Jonathon heard Rislo’s anguished words as he was literally shaken back to the edge of reality, but it took him several moments before he orientated himself completely. By this time the Tallman was frantically packing possessions into his large pack, visibly shaking and sweating, beside himself with fear. He noticed Rislo’s uncontrollable trembling as the giant hastily lifted a heavy steel beam onto its wooden stays to bar the door. He muttered unintelligible obscenities as he struggled until, at last, the beam dropped noisily into place.
Rislo leaned back against the door, his eyes closed, terror etched across his forehead, temporarily relieved.
“That ought to hold them for a while at least.” he squeaked, his voice breaking with fear. As he picked up his now bulging pack, he grabbed the groggy Jonathon by the elbow and dragged him roughly across the room, kicking aside a pile of boxes to reveal a natural fissure in the rock wide enough for them to slip through.
Rislo fumbled nervously with his light orb and eventually fixed it to a clasp on the end of the black rod attached to the chain on his belt.
“Come on my little friend, we have scarce time, the door will not hold the beast for long.”
He dragged Jonathon down the uneven and steep rock crevice until they emerged into a larger fissure that levelled out before them. Jonathon, the exertion bringing him back to full consciousness, now felt the fear, which oozed from the Tallman. Feeling stronger and more alert he detached himself from Rislo’s arm and trotted
behind the long striding giant. He could now hear the echoing screams of anger and frustration as the Turkanschoner met with the door Rislo had secured. The beast’s howls seemed to be all around them, coming from ahead and behind as the devilish echoes found their way around the labyrinth of tunnels, caves and fissures they had travelled to their ears.
Rislo’s anxious face was covered in beads of perspiration, partly from exertion, partly from fear. He turned and indicated to Jonathon urging him to move more quickly.
“Come friend, move faster, we must find a way out of here quickly it will soon be upon us” he panted.
“But where do we go, we can’t run forever! Why not fight them, take them by surprise.” Jonathon replied. The gasping giant stopped to catch his breath.
“The thing that pursues us, me in particular, is both faster and stronger than both of us. Hiding is impossible. It has only one intention - which is to tear me limb from limb and feed upon my flesh. That is how it is trained to deal with deserters like me. If we get to the surface we may have a chance. I do not think its handler will risk pursuit in the human city.” Rislo wheezed heavily. “This Tower of Lepers, your home, where is it? Perhaps we can seek refuge there? I will be safe from both the Tallmen and the humans.”
Jonathon nodded in agreement, they would be safe there and he himself, confidant on his own territory.
“It’s close to the bridge that leads across the river to the Upper City, at the top of the rise on a street which leads from the bridge. But how do we get there from here? I’ve no idea of where we are! ”
Rislo rummaged in his pack and pulled out a crumpled parchment covered in clear plastic.
“I have a map, a map of all these underworld ways and the gates and tunnels which lead to the surface.” he pushed it toward Jonathon. “The surface streets are superimposed in red, the ways we now walk in blue.
These black dots are old water wells, empty now, perhaps we may find one that leads to the surface near your Castle of Lepers.” he looked hopefully at Jonathon.
Jonathon took the map and peered at it carefully, taking note of the distinctive landmarks. He found the bridge and traced the red lines of the street with his fingers until he came to a large block, isolated on all sides by wide streets that stood apart from the rest of the city buildings. A black dot appeared within its walls.
It made sense Jonathon thought. The lepers rarely ventured into the city and the well was obviously not dry - it was their water source.
He looked up to the giant who was peering nervously back along the tunnel they had travelled and from where the sound of splintering and crashing of wood now echoed.” Rislo, where are we now? “he asked.
The giant turned and, after a moment of deliberation, pointed to a blue line which snaked roughly towards the well that led up to the Castle of Lepers.
They were less than two hundred paces from it, moments from sanctuary. Rislo’s eyes widened.
“We are close then! We have a chance! “he cried, after Jonathon had explained their location relative to the Castle of Lepers. Jonathon nodded and smiled weakly. Rislo’s face brightened with hope. He clasped his hands together and looked upwards. “Then let us thank God! ” he proclaimed.
Jonathon raised his eyebrows. His Grandfather had spoken of God. Memories of Cornelius’s thick, black leather bound book filtered back. The memories dissolved quickly as Rislo grabbed him again and dragged rapidly him along the rock strewn fissure in the direction of the well shaft.
After a short while, Rislo stopped dead and looked anxiously around him.
