ZIHAEN, The Shadow of the Revenaunt, Book 2


Anliin looked at the wall separating the Underworld from the world of the living; the wall that is everywhere, just as the spirit world is everywhere. ‘Wall’ wasn’t the right word – it was a misty substance, infinitely thin and infinitely high – but better words weren’t in his vocabulary. For him it was like the beaded curtain for his father’s tent, something beyond which you were somewhere else. He felt Torril’s brain and suddenly he knew that he was the one who brainspoke, not his friend. Then, with Torril’s brain in one hand and Childegard the sword in his other, he stepped through the curtain into the Underworld.

He opened his eyes and stared. Gone was the Owan Abai, gone were the rows of cages. He was alone in a landscape of barren rocks. He felt a hot panic rising in him. Quickly he muttered a ritual incantation and calm spread through his body. Far away, he heard shouting.


‘Torril! Where are you?’

‘I’m here. My eyes! I’m nearly blind.’ There was fear in Torril’s voice.

‘I’m coming.’ The sword on his back quivered. ‘Childegard?’

‘You must hurry. I… cannot be here, even in this form. I cannot help you.’

‘Wait! Where should we go?’

‘Follow the white wire, which is the chain. Watch out for the Demons. I must stop now. Good luck, deathguide! ‘

‘Childegard!’ There was only silence.

‘Anliin! ‘

‘I’m on my way.’ There the young priest saw his friend standing among the rocks. Panting, he joined him. ‘It’s hard to breathe; there’s something wrong with the air.’

Torril grabbed Anliin’s arm. ‘I can’t see, only vague shadows.’

‘The light is different here; my eyes are apparently better suited than yours.’

The young Nhael shivered. ‘It’s not nice here, let’s go.’

‘Come,’ said Anliin. ‘We must follow that wire.’

Torril stared at the faint, silvery track leading out of nothing through the air away from them. ‘I see a white line. What is it?’

‘Jesserie’s chain. Come! ‘

Slowly they walked along the wire, between the rocks. The land around them was bald and gray, with a strange, metallic glow over everything. Nothing lived here, not even a blade of grass. The ground was impossibly clean and free of dust and stones.

Torril stopped suddenly. ‘The sun,’ he said, pointing overhead. ‘That spot behind the clouds is the sun?’

‘Only his dead rays. What about it?’

‘It’s not moving. It just hangs there.’

‘Nothing moves here. Movement is life and there isn’t any here.’

Torril shivered. ‘Let’s go on then and don’t… think.’

Soon they came to a stone field. ‘Something is moving over there,’ Torril said. ‘Plants or something. Is there life here after all?’

When they came nearer, they saw what it was. No waving stalks, but bones, thousands and thousands of skeletal arms. Upper arm, forearm, with grasping hands, moving like a horrible cornfield where the silver thread ran straight through.

‘Oh, Gods,’ Torril groaned, while he struggled to keep down his breakfast.

‘We have to follow the wire,’ said Anliin. ‘The field is too big to go around.’

Torril grabbed his ax. ‘Walk behind me,’ he said hoarsely. Then, with a wild cry, he rushed forward. His ax mowed like the scythe of a farmer and the bone chips went flying. Rattling hands grabbed at his ankles and he yelled. In a panic, he hacked and the fingers let go. Through the creaking, musty-dead field they ran, screaming and crying in horror, until they reached the other side.

Gasping for breath, they stopped. ‘This is your world, deathpriest?’ Torril asked.

Anliin shook his head. ‘We must go on,’ was all he said.

A narrow path between large boulders brought them to a second field. ‘Those aren’t pumpkins,’ said Torril. He nodded to the round white things on the ground before them.

As they came nearer, the white globes took to the air, like crows from a mowed field. Torril cursed. ‘Skulls!’ Dozens of death’s-heads threw themselves on the two boys. Grinning jaws snapped at their ears, noses and cheeks, while Torril used the flat of his ax to strike them from the air. Each skull he hit, burst, and a dust of fine white powder came out. Coughing and sneezing the two boys fled again, until they came to a second path. The skulls stayed behind as they cautiously went further.

