On the Letherii continent the exiled Malazan army commanded by Adjunct Tavore begins its march into the eastern Wastelands, to fight for an unknown cause against an enemy it has never seen. The fate awaiting the Bonehunters is one no soldier can prepare for, and one no mortal soul can withstand - the foe is uncertainty and the only weapon worth wielding is stubborn courage. In war everyone loses, and this brutal truth can be found in the eyes of every soldier in every world. Destinies are never simple. Truths are neither clear nor sharp. "The Tales of the Malazan Book of the Fallen" are drawing to a close in a distant place, beneath indifferent skies, as the last great army of the Malazan Empire seeks a final battle in the name of redemption. Final questions remain to be answered: can one's deeds be heroic when no one is there to see it? Can that which is unwitnessed forever change the world? The answers await the Bonehunters, beyond the Wastelands.
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Archaeologist and anthropologist Steven Erikson's first fantasy novel, Gardens of the Moon, marked the opening chapter in his epic 'Malazan Book of the Fallen' sequence and was shortlisted for the World Fantasy Award. Seven equally acclaimed bestselling volumes have followed. He lives in Victoria, British Columbia.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The Sea Does Not
Dream of You
I will walk the path forever walked
One step ahead of you
And one step behind
I will choke in the dust of your passing
And skirl more into your face
It all tastes the same
Even when you feign otherwise
But here on the path forever walked
The old will lie itself anew
We can sigh like kings
Like empresses on gift-carts
Resplendent in imagined worth.
I will walk the path forever walked
Though my time is short
As if the stars belong
Cupped here in my hands
Showering out these pleasures
That so sparkle in the sun
When down they drift settling flat
To make this path forever walked
Behind you behind me
Between the step past, the step to come
Look up look up once
Before I am gone
TELLER OF TALES
FASSTAN OF KOLANSE
Abject misery lies not in what the blanket reveals, but in what it hides.
KING TEHOL THE ONLY OF LETHER
War had come to the tangled, overgrown grounds of the dead Azath tower in the city of Letheras. Swarms of lizards had invaded from the river’s shoreline. Discovering a plethora of strange insects, they began a feeding frenzy.
Oddest among the arcane bugs was a species of two-headed beetle. Four lizards spied one such creature and closed in, surrounding it. The insect noted threats from two directions and made a careful half-turn, only to find two additional threats, whereupon it crouched down and played dead.
This didn’t work. One of the lizards, a wall-scampering breed with a broad mouth and gold-flecked eyes, lunged forward and gobbled up the insect.
This scene was played out throughout the grounds, a terrible slaughter, a rush to extinction. The fates, this evening, did not appear kind to the two-headed beetles.
Not all prey, however, was as helpless as it might initially seem. The role of the victim in nature is ephemeral, and that which is fed upon might in time feed upon the feeders in the eternal drama of survival.
A lone owl, already engorged on lizards, was the sole witness to the sudden wave of writhing deaths on the rumpled earth below, as from the mouths of dying lizards, grotesque shapes emerged. The extinction of the two-headed beetles proved not as imminent a threat as it had seemed only moments earlier.
But owls, being among the least clever of birds, are unmindful of such lessons. This one watched, wide-eyed and empty. Until it felt a strange stirring in its own gut, sufficient to distract it from the wretched dying below, that array of pale lizard bellies blotting the dark ground. It did not think of the lizards it had eaten. It did not take note, even in retrospect, of the sluggish efforts some of them had displayed at escaping its swooping talons.
The owl was in for a long night of excruciating regurgitation. Dimwitted as it was, from that moment on and for ever more, lizards were off its menu.
The world delivers its lessons in manners subtle or, if required, cruel and blunt, so that even the thickest of subjects will comprehend. Failing that, they die. For the smart ones, of course, incomprehension is inexcusable.
A night of heat in Letheras. Stone dripped sweat. The canals looked viscid, motionless, the surface strangely flattened and opaque with swirls of dust and rubbish. Insects danced over the water as if seeking their reflections, but this smooth patina yielded nothing, swallowing up the span of stars, devouring the lurid torchlight of the street patrols, and so the winged insects spun without surcease, as though crazed with fever.
Beneath a bridge, on stepped banks buried in darkness, crickets crawled like droplets of oozing oil, glistening, turgid, haplessly crunched underfoot as two figures drew together and huddled in the gloom.
‘He never would’ve went in,’ one of them said in a hoarse whisper. ‘The water reeks, and look, no ripples, no nothing. He’s scarpered to the other side, somewhere in the night market where he can get lost fast.’
‘Lost,’ grunted the other, a woman, lifting up the dagger in one gloved hand and examining the edge, ‘that’s a good one. Like he could get lost. Like any of us could.’
‘You think he can’t wrap himself up like we done?’
