The Bonehunters (Excerpt)

Chapter One

The Bonehunters (2006)

Bantam Press (UK)

      Wayward winds had stirred the dust into the air earlier that day, and all who came into Ehrlitan’s eastern inland gate were coated, clothes and skin, with the colour of the red sandstone hills. Merchants, pilgrims, drovers and travellers appeared before the guards as if conjured, one after another, from the swirling haze, heads bent as they trudged into the gate’s lee, eyes slitted behind folds of stained linen. Rust-sheathed goats stumbled after the drovers, horses and oxen arrived with drooped heads and rings of gritty crust around their nostrils and eyes, wagons hissed as sand sifted down between weathered boards in the beds. The guards watched on, thinking only of the end of their watch, and the baths, meals and warm bodies that would follow as proper reward for duties upheld.
      The woman who came in on foot was noted, but for all the wrong reasons. Sheathed in tight silks, head wrapped and face hidden beneath a scarf, she was nonetheless worth a second glance, if only for the grace of her stride and the sway of her hips. The guards, being men and slavish to their imaginations, provided the rest.
      She noted their momentary attention and understood it well enough to be unconcerned. More problematic had one or both of the guards been female. They might well have wondered that she was entering the city by this particular gate, having come down, on foot, this particular road, which wound league upon league through parched, virtually lifeless hills, then ran parallel to a mostly uninhabited scrub forest for yet more leagues. An arrival, then, made still more unusual since she was carrying no supplies, and the supple leather of her moccasins was barely worn. Had the guards been female, they would have accosted her, and she would have faced some hard questions, none of which she was prepared to answer truthfully.
      Fortunate for the guards, then, that they had been male. Fortunate, too, the delicious lure of a man’s imagination as those gazes followed her into the street, empty of suspicion yet feverishly disrobing her curved form with every swing of her hips, a motion she only marginally exaggerated.
      Coming to an intersection she turned left and moments later was past their lines of sight. The wind was blunted here in the city, although fine dust continued to drift down to coat all in a monochrome powder. The woman continued through the crowds, her route a gradual, inward spiral towards the Jen’rahb, Ehrlitan’s central tel, the vast multilayered ruin inhabited by little more than vermin, of both the four-legged and two-legged kind. Arriving at last within sight of the collapsed buildings, she found a nearby inn, modest in presentation and without ambition to be other than a local establishment housing a few whores in the second-floor rooms and a dozen or so regulars in the ground-floor tavern.
      Beside the tavern’s entrance was an arched passage leading into a small garden. The woman stepped into that passage to brush the dust from her clothing, then walked on to the shallow basin of silty water beneath a desultorily trickling fountain, where she unwound the scarf and splashed her face, sufficient to take the sting from her eyes.
      Returning through the passage, the woman then entered the tavern.

The Bonehunters (2006)

Tor (USA)

