…now, we flash back.
Tattersail is woken from her warm bed, which she currently shares with fellow (but subordinate) sorcerer Calot. They’re summoned to a gathering called by High Fist Dujek Onearm. They hurry in that direction, and then we get to see the first bit of visual imagery in the book that made me go “WHOA.”
Drawing her cloak against the chill, Tattersail paused outside the tent and turned to study the enormous mountain hanging suspended a quarter-mile above the city of Pale. She scanned the battered face of Moon’s Spawn – it’s name for as long as she could remember. Ragged as a blackened tooth, the basalt fortress was home to the most powerful enemy the Malazan Empire had ever faced. High above the earth, Moon’s Spawn could not be breached by siege. Even Laseen’s own undead army, the T’lan Imass, who traveled as easily as dust on the wind, were unable, or unwilling, to penetrate its magical defenses.
In other words, the besieged city of Pale has found some powerful friends. Sorcerers called the Tiste Andii, commanded by warlord Caladan Brood (that name!) dropped from the floating mountain to drive back Malazan forces. The long siege has ground to a halt, except for the efforts by the Bridgeburners to keep tunneling under the city walls.
The sorcerers continue into their meeting with Onearm and the Empress’s high mage Tayschrenn, and fellow sorcerer Hairlock (who is dying so dramatically at the beginning of the chapter). It’s an uncomfortable meeting. Hairlock is a dour presence, Tayschrenn a dramatic one, and the plan — to toss six high mages’s power up at Moon’s Spawn — seems a crazy one. It takes more discussion and some poetry before the front-line mages realize who they’re really up against: Anomander Rake, one of the Tiste Andii, and Archmage of Moon’s Spawn. All we know of the Tiste Andii at this time is that they have “elder blood,” and are scary, scary peeps.
The battle begins. The mages cast fiery spells at the floating mountain. It stops in place, something it hasn’t done in years. A portal atop it opens. Great Ravens pour out, and for the first time, Anomander Rake is seen:
(Italics are in the original) Mane of Chaos. Anomander Rake. Lord of the black-skinned Tiste Andii, who has looked down on a hundred thousand winters, who has tasted the blood of dragons, who leads the last of his kind, seated in the Throne of Sorrow and a kingdom tragic and fey – a kingdom with no land to call its own.
The mages loose all their power, but Rake responds with a black, necrous power that engulfs the whole army as it roils toward them. This is something different. “Kurald Galain sorcery. Elder magic, the Breath of Chaos.” Hairlock is struck down. Calot diverts his power to protect his lover and commander Tattersail’s. Mages fall to demons and fire. When Tattersail can raise her head again, she sees the cost of this battle: Onearm’s host is obliterated. Three of the six mages are dead.
And, something worse: she can feel that something else was involved, something big, something different. The scene feels like it was touched by the involvement of …a god? Hood, the god of Death? No. Something else. Her sight keeps swiveling back toward the young woman who travels with the Bridgeburners, but that seems like a dead end.
Quick Ben and the other Bridgeburners work hurriedly to do something with Hairlock’s fading body. It’s strange magic, magic Tattersail doesn’t know (to her shock). They work swiftly to try and avoid the attention of the fifteen year old girl called Sorry in their ranks. In the end, they hand Tattersail a small package and send her across the killing fields to set it in her tent. Ravens scatter as the package moves through them.
The siege of Pale is done. Next up is Daujhistan. The army doesn’t pause.
Tattersail returns to her tent with the package. She sets it down and reaches for her prophetic Deck of Dragons. It calls to her. She’s indulging in some anguished reflection when the package moves. Twitches. Then says her name. And out of the wrapping steps a yellow marionette that speaks with Hairlock’s voice. He’s undergone soul shifting, an ancient, chaotic magic. In his presence, Tattersail’s warren (her magical source and conduit) springs to life. The deck is calling her. She has to answer.
First card to set the stage! The Knight of Dark, black-skinned, half-dragon, with something just out of sight above his head. Second card! Oponn. The Jester of Chance. A lady and a lord, twins, balancing. A tiny disc is suspended in the small space between them. The coin is spinning in the card. Hairlock commands her to draw a third card, but …no. She holds. The marionette is furious, but Tattersail knows what she needs to know. She hears a spinning coin; Hairlock does not. The Knight of Dark is out there, unpredictable and cold, but Chance’s coin is spinning. “Oponn whirled two faces to the cosmos, but it was the Lady’s bet. Spin on, silver. Spin on.“