Welcome to the Malazan Re-read of the Fallen! Every post will start off with a summary of events, followed by reaction and commentary by your hosts Bill and Amanda (with Amanda, new to the series, going first), and finally comments from Tor.com readers. In this article, we’ll cover Chapter Twenty-Five of House of Chains by Steven Erikson (HoC).
A fair warning before we get started: We’ll be discussing both novel and whole-series themes, narrative arcs that run across the entire series, and foreshadowing. Note: The summary of events will be free of major spoilers and we’re going to try keeping the reader comments the same. A spoiler thread has been set up for outright Malazan spoiler discussion.
Febryl sits on the ridge, his warren spread out across the whole oasis, expanding and enhancing his senses. He feels powers converging, Dom’s assassins heading out on their assigned tasks, Reloe returning from his journey, the Malazans digging in. He’s bothered however, by a “strange song…the voice of Raraku itself”; the sensation that Hood himself is near, masking “other presences”; and the stirring of sprites and ghosts. He looks forward to “yet another apocalypse on Raraku’s restless sands.”
L’oric’s body has been dragged to the side of the command tent and left for dead. He hears Dom give his several orders
- Henaras is to release his assassins to kill all of Bidithal’s spies and Scillara
- Durly is to ride to Tavore and deliver Dom’s message and to impress on her the need to call back her own killers, “lest they do the Whirlwind Goddess’s work for her.”
- The 4th company and Fayelle are to block Leoman’s return
- Ethume is to be within crossbow range of Febryl
Henaras says she feels “terrible powers” nearing, to which Dom replies that’s why they need Tavore and her sword. He asks if they’re safe in the tent and Henaras says she thinks so due to the wards set up by her, Fayelle, and Reloe. L’oric is distracted by the sound of one of Dom’s guards outside being killed, then Greyfrog slices through the bottom of the tent wall nearby. He grabs L’oric and pulls him out, telling him “things are coming. Suitably ominous. Frankly, I admit to fear and advise we hide.” L’oric agrees and tells Greyfrog to leave him somewhere safe then return to guard Felisin from assassins.
Kesanal, one of Dom’s assassins, is looking at Scillara and Felisin. He signals to his hunting group to encircle the women, then beings and incantation to dull the intended victims. He and his squad step forward once the incantation works and then are killed suddenly by Karsa. Kesanal finds himself next looking at Hood’s Gate, heading toward it with his four kinsmen/associates.
As Felisin and Scillara struggle to recover, Karsa asks where Bidithal and a list of others (Leoman, Febryl, Dom, Reloe, Heboric) are. Felisin, still dulled and also shocked and horrified by the ease and speed with which Karsa had killed the five assassins, can’t even speak. Scillara tells Karsa to find them where he can. Karsa leaves. Felisin whispers he’s going to kill all he named saved Leoman.
Mathok looks down at two corpses—the most recent assassins sent to kill him. He orders T’morol to gather the clan, goes to get the Book of Dryjhna that Sha’ik had entrusted to him, then rejoins T’morol and the clan and tells them they are riding to Leoman. The rest of the clans are to guard Sha’ik. T’morol asks if they will wait and watch what happens at dawn to “gauge the wind.” Mathok says yes.
Heboric feels Febryl’s web torn by the several forces moving through it. He senses ghosts in the city and gods coming near to “witness all that was to come. Witness, or to seize the moment and act directly. A nudge here, a tug there, if only to appease their egos, if only to see what happens.” He thinks how “these were the games he despised, source of his fiercest defiance all those years ago. The shape of his crime, if crime it was. And so they took my hands.” He realizes he is “indifferent to Treach, [is] a reluctant Destriant to the new god of war despite the gifts [of his new hands]…Otataral Island and the giant of jade—that is what awaits me. The returning of power. Even as those last words tracked across his mind, he knew that a deceit rode among them. A secret he knew but to which he would fashion no shape. Not yet.” He exits his tent.
