CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT
As the happily motivated gun runner had left the Cross Keys yard, Flax had emerged into the cold morning air and inhaled deeply through his sensitive organ. His nose told him that there was someone else here. As well as this person’s scent he could feel his presence. He ground his teeth as his nose led him toward the bakery’s dirty window. He peered in to try and pick out movement inside.
As Flax’s profile loomed, huge and forbidding, outside the opaque window, Jonathan ducked down inside. A shudder hacked its way into the core of his being. After all these long years, he was now only yards away from his sworn enemy....... and wished he were not.
He felt a fear like a thousand cold knives plunging into his soul and he could feel his strength ebbing away in the presence of Flax’s corrupt spirit. He was aware of an energy flow from himself to that dark hole of a man which stood peering through the dirty window, from one opposite pole of humanity to another. He felt his vitality being leeched off by his adversary. But he could not run. He was trapped. He heard the door handle turn and his hand ran across the rubbish strewn worktop to close around the filthy meat cleaver the baker had left there. Halting at the door, he tried to identify the scent. It was not the baker. But it was familiar, so tantalisingly familiar. Memories. Dark streets, the city.....the boy.
His beautiful boy! He began to salvinate, spittle oozed out onto his thin grey lips. But here? Now?
Slowly the dreams and nightmares of this youngster standing between him and his destiny made sense. The prophecies had come true.
He was here! Just when he was hours from achieving his dreams the boy had come to attempt to thwart him! Flax grimaced, he should have made sure of his death before, his bungling servants had failed him. But he would not fail and the boy’s demise would herald the beginning of his new life. Flax grabbed the nearest weapon, a rusty old grass scythe, and opened the door a fraction. Yes, the boy’s scent was strong! Excitement surged inside him as he envisaged his prize, the sweet trophy he that had eluded him in that dark street all those years ago.
He pushed the door half ajar, stopped, listened and sniffed. There was no movement inside. No sound, only the sweet scent of mortal innocence. His muscles tensed as he prepared to enter.
Flax exploded, howling, into the half lit bakery, his scythe held above his head, ready to strike down his prey. His eyes were taking time to adjust to the dimness of the bakery and he knew that he was at a disadvantage. The boy could be standing in a corner ready to pounce.
The curved blade slashed through the air defensively, attempting to deter any sudden attack. Then he crouched low, a snarl frozen on his face, as he prepared himself for the attack. His eyes adjusted, the bakery now took on recognisable forms, light penetrated the filth stained windows in bright shafts which illuminated the millions of tiny dust motes, raised by Flax’s frenzied entry and which now danced in the sullied light beams.
Looking around he realised that his quarry was not here. He clearly saw the baker’s work top, the oven, the piles of beer crates. There was no boy. There was nowhere to hide. He searched under the worktop and threw the crates aside, he wasn’t here.
Flax was confused. His nose was normally so reliable. The scent was strong amongst the smell of meat, pastry and beer. But surely his eyes could not deceive him. He was not here!
Flax shrugged his massive shoulders. This place, its new scents and sounds must have disorientated him slightly. He knew that he had been here though and not too long ago. Of that he was sure and it made him all the more determined that he pursue his goals with a renewed vigour.
Then again, perhaps it was just his imagination. Perhaps coming so close to fulfilling his aspirations had some bizarre psychological effect. He had imagined it, scent and all. He raised the scythe above his head and hammered it down hard into the door. Either way there was no problem. He either wasn’t here or had been and was gone. He was not threat now. With one last glance over his shoulder into the deserted bakery, Flax left and closed the door behind him and made his way back to the house. He had other things to do, plans to make and then there was the problem of Ivor Scoggins’s disappearance. He had still not returned and he was worried, for his plans required that he and his party go unnoticed here. He did not need the complications ofthe local “police becominginterested. And because, because, he admitted to himself, Ivor was, well he was....... useful.
Yes, he was useful.
