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Darx Circle

By Leslie Noble All Rights Reserved ©

Adventure / Fantasy

Chapter 1


Dengana felt uneasy.

He had not been happy to start with. It was a tiring walk to the farmhouse they called the Place of Two Old Frogs. Also, he had not wanted to leave both herds in the care of his younger brother. Now, this … wrongness …

Still, the order to go and find out why none of the villagers’ family members employed by the Old Frogs had been seen for days had come from the headman himself. It would have been unwise not to obey promptly. The boy was in enough trouble with him already, after the accusation that he had been responsible for the sudden invasion of land crabs into the headman’s hut.

‘Most unfair, the way I get the blame for everything,’ he muttered to himself.

It had been great fun, though.

The tar surface was uncomfortably hot against the soles of his bare feet, toughened though they were, as he padded up the long driveway. The slapping of his footfalls seemed loud in his ears, and he suddenly wondered why. Then it struck him that he could hear no other sounds.

The sense of unease deepened. He could not even hear bird calls or insect noises. No barking dogs were rushing out. None of the usual horses were visible in the paddocks to left or right. He glanced over his shoulder to the far side of the valley where the twin peaks of The Rhino were etched starkly and, it seemed now, threateningly. In front of him, high on the mountain slopes above the farm, the hunched rock figures of The Sad Ones loomed as if glaring down at him.

Despite the blazing sunlight, the atmosphere seemed increasingly oppressive as he drew nearer the old verandah home. The front part showed no signs of life, and he made his way round to the back door. Still nobody was in sight or answered his calls. The door was open, though, and he poked his head in, shouted once more, and entered.

Seconds later Dengana ran out again, screaming. He was still sobbing hysterically when he got back to the village.


The headman of the Ndhlovu village was in a bad mood, and it was steadily becoming worse. ‘Gogo,’ he stormed at the old grandmother, ‘if the women leave their other chores and spend all day at the river, why should it be my concern? Go and fetch them.’

She looked at him reproachfully. ‘You know it that my old bones are no longer strong enough to carry me there; you know it well. I say to you, there is something wrong. They should all be back with the water and the clean clothes long before the middle of the day, and now look where the sun sits.’

He gave a half-hearted kick at a scrawny chicken pecking too near his foot, and looked about him. His eyes fell on a man squatting outside a hut nearby, wearing a doleful expression to go with very little else. ‘Fundani,’ he called. ‘Go to the river and tell the women to come back.’

‘Inkozi, my head hurts,’ Fundani complained.

‘That is because you drank too much beer last night,’ the headman snapped. ‘Now, go!’

Fundani went.


As Dengana reached the outskirts of the village he was noticed by Mpilo, a brother of the headman, who had come across from the adjoining farm in the 4x4 All Terrain Vehicle. The farm had come to be owned by the headman, but he preferred living the traditional village life and letting some brothers (as cousins are also known in the African culture) stay there and run it for him.

Mpilo drew up next to him, and blinked round at the village. Not even the old grandmother was in evidence. ‘Where has everyone gone?’ he asked the boy, and then noticed the state he was in. ‘What is the matter?’

It took him some time to make any sense out of what Dengana gabbled out to him between sobs, but then, after shouting in vain for somebody to join him, he decided to see for himself. Dengana utterly refused to go with him, but he forced him into the back of the ATV, locked the tailgate, and drove off at speed.

From what the boy had said, it could only be leopard. How was that possible? None had been seen in the valley since before The Two Old Frogs, as young ‘frogs’, had hunted them out.


The leopard, which was stretched lazily out on a branch from which he could keep watch on the farmhouse, froze into immobility as the vehicle approached. The humans who got out when it stopped actually stared straight at him for an instant as they looked about them nervously. Then the grown one pulled the cub towards the back door. They had seen nothing.

Actually, there were quite a few big cats in Rhino Valley, though normally each would keep to his or her own territory. They had learnt certain rules, and as long as they followed them they had been safe.

Rule number one was never to touch any one of the animals the humans looked after, or be seen or even smelt by one of these or by one of the humans’ dog companions. There were plenty of baboons and buck and hyrax as prey.

The second rule was important because of the fact that he and his kind were mainly nocturnal. Never be near enough to a human with a light, or to one of their moving hollow rocks, to be caught in the beams from those big shining eyes. If a light ever did come in one’s direction, turn the head away and keep motionless.

Simply being invisible was the third rule. This was made easy by natural camouflage, as long as one kept in shadowy places and didn’t move. Recently it had been easier still, by learning the art of Not Being There.  All this needed was to think to the other creatures - so that they thought they were thinking it for themselves - that all they could see was plants and earth.

The leopard prepared to jump down. Perhaps it was time to kill again. Now, he would do it alone.


The group returning from the river were keening and wailing and in deadly fear. After a frantic Fundani had run back to relate what he had found, the headman had snatched up one of his concessions to the modern world - a powerful rifle - and hastened to see for himself. Everyone in the village, and scores more of the villagers who had suddenly returned from their normal tasks as if by magic, had followed him; even the old grandmother had kept up somehow. All the men were armed with their own guns or sticks or spears.

‘As many big ones as that – it is not possible,’ Fundani repeated yet again as they re-entered the village.  

‘All the signs were there to be read,’ the headman responded dully.

Fundani shook his head. ‘Signs only; and how could so many hide in water so shallow? Or drag all our missing women under to hide them there?’

‘No crocodiles in this place for half my lifetime, and now there must be many, many, many,’ Dengana’s mother stopped her wailing for long enough to sob out. She would normally have been with the others at the river, but had been with a group visiting friends at the Field of Bees.

Someone cried out that it must have something to do with tokoloshe or devils, and this was taken up by several voices. The headman stopped in his tracks. ‘We must speak to the sangoma; now!’ he said with sudden resolution. ‘Why is the sangoma not here with us?’


The sangoma combined natural healing with her role of foretelling by speaking with the ancestors. She also officiated at many initiation rituals, and when misfortunes struck she would say what had annoyed the ancestors and what needed to be done to stop them being annoyed. She had a small house rather than a hut, set a bit higher up against the mountain of the Sad Ones.

A track hardly wider than a path led there from the village, and it was with difficulty that Mpilo drove the ATV along it to catch up with the procession he had glimpsed from the village. As he came to a halt in a cloud of dust, Dengana leapt out and rushed to his father, who had returned in time to join the crowd. He clung onto him and simply howled.

Mpilo hardly paused to give traditional greetings before blurting out, ‘Leopards have killed all people at Place of Two Old Frogs – everyone!’

Even after seeing the evidence that many crocodiles had been at the river, this did not appear likely. ‘There aren’t any ...’ the headman began, and then thought again. ‘You mean a mad leopard has come here from somewhere?’ he asked.

‘Many tracks; many leopards,’ Mpilo responded. ‘Some people dead in house, some in shed, and some in field. All killed the way only leopard does it. Not lion or dogs or hyena. Leopard. And boy says he saw tokoloshe while we were there. He says tokoloshe sent away a leopard which was coming to kill us also.  I believe him. There was something I felt there that was ... terrible.’

The headman turned to Dengana, but it was clear that no sense would come from him for quite some time.

Such great shock and horror had already been felt by everyone that it hardly seemed as if the new tragedy had sunk in. They stared dumbly at the headman, who collected his wits with a great effort. ‘Sangoma!’ he said, and the little crowd continued on their way with redoubled urgency.


It was yet another shock to find that the sangoma was not wearing her traditional beads and trappings, but was dressed in modern clothing. She was trying to select the best of her herbs and amulets from shelves all round the walls of her living room to cram into suitcases, but left the task as they approached.  Ignoring the ‘Sawubona’ (‘we see you’, even in cases where it should be an ‘I see you’), as the beginnings of the exchange of proper greetings, she broke in with, ‘I have been expecting you to come and tell me that devils are among us.’

The headman nodded.

‘We must all go away,’ she said simply. ‘These devils want the valley for themselves, now, and if we stay we die. They are very strong and have many tokoloshe helpers; and they will bring all creatures against us ...’

‘We cannot leave,’ burst out the headman. ‘The spirits of our ancestors are all here, and ...’

It was her turn to interrupt. She shook her head. ‘No, the spirits of our ancestors have gone. They have been chased away. Before they went they told me we must all leave, too. I must help them to come to us when we can find a new place for us to live.’

The dreadfulness of it was so great that all wails and lamentations stopped and there was a hush.

Then the headman said, ‘We will go; there is no choice,’ in a broken voice, before squatting down on his heels with his head in his hands and sobbing.

CHAPTER 1: Rhino Valley and the First Encounter

‘Why does nobody in Rhino Valley answer phones? Are all the lines down?’ Hugh’s father asked.

The man behind the counter shrugged. ‘I haven’t seen any of the Valley farmers here in Ummango for quite a while,’ he said.

‘Would you mind trying the number of the Two Old Fro... I mean, the Henderson brothers for me? It needs to be landline, because, as I’m sure you know, for some reason the whole area gets no mobile reception.’

The man gave a half-shrug this time, but nodded. After listening at the handset for a while he said, ‘Ja, it’s ringing normally, but they’re not answering Maybe they’re out. You’ve stayed there before quite a few times, haven’t you? You are ...’ he paused for a second, and then said, ‘... Mr Redcorn, if I remember.’

‘That’s right: Donald Redcorn, and this is Hugh.’

‘Howzit, Hugh. I’m Jan,’ he said, stretching a hand over the counter.

‘Hugh, Jan here is greeting you!’ Donald said sharply.

Hugh gave a start. ‘Uh ... oh; howja do,’ he mumbled.

His father glared at him, and then said to Jan, ‘I imagine you’d know if the cottage has been booked?’

‘Don’t think it is; and most people who are on their way there stop by. The last ones were a couple of months ago, though.’ He paused to ring up a sale for another customer, and then said, ‘Some of the farmers there have had the worst of luck lately. Ben Coetzee got bitten by a puff adder six times, which is unusual, and they couldn’t get him treated in time so he died. Then Jo Ferreira’s horse threw her, and it trampled her as well, and that was the end of her.  Miguel went a bit crazy after that, and he’s now in a sort of home. Then everyone at Crags got some strange sickness and the whole lot are in hospital.’

‘That’s really sad,’ Donald said. ‘We’ve met all of them. It shows, I suppose, that even in such a paradise things go wrong, and one finds danger.’

‘Oh, ja, another one I nearly forgot,’ Jan added. ‘A fisherman told me last week that the new trout hatchery up the other end looks like it’s abandoned.’

Donald shrugged. ‘Anyway, it seems as though we’ll have go out there and take a chance that the cottage is available,’ he said.

Back in the car, his father looked suspiciously at Hugh. ‘You did take your meds, didn’t you?’

‘Yes, Dad,’ Hugh said. It wasn’t quite a lie. He was managing to get away with taking only half what he was supposed to, and was wishing desperately that the effect of the last half-dose would wear off soon. The pills always made him feel less than alive.

Fifteen minutes after leaving the tiny town at the top of the steep climb for which it was named, they turned off onto the gravel road which led towards the mountains. ‘It gets worse every time we come,’ Donald complained, fighting with the steering wheel in trying to miss potholes or at least dodge the bigger ones. The car jounced and juddered.  ‘Your mother always said this part of the trip was better than a massage.’

Hugh had also been thinking of his mother, and how he missed her. Rhino Valley brought her to mind particularly strongly. She had always appeared to become so extra alive there, but now, he reminded himself bitterly, she wasn’t alive at all. She was the only one he always felt had understood …

When they reached the view site, which lay just before the part where the road started its imitation of a snake in death-throes to get down into the valley, Donald pulled to a stop and they got out. The scene was, as always, breathtaking. From the top of the saddle they were on, the valley stretched for countless kilometres ahead of them. To the left loomed the range dominated by The Rhino with its distinctive peaks, and to the right the slightly lower range topped by the rock columns of The Sad Ones was etched, closer, against the sky.

‘Magnificent,’ breathed Donald. He turned to look at his son, and his pleasure evaporated. Hugh was staring fixedly here and there with a lost, bemused expression. ‘Hugh!’ he snapped.

Hugh gave a start, and looked at his father in some apprehension. That tone of voice was never good news. ‘Are you um …’ Donald stopped to search for words before going on in a rush, ‘are you seeing things again?’

‘No, Dad; absolutely not!’

The conviction in his voice was unmistakeable, and Donald relaxed. ‘Well, then, why …?’ On second thoughts, he decided to leave well enough alone.

Hugh had to force himself to study the view again and not what had worried him. What he had told his father was quite true. Actually, it was what he wasn’t seeing that was truly disturbing.

‘That’s strange,’ Donald said, his attention again on the valley, ‘no signs of activity.’ For an instant Hugh thought his father had also become Aware … but then he realised that he was talking about the scattered farms in the distance. They did look unusually free of any movement of animals or humans, as did the visible part of the tiny village.

In silence they set off again, and were nearing the bottom of the pass when a sharp bend brought them unexpectedly upon a heavily-laden open pickup, at a standstill and taking up most of the road in a part that hadn’t been visible from above.  ‘That bakkie belongs to Dengana Ndhlovu’s dad,’ Hugh said. ‘Yes, there is Dengana with his father and mother and brothers.’

‘That back tyre has obviously had it,’ Donald remarked, and went over to inspect a thing so depressed it was clear that nothing would ever cheer it up again.  He exchanged proper greetings in Zulu, and then asked if they had a spare. Apparently they did, but their jack had broken. Donald took his out and started adapting it.

Hugh moved back to the car and Dengana followed. The two were old friends from the previous visits, when sometimes Hugh had shared his herding duties, and whenever possible they had gone on various expeditions together, on foot or on bicycles.

Hugh looked curiously at the piles of furniture and luggage strapped all over the pickup. ‘You have many things they are loaded here,’ he said, also speaking Zulu. ‘You move to another home?’

‘Yes; we go,’ Dengana nodded. ‘We all go.’

‘All? You don’t mean the whole village, do you?’

Again, Dengana nodded. ‘Everyone go away already. We are last ones, because of wheel it is broken.  The valley, it is a bad place, now.’

‘What about the ones they work for The Two Old Frogs? Surely they haven’t gone?’

Dengana looked nervously to where the adults were still wrestling with the jack. ‘The Old Frogs they go away. Everyone they go away. Nothing it is left there,’ he said abruptly, and when Hugh asked further questions he only responded by shaking his head.

It took a great deal of time and labour to get the wheel changed. Most of the load had to be taken off before the jack would lift the wheel clear enough to be removed, and then it turned out that the spare was buried under one of the few sections that had been left. Finally the job was completed, and all of them helped with reloading.

Just before climbing aboard Dengana rushed up to Hugh and said quietly but urgently, ‘Not go to Old Frogs. Not go! I see tokoloshe. Bad tokoloshe!’ Then he cast a guilty look at his father and dashed back to clamber onto the bakkie, which resumed its journey out of the valley, swaying rather alarmingly beneath its pile.

‘It doesn’t seem that we’ll be able to stay in the cottage,’ Hugh said as they got back into their car.

‘No,’ Donald agreed. ‘I gather the Old Fr… the Hendersons … have gone away.  I couldn’t get any sense about where and why, though. At any rate, I suppose we’ll just have to turn back and find a bed and breakfast somewhere. I don’t feel like driving all the way home again today.’

A sudden thought struck Hugh. ‘I wonder if the Field of Bees - I mean, Rhino Valley Apiary – is still going strong?’

‘No reason why not,’ his father replied vaguely. ‘Well, let’s start back and see where we can find to stay.’

Startlingly, just thinking about the Field of Bees had triggered something truly weird in Hugh’s mind. Sensations he couldn’t describe to himself properly, then or later, came rushing over him. He was aware of a pressuring, urging presence which had the paradox of familiarity on the one hand, of something he knew and welcomed; while on the other hand also giving a feeling of utter repugnance, of being something alien and hateful. At the same time, he was aware of a growing force of unrest and wrongness, completely separate from the first presence but being fed from it.

All this entered his consciousness in a flash, and though he didn’t understand it in the least he was left with a total conviction that he needed to get to the Field of Bees as quickly as possible.  Calm, he told himself. Be completely calm.

‘It’s fairly close by from here,’ he said in as reasonable and casual voice as he could manage, ‘and maybe they can tell us what’s going on. Anyway, we haven’t had any of that wonderful honey for simply ages.’

‘Hmm,’ said his father. ‘Yes; you’re right. Bob and Beryl will know what has become of the Frogs. We may as well call in there – only about five minutes out of our way.’

Hugh breathed a huge sigh of relief, but then tried to hide his increasing agitation as the ‘feelings’ returned to him. The driving pressure was increasing, and the other … person? … force? … was turning from uneasiness to a growing rage and some sort of purpose.

Soon they came to the farm gateway and drove over the cattle grid past the sign which read:

Rhino Valley Apiary

B. Kippen

Bob and Beryl Kippen loved relating that when they were first married many people had joked that with their names they should be keeping bees. They had tried it, loved it, and it had become their lives.

The farm road ran along a hillside jutting out to one side of the house before curving in towards it, and gave a good view of the old verandah-style building and of the neat boxes of the forty hives, set in rows of eight, which it overlooked. The air above the boxes was looking increasingly hazy.

Now Hugh was managing to put the impressions into words in his mind to make sense of them. The persuasive ‘voice’ was saying, ‘Come; come back; gather, come back! Danger! Defend! Gather together back at home to fight danger! Come; come; gather! Prepare! Defend!’

The other was repeating much the same thing, but in a way that was building up to a mad fury.  In a sudden flash of realisation, Hugh knew that this second, responding, one was from some sort of group mind of the bees, and that all of the hives together were preparing to form an attacking swarm.

Two figures were visible on the verandah. They had been seated, but now both man and woman were standing and the man had moved forward and was pointing down at the hives.  Seconds later, an enormous dark cloud formed above the rows at about their midpoint, and started to move towards the house. The first voice was now rising to a frenzy of, ‘Attack, attack, attack! Danger! Attack!’ and the second was obediently echoing the same message. Then he could sense that the movement of their car had been noticed, and that part of the cloud had been sent towards them. The rest began to move at speed towards the house.

‘Dad! They’re coming at us!’ Hugh yelled.

Donald had seen them. He used a word he normally wouldn’t have uttered in his son’s presence, and slammed on the brakes, adding, ‘Check every window! Close that vent your side! Try to think of anywhere they might find a way in, and plug it!’

Hugh was too busy looking in horror at the couple on the verandah. They had realised the danger rather too late, and although they were dashing towards the door he doubted if they would make it in time. ‘No!’ he found himself shouting. ‘Don’t do it! There is no danger! All is calm! Return to your hives! There is no danger! Stop the attack!’

Instantly, he could sense that his message was being transmitted in the same manner as he had been receiving the others.  There was an impression of astonishment from the first ‘voice’, followed by fury. ‘Who are you? Keep out of this! This is nothing to do with you! Keep out of it!’

From the other side came a slight wavering and uncertainty, and he worked upon it. ‘Calm; relax; calm; no danger; no danger; no danger; calm; go back,’ he repeated again and again. Even the small part of what must have been more than a million bees in the total attacking force was now creating a deafening buzzing, and soon bees were crawling over every part of the car. They were doing it with less and less urgency, though, and it struck Hugh that his ‘transmission’ was probably stronger from close by.

Then the other voice tried again with a rather feeble, ‘Attack, attack!’ and Hugh sent a mental shout as hard as he could, ‘Go away!’ It did, to his mild surprise. At least, he wasn’t conscious of it any longer.

He went on repeating the soothing message, over and over – and suddenly the ‘mind’ of the bees was no longer in a rage but was transmitting things which meant nothing to Hugh, so he decided they were just ‘bees’-iness communications and tuned them out.

Then the bees all simply flew away. One second the car was covered in them; the next they were all dispersing and returning to their normal gathering activities. The same thing was happening with the main swarm at the house – but was it too late?

Donald was staring at Hugh in utter astonishment. ‘Good lord!’ he exclaimed. ‘It’s almost as if they listened to you!’ He shook his head slightly as if to clear it, and added with urgency, ‘Anyway, we’d better get to the house and see if the Kippens are alright.’

They weren’t. Hugh and his father found them lying on the floor just inside the front door, covered in beestings. Some bees must have stung them before they closed it, while others had somehow found their way into the house. Beryl was in a coma, but fortunately Bob stayed conscious for long enough to instruct Donald how to give them emergency treatments which were kept on the farm as a matter of course. Bob gasped that these should keep them alive for long enough to get to the hospital. The clinic in Kranzton, only some seventy kilometres away, had the facilities for treatment.

There were no signs of any of the usual farm workers, and Donald and Hugh had to carry the unconscious bodies of the couple to the car. Then Donald drove to the hospital as fast as the roads would allow.

There was a great deal of frustrating red tape and argument before they managed to get them admitted. Even though Donald had managed to find where the Kippens kept their personal documents and had grabbed them, the Reception kept insisting on asking questions with answers which simply weren’t available.

By the time they succeeded in finding a bed and breakfast it was late. Fortunately they were too tired to be interested in an evening meal, because the owners of the converted farmhouse said the kitchen was closed and did not offer to re-open it.

They were shown to a room which seemed to have stepped back in time for a century or two. All the items of furniture were antiques. A couple of massive wardrobes and two dressing-tables with high mirrors still left space for a number of paintings. Three armchairs also somehow managed to fit in without looking cramped.

There was even a washstand with a round basin and a jug of hot water on it. A huge bathroom down a long corridor only had cold water, so they decided to make do with the jug.

The bedsprings on both four-poster beds creaked every time they moved, but in spite of that sleep came quickly and stayed with them until morning.

CHAPTER 2: Valley Return, Bombshell, Bullies, and Message

The breakfast was excellent – a good old farm-style one with the works. Mealie-meal (maize) porridge, followed by eggs, bacon, ‘wors’ sausages, fried mushrooms and tomatoes, and lashings of toast with butter and marmalade were enough to restore any spirits. They had phoned the hospital, to be told that the Kippens were still in a ‘serious’ condition, but stable and probably out of danger.

‘I want to go back to the valley,’ Donald announced while they were sipping their coffee, ‘and see if anyone at the Hendersons’ place can tell us anything. It all strikes me as being very strange.’

‘Something seems to be stirring things up there,’ Hugh ventured.

His father nodded. ‘I wonder if anyone has been using some dangerous new insecticide which is affecting everything? I mean, snakes bite, horses can get spooked, and mysterious diseases do happen. Still it goes beyond strange for all of that to take place in such a short time in one area, plus that extraordinary madness of the bees, and not to mention whatever has chased the Ndlovus out of their village. I get the impression they have been terrified by something, and are clamming up. I gather Dengana didn’t tell you much, either … Hugh? Hugh!’

The boy’s attention had wandered to what he could see through the window near the table. There was some activity in the garden, and it looked as though the …

‘I know that funny look you get. You haven’t taken them again, have you?’ stormed Donald. ‘Pills! Now! And I’m watching you!’

Under his father’s determined glare, Hugh had no option but to take the hated meds. Soon, he knew, he would start to feel all woolly and fuzzy again. Indeed, by the time they again came to the dizzying zigzags leading down into Rhino Valley he had started feeling dizzy enough already without them.

They stopped by at the Field of Bees just to check that everything was still in order. The only activity was from the hives which were, of course, hives of activity. Donald looked nervously at them. ‘Bob told me once that he has well over two million bees there. I’d say it must have been at least a million of them in that swarm. What that was about, or why you started raving in that way, and then it was just as if … actually, I don’t even want to think about it. It is all too … too … unnatural!’

Apart from the bees, the scene was about as lively as a bear’s den in midwinter. There were no signs of pets or livestock needing to be tended, so Donald simply switched off the main electric power and locked everything up. Then they drove on to The Frogs’ Place.

Field of Bees had been a thriving city centre compared with what greeted them as soon as they entered the property. Nothing stirred. ‘I’m not a fanciful person,’ Donald said - and this was an understatement - ‘but something here gives me the total creeps, now. At least there were bird calls and some insect activities at the Apiary; but listen: no birds; no insects; nothing. And where on earth are all the horses and cattle and chickens and things?’

Indeed, it was so still that even the occasional slight stirring of wind through the leaves sounded loud. As they approached the house Hugh had a vague feeling they were being watched, and with it came a trace of familiarity, as if to do with something he had experienced recently, but the thought didn’t seem worth following up and he simply concentrated on following his father up instead.

The front door was closed and turned out to be locked. Donald knocked and called out for a while, without really expecting any response, and then they went to the back. The door there was also closed, but not locked. ‘We may as well make sure there’s nobody inside in need of help,’ Donald said, and in they went.

Dimly, Hugh had a feeling of foreboding: that something inside was horribly wrong.

Everything looked normal, though. They checked each room, but none had signs of recent occupation. Some of the furniture seemed to have been changed around since they were last there, and bare floorboards showed in one or two places where they thought they remembered carpets, but there was nothing remarkable in that.

‘I’ll switch off the electricity here, too,’ Donald announced, and Hugh pointed to where the box was situated in the scullery. ‘Don’t think I’ll lock here, though. We’ll leave it as we found it. I don’t mind telling you, I’ll be glad to get out.’ He shuddered involuntarily.

On the way back to the car, Hugh suddenly had a clear view of a leopard lying lazily across a large branch to the far side of the surrounding lawn and staring at them. ‘Look, Dad …’ he began urgently, pointing, but then decided it must have been a trick of the light and shade. ‘Uh … no. Just thought I saw something,’ he mumbled.

They spent the next couple of hours in a completely fruitless set of visits. They hadn’t expected that there would be anyone at the village or Ndhlovu farm, or at Ferreiras’ or Coetzees’ farms, or at Crags, and they found the nobody they expected. The smaller farms and the new hatchery at the far end were all similarly deserted. There were no signs at all of either people or livestock.

‘This is utterly mad!’ Donald stormed for about the twentieth time as the finally set out on their return. ‘Beyond any sort of sense. Anyway, all we can do now is to report it to the police who have jurisdiction over this area – that’ll be at Kranzton – and we can find out how Bob and Beryl are doing at the same time.’

The Kranzton revisit was also rather fruitless. Both Kippens were now fully conscious and their condition was ‘improving’, but they were not allowed visitors.

Then, the police were utterly disinterested.

‘It is not our area,’ said the policeman at the desk.

Donald demanded to see his superior, and convinced her that it was their area. ‘But what crime has been committed?’ the officer asked reasonably.

‘All these people have simply abandoned their homes and vanished!’ Donald protested.

‘Well, they must want to be some place else,’ the woman shrugged.

She only said they would ‘investigate the matter’ after Donald had lost his temper and raged for a while, but there was little assurance that much - if anything at all - would actually happen.

Then there was nothing more to do but buy some pies and soft drinks as lunch, and then set off on the return journey to their home near Durban.


After driving in silence for some time, and a few false starts, Donald said hesitantly, ‘Hugh, I had a special reason for wanting us to come on this outing. I needed to tell you … I mean, to ask you … I mean, I have something serious to talk to you about … that is to say, I want you to be very grown-up and understanding about something …’

‘You’ve met someone you fancy,’ Hugh said in a dull voice.

‘As a matter of fact, yes,’ Donald admitted. ‘How did you know?’

‘I sort-of guessed from the way you’ve been acting, and from all those secret telephone calls and everything. She’s from upcountry?’

‘That’s right,’ his father confirmed eagerly. ‘I met her on that first business trip, and we’ve been seeing each other every time I’ve gone up there since. Anyway, I think it is rather more than just “fancy” or I wouldn’t have bothered to mention it. We’ve become really serious.’

‘Oh,’ said Hugh.

‘I mean, it’s not as if she can replace your Mom,’ Donald added in a rush. ‘Nobody could do that. It’s just that I’m ready, now, to share my life with someone else again, and Raine – her name’s Raine Flynn - is an absolute darling. I’m sure you and she will get on very well.’

‘Yah; right,’ said Hugh.

There was silence while Donald concentrated on overtaking a particularly large and slow-moving timber truck and trailer, and then he glanced at his son whose face was copying his voice by giving about as much away as a miser does to beggars. ‘Well, um, what do you think about it?’

‘Don’t like it, but there’s nothing I can do, anyway, is there?’ Hugh said bluntly.

‘But you will try to be reasonable?’ Donald pleaded.

‘Um,’ said Hugh without enthusiasm. ‘Suppose so.’

‘Great; that’s all I ask. There is something else, though, which I hope isn’t going to be as awkward as I think.’

The suddenly worried tone aroused Hugh’s curiosity. ‘What else could there be?’ he asked.

‘There’s this daughter, Tyrentia, about your age,’ Donald said, trying to choose his words carefully. ‘To be quite honest, I don’t like her much - no, that isn’t really what I mean - that is to say, she’s a bit difficult to get on with and I can’t really make her out, but naturally she is an important part of Raine’s life and we’ve just got to find a way to live with her.’

Hugh had a horrible sinking feeling. ‘Tie-what? What’s she like, exactly?’ he asked directly.

Donald spelt the name for him and went on, ‘Well, she seems to have a great opinion of herself, and mostly comes across as rude, sulky, bad-tempered and selfish. It isn’t only that she resents me butting into their lives; she’s had the same reaction towards everyone I’ve ever seen her come into contact with, unless it suits her to butter them up for something. It isn’t a case of “like mother, like daughter” at all, because Raine has the sweetest personality you can imagine.’

‘The tyrant-y daughter sounds truly charming!’ Hugh commented, and bit his tongue just in time before adding, ‘and maybe this Raine is just like her but is in butter-up mode at present?’

‘Oh, how I wish she were truly charming!’ Donald smiled ruefully. ‘Anyway, please try and get on with her somehow. They are coming down on Tuesday to stay for a week with Raine’s parents who live about fifteen minutes away from where we are. After that … we shall have to see.’


By the next day Hugh’s sense of dread about the impending arrival had grown huge. The impression of being utterly doomed began when he caught the bus to school, and it lasted throughout the day. Rude,. bad-tempered, selfish and sulky? And the mother? What would it be like to be bossed around by two females in his own home? Would this Raine expect him to call her ‘Mom’? Never, he resolved.

He was so preoccupied that a couple of the teaching staff asked him pointedly whether he had taken his meds, and it also made him careless, during the main break of the morning, in not observing his usual precautions to keep out of the way of everyone

‘Heyoo!’ came the grating voice of Brian Simpkins, a boy in a grade above his who, with his gang of cronies, enjoyed making lives a misery, and his in particular. Brian was actually small for his age, and far smaller than the burly Hugh, but made up for it with a meanness and ruthlessness known and reluctantly respected by all. Hugh tried to ignore him.

‘Heyoo! I’m talking to yoo, yoo big dumbo yoo! Your laces are undone!’

Hugh looked down at his shoes. ‘No, they’re not,’ he said.

‘An eagle! Look!’ Brian yelled, pointing upwards. ‘No, not there, stupid; higher! Right above you!’

Too late, Hugh registered the tugs at his shoes as two of Brian’s hangers on, Sipho and Ben, undid the laces.

‘They are, now, Heyoo!’ Brian sniggered.

Sighing, Hugh bent down to tie them up again. He should have known better. ‘Free kicks!’ Brian crowed, and he and his cronies managed to get one in each before Hugh went down on his haunches to finish the job. He stood up again rubbing a bruised behind and wondering how to escape. Dimly he thought to himself, as he had done so many times before, that he really should stand up to these bullies, but it simply didn’t feel worth the effort, and he hated all violence.

Fortunately, at that moment, one of the prefects came up and showed signs of remaining in the area. Brian scowled. ‘Lovely chatting to you, Heyoo. See yoooo again soon!’ he said, and they moved off seeking someone else to torment.

After school he was more on his guard, and crept to peer around the far corner of the building nearest the gate to observe that, as he had suspected, Brian and his friends were planning an ambush. He slipped away and made his escape over the fence on the far side, via a handy tree and a big drop from an overhanging branch on the other side. This had come in useful on a number of previous occasions, and he had perfected a parachute-roll to soften the landing. His bus went past the school gates, and he had a good view of the Brian gang still waiting patiently for him, but filling in some time with bullying anyone else they could get hold of in the meantime.


As Hugh’s father returned from his office, the boy dropped his homework to corner him.

‘Exactly when and how does it all happen?’ he demanded.

‘I’m going to fetch them at the airport tomorrow at midday, and bring them straight here, so they’ll see you as soon as you get home from school. Then, later, we’ll take them to her parents.’ Donald patted Hugh’s shoulder in a comradely way. ‘I don’t mind admitting to you that I’m petrified. Raine and I have become most important to one another, but if she doesn’t like you or you her, or if I simply can’t adapt to her little witch … I mean, to her daughter … or if you two kids tear each others’ eyes out, I simply don’t know what we’re going to do.’

Hugh looked at his father fondly. He might not have any of the understanding or wisdom his mother had shown, but he was a really good man and he was constantly doing his best. ‘Don’t worry, Dad,’ he said. ‘If it all comes apart it won’t be for want of me trying as hard as I can, I promise you.’

‘Thanks for that, Hugh,’ his father said with feeling. ‘If only I knew the same attitude would be coming from Tyrentia I wouldn’t have a worry in the world, but as things are I’m afraid it will all be up to you.’


That night before he went to sleep Hugh received a message in his mind, or after he had gone to sleep he dreamt that before he had gone to sleep he had received message in his mind. It amounted to the same thing, and was extremely powerful either way. The message was rather long and most confusing, but it boiled down to three main items:

The first was that he needed to trust his senses. For many years he had been trained not to do so and had become convinced that they were not to be relied upon. The message reminded him, however, of what had happened with the bees, and how on this occasion there could be no question of imagination because what he had been ‘imagining’ had actually had a result which others had been able to see.

The second part was that there was some terribly important task in which his help was desperately going to be needed. This was where the message grew too confusing to understand, because it gave the impression of trying to go into the nature of what had to be done, but made no sense at all. At least he was able to make out that he would not be alone in carrying out the task; in fact he might have many helpers, as well as some main ones.

One thing to emerge strongly was that the task was connected in some way with Rhino Valley.

The final message, which came across particularly clearly, was that, by hook or crook, he must no longer take his medications. He must stop completely, and not touch them again. Not ever.

CHAPTER 3: An Angel and a Witch, and Shocks.


 insistent had the last part of the message been that Hugh was up well before his father to do something about it. He was not a naturally devious or dishonest boy, but he knew that there would be no other way to stop taking his medication other than by some sort of delusion. Donald was convinced the pills were essential to his son’s sanity and would resist all suggestions that they be discontinued. Therefore it was quite essential that he still appear to be taking them.

Particularly since his mother had died, Hugh had become quite handy in the kitchen, and icing was something he was good at. With a bit of experimentation he managed to produce some pills which looked exactly like the originals, but made of icing which he coloured to match perfectly. Keeping one specimen of each of the originals in a tin in a far corner of his sock drawer, just to be on the safe side, he flushed the rest down the toilet. The exact number of pills which were still supposed to be in their normal containers were then replaced by his fakes.

After that he quickly whipped up a batch of cupcakes to provide an excuse for all the activity.

‘How thoughtful of you!’ his father enthused when he came through to breakfast. ‘Those should provide a great welcome to our guests.’ Hugh almost felt guilty.

The hated meds had more of a hold over his system than he had realised. His ‘imagination’ was nowhere nearly yet in full working order, but he was still aware of many, as if seen through the corner of his eye. With a great deal of effort, he managed to avoid trying to look at them at all. This was really hard, because each new distraction made him want to stare in that direction.

He worked at it so hard during school, by concentrating furiously on the lessons, that he actually earned praise in Maths and History, neither of which he normally excelled in to say the least. Both the fat ‘Numbo Jumbo’ and scrawny ‘Date Line’ (as they were nicknamed) were clearly as astonished as he was.

During the breaks he kept well out of sight of everyone, and when it came to the end of school he took no chances but headed straight for his escape route. On this occasion he made a rather a bad job of his parachute-landing fall, which did his clothing no good. It was a bit wasted, anyway, because the Brian gang were waiting at the bus stop, but he kept out of sight and then dashed past them just as the bus was about to pull off.

He was filled with dread again when he reached home, and the first words he heard as he let himself in the front door warranted that feeling completely. It was a girl’s voice, with a slightly whiny and complaining quality and sounding thoroughly bad-tempered, coming to him clearly from the direction of the sitting-room.  ‘… want to go to Granny’s now. I need to change and freshen up. I don’t ****-well see why we have to meet this stupid **** retard before that.’

The voice of a woman replied. This was a pleasant one, and he liked it immediately. ‘Please don’t use that language. You know I hate it. And please don’t call him that.’

‘Why **** not? He is one. I mean, just look at that **** picture of him over there. Just like all the others I’ve seen. A complete **** village idiot.’

At that moment Donald came from the direction of the kitchen, holding a tray of tea and coffee things, and spotted Hugh in the hallway. ‘Ah, you’re home, Hugh,’ - stating the obvious is customary on such occasions - ‘come and meet Raine and Tyrentia.’

Suddenly conscious of the fact that he had a considerably rumpled appearance following his climb, leap-and-roll, and dash for the bus, Hugh shambled into the sitting room. Mother and daughter stared at him, and he stared back. Both had long, strikingly black hair. Both had extremely fair complexions – in the case of Tyrentia, startlingly white. Both, surprisingly, had blue eyes. Tyrentia’s were of a particularly vivid shade.

The most noticeable thing about them, though, was the difference in expressions. Raine’s was sweet, serene and humorous. Tyrentia’s looked exactly as disagreeable as she had sounded.

Raine smiled and rose from her chair saying, ‘Hello, Hugh; how nice to meet you at last,’ and came over to give him a hug. The boy wasn’t sure how to respond, but ended up by dropping his bag on his foot and mumbling, ‘Dja do.’

Tyrentia didn’t get up. She gave Hugh the sort of look one would normally reserve for rotten fish, and said, ‘Hello. Right; now we’ve met. Can we ****-well go to Granny’s, now?’

Her mother frowned at her, resumed her seat, and then said to Hugh, ‘Tell me about yourself. What are your favourite sports?’

Hugh was looking at the tea things, and the sight reminded him. ‘Cupcakes!’ he blurted.

Donald glared at him and jumped in with, ‘Oh yes, Hugh baked some cupcakes for us this morning. Let me fetch them.’

‘Oh, for ****’s sake! It cooks! Look, I’m just going for a walk in the **** garden.’ Ignoring her mother’s protests, Tyrentia let herself out.

Perhaps deliberately, Donald seemed to be bringing the cupcakes back via a trip round the block, judging from the time he took. Left alone with Raine, Hugh had a moment of panic. He was torn between the resentment he had been building up ever since his father had told him about her, and the instant good impression she had created.

Then, in trying to re-start the conversation, Raine stuttered slightly, and Hugh suddenly realised that she was as nervous and unsure about the situation as he was. His heart went out to her, and he gave her a smile. ‘No, cupcakes aren’t a sport of mine, and not a hobby, either,’ he said. ‘Just something I’ve learnt to do if I want decent ones.’

That broke the ice completely for both of them. In a matter of minutes he found himself chatting to her as he hadn’t chatted to anyone except his father for ages. He could see it wasn’t an act with her; she was genuinely interested in everything he had to say. When he suddenly found himself blurting out, ‘I’m glad Dad has met you,’ he really meant it.

Her face lit up. ‘That’s sweet of you to say so.  I hope you’ll make some allowances for Tye; you see she’s been very … she’s been terribly badly …’ At that moment, Donald finally returned with the cakes so Raine went to call her daughter in to tea.

‘She’s completely lovely, and she’s utterly horrible,’ Hugh muttered to his father, who burst out laughing.

Raine unstintingly praised his cakes, and Tyrentia, brought back under great protest, ate four in quick succession, which Hugh supposed was as much praise as was ever likely to come from her. ‘Can we go, now?’ she asked as soon as she had drained her cup.

Raine shook her head and said, ‘There’s no hurry,’ whereupon the girl scowled and flounced back out into the garden.

Hugh went to his room and changed out of school uniform, and when he returned to the sitting room his father said pointedly, ‘We have quite a lot to talk about; why don’t you go and join Tyrentia for a while?’ It struck him as being a better idea to pay a visit to a snake pit, but he obediently went outside. He was hoping to find a part of the garden free of bad-tempered girls, but she spotted him from where she was seated on a swing-seat and beckoned at him in a demanding sort of way.

‘Look, you,’ she began (he was sure it was a ‘you’ and not a ‘Hugh’) ‘it seems as if we are going to be stuck with your stupid father and my mother hitching up, so the way it is ****-well going to be is that you just ****-well keep out of my **** way, and I’ll keep out of yours. Can that find its way into your **** sick little brain?’

Any number of insulting replies rushed up in his mind based on pointing out that she was way out of line, but they all got in the way of one another, tripped up, and fell in a heap. What came out was, ‘Um.’

She gave him a contemptuous look and then her attention went to a group of butterflies on a daisy bush across the lawn. He glanced in that direction to see a Shiner playing with them.  The little shimmery shape darted in and out, whirling in an utterly entrancing manner.  Then the butterflies went in separate directions, and the Shiner flitted across to a shrub where she (he was sure it was a ‘she’) perched and looked across at them.

With a shock as if a bucket of icy water had been dashed over him, Hugh realised that Tyrentia’s eyes had followed the Shiner, and that she was also looking straight at her.

‘You … you can see her!’ he blurted.

Tyrentia registered shock. Quickly, she recovered herself. ‘Oh how ****-well marvellous!’ she sneered. ‘Of all the people also to have the Sight, it turns out that the **** loony does! Thrillsville!’

The Shiner seemed to become aware that the two humans were noticing her, and abruptly blinked out. ‘Great,’ Tyrentia said unreasonably, ‘so now you’ve ****-well chased her away.’

Hugh took a deep breath. ‘I think we have a lot to talk about,’ he began, ‘and for your part I would like you to stop appearing so utterly stupid, and start substituting those meaningless words you keep interjecting with something a little more imaginative and intelligent.’ He was quite proud of that speech, and the look of utter surprise it produced was gratifying.

‘Well, **** me!’ she exclaimed. ‘It has a **** brain!’

Hugh shook his head in mock sorrow. ‘You’re not even trying,’ he said. ‘How about, “Well, how remarkable! It is displaying some signs of cerebral activity!” instead?’

Involuntarily, Tyrentia gave a giggle, and then looked surprised at herself. ‘How come your father says you’re so nutty that you have to be on **** drugs all the time?’ she said in a rather nasty tone to make up for the lapse.

‘I must say, I tend to agree with that word applied to the meds,’ Hugh said ruefully. ‘It’s a long story.’

Tyrentia patted the swing seat next to her. She had lost her normal scowl. ‘Sit,’ she commanded. ‘Tell.’

‘I’ve always been able to see the little people,’ Hugh began, ‘but when I was younger they appeared more clearly.  I think my Mom - whose name was actually Fae, which means “fairy” of course - could also see them a bit, because she always seemed to understand. Even then, though, she and Dad would argue about it and he would say I was getting too old to be imagining things. Particularly not anything like fairies! Then, after she died, Dad started getting really worried about it. The trouble was that I’ve always wanted to watch them more than I’ve wanted to do other stuff.’

‘Stupid! You didn’t even have the sense to hide that you were seeing them after you realised that most other people didn’t? That was something I learnt very early on.’

‘Anyway,’ Hugh continued, ‘my dad sent me to a string of doctors and they said I had all sorts of things with funny letters like ADS and ADD and ADHD, and a related condition of Psychotic Sensory Hallucinations which they say is tied to a sort of epilepsy. They tried lots and lots of meds, and then said there was no option but to use the strong ones which do stop the visions, but which make me confused and dizzy all the time. They finally got me convinced that what I was seeing wasn’t real at all, and that all of it was part of a sickness in my head.’

‘Idiot! Of course they’re real! All you had to do was accept that they are part of the everyday scene and look at them only when you had time and opportunity, like I do. I mean, do you stop to look at every insect or bird you see? Same **** …’ she paused guiltily, and then went on with defiance, ‘What I ****-well mean is, it’s exactly the same **** thing.’

‘That was three words you could have saved breath and time on,’ Hugh observed lightly, and prepared to duck. Tyrentia merely glared at him, and he added, ‘More and more, recently, I started to wonder if it really was a sickness after all, and to think that even if it was one it was better than the drugs. I tried to cut down on them whenever I could get away with it.’

Tyrentia looked him up and down. ‘What’s all this nonsense I heard about you being bullied? Surely that’s crazy? I mean, with the size of you it just can’t be possible.’

‘I do get picked on,’ Hugh admitted ruefully. ‘Ridiculous, isn’t it? The thing is, the meds make me appear slow and stupid. And I feel that way too, actually. I think they also make me so lethargic that I don’t really care enough to resist. I hate anything to do with fighting, anyway. Have you never had something like that happen to you?’

‘A few have tried it,’ snorted Tyrentia. ‘They only do it once, though. I just let myself go into berserk mode until they call it quits. The only way they could stop me would be to knock me out.’ She turned her head to glare at him. ‘You’re pathetic. You really need to get a life. For starters, lose the drugs completely.’

‘I already have, as of this morning,’ Hugh announced, and found himself telling her about the dream and what he had done after that. During his recital, he became distracted by a couple of the Shade people, doing something mysterious at the foot of a tree, and he tailed off. Tyrentia brought him up smartly.  ‘Don’t do that!’ she snapped. ‘If you can’t keep your wits about you, you’ll be back taking your drugs before you know what hit you. Anyway, what’s this about Rhino Valley?’

Hugh had to explain everything that had happened over the weekend, while she listened without further interruption other than to glare at him again if his attention wandered in any way. ‘Well, that brings it more-or-less up to date,’ Hugh finally finished.

‘Seriously, seriously weird,’ Tyrentia commented. ‘Things certainly could be a lot less boring around here than I was afraid of. Do you really mean to tell me that you couldn’t see any signs of the Folk in the whole of the Valley except a few of the ones you call Shades? I call them Blackies. That bee-mind thing is out-of-sight-something-else, and I wonder what that voice egging them on could have been? Then, the messages. That must mean that the … the … fairies,’ – she said this almost defiantly – ‘are trying to talk to you.’

Hugh glanced towards the house. ‘I think we are being goggled at,’ he said drily.

Donald and Raine were standing inside the sitting room window, regarding them both with expressions of the greatest astonishment. Then the two vanished, to reappear at the front door and come towards them. ‘I take it you two are getting along?’ Donald asked, a little doubtfully.

‘We found highly entertaining ways to insult each other,’ Hugh replied, and Tyrentia gave her second little giggle of the day.  Her mother looked at her with the sort of expression it usually takes an unexpected jab with something sharp to achieve.

Soon, they all set off for the home of Tyrentia’s grandparents on her mother’s side. It lay a bit further inland up the highway between Durban and the capital city of Pietermaritzburg, and then some distance along a side road lined with trees. They went through electronic security gates, which were normal in these suburbs, to a double-story cottage on the hillside. It had views towards rolling hills so covered in flowering trees and shrubs that neighbouring homes were almost completely hidden.

The couple who greeted them both looked very much like Raine and like one another, and could have been her older brother and sister. Donald introduced them to Hugh as Mr and Mrs Flynn, which struck him as strange. After the greetings were over he whispered to Tyrentia, ‘Why have you and your mom still got that name? What about your father …?’

Her face went into lines of fury. ‘I don’t want to **** talk about it. Ever!’ she raged, and stormed off inside, leaving him to help Donald bring in the suitcases.

CHAPTER 4: School, Clashes, and a Gathering

Donald and Hugh had been invited for supper, and were made to feel completely at home by the Flynns. The only damper was provided by Tyrentia, who still gave an impression of having her own personal thundercloud hovering over her. Things came to a head when she was asked to get a refill of juice for Hugh.

‘Let him ****-well get his own **** juice!’ she snapped.

‘Oh, Tye!’ her mother breathed in horror.

Her grandfather stood up, and said with ominous quietness, ‘To your room; now! Come back only when you are prepared to apologise to all of us, and to undertake that you will not be guilty of any such rudeness again. Language like that is not permitted in this house.’

For an instant, it looked as though she was going to defy him, but then she jumped up, nearly knocking her chair over, and stormed out. Not many seconds later came the loud slamming of a door from upstairs.

Mrs Flynn glared at her daughter. ‘How many times do I have to tell you, you’re making far too many allowances? Tyrentia needs to be …’ then she glanced at Donald and Hugh and tailed off.

Raine shrugged helplessly. ‘She’s been getting worse, lately. The homeschooling isn’t working; I simply can’t keep discipline any more. Oh, I do hope she’ll be able to cope with going to school tomorrow, and can be accepted.’

Hugh was bewildered. ‘School?’ he repeated blankly. ‘What school; where; how …?’

‘Sorry, Hugh,’ Raine said, ‘there are rather a lot of things we haven’t been telling you until we had some idea of whether there might be a chance for them to work out or not. One is that arrangements have been made for her to go to school with you, if she still agrees, and to sit in on your classes for the next three days. The idea will be to see if she can fit in there and be accepted. If so, she will be enrolled, and we will move home to here.’

‘Oh,’ said Hugh. He thought for a minute while carefully resisting the temptation to see if he could spot what some late Shiners in the passage visible through the doorway were up to. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I think I may have upset Tyrentia by asking about her father. I didn’t mean to, but …’

Raine suddenly had a frozen expression. ‘Yes,’ she said tightly. ‘That would account for it.’ Donald and Hugh looked at her expectantly, but it was clear she didn’t intend to say any more on the subject.

Later, while the adults were having coffee and liqueurs, Hugh excused himself and went upstairs. There was only one closed bedroom door, and he knocked on it. ‘I’m sorry if anything I said upset you,’ he said.

‘Go away,’ came in muffled tones.

‘You will be coming to school tomorrow?’ he pleaded.

There was a long silence, and then came: ‘OK; now go away.’

As they were taking their farewells, Mr Flynn said, ‘I apologise for the behaviour of my granddaughter.’

‘I know she’s sorry, but she’s too “otherwise” to admit it,’ Hugh said. ‘Anyway, she will, actually, be going to my school tomorrow.’

He was treated to another look of total amazement.


The next morning Mr Flynn phoned to say he would be driving Tyrentia to the school, and would pick Hugh up on the way. Their arrival and attendance at the first classes went without incident. It was clear that the staff were trying to assess Tyrentia’s ability to some extent, because each of them asked her a number of questions during the lessons. She answered all of them intelligently, and also asked some good ones of her own. In the middle of one of them a Greeny appeared which was behaving comically - it was trying to jump back through the window and kept rising just short of the sill - but she only glanced at it from time to time and did not let her mind wander. Hugh could see how it was possible still to be Aware, but to act normally as far as other people were concerned. If only, he told himself bitterly, he had realised this years ago.

When ‘big break’ came, Hugh started to sneak off somewhere from force of habit. ‘Where are we going?’ Tyrentia asked.

‘Out of the way,’ Hugh said.

‘Why? I want to watch the scene here,’ she declared.

‘Because I … uh … just like to keep away from people,’ Hugh said feebly.

‘Oh, don’t be ridiculous. We’re staying right here,’ she said – not feebly but firmly, and with a withering look.

The inevitable soon happened. Brian spotted them, and he and his gang sauntered over. ‘Heyoo!’ he yelled. ‘Where did you dig up that corpse? Looks like a zombie.’

‘Get **** lost, you **** little squirt,’ Tyrentia said.

‘Wha-a-a-at?’ Brian could scarcely believe his ears.

‘Sorry, about that. What she actually meant to say was go and crawl back into your sewer, you wretchedly insignificant little squirt,’ Hugh explained in a reasonable tone. ‘My name is “Hugh”, by the way.’

‘I must say, your version has a certain added zing,’ Tyrentia said. ‘Only trouble is that these morons won’t understand it.’

Brian was going a mottled red with fury, and his friends were gaping. He took a step forward. ‘Showing off to Corpsy, are you? Well, now we’re going to …’ he snarled.

‘Just a minute,’ Hugh held up a hand. ‘In all the time you’ve known me, has it ever crossed your tiny mind to wonder what would happen if I decided to squash you? All of you, for that matter?’

Brian was beyond reason. He took a wild punch at Hugh, who effortlessly caught his wrist midway, and simply held it there. Spitting with fury, Brian next aimed a kick, but Hugh turned his body slightly and placed the sole of his shoe in the way of the swinging shin. Brian gave a yelp of agony.

Ben had decided to grab Tyrentia as an easier option, but the heel of her hand struck viciously upwards at his nose, and suddenly he wasn’t seeing too well. Sipho wisely chose to stay out of it.

A crowd was beginning to gather, and Hugh simply flung Brian away from him, with such force that the boy sat down hard, and said, ‘Now buzz off and keep out of mischief.’ Then he and Tyrentia strolled away casually.

‘That is an example of what has been bullying you for years?’ she exclaimed incredulously. ‘What a complete idiot you are.’

‘You’ve said it,’ agreed Hugh, with a sudden wonderful feeling of freedom. ‘That was so incredibly easy; and I didn’t even need to hit anyone!’

‘Well, I’m glad I did,’ she said, with savage satisfaction.


In spite of the care he had been taking, something about Hugh’s behaviour must have aroused Donald’s suspicions, because the following morning he told Hugh to take his meds in his presence, and watched him like a hawk as he did so. After that he relaxed, and said, ‘Raine and I are delighted that you two seem to be getting along so well. Are you becoming friends?’

‘No, I don’t think so,’ Hugh replied frankly. ‘She feels a great deal of contempt for me, and there are many things about her I simply don’t like at all. She is utterly selfish and conceited, and wants her own way all the time. She hardly ever lightens up. She obviously likes wallowing in misery and shocking people, and doesn’t show signs of having much sense of humour.’

‘That about sums up what I feel about her. I can’t get through to her at all. At least you seem to, a bit?’ Donald probed.

‘Well,’ said Hugh, thinking carefully. ‘We do have interests in common that we’re both passionate about.’

‘Like, what?’ Donald asked.

‘We see some important things in Nature in the same way – although she has showed me how to see them in a slightly different one,’ Hugh explained. After tying his brains in a knot on that for a while, Donald decided to leave it there.

Actually, Hugh was finding her company increasingly annoying. As her confidence grew in the school environment, Tyrentia was developing a tendency to boss him about more and more. She would do what he wanted to do, or go where he wanted to go, only if it suited her. If she felt like visiting the library, to the library they would go, but if Hugh had an urge to buy something at the tuck shop when she didn’t, then the item would go un-bought. Any thought of doing things on his own was met by a tantrum; as far as she was concerned he was now her personal attendant.

Over the following couple of days she made a point, during breaks, of looking for Brian and his cronies, and if they even said ‘Boo!’ to anyone smaller than themselves she would drag Hugh in that direction to stare at them in a meaningful manner until they moved away hastily.

It was clear that she was making a really good impression at the school. When Hugh remarked as much, she said with a sneer, ‘Oh, it’s so easy to act like the sort of goody-goody they want one to be, if one can be bothered to put one’s mind to it. As for the lessons, they’re pretty elementary stuff, actually.’

‘Why don’t you put on the same act at home, or with other people you meet, then?’ Hugh asked.

Tyrentia looked genuinely puzzled. ‘Why would I need to waste the effort?’

‘It’d make life easier for your mom and grandparents, for one thing,’ Hugh pointed out.

‘I couldn’t really care about that,’ she said dismissively.

Some of the other boys and girls in the class, who had either ignored or teased Hugh for years, were now making friendly approaches, but Tyrentia tended to brush these off – amazingly enough, without causing offence.

The main consolation in her company was in being able to compare notes on the Little Folk. It was strange to learn that there were differences in the way they saw them. Apparently Tyrentia was able to view them as fairly detailed little figures, even to describing items of clothing, while Hugh could mostly only make out forms and shapes and colours.

Tyrentia gave an impression of holding Hugh personally responsible for the fact that he had received no further ‘messages’, and she kept urging him to do something about it. ‘Like what?’ he had asked, and she vaguely replied that he should try and send out questions of his own. When he said he had no idea how to start, she became even more contemptuous than usual.


On Thursday it was arranged that Hugh and Tyrentia would catch the bus from school to the Redcorn home, where Raine and her parents would join them for supper after Donald got home from work.

After Hugh had let them in and they had freshened up, Hugh checked that their live-in housekeeper, a glum but efficient lady inappropriately named Happiness, had everything under control for the evening. Then Tyrentia demanded, ‘You’d better show me over the place. It looks as though it will probably become my home, too, unless my mother starts seeing some sense.’

Hugh bristled. ‘What’s wrong with my dad?’

‘He’s a man; **** useless, nasty creatures, all of them,’ she snapped.

Hugh lost his temper. It was something he hardly ever did, and not at all when he had been on meds, but he made up for it now by doing a thorough job. ‘One of the things that nasty, useless creature did for me,’ he raged, ‘was to show me that swearing is a nasty useless habit which shows neglect of imagination and of being too lazy to look for decent words. It’s one of those nasty useless things people do to be different and daring, but which makes them all the same and pathetic. So get this: either you give it up or I’m giving up having anything to do with you. Otherwise I’d be doing some different giving - giving you a good spanking! Trouble is, my nasty useless dad thinks that’s wrong, too.’ White and shaking, he spun on his heel and stormed off.

Some fifteen minutes later she found him, still in school uniform, crouched down looking beneath a group of petunias, where a number of Greenies were flocked round a Shiny and doing something he couldn’t quite make out. ‘Isn’t it funny the way they often show no signs of knowing they’re being watched, even close up like that?’ she said, in a voice which was trying to be casual but had a slight wobble in it.

Hugh didn’t even look up at her.

She took a deep breath. ‘OK; deal. I’ll stop it with the language if you’re stupid enough to feel that way about it. I bet I make a better job of stopping than you are of not showing that you see what you’re seeing. Now, will you show me round?’

Sighing, Hugh got to his feet. He supposed that was as close to an apology as Tyrentia was ever likely to offer, and at least she had shown some manners in not having wandered all over the place on her own as he might have expected her to do.

‘You’ve seen most of the front parts, but there is still what we call the library. It’s more of a study, really, but it does have a lot of bookshelves. Through here.’ She spent some time looking at the books, and they found that they had some favourite writers in common. Then he showed her the three bedrooms, and two extra junk rooms which could also become bedrooms in need. ‘We’ve certainly got lots of space,’ he said. ‘This place was built when people used to entertain a lot of guests, or maybe they just had very big families.’

Next he took her to the change rooms next to the swimming pool, and then the workshop adjoining the garage where he kept his collection of tools. Her eyes went to his mountain bike on a rack, and a tone of more enthusiasm than he had ever heard from her came into her voice. ‘Hey,’ she said, ‘that looks like the same model as mine. Three-chainring, eight-sprocket, giving about eighteen distinct gear ratios, right? No, wait, you’ve also got the fourth oversize chainring for doing the suicide thing downhill! Exactly the same!’

Hugh was amazed. ‘Yours is upcountry?’ he asked. ‘How soon could you get it here?’

‘As a matter of fact,’ she said, ‘it is right here already, in Granddad’s garage. It just wasn’t safe to ride it where we’ve been staying after … lately, so we sent it here. I’ve ridden it quite a lot on visits, since.’

‘Why do I get the feeling some cycling is on the cards?’ Hugh laughed. ‘Have you been along Durban Beachfront to the Stadium? Or, on the trail through …?’

‘Does the garden end down there, below the pool?’ Tyrentia broke in suddenly.

‘No; beyond those shrubs is the wild part leading down to a little stream. Why?’

‘Let’s go down there. Look,’ and she pointed.

‘That certainly is an unusually large group of them,’ Hugh said wonderingly. What can so many be doing there together?’

‘Can’t you see?’ Tyrentia said impatiently. ‘They’re all beckoning – at us!’

CHAPTER 5: The Abandoned Valley and a New Home

Dengana was crying again.

On top of all the other tragedies, there had been another terrible shock awaiting the surviving villagers. All the young boys who had been looking after their various herds had not returned. Dengana’s younger brother, Delani, was one of those missing.

Dengana had been one of those to go and search for them. The grazing area where he had last seen his brother had no trace of boy or cattle, and he had gone to visit or overlook all the other places where they sometimes took them, but without success.

Mpilo, the headman’s brother, returned to the headman’s farm but then came back again in even more distress.  ‘All cattle and horses also gone from farm, same like here, same like Old Frogs! Fence flat; no cattle,’ he yelled.

The ‘fence flat’ registered suddenly with Dengana. He stopped crying and said a number of times, ‘That mean they go somewhere, not taken by tokoloshe,’ but nobody was listening. Instead, everyone was taken up with frenzied preparations to leave the accursed area.

The boy wanted to curl into a ball and sleep. He felt physically and emotionally drained. It took a great effort of will to force himself to follow up on his hunch. He made that effort. When Mpilo yet again went back to the farm, which was one of those furthest up the valley, he had a stowaway.

As soon as the coast was clear, Dengana sneaked out of the back of the ATV. He debated whether to try and speak to Mpilo now that he was alone, but could see that he was already in a frenzy of gathering belongings and probably still wouldn’t listen. At a jog, he made his way across the grazing areas to where he could see that a good length of fence had simply been pushed over, as if by dozens of cows working in concert. He gave some clicks of satisfaction when he saw, on the other side, clear indications of the passage of the herd. The signs were easy to follow, so he did.

He grew increasingly excited as other converging sets of tracks became visible on either side, showing that other groups of animals had either joined the herd, or had followed the same route. More flattened fences marked the way, until the broad highway of tracks went upwards towards the mountains and outside of any fenced areas.

Something which cheered him up enormously was when, in a few places where softer ground had been churned up by the hooves, he could make out the imprints of small bare feet which had to have been made after the cattle passed. From that, he was confident that his brother and the others were alive, and following the runaways.

He had been following for a couple of hours, now along a section that sloped ever upwards towards a break between mountain summits, when a group of figures coming towards him made him cry out with joy. Delani came rushing down towards him, to hug him as if he would never let go.

He greeted the others; then one a little older than himself, Guduza, said to him, ‘The cattle all run, run, run. Horses, sheep, goats go with them. All stay together. We follow long time. They have stopped behind the mountain. They will not come back. We shout; we hit them with sticks, we throw stones; they only go other way. We go back now, tell fathers.’

Guduza and all of the others had mothers or sisters or both who had been at the river. One of the boys had a father who had been at the Place of Two Old Frogs. Dengana wished he could crawl into a hole and stay there rather than having to break the awful news to all of them. It had to be done, though, and somehow he managed to do it.


The return of the herders lifted a little of the gloom of the remaining villagers. After the boys had got as far as the farm, an astonished Mpilo had piled the still-wailing group into the ATV for the last stretch of the way back.

The headman ordered that Guduza and another older boy, Njabulo, whose normally merry disposition fitted the meaning of his name, would set out early next morning, fully provisioned for a few days, to find and keep track of the herd. Mpilo would drop them off at the nearest point to the animals which the vehicle could reach.

First priority in all their minds, though, was to leave. The headman went on a journey the next morning, and returned with arrangements already made with another Ndhlovu ‘brother’ (cousin) whose farm and village were some thirty kilometres away. They would all move there, for the time being at least. The area had plenty of grazing, and his relative welcomed the thought of his herd being increased so greatly, even if it turned out to be temporary. Greater numbers of cattle on his land meant prestige, in his world.

Preparations for departure went amazingly quickly. By the next evening, some families had already packed their belongings and had found ways to transport them in their own or borrowed vehicles.

Before the first ones left, though, the headman called a meeting of everyone, and said, ‘What has happened to us in this place is family business, and must not be told to anyone outside the family. Do you understand well?’ He glared at the younger members, including Dengana. ‘Do you children understand well? No word must pass.’ They all nodded.

Therefore, the following day when Dengana and his family were helped with changing their wheel by Donald, Dengana had not been able to be frank with his old friend Hugh, but he had warned him as much as he dared.


The following few days were spent in settling in to their new home area, which was called Sisebenzela Kahle (working well), but the Kahle was generally left off. It was amazing how easily the extra numbers were absorbed into that community, and how soon new huts started to sprout.

Guduza found enough mobile phone reception on the mountain to report that it was urgent to do something about the livestock. Some men from Lesotho, over the border, were stating that the animals were now in their land and were trying to claim them. They would have done so, had it not been that the first part of the route they needed to follow was back towards Rhino Valley, and all the animals refused to budge in that direction.

Dengana was sent as part of a large group from their new village, with the joint tasks of discouraging any animal-grabs, and of herding the animals to the new location. There were no roads in that area, so the route had to be along the plateau behind the line of mountains, and then back over them or through them again.

Having proved himself to have a good eye as a pathfinder, Dengana was tasked with scouting a route. He was proud of the one he found, which enabled even the cows with half a brain and four left feet to get to the destination safely.

On the final stages of the journey, he led them down a long, gently sloping hillside overlooking Sisebenzela. While he was waiting for the herd to catch up, he noticed one of the Shining Ones coming quite close to him and then retreating, as if trying to entice him to follow.

This reminded him that he had been having a number of strange dreams over the past few nights, featuring a Shining One who looked like a person and who wanted him to do something which involved a return to Rhino Valley. The very thought made him shudder.

However, his curiosity was aroused. Glancing back to see that he had time for a detour, he followed for a while until he saw a rather strange ring of flowers ahead of him. Then he paused, and the Shining One moved back and forth rather agitatedly.

Dengana glanced back up the hill again. The herd was closer, and he realised it was time to pick the final stages of the route. It looked straightforward enough, but it would be dreadful if lack of dedication meant they came across some obstacle or danger he should have spotted. Making a mental note to come and have another look at the flower ring when he had time, he returned to his duty.

When he glanced over his shoulder, he could make out the Shining One zipping around in something of a frenzy.


The following day was rather frantic. There were plenty of volunteers for herd duty, but he was expected to help fetch and carry for the beginnings of building operations. He also had to visit the nearest farm school with his brother, so that they could be enrolled. The whole process took up the entire Wednesday afternoon.

At the end of it, he and Delani had both been accepted, and would start on the next Tuesday, as Monday was a holiday.

The following day Dengana decided he deserved a break. He tried to sneak out on his bicycle, but couldn’t get at it without being noticed. ‘Need to keep it somewhere more out of the way,’ he resolved disgustedly.

He set out on foot instead, and wandered up the hillside overlooking the village. After he had climbed some distance up, he remembered the strange Shining One he imagined he had seen a couple of days ago, and wondered if he could find the place again where the flowers grew in a circle.

Hardly had the thought passed through his mind when a Shining one was there again, behaving in the same way as before. He followed with a mixture of fascination and fear. This certainly wasn’t imagination - but how did he know the thing wasn’t dangerous? Was it trying to make him follow again?

Sure enough, the Shining One went through all the indications of wanting to lead him, and again they soon came near the flower circle, still looking exactly as it had a couple of days ago. Now, when he looked closely, the Shining One had changed to the appearance of a very small person who was beckoning to him to come inside the ring.

It was different to the tokoloshe he had seen with the leopard, though. That had been dark, but did not look like one of his own race. This one, on the other hand, did look like one of his people, but with a glow to it. It was all most confusing.

Half of him wanted to go forward, but the other half wanted him to run away like mad and keep running. He stood frozen, and then half-turned to do a dash. At this, the Shining One stepped further into the ring and vanished.

Dengana stood; staring.

Abruptly, the Shining One returned. She - he could see her clearly enough now to tell that a ‘she’ is what she was - had another with her.

The shock of seeing that ‘other’ nearly caused him to pass out.

CHAPTER 6: The Ring and Between

Hugh could indeed see that the mixed group of fairy folk was staying together in one spot as he and Tyrentia made their way down towards them. Only when they got within a few paces of them did they move on ahead. Now, Hugh could make out more detail in two or three of the larger ones he called Glows - enough for him to discern the shapes of small people rather than blurs of light - and they did seem to be gesturing them to follow.

In fact, the further they led into the wooded area, the clearer each individual became. It was almost as he remembered seeing them when he was much younger. Now he could easily tell that they were glancing back every few seconds to see that the humans were still following.

They led them to a small clearing alongside the stream. It had a perimeter of small flowers round it that Hugh could not remember noticing there before. The group of little figures moved to the far side, and beckoned again until boy and girl joined them there. Almost immediately, the two became aware that some sort of transparent wall of a bubble-like substance had formed just behind the fairies – and the group walked straight into it and vanished, with the exception of two Glows who carried on beckoning and then seemed to be trying to shepherd them in that direction.

Taking a deep breath, Hugh stepped towards it with Tyrentia at his side. He was only vaguely conscious of the fact that she had grabbed his arm and was holding onto it hard. They moved to the other side of the ‘bubble’ – and then so many changes happened that it was impossible to take them in unless in small doses.

For one thing, the Glows, after some initial fuzziness, had settled into fairly normal human-type shapes, but now they were only slightly shorter than the two humans. Then they noticed how enormous everything else on this other side appeared to be, and realisation came. ‘We’ve shrunk to their size!’ Tyrentia squeaked.

‘You haven’t really shrunk, as such; not as such,’ said the female of the Glows. Both she and the male one with her now looked a lot like golden versions of the usual depictions of fairies illustrated in children’s stories. ‘You’ve simply taken on your Faie forms. You both have ancestry which allows your Life Forces to Adapt; to Adapt. Welcome to our Link in the Breena Ring Chain.  Our one is called Glim Ring. We will be your guides here; your guides. This is Felin, and I am Avinia.’ She turned and said in an aside to Felin, ‘See, I told you they would be a Highest Prince and Princess here; be them here.’

‘Their Daoine forms look older than their Terran ones,’ Felin remarked to her casually.  

Somehow, Tyrentia stopped gaping and found her voice again. ‘Glimmering?’ she repeated.

‘No,’ said the Glow. ‘The Ring is called Glim.’

‘How …?’ began Hugh, and then stuck trying to decide which of about a hundred questions to ask first. Tyrentia glanced at him, and then released his arm abruptly and stepped back to stare at him with an amazed expression. He stared back with equal amazement.

Both were quite recognisably themselves. Hugh was still burly, and still with his ruddy complexion, reddish hair, and dark eyes. Tyrentia had kept her long, very black hair, exceptionally fair complexion, and startling blue eyes. However, their features had been fined down to give sharper angles and planes. They now both simply looked more fairy-like, somehow, but at the same time more grown-up.

Also, they glowed.

Then each noticed, on the other, butterfly-like wings sprouting from somewhere on their backs, and both glanced over their shoulders suddenly and gave an experimental flap to see if they had them too and they worked. They did, and they did. It was as easy as lifting a finger. All it needed was to decide to do it.

Hugh was definitely no longer in his school uniform; nor did Tyrentia have the skirt and blouse she had been wearing to school during the ‘trial’ period. After some blinking they made out that they appeared to be wearing versions of what Felin and Avinia had on. – a kind of body-suit and a long flowing dress, respectively. The colours still seemed to be making up their minds, and changed from one to another.

‘I wish you’d stop that,’ Hugh said. ‘You’re making my eyes go funny. Nifty outfit, though.’

‘They were funny to start off with,’ Tyrentia retorted with what looked suspiciously like an admiring glance at his own appearance. ‘Don’t bother with trying to find a shade to suit you. None of them will.’

‘Have you still got legs down there?’ Hugh asked, and grinned at her furious expression after she couldn’t stop herself from checking.

‘Of course, something you need to know from the start, and then ignore, is that you aren’t really seeing exactly what you think you’re seeing,’ Felin addressed them directly for the first time. He got stared at most blankly, and smiled in a way that somehow reminded them of a cat.

‘Being in a completely different dimension,’ he went on, ‘all reality here operates on its own set of rules quite distinct from the ones in force in yours. However, your senses compensate by translating everything into sounds and images familiar to you from your own experiences or books or legends or whatever, just as they do in reverse for us when we visit your world.’

Avinia nodded. ‘Gradually, you’ll probably continue your Adapting. You’ll continue. Then you’ll sense things more as they really are. It doesn’t really matter.’

Neither of them looked convinced about that, so she went on, ‘I mean, say for instance that in your dimension you are seeing a charging rhinoceros as a hippopotamus, you’ll still be trying to get out of the way, out of the way, won’t you?’ Hugh noticed that she spoke in quick little bursts which reminded him of something he couldn’t quite place.

‘If it came to trying to avoid teeth when one should be dodging a horn, it could make a difference,’ Felin said with another smile.

‘Oh, don’t be picky-picky; don’t be picky!’ snapped Avinia.

Hugh and Tyrentia now began taking in more small doses of information. They were standing at one end of a ring of flowers which must correspond to the one on ‘their’ side of the wall, but now naturally looked far larger. Still inside it was the group of fairy creatures which had also been part of the invitation party. They were made up of many different kinds of little persons. The Greenies appeared to be amiable goblins of some kind, the Shiners were slightly smaller and silvery versions of Felin and Avinia, and there were any number of others larger, smaller, or medium, who looked as though they must be elves and sprites and pixies.

There was no stream beyond this flower ring. Instead stretched a clearing of tall blades of grass, with a dense group of enormous-looking trees on the far side. The open part was crowded with what could have been hundreds more of the Little Folk, seated on various plants or flitting about in the air, and all goggling at them. Avinia turned towards them and waved an imperious hand. ‘Right; you’ve seen them,’ she called. ‘Now, scoot; now scoot!’ With obvious reluctance the crowd flew or scuttled off in all directions with many a backward glance, eventually vanishing into the grass or the trees, depending on whether they were flying types or not.

‘Good,’ said Felin, lounging back against the conveniently trailing branch of a shrub. ‘Now, as soon as you’re ready we can begin our journey.’

‘Journey?’ came in a startled chorus from Hugh and Tyrentia; then he added, ‘How far?’ and she asked, ‘Where to?’ both at the same time.

‘It will depend on how long it takes to meet the other one, the other one,’ Avinia said, ‘and then how soon we can travel from there to get to the Queen. Shouldn’t take more than a few days, anyway; a few days. A week or so at the most.’

‘We can’t do that,’ said Hugh. ‘My dad … and her mom … would be frantic.’

‘Oh, who cares about that?’ Tyrentia said in a petulant tone. ‘This is simply fantastic!’

‘I care; and you should, too,’ Hugh said frostily.

The two fairies glanced at her with disapproval, and then Felin spoke again: ‘Oh, you don’t need to worry about the time side of things. That operates completely differently between the dimensions. If we judge things properly, it will probably mean you’ll return to yours only about an hour after you left.’

‘Good,’ Hugh nodded, becoming excited. ‘Now, what on earth – or wherever we are now - is all this about?’

‘All we can tell you,’ Felin replied, ‘is that we badly need some help you may be able to give us using your special talents, but that only the Breena Queen of Queens, our Supreme Queen Aiennea in Honour Ring, can explain it to you. She could have come to meet you, of course, but she would prefer it if you travel to see her at Aiennea Palace. The trip will give you a chance to become more familiar with Glim and our way of life here – at least, within the limitations of your senses.’

‘The thing is, though,’ Avinia added to Tyrentia, ‘we’re not quite sure about you. We know that Hugh and the other can do it; can do it. We’re gambling that your having power to Adapt isn’t coincidence. Your coming into the picture just now must be significant. We may be wrong, though; be wrong.’

‘Who is the other one?’ Hugh asked.

‘Lusi has gone to find this one. She and I have a Trace Link to let us know where to meet; to meet,’ was the only reply. ‘Now, try flying,’ and a second later Avinia and Felin were airborne.

Tyrentia suddenly shot up, glanced down, and went, ‘Eek!’ before she realised that she could rely on her wings to keep her up there.

Hugh tried a few flaps, and wondered how much force to apply, and where it should be applied, to take off. The only result was that he moved some air. Then he saw that he was being left behind, and his sudden urge to follow was all it required for him to start doing so. It was as natural as walking. He found within seconds that he only came unstuck, or went off course, when he actually tried to do the movements consciously. Otherwise, he simply willed himself to fly in a certain direction and at a certain speed, and his wings responded. Their guides promptly set off across the field, and he and Tyrentia flew after them with increasing confidence.

Remembering what Felin had said, he asked as he caught up with him, ‘Is flying like this using wings also a sort of illusion to simplify what is really happening?’

‘Actually, yes; but it’s one most of us share. Even the Daoine princes and princesses like us aren’t advanced enough to understand it properly, so we also simplify it in our minds as you are doing,’ Felin said.

Suddenly Avinia stopped in midair and started hovering, so that the others nearly bumped into her. ‘Wait,’ she said, when they hovered with her. ‘While we’re still so near the Interface, shouldn’t we do a test; a test? We should make sure these two can return easily.’