Kalam tucks the acorn he’d been tossed into his sash and heads out, feeling the song inside him, as well as the awakening of powers in the oasis before him. He enters the oasis and comes across a hand of assassins, wondering who in the camps would organize them in such fashion. He tracks them and notes how they move slightly differently than a Claw Hand. Realizing they are Talons, he wonders if this is what Cotillion wanted him to confirm. He kills them all, whispering in the last’s ear “If your masters are listening, and they should be, compliments of the Claw. See you soon.” He assumes their target is inside the building they’d been heading toward. He moves toward it, coming across the corpses of three young girls and two blood trails leading away toward the temple. He tracks the trails into the temple, sensing as he nears it that despite its age and ruined appearance, it has been newly sanctified. Inside he comes across another corpse, this one killed by magic, and he sees shadows farther in. He pulls out his otataral knife. Inside a young girl sits surrounded by three other corpses; she asks him if he remembers the dark. Kalam tells her not to move and she’ll live. Bidithal, at the far end of the inner pit, tells him her mind is gone. He adds that he is not Kalam’s enemy and in fact, the one trying to kill Bidithal is Dom and Reloe. He asks if Kalam (whom Bidithal knows only as a Claw) wants directions to their tent. When Kalam says he’ll find it himself, soon, Bidithal warns him that his otataral blade is not enough inside this temple, saying that though Kalam may think he knows the temple’s nature, he is “in error.” He orders Silgar to give Kalam some wine. Silgar squirms across the floor; he has a silver tray strapped to his back with a jug on it. Bidithal apologizes for Silgar’s slowness, then introduces himself as “arch-priest of all that is sundered, broken, wounded, and suffering. My own awakening proved both long and torturous…had fashioned in my own mind every detail of the cult I would lead. All the while unaware that the shaping was being guided…even when the fated new House was laid out before me, I did not realize the truth. This shattered fragment of Kurald Emurlahn, Claw, shall not be the plaything of a desert goddess. Nor of the Empress. None of you shall have it, for it shall become the heart of the new House of Chains. Tell your empress to stand aside. We are indifferent to who would rule the land beyond the Holy Desert. She can have it. You can have her [Sha’ik] as well. Marched back to Unta in chains—and that is far more poetic than you will ever know.” Kalam tells Bidithal the offer is interesting, but he feels it’s filled with more lies than truth. Bidithal says perhaps Kalam is right, as Bidithal needs Sha’ik for another day. But he insists he would work with Kalam to deal with Febryl and Dom, telling him Dom calls himself Master of the Talon and plans on “returning to Laseen’s embrace…[using] Sha’ik to bargain for his own position. As for Febryl…what he awaits no one but he is mad enough to desire.” Kalam wonders why all the talk as Bidithal has no plans to let him leave alive. He adds that the Hounds of Darkness are coming and asks of Bidithal summoned them, if he or the Crippled God think to control them and if so, he calls them mad. Bidithal says the Hounds “seek a master.” Kalam thinks to himself “Cotillion was right about the Chained One,” and out loud replies “One who is worthy…meaner and tougher than they are. And in this oasis, they will find no such individual…They will kill everyone.” Bidithal tells Kalam he has no idea of Bidithal’s power, but says Kalam was right about not leaving alive; Bidithal’s just been waiting for his shadow servant to return. He says he will now leave for he “made a promise to Sha’ik and I mean to keep it,” adding that if by some miracle Kalam survives, Bidithal won’t stop him from going after Dom and the others. Bidithal disappears in darkness and Kalam has a momentary shiver at the “uncanny familiarity of the sorcerous departure” before the shadows attack. It turns out his otataral blade was enough, with the assistance of Cotillion.
Karsa has killed numerous of Dom’s killers, though some had knives invested with sorcery. He enters Heboric’s tent but finds it empty, as is Leoman’s pit. He goes to Bidithal’s and hears fighting inside. As he watches, Silgar crawls out, right to Karsa’s feet. Silgar says “He fights like a demon…Both blades cut through the wraiths…A god stands at his shoulders.” He tells Karsa to kill them both and when Karsa says he takes no orders from him, Silgar calls him a fool and says, “We are brothers in the House now, you and I. You are the Knight of Chains and I am the Leper. The Crippled God has chose us. And Bidithal, he has become the Magi…he wisely fled and I am doing. The Claw and his patron god are even now slaying the last of his shadow servants. You are the Knight—you possess your own patron. . . Kill the enemy, it is what you must do.” Karsa agrees, and kills Silgar, thinking as he sees it done that “Leoman was right long ago—a quick death would have been the better choice.” He lifts his sword free of Silgar’s corpse and says, “I follow no patron god.” He starts to track Bidithal.
Corabb heads back to Leoman’s camp with an escort of 20 of Mathok’s warriors. To Corabb’s surprise, the escort is stopped at the perimeter; Leoman has ordered none from the oasis is allowed in. Corabb tells Leoman Sha’ik wants him to replace Dom as commander. Corabb confirms that Dom’s assassins are between them and her but says they won’t challenge the entire force. When he says Dom didn’t know yet but that Sha’ik had demanded his presence, Leoman says Dom will simply ignore her, and that in fact Dom probably does know. He asks if Corabb thinks the Dogslayers will follow someone other than Dom and Corabb says they’ll have no choice since it is Sha’ik’s order. Leoman nods then orders his men to break camp, saying they ride to Sha’ik.
