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A K'Chain Che'Malle K'ell Hunter battling a soldier by Steven Erikson

Interpretation of K'Chain Che'Malle K'ell Hunter by Yapattack

The K'Chain Che'Malle [K-chain cheh-mal][1][2] were non-human and one of the founding intelligent races in the Malazan Book of the Fallen.[3] Although evidence of their strange mechanisms, architecture,[4] and barrows could be found on nearly every continent,[5] they were presumed extinct.[6] The Imass, Pran Chole, said the K'Chain Che'Malle were "no more--the ice spoke to them with words of death."[7]

Their power was said to have been so immense that they had kept the Elder Gods away from the Malazan world until their civilisation self-destructed. They were also said to have once ruled over the younger Jaghut race much as the Jaghut Tyrants had ruled over the Imass.[5]

The Tiste Edur name for them was 'Kaschan'.[8]

The Awl called them 'Kechra, the Firstborn of Dragons'.[9]


Interpretation of a K'ell Hunter, by Toraneko

Interpretation of a K'ell Hunter, by Toraneko

The K'Chain Che'Malle were intelligent lizards standing taller than a man, moving bipedally by balancing the weight of their torsos with a tapering tail (much like velociraptors and other bipedal dinosaurs) and pale, scaled[10] skin similar to the underbelly of a snake. They selectively bred their own kind to take advantage of specific traits, the most noticeable difference being the length of the tail. There were the original long-tails (K'Chain Che'Malle) and the engineered short-tails (K'Chain Nah'ruk).

K'Chain Che'Malle moulted their skin as they grew until they reached adulthood.[11]

See also[]


The K'Chain Che'Malle were the first race on the Malazan world to evolve intelligence, and they developed a culture of technological and magical sophistication hundreds of thousands of years before the evolution of hominids. Most knowledge of the K'Chain Che'Malle was retrospective, developed through inspection of their cultural ruins thousands of years after their extinction. As such, it was difficult to state anything definitive about them. It was known that they were eusocially ruled in the manner of ants, with a single female queen (the Matron) and thousands of male drones and soldiers. They were matriarchal and matrilineal.[5]

The K'Chain Che'Malle appeared to lack a racial Warren to draw upon,[12] instead employing gravity-based magic that mixed heavily with their technology. They inhabited gigantic structures known as Skykeeps, buildings so large they appeared to be floating mountains. Most Skykeeps were destroyed during the civil war that exterminated their race, though there were a few known Skykeeps remaining during the time of the Malazans. Examples included the one used by the Tiste Andii, Moon's Spawn, the one piloted by the remaining K'Chain Che'Malle on the continent of Lether, and a few others piloted by K'Chain Nah'ruk seen in the Imperial Warren (later destroyed).

K'ell Hunter - Sculpture by Corporal Nobbs

Towards the end of their civilisation, the race's Matrons gathered together to meld their powers towards some unknown purpose. One result was the engineered resurrection of the extinct K'Chain Nah'ruk breed (dubbed the Short-Tails by Kallorian scholars). The experiment that broke from the control of the long-tailed Matrons due to the Short-Tail's independent nature and resistance to surrendering their magical talent to their mothers. This resulted in a civil war.[5] In addition to internal struggle, a massive Tiste invasion occurred and a large-scale war between the K'Chain Che'Malle and Forkrul Assail. These conflicts were supposed to have destroyed their race, though at least two Matrons and a number of others survived until the events that occured during the Malazan Book of the Fallen (see Anatomy for more details).

