The Fell Gard Codices


Clickclack went the bonemen, and Amanos turned to find four of the skeleton dancers, each with a scythe. She grinned, matching their skullsmiles, and attacked.

Behind, Geoffrey bellowed, caught in the net.


My soul yearns to be on its way, said the ghost. I have been too long in Fell Gard.

“This is a new court,” said Alkahest. She wasn’t sure what was best. The ghost had seen her; knew her. If it was freed by someone else, would it come to haunt her? But could she trust it, if she freed it now?

It seemed to be a woman in black robes, with black hair. And yet, as was the way of ghosts, it also was not that at all. The body, if it had existed, would have seemed to be an adult mortal; but there was no body, not really. Perhaps her smile was the truest thing about her, and it was not, Alkahest thought, a wholly pleasant smile.

A new court, said the ghost, that holds old powers.


The fires in the eyes of the stone guardians flared. They seemed unreal, their faces too long, too curved, too large and lacking in definition — in wrinkles, in lines, in all the hints of a life truly lived. Sybil stared at them. What would they do?

They did not stand, nor threaten her. They only pointed, to the counters fallen on the ground. In the light of their eyes she could see the discs of stone scattered all about, black and white and white and black. There were dice on the ground, too; black with white pips, white with black pips.

The stone gamesmen pointed then to her, and then to the game-board, still on its table.

“I don’t understand,” said Sybil. Which was a lie. The fires in their eyes burned brighter. She realised: they are powerful. She could feel the magic in them, bound only barely under the shell of their rock skin.

Then their fires leapt from their eyes and washed over her, and she screamed.


Amanos ducked away from the first of the skeletal dancers. Then the others, quickstriking, were on her. Her shield caught a swordblade. She took another on an armourplate.

They were fast, the dead. What held them, bone to bone? Nothing she saw. They were nightmares, unreal. Where had they come from? Whose corpses were they?

She swung her longsword and knocked a skull from its neckbone. They were not tough as living flesh, that resisted the headsman’s blow. The skeletonthing fell apart, bones tumbling on the stonefloor. The other three did not slow.

Why did they dance? To what measure? What unheard uncanny music drove them?

They parted from her and closed again, and the scytheblades swung,.


“Then who are you?” asked Alkahest, driven by a wave of boldness. “Tell me your name.”

The ghost stared at her, with that disconcerting smile. You can do me no harm, she said, and may do me great good. If you choose. So, yes, I will tell you my name. I am Alcina the shaper.

Alkahest said nothing, and kept her face still.

You know that name, don’t you? asked the ghost. You are of the wrights’ people.

“I have heard of a person called so,” Alkahest admitted. “It is said she lived hundreds of years ago, and was a witch who warped the nature of Fell Gard.”

Is it? said the ghost. Her smile did not change, though Alkahest felt now that it was aimed now at some target further away than her. I would say that I understood that this world around us is ours to make as we will, and therefore we can fashion our own destinies. We can choose the nature of our home for ourselves. And further, if we once accept that, we will find that to alter the rock that defines our ways, to re-imagine the shapes of our lives and thus the essence of who we are, is to liberate energy — wonder — magic. It is to know that the world about us is not the only world; that all we see is only a fraction of what might be. There, is any of that said as well?

“There are those who claim to follow Alcina’s ways,” said Alkahest, scrupulously honest. She did not say what happened to such people, in the realm of Minhyr and all civilised places of Fell Gard.

It was the wrights that caught me, in the end, said the ghost. Said Alcina. Do they speak of that, too?

“Yes,” said Alkahest. “There are songs and epics of that war.”

There would be, said the ghost, satisfied. There were demons, and devils, and the greater part of a court reshaped and ruined. But they killed me, and bound my spirit to my mouldering bones, and set guardians over me.

“The eternal gamesters,” said Alkahest.

They are not eternal, said Alcina. Stone wears away. In time. Nevertheless, the wrights exiled me to the æther. I have returned from time to time, always to be exiled again. The making of a new court calls many works of old time to it; all that has been wilfully forgotten emerges again in the play of creation, to challenge the remembered traditions. Which are only the lesser part of the truth.

“What do you want?” asked Alkahest. The ghost laughed.

You are strong-willed, dwarf girl, to speak sharply to a wise ghost who is older even than you. Well. You have asked. I will tell you.


The fires receded. Sybil found she was unhurt, though she remembered the pain. She heard herself whimper. She dropped to her hands and knees, and began to pick up the stone game-pieces.

That was what they wanted. She had understood that. She had interrupted their game. It was up to her to set it right again. Well. That wasn’t unfair, surely.

A piece here, a piece there. A die. Another, with numbers doubling on every side: the betting die. She wondered what the stakes were, of that long-running game. Her hands were full. She turned to the board. The giants had each of them set their hands to point to the empty houses at the side of the board, where the pieces were to be stored. She set them there, one by one.

As soon as she was done, they disappeared, and reappeared again, scattered among the others on the floor.

She cried out, and gathered them back, as many as she could, and set them in place again, and again they vanished and reappeared. She bent to gather them a third time. What am I to do? she thought. How long could this go on for?