‘Isn’t it rather too soon to try that out?’ Felin sounded worried.

‘No, I don’t think so. At the same time, we can find out if they can stay Between. They may want to or need to; need to.’ She zoomed back in the direction of where the flower ring was still in view.

‘Definitely too soon,’ Felin grumbled, but he followed and so the other two did as well.

They landed well forward in the ring, close to the ‘bubble’ wall. ‘Both of you, go straight through,’ Avinia instructed. ‘Then come right back; right back.’

Together, Hugh and Tyrentia stepped through the wall – and nearly died of fright. As if a peculiar sensation of expanding wasn’t enough on its own, a deafeningly raucous ‘Haaaaa!’ and a furious clapping sound also made their arrival definitely unpleasant. They recovered their wits in time to see a terrified hadeda ibis flapping his way through the treetops above them.

Pausing only to check that they were their normal non-fairy selves, and still shaking, they went back through again.

‘Good; good,’ said Avinia. ‘Poor bird. I must comfort him. Anyway, now comes a harder part. You must follow me through. This time, you must concentrate on staying as you are now; as you are. You must go to Between.’

‘Keep your eyes on us as we go through,’ Felin added in a doubtful voice. ‘If we start looking blurred to you, you’ll know you’re going wrong.’

The other three did start going into blurs and Hugh couldn’t work out how to stop them. He arrived on the other side alone. Alone, that is, apart from three Glows he could see just ahead. Back they went again.

‘You weren’t trying!’ Tyrentia accused him, and added maliciously, ‘Why don’t you fly through from high up? Your sense of self-preservation will probably make sure you don’t change.’

‘No!’ yelled Felin and Avinia together, but Hugh, in a mood of recklessness, was already doing it. It worked. He came through to a perfectly normal sight of the other three below him, and a quite abnormal and fuzzy sight of his own world. Apart from their sudden enormous size, trees and plants looked as he was accustomed to seeing them, if a bit blurred, but houses and anything man-made were only vague outlines.

The ibis, looking down suspiciously from a treetop, lost all blurring when Avinia got near it, though. ‘There, there,’ she said, hugging it. ‘Fright all gone away; gone away.’ The bird rubbed his head fondly against her. The sight of Hugh and Tyrentia coming up as well did not disturb it, but it cast a wary eye on Felin. ‘Birds are my special thing,’ Avinia explained. ‘Felin’s, however, are cats.’

They would have liked to have stayed exploring their own world from this different perspective for much longer, but now Felin put his foot down – but not the way he would have done to stop flying. ‘We need to get on with our journey,’ he insisted, ‘and time spent Between takes up time on your side as well.’

Now they set off properly after crossing through again, and flew non-stop for a good distance. Tyrentia was accepting it fairly matter-of-factly, but Hugh was completely overcome with the wonder of the sensations. ‘No human can really have the experience of a bird,’ he enthused, ‘as we are doing now. Parachuting, paragliding, ballooning, or any kinds of aircraft simply can’t give the same. I think it is the most glorious, wonderful feeling there is.’

He was so taken with it that he started breaking off into little aerobatic trials until Avinia became irritated with him. ‘Plenty of chance for things like that later,’ she snapped. ‘Fairies tire out just as easily as humans.  Keep your energy for the journey; the journey.’

From the air they saw a lot of activity by all sorts of little people. There were villages where mainly one kind or another of those who didn’t fly were found together.  It appeared that the flying fairy types mainly went in for tree houses.  

Something which struck Hugh was how normal all their activities were in many ways. They were working, building and gathering food just as humans did. The idea that their lives were spent in dancing and feasting, having fun and playing tricks was obviously far from the truth.

There were also any number of animals, birds and insects, all looking enormous. The larger ones all appeared to keep politely away from the fairy areas. Hugh wanted to ask about this, but one thing or another prevented him each time he remembered, and when he could have asked he had forgotten he wanted to.

Well before the sun set – this looked like a normal sun which set in quite a normal way to produce a normal night - Felin had led them to a large tree-house inn which he told them catered mainly for travellers on their way to visit the Queen of Glit, and which had small - even for here - but comfortable rooms for all of them. The fairy innkeepers and helpers were quite literally in a flutter of excitement at having a pair each of princes and princesses as guests.  They asked numerous questions, which were mainly given wordy answers which said nothing by Felin, or brief answers in spurts, which said even less, by Avinia.

The supper was delicious, even if the two ex-humans weren’t always too sure what they were eating, but a certain dizziness afterwards made Hugh suspect that the nectar wine wasn’t as innocent as it had appeared. He tumbled into bed fully clothed, and fell asleep almost immediately.

CHAPTER 7: A Walking Tour, Under, and Over


reakfast featured scrambled egg. Apparently only one egg had been needed to feed everyone and leave something over as a basis for lunch and supper. Most creatures and plants in Glim did not appear to be scaled down from the sizes the two visitors were accustomed to. They had noticed, though, that tiny plant varieties were favoured for cultivation in village gardens.

They got a chance to see these more closely quite soon. When they set out, Felin said, ‘The Queen wanted us to walk for a while, so that you can get a feel for Glim at ground level. Also, it will give us a better chance to tell you more. Talking isn’t quite as easy while flying, as you will have noticed.’

‘That is ridiculous,’ Tyrentia protested petulantly. ‘If one can fly, why walk?’ Three sets of dirty looks seemed to get through to her, though, and she said no more but followed with a scowl.

‘Something I’ve been wondering about,’ Hugh said as they set off along a wide lane which would hardly even have been a path back at home, ‘is why I haven’t noticed any of the shiny black sort of fairies – I’ve been calling them Shades – since we got here?’

‘Yes, the Darxem you mean; the Darxem,’ Avinia answered. ‘The males are called Darxds and the females Darxtas. There are usually quite a number of them here, of them here, as well as Darxen creatures. Their home is Darx Circle, though. We’ve been seeing fewer of them lately; of them lately. Not sure why.’

‘Darx is one big Magic Circle, with a king,’ Felin added to this, ‘whereas our Rings are divided into many far smaller ones and we have queens for each. Their folk are not too fond of our kind of light. Although they do appear quite often in our daylight time, they prefer night or at least not having actual sunlight.’

Tyrentia was hardly listening. ‘Why do we scuttle along like **… - er, I mean - like stupid beetles?’ she asked, and then gave a slightly guilty glance at Hugh for her near-lapse.

Hugh could see what she meant. A walk, for fairies, apparently had many more steps in it than for humans; in fact, quite a good number per second. Being so much shorter, the legs didn’t have nearly as far to go, so they got there a lot sooner. Then the next leg had to take over briskly to prevent toppling forward onto one’s nose. ‘It looks as though you two take fewer steps than we do,’ he observed.

Felin turned round to look at him. ‘Ah,’ he said. ‘You are holding your wings in a way that slows you down. Angle them like this and they give some lift when you move forward, so that you travel further with each step.’

When Tyrentia tried it, she moved too fast and actually started gliding in short bursts. The two fairies regarded this as amusing, but being laughed at was obviously not something she enjoyed. Her expression somehow managed to become even sourer than before, which was quite a feat.

Hugh’s mind still kept tying itself up on what Felin had told them about reality. ‘That means natural laws of resistance and aerodynamics and stuff apply here?’ he said. ‘I thought everything we’re seeing isn’t as it really is?’

Felin nodded. ‘The different reality here doesn’t work exactly the same way, but close enough for you to cope with all that is really happening if you carry on sensing everything based on what is familiar to you.’ Hugh grappled with that for a while, and then decided to think of other things before he got even more confused than he already was.

They soon realised why it had been thought a good idea for them to do some travel on the ground. From the air, size differences were not as apparent, and it became clear that such differences were the quickest way of telling the various kinds of fairy folk apart. A visit to a village of elves, for example showed that the elves were about twice their own present sizes, or about knee-high to a human. Pixies, on the other hand, were a good deal smaller than they were.

The features of the elves were even pointier than those their own fairy forms had now assumed, and the elf ears gave an appearance which corresponded rather well with all the traditional reports of how they looked. All those they saw were particularly industrious, with every one of them making something, or tending something, or cleaning and polishing something.

As with all the villages they were to come across, they could see that every effort had been made to use growing things as houses, or to disrupt the ground as little as possible when building with stone or adapting fallen tree trunks. Many homes were built into hillsides using caves as part of them.

Each set of inhabitants looked at them curiously, waved, called out friendly greetings, and wanted to talk to them, but every time Felin and Avinia would wave back smiling, but would also make ‘shoo-ing’ gestures. These were respected good-naturedly. ‘Pity we can’t chat; can’t chat.’ Avinia explained. ‘We really don’t have enough time.’

A number of the pixies in the first of their villages they walked through were also engaged in work of some kind, but a far greater proportion were playing various games, and having fun generally.

Not much distance after passing through that village, they entered another similar one. ‘Oh, more pixies,’ Hugh observed brightly.

Avinia took a dim view of the wattage of his brightness. ‘These are nixies. Can’t you tell the difference?’

‘No,’ said Hugh. ‘I thought they were the same thing, anyway.’

‘They certainly aren’t. To start w…’ Felin started helpfully, but Tyrentia cut him off and he stopped with a start.

‘Who cares?’ she snapped. ‘What does it matter whether we can tell the difference between stupid pixies and nixies or not? I’ve just about had it with all of this. We walk when we could fly, when we’re supposed to be in a hurry to do something. Nobody tells us what the “something” is supposed to be. We look at all sorts of stuff that doesn’t matter a bit, and then you want us to learn about it? Well, you can … ’

Felin pounced on her. At least, the way he was suddenly right in front of her made it seem as if he had. ‘I’m sure you can find your way back to where you came into the Ring,’ he said in a cat-like growl. ‘Ask for directions if you can’t. I’ve had doubts about you from the start. It’s quite clear that you aren’t really interested in helping us, and that you won’t be of much use anyway. You may as well leave, now.’

Tyrentia had a face which couldn’t really get any whiter than it already was, but apparently shock had the effect of making hers go red. Also, her eyes widened, and she gaped. She took a deep breath, and Hugh braced himself for the explosion.

Then she let most of it out again, and said in a small voice, ‘I don’t want to go back. I want to keep on with you.’ On its own, this wasn’t much of an apology or argument, but what probably decided Felin in her favour was that a few tears came to her eyes which she brushed away angrily. He gave a brief nod, and they set off again.

Now, when the roadway became more of a path and they split into pairs, Tyrentia tried to stay with Avinia, but (as Hugh had noticed before) the latter tended to stick at his side. He didn’t mind at all. She was quite lovely, and seemed a truly nice person – or fairy. He was becoming accustomed to the fact that her dress had assumed vivid colours which varied according to whim, or mood, or the way he was seeing them. She moved in an abrupt, almost jerky, manner, which was enchantingly bird-like. Her expression was merry, and her eyes were bright and alert.

Also, as had mostly been the case before, Felin remained doggedly (not quite the right description for Felin, but still) close to Tyrentia, try as she did to move away from him.  At one stage, when a gap had opened between the two pairs, Hugh whispered to Avinia, ‘Has Felin been told to pay special attention to her?’

Avinia gave a grin. ‘Maybe,’ was all she would say. He deduced logically, then, that he was her special responsibility, which wouldn’t suit Tyrentia in the least.

Noticing a particularly bright colour combination in Avinia’s dress made him glance down at his own clothing. It looked as if it had settled to a shimmering black, which reminded him a bit of the Darxem he had seen. Over his shoulder, he could see that Tyrentia’s was a slightly depressing dark blue. Felin’s costume, however, had assumed some striking tabby markings.

The farther they walked, the further their knowledge of all sorts of little aspects of this land increased, but the more unanswered questions accumulated. There simply wasn’t time to ask them all. Then it was Tyrentia who posed one which, indirectly, solved what he had been worrying about since the previous day.

‘Avinia,’ she called forward, ‘I thought fairies were all supposed to do magic, and that fairyland …’

‘Breena,’ Felin corrected.

‘… that Breena was supposed to be filled with magic?’

‘It is, indeed,’ Felin assured her. ‘It relies on magic for its very existence, and most of us are able to use magic. Some, only the most basic kinds, and others right up to Highest Magic. We use it as sparingly as possible, though. As I said, a great deal is needed for our Rings to exist at all, and then we need to do important things like protecting our own living areas and roadways from animals or insects which might harm us. We have a constantly renewed spell around each village or palace.’

‘Ah,’ said Hugh. ‘That explains why we can see all of those creatures from the air, but not while on the road or in village areas. Surely it would take a lot to protect a town or city, though?’

‘We don’t do those; don’t have those,’ Avinia said. ‘Small villages are best. Palaces are for lots living together. Those are built in the most suitable parts. Ones where they will intrude least on the countryside. Like flattening the tops of steep hills. Little would grow there, anyway.’

Just when Hugh thought he was getting some idea of how things worked, Felin had to throw his mind into confusion again by adding, ‘Of course, many of those animals or insects are actually connected through the Interface, and are more in your world than ours.  That doesn’t stop them from being dangerous to us, though.’

The path took them alongside a face of rock dotted with cave entrances. ‘This village is called … began Felin, but Tyrentia cut in.

‘What village?’ she asked crossly.

Hugh raised his eyebrows at Avinia, who gestured towards the caves. ‘Cobleys,’ she said. ‘They like living and working underground; like it underground.’

With that, a number of greenish goblin-like fairies started popping out of holes and calling greetings while blinking at them in a dazzled manner. Before they could be waved away, Hugh said eagerly, ‘Can I please have a look inside?’

There was a rush of cobleys to conduct him, all talking at once, and he vanished into the nearest entrance with them. Calling protests about not having the time, Avinia and Felin followed, while Tyrentia trailed behind, muttering.

Hugh was entranced with the comfortable living quarters set fairly well back from the entrances. Most of the homes had a tunnel instead of a back door, and a mine instead of a back garden. There wasn’t much light in the homes, and none at all in the tunnels, but Hugh ventured some way down the one at the back of the third home they visited without bothering to wait for Avinia to give him a lesson on how to increase their Glow potential, as Felin did for Tyrentia. ‘S’pose it comes in handy for dark places if one can become one’s own lamp,’ she admitted grudgingly. Her mood, though, failed to match her increased brightness.

When they were led to the communal tunnel, which the cobleys told them was linked to the main natural cave system, there was no holding Hugh back. He went off eagerly without even seeing whether the others would follow or not, so soon they gave up and didn’t.

He found that there was a strange dark sort of light in the passages and chambers, which didn’t need either lightening up or lighting up. It was there, and it worked. Whole gigantic systems, with spectacular stalagmites and stalactites, were visible to him without any sign of artificial or magic lamps. When he asked the cobleys about it, they were a bit vague and explained that, for them, that was simply how it was. ‘You must have some cobley in you,’ his main guide remarked casually.

Their mining operations were done with great care to leave little trace of where they had been excavating. ‘We mainly look for loose rock in areas which won’t be weakened when it is taken out,’ they explained.

After a couple of hours he came back enthusing about the wonderful sights he had seen, and apparently failed to notice that he was getting a reception which would have converted the sun into an icicle. Not that there was much sun left to convert, by that time. ‘Nearly sunset; sunset,’ snapped Avinia, waving a hand towards it. ‘We’ll be late at the next inn, which is in Glit Ring. We’d better start flying; start flying.’

Tyrentia was pleased that they were flying at last, but not that they had taken so long to do it. She reminded Hugh a bit of a fast-moving thundercloud when she took off.

Soon the four were winging their way, following the road they had been on but well above it. Not long after, they came to a bubble wall. It hadn’t been apparent from a distance, but suddenly it was ahead of them … and then behind them. The ‘pop’ was hardly noticeable.

‘Glit Ring,’ Felin announced unnecessarily. Hugh smiled to note that in spite of the late hour, this land did appear to have some extra shine to it. As twilight deepened, Felin said at last, ‘Ah, I know that forest shape. Not too far, now.’

Something caught Hugh’s eye and he glanced in that direction. ‘Look out; we’re being attacked!’ he yelled, pointing at the enormous black dragon-like shape flying straight towards them.

CHAPTER 8: The Cu, Rhaxen, Sprite, and Palace

‘ W

here, where, where?’ Avinia squeaked, in a flutter.

The creature drew closer, and Hugh was able to tell that it was of the same shimmery black of the Darxem, but was actually a huge flying dog, about the size of an elephant. Then he was able to make it out properly. ‘It’s a massive Irish Wolfhound!’ he yelled, and after a second’s thought added, ‘Or probably a normal-sized one, back home.’

‘Oh, one of the Darx cu,’ said Felin, without enthusiasm but with no apparent fear.

Avinia relaxed. ‘They are all Highest Prince-companions, in Darx,’ she said. ‘What’s he doing here, I wonder?’

The cu flew closer, and looked amiably at them. ‘Can we land?’ he called out. ‘I have an invitation for you.’

They were passing over a densely wooded area, but soon spotted a clear patch in the dark mass of foliage beneath and headed for it. The cu obviously lacked the equipment and inclination for setting down in treetops.

‘ **** !’ said Tyrentia. As she had touched earth she had tripped over something. She picked it up and glared furiously at it. It was a remarkably heavy bit of wood, tapered to look rather like a fat baseball bat.

‘Clubroot,’ sniggered Avinia. ‘You should look where you’re landing; look where landing.’

As soon as they had gathered round him, the dog said, ‘Hello; my name is Cudarp. I know who all of you are, and I have volunteered to bring you an invitation from Highest Queen Glorianne to dine and sleep at Glorianne Palace tonight.’

‘An invitation from the Queen of Glit Ring; the Queen, the Queen, the Queen!’ Avinia was positively chirping with excitement.

Felin was less entranced. ‘That’ll take us out of our way,’ he complained. At that, a flickering ball of black light which had been hovering next to Cudarp started circling Felin’s head making indignant squeaks. It was about the same size as the head it was orbiting.

Felin flapped his hands at it. ‘Call your sprite off!’ he called. ‘I was only joking, of course. Queen Glorianne is not someone it is a good idea to turn down on an invitation, whether one wants to go or not.’

‘Whoever would not want to go?’ Avinia asked, and then three heads slowly turned towards Tyrentia. Cudarp’s followed their example, and the glowing ball flew to land on his back, where it became a blob of shimmering black fur. Sticking out near the top of it was a pointy muzzle and two large bright eyes, also staring at the girl.

Tyrentia swung the bit of wood experimentally and glared at each in turn. ‘What?’ she snapped.  ‘I want a rest and food and drink and a good bed, and if something is going to delay me getting to all of them, it had better be good.’

Cudarp gave her an enormous doggy grin. ‘It will be. Queen Glorianne is the most important ruler in all of the Breena Rings next to Supreme Queen Aiennea, and believes in high standards of luxury. As a guest from Darx I am qualified to say that her hospitality is superb. Shall I lead?’

They were actually on the point of taking to the air when the attack came.  This time, it was a horribly real one.

Dozens of shapes of a sick-looking black, nothing like that of the cu, were suddenly flowing above the trees to one side of the clearing. As several of them settled to hang upside-down in the treetops on that side, Hugh could make out that they resembled giant rat-like bats. Others were flowing round to cling to other treetops until they completely surrounded the clearing. Then they all glared straight at Hugh – but it seemed, also, that the eyes were directing a beam of blackness, with a weird streaky reddish quality, at him.

Immediately he was overcome by awful feelings of nausea and faintness. Somewhere far back in his consciousness was the knowledge that there was something he could and should be doing about it, but it was too deeply buried to be of any use.

‘Rhaxen!’ squawked Avinia. ‘Look out for glarespell!’

Tyrentia and Felin seemed frozen in shock, but Cudarp gave a fearsome snarl of outrage and flew at the nearest ones. Snaps of his mighty jaws had many of the attackers at that side falling from the trees like so many torn rags, but the others immediately switched their aim from Hugh to him. The cu gave a shuddering jerk in midair, and then fell to the ground where the ‘rays’ continued to beam mercilessly at him.

The sprite set up pathetic little wails, and began flying in circles above the motionless body, somehow unaffected by whatever spell the rhaxen were using. Three flew down towards it with fangs bared while, just as Hugh was starting to recover slightly, the rest switched their magic back to him.  

The sprite settled on the motionless form of Cudarp, becoming a black furball again, but one which was snarling fearlessly at the approaching rhaxen even though far smaller than any one of them.

‘No!’ Tyrentia yelled furiously and suddenly became a blur, heading straight at the fliers. She had dropped the clubroot in readiness to leave, but snatched it up again in the split second before she took off. It only needed two swings to have all three fall to the ground permanently, and she continued flying at an astonishing speed towards the ones to the left of the gap created by Cudarp, where she continued bashing.

Then she started a circuit of the clearing, clearing as she went.  Before any rhax could register the danger, the club had enjoined it to join the club of ex-rhaxen. Five of them, near the point at which she had started, tried to flee just before Tyrentia completed her circle. Her wings actually buzzed like those of a bee as she speeded up even further, and she caught all of them with ease. Every one joined their fellows as blobs on the ground or limply dangling from the branches they had been caught up in.

Tyrentia returned to find Hugh sitting on the ground looking groggy, and the rest grouped round the huge body of the cu. Avinia was crying bitterly, and the sprite was letting out heart-wrenching little wails of grief and ‘Meep, meep, meep,’ sounds in between. ‘Is he d…dead?’ she asked, and Felin nodded miserably.

‘Oh, how awful!’ Tyrentia said, and clambered onto the massive body to gather the sprite into her arms. At first the little creature resisted furiously. ‘Please let me try and comfort you; oh do, do let me try!’ the girl said in a wonderfully gentle tone … and suddenly it stopped clinging to the cu and snuggled into her. As she stroked it, its cries subsided into a string of high-pitched whines.

Hugh, recovering slowly from what felt like the strongest dose of awful meds he’d ever been dosed, registered with vague amazement that tears were streaming down Tyrentia’s cheeks.

Felin rested an arm round her shoulders above the wings. ‘It’s no use,’ he said soberly. ‘Sprites also die when whatever they are attached to does.  He will Fade with Cudarp.’

Hardly had he spoken when the form of the great dog started to look smoky and insubstantial. Gradually it became like the wall of the ‘bubble’ they had entered, and then transparent … and then it was gone.

The little body in Tyrentia’s arms also started showing signs of smokiness. ‘No, oh no!’ she said, now sobbing openly. ‘Don’t go!’

The tiny nose poked out of the ball of fur, and the bright eyes looked up at her face.  ‘Yip-yip?’ it said in the tiniest of barks, and added, ‘Yip.’

‘I understood that,’ Tyrentia said wonderingly through her tears. ‘He has just said, “You want Pip with you?” and then, “OK,” after that.’

Avinia stopped sniffling and stared at the little creature. ‘He’s gone all solid again! This is impossible; impossible!’

‘I hope you know what this means,’ Felin said. ‘I’ve heard that it can happen, though very rarely. You now have a sprite, whether you want one or not.’

Tyrentia held the little bundle out from her and stared at it. ‘Is that true, Pip?’ she asked.

‘Yip,’ said the bundle.

Hugh had been following all of this, after a fashion. ‘What does having a sprite entail?’ he asked.

‘It means,’ Felin said, ‘that he will be attached to her and be with her, whatever she does and wherever she goes from now on.’

Tyrentia blinked a good deal, and said, ‘Oh.’

‘Yip-yip?’ came from Pip in doubtful yips.

‘Yip!’ said Tyrentia in a perfect imitation of the one Pip had uttered earlier, at which the sprite took off and flew round her head a few times before cuddling and whining again. ‘Don’t worry,’ she murmured, ‘I know it’s going to take a long time to get over losing Cudarp, and to get on with me. Just let it come as it comes.’ Then she glared at the others. ‘Don’t think I’m going all soft on you!’ she snapped.

‘I wouldn’t exactly call “soft” what you did to those batty rat things,’ Hugh said feelingly. ‘Thanks, Tye, you saved us all, I think.’

Tyrentia went straight back into fury mode. ‘Don’t ever call me that!’ she raged. Pip stopped whining for long enough to snarl at him.

‘Why ever not?’

‘Because that’s what my … because I don’t like it, that’s why!’

‘You know what? I’m sick of pandering to your likes and dislikes,’ Hugh said calmly. ‘Your mom calls you that, and I’m afraid you are going to have to face the fact that with the side of you I’ve seen now I quite like and admire you. Therefore my likes mean I’m going to like calling you Tye from now on, like it or not.’

‘Never mind who calls whom what,’ Felin said seriously. ‘We have a lot to wonder about and to decide on. Why were we suddenly attacked by a group of rhaxen which shouldn’t even be here – a rhax being one of the nastiest creatures found in Darx? Why were they so set on Hugh?’

‘Clear enough; clear enough!’ Avinia put in. ‘Just about everyone knows he’s come here from Terra. It must be one of the best kept non-secrets there is, there is. Somebody must also know why he’s come. Somebody who doesn’t like the “why”.’

‘I’m happy for them; we don’t even know why, yet,’ Hugh said drily. ‘Anyway, I suppose the only thing to do now is to take up the invitation to this palace, if we can find the way, and report what has happened. It’ll be bad news we bring. Even in the matter of minutes we knew Cudarp, I really liked him a lot.’

‘It will be a great loss,’ Felin nodded. ‘All the cu are greatly respected and admired, and one with a sprite will have been of the highest.’ He couldn’t help his eyes wandering to Tye and Pip, and one could all but see a large question mark poised above his head. ‘Anyway, I think I have a reasonable idea of how to find the palace – in fact, if we fly high enough the lights should be visible from here.’

It turned out he was right. The lights would have been visible from even much further, for Glorianne Palace was on a particularly high and steep hill, and also had impressive spires and turrets reaching to the heavens. The appearance, even at dusk, was lovely. The best of the fairy book illustrators had, Hugh decided, been on the right track, but they had still fallen far short of the sheer beauty which the true fairyland - Breena, he corrected himself - had achieved.

Tye came up alongside him for a minute, and said thoughtfully, ‘You know, I wonder if we weren’t given a bit of a hand, there. By magic, sort of. That clubroot was just too much of a coincidence, don’t you think?’

Avinia had dropped back to within earshot. ‘No; probably was coincidence,’ she put in. ‘Those things are always getting underfoot in this part. Always underfoot.’

‘Even so, it could be,’ Hugh mused.  I wonder who …’ but the others were going ahead of him again to catch up with Felin. This was the trouble with chatting while flying. One generally had to slow down to do it.

They did slow down as they got right up to the palace. ‘Good manners to land at the gate. Only fly over walls in emergencies,’ Avinia said.

‘I suppose one can say we’ve had an emergency, all right, but not one which makes our arrival urgent. Gate it will be,’ nodded Felin. ‘We’ve been seen, anyway.’

Sure enough, as they landed the gates were opened, and when they entered they could see that the courtyard and every window overlooking it had little people of all kinds swarming to take a look at them. They could actually hear the murmurs of surprise at the fact that Cudarp wasn’t with them.

A group of eight female glows came forward, and the leading one gave a half-curtsey. ‘Welcome,’ she said. ‘The Queen is eager to meet you as soon as you are properly attired. We will take you to your rooms.’

‘Princesses-in-waiting,’ Avinia whispered.

Hugh stepped forward. ‘Thank you, but we can’t wait for that,’ he said. ‘We must see her right away.’

The princess who had first spoken started to shake her head, but two wide-eyed ones on either side of her were tugging at her clothes and pointing, with expressions of complete shock, at the sprite still whimpering to itself in Tye’s arms.

Her expression of shock immediately matched theirs, and they could see that it took a tremendous effort of will for her to pull herself together. ‘Follow me,’ she said in a shaky voice, and took to her wings towards a balcony on what was clearly the grandest of the many grand towers.  They duly followed, with the rest of the princesses coming up behind, and from behind them, in turn, a gasp of amazement from the crowd at the unexpected move.

Doors on the balcony opened – magically, they assumed – as they landed, and the leading princess ushered them in. They were met by the sight of an astonishingly beautiful fairy who looked rather like Tye in colouring – even to the eyes – but had a composed and regal expression instead of a sulky one. She not only glowed, but had a glittering quality as well. She literally sparkled.

At her side was the first actual Darxd they had seen properly, and Hugh and Tye couldn’t help staring. The nearest way to describe him was that he was black – but it was a black which had all sorts of other overtones and undertones in it. Otherwise, shape and features were much the same as those of the Glows. Being near him gave Hugh some of the strange mixed feelings he had been experiencing at Rhino Valley and at odd times since. He decided that they were definitely associated with Darx residents.

‘Your Higher Majesty Queen Glorianne, and Your Higherness Prince Darp,’ said the princess-in-waiting, ‘I present Highest Prince Hugh, Highest Princess Tyrentia, High Prince Felin, and High Princess Avinia. They have asked to see you urgen…’

‘I can tell that,’ the Queen interrupted frostily, ‘and I can also imagine why. You will tell me why Cudarp is not with you?’

At that, there was a whimper from Pip, and Darp gave a start and stared. ‘How is this possible?’ he said. ‘That is Pip, Cudarp’s sprite! Where is Cudarp? He must be very close indeed.’

‘Cudarp is dead,’ Hugh said bluntly. ‘He was killed by a lot of rhaxen while trying to save my life.’

‘That cannot be!’ Darp exclaimed, still staring wonderingly at Pip.

‘He is still alive,’ the Queen said positively. ‘If he were not, the sprite would be dead.’

‘We all saw the Fading, your Higher Majesty,’ Felin said, shaking his head. ‘Highest Princess Tyrentia effected a transfer of Pip to herself before he could follow.’

‘Yip!’ said Pip.

The Queen stared hard at Tye. ‘I have heard it can happen,’ she said, ‘but it takes …’ She didn’t appear to take kindly to where the ‘takes’ thought was taking her, and tailed off. Then she stared at Hugh. ‘Describe everything that happened,’ she commanded.

‘I think Felin or Avinia would be better at it,’ he said. ‘I was sort-of out of things for most of the time.’

The two guides between them gave a clear account of all that had taken place. Towards the end of the story, Tye shuffled uncomfortably as she started being stared at a good deal.

‘This is unacceptable,’ Darp said icily when everything had been related. ‘How can it be that you allow such things to happen in your Queendom? There is something very wrong here.’

‘You cannot blame us,’ said the Queen equally icily. ‘They are, after all, creatures from your Circle.’

‘Yes, but living here and subject to your rule,’ – by now, Darp was snapping. ‘Glit Ring must be held responsible. First my companion is sent on your mission, and then he is killed while carrying it out. I feel …’

At last, the Queen showed some signs of temper. ‘This is ridiculous,’ she declared. ‘He was not sent. When the news came that they had been seen in the Cobley village, Cudarp volunteered to do the inviting as probably the fastest flier amongst us. He was not …’

‘Enough!’ Darp shouted. He glared at Tye and added, ‘This is intolerable!’

‘Meep!’ said Pip.

Somehow, that was apparently the last straw for Darp. Storming out onto the balcony, he took off and flew away from the Palace at great speed.

‘How dare he!’ said the Queen passionately, and then turned to where they were all standing open-mouthed. ‘Take them to be attired,’ she ordered imperiously. ‘The banquet will proceed as planned.’

CHAPTER 9: Getting Ready, a Banquet, and an Attack


learly, sets of rooms at the tops of towers were considered proper accommodation for visiting princes and princesses. The greeter and another from the meeter group flew ahead to lead Hugh to his, while two more princesses-in-waiting each attached themselves to the others and took them to theirs.

‘I see local residents with wings treat balconies as entrance porches,’ Hugh observed with amusement.  Entering from the one where they had landed, he found himself in a wonderfully decorated sitting room. ‘Let us show you round, Your Highestness,’ the greeter said.

‘Thanks. My name is Hugh,’ he responded. ‘What may I call you two?’

‘I am Tertia, and this is my younger sister Quinnie, Your Hi… er, Hugh,’ she said. They both gave him little curtseys and lovely smiles. There was something about the two of them which set them apart somehow, but Hugh couldn’t quite make out what it was.

Astonishingly, even though the towers looked so slim and graceful the space inside appeared enormous. Tertia led him through several more formal rooms, and then into one which was filled with things designed for one to make noises by fingering at keyboards, plucking or bowing at strings, blowing into or across their holes, or banging or shaking them. She and her sister plinked, plonked, squeaked, tooted and rapped their way from one to another as they showed him round.

‘And this is the playing-room,’ said Quinnie eagerly, taking him into one which had things in it obviously intended for various games, including a set of hoops hanging from the high ceiling. There was a sort of enormous billiard table but with a number of pockets on all sides, and something like table tennis but with the table formed into an ‘S’ shape. Quinnie gleefully swatted a ball which bounced faithfully round all the curves and over the net before zooming off the other end at a sudden wild angle. ‘I’m quite good at Ping-ping-ping Pong,’ she told him shyly.

He had no idea how she had done that, and couldn’t even begin to guess how most of the other games were played.

What Tertia announced as the bathroom contained no bath, but many growing things were set around a large pool dotted with water lilies. ‘You bath in cold water?’ Hugh asked doubtfully.

‘Nay, nay, silly,’ said Quinnie and added, ignoring a glare her sister gave her, ‘If you set it too hot, though, you need to remember to leave cooler spots round the plants. They mostly don’t mind warm, but one of mine sulks if I don’t make it stay cold round her.’

The bedroom was also huge, with its own balcony and a large circular bed in the middle which had a perimeter of pillows and a round eiderdown. There were several dressing tables and any number of comfortable chairs. Part of one wall became a doorway to a walk-in wardrobe if you walked into it. ‘I hope for the sake of my nose that it doesn’t have a power-failure while I’m here,’ he joked, but the two looked at him in a puzzled way.

‘How could that possibly happen?’ Tertia asked. ‘The spell is permanent. Anyway, it is time to get ready. This rack has the occasion-suits. You can choose the ones you like best.’

‘Why don’t I just fancy my own suit up a bit by magic?’ Hugh asked.

The two looked quite put out. ‘Oh, no,’ Quinnie said, ‘that wouldn’t do at all. It is an Occasion, you see, so you must have an occasion suit to be properly fitted out.’

‘Without doubt it would waste far too much magic to change that outfit to one of these outfits, and to keep it that way,’ Tertia added.

The two began moving out, and Hugh looked down at his own clothes. ‘Wait a minute,’ he called out, ‘How do I get out of this outfit I’m in?’ He fingered one of the wonderfully elaborate-looking suits, which was obviously fully done-up but had no buttons or zippers or strings that he could see. ‘Or, indeed, work out how to try out one of these?’

Quinnie laughed out loud, and Tertia said, ‘Of course; we forgot you’re from Outside where things work out in such a difficult way. You just do this …’ She walked up to him casually and ran a finger from his neck across his shoulder and down his arm. That whole side flapped loose. ‘… and this.’ She did the same on the other side, and the top fell off him in two halves.

Before he could do more than give a strangled, ‘Urk!’ Quinnie had come up behind him to run her finger down the insides of the legs of the pants and then up to the waist, and they fell off too leaving a lot of Hugh and nothing else. The footwear came off too, as an extension of the pants. ‘See? Easy,’ she said casually. Then she flipped the bits onto a hanger, where they reformed themselves, and she hung the hanger on the rail. ‘It’ll have cleaned itself by the time you put it on again tomorrow,’ she mentioned, and giggled at Hugh’s look of what she thought was amazement, but was mainly shocked embarrassment.

‘We’d better stay to help you dress, but you’ll want a bath first,’ Tertia observed. ‘We may as well have one here too, or it’ll make us late, and that would never do.’

Quinnie nodded, and in a blink – or a lot of blinks, which is what Hugh was doing – the two had done some finger running on themselves, and were dressed in the same nothing as he was. Then they raced one another to the bathroom, giggling.

Hugh shrugged helplessly, and followed them. He was just about to dive in – he could see that the water was quite deep enough for that – when a chorus of, ‘Wings, silly!’ came from the two heads poking out of the water.

‘Wha...? said Hugh.

Tertia climbed out next to him. ‘Fin your wings, like mine,’ she explained, pointing behind her. Hugh could see that her beautiful wings had reduced to much smaller, fin-like appendages.

‘How do …’ he began, but as soon as he thought about doing it, he found he could. His wings now in swimming mode, he dived into the water. It was cold, but not unpleasantly so. He found it to be great fun zooming up and down the pool using the fins. After splashing about for a while, he asked, ‘How does one warm it, and what about soap?’

‘Oh; warmer,’ said Quinnie, and it was.

They didn’t know what he was on about with ‘soap’, and he had to explain.  ‘Don’t need that, here,’ Tertia said. ‘The water does it all.’

While Hugh was selecting an outfit and being shown how ridiculously easy it was to open and reseal each part of it, he tried a bit of probing,  ‘How much do you know about our visit, and what we’re here for?’ he asked.

‘Well,’ said Tertia, everyone knows that some more humans who can Adapt have been found, and that they have been invited to visit us because they may be able to help us in some way.’

‘What way?’

‘We don’t know that yet, which is strange because it is not the custom of Daoine to keep secrets. Still, we guess it has something to do with how peculiarly Darxem have been acting of late.’

‘Acting how?’ Hugh said, admiring in a mirror the wonderful dark jacket he had chosen to go with the slim trousers and impressive boots.  The clothes were all truly princely, and there was a wide selection available in a variety of colours, many of which had tempted him. However, in spite of strong opposition from the sisters he had rejected the bright colours, or the ones that couldn’t make up their minds, in favour of the amazingly fascinating dark ones. He had been overruled when objecting to a coronet, though, as apparently such headgear was expected to be worn on all formal occasions, and not only at coronations. There was only one for a Highest Prince, which adjusted itself to the proper size and was surprisingly comfortable in spite of having many large jewels plus a single arch. It did tone itself down a bit to match his costume after he put it on, though.

‘First King Darrex started being increasingly bossy towards the Rings, and trying to tell us what to do, and when our queens got a bit fed up with it he became … really difficult,’ Tertia responded. ‘That was when a lot of Darxem left right away, and the ones left – I mean the ones still right here who haven’t left, of course – aren’t normal any more in the way they have been behaving. For example, it wasn’t right the unreasonable way Darp acted and the rude way he left.’

‘I suppose that was probably a reaction to the shock and grief of losing his companion,’ Quinnie put in. ‘That must have been truly awful for him.’

‘Maybe,’ Tertia said absently, adding in a rush, ‘You look ever so fine, Hugh, and now-if-we-don’t-go-and-change-ourselves-and-see-if-the-others-need-help-with-the-Queen-we’ll-be-in-trouble!’ The sisters flew, in both senses.


Referring to the banquet as a grand occasion would be like saying Beethoven wrote rather nice numbers. The Great Hall where it was held was enormous, and it was filled with light and pleasant sound and fairy folk whose chattering at times almost drowned out the music. Two semi-circular stages jutted out at either side, with an orchestra on the left and dancers and performers appearing in constant succession on the one to the right. Elaborately-set narrow tables dotted the area in between and around them, with all seating facing, or sideways-on, to the far end of the hall.

That far end was banked up in a series of stages in steps, where the tables were increasingly more elaborate until they built up to the highest one at the far end. There, the single long table faced the other way overlooking the whole hall, and it had a most magnificent seat in the centre. This was occupied, of course, by Higher Queen Glorianne, and with some embarrassment Hugh and Tye found themselves conducted to the seats immediately to right and left of her respectively. Felin sat with Tye, and Avinia next to Hugh. All others at that table were Glows, with a fairly – or fairy-ly – even spread of male and female.

At the next level down were mainly elves, with a sprinkling of glows and a couple of nervous-looking shiners. Even these wore tiaras, male and female alike.

Hugh and Tye could tell, in fact, that all seating was strictly according to rank and status, with the lowliest ordinary shiners, goblins, pixies, nixies, gnomes, cobleys and imps nearest to the imposing arched entrance.

Dress of those lowliest was amazingly impressive, and it was graded up from there to that of the Queen herself. Hers was almost too dazzling to look at. Her crown looked incredibly heavy, and Hugh was sure some sort of magic supported it or it would have forced her head to go down through her neck. She kept looking thoughtfully at the downplayed costumes of Hugh and Tye – Tye had, independently, adopted a full-length gown version of a costume remarkably like that of Hugh. It was hard to tell whether those looks were approving or disapproving.

Avinia was looking rather like an exotic parrot – the colours were vivid, and the whole effect was feathery. Felin had chosen a suit with a most striking tortoiseshell colouring, and his coronet somehow gave a cat-ear effect.

The first courses were delightful tiny berries or fruits. There were also tiny portions of familiar fruits like oranges or apples, but they were rather startling in the coarser texture the larger relative size gave. Then came a starter, and Hugh ventured to ask a serving goblin what it was. ‘Gurdins blended with slow-roasted flenders, Your Highestness,’ was the reply, which didn’t help. He tasted it, and it was delicious. Every dish of the nearly unending succession of them tasted better than the last, in fact, so he gave up worrying about what they were. He asked for fruit juice rather than risk the nectar wine again, but nectaries filled with nectar were the main dessert course, and he enjoyed those.

The Queen made entertainingly good small-talk about the food and general matters, but didn’t touch on the subject of Darp or anything of real interest. She did, at short intervals, ask numbers of probing questions about himself, though. A natural reticence made him answer as briefly as politeness would demand. Finally, during a brief lull in music and stage performances, he plucked up courage and said, ‘If I may be permitted to ask, Your Higher Majesty, do you know what help we may be able to give here?’

‘Even one of your rank is not normally permitted to speak to me unless spoken to,’ she replied. ‘However, it pleases me to reply. I do know, of course, as second only to Her Highest Majesty, but it is for her to tell you.’

‘Is it connected with the Darx situation?’ Hugh persisted.

‘You were not listening to what I said, were you?’ Her voice held only mild reproof, but it was enough to tell Hugh when to shut up. She made up for it, though, by letting her guard down enough to say with sincerity, ‘I know that you are going to be most useful to us.’

Then she devoted all her attention to Tye. He could not quite make out all they were talking about, but from the sound of it Queen Glorianne had quite captivated the girl, who was prattling away merrily whether spoken to or not – and getting away with it.

‘I didn’t even know Tye could do merrily,’ he told himself, shaking his head, ‘but she’s managing pretty well. Pip got bored, though.’ The sprite had gorged himself on delicacies and was now fast asleep on her lap.


Hugh had no idea how late – or early in the morning – it was when the Queen finally rose to her feet, whereupon everybody else did the same. As soon as she had walked out, everybody did the same as that, too – one gathered that only performers flew in the Great Hall. After flying to his tower he wished he had someone to chat to about everything before going to sleep, but decided sleep was the important thing. In fact almost as soon as he had undressed and found something to serve as sleep shorts, climbed into the nearest part of the bed, and let his head touch the pillow, he was achieving it.

Not for long, though.

He came instantly and fully awake when it was still totally dark. Strongly, he had the same feeling as he had experienced in Rhino Valley – of something familiar but repulsive.  He knew that whatever caused it was coming to do harm, and decided that it would do no harm if he were to do the harm first.

He went out onto the balcony and his senses led him to look towards the balcony on the twin of his tower. As he had noticed underground, his eyesight in the dark had become amazingly good, and he could make out some furtive movements there. Immediately he took off and flew in that direction. Drawing closer, he could tell that what was giving him the unpleasant feeling was a shadowy man-like sprite of a singularly ugly appearance. It was staring intently through the glass, or whatever the panes were made out of – and as he watched it opened the door and slipped through.

Quickly but silently he flew to land on the balcony and peered through the now slightly open door.  As he had suspected, this was Tye’s bedroom, and he could see her fast asleep with Pip lying on the pillow beside her head, also dead to the world.

Apparently, though, the creature creeping towards them from the near side of the bed, still oblivious of Hugh’s arrival, intended them to be dead full stop. It was carrying a wicked little dagger.

The thought came to Hugh in a flash that such a small blade would hardly be enough to harm Tye, and in the same instant he realised that she was not the target. Pip was. As the creature gave a wings-assisted leap, knife upraised, so Hugh yelled out wordlessly and did a leap of his own.  The imp turned towards him with a snarl, but a sweeping blow from Hugh’s hand knocked it off the bed to the floor. Before it could rise, Hugh lifted himself into the air with two flaps of his wings, and then came down on the imp really hard feet-first.  The creature lay still. ‘Ouch!’ the boy exclaimed. The more solid bits of the sprite had hurt his bare soles.

The commotion woke Tye and Pip up instantly, and they stared at Hugh in bewilderment, and then in even more bewilderment at what he pointed to on the floor.

‘What … why …’ she exclaimed, and then Pip yipped at her and she stared at the body – they could tell it was one of those now, because it was beginning to Fade – in some horror. ‘Pip says it is a bog… a boggart?’ She looked enquiringly at the sprite, and he gave another yip, of agreement. ‘It is another of the really bad Darxen creatures, apparently. What was it trying to do?’

‘Kill Pip, is what it looked like to me,’ Hugh said. He explained quickly all that he had felt and that had happened since he had woken up. Then they tried to make any sort of sense of it, and couldn’t.

‘According to Pip,’ Tye said, ‘He has done nothing he knew of to upset boggarts, but in general the only good ones of those are faded ones.’

‘Anyway,’ said Hugh, picking up the horrible-looking little knife, which was now all that was left of the boggart, and putting it on a dressing-table, ‘I think I’d better stay the night in case any more come along.’

‘I don’t need any protection,’ Tye snapped, but it was a half-hearted snap.

‘Yip!’ said Pip in the same instant, and Hugh could detect the first approval he had ever noticed receiving from the sprite.

Without further ado, Hugh claimed the other side of the bed. Tye and Pip settled back into their half, and all three fell asleep again almost immediately.

CHAPTER 10: Journeying on, Dangers, New Companions.


hey slept late the following morning, but it appeared that so did Avinia and Felin and everyone else, because they were not disturbed. Hugh was fairly sure nobody saw his quick flit to return to his own tower.

After a quick bath/swim, he put on his self-laundered original clothes, took up the boggart-knife, and flew up and across to the balcony of the Queen’s bedroom, finding without much surprise that Tye was joining him there. This time the doors failed to open until after he had called out for a while.

The Queen was alone in the room, looking no less impressive than usual for being in fairly simple garments. ‘Along with not speaking until spoken to also comes not visiting unless invited,’ she said, but in rather a resigned tone, and flashing Tye a sweet smile. ‘I was going to summon you now, anyway, so that you could give your farewells and set off fairly early – or has …’ with a hint of sarcasm directed at Hugh ‘… something else urgent come up you want to tell me about?’

‘As a matter of fact …’ Hugh said, and related what had happened with the boggart.

‘You have the dagger?’ was her only reaction, and he produced it.

‘Leave it with me; I may be able to find something out from it,’ she said. ‘Now, I have things to do, so I will wish you both … all …’glancing at Pip ‘… well on your way. Give my good wishes to your companions, too, and my respects to Aiennea.’

They both stammered thanks and farewells, and left.


After being taken to meet the others for a light breakfast (in a special palace breakfast-room, of course) they said their goodbyes to the princesses-in-waiting and set off again. They were walking so that, as Avinia put it, ‘… we can tell you what comes next. And you can get views of Glorianne Palace from the ground, the ground.’

In fact, both Hugh and Tye stopped so often to stare in wonderment at the palace that they dropped some way behind their guides. ‘I really like her,’ Tye remarked. ‘She’s lovely.’

‘What were you talking about so much last night?’ Hugh asked, but Tye didn’t even bother to respond. He shrugged, and remarked, ‘I see Felin’s clothes are back to tabby.’

‘Talking of clothes, it was too funny last night,’ Tye said. ‘I didn’t know how to get out of mine. When I asked for help, one of my  princesses-in-waiting just ran a finger down - and I had nothing on! Then they actually took everything off themselves as well, just like that, and shared my bath – well, it was more like a big pond, actually.’

‘Same here, same here, and same here, with Tertia and Quinnie,’ Hugh laughed.

Tye’s face froze. ‘You mean, they took off all your clothes?’

‘Right,’ Hugh said.

‘And then they took off theirs and you went swimming with them?’

Hugh nodded, grinning.

‘Well, I think that is just … is just … disgusting!’ Tye said through her teeth. She flew ahead to join Avinia, who took one look at her face and left her with Felin.

When hills and trees obscured most palace views, the group came together again and Avinia said, ‘Time to fly, now; to fly. I don’t know what has held Lusi up, held her up. She’s still a long way away. Very long way away. We will have to go through the next Conjunction between Glit Ring and Safah Ring. About half a day from here if we don’t dawdle; don’t dawdle.’

So, dawdle was something they didn’t do from that time on. They kept their wings whirring with energy, and went at such speed that it was quite difficult for Hugh to see all he wanted to see before what he wanted to see of what he was seeing could no longer be seen.  Tye was in full Tyrentia mode and taking little interest in matters below, even when Felin began pointing with increasing surprise at the number of creatures, animals and insects alike, straying near the path on the ground they were following.

He became agitated when he saw a group of beetles very near the path. They had elongated red front parts coming from a black, winged abdomen.  ‘Bombardier beetles!’ he exclaimed. ‘They shoot boiling hot gas when disturbed, so if any one of our people comes upon them unexpectedly, there could be real trouble. What is wrong with the spell? We’d better try and move them away from there.’

‘Maybe if we drop twigs on them …? Hugh suggested. Something in the back of his mind was trying to tell him there was a better idea, but he ignored it.

‘Good idea,’ said Felin, and all of them went for ammunition. ‘Don’t get too low; they have good aim,’ he warned as they started their bombing run at the Bombadiers.

Hugh missed, and the twig landed just behind his target. Immediately there was a ‘popping’ sound, and the stick was hidden by steam for an instant. Then the beetle spread its wings and took off. It was followed a few seconds later by the rest, who also objected to being attacked with twigs or were just joining in the general exodus.

‘Nasty magic, that!’ Hugh remarked.

‘That’s not magic,’ Tye said in a superior tone. ‘It’s a built-in chemical reaction. They do the same thing back in the real … that is, back in our world.’

Felin led the way in flying in a direction the beetles weren’t, and away from traces of a truly horrible smell the ammunition of the beetles had produced. Pip went through the edges of one of the clouds, and flew zigzag for a while.

Avinia came last, which turned out just as well. She glanced behind to see that no beetles had linked them to the disturbance and were coming after them with aerial combat in mind. ‘No you don’t!’ she yelled suddenly, pointing in what looked like a spell-making gesture, ‘Don’t even think it; think it!’

The subject of her scolding was a gigantic-to-them crowned eagle, which had been swooping down on them with lunch rather than combat in mind. It was now applying air-brakes and managing to look embarrassed even though such expression doesn’t show too well on a bird.

‘Just as well Avinia is a bird-brained princess,’ Felin observed, and got a frosty look from her. ‘Wonder why the spell on this route isn’t working? It should be permanent.’

 ‘That’s not an encouraging thought,’ Hugh observed, thinking of the recent walk-in wardrobe and his nose. ‘Anyway, there’s not much point in following the path, then. We may as well take the most direct route and hope for the best … where’s she going?’

Avinia had peeled off, and then looked as if she were communicating with the eagle in some way. She returned to the group looking pleased with herself, while the eagle began circling in a nearby thermal to gain height.  ‘Intelligent, bird, that,’ she said. ‘As the protection spell has obviously gone wrong, I managed to get it into his mind that it would be a good idea to protect us until we get to the next Circle. He’ll go up to where he’s more comfortable, and watch us from there.’


In fact, had it not been for the sheer joy of flying and the unending fascination of the scene below, the rest of the journey to the Safah Ring Conjunction would have been quite boring. Only once did their bodyguard have to take any action, when a rather ambitious Black Sparrowhawk, which would normally feed on nothing larger than a dove, showed an interest in them. Simply a loud, ‘Ca-weeeeeee!’ from the crowned eagle far above was enough to make the other bird decide to be elsewhere.

Avinia and Felin commented with increasing irritation how far out of their way Lusi was taking them.

Finally, from quite a distance, they could make out another ‘bubble’ wall. They simply flew right through it and carried on. The sensation this time was only a slight tingling feeling. ‘Why is this a Conjunction and not an Interface? I don’t see any difference,’ Hugh observed.

‘Conjunctions are between Rings, and Interfaces are between different lands like Terra and Breena, or Darx and Terra, or Darx and Breena,’ Felin explained.

‘He’s followed us through!’ Avinia suddenly exclaimed, pointing up in some surprise. Sure enough, the eagle was still on escort duty.

This was just as well, because the ground they were now flying over had far more large (to them, very large) animals than those in Glim Ring. There were some kudu and eland, a group of rhino, and another of elephants. They swooped down alongside these for a closer look. ‘These really make me feel tiny,’ Tye said a bit sourly.

With the increased traffic on the ground it was reasonable to expect more in the air, too, and indeed the eagle had to do quite a few swoops to discourage some of the larger flying snack-seekers. Even some of the smaller ones, actually, who tended to regard Pip as a tempting morsel.

‘This is great!’ Hugh enthused hugely. ‘What a wonderful way to go game-spotting!’ Tye showed no evidence of sharing his delight, even when a beautiful leopard was spotted - in more ways than one - up in a tree. Felin insisted on hovering for a while to admire the sight, and Hugh got a feeling of familiarity about something, but he wasn’t sure of what or why.

After many hours of flying, they rather abruptly came across another ‘wall’, but this one was different from the previous one in a way hard to define. The ‘feel’ of it was more like that of the original through which they had entered Glim Ring. They landed at the base of it, near to a ring of flowers of small mountain varieties. Felin and Avinia stared fixedly at this for some time. Then, together, they looked at one another and shrugged. ‘I’ll take a look; a look,’ said Avinia and vanished through the barrier.

‘Why all this secrecy?’ Hugh asked with some irritation. ‘Who are we meeting - or expecting to meet but not meeting, as the case may be?’

Felin shrugged again. ‘We don’t know – only that we would find Lusi by Trace Link somewhere between here and our route straight to the palace, and that she would have him with her after getting him used to being in Faie form.’

‘This is completely silly,’ Tye snapped, and wandered off to get a closer look at the eagle, now settled in the topmost branches of an acacia and looking agitated at no longer seeing Avinia. He looked extremely relieved when she popped back into sight again, but now there was another rather different-looking Glow with her. That is, her light was the same as theirs, even though her complexion wasn’t. She was dark-skinned, but in the African sense rather than the Darxen one. Her clothes were brightly coloured, and mostly made out of what looked like tiny beads.

‘He won’t come; simply won’t come!’ Avinia wailed, and then added, waving an arm to indicate each, ‘Felin, Hugh, and that’s Tyrentia over there; this is Lusi.’

Lusi had given a start when looking at Hugh. ‘You!’ she exclaimed.

‘Yes?’ Hugh responded, a bit bewildered.

‘You Hugh!’ she said excitedly. ‘You the other one! He know you; maybe he follow you!’ She grabbed his arm and yanked him towards the barrier. ‘Come Between; quick, before he run away fright again!’

Going through, he could sense that there was no option of returning to his boy form through this ‘wall’. Here, he could only remain Between. He found himself in another circle of similar flowers to those they had just left. This was high on a hillside, with what looked like some hazy huts lower down and in the valley, and rolling hills which reminded him of the area beyond Kranzton.

Another hazy thing was the large human figure staring down at him in a mixture of horror and fascination. It wasn’t hazy enough not to make out who it was, though. Dengana was quite clearly recognisable, and as he in turn looked more closely at Hugh his eyes and mouth opened even wider than they had already been.

‘He do know you!’ Lusi nodded. ‘You can show him come!’

It was obvious that Dengana had been able to recognise him in his present form, but was still uncertain and afraid. Hugh beckoned insistently a number of times, but the other boy simply shook his head. ‘He maybe think you tokoloshe pretend to be you,’ Lusi said. ‘What can do?’

Hugh had a sudden inspiration.  He tried to break off a stalk from one of the taller flowers, but couldn’t get a grip on it properly while Between, so shot back and fetched one from the other side. It was somewhat stick-like according to his present scale, and he held it in the stick-fighting ‘ready’ pose Dengana had taught him when they had played together. Then he launched into the special war-dance the two of them had worked out, and ended up by making another sweeping ‘come’ gesture.

This time, after a long pause, Dengana gave a nod. When they passed through the ‘bubble’ again, they could see he was following.

It came as no surprise to them when he arrived with them on the other side in a form the same size as theirs. It was also no surprise that he was in the same sort of sensory overload state as they had been when first coming here.

‘Yie-yie-yie-yie! Hau! I grow down to small!’ he yelped.

‘No you haven’t; I can see you are High Prince size,’ Hugh laughed.

‘Highest Prince,’ Felin corrected

‘You haven’t really shrunk, as such; not as such,’ said Avinia, ‘You’ve simply taken on your Faie form.’ She and Felin between them then launched, almost word-for-word, into the lecture they had delivered to Hugh and Tye on their own arrival.

Tye had returned from the now relieved-looking eagle and was regarding Dengana with great curiosity. ‘Oh, so you’re the Dengana person who saw bad tokoloshes at Old Frogs,’ she said. This, from someone he had never set eyes on before, didn’t exactly help him to get to grips with his present situation.

When Avinia reached the part of her recital which ran, ‘Gradually, you’ll probably continue your Adapting. You’ll continue. Then you’ll sense things more as they really are …’ Tye decided to be helpful.

‘Of course, you won’t be understanding a word of all this,’ she butted in pompously. ‘You don’t need to. You can just see what you see and hear what you hear, and fly with wings even if you aren’t.’

Dengana blinked at her. ‘I understand good,’ he said. ‘You think I stupid? The way we see things now not quite right, but is best way we understand them.’ Tye gaped, and made some quick mental gear-changes. Pip sensed her discomfiture and snarled at Dengana, who jumped backwards in fright.

Meanwhile, to one side, Lusi was talking to Hugh. ‘I have happiness you thought of doing that with the stick,’ she declared. ‘I keep trying to get him to follow me days ago in this-side time, but he afraid. So now he not know all he should know about Breena by time we get to Highest Majesty.’

‘He’ll soon learn,’ Tye, on her way back to look at an eagle, said crossly to Lusi. ‘He’s a real smarty-pants.’

‘How did she understand Zulu?’ Hugh wondered.

Lusi looked at him in surprise. ‘Everyone talking Zulu here now, all the time,’ she said.

‘Oh, it must be one of those funny things about this land,’ Hugh said. ‘Everybody hears things in their own languages or the language you expect to hear it in, if you know it well enough.’ He stopped to think whether that made any sense, and added doubtfully, ‘Or something like that.’

After taking everything except Pip remarkably calmly at first, Dengana had a lot of difficulty with the concept of flying. His wings knew what to do, but his mind didn’t want them to do it. Every time he took off, he uttered horrified cries and came down again abruptly. So abruptly that a couple of times his end ended up on the ground – or, rather, down on the ground.

‘We need to be moving; moving,’ Avinia said impatiently. ‘Let’s walk until he settles in.’

They set off briskly, while a rather disgruntled-looking eagle took to following them in bursts between perches, as he had an apparent objection to settling on the ground. There was open, mainly grassy terrain, so he had to do some circling between trees.

‘If we’re going to have our aerial escort for any length of time,’ Hugh smiled, ‘maybe we should give him a name.’

‘Of course he already has a name; a name,’ Avinia said. ‘He is Katha.’ The sound came out to Hugh as ‘Carter’ without pronouncing the ‘r’.

‘Hi, Katha!’ he called, giving a wave, and the bird dipped a wing and responded with one of his ‘Ca-wee’ calls.

Lusi moved up alongside, looking from him to Dengana. ‘So near, for you both, with the big cat,’ she blurted. ‘Why you not see?’ Dengana gave another reaction like his Pip-snarl one. ‘I see tokoloshe tell leopard not eat me,’ he said.

Hugh gave a jump of his own. ‘I did think I saw something …’ he said. ‘You were there?’

She nodded. ‘It is part I visit when I go through Interface to Land of Big People. Dengana he see me but he afraid. You not see me, and I …’ she clapped a hand to her mouth suddenly. ‘I say too much. Queen want I must wait to tell you.’

‘Did you see the … bees?’ he asked. She nodded, but then would say no more. ‘Can I tell Dengana about that?’ he asked, and she nodded again.

Halfway through the bee recital, when it got to the ‘attack’ part, Hugh absentmindedly took off for a short flight, and Dengana was so enthralled that he followed without thinking. That meant that, not too long afterward, they were making good speed through the air again, now directly toward their meeting with The Queen of Queens.

They would have made even better speed, had they not needed to wait every now and again for an incessantly-chatting Lusi and Dengana to catch up.

CHAPTER 11: Aiennea Palace, a Mission, and Sneaking Out


hey had to overnight in a treetop inn, again. Hugh was starting to worry about the number of days they were taking, but Avinia said casually, ‘No worry; no worry. You’ll get back in plenty of time. Unless,’ she added casually, ‘you get killed here or something.’

Tye found that amusing, and Pip made sounds suspiciously like a snigger. Hugh was not impressed, and the effect on Dengana was obviously to make him de-pressed. ‘I do not wish to be killed here,’ he said.

‘Where do you want to be killed, then?’ Tye asked in a would-be innocent tone, and earned another set of universal glares.

Before they went to bed, Hugh got Dengana to tell him the full story of what had happened in Rhino Valley to chase the villagers away from their home. The boy shuddered and stammered when trying to tell the horror of what he had seen at the farmhouse. When Hugh asked him to describe the tokoloshe, all he could do was to repeat, ‘It was tokoloshe.’

‘Who … tidied up … the Place of Two Old Frogs before Dad and I got there?’ Hugh asked, but Dengana didn’t know and Lusi said she didn’t, either.

Breakfast was a hurried affair, and then Felin and Avinia set a fast pace in leading them. Katha was still faithfully in attendance, but if he discouraged any appetites from taking an interest in them along the way they remained unaware of it.

‘We need to angle in and out of Tya Ring – “Tie-ya”, not “Tye” - to find the place where the Honour Ring Conjunction is going to be now,’ Felin told them, and they flew through another ‘wall’ into another Circle a good deal more subdued than Glit Ring had been. They kept within sight of the wall for what gave the impression of having been a really wearisome time before diving through it again.

Although Avinia did announce, ‘Honour Ring’ as they came through, they would have guessed easily enough. All the Breena lands had been impressive, but Honour Ring obviously went out of its way to be even more so. Every part they could see, whether plants, trees, hills, streams or lakes, was breathtakingly beautiful. The various Faie folk they could see appeared even more striking in dress and appearance than those in the other Rings.

Even Tye was impressed, and she and Hugh said, ‘Wow!’ simultaneously, and Dengana exclaimed, ‘Hau!’ in the same instant.

Avinia smiled at them. ‘As the oldest and original Ring,’ she said, ‘this has more magic. The most magic of them all. It makes everything feel extra special; feel special.’

Aiennea Palace, which they were able to see from a considerable distance, was heart-wrenchingly lovely. Soaring atop the highest peak in the land, it showed a bewildering array of graceful arches and turrets and towers. Every feature was perfectly placed to look stunning on its own and yet to set off all the others. The colours were dazzling, and yet all perfectly complemented one another. The closer they got, the greater became the impression of sheer perfection. It almost hurt to look at it for too long. Hugh felt constantly on the verge of sensory overload.

They were obviously expected. Swarms of Faie and birds made a dense cloud in the air above the palace, and the ground, windows, wall-tops and balconies were all filled with the non-fluttery residents. Every one of them was goggling at the approaching group.  

Katha gave a cry from above them, and then turned round and glided in the opposite direction. ‘Thank you!’ Avinia called after him, and the others echoed her.

A solitary Glow could now be seen flying towards them.  Although her garb was particularly simple, they could tell that she must be a princess of importance from the way all the others stayed a respectful distance from her.

‘Welcome to all of you,’ she called. ‘Never mind landing. Follow me, please.’

The palace gates remained closed while all of them simply followed their guide over the walls and towards the top of what looked to be the highest tower.  As soon as she had landed on the balcony, she led them through large glass doors into an exquisitely-appointed room furnished with comfortable chairs set roughly in a circle, and motioned for them to be seated.

‘Just wait a minute!’ Tye snapped. ‘I take it we are going to start yapping. Just tell your queen that I want to freshen up and have something to eat and drink first.’ Then she stared in amazement at Avinia and Felin, who both suddenly appeared to be choking on something.

Their guide gave a charming smile. ‘I am Aiennea,’ she said mildly. ‘We can have something to eat and drink while we talk, but it is important that we do talk as soon as can be. Matters have now become even more urgent than before.’

Tye subsided, but still had a touch of rebellious sarcasm in her voice when she responded, ‘As you say, Your Highest Majesty.’

‘Aiennea,’ she repeated, with her eyes resting speculatively on Pip for an instant. ‘Now, because of the urgency, I am going to need to rush trying to explain things to you far more than I would have hoped.  I am glad, at least, that you have had a chance to come to grips with so much which will have seemed completely strange to you, but what I have to tell you is still going to be hard to accept. It is a pity that I only once managed to build a mind-to-mind link with you,’ and she looked at Hugh, ‘and then such an imperfect one. At least I did succeed in warning you about the poison you were taking.’

As she looked from one to the other of them, Hugh found himself noticing things about her which at first had not been apparent. For one thing, her ‘glow’, though muted, had a quality which could build up to an almost blinding intensity.  It was difficult to keep one’s eyes on her for too long. Another thing he observed was that, even without any finery, her looks were the most striking of any person he had yet seen in Breena.  It went further than the perfection of her features and body. In a sudden flight of fancy he found himself imagining an artist driving himself quite crazy trying to capture the quality which made her so increasingly striking the more one looked at her.

‘We’ll do our best to follow what you have to tell us,’ he found himself murmuring, and she nodded.

‘Let me start by explaining that in a Magic Circle, even more than in your world, time is not something which runs completely in one direction or at a set rate.  It is possible to see both backward and forward in the Timeflow, and to change certain things in the before and in the after. Where future time is concerned, certain things have already been laid down in accordance with the way things have to be. Those cannot alter.  However, much can be done to change aspects which are not firmly fixed. In the same way, there are some things in the past which can still be altered in such a way as to change certain parts of the present and the future.’  Aiennea paused and sat back to let this sink in.

After a few moments, Tye said, ‘However weird and interesting all that may be, I don’t see what it has to do with whatever is going on. Or to do with why we’re here.’

‘For one thing,’ Aiennea replied, ‘it will explain to you how I know some of the things I need to tell you. They are part of the fabric which has already been laid down; some permanently and some not. Those of us who have been blessed with stronger gifts of magic than most are able to read these patterns and try to consider how best they can be used or altered for the good of all.’

Tye shrugged, Pip blinked, Hugh nodded, and Dengana breathed, ‘Is wonderful.’ Avinia and Felin continued to give the seated-statue imitations they had done since arrival. Lusi said nothing, but with the wriggling of someone who is only doing that with difficulty.

The queen continued almost dreamily, ‘Some individuals show the potential, if steered in certain directions, to assume central parts in forming important parts of the pattern, and even to draw others in who will do the same. Hugh stood out clearly as being one such.’

Aiennea leaned forward in her chair. ‘Now, just before you have a break to think about these things, and to have some refreshments, let me tell you something most important. There has to be a strong significance in the fact that all three of you,’ and she looked at Tye, Hugh and Dengana in turn, ‘have the ability not only to Adapt as Daoine, but also as Darxem should you enter Darx Circle. Particularly easily in Hugh’s case, as it would seem that he is more Darxen than Daoine.’

At that point, food and drink suddenly appeared on a table to one side of the room. They didn’t need to open their mouths for it, as they were hanging that way already.

Hugh’s mind had been working while he ate and drank. ‘That would explain,’ he said almost to himself between mouthfuls, ‘why I had this strange familiar feeling when Darxem were around?’ The queen nodded.

After they had finished, and the food and dishes were suddenly not there any longer, Aiennea addressed all of them again. ‘Now, I must bring you up to date with the problem we are having with the Darxem, and what little we know of the cause. We have always got on well with them, even after they changed to being a kingdom rather than the queendom they also used to have. Even though each nation prefers their own living conditions, there were a lot of – I suppose it could be called ‘tourist’ – visits between Darx and our Rings.  Highest King Darrex would come often, and I always thought the two of us got on exceptionally well.’

‘Did you have … was he your boyfriend?’ Tye butted in.

Even the ‘statues’ jerked with shock at that, but Aiennea remained perfectly unruffled. ‘In a way, perhaps,’ she said. ‘At any rate, on his last visit he was almost a stranger, and shortly after his arrival he suggested that it would be better for Darx and the Rings to combine under one rule. When I said light-heartedly that I supposed I could cope with an extra Ring – even such a large one – he completely missed the joke and left almost straight away.’

‘Touchy; like Darp,’ Hugh remarked, and she looked at him with slightly raised eyebrows before continuing.

‘Since then, most Darxem have left the Rings, and their borders have now been sealed magically against all Daoine and Ring dwellers, with no explanation. News has come that some of the nastier creatures in Darx have been gathering into large groups, some of which have strayed into our Rings. And then, there is the report of Lusi, here. She is, as you know, from Safah Ring, which until very recently had an Interface with Rhino Valley - near Rhino Peak, I understand - where she spent a lot of time.’ The three ex-humans looked startled.

‘Isn’t it there any more?’ Hugh asked.

‘No; the Darxem have used some remarkably powerful magic to seal it, now,’ said Aiennea, ‘probably for reasons Lusi can clarify. Lusi?’

Lusi blinked, stuttered for a few seconds, and then said, ‘I see more and more the Darxds in Rhino Valley. But none of the Darxtas. Then the Darxds they start chasing away all of us Daoine. I am not going, but hide and am watching.’

Tye was noticing again that although Lusi’s speech came across to her as being in English, some aspects of the wording and word-order were unusual, as she had also found with Dengana.

‘I follow them to high on mountain where there are big rocks called The Sad Ones.’ Lusi went on. ‘Nearby is new big gateway to Darx which stays in the one place all the time. Plenty, plenty Darxds they come go from there.  They speak much with the animals and insects; they bring together many crocodiles and leopards and hyenas.  I see them make bad things for all the people who live in the valley, I see them tell the leopards to kill all people at the place of Two Old Frogs.’

She glanced at Hugh and Dengana in turn before going on, ‘Then I go to seek another Interface to tell Highest Majesty what is happening, but I not find. When I come back I see Dengana he go to look, and later I see Hugh he go to look, and I try to warn them to go away but they not take notice. But the Darxds they tell the only leopard which is still there not to kill them. They want Dengana to tell other people and chase them away.

‘When Hugh he came with his father, it was after they clean up and they say it is better to let them go and tell other people like them everyone has gone away, so no more come. I not think they know Hugh he is same person who chase the Bee Darxds away day before.’

‘You saw that, too?’ Hugh said.

‘I follow the group that go to do that thing,’ she nodded.

‘Lusi had to go all the way to Dengana’s new home area of Sisebenzela to find an Interface,’ Aiennea came in, ‘and after she had spoken to me I asked her to fetch Dengana, and I asked Felin and Avinia to collect Hugh. Even then, I knew we would need you, but it is only just becoming clearer what your task must be.’

‘To find out what the heck is going on, I suppose,’ Tye said. ‘I mean, it’s clear enough the Darxem want Rhino Valley to themselves and don’t mind bumping off or scaring away droves of people to get it, but I suppose the question is still: why? So you want us to nip through the nearest Interface to Darx Circle and do some snooping?’

Aiennea laughed. ‘That does sum it up,’ she nodded, ‘except that it isn’t quite as simple as going to the nearest Interface. You can’t Adapt as Darxem from Daoine forms – they have to be your human ones. And you can’t get your human ones back unless you go out through the same Interface you came in by - in Glim Ring, or Safah Ring in the case of Dengana.’

 ‘That means w…’ Hugh began, but Tye cut him off.

‘So all we have to do,’ she said with heavy sarcasm, ‘is to go all the way back to where we started from, and then find our way somehow to this Rhino Valley without freaking out our folks, and then creep our way through thousands of hostile animals and insects and Darxem-types without being seen while we find the way to the top of a mountain, and then dive in as Darx characters ourselves, and only then start finding a way to do the whole spy act?’

‘Yes, that about covers it,’ the Queen said mildly.

‘You’re getting way out of line,’ Hugh snapped, at the same instant.

Tye exploded in full Tyrentia mode. ‘Well, why the **** couldn’t you simply have sent **** messages to us where we started out from, instead of having us go through all this ****?’

‘Not work any good to do how you say,’ Dengana said thoughtfully. ‘We have need that it be like this.’

Pip growled at him, and Tye glanced down at the sprite clinging to her front. Surprisingly, she responded in a subdued voice, ‘You’re right, actually. We did need to come here first.’

‘But then,’ Hugh objected, ‘if I understood things properly we are going to return home only a couple of hours after we left it, in spite of all the time we’ve spent here. But in that case if we spend days messing about in our world trying to get to Rhino Valley, won’t that mean weeks or months will be elapsing in Breena and in Darx Circle?’

Aiennea shook her head. ‘It doesn’t work quite like that,’ she said. ‘Once you first Adapted you established a datum point from which adjustments will flow both ways.’

‘So, interstices they will then compensate,’ Dengana put in eagerly, and Hugh and Tye gaped at him.

Aiennea nodded. ‘Precisely,’ she said, ‘and the first time at least, in Darx Circle, will mean you can come out again at as close to the time you went in as makes no difference.’

She turned to Hugh. ‘You mentioned, earlier, something about Darp being touchy? I know that Glorianne has been close to him, and we had hoped that there might be a way of resolving things with his help. Strangely, she hasn’t yet told me what took place …?’

Hugh was still grappling with trying to make any sense out of the ‘interstices’, but gave up and related the history of what had happened just before and after their arrival at Glorianne Palace, while she listened intently.

‘This is of grave concern,’ she murmured when he had finished. ‘Small things, in themselves, but they cast a blemish in the mould of the future, which can have far-reaching consequences. Everything is of even greater urgency than I had thought, and it is important for you to move quickly, now. I was hoping to offer you our hospitality to provide some time for rest and relaxation here, but as things are I think you need to leave again straight away.’

‘Literally?’ Hugh asked, rising to his feet. She nodded, and the rest got up and began moving in the direction of the balcony.

Tye stayed put. ‘Hold on, you lot, before you all go issuing a beautifully embroidered invitation to ambush us.’ She turned to Aiennea. ‘I can tell that for all your wisdom and magic and stuff, what you know about being devious would fit in a gnat’s ear. I think it has been made clear enough that somebody doesn’t want us to try and do whatever we’re going to try and do. Is there any way to sneak out of here?’

Aiennea actually looked slightly ruffled, saying, ‘I suppose we could try a spell for …’ but Pip and Felin both interrupted.

‘Meep!’ said the sprite, in a positively negative tone.

‘Nothing using magic,’ Felin said firmly. ‘Tye has a good point, and I’m sure our ill-wishers will expect us to take magical precautions, and be ready to overcome them.’

‘What we need,’ said Hugh wistfully, ‘is a good old-fashioned secret passage. The longer people think we’re still here, the better.’

Without a word, Aiennea closed the doors leading to the balcony, blocking the view of quite a crowd of local residents equipped with wings who had suddenly acquired an urge to fly back and forth within sight but a discreet distance away.

Then she beckoned everyone towards the inner doorway, and led them to another large room, without a balcony and with small, high windows. She went to one of a set of little paintings of pretty scenes on one wall, turned it completely upside-down – and a large mirror on the opposite wall said, ‘Click!’ and swung open to reveal a doorway.

‘No magic involved,’ she announced smugly. ‘I’m not sure what some of my ancestors got up to, but maybe it was just to enable them to have a bit of total peace and quiet. You can’t fly inside there, so there are a great many stairs to climb down, and then a long passageway which takes you well into the woods outside the walls. Don’t forget to close that doorway behind you, and then you’d better walk until out of sight of the palace.’

She called Lusi, and then Avinia and Felin, and gave them some quick instructions which made no sense at all to Hugh and Tye but which they obviously understood. Then she said simply, ‘Goodbye, good luck, and my deepest thanks to all of you!’

They said hasty goodbyes in turn, and then entered a tiny room at the head of a narrow flight of stairs sloping into blackness. Pip immediately began glowing, but Felin shook his head, went to an alcove at one side, and handed each of them a candle in a holder. He lit his with a matchstick, and Aiennea immediately closed the mirror door. Then each of them lit their own candles from Felin’s or from one another’s before starting down. Pip turned off again, looking sulky.

The steps seemed to go on forever, and it was with aching muscles and a feeling of deep relief that they finally reached the beginning of a level passageway. Then, that seemed to go on forever.

