The Fell Gard Codices


After they’d killed the tadigemen they went north and, as they’d guessed, soon found themselves in a familiar passage, which led eastward to the round room with the silver gargoyle and west to the room with a balcony; Gral remembered running through that room to find the dwimmerlaik and hob-goblins. They went west from the balcony room, and then south, exploring the last unknown hall in the area. It ran twenty yards or so and ended at a door westward. Beyond that door was the large cave they’d seen through the grating in the room to the south.

Gral watched all this exploration in silence. When the elf saw something in the cave, and went to fetch it, and two grim spiders dropped toward her, he went to join the fight. Geoffrey killed one, Amanos the other. Gral did not, in the end, have to do anything. The elf’s treasure turned out to be a sculpture, ivory and gold: “A chryselephantine eye,” murmured the wizard. “A good-luck piece. They say they used to be a symbol of a kingdom in the lower courts, oh, long long ago.”

What was it to him?

They returned northward, searching carefully as they went, and found on the balcony a set of well-made tools of the thief’s craft: lock-picks and skeleton keys, as well as clamp and saw and hammer. Gral thought he ought to have been, if not pleased, at least satisfied. Instead he grunted when the elf gave them to him. He found it difficult, now, to be pleased, even — especially — by signs of his mysteries.

He knew what he had seen, when the clockmaster had set the egregore on him. But he did not know how to understand it, or how to think about it to himself. Perhaps it could not be said in words. What were words, after all?

Having reached halls they knew, they backtracked down the passage toward the tadigemen’s chamber; they’d passed a door in the eastern wall, and the mortals wanted to see where it led. On the way Tilde asked quietly, in the underground language called Ibia: “Do you mourn your brothers?” Gral turned to glare at her, but found she was speaking to the cobold.

“There are no brothers,” said the cobold.

“Such as he do not believe in brotherhood,” said Gral. “There are no fathers and no mothers among the goblinkin, no brothers and no sisters. Only the strong and the weak.”

“So I’ve heard,” said Tilde.

“It’s so,” said the cobold.

“What is your name?” asked Tilde.

“Monoloke-under-Geoffrey,” answered the blue-black thing.

“Monoloke,” said Tilde, “will you tell me what your people knew about the dungeon?”

“No,” said the cobold. “I have no people, nor had. Anyway you are not strong enough.”

“If he cared for his people,” said Gral, glaring at him, “he would see me as his enemy. I slit their throats, many of them.”

“You are my enemy,” said the cobold, without feeling. “All are the enemy of all. Except the strong, who force all to accept their rule.”

“This is who he is,” Gral said to Tilde. He turned back to the cobold: “If I kill you, will your ghost be my slave?” he taunted him.

“You will learn,” said the cobold. Gral did not think much of it, then.

A door west of the toad-men’s room led to a long flight of stairs down, which they passed by, and to a door eastward into an empty room with a ring of keys on a peg on a wall; from there a hall ran south-west, back toward the High Crypt. They went down the passage, which divided. One way led southward to a door. Gral looked there for traps and found none, but when Geoffrey opened the door a blade struck from the ceiling and injured the big man. He cursed Gral, who ignored him. The fat prophet healed Geoffrey anyway, so what did it matter? The trapped room itself was empty; but the other passage led to a room with stone bins, which, when searched, turned out to have false bottoms, beneath which were silver coins.

All of this was of only mild interest. Gral found himself examining the stones and architecture about him. He was a full apprentice, and therefore must have a different understanding than a mere neophyte. And yet the place still seemed a mystery to him. As he had been warned, and as he had tried to warn the others, on that first day in the dungeon — it seemed so long ago — there was no pattern. It was a great work of craft, a grandmaster’s work, and yet impersonal. Or, he wondered, is there some deeper order hidden within it, that I have not yet won the craft to see?

They went back and through the hidden door eastwards, where the cobolds had taken the girl Kate only the day before, and came to a long north-south passage. Gral remembered the last time they’d been that way. Odd to think that the older sister was dead. Life, sometimes, was so short.

The south branch of the corridor bent back to the west; the elf went to look, and reported that it ended at a set of stairs upward. The company debated what to do, and decided to investigate this later, if at all, and instead continue, as they had planned, to the north. Geoffrey wanted to go to his mates’ old lair, to recover some treasure; after that they would go on to the magic pool where he’d killed the cobolds’ tiny god.