      Gloomy, the smoke from fires, oil lanterns, durhang, itralbe and rustleaf drifting beneath the low plaster ceiling, three-quarters full and all of the tables occupied. A youth had preceded her by a few moments, and was now breathlessly expounding on some adventure barely survived. Noting this as she walked past the young man and his listeners, the woman allowed herself a faint smile that was, perhaps, sadder than she had intended.
      She found a place at the bar and beckoned the tender over. He stopped opposite and studied her intently while she ordered, in unaccented Ehrlii, a bottle of rice wine.
      At her request he reached under the counter and she heard the clink of bottles as he said, in Malazan, ‘Hope you’re not expecting anything worth the name, lass.’ He straightened, brushing dust from a clay bottle then peering at the stopper. ‘This one’s at least still sealed.’
      ‘That will do,’ she said, still speaking the local dialect, laying out on the bar-top three silver crescents.
      ‘Plan on drinking all of it?’
      ‘I’d need a room upstairs to crawl into,’ she replied, tugging the stopper free as the barman set down a tin goblet. ‘One with a lock,’ she added.
      ‘Then Oponn’s smiling on you,’ he said. ‘One’s just become available.’
      ‘Good.’
      ‘You attached to Dujek’s army?’ the man asked.
      She poured out a full draught of the amber, somewhat cloudy wine. ‘No. Why, is it here?’
      ‘Tail ends,’ he replied. ‘The main body marched out six days ago. Left a garrison, of course. That’s why I was wondering—’
      ‘I belong to no army.’
      Her tone, strangely cold and flat, silenced him. Moments later, he drifted away to attend to another customer.
      She drank. Steadily working through the bottle as the light faded outside, and the tavern grew yet more crowded, voices getting louder, elbows and shoulders jostling against her more often than was entirely necessary. She ignored the casual groping, eyes on the liquid in the goblet before her.
      At last she was done, and so she turned about and threaded her way, unsteadily, through the press of bodies to arrive finally at the stairs. She made her ascent cautiously, one hand on the flimsy railing, vaguely aware that someone was, unsurprisingly, following her.
      At the landing she set her back against a wall.
      The stranger arrived, still wearing a stupid grin—that froze on his face as the point of a knife pressed the skin beneath his left eye.
      ‘Go back downstairs,’ the woman said.
      A tear of blood trickled down the man’s cheek, gathered thick along the ridge of his jaw. He was trembling, wincing as the point slipped in ever deeper. ‘Please,’ he whispered.
      She reeled slightly, inadvertently slicing open the man’s cheek, fortunately downward rather than up into his eye. He cried out and staggered back, hands up in an effort to stop the flow of blood, then stumbled his way down the stairs.
      Shouts from below, then a harsh laugh.
      The woman studied the knife in her hand, wondering where it had come from, and whose blood now gleamed from it.
      No matter.
      She went in search of her room, and, eventually, found it.

     *     *     *     *     *

      The vast dust storm was natural, born out on the Jhag Odhan and cycling widdershins into the heart of the Seven Cities subcontinent. The winds swept northward along the east side of the hills, crags and old mountains ringing the Holy Desert of Raraku—a desert that was now a sea—and were drawn into a war of lightning along the ridge’s breadth, visible from the cities of Pan’potsun and G’danisban. Wheeling westward, the storm spun out writhing arms, one of these striking Ehrlitan before blowing out above the Ehrlitan Sea, another reaching to the city of Pur Atrii. As the main body of the storm curled back inland, it gathered energy once more, battering the north side of the Thalas Mountains, engulfing the cities of Hatra and Y’Ghatan before turning southward one last time. A natural storm, one final gift, perhaps, from the old spirits of Raraku.

