CHAPTER 17: A New World with Terrible Discoveries
Four 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.