The narrow path wound its way between the rocks until it came to the ruins of an old castle. Dead birds flew around the towers, in and out of the gaping wounds that time and siege had struck in the walls. Frayed tower banners were tautened by the absent wind. At their approach, a rickety bridge was lowered. Slowly a huge knight in armor rode from the ancient castle. His horse was more than twenty hands high, a massive mummy with a rotting cloth in black-and-gold. The knight was unrecognizable behind his closed visor; the shield on the hip of his mount showed a device of crossed bones and the lance he bore horizontally looked deadly efficient.

‘Beware,’ Torril said softly. ‘If he attacks, run quickly. I’ll keep him busy as long as possible. Jesserie must be free!’

‘No!’ Anliin was shocked by the idea. ‘We have to stick together. There, on the other side, the path continues. It’s too small for that dead horse. We’ll have to run.’

‘It’s a goodly end,’ Torril said doubtfully. ‘At least fifty manlengths.’ He grinned without mirth. ‘All right, let’s pass him left and right. Run!’

Anliin pulled his robe up high and ran like mad. His heart pounded and his lungs cramped as if they got almost no air, yet he ran faster than he had ever done at the Yinno. The dead knight seemed to be growing. The horse alone was already half as big as he. Greos! He prayed. Help us! Our goal is just, my God. The tip of the lance moved back and forth, as if the knight was uncertain whom he’d attack first. Greos! With tears streaming down his cheeks, Anliin ran past the terrible point, along the flank of the horse. Suddenly the knight jolted and the undead horse seemed to sink through its hind legs. Then horse and rider tumbled sideways.

‘For the Nhael!’ Torril yelled, his voice high with fear.

There! The path! Then he ran between high rocks and slowed. Beyond the next corner he stopped and sank to his knees. Thank you, God!

A few moments later Torril joined him. ‘It worked!’ he cried hysterically. ‘Aiii, it worked!’ Exhausted, he sank to his knees.

‘What worked?’ Anliin asked.

‘You didn’t see it?’

‘No; I just ran. The horse fell?’

‘Yes!’ Torril raised his ax. ‘Yes, that cursed horse fell. I chopped off his hind leg. Crack! Bang! One stroke and it broke off. Aiiiii!’

Anliin looked at him. ‘You did what?’

‘As I ran past it,’ Torril panted. ‘It was with my left hand, too. Warning, never buy a dead horse.’

Then he began to cry. Anliin threw his arms around him and they sat there until Torril blew his nose loudly and stood up.

‘We must go.’

They went through orchards filled with enticing black apples. ‘Gall-apples,’ Anliin said. ‘The very touch is deadly poisonous.’ Torril gripped the handle of his ax in both hands and squeezed until he had to bite his teeth in pain. The temptation to pluck one of the shiny fruits was almost overwhelming. Away they fled, through the streets of a town that looked like Idderlee, full of men and women with dead eyes and screaming mouths, until they came out on a field of boulders.

Anliin stopped abruptly and his eyes widened.

‘What now?’ his friend asked. Then Torril saw it too.

In the distance, a huge figure shuffled past. He was big. Ten times as big as they were. He had a gray skin and a flat head without a neck. His black hair ran along his spine to the buttocks, and he had a… a tail.

‘A demon!’ Anliin whispered.

They made themselves as small as possible and begged Odorn to keep his servant away from them. They crouched there until the monster was out of sight. Anliin wiped the tears from his face and they ran again, until they reached a barren plain. The smooth, dust-free soil showed deep cracks, which fortunately were not wide. Jumping wasn’t easy in the dead air and after a few times they were out of breath.

‘Ai,’ Anliin muttered, eying a particularly wide crack. ‘I’ll never jump over that one.’ After some time they found a place where the gap was narrow enough to cross, and then they had all to go back all the way. Anliin sighed with relief when they found the white wire again.

‘Thank you, Greos; I was afraid we’d lost it.’

Finally, just as they were wondering if they’d ever get anywhere, they saw a low, white building in the distance. The door yawned open and the wire disappeared inside. Without further thought, the boys followed and came into a hall. A furnished hall, with chairs and a small table.