Eventually they came up some steps into a tiny room surrounded by dazzling tiny lights – which they discovered were peepholes with daylight streaming through them. Wordlessly, each had careful looks through these holes. All they could see were trees and some large boulders; no mobile life-forms were visible.

At the far side was a doorway secured with a simple bar which when lifted stayed up as soon as the door was opened slightly. It was obvious that it would fall back into place when the door closed again. Hugh gave the door a push, and it swung open smoothly, which was surprising as from the outside it looked exactly like a solid part of one of the group of boulders.

One by one they blew out and then put down their candles before leaving. When Hugh closed the door behind them, it showed not the slightest outline in the rock.

Felin beckoned, and they followed him at a fast walk which became short flights whenever space above and to the sides would allow, but always ensuring that there was a canopy of branches above them. They moved in total silence, except when Tye stumbled over clubroots – her feet appeared to be attracted to them, somehow. Her resultant comments would be followed by, ‘Shush!’ from the others.

Pip took on scouting duties, flying ahead and then coming back to lead them. This was just as well, as on any number of occasions the sprite had to direct them on a wide detour to avoid some living creature in their path. Although she wasn’t quite sure, Tye thought some of them might well have been hostile – at least, it was quite clear Pip hadn’t liked them.

At long last they came to the edge of the trees overlooking a broad valley, and Felin called a halt. ‘We should be out of the woods, now,’ he announced, and didn’t appear at all amused when this was greeted with laughter. ‘I’ve taken us well to the side of the route we should have followed towards either Interface, so anyone watching for us would not expect an approach from this direction.’

‘If there are any groups lying in wait for us,’ Hugh said soberly, ‘the danger will increase as we get closer to the point they will know we have to reach in order to leave the Rings.’

‘Only way round that, round that - ha-ha! - round that,’ said Avinia, ‘will be to take a parallel course to the Interfaces. Then we turn a right-angle and get to them from one side; one side.’

‘Idea is good,’ said Lusi. ‘We will also do. Now is time we go own way. You meet Dengana where; when?’

Hugh thought quickly. ‘You have your bike?’ he asked. Dengana nodded.

‘Right, then. I don’t know how we’re going to get there, but look out for us at the shop in Ummango from about midday on Saturday onwards.’ Dengana nodded again.

CHAPTER 12: Flight, Concealment, Fight and Sorrow.


usi and Dengana flew off at a tangent to the direction Felin then led them in. For some time they were still visible to one side of them, but then became more and more distant until they couldn’t make them out any more.

They were still staring into the blue, when out of the blue a missile came plummeting straight towards them. Hugh instinctively dropped to the ground and covered his head with his arms, only looking up when he heard Tyrentia erupt in peals of laughter. With a loud ‘squawk’ and a flutter of wings, Katha had landed and was staring adoringly at Avinia.

‘You are too funny,’ snorted Tyrentia. ‘Doing a belly-flop like that!’

‘Yes, well,’ Hugh huffed. ‘This could be bad news!’

‘Bad news? It’s only Katha, you dweeb!’

‘Exactly! How did he find us? If he could see us, who else can?’

Avinia turned from her bird-type communication and stared thoughtfully at Hugh.

‘You may be right, be right,’ she said.

‘Was he looking for us?’ pressed Hugh. ‘Could you ask him?’

Avinia shook her head. ‘Our communication isn’t quite that advanced, not quite,’

‘Anyway it’s great to have our friend around again,’ said Tyrentia resolutely. ‘Are we carrying on now, or what?’

 ‘There is a Conjunction directly between Honour Ring and Glit Ring which has conveniently become available’ Felin responded. ‘Just in case, we’ll approach it from a good distance to one side of it.’

It turned out that this had been wise. Katha came back agitatedly to let them know that somethings - they couldn’t quite make out what - were lying in wait on the route they should have been following. Fortunately these were not actually at the Conjunction, but some distance before it on the fringe of a heavily wooded area in which it lay. By taking to ground level they were able to get to, and through, the ‘bubble wall’ without being seen; or, indeed, having any idea who or what was lurking.

‘Whatever they are, whatever are,’ Avinia said when all were safely in Glit Ring, ‘I don’t think they had in mind giving us a party. Katha didn’t like the look of them one bit, not one bit.’

They flew steadily throughout the day with only short rests in carefully-scouted deserted parts, and when it became close to evening Tye remarked, ‘I am so looking forward to a good meal and a comfy bed.’

‘Not going to happen, I’m afraid,’ said Hugh. ‘We can’t risk an inn. We’ll just have to find a nice clear stream for water and washing, fruit or whatever for supper, and a soft place to sleep. I hope it doesn’t rain. Looks like it might.’

‘Are you so far out of your so-called mind you’ll never ever find your way back …?’ was how Tye’s inevitable tantrum began, but it was only a half-hearted one because she could actually see the sense of what he had said.

Even she cheered up when they found a lovely spot near a stream of crystal clarity, Felin had caught and cooked a fish over a fire lit, apparently, by magic, and Avinia and Pip between them had gathered or pointed out a selection of fruits and nuts. ‘Not so bad, after all,’ she declared between mouthfuls.

Everyone cheered down again when the threatened rain arrived, and Tye changed her tune to snarling, ‘Not so bad, as I said; just horribly dreadfully hideously awful!’

Some quick construction using large leaves fitted to form an overlapping sloped roof in the lee of a tree provided shelter, while other leaves and grass, gathered hastily before they became wet, shut her up again by providing comfortable mattresses and bedding.

‘Much easier than when one is human-sized,’ Hugh murmured as he snuggled down.

The next morning, after they had refreshed themselves, Felin said, ‘Avinia and I had some magic sensors and screens put up last night, but as Highest Princes and Princesses you should be able to do stronger ones. It might be an idea to keep them going for the rest of the journey.’

‘How?’ came in chorus from Hugh and Tye.

‘Um ….’ said Felin.

‘Er …’ said Avinia.

They both went silent, and frowned and fidgeted a lot. Then Avinia said hesitantly, ‘Maybe … if you tell yourselves to look out for magic; for magic … and then I do a really strong burst like this …’

‘Something tickles, somewhere,’ Hugh said, and Tye nodded.

‘Focus on that!’ Felin exclaimed. ‘Good idea, Avinia!’

‘Yes, I can pick it up, now,’ Tye nodded, ‘and, sort-of, tell what it’s made of.’

‘Now think of doing an answer, like responding to something someone has said, has said,’ chirped Avinia. ‘From knowing it is a voice speaking, you would use your own voice to reply.’

Hugh searched for a matching ‘voice’ for some minutes. Then a glimmer came through and he pounced on it.

‘Eek!’ said Avinia. ‘Not so strong; so strong!’

‘Got it, too!’ Tye said, looking excited. ‘Now, how do you project these sensor and screen things?’

‘The sensor part you’ve already just done,’ Felin said. ‘Now you have to fine-tune it so that the instant it gets a trace, it switches off and sends a blank, instead. Sense again, Hugh, and as soon as you pick up my probe, try doing that.’

It took any number of attempts before first Tye and then Hugh started getting the hang of it. The fine-tuning turned out to be very fine indeed, but before they set out they had reached the stage of being able to ‘program’ the magic to do a continuous search, and to react with an instant barrier if the search came up with anything directed their way. Avinia suggested they take turns, because magical effort was the same as physical effort in that it could all get used up and would then need time to replenish.

As final precautions in their approach, they decided not only to fly as high as they could, but also to split up into two groups, with Tye, Pip (of course) and Felin several minutes ahead. The other group of Avinia and Hugh were taking a course parallel to theirs, but which would intersect the line of the planned right-angle turn slightly closer to the Interface.

Before they split up, Hugh did a quick experiment on his clothes, and called to the others, ‘It might be a good idea to wear camouflage, like mine. I know stealth aircraft use things like pinky grey, but to me a blue to match this sky will be the most effective for our front parts, and for our backs a tabby like Felin’s. We really can’t be too careful; it’s going to be hard enough to get through Rhino Valley, but if whoever we’re up against knows we’re on our way there won’t be a hope.’

‘Good idea,’ said Felin. ‘We could use magic for invisibility, but it takes too much and because it has to be ongoing it can act as a beacon to anyone doing a trace. Unlike things like changing clothing colours, where the magic only happens while you do it.’

They experimented with flying below one another to find the shades which made them closest to invisible against the sky from underneath, and then above one another to find the best colours against the land from higher up. Then the parties divided and they started off in earnest.

Katha had to use all his skill and speed to keep both groups covered. He even managed to pay another visit among them with the nearest an eagle could come to wearing a self-satisfied expression.

‘He is amazing, quite amazing,’ Avinia reported. ‘I gather that in spite of our camouflage he has had to discourage a few ambitious eagles – fortunately all smaller than he is, than he is.’

It took almost the whole day to reach the turning point which, as they had hoped, was in a wooded area stretching all the way to where the Interface would be found.  The timing had been almost perfect; hardly had Hugh and Avinia landed than a scouting Pip flew a circle round them before going back to fetch Tye and Felin.

Pip continued to take short flights ahead, as done in the woods near Aiennea Palace, and Avinia managed to get Katha to do a particularly careful reconnaissance nearer the Interface. From what they could understand from the eagle, the trees at the edge of the wood in that area were swarming with what must be rhaxen.

With Pip scouting as usual, they went to within a few hundred metres of the Interface without any trace of rhaxen other than on the outskirts. All could detect that the rhaxen were, in any case, putting out strong searching signals, but there was no sign of any magical activity near the Interface itself.

Still, they all approached fearfully, and breathed a sign of relief when they reached the ‘bubble’ with no signs of interference.

‘We won’t go through with you,’ Felin said, ‘so we must say farewell for now. We must get back to the Queen of Queens as quickly as possible to show ourselves and strengthen the impression we are sure she will have given that you are still there as her guests. I hope we’ll see you again very soon bringing some news for us.’

‘What about Pip?’ Tye asked.

‘Don’t worry, with being your sprite now he’ll be able to Adapt, to Adapt,’ Avinia said.

Hugh and Tye hugged both of them in turn, and then started to walk towards the shimmering wall.

Suddenly, horrifyingly, something burst out of it straight at them. It appeared to be a huge winged lizard, the size, to them, of a crocodile, with a long snout filled with jagged teeth, and vicious claws on each foot.

‘Darxtyl!’ Felin gasped, and pointed a finger at it.

Avinia pulled his arm down. ‘No magic!’ she reminded him urgently. ‘Doesn’t work on them anyway, remember!’

With wings a-blur she flew straight at it. The creature paused to slash at her with both front legs, but by flying bewildering zigzags she dodged the claws and flitted upwards to behind the head, from where she suddenly did a swoop with arms and fingers extended as if diving into water, straight towards one of the eyes.  Her timing was perfect, and the creature recoiled as the eye was jabbed. A leg came up, though, and claws hooked Avinia with a glancing blow which knocked her out of the air. The lizard plunged down at her and an instant later the jaws closed on her body.

Katha let out a cry and dived at the head of the beast, but one slash from the claws sent him to the ground as a lifeless bundle of feathers.

‘Go through!’ Felin said to Hugh and Tye as loudly as he dared, and he also launched himself at the darxtyl.

Desperately, Hugh searched for anything to act as a weapon. There were no clubroots; in fact not even a suitable stick or stone was to be found.

‘Go!’ Felin whisper-screamed again.

‘We must!’ Tye called at Hugh, and vanished through the wall to one side of the darxtyl. Pausing just long enough to see that Felin was now distracting it on that side, he also went through, but on the opposite one.

He was, abruptly, back to being a normal-sized boy, but in an instant could discern that Tye and Pip had only gone to Between – she was visible as a Glow and he could also just make out the little sprite. He cast his eye around again, and spotted an agave plant with long spiky leaves tipped with thin, vicious thorns. With furious haste he managed to rip two of the rigid leaves from it, and tried to pass one to the little figure of Tye. She didn’t seem able to grasp at it, so he gestured her to go back through.

Clutching both leaves firmly, he dived back himself, arriving in the same instant as Tye did.  As he had desperately hoped would happen, the leaves came through in their original sizes

‘It worked! Here!’ he said as he handed one to her, and she grabbed it eagerly. He had judged correctly; it was a perfect length for her to hold as a spear...

Felin had still, miraculously, kept out of harm’s way and was making little darting attacks at the head of the beast. It was occupied, though, in shaking the body of Avinia like a dog with a rag doll.

Fury and grief filled Hugh. Holding the spike in front of him he flew high into the air, and then dived towards the good eye. Tye was already coming in at the one blinded by Avinia, and her spike went home in time to distract the lizard from evading the threat from Hugh.

‘Get him!’ she called, almost forgetting to do it quietly. He drove his spike in deeply.  The reptile thrashed and flailed, and Hugh and Tye only just managed to dodge the claws before being flung clear. Felin waited for an opportunity, and flew in to give a mighty push to the end of Tye’s spike still impaling the eye, and then Hugh did the same with the other.

‘Again, but watch out for those claws, ’ Felin panted urgently. ‘We’d better do it at the same instant.’

‘Kick!’ Hugh responded. Timing it perfectly, the two plunged at the ends of the spikes feet-first, using them at the moment of impact as spring-boards to launch themselves clear again.

‘Now, you stinking …’ said Tye, diving down with a rock she had at last found, and using it as a hammer. She nearly took a hammering herself; by now the creature was thrashing around in a total frenzy and the whipping tail only just missed her as she flew clear.

In furious attempts to dislodge the thorns with its claws, the darxtyl only managed to drive them in yet further, and suddenly, as they were all preparing for another onslaught, it gave a shudder, fell over, flapped its wings feebly, and lay still.

They rushed to where Avinia was lying.  Her eyes were closed, but when Felin said, ‘Vinnie!’ in anguished tones, she opened them and looked at each one of the group in turn.

‘I’ll be fine, just fine,’ she said, and her dress suddenly assumed its most vivid colours. ‘Joy and harmony … to all of you …all of you … always,’ she whispered, smiling. Then she gave a little sigh, closed her eyes again, and began to Fade almost immediately.

Tye and Felin were both sobbing heartbrokenly, with Pip squeaking in sympathy, but Hugh found himself going further into a cold rage instead. ‘Somebody or something is going to pay for this!’ he promised savagely. With a forlorn hope he went to check the place where Katha had fallen, but there was no trace of him. The darxtyl had also vanished.

Then Felin pulled himself together with a great effort.

‘We mustn’t waste what she sacrificed herself for,’ he choked out. ‘Go, now, and start planning to get to this valley place. I must remain unseen at all costs until I get back.’

‘Yes,’ Hugh reasoned grimly. ‘having a non-magical creature wait Between was a clever move, but by the same token that we couldn’t sense it by magic it won’t have given any warning to the rhaxen. The chances are the rhaxen didn’t even know the darxtyl was here in reserve. And even if only you, alone, are spotted at the tower, any spy will be convinced we are all still there.’

Then sorrow overcame his rage, and he cried out in anguished tones, ‘Oh, Avinia, you were so lovely, and so brave,’

All three clung together for a while before they said farewells again, and then Hugh and Tye returned to their normal world.

CHAPTER 13: Home, Planning, and Reinforced Bullies


his is quite extraordinary, Tyrentia,’ her grandfather said for what must have been at least the third time, staring at the ball of black fur clinging to her front as she sat across the supper table from him. ‘Utterly attached to you - in more ways than one - and so soon after you found it.’

‘I still don’t understand what made you two go for a walk when you knew we’d be home so soon,’ Raine complained.

‘We would have been back earlier but got held up a bit with Pip and everything,’ Hugh said.

‘Why do you call him Pip?’ Mrs Flynn wanted to know.

‘That’s his name,’ Tye answered briefly. The adults rolled their eyes at the ceiling.

Tye had instructed Hugh to stick as closely to the truth as possible when they explained why they were late and had Pip with them. ‘There was another larger animal that had been killed, and he was clinging to the body,’ was the way Hugh had put it. ‘He looked as if he might die too, but Tye won his trust and he came away with her.’  

Parents and grandparents had immediately translated this in their minds as meaning that the other animal had been Pip’s mother, run over on the road. The two didn’t contradict them.

As soon as supper was over, Hugh said, ‘Will you excuse us, please. Tye and I want to go to my computer and check what sort of animal Pip is. More definition on that than on pads and stuff.’ ‘Don’t be long,’ Donald said. ‘There’s something important we haven’t told you yet, in all the excitement.’

After some frantic googling, Hugh said, ‘This is about as close as we’re going to come. A rare type of large red bush squirrel found in Ngoye Forest, not far away. Can you look a bit more like the pictures, Pip?’

Pip studied the monitor, said. ‘Yip,’ and converted to looking more squirrel-like - but still staying black, though. Unlike the humans, the sprite had kept wings on Adapting, but it became clear certain things could be changed at will. After Pip had crawled up over her shoulder to study Tye’s back, the wings had abruptly vanished.

‘Now,’ Tye said, ‘how on earth do we persuade your father to take us to Ummango but simply drop us there and let us do our own thing for a while?  It’s going to be quite impossible.’

‘Dunno,’ Hugh responded. ‘We have to think of something.’

On the way back to the sitting room they heard their names mentioned. Tye grabbed Hugh’s arm and held him back so that she could do a spot of eavesdropping, whether or not it made him uncomfortable.

‘… both Hugh and Tyrentia are a bit strange tonight,’ they heard Mrs Flynn say. ‘Far more upset than I would have imagined finding a dead animal with an orphan would account for.’  There were murmurs of agreement.

‘I saw all of you go into shock when you heard Hugh calling Tyrentia “Tye”,’ Donald put in. ‘Then, when I called her that without thinking, she nearly bit my head off.’

‘It is a bit of a shock, indeed,’ Raine said. ‘I’m the only one she has allowed to use that pet name after … that is, the only one.’

‘Yes, we don’t dare, either,’ said her grandmother. ‘Anyway, they do seem good for one another. Tyrentia is just nicer, somehow, when they are together.’

‘Hugh is more lively and … I hate to say this, but it fits … more “normal” than he has been for ages,’ Donald said.

Hugh tore himself from Tye’s grasp and fled, blushing. Then he came back down the passage pretending to cough loudly.

‘Looks like one of the rare red squirrels from Ngoye,’ he said as he walked in, ‘only, er, rarer because of being bigger and blacker and fluffier.’

‘That’s unlikely,’ said Donald. He peered. ‘Oddly enough, though, he does seem more like a squirrel now. Maybe I didn’t see him properly before. At any rate, I know a way to find out for certain what he is.’ He took out his mobile phone. ‘Bongani Khumalo is a friend of mine who lectures in zoology and ecology at the university, and he lives just up the road.’

After a fairly short phone conversation, Donald told them that his friend was excited at the news, and was on his way over to see for himself.

‘Anyway,’ said Tye, ‘I’m going to have to take home schooling again. I can’t leave Pip. He simply won’t be parted from me.’

 ‘Oh, no you aren’t,’ Raine said in a definite tone of voice. ‘You will be going to school tomorrow, and that’s that!’

The argument was still raging when Professor Khumalo arrived, still in a state of excitement which increased even further as soon as he set eyes on Pip.

Hugh and Tye left it to the adults to give him their versions of where and how Pip had become attached to Tye. The Professor then conducted as much of an examination as a highly annoyed Pip would allow.

Then they ran a short demonstration, where Hugh tried to take Pip from her and got snarled at furiously, and when she put the ‘squirrel’ down and tried to leave the room without it, when it obligingly gave an act of going completely frantic.

After that the Professor accepted a drink, sat back comfortably, and said, ‘There is no doubt in my mind that this is a rare member of an already endangered branch of the local Paraxerus palliates ornatus squirrel family, showing some lucifer characteristics. As such, every care must be taken to keep it safe and happy. It is obvious that it has bonded closely with Tyrentia here, and she is right not to want to risk upsetting it in any way.’

He paused for thought, and for a good swig of his drink. ‘What I suggest,’ he went on, ‘is that I provide a letter to Tyrentia’s school to stress how important it is that an exception to their rules be made in her case until we are sure the animal will not be subjected to undue stress by being parted from her.’

After he had done some scribbling he wanted them to take him to where the body of the other one was. Hugh thought fast, and then said that it had somehow vanished.

‘Pity, that. A scavenger, no doubt,’ said the professor.

As soon as their visitor had taken his leave Donald declared, ‘And now, what I have been trying to tell you two all evening is that, quite unexpectedly, Raine and I have to fly to Johannesburg tomorrow for a vital set of business meetings which will last over the whole long weekend until Tuesday. The Flynns have kindly agreed to have you as a guest during that time, Hugh, so you and Tyrentia will go straight there after school.’

Hugh gave a start, and got a gleam in his eye, but Tye was ahead of him.

‘I think it would be a better idea,’ she said with elaborate casualness, ‘if I come back here with Hugh and we help Happiness look after the place. It’ll give Gran and Grandpa a break, and it’ll give us a real chance to see if we can get on together as family.’

Donald and Raine looked doubtful, but the Flynns looked shocked. ‘Most improper,’ said Mrs Flynn.

Perversely, Donald and Raine seemed to become less doubtful after the Flynn’s reaction.

Hugh put on a hurt expression. ‘Well, of course,’ he said reproachfully, ‘if you think you can’t trust us not to get up to mischief …’

‘Oh, I don’t see why not,’ Raine said suddenly, and Donald shrugged.

‘As long as you don’t make extra work for Happiness,’ he said. ‘And keep everything tidy, yourselves. Remember, she’s off on Saturday afternoon and Sunday.’

‘We’ll manage,’ Hugh and Tye managed to say at exactly the same instant, which managed to get a smile from their audience – even the still-disapproving Flynns.

When the Flynn family were walking to their car a bit later, they disturbed a hadeda ibis roosting in a tree above, and the bird uttered a loud, ‘Haaa!’

‘Why are you crying, Tye?’ asked a bewildered Raine, sitting next to her daughter in the back seat as they drove home. Pip was also uttering pathetic squeaks.

‘J-just that something reminded me of s-someone,’ Tye sobbed, and that was all her mother could get out of her.


Hugh took an early bus to school to meet Tye, who had done the same.  Other early arrivals looked in great astonishment as she marched in with Pip on her shoulder – the ‘squirrel’ showing a lively interest in the scene. The two headed directly for the principal’s office. He was already there, and the school secretary ushered them into his presence immediately, blinking a good deal.

The minute the principal saw Pip, he looked as if he were about to explode. He took in a deep breath to do it with, but Tye handed him the professor’s letter and he let it out again while he read. He had a deepening frown, though, and Hugh could see another pre-explosion breath starting to happen.

‘Isn’t it just the most amazing opportunity,’ he said enthusiastically, ‘to show what you have been saying about the importance of conservation and all that?  I mean, when an exception can be made to a strict rule for such a good reason?’

The second breath was also released harmlessly while the principal gave some deep thought.  Then he nodded.  ‘I’ll allow it on a trial basis, provided it does not provide any nuisance or distraction in classes, and provided no other children start regarding it as a precedent. By the way, Redcorn, I have been provided with some good reports lately about how you are applying yourself. Keep it up.’

‘That’s provided for that!’ Tye giggled to Hugh as they made their way down the corridor.

In an announcement of the concession a little later at Assembly, the principal made it abundantly clear that anyone else who thought it would be a good idea to try bringing animals to school, endangered or not, would find themselves rethinking the matter during detention.

Before classes started Tye got permission to give a little speech from in front of the blackboard, when she begged everyone not to let themselves be distracted by Pip or he and she would be thrown out.  Everyone co-operated well except a couple of the naughtier ones - but they were quickly brought in line by their classmates.

At the end of the lesson before big break, Hugh was asked to stay behind with a couple of others to have a maths problem explained to them. With her mind still on Breena from the recent past and Darx Circle from the near future, Tye was hardly conscious of her surroundings as she wandered out into the playgrounds. She soon regretted that.

‘Let’s prove the rat is quite happy to be away from her,’ came the hated voice of Brian Simpkins, and he stood in her way and leered at her. ‘Grab her, Sipho; Ben!’

Tye’s arms were seized from either side.

‘Frik; Bongi; get her ankles. She kicks!’

She felt herself half-lifted as her legs were held from behind. It was clear that Brian had recruited some reinforcements for his gang of troublemakers.

‘Now …’ Brian sneered, reaching for Pip.

The little creature snarled, somehow not looking so little any more, and revealing a set of fangs more like those of a wolf than a squirrel. Tye felt the body tensing to leap. ‘Don’t scratch or bite!’ she warned urgently. Even in such a crisis she was able to think quickly enough to realise that if Brian or any of his gang showed bite- or claw-marks later, it would provide a problem.

Pip paused for a fraction of a second, and then launched past the reaching hand and straight at the leering face. It felt to Brian more as if he had been hit with a large sandbag than by the body of a small animal. He staggered backwards and sat down hard.

In one fluid movement, Pip sprang back and up onto Tye’s shoulder, and from there plummeted down at the crouching Frik. To Frik, also, it felt as if a large solid weight had hit his neck and upper back. His face went into the dirt, and he let go of the ankle.

That was enough for Tye. She aimed a vicious downward kick at Sipho’s shin, and as he gave a yelp of agony and released her arm, she swung the heel of her hand across her body to connect with Ben’s nose for the second time in a matter of days.  He let go, too, with his attention now fully taken up with bleeding.

Letting go had become fashionable. Bongi had done it, too, and was backing away in terror, screaming, ‘Devil tokoloshe!’ while Pip made a series of threatening darts at him.

To hit somebody when they are down may be frowned upon as being unsporting, but Tye decided five against one - or against two, to be accurate, as Pip had done most of the damage - cancelled that out. She stepped up to where Brian was trying to get back on his feet, and delivered a solid and well-aimed kick. He lay down, doubled-up, and making a strangled squeaking sound.

‘I would strongly suggest that all of you bunch of verminous sewage scum keep well clear of me in the future,’ she said, thinking Hugh would be proud of her if he could hear her language.

He had, and he was. The maths explanation hadn’t taken long. ‘Good advice, that,’ he said, smacking the side of Bongi’s head hard while on his way past him to deliver some slaps to the face of Frik. Frik had just got up, but lay down again promptly. ‘Tye might allow Pip to become rough with you, and after that I might want a turn and not be in a good mood like now.’

‘Time to leave,’ Tye warned, and called Pip. The beginnings of a crowd had started gathering, and prefects were approaching. She and Hugh strolled off casually, with Pip back on her shoulder looking particularly innocent-little-squirrel-ish.

‘Look,’ Hugh laughed. ‘Everyone thinks they have been fighting amongst themselves, and they’re getting gated for it.’

‘That’s good poetic justice,’ Tye said. ‘Why is it that some people simply won’t learn not to be nasty, though? No wonder history repeats itself like this: the same mistakes lead to the same results. Actually, though, you’ve become a bit nastier yourself. I like it more than your silly wimpy ways.’

‘I guess I’m going to need all the practice I can get in being that, on this little adventure,’ Hugh observed grimly, thinking again of recent events.

‘Anyway,’ said Tye, going into her best bossy mode, ‘we have a lot of thinking and planning to do if we’re going to make full use of these amazing coincidences that have been acting in our favour so far. They should be a great help towards letting us get to Ummango in time.’

 ‘I think I have some ideas to work on, for that,’ said Hugh. ‘For starters, we need to have your bike handy, and then …’

CHAPTER 14: Buses and Bicycles


he bicycle part turned out to be quite easy. When Tye’s grandfather collected them from school it transpired that he had already fitted the car with a carrier and loaded her machine onto it, and he also had the suitcase she had packed for the weekend, so he took them straight to Hugh’s home.

‘Thanks, Granddad,’ Tye said. ‘Remember: the plan is that we will prove we can cope completely on our own. Don’t call us; if you do we won’t answer. We’ll call you if we have any sort of problem.’

‘Hmmph,’ said Mr Flynn. ‘I really don’t approve of this whole “teenage independence” idea at all.’ He glared at them for a while, obviously wanting to say a great deal more. ‘Oh, anyway, it’s not for us to overrule your parents. We’ll see you next week.’ He waved and drove off, still looking annoyed.

‘So far, so good,’ Hugh smiled. ‘Next step, Happiness; and I hope it will be!’

She was waiting for them. ‘Eef you theenk you make beeg mess now,’ she growled at them, ‘you theenk more.’ Apart from being overweight and always having a sour expression, one of her things was refusing to speak anything but their own language to Donald and Hugh, even though their Zulu was far better than her English.

‘You wanted to go home to your family for the long weekend, didn’t you?’ Hugh asked her.

‘Eet ees not ever what I want that happen,’ she grumbled. ‘Now I must stay look after you childs.’

‘Why don’t you just go? We’ll be fine. There’s no need to worry that we’ll leave a mess; we’ll be out a lot and I promise you the house will look as if we haven’t been here at all,’ Hugh said.

‘Meestair Donald he be shout at me eef I do that,’ she said.

‘Who’s going to tell him?’ Tye asked sweetly.

Happiness’s expression of misery lightened slightly as she thought this over. ‘You Hugh always speak true,’ she observed. ‘I go. Eef I go now, ees steel time for today late bus. Otherwise only get at time six tomorrow the morning.’ Moving with remarkable speed considering her girth, she went to pack a carry-bag, and very soon they watched her letting herself out of the front gate.

‘Bus;’ Hugh was saying thoughtfully, ‘there’s an idea. It would take too long to ride up to Ummango, so as I told you I was thinking of using minibus taxis.  With needing to take the bikes, though, a bus would be better. Happiness’s family is up near ‘Maritzburg, which is on one of the routes to get to the Valley. Six o’clock, did she say? We’d better gear ourselves for that. Which reminds me: we need to see what money we can scrape up between us.’

After supper, they went out to check over the bicycles, and Hugh fitted his carrier to go over his back wheel, and another ‘borrowed’ from Donald on Tye’s machine. ‘It is so silly wearing the backpacks when riding a bike, don’t you think …?’ he said on their way back from the garage, and then paused to look out over the garden. ‘Notice anything?’

‘Yes,’ said Tye soberly. ‘Nothing.’

Hugh nodded. ‘Quite so. It looks as if this has become a no-go area for Faie folk. I haven’t seen a trace of one since we came back.’

‘Just as well,’ Tye said. ‘If there were any, here or Between, I’m sure reports might get circulated very fast that certain people who are supposed to be guests of Aiennea – aren’t.’


They were up early the next morning. After a hasty breakfast of cereal and fruit they tidied everything, set all the house alarms, locked up, fastened their backpacks to the bicycles, and set out for the nearest ‘bus stop’ – that is, the place where people customarily flagged down privately-owned buses and taxis.

The group of mixed Zulus already there looked at them curiously. It was unusual for pale-faced people to be waiting for cheap transport in an area where they usually came from fairly wealthy backgrounds. Also, it was clear that Pip freaked them out more than somewhat. Hugh addressing them fluently in their own language astonished them even more, but made them respond with friendliness.

‘The money, how much do you pay to ride?’ he asked, and they told him, also volunteering the information of how much extra the bikes would cost to transport.

At about ten-past, a large bus with ‘Ravis Special Sunrise Delight’ painted along the side came to a stop, quite ignoring traffic rules and a build-up of traffic behind it. Hugh asked the fare, in English. Once the ‘conductor’ stopped goggling at them in general and Pip in particular, he got a gleam in his eye and named a sum four times what they had been told.

‘We’re not as stupid as we look,’ Hugh grinned, and offered the exact normal amount. The other passengers roared with laughter, and that was that.

The luggage compartment was spacious, and they didn’t even need to take any wheels off the bikes for them to fit comfortably. Within a couple of minutes of stopping the bus was on its way again. Hugh and Tye had a section of seats all to themselves – the other passengers showed a preference for keeping a good distance away from Pip even if it meant huddling together.

The trip to Pietermaritzburg was uneventful apart from diving off the motorway a few times to pick up more passengers, or drop some off. A couple of new ones thought they would avail themselves of the space near Hugh and Tye, but suddenly decided to sit somewhere else when Pip sniffed at them.

Hugh found that he was spotting expected signs of Faie activity here and there on the route, and a couple of times Tye elbowed him and indicated with head gestures where she had spotted something of special interest. Now, though, he found that he was not fixated on them as he had always been in the part, but was accepting them as normal.

The end of the route was at an informal bus station on the outskirts of the little city nestled at the foot of Town Hill, and from there they had been able to get directions to the place from which another bus heading for Umtata usually left on Saturdays at ‘about eight o’clock’.

The streets leading there were not busy, justifying the ‘Sleepy Hollow’ title often used to describe the place, and it didn’t take them long to cycle to the departure point. The bus which - quite a bit after eight - wheezed up to the new group of passengers they had joined was smaller than the last, and had a less spectacular paint job. The bikes had to be tied on a roof rack for this one, and it was so cramped that some fearful passengers had no option but to sit next to Tye. The same strategy had been employed to pay a ‘normal’ fare, which turned out a good deal less than what the conventional bus lines were charging.

Hugh had a long discussion with the driver during the start of the journey regarding where best he and Tye should leave the bus so as to cut across to Ummango, which was off to one side of the route. It was as well he had done so.

‘If you ride all the way along the road that branches off to go there,’ the man said, ‘there is much up-up-up, but if you go past a little and take the farm roads to link up from other side, road already on high part.’ This made a good deal of sense.

After an uncomfortable journey of about two-and-a-half hours, the bus groaned its way painfully up a particularly long climb, and the driver called out, ‘At the top is road where you go.’

The other passengers looked relieved when the two got out. No help was offered in climbing up the ladder up the back to retrieve their bicycles, which they managed with good teamwork. They had hardly set the second one down before the bus, with renewed vigour after having finished the climb, roared off.

‘More like a path than a road,’ Hugh observed after they had fastened their backpacks onto the carriers and mounted. ‘Just a sec. – let me check the reception,’ and he hauled his phone out of his pocket. ‘Yes the GPS is working fine and there is a strong signal at the top here. Maybe I should send a quick message to your grandparents, that we’re doing fine and are out on a ride?’ Tye shrugged and he texted busily; adding, ‘I won’t leave it on, to save the battery, but at least we can’t get lost. Wish I’d thought of making a clamp or something for it, though.’

‘It wouldn’t be shock-proof enough for that, stupid, even with front shocks,’ Tye responded.

‘There are times when I’d like to give you some shocks,’ Hugh said, but under his breath. Then he added, this time out loud but breathlessly instead, ‘Phew, just this slight rise and I’m tired already. I’m unfit when it comes to cycling. Don’t know how I’m going to get all the way.’

Tye’s tone became even more infuriatingly Tyrentia-ish. ‘You should remember that one normally feels like that at the beginning of a ride, especially after some sitting, even if you’re fit from walking or running. Once you warm up properly, you’ll be able to carry on and on.’

What was even more infuriating was that she soon proved to be right.

Pip was clearly enjoying the added speed of the level or downhill bits, and was sitting balanced upright on her shoulder with tail streaming behind like a short puff of smoke. After a while they came to the top of a slight rise from which they had a good view all round. Nobody was in sight, human or Faie.

‘Yip-eep?’ said Pip.

‘Why not? Go ahead,’ Tye responded, while Hugh gaped.

At that, the ‘squirrel’ suddenly grew a set of wings, and took off. Then it was swooping and soaring above them, giving happy little yip-yips from time to time, and looking like a massive black bat.

After quite a while Pip suddenly dived down to perch on Tye’s shoulder again, abruptly de-winging on the instant of landing. Not long after that they passed some workers in a field. Even after these had been left far behind, Pip was then happy to remain as a passenger again, though.

Most of the gradients were fairly easy, and Hugh tried to do some chatting while they rode, but he found Tye unresponsive as usual. She simply wouldn’t talk about herself, and didn’t show much interest in anything to do with his own life and memories.

They had to branch onto other roads and tracks, consulting the GPS map from time to time, before they came across more and more dwellings, and finally intersected the road on the Rhino Valley side of Ummango. Hugh glanced at his watch. ‘We couldn’t have timed that much better if we’d tried. Twenty-five to. I wouldn’t be surprised if Dengana is a bit late, though. Not that I mind if he is; I’m dying for a rest and a nice cold drink from a fridge.’

‘They know you at the shop, don’t they?’ Tye asked. ‘Maybe I should go in for what we want while you look after the bikes. The ideal number of people to find out that you are anywhere near this area is none whatsoever. Anyway, I’m better than you are at answering awkward questions.’

‘Fibbing, you mean,’ said Hugh, a trifle testily.

‘Only if I have to,’ Tye nodded. ‘Usually, a careful selection of bits of truth work better – as I notice you have managed to do quite a bit of, lately.’

There was, indeed, no sign of Dengana yet, so Tye bought refreshments while Pip stayed with Hugh looking miserable and going, ‘Meep, meep.’ She fobbed off awkward questions by saying that they were exploring for good routes, and would probably be joined by another member of their group before they got picked up some time later.

They had to wait another twenty-five minutes or so before Dengana breezed in, not in any particular hurry. He took rather casually the miracle the pair of them had brought off by being there, saying simply, ‘I know all the time you would find way to do it.’  Then he noticed Tye looking blank, so said it again in English, but still in casual tones.

He was far more enthusiastic about the spare ‘cooldrink’ and chocolate bar Tye had bought for him. Some of the enthusiasm was dampened when, although Pip had enjoyed a good share of those of Hugh and Tye, he insisted on having some of that as well.

Dengana told them smugly that he had been rather cunning about his own departure. He had sneaked out after leaving a note which said he was going to visit ‘scribble’ for a few days and that he would explain when he got back. The ‘scribble’ had been provided by a convenient flaw in the paper, making the writing on that spot completely illegible.

‘This way,’ he said, ‘parents they not worry, and I only worry about trouble for come back when come back.’

He made light of the experience of leaving Safah Ring, saying, ‘Rhaxen they wait, but Lusi she make good plan.’ Then he was quite devastated when they told him about Avinia.

They made good time when they set out as a group. Dengana’s bicycle, which was a pride and joy he had gone through many sacrifices to buy, was not as light or as fancy as those of Tye and Hugh. Nevertheless, he was a strong rider, and kept up with them easily except where their extra gearing allowed for pedal-assisted speed even on steep downhill stretches.

Not that the state of the road, once they had taken the turnoff for Rhino Valley after an hour’s hard riding, would allow for great speed. It took constant concentration to pick a route through stones, corrugations, ruts, and potholes.

The afternoon was well-advanced when they finally came to the spot where the road started its winding drop into Rhino Valley, and they stopped to look out over the magnificent view.

Tye took in the distant stretch of the valley with its river and streams, little hills, fields, groups of trees and the few dotted farms.  Then she looked left at the imposing bulk of Rhino Peak, and right at the steep hill crowned by the stooped, brooding rock formations she knew from what Hugh had described must be The Sad Ones.

‘Not bad,’ she said lightly, and Hugh glared at her.

‘Well, we’re here,’ he said after a pause, ‘Question is, what on earth do we do from this point forward?  We’ve reached as far as I’ve been able to think ahead, but now I haven’t a clue. How and where do we eat and sleep? How can we possibly get through that valley and find the entrance to Darx Circle without any creature detecting us?

CHAPTER 15: Into the Leopard’s Den


o use to think about such things before,’ Dengana declared. ‘We need to be here, to look, see, and then make plans.’

Tye nodded agreement. ‘What Faie folk activity can we see?’ she asked. ‘Any of the Daoine? There must be Darxem. How many can we spot?’ She paused for thought, and turned to Hugh. ‘You were able to sense Darxem. What about now?’

Hugh concentrated. ‘No, I’m getting bad vibes from the whole area, for whatever reason, but I can’t actually sense any of them.’

They all studied the scene for some time.

‘Absolute blank,’ said Hugh, finally.

‘No tokoloshe,’ Dengana agreed.

‘Nothing I can see, either,’ Tye said. ‘This is weird. I would have thought the Darxds, at least, would be all over the place by now, or what was everything all about?’

Hugh looked on her shoulder. ‘I wonder if Pip can get rid of his tail and look more like a bird?’

‘Meep,’ said Pip mournfully.

‘Or hide it?’

Pip suddenly grew wings, and did some experimental flitting with tail tucked underneath. At first it kept needing to be extended  again for balance, and it looked from below like sudden puffs of smoke appearing behind the ‘bird’. Hugh and Dengana giggled, and Tye glared at them.

After a minute or so, Pip got the hang of it, and without being asked flew out in a wide circle behind them, and then down towards the valley. From a distance the appearance was enough like a very fat bird not to attract undue notice.

‘If Pip he do magic here,’ Dengana said thoughtfully, ‘why not us?’

‘Good point,’ Hugh nodded. ‘How would one start? Maybe, when Pip comes back, we could ask him to grow and un-grow his wings and we could try and sense what is happening?’

‘If I put mind out to valley,’ Dengana said, ‘is bad feeling.’

Hugh and Tye gaped at him for a second, and then they both told their minds to explore the area. It was true – an almost tangible sensation of oppression came to them. Hugh probed further, and began to be aware of many little snatches of what he had felt from the bees - what appeared to be any number of little mind-messages. They were a bit scary, and he stopped.

After he had done the best he could to describe what he had felt to the others, they tried too, but without result. ‘I wonder if I’m imagining things,’ he said, ‘or if the Darxem have done something here to … change things to be more sensitive or whatever?’

Pip returned and sat on a rock overlooking the valley, and with nose pointed down into it said, ‘Meep.’ Then, looking up at The Sad Ones, went, ‘Yip.’ Another look further along the valley, and the comment was, ‘Yip?’

Tye translated: ‘Darxem up near The Sad Ones, but … inside?’ - she paused for Pip to yip – ‘something funny further up the valley, and otherwise nothing.’

Pip gave her another yip but she frowned and didn’t translate.

Hugh directed another little probe up the valley, and immediately felt something questioning in response. He backed off, hastily. ‘I get something, there,’ he said, pointing, ‘and it strikes me as being a bit familiar, somehow. It … oh, I don’t know … not Darxem, though.’

Pip stretched wings to fly back to Tye’s shoulder, but she said, ‘Hang on, can you just de-wing where you are so that we can try and sense the magic?’

The sprite did as she asked, and then had to have wings appear and disappear several times until giving quite an irritated, ‘Meep!’ and refusing to do it any more.

‘I do feel a bit of what happen,’ Dengana remarked, ‘but not make sense.’ That summed up what Hugh had and hadn’t experienced.

Tye had got it quite strongly, but again not quite enough to grab hold of.  ‘I tried using the Avinia technique …’ her voice faltered for a second ‘… but it didn’t help enough this time.’

‘This must confirm that the Darxem are up at the rocks … or in a cave there, rather.’ Hugh mused. ‘That is where we need to go to sneak into the Circle, but I think first we need a thorough idea of what is going on in the valley.’

‘Why mess about?’ Tye snapped. ‘If we cut across to our right on top here, we can link up with the extension of that Sad Ones hill without having to go down into the valley and up again.’

Dengana shook his head. ‘That way go out in open; we seen,’ he objected. ‘Also, like Hugh he say, I say we must learn what in valley, first.’

Tye scowled for a while. Then she said, ‘Oh, alright then. You two scoot down as fast as you can, but not together. Head for the Old Frogs’ place. Pip and I’ll keep a watch out, and join you once you’re both out of sight there. He’ll have seen where you go.’

Hugh opened his mouth to object, but she forestalled him. ‘That way, we’ll have a pretty good idea whether you’ve been spotted or not, and if any one of us is seen alone, the penny may not drop.’

‘I don’t see why you have to wait; you can leave the watching to Pip,’ he grumbled, but then shrugged. ‘I’ll go first, then,’ he said. He mounted up, and started down the hill, leaning right over into the first sharp turn while having to make lightning-fast decisions on his course on the rutted surface.

It was a thrilling descent. Time and again he was on the verge of losing control, but somehow managed to keep going. The drops at the side of the road, particularly near the top, were stomach-lurchingly high; some were even sheer. He was actually travelling faster than a car would have dared to go, on that road, and the slightest miscalculation would undoubtedly lead to severe injury or death.

Some parts a bit further on had little uphills in them, like a switchback, before the road would plunge into the next series of twists. Such respites were brief, but welcome.  Then came another funfair-ride-like section, and he waited for the next downward dash – but came to a bridge over the river, instead.

‘Made it!’ he breathed. ‘That was hairy. And real fun!’

The going was still up-and-down after that but, by comparison, quite easy. He caught a glimpse of Pip high above him when a smooth stretch of road allowed him to take his eyes off it for a few seconds. At the same time he had a chance to notice that the heavy feeling of the place was worse – it made one really want to be somewhere else - anywhere else.

‘I wonder if there’s magic involved?’ he said aloud. ‘A sort of repel-spell?’ He gave a wry grin and chanted, ‘Dispel repel-spell … wow!’

As he had said the words, he had felt a distinct lifting of the feeling. Saying the words again didn’t help, though, until he did it while willing the spell to be driven away – and suddenly the whole day felt much brighter and happier. Even though the avenue leading to the Henderson farmhouse was still devoid of all signs of life, it gave a far less forbidding impression than when last he had been there.

Wasting no time, he put his bike out of sight in one of the outhouses, and then let himself into the home.

Dengana arrived some ten minutes later, with a covering of dust and looking miserable. It was clear that he had come unstuck at least once, but the misery was due to the spell. When Hugh told him how to get rid of the effects and he succeeded, he was so relieved he clapped and danced.

They were starting to get concerned about Tye, but then a scratching at the front door announced Pip, joined by the girl a few seconds later. ‘Feels awful here. Horrible place!’ was her greeting. So bad was her mood that it took her quite some time to get the hang of countering the ‘repel-spell’, as they had all now started to call it.

Something was still increasingly worrying Hugh, though, and he could tell from the occasional frown and uneasy look that it was affecting Dengana as well. There was a mental impression of someone getting closer and closer, and trying to speak …

He decided it wasn’t something that should be blocked out, like the repel-spell, though. Therefore, it had to be something that he should encourage. He concentrated, and sensations of being spoken to grew stronger. It wasn’t in words, though – and yet, if he translated it into words, it started being able to make sense.

When he tried this technique, the words which came faintly into his mind amounted to, *You called. I am curious why. I have come.*

‘Where are you?’ Hugh asked, and the others gaped at him. Then he said it again, but this time while thinking of getting the message across to whatever he was getting the message across to.

*Tree … branch …* came to him. That was enough. In an instant, he knew exactly what he was talking to, and also where it was.

‘Leopard outside – says we called him,’ he gabbled.

Tye looked at him as if he had lost his mind, but Dengana immediately knew the right window to dash to. Hugh joined him there, and they peered.  There, on the far side of the courtyard, was the large tree and its spreading branches. On one of the branches was a section quite normally made up of twigs and leaves and shadows similar to all the rest – until one concentrated. Then, suddenly, that part of the scene resolved itself into the clear shape of a reclining leopard staring fixedly at the house.

‘We are coming out to you,’ Hugh said, and *said*.

He went through onto the verandah with Dengana at his elbow and Tye trailing bemusedly behind. As the leopard caught sight of them, the head gave a twitch of surprise.

*Human cubs … not shiny-bat-humans? See males before … not female. Smell same too, for males. Puzzled …*

The message was clearer now that they were outside, and became even more so as they walked closer, just as if it were made up of sound.

Tye had been putting two and two together. ‘All our effort wasted!’ she snapped. ‘Now the whole of Darx Circle will know exactly where we are.’

‘Not necessarily,’ Hugh said. ‘This must be one of the leopards the Darxem – only Darxds, Lusi said? - recruited, all right, but I don’t think they are in touch with him right now. Somehow, we need to get him on our side to keep it that way.’ He struggled to think of how to do this as they drew closer and closer to the magnificent animal, who was giving them a most unnerving stare with unblinking yellow eyes. ‘We are like bat-humans,’ he ventured. ‘Can change into bat-humans.’

*Change into bat-humans, then. Hate big humans.*

Oops. This was a bad start.

 ‘We can only change to bat-humans if we go to their hole-in ground,’ he said, hoping that the mental picture he was trying for was clear enough.

*You are humans or bat-humans?’ Hate humans.*

‘We can change to both. Why hate humans? They are dangerous, but so stupid that it is easy to make them think you are not there.’

The leopard gave some blinks. *Hate humans,* he repeated, but with less certainty.

Hugh felt he was starting to get somewhere, but it was Dengana who now picked the ball up and ran with it. ‘I greet you, Ingwe. Humans not make you do things that are not-leopard,’ he said, and Hugh could sense that his mind-projection was at least as good as his own. ‘You listen to bad bat-humans. They tell you what to do. They bring leopards together to hunt in packs like dogs. Wrong for leopards.’

*Bat-humans show good ways to hide from humans. Hate humans,* countered the leopard, but now with some signs of real doubt.

‘They show you how to hide,’ Hugh took over again, ‘but then get you to help with killing all the humans, so you don’t need to know how to hide. That means they teach you to hide for reasons not good for leopards.’  He wondered if he wasn’t being far too ambitious in expecting to get this idea across, but the leopard sat up abruptly, causing the branch to sway quite a lot, and set his ears back.

*Hate wrong bat-humans!* was his verdict.

‘This is your territory, Ingwe,’ Dengana guessed, ‘and it is not right to let other leopards come in. Only female leopard, when you want family. Bat-humans make you do things not normal for leopards. Leopards should only do things leopards want to do; not be told what to do.’

*I not listen to bat-humans any more. Eat them if tell me what to do,* resolved the leopard, giving them all rather a nasty look and lashing his tail.

‘We have not told you what to do,’ Hugh said hastily, ‘but only let you see how things are. We must now try to go into hole without bad bat-humans seeing us, and then we will leave and not bother you any longer. We are trying to stop bad bat-humans from doing more bad things.’

Again he wondered if this could possibly filter through into the mind of the big cat; again it transpired that its intelligence was far greater than he would have expected. With true feline perversity, the leopard then projected: *I like you human cubs. Will help you get to hole; then not eat you even if you come back to live here.*

This was even more than could have been hoped for. ‘When is best for us to try to get to the hole?’

The leopard gave signs of considering for a while, and then settled comfortably on his branch again. *Sleep now. A short time before light comes in morning, never see bat-humans awake. Lead you there, then.*

With that, he closed his eyes and purred himself to sleep.

CHAPTER 16: The Way to Darx Circle


e might as well have supper and a bit of a sleep before we start following that scary Ingwe character of yours,’ Tye said.

‘Ingwe is the Zulu name for leopard,’ Hugh pointed out, ‘but we may as well call him that. I suppose, in Breena he would have a name of his own like Katha did.’ The mention gave him a pang, as it did whenever he thought of their last minutes in Glim Ring.

Dengana had been rummaging. ‘Plenty food, here, in packets and tins,’ he announced.  

‘That reminds me how hungry I am,’ Tye said. ‘Oh, for a good cooked dinner. All we’ve had since our early breakfast has been that chocolate bar.’

Hugh got a gleam in his eye. ‘I could rustle up something, if we could turn on the power for a while,’ he said.

‘We don’t dare show any lights,’ Tye objected. ‘Unless there are shutters or something to seal up windows.’

They looked. There were curtains, but not thick enough.

‘I’ll just use it for the cooking. You check all over to see that no lights come on when I switch on,’ and Hugh went to where he had seen his father turn off the main.

Surprisingly soon after that they were tucking into a good stew which included some carrots, tomatoes and potatoes which had stayed fresh enough in a vegetable-tray. It was served with rice, and followed by tinned peaches and cream. Pip demanded a share of both courses,  seeming to be willing and able to eat almost anything.

‘Aren’t you glad “it” cooks?’ Hugh asked Tye, remembering their first meeting and the cupcakes.

Tye gave one of her rare smiles. ‘I must admit, “it” has its uses,’ she said.

Hugh switched the power off again after he and Dengana had washed the dishes - Tye made no attempt to help - and then they chose bedrooms and lay down. Each was convinced that the uncertainty ahead would keep them from sleeping a wink.

Of course, every one of them went out like lights would have done when the main was cut, had any been on.

It was still fully dark when an impatient growl from outside woke them up. *Dawn will be here soon! Come out!*

‘Wait; I must pack my stuff,’ Tye protested sleepily.

‘Just get shoes on – nothing would go through with us,’ Hugh said in a growl to match that of Ingwe.

Soon they were following Hugh who, as the only one who showed himself as being able to see Ingwe clearly in the dark, was keeping behind the leopard. Pip flew on ahead to do some scouting.

At first, the going was quite easy, past sheds and small paddocks behind the farmhouse. Then, after a fence and a field and another fence, the climb began in earnest. The hillside grew ever steeper, and they had to cross and re-cross an annoying little stream which, while it provided an easier route up, couldn’t make up its mind which side to do it on.

Then they came to a more open spot with no further bushes, but some smaller rocks like The Sad Ones were dotted here and there, looking particularly ghostly in the light from stars and thin crescent moon. At the far side of that, the slope started in real earnest. The leopard led them confidently up a particularly steep climb which ended in a sheer rock wall.

‘Now what?’ Tye whispered from behind.

Ingwe turned his head. *Follow,* he sent, and led them along the face. The wall petered out, and a reasonable climb-and-scramble opened out at the far side. Up they went again.

Now, the bulk of The Sad Ones was looming above them. This close, the boulders still had an alarming human-like quality to them, as if they were giants who had been frozen in poses of sorrow. They could make out that the leopard was now moving with his body more flattened to the ground, as if stalking, and everyone placed their feet with great care.

Then Pip arrived on Tye’s shoulder and squeaked softly at her for a few seconds. ‘There’s a wide cave mouth up behind one of The Sad Ones, with two Darxds just inside, I think,’ she translated.

*Wait,* came from Ingwe, and suddenly he wasn’t there any more.

Then his ‘voice’ came again, faintly. *Asleep.  Come.*

Hearts in mouths, they crept forward. As they made their way past the nearest of the towering rocks, they could discern a dark smudge at the base of another further on. Hugh could see a bit more. He could dimly make out two small seated figures just inside the entrance, slumped forward with heads on chests.

He ‘sent’ rather than spoke, ‘We have to take the chance. Purrs to you, Ingwe. We come back before light or just after.’

*I will watch for you,* came from Ingwe, who then flowed back past them and disappeared.

Pip took the initiative of flitting into the cave for a few seconds, and then came out looking satisfied. The two Darxds were alone. Hugh gestured to the others to follow closely, and then moved as quickly and silently as he could to reach the entrance. One of the figures stirred as they came between them, and he froze. There was no further movement, so he started again. Now, the problem was that even his good vision in the dark was having difficulty in making anything out as they got further into the cave, and once they had turned a wide corner, quite far in, which made the entrance invisible, everything else was completely invisible, too.

Hugh tried in vain to find any trace of the sort of lighting he had found in the mines and caves of the cobleys, but it seemed that only operated in Breena. Then he tried even harder to do some concentrating on magic, hoping to create a tiny light, but nothing happened. Nothing for him, that is, but Pip got the message and jumped from Tye’s shoulder to scamper ahead of them. All of a sudden the little body was glowing just enough for them to follow, and to see slightly ahead.

The passage seemed to go on and on, until all sense of time and distance had been lost. Then, gradually becoming visible in the Pip-glow, they came upon an unexpected variation. The tunnel split into two, like the upper parts of a ‘Y’.

‘Take the left-hand fork,’ Tye said.

‘Why? We need to test both,’ Hugh objected. ‘Have a look up the right-hand one, Pip.’

Pip showed signs of reluctance for a while, and looked at Tye. She simply shrugged, and so their light flew away towards that branch – only to come zipping back at great speed.

‘Meep-meep-meep-meep-meep!’ the little creature squealed, huddling into Tye’s neck.

Hugh made his way in the direction of the other fork in the almost-no-light provided by Pip from behind him.  The nearer he got to it the more a horrible feeling came upon him, becoming steadily worse as he moved into it. ‘Dispel repel-spell!’ he commanded, but it had no effect at all. The feeling simply grew in intensity with every step, until it was like a physical pain and became unbearable.

He was just about to dash back when he noticed that there was no longer solid black ahead of him. Now, a wall of some description became visible, with a faint but hideous glow to it. Although it gave an impression of writhing, it also gave one of being far more solid in substance than any of the ‘bubble’ walls had been. He tried to force himself to go close enough to touch it, but could only manage a few more paces forward before he had to retreat in a panic. The relief each step away from it gave was enormous.

‘Wherever that is going, we won’t be,’ he said when he came up with the others again. ‘There’s a ghastly wiggly wall up there and it gives off the most dreadful feeling. Hang on; let me try the other one and make sure it doesn’t have the same effect.’

Keeping as close as possible to the left-hand wall as he dared while running in darkness, Hugh raced past the part where the passages split. He was desperately fighting the feeling on the approach, but it receded as soon as he had left the intersection behind him.

It was easier to dash back, because he had Pip to aim at. Then he explained to the others, and Tye, clutching a frantically ‘Meep-ing’ Pip on one shoulder, took the lead to provide light while all of them repeated Hugh’s sprint.

Pip took the lead again, and again the yawning tunnel seemed interminable. Gradually, however, they became aware of some differences. For one thing, the tunnel seemed to be increasing in width and height the further they went. For another, the absolute black was becoming slightly less so, as if their eyes were at last adjusting to almost no light, but again very gradually.

After more walking, they found, in fact, that they were starting to see quite well – but in images of light and shade and colours of utterly strange qualities. It reminded Hugh a bit of the light he had been aware of in the cobley caves, but there was a major difference. Everything was made up of black – but black was gradually assuming a rich set of variations which would put a rainbow to shame. Also, they had the strangest feelings of change. And of something not quite right in their insides. Each wondered if part of their supper - perhaps the somewhat less-than-fresh vegetables - might have affected them …

They were still watching Pip out of habit, but then all registered some important things at almost the same second.

‘Pip he have no light!’ said Dengana.

‘Pip isn’t looking much like a squirrel any more,’ Hugh observed.

‘Pip is pure sprite again,’ Tye said. She looked at Hugh and gave a start. ‘You do realise that the tunnel hasn’t really got any bigger, don’t you?’ she said in an elaborately casual tone.

‘That’s ridiculous; of course it has,’ Hugh said, gazing at the hugely increased distance to roof and sides. Then he glanced sideways at her – and did a classic double-take before staring from her to Dengana.

‘So, it seems we have changed, or are still changing, into Darxem!’ he said.

‘Not change; Adapt,’ said Dengana. ‘Do it slow, this time.’

‘I can’t feel any wings,’ Tye said crossly. ‘Either you don’t get them here - but then, that Darp character had them - or we haven’t finished changing … Adapting … yet.’

The latter proved to be correct; in fact their Adapting had still a considerable way to go. While it happened, they found with increasing amazement that all sorts of things were becoming clearer to them. All of them were of the kind that the clearer they became, the more complicated and confusing and – indeed – mind-boggling the results.

Hugh tried to put it into words. ‘Everything you see is, actually, black. Yet, look at all the beautiful patterns of different blacks on the walls. Or those on the floor. Or those on us, for that matter. They aren’t really greys. They are all black, but … well it’s as if black has a range of fabulous colours all of its own.’

‘That is stupid,’ Tye objected. ‘Everyone knows black looks that way because it absorbs all the light rays and none are reflected. So black is a lack of light in the same way as cold is a lack of heat. This must be a totally different radiation frequency from light - which our senses translate as black, but isn’t.’

Dengana took this in with great interest. ‘Yes, and this cave have lights made of black lights same like inside our buildings have lights made of white lights.’

‘I think you’re right,’ nodded Hugh. ‘This is a tunnel lit up for Darxem, probably by magic power. Which,’ he added doubtfully, ‘is being rather wasteful, with this being the time Ingwe says all Darxds here are normally asleep.’

Tye peered. ‘Easy explanation for that,’ she said. ‘Look ahead and behind. The tunnel is pretty straight, here. Yet you can only see a certain distance in front or backwards. There must be some kind of sensors which come on while anyone is passing through that section.’

‘That will be a problem, when we come out into the open – which I assume this will do,’ he said, frowning. ‘The end of the tunnel will suddenly be all lit up. We might as well have an orchestra as well, to announce our grand entrance.’

They paused while they tried to think of a solution, and after giving up used the opportunity to study one another instead. ‘I think we full Darxem, now,’ Dengana said. ‘I speak Zulu; you understand?’ to Tye.

She nodded, and glanced over her shoulder opposite to the one on which Pip was currently perched, to where she had suddenly made herself grow an impressive set of wings while they watched. Then she stared at Hugh. ‘You look the same as you did in the Rings,’ she said, except in these different colours … frequencies … whatever.’

Hugh looked her up and down in turn. ‘Amazing,’ he said. ‘I can understand a black giving that startling black of your hair, but how a black can show that very pale white of your skin beats me, but it does. And,’ turning his attention to Dengana, ‘it does a perfect job of showing the not-really-black-at-all of your darker skin.’

Then they returned to considering how to overcome the ‘sensor-light’ problem. After some entirely fruitless experiments in trying to tell the lights that they weren’t there, and finding that even Pip alone would switch them on, they decided the best course was to concentrate on spotting the exit as far ahead as possible, and then to fly at top speed to get out of it before anyone noticed them.

There was more than ample space in the tunnel for all of them, at present sizes, to fly abreast, and they did so. Then it was Hugh who managed to spot a dim semicircle in the blackness ahead of the lit-up area. He said, ‘Go, go, go!’ and all of them flapped at top speed.

As it turned out, the ‘lights’ did not come on right up to the end of the tunnel when they got there, and they were able to come to a stop in darkness, with the mouth showing fairly dimly ahead of them.  In a black-light way, it was defined in much the same way as the end of a tunnel would be on a starry night in their own world. In any case, Hugh found he was now sensing a light similar to that of the cobley caves. He decided it must be a magic ring thing.

There was another cause for concern, though. The feeling from ahead of them was unpleasant again - though nowhere near what the entrance to the ‘wiggly-wall’ tunnel had been – and again this gave an impression of being for reasons other than a ‘repel-spell’.

There was nothing for it, though, so they took to the air again, but now flying slowly and cautiously.

Then they emerged into a pre-dawn Darx Circle. A crescent moon shone and stars twinkled, all in black-light, and they found that they were at the top of a hill which was the counterpart of the one at Rhino Valley; however this version didn’t have anything like ‘The Sad Ones’ on the summit.  The tunnel, or cave, was set into a rock face just below the top.

A valley stretched below. On the other side of it were mountains silhouetted against a sky showing the first signs of dawn.

What could be seen and sensed in the valley itself filled them with horror.

CHAPTER 17: A New World with Terrible Discoveries


our flying figures shot low over the top of a mountain range, and plunged into concealment at the far side.

Four fearful figures seated themselves next to a gurgling stream in a little glade on a ridge behind the summit, and panted wordlessly for a while.

‘I don’t think … anyone or anything … saw us, do you?’ Tye eventually found enough breath to say.

The others still hadn’t recovered enough to do more than shake their heads; or, in Pip’s case, to say, ‘Meep.’

When Hugh was able to speak, he said, ‘What on earth are they getting up to with massing all these things?’

‘Not on earth so much as in Darx,’ Tye responded.

‘No, it going to be on earth,’ said Dengana, ‘or why all so near the door from Darx to there?’

‘Planning an invasion?’ Hugh wondered. ‘Did you see, there were rhaxen roosting in every available tree, bunches of darxtyls and other nasty things I couldn’t even begin to guess at all over the place, and what were those lots of large groups of domed tent-things dotted in between? Camps of Darxem.’

‘Not only rhaxen sit in trees,’ Dengana said. ‘Other devil-things with wings, also.’

‘Down the valley a bit,’ put in Tye, ‘I thought I could see some of the tent-type things four or five times the size of the others. They could be for groups of Darxem, of course, but my guess is that something bigger sleeps in them.’

‘Instead of wondering, let’s go and take a look,’ said Hugh. ‘We’ve come here to spy, so we may as well start doing some sneaking and peeking.’ With that, he flew back towards top of the hill again, but keeping low, and the others followed.

He chose a spot with some scrubby bushes on the top, which meant they had an outlook without being silhouetted against any sky, and which also gave some concealment.

The Darx version of dawn was now definitely putting in an appearance. This meant that more blackness was happening, of the kind which enabled things to be seen rather than hiding them. The more it enabled things to be seen, the more the watchers started wishing it wouldn’t.  None of them seemed to be pleasant.

At the far end of the valley, just past the group of larger domes, were large numbers of darxtyls, together with a good many other creatures of similar size and prehistoric appearances. There were also bunches of smaller tents, which they could easily tell were occupied by boggarts because some of them started to emerge.

As dawn progressed towards sunrise, more and more Darxds also came out of their domes and began moving about. All of them, without exception, were dull and unpleasant versions by comparison with how the three of them now looked – or, indeed, when compared with how they remembered Darp. It appeared that all of these were clad in some sort of uniforms which gave all the charm and beauty of a lump of lead.

‘Just as well we didn’t even think of landing and trying to mingle,’ Hugh remarked softly – he knew how sound can travel in open spaces. Not that he really needed to worry about that. The sounds which started coming from the valley would have drowned out an orchestra. The Darxds shouted to one another rather than spoke, and all in jarring tones. The various beasts showed an urge to make noises, too, and the noises had in common that they all hurt one’s ears.

‘Is all of Darx Circle like this?’ Hugh wondered. ‘Do you notice: not a trace of the bird and insect songs that filled the Rings – or that we find back home, for that matter?’

Dengana agreed, saying, ‘Bad, bad place. Bad, bad people. Bad, bad devil-things!’

‘I think that there are some groups of insects down there, too,’ Tye said after they had watched until there was a good deal of activity below. ‘We’re too far away to see them, but look at the way everybody avoids going near those various open patches – and the way the ground sort-of looks as if it’s moving there.’

‘Yes, look!’ Hugh exclaimed. ‘A cloud of them have just taken off over to that side. They look like a swarm of bees, but I think they are more likely wasps.’

The sun was a spectacularly dark mass. Darkness can’t glow gloriously, but this one did, with an intensity that was too great to look into – just like the blazing one they were accustomed to.

‘There is something about the atmosphere or whatever in Darx Circle which converts light to a completely different frequency, perhaps?’ Tye guessed.

‘Yes,’ Hugh agreed, looking about him, ‘and the range of colours that come from it is definitely far greater than our spectrum. I mean, look at that grass. It is, in fact, made up of a dozen different shadings, each one of which is gorgeous, but the one standing out more – or that batch together most - is something which I suppose we need to recognise as the local green. Actually, it is quite a miracle that all the things like hills and grass and trees still have familiar shapes to us. One would think the splitting into different colours would make us totally confused.’

‘You right, but things back home also made up of lots of colours - maybe not as many,’ Dengana said, and paused before adding, ‘I am thinking we must make in our own minds that colours like trees and grass are green and maybe that big flower there it is red? Or, what we call all the colours?’

‘Mmmm. Good idea. Imagine trying to invent new names for all of them,’ Hugh said. ‘Right, so all those colours in the sky are a collection of ones we need to think of as blue – and, in fact, they match your flower so it can’t be red. It must be a blue one.’

‘This one here is a more likely red,’ Tye said. ‘Look how even brighter … no, bright is wrong for black … more striking, it is!’

‘Weird, though,’ Hugh commented. ‘We were told we’re not really seeing what we see in Breena lands the way we see them, and that our minds make us see them in ways that are familiar, so why is everything here so unfamiliar?’

‘Maybe the way things work in Darx Circle is so different that this is as good as it gets,’ was Tye’s guess.

‘Or maybe we get used to it by-and-by?’ Dengana said.

They found themselves completely distracted for quite some time, trying to put familiar labels on all the colours, or grouped colours. Then Hugh brought them back to earth – or, in this case, Darx.

‘Here we are, really battling to get to grips with ordinary things we are looking at,’ he said soberly, ‘so what can we hope to do which will start giving the faintest idea of what is going on here? We need to speak to others, but from what I can see of them we would stand out like sore thumbs.’ He looked Tye and Dengana up and down. I am pretty sure that we are Highest Princes and Princess here, too. It’s a bit tricky to tell, but I would guess that we are taller than any of that lot down there. Also …’

He broke off, gaping at Tye. Her dress was suddenly changing colours quite alarmingly. It went to various vivid shades and combinations, but then started losing intensity as if she were using a dimmer. Finally it settled down into something rather like the drab appearance of the Darxds moving about in the valley below.

‘Good thinking,’ he applauded. ‘I’d forgotten that we can do instant colour-conversions. Now, on the subject of thinking, how did you think your way into doing that …?’

Dengana actually got it right well before he did, but finally all three highest royalty members had a greatly toned-down appearance.

‘May be good enough,’ Dengana said. ‘Lusi she say that Darx Circle got same bigness as all of Rings together, so must be a great size. That mean lots of Highests live here, but in different parts, maybe.’

‘Still, a pity we aren’t a bit more ordinary, Hugh said. ‘If only I could just use the same mind thing to say that I’m just a poor miserable lowly Higher Prince …’

Tye gave a yelp. ‘Keep up that thinking; you seem to be shrinking!’ she exclaimed.

The others laughed. ‘And you may not know it, but you are a poet!’ Hugh retorted, but then concentrated on being lowly. Sure enough, he settled down at a size which was significantly smaller than the other two. Before trying to go even further than that, he successfully converted back. Then, after going lower to Higher again, he concentrated on being a bit lower, and became what must be a simple High Prince. Finally he came right off his High to become a plain Prince, but that turned out to be the greatest demotion which would be possible for him.

‘Lusi, she can do this,’ Dengana said, ‘but I not able to get it right.’ Hugh, and then Tye after she – astonishingly - got the knack, trained him in lowly thought until he did.

‘Now, all we have to worry about is Pip,’ Tye said. ‘I didn’t notice any of the Darxem with sprites; did you?’

‘Meep,’ said Pip, and blinked out.

‘Why didn’t you do that before, especially when we had to go through all that squirrel thing?’ Tye snapped. Some squeaks came from somewhere. ‘Oh, you can only do it here? That explains it.’

‘Look!’ said Dengana, pointing to some flying figures they had been too preoccupied to notice before. ‘We follow?’

They could see why he had suggested it. The group of five Darxem - all Darxds, from their dress - which had just flown over the hill to one side of them was not as dowdy in appearance as the ones in the valley, and it would be interesting to see what sort of reception they got. With one accord, they took to their wings a reasonable distance behind them.

The more-colourful Darxds flew straight to the nearest group of domes in the valley, and landed just outside of it. Hugh, Tye and Dengana - and, presumably, Pip - landed within earshot nearby, but not too close.

They had been spotted, and a group of dome-dwellers came out to meet them. ‘You have a message, or have come to join The Cause?’ one in the forefront called.

A Darxd stepped forward from the arrivals. ‘We come to join. Triumph the Cause!’ he said.

‘Triumph the Cause!’ responded the first speaker automatically. ‘I cannot send you to our Flight Leader while you still show signs that you have not yet been cleansed of vanity and self.’

‘Our raiment has dulled, has it not?’ retorted the visitor.

‘Not sufficiently. You yet show traces of your ways of error. Go and purge yourselves of your wrong thinking, and come back when it can be seen that you are at one with all.’

Wordlessly, the five took to the air again and started returning the way they had come.

‘Dullify some more,’ Tye murmured urgently. She could tell that they were still too showy when compared with the locals. They took note of the model of drabness before them. Then all three of them made themselves slightly more so as they moved forward.

Dengana and Hugh were looked at approvingly. ‘Triumph the Cause!’ he greeted. ‘Welcome, Princes and …’ he paused to stare rather hard at Tye, and there was total disapproval in his voice as he added, ‘Princess …? Let me lead you to our …’

‘Triumph the Cause and all that,’ interrupted Hugh. ‘Actually, we have come from some distance away to find out how things are going here and to report to our … um … Highest Princes.’

‘One wonders why they should concern themselves when they need to concentrate on their own parts to play,’ came from an older-looking one (so Darxem do age, thought Hugh) at the side of the first to have spoken.  

Hugh gave a shrug, and then hoped it would be an understood gesture. It appeared that it was. The older one muttered something under his breath which sounded like, ‘Meddling,’ but did not take the matter further. However, the younger one started again on his, ‘Let me take you to our Flight …’ speech.

Again, Hugh interrupted, thinking furiously. He wasn’t sure they were ready to face any senior ones yet. ‘What we have been asked to do is to find out the feelings and understanding of the ordinary, er, members of the, um, Cause here at present.’

The older one snorted. ‘Some of the cautious types from the north, no doubt, these Higher Princes of yours. Want to be quite sure everything is on track everywhere else before they take any bold steps. Well, you can tell them that we have made great strides in this Sector.’

‘All those in these parts are true followers of His Greatestness,’ put in the other, ‘and as you saw when you arrived, many others come to join – but not always properly prepared. Few have the ability to make their raiment hide that they have not yet come to total acceptance of their lowly insignificance.’

Tye nodded, and then said to the astonishment of her companions, ‘They cannot fully appreciate the paradox, can they?’

She was given complicated looks, which seemed to be made up of approval of what she had said and disapproval of what she was. ‘Quite so. One will hope that they will soon come to the wonderful truth of the Cause, which is that in ourselves we are nothing, but as a part of it we all share in the Greatness and are therefore Great.’

‘So easy to know that,’ said Dengana earnestly.

‘Absolutely,’ said Hugh, hoping that both of his companions hadn’t lost their marbles, ‘and you say that the progress in this Sector is good?’

‘It is,’ – the older one again – ‘as you can see. We have many crecords trained and ready to direct the particular creatures they will co-ordinate. Each has gathered large groups of highly effective species from the human world, Terra, and many of those from our own will probably serve even better, like the rhaxen.’

‘We still need to prove that the rhaxen can use their glarespell in Terra, of course, but if not then the rhaxen crecords can be used in the Rings,’ Younger said. ‘I think some tests will be done through a Rift other than this one, though, and then we’ll be told. The trouble is that all the humans have already been eliminated or driven away here. I say we should have wiped them all out, but no doubt the leaders know best.’

‘No doubt at all,’ Older snapped, giving his companion a nasty look. ‘In fact, to say anything that questions their judgment could be regarded as treason to The Cause.’

Younger did whatever it took in Darx to go slightly pale. ‘Just harmless wondering,’ he muttered. ‘The fact that our Rift is almost completely ready so well ahead of the others makes it rather a pity, is all.’

‘Haven’t you thought that the very reason it is in such an unpopulated area made it possible for it to be cleared without raising any alarms?’ Older said loftily. ‘Even with that “old magic” problem? Therefore, giving no forewarning of clearing the places where the Rifts lead to areas of high human populations?’

Hugh hoped he was hiding his feelings of utter shock and horror as well as Tye was, and a lot better than Dengana. The boy looked positively sick. Fortunately, the two Darxds were so caught up in their own exchange that they wouldn’t have noticed.

 ‘W-what,’ began Hugh, and then had to clear his throat and start again to keep a wobble from his voice, ‘what still needs to be done to the Rift?  Surely it must be open already, if you’ve cleared it on the other side.’

‘Well, it only took a handful of crecords to do that,’ said Older - Younger was still looking intimidated – ‘and they were the few who could force themselves past a junction which is impossible for most of us. There is some old magic there which nobody understands. Terrible stuff. I tried to go through myself and failed. I was sick for days afterwards. None of the creatures will allow themselves to be led or driven past it, either. You heard something about that today?’ he finished, turning to his companion.

‘Yes,’ said Younger, ‘I did hear that the Darx Artz Magicians’ Guild of His Highest Majesty King Darrex are going to send one of their number to solve it. He can only leave in three or four days’ time, though, but he should be here within six days at most.’

‘Pity these Guild geniuses can’t instead come up with a way to get crecords through Interfaces without losing their link abilities, same as they can for Breena,’ Older commented. ‘Then we wouldn’t need the Rifts at all.’

‘Why does that happen?’ Tye asked, in a perfectly composed voice.

‘An effect of the lack of magic in Terra, which only the Rifts can compensate,’ Younger said. ‘Still, one has to admit that all the Rifts are perfectly situated for gathering large invasion forces without detection, although I do wonder why we don’t simply use more of the creatures actually in Terra …’ he quailed as Older looked ready to launch out on another ‘treason’ lecture.

Hugh felt that they had learnt enough, for now, and needed to retreat to discuss it, but before he could do something about that a group of five Darxds flew from the direction of the domes, led by one whose size indicated he must be a prince.

‘What is happening here?’ he asked. ‘Why have the new recruits not been brought to me?’

‘They asked not to,’ Younger replied nervously.

‘Indeed?’ The leader’s tone sounded ominous. He turned to Hugh. ‘And who are you to make such …’ he began, and then goggled.

