The Fell Gard Codices


Kezia told them the truth, because it seemed simplest to her. Why lie? And there was an elf among them, too; that was significant.

Mahalath listened to her, of course. The mortals, Colyn and Dobyn, were less inclined to trust. Little Colyn, who Kezia had seen from across the salt pool, only glared at her as she spoke. Thick-built Dobyn, tall for a mortal, listened to what she said with his jowly face set in a frown.

Then when Kezia had finished, Mahalath began to tell her about the three of them. “We’re thieves,” she started. “We come from —”

“Hey!” cried Colyn, leaping to his feet. They were sitting in a clearing in the thick, humid woods, not far from the salt pool and the fallen stones surrounding it. “That’s not her concern!”

“We’re on this island together,” said Mahalath.

“Yes,” said Colyn. “Yes we are. And I know I can trust you two. Well, within reason. Her, though, her I don’t know.”

“She is a vala,” said Mahalath.

“What’s that mean?” asked Colyn.

“She is a — you would say priestess, but there’s more involved,” said Mahalath. “She is a lady of the earth. She —”

“I can find out more about this place,” said Kezia. “I think.”

Colyn whirled. “What do you know?” he demanded, his hand going to his knife-hilt. His dark eyes glittered above his beaklike nose.

“This place used to be a temple,” said Kezia. “You said as much. I can feel it, as well. There is a power among those fallen stones. I can speak to that power.”

Dobyn pulled at his earlobe. “What’ll you say?” he asked slowly.

“What would you like?” asked Kezia.

“Convenient,” snapped Colyn. He turned away from her, hands clutching each other behind his back. To Mahalath he said: “Convenient that she happens to show up here. Maybe if we hold her, maybe then this Ithream, maybe he lets us out of here. Eh? Maybe that. If he even exists.”

“Colyn,” said Mahalath patiently, “we don’t know that Ithream commands those skeletons. We don’t know that he’d send someone after her, or when he would if he did. And …”

“And?” said Colyn, bouncing on the balls of his feet. “And? And?”

“And we have no way of stopping her, really,” said Mahalath. “She is a vala. Communicating with the spirit of earth, the spirit of a place … that’s just her nature.”

Kezia nodded. It was true.

“How’d you get to be a vala, then?” asked Dobyn. “Some sort of test?”

“No,” said Kezia. “No … not really. It is what you are. You learn it … as you grow, you find …” She shrugged. It was difficult to explain these things; doubly so to mortals, in her brief experience. As you grow, quickly, over a few days, you find you are not like those around you, that you sense things they do not, may even see things they do not. You are aware of the cycles of matter. You are isolated by what you come to know. Your memories and dreams guide you, because you were a vala before your current life began — how to explain that, to a mortal? The past shapes you. Mortals understood as much, perhaps, but they did not truly know it, did not feel it in their bones.

She shrugged again. Aloud, she said, “I can speak with the power on this island.”

Mahalath said, “We are three neophytes of the Great Guild. We were sent, with higher officers of the Guild, to infiltrate the  Citadel Volto. We sought a certain book … we failed, we were found out, our masters died. We found our way to a chamber, and from there we … travelled. By magic. We found ourselves emerging from that pool. Of course when we went to swim away, we found the skeletons under the water.” She sighed. “Colyn and Dobyn’s brother Hochekyn was killed. That was some watches gone.”

Kezia nodded, feeling pity for her. “I have heard these names,” she said. “The Great Guild is spoken of with respect.” Colyn laughed. “You are known for your skill,” she told him.

“That’s true,” said Dobyn, with a sigh. “I’m a crafty bugger, I am.” Colyn snorted.

Kezia said, “I will go to the pool, and speak to the power here.”

They followed her, and watched as she stepped into the water. The floor of the pool was solid stone, and it was not deep. Deep enough for her to lie down in; deep enough for the waters to cover her face.

Kezia closed her eyes, and opened herself to vision.