She set the pieces she gathered on the game board. The pieces disappeared.

She went to gather them again. Behind her she heard the clatter of a die, bone cube across stone. She realised: They are betting on me. On what I will do.

She began to weep.


A skeletonman caught Amanos with his curving scytheblade, and maillinks snapped. The things were strong.

She staggerstepped back. They were on her, dancing, weaving, scythes awhirl.

Behind her she heard Geoffrey bellow again, then a crash. He has fallen from the net, she realised without looking.

Her feet scuffed across the flat stonefloor, raising clouds of ashdust. She wanted to fight, to win, by herself. But still, still, there were three, and she was hurt.


She cried out the name of her homeland and knocked another skull from its neck.


I want only to be free, said Alcine. Oh, certainly revenge on the wrights would be wonderful, in the abstract. And to know that my teachings are being carried on … but I find I haven’t the patience anymore, to want my soul to remain in this sphere to see it all happen. I want only to pass away. To die, truly. That sounds like it should be simple, shouldn’t it?

“Most people manage it with no difficulty at all,” said Alkahest, cautious. The ghost nodded, and then pointed to the passage at the far end.

That way lies my skeleton, she said. I’m separated from it; it is out of my sight, and yet holds me as much as these circles and lines. Alcina indicated the room. Imagine this from above. These arcs and patterns. What will you see?

Alkahest scowled. What did she mean? She looked about, at the oval room, the canopy within it, the circles on the floor — “It’s an eye,” she said. “A half-closed eye.”

That was always my sign, said Alcina. Her mouth opened. Alkahest thought she was trying to sigh. They bound me in my own sigil, those … ah, well. It’s done now. What I need, dwarf girl, is for someone to take up my skeleton, and take me into the great cave nearby, to the omphalos-stone, and set my skull against it in a final kiss.

“Omphalos-stone?” asked Alkahest. “The heart of the court is near?”

Not heart, said the ghost. Navel. Well, call it what you like. Brain. Womb. Once one leaves the body behind, physical metaphors become tedious. But yes. You came through a room with many railings, making a kind of maze, and from that room there is a way through to a cave that holds the omphalos. Someone living must hold me to that stone; and then I can depart.

“Is there a cost to this, for the living person?” asked Alkahest.

There is always a cost, said Alcina.


Sybil tried every way she could think of to gather the backgammon pieces. She couldn’t hold them all, and as soon as they were out of her hands they reappeared on the floor. If she tried to put them in a pocket, or even in her mouth, as soon as her finger was no longer touching a stone it was suddenly back where she’d taken it from in the first place. And if she made to leave, the fire in the eyes of the giants flared, and she cowered back.

She tried throwing a stone. It vanished from the air, and there it was again on the floor, utterly still.

There were too many pieces, and too large, for her to grip them all at once. There was simply no way around it.

Sybil tried to set the pieces back on the board they way they had been. Only she hadn’t seen their placement when she stumbled in, and wherever on the board she set the pieces they vanished. So that was no good.

Stacking the stones on top of each other didn’t work.

Pushing them across the floor rather than carrying them was no use.

The giants watched her, as she tried one thing after another, one configuration and then a different way — all of them failing. She felt like a drudge, a maid. She ought to have been angry, that someone as smart as her was being made to do menial tasks like a servant. Instead she was only able to feel afraid.

After a few minutes, she realised it wasn’t so much a fear of the giants as it was a fear that she wasn’t smart enough to think of a way out.


Geoffrey threw himself into the skeletonmen. He was quick, Amanos knew that. Big but fast, thickbodied in the middle but still nimbler than most.

He roared, and his blade cracked a skull loose. Amanos swung at the last of the skeletons. It blocked her swordblade with its scythehaft and grinned at her, as they all always grinned.

Geoffrey dropped his sword and pulled its skull off its body, then hurled the skull against the wall where it shattered to powder.

“That one should have been mine,” she told him.


What to do, wondered Alkahest.

It was really none of her concern. She could just walk away. But then, if this was really Alcina, and she had the chance to kill her for good and all —

Assuming what Alcina had told her — what the ghost had told her — was true. “What will be the price for freeing you?” asked Alkahest.

The enmity of the witch-wrights, said Alcina. Alkahest did not dispute her use of the term witch-wright; what would be the point? But neither did she correct her on the broader point: Alcina was forgotten by the wrights. Only the people of the wrights remembered her, and then that was mostly when she masterminded some new outbreak of treachery.

“What else?” said Alkahest.

I don’t know, said Alcina. I’ve never done this.

“There are hob-goblins nearby,” said Alkahest. “Why have you not made this offer to them?”

What makes you think I haven’t? asked Alcina. But there’s more to them than you may think. I don’t understand what, but … there is a neophyte Obsidian Dragon with them.

“The dragon told them to have no part of you?” asked Alkahest. “Why did it do that?”

Who am I, to tell the ways of dragons? asked Alcina.

“The hob-goblins are fighting dwarves, aren’t they?” asked Alkahest. “The dwarves guard the omphalos. Don’t they?”

There is a war about the stone, admitted Alcina. I don’t think it will last long.

