Darx Circle

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CHAPTER 37: The Rift and Two Interfaces

’Iwonder how long it will take for this little menagerie to spread out a bit?’ Hugh wondered, as they stared into a valley filled with all sorts of creatures except Darxem.

‘Not long,’ said Chenia. ‘My people are suggesting to them that those that can carry food take some from the supplies and start moving, and those unable to do so should eat all they can before they set off. They are not going to find much to sustain them in this vicinity for a while.’

‘What an awful loss of life, just because of one bit of trace magic put on a wing,’ Tye commented.

‘How did he do that, do you think?’ Hugh asked.

‘Straightforward stuff,’ Tergina said. ‘Some remnants of the magic you used would still have been there. He just had to lock a tiny part of it in, together with some of his own to make it respond if he looked at the originator of it.’

‘I wonder,’ said Tye, ‘if we could still have bluffed our way through, even then?’

‘Or whether their thinking it ever could have come straight?’ Lusi wondered.

‘Not a chance, on both counts,’ Tergina said with confidence. ‘Anyway, we’d better get on with taking everyone through the Rift. It’s going to be a slow business, with the valley as somewhere that it is better to be out of for now. I suppose the best way is to let batches fly across only when they can see space enough to wait on the hillside outside the entrance for their turn to go through. We’d better get the non-flyers carried across, first.’

‘The Higher Princes can organise and oversee that,’ Chenia said, ‘but I want to go through with Hugh and Cudew and Tye and Lusi and Dengana. I suppose you’ll be going first, as you’ve been through before?’

‘I want to be in the first party, too,’ said Tergina.

The others looked at one another. ‘Do you think we should explain …’ Tye began.

‘Maybe it is time,’ Hugh agreed, and they told the two everything about their origins they didn’t already know.

‘This is going to be interesting,’ Tergina remarked.

That was putting it mildly.

‘Again, I hadn’t really thought this through properly …’ Hugh confessed, as they left the entrance of the Rift passage behind them, and lights obligingly came on.

Cudew grinned. ‘You mean, you hadn’t thought through what we might go through when we get through?’

Hugh groaned at him and continued, ‘Soon, now, Tye, Dengana and I will start Adapting back to humans, and I presume Cudew will lose his wings – although maybe not, with the way Pip keeps magical qualities in the human world. Lusi will probably return to being Daoine. Why are we walking now, by the way?’

‘To do what we’re doing now; have a talk,’ Tergina said, glancing back to where Higher Prince Aran could still distantly be seen marshalling the first batch of non-flyers to start marching through.

‘Why we need talk?’ Dengana asked. ‘Already have plan; try for Rhino Interface, and if no good we go on to my Sisebenzele Interface same where Lusi she come in.’

‘Silly,’ said Tye with disdain, ‘have you given the tiniest thought to how you get up to the Interface without it taking hours; much less all the way to your Seesa place?’

Dengana blinked at her, and she added, ‘Wake up in there, brain. No wings, remember?’

‘From what I understand,’ Chenia chimed in, ‘you Adapted on your way through; not instantly, as for an Interface, but gradually?’

She received four sets of nods.

‘Then, it should be possible for you to remain Between, too, if you concentrate,’ she mused.

‘Worth a try, but we’ve started the wrong way about it,’ Hugh said. ‘For you and Tergina to have a proper look at the other Interface my guess is that you should go through properly with Lusi, but I agree that the rest of us should try for Between. If my first experience is anything to go by, the best way would be to fly as near the roof as possible, to get help from our “self-preservation”, as Tye put it then. To be on the safe side, I think you two should wait here while we fly back to the mouth and start again.’

While they were returning to the entrance there was a slight sensation of change taking place, so it did seem as if even during the relatively short distance they had walked into the passage, some Adapting had taken place which was now being undone again. When they turned to fly back, high over a puzzled procession of goblins, elves, pixies, gnomes, imps, nixies and the like, they didn’t feel the change again. The three kept reminding one another to will themselves to stay as they were, though, just to be on the safe side.

