|Return of the Crimson Guard|
|Chapter 1 (I)||Chapter 2 (II)|
|Chapter 3 (III)||Chapter 4 (IV)|
|Chapter 5 (V)|
|The Eternal Return|
|Chapter 6 (I)||Chapter 7 (II)|
|Chapter 8 (III)||Chapter 9 (IV)|
|Chapter 10 (V)||Chapter 11 (VI)|
|Fates and Chances|
|Chapter 12 (I)||Chapter 13 (II)|
|Chapter 14 (III)||Chapter 15 (IV)|
|Chapter 16 (V)|
For generations the poles of the Quon Talian continent stood as the province of Unta in the east and the province of Quon Tali (which gave the land its name) in the west. Each in turn dominated mercantile trade and strove to crush its distant rival while the lesser states, Itko Kan, Cawn, Gris and Dal Hon, danced in a myriad of alliances, trade combines and Troikas marshalled against one or both of these poles. Who could have predicted that these two major capitals would fall to the invader while poorer states would resist for years?Chronicler Denoshen
South Kan Hermitages
Possum, the Master of the Claw, prepares to watch the public execution of former High Fist Janul, self declared Tyrant of Delanss and member of the Old Guard. He wonders which of these two crimes is the cause for the gruesome spectacle to follow. As he waits he is startled to be addressed by a head spiked upon the square's wall. It claims to have a message for Possum: "They are returning. The death-cheaters. The defiers. All the withholders and arrogators. Ah--here comes one now."
The head's message is interrupted by the arrival of Empress Laseen disguised as a servant. Laseen reminds Possum that they are in the crowd to find Janelle, the sister of Janul and another member of the Old Guard. She departs into the crowd as the drawn out execution begins. The head warns of the arrival of another Defier as Janelle appears before Possum. She surrenders to the assassin knowing it means her death, but dies on his knife knowing she has not given him any professional satisfaction. "You'll know what you have always known...that you are nothing more than...a fraud", she says as she dies. Possum is equal parts angered and impressed by Janelle's actions.
Laseen returns, bodyguard in tow, seemingly quiet over the fate of her compatriot. She gives Possum a new assignment to look into reports of domestic disturbances in the provinces. What of the disappearances in the Imperial Warren he asks? Laseen declines, saying she will not send any more agents to their deaths. Laseen's thoughts turn back to her old friend and she expresses surprise that Janelle went so quietly.
Up on the wall, the head laughs to itself.
Two companions descend from a mountain range, travelling south to the sea where they intend to build a ship. One is called Traveller; the other, a Thel Akai and the last of his kind, Ereko. Both are escapees from the Stormwall. They are stopped by a band of malnourished brigands who seem unsure what to make of the two exotic men strolling so boldly through their territory. Traveller engages the chieftain in conversation hoping to convince him that there is little profit and too much risk in challenging them. After news has been traded and brandy shared Traveller and Ereko go on their way, but they notice two of the brigands trailing them from afar.
That night the brigands attack the pair's campsite and Traveller easily kills most of them. Ereko captures one, a young boy, and refuses to let him be murdered. Traveller, pain in his eyes and his battle-fury spent, relents. Ereko tells the boy to run and not stop.
The two soon reach the Explorer's Sea, where Ereko thinks back to when he first saw Traveller on the Wall. At that moment, his goddess the Queen of Dreams spoke into his ear saying, "this one shall bring your deliverance." Eventually they camp at Pine Fort, a long abandoned outpost of the Crimson Guard. Here Traveller recounts for Ereko the history of the Guard and their opposition to the Malazan Empire. When Ereko asks why Emperor Kellanved never set his T'lan Imass legion against the Guard, Traveller admits that he tried. But the T'lan Imass refused saying, "It would be wrong for them to oppose such a vow." Three days later they reach a settlement on the beach. After making peace with the locals, Traveller confirms that it is time to start looking for good trees to build a boat.
The Crimson Guard take their payment from the Nabrajans for eliminating Shen. Some of the payment includes slaves. The group crosses the plains to the River Thin delta on the eastern shore of Bael near Kurzan. Guard commander Shimmer says the Guard does not believe in slavery and announces that all will be freed. Any of the slaves who are fit enough to join the Guard are welcome. Once the Guard accepts around forty male and female recruits they return the others to their chains.
