Jonathon crept out of the wellhead into a dim twilight that lit the remnants of the building that had been the Castle of Lepers. The great shell of the building still stood but its walls, blackened by smoke and cracked by the intense heat, seemed ready to plunge inwards at any moment.
Not one floor or even a piece of wood remained in the building. The fire had consumed all. Jonathon waded, knee deep, through a black and grey ash, unaware that the ashes of thousands of lepers lay beneath his feet, mixed with the carbonated remains of the building’s one hundred stories. There was little sound here now, except the cracking of contracting brickwork as it cooled to its normal temperature. The great drunken crowd, which had gathered to watch and actively take part in ensuring that the diseased occupants of this place were properly incinerated, had drifted away once they were sure the last of the lepers had been consumed by the purifying flames or leapt hundreds of feet to the painless sanctuary of the cobbled streets below.
For the few who survived the leap, the attendant mob gleefully helped them on their way to another hell with stones and clubs. All in a day’s entertainment in Dubh. In the streets now, the lepers smouldering remains lay in the heaps where they had fallen. No one made any real attempt to remove them. A squad of Tans had been assigned to the task, but were more intent in rifling through the clothing of the dead for booty than attending to the job of disposal, despite the risk of disease. Eventually, when they had completed their pillage, they would attempt to carry out their task by soaking the bodies in oils and setting fire to them.
Jonathon peered up from the floor of the building. The concrete roof remained intact. He doubted his friends were up there now, but it seemed the right place to begin his search. He took to the blacked inner walls like a fly, his taloned gloves and bladed boots finding easy purchase amongst the cracked and fire damaged brickwork. Within minutes he was half way to his roof top goal.
Down below the Turkanschoner watched. From where the hunched and horned shape hid near the wellhead, Jonathan looked like a fly. The Turkanschoner watched in awe, his huge jaws agape with astonishment. His new master was indeed a talented one he mused. However, wherever he went the Turkanschoner would follow. He could not lose him, because to lose Jonathon was to lose the opportunity to continue to find himself.
Jonathon soon found himself close to the rooftop. He found a window and straddled the ledge. Down below he saw that several small fires now burned amongst the heaps of grey rags that surrounded the building on all sides and had once been its occupants. A group of Tans occupied with the cremation of the bodies below, laughed hysterically as one of their number accidentally set light to oil which he had spilled on himself and danced a frenzied jig as he attempted to extinguish the flames. No-one helped him, they stood and watched the new spectacle in state of intense, morbid amusement, as the unfortunate man slowly and noisily lost his battle with the engulfing flames.
Jonathon did not remain to watch the tragic outcome of a battle between man and this essential element. As the man’s pained screaming terminated he completed the final part his climb on the outside of the building and dropped on to the roof top.
In the centre of the roof the intense heat from below had burned everything combustible. The shack he had called home for so long had gone. The smaller tiled roofs around the rooftop had gone too, collapsing inward as their wooden supporting slats had burned through.
Slowly he skirted the roof edge where the concrete had not been so badly cracked. He found nothing to suggest that his friends had perished here. Despite the heat damage he knew that he would have found at least their bodies. Evidently, they had not been here, he decided.
As he prepared to leave the rooftop he checked that the trampet on the east side outrun was undamaged. It was not. Crouching and concentrating in preparation for his run up, he heard a stifled moan. Jonathon’s heart pounded. He moved quickly around a chimneystack to discover a smouldering bundle of dark rags crawling slowly towards the roof edge. The charred, black coat and badly burned, still smouldering, hob-nail boots identified the man as a High Hat. Jonathon stepped in front of the man who peered up at him.
The luckless High Hat’s hair had been burned away and his face was a mass of oozing blisters. His eyes widened in surprise when he saw the Whisperer and he managed to smile through painfully cracked lips.
“Flyer” he croaked. “We missed you then after all, ha ha.”
Jonathon knelt down beside the man, holding a hand to his mouth and nose as the sickly smell of roasted flesh wafted up to him.
“What about the others?” Jonathon asked sternly,
although he felt some compassion for man. “Where are they?” The High Hat coughed raggedly, spitting up blood and black mucus.
“Escaped, captured who knows? I don’t care” he coughed, pain racking his body. “Soon as we roused ‘em by settin’ fire to the place, they flew over there - then the bastards below forgot us! Let us burn!”
The last words rattled in the man’s throat, but he coughed life back into his body again. He lifted the gnarled, blackened stub of a hand on to Jonathon’s knee, the protruding bones sticking into his thigh.
