Authors: F. E. Higgins
To Sarah and Aisling
Giorraíonn beirt bóthar
For those of you who are new to the world of Degringolade and the Supermundane I have included a glossary at the end of the book where you will find definitions of rare words
and explanations for some of the more peculiar habits of Degringoladians and their unusual beliefs.
F. E. Higgins
Folly laughed softly, if a little bitterly, to herself as she watched the blue Puca lights flitting bewitchingly ahead of her, always out of reach, trying to lure her away from
the path across Palus Salus, the treacherous salt marsh of Degringolade. In truth, she was grateful for their company. The roof of the world had been swept across with a broad brush dipped in thick
black paint from a palette of shades of darkness. Neither star nor planet nor celestial body of any kind was visible. She licked her lips. Usually she tasted salt in the air, but now there was
something different, a sort of metallic tang.
‘Odd,’ she mused, and carried on, keen to get back to the Kryptos. Folly carried a manuslantern, which glowed softly at her side, but it struggled to illuminate the ground more than
a few feet ahead of her. The Puca lights had that strange quality that their own brightness cast no light on their surroundings. That’s why people end up in difficulty, thought Folly. They
followed the blue flames not realizing that they were being led into peril. She was wise to their trickery.
‘You’ll not trip me up,’ she called out gaily and, as if in cheeky reply, the flares danced even more wildly.
Then, without warning, they were extinguished.
Folly stopped dead in her tracks. Her breath, already clouding, seemed to freeze. She held up the manuslantern, but it was as if its light was swathed by gauze. She heard a soft sound, and felt
the gentlest of breezes at the side of her face, followed immediately by a sharp crack as the lantern globe shattered, showering her cheek with jagged fragments of glass. She leaped back
instinctively, releasing her hold on the lantern. It fell in a puddle of marsh water. The flame sputtered briefly and went out.
‘Domna,’ she hissed, admonishing herself for her unusual clumsiness. She turned her head slowly from left to right, her senses on high alert. Fear touched her heart, not because she
was alone in the impenetrable darkness,
but because she wasn’t.
Slowly, Folly inserted her hand under the front of her long leather coat and pulled out her Blivet. It was cold to the touch, and if there had been even the smallest amount of light its triplet
tines would have sparkled like the low Gevra morning sun on a frozen pond. She gripped the rare weapon tightly and steadied her breathing, forcing herself to remain calm. She knew her situation was
, was nearby, and its intent was indubitably malevolent.
She listened for any sound at all that might tell her in which direction her enemy lay. She was not expecting to hear breathing; the dead have no need of air. Neither did she anticipate
footsteps; bodies that don’t strike the ground create no noise. But there was something else, a thrumming, an almost tangible reverberation of the atmosphere around her. Experience told her
this could mean only one thing. Somewhere in the nearby environs there was a Superent, a creature of the world of the Supermundane. There was no odour, and this was mildly worrying. Some believed
that the smell of a Superent was inversely proportional to its malevolence: the less it stank the more dangerous it was. What Folly badly needed was light. It was not impossible to battle an
invisible enemy, but it certainly wasn’t easy.
The taste in her mouth was stronger now and she grimaced. With her free hand she felt in a pocket and her searching fingers closed over a stunner. It was a small weapon, no larger than a walnut,
but its size belied its strength. It wasn’t specifically designed to repel Superents, unlike the black beans and Natron she always carried (tonight she had the feeling that even a sackful of
black beans and a dozen sprays of Natron would not deter this thing), but to shock. Still brandishing the Blivet, Folly threw the stunner at the ground in front of her. It exploded on contact with
a loud bang and lit up the surrounding marsh with a bright white light. Folly could only hope it would last long enough to expose the Superent so at least she would know what she was dealing
It did, and the sight of her enemy caused Folly’s stomach to lurch.
The creature was right in front of her. It must have been ten feet tall, muted green in colour, like pottery glaze, and shaped like a viscous liquid being poured from a height out of a glass. It
had a face of sorts, complete with eyes and mouth, set within its large, wobbling torso. There were no discernible limbs and it moved as one mass of flesh. Folly, momentarily rooted to the spot,
let out an involuntary gulp. She was no stranger to Superents, those baneful entities that were spawned from and inhabited the world of the Supermundane, but this was unlike any she had come across
before. When, seconds later, the light faded, she was happy in some ways not to have to gaze upon its vile aspect any longer.
