Welcome to the Malazan Reread 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-two of Dust of Dreams.
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.
Amanda is still recovering from having just arrived back from her conference in Texas and will catch up in the comments. Also, we’ve just been informed that Steven will once again graciously donate his time to a Q and A after our final post, so start brainstorming questions!
Badalle recalls a long time ago watching an old woman dying, something that comes to mind as she watches one of the Snake expire outside the Crystal City. At night she dreams of flying, of children marching “in their tens of thousands. They had cattle, mules, and oxen. Many rode horses. They glittered blindingly in the hard sunlight as if they bore the treasures of the world on their backs. Children, but not her children.” Then she swooped down, “fixed upon the two burning spots she sought… to steal fire.” In the city, the Snake has found water and food (though they still eat the dead). Badalle has taken to carrying a makeshift knife and looking for Brayderal, who entered the city with them and remains a threat.
Saddic, exploring the city, discovers most of it lies underground. He discovers as well the “true secret… the buildings, the domes and spire and tilted towers … each marked the perfect placement of a single, enormous machine… This city had defeated mortality and… time itself. Far above, the sun’s light fed the city’s memories—all the life it had once held… the walls around him flowed with scenes, murky and ghostly—not of Rutt and the children now dwelling above, but of the inhabitant of long, long ago.” Those inhabitants were green-skinned, tall and tusked. Seeing no weapons or armor, it appears to Saddic to be a “city of peace.” A peace that apparently held even when other creatures, large bipedal reptiles, entered the scenes in “peaceful coexistence.” Eventually, he realizes that all the statues in the city are of the same person, and he learns the city’s name and its history: They were called Jaghut. Returned to this way of living, in the cities they had abandoned long before. They were drawn to a humble man, a half-blood… to his great machine of memories… What he did not possess within him, he built around him. To trap all that he was. The city is called Icarias. Walking further into the heart of the city, he sees “Darkness. Destruction. The roots were dead, unfed by light from above. Broken. His heart is broken.”
Brayderal bemoans not killing Badalle when she’d first suspected she had power. She feels the city itself warring on her—“inimical to the Forkrul Assail.” She sees Badalle, carrying her crystal sword, walk by her hiding spot and is frightened.
Badalle sees Brayderal in the window and decides against compelling her via her Voice, wanting “this death to be a silent one.” Thinking about it though, she decides killing Brayderal wouldn’t help the Snake so instead she uses her power to banish her, thinking it poetic justice. Heading back to Rutt and Saddic, she noticed her sword flaring bright and realizes there was “something else there. Something of power, a terrible power… She would name [it] Fire.”
Fiddler examines Stormy and Gesler’s tent: torn to pieces and the two men missing. As he waits for Bottle to examine the tent, Fiddler thinks of his slow recovery after the impact of Draconus’ arrival, and thinks as well on the repercussions of Dragnipur shattered, Rake’s death, Draconus’ arrival. He wonders what could have taken the two men, “annealed in the Forge of Thyrllan. Ascendants both.” Bottle tells him he found non-human blood, something akin to rhizan. Fiddler realizes something snatched the two from the sky, though neither he nor Bottle can figure out how it happened silently. Fiddler sends for more people, then Bottle finds oil all over everything that “smells like a lizard’s armpit.” Fiddler and Bottle eliminate enkar’al (too small), Wyval (too small, but also too loud as they travel in “clouds”), and dragon) too big). Fiddler says he’d guess K’Chain Che’Malle save for the winged part. Quick Ben arrives, and figures out it was a winged K’Chain Che’Malle using its oil to knock everyone out. He tries to lie about knowing more, Fiddler calls him on it, and he admits he knows they’re alive, are far away, and were taken by a Shi’gal Assassin sent by a Matron because “someone needed them.” Tired of it all, Fiddler knocks Quick out, thinking the Adjunct can question him. Looking at the mage, Fiddler thinks, “Never liked him. Need him, count on him, pray for him, love him, aye. But like him? Not a chance… Probably Soletaken or D’ivers if I’m any judge of things.”
Keneb rides out to look over the Wastelands from a rise. He worries about Fist Blistig, who had “done his best to evade the responsibilities of command.” He worries as well he himself is over his head. He is called back in by the Adjunct.
Bottle returns to Stormy’s tent and panics when he sees the unconscious Quick Ben, worried he tried magic in this place. He tells Fiddler the Wastelands “might as well be dusted in otataral,” though there are also “Ascendants, stinking with power… out there, just walking around,” naming the T’lan Imass as one example. When Fiddler jokingly wonders where the Jaghut are, Quick Ben and Bottle both say they’re still days away, and that they number fourteen. Fiddler asks if Tavore has been told and Quick says he’s given up trying to tell her things; “It’s as if she already knows.” Bottle adds he’s also sensed dragons, and Quick admits one at least is Ruin. The Adjunct approaches, and Fiddler tells Bottle he should have stayed away when he’d been ordered to, now it’s too late.