‘No time for that. He bolted. He’s on the run. Panicked.’
‘Looked like panic, didn’t it,’ agreed her companion, and then he shook his head. ‘Never seen anything so . . . disappointing.’
The woman sheathed her dagger. ‘They’ll flush him out. He’ll come back across, and we jump him then.’
‘Stupid, thinking he could get away.’
After a few moments, Smiles unsheathed her dagger again, peered at the edge.
Beside her, Throatslitter rolled his eyes but said nothing.
Bottle straightened, gestured for Koryk to join him, then watched, amused, as the broad-shouldered half-blood Seti shoved and elbowed his way through the crowd, leaving a wake of dark glares and bitten-off curses—there was little risk of trouble, of course, since clearly the damned foreigner was looking for just that, and instincts being what they were the world over, no one was of a mind to take on Koryk.
Too bad. It’d be a thing worth seeing, Bottle smiled to himself, if a mob of irate Letherii shoppers descended on the glowering barbarian, pummelling him into the ground with loaves of crusty bread and bulbous root-crops.
Then again, such distractions wouldn’t do. Not right now, anyway, when they’d found their quarry, with Tarr and Corabb moving round back of the tavern to cover the alley bolt-hole, and Maybe and Masan Gilani up on the roof by now, in case their target got imaginative.
Koryk arrived, in a sweat, scowling and grinding his teeth. ‘Miserable turds,’ he muttered. ‘What’s with this lust to spend coin? Markets are stupid.’
‘Keeps people happy,’ said Bottle, ‘or if not exactly happy, then . . . temporarily satiated. Which serves the same function.’
‘Keeping them outa trouble. The disruptive kind of trouble,’ he added, seeing Koryk’s knotted forehead, his darting eyes. ‘The kind that comes when a population finds the time to think, really think, I mean—when they start realizing what a piece of shit all this is.’
‘Sounds like one of the King’s speeches—they put me to sleep, like you’re doing right now, Bottle. Where exactly is he, then?’
‘One of my rats is crouching at the foot of a banister—’
‘Baby Smiles—she’s the best for this. Anyway, she’s got her beady eyes fixed right on him. He’s at a table in the corner, just under a shuttered window—but it doesn’t look like the kind anyone could actually climb through. Basically,’ Bottle concluded, ‘he’s cornered.’
Koryk’s frown deepened. ‘That’s too easy, isn’t it?’
Bottle scratched at his stubble, shifted from one foot to the other, and then sighed. ‘Aye, way too easy.’
‘Here come Balm and Gesler.’
The two sergeants arrived.
‘What are we doing here?’ Balm asked, eyes wide.
Gesler said, ‘He’s in his funk again, never mind him. We got us a fight ahead, I figure. A nasty one. He won’t go down easy.’
‘What’s the plan, then?’ Koryk asked.
‘Stormy leads the way. He’s going to spring him loose—if he heads for the back door your friends will take him down. Same for if he goes up. My guess is, he’ll dodge round Stormy and try for the front door—that’s what I’d do. Stormy’s huge and mean but he ain’t fast. And that’s what we’re counting on. The four of us will be waiting for the bastard—we’ll take him down. With Stormy coming up behind him and holding the doorway to stop any retreat.’
‘He’s looking nervous and in a bad mood in there,’ Bottle said. ‘Warn Stormy—he just might stand and fight.’
‘We hear a scrap start and in we go,’ said Gesler.
The gold-hued sergeant went off to brief Stormy. Balm stood beside Koryk, looking bewildered.
People were rolling in and out of the tavern like it was a fast brothel. Stormy then appeared, looming over almost everyone else, his visage red and his beard even redder, as if his entire face was aflame. He tugged loose the peace-strap on his sword as he lumbered towards the door. Seeing him, people scattered aside. He met one more customer at the threshold and took hold of the man by the front of his shirt, then threw him into his own wake—the poor fool yelped as he landed face first on the cobbles not three paces from the three Malazans, where he writhed, hands up at his bloodied chin.
As Stormy plunged into the tavern, Gesler arrived, stepping over the fallen citizen, and hissed, ‘To the door now, all of us, quick!’
Bottle let Koryk take the lead, and held back even for Balm who almost started walking the other way—before Gesler yanked the man back. If there was going to be a scrap, Bottle preferred to leave most of the nasty work to the others. He’d done his job, after all, in tracking and finding the quarry.
Chaos erupted in the tavern, furniture crashing, startled shouts and terrified screams. Then something went thump! And all at once white smoke was billowing out from the doorway. More splintering furniture, a heavy crash, and then a figure sprinted out from the smoke.
An elbow cracked hard on Koryk’s jaw and he toppled like a tree.
Gesler ducked a lashing fist, jus...
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