The Bonehunters (2006)

Bantam Press (UK)

      The fleeing army of Leoman of the Flails had embraced that gift, riding into that relentless wind for days on end, the days stretching into weeks, the world beyond reduced to a wall of suspended sand all the more bitter for what it reminded the survivors of—their beloved Whirlwind, the hammer of Sha’ik and Dryjhna the Apocalyptic. Yet, even in bitterness, there was life, there was salvation.
      Tavore’s Malazan army still pursued, not in haste, not with the reckless stupidity shown immediately following the death of Sha’ik and the shattering of the rebellion. Now, the hunt was a measured thing, a tactical stalking of the last organized force opposed to the empire. A force believed to be in possession of the Holy Book of Dryjhna, the lone artifact of hope for the embattled rebels of Seven Cities.
      Though he possessed it not, Leoman of the Flails cursed that book daily. With almost religious zeal and appalling imagination, he growled out his curses, the rasping wind thankfully stripping the words away so that only Corabb Bhilan Thenu’alas, riding close alongside his commander, could hear. When tiring of that tirade, Leoman would concoct elaborate schemes to destroy the tome once it came into his hands. Fire, horse piss, bile, Moranth incendiaries, the belly of a dragon . . . until Corabb, exhausted, pulled away to ride in the more reasonable company of his fellow rebels.
      Who would then ply him with fearful questions, casting uneasy glances Leoman’s way. What was he saying?
      Prayers, Corabb would answer. Our commander prays to Dryjhna all day. Leoman of the Flails, he told them, is a pious man.
      About as pious as could be expected. The rebellion was collapsing, whipped away on the winds. Cities had capitulated, one after another, upon the appearance of imperial armies and ships. Citizens turned on neighbours in their zeal to present criminals to answer for the multitude of atrocities committed during the uprising. Once-heroes and petty tyrants alike were paraded before the reoccupiers, and bloodlust was high. Such grim news reached them from caravans they intercepted as they fled ever onward. And with each tatter of news, Leoman’s expression darkened yet further, as if it was all he could do to bind taut the rage within him.
      It was disappointment, Corabb told himself, punctuating the thought each time with a long sigh. The people of Seven Cities so quickly relinquished the freedom won at the cost of so many lives, and this was indeed a bitter truth, a most sordid comment on human nature. Had it all been for nothing, then? How could a pious warrior not experience soul-burning disappointment? How many tens of thousands of people had died? For what?
      And so Corabb told himself he understood his commander. Understood that Leoman could not let go, not yet, perhaps never. Holding fast to the dream gave meaning to all that had gone before.
      Complicated thoughts. It had taken Corabb many hours of frowning regard to reach them, to make that extraordinary leap into the mind of another man, to see through his eyes, if only for a moment, before reeling back in humble confusion. He had caught a glimpse, then, of what made great leaders, in battle, in matters of state. The facility of their intelligence in shifting perspectives, in seeing things from all sides. When, for Corabb, it was all he could manage, truth be told, to cling to a single vision—his own—in the midst of so much discord as the world was wont to rear up before him.
      If not for his commander, Corabb well knew, he would be lost.
      A gloved hand, gesturing, and Corabb kicked his mount forward until he was at Leoman’s side.
      The hooded, cloth-wrapped face swung close, leather-clad fingers tugging the stained silk away from the mouth, and words shouted so that Corabb could hear them: ‘Where in Hood’s name are we?’
      Corabb stared, squinted, then sighed.
     
