|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)|
And so Trake ascends.
Who can say what influence this casts upon his brothers and sisters?
First Heroes All. Shall they too ascend? Is now the time of savage uncivilized gods?
Brutal gods for a depressingly brutal age?
Storo Matash is the captain of a company of saboteurs in the Quon Talian city of Li Heng. They are enjoying a night off at their billet, the Rod and Sceptre inn. While Storo drinks, Hurl, Sunny, and Shaky play cards. Three Malazan soldiers from the local garrison enter the inn's common room and one comes over to the saboteurs' table. He is Harmin Els D'Shil, an officer. Harmin recognizes Storo from the Empire's campaigns in Genabackis and expresses his regret that a hero has fallen so low as to dig dirt and pile rocks like a criminal.
Harmin asks Storo to tell him the story of the time he killed an Avowed of the Crimson Guard. Harmin has a special interest because he is a cousin of the D'Avore family that founded the Guard. Storo explains that his squad was assigned to take a tower manned by the Guard in Owndos. They waited until most of the Guard left on patrol and then brought down the tower with Moranth munitions. Even after the tower collapsed on the sole remaining Guard, it was still a difficult thing to kill her. The squad's Barghast riddled her with javelins and Storo delivered the final blows to remove her head. Later he learned her name was Sarafa Lenesh.
Harmin is disgusted at the dishonour of the killing, but passes a message to Storo from Fist Rheena, Li Heng's military governor. Once Harmin leaves, Storo reveals that the message is encoded. It is from an old acquaintance seeking a meeting, a man he knew when he was young and thought long since dead.
Mallick Rel travels to a sunken temple on the shoreline west of Unta Bay. He is the Jhistal priest of Mael, and the god has been compelled to attend him by the rituals of his cult. He questions Mael about the Mercenaries and the Secessionists and orders him to hasten the arrival of both their fleets towards Quon Tali.
Timmel Orosenn, the Primogenatrix of Umryg, is awoken in the middle of the night on orders of her high thaumaturg T'enet. Twenty members of the Crimson Guard's Third Company have for decades been trapped underground by the island's rulers, entombed after a failed coup attempt by the Primogenatrix's sister. T'enet reports that the tomb's wards are finally failing and her presence is required. The kingdom's army and thaumaturgs gather in defensive positions outside the tomb's entrance hoping that the long captivity has weakened the Guard enough that they can be defeated.
The surviving Guard manage to break out, carrying shields made of solid rock. They easily fight their through their enemies killing Commander Fanell, likely killing T'enet, and severely wounding the Primogenatrix. As Timmel falls she hears her attacker say the word "Jaghut", shocking her utterly. Sensing the battle is lost, the Primogenatrix orders her troops to allow the Guard to escape. Better that the Guard reaches the sea and leaves Umryg rather than devastate the kingdom again.
Kital E'sh Oll is a newly-initiated Claw who has been sent into the Imperial Warren to investigate the interception and slaughter of Imperial messengers. He finds a corpse and its assassin, a Ragman who refuses to give a name. The Ragman wonders when "that toad you call your master" will learn to stop sending "his" agents into the warren. A confused Kital declares his allegiance to the Empress before the Ragman takes him down, regretting the waste of a promising Initiate. As Kital dies, he recognizes his killer.
While Traveller searches out a tree to form a ship's mast, Ereko meets with an old woman in the village who can read the Deck of Dragons. She sends the boy Hrath, in whom Ereko also notes the signs of Talent, to fetch her cards. Ereko is anxious about the reading. For him they tend to be messy and for Traveller they are deadly. The boy spreads the cards across the floor and begins speaking in an assured, experienced voice that belies his youth. He sees the protection of the Queen of Dreams and the concern of High House Death. Convergences, revenge, and betrayal are involved while Kallor stands opposed. Ereko is startled by this last reference, then the boy struggles to warn that the Soldier of Light should fear none but the Chained. At last he draws one final card whispering "No..it cannot be" before falling insensate. The card is the King of Night, the most ill-omened of all cards. Ereko returns to his hut to contemplate on what he has learned.