‘I know this house,’ Torril whispered suddenly. ‘This… This is Baroness Polfer’ home, in Zholder. Impossible! ‘

‘Illusion,’ Anliin said. ‘Someone is trying to make us crazy. Don’t think about it.’

The wire led them further. ‘Everything is the same,’ Torril said, with something of panic in his voice. ‘The living room, the library, and here is the same kitchen where I broke the hatch to the basement.’ Only there was no hatch. The floor was seamless.

‘Look!’ Anliin whispered. ‘There’s the thread.’ Around them, the gray light they had taken for daylight disappeared and it was pitch dark.

Torril staggered forward and felt around with his hands. ‘Got it. It’s just a hook,’ he said. ‘Nothing special.’

‘Then we’re quickly finished.’ There was a note of relief in Anliin’s voice. ‘I want out of here.’

Fumbling in the dark, Torril undid the knots that held the wire and when the last one was loose, the thread was pulled from his hands.

‘We can go back!’ Anliin cried.

The house around them dissolved, and they stood on the plain in the pale gray light.

On a rock that hadn’t been there before, sat a man.

He looked young, no older than Olle, whom he resembled. Broad-shouldered, supple, with shoulder-length black hair. His eyeballs were blue, a startling and pupil-less blue. He wore a sleeveless shirt over long pants and sturdy boots. He was a god.

As the realization hit him, Anliin wanted to kneel, but he found that he couldn’t move. From the corner of his eye, he saw Torril, frozen in the middle of a step, balancing on toe and heel.

‘Well, my brother’s priest?’

‘Lord Odorn?’

‘No ‘lord’; those empty titles are only for mortals. ‘Odorn’, yes. What does my brother’s priest on this side of the border I guard? Art thou testing my attention?’

‘N… no, Odorn, we only came to rescue someone.’

‘You came to liberate the dead? Will I feed you to my demons?’

‘Not a dead one, O God, or rather… he’s a ghost, but you would not admit him and his enemies had chained him here. We were loosening his chains so that he can complete his journey through the world of the spirits.’

‘Well said, my brother’s priest. Who was it you rescued from his bonds?’

‘That was… Jesserie, God.’

Odorn long looked at the boy and Anliin felt the god’s immense thoughts slip past his own brain. He wanted to scream, but his lips were stuck as if glued together.

‘Ah, so that was it.’ Anliin nodded dumbly. He felt something coming from Odorn’s mind, something like satisfaction.

‘Jesserie, the undead who is not dead, the soul that should not be. Jesserie. Yes, my brother’s priest, you did well. You and your brain brother. Still so young. For Jesserie you defied the Land of the Dying Dreams, where the deadly illusions dominate. How undaunted. Thou art free to go. Nevertheless, a warning: you have knowledge that a living man rarely possesses. Knowledge that we only allow you to use in dire need. The realm of the dead is not without reason separate from the living. Should you use this power frivolously, our next conversation will run a very different course, my brother’s priest. Do you understand that?’

Anliin nodded again. He felt suffocated and his breathing was heavier than normal.

‘And then, beware of my demons; they are not made to discern among visitors. Be your needs ever so high, a demon will not care, he will crush you.’ The god mused for a moment. ‘A message for Jesserie. Tell him he does not belong in the Underworld. His place is neither here nor in the world of the spirits, but with you, the living. Tell him to restore himself to his previous state. Tell him not to hesitate in that task. Tell him, too, that he shouldn’t fail, because his failure is for all of us – yea, even the gods. Tell him that, my brother’s priest. Now return to the realm beyond. Go with Odorn’s blessing, you who have unleashed our hope. Forget the temple, there is now nothing more for you to find. And remember this: the dead don’t breathe and their time is not yours, child of the living.’

The god made a careless gesture and everything went black around Anliin. A moment later he became aware of the wind in his face and the sun on his skin and he gasped as if he had been long under water. He heard Torril panting and immediately there was a babble of known voices. He opened his eyes and blinked against the light. Around him, he saw the faces of the companions. Ghyll, Olle, Uwella and all the others. Among them, translucent but lively as a young dog, Jesserie. Anliin’s knees were weak and refused his weight. With a sigh, he sank down into the grass.

