Jonathon Postlethwaite and the Seed of Corruption

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Jonathon crouched low on the rooftop overlooking the Black Leopard and considering his options when the City’s bells began to ring, unaware of the minor dramas taking place below. The Tallmen had decided, because of the result Amaril’s arson, to vent the City of the billowing clouds of smoke which hung above the rooftops, dimmed the light and poisoned the stagnant air.

At the sound of the bells, the crowds below were flung into panic. High Hats, Tans and ordinary citizens alike, began to run in terror for the cover relative sanctuary of the lower levels. Seeing an opportunity to get inside the Black Leopard in the confusion, he and scrambled quickly down the building to the street level. Swiftly he entered a side alley and waited. Down the alley a High Hat sprinted toward the shelter of the Black Leopard.

As the galloping High Hat Captain drew level with the place where Jonathon waited, he threw out an arm to make contact under the High Hat’s chin, snapping back his head as his body continued forward. He hit the cobbles hard and unconscious. Jonathon dragged the helpless man into the darkness at the side of the alleyway then, dressed in his black coat and top hat, ran to join the crowd which jostled and fought with one another at the door of the Black Leopard.

Two large and bar room ugly door men fought back the crowd with heavy sticks, admitting only High Hats and throwing the rest away from safety. A rough pair of hands reached expertly outwards and dragged Jonathon from the crowd and pushed him into the packed bar of the Black Leopard.

A few faces turned and nodded acknowledgement to Jonathon and the other High Hats who had been hauled in from the street. The staff of the Tavern secured heavy shutters on the inside of the building and then the two doormen entered and closed the door, barring it against the crowd outside and the din of the bells which continued their warning.

The inside of the High Hat headquarters was bigger than it looked from the street. High Hats by the hundred sat in their back coats around wooden tables drinking, smoking and laughing, oblivious to the chaos which would ensue outside when the venting began.

There would be no frantic hammering on strangers’ doors for them while watching fearfully as dark, crescents opened in the sky above and heralded the rapid and lethal replacement of the City’s atmosphere. They were safe and that was all that mattered to them.

Jonathon wandered slowly across the sawdust and spittle strewn floor and amongst the tables, studying the relaxing High Hats. They played cards and chatted. Some sat alone and silent, smoking huge reefers. An assassin sat in a corner and cleaned and sharpened his knives.

Another dissected a large rat which he had nailed alive to the table top. No one paid the impostor any attention as he strolled in the dim light yellow light of the oil lamps towards the bar at the end of the room.

Jonathon chuckled to himself quietly, if they only knew who he was, the thought amusedly. He reached the bar and a short, fat and bald man with a large moustache smiled at him from behind the glass and beer strewn bar top. “What’s it to be Captain.” he grunted, his eyes alighting on the red ribbon tied around Jonathon’s top hat. He studied the man closely, his mind slipping gently into the bar tenders. “Has Amaril Caldecott been in today?” Jonathon asked casually. The dirty white aproned bartender guffawed loudly, his face exploding in amusement.

“Sure ’as Captain. Why y’ask? ’e a friend of yourn then?” he questioned, an amused tone in his voice. Jonathon smiled and shook his head.

“He has something of mine, I need back.” The bartender laughed again.

" ’e owes just about everyone ‘ere somethin’ .” he said motioning to the faces who had tuned in to the conversation at the bar. “But I don’t ‘spect anyun us’ll be gettin’ it back now.”

The watching High Hats laughed. Jonathon was infected by the High Hat humour and laughed himself, yet was intensely frustrated.

Jonathon delved into the bartender’s mind and saw the reason for the his amusement. Jonathon examined the memory of a small wiry man being dragged protesting down the steps at the far end of the bar room by two High Hat thugs. Jonathon laughed again and moved towards the

steps. As he began to descend the barman shouted to him. “Bring me somethin’ back Captain, if there’s anythin’ left - maybe the wart off the end of ’is nose! ” he laughed loudly. Jonathon smiled and waved to the bartender and quickly descended the worn, damp steps which emerged onto the lower street levels below Black Leopard and Chain Street.

