CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR
Rislo sighed with relief when he stumbled out of the dimension door and found himself back in the decaying dwelling he had left with the others earlier. He sat down and shivering, his chin cupped in his hands.
He was shivering, not because he was cold, but because of the feelings of self doubt and uncertainty which had surfaced in his mind and heart. He was alone, he thought, as alone as he had always been. His only tie to Jonathon was the one which had been sown by the youth’s Grandfather all those years ago. He had promised to help now because he felt guilty at refusing Cornelius the help he had wanted in the past. He was trying to make it up somehow, by helping now, but he had begun to doubt whether it was all worth it. Jonathon wasn’t Cornelius. Rislo was becoming increasingly afraid. He should have made his own way out of here, if the boy had listened and been reasonable.They could have left this place long ago. But now it dragged on, the fear dragged on. He was living on his nerves. He had no part in this feud. It wasn’t his problem!
He shook his head in despair. Then there was the beast that followed Jonathon like an atrociously loyal dog. The Turkanschoner left him ill at ease every time it stared accusingly at him. It hated him because he was a Tallman, because of what they had done to it. It didn’t see him, Rislo, as an ally, but as one of those who had given it so much pain. It would kill him as soon as it had the chance. It was an animal living on instinct and he was still its prey, Rislo reasoned. He could not understand why it had not killed him yet. Perhaps Jonathon did have some power over its actions but eventually, he feared his tenuous thread of control would snap and the beast’s programming re-assert itself. Then it would tear him limb from limb. Rislo moaned.
Fear! So much fear! He couldn’t cope with it. Everything he had expected to happen had not. Their plans were falling apart. Jonathon’s girl was still lost yet he had deserted her, possessed by the idea of confronting this Silus Flax. No, he wasn’t like Cornelius at all. He was just a boy motivated by his anger. Rislo decided that it couldn’t go on. Why shouldn’t he leave this place now? He knew of dimension doors he could use. He’d known of one for years that opened out into a world of forests and blue skies and no people. The prospect excited him now. Maybe it was preferable, easier to be lonely than to suffer the whims and pain others gave you. The giant rummaged through his coat and pulled out a grubby leather map and studied it intently, studying the places where he had found dimension doors in the past.
He shook his head. Why should he sacrifice his future? Jonathon was disturbed. How could this vendetta with this High Hat mean so much? How could he give up this girl he loved so much to pursue him? How could he take the huge risk with the unstable door? Even if he were successful he might never get back. It was foolish and incomprehensible.
He rose to his feet and put his map away. In an hour he could escape the horrors of this world to the tranquillity, the emptiness, of the other realm he had seen before. He could soon be devoid of any society and the painful complexity of relationships with others, a wild uninhabited place where he could escape all this fear. That dimension door was only an hour away from here, an easy hour travelling long forgotten tunnels and empty caverns. Just an hour!
His alliance with Jonathon seemed crumbling with every second, there were more reasons for going than staying now he decided. His promises to Cornelius carried no weight at all. If he escaped this place, which he now so greatly desired, to his sanctuary, he would only have himself to live with.....and the guilt. The guilt that he had deserted someone who trusted him so much and relied on him almost entirely to achieve his goals. His mind ground on, his heart spoke.
What if Jonathon did return and he was gone? What then? Rislo sighed deeply and closed his eyes to shut in the tears which were welling in them. He could not leave. He could not desert him despite his own fears. The past, the guilt, would pursue him as it does with us all. He could escape this place, but the guilt would always be with him, intensifying with the years slowly devouring him like a cancer from the inside and reduced him to a whimpering, regretful wreck. He could not flee now.
Rislo sniffed back the tears and his resolve strengthened. He would carry out Jonathon’s resolve to destroy this vile world. He would assemble the machine and await Jonathon’s return. He would give Jonathon the time it took to collect the machine and put it together, then he’d set it in motion and go. At least this would satisfy his conscience.
The Tallman collected his belongings and prepared to plunge into the darkness of the Dubhian underworld again, when he heard footsteps behind him. He whirled around hoping to see an enlightened Jonathon emerge from the gate admitting to the foolishness of his actions. His look of delight drained away as the crouched, horned form of the Turkanschoner moved out of the whirling light of the dimension door. His heart pounded in panic. Jonathon had not returned.