Blistig joins Keneb as he rides through camp and tells him Stormy and Gesler deserted, a rumor Keneb deems “ridiculous.” Blistig says Tavore has lost the army and will have to disband it, adding he thinks he might retire to Letheras. Keneb tells Blistig to get back to his people, the two argue, and Blistig says he’s going on; he needs to talk to Tavore about “my business.” Blistig tries to harangue Tavore about the rum ration, but she cuts him off and sends him back to his legion. When he speaks of Stormy and Gesler deserting, Tavore humiliates him by delaying her return salute. Keneb is the first to wonder if the Assassin might come back for more, and they make plans to deal with the possibility. Tavore sends Lostara to report to Brys and Aranict. Keneb tells Tavore he’s concerned about Blistig’s impact, and she agrees, saying she’ll deal with it soon. She asks Quick Ben to do what he can to protect the army and to also find Stormy and Gesler. Fiddler tells Keneb he thinks the Assassin took the two due to their connection with fire, and that they’ll not see it or them again.
Henar Vygulf, from Bluerose, is the tallest soldier in the Letherii escort. He is brought to Brys’ tent by Corporal Odenid. Brys has been spending time interviewing soldiers about any sort of rumor or legend about the Wastelands and recording the results of those interviews.
Henar joins Brys, Aranict, and Lostara Yil, the last of which he falls hard for immediately upon seeing her. Brys asks Henar, who had been attached to the Drene Garrison, about the K’Chain Che’Malle that had traveled with Redmask. Henar reports, exits, and Brys apologizes to Lostara for how his man had behaved. Lostara says it was fine, and that Henar’s story seems to confirm Quick Ben’s theory about what had taken Stormy and Gesler. Brys recalls a god who had lived and died in the Wastelands, “Its life stolen from it by a force, a power coming from the K’Chain Che’Malle… Its name was Ahkrast Korvalain. What it did was steal the life force of the land itself. In fact, it may have created the Wastelands, and in so doing killed the spirits and gods dwelling there, and with them, their worshipers.” Brys decides to ride out to Tavore later and share information. She exits, and Brys attaches Henar to his staff, promotes him, and orders that he go with him to meet Tavore later. When Corporal Ginast quotes the regulations about Bluerose-born soldiers being limited to how high they could rise in rank, Brys informs him from now on all advancement will be based on merit and accomplishment. He leaves, and Aranict mentions she’s surprised Brys is playing matchmaker. He explains it had been the first “hint of life I’ve seen in Captain Yil’s face since I first met her.” Awkward sexual silence reigns for a moment or two.
Tarr, Koryk, Cuttle, Smiles, Corabb spar and snarl, kvetch and complain in general and also in particular about Pores as middleman/hoarder of supplies.
Corabb annoys Throatslitter and vice versa. Corabb thinks how Tavore is a better leader than Leoman because she cares, “maybe even too much,” and so Leoman’s followers would all die while Tavore’s might not. He worries about the dissatisfaction spreading in the army. He considers Cuttle especially sour, though he likes him: “He’s bitter iron. Me too.”
Skanarom tells Kindly she thinks Ruathan isn’t who he says he is, that he’s hiding something; he’s getting nervous, talking in his sleep in odd languages. She asks if Kindly has ever heard of Ahkrast Korvalain, and he says it sounds like a Tiste or Warren name, and she should check with Quick Ben.
Pores come to consciousness (he’d been knocked out) to find that his wagon had been ransacked. Hedge and four of his Bridgeburners show up. Hedge remarks how all the writs for supplies have to somehow go through Pores before the Quartermaster accepts them. He tells Pores he’ll let him know who ransacked his wagon for an all-purpose writ. Pores gives him one, and Hedge says it was Neffarias Bredd.
Skulldeath, Ruffle, Primly, Nep Furrow, Sinter, etc. pass time. Helian collapsed in the midst of their group and was taken care of tenderly by Skulldeath. Sinter wonders where her sister is and recalls the meeting with Tavore, who hadn’t objected at all to the idea, but had registered hurt at the idea of betrayal, making Sinter wonder what childhood trauma had scarred Tavore, what “rejection, betrayal that stabbed to the deepest core of you, of the innocent child you once were.” She bemoans a civilization “that could thrive only by systematically destroying” the parent-child relationship. She thinks how “We kills their world before they [children] even inherit it. We kill it before they grow old enough to know what it is.” She wishes Tavore would know she is not as alone as she thinks.