The poorly lit street extended perhaps a hundred yards in either direction before terminating in newly constructed walls, which isolated the domain of Silus Flax’s High Hats from the rest of Dubh below street level.

Lining the dim streets were brightly lit shops, brothels and ale-houses, which were the source of rowdy male laughter and squealing and screaming women. Only High Hats were to be encountered here.

Along the gutters patrons of the bars and brothels sat or slept off the hangovers of their days activities. Jonathon could barely believe the numbers of dark coated men here, there were far more than he had ever imagined existed in the whole organisation. The ranks of the High Hats had been rapidly increased recently and the air of expectancy which filled the dens of vice here was overwhelming.

Jonathon crossed the street and, passing through an archway, descended another flight of steps to another street level. The scene was almost the same here as on the other level, except that all the High Hats wore the same red ribbons around their hats as he did, and he realised that this level was dedicated to those of a Captain’s rank only.

Again he moved onwards and downwards. The guard at this level nodded as he Jonathon began his descent to he next street level, letting the Captain pass but never taking his heavy lidded, almond eyes off him. Jonathon sensed a tension in the air here. He could feel the scrutinizing gaze of the level guard drilling into him. Something disturbed Jonathon, causing the hairs on his neck to stand on end.

He quickened his pace and ran down the remaining stairs. He heard a light flutter of footsteps behind him and realised that he was being followed. The stairway led on to yet another street like those above, but here another set of stairs continued his right and downwards. Jonathon moved down these steps and waited in the shadows of a shallow alcove from where he had a clear view of the landing which led out onto the street above.

He could hear no footsteps now, but he could feel the stealthy approach of his pursuer. On the landing a man stopped and looked out onto the subterranean street. Although he wore the garments of a High Hat, Jonathon sensed that this man was not what he seemed.

The light from a smoky, oil soaked brazier extenuated the man’s unusual features; his narrow crescent lidded eyes, his high cheekbones, small flattened nose and perfectly white and shining teeth. But the man’s bronzed and weathered skin gave away more of his identity. He was a Tan. An intruder like Jonathon. Jonathon stepped out into the light and the Tan whirled around to face him.

He stood frozen for an instant and then drew a large curved dagger from beneath his cloak before leaping down the steps towards Jonathon. Managing to dodge the sweeping blade he caught his assailant’s arm as it came down and threw the Tan intruder onto the steps onto the next landing.

The man staggered to his feet, bruised and winded, frantically searching for his dagger. A glint of flame on metal informed him that his intended victim was now armed with his weapon.

The Tan smiled and advanced slowly back up the steps towards Jonathon. The panting Tan was tensed ready for Jonathon’s attack, but it never came. His antagonist smiled and tossed the dagger back to him. The Tan studied Jonathon with puzzlement for a while and then slowly thrust his dagger back into its sheath.

Jonathon sat down on the steps and looked down at the Tan who gazed back at him, then spoke in a whisper.

“It seems I am not the only intruder here today. Since we both share no love for Silus Flax or his High Hats I see no reason why we should become enemies, do you?”

The Tan did not reply, but Jonathon had noticed the Tan raise his eyebrows at the mention of Flax’s name. Jonathon tried again to induce some vocal response.

“Am I right Tan, do we share a dislike of this man Flax or perhaps your superiors do, is there any reason why we should not become allies here today?”

Again the Tan did not speak.

He stared at Jonathon for a while then motioned him to follow him down the stairway and the next landing and the light of a brazier. Jonathon joined him and the small Tan opened his mouth and indicated that Jonathon looked in. Warily he looked into his mouth.