Inside the bakery’s large oven, Jonathan stopped trembling as he heard the outer door to the building close. His grip on the meat cleaver relaxed, allowing blood to slowly return to his white knuckles. Jonathan realised that crammed into the oven as he was, he would not have been able to use the meat cleaver at all even if Flax had opened the door and found him. The monster would have probably stood there and laughed for a moment, shut the door, switched on the oven and giggled while he was roasted alive.
Jonathan cursed softly to himself as he slowly unfolded himself from the cramped position he had taken up inside the claustrophobic space. He shook his head. He was a coward. He had come all this way to challenge Flax and fulfil his oaths and his courage had failed him and he had failed everyone. But now was not the time. Flax was out of Dubh and Jonathan had misjudged his power. Flax was no ordinary being. It had to be in Dubh he consoled himself that was it; he would face him finally there.
His proximity to the monster who had been responsible for the deaths of all those he had loved had drained him spiritually and physically. If Flax had remained in the room much longer Jonathan felt that he surely would have died. He had felt the will to live draining slowly out of his body to him.
They were not meant to live together in the same world. It seemed as if it were unnatural that these two opposites could not be allowed exist together. They were postive and negative forces, and one would prevail. Jonathan could not face him here, on these terms. But now he doubted that he could ever face him. After all, he thought, why would things be any different in Dubh?
There would still be that weakening of the spirit, the searing pain which erupted in his soul by just being in his presence. Yet he had vowed he would face him, he had sworn oaths to others, to those who were now dead and all who he had loved. He had made vows and, but after today doubted that he could ever fulfil them.
These thoughts tortured Jonathan as he opened the door a fraction and peered out. It was empty now. He had seen Flax lead the grey haired stranger, whom he had seen in the car the night before, around the corner and who had emerged smiling moments later. Jonathan had been intrigued and decided to investigate, so checking again that the coast was clear he sprinted across the yard and around the corner.
In the brick shed behind the tarpaulin sheet, he found the dimension door and Flax’s incentive for Santiago’s involvement. He sifted through the sacks for a moment and then paused as he heard voices behind him, crossing the yard.
There was nowhere to hide here. Only the dimension door offered a way out. But where did it lead he asked himself? Back to the city obviously, but where in the city. The voices came closer now and he decided that he had no option.
He glanced over his shoulder as he slipped into the swirling mass of colour to see Flax and a small bespectacled figure appear around the corner. As Jonathan walked slowly into the tunnel of trapped and distorted images he felt fear lance through him. Rislo had said that the other door was unstable, that it might collapse unexpectedly or its exit point change disastrously. Could it be true of this one? Had he thrown himself into the unknown? Would he ever see Milly and the others again?
He tried to make sense of the muddled images snared in the vortex’s timeless walls like memories. Hope sang inside of him as he saw Rislo and the Turkanschoner talking by the doorway in the derelict house, deep in the underworld, the house he had left only the day before whilst his co-conspirators had gone off to their own tasks.
Here too, was the image of the great High Hat chamber he had escaped from even earlier. Yet in these images, which flickered in the walls of the dimension door he carefully traversed, it was filled with the milling top hats of thousands of Flax’s servants.
As he moved along the vortex the images of this hall intensified until the walls were exclusively filled with High Hats, grinning and staring into the dimension door; waiting. If Jonathan continued this way he felt sure he would find himself amongst them, out of the frying pan into the fire. Flax was behind him and High Hats in front.
He was trapped again, but decided he would rather face the mass of High Hats than Flax, he had a chance, after all they did not know who he was.
Slowly he edged towards the exit back into the High Hat stronghold in Dubh. Then, suddenly, the images in the side wall of the tunnel of light and colour flared briefly to reveal a rift from the main tunnel which led away from his exit point.
Jonathan looked in to the new tunnel and noticed that the walls were free from any images at all. Then his own image appeared and multiplied into the bare swirl of nothingness. He did not know here this led, but anything was better than a hall packed with High Hats and it might lead back to the underworld, if he was lucky.
He entered the new dimension door and in a short time emerged at the other end. The emptiness of the realm he now found himself in took him by surprise. In Dubh there were buildings everywhere, people crowding every level, but here there almost nothing at all. No buildings and no people.
