The Fell Gard Codices


Hochelaga rose to stand, trembling, above the fallen wizard. The rats were running at them fast, shadows against the grass. They weren’t what scared her. Nor was it the skeletal frightjack in its coat of grey shadows. Or the night-black crow, or even the great spiders, their bodies three feet across and their legs longer than she was tall. It was the bats, which whirled in the air, moving toward her in a slow swirl, even bigger than the bats that had chased her and Ulric before.

Gryselde and Amanos and Geoffrey moved up behind Hochelaga. Enheduanna took a bow from the other elf, the vala; it looked like an elven bow, smaller, and bent back above and below the grip. William drew his sword and went to stand before the elves. Gral spat, and took out his broadsword. Gryselde called: “All are welcome at our House.” But the frightjack did not seem to pay attention, and drifted like a shadow through the trees, rightward.

Then the rats were on them.

They were everywhere, their bodies more than a foot long, the colour of dusk, their eyes red like shining drops of blood. Hochelaga was bitten badly on the leg, and she shrieked. Domini howled, and fell, a rat at her throat. Hochelaga saw one rat kill another as it tried to get at William. The things weren’t natural, they weren’t right, they were too savage; but also they attacked too evenly, all of them spreading out to throw themselves at the mortals as though guided by a thinking mind.

Then Concordia Salus speared the rat that had bitten Hochelaga, and took the head off another with the swipe of a claw. Hochelaga saw a rat spitted on Amanos’ blade, and still another crushed by Ulric’s mace, but there were so many of them, and they stank of rot and corruption. Kate was shrieking. Enheduanna fired an arrow, and another; both of them hit one of the great bats, but it did not drop. Instead the bats whirled all together, just as Hochelaga had seen them do before, and she remembered seeing them dive at poor Ulric, and how she had felt, and she could taste the fear in her mouth like an iron bit at the back of her tongue —

Hochelaga knew what she had to do.

She took out one of the texts Gamelyn had given her; the paper. She knew what to do with a text. She knew how to play with it. You took the words written down, and turned them around, and fit them into a working, a pattern of your own making. You played with them, and argued their meaning. But to do this was to unbuild the text, or as glossologists said, to deconstruct it: to empty it. She would not be able to use it again, not be able to rewrite it in her own grimoire and let her dreaming mind make free play with its symbols and meaning. To truly work a charm was to make a thing of art; to work from a text was merely to explicate the art that could have been, and thus to lose the art entirely. But this was the only thing to do, now.

Hochelaga spoke the words, and said other things, as seemed right; and the magic began to shape itself in her; and she arose, out of time and her body; and she was among the higher spheres, in the paths of the moons and the planets, and as they went upon their rounds they smiled upon her, whether in mockery or in benediction or out of the impersonal joy held by all things that were set in their right places; and then in the spaces filled by the chiming sounds of that place above place — wrapped in music that was deeper and purer than the ear could hear or the waking mind grasp, that was beyond the human voice or words — there Hochelaga found comets, fallen from a higher sphere, bearded stars with cruel faces and fiery crowns, that left trails of fire behind them; and she gathered them to her, one-two-three-four-five, and took them inside of herself; and, returned to Fell Gard (she had not left, not truly, or she had been elsewhere and also not, as was the way of magic), she threw a comet at the bats, and then another, and another.

The comets laughed and gibbered unhearable words as they flew. Hochelaga was not used to throwing such things, and her first cast missed her target, the wounded bat. The next one caught it, and it dropped from the sky. Her third throw struck another bat, which burned with a white light but did not die.

Three casts; she had two more comets left. The fourth she threw at the burning bat, but missed, and the comet rushed on, chattering, to burst in mid-air. She drew her arm back to throw the last comet at the bats, knowing that it was useless, that there were too many of them, and that they were too strong; too grim. Then she thought, clearly: No. That is being selfish. I must think of what makes most sense.

