CHAPTER 39: Towards Terror, Fast Route, Almost Caught
Hugh and Tye were keeping together and also concentrating on keeping themselves together in not Adapting, nor going Between. Everyone kept an eye on them for any signs of going fuzzy.
After they had gone a good distance, Hugh said, ‘I think it’s working.’
‘Concentrate,’ snapped Tye. ‘You looked as though you flickered a bit, there.’
By the time they finally arrived again at the part of the tunnel where the first effects of the ‘old magic’ could be felt, they were confident that they would now neither Adapt nor go Between unless they worked at it.
The others couldn’t even get as far as the mouth of the branching tunnel before they had to stop, shuddering. Hugh and Tye went forward on foot, holding hands. As they had feared, their ‘unfiltered’ state made the feelings coming from the tunnel far worse than before.
Both started to probe again, and now the ‘retreat’ feeling of the ‘something’ was also greater. As they probed, they became vaguely conscious of the minds of one another, and as soon as that happened a lot of the unpleasantness went out of what they were approaching. With one accord, they tried to strengthen the bond and get better focus on merging, and the greater the clarity and awareness of one another’s minds became, the more they felt something was being achieved. It was similar to the mind-meld of His Greatestness’s room, but with only two participants and a lot less confusion.
‘Wait,’ Tye suddenly said to him. ‘Look at that. Nasty.’ Only, she hadn’t spoken, and with his eyes all he could see was the writhing wall. With his mind, though, he could see an intricate bit of magic which, through Tye, he could tell was something deadly if the wrong moves were made against it. Making sense of it was similar to the tricks Pip had taught him, and he was also being guided by Tye for this particular puzzle.
‘Can’t make that part out,’ Tye said. Now she had spoken aloud, but at the same time her mind was directing him to something which brought to light a memory of one of the things he didn’t know he knew. Using the new knowledge it triggered, he explored it again very gingerly, and found he could ‘explain’ it to Tye in pictures. Together, they explored the intricacies bit by bit.
Suddenly they had the feeling that they were far more in control of the situation.
‘What have we done right?’ It was Hugh that spoke aloud, this time, and Tye answered, ‘I think it is when we approach it perfectly together, and with neither taking the lead. Maybe …’
No ‘maybe’ came to her after that, but Hugh caught hold of a ‘Maybe we should try merging into one, somehow?’ thought, as it dashed past, and he showed it to her.
‘How?’ came a mental picture, and his response was, ‘Like this.’
With that, she felt him completely surrender his mind and control to her. For a brief period she wanted to grab it and enjoy the total feeling of power and being in command she was given, and then she realised that, instead, she had to do the same.
There was an instant of agonising conflict within her. Enough of her previous mindset remained to cause the idea of making herself so utterly vulnerable to be impossible to accept – and then she said, aloud again, ‘This is Hugh, whom I trust completely.’
With that, she wrenched away all her own resistance, threw it aside, and gave her own mind to him without reservation. Dimly, she became aware that Pip had left her to go and wait in the tunnel.
Now, all communication between them ceased. ’They’ became a new, and far more powerful, being. An impression that something behind the barrier was suddenly much disturbed came to ’Them’, and at the same time They could see how to neutralise the dangerous anti-magic magic. They did it with almost contemptuous ease.
Within an instant They became Hugh and Tye again, who quickly returned to the others.
‘The dangerous magic has been removed …’ Tye told them.
‘… but we can tell that the barrier part is too strong for us, even when we combine,’ Hugh finished.
‘It is close, though, and this …’ said Tye.
‘… one will respond to greater numbers …’ Hugh continued.
‘… provided they are completely balanced,’ Tye added.
‘You show signs of a remarkably close union of minds,’ Tergina observed.
‘You show signs of a split personality,’ Cudew growled. ‘Please go back to single-minded concentration, and try to make some sense.’
Hugh grinned. ‘We discovered from a combination of experiments, and from calling up some of these new “memories” which they gave rise to, that if a couple is touching physically …’
‘Male and female comes across as being important, and also I got the feeling that a Darxd and Daoine mixture helped,’ Tye chipped in.
‘… and if they both surrender their minds to each other to give Cudew’s single-mindedness,’ Hugh gave another grin, ‘but made up of two minds, then it should create the sort of force needed for the barrier to be lifted.’
‘The Lusi, and me myself,’ said Dengana, nodding.
‘Do you think we’ll have a hope of getting it right, after only meeting so recently?’ Felin asked Tergina.
‘Where do Pip and I come into this?’ Cudew wanted to know. ‘In case you hadn’t noticed, we are rather short of females of our respective species.’
‘Meep,’ Pip said, looking annoyed.
‘Well, where do we find some?’ Cudew said to the sprite.
Pip vanished, and in that space something flickered for a while before becoming visible in tiny Daoine form for an instant. Then it vanished to be replaced by Pip once more.
‘You’re actually a …’ gasped Tye.
‘The Pip he not the boy?’ Lusi said.
‘… girl?’ gasped Hugh.
The little Daoine had worn a dress.
‘Yip,’ said Pip, in a sulky yip.