An impressive set of teeth greeted him, but the Tan’s tongue was missing. It had been recently severed, its cut edge still ragged and sealed with a hot iron it seemed. The Tan smiled wearily and grunted, then pointed to Jonathon’s top hat and drew a cross in the air as he shook his head. Jonathon did not understand. The dumb Tan smiled and sighed and rummaged through his pockets before producing detailed drawing of a man’s face. A beak-like nose set on a square, pock marked face a large mouth with teeththat seemed to big for it, were sufficient to reveal the identity. The small, black, bottlemless staring eyes put it beyond doubt. It was Silus Flax. The bearer of Flax’s image took out his knife and drew it across in front of his own throat. Jonathon realised that this Tan was here to kill Flax, he would deprive Jonathon of his destiny. He smiled and nodded in comprehension.

“Where is he?” he asked.

The Tan assassin shook his head and waved his hands in front of his head in a confused manner, indicating that he did not know - that Flax had gone. He had been here, but now was not. Jonathon looked into the Tan’s mind. Flax had gone. The Tan knew that he had been here, but now he had gone, but not by the normal exits. He could not find him. His superiors had instructed him to find the High Hat leader and kill him, but Flax had disappeared into thin air.

The Tan had asked questions regarding his whereabouts, but no-one seemed to know, that was why he had attacked Jonathon. He had hoped to overpower him and torture the information out of a High Hat Captain, who seemed to be intent on important business rather than waiting for something to happen as most here seemed to be doing.

That something, the waiting, was what had disturbed the Tans leadership. They had suffered Flax long enough, now many more men had been recruited into the ranks of his organisation than ever before and his usefulness had been outgrown. He was up to something and they had sent Chan into their midst to find out what. Chan made no attempt to resist Jonathon’s mental intrusion, in fact he seemed used to it, and gave up all that Jonathon wanted to know. Jonathon continued his mental probing.

Chan the Tan was a spy and assassin. Arguments concerning Flax’s fate were high on the agenda in the Tan hierarchy. Certain leaders wanted him dead for no other reason than they feared him. Others, on Flax’s payroll, pressed for more information first, while planning to inform him of the dangers in the meantime.

Some argued that he was no threat at all to the might of the Tans, his High Hats were hopelessly outnumbered despite the recent increases in their ranks. He was useful too, since he was the only source of skilled labour, since with the use of threats and bribery, the Black Gaffer pulled the strings in all the Machine Halls now.

In the end they had sent Chan to find out what Flax was up to and if he planned any action against the Tans, he was be killed. Chan had carried out the first part of the operation half-heartedly, he had been here to kill Flax regardless of what Flax intended to do. A bribe he had received from those who feared Flax and wanted him dead, was all the motivation he needed to find anf kill him. Chan was a simple man. He would carry out orders and if those orders carried reward, those orders, rather than any others, would be carried out.

Jonathon’s gesture of returning his dagger, when Chan was at his mercy, convinced him that Jonathon was an ally in that they were alone together amongst enemies. He questioned Jonathon’s motives no further.

From amongst the information he had gleaned from the Tan, Jonathon knew that he had been here in their stronghold for days, watching their comings and goings. If he had been watching their activities then surely he would have noted Milly’s arrival and that of Amaril Caldecott. “Have you seen a man called Amaril Caldecott” he asked hopefully. Chan nodded the affirmative and Jonathon’s heart skipped a beat. He grasped the Tan’s shoulders and peered expectantly into his narrow black eyes.

“Did he bring anyone with him, a prisoner perhaps?”

The Tan paused for thought, slightly taken aback by Jonathon’s intensity. He had been watching for Flax, but had noted the arrival of a strangely attired prisoner and the triumphant entry of the distinctive character of Amaril Caldecott. He nodded again and Jonathon felt a wave of triumph and reflief surge through his body.

His obvious pleasure seemed to excite the Tan and he smiled broadly in unison. Jonathon could hardly contain himself. She was here!

“Where did he take her!” he shouted. The Tan spy indicated that his excited ally should follow him. With Jonathon in tow, the Tan led his unlikely companion deep into the High Hat headquarters. They moved cautiously through deeper and deeper street levels that were crowded with High Hats who just seemed to be waiting for something to happen.

They passed through large and hastily organised dormitories they had been set up in the streets amongst the ale and whorehouses, until at last they reached a huge hall and moved slowly around the balcony which ran around its entire circumference.