      Her finger provided the drama, ploughing a traumatic furrow across the well-worn path. The ants scurried in confusion, and Samar Dev watched them scrabbling fierce with the insult, the soldiers with their heads lifted and mandibles opened wide as if they would challenge the gods. Or, in this case, a woman slowly dying of thirst.

The Bonehunters (2006)

Goldmann (Germany)

      She was lying on her side in the shade of the wagon. It was just past midday, and the air was still. The heat had stolen all strength from her limbs. It was unlikely she could continue her assault on the ants, and the realization gave her a moment of regret. The deliverance of discord into otherwise predictable, truncated and sordid lives seemed a worthwhile thing. Well, perhaps not worthwhile, but certainly interesting. God-like thoughts, then, to mark her last day among the living.
      Motion caught her attention. The dust of the road, shivering, and now she could hear a growing thunder, reverberating like earthen drums. The track she was on was not a well-traversed one here on the Ugarat Odhan. It belonged to an age long past, when the caravans plied the scores of routes between the dozen or more great cities of which ancient Ugarat was the hub, and all those cities, barring Kayhum on the banks of the river and Ugarat itself, were dead a thousand years or more.
      Still, a lone rider could as easily be one too many as her salvation, for she was a woman with ample womanly charms, and she was alone. Sometimes, it was said, bandits and raiders used these mostly forgotten tracks as they made their way between caravan routes. Bandits were notoriously ungenerous.
      The hoofs approached, ever louder, then the creature slowed, and a moment later a sultry cloud of dust rolled over Samar Dev. The horse snorted, a strangely vicious sound, and there was a softer thud as the rider slipped down. Faint footfalls drew nearer.
      What was this? A child? A woman?
      A shadow slid into view beyond that cast by the wagon, and Samar Dev rolled her head, watching as the figure strode round the wagon and looked down on her.
      No, neither child nor woman. Perhaps, she considered, not even a man. An apparition, tattered white fur riding the impossibly broad shoulders. A sword of flaked flint strapped to his back, the grip wrapped in hide. She blinked hard, seeking more details, but the bright sky behind him defeated her. A giant of a man who walked quiet as a desert cat, a nightmare vision, a hallucination.
      And then he spoke, but not, it was clear, to her. ‘You shall have to wait for your meal, Havok. This one still lives.’
      ‘Havok eats dead women?’ Samar asked, her voice ragged. ‘Who do you ride with?’
      ‘Not with,’ the giant replied. ‘On.’ He moved closer and crouched down beside her. There was something in his hands—a waterskin—but she found she could not pull her gaze from his face. Even, hard-edged features, broken and crazed by a tattoo of shattered glass, the mark of an escaped slave. ‘I see your wagon,’ he said, speaking the language of the desert tribes yet oddly accented, ‘but where is the beast that pulled it?’
      ‘In the bed,’ she replied.
      He set the skin at her side and straightened, walked over and leaned in for a look. ‘There’s a dead man in there.’
      ‘Yes, that’s him. He’s broken down.’
      ‘He was pulling this wagon? No wonder he’s dead.’
      She reached over and managed to close both hands around the waterskin’s neck. Tugged the stopper free and tilted it over her mouth. Warm, delicious water. ‘Do you see those double levers beside him?’ she asked. ‘Work those and the wagon moves. It’s my own invention.’
      ‘Is it hard work? Then why hire an old man to do it?’
      ‘He was a potential investor. Wanted to see how it would work for himself.’
      The giant grunted, and she saw him studying her. ‘We were doing fine,’ she said. ‘At first. But then it broke. The linkage. We were only planning half a day, but he’d taken us too far out before dropping dead. I thought to walk, but then I broke my foot—’
      ‘How?’
      ‘Kicking the wheel. Anyway, I can’t walk.’
      He continued staring down at her, like a wolf eyeing a lame hare. She sipped more water. ‘Are you planning on being unpleasant?’ she asked.
      ‘It is blood-oil that drives a Teblor warrior to rape. I have none. I have not taken a woman by force in years. You are from Ugarat?’
      ‘Yes.’
      ‘I must enter that city for supplies. I want no trouble.’
      ‘I can help with that.’
      ‘I want to remain beneath notice.’
      ‘I’m not sure that’s possible,’ she said.
      ‘Make it possible and I will take you with me.’
      ‘Well, that’s not fair. You are half again taller than a normal man. You are tattooed. You have a horse that eats people—assuming it is a horse and not an enkar’al. And you seem to be wearing the skin of a white-furred bear.’
      He turned away from the wagon.
      ‘All right!’ she said hastily. ‘I’ll think of something.’
      He came close again, collected the waterskin, slung it over a shoulder, and then picked her up by the belt, one-handed. Pain ripped through her right leg as the broken foot dangled. ‘Seven Hounds!’ she hissed. ‘How undignified do you have to make this?’
      Saying nothing, the warrior carried her over to his waiting horse. Not an enkar’al, she saw, but not quite a horse either. Tall, lean and pallid, silver mane and tail, with eyes red as blood. A single rein, no saddle or stirrups. ‘Stand on your good leg,’ he said, lifting her straight. Then he picked up a loop of rope and vaulted onto the horse.
      Gasping, leaning against the horse, Samar Dev tracked the double strands of the rope the man held, and saw that he had been dragging something while he rode. Two huge rotted heads. Dogs or bears, as oversized as the man himself.
      The warrior reached down and unceremoniously pulled her up until she was settled behind him. More waves of pain, darkness threatening.
      ‘Beneath notice,’ he said again.
      Samar Dev glanced back at those two severed heads. ‘That goes without saying,’ she said.

Reaper’s Gale (Excerpt)

Prologue

The Elder Warren Of Kurald Emurlahn,
The Age Of Sundering

Reaper's Gale (2007)

Bantam Press (UK)