Jonathan now stood on this world’s perfectly flat surface and looked around him. Large slabs of white stone extended in perfect symmetry to distant horizons which seemed to melt into soft and pale blue sky. A warm breeze blew steadily into hid face, bringing with it tiny grains of sand which stuck to his hair and clothing and irritated his eyes. From above him a bright, white sun beat down. Jonathan looked up at it shielding his eyes from it intensity.
This was not what he wanted or expected. He needed to return to Dubh and this place was not it. He turned around in an attempt to find the dimension door he had come through to this place but, to his horror, it was no longer there. The only evidence for its existence was a set of indecipherable figures carved into a white stone slab. Now he was lost! Jonathan slumped down onto the warm stone, hoping that the door might open again, fearing that if he wandered from this spot he would lose any hope of ever returning, it here were any at all now. He decided to wait a while and see.
If the gate reopened, he would try and retrace his route steps back to the Cross Keys and then back to the original gate, as he should have done before, if his curiosity has not got the better of him. If the gate reopened, then perhaps he could avoid Flax at the Cross Keys and return to the place where he had originally entered the world and where he had spent the night. If it was still open. If, if, if. If not then...., well, he was lost, completely and utterly lost to everyone, he realised. He would never see any of them again. Never see Milly. He sighed deeply, close to tears. Why had he been so stupid, so selfish, he thought? His selfish desires had lost him everything.
The sand carrying wind had abated now. Jonathan looked up through eyes blurred by tears of regret and irritated by the wind borne sand grains. Something had changed in the sky. A mass of huge, billowing storm clouds had begun to collect on the horizon of the paved, wasteland. Below the clouds bright blue forks of lightening flashed down with an unusual ferocity, but with no thunder at all.
He watched, fascinated as the billowing thunder heads increased in height and darkness and the thunderbolts increased in intensity. Then the sound of thunder began to shake the paving stones beneath him and the sound hit his ears like the monumental sounds of a world tearing apart.
With his attention concentrated on the spectacle on the horizon, he was surprised when a voice spoke from behind him. Quickly he leapt to his feet and twisted around to face the owner of his voice. The man, as he could be loosely described, stood a few feet away, his hands placed on his bony hips.
Jonathan estimated him to be eight feet tall at least. He had a human body, jet black in colour with no item of clothing except the grotesque dragon like helm which covered his head and shoulders. He was also intensely thin, like someone suffering from a wasting disease, yet clearly defined muscle groups rippled beneath his thick and leathery skin. From inside the mouth of the dragon head helm, two grey eyes studied him intently and lips parted beneath them as a deeply resonating voice rolled forth echoing across the paved wastes.
“Who are you boy? ” the naked black giant challenged.
Surprisingly, despite the frightening creature’s appearance, Jonathon did not fear him at all, as an aura of honesty and justice surrounded him. He answered the question simply by giving his name.
The creature took a pace forward, stopped and then began to circle him as if inspecting him.
“Who summoned you here?” the giant asked as he continued his interrogation. Jonathan was confused.
The urge to tell the truth in the presence of this being was overwhelming.
“No one.” he replied to the question and the giant stopped circling him abruptly.
“Then how did you get here?” he asked, seeming bemused. “No one enters this realm unless summoned.”
Jonathan shook his head and shrugged his shoulders and pointed to the paving stone marked with strange symbols where he had emerged through the dimension door. The giant move slowly toward the stone and knelt down to study the inscription.
“Mmm.” he muttered, then said something in a language that Jonathan did not understand and glance toward the storm clouds.
As the creature continued to examine the inscription on the slab Jonathan became curious and extended his consciousness toward his mind. Immediately the black giant leapt to his feet as if he had been burned and turned to face him. Its eyes beneath the helm glowed an angry red. Jonathan stepped backwards and gasped as the other’s mind repelled his probing. What had he done? he thought.
Evidently his intrusion was not welcomed at all and had produced this defensive reaction. Now the formidable looking creature stooped, his slim hands stretched out in readiness for an attack, physical or mental. He called out loudly an alien language, but did not take his glowing eyes of his antagonist.
