CHAPTER 40: Passages, Rescue, Rooms, Records, Cave
When they emerged from the room, Pip went to keep watch at the passage intersection and the rest went in the opposite direction. Hugh and Tye individually probed the barrier guarding a door at the end of the passage, and found it to be one not only of great complexity, but also requiring great strength.
‘I can’t make head or tail of this bit here, either’ complained Tye. She was able to mind-message him with the part she meant, and to his surprise it wasn’t one which presented him with too much of a problem.
‘Speaking in the magical sense, I’m sure I can take down the safeguards and open the locks,’ he said. ‘The trouble is that I don’t have enough strength, then, to open the actual door. I’m simply not up to His G’s fighting weight. I wonder, though …’
‘I think you may have the answer,’ Tye nodded, agreeing with something he hadn’t actually said. ‘Something created by His G will be about as masculine as you can get. He isn’t exactly a fan of the feminine gender. Therefore, more purely masculine strength may give the answer.’
‘Can the four of us manage the same sort of meld, though?’ said Felin, who had followed all of this remarkably well.
‘You will explain, please,’ said Dengana, who hadn’t.
It took great effort and patience for Hugh, Dengana, Felin and Cudew to attain the sort of ‘They’ the eight had managed. When merging had finally been attained, They knew it was only a shadow of the previous one, but nevertheless it was clear that this one was better suited to the task at hand. The ‘safeguards-and-locks’ part was managed without too much difficulty, but then came the strength needed to allow the ‘opening’ to happen, and here they found that there was only just enough, and even then it was only provided they exerted the greatest possible effort.
They put in the effort, and were successful, but the meld promptly collapsed.
When they opened the door, the rooms inside looked like just another set of the unoccupied ones – but in the bedroom, spread-eagled across and shackled by wrists and ankles to the framework of a bed, they found Darrex. It was clear that various ingenious things were being done to him, from time to time, to cause him as much pain as possible. There were no clothes to block out the sight of such evidence.
Tergina wanted to rush up to him, but Hugh held her back. ‘Wait,’ he said. ‘First we check what this is all about, and then we need to see just what sort of magic is involved here.’
Darrex lifted his head. ‘I’m so glad you’re still alive, Ter, but you’re in terrible danger here,’ he gasped. ‘I’m so sorry; so very, very sorry; but that wasn’t really me. It wasn’t … wasn’t really you, either, was it?’
‘What happened to give you a change of heart?’ Hugh asked bluntly.
Darrex winced with pain before answering, ‘That … that final chaos in the session we had with the Wreyge …’ everyone gave a start, ‘… weakened my link to the Id he had created, and it started to break down. More and more I came to realise that The Cause …’ another gasp ‘… is a farce, and that there was something malevolent behind the whole thing.’
‘When His G - or this Wreyge, should I say? - realised you were becoming an ex-follower after that meltdown, why didn’t he just kill you?’ Hugh demanded.
‘One thing is that he needs me back as his puppet, to keep … to keep everyone mesmerised while he carries out his own plans in the background. He trapped me with this … devilish magic, instead. Now he wants to … simply wear me down.’
‘What these plans they be?’ Dengana demanded.
‘I … don’t … really know, for sure.’
‘Enough!’ said Tergina. ‘I’m going to start some healing. Now, what is going on here – ? oh, clever. See, Felin, there is a relatively simple, but total, block on my brother’s access to magic. It doesn’t matter how strong he is, he can’t use it if he can’t command it.’
‘Fascinating. It has to be much the same sort of thing as a fracture high up in a spinal cord,’ said Tye almost to herself, ‘so that messages no longer reach the body. It doesn’t matter how well-developed the muscles may be, you simply can’t use them.’
Then she added, with concern, ‘Careful, though, there are some traps against tampering built in. Hugh?’
‘Indeed,’ said Hugh. ‘Cudew, can you give us a hand here?’
‘Will a paw do?’ Cudew grinned, but he saw what Hugh was referring to, and did it. ‘Power restored. Enjoy it,’ he added.
Immediately, the substantial shackles on his hands and feet melted away from a nasty look given at them by Darrex, and he sat up. Tergina put hands on his shoulders, and assumed a look of concentration.
‘I want that I help,’ said Lusi, and also went across to him.
When the two finally nodded, as one, and stepped back, Hugh found the king’s clothing and handed it across. It had presumably been flung into a corner, but had arranged itself neatly there.
Then the girls led Darrex out to a room with more comfortable furniture so that he could sit down for a while and recuperate from the healing.
‘You say, “one thing” this Wreyge he need you for, earlier,’ Dengana said to him. ‘What the others they be?’