So they went north, and came to the point where the hall was joined by another hallway, running east; where cobolds with slings had ambushed them before. The elf noticed that a multitude of spiders crawling on the wall made, as they went in their hundreds, the shape of old runes. This led Tilde to find that the wall and spiders were illusions, and hid a small chamber, six yards or so square, with a pool of still water in the centre. Around the pool was a border of thick flat stones, each stone incised with a rune that glowed with a low, shimmering light. “It’s a traveller’s pool,” she said. “Step in it, and it’ll send you … somewhere. It may be the same place each time, but more like to be random. Such things are not uncommon, in Fell Gard.”

All this Gral saw, neither surprised nor unsurprised. Geoffrey led them northward again, some distance, until they came to a door in the right-hand wall. Pausing, he said, “There’s some treasure in the room beyond. We might as well take it.” He opened the door. The chamber beyond was large, forty feet to a side, but empty; to the south was a smaller annex, in which Gral saw a silver comb and a golden arrow. “Everyone wait,” said the big man. He pointed to the dwarf. “There’s a trap guarding those pretty things,” he said. “Bohemond and I found that out the hard way. Now, dwarf, if you have any cunning, tell me where it is.”

Gral spat. “Get the gewgaws yourself,” he said.

“That’s not right,” said William to Geoffrey.

“Oh, I’ll tell him before he sets it off,” said Geoffrey. “But if he has the skill he says, he won’t need me to tell him.” Mew laughed.

“We have to trust each other, here,” said Enheduanna.

“Wrong,” snarled Geoffrey. “We have to know what each of us can do. Well, the little man can fight, up to a point. But I say he can’t do what he says he can when it comes to traps and such.”

“No-one can find every pitfall,” said Tilde, quietly. “Have you ever met the witch-wrights whose skill made the dungeon? I have. They’re very clever, being immortal grandmasters of their art, and all.”

“Oh, of course you know the witch-wrights,” said Mew, disgusted. “And I’ve slept with the Empress of Ondines!”

“A gentleman shouldn’t kiss and tell,” Tilde reproved him.

“Geoffrey,” said William. “Test him later. If you want the treasure, there it is, take it.”

Geoffrey glared at William. “By your order, singer?” he growled.

“Well, of course I’m not a king,” said William, louting low. Geoffrey watched him bow, his eyes narrowing. William straightened. None of them said anything.

After a long moment Geoffrey gave a bark of laughter and said, “This isn’t the treasure I meant to take.” He started off north, without waiting for the elf to take the lead. She followed him, and the others went after her. Gral took a last look into the room. The truth was he had not seen a trap in it; had not even seen where a trap might have been laid.

(Why had the wizard lied about knowing the witch-wrights? Yune had said: They are forever cursed, they are exiles everywhere. How could this hedge-wizard speak of them so easily? No, there was a lie here. But to what purpose?)

Geoffrey led them on to the north, until the passage bent eastward, then southward, and ended at a door into a square room with no exits. “This was our base,” he said as he led them inside. He strode to a corner where he took up a silver crown set with bloodstones. “I found this,” he said. “I found it here. Like it was meant for me. Jeroen said — but never mind him, now.” He nodded to them. “I’m thirsty. And we should get some fish for the others. I’ll show the stream to those of you who haven’t seen it.” Amanos said something to him; he flushed, and stalked off.

They went back south and then east to the little stream with the bridge over it and stairs beyond. Gral studied the water’s flow. He did not understand it. Through Tilde, Geoffrey told the cobold to get them fish. The thing knelt by the south-east wall, where the water flowed out, and waited a moment; then struck with its hands, pulling an eyeless white fish out of the stream. The elf was staring at the cobold. No; not the cobold. She moved to the wall. “There’s a hidden door here,” she murmured, touching a stone, which turned; and then the wall folded in, like double doors, to reveal a hall and two very surprised creatures.

They were wore no clothing, but were covered in brown-grey hair and, mostly, thick spines. They were shaped like mortals, but shorter, thinner, with pointed muzzles for faces. One of them reached out to clutch at Enheduanna; it missed her, but caught the cobold, who cried out and fell into the water. Geoffrey gave a wordless bellow and drew his sword. The creatures grunted, and fled.