Kalam exits the temple, shaken by what he’d witnessed of Cotillion’s skills. He thinks he had done with Cotillion had asked of him: “he had found the source of the threat to the realm of Shadow. Or at least confirmed a host of suspicions. This fragment of Kurald Emurlahn will be the path to usurpation by none other than the Crippled God. The House of Chains had come into play.” He thinks that’s Cotillion and Shadowthrone’s problem though; he had “more immediate tasks.” Considering them, he is glad Cotillion had “been kind enough to deliver a pair of Kalam’s favorite weapons.” He sees Silgar’s corpse and thinks it looks like the wound had been delivered by an Imass sword. He heads for where he thinks Dom would be set up, moving through “heavy layers of sorcery…seeming to flow in streams.” He reaches Dom’s fortified area and watches as a troop heads out quietly. He wonders at their purpose, but is happy to have fewer soldiers in the encampment, though he’s sure Dom has left himself still well-protected: “He calls himself master of the Talon after all. Not that Cotillion, who was Dancer, knows a damned thing about them. Sparing the revelation only a sneer. Kalam sneaks into the camp and makes his way to just outside the command tent. He pulls out a pair of Claw crossbows then watches as Reloe appears out of a portal and enters the tent with three assassins. Suddenly, a hand settles on Kalam’s soldier and someone tells him to keep eyes forward. Kalam “knew that voice, from more years back than he’d like to think. But that bastard’s dead. Dead before Surly took the throne.” As he pictures the “acid-spattered face,” the voice continues: “Granted…no love’s lost between me and the company I’m sharing again. Figured I’d seen the last of ever damn one of them and you…Need a way in there, right? Best we mount a diversion. Give us fifty heartbeats. At least you can count those.” The ghost leaves and Kalam wonders what is happening, “That damned captain went renegade. They found his body in Malaz City the morning after the assassinations or something closely approximating his body.” As he looks at the tent, he hears screams and Moranth munitions, then the guards head away, leaving two visible ones. He kills them then enters the tent to face a Pardu assassin who, seeing him, says “Kalam Mekhar. I suppose you don’t remember me.” Kalam kills him then says “No I don’t.” Reloe and the other two assassins appear. Reloe says they’d expected a Claw attack, though not, he confesses, a ghost one as well. Reloe can’t use magic due to Kalam’s otataral blade. One of the assassins says Kalam would probably take them singly but not together. Kalam says he’s right, then tosses his acorn to the ground. The three flinch as it rolls toward them, then when nothing happens one of the assassins kicks it away. Kalam kills the assassins with his crossbows. Reloe suddenly shrieks and is fatally attacked by sorcery. Quick Ben steps out from where the acorn had rolled to and, kneeling beside the dying Reloe, tells him “It’s disloyalty that bothers us the most…We always answer it. Always have. Always will.” Kalam notices that Quick looks “older. Worn down. Scars not written on his skin, but on his heart. He will, I suspect, have nothing good to tell me when all this is done.” He asks if Quick had caused the diversion and the mage says no, “Nor did Hood, though the hoary bastard’s arrived. This is all Raraku.” He says he’ll explain later, then standing, warns Kalam that Henaras is with Dom in the back area, behind some tough wards. Kalam says that’s fine, drawing his otataral blade. But when they enter, they find Henaras’ corpse laid out on the map table; atop her chest was a single pearl. The continue on to find Dom in his chair. His voice filled with fear, he tells them he has already sent a message to Tavore saying he’s ready to attack Sha’ik with his army. Kalam says if Dom thinks he and Quick Ben are Tavore’s reply, he’s wrong. Dom says he and Reloe had thought the mage was either dead with the rest of the Bridgeburners or still on Genabackis. Quick answers that Tayschrenn sent him ahead while he used his sorcery to speed Dujeck’s fleet to Seven Cities, adding they’d arrived in Ehrlitan a week ago. Dom says, “What’s left of those legions, you mean.” Kalam is blindsided, thinking “The Bridgeburners dead? Whiskeyjack! Onearm’s Host—gods below, what happened over there?” Dom starts to negotiate, saying they can work together to pacify Seven Cities and bring Sha’ik in chains to Laseen. Quick interrupts to say if Dom thinks he’ll get a pardon he’s insane and when Dom suddenly attacks him, Kalam simply knocks him out. As he starts to tie him up in preparation for bringing him someplace Quick has thought of, he asks about the Bridgeburners and Whiskeyjack. Quick tells him “Dead. Barring Picker and a handful of others,” adding he’ll tell him all of it later. Kalam says he feels like killing, but Quick says not Dom, not now. Kalam thinks, “Hold back on the feelings Kalam Mekhar. Hold back on everything. Quick’s right. In time. In time. Oh, Whiskeyjack.”
Bidithal moves toward Sha’ik’s palace, thinking he needs her and the goddess and that “Once the goddess’ rage has cooled, has annealed in to beauty by victory—we can still achieve this. But I know now what Febryl has done. I know what Korbolo Dom and Kamist Reloe plan for the dawn.” He hears screams from the Dogslayer’s camp and thinks Kalam has made it there. He sights the palace and considers what he needs to do: “Counter the Napan’s gambit—awaken the goddess to the threat awaiting her. Then hunt down that gnarled bhok’aral Febryl and see his skin stripped… even the goddess, yes even the goddess will have to recognize me. My power. When flanked by my new pets.” His musings are rudely interrupted by Karsa picking him up and throwing him to the ground. He looks up to see Karsa standing over him, surrounded by “gathering ghosts, chained souls.” Karsa tells him, “You should have left her alone.” Bidithal screams “We are both servants of the same god…I would save Sha’ik!” Karsa tears away Bidithal’s sex organs and as Bidithal dies, he looks up to see Karsa watching and thinks “You fool, Toblakai.” Karsa shoves the organs into Bidithal’s mouth, saying “For you Bidithal. For every nameless girl-child you destroyed. Here. Choke on your pleasure.” Bidithal then finds himself before Hood’s Gate, “And there, gathered by the Lord of Death, waited demons who were of like nature to Bidithal himself, gleefully closing about the new victim. A lifetime of vicious pleasure. An eternity of pain in answer. For even Hood understood the necessity for balance.”