Soon, they had definite proof that it was working, when Cudew, Tergina, Lusi and Chenia began to look more and more fuzzy. Their voices also sounded increasingly tinny, but remained understandable. Therefore it was clear that, even if humans couldn’t, with some effort Faie could communicate between Between and Terra. He surmised that they also could between Between and the other lands as well.

They put on an extra spurt of speed to get past the ‘old magic’ intersection as quickly as possible, but then Hugh actually slowed down when close to it and got left behind. When he caught up he saw that dawn had not properly broken yet, and everything showed in muted light to go with the slightly hazy appearance produced by viewing Terra from Between.

The others were confronting two Darxds. To say that both of these looked surprised would be rather like claiming that the sea is a damp spot.

‘I am Tergina, sister of His Highest Majesty, King Darrex, and recently appointed as Paramount Princess,’ she was announcing, ‘and, as I have told you, you are now relieved of these duties.’

‘No mere woman can do that, however titled,’ said the one, recovering a bit.

’What are those?’ said the other with loathing and contempt, pointing at a colourful-looking Chenia, and a striking black (in Terra), and still Darxta, Lusi.

‘The mere woman has backup,’ said Cudew, showing teeth, ‘and if you look closely you may notice two Highest Princes are Between.’

‘The alarm has been given,’ snarled the first. ‘Support is on its way.’

‘The only thing on its way,’ said the dog, ‘is every one of the Daoine who had been in Darx. Your army simply doesn’t exist any longer.’ Even as he said it, it occurred to him that the chances of being believed were remarkably slim, notwithstanding that it was true.

Unfortunately for the two sentries, the extreme bravery which had carried them past the other tunnel time and again was accompanied by single-minded stupidity, and a philosophy that, if you didn’t understand something, you should kill first and not bother with the questions afterwards. When they prepared to blast, Tergina glared at them.

‘I overdid that a bit,’ she said, as they watched them fade (so that happened to Faie in Terra, too, Hugh noted). ‘Just as well, actually. Prisoners would have been a nuisance.’

Then they sensed Lusi ‘sending’, ‘Purrs to you, Ingwe. We do not return yet, but I hope later. Soon come many-many-many small-shiny ones, but they not stay, and two bad bat-humans now dead.’

The leopard projected surprise before sending back, *You are same small-shiny-with-purrs-for-human-cubs, but now you bat-human? Smell human cubs also, but far.*

‘They send purrs. Stay well,’ sent Lusi.

Whether in Terra (and Hugh and the others found themselves increasingly thinking of their own home as such) or Between, getting across the valley to Rhino Peak took little time when flying. Lusi knew the way to the entrance, and led them there. It was on a tiny level step just below the massive rock formation of The Rhino. The ring of flowers at this one looked faded or dead.

They all probed in various ways, finding it frustrating that they couldn’t all merge to do so. Dengana, on the one side, and Cudew on the other, could make little of it other than that there was no way through, but that they were at a place where there should be one.

Chenia and Tergina, separately or apart, found that it was much as Tergina had described the one at Lookout Ford. Tergina still found tantalisingly similar aspects to some of Terblia’s magic, and although most of it bewildered Chenia there were a couple of features she was able to point out which Tergina hadn’t been aware of.

‘This does remind me of some of the stuff I got from you and Pip,’ Hugh said to Tye, ‘but …’

’From Pip?’ Tye interrupted. ’Ah, the low-denomination coin falls at last. So that’s how you and Dengana got away. Now I know why you stayed evasive about it. I’ve kept wanting to dig deeper on that point and then forgetting. ’

‘Yip?’ said Pip doubtfully, and got a hug in reply.

Tergina had been diverted from her own probing, and added, ‘I really wonder that you didn’t have three Paramount Princesses fainting on the spot when we saw you casually walk into that … interview … like that.’

‘You amazing,’ Dengana grinned. ‘Not even eyes they go wider then.’ Then his grin faded and he shook his head. ‘So brave!’ he said.

‘I could tell you were both hating it,’ said Tye. ‘That should have told me something.’

Hugh squeezed her hand. ‘Anyway,’ he said, ‘back to our puzzle.’

The two of them probed again.