Almost Immediately after strange words had left his lips, other figures similar to himself began to appear across the paved landscape. Some where close, others mere specks on the horizon, but they all began to converge on Jonathan and the black giant at great speed.
A crowd of the black giants had soon gathered in a circle around Jonathan, jostling for position and murmuring amongst themselves as more joined the burgeoning throng. He felt their minds brushing his, pressing probing, scrutinizing. He repelled them. All these beings were very similar in physique, the only distinguishing features being their grotesque and fabulous helms. All these were different.
There were birds and snakes, spiders and scorpions, griffins, dragons, great horned beasts and many others. All exaggerated, hideous meant to terrify. The crowd grew, there must have been thousands now and their murmuring had grown into a loud hum.
Surrounded and becoming increasingly intimidated by their attention. Jonathan addressed the original giant. All the others then fell silent.
“I’m sorry I disturbed you, I meant no harm, I just want to go back the way I came. Can I go now? “he pleaded and began to explain his dilemma but the he was cut short. “Do not move mortal.” the giant commanded. “The Sentinel will decide upon your fate here.” he added and gestured to another startlingly contrasting figure who made her way through the pressing crowd.
The woman, her pale white body a contrast to the other inhabitants of this strange realm emerged from the black mass of bone, muscle and masculinity and made her way forward to stand between Jonathan and the giant whose mind he had attempted to probe.
She removed her red plumed helmet and revealed her face. Despite her serious expression she was startlingly beautiful. Jonathan gaped back at her, he saw other faces with in hers, his Mother was there and so was Milly. He felt the warm flow of her mind in his.
After a moment of tension and inspection, she smiled and relaxed.
“A human Avatar.” she said softly although she seemed surprised.
“Avatar.” the others echoed, nodding in an appreciation that Jonathan did not grasp, except that theTurkanschoner had once called him avatar. The Sentinel dismissed them with a wave of a pale and elegant hand and they wandered slowly back, the = alarm call satisfied, from where they had come, talking in low voices and casting the occasional backward glance over their ebony shoulders.
The woman moved closer to Jonathan and knelt down beside him, so that their eyes were level. Despite her height, the Sentinel’s physical proportions were similar to any human woman Jonathan had seen, she was not emaciated as the other giants appeared to be, nor was she naked. A fine gossamer stocking of sparkling spiders’ web covered her body from neck to toe, the tiny golden spinners always present to emerge and repair the rifts torn by the Sentinel’s excessive movements.
Her green eyes studied him for a while and Jonathan felt her mind wash gently through his again. Jonathan needed an explanation of what had just happened to him, but she picked the questions out of his head.
“This world encompasses all time and space. It is our duty here to maintain a balance in the life force which exists in them. To continue to exist the living worlds need a balance in the dynamics of the life essence itself. The imbalances are visible here.” she pointed to the storm which raged on the horizon and a strong gust of wind buffeted them.
“It is our duty to ensure that balance remains in all such living worlds. Because you have left your dimension the balance has swung dramatically. You will return there Avatar. You must counter the forces which grow out of control in the souls of the living being which exist there. This is your destiny.” the Sentinel smiled sympathetically.
" Avatar? Destiny? ” he thought out loud.
“You are a special being.” she explained as if it would enlighten him. Then she elaborated. “Or in your case one half of a polarity, there will be another, an enemy who you have already encountered. You will already have felt the presence and will be compelled to face it. Fight it. And fate will make it happen.
She probed Jonathan’s mental and spiritual responses. She knew his thoughts and his fears. “You must face this man and all that which flows through him, it is unavoidable. If you do not he will destroy you.” she said. He looked at her face and saw him there. Flax of course. Jonathan was frightened. In the back of his mind, after his earlier brush with him, he had been ready to flee. He just couldn’t face him at all then. Plain fear. His instinct compelled him to flee. What would be different in the future? Since then he had been prepared to get back to the derelict house and escape to another realm with his friends, leave Flax to his devices. If Rislos’s Field Imploder worked and Dubh was destroyed then fine, but if it didn’t then Flax’s fate was irrelevant, or so he had thought.