‘Are you all right?’ Vaguely, Anliin heard Ghyll’s voice, and he nodded, raising his hands. ‘Just… wait…’ he stammered. ‘Air…’ He forced himself to breathe in and out deeply and gradually it got better.

‘Torril?’ he asked.


‘You ok?’

‘More or less. I said there was something wrong with the air.’

‘Torril! I see it now; there wasn’t any.’

‘What? We breathed, didn’t we?’

‘Very slowly. Probably we took a little air along when we went over, and as time crept so slowly, we had just enough. In the end I got quite breathless.’

‘How did we come here?’ Olle said. They were on the pasture where they had left the horses, just inside the gate of the Owan Abai.

Anliin shrugged. ‘Maybe Odorn brought us here. He said there wasn’t anything more for us in the temple.’

Olle stared uncomprehendingly at the sky. ‘Strangely, my feeling says it should be night, but looking at the sun it is at most eight o’clock in the morning. And what day is it?’

‘We weren’t gone that long,’ Anliin said. Then he stared at Olle. ‘Yes, you do look like him.’

‘Like who?’


‘Who do you mean?’ Olle looked at the boy in disbelief. ‘The god?’

‘Yes. He was waiting for us after we had loosened the chain and we talked. His brother’s priest, he called me. I immediately thought that he looked like you, but he is a god, so it has to be the other way round.’ Anliin started laughing, and there was something of hysteria in it.

‘Let’s get out of here,’ Ghyll said. ‘You can tell the whole story later.’ Then he turned to Torril and said angrily, ‘You! I told you not to go with Anliin. Why did you disobey?’

Before Torril could say anything, Anliin came to his defense. ‘That wasn’t his fault,’ he said. ‘I was the one who took him, else I would never have dared. I bespoke him all this time, not the other way round. Only I didn’t realize it.’

Ghyll blinked. ‘Why did you say that you did it?’

Torril shuffled his feet. ‘I didn’t want to betray Anliin.’

‘It was so ordained,’ Kerianna said calmly. ‘And it all ended well. Let us say no more about it. Are we going to Camp Yinno first?’

Ghyll nodded. ‘Anliin’s parents should know that he is safe.’

‘Not now, please. Later, when I understand what happened,’ Anliin said tensely.

‘Well,’ Keri said with a look at Ghyll. ‘We can send them a message later. You come with us to Rhidauna and we’ll find a teacher for you, someone who knows exactly what you need. You need to practice and learn a lot.’

‘Just like me,’ Torril said. ‘Reading, writing, the whole thing.’

‘I can read and write already,’ Anliin said. He grimaced. ‘Only not in Abarranese.’ Suddenly he remembered the message he had been given. ‘Odorn said to tell you something, Jesserie.’ He repeated the words of the god and when he had finished, the ghost prince sighed.

‘I must restore myself to my previous state? Of course. I want to. But I can’t.’

‘Why not?’ Ghyll asked.

‘Because I need my own body back first. And then we must have the spell that puts me back in it again.’

‘What happened to your body? Isn’t it already long…?’ Ghyll stopped.

‘Rotted away? No, it isn’t. The Dar’khamorth still desperately need it.’

‘What do they want with your body?’

Jesserie looked around. ‘You don’t know? Of course you don’t. The Revenaunt Emperor wore my body for a thousand years. All those millions of people died with my image on their brain.’

There was silence after this announcement.

‘And yet you want it back?’ Olle said. ‘I would think…’

‘It’s my face,’ Jesserie said. ‘It looks just like this,’ and he brought a transparent hand to his head. ‘And I want it back. Furthermore, my body is the only way for the Revenaunt to return to the world. No necromant now living is strong enough to cram the Revenaunt’s spirit into a new body.’

‘Where is your body now?’

‘In a Hamorth temple, not the Owan Abai. But I don’t know where.’

‘We’ll be going after it. But not now.’

‘No,’ Jesserie said and his indestructible good humor came bubbling back. ‘Now I must thank two heroes. Anliin and Torril, you deserve all the bards in the world singing about you. It’s amazing what you have done.’

Torril sat bolt upright. ‘The wailer!’ he said, beaming. ‘That’s it! I wasn’t going to die. Just travel to the Underworld and back.’

