The Fell Gard Codices


Monoloke had not expected the dragon.

The rest of it, yes, to a point. The high cave. The distant sound of war. The stink of blood. Hob-goblins, running this way and that, in their units of thirteen. He had even had an idea that there would be goblins, at the heart of it all; after what had happened in the fight before the mortal village, when the goblins had mixed with the hob-goblins, Monoloke had guessed the goblins would remain with their kin, and take to ordering them.

So all that was as he had thought. Only he had not expected a dragon, not even a small one. This one was very small indeed, not even as long as Monoloke was tall. It was uttermost black, polished and gleaming so that he could see his own face staring back from its scales. Its claws and teeth were like frosted glass. It stood in the shadows of a recessed ledge, behind a screen of stalactites. On the floor below the shelf was the hairless mortal girl no-one liked.

In front of the six goblins was the elf woman. They had not killed her yet. Monoloke wondered if he would be given the chance to do it.

“You have surrendered, cobold,” said the first of the goblins.

“Tell us your name,” growled another.

“I am Monoloke-under-Geoffrey,” he said. The goblins grunted, and one of them spat.

“Mortal name,” muttered one. The first of them held up her hand.

“You say you can tell us about the mortals to the south,” she said.

“I want to live,” said Monoloke. One of the goblins at the back chuckled.

“I swear that will be in your own hands,” said the first goblin. “Tell us something of use.”

Monoloke shrugged. “You know there are elves with the mortals,” he said. “Well, the mortals have a town. There are as many of them there as …” He looked around. He tried to count the hob-goblins. There was some light afar off; not ætheric moss. An indigo shining stone. He thought that the cave was a sort of double cave, two eggs overlapping on their ends. Like the mortals’ church, he thought irrelevantly. Well, both of those eggs were as long or longer than the cave with the village. Half as wide — no, wider. There seemed to be a well or chasm or sinkhole where the two eggs overlapped, out of which arose a spire like a spike of rock, stretching up to the ceiling high above; perhaps all the way, its top lost among the spikes of rock reaching down. The shining stone was set in the centre of the spire, at its narrowest point. Given all that, given the size he was looking at … there were maybe two hundred hob-goblins under arms, he guessed. “More than half as many of them as there are of you,” he said. “And some of them have power. They are strong. There are elves with them. There are also elves that live in the cave. The mortals are trying to make allies of the elves. I think you could make allies of the mortals first. They could help you fight the dwarves.”

“Mortals are easily corrupted by elves,” said one of the goblins at the back. Monoloke shrugged. It was true. One of the other goblins spat on the bound elf, who did not stir.

“Tell me,” said the first goblin. “Among the mortals, are there any with a golden crown, a circlet; and a stone that has been carved with a design; or an amulet?”

“Yes,” said Monoloke. “I saw them when they fought the dragons. The great dragons.”

The lesser dragon wheezed a curious laugh. “That would not have been a fight,” it said.

The goblin near the back spoke up. “This is all good to know,” he said. “Now you must prove your words are true.”

“How am I to do that?” Monoloke asked.

The goblin pointed to the shining stone. “That is the anchor-stone of the new court,” he said. “Go to it. Lay your hands upon it.” Monoloke looked toward the glittering rock. It seemed to him there was a battle around it, and that though the hob-goblins held the spire, the dwarves were fighting hard. “Robbin will you show you the way,” said the goblin.

“What then?” asked Monoloke. The goblin nodded, as though in answer to some other question.

“Rhehvv be with you,” said the goblin. Monoloke bowed his head. “You will know strength, when you touch it,” the prophet told him.

“Go, Robbin,” said the first goblin. “Take him to Rhoben. She can guide him further on. Take him and go.”

The hob-goblin came forward. Monoloke went with him without further question. He did not need to know more. If he died, then it was as it was meant to be, surely. He would be mourned, or not.

The hob-goblin gave him a sword and shield, and led him forward toward the battle lines. There were many bodies all about, dragged back from the fight, Monoloke guessed. Hob-goblins ran this way and that. Some of them were in full units. Others were scattered. Most were males, but here and there were groups of females.

