ZIHAEN, The Shadow of the Revenaunt, Book 2


Ghyll thundered out the gate and through the gorge in the direction of the endless steppes. Past the last corner, he saw the huge mass of daghuur, row after row, standing behind their undead leaders. Here and there, a rotting banner was raised. They stood motionless, watching him coming. Ghyll galloped between the rows to the rear lines, where two daghuur were keeping watch beside an improvised litter. On the bier crouched, shivering and almost unrecognizable, Vasthul. At his side stood a tall undead in a faded purple robe.

At the litter, Ghyll stopped and looked down at the trembling, emaciated figure of his enemy.

‘Vasthul,’ he said. ‘I heard you were looking for me?’

The little man’s head jerked up. The scar of the phoenix was wrinkled and distorted by Vasthul’s sagging facial muscles. His eyes were crazy and there seemed hardly a trace of humanity left in him.

‘Ha… Hardingraud…!’ Then he rose and with a great effort, stretched his arms out to Ghyll. His cracked lips muttered inaudible words, but nothing happened. Finally, his failure seemed to penetrate to his sick brain, for he let his arms fall and looked wildly around.

‘Attack!’ he screamed. ‘Attack! Kill him! Kill him!’

Nothing moved. Crying and mumbling, the hunched figure fell back on his litter.

‘He is mad,’ a hollow voice in Ghyll’s head said suddenly. ‘He is no longer an enemy; he is nothing more than a sick animal to be killed. Do so.’

‘Who are you?’

‘I am Ambiaunt Neferestan, in life the Archmage of Sterrevank, Grandmaster of Four Schools.’

Ghyll nodded at Vasthul. ‘He can’t be healed?’

‘He is already far beyond that stage. For three months, the poison Sommab the herb woman added to her oils has circled through his body. Everything in him is destroyed.’

At that moment Ghyll heard the clip-clop of horses. When he looked around, he saw Olle and Torril arriving together.

‘What is this?’ he said sharply, when both had stopped. ‘I ordered you to stay with the others.’

‘You may have said so, my brother.’ Olle smiled unexpectedly. ‘But sometimes I’m a bit hard of hearing. Besides, I’m your Defender… Sire.’

‘And I’m your squire,’ Torril said stubbornly, and he had tears in his eyes as he unfurled the royal banner.

‘Your sword, Sire.’ Quickly Olle buckled Childegard to Ghyll’s back.

‘How touching,’ the archmage said drily. ‘But my suggestion still stands; kill him.’

Olle looked from the undead to Ghyll. ‘What’s it about?’

‘Vasthul is crazy. The archmage wants me to kill him.’

‘Why haven’t you done so yet?’ Olle said nonchalantly. ‘After all the times he has tried to murder you?’

‘Just like that? While he can’t defend himself?’

‘Brother, you’re too nice.’ Olle sighed. With his fist, he hit Vasthul in the face. The sorcerer’s head snapped back and he slumped down in the litter. A trickle of blood leaked from his nose.

‘Done!’ Neferestan cried, and he straightened to his full height. ‘Now it is my turn!’

Ghyll turned with a start toward the archmage, and then froze, unable to move. Helplessly, he watched the undead shaking off his chains and pulling the grimoire with his fleshless hands from under Vasthul’s limp body.

‘The spells of the Revenaunt Emperor!’ the archmage cried in terrible rapture. ‘All the power of the Hamorth is now mine!’

Darkness fell over the endless fields and from ten thousand undead throats came a moaning sound. For a moment, the world stood still.

Then Neferestan threw the book down and lightning came from the skies. In a flash, the grisly tome burned to ashes and the sunlight came back over the fields of Zihaen. Triumphantly, the archmage clapped his hands.

‘I was stronger,’ the archmage said and his voice sounded satisfied. ‘I have overcome the temptation.’

Ghyll opened his mouth to say something, but at that moment, Vasthul rose up on the litter. Bloody drool dripped down his chin onto the remains of his brown cloak. His eyes, bloodshot daggers of hatred, stared at Ghyll. The dregs of his killing force trembled in the fingers he eagerly stretched towards his prey.

‘No!’ Olle roared, while he grabbed the sorcerer by the throat.

Vasthul made a mewing sound and clawed at the arm that held him. That last bit of deadly energy coursed through Olle, and without a word, Ghyll’s brother collapsed.

An animal cry escaped Ghyll. Childegard jumped into his fist and sliced through Vasthul. The little man sighed and sagged from the litter to the ground. Without another thought for his enemy, Ghyll threw himself on the body of his foster brother.

‘Olle?’ he cried. ‘Olle?’ Feverishly, he searched for a heartbeat. ‘Go fetch Uwella, quick!’