The hidden corridor was the centre-bar of a u-shape, with two halls leading away from it south-east. As the things ran down one of those halls Geoffrey grabbed Mew, who held the hovering lanthorn: “Come on,” growled the burly man. “After them!”

“We don’t need —” started William, but Geoffrey had already begun to run, half-dragging Mew for several steps before letting the hapless prophet free to scramble after him as best he could. “I understand now why Gryselde sighs so very much,” muttered William. “After him, before we lose our light!”

So they all ran, a long straight way with Enheduanna and William unable to shoot arrows past Geoffrey, and then into a side-passage, a natural, winding passage that led eastward and opened suddenly into a large cave, maybe thirty yards long. In the light of the lanthorn they could see snakes crawling toward them. One of the running things paused to wave at a snake; the snake grew larger.

It only took them a moment to kill the snakes. But as they did, the things they’d been chasing ran out of their sight into darkness. And then other creatures came forward.

There were four of them, small, hunched, cloaked forms: darklings, Gral knew, remembering the image the dwimmerlaik had wrought. “We mean no harm!” cried William. “Tilde, tell them —”

But already the darklings were running forward, brandishing knives. William cried for the things to set their weapons down; the elf, to Gral more cleverly, began to shoot arrows at them. One fell, and burst into weird black flames. Another stumbled, with an arrow in it. A third clasped its hands in a certain fashion, and everything was dark.

Even Gral’s ætheric sight was blinded. Dread wrapped him like a cloak. Ætheric vision let him see by the glow of history; the tales told about a thing, the dreams into which it found its way, gave that thing a special light that dwarves could descry — like elves, like goblinkin, like most things with magic in their marrow. It was lost, now, in the suffocating night of the darklings.

He tried to listen for the creatures as they came, and swung his axe wildly. Something stabbed him, but his armour turned the edge of the knife-blade. In the dark he missed with his answering swing.

Then Gral heard William began to sing, a strange, soaring song in a language Gral did not know; and the song was visible, in the darkness, as tendrils of green light. Gral could see the song leave William’s throat, could see the singer’s face lit up by the exercise of his art; saw the song coil through the air, and touch the darklings, and crown them with green witch-fire.

Unnerved, Gral swung his axe at one and missed. Enheduanna killed another with an arrow-shot, though, and like its fellow it burst into black flame; and then the green fire of the song seemed to struggle against the black fire of the dying darkling, the two fires wrapped around each other, eerie and silent, before both faded. The two remaining darklings turned to run. Enheduanna fired an arrow and missed, fired another and killed another, and then fired again, and dropped her bow from trembling hands. Geoffrey ran after the last darkling, which tried to catch him by surprise, turning to stab up at him; Geoffrey wasn’t fooled, and hacked it almost in two.

Enheduanna sat, shuddering, exhausted. “Death is a mercy for them,” she said quietly. “I know. I have seen it.” Perhaps, thought Gral, it was memory that affected her.

William sighed. “Well, what’s done is done,” he said. Amanos asked him something, and he spoke with her; then to the rest of them said, “I can’t say how I knew to make that light. I only knew that I could do it, that it was in me. Like to a true bard, that sings magic. Or that the song — you see, the shape of it —” he waved a hand. “Something is different.”

“The dwimmerlaik said it,” murmured Tilde. “You’re being caught up in something. We all are, I suppose.”

Gral thought that he certainly was; but he had asked for it. He had known it was coming. This knowing had not eased the process of initiation.

They looked around the area; the lanthorn’s light had returned now the darklings were dead. There were many silver coins in the cave. Beyond, one opening in the cave’s walls led to a room where the darklings had dwelled. The only other way out, besides the way they’d come in, led to a worked hallway, with a well-like space in the floor some distance ahead and a ladder leading far down; that had to be the way the things had gone — urchins, Enheduanna called them. “They’re minor mischief-makers among the faé,” she said. “They set bee-stings on you, or lurk invisible, or conspire with skunks, or sprinkle you with rain when you most wish to be dry.”

Amanos said something, and William laughed. “No wonder the river was unlucky for your cobolds,” he said to Geoffrey. Gral heard Tilde try to talk to the cobold who followed Geoffrey as they searched the darkling’s chamber. A kind of loft overlooked the other hall; in that loft, literally buried under hundreds of gold and silver coins, was another hovering lanthorn, and a vase of henbane cordial, that brought sleep and strange dreams.

