ZIHAEN, The Shadow of the Revenaunt, Book 2


A good hour later, they rode westward through the pouring rain. During the afternoon, the sky cleared and as evening came the weather was fine again. Ghyll had the urgings of his grandfather’s spirit still in his ears, and he drove his companions mercilessly on.

Their journey went smoothly. There weren’t any more unexpected ambushes. The weather stayed calm, and the predators kept themselves far from the companions’ caravan. After a week, they reached a place Ghyll thought familiar.

‘We’re near the spot Magistra doErgomil in Din-Werdzom showed us in her crystal ball,’ Uwella said suddenly. ‘Look, there in the distance among the three sharp peaks.’

‘Are those the pillars? I’d believed them closer by.’ Ghyll turned his horse. ‘We’ve strayed too far from the mountains. Come on!’ Now, with their goal in sight, a strange feeling came over him. Expectancy, but without the excitement he’d felt on previous occasions. He didn’t know why he was here, or what waited for him in that old temple. It must be important; his grandfather had come from the Underworld to tell him.

Ulanth felt his urgency and the others had to make an effort to keep up with the big battle horse. It was especially hard on Avelore, but she gritted her teeth and never complained.

Half a day later, they came to the pillars they’d seen in the scrying globe. The stones flanked a narrow gorge – two high columns, decorated with faces in successive stages of agony.

Vasthul’s mighty armies were hidden in the canyons west of the Owan Abai. More than ten thousand undead warriors, armed to the teeth with old but functional bronze weapons. Alert, deadly, waiting for their prey.

A daghuur messenger approached the litter where the leader of the undead army lay. Neferestan listened to his message and then nodded. ‘Hardingraud has entered the temple.’

‘Ha ha haaa!’ Vasthul crowed, and foam spattered from his lips. His hairless head nodded wildly, and the chains with which he held himself bound to the archmage, rattled. ‘Kill! Death! Troops out. Encircle!’ His words sounded confused and incoherent, but Neferestan understood him. He sent the messenger away to the undead princes leading the armies. Not long now, he thought. Then the grimoire belongs to me. The spell book of the Revenaunt. The road to power… He hesitated. There was something gnawing at him. A reminder, something important.

Sharp gravel had replaced the grass. The deeper they went into the gorge, the darker it became. They rode in the open air, but it was as if a black fog enveloped them, and when Ghyll looked at the sun, he saw it only with difficulty through the dancing fumes. It was a shock when they came out of the gorge into an open place. Before them loomed the facade of an immense temple, directly hewn from the mountain behind it. Overwhelmed by the enormity of the complex, they stopped.

‘Gods,’ Ghyll said. ‘How long would it have taken to build this?’

‘More than two hundred years, Sire.’

Somehow, Childegard’s voice came from straight ahead, rather inside Ghyll’s skull. His companions’ reactions betrayed they had heard him too.

‘Sire, Zeleon’s Ring. I need my appearance, please.’

Obediently, Ghyll slipped the ring of the dead Malendish king on his left hand and before them appeared the elegant form of the spirit in the sword.

‘Ladies and gentlemen, Prince Childegard of Tydran,’ Ghyll said formally.

‘That’s one of the things I so appreciate in my present king,’ Childegard said, with a nod to the companions. ‘He has excellent manners.’ He grinned. ‘Much better than mine.’

Anliin stared at the shadowy figure. ‘Welcome, Childegard. Thank you, again,’ he said finally.

‘Hello Anliin. The pleasure was mine. Now, ladies and gentlemen, what do you think?’ With a translucent hand, he gestured at the rows of pillars, floor after floor of gaping windows, countless carved heads of monsters and nightmares, twisted bodies and things from the darkest depths of the human spirit.

‘Im… posing,’ Ghyll said hesitantly. ‘Or do I mean impossible? What a waste, what a cruel, absurd denial of humanity. The whole thing is sick.’ His hand gripped the hilt of his sword, which as always began to hum. ‘Hey?’ He looked from his sword to the apparition before him. ‘You’re in two places?’

‘Of course,’ Childegard said calmly. ‘My aura is here, but my soul is in your weapon, Sire. It can’t get out.’ He stared thoughtfully at the monstrous facade. ‘You’re right, the creator of this temple was sick. Sick of mind and heart, and so were his followers. Their disease was caused by power, decay, eternal life and an absolute lack of inhibitions, moral or otherwise.’