Hochelaga wanted to throw her comet at the bats, more than anything. But she saw the frightjack, with the great crow on its shoulders. It was circling around the clearing, just behind the trees, so that it was now almost directly east of them. It was finding a place for something, she thought. It was getting ready to work some kind of charm. “I have to do this,” she whispered to herself. Could she hit it? She drew back her arm. She closed her eyes and thought of Concordia Salus. The cat had better co-ordination than her, was more skillful; she tried to draw from that, from the virtues of her familiar spirit, as she threw the burning sphere.

Whether she succeeded or not, the comet flew from her hand and hit the frightjack squarely. The jack said not a word, but bent almost double, before straightening again to glare at her, and continue in its circle around the clearing.

Hochelaga looked up, and stared squarely at the four bats descending right toward her and the glossologist. She balled her fists and began to cry.

Then the bat she’d hit with a comet was pierced by an arrow, and it fell dead; and the next bat fell upon Gryselde’s halberd, and spun away, shrieking; and Amanos struck another with her sword, driving it off; and Geoffrey chopped the last of the things in two.

Hochelaga bit her lip, hardly able to see through her tears, thankful for the others, even if they were shouting at each other about what to do next. She ignored them and began to run after the frightjack, afraid of what it would do. Gamelyn had been afraid of its power. With good reason, if it had summoned all these grim beasts.

Where was the dwimmerlaik? Hochelaga looked over her shoulder as she ran. She saw Gamelyn, Paradox, Atrahasis, Yune, the glumm and gawry, and most of the outlaws also, all falling back away from the fight, along with the man who had called himself Bartolomeus. Aura was flitting about in the air ineffectively, shouting about her liege-lord. Then there was a shadow above Hochelaga; and something fell on her, and knocked her to the ground, and she felt a terrible pain run down her back.

It was one of the two great spiders, that had leapt high in the air, and landed on her and bit her on the shoulder. She was suddenly very dizzy, and though she felt the spider crawl over her back she wanted only to lie down and rest on the grass and earth. As she watched, the other spider landed on the other glossologist. The elf vala screamed. She ran to the thing and drove a stone knife deep into its body. The spider fell dead, but the elf collapsed too. The spider above Hochelaga left her, then, to scuttle toward the prone women. Hochelaga felt very sick, but knew that still she had to stop the frightjack. She wanted to curl up and sleep forever. But she thought: I am a glossologist.

She stood up.

She took a step forward.

She collapsed to all fours.

Concordia Salus licked her face, and Hochelaga hardly felt it. She seemed to be burning up, feverish. And then she heard screams, and felt a wave of terror wash over her.

Hochelaga staggered to her feet, leaning against a tree, fighting the urge to be sick, both from fear and from pain. She saw the frightjack, his arms out; he lowered them as she watched. The others — they were shrieking. Diccon, Ulric, Enheduanna, and the cobold that followed Geoffrey were shouting, turning, staggering away; Amanos and Geoffrey had dropped their weapons, and Geoffrey’s face was grey, his eyes almost rolled up into his head. She could not see Amanos’ face through her helmet. Fear, thought Hochelaga, they are suffering a magical fear. The spell has called up the fear in the body and the back of the mind, the fear that dwells in the flesh, the fear that cannot be calmed, fear without object. Not everyone had broken before the magic. Gryselde and William still held their weapons, and Gral, though he seemed to be affected, had pulled his lips tight over his teeth and refused to give ground, his sword clutched tight before him. But if the frightjack calls up the fear again? thought Hochelaga.

Even the rats had fled, she noticed, caught in the wave of fright. Hochelaga herself had felt only the very edge of it, but she knew that she would have run, too, if she had been nearer to the others, closer to the heart of the spell. Shame, sickness, nausea, and fever rocked her. It didn’t matter. She stumbled forward, among the trees at the edge of the clearing. She had to find the frightjack. She had to stop him.

She saw, as she stumbled along, Gryselde ignoring a bat tearing at her to spit the last spider on her halberd. I have to be strong, like that, thought Hochelaga. It would have been easier but somebody was screaming. It was Kate. She wasn’t screaming with fear, though, but anger. Why? Kate was running to somewhere ahead of Hochelaga. To the frightjack, thought Hochelaga. Hochelaga could see him, among the boles and shadows of the trees. He pointed to Kate, and the crow on his shoulders fluttered toward the girl cobold, its wicked talons extended.