K'Chain Che'Malle architecture made use of vast plazas covering thousands of square leagues. These plazas were lined by exquisitely fitted grey flagstones that seemed to be immune to age and weathering. One such plaza was known to remain on Stratem while another likely lay beneath the ice of northwestern Lether.[13][14] The stone used in K'Chain Che'Malle Construction was nearly unbreakable even after millenia.[15] They built domed stone tombs above ground for their dead.[16]


The Elder Warren of the K'Chain Che'Malle was Kaschan. It was born from sounds beyond human hearing that bent and stretched light. These sounds were bound into words that loosened the bindings holding matter together. With Kaschan, K'Chain Che'Malle sorcerers could fashion skykeeps of stone that floated in air and twist rock so that it grew like living wood. The magic of the warren still lingered past the seeming death of its children.[17]

Interaction with the Malazan world[]

Most of the K'Chain Che'Malle appearing in the novels were undead or seen in visions of the past, though there were a couple of exceptions.

In Gardens of the Moon[]

The inner ring of Malazan military commanders were each said to be equipped with communication devices looted from a K'Chain Che'Malle tomb. Made of human bone and verdigrised copper wire, the devices allowed users to speak across great distances. Whiskeyjack used such a device in Darujhistan to communicate with Dujek Onearm in Pale.[18]

In Memories of Ice[]

'Mok faces an undead K'Chain Che'Malle K'ell Hunter' Interpretation by Shadaan

Interpretation of the Seguleh fighting a K'ell Hunter by Artsed

The soul of a single living Matron was accidentally freed from imprisonment within the Rent on Genabackis by Kilava Onass. After hundreds of thousands of years, it managed to escape its warded tomb and raised hundreds of its children from their barrows as undead. But the Matron was driven insane in the process, and control of its children was co-opted by the Pannion Seer for the expansion of his empire.[19][20][21] Undead K'ell Hunters were sent to assist the Pannion Siege of Capustan. The undead versions of the long-tailed K'Chain Che'Malle were slower and more resistant to normal, mortal pain.

The first direct interaction between the Malazan Empire and the K'Chain Che'Malle occurred at Coral during the Pannion War. The Battle of Black Coral pitted the T'lan Imass, Malazan forces, and the Barghast versus the undead K'ell Hunters and the forces of the Pannion Domin.[22][23]

In House of Chains[]

After the discovery of Moon's Spawn, Osseric spent time in the fortress studying it. He observed that Moon's Spawn showed signs of damage, breaching, and slaughter. Nevertheless, a few of its original inhabitants survived long enough to send the fortress on its journey home over the northern icefields where it had become entrapped by a glacier. Osseric determined that Moon's Spawn had been one of the K'Chain Che'Malle's skykeeps and he withdrew from the world to continue his study of the alien mechanisms. From a Jaghut tower within a warren formed by Raraku's ancient memory, he observed a total of three skykeeps travel from the north to Seven Cities. None of their inhabitants survived contact with the continent's defenders, the Deragoth. The Hounds' presence likely explained why no K'Chain Che'Malle colony had ever been established on Seven Cities. Osserc also believed that the K'Chain Che'Malle were not of the Malazan world.[24]

In Midnight Tides[]

K'Chain Che'Malle by Dernhelm888

At the time of the sundering of Kurald Emurlahn, several hundred thousand years before the events of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, the K'Chain Che'Malle had ruled the entire Letherii continent.[16] Enormous cities stretching for leagues and flagstoned plazas could be found throughout northwest Lether.[15] Then an allied force of four hundred thousand Tiste Andii led by Silchas Ruin and two hundred thousand Tiste Edur led by Scabandari invaded the Malazan world through a violent rent. They destroyed an army of over sixty thousand K'Chain Che'malle in Lether as well as four K'Chain Nah'ruk skykeeps.[14]

Afterwards, Scabandari noted that the K'Chain Che'Malle were all but gone from the world and their cities dead. Only Morn remained and the Short-Tails there seemed on the verge of rebellion.[14] At Mael's request, the Jaghut, Gothos, sealed the wreckage of the battlefield's destroyed hive cities and skykeeps under a layer of Omtose Phellack ice.[25]

