He heard Zalazane on the other side of the raptor, yelling and making noise.
Vol’jin scrambled backward, not daring to turn away from the beast. He could see that Zalazane was attacking from the other side, but the raptor swung its tail low, taking Zalazane’s feet from under him. The maneuver bought Vol’jin only a second, but that would have to be enough.
He leapt at the raptor and threw his long arms around its neck. For a terrifying instant, his face was pressed against the beast’s lower jaw, its breath ruffling his mohawk. Then he managed to wriggle around the neck and lock his knees across the raptor’s shoulder blades.
The raptor screeched and bucked. Zalazane sprang to his feet and brought his staff down on the beast’s clawed foot. Vol’jin heard bone shatter. He hugged the neck even tighter and put his glaive to the creature’s throat.
The raptor had given up on Vol’jin and was advancing on Zalazane, dragging its broken foot. Zalazane backed slowly away, but Vol’jin could feel the beast’s muscles tense and coil. Seconds remained.
Vol’jin yanked viciously, feeling the glaive dig into muscle and artery. Blood burst forth in a scarlet curtain as he brought the glaive out in a wide arc. The raptor staggered first one way, then another, falling to the ground, its mouth inches from Zalazane’s feet. Vol’jin scrambled free.
“What was dat?” Zalazane panted. “Biggest raptor I ever seen.”
“Maybe a loa possess it? Our first test?”
“I don’ think so, mon.” Zalazane moved to the raptor’s gushing throat, ignoring the beast’s death throes. “We know the test when it come.” He cupped his hands, catching the raptor’s blood, smearing it all over his face.
“Whatchu doin’?” Vol’jin asked.
“Dark magics, mon,” Zalazane answered, putting the finishing touches on the blood mask and licking his fingers. He gestured for Vol’jin to do the same.
“I don’ wanna smell like blood in this place,” Vol’jin said. Zalazane plucked an insect off himself and threw it at Vol’jin. Without missing a beat, Vol’jin caught the bug and threw it back.
“We gonna smell like de blood of a big bad thing. We gonna smell like death and danger,” Zalazane said, throwing another insect. He had recently begun working with Master Gadrin, the Darkspears’ chief witch doctor, and sounded confident.
Vol’jin batted the insect away and moved to catch some of the blood that was still pouring from the dead creature.
“Could save us,” Zalazane commented. “But not from de loa.”
“Not from de loa,” Vol’jin agreed, smearing the warm, sticky blood across his face. It smelled sharp. “But we only gonna survive this judgment by facing the loa anyway. And take what comes.”
“Ow!” Vol’jin looked down, feeling a sudden pain. While he’d had his eyes closed to smear the blood, Zalazane had attached three angry insects to his chest.
“When I become a shadow hunter,” he told Zalazane, “I gonna ask the loa to kill you.”
“I be havin’ my own powers then.” Zalazane laughed.
Night had fallen. The jungle was dark at all times, and Vol’jin only knew it was night from the coolness in the air and the clouds of angry buzzing insects that rolled past in great waves. Mosquitoes as big as his hand searched for prey. Vol’jin and Zalazane sat on the crown of a small rise. To one side, a sheer drop ended with jagged rocks. They’d walked until their feet were sore and their breath came in choked gasps. The air was thick and still.
“This a strange test,” Zalazane said in a low, cautious voice. “We just walk around and kill beasts. Where the loa?”