“Go,” muttered Hochelaga. “Concordia, go, crow.” She was too exhausted to say more, but the cat understood and launched herself at the bird. She caught it in midair, and the two of them whirled about, and Concordia Salus left the grim crow a bloody corpse.

Kate ignored both of them, running right at the frightjack. Hochelaga had almost reached the monster herself. But the frightjack moved before she could get to him, stabbing Kate with a curved knife. Kate shrieked and fell. Hochelaga took out her own dagger.

Now, she thought. If I can catch him —

If she could, then he wouldn’t be able to make that terrible fear come again. And they would be able to save the glossologist. If she couldn’t —

— but she was so sick, burning with fever —

— she threw herself at the frightjack, her dagger out.

She missed.

Hochelaga fell past the frightjack, and rolled over on the ground to look up at him. He wasn’t really a skeleton, but he wasn’t a normal mortal man. There was nothing under his skin but bone, and he was too long in his arms and spine and legs. He reached for Hochelaga, and she screamed, more afraid of him than of anything else in the world.

Then the frightjack jerked to a stop, and tried to straighten, and fell over dead. Ulixa was standing behind him. Her knife stuck out of the base of the jack’s throat, right by the spine.

“Are you all right?” Ulixa asked, seeming shocked, at Hochelaga or at what she herself had done, Hochelaga didn’t know. She could hardly speak to answer Ulixa. She hurt a lot, all over. Distantly, she heard Ulixa shouting something about sickness, and Hochelaga was sick, and what could they do —

The next thing she knew, Amanos was pouring something down her throat. She gasped, and Amanos stopped. For a moment Hochelaga had no idea what was happening. The rat bite still hurt, and she ached all through herself, but the heat from the spider bite was gone. She realised: The poison cureall we found in the Carnelian Dragon’s lair. Amanos gave it to me —

“The glossologist,” Hochelaga blurted out. “Is she all right?”

“She’ll live,” said Ulixa. Amanos stood up and moved away. Ulixa put a hand on Hochelaga’s shoulder. “Hochelaga … not everybody made it.”

“What do you —” Hochelaga started to say, and then saw Kate, kneeling above her sister.

Above her sister’s body.

“Domini,” whispered Hochelaga. Ulixa drew her into a hug, holding her tight. Hochelaga found herself sobbing. She wasn’t sure why. She hadn’t even liked Domini much.

“Everyone else is fine,” said Ulixa. “A few hurts, bites … Tomorrow, maybe, or if the caladrius descends from the tree … we’ll be all right. Paradox will heal us.”

“So will the prophet,” said Gamelyn. He was sitting nearby, his back against a tree trunk. He had been very quiet.

“How do you mean?” asked Ulixa.

Gamelyn shrugged. “It’s the way of prophets, isn’t it?” he asked.

Ulixa shook her head. Hochelaga tightened her grip. “We don’t … I’ve never met one before,” Ulixa said softly. “I only know stories.”

Gamelyn put a hand to his head. “Each day their god gives them power to heal anew,” he said. “Or so it is here. How much power, how it’s determined … I don’t know. Who can explain these things?”

“I got so close,” whispered Hochelaga. “I missed the frightjack. I almost had him. But I missed.”

“It doesn’t matter,” said Ulixa. “Domini was killed by the rats, at the very beginning. You couldn’t have done anything. And I, I killed the frightjack, so he’s gone now. It doesn’t matter.”

“I guess not,” muttered Hochelaga. She wasn’t really sure what did matter.

“What you did was amazing,” said Ulixa. “The fires you threw.”

“I’m a glossologist,” she said. “I should’ve done more. I should be able to do more.”

“No!” cried a voice. A croaking cobold voice, thought Hochelaga. She broke away from Ulixa. Kate was standing over her sister’s body, glaring at Gryselde, her fingers flexed, claws out. “Don’t burn her! You can’t! Bury her! That’s what Ossian says, that’s what Oak and Holly want! Anyway, she’s not — you can’t —”

“The precautions —” said Diccon.

“Bury her!” shouted Kate.