“A kingdom,” muttered Geoffrey, looking at all the glinting coinage.

“We dwarves say every mortal comes to a kingdom,” said Gral. “A land with pine borders, that measures two foot by six, six feet under the earth. And this kingdom always falls in the end, to the conqueror worm.” It was new wisdom, coined a century or two gone; some Delver had brought it up out of the Deep Dark. And was it not true?

Geoffrey might have said something, but Tilde came to join them, with the cobold trailing behind her. “Will you tell Monoloke to answer my questions?” Tilde asked Geoffrey, out of her usual good humour. “He still won’t say what he knows about the area roundabouts.”

“Who?” asked Geoffrey. Tilde looked skyward. Gral wondered why, in a woman who had been born and lived all her life under the earth.

“The cobold. He insists that I’m not strong enough,” she said, biting each word clearly. Mew snickered.

“Tell her what she wants!” ordered Geoffrey, pointing to the cobold, and then to Tilde. The cobold cringed before him.

“Good,” said Tilde. “Now,” she said in Ibia, “what do you know about this area?” She wandered off with the cobold, as the dark blue thing began, reluctantly, speaking. Mew followed.

Geoffrey clapped his hand on Gral’s shoulder. The two of them were alone in the upper chamber. “You and I,” said Geoffrey, “we have a problem. Or one of us does.”

Gral glared at him. “I will say which one.”

“You can’t find traps, and now you can’t fight,” said Geoffrey. “What use are you, little man?”

“I will kill something,” said Gral. “Then I will be right.”

Geoffrey grunted. “I’ve seen the way you glare at my cobold,” he said. “You don’t touch him, understand?”

Gral sneered. “It was not the cobold that I had in mind,” he said.

“Listen,” said Geoffrey. “You don’t like me. I don’t care for you. But the singer was right. It’s life or death, here. Oak and Holly, I don’t understand you! I’ve lived not forty years. You’ve had fifteen hundred, they tell me. I might have another forty before me, you … I don’t know. Yet you’re more eager to throw yourself away than I am. And I’ve got nothing to go back to.”

Gral was silent.

“Well, as you like,” said Geoffrey. “We’ll see this pool, then I guess return to the forest chambers. And then we need never be in the same room again.” He went to the stairs back into the darklings’ main room.

“Mortal,” said Gral. “Tell me. Do you trust the others in this company?”

Geoffrey shrugged. “I trust them as far as I think is right. I don’t trust the prophet much. And the wizard’s keeping secrets. Other than that …” he shrugged again.

“Are they your friends?” asked Gral. “Or would you betray them?”

“Could be both,” said Geoffrey. He grinned. “I don’t know about friends,” he added. “But I’ve never fucked a woman could knock me down before. That might be fun, hey?”

Gral thought about trust, and the nature of secrets, as they rejoined the others. To be initiated was to be taught a secret. To be a master, or even an apprentice, was to keep secrets. For to give knowledge to the unprepared was to hurt them. He thought of the demons in his pack; remembered their whispers about the clockmaster, and his secrets. Who did not have secrets? Gral knew he had been sent to perform a task. In the course of doing this he would learn about the nature of the task; it would teach him the secrets he would need to know in order to perform it. He had to trust in his craft, and his masters. He knew it; but he found it, now, difficult.

Tilde told them that the cobold said that the darklings had come to the cobolds not long after the court had been formed, and made Blæcalx some kind of offer. The cobold did not know what, precisely, but believed the darklings were looking for something. At any rate, he had also told Tilde how to get to the egregore’s pool from the darklings’ room.

Following the cobold’s directions, they found their way northward and to the west, avoiding a large natural cave that he said was the home of a group of wind-women — sylphs. The cobold led them to the exceptional things in that part of the dungeon, which included some scrawled writing at the end of one passage, and a set of whistling metal pipes at the end of another. In a nearby room they found the source of the pipes, a furnace burning a large store of coal from a cunningly-designed bin. In that room they had to fight, as the cobold had warned, a small flock of bird-skeletons, that flew with no wings but only bare spurs of bone. There were thirteen of them, an elder’s dozen, as Geoffrey called them, but they died easily. One of them had an aquamarine hidden in its skull; another had runes carved on either side of its sternum, a text, Tilde said, and she seemed satisfied with this.

