The Fell Gard Codices


Kate thought that the canons of Secga were funny, the way they shouted at each other and called each other names and challenged each other to go back to their library without any of them ever actually going. She stopped watching them, though, when the preceptor began to speak.

Kate couldn’t explain how she felt about the preceptor. Even to say she felt something wasn’t quite right. It was like saying she felt something about the sun. Ygerna was bigger than anything Kate could feel, or at least stood for something bigger. Anyway when the preceptor spoke, they all listened to her, even the bald girl who sneered at everyone.

“We’ve all been through so much,” Lady Ygerna said. Was it wrong that it didn’t feel natural to call her ‘Lady’? Probably. People ought to have their right titles. But Kate had seen Ygerna blush when someone had called her Lady; that had been after she and Robert and big Hwitwic had found their way to the chamber of Oak and Holly, but before she had gone with Kate to the outlaws. Now the trees were all cut up and the chamber seemed darker, somehow. Ygerna went on: “We’ve seen so many wondrous things, and fought hard.” She took a breath. “But as I understand matters, there are other people caught up in this place. This dungeon. Other innocent people, who were travelling in the White Mountains, and now … are in Fell Gard, threatened by all manner of dangers. They might be hungry, or hurt. If they haven’t found water they may be dying. I would like nothing more than to rest, but I … I can’t. Now that Innsdene’s safe from the orcs and the goblins and the bandits, I, I have to go look for anyone else I can find. If I can make a difference, I should. I’m just saying this … If anyone wants to come with me, I would welcome you.”

“I will go with you, Lady,” said one of the people Kate didn’t know. Gryselde had told Kate briefly about everything that had happened while Kate had been stuck in the dark on the far side of the mirror (Kate still shivered when she thought about it; she hadn’t felt like anything at all, in that place, except every so often she’d bump into something big and strange and scary, like some piece of the dragon was stuck in there with her), and Kate thought the man was one of the folk that had come with the new priest, or prophet, or whatever he was, that John of the Inner Book.

“Thank you,” said Ygerna. She looked embarrassed. “Pardon me, but what is your name?”

“I am Gregory of the Crimson Circle, Lady,” said the man, dropping to one knee. He was as young as Ygerna, probably, but seemed older, with his chestnut hair and hollow cheeks.

Other people spoke up. Alkahest the dwarf said she’d had a quiet time of it, in the battle, and would go, and then nasty bald Scholastica said that if Alkahest was going she’d have to go with her to keep her safe. Entemena said he would send one of his people to go with them, and left to return to the big cave with the town of Innsdene inside it. After a moment, Hwitwic — who in the end had followed Robert to the chambers of Oak and Holly — took a shuffling step forward and nodded his head. Everyone else seemed too tired.

“I’ll go,” said Kate.

She hadn’t known she was going to say it until she did, and then once she had she knew it was right. She had to do something, now that she was free of the mirror.

“You are very young, and a princess,” said Ygerna.

Kate tried to straighten up, but the hunch of her back made that difficult. “I was turned into something else,” she said. “I’m a fighter, now.”

Hwitwic came over to look her in the eyes. He let out a funny deer’s breath. “Yes,” he said, and that was all.

When Gryselde and the others came back from the Abyss of Stairs to the chamber of Oak and Holly, Ygerna went to them and told them what she was planning. Gryselde was not happy: “I must go now to debate with Sir Hugh,” she said. “No doubt after that we shall have many matters for the House to discuss.”

“We won’t be overlong, then,” said Ygerna. “But it’s as I told them. What we can do, we should.”

Gryselde looked at Kate. “Are you sure you wish to accompany her?” the sorine asked.

“Yes,” said Kate at once. Gryselde looked from her to Hochelaga, and threw up her hands, sighing.

“Go, then,” she said. “Perhaps I will still be arguing with Sir Hugh when you’re done.”

Ygerna bowed her head as an elf trotted into the room. He was tall and fair, as all the elves were, with white-gold hair and violet eyes. “I am Sabium,” he said to Ygerna. “Entemena has sent me to you.” His solemn face broke into a smile. “I’d like to see what’s out there, in the dungeon,” he said.

“You all might start off that way,” William said, pointing south and east. “Some of you may have heard there was a priest we found there, Warin of the Final Mystery, an agent of something called the High Crypt. You might see if he has survived the orcs, and if so, whether he knows of any other folk in the dungeon.”