The cave was filled with queer rock formations. Stalactites and stalagmites, rows of them, some reaching floor to ceiling. The floor uneven, little terraces sloping this way or that, bordered with nothing or with sharp ribs of rock. Shelves and recesses in the walls of the cave. Monoloke wondered what else was back there, besides the dragon. Up ahead, the ground dropped in steps to what he could clearly see now was a vast pit. There was mist upon the floors, scudding in streamers as they drew closer, building to a thin white sheet, falling into the pit like the ghost of water. On the far side of the pit were dwarves, with spears and slings.

Robbin began to lead him more carefully from stalagmite to stalagmite, cover to cover, as they drew closer to the battleground. Monoloke saw a crow-man bound tightly, a prisoner. Thin pale creatures next to it, so frail you thought their arms would snap from the ropes tied round them. A dead huldra, showing signs of having been questioned. “You took that from the big cave?” he asked, pointing to the corpse. The hob-goblin looked, and nodded shortly.

“It would not speak, only sing,” Robbin said. “Why did you not kill the elf?”

“It seemed best,” said Monoloke. Robbin shook his head, and ducked behind a stalgmite. Monoloke threw himself down beside him as a sling-stone cracked off nearby rock.

“You should kill them,” said Robbin. “They should all be killed.”

“I know it,” said Monoloke shortly. Who did not know? The history of the peoples. The wars of the long-ago.

“The Light Prince will come again, and soon,” said Robbin. Monoloke started.

“That is a legend,” he said. Still he shuddered at the thought. The terrible Light Prince — it was the way of the elves to never rest, cursed demons who would never truly die, but always return to plague the peoples again and over again. If the stories of the Light Prince were true then of course he would come again, sooner or later. Monoloke could only hope it was not in his lifetime.

“It will happen,” said Robbin. “We know. You will talk to Rhoben. She will tell you.”

Monoloke looked around the side of the stalagmite. Robbin ran forward, bent over. Monoloke followed, shield up. There was a skirmish at the side of the pit, he realised, where it was almost possible to circle around from one side to another. Robbin was leading him the other way. “How long have you been fighting?” Monoloke asked.

Robbin shrugged. “Days,” he said. “We came up from below. We hold the tunnels against the dwarves. The Exiled God commands it.”

“Is he strong?” asked Monoloke.

“The strongest I have ever heard of,” said Robbin. “He could stand against the Light Prince, maybe.”

Monoloke nodded. Was Robbin mad? If not … Rhehvv was the God. But under Rhehvv there were many strong powers, and you worshipped such as were fit. Like Blæcalx had once been fit to be worshipped. “Do all of your city worship this Exile?” he asked.

“All,” said Robbin. “His fearsome servant is among us.” Robbin led him to a wide crack in the floor of the cave. It led down at an angle. “Go in there,” said. As Monoloke bent to the crack Robbin took his arm. “Wait,” said the hob-goblin. He looked back, toward the distant goblins. “They have taken command of us,” he said. “They know the words.”

Monoloke nodded. It was the nature of goblins with hob-goblins. He himself was only thankful not to have kin that could command him so easily.

“They have not allowed us to send word of events to Home,” Robbin said. “Only a few units who fled from the battle may have made it back. What do you and your mortals know of Home?”

“That it exists,” said Monoloke. “Where it is.” He did not feel like betraying the little one, who might have been his sister, though she still held some few mortal habits. She was the last sign of his old god.

Robbin nodded. Monoloke heard distant screams, and dwarf chants. “We are not pleased with the goblins,” said Robbin. “You know we will betray them.”

“Is the dragon yours or theirs?” asked Monoloke.

Robbin smiled. “Whose are you?”

Monoloke shrugged, and went into the crack in the earth.

He found it led into a warren of small tunnels in the grey rock. Hob-goblins scurried every which way. “Ahead,” whispered Robbin above him, and he went on, Robbin behind him, who now and again whispered a word: “Left,” or “Down,” or “Wait,” as some warriors hurried past.

“Why are you fighting these dwarves?” Monoloke whispered once. Robbin did not answer. Monoloke supposed the anchor-stone was reason enough. Still. It seemed odd, in some way. He thought that the tunnels led below, much deeper. He remembered Robbin’s words; the mortals had guessed right, and these were the ways by which the hob-goblins had come out onto this court. Monoloke doubted many of the mortals could fit into those tunnels; he himself could barely squeeze through at some points. Geoffrey would be helpless. Unless he could break rock. Who knew but he could?