“It should be here, but it should be here!” he shouted disappointedly, fear returning to his voice as the Turkanschoner’s excited howls echoed around the tunnels, seeming to get closer every time they heard them. Jonathon also expected the well shaft to be blatantly obvious, situated on the map halfway across the tunnel they now stood in, but there was little to indicate the presence of a well shaft here. Frantically Rislo began to examine the walls and floor around the spot they had stopped. The light from his orb showed nothing that was different from normal.
Now the giant began to scratch and scrape furiously at the crumbling walls. At one point the wall bulged slightly outwards. Running his fingers in the compacted dust that had accumulated over the years, he found what he was looking for - stone mortared blocks, hidden beneath the dust that curved slightly outwards from the rock wall.
“Here!” he shouted, laughing excitedly. “It is here!” and began to tear at the blocks with his bare hands attempting to find a loose one and gain access to the well shaft. But the blocks were secure.
Rislo pushed Jonathon aside and lifted the black rod that hung on the chain from his belt. He twisted the rod and the orb’s light changed from its currently soft, yellow illumination to an angry, burning red.
“Stand back Jonathon” he warned, retreating several yards from the position of the well shaft and then crouching low. Jonathon joined him.
Pressing an unseen trigger on the black rod caused a bolt of blood red energy to leap from the orb to the brickwork of the well shaft. A loud explosion hurled brick and mortar fragments along the tunnel covering Rislo and Jonathon in dust from head to toe.
The roar of the explosion reverberated along the tunnels of the underworld and could still be heard after the debris from the blast had finally come to rest. A wall of thick dust obscured Rislo’s handiwork and caused the pair to cough harshly. But the dust did not settle on the ground, it was moving horizontally into the dark hole left by the explosion. There it streamed up the shaft rapidly on a current of moving air, drawn upwards, soon clearing the dust particles from the confines of the tunnel.
Now the dust had cleared, but the air was still being sucked strongly into the well shaft. Rislo and Jonathon moved cautiously towards the hole where the force of the moving air tugged at their clothes and hair.
The Tallman returned his orb to normal usage and pushed it into the shaft, leaning in himself to peer upwards, his long, red hair streaming vertically with the strong air flow. His eyes widened as he looked upwards, a look of dismay fell upon his face.
“There is a terrible fire burning up there. I can see its glow. The fire sucks in the air, it must be very intense to create such a draught.” Rislo shouted over the roar of the air into the shaft.
Jonathon felt cold. If the Castle of Lepers burned, what of Milly and the others? He remembered his vision, the High Hats faces reflecting fire. Flax!
“We must go up Jonathon!” The Tallman implored as he looked back along the tunnel as the latest scream of the Turkanschoner hardly echoed at all, it was that close now. “We have a choice, burn or be torn apart, but there is a third choice.” He said as he leapt into the shaft and wedging his long arms and legs against its sides and moved upwards, his pack dangling below him.
His rate of ascent was quick for one with such an ungainly physique, adrenaline giving him the strength he need. Jonathon followed.
He was not big enough to brace himself the way Rislo had done, but he found easy hand and footholds amongst the coarse stonework. Craning his neck upwards he could see the small circle of bright orange light, which was the fire blazing around the wellhead, hundreds of feet above him.
The roar of shifting air in the tunnel made spoken communication between the two impossible, so Jonathon attempted to make a telepathic link with the Tallman above him. The climbing giant was concentrating intensely on his foot and handholds and this made Jonathon’s probing difficult. He was also in a state of profound panic and fear, a barrier that anyone with less than Jonathon’s telepathic skills would have found impossible to penetrate. Rislo refused to communicate, but Jonathon could read his thoughts and emotions, see the memory pictures that now flowed vividly into his mind.
Scenes of carnage filled Rislo’s mind, the aftermath of the Turkanschoner’s missions. Death was not clean with this predator, it tore and ripped into the flesh of its prey indiscriminately with no will to end life quickly or indeed any knowledge, since it was not a natural killer.
All it desired was to feed and it was conditioned to the hunt and the feast at the end of it. Hence it did not kill as such, it fed on its still living victims until they died of shock or blood loss. Rislo felt that there was no hope, above was a furnace and below the pursuing tearing teeth and claws of the beast. He was desperate, he felt trapped. He had used the one emergency charge from his light orb and would probably have missed if he used it on the Turkanschoner.
But he did have his other option, a choice of how he died. He giggled mentally to himself. He would climb as far as he could up the well shaft and then throw himself down into the abyss. Who knows, he thought, he might even take the Turkanschoner and his Tallmen pursuers with him?
