CHAPTER TWENTY SIX
Rislo shivered in the dimness of a damp, cold cell deep in the heart of the Tallmens’ city. He knew where he was. He was incarcerated in a place reserved for those who had incurred the wrath of the Elders, a transitory place between life and death beneath the Tallmens’ great central pyramid, a dark temple hidden from view behind the blazing lights of the Guardian Towers.
He had lain in for hours trembling as he considered his fate and recovering from the shock of his sudden and traumatic capture. Now his red rimmed eyes scanned the darkness in search of the small scuffling sounds disturbed his sleep and the nightmares which plagued this temporary sanctuary. “So close “he spoke out loud.
So close to escaping this vile world he had come to detest so much and now, now.....
“You should have listened!” spat a voice inside his head. “Loyalty to lower animals!” it scoffed. Rislo shook his head to silence the mocking whispers and the chain which secured his neck collar to the moist, mossy wall rattled like a sarcastic chuckle. “Madness, madness!” Rislo muttered. He was going mad. He had been imprisoned in this dark, cell for at least a day he calculated. Stripped naked and unfed, the cuts and bruises which he had suffered left untreated, he felt his will to resist the Elders’ interrogation and avoid execution slipping away. He was slipping into the darkest depression he had ever experienced. He closed his puffy eyes and whimpered.
To end it all now seemed like a favourable alternative to the fate which lay ahead of him. But the empty cell offered no means by which he could accomplish a suicidal act, as well as the fact that he had neither the courage nor the opportunity to do so. Every hour or so the inspection hatch on the door would slide noisily open and a laughing eye scrutinize him. “A traitor’s fate is not an easy one.” a voice would toll. The words would then rattle inside his skull.
He knew only too well what the captain meant and tried to exorcise the images of a traitor’s death from his mind. The visions of a public humiliation. The savage flesh tearing flogging. Then, then the slow and painful death at the hands of the executioner and his grisly garrotte. He began to shiver uncontrollably. Not because of the cold and damp, but because of the vivid memories of greying faces, bulging eyes, huge protruding tongues and then, then that final spine shattering snap.
The images haunted him and loitered inside his head, threatening to topple his already tenuous sanity from its precarious perch. He sighed deeply in despair, he no longer had the strength to weep and slowly this fatigue dragged him back to the nightmare violated refuge of sleep.
Suddenly the sharp, metallic clank of the unlocking cell door rescued him from one hell and threw him toward another. Bright light flooded in and a rat, hurtled unseen from the cell. Rislo covered his head with his sore arms and moaned. This was it. The time had come. Leapt to his feet and screamed pitifully for mercy.
The guards grinned and then laughed loudly as they threw buckets of ice cold water over him. The captain of the guard threw him a coarse towel and a plain grey prisoners robe, his face a stern command.
“Get dried and dressed runt.” he ordered as he looked down on his quaking charge. “It seems as if you have been afforded the privilege of a trial, the Elders’ seem to want to question you despite your obvious treachery!” he barked disbelievingly and spat in Rislo’s face.
Why Question him? he mused. Yes! That was it. He had a chance! They couldn’t have found the power reservoiur, since he had concealed it well back at the dimension door. He smiled weakly to himself. There was hope yet. They had fgound his machinem, they knew what it was...and also that they were missing the vital power reservoir. They could not kill him without knowing whom, if anyone, had the reservoir. They could not take a chance. He felt some strength returning to him as he was escorted to the Elders. He could perhaps bargain for his life.
The Tallmen Elders, beings of great age and wisdom, sat alongside a great wooden table and awaited the arrival of their prisoner. They were concerned. On discovering that Rislo’s machine had been plucked from their grasp and that the only replacement power globe had also disappeared from their domain, they found themselves shaken from their secure position as masters of the dimension of Dubh.
Without the spare power globe they were no longer in a position to vent the City’s quickly stagnating atmosphere, no longer able to repair the rifts which occurred in Dubh’s field walls and unable to ensure the stability of the Great Gate - the City’s resource lifeline.
These facts alone were enough cause grave concern amongst the Elders, but the retrieval of Rislo’s machine was something else. The Tallmen technicians had briefed them on its destructive function and they feared that more than one may exist, that someone else had power over the future of their race. They had faced many problems in their history but now, it seemed, they had reached a crucial point in it.
Since they had fled their Mother World, many centuries ago, as rebels and renegades, they had overcome many different and difficult situations. No race or situation had stood in their way, their advanced science, applied through weapons technology or otherwise, had always seen them through. When threats proved to be too great they had in the past been able to, drawing on vast energy resources, shift from one point and place in time to another to leave the threat behind.
Then their energy resource had failed and they had found themselves stuck with Dubh without the means to go anywhere. They had solved that immediate problem, by employing an inferior and inefficient technology, but now they where stranded and vulnerable. Now the threat came from within. The reports of Rislo’s machine were bad enough, but when it had been snatched back from them they assumed that there were others in league and for the first time felt fear for themselves.
Rislo now became the key to their survival. His death would only contribute to their destruction. But they knew that he was frightened and unbalanced, reports from the guards confirmed this. It would be a simple job to tip him over the brink of despair and then hold out a helping hand.
Concessions were theirs to give and soon he would be desperate and willing enough to give them what they wanted. As soon Rislo was placed before the Elders his loyalty to Jonathon and the others evaporated completely. He was confident that the return of the power globe would be sufficient to save him from the frightful ritual execution he feared so much. The safety of Jonathon and Milly were now secondary when he considered his own survival.
