CHAPTER 16: The Way to Darx Circle
We 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.