“We shall seek him out,” declared Ygerna. “By your leave, Sorine.” She knelt to Gryselde. Gregory and Kate knelt with her. Gryselde made the Sign of Holly, and Ygerna gathered all of them and led them through the hall to the east.

They passed into an odd-angled room where Kate knew there had once been great grim beetles. The bugs were all dead now, killed by the orcs. They went through the room to a hall, and then south to a room were fires burned white and green around the skulls of Kate’s own kind. No, she told herself, no, they are not my kind, they are goblinkin. Small sloping brows, fangs for teeth. Kate wondered if her own skull looked like those. It must, she thought.

“This is no temple of Ossian,” said the knight, Gregory of the Crimson Circle.

“Well,” said Ygerna, “no. It is not. Though properly speaking, Ossian has no temples. Only Oak and Holly have temples.”

Gregory looked around him as the others wandered through the room. Hwitwic went to kneel before one of the skulls. Kate kept close to the preceptor. “That’s not what they say in the south,” Gregory told Ygerna. “There they talk of the holiness of Ossian — the Immaculation.”

“I hadn’t heard that,” said Ygerna. “Is your John of the Inner Book from the south?”

“John is a great man,” said Gregory, very seriously.

Scholastica, bored, picked up one of the skulls. The fire didn’t seem to burn her at all. She grinned nastily at Kate, and shook the skull at her, clacking its jaws like a toy.

“Who are you?” asked Kate. The bald girl snorted. She was short, and looked heavy, but moved as gracefully as anyone Kate had ever seen.

“I’m a guardian for dear Alkahest, of course,” she said.

“Guard yourself,” said the dwarf, grabbing the skull from her hands and setting it back in its niche. Kate saw Ygerna give a little nod and wondered if she herself should have done what the dwarf did.

“Something’s coming,” said Sabium. He was at an archway that opened onto a hallway leading east. He stiffened, and set an arrow to his bow: “Goblinkin!” he whispered sharply.

Ygerna motioned him away from the arch. She sent them all at once back to the north passage, except Alkahest. Ygerna stood with the dwarf just inside the room, and waited. Kate peeked around the corner to see what would happen.

A small figure came into the room; into the temple. Kate felt a thrill inside herself, like remembrance, or recognition. It was a hob-goblin, a male. He stared at Ygerna and Alkahest, and drew his knife, sidling sideways along the wall. He gave a whistle. A second came, a third, then three more together, then more after that. Thirteen of them, in the end, the last two holding a bound prisoner — something that was like a dwarf, but smaller, slighter, and hairless. The other eleven spread out through the room, some of them brandishing weapons: light spears, or clubs with nails or spikes of stone driven into them. They had wicker shields, but no armour.

Ygerna spoke, and Alkahest translated. “We mean you no harm,” said the preceptor. “We are looking for other folk who may be in danger. Can you help us?”

When the dwarf finished speaking, the hob-goblins began to cackle. One of them, bigger than the others, made a signal. The hob-goblins raised their spears to attack —

Kate raced out into the temple as Sabium began to fire arrows. One of the hob-goblins died, while another yelped and hurried his throw; his spear deflected harmlessly from Ygerna’s shield.

Kate leaped at the nearest hob-goblin, who backed away. She clawed his shield. For a moment she felt helpless, frustrated. Then she realised the hob-goblin was about to stab her with his spear. She thought this was unfair, somehow. It wasn’t right that the person she fought got to fight back. For a moment she imagined herself spitted —

And then the hob-goblin fell over. Kate leaped back a step. The hob-goblin lay on the floor, and she saw him twitch, his eyes open, staring at nothing, like a man not quite awake or asleep. All the hob-goblins were suddenly like that.

“What happened?” said Scholastica, suspicious, her hands held behind her in a fighting stance.

Hwitwic stepped from the tunnel, and bowed his rune-carved antlers. “They dream,” he said.

“Well done,” said the little man the hob-goblins had held as a prisoner. He still seemed to be bound, his hands behind his back. “Free me,” he said, “and I will show you their traps before I go, and lead you to their city, if you like.”

“City?” said Ygerna.

“The hob-goblins are just asleep, not yet dead,” Sabium warned them.

“We should kill them,” said Alkahest.

“What about him?” Kate asked, pointing to the hob-goblins’ former prisoner. He grinned at her.

“It’s not right to kill sleeping enemies,” said Gregory.

Hwitwic said nothing, but watched.

