Rislo had woken from a fitful, nightmare-ridden sleep with a jolt. Slowly he realised where he was as the horrific images of teeth and talons faded from his mind. He trembled involuntarily, his teeth chattering, his breathing shallow and irregular as the physical effects the nightmares of the Turkanschoner lingered in his body. He remembered that the beast had gone. Jonathon had got rid of it somehow. He looked now to see the young man who had saved him slumped in a deep sleep against the alcove wall.
Collecting his thoughts, Rislo remembered why he was here. His plans had taken a detour. The moving of the machine from his hideaway had been the focal point of his arrangements. He had been intent on stealing the final component and then transporting it and the machine to a location close to an escape route in the shape of a dimension door.
Now his plans were in disarray. It would not be that simple. Jonathon’s friends needed to be contacted up there, above the inferno. They might even be dead, but he knew Jonathon would need proof before they carried out their plans to the full; and then there was the problem of the Field Imploder’s location.
It still remained back in his secret workshop, it needed to be dismantled and brought here. Then he had to take the Power Reservoir, that final and vital component from the city of the Tallmen. He decided while Jonathon slept, that each of them should attend to their own tasks. He would return to the Towers, steal the component and dismantle the Field Imploder. Jonathon would search for his friends.
That way each would complete their tasks in the places they where familiar with and neither would become a hindrance to the other. He still worried about the threat of the Turkanschoner, but the initial threat seemed to have passed. He would have to take his chances he decided, and hoped it was now safely locked up in its cage in the Tallmens’ vaults.
When his young human companion woke, Rislo informed Jonathon of his plans and, seeing the logic in his argument, Jonathon agreed. Rislo continued. They would meet again in Rislo’s bolthole in two days time and then, all being well, they would take the machine a convenient location and finish the task they had begun.
If one of them did not return, the other would carry out the plan alone. If it was Rislo who did not return on time then he indicated to Jonathon that he would leave maps of the dimension door locations and details of the rate of travel through them. He would disclose the location of the Power Reservoir in the City of the Tallmen and how to assemble and use the Field Imploder. Rislo had planned thoroughly. Sixty years of careful research had been set into action by Jonathon’s contact with the giant, but now, after a few hours together, they would part, with the chance that they might never see one another again.
The two allies hesitated at the edge of the well shaft. The upward air current had ceased, indicating that the inferno above had considerably lessened in intensity, if it had not been extinguished all together.
Jonathon looked up to see only a dim glow of pale daylight above and felt it safe enough to venture upwards and towards his darkest fears. He feared the worst, but had to know the fate of his friends. Without any evidence of their fate he could not give them up easily.
However, his strong his desire to fulfil his oaths against the city and Silus Flax suppressed any feelings of premature grief. There was a spark of hope though. If the fire had been accidental he felt that the Whisperers would have escaped it easily. But he remembered the vision of the High Hats, their necks inclined upwards toward the sky and the orange glow on the face of a rat faced man. A trap sprung?
Even then there was still a good chance that Milly, Dale and Tefkin could have used their superior physical abilities and knowledge of the roof tops to avoid capture, or worse. “Anyway” Jonathon asked himself, “Why would these High Hats succeed where the Tans had for years failed?” An unwelcome answer, a one-syllable name, echoed inside his skull. “Flax”.
Rislo shook him gently from his private fears, with a large reassuring hand on his shoulder
“Let us go. There need not be any farewells for we shall meet again shortly.” he said, with a slight tremble in his voice, despite the optimism of his statement.
Jonathon nodded, smiled and launched himself up the well shaft. The Tallman watched Jonathon disappear rapidly up the shaft as he himself descended back into the abyss. Rislo descended slowly and cautiously, he was not a trained climber like Jonathon. The coarse, crumbling bricks cut into him as he moved painfully, hold by hold, downwards. A strange and repulsive odour grew stronger the farther down the shaft he went. As he neared the bottom the smell was nauseating and almost unbearable. He adjusted his light orb to send a beam of light downwards in an attempt to locate the source of the stench.
