The Crippled God (The Malazan Book of the Fallen #10) Page 283 (2024)

He saw Brevity, though at first he did not recognize her – that solid, handsome face, the wry look in her eyes, all gone. In their place a mask of wet blood over dried blood, over blood that had turned into black tar. A slash had opened one cheek, revealing two rows of red molars. There was nothing sardonic left, but she commanded that front line, her will clenched like a fist.

Off her shield side, two Shake fell and three Liosan pushed in to widen the gap.

Eyes widening at the perfect, breathtaking simplicity of what was needed of him, Withal surged to meet them.

This was something new. Yan Tovis could feel it. Yedan Derryg had advanced the line to the very edge of the breach, and there they had held against the Liosan. This time there was to be no foothold. He would refuse them a single step upon the strand.

He had explained nothing, and as she fought, crowded hard against that wound – from which Liosan poured like blood – she began to realize that, this time, there would be no respite, not until one side or the other fell, to the very last soldier. What had begun would not end until the last sword swung down, or sank deep in writhing flesh.

How had he known? What had he done on the other side of the gate? What had he seen?

She caught glimpses of her brother, there, where the terrifying pealing laughter went on and on, where blood fountained, where Liosan bodies piled ever higher and they stood on them, fighting for balance, face to face, weapons flashing. Glimpses. A face she barely knew, so twisted was it, the Hust sword dragging him past exhaustion, past all reason of what the human body could withstand. Of his face, she could see the white bones beneath translucent flesh, could see all the veins and arteries and the root-mat of vessels, could see the bloody tears that streamed down from his eyes.

Night had come to the Shake. The sand had measured the time, in a kind of stillness, a kind of silence that was beneath all this, and the grains slipped down, and now had come the eternity just before dawn, the time of the Watch. He stood. He fought, his stance wide to find purchase on a hill of bodies.

See him. In the eternity before dawn. When among mortals courage is at its weakest, when fear sinks talons on the threshold and will not let go. When one awakens to such loneliness as to twist a moan from the chest. But then … you feel it, breath catching. You feel it. You are not alone .

The Watch stands guard .

They would not break, would not yield – all those who stood now with him. Instead, at his sides they died, and died.


She was a thing of ash and blood, moulded into something vaguely human-shaped, tempered by the crushed bone of her ancestors, and she fought on, because her brother would not yield, because the very border that was Lightfall, and the wound, had now become the place where it would be decided.

And still the Liosan came, lunging wild-eyed from the swirling chaos – most did not even have time to react, to make sense of the nightmare world into which they had just stumbled, before a pike plunged into them, or a sword lashed down. And so they died, there on that threshold, fouling those who came after them.

She had no idea how many of her people were left, and a vision that had come upon her a century ago, maybe longer, of Yedan Derryg standing alone before the breach, the very last to fall, now returned to her, not as some dreadful imagining, but as prophetic truth.

And all because I would not kneel to the Shore .

There was no dragon challenging the breach. If one came, she now would not hesitate. She would fling herself down, trusting in Yedan to kill the damned thing, trusting in the power of her own blood to claim that dying creature, hold it fast, grasp hold of its blood and lift it, higher, yet higher, to make a wall, to seal this gate.

Why did I wait? Why did I resist?

Why did I believe my freedom was worth anything? Why did I imagine that I had the right to choose my destiny? Or choose to deny it?

Only the defeated kneel. Only slaves, the ones who surrender their lives – into the hands of others .

But now … I would do it. To save my people, this pitiful remnant. Come to me now, my child-witches. See me kneel. Bleed me out. I am ready .

A Liosan fell to her sword, on to his knees before her, as if mocking her sudden desire, and over his head she saw her brother – saw him turn, saw him find her. Their gazes locked.

Yan Tovis loosed a sob, and then nodded.

Yedan Deryyg threw out his arms to the sides. Roared, ‘Back! Ten paces!’

And hail welcome to the dragon .

She watched Spinnock Durav enter the throne room yet again, and wondered at the absence of his smile. That face did not welcome solemn regard, wore it like an ill-fitting mask. Made it lined where it should be smooth, made the eyes flinch when he looked up to meet the gaze of the one seated on this throne.

The Crippled God (The Malazan Book of the Fallen #10) Page 283 (2024)


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