“You cannot avoid him, eventually he will seek you out and destroy you.” the Sentinel repeated, eaves dropping on his thoughts. She placed a hand on his head and Jonathan felt her warmth flow through him.
“Do not fear him. You are as strong as he. Bury the fear and triumph. ”
Slowly Jonathan began to consider the oaths he had made to himself and his ancestors, he had a duty to them and the millions of others Flax would destroy if he got beyond the boundaries of Dubh. And he was getting there fast. To merely set in motion the machine and run was not enough to quell the nagging doubts he would always carry with him if he did not know that he had succeeded.
If he did not, it was more than nagging doubts. It was the guilt of failure. He would fail himself and all those he had sworn his oaths for. Oaths resting on love. He would fail his own love. He had to face Flax and see him and the city perish, only then would he really be satisfied. The Sentinel smiled broadly.
“You have the strength and you have allies.” she said, and then the smile dissolved. “Turkanschoner?” she questioned. “There is a Turkanschoner with you?” Jonathan nodded. The Sentinel pointed to the disappearing giants. “They are Turkanschoners too, Guardians of the Dimension Doors to this Overworld. They fled here when their world was destroyed. Now they serve we Sentinels.”
Jonathan tried to explain what he knew about the Turkanschoner of Dubh. He explained what the Tallmen had done to him and how he had inadvertently rescued him. The Sentinel stopped him by raising her hand.
“Tallmen?” she queried and delved into Jonathan’s mind again. He experienced her running through his memories of the Tallmen and their artificially sustained dimension. It was like a high speed slide show running through his head. He felt dizzy and she stopped.
“Sorry, but I had to be sure.” she gave Jonathan a smile of triumph.
“Finally we have found them. These Tallmen are the Shetani, some of my people, who rebelled against our ways and sought to escape into the mortal dimensions. They escaped us and until now we did not know how or where. This is where the darkness in your world has its root. They too must be destroyed, their technology is dangerous as are their souls. I have seen what you have planned in you mind. Carry it out.”
The Sentinel looked deep into Jonathan’s eyes and, as he looked back into hers, he saw the faces of all those he loved appear again in her face. Then he saw his own face. He knew why she did it.
“Go Jonathan, you have little time.” she pointed to the
furious storm on the horizon. “Evil strengthens in your absence. Go now with the strength of true love” she pointed to the slab and raised her arms.
Obediently Jonathan walked towards the inscribed slab. But more than her words propelled him there.
“Just one more thing Jonathan.” she said. “Do not fail or the dimensions will topple one after another and we can do little more than watch. The strength you need awaits you in your world. It is the spark that can create the fire to consume this evil.” she paused for a while and smiled. “It is not enough to love and avenge the dead alone. You must love the living too.”
Their eyes and mind met again and he felt the sincerity and truth in her words. He knew too who and what she referred. She nodded. “He cannot stop you this way, for you have the power he has never experienced. His deeds thus multiply against him. You have love in your heart. It is a force against which his power cannot succeed. His soul and his city are his own grave. Bury him in it Jonathan. Him and the Shetani, these ‘Tallmen’.” she finished.
Jonathan slowly approached the position of the dimension door which was indicated by the inscription on the slab, hesitating when the opening back to his world suddenly erupted in a swirling abyss before him.
“Go quickly now, you have lost much time here. Time passes here at a greater rate here than in you realm. Go now!” she urged as she waved a long elegant hand in farewell.
Jonathan waved and stepped into the madly swirling colours. Back in the rift of time and space through which he had travelled to reach the Overworld of the Sentinels, little in its image sucking walls suggested anyone else had passed this way. When he reached the main tunnel however, its walls seethed with trapped images of thousands of High Hats passing this way and this burdened with packing cases. A whole day had passed during the short time Jonathan had been away.