The old Victorian music hall, which served as a great outer chamber to Flax’s apartments, was almost empty, only a couple of guards were posted to the doors which led to Edgar Morrell’s hall of temporary rule.

As the two intruders peered down two muffled

musket shots rang out from the inner hall. The guards outside raised their weapons as the doors swung outwards. A pair of High Hats carried the body of another High Hat between them and then threw it to the ground before returning to the chamber and closing the heavy doors behind them.

Chan nudged Jonathon as the two crouched low on the balcony and mouthed words.

" Cal-de-cott.” Chan mouthed. ” Am-a-ril Cal-de-cott.” He repeated it and jabbed a finger at the corpse which lay in an ever widening pool of blood. Jonathon leapt to his feet, fearing that Milly was behind the door too.

Fear and desperation drove him along the balcony until he reached a sweeping stairway which brought him out the opposite side of the hall and the doors from where Amaril Caldecott’s corpse had been carried.

He did not stop. He charged across the floor of the auditorium toward the bemused guards who looked up to see the figure of a High Hat Captain hurtling towards them.

This caused them no alarm until he was close

enough for them to see his wide eyes and bared teeth. By then it was too late. One guard raised the barrel of his musket in his general direction, but did not have time to aim properly. Jonathon felt the musket ball whiz past his head, and then half collided, half charged the man with the musket at full speed.

The guard went down and stayed down, his nose broken and bleeding where his assailant’s head had hit his face. Jonathon was slightly dazed and staggered to his feet as the other guard drew his short sword and raised it above his head.

The sword flashed down towards Jonathon who stepped backwards and fell over the prostrate body of the other guard, his backward fall helping him to avoid the High Hat’s wild slash at his head. Jonathon flailed around on the floor desperately grasping for a weapon as the guard stepped forward again. His hand grasped the barrel of the fallen man’s musket and, struggling upright, swung it wildly towards his attacker. The musket butt struck the guard in the right temple. There was a loud crack of breaking bone and he crumpled onto his knees with a moan, attempted to rise again, and then fell heavily to the floor.

By this time Chan had reached the bottom of the stairway and had begun to run across the hall towards Jonathon. The two heavy doors opened and the guards emerged from inside to investigate the noise. They sighted the intruder sprinting towards them and aimed their weapons at him.

Chan saw them and began a ducking and zigzagging run in a effort to confuse their efforts to make him an easy target. In an explosion of smoke and flame the two guards fired simultaneously, their shots echoing around the auditorium.

The Tan assassin screamed out loud, but whether it was in pain or some battle cry Jonathon never knew. The little man’s course straightened out now as the guards hastily attempted to reload their muskets, their ramrods sliding hastily into barrels, but Chan had produced two pistols and fired them at the two guards.

Both of them fell together and Chan whooped again, in what was obviously a tongue less victory cry, as he leapt over their bodies and sped into the hall beyond.

Jonathon struggled to maintain his balance as he staggered into the inner hall behind the Tan, carrying the sword which he had taken from his own felled assailant. A fight was already taking place inside. A huge muscular man swung a sword at Chan who rolled away from the slashing blade. The Chief of Assassins was alone in the room, his two guards dead outside. Chan had hoped to find Flax here, but finding the Chief of his Assassins was enough to make up for his disappointment.

Edgar Morrell was a large man, but was not hindered by his bulk. He moved swiftly and efficiently and the agility of the Tan assassin was tested to the limit in avoiding the blows of his sword. Chan circled the huge Morrell now, his discharged pistols discarded in favour of his curved dagger.

Morrell laughed and lunged again at his weaving antagonist who rolled athletically away from the deadly sweep of slashing blade. The Chief of Assassins grinned at Chan, enjoying the contest and swept into the attack again.

Jonathon edged around the two combatants, slipping into the shadows which clung to the ante- chamber’s walls. Behind Morrell’s he noticed an iron clad, barred and padlocked door. If Milly was anywhere she was behind that door he decided.