After some talk, which bored Kate (they had won the fight, she thought, so they had the right to do whatever they wanted), they bound and gagged the hob-goblins and set all their weapons and shields to the side. Gregory, who felt most strongly that it was wrong to kill the sleeping creatures, agreed to stand guard over them. Alkahest, who still wanted to kill the hob-goblins, glowered at Gregory. At least she isn’t spitting all over everything like Gral does, thought Kate.

For her part Kate was more interested in the funny little man the goblins had bound. He was as brown and rock-like as a dwarf, though bald and beardless. He had a black ear-ring, and on a chain around his neck was an eye made from ivory inset with gold. “What are you?” she asked him.

He laughed. “I’m a gnome,” he told her. “A spirit of the earth, hey? My name is Stratum.”

“I’m Kate,” she said. “I’m a princess.”

“Well met,” he told her. “Will you unbind me?”

“Is there a trick to it?” she asked.

“No,” he said. “They tied me with lute-strings, hey, which is the only way to bind earth elementals like me. I don’t know how they knew it. They made me work for them, setting their traps in the stones of Fell Gard. Hum, then when they were done they decided to take me here, and sacrifice me.”

“That’s terrible,” said Ygerna. Kate took a sharp spear and soon cut the strings binding the gnome.

“To shape the stone of Fell Gard is to bring a curse on your head,” said Alkahest.

“Hum, true for most,” said Stratum, “but not, I hope, for we gnomes bound by Scaeva to work his will. Or if there is a curse, I hope it has all passed onto the hob-goblins, and left me.”

“You said they had a city,” said Ygerna.

“That is true,” said Stratum. “In a cave, nearby. They had me set traps along the passages leading to it. Follow me; I will gladly undo all I have done.”

He led them along a fair distance, east and then south. He stopped often, to touch the stones of the walls or floor; which flowed under his fingers. And then he would take down a net from the ceiling, or remove a spear from a wall. “This is the rear approach to their city,” he told them as they went along, “which they know in their language only as the word for home, but which in Ibia they call Pauabu.Those hob-goblins you hold were the appointed sentries, hey. Ah, here we come to it.”

They had gone south from an eight-sided room with many silver coins scattered about; now the hall ended, at a vast cavern that had a ceiling well above their head and also dropped away far beneath their feet. By some trick of the dungeon architecture they hadn’t heard the noise of the city as they came, but once they stepped inside the cave mouth they could hear the shrieks and howls and hissing of a multitude of hob-goblins. Scraps of ætheric moss overhead gave some light; here and there fires were burning on stone platforms. A narrow flight of stone steps led down to the cave floor, which was shrouded in mist; a few stunted trees could be seen rising among the fog, but the hob-goblins’ city was more impressive, and dominated the cave.

Bent wooden towers, jagged as frozen lightning bolts, served as thick central posts from which spread porches and balconies and walkways and platforms, most of wood but some stone, all connecting each to each. It was a maze in the air, that seemed to have been built, section by section, over who-knew-how-long. Cunning struts and buttresses propped the towers up, braced against the cave floor and walls and even sometimes the ceiling; for many of the towers were tall enough to reach up to the stalactites far above. The towers were thicker and on the whole grander toward the south of the cave, which itself Kate thought had to be at least as large as the cavern that held the mortal town.

Hob-goblins were everywhere, wandering among the towers, and climbing among the warrens of smaller tunnels that seemed to honeycomb the sides of the cave. It all stank like nothing Kate had ever smelled. Like dung and roasting meat, like blood and sweat-stink, like rot and resin.

There was nobody around them, and the opening into the cave was high enough above the floor that they were out of the hob-goblins’ sight. No-one challenged them, and they stood silently for a while, looking off into the city. Into Pauabu.

Finally Scholastica said: “There must be hundreds of them. Thousands. What do we do?”

And for a long moment nobody answered. Then, finally, Ygerna said: “We must know more about this place. Stratum — can you tell us anything ?”

“Hum,” he said. “I was never in the city myself. As I say, they only had me making traps, guarding it, hey? I know that the main way out of the cave is to the south and west — there’s a wide mouth that opens onto the Abyss of Stairs, so they go every which way from there. Beyond that, I know little of the place.”

Kate knew what she had to do. There was no choice. Ygerna was right. They had to learn about the city. But no unknown mortal could just go wandering among the goblinkin, much less a dwarf or elf.

“I’ll go,” she said quietly.

“No,” said Ygerna.