The new recruits, including Kyle, are given swimming lessons in the murky delta waters while Shimmer negotiates with the Kurzans for ships to leave Bael. Kyle gets into altercations with Jaris and Boll about the Guard's disrespect for human life. Word soon arrives that Shimmer's negotiations have failed. The recruits are awoken in the middle of the night and made to swim in the dark to four merchant ships anchored off shore. Kyle makes his way to one ship, meeting the Avowed Cole breaking into the ship's weapons locker. Kyle is surprised to find no evidence of enemies on board, but Cole explains they have all gone overboard. He assigns Kyle to assist the mage Lurgman Parsell defend the ship from Kurzan counter attack.
As the Kurzan attackers arrive, Lurgman gives Kyle an ointment to apply to his eyes to see in the dark. Kyle takes up a bow and attempts to eliminate targets identified by Lurgman, including an enemy mage. The mage summons a demon on board Kyle's vessel and both demon and Kyle are surprised when Kyle severs the demon's hand with Tcharka, his enchanted blade. "I was not forewarned one of your stature awaited", claims the demon before readying to engage Kyle. Before Kyle can test his mettle the demon is slain by Lurgman. The Guard mage then gives Kyle a small ball which he tosses onto the enemy vessel killing the enemy mage and his crew.
Urko Crust sits alone in the night beside a bonfire on an island. A Quorl lands nearby and a Gold Moranth from Genabackis dismounts. Urko greets his old friend Hunchell, but the Moranth informs "Shatterer" that he is actually Hunchell's son V'thell, Hunchell being too old to make the flight. He confirms the Gold and Silver Moranth will support the upcoming campaign with possible support from the Black and Red forthcoming as well. V'thell asks why Urko has chosen this course, one that may risk shattering it all. Urko responds that "she doesn't understand how the machine we built must run" even though she had a hand in building it, and the entire enterprise is slipping away.
Once V'thell departs, a cloaked and hooded figure steps out of the shadows. After asking if they can trust the Moranth, the figure warns of the rumoured return of the Crimson Guard. Urko discounts the rumour saying that the Old Guard had always defeated them in the past. The hooded figure remarks that the Old Guard is now mostly all gone. The hooded figure departs promising to make a report concerning the alliance with Moranth, while Urko ruminates over trusting a Claw traitor. He dreads the idea of a returned Skinner, but thinks she could handle it. He will act regardless. It is the best chance in a generation and she is trapped in a nightmare of her own creation. And maybe Laseen will thank him when he takes her empire away.
Two Malazan marines, Hurl and Sunny, stand outside the city's Dawn Gate arguing over its structural integrity. They are interrupted by the arrival of Magistrate Ehrlann and his servant Jamaer. He berates them for their lack of respect, looking around for their commander as his servant attempts to block the sun with an umbrella. Spotting Captain Storo Matash, Ehrlann marches off, the servant and two marines following. Ehrlann demands that Storo open the gate that the Malazan engineers have been restoring and threatens to report him to his superior High Fist Anand or bring him up on criminal charges. Storo asks his two marines what the status of the project is. Hurl says the gate is "good for fifty years." Sunny says the gate "will fall -- sooner than later." Storo informs Ehrlann that the gate will open the next day, but mentions that work will still need to be done to reduce the height of the nearby hill and to install a moat around the walls. Leaving the sputtering bureaucrat behind, Storo tells Hurl and Sunny he needs a drink.
Councillor Mallick Rel winds his way through the sea of fortune tellers, stallkeepers, and hucksters along Diviner's Row in Unta. A dirty street urchin predicts "a great many enemies oppose you. You risk all but for a prize beyond your imaginings." Mallick laughs and hands him a coin. A shopkeeper attempts to sell him slivers of bone from the victims of "that fiend Coltaine's death march." Mallick is not amused, but purchases the relic. Soon he finds his way to Lady Batevari, a fortune-teller, ostensibly for a reading. She predicts great turmoil in coming days, gods scurrying like rats, the New colliding against the Old, usurpation, Houses falling, and powers turning upon each other. She continues making predictions that will soon prove accurate as a skeptical Mallick mentally rolls his eyes.
