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Path to Ascendancy|
1 Dancer's Lament
1 Night of Knives • 2 Return of the Crimson Guard • 3 Stonewielder • 4 Orb Sceptre Throne • 5 Blood and Bone • 6 Assail
Return of the Crimson Guard (2008) |
Malazan Empire 2
The return of the mercenary company, the Crimson Guard, could not have come at a worse time for a Malazan Empire exhausted by warfare and weakened by betrayals and rivalries. Indeed, there are those who wonder whether the Empress Laseen might not be losing her grip on power as she faces increasing unrest as conquered kingdoms and principalities sense freedom once more.
Into the seething cauldron of Quon Tali—the Empire's heartland—marches the Guard. With their return comes the memory of the Empire—and yet all is not well with the Guard itself. Elements within its elite, the Avowed, have set their sights on far greater power. There are ancient entities who also seek to further their own arcane ends. And what of the swordsman called Traveller who, with his companion Ereko, has gone in search of a confrontation from which none have ever returned?
As the Guard prepares to wage war, so Laseen's own generals and mages, the 'Old Hands', grow impatient at what they see as her mismanagement of the Empire. But could Laseen have outwitted them all? Could she be using the uprisings to draw out and finally eliminate these last irksome survivors from the days of her illustrious predecesor, Kellanved?
Source: Bantam Books
IN LI HENG
ON THE WICKAN FRONTIER
IN THE PIT
IN QUON TALI PROVINCE
THE CRIMSON GUARD
The Elder Age,
THE ERUPTION HAD WOUNDED THE WORLD. DENUTH, A CHILD of the Earth, was first to penetrate the curtains of drifting cinders and so come upon the crater. Steaming water the colour of slate pooled at the centre of a basin leagues across. A slope of naked jagged rock led down to the silent shore. All was still, layered in a snow of ash. Yet a stirring of movement caught his attention and he picked his way to the water's edge to find an entity sembled in a shape akin to his own with two legs and arms, but slashed and gouged by ferocious wounds. Blood was a black crust upon the one and darkened the waters around him.
Gently, Denuth turned the being over only to start, amazed. 'Liossercal! Father's own first born! Who is it that set upon you?'
A savage smile of blunt canine tusks. 'None. Best ask whom I set upon. Are there no others?'
'None I saw.'
The smile crooked down to a feral scowl. 'All consumed then. Taken by the blast.'
'Blast?' Denuth narrowed his gaze upon the alien power. Yes, alien—for who could possibly fathom the mind of one born with Light's first eruption? 'What exactly has occurred here?'
Wincing, Liossercal shrugged himself from Denuth's support. He sat hunched, arms clasped tight about himself as if to hold his body together. Thick dark blood welled fresh from his deeper lacerations. 'An experiment. An attempt. An assault. Call it what you will.'
'An assault? Upon what? There was naught here but.' Denuth's voice died away into the stillness of the ash-choked water. 'Mother Preserve us! An Azath!' Glancing about, he took in the immense crater, attempted to grasp the scale of the calamity. It has pained us all! 'You fool! Would you stop at nothing in your questing?'
The pale head rose, amber eyes hot. 'I do as I choose.'
Denuth recoiled. Indeed. And here then was the quandary. Something must be done about these ancient powers before their antagonisms and limitless ambitions destroy all order once again. Draconus's solution horrifies, yet well now could I almost understand such—exigencies. After all, was not eternal imprisonment preferable to such potential for destruction?
Liossercal struggled to his feet, stiff, hissing at his many wounds, and Denuth knew a terrible temptation. Never before had he heard an account of this entity so vulnerable, so weakened. Soletaken, Elient, what were such labels to this power who may have moved through Light before it knew Dark? Yet now he was obviously wounded almost unto expiration. Should he act now? Would ever such a chance come again to anyone?
As if following the chain of the Child of Earth's thoughts, Liossercal smiled, upthrusting canines prominent. 'Do not be tempted, Denuth. Draconus is a fool. His conclusions flawed. Rigidity is not the answer.'
'And what is?'
A pained grimace, fingers gently probed a deep laceration high on one cheek. 'I was exploring alternatives.'
A flash of white rage, quelled. 'Well taken, Child of Earth. He comes, does he not?'
'He does. And he brings his answer with him.'
'I had best go.'
Liossercal threw his arms up, his outline blurring, sembling, but he gasped in mid-shift, roared his pain and collapsed to the shore. A dragon shape of silver and gold writhed over the brittle rocks before Denuth who hurriedly backed away. Boulders crashed into the lake as slashed wings laboured. Eventually, unsteady, the enormous bulk arose to snake heavily away. Its long tail hissed a cut through the steaming waters of the crater.
'Consort no longer,' came a dry rasping voice. 'And that suzerainty long defied. But I thank you just the same.'
Rigid, Denuth refused to turn to regard the ancient potent being, and the equally alarming darkness he carried at his side. How many had disappeared into that Void, and what horrifying shape would its final forging take? Such extreme measures yet revolted him.
'So,' Draconus breathed. 'The Bastard of Light himself. And weakened. His essence will be a great addition.'
That which Denuth thought of as his soul shivered within him. 'He is not for you.'
A cold regard. Denuth urged himself not to look.
After some time, 'Is this a foretelling—from Her?'
'My own small adeptness. I suspect he may one day find that which he seeks.'
'And that is?'
'That which we all seek. Union with the All.'
Your perversion of it. But Denuth said nothing; he knew he walked a delicate line with this power that could take him should he wish. Only a reluctance to antagonize his parent, Mother to all who come from the Earth, stilled this ancient one's hand. 'Perhaps Anomandaris—' Denuth began.
'Speak not to me of that upstart,' Draconus grated. 'I will bring him to heel soon enough.'
And I hope to be nowhere near when that should come to pass …
The power stirred, arms uncrossed. 'Very well, Child of the Earth. I leave you to your—ah, contemplations. A troubling manifestation of existence, this world. All is change and flux. Yet I find in it a strange attraction. Perhaps I shall remain a time here.' Such a prospect made Denuth's stone hands grind as they clenched.
Ultimately, after no further words from either, the soul-numbing cold night gathered, swirling, and Denuth once again found himself alone on the bleak shore. It occurred to him that peace would evade everyone so long as entities such as these strode the face of the world pursuing their ages-old feuds, enmities and uncurbed ambitions. Perhaps once the last has withdrawn to uninterrupted slumber—as so many have, or been slain, or interred—perhaps only then would accord come to those who may walk the lands in such a distant time.
Or perhaps not. Denuth was doubtful. If he had learned anything from observing these struggles it was that new generations arose to slavishly take up the prejudices and goals of the old. A sad premonition of the future. He sat on the shore and crossed his legs—a heap of rock no different from the tumbled broken wreckage surrounding him. This unending strife of all against all wearied him. Why must they contend so? Was it truly no more than pettiness and childish prickliness, as Kilmandaros suggests? He would consider what it might take to end these eternal cycles of violence. And he would consult with Mother. It would, he imagined, take some time to find an answer. Should there be any.
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