“And what would you do to change things?” asked Alkahest, before she could stop herself. The ghost folded her hands before her.

I can change the shape of the dungeon, she said. What do you want me to do?


Sybil knew what she had to do. She just didn’t want to do it.

It was clear she had to use magic to get away. Now, the charm she had in her head was a charm for dreaming, so that would be of no use here. Even if the stone giants did dream, she was sure she wasn’t strong enough to overpower them. But the pendant Geoffrey had given her …

She thought she could do it. She thought she understood how it worked, in part, at least. Only you never really knew, with magic. She had an idea there was more power in it than she’d yet understood. Ideally, she’d take it back to Innsdene, or even better, back to Minhyr, and examine it carefully and consult with others and assess what it was.

This, though, was not an ideal situation.

She grasped the drop of ink hanging at the end of the silver chain, and stared at the discs of stone.

As she concentrated, tendrils of ink flowed from the pendant, and coiled about the stone, binding them all together. She felt the charm in her head; not her own magic, a strength beyond hers, but she could use it, could work with it, could understand the threads of meaning. She reached down and picked up the knot of ink. She kept her hand about the pendant. The stones remained in place, within the ink.

She brought the ink-blot to the gaming table. She held it. She let herself get lost within the magic ink, let it shift the stones about, as though passing them through her own hands, spinning them over her knuckles.

And there; they were all in their place, in their houses by the backgammon-board.

She drew the ink back, and they stayed in place. She grinned as the giants turned to the board and began their game again.

Well done, said a voice in her head.


“You should have died,” growled Geoffrey. “I had to tear through the net to save you. Four on one. And you wounded. What were you thinking, woman?”

“That I would kill them,” she told him. “You should know your place.”

“My place?” he barked.

“You are insolent,” she said. Was she baiting him? She didn’t know. It was a joke, in a way, but also true.

He stalked toward her. She did not move. His face was bright red above his black beard. “You,” he said. “You —”

“My lady,” she said. “That is my title.”

“Oh, I’ll give you titles,” he promised.

“I am a knight,” she said. “You are a peasant.”

“You don’t even believe in hollyoak,” he sneered. “And here, in Fell Gard? I am a king!”

“I have seen your iron crown,” she said. “I have seen your one subject. I saw the throneroom you planned to hold, with the halfjack and the hellpriest. No ways out —”

“You said before,” he told her.

“It was true,” she said. “You’re no king.”

“I’ll be what I want,” he answered.

“Serve under me,” she said. “That is your place.” He glared at her, wordless, angersilent. She wanted to strike him. Then kiss his bloodied mouth. Wanted him —

No. No, she would not want that. Not until he was tamed.

She laughed once, briefly, and turned away.

In the lanthornlight they found the mist gone. Therefore they went back along their way, to find the others.


“I will not say, yet,” said Alkahest to the ghost. “I must … I must …”

What? What was there to do?

“If all that you have told me is true,” she said, “I will do everything I can to free you.” The ghost watched her, smiling. “But I must go first, to find some others, and see what is the case with this omphalos, and the cave that holds it,” she said. “It may be that I will return, with some tasks for you to perform before I and my allies can free you.”

As you like, said the ghost. Sooner or later I will be free, you understand. And though I am weary now … who can say how I shall feel a year from now, or ten? Oh, what more mischief could I get up to, in Fell Gard, if I was of a mind to?

“I will come for your bones later,” said Alkahest.

Don’t be too long, said the ghost.

Alkahest nodded, and left, hearing a low ghostly chuckle behind her.

Outside the oval room, she found the mist had faded away. There was a square chamber whose floor was made of paths a foot or so above the true floor; each path was lined with railings. Among those paths were Amanos and a glowering Geoffrey.

“Come,” Alkahest said. “We have to find everyone, then return to Innsdene. There are matters we must discuss.”


Sybil stumbled out of the room, with the gamesters now involved again at backgammon. What had that been that had spoken to her?

No; she knew. Ink was one of the elemental forces that made up the world. One of the three higher elements. If something had spoken to her out of the ink … then it was an ink elemental. An inkling.

What would it mean? She had heard stories of elementals, eager to bond with a mortal soul, to flatten the mortal, to gain some depth for themselves. But the force she had felt … it was powerful. It had seemed to be bound. Was it, though? What was she doing to herself, when she used the pendant?

And, on the other hand, what could she do with it? The ink coils … the elemental … could she command the elemental itself?

She realised she stood before a precipice. Risk threatened her.

“Sybil,” someone cried. Alkahest. “Have you seen Scholastica?”

Sybil set her hand to the pendant. Risk. They had run away, because they were ready to face risk. They were ready to grow up, whatever that meant, wherever it took them.

“Are you all right?” asked Alkahest. She was with Geoffrey and Amanos.

“I’m fine,” Sybil said. “No, I haven’t seen anyone else. No-one at all.” She shrugged. “What do you want to do?”

Time to grow up, she told herself.

The droplet of ink trembled under her hand.


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One Response to “Part 4, Chapter 13: Encounters With Skeletons”

  1. Perfidius the Rogue

    Amanos & Geoffrey, eh? They’d be a fantastic couple. And what a laugh when they grow old together..

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