The humanoid mortal Imass [ee-mass] were one of the Founding Races. They were described as having smooth, almost hairless, gold or honey-coloured skin. They had brown or amber eyes buried in epicanthic folds, with high cheeks and pronounced shelf-like brows. They had flaring noses with pronounced bridges, heavy lips, sparse eyebrows, and blunt, calloused fingertips. They were short with broad shoulders, overlong arms, and masses of muscles. Their legs were disproportionately short and bowed so that the knees were almost even with their hips. Their beards grew only on their jawline and above their mouth, avoiding their cheeks and neck. They had long, black hair and their voices were thick with oddly truncated vocal ranges.
Their throats appeared to lack the flexibility of a normal human's and the range of their voices was unearthly, seemingly capable of carrying two distinct tones, one high and one deep, in song. They had songs such as the "Agkor Raella" and the "Allish Raella" devoted to the wolf and caribou respectively. the songs dedicated to prey replicated the beat of fleeing beast's heart in the song's rapid beat.
They had developed tools of flint and had a connection with nature through their Bonecasters, their magic users who used the Warren of Tellann. Bonecasters could spiritwalk to see visions of the present and future, and hear whispers from the earth to locate their clan mates or prey.
The Imass wore clothes of fur and hide. Their stone weapons could cut through the finest armor. They made their homes in caves and hide tents. Imass were deft toolmakers, crafting spears and antler atlatls for the hunt, snares to catch small game, and nets for birds. They repurposed animal stomachs and intestines for use as floats and weighted nets to catch fish and used fish spines as needles to sew hides together. When hunting, they decorated their bodies in yellow ochre paint. They charred bones or boiled them in gourds using heated rocks to extract the bones' fat.
The Imass once worshipped the spirits that existed in all things. "Earth and rock and tree and beast and sun and stars and antler and bone and blood", according to Lady Envy. At night the adults of clan raised their voices in song recognisiing that the return of darkness was a reminder that death waited at the end of life's path.
It was a crime amongst the Imass to capture the likeness of a person in art. Doing so, it was believed, trapped that individual in time for eternity. Instead, Imass depicted their kind in cave paintings as awkward and lifeless stick figures, in contrast to their vibrant and accurate representations of animals. To seek solitude from one's fellow Imass was nearly a crime, as separating the group weakened it.
They were shy with strangers in their territory, preferring to secretly observe from their hiding places for days and nights before deciding whether to reveal themselves.
It was said they were unable to hide their feelings and possessed none of the emotional masks or disguises of other humanoid races. Grief, love, friendship, and loyalty touched them more deeply.
When the Imass first emerged as a race, they were forced to live in small numbers in the shadow of the tusked Jaghut. A handful of Jaghut Tyrants took advantage of their compassion and faith by portraying themselves as gods in order to enslave the Imass and force them to complete unspeakable acts. It took generations for the Imass to discover the deception. With the aid of sympathetic Jaghut, they waged the Jaghut Wars against the Tyrants across many thousands of years. But the war proved devastating to the weaker but relentless Imass. Vast Jaghut ice flows of Omtose Phellack isolated and starved them. The Imass came to the conclusion that no Jaghut could be trusted and all must die to prevent the rise of new tyrants.
Out of desperation, the Imass attended the First Gathering where they invoked the Ritual of Tellann. Those who took part in the ritual became the T'lan Imass, incapable of starvation, able to travel past the barriers of ice, and capable of pursuing the enemy for eternity.
The Eres were implied to have been the predecessors from which the Imass evolved. Humans were thought to have, in turn, evolved from the Imass. The Barghast and Moranth were also said to be descendants of the Imass who failed to arrive in time for the First Gathering.
For a list of known Imass words and phrases as well as translations please visit the Imass Language page.
In Memories of Ice
After the events at Coral, Onos T'oolan appeared before Silverfox within the Mhybe's dream-world and successfully convinced the Bonecaster to free the T'lan Ay of their curse. Then he dropped his sword at her feet and asked to be freed of his own. She returned him to mortal life as an Imass.
