Read an excerpt of Shadowlands prequel novel Shadows Rising, featuring Zappy Boi
We’ve reached the end of Battle for Azeroth without a clear resolution. What is Sylvanas’ plan? What will we find awaiting us in Shadowlands? Blizzard is bridging the gap with a new novel: Shadows Rising by Madeleine Roux, which is due out on July 14. And in addition to all of Warcraft’s core cast, this novel highlights one of our favorite new characters:
Zappy Boi Zekhan.
The story looks to cover a lot of ground, featuring (almost) every character we’ve seen this expansion. Here’s a summary:
“The Horde is nothing!” With those infamous words, Sylvanas Windrunner betrayed and abandoned the Horde she vowed to serve. The Dark Lady and her forces now work in the shadows as both the Horde and Alliance race to uncover her next move, including her own sister, Alleria. Struggling to shoulder the crushing weight of leadership, King Anduin entrusts the void elf and High Exarch Turalyon to uncover Sylvanas’s whereabouts.
The Horde now stands at a crossroads. The various factions form a council, leaving the mantle of warchief to rest. Thrall, Lor’themar Theron, Baine Bloodhoof, First Arcanist Thalyssra, and many other familiar faces rise to this new challenge. But the threats are numerous, and the distrust runs too deep.
When the council is derailed by a failed assassination attempt on Talanji, the Zandalari queen and a key ally, Thrall and the rest of the Horde leaders are forced into action. They empower the young troll shaman Zekhan, still grieving the loss of Varok Saurfang, with a critical mission to aid Talanji and help uncover the rising threat against her.
Meanwhile, Nathanos Blightcaller and Sira Moonwarden have been tasked by the Dark Lady with a terrifying gambit: to kill the troll loa of death himself, Bwonsamdi.
As Zekhan and Talanji work to save Bwonsamdi, their journey will be a key turning point in bolstering the Horde against the coming darkness and finding themselves along the way. Failure to save their allies and the trickster god will surely doom the Horde, but through success, they may rediscover what makes the Horde strong.
If you don’t want to know any more than the back-of-the-book basics, you can walk away from this post right now. But if you want to know a little more about where this story is going, we have an excerpt where Zekhan plays a starring role.
If you don’t want spoilers, stop here.
If you do want spoilers, enjoy this sneak peak of Shadows Rising:
Zekhan had not avoided the unforgiving boot of war by staying still. No, he learned to make himself useful, to stay useful, and to know when that usefulness had come to its end. He had not been stationed at Varok Saurfang’s side on the battlements of Lordaeron by twiddling his thumbs or taking a nap. And so, he did not stand still while his commander fell into a quiet, intense exchange with the Earthen Ring shaman.
Zekhan casually fell into step behind the tall and well-armed leader of the Darkspear trolls, Rokhan, using his shadow as a concealment of sorts, ignoring the screams and cheers of the crowd as the assembled council members and their assorted bodyguards, advisors, and hangers on retreated to the tempting shade of the feast tents. Zekhan wasn’t foolish enough to think those celebratory cheers were for him. No, he was in a shadow and was a shadow: first his father’s, then Saurfang’s, and now Thrall’s.
And as a shadow, he crept along, looking for something interesting enough to occupy his time. “Keep ya hands busy and ya mind sharp,” his father Hekazi had told him when Zekhan was still knee-high to a raptor. “And ya will never want for work nor amusement.”
Work and amusement would have to go hand-in-hand that day. A drum circle with a trio of wild dancers had been set up outside the tents to welcome the esteemed guests. He watched the goblin, Gazlowe, sidle up toward the drums, doing a silly two-step and making the dancers laugh. The music, the steady, infectious rhythm of it gradually spread to the others approaching the tent, tense shoulders moving to the beat, narrowed eyes widening with appreciation at the talented (and scantily dressed) dancers.
Only Talanji and her Zandalari contingent stood apart. The detached detachment. He wasn’t exactly surprised. While the Horde Council had welcomed her and her folk warmly, her response so far had been nothing but chilly. Zekhan had kept a close eye on her, intrigued and, admittedly, a little besotted with the beautiful queen. She had the most delicate tusks and arresting blue eyes…
She also, quite clearly, had a temper.
Talanji paced back and forth on the far southern end of the feast tables, a turquoise-skinned, yellow-haired young troll girl fanning the queen with a massive palm frond. Annoyed with the little puffs of wind, Talanji batted at the girl, shooing her away. Zekhan frowned. Had there not been more bodyguards with Talanji when they arrived? Or had one of her handmaidens gone missing? Orgrimmar was not the most confusing city to navigate in the world, but perhaps one of the Zandalari had gotten lost on their way to the meeting that afternoon.
Maybe, he thought. Maybe. He sidled closer, sensing an opportunity. The Horde needed every advantage it could get, and that meant securing Talanji’s faith anew. Their grieving ally did not seem keen on joining them in war or peace, or willing to provide troops. Or ready to embrace the council. No, she didn’t seem very impressed at all.
“Might I be of service, ya Majesty?”
Zekhan gave a low bow and brought out his most dazzling smile. The girl fanning the queen made a tiny sound of alarm. The queen herself stared at him—through him—then rolled her eyes.
“And how could you possibly be of service?” Her keen eyes no doubt took in his humble garments and dirt under his fingernails. Meanwhile, she and her servants glittered like firebugs at dusk.
“Ya entourage be lookin’ a little light. If ya need an errand run or a fresh cup of wine—”
Talanji tilted her head to the side, her earrings jangling softly as she interrupted him. “You are spying on me now?”