So they went on to the pool in the large cavern where the cobolds had lived, white fires still flickering above the waters where their god had once dwelled with them. Tilde went to the pool at once, and began muttering to herself. She took out a glass flask from her pack, and gathered up some of the water. As she did, Gral saw the cobold, unnoticed in that vast space, leave the cavern. He decided to follow.

Gral could not say why he did not tell the others. Perhaps he hoped to find a reason to kill the thing. He followed the cobold back and forth and up and down in the halls for a piece of time. At last they came to a small empty room. The cobold turned, and waited. Gral advanced into the room, slowly. “Did you know I was following you?” he asked.

“I had hoped you would,” said the cobold. “There is a place of your ancestors here.” He nodded to the north wall. Gral went, and found a hidden catch: another secret door.

“And?” he asked.

“You asked whether my ghost would serve you if I were dead,” the cobold said suddenly. “First, you would have to kill me. Then, your spirit would have to be stronger than mine.” Gral spat, drew his sword, and opened the door.

A flailing thing leapt out at him. But he had expected a trap. He struck back. His blade sank into the thing as though it were stuffed. It was shaped like a mortal, this thing, in ragged clothes. It swung at him with its arms. Straw was floating in the air. Gral stabbed it, and cut it. It flailed away at him, frantically. Gral watched, and dodged, and struck back. The thing made no sound, not as it attacked, not when he cut it, not when the straw within it burst out of its guts. Finally it fell and did not move.

The small room that had held it had once been a temple to Father Stone. Father Stone was the world, was the generator of all things, was the One in whose body all things under earth scurried; it was into the heart of Stone that the Delvers went, daring the deep dark. The altar here, a single rough stone block, was smeared with cobold feces.

“This is what Blæcalx did,” said the cobold. “He led us to this altar, and had us do as you see, and trap the creature inside, for any worshipper that tried to open it up again.” Gral grunted. “Now,” said the cobold, “will you kill me?”

“No,” said Tilde from the doorway. “He won’t.” Gral looked up. He hadn’t heard them coming; he had been contemplating the altar. But they were all there. The elf had heard the sounds of the fight, he imagined.

“What would be the point?” Gral agreed.

He surprised himself then by insisting that no punishment be given the cobold. After all, Gral argued, the thing was only acting according to its nature. The cobold seemed disappointed.

(Gral heard William ask the wizard what he had been fighting. Tilde said it had been a thing called a scarecrow, that was used in the outer world to protect fields. William said he knew what a scarecrow was, but not that they moved and fought. “Oh, but yes,” said Tilde. “Some. Those in Fell Gard especially, as our crows are not so easily scared. Most scarecrows are weak, though they have an understanding of fear. Some of them stuff themselves with all sorts of things, to make themselves more powerful. I have met their Frightmasters, and they are tolerably dull creatures, though they do put on airs. Most scarecrows are even more foolish things; for their brains, you see, are made of straw.”)

They went back to the large cavern. The wizard finished her work with the magic pool. She said that the waters were clearly still enchanted; but what their gift was she was not sure, and so would take some to study further. “Home, then?” asked Geoffrey.

Where was home? wondered Gral. Was Fell Gard, this strange and not-to-be-known House of Creation, home of traps and gods and other things, now to be thought of as home?

“Geoffrey,” said William, “I have a question, first. Where you did you, and Bohemond and Jeroen Halfjack, wake in Fell Gard? We haven’t seen an entry chamber.”

“Close by,” said Geoffrey. “I can show you.” And so he did; they went west along a wide hall, and then north some way, and came to a large trapezoidal chamber. It was empty. Two halls ran off to the north. Geoffrey shrugged. “Nothing here, now,” he said.

The more easterly of the north halls came to a dead stop not too far along; but Mew was squinting along the western one. “Um,” he said. “What’s that?” He pointed. There was light at the end of the hall.

“Candles, it looks like,” said William.

Geoffrey shrugged again. “When we awoke, there were torches burning,” he said. “I don’t know about that down there.”

