CHAPTER 30: Pain and Suffering
In 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.