‘You live forever too?’ Anliin said thoughtfully. ‘Don’t you…?’

Childegard laughed softly. ‘No, Anliin. I exist forever, perhaps, but I don’t live and I have no power. At most I have some influence. I have inhibitions, of which His Royal Highness is one. And most important, I still have my soul. The Revenaunt Emperor had lost his even before he started his career.’

Ghyll felt impatience growing. ‘Do you know where we must go now?’

‘I know the Owan Abai well, Sire. I came here often when it was the Revenaunt’s house. Be glad you see the complex now. Any sane person would go mad, witnessing what happened here in the past. Follow me, please.’

‘What will we do with the horses?’ Olle said.

‘Good question, Duke. In the courtyard is a meadow with water where you can leave them. The Hamorths used mounts, too.’

In the gatehouse, they walked over a heavy steel grate. In the middle Childegard stopped and pointed to his feet. ‘You know, Sire. In the old days, this grate used to open sometimes. All who walked on it fell into a bottomless hole.’

‘That would be useful against attackers,’ Olle laughed.

Childegard shot him a sarcastic look. ‘There never were any attackers until the end. No opponent was strong enough to reach this place. No, Duke, the grate folded at random moments. Once a month, three times in a week, nobody knew in advance. And whoever passed here then, was out of luck.’

‘Wait, their own people? What madness is that?’

‘Intimidation, Duke. Human lives were of no account. Although I must admit the highest priests didn’t go this way, they had a private entrance.’

With their hearts in their throats, they hurried past the steel grate and came to a large courtyard. On the left was a lawn, surrounded by a tall fence of thin bars. In the middle of the field bubbled an artesian well.

Olle tasted the water. ‘It’s fine,’ he said, astonished.

The companions brought their horses to pasture and closed the gate carefully.

‘Why such a high fence?’ Ghyll asked.

‘Because of the maurals, Sire, the hounds of Hamorth.’

‘Would they attack the horses?’ Olle said. ‘Weren’t those dogs trained?’

‘Oh yes, Duke. Maural dogs were very well trained. Killer dogs, made to kill everything that lived.’

‘You can’t wage war that way,’ Olle protested. ‘If you massacre everybody, you’ve nothing left.’

Childegard sighed. ‘You don’t fully understand, Duke. It wasn’t the Revenaunt’s intention to have anyone survive. He was going for the total destruction of everything that lived.’

‘Why?’ Anliin looked inquiringly at the spirit of the sword. ‘What did he want then?’

‘I cannot answer that, young Yinno. The motives of the Revenaunt Emperor never became clear to me.’

‘Then why did all those priests of the Hamorth help him? They must’ve known he wanted them dead as well.’

‘The Revenaunt had promised them salvation. They believed a new world order was the goal, where each of them would get a position of power.’

Anliin sniffed. ‘That sounds very believable!’

Childegard chuckled joylessly. ‘Not really, no. Still, they had little choice, young friend. All their magical powers came from the Revenaunt; without him, they were nothing.’

‘Well, they learned,’ Ghyll said. He thought of Radastron, the undead, powerless creature under Nadril. ‘Where are we going now?’

‘Follow me, Sire. I’ll bring you to the dungeons. An arduous journey, but there won’t be any danger; a scorpion, at most.’

The journey through the dark corridors of the Owan Abai was a continuing confirmation of the twisted minds that had designed them. Doors leading to rooms without floors, corridors ending in a wall with a hole an armed warrior could squeeze through only with difficulty; stairs that ended a manlength away from the floor they led to, so you had to jump.

‘What is this madness?’ Olle cried once. ‘This is all nonsense.’

‘We walk the way to the dungeons, Duke. That wasn’t supposed to be easy. And now it’s empty; imagine the armed berserker golems, the roaming maural dogs and some crazed elementals, and you can imagine how difficult this same route was then.’

In silence they walked on, each busy with their own thoughts.

Suddenly Avelore shivered. ‘Is it really cold here?’

Olle put an arm around her. ‘You’re right; it really is chilly.’

Childegard made an apologetic gesture. ‘We are deep underground, adepta. The heat of the sun won’t penetrate this far. This is the temperature of the spirit world.’