Rislo laughed outloud manically.
Jonathon was finding the climb easy, he had been trained well and was accustomed to such feats of exertion, so much so that he found the ascent almost effortless. But his mind raced to find a solution to their present dilemma. Rislo, he knew had accepted defeat, about to give up. The Tallman saw his situation as hopeless, but Jonathon thought differently. He would never give up hope. He considered his options. He could do nothing about the fire which raged above them, but he might be able to fight the beast which pursued them, not physically but he had other weapons. His trip into Rislo’s memory had revealed its strength, speed and blind ferocity, but it had a brain, a mind, he could engage that.
He knew from Rislo’s knowledge of the creature, that usually it needed to be commanded to attack by its handler who cast a file of liquid to the ground that stimulated its feeding frenzy. Above all he knew that the minds of the Tallmen pursuing Rislo were vulnerable to his powers, he might just be able to stop them. He would try them first.
Jonathon stopped climbing and sent out his mind probing, searching for the Turkanschoner’s handler. He found no one except the beast. It was alone. How could it carry out its conditioned response without someone to initiate it? he puzzled. He swept into the beast’s mind to find it filled with bloody intent, its primitive instincts driving it forward in its initial task of capturing the Tallman deserter.
It had just entered the well shaft and knew its prey was above it. It continually checked the scent it followed with the scent on the clothing tied to its neck. Jonathon probed deeper and found the beast to be very intelligent, it was no mere predator at all, but it was driven by the primal desires - fear and hunger, its intellect was paralysed and bound, primal instincts drove it.
It feared the pain of punishment if it failed. It hungered because the meals it was fed, at times other than when it captured its prey were vastly inadequate. It was kept in a state of virtual starvation that always gave its instincts for self preservation supremacy over the moral codes it did possessed deep within its mind. Codes from another time and place.
There was something strange about the Turkanschoner’s mind; much was missing or hidden. It had few memories and its primitive instincts were followed uneasily, an underlying tension existed in its psyche. Jonathon realised that its mind had been altered, conditioned. And now, as it neared the capture of its prey, it faced an almighty dilemma. It needed to feed so badly, but knew that to act in a way other than it had been conditioned meant punishment and not eating meant pain of hunger and starvation.
Now Jonathon heard its thoughts, it yearned for its master to give it the kill scent. But its master, its Tallman handler, was not here. Jonathon pondered a while. He delved into the creature’s thoughts again in an attempt to unravel its confused mind and realised that it genuinely thought that its master was here with it. Jonathon spoke to the beast, his words drifted gently into the beasts head.
“Who is your master? Where is he? ”
The Turkanschoner stopped its ascent of the well shaft abruptly when the strange voice rang out softly in its head. A wave of fear ran briefly through its mind, and then it answered.
“Him up with it” came a nonsensical reply.
“How can he be up?” Jonathon continued his query and the beast attempted to explain.
“Turk obeys master always or pain comes. Here is scent prey. Here is master who is not prey. Me always have master. Always with me. Master commands, no master, no food - no Turk, so prey here yes - other must be master - yes?” it seemed to ask for a confirmation of its simple logical deduction from Jonathon.
Jonathon quickly realised that the Turkanschoner thought that he Jonathon, the ‘other’ scent, was its master. Jonathon, it seemed had been adopted in the absence of its handler in order that it might capture its prey and be able to feed within the behavioural confines of its programming.
He decided to try and command it.
“Turkanschoner, I am your master, you must go back to the Towers now.” he ventured naively.
“Cannot!” came the immediate reply. “Must eat or Turk dies, always eat now, never not eat now.” it replied.
Did the Turkanschoner always eat its victim, Jonathon thought. Surely there were times when the pursued needed to be taken alive, what then?
Jonathon probed Turk’s mind and amongst the gory memory scenes of it feasting, were other times when its prey survived. On these rare occasions the beast was rewarded with a meal that satisfied its hunger. He wondered whether the Turkanschoner’s conditioning would hold if it were not fed now. He feared it would not. The creature had completed the hunting of the prey and waited to be fed; how long would it wait until its instinct for self-preservation broke the bonds of conditioning and took the food it needed in the form of Rislo’s flesh? But perhaps, just perhaps, Jonathon realised, there was a slim chance.