In reality, he is here to meet Batevari's companion, the girl Taya. She is the daughter of Vorcan Radok, the High Mage and Mistress of the Darujhistan Assassins' Guild, and is herself a skilled assassin. In answer to her question, Mallick confirms that the Crimson Guard draw near, but he is unaware of their plans. The nature of their order means he has no contacts among them. Moving to business, he requests she find a way to remove Assemblyman Imry, who speaks for the Kan Confederacy, and it must happen quickly. When Taya responds that swiftness will be messy and generate questions, he dismisses her concerns saying "such questions [will] be swept aside by the coming storm." Before he leaves, Taya casually mentions that she has frustrated two assassination attempts against him. Mallick also reminds her to convince Lady Batevari to speak more of the Guard in her tellings.
On his way back to his quarters, Mallick muses that no one is aware of the assassin seeking revenge against the Empire that he has placed in their midst. He also smiles over Taya's pride in frustrated assassinations. His personal bodyguard, the mage Oryan, has prevented many more than that. Then Mallick chokes, thinking of Batevari's predictions involving the gods and coming events. Perhaps his fate is not entirely directed by his own hand?
Ghelel, a ward of the Sellath family, is training in the estate's stable with old family fencing master Quinn when shouts from outside attract his attention. Malazan soldiers from the local garrison have come to the estate. Quinn suspects they are looking for hostages from the noble families to assure their loyalty during the ongoing unrest. With Emperor Kellanved gone many of the Talian nobility seek independence from the Empire. Quinn forcibly steers an incredulous Ghelel into a hiding place in the stable floor. She insists she is of no importance, but he disagrees.
They leave their hiding place late that night. As Quinn peers into the dark he smells the Malazan soldiers waiting for them. They demand the girl and then pepper the stable doors with crossbow bolts and fire. Quinn leads Ghelel out the back, mortally wounds two soldiers, and heads for the woods. Their flight is interrupted by several horseman. Ghelel kills one with her sword while Quinn takes on the others. They successfully make it to the trees, but Quinn is too badly injured to continue. He says he is proud of her and names her Ghelel Rhik Tayliin. Ghelel does not understand, the only Tayliins she knows of ruled Quon Tali during the last Hegemony.
The Malazan pursuit has surprisingly stopped. A voice calls to Quinn. It is Amaron, his former military commander, who has arrived with thirty cavalry to drive off the Malazans. He confirms that the Malazans were sent by Fist Kal'il to take the Sellaths as hostages. But they are to be used to guarantee safe passage for the Malazans leaving Tali. The capital has been seized by a troika of Talian noble families and former Fist Choss has been made general of the Talian rebel army. Not knowing what to make of this news, Ghelel agrees accompany Amaron and Quinn into the manor house to learn more.
Twelve days after the bandit attack, Traveller and Ereko are further down the coast and reach Canton's Landing, a semi-derelict coastal village. As Ereko looks out to sea he recalls the Stormwall and the Stormriders attacking from the ocean. His own time on the Wall had been quiet as the Riders learned to avoid him. Traveller had been a new arrival; it was his immediate success against the Riders, plus a hint from Ereko's Goddess, that made Ereko break their chains one night and swim away from the Wall with the unconscious Traveller on his shoulder. Once on nearby Remnant Isle Traveller awoke. The Thel Akai introduced himself and explained he was the last of his kind. When Traveller asked why he had saved him, Ereko replied that there was still far to go and two stood a better chance of escaping than one. Traveller then apologized saying they needed to go back to the Wall for his sword.
The remaining villagers of Canton's Landing explain that they are being attacked repeatedly by slavers and raiders from the sea. Traveller agrees to help defend the village once he recognises the raiders' equipment. In return he asks for the villagers' help with building a boat. The grey raiders are expected to return soon.
Wickan frontier, Quon Tali
On the Wickan frontier of the Quon Tali continent a Malazan army patrol spots smoke on the horizon and finds a burnt camp of the Crow Clan. Patrol sergeant Chord studies the bodies of the Wickan elders and children before heading over to the camp's roaring fire. There the Wickan's killers, a gang of Malazan settlers, feast on the clan's slaughtered horses before their bound captives. The gang's spokesman emerges from a Wickan dwelling, cinching up his pants, leaving a young girl behind. Chord argues with the man who claims the barbarians refused to sell their horses to them. Now they will take their land and the survivors as captives. Chord and his men draw their crossbows on the surprised settlers, with Chord claiming that all captives of war belong to the Throne. The girl bursts from the tent screaming at the spokesman in Wickan. Chord translates that she demands a blood cleansing (a trial by combat) by right of Wickan law. Tossing her his knife, Chord enforces the law and the girl makes short work of her rapist. Chord escorts the Wickans back to their fort as the remaining settlers threaten revenge. He wonders if his undersized company is in trouble.
