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Deadhouse Gates
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Deadhouse Gates

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Author: Steven Erikson
Publisher: Bantam UK, 2000
Series: The Malazan Book of the Fallen: Book 2
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
Sub-Genre Tags: High Fantasy
Dark Fantasy
Heroic Fantasy
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Synopsis

In the vast dominion of Seven Cities, in the Holy Desert Raraku, the seer Sha'ik and her followers prepare for the long-prophesied uprising known as the Whirlwind. Unprecedented in size and savagery, this maelstrom of fanaticism and bloodlust will embroil the Malazan Empire in one of the bloodiest conflicts it has ever known, shaping destinies and giving birth to legends . . .


Excerpt

Chapter One

And all came to imprint
Their passage
On the path,
To scent the dry winds
Their cloying claim
To ascendancy

The Path of Hands
Messremb
1164th Year of Burn's Sleep
Tenth Year of the Rule of Empress Laseen
The Sixth in the Seven Years of Dryjhna, the Apocalyptic

A corkscrew plume of dust raced across the basin, heading deeper into the trackless desert of the Pan'potsun Odhan. Though less than two thousand paces away, it seemed a plume born of nothing.

From his perch on the mesa's wind-scarred edge, Mappo Runt followed it with relentless eyes the colour of sand, eyes set deep in a robustly boned, pallid face. He held a wedge of emrag cactus in his bristle-backed hand, unmindful of the envenomed spikes as he bit into it. Juices dribbled down his chin, staining it blue. He chewed slowly, thoughtfully.

Beside him Icarium flicked a pebble over the cliff edge. It clicked and clattered on its way down to the boulder-strewn base. Under the ragged Spiritwalker robe---its orange faded to dusty rust beneath the endless sun---his grey skin had darkened into olive green, as if his father's blood had answered this wasteland's ancient call. His long, braided black hair dripped black sweat onto the bleached rock.

Mappo pulled a mangled thorn from between his front teeth. 'Your dye's running,' he observed, eyeing the cactus blade a moment before taking another bite.

Icarium shrugged. 'Doesn't matter any more. Not out here.'

'My blind grandmother wouldn't have swallowed your disguise. There were narrow eyes on us in Ehrlitan. I felt them crawling on my back day and night. Tannos are mostly short and bow-legged, after all.' Mappo pulled his gaze away from the dust cloud and studied his friend. 'Next time,' he grunted, 'try belonging to a tribe where everyone's seven foot tall.'

Icarium's lined, weather-worn face twitched into something like a smile, just a hint, before resuming its placid expression. 'Those who would know of us in Seven Cities, surely know of us now. Those who would not might wonder at us, but that is all they will do.' Squinting against the glare, he nodded at the plume. 'What do you see, Mappo?'

'Flat head, long neck, black and hairy all over. If just that, I might be describing one of my uncles.'

'But there's more.'

'One leg up front and two in back.'

Icarium tapped the bridge of his nose, thinking. 'So, not one of your uncles. An aptorian?'

Mappo slowly nodded. 'The convergence is months away. I'd guess Shadowthrone caught a whiff of what's coming, sent out a few scouts...'

'And this one?'

Mappo grinned, exposing massive canines. 'A tad too far afield. Sha'ik's pet now.' He finished off the cactus, wiped his spatulate hands, then rose from his crouch. Arching his back, he winced. There had been, unaccountably, a mass of roots beneath the sand under his bedroll the night just past, and now the muscles to either side of his spine matched every knot and twist of those treeless bones. He rubbed at his eyes. A quick scan down the length of his body displayed for him the tattered, dirt-crusted state of his clothes. He sighed. 'It's said there's a waterhole out there, somewhere---'

'With Sha'ik's army camped around it.'

Mappo grunted.

Icarium also straightened, noting once again the sheer mass of his companion---big even for a Trell---the shoulders broad and maned in black hair, the sinewy muscles of his long arms, and the thousand years that capered like a gleeful goat behind Mappo's eyes. 'Can you track it?'

'If you like.'

Icarium grimaced. 'How long have we known each other, friend?'

Mappo's glance was sharp, then he shrugged. 'Long. Why do you ask?'

'I know reluctance when I hear it. The prospect disturbs you?'

'Any potential brush with demons disturbs me, Icarium. Shy as a hare is Mappo Trell.'

'I am driven by curiosity.'

'I know.'

The unlikely pair turned back to their small campsite, tucked between two towering spires of wind-sculpted rock. There was no hurry. Icarium sat down on a flat rock and proceeded to oil his longbow, striving to keep the hornwood from drying out. Once satisfied with the weapon's condition, he turned to his single-edged long sword, sliding the ancient weapon from its bronze-banded boiled-leather scabbard, then setting an oiled whetstone to its notched edge.