Gesler wakes far off to see Stormy still asleep by a fire, Kalyth next to him. Kalyth introduces herself as Destriant to the K’Chain Che’Malle. She claims Stormy is Shield Anvil and Gesler Mortal Sword. Gesler is about to object, but then recalls someone calling Stormy Shield Anvil, or possibly Mortal Sword. Kalyth tells him there will be war and the two of them will lead the K’Chain Che’Malle. They are fire and so were taken by Gu’rull. Gesler wakes Stormy and fill him in. Kalyth interrupts their talk to say, “They come… K’Chain Che’Malle. Army. Soon… War.” Then, “Gesler and Stormy feel the ground shake and they turn to the north. Fener’s holy crotch.”
Not really a lot to say about this chapter, as it’s one of the most straightforward chapters we’ve seen in this series. A lot of clear events, a lot of reminders of things we know, a lot of moving characters into place.
Badalle’s opening thoughts echo earlier musings/conversations about what one sees in the eyes of death, though she takes a somewhat different take on it, wondering if the witness sees in the eyes whatever they need to feel better, to ease their own torment. Badalle indeed has long ago lost any thoughts of childhood, and it should be clear that no matter what happens with the Snake, nothing can be called a “happy” ending.
Her dreams are clearly the capture of Stormy and Gesler. If that isn’t clear at first reading, it should become clear with the linkage of two “burning spots” and the later multiple references to their association with fire.
So many layers, so many stories in this series. I would love to read the short story/novella about Icarium creating this city, creating his “memory machine”, the way the Jaghut flocked to it, and then lived peacefully with the K’Chain Che’Malle. I just want to know more!
A bit ironic, Badalle delivering justice to a Forkrul Assail. I’m glad, though, she doesn’t stab Brayderal to death. And yet another reference to fire here, with her crystal sword.
Not a lot to say about the whole investigation of Stormy and Gesler’s disappearance, as it’s all pretty straightforward and even if we didn’t know what happened in it, we are told by the end of the chapter. What I do like is the interaction of the soldiers—Fid’s hysterical frustration with Quick Ben, Quick Ben’s maddening knowledge (speaking of wanting to know more!), Bottle’s knowing more than he lets on—it’s a nice bit of comic relief all set against a tense backdrop within the larger army.
We’ve had several references now to Blistig being an issue (and he really does seem a cancer with his insistence on declaring Stormy and Gesler deserters and his focus on rum rations), and with Tavore’s “I’ll deal with it,” we’re apparently being set up for something with him. More worrisome perhaps is Keneb’s feeling that he is out of his element, over his head.
It’s also clear we’re nearing at least somewhat of a convergence as all those powers are becoming more aware of each other, which would seem to imply something big on the horizon.
I find Quick Ben’s description of Stormy and Gesler as “As close to ascendants as anyone in this army” an interesting phrasing as to what it implies.
A few points about the scene with Brys. One, it’s a good reminder of is god knowledge. That just might come in handy down the road. Two, that part about killing a god in the wastelands, might be important, as that seems a pretty big deal. Three, I love the idea of Brys playing matchmaker in the midst of all this tension and horror and impending doom. And love even more that awkward silence at the end between him and Aranict.
Speaking of all that tension, we’re really seeing things start to boil over a bit—the sniping and arguing, all the rumors about desertion, Pores getting knocked out. You’d like to think they need something to focus on, until you realize what that itself would probably mean.
Skanarow’s concern about Ruthan is an example of simply reminding us of something we already know—he is not what/who he seems—so no new information here, though it is interesting he recognizes Ahkrast Korvalain, the power Brys says the K’Chain Che’Malle used to kill the god of the wastelands. It’s also earlier called the warren of the Forkrul Assail.
Bridgeburners. Old ones. New ones. Gotta love ‘em.
Full circle (as is often our direction) in this chapter with the Snake opening it and Sinter’s thoughts on childhood coming toward the end. But while The Snake’s story is, at least on the surface, far removed from us with its monsters and crystal city and eating of the dead, is perhaps more metaphorical (though sadly there are literal or near-literal representations of the same happening in this world), Sinter’s thoughts speak directly to our world. The “careless acts and indifferent, impatient gestures she’s seen among parents in civilized places, as if they had no time for their own children” (I’m thinking of you, folks I used to watch push their kids on the swing while reading or talking on their phones. The civilizations that “thrive on destroying the parent-child relationship”—yeah, cause they never happens nowadays. Adults/cultures that “kill” the world before the children inherit it. Well, outside of pollution, global warming, accelerated extinction rate, deforestation, over-development, choking of the oceans, debt, profligate use of antibiotics, etc., I can’t think of any real world analogue to this.
As with a lot of the scenes in this chapter, not a lot to say about Stormy and Gesler at the end save there’s nothing really new there (save for the whole mom thing). But what a great chapter ending!