      In a landscape torn with grief, the carcasses of six dragons lay strewn in a ragged row reaching a thousand or more paces across the plain, flesh split apart, broken bones jutting, jaws gaping and eyes brittle-dry. Where their blood had spilled out onto the ground wraiths had gathered like flies to sap and were now ensnared, the ghosts writhing and voicing hollow cries of despair, as the blood darkened, fusing with the lifeless soil; and, when at last the substance grew indurate, hardening into glassy stone, those ghosts were doomed to an eternity trapped within that murky prison.
      The naked creature that traversed the rough path formed by the fallen dragons was a match to their mass, yet bound to the earth, and it walked on two bowed legs, the thighs thick as thousand-year-old trees. The width of its shoulders was equal to the length of a Tartheno Toblakai’s height; from a thick neck hidden beneath a mane of glossy black hair, the frontal portion of the head was thrust forward – brow, cheekbones and jaw, and its deep-set eyes revealing black pupils surrounded in opalescent white. The huge arms were disproportionately long, the enormous hands almost scraping the ground. Its breasts were large, pendulous and pale. As it strode past the battered, rotting carcasses, the motion of its gait was strangely fluid, not at all lumbering, and each limb was revealed to possess extra joints.
      Skin the hue of sun-bleached bone, darkening to veined red at the ends of the creature’s arms, bruises surrounding the knuckles, a latticework of cracked flesh exposing the bone here and there. The hands had seen damage, the result of delivering devastating blows.
      It paused to tilt its head, upward, and watched as three dragons sailed the air high amidst the roiling clouds, appearing then disappearing in the smoke of the dying realm.
      The earthbound creature’s hands twitched, and a low growl emerged from deep in its throat.
      After a long moment, it resumed its journey.
      Beyond the last of the dead dragons, to a place where rose a ridge of hills, the largest of these cleft through as if a giant claw had gouged out the heart of the rise, and in that crevasse raged a rent, a tear in space that bled power in nacreous streams. The malice of that energy was evident in the manner in which it devoured the sides of the fissure, eating like acid into the rocks and boulders of the ancient berm.
      The rent would soon close, and the one who had last passed through had sought to seal the gate behind him. But such healing could never be done in haste, and this wound bled anew.
      Ignoring the virulence pouring from the rent, the creature strode closer. At the threshold it paused again and turned to look back the way it had come.
      Draconean blood hardening into stone, horizontal sheets of the substance, already beginning to separate from the surrounding earth, to lift up on edge, forming strange, disarticulated walls. Some then began sinking, vanishing from this realm. Falling through world after world. To reappear, finally, solid and impermeable, in other realms, depending on the blood’s aspect, and these were laws that could not be challenged. Starvald Demelain, the blood of dragons and the death of blood.
      In the distance behind the creature, Kurald Emurlahn, the Realm of Shadows, the first realm born of the conjoining of Dark and Light, convulsed in its death-throes. Far away, the civil wars still raged on, whilst in other areas the fragmenting had already begun, vast sections of this world’s fabric torn away, disconnected and lost and abandoned – to either heal round themselves, or die. Yet interlopers still arrived here, like scavengers gathered round a fallen leviathan, eagerly tearing free their own private pieces of the realm. Destroying each other in fierce battles over the scraps.
      It had not been imagined – by anyone – that an entire realm could die in such a manner. That the vicious acts of its inhabitants could destroy . . . everything. Worlds live on, had been the belief – the assumption – regardless of the activities of those who dwelt upon them. Torn flesh heals, the sky clears, and something new crawls from the briny muck.
      But not this time.
      Too many powers, too many betrayals, too vast and all-consuming the crimes.
      The creature faced the gate once more.
      Then Kilmandaros, the Elder Goddess, strode through.

The ruined K’Chain Che’Malle demesne
after the fall of Silchas Ruin

Reaper's Gale (2007)

Tor (USA)