Moving around the ante-chamber close to its cold, damp stone walls, he paused beneath a dimly, flickering oil lamp. He realised that Milly was not behind the door. He had hoped she was, but knew that she was not. He

had known since he entered the auditorium and been consciously afraid to use his psychic powers, because if they had revealed nothing he would have been thrown into the pits of despair. Yet, for an instant during the fight outside he had done so, unconsciously, perhaps because if he had died outside these doors he would have known whether or not he had died in vain.

Now he knew. Now he accepted what his powers had told him in that instant that Milly was not here, but he used his powers again and realised that she had been here and, more importantly, had not died in this place. He found her fear etched into the stone of the damp walls like a shadow, she had suffered here yet still lived. The walls had recorded a thousand such and worse events as prisoners had been brought before Silus Flax for his judgement. Jonathon could now see it all, he had tapped into this reservoir of despair unknowingly in a desperate attempt to find out her fate; and the Ghosts in the Stone spoke to him.

His intrusion had breached the walls and all they held, the energy of pain and despair stored there was now loosed upon him as if the stone could no longer bear its grim secrets. He moaned as the horrors which had taken place here began to materialise before him. The ante-chamber darkened before his eyes and a great weight, like a blanket of cold, iron chain mail fell upon his soul.

The ghosts of the victims of the High Hats and Silus Flax emerged into the hall in their hundreds, their staring horror ridden eyes and pain etched faces seeking out he who had breached the dykes which had held them in the stone sanctuary of nothingness.

Howls of anguish, fear, despair, bombarded Jonathon’s sensitive soul and he braced himself against the now freezing walls in shock. Spectral arms reached out their icy fingers towards him and, as each touched him he felt himself being savagely leeched of energy. The faces implored him to help them but, as their eyes met his, he felt their misery, the very fear and anguish they had felt here and it was transmitted to him for him to experience. They saw him as their saviour and were unwittingly crucifying him.

They pleaded with Jonathon for salvation. He had released them from the nowhere of the halls wall, reunited ghosts with memory. Now they pleaded for him to release them from their renewed agonies. He had to fight them as they came to him and embraced him one after another. He was weakening fast, close to unconsciousness. He grew afraid. He knew of their plight, but he knew who they were, what they were – another product of the corruption of Dubh, their despair the power on which the foul

spirit of this sick City fed and which they themselves, by virtue of their inhumanity, were inextricably a part of. Only Hell would have them and this would be no release, for they were already in another one and, if Jonathon’s plan succeeded, he would condemn them to it for eternity. He was not and never could be, their saviour.

With this thought in his head the spectral horde began to dissolve back into the walls floor and ceiling from which they had come. A few lingered for a while and stared at Jonathon who lay slumped in exhaustion at the foot of the wall close to the door to Flax’s inner chamber.

They had felt hope in his presence but he had taken it away, he had condemned them all, past judgement on them. So they turned back to the shadow and rejoined the darkness.

After a short while of exhausted slumber he awoke to the sound of musket fire and shouting outside in the auditorium. He lifted himself wearily to his feet and focused his attention on the battle which was still taking place in the hall in which he now stood.

In the freezing cold which still gripped the chamber the two assassins still circled one another, oblivious rapid drop in temperature. The cold air frosted their breath and the warm sweat from their bodies shrouded them in a fog of vapour. Both were now bloodied and close to exhaustion.

Morrell’s huge muscled and tattooed torso was covered in deep cuts and tears where Chan’s dagger had found its mark. The great black boars etched over all his body seemed to be ready to join the fray themselves, twitching and shimmering with Morrell’s exertions The Tan himself, despite his agility, had been unable to avoid Morrell’s sword.

He bled profusely from at least two wounds and judging from his pale face, which was contorted in pain, he was loosing blood rapidly and his movements becoming slower. Yet as Morrell charged in again and Chan slipped by the attack, he grinned again. Jonathon realised that despite his bravado the Tan could not last much longer and then he himself would be at the mercy of the Chief of Assassins.

