He stopped in a clearing. He could see bits of the sky through the canopy here—darker splotches against the softer dome of the jungle. He paced his breathing, trying to stay quiet, and scanned the trees. He saw nothing. Gradually, like waking from a deep sleep, he became aware of a heat on his back.
He spun—the loa was behind him, inches away. So close he could see the movement and play of shining tentacles within its surface. The loa’s glow expanded to fill his vision.
He found himself in a cave, a tunnel of some kind, and the path ahead forked. In each branch of the path there was a vision of himself.
In one he sat upon a throne of purest gold. There were giant roasts wrapped in palm leaves, drafts of the finest jungle brew all around him, troll females dancing for his pleasure. He looked healthy and happy. A tiny golden chain stretched from one ankle to a leg of the throne. In the other vision, he was wounded and bleeding, haggard and surrounded by enemies. The view was cloudy and shifted continually, but he was always fighting, always struggling. Sometimes he led other Darkspears; sometimes he fought alone; but the message was clear: a life of constant struggle and strife, no rest, always more slaughter.
Vol’jin laughed. “Is dis supposed to be a test, mighty loa? Dis be easy. I take freedom. I fight and strive, an’ maybe I never find happiness, but I take freedom.”
From far away, the low, primordial voice of the loa came to him. “The choice was not the test, little brotha. If you hesitated, if you had to think about it. If you had even one heartbeat of temptation, you would have failed.” Vol’jin shivered at hearing the tone in the loa’s voice. It sounded as if failure would have meant death or worse.
The cave melted away, and Vol’jin found himself in the stands overlooking an arena. He looked down at his hands. They were his, but older; they bore scars and calluses from many years of hard martial work. Around him were arrayed elders and fighters of the Darkspear tribe. Beyond them were orcs, tauren, and others. All watched raptly as two creatures fought. A brown orc with a mighty axe and a tauren with a spear. Both were clad only in loincloths, oiled for the fight. Once again, words came into his mind: Garrosh and Cairne. Gorehowl and runespear.
The two fought back and forth in the arena. The brown orc bled from several wounds, while the tauren was untouched. With his new sight, Vol’jin could also see the loa everywhere. They swarmed the air and hovered around the edges of his vision. They were gathered and agitated. This moment clearly held vast implications for Vol’jin’s people, and perhaps all of Azeroth.
As Vol’jin watched, the orc brought his axe down in a great arc, the weapon letting out a wild shriek as the air whistled through grooves cut along the side. The tauren held his spear up in a parry, but it was not enough: the axe shattered the spear, grazing the tauren.
Both combatants paused for a moment. The orc was almost too wounded to stand, while the tauren was barely scratched. Yet it was the tauren who swayed, his hands falling to his sides. A piece of the spear hung loosely in nerveless fingers.
The orc raised his weapon and charged. The shrieking of the axe filled the arena. The orc brought the weapon down into the tauren’s neck.
Vol’jin felt a stab of pain in his heart at the grievous harm done to the tauren. He realized that this was a feeling of true sadness echoing through time from the Vol’jin in this vision, sadness at the loss of a friend and respected elder.
The tauren collapsed. Before he hit the ground, the world slowed to a crawl. Vol’jin’s senses came alert, and he felt as if the entire universe had just drawn in its breath in the instant before a scream.
The loa raged. They hissed and whispered. They darted back and forth, clamoring in his ears and diving through him. No one else was reacting yet. The other witnesses were motionless. The tauren was still falling toward the ground, blood spurting.
Then Vol’jin understood.