The Turkanschoner stared at the fearful giant for a while and then examined the scents that clung to the damp walls and broken floor of the building they stood together in. Satisfied he had Milly’s faint scent and could follow his master’s instructions he turned to Rislo.
“Why?” he grunted. Rislo shook.
“Why what?” he croaked in shock and confusion. “Why no tell of Jonathon’s friend?” the beast growled
For a moment Rislo stood open mouthed, and then he suddenly remembered the human bundle he had reluctantly brought back from the towers. Then it dawned on him. The girl, the Turkanschoner meant her. It was Milly? He opened his mouth in dumb disbelief, surely not!
The surprise registered on his face and he leapt to his own defence despite the fears that the beast would not understand. The creature was clearly mistaken.
“How could you know it was her?” he asked incredulously. “If it was her how could I have known?”
The beast attempted a smile of understanding, but his face became contorted in a viscous snarl.
“Master feels her presence, I smell here and there.” The Turkanschoner pointed to the dark doorway.
Rislo was dumbfounded, but a new fear arose in his mind. He searched for the light staffs he had stolen from the towers and was relieved to find one missing. She had not ventured out there without the protection of its light. Rislo waved his arms, half in apology, half in apathy. “What now then?” he asked meekly.
The Turkanschoner moved toward the darkness beyond the doorway and peered out, his nostrils flaring the seeking scents on the damp air which painted a picture of the world there as bright as in daylight to him.
“Now I find her and bring back. You go find machine. Make ready. Yes?”
The Tallman stared at the beast who waited for him to force back the inky darkness through the door with his light staff. A chill ran down his spine and he felt sick as he looked at the terrifying profile of the beast lit by the light he carried. Its long riveted incisors gleamed threateningly as he clenched and unclenched his jaws. Its dark eyes accused him. Its razor sharp hunting talons scraped menacingly along the decaying brickwork.
Rislo took a deep breath and passed the Turkanschoner expecting at any moment for those terrible talons and teeth to tear at his body and sink lethally into the soft flesh of his neck. They did not.
The circle of light startled the rats that had waited ignorantly, but patiently, for the light that protected their prey to burn out. The two uneasy allies walked in silence through the lower realms of this forgotten area of the city and eventually found themselves moving upward through natural fissures and up onto the level above.
From here Rislo knew his way back to his hidden workshop and looked back to find the Turkanschoner with his eyes closed, nostrils widened, as he followed Milly’s scent.
He turned quickly away and they continued to walk for half an hour and, as Rislo approached his goal, he checked behind him again. The beast was no longer behind him. Somewhere it had parted from his company, silently without a word of departure. But then why should it. It hated him and when he was no longer useful, Rislo decided that it would kill him.
But now he felt relieved, the threat had been lifted temporarily. He moved on a short distance and looked behind him once more before climbing the narrow steps which led to his workshop. He shone the light through the light lock and smiled with satisfaction when the door swung open, unaware that he was expected and that his visitors were very glad to see him.
A heavy blow from behind, which sent him sprawling to the floor, announced their presence. When his head cleared and he brushed the blood from his eyes he saw several pairs of Tallmen’s boots shuffling around him.
Dazed and numbed, he sat upright and stared disbelievingly at the glaring mirrored armour of several Tallmen soldiers. He was dragged roughly to his feet and spun around to look into his own astonished and bloody face reflected in the visor of a Tallman captain who lifted his visor and smiled.
“Welcome back soldier.” he laughed as his smile drained away. He hit Rislo hard in the stomach which doubled the renegade up instantly. “Take him back to the towers.” he spat as he looked down unsympathetically at the writhing form of Rislo retching on the floor.
Rislo felt chains snap heavily around his wrists and ankles and a heavy iron collar locked with a loud clunk around his neck. He was lifted and pushed onto the steps towards the passage below. Plunged now into deep shock, he stumbled downwards, aided by the captain’s hard boot. Fear coursed through his veins. Fear embellished by regret.
“I should have gone! ” he screamed in dismay.
“You’ll wish you had.” replied the captain. “A traitor’s fate is not an easy one.” he laughed with no humour at all.