“It has to be me,” Kate said. She thought it was funny, now, how she’d wanted to become a little girl again. What had she been thinking? As a cobold she could go so many more places in the dungeon. As a cobold she could save Domini. Wasn’t that what she wanted? Then why had she been so eager to go to the outlaws? Kate wondered if anybody ever really knew what they wanted, or whether they just told themselves stories about what they thought they wanted; and she wondered if those stories were ever true.

“We can go back to the dwimmerlaik,” said Ygerna. “He can cast a spell, and make someone look like a hob-goblin.”

“Could he make you smell like one?” Kate asked. “I mean, I don’t know, maybe it wouldn’t matter. But don’t you see, this is what I am. They won’t look closely at me.”

“She’s right,” said Alkahest.

Scholastica looked back and forth between them. “I don’t understand,” she said. “Isn’t she a cobold?”

“I won’t talk to anyone,” said Kate. “I’ll just go, and if anyone looks hard at me, I’ll run away.” Ygerna frowned, staring into the city. “What if someone else is in there?” said Kate. “Another mortal? I could save them. And I’m the only one who can.”

Ygerna frowned. But then sighed. “You’re right,” she admitted. “But you must run at the least danger. If anyone notices you. Run.”

Hwitwic shuffled forward, in his cloak of many skins. He held something out to Kate. “Take this,” he said. “It may … help. It is a thorn … of dreaming. You saw … the magic I did before.”

Kate took the thorn he held out, a sharp spike smaller than her littlest finger. “This can do all that?” she asked.

“Once,” said Hwitwic. “Once. If the enemy is not … too strong. Or … a spirit.”

“All right,” said Kate. “Thank you.”

Ygerna sighed. “I don’t know if this is the right thing to do,” she confessed.

“It is,” Kate promised her.

So she went down the narrow stone stairs into the hob-goblin city of Pauabu. She went swiftly, and no-one there seemed to notice.

Kate walked along the floor of the cave, between the towers, looking all around. The dank mist that was everywhere on the ground made it difficult to see, and there were cracks or rifts that she almost fell into once or twice. But she could see enough, in the faint light of the far ætheric moss and the flickering fires. She tried to look for anything that Ygerna might want to know.

There were hob-goblins everywhere, of course, but also many murineans, who seemed to be slaves that the hob-goblins tormented for pleasure. Between the towers were low trees, growing from the floor, and in the cracks beside them were little bushes and reeds and many many bean-vines. The murineans were gathering the beans. The hobgoblins mocked them and jeered them, sitting on balconies above, and as she walked along she saw one small group of hob-goblins leap down to batter a ratman to death.

She made herself look all around, at everything. Who were the people of this city, who could not tell her apart from themselves? She saw hob-goblins dicing and wrestling and cackling, but she didn’t see or hear any of them singing or telling tales. She saw males and females, and many young. She noted especially many hob-goblins, with spears and shields, and some also with short-swords, who seemed to watch everything around them. These watchers were female, though Kate was sure all the hob-goblins in the temple room before had been males. Anyway, these women kept order, but strangely. They let the killing of the murinean proceed, but then pushed and swore at the killers until they’d cleaned up the blood and taken the body. Kate decided the armed hob-goblins were like constables, but there were so very many of them.

(It seemed to her that this was natural, that hob-goblins were known to have a passion for order, and consistency in all things. This was something she knew without knowing how she knew, something Blæcalx had made her.)

There were other goblinkin about, too, she saw. Cobolds, like her. True goblins, bigger than the hob-goblins. And some mortals as well. They were walking on the walkways above her, most of them heading southward, to where the towers and platforms were most thickly clustered.

Kate realised that all in all this Pauabu was just what she expected in a hob-goblin city. It was like a nightmare. But it was also almost like coming home. There were people all about her. They’re not people, they’re goblinkin, she told herself; but it didn’t help. These folk were what was natural to her, now. And it was therefore also natural, she realised, that she could not stand properly, could hardly speak human sounds, and — at that moment she was sure of what she had only suspected before — could not cry.

“You!” someone shouted in the goblin tongue; thanks again to Blæcalx, she knew the language without ever having learned it. She turned, to see one of the constable hob-goblins pointing to her. “Why you here?”

“Because I wish it,” she said slowly. What could she do? Did she dare attack the hob-goblin? Other constables were turning now, to look. The stairs were already far back behind her.

“You go up!” commanded the hob-goblin. She pointed to some stairs up into the maze, and then to a wooden ramp. “Not ground for guests!”

Kate grunted, as a cobold would. “I go,” she acknowledged. The hob-goblin bowed her head.

“Citadel there,” said the hob-goblin. “See?”

