CHAPTER 36: Revolting Conflict
Plan B!’ yelled Hugh, shielding in the nick of time.
Immediately, the rest also put up shields, with Tergina and Tye inserting all their best refinements. An instant later, they took off in a bunch. Magic to do the ‘seizing’, instantly created by a well-disciplined group of Crow dome-sentries, bounced off. So did a blast from Dolk intended to do a lot more than seize.
A further series of blasts directed at them while they flew away were remarkably well-coordinated, considering that Dennet’s group had received no warning or time for preparation. The shields still held up, though, and the entire group reached the hilltop unscathed.
Dennet pointed to the Daoine on the skyline there. ‘Kill all of them!’ he ordered.
Again, the response was incredibly fast, and blasts immediately started from the area of Dennet’s dome, spreading to come from more and more areas as others in the vast camp realised what was happening or received the orders.
The Daoine had either created refined shields or ducked behind the hill, however, the instant Hugh had taken off. Those who had found the knack also sent back some well-focussed twenty-fiver blasts which utterly destroyed any Crow shield they came up against. This, as Hugh had hoped would happen, gave the valley Crows pause about the wisdom of relying on such a direct plan of action.
‘Stop wasting magic on blasts; concentrate on shields!’ Dennet ordered. ‘Now, crecords, commence mass attack!’
He had hardly spoken before a seething mass of creatures from all over the valley began advancing on the hill. His magic communications were remarkably good.
Creatures able to advance the fastest were, of course, the flying ones. A formidable mob of rhaxen were sent ahead of wasps and hornets so as not to tangle the two types up. Dengana, Tye, Lusi and Tergina flew forward temptingly with reflective shields up, but not a single rhax glared at them.
Murid, who was a ‘batty’ Daoine Higher Prince, called out urgently, ‘They have been warned not to use their glarespell on Highests!’
‘Leave it to me,’ Cudew said happily, and flew out at them. Hundreds of glares were promptly focussed on him – there was a lot of him to focus on. Hundreds of glarers tumbled.
The four Highests shrugged, stopped wasting their time, and turned attention to other matters.
It was clear that the possibility of a dog using Highest magic had not occurred to either rhaxen-crecords or rhaxen themselves, and both were clearly fans of the maxim of ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,’ rather than ‘try something else’. More and more rhaxen rays shot at Cudew. More and more rhaxen rays writhed, flickered, and died. More and more rhaxen writhed and died, but fell out of the sky instead of flickering.
Meanwhile Hugh was focussing on the terrifying swarms of hornets and wasps which were on their way. Although the insects would be no match for the shields at first, the sheer numbers of them would erode the efficiency of the screens and eventually break them down.
To his elation, he almost immediately managed to pick up the voices of the crecords as well as the ‘minds’ those voices were directed towards. It was similar to his Field of Bees experience, but he now had a far better idea of what was going on and what to do.
The crecords were whipping the insects into a frenzy of rage against everything on the hilltop. ‘Danger, enemy, nest-destroyers, sting, sting, sting!’ they were projecting. Unlike with the bees, Hugh made no attempt to calm them. Instead, he turned his efforts towards refocusing their fury.
First, however, he gave a mental blast at the crecords – in effect, a shout of, ‘Get out of here!’ Following that alone, he could sense that the weaker ones simply weren’t there any more, and that the control of the stronger ones had been shaken.
Now, in order to communicate with the insects, he had to adjust his own thinking to theirs. He had to use the connection to sense each individual mind, and then go back through those minds to that of the group. Only then could he start communications to that mind which would filter back down to each individual one. Then, everything he projected to them needed to be in a series of images expressed in their own terms of reference.
He hadn’t needed to reason this out; somehow he just knew that this was the way it worked. It was confirmed when he found himself joined in the communication by Daoine led by Higher Prince Vespin, who showed himself to be completely satisfied to leave the main thrust to Hugh. In effect, though, from that time on they were putting a group message to the group mind.
