Havoc nodded. "Yes, it is time," he agreed. "We have taken two days to check out the region surrounding the section the tapestry map covers, and know there are no ugly surprises there. Now we can sample the key zone."
Avian nodded his gray head. Then he and Havoc moved together toward the zone. The other Glamors stayed back. They had agreed to risk no more than two in the first exploration. That was why the mortals were not here; neither Ini, with the altar icon, nor Futility, with the tapestry map, would be risked until the way was certified safe.
The terrain looked ordinary. They had selected a Gray Chroma zone to sample first, which was why the Gray Glamor was participating. They planned to have human/animal teams, to maximize the senses and reactions. All this care seemed unnecessary, but they trusted the nature of the challenge: extreme caution was best. There could be things here that none of them had encountered before. They needed to be prepared for the unexpected.
Still, the gray terrain ahead seemed exactly typical of Gray Chroma zones elsewhere on this planet. The trees were the same as those Havoc had noted elsewhere, and the odd birds were too, as Avian had noted. It hardly seemed to require a special map from another planet; they could have flown over the zone and quickly sketched their own map. Yet nothing about this quest had been straightforward, and there seemed to be reason for the other aspects; there was surely reason here too.
They stopped just beyond the limit defined by the map, having established that without passing it. "Your sample, Gray," he said.
Avian stepped across the unmarked line. One stride, two, three. Then he paused, squawked, and stepped back. See for yourself.
Havoc shrugged and strode forward himself. On the third step, the zone changed. He was standing at the edge of a turbulent sea that had not been there before. Gray waves slapped against gray rocks at the shore, throwing up spume. The sound was consistent, and the smell of the water's edge was pleasant. Drops of water struck him like cool rain.
This had to be illusion. Nothing like this was on the map, and it wasn't visible from outside. It had appeared only when he entered the defined zone. Yet it was different from prior illusions he had encountered, both on Charm and Counter Charm, in that it was apparent only when he was actually in it. Most illusions were visible from inside or outside; they were fixed, overlaying reality at their sites. Symbol's illusion story shows were an example.
Like Symbol's illusions, this one was full-fledged. In fact it went beyond, because hers did not have smell or touch, just sight and sound. This was the most effective illusion he had encountered.
Or was it illusion? This was so realistic that it could be reality, and the illusion might be the placid scene seen from outside. That would mean that this entire region was quite other than anticipated. Yet why would they need a map of the illusion, in that case? It would be useless.
Havoc squatted and picked up a wet pebble from the fragmented beach. It had been smoothed by millennia of washing, but the faint lines of its layered formation remained. He stepped back across the tacit line.
There was the ordinary landscape, with Avian standing where he had been. The surging sea was gone. So was the pebble Havoc had held.
"Interesting," he remarked. "You saw the same?" He projected a mental picture of the sea.
"I think that is illusion."
The bird nodded.
They consulted with the other Glamors. Yellow was absent, safeguarding the mortals in their investigation of clouds, but they could update her when they understood more. Gale was with the children at the base. The others crossed the line one by one, experiencing the scene for themselves. All were impressed.
They moved around the perimeter to an Orange Chroma zone. This faced a moderate mountain overgrown with orange trees and shrubs, with a path winding up the side that might have been made by one of the giant snails they had seen elsewhere. The Orange Sphinx Glamor approached it, with the Green Glamor, whose constituency was mollusks; he would be able to relate to a snail if they encountered it.
The sphinx stepped across the assumed line, paused, and returned. The Green Glamor did the same.
The others took their turns. When Havoc tried it, he discovered a scintillating desert, across which glittering things raced, keening melodically. It was hard to get a clear view of them; their courses were too erratic to anticipate well, and they seemed never to pause in place. They didn't leave tracks; instead their motion stirred up dust and sand, which soon settled behind them, leaving no clear prints. The heat was horrendous; as a Glamor he could handle it, but it would be bad for any mortals. This might be illusion, but it was nevertheless uncomfortable.
This time Havoc turned around, facing back the way he had come. There was more desert--and one of the glitter things was angling toward him. It surely couldn't touch him, being illusion, but he had seen enough. He walked forward, crossing the line that had to be there.
Back outside the zone, he turned and looked. There was the overgrown mountain again, quite peaceful. The illusion was completely gone.
"Impressed," he murmured.
"Concurrence," Green said. "I thought to check a snail; I found none there. I tried to penetrate the illusion to find the snail trail we can see from here, but could not find it."
They moved on to another section. This was an Air Chroma zone, showing only vague fog, which was the Illusions Chroma's way of being undefined. The Invisible Glamor checked it, with the Silver Chroma Spider. Again, they withdrew after brief inspection, and let the others try.
Havoc entered with Avian, this time together. And this time it was the base of a deep valley, with birds and small clouds overhead, and a creature reminiscent of a legendary Earth dinosaur roaming through it, questing perhaps for prey.
Havoc looked around. He did not see or hear Avian. Gray? He thought.
He got an answer, but it was hopelessly garbled. He knew a mind was near him, but not what it was trying to convey, or even whether it was the bird. It seemed that the illusion covered even telepathy.
Behind him was the near slope of the valley, too steep to support more than crevice-dwelling plants and moss. It rose to a ridge far above. That would be a very long climb.
There was agitation in the nearby thoughts. Something was bothering Avian. Havoc turned back to face the center of the valley--and saw that the dinosaur had winded them and was now striding purposefully toward them. It might be illusion--or it might be something real, like a dragon, modified by illusion. "Retreating," he said, buttressing the thought with the word. He stepped into the steep slope, and was out.
Avian was beside him, his tri-part beak looking disgruntled. The other Glamors nodded with understanding.
"Impressed again," Havoc said. "That is not passive illusion; it is aware of our intrusion."
Those birds sent bird-mind signals, Avian thought. I received them clearly, but not yours, Havoc.
"You were fogged," Havoc agreed. "Body and mind."
"Illusion is my Chroma specialty," the Air Glamor said. "But I have not before encountered this type or competence. It covers everything."
"Illusion can be penetrated," the Red Glamor said.
"Agreement. But did you penetrate this one?"
"Negation," she said, frowning. "That surprises me."
"And me," Air said. "I had to focus my entire effort on penetrating just one aspect at a time: sight, or sound, or smell, or mind. So I could make the dinosaur fade, but still heard the beat of its footfalls. This is a surprising challenge."
"Question," Havoc said. "Should we proceed regardless, or delay our investigation until we are better able to handle this special illusion?"
"Delay," Air said. "I need time to study this. I should be able to find a way in due course."
"And we don't want to risk the success of our mission on fouled up perceptions," the Red Glamor said. "We don't even know what we are searching for." She glanced around. "There could be danger, even for us."