“Do us a favour mate,” he groaned wheezing thickly. “ Just take me to the edge.” Jonathon dragged the High hat to the edge of the building and propped him up to look across the smoke-shrouded city. “I can’t move, I never asked no-one for ’elp before flyer-man. Now push me off! I can’t do it me self” he pleaded. Jonathon hesitated. “How many flyers did you see?” he asked.
The badly burned man was pre-occupied with the pain from his heat crippled chest again, but he heard Jonathon’s question.
“Three. Three! “he gasped. ” Just chuck me over you bastard” he groaned. The Flyer restrained himself from throwing the High Hat over the buildings edge. It was the humane thing to do perhaps, the High Hat would not last much longer, but he needed more information.
“Which way did they go” he asked calmly.
“East! East! you cruel bastard!.” the slowly dying man croaked. “Kill me now!” he wailed.
“Who did this?” Jonathon asked, his calmness was beginning to dissolve; a trap had been set here. He shook the High Hat by the shoulder, who howled in agony as his taloned glove blades slid painfully into his braised flesh.
“It was Caldecott. Amaril Bastard Caldecott.” he grunted as pain reverberated through him. “Do it now.....Please.” the smouldering High Hat gurgled, as a new haemorrhage of pain erupted in his withered lungs and sent a piercing shaft of agony through his chest.
Jonathon mused over the new name, Amaril Caldecott. He asked the tormented man, who had begun to wheeze even more noisily, who this person was. He began to answer, but the name he spat was enough to spur Jonathon into action.
The High Hat had no time to finish his explanation as Jonathon tipped him over the edge. The High Hat laughed as he fell, but his young executioner had no time to listen. Flax! Jonathon thought, why send his minions to attack the Whisperer’s now? He could only be after him....
But why bother? Apart from that brief, but intense, encounter years ago they had never met again. Why should Flax want to do this now? Unless, of course, he knew of his plans; the only way he could know was if the evil alliance Jonathon suspected existed between Flax and the soul of the city was more intimate than he thought.
Jonathon shook his head in resignation. Flax was more than its tool. They were fearful allies who co-ordinated attacks at both a spiritual and physical level. He realised that the closer came to his goal, the worse things would get - all his friends were vulnerable - the City and Flax would try to get to him through them, if he repelled their attacks. Who would be attacked next? Much depended on Rislo now, would It attack him. Could Rislo resist It.?
Walking backwards carefully to the centre of the roof, fearing the badly cracked concrete might give way under his weight, he lined himself up on the eastern outrun. The High Hat’s words concerning the fate of the Whisperer’s echoed inside his skull. “Gone, captured, dead” Jonathon shuddered. He did not welcome the prospect of finding his friends or Milly dead. This Amaril Caldecott’s plan had been clumsy, but effective. He had some how got men to risk the Leper colony and get on to the roof, and for good measure, set light to the Castle of Lepers to force his friends to flight. How many grinning High Hats would have been waiting for them on the surrounding roof tops, just waiting for his friends to leap into the trap?
Jonathon visualised them, a seething black mass of coats and top hats closing inas his friends took fled their sanctuary their grubby hands molesting Milly.
Anger flooded through his body. “Flax!” he snarled. He had again sought to deprive him of those he loved. Jonathon shook his head in fear and fury as tears rolled down his cheeks. A meeting was long overdue, he thought, he could no longer allow this creature to destroy all those he cared for. Then a terrible realisation struck him. If Milly, Tefkin and Dale were dead then there was only his recent acquaintance Rislo left, he had no other friends - Flax would have taken them all.
Jonathon sprinted hard towards the ledge and hit the trampet hard and accurately. Obligingly, it propelled him high into the space between the two buildings. Rolling himself into a tight ball to increase his momentum, he somersaulted twice, before spreading himself against the rushing air to glide onto the tiled roof before him. His taloned gloves drove into the tiles to anchor him securely. Jonathon lay still, listening for sounds of movement around him. If the trap were still set, his arrival should have sprung it, but no sound of scrambling boots came toward him. No musket shots disturbed the still air.
The Flyer climbed to the roof ridge. A cough from below caused his heart to pound. A murmur of voices drifted up to him, indicating that at least two people were still present below him. Jonathon positioned himself carefully so that he could see down onto the parapet below, but took care that he would not to be visible from their position. There were to High Hats standing guard over two crumpled bodies at their feet. He could not see who they were or if they were dead or merely unconscious; but the way they lay was ominous.
There was only one way to find out Jonathon decided. Two to one were not bad odds if he took them by surprise. The two High Hats stood shoulder to shoulder, their backs to Jonathon. One had a musket slung over his shoulder, while the other prodded the body nearest to him with a short sword.
