- "If you seek the crumbled bones
of the T'lan Imass,
gather into one hand
the sands of Raraku"
- ―The Holy Desert
The T'lan Imass [TUH-lan EE-mass], also known as the Silent Host or the Army of Dust and Bone, were undead members of the mortal Imass race, transformed by participating in the Ritual of Tellann.
Tellann, was the Elder Warren of Fire used by the Imass. Adjunct Lorn referred to the Imass Warrens as "Elder-, blood-, and earthbound", and as such impervious to Otataral. Their shamans were called Bonecasters.
The Ritual of Tellann
T'lan Imass immortality was achieved via the Ritual of Tellann approximately three hundred thousand years prior to the main events of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, transforming the mortal Imass, one of the four Founding Races, into the undead T'lan Imass.
The Imass chose to undergo the ritual in order to be more efficient in their war of extermination with the Jaghut. As mortals, the Imass were scattered, their unity lost. They could not cross the ice barriers of the Jaghut. There was starvation. As Tellann undead, the armies could cross such obstacles.
Some Imass did not take part in the original ritual, either choosing to remain mortal or arriving too late. Of those who chose to remain mortal, some later took part in a second evocation of the ritual which was only partially successful (see Brold ).
After countless centuries, those who participated in the ritual resembled walking mummified corpses. Desiccated flesh, where it still remained, clung to their bones and dried ligaments as a layered tannic-hued veneer. Where dried flesh had withered or been torn away from from the face, it left open cavities and permanent rictus grins of stained teeth. Their eyes were dark pits that nevertheless seemed animated by intelligence and awareness. The clothes they wore were as tattered and half-rotted as their bodies.
They could travel great distances with incredible speed by becoming one with the earth beneath their feet, turning to dust and traveling as if on the wind. This also enabled them to seemingly materialize out of nowhere to ambush their prey. They could also cross bodies of water, but could only find their shape on land. It was even possible to transform and carry non-T'lan Imass with them in their dust-like states.
Impact on Senses
Mundane senses had for the most part withered along with the flesh. Through the shadowed orbits of (Onrack's) eyes, for example, the world was a complex collage of dull colours, heat and cold and often measured by an unerring sensitivity to motion. Spoken words swirled in mercurial clouds of breath - if the speaker lived, that is. If not, then it was the sound itself that was detectable, shivering its way through the air. Onrack sensed sound as much by sight as by hearing. They communicated with each other mostly by thought/telepathy which was no longer possible if they were severed from the ritual as Onrack was. Their breathless guttural utterances were somehow conveyed to non-Imass as if through magic.
The T'lan Imass abhorred failure. Anyone too shattered to remain with their kin was left behind. Failure's sentence was abandonment, an eternity of immobility. When failure was honourable, their sentient remnants were placed open to the sky, to vistas, to the outside world, so that they might find peace in watching the passing of eons. Dishonourable behaviour was punished by severing the head from the body, dismembering the headless corpse and scattering the limbs. Weapons would be taken and returned to the place of birth.
Dissolution in water was the only escape possible from the eternal ritual. Some were known to have chosen that path as, even when cut to pieces, each part was still sentient. Using body parts from other T'lan Imass to 'patch oneself up' was possible but was looked upon as the greatest abomination, the most dire twisting of the powers of Tellann.
The Jaghut Wars
See also: Jaghut Wars
The T'lan Imass exterminated Jaghut wherever they could be found, children as well as adults. They often crushed their enemies under heavy, warded stones. This method often meant their victims took years to die.
The Armies of the Diaspora
The time after the ritual was referred to as the Diaspora. It was due to end in the Year of the Three Hundredth Millennium.
The following T'lan Imass nations were named Armies of the Diaspora:
The Logros T'lan Imass
The Logros were tasked with remaining at the site of the First Empire and guarding the First Throne against any threats. Shortly before the founding of the Malazan Empire, the Logros were awakened by Kellanved when he located and took control of the First Throne.