Then Hugh gave a jerk, and stepped forward to feel at the nothing where an Interface should have been. ‘I almost got something for a second. There is an element to this magic which I keep having this feeling I know. It ties into your kind, but again and again I lose where the difference is to be found. Every time, it’s like - oh, I don’t know - not being able to grab something without letting go of something else equally important …’

Finally, all of them were in agreement that however tantalisingly close they could sense being every once in a while, they simply weren’t going to get far enough. By this time, The Rhino mountain was becoming filled with Daoine, and it was decided to start the swarm flying in the direction of the Interface at Sisebenzele.

The sangoma of the village in Rhino Valley, now occupying a hut on the outskirts of Sisebenzele, had received a dream that something of great significance would be happening that morning. Well before dawn, she had been up the hillside within sight of the Place of Power where she knew the event would take place. Her eyes were cast in the direction where, on the other side of the mountains, lay their previous home.

She had the Sight for the small people. Her breath caught as she saw the cloud appear over the hills, and grow, and come towards the Place. In utter amazement and awe she saw the sheer numbers of them. Among the leaders was the biggest dog she had ever seen. It was the size of a calf, it had wings, and it was flying. Then the dog and the leading group with it were settling near the Place, and were walking towards it, while others were now coming to rest all over the hillside in a blaze of colours.

Even at this distance and with their small size she was able, with careful concentration, to focus her Sight on the leaders sufficiently to take in a good deal of detail. An involuntary cry of amazement escaped her as she saw that of three dark ones who looked more insubstantial than all the rest, one bore a strong resemblance to Dengana. Another looked like his friend, Hugh, who could speak Zulu so well.

Another, who did not have the misty appearance of Dengana and Hugh, she had seen a number of times before at Rhino Valley. She now seemed slightly larger, and her appearance was dark to match that of the boys, but the sangoma was still sure that she was the same one. She had hardly formed this thought before the girl spoke to the misty Dengana and pointed, and the two of them flew briefly towards her. They hovered for a second, level with her head, and her heart lifted as both waved to her.

She saluted them back, and then they rejoined their friends, who included one in a brilliantly-coloured dress like all of the rest on the hillside. Now, all of them advanced into the Place with its ring of flowers.

Many of the flyers had been acting in teams, and were arriving with wingless ones suspended on fine cords. So many small folk had landed that they were crowded round her, some waiting almost at her feet. She knew how to project that she was no danger to them. Some stared, but most of them ignored her.

Now, the dog and the leading group had reached the centre of the ring, and there they vanished. In orderly fashion, the rest started trooping towards the same place, similarly disappearing at the centre.

It was well after sunrise by the time the last group of small people had gone through. With a joyful heart, the sangoma set off back down the hill. She knew this was a sight few would ever experience, and she was filled with wonder that the little Dengana, whom she had known all his life as such a young rascal, was now at the centre of something obviously so momentous. She would tell his parents, and the headman, but nobody else for now.

The first thing they looked at as they emerged from the Interface into Safah Ring was one another. Hugh was not surprised to find that he had remained as a Darxd or that Tergina had undergone no change. Lusi, however, had reverted to Daoine – but now a Highest Princess. Cudew and Pip were themselves. Tye, as perhaps the biggest surprise including to herself, had also gone back to being Daoine.

A single Daoine greeted them. An army of them, though, could hardly have had the same effect of creating the biggest of all the surprises, or have had more sheer presence. It was Aiennea.

Her eyes widened at the sight of Lusi, more still at that of Tye, even more at seeing Tergina, and needed to widen to maximum to take in the sight of Cudew, but all she said, with warm sincerity, was, ‘Welcome to all of you.’ Then she looked behind them, to where an assortment of Daoine had started emerging, and added, ‘My reading of this part of the pattern is true, I see. Would you like to follow me to where preparations have been made?’

On the way she looked again at Lusi and murmured almost to herself, ‘That is unusual indeed, without any help from me. You really must have excelled in some way.’

Where she led was into the valley, where a small town of colourful marquees had been set up. It only took a matter of minutes before the swarm had landed in a grassland to one side of these, beyond which a herd of elephants were being told by a magic shield, in a friendly fashion, that they didn’t really want to come in this direction.

