A moment later he sembled into his Tiste Edur form. Skin the shade of hammered iron, long grey hair unbound, a gaunt, aquiline face with hard, close-set eyes. A broad, downturned mouth that bore no lines of laughter. High, unlined brow, diagonally scarred livid white against the dusky skin. He wore a leather harness bearing his two-handed sword, a brace of long-knives at his hip, and hanging from his shoulders a scaled cape – the hide of a Matron, fresh enough to still glisten with natural oils.
He stood, a tall figure sheathed in droplets of blood, watching the legions assemble. Edur officers glanced his way, then began directing their troops.
Scabandari faced northwest then, eyes narrowing on the billowing clouds. A moment later a vast bone-white dragon broke through – if anything, larger than Scabandari himself when veered into draconean form. Also sheathed in blood… and much of it his own, for Silchas Ruin had fought alongside his Andii kin against the K’ell Hunters.
Scabandari watched his ally approach, stepping back only when the huge dragon settled onto the hilltop and then quickly sembled. A head or more taller than the Tiste Edur Soletaken, yet terribly gaunt, muscles bound like rope beneath smooth, almost translucent skin. Talons from some raptor gleamed in the warrior’s thick, long white hair. The red of his eyes seemed feverish, so brightly did it glow. Silchas Ruin bore wounds: sword-slashes across his body. Most of his upper armour had fallen away, revealing the blue-green of his veins and arteries tracking branching paths beneath the thin, hairless skin of his chest. His legs were slick with blood, as were his arms. The twin scabbards at his hips were empty – he had broken both weapons, despite the weavings of sorcery invested in them. His had been a desperate battle.
Scabandari bowed his head in greeting. ‘Silchas Ruin, brother in spirit. Most stalwart of allies. Behold the plain – we are victorious.’
The albino Tiste Andii’s pallid face twisted in a silent snarl.
‘My legions were late in coming to your aid,’ Scabandari said. ‘And for that, my heart breaks at your losses. Even so, we now hold the gate, do we not? The path to this world belongs to us, and the world itself lies before us… to plunder, to carve for our people worthy empires.’
Ruin’s long-fingered, stained hands twitched, and he faced the plain below. The Edur legions had re-formed into a rough ring around the last surviving Andii. ‘Death fouls the air,’ Silchas Ruin growled. ‘I can barely draw it to speak.’
‘There will be time enough for making new plans later,’ Scabandari said.
‘My people are slaughtered. You now surround us, but your protection is far too late.’
‘Symbolic, then, my brother. There are other Tiste Andii on this world – you said so yourself. You must needs only find that first wave, and your strength will return. More, others will come. My kind and yours both, fleeing our defeats.’
Silchas Ruin’s scowl deepened. ‘This day’s victory is a bitter alternative.’
‘The K’Chain Che’Malle are all but gone – we know this. We have seen the many other dead cities. Now, only Morn remains, and that on a distant continent – where the Short-Tails even now break their chains in bloody rebellion. A divided enemy is an enemy quick to fall, my friend. Who else in this world has the power to oppose us? Jaghut? They are scattered and few. Imass? What can weapons of stone achieve against our iron?’ He was silent a moment, then continued, ‘The Forkrul Assail seem unwilling to pass judgement on us. And each year there seem to be fewer and fewer of them in any case. No, my friend, with this day’s victory this world lies before our feet. Here, you shall not suffer from the civil wars that plague Kurald Galain. And I and my followers shall escape the rivening that now besets Kurald Emurlahn-’
Silchas Ruin snorted. ‘A rivening by your own hand, Scabandari.’
He was still studying the Tiste forces below, and so did not see the flash of rage that answered his offhand remark, a flash that vanished a heartbeat later as Scabandari’s expression returned once more to equanimity. ‘A new world for us, brother.’
‘A Jaghut stands atop a ridge to the north,’ Silchas Ruin said. ‘Witness to the war. I did not approach, for I sensed the beginning of a ritual. Omtose Phellack.’
‘Do you fear that Jaghut, Silchas Ruin?’
‘I fear what I do not know, Scabandari… Bloodeye. And there is much to learn of this realm and its ways.’
‘You cannot see yourself,’ Ruin said, ‘but I give you this name, for the blood that now stains your… vision.’
‘Rich, Silchas Ruin, coming from you.’ Then Scabandari shrugged and walked to the north edge of the heap, stepping carefully on the shifting carcasses. ‘A Jaghut, you said…’ He swung about, but Silchas Ruin’s back was to him as the Tiste Andii stared down upon his few surviving followers on the plain below.
‘Omtose Phellack, the Warren of Ice,’ Ruin said without turning. ‘What does he conjure, Scabandari Bloodeye? I wonder…’
The Edur Soletaken walked back towards Silchas Ruin.
He reached down to the outside of his left boot and drew out a shadow-etched dagger. Sorcery played on the iron.
A final step, and the dagger was driven into Ruin’s back.
The Tiste Andii spasmed, then roared-
– even as the Edur legions turned suddenly on the Andii, rushing inward from all sides to deliver the day’s final slaughter.
Magic wove writhing chains about Silchas Ruin, and the albino Tiste Andii toppled.
Scabandari Bloodeye crouched down over him. ‘It is the way of brothers, alas,’ he murmured. ‘One must rule. Two cannot. You know the truth of that. Big as this world is, Silchas Ruin, sooner or later there would be war between the Edur and the Andii. The truth of our blood will tell. Thus, only one shall command the gate. Only the Edur shall pass. We will hunt down the Andii who are already here – what champion can they throw up to challenge me? They are as good as dead. And so it must be. One people. One ruler.’ He straightened, as the last cries of the dying Andii warriors echoed from the plain below. ‘Aye, I cannot kill you outright – you are too powerful for that. Thus, I will take you to a suitable place, and leave you to the roots, earth and stone of its mangled grounds…’
He veered into his draconean form. An enormous taloned foot closed about the motionless Silchas Ruin, and Scabandari Bloodeye rose into the sky, wings thundering.
The tower was less than a hundred leagues to the south, only its low battered wall enclosing the yard revealing that it was not of Jaghut construction, that it had arisen beside the three Jaghut towers of its own accord, in answer to a law unfathomable to god and mortal alike. Arisen… to await the coming of those whom it would imprison for eternity. Creatures of deadly power.