He wanted to live no matter what happened to others. It was an equation he had only briefly considered before, and before his conscience had called out to him to spare it the pain of guilt, but now it cried out for its
own preservation. He would lead the Tallmen to the power reservoir, he decided, and then risk entering the unstable door to escape them. It might not lead to the same world as it had done before when he and Jonathon and the beast had gone through it, yet he would at least be able to escape his jailers and any place was preferable to the public execution chamber in the Great Pyramid. But he was still wise enough to realise that once the Tallmen had their hands on the power reservoir that they might suddenly forget any deal they struck with a traitor.
Eventually Rislo was seated in a large wooden chair facing across the table where the Elders sat in their blood red robes, studying him without expression. The huge iron doors to this chamber closed with a dull boom behind him and Tallmen warriors took up positions in front of them.
For a few moments the Elders gazed silently at the wretched brother who held the destiny of their race in his head. Each Elder, a mass of grey-white hair and exotically plaited beards, stared unblinking at him.
Their intentions to pressurize him with silence had little effect, for Rislo schemed furiously as he waited for them to speak and had little time to be intimidated.
He knew the power globe was of great importance to them since he now realised its significance to the city. They had his machine, he wrongly assumed, and that it was now worthless to him. But he had the globe. That was why he wasn’t tied to the garrotte pole at this moment.
He smiled smugly and glanced from one wizened old face to another. Eventually, when the Elders realised that Rislo was not about to beg for mercy, the Elders’ spokesman rose to his feet and spoke. He introduced his colleges in a formal manner, as in the tradition of the Tallmen in court, and awaited Rislo’s anticipated response. He waited a while frowning and then, when it was obvious no response was forthcoming, he sighed in irritation and continued.
“We the Elder Council of the Tallman City of Dubh, having considered your case of treason and theft in your absence, find you guilty of the said charges.” The Elder looked solemnly to his companions and they all nodded in agreement. He turned back to Rislo.
“We therefore sentence you to death.” he said without emotion.
Rislo was shocked. He could not believe what he was hearing. They had not even tried to bargain. He could not believe it. He opened his mouth to speak, but was struck dumb and could only manage a groan. The Elder continued. “Therefore you shall be taken to the Great Hall to receive the Humiliation and subsequently executed in the time honoured manner for traitors. Rislo staggered to his feet, only to be restrained by two guards. The Elder smiled at him triumphantly. Rislo stood opened mouthed and wide eyed in stunned amazement. He had thought they would be willing to bargain.
Thoughts raced through his mind. Had they found the power reservoir? No-one could have found it, only he knew of its location. Then why, why! It made no sense unless, unless. The thought of his miscalculation horrified him. Rislo’s legs gave way and the guards began to drag him towards the black doors. He could already feel the garrotte biting into his neck, cutting off his air supply, tearing into his skin. He began to gasp for oxygen.
As they reached the door the guards were commanded to halt.
“One moment. Return him to the seat.” Rislo was seated again and he felt the damp, warmth of the urine stained robe beneath him as he collapsed into the chair. The Elder’s statement was brief.
“You know what we want. Co-operate and we can come to some agreement.” he smiled at Rislo. “Your acts of treason are of no consequence - give us back what belongs to us and you can go free.” he finished bluntly, but without conviction and sat slowly down in his chair. “A simple bargain.” he looked at the other Elders and they nodded in agreement. “Give us the power reservoir and the whereabouts of your fellow conspirators and the machine, and you are free to go wherever you wish.” he smiled briefly, and then his face turned into serious and stony glare, enough to reinforce his threat of non-cooperation.
Now Rislo knew what it was like to be led to his death, the Tallmen Elders had ensured that he would not take that trip again.
“A day of thought for you brother Rislo. Do not make things hard for yourself. Your choice is quite simple. Live or die.” he finished sternly and indicated that the guards take him back to his cell.
In his now warm cell, with a full stomach and dressed in a soft dry robe, Rislo was given time to consider the Elders’ simple proposal. Without the interruptions he had experienced previously he relaxed but did not sleep. The Elders’ death sentence resounded inside his skull. He had really thought he was going to die. He wheezed heavily. They had made him understand, given him and experience on the trip to the door he could not forget, and then brought him back from the brink of the darkest terror.
Rislo had been broken by the Elders psychological torture. If they did not get their way he believed they would kill him despite the consequences of that act. In the few seconds that the guards had taken to drag him to those doors which where emblazoned with terror, pain and a lingering death, he had become completely and utterly self-interested.
He had already betrayed Jonathon, now he no longer cared for anyone in any way at all. Jonathon and Milly could die for all he cared, he was now only interested in avoiding death at any cost and here his conscience howled in agreement. Finer feelings such as loyalty and love could be of no use to him. He was no martyr he decided.
He would betray them if he knew where they were, but he couldn’t be sure. That didn’t really matter as long as the Tallmen got their property back but there was a problem. Who had taken the machine?
He knew of only one who could have and he knew where that ‘fellow conspirator’ would take it. He cursed the Turkanschoner. The beast was following him, but must have known that there were Tallmen ahead. The creature had let him walk into the trap. Rislo scowled. It had betrayed him. It deserved to die. Now it had the machine. At least it was predictable enough to return to the place it knew its master would return. Then Rislo smiled and laughed loudly. It had done him a favour by returning the machine to the dimension door and the very place he had hidden the power reservoir. Now it would be a very simple task of leading the Tallmen to that place. There he would reunite them with their abomination and then in, the bloody and ironic consequences that followed, he would slip through the gate and freedom.
Rislo smiled the twisted smile of triumph and treachery. In a few hours he would be free of this place. Just a few hours, he thought. He laughed loudly and tears flooded from his eyes. He laughed and the victorious soul of the city laughed with him.