Hugh had decided he needed a bit more rank, and had upgraded to High Prince. ‘We aren’t recruits,’ he said smoothly. ‘We were given the task of first finding out the spirit of the ordinary members of The Cause in this Sector. It does seem to be very … focussed.’

Younger and Older gave audible sighs of relief, and the Prince looked pleased. ‘I am Prince Dore,’ he said, ‘and I lead the Flight controlling some of the more effective world-creatures we have gathered together, High Prince …?’

‘Our mission is confidential, as you will understand, so I will not introduce myself,’ Hugh said. Did he need a name with a ‘D’, he wondered? It was starting to look that way, but it would be safer not to commit himself for now. ‘So you are all …’ he nearly forgot the word, but remembered ‘creature coordinators’ in the nick of time ‘… crecords?’ he asked. Dore nodded. ‘We would be most interested in seeing your creatures.’

Dore nodded again, and spread his wings. ‘Follow me,’ he invited.

He led them to one of the areas which had been given a particularly wide berth by the domed tents and Darxds alike. ‘Do not go too close to these,’ he warned, hovering fairly high above. ‘I don’t want to control them unnecessarily, and they are a bit bad-tempered and very dangerous. They are known as Asian hornets.’

All of them shuddered when they saw the swarm of them clinging to trees in the area. They were simply enormous, compared with what, at their present size, they would expect even the largest hornets to be. They had most distinctive bright yellow heads which added to their fearsome appearance.

Hugh remembered having seen pictures of them, and knew that they really did have that colour. ‘I am starting to see colours of things I know the colours of more and more as they look back home,’ he thought to himself. ‘It must be an Adapting thing.’

‘They are perhaps overkill against Daoine …’ Dore gave a nasty laugh. ‘… as just one of them can kill a fully-grown human. Any human once stung is doomed, anyway, because their stings release something to attract others to sting as well without even needing crecords. It is just a pity we haven’t got more of them. We could wipe out whole populations with these alone, if we had enough.’

Dore spoke less admiringly of the groups of smaller wasps and hornets which he showed them next. He was more enthusiastic, though, about some large nests of bright red ants he identified as Fire Ants. ‘Excellent for all the non-flying creatures,’ he said. So are the various spiders and scorpions.’

‘Look,’ said Tye. ‘Bombardier beetles.’

Although he hadn’t been there when some of these had been met in Glit Ring, Dengana recognised them and said, ‘Nunus …’ (the Zulu word for insects was well known to the other two and came through to them as that) ‘… spray hot-hot-hot!’

‘Yes,’ smirked Dore. ‘Most effective for smaller anti-Cause creatures.’

Another area was writhing a good deal, but this was apparently not within Dore’s speciality. ‘Snakes can be quite useful, I suppose,’ he said in an offhanded tone. ‘Constant controll needed to keep some of them from eating one another, though.’

After viewing a few more assorted pets, Hugh felt they had now seen more than enough to mull over. He had tried framing some leading questions about what was behind everything, but had only received rather puzzled glances in response. It was better not to risk arousing suspicion.

‘Thank you for your kindness, Prince Dore,’ he said. ‘It is time, I think, for me and my companions to confer about all we have learnt, and to decide whether our task needs us to make any further enquiries.’

It was an enormous relief to fly over the hill again, out of sight of the valley and its inhabitants.

CHAPTER 18: Fact-finding


nce again they landed in their glade – there was something reassuring about having a familiar spot, even if it was one where they had only spent such a short time previously.

‘Are they all absolutely mad?’ Hugh burst out. ‘This is the most dreadful, awful, terrible thing I have ever heard of. Did I get it wrong, or are they planning to wipe out all the human race plus any Daoine who don’t happen to agree with them?’

‘Not mad; just men,’ Tye said viciously. ‘Males, I mean. This is just typical of them.’

‘Oh, come on; be reasonab…’ Hugh started, but she cut in, working herself up to a frenzy.

‘Look at The Rings,’ she said. ‘Ruled by queens, and what do you find? Peace and harmony. Lots of different creatures all getting along fine with one another. Then look at the mess here. A king in charge, and wretched males who have a low opinion of women … females … whatever … running around all bent on murder and destruction. I suppose it wouldn’t take much to have you two doing exactly the same thing.’

‘Not clever way you see it,’ Dengana said in an offended tone.

‘Incredibly stupid, in fact,’ Hugh agreed. ‘How can you suddenly work out that because they are like tha…’

He stopped, because there was no Tye there to talk to any more. Pip had suddenly popped into appearance next to her and snarled at them, after which she and the sprite had flown to the other side of the glade to nurse their fury.

After some minutes had elapsed, Hugh said, ‘Oh, this is ridiculous!’ and flew after her.

‘Look,’ he told her bluntly. ‘Your anti-male tantrums aren’t getting us anywhere. We quite desperately need to work together to try and figure out what to do to stop all this. Or, just, what to do next.’

Dengana spoke up strongly. ‘We not know enough, yet. Need find out more. Like why they do this thing?’

Hugh blinked. ‘You’re right, I suppose,’ he said, ‘but how can we find out any more? You saw the way I got looked at whenever I started to ask what to them seemed stupid questions.’

Tye stopped scowling and looked thoughtful. ‘There could be a way,’ she said, and then did quite a lot of explaining.


Not long after, the three visible and one invisible members of their party were again flying into the valley. This time, they targeted a slightly more imposing dome in the centre of the largest group. ‘That’ll be the big cheese,’ Hugh said. ‘It always turns out that when there is a culture of everyone being equal, some are more equal than others.’

Animal Farm; book of George Orwell,’ nodded Dengana, as another example that the farm school he attended was rather good - or at least thorough in its coverage of farming topics.

They landed with their drabbest drab appearances, and all three as Higher. Hugh was ready to jump to Highest in need, but when the flustered Darxds they met on landing had taken them to what they called the Sector Commander it turned out to be a Higher Prince, so that would be good enough for now.

After all three of them had rapped out a chorus of ‘Triumph the Cause!’ and received responses, Dengana jumped right in with, ‘We are here on most important mission, Higher Prince …?

‘Dennet,’ but what …’

‘…Higher Prince Dennet,’ continued Dengana, ‘which you will be able to learn if you get together good mix of all ranks for us to talk to.’

Hugh immediately followed with his prepared speech, ‘From a fruitful discussion with Prince Dore and some of his Darxds, we believe that we can have confidence in taking our mission to this next stage. About thirty will do. Is there a large enough space in here? Ah, good. Ideal.’

A bewildered Dennet followed him into the dome, which in fact had a handy section at one side set up with seats facing a small stage. The three moved onto the stage, and stood waiting there with an air of expectation.

Dennet quickly called out a series of names and ordered some of those called to fetch others. Soon there were exactly thirty seated in the ‘audience’.

‘Good,’ nodded Hugh. ‘To start with, you must accept that we are not going to introduce ourselves due to the confidential nature of this test, but you may be sure that we come from … extremely high circles. You will have noted our youth, which is another quite clever aspect of the confidentiality. You will ensure that nothing of these proceedings – not the slightest word - will pass to anyone until sanctioned.’ He worded it as a statement rather than as a question, and everyone muttered assent, looking stunned.

‘Now,’ said Dengana, ‘we ask questions as if we know nothing. You must answer in way you would for explaining to someone who come from outside.’

‘Your answers will enable us to report back on the suitability of this Sector to take a certain leading role in what is to come,’ Hugh continued as smoothly as a football player taking a pass and carrying the ball forward.

‘Firstly,’ Tye spoke for the first time and everyone jumped, ‘can anybody tell us why I am here?’ There was a hush punctuated only by some nervous foot-shuffling and wiggling.

‘Higher Prince Dennet;’ she said, looking straight at him, ‘perhaps you can answer?’

Dennet stuttered for a few seconds, and then said, ‘I must confess that I simply do not know. I am surprised, and, to be quite frank, a little shocked.’

‘And why is that?’ Hugh asked.

‘Because, as you know …’

 Hugh cut him off abruptly. ‘No, I don’t; remember?’

Dennet looked acutely uncomfortable. ‘Yes; sorry. Well, because in the best interests of the Cause it is known that the roles of women and girls …’ Hugh was relieved to note that Darxem used terms which came across as those, ‘… must be to bear and take care of the young, and to bring them to the stage of being trained as true followers of His Greatestness.’

‘It was always like this?’ Dengana put in.

‘No; previously we had allowed them some duties outside of those vital responsibilities, but the Cause demands …’

‘Who has told you this interpretation of the Cause?’ Tye snapped.

At that, Dennet became more assured. ‘It has been passed down from His Highest Majesty King Darrex himself, through the Highest Princes, and is undoubted.’

‘How accurately was it passed?’ Hugh asked.

Dennet squirmed a little, and when he spoke his tone was less confident than his words. ‘I’m sure that we know perfectly well what is intended. It has been repeated time and again.’

‘You not think maybe women needed for other things?’ Dengana came in. The strategy they had decided upon of switching from one to the other seemed to be working well in keeping their audience rattled, and Hugh found himself thinking how good they were becoming at it.

‘N-not really; that is I don’t know of anything … I mean …’

This was Tye’s cue. ‘For example,’ she said, have you noticed that your wasp crecords have more difficulty in controlling them than do the ones for most of the other creatures?’

One of the others spoke up. ‘Yes; I do wasps, but it is known that they are just more difficult, is all.’

‘You don’t think it might have something to do with how close they are to the spiders?’ Tye said, hoping for a particular answer. She got it.

‘No, they are kept well fed with foods best suited to each species,’ said the same one.

‘So,’ snapped Tye, ‘it takes a woman or a girl to know that the wasps want the spiders not to feed upon, but so that they can sting them, lay eggs on them, and bury them?’

After leaving a few seconds for this to drive home, Hugh pointed at one near the back. ‘Tell me what the Cause is,’ he said.

His victim put on a goldfish imitation for a while until he noticed that his Higher Prince was glaring at him. Then he blurted, ‘Well, you know …’

Hugh lifted a hand, and he tailed off, glancing fearfully at an even worse Dennet glare. ‘Take your time,’ Hugh invited.

Taking a deep breath, he began, ‘It is our destiny, as foretold in the lines of time …’

‘But provided we are resolute in our actions and do all that is needed,’ put in a Darxd next to him.

‘… to assume our proper place as the rulers of Terra and all Breena lands as well as Darx Circle. All must be brought to follow His Highest Majesty under the guidance of His Greatestness.’

The other chipped in again, in a sing-song voice as if reciting, ‘All self must be subdued;

 with highest aims imbued;

for all must work towards the whole,

and never seek a separate role.

It was Dengana’s turn. ‘Those who not agree?’ he said, pointing this time at a front-rower.

‘Must undergo whatever is needed to persuade them. If, after that, there are still signs of selfish behaviour or not enough commitment to the Cause, then they must be done away with,’ he said matter-of-factly. ‘When there is time for recreation for us, we have found many ways of doing the “doing away with” in entertaining ways.’

‘What about humans?’ Tye asked of another, managing with a great effort to hide her horror and contempt, particularly as she saw expressions of evil anticipation on the faces of all the others at the very mention.

‘We will reclaim the fatherland for Darx, and the vermin there must all be exterminated,’ was the prompt reply. ‘That will give a great deal of opportunity for entertainment.’

Fighting his own sick feeling which had been growing steadily since they started the questioning, Hugh probed, ‘You know from Interfaces and the Rift that the human world is quite different and not to the tastes of Darxem. So why is it needed?’

‘We have come from Terra in original times,’ Higher Prince Dennet chipped in, ‘when it was as Darx now appears. His Greatestness will then use his magic to restore the proper atmosphere to make it like Darx on that different plane once again.’

‘You believe true he can do that?’ Dengana asked, and for a second it seemed that he might have gone too far. Then Dennet barked, ‘You really are testing us. I happen to be one of those who had the honour to have seen for myself the conversion done in a small sector beyond the Interface, as a demonstration to any who might have doubted.’

‘How many are there as committed as all of you are?’ was Hugh’s next question, which he directed at one with clothing perhaps a trifle less dingy-looking than the rest.

‘All of us at the Rifts are those considered most loyal to The Cause,’ he responded, a bit uneasily. ‘Many groups of us with equal understanding are also ensuring that it is spread to others as quickly as possible.’

‘What about the Daoine who were here when the Interfaces to the Rings were closed? Are they having understanding spread to them?’

The unease deepened. ‘That will not be attempted,’ he said. They have all been put into a warded area near Darrex Palace for a decision on whether to send them back to the Rings once we have control, or to do away with them.’

Hugh could see that Dennet had a deepening scowl, and thought he’d better leave it there, but Tye now jumped in.

‘Are there any areas of active resistance?’ she asked the one Hugh had been questioning.

At this Dennet exploded. ‘Do not answer!’ he snarled. ‘This – Higher Princess –’ (he put a wealth of contempt and loathing into the title) ‘is trying to trap you into saying the Unmentionable!’ Then he swung on Hugh. ‘I have the right to demand, as your elder and equal in rank, that you control this girl you have brought with you. This is not tolerable. I cannot …’

Hugh said calmly, ‘We have the authority to do whatever we please, and it would be as well for you to keep that in mind. However, this was an extreme test, I admit, to which the response has been what we would have expected. I believe that we have now learnt enough for the necessary judgments to be made, and you will need some patience before the outcome will become clear to you. Thank you for your participation. We shall now leave.’

He could tell that Tye was in a blazing temper, and about to push their luck too far by saying more. Grabbing her arm, he murmured in her ear, ‘Shut up, and let’s scram while the scramming’s good.’ Then he virtually dragged her out of the dome.

The relief of safely reaching their glade for the third time was the greatest yet.

This time they didn’t stop, though, but kept going.

CHAPTER 19: A Question of Colour


t was just as well they had done so. Some squeaks in Tye’s ear were translated by her as having indicated that Pip had lagged behind to see what would happen, and that a group of Darxds from Dennet’s dome had flown up to keep an eye on them. They therefore kept going until they were sure they must be out of sight, and then waited for Pip to confirm that they were not being followed.

Then they took a different direction for a while before landing once more.

The spot they chose had a sparkling stream and several different kinds of berries which ranged in size from the size of their thumbs to the size of their hands. Pip picked a selection, and conveyed them to Tye one-by-one, saying, ‘Yip!’ to each - then started nibbling on some.

None of them were in an eating mood, but after a drink from the stream they did get into one. Tye had an urgent, ‘Meep! when she wanted to pick a particularly luscious-looking berry of what they now thought of as a bright red hue.

For some time, though, they weren’t at all in a talking mood, as each went over in their own minds what they had just learnt.

Finally, Dengana said, ‘We know more, now, but still not what to do.’

‘There are three main areas where we could try and focus attention,’ Hugh murmured as if thinking aloud. ‘The first is the situation here, and the threat to everything and everyone near Rhino Valley. A mass attack seems to be on hold for a few days, though, until the Darx Artz character comes to sort out that nasty thing at the fork in the tunnel.’

‘Yes, let’s wait for that to happen before we attack a few thousand Darxds and a few million nasties, shall we?’ Tye’s tone was heavily sarcastic.

Hugh didn’t rise to the bait. ‘You have a point,’ he said. ‘The second thing is whether there is any chance of freeing all the Daoine before they get “taken care of” – after speaking to that lot I’m not too confident they will simply chase them back into the Rings.’

‘That part same easy as fighting all Darxds here,’ Dengana observed. His tone was serious rather than sarcastic. ‘Job too big for us.’

Hugh nodded, trying to fight off a feeling of hopelessness which had joined the one of horror. These two showed signs of setting up home and thinking of starting a family. ‘That leaves a final possibility, which is perhaps the best one …’

‘… because it may give us some reinforcements?’ Tye finished for him. ‘Yes, if we could find any large numbers of Darxem who are not as charmed by this “Cause” thing as the rest, and get them to help, that would make sense.’

‘I think they already make groups to make trouble,’ Dengana said. ‘This why it now “Unmentionable” talk about them.’

‘Finding them will be a pretty impossible task, though.’ Hugh’s hopeless feeling was deciding to become head of household. ‘I mean, unless they actually outnumber the others they are going to be in hiding. How can we find them if patrols of the ones who are “spreading understanding” can’t?’

Dengana tried to speak through a mouthful of berry and choked for a while before getting out, between coughs, ‘We know for all ordinary not-princes it show on clothes that they think self more than think Cause.’

Tye stood up abruptly, as if reaching a decision. ‘So we try to find groups of Darxem, and do some colour-sorting,’ she said. ‘If we can figure out which way one goes to reach this Darrex Palace, we could also head in that general direction in case we have any good ideas by the time we get there.’

‘I’m not so sure about trying to reach the palace,’ Hugh objected. ‘This land is vast, remember, and even at flying speeds it could take ages, and place us further and further away from the Sad Ones Rift.’

‘Oh, don’t be silly,’ Tye snapped. ‘Don’t you remember that one of the first group of Darxds we spoke to said that the magician would only take a couple of days to get there from Darrex Palace – or do you think Darrex keeps his own personal Darx Artz mob in a totally different place?’

With that, she and Pip took to the air in a direction directly away from where they had entered the Circle, allowing for the sideways deviation they had taken. Hugh and Dengana shrugged at one another, and followed.


They flew steadily for some time, hardly speaking but occasionally pointing out to one another the sights that lay below. Tye was still taking the lead. Apparently under the guidance of Pip, she had led them quite high, and was finding favourable wind currents which gave them far greater speeds than normal flying would have done.

There were any number of animals moving below them. They were all still of the types to be found in Africa, but unlike in the Rings they came across no large predator-type birds, and the travellers were generally well above the range of other air traffic.

‘Are you finding that you have Adapted a bit more, or perhaps that this part is less Darx-like?’ Hugh called out to Dengana after a long silence. What he was now seeing corresponded closely with sights he would have expected at home or in the Rings.

‘We Adapting,’ Dengana responded. ‘You see if look harder all is still different.’

It was true. In anything he studied closely, more and more of the extra frequencies would become visible.

Hugh was just beginning to wonder if there were any Faie creatures here at all, other than behind them, when some Darxen villages appeared, with dwellings looking much like the ones in the Rings but without the ornamentation most had there. Then one more the size of a town came in view. He could pick out movement in it, but rather little bustle. It reminded him of a scene on a lazy Sunday afternoon, when most people were dozing.

Such Darxem as were visible, though, had noticeably more colour in their clothing than the ones at the Rift; more, even, than the hopeful recruits who had flown there. Tye quickly adjusted to having about the same amount of colour in her dress, and Hugh and Dengana followed suit – in two ways.

A refreshing difference here was that there were numbers of Darxem-in-dresses. It wasn’t too refreshing, however, to note that such Darxtas generally looked miserable.

There were a few here and there of both sexes whose clothing ‘un-proudly’ showed nearly the same drabness as the ‘Cause’ ideal, and it was interesting to observe the locals trying to be somewhere else when they saw these coming.

It was also clear that the dull ones were on the lookout for some who had allowed their lives to brighten up a bit too much. Just the sight of the former approaching appeared to be enough to turn the latter to a dirty grey, though.

‘Come on!’ Tye called impatiently. ‘We’re being noticed!’

This was true. A few on the ground were staring and pointing, and it looked as though one of the ‘dulls’ was about to take off and ask their business. They flew on hastily, with Tye taking them at a tangent to their original course.

This choice was a happy one. The further they went on it, the brighter the Darxem appearance became, and – significantly – the more mingling of the sexes was apparent in village streets.

Then there was a long stretch with no villages, and Hugh was just about to ask Tye about her persistence in sticking to this course when a palace came into view ahead. The sight of it was encouraging. Unlike anything Darx-made they had seen so far, it was beautiful.

The design was not as ornate as the Breena palaces had been, but had a simple dignity which went well with the predominantly sky-blue of the rock walls. Wonderfully long, brightly-coloured flags streamed from every turret.

The setting was stunning. It was on a hill which was on an island which was in the centre of a lovely lake of a contrasting deep blue.  The sweeps and waves of the foliage looked almost too perfect to be completely natural, but at the same time gave no impression of being contrived.

They were still a good distance away when two groups of six Darxem each, both made up of three princes and three princesses, came from either side to cut them off. Each one of them had vivid shades in their clothing.

Hugh caught his breath. During the time he and his companions had still been more colourful, they hadn’t realised what scope there was in the local spectrum, and had been sad imitations of what could be achieved.

The two groups closed in to form a barrier hovering ahead of them, and the four of them had to go into hovering mode in response. Twelve pairs of eyes looked disapprovingly at their gloomy appearance. Then one of the men – as they did call themselves, Hugh reminded himself – said politely, ‘I am sorry, but we do not allow visitors any access at present.’

A princess from the other group said to him, ‘You do notice that they have a princess with them?’

‘Make that a High one,’ Tye remarked casually, upgrading herself. ‘Oh, how lovely to brighten up!’ As she said this, she went through a series of quick adjustments to achieve a combination of colours in her dress which was almost blinding in intensity. She was a quick learner.

The set of six gasps was a most satisfactory reaction, and was followed by a sub-set as Hugh and Dengana suited their actions to her words.

‘Can I assume that you aren’t too sold on The Cause?’ Hugh said. ‘Rest assured that neither are we.’

‘In that case, you are welc…’ the first speaker began warmly, but he was interrupted by one of the princesses from his own group.

‘Wait a minute,’ she said. ‘How can we be quite sure that they aren’t Crow spies?’

Tye gave a giggle. ‘Crows and their Cause!’ she exclaimed. ‘Oh, I love it!’

‘It has passed into full usage now, and is rather stale as a joke,’ the doubter said, a little coldly. ‘I think we should land, and have a good discussion before doing anything rash.’

‘Good idea,’ said Hugh. ‘I’m tired of working so hard just to stay in one place.’ With that, he folded his wings and dropped like a stone, opening them again just in time to break his fall and do a neat landing on a small hilltop below. The others followed.

‘Now,’ he said, when they were gathered into two groups facing one another again, ‘I will tell you what I can tell you, and we’ll take it from there.  The four of us have come from a good distance away on a mission to find out what is happening here and what can be done to bring some sanity back.’

‘Four?’ said prince one.

‘Yip,’ said Pip, switching on.

‘A sprite?’ goggled princess two. ‘Attached?’

‘To me,’ Tye nodded.

The princess looked sceptical. ‘How could that have come about?’ she asked bluntly.

‘His cu was killed by rhaxen, and I … invited him … sort-of,’ Tye explained.

‘Yip,’ said Pip, a bit sadly but with an adoring look at Tye.

The princesses gasped and looked horrified.

Then princess two turned to the others. ‘Can you imagine a Crow wanting to do that, or having any hope of being able to?’ she asked them.

‘At any rate,’ another of the princes spoke for the first time, ‘haven’t you all heard that although some princes can hide their true colours a bit while ordinary Darxem can’t, princes who are Crows lose the ability to brighten up?’

‘Yes,’ agreed a princess. ‘It is said that even Darrex himself can no longer show colour.’

The first spokesman said, ‘You are right. I think we can trust these visitors.’ He turned to Hugh. ‘I am Demp, and with me is Deam and Dary. Over there are Drin, Delp and Durrun.’

The princesses then took turns to speak their names, which were Tarina, Tempia, Tala, Tisa, Trona and Temma,

‘Tyria,’ Tye responded, taking note of all the T beginnings and A endings, and hoping that this version would be close enough but different enough.

‘Hugh,’ Hugh blurted without thinking.

Demp looked puzzled. ‘Was that, “Dew”?’ he asked.

‘Yes, Dew,’ said Hugh, mentally kicking himself for having forgotten that all names, of princes at least, seemed to begin with D here. He waved at Dengana and added, ‘and this is Deng.’

‘Ah; then let me say welcome to Dallent Island Palace, High Princes Dew and Deng and High Princess Tyria. Higher Prince Dallent will want to greet you right away, I have no doubt. All of us together will be able to take you to him, if you don’t mind waiting for a few minutes for our relief watchers to arrive. Would you please keep an eye open for them, Dary?’

Dary took off, and flew in circles well above treetop level.

The princess who had identified herself as Tisa was looking admiringly at Tye’s dazzling display. ‘That is an unusually bright combination, Your Highness,’ she said.

‘Please call me Tyria,’ Tye said. ‘I think I did go a bit overboard with the relief of finding that there are places here where girls are still fully equal.’

Tisa blinked. ‘You mean, with one another of the same rank? Is it not so where you come from?’

‘No, I mean with boys … men,’ said Tye.

She got stared at very hard until she started feeling uncomfortable. ‘What?’ she snapped.

Several princesses started talking at once and then all stopped at once. Finally Tisa spoke again. ‘By “equal” do you mean that there is a partnership? That is what we do have between the sexes. It would be crazy, though, not to have the men as the senior partners and thus the ones who take the decisions.’

‘Well, of all the stupid …’ Tye started to explode, but Hugh elbowed her hard, and she finished off with a ‘…whoosh!’

‘Neither the time nor place,’ he hissed at her.

For a second, he thought she was going to attack him, but then she subsided, looking furious.

‘Tell me, how you have been able to resist the persuasions of the Crows?’ he asked the group hastily.

‘We have been lucky.’ Demp was answering again. ‘Higher Prince Dallent was on a long visit to his cousin up north nearer to Darrex Palace when these ideas started spreading as a directive from the Highest King. He saw how the enforcement started with a few of the Crows coming in and making more Crows, and then sending bunches of Crows from other parts to take over. When he came back, he set up all the watches and simply ordered that all Crow-sympathisers be sent away on arrival.’

‘Also,’ put in Drin, ‘anyone who looked as if they were coming to the same way of thinking as the Crows was invited to go and live somewhere else. They were replaced by those coming in who did not agree with this “Cause” madness.’

‘Did not this Darrex he get angry at that?’ Dengana asked.

‘Oh, yes,’ Demp said with a smile, ‘and increasingly so. We simply stopped allowing his messengers anywhere near. Many other palaces have followed our example, too, like that of Higher Prince Dunn.’

‘Our Higher Prince is hoping that Dunn Palace has not run into problems,’ Durrun spoke for the first time. ‘It has been many days since we have had any report from there – ah, the others have arrived.’

They looked up to see Dary greeting another group of twelve, although these consisted of only one prince and princess, with the rest all encouragingly brightly-coloured Darxem. He was pointing downwards, and a dozen pairs of eyes goggled at them. Then the fliers split into three groups, and two went in opposite directions while Dary, as the sole representative of the third, flew down to join them. He might as well have stayed up there, as they took off again almost immediately.

The closer they drew to Dallent Island Palace the more attractive it appeared. Darxem and various equivalents of the Rings’ goblins and other non-flying Faie were lounging on the edges of the lake. Some were swimming, and the surface was dotted with of sailboats which were mostly adapted seed-pods with leaf sails. Hugh pointed to a group of them. ‘That looks like fun,’ he observed.

They landed at the imposing main doors of the palace, inside some walls which must be more for show than for any kind of defence. ‘The High Prince will be in the Great Dining Hall,’ Demp announced, and led them on foot though a large antechamber to another large doorway. Inside was an imposing circular room with two concentric rings of large round tables and chairs on the outer perimeter, and a round empty space in the middle. Each of the tables, with its seats, was revolving slowly.

‘Please wait while I announce your arrival,’ Demp said, and flew across to an inner table near the far side. Most of the tables were occupied, and Hugh judged that it must be lunchtime for many of the inhabitants.  He counted the seats of the nearest tables – twenty-four at each. The whole room was a hum of conversation, and he could see that Darxem were chatting to those at the same tables as well as with those at tables nearby. The inter-table conversations needed to be fairly brief. Not only were the tables revolving, but the two circles of them were also moving slowly in opposite directions.

‘Look,’ said Dengana excitedly, pointing. ‘Tables they change like Möbius twist.’

Reflecting again that his friend’s knowledge showed a surprisingly high standard for his rural school, Hugh looked in that direction, and saw a table on the outside circuit moving in some mysterious way to becoming a table on the inner circuit. On the other side of the room, the reverse was happening. Trying to work out how it was done made him dizzy, so he stopped.

There was a flurry of activity at the table Demp had gone to, as many of those seated there flew off to other tables. Then Demp beckoned, and the remaining members of their reception committee shepherded them to where they found exactly fifteen seats made vacant for them.

Tye was directed to sit at the right hand of a Darxd whose height proclaimed him to be a Higher Prince, and who, surprisingly, had a girth to match. He was certainly not overweight by back-home standards, but looked it in comparison with the normal slim builds of all Faie folk.

Tisa tried to direct Pip somewhere else, but the sprite made quite clear an intention to remain with Tye, and alternated on her lap or shoulder, getting goggled at a good deal.

Hugh was placed next to Tye with Tarina on the other side of him. Dengana was seated at the left hand of a Higher Princess who sat to the left of the Higher Prince. Tisa was to his left. Hugh could see that, in fact, the seating arrangements at all the tables had males and females alternating.

‘Help yourselves, High Princes and Princess,’ Dallent said. He did not appear to see any need to introduce himself, and they were sure he already knew the names they had given.

The Higher Princess said, ‘You are welcome. I am Tabbia. She leaned forward slightly to speak across Dallent to Tye. ‘You are very vivid in your raiment.’

Tye wasn’t sure whether it was praise or criticism, but simply replied, ‘It was a reaction after needing to be so dimmed-down so that we wouldn’t have problems with the Crows.’

‘Interesting. You must show me how you would do that,’ she responded, but not in a voice that meant it.

‘Now, I gather,’ Dallent said to Hugh, ‘that you have come here out of a concern for what the Crows are up to?’

That struck him as a massive understatement, but Hugh simply responded, ‘Yes.’

The Higher Prince helped himself to some more food, and took a sip at whatever he was drinking.

Then he said, ‘Oh, there is nothing much to worry about, really. We have the situation fully under control.’

CHAPTER 20: Defenders Under Threat


ugh took a deep breath. He was quite sure he was going to need one.

He wasn’t fast enough in using it, though. Tye’s had been taken and employed with far greater speed.

‘You have it “under control”, have you? Are you completely out of your tiny little mind?’ she stormed.

The Higher Princess knocked over her drink, as did several others at the table. The Higher Prince choked on the mouthful of food he had just taken, and coughed and spluttered for a while.

Hugh had time for another, even deeper, breath. ‘Before you react to that,’ he said mildly, ‘I suggest you listen to what we have seen and heard since we arrived in this …’ he nearly said, ‘Circle’ but in the nick of time substituted, ‘… in this area.’

All eyes upon him, he launched out as briefly but as thoroughly as he could on an account of their recent experiences, and of what they had been told about ‘The Cause’. Dengana and a slightly cooled-down Tye chipped in here and there, and the narration was interrupted from time to time by incredulous questions from Dallent and others.

Everyone in the room had been curious about their arrival, and all eyes had been upon them, but now a realisation was growing that something momentous was being discussed at the High Prince’s table, and all other conversation was suspended while everyone tried to listen. Those whose tables were revolving closer had expressions of eager anticipation, and those who were moving away ones of frustration.

After Hugh had finally reached the stage of feeling that all the most important points had been covered, Dallent said, ‘This is utter madness. I thought the whole point of this Cause nonsense was being equal and losing all feelings of self-value. Not this conquest and take-over idea, at all.’

‘Maybe only tell that stuff after they get to believe not-self,’ Dengana suggested.

‘That’s probably it,’ Dallent nodded. ‘Of course, I do think it is stupid of the Rings to think that queens can do a proper job of ruling, but let them get on with it is what I say. As for Terra – well, they certainly have a point, there. Humans are repulsive and destructive creatures. Still, it would be a bit extreme to kill the whole lot of them.’

Hugh was grateful that some instinct had prevented him from making any mention of their own origins, or their visit to the Rings. ‘Who is this Greatestness they are treating like some sort of god?’ he asked.

‘No idea,’ said Dallent. ‘I heard that only the Highest King and the Highest Princes are permitted to speak to him. Also, they say that it is not for ordinary Darxem to know anything of his nature, as that would be far beyond their levels of understanding. It is enough to know that he has been destined to be the Supreme Leader.’

‘They actually buy that rubbish?’ Tye said, with contempt.

Dallent shrugged. ‘As you know, we have learnt we can trust true readings of the patterns of past and future. It is given to highest of the Highest to be able to do such readings. Just as those of us who have not trained in matters of the nature and science of the universe must trust the findings and knowledge of those who have been.’

‘Where other kings?’ Dengana asked.

It was clear that this had brought him to dangerous ground. Dallent gave him a puzzled frown. ‘Of course, there has been no attempt to restore the other levels since the War of the Power to the Highest,’ he said. ‘After all this time, don’t tell me there has been another of these surges of princes trying to be restored as kings?’

Dengana thought on his feet – or seat, in this case. ‘Could happen, now,’ he said, ‘Highest princes they not like Crows, they maybe think other kings better?’

‘Anyway,’ said Hugh, ‘in the light of what we have told you, don’t you think you are in rather a dangerous position? Sooner or later - and probably sooner rather than later - you are likely to have enormous flocks of Crows coming to change your minds about certain things.’

There was a chorus of cries of horror, particularly from the princesses, and including all other tables which had drifted into earshot.

‘Unthinkable!’ Dallent exclaimed. ‘That could not be - could it?’

‘What defences do you have?’ Tye asked.

Dallent motioned to Demp. ‘Your area,’ he said. ‘Tell them.’

‘Of course we can deploy the normal magic barrier,’ Demp began, ‘which, because of our position on an island, and in an area of power, is particularly strong.  Then we have Darxem with greater than usual magical strength, on average, due to the fact that Dallent Island Palace simply attracts such people.’

‘Would that be enough to hold off hordes of rhaxen? Or an attack by numbers of darxtyls?’

‘Well … yes, it should be.’

‘What about,’ Tye persisted, ‘if there were also three or four times your numbers sending magical strength against your barriers and defences?’

Demp did a lot of shuffling in his seat. ‘That would be a problem,’ he admitted.

‘One of you … yes, I think it was you, Durrun, wasn’t it? … told us that you haven’t heard from Dunn for a while,’ she changed tack with. ‘Are you sure he isn’t Dunn for?’

‘Very amusing,’ Dallent said. ‘As a matter of fact, I sent some of our fast flyers to check up on him. Should be due back any time, now.’

‘What do your defences consist of? I mean, how do they work?’ Hugh asked.

‘How do they work? They work to keep nasty things out, of course,’ said Demp, looking puzzled.

‘They don’t actually harm the nasty things?’ Hugh persisted.

‘Not unless they try to push through them.’ The puzzled look was deeper.

‘So you don’t have ways of attacking things that attack you?’ Hugh had a sinking feeling.

Dallent cut in, ‘You mean, something which will deliberately cause harm? That is something humans do; not Darxem. Unheard of.’

‘After all I have told you,’ Hugh said slowly and deliberately, avoiding a temptation to scream, ‘you still don’t realise that the Crows have in mind doing that on a grand scale? Which would include doing it against you? And, what exactly do you think the rhaxen or darxtyls or whatever would do if they did get through? Ask for a drink and a chat?’

There was a long silence, during which the residents of Dallent Island Palace did a great deal of blinking.  

Finally the Higher Prince said rather weakly, ‘It couldn’t come to that.’

After that, for some time, everyone concentrated on eating and drinking or chatting to those on opposite sides of the table, or over their shoulders to those at other tables in temporary proximity. Chatting to anyone, in fact, other than Hugh and his party.

Then there was a commotion as a female fluttered in frantically, hovered over the centre of the table facing Dallent, and gabbled, ‘You-need-to-come-now-our-watch-has-brought-in-messenger-who-went-to-Dunn-Palace-badly-hurt.’

‘Alone?’ asked Dallent. ‘What about the other four?’

‘Yes, alone; come!’ was the response.

‘All wait here until I return,’ rapped Dallent, and a flurry of opening wings became a flurry of them closing again.

There was an uproar of voices as soon as he had flown from the room with the watcher who had brought the message. Those further away wanted to know what was going on, and the ones who had been close enough to hear were relaying all they knew. Then everyone was speculating on what they didn’t know.

‘I get the horrible feeling that my joke about Dunn being done for may have been a bit of a prophesy, which has turned out to be in really bad taste,’ Tye said in a small voice. Not for the first time, Hugh found himself thinking what a strange mixture of toughness and sensitivity she was.

It wasn’t long before Dallent returned, but to those waiting it seemed like an age. Higher Princess Tabbia was apparently in a state of shock and would not speak, which put a damper on the conversation and speculation at their table.

When he did come back, he was followed by a large crowd of others, and the princes or princesses among them took what vacant seats there had been. The rest gathered to stand in the ring surrounded by the tables. Dallent stood on an outside table at the far end, and the revolving came to a stop.

As soon as Darxem had stopped flowing into the vast room, Dallent began speaking. His voice was audible everywhere, obviously through some form of magical amplification.

‘We have a dire emergency,’ he started flatly. ‘Only one of the messengers I sent to Dunn Palace has returned, and he is severely injured. The others are undoubtedly dead.’

Not even pausing for the gasps and horrified exclamations, he went on, ‘The situation they found at Dunn Palace was indescribably terrible. Everyone there, regardless of rank, age or sex, has been killed, and the palace totally destroyed.’

He cupped his hands over his face for a second, and then went on, ‘The worst horror of all is that they have used some spell to prevent them from Fading.’

A stunned silence met the announcement, and after the briefest of pauses to let this news sink in, he continued, ‘The horde of Crows who did these things are on their way here, now. They are travelling on foot because they apparently include many non-flying creatures in their number, but should still reach us by midday tomorrow.’

The uproar after he had left the room was nothing to the one which now ensued. When words replaced wailings, two major factions were emerging: those who wanted to flee, and those who wanted to send a delegation right away to negotiate. The total consensus was that if Dunn Palace defences had failed, it was certain that theirs would, too.

Hugh decided to experiment with ‘willing’ his magic to assist his voice, and found it surprisingly easy. ‘What about fighting them?’ he called out, and he could tell that his words were carrying like those of Dallent.

‘How?’ Demp said.

‘Um,’ said Hugh. It was a good question. ‘What does their mob consist of, apart from a great many Darxem?’

‘Just Darxds, apparently; no Darxtas … They have numbers of flying creatures of the same kinds as rhaxen and darxtyls. The boggarts are like a swarm of midges. There are also wingless ones like stygs or brackles.  The worst thing, though, is that they have hundreds of drogres with them, who are somehow not eating them. Those also appear to have adopted The Cause.’

‘What these drogres them like?’ Dengana put in, but he hadn’t got the hang of magic microphones so Hugh had to repeat it for him.

‘They must just be the usual ones,’ Dallent said impatiently. ‘About five times our size, bloated, hairy even on hands and feet, stupid, and always bad-tempered. The big problem with them is, of course, that their magic shields are so big and so strong that they can simply break through almost anything.’

‘Those big domes in the valley must have been for them oops,’ Tye guessed, with the last bit being because in her case she had found and used an amplified voice without realising it.

‘So what magic weapons can you deploy?’ Hugh asked.

‘I told you before; we can shield, protect, and guard, of course,’ Dallent said.

‘Right.’ Hugh thought hard, before trying: ‘What would you do if only one of you was in charge of a scattered group of youngsters; too many for you to shield; and some of these … drogres? … came at them from all sides?’

The reply was unexpected in two ways: the nature of it, and from whom it came. ‘I would destroy them all!’ Higher Princess Tabbia snapped in a tone of fury and a voice amplified almost too much.

‘Now we’re getting somewhere. How would you do it?’

She blinked at Hugh before replying, now hesitantly, ‘My anger would enable me to direct blasts of fire, water, air or earth in any combination at them,’ she said. ‘As a matter of fact, I had need to do it once against rhaxen when I was younger, although I felt bad about it afterwards.’

‘Who else here would know how to do that?’ Hugh asked.

A few scattered arms came up, mainly among the princes. The Higher Prince’s was not among them, and he was still gaping at Tabbia with a shocked expression.

‘You wouldn’t be able to, anyway, if the drogres had put up their shields,’ muttered Demp, whose arm had also failed to rise.

‘I imagine the anger has already been generated,’ Hugh said, ‘if one simply thinks about what has happened to everyone at Dunn Palace, and that these Crows should dare to come and try to impose their crazy ideas on you. Do you think,’ turning to Tabbia, ‘you could imagine that large fruit over there was one of them, and demonstrate a blast?’

Tabbia concentrated for a while, but then shook her head.

Hugh wondered if perhaps she simply lacked enough imagination. ‘Let me have a go,’ he said. ‘Try and sense what I’m doing, everyone.’

First, he marshalled up anger at the actions of the Crows. Then he imagined that the fruit was a symbol of them. After that, he willed a blast of earth and fire to build up. Finally he pointed a finger at the fruit and tried to release the energy.

Nothing happened.

With a feeling of desperation, he went through the sequence again. This time, though, he only imagined the fruit to be a Crow a split-second before he ‘shot’.

There was a gasp from everyone in the enormous room as the fruit suddenly turned into a hole in the table, smouldering slightly.

CHAPTER 21: Attacking Attackers


t was felt that it would be better for the health of the furniture if everyone took their experiments outside, after that.

Soon, numerous innocent inanimate objects were being mercilessly obliterated.  The girls - Darxtas – showed themselves to be particularly good at it. Tye misjudged, and created rather a crater in an attempt to blast a small stone. Tabbia had managed to overcome her initial difficulties, and also tended to overdo destruction in her practice blasts.

Hugh drew Demp aside, as the defence expert. ‘How does one deal with these drogre creatures?’ he asked.

‘Run away as fast as possible,’ was the response. ‘Or get behind a strong shield and hope they forget to activate theirs before they try and follow you. Their reactions are slow.’

Rather discouraged by that, Hugh moved on to his next question. ‘What is the best protection against the glarespells of rhaxen?’ he asked. It had been worrying him that they had reduced him to mincemeat so easily in Glit Ring.

‘A simple guard spell will work against one or two,’ Demp said. ‘It is almost impossible to ward off more than that at a time. I have heard, though, that Highest Princes have the ability to create a shield which bounces their spells back at them. Any number of them. They die. While they are able to give their own medicine, they cannot take it. I wish I could do such a shield.’

He looked a bit puzzled at the delighted thanks he received for this information.

It wasn’t more than an hour later when all the residents of Dallent Island Palace had been sorted into those who could blast, and those who couldn’t, really. The blasters were only slightly outnumbered by the non-blasters.

While everyone was blasting at things, Hugh, Tye and Dengana went into conference. ‘Look, it looks like they are looking to us for leadership,’ Hugh said, looking worried.

Dengana saw things the same way. ‘We too young to tell all people what to do,’ he nodded.

‘Don’t be such dweeby weevils,’ Tye snapped. ‘We happen to be the best qualified for the job. Hugh has been getting some fairly good ideas lately, in fact. So, what are we going to advise them?’

When the blasting party came to an end everyone returned to the Great Dining Hall for more group discussion. As soon as everyone was seated, Higher Prince Dallent turned to Hugh. ‘What do you suggest?’ he asked, on voice-amplification.

Thanks to their preparation, Hugh was able to answer promptly, ‘Attack is generally the best form of defence. We suggest that everyone here except the old and the young should go to meet the approaching force. Each defender will concentrate on shielding themselves and one attacker, with whom they will be paired.’

There was a hum, which sounded mainly like agreement.

‘It will be sensible,’ he went on, ‘to concentrate at first on dealing with as many of the rhaxen, and any other creatures of similar capability, as possible. Foremost, though, we should go for the drogres, because those most threaten our defence. It is clear to me that none of you would actually want to hurt or kill fellow Darxem other than as a last resort, and this plan may give a good opportunity to discourage them without doing that.’

‘Remember, though,’ Tye chipped in viciously, ‘they have earned anything bad that happens to them, after what they did at Dunn Palace.’

‘The final thing to remember well,’ said Hugh, ‘is that we will retreat back to these defences as soon as there appears to be the slightest danger that the tide may turn against us. In fact, if the force is as large as we gather it must be from the report, to hit and run must be our aim. We will attack from a direction on the far side of them, and retreat initially in the same direction before we scatter and circle back.’

The hum was louder, this time, and Hugh decided it was a good idea to strike while the iron was hot. ‘Let’s go,’ he said, and took off, only just making it through the doorway before a following crowd almost jammed themselves up there.

He had a sinking feeling when he realised that he hadn’t the faintest idea which direction to fly in, but fortunately Dallent joined him seconds later and he was able to let him set the lead without appearing to do so. He and Tye were in the spearhead group of the flight which consisted of Dallent shielding Tabbia as attacker, and Tisa shielding Dengana

Dallent hadn’t a clue, though, when it came to stealth. He wanted to fly high up where they would have been spotted from considerable distances away, and was quite annoyed when brought down a peg or two - to treetop level. Hugh asked to be warned when they were drawing closer to where the Crows would be, so that Pip could take an invisible peek at what lay ahead.

After they had flown for about an hour, Dallent said, ‘They are probably somewhere just beyond that hill.’

Hugh made everyone land while they waited for the Pip report. The sprite was clearly agitated on return, and Tye looked worried when she had been squeaked at for a while. ‘He says that there are a number of rhaxen flying ahead of the march,’ she said, ‘and I gather the size of the army is really scary.’

‘I suppose we’d better take out those rhaxen, if we want total surprise,’ Hugh suggested, after calling Tye, Dengana and Tisa aside.

‘Yes,’ said Tye. ‘Let’s try the glarespell-reflect trick, but be ready to do a lot of ordinary shielding and blasting if it doesn’t work right away.’

‘You won’t be able to do that, Tyria,’ Tisa protested. ‘it would need at least one Highest Prince in the partnership.’

‘We’ll see,’ said Tye. ‘OK, you circle round from the left, Tisa and Dew; Deng and I will come in from the right. He hasn’t experienced a glarespell before, so can’t prepare beforehand as Dew and I can.’

As he and Tisa flew off to the side, Hugh hoped he hadn’t shown that he hadn’t, actually, thought of doing such preparation. It made sense, though. He let his senses recall the ‘feel’ of those awful rays, and willed a shield to be built which would reflect them straight back to the senders. He could sense Tisa trying to copy what he was doing.

It was just as well they had prepared the shield in advance. They came upon the first group of rhaxen very suddenly, unexpectedly far to one side. The creatures reacted almost immediately, and their glarespells came with the same hideous black, red-streaked rays they had seen in Breena, but here the colours were infinitely more varied and infinitely more horrible. Then the rays flickered strangely in what was almost a writhing motion for a second, and went out. The rhaxen who had directed them dropped like stones.

The same happened with another terrifyingly large swarm; and then another.

A final group of them falling to the ground without either of them having directed any rays at them signalled that they had found Tye and Dengana. The latter was looking a bit groggy. ‘He was a bit slow,’ Tye said without much sympathy. ‘Let’s make sure that’s the lot of them, shall we?’

They found and had to deal with yet another small advance group of rhaxen, which had been dangerously close to where their forces were waiting. As they flew back to the others Tisa was also looking a bit dazed, to match Dengana. ‘Wait until I tell everyone,’ she gasped out. ‘You must be Higher, at least! Wow!’

‘Tisa, we will share a secret with you,’ Hugh said. ‘We are, all three, as you say. It is best, though, that this not be known for the present. Can we trust you?’

Completely wide-eyed, she nodded.

They returned to where Dallent and all adult residents of his palace were waiting impatiently, and asked them to wait patiently instead for about thirty seconds before following.

‘We have discovered a good way of dealing with rhaxen,’ said Hugh. ‘All those who were patrolling ahead of their force have been eliminated, but there may still be some with the main body.’

‘How can you possibly have handled more than a couple on your own …?’ Dallent asked, but found he was speaking to six sets of wings vanishing over the treetops.

Once again Pip did the scouting and reported that, indeed, there were many more rhaxen either settled in trees just ahead of the walkers and waiting for them to catch up, or flying in circles above them.

‘We’d better split up and come from different sides so that they probably won’t see it as an attack, at first. Then we blast one each as soon as we arrive, to get their attention before we put up the reflective shields,’ Tye ordered.

It was a good tactic. The rhaxen only saw a couple of them at a time, and curiosity overcame whatever ‘shoot first and ask questions afterwards’ instructions they may have been given. When seven of them had abruptly been blasted in conventional ways - Tye had been greedy by doing two in quick succession - they all turned their glares on to full force. Then, it was a massacre or, one might say, a mass suicide. The more ex-rhaxen rained down, the more the others redoubled efforts to aim better; and the more successful their aim became, the more of them rained down.

A final few had worked out that it wasn’t a good idea to use glarespells and they stopped, but before they could follow their next bright idea, which was to scram, they also got blasted by a couple of ordinary blasts each.

The flock of them had been enough to have wiped out the Dallent force without any other help, and now it was clear that the other creatures had the same overwhelming numbers. Clouds made up of hundreds of Darxem were starting to take to their wings, with darxtyls and other strange creatures following.

Just ahead and below, Hugh noticed a group of Crow supporters taking off to intercept them, and it only needed a glance to tell that they were well organised.

They were also well-converted. Every member of that group were particularly dingy in appearance as opposed to most of the others, who did show traces of colour. Generally, the Crows here were not up to the high – or, rather, down to the low – standards of the ones in the valley past the Sad Ones.

‘Too efficient, that bunch,’ Hugh observed, ‘I guess it’s thanks to that Higher Prince at the head of them.’ On an impulse he directed his best shot narrowed in at a tiny section of one of the leader’s wings where he judged a small wound might cause the most damage. The prince’s shield there glowed briefly and then fizzled, and the prince started a swatted-moth flutter to the ground. Hardly had he reached it before he was shaking his fist at his force, who had lapsed into confusion as soon as he had been downed.

‘Nice shot!’ Tye applauded.

As had been agreed at the planning stages, Dallent and his Darxem had done a half-circle to come behind the Crows, and they now flew at greatest possible speed while directing blasts at everything except darxtyls in the enemy ranks. Hugh and the five with him joined Dallent and Tabbia at the head while they raced over the army below until reaching the foremost part of it. This consisted of at least a hundred giants.

‘Yeugh!’ was the consensus opinion, delivered at the same time by the three ex-humans, at the mere sight of them.

The creatures carried looking ugly to master-class levels. They were, Hugh judged, about half again as tall as a human would have been here. The bodies were stocky by any standards, and they lumbered or shambled rather than walked.  They wore various kinds of clothing, but all parts of them which showed had coarse, tangled hair. This included the feet of those who didn’t have some form of shoes. There was even hair on the backs and palms of the hands, while the fingers had claws rather than nails.

What the top ends lacked in neck they made up for in head. Even on those bodies, they looked oversized. Enormous mouths filled with jagged shark-like teeth were above an area which had no chin to speak of. Where noses should have been were large nostrils which appeared to be tunnels straight into their faces.  The ears looked like head-sized slabs of dough, rolled into random shapes and then pinned on skew. In contrast, the eyes were small, mean, and close-set.

‘Drogres!’ Hugh exclaimed, starting to blast.

‘Brilliant deduction,’ Tye said with heavy sarcasm, also starting.

Then everyone was doing their level best to be nasty to drogres – a level best was a good idea because losing height would have been a bad one. Only Tabbia and Tye showed themselves as being able to finish them off in one, though. Some of the monsters took up to five hits before they lay down and kept doing it. Those hits had to be in very quick succession, because once the drogres got any thought of shielding themselves, no blast was able to get through.

 By now, more forces on the ground were trying to send blasts up at the flyers, and bright splats of light started to show where hits had been scored on shields. Soon these became a barrage.

Pursuing flyers were still too far behind to direct blasts, and were left behind while trying to gain height. Thus, after the Dallent group had gone over the heads of all drogres, leaving most of them busy fading, half of them split away in a group to circle back on the outskirts of Crow supporters on one side, doing some more blasting at survivors there. The pursuers dithered about which to follow, and some collisions occurred.

Then Dallent and his group, who had kept going straight, circled to the other side where they did the same thing. This further confused the pursuers, and the air behind became rather a tangle.

This run was less successful. Most surviving drogres (but not all) had thought of protecting themselves by now. Also, a few of the Crow Darxds managed to send several blasts simultaneously at one flyer at a time, and the shields couldn’t cope. Four were lost before they reached the safety of the trees on the other side.

‘Right,’ said Hugh, ‘this is where we do a full-speed dash at that forest ahead, go down below treetop level, and then split right and left to go widely round the outside of them.’

They were now flying directly away from Dallent Island Palace, so the pursuers were sent hunting in that direction while the two groups took wide detours to the side and then back on course for the Palace. Pip confirmed that none of the enemy flyers were in sight before they stopped zigzagging through tree trunks and flew at a more comfortable height again.

‘I hope the group on the other side have the sense to get someone to stick a head out of a high treetop to do their check,’ Hugh remarked.

Then, there was the long, wearisome flight back.

CHAPTER 22: An Ambush and a Departure


y the time the force returned to Dallent Island Palace, it was well into the evening. They crammed into the Great Dining Hall until all seats were filled, and the overflow who wanted to hear any announcements which might be announced stayed standing in the centre portion and stayed hungry. The rest went to do such preparation and carrying of food as wasn’t simply done by magic - or to find lesser dining rooms.

Dallent was not in a speech-giving mood, though. He gave a brief one praising everyone for their valour and lamenting the loss of six, which included two who had been blasted in the group who were doing the dangerous final return flight on the other side of the enemy.

‘We must now double our watches, and be prepared to exert maximum force with our shields,’ he finished. ‘Other than that, I have followed a suggestion by Prince Dew that scouts be sent to large villages and palaces within reasonable flying distance - in all directions except the ones he and his party have already viewed on the way here. - in the hopes that we can find reinforcements. I am proud of the Darxem who volunteered to add such efforts to those they had already used for the journey and attack.’

‘Not likely to get much response,’ overheard from a table revolving past Hugh’s shoulder, about summed up the expectations. Everyone was reverting to their recent preference for lying low and hoping not to be noticed.

Musicians came into the centre of the room to play briefly during the final stages of the meal, but there did not appear to be any intention of making an evening of it. Soon, Hugh and his friends were shown to guest rooms – simple, by comparison with those in the Ring palaces, and not in towers, but still luxurious enough.

There was some confusion when their hosts wanted to put Hugh and Tye in one room, looking quite surprised that they asked for separate ones.

With all the excitement and uncertainty, nobody slept too well, and most were up early. By the time Hugh, Dengana and Tye flew to join others in the gardens surrounding the palace, the news had spread that most of the scouts had already returned bearing bad news. During the course of the morning the final ones who had gone further afield also returned, bearing the same.

All of them had accounts of village after village where even late at night or early in the morning there had been enough activity to see that they were filled with dull Darxem, being made duller by even duller ones.  Those of more colourful appearance were, as predicted, keen on staying as invisible as possible, and they definitely didn’t believe that sending any reinforcements to Dallent Island Palace would contribute towards being invisible.

The news of what had happened to everyone at Dunn Palace had spread to some areas, or had to be related to others. In both cases, this also had a quite definite effect of discouraging any support. Fear seemed to be a far stronger emotion than anger, and it was clear that none of them would believe the messengers when they gave an account of the recent success against the Crow horde. Most thought that they were complete lies, told out of desperation; or, at least, that they were wildly exaggerated.

To add to the general atmosphere of doom and gloom, scouts reported that the Crows, although still at walking or running speed, were drawing closer so quickly that they couldn’t have been taking any breaks at all.

‘Is a surprise,’ Dengana mentioned during a period they were all together, ‘that Crows they not send flying ones on ahead. Maybe they want to keep all together at first, but now that so many of the no-wings killed, no reason to stay slow.’

‘You have a point,’ came from Hugh. ‘Perhaps it wasn’t such good thinking to blast so many of the walking ones – I mean, if I’d been in charge there I would immediately have regarded that as a signal to stop messing about and simply fly the rest of the way.’

‘Anyway, isn’t it time for us to get out, before we get hemmed in?’ Tye said crossly.

They gaped at her. ‘Do you mean … just leave them to it?’ Hugh asked incredulously.

‘Why not? We’ve done what we could. What good is it going to be, now, to mess about with one little battle when we should be thinking what to do about the whole war?’

‘How you think we stop the war?’ Dengana challenged.

‘For starters, we need to get to this king’s palace as the most likely place for getting some clues about what is really behind it all. I think we should leave now. Already, we are going to need to duck round these attackers. I gather from things Tabbia has said that they are directly in our way on the route to Darrex Palace.’

‘We can’t simply abandon Dallent and everyone!’ Hugh burst out.

‘Why not? Stop being pathetic and use some sense. We have far bigger things to worry about.’

‘Maybe Tye she right,’ Dengana said in a worried tone. ‘Most important now we carry information to Highest Queen. Even what we know already she have need that we tell her.’

This support wasn’t enough to satisfy Tye. ‘We don’t know nearly enough, yet,’ she snapped. ‘This was a valuable source of information, but we’ve got all we’re going to get from here. Now, we simply must keep moving and start snooping round the king, somehow.’

Hugh dug his heels in. ‘That may be the most sensible idea,’ he said shortly, ‘but I simply can’t do it. If you want to leave everyone in the lurch, go right ahead, but you’re on your own.’

‘Not good way to be,’ Dengana agreed.

Tye and her sprite had her usual reaction to opposition. Pip growled fiercely at them, and she swung on her heel and flew away. Dengana started after her, but Hugh called him back. ‘Leave her to cool down,’ he advised.

Scouts were running relays to report on the approach of the enemy, and some had managed to get close enough to observe that there were still about twenty of the drogres at the head of the march. They were guarded, though, by a pattern-flying group of Darxds, staying just ahead of them.

‘We would have no hope trying another surprise attack,’ Dallent said morosely.

‘Maybe not, but the strategy of taking out the drogres was a sound one. As a tactic, perhaps some sort of ambush is called for to deal with the remaining ones?’ Hugh suggested a bit hesitantly. ‘Let’s see; the logical way for them to come will be through that little gorge we flew over on the way back, won’t it?’

Dallent nodded, but objected: ‘Before anyone gets within blasting range of the drogres, they will be attacked by the flying Crows.’

Hugh looked for Tye to join their discussion, but she was at the far side with Higher Princess Tabbia and pointedly ignored them when they waved. He, with Dengana, Dallent and Demp, then spent some time on working out a plan of action.

Sixty-one volunteers were soon found. Tisa teamed with Hugh again, and Demp went as shielder to Dengana. Hugh persuaded Dallent and Demp not to join this expedition, in case anything needed urgent decisions back at the Palace. Also, although he didn’t say it, in case the ambush went horribly wrong.


Led by a group of Crow Darxds flying in low circles just ahead of the remaining drogres, the enemy horde started entering the gorge. They had to thin out to follow the banks of the river which ran through it, but first the flyers were reinforced with many more, who all scoured the cliffs and the very steep hillsides on either side to ensure that there were no lurking ambushers. Then most landed again to join the Darxds walking behind the drogres, while the permanent air force resumed their station just ahead. Rather than continue to fly in irksome tight circles, they were now almost hovering in order to keep down to the walking pace.

As soon as they had finished their search, Trona, completely concealed in one of the few bushes she could find at the top, flashed a signal. At that, fifteen pairs flew to a considerable height from behind the next set of hills on either side, making sure that they could not see into the gorge and, therefore, that they were out of sight of anyone in it. Then they hovered, waiting for Trona to peep cautiously over the edge and then send another signal as soon as the flying Crows had passed a place previously pinpointed.

As soon as this came, both groups of thirty launched into a steep dive, aiming for the tops of the cliffs and thus still out of sight of anyone below. Only at the last instant before they would have plunged into the hilltops on either side did they do a jink to continue the dive straight into the gorge.

By this time, they had built up a furious speed, and it was only a matter of seconds before they were within range of the drogres. There was only time for one blast each, and it required lightning- quick reflexes for each to identify their agreed target and ‘shoot’. This time, shielders and blasters alike were blasting, so that each drogre would receive three direct hits at the same time.

The front and back drogres started falling first. It was easy to pick ‘first’ or ‘last’, but took longer to count, ‘tenth from front’ or ‘tenth from back’. Then the swooping attackers used their momentum, after coming out of the dive, to rise to the opposite cliff-tops, rather like an aircraft starting the upward part of a loop-the-loop. By the time both groups had vanished over opposite edges, the middle drogres were also toppling.

The Crows flying ahead of the drogres hadn’t seen a thing. One or two of the drogres had glanced upwards at the attackers, but even the ones who had noticed them as soon as they had come into view didn’t have fast enough reflexes to shield themselves in time.

The walking Darxds behind the drogres had actually started blasting, but too late. Then they took off in a swarm in pursuit, but the Dallent party fled straight back to the protection of their barrier, well out of range of the pursuers.

At last, the Crows realised that there was no point in continuing at the speed of the other, less formidable, walkers. Dark clouds of them arrived to congregate as an unpleasant black horde just beyond the outer ring of the palace defences, which formed a ring around the lake as well as the island.

Once there, all of them became busy simply being there, but not really doing anything more than being there.

‘We’re well-and-truly hemmed in now, all right,’ Hugh said glumly.

He and Dengana went to find Tye to tell her that a respite had been won with the elimination of the drogres, but she was nowhere in sight. Finally Hugh saw Tabbia coming out of the palace, and flew across to her. ‘Have you seen Tye… er, Tyria?’ he asked.

Tabbia frowned at him. ‘Didn’t you know?’ she said rather coldly, ‘High Princess Tyria has already said her farewells and has left on her mission, whatever it may be.’

CHAPTER 23: Ringing the Changes


etting Dengana back to his hillside had not been easy. As soon as they had reached the proximity of the Interface, Lusi had sensed creatures in the area which belonged in Darx Circle rather than here. She didn’t know how; she simply had.

With all the precautions they had followed, no difficulty had been found in getting to and through Safah Ring to the point where the right-angled turn needed to be taken in order to reach the Interface. Then, however, there was a lot of open grassland and rocky areas to be crossed, and she somehow knew that these parts were under surveillance.

She and Dengana went to the limits of where there was still cover, and then she was able to make out rhaxen and other strange creatures lurking in almost every bush and fissure overlooking the glade with its ring of flowers.

They retreated a short distance while thinking what to do. ‘How I get you through nobody see?’ she wondered. ‘Night, maybe …’ Even as she suggested it, she could tell that it probably wouldn’t work.

Then Dengana called urgently, ‘Quick; we hide!’

For a second she thought he had taken leave of his senses, but then she, too, could hear the merry sounds of voices coming from behind them. The voices arrived long before their owners, and they were able to find a good vantage point from which to witness the approach of nine Breena, all on foot and stopping to peer at plants every now and then. There were five ordinary silvery ones – three female and two male – and two of each sex in the glowing princess ones. She was happy to note that they were all of the same features and colouring as she and Dengana.

‘You smaller yourself!’ Lusi demanded urgently..

He merely gaped; and she squinted in concentration. Then, suddenly, she was clearly just an ordinary princess with no High about it. He thought he had got some vibrations as to how she had set about it, but after a bit of experimentation gave up and concentrated on hunching himself up a bit instead.

Lusi gave a ‘You’ll do’ shrug, and stepped out into the open to greet the oncoming group, who stopped in surprise when they saw her.

‘We see you,’ she gave the polite greeting which is plural even when it isn’t. ‘We happy to find you. We need Interface nearby?’

‘We see you. You not sense it?’ a prince responded in a surprised tone, pointing in the direction they knew it to be.

‘Maybe we confused; many strange creatures nearby look-look. Make us worry,’ Lusi responded.  

He and his party concentrated for a second, and then all nodded. ‘Bad things nest here,’ he said. ‘Come, we all go with you. We want go there, anyway.’

Seconds later, they were just two of a group of flying fairies heading for the Interface. Dengana stayed in the middle of them, trying to look as small as possible.

Nothing interfered with them as they flew across the circle and into the Interface. On the way, she had managed to say, ‘Between!’ urgently to Dengana in a voice which she hoped had only carried to him, and she was relieved to find he had heard her and had managed it. She could just imagine what a fright the others would have had with a human boy suddenly arriving in their midst.

She didn’t need to do anything to influence the other Breena to move away from the Interface. They immediately spread out and continued to peer at plants as they had done on the other side. She began to do the same; in fact, she had guessed that they were doing one of the regular inspections. These were undertaken to ensure that mutations were not occurring on one side or the other which would signal instability in the Interface.

A while later, from a distance, she saw Dengana-as-boy moving off down the hill. The other fairies hardly glanced at him.

Her relief that he was back safely was tinged with sadness at the parting. She realised that she had enjoyed his company enormously, and that she would miss being with him.

‘Now,’ she said to herself, ‘if I go back again not-noticed with the others, then all is well. Then I must go fast-fast-fast back to Queen of Queens.’

No long after, the group gathered in the circle to return to Safah Ring again. No surprise was shown at her attaching herself to them, or curiosity at where the one who had been with her had got to.  She went on chatting to them until she could no longer sense any watchers, and then she set out for the shortest route she could find back to Honour Ring. Just to be on the safe side, she kept her appearance as that of an ordinary princess.

Lusi flew as fast as she could to the point of exhaustion, and then still well beyond that point. She managed, in one full day, what had previously taken the best part of two,. When she reached Aiennea Palace, she made no attempt to approach it but instead headed for the group of trees and rocks with the secret door.  She made sure no creatures were in sight or sense. Then she held her breath as she shifted and twisted a section of rock in a way she hoped she remembered correctly from the Queen’s instructions. She had, and with the lifting of the latch the rock door opened slightly.

Then came the long passage walk, and the climb up those seemingly never-ending steps, until finally she let herself into the chambers of the Supreme Queen.

Speedy as she had been in her return, Felin had been even quicker. He had arrived about half-an-hour before, and was still sniffling after having told Aiennea about Avinia. Soon Lusi was sobbing, too.


After ensuring that a few fairies had ‘accidentally’ caught sight of Felin and Lusi, so that hopefully it would still be believed that Hugh, Tye and Dengana were also still guests, Aiennea sat them down and insisted that every detail of their recent journeys be repeated several times.

Then she said, ‘I can see from patterns that they have been successful in entering Darx Circle and that already they are having an influence. There are some problems, though. A major one of those affects you, Lusi.’

Aiennea got a far-away look and lapsed into a long silence. Lusi had been holding her breath after that announcement, but had to un-hold it in a sudden rush in order to keep living.

Eventually the Queen gave a deep sigh, and said, ‘It has come out that all the indications pointing to your involvement were seriously misread. I thought that your part after witnessing all you had done in the valley would simply be as the means of bringing Higher Prince Dengana to our land, and of getting him safely on his way to Darx Circle. This you have carried out admirably; but if only I had realised …’

Another silence had the normally easy-going Lusi on the verge of bursting out with what would have been unwise words, but when Aiennea did finally come out with it, she did so quickly and to the point.

‘It has now become clear that for the best results you should have accompanied the others to Darx Circle. That being so, it must mean that you are also able to assume a Darxta alter ego – to Adapt as a Darx. There was not a hint of that before, but it is one of the possibilities I should have considered for everyone tied closely into this part of the pattern – oh, and,’ she turned to Felin with a slight smile, ‘you can relax. It is almost certain that it doesn’t apply in your case.’

A stunned Lusi stuttered for a while. Then she got out, ‘Is n-n-now too late.’ Aiennea looked at her. ‘Is now too late?’ she added.

‘Perhaps not. What may be read is that it would still help the course of things were you able to join the others; but also reveals that to do so, although just possible, will present you with enormous difficulties. The only foreknowledge I can give you is that the others will be heading for Darrex Palace, which is two or three days north of the Rhino Valley entrance.’

Lusi considered this, and then said simply, ‘I try,’ and rose to her feet.

‘Good girl,’ Aiennea said. ‘Don’t even think of starting right away, though. You need time to relax and eat, and to have a good night’s rest.’

She gave a deep sigh and said, ‘There is another thing of grave concern you should know about. You remember, Felin, that you and … Avinia … did have reservations about Tyrentia? Still, she was so strongly marked in the pattern that I developed confidence that she would be as important as Hugh and Dengana in bringing matters to a resolution. Now, indications are that this is so, but in the wrong way.’

Felin raised his eyes. ‘She’s having selfish tantrums again, I suppose,’ he said, ‘and saying the wrong things, and doing her best not to make friends.’

‘It’s worse than that, I’m afraid,’ Aiennea said with a noticeable loss in her normal calm confidence. For her, that was the equivalent of another person throwing a full set of hysterics. ‘There are strengthening signs that she is deviating from the pattern.’

‘Tye she try do things her way,’ Lusi nodded.

‘That wouldn’t matter if her way was still in harmony. The trouble is that from what I can see she is becoming a part of what can carry the pattern into areas that, for us at least, are wrong. Worse still, this hasn’t just happened. I am disappointed in myself for having missed a negative link she has been carrying with her. I only noticed it now, in fact, because she has been building on it steadily in some manner.’

It turned out that this was about as much clarity as they were going to get from the queen. She had no idea exactly what Tye had been up to or was going to do; only that it was wrong.

Her final words on the subject, were, ‘The further I try and look into the pattern that is emerging the more dread I feel. It can drag us towards a vortex of unimaginable evil.’

As a nice, cheerful bedtime story, this could certainly have been improved upon.


After a surprisingly good sleep followed by a leisurely breakfast, Lusi and Felin allowed brief sightings of themselves as themselves and also, giggling a lot, dressed up for a glimpse of Felin to look as much like Hugh as possible, and for one of Lusi to give an impression of Dengana.  There were several fairies who seemed to have nothing better to do than snoop regularly, and at least one of them was probably a spy or else a loose-tongued source of information.

Felin wanted to accompany Lusi at least to as far as the Safah Ring Interface. Lusi was tempted - she would have loved the company - but felt that he would be of more use continuing to be ‘guests’ of the Queen of Queens. Aiennea agreed, so that was that.

‘Take all the same precautions as you did for the previous trip with Dengana,’ Aiennea had advised her during breakfast. ‘Better to spend a bit more time than to be recognised, especially near Honour Ring where you stand out more even if you demote yourself. Handy skill that, by the way. Not all of the High ranks have it. I think Hugh and Dengana do too, though, and I hope they recognise and use it.’

The trip was tiring, but a bit shorter due to sensing a handy shortcut Conjunction through Boar Ring, which had now replaced the Tya Ring one. Boar Ring had a lot of wild pigs, but little else of interest. It did, though, have some of the usual rhaxen watchers, but in woods on the approaches to the Conjunctions rather than within sight of them. The right-angled-turn trick did the trick again.

The final approach to the Safah Ring Interface had Lusi with her heart in her mouth. ‘Not likely be so lucky find group they act as screen, this time,’ she told herself glumly. She was just about to land and do the closer approach to the open area on the ground, as before, when she saw a fairy flying ahead with a silver glow and a familiar ‘feel’. She caught up, and sure enough it was one of her unwitting protectors from before.

After the ‘see you’ greetings, she asked Lusi if she was going to the Interface again. ‘I not;’ she said when Lusi nodded, ‘but now no need worry about nasty things from Darx they try to make home there. We angry, and all from near villages they came to send all away. Some then come back, so we make them sleep.’

The kind of sleep she meant led directly, in the Rings, to fading, so after an exchange of, ‘Go well,’ Lusi had no hesitation in heading directly for the flower ring. She still kept her senses on the alert, but this time felt no alarm.

Soon she had left the Ring and was in Terra on the hilltop above Dengana’s new home village. She could make out that some particularly early risers in the distant village were dressed for church, so with the variable effect of compensating interstices, as she had explained at length to Dengana, it meant that a full three days had elapsed in the human world since she had left him here.

Flying in Terra was not as pleasant as in Breena, but at least the route to Rhino Valley was a great deal more direct than the one Dengana and the others would have had to follow. Also – and her spirits lifted with the rest of her as she discovered it – there happened to be a favourable thermal taking her all the way up to a fast current of air in exactly the right direction.

When approached from the angle she was now coming from, The Rhino looked more like the head of a unicorn, but it still made an unmistakable landmark. She zoomed above the peak, and then circled into Rhino Valley, on the lookout for any signs of Faie life.

There was a trace of Darxem coming from somewhere near The Sad Ones. There was also something she recognised instantly as a Fear Spell, so she quickly recited the ditty she had learnt as a child:

Fear go away and frighten,

And frighten, and frighten,

Fear go away and frighten

Yourself right out of sight!

Fear go away and frighten

And frighten, and frighten

Fear go away and frighten

Yourself till you die of fright!

It worked, instantly.

Then, in spite of a shield on the probe she had sent, something touched her mind.

She shied away mentally, but as she did so she received an impression of *?* and a faint mental picture of a leopard.

‘Ingwe!’ she said aloud, inadvertently opening that part of her mind again.


The sense of receiving an actual reply was strong, and also that the ‘voice’ came from an area directly below her – the farm of Two Old Frogs. Sure enough, she could make out one of the leopards she had seen before, lounging on a branch near the house. She flew down to settle warily on another branch near him, but outside of swatting range.

The leopard blinked at her amiably. *You small-shiny have purrs for human cub?* came to her not only as a shock but also as a faint mental picture of Dengana - which came as a further shock.

She managed to avoid falling off her perch only by a miracle. ‘Yes; I follow that one,’ she said aloud.

*Too late. Gone into hole with others.* Brief snapshots of Hugh and Tye. *Back soon.*

‘I must follow, fast-fast,’ Lusi ‘sent’ to him rather than spoke, this time.

Ingwe blinked at her. *Two bat-humans wait just inside hole. Hate bat-humans. Make leopards do wrong-leopard things. You want me to eat bat-humans?*

This did strike Lusi as being rather an extreme way of dealing with the guards, even after what she had seen these Darxem capable of doing. ‘No,’ she said aloud again, ’perhaps better not. It might give an alarm, anyway.’

She sent a wave of affection at him. ‘It would make me happy, though, if you could make them come away from hole for long enough for me to fly in?’

*Sleep time now,* and the leopard gave a great yawn, and went into thought for a while before adding, *but will do this for small-shiny. Like small-shiny.*

Ingwe jumped lithely from his branch and had a good stretch before setting out at a flowing run up the slopes of the hill towards the summit where The Sad Ones hunched.

Lusi flew around the hill for a while, so as to come up behind the rock where Ingwe had pictured the entrance for her. She found the right one, and crept round to where she was as close to the entrance as she dared. There she waited until a twitch of ears told her that Ingwe was now lurking below, in sight of her and of the entrance, but as yet unseen by the Darxds.

She was just about to signal him to start his diversion when she heard voices coming clearly to her. ‘Wait;’ she sent to the leopard. ‘They talk; I listen.’

‘… shifts of guarding are much too long,’ one was grumbling.

‘It is our duty to The Cause,’ came a response, ‘and we must be proud that we are among the few brave enough to pass that terrible feeling from that other tunnel.’

‘One who follows The Cause does not feel pride,’ the first one said in a smug ‘that-will-teach-you-to-go-“The-Cause-ing”-at-me’ tone of voice, .’but satisfaction at immersing the self in duty.’ Then his tone changed to one of worry, ‘To be honest, though, I’m not sure how many more times I’ll be able to do it. Each one gets worse rather than better, and I dread the return.’

‘This last one was terrible, indeed,’ number two agreed, ‘and it was only by keeping my mind on The Cause and on His Greatestness that I was able to carry myself past it. I long for the moment when that dreadful magic is taken away and we can all move on towards our magnificent destiny of ridding the universe of all enemies of The Cause.’

‘Do not forget, though,’ the other said reprovingly, ‘that it is also our duty to convert those who show themselves worthy, or,’ in a voice of eager anticipation, ‘who can be made worthy through prolonged pain and suffering.’

A grunt of agreement was followed by a long silence, and Lusi was again poised to give the signal when the first spoke again. ‘A woman;’ he said, and Lusi gave a jump, ‘that is one of the hardest parts of our duty. Even though it is not for me to question our orders, I wish I could understand why our army cannot have women in the field with us to fetch and carry and cook and keep us in proper comfort. Surely that, as much as caring for the young, should be part of their duties.’

‘You had better not let one of the princes hear you say that,’ said number two, ‘but I too find it hard to understand. It is said that any appearance of females in the army would weaken and pollute it. I should introduce them to my wife’s mother. One smile from her would be enough to chase away a flock of darxtyls.’

There was coarse laughter from the two, and then they lapsed into a long silence which showed no signs of being broken again.

‘When you are ready,’ Lusi sent to Ingwe, and in a blink the leopard had vanished from view.

*Go well.* came from him. Then, from the direction in which he had vanished came a great clatter of falling and rolling rocks.

