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Such as the Soletaken Tiste Andii, Silchas Ruin, third and last of Mother Dark’s three children.

Removing from Scabandari Bloodeye’s path his last worthy opponent among the Tiste.

Mother Dark’s three children.

Three names…

Andarist, who long ago surrendered his power in answer to a grief that could never heal. All unknowing that the hand that delivered that grief was mine…

Anomandaris Irake, who broke with his mother and with his kind. Who then vanished before I could deal with him. Vanished, probably never to be seen again.

And now Silchas Ruin, who in a very short time will know the eternal prison of the Azath.

Scabandari Bloodeye was pleased. For his people. For himself. This world he would conquer. Only the first Andii settlers could pose any challenge to his claim.

A champion of the Tiste Andii in this realm? I can think of no-one… no-one with the power to stand before me…

It did not occur to Scabandari Bloodeye to wonder where, of the three sons of Mother Dark, the one who had vanished might have gone.

But even that was not his greatest mistake…

On a glacial berm to the north, the lone Jaghut began weaving the sorcery of Omtose Phellack. He had witnessed the devastation wrought by the two Soletaken Eleint and their attendant armies. Little sympathy was spared for the K’Chain Che’Malle. They were dying out anyway, for myriad reasons, none of which concerned the Jaghut overmuch. Nor did the intruders worry him. He had long since lost his capacity for worry. Along with fear. And, it must be admitted, wonder.

He felt the betrayal when it came, the distant bloom of magic and the spilling of ascendant blood. And the two dragons were now one.

Typical.

And then, a short while later, in the time when he rested between weavings of his ritual, he sensed someone approaching him from behind. An Elder god, come in answer to the violent rift torn between the realms. As expected. Still… which god? K’rul? Draconus? The Sister of Cold Nights? Osserc? Kilmandaros? Sechul Lath? Despite his studied indifference, curiosity finally forced him to turn to look upon the newcomer.

Ah, unexpected… but interesting.

Mael, Elder Lord of the Seas, was wide and squat, with deep blue skin that faded to pale gold at throat and bared belly. Lank blond hair hung unbound from his broad, almost flat pate. And in Mael’s amber eyes, sizzling rage.

‘Gothos,’ Mael rasped, ‘what ritual do you invoke in answer to this?’

The Jaghut scowled. ‘They’ve made a mess. I mean to cleanse it.’

‘Ice,’ the Elder god snorted. ‘The Jaghut answer to everything.’

‘And what would yours be, Mael? Flood, or… flood?’

The Elder god faced south, the muscles of his jaw bunching. ‘I am to have an ally. Kilmandaros. She comes from the other side of the rent.’

‘Only one Tiste Soletaken is left,’ Gothos said. ‘Seems he struck down his companion, and even now delivers him into the keeping of the Azath Tower’s crowded yard.’

‘Premature. Does he think the K’Chain Che’Malle his only opposition in this realm?’

The Jaghut shrugged. ‘Probably.’

Mael was silent for a time, then he sighed and said, ‘With your ice, Gothos, do not destroy all of this. Instead, I ask that you… preserve.’

‘Why?’

‘I have my reasons.’

‘I am pleased for you. What are they?’

The Elder god shot him a dark look. ‘Impudent bastard.’

‘Why change?’

‘In the seas, Jaghut, time is unveiled. In the depths ride currents of vast antiquity. In the shallows whisper the future. The tides flow between them in ceaseless exchange. Such is my realm. Such is my knowledge. Seal this devastation in your damned ice, Gothos. In this place, freeze time itself. Do this, and I will accept an indebtedness to you… which one day you might find useful.’

Gothos considered the Elder god’s words, then nodded. ‘I might at that. Very well, Mael. Go to Kilmandaros. Swat down this Tiste Eleint and scatter his people. But do it quickly.’

Mael’s eyes narrowed. ‘Why?’

‘Because I sense a distant awakening – but not, alas, as distant as you would like.’

‘Anomander Rake.’

Gothos nodded.

Mael shrugged. ‘Anticipated. Osserc moves to stand in his path.’

The Jaghut’s smile revealed his massive tusks. ‘Again?’

The Elder god could not help but grin in answer.

And though they smiled, there was little humour on that glacial berm.

* * *

1159th Year of Burn’s Sleep

Year of the White Veins in the Ebony

Three years before the Letherii Seventh Closure

He awoke with a bellyful of salt, naked and half buried in white sand amidst the storm’s detritus. Seagulls cried overhead, their shadows wheeling across the rippled beach. Cramps spasming his gut, he groaned and slowly rolled over.

There were more bodies on the beach, he saw. And wreckage. Chunks and rafts of fast-melting ice rustled in the shallows. Crabs scuttled in their thousands.

The huge man lifted himself to his hands and knees. And then vomited bitter fluids onto the sands. Pounding throbs racked his head, fierce enough to leave him half blind, and it was some time before he finally rocked back to sit up and glare once more at the scene around him.

A shore where no shore belonged.

And the night before, mountains of ice rising up from the depths, one – the largest of them all – reaching the surface directly beneath the vast floating Meckros city. Breaking it apart as if it were a raft of sticks. Meckros histories recounted nothing remotely like the devastation he had seen wrought. Sudden and virtually absolute annihilation of a city that was home to twenty thousand. Disbelief still tormented him, as if his own memories held impossible images, the conjuring of a fevered brain.

But he knew he had imagined nothing. He had but witnessed.

And, somehow, survived.

The sun was warm, but not hot. The sky overhead was milky white rather than blue. And the seagulls, he now saw, were something else entirely. Reptilian, pale-winged.

He staggered to his feet. The headache was fading, but shivers now swept through him, and his thirst was a raging demon trying to claw up his throat.

The cries of the flying lizards changed pitch and he swung to face inland.

Three creatures had appeared, clambering through the pallid tufts of grass above the tideline. No higher than his hip, black-skinned, hairless, perfectly round heads and pointed ears. Bhoka’ral – he recalled them from his youth, when a Meckros trading ship had returned from Nemil – but these seemed to be muscle-bound versions, at least twice as heavy as the pets the merchants had brought back to the floating city. They made directly for him.

He looked round for something to use as a weapon, and found a piece of driftwood that would serve as a club. Hefting it, he waited as the bhoka’ral drew closer.

They halted, yellow-shot eyes staring up at him.

Then the middle one gestured.

Come. There was no doubting the meaning of that all-too-human beckoning.

The man scanned the strand again – none of the bodies he could see were moving, and the crabs were feeding unopposed. He stared up once more at the strange sky, then stepped towards the three creatures.

They backed away and led him up to the grassy verge. Those grasses were like nothing he had ever seen before, long tubular triangles, razor-edged – as he discovered once he passed through them when he found his low legs crisscrossed with cuts. Beyond, a level plain stretched inland, bearing only the occasional tuft of the same grass. The ground in between was salt-crusted and barren. A few chunks of stone dotted the plain, no two alike and all oddly angular, unweathered. In the distance stood a lone tent. The bhoka’ral guided him towards it.