Rislo’s trembling had almost ceased by the time he reached the passageways which led to the Tower’s of the Tallmen. When he thought that the beast, the Turkanschoner, had passed inches from him without tearing him to pieces he gasped in relief. Yet the memories of what it could have done caused him to weaken at the knees again.
He stood, alone in his bubble reassuring light for a while to collect his thoughts, then took a deep breath before continuing into the tombs of the Tallmen. His orb light, set a deliberately low level, picked out the sparkling dust and ash particles left in the air after the Turkanschoner’s savage desecration of the Tombs. He tip-toed quietly amongst his resting kinsmen, even though his respect for them and their society was, like these Tallmen here, long dead. He felt like the only survivor of a long lost culture of pride, honour and dignity, yet was still shocked when he saw the damage wreaked in the tomb by the Turkanschoner.
The gently shifting layers of smoke from the now dead fire still lingered in slowly shifting layers over the wrecked possessions and smashed bones of the Tallman who had been laid to rest here. Rislo stared in disbelief, noting the clawed footprints in the decades of dust on the floor and wondered how such sacrilege could have occurred.
The Turkanschoner was as much part of the society of the Tallmen as the Tallmen themselves, even more so since he was under a strict mental discipline. Something was sadly wrong, but Rislo realised that that ‘wrongness’ was that which had saved him from a grisly death at the hands of the beast. The creature should never have been let loose in the tombs on its own and its training should have returned it directly to its cage in the Towers and it should never have accepted orders from anyone else but its handler.
Rislo looked around the desecrated tomb and shook his head in dismay then turned and continued his journey back towards the Towers and his mission there. He became extra cautious now. Soon he would be back within the grasp of his failing brothers. He was a fugitive from their justice which demanded normally that he be captured and, if possible and returned to face a deserter’s death in the time honoured tradition of the Tallmen - the garrotte.
The rebel giant avoided a direct route back and after he had passed through the Tombs, for he feared that he might run into maintenance crews beneath the Halls of Machines and so turned right until he entered a small forgotten shaft that led steeply downwards to the lowest levels of the Dubhian underworld far below the Halls.
He squeezed down the passage and, after an hour or so, emerged into a maze of cobbled streets, illuminated by his orb light and revealing part of the original city annexed by the Tallmen hundreds of years ago, which spread out beneath the Halls and their city. Once it had been inhabited, but as space in Dubh had become scarce, the great Machine Halls had been built over this place, almost sealing it off forever. The roof of this world was a network of hastily placed gigantic steel and concrete beams supported by the rows of deserted, terraced houses below. In places the houses and beams had collapsed and had been hastily jacked up with iron pylons and pillars, creating a forest of steel and concrete that supported the levels above.
The people of this place had lived here for a while until they could no longer stand the lack of air and light. Some had chosen to die here but nothing remained being devoured by the voracious rats who had made this realm their own. Rislo could see them now hissing, squealing, scrabbling and dancing on their hind legs in the shadows outside of the puddle of light created by his orb. The Tallman rebel had explored here before and found little to trouble or interest him. Yet, as he now stumbled amongst the fallen debris from the unstable ceiling, he felt the pressure of surveying eyes. A cold chill rah through him causing him to shiver, as if he had been stroked by many icy hands. Yet no physical breeze lifted the dust of antiquity here.
He moved quietly, his desire to escape this subterranean ghost town’s streets increasing with every step he took. He stopped and looked around him. Countless pairs of dull red eyes surveyed him, blind watchers, their useless retinas reflecting back the light of his orb.
The blind observers no longer scuttled around him. From every vantage point on bare window and door frames, piles of debris, even from perches high in the roof their sightless eyes watched, their pale and almost hair-less bodies, jostling for position to experience a rare spectacle.
Rislo heard a hissing noise which was steadily growing louder and causing the hairs on the back of his neck to rise. He realised what it was. It was the sound of air being sucked into millions of moist nostrils and through wagging whiskers pointed in his direction. On the stagnant air of this underworld street, every single rat examined Rislo, they saw the intruder with their noses as clearly as he saw them with his eyes.
As Rislo moved on, the rats escorted him, leaping from their ledges to form one great rolling, rustling mass of hairless, scabby flesh that swirled around him just out of his circle of light until he paused again.
The giant stopped and studied them as they studied him. He was surrounded. Many of the rats were as huge as dogs. There had not been this number when he had last ventured here. They watched and, Rislo now realised, were waiting.