‘Do ghosts feel the cold?’ Anliin asked curiously.

‘Only in the beginning, young Yinno. The longer they are removed from the living world, the more they lose the feelings of cold, hunger, thirst.’

They came to a vast hall, where endless rows of cages waited.

‘We’re here,’ Childegard said. ‘Now we need to find the voice.’

‘That’s not difficult.’ Anliin looked at the others. ‘I hear him close by. Hello, you there in the dark. Shout something.’

Ghyll thought he heard a vague sigh.

‘Louder! That was barely audible.’ Anliin looked around and walked away. The others followed him and suddenly they heard a clear voice calling out.

‘There you are,’ Anliin said, satisfied. ‘We have found you.’

In a cage, with a yellowed skeleton for company, was a boy. Ghyll thought him of Damion’s age, with a sharp face and a shock of curly hair. He was naked except for a loincloth, and long chains ran down from his ankles through the floor of his prison.

‘Hey, hey, Ghyll, I thought you’d never come,’ he said cheerfully.

‘You know my name?’ Ghyll asked.

‘Sure,’ the boy said. ‘Your grandfather told me you were coming. He, too, thought you pretty slow.’

‘Yes?’ Ghyll said coolly. ‘And who are you?’

Childegard looked intently at the boy in the cage and said suddenly, ‘I never realized. You are Jesserie!’

The boy stared at him. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘That’s right. How do you know?’

‘We’ve met once,’ Childegard said. ‘Long ago; I was younger, only a year older than you were. I’m Childegard of Tydran.’

‘Dagobald’s son? I don’t remember. Where was that?’

‘The Tournament of the Round; we both came out for the first time.’

‘Oh yes,’ the boy said sourly. ‘Now I know. You were the guy who unseated me immediately with your lance. I wasn’t a minute in the field, curse you. My grandfather was mad at me for weeks after.’

‘You couldn’t help it,’ Childegard said nonchalantly. ‘I was already a great warrior.’

‘Fine,’ Ghyll said. ‘But I still don’t know who you are.’

The boy bowed. ‘I’m Jesserie Trandaun an Lipzwath, Prince of Abarran.’ He rattled with his chains. ‘You are here to free me. Go ahead; don’t let me keep you. I’ve seen everything in this dungeon by now.’

‘Have you been here long?’ Anliin asked with interest.

‘Not all that much,’ Jesserie said nonchalantly. ‘Only fifteen centuries. But I’ll tell you the rest when I’m free again.’

‘All right,’ Ghyll said. ‘Where are the keys?’

‘That’s the problem,’ Jesserie said. ‘There are no keys. The chains go through a hole in the floor to a hook in a wall.’ He fell silent.

‘Where is that wall?’ Ghyll asked suspiciously.

‘In the Underworld,’ the boy said in a small voice.

Ghyll looked at Childegard. ‘Did you know?’

The spirit of the sword shook his head. ‘No, Sire,’ he said. ‘I was afraid of it, though; the Revenaunt did that sometimes. He had plenty of contacts in the Underworld.’

‘How do we get there? Can you…?’

Childegard shook his head. ‘I’m sorry, Sire, but I can’t get inside. As long as I’m stuck to this sword, the Underworld is closed to me.’ He hesitated. ‘There is only one among us who can walk in and out of the Underworld,’ he said finally.

‘No,’ Anliin said. ‘No!’

Childegard looked at him but said nothing.

‘Anliin! What does he mean?’ Torril asked, looking worried.

‘He wants me to go to the Underworld to unhook that chain.’

‘But then you’ll die!’ Torril cried. ‘You can’t. Ghyll, he can’t, can he?’ he pleaded.

‘I’ll not die in the Underworld,’ Anliin said. ‘But I dare not. Really I don’t.’

‘Sire,’ Childegard said, ‘give him the sword; perhaps that way I can go with him and help him along.’

‘If Anliin goes to the Underworld, I’m going with him,’ Torril said, determined.

‘No way,’ Ghyll said. ‘I’m not going to risk you as well.’


‘I said no, Torril!’

Anliin looked at his friend and they exchanged a knowing glance.

Then the Yinno shrugged. ‘Give me that sword,’ he told Ghyll. Hesitantly, the king handed him the weapon and then Anliin closed his eyes.

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