Jonathon calculated. If he leapt from the roof ridge he could hit them both and possibly immobilise them with the force of impact. He steeled himself for the leap, adrenalin began to course through his veins, his heart pounding so hard in his chest he felt they must surely hear it.
He took a deep breath and hurled himself down at them. The impact felled both High Hats. He hit them hard with arms outstretched. His gloved left hand struck the sword bearer in the neck as he instinctively turned around to face the danger that registered in his subconscious.
The Flyer’s taloned glove hooked into his neck, tearing loose a lump of flesh and severing the jugular vein and brachial arteries. Jonathon’s right fist caught the other less perceptive High Hat a glancing blow across the back of his head. With a loud clatter all three fell into the tiles.
Jonathon was himself stunned by the impact, but scrambled to his feet first and turned to face the fatally wounded High Hat who had managed to raise himself to his knees before him. His gaping neck wound pumped blood into the air as he struggled vainly to staunch the flow with his fists as his life drained from him. He looked at Jonathon accusingly and gasped, gurgled and choked as the blood from his wounds poured into his severed windpipe. His lip curled in anger.
Jonathon was shocked and appalled at what he had done. He had naively hoped that he would have been able disable the two without inflicting such a hideous injury as he had done. The click of a musket hammer being cocked shook him back to his senses. The musket man smiled a mouthful of rotten teeth at Jonathon as he levelled the weapon at his head. He laughed and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened.
His smile drained away as he realised that the damp powder charge had failed to ignite. The High hat fumbled, cursing the perpetual Dubhian drizzle, attempting to cock the musket again but Jonathon’s boot hit him hard in the groin and he doubled up to be hurled into unconsciousness by Jonathon’s knee as it rose under the luckless High Hat’s chin. Jonathon trembled after the speed and ferocity of his own reactions. A mixture of fear, triumph and regret caused his heart to pound hard in his chest again. He in panted heavily, but it was a few minutes before his muscles stopped quivering and his legs felt solid again. He sighed deeply. The dubious prize for his success was the freedom to examine the bodies the two High Hat’s had guarded. They were Flyers and they were dead.
He knew who they were before moving from where he stood. Dale was closest, doubled up, his white face drained of blood. As Jonathon moved toward him he realised that Dale’s usually serious expression had been replaced by a thin smile. Death, it seemed, had released him from the shame of his secrets. He was truly at peace now and he had taken others with him judging from the amount of blood on his gloves and dagger.
Tefkin’s pale face was much as it had been in life. His toothless grin greeted Jonathon as he turned over his limp body. His eyes were half open, but the intense sparkle he had possessed in his blue eyes had been extinguished by death.
A brief, cold wind blew across the roof tops, quickening the tears, which were beginning to well in Jonathon’s eyes. He remembered his happy years with his two dead friends and the fact that they had rescued him from the clutches of Flax only, to die at the hands of his minions. Jonathon sat and stared in shock for half an hour as grief began to well up in him, then crumpled to his knees and cried for them unashamedly until he drifted, exhausted into a shallow sleep.
In the dream, Jonathon ran with them across the roof tops laughing at the attempted pursuit of the High Hat’s. The Whisperer’s flew like birds from roof ridge to roof ridge, safe in the knowledge that nothing could touch them; this was their world, their domain. But something had, a dark laughter invaded his dreams.
Jonathon woke suddenly and grief fell upon him like a leaden overcoat. A name burned in his head and iIn his heart .Milly! He leapt to his feet and searched the roof top for her. Perhaps she had eluded them. He had found no sign. She had not died here!
The rotten toothed musket man had begun to stir from his enforced sleep and Jonathon accelerated his return to consciousness with the feeling of the cold steel of his dead comrades sword at his throat.
The man staggered to his feet, his chin balanced on the sword tip. He looked his antagonist in the eyes and spat out blood and the remnants teeth on to the blade. “Where’s the girl! ” Jonathon growled. The High Hat slowly shook his head, a surprised, innocent look on his face. “What girl!” he gulped incredulously.
Jonathon pushed the sword tip into the skin of the High Hat’s throat, a dribble of fresh blood ran down the sword blade to meander around the broken brown teeth which rested there. He waved his hands in protest. “Please sir.” he begged, ” There was a young boy,
I suppose a boy, but we didn’t get much chance to find out” he chuckled thickly. The humour quickly evaporated as the sword tip cut fractionally deeper. He grunted in pain. “Caldecott took him to Flax. Flax wants the boy Flyer real bad.” he said smiling. “Look mate” he begged, but a cunning glint appeared in his eyes. “I had no part in any of this I never killed no-one. Take the sword away and I’ll tell you how to get ’im back, I know stuff, y’know.” The sword remained at his throat.