They seemed reluctant to enter the sphere of light he stood in. He was sure that if the light was not here they would simply attack him. He chuckled confidently and twisted the orb’s staff to reduce the diameter of the light circle, his sanctuary. The rats shrieked in delight and raced inwards toward him, following the receding edge of light inwards towards their prey until Rislo reversed the beam and the light spread outwards, snaring a few within the sphere of light.
Their shrieks of expectancy turned to squeals of pain and terror. They leapt high into the air and fell squirming in agony to the floor when the light touched their sensitive skins and caused it to erupt rapidly into blisters and ulcers. There was a dull fizzing sound around him as the rodent’s eyes exploded, and soon the ground within the light was littered with the dead and dying creatures, mist-like legions of fleas departing their bodies for a new living host.
When the pool of light reached its maximum extent Rislo sensed the sightless creatures’ attention shift from him to the new source of potential food he had created
around him. The rats waited patiently for Rislo to move on.
As he advanced and the darkness closed in behind him, Rislo heard the rush of advancing paws and the screech of the disabled rats as they were despatched by their brothers and sisters, whose ability to adhere as a social unit evaporated with the smell of burned flesh and the rising of the most basic instincts that told them that to eat was to live.
Rislo left the rats to feast upon one another and advanced directly beneath the Halls of Machines. Here the roof was supported by a great thick forest of huge vertical pillars of stone, concrete, iron and steel, a hastily erected, engineering Mirkwood. Here shadows slipped sideways and unseen things slid and crawled behind the cover of these artificial tree trunks, through which drifted a continual dust sent down by the vibrations of the multitude of engines which throbbed almost continuously above.The Tallman continued, confident in the maps and plans he had himself drawn up or stolen over the years, and soon found himself in a long, narrow alley that led underneath the Tallmens’ killing zone. The girders and beams thinned rapidly, since no great weight or important structures lay above. Ahead of him Rislo would find his entrance to the city of the Tallmen.
The buildings on either side of him were terraced houses, windows gone and door frames empty, the wood that had been there gnawed away and eaten by rats and the other unseen inhabitants of this realm years ago. A flicker of silver, grey light caught Rislo’s eye and, his curiosity overwhelming him, he moved in search of its source. He crept to a house and peered through the doorway and gazed in surprise.
A circle of whirling light was lodged in the rear of the building. Rislo knew that this rainbow whirlpool of colour was a dimension door, one which had not appeared on the maps the Tallmen made when they detected Field Wall anomalies from their control centre. And that was another thing Rislo realised. It was not in the Field Wall at all where such things were usually located. It was here in the middle of Dubh! He simply had to investigate, it might prove to be the very door he was looking for, to a world he dreamed of, a world he could live happily in.
The Tallman advanced carefully into the dimension door. He felt the tingling of his cells being realigned with the vibratory rate of the passage. Rislo moved slowly, adjusting his pace, well aware, as a Tallman of the consequences of a hurried transit. A few minutes later he emerged into a cave, which was the door’s exit in another world, and pushed aside the undergrowth to reveal the nature of this place.
A thousand new or long yearned for sensations hit him at once. The ground sloped away from the small cave to a bubbling brook at the foot of small, steep-sided valley. On the opposite bank thick scrub and undergrowth grew down to the edge of the narrow waterway, following it up and down stream as far as Rislo could see in the dim, silvery light of a new moon and the myriad stars above. At the top of the overgrown bank, opposite a narrow copse of tall thin trees was silhouetted by the neon night glow of a town - the top of a high, straight church spire confirmed its existence.
Rislo sat down on the dewy grass to take in all he heard, saw and smelt, touched and tasted. He laughed quietly to himself, watching his frosted breath drift moon wards as he listened to the background hum of night traffic far off and the sound of the occasional voice from the town beyond the trees. If he had found this gate before, thought Rislo, he would have left the Towers and Dubh long, long, ago.
There had been other doors which he had investigated, but they were to either desolate or hostile environments. The place he looked at now was different, something appealed to him. Yes, it was inhabited, but this was not Dubh, but perhaps these people here could accept him. His talents and skills might be useful here if their technology was inferior to that of the Tallmen. He would be useful and accepted, he assumed rationally and rather naively. This would be the place he ran to when the destruction of Dubh was set in motion, the others could come with him if they wished, and he doubted they would refuse.