Lostara begins to head out, but Cotillion appears and tells her to stay. She tells him she woke Pearl as he’d said to do and he then went into the oasis. Cotillion replies Pearl is returning because he senses what is nearing. She asks if it’s what is making Cotillion hide with her and he answers “There are times when it is advisable to step back and wait. The Holy Desert itself senses the approach of an ancient foe and will rise in answer if need be. Even more precarious, the fragment of Kurald Emurlahn that the Whirlwind Goddess would claim is manifesting itself. The goddess is fashioning a portal, a gate, one massive enough to swallow this entire oasis. Thus she too makes a play for Raraku’s immortal heart. The irony is that she herself is being manipulated by a far cleverer god, who would take this fragment for himself and call it his House of Chains.” Lostara says she doesn’t much care; she and Pearl are there for Felisin. Cotillion tells her they’ve found her, but she is beyond them “For the moment.” She says they’ll just wait for the path to clear and he says, yes, just as he’d said. He leaves.
Febryl had killed all of Dom’s assassins that tried to kill him. He senses Dom and Reloe are dead. He waits for the “oasis behind him to become as a nightmare wakened into horrid reality…everything was proceeding perfectly.” Karsa suddenly appears and kills him.
Karsa can feel Urugal’s voice screaming in his head, trying to push him away from the oasis, but he doesn’t like being pushed. He turns to face the oasis and can feel “a thousand ghostly chains stretched taut behind him begin pulling. The Teblor growled under his breath and leaned forward. I am the master of these chains. I, Karsa Orlong, yield to none. Not gods, not the souls I have slain. I will walk forward now, and either resistance shall end, or the chains will be snapped.” He hears a pair of howls and thinks, “Ahh, they have arrived.” He moves forward, the chains no longer resisting.
Gamet lies in agony on his cot, his head in incredible pain. He blacks out, then finds himself armored, pain-free near the tent exit. He feels he needs to go out, to get his horse. He mounts and rides out, joining three figures at the ridge: Nil, Nether, Grub. Grub tells him the Wickans and Malazans will take the flanks, but Gamet will ride straight up the main ramp. Gamet sees an army preparing to do so and when Grub tells him to ride to them, he salutes and does so. A dragon-helmed rider asks Gamet to join them and when Gamet says he cannot—as Fist is must command—the rider replies “Not this night. Fight at our sides as the soldier you are. Remember the old battles? When all that was required was the guarding of the companions flanking you. Such will be this night. Leave the commanding to the lords. Ride with us in freedom. And glory. Gamet feels his blood racing and draws his sword, saying he will ride with them. He notes the banner—a clan of the Burned Tears—then notes their “archaic and half-rotting” armor. They attack the unprepared Dogslayers and Gamet hears “Screams on all sides, strangely muted, almost faint. Sounds of battle, yet they seemed a league distant.” As they rout the Dogslayers, butterflies descend “in swarms, to flit above the carnage in the trenches.” He notices how the Dogslayers offer almost no defense, sees their horror, “the terror in their faces as he and his comrades delivered death. He could hear the battle song now, rising and falling like waves on a pebbled shore, yet building towards a climax yet to come—yet to come, but soon. Soon. Yes, we’ve needed a song. We’ve waited a long time for such a song. To honor our deeds. Our struggles. Our lives and our deaths. We’ve needed our own voice, so that our spirits could march, march ever onward. To battle. To war. Manning these walls of crumbled brick and sand. Defending the bone-dry harbors and the dead cities that once blazed with ancient dreams, that once flickered life’s reflection on the warm, shallow sea. Even memories need to be defended. Even memories.” The rider who had asked him to join rides up beside him and reveals herself to be a “dark-skinned woman, her eyes a stunning blue within a web of desert lines.” When he says there are still more enemies, she laughs and says not the tribes for they are kin. She says their battle is done; others will fight tomorrow. Now they ride to the shore and she again asks if he will join them. He says yes and she inquires again, asking if he would leave his friends. He answers, “For you, yes” and she smiles. He looks at all the dead Dogslayers and thinks “Vengeance. She will be pleased. She will understand and be pleased. As am I. Goodbye, Adjunct Tavore.”