Monoloke wondered if Geoffrey could kill the leader of the goblins. Almost certainly, if he could kill Blæcalx.

Monoloke came out of the tunnels suddenly. He found that he had stepped from the wall of the pit. The floor angled sharply beneath him. Mist swirled about everywhere. There were screams up ahead. He could see shapes here and there, shadows in the fog. Some of them were dwarves, he thought. The smell of blood and rot and death was heavy.

Robbin came out behind him and swore. “Ahead,” he said grimly. Monoloke followed him into the mist, toward the spire and the fighting. A dwarf came out of the mist, axe raised. Robbin tried to stab her and missed. Monoloke watched, slashed with his sword, and killed her. They went on without a word.

As they went, Monoloke saw a cloaked darkling, watching.

(Monoloke was troubled by the darklings, a little. As he understood it, they were all incomplete creatures, made out of dream, therefore susceptible to being shaped by magic. But the goblinkin were all made of dreams themselves, made of fear and nightmare. Were the darklings incomplete goblins? Or given the way they could make a darkness that blinded even ætheric sight, were they something more?)

Then ahead of them there was a knot of dwarves, fighting a cluster of hob-goblins, who were dying. Robbin ran forward quietly and tried to stab a dwarf in the back, but the dwarf wore some sort of mail that turned his sword. The dwarf turned, but Robbin stabbed her in the leg so that she twisted and Monoloke hewed her down. The other dwarves had seen them, though.

There were three of them, against seven hob-goblins. One of the dwarves fell as Monoloke closed with them, to join the dwarf and hob-goblin bodies that lay scattered about. Then a wounded dwarf struck down a hob-goblin. Another gave a great cry, and attacked a hob-goblin near the rear of the pack, who was already bleeding. Robbin screamed. The dwarf killed the hob-goblin. Robbin jumped on the dwarf’s back, driving his sword again and again into the dwarf’s neck and face. Monoloke and the other hob-goblins killed the last of the dwarves.

Monoloke turned from the dwarf to see Robbin cradling the dead hob-goblin in his arms. No; not quite dead. She lived, for  a little bit longer, coughing blood. Robbin whispered something to her. She raised a hand to point weakly to Monoloke. Monoloke stepped forward and sat beside her. The other hob-goblins watched.

“Listen,” she said. “It has been ordered … you to the anchor-stone. Go … the stone will know … the Light Prince is coming. I have … seen it … the Exile knows … the goblins have another god. Not Exile … you understand? Another god.”

“Which is stronger?” asked Monoloke. The dying hob-goblin, some manner of prophet, stared at him blankly.

“When gods test strength,” she said, “hell comes … we must hold … spire, anchor-stone. The war begins again.”

“Against the dwarves?” asked Monoloke.

“Against … elves,” said the prophet, and died. Robbin over above her, then raised his head, dry-eyed. The other hob-goblins gathered around him.

“She could have told you more,” said Robbin. “She was wise.”

“It will not happen now,” said Monoloke.

“No,” agreed Robbin. He pointed to a mist-filled hollow. “That is the way to the spire,” he said. “Rhoben could have guided you better inside it. I do not know the way, only that it must rise, up through the spire.”

“Wait,” said Monoloke. He paused, thinking what he wanted to ask. He knew the story of the Light Prince, of course. He knew the stories of the wars. It was in his blood. It was the tale of the goblinkin. To stand against the ever-born atheists. That was what he was made for. There was evil, and evil must be fought. All that was clear. “How can the Light Prince be coming again?” he asked. “In these times … this is not an age of legends.”

Robbin shrugged. “Who can say?” he asked. “Rhoben, but she is dead. Go on.”

It seemed to Monoloke that there was more to say. That if the evil myths of old time were truly returning, then all of them, cobold and hob-goblin and goblin alike, ought to gather to stand against it. It would never happen, of course. The curse of the goblinfolk was the persistence of power. Who could ignore the reality of strength, which was indeed the only true thing God had made? Being, as it was, of God’s essence.