That was part of being a vala. One saw things. More than saw; one was a part of things, beyond sensing them, one knew them in blood and bone: The cycles of water and fire. The green spark of life. The tides of blood and birth and death. She had always seen things; truthfully, had always felt as though she were running after them, as though there was some greater wisdom, some more complete understanding, just a bit beyond her reach.

In any event: she also, like all valas, had other understandings. She had a sense of place that could arise to the faculty of vision. Things done, said, felt, did not wholly vanish. They flavoured the places in which they had occurred. Or, put another way, place gave rise to action. Even singers knew that setting shaped the action of a tale. It was the gift of the vala to feel the truth of a place, to understand its tone and soul. To grasp its nature.

In that pool, by the fallen stones, on that overgrown island, surrounded by skeleton-filled waters, she felt place slip over her like a mask.

She twitched, spasmed. She knew things that she did not want to know. She had to throw off the dreadful understanding —

She arose from the water, gasping, and splashed her way to the shore.


There had been sacrifices of speaking creatures. Their faces cut from their skulls, rolled up. Stretched out, set floating in the water. Eyeless tongueless masks.

(She had seen this. She had wielded the knife. Had felt the blade cutting under her chin.)

There had been festivals, throngs of folk all hooded, veiled, disguised. Torches lit, not for light but for the smoke. For the smell. For the burning. The priests, wordless, had shown them all their reflections. Why had that been so terrible?

(The elves had killed them all. Had they? There had been a war.)

(No, the priests had been elves. A kind of elf.)

The pond was an eye. The eye was blind. It was a symbol.

(Yes, the elves had killed them.)

“This is,” she gasped, “this is … demons … the Princess …”

“Is that bad?” asked Colyn, somewhere far away.

“It doesn’t sound good,” said Dobyn. Someone touched her. She tried to pull away. “Kezia,” said Mahalath. Then said her name again, singing in the elf-tongue. “Open your eyes,” she sang. “Open your eyes.”

To open one’s eyes was to see. To see was to risk seeing truth. Or else to see a mask.

There is no choice, Kezia told herself. This is the task of the vala.

Reluctant, slow, she forced her eyes open, as though she were arguing with her own body, her lids straining to stay shut. Mahalath was in front of her. Colyn and Dobyn behind Mahalath. Kezia realised she was sitting against a tree; was shadowed by the thick branches above. Through some trunks she could see the open space of the pool. She turned her head aside. “What happened?” asked Mahalath.

“Demons,” Kezia said. She shuddered. Memories threatened to pull at her again. False sights. They had come all in a moment, with utter and total significance. The priest, his arm high. The victim, bound, thrashing. The blood upon the face. The smell, the sound of shrieks. “This is a temple of a Demon Princess,” she said.

“Wait,” said Colyn. “Elves believe in demons?”

“Guess so,” said Dobyn.

“It’s no question of belief,” said Mahalath. “How many things have we seen, in the Guild?”

“How many things have we heard of, that we don’t believe?” said Colyn.

“Ability to believe is a survival skill,” said Kezia. She had been taught that. She had not understood it until now. She stood, trembling. “We must accept things that seem incredible, to gain a true picture of the world,” she told them. “As for this temple … there is no escape here.”

Colyn sighed. “Well, then, now what do we do?”

Mahalath put her hand on Kezia’s shoulder. “Walk a while with me,” she said. “Relax, and gather yourself.” Kezia nodded, and set out.

She had no idea where she was going; away from the temple. Mahalath trailed behind her, until she came out on the shore. A slim beach of white sand seemed to run all around the island. She stepped out from under the trees, onto the sand that glittered in the dull ætheric light. It was dead, deader than bone. It suited her, then, the feel of it.

She walked along the beach, Mahalath a few steps behind her, patient and silent. Kezia looked out to the sides of the cave. She saw an exit to the … the south-east, she realised. She closed her eyes a moment, and felt for north; yes, there it was. She opened her eyes. South-east. She walked on. Another exit, north-east. Both of them caves above the water-line. “We’ve seen the skeletons go back and forth in those passages,” said Mahalath, in the mortal tongue, which was better for practicalities. “We don’t know where they lead, or if it’s worth trying them.” She sighed.