‘What .. ?’ both Darxds said at the same time, and also as one they jumped to their feet and ran forward to peer over the edge.

‘I see nothing; can you see anything?’ was the last Lusi heard from them as she zoomed round the rock and into the yawning entrance, flying at full speed into the blackness and lighting up her body in the briefest of flashes to stop her from colliding with walls or obstructions – not that there were any of the latter. Only when the tunnel curved so that she could no longer see the entrance over her shoulder did she land and take stock.

She had really been lucky in what she had learnt – or had the pattern been bent in her direction? All of it had been most discouraging, like that fact that an all-male army with a low opinion of females was probably on the other side of this tunnel, and the grim impression of this ‘Cause’ and those involved in it. At least she was forewarned, though, and in the matter of this barrier of fear at the other tunnel she had learnt that, whatever she felt, she must simply keep going.

In fact, she could already sense some of the terror-inducing waves from ahead of her, and they became steadily worse. Her ‘Fear go away’ ditty had no effect whatsoever on this one, and she gritted her teeth and forged ahead regardless.

By the time the fork in the tunnel became visible she thought that her head would split under the battering and that her wings would give way and leave her stranded in the worst effects of it, but somehow she put on a spurt … and then she was past, and the awful sensations were receding.

She was filled with wonder as things gradually became visible, and then expanded into colours and shades more varied than she would have believed possible. Then, at first she imagined that continuing feelings of strangeness in her own body had come as a reaction to the tunnel terror. It was only when a distant pinpoint of light in a still-darkened section of tunnel ahead showed that she was nearing the other side that it occurred to her that she might have been in the process of Adapting.

She landed, and examined all parts of herself which could be examined without a mirror. Sure enough, she was now a Darxta.

By experimenting with how many grades she could demote herself by, she decided she must be a Higher Princess, which rather thrilled her. It struck her as a good idea for the present, though, to go right down to princess, and then she decided that something needed to be done to tone down the brilliant shades of all kinds of ‘black’ in her costume.

It took her some frustrating mental exercises before she was able to dull her clothing down to something which would be as close as possible to what she had seen on the backs of the two Darxds at the other end as she had darted behind them. Then, at last, she flew towards the end of the tunnel again.

She had no idea what she was going to find or do when she got there. She would simply have to rely on instant observation and reaction to keep her out of trouble and put her on the right course.

CHAPTER 24: A Siege and Negotiating Surrender


ugh and Dengana were both devastated by Tye’s action.

‘It seems like a desertion, but it isn’t really, I suppose,’ Hugh said miserably. ‘It is her idea of what is most important, and she could even be right. Still, why is it that doing the right thing seems so wrong?’

‘I think Tye she not do right thing,’ was Dengana’s opinion. ‘Tye she always not-easy person, but I get feeling more and more she know and do things more than we know or do.’

Hugh thought about it. Yes, there had been times when he had felt increasingly on a different wavelength to Tye, and from a different viewpoint than their original differences when she was being spoilt-brattish. And, now that Dengana mentioned it …

‘I wonder if Pip had something to do with it? he speculated. ‘I noticed a sort of level of secrecy from about the time she got him,’

They weren’t able to devote much thought to Tye after that though. Other things, like a massive army on the doorstep, tended to take their attention.

This army underwent a transformation later in the day. The patrols of flying Darxds at the fringes of the shield were increased and were flying in patterns as close to all parts of the shield as they dared – not that Hugh had held much hope of getting past the previous less-organised ones.

Hugh gave a start of alarm when he saw that some of the air force consisted also of darxtyls. ‘Why don’t they send squads of those through the shield?’ he asked Demp, pointing. ‘They’re immune to magic, aren’t they?’

‘Don’t you know? Darxtyls avoid going through shields or attacking large numbers of shielded creatures, because doing that saps their anti-magic magic,’ was the reply.

‘Why don’t repeated magic attacks directed against them do the same thing?’ Hugh wanted to know.

‘I’ve wondered about that myself; but it doesn’t,’ Dent said. ‘I think the nature of it is that it just bounces attacking magic off, but uses some of itself every time it resists shield magic.’

This was demonstrated effectively when the Crows sent a single darxtyl through not long after, presumably as a test. As soon as it flew into range, relatively tame blasts from the palace were enough to knock it out of the sky.

Then, large groups of attackers started testing the shield strength by all sending blasts at the same small section at the same time. A few of the most concentrated of these needed some quick repairs by teams Demp had ready and watching from the palace.

‘I think Higher Prince you blast in wing he now walk here and he tell them what to do,’ Dengana surmised.

‘You could be right,’ said Hugh. ‘It did look as though he had things better organised while he was active, and they became pretty pathetic as soon as he fell. Maybe we were silly not to bump him off.’

‘That Higher Prince he not that good as leader.’ Dengana shook his head. ‘Good leader he make sure others able to do same things.’

This discussion started a germ of an idea in Hugh’s mind, which started to look for cells where it could replicate and form a culture …

The attacking force continued throughout the day to try various experiments on the defences, some of which were worryingly effective. One was for an enormous circle of Darxds to fly so that the nearest part of their circle was within blasting range of one part of the defence shield, and to for each to blast as they came level with it. Thus there was an ongoing series of blasts battering at one tiny section. This actually did cause a breach, but not large enough for the attackers to do anything about, and one of Demp’s teams repaired it almost immediately.

Still, it was an unpleasant indication of what could be achieved if they carried it out on a considerably larger scale, which their numbers made them quite capable of doing.

Dallent Island Palace went into high alert during the night which followed, but there was no need for it. The enemy kept a perimeter of watchers on shifts of duty throughout the night, and patrols in the air to as high as the conditions would allow them to rise, but otherwise seemed to spend the time in restful sleep. This was more than could be said for most in the palace.


Apart from patrols, there was surprisingly little activity from the attacking force during the earlier part of the morning. Then, in an unexpected development, the forces withdrew from being almost right up against the shield to some distance away from it.

As soon as this had been done, a solitary Darxd, of the washed-out colours seen with most of them, flew to a point directly facing the main entrance to the palace and started waving frantically.

Dallent was called, and said, ‘I would think he has some sort of message for us.’ He turned to Demp. ‘Drop the shield at that point for long enough to allow him in, and let’s find out what this is all about.’

As soon as Demp confirmed that it had been done, Dallent stepped forward and made beckoning movements. Immediately, the Darxd took to the air and flew towards them, landing a respectful distance in front of a group which had moved closer to the edge of the lake to greet him. Dengana and Hugh stayed in the background of this group, carefully being as anonymous as possible.

‘Triumph the Cause!’ greeted the Darxd, but did not really appear to expect a response. ‘I come with a generous offer from our commander, Higher Prince Dolk, to discuss with you the terms of your surrender. You will send ten of your number to meet with ten of ours, on the other side of this lake. What is your response?’

‘Well, I suppose we might …’ began Dallent, but paused when a call of, ‘Wait,’ came from someone behind him. The messenger craned to see who had said it, and Hugh stared from side to side as if looking to see who had spoken, so Dengana did the same.

‘Let me confer with my men,’ said Dallent, and they all walked back towards the palace and then out of view of the messenger behind some shrubbery.

‘Was that you, Dew?’ Dallent asked, and Hugh nodded reluctantly. With difficulty he cast off another feeling of self-doubt, wishing he had Tye with him to do it for him again.

‘I have an idea which involves Dengana and myself slipping unnoticed into the Crow ranks,’ he said. ‘Agree to meet, but insist that there be about fifty of us on each side so that there can be full understanding and agreement. Suggest that we go to the comfort of that area to the left, where there is shade and where the forest comes closer to the edge of the lake.’

Dallent looked, and then gave a snort. ‘That is stupid,’ he said. ‘It would allow them to have men in hiding there, far in excess of the fifty sent to negotiate.’

‘I’m relying on that,’ Hugh said with increased confidence. ‘Now, everyone who comes with us should tone their colours down as far as possible, and mill about a lot when we fly across, so that it is difficult to count numbers. Then, instead of standing in a group, start wandering as close to getting in amongst them as you can …’

After Hugh had finished quite a few more suggestions and instructions, and had taken a most informative lesson in Darx geography, they all went forward again for Dallent to give the proposed changes, which he ended with, ‘If these arrangements are acceptable, your delegation can simply move to that agreed spot over there and ours will join them.’

Not long after the messenger had returned, there was a movement of a number of the Crows to the area indicated, and they were finally joined by a Higher Prince who walked rather than flew – significantly, from the direction of the nearby woods.

Fifty-two fliers then set out from Dallent Island Palace, giving the appearance of a most undisciplined rabble. They were weaving in and out, and frequently almost colliding with one another. There was a sneer on the face of Higher Prince Dolk as they landed untidily, with a forward stumble almost into the Crow ranks to catch their balance.

‘Triumph the Cause!’ he snapped at them. He received no reply but only more restless jostling about. ‘You may not respond now, but you will soon learn to,’ he went on menacingly. ‘Now, I’ll keep this simple. In return for your immediate surrender, we will agree to spare the lives of those who show they are able to eliminate these disgusting signs of self and pride,’ and he glared at their colourful outfits, ‘and to become true followers of The Cause.’

Actually, the clothing was much reduced in colour from the norm for Dallent Island Palace. Most of those in the party had indeed been chosen for their ability to dim their dazzle.

‘H-how do we know you won’t just kill all of us?’ Dallent whined. Hugh thought he was overacting just a bit.

Dolk gave another sneer. ‘You don’t,’ he said, ‘but you’ll have to take a chance on it. Oh, and by the way, the prince I do want to kill personally is the one who did this to me,’ and he pointed to a part of his wing which looked very much the worse for wear.

By this time Hugh and Dengana were among those of the Dallent group who were mingling slightly with the Crows, and the further the two moved into that group the more their costumes gradually toned down …

‘Don’t think that would be out of revenge, either,’ Dolk went on. ‘No, it is because anyone who had the full opportunity to kill me in such a situation, and didn’t, would be useless as a true soldier in the service of His Greatestness. In fact, while I can understand why you concentrated on drogres, I cannot understand why the rest of your force did not target our Darxds. Too lily-livered, perhaps? Or hoping it would count in your favour when we defeated you?’

Now Hugh and Dengana were in the back row of Crows and dimming rapidly. All eyes were proudly on Dolk as he made the enemies of The Cause squirm, so nobody noticed them. Not even were they noticed when they finally went down to colours matching the average Crow present, stepped back smartly, and started making for the woods.

‘One of the first things you are going to do,’ Dolk was saying, is for each and every one in that palace to bring and serve a full meal to all of us here. We have been on short rations lately.’

‘I can start setting up such arrangements immediately,’ Dallent said meekly.

Hugh and Dengana went straight towards many pairs of eyes which were watching them. ‘You fools,’ Hugh snapped. ‘What part of remaining hidden did you not understand? Get back, get back! You, there, I can still see part of you!’

‘Some on that side they also not know how to hide,’ Dengana remarked. ‘Come, we give to them education.’ The two strode arrogantly further into the woods.

Dolk was now becoming impatient. ‘Well, now, get on with it; lift your shield,’ he demanded. ‘Let us in; now!’

‘Afraid I can’t do that yet,’ Dallent whined. ‘I have to go back and get the agreement of a meeting of princes. Sorry, and all that. Come on, let’s go!’

Remarkably quickly for such a casual bunch, the Dallent Island Palace group suddenly un-mingled themselves and headed through an area which became a shield again as soon as they had passed through. They still flew in a highly disorganised flock, though.

Before dismissing them, Dolk decided to do the chosen group he had taken with him the honour of having his actions explained to them. ‘Actually letting them surrender is a better idea than our plan of capturing them and holding them to the ransom of lifting the shield,’ he said. ‘It will save us a good deal of trouble, in the long run. Send the men in the trees back to other duties.’


Dengana and Hugh made their way on foot to the other side of the wood, and then in various flying bursts, as if carrying messages or doing chores, until they finally reached the perimeter of the camp. This took some time. The camp was massive.

‘This it be the hard part,’ Dengana said. ‘Now we must hide-hide, or find others they go this way that we can follow.’ After skulking along trying to stay under woods for some time, they did, in fact, see some scattered groups of flyers also going north, as they were. They never did find out where these were headed or what they were doing, but it became possible to form a group of two going in the same direction for as far as they thought necessary.

Then they flew up to the top of the highest hill they could find, with the appearance of small, only very-slightly-coloured princes. They flew high into the sky above it as utterly dingy, much larger, Highest Princes. Now they turned south again to approach the camp in a leisurely fashion, trying to be as noticed as possible.

Fortunately all these elaborate preparations were not wasted. In spite of the fact that most eyes were fixed on the Dallent Island Palace shield, wondering just how long it was going to take for it to be lifted, one alert Crow did happen to spot them as, apparently, coming from way out north. He called to his fellows, and soon a group came out to meet them.

As they opened their mouths to call out a greeting, Hugh forestalled them. ‘Triumph-the-Cause-and-why-has-it-taken-you-so-long-to-see-us? Are you all blind?’ he yelled.

A prince was thrust forward as the spokesman. ‘No, Your Highestnesses, but we …’

‘Triumph-the-Cause-and-where-is-your-proper-salute?’ Dengana shouted.

‘I … we … Triumph-the-Cause! … we … that is …’ The prince was now squirming so much that his flying was becoming wiggly.

‘You will conduct us on an aerial inspection of your camp, and then you will take us to Higher Prince Dolk,’ Hugh snarled. ‘And you,’ he added ominously, ‘would be Prince …?

‘Dunk,’ responded the prince miserably.

Dunk and his Darxds then led them on a flyover of all the camp which included almost every part of it, and meant that they ended up being goggled at by everyone there. This included Dolk, who danced around trying to get their attention and finally sent a flyer with a frantic message to tell them where he was.

‘Tell Dolk that we know very well where he is and that we will get to him in our own good time. Now go!’ snapped Hugh.

They kept Dolk waiting for a good fifteen minutes more while they finished their inspection and questioned Dunk and his party about the recent surrender demands. ‘Right,’ Hugh finally barked. ‘You will now take us to Higher Prince Dolk.’

Dolk was standing outside his dome, looking furious. He did, also, look just a trifle apprehensive, Hugh was pleased to note.

As his feet touched the ground, he opened with, ‘Triumph the Cause!’ managing to instil a lot of fury into those words.

Dolk blinked. ‘Trium… ‘ he began, but Hugh cut him off.

What has been going on here?’ he stormed. ‘I come to offer a highly important commission for you and your force in the service of His Greatestness, and what do I find? This … this shambles!’

‘Shambles?’ Dolk was deeply stung. ‘We have just completely overrun Dunn Palace, and are on the verge of taking the surrender of …’

Again he was cut off. ‘From the second we first arrive,’ Dengana said, ‘we find there is bad leading. Prince Dunk he see us much too late. Not just his fault; bad command.’

‘By all accounts,’ Hugh jumped in, ‘your force showed signs of falling apart the minute you were stupid enough to allow yourself to be wounded.’

‘That isn’t really true. The princes didn’t show the initiative one might have hoped, but they are raw and …’

‘Bad training, and bad command,’ snapped Hugh. ‘Tell me, where are all the rhaxen you were given?’

‘They weren’t given; we gathered them, and …’

‘Anything which goes into the service of The Cause is given, however gained,’ Hugh ranted. ‘Do you not know such basics?’ He was winging it, but anything to rattle Dolk seemed worth trying. This proved to be a good rattler. Dolk did a goldfish imitation for a few seconds.

‘Where rhaxen?’ Dengana probed.

‘As you probably already know, they were destroyed by enemy action,’ Dolk admitted sulkily.

‘Which leads us to the drogres. Your invincible force of drogres. Where are they?’ Hugh attacked with.

‘As you know …’ Dolk mumbled.

Dengana made sure he stopped finishing sentences. ‘Take look your Darxds their raiment?’ he challenged. ‘What you see?’

‘Well, I admit, they do still show signs that self …’

‘For a well-disciplined force truly committed to The Cause, you should see that of Higher Prince Dennet in the south,’ Hugh said. ‘In fact, if you could fly, I would order you to make that journey now.’ A thought struck him. ‘Haven’t you used magic to heal it?’

‘Of course,’ Dolk said, ‘but it was a really powerful blast as if by a Higher Prince. It will take days, yet.’

‘Right. you can start for there on foot for the present,’ Hugh said. ‘Once you have seen how things should be, you will rejoin the rest of your force, which you are going to order to proceed, right away, due west to the centre of the Darx Desert. There you will await further orders while making yourselves more fit to follow The Cause. To do the first part of the relocation without you in command should prove invaluable training in initiative for your underlings.’

‘But … there’s absolutely nothing there! How are we going to live? Where do we get water? What …’

‘Weren’t you even listening when I used the word “initiative”?’ Hugh said nastily.

Dolk looked shattered. ‘What about this palace?’ he bleated weakly.

‘That, it be attended to,’ Dengana said. ‘Maybe even leave for after you come back.’

A final flicker of defiance lit in Dolk. ‘You are both exceptionally young for taking such major decisions,’. he said in a considering tone.

‘Am I to take it,’ and Hugh made his voice go to the urbanity of syrup laced with sulphuric acid, ‘that you are prepared to question the chain of command in the service of His Greatestness?’

The flicker was extinguished.

‘We need to move on to do the next part of our commission,’ Hugh said, ‘but, by the way, this entire redeployment is sheathed in the greatest possible secrecy. One word to anyone, or one messenger in the wrong direction, and you’ll be truly grateful by the time your head finally rolls. Understood?’

Dolk nodded dumbly.

‘Triumph the Cause!’ Dengana and Hugh chorused, and then simply flew away, headed due north, leaving Dolk to echo the slogan after them in a voice which didn’t really mean it.

CHAPTER 25: Merging


usi shot out of the tunnel near the left-hand entrance wall, and turned sharply left as soon as she emerged. Only a rocky hillside greeted her view, and she found a conveniently shadowed outcrop to dive behind. There she paused to take stock.

No fliers were in sight above her or to the side. The tunnel entrance she had just left looked deserted. By creeping forward, she was able to reach the edge of a cliff which plunged to become a steep hillside leading down to the valley below. The seething mass of Darxds and other creatures of all descriptions in this valley made her catch her breath in sheer horror.

Many of the Darxds were flying here and there, but she noted that none found it necessary to go anywhere near the height of the surrounding hills or mountains. She decided that it was safe, for the moment, to remain where she was, but not much would be accomplished by doing that. She could sense that the route north towards Darrex Palace would lie directly across the valley. How could she possibly cross it unnoticed? Any female would attract attention, whether on foot or flying.

The solution, of course, lay in being enough distance away not to be seen at all, or so as to be indistinguishable from a distant male, a closer bird, or a far closer insect. Obviously, she told herself, she needed to get behind this hill, out of view of the valley, and then gain as much height as possible for the flyover.

Action was suited to thought. She rode thermal after thermal until the air felt thin in her lungs and trees below became tiny. In order to keep the mountains between her and the valley she needed to circle further and further south, and after that she had great difficulty in finding a wind-stream which would take her in the opposite direction.

Finally, thanks to an unwitting ally in a vulture with - seen from above - a fluffy white collar and neck, which passed some distance beneath her moving northwards at speed, she was able to lose enough height again to catch his current. Heart in mouth, she rode it across the valley. Even at that slightly reduced height the Darxds were the merest specks on the ground. Unless some magic detection was being used below (and why should it need to be?) she should be safe enough.

Nevertheless, she breathed a sigh of relief when the valley and everything in it was no longer in sight behind her. However, she was finding that, try as she might to correct the course, the stream was taking her as much to the west as to the north. In fact, a glimpse of the vulture showed it now as a vanishing speck well to her left and getting much further ahead.

From the height she was at, she could see villages spread like a map, and it was depressing to note their universally drab appearance. Then she was startled to note that they appeared to be cheering up a little, particularly even more to the west. She allowed herself to be taken yet further out of her course and debated going lower for a better look.

However, she flew on and on until eventually, in the far distance, she could make out a palace which. even from that far away, was truly beautiful. With a shrug, she allowed the stream to take her in that direction.


After flying directly away from Dolk and his army until they were out of sight, Dengana and Hugh demoted themselves and returned to see from a safe distance that what they had set in motion stayed in motion.

It was a considerable relief to observe the entire camp going into the appearance of a disturbed ants’ nest, and then into a procession like army ants on the march. This soon became one of flying ants, duly headed westward. It was a pity they were too far away to see, as they hoped, that there was also a solitary walker going south.

Dengana actually remarked how like ants they looked, and Hugh, in the kind of silliness brought on by relief, said, ‘I do suppose they are all feeling pretty “anti”! Can you believe that when given enough bluster they didn’t even ask our names or who had given us the orders? Well done! I can’t believe we brought it off.’

‘Useful that you me we be Highest Princes,’ Dengana said. ‘Same like my culture, Darxem they not ask chief too many questions.’

By late afternoon the only signs of Crows left were the disturbed and rather grubby areas of their camps. The two flew to the lake shore opposite the palace entrance, where they found the shield still in place. They were quickly spotted and let through, though.

Led by Dallent, a whole group flew out to meet them, all gabbling questions. Dallent lost patience. ‘Quiet!’ he bellowed at them. Then he asked, ‘How in the name of all that’s wonderful did you do that? My guess, from those questions you asked, is that you have sent them to Darx Desert. How?’

‘You right,’ Dengana smiled. ‘The Crows they believe we bring orders they must go there. Also that they must work harder to be better Crows. Even make Dolk he go walk south to see how must be done.’

At this, the whole group burst into laughter which carried on until they were breathless and choking. The same reaction came from everyone to whom this was repeated, so the entire palace became a place of great merriment.

Although they were constantly pressed for details, when laughter had subsided enough for speech, the two somehow felt it would be better to continue keeping their true ranks to themselves, and simply said that it had been done by bluster and bullying – which it had.

Protests of wanting an early night so as to set off first thing in the morning were brushed aside. Dallent Island Palace felt that they had earned a party, and the heroes of the hour were going to be at the heart of it, like it or not.

It turned out to be an excellent party, and it became clear that their early start was not going to be nearly as early as they had intended.


The closer Lusi came to the palace, the more her amazement grew. It was built on a hill rising from the centre of a little island in a pretty lake, and she wondered again at all the extra vivid colours that the ‘black’ light of Darx Circle managed to show. In fact, the only thing which detracted from the neat, orderly and lovely appearance of everything, from the outer shores of the lake inward, was a wide perimeter of disturbed and trampled ground, showing scatterings of sticks and rocks as if many small fires had been built there.

Then, from either side ahead of her, she could see two groups of six Darxem, three princes and three princesses in each, and all clothed in bright colours, rising to meet her,  After taking a good look at her, all returned to the ground except for one princess who flew up to intercept her.

‘Hello,’ she said with a smile, ‘I’m Tisa. Can I guess that you are suddenly going to become a High Princess with colourful raiment?’

Lusi nearly fell out of the sky with astonishment. Then she responded, ‘You want that I do this thing; I do it,’ and she did.

‘Thought so,’ giggled Tisa. ‘You know Dew and Deng and Tyria, don’t you?’ It didn’t take much thought to work out who she must be referring to, and Lusi nodded eagerly.

‘I suppose you’re really a Higher, like them,’ Tisa went on, delighting in the opportunity to show off. ‘I’m the only one who knows they are. Anyway, follow me, please and I’ll take you to Higher Prince Dallent. Er, you are “High” Princess …?’

‘Lusi,’ Lusi responded, still a bit dazed and not thinking straight.

‘Tuza?’ Tisa repeated, doubtfully.

Lusi un-scattered her thoughts a bit. ‘Yes, Tuza,’ she said. ‘My friends Denga… Deng and Dew and Tyria they here at …?’

‘Do you have any idea what Deng and Dew did?’ Tisa interrupted excitedly. ‘The whole palace is killing themselves laughing. They tricked a whole great army to go off and sit in the middle of the Darx Desert! And they also made their Higher Prince in command walk all the way to the south!’ The very recollection of it had Tisa in such fits of mirth again that she was having difficulty in flying straight.

When Tisa’s spluttering had slowed down somewhat, Lusi repeated, ‘Deng and others they with your Higher Prince?’

‘No;’ her voice became a bit cold, ‘High Princess Tyria went away while we were dealing with a whole lot of drogres.’ The tone changed to a regretful one. ‘Then Deng and Dew left quite a while back, before we came on watch,’


It was mid-morning by the time farewells were completed and Hugh and Dengana started in the direction of Darrex Palace. Both had much more confidence, now, in travelling openly. The rank of prince provided a good general cover, and by keeping a reasonably-converted Crow colouring they blended fairly well with average Darxem they came across. There were no signs of any other brilliantly defiant communities. It was clear, in fact, that conversions of all of them lying south of Darrex Palace were all fairly well advanced.

The women and girl Darxtas were all keeping a low profile and were seldom seen other than in or round the homes. ‘How you think Tye she can travel alone through place like this?’ Dengana expressed Hugh’s own concerns on the subject.

‘It strikes me as being utterly impossible,’ he agreed.

After flying for most of the (mid-)morning, Hugh suggested that they find a place to rest and find something to eat. He had learnt from some remarks of Dallent that princes and above were not expected to pay for food or drink or accommodation when travelling. There was some permanent magic feature which gave compensation to the granters of such hospitality. Somehow, it had never occurred to him to wonder at the time how Felin and Avinia had ‘settled up’ for their visits to inns, but this explained it.

Still, he preferred that they keep to themselves for the time being, so at his suggestion they had their rest alongside a mountain stream where there were some of the large berries recognisable as being part of Dallent Island Palace fare.

The stream had a delightful waterfall with a limpid pool beneath, and the temptation to freshen up was more than they could resist. Darxen clothing responded to the same techniques as that of the Rings, so soon they had shed it and were splashing joyfully (with finned wings) in the cool water.


Lusi was frantic to start out after the others, but was trapped into, firstly, meeting with Dallent and the more senior members of the palace population, and, secondly, hearing numerous accounts of the recent events.

She also had to fob off any number of questions, which she did by simply saying on each occasion, ‘Is sad that I not able to give answer to that.’ It was clear to her that the others had felt a necessity for some secrecy in various matters, and until she knew whether they were being wise, or merely paranoid, it was better to stay on the safe side.

Finally, gratefully but firmly declining invitations to lunch, supper, and a sleepover - there were apparently even some hopes in the direction of an excuse for another party - she set off once more.

It was a curse to have to go so high again in order to be invisible before she could get moving properly, but the curse became a blessing. The wind-stream she now found was going directly north, and at a far higher speed even than the previous one.

Although being carried by the current, it was tiring to fly on and on like this, especially as she needed to remain alert regarding her direction and whether she was remaining in the best part of the flow. She started regretting not having lunched, at least, at Dallent Island Palace, and looked longingly at some places she could see which would make a pleasant resting place. One of these to one side, which she started to fly past regretfully, was a stream on a hillside with a waterfall leading into a pool.

‘Is lovely,’ she breathed, and then noticed some specks in it. ‘No good, even if I want to stop. Look like two Darxem they in it …’ Suddenly she applied air-brakes. ‘Two …? Can it be …!?’

Cautiously, she spiralled downward, and the further down she got the more her spirits went up. Finally she drew close enough to be quite certain that what she was seeing was a Dengana-Darxd and a Hugh-Darxd, and the lower she plummeted the higher grew her delight.

‘ “We” see you, Dengana, Hugh!’ she yelled on landing.

She might have spent more time in considering the wisdom of this. For one thing, her traditional greeting was a far more accurate assessment than it usually is. Both had nothing on, and the water was particularly clear. For another, one should avoid giving considerable shocks to people when they are in deep water. It can lead to a lot of choking and spluttering.

Lusi was jumping up and down in excitement on a rock next to their clothing, completely unabashed. Hugh remembered how unconcerned Tertia and Quinnie had been, so decided there was no point in feeling embarrassed. He couldn’t quite bring himself to carry out his first impulse of hugging her in greeting until after he had dried off and dressed again, though. Neither, he noted, could Dengana.

That was a while later, though. First, with a squeal of joy, she had shed her own clothing and jumped in with them.


The journey was not resumed for some considerable time, while Lusi explained to the bemused boys how it had come about that a Glow guide left in Safah Ring had suddenly arrived, as a Darxta, well into Darx Circle.

Then they had to fill her in on their adventures in the valley beyond the Sad Ones tunnel, and the parts of their Dallent Island Palace exploits which had not already been related to her. She provided them with many suitably flattering expressions of wonder and admiration.

‘You are amazing, Lusi,’ Hugh said in return. ‘We were just saying how impossible it seemed for Tye to travel through here alone, and you’ve made it seem so easy, simply by thinking higher thoughts. Mind you,’ he added, after her giggles had subsided, ‘we couldn’t really have done the same thing and still got to learn anything about what was happening here.’

‘It big worry,’ Dengana said, ‘what you say the queen she say about Tye she go wrong now.’

‘I don’t suppose there is a hope that we will be lucky enough to come across her in the same way as you managed to do with us.’ Hugh said glumly. ‘We should keep a lookout, though.’

Lusi was still in silly mode after the relief at seeing them. ‘We just look for a sprite it invisible,’ she giggled, ‘then we know Tye she nearby.’

It was decided that with Lusi as part of the group it would be better to do some high-altitude travel again. Anyway, with the fast airstream still in the same direction, the better speed more than made up for the time taken to get higher. The only downside of being up (there were a number of ups and downs in recent events) was that one gained less of an appreciation of reality while up in the clouds.

It was getting on towards evening when they spotted, far ahead of them, a palace which was clearly enormous. Even from a distance, the outlines of the structure were pleasing, but it gave an impression of radiating gloom. That was more than just due to a colour which had all the charm and appeal of soot. It was as if something there was muttering, ‘Hate me; hate me.’

‘Tomorrow not long and we get there,’ Dengana said. ‘We find inn, now?’ They had agreed that they would try to spend the night somewhere offering opportunities for an evening of snooping in order to gain a better ‘feel’ for the situation nearer the palace.

Darx didn’t seem to go in much for the sort of tree or treetop homes or inns found in the Rings – in fact, the trees and foliage as a whole were far more Darxen- than human-scaled.  When he landed in a village to ask, Hugh received directions to a large stone building near the centre.

He and his party had to do a fairly low adjustment on their colour spectrum to blend in there – the average Darxem nearly came to the high low standards of Dore and Dennet in the valley. To their surprise, they found after entering the inn that a good third of those present were girls or women. These all added universal expressions of misery to a universally drab appearance.

The innkeeper was a surly individual with an expression which could have given him a useful career in curdling milk. Even though they were the only princes/princess present, he didn’t give any indication of being impressed by their status After ‘Triumph’ exchanges, he said, ‘Only one room left; you’ll have to share. The woman can sleep in a corner, or something. Is she going to Darrex Palace for the Training in Child Training Programme, or the Training in Serving one?’

Dengana’s sense of humour took over his tongue. ‘She go for Training in Training in Training,’ he said.

‘Very funny. Ha, ha,’ the innkeeper said without even the slightest vestige of a smile. ‘That, of course, could only be done by a man.’

‘Some of these High Princesses, I heard it said,’ a man at a table near the serving counter chipped in, ‘started getting fancy ideas, and were sent for Cause training themselves very smartly.’

‘Right and proper,’ came in another, who had his back to them. ‘Just because people are born princes and princesses doesn’t mean they should think they are special … ow!’ It seemed likely that a kick under the table had given rise to the last part.

‘Oh, absolutely,’ said Hugh, and the man turned to look at him and quailed.  ‘Princes who think they are special are obviously mistaken …’ he paused, and the man looked bewildered. ‘… they should know they are, even though they are quite equal, of course.’ There was some laughter at that.

‘Mind, some of the Highest Princesses have reason to be proud … that is, grateful for opportunities … from all that I’ve heard. They’re being brought in from all over the place – not only the Highest Princes,’ said the speaker who now had a sore ankle.

There were many murmurs of agreement, and unfortunately nobody asked what he had been on about. Hugh and Dengana tried to find a chance to steer the conversation back in that direction, but none arose. No opportunity came for Lusi to steer anything anywhere, and Hugh found himself thinking that had Tye been there, a mighty explosion probably would have happened long before.

‘Did you see Dilg’s re-education?’ the innkeeper moved to a topic closer to his heart. ‘They pinned him up. You should have heard how he screamed.’

It soon became boring or violently unpleasant to listen to further malicious talk about who had been reported for showing too much interest in self, or not enough dedication to The Cause, and how much fun it had been to watch the further painful education of some of them. The three took themselves to bed.

Lusi was not consigned to a corner, but had one of the beds all to herself. Hugh and Dengana managed to kick or elbow one another a good deal during the night while sharing the other.

CHAPTER 26: Darrex Palace


t was gratifying to find that while princes might be ten-a-penny, Highest Princes and Princesses still attracted a good deal of notice and respect. One of each of these dropped in for breakfast, and were fawned upon while they looked down their noses at everyone. Their clothes were of a black which managed to be the deepest possible midnight while still looking attractive.

‘No; not now!’ Dengana whispered urgently to Lusi when he saw her getting a gleam in her eye. Sulkily, she caused the Highest imitation she had started experimenting with to settle back into her sooty look.

All three of them combined merging into the background with keeping ears wide open, but nothing of any interest came from the Highests throughout the meal – in fact, all they uttered was to give orders.

When Hugh and the other two set out after breakfast, they found themselves to be just one group of a great number headed for Darrex Palace. It seemed to have become a magnet of attraction, particularly for princely ranks and above.

‘That could be such an impressive building,’ Hugh called to his companions, ‘if it had a spot of colour here and there. The shapes and balance – breathtaking! Yet it is left to look miserable and morbid. So stupid!’

‘Is big-big-big,’ observed Lusi.

Dengana considered this statement, decided that he couldn’t think of an improvement, and so repeated it.

All of them continued to experience the just-before-thunderstorm feeling about the place that the very first sight had given them. It was oppressive and forbidding, and the closer they came the stronger this feeling became.

The palace was surrounded by elaborate-in-shape but depressed-in-colour gardens, and these were inside a high wall with a large gateway. Highest (and only) King Darrex obviously did not favour casual arrivals. Everyone who approached was waved down by flying guards to land in front of the gateway, and then had to walk into the palace grounds. Not that they were able to land at all close to the entrance – the crowd waiting to get in was considerable, and growing by the minute.

The three obediently joined the queue and gradually moved forward towards the gateway. Everyone was silent – not even any of the automatic greetings were given to new arrivals until barked by guards at the gate. These were holding long poles with an axe-like blade topped by a spike at the end, which Hugh thought he remembered having read were called halberds.  As they drew closer they could hear that these guards – all High Princes – were demanding names.

All the others were jostled too close for them to confer, and when they reached the gate Hugh, in the lead, still hadn’t decided whether to try and invent other names or give the Dallent Island ones. After responding to the ‘Triumph the Cause’, he stuttered, ‘We are from the south, come in response to the message …’

‘Yes, yes, yes,’ snapped the guard, What names, though … Hoy!’

At that moment, the Highest Prince and Princess they had seen at the inn arrived, obviously having taken their time about the flight. They simply ignored the frantically waving guard in the air, causing him to drop his halberd and nearly skewer a prince below, and then they flew straight over the gateway and towards the entrance to the palace.  

‘You can’t do that!’ yelled the gate guard. ‘Not even you Highest … Hoy, you lot! Come back here!’ The last part was addressed to Hugh, Dengana and Lusi, who had used the diversion to walk through. Then they simply went on walking.  Fortunately, some others behind them decided to try the same thing, and it was all the guards could do to get them back. By that time the three had caught up and mingled with some of those ahead.  One guard did fly across and try to pick them out, but gave up when things started becoming chaotic back at the gate and returned to his post to do a little pointed prodding.

The crowd they were following were being shepherded towards a doorway less imposing than the main one, part way along the palace wall to the right.  Another High Prince was standing inside, directing the prince traffic, while a High Princess was shepherding all princesses in another direction. Before they could blink, Lusi was vanishing out of sight down one corridor while they were directed into another.  

‘We should have foreseen that,’ Hugh muttered to Dengana, ‘but then, what could we have done about it?’

‘Maybe we should think to be Highest,’ Dengana muttered back.

‘Too soon …’ Hugh started to say, but the High Prince now leading in front snapped, ‘No talking back there,’ so he stopped.

They were filed into a room which had a lectern at one end and nothing much else. The floor was bare. Apart from some marks on the walls the shapes of pictures or tapestries, those were bare too.  Everyone simply stood in lines facing the front while more filed slowly into the room. The High Prince stood behind the lectern, and for some time did nothing except yell if anyone made a sound.

Finally the doors to the room were closed, and the High Prince addressed them. Inevitably he began with the slogan, and everyone chorused it back, after which he said, ‘I am High Prince Dorin. You are now going to start advanced training of various kinds so that you may truly immerse your insignificant selves into the glory of The Cause and our glorious destiny as Darxem.’ Then he somehow managed to carry on for at least half an hour saying what amounted to exactly the same things as those, but in various different wordings.

At the end of this, he leaned forward across his lectern and his voice took on even greater fervour. ‘Now let me tell you what has been accomplished to date, and what your parts in the next steps are likely to be.’ He gave a long and dramatic pause.

‘As you know, we have been provoked disgracefully again and again by the stupid women who have so foolishly been permitted to rule over the Breena Rings. We are left with no alternative but to bring them to a realisation that they are unfit to be in control, and that they must in future fall under our His Highest Majesty King Darrex, as so wonderfully guided by His Greatestness.

‘We have been sending ultimatums out in the past few days, and Ring after Ring has expressed defiance. They must all be brought to heel, and this is where some of you come in. You will train more forces to add to those we have waiting at the Interfaces to each Ring, and when we reopen them you will go straight to the palaces of these so-called queens and do away with them and any who try to oppose you. His Greatestness has determined that not one of these queens is suitable for being brought to the marvellous truths of The Cause, so it follows that their lives must be forfeit. In a manner, of course, which will act as a suitable example to their misguided subjects.

‘It is probable, however, that their princesses up to Higher may, through being humbled and with such suffering as shall be necessary, be forged into proper tools of the Cause. This will be the prime responsibility of certain of our own Paramount and Highest Princesses, but they will probably call upon you for some assistance.’

Hugh could see from the faces of those visible to him that the thought of rendering such assistance greatly appealed to them.

One of the princes raised a hand and was nodded at by the High Prince. ‘What is this Paramount?’ he asked nervously.

‘I wondered if anyone would be awake enough to ask that,’ High Prince Dorin said, glaring round the room. ‘Not a “Paramount”; but “Paramount Princesses”. His Greatestness has just decreed that Paramount Princesses are now what suitably deserving Highest Princesses, who were formerly queens in Darx, are to be called, such as Tergina, the sister of King Darrex, and others who have been appointed to direct the operations of Highest Princesses in the conflicts to come. We cannot question this decision, strange though it may seem.’ His expression and a sniff added on, ‘and however much we might want to.’

‘At any rate, this part of our destiny is still a small thing as compared with that of bringing the world now occupied by humans, cleansed of all such vermin, back to our own control and condition. Many solutions have been tried there with sending in destructive organisms, but the humans have been remarkably resistant to them. The majority survive, even where conditions are ideal for our creations to wipe them out.

‘It has therefore become clear that what is needed is a multi-pronged approach. We are training crecords to cause such wide varieties of creatures to destroy human beings that they will have no chance whatsoever of surviving against all of them.’

‘When do we …’ one of those near the back started calling out eagerly.

‘Did I invite questions?’ snapped the High Prince, and then started repeating all he had said before in different ways yet again until most of his audience were asleep on their feet. The announcement of a break for the midday meal was met with an audible sigh of relief.

The food in a bare communal dining room, which also showed many signs of removed ornamentation, was served at long tables with benches on either side by silent Darxtas. The food was quite tasty, but Hugh and Dengana gobbled theirs and then left the room. Others were doing the same for calls of nature, but they were the only ones who went on going until they reached the outside.

In the part of the gardens outside the door they had entered by, they found Lusi with a small group of other girls who had also escaped. She drifted away from these, and then all three drifted further to behind a pretty summerhouse. Nothing could have been done to make this un-pretty short of breaking it down, and it could be assumed that the process of making everything equal hadn’t quite come to that yet.

‘High Princess Torpa she speak-speak-speak but say nothing,’ Lusi complained. ‘She say we must teach teachers but now maybe not if Greatestness he make new orders about something.’

‘We waste time now, maybe?’ Dengana expressed a view Hugh had also started to form.

‘Maybe we do need to take advantage of this new influx of Highests and become those ourselves,’ he said. ‘Or, was it Higher in your case, Lusi? That’s what you arrived as?’

She nodded.

‘You try go higher than Higher?’ Dengana asked.

Lusi shook her head. ‘Silly, that,’ she said. ‘What I am as soon as I Adapt must be what I am, and that already one more than in Rings.’

‘Well,’ said Hugh. ‘maybe you hadn’t finished Adapting when you tried it?’

Lusi looked around her carefully. Nobody was in sight. ‘This wasting time,’ she said, becoming a High Princess. Then she went to Higher, and stopped there with a ‘told you so’ expression. This became one of slight puzzlement, then of surprise, then of effort – and, suddenly, she was uttering any number of squeaks at having become, quite unmistakably, Highest.

‘Somebody come!’ hissed Dengana, and Lusi demoted herself in an instant. A prince came in view moving towards the palace, and gave a start when he saw them.  ‘You’re also in Crecord Training Intro, aren’t you?’ he said, ignoring Lusi.  ‘We’d better hurry, or we’ll be late.’

Hugh and Dengana exchanged glances, nodded at one another, and followed him. Lusi shrugged resignedly, and made her way back towards her Training-Training-But-Maybe-Something-Else class.

To their alarm, the boys found themselves in a different room to the previous one – and with a different set of princes.  It had Dorin again, though. He must have handed the previous class over to another.

Dorin went through the whole Crow show to start off with, and then continued for some time on the lines of, ‘We must all constantly be on the guard that Self does not intrude to make us less effective in carrying out our responsibilities to The Cause and to endanger the glory that all of us are shown in the pattern as being able to inherit…’

Hugh and Dengana were just considering how they could slip out unnoticed when he said, ‘Now, to an outline of the course you will be receiving. All of those you teach will, of course, have been tested for more than the usual communication skills with insects, birds or animals which we use to carry out our normal duties, both here and in the world at present overrun with the human vermin. They must develop far beyond that, though, into group control.’

He glared at a prince in the front row. ‘You, there, looking half-asleep. Tell us what the basis of such control would be.’

‘Th…th…the group id,’ replied the prince.

‘And what is this id – you!’ He picked on another unfortunate.

‘A sort of mind, formed by the whole group of creatures,’ this one turned himself into a fortunate by responding promptly.

‘Just so. The id which exists, or may be formed, which links and unifies a number of creatures of the same kind. Now, as you should know, in communal creatures like ants or bees or nesting wasps this id remains fairly well formed at all times. It simply needs to be strengthened and focussed.  In others, however, it needs to be brought into being and maintained by the coordinator. For solitary creatures like spiders, in fact, one needs one crecord to maintain the id, and another to control the actions of the group.’

‘Wow!’ said Hugh. A startling extension of the implications of all of this had just come to mind, and he couldn’t help himself.

High Prince Dorin did not look put out by this interjection, but gave a thin smile. ‘Indeed, this is a most useful skill for specialist pairs, who must have good accord with one another. The ones who have these abilities are among the cream of our crecords.’


Lusi was becoming so bored that she wanted to scream. She had reached the stage where she was seriously considering promoting herself and then having a Tye-type tantrum, when a welcome diversion occurred. Another High Princess was admitted to the room, and had a whispered conference with their lecturer, High Princess Torpa. Then the other one flew out again.

‘I hate interruptions,’ Torpa said crossly, ‘but anyway … show hands everyone here who has been to the Breena Rings and had some contact with the Daoine.’

There was a lot of shuffling and nervous looking-about. A few arms twitched, but remained at sides.

Torpa gave a sigh. ‘Look, all we want are a few volunteers to go to Drail Palace, where as you know the prisoners are being housed, to assist there. It will stand to your credit on your records.’ She paused to let this sink in, and then yelled, ‘Now, show hands!’

Hoping she wasn’t being an idiot, Lusi raised her hand as did some thirty others.  Torpa nodded, and pointed to the door. ‘You will be met,’ she said. ‘Now, perhaps we can get on with what we are here for …’

At the door, a princess waiting there simply said, ‘Follow me,’ and headed for a doorway leading to a balcony on the third floor – the level of Torpa’s lecture room. From there, she flew higher, towards another balcony, this time on one of the towers. They flocked obediently behind her.

This balcony led to a spacious antechamber with chairs and settees. Here, joy of joys, they were all invited to be seated while, one by one, they were conducted to an inner room.

A couple of those who went in before Lusi came out looking unhappy – indeed, one was sobbing – and they flew back in the direction of the first balcony. Others came out looking excited, but with buttoned lips.

Then came Lusi’s turn. A Higher Prince who was sitting at a desk with a window behind him looked at her drab dress with some approval before motioning her to stand before him, blinking at his outline. Then he snapped, ‘Name some of the Breena Rings.’

‘Honour, Glit, Flut, Bear, Ding, Tya, Glim, Boar, Safah, Dong, Clear, Glim, Clat…’

‘Enough! Now, tell me the names of some of the’ he gave a sneer, ‘so-called queens.’

This time Lusi was stopped after only getting out, ‘Aiennea, Glorianne …’

‘Where would you expect to find an inn, there?’ he barked.

‘Up a tree, mostly,’ Lusi replied.

‘How much time have you spent in the Rings?’

‘Many years, altogether.’


‘Even to you, sorry, not in a position to say.’

He nodded approvingly. ‘On one of the Highest King’s missions, I can tell. Right, you’ll do particularly well. Your name?’

‘Tuza,’ said Lusi.

‘Go back, Tuza, sit down, keep quiet, and wait for my further instructions.’

A couple more were sent fluttering off sadly; many more re-seated themselves triumphantly; and then the Higher Prince came and sat down with them. ‘I am Drail,’ he introduced himself. ‘Yes, that’s right, it is my palace which has been commandeered to house all the Rings rabble, so I am naturally eager to get rid of them.

 ‘It has finally been agreed that they should be done away with, but our too-kind-hearted Highest Majesty has decreed that we should first look for any who may be useful as spies back in The Rings in the short term, and as loyal subjects in the longer term. My people there have started with this, but they need more help. They have found that only Darxem who know The Rings are able to get anywhere with them; even with the ones with strong potential. Also, that with their foolish culture,’ his lip curled,’ ‘they are more forthcoming with women than with men, Understood, so far?’

He waited for each princess to nod before going on.

‘You will need to speak to as many as possible, making a list of all those you come across who may qualify. Obviously, apparel will be a particularly good initial guide. Despite strong lessons we have tried to give, the majority insist on maintaining their disgusting outward show of selfishness, demonstrating thereby their unsuitability for The Cause … and for living,’ he tacked on casually.

The group set off almost immediately, led by Drail himself, and there was no opportunity for Lusi to entrust anyone with a message – not that she would have known what names to leave it in, nor where to tell the messenger to find the recipients, anyway.


In the next break, Hugh and Dengana first waited at the summerhouse, and then searched in vain for Lusi. Finally, Hugh thought of looking for any of the girls she had been with earlier. This time there were two groups who had come outside, and the first turned out blank.

They were luckier with the second, though. ‘Oh yes, she was one of those chosen to go to Drail Palace to help keep those horrible queen-loving prisoners in order. They should just do away with them, is what I say,’ one of the prettier princesses said brightly.

‘Now, we have a dilemma,’ Hugh sighed. ‘Do we sneak out of the palace and go tracking Lusi down at this Drail place in order to see if there is any way of releasing the prisoners, or do we try to get closer to the inner circle here? Either way, we need out of here, first. Let’s look for the least-overlooked bit of wall.’

Before they began an inspection, in little bursts of walking and flying both, Dengana said, ‘My thought is Lusi she can get ideas there. We join her later. For now, we go, then come back Highest Princes.’

‘I think you’re right,’ said Hugh. ‘Look over there. That could be a good stretch of wall, well-hidden by trees … yes it looks ideal’

CHAPTER 27: Prison Visit


rail Palace wasn’t nearly the same size as the Darrex one, but it was impressively large nonetheless. It needed to be, as Lusi had gathered that the Daoine who had been trapped in Darx amounted to many thousands.

As they approached closer to the palace walls (there was no garden, so there were no outside walls) she could sense a most unpleasant magic barrier which felt stronger than anything she had come across before. Drail got them to hover while he created a small gap in it for them to pass through. She tried desperately to sense how he was going about opening it and, when they were through, sealing it again. Only a vague glimmering came through.

When the princesses landed with him outside the palace entrance, Drail simply said, ‘Work out some sensible plans so that you and the staff don’t trip over one another, and use these message stones to give your reports and the names.’

With that, he gave each a tiny round pebble from a bag he was carrying.

Then, just before he flew away and simply left them to it, he added casually, ‘Oh, and young Tuza here will be in charge.’

Lusi looked at her stone rather blankly, and it looked even more blankly back at her.

‘Maybe we test?’ she said to her nearest companion.

‘Why? This is such simple magic I’ve never known it go wrong,’ the girl responded. ‘Still, no harm in it …’

She held the stone before her and said, ‘Take this, for my command:

The Cause is our beginning

But shall not be our end

Our followers are winning,

The Cause success shall send …

Stop. Now say back.’

From somewhere in the air rather than from the stone came an exact repeat of the song she had sung, flat notes and all.

Lusi and the others all tested theirs, and they also worked. A couple also did a test by swapping theirs, where one addressed as Tinga gave wording as, ‘Take this for the command of Trenna.’ When handed to Trenna, all the latter uttered was, ‘Trenna: say back.’

Lusi wondered why the Rings didn’t appear to have bothered with such useful magic. Or, maybe they had, but she simply hadn’t come across it? Was it even magic? Or was it on the same principle as the box things she had seen humans carrying on Terra?

The other princesses looked at her expectantly, and she hastily herded her wandering thoughts back into the flock and said, ‘We worry about where eat and sleep later. For now, we have good look. First from air.’

With that, she took off and led a circuit of the palace. Only a few odd Darxem were in the area outside the building walls. Apparently, this part was out of limits to Daoine. By the same token, the outside balconies had only Darxem appearing on them.

When they flew over the roof, to a wide inner courtyard, it was a different story. There, the courtyard itself had crowds of defiantly colourful Daoine - looking even brighter than they did in their home Rings – and the balconies overlooking the courtyard were also swarming with them. There were only a scattering of princes and princesses, and Lusi could not see any over the rank of High. Most were unranked Faie.

Here and there, she noted with surprise, were a few groups of Ring goblins, cobleys, imps, and even one of elves. All of these had struck her as being in such short supply in Darx, in favour of nastier-by-far creatures, that they came as a shock.

‘Look,’ Trenna called to Lusi. ‘One wonders why we are even needed. They are sorted by colour already.’

It was true: groups of the ones with brilliant shades had all gravitated to the centre, and had ones of slightly lesser brightness near them, and these toned down progressively until, on the outskirts, there were only groups of relatively drab and dingy Daoine.

‘No, I can see why they want us,’ one the other side of Tinga said. ‘There are so many variations. Where are we going to draw the line?’

Lusi reached a decision. ‘We all go find some of the Darxem in charge here, and speak to them. Then, after that, maybe we see if progress it can be made with less rebellious ones. We meet outside front door hour from now.’ She was sure they would be able to sense time, as she could, but found herself hoping that Darx hours were the same as those in The Rings or in Terra. It was likely, because a twelve-hour day had arisen from the most logical measurement of the sun’s progress, and the same sun, in changed form, was common to all the lands.

There were only a few Darxem in the courtyard, mainly being shunned and isolated.. Ignoring those, Lusi flew into the palace from the inside, and went in search of some conversation.

She found a room where a group of Darxds were taking their ease and some afternoon refreshment. They glared at her, and she left hastily. Down the corridor was another room with Darxtas doing the same. She landed, and walked in with a confident, ‘Triumph the Cause!’

Everyone responded, and then she said, ‘I am one of a group, they are recruited by Higher Prince Drail, to help sort out which of the Ring people they might be suitable for to adopt The Cause,’ she announced.

‘None of them, in my opinion,’ snapped one woman. ‘It’ll save a lot of trouble if we just get rid of the lot of them.’

‘I don’t agree,’ said another. ‘You only have to look at the raiment to see that progress is being made with some.’

‘A lot of them have just become cunning, is all,’ objected the first. ‘They have learnt that they can give an illusion that they are submersing Self by simply toning down their colours by an effort of will.’

‘That can only be done so far and no further, as you know,’ another said. ‘Quite a few of the ones I have been speaking to are really becoming convinced that The Cause is right for all.’

Lusi had seated herself, but now she rose to her feet again to attract attention. She got it. ‘Why you leave ones they getting different ideas with ones they still have old ideas? Better to break up into groups so the ones they now think new way can be together.’

There were indignant splutters from several. ‘Far too much bother,’ said the one who had the ‘get rid of’ philosophy.

‘It would make a lot of work to try and keep them sorted into different communities, We don’t have time for that,’ put in another.

‘Just be wasted effort,’ said a third.

‘I think the Higher Prince he be interested in what you say for this plan that I thinking it may help,’ Lusi said dreamily. ‘It is “too much bother” and “lot of work” and “don’t have time” and “wasted effort” you are saying. I get all that right?’

A great deal of agitated twittering started, and it suddenly emerged that they thought it was a great idea and that it wouldn’t be too difficult to try and implement.

‘Also,’ said one eagerly, ‘I keep saying we should lock up that High Princess Chenia. She’s a bad influence on the rest.’

‘Could be a good idea for later,’ nodded Lusi, and the previous speaker gave a triumphant ‘told-you-so’ look at her fellows.

‘I now go to speak to some of the prisoners, and to this princess,’ Lusi added, and left.


Not surprisingly, most of the toned-down of the Daoine were male. She chose a gloomy group which did have some women in it.

‘Hello,’ she greeted them.

‘Triumph the Cause,’ a few of them immediately came back with, including one of the woman.

Lusi addressed her. ‘You think it should?’ she asked.

The woman nodded emphatically. ‘The Cause provides for the natural order of things. I like men to take the decisions and do the ruling and stuff and leave it to us women to get on with what we are here for. We shouldn’t even be away from the children to carry out our tasks with living things in Breena or in Terra. We should be making the home.’

Now, Lusi turned to one of the men and looked questioningly at him. He immediately said, ‘It is ridiculous for women to think they can rule a country. Look at the mess Aiennea, and our Higher Queen Rheia of Glim Ring, have led us into. Men would never have let it get to the stage where Darxem have found it necessary to move towards bringing proper order.’

Another man stepped forward. ‘We can see that The Cause is the right way to go towards bringing down this pride and selfishness which gets some to think they are better than others, and makes them compete with one another instead of working towards the good of all.’

‘But The Cause, which Darxem they make, it will let them be ruling the Daoine?’ Lusi asked, starting to feel bewildered.

‘They are the stronger, and naturally suited to it,’ the second man said. ‘Besides, they have always been led by a man, while we have been weakened by generations of queen rule. But, of course, because the Darxem are driven by The Cause, which eliminates all thoughts of self, their rule will still make us all equal.’

Lusi blinked for a moment, and then said, ‘Do all who now show in their raiment less colour feel same as you feel?’

‘No,’ snapped the woman. ‘A lot of them, and particularly the more stupid among the women, are forcing themselves into showing such outward appearances out of selfish fear. Then, as you can see,’ and she gestured contemptuously towards some of the brighter bunches, ‘most are glorying in their stupidity and showing outward defiance.’\

‘Well, you listen:’ Lusi said, ‘we now want all the Daoine they have truly accepted The Cause to come away from all those they not do it. Then those they come away be shown how to work with Darxem for The Cause. You can all give to me names of the men and women they truly believe?’

There was a lot of nodding. A third man said, ‘We can also speak to as many of the other groups as possible and sort out the ones who will be worth having, if you like.’

‘I like,’ said Lusi, ‘and I ask the others they working with me to speak to many more.’

She was as good as her word as soon as she met with her group of helpers again outside the palace at the appointed time – an hour was the same here. Most of them, including Trenna and Tinga, had shown enough initiative to have gone through largely similar interviews with both Darxem and Daoine as she had, and to have reached similar conclusions, if not similar powers of persuasion. It only remained for them to return to the Darxem and tell them the agreed policy, and then to help with the sorting.

‘My guards didn’t like any idea of trying to segregate the ones who look promising candidates for The Cause, but this time,’ Tinga said maliciously, ‘based on what Tuza has done, I’ll invite them to voice their objections into my message stone.’

‘Is good idea,’ Lusi laughed. ‘All do this. Then go try find out if any chance the ones they keep colour change their minds.’


The first group of colourful characters Lusi approached looked at her with the sorts of expressions normally reserved for rotten fish. They softened only slightly after Lusi had told them that she had lived in the Rings and proved to them how familiar she was with all things Daoine, but at least sufficiently to talk to her.

When she suggested that it might make their lives easier if they toned down their attitudes and their apparel, she was met with fury.

‘I’m never going to sink to looking like one of those,’ said one girl, pointing at some ‘converted’ and stamping her foot.

There was a chorus of, ‘Me, too,’ or ‘Nor I,’ from other females there – and apparently the foot-stamping was a necessary part of such speech.

‘You Crows and your Cause,’ said one of the men, ‘are quite ridiculous. It would be funny how stupid all of it is, if it wasn’t for how ghastly the consequences of these ideas will be, put into practice. You look like an intelligent youngster. How can you think for a minute that all this “His Greatestness” nonsense makes any sense?’ Lusi nearly applauded, but remembered in the nick of time which side she was supposed to look like being on.

This summed up the opinions of most of the others, more or less.

Next, Lusi had some chats to a few ‘borderline’ cases, and she reached the conclusion that, in essence, those were more inclined towards the old ideas than the new.

Finally, she went on a High Princess hunt. She expected to find her with a group of princesses, but this turned out not to be the case. The few princesses were, in fact, all well-scattered amongst the ordinary folk. A particularly large and brightly-coloured group of Daoine which included a couple of elves and a number of goblins eventually caught her eye, though, and there, seated in the midst of them, was a definite High Princess.

Lusi flew down to land among them, and they shied away as if she had the plague – except for the High Princess, who showed she was of good standing. She stood up, and then she stood her ground. She had the skill of giving a particularly good ‘rotten fish’ look.

‘High Princess Chenia?’ Lusi said. The other didn’t even nod.

Lusi decided not to mess about. ‘You now come inside with me; we talk about why you not be locked up,’ she said matter-of-factly.

‘And if I won’t, girl?’ snapped the princess.

‘Then I get enough helpers they drag you there,’ Lusi responded. ‘Now come.’

Without even waiting for a reply, she took off and headed towards the palace. What amounted to an extremely colourful thundercloud followed in her wake.

Inside, Lusi found one of the guards she had already met, and asked to be shown to a room where an ‘interrogation’ would not be disturbed. ‘You’ll need quite a bit of help,’ the guard said eagerly. ‘This one tries to protect herself, and she has high magic. But then,’ she added regretfully, ‘she has been too stubborn even to scream.’

‘Me, I manage alone,’ said Lusi, suppressing a shudder. The guard shrugged, and conducted them to a windowless room at some basement level. It had a few chairs in it, but nothing else.

Lusi closed the door, and then put a locking and warning ward on it. Then she gave a sigh of relief, and looked long and hard at Chenia. She liked what she saw. The High Princess was what in Breena would be a honey blonde, with a pleasant expression even when cross, and with startling green eyes. Her bearing was proud and fearless.

With her best dazzling smile, Lusi said, ‘I know that you I can trust. I known here as Tuza, but not real name. Not Princess, either.’

Chenia’s jaw dropped and her eyes widened as Lusi promoted herself through High to Higher, and when the stage of Highest was reached the bewildered Daoine had to clutch the back of a chair to steady herself.

‘Not even Darxta,’ Lusi said, and tried to convert herself to her original form. That didn’t seem to work here, though. She flickered for a while, giving glimpses of her Daoine identity, but that was the best she could manage.

‘I wonder if I able Adapt back when in Rings?’ she muttered worriedly, and then saw that she wasn’t really being fair to the shell-shocked High Princess. ‘Sit down; I explain,’ she said, and seated herself as comfortably as the basic furniture would allow.


When Lusi had finished her tale, and Chenia had recovered a bit, Lusi said, ‘So you see, all those who not like Crow ways they must escape soon or be “done away with” as Crows they so charmingly say. There are many-many here able to put magic together. How it is that you not overcome guards?’

‘Don’t worry, we’ve been discussing escape ever since we were put in this place, and gathering odd bits of information which we hoped might help. The Darxem don’t mind telling us everything they know, actually, because they are confident there is nothing we can do to free ourselves.

‘Firstly, the barrier round this palace is of a kind and strength that even thousands of us working together can’t overcome.’ She pulled a face. ‘We were taunted to try by Drail himself, and all the Darxem laughed themselves sick when we couldn’t even make a dent in it.  

‘Then, the Interfaces are blocked, as you know, and that magic doesn’t only work one way to keep Daoine out. It stops us leaving, too. Those barriers appear to have been put in place by this His Greatestness himself, whom we gather to be some sort of super-wizard. They can only be lifted if he allows it. It is said that King Darrex himself tried one of them and failed to budge it. So even if we escape from Drail Palace, we are still trapped and ready to be picked off by the Darxem.’

‘Is a problem,’ Lusi said glumly.

‘Of course,’ Chenia went on, ‘a further difficulty has been that it is difficult to do much planning without the Crow fanciers among us getting wind of it and telling the guards.’

‘That one, I think we have solved,’ Lusi laughed, and explained about the segregation which was about to occur. ‘Must still be careful afterwards, though, because we give benefit of doubt to some they may go either way for own best interests.’

Chenia smiled, but then said in a serious tone, ‘It shows up the paradox, though. Most usually turn to The Cause, which goes on about being unselfish, simply because of selfish motives. These Crows are crazy.’

‘And, they evil,’ Lusi agreed.

CHAPTER 28: Meetings with King, Cu, and Greatestness


he two Highest Princes saluting the flying guards, and then landing politely at the gates of Darrex Palace, were models of no-colour. Their black may have had an element of excellence about it, but they could hardly be blamed for that. Nor could they be blamed for the fact that their funny southern accents made their shouted greetings sound like, ‘Trump the Cause!’

They praised the quality of the halberds of the guards at the gate, announced themselves as Highest Princes Deng and Dew from the far south, and said that they hoped they had been right in assuming that it would have been an improper show of pride to have brought a large retinue each.

Highly impressed, the guards waved them through towards the main doorway, while one tooted unmusically on a bugle of some kind. This resulted in a guard escort emerging from the palace to guide them in, the captain of whom was given their credentials.

‘All the Highest Princes have been summoned to the chambers of His Highest Majesty, so you are just in time, your Highestnesses,’ he announced over his shoulder as they flew to an area of the palace boasting particularly fine stonework which a leaden colour could not conceal. The towers here did not show any balconies suited to flying visits, though, and they were conducted to an imposing doorway at ground level. Then the captain went in to announce them.

He came out again with the red-faced look of someone who has been shouted at.  ‘You are to go straight through,’ he said, and added almost under his breath, ‘Everyone seems to be in a bit of a flap.’

Hugh and Dengana found a number of corridors leading off from a vast entrance hall. ‘The “straight through” we must take literally?’ Dengana said, and they both shrugged and went down the wide one directly ahead of them.  It had a number of doorways on either side, but they kept going until they reached a closed double door facing them in a T-junction at the end.

They were wondering whether to open the door, or to look for one which was open along the passages going left or right, when both doors swung inward to show a number of Highest Princes seated, or seating themselves, at a long table with a single chair at the head and twenty chairs on either side. Behind some of them crouched or sat enormous wolfhounds, like Cudarp that they had met so briefly. As soon as the two of them were inside, the doors closed themselves behind them.

The hounds reminded Hugh of Darp with a sudden shock. If he was among those present he might well recognise them, even in their changed forms. He gave a sigh of relief when he could see no sign of him in the room. Then he had to give a shove to Dengana, who was regarding the cu with a mixture of amazement and fright.

Apart from the hound in his background, there was nothing remarkable about the Darxd seated at the head of the table. Not at first, anyway. His ‘Triumph the Cause’ was uttered in quiet tones, and they responded promptly and with care not to make their ‘trump’ too obvious. ‘Welcome, Deng and Dew,’ he said. ‘I cannot say I have heard of your palaces?’

Hugh found his heart sinking. There was something he could feel in the speaker which reminded him strongly of Aiennea – a sort of repressed vibrancy and a sense of great power; even the slightest glance from his piercing eyes had a disturbing quality. It was becoming clear that fears he had entertained but tried not to admit to himself, that he and Dengana would find themselves way out of their league, had indeed been justified.

Mentally shrugging, he came back with, ‘I am glad of that, your Highest Majesty. It will show that we have managed to preserve the sort of modesty which is demanded of all true followers of The Cause. And, of course, our homes are in areas far beyond the Rift.’

Darrex gestured towards a part with some empty chairs. ‘Be seated over there next to Dorge. You passed by the Rift?’ There was a worrying amount of interest and intensity in this question.

‘We pause to inspect,’ Dengana said, as he and Hugh sat down after having dodged round a wolfhound sitting close enough to block the way. ‘Higher Prince Dennet he is most impressive leader and crecords like ones of Prince Dore they well-trained.’

‘Did you hear anything about the magical disturbance there?’ Darrex asked.

‘Indeed; and we even went to experience some of that old magic’s effects,’ Hugh put in. ‘Horrifying. We understood that one of the men from your Darx Artz Magicians’ Guild would be arriving to eliminate it.’

‘You went near enough to feel it?’ Cudarrex (as the companion of Darrex was undoubtedly named) said from behind - or, rather, way over the top of - Darrex.

‘We were within sight of the other branch of the tunnel it comes from,’ nodded Hugh.

‘That strange magic is one of the reasons for this meeting,’ Darrex said. ‘The Guild has just notified me that Drek, the senior magician who was sent to solve the problem, has failed. It killed him. In fact, “swallowed up” are the words used to describe what happened to him by one of the sentry squad who witnessed his attempt.’

‘A foolish mistake,’ sneered a prince sitting near Darrex – Hugh thought it was the one who had gate-crashed by flying over a gate. ‘Send some more to rectify it.’

‘It is not that easy. The Guild confess that they are completely at a loss. The solution Drek was trying is the only one they could come up with. Worst of all, His Greatestness and I cannot find anything in the Pattern to account for it. In fact, the Pattern itself appears to be obscured in some strange way. I wondered if this might not be some mischief from Aiennea … that is … the person who calls herself Supreme Queen in Breena. There were clear signs, borne out by our spy reports, that she was initiating some action and we were well geared to deal with it until this weird interference came about. At least we have those more normal means to assure us that the set of difficulties which the Pattern indicated were arising from Terra are still bottled up at Aiennea Palace.’

‘It is surely not possible for her to be interfering,’ another said, sitting nearest to Darrex at the end of the row to his right and shaking his head. ‘Your powers are naturally greater than hers.’

‘There are differences in them, Derag,’ Darrex responded, ‘and it can be that she is exploiting one such. Part of the reason for bringing together, as a unified force, some former queens - which we now call Paramount Princesses - was to combat such possibility.’

‘Paramount Princesses; tshah!’ said Derag contemptuously.

Darrex ignored this. ‘One thing we did determine before this … this mist … came over the Pattern, was that key elements were coming from the south.’ His glance shot to Hugh and Dengana. ‘I had hopes that Deng and Dew might be the explanation for this, but in view of their extreme youth it cannot be. Still, I do sense in them abilities well beyond their appearances.’

Derag could now be heard muttering something about, ‘Making this into a playground for little kiddies …’

‘Anyway,’ Darrex said, ‘the main purpose of this meeting was to get your suggestions about the Rift problem before I go and confer with His Greatestness about it.’

Considerable waffling followed in which several of the cu joined, but no actual suggestions came out of it.

Darrex finally lost patience. ‘We will meet again in a few hours if His Greatestness gives me anything to convey. In the meantime, anything else?’

Of course, Derag had to stick an oar in again. ‘What is the latest on that suddenly-silent army of - what was his name? - Delk or something?’

Hugh decided that with somebody like Darrex around, utter boldness was probably the safest course to prevent rats from being smelt if something awkward came to light. ‘Oh, you mean Dolk?’ he butted in casually. ‘I can tell you where he is. Probably still on his way to meet Dennet and learn how an army should be run. On foot, unless his wing has healed.’

‘His army it now in Darx Desert, where we send them’ Dengana offered equally casually. ‘Maybe when they finish there they know not good to lose all rhaxen and all drogres in simple attack, and maybe all of them they learn to follow The Cause better.’

Darrex glanced at Derag. ‘Kiddies?’ he said mildly; and then to Hugh and Dengana, ‘Tell us about it.’


Hugh and Dengana were shown by equal-but-servant Darxds to a suite of comfortable and spacious rooms each, adjoining one another in the same part of the palace buildings as the meeting room, but much higher up. A wide shaft in the centre of the vast tower provided the only route between floors. It was clear that this was a wingless-unfriendly part of the building.

Servants of both sexes were tripping over one another to be of service, and kept appearing to ask if they wanted refreshments or any other help. This made it difficult to discuss anything in private, and they were reluctant to put any magic wards in place in case this might look suspicious.

‘There nothing to talk about now, anyway,’ Dengana said during a brief break from being attended. ‘We must wait; see.’

It wasn’t even possible to do much exploring, as Darrex had asked everyone to remain within close call in case his meeting after their meeting meant the need for another meeting. All they could do was avail themselves of the food and drink on offer, and to try and overhear anything from anyone which might fill any of the myriads of holes in their understanding of all that was going on. Unfortunately, all they learnt would not even have filled a pinprick.

Then there was - for Hugh, at least - a welcome break. A Darxd servant popped in to announce that they had Cudorge as a visitor. Dengana immediately went into a state of alarm.

The wolfhound looked down at them in friendly fashion, and didn’t bother with any Crow greetings so neither did they. Instead he was straight to the point. ‘I have come to invite you to meet some of my younger fellow cu in the palace grounds. It won’t take long, and my sprite will call us if we are needed.’

A Pip-like fur-blob settled on the back of a chair and said, ‘Yip.’ Hugh and Dengana looked at one another and didn’t need to say anything. Each knew that the other was thinking about Tye, what she was up to, and where they could even begin to look for her.

Then their minds returned to wondering what this was all about. With Dengana looking highly nervous even though they were going lower, they followed the huge dog down the shaft and out of the main door into the garden. He led straight to where a group of young giant wolfhounds were romping with one another on a wide lawn. It looked like a bunch of elephants playing, except that elephants don’t generally manage to scamper about. As soon as the dogs saw the approach they stopped, sat down in a group, and stared at the two closely.

‘We are cu; how do you do,’ came from one of them; it was hard to tell which.

Then, disconcertingly, they began chatting among themselves as if inspecting something on a shelf. ‘Not bad,’ grinned one with a permanently mischievous expression. ‘There might be some potential, here. Say something about yourselves, Darxem.’

‘Dogs big-big-big give me fright,’ Dengana said, which apparently amused them greatly.

‘Don’t encourage me,’ Hugh smiled. ‘That is a subject I am expert on, and I can go on for ages about it.’ This also went down well.

After some more banter, the dogs came one by one to sniff at them. It made Dengana extremely uncomfortable, but Hugh took the opportunity to study each of them. Most, like ‘Mischief’, had colours which he translated as being like the grey with whitish muzzle which he had seen on wolfhounds back home. A merry one was a sort of tan colour. A sad one, a bit older , larger and fluffier than the rest, had a striking black colour. Yet another was almost white, as far as this could be possible in Darx, and had a particularly proud and aloof bearing.

Not long after the sniffing ritual had finished, Cudorge said politely, ‘You’ll want to be getting back, now. Thank you so much for coming to meet the youngsters.’

‘We are dismissed,’ laughed Hugh. ‘Goodbye, for now.’

‘What all that all about?’ wondered Dengana as they flew back.

‘My guess would be that they were checking for suitable Highest Princes as companions,’ Hugh replied. ‘It looks as if we both failed the test.’


It was only about an hour later when they were again summoned to the meeting room. As they drew near the doors they could see other Darxem crossing from one side or another, often close to the doorway, but the doors remained firmly closed until a Highest Prince ahead of them got near, when they opened wide.

‘Magic it must be set for Highest, only,’ Dengana remarked as they approached and were admitted in turn.

Darrex was standing behind his chair, so everyone arriving stood behind theirs. When ten Highest Princes were inside, the king nodded and said, ‘These are all for this meeting.’ Hugh noticed that not only were there no cu present, but Dorge was one of those missing from the group.

Derag looked about him and said indignantly, ‘Many of the more senior ones have been left out, and why are they here?’ glaring at Hugh and Dengana. He was still smarting about the ‘kiddies’ incident.

‘At the behest of His Greatestness,’ responded the king in the mild tone he used to pick up emphasis on put-downs. ‘He has asked by name that I bring all of you now present to him.’

There were cries of surprise from other princes, and it was clear that this was a rare occurrence.

Hugh and Dengana both developed sinking feelings a submarine would have envied. The idea of meeting with a person who could boss Darrex around did not appeal to them. Also, the fact that they had been singled out as part of this party was ominous. Before they could decide whether to make a run for it, however, they found themselves in a herd heading for the flying-shaft, and then a flock going down to the lowest level. There, a doorway led to an actual flight of stairs spiralling down, and with no space for flying. In single file, they all followed the king down and down, round and round, until they became dizzy.

Eventually the stairs ended at another door, and this opened into a sort of hallway, obviously underground, with passages leading off. The one Darrex led them along ended in a ‘T’, at the apex of which was a doorway to a set of rooms of a size to dwarf their own accommodation. These looked even larger than they really were, because the lighting was pathetic. Everything, without exception, showed dimly in only blacks or greys.

One room, with an open, arched entrance, was like a fair-sized library with various tomes and manuscripts filling rows of shelves, but Hugh wondered how even the titles could be read in such gloom. Another near it was appointed as a sitting room. In this, not only the sitting fittings were luxurious. So was the ornamentation, even though obscured by gloom.

Then they came to a closed door which stopped being closed as they approached. The room they trooped into was vast and empty save for a sort of elaborately-carved or -sculpted (it was hard to see if it was wood or stone) throne.

Seated on it was a man more of elfin size and appearance than Darxd, but not easy to make out. It wasn’t only the light. There was a strange quality about the sight of him, and an even stranger quality about the feel of him. He radiated power at a wattage which made even Darrex dim by comparison. When he spoke, the strangeness increased. His voice had a permanent echo-effect, and gave the impression of resonating in one’s mind rather than giving off sound.

‘This is the mix of strength we need,’ he began without any form of greeting. ‘Now, four of you have never been here before; nor do you know anything about me other than that I am the greatest of all, and that I guide and advise the Highest King.’

There was a long pause before he went on. ‘It is necessary for your minds to be uncluttered by any questions or uncertainties in readiness for what is to come, so I choose to reveal more about myself. You will have realised, by the use of simple logic, that actually I rule this world, and I will soon rule all the rest.

‘I am not a god, but I may be regarded as such.

‘I am qualified to rule by virtue of being the oldest being alive, and the fact that during my long life I have never ceased seeking and gathering truth and knowledge. I have exercised immense power in the past, but retired from the affairs of these worlds to increase my understanding even more.

‘Now I have come back to control the destiny of all for the good of all.

‘I am therefore entitled to, and expect, unquestioning obedience from everyone from the Highest King down to the meanest pixie. Are there any questions?’

Hugh decided that there was a choice: to be overawed by the immense power he could sense in His Greatestness, or to counter that feeling with levity. He decided to go with a conclusion that however impressive the power might be, the carrier of it was still a pompous old twit.

‘Yes; was that a trick question?’ he asked brightly.

Darrex and the others went into shock.

‘It was not intended as such,’ came back, with a trace of irritation. (Good, thought Hugh old Greatest-mess still has emotions.) ‘If I give orders I expect them to be carried out, but that is not to say I do not want replies to questions I pose, nor the offering of information or suggestions.’

Dengana joined the party. ‘You not equal; we not equal;’ he said. ‘Why we tell everyone all equal?’

Now there was definite annoyance. ‘You here present, and I, may question the equality; for anyone else to do so is treason. We are wasting time. Let me look into the Pattern again, now, to know its present form. Then we shall see whether further clarity will be found when more of us than Darrex and I merge to study it.’