Kate grunted again. “I see,” she said, and went to the stairs. She climbed up, and went a distance along the walkway she found. When she looked back, the constable was still watching her. I had better go on, she thought. If I go all the way to the citadel, I can see what sort of defenses they have there, I guess. Then I can try to find my way back. What if the guards wouldn’t let her, though? What if they talked to one another, and were saying even now, watch out, there’s a funny-acting cobold about? (What if they weren’t? What if she really was one of them?)

What could she do?

She went on. What else was there to do?

It turned out that the cave was actually a double cave, so it was shaped something like a huge church — two overlapping rings. Except these rings were stretched out; ovals, not circles, eggs set one on top of another. The southern oval was much larger than the first, and the tower-trunks there were anchored with stone. Kate found her way among the complicated web of wooden catwalks, from platform to platform (some of them moldy or falling to bits), toward a set of ladders and ramps reaching up to the highest part of the dome-like cave ceiling. As Kate got closer, she could see that the ceiling was bristling with huge stalactites, and that a number of platforms had been set among the stalactites, using the dagger-like stones as anchors. The ladders actually reached from the nearest tower-trunks to these platforms, and she realised that this was the hob-goblin citadel, the centre of Pauabu: a fortress high above, which could defend itself by destroying the ladders that connected it to the city below.

There was much traffic along the ramps. Small crowds followed leaders up toward the citadel. As Kate drew closer she grew sure that they were soliders — males, with spears and shields, and sergeants (captains?) leading them in rough formation up to the citadel. The largest of these units had thirteen soldiers, but all of those were wounded, and moved slowly.

Besides the soldiers, there were other folk going up to the citadel, and fewer coming down. Some hob-goblins, but also the other goblinkin she’d seen, and the few mortals — some in mail, many in robes. What did it all mean? She followed, and lost herself among the crowd.

She came to the first platform of the citadel unnoticed. She found a large open space with a high throne set up at one side. The biggest hob-goblin she had ever seen sat on the throne, watching as one of the sergeants spoke. Kate made her way closer. A large crowd of folk of various kinds watched the audience before the throne. They smelled like people, like goblinkin. A few mortals stood here and there among them, too tall and too still, but most were hob-goblins or goblins or cobolds in hides or spidersilk tabards. Even a few bogeymen, here and there, with their grins and long fingers for strangling. They were all shifting about, jockeying for place. Kate understood the way they moved. That was how you were supposed to move, strong elbowing out the weak. You had to give the strong their due place, but they had to work for it. What was more important than strength? Nothing.

No, she thought. No, that is goblinkin thinking. I don’t believe that. I don’t. I am not a cobold.

Still, she was able to elbow her way forward, among all the rest of that shifting crowd.

From time to time the king — no, queen, — or chief, or whatever she was, would ask a question of the sergeant before her; then everyone was silent. A buzz of whisper would start again as soon as the queen was done, so Kate couldn’t hear the answers, but the questions all seemed to be about some kind of war: “How many dead did you leave?” or “Did they hold their position?” or “What did your officers do to counter these spells?”

As she drew closer, keeping a screen of folk between her and the space before the throne at all time, she began to hear snatches of the answers: “… then we moved forward …” and “… many dwarves fell before us …” and “… is at a stalemate.” (She realised all these things were being said in the hob-goblin tongue; another language she knew without having known she knew it.) When she was close enough, she could hear more: reports of some battle, in another cavern, between the hob-goblins and dwarves. The battle was ongoing; these hob-goblins had been sent to report, and ask for reinforcements.

Then a sergeant, bowing before the king, said: “My fighters do not come from the dwarves. There is a settlement of mortals south of them. We know because we came upon two of the females, and chased them until we found a mixed force of mortals and elves and other folk. We fought them, but then large dragons came upon us.” There were some gasps. “We fled,” the hob-goblin said.

“I will hear more of this,” said the hob-goblin queen. She cuffed a ratman near her. “Fetch my counsellor,” she said, and the ratman scurried off. Kate watched him go; up a nearby ramp, to another platform among the stalactites, one of a number of mini-citadels, all of them connected by a maze of catwalks and passages. The people about her were all talking amongst themselves. Kate wondered if she should stay to hear the hob-goblin’s tale, or go. Go, probably. She already knew about the battle around Innsdene, and Ygerna should be told that the hob-goblin city was now aware of them. And Alkahest would probably want to know about these dwarves, who must be fighting somewhere north of Innsdene.

