ZIHAEN, The Shadow of the Revenaunt, Book 2


The boy hurried through the central hall to the door of the study. Here he stopped, checked with his hands the veil of his turban and rearranged the folds of his robe. Then he breathed deeply in and out and touched the polished wood lightly with his knuckles. He listened for a moment, and then slipped cautiously into the room.

His master had turned his armchair to face the garden doors and sat slumped. The bizarre bird mask rested on his chest and it looked like he was asleep. The boy knew this attitude; it was a pose, like many other things about his master were not what they seemed. He waited until his presence was recognized.

‘Well,’ the Exhumyst asked, sooner than he expected.

‘There is news, sire,’ he said carefully. ‘Bad news.’

‘Bad news?’ The mask moved slightly and the boy knew the master looked at him.

‘Vasthul is dead.’


‘It appears that his reports were not always the full truth, sire,’ the boy said carefully.

‘He lied?’

‘Not exactly, sire. It’s more that he didn’t always tell everything. He had found a way to deceive Central. When he died, that spell broke and everything became clear.’

‘Tell me.’

The boy took a deep breath and told his master everything Vasthul had done over the last months. The failed ambushes, Sommab, the necromantrix at the cemetery, Neferestan and his armies, Sillaine’s almost-death.

When he had finished, the Exhumyst sat motionless. ‘Vasthul. He had… all… in his hand,’ he whispered. He sat frozen, as if the enormity of Vasthul’s failure but slowly dawned on him. Then he sprang up from his chair, pulled his mask off and threw it into a corner. ‘He had everything!’ he screamed, his naked face contorted with an in-sane rage. ‘Hardingraud… The Last Prince… I would have given him all for those two things… the whole Order, power, gold, a royal crown. Everything, he would have had! But he bungled it. Fool! Cretin! Idiot!’ Blue sparks licked at his fingers as he paced back and forth. ‘Poltroon!’ He waved his hand and with a crash, the glass doors exploded. Lightning shot across the lawn, where the gardeners caught fire and died in terrible screams. ‘Oaf!’ Another bolt shattered the wall, the hall door and the guards at their posts.

The boy stared, appalled by his master’s madness. He didn’t care about the dead gardeners; they were but manipuuls, slaves. The lack of discipline, however, shocked him. He was trained as a Tareqqa assassin, an elite killer, and self-control was the prime directive. The second was that fear doesn’t exist. Fear does not exist. He repeated it again and again, like an incantation.

‘Blockhead!’ The Exhumyst turned his blue, crackling hand to the boy, who froze. Oh Gods, no! Then the hand lifted slightly, and with thundering violence, the ceiling came down. The rain rushed down in an icy deluge and formed pools in the precious carpets. The Exhumyst stood there, arms half raised, while the water fell without touching him. He snapped his fingers and the bird mask jumped from the ground back into his hand. With his face covered, his balance returned. Without heeding the havoc, he dropped into his armchair.

‘Get your things together,’ he said calmly. ‘We depart directly for the Mother Temple. It is time the Breedmaster puts his broods to work. Hardingraud thinks he is safe. Ha! We will overwhelm him with monsters. Hordes and hordes of monsters. We’ll kill his villages, make his roads impassable and put his people on the run. We’ll get you, Hardingraud! Your safety is but an illusion: the maurwolves come.’

The boy shuddered. ‘Your will, greatness,’ he said. His robe and veil were soaked, his boots squelched in the water and his thoughts milled around in disarray. What will he do now? Destroy Rhidauna? What good is a crown when the country is ruined? Silently he bowed and stepped over the debris and the wreckage of the study. The future had suddenly become deep black and threatening.


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