Mappo struck the hide tent, folding it haphazardly before stuffing it into his large leather bag. Cooking utensils followed, as did the bedding. He tied the drawstrings and hefted the bag over one shoulder, then glanced to where Icarium waited---bow rewrapped and slung across his back.

Icarium nodded, and the two of them, half-blood Jaghut and full-blood Trell, began on the path leading down into the basin.

Overhead the stars hung radiant, casting enough light down onto the basin to tinge its cracked pan silver. The bloodflies had passed with the vanishing of the day's heat, leaving the night to the occasional swarm of capemoths and the batlike rhizan lizards that fed on them.

Mappo and Icarium paused for a rest in the courtyard of some ruins. The mudbrick walls had all but eroded away, leaving nothing but shin-high ridges laid out in a geometric pattern around an old, dried-up well. The sand covering the courtyard's tiles was fine and windblown and seemed to glow faintly to Mappo's eyes. Twisted brush clung with fisted roots along its edges.

The Pan'potsun Odhan and the Holy Desert Raraku that flanked it to the west were both home to countless such remnants from long-dead civilizations. In their travels Mappo and Icarium had found high tels---flat-topped hills built up of layer upon layer of city---situated in a rough procession over a distance of fifty leagues between the hills and the desert, clear evidence that a rich and thriving people had once lived in what was now dry, wind-blasted wasteland. From the Holy Desert had emerged the legend of Dryjhna the Apocalyptic. Mappo wondered if the calamity that had befallen the city-dwellers in this region had in some way contributed to the myth of a time of devastation and death. Apart from the occasional abandoned estate such as the one they now rested in, many ruins showed signs of a violent end.

His thoughts finding familiar ruts, Mappo grimaced. Not all pasts can be laid at our feet, and we are no closer here and now than we've ever been. Nor have I any reason to disbelieve my own words. He turned away from those thoughts as well.

Near the courtyard's centre stood a single column of pink marble, pitted and grooved on one side where the winds born out in Raraku blew unceasingly towards the Pan'potsun Hills. The pillar's opposite side still retained the spiral patterning carved there by long-dead artisans.

Upon entering the courtyard Icarium had walked directly to the six-foot-high column, examining its sides. His grunt told Mappo he'd found what he had been looking for.

'And this one?' the Trell asked, setting his leather sack down.

Icarium came over, wiping dust from his hands. 'Down near the base, a scattering of tiny clawed hands---the seekers are on the Trail.'

'Rats? More than one set?'

'D'ivers,' Icarium agreed, nodding.

'Now who might that be, I wonder?'

'Probably Gryllen.'

'Mhm, unpleasant.'

Icarium studied the flat plain stretching into the west. 'There will be others. Soletaken and D'ivers both. Those who feel near to Ascendancy, and those who are not, yet seek the Path nonetheless.'

Mappo sighed, studying his old friend. Faint dread stirred within him. D'ivers and Soletaken, the twin curses of shapeshifting, the fever for which there is no cure. Gathering...here, in this place. 'Is this wise, Icarium?' he asked softly. 'In seeking your eternal goal, we find ourselves walking into a most disagreeable convergence. Should the gates open, we shall find our passage contested by a host of blood-thirsty individuals all eager in their belief that the gates offer Ascendancy.'

'If such a pathway exists,' Icarium said, his eyes still on the horizon, 'then perhaps I shall find my answers there as well.'

Answers are no benediction, friend. Trust me in this. Please. 'You have still not explained to me what you will do once you have found them.'

Icarium turned to him with a faint smile. 'I am my own curse, Mappo. I have lived centuries, yet what do I know of my own past? Where are my memories? How can I judge my own life without such knowledge?'

'Some would consider your curse a gift,' Mappo said, a flicker of sadness passing across his features.

'I do not. I view this convergence as an opportunity. It might well provide me with answers. To achieve them, I hope to avoid drawing my weapons, but I shall if I must.'

The Trell sighed a second time and rose from his crouch. 'You may be tested in that resolve soon, friend.' He faced southwest. 'There are six desert wolves on our trail.'

Icarium unwrapped his antlered bow and strung it in a swift, fluid motion. 'Desert wolves never hunt people.'

'No,' Mappo agreed. It was another hour before the moon would rise. He watched Icarium lay out six long, stone-tipped arrows, then squinted out into the darkness. Cold fear crept along the nape of his neck.

Copyright © 2000 by Steven Erikson


Reviews

Deadhouse Gates - Steven Erikson

- valashain
  (12/7/2011)
Deadhouse Gates: applied nihilism?

- Bormgans
  (1/19/2018)

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