In Reaper's Gale
Hedge opined that the Jaghut Wars were a backwards kind of vengeance where the Imass had hurt themselves more than their proclaimed enemy ever had. There had only been a few Jaghut Tyrants, and those had quickly earned the wrath of their kin before any T'lan Imass army arrived. When the Jaghut used ice against the Imass, the Imass underwent the Ritual of Tellann to make their hearts colder and more lifeless than any glacier.
Some four thousand Bentract Imass still lived in the Refugium untouched by the Ritual. But all except Ulshun Pral, the son of Kilava and Onrack, were mere spirits. Any T'lan Imass like Onrack who journeyed there were restored to their mortal state. When Silchas Ruin planted the seed of an Azath House within the Refugium, it anchored the dream world in reality and the Imass were made real. Other residents of the Refugium included Udinaas and Rud Elalle.
- In response to a fan question, author Steven Erikson described the Imass as "archaic hominids...Neanderthal, with Denisovan variants."
- Erikson has written the essay The Use of Tool: Neanderthals, the Malazan World and Deep Time regarding the creation of the Imass as an homage to the Neanderthals.
Notes and references
- Read for Pixels 2016 Interview As pronounced by Steven Erikson at 54:35
- Midnight Tides, Chapter 15, US SFBC p.477
- Gardens of the Moon, Chapter 11
- Reaper's Gale, Chapter 12, US HC p.319
- Memories of Ice, Chapter 25, US SFBC p.993-994
- Reaper's Gale, Chapter 14, US HC p.379
- Reaper's Gale, Chapter 14, US HC p.380
- Memories of Ice, Prologue
- House of Chains, Chapter 17, US SFBC p.587
- Reaper's Gale, Chapter 14, US HC p.383
- Reaper's Gale, Chapter 17, US HC p.509
- Memories of Ice, Chapter 7
- Memories of Ice, Chapter 9, US SFBC p.323
- The Bonehunters, Chapter 19, US SFBC p752
- House of Chains, Chapter 16, US SFBC p.563/566
- Reaper's Gale, Chapter 23, US HC p.712
- House of Chains, Chapter 16, US SFBC p.563
- Reaper's Gale, Chapter 22, US HC p.706
- Memories of Ice, Chapter 8
- Memories of Ice, Chapter 15
- The Bonehunters, Chapter 2, US SFBC p.82
- Memories of Ice, Chapter 10
- Memories of Ice, Chapter 25, US SFBC p.958-959
- Reaper's Gale, Chapter 12, US HC p.309
- Midnight Tides, Chapter 15, US SFBC p.478
- Reaper's Gale, Chapter 20, US HC p.595
- Reaper's Gale, Chapter 23
- Reddit AMA 2012
|Founding Races||Forkrul Assail (WateredH → ShrivenH) • K'Chain Che'Malle (K'Chain Nah'ruk) • Jaghut (IcebloodsH • JhagN) • Eres → Imass (T'lan Imass) → [ Barghast • Humans • Moranth ]|
|Thel Races||Thel Akai (Fenn / Tarthenal / Teblor / Thelomen Toblakai / TrellN)|
|Tiste Races||Tiste → [ Tiste Andii (Bluerose) • Tiste Liosan • Tiste Edur (Rulhun'tal ven'or) • ShakeH ]|
|Demons||From Aral Gamelon: Galayn • Kenryll'ah / Kenyll'rah • Korvalahrai From Kurald Emurlahn: Aptorian • Artorallah • Azalan • Dinal Others: Khalibaral • Sirinth • Venath|
|Other Races||Azathanai • Deragoth • Eleint • Great Ravens • Jheck • Stormriders • T'rolbarahl|
|( ) = Sub-set of parent race → = Evolved into H = Human hybrid with parent race N = Non-human hybrid|