“The soil is surely deep enough,” murmured Enheduanna. “If the trees can take root —”

“Dear, you’re doing your poor sister no favour,” said the old woman, Wymarc. “There’s things in this place that’ll dig her up. Or that’ll use her, and make her walk again. But don’t you think that’ll be her walking, no, it’ll be some spirit or demon wearing your sister’s flesh … Oh, my dear little monster, don’t you see that it’s better for her to burn?”

But Kate said only: “Bury her.”

And, what Hochelaga did not expect, Gryselde said clearly and loudly, “Bury her. We will have two ceremonies for the dead.”

“This will come back to haunt us,” muttered Gamelyn. “And I mean that in no way figuratively.”

For a moment Hochelaga thought Kate had heard him. She came running toward them, quick like a cobold, running with a stride like — well, like any of the blue-skinned monsters. Which was what Kate was, now. A monster. Just as her sister was a corpse.

“Can she come back?” Kate demanded of Gamelyn, her blue fists clenched tight. “Can that happen, in the dungeon?”

The dwimmerlaik raised an eyebrow.

“Kate … I’m very sorry, child, but … your sister’s dead,” said Ulixa.

“Everything else changes in the House of Creation,” said Kate. “Old Ulric was blind and then he wasn’t. Atrahasis was an elf and now he’s a man. Look at me! Why not Domini? Does it happen, Gamelyn? Is there magic in the dungeon that makes dead people live?” Gamelyn didn’t answer her for a moment. “Tell the truth!” ordered Kate.

His eyes seemed to grow wider, and roll up into his head, and he nodded horribly, his skull flopping around at the end of his neck: “But I am not a creature shaped for truth,” he said, “being a thing of masks and shadows.” Then he passed his hand before his face; he breathed out, and twitched, and seemed to be more himself again.

And, after a moment: “I have heard legends,” he admitted to Kate. “Legends. From long ago. A magic long lost.”

“I’ll find it,” whispered Kate. “Whatever it is. I’ll bring her back.”

“Katherine,” said Ulixa, “you’re only a girl.”

Kate shook her head. “No,” she said. “Whatever Blæcalx did to me, I’m not a little girl anymore.”

Gamelyn let out a long breath. “Listen,” he said. “It’s true, there are all sorts of magics in this dungeon, and all kinds of Powers. But those Powers will take advantage of you, if you let them, if you’re so obsessed. They will take any chance to make a bad thing worse. Never mind, it’s too soon to hear it, I know. I’ll tell you again, in time. But. I warn you now. Nobody who comes back from the dead comes back unchanged. No one.” He stared at her. Kate stared back, caught between weeping and raging. “That’s all,” said Gamelyn, and let his gaze drop.

It was at that time, as Ulixa put her hand on Gamelyn’s shoulder, and Hochelaga thought about what she knew of mask elementals, that there was a bright flare of light from the clearing between the oak and holly trees. The caladrius had awoken; and it flew down, as Hochelaga watched, to sit on the breastbone of the glossologist. It stared at her for a moment, and then as the wizard began to stir fluttered over to the elf-woman, Kezia, who lay motionless on the greensward. Bartolomeus ran forward. And then, as the elf opened her eyes, the caladrius flew up again to the top of the oak tree, and stared down at all of them. For a moment, Hochelaga wondered what it was thinking.

“Hey!” shouted the short man, at the base of the caladrius’ tree. “I’m hurt, too! What about me?” He lifted an arm bound in a rough splint. The caladrius ignored him. The glossologist sat up, and looked around with an absent smile. Her eyes were still glazed.

“You know,” she said, “I never thought of a caladrius as a hangover cure. And oh, the many remedies I’ve tried. Extract of swamp mound; venom from the queen of the ophiucans mixed with kraken ink; megrim’s blood in a tincture with ætheric moss — but this, this is the best by far.”

“You had to nearly die before you could take it,” said Gryselde, moving to stand before her.

Still sitting, the wizard waved a thick arm. “Nothing in this world is without a flaw. Mew, could you throw me back my wineskin?”

The short balding man took out a flat wineskin and tossed it to the wizard. He grinned. One of his teeth was bright yellow. “It’s empty,” he said with satisfaction. “I tried it on the stairs. You didn’t leave a drop.”