Koryk asks Fiddler [note the shift to calling him Fiddler] what he’s looking at and Fiddler, wiping his eyes, says “Nothing, or nothing that makes sense.” Koryk says they aren’t going to see battle in the morning, are they and Fiddler tells him “The glory of battle, Koryk, dwells only in the bard’s voice, in the teller’s woven words. Glory begins to ghosts and poets. What you hear and dream isn’t the same as what you live—blur the distinction at your own peril, lad.” When Koryk asks why Fiddler is there then, Fiddler says he thinks the song called him, and that while Quick Ben probably knows more about it, Fiddler thinks the song means the Bridgeburners have ascended, “at least, the dead ones. The rest of us, we’re just malingering. Here in the moral realm.” Koryk asks if Fiddler’s planning on dying anytime soon and when Fiddler answers no, he says good, “Because we like our sergeant.” He leaves and Fiddler turns his attention back to the battle, feeling “as if friends are fighting. I can almost hear sounds of battle. Almost.” Then two howls pierce the night and “the darkness above the oasis began to change.”
Mathok and Leoman meet. Mathok tells him “Raraku has awakened. Ghosts have risen, the Holy Desert’s own memories. When Leoman asks who are their enemies, Mathok replies “Betrayal upon betrayal, Leoman.” He says he’s set his clans between the Malazans and Sha’ik, but he fears the battle is already lost. When he adds he’s brought the Holy Book, Leoman asks “To Y’Ghatan?” Mathok says yes; his tribe will go with him and he’ll leave behind nine thousand others for Leoman to command. Leoman says no, he has no choice or time to modify the tactics. He asks about Sha’ik and Mathok says the goddess still holds her, even Dom’s assassins can’t get to her. Leoman though believes Dom would have anticipated that and planned something else. He tells Mathok he rides to Sha’ik. Mathok’s says the Holy Book was a history, not a prophecy. Leoman says he knows, and the two say farewell. As Leoman’s group heads through the defile, they are attacked. Leoman jumps on Corabb’s horse and the two ride on.
Quick Ben and Kalam dodge a group of heavy infantry ghosts. Kalam asks if they’re the ones singing and Quick says he hears the song in his head as well. He explains it’s a Tanno Spiritwalker song for the Bridgeburners: A Tanno stole our tale and fashioned a song—but for that song to have any effect, the Bridgeburners had to die. As a company. And now it has. Barring you and me.” Kalam interrupts to say Fiddler too, then recalls Fiddler saying something about a Spiritwalker in Ehrlitan. Quick says however it happened, the Bridgeburners have ascended, though he doesn’t know what that means—”I’ve never heard of such a thing before. A whole company—there’s no precedent for this.” Kalam asks what about the T’lan Imass, and Quick says, “An interesting thought…In any case, Raraku’s ghosts have risen on that song. Risen to battle. But there’s more. I swear I saw a Wickan standard back near the Dogslayer trenches.” Kalam wonders if Tavore’s taking advantage of the chaos, but Quick says she knows nothing of it due to her sword and the darkness hiding everything: “the darkness is sorcery. Remember whenever Anomander Rake arrived someplace with is warren unveiled…This is more primal.” Kalam mentions the Hounds,” like the Shadow Hounds, only somehow worse.” Quick thinks then says “Two Hounds of Darkness. The Deragoth then. So who broke their chains I wonder.” Kalam wonders what there is that Quick doesn’t know and the mage says he doesn’t know what they Hounds are doing here. Kalam takes that “here” as general, but Quick means it in the literal sense.
The Hounds are as large, but stockier, than a horse, a mix somewhat of a hyena and plains bear. “They had come to destroy. To tear life from all flesh, to mock all claims of mastery… this was a new world for them. New, yet once it had been old. Changes had come. A world of vast silences where once kin and foe alike had opened throats in fierce challenge. Nothing was as it had been, and the Deragoth were made uneasy. They had come to destroy. But now hesitated. With eyes fixed on the one who had arrived, who now stood before them. Karsa steps forward and tells them that though the Chained God has reconsidered his “ambition…dream of mastery,” Karsa would face them. The Hounds separate and Karsa says, “You would let me pass?…Do you remember the Toblakai, beasts? But they had been gentled. By civilization. By the soft trappings of foolish peace. So weakened they could not stand before T’lan Imass, could not stand before Forkrul Assail and Jaghut. And now they cannot stand before Nathii slavers. An awakening was needed.” He moves between them and they attack as he expected them to. He badly wounds one and the other wraps his jaws around his leg. Karsa lifts it up and throws it down, then wraps his hands around its throat even as it rips at his arms. He kills it, then heads off after the one he had wounded.
Kalam and Quick step out from hiding and stare after Karsa leaving. They look at the Hound’s corpse, then Kalam suggests they drop of Dom and get out of there. Quick says it’s a brilliant plan. They leave, ignoring the “shadows pouring out of the burgeoning shattered warren of Kurald Emurlahn.”