Aiennea said, simply, in a voice magically transmitted to carry to everyone, ‘Welcome home, everyone. We are filled with joy at your safe return, mixed with sorrow in sensing that some had to sacrifice their lives to make it possible. Refreshments have been laid out for all.’

With that, she led them into one of the marquees and to a table where some really slick organising had even created a suitable spot for Cudew.

The queen obviously knew Tergina, and after Cudew and Chenia had been introduced she said, ‘You have wrought a miracle. Patterns are now so tangled as to be unreadable, but before they became so I was able to gather that some wonderful developments had taken place, particularly relating to Hugh and Tye. I also found that the evil is coming to a head, now, and that Darrex is now either dead or sidelined. I have a … feeling … that he still lives.’

She leant forward slightly, and a slight frown appeared on her lovely features, which for her was the equivalent of suffering a panic attack. ’A reading which I am sure indicates something clearly established and now inevitable was that the attacks on Terra would be suspended in favour of an all-out onslaught on Breena. The barriers will be brought down, and massive invasion will commence, within a week at the most.

‘The final part, which I fail to understand, is that the release of the prisoners here present has been a vital step towards any possibility of our survival.’

‘I c-can tell you th-that,’ said Chenia hesitantly. ’She was obviously overawed at being in the presence of the Supreme Queen.

Aiennea smiled reassurance at her. ‘Please go ahead, Chenia dear,’ she said.

‘Thanks to the simply wonderful efforts of those who are with me,’ Chenia continued with more confidence, ‘the Daoine who have come through from Darx are now capable of destroying the greatest army … no, rather, of making it destroy itself. In fact, we have just done so.’

‘Wha-a-a-a-t!?’ exclaimed Aiennea. (No, she didn’t, actually, but she did raise her eyebrows, which amounted to much the same thing.)

Only the briefest outline was needed before Aiennea said, ‘Excuse me for a minute, please,’ and left.

She returned surprisingly soon, considering what she then told them.

‘Arrangements have commenced for groups to go to the Darx Interfaces in every Ring, and preferably the home ones of those concerned where this is possible, in order to create similar defences,’ she said.

’Naturally, replication of the message stones will be done on a massive scale, with such further useful information as emerged from the conflict added on to them.

‘I feel sorry that all those you have freed will now have such strains added to the hardships they have already endured, but all of them realise that on them rests the very future of the Rings, and I could neither hear nor sense a single complaint.’

Tergina nodded. ‘Unlike the Crows, they fight for a freedom which is real, and not simply an illusion,’ she observed, and then went on, ‘So my dear brother is perhaps no more? I should be glad, with how ready he was to have my death as a matter for public amusement, but somehow I am not. He is, or was, still my brother, after all.’

‘He is lion, like queen here,’ said Dengana reflectively, and Aiennea actually blinked. ‘But his mind it badly bent by the “His Greatest-mess”, as the Hugh he call him.’

‘I had better start doing my part in preparing for defence,’ said Chenia, starting to rise. ‘How do we know that the Crows won’t be forewarned by looking into the pattern, and change their plans?’

‘I am quite sure that this confusion in the pattern has not been caused in the same way as one which I could tell included part of Tergina’s and Tye’s deliberate influence. No, whatever the reason may be, everyone will find it unfathomable at present. We are, naturally, remaining alert for any change,’ Aiennea assured her.

Then she added, ‘First, there is something you have earned,’ and she went up to her and placed her hands on her shoulders.

She kissed the High Princess lightly on both cheeks.

It was a flabbergasted Highest Princess Chenia who exchanged farewells with all of them.

‘See if you can recruit a clued-up cu as rhaxen bait,’ Cudew called after her.

Aiennea was eyeing the wolfhound with admiration. ‘You are “Dew” in Darx?’ she asked Hugh, and when he nodded she said, ‘You and Tye have a talent for collecting amazing companions.’

‘Yip,’ said Pip complacently.

‘Actually, you could say we’re all well cu-nected,’ grinned the dog.

The Supreme Queen burst out laughing.

‘Don’t encourage him!’ groaned Hugh.

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