'This strides too close a path to the Crippled God for it to be accidental, Rake. The Chained One's poison is that of Chaos, after all.'
'Aye,' Rake smiled. 'Curious, isn't it? I think there can be no question of who is using whom-'
'Dealing with the Pannion Domin will present us with formidable challenges.'
Brood grimaced, 'As the child insisted, we will need help.'
The Son of Darkness frowned. 'Explain, please.'
'The T'lan Imass, friend. The undead armies are coming.'
The Tiste Andii's face darkened. 'Is this Dujek Onearm's contribution, then?'
'No, the child. Silverfox. She is a flesh and blood Bonecaster, the first in a long, long time.'
'Tell me of her.'
The warlord did, at length, and when he was done there was silence in the tent.
Studying Paran with hooded eyes, Whiskeyjack strode over. The young captain was trembling, as if gripped by fever, his face bone-white and slick with sweat. Quick Ben had somehow managed to lower the tabletop to the ground; sorcery still wreathed it with dancing lightning that seemed reluctant to fade. The wizard had crouched down beside it and Whiskeyjack recognized by his flat expression that the man was in a sorcerous trance. Questing, probing …
'You are a fool.'
The commander turned at the rasping words. 'None the less, Kallor.'
The tall, grey-haired man smiled coldly. 'You will come to regret your vow to protect the child.'
Shrugging, Whiskeyjack turned to resume his walk.
'I am not done with you!' Kallor hissed.
'But I am with you,' the Malazan calmly replied, continuing on.
Paran was facing him now. The captain's eyes were wide, uncomprehending. Behind him, the Tiste Andii had begun to drift away, spectral and seemingly indifferent now that their lord had retired within the command tent with Caladan Brood. Whiskeyjack looked for Korlat but didn't see her; nor, he realized after a moment, was the Mhybe anywhere in sight. The child Silverfox stood a dozen paces from Paran, watching the captain with Tattersail's eyes.
'No questions,' Paran growled as Whiskeyjack halted before him. 'I have no answers for you — not for what's happened here, not for what I've become. Perhaps it would be best if you placed someone else in command of the Bridgeburners-'
'No reason for that,' Whiskeyjack said. 'Besides, I hate changing my mind on anything, Captain.'
Quick Ben joined them. He grinned. 'That was close, wasn't it?'
'What is that thing?' Whiskeyjack asked him, nodding towards the tabletop.
'Just what it appears to be. A new Unaligned card in the Deck of Dragons. Well, it's the Unaligned of all Unaligneds. The table holds the entire Deck, remember.' The wizard glanced over at Paran. 'The captain here's on the threshold of ascendancy, as we suspected. And that means that what he does — or chooses not to do — could have profound effects. On all of us. The Deck of Dragons seems to have acquired a Master. Jen'isand Rul.'
Paran turned away, clearly not wanting to be part of this conversation.
Whiskeyjack frowned at the wizard. 'Jen'isand Rul. I thought that was a name referring to his … escapades within a certain weapon.'
'It is, but since that name is on the card it seems the two are linked… somehow. If the captain's in the dark as much as the rest of us, then I'll have to do some hard thinking on what that linkage signifies. Of course,' he added, 'the captain might well know enough to help me along in this, provided he's willing.'
Paran opened his mouth for a reply but Whiskeyjack spoke first. 'He's got no answers for us… right now. I take it we're carrying that ridiculous tabletop along with us on the march?'
Quick Ben slowly nodded. 'It would be best, at least for a while, so I can study it some more. Still, I would advise we unload it before we cross into Pannion territory. The Trygalle Trade Guild can deliver it to the alchemist in Darujhistan for safekeeping.'
A new voice cut in, 'The card does not leave us.'
The three men turned to find Silverfox standing close. Behind her, a dozen Rhivi warriors were lifting the tabletop.
Watching the dark-skinned, lithe men carrying the tabletop away, Quick Ben frowned. 'Risky, taking an object of such power into battle, lass.'
'We must accept that risk, Wizard.'
Whiskeyjack grunted. 'Why?'
'Because the card belongs to Paran, and he will have need of it.'
'Can you explain that?'