Greyfrog meets Heboric and tells him he was sent by L’oric. He leads Heboric to him. L’oric has a Deck out and informs Heboric a Master has sanctioned the House of Chains. Heboric is surprised at first, then says “Let the gods rail, he or she had to do just that.” L’oric agrees, saying “The Crippled God is now as bound as is every other god.” Heboric wonders if he’ll regret this at some point. L’oric continues, saying the Crippled God is planning on taking the fragment of Kurald Emurlahn, though that has been made more difficult by Karsa’s killing of Bidithal, adding Karsa is the Knight in the House of Chains.” Heboric, not pleased about Karsa’s return, says his role is “unfortunate for the Crippled God. Toblakai will kneel to no one. He cannot afford to. He will defy all prediction.” L’oric interrupts to tell him Karsa has already done so, “to the possible ruination of us all. Still, at the same time, I have come to suspect he is our only hope…Two Hounds of Darkness arrived…and now I believe but one Deragoth remains [and]. .. . Toblakai even now pursues it.” Heboric asks what or who brought them there and who has Karsa just thwarted, but L’oric says he does not know and perhaps has yet to be decided. He asks Heboric to take Felisin away, saying Greyfrog will go with them though he himself will go to Sha’ik, “That mortal child is soon to be no more. The goddess is about to devour her soul even as we speak—and once that is done there shall be no return. The young Malazan girl you once knew will have ceased to exist. Thus, when I go to Sha’ik, I go not to that child, but to the goddess…I must speak to the goddess before she takes Sha’ik’s soul.” Heboric doesn’t answer, trying to figure out what L’oric wants from an insane goddess. L’oric tells him “There are two Felisins…Save the one you can.” When Heboric says someday he’ll find out who L’oric really is, L’oric responds: “I am a son who lives without hope of ever matching my father’s stride. That alone, in time, will explain all you need know of me.”
Karsa catches up to the Hound and they face off. Suddenly, Corabb’s horse bursts out and collides with the hound, throwing Corabb and Leoman to the ground and stunning the Hound. Karsa wounds it, then Leoman joins him in killing it. Karsa says he didn’t need Leoman’s help, but Leoman says he needs Karsa’s.
Pearl heads out of the oasis as “Kurald Emurlahn was opening like death’s own flower, with the oasis at its dark heart. He reaches where he’d left Lostara and is struck down by surprise by Kalam, who says, “That was for Malaz City. Even so, you owe me one.” Pearl says Kalam owes him for Henaras. Kalam replies she wasn’t worth counting, then drops Dom next to Pearl. Pearl agrees he owes Kalam, then listens as two sets of footsteps head off. He thinks, “The wizard was in no mood to talk, I suppose. To me, that is. I believe I ma sorely humbled.” He smiles and dawn arrives.
Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Twenty-Five
Well, now, that little poem to begin Chapter Twenty-Five does not exactly cheer the soul, does it? The dirge of the lost can relate to those already dead and gone, those about to die in the conflict between the two sisters, those who will die in the larger conflict…. With all that we’ve seen, and all the people we’ve lost already, I think we hear that dirge ourselves.
Febryl really does have his own agenda. I thought he was linked in to the others but right now he seems to be acting very much on his own! “Yet another apocalypse” in Raraku—what happened before?
At least here I finally have confirmation that Korbolo Dom is working on behalf of Tavore—after the MASSIVE hint of the throne in the previous chapter.
Awww, Greyfrog really is an absolute delight. Can I have one?
And now Karsa makes his explosive entrance! I don’t agree with all the people he wants to kill, if that is what that list signifies. Particularly Heboric—I really like him, and I’m glad he’s taken on a role in Treach’s new army. Also, why is Felisin so sure that Karsa won’t kill Leoman—some sort of foresight? [Bill: Just because they were friends and Leoman has done nothing to anger or insult Karsa.]
The Book of Dryjhna is still in existence—does that mean that another Sha’ik could be produced, if they open the Book? Could Felisin be relieved? Or will it only take her death? She’s had such a tragic story so far that it seems likely she is going to die!
What is the deceit that rides Heboric’s thoughts as he tells himself “Otataral Island, and the giant of jade—that is what awaits me. The returning of power”?
That acorn is significant, isn’t it? Is that the OBJECT?
I love it that one of the differences between the Claws and the Talons is that they move at different paces apart. That is just so… administrative! Is it just me, or do the Talons seem just a little bit showy compared to the Claws? Dressing in dark clothes, clandestine meetings, things like that?
Urgh! I could have survived my whole life without knowing that there was a chance a corpse would vomit on your head as you snapped its neck. [Bill: Never let it be said that Erikson’s books are not educational.]
Now, why did I not realize that Bidithal would be the latest convert to the Crippled God’s House of Chains? He is the perfect candidate, right?
Oh, you know something? When Bidithal says: “They seek a master” about the Hounds and Kalam replies, “One who is worthy. In other words, one who is meaner and tougher than they are” I instantly think about Karsa. I think he might find himself in charge of a couple of Hounds before the night is over….
“Leoman was right, long ago—a quick death would have been the better choice.”
I don’t think that even Silgar deserves the fate that he has now suffered, as the Leper of the House.
Wait? Did Cotillion fight against Kalam? Or was it just that Kalam watched Cotillion against Bidithal’s servants? Because a fight between those two would be AMAZING and I can’t ever imagine it would take place off-screen, as it were! [Bill: Both fought against the shadow servants, though Cotillion did most of the damage.]
