Darx Circle

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CHAPTER 33: Exodus, Exorcism and Eradication

The 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.

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