At this time, deep in the city, Silus Flax turned his thoughts to the boy who had escaped him in that dark street nearly three years ago, for in his dreams, Jonathon was now prominent. Flax dreamed of a great golden gate to his empires, but the boy, who was now a young man, stood before it barring his way. Flax realised this nameless man’s importance. His dreams, fuelled by the omniscient, dark soul of the city, always showed him things, prophesied the future and prompted Flax to act. Whoever this person was, Flax thought, he would have to be removed before he himself, could achieve his dreams.
Flax’s High Hats were sent to find him and remove the threat of the ‘Guardian of the Gate’; and the dark soul of the city, knowing Jonathon’s importance too, moved its evil tentacles towards him. The High Hats could never find him It knew this, the city and its population were too large and the Whisperers too elusive. But it wanted Jonathon too and It had ways and channels by which to reach him.
As much as Silus Flax dreamed so did Jonathon, he too often awoke in a cold sweat after encountering Silus in his dream world. His nightmare was always the same. It was night in the city and a huge and alien cloud formation loomed over the Halls of Machines. The clouds billowed and swirled into shape, eventually congealing into the visage of Silus Flax, a monstrous apparition which sent the inhabitants of Dubh scuttling in their terrified thousands to their hovels.
Flax sneered at them and turned his evil attention to the roof of their small world, stretching a dirty and bloodied talon to pierce the energy field which contained Dubh. He tore a ragged hole through to another dimension and chuckled gleefully, his laughter deepening into a thunder which shook the city. And then it rained.
It rained blood. It rained people. Hideously mutilated and dying, they fell from another dimension to into the hands of Silus Flax who, laughing hysterically scooped them up in their thousands and cast them back up into the air.
After one of these nightmares Jonathon awoke, soaked by a cold sweat and breathing rapidly and heavily. Slowly he made the transit from dream world to a waking reality. His surroundings became, once more, familiar and comforting. He sighed with relief and checked to see if he had woken any of his companions. Dale lay curled in a tight foetal position, bedclothes wrapped tightly around him as if to protect him from something or to ensure whatever secret he concealed did not escape.
Jonathon reflected for a while, tempted to try, once again, to pierce the barriers Dale had built around his inner secrets, but dismissed the thought. Tefkin lay, half- naked and spread eagled across his bed, lacking any blankets and snoring loudly. He turned to check Milly, but she was missing. The hairs on Jonathon’s neck rose and bristled with an unknown fear.
He shivered as if thousands of cold hands had touched him. Jonathon was now wide awake, as fear pumped adrenalin through his veins. Something was wrong. He dressed and tiptoed quietly out of the dwelling onto the roof tops where the night breeze blew away the last vestige of his nightmare as he set out to search for Milly.
The night was unusually quiet, as if the city brooded. The background hum from the Halls of Machines punctuated only by the occasional terminal scream from deep in the warrens of the Lower City. This unusual quietness created a strange tension in the air which Jonathon detected, the hairs on the back of his neck rising in response again.
Something was very wrong he sensed. His stomach muscles tightened and he shivered. Jonathon stretched out his mind in an attempt to find Milly. It felt like he was searching in a thick, gluey fog; that laughed. It was a thousand times more difficult than normal because something else, a huge and suffocating presence was here on the roof tops tonight, something which had an earnest appointment with both Jonathon and Milly.
Eventually Jonathon located Milly and moved tentatively towards her position somewhere high above him. Jonathon was startled to find her crouched naked on the highest ridge of the block on which they lived. She stared blankly out across the Lower City.
He was startled, but not surprised. Milly was unpredictable and bound by no-one’s will. She could look after herself. Over the years he had come to know this. Tonight though, he feared for her.
As he watched her, now becoming strangely tense, she stood up revealing her streamlined and subtly muscled figure. She was almost boyish with small rounded breasts, strong muscular legs and small firm buttocks. When she moved her muscles rippled under her soft, pale skin and tonight this caused a tremor inside Jonathon.