According to Edur oral tradition, the dying K'Chain Che'Malle race sought vengeance against the Tiste after their invasion. They sent their sorcery into the warren of Darkness like a plague, and their ritual turned Darkness in upon itself with an all-devouring hunger. The gates between Kurald Galain and every other realm were sealed, and Mother Dark herself was driven into the core of the Abyss. There, she would one day devour all that was around her, resulting in her own murder, the death of the Abyss, and the end of all things. On the brink of extinction, the K'Chain Che'Malle "locked all things into mortality, into the relentless plunge towards extinction...they forced all else to share their fate."[26]

By the time of 1161 BS, they were all but unknown to the human residents of Lether. The Letherii occasionally found and sold their bones and teeth in the markets of Trate without understanding what they were.[16][15]

To date the only time they had spoken with other races was with Silchas Ruin in a parley attempt, though it was unclear if the parley actually happened or if Ruin simply sought it.[citation needed]

In The Bonehunters[]

Tales among the Nameless Ones indicated that an invasion of skykeeps had arrived on the Malazan world long ago when Human society existed only as small bands. But some opposition by the Jaghut, the Forkrul Assail, or the Elder Gods had driven them away from Seven Cities.[27]

While traveling through the Imperial Warren, Quick Ben, Kalam Mekhar, and Gesler's squad came upon at least a dozen K'Chain Che'Malle Skykeeps in the air above. Squad mage, Sands, announced the skykeeps had come from Chaos and Quick Ben immediately brought the group back to the Malazan world. The mage speculated that the Imperial Warren originally belonged to the K'Chain Che'Malle.[12] Kalam, Quick Ben, and Stormy later returned and attempted to gain entrance to one of the floating fortresses. But Cotillion warned them off confirming that the skykeeps were indeed "filled with K'Chain Che'Malle."[28]

Mappo and Icarium discovered a newly opened chasm within one of the Odhans of Seven Cities. At its bottom they discovered a K'Chain Nah'ruk Skykeep that had until recently been been encased in the ice of Omtose Phellack. Mappo and Icarium found Sorrit long dead inside, held to a Blackwood cruciform by an iron spike streaked with Otataral. Although neither knew who killed the dragon, Icarium recognised the ice ritual as that of the Jaghut, Ganath. Angered and distressed by the K'Chain Che'Malle's invasion and colonisation of the world, she had carelessly conducted the ritual without realising the Nah'ruk skykeep had been seeking refuge from the civil war with their Long-Tail kin.[29][30]

Ganath was alerted to the destruction of her sorcery and returned to repair it. She noted that in addition to Sorrit's blood, Chaos magic had been unleashed to shatter her ice. She was also confused by the sense that time itself had been twisted within the fortress. But before she could repair the damage, she was ambushed and slain by K'Chain Nah'ruk.[31]

In Reaper's Gale[]

Silchas Ruin, Seren Pedac, Fear Sengar, Udinaas, Kettle, and the Shadow wraith Wither followed the South Jasp River up into the Bluerose Mountains. There they discovered the remains of a vertical fortress carved into the stone of the entire mountainside. The Acquitor believed the large gaping windows, shattered balconies, metopes, cornices, and friezes too worn to make out were signs that an ancient city had once stood there. There was still evidence of some massive collision that seemed to have obliterated the city in a single blow, sending rubble down the slopes. Ruin identified the place as the beginnings of a K'Chain Che'Malle skykeep from an early time when they were still open to the air rather than sealed defensively within stone. It had been destroyed by the powerful Starvald Demelain sorcery of at least a dozen dragons. Wither revealed that the dragons had acted against the K'Chain Che'Malle to stop them from vengefully annihilating all existence as their race slid into extinction.[32] Within the ruins they found a multi-room mosaic floor depicting the slaughter of a civil war between the long-tails and short-tails, with the long-tails doing most of the dying. The deaths of individual champions were recorded, whom Ruin identified to Udinaas as "Fouled K'ell, Naw'rhuk A'dat and Matrons".[33]

