The Fell Gard Codices


It was true, thought Hochelaga, that she’d never tried to work a summoning circle on her own before. But she was sure that this wasn’t supposed to have happened.

“Come, ye powers,” she’d said aloud, just the way she had been taught. She knew summoning had something to do with forming the words, like all magic, but unlike most it didn’t have to do with imagining the words, only repeating them. “Come, ye powers, at my word; and lend your aid. Come, ye powers.” The circle had burst into fire. And she’d felt it work, like going into deep water. No, it wasn’t like water at all, it was like when you called for a familiar and a cat or dog came and sniffed you and brushed against you and decided not to accompany you after all. Well, yes, it would be like calling for a familiar spirit because that was sort of what she was doing: calling a spirit. So really it was like a change in the weather, it was like when William had started to play for the Carnelian Dragon, it was like when you began to cry because you were going to burst and once you did you felt different. It was like all those things.

And then the fires leaped up; and there was neither heat nor sound; and now she was somewhere else, and it really wasn’t very much fun.

She was in a room, a square chamber maybe thirty feet to a side. She wasn’t sure if it was still Fell Gard or not. It felt like it, but it looked a little different; squarer, she thought. The ceiling was a bit lower. There were lit torches all around the sides of the room. There was no door.

“Hello?” she called. Something heard her, she was sure of it, but it didn’t answer. “Am I supposed to wait here?” she asked. “Because I don’t think that’s the way it’s supposed to work. I mean — that is not the way of things, recreant spirit.” There was still no answer. She looked around again. There was nothing in the room, other than the torches in their brackets. There were no signs of any kind on the floor, or walls, or anywhere she could see. The air smelled funny, and it was very heavy, somehow.

“All right,” she said aloud. She went to a wall and took down a torch. She walked around the walls. Nothing stood out. The masonry looked the same everywhere. “I called you,” she said. “You’re not allowed to take me out of the circle.” There was no answer.

She remembered something Ulric had said, how he’d found the secret door up on the first level by setting a torch in a bracket, and feeling the bracket move. Well, she thought, there’s nothing else in the room. She went around and tried each of the brackets, trying to twist them, and then taking the torch out and changing it for the one she held before moving on. None of them shifted when she pulled on them, but once when she changed the torch a part of the wall slid back. Once, and once only; it was the only way out. Of course, she thought, maybe there are more doors but only one can be open at a time. But that’s complicated. I might as well start here.

She set out into the hall. It was empty, somehow emptier than the other passageways she’d seen in Fell Gard (if this was Fell Gard). Dustier. Just as dark and just as silent, but not as alive. The stone of the walls was dark and gloomy, like everywhere else, but the ceilings were lower, and the points of the arches weren’t as sharp. The floors were fashioned of smooth grey flagstones, and that also was like the rest of the dungeon she had seen, but many of these flags were cracked, and in some places the ground had heaved or sunk underneath them.

Hochelaga wandered around in empty halls for a while. She wasn’t sure what she was looking for, but she guessed she’d know it if she found it. The halls seemed to turn in on themselves a lot, and stop suddenly. She found a large globe in a stand at the end of one hall. Part of it was painted blue, and the rest was green and brown and yellow. She remembered Master Shiloh talking about globes like that, which showed the world. She wasn’t sure if that was what this one was.

At the end of another hall, she found a raised wooden platform. Looking underneath it she found: a cap and bells, a bladder on a stick, a large number of masks, a crescent moon made out of hide, a roll of tin that made a noise like thunder when she touched it to find out what it was, several swords which turned out to have entirely dulled blades, and many cloaks and fine suits of bright colours embroidered with beautiful patterns. The wooden platform was a stage, she realised, and those odd things beneath were all props. She remembered when the Masters had allowed some wandering mimici into their valley. Hochelaga had watched them, weeping at the story of some old family of the Archons, the father coming home after a long war, and how his wife had been mad, and how it had all slowly but surely led to everybody dying. That was the day she had learned the word inexorable. She thought again of how characters were like ghosts, who were allowed to live only on stage, and how the stage was also as big as any country, bigger, since it could hold anything.

(Also she remembered how Master Shiloh had told her about the two lead mimici, and how they loved each other, and how that love had been forbidden because they were men, and one man a strolling player and the other a thane’s son, and how it had come about that the duke’s son had stolen away and joined the troupe, and found genius within himself. It had been very sweet, and after that Hochelaga had realised that there was some peculiar magic between the two men on stage whenever they had touched. That had been how she had learned the word liberation. And how she learned that sometimes stories had stories behind them, and stories about the telling of the stories, and it dizzied her so that she wondered if all the world was stories all the way down.)

She went on. Past two doors an open pit blocked her way; then there was another door that was locked; then she came to a crossroads leading off in three directions as well as the way she came. The smell in the air was stronger there. She paused, trying to figure out which way to go.

“Ahead,” said a voice. “You want to go straight ahead, Hochelaga.”

“Who’s there?” she called out. “Is that you, Power?”

“Ah, what is Power?” asked the voice. “If you can command it, is it Power?”

She stepped forward, slowly. “You don’t sound like a Power,” she said. “Who are you?”

“How does one answer that question in a word?” asked the voice. It seemed amused.

“With a name,” she said.

“And what’s a name?” asked the voice. Hochelaga knew suddenly what sort of man she was speaking to.

“A word that holds meaning,” she said, “and is the symbol of a soul or spirit. You’re a glossologist.

“I’ve been many things,” said the wizard. “You can call me Master Har.” She took another step; she saw him now in the torchlight. He was very old, with a long grey beard and stringy grey hair. He had a wide-brimmed travelling hat, and a staff. His right eye was missing.

“I don’t know that name,” she said.