Then gunfire erupted again from outside the chamber accompanied by the screams of men dying. Then a lone, maniacal howl chilled Jonathon’s blood. Whatever was out there, was getting closer and closer and the battle becoming more furious. Jonathon shivered and moved toward the door to Flax’s inner sanctum.

A stray musket ball ricocheted around the stone walls of the hall and rocked Jonathon into action. He had to escape and only the locked door offered any safe exit.

He mounted the steps to the door and swung his sword at the padlock. It took three heavy blows to break it away from its securing chain sufficiently to allow him to break it free completely and push the door inwards.

It opened easily and Jonathon pushed inside before looking back into the ante-chamber. The battle between Chan and Morrell still continued, but the latter looked uneasy now, his attention flitting from the Tan and Jonathon. He dodged an attack from the tiring Chan who rolled forward and positioned himself between Morrell’s sweaty bulk and Jonathon.

“Get away from there!” Morrell screamed.

Suddenly the Chief of Assassins became strangely diplomatic. “Look it’s been a fair fight” he addressed the badly wounded Tan in calm tone of voice. “But you will lose, you can gain nothing now. So ask your comrade to come away from there and I promise you free conduct out of here - you may even choose to join us if you wish, you have proved yourselves two good men, we’ll need the like of you soon and it’ll be worth your while.” he panted his promises.

Chan spat at the floor.

Edgar Morrell continued. “In a few moments most of the High Hats in this place will be here, you stand no chance at all. Consider my offer - Life or death?”

Neither Jonathon nor Chan responded. It was doubtful that Morrell’s promises would materialise at all. But he was right about the arrival of High Hats. Six musket men dived into the doorway between the auditorium and the ante-chamber and took up defensive positions at the door, reloading their weapons and firing at the unseen enemy that lurked outside. Others now dashed inside to the assistance of their deputy leader.

Morrell smiled victoriously as his men took aim at Chan and Jonathon. The first shot knocked Tan assassin to the ground and the second splintered the door close to Jonathon’s head as he dived for cover onto the floor. As he lay weakened and vulnerable at the entrance to the inner hall, the defenders at the door screamed and backed into the hall as their enemy hurtled, howling into view.

From beneath a hideous, horned helmet, the beast’s jaws gleamed wetly, red in the dim light of the braziers. Two High Hats fell in quick succession as throwing knives arced out from behind his huge, circular shield and thudded into their chests.

Three muskets where levelled at him as he continued his charge undeterred. The High Hats fired, two musket balls rang out denting he shield and the third hit the Turkanschoner’s metal jaws, causing a shower of sparks to erupt like a aura around his demonic visage. He came on regardless and at an astonishing speed. In seconds the three who had fired their shots lay broken and torn upon the floor before they could draw their swords. The remaining defender at the door dropped his musket in sheer terror as the horned devil’s gaze alighted on him and fled towards the auditorium.

Picking up a discarded sword, the Turkanschoner lurched into the ante-room, his eyes wide searching out that which he had come here to find. Morrell and his two companions whirled around to meet the advance of the new aggressor.

The two High Hats who had ran to join their leader did not look too enthusiastic as bodyguards and looked to their master for advice, preferably retreat from the beast who had hacked and torn his way through their stronghold to the seat of Flax’s empire. Morrell’s instructions came loud and threateningly, his sword prodding their backs to emphasise the consequence of disobeying his order. “Me or IT cowards.”

The two High Hats hesitated for a moment then charged forwards at their opponent. The beast leapt at them and decapitated the first before he had moved five paces. The second, observing his comrades rapid despatch, stopped and backed off, dropping his sword. Morrell, true to his word, split the High Hat’s skull to the bridge of his nose as the High Hat retreated.

The Turkanschoner watched silently as Morrell noisily dislodged the sword from the High Hats head and cleaned it casually on the dead man’s cloak. Morrell was ignorant of the nature of the beast that he faced. It found his killing of the unarmed and fleeing minion disgusting and unnecessary. Morrell was confidant now, his adrenalin was running high and he laughed in the face of the beast who, to his surprise, threw down his sword and shield and stood unarmed before him.