Studiously, Rislo marked the position of this new door on his maps, although there was no need, and turned reluctantly to return to his tasks in the city of the Tallmen. He re-entered the Dubhian underworld and the cold blast of reality and fear of the coming hours hit him hard. His visit to the city of his kin would be dangerous to say the least. To fail was to die. But there was no need to fail or die or even try he thought. All he had to do was to strap on his back-pack turn around and disappear out of this world forever.
But there was Jonathon and Cornelius to consider now; he had vowed to help them, his conscience called to him. Jonathon had saved his life, Cornelius had saved him from a life of seemingly interminable loneliness that he might not have survived - both the Postlethwaites had given Rislo hope. He looked longingly at the whirling tunnel of the dimension door behind him. The shadows around him deepened and he shivered.
“Go, save yourself. You are all that matters, friend, both the beast and the garrotte await you here, go while you still can.” a voice whispered in the darkness of his mind so clearly he thought it in the labyrinths with him. “Go! The only friend and ally you have is yourself , you owe no-one anything.”
Rislo stood perfectly still, now he was convinced.
The City’s soul had become more powerful than he imagined, it had spoken to him. He owed it to himself to fight it. All his theories had been correct, it was systematically destroying and corrupting the souls of the Tallmen, his people! The city as a whole. He had to fight it.
A cold laughter echoed around the Underworld streets. “But Rislo, perhaps what you hear is your own voice, the voice of pure reason, rejecting the sentimentality of oath and allegiance. After all how can ‘nothing‘, that which has no body, no earthly vessel speak?”
Rislo screamed at the voice which was now inside his head.
“Be gone from me! I know you and you are not part of me!”
With this Rislo increased the power of his orb light which did little to sweep back the shadows around him and strode out purposefully into the dark street, then stood and faced the darkness in which seemed to flow in deeper, darker veins far back in the thick forest of jacks and beam below the Halls. He pointed a finger accusingly at It. “You may not be whole, but I can finish you forever! There is a great nowhere which can swallow you up and I can open the door!” he threatened the swirling blackness. Mocking laughter reverberated around Rislo.
“Die then fool, you will never escape this place and when you die you will be mine, coward. I have other business now, but I will attend to you soon. Till we meet again.......!”
Rislo was buffeted by a freezing wind which left frost crystals upon him and the area around him as they were swept by Its icy wake. For a moment Rislo shivered and then glanced back at the door again. He thought he heard Its laughter in the far distance. Its words began to repeat themselves in his mind.
Rislo screamed again and then began his journey towards the Towers. The rats did not reappear again as the Tallman walked slowly towards his goal. He knew that at the edge of this lost underground town there was a well shaft that was still in use by the Tallmen. In fact there were many which, unlike the poisoned and dry wells of the Upper and Lower city, still produced drinkable water. But, at the edge of the Dubhian Underworld there was a shaft which led almost directly up to the chambers where the Field Expanding equipment was housed and operated.
If he climbed that shaft at night, which was only hours away, the place would probably be deserted and secured to the rest of the city and, at the very worst, occupied by one usually sleepy technician. It certainly wouldn’t be guarded. The well-shaft would be capped with a large steel door, as all the other wells were, but now his light orb would have recharged itself enough to produce a laser cutting beam to burn silently through bolts and hinges.
He planned to move quickly to remove the spent energy reservoir he required and disappear back into the darkness he now walked. He doubted the technicians would immediately miss it, let alone pursue him into this hazardous environment. By the time they noticed the forced well cap and the theft, the world of Dubh would be literally be collapsing around their ears. He was close now.
The roof of this world lowered dramatically and dripping water which ran into small rivulets to feed the wide black and stinking pools and small lakes, which in turn, fed the Tallmens’ well here. Rislo skirted the pools, his reflection staring back at him as he looked into their impenetrable darkness. He watched as schools of large, blind, white whiskered catfish gently broke the surface, their large, mouths gaping in the air. He dangled a finger in the water and immediately the fish changed direction and swam towards him, their mouths agape and lips pulled back to reveal row after row of carnivorous teeth intent on making a meal of whatever had broken the surface of their lake.
The Tallman jumped backwards as snapping fish launched themselves into the air, searching not only for his finger but the rest of the body that was attached to it. After a moment, the thrashing of pale bodies subsided and once again the fish cruised leisurely in search of wayward rats or any other creature which floundered into their domain.