“I don’t know,” murmured Kezia. She took a breath. There had been something, in the feel of the place … in that first moment, when it had seemed to present itself as a mask she could put on. “There is a safe way,” she said. “I could feel it. A path the dead will not take.” She pointed; north-west, more or less. “There.”

“I see nothing,” said Mahalath.

“It’s under the water,” said Kezia. She nodded, staring across the surface of the lake to bare rock. “There’s a short passage, and … and then it ends. There is an old door, that hasn’t been opened in a long time.”

“This is a new court,” said Mahalath.

“With a history created behind it,” said Kezia. She looked at Mahalath. “Ithream’s people never existed, and yet they destroyed the temple long ago.”

“Ithream,” murmured Mahalath. “All those elves …”

“They have two memories,” said Kezia. “Even in dream.”

“Some of them must have been made in their final season,” said Mahalath. “Some of them must be old.”

“Yes,” said Kezia.

“Imagine,” Mahalath said, “being made just to die. Thinking you have lived a full life; but having your memories lie.” Kezia said nothing. Mahalth sighed. “This is my twelfth month,” she said. “I have done little with this life. I know that. I think in my last, I — what’s it matter? My dreams have led me to what I was. I can’t say I’m sad. I was who I was. Given my spirit, given where I was shaped and when … I did, I did all that seemed right to me.” She sat down on the sand. “I hope I don’t die here, that’s all,” she whispered. “I hope … it’s been so long. Live quickly … but how, when you’re trapped?” She took up a handful of sand, and let it trickle through her fingers, staring at it. “Colyn, Dobyn, and Hochekyn followed me,” she said. “They always have, these past months. I am good luck for them. Ah, no I am not. Hochekyn’s dead. I soon will be dead. What, then?” She stood, clapping her hands together, knocking the sand from them. “Well, it will come as it will. Will I … if I die here, will the demon take my soul?”

“No,” said Kezia. “No, the temple’s overthrown. The only danger is if you … as I did. The Demon Princes and Princesses are not devils. They are … they are captains of armies, they are things of foul energy …” She struggled to find words. It seemed to her to be important to say these things, now. “The Princess here is Vyserne of the masks,” she said. “She is a kind of wicked elemental, although not elemental in origin, she … the demons draw power from, from the higher elements.” She sighed. “Where valas are weakest.”

“We will find a way out,” said Mahalath. Kezia drew a long shuddering breath.

“When I was new to the world,” she said, “I thought that valas were the most free of anyone. They were one with all. They were hunters and visionaries. They knew the secrets of the soil, of life and death. They were like the wind. Have you ever felt the wind? A true wind? I have heard it said that winds are more common, in the outer world. I wanted to be one with air, to rush with it, to fly … to be free. I thought that was what it was to be a vala.” She stared at the far rock wall. “With every power you gain, there is responsibility,” she said. “More truly, there is no power, only responsibility.” She shook her head. “No; not even that. There is no power. There is no responsibility. There is only what you are, and what you must do, bounded only by what is around you.”

“You can choose to be who you are,” said Mahalath.

“No,” said Kezia. “Not and be honest. — It’s a strange thing, Mahalath. All the lives we have had before us. All the lives that once were, all around us … we are living, and they are dead. But who is it controls who? All the dust we see. All the earth. All of it, maybe, was once living speaking creatures, as we were. Now we tread our ancestors under our feet; we sweep them away. Or we think we do. In fact even our own flesh is made up of matter that once belonged to those that came before us.”

“We all must find our accommodations with the dead,” said Mahalath.

“Yes,” said Kezia. “Yes, exactly.”

Mahalath sighed. “We make our accommodations, we who were once as they are. I wonder how mortals think of it. They don’t imagine themselves as having had other lives, you know.”