He studied walls manically shifting murals of the High hats who worked feverishly to transport Flax’s booty back to Dubh. Looking closely, he was able to pick out images of the chamber on the Dubh side of the dimension door. High Hats surged into the hall, breaking open wooden and metal crates and examining their contents.
Jonathan winced at the sight and volume of the unfamiliar, but ominously efficient looking weapons. One image drifted by which caught his eyes. It was Flax and the grey haired stranger standing side by side. They looked so similar in appearance, stature and profile, frighteningly similar. Jonathan gasped.
They must be related, but how was it possible, they came from different worlds. How? He shivered. He moved back towards the other exit, ensuring he
did not move to quickly in the vortex, although compelled by a sense of urgency to do so. Where was Flax now he thought? How long would it take to overthrow Dubh? Had he already done it.? No one could stand in his way now, only him, only Jonathan Postlethwaite.
The burden of responsibility seemed to lie heavily on his heart as he approached the exit at the Cross Keys. But fear had been seared from his heart. His contact with the Sentinel seemed to have enriched him and reinforced is sense of purpose. He would get to Flax, destroy him, because
he knew that if he failed, he knew that sooner or later, the beast would return for him. But he would destroy those Jonathan loved first. Jonathan now knew this. Now was it was his moment. His enemy was preoccupied and when he approached the prize he so desperately sought, he would take it all from him.
His resolve was now strong. There was no fear, no uncertainty. Never more had he known such strength and conviction. He felt it, deep inside him now, solid and potent in his heart. It was a weapon which would end Flax’s dreams and destroy the spirit of evil which fermented in Dubh’s stagnant pit of corrupted humanity.
He emerged from the door at the Cross keys and walked out into the courtyard where broken packing cases littered the cobbled yard. It was evening and snowflakes fell thick and fast onto the torn and bloody corpse of Victor Burns who lay in the doorway to his bakery.
Flax had celebrated the arrival of the two lorries carrying his goods by slitting Victor’s throat. Now the snow lay like a funeral shroud over his still body. Jonathan paused to watch the snowflakes for a while. So white and pure, beautiful, he thought, but they did not retain his interest for long and he picked his way through the debris left in the yard past the long, dark windows of the public house where Mrs. Lovenberry had ended her days face down in the bath, her ancient eyes staring at the plug hole, tiny air bubbles clinging to her blue lips. Flax had disposed of her as he did all that had outrun their use.
Jonathan left the yard and ran through the swirling snow to the churchyard where he leapt the blue and white cordoned tape that sought to keep the public from out of the scene of a murder inquiry.
Two policemen on duty saw only a shadow in the thick snow and dismissed it as a fox, declining the opportunity to investigate it in such foul weather. Soon he was through the clearing where the Turkanschoner had slain Ivor Scoggins and down the slope and through the stream. He ran up the short slope to the cave.
The door was still there! He hoped, above all hope, that she would be beyond the door. Her love drew him back to Dubh. She was the spark, the power that he had to defeat Flax. She had to be there. He would prevail becasue of his love for Milly and not because of his anger and hatred of Flax - he could see that now.
The light of the door shimmered before him, beckoning him, every colour radiated along the vortex. He did not hesitate. Once again he moved slowly enough for his molecular structure to adjust. He reached the exit, closed his eyes and stepped out.
In the darkness of the derelict house, only emptiness and the rats greeted him. They began to advance as Jonathan stood disappointed, half despairing. His hope, his strength, seemed to disintegrate when he found that his friends and Milly were not there.
The rats were happy enough though, he would do for them, a meal standing unprotected in the darkness. The first in their ranks sat back on their haunches and prepared to leap and sink their yellow teeth into his warm and inviting flesh. But they never left the ground.
Suddenly the darkness erupted in explosions of brilliant white light which seared the flesh of the rats and sent them scrabbling in retreat from it, the floor rippling with their grey flesh as they sped for the sanctuary of darkness, their appetites for the moment forgotten.
Jonathon was brought back to his senses by the noise and lightening outside the ruin. Outside amidst the chaos of light and thunderous noise he saw familiar figures silhouetted by the flashes of light. He screamed in disbelief at what he saw there.