But all these careful thoughts fled from her when she saw, coming down the ramp behind the ratman, a frightjack in its grey robes.

All she could think of was Domini, and the rats that had killed her, and the thing that had driven the rats. Kate clenched her fists. She wanted to leap on the thing, which looked just like its brother-jack. Every bit as lean and grey, its head round and hairless, its limbs like sticks, like some manlike bug. She wanted to crush it, to kill it, to do to it what its brother had done to Domini.

Had they both been in it together? Did it know?

It said nothing as the queen bade it listen to the hob-goblin soldier before her. She had the soldier repeat what he had said, and then asked many detailed questions about what the hob-goblins had seen in Innsdene. All the while the frightjack said nothing, but watched. And Kate watched the jack, frustrated she couldn’t kill it right there, that she was not strong enough to jump on it and tear its head off —

There may be something else I can do, she thought.

She let herself be pushed back by the crowd. Pretending like she was being knocked back. Like she was weak. Before too long she was at the edge of the crowd, near a ramp leading away to another of the platforms among the stalactites. She stared at the paths. Yes. It was possible. There were no guards, it seemed. Only the maze of walkways. This ramp to that platform; that ramp to that crossroad; then to there, and there, and then there was a path open to her to the walled platform where the frightjack had come from.

She could invade its home.

She was surprised at how quick it was. How easy. She ran along the passages and ramps and that simply came to the jack’s platform. There were screens of wood all around it, so the thing’s home was dark. If she hadn’t had the ætheric sight of a cobold, she would have been blind. Instead, when she crossed the threshold, her eyes adjusted naturally and she could see: other wooden screens dividing the platform into rooms, tables and shelves in the first room, glassware on the tables — potions, powders, and also what looked like a small oven.

She advanced carefully. In the next room was a wide table; a boy, a hob-goblin, was strapped down upon it. He seemed to be asleep. Kate watched him, puzzled. Then she heard a sob, from another room.

And then a deep growl, from behind her.

She spun as a dark shape moved into the room. Even to her ætheric sight it was largely made of shadows: a great wolf, black and grey, spittle dripping from its fanged muzzle. A shadowy grim beast. The jack’s watchdog, she thought. It was huge, as tall at the shoulder as she was head to toe, if she stood up straight — not that she could stand straight, these days.

She shifted around to her left. The beast turned its head, watching her. Its lips pulled back, and its low growling grew louder.

It’s going to leap, she thought.

Kate took out Hwitwic’s thorn, and leaped at it first.

She collided with the wolf, and was knocked back, the wolf on top of her. She stabbed it with the thorn, again and again. Was she getting through its fur? Was it too strong? As a grim beast, that was part of shadow, was it too much a spirit for the magic to work on it?

She pulled back from its snapping jaws, but it shook itself and sent her sprawling out of the room. She heard something crack as she landed. The door to the ramp was before her. She could run. Would it follow? Maybe she could scream, and other hob-goblins would help her —

I will not scream, she thought. I am not a little girl.

Aching, she pulled herself up. Everything seemed to be spinning about her. The wolf was coming. She wondered if the snap she’d heard had been a bone, because her left arm didn’t seem to move properly.

But the thorn was still in her right hand. As the wolf padded forward she leaped for it again, right for its slavering mouth. It pulled back, snapping its jaws. She saw the jaws close, drove her hand in —

— the thorn sank into the flesh of a gum. The wolf snapped its head away, drew breath as though to howl, and then slumped to the floor. It twitched, but did not rise.

Kate followed the sound of sobbing to a girl who was in a cage made by slats of wood around three stalactites. A girl: a hob-goblin. The girl looked at Kate as she approached. The girl wasn’t crying; she couldn’t. But she made little sounds that Kate only then realised she’d translated in her head as sobbing.

“Who are you?” whispered the girl.

“It’s all right,” said Kate in a normal voice. “I’m an enemy of the frightjack.” Was this the right thing to do? Too late, it was done. It felt right.

“Won’t he kill you?” whispered the hob-goblin girl.

“I’ll kill him first,” said Kate. “Who are you?”

“He’s been trying things on us, my brother and me,” said the girl. “Trying to change us, with magic. Will you free us?”

“It will hurt the jack if I do,” said Kate. “So, yes. I will free you, and your brother, and then I will take you to my friends, and you will tell us everything you can about this city, and the frightjack, and the war against the dwarves.”

The girl nodded. “An enemy of the counsellor,” she said, awed. “I guess you must be very strong.”

Kate thought about it. “I guess I must,” she agreed.


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