Rislo continued on his way, skirting the pools and lakes wherever possible. Where he was forced to enter the water he thrashed through quickly and noisily, but the fish now seemed reluctant to attack. Instead they merely gathered in bobbing groups, blindly tracing his progress from lake to lake and gulping in the debris from the sticky black mud his wild progress caused to rise from the pool beds. Perhaps they realised he was too big to attack Rislo thought, or maybe the light from his orb had the same effect on them as it had on the rats. Either way they kept their distance. And that was all he wanted.
Rislo’s explanations as to why they kept their distance were right. Yes, they disliked the light, but it did them no harm. Yes, he was to big for most of them to handle while he remained alive. So they had placed themselves strategically in the ponds and lakes. Their prey as still their prey, they sensed his movements in the water and on the thin bars of soft mud in between. He instinctively moved way from them through waters which looked empty. So, gently they guided him to the last and deepest of the pool which was black and cold and deep.
Rislo did not look behind as see the blind fish skipping on large powerful flippers from pool to pool across the mud bars which separated them. Rislo reached the last expanse of water and stood knee deep in oozing, oily mud at its edge. Beyond it the cavern ended and somewhere in the rock wall across the lake was the shaft upwards to his goal.
He looked at the lake before him. It was not wide, but there seemed to be no way around it, stretching into the darkness right and left. But it looked empty, not a single ripple broke its oily black surface, not solitary white fish broke its calmness.
Rislo sensed something odd, something sinister, about this lake. He was reluctant to enter it, but it was the only way to the rock wall. He could see no way around. He cast a glance over his shoulder and was amazed to see a great mass of white bodies, either floating silently in the pool immediately behind him or drawn up at the edge of the mud bar on which he stood. They did not move. At either side the scheming catfish had taken up positions at an equal distance from Rislo, he seemed to be at the bottom of a giant, glistening crescent which pointed its horns into the black pool.
Rislo shouted at the gathered fish and threw globs of heavy mud in their direction, but they stood firm. He turned the orb light to its highest intensity, but they did not move and their skin did not boil and shrivel. He looked back at the pool.
They wanted him to enter it. There was something there; just waiting. The Tallman sent his mind probing the lake bed. His powers were not in the same league as Jonathon’s, but they were enough to tell him that something lurked at the bottom of this pool. Something very large, but it was sleeping. Perhaps he decided, if he slid silently into the pool, it would not detect him. It was his only hope. A voice spoke inside his head again, but this time he knew its name, it was Fear.
“What are you doing here Rislo when you could have been away from this place hours ago?”
But Rislo knew that he had no option now. If he went back the mutated catfish might attack him in numbers. He would risk going forward. The giant slipped off his pack, boots and the heavy clothing which might have dragged him down. He bundled it all together and, with a truly gigantic effort, hurled it across the lake to the other side where it landed with a dull plop in the soft mud.
A yellow eye on the lake bed flipped open. Rislo slid his naked body into a silky coldness which quickly numbed all sensation rapidly. He moved his arms and legs slowly, attempting not to break the surface of water and bring whatever lurked below him, to the surface. He clenched his teeth around the orb light’s shaft which held in his mouth.
Below him, another eye opened and pivoted upwards toward the surface of the narrow pond it had, for many years, inhabited. It was not blind, it could see clearly that something had been driven to its lair; and it was amused.
The giant breast-stroked slowly and carefully. He was almost half way across now and, so far, all was well. Then a foot broke the water and Rislo sought out the mind at the bottom of the lake. It was awake and alert! Its consciousness directed towards the splash!
Rislo decided that now was the time to really swim, splashing no longer mattered. He launched himself into a furious front crawl and began to devour the yards to the other side. He sensed was moving now, cutting smoothly through the water like a knife. Rislo dragged himself harder through the water, his muscles protesting at the brutal demands of his mind.
Now the yellow eyed creature underneath the giant, its lower jaw slowly opening, it twisted its long slender body towards the shadow at the centre of the bewitching pattern of lights it had watched gliding gently at first, now sparking brightly across the surface of the pool it had never seen before, only felt.
It was not blind and it had been treated to a once in a lifetime sensory experience which now had it in an ecstatic rapture. It had no intention of eating this beautiful thing in its pond, it liked it and followed it, twisting and turning, gyrating, dancing, with a fluid grace only such a huge eel could, to the rhythms of the ripples of light it now could see. It was mesmerised by Rislo’s light orb.