Redmask returned to the Awl'dan from exile in the Wastelands with two K'Chain Che'Malle guardians: Sag'Churok, a hulking male K'ell Hunter, and Gunth Mach, a Drone in the process of becoming female.[34] Redmask did not reveal how he knew his guardians' names,[35] but he recounted the Kechra's history with the Awl people. Countless centuries ago, the K'Chain Che'Malle had fled a vast devastating war from the western lands of Lether and into the Awl'dan. Awl legend told of terrible battles that left the corpses of Awl warriors carpeting the plains. Then the Awl learned how to combat the invaders with new weapons such as the Awl'dan cadaran whip and Rygtha crescent axe, and turned the tide. In truth, the K'Chain Che'Malle were merely passing through and the Awl were just an obstacle on their way east.[36]

The two K'Chain Che'Malle slaughtered their way through Letherii soldiers with ease at the battles of Bast Fulmar,[37] Pradegar,[38] and Q'uson Tapi.[39] But when it became apparent that the Awl had been finally defeated at Q'uson Tapi, Sag'Churok and Gunth'Mach turned on Redmask and tore him to pieces. Toc Anaster surmised that Redmask had failed the K'Chain Che'Malle and the alliance was over.[40] Inspecting Redmask's body, Kilava Onass identified his mask as made from the hide of a K'Chain Che'Malle Matron's throat.[41]

Onrack T'emlava told Quick Ben and Trull Sengar of a concourse the size of a city-state on the southeast peninsula of Stratem where ritual wars had been fought among the K'Chain Che'Malle. The practise ended when the Short-Tails rebelled and the ritual form of war was abandoned.[42]

In Toll the Hounds[]

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In Dust of Dreams[]

Interpretation of a K'Chain Che'Malle K'ell Hunter by genesischant

Another K'Chain Che'Malle interaction with the Malazan Empire involved the appearance of a male and female on the continent of Lether, and the revelation that an entire hive still existed on that same continent. Gesler and Stormy aiding the only remaining hive, Acyl nest, and fought successfully against some remaining K'Chain Nah'ruk. It was revealed that Gunth'an Acyl, the reigning Matron, sacrificed herself to create an army of K'Chain Che'Malle. Where a normal Matron would only birth several hundred Che'Malle, she brought over twenty-thousand into the world in a short time. The exhaustive act of restoring her race broke her sanity and she perished before the battle, leaving her daughter Gunth Mach as the last living Matron of the Che'Malle.

The named K'Chain Che'Malle of Acyl Nest in the Lether Wastelands:

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Dust of Dreams.
Gunth'an Acyl named Kalyth Destriant of the K'Chain Che'Malle. Gesler and Stormy were kidnapped from the middle of the Bonehunters camp and named as Mortal Sword and Shield Anvil respectively. With their aid, and that of Sinn and Grub, the Che'Malle defeated the 'Nah'ruk.

In The Crippled God[]

Interpretation of a K'Chain Che'Malle K'ell Hunter by Slaine69

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The Crippled God.
The Che'Malle army accompanied the alliance of Bolkando, Letherii, Perish, Malazan, and Barghast east to fight in the Battle of the Spire. They were one of the primary forces attacking the Kolanse Spire alongside the other elder races: reborn T'lan Imass and living Jaghut against the Forkrul Assail.

In Kellanved's Reach[]

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Kellanved's Reach.
In the early days of the formation of the Malazan Empire, a joint troop of Orjin Samarr's mercenaries; Prevost Jeral's ex-Nom Purge regulars; and locals known as hill-folk of the hill tribes were making their way to the western coast of Quon Tali when they encountered - in a cave eaten out by an underground river - what was most likely an undead Ve'Gath specimen. Orjin's troop mage, a Dal Hon elder and shaman, identified the withered, "great upright lizard", as an "undying" "K'Chain Che'Malle warrior" - which possessed "forearms" (and not swords) for upper limbs. The K'Chain warrior was successfully dispatched by dismemberment by individuals of the joint forces who had found it.[43]

In The God is Not Willing[]