Not for the first time, it seemed to Monoloke that the history of his kind was a nightmare, from which he should try to awake. But that was madness; one did not try to wake. One waked, or slept. Even for goblins who were shaped of nightmares themselves.

Again, Monoloke went into the crevice in the earth. This one led down a steep chimney into a kind of bubble. There was mist, and there seemed to him to be dwarves. Certainly there was the sound of battle, sword on shield, oddly muted and echoing in the fog.

Monoloke tried to picture the spire above. He thought he knew the direction. He went forward as best he could. The passage twisted, then forked. Dwarves came down one path; he ducked into the other. He watched the dwarves go by, then went on his own way.

He came in time to a set of very steep stairs, like a set of shelves in the earth deep enough to hold mortal skulls. As he considered it, a dwarf came dashing out of a tunnel near him. Monoloke took his sword and attacked her. She was surprised, and by the time she could get her axe about she was dead. Are more coming? Monoloke wondered. Could the hob-goblin lines have collapsed? Was it more sensible to get away?

No, he decided. I have come this far. I will see it through.

He began to climb the steep ladder.

It seemed to twist, following a narrow chimney. The rock grew tighter and tighter around him.

Something flew past his ear.

He paused. It came back. He drew an arm up to swat at it. No; it was too large, bigger than his hand. It was a tiny mortal woman, nude, that hissed with a serpent’s tongue. Its eyes were like a cat’s.

Go back, it seemed to say to him. Your death awaits above. There is something there that will undermine all your strength.

He ignored it. He knew what it was. It said other things. He ignored them, too, and continued to climb.

Speak to me, it said, or I will warn what waits above of your coming.

“What do you want?” he asked.

That’s better, it said. I want you to know what you are doing.

“I’m climbing to the anchor-stone,” he said.

Why? it said, laughing. Gods are at play, and what —

He threw his head around, snapping his jaws. His fangs caught the demon, snapping it in half. The taste was fouler than he could have imagined. He almost fell from the ladder.

He spat out the remains as he tottered. He braced an arm against one wall of the chimney, another against another. He felt a lightness on his back; his shield dropped down the chimney-shaft. He spat after it, trying to wash the taste from his mouth. His tongue felt both numb and burnt. He shifted his weight until he had an arm back on the ladder before him, then tried to scrape his tongue free of the demon-taste.

As he was doing this, he heard voices below him. Dwarves?

He spat, as he had seen the dwarf Gral do; and then hurried on his way upward, not minding the taste in his mouth.

The chimney broadened. He could see odd bridges of stone, catwalks arcing from one side of the chimney to the other. The ladder continued before him. None of the stone paths led anywhere. He ignored them. Until he heard the hissing.

He twisted around to see a ratman pointing. He looked, and saw a hob-goblin approaching, along a stone bridge that would bring it near to him. Monoloke realised the hob-goblin had no eyes, only two patches of darkness. Behind it was another ratman, shuffling along head bowed; it was some sort of albino, its fur dead white.

Monoloke shifted until he was standing on the bridge. The hob-goblin took a step forward, waving its empty hands as though to knock him back, down the shaft. He swung his sword at it weakly. Was it mad? He missed, but easily evaded its flailing. The ratman hit him, though, knocking him back. He fell off the bridge.

He whipped his arms forward as he fell, catching the edge. His arms were wrenched terribly, and he gritted his teeth. The hob-goblin and ratman stepped forward; he thought he would die.

And yet somehow they did not seem to see his hands gripping the stone. They only wandered about, dazed. Monoloke pulled himself up, a bit at a time. His sword was gone, down the shaft. There were definitely dwarves muttering below.

He heaved himself back up onto the bridge. The hob-goblin and murinean came toward him again. He stumbled back. The albino ratman hit him hard, but this time he was more careful, and did not stumble. Then the hobgoblin struck him too. He gave back a step, then grabbed the hob-goblin’s arm and pulled it forward, twisting to send it over the edge. This opened him to the ratman’s attack —

But now the other ratman, the one who had first hissed a warning, leaped onto the bridge, knocking the white-furred rat-thing back and off. It followed the hob-goblin down the chimney.