It turned out to be an enormous round room, its walls crumbling, fifty yards across with a great dome above it; everywhere filled with candles. Candles of every colour and thickness were upon many-armed stands, and upon stone shelves in the wall, and upon altars raised here and there about the room, and upon chains that hung from the ceiling, and upon wooden frames holding convoluted candelabra: thousands of candles, beeswax and tallow and fat, scented with oils, under glass, or even held horizontal so that they could burn at both ends.

“It’s beautiful,” said Enheduanna.

“It’s impossible!” said Mew. “There’s no wax drippings on the floor. And every candle’s whole. They don’t melt.”

“They are eternal,” said a voice, echoing from somewhere in the room. “We have found they last forever, so long as they are in this room, but that they burn down like any other candle if they are removed. But, if one is removed from its place, there will be another in that spot the next time you return to this chamber. Isn’t that odd?” The speaker was a very old man, thin and bald, in priestly robes. He had been sitting silently behind one of the frames filled with tapers. He held up a hand as they turned to him. “Pardon me,” he said. “I know you have questions. I have many myself.” He smiled, showing nearly-empty gums. “But I must ask. Master Dwarf, is your name Gral?”

“It is,” Gral said. What was this?

The old man nodded. “Then we have a message for you.”

William stepped forward. “I don’t understand,” he said. “A message from whom? Who are you?”

The old man nodded again. “Perhaps you’re right,” he said. “Language deceives. Even to say language deceives is deceiving; language tells story. Eh. This way, please.” He led them westward, down a hall out of the round room. Other men, younger, were waiting, lined along the walls beyond. Gral became aware that they were staring at him.

“We are secular canons of Secga of the Tongues,” he said. “My name is Baldwin of the Blotted Line. We were travelling to a House of our order, and seem to have been caught by the legendary Fell Gard.” He waved a hand vaguely. “We made our way here … there is a garden along that way, with fruits that are our food … and the candle room gives us light. And this nourishes our souls.” He opened a door in the south wall, and led them into a library that sprawled across two connecting rooms. Scrolls and books were scattered everywhere. One corner only had been organised. “Much to set straight,” he murmured. “But we have found a letter.”

Baldwin handed a paper to Gral. As Gral read it he felt all things settle into perfect order. His initiation; what could not be said; the nature of Fell Gard. His mercy to Monoloke. Intuitively, as he read, it made sense to him.

The letter ran:


My son,

I will assume that I have been cast in the role of villain. Well, it fits me. Your brothers have come, one by one, to the House of Creation born of my art and craft; and one by one they have died. And you are the last of them, the last hope of my enemies; of your people.

I have little to say to you now. You have come to this place, and it will change you. Or else you will die. This fate could not be otherwise; nor would I wish it so. You have come to oppose me, which is to say, to oppose Fell Gard. This is a matter beyond you. So long as you pit yourself against this supreme work of my art, you will fail.

I write to say this: You may instead choose to join me. You could become a master wright under me. And then what could we accomplish, you and I?

Think of this, as you go. Let the thought work on you. When you find my daughter, your sister, you will see a hint of what you might become. Take from that what you will. Perhaps we will meet, in time.

Your father, Gyol


It was, Gral felt, in all, if not the answer he had been seeking, at least the key to an answer. Fell Gard was his father, was the product of his art. The stones and halls, the mysteries and illusions and hidden things, all of them in some way represented his father. The maze of halls and rooms. All of it. And so he understood then, only then, what it was that he was about.

I will find you, father, he thought, and I will not just kill you, but surpass you. I will understand you, and undo you; I will erase the errors you have made. My craft will be the greater. My mastery will outdo yours. This, I swear.

(Yet: if Fell Gard was the work of his sire, then was he himself not in a way a brother to the master dungeon? The thought was terrible, and inescapable.)

“You are isolated here,” William said to Baldwin. “We are led by a sorine of the Graf Vaka-Bane, and we are founding a House. We hope to find certain legendary books in the dungeon. And there is a library near us that needs to be put in order. Would you like to come with us?” To this the brothers of the Blotted Line assented vigorously.

So they left, and led the brothers back to their own library. Along the way they heard the sounds of goblins, that had come down the stairs from the level above. They went out of their way to the south to avoid the goblins, who for whatever reason seemed to be moving westward and north. At any rate, Gral and the others returned to the library easily enough.

They were saddened, and greatly disturbed, by the news they found there.


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