Vol’jin and Zalazane were different now. They moved with confidence, constantly scanning for danger. They had transformed in First Home. They had entered as cubs and emerged as predators. They were dangerous, proud, strong; they were of the Darkspear tribe.
As they approached the village, they began to see alarming signs. Trampled leaves, splotches of blood. The smell of smoke in the air.
Every sense that Vol’jin possessed told him that something had changed. Some fundamental part of the ebb and flow of life on the island had been forever altered.
He held a hand out, and Zalazane stopped instantly. They stood on the trail a short distance away from the Darkspear village. It was still out of sight, but even the sounds were wrong. Vol’jin heard activity, the noise of work crews cutting wood and hammering.
Vol’jin closed his eyes and breathed deeply, listening to the loa. They whispered to him, but they were still hard to understand. He would learn in time.
“I think our village been attacked,” he said to Zalazane, trying to decipher the messages of the agitated loa.
Zalazane only nodded knowingly. He had his own methods now, and their different perspectives had created a gulf between them.
They moved forward again, weapons drawn, taking each step with care.
They came through the leaves and saw the Darkspear village before them. Huts had been knocked over, and debris lay strewn everywhere.
There were corpses arranged in neat rows along the edge of the village. Trolls moved among the dead, laying them in positions of peace. Females and children knelt over a troll here or there, sobbing and tearing at their hair. A priest rocked back and forth, eyes closed, mumbling.
The trolls, living or dead, were all Darkspears.
Vol’jin and Zalazane broke into a jog, heading toward the center of the village. The wreckage was even more devastating here. They passed many Darkspears, all of them too busy with their own affairs to notice the two.
Near the lagoon, they saw crews of Darkspears building ships. Many ships. The organized teams were very foreign to the relaxed island life that Vol’jin was used to.
His heart began to beat faster. His people had not been conquered, but in the short time he’d been gone, they had changed.
Vol’jin and Zalazane stopped in the village center, two still figures in a sea of bustling activity. A few trolls hurrying past threw them cautious, confused looks. The loa began to clamor loudly. Only Vol’jin could hear them, but he knew something was coming. He scanned his surroundings and saw a troll approaching. Vol’jin and Zalazane turned to face old Gadrin, the chief witch doctor of the tribe, as he strode up to them.
“Boys,” he said. “Where you been? I thought you be dead.”
“Whatchu mean, Master?” Zalazane asked. “We been in de jungle for a week.”
“A week? Vol’jin, Zalazane… you been gone three months. So much happened. Strange green creatures came from across de water—”
“Orcs,” Vol’jin said.
“Ya, mon,” Gadrin said, surprised. He became thoughtful as he continued. “Your father, Vol’jin… he fought de sea witch, an’ he…”
“He gone beyond. He wit’ Bwonsamdi now, Master Gad. I know it.” Vol’jin realized the truth of it as the words left his lips. He could tell his father was no longer among the Darkspears. At least, not as a troll.
“We gonna follow de orcs across de sea,” Gadrin went on. “The sea witch too strong; we can’t stay here. Your papa, he said we go. It take some time, though. We have to prepare.”
“I understand,” Vol’jin said, filled with a sudden confidence. “I take charge of the evacuation.”
“I help,” Zalazane said with a smile.
Vol’jin grinned back at his friend. The smartest thing would be to send Zalazane ahead to prepare the way. Zalazane was his most trusted friend, and he would do the job well. But part of Vol’jin balked at the idea. He did not know why, but he felt that he should keep Zalazane close to him now.
They would help each other. Together they could do anything. They would be true, and fierce, and they would endure.