Ghyll nodded thoughtfully. ‘You’re right. Strangely, there was a similar prediction for Anliin.’

‘What!’ Anliin stared wide-eyed at Ghyll.

‘Your priest had a vision, the night we arrived. It predicted your passing to the Underworld. Your father and mother will be overjoyed to hear that you are still alive.’

‘You mean you all thought Torril and I were going to die?’ Anliin cried.

‘We knew there was a chance, yes. I didn’t really believe it; I was sure that we had simply misunderstood the words. And we did.’

‘Thank my god,’ Anliin said.

‘Jesserie,’ said Zino. ‘You promised to tell me how you ended up in these chains.’

‘That’s a long story,’ Jesserie said. ‘Actually, it is the story of how the Dead Ages began. The time when Childegard and I were children. Where is he, anyway?’

‘Childegard? He had to hide.’ Anliin handed the sword back to Ghyll. ‘Thank you for letting us borrow it. Childegard found out that he didn’t belong in the Underworld even as a sword. He told us what to do and withdrew. He is still there, I can feel him, but he doesn’t answer.’

‘He’ll come back when he’s ready,’ Ghyll said. ‘Your story, Jesserie.’

The young spirit sighed deeply. ‘Listen, friends. I’m Jesserie, son of Adaniel, grandson of Harandarie XVI, Prince of Abarran. I was the only child. My father died young and I was raised by my grandfather, the reigning prince, whose heir I was. We lived in the Court of Abarran, which you know as the Owan Abai. It looked at that time very different. Of course it was a fortress, but with lots of shrubs, flowers and clear waterfalls. In those days, when you left the gorge, you walked amidst the orchards to Abarrhyl, which was a nice town.

‘In my thirteenth year an old mage appeared at court, Klinziel atGorogan. He seemed like a wise man, and soon he was the one to whom everyone listened.

‘In the years that followed, it was as if the gods only smiled at Gorogan. The other councilors fell away one after another, and always was Gorogan there to take over their duties and responsibilities, until he alone remained. I mistrusted the man and warned my grandfather regularly, but he responded to my doubts with increasing anger and in the end, I held my tongue. I did say one day in public that when I ascended to the throne, Gorogan would disappear in the dungeons that same day.’ Jesserie laughed. ‘Tact was never my strong suit, you see.

‘Shortly after my sixteenth birthday, my grandfather died in his sleep. He was old, but his health was excellent and I still don’t believe that his death was natural. Chancellor Gorogan asked me for an audience, so that we “could discuss our differences as adults”. Foolishly, I agreed to receive him in my rooms. What happened then, I still can’t understand. It is clear that I totally underestimated the bastard’s power. I remember sitting in my chair. We were alone in the room. Gorogan came to me, looked me straight in the eyes, and when I woke up, I was in his old body and his spirit in mine. How easily he had turned the tables! Mockingly, he reminded me of my brave words and had me dragged to the dungeons by my own soldiers. That was the last time I saw my own body.’

‘Gosh,’ Torril said softly.

‘I would have said something stronger,’ Damion growled. ‘So that’s how it began.’ He paused. ‘You knew the Revenaunt. You’ll need to prepare yourself for a storm of attention, Jesserie.’

‘Attention? From whom? Girls?’

Damion looked at him. ‘Horny ghost.’

‘Excuse me,’ Jesserie said. ‘What then did you mean?’

‘Priests, bards, mages. They will want to know everything about your time. Its stories, songs and music, art, everything. They will never get a chance like that again.’

The ghost prince sighed. ‘No girls.’

‘Would you want those?’ Uwella asked, eying the ghost prince skeptically.

‘To tell you the truth: no. I’ve no more hunger, thirst or lust.’

‘Not hungry?’ Torril said. ‘I am.’

Anliin nodded. ‘Me too.’

‘You have just eaten,’ Uwella said.

‘That was yesterday.’

‘Only this morning.’

‘They probably are hungry,’ Jesserie said seriously. ‘A trip to the Underworld demands more of you than you think. It sucks the energy from your body; do think of that if you ever go again, Anliin.’