Not the response he was hoping for. Zekhan backed away, already bracing for the lecture Thrall would give him for bothering the queen. He threw up his arms as if in surrender, a cold shiver overcoming him, like someone had traced the tip of a knife down his spine. And then he fell backward, steady one minute and flailing the next, his elbow smashing into something hard and then wet. A goblet. Talanji’s missing servant had returned and Zekhan had crashed right into him.
The cup clattered to the ground, splashing wine all over Zekhan’s feet and the hem of Talanji’s gown.
“Mind yourself!” the servant carrying the tray and goblet shouted, scrambling to scoop up the fallen goblet. He was older than Talanji, the servant, with scars criss-crossing his nose and a visible sheen of sweat over his brow. “Clumsy oaf! That was the queen’s wine!”
“Just a mistake,” Talanji said, calmly lifting her skirt to inspect the damage. “He meant no harm…”
But Zekhan stopped listening to the queen, staring at the stain on the fine white silk of her dress. First Arcanist Thalyssra’s silken voice was suddenly in his head…
I cannot wait for you to sample our arcfruit sangree, Lor’themar. We have generously arranged enough for all of Orgrimmar to enjoy.
The ugly splotch on the queen’s hem was purplish blue and turning black. What’s more, the puddle left behind on the dirt smelled distinctly of death.
“Another cup for you, Majesty. I will return,” the servant was saying, bowing to Talanji as he shuffled away.
“No,” Zekhan knelt and swept his fingers through the spill on the ground, then sniffed. Whatever it was, it wasn’t wine. An herbal tea, maybe, or something worse. “What you be servin’ her?”
“W-Wine,” the servant stammered, but the sweat on the troll’s brow poured heavy down his temples. “Just wine.”
Standing, Zekhan had just enough time to wedge himself between Talanji and the scarred servant, who yanked a dagger from under his tunic and lunged toward the queen. The commotion had aroused the interest of the entire council, and now Zekhan felt the feasting tents explode into chaos around him. The drums went abruptly silent followed by hushed whispers from the crowd outside.
“Back!” Zekhan thundered at Talanji. “Behind me!”
A throwing axe flew straight over Zekhan’s shoulder, close enough to give him a haircut. He shrugged it off, hurling a fork of lightning right after the axe—the bolt slammed the servant into a tent pole before he slumped to the ground, the throwing axe buried in the ground beside him, a narrow miss. Thrall’s heavy tread came next, and then his intimidating shadow as he raced by them and toward the assassin. That explained the axe.
“Hold him!” Someone was shouting. And, “Protect the queen!”
Zekhan shook the cotton out of his ears and stumbled after Thrall, who reached the assailant a moment too late. The dagger was still in the troll’s hand and swiftly put to use, jammed into his own stomach and yanked upward.
“Speak,” Thrall had the troll by his neck, but the dagger had done its gruesome work. “Who sent you? Who sent you?”
The old scarred troll had just enough left in him to whisper a final threat, then his head went loose on his neck, a trickle of blood seeping from between withered lips. “She… will know our… b-bite.”
No sooner had the troll spoken his last than Talanji was upon them, pushing Thrall and Zekhan aside and kneeling in the blood-soaked earth beside the assassin. “He is Zandalari. One of my own… But how?”
“All of your people must be held and questioned,” Thrall replied sternly. “There is never just one assassin.”
“Question your own people!” Talanji fumed, leaping to her feet, her hands and gown covered in blood. Covered in poison. “We will return home before more blood can be spilled.”
Thrall sighed and shifted, standing in her way. “I assure you—”
“You can assure me nothing—not ships, not soldiers, not my own personal safety.” She straightened her head and at her height, she could easily look Thrall in the eye. Zekhan cowered, a different kind of energy crackling around them. “You do not need me here. Zandalar will always need me, so that is where I will be.”
All eyes followed the Zandalari queen as she gathered her small entourage and marched out of the tents, head held high and proud. All eyes, Zekhan noted, except for those belonging to Thrall. It had all happened in the space of a blink: the assassin, the lightning, the queen’s outrage… He couldn’t help but fixate on the moment when his arm knocked the cup out of the assassin’s hand. He felt certain his feet had been firmly planted on the ground, that something or someone had shoved him back into the Zandalari.
The council members came one by one, drawn by the commotion. Darkspear Chieftain Rokhan appearing at his side, only then sheathing his daggers. Smirking, the taller troll clapped Zekhan on the back, and Zekhan was just dizzy enough from the chaos to sway a little from the force of it.
“Ya did good, boy. Those be the reflexes of Sin’Dall.”
But I didn’t do it.
The lightning he could take credit for, but the cup? The cup… He frowned, gazing around at the faces of relieved council members. Only Thrall shared his concern, visible at the back of the crowd, his brow furrowed, his eyes dark and distant. Now all the mightiest the Horde had to offer gathered around him, echoing Rokhan’s sentiments. Already he heard someone say the word “hero” and Zekhan shook his head. No, no, he wasn’t a hero at all: just a boy from the jungles, from a village that would fit inside the gates of Orgrimmar a hundred times over. He only wanted to make himself useful, not win some kind of accolade.
Zekhan found Thrall’s face among the throng again, but his expression went unchanged. The single black smudge in the sky on a cloudless day, the distant warning presaging rain. Only a few would notice it, only a few would take heed, but when the great leader worried, the wise warrior beneath him worried, too.
The Darkspear chieftain placed a hand on his shoulder, but Zekhan didn’t smile—he trembled instead.
Shadows Rising is due out July 14 this year, so watch Penguin Random House for more details as the book’s release day approaches.
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