Eep! Who might this be, who gives aid to Kalam? “That damned captain went renegade. They found his body in Malaz City the morning after the assassinations… or something closely approximating his body.” [Bill: From Night of Knives: “Ash,” said Surly. “Ex-Lieutenant of the Bridgeburners. And one very determined man.” She raised her bandaged hand. “Acid.”]
Claw versus Talon—at least we now know which is more skilled, at least when Kalam is involved.
QUICK BEN! Oh, he and Kalam together again at last! Haha, I knew that acorn must have relevance—it was mentioned too often to be incidental. And those words he speaks, “It’s disloyalty that bothers us the most. We always answer it. Always have. Always will.”
A pearl on the chest of Henaras? From Pearl? [Bill: Yep.]
Poor Kalam—another person to hear of the end of the Bridgeburners and the death of Whiskeyjack in an almost off-hand manner. That final “Oh, Whiskeyjack….” from Kalam is both bitter and heartbreaking. I don’t think that will ever cease to hurt.
“I know, Bidithal, where your sick desires come from. I know where your pleasure hides—the pleasure you would take from others. Witness.”
I approve of Karsa’s punishment of Bidithal. I fiercely approve.
Hmm, I think, having not read the whole section, that Gamet actually dies as these words are written: “A time of blankness, then he found himself standing near the tent flap. Weighted in his armour, gauntlets covering his hands, helm on his head. The pain was fading, a cool emptiness rising in its wake.” I think he has become one of the ghosts of Raraku.
And, here, affirmation that the Bridgeburners have ascended—at least, the dead ones have. Poor Fiddler. Left behind due to being alive. I feel conflicted. I almost want him to have an honourable death so that he can join the rest of his comrades—particularly Hedge, who he must miss every minute of every day. And yet I, of course, want Fiddler to be alive because he’s wonderful.
How does Corabb survive everything?
Now, that conversation between Quick Ben and Kalam is probably reading the whole book for. It’s just perfect. The way that Quick still keeps his secret, the wonder they both have about the ascending of the Bridgeburners (including the rather bitter thought that this is why they had to die as a company), and Quick’s reaction to Kalam wondering whether Anomander is about to arrive. So funny! “I hope not. I mean, I don’t think so. He’s busy…” What makes me wonder is how Fiddler, Kalam and Quick Ben can join the Bridgeburners? And why were they not included in the death of the company?
Now that is an AWESOME battle between Karsa and the Hounds. Just brilliant. He is badass, isn’t he?
Haha, great exchange:
“Let’s drop off the Napan and get out of here.”
“A brilliant plan.”
“I just thought it up.”
“I like it very much. Well done, Kalam.”
It sort of reminds me of something from Blackadder!
Poor Greyfrog—he seems to convey the same confusion that the reader must be thinking, “Thoughtful. A fell night, this one. Ghosts, assassins, warrens, silent battles. Does no-one in this world ever sleep?”
I like the fact that Heboric is finally told that he should be concentrating on Felisin Younger. And I do feel very sorry for Sha’ik, who was Felisin, and has had the very worst life.
Now this chapter is why I read the books, even when I’m not sure where Erikson is going. I have a sneaking suspicion I enjoyed it so much because Trull and Onrack were not involved—sorry, people, still not liking their part of the story. And, boy, did I enjoy it!
Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Twenty-Five
The sands were stirring…Spirits and ghosts…A curious thing, but he was not unduly concerned.
Gotta love just how sharp good old Febryl is.
I like the contrast between Dom being referred to as the “Supreme Command of the Apocalypse” even as he sends out his assassins to kill little girls (Bidithal’s cute little spies) and a whore “Scillara, that bitch,” and makes his plans to betray the Goddess. Not to mention his hiding in his tent in a bit of panic and fear: “Which is why we need the Adjunct and her damn sword. Are we safe enough in here, Henaras?”
Karsa certainly makes his presence known early on, eh? And we get a redshirt character who sees Hood’s Gate so we’re not surprised when a much more major one—Bidithal—does the same later on.
Note when Heboric rises how the “gloom felt solid, reluctant to yield,”—an intimation of Darkness perhaps.
Not a fan of the gods is Heboric. That’s a pretty bitter take on the gods and their nudges and tugs—how rather than actually directing events out of need to achieve a desired or in their minds necessary goal, they do so simply to “appease their egos,” to feel in the game so to speak or simply out of boredom. Though, as we’ll see, some gods have some pretty complex and long-term plans….
A reluctant Destriant to a god of war—I’m thinking that’s perhaps not such a bad idea.
More reference to Darkness falling—Kalam noticing how “the starlight seemed strangely muted.”
I too like that precise contrast between the Claws and Talons—seven paces apart rather than five. Do you think they had arguments over the effectiveness of each? “Seven? Are you crazy? Five is obviously the perfect pacing!” “Five? Why, with five you’d…”
Not the first time we’ve seen a whisper into the ear of a dead/dying assassin for those who are watching.
You know you really loathe a guy like Bidithal when he makes you feel bad in how he treats a guy you already loathe, like Silgar. I hate that.