The boy nodded. ‘Thanks for the warning. I must make sure I get to talk to you before all those other people come. I’m sure to think of many more questions.’

‘Oh, Gods,’ Jesserie moaned, ‘And it was so nice and quiet in that cell, with only Gorogan’s bones.’

‘Was that pile of bones his?’

‘Yes. I was inside of him when he died. A strange sensation, to feel a body that is not yours die around you. You’re inside, but you’re not involved, so to speak. It didn’t hurt either, it felt more like liberation. But I can’t recommend the process that followed; it disturbs your emotional balance, if you get what I mean. It took years before all the soft parts had rotted away. Luckily I can’t smell anything.’

‘It’s surprising that you haven’t gone crazy,’ Damion said.

‘I don’t think I can.’ Jesserie stared at the sky, as if he saw it for the first time. ‘Clouds…’ he said softly. Then, ‘No, I can’t change. I am now as I was when the necromant pulled his trick and I will remain so. I need my body to change. And for those girls you didn’t promise me.’

Ghyll wanted to say something, when a strange sound startled them. Anliin stood half turned to Ghyll, stiff as a statue, with only the whites of his eyes visible.

‘Danger!’ a voice from his mouth whispered. ‘Danger, my distant cousin!’

‘Who are you?’ Ghyll asked quietly.

‘Jon, I am, once prince of Rhidauna. You have delivered my soul, cousin, in the caves under Nadril.’

‘Jon the Pugnacious?’ Ghyll asked surprised.

‘Ha, is that what they call me?’ The voice sounded genuinely amused. ‘I was too, cousin. Pugnacious enough. Even after death, ha, ha. Still, I’m grateful for that magnificent hit, cousin. You split me from head to butt and only now I can safely descend. As thanks, I come to warn you. Beyond the gate, a great danger lies in wait for you. An army of resurrected poised to pounce when you leave.’

‘Daghuur? Outside? How many?’

‘At least ten thousand, cousin. Their leader is in bad shape. He near death, but doesn’t know it.’

‘Who is that leader?’

‘A small man in a brown cloak.’


‘I don’t know his name.’

‘But he’s dying, you said. Why don’t we wait until he is dead? Then his daghuur will disappear.’

‘Unfortunately not. Another has called the armies. He’s the one you should convince, the late Archmage Neferestan. He is in name the prisoner of the man Vasthul, but the sorcerer’s grip on him has become loose. The archmage balances between our world and the Hamorth. Convince him to choose your side, cousin, and all will be well. If not… then it was all in vain. The others want me to stop; I’ve been here too long. Be well, cousin.’

‘Vasthul,’ Ghyll muttered. ‘With ten thousand daghuur… Bo, can you take us home?’

The mage closed his eyes. Then he shook his head. ‘The evil residue in the Owan Abai dampens my powers. I’ve already done too much in the last few days. I’m sorry, Ghyll, we need to get outside first.’

Ghyll squared his shoulders and whistled. Ulanth came trotting and whinnied softly. Ghyll patted him on the nose. ‘Good boy.’ Then he jumped into the saddle.

‘Where do you think you’re going?’ Olle said.

‘You heard my cousin? I need to talk to this archmage.’

‘But I’m coming. Torril, give me that banner.’

‘No,’ the Nhaelish prince said. ‘I’m his squire! It’s my job to carry that banner.’

‘Neither of you is going anywhere.’ Ghyll sounded decisive. ‘Here, hold Childegard. Not another word now; this is my wish.’ Then he galloped across the bridge to the gate.

Olle and Torril looked at each other.

‘The rest of you stay here,’ Olle said hastily. ‘But the King of Rhidauna will not face the enemy without his Shield.’

‘And his squire,’ Torril added.

‘And…’ Kerianna snatched the battle flail from her saddlebag.

Olle shook his head. ‘No, Keri. You would distract him.’

‘I am his wife,’ she said stubbornly.

‘You’d endanger him,’ Olle said sharply. ‘He must be able to concentrate and he can’t do that with you there. Listen to me, I know my brother.’


‘No, Keri! This is my job.’ Olle then swung himself into the saddle and galloped away, with Torril a tail’s length behind.

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