They were the perfect army. The T'lan Imass never had to be fed or transported, they could not desert, and they could go anywhere. They served the Malazan Empire until shortly after the Emperor's death. Onos T'oolan, the First Sword of the Logros T'lan Imass, told Imperial Adjunct Lorn that the Logros had gathered minds after the Emperor's death, the first time since before the Diaspora, and due to the resultant binding he could not answer her questions about the First Throne.
Known clans within the Logros included:
The Kron T'lan Imass
According to Onos T'oolan the binding which was the result of the Logros gathering minds, also applied to the Kron and they, too, would not be able to answer her questions about the First Throne.
The Kron T'lan Imass were the largest army to attend the Second Gathering called by Silverfox. At her behest, they stood against the K'Chain Che'Malle in the Pannion War following the Battle of Black Coral.
Believed to have been lost.
The Bentract T'lan Imass
Olar Ethil was sent off by Logros to search for remaining T'lan Imass armies. She believed four remaining clans of Bentract T'lan Imass were on Jacuruku, trapped within the Warren of Chaos. She could not find them however. A Bentract clan was found in the Refugium.
The Kerluhm T'lan Imass
Roughly eight months prior to the Second Gathering, the Kerluhm entered into a war against human opposition on the continent of Assail. The army had since been annihilated and it was believed that Lanas Tog, sent by Kerluhm to the Second Gathering, was the last of them.
The Ifayle T'lan Imass
The Ifayle joined the Kerluhm in the war on Assail and, as of the Second Gathering, there was still a small number of them unable to withdraw from the engagement.
The Orshayn T'lan Imass
The Brold T'lan Imass
The Brold were descendants of a group of Imass that did not participate in the original Ritual of Tellann. They were located on the continent of Lether and eventually attempted their own Ritual but deemed it a failure, however, when Onos T'oolan issued a call to all T'lan Imass the Brold joined him, thus proving that their ritual had in fact succeeded.
The D'Avore T'lan Imass (Red Clan)
The Crimson Guard was created by a vow sworn in the 1066th year of Burn's Sleep by six hundred of K'azz' original followers. These Avowed gained unnaturally long life, strength, speed, and regenerative attributes in return for their oath. The vow was often compared to the ritual of the T'lan Imass as both the ritual and vow were inspired by a desire to reach a goal.
Much later, when Shimmer led an expedition to Assail to rescue Cal-Brinn and the missing Fourth Company they met Silverfox and Kilava Onass in the Salt Mountains, and the Guard discovered that Kilava had been present at the invocation of their Vow. It had drawn on the same power of Tellann that had created the T'lan Imass. Therefore the Guard were, in essence, a tribe of T'lan Imass--the D'Avore T'lan Imass or the Red Clan. They would continue to have physical form even after their deaths. Those who died could choose to come back. Silverfox could not redeem them as she could the other tribes. That task was left for another. 
- "There is a bond between the T'lan Imass and Soletaken and D'ivers, a mysterious kinship that was unsuspected by the dwellers of this city - though they claimed for themselves the proud title of First Empire. That would have irritated the T'lan Imass - assuming such creatures can feel irritation - to have so boldly assumed a title that rightly belonged to them. Yet what drew them here was the ritual, and the need to set things right."
- "The T'lan Imass, had they found Dejim, would have acted without hesitation: dragging forth those seven demonic souls, binding them into an eternity of pain, their power bled out, slowly and incrementally, to feed the T'lan bonecasters in their unceasing wars against the Jaghut."
- ―The Bonehunters
For a list of known T'lan Imass words and phrases as well as translations please visit the Imass Language page.
In Gardens of the Moon
In Deadhouse Gates
Felisin Paran, Heboric, and Kulp took shelter in a cave in Raraku that led to a buried and largely preserved city of the First Empire. The first room they entered contained the remains of a ritual gone awry, the bodies of the participants turned to stone where they fell. Heboric's enhanced sight revealed that the fallen had attempted the Path of the Soletaken. The rest of the city's torturous streets and alleys were filled with the bodies of humans, Soletaken, and T'lan Imass from some cataclysmic battle. 