‘There is something about my abilities that he needs,’ Darrex said thoughtfully. ‘I can’t work out quite why or how, because in general matters of magic I may be powerful but he is the stronger.’
‘How do you know he is a Wreyge?’ Hugh said. ‘Also from the meltdown information?’
‘Yes,’ said Darrex, ‘and because he has openly told me so. I have an idea he thought it would intimidate me. Perhaps he expects that I know more about superstition and legend than I actually do.’
’I do wish we knew more about those things,’ Tye said. ‘Even if they are mainly nonsense, they might offer some clues as to what is really happening, and what is best to do about it.’
‘Our Keeper of Records knows all about such matters, and is always willing to go into them at most boring length,’ said Darrex.
‘A pity none of us is in a position to go to his Hall of Records and chat with him,’ Tergina remarked, adding, ‘In any case, our immediate problem is what to do with the one who may come back again at any time.’
‘I love cats,’ mused Felin, ‘but is this really the time to be pussyfooting around? Shouldn’t we just deal with this Wreyge thing the same way we did with the other one?’
Darrex was obviously feeling much better. He suddenly turned his dominating presence on to high power. ‘There was another? And you dealt with it?’ he asked in a quiet voice which had more force in it than the loudest shout might have carried.
A question and answer came to the minds of each one of them, but it was Hugh who actually voiced them. ‘Can we trust this new Darrex? Yes, I believe we can.’
‘The evil part, of being utterly indifferent to causing suffering or death as long as it was in the interests of The Cause, was imposed in the same way it was on myself and Tye by Terribler, for her own ambitious ends,’ Tergina added. ‘It never reached the stage, with any of us, of feeding on itself until pleasure was found in cruel acts simply for their own sake, as has happened with so many of the Crows like the Dennet ones. Once it has come to that, they cannot be saved.’
Darrex gave all of them a full Highest King look, and they found themselves hastily taking turns in giving him a brief outline of developments to date. His reactions, even to the most spectacular ones, reminded one strongly of Aiennea, but when it came to the elimination of the entire army at the Southern Rift his eyes did widen to a marked extent.
Then Dengana brought them back to earth – or to the portion of Darx they now found themselves in. ‘We must decide now whether we go to fight the Wreyge …’
‘… and maybe we not strong enough until we able to join together again …’ Lusi inserted.
‘… or we find a safer place for us to be while we make the plans,’ he finished.
‘How about those rooms on the other side of the passage leading to the quarters of the His G Wreyge?’ Tye suggested. ‘If a search of this area reveals nothing, it will surely be assumed that we have gone back through that Interface, and not simply crossed over to the north wing.’
Hugh got up. ‘I like that,’ he said. ’Of course, we could simply retreat through the Interface, but somehow I don’t think that would be getting us any further.’
Everyone else rose as well, and without further ado they set off. Pip waited at the doorway to the Wreyge’s rooms to give the alert in need, while they dashed past it one by one, projecting ‘nothing here but this tunnel’ screens.
It felt as though it took longer than Hugh remembered before they came near the intersecting passageway which gave off repulsive sensations. The ‘repel-spell’ had barely been sensed before he was conscious of Tye doing something, and the feelings abated to something undoubtedly less unpleasant. The sensation on actually passing it still induced shudders, though. ‘That was a Terribler-type bit of magic,’ she said casually. ‘I put it back; it is something I don’t think Greatest-mess would enjoy.’
They went on past doorway after doorway until the passage petered out, and then selected a set of rooms near the end which were larger and more comfortable than most others they had looked at in passing.
After a great deal of discussion, only two immediate plans of action emerged. The first was that Tye, Pip, Tergina and Lusi would go to see, if possible, what the repel-spell was guarding. It was felt to be a girl thing, and although this was one Lusi said she was happy to be left out of they dragged her along anyway.
For the second plan, Hugh had been elected to risk recognition by seeking the Hall of Records in the rather vain hope that something might emerge. He reduced himself to the lowest and most non-descript prince he could manage, and Darrex gave him directions.
When he reached the top of the spiral staircase he opened the door the slightest crack and had to wait for some time before the shaft was clear for long enough for him to emerge and reach ground level. Then he flew out casually, as one of many passing back-and-forth.
Casual flight seemed a bit inappropriate, though, because everyone he came across were clearly in a state of high excitement. He put some zip into his progress, and tried to gather snippets of conversation. ‘The Cause’ was repeated with great regularity, but there were also frequent references to ‘The Rings’ and ‘attack’ and ‘the war’.
