Rislo only half right with his statement concerning the presence of the Tallmen and the Turkanschoner. In fact only the beast he feared so much had now stalked him in the maze of tunnels beneath the Hall of Machines.
When the Captain of Rislo’s watch had realised that the misfit in his platoon had deserted his post, he had considered pursuing him himself, but he had other ways with which to spend his time. Tonight, the human traders known as the High Hat’s were due to arrive with a fresh consignment of human females for their pleasure and the deserter Rislo would not prevent him from having the choice of the finest wench. No, the Turkanschoner would do the job efficiently enough alone he thought. No-one would mourn the death of the miserable misfit Rislo, so why waste time himself being dragged through cold, damp, underworld by a beast half crazed with hunger?
The Captain had therefore led the huge misshapen, half-human creature on its chain to the entrance to the Tombs and released it to do its job alone in the darkness. He slammed down the stone trapdoor and had forgotten Rislo and the Turkanschoner before he was half way back to the Towers, pre- occupied with the prospect of tonight’s entertainment and confidant in the abilities of the predator that meant certain death to its deserter prey, once it had acquired his scent.
The Turkanschoner crouched in the darkness alone with the scent of its future victim on a piece of clothing attached to its collar. The beast did not fear the darkness for it could see nothing. It did not hear the echoes of its talons scratching neurotically at the stone floor for it could hear little, except its own muffled howls which were transmitted through the bones of jaw and skull to its inner ear. All its sensory consciousness was concentrated into one capacity; its incredible sense of smell. The Tallmen had conditioned it to hunt by this sense alone, its reward was food, the living flesh of the victim whose scent it was locked on to and pursued.
It crouched low in a paved passageway, its permanently arched back bringing its elongated snout close to the ground. The beast’s spinal column arched in a series of sharply defined and protruding metal vertebrae, clearly visible due to the emaciation of its lean and jaundiced flesh.
Its yellow skin was stretched dry and taut over efficient, lean muscles and protruding bones and joints. If it could have stood upright it would have stood the height of a tall human being, once it may have been able to do so, but now it stooped low in a deceptive gesture of servitude, bowing to the cruelty of the Tallmen and the steel rod which had been surgically implanted in its back to permanently bend the beast to its tasks.
Long arms terminated in huge hands with slender, yet powerful fingers that concluded in savage, almost surgical talons. Its feet where large, its toes splayed unnaturally outwards and equipped in a similar way to its hands.
The creature’s neck was long, thin and incredibly supple, capable of turning through almost three hundred and sixty degrees and supported a large, intelligent looking head. From the beast’s head, fine wisps of grey hair exploded in long tufts from a heavily scarred scalp, hair that flowed down over sunken eye sockets, which continually oozed thick, white mucus onto a powerful muzzle and jaw, supporting two pairs of wickedly sharpened and huge incisors.
A long tongue, which assisted its sense of smell, now lolled out between its teeth as it sought to establish the location of its prey. The beast’s nostrils flared, the scent was strong and fresh and the presence of another scent did nothing to confuse it. The Turkanschoner moved forward, adopting a scuttling gait, almost treading directly in Rislo’s footprints as it ventured into darkness that exploded with a panorama of scent and purpose.
The Turkanschoner thought nothing of the fearful atrocity it would perform when it caught up with its prey. It had no conception of failure, since it had never failed But it felt uneasy today, uneasy with the freedom it had. mThe usual choking and restrictive chain was absent, as was the scent of a handler close by, but the presence of another scent, along with that of its prey, reassured it of some normality. It began to reason to quell a rising inner fear. The other scent, the one not its prey, it decided, would command it to kill today. The scent was ahead not with it here, but this did not matter, the other scent must be the master There was always master to command it to kill or reward the Turkanschoner when it had captured its prey... wasn’t there? Today, it decided, would be the same as previous hunts, the `other’ would command. Its reasoning satisfied the conditions of the hunt that were etched into his mind. Things were different today, but it could still pursue its tasks to a satisfactory conclusion. All the right elements where here, it was just that they were not in the right places it deduced; but soon they would be.
Assuring itself of an adjusted normality, the Turkanschoner howled excitedly and sped in pursuit of the two people ahead of it, the discomfort concerning its freedom and the different circumstances of today’s hunt rationally dispelled. Soon it would eat and all would be well.