Rislo reached the far bank breathless and almost crying with relief. He had felt its terrible presence, felt its movement in the turbulence of the water beneath him. He looked back at the pool. A head the size of Rislo broke the surface. Two yellow eyes peered at him for a moment and at the leg that Rislo still had in the water. Then, with a slight flick of its head, it slid gently into to the water and back to its lightless isolation.
The Tallman dressed quickly and made his way to the cavern wall, searching for the well shaft that led to his goal. His heart still pounded his breath shallow and irregular. He had survived and now he tried to forget the terror he had felt by focussing on the task ahead of him.
Soon he found the dark crevice which marked the spot where the Tallmens’ well-shaft descended deep into the bowels of Dubh from their city. Rislo looked up. It was considerably narrower than the one he had ascended earlier, its sides roughly hewn in the hard bed-rock, rather than being made of brick and mortar. But his ascent would be easier today up the rusty, steel maintenance ladder which was bolted firmly to the rock walls.
Even though Rislo had intended to enter the city during the hours of darkness the Tallman night, his curiosity got the better of him. It would be early evening up there and the Tallmen would be largely engaged in recreational activities, rather than being conveniently asleep in their beds.
But the chamber above him would still be deserted, he hoped. Panting, despite his relatively easy ascent, the giant reached the well-head. Cautiously he pushed the well-cap door. It was not secured!
He lifted the door a fraction and manoeuvred himself so that he could examine the entire chamber. It was empty, it was deserted. Tools and equipment lay around the work tops, technician’s robes were thrown untidily about the floor. Not the usual fastidiously tidy state the chamber would have been left in at the end of a shift. At the far end of the chamber, opposite the entrance, a Field expander pulsed brightly as it dispersed its stored energy into the Field Walls. Along side it, the reserve machine stood ready.
To the right of these machines, a huge mass of gigantic cables entered the chamber from the generator halls of the Halls of Machines and disappeared into the charging room, where the electrical energy from the Halls was stored in the Power Reservoirs. The door was wide open and Rislo could see a discharged globe mounted and awaiting charge. In a few seconds he could be in and out of the chamber and away with his prize!
He took a deep breath and threw open the well cap door and leapt into the deserted chamber. The door’s hinges squeaked noisily and flew open with a loud clang which made Rislo’s heart stop momentarily. As he climbed out, his feet encountered something soft and he staggered forward and fell, twisting around to discover the body of a woman, a human woman, naked and severely beaten, lying in a crumpled heap against the well-cap, which protruded above the chamber floor.
Rislo slowly raised himself to his feet. There had been no Tallmen females in their societies, let alone human females, for centuries. They had disposed of the weaker, irrational sex once their science had allowed them to clone themselves. Freed of their burdensome sex, the Tallmen race had claimed to have escaped their biological strait-jacket and gone forward beyond nature. Science was then seen as the partner of the Tallmen, their counsellor and comforter.
Thus Rislo was stunned that the woman had been allowed to enter the city and had obviously been brutally violated in the attempt to satisfy some sexual craving here in the City of the Tallmen. He had observed that this place, its general standards, its own moral standards, had been slipping, but he did not believe that it could have already slid so far. It was a sanctuary from the perversity and corruption of the human world they shared here, things had slid yes - but this far, so quickly?
He had miscalculated; things had to be bad for him to find this woman here. The dark primal energies which had a possessed the bodies and souls of the human population were here. The Tallmen had succumbed. It was even worse than what he had seen himself.
His conclusions were confirmed when a naked Tallman lurched, staggering from behind the raised well head where he had been lying. He laughed at something unseen and then his un-focussed eyes came to rest on Rislo. His face and neck were scratched and bleeding and he slobbered uncontrollably and giggled in delight as his eyes moved to the woman.
He seemed to have forgotten the other Rislo’s presence now his attentions now focussed upon the moaning human woman who he now picked up in his arms. He laughed at the look of fear as she opened her eyes, then threw her down the open well shaft. He stared blankly down the dark hole for a moment then, wiping the saliva from his chin with a forearm, attempted to secure the door. He failed miserably, his hands no longer under the control of his drug impaired brain and collapsed on the chamber floor.
Rislo walked over to him and lifted the chin of his kinsman, his eyes were glazed and his pupils dilated. His arms where covered in sores and puncture marks, some old and some new. Rislo gritted his teeth, he knew such signs, but who had introduced such evils into the city.