Jonathon was not that naive.
“Just tell me where she is, or I’ll kill you just like you killed my friends.”
The High Hat stepped backwards, repelled by the venom in Jonathon’s words, but the sword followed him. Now the High Hat was frightened, a strange brightness burned in this Flyer’s eyes - it scared him.
“I told Caldecott that one was no boy.” he blubbered. “But he said no girl got such fine muscles, so firm.” the High Hat shrugged his shoulders ” Caldecott’s eyes isn’t so good you know and he said he had no time to lose, before Flax went, he had to claim his reward ”
Jonathon jabbed the sword point into the High Hats neck again and he yelped. “Okay! Okay!, there was a big meeting at the Leopard on Chain Street, all the big knobs went, Amaril had to take the boy, err, girl, some party or something, he had to go quick like.” Jonathon stared into the. man’s eyes - it was the truth. He could feel it. But he could also feel the hatred rising in his prisoner too. Given the slightest opportunity this man would kill him.
As he looked at him the High Hat’s eyes continually
glanced over Jonathon’s left shoulder. The High Hat nodded. It was the oldest trick in the book and Jonathon fell for it.
For one brief moment he took his eyes off his prisoner and dropped the sword a fraction, it was time enough for the High Hat to pull a stiletto from his coat sleeve and slash at Jonathon’s face.
Instinctively Jonathon stepped backwards, but fell over the corpse of the other High Hat, the sword flying from his hand. His assailant fell on him in a flash. A hand around his throat and the stiletto was poised above his chest, the High Hats’ eyes burned triumphantly as he laughed, spitting blood from his broken gums onto his would be victim’s chin.
“Fell for it wanker! Who’s on top now then flying man? You gonna beg me while I cut off your bollocks - you hurt me you did!! “Then, with a jerk and surprised shriek of pain, the High Hat crumpled forward, dead on top of him.
Struggling free of the High hat’s dead body, Jonathon saw a throwing knife buried deep in his spine. He scanned the roof tops and saw the Turkanschoner staring down from a roof ridge, mumbling to himself.
At least Jonathon thought it was the Turkanschoner. Now he looked and seemed different from the naked and savage beast he had encountered in the well shaft. Now he was dressed in a leather tunic, his belt stuffed full of throwing knifes like the one which had killed the High Hat. A great shield adorned his back and a monstrous horned helmet sat on his head. He was now more than the creature which hunted out of desperation and bent to the will of his Tallmen tormentors. Jonathon saw that he had clothed and armed himself but, more importantly Jonathon felt that the Turkanschoner was now more than a trained animal which had wished to feast on Rislo’s flesh and fulfil his fiendish programming.
The Turkanschoner smiled, at least attempted to, although the effect would have sent many running in fear of their lives, but Jonathon recognised that he had nothing to worry about and now the appearance of large, brown eyes did much to soften his fearful visage.
“Bad man” he spat. “like Tallmen ” he pointed a talon to the corpse. Smell of badness, we kill all badness master? he grinned again. Jonathon shrugged, heavy with grief. During his previous encounter with this being, Jonathon had seen little to threaten in the soul of the Turkanschoner – he was not evil. The only threat came from his undoubted physical abilities as a perfect merchant of death, propelled by his pain inflicted conditioning.
His new master had been able to glimpse more of the beast’s past than he himself had been able to recall himself. He was a warrior, but had a sense of justice and an abhorrence of unnecessary violence. The Tallmens’ conditioning had changed all that. He had seen himself as a predator that lived for the hunt and the rewards it had brought, his own survival. But now this part of him, the Tallmens’ conditioning, was fast unravelling, prompted by Jonathon’s catalytic psychic contact.
The Turkanschoner was not entirely aware of this. He only knew that he owed this unique person something, he believed him to be the master now, a good master who had rewarded him with the strength to partially free himself from the mental chains of the Tallmen.
He now saw Jonathon as a master who himself was a warrior as he himself had been, but did not know it. He felt an empathy with him and would fight with him against Jonathon’s enemies the malignant soul of Dubh and its dark champion Silus Flax. But the beast saw something else in this young white knight. The purpose and will to destroy his enemies were there, but something else still stood between him and the actual perpetration of the ultimate act of destruction at which he would eventually arrive.
The beast saw that the young man doubted he could do it, doubted that his morals would allow him to send the millions of beings here in Dubh to their deaths, despite their corrupted souls. He had not yet the strength to judge and damn them. This disturbed the Turkanschoner. It would mean defeat for Jonathon and victory for the dark force which had consumed Dubh if he did not find the power to take that final step. He would lose his master and with him the hope the beast placed in him for the momentum for the salvation of his own soul and past Jonathon had already, albeit inadvertently begun.
