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Authors: Ian C. Esslemont

Tags: #Fantasy, #War, #Azizex666, #Science Fiction

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BOOK: Return of the Crimson Guard
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Among the Second Induction
Lurgman Parsell, Twisty’
Jaris
Pilgrim
Ogilvy
Bakar
Tolt
Meek
Harman
Grere
Geddin
Boll
 
 
Among the Third Induction
Stalker
Badlands
Coots
Kyle
 
 
OF THE TALIAN LEAGUE
Urko Crust
Commander of Falaran forces, ‘Old Guard’, also known as ‘Shatterer’
V'thell
Commander of Gold Moranth forces
Choss
Commander of Talian forces, ‘Old Guard’
Toc the Elder
Seti Warlord, ‘Old Guard’
Amaron
Chief of intelligence, ‘Old Guard’
Ullen Khadeve
Urko's lieutenant-commander and chief of staff, Old Guard’
Bala Jesselt
Cadre mage, ‘Old Guard’
Eselen Tonley
A captain of Falaran cavalry
Orlat Kepten
A captain of Talian forces, ‘Old Guard’
 
 
OTHERS
Liossercal
Ascendant, titled ‘Son of Light,’ also known as Osserc, Osric
Anomandaris
Ascendant, titled ‘Son of Darkness’
Jhest Golanjar
Jacuruku mage
Shen
A warlock
Tayschrenn
Imperial High Mage
D'Ebbin
Malazan commander 4
th
Army, ‘Fist’
Braven Tooth
Malazan Command Master Sergeant
Temp
Malazan Master Sergeant
Blossom
Moranth Gold officer
Tourmaline
Moranth Gold infantry sergeant
Cartharon Crust
Captain of the
Ragstopper,
rumoured ‘Old Guard’
Denuth
An Elder, among the Firstborn to Mother Earth
Draconus
An Elder God
Ereko
An ancient wanderer
Greymane
Once a Malazan Fist, now outlawed
Lim Tal
Ex-private guard of Untan noble
Traveller
A wanderer of mixed Dal Hon and Quon descent
Ragman/
Tatterdemalion
A wanderer of the Imperial Warren
 

This, the first of wars, paroxysmed for time unmeasured. Ever Light thrust yet dissipated, and ever Night retreated yet smothered. Thus the two combatants locked in an ever-widening gyre of eternal creation and destruction. Countless champions of both Houses arose, scoured the face of creation in their potency, only to fall each in turn, their names now lost to memory.

 

Then, in what some named the ten thousandth turn of the spreading whorl of the two hosts, there came to the shimmering curtain edge of battle one unknown to either House, and he did castigate the combatants.

‘Who are you to speak thusly?’ demanded he who would come to be known as Draconus.

One who has moved upon the Void long enough to know this will never end.’

‘It is ordained,’ answered a champion of Light, Liossercal. ‘Ever must one rise, the other fall.’

Disdainful, the newcomer thrust the opponents apart.
‘Then agree that this be so and name it done!

And so both Houses fell upon the stranger tearing him into countless fragments.

Thus was Shadow born and the first great sundering ended.

Myth Fragment
Compendium Primal,
Mantle

 
PROLOGUE
 

The Elder Age,
Time unmeasured

 
 

T
HE 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.’

‘Explore elsewhere.’

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.’

‘Indeed.’

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.

Denuth remained, motionless. Wavelets crossed the limpid water, lapped silently. The snow of cinders limned the dull black basalt of his shoulders and arms. Then steps crunched over the broken rock and he felt a biting cold darkness at his side, as of the emptiness that
was said to abide between the stars. Keeping his face averted, Denuth bowed. ‘Consort of Dark and Suzerain of Night. Draconus. Greetings.’

 

‘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
.’

Time passed. Denuth sensed careful consideration within the entity at his side. He heard rough scales that were not of metal catching and scraping as armoured arms crossed. A slow thoughtful exhalation. ‘Nonetheless. I will pursue. After all, I offer my own version of union … Is that not so?’

 

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.

BOOK I

Diaspora's End

 
CHAPTER I
 

‘The wise say that as vows are sworn, so are they reaped. I have found this to be true.’

 

Prince K'azz D'Avore
Founder of the Crimson Guard

 

The Weeping Plains,
Bael Subcontinent
1165th year of Burn's Sleep
11th year of Empress Laseen's reign
99th year of the Crimson Guard's Vow

 

O
N THE EDGE OF A TILED ROOFTOP, A SMALL TENT HEAVED AND
swayed under the force of the battering wind. It was nothing more than an oilskin cape propped up by a stick, barely enough to keep off the worst of the pounding rain. Beneath it sat a youth squinting into the growing murk of storm and twilight. Occasionally he glimpsed the ruins of surrounding buildings wrecked by the siege and, if he looked hard enough, he could just make out high above the rearing silhouette of the Spur.

BOOK: Return of the Crimson Guard
9.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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