Put into words, the essence of what they began to convey was on the lines of: ’Yes, you are threatened. Not by those up there, though. They have done nothing threatening. Nor do they have any intention to do anything threatening to you other than in defending themselves. They have come without disturbing you, and they will go away soon without disturbing you.
’In fact, the ones you are truly threatened by are those you are now flying away from. It is they who have been keeping you as prisoners in this place. It is they who tell you when to move and when not to move, and when and where to eat and sleep. It is they who are using you to fight their battles for them.
‘If you rid yourselves of them, you will be free. The ones you are now being goaded to attack will not try to take over and tell you what to do, just as we are not ordering you to do anything at this moment. When you are rid of them you will be free to fly where you please, feed where you please and nest where you please. Look deeply into our minds and see that this is the truth.’
The massive swarms had slowed right down, or were hovering.
Hysterical and unconvincing messages were coming from the crecords still in contact which, put into words, were on the lines of, ‘No, no, take no heed! Do not listen to this. It is false. Attack, attack! Danger, nest-destroyers, insect-murderers, you must kill all of them, now! Kill, kill, and kill!’
Hugh alone delivered the final message, sent deliberately calmly and low-key, amounting to: ‘Your choice is between continued slavery, or taking back your freedom.’
All swarms were now hovering or milling about roughly midway between the Crows in the valley and the Daoine on the hilltop. Now the thought which could be sensed as coming to the forefront of the group mind was, ‘Kill for freedom, kill for freedom, sting, sting, sting!’
As one, the insects suddenly burst into movement back towards the Crows in general and the crecords in particular. Some crecords still desperately tried to resume control, but most simply weren’t in the group minds any more. The individuals were too busy putting up shields, or running for it, or both.
Nothing they did helped. The insects were simply too many and too determined. Shields were swarmed at until they broke down, and then the stinging would start. The insects ‘knew’ their crecords, so no amount of running or hiding helped. Even taking refuge in domes was of no use; the wasps or hornets or bees still found their way in, somehow.
Then, after all the flying-stinging-insect-crecords had been exterminated, any Crow in sight became the target.
Higher Prince Murid, the Daoine bat expert, had in the meantime led a team which did something quite similar with the rhaxen and a few related species. He had pointed out to them that it was their crecords who had brought them to an attack where so many of them had already been wiped out, and that the Crows were their true enemies. Once it was made clear to them, they were quick to grasp that they had lost their freedom, and they were eager to regain it. After enough of them had glared at their former crecords, they also flew off to glare to good effect at any Crow Darxds below the rank of Highest Prince (that bit of education they had received as slaves still made sense to them) which, of course, meant every one of them in the area.
‘If you’ve finished with your stingy thingies,’ Tye said sharply to Hugh, ‘we could use a hand with some more normal stuff. Crows are trying flying attacks on the Daoine, They have broken down a few shields, and are causing casualties.’
‘Right,’ Hugh said. He and Cudew, who was eager to have something to do now that he was no longer needed as a cause of rhaxen suicides, moved to a point on the eastern part of the hill where some princely Crows were directing a barrage at the Daoine shield in that part. The two of them coordinated a blast which included some of the Tergina refinements, but rather annoyingly it didn’t quite get through the Crows’ shield.
Then Tye came up with them and casually blew it apart. ‘If you want a job done …’ she sighed.
In fact, it had become frustrating to Hugh, Dengana and Cudew that many of the more potent examples of Tergina’s spells, which Tye and Lusi had been able to learn quickly and easily and handle most efficiently, remained outside of their grasp. As Cudew said, ‘Those really vicious ones apparently need the sweet and gentle touch of a female.’
‘I’m going to go and help reason with that mass of army ants, instead,’ Hugh decided. They had struck him as being similar to bees and wasps in the way he could relate to them.