“No?” he said. “Well, that is not surprising, for I have been down here a very long time. I must thank you, Hochelaga. I think I might have died if I had not heard you calling.”

“You’re not a Power,” she said. Then she was unsure: “Are you?”

“I am an old fellow of your order,” he said. “Do you know where you are, Hochelaga?”

“Fell Gard, I think,” she said. Master Har nodded.

“Yes,” he said, “but also no. You called upon the Powers, and one came.” He reached out with a bony finger to tap her head. “It’s the circlet, you see. You might have been strong enough to call something on your own, perhaps, but the circlet makes it certain, for it is a magic thing, and that is its virtue. Do you know the secrets of the world before the world?”

“Some,” Hochelaga said.

“You called a daimon,” said Har. “Do you know what that is?”

“I think so,” she said. “It’s a kind of spirit, isn’t it? Not wicked like a devil. It, um, it makes the world out of the All, doesn’t it?”

“Oh, yes,” said Har. “Daimons are endlessly making. That is their nature. It has made all this out of your thoughts and desires.”

Hochelaga shook her head. “I don’t think I wanted this. I mean I’m pretty sure.”

“It can see further into you than you can,” said Har.

“For what purpose, though?” asked Hochelaga.

“Why do you think?” asked Har. She sighed. He was a glossologist, all right.

“Well,” she said, “I guess it’s watching me right now.”

“It would seem likely,” Har agreed.

“Which means it’s … learning something from me?” she asked.

“What would a spirit older than the world have to learn from a little girl?”

“Um … it would see what the little girl does … which … she would … decide things?”

Har nodded. “And how would that help it?”

Hochelaga felt a rush of irritation at the strange riddle-game. “If it couldn’t decide things for itself,” she said. “Wait. There’s something else. If it makes things … then it can make things based on what the girl does. So that means that this isn’t just some kind of illusion, it’s also actually happening because the daimon’s making it happen.” She wrinkled her forehead. “That’s two things that would both be true, but can’t both be right.”

Har shrugged. He smiled. “It is using you for inspiration,” he said. “Your perceptions, this dungeon, is absolutely real; but neither have you left your summoning circle. There are levels of reality, Hochelaga.” He sighed, and looked around. “This is a very old part of Fell Gard. Very old. And very far down. It is the heart of the dungeon. If this were wholly real … it would be very dangerous.”

“Then it’s not very dangerous now?” asked Hochelaga.

“Well,” said Mister Har. “I can’t truly say that.”

Hochelaga thought for a moment. “How did you come to be here, Master?” she asked.

“I fled here,” he said. “I escaped a terrible war. This was long ago, after the Archons fell, but before the Logmadur of the Vættir conquered Edu.” He sighed. “I fled the field where my sons died. I hid in the gullet of a wolf, and slipped out when it was burned by its own master. I thought I was clever.”

“It sounds very clever,” said Hochelaga. She wanted to cheer the old man, but he only smiled in a way that she knew meant he wasn’t really happy. He didn’t say anything for a while, and looked above her head at nothing, or else at something long past. “Master Har,” said Hochelaga, and hesitated.

“Yes?” he asked.

She licked her lips. “We were talking about the world before the world,” she said. “I’ve met a man who claims to be a prophet of Urthona.”

Har stroked his beard. “Surprising.”

“What should I do?” she asked.

“Now?” he said. “Go on ahead. Keep going. Find the daimon. Bear in mind what I have said about its nature. It is prolific, and must create.” He lifted his head as though listening. “Hurry,” he said. “Another force has entered this place. Someone has joined you in the circle, and I do not think he means you well. Go! Go quickly!”

She backed away. “Farewell, Master.”

He nodded, impatient. “We shall see each other again ere long, I am sure of it. But not if you don’t hurry!”

Hochelaga turned and ran.

The passage she took soon split to left and right. She tried the left path. It curled around on itself and ended at an empty cabinet. She ran back to the right path, hearing now a dull noise echoing, and then on to an empty room. She looked around until she saw another passage out. She ran down the hall, the torchlight waving madly before her. The noise was much louder. And the smell was very strong. It was salt. Salt, and water. The passage turned suddenly to her right. She ran —

— and came out on a wide beach of fine white sand leading down to a sunless sea, whose black waters churned and frothed and crashed.

To either side the cave stretched out, a mile or more, and for miles ahead of her. An ætheric moon glittered above her head, beneath the roof of the vast cave, shining off the waters, off the waves surging to the shore. Long stalactites stretched down to the restless sea, and here and there stabbed its surface. Hochelaga felt very small.

But she shouted as loud as she could: “I am here! Show yourself, daimon!”

The water some way ahead of her began to whirl and froth. Waves surged toward the shore.

No mere daimon!” boomed a voice from below the surface. “I am an agar, master of makers!” The waters broke and fell back with a great clap. Rising from them was a vast shape, a giant of black water, fifty feet high or more, eighty, a hundred, reshaping itself constantly from the froth and the waves of the maelstrom. “Why do you call me, tiny glossologist?”

“I,” said Hochelaga, and stopped, feeling like nothing before the Power of the sunless maelstrom. And then, from behind her, came a man’s voice:

“Not she, but I called thee!” it cried. She turned to see a tall man in mail striding from the passage. Over the mail he wore a garment, a tabard, with three sinister grinning faces upon it. He leered at her. “I have set my cobolds on your friends, witch-girl. They’re being torn to shreds as we speak.” He raised his arms to the agar. “Attend me, spirit!” he shouted. “Mine is the will!”

“No!” shouted Hochelaga, but the agar’s voice boomed:

“Speak! Tell me your desires!”

The man in mail smiled, and began to say terrible things.


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