      Trees were exploding in the bitter cold that descended like a shroud, invisible yet palpable, upon this racked, devastated forest.
      Gothos had no difficulty following the path of the battle, the successive clashes of two Elder Gods warring with the Soletaken dragon, and as the Jaghut traversed its mangled length he brought with him the brutal chill of Omtose Phellack, the Warren of Ice. Sealing the deal, as you asked of me, Mael. Locking the truth in place, to make it more than memory. Until the day that witnesses the shattering of Omtose Phellack itself. Gothos wondered, idly, if there had ever been a time when he believed that such a shattering would not come to pass. That the Jaghut, in all their perfected brilliance, were unique, triumphant in eternal domination. A civilization immortal, when all others were doomed.
      Well, it was possible. He had once believed that all of existence was under the benign control of a caring omnipotence, after all. And crickets exist to sing us to sleep, too. There was no telling what other foolishness might have crept into his young, naive brain all those millennia ago.
      No longer, of course. Things end. Species die out. Faith in anything else was a conceit, the product of unchained ego, the curse of supreme self-importance.
      So what do I now believe?
      He would not permit himself a melodramatic laugh in answer to that question. What was the point? There was no-one nearby who might appreciate it. Including himself. Yes, I am cursed to live with my own company.
      It’s a private curse.
      The best kind.
      He ascended a broken, fractured rise, some violent uplift of bedrock, where a vast fissure had opened, its vertical sides already glistening with frost when Gothos came to the edge and looked down. Somewhere in the darkness below, two voices were raised in argument.
      Gothos smiled.
      He opened his warren, made use of a sliver of power to fashion a slow, controlled descent towards the gloomy base of the crevasse.
      As Gothos neared, the two voices ceased, leaving only a rasping, hissing sound, pulsating – the drawing of breath on waves of pain – and the Jaghut heard the slithering of scales on stone, slightly off to one side.
      He alighted atop broken shards of rock, a few paces from where stood Mael, and, ten paces beyond him, the huge form of Kilmandaros, her skin vaguely luminescent – in a sickly sort of way – standing with hands closed into fists, a belligerent cast to her brutal mien.
      Scabandari, the Soletaken dragon, had been driven into a hollow in the cliff-side and now crouched, splintered ribs no doubt making every breath an ordeal of agony. One wing was shattered, half torn away. A hind limb was clearly broken, bones punched through flesh. Its flight was at an end.
      The two Elders were now eyeing Gothos, who strode forward, then spoke. ‘I am always delighted,’ he said, ‘when a betrayer is in turn betrayed. In this instance, betrayed by his own stupidity. Which is even more delightful.’
      Mael, Elder God of the Seas, asked, ‘The Ritual . . . are you done, Gothos?’
      ‘More or less.’ The Jaghut fixed his gaze on Kilmandaros. ‘Elder Goddess. Your children in this realm have lost their way.’
      The huge bestial woman shrugged, and said in a faint, melodic voice, ‘They’re always losing their way, Jaghut.’
      ‘Well, why don’t you do something about it?’
      ‘Why don’t you?’
      One thin brow lifted, then Gothos bared his tusks in a smile. ‘Is that an invitation, Kilmandaros?’
      She looked over at the dragon. ‘I have no time for this. I need to return to Kurald Emurlahn. I will kill him now—’ and she stepped closer.
      ‘You must not,’ Mael said.
      Kilmandaros faced him, huge hands opening then closing again into fists. ‘So you keep saying, you boiled crab.’
      Shrugging, Mael turned to Gothos. ‘Explain it to her, please.’
      ‘How many debts do you wish to owe me?’ the Jaghut asked him.
      ‘Oh now really, Gothos!’
      ‘Very well. Kilmandaros. Within the Ritual that now descends upon this land, upon the battlefields and these ugly forests, death itself is denied. Should you kill the Tiste Edur here, his soul will be unleashed from his flesh, but it will remain, only marginally reduced in power.’
      ‘I mean to kill him,’ Kilmandaros said in her soft voice.
      ‘Then,’ Gothos’s smile broadened, ‘you will need me.’
      Mael snorted.
      ‘Why do I need you?’ Kilmandaros asked the Jaghut.
      He shrugged. ‘A Finnest must be prepared. To house, to imprison, this Soletaken’s soul.’
      ‘Very well, then make one.’
      ‘As a favour to you both? I think not, Elder Goddess. No, alas, as with Mael here, you must acknowledge a debt. To me.’
      ‘I have a better idea,’ Kilmandaros said. ‘I crush your skull between a finger and thumb, then I push your carcass down Scabandari’s throat, so that he suffocates on your pompous self. This seems a fitting demise for the both of you.’
      ‘Goddess, you have grown bitter and crabby in your old age,’ Gothos said.
      ‘It is no surprise,’ she replied. ‘I made the mistake of trying to save Kurald Emurlahn.’
      ‘Why bother?’ Mael asked her.

Reaper's Gale (2007)

Goldmann (Germany)