In Memories of Ice
In House of Chains
In Midnight Tides
The Forkrul Assail had once tried to serve as impartial arbiters in the war between the Jaghut and the T'lan Imass. The Jaghut hoped to escape the T'lan Imass by leaving their bodies in a death-like status in specially built tombs while their souls traveled to the Hold of Ice. The Forkrul Assail carved cursed wards into the tombs' doors, but this proved not good enough for the T'lan Imass. These tombs could still be found beneath Letheras, but whenever the Letherii entered them they were empty.
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.
In Kellanved's Reach
Kellanved and Dancer, in search of the First Throne, followed the path indicated by a stone artifact through a gate in Shadow to the Place of the Blooming Ice in the Warren of Tellann. There they found the Imass Bonereader, Jahl 'Parth, amidst a village built near the remains of a K'Chain Che'Malle city. The Bonereader attempted to warn them away saying those who sought out the Throne never returned, but eventually she relented and directed them to an island offshore. The waters about the island had risen over the centuries threatening to submerge it, but the pair managed to find a dry cave leading to the cavern containing the Throne.
They were shocked to discover the feared Witch Jadeen already seated upon the Throne, and after Dancer attempted to strike her with a throwing knife, she summoned five warriors from the Army of Dust and Bone from the ground around her. The Bonecaster, Tem Benasto, introduced himself and the others--Ulpan Nodosha, Tenag Ilbaie, Ay Estos, and Onos T'oolan--as the Logros guardians tasked with protecting the Throne. The Witch soon put a stop to the pleasantries and ordered Onos to slay the two intruders. But when the T'lan Imass drew his sword, it found the witch's neck, decapitating her and sending her body tumbling from the Throne. Onos declared her unworthy before Kellanved stepped forward to claim the Throne himself.
Kellanved sat and the T'lan Imass bowed before him as they considered whether he was worthy. When Tem asked the mage for his orders, Kellanved had none but for them to continue with whatever they had already been doing. The T'lan Imass were pleased and departed to search for their brothers and sisters. Onos told Kellanved they would return at his call. Afterwards, the mage theorised that those who sat on the Throne required the T'lan Imass' permission and could not issue just any command they desired.
Notes and references
- Read for Pixels 2016 Interview As pronounced by Steven Erikson at 54:35
- Deadhouse Gates, Chapter 15, US HC p.414
- Kellanved's Reach, Chapter 15, US HC p.224
- The Bonehunters, Glossary
- Gardens of the Moon, Chapter 9, UK MMPB p.277
- Gardens of the Moon, Chapter 9, UK MMPB p.320
- Gardens of the Moon, Glossary, UK MMPB p.705
- Kellanved's Reach, Chapter 15, US HC p.224-225
- Deadhouse Gates, Chapter 9, US HC p.242
- The Bonehunters, Chapter 12, US SFBC p.501/503
- House of Chains, Chapter 6
- House of Chains, Chapter 1
- House of Chains, Chapter 6
- The Bonehunters, Chapter 2, US SFBC p.82
- House of Chains, Chapter 14, US SFBC p.517-518
- Gardens of the Moon, Chapter 9, UK MMPB p.321
- Memories of Ice, Glossary, UK MMPB p.1183
- Memories of Ice, Chapter 1, UK MMPB p.62
- Gardens of the Moon, Chapter 9, UK MMPB p.320
- Gardens of the Moon, Chapter 2, UK MMPB p.73
- Gardens of the Moon, Chapter 9, UK MMPB p.320
- Memories of Ice, Chapter 19, US SFBC p.674-675
- Memories of Ice, Chapter 20, US SFBC p.741
- Dust of Dreams, Chapter 19, UK HB p.658
- Assail (novel), Chapter 2
- Assail (novel), Chapter 15
- Assail (novel), Epilogue
- Deadhouse Gates, Chapter 12, US HC p.323-331
- Deadhouse Gates, Chapter 14, US HC p.371-373
- House of Chains, Chapter 9
- Midnight Tides, Chapter 12, US SFBC p.372
- Reaper's Gale, Chapter 12, US HC p.309
- Kellanved's Reach, Chapter 13, US HC p.198-209
- Kellanved's Reach, Chapter 13, US HC p.208-209
- Kellanved's Reach, Chapter 15, US HC p.224-227
- Kellanved's Reach, Chapter 15, US HC p.227-229
- 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|