The Chief of Assassins laughed and the Turkanschoner echoed Morrell’s last mortal sounds. In one bound the Tallmen’s beast was upon him. His artificial jaws opened up and expanded, hidden hydraulic pistons drove the metal jaws onto his skull, the upper and lower incisors cracking easily through the bone.

Then he began to apply a slowly increasing pressure, he paused for a while as the sound of splintering bone increased and the sound of Morrell’s animal whimpering decreased. With one final effort the Turkanschoner’s jaws closed fully and Morrell’s head disintegrated with a loud wet crunch.

The Chief of Assassin’s body fell to the floor, twitching as the beast spat out the remnants of his brain and skull as if he had eaten something poisonous. The killing machine that slowly regained its calm had displayed its inhuman talents for a reason. It no longer killed to eat, it showed no interest in the corpses which quivered in the silent ante-room around him.

Jonathon, already weakened by his own experience had been pushed to the limit by the horror of the Turkanschoner’s violence. Although he had touched his mind and seen it all in the well shaft below the Castle of Lepers, it had not prepared him for the full graphic horror of what the beast was in the reality of its forced being. Now he watched as its burning eyes searched of the chamber’s shadows, its wiry, but impossibly powerful muscles twitching expectantly beneath the Tallman’s jerkin it had donned in the tombs. The beasts crooked back with vertebrae that protruded, even beneath the leather of its clothing, combined with his blood drenched and salivating jaws and horned helmet, produced an acutely terrifying silhouette against the light of the anteroom doorway. It was primal and demonic

Jonathon knew better though. He had seen the beast’s mind and had found no beast on all just a product of evil minds and their conditioning. He stared at the creature that had endured so much pain, its ‘life of pain’ it had said to him, and been robbed of all that it had ever had by the Tallmen.

Jonathon’s vision began to dim as the Turkanschoner located and walked over to him, occasionally glancing over it’s shoulder for more High Hats.

“Master.” he whispered. “Master, I find you again. Please not desert make me whole again.”

Jonathon neither cared for nor wanted any responsibility as the master of this sad abomination, but again, he realised it had saved his life. It hit him that this creature’s debt to him had gone beyond loyalty to a master for it loved him … for what he had done accidentally.

As he began to slip into a fatigued and unavoidable sleep Jonathon felt himself being lifted gently into its arms and carried through the doors he had forced himself as the sound of running feet and the barking of orders carried into the ante-room from the auditorium.

They approached two whirling apertures of light which seemed to bore into the opposite wall. Without hesitation the Turkanschoner entered the smaller of the two and advanced at a measured pace through it. Slipping in and out of consciousness, Jonathon watched the swirl of colour and images around them left and captured in the fabric of time which spun around them.

He saw faces, distorted and stretched, but recognisable - Flax and two of his men. The High Hat leaders face was set in a victorious grin. A round faced man with a pale visage of fear and a feminine face, but so cold and devoid of emotion. He saw reflections of himself and the Turkanschoner marching slowly and steadily down the centre of the vortex. He saw the future, but not just one...many possible futures.

The Turkanschoner spoke, but it was meaningless to him. “Inversion gate, many branches. Echo of generated primary. I know now. I know!” he said triumphantly reclaiming somthign of his former self.

Abruptly the light and the images were gone as they emerged out of the dimension door into a small building bright with the light of the giant’s light orb.

Rislo leapt to his feet in astonishment, his lantern jaw agape in shock as he was unexpectedly reunited with his allies. The Turkanschoner stared at him and spat. “Bad man.” Jonathon shook his head andwhispered, wheezily to the Turkanschoner.

“No, not all bad, much good is here.” before he slipped into a deep sleep. The beast stared at Rislo and spoke again. “All! ” he hissed. ” All bad. !”

After a few hours Jonathan awoke suddenly from dreams that involved Flax and himself, Milly – in fact a maelstrom of events past and future, fact and fantasy.

Immediately Rislo rose to his feet and leaned over Jonathon as he awoke and stretched.