“Hmm,” said Mistress Tilde. She took out the stopper and squirted a stream of red liquid into her mouth. “No, still a bit left,” she judged. Mew squawked.

“It was empty!” he shrieked. “It was! That’s not fair!

“In the name of pity,” said William. “A girl is dead.”

“But I’m still alive,” argued Bartolomeus. “And I’m in pain!”

“You’re from the outer world, aren’t you?” asked Tilde, quietly. “You people.”

“We are,” said Gryselde. “Who are you? All of you. Who are you? One of us has died for you.” Everyone had gathered around, watching.

“Are you truly a vala?” Atrahasis asked the elf-woman.

“I was,” she said. She threw back her head, and sang in the wordless music of the elf-folk, tears starting from her closed eyes. Hochelaga thought the song sounded a little like what she had heard when she’d read the text, the music up among moons and planets. She didn’t know what the music meant, but Enheduanna knelt before the vala. After a moment, so did Atrahasis.

Bartolomeus cleared his throat. “I’m sorry about your — I’m sorry,” he said. “Very sorry.” He pointed at Tilde. “It was her that led us here.”

“And you that followed,” murmured Tilde. She sat up again and looked around at all of them. She sighed, not like Gryselde sighed, but with a deep gust from the core of her. She wasn’t very tall, Hochelaga thought; maybe five feet, standing up, probably less. She was round and heavy, and Hochelaga guessed she was somewhere between forty and fifty, her flaring black hair streaked with white. Of course, a powerful enough glossologist could look like whatever she wanted. “I can only thank you for our lives, and mourn your loss,” she said, and gave a slight sad hiccup. “Truly. But we were fleeing our own deaths, as you saw.” She lay back, flat on the ground.

“Why was the frightjack chasing you?” asked Diccon.

“Why do they do anything?” asked Bartolomeus. He threw his hands up in the air, and then winced, and cradled his broken arm. “It destroyed my temple. It killed my father and brothers. I ran. The witch found me. She had the elf with her. That thing came after us. We fled for awhile, down on the fifteenth court. We were looking for ways up, and the witch said she thought she knew a way.”

“I did!” shouted Tilde, raising her arm with a jerk to point up at nothing, making a point. “I did find the way up, just where I said. You have to give me that, Mew.”

“Don’t call me that,” snapped the man. “My name is Bartolomeus!”

“Who did you worship?” asked Gryselde. “In your father’s temple.”

Bartolomeus drew himself up. “We,” he began, and paused, and looked around. He cleared his throat. “That is … ah …”

“Reeky, wasn’t it?” called out Tilde.

“It was Reike,” snapped Bartolomeus. “Demon lord of wanderers! The idler infernal! Master of tramps, the vagabond chief!”

“You worshipped a demon?” asked Ulric.

“A very minor demon,” mumbled Tilde.

“You’ll find that worship of demons and devils and suchlike is not uncommon, in Fell Gard,” said Gamelyn.

“Yes,” said Gryselde to the dwimmerlaik. “You killed a priest of one, before.”

Bartolomeus went green. Gamelyn shrugged and said: “He was our enemy. You thought I was wrong, then.”

“I did,” said Gryselde. She turned to the elf. “Your name was Kezia?” she asked. “What does it mean, that you are a vala?”

“You might say, priestess,” said the elf. She looked all about, at the trees, and smiled. “I am a prophet of garden places,” she said. “Though only a pupil. Or … I was. The jack and his creatures destroyed my people.” She shook her head. “All dead, now,” she whispered. “I alone escaped.”

“I met her, and then Mew,” said Tilde, raising herself up on her elbows. “I’m a wanderer, you see. That’s my nature. Well, in my wandering I came across them, and the frightjack after them both. We ran, and hid, and came in the end to —” she waved her hand “— this place. Now here we are together, us and you.” She turned her head, giving the whole group all her absent smile; Hochelaga was sure that behind the smile she was studying each of them. Tilde nodded at nothing, and squirted more wine into her mouth.

“Very well,” murmured Gryselde. More loudly, she said, “And now that you have come here, and the monsters that were after you are dead — what now?”