For some time they all stood round like statues while one sat like a statue. The seated one gave the impression of shimmering and of going transparent, at times.

Meanwhile, Hugh and Dengana were both on the verge of throwing panic attacks. This merger sounded as if it meant one of minds, and they would certainly mind if what was in their minds emerged to the shareholders.

Once again, the only alternative to fleeing at speed was to wait and see, and deal with emergencies as they arose. They waited to see, but not happily.


The sitting statue gave a sigh and unfroze. ‘The obscurities have, if anything, increased,’ he said, ‘Very well now, all of you, clear your minds to focus on the pattern as represented by the design above my head, and I will then gather you in to join with me in contemplation of The Pattern itself.’

Despite themselves, Hugh and Dengana found themselves staring fixedly at the dimly-seen pattern on the high back of the seat above His Greatestness. It became less dim, and more elaborate. Then it gave a dissolving impression before they found their ‘vision’ transported to something strange beyond description. Later, in trying to reconstruct what they had seen, they agreed that there had been some elements of a pattern in it, with impressions of a collage of threads and weaves and colours and pictures, and affecting the senses of hearing, taste and smell also.

They knew that they were observers only, being taken in one direction or another, but as each point was reached they could feel the efforts of everyone to probe its mysteries, together with a compulsion to join in that probe. Pictures of past and future swirled, and then the focus was brought down to Darrex Palace as the place and the near-present as the time. At once, it could be sensed that there was a kind of fuzziness at edges which shouldn’t be edges. The focus narrowed further, to one edge in particular, and there they all gave a full combined effort.

Images of all of them, from His Greatestness and Darrex to Derag and both Hugh and Dengana, plus many others, danced and spiralled, and a final thrust brought into greater focus something still unclear - but unmistakably female - before the advance was repulsed.

Then they could feel His Greatestness withdrawing, and in the instant of the merge coming to an end Hugh felt a sharp and entirely unexpected probe into his own mind. Strangely, the image the probe brought to light was of a sad expression in a long, black face, which lightened up as it stared back at him.

Some minutes of silence followed while each gathered some widely scattered thoughts and searched for lost ones. Then His Greatestness sighed and said, ‘That was useful, indeed. The type of interference is as I had feared, and the solution will be to fight fire with fire. We must bring in these,’ and great distaste entered his tone, ‘Paramount Princesses. The only thing is that they must be totally, utterly compliant.’

‘If we have any reason to suspect that they may not be completely compliant, by their very natures?’ Darrex asked.

‘Then they must be made so, by whatever means necessary,’ His Greatestness said coldly. ‘You may go, to make suitable arrangements. I now need to rest, so we will resolve matters tomorrow morning.’

He looked at Hugh. ‘I expect that you will soon have a cu companion.’

To Dengana he said, ‘You suffer from a quite irrational fear of cu.’

CHAPTER 29: Extermination Plan, Paramount Princesses


igher Prince Drail, returning from yet another visit to Darrex Palace, was delighted at the progress made. The courtyard was now filled only with colourful or nearly-colourful Daoine. One of the better sections of the palace had been cordoned off magically as the quarters of sufficiently strong Cause sympathisers. Most of them preferred to be indoors, anyway.

Lusi was summoned to the prince’s presence. ‘I can see that my judgment was, as always, sound in appointing you to perform this task notwithstanding your youth,’ he said in a smug tone. ‘It is now time to make arrangements for us to rid ourselves of these pests. On my next visit to His Highest Majesty I shall suggest that we make them available to one of the army divisions nearby, for practice and sport. I’m sure he will agree. You will need to put your mind to the easiest means of delivering them; and also of making the best use of those now brought to embracing The Cause.’

Lusi thought longingly of sending a blast to fry him on the spot. It might come to that, but perhaps not yet …

‘We still have need we do more sorting,’ she said.

‘No, I’m sure what you have accomplished will suffice, but you can carry on for a while if you like. It may be a day or so before I can obtain the necessary authority. You may go.’

It was now possible to chat to Chenia outside without having to lay on an ‘interrogation’ as an excuse, although she did draw her away from her fellows to be on the safe side. With what she was being told, the Daoine had no need to pretend she wasn’t enjoying the chat.

‘Clearly, we have little time left to come up with some plan,’ Chenia said, bravely keeping her voice steady in spite of the shock regarding Drail’s latest charming ideas. ‘I am fairly confident that we will be able to think of something to deal with the barrier here, or whatever they use to bind us while we are in transit, but the question is, what we can do then? We can’t get back to Breena, and it will be nigh impossible to hide in Darx with a group this size.’

‘I thinking that after escape maybe the group it split up and hide in small parts in far parts,’ Lusi said. ‘Still not good idea. I wish the boys they come and help. The boys they do well the things they are impossible.’


‘Back to the Meeting Room,’ Darrex said tersely, when they had some breath back after walking up all the spiral stairs. They followed him up the shaft and into the room.

‘The Paramount Princesses should be back from their mission at any time, now,’ Darrex said. ‘I certainly can’t describe Tergina as “compliant”; and even less so my friend Darp’s sister Terblia, from all I’ve seen of her. As for her powerful young friend, Tyria …’ at this point, for some reason, two of those present jerked as if struck by lightning, ‘… she is as far from that as can be imagined. A most forceful and talented princess,’ and he turned to the pair who had jerked, ‘about the same age as you two, I would judge.’

He gave a sigh. ‘I cannot question the wisdom of His Greatestness, but it does strike me as strange that some of the very qualities we have sought for selection of Paramount Princesses must now be eliminated in those we have appointed. I fear that reason alone will not change them, and …’

Derag felt emboldened to interrupt. ‘We can appreciate that the means that will undoubtedly be necessary would be distasteful to you as a brother and as one who is connected by friendship. The most sensible thing to do, therefore, would be to leave it entirely to one or two of the rest of us.’

‘I suppose you are right,’ Darrex said with clear reluctance. ‘I wish I could speak to Darp first, but he’s still away. Overdue, in fact. He should have had more than enough time to investigate. He looked at Hugh and Dengana. You will be interested to learn that it appears the Northern Rift near Darp Palace also appears to have, or perhaps to have developed, a similar problem to the one in the south …

‘Anyway, regarding the Princesses, I make it the joint responsibility of all of you here. Try to use … moderation. I will give orders for you to be notified as soon as they return.’

Derag looked disappointed, but nodded.

As they started down the passage after Darrex had dismissed them, however, he turned on the others. ‘I want it clear that I will have the first try with this Tyria. I believe that my, er, powers of persuasion will be sufficient without any help,’ he snapped. ‘Understood?’


Dengana and Hugh did not fancy returning to their quarters. The service was too good there. Instead, they found their way outside, and somehow Hugh gravitated towards the area where the young wolfhounds had been at play earlier. They were not there now, though, to his disappointment and Dengana’s relief.

‘Tye she make the big miracle,’ Dengana remarked.

‘She has, indeed,’ Hugh agreed, ‘but it looks as if she’s about to get into a great mess from His Greatest-mess.’

Dengana grinned, and said, ‘Funny; I like.

‘I can’t wait to find out how on earth - in Darx, that is - she has managed to get to such a position of power so quickly in such a male-dominated society. It must be her, surely, and not just a coincidence of names? And how could she be a friend of Darp’s sister when Darp was anything but friendly during our one brief meeting? I wonder …’

They were interrupted by a loud flapping, and Cudorge landed in front of them with his sprite clinging to his back. ‘Thought I spotted you,’ he said with satisfaction.

‘Meep,’ said the sprite.

‘Oh, alright, you did,’ said Cudorge. ‘Tell me, do either of you recall any of the overgrown puppies you saw this morning?’

‘Me, all of them, and all give to me fright,’ Dengana responded, backing up a bit.

‘I can’t get Big Black out of my mind,’ Hugh confessed.

‘Yip, yip yip!’ said the sprite excitedly.

‘Really?’ Cudorge said. ‘How remarkable. I thought I saw his tail move when he sniffed you, but decided I must have imagined it. He hasn’t given any indication of wanting a companion at all. Even turned down Darp after Cudarp was viciously murdered by some terrible Daoine creatures in Glit Ring. Cudarp had been a puppyhood friend, actually, which is probably why Darp asked him.’

‘I so wish I could invite him to be my companion,’ Hugh said sadly, and Dengana gave him a disapproving look. ‘I met Cudarp and his sprite, once, and they were wonderful. I can’t, though, because I … my home is … that is, because he wouldn’t be able to fit in with me …’

‘Why ever not?’ Cudorge said in the greatest astonishment. ‘There is always a way, if the bond is truly there.’

Hugh shook his head, and the sprite snarled at him. This gave him a sudden wild idea. ‘You knew Pip?’ he asked.

‘Yip. Yip-yip!‘

‘As a friend of Pip, can I ask you for a great favour? It is important. You know the Paramount Princesses – that is, Tyria, Terblia and Tergina? And where their quarters are?’


‘Could you keep watch and warn us the minute they get back? We’ll be in our rooms.’

The sprite looked at Cudorge, who nodded. ‘Yip,’ he said, and promptly flew off towards one of the towers not far from their own.

‘And, for the time being at least, could you please not tell Dorge about any of this? It may get to wrong ears.’ This time there was a long pause while the wolfhound thought about it. Finally he gave another nod.

‘D’ you really think Big Black might have considered me as a companion?’ Hugh asked wistfully just before they parted. ‘Never mind. It‘s hopeless.’

Cudorge said nothing, but his look spoke volumes.


The wait seemed interminable. A number of times they went out and strolled up and down in the vicinity of the tower the sprite had headed for, with eyes wide open, but the watched pot refused to show any bubbles.

Early evening had been reached by the time a highly excited sprite came into where they were seated and squeaked at them. They rushed to the shaft, and hurtled down.

‘Meep, meep, meep!’ came from the sprite as they started towards the entrance passage. He did some circles and dips in the shaft as they glanced over their shoulders, and as soon as they returned he plunged down ahead of them to the lowest level. There he hovered in front of the door to the spiral stairs, and went, ‘Yip!’

‘The Princesses they go down there?’ Dengana asked disbelievingly. This time, the sprite merely nodded, and as they opened the door and started down he gave a squeak of farewell and started back up the shaft. He obviously regarded his duty as completed, which Hugh thought was a pity. They could have used a scout.

Alert for any sounds ahead of them, they went cautiously down the stairs to where the passages started. Now, it was a question of which one to follow, and both listened carefully at each entrance for any sound of voices. Then, with a mental kick at his pants for forgetting what he could do in this land, Hugh willed a subtle, low-key magic trace to go out, with Tye as target.

Immediately, he had a strong indication that they should follow down the passage which led to the rooms of His Greatestness. He and Dengana shrugged at one another in bewilderment, but continued on tiptoe to the doors to the underground rooms. This time they didn’t open, and in any case the trace on Tye was no longer straight ahead, but leading along the passage forming the top of the ‘T’ to the left.

As soon as they started down this, there came an unpleasant feeling, growing ever stronger as they progressed. ‘Repel-spell?’ Hugh whispered, and they tried their ‘dispel’. It didn’t work. ‘Like bad Rift tunnel; but not same,’ Dengana mouthed, and Hugh nodded. The same sensations of revulsion and evil came through, but in a different way. Hugh found himself comparing the two sensations to two different kinds of disgusting smell, like rotten eggs as against rotten fish.

This one was nearing the limit of what he had been able to endure in the Rift when some voices sounded faintly from ahead of them. They forced themselves forward, and then reeled as they found themselves passing an entrance to their right which gave the repulsive Rift-type magic at full blast. As soon as they were past, the horror receded again.

Then they heard female voices more clearly, and one sounded very much like Tye’s. They quickened their steps, and came to another doorway similar to the one of His Greatestness. This door was open, and they peered in cautiously. Three Highest Princesses - or the Paramount Princesses, as they must be - had sensed something and were swinging round to look at them.

Two of them were unknown, and there was no noticeable resemblance to Darp in either. The nearest, though, was quite definitely known.

‘Tye!’ Hugh called out joyfully. ‘So glad we found .. ‘

That was as far as he got before she yelled, ‘It’s them!’ and sent a viciously lethal glarespell at each in quick succession.

CHAPTER 30: Pain and Suffering


n the instant the glarespell rays shot from Tye’s eyes, Hugh knew he was as good as dead. It was to a rhaxen glarespell as the smell of rotten eggs or fish might be when set against raw sewage; similarly unpleasant, but far worse. There was no way in which this orange-like beam flecked with silver flashes could be resisted, deflected, or reflected. It hit with numbing force, and his body was no use to him any more except as something which hurt all over.

The only things he could move slightly were his head and his eyes. His ears also worked.

‘They aren’t **** fading,’ Tye said petulantly. ‘I can’t have killed them yet.  That is strange.’

‘I’ll finish them off for you,’ said a fairly pleasant voice, in a casual tone.

‘No, wait, Tergina!’ came strongly from the taller of the two with Tye, thus identifying herself as Terblia. ‘It may be useful to question them. In fact, I’m sure it will be.’ There was something creepy about her voice, and, indeed, about her.

‘It’ll have to wait, though’ said Tye. ‘We need to get back, for now. Just a pity there’s no sign of the others yet.’

‘Hsh Grtnish sesh you … mush be … torsh-id …’ Hugh tried to say.

‘That dose should hold them indefinitely, or they may well be dying,’ said Terblia, ‘but there’s nothing like being on the safe side. Drag them in here, and we’ll seal the door.’ Hugh, and then Dengana, got dragged.

‘Why … you … do … thish … oo … ush?’ Dengana managed.

‘Because it’s just what you **** deserve,’ Tye said viciously. ‘You’re nothing more than mistakes in the Pattern.’

‘Try … ig … to …warn …’ Hugh gasped out.

‘You can have nothing to warn us about,’ said Terblia with contempt. ‘We’ll check if you’re still alive later, and if you are we’ll make you wish you weren’t.’

As they moved out, and just before she shut the door firmly, she could be heard saying, ‘Yes, fully furnished and in good condition. This will do for quite a few, but we can have a quick look further to see if there are more. Then we had bett…’


The pain in every part of him, and the helplessness from not being able to move, were as nothing compared with the awful feeling of betrayal and loss. Hugh had to admit to himself that, in spite of everything, he had become attached to Tye, and this clear evidence that she was adopting a cause he knew to be wrong in every way was devastating.

He tried to tell himself that she had been hypnotised or duped, but failed. She was behaving like someone fully in control of her own actions, and with her lively intelligence he wouldn’t expect her to be fooled at all easily. The only conclusion he could reach was that this was, now, in tune with her own true nature. Just as readily as she had wrought destruction against the Crows, so was she prepared to do so in their cause if it suited her. In short, she was basically evil.

A faint and mournful, ‘Meep-meep-meep-meep-meep,’ came suddenly from in front of him, as a sprite switched itself on there.

‘Pip!’ he exclaimed. ‘How di’ oo geck orshelf lock in?’

‘Tha’… he be … Pip?’ Dengana exclaimed.

‘Yesh,’ Hugh replied. ‘Try-ig to tell … ush … shum ping…’

Pip came to sit on his chest and stared into his eyes saying ‘Meep,’ again, and then widening and narrowing eyes in quick succession a few times.

‘Glare…shpell?’ Hugh asked. Pip nodded and gave a ‘Yip’, both.

Hugh concentrated on thinking about the glarespell. As he had been able to tell the instant it had hit him, he knew it to be something far more sophisticated than the one the rhaxen used. Rhaxen had the natural ability; this one could be adopted and used by someone like Tye. How? He forced himself to remember again the sense of it at the moment of impact, and then concentrated on what he could still feel enveloping him.

Pip was somehow managing to urge him to pick out the parts that had become familiar to him from learning to make rhaxen self-destruct. Then, as soon as he had done that, to help him, by using some amazingly effective mind-messaging, to recognise the new and different components - and to pick out a deflection Pip had sent to try and save them.  No wonder there had been surprise that they hadn’t died. He realised that without that help from Pip they wouldn’t have had a hope.

Finally, he could feel Pip acknowledging that the concept had been grasped. Now, all that remained was to take the basic rhax and Pip deflection models and try and build in the refinements, then taking the resultant shield or reflector one step further to give actual repulsion.

After a deep breath, he put it all together, and pushed. The instant freedom from pain, and the restoration of movement, were both wonderful.

‘Thanks, Pip,’ he said. ‘I’d never have figured that lot out without you somehow highlighting the key bits.’

Then there was a painful session - for Dengana - of trying to show him how to do the same. The other boy couldn’t seem able to grasp it, though, and in desperation Hugh finally converted the push magic he had used on himself to a pull-and-throw-away one on Dengana. It worked to free his friend, but unfortunately didn’t leave him any the wiser about using or shielding such spells.

They used much of their restored fluency in speech to express their shock at what Tye was doing, and then to wondering how to get out of the room. The lock was sealed magically, and this was another magic which appeared to be unfathomable.

Pip came to sit on Hugh’s shoulder, and a glimmering of what different route this magic took to achieve the shield came to him. It seemed an entirely alien concept, and it needed enormous concentration to juggle several pieces, all at the same time, but in different directions. Fortunately, with Pip’s help, Dengana also started getting to grips with this one, but it finally took all their combined strength to focus on and manipulate it enough to free them.

‘Thanks again, Pip,’ Hugh said wholeheartedly. A sudden wild hope struck him. ‘Did Tye get you to stay behind to help us?’

‘Meep,’ answered Pip, miserably.

‘You have left her?’

The sprite shook its head, and its ‘Meep-meep-meep’ said, in their minds, ‘I can’t.’

‘But you think she is doing wrong?’

At this, Pip said ‘Yip,’ and broke out into a series of sob-like squeaks before shooting off ahead of them, obviously on the way back to Tye, before vanishing in midair.


Even without any glarespell or shock after-effects, the puzzle as to what was going to happen next was enough put a strain on any mind.

‘Now hope Tye and others they get made “compliant” – it serve them right,’ Dengana said bitterly as they made their way back along the passage. ‘Trouble is, I feel sorry for person he try.’

‘As we speak, they have probably been reported as having returned,’ said Hugh, ‘which means we are about to get a message as soon as we can be found. The others will all be told, and will be waiting for Derag to “educate” Tye before they start setting about doing their own thing. The question is, will the princesses allow it, and if so, why? Or will they resist, in which case the cat will really be among the pigeons?’

Dengana shook his head. ‘Not know any answers,’ he said. ‘Best do what you me we always do: wait and see and act when things they happen.’

‘You mean, just breeze in as if the glarespell incident never occurred?’ Hugh laughed. ‘That would make things interesting!’

No sooner had they returned to their rooms than servants arrived to tell them two things: that the Paramount Princesses were back, and that dinner was being served and they would be shown the way.

The dining hall was a model of showing how equal everyone was. At least, how equal princes were with princes, High Princes with High, Higher with Higher, Highest with Highest, and the king with himself. Servants were all equal in serving except that some had apparently been selected to serve higher tables than others. Each group was on progressive levels, with Darrex at the highest in solitary state.

After being seated at a table on the next level down from the king, Hugh and Dengana were able to pick out all the members of their recent meeting groups, as well as – to their surprise – Derag. He looked even less happy than usual.

The food was really good, and the nectars were as well, although Hugh and Dengana both treated the latter with caution. Conversation, though, was sadly lacking. Everyone seemed to be waiting for everyone else to say something interesting, but even uninteresting sayings hardly happened.


‘The Paramount Princess Tyria has satisfied me as being satisfactorily compliant,’ said Derag sourly to the ten other Highest Princes gathered with him outside the palace. ‘We shall now go to their rooms to put her and the others to such tests – or further tests for Tyria - as we may determine.’

They flew to the tower where Cudorge’s sprite had waited so patiently, and entered rooms a little smaller than their own. They were also no more fancy than theirs, which seemed surprising. The Paramount Princesses stood up demurely and moved to the centre of a sitting room, with eyes modestly downcast, while the princes all seated themselves round the perimeter. Only by the slightest flicker of an eyelid did the three reveal any shock, or even mild surprise, at the inclusion in the group of two who were supposed to be their dead or dying prisoners.

Everyone looked at Derag to open proceedings, but he simply sat there until another senior Higher Prince called Dunge said, ‘You have been made aware that His Greatestness requires a meeting tomorrow which will include you, but that first he needs to be satisfied that you all are, in his words, “utterly, totally compliant” in every way?’

Terblia spoke up softly. It was a pale shadow of the dominant voice they had heard earlier. ‘We are, indeed, utterly subservient in our pursuit of The Cause. Any impression we may have given to the contrary is purely a product of some exceptional abilities we have been given, the better to serve it.’

Dunge turned to Tergina, and she said, ‘My unquestioning support for my brother, Highest King Darrex, His Greatestness, and The Cause, can surely not be brought into any doubt.’

‘My own “compliance” has been vouched for by Higher Prince Derag after a … personal interview, and may be assessed by my dedication in the short time I have been here,’ Tye said in what Hugh recognised as her best ‘getting away with murder’ voice.

Some shuffling ensued amongst the princes, and then a couple started rising to their feet. ‘That seems satisfactory enough,’ said one.

‘No, I don’t think so,’ Dunge said, licking thin lips. ‘That is all talk, and His Greatestness will expect something more concrete than empty words. I propose it be put to the test in the following manner: the women will retract wings, strip, and beat one another in turn with this,’ and he produced a thin cane-like stick, ‘systematically, on every part of their bodies. We will be sensing whether any attempt is made to block the pain with magic.’

There was a mixture of cries of disagreement from some of the ones who were standing up, and of approval from others. Hugh and Dengana were struck dumb with horror.

‘Very well,’ said Terblia. She took the cane and handed it to Tergina. Her wings disappeared. Then she ran a finger down the front of her dress and it fell away. Tergina did the same, and then Tye also shed hers, with a flash of instantly-masked fury.

‘Put some energy into it,’ Terblia urged, and Tergina’s first swing at her produced an ugly mark across her front.

The scenes which followed were sickening, and neither Hugh nor Dengana could look. In fact, they tried desperately not to show that they were wincing with every blow. Feet, legs arms and hands, and even neck, face and head were not left out. Whatever desire for revenge they harboured for nearly having been killed did not go as far as to make them enjoy what was now happening.

After what seemed an age, it was Tye’s turn to beat Tergina, and it was clear she was not holding back in any way.

Then Tye stood unmoving as the vicious blows from Terblia rained down on her until, as with the other two, welts stood out all over her body. Hugh was cringing, and feeling as if each ‘swish-thwack’ was landing on his own, particularly when towards the end, despite all Tye could do to hold them back, some whimpers of pain escaped her. Somehow, it made it even worse when he glimpsed Derag looking on with an expression of savage delight.

‘You have, I think, passed the test admirably,’ Dunge conceded finally. ‘We will see you tomorrow.’

The princes all filed out.

CHAPTER 31: Cudew, Pattern, and Flight


he two boys went for an early walk in the grounds the next morning in the hopes of coming up with a better plan than ‘go with the flow’. They kept feeling that there was a real threat that the flow might again carry them over a high waterfall.

They were tempted to take a flight over the palace walls and into the country, but had noticed that others only seemed to arrive from somewhere else or left to go to somewhere else on definite errands, and would always check in or out at the gateway, so this would simply draw undue attention to themselves.

‘We are going to be taking an enormous risk in going into another of those mind-meld things,’ Hugh said. ‘The trouble is that I can’t think of any faster way of getting more of an idea of all that is going on, and particularly where those wretched Paramount Princesses fit into it.’

‘I think those princesses they very bad, but they brave like lions,’ he said. ‘I know I not be able to stand and be hit with stick like they do.’

There was much more they wanted to say on the subject. Walks in the garden were, however, clearly an invitation for cu to fly down at them. This time, it was a large, black and rather fluffy one, and Hugh’s heart leapt.

‘I think we need to talk,’ he said, giving Hugh a soulful look. ‘Would you mind?’ he added, casting a puzzled one at a still-backing-up Dengana.

‘Not mind; I go,’ said Dengana, and headed for their rooms at speed.

The cu came straight to the point. ‘You are in my thoughts almost constantly, now, ever since I first set eyes on you. Cudorge says you feel the same way, but something prevents you from having a companion. Are you considering your convenience, or mine?’

‘Well,’ said Hugh, ‘it is more complicated than you would ever believe, and …’

‘Yours, or mine?’ the cu persisted.

‘Yours, more, perhaps, but …’ Hugh was floundering.

‘Then that is settled. If you are my companion, I will put up with any partings or problems or inconvenience, as long as I know we are companions. I am Cudew? And I don’t mean a large antelope.’

Hugh felt a surge of love for the great animal. ‘Before you think of becoming a Cudu-not-a-kudu,’ he laughed, ‘you should know the whole truth about me, starting with the fact that to most people here I am an enemy and a spy.’

‘Then, so am I,’ said the cu, bending his head down to touch the very tip of his huge tongue to Hugh’s cheek.

‘It gets worse,‘ said Hugh. ‘I have Adapted from human, first as Daoine, and now as Darxd.’

‘I can live in all three without the need to Adapt, of course.’

Hugh took a deep breath. ‘Right, try this,’ he said. ‘Yesterday I was nearly killed by one of the humans I came here with, but was saved by her sprite who happens to be Pip who was originally bonded with Cudarp.’

‘Now that,’ said the dog, ‘definitely shows a wild imagination. Still, it doesn’t put me off. I am Cudew.’

‘Er, that would be another thing. My real name is Hugh.’

‘Cuhew? No, there I draw the line. I really dew not think that is hew I am. You are Dew, here, and I am Cudew everywhere.’ He put his head on one side. ‘Do you really mean it about Pip and all that? I got on particularly well with Pip.’

‘OK then; Cudew.’ Hugh said, smiling at the awful puns. ‘Yes, I do, and it is a particularly long story. How do we officially become companions?’

‘Good. Start at the beginning then. And, we became companions the minute we accepted one another. It only remains for others to know it, which they will as soon as we are seen together.’ He gave a wide doggy grin. ‘Shall we go home now? Your friend Dengana is going to freak; or maybe he saw it coming.’

‘Let me fly up to neck height and hug you, first.’


They hadn’t been in the rooms for long before the summons came, to go to the meeting room rather than straight down.

‘Stupid, the way king he always call us to one place when we go another,’ Dengana grumbled. He was forcing himself to get used to the idea of having an added group member that scared the pants off him andenjoyed silly jokes, but the effort was costing him some of his normal sunny nature.

Cudew came with them to put in an appearance. The full complement of Highest Princes were there, plus cu, and Cudarrex led the others in applauding and coming to sniff the latest companion, whose tail wagged in sufficiently sedate and dignified fashion in response.

The Paramount Princesses were standing near Cudarrex. It appeared that nobody had yet worked out where they would fit into seating or standing arrangements here. No marks were visible on the parts not covered by dresses, but they did look a bit drained.

‘Magic it is wonderful thing,’ Dengana elbowed Hugh in the ribs to say.

‘Before we split up and some of us go to His Greatestness,’ Darrex said, ‘Higher Prince Drail has a request regarding the Daoine prisoners. Come forward.’

Drail moved up to stand near the head of the table and said, ‘Thanks to the group of helpers I recently had the foresight to recruit here, and my good judgment in putting in charge a young princess called Tuza in particular,’ - it was strange how the mention of some names caused two of the Highest Princes to jerk - ‘I have now sorted them into ones who are enlightened enough to adopt the glories of The Cause, and those who are still steeped in their selfish ignorance. It is my proposal that the latter be taken to conveniently close divisions of the army to provide the men with entertainment while they rid us of them. The rabble will furnish recreation and sport as well as giving subjects for practice. Do I have approval?’

The main debate which followed hinged around whether it was providing sufficient equality for them to be available only to the nearer divisions, but the argument that moving them further would waste too much time and effort won the day.

‘I will return there tomorrow to get it underway,’ Drail beamed.


The surplus Highest Princes and all the cu had gone separate ways, and the chosen ten princes plus one king and three princesses had descended to going round in circles for a while. Now this group stood before a dim old man who was, actually, looking brighter and better than the day before.

As before, he went straight to the point without greeting or preamble.

‘I have already familiarised myself with the current state of The Pattern in readiness for our merge. The section of obscurity has advanced alarmingly. The Highest King and Princes already know what to do. You … women …’ there was a note of distaste in his voice ‘… must clear your minds and focus on the concept of it as represented by the design above my head. Be prepared for me to gather you into a meld whereby you will join with me in contemplation of the actual Pattern.’

This time, after the dissolving feeling gave way to the appearance of The Pattern in all its unfathomable complexity, they could tell that the focus was going directly to the point of the here-and-now where the main thrust had been made during the previous study. Hugh and Dengana could both sense the increase in ‘fuzzy’ area mentioned by His Greatestness. Immediately, the probe of everyone was directed at the outside part of this, and this could be ‘seen’ to be working straight away. The edge-that-should-not-be-an-edge receded, and some fresh images danced and swirled into perception.

Included in these were some of the Paramount Princesses, and suddenly an impression of awareness and alarm came from His Greatestness. If put into speech, this would have amounted to, ‘Why are the Princess-minds on the closed side when they should be on the open side with us?’

Immediately it was clear that he intended to bring the meld to an abrupt stop. This didn’t happen, though. Instead, there was an impression of a shift in the locus of control, and of His Greatestness being gathered in as forming a part rather than as being the spearhead. The ‘edge’ advanced rapidly, taking back in an instant the ground lost in the previous thrust, and then going still further.

The integrity of the cohesion of His Greatestness now seemed threatened – or, to put it into far clearer language, some cracks were appearing in his cover and in his self. Starting to come into focus was that he was still nowhere near the full power he could have access to …

Hugh discovered that the switch in control had given him back a measure of the ability to think and act independently. Before, he had been a helpless tool in the hand of His Greatestness. Now the tool, in a different hand, had come alive.

With an enormous effort of will, he broke away from being carried along and using his consciousness in thrusting blindly behind the leader. Instead, he formed the strongest probe he could envisage and sent it darting at whatever was impelling him.

In the briefest of instants, he felt a flood of knowledge coming into him. It was as if, as he thought later, a powerful hard drive had been plugged into a computer. The computer had not changed, but greatly increased access to information and functions was now present, and available for activation if one knew how.

Among the most important pieces of information to be used immediately was that Terblia was not Darp’s sister. She was an imposter. She radiated pure evil.

Tergina, on the other hand, gave an impression of great power, but not sufficient to avoid being dominated and influenced by Terblia. Significantly, there was nowhere near the same element of evil about her.

In Tye, surprisingly, was the greatest power of all, and yet she was also completely in thrall to Terblia. There was evil of a frightening intensity present in her, but it did not seem undiluted as with Terblia.

Based on these impressions, Hugh formed the instant decision that the best action for now was to align himself with His Greatestness in opposing the Paramount Princesses. Somehow he knew that it would not be a good idea to try and take the lead. Instead he ‘moved’ himself mentally to behind His Greatestness, and used all the force he could summon to thrust him out of the controlled group. ‘Dengana and all of you, break away and join us,’ he shouted – and was dimly aware that this part had been done by actual speech, in the room.

Now, they were an opposing force again, and were checking the advance which the princess group had been making. They regained a small amount of previous ground, but then came a stalemate. Special effort on the one side was met by the same on the other.

Hugh could feel that the probe he had made gave the potential for further contact with the minds of the princesses. He again said out loud, while also projecting at them, ‘Tergina and Tye, why are you being so foolish? Why join in such evil?’

He felt the slightest wavering from their side, which was enough to enable His Greatestness to give a mighty push. Once again, they started progressing into the previously obscured area of ‘the edge’, enough, once more, to get impressions of the princesses from that side. From Terblia came a burst of fury directed at Tye and Tergina, amounting to, ‘See what your vanity in using so much magic to heal those stripes is costing us.’

Hugh may have been thrusting behind His Greatestness, now, but he had kept some independence. ‘Thanks for telling us you are running out of power,’ he projected. ‘Come on, everyone, squash them!’

The special effort which followed resulted in the collapse of the other side. For an instant, the minds of all three of them were laid bare as never before, and then, by some supreme effort, Terblia forced the meld to break.

Everyone was still blinking when Terblia raged, ‘What a waste; but you shall not have her!’ With that, she gestured to send a blast of hideous magic, which was visible as a lightning-like streak of fire. It was directed straight at Tye, who screamed and toppled over.

For the briefest instant it could be seen that Terblia was weighing up the chances of blasting the rest of them as well, but realising that she could never get everyone before somebody got her. She threw up a hasty shield which was enough to deflect some sort of magic beam sent by His Greatestness. On her way out she directed a smaller streak of fire at Dunge, who started screaming. Then she was out of the door and it had slammed behind her.

Darrex dashed to follow her, and then said, ‘Locked.’

‘Not easy locks, that one she do,’ said Dengana in an ‘Oops!’ moment.

The king didn’t notice. He was going into a fury while failing to open it. Then he said, ‘Somebody, heal that man; his noise is irritating … oh, too late.’ Dunge had given up screaming in favour of fading.

Hugh was kneeling next to Tye, and on his shoulder was the weight of something that wasn’t there, giving off pathetic little wails and ‘Meep’ sounds.

‘Help me,’ he urged the nothing. ‘I can’t trace the magic, at all. She’s alive, but feels hot.’ The nothing sent nothing because it apparently knew nothing to help.

His Greatestness spoke up. He was staring fixedly at Hugh. ‘I am curious about a number of things. How do you know so instantly how to put up a shield that can counter magic like that firespell? It was slightly different to anything I have ever seen, although it reminds me of ...’

 He changed his mind about going into reminiscences, and went on, ‘You only had a matter of seconds between when her intention was projected in the Pattern and when she emerged to carry it out. Remarkable. I need the opportunity to meld minds with you without having a crisis to deal with. From your useful contribution there, I can tell you will be of great value to The Cause.’

‘My “useful contribution” saved your skin,’ snapped Hugh. ‘Now tell me, what is wrong with T... Tyria?’

‘Oh, of course, the girl is doomed, anyway. She was knocked out by a fraction of the firespell that got through, but normally that would have dissipated by now. I can tell, though, that the Terblia woman sent a feverspell as a backup, and there is no magic which can counter that once it is in place. It just takes longer than the firespell would have done. To make things worse, it will have taken that fraction of firespell and locked it in as part of itself. ’

‘It’ll save me the trouble of having her executed,’ Darrex snarled, having given up on the door for the moment. ‘As is going to happen to that woman who used to be my sister.’ He glared at Tergina with loathing, and she quailed.

‘You can tell that the Terblia person she make fool of her?’ Dengana said.

‘No matter. She is a traitress, and will die painfully and publicly,’ snapped the king. ‘Now, any suggestions on how we get out of here?’

‘I have an idea that Deng or Dew may be able to open it,’ came from His Greatestness.

‘We do get to know this magic,’ Dengana nodded. ‘Need both of us we work together, though.’

Hugh was thinking furiously. ‘When we have opened it, stay where you are,’ he said. ‘I suspect that some traps may have been laid. You,’ he snapped at Tergina, ‘will carry Tyria and walk through first. Then we will follow, to make doubly sure before the rest come out.’

The king nodded, but it seemed as if His Greatestness was on the verge of doing some thinking which might give a problem. ‘Come on, Deng,’ he said, and the two of them went into their double act (not counting invisible helper) at double speed as well. Having naturally deduced that they must have beaten the previous locking spell, Terblia had put a refinement in the latest, but not one which gave Pip any difficulty.

The door swung open, and Tergina, staggering a bit under Tye’s weight, was ushered through. Dengana overacted by cringing back as if expecting an explosion. Then the two of them crept out with apparent nervousness, slammed the door, and reapplied the lock. ‘We should leave them to rot here, but I suppose we should put in a timer – twelve hours should do,’ Hugh said. He took Tye from the flabbergasted Tergina, retracted his wings to carry her in a fireman’s lift, and they started down the passage. ‘Come on,’ he snapped over his shoulder.

Then Pip, now visible, hovered in front of them giving agitated squeaks and wouldn’t let them go any further. ‘Well, I’ll be …’ Hugh exclaimed. ‘She did put in a booby-trap!’

Tergina came forward. ‘Let me sense that – yes, there is something over here. No, a bit to the left. Lucky we were warned.  This magic is enough to blow everyone who happened to be in this passage to bits.’

It took the combined talents of Tergina, Pip and the two boys to de-fuse Terblia’s ‘bomb’, after which they proceeded with great caution but found no further hazards.

On the way to the spiral staircase, Hugh said, ‘Look, we’ve obviously outstayed our welcome at Darrex Palace. What we need to do is get moving straight away. We can use those handy trees to get over the wall and out of sight. Then, the top priority will be to find some care for Tye. After that, we need to get to Lusi and try and help her with whatever plan she has thought up. And after that … I don’t quite know.’

To Tergina he said, ‘You now have the choice of throwing in your lot with us, or we will let you go off into hiding on your own. Otherwise, you can stay or come back here if you really like the idea of being the main attraction at a public execution.’

‘I will come with you, but will need to know more about what you stand for to stay with you,’ she said with dignity. ‘As for Paramount Princess Tyria, you may as well leave her. I do know that there is no treatment for a fever caused by a feverspell because, once started, the fever itself will take its course to death without anything but its existence to carry it forward. There is nothing, therefore, for magic or any other treatment to fight against. It would be hopeless, even without any traces of firespell locked into the fever.’

Hugh jiggled Tye’s limp body by giving a shrug, and started up the stairs. At the top, he put her down with considerable relief from the feeling of having a far-too-hot water bottle draped over him. He said, ‘Wait,’ let himself out into the shaft, and flew up to their rooms. Cudew greeted him with a happy grin and flapping of his tail.

‘We’re leaving, probably for ever. You’re sure about this?’ he said to the dog.

‘Of course,’ came the response.

‘Right, then, can you wait until we’re ready, and then fly over the gate? Tell them you’re going for some exercise?’

‘I often do,’ nodded Cudew.

‘Fly out of sight going north, and then circle round widely to go in the direction of Drail Palace. We’ll look out for you.’

Hugh hunted frantically for anything remotely like a laundry bag, but they didn’t go in for such things in Darx. Finally, he grabbed the biggest blanket he could find, folded it quickly, and after waiting for some traffic in the shaft to clear, started down with it.

They had great difficulty in converting Tye to a bundle that didn’t look like a person and could be carried between two fliers, all in the limited space at the top of spiral stairs, but finally they succeeded. Then they had to wait until Pip gave the all-clear for the shaft before they all shot out of the doorway, up to the ground floor, and followed Tergina into a passageway which she said led to a side entrance not far from the trees they had described to her. Thus Cudew’s flight was no longer needed as a distraction, but it did make things easier that he had left separately. It was also still useful in giving misdirection.

Luck was with them, and they came across nobody in the passage who could goggle at the group of a pair of load-carrying Highest Princes and one Paramount Princess. Then the Paramount Princess flew ahead and distracted a group in the grounds which, had they looked behind them, might have observed the transit of a four-wing-powered bundle in a blanket.

When her audience had been casually dismissed, she ambled across to the trees, apparently aimlessly, before vanishing into them.

Hugh looked alarmed when he felt Tye’s forehead before they took off. ‘We need to get as high as possible,’ he said urgently, ‘so everyone scout for good updraughts, and then look for the highest peaks you can see anywhere near our route.’ He seemed to have a definite sense of purpose, and if he wasn’t in the mood for explaining nobody wanted to press him.

Actually, Hugh was finding himself able, more and more, to experience the ‘reality’ of Darx directly, rather than compensating for not being able to understand it by seeing it according to what would be normal back on the Earth plane.

Avinia had said that adapting to such understanding would be ongoing, and he knew he had started the process of a perception which was taking in a different actuality. This process had increased after the sudden injection of information which had happened during the recent mind-meld.

He was now becoming dimly conscious, for example, of what was taking place in this reality when his senses translated it into flapping wings and flying. It was, he now knew, a process governed by principles entirely different to what he would normally have been able to make sense of, but that ability was emerging.

Some instinct was telling him, however, that particularly for the present crisis his safest course was to go back to seeing things in terms of the science he knew, and of letting all his actions be guided by that perception. It gave results, and was far safer than groping with something only partially understood.

Tergina was particularly good at finding rising air. When Cudew finally spotted them above him, more by luck than anything else - they had, of course, been watching him for some time - he had to keep pace with them at a far lower level.  Then Dengana pointed to a mountain some distance away which looked to be nearly as high as the rarefied air in which they were flying. Hugh nodded, and they made for it.

The relief to the two of stopping flapping their wings was enormous when they landed on the summit. Extra effort involved in carrying an extra half-body each became taxing after a while, especially when in thinner air.

‘Look for … highest … mountain stream with … good pool,’ Hugh panted to Tergina, and she nodded and took off again. When she returned to lead them to her find, Cudew was still trying to get to their altitude, but Hugh made signals for him to land lower down and wait.

The little waterfall near the summit tumbled into an almost circular pool. With frantic haste, Hugh opened the blanket, and sighed with relief to find Tye no worse. Her skin was still burning hot to the touch even in this cold air, though, and he picked her up straight away and carried her into the icy pool, where he sat holding her with only her face above the surface.

 ‘Could this work?’ Tergina said wonderingly.

‘Yip,’ said Pip unexpectedly, from where seated on a rock at the edge.

‘H-heat, c-c-c-cold; fire, w-w-water,’ Hugh shivered. ‘N-now,  l-leave us, all of you, and s-s-see what you can d-d-d-do to help Lusi. T-tell Cudew I w-want him to g-go with you – I th-think you m-may need him, and he can return to t-tell us where you’ve gone. I’ll … we’ll … j-join all of you as s-soon as p-p-possible.’

CHAPTER 32: Planning an Exodus, and Hot or Cold


s best they could on the way, Dengana and Cudew tried to give Tergina an outline of what they had been up to, why it should be felt that The Cause was wrong and evil, and particularly regarding the rescue they were hoping, by some miracle, to effect at Drail Palace.

‘Is strange,’ said Dengana, ‘Hugh he say you must choose, but now Hugh he act like you choose already.’

Tergina was silent for a long time. Then, in a tone almost too low for him to catch over the wind of their flight she said, ‘It is a massive adjustment for me, but yes, I believe I have indeed chosen to go wholeheartedly with you. I don’t know why.’

After another long silence, she spoke again, ‘Actually I think I do know why, after all. It is because I can tell that all of you really, truly do care for one another and for others generally.’

‘Did I hear you deciding you were on our side?’ Cudew flew nearer to say. Of course, he had dog hearing, and particularly large dog hearing, at that. ‘If so, it is going to make our task quite a lot easier. The paramount part of freeing the prisoners, anyway,’ and he gave his doggy grin, ‘will have a Paramount solution. You are still, as far as everyone is concerned, one of the ten or so absolute top princesses in Darx. One of only three, locally.’

‘That is true,’ Tergina said. ‘Where men may pay little attention even to Highest Princesses, the knowledge that the Paramount Princesses have the backing of His Greatestness himself carries a lot of weight. It was found to be most useful in what we were doing.’

Dengana had moved closer, too, and that part of the sky was becoming rather cluttered. ‘From minds, there,’ he said, ‘I think they different things what you think you do and what you really do.’

‘Yes,’ agreed Tergina. ‘I’m sure that both Tyria and myself believed we were simply fighting the male domination, but it is now clear that there was far more to it than that. In her case, of course, it wasn’t just the domination she wanted to fight. Deep down, she simply hates all males.’

When they reached the barrier at Drail Palace, Dengana remarked casually, ‘Easy get through this.’

‘Yes,’ Tergina agreed, ‘it is Higher Prince level with, I think, a couple of simple refinements. Well, shall we go through?’

Dengana got a mischievous look. ‘Can we take barrier it down completely?’ he asked.

Tergina looked doubtful. ‘It would probably take a minimum of three using Highest level to turn it in on itself,’ she said.

‘Fine,’ grinned Cudew. ‘Let’s go for it.’

She laughed. ‘I should have known you are one of those cu who could do magic to match that of your companion,’ she said. ‘Good. Shall I guide?’

Of course, the wolfhound could not resist remarks about a Cudew being a cu who, given a ‘due cue’, ‘cu do’ magic …

Not long after, under her directions, they had the barrier looping round until it swallowed itself with a gulp, and they flew through to find scenes of consternation. Dingy Darxem had noticed instantly that the prison suddenly didn’t have any bars left, so to speak, and this obviously worried them.

They were even more amazed when Tuza, who had somehow taken effective control of Drail Palace without anyone quite knowing how, flew with squeals of delight to hug the visiting Highest Prince the instant he landed in front of the gate.

Then Lusi’s common sense returned, and she eyed the imposing princess who was with him rather worriedly.

This worry was greatly increased when Dengana introduced her as the Paramount Princess Tergina, sister of His Highest Majesty King Darrex. Many of the throng now gathering had recognised her already, and her name had been whispered all over the place. There was no opportunity for Dengana to assure Lusi that everything was OK, and that she hadn’t blown anything.

Tergina took control, cutting short a spate of ‘Triumph’ greetings from a couple of High Princes downwards. ‘Higher Prince Drail has been successful with a request to the king,’ she said, ‘and we are here to take all Daoine away who do not espouse The Cause.’

It was a moment Tinga and Trenna had been waiting for, and they stepped forward eagerly. ‘In the service of The Cause,’ Trenna announced smugly, ‘we have been working to plan the construction and coordination of a moving magic barrier to contain the prisoners while …’

‘Oh, we won’t need anything like that,’ Tergina said.

‘Why not?’ asked a High Prince abruptly, and then decided it was safer to add, ‘Your Highestne… er, Paramountedness?

‘Because, of course,’ Tergina said with a smile, ‘they will be told that they are being led to freedom.’

‘Is so easy,’ grinned Dengana, thinking that Tergina shared a lot of Hugh’s creative talent in using the truth.

Lusi didn’t know quite what was going on, but there was one opportunity here which was far too good to miss. ‘You now take with you all Daoine they adopt The Cause, and you all go inside barrier you make until the other Daoine they go away,’ she commanded ‘her’ staff.

‘Wonderful idea, that,’ said Cudew. ‘In fact, everyone must seal themselves into a strongly-protected area at least until sundown – preferably until tomorrow morning. You’d better be setting about it right away. Well, come on, don’t dawdle!’

Tergina smiled as she saw the resultant stampede, but then said seriously, ‘There you have an example of what these stupid men and their absurd Cause-following ideas have done to people. Although they have nothing which says they should accept orders from a cu, if such orders are given with enough assurance they don’t even question them.’

Then she saw that Lusi was looking at her with her mouth wide open, and added, ‘Don’t worry, Tuza, I’m on your side for two good reasons. The first is that I’m becoming convinced that it is the right one. The other is that the wrong one, including my dear brother, is eager to have me killed slowly in front of a lot of spectators.’

Spontaneously, Lusi leapt forward to give her a hug, and she looked startled but pleased. Then Lusi said, ‘Come on; there are many-many-many Daoine they will be happy at news we bring.’ She showed some flickers of brilliant colour for a second, and then decided regretfully that she had better stay as a Crow, just in case, until they were all well clear.

Chenia and the thousands of others thronging the courtyard had, by now, realised that Something Really Important was Going On, and all faces were turned towards them as they flew down into it. Lusi led the others straight towards where the Daoine Higher Princess was standing, and there was some hasty scuttling out of the way to permit Cudew to land.

Any concern Chenia may have felt was immediately taken away by the fact that Lusi was grinning so broadly it seemed likely that the section of her head above her mouth might become detached. ‘We now fly away!’ she announced.

Then her grin dimmed, and she glanced from Dengana to Tergina. ‘Where we go?’ she asked.

It was a good question, and one there hadn’t been time to go into properly before. First, though, Lusi had to explain as briefly as possible who was whom and what, so far, was what.

Then Dengana said, ‘I have idea. We go first to Dallent Island Palace. Even for so many of people, room there on island and they have good shield. Maybe is Interface nearby? If we can find way to open, then just need to fight through Darxem waiting there.’

‘Idea it is good,’ Lusi said. ‘Chenia, you get everybody to take all provisions from here is possible for them to carry with long flying? And make sling-things for carry all ones cannot fly?’

Chenia nodded, and went to give instructions to those who could give instructions for more instructions to be given.

‘I know where this palace is,’ Tergina said. ‘The nearest Interface to it is the one near Lookout Ford, and it goes to Ding Ring, alternating with Dong Ring. It is a lot closer than the one at The Rhino near the Southern Rift. I’ll go and do an “inspection of whether there is enough dedication to The Cause” there, and test whether the special bits of magic learnt from Terblia may help to break down that barrier. Then I’ll join you at the island.’

‘And I shall return to Hugh and tell him and, perhaps, that Tyria if she survives – which I doubt – where to go,’ Cudew said. He and Tergina took off simultaneously, and seconds later had vanished over the roofs of the palace.


Hugh was now kneeling at the edge of the pool, still holding Tye’s face out of the water. He had, with some contortions, managed to get out of his clothes and wring them one-handed, and Pip was flying them back and forth to dry. The sun was weak here, but was giving enough heat for him to have stopped his shivering.

‘Dad taught me about hyperthermia and hypothermia, once,’ he said to the sprite. The “per” is when you get too hot, like Tye, and the fever can kill you, and the “po” is when the body gets too cold, and that can kill you. With hyperthermia, he said you shouldn’t put a person in cold water, but I don’t know what else to do. I can’t do what he said, of putting ice packs under the arms or high between the legs. Or, I wonder if I could try and make some, with magic …?’

‘Meep, meep!’ Pip said strongly.

‘You think what I’m doing is right?’

‘Yip,’ Pip responded, then somehow sent an image of doing magic to Hugh, and said, ‘Meep!’ again.

Hugh thought for a moment. ‘So you mean that if this spell is to be cured, it has to be done without magic?’ he asked.

‘Yip, yip, yip, yip, yip!’ was a quite definite enough response.

There was no way of finding a comfortable method of holding Tye like that while staying dry, and Hugh started suffering from awful cramps no matter how much he tried to change his position. To make matters worse, it was now clouding over, and a chill breeze was coming up.

Pip delivered his clothes, now dry, but even with the magic of their fastenings he couldn’t put them on without leaving go of Tye. Pip gave an irritated squeak, went to fetch the blanket from where it was lying, and with some difficulty lifted it enough to drape over Hugh’s shoulders. After the boy had pulled it round himself one-handed he felt a lot better.

Some while later, Hugh thought he heard Tye say something, and sure enough her eyelids were fluttering. At the same time he became aware that she was definitely cooler. He placed his free hand on her forehead, and could feel she was now only slightly warm – and then, within seconds, she felt cold. All heat went out of her, like switching off a light.

‘Hugh,’ she said, looking back at him disbelievingly as his blanket slipped off and fell behind him. ‘Wha…?’

‘It isn’t how it looks,’ he said, with wild elation coming up in him. ‘Oh, how wonderful to hear you sp…’

Then, all elation was replaced by feelings of panic. A cry of distress came from Pip, while Tye’s eyes rolled up and she began to shiver uncontrollably.

‘She’s used up all the heat, and has none left!’ he said despairingly. ‘Now, it’s hypothermia!’

With enormous effort, he forced himself to be calm and to remember what his father had told him. ‘Gentle movements,’ he muttered, and slid her carefully up out of the water and onto the edge. ‘Wet clothes off, but only if dry ones are available. That is no good, there aren’t any ... wait … Pip! Bring my clothes!’

Frantically, he ran his finger down the front of her dress and slid it out from under her when it fell open. He wrung it out with desperate strength, and used it to mop what water he could from her. Then, using only the bottom part of the blanket, he dried her properly all over. Now, he spread his clothes flat on the ground, lifted her onto them, and used the ‘fastening’ movements. He had expected them to be baggy on her, but they adapted neatly to her body.

Next, he ripped at any grasses or shrubs he could get hold of nearby, and laid them out to form a mattress on the flattest part of ground he could find, just beyond the rocks edging the pool. Pip joined in, and it was amazing how much help the little creature was able to give. It had now clouded over completely, and the rising breeze felt icy against his bare body.

Hugh spread the blanket over the layer of grass and twigs and lifted Tye onto it. She had stopped shivering and simply lay limply. Cold as he himself felt, she was still icy to his touch. He started giving instructions to Pip, but discovered that the sprite was some way above his head, busy giving an impression of a whirling dervish on fast-forward with Tye’s dress.  Amazingly, the dress felt dry when Pip dropped it on top of his head.  ‘Meep!’ came as soon as he moved to take his own clothes from Tye, so he shrugged and tried the dress on.  It promptly adapted to fit him, and Pip uttered a series of giggle-like squeaks.

Quickly, Hugh turned Tye onto her side, and said to Pip, ‘Snuggle up to her front, particularly the chest and neck,’ He wrapped the blanket over both of them, noting with relief that he could cover her head while still leaving the wet end-part clear of her feet. Finally, he lay down behind her, pressed his body against her back, and closed the other side of the blanket over them, covering his head as well, and creating a rather fat mummy.

‘Don’t warm arms or legs,’ he reminded himself. ‘Don’t rub anywhere. Warm under arms.’ He slipped his own into her armpits while placing her arms out of the way. ‘Warm high up between legs … how … knee?’ His father had insisted that, like the armpits, it was a key area for warming. ‘Keep neck warm.’ He hoped Pip, and his own breathing from near the top of her head, would do that.

‘I don’t feel as if I could provide any sort of heat at the moment, but I suppose if Tye feels like a slab of ice to us, then we must feel warm to her,’ he said.

‘Yip,’ said Pip, sounding hopeful.

Gradually, the parts of him not up against Tye became more comfortable, and after that the front parts didn’t feel too frozen either and he felt sleepy, and then he started wondering whether he should disturb his father when he was so busy with bees, and why Ingwe the leopard was grinning at him and flying in circles round and round Cudew …


‘Are you alright?’ came the voice of Cudew.

‘Yip. Yip-yip.’ This was from a sprite, crawling out of the ```now open top of the blanket bundle from behind Tye.


Yes, Tye was actually facing and hugging him. As he looked at her, her eyes fluttered open and she stared at him uncomprehendingly. She sat up with an effort, and shook off the blanket. ‘What … where are we …’ she looked down at herself, … why am I in theshe …’ she blinked at him, ‘… why are you now in thoshe?’ Then she fell back again.

‘We need to get her down to warmer parts,’ Hugh said, jumping up. That is, he tried to jump up, but cramp and sore muscles all over his body caused him to make a poor job of it.

The dog let out a barking laugh. ‘You do look sweet,’ he said. ‘A fair exchange, one might say?’ Pip also started some giggle-squeaks afresh.

‘Oh, shut up, both of you. At least it’s surprisingly warm. Now, d’you think you could carry her?’ and he made another bundle.

Cudew took the knotted part in his teeth. ‘Eashily,’ he said.

‘Why’s everyone talking funny?’ Hugh smiled. Then he sobered. ‘She’s still got after-effects. I should have thought of getting you to carry her before, and made a different plan at Darrex Palace. I wasn’t thinking too straight, though. Shall we go? At least my wings still work and don’t ache like all the rest of me. You lead. Anywhere warm and sheltered will do.’

‘You really like her, don’t you?’ mouthed the dog carefully round the blanket.

‘Now that I understand her, yes, I do. A lot.’

CHAPTER 33: Exodus, Exorcism and Eradication


he huge departing flock of Daoine would have created envy in migrating birds, or in bats swarming out of one of the biggest bat caves for their nightly hunt.  Fortunately, the winged ones greatly outnumbered those who were normally more down-to-earth, so each of the latter had many fliers available to take turns in transporting them, even with the extra burdens of provisions.

Nevertheless, a number of rest breaks were taken on the way, during which Chenia plied Dengana and Lusi with questions on their Dallent Island Palace experiences.

Evening was advancing by the time they reached the shield surrounding Dallent Island and the swarm settled where, not long ago, there had been a vast number of Crows.  

Of the twelve sentries who came to greet them, only Tisa was well known to Dengana and Lusi. She had a talent for being where things were happening. ‘Deng!’ she greeted in delight, and then did a double-take. ‘Highest Prince? I wondered ... And Tuza …? Tuza, too, ‘s a Highest!’

‘If he here, Cudew he would say, “Oh, Tuza, Tuza, Tuza!” to that,’ grinned Dengana, and Tisa stared at him doubtfully. It was clear she wasn’t familiar with cu, much less their senses of humour. Particularly when, in effecting introductions, he told Chenia she might regard Tisa as a tempting sample who could be irritating or a puzzle. Cudew was teaching him bad habits.

There was no need to notify anyone at the Palace. It was difficult not to have remarked the arrival of something obscuring such a lot of sky. It could be sensed that the magic shield had immediately been lifted, so the swarm took to the air again and settled all around the island.

The shield was resumed, Tisa’s companions returned to duty, and then Tisa led a group consisting of Dengana, Lusi, and Chenia to meet a beaming Higher Prince Dallent, accompanied by Demp and Tabbia among several others, at the main entrance. On the way, she asked eagerly about ‘Dew’ and a lot less eagerly about ‘Tyria’. They told her it was a long story but they hoped they would be joining them soon.

Dallent looked in approval, and Tabbia in some envy, at the vivid colours they had adopted as soon as they had been clear of any possible watcher at Drail Palace who might have missed locking themselves up.

‘I am delighted that you chose to rest here on your way to release in your Rings,’ Dallent said to Chenia. ‘It is sad that these Crows have forced you to leave in this way.’

He was quite appalled when told that the Crows had, in fact, entertained quite different plans for them.

‘Anyway,’ he said eagerly, looking out at the throng, ‘this will provide an opportunity for the biggest and best party Dallent Island Palace has ever seen.’


The valley at the base of the mountain still felt a bit chilly, so Cudew led Hugh a bit further to an even lower one, which did not have cloud cover. A herd of Earth-sized impala stampeded away as soon as they saw Cudew landing, but then stopped, stared, and resumed grazing not far away. Hugh took Tye out of her bundle, and sat her in the warmth of the late sunlight.

Urged by insistent squeaks from Pip, Hugh then picked some berries which were too large for the sprite to carry. 

‘Good choice, those,’ said Cudew. ‘Particularly sweet and nourishing.  Oh, you do make such a sweet pastoral picture of a very merry fairy berry-picker.’  

Hugh glared down at his dress, went scarlet, glanced to where Tye was out of sight, and ran some fingers over seams.  ‘Delivery service,’ he called to the grinning cu.

‘You  don’t just  change clothes; you exchange them,’ the dog remarked, returning with Hugh’s proper outfit and an even wider grin.

Hugh fed the berries to Tye bit-by-bit, as to a baby. Gradually she became less vague and confused in her appearance and actions, but didn’t make any attempt to enter into the conversation while Cudew brought them up-to-date with what had happened at Drail Palace.

‘No use even thinking of trying to join them, now,’ Hugh said. ‘We’d better try and find somewhere here to spend the night. Then, tomorrow, we’ll see.’

‘Don’t think it’s going to rain,’ said Cudew, sniffing, ‘so all we need is water and a soft spot.’

‘What about food for you?’ Hugh asked. ‘The rest of us can do nicely on these berries or fruit or whatever they are, but will you be able to hunt something?’

‘Oh yes; watch me.’ He stood up and elaborately stalked and pounced on what looked like an enormous mushroom, which he seized, shook savagely, and chewed to bits before gobbling it down. ‘See? I caught it!’ he grinned. ‘And, no, although we can, we cu seldom eat animals here. We’ve adapted to do perfectly well on plants that have protein.’

Tye had been staring fixedly at Hugh for some time. He had found it a trifle disconcerting. Suddenly she said, in a tone of great wonder, ‘I can completely, utterly, and without reservation trust you.’

Hugh had no idea how to respond to that, so he didn’t try.

She was silent for some time again, and then added abruptly, ‘And Dengana, too; I know that now.’

Hugh nodded. Dimly, he was aware that Pip had gone to perch on Cudew, and that the two of them had withdrawn themselves to one side, as if aware that this was something between Hugh and Tye alone.

Yet again she paused, and her voice changed to anger when she finally said, ‘Then why are most like that scum of a Derag, that I had to deal with so thoroughly, and that Dunge, and the others whose rotten festering minds were opened to us there, and like …?’ she tailed off, and some tears came to her eyes.

‘And, like your father,’ Hugh said bluntly, and she started back as if he had hit her.

‘I’m … not going to talk about … that,’ she said. ‘It doesn’t affect me any longer.’ The little sob she let out made it pretty certain that it did.

‘I’m no head-doctor,’ said Hugh, ‘but I do know that bottling this up is what has given an opening for creatures like that Terblia to build such a well of hatred and bitterness in you. They have forced you to think that all men are like your father, whom you adored and admired with all your heart until he tried to do something to you that was completely wrong. You wouldn’t let him, and you went berserk and hurt him - good! - but then he simply abandoned you and your mother as if he had never cared for either of you.’

Tye started to cry with deep, shuddering sobs.

‘Whether he is an evil man who had always put on a front, or whether he simply got sick in his mind, I don’t know,’ Hugh pressed on, ‘but such a betrayal was indeed an awful thing for you to suffer.’

He took a deep breath before continuing, ‘Now, you’ve recently had a barrage of being told that all males are despicable. Again, and again, building on your hurt and turning it into layer after layer of rage and loathing. You have also been exposed to all these Darxen men, and the whole lot of them seem to be as bad as your father, or even far worse. Couldn’t you sense, though, that every one of them has had his thinking twisted by this Cause thing?’

Tye went still for some time, apart from giving the occasional sniffle and nodding almost imperceptibly.

Then she said brokenly, ‘So males aren’t all … all like …’ She tailed off.

‘No, Tye dear,’ Hugh said gently. ‘Think of normal people like my dad. He isn’t unique. There are millions like him. He’s just a naturally good man, and I try to follow his example.’

‘Oh, Hugh,’ wailed Tye, and flung herself across to cry herself to exhaustion in his hug.


The planned party got seriously delayed. Dallent hadn’t even led them into the palace before Tergina let herself in through the barrier – to the consternation of the sentries – and came to join them, in a bit of a flap in more ways than one.

‘Hopeless, as far as that Barrier is concerned,’ she panted, ‘but more important, now, is that a detachment of the Lookout Ford division has been sent here, and will arrive in a matter of hours. Darrex must have sent orders soon after hearing that the other force was no longer attacking, and the messenger reached them while I was there. He stipulated that all of them be the most strongly dedicated Cause followers.’

Dallent obviously recognised her, but instantly managed get over the shock of seeing her behaving as an ally. ‘We’ll go and meet them,’ he snapped. ‘Demp, get orders out to everyone.’

‘They outnumber what I judge to be the force you have here by about two to one,’ Tergina warned.

‘Not ours, they don’t,’ Chenia said grimly, and they stared at her. ‘After all I have heard, particularly regarding the Dunn Palace atrocity, the time for playing about is over. They must be wiped out.’

Dengana nodded. ‘You right,’ he said. ‘Even if it possible I can fool them like Hugh … Dew he do with Dolk, and with Highest Princess and Paramount Princess they able to help also, it too much of risk.’

‘They are all Darxem or flying creatures? Coming directly from Lookout Ford?’ Tisa asked, and when Tergina nodded she said gleefully, ‘I know just the right forest we can use to launch a Dew-type ambush if we go fast enough.’

‘I wish we had some time to train my people,’ Chenia said worriedly. ‘Most of them would either have some idea of how to direct a blast or to support someone doing it, but only in theory. I don’t think a single one of them will actually have done it.’

A long-shot occurred to Lusi, remembering a gift so kindly offered by Drail for making lists and giving reports. ‘You have plenty-plenty of message stones?’ she asked Dallent.

He saw instantly where she was going on this. ‘We can create any number in no time at all,’ he said. ‘Who will say the instructions at them?’

‘My job, I think,’ Tergina said. ‘As well as giving basics and tactical instructions, I can suggest some refinements that can be used at prince or princess level and above, and also ways of strengthening support from those below.’

A very short time afterwards, she was talking earnestly and at length to a large pile of small pebbles, while all over the palace and on the island Darxem and Daoine were being organised into small fighting groups. Each totalled twenty-five, being four subdivisions of six including a leader, plus one overall leader.

This, Tergina had told them, gave the potential for a number of different permutations in firepower: from a spread of twenty-five at the varying strengths of the individuals, to four plus the overall leader’s strength being added wherever seemed best, to two plus the same, or to one directed by the overall leader with backing from everyone else. Shielding and trace-blocking could be worked into that mix in any number of ways.

Amazingly soon afterwards, a mobile combat school was winging its way towards the spot where the surprise party, as a replacement for the palace party, had been planned to take place. They were flying in clumps so as to listen to stones talking to them.

Then, the forest proved to be comfortably large enough to swallow up the whole enormous school invisibly, while classes continued unabated on the ground.

A long twilight had set in, and Tergina remained confident that these Crows would be sufficiently fanatical not to stop until they were camped at the gates of Dallent Island Palace. Her judgment turned out to be correct, and it was not long after they had got into position when the mass of particularly dull and dingy Darxds and sundry winged pets began flying over the trees. They clearly had a highly active scouting force - some active really high, in fact - so it had been wise for the ambushers not to leave any scouts of their own in the air.

A single observer hidden in the highest tree - Trona had again been chosen for such duty - gave signals to those watching her from below as soon as she spotted the advancing black cloud, and these spread like a breeze fanning across a field of wheat. Classes were out, and everyone started sending signals which would give assurances to any trace, ‘There’s nothing here but us trees.’

As soon as the advancing force had flown over the outermost part of the forest, a group consisting mainly of Dallent Island Palace Darxem rose up behind them at maximum speed, in a half-circle formation. It had been felt that for the best effect the first strike should come from those with actual combat experience. Dallent and Trona were in the centre of this, with Tisa at the crescent point on the one side and Tabbia on the other.

At the instant that high scouts were trying to give the alarm, Dallent gave a signal. His group stopped projecting trace-blockers and projected blasts instead. The magic mowed down the Crows at the back, and then many who had been in front of them, and after that many who had been in front of them. In the same instant, the bulk of Daoine concealed in the trees below started blasting straight upwards, using full twenty-five calibre blasts to overcome the distance.

The Crows had kindly flown almost exactly over the part where good foresight had placed most of the concealed force, and members concealed out of range on either side of them now flew up to close in from the sides. They kept well below the Crow group, so that the blasts they sent would be angled upwards and have no risk of striking their own members on the far side.

Many of the Crows now began directing blasts back or downward at the ambushers, but most of them were from individuals and the distance was too great for them to do any harm. The greatest hazard to the Daoine still hidden directly below became Crow bodies that hadn’t faded by the time they got to treetop level.

Once they had been over-flown, the Daoine came up to pursue at just above treetop height, continuing to send beams of magic from a lower level than the Dallent-group crescent.

There were special task forces of Daoine to deal with the giant flying-lizard darxtyls and other magic-proofed creatures. Particularly with the darxtyls, their size made them cumbersome flyers, and it was fairly easy to dodge and outmanoeuvre them. Teams encircled them to place the strongest possible shield round them. If they stayed in that shield, they were rendered harmless. If they used up their magic-proofing to break free, they were blasted by blasting specialists and/or those from the ground.

By now the Crow Darxds had realised that returning fire was not doing them much good, and were concentrating on shielding. Again, those who tried doing this individually simply had their protection swept aside by the stronger ‘group’ magic.


Everyone had thought that these tactics and the sheer numbers on their side would have been sufficient, but Tergina had included a ‘sand-trap’ at the end of the braking (or breaking) area, just to be on the safe side.

This was just as well.

She and Lusi and Dengana at the furthest part of the ambushing force had to lead a final group of Dallent veterans to rise against a Highest Prince who was at the head of a solidly-shielded and formidably-blasting group now well beyond the last of the concealed Daoine. They had done a lot of damage to the ambushers in their transit.

‘Lusi, we go together, now!’ said Dengana, and in an instant they dropped shields and gave a coordinated blast at the Darxds. Fortunately they replaced the shields an instant later. Not only had their blast failed to penetrate, but an answering one came immediately which severely rocked them.

Tergina zoomed ahead of them towards the Highest Prince group and said, ‘Try this, then.’ With that, she directed a glarespell which turned his group’s shield into a fizzle, and he and his cronies into another.

After that, the mopping-up of the remnants was a mere formality. It had to be done down to the very last Crow, because none of them tried to surrender or flee, or stopped trying.

As soon as that housekeeping had been completed, Dallent met up with them, Tabbia and Tisa closed from either side, and Demp and Chenia flew up from below. Dallent beamed at all of them. ‘Let’s go and have our party,’ he said happily.

CHAPTER 34: Catching Up and Planning


s soon as they found a spot nearby that boasted Cudew’s recommended benefits of water and softness, Hugh carried Tye there despite her protests that she was fine. He could tell she was still far from being that.

The long twilight showed signs that it would turn into a clear but chilly night. ‘Keep yourself wrapped in the blanket,’ Hugh urged. ‘I don’t know when a person is safe from a relapse, and I don’t want to take any risks.’

‘Don’t be silly; we’ll share the blanket,’ Tye said.

‘Of course, Hugh has a particularly large hot-water-bottle,’ Cudew grinned. ‘If you’re very nice to him, he may let you share that, too.’

‘Can I share your little one, as well?’ Hugh smiled. ‘It’s a lot softer than mine.’

‘Do you think we’ll let him, Pip?’ Tye asked.

‘Yip,’ said Pip, and went for a brief snuggle against Hugh.

Soon Cudew was curled up, providing more than enough warmth to a blanket with Hugh, Tye and Pip in it which rested against his body. Hugh knew Tye must need sleep, but for some time she insisted on talking instead.

‘I can’t believe I let myself be poisoned to such an extent that I was even prepared to kill you and Dengana,’ she said miserably. ‘That Terblia is dreadful – oh, I know now she isn’t the real one of that name, but I have no idea who – or for that matter, even what - she really is. There is something really weird about her.’

‘We’ll have to call her that until we know better,’ Hugh agreed. ‘During that mind meltdown, I did get that she wasn’t actually Darp’s sister, and that she had in fact killed him and the real Terblia, and also that she is filled with more evil than I ever thought there could be, but I still don’t know much more than that.’

‘She was so set on getting to that meeting with His Greatestness,’ said Tye. ‘She said it was an amazingly lucky chance, and we had to grab it no matter what the cost. Even Derag,’ and he could feel her shudder.

Hugh was scared to ask, but did anyway.

‘Oh,’ said Tye nonchalantly, ‘I did everything he asked me to, like bring him nectar and straighten the carpet and stupid stuff like that, but he didn’t know I had a handy little spell on him making him unable to bring himself to touch me. It was driving him crazy. He suspected something, of course, but there was simply no way he could detect the magic.’

‘Wow,’ Hugh said weakly. ‘Oh, by the way you’ll be greatly distressed to know that Terblia fried Dunge from the inside out.’

‘How sad,’ said Tye. ‘Now, tell me; it’s starting to drive me nuts: how did you get yourselves and me out of there? I take it that after Terblia zapped me and Dunge, she and Tergina got away?’

‘Weird as you may find this,’ Hugh said, ‘Tergina is now an ex-Crow, an ally, and - dare I say it - a friend.’

At that, Tye wouldn’t let Hugh have any peace until he had given her an outline of all that had happened from the time she had left Dallent Island Palace to the present.

Finally, it was his turn to ask questions.

‘After that brainstorming session,’ he said, ‘there is a lot I now know, and I think there is a lot I know but don’t yet know I know it, but there is also still a lot I simply don’t know.

‘Well, you can’t say clearer than that, can you now?’ came in sarcastic tones from Cudew.

‘I thought you were sleeping, Cudew,’ laughed Tye ‘I can relate to it, actually. That’s how I feel myself.’

‘Sleeping?’ Cudew woofed indignantly. ‘With all this yapping? Not to mention the incidental causal assaults from sharp bits of both of you, wriggling about like that …’

‘Anyway,’ said Hugh, ignoring the cu. ‘When, how and why did you start getting so extra poisoned against us?’

‘Highest Queen Glorianne,’ replied Tye promptly. ‘She found the chance for quite a lot of confidential chat, first just after I had changed my clothes, and then even in front of your nose at the banquet. She told me that I had special talents and a particularly vital role to play in the task Aiennea was going to set us, and that she had been entrusted to let me know. She said that men had all become corrupt, and that action was being taken to correct it. Then she gave me veiled warnings about you. Borne out by all your dallying with the princess sisters, of course.’

‘I wasn’t dallying! I was just …’ Hugh spluttered.

‘Oh, I know,’ Tye interrupted. ‘In any case, she also said that messengers would be sent to me wherever possible to help me get to Darrex Palace, which it was important to reach as soon as I could.’

‘Messages?’ Hugh repeated blankly.

‘Yes, like the quick one I got from a Darxta I’d been told to meet in Ummango, who spoke to me near the shop – you remember, I went and bought the things? She said we should take the ridge to The Sad Ones and we’d get help.

‘Then, when you wouldn’t let us go that way, I waited at the top of the road leading down to Rhino Valley and sure enough another came to talk to me in a rush. She said I should go along with you and Dengana for the time being, but not take too long about getting to Darrex Palace – oh, and she told me to take the left-hand fork in the passage. Now that I think of it, I believe she was also trying to warn me to ignore the fear, but I didn’t get that part.’

‘I wondered how you’d guessed which fork,’ Hugh said.

A sudden memory struck him, and he added, ‘Pip had seen her, hadn’t he, but you left that bit out?’ and she nodded.

‘Then, I was constantly fighting myself while we were fighting Crows. I couldn’t help thinking that all we were doing was right, but it was still for the wrong people. Finally, when it came to the risk of getting trapped during a siege at Dallent Palace, I felt I simply had to get out of there.’

‘Did you use Lusi’s high-altitude trick?’ Hugh asked.

‘A bit. I also did a lot of fast zig-zagging to keep to farmlands and open places. Then I went straight to the inn near Dallent Palace – the same one you went to, I think? Almost immediately, I got a message to meet someone in some trees nearby, who turned out to be Terblia. She got me to ‘Highest-Princess’ myself, and we went straight to Darrex Palace where I was introduced as an old friend and as a suitable candidate for being a Paramount Princess.

‘I impressed the king and all the Highest Princes like anything by demonstrating some really nifty magic Terblia had shown me, not to mention Tergina also coming to my support, and I was in. After that, with Terblia jerking the reins, we did a lot of stuff I still don’t understand – like blasting a few men who really seemed to deserve it, and soft-talking some and threatening others. I think it was all about building ourselves into an ever-increasing position of power.

‘Then we went checking every now and again for some more Paramount Princess candidates who had been told to meet us down near His Greatestness’s rooms, of all places. Why they were going to be accommodated down there, I have no idea. The thing is, with Terblia, one didn’t ask for explanations.

‘Oh, and finally she told us that you and Dengana, and someone I now realise was Lusi, had become utterly rotten with the influence of the society, and were doing serious damage to what we were trying to achieve. We needed to get rid of you. She also said you’d come to kill me, but under the guise of a rescuer.

‘To me, it was a betrayal like … my father … all over again. And she worked on that. Somehow, she got me to tell her about it, and she kept saying it was only a small thing compared with what people like you - males, basically - are capable of.’

‘That person is vile,’ said Cudew. ‘I thought so, from the minute she arrived. Cudorge thought so, too, but Dorge wouldn’t listen.’

‘I should have taken notice of Pip,’ she agreed. ‘I believed her when she said Pip was just being jealous of our friendship.’

‘Yip,’ came in an indignant yip from under the blanket.

‘I’ve been thinking about these Interfaces and Conjunctions,’ Hugh mused sleepily after a long silence. ‘I’m starting to see them in different terms.’

Then he said, even more sleepily, ‘Actually quite a lot is coming into a slightly different focus. Do you think we are Adapting to having less reliance on our comparisons with things we know?’

‘I think you’re right.’ Tye yawned. ‘I have felt at times recently like a person who was born blind, now gradually introduced to sight, but not understanding the new things that are happening in their brains, so continuing to rely on the other senses. In fact, I …’

In fact, she … went to sleep. The other three already were.


The following morning, after a berry good breakfast and a good argument when Hugh refused to let Tye take a swim in the icy water of the nearby pond and threatened to tie her up in the blanket if she tried, there was yet a further argument. This took place when Hugh discovered that she still had a few indications of hypothermia after-effects, and refused to let her fly.

‘So you want me to walk?’ she snapped.

‘Yoo-hoo, I’m a cu wot flew!’ Cudew said.

‘Oh,’ said Tye. ‘You mean I orter flew wif you?’