‘He lives, Sire,’ the archmage said. ‘Vaguely, but he lives. I can keep him alive, but you must see to the armies first.’

‘Armies?’ Desperately, Ghyll looked around. ‘Olle… I… Will they attack?’

‘For the moment I hold them back, Sire,’ the undead said. ‘But I won’t manage both them and your brother for long. You must hurry and kill the three commanders. Each one binds his army to this sphere. Dispel them!’

Ghyll looked at Olle’s rigid, blue-black face. ‘My brother…’ Then he pulled Childegard from his back. ‘To war!’

‘I will not fail you,’ the sword answered. ‘But we must run, Sire.’

Ghyll looked around at the silently waiting masses of undead. Ten thousand, he thought. Then he put all thoughts away and galloped over the rocky field to the nearest standard. A rotting cloth bearing a rampant bear, surrounded by six daghuur in rusty, slime-covered armor.

‘Halt!’ a lifeless voice called. ‘Who approaches the presence of Zhotor of Maumpelai?’

‘It is I, Ghyllander King of Rhidauna. Return to your grave or be slaughtered.’

A tall daghuur in full body armor stepped forward, his sword at the ready.

‘No one threatens Zhotor, fleshed one. Prepare to join me in death.’ Without another word, the undead lord swung his blade and Ghyll parried just in time. Sparks flew and Childegard’s humming filled the air. Blade to blade they fought, Ghyll with a bitter fury that made his slashes bite deep into the bronze of the daghuur’s ancient armor. Then his foot slipped over a loose rock and he fell. Without a thought for his aching side, Ghyll rolled over and used it to slam Childegard into the daghuur’s armored leg. With a clatter, the undead went down. Ghyll jumped to his feet and, gathering the immensity of his anger, brought his sword down on his opponent. Childegard screamed in triumph and split open the old breastplate, severing the force that held the skeleton together. Ribs and bones scattered, and at the same time the Maumpelai undead disappeared.

‘Done, Sire. Oh, neatly done!’ the blade cried.

Ghyll didn’t answer, but ran over to the second daghuur commander.

Jesserie appeared at his side. ‘Let me speak to him first,’ he said. He sounded so earnestly, that Ghyll slowed down.

‘Quickly, then,’ he said, watching the undead narrowly.

‘Who comes to face Yayawahn Prince of Abarran?’ The daghuur brandished a large sword. ‘Know that we are to conquer. None faces our wrath and lives.’

The ghost prince stepped forward to face him. ‘You come too late, Great-grandfather. All these lands have been conquered already and they are mine. I am Jesserie Trandaun an Lipzwath, Prince of Abarran, son of Adaniel, grandson of Harandarie XVI, great-grandson of Medirien XXII. By the Everburning Flames of Abarran, I bid thee back into the earth and guard our holy land. So says I, Jesserie Prince of Abarran.’

The hollow laughter of the undead prince made Ghyll wince.

‘I know not these names, little one. Harandarie IX was my greatsire. But I know you and your face commanded us once. I will leave you to these lands and your undecided existence, Jesserie son of Adaniel. But make sure he-who-wore-your-face does not return, for I am weary of these games. They keep me from my rightful resurrection and have bound me to this unlife far too long already. May the gods be with you.’

At that, nearly four thousand undead troops dissolved.

‘It worked…’ Jesserie whispered.

‘Attack!’ a voice screamed from across the battlefield. ‘My enemies have left! Now the living are mine! Attack, sons of Wichit’hai! For Oi’yankuul and the March!’

The remaining undead stirred, two thousand strong in ragged armor. Then they came on, slow and ponderous, bony hands holding rusty weapons.

‘We can’t fight them,’ Bo said, readying a flame spell.

Ghyll cursed. ‘We must. We cannot just let them go. They will kill and burn all of Zihaen.’ He stared at the advancing undead.

Behind the king, Anliin stood shaking. I can’t let them ruin all, he thought desperately. Then he put a hand to the wall between the worlds of the living and the dead. I wasn’t to return idly, well, this isn’t. He passed through the wall and sank to his knees on the lifeless underground.

‘Greos, help me. Please, my god, help me save my friends. Help me save Prince Jesserie, before all will be ruined.’

An image that was a question appeared in his mind. EXPLAIN.

Quickly, he began to speak, but another image said, NO WORDS.

Anliin gulped at the rebuke. He pictured himself abashed. Then he showed the army of undead facing Ghyll and the ghostly form of Jesserie. He followed with an image of his friends dead, and the ground trembled.