With great misgivings at this evidence that the invasions through the Interfaces were starting, he made his way to the tower at the far side he needed, and entered the main doorway instead of one of a series of them leading off from balconies furnished with chairs and reading-stands.
It was clear that Darxem did not cater for non-flyers when it came to access to written material. The hall he found himself in occupied the entire tower, but only had a ground floor. Layers of shelves on every wall from floor to ceiling, and lines of them across the hall itself, only had narrow ledges for landing and selecting material. Indoor balconies at intervals and a seating area in the centre catered for more relaxed reading.
The eyes of the Darxd seated at a desk inside the entrance lit up as he entered. Apparently the Crow era did not encourage much interest in literature. ‘You are Dribe?’ Hugh asked unnecessarily after his ‘Trump’ had received an unenthusiastic response, and when the Keeper of Records nodded eagerly he said, ‘I have just arrived here. I gather that our forces are now entering Breena?’
‘Indeed,’ said Dribe. ‘The announcement came from Derag, speaking for His Highest Majesty who is still in an extremely long conference with His Greatestness. He says that our troops will now move in and crush all opposition from the Aiennea witch and her presumptuous followers, to bring all of them under proper control. It is only expected to take a few days to accomplish that.’
’Oh, said Hugh. ‘Um … Well, anyway, I am interested to find out more about Wreyges in our history.’ Dribe’s sudden look of complete joy faded a little when he added hastily, ‘Unfortunately, I have rather limited time available.’
‘There is so much,’ Dribe responded eagerly, ’from the bloodsucking legends so popular with the young to the naughty-child-eating ones used to frighten the very young, to the god-messengers, to the magic-sappers, to the devourers of the dead, and to the brain-suckers. There is also a smaller group of writings which have them as great leaders sent from another realm. Some have recently taken the view that His Greatestness is one of these, but of course he is but an advisor to His Highest Majesty. Which is your greatest area of interest?’
‘What records go back the furthest in a form which it is felt has been little changed?’ Hugh asked.
’Of course, the one going back as far as records exist is the old meaningless nursery rhyme you know as well as I do:
Fear the wrath of rampant Wreyges
Keep them locked in separate cages
See that they are never fed
On a horde of Darxem dead …’
When their passages are made
Is the time to be afraid.’
‘I know it, indeed,’ said Hugh, with perfect truth. ‘Any more of similar antiquity?’
’The only other is the Minstrel Saga of the Wreyges. It has been added to and modified over aeons to produce any number of variations as well as the extremely long one generally adopted by minstrels to this day – or up to the day when minstrels were still heard.’ This last had a tone of bitterness.
‘All scholars agree, though,’ Dribe continued, ‘that one section which has the peculiar tendency to fall into the same cadences whatever language or dialect may be used, is at least part of the original form and goes back as far as we can measure. Do you know the verses beginning, “Wreyges are as night and day”?’
‘No, I don’t,’ said Hugh, and Dribe sighed in sorrow at such ignorance before reciting:
’Wreyges are as night and day
And in cycles have their sway
Yet two parts are of a whole
Each of which must have its role
Sundered magic sends the urge
For the Wreyges to emerge
Life from death is what they seek
For each valley gives their peak
When their night with daytime blends
Great catastrophe it sends
Even though they both should be
Part of a duality
Through faults the vaults must be unsealed
For the way to be revealed
When their cradles are as one
Both beneath the selfsame sun
If divide was put in place
This must go to leave no trace
Bringing back the power of two
So the balance may renew
For such task the highest high
With supremacy must fly
And with all to all resigned
Whom the pattern has defined
Then with Wreyges held in thrall
Must go forward one in all
Understanding to bring through
Of all things both false and true
Thus with fusion of two parts
From their separate halves there starts
To emerge as in far past
Total unity at last’
‘Wow!’ Hugh exclaimed.
‘You find it interesting? No real sense to it, of course, like … oh, yes, I nearly forgot the totally nonsense one with shivering shocks. Also old, but mainly forgotten.’
Hugh gaped, and it was with difficulty he recovered his wits enough to say incredulously, ’You mean:
The raging rocks
And shivering shocks
Shall break the locks
Of prison gates;
And Phoebus’ car
Shall shine from far,
And make and mar
The foolish Fates. ?’
‘No, that’s a distorted version,’ said Dribe, ’although I’m impressed that you know it at all. Anyway, it should go:
The Wreyges’ rocks
From shivering shocks
Shall break the locks
Of prison gates;
But blazing star
Can shine from far,
To make and mar
The foolish Fates.’
