosh know better? Had not Vol’jin threatened to send an arrow through him? How dare he be sending anything less than trolls or titans against me?

Taran Zhu raised a paw in caution. “You are at a critical juncture, Vol’jin, so listen to the rest of the crab’s tale. That other brother, in searching for his new home, found a skull, a larger skull, and the helmet that had housed it. He had to choose. Skull or helmet.”

The troll slowly nodded. “But those be not the only choices.”

“For the Shado-pan, they are the most convenient to consider. You, on the other paw, have other choices available.” The monk nodded. “If you wish more parables, I should be pleased to provide them. You will, I hope, be willing to continue to advise me on matters of military strategy.”

“Yes. Skull-crab or not, it be part of me.”

“Then I shall leave you to your considerations.”

Vol’jin shifted from a crouch to sitting on the ground. In deciding that no troll should have been trapped as he had been, he’d convinced himself that he was not a troll. Proving that to be a lie to outsiders did nothing to change what he thought within. But I be a troll. I survived. I be everything I was before. And wiser.

He chuckled for his own benefit. And wise enough to see how foolish I been.

Vol’jin gathered himself and moved within, opening himself to the loa. He slipped into the gray landscape, noting shadows within shadows, dim silhouettes of plants and trees from the jungles of home. He took this as a good sign, then spun, finding Bwonsamdi looming up over him.

I be not taken blind again.

Not by orcs, anyway. The guardian of the dead laughed from behind his mask. Who be this I see before me?

A troll. That be enough for now. Vol’jin extended a hand toward him. I be needing it back.

What are you thinking I have?

My sense of being a troll.

Bwonsamdi laughed again and plucked a scintillating black pearl from within his belt. When you came to me, you’d convinced yourself you be not a troll. I didn’t think you’d be needing it.

And you kept it safe for me. Vol’jin took it cupped in both hands. It lingered there, weightless, sending stinging sparks into his palms. Like the needles of a sleeping limb waking back up. Thank you.

And thank you for the ones you sent me. The loa looked back over his shoulder at a distant phalanx of Zandalari. They hate being under my protection.

I gonna send you more.

You gonna be a dutiful troll.

Vol’jin closed his left fist over the pearl. The others, sending me visions. Why?

To be reminding you of what it is to be a troll.

But the vision the Mother of Venom sent, it be working against her Zandalari.

They be doing the things they think please her, but that doesn’t mean they know her mind. Bwonsamdi shrugged. If it be not a real effort, be it a worthy offering?

She be pitting me against her people to make them work?

And you gonna be a bit beholden to her if they fail.

When they fail.

Ha! This be why you were always one of my favorites, whoever you are.

I gonna let you know when it be decided. Vol’jin smiled. The lips of dead Zandalari be delivering the message.

My wanting is vast, troll. And my favor great.

Vol’jin nodded as the gray world slowly melted back into the mountain peak. He opened his left hand, but the pearl had already sunk into his flesh. Vol’jin concentrated, looking within, and found the essence spreading through him, doing its work. Already pains eased and tissue renewed itself.

The troll took over the process in two areas. The stitch on his side he mended mostly. The lung he repaired so he could breathe, but he left a scar there. He wanted twinges. He wanted to be reminded of mistakes he had made.

Likewise he healed his throat, but not all the way. He let the wound steal the melodiousness because that had been Vol’jin’s voice. That had been the voice that threatened Garrosh. That had been the voice that accepted the mission. Vol’jin didn’t want to hear it again.

He didn’t fully recognize his current voice, but he could live with that. As he had told Bwonsamdi, for now he was a troll. He didn’t need to be more. By the time I know who I be, I gonna know the sound of who I become.

As he descended to the monastery, he realized that, in many ways, he had been the skull-crab. He’d let himself become defined by others. His father’s dream had become his legacy, and it shaped him in one way. He almost thought trapped, but his father would have been horrified to think his son had felt trapped. Being a shadow hunter, leading the Darkspears, being among the leaders of the Horde, all of these things had been the bony plates that had created the skull.

And there was the real secret of the parable. The skull and the helmet that had once protected it had been created for two different purposes. Each crab needed protection, but only the crab that chose the helmet had chosen correctly. The other’s choice, while being functional, did not allow him to continue to grow into his destiny.

Skull, helmet, or . . . what? For monks who were faced with the choice, they could turn completely inward and remain in the monastery like the crab in the skull. Others—and Vol’jin could see Yalia Sagewhisper in this latter class—could go beyond the monastery, grow into whomever they needed to be. And, in Pandaria, there was little need to look beyond two choices. If they wanted a third, then there was the turtle shell, and the life of adventuring Chen had chosen.

But, for me . . . The elements he’d used to describe the skull plates were not all bad. His father’s dream had merit. Vol’jin agreed with it. Parallel to that was his leadership of the Darkspears. And his position in the Horde. Vol’jin had resisted Zandalari entreaties before, choosing the Horde as his allies for this new world. But now the Horde had turned on him.

The decisions he would have to make were not simple, and he accepted that. He realized that so often decisions had been made for him. That could have seemed malignant, but it wasn’t. His father’s encouragement and others’ expectations of him made choosing to become a shadow hunter easy. Not that the actual doing of the thing had been, or that he regretted it, but he had never really considered an alternative.

Similarly, moving to the lead of the Darkspears and assuming responsibility for them had started a cascade of events. He regretted none of them either. Zalazane had to be stopped. Even supporting the Horde against the Zandalari king Rastakhan was a choice already made since Thrall and the Horde had helped him and his father save the Darkspears and build their home in the Echo Isles.

Withdrawing from the Horde be the hardest decision I ever made. It almost be my death.

Vol’jin returned to the monastery. He joined the monks in their exercises, not only to learn what they could do and to strengthen himself but also to show them what a troll could do. The monk he’d saved by beheading a Zandalari at Zouchin ratified Vol’jin’s stories about the hardiness of trolls. The Shado-pan, by and large, then redoubled their efforts against him.

And left him hard-pressed to defend himself.

There were, no doubt about it, skull-crabs and helmet-crabs among the monks. This did not disturb Vol’jin on one level. For every warrior in the ranks of an army, there were five people left back to keep him fed, his kit in good repair, and to see to his other needs. Many of the Shado-pan, the old monks especially, contented themselves with these support roles, while the younger monks took more eagerly to learning how to fight trolls.

Vol’jin watched Taran Zhu as the elder monk observed the exercises. Be you liking the shape of the helmet into which your monks are growing? Even though their gazes met from time to time, the leader of the Shado-pan gave no sign of his thoughts one way or the other.

During the time when he was not training physically, Vol’jin bent himself to becoming a scholar of Pandaren geography and military history. He found the latter a frustrating subject. Everything had happened so long ago—at least for the pandaren—that it had taken on the status of myth and folklore. It could, in fact, be that a dozen monks had held a mountain pass for twelve years, each one defending it for a single month himself, then resting for the remainder of the year. Each monk was said to have pioneered a fighting style, from which all current styles were said to have descended.

Geography was easier. Ancient imperial charts had mapped the continent out in great detail. He still found some areas only vaguely described. This was especially true of the Vale of Eternal Blossoms, where one map had clearly been inked over in the south central area.

Vol’jin pointed it out as Taran Zhu entered the library. “I be not finding many references to this area.”

“That is a problem we must take steps to remedy.” The monk half turned as Chen and Tyrathan, haggard and just a little bloody, entered the library behind him. “As your friends have discovered, it would appear that’s precisely where the invaders are headed.”

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

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