CHAPTER 21: Attacking Attackers
It 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.