‘Then why …?’-times-seven hovered in the air, but didn’t actually land.
‘Right,’ Cudew said after Hugh and Tye had described what they did to merge minds, ‘with that sorted out, how do we all do this touchy-feely thing? Do we all link by hanging on to the end part of my tail? Trouble is, when we get near that scary area you’ll all probably get flung forward when it dives between my legs.’
‘No,’ laughed Felin, ‘why not keep your wings totally folded, and see if we can’t all sit on your back, one behind the other?’
They tried it, and they fitted. Hugh sat in front with Tye closely behind him, then came Dengana and Lusi, and finally Felin and Tergina. Hugh had his arms stretched back enclosing Tye and Dengana, while Tergina’s arms across Lusi and Felin were just long enough for her fingertips to meet those of Hugh. Arms of the others were placed forward and backward on either side so as to touch the maximum numbers of the others. Pip concentrated on having contact with Hugh, Tye and Cudew simultaneously.
‘So now, in order to win, we all have to surrender completely?’ Cudew remarked.
Actually, it was a good way to put it. They ‘surrendered’ to their partners, with quite a good deal of hesitation in those other than Hugh and Tye. Then the four ’Theys’ found it much easier to surrender to one another. Surprisingly soon the eight were able to move forward as one ’They’.
The first feeling that came to the They was that a ‘something’ - the one sensed earlier - was now retreating completely until no trace remained. They used Cudew-legs to move forward at a walk towards the barrier, and now there was an instant impression that it would yield to the advance, although reluctantly. There was a bewildering mixture of acceptance accompanied by desperate resistance. The wall with its ugly glow and swirling patterns drew closer and closer …
Then it was behind, and They were in a place of no definition and no features. The surface they were on could not be sensed. Nor could any roof, or sky, or horizon. Only two things could be discerned, one straight ahead and one to the left. Both of these were further barriers, or ‘bubble-walls’, having the same qualities as the one they had just passed through.
When They progressed towards the one directly ahead, it was as if they drifted at it rather than being impelled by any walking action. It was impossible to judge the period it took to get to it, or the distance that had needed to be covered. It might equally well have been seconds and a few metres, or an age and an interplanetary span. Then, with the same sensations as before, They were through this one as well.
It was a profound relief to sense an environment where the essence made sense to the senses. (This thought must have been influenced mainly by Cudew.) There was a gigantic chamber with rock walls and a roof rather like an inverted funnel lit by an eerie glow of a similar quality to that of the barriers. High up to their left where the wall began to arch into the roof was a large circular recess, as if some enormous drill had just started to bore a tunnel there.
From wall to wall in every direction was a level stone surface littered with, probably, thousands of rocks. The sizes of these were more or less uniform at what, in relative Terran terms, would have been about two to three metres in length and a fraction of that in width. The shapes ranged from more-or-less rectangular to roughly egg- or tube-shaped. They were resting in a higgledy-piggledy manner, at all angles.
Each individual rock gave off a sensation of evil menace.
They moved into the chamber, picking a way through this litter of - to Cudew’s body - rockery stones. At the centre, They looked above, to where the pipe of the funnel went straight up. It was lit in a different way, and They could tell that this was the cobley light Hugh was able to see. Some way up it was a solid barrier – but the Hugh-sense could detect a fault in one small part.
Nothing else was to be seen. Senses probed at the distant wall on the opposite side produced a vague reaction, though, and They continued in that direction until about four-fifths of the way.
In an instant a part of the rock wall there swung open and the vague figure of a Darxd was visible in the doorway. Immediately They responded by putting up a shield which was a refinement on anything they had ever used individually before. It was a barrier against the type of glarespells taught by Terribler, but it also had two major modifications.
The first modification blocked certain qualities in the glarespell directed at them from the doorway which had not been encountered before. The second one made it reflective, like that used against the rhaxen.
The ray from this one reacted towards being reflected in a more spectacular fashion than the rhaxen ones had done. It fizzed and popped and split into sections before a flash came from the Darxd on the other side and he fell over.
He was fading when They reached him, and all that could be seen was that he could have been no less than a Highest Prince.
The door was still open, and a quick exploration revealed passage after passage with empty living quarters leading off them. Only the nearest two showed signs of recent occupation. No passages or doorways showed signs of going to anywhere else. As far as They could tell, the stone doorway was the only way in or out.
There was no point in remaining any longer. Another quick exploration of the vast chamber on the way out revealed nothing new, and probes at walls all round gave no sense that other doorways might be present. The ‘hole’ recess came in for particular attention, but did not respond. Back through the barrier They went.
Now there was a sense of timelessness again while, ignoring the return barrier straight ahead, They took the other one, which was now to the right.
As They emerged from this one, five of them recognised where they were in an instant. This made those five extremely unhappy that at this particular juncture it had been necessary to become individuals again. The limit of time it was safe to remain merged had almost been exceeded, and it had only been with great effort that the merger had been held for long enough to get through.
‘We really should have taken a break before coming through that one,’ Hugh said glumly. With the effects of the single-mindedness still strongly present, the others were nodding before he had got out the first few words.