Sealing the exit at the bottom of the shaft was a heap of dead lepers. Their corpses were blackened and broken. The smell of death’s relaxation and that of burned flesh were enough alone to prevent Rislo from moving any farther down the shaft without the physical problem of getting past them.
While Rislo and Jonathon had slept, the lepers had made their desperate plunges to escape the flames. There were perhaps a dozen or so, sealing the breech in the shaft, but the well probably extended hundreds of feet further into the ground. Hundreds must have leapt to their anonymous deaths to fill the shaft and neither he nor Jonathon had seen or heard a thing as the lepers had hurled themselves, in a silent resignation, to eternity.
Rislo was poised to begin another ascent when he heard the sound of movement from below. A shiver ran through him. Surely not, he thought. Surely none had survived. He watched petrified as a corpse slid sideways and out of the well shaft, then another and another. Then he heard a demented moaning, accompanied by a violent retching.
“Argh, bad smell, bad, bad” Words drifted up to Rislo. Someone was clearing the shaft. Another corpse exited and a hole appeared something entered the shaft. Rislo shone his beam onto it.
A horned head stared upwards, eyes narrowed in the orb’s light, massive incisors glinting in the beam as they protruded from its snout. Rislo stared at the Turkanschoner. The beast launched itself towards a petrified Rislo, scrabbling towards his position at furious pace, tearing away bricks and mortar from the well shaft walls as it searched for footholds.
The Tallman braced himself for impact and a talon rammed into his thigh; his life now flashed before him. His bladder gave way.
The Turkanschoner had no intention of devouring Rislo. The creature desperately attempted to escape the vile odours of death Rislo had begun to retreat from, magnified a thousand times by his own highly sensitive olfactory equipment. Consequently it climbed as quickly as possible up the shaft and used Rislo’s thigh as a useful foothold on its way up. The Turkanschoner disappeared into the dim light above him, retching and coughing as it went.
For a moment Rislo stayed still, then realised the beast had gone. He gasped and dropped downwards, landing softly on the dead bodies below and clambered out of the shaft and began to sprint as fast as he could from the smell of death and his personal nightmare embodiment of it, the Turkanschoner.
He ran and ran until he could run no more, until his heart threatened to smash out of his chest and his lungs explode. Eventually he fell to the damp stone floor in exhaustion and gasped in lungfuls of stale, but gratefully odourless, air. Then he threw up.
Slowly he recovered from his exertion and his shock in the well shaft. He had been sure that the creature he had encountered was the Turkanschoner, but why was it still here, was it still hunting? A grave thought slipped into his mind. Was it still hunting him? Had the stench of the leper’s corpses confused it?
Rislo walked slowly back towards his refuge trying to regain his composure. If he had not met Jonathon he would still be back in the Towers - safe from the beast, he thought. He could have made this journey alone and slipped unnoticed out of a dimension door when he was off duty, he would have had plenty of time.
But now he was embarked on some insane and dangerous mission, allied in some maniacal cause which, when it came down to it, was not his own. His thoughts of regret gradually subsided. He owed it to Cornelius Postlethwaite for making him aware of the Tallmens’ unopposed slip into the vile pit of depravity and corruption the human population of Dubh was already immersed in. And, of course, Jonathon had saved him from death at the hands of the Turkanschoner or even his own suicidal hands.
He could not forget these things. He would endeavour to pay his debts. But the dark seed of doubt that had been cast in his mind by the stress and fear of the past hours remained, nagging him.
Rislo was not a brave soul. He was no natural hero. With these thoughts Rislo quickened his pace towards the place from where he had become an outcast and a dangerous rebel. He increased the intensity of the light orb, it seemed to be getting darker here, the shadows around him growing deeper, physically pressing in on him; and it was so cold, his breath turning to a nebulous vapour as moved onwards. Something in the darkness laughed, and Rislo shivered and began to run.