It is an unusual day at The Pit, a mining camp on Otataral Island. There are five new arrivals at the prison for mages that rarely sees newcomers. They are greeted by the camp's unofficial mayor Yathengar, a former Seven Cities priest, and observed by the Li Heng mage Ho, his predecessor.
After the usual speeches Yathengar pulls two of the men aside. Grief and Treat are younger than most newcomers. Scarred, fit, and tan they appear to be veterans and dangerous. Yathengar warns them that even with the mine's otataral dampening their powers, the inmates can defend themselves. Ho thinks the men obvious spies and decides to keep an eye on them.
Ghelel is under the protection of Choss and Amaron, both Old Guard, both now rebelling against the Malazans. Ghelel is frustrated that Quinn the swordmaster is no longer with them as her bodyguard. Instead she has been assigned Molk who she finds "completely inappropriate."
Amaron's agents have captured a Claw, and Ghelel insists on interrogating him. Amaron allows it against his better judgment. The Claw informs her that Amaron was himself an assassin, and once commanded the Talons. He has killed political opponents much in the way Ghelel's family was killed. Ghelel is shocked and wonders why Amaron allowed the Claw to speak knowing he would have revealed this information. The Claw calls Ghelel a fool if she thinks she can rule without using the tools of power.
After the interview is over, Ghelel confesses he allowed the man to speak to gain Ghelel's trust. After all, she would have heard about his past soon enough. Ghelel vows that there will be no killings in her name. She demands Amaron swear the same. He counters that it would be hard to guarantee, but promises to at least ask first. Ghelel fears the choices in her future.
At midnight Captain Storo goes to meet his old acquaintance. His squad follows separately in small groups, with Sunny and Hurl tailing him on the street. Along the way, Sunny shows Hurl that he is carrying the squad's entire stock of Moranth munitions (sharpers, cussers, smokers, crackers, and burners) secreted within his cloak. Storo enters a riverside warehouse while Sunny and Hurl enter a side door and find a vantage point atop a pile of crates.
The pair watches as Storo meets with Orlat Kepten, one of the Old Guard, and his associates who try to recruit him into the Talian League's rebellion against the Malazans. Storo refuses. Orlat says he is sorry it has to be this way and six of his soldiers advance on Storo. Sorry and Hurl are about to intervene when they feel the points of knives at their backs. It is Orlat's assassin Ule otherwise known as Runty the Knifer, and he wants to know who they are. Before they can respond the saboteur mage Silk appears and teleports Runty "elsewhere." Sunny and Hurl begin to make their way down to Storo when Runty reappears, hitting Sunny in the leg with the bolt of a crossbow. Hurl distracts Runty with a tossed smoker, and the assassin is wounded and driven off by Jalor, another reinforcement from the saboteur squad.
Sunny and Hurl work their way to Storo who has been joined by the squad's swordsman Rell. Hurl blasts a hole through the wall of the warehouse and the entire squad, now including Shaky, reunites on the riverside wharf-front. Orlat's mages summon a demon, but it is quickly dispatched by Silk before the squad escapes onto a launch and heads downriver.
Storo reveals that a coup is underway and Orlat has already killed Rheena the Malazan military governor. Orlat intends to occupy the Palace where the Malazan forces are billeted. Storo says that the army will not intervene but will support whoever is in charge there the next morning. It is up to the saboteur squad to make sure Li Heng remains in Imperial hands.
The company enters the Palace complex through a secret passage in the sewers. They are attacked by rebel soldiers and mages, but heavily armed with munitions they are a force to be reckoned with. Runty the Knifer reappears and severely injures Jalor before he is dispatched by Rell. Finally, the squad occupies the City Temple, the centre of power in Li Heng. Orlat attempts to storm the temple doors with fifty men, but Storo unleashes his secret weapon, Rell. A euphoric Rell cuts his way through Orlat's troops in an uncanny display of swordsmanship cutting down nearly half. Orlat responds with his mages who nearly burn Rell to death before Silk unleashes a tremendous wave of energy from Kurald Liosan. Hurl is knocked unconscious by the wave of mystic light and awakens near dawn to a Malazan voice calling for healers.