Cudew ‘sat in’ on that session for a while, but soon decided ants weren’t something on his wavelength. Then he was thrilled to discover that the Crows had formed a quite unnaturally large pack of wild dogs. At individual level, each member was happy to follow the pack, but at group mind level he found little difficulty in getting them to adopt the idea of freedom over behaving like lapdogs. The ‘lapdog’ image wasn’t all that appropriate, actually, but it served better in getting the message across than ‘hunting dogs’ would have done.
Now, many different Daoine specialists were having success with numbers of the other crecord-directed horrors. A petrifying mass of darxtyls, with their huge size, deadly claws and teeth, and immunity from magic, were educated by a group led by Higher Prince Lacer. His team also redirected a group of more normal-sized, but deadly poisonous, lizards.
Another team of princes was dealing with brackles. Hugh and his friends had seen these before as large and intimidating hedgehog-type creatures, but it now transpired that their special skill lay in being able to shoot poisonous spines in any direction, which would home in on the target no matter how much dodging or hiding behind things the poor victim might try. The spines had a nasty ability to go through all but the strongest shields, too.
Higher Prince Ophid did snakes, and Aran’s team talked to spiders. Lusi joined one which persuaded a group of predator birds that what they were doing needed some rethinking.
Hugh was watching a mass of ants seething back in the direction of the Crow camp with a good deal of satisfaction, when Tergina clutched his arm and said, ‘We’re going to have a major problem, with those,’ and she pointed down the valley to where a solid pack of enormous drogres were starting to plod towards the hill from the direction of their oversize dome-tents. ‘Once their shields are in place, they are indestructible.’
‘I wonder …’ said Hugh, and tried some particularly probing probes. ‘You know, I think I almost got something, there. Amazing though it may be, I think that drogres also have some sort of group mind, and the Crows have been able to get at it. Maybe if a couple of us probe together?’
When Tergina joined him, they could tell that he had been right, but no more than that. With Dengana added, some areas became clearer, but others more obscured.
The drogres were more than half-way up, now, and things were looking serious. Then, Hugh managed to divert Tye as she was on her way past them heading for another hot spot, and they brought her in, leaving it to someone else to provide cooling equipment.
Straight away, they could focus more on this mind and sense what appeared to be a really large group of Crows using some of the usual urgings on it: ‘Enemy at top of hill; kill, crush; eat.’
The form of communication seemed to be largely verbal, and somehow Hugh was elected as their own spokesman. He decided to skip the ‘freedom’ tack for now, in favour of, ‘You are being driven by those on the losing side. If you turn round and look, you will see that your allies in The Cause are all being destroyed, as you will be unless you can keep your shields up forever.’
Desperate denials came from the control team, but the drogres stopped, turned around, and saw for themselves how Crows on all sides were being bitten, stung, torn apart, crushed, ripped, blasted, breathed at poisonously by gaxen, or having the magic of creatures like rhaxen or brackles used against them.
Suddenly, that group mind could no longer be traced. The drogres lumbered back down the hill again, and as soon as they reached the bottom started snacking on any Crows who hadn’t left that locality quickly enough.
Leaving the locality was only a temporary means of averting doom, anyway. One way or another, all the former pets had decided that they were not going to run the slightest risk of being petted again. They were hunting down fleeing Crows on the ground, in the air, and even hauling some enterprising ones from the river, where they had submerged themselves using hollow reeds for breathing.
Among the last to depart was Dennet, with all the most senior princes including Dolk - but not Dore, who was already no more. He had been in the thick of trying to hold his creature coordinators together when a good number of the creatures they were trying to coordinate became uncoordinated, and then re-coordinated themselves into effective crecord eradication parties.
The Dennet group decided to make a dash for the Rift, where they perhaps hoped they could shake off pursuit at the ‘old magic’ intersection. They didn’t make it, but instead became involved in a fight. This wasn’t them fighting against anything, though. They were the ones fought over, by a large number of darxtyls all vying for the pleasure of tearing them to pieces.