When his breath had come back, Hugh said, ‘Have you a message stone handy? Oh, no, hang on, I’ve got one. Do you mind? Both the last ones, please.’
‘Pleasure,’ said Dribe, and dictated.
‘One more question,’ said Hugh. ‘How far do the royal titles in Darx and in Breena go back?’
‘To earliest recorded times,’ was the reply. ’Many have given those lines in the Saga the same fanciful interpretation as I see you are doing.’
‘You can have no idea what important help you’ve given. I hope to chat again, soon,’ Hugh declared. He scooted, leaving an extremely happy Keeper of Records.
The girl group made their way cautiously back towards the source of the latest nasty magic. Pip had to do double-distance, as usual, to keep them assured that nothing they would prefer not to meet was approaching or lying in wait.
After she had entered the passage they had bypassed, she returned almost immediately, became visible, uttered a few squeaks, and flickered out again just before re-entering it.
‘She sees nothing,’ said Tye softly, ‘but has picked up traces of someone familiar to most of us. Terribler, in fact.’
They waited. Then they waited a bit more. After that, they carried on waiting for what felt like an age.
Finally Pip reappeared abruptly and did a great deal of communicating.
‘Things are starting to add up,’ said Tye. ‘I am surprised we didn’t guess long ago.’
Then she continued just in time to save herself from being attacked. ‘After Pip had waited for some time, Terribler …’ some squeaks interrupted her, ‘…or someone who looks much like her, but with a bit of His Greatest-mess thrown in, came down towards us from the far end, looking annoyed. Pip was just about to warn us to get out of here when Terribler went into a set of rooms and closed the door. Pip waited for long enough to be fairly sure that she must have gone there to sulk again, and not on a quick visit.’
‘So from that, we may assume that the Terribler she has just been on a similar expedition to the one the His G went on, and we can presume it is for reasons they are the same. She was expecting the guests, was she not?’ said Lusi. ‘Now, the question it is whether we try and sneak past there to verify the suspicions we have got, or whether we take that as read and we try that we make the plans on that?’
‘We should investigate as fully as possible,’ Tergina said calmly. ‘I think our decisions will need to be based on knowledge rather than assumptions. If we are detected, I believe we have the necessary strength to deal with the problem, provided we are ready to merge quickly enough.’
A repetition of their earlier sneaking-past-doorways act came, with them hoping Terribler hadn’t assumed their earlier role of lurking behind doors ready to inflict damage.
Then they were at the end of the passage, and following the right hand fork of the T junction to where they sensed the magic was coming from.
‘As we thought,’ Tergina said when they came to a glowing barrier which writhed. ‘Now to test the theory. If we go with Tye in the centre, and our arms round her waist, while Lusi and I touch Pip on her front with our free hands, we’ll have total contact.’
The theory was, simply, that while they had been correct in having sensed that a male/female link would be the strongest, it wasn’t the best for this purpose, just as a completely male link had worked best with freeing Darrex. The resistance they had felt as a group of eight had been against the female part of it.
As soon as they merged They could sense it had been right. The power was less, but it was enough without the magic fighting against a part of them. They entered the first barrier, and passed through a void, offering two options, towards the one straight ahead. This opened into a great chamber, the mirror-image of the one they had visited previously, even to a recess on the side opposite where the other one had been. The rocks littered here looked slightly smaller.
There was one missing thing and one extra thing here, though. They could see nothing but blackness up the narrow part of this funnel roof, even from right underneath it; also They became aware that some slight tremors were coming from the ground underfoot.
Now, after passing back through the barrier, They moved straight to the one on their right rather than the one ahead, and broke the merge as soon as they were through it.
‘An actual cave, for this one,’ Tye remarked, admiring a stalactite. ‘Look, there’s daylight faintly visible that way.’
‘That must be the Darx end, rather than Terra,’ Tergina said.
‘We not changed, or go Between,’ nodded Lusi.
The mouth of the cave turned out to be on a barren hillside, and the rugged area visible from it, though now deserted, showed signs of recent occupation by great numbers.
‘The army, it has now gone to Breena instead,’ Lusi said.
‘Terra is through the cave in the other direction, I assume,’ said Tye, ‘but I don’t think we need to test it. Do you?’
The others all shook their heads, and Pip added, ‘Meep.’
‘Right, then, that’s a visit to the Northern Rift done and dusted. These Barrier/Conjunction/Interface things certainly make for fast travel. Let’s go,’ and they flew back into the cave.
‘So it seems pretty clear,’ said Hugh, after both expeditions had reported back and a stone had given the same message several times over, ‘that we all need to go to Breena, find Aiennea, and bring her here as fast as possible.’