Monoloke realised he was bleeding, and that he had been struck very hard. “What were they?” he asked the ratmen.

“Master and Peace touched rock,” said the ratman in Ibia, pointing upward. “Souls were gone from them.”

Monoloke nodded. Was that what was before him? Or had the hob-goblin somehow lied to the goblins? Or had the goblins lied to him? No; surely Rhoben would have said. “That is where I am going,” he said to the ratman. “You can come, or stay, or go below. But there are dwarves coming.”

“I will go with you,” said the ratman. “Name is Volute.”

Monoloke nodded, and went on, without sword or shield. He wondered at himself, that he had managed to survive so far.

The chimney narrowed, now. We must be nearing the thin point of the spire, Monoloke thought. The ceiling curved almost shut above him, he saw, but there was a neat space just large enough for him and Volute to climb through. Once past, he found that the ladder ended. He was in a kind of chamber, cone-shaped, with the narrow end at the top. Huge blocks of stone around the edge of the chamber led up to the ceiling, and that ceiling was the rock that shone with an indigo light.

He stared at it, fascinated. He had never seen rock like that before. It was neither a gem nor simple stone. Indeed as he watched it seemed to brighten —

A shape fell out of it, and dropped to the floor with a thump. It gasped, and sprang to its feet. It was another cobold.

He had a sword and small round shield, and glared at Monoloke. “Who are you?” Monoloke asked.

“Who are you?” the other demanded.

“I do not choose to answer,” said Monoloke. “I must go to the stone above.”

“That stone was my way here,” said the other cobold. “It is also perhaps my way out. I will not let you pass.”

“I must pass,” said Monoloke.

“I have a sword,” said the other cobold. “You have nothing. I am the stronger here.”

There could be no debating this. And yet somehow Monoloke did not want to concede the point. How could he get the sword away from the other man?

He sidled around to the side. “Volute,” he said to the ratman, who had remained by the ladder into the room. “Get ready —”

The other cobold’s attention, and his sword-blade, shifted.

Monoloke moved —

He did not attack the man. He took a step one way, then twisted another, and was upon the blocky stairs up to the anchor-stone. What have I done? he thought. I have acted against God. Against strength, the image of God.

Well, he thought briefly, he had done what he had done. Now he could only see what fell out from that.

He raced up the stairs, the other cobold behind him. He came to the last stair. The stone was above his head, just in reach. He stretched his arm out, and his fingers touched the indigo surface —

Monoloke saw, all about. The pit surrounding the anchor-stone; the hob-goblins to one side, the dwarves to another. There were fewer dwarves, but they were stronger fighters, and their last attack had pushed the hob-goblins back. Bodies were falling into the misty pit. War-chants echoed. Farther away the dragon shrieked and the goblins debated amongst themselves. The hob-goblins began to break and run.

No, thought Monoloke. I do not choose this.

He reached out — no, it was not him — it was some power that was not his, the anchor-stone acting through him — and the dead hob-goblins rose up, to attack their enemies again.

The dwarves gave great cries of surprise. The hob-goblins died again by their hands, easily, but not all of them. And the living now regathered.

The battle swung back the other way.

Monoloke felt something he could not articulate. He was utterly himself and also utterly all things. He was at the centre of all that was, and the centre was him. It was peaceful. It was a state that was beyond words and time.

There came a time then that he realised he had returned himself. The brightness was yet all around him.

“What are you?” murmured the other cobold. Monoloke realised the light came from his own body. There was still power in him; less than when he had touched the anchor-stone, but some.

“I am a prophet,” he said. He closed his eyes, lightly setting his right thumb on his right eyelid and right forefinger on his left eyelid, the benediction of Rhehvv. When he opened his eyes again he was healed of all his wounds. “A prophet,” he repeated.

But what god was it, that had acted through him?

Was it the Exile god of the hob-goblins? The mysterious other god of the goblins? Was it the invisible gods of the mortals? Or was it the last echo of Blæcalx?

He did not know. Was it possible to be a prophet when you did not know what god you served?

He had not determined the answer by the time he had led Volute and the cobold out of the spire, and found that the frightjack from the hob-goblin city had come to aid in the battle.


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