‘Welcome to my home,’ Tergina said to Felin, but not happily. The two of them had jumped off, and were now holding hands.
Hugh and Tye had done, and were doing, the same. She glanced at Cudew, who had Pip hugging his neck. ‘How will he possibly fit up that staircase?’ she asked Hugh.
‘This place, it is underneath the Darrex Palace,’ Dengana explained to Lusi. He was holding her hand, too.
A short bout of exploration by Pip in invisible mode, and some squeaking to Hugh and Tye which needed far less translation to the others than normal, confirmed what those who had been in these passages before had already guessed.
‘Where we have come through the barrier is at the far end of the passage leading past the doorway which goes to His Greatest-mess’s lair,’ Tye said. ‘If this part is anything like the one on the other side of him, where Terribler took such an interest, then there will be more living quarters leading off. Maybe we can lurk there and use one as a base while deciding on what to do next.’
Sure enough, they came to another passage leading off which had, behind doorways, numbers of comfortably-appointed rooms. ‘Magic maintenance in force here, too,’ Tergina observed, and Tye nodded.
‘These passages they all make good places for start the hotels,’ Dengana remarked.
‘Places like inns, for overnight guests,’ Hugh explained, selecting a likely-looking doorway not too near the main passageway.
‘You could start an inn-dust-ry, in fact, except that the maintenance takes care of any dust,’ Cudew grinned. ‘These rooms have a good size to them, too. I can fit through here,’ he gave a grunt, ‘with a bit of a squeeze.’
‘I am still amazed at the way Hugh’s obsession with exploring that “old magic” tunnel actually got us here far faster than anything else could have done,’ mused Felin. ‘Bits of pattern coming into play, I wonder, or just more of the things he now knows without being aware that he knows them?’
‘Could be a bit of both,’ Tergina nodded. ‘Now, you all know how to screen yourselves against probes, and to block traces? His Greatestness has immensely strong powers, and we certainly don’t want him sensing our presence.’
‘We remember we pretend with ambush that we are trees,’ grinned Lusi. ‘Now we pretend we are beds.’
‘Squeakitty-squeak,’ said Pip, which was understood by Hugh and Tye as saying that she would go and keep watch. They let her out and left the door slightly ajar.
Everyone sat down - still tending to be split into pairs, Hugh noticed, himself sharing a seat with Tye - while they went over what they could make out from their recent experiences.
‘The “Wreyges” thing still has me really puzzled,’ Felin offered. ‘When we were all together in that place, we had the strongest impression that they are real, and involved, and in fact were there. Unless they do an amazing impersonation of rocks, though, that is impossible.’
‘Do you remember,’ said Tye, ‘that the Darxd in the doorway gave the same sort of image, but far more?’
‘The His Great-mess! The His Great-mess!’ Dengana burst out suddenly, and was stared at. ‘The doorway-man, he was the same like the His Great-mess!’
Each brought back to mind the mental snapshots, and the accompanying sensations. Each found that the clearest picture emerging was one of someone with close to elfin size and appearance, giving off vibrations most similar to those of His Greatestness.
‘Yes,’ breathed Hugh, ’either that was a twin of His G, or it was him we’ve killed him off in that …’
Pip appeared suddenly, and squeaked quietly but frantically before shooting out again, vanishing as she went.
Hugh closed the door and held a finger to his lips. He and Tye grabbed one another’s hands and stood for a few seconds before shaking their heads. Then Hugh made a universal cut-throat gesture, and pointed a finger at the door, ready to blast anything coming through it.
Seconds later, faint approaching footsteps could be heard which sounded as if they hesitated briefly outside the door before passing on again. The group got cramp from waiting in that position, but in the absence of any ‘all-clear’ from Pip they didn’t move. Minutes passed like hours before the footsteps passed again. This time there was no hesitation outside, and soon they had faded in the opposite direction. A while after that came a squeak from outside, and Hugh let Pip in while saying, ‘The theory we killed His G is a lot deader than His G, because that was him Pip came in to warn us about.’
After a squeaking session, Tye did the translation of the story just related to Hugh and herself by the sprite. ’She says His G came down the passage and went straight to the Interface barrier at the end. Then he shook his head, and returned. Pip retreated into this passage, but to her horror he turned into it. She warned us, and then kept ahead of him, but watching.
’First, he went into several of the first sets of rooms, as if to see if anyone was in them. Then he ignored the rest, and continued up the passage.
’When he paused slightly at this door, she thought one of us had let their trace block slip a bit, and that it was all up. After the pause, though, he shook his head and went on, right to the end of this passage. She kept moving ahead of him until, at the end, she came up against a barrier of the nastiest possible kind, but managed to zip over his head as he got close to it.
‘He let himself in, and a short while later came out again. She kept ahead of him once more, and at the main passage intersection she went towards the Interface, while he turned back in the direction of his rooms.’ Tye took the deep breath she needed after relating all of that.
Tergina said thoughtfully, ‘I think it is a pretty safe bet that he is expecting “His-G-Number-Two”, and I have a strong feeling I know something of what the other visit was all about.’
‘It does sound logical,’ Felin said. ‘I think we need to take a little stroll up that passage, ourselves.’