Damisk passed through the Beast Hold into an unknown realm where he found a world seemingly devoid of animal life other than what appeared to be Great Ravens flocking around four K'Chain Che'Malle skykeeps that floated overhead. He was forced to hide while looking for food when hundreds of two-legged K'Chain Che'Malle returned overland bearing butchered carcasses. He was soon spotted by one of the "Great Ravens" who were revealed to actually be a flying species of K'Chain Che'Malle which had skin-taut, leathery wings and fanged heads. The two-legged hunters, now bearing swords and long spears, pursued him to a pedestal in a clearing where an enormous grey-skinned god in chains was kept imprisoned. The god killed many of the K'Chain Che'malle with its six arms which bore a bow and an array of stone weapons. After Damisk freed the god, he fell unconscious. When he awoke, the god was gone and the four skykeeps had been shattered and destroyed and the corpses of the K'Chain Che'Malle lay in piles. Damisk assumed the god had been long ago chained by his worshippers to circumscribe his wrath, and he had been helpless to prevent the K'Chain Che'Malle from ravaging his world.[44]

Notes and references[]

  1. Steven Erikson Q&A (see Question 15)
  2. An Evening with Steven Erikson by Nerdaí Irish Nerds - As pronounced by Erikson at 15:29
  3. Gardens of the Moon, Glossary, UK MMPB p.705
  4. Memories of Ice, Chapter 9, Epigraph
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Memories of Ice, Chapter 15, US SFBC p.500-503
  6. Memories of Ice, Glossary, UK MMPB p.1183
  7. Gardens of the Moon, Chapter 11, US HC p.253
  8. Midnight Tides, Chapter 3, UK MMPB p.139
  9. Reaper's Gale, Chapter 4, UK BCA edition p.104
  10. Reaper's Gale, Chapter 2, US HC p.70
  11. Reaper's Gale, Chapter 14, US HC p.
  12. 12.0 12.1 The Bonehunters, Chapter 5, US SFBC p.193-194
  13. Memories of Ice, Chapter 9, Epigraph
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Midnight Tides, Prologue, US SFBC p.19-25
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Midnight Tides, Chapter 13, US SFBC p.403
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Midnight Tides, Chapter 21, US SFBC p.629
  17. Midnight Tides, Chapter 3, US SFBC p.116
  18. Gardens of the Moon, Chapter 18, US HC p.385
  19. Memories of Ice, Prologue, US SFBC p.24-26
  20. Memories of Ice, Chapter 1, US SFBC p.57
  21. Memories of Ice, Chapter 19, US SFBC p.694-695
  22. Memories of Ice, Chapter 24
  23. Memories of Ice, Chapter 25
  24. House of Chains, Chapter 21, US SFBC p.685/687
  25. Midnight Tides, Prologue, US SFBC p.25
  26. Midnight Tides, Chapter 3, US SFBC p.116-118
  27. The Bonehunters, Chapter 4, US SFBC p.152-153
  28. The Bonehunters, Chapter 6, US SFBC p.259-261
  29. The Bonehunters, Chapter 4, UK MMPB p.200-202
  30. The Bonehunters, Chapter 6, UK MMPB p.280-284
  31. The Bonehunters, Chapter 16, US SFBC p.647-649
  32. Reaper's Gale, Chapter 2, US HC p.52-53
  33. Reaper's Gale, Chapter 4, US HC p.99
  34. Reaper's Gale, Chapter 2, US HC p.69-70
  35. Reaper's Gale, Chapter 10, US HC p.266
  36. Reaper's Gale, Chapter 4, US HC p.109-110
  37. Reaper's Gale, Chapter 12, US HC p.334-336
  38. Reaper's Gale, Chapter 16
  39. Reaper's Gale, Chapter 22
  40. Reaper's Gale, Chapter 22, US HC p.696-700
  41. Reaper's Gale, Chapter 22, US HC p.710
  42. Reaper's Gale, Chapter 10, US HC p.256
  43. Kellanved's Reach, Chapter 12, US TPB p.313-317
  44. The God is Not Willing, Chapter 10, US HC p.163-172/174
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