Return of the Crimson Guard: Book Excerpt

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Sea of Storms south of Malaz Isle
Season of Osserc
1154th Year of Burn’s Sleep
96th Year of the Malazan Empire
Last Year of Emperor Kellanved’s Reign

THE TWO-MASTED RAIDER RHENl’S DREAM RACED NORTH-east under full straining sails. Captain Murl gripped the stern railing and watched the storm close upon his ship. Pushed to its limit, the hull groaned ominously while the ropes skirled high notes Murl had never heard.

The storm had swelled like a wall of night out of the south, a solid front of billowing black clouds over wind-lashed waves. But it was not the storm that worried Captain Murl, no matter how unnatural its rising; Rheni’s Dream had broached the highest seas known to Jakatan pilots, from the northern Sea of Kalt to the driving trade winds of the Reach south of Stratem. No, what sank fingers of dread into his heart were the azure flashes glinting like shards of ice amid the waves at the base of the churning cloud-front. No one told of seeing them this close. None who returned.

Riders, Murl and his fellow pilots called them. Sea-demons and Stormriders to others. Beings of sea and ice who claimed this narrow cut as their own and suffered no trespass. Only his Jakatan forbears knew the proper offerings to bribe the swiftest passage south of Malaz Isle. Why then did the Riders pursue? What could entice them this far north?

Murl turned his back to the punishing wind. His cousin, Lack-eye, fought to control the helm, his legs splayed, arms quivering at the tiller’s broad wheel. As the ship canted forward into a trough, Murl tightened his grip against the fall and booming impact. “Did we forget any of the offerings?’ he shouted over the roar of the wind.

Gaze fixed ahead to the bows, Lack-eye shook his head. “None” he called. “We’ve tried “em all.’ He glared over his shoulder with a pale blue eye. “All save the last.’

Murl flinched away. He drew himself amidships hand over hand along the guide ropes. Already the deck lay treacherous beneath a sheet of ice. Wind-driven rime as sharp as needles raised blood on his neck and hands. All save the last. But that rite he’d never enact. Why, in Chem’s cold embrace—every soul on the Rheni was blood-kin to him! Murl remembered the one time he’d witnessed that rite: the poor lad’s black-haired head bobbing atop the waves, pale arms clawing desperately at the water. He shuddered from the cold and something worse. No, that he could not bring himself to do.

Murl crouched next to a slim figure lashed to the mainmast, slumped as if asleep. With a hand numb from the freezing salt-spume, he reached out to caress a pale cheek. Ah Rheni dear, I’m so sorry. It was just too much for you. Who could possibly hope to soothe a storm such as this?

Ice crackled next to Murl as his first mate, Hoggen, thumped against the mast and wrapped an arm about it. “Shall I break out the weapons?’