A shout from the doorway caused him to whirl around. A small dark human looked him up and down and Rislo deduced from Jonathon’s descriptions that the human was a High Hat. The caller smiled broadly. “Brother!” he laughed “can I ’elp you! This is your lucky day, late, but still bargains to be ’ad. Dope and women still available, as you can see.”
Rislo’s eyes narrowed, he felt an anger boiling up inside of him. They were here! High Hat’s in the Towers, the city. Plying their trade openly amongst his kind - corrupting them. What had happened over the past few days, had he been so blind in all his years here that he had never seen the disaster which was so close? He knew that the morals and integrity of his race had been failing, but to this extent, so suddenly? He had grown to hate his own people, but had never thought to see them fall so fast. The High Hat swaggered toward him, trailing a young woman close behind him. “What’ll it be brother.
Somethin’ to escape y’troubles or this delightful specimen. The High hat moved closer pushing the girl before him. Her head lolled from side to side, her eyes dark and rolling with the drugs the High Hat’s had used to pacify her.
Rislo looked at her. Her body was boyish and her muscle structure well defined. The Tallman realised that her life had been one of hard work, each muscle group twitching from years of constant use. She was clearly no High Hat brothel girl.
The High Hat raised his eyebrows suggestively, misreading Rislo’s close scrutiny for something else.
“Nice eh! “he continued his sales pitch. “Nice and clean this, a bit wiry, but look at the ’air! He grabbed the girl’s raven black hair which cascaded down her shoulders into the middle of her back.
“She’ll be alright for you, if you prefer ’em firm ‘n’ wild - and don’t forget mate we don’t need ’em back - do what y’will with it!” the High hat grinned, and prepared to close the sale. “So what’ve y’got to exchange then pal”
Rislo stared at the High Hat and smiled, but there was no warmth in his face. These people were not content with the perversion in their own city - they had come to trade it here, infect the Tallmen with their own primitive diseases of body and soul. He could not believe this was happening. It must have been going on for sometime - how had he missed it?
Rislo smiled at the High Hat.
“I’ve not seen you here before brother. How long have you been trading in the Towers?”
The High Hat shrugged.
" Me? Well, since the beginin’. On and off for the past couple of years. First we began with your bosses, now your Elder’s think it’ll be a good thing if you lot get some fun too, nice of ’em eh? Once a week t’let you blokes get rid of some tensions, keep you ’appy. A city without women’s a strange place” he chuckled amused with himself. He winked at the Tallman. “Know wot I mean, bruv.”
Rislo shook his head, his false smile
“No I don’t actually” he paused. “What do you mean.” he shouted angrily as he twisted the shaft of his light orb and pointed it angrily at the slowly retreating High Hat who was now visibly shaken and, for some reason, shocked by the Tallman’s response. The giant took menacing pace the High Hat.
“Do you realise what’s going to happen if the Tallmen are forever pre-occupied with this.” he gestured to the stupefied Tallman who had awoken and now crawled groaning toward the raven haired girl who had collapsed at his feet.
The High Hat raised his hands in a gesture of innocence. “We only sell to those off duty. That was the agreement.” he croaked still retreating slowly. The High hat had been shocked by Rislo’s sober appearance. Hadn’t he drunk from the City’s water supply today? It was obvious he hadn’t or he wouldn’t have been so unfriendly, the High Hat realised that a straight thinking Tallman might jeopardise there real mission here tonight, especially here at one of the places where they had tapped into the water supply.
Rislo shook his head and began to lower his light orb. Perhaps he had over reacted he thought? And so what! Wasn’t he personally going to destroy it all soon. It was absurd to get worked up about things. He had to get on with his plans.
The High Hat saw the Tallman lower his weapon and took his chance drawing a short musket from beneath his cloak. The clicking of the hammer alerted Rislo who squeezed the light staff’s trigger, sending a beam of energy into the human’s stomach. His musket dropped to the ground and the man swayed for a moment, exploring the hole beneath his ribs. Then, when he realised he could feel his spine, he collapsed on his face.
Rislo stared at the smoking corpse, then at the girl who stared up at him, with her tired blue eyes. The drugged Tallman came closer, now crawling on all fours. His arms reached out for him and he began to foam at the mouth like a rabid dog. Rislo kicked him hard in the throat and sent him tumbling across the polished floor and into a still and silent heap.
The girl dropped at his feet by the retreating High Hat watched all of this and the violence of the last few moments seemed to have brought her back to the edge of reality. She stared at the Tallman who stared angrily back at her, her eyes pleaded with him to take her away from this place and the drug induced hell the High hats had placed her in.