‘Ooh; I do, I do,’ grinned the dog.

‘Idiots!’ said Hugh. ‘Here’s a question for you: why does Tye tend to get so irritable?’

The cu fell into the trap. ‘Why?’

‘She’s Tye-tend up because she’s so irri-Tye-ted and up-Tye-t, and needs to loosen up!’ Hugh replied triumphantly. Cudew groaned, but it was his own fault. He was having an increasingly bad influence on everyone.

Soon they were on their way towards Dallent Island Palace with Tye clinging onto Cudew’s back. comfortably clear of the wings,


When they reached the lake no sentries appeared, so they let themselves in through the barrier. It was elementary stuff compared with what Hugh had handled lately.

 The island, and the whole palace as well, gave clear signs of The Morning After The Night Before. It had, indeed, been a party beyond even Dallent’s wildest dreams, and a great number of potent nectars had induced many of the wildest dreams for the party to be beyond.

Dallent Island had wall-to-wall, or shore-to-shore, Daoine on it, surrounding the palace. The whole hillside was covered, and their colourful bodies were even draped over every tree and shrub.

The visitors let themselves into the palace shield as well, and went to the Great Dining Hall, which had become rather a home from home for them when they had last been here.

Eager and amazed greetings were given by the smattering of still bright-eyed Darxem twirling around the room while enjoying a late breakfast or an early lunch. They goggled a lot at the huge cu, who took up a position on the central floor and sat watching the whirling tables in great fascination, helping himself from one or another of them from time to time. Actually, some of those present hadn’t paused to goggle, but had simply left at speed as soon as they saw him.

Hugh and Tye seated themselves at Dallent’s table while Pip was seated on it, periodically flying to get a special delicacy from other parts of it or from other passing ones. All of them enjoyed having some processed food like bread again, to supplement their diet of berries.

Dallent, Demp, Dengana, Lusi, Tergina, Tabbia Tisa and Chenia returned from checking on the (mainly draped or dysfunctional) dispositions of Daoine, and entered in a group to stare at the wolfhound and then at the pair-plus-sprite at the table. Dengana, Lusi and Tergina assumed the nervous expressions of people who were wondering what sort of Tye had come into their midst.

They were quickly given some indication. She let out a cry of delight, and – literally – flew across to hug Dengana, who nearly fell over with shock, and then Lusi. She followed up by giving an enthusiastic one to Tergina, who was nearly as startled as Dengana.

‘Don’t leave me out,’ Dallent said jovially, but she only grinned at him and went to resume her place.

When they were all seated, Tye was being stared at a lot, and she wiggled uncomfortably.

‘Let me tell all of you,’ Hugh said, ‘that Tye’s mind had been poisoned by that Terblia witch, and by others, far worse than her body was by the firespell and feverspell, and even a lot worse than Tergina’s had been. She’s bravely faced up to it and wrenched it out, but it will probably take quite a while for such a scar to heal. Give her space.’

Tye’s eyes welled with tears, and she spontaneously leaned across to plant a quick peck on his cheek.

‘Now,’ said Hugh, blushing a good deal, ‘anything exciting been happening around here?’

‘We have wonderful party. ’ Dengana responded.

‘What a party that was!’ Dallent interjected with stars in his eyes.  ‘The best yet!  The Daoine add such an element ...’

‘You had a party?’ repeated Hugh, taken aback. ‘That’s the news?’

Oh, and we wipe out big detachment of Crows they come from Lookout Ford,’ Dengana added casually. ‘Nothing else, much.’

Hugh and Tye both choked on their food, and performed a duet of coughing and spluttering.

After recovery, they listened enthralled to an account of the ambush, and Hugh was particularly taken with the ingenuity of arranging for a course of study to be taken en route.

When the tale was done, Tergina said, ‘Now I must tell you more about that barrier at Lookout blocking the Interface to the Rings. It is magic of a tantalisingly similar kind, in some ways, to the strongest stuff Terblia showed us, but not enough for me to get any sort of handle on it no matter how hard I tried.

‘How can I put it? Perhaps to say that it is to Terblia’s magic as a lion is when compared to a tiger. Although they are the same in many ways, they are still two completely different animals.

 ‘Then, I am convinced that it is made to fit one person only, as a kind of key. One thing I know is that it is not the sort of spell, like a normal shield, where greater strength against it is provided by greater numbers.’

She paused to do some delicacy-nibbling before summing up, ‘So, for the time being, at least, I can’t see benefit in any plan which relies on us being able to open one of those barriers.’

‘That only leaves two options,’ said Tye. ‘Either we have to find place to keep the Daoine in Darx safe indefinitely, and I’m afraid here won’t do for that …’

Dallent could not hide a look of relief – it was clear that while he enjoyed lots of guests, he didn’t want them permanently.  Even if they did add a ‘certain something’ to his parties.

‘… or, we need to find some way to trick His Greatestness or whoever to open an Interface barrier for us. Any ideas?’

‘You forget small detail,’ put in Dengana. ‘Even if open gate, it still got all the dogs they guard it – I sorry!’ The last part of this was addressed to Cudew, who was glaring at him. The cu had become frustrated at missing conversation when the speakers waltzed away from him, and had now managed to squeeze himself onto the revolving platform by removing several chairs and sitting tightly up against the table.

After a pause during which everyone searched for ideas but failed to find even a tiny one hiding anywhere, Lusi said, ‘I worry for Dallent Island Palace. Darrex he will now get greatly cross that armies they disappear or they go for walk in desert when they come here.’

‘One thing I’ve done,’ said Dallent, ‘is to send new scouts far and wide, but with orders to be a lot more careful than the ones who went to Dunn Palace. I am sure there are many groups like us, particularly to the east. We must somehow convince them of the need to form some sort of alliance to keep one another protected.’

Hugh nodded approvingly, and then turned to Tergina again and said, ‘Were the army at this Lookout place also using a lot of crecords and nasty creatures to be coordinated?’

She nodded. ‘The plains on either side of the river were packed with them. There were even some creatures I don’t even recognise, and I thought I had a pretty good idea of all the less pleasant Darxen ones. The armies have been scouring the countryside making collections, and gathering them at the Rifts and Interfaces.’

‘I wondered why there were clearly less creatures running wild in Darx than in the Rings, or even back … even than in the human lands,’ said Tye. ‘Terblia said that the Darxem had been killing them off, for sport or just out of carelessness.’

‘Plains? Why is it called Lookout, then?’ Hugh butted in.

‘That is true, to a point,’ Tergina responded to Tye, and to Hugh she said, ‘Three rivers plus an underground spring cause unexpected flash floods when there is rain up in the mountains. That is why people crossing the ford need to “look out” very carefully when the warning goes.’

‘I suppose,’ said Hugh slowly and thoughtfully, ‘that the warning operates by magic? From up in the mountains?’

‘Mmmmmmm…’ Tergina said. ‘Indeed so. I was wondering myself if any benefit could come from that, but it could be days, weeks or even months before another big one happens. Higher Prince Drik there actually boasted how quickly and efficiently they’d moved everything to higher ground in plenty of time a week or so back.’

‘It worth try,’ Dengana put in. ‘Make magic it still work for warning about small rain but stop for big one?’

‘That would be tricky,’ Dallent said doubtfully.

‘You really think so?’ Tabbia remarked. ‘Do you perhaps feel like a healthy excursion up into the mountains with me Tisa?’

‘Sounds wonderful. I think Trona might enjoy it as well, if it gives some “lookout” opportunities.’

‘I could do with some mountain air, too,’ said Demp.

Hugh laughed. ‘Won’t it be nice if the mountains get really wet really soon. I wish we could rely on that, but as we can’t, some other plan needs to be worked out for your people, Chenia. There is something buzzing around in my brain, but it won’t quite sett… hey! Wait a minute!’ He sat for some time, frozen into an expression as if he had just been jabbed with something sharp, while everyone stared at him.

‘You don’t have anything like the crecords, do you?’ he asked her finally.

‘No,’ Chenia said with a shudder. ‘Such manipulation would be repulsive to us.’

‘So you have no means to form or control group minds in creatures?’ Hugh persisted.

Again she shook her head. ‘We can communicate, of course, and our Higher Princes and Princesses can, in an emergency, cause such minds to come together so that we can try and guide groups away from disasters - like fire on Terra, for example - but it is often not effective. So, on the theme of fire, we can’t fight fire with fire as I imagine you had in mind?’

‘Pity,’ said Hugh. ‘Oh well. Plan B won’t work. Maybe back to Plan A.’

Then he frowned into the distance again for a while, ignoring the fact that the distance was blocked by walls. Finally he resumed, ‘Some glimmerings are coming. Let me check on a few of the facts in my mind. At Lookout Ford we have a magically locked Interface leading to Ding or Dong Rings. It has an army in between us and it, which may or may not be washed away depending on luck. Then the chances of opening the Interface are remote. Right so far?’

Chins bobbed up and down.

‘Now, at The Rhino, there is another Interface, leading to Safah Ring from the human world, er, Terra. That also has a similar magic barrier. This one is found through the Southern Rift, which is protected by some incredibly nasty magic coming from a tunnel to the side, but no actual barrier. Once through there, if the Rhino barrier proves impossible to lift, it is only an hour or so to fly across to Den… an Interface discovered by Deng between Terra and Safah Ring.’

‘One teensy-weensy little problem, there,’ said Tye, ‘is that in order to get to the Rift one has to get past the largest and nastiest army we’ve seen in all of Darx. There’s no way they’d ever fall for a Dolk-type bit of bluff.’

‘Details; details,’ said Hugh, suddenly looking smug and making a dismissive gesture.

CHAPTER 35: Stone Talk, Mind Matter, Prince-ess, So Close


nce the decision had been taken regarding where to get going to, it seemed a good idea to get the going started as soon as possible. Dallent had already recovered sufficiently from the night before to start talking wistfully about a farewell party, particularly as Hugh and Tye had missed the last one, but Hugh politely declined on behalf of everyone without consulting them.

Anyway, Demp, Tabbia, Tisa and Trona, plus Deam and Durrun, had already flown off to sample some mountain air. This somewhat reduced the number of those from their new circle of friends who would have been available to attend.

A lively discussion was held before departure, however, to decide the merits of heading directly for The Rift without trying to hide route or intentions in any way, and without worrying about who or what saw them, as opposed to taking a roundabout route and avoiding populated areas.

‘The longer we take messing about trying to be too clever,’ said Tergina, ‘the more time it gives for something to go wrong.’

‘Good point,’ said Hugh. ‘Still, by now it may have started to filter through to someone we’d prefer not to know about it that this was the direction we followed, so a continuation of the same one at a southwest angle might be an idea. That will take us, I gather, to a reasonably deserted area – the southern fringes of the Darx Desert, in fact - to camp for the night. Then tomorrow we fly sort-of south-south-east from there to the Southern Rift as quickly as we can, to do it in one day if possible.’

‘You have a really zigzaggy mind,’ Tye said a trifle acidly. Hugh could tell she was miffed about something. That was good news as far as her health returning to normal was concerned, but boded a bit ill for his peace and quiet.

She gave him continued peace and quiet while he asked to speak to everyone’s stones again and dragged Tergina along to help him. She was being kept busy with running a crash-course on some of Terblia’s simpler magic, all involved with doing nasty things to other people, for the benefit of Dengana, Lusi, Chenia, and a selection of Daoine princes and princesses. These included five High Princes, Ophid, Aran, Vespin, Lacer, and Murid, who had hitherto kept a surprisingly low profile. She might have guessed that, in Breena, they ranked just below Chenia.

She came up with Hugh as he was finishing talking to a whole lot of small round hard things on the far side of the lake.

‘… so as soon as it becomes clear that it isn’t working, groups are to put up maximum shielding and retreat all in different directions. When and if safe, then meet back at tonight’s camping spot, failing which Dallent Island Palace.’

‘You could say that your talk, there, was met with a stony silence,’ Cudew observed.

‘It about covers everything, one can think of, though,’ Tergina said, and called to a group of waiting Daoine to spread the piles of stones along the edge so that everyone could scoop one up on the way out. Then she took a look at the approaching Tye, and decided to be somewhere else.

So did Cudew. ‘See you later, if you survive,’ he remarked.

Hugh also looked about him desperately, as if seeking a hole to dive into.

‘Brother-to-be dearest,’ Tye began in a sickly sweet voice, ‘I would love to have someone on whom to test ingenious refinements of some really ouchy magic. If you carry on with your little custom of keeping me out of the picture in this intolerable know-it-all male way, guess who’s elected.’

‘Sorry; I didn’t mean to do that,’ Hugh said contritely. ‘Sort-of force of habit, I suppose.’

‘Well, get out of it!’ she exploded.

The effect was ruined by the fact that on this occasion, instead of snarling at him in sympathy with her, Pip, on her shoulder, was holding paws over ears. Hugh was apparently still too high in the sprite’s estimation for it to join in such condemnation. Tye didn’t notice this, and when Hugh giggled, his stock went down to rock bottom just before the stock of rocks started rising.

When they took to the air, she was in the group which flew with him, but whereas everyone’s stones were no longer silent, she was.

‘You got yelled at?’ Cudew called across.

‘I did,’ Hugh called back with a grin.

‘With a Tye rant, you’re facing a bit of a tyrant!’ grinned the dog.

That didn’t help.

‘Look, sister-to-be, dear,’ said Hugh sincerely, ‘I knew I’d get a chance to explain fully what I have in mind one-on-one during the flight. So I got on with doing the things I couldn’t have been doing now.’

That did.

‘I wish I hadn’t needed to drop out of Crecord Training Intro class at Darrex Palace,’ he began, ‘but that at least gave me a lot of food for thought …’


The two flew for some time near the head of the swarm, wings almost touching with Hugh doing a lot of talking. Then they flew further apart, while Tye listened to Hugh’s voice a lot more – only, this time, it was being sent by a stone to sound as if it came from just in front of her.

Finally, like most others on the flight, she began to wear an expression of absent concentration – or, to be perfectly frank, to look somewhat goofy. After some time she turned to Hugh and said crossly, as if it were his fault, ‘Nothing. Nix. Nada. Zilch. A big fat naught.’

‘I know,’ said Hugh. ‘I’m having the same, which is really frustrating, because I’ve had snatches of it often recently, as well as that full-on experience of mine.’ A sudden thought stuck him. ‘In fact, all four of us have, in a different form.’- by this time, Dengana and Lusi had directed their flight patterns closer to them. ‘Remember Ingwe? Surely it must be much the same sort of thing?’

‘But that, I find it would come to me, more than me I go to it,’ Lusi objected. ‘That is, I send shielded probe, and Ingwe he answer.’

‘It must be a question of focus, or tuning on the right frequencies, or something. I can’t understand why you are having any difficulty, Lusi.’ Hugh said. ‘Isn’t it the sort of thing you would do normally, as one of the Daoine?’

‘Not all of us make like this,’ Lusi said. ‘I do more the things like plants-they-grow-in-ground.’

At that moment, Chenia came zooming up to them. She had been buzzing here and there in the swarm like a mayfly, gathering information on progress. ‘Everyone doing amazingly,’ she said with a happy smile. ‘No trouble on individual ones, of course, and a great deal of success on the group ones. Ants are so useful for that, with there being so many of them everywhere.’

‘Ants?’ said Hugh absently, and then added an excited, ‘Wow!’

‘Don’t do that. You startled me,’ said Tye. ‘What?’

‘I’m getting them, I’m getting them! Hang on … yes, a big nest just a bit ahead of us … below us … behind us. That was amazing. I got a sense of the w  hole mass of individual little minds, and at the same time of one bigger one, made up of them, and with more kind-of general direction. Now, another one ahead to the left …’

‘I don’t get any of that,’ Cudew called from some distance away. It was amazing how far away his hearing could pick up conversations, interference from wind passage and all. ‘Maybe I’m just anti-ant antics. However, I have come across jackals, hyenas, wild dogs, and silver foxes. Now that I know what to look out for, the group mind of the wild dogs is particularly easy to pick out. Nice social bunch, that. I like them.’

Lusi tried ants, but got nowhere. She saw some birds to one side, staring in surprise at this sudden enormous flock, and wished she had the skill Avinia had shown with them. She wanted to connect in that way, to reassure them … and suddenly, she was.

‘Ants they coming to me, now,’ said Dengana. ‘Hau, yes. Now easy-easy ants come to me.’

‘As long as they aren’t in your pants,’ said Tye. ‘Why can’t I sense them? All I can … wait … what’s that?’

Then she said, in a tone of great satisfaction, ‘We are about to fly over a pride of lions. You will note that they won’t be - aren’t - weren’t - at all startled at the sight of the cloud of us, because I’d told them there was nothing to be worried about.’

‘Whoop!’ said Hugh. ‘I think she’s got it!’

The Rain in Spain,’ grinned Dengana, at which Lusi, Cudew, and a selection of High Princes within earshot looked bewildered. The explanation that it was a song from a musical he had viewed at school would not have helped.

Not long after, Hugh got excited again when, while prospecting for ants, he discovered something that gave him far more of a buzz. This was a particularly large colony of wasps, and he managed to get a really clear impression of their ‘mind’. He even knew that they were the ‘yellow jacket’ types. Soon after that he came across a colony of hornets. Soon he was concentrating mainly on sensing colonising-type winged insects of the stinging kind, and ants only when no flying types were sensed.


Chenia had the foresight to get everyone to gather some gourd-like dried seedpods during rest periods on the ground. When they reached a river near to where some rugged mountains marked the edges of the Darx Desert, she urged all of them to fill them and to have a good drink. This was just as well. After that, as they angled their way into the desert, there were no signs of water at all.

‘I’ve spread the message that everyone is to use the supply sparingly,’ she told Hugh and the others during one of the brief times she was back in their group, ‘because during the first part of tomorrow’s journey towards the Rift, there still won’t be any.’ She glared at Cudew and added, ‘Don’t you even think of saying something like, “Water pity,” or you’ll be in trouble!’

‘Wouldn’t dream of it,’ Cudew assured her insincerely. ‘Goodness, you’ve had a flight-fully busy time of it. You must have been on the wing – and with the wings on you of course - for three times the distance of any of the rest of us.’

The evening rations were sparse, and although a surface consisting mainly of soft sand gave quite comfortable beds, it wasn’t all that comfortable when small bits of bed crept into clothing or even into eyes, ears, nose and mouth if given half a chance.

‘Everyone is meeting the challenge wonderfully. After adding another good bit of practice tomorrow they should be as ready as they can get,’ Tergina said a short time before they gave the grains of sand opportunities to trespass. ‘Are you sure that army outnumbers us by that much? It must be enormous.’

‘It can’t be believed until one actually sees it for oneself,’ Tye confirmed. ‘It really is huge. That is no small valley, and it completely fills it.’

‘We have no choice but to go ahead,’ Tergina sighed, ‘but to be completely honest our chances are frighteningly slim.’

Hugh found it disturbing to hear such a blunt assessment from someone not inclined to be  negative.  After a pause for thought he put in, ‘You know, despite what you said earlier about Dennet not being as easy to fool as Dolk was, I can’t help wondering if it isn’t worth a try. He and his men shouldn’t have fallen for our trick to find out what was going on, but they did.’

‘It close thing, though,’ Dengana said.

‘Only because Tye pushed it,’ Hugh said, and got glared at. ‘Think of it: Dengana and I go there now revealing that we are Highest Princes and accompanied by two Paramount Princesses, one of whom is a sister to the Highest King himself, plus another Highest Princess.’

‘You left out the small detail of having a cu present to look down on them and give them a small feeling of discomfort,’ Cudew remarked.

‘Quite so. Anyway, we have come to lead the Daoine to return to their own homes. His Greatestness does not wish to bother with opening the barrier unless it becomes necessary to invade, but is expecting surrender anyway. Therefore, the Daoine are to go through the Rift and then find their way back home via Terra to spread the news of how futile resistance would be. Surely that makes sense?’

‘If put that way, it does,’ Tye admitted. ‘I still have a really nasty feeling about it, though. There is a fair chance that news of the latest developments at Darrex Palace has found its way to Dennet, which would land us straight in the moo-poo.’

‘This is true,’ Dengana said. ‘Is pity we not have spare Darxd prince he fly ahead fast-fast and he snoop.’ He thought for a minute and added, ‘But, if I am staying out of way of all those they have seen me before …?’

‘I am thinking of part of story for Hugh and Tye which Cudew he tell us which make Hugh he get embarrassed’ Lusi said with a devilish smile. ‘Maybe you, me, we make me into prince.’


Before they set out the next morning, Lusi insisted on putting her idea to the test. She shed her dress in an instant, and held it towards Dengana. ‘Give to me your clothes,’ she demanded.

With the greatest reluctance, Dengana did as she asked. With even greater reluctance, he put on her dress while everyone tried desperately not to giggle. Actually, he made a far more convincing princess than Hugh had done, and to their surprise Lusi looked quite reasonably prince-like in his clothing. Their short hairstyles were similar, and with a permanent scowl in place her features didn’t look too feminine.

She didn’t give anyone a chance to debate the issue but took off immediately and started to use all her skill to gain height. To her delight, she was able to get some tips from the minds of an eagle and some other high-flyers, which directed her into an ideal airstream for the direction she wanted. Soon she overtook the Daoine flock, who had got well ahead of her while she was concentrating on getting height, and soon left them far behind.

All her water had been used up, and when she saw the first little river after leaving the desert it took all her willpower to stay up there. She bolstered herself up with visions of a little glade with a stream which she thought she remembered seeing on the other side of the hill during her hasty flight away from the Rift.

It was as she had envisaged it – actually it was the same one Hugh, Dengana and Tye had used to recover from valley views. She was sensible enough to sip gently for a while instead of giving in to her urge to gulp and gulp and gulp. Thirst attended to, she flew to the summit and peered down into the seething scene in the valley. ‘I have need to find something to mix in with,’ she said to herself, and then noticed an air transport company approaching. This consisted of many sets of four to six Darxds, including a few princes, suspending large leaves between them piled with head-sized berries. A perfect opportunity arose from the near-decline of one load, when Lusi flew up to snatch at the gaping part in the nick of time. She then arrived as part of a grumbling set of foragers.

‘Further and further,’ said one. At this rate, there soon won’t be a berry left within a day’s travel of us.’

‘Our hardship in the cause of The Cause is, of course, for the benefit of all, but I do wish the benefit would hurry up a bit,’ came from another.

Yet another snatch, which made her shudder, was, ‘Have you seen these gaxen they’ve brought in? You haven’t? Look like little elephants, but their trunk part blows out poisoned air that shrivels one up. I’d hate to be posted anywhere near them.’

After helping dump their load on a pile inside one of the domes, she drifted out as many were doing, hoping for a snippet of conversation which would tell her what she wanted to know. One finally came from behind some bushes.

‘I heard a High Prince from Drogre Division say that the Higher Prince is surprised there has been no news from Darrex Palace since they sent that Drek from Darx Artz to get himself sucked up. He said he hopes they haven’t forgotten about us stuck out here in this …’

The unseen speaker’s voice faded, but she had heard enough.

‘Mission it accomplished,’ she said gleefully. ‘Now I slip out and I tell to the others.’

In the process of doing the slipping, she found her heart skipping a beat when a voice behind her said, ‘Dore; isn’t that the Higher Prince that you brought round to inspect my crecords – ?’

Foolishly, she turned her head, to see two princes regarding her with suspicion. Then the voice of the one who had spoken went on, ‘Oh, no, only a prince, actually, and quite different.’


Of course, Lusi returned to the glade for a brief rest and another drink. By now, it could be said that the five of them (including Pip) had assumed squatters’ rights over it. Then she flew back to intercept the others, and had not gone far before she saw their moving cloud.

They all landed as soon as they spotted her, and she told them what she had discovered, while Dengana eagerly claimed his clothes back and she reverted to princess. Dengana was directing murderous looks at Cudew, who had found his garb gave any amount of wonderful ammunition for the sort of humorous comment started when Hugh wore that style.

‘So we go for it; right?’ Hugh said. Everyone nodded, so the swarm swarmed again.

They arrived at speed, and low. One minute the hilltop overlooking the valley was clear, and the next it was covered in a long line of Daoine, with the rest settled on the slopes behind. Sentries simply hadn’t registered the approach until they were really close. Sometimes, when something is unexpected enough, the brain refuses to accept the evidence of the eyes. It is what happens when someone looks to left and right for cars before crossing a road, and then steps straight in front of a massive item of construction machinery.

The agreed party of two Highest Princes, two Paramount Princesses, one Highest Princess, one cu, and one invisible sprite, flew across to the dome of Dennet, where they landed. Hugh kicked the proceedings off by having a rant about sentries who would allow what could have been an entire enemy army to land on their doorsteps, while Dennet and all his cronies squirmed.

Then, the play went perfectly according to the script. Hugh and Dengana, as main spokesmen, told of the plan for the Daoine, while Tye and Tergina threw in casual supporting remarks about personal meetings they had all enjoyed with His Greatestness in the company of Highest King Darrex.

This was all lapped up by the audience.

Then Hugh moved confidently to specifics. ‘You will need to clear the valley immediately below the Rift,’ he said, ‘so that the Daoine can wait there and fly up in batches to enter the tunnel. It is going to take some considerable time to get all of them through, particularly if some create a bottleneck by going into panic regarding the old magic. Now, next …’

At this point there was an interruption. A Higher Prince flew in, and stared disbelievingly at Hugh and his group.

‘Ah, thank you for joining us so promptly, Dolk,’ said Dennet. ‘I thought it would be of benefit to you to attend this meeting. May I introduce …’

Dolk gaped at them. ‘I do know Her Highestness Princess Tergina …’ he interrupted, reaching behind him to clutch at where his wing had been injured. It looked perfectly healed, but still appeared to be paining him.

‘Now Paramount Princess,’ Dennet corrected importantly.

‘… and these happen to be the Highest Princes who sent me here,’ he said glancing at Hugh and Dengana.

‘Not surprising,’ nodded Dennet.

Then Dolk’s gaze settled on Hugh, and he clutched yet again at his wing, with a look of total shock.

‘It’s him – he did it!’ he shouted, spittle spraying from his mouth in his excitement. ‘I put a magic trace on whoever caused my wound while I was on my way here, and he’s the one!’

Dennet was a quick thinker.

‘Seize them!’ he ordered, and directed a paralysing blast at Hugh.

CHAPTER 36: Revolting Conflict


lan B!’ yelled Hugh, shielding in the nick of time.

Immediately, the rest also put up shields, with Tergina and Tye inserting all their best refinements. An instant later, they took off in a bunch. Magic to do the ‘seizing’, instantly created by a well-disciplined group of Crow dome-sentries, bounced off. So did a blast from Dolk intended to do a lot more than seize.

A further series of blasts directed at them while they flew away were remarkably well-coordinated, considering that Dennet’s group had received no warning or time for preparation. The shields still held up, though, and the entire group reached the hilltop unscathed.

Dennet pointed to the Daoine on the skyline there. ‘Kill all of them!’ he ordered.

Again, the response was incredibly fast, and blasts immediately started from the area of Dennet’s dome, spreading to come from more and more areas as others in the vast camp realised what was happening or received the orders.

The Daoine had either created refined shields or ducked behind the hill, however, the instant Hugh had taken off. Those who had found the knack also sent back some well-focussed twenty-fiver blasts which utterly destroyed any Crow shield they came up against. This, as Hugh had hoped would happen, gave the valley Crows pause about the wisdom of relying on such a direct plan of action.

‘Stop wasting magic on blasts; concentrate on shields!’ Dennet ordered. ‘Now, crecords, commence mass attack!’

He had hardly spoken before a seething mass of creatures from all over the valley began advancing on the hill. His magic communications were remarkably good.

Creatures able to advance the fastest were, of course, the flying ones. A formidable mob of rhaxen were sent ahead of wasps and hornets so as not to tangle the two types up. Dengana, Tye, Lusi and Tergina flew forward temptingly with reflective shields up, but not a single rhax glared at them.

Murid, who was a ‘batty’ Daoine Higher Prince, called out urgently, ‘They have been warned not to use their glarespell on Highests!’

‘Leave it to me,’ Cudew said happily, and flew out at them. Hundreds of glares were promptly focussed on him – there was a lot of him to focus on. Hundreds of glarers tumbled.

The four Highests shrugged, stopped wasting their time, and turned attention to other matters.

It was clear that the possibility of a dog using Highest magic had not occurred to either rhaxen-crecords or rhaxen themselves, and both were clearly fans of the maxim of ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,’ rather than ‘try something else’. More and more rhaxen rays shot at Cudew. More and more rhaxen rays writhed, flickered, and died. More and more rhaxen writhed and died, but fell out of the sky instead of flickering.

Meanwhile Hugh was focussing on the terrifying swarms of hornets and wasps which were on their way. Although the insects would be no match for the shields at first, the sheer numbers of them would erode the efficiency of the screens and eventually break them down.

To his elation, he almost immediately managed to pick up the voices of the crecords as well as the ‘minds’ those voices were directed towards. It was similar to his Field of Bees experience, but he now had a far better idea of what was going on and what to do.

The crecords were whipping the insects into a frenzy of rage against everything on the hilltop. ‘Danger, enemy, nest-destroyers, sting, sting, sting!’ they were projecting. Unlike with the bees, Hugh made no attempt to calm them. Instead, he turned his efforts towards refocusing their fury.

First, however, he gave a mental blast at the crecords – in effect, a shout of, ‘Get out of here!’ Following that alone, he could sense that the weaker ones simply weren’t there any more, and that the control of the stronger ones had been shaken.

Now, in order to communicate with the insects, he had to adjust his own thinking to theirs. He had to use the connection to sense each individual mind, and then go back through those minds to that of the group. Only then could he start communications to that mind which would filter back down to each individual one. Then, everything he projected to them needed to be in a series of images expressed in their own terms of reference.

He hadn’t needed to reason this out; somehow he just knew that this was the way it worked. It was confirmed when he found himself joined in the communication by Daoine led by Higher Prince Vespin, who showed himself to be completely satisfied to leave the main thrust to Hugh. In effect, though, from that time on they were putting a group message to the group mind.

Put into words, the essence of what they began to convey was on the lines of: ‘Yes, you are threatened. Not by those up there, though. They have done nothing threatening. Nor do they have any intention to do anything threatening to you other than in defending themselves. They have come without disturbing you, and they will go away soon without disturbing you.

‘In fact, the ones you are truly threatened by are those you are now flying away from. It is they who have been keeping you as prisoners in this place. It is they who tell you when to move and when not to move, and when and where to eat and sleep. It is they who are using you to fight their battles for them.

‘If you rid yourselves of them, you will be free. The ones you are now being goaded to attack will not try to take over and tell you what to do, just as we are not ordering you to do anything at this moment. When you are rid of them you will be free to fly where you please, feed where you please and nest where you please. Look deeply into our minds and see that this is the truth.’

The massive swarms had slowed right down, or were hovering.

Hysterical and unconvincing messages were coming from the crecords still in contact which, put into words, were on the lines of, ‘No, no, take no heed! Do not listen to this. It is false. Attack, attack! Danger, nest-destroyers, insect-murderers, you must kill all of them, now! Kill, kill, and kill!’

Hugh alone delivered the final message, sent deliberately calmly and low-key, amounting to: ‘Your choice is between continued slavery, or taking back your freedom.’

All swarms were now hovering or milling about roughly midway between the Crows in the valley and the Daoine on the hilltop. Now the thought which could be sensed as coming to the forefront of the group mind was, ‘Kill for freedom, kill for freedom, sting, sting, sting!’

As one, the insects suddenly burst into movement back towards the Crows in general and the crecords in particular. Some crecords still desperately tried to resume control, but most simply weren’t in the group minds any more. The individuals were too busy putting up shields, or running for it, or both.

Nothing they did helped. The insects were simply too many and too determined. Shields were swarmed at until they broke down, and then the stinging would start. The insects ‘knew’ their crecords, so no amount of running or hiding helped. Even taking refuge in domes was of no use; the wasps or hornets or bees still found their way in, somehow.

Then, after all the flying-stinging-insect-crecords had been exterminated, any Crow in sight became the target.

Higher Prince Murid, the Daoine bat expert, had in the meantime led a team which did something quite similar with the rhaxen and a few related species. He had pointed out to them that it was their crecords who had brought them to an attack where so many of them had already been wiped out, and that the Crows were their true enemies. Once it was made clear to them, they were quick to grasp that they had lost their freedom, and they were eager to regain it. After enough of them had glared at their former crecords, they also flew off to glare to good effect at any Crow Darxds below the rank of Highest Prince (that bit of education they had received as slaves still made sense to them) which, of course, meant every one of them in the area.

‘If you’ve finished with your stingy thingies,’ Tye said sharply to Hugh, ‘we could use a hand with some more normal stuff.  Crows are trying flying attacks on the Daoine, They have broken down a few shields, and are causing casualties.’

‘Right,’ Hugh said. He and Cudew, who was eager to have something to do now that he was no longer needed as a cause of rhaxen suicides, moved to a point on the eastern part of the hill where some princely Crows were directing a barrage at the Daoine shield in that part. The two of them coordinated a blast which included some of the Tergina refinements, but rather annoyingly it didn’t quite get through the Crows’ shield.

Then Tye came up with them and casually blew it apart.  ‘If you want a job done …’ she sighed.

In fact, it had become frustrating to Hugh, Dengana and Cudew that many of the more potent examples of Tergina’s spells, which Tye and Lusi had been able to learn quickly and easily and handle most efficiently, remained outside of their grasp. As Cudew said, ‘Those really vicious ones apparently need the sweet and gentle touch of a female.’

‘I’m going to go and help reason with that mass of army ants, instead,’ Hugh decided. They had struck him as being similar to bees and wasps in the way he could relate to them.

Cudew ‘sat in’ on that session for a while, but soon decided ants weren’t something on his wavelength. Then he was thrilled to discover that the Crows had formed a quite unnaturally large pack of wild dogs. At individual level, each member was happy to follow the pack, but at group mind level he found little difficulty in getting them to adopt the idea of freedom over behaving like lapdogs. The ‘lapdog’ image wasn’t all that appropriate, actually, but it served better in getting the message across than ‘hunting dogs’ would have done.

Now, many different Daoine specialists were having success with numbers of the other crecord-directed horrors. A petrifying mass of darxtyls, with their huge size, deadly claws and teeth, and immunity from magic, were educated by a group led by Higher Prince Lacer. His team also redirected a group of more normal-sized, but deadly poisonous, lizards.

Another team of princes was dealing with brackles. Hugh and his friends had seen these before as large and intimidating hedgehog-type creatures, but it now transpired that their special skill lay in being able to shoot poisonous spines in any direction, which would home in on the target no matter how much dodging or hiding behind things the poor victim might try. The spines had a nasty ability to go through all but the strongest shields, too.

Higher Prince Ophid did snakes, and Aran’s team talked to spiders. Lusi joined one which persuaded a group of predator birds that what they were doing needed some rethinking.

Hugh was watching a mass of ants seething back in the direction of the Crow camp with a good deal of satisfaction, when Tergina clutched his arm and said, ‘We’re going to have a major problem, with those,’ and she pointed down the valley to where a solid pack of enormous drogres were starting to plod towards the hill from the direction of their oversize dome-tents. ‘Once their shields are in place, they are indestructible.’

‘I wonder …’ said Hugh, and tried some particularly probing probes. ‘You know, I think I almost got something, there. Amazing though it may be, I think that drogres also have some sort of group mind, and the Crows have been able to get at it. Maybe if a couple of us probe together?’

When Tergina joined him, they could tell that he had been right, but no more than that. With Dengana added, some areas became clearer, but others more obscured.

The drogres were more than half-way up, now, and things were looking serious. Then, Hugh managed to divert Tye as she was on her way past them heading for another hot spot, and they brought her in, leaving it to someone else to provide cooling equipment.

Straight away, they could focus more on this mind and sense what appeared to be a really large group of Crows using some of the usual urgings on it: ‘Enemy at top of hill; kill, crush; eat.’

The form of communication seemed to be largely verbal, and somehow Hugh was elected as their own spokesman. He decided to skip the ‘freedom’ tack for now, in favour of, ‘You are being driven by those on the losing side. If you turn round and look, you will see that your allies in The Cause are all being destroyed, as you will be unless you can keep your shields up forever.’

Desperate denials came from the control team, but the drogres stopped, turned around, and saw for themselves how Crows on all sides were being bitten, stung, torn apart, crushed, ripped, blasted, breathed at poisonously by gaxen, or having the magic of creatures like rhaxen or brackles used against them.

Suddenly, that group mind could no longer be traced. The drogres lumbered back down the hill again, and as soon as they reached the bottom started snacking on any Crows who hadn’t left that locality quickly enough.

Leaving the locality was only a temporary means of averting doom, anyway. One way or another, all the former pets had decided that they were not going to run the slightest risk of being petted again. They were hunting down fleeing Crows on the ground, in the air, and even hauling some enterprising ones from the river, where they had submerged themselves using hollow reeds for breathing.

Among the last to depart was Dennet, with all the most senior princes including Dolk - but not Dore, who was already no more. He had been in the thick of trying to hold his creature coordinators together when a good number of the creatures they were trying to coordinate became uncoordinated, and then re-coordinated themselves into effective crecord eradication parties.

The Dennet group decided to make a dash for the Rift, where they perhaps hoped they could shake off pursuit at the ‘old magic’ intersection. They didn’t make it, but instead became involved in a fight. This wasn’t them fighting against anything, though. They were the ones fought over, by a large number of darxtyls all vying for the pleasure of tearing them to pieces.

CHAPTER 37: The Rift and Two Interfaces


 wonder how long it will take for this little menagerie to spread out a bit?’ Hugh wondered, as they stared into a valley filled with all sorts of creatures except Darxem.

‘Not long,’ said Chenia. ‘My people are suggesting to them that those that can carry food take some from the supplies and start moving, and those unable to do so should eat all they can before they set off. They are not going to find much to sustain them in this vicinity for a while.’

 ‘What an awful loss of life, just because of one bit of trace magic put on a wing,’ Tye commented.

‘How did he do that, do you think?’ Hugh asked.

‘Straightforward stuff,’ Tergina said. ‘Some remnants of the magic you used would still have been there. He just had to lock a tiny part of it in, together with some of his own to make it respond if he looked at the originator of it.’

‘I wonder,’ said Tye, ‘if we could still have bluffed our way through, even then?’

‘Or whether their thinking it ever could have come straight?’ Lusi wondered.

‘Not a chance, on both counts,’ Tergina said with confidence. ‘Anyway, we’d better get on with taking everyone through the Rift. It’s going to be a slow business, with the valley as somewhere that it is better to be out of for now. I suppose the best way is to let batches fly across only when they can see space enough to wait on the hillside outside the entrance for their turn to go through. We’d better get the non-flyers carried across, first.’

‘The Higher Princes can organise and oversee that,’ Chenia said, ‘but I want to go through with Hugh and Cudew and Tye and Lusi and Dengana. I suppose you’ll be going first, as you’ve been through before?’

‘I want to be in the first party, too,’ said Tergina.

The others looked at one another. ‘Do you think we should explain …’ Tye began.

‘Maybe it is time,’ Hugh agreed, and they told the two everything about their origins they didn’t already know.

‘This is going to be interesting,’ Tergina remarked.

That was putting it mildly.


‘Again, I hadn’t really thought this through properly …’ Hugh confessed, as they left the entrance of the Rift passage behind them, and lights obligingly came on.

Cudew grinned. ‘You mean, you hadn’t thought through what we might go through when we get through?’

Hugh groaned at him and continued, ‘Soon, now, Tye, Dengana and I will start Adapting back to humans, and I presume Cudew will lose his wings – although maybe not, with the way Pip keeps magical qualities in the human world. Lusi will probably return to being Daoine. Why are we walking now, by the way?’

‘To do what we’re doing now; have a talk,’ Tergina said, glancing back to where Higher Prince Aran could still distantly be seen marshalling the first batch of non-flyers to start marching through.

‘Why we need talk?’ Dengana asked. ‘Already have plan; try for Rhino Interface, and if no good we go on to my Sisebenzele Interface same where Lusi she come in.’

‘Silly,’ said Tye with disdain, ‘have you given the tiniest thought to how you get up to the Interface without it taking hours; much less all the way to your Seesa place?’

Dengana blinked at her, and she added, ‘Wake up in there, brain. No wings, remember?’

‘From what I understand,’ Chenia chimed in, ‘you Adapted on your way through; not instantly, as for an Interface, but gradually?’

She received four sets of nods.

‘Then, it should be possible for you to remain Between, too, if you concentrate,’ she mused.

‘Worth a try, but we’ve started the wrong way about it,’ Hugh said. ‘For you and Tergina to have a proper look at the other Interface my guess is that you should go through properly with Lusi, but I agree that the rest of us should try for Between. If my first experience is anything to go by, the best way would be to fly as near the roof as possible, to get help from our “self-preservation”, as Tye put it then. To be on the safe side, I think you two should wait here while we fly back to the mouth and start again.’

While they were returning to the entrance there was a slight sensation of change taking place, so it did seem as if even during the relatively short distance they had walked into the passage, some Adapting had taken place which was now being undone again. When they turned to fly back, high over a puzzled procession of goblins, elves, pixies, gnomes, imps, nixies and the like, they didn’t feel the change again. The three kept reminding one another to will themselves to stay as they were, though, just to be on the safe side.

Soon, they had definite proof that it was working, when Cudew, Tergina, Lusi and Chenia began to look more and more fuzzy. Their voices also sounded increasingly tinny, but remained understandable. Therefore it was clear that, even if humans couldn’t, with some effort Faie could communicate between Between and Terra. He surmised that they also could between Between and the other lands as well.

They put on an extra spurt of speed to get past the ‘old magic’ intersection as quickly as possible, but then Hugh actually slowed down when close to it and got left behind. When he caught up he saw that dawn had not properly broken yet, and everything showed in muted light to go with the slightly hazy appearance produced by viewing Terra from Between.

The others were confronting two Darxds. To say that both of these looked surprised would be rather like claiming that the sea is a damp spot.

 ‘I am Tergina, sister of His Highest Majesty, King Darrex, and recently appointed as Paramount Princess,’ she was announcing, ‘and, as I have told you, you are now relieved of these duties.’

‘No mere woman can do that, however titled,’ said the one, recovering a bit.

‘What are those?’ said the other with loathing and contempt, pointing at a colourful-looking Chenia, and a striking black (in Terra), and still Darxta, Lusi.

‘The mere woman has backup,’ said Cudew, showing teeth, ‘and if you look closely you may notice two Highest Princes are Between.’

‘The alarm has been given,’ snarled the first. ‘Support is on its way.’

‘The only thing on its way,’ said the dog, ‘is every one of the Daoine who had been in Darx. Your army simply doesn’t exist any longer.’ Even as he said it, it occurred to him that the chances of being believed were remarkably slim, notwithstanding that it was true.

Unfortunately for the two sentries, the extreme bravery which had carried them past the other tunnel time and again was accompanied by single-minded stupidity, and a philosophy that, if you didn’t understand something, you should kill first and not bother with the questions afterwards. When they prepared to blast, Tergina glared at them.

‘I overdid that a bit,’ she said, as they watched them fade (so that happened to Faie in Terra, too, Hugh noted). ‘Just as well, actually. Prisoners would have been a nuisance.’

Then they sensed Lusi ‘sending’, ‘Purrs to you, Ingwe. We do not return yet, but I hope later. Soon come many-many-many small-shiny ones, but they not stay, and two bad bat-humans now dead.’

The leopard projected surprise before sending back, *You are same small-shiny-with-purrs-for-human-cubs, but now you bat-human? Smell human cubs also, but far.*

‘They send purrs. Stay well,’ sent Lusi.


Whether in Terra (and Hugh and the others found themselves increasingly thinking of their own home as such) or Between, getting across the valley to Rhino Peak took little time when flying. Lusi knew the way to the entrance, and led them there. It was on a tiny level step just below the massive rock formation of The Rhino. The ring of flowers at this one looked faded or dead.

They all probed in various ways, finding it frustrating that they couldn’t all merge to do so. Dengana, on the one side, and Cudew on the other, could make little of it other than that there was no way through, but that they were at a place where there should be one.

Chenia and Tergina, separately or apart, found that it was much as Tergina had described the one at Lookout Ford. Tergina still found tantalisingly similar aspects to some of Terblia’s magic, and although most of it bewildered Chenia there were a couple of features she was able to point out which Tergina hadn’t been aware of.

‘This does remind me of some of the stuff I got from you and Pip,’ Hugh said to Tye, ‘but …’

‘From Pip?’ Tye interrupted. ‘Ah, the low-denomination coin falls at last. So that’s how you and Dengana got away. Now I know why you stayed evasive about it. I’ve kept wanting to dig deeper on that point and then forgetting. ’

‘Yip?’ said Pip doubtfully, and got a hug in reply.

Tergina had been diverted from her own probing, and added, ‘I really wonder that you didn’t have three Paramount Princesses fainting on the spot when we saw you casually walk into that … interview … like that.’

‘You amazing,’ Dengana grinned. ‘Not even eyes they go wider then.’ Then his grin faded and he shook his head. ‘So brave!’ he said.

‘I could tell you were both hating it,’ said Tye. ‘That should have told me something.’

Hugh squeezed her hand. ‘Anyway,’ he said, ‘back to our puzzle.’

The two of them probed again.

Then Hugh gave a jerk, and stepped forward to feel at the nothing where an Interface should have been. ‘I almost got something for a second. There is an element to this magic which I keep having this feeling I know. It ties into your kind, but again and again I lose where the difference is to be found. Every time, it’s like - oh, I don’t know - not being able to grab something without letting go of something else equally important …’

Finally, all of them were in agreement that however tantalisingly close they could sense being every once in a while, they simply weren’t going to get far enough. By this time, The Rhino mountain was becoming filled with Daoine, and it was decided to start the swarm flying in the direction of the Interface at Sisebenzele.


The sangoma of the village in Rhino Valley, now occupying a hut on the outskirts of Sisebenzele, had received a dream that something of great significance would be happening that morning. Well before dawn, she had been up the hillside within sight of the Place of Power where she knew the event would take place. Her eyes were cast in the direction where, on the other side of the mountains, lay their previous home.

She had the Sight for the small people. Her breath caught as she saw the cloud appear over the hills, and grow, and come towards the Place. In utter amazement and awe she saw the sheer numbers of them. Among the leaders was the biggest dog she had ever seen. It was the size of a calf, it had wings, and it was flying. Then the dog and the leading group with it were settling near the Place, and were walking towards it, while others were now coming to rest all over the hillside in a blaze of colours.

Even at this distance and with their small size she was able, with careful concentration, to focus her Sight on the leaders sufficiently to take in a good deal of detail. An involuntary cry of amazement escaped her as she saw that of three dark ones who looked more insubstantial than all the rest, one bore a strong resemblance to Dengana. Another looked like his friend, Hugh, who could speak Zulu so well.

Another, who did not have the misty appearance of Dengana and Hugh, she had seen a number of times before at Rhino Valley. She now seemed slightly larger, and her appearance was dark to match that of the boys, but the sangoma was still sure that she was the same one. She had hardly formed this thought before the girl spoke to the misty Dengana and pointed, and the two of them flew briefly towards her. They hovered for a second, level with her head, and her heart lifted as both waved to her.

She saluted them back, and then they rejoined their friends, who included one in a brilliantly-coloured dress like all of the rest on the hillside. Now, all of them advanced into the Place with its ring of flowers.

Many of the flyers had been acting in teams, and were arriving with wingless ones suspended on fine cords. So many small folk had landed that they were crowded round her, some waiting almost at her feet. She knew how to project that she was no danger to them. Some stared, but most of them ignored her.

Now, the dog and the leading group had reached the centre of the ring, and there they vanished. In orderly fashion, the rest started trooping towards the same place, similarly disappearing at the centre.

It was well after sunrise by the time the last group of small people had gone through. With a joyful heart, the sangoma set off back down the hill. She knew this was a sight few would ever experience, and she was filled with wonder that the little Dengana, whom she had known all his life as such a young rascal, was now at the centre of something obviously so momentous. She would tell his parents, and the headman, but nobody else for now.


The first thing they looked at as they emerged from the Interface into Safah Ring was one another. Hugh was not surprised to find that he had remained as a Darxd or that Tergina had undergone no change. Lusi, however, had reverted to Daoine – but now a Highest Princess. Cudew and Pip were themselves. Tye, as perhaps the biggest surprise including to herself, had also gone back to being Daoine.

A single Daoine greeted them. An army of them, though, could hardly have had the same effect of creating the biggest of all the surprises, or have had more sheer presence. It was Aiennea.

Her eyes widened at the sight of Lusi, more still at that of Tye, even more at seeing Tergina, and needed to widen to maximum to take in the sight of Cudew, but all she said, with warm sincerity, was, ‘Welcome to all of you.’ Then she looked behind them, to where an assortment of Daoine had started emerging, and added, ‘My reading of this part of the pattern is true, I see. Would you like to follow me to where preparations have been made?’

On the way she looked again at Lusi and murmured almost to herself, ‘That is unusual indeed, without any help from me. You really must have excelled in some way.’

Where she led was into the valley, where a small town of colourful marquees had been set up. It only took a matter of minutes before the swarm had landed in a grassland to one side of these, beyond which a herd of elephants were being told by a magic shield, in a friendly fashion, that they didn’t really want to come in this direction.

Aiennea said, simply, in a voice magically transmitted to carry to everyone, ‘Welcome home, everyone. We are filled with joy at your safe return, mixed with sorrow in sensing that some had to sacrifice their lives to make it possible. Refreshments have been laid out for all.’

With that, she led them into one of the marquees and to a table where some really slick organising had even created a suitable spot for Cudew.

The queen obviously knew Tergina, and after Cudew and Chenia had been introduced she said, ‘You have wrought a miracle. Patterns are now so tangled as to be unreadable, but before they became so I was able to gather that some wonderful developments had taken place, particularly relating to Hugh and Tye. I also found that the evil is coming to a head, now, and that Darrex is now either dead or sidelined. I have a … feeling … that he still lives.’

She leant forward slightly, and a slight frown appeared on her lovely features, which for her was the equivalent of suffering a panic attack. ‘A reading which I am sure indicates something clearly established and now inevitable was that the attacks on Terra would be suspended in favour of an all-out onslaught on Breena. The barriers will be brought down, and massive invasion will commence, within a week at the most.

‘The final part, which I fail to understand, is that the release of the prisoners here present has been a vital step towards any possibility of our survival.’

‘I c-can tell you th-that,’ said Chenia hesitantly. ‘She was obviously overawed at being in the presence of the Supreme Queen.

Aiennea smiled reassurance at her. ‘Please go ahead, Chenia dear,’ she said.

‘Thanks to the simply wonderful efforts of those who are with me,’ Chenia continued with more confidence, ‘the Daoine who have come through from Darx are now capable of destroying the greatest army … no, rather, of making it destroy itself. In fact, we have just done so.’

‘Wha-a-a-a-t!?’ exclaimed Aiennea. (No, she didn’t, actually, but she did raise her eyebrows, which amounted to much the same thing.)

Only the briefest outline was needed before Aiennea said, ‘Excuse me for a minute, please,’ and left.

She returned surprisingly soon, considering what she then told them.

‘Arrangements have commenced for groups to go to the Darx Interfaces in every Ring, and preferably the home ones of those concerned where this is possible, in order to create similar defences,’ she said.

‘Naturally, replication of the message stones will be done on a massive scale, with such further useful information as emerged from the conflict added on to them.

‘I feel sorry that all those you have freed will now have such strains added to the hardships they have already endured, but all of them realise that on them rests the very future of the Rings, and I could neither hear nor sense a single complaint.’

Tergina nodded. ‘Unlike the Crows, they fight for a freedom which is real, and not simply an illusion,’ she observed, and then went on, ‘So my dear brother is perhaps no more? I should be glad, with how ready he was to have my death as a matter for public amusement, but somehow I am not. He is, or was, still my brother, after all.’

‘He is lion, like queen here,’ said Dengana reflectively, and Aiennea actually blinked. ‘But his mind it badly bent by the “His Greatest-mess”, as the Hugh he call him.’

‘I had better start doing my part in preparing for defence,’ said Chenia, starting to rise. ‘How do we know that the Crows won’t be forewarned by looking into the pattern, and change their plans?’

‘I am quite sure that this confusion in the pattern has not been caused in the same way as one which I could tell included part of Tergina’s and Tye’s deliberate influence. No, whatever the reason may be, everyone will find it unfathomable at present. We are, naturally, remaining alert for any change,’ Aiennea assured her.

 Then she added, ‘First, there is something you have earned,’ and she went up to her and placed her hands on her shoulders.

She kissed the High Princess lightly on both cheeks.

It was a flabbergasted Highest Princess Chenia who exchanged farewells with all of them.

‘See if you can recruit a clued-up cu as rhaxen bait,’ Cudew called after her.

Aiennea was eyeing the wolfhound with admiration. ‘You are “Dew” in Darx?’ she asked Hugh, and when he nodded she said, ‘You and Tye have a talent for collecting amazing companions.’

‘Yip,’ said Pip complacently.

‘Actually, you could say we’re all well cu-nected,’ grinned the dog.

The Supreme Queen burst out laughing.

‘Don’t encourage him!’ groaned Hugh.

CHAPTER 38: Plots, Plans and Probes


 am worried about the security of Glit Ring,’ Hugh said unexpectedly. ‘Presumably, Highest Queen Glorianne will be in overall charge there?’

‘Only if I don’t require her direct help, as the second most senior queen, in which case she would delegate to a temporary Higher Queen,’ Aiennea replied. ‘What is your concern?’

Quickly, he told her about what Tye had experienced while at Glorianne Palace, and Tye chipped in, ‘After Hugh had saved Pip from the boggart, I was in serious doubts about the serious doubts she was casting on his character, but then after I heard from him about his cavorting with Quinnie and Tertia …’

‘I told you I wasn’t cavorting!’ Hugh protested with indignation.

‘I know that now,’ Tye said contritely, ‘but at the time it …’

‘Wait!’ Hugh exclaimed. ‘The reminder about the boggart is bringing up some of the things I know, that I didn’t know I knew. Give me a minute.’

Then he said, ‘Oh, wow. Why didn’t you tell us, Pip?’

‘Meep,’ said the sprite miserably, and then squeaked at Tye for a short while.

‘Briefly,’ said Tye, ‘he still had loyalty to Cudarp, and through him to Darp, even though it was Darp who had tried to get him killed in case he didn’t have that loyalty.’

‘I am not easily confused,’ Aiennea said, less mildly than usual, ‘but you are all doing a remarkably good job.’

‘It would seem that various games were being played. Terblia - oh, let me call that one Terribler, as I still have no idea what her real name is or where she came from - had got at Darp to get at Glorianne. I suppose you have no idea how jealous she is of you?’

This rated another raising of eyebrows. ‘I should have guessed, but as we are of a similar strength in magic, she would have been one of the few able to conceal it,’ Aiennea said. ‘This is distressing news.’

‘I’m not fully sure what plot they were hatching together,’ Hugh went on, but …’ at this point, Pip squeaked at greater length and Hugh listened before adding, ‘… oh, it had to do with a little plan for a partnership to take over from you, here, and also from Darrex in Darx.’

‘How did you also get that?’ Tye said, gaping.

‘I’m understanding Pip quite a lot, lately,’ Hugh said, and continued, ‘Part of the strategy was to generate conflict between Breena and Darx. The idea Terribler had sold to them was that when war was raging, the two of them could take over leadership, instantly restore peace, and be seen as saviours.’

‘Meanwhile the war it being started anyway, by the Greatest-mess and the Crows?’ Dengana said.

‘Yes,’ Tye put in, ‘But Darp thought this was all happening as a part of their efforts and not due to something separate. He didn’t plan for the attack which killed Cudarp, though – that was the Crow creatures in Breena sent to stop us from messing up their Pattern. Still, it gave the pretext he and Glorianne had been looking for, so they put on their little act.’

‘He should have been completely shattered at the loss of his wonderful companion, but he wasn’t, really, thinking back,’ Hugh took his turn again. ‘Actually, he was more worried about Pip spilling the beans, and arranged for that to be attended to shortly after leaving.’

‘I remember him as a worthy cu companion,’ Cudew remarked sadly. ‘His mind must have become utterly poisoned.’

‘Why this Terribler she kill the Terblia and the Darp, though?’ Lusi wanted to know.

‘As soon as she heard of the intention to appoint Terblia as a Paramount Princess, she decided to go in her place as an ideal route to quick power,’ Hugh explained. ‘With Darp, I gather it was a combination of him not being too happy about that, but and also because of something he discovered at the Northern Rift when he was sent to check on the old magic being there too. I couldn’t get a clue what it was, though; anyone else?’

Tye, Dengana and Tergina all shook their heads.

‘So all that side of things turns out to be Much Ado About Nothing,’ Hugh said.

‘The Shakespeare he make in that play one big confusion:’ Dengana muttered, ‘the Hero she a woman.’

Only Hugh and Tye had the vaguest idea of what he was on about.


‘What will you do now?’ Tergina asked Aiennea a little later.

‘First,’ she replied, ‘I must go to Glit Ring and set things right there. Glorianne must suffer the ultimate penalty, of course, and a replacement must be appointed right away to oversee that Ring’s defence. Then I shall go where needed.’

‘She will be executed?’ Tye asked in a casual tone.

‘Oh, no,’ said Aiennea, ‘she will simply be altered to lose all princess qualities by the magic to which I have access as a Supreme Queen.’

Hugh tried to visualise Glorianne coping with ‘ordinary’ status, and felt quite sorry for her.

Aiennea looked at all of them, but at Hugh and Tye in particular, and said with uncharacteristic hesitancy, ‘What about you, now? Do you feel that, following these great achievements of yours, your part has been completed?’

Hugh looked at Tye. ‘Is your instinct the same as mine? Half way?’

Tye nodded. ‘Yes, in two ways,’ she said and turned to the queen. ‘We have unfinished business in Darx.’

‘Me, I am thinking same thing,’ said Dengana.

‘Me, I hope I can change back,’ said Lusi.

‘Yip,’ said Pip.

‘I do need to return home, risky or not,’ said Tergina.

‘It will be nice to sniff a few cu again,’ said Cudew.

‘I have this strong feeling I will be able to Adapt,’ said Felin.

‘Do you really think so, Felin,’ Tye said doubtfully, and then let out a squeal. ‘Felin! How did you sneak up on us like that?’ and she jumped up, pulled him out of the seat he had slipped into unnoticed, and hugged him. He looked startled. So did Tye, at her own action.

Aiennea’s eyebrows were getting more exercise than they had enjoyed for decades. ‘Hello, Felin dear. So you heard I’d left and followed instead of going home?’ She sighed wistfully. ‘How I wish the pattern was still visible to me. It must be becoming so interesting.’


Goodbyes were cut short in words and time, but long on emotion. Then the party of eight flew back towards the Interface.

They landed close to the ring, and Hugh started towards it with the others following. Then he stopped dead. ‘I’ve had a sudden thought about that barrier,’ he said. ‘This may simply be a waste of time, but I think it’s worth a try. Let’s go to the Rhino Peak Interface, staying in Safah Ring.’

When they set off, he could sense Tye glaring at him. ‘No, I’m not holding back,’ he said. ‘I’d find it difficult to explain my hunch. I need to try a few things and see if they work out. One of my ideas is that I was blocked a bit the last time by being Between. Another has something to do with the two of us. If they don’t come to anything, everyone can yell at me all the way back to Sisebenzele.’

Though similar, the terrain in Safah Ring was not the same as in Terra, so it was just as well Lusi was with them to show the way. The ring still happened near the summit of a mountain, and on a narrow natural terrace below a striking rock formation, though.

They all landed and Hugh walked to where Lusi said the ring started – the plants forming it were hard to pick out. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘not being Between does make a good deal of difference. Now, can you all fly some distance away, one by one, and land within sight, please. You last, Tye.’

As each one left, he felt a slight lifting of resistance in trying to get the gate-that-wasn’t-there to return, but not much. ‘Right,’ said Hugh when only Tye remained, ‘now come up with me … that’s it … now take my hand …ah! That is almost as if something gets alarmed as soon as we do that. Okay, now you can scoot.’

Tye put her tongue out at him, and flew to join the others. Hugh stretched his mind at it, visualising an entrance and where it was going to. He felt a definite response, but nothing actually happened. However, a recognition in the back of his mind that the feeling of it was something like that of His Greatestness … -mess … came forward to be noticed. He seized at this.

Now he tried to recall the essence of the mind he had shared, during the meld, and which had been briefly opened to him as his power had retreated with the Terribler-led attack. Then - and far more difficult - he tried to project a barrier-removal spell of the kind Pip had shown him as that mind would project it.

He had the feeling that he was really close, then, and he examined the structure of the spell bit by bit. Many small parts seemed wrong; somehow alien. He visualised discarding those and replacing them with something more comfortable which would function in the same way. Then he tried again …

‘Do you know exactly how long you have been standing like a stupid statue for?’ Tye stormed, the instant she landed in response to his beckoning.

‘To good effect, I would say,’ Tergina said, stepping forward into a ring of suddenly perky-looking flowers, and vanishing.


Soon they were all in Terra, on the level step below The Rhino rock, standing in a circle of happy flowers. After that they lost no time in flying across towards The Sad Ones. To be able to do this, three of them were Between again, of course.

Not long after that, they were flying over the deserted Rhino Valley – deserted by humans, at least, but there were now a surprising number of birds and small animals to be seen here and there. As they reached the vicinity of the hill with The Sad Ones, Lusi pointed out a group of horses, presumably from one of the farms and even perhaps from that of the Two Old Frogs, wending their way slowly in their direction from the head of the valley.

Then they were at The Sad Ones, and past them to the Rift entrance. Not surprisingly, there were no Darxds at the mouth. They flew in quickly, and when in due course they came near to the old magic Hugh urged the rest of them to fly past it as quickly as they could, but said to Tye, ‘Try holding back with me for as long as you can bear, and let’s see what we can sense.’

When they landed at the entrance it was to a series of ‘Meeps’, from a Pip whose head was buried in Tye’s neck. She said in a high, shaky voice, ‘I don’t think I can take it; even here. Let’s go on. Please!’ The last word had a note of panic in it.

Hugh forced away his own panic and again tried to sense all that was coming to him from this entrance. It helped, so he told Tye, ‘Don’t react: analyse instead.’

‘How can one not react?’ Tye responded. Then she carried on speaking out loud, but now to herself, ‘Calm down; don’t be a baby. Now, what are these feelings? What is this fear, for a start – is there any trace of repel-spell in it? Yes! It is rather like one Terribler showed us, but … different, somehow. I don’t think I could stop feeling it. It is like seasickness; even though you know it is all in the mind you still feel awful. More to it than that, though. Even apart from the fear which isn’t real, there is a trace of …’

She gave a jolt and stopped speaking for a second, before continuing, ‘Calm, calm. Yes, there is a real danger, too. Any magic against it can trigger something … truly nasty. Maybe what sucked up that Darx Artz magician? And even apart from that, there is still this feeling of something live and horribly evil in there.’

‘You are doing amazingly, Tye,’ Hugh said. His voice sounded strained, and it was clear he was also having difficulty in keeping panic at bay. ‘Do you sense anything else, which reminds you of something?’

After a pause, Tye blurted out, ‘Yes, but can we go now and I’ll tell you later?’

‘One more thing,’ Hugh said. ‘Take my hand and try to sense what happens.’

They held hands, and both started panting as if running a race.

‘Last thing;’ gasped Hugh, ‘let’s go towards it as far as we can manage before we scoot.’

Pip was now bundled into a tight ball, uttering a muffled ‘Mee-ee-ee-ee-eep!’ which went on for so long that it was incredible how that much breath could be found.

The surprise at how far they could actually go helped to carry them forward until the writhing, hideously glowing wall Hugh had seen on his first visit was almost close enough to touch. Then, acting as one, they turned and flew – in both senses: of being in the air and of moving at greatest possible speed.

The relief of being out of range was enormous, but they still felt impelled to put maximum effort into their flying. So much so, that they overtook all the others before the opening at the far side had been reached, although that was also because their friends had slowed down and were wondering whether to turn back and look for them.

‘What were the other things?’ Hugh asked urgently of a still-Daoine Tye as soon as they arrived outside, and were looking down over a valley with a lot of domed tents and nothing much else to be seen. It was clear that the various creatures previously held captive here had decided to take the advice they had been given and move out without any delay.

‘The main one was a strong memory of something about His Greatest-mess,’ said Tye, ‘and another was that despite myself all my horror and loathing for men and boys came back.’

‘Don’t mind us; we’re only an optical illusion, Do carry on with your private chat,’ Cudew growled.

‘They didn’t even notice,’ complained a Felin who had failed to Adapt as a Darx, but had received the Highest possible princely promotion as a Daoine instead.

Apologies and explanations followed.

Then Tergina said, ‘I suppose we had better keep moving and see how far towards Darrex Palace - or whatever it may be called now if they haven’t simply given a new king the same name as usual - we can reach before dark.’

‘It make sense to me,’ nodded Dengana, and Felin and Lusi also nodded.

Hugh was hardly listening. ‘I wonder,’ he mused, ‘if there is the slightest chance that the same sort of concentration which keeps us Between would keep us as Darxd and Daoine instead? I think we were getting too much of a filtered effect.’

‘You want to go back to that lot unfiltered?’ Tye burst out. ‘Now I know you have gone stark, raving, hopelessly cuckoo. Call men in white coats, someone!’

Only Dengana knew what she meant by this, and the rest had brains doing cog-slipping while they wondered where to find anyone thus clad, and why she wanted them.

‘Didn’t you notice?’ Hugh said excitedly. ‘I thought there was something different when we were in contact with one another, and that proved it. When we went forward together, there was a sort of … a sort of … well, retreat, is the best way to describe it.’

Tye cast her mind back, and tried to rid the mind cast back of the various feelings of discomfort and terror and general unpleasantness. She ran her hands through her hair, and then cupped them over her face.

‘This is ridiculous,’ she said, her voice slightly muffled by hands, ‘but now that you come to mention it there was a sensation of some fear – but not ours rather than of something … else’s.’

‘Yes!’ exclaimed Hugh. ‘Whatever we were doing was somehow tending to weaken that whole … er … whatever! That’s why I want to try again.’

‘This maybe just wasting the time it is valuable?’ Lusi wondered.

‘No,’ Tye said slowly. ‘I think Hugh has a point. Perhaps the “old magic” right here is more important at the moment than finding out what is going on at Darrex Palace.’

‘Before I forget,’ Hugh said, ‘does “rages” mean anything to anyone?’

Cudew and Lusi merely looked puzzled, but Dengana, Tergina and Tye looked startled instead, and Pip said, ‘Yip.’

‘That did come through during the mind-meld,’ Tergina said. ‘You mean “rages” as in fits of fury, though, but to me it was a reminder of our old legends and fables featuring the “Wreyges”.’ She somehow managed a pronunciation where the difference came through.

‘What the Wreyges they be?’ Lusi asked.

‘They are the stuff of legend and fable in Darx,’ Tergina answered her. There were four grins at the thought that such things existed here. ‘Evil parasite entities, lurking to trap and destroy. Darxem young are deliciously terrified by stories of them, and everyone knows the nursery rhyme which goes:

Fear the wrath of rampant Wreyges

Keep them locked in separate cages

See that they are never fed

On a horde of Darxem dead …’

She suddenly stopped reciting with a look of shock. ‘Can it be?’ she said. ‘Is it more than just a silly fantasy for the young?’ Then she saw that all her companions were regarding her with no signs of understanding but many signs of impatience, and she went on, ‘The rest of it goes:

When their passages are made

Is the time to be afraid.’

‘So it could be an ancient warning, referring to the Rifts or those tunnels, or both? Nursery rhymes would be a wonderful way to ensure a message was carried through generations – although they might get some words changed over time, of course,’ Tye said. ‘When did the Rifts first appear?’

‘They’ve always been there; but sealed.’ Tergina replied. ‘It was only when His Greatestness appeared as another advisor to the king that he was able to tell them how to open them through to Terra.’

‘Another?’ Hugh and Tye chorused.

‘Yes,’ Tergina said. ‘Of course, you wouldn’t know our history. There have been such advisors to other kings in the past, with the tradition saying that such honour only came to those whom The Pattern has indicated would become particularly significant.’

They pondered.

‘The “Wreyges” thought I had, it came to me through His Greatest-mess, I am thinking,’ Dengana said finally, and Hugh nodded.

Tye shook her head, and said, ‘No, I think it was through Terribler,’ and Tergina nodded.

‘Yip, yip,’ said Pip, and even Tye couldn’t translate that one.

‘Oh well,’ said Hugh, ‘Back again. If it must be done, “then 'twere well it were done quickly”. Macbeth.’

Dengana couldn’t resist a spot of Henry V: ‘ “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more,” ’ he recited solemnly.

Hugh wasn’t going to be out-Shakespeared, and retorted with:

The Wreyges’ rocks

And shivering shocks

Shall break the locks

Of prison gates;

And Phoebus' car

Shall shine from far,

And make and mar

The foolish Fates.’

‘From A Midsummer Night’s Dream, muttered Tye. ‘Which is a fairy story. I wonder if he knew something? No, of course he didn’t. He wrote “raging rocks” actually … or did he?’

Hugh and Tye prepared to take off. So did everyone else. ‘Hey, wait a minute …’ said Hugh.

‘We are all coming,’ Tergina said firmly.

‘Wouldn’t miss the chance of seeing you sucked up,’ grinned Cudew. This bit of humour went down every bit as well as a hydrogen balloon does when one releases it.

CHAPTER 39: Towards Terror, Fast Route, Almost Caught


ugh and Tye were keeping together and also concentrating on keeping themselves together in not Adapting, nor going Between. Everyone kept an eye on them for any signs of going fuzzy.

After they had gone a good distance, Hugh said, ‘I think it’s working.’

‘Concentrate,’ snapped Tye. ‘You looked as though you flickered a bit, there.’

By the time they finally arrived again at the part of the tunnel where the first effects of the ‘old magic’ could be felt, they were confident that they would now neither Adapt nor go Between unless they worked at it.

The others couldn’t even get as far as the mouth of the branching tunnel before they had to stop, shuddering. Hugh and Tye went forward on foot, holding hands. As they had feared, their ‘unfiltered’ state made the feelings coming from the tunnel far worse than before.

Both started to probe again, and now the ‘retreat’ feeling of the ‘something’ was also greater. As they probed, they became vaguely conscious of the minds of one another, and as soon as that happened a lot of the unpleasantness went out of what they were approaching. With one accord, they tried to strengthen the bond and get better focus on merging, and the greater the clarity and awareness of one another’s minds became, the more they felt something was being achieved. It was similar to the mind-meld of His Greatestness’s room, but with only two participants and a lot less confusion.

‘Wait,’ Tye suddenly said to him. ‘Look at that. Nasty.’ Only, she hadn’t spoken, and with his eyes all he could see was the writhing wall. With his mind, though, he could see an intricate bit of magic which, through Tye, he could tell was something deadly if the wrong moves were made against it. Making sense of it was similar to the tricks Pip had taught him, and he was also being guided by Tye for this particular puzzle.

‘Can’t make that part out,’ Tye said. Now she had spoken aloud, but at the same time her mind was directing him to something which brought to light a memory of one of the things he didn’t know he knew. Using the new knowledge it triggered, he explored it again very gingerly, and found he could ‘explain’ it to Tye in pictures. Together, they explored the intricacies bit by bit.

Suddenly they had the feeling that they were far more in control of the situation.

‘What have we done right?’ It was Hugh that spoke aloud, this time, and Tye answered, ‘I think it is when we approach it perfectly together, and with neither taking the lead. Maybe …’

No ‘maybe’ came to her after that, but Hugh caught hold of a ‘Maybe we should try merging into one, somehow?’ thought, as it dashed past, and he showed it to her.

‘How?’ came a mental picture, and his response was, ‘Like this.’

With that, she felt him completely surrender his mind and control to her. For a brief period she wanted to grab it and enjoy the total feeling of power and being in command she was given, and then she realised that, instead, she had to do the same.

There was an instant of agonising conflict within her. Enough of her previous mindset remained to cause the idea of making herself so utterly vulnerable to be impossible to accept – and then she said, aloud again, ‘This is Hugh, whom I trust completely.’

With that, she wrenched away all her own resistance, threw it aside, and gave her own mind to him without reservation. Dimly, she became aware that Pip had left her to go and wait in the tunnel.

Now, all communication between them ceased. ‘They’ became a new, and far more powerful, being. An impression that something behind the barrier was suddenly much disturbed came to ‘Them’, and at the same time They could see how to neutralise the dangerous anti-magic magic. They did it with almost contemptuous ease.

Within an instant They became Hugh and Tye again, who quickly returned to the others.

‘The dangerous magic has been removed …’ Tye told them.

‘… but we can tell that the barrier part is too strong for us, even when we combine,’ Hugh finished.

‘It is close, though, and this …’ said Tye.

‘… one will respond to greater numbers …’ Hugh continued.

‘… provided they are completely balanced,’ Tye added.

‘You show signs of a remarkably close union of minds,’ Tergina observed.

‘You show signs of a split personality,’ Cudew growled. ‘Please go back to single-minded concentration, and try to make some sense.’

Hugh grinned. ‘We discovered from a combination of experiments, and from calling up some of these new “memories” which they gave rise to, that if a couple is touching physically …’

‘Male and female comes across as being important, and also I got the feeling that a Darxd and Daoine mixture helped,’ Tye chipped in.

‘… and if they both surrender their minds to each other to give Cudew’s single-mindedness,’ Hugh gave another grin, ‘but made up of two minds, then it should create the sort of force needed for the barrier to be lifted.’

‘The Lusi, and me myself,’ said Dengana, nodding.

‘Do you think we’ll have a hope of getting it right, after only meeting so recently?’ Felin asked Tergina.

‘Where do Pip and I come into this?’ Cudew wanted to know. ‘In case you hadn’t noticed, we are rather short of females of our respective species.’

‘Meep,’ Pip said, looking annoyed.

‘Well, where do we find some?’ Cudew said to the sprite.

Pip vanished, and in that space something flickered for a while before becoming visible in tiny Daoine form for an instant. Then it vanished to be replaced by Pip once more.

‘You’re actually a …’ gasped Tye.

‘The Pip he not the boy?’ Lusi said.

‘… girl?’ gasped Hugh.

The little Daoine had worn a dress.

‘Yip,’ said Pip, in a sulky yip.

‘Then why …?’-times-seven hovered in the air, but didn’t actually land.

‘Right,’ Cudew said after Hugh and Tye had described what they did to merge minds, ‘with that sorted out, how do we all do this touchy-feely thing? Do we all link by hanging on to the end part of my tail? Trouble is, when we get near that scary area you’ll all probably get flung forward when it dives between my legs.’

‘No,’ laughed Felin, ‘why not keep your wings totally folded, and see if we can’t all sit on your back, one behind the other?’

They tried it, and they fitted. Hugh sat in front with Tye closely behind him, then came Dengana and Lusi, and finally Felin and Tergina. Hugh had his arms stretched back enclosing Tye and Dengana, while Tergina’s arms across Lusi and Felin were just long enough for her fingertips to meet those of Hugh. Arms of the others were placed forward and backward on either side so as to touch the maximum numbers of the others. Pip concentrated on having contact with Hugh, Tye and Cudew simultaneously.

‘So now, in order to win, we all have to surrender completely?’ Cudew remarked.

Actually, it was a good way to put it. They ‘surrendered’ to their partners, with quite a good deal of hesitation in those other than Hugh and Tye. Then the four ‘Theys’ found it much easier to surrender to one another. Surprisingly soon the eight were able to move forward as one ‘They’.

The first feeling that came to the They was that a ‘something’ - the one sensed earlier - was now retreating completely until no trace remained. They used Cudew-legs to move forward at a walk towards the barrier, and now there was an instant impression that it would yield to the advance, although reluctantly. There was a bewildering mixture of acceptance accompanied by desperate resistance.  The wall with its ugly glow and swirling patterns drew closer and closer …

Then it was behind, and They were in a place of no definition and no features. The surface they were on could not be sensed. Nor could any roof, or sky, or horizon. Only two things could be discerned, one straight ahead and one to the left. Both of these were further barriers, or ‘bubble-walls’, having the same qualities as the one they had just passed through.