“We must act now, you must come and look at a the dimension door – from this side it leads to a perfect escape!” Slowly and painfully Jonathin arose, not sure what the giant talked of, but focussed on the word ‘escape’ and the excited tone of Rislo’s voice.

After a few moments of paced walking they emerged into a small cave that Rislo had visited earlier. It was secluded and the night was dark. A tell tale neon haze lit the sky. Slowly the truth about this dimension dawned on Jonathon. This was linked to the dimension door Flax had left by, as the Turkanschoner had said – same place, different exits. Flax was here. He coudl almost smell him, his presence hung heavy like acrid smoke that stuck to the mind. Jonathon shivered. Flax was here. He pondered anxiously, he had to do something now, had to confront him here, perhaps stop him here? Then there was Milly, he should find her. He felt a pang inside his heart.

Slowly he walked up the grassy bank opposite the cave and climbed over the fence into a dark graveyard. His companions followed behind, the Turkanschoner first and Rislo at a safe distance form the beat, behind.

The church’s tall spire pierced the night sky, moving engine sounds came closer. Whilst Jonathon agonised over this priorities, the Turkanschoner noticed a young couple enter the graveyard and run giggling into its midst. Then he noticed the shadow that followed them, slipping from gravestone to gravestone, getting closer to them.

The couple had laid down behind a tall stone and the shadow crept closer. The Turkanschoner’s nostrils flared. In the darkness he saw the glint of steel blades.

In a instant, and to the surprise of his companions, he hurtled across the graveyard and attacked the shadowy assailant. Jonathon sprinted after him. By the time he arrived all he witnessed was the sickening crack of a neck being broken and the screams of the two young people who fled the hellish apparition who had emerged out of the darkness.

Jonathon was in shock – had the Turkanschoner reverted back to his training? Then he saw his victim. It was one of Flax’s men. He picked up the two stiletto knives and put them in his belt.

“Bad” the beast growled. Jonathon nodded. Rislo arrived and stared at the corpse and then accusingly at the Turkanschoner. Jonathan put his hands to his head.

“We need to do something. I need to find Milly. Flax is here. I must stop him, he may not return to Dubh and all will be in vain!” He was approaching despair, torn in half. Milly or Flax? They need to complete their plans in Dubh too. His mind raced – one thing they must do was to get the final parts for the machine. Rislo could do that. He paced in circles, staring at the corpse. He looked at Rislo.

“Rislo go back and collect the machine. I need to find Milly, but I can’t leave Flax here. The time has come for our paths to cross again, for a final time. I can’t chance him staying here. It has to end.” he stuttered. Then the Turkanschoner spoke.

“I find girl.” He grunted. “You find Shadow Man.” Jonathan stared at him.

“How will you find her?” he stuttered.

“I smell her scent on you, I can find, trained to find”! He pointed at Rislo. Rislo shied away from his taloned finger.” Already I smell scent before.” he added. The beast nodded his horned head affirmatively, he needed no further instruction he knew her importance to his master; he whirled around and disappeared into the darkness. He didn’t add that he also smelled her scent on the Tallman. He saw no need. He would find her as he had promised. He owed this to Jonathon.

Rislo was disturbed by events now. He could not understand why Jonathon trusted the beast to find the most important person in the world to him. How could he trust it? He nodded at Jonathon.

“I will get the machine from where we left it before we fled the Turkanschoner and meet you where we just left, and then we finish this.

Jonathon sighed deeply.

“Rislo, if I am not back in a four hours do as we planned” he said. Rislo’s eyes met his. “Take Milly with you the Turkanschoner he finds her.”

Rislo could not understand why Jonathon had to do this task ... to confront Flax. As far as he was concerned they should flee the world now. But obediently he nodded and left, making sure he did not have to walk with the beast back to the dimension door.

Jonathon was left alone amongst the old and newly dead. He wondered if he was due to join them soon. He looked at Scoggins whose death mask was set wide eyed in astonishment. Then he shivered, and jogged towards the neon light of the town centre…and Silus Flax.

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