The Tallman ignored her. He strode off across the chamber and removed something from the smaller room and stuffed it into his pack. He moved purposefully across to the work benches and took several tools and other pieces of equipment and placed these in his pack too. Then he placed his light orb in a socket and recharged it, before taking two more from a rack above and slipped them into his belt.
His business here complete, Rislo moved to the entrance of the chamber and peered cautiously up and down the corridor. Rislo could still not fully comprehend the sights which he had witnessed this evening, part of him would not believe it and this drove him to further investigation of the state the Tallmen had got themselves into. After all this was just one room of thousands and hadn’t the High Hat said that they did not sell to those on duty? he thought. But then again what were they really up he thought? He had to find answers his own questions, despite the risks. Quickly Rislo searched the chamber for some form of disguise and found a yellow technician’s robe and donned this over his black leathers.
With the robe’s hood dropped over his eyes he walked casually out into the corridor, after hiding of the Tallman and the High Hat in the charging room. He walked slowly along the brightly lit corridors and observed the behaviour of his colleagues who were supposed to be on duty.
Superficially there seemed to be little wrong, except that many waved and smiled at him in a extraordinarily friendly way. At one point a technician left his tasks and congratulated Rislo on his recovery from illness and gave him a suffocating and emotional embrace. The Tallmen were too friendly, their society was a best strictly formal. Rislo could see that they were all doped.
As he approached the dormitories he realised from the screaming and shouting that something was seriously amiss, that his fears were about to be confirmed. At the doorway into the dormitories another sneering High Hat greeted him touting his wares of drugs and an offering him a choice from a string of naked men, women and children chained tightly together.
Rislo pushed him aside and entered the dimly lit sleeping quarters where the Tallmen were not sleeping. Most were furiously engaged with their recent and disposable purchases or each other in a hot, sweaty and sex soured atmosphere. Those who were not were rolling around in a state of drug induced frenzy lay stupefied on the floor. He stared in disbelief. All discipline, control over the savage and powerful side of their physical existence and self imposed morality these once proud beings had, all those things which had made them what they the Tallmen were, had gone. They had fallen and Rislo finally believed what he saw and he had seen enough.
The Tallman, who now thought himself the last, retreated from the dormitory and made his way back the way he had come. He closed his ears to the sound of screaming and psychotic laughter and ran quickly to the chamber and the well shaft. As he approached the doorway he stopped abruptly when he heard the sound of voices from within. Rislo peered around the door to see two Tallmen warriors in full mirror armour standing over the bodies of the technician and the High Hat. Neither were drugged or disoriented. They were armed and their glowing red laser staffs had been primed to kill. Rislo considered his position, and then lunged into the chamber shouting at the top of his voice.
“Guards! Guards! Where have you been! I tried to contact you! The High Hat at the dormitory he did this! he gasped. Immediately the mirror armoured men whirled around and approached him. Rislo stared at his own face in the smooth full-face visor of the Captain.
For a moment the Captain of the Guard seemed to observe Rislo intently, although nothing could be seen of his expression behind mirror. Rislo the runaway shivered. “Which level dormitory brother?” the Captain eventually asked.
“Three! Be quick!” he replied. The two guards stormed out and the rebel Tallman leapt toward the well-shaft. Checking that the discharged Power Reservoir was tucked safely in his pack, he began to lower himself into the dark pit. When he was halfway over the well wall, a small hand gripped his ankle and thwarted his progress.
Her grip was like a vice. He struggled but could not shake her off him. He raised his hand to beat her but merely growled and screamed at her . The raven haired girl looked up at him through her blurry blue eyes, which were now bright and clearand pleaded with a silent stare. Then with great effort she managed to speak.
“Take me with you please” she begged. Rislo was growing angry. He considered his options .He could get her off his leg. He could kill her or take her with him. The first was never an option and so Rislo lifted her onto his shoulders. She had not done any harm. She was, he presumed, just another victim of the High Hats.
With another curse Rislo struggled into the well- shaft and closed the cap behind him, pausing for a moment to weld it shut with his light orb. The girl’s additional weight made little difference to Rislo’s decent into the abyss and he soon found himself at the bottom and stepped over the already rat mutilated corpse of the human woman that had been thrown here previously.
A swarm of blind rats fled from the light of his orb back toward he pool where the unseen horror still lurked and that he would have to face again. Rislo watched the rats as they ran and noticed that they retreated parallel to the pool with no intention of leaping into its cold sinister waters.