THIS MUST NOT BE. An image followed of a demon, a large, drooling demon, with a little human riding on its shoulders. THUS.

The earth shook harder, as if something enormous approached. Then the demon appeared; a mountainous shape of terrifying aspect.

‘Greos!’ Anliin whispered, fighting against an irresistible urge to flee.


Before he knew what happened, the boy found himself high in the air, near the demon’s ear large as a cave opening. The monster brushed aside the barriers and appeared on the sunny field of Zihaen. It roared a challenge, or perhaps a command, and then raised a club as large as a young beech tree. It slammed down on the first line of daghuur, and their splintered bones seeded the earth.

Anliin sat petrified, staring at the swathe of crushed undead. Then he saw Ghyll, and Torril pointing up and shouting something. The young squire lifted his sword and, greatly daring, Anliin waved back. Then he rocked as the demon pulverized a second line of daghuur. On the ground, Ghyll and the others saw their chance and raced for the undead Marcher Lord of Wichit’hai.

‘Wait!’ Anliin cried out, but the king didn’t hear him. The demon, uninterested in anything but smashing the daghuur at his feet, brought his tree down for the third time, missing Ghyll but showering him with shattered bones.

The king broke through the next line of undead and brought Childegard down on Marcher Lord Oi’yankuul’s skull. The skeleton fell apart and with it, all remaining daghuur soldiers disappeared. Ghyll and his friends galloped off a split second before the demon slammed his tree into a now empty piece of earth.

DONE! The image brought grim satisfaction and a hint of complacency. OUR CHAMPION WON.

The demon turned to the undead archmage, his tree club half raised.

‘Wait!’ Anliin shouted in the enormous ear, as he looked down on the undead archpriest in his tattered robe.

Neferestan stood staring up at him and for a long second the scene seemed frozen.

STAY! A series of images flashed through Anliin’s mind, too quick to understand. But below him, the archmage bowed with a soft clatter of bones.

‘Your will, God. I will stay until the Hamorth is defeated. So be it.’

The demon disappeared, leaving Anliin standing dazedly in the grass.

‘Olle?’ The king cried as he knelt beside his brother’s inert form.

‘He lives yet, but he needs assistance,’ the undead archmage said. ‘Young Yinno, your part in today’s heroics isn’t done yet. Put your hands on his chest.’

Anliin blinked and as in a dream, he crouched down at Olle’s body. He pressed his fingers down on the broad chest and closed his eyes.

‘Observe the battle within the body,’ the archmage said.

Anliin concentrated. Vaguely, he saw shining dots clashing with lightless ones, like opponents in a wrestling match.

‘Fighting blobs,’ he said. ‘Dark and light.’

‘Lifeless and living. The lifeless ones are the neophyte’s spell. They must be erased. Let the king put his hands on yours.’

Ghyll looked up, tears streaming down his face. ‘What?’

‘Put your hands on mine,’ Anliin repeated.

As the king obeyed, many more shining blobs appeared and like a zibul herder, Anliin shooed them one by one toward the lifeless ones. The battle was equal now, but he didn’t dare to take too much of Ghyll’s life force.

‘Torril,’ Anliin said. ‘Your hands.’

A mighty mass of light jumped in as the young Nhael joined Ghyll. The lifeless blobs were in the minority now, and one after another, the dead ones disappeared, until a quiet light shone all around.

Anliin opened his eyes. ‘What…’ He stared at Olle, whose face had lost the gray hue and appeared asleep. ‘Is he…?’

‘He lives, young Yinno. You did well,’ Neferestan said gravely.

Anliin drew his hands back. ‘What did I do?’

‘You fought a false death. A death that doesn’t come from the gods, but from the Anti. They were falsehoods, and you fought them as only a priest of Greos could. Your vocation is clearly written in your soul, deathpriest.’

At this, Anliin sagged. ‘Deathpriest. Me, who never did anything right?’

Torril slapped his shoulder. ‘You’ll be the greatest deathpriest ever,’ he said. ‘Speaking with gods, riding demons; you will show them, mate.’

‘You have already.’ Ghyll put his hands on the boy’s shoulders. ‘With that demon you saved a lot of people. And you saved my brother’s life. I’m in your debt, Anliin.’ He glanced at Olle and wiped his eyes on his sleeve. ‘He sleeps.’

‘A long night’s rest and he should be back on his feet,’ Neferestan said. ‘I suggest you all sleep before going anywhere, Sire. You and the young Nhael need it as well. I will return to my tower at Sterrevank. My cellar was guarded with mighty wards, and will be usable. Magister Bernabo, come and see me there before you retire. We need to speak first.’

Bo, his eyes large and dark-circled in his pale face, nodded.

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