When They progressed towards the one directly ahead, it was as if they drifted at it rather than being impelled by any walking action. It was impossible to judge the period it took to get to it, or the distance that had needed to be covered. It might equally well have been seconds and a few metres, or an age and an interplanetary span. Then, with the same sensations as before, They were through this one as well.

It was a profound relief to sense an environment where the essence made sense to the senses. (This thought must have been influenced mainly by Cudew.) There was a gigantic chamber with rock walls and a roof rather like an inverted funnel lit by an eerie glow of a similar quality to that of the barriers. High up to their left where the wall began to arch into the roof was a large circular recess, as if some enormous drill had just started to bore a tunnel there.

From wall to wall in every direction was a level stone surface littered with, probably, thousands of rocks. The sizes of these were more or less uniform at what, in relative Terran terms, would have been about two to three metres in length and a fraction of that in width. The shapes ranged from more-or-less rectangular to roughly egg- or tube-shaped. They were resting in a higgledy-piggledy manner, at all angles.

Each individual rock gave off a sensation of evil menace.

They moved into the chamber, picking a way through this litter of - to Cudew’s body - rockery stones. At the centre, They looked above, to where the pipe of the funnel went straight up. It was lit in a different way, and They could tell that this was the cobley light Hugh was able to see. Some way up it was a solid barrier – but the Hugh-sense could detect a fault in one small part.

Nothing else was to be seen. Senses probed at the distant wall on the opposite side produced a vague reaction, though, and They continued in that direction until about four-fifths of the way.

In an instant a part of the rock wall there swung open and the vague figure of a Darxd was visible in the doorway. Immediately They responded by putting up a shield which was a refinement on anything they had ever used individually before. It was a barrier against the type of glarespells taught by Terribler, but it also had two major modifications.

The first modification blocked certain qualities in the glarespell directed at them from the doorway which had not been encountered before. The second one made it reflective, like that used against the rhaxen.

The ray from this one reacted towards being reflected in a more spectacular fashion than the rhaxen ones had done. It fizzed and popped and split into sections before a flash came from the Darxd on the other side and he fell over.

He was fading when They reached him, and all that could be seen was that he could have been no less than a Highest Prince.

The door was still open, and a quick exploration revealed passage after passage with empty living quarters leading off them. Only the nearest two showed signs of recent occupation. No passages or doorways showed signs of going to anywhere else. As far as They could tell, the stone doorway was the only way in or out.

There was no point in remaining any longer. Another quick exploration of the vast chamber on the way out revealed nothing new, and probes at walls all round gave no sense that other doorways might be present. The ‘hole’ recess came in for particular attention, but did not respond. Back through the barrier They went.

Now there was a sense of timelessness again while, ignoring the return barrier straight ahead, They took the other one, which was now to the right.

As They emerged from this one, five of them recognised where they were in an instant. This made those five extremely unhappy that at this particular juncture it had been necessary to become individuals again. The limit of time it was safe to remain merged had almost been exceeded, and it had only been with great effort that the merger had been held for long enough to get through.

‘We really should have taken a break before coming through that one,’ Hugh said glumly. With the effects of the single-mindedness still strongly present, the others were nodding before he had got out the first few words.

‘Welcome to my home,’ Tergina said to Felin, but not happily. The two of them had jumped off, and were now holding hands.

Hugh and Tye had done, and were doing, the same. She glanced at Cudew, who had Pip hugging his neck. ‘How will he possibly fit up that staircase?’ she asked Hugh.

‘This place, it is underneath the Darrex Palace,’ Dengana explained to Lusi. He was holding her hand, too.


A short bout of exploration by Pip in invisible mode, and some squeaking to Hugh and Tye which needed far less translation to the others than normal, confirmed what those who had been in these passages before had already guessed.

‘Where we have come through the barrier is at the far end of the passage leading past the doorway which goes to His Greatest-mess’s lair,’ Tye said. ‘If this part is anything like the one on the other side of him, where Terribler took such an interest, then there will be more living quarters leading off. Maybe we can lurk there and use one as a base while deciding on what to do next.’

Sure enough, they came to another passage leading off which had, behind doorways, numbers of comfortably-appointed rooms. ‘Magic maintenance in force here, too,’ Tergina observed, and Tye nodded.

‘These passages they all make good places for start the hotels,’ Dengana remarked.

‘Places like inns, for overnight guests,’ Hugh explained, selecting a likely-looking doorway not too near the main passageway.

‘You could start an inn-dust-ry, in fact, except that the maintenance takes care of any dust,’ Cudew grinned. ‘These rooms have a good size to them, too. I can fit through here,’ he gave a grunt, ‘with a bit of a squeeze.’

‘I am still amazed at the way Hugh’s obsession with exploring that “old magic” tunnel actually got us here far faster than anything else could have done,’ mused Felin. ‘Bits of pattern coming into play, I wonder, or just more of the things he now knows without being aware that he knows them?’

‘Could be a bit of both,’ Tergina nodded. ‘Now, you all know how to screen yourselves against probes, and to block traces? His Greatestness has immensely strong powers, and we certainly don’t want him sensing our presence.’

‘We remember we pretend with ambush that we are trees,’ grinned Lusi. ‘Now we pretend we are beds.’

‘Squeakitty-squeak,’ said Pip, which was understood by Hugh and Tye as saying that she would go and keep watch. They let her out and left the door slightly ajar.

Everyone sat down - still tending to be split into pairs, Hugh noticed, himself sharing a seat with Tye - while they went over what they could make out from their recent experiences.

‘The “Wreyges” thing still has me really puzzled,’ Felin offered. ‘When we were all together in that place, we had the strongest impression that they are real, and involved, and in fact were there. Unless they do an amazing impersonation of rocks, though, that is impossible.’

‘Do you remember,’ said Tye, ‘that the Darxd in the doorway gave the same sort of image, but far more?’

‘The His Great-mess! The His Great-mess!’ Dengana burst out suddenly, and was stared at. ‘The doorway-man, he was the same like the His Great-mess!’

Each brought back to mind the mental snapshots, and the accompanying sensations. Each found that the clearest picture emerging was one of someone with close to elfin size and appearance, giving off vibrations most similar to those of His Greatestness.

‘Yes,’ breathed Hugh, ‘either that was a twin of His G, or it was him we’ve killed him off in that …’

Pip appeared suddenly, and squeaked quietly but frantically before shooting out again, vanishing as she went.

Hugh closed the door and held a finger to his lips. He and Tye grabbed one another’s hands and stood for a few seconds before shaking their heads. Then Hugh made a universal cut-throat gesture, and pointed a finger at the door, ready to blast anything coming through it.

Seconds later, faint approaching footsteps could be heard which sounded as if they hesitated briefly outside the door before passing on again. The group got cramp from waiting in that position, but in the absence of any ‘all-clear’ from Pip they didn’t move. Minutes passed like hours before the footsteps passed again. This time there was no hesitation outside, and soon they had faded in the opposite direction. A while after that came a squeak from outside, and Hugh let Pip in while saying, ‘The theory we killed His G is a lot deader than His G, because that was him Pip came in to warn us about.’

After a squeaking session, Tye did the translation of the story just related to Hugh and herself by the sprite. ‘She says His G came down the passage and went straight to the Interface barrier at the end. Then he shook his head, and returned. Pip retreated into this passage, but to her horror he turned into it. She warned us, and then kept ahead of him, but watching.

‘First, he went into several of the first sets of rooms, as if to see if anyone was in them. Then he ignored the rest, and continued up the passage.

‘When he paused slightly at this door, she thought one of us had let their trace block slip a bit, and that it was all up. After the pause, though, he shook his head and went on, right to the end of this passage. She kept moving ahead of him until, at the end, she came up against a barrier of the nastiest possible kind, but managed to zip over his head as he got close to it.

‘He let himself in, and a short while later came out again. She kept ahead of him once more, and at the main passage intersection she went towards the Interface, while he turned back in the direction of his rooms.’ Tye took the deep breath she needed after relating all of that.

Tergina said thoughtfully, ‘I think it is a pretty safe bet that he is expecting “His-G-Number-Two”, and I have a strong feeling I know something of what the other visit was all about.’

‘It does sound logical,’ Felin said. ‘I think we need to take a little stroll up that passage, ourselves.’

CHAPTER 40: Passages, Rescue, Rooms, Records, Cave


hen they emerged from the room, Pip went to keep watch at the passage intersection and the rest went in the opposite direction. Hugh and Tye individually probed the barrier guarding a door at the end of the passage, and found it to be one not only of great complexity, but also requiring great strength.

‘I can’t make head or tail of this bit here, either’ complained Tye. She was able to mind-message him with the part she meant, and to his surprise it wasn’t one which presented him with too much of a problem.

‘Speaking in the magical sense, I’m sure I can take down the safeguards and open the locks,’ he said. ‘The trouble is that I don’t have enough strength, then, to open the actual door. I’m simply not up to His G’s fighting weight. I wonder, though …’

‘I think you may have the answer,’ Tye nodded, agreeing with something he hadn’t actually said. ‘Something created by His G will be about as masculine as you can get. He isn’t exactly a fan of the feminine gender. Therefore, more purely masculine strength may give the answer.’

‘Can the four of us manage the same sort of meld, though?’ said Felin, who had followed all of this remarkably well.

‘You will explain, please,’ said Dengana, who hadn’t.

It took great effort and patience for Hugh, Dengana, Felin and Cudew to attain the sort of ‘They’ the eight had managed. When merging had finally been attained, They knew it was only a shadow of the previous one, but nevertheless it was clear that this one was better suited to the task at hand. The ‘safeguards-and-locks’ part was managed without too much difficulty, but then came the strength needed to allow the ‘opening’ to happen, and here they found that there was only just enough, and even then it was only provided they exerted the greatest possible effort.

They put in the effort, and were successful, but the meld promptly collapsed.

When they opened the door, the rooms inside looked like just another set of the unoccupied ones – but in the bedroom, spread-eagled across and shackled by wrists and ankles to the framework of a bed, they found Darrex. It was clear that various ingenious things were being done to him, from time to time, to cause him as much pain as possible. There were no clothes to block out the sight of such evidence.

Tergina wanted to rush up to him, but Hugh held her back. ‘Wait,’ he said. ‘First we check what this is all about, and then we need to see just what sort of magic is involved here.’

Darrex lifted his head. ‘I’m so glad you’re still alive, Ter, but you’re in terrible danger here,’ he gasped. ‘I’m so sorry; so very, very sorry; but that wasn’t really me. It wasn’t … wasn’t really you, either, was it?’

‘What happened to give you a change of heart?’ Hugh asked bluntly.

Darrex winced with pain before answering, ‘That … that final chaos in the session we had with the Wreyge …’ everyone gave a start, ‘… weakened my link to the Id he had created, and it started to break down. More and more I came to realise that The Cause …’ another gasp ‘… is a farce, and that there was something malevolent behind the whole thing.’

‘When His G - or this Wreyge, should I say? - realised you were becoming an ex-follower after that meltdown, why didn’t he just kill you?’ Hugh demanded.

‘One thing is that he needs me back as his puppet, to keep … to keep everyone mesmerised while he carries out his own plans in the background. He trapped me with this … devilish magic, instead. Now he wants to … simply wear me down.’

‘What these plans they be?’ Dengana demanded.

‘I … don’t … really know, for sure.’

‘Enough!’ said Tergina. ‘I’m going to start some healing. Now, what is going on here – ? oh, clever. See, Felin, there is a relatively simple, but total, block on my brother’s access to magic. It doesn’t matter how strong he is, he can’t use it if he can’t command it.’

‘Fascinating. It has to be much the same sort of thing as a fracture high up in a spinal cord,’ said Tye almost to herself, ‘so that messages no longer reach the body. It doesn’t matter how well-developed the muscles may be, you simply can’t use them.’

Then she added, with concern, ‘Careful, though, there are some traps against tampering built in. Hugh?’

‘Indeed,’ said Hugh. ‘Cudew, can you give us a hand here?’

‘Will a paw do?’ Cudew grinned, but he saw what Hugh was referring to, and did it. ‘Power restored. Enjoy it,’ he added.

Immediately, the substantial shackles on his hands and feet melted away from a nasty look given at them by Darrex, and he sat up. Tergina put hands on his shoulders, and assumed a look of concentration.

‘I want that I help,’ said Lusi, and also went across to him.

When the two finally nodded, as one, and stepped back, Hugh found the king’s clothing and handed it across. It had presumably been flung into a corner, but had arranged itself neatly there.

Then the girls led Darrex out to a room with more comfortable furniture so that he could sit down for a while and recuperate from the healing.

‘You say, “one thing” this Wreyge he need you for, earlier,’ Dengana said to him. ‘What the others they be?’

‘There is something about my abilities that he needs,’ Darrex said thoughtfully. ‘I can’t work out quite why or how, because in general matters of magic I may be powerful but he is the stronger.’

‘How do you know he is a Wreyge?’ Hugh said. ‘Also from the meltdown information?’

‘Yes,’ said Darrex, ‘and because he has openly told me so. I have an idea he thought it would intimidate me. Perhaps he expects that I know more about superstition and legend than I actually do.’

‘I do wish we knew more about those things,’ Tye said. ‘Even if they are mainly nonsense, they might offer some clues as to what is really happening, and what is best to do about it.’

‘Our Keeper of Records knows all about such matters, and is always willing to go into them at most boring length,’ said Darrex.

‘A pity none of us is in a position to go to his Hall of Records and chat with him,’ Tergina remarked, adding, ‘In any case, our immediate problem is what to do with the one who may come back again at any time.’

‘I love cats,’ mused Felin, ‘but is this really the time to be pussyfooting around? Shouldn’t we just deal with this Wreyge thing the same way we did with the other one?’

Darrex was obviously feeling much better. He suddenly turned his dominating presence on to high power. ‘There was another? And you dealt with it?’ he asked in a quiet voice which had more force in it than the loudest shout might have carried.

A question and answer came to the minds of each one of them, but it was Hugh who actually voiced them. ‘Can we trust this new Darrex? Yes, I believe we can.’

‘The evil part, of being utterly indifferent to causing suffering or death as long as it was in the interests of The Cause, was imposed in the same way it was on myself and Tye by Terribler, for her own ambitious ends,’ Tergina added. ‘It never reached the stage, with any of us, of feeding on itself until pleasure was found in cruel acts simply for their own sake, as has happened with so many of the Crows like the Dennet ones. Once it has come to that, they cannot be saved.’

Darrex gave all of them a full Highest King look, and they found themselves hastily taking turns in giving him a brief outline of developments to date. His reactions, even to the most spectacular ones, reminded one strongly of Aiennea, but when it came to the elimination of the entire army at the Southern Rift his eyes did widen to a marked extent.

Then Dengana brought them back to earth – or to the portion of Darx they now found themselves in. ‘We must decide now whether we go to fight the Wreyge …’

‘… and maybe we not strong enough until we able to join together again …’ Lusi inserted.

‘… or we find a safer place for us to be while we make the plans,’ he finished.

‘How about those rooms on the other side of the passage leading to the quarters of the His G Wreyge?’ Tye suggested. ‘If a search of this area reveals nothing, it will surely be assumed that we have gone back through that Interface, and not simply crossed over to the north wing.’

Hugh got up. ‘I like that,’ he said. ‘Of course, we could simply retreat through the Interface, but somehow I don’t think that would be getting us any further.’

Everyone else rose as well, and without further ado they set off. Pip waited at the doorway to the Wreyge’s rooms to give the alert in need, while they dashed past it one by one, projecting ‘nothing here but this tunnel’ screens.

It felt as though it took longer than Hugh remembered before they came near the intersecting passageway which gave off repulsive sensations. The ‘repel-spell’ had barely been sensed before he was conscious of Tye doing something, and the feelings abated to something undoubtedly less unpleasant. The sensation on actually passing it still induced shudders, though. ‘That was a Terribler-type bit of magic,’ she said casually. ‘I put it back; it is something I don’t think Greatest-mess would enjoy.’

They went on past doorway after doorway until the passage petered out, and then selected a set of rooms near the end which were larger and more comfortable than most others they had looked at in passing.

After a great deal of discussion, only two immediate plans of action emerged. The first was that Tye, Pip, Tergina and Lusi would go to see, if possible, what the repel-spell was guarding. It was felt to be a girl thing, and although this was one Lusi said she was happy to be left out of they dragged her along anyway.


For the second plan, Hugh had been elected to risk recognition by seeking the Hall of Records in the rather vain hope that something might emerge. He reduced himself to the lowest and most non-descript prince he could manage, and Darrex gave him directions.

When he reached the top of the spiral staircase he opened the door the slightest crack and had to wait for some time before the shaft was clear for long enough for him to emerge and reach ground level. Then he flew out casually, as one of many passing back-and-forth.

Casual flight seemed a bit inappropriate, though, because everyone he came across were clearly in a state of high excitement. He put some zip into his progress, and tried to gather snippets of conversation. ‘The Cause’ was repeated with great regularity, but there were also frequent references to ‘The Rings’ and ‘attack’ and ‘the war’.

With great misgivings at this evidence that the invasions through the Interfaces were starting, he made his way to the tower at the far side he needed, and entered the main doorway instead of one of a series of them leading off from balconies furnished with chairs and reading-stands.

It was clear that Darxem did not cater for non-flyers when it came to access to written material. The hall he found himself in occupied the entire tower, but only had a ground floor. Layers of shelves on every wall from floor to ceiling, and lines of them across the hall itself, only had narrow ledges for landing and selecting material. Indoor balconies at intervals and a seating area in the centre catered for more relaxed reading.

The eyes of the Darxd seated at a desk inside the entrance lit up as he entered. Apparently the Crow era did not encourage much interest in literature. ‘You are Dribe?’ Hugh asked unnecessarily after his ‘Trump’ had received an  unenthusiastic response, and when the Keeper of Records nodded eagerly he said, ‘I have just arrived here. I gather that our forces are now entering Breena?’

‘Indeed,’ said Dribe. ‘The announcement came from Derag, speaking for His Highest Majesty who is still in an extremely long conference with His Greatestness. He says that our troops will now move in and crush all opposition from the Aiennea witch and her presumptuous followers, to bring all of them under proper control. It is only expected to take a few days to accomplish that.’

‘Oh, said Hugh. ‘Um … Well, anyway, I am interested to find out more about Wreyges in our history.’ Dribe’s sudden look of complete joy faded a little when he added hastily, ‘Unfortunately, I have rather limited time available.’

‘There is so much,’ Dribe responded eagerly, ‘from the bloodsucking legends so popular with the young to the naughty-child-eating ones used to frighten the very young, to the god-messengers, to the magic-sappers, to the devourers of the dead, and to the brain-suckers. There is also a smaller group of writings which have them as great leaders sent from another realm. Some have recently taken the view that His Greatestness is one of these, but of course he is but an advisor to His Highest Majesty. Which is your greatest area of interest?’

‘What records go back the furthest in a form which it is felt has been little changed?’ Hugh asked.

‘Of course, the one going back as far as records exist is the old meaningless nursery rhyme you know as well as I do:

Fear the wrath of rampant Wreyges

Keep them locked in separate cages

See that they are never fed

On a horde of Darxem dead …’

When their passages are made

Is the time to be afraid.’

‘I know it, indeed,’ said Hugh, with perfect truth. ‘Any more of similar antiquity?’

‘The only other is the Minstrel Saga of the Wreyges. It has been added to and modified over aeons to produce any number of variations as well as the extremely long one generally adopted by minstrels to this day – or up to the day when minstrels were still heard.’ This last had a tone of bitterness.

‘All scholars agree, though,’ Dribe continued, ‘that one section which has the peculiar tendency to fall into the same cadences whatever language or dialect may be used, is at least part of the original form and goes back as far as we can measure. Do you know the verses beginning, “Wreyges are as night and day”?’

‘No, I don’t,’ said Hugh, and Dribe sighed in sorrow at such ignorance before reciting:

‘Wreyges are as night and day

And in cycles have their sway

Yet two parts are of a whole

Each of which must have its role

Sundered magic sends the urge

For the Wreyges to emerge

Life from death is what they seek

For each valley gives their peak

When their night with daytime blends

Great catastrophe it sends

Even though they both should be

Part of a duality

Through faults the vaults must be unsealed

For the way to be revealed

When their cradles are as one

Both beneath the selfsame sun

If divide was put in place

This must go to leave no trace

Bringing back the power of two

So the balance may renew

For such task the highest high

With supremacy must fly

And with all to all resigned

Whom the pattern has defined

Then with Wreyges held in thrall

Must go forward one in all

Understanding to bring through

Of all things both false and true

Thus with fusion of two parts

From their separate halves there starts

To emerge as in far past

Total unity at last’

‘Wow!’ Hugh exclaimed.

‘You find it interesting? No real sense to it, of course, like … oh, yes, I nearly forgot the totally nonsense one with shivering shocks. Also old, but mainly forgotten.’

Hugh gaped, and it was with difficulty he recovered his wits enough to say incredulously, ‘You mean:

The raging rocks

And shivering shocks

Shall break the locks

Of prison gates;

And Phoebus' car

Shall shine from far,

And make and mar

The foolish Fates. ?’

‘No, that’s a distorted version,’ said Dribe, ‘although I’m impressed that you know it at all. Anyway, it should go:

The Wreyges’ rocks

From shivering shocks

Shall break the locks

Of prison gates;

But blazing star

Can shine from far,

To make and mar

The foolish Fates.’

When his breath had come back, Hugh said, ‘Have you a message stone handy? Oh, no, hang on, I’ve got one. Do you mind? Both the last ones, please.’

‘Pleasure,’ said Dribe, and dictated.

‘One more question,’ said Hugh. ‘How far do the royal titles in Darx and in Breena go back?’

‘To earliest recorded times,’ was the reply. ‘Many have given those lines in the Saga the same fanciful interpretation as I see you are doing.’

‘You can have no idea what important help you’ve given. I hope to chat again, soon,’ Hugh declared. He scooted, leaving an extremely happy Keeper of Records.


The girl group made their way cautiously back towards the source of the latest nasty magic. Pip had to do double-distance, as usual, to keep them assured that nothing they would prefer not to meet was approaching or lying in wait.

After she had entered the passage they had bypassed, she returned almost immediately, became visible, uttered a few squeaks, and flickered out again just before re-entering it.

‘She sees nothing,’ said Tye softly, ‘but has picked up traces of someone familiar to most of us. Terribler, in fact.’

They waited. Then they waited a bit more. After that, they carried on waiting for what felt like an age.

Finally Pip reappeared abruptly and did a great deal of communicating.

‘Things are starting to add up,’ said Tye. ‘I am surprised we didn’t guess long ago.’

Then she continued just in time to save herself from being attacked. ‘After Pip had waited for some time, Terribler …’ some squeaks interrupted her, ‘…or someone who looks much like her, but with a bit of His Greatest-mess thrown in, came down towards us from the far end, looking annoyed. Pip was just about to warn us to get out of here when Terribler went into a set of rooms and closed the door. Pip waited for long enough to be fairly sure that she must have gone there to sulk again, and not on a quick visit.’

‘So from that, we may assume that the Terribler she has just been on a similar expedition to the one the His G went on, and we can presume it is for reasons they are the same. She was expecting the guests, was she not?’ said Lusi. ‘Now, the question it is whether we try and sneak past there to verify the suspicions we have got, or whether we take that as read and we try that we make the plans on that?’

‘We should investigate as fully as possible,’ Tergina said calmly. ‘I think our decisions will need to be based on knowledge rather than assumptions. If we are detected, I believe we have the necessary strength to deal with the problem, provided we are ready to merge quickly enough.’

A repetition of their earlier sneaking-past-doorways act came, with them hoping Terribler hadn’t assumed their earlier role of lurking behind doors ready to inflict damage.

Then they were at the end of the passage, and following the right hand fork of the T junction to where they sensed the magic was coming from.

‘As we thought,’ Tergina said when they came to a glowing barrier which writhed. ‘Now to test the theory. If we go with Tye in the centre, and our arms round her waist, while Lusi and I touch Pip on her front with our free hands, we’ll have total contact.’

The theory was, simply, that while they had been correct in having sensed that a male/female link would be the strongest, it wasn’t the best for this purpose, just as a completely male link had worked best with freeing Darrex. The resistance they had felt as a group of eight had been against the female part of it.

As soon as they merged They could sense it had been right. The power was less, but it was enough without the magic fighting against a part of them. They entered the first barrier, and passed through a void, offering two options, towards the one straight ahead. This opened into a great chamber, the mirror-image of the one they had visited previously, even to a recess on the side opposite where the other one had been. The rocks littered here looked slightly smaller.

There was one missing thing and one extra thing here, though. They could see nothing but blackness up the narrow part of this funnel roof, even from right underneath it; also They became aware that some slight tremors were coming from the ground underfoot.

Now, after passing back through the barrier, They moved straight to the one on their right rather than the one ahead, and broke the merge as soon as they were through it.

‘An actual cave, for this one,’ Tye remarked, admiring a stalactite. ‘Look, there’s daylight faintly visible that way.’

‘That must be the Darx end, rather than Terra,’ Tergina said.

‘We not changed, or go Between,’ nodded Lusi.

The mouth of the cave turned out to be on a barren hillside, and the rugged area visible from it, though now deserted, showed signs of recent occupation by great numbers.

‘The army, it has now gone to Breena instead,’ Lusi said.

‘Terra is through the cave in the other direction, I assume,’ said Tye, ‘but I don’t think we need to test it. Do you?’

The others all shook their heads, and Pip added, ‘Meep.’

‘Right, then, that’s a visit to the Northern Rift done and dusted. These Barrier/Conjunction/Interface things certainly make for fast travel. Let’s go,’ and they flew back into the cave.


‘So it seems pretty clear,’ said Hugh, after both expeditions had reported back and a stone had given the same message several times over, ‘that we all need to go to Breena, find Aiennea, and bring her here as fast as possible.’

CHAPTER 41: Taking Captives and Breena Visit


ack to tunnels and barriers and Interfaces,’ sighed Tye. ‘All this behaving like moles is becoming boring.’

‘At least we don’t have to do the boring as we go, the way moles do,’ Cudew remarked.

Darrex shook his head. ‘No,’ he said, ‘We’re not going that way. We are going to fly to the Interface at Flut Ring, which is within a fairly short distance from here. First, however, it is time to secure the Wreyges. A more sophisticated version of the magic-blocking spell they used on me, plus magically sealing the doors to their quarters, should do well enough, I would think. I am stronger than Felin, here, so for the id we are going to form I shall partner my sister.’

With that, he got up and headed for the door, expecting to be followed without question.

He got the first part right. He was followed.

‘How will Cudew fit up that spiral staircase?’ Hugh wanted to know.

‘How will you explain having the Daoine with you?’ Lusi asked.

‘Prince-size should just about make it, so when we reach the steps he will be told what a miserable cur he is,’ Darrex responded over his shoulder, and Cudew gave a silent snarl at him.

‘For the rest, I am still Highest King as far as everyone is concerned, Dew and Deng are Highest Princes, and Tergina is a Paramount Princess. It would take foolish bravery to ask such a group why another of the Paramount Princesses is suddenly Daoine and why other Daoine are present.’ He gave another backward glance. ‘Tone down that raiment, though.’

Not unexpectedly, when it came to forming the id Darrex had enormous difficulty in bringing himself to give himself over completely to Tergina. Finally Tye snapped at him, ‘Think back on all the years of abuse you have offered her, your own sister, based on your smug conviction that males are so superior. Even all the little things count. Think what you were prepared to put her through so that she could be “compliant”. Think that you were evil enough to want her publicly tortured to death. Now, surrender!’

That did it.

This Id knew, from having Darrex in it, that it was only necessary for all-to-all physical contact to be there at the time of merging, after which it no longer mattered much whether they were touching one another or not. The pairs still tended to do it, though.

The Wreyge known as Terribler had no time at all to react when the door to her rooms opened and she awoke from dozing in a comfortable chair to find the group inside, and staring at her. Though she still had much of her ‘Terblia’ looks about her - perhaps the real one had been totally different - she was now far more elfin in size and appearance. There was the same sense of sheer presence as His Greatestness gave.

She displayed incredible control. Only by a split-second was she delayed by shock, and then she reached for magic to inflict mayhem. Even after discovering that she had no access to magic in any form, she didn’t give up but tried to dash past them through the doorway, aiming a vicious jab at Lusi as the nearest and smallest.

The Id froze her in her tracks.

Then the Darrex-component of it demanded, ‘What is your true name, Wreyge?’

‘I am Wranda,’ she spat. ‘You are going to pay dearly for this. When the rest start com…’ she suddenly realised she might be saying too much, so she stopped saying it.

‘You will be helping us with that part in due course,’ the Id-through-Darrex said, and casually unfroze her just before they left and sealed her door.

The capture of His Greatestness was simply a repeat performance, except that he was seated on his ‘throne’ feeling important when they confronted him, and he didn’t try to make a dash for it.

He also furnished the opinion that they would live – though not very long – to regret it. After some resistance, he gave his name as Wrogen. What convinced him to do so were various alternative suggestions given by Id-components, such as ‘Greatest-mess’ and ‘Slimiest’ and ‘Grates-on-you’, or simply, ‘Grates’.

As the Id dissolved, a sense of relief could be felt in Darrex, and a trace of ‘serve-him-right’ in Tergina, both of which were natural enough.

From there they trooped to the bottom of the spiral stairs and all told Cudew just how miserable and insignificant he was until they got him down to the smallest possible prince cu. Even then it was a really tight fit, but he could just make it.

‘My head’s going in circles,’ he complained as they started to climb. ‘I wish my body would do the same with less difficulty.’

Once they emerged, they flew straight to Darrex’s rooms, Tye and Pip, Lusi, and Felin, all waited in another room while the rest of them joined Darrex in the meeting-room-with-table while he demanded of some gaping servants that Derag be brought to him.

Derag arrived promptly, and his jaw fell open when he saw who was with the king. ‘They … but didn’t they cause that lock …? The meld …we could tell later they aren’t who they seem to b…’ he babbled.

‘Never mind all that,’ Darrex snapped. ‘What is the news from the Flut Interface?’

‘Sorry, your Highest Majesty. The news is … er, actually the last news was that the magic key from His Greatestness had been used to open it and that the invasion … er, that is to say, that the liberation … force was entering.’

‘That was some time back?’ Derag nodded. ‘More news should have come by now?’ Another nod. ‘And, has it?’ This time a shake of the head.

Everyone present managed to copy Darrex in not letting the slightest trace of, ‘Oh, yippee!’ show.

‘I will take a selected group to go and see for myself what is happening,’ Darrex said. ‘Meanwhile, His Highestness is not to be disturbed, under any circumstances.’

‘He is locked in with his thoughts,’ Cudew said innocently and got glared at by the Highest King.


The bunch of flyers departing from Darrex’s tower gave little opportunity to be stared or wondered at. They ignored the formality of leaving via the area of the gates, and shot over the nearest wall at top speed before heading in the direction of Flut Ring.

‘I suppose that if we can’t get any news of where Aiennea is, we’d better all split up and look in as many Rings as we can manage, and then meet back at that Interface,’ Hugh called to Tye, Pip, and Cudew who were the ones within shouting earshot.

‘This is really going to be tricky,’ Tye called back. ‘We don’t want anyone getting lost during the search. How many days do you think we should allow as the maximum?’

Darrex had overheard this question. ‘We’ll decide that based on what we can learn inside Flut,’ he shouted.

It took a surprisingly short time to reach the Ring, and it was easy to see they had done so. The actual ring of flowers was the only thing left growing in a wide circle of trampled countryside. The signs were that the force here had probably been close to the size of the one at the Southern Rift.

Pausing only long enough to prepare themselves for fast reaction should they come across a nasty surprise on the other side, they entered the ring and stepped through the centre all together in a line.

The scene which met their eyes was another trampled one, and there were great numbers of creatures of the less pleasant varieties visible, drifting off in various directions. No Darxem were to be seen, but there were numbers of hovering Daoine who were apparently trying to discourage the creatures from attacking one another.

A few of the nearer creatures were now looking over their shoulders in an ‘Are these some crecords we’ve missed?’ kind of way at Darrex, Hugh and Dengana, and all three hastily sent out ‘We’re with the good guys’ messages.

Then a Daoine Highest Princess flew over, calling to all the hoverers, ‘The queen says you should try and shoo them all back into Darx. We don’t want them here.’

She looked ready to flee in panic when she saw their group approaching her, but Tye spurted ahead and called out, ‘Take us to the queen, please.’

Felin also spurted. ‘That would be High Queen Leppia?’ he asked.

The Highest Princess exited panic mode, gave a nod, and called back, ‘Follow me, please.’

‘Carry on spreading the shooing message,’ Hugh shouted to the others nearby, and their new guide gave him a startled look.

They were led to a hilltop where it could be seen that Leppia had been watching their approach with great interest and puzzlement.

The minute they landed in front of her, Darrex said, ‘Do you have any idea where we can find Aiennea?’

Annoyance at such lack of courtesy was swept aside by one closer look at him, and the rest of his group. ‘She’s having a quick rest over there,’ she said, waving a hand towards a pleasant spot nearby which was swarming with butterflies, ‘before she sets off to the Ring most likely to be attacked nex…’

Aiennea was no longer ‘over there’. In fact, she was approaching at speed, wearing something none of them would ever have believed she knew how to put on. It was a look of astonishment, mixed with … joy?

When she landed in front of them, she took in everything including the slightly different arrangement of titles and Adaptations at a glance.

Then she focussed completely on Darrex.

‘Dar,’ she said, ‘you are … you are … healed?’

Darrex nodded gravely. ‘I’m healing, Enny dearest.’

They stepped toward one another, and kissed.

CHAPTER 42: Ids, Wreyges, and the Power of Two


arrex had lost all inclinations to do any ducking and diving when the group – with one extra – returned. They simply flew directly to his tower, went to his most suitable sitting room, and took comfortable seats. Again there was a tendency to sit in pairs, and Darrex and Aiennea were no exception to this.

After refreshments had been brought by some servants who all seemed to have developed rather wide eyes and slightly open mouths, it was indicated to these that their presence was no longer needed. Only then was it possible to bring Aiennea properly up to date. Before they had set out on the return, they had only given her enough information to convince her that returning with them was more vital than anything else she could now do in the Rings.

The stone repeated its messages a few times more for her benefit, after which she was given some time to take everything in.

‘Yes, most aspects of the way forward are now made clear,’ she said finally. ‘I do so wish the pattern had not withdrawn itself from being understandable at this stage, but it is possible to tell that all that is needed at the moment has been laid down. It is up to us to use it properly. This will be a route full of dangers, and the more of those we can foresee, the better.’

‘Indeed,’ said Darrex. ‘The first thing we need to do is to get a fuller understanding of the Wreyges, and I feel this should come from the two of them we have waiting for us.’

‘That will be wise,’ Aiennea said. ‘We need to make haste, though. From adding everything together, it is clear that the start of the “shivering shocks” in the chamber on the Wranda side is a bad sign. It may be assumed that the same is taking place where Wrogen came from.’

‘Before we do anything else,’ Hugh said, ‘is there any chance we can, together, find and eliminate the Id which Wrogen created, and which you,’ he looked at Darrex ‘have managed to break away from? Even though it is too late for so many who have become addicted to the poison in it, if it is no longer there it will surely help all those who have only temporarily been contaminated.’

‘This part, I do not follow,’ Dengana said, and Lusi, Felin and Cudew murmured agreement.

‘Tell me if I’m wrong,’ Hugh said, looking at the two royals, ‘but, as I have worked it out, there are various kinds of mergers or ids. At the one end of the scale are those we use for melding of minds on a conscious level. That has minds brought together to operate as a combined entity, and is the strongest. For matters of magic, such minds gain greater strengths, in particular directions, from the kinds of balance underlying them.

‘Then, there are many which work by making a sort of separate mind, to which individuals are linked. This is the sort used by creatures themselves to control group behaviour, and would be the ones created or strengthened by crecords and then manipulated by them. When they are formed by creatures like swarming bees, I don’t think they make a conscious decision to do so, but these happen automatically in response to certain situations.’

He looked enquiringly at Darrex and Aiennea. They were both nodding, so he went on. ‘Humans, Darxem and Daoine also have such minds, formed by situations or created by individuals. These individuals may not even know how they produce the effect they obtain, but the id is what is behind it. Take the stirring up of a mob, for example. Often one says they are “mindless”, but they’re not. An evil group-mind has been formed, and has taken over.’

‘One of the most extreme examples of that, on Terra, which was similar to the Wreyge situation,’ Tye said thoughtfully, ‘was a man called Hitler. He created a group called Nazis which showed all the signs of being under the control of a similar group mind, and then having had the poison increasingly feed itself.’

‘On opposite side of that scale it could be one created by those they participate in the religious experience, or the audience it responds to music?’ Lusi asked.

‘It making the sense. Another example it would be the sports event,’ Dengana said. ‘We talk about the “atmosphere” when we are there at a game – is that not also the group mind?’

‘Here, we are also conscious of that happening for our most popular games – or were, in happier times, before it was decided that such things made people “unequal”,’ Tergina agreed.

‘I think that provides a good overview,’ came from Aiennea. ‘Now that we all know what sort of thing we are looking for, shall we seek it out and destroy it?’

‘Yes, and having been part of this one until so recently,’ Darrex said grimly, ‘I have a good general idea of where to start looking.’

There and then, they moved together and effortlessly surrendered in pairs, and then in pairs of pairs, until an Id was created which they could tell was the most powerful and comprehensive yet. This ‘Super-They’ probed, and found the entity of the Crow’s group mind as easily as crecords could trace those of their pets.

Then, all that their concentrated Id had to do was to will the other fragmented one to stop existing, and it did.

‘An Introduction to Act One,’ Tye said, when they emerged. ‘I hope the rest of the play will go as well.’

‘For the next part of the Introduction we need to bring on two more cast members though, don’t we?’ Tergina said.


It took a fair amount of persuasion for the respective Wreyges to come quietly. Even though Darrex, Aiennea and Cudew were not part of the party which collected them they could still both see that there were numbers enough to make good the threat that if they didn’t behave they would be carried - and not gently.

From the second they came together, the seething hatred they felt for one another was so clear it was like something solid. As a sample of their friendly communication, Wrogen said, ‘We had thought that we had done away with such vermin once and for all,’ while Wranda offered, ‘Our efforts to rid Darx of these vile creatures obviously have to be redoubled. They still ooze up, like slime.’

At the top of the staircase, both appeared to entertain an urge to make a break, but Cudew was then also in attendance to assure them that it would not be good thinking.

The recent id formation had strengthened an inclination for the various pairs in the sitting room to be close together with one another again, but when the Wreyges were told to occupy a couch facing the others they squeezed themselves up against opposite ends, and each turned away from the other.

Aiennea leant slightly forward in her seat, and said gently, ‘Now, do tell us about yourselves.’

The two sat in impassive silence.

‘You don’t really suck blood or brains, do you?’ said Hugh. ‘Or eat children? You don’t even eat the dead … but you do take magic from them!’

‘Only in the smal…’ Wrogen started to protest, and then shut up again.

‘Why don’t you tell us about one another, instead?’ Darrex suggested smoothly. He turned to Wranda. ‘Is it only that your group of Wreyges, or you as a female Wreyge …’

‘I am a Wreygess, and we are Wreygese,’ Wranda snapped.

‘… as a Wreygess, simply don’t like males?’

‘For good reason,’ Wranda raved. ‘In a race practising regeneration, they are no longer necessary, and they embody all the worst features of greed and evil …’

Wrogen thumped a fist on the space between the two of them. ‘Enough!’ he exclaimed. ‘It is the females who are evil and inferior, and there is no further need for them to rob us of sustenance or to emerge, in their cycle, to pollute the minds of Darxem with the sort of lies rampant in Breena.’

‘History shows,’ Wranda spat – literally, with the ‘esses’ – ‘that it has always been the male cycles which produce the violence and intolerance and ignorance, as you have already introduced at present, but now our own cycle is coming in time to correct it.’

‘When was it you resolved to destroy one another?’ Aiennea asked in a casual ‘pass the sugar, please,’ tone. ‘Was it when the cycles last coincided?’

‘Destroy one another?’ Wrogen repeated. ‘No, we resolved that it was necessary to eliminate these parasites for the future good of all, and thus we sealed our dome to destroy the Interface vital to them.’

Wranda was now looking thoughtful rather than blazing mad. ‘But, we sealed our dome and destroyed your Interface,’ she said wonderingly.

‘I would say,’ said Cudew, ‘that you need to face that you have both lost face by losing an Interface which wasn’t essential to either of you, after all. Except …’

During this exchange, the expressions of all those opposite Wrogen and Wranda had been showing more and more signs of comprehension.

Tergina voiced the thought that had now come to all their minds, including that of Cudew. ‘Except that it was essential, after all, but for different reasons.’

‘Although, wasn’t there said to have been a time when there was no Interface at all?’ Hugh asked.

Wrogen and Wranda both gave looks of disgust. ‘That was before any protection was put up against contamination,’ Wranda said.

‘In barbaric ancient times,’ added Wrogen.

After a long silence which would have been a deafening hubbub to a mind-reader, Hugh said, ‘Oh, just to clear up a point, you have accelerated the regeneration in all your capsules, haven’t you?’

‘You mean the cocoons?’ Wrogen said. ‘Yes, and they are overdue. The tremors to crack them open should have started days ago.’

Using all his control to keep his voice steady, Hugh added, ‘About how long does it take after the tremors start?’

Wranda was now openly staring at Wrogen. ‘One or two days, at the most,’ she answered for him.


‘It is time,’ Aiennea said in a gentle tone.

‘That it now is,’ Darrex agreed, starting to rise. ‘We know all we are likely to find out, now, and we need to try and put our knowledge into practice.’

‘Don’t tell me; I know,’ said Cudew miserably. ‘I have to squeeze myself down that twisty cheese-grater again.’

‘No!’ exclaimed Wrogen, trying to retreat further into the room.

‘Yes!’ said Wranda, grabbing his wrist and putting him into an arm-lock.

‘Yes, indeed,’ said Tergina, doing the same from the other side.

He wore a look of sheer horror and desperation as they started to march him towards the balcony, but then all fight went out of him, and he slumped. ‘Let me go,’ he said dully. ‘I will come with you.’

Hugh wondered if it was imagination that many of the Darxem seen on the way to the shaft-and-staircase tower already appeared to have added a little more colour into their lives. Then they were in the shaft, telling Cudew what a miserable specimen of mongrel he was on the way down, before corkscrewing their way to the passages.

Almost in silence, they made their way to the barrier guarding the entrance to the ‘void’ space leading to the Wreyge hall entrance. There they paused and began to pair up again to form the id. At this, Wrogen again needed to be restrained, which interrupted the process slightly. He was gabbling, ‘No, no, no, this would be pollution, no, no!’

Then the Id came into being, and took him captive into it. Finally, the same was done for Wranda. At the instant of including each, their access to magic was restored to them. Wrogen reacted by struggling furiously, this time using magic, but was subdued with ease. Again, Wranda submitted after the briefest of probes, and after that only made use of her magic to observe.

Through the first barrier and across the void into the next the Id moved, and had a feeling of collective relief to find that while the floor there was trembling in a far more violent way than had been experienced in the other chamber, no cracks were yet appearing in the ‘rocks’ now known to be cocoons.

The Id moved to the centre of the chamber and, as soon as its components were in position, directed an exploratory blast to the fault in the rock barrier closing the funnel part of the roof. From this, the Id judged that about five times the strength was needed, narrowed down to the fault, so it delivered that.

A shaft of sunlight came into the hall, and splashed onto the floor. The tremors ceased.

At the same time, it could be seen that another Interface had come into being in the ‘alcove’ at the side; a writhing wall some distance from the mouth of the ‘tube’. The Id made no attempt to enter this, but instead retreated and headed straight for the Wreygese hall, saying to itself, ‘So far, so good.’

This time, the cobley lighting enabled the Id to see right into the funnel as far as the closed part, where the Id-through-Hugh could spot a corresponding fault providing the only key to blasting this seal open. The considerable strength needed for the blast was known, and only one painstakingly focused attempt was needed. Sunlight entered, the floor became still, and another new Interface became visible in the alcove on the opposite side to the one in the Wreyge hall.

Now the Id did approach the Interface, but stopped short of it, probing. Then it said to itself, ‘This is going to take everything we’ve got,’ adding, with a note of despair, ‘and more.’

At that, there was a strange shift in the composition of the Id. The two units in thrall gradually, hesitantly, aligned themselves with one another. Then, with a joyful confidence, that new id merged with the whole. An instant later, a blast of huge intensity was directed at the alcove Interface.

The mighty flash which came seemed to happen in slow motion, giving a spectacular display of all the wide array of colours in the Darx spectrum. Then, so many further sensations arrived at the same time that it was impossible to take them all in until later, in memory.

First and foremost came an emotion of great relief, as if something placed under intolerable tension had finally been released. Then came an instant of adjustment, as if seeking and finding a balance. Closely on the heels of that came joy.

Then, there was music, blending as part of the spreading flash, with a sustained chord holding within it a million glorious melodies and harmonies, and embodying an infinite variety of harmonics.

Something like a breeze was wafting through, caressing wherever it touched. It carried exquisite perfumes, and yet on the tongue gave impressions of superb food.

 The barrier had disappeared and there was now no sign of the alcove or the beginnings of the giant pipe-like tunnel. Instead there was an open space, and the rock wall round it was turning misty in an ever-widening circle. Gradually, a mirror-image of the vast chamber was becoming visible on the far side, and at the same time there was an impression of an infinitely slow but steady progress of both spaces towards one another.

When the display of the flash faded, the bar of sunlight beamed at the centre of the floor, and its counterpart visible on the other side, could be seen to diffuse and spread, giving a golden glow to everything they touched. As this glow reached the Id, a feeling of re-energising came with it – together with a realisation that without this boost there would have been no power left for returning through the barriers.

As it was, so little remained that, in the instant of coming through, the Id fell apart and so did its components. That is to say, everyone was so exhausted that they simply fell over and lay on the floor of the passage, unmoving, for many minutes.

CHAPTER 43: Meetings, a Banquet, and Departure


rogen and Wranda were the first to rise, and they clung to one another, both weeping uncontrollably. By the time the others had got to their feet, all immediately drifting into pairs, Wrogen was gabbling between sobs.

‘So many centuries of folly in place of wisdom,’ he wailed. ‘So much waste of all the time bought with magic.’

‘We, also, have used the many lifetimes available to each of us through regeneration,’ sniffled Wranda, ‘towards greater and greater acts of selfishness and evil, all in the conviction that we were correcting foul injustices.’

‘It seemed so clear,’ said Wrogen, ‘that in the natural order of things males had to be dominant, and that where the question of producing new generations no longer applied, females would be redundant.’

Wranda took a turn with, ‘We thought our cycles were so much more tolerant towards all, but every one of them still swung the pendulum much too far in the other direction.’

‘More recently, for us, it appeared to be such a logical step to regard ourselves as superior beings to whom all others should be subservient,’ said Wrogen.

All these speeches were broken by sundry sobs, hiccups, sniffles and chokes.

Aiennea, on the arm of Darrex, said, ‘While our own actions and thoughts have been influenced by your people over the ages, I believe we still take the blame for not seeing considerably beyond the thought that the only reason there are separate sexes would be for breeding.’

Darrex gave her a fond look and shook his head wonderingly. ‘So much evidence in everything we see,’ he said, ‘and in so many writings like the Saga, and we were blind to it. The power of two, brought into accord, is the only thing which can produce a perfect balance. All else brings conflict.’

‘The perfect partnership,’ Tergina said. She and Felin had arms around one another. ‘Everyone is prepared to accept that there is no such thing, so they don’t bother to strive for it.’

‘How often I’ve heard that,’ Felin agreed. ‘One assumes that some single person has to make final decisions or agreement will never be reached, and so one person is elected to do it. In that way, one doesn’t have the hard work of enforcing that the decisions all have to be joint ones.’

Aiennea seemed to be looking at something far away as she murmured, ‘How mistaken it has been, too, to think that uneven numbers or casting votes are required to resolve conflict. In a triumvirate, so often thought to be the ideal for leadership or justice, two of the members are frequently outvoting the third. That means the solutions are still forced ones, and that they cannot be perfect. Such systems invite imbalance, and that is what they get.’

‘Much as I enjoy standing in cramped passages and chatting,’ said Cudew, ‘don’t you think we might be a tiny bit more comfortable somewhere else?’

‘Yip,’ said Pip.


The passageways appeared to have been simplified in some way, and they reached the staircase unexpectedly soon. All of them put this down to the fact that they had been immersed in thought while getting there.

However, the Darrex Palace which they emerged into, and indeed the whole of Darx itself, had clearly undergone some change. One couldn’t define it, but it was apparent from the slightly puzzled expressions on the faces of all those seen during their return to the king’s tower that everyone had become aware of it.

The expressions in fashion for the servants who brought more much-needed refreshments to everyone were still of utter astonishment, with the bewildered ones worn as accessories.

Derag had been sent for again, and arrived promptly, looking greatly disturbed. ‘Triumph the Cause!’ he barked, glaring at the company the Highest King was keeping.

‘Indeed so,’ said Darrex, ‘although the cause we want to triumph now has been modified considerably.’

A look of disbelief and of desperation crossed Derag’s face. ‘This cannot be. You are no longer fit to serve The Cause or the ideals as originally set out by His Greatestness here,’ he ranted. ‘You and he have been corrupted by these foul witches and this women’s-lapdog,’ glaring at Felin.

With that, he turned on his heel and stretched his wings as if to fly out of the room. Then, in an instant, he pivoted to face Darrex again, stretching out his hand to give a killing blast. The act was so unexpected that there was simply no time to shield or retaliate.

One could almost sense the blast starting its deadly course when a single glarespell hit Derag from behind, and he fell over. Everyone’s eyes travelled from the fading form to the cu crouched down near the door with a sprite on his back.

‘Pip! You?’ gasped Tye.

‘Yip,’ said Pip, in a yip of vicious satisfaction.

‘His expression of cunning just before he turned again gave him away,’ Cudew remarked. ‘I was a lot slower than Pip in reacting to it, though.’ The cu glanced at the spot where Derag had been, and added, ‘He was so dead certain regarding The Cause, but now it’s certain he’s dead from regarding it.’

Darrex sighed. ‘This is a clear indication of the sort of reaction we can expect from so many,’ he said sombrely, and rose. ‘I am going to find Dorge to tell him personally that messages must go out everywhere to say that we have made peace with the Daoine, and that all hostilities are to cease.’

He left, straight away.

‘I’m going, too,’ said Cudew. ‘It’ll help if I can convince Cudorge.’ He also flew out. To Tye’s surprise, so did Pip.

‘This will be too late to save the invading forces, of course,’ Aiennea said sadly, ‘but, as we know, the Darxds in them have all been as corrupted beyond the point of no return, as was Derag.’

Not long after, the king returned followed by a cu and a sprite. ‘That part is done,’ he said, and looked at Aiennea. ‘Now, I feel completely daunted at how we tackle things from here.’

She went still, and her eyes became unfocussed for a while. Then she said, ‘We may have some help, soon. The pattern is reforming in some … quite wonderful ways … but will probably take some time before we can make it out.’

Wrogen and Wranda both gave wordless exclamations, and also sat frozen for a few minutes. ‘You are right,’ Wrogen said. ‘This is a completely new shape coming into play. The old pattern took in our Wreyge plan to have another mass opening of cocoons with the life-force from magic coming from the deaths caused in universal conflict on Terra, Darx and Breena, and to assume control of all three realms once and for all. This doesn’t.’

‘On our side it took in the intention to wipe away male domination by any means available,’ said Wranda. ‘Now it starts to show a wonderful new course under The Power of Two.’

‘That is true,’ agreed Wrogen. ‘Look, the first things starting to be indicated here show that the new order of things must not be rushed, and that everyone will need to be eased into acceptance one step at a … but here I am, behaving as if I am still His Highestness instead of Its Very Lowestness.’

‘This shows,’ said Darrex, ‘that the traditional roles you Wreyges or Wreygese have had as advisors here and in Breena, with the abilities and knowledge and experience you have built over such long periods, are more vital than ever before. Even if you did fall considerably short on the wisdom side,’ he added rather sadly.

He turned to Aiennea. ‘In Breena, you once told me that your advisors are often those in charge of your Magic Arts Guild?’ She nodded, and he went on, addressing Wrogen again, ‘Then, perhaps, it would be good for you to be tied in more with our Darx Artz Guild?’

Wrogen gave a wry smile. ‘As a means of keeping us Wreyges out of mischief? That could work quite well as something we can aim towards for the future. With both guilds rebalanced, of course.’

‘Now, though,’ said Darrex, let us have a full meeting of all the princes and see just how far we can start moving new ideas forward.’


A large public room in another part of the palace was used for this meeting. Only when all princes had been seated did the group consisting of Darrex, Aiennea, Wrogen, Wranda, Dengana, Lusi, Hugh, Tye, Felin, Tergina, Cudew and Pip take the stage.

With his voice carrying magically to the furthest corners, the Highest King began by saying, ‘Before I introduce all those here with me to those who may not yet know them, let me ask you whether you sense that some great change has taken place?’

A murmur of agreement came from everyone.

‘This has stemmed from a magical challenge to our very existence. I cannot expect you to understand the details at this stage, but I do ask that you accept the knowledge that has instinctively come to each one of you that a major catastrophe has been averted.

‘The success we achieved could not have been attained without incredible commitment and effort on the part of everyone up here now, including Her Highest Majesty, Supreme Queen Aiennea of Breena, with whom we are now at peace - a peace which we expect will prove to be everlasting. Breena is, in fact, going to be making some changes in the way they are ruled.’

At the last statement, many of the much darker princes present, who had been becoming increasingly disturbed, relaxed and gave smirks.

‘In fact it may be necessary to reintroduce our other king titles, so that these can be put in place in Breena,’ said Darrex with, as a throwaway. ‘and, of course, recognise the Breena queen ones.’

Princely smirks became knowing ones, and widened considerably.

‘However,’ Darrex went on, ‘success could not have come had we not been prepared to adopt some brave decisions in our turn. One of these was to appoint the Paramount Princesses to assist us. You will note that for us to succeed it became necessary for Paramount Princess Tyria and our new Paramount Princess Tuza willingly to become magically converted to Daoine.’ Immediately, many of the glances directed at those two became a little less disapproving.

‘Another who has earned the title through the most valiant services, including saving my own life, is Paramount Princess Pip.’

‘Squeak?!’ said Pip.

Comment something along the same lines was present among many of the princes. Highly titled sprites were not something to which they were accustomed.

‘Now, it is only logical that we balance these titles with those for princes who have highly distinguished themselves, such as Paramount Princes Dew, Deng, Felin, and Cudew.’

At this, the new Paramount Princes looked startled. Audience approval was clear for the first two, but mixed regarding the other pair.

‘All these titles will hold good in Breena, too,’ Aiennea put in mildly, and there was a great deal of blinking in surprise at the sheer presence she projected.

‘That is all I can tell you, for now,’ Darrex concluded. ‘There is much food for thought. Talking of which, it has been a long time since we have had cause for celebration. I think that a banquet would be appropriate. Any questions?’

A great deal of shuffling of bottoms on seats took place, which may have produced some static electricity but did not spark any speech. The meeting ended with those who had attended flying out looking bewildered but, in the main, fairly happy.

‘That was an excellent start,’ Wrogen said, ‘even though you took things ahead faster than I would have advised.’

‘What works, works,’ was Wranda’s comment.


Everyone had gone to their rooms to freshen up and to keep out of the way of an increasingly excited bustle as Darrex Palace prepared to hold the first banquet in a very long time.

Then Hugh said to Cudew, who still had Pip with him, ‘I need to go and speak to Aiennea.’

The dog opened one eye. ‘Go ahead,’ he said, and closed it again.

Hugh took off from the balcony and headed back to Darrex’s tower. Somehow he felt no surprise to meet Dengana going the same way, and to find that Tye had just landed on a balcony where Aiennea was taking her ease.

‘Ah, I expected the three of you,’ the queen said, ‘without needing to read any pattern. You have the feeling that your vital parts have been fulfilled?’

Three sets of nods responded.

‘You are right, I believe, except for the last service you can render by quietly mixing and helping people to get used to the new order of things during the celebrations. Then you will want to get back to your own world.’

‘What I would like’, said Dengana, ‘is that I go back and I tell everyone it is now safe to go back to the Rhino Valley, where it is their home.’ Then he added unexpectedly, ‘But then I want that I return to Breena. I have great love for my family, but my own home, in my heart, it is now there.’

‘Does Lusi know this?’ Aiennea asked casually.

‘No,’ Dengana said, sounding hurt. ‘I go to her room, but she not wanting to speak to me.’

‘You silly goose,’ said Tye. ‘She’s probably busy crying like anything at the thought you’ll be going home.’

Dengana’s face lit up. ‘I can live there?’ he asked the queen.

‘Of course,’ she replied.

‘Stay well,’ he said, beaming, and suddenly was no longer there.

Hugh blinked at his zooming friend, and then asked, ‘Can we still get back to Rhino Valley on the Sunday we left?’

‘I’m afraid not,’ Aiennea replied. ‘More time has elapsed than it had been thought might be necessary – anyway, that whole pattern went awry and has worked out better than I could have imagined in my wildest dreams. Still, that means that you would get there no sooner than late on Monday.’

Hugh and Tye had sinking feelings. Then Tye said, ‘Oh, this is ridiculous. I’m worried about worrying Mom, when we’ve just been seriously worried about millions of people getting killed and all sorts of disaster … but I’m still worried about worrying Mom,’ she finished miserably.

‘If we cycle straight to Ummango,’ Hugh said, ‘we can surely phone from there by late evening? That won’t be so bad.’

‘Wait a minute,’ Aiennea said, ‘there are Conjunctions which could get you directly to your own home Interface for Monday evening, going through Flut Ring and then glancing through Glit to Glim.’

‘We’ll book that flight,’ smiled Tye, and got looked at strangely.


The banquet had a feeling of unreality. There was constant changing of seats to enable people to chat to as many others as possible. Hugh and Tye deliberately stayed together - which they wanted to do, anyway - and set out to charm and dazzle wherever possible. They had allowed slightly more colour in their dress than was now becoming the greatly improved norm, to encourage the process, and they needed little effort to show one another up to best advantage in conversation. Their minds remained closely in tune.

Darrex and Aiennea as a pair were, of course, simply overwhelming, while Dengana with Lusi, and Felin with Tergina, were more than keeping their ends up. Cudew and Pip were also making a great impression from the sidelines.

Even though everyone found Wrogen and Wranda totally intimidating, their presence certainly did have an impact in the right direction.

By the time the party ended it was, as Darrex said to all of them, ‘Job extremely well done.’


Farewells after breakfast were brief though emotional. Even so, there were so many of them that it was well into the morning before they were able to start flying towards Flut Ring.

They were particularly touched when Aiennea said, ‘I really do so love all of you.’

Felin had demanded to be their guide yet again, and had not experienced any difficulty in persuading Tergina to come with all of them to enjoy the brief tour of three of the Rings.

Saying goodbye to Dengana and Lusi just inside the Flut Interface was particularly hard. ‘We still find way we see our brother Hugh and sister Tye, and our friends, plenty-plenty,’ Lusi promised.

‘Go well!’ Dengana said, managing to put a wealth of emotion into those traditional words.

Then they were on their way again, with just the six of them.

Cudew was in fine form, and looking forward to seeing Terra. It was clear that he and Pip were having a lot of communication, because he was able to describe many things about their home which Pip had experienced. The idea of mechanical contrivances instead of magic gave him a lot of amusement.

The trip was as uneventful as flying with one’s own wings in interesting company over countryside with all sorts of Daoine and Faie folk and animals, birds and insects of all descriptions could be. However, at the insistence of Tergina, they stopped to overnight at Rheia Palace in Glim Ring – she said it was ridiculous that they had never met the queen of their ‘home’ one.

The reception they received there was overwhelming, particularly as it transpired that Chenia was there. She had helped with the successful defence of Glim Ring, which had come shortly on the heels of that of Glit.

She related with glee an interesting bit of news from Ding Ring that an army waiting to attack them or Dong - depending on the timing - hadn’t needed any attention. They had been wiped out in a flash flood at Lookout Ford after the magic alarm system there had somehow failed to tell them to look out in time.

Higher Queen Rheia had a girlishly enthusiastic way about her. ‘Oh, I am ever so thrilled,’ she said, ‘to have such important and heroic people as guests, and, oh, it so fantastic that Paramount Princess Tye should claim this as her home Ring … oh, and Paramount Prince Hugh, too, of course.’ The last was noticeably added as an afterthought.

‘Oh, and now you must let me take you to meet the wonderful new young Highest Queen Glorianne. Marvellous choice. She was wonderful when dealing with her invasion, and, oh, an amazing help when it came to ours. Oh, did you know, when she was promoted she was still one of the  princesses-in-waiting as part of her training, but she, oh, and her sisters too, all have, oh, such simply incredible talentbut she is, oh, quite outstanding.

Tye burst out laughing when she saw who it was. ‘She and Hugh have already seen a lot of one another,’ she spluttered.

The new Highest Queen Glorianne, young though she was, exuded much the same sort of quiet power as Aiennea or Darrex - but she was still quite recognisably Tertia.

‘I did feel there was something rather special about them, and particularly her,’ Hugh said later, ‘but I couldn’t quite put a finger on it.’

‘As she did, on you,’ rejoined Tye, with just a trace of malice.


Palaces had a habit of being somewhat disruptive of their travel routines. They set off far later than they should have done, and by the time they had taken affectionate leave of Felin and Tergina, and moved through the Interface to come into Terra at the bottom of the garden of the Redcorn home, it was well into evening.

CHAPTER 44: Home


 don’t know how you knew, but you were right,’ was the first thing they heard, in Donald’s voice, as they came through.

‘What on earth is that with them?’ came in Raine’s.

The first thing they saw was a mother and a father, both of whom were doing amazingly good jobs of combining expressions of fury and relief as they came towards them from the direction of the house.

Various things got in the way of the mother and father starting, straight away, on stored-up speeches like, ‘Where have you been?’ and ‘Have you any idea how worried you made us?’ and, ‘What have you been up to?’ and ‘How could you betray the trust we put in you?’ and blocked them completely.

The first of these had been the sight of Cudew at Hugh’s side with Pip perched on his back. Then it was taking in that Hugh and Tye had arms around one another’s waists. The next, and definitely effective one, was the feeling that these were not quite the same youngsters they had said goodbye to a couple of days ago. Something about them was deeply impressive.

The most conclusive reason was when they both gave cries of joy and ran forward, Hugh to hug Donald, and Tye to hug Raine. Nothing much could have provided more of a shock, though, than when the two, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, swopped over and Hugh hugged Raine while Tye hugged Donald Pip had come onto her shoulder for this exercise, and gave each a little kiss.

It was clear that Raine, in particular, simply couldn’t believe her eyes.

‘Now,’ said Hugh, ‘before you start yelling, we are truly sorry that we have caused you both worry. As excuses, we could start with one that we have been busy becoming Paramount Princes and Princesses …’

‘… or helping to save this world and two others …’ put in Tye.

‘… or learning about The Power of Two …’ Hugh continued,

‘… but, for now, please let us tell you rather a long story – in fact, a very long story - and promise to hear us out completely before you react,’ Tye concluded.

Donald opened his mouth, but speech hadn’t come out of it yet when Hugh added, ‘Oh, and if you’re about to ask if I’ve taken my meds, no I haven’t for some time, and I won’t be ever again. I’m afraid I have to tell you that they were a mistake. Shall we go in?’

In complete puzzlement, Donald and Raine followed. Seeing their clothing reminded Donald of something. ‘Where are your bikes?’ he asked sharply.

‘Up at Rhino Valley, in the Henderson’s house,’ Hugh replied.

‘The Two Old Frogs are both dead, I’m afraid,’ Tye put in. ‘Before we start, I think we both need a shower and a change.’

‘Where are we going to put the dog? Where did you get him?’ Raine asked, trying to pretend to herself that she hadn’t heard the Rhino Valley remarks.

‘Oh, sorry, the “dog”’ is a Darx Cu, and a cu is an Irish Wolfhound. We have accepted one another as companions, and he is no stranger to homes – or palaces, mostly.’ Hugh said, walking in and entering the sitting room. Cudew followed and sat upright next to the chair Hugh threw himself into. ‘Let me introduce you: this is Cudew,’ and he spelt it. Cudew grinned, lifted a paw, and waved – from side to side rather than up and down.

‘That’s my Dad, Donald,’ Hugh said, and now Cudew went over, sniffed him, and gave his hand a brief lick before waiting expectantly. ‘And that’s Tye’s mom, Raine.’ Cudew repeated the exercise on her before returning to Hugh.

‘How do you do,’ Donald and Raine chorused, both feeling ridiculous. The dog stood up, wagged his tail vigorously a few times, and sat down again.

The cu occupied himself by exploring the house in a leisurely but methodical manner while Hugh and Tye were away, and by totally disconcerting Donald and Raine when nodding or shaking his head at various points of the gabble of speculation they directed at one another.

When the younger two re-emerged from respective bathrooms, they lost no time in commencing the story.

‘I suppose the real start,’ Hugh began, ‘needs to be to say that the strange things I have seen all these years have been real, but I simply didn’t know how to handle them. Tye has always had the same ability, but was a lot more sensible about it.’

‘I didn’t doubt my senses, and I avoided letting them distract me,’ Tye explained.

‘Anyway,’ continued Hugh, looking at his father, ‘do you remember when the bees attacked?’ Donald hardly needed to nod. ‘Well, a lot more was happening than either of us knew, but some of it was coming through to me. I had sensed what we now know as the id of the bees, and also a creature communicator, or crecord, deliberately inciting them to attack. By some miracle, I managed to get it right in stopping the rage, and in chasing the crecord away.’

By now he could sense a well of disbelief building up in his father in particular, and he held up a hand. ‘Please, just keep listening.’

‘Constantly tell yourselves it’s only a fairy tale,’ Tye told them with a slight smile.

The story continued with Hugh and Tye taking turns in relating or adding to it, or putting in comments, in no planned order. It still carried on while all of them participated in preparing supper - Happiness had retreated to her quarters long before they had even arrived. Then they went on with only the occasional break for coffee and biscuits. It was accepted without saying that there would be no going to bed before the whole story had been told.

Tye cried, and Hugh sniffled, when they got to the part about Avinia. Raine shed some tears, too.

Much further on, Tye did not mince words when describing the “compliance” test. Raine went nearly hysterical, and Donald was clutching the arm of his chair with white knuckles.

Later still, when they took turns to tell about Hugh staying with Tye to rid her of the glarespell locked in by the feverspell, she chose that she would be the one to relate the part where she had finally been able to start healing her mind. ‘I slowly realised from everything that had happened that I could trust and rely on Hugh without any reservation whatsoever. He had come to know through the mind-meld what my father had tried to do to me, and that he had then simply walked out on us. Hugh forced me to confront that memory, and then convinced me that most men are not like that but are naturally good, like his own dad. He said that he himself simply tried to follow his dad’s example. Then I just howled, and it washed most of the evil away.’

At this, Raine got up and hugged Hugh and Donald fiercely in turn, saying, ‘Thank you, both of you, for being what you are.’

It was the not-so-early hours of the morning when they skimmed over the return journey, pausing only to laugh about the surprise new Highest Queen Glorianne, and could finally rest their hoarse voices.

‘I know this is all true,’ Raine said. ‘You are still desperately fighting against it, though, Donald darling?’

Donald had a trapped look. ‘It is quite preposterous,’ he said. ‘Such things cannot be. They fly in the face of Science …’

At this, Cudew gave a couple of ‘Woofs’, and Hugh grinned. ‘He says that it is quite true that fairies fly in the face of Science, and of Magic, too.’

‘No, said Donald. ‘It must be some hallucination … but such amazing detail? … or … something. It simply cannot be true.’

Raine went over to him and put a hand on his shoulder. ‘Remember that Sherlock Holmes quote, “… when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth,”? It seems to me you are trying to eliminate the improbable in favour of the impossible.’

‘No; yes; oh … maybe,’ said Donald.

‘Let us say,’ said Raine, tears coming into her eyes, ‘that you had absolute proof that it was all true. Where would you want Hugh and Tye, and us, to go from there?’

Donald was silent for a long time. Then he said, ‘There would be a choice between them simply returning to a school routine tomorrow … today, that is … and picking up their ordinary lives as if none of this had ever happened …’

There was an even longer silence before he went on slowly, ‘… or, they could go back with the incredible powers they have gained, and once more be at the forefront of striving to bring this Darx and this Breena into the wonderful balance as foreseen in this concept of The Power of Two.’

‘And from there, eventually into Terra,’ Tye murmured.

‘It is hardly a choice at all,’ Donald said.

By now, Raine was weeping steadily. ‘Yes,’ she choked, ‘and never mind, even, which of the two seems the most important. If they remain here now, wouldn’t it be rather like taking an eagle which has mastered flying and forcing it to return to its nest and stay there?’

‘It would that,’ said Donald. ‘I really … don’t want to lose a son, but …’

‘We’ll still be in touch whenever we can,’ Hugh said.

‘And that is a promise,’ nodded Tye, going over to hug her mother.

‘They mustn’t be seen here, which means they need to leave almost immediately.’ Raine said, trying to control her sobs.

‘You’ll have to report us missing as soon as you can,’ said Hugh. ‘Perhaps you can say we gave hints of wanting to go to Rhino Valley, so as to reduce the time spent on a wasted search. I doubt if there will be much of a fuss after the bikes are found.’

‘We’ll have no trouble at all in showing sorrow,’ choked Raine, ‘and nobody will guess that our worry isn’t about not knowing what has happened to you, but about what new dangers you will be facing in going back to such terrifying challenges.’

There were more tears all round at the farewell, and also while all of them trooped to the Interface. After the final kisses had been exchanged, Hugh said to Cudew, ‘I must do this while I can get my arms round you,’ and gave the great hound some fond hugs.

‘Me, too,’ said Tye, and hugged in her turn.

Embracing one another closely, Donald and Raine watched as Hugh and Tye, arm-in-arm, alongside Cudew with Pip on his back, moved into the ring of flowers.

They reached the centre, boy and girl turned to wave once, and all four vanished.



t was late afternoon when Dengana came wandering casually down the hill towards Sisebenzela. Most of the villagers had returned from such temporary work as they had been able to find. Herders were bringing the cattle down from the hills, including the one he was on, and those called out greetings which he returned cheerfully.

Sound travelled well in the area, and some villagers had poked noses out to see if there was anything to be curious about. They decided that there was, and soon quite a number were moving to intercept him.

There was something about him, though, that put them in awe, even his own brothers, and so it was a fairly silent procession that accompanied him into the actual village.

First, he vanished into the home of his parents.

When they had greeted him, his father said, ‘You have been involved in great matters in the land of the small ones.’

‘It is so,’ Dengana said.

‘You are leaving us,’ his mother said sadly.

‘It is so,’ Dengana said again, ‘but I will return when I am able. Sometimes I may be here, but you will not see me.’

This did not cause any unease. Then his mother exclaimed in surprise, ‘I see the small one with you!’

‘Then you will be able to see me when I have this form,’ said Dengana. ‘This she be Lusi.’ Lusi waved, Dengana’s mother waved back, and his father gaped.

‘I now need that I speak to the sangoma and the headman,’ he said. Normally an almost-demand like this from one so young would have earned a brief and painful response, but now there was no argument.

The headman led them to a large space to the side of the buildings. ‘We shall all hear you,’ he said. ‘Fundani, has the sangoma been called?’

‘She says we must go to her,’ Fundani said nervously.

‘Tell her Dengana is here to speak to us,’ the headman said, and within a remarkably short time the sangoma arrived, almost running.

Dengana addressed her directly. ‘You have seen that I have been given favour by small people for great things the Hugh and his sister, and I with my sister, have been able to do. We are all now the princes and princesses in that place, and so is Lusi here.’

‘I have seen you before, and I see you now, small one who is now sister of Dengana’ said the sangoma.

There was an even mixture of those who said ‘Where?’ and those saying, ‘There!’

‘I come with the news it is good,’ said Dengana. ‘Our valley it is now safe again.’

‘The ancestors have not told me where they have gone,’ said the sangoma.

‘There is now no reason for them not to return,’ said Dengana. ‘A great impi of tokeloshes and devils has been killed before they could swarm into that place. ‘One thing I must tell you: a special Ingwe lives there who has helped us, and he must be honoured and protected as I will tell him to honour and protect you.’

‘This cannot be,’ said the headman. ‘The leopards killed all at Old Frogs.’

‘This is one of the leopards who did this thing,’ admitted Dengana, ‘but his mind it was made bad by evil tokoloshe which we have killed.’

The sangoma clapped her hands once, and said, ‘We will honour him.’

‘I still say this must not be,’ the headman insisted.

‘It must be so,’ said the sangoma, and they glared at one another.

‘Have you felt something move, in the all-that-is?’ Dengana asked abruptly.

‘There was … something …’ the headman responded.

‘This, it was a great happening,’ the sangoma agreed.

Dengana paused for effect, and then said solemnly, ‘The thing that we have brought about, it is The Power of Two. We must try that all things they now weigh as equal. In everyone that rules, there must be this balance. The headman and the sangoma, they must speak with the one voice.’

After some thought, the main feeling seemed to be that this would be a good idea.

‘You will honour Ingwe?’ he challenged the headman. The headman hesitated for a while, and then nodded.

‘In the home, the man and the wife, they must speak with the one voice,’ Dengana went on.

After hardly any thought, the main feeling - particularly among the men - was that this would be a very bad idea.

‘Keep thinking on this,’ Dengana said. ‘If it is not made so, the balance we must have, it will not come. And now, my sister and I, we go back to the other land. You come, that you see us go, and those they do not see her now will also know that I speak truly.’

The whole village trooped up the hill in the gathering dusk, and all the women set up a spontaneous ululation of celebration and respect as about half of them watched a tiny girl and a normal-sized boy abruptly disappear from sight after reaching the centre of a ring of flowers, while the rest only saw it happening to the boy.


The leopard was well away from the houses in the valley when Dengana’s call came.

*Bat-human-that-was-human-cub?* he guessed.

‘Yes. Wait. We come,’ sent Dengana.

They found the leopard in a group of trees lining one of the steep mountain streams, spread out across an ideal lounging-branch. Part of the carcase of a baboon was lodged nearby. He looked at them lazily as they landed on another branch which was out of squinting (and swatting, just in case of an unfortunate reflex action) distance. *Bat-human-with-purrs-for-human-cub has found human cub now bat-human, but she is now small-shiny again* he observed, seeming quite relaxed about all these changes, and then sent, *Other human cubs did not come back.*

Lusi sent the picture this time, of the others being driven to take another way.

‘Now, humans come back soon,’ sent Dengana, ‘but no more bad bat-humans.’

*Happy when humans not here,* Ingwe responded, managing to put a bit of a growl in it.

‘Humans from village now have purrs for Ingwe. They will protect Ingwe and Ingwe must protect them as a mother does cubs,’ Dengana transmitted.

*Cubs grow up; must be chased away.*

‘These cubs stay young,’ earned a response on the lines of, *Oh well, okay then,* from Ingwe.

‘There is power in twos,’ Dengana went on with missionary zeal. ‘You need a female to share your territory,’

*Leopards hunt alone; not share territory.*

‘Some leopard females do have territory inside male ones. Better to share, though. Better hunting and better protection.’

*Are you like bad bat-humans and want to tell me what to do that is not-leopard?*

‘No, this will make Ingwe stronger and happier.’


Now it suddenly occurred to Lusi and Dengana that out of force of habit they were still working separately, even towards the same end. They reminded themselves that in order to practise what they were preaching they needed to merge.

Doing so took them only an instant, and then they opened their own little id to the leopard and revealed the unity of purpose, and focus of thinking as one, which they had thus achieved.

Now they showed images of two leopards going in opposite directions and having unsuccessful hunts. They showed the same two working as a successful team. They showed a territory enforced by two in concert. They showed the companionship and the friendship and the sharing which would no longer be a thing only connected to mating urges. They gave a glimpse of the surge in strength and goodness of natural forces and of magic which took place when such balance had been attained.

Ingwe blinked a number of times. Then he yawned and stretched.

*This is happiness, indeed,* he projected. *I will seek a leopardess where there are feelings in both of us which can carry us together towards The Power of Two.*


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