Jonathon saw all these fears reflected in the mind of the Turkanschoner, who had looked into his soul. The servant beast implored his master to become carry out his oaths, to crash through the barrier of self doubt. The monstrous creatures brown eyes beseeched him to strengthen his resolve. Jonathon felt a soft, grey mocking laughter drifting up from the city.
“Yes, become like us, become like me Me.”
It knew too, It listened to his thoughts…always. But how could he do it he asked himself! How could he commit such an act of mass murder and not become one with the city itself? In such an act he would lose himself, defeat himself His eyes met the Turkanschoner’s. Something flowed between them and the City’s laughter was silenced.
“Love, honour, justice, compassion - It knows nothing, people are lost forever, know nothing but pleasure, pain.” the beast said.
“But I am not a God, I cannot judge and condemn them all.” Jonathon replied.
The Turkanschoner snorted cynically. “No god here, God is dead, only you, Avatar - must do duty! ” it implored again. Jonathon reeled back from the beast’s mind in shock. Something was happening there again, he felt a power there. The lost being, that was before the Tallmen captured him, was reconstructing itself, aided by forces beyond Dubh.
The beast knew of love and all the virtues and more it had managed to recite to Jonathon, and it knew of the quest for spiritual perfection. Now fragile memories began to surface like flotsam from a ship in the dark river itself. The pleasant memories came first welling up warmly and attracting similar fragments.
At first it was pleasurable, but the intensity was alarming, long buried treasured relics lost their dust and began to blaze inside the Turkanschoner’s mind and soul. These too stimulated Jonathon’s memory. He remembered Dale and Tefkin, his Mother, his Father and Cornelius in better times: better times. Jonathon knew the price that was always paid for these memories. He knew what shadows trailed in their sparkling wake, he knew what would happen to the Turkanschoner, he had not experienced these memories for many years. They had lain dormant and emotionally volatile, buried beneath the Tallmen’s conditioning. Jonathon had lit a candle in the darkness of the beasts buried self. The Turkanschoner would soon have his past; if it did not destroy him first.
Jonathon remained in mental contact. He thought he could help. A vanguard echo hit them, a mere breeze of emotion which Jonathon knew was a prelude to the hurricane which would hit them soon and for the Turkanschoner, hit unaware, unprepared.
Then the newly recollected storm of terror and grief struck surged into both their minds, the deep vaults of the shackled past exploded through the fractures Jonathon had made with his probing - the past emerged, intact and terrifying.
The Turkanschoner had lost all in one night of violence and atrocity. His family his wife, his people. His sanity. His faith. His freedom ... Himself. Jonathon heard a silent scream beginning deep inside the battered soul of the Turkanschoner, long before it was to manifest itself physically.
Then it tore vengefully into the heart of the city. A howl of enlightened anguish that hammered the un- hearing walls of the Towers of the Tallmen and reverberated around the domes of the Halls of Machines. Yet no one in the city, apart from Jonathon paid it any attention.
In the city it was just the sound of another collapsing, despairing soul that had been heard a million times before. Jonathon’s catalytic gift had cracked the great dyke which subdued a great reservoir of emotion in the beast’s soul. Now that dyke had heaved and collapsed. The Turkanschoner had the past he feared he would lose with the loss of Jonathon back now, but Jonathon feared he had destroyed him. Guilt lanced into Jonathon’s heart like a hot iron. He could not stay to see what he had done him. He fled, hurling himself across the roof tops with a wild, reckless abandon, a man possessed by the guilt of what he had inflicted on the unsuspecting, trusting Turkanschoner, one ofthe few beings still unaffected by the foul soul of the city and he, Jonathon Postlethwaite had destroyed him.
Jonathon raced without rest deep into the Lower City.
Eventually he stopped, physically and mentally exhausted and as he finally finished weeping himself, he listened and the wails of the still distressed Turkanschoner drifted across the city like a siren, cutting into his heart. He looked down to the street below. Unconsciously he had found his way to Chain Street.
An Inn sign hung like a beacon. The only thing left between himself and self destruction was down there somewhere and he had come here unconscious of his own desperate attempt to save himself from his pain. His flying feet had found the way, carried him to the place where he might restore balance in his own grief stricken mind. Down there was his hope, his love, his handhold on reality and his sanity. Down there was Milly. Jonathon began to weep again. Far across the Lower city, the howls of the Turkanschoner abruptly ceased.