He opened his eyes and was startled by what he saw. The Turkanschoner was there with him, its damp nostrils flaring close to his face, its crudely stitched up eye-lids bulging as its eye balls moved rapidly beneath them. The large, but emaciated beast’s arms and legs were braced astride Jonathon as it held onto the side of the well shaft. Jonathon stood, back to the wall on a narrow ledge, staring directly into the Turkanschoner’s horrific visage.
Its protruding hound-like jaws sported huge oversize incisors that dripped with saliva, a long pink tongue lolled to one side over loose brown and yellow dappled lips. Here were the perfect carnivorous jaws of the ultimate in killing machines but, as Jonathon studied the beast further, he saw that all was not what it seemed.
The razor sharp, serrated cutting side teeth showed file marks where someone had modified the original herbivorous molars into the terrible saw blades it now possessed. Its gigantic dagger-like incisors were completely artificial, as were its extended jaws. The teeth were crudely crafted from steel and riveted into place on a metal jaw that was screwed into the original one. Rivet and screw heads were clearly visible. This poor creature was no more a natural carnivore than Jonathon or Rislo were he deduced, it had been physically adapted and mentally conditioned by the Tallmen into a retributive weapon. The method of conditioning had left its physical marks too. The creatures skull was criss-crossed with vivid white scars which had destroyed the hair follicles in places and forced the rest of the Turkanschoner’s hair to grow in great, grey tufts and ragged tails which cascaded down its high fore head and long elegant neck.
Its ears had been savagely removed, torn messily from its head and the apertures plugged with wax. Its senses had been reduced to those of touch, taste and smell. Jonathon guessed that the creature, which he now knew had once been more than a beast, had originally had a good sense of smell, and the Tallmen had worked to accentuate this by depriving it of sight and hearing.
But Jonathon saw more than any other person could. He had seen both its face and brushed soul with his psychic probing; both were tortured landscapes of pain and suffering. The Turkanschoner moved its right hand down and touched Jonathon’s face lightly, a long taloned finger stroked his jaw. In its mind it echoed Jonathon’s unique observation, knowing that he would hear it.
“Pain, my life forever pain.”
The Turkanschoner’s lolling tongue disappeared into its mouth. Sound gurgled in the back of its throat and, to Jonathon’s surprise, words escaped in deep, guttural tones.
“Command to kill. Turk hungers. Must eat now!” it pleaded with Jonathon. When Jonathon did not respond, it asked again. This time Jonathon felt its conditioning to follow order coming under severe pressure. “So hungry, must feed soon, hungreeeee!”
Jonathon re-established his telepathic link and spoke to Turkanschoner.
“No killing today Turk, I command you not to kill.”
The beast visibly flinched, baring his lips angrily and revealing more, but smaller artificial incisors attached to his artificial jaws between these two principal weapons.
“Then you feed me! You command, you feed, you master - I find Tallman runner - YOU FEED NOW...or I kill, can’t help. FEED GOOD NOW!” the beast screamed indignantly at his new master’s injustice.
Jonathon’s mind raced, he had no food. Then he remembered Rislo’s pack. Had he packed food? He was, after all, prepared for a long expedition. He shouted up to the giant who had hidden in an alcove, created in a section of collapsed well shaft wall just above him. Rislo’s silhouetted head peered anxiously down at him and the stationaryTurkanschoner.
Rislo gasped out loud.
“Have you packed any food?” Jonathon called up to him.
The Tallman stared blankly at the Turkanschoner whose mouth was dribbling with saliva. One way or another the beast would soon feed.
“Rislo! Food! All it needs to stop it now is to be fed! ” The Turkanschoner raised its head towards Rislo and saliva seemed to boil back out of its jaws. Its nostrils flared. It moaned. Rislo disappeared briefly and reappeared with a bundle of large black sausages which he tentatively lowered down to the Turkanschoner. The beast snatched his prize from Rislo and lowered his face to Jonathon.
“Pain, so much pain, master helps good.” it groaned “Me kennel now? ” it asked innocently. “Help master again?” The beast’s ‘master’ sighed with relief and closed his eyes. “Yes, go now” Jonathon said mentally to the contented hunting machine. When he opened his eyes, the beast had gone. Jonathon was massively tired, drained of mental and spiritual energy. The Turkanschoner’s abyssal soul had drained him of it. He climbed up to the alcove where Rislo crouched and slid along side him. The giant looked at him wearily.
“I thought I was going to die, I was convinced, I was falling apart. Has it really gone?” he whispered, in case it had not. Jonathon smiled weakly.
“Yes, its gone, you’re safe now” he reassured the giant, then closed his eyes and fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.