      Kilmandaros bared jagged teeth. ‘The precedent is . . . unwelcome. You go bury your head in the sands again, Mael, but I warn you, the death of one realm is a promise to every other realm.’
      ‘As you say,’ the Elder God said after a moment. ‘And I do concede that possibility. In any case, Gothos demands recompense.’
      The fists unclenched, then clenched again. ‘Very well. Now, Jaghut, fashion a Finnest.’
      ‘This will do,’ Gothos said, drawing an object into view from a tear in his ragged shirt.
      The two Elders stared at it for a time, then Mael grunted. ‘Yes, I see, now. Rather curious choice, Gothos.’
      ‘The only kind I make,’ the Jaghut replied. ‘Go on, then, Kilmandaros, proceed with your subtle conclusion to the Soletaken’s pathetic existence.’
      The dragon hissed, screamed in rage and fear as the Elder Goddess advanced.
      When she drove a fist into Scabandari’s skull, centred on the ridge between and above the draconic eyes, the crack of the thick bone rang like a dirge down the length of the crevasse, and with the impact blood spurted from the Goddess’s knuckles.
      The dragon’s broken head thumped heavily onto the broken bedrock, fluids spilling out from beneath the sagging body.
      Kilmandaros wheeled to face Gothos.
      He nodded. ‘I have the poor bastard.’
      Mael stepped towards the Jaghut, holding out a hand. ‘I will take the Finnest then—’
      ‘No.’
      Both Elders now faced Gothos, who smiled once more. ‘Repayment of the debt. For each of you. I claim the Finnest, the soul of Scabandari, for myself. Nothing remains between us, now. Are you not pleased?’
      ‘What do you intend to do with it?’ Mael demanded.
      ‘I have not yet decided, but I assure you, it will be most curiously unpleasant.’
      Kilmandaros made fists again with her hands and half raised them. ‘I am tempted, Jaghut, to send my children after you.’
      ‘Too bad they’ve lost their way, then.’
      Neither Elder said another word as Gothos departed from the fissure. It always pleased him, outwitting doddering old wrecks and all their hoary, brutal power. Well, a momentary pleasure, in any case.
      The best kind.
      Upon her return to the rent, Kilmandaros found another figure standing before it. Black-cloaked, white-haired. An expression of arched contemplation, fixed upon the torn fissure.
      About to enter the gate, or waiting for her? The Elder Goddess scowled. ‘You are not welcome in Kurald Emurlahn,’ she said.
      Anomandaris Purake settled cool eyes upon the monstrous creature. ‘Do you imagine I contemplate claiming the throne for myself ?’
      ‘You would not be the first.’
      He faced the rent again. ‘You are besieged, Kilmandaros, and Edgewalker is committed elsewhere. I offer you my help.’
      ‘With you, Tiste Andii, my trust is not easily earned.’
      ‘Unjustified,’ he replied. ‘Unlike many others of my kind, I accept that the rewards of betrayal are never sufficient to overwhelm the cost. There are Soletaken now, in addition to feral dragons, warring in Kurald Emurlahn.’
      ‘Where is Osserc?’ the Elder Goddess asked. ‘Mael informed me that he—’
      ‘Was planning to get in my way again? Osserc imagined I would take part in slaying Scabandari. Why should I? You and Mael were more than enough.’ He grunted then. ‘I can picture Osserc, circling round and round. Looking for me. Idiot.’
      ‘And Scabandari’s betrayal of your brother? You have no desire to avenge that?’
      Anomandaris glanced at her, then gave her a faint smile. ‘The rewards of betrayal. The cost to Scabandari proved high, didn’t it? As for Silchas, well, even the Azath do not last for ever. I almost envy him his new-found isolation from all that will afflict us in the millennia to come.’
      ‘Indeed. Do you wish to join him in a similar barrow?’
      ‘I think not.’
      ‘Then I imagine that Silchas Ruin will not be inclined to forgive you your indifference, the day he is freed.’
      ‘You might be surprised, Kilmandaros.’
      ‘You and your kind are mysteries to me, Anomandaris Purake.’
      ‘I know. So, Goddess, have we a pact?’
      She cocked her head. ‘I mean to drive the pretenders from the realm – if Kurald Emurlahn must die, then let it do so on its own.’
      ‘In other words, you want to leave the Throne of Shadow unoccupied.’
     ‘Yes.’
     He thought for a time, then he nodded. ‘Agreed.’
     ‘Do not wrong me, Soletaken.’
     ‘I shall not. Are you ready, Kilmandaros?’
     ‘They will forge alliances,’ she said. ‘They will all war against us.’
     Anomandaris shrugged. ‘I have nothing better to do today.’
     The two Ascendants then walked through the gate, and, together, they closed the rent behind them. There were other paths, after all, to this realm. Paths that were not wounds.
     Arriving within Kurald Emurlahn, they looked upon a ravaged world.
     Then set about cleansing what was left of it.

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