“I know,” said Kezia.

“Well, maybe they truly don’t,” said Mahalath.

“Maybe,” said Kezia.

Mahalath looked back toward the island. “Maybe when they go, they go forever,” she said. “And yet they live so long, and must carry the memories about with them all those long years. How can they do it? I would go mad.”

“They find their own accommodations, I suppose,” said Kezia. “Let’s go back to the others.”

They found Colyn and Dobyn in the clearing where the Guildsmembers slept. The ground was soft, coated in fallen leaves and moss. There was a rustling as the mortals stood. Kezia looked longingly at the ground. “So?” said Colyn. “What’d you decide? Do we have a plan?”

“Yes,” said Kezia. Mahalath looked at her. “I will go back to the pool,” she said, “and I will … open myself up to this place again. You two will follow Mahalath into the water. I will keep the skeletons back from you. Mahalath will lead you into an underwater passage. Go with her. I will come after.”

None of them said anything. What was there to say? It was the only thing there was to do.

Oh, what it would cost her, to do this.

And yet, she knew, it would cost her more to not do it.

They went again to the clearing. She stepped again into the pool. She felt again the waters cover her face.

She felt the understanding come to her again. The sense of collusion, between the Demon Princess and the elf-folk. She ignored it, and put the place upon her like a mask.

She was aware of the dead under the water. She controlled them, now, and had them move away from the passage to the old door. She controlled them: that was what the dead were for, she felt, there, then, to be controlled by those of the living with power.

She knew when the three living folk entered the water. She sensed them, one and all. She was the water they parted; she clung about them, pressed on their limbs and chests, tried to force open their screwed-shut lips. Ah, the elf she felt more then any: she felt again the collusion with the elf-folk of old. There were elves that had been her people.

The mortals were coming to the door. Had she been going to open it?

The mask: the mask of the place. It was becoming her. She was becoming what she beheld.

The mortals were at the door. They could not breathe.

We make our accommodations. Not with the dead alone. With weakness, and illusion. With the things about ourselves we hate, and fear to challenge.

She knew silence, in the pool.

She knew something more, too. Kezia knew who she was.

Right or wrong, there was something that must be done.

She opened the door.

In the moment after, she realised she had made a choice. She realised it was the right choice. It was who she was. No; it was not really a choice. It was only the expression of her individuality.

She set the skeletons at the far side of the lake, and arose from the pool.

Kezia ran across the island, through the woods, and dove into the lake. The skeletons would be coming after her. She thought she had enough of a start on them.

She swam, strong and quick, through the water. This was her element, as much as any. She was an elf, and a vala. Only, as she went, she could see dimly through the water, in the shafts of dim silver-green light from above, the gleaming-pale bones of the skeletons behind her. Pursuing her.

She was not far ahead of them as she entered the tunnel leading to the old door. Straight ahead she went, nevertheless. What else was there to do?

She wondered if she had opened the door in time. Had the mortals made it through? Would she find their bodies ahead of her?

The dead behind her were almost at her heels — ah, but there was the door, an opening onto slightly brighter waters, slightly less murky. Silt of ages still swirled in the water where the door’s recent opening had disturbed it. She kicked, and kicked, and she shot through the opening just ahead of the skeletons’ grasping bony hands.

She somersaulted through the waters beyond. The skeletons did not cross the threshold. She stared at them for a moment. Eyeless, they stared back; their skulls seeming to hold in them expressions of great meaning — threats and bitter humour and she did not know what else. But no, they were really only masks.

She swam upward, until she broke the surface.

Kezia found herself in a circular chamber. To her left were tiers of seats, some occupied. To her right was a wide stage. A mortal was upon it, a burning brazier near him, a harp in his hand. Near him were other mortals, two male and two female, and they held Mahalath and Colyn and Dobyn with blades to their throats.

“Welcome,” said the mortal with the harp. “Come join us, won’t you?”

The audience of monsters laughed and jeered.


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