And so while we’ve known the Crippled/Chained/Ticked-Off God was involved with the Edur and the Seven Imass renegades and the First Throne, we now see his direct involvement with the whole Whirlwind story as Bidithal tells Kalam that his “shaping” of the cult he’d planned on was itself being shaped by the CG: a god of those who are “broken, wounded, and suffering.” And we can see how powers might be converging beyond the mortal as this has moved beyond a clash of armies to a clash over control of this fragment of Kurald Emurlahn: The CG wants it, the Goddess wants it, might the Edur want it as well? And who would want to ensure it does not fall into the hands of those who might want it? We’ve got the goddess, the CG. Cotillion. Will Shadowthrone appear? Hood seems to be hovering. That’s a lot of gods in one small place.
Too bad Kalam isn’t interested in just why marching Sha’ik “back to Unta [not that “back”] in chains” is so “poetic.” Too bad.
As you say, Amanda, hard not to think of Karsa when Kalam mentions someone “meaner and tougher” than the Deragoth.
I like the understated ending of this scene—his knives proving “sufficient” and the mention of Cotillion. Good decision not to show us the actual fight I think.
Remember those assassin knives “invested with sorcery.”
Things don’t seem to be going so great for the Crippled God tonight. His mage—Bidithal—is killed. His Leper—Silgar—is killed. His Knight—Karsa—is the one killing off his other players. Doesn’t seem to bode well for the whole “just wait ’till I get my hands on the Emurlahn fragment” plan.
As much as we see “Conan” Karsa in this chapter with all his slaying and his, “I have returned,” “I follow no patron god,” “I never liked you,” “Cimmeria sucks in the winter” (okay, I made that last one up), we also see the more mature and wise Karsa in his recognition of error when he says Leoman had been right about Silgar, that “a quick death would have been the better choice.” A nice reminder of his layers in a chapter that has him mostly in Terminator mode.
This is the second scene where the Rope has been preternaturally deadly. To impress Kalam tells us a bit more I think than the prior scene.
Love the whole “Kalam Mechar. I supposed you don’t remember me.” And Kalam’s “nope.”
And the acorn scene.
And oh, that sharp, painful reminder of what we’ve managed to forget about for a while, the deaths of the Bridgeburners and Whiskeyjack: “Scars written not on his skin but on his heart.” And I like the professionalism of Kalam in this moment of realization that he knows whatever it is—and it’s obviously big—needs to wait. And I love how it’s the tight relationship between the two that lets him know that, and know to wait, and know Quick will tell him when he can. And the simple moving pain in the closing line of the scene—”Oh, Whiskeyjack.”
Dom. Dom. Wait for it.
I cringe every time at this scene with Bidithal. Really, really cringe. But so fitting. As is his future.
As we near the end, note how often Erikson tells us what is going on with this Shadow fragment. Bidithal talks about it, Kalam thinks about what Bidithal told him, and Cotillion explains it to Lostara. We’re getting good and grounded in things before everything explodes.
I enjoy how the past few times Karsa shows up to kill someone, it’s always right after they think to themselves how perfect everything is going for them. Karsa—the Sword of Irony.
Love this ending for Gamet, absolutely love it. The death, the riding out, the reverting back to what he always only wanted to be—a soldier, the victory. And he even gets the girl. Good for him, I say. Good for him.
Note how he salutes to Grub.
“Even memories need to be defended.” Great line. And fitting for a series where we’ve said repeatedly the past is never truly past.
And in case we couldn’t piece together the whole Tanno song thing, Erikson has Quick Ben do it for us. As happens more than I recalled from my first reading, wait a while and you’ll get a surprisingly clear and concise explanation of things. Not everything, mind you, but to me a surprising number of them.
Hmm, are the T’lan Imass a precedent for the Bridgeburner’s ascension? Or will this be different? We have, after all, noted a lot not to like about the whole living dead Imass thing. Stay tuned….
Love, absolutely love, the Kalam-Quick Ben road show with the Hounds, from start (“No, what are they doing here?”) to finish (“A brilliant plan.” “I just thought it up.” “I like it very much.”) Good to get some humor in a chapter filled with death (some quite graphic) and mayhem and betrayal and ghosts and entrails and vomit. (Sorry Amanda.)
I can’t say Karsa kills the Hounds easily, but still, part of me just wishes he weren’t quite so indomitable.
Speaking of humor:
“Does no one in this world ever sleep?”
“Bidithal is dead.”
“Oh. Not good.”
And from humor to heartbreak:
“There are two Felisins. Save the one you can.”
A busy night. What will the dawn bring?
Amanda Rutter contributes reviews and a regular World Wide Wednesday post to fantasyliterature.com, as well as reviews for her own site floortoceilingbooks.com (covering more genres than just speculative), Vector Reviews and Hub magazine.
Bill Capossere writes short stories and essays, plays ultimate frisbee, teaches as an adjunct English instructor at several local colleges, and writes SF/F reviews for fantasyliterature.com.