Rislo followed, watching intently until the rats apparently walked on water and crossed to the other side. Examining the place closely he found that they had scrambled across at a place where a submerged pillar lay just beneath the surface. With a stifled shout of triumph, the Tallman bounded across and sprinted through the rest of the shallow pools back to the subterranean streets.
He did not stop running until he reached the house where he had found the new dimension door. Once there he dumped his pack and the girl unceremoniously on the floor and himself collapsed exhausted, physically and nervously on the floor.
The girl did not move from the position he had dropped her but, from the slight rising and falling of her chest, he judged that she had fallen into a deep sleep. Rislo covered her naked form with the cloak he had used as a disguise in the city of the Tallman, then took out the spoils of his foray and smiled to himself.
The extra light staffs glowed brightly as he planted them in the cracked concrete floor to create a circle of protective light around them. The egg shaded Power Reservoir, in comparison, was a pit of darkness. No light escaped it and there was not even a reflection on it surface. It was a darkness into which he could now drain all the energy of the city when placed in position in his own device.
He smiled in triumph. Now he could repay his debt to Cornelius and Jonathon and escape the horrors of this foul place for good. He glanced at the huddled form that lay beside him and he hoped that Jonathon
had been successful in his own quest. Then they could all leave. Rislo hoped that Jonathon had been as lucky as he had been. It was true he had been terrified at times, but now the worst was over, they were nearly at their goal. Rislo was close to ecstatic.
He closed his eyes and began to dream. A mixture of the past memories and future expectations came drifting toward him. Images of and the new world the new life that lay only yards through the dimension door he sat next too. It seemed so easy now, a few hours at the most and they would be gone from here. He smiled broadly as he slipped deeper into sleep, unaware that his friend was finding things far from easy in his own quest and of the old human proverb that you should ‘not count your chickens before they are hatched’.
After a few hours the girl, who Rislo had been forced to rescue, awoke in a cold sweat, the effects of the drugs she had been forced to take, worn off. She was now bright and alert. Her head hurt and the past day was a kaleidoscope memory of colour and emotion. She knew that she had been abducted by the High Hats, she remembered the fire on the Castle of Lepers and the killings. She sniffed back the tears, now was not the time. She accepted that they had gone and there was nothing she could do to bring them back to her. But Jonathon was still out there, he was alive and this was a time for the living. She would find him. Quietly, she got to her feet and wrapped the cloak tightly around her, tearing off strips and binding the material into the one piece padded suit she was used to. She looked at the sleeping giant. He had been reluctant to take her, she remembered, but she owed her life to him. Milly examined her surroundings and prepared to leave. A great rainbow whirlpool dominated the rear of the building. She gazed at it in awe for a few moments before stepping nimbly over the snoring Tallman and moving towards the door and out of the protection of the light.
She sensed a change in the atmosphere around her. It became charged, her body tensed and a dozen rats leapt out of the darkness towards her, their jaws agape and slobbering in anticipation of rending and devouring her sweet soft flesh. The girl reacted instinctively and somersaulted backwards with a practised grace, back into the safety of the light.
Most of the rats reacted as she did when the light scorched their flesh and disappeared into the darkness appearing again only as hungry red eyes, but blind eyes, gazing from their womb and mother the darkness. Milly grimaced. She was trapped. The rats fled the light. She could not take the Tallman’s light staffs because they protected him from the rats and he had saved her. But maybe he did not need them both. Milly picked up the nearest light orb and repositioned the other so the giant lay safe within a circle of light. The orb and shaft she held was bright and cleared the way before her.
She left the house and stepped out into the street listening to the mad scrabble of scaly paws and sharp claws as the rats repositioned themselves outside of the light and where it might strike.
Milly looked behind her briefly, before she broke into a trot and moving quickly into the deserted town, guided by instinct, searching for a way upwards out of the abyss and back the roof tops where she knew Jonathon would be searching for her. If the darkness had not pressed in on her so closely at that moment she would have noticed that the swarm of rats, which accompanied all travellers in this place, had deserted her.
Now something else the rats had fled from now lurched along in her wake. It was not blind and it was not afraid of the light, it was not small and it was not furless. Yet, it had teeth and it had claws and it already worshipped her flesh. It hoped she would remain here in the darkness, long enough for it to taste. And if she did not, it would follow, because it was in love with the idea of her death.