“What do you have in mind for us?” asked Tilde quietly. “Who are you, really?”

“People of the outer world, as you said,” Gryselde told her. “We have fallen into Fell Gard, and most of us look for a way out. We are founding a House, hoping to shelter others in need, as we learn more of this place. You may stay with us, if you take oaths to help us; or, if you like, you may return into the dungeon.”

She might have said more, but Bartolomeus interrupted without noticing: “There’s nothing for me down below,” he said with a shrug. “I’d like to stay.”

“These gardens are fair to me,” said Kezia. “They whisper memories … I also wish to stay, and make this my home.”

Tilde belched slightly. “Well, me too,” she said, and flopped back down to the grass. She closed her eyes and drew through her nose a deep honking breath that might have been a snore.

Hochelaga approached her carefully. One of Tilde’s eyes flipped open. “Are you … really a glossologist?” Hochelaga asked.

“Don’t I look it?” Tilde asked, her speech slightly slurred. The odd thing was that she did. Hochelaga could not say why. Which was how she knew she was what she said; there was something about her that was both deep and flat, as though she had assumed a role but the role was truly who she was.

“The three of you can join us, then, in helping to dig a grave, and preparing a pyre,” said Gryselde.

It was more work than Hochelaga had expected. She helped Kate with the grave, mostly. Kate wouldn’t talk, and dug with her hands (or maybe they were paws; Hochelaga wasn’t sure). Hochelaga found a spade for herself in the tool room, but it was still hard going. The others were back and forth, sometimes helping them but mostly looking for twigs and fallen branches; whatever was dry and would burn. They eventually broke up a wooden door.

(Sometimes she heard them speaking to each other, whispering maybe about fear or about who gave orders or about what Geoffrey had done with the cobolds back before the goblins showed up. Hochelaga knew this sort of thing would lead to problems later. But what was there to do about it?)

Gryselde spoke words and sang as they buried Domini. Kate howled. Hochelaga thought the other cobold looked confused. Then once Domini was laid in the grave, and her great axe set alongside her, they all together threw earth over her. Everyone was very quiet. Either they respected Kate’s grief, or had nothing to say.

Then they went to the room with the pyre. Hochelaga was surprised at the way the outlaws (if outlaws they were) went through the weapons and other gear of their former companions, taking the pieces they wanted with no sentimentality. Watching them, she guessed they had done that sort of thing many times before. When they had finished, they put some item — a shield, or knife, or some such — by each of the bodies. Gryselde said more words and sang, and the pyre was set alight.

It took some time to get going. Hochelaga watched how the fire behaved. There was no chimney, but Aura the sylph pushed the smoke away from them, up toward the ceiling, where it vanished into cracks in the rock. Hochelaga guessed that the sylph was also making the fire hotter by drawing up air. It was interesting. Also, at one point Diccon put his arm around Wymarc, who nodded, and Elous hugged herself, while Agneta looked bored by the whole thing. For herself, Hochelaga was exhausted.

Everyone was very surprised at the end, when a long knife held by the outlaw chief was untouched by the fire; even the scabbard was whole. Yune had Gral snatch it from the flames, and after looking it over, proclaimed it the work of dwarven smiths. Which meant that it was magic. Agneta claimed it for herself, saying she had been closest to the fallen man. Diccon looked as if he might have argued, but in the end did not.

When all was said and done, they washed themselves, and arranged themselves for sleep. With the torches out, and the hovering lanthorn on the other side of a closed door, it was almost pitch black. Only a few glimmers reached their sleeping-chamber from the ætheric moss in the garden room.

It had been one day, Hochelaga thought, since Gryselde and the others had set out; one day in which she’d fought goblins, and had seen a small god die and also a girl not much older than herself, and had descended into the heart of Fell Gard. And gained a familiar. She reached out to Concordia Salus, and felt a small rough unseen tongue lick her fingers.

Hochelaga Trice fell asleep, and dreamed of the city that was her namesake, where she wandered on a mountainside among forested terraces filled with graves, tomb after tomb, hundreds, thousands, she had not thought death had undone so many; and she wandered lost all night in that wild wood among names she did not know.


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