The Crimson Guard have been at sea for nearly a month after making a stop on the west coast of Bael. Their destination is Stratem, homeland of the Guard. Kyle is seasick and the Guardsmen cramped in the hold spend their time smoking Rustleaf and d'bayang, gambling, or studying the Deck of Dragons. Slate, recognized as the company's most accurate Talent, complains that the Queen of High House Life oddly dominates, making the readings useless.
The captain calls the men on deck where Kyle is shocked to see men seemingly riding the surging waves. One of the men nervously identifies them as Stormriders, and claims the Guard are doomed. Kyle sees no sign of the Guard's other nineteen ships except for the Wanderer. He is amazed when the Riders circling their ship begin saluting them with their upraised lances. On impulse Kyle salutes the nearest Rider with Tcharka, and is relieved when the Rider returns his salute. "That Rider saluted you," notes Greymane, now at his side. "Or he was saluting you," offers Kyle. "I told them to cut that out long ago," Greymane replies. Grinning, he mentions that he grew up on an island, the son of a fisherman. When the Riders took his father, he swore off the sea and joined the army where his knowledge of the area made him an asset to lead the Korel invasion. But he made a mistake and many people died. Kyle is conflicted. He feels himself warming to a man he holds responsible for the death of his god.
That evening Kyle sits with Stoop who reveals he is of the Avowed and reminisces about the origin of the Guard and their commander Duke K'azz D'Avore. He says the Guard stopped the Malazans for a time, the only ones to do so, and Skinner fought the First Sword of the Empire Dassem Ultor to a standstill. But it broke the Guard and they were tired. So they broke into companies and went their separate ways, some looking for the missing Duke. Now the Diaspora was over and they were all coming together once again to reclaim their land. Kyle thinks they may have hoped to find the Duke at the Spur.
The next day Slate offers to read Kyle's future from the Deck. Kyle is eager to take his mind off his seasickness. Slate explains the organization of the cards in preparation for his reading. As Kyle focuses intently on the card representing the King of High House Chains he notices the image begin to blur and move closer until Slate abruptly turns over the card. A visibly disturbed Slate, says it "aint good, starin' like that" before suggesting they try again another day. Kyle returns to his berth thinking how naïve his vow to avenge the Wind King had been.
Harbour Guard Nait chews kaff watching yet another fat treasure laden merchant vessel leave Unta. He wonders if they know something about the rotten state of the Empire that he does not. Corporal Hands catches him chewing the illicit substance and orders him to spit it out. Complaining that it cost him his last coin, he ejects the wad of leaves onto the dock spraying her boots. After Hands angrily stalks off, Nait returns the wad to his mouth. As he kneels above the water he notices a steady stream of offerings to the sea god cult floating across the waves.
Seti lands, Quon Tali
Fist Genist leads a Malazan double-ranked column of two thousand cavalry, the 15th Horse, to Fort Saran to begin a four year tour in the Seti lands on Quon Tali. He is surprised to find the fort surrounded by a large number of ramshackle Seti camps on the sun-blasted plain. The Fist also finds himself annoyed by newly transferred Captain Moss who tries to make light of their unfortunate posting. Genist becomes even more annoyed when Moss questions the order to move into the fort. It is against regulations to move without hearing from the scouts sent ahead. Genist dismisses his misgivings noting that they can see the fort in front of them.
The doors of the fort open and a delegation awaits the column inside. Genist is insulted that Fist Darlat is not present to make the transfer of command of what is putatively the military governorship of the entire Seti plains. Instead he is met by a gang of scruffy officers. The oldest of the veterans claims Darlat is indisposed and names himself Toc the Elder, a fabled cavalry leader thought to be dead. He asks to borrow Genist's horse, but before the Fist can process the request Captain Moss has offered up his own animal. Toc's companions seize Genist while Toc rides Moss' horse out to address the cavalry. He announces himself to the Malazan troops, who recognise him and shout his name. Genist's blood turns cold as he recalls who it was who had negotiated the treaties with the Seti and who had led thousands of them into battle.