At last her sense of self-preservation took over, but it was almost too late. Just as the thing threatened to engulf her in its jellied folds of flabby corpulence, she covered her face with one
hand and thrust the Blivet directly, with the confidence and deft execution that come only with practice, into the centre of the creature’s globular trunk. With a terrible screech of pain or
anguish the Superent toppled forward on to Folly. She crouched down helplessly. It was too late to run. She feared she might not bear its weight, that she would suffocate beneath its mass. The
thing covered her and it was like being engulfed in calf’s foot jelly. But the cold was so intense that it was burning her. Despite an almost overwhelming urge to scream, Folly managed to
keep her mouth firmly shut. Her lungs were heaving, but she knew that whatever she did, if she was to have any hope of survival, she must not inhale this toxic substance. The pain in her chest was
intensifying. She didn’t know how much longer she could stay like this. Just when she thought she might pass out, the Superent seemed to melt, as ice changes to water, and she found herself
kneeling, an arm across her head, in a pool of repulsive, stringy mucus.
Gasping for breath, Folly sat back and thoroughly cleaned the revolting goo from her face, making sure not to lick her lips. Instantly all around her the Puca flared up and continued with their
‘Well, kew very much,’ muttered Folly with sarcastic gratitude, staggering to her feet. It was disturbingly quiet. Not even the Lurids were howling. Had the wind changed? As if
sensing that the danger was over, the clouds had moved on and the stars had chosen to reappear. She struck a Fulger’s Firestrike and by its light found the broken manuslantern on the ground.
She could replace the glass later, but for now she just lit the wick, careful to keep her distance from the naked flame. She could see the silhouette of a group of trees ahead and knew that she was
close to the Komaterion. She set off again, staying on the path, dripping goo and curling her lip at the thought of what she had just endured. One question plagued her the whole way.
What in Aether had just attacked her?
While Folly was engaged in her near-fatal battle on the salt marsh with the unidentified Superent, Vincent Verdigris, the erstwhile ‘Pilfering Picklock’, was having
a rather less life-threatening time in Degringolade city.
He was standing at the sturdy wooden door of the magnificent wine cellar of a noted local wine merchant, Webster Salmanazar. This wasn’t the first time he had broken in to this cellar, but
tonight he had been surprised to find that the locks had all been reinforced. He grinned, undeterred; if anything he was flattered, for this extra security was surely only put in place because of
’s constant warnings about Vincent’s lock-picking skills. Since his arrival in the city there had been a spate of burglaries. Many were down to him, but
equally many were copycat crimes carried out by less skilful thieves hoping the blame would be placed on Vincent. Vincent was both amused and annoyed by this, and very pleased when the copycats
were exposed. He did not want his reputation tarnished by amateurs. The
had started a campaign in conjunction with a city locksmith, Will Van Clefhole & Son, to
encourage the citizens to secure their homes until the ‘Phenomenals’, as Vincent and his three companions were now known, had been caught and thrown into the Degringolade
Earlier that evening Vincent had sat in what he liked to call his ‘eyrie’ (shared with a noisy flock of black corvids) behind the Kronometer overlooking the market square. From the
heights of this lofty clock tower he had watched with a smile the scurrying Degringoladians as they emerged from Van Clefhole’s shop with extra keys and padlocks. He had noted too the comings
and goings of the locksmith’s liveried cart and horse as it went about its business securing city properties.
Vincent laughed at the citizens’ naivety. All this extra security had an almost negligible effect on his activities. Granted it might slow him down a little, but he was so proficient at
every aspect of breaking and entering that he paid it little heed. Van Clefhole and his son were not fools. They could see a business opportunity when it presented itself and were taking full
advantage of the citizens’ fears. They weren’t installing anything that Vincent hadn’t come across before. In effect, they were merely doubling or tripling up on what was already
there. Vincent was sorely tempted to break in to the locksmith’s. It didn’t seem right that they should profit quite so much from his crimes.