Involuntarily he licked his lips as she threw back her head to send her long, raven black hair cascading across her broad shoulders. She stretched out her arms in an invitation to him.
Something awoke in Jonathon, something that Jonathon had always controlled before, now it fought with him for release. To him it was that part of him which, in the inhabitants of Dubh, had conquered their souls and now controlled them. Tonight every corrupted soul in Dubh awoke in response to a summons and turned their attention to Jonathon’s desires.
They gave those primal desires a new energy as inside Jonathon Postlethwaite, his animal nature screamed for assistance and the city answered. Jonathon gasped as the energy it unleashed invaded his nervous system pushing what was Jonathon Postlethwaite, struggling, into the back seat of consciousness; it had control of his body. He could only watch and feel.
Now from the streets below flowed a moist grey, billowing fog. It was the soul of this foul city. It cascaded over the tiles and roof top ridges, began to take on burning eyed wraith-like forms, the ghosts of every deceased and corrupted being that had died in Dubh; and there where millions, melded into one sentient being.
Jonathon was being forced down inside himself, the animal that is inside us all rising with an uninhibited fury for control, it listened to no reason, no moral codes, no religion other than the church of pleasure.
He fought it as his own hands tore his clothing from his body. He resisted, but could only slow his advance to an agonized crawl towards the ridge where Milly’s body, and the pleasure he could take from it, beckoned him like a beacon.
All around him the grotesque watery faces of the dead urged him on, their ice cold insubstantial hands brushing his body as they attempted to physically push him to the roof ridge and his prize. Individually they would have had little effect, but there were millions of them and the pressure of their collective touch propelled him upwards. Still he fought, contradictory signals from his brain throwing his muscles into wild spasms. From every pore of his body sweat poured in torrents. Animal and spiritual where locked in a defining combat inside the vehicle of Jonathon’s flesh. Only one would win and the other would be become the other’s slave, reason enslaved to animal passion or a being propelled by reason and finer feeling.
Jonathon felt as if he were drowning, he felt himself slipping slowly into a grim pit of suffocating darkness. Inch by inch he still crept towards her. He felt himself swollen and hot in his loins.
With his eyes locked upon her radiant body, he moaned and slobbered with expectation, becoming more and more a mere observer of his spiritual demise. Slowly the distance closed. He saw now that Milly too was possessed by the awesome power, the great dark horse of unbridled human passion.
Her eyes were entirely black, her pupils dilated to such and extent that no iris pigments remained. Her hair streamed in the humid rising wind, her body tensed and ready. She stretched out her arms to him again implored him to take her, beseeching him for that savage embrace.
Crowding around her, the misty forms of wraiths coalesced, attempting to paw her breasts, run their hands over her smooth skin, thrusting and rolling their hips towards hers, their devilish muzzles distorted in paroxysms of ecstasy. They looked down at the slowly advancing Jonathon and in their sneers Jonathon saw their anger at what he and Milly were. Their physical purity was an abomination to them and the cause of corruption and degradation they served.
Visions of himself and Milly enveloped in a violent, brutal, bucking embrace filled Jonathon’s mind. The wraiths howled encouragingly. In a few precious seconds Jonathon and Milly would be one with one another and would be consumed, lost forever, swallowed up in the great, dark soul of Dubh. Jonathon searched for the strength to defeat it.
He focused his mind, if he touched her all was lost. He remembered Tefkin and Dale, how they had taken him in, how they had trusted him. He remembered Flax and his oaths of revenge. He remembered his own Mother, the victim of Flax and this city, his Father, his Grandfather, all its victims. If he failed now, he would fail them all. He loved, Milly but he did not want her this way.
Jonathon tried to scream, but could make no sound. Now they were face to face. Almost touching. Still Jonathon resisted. He could feel the warm moistness of her body inviting him to take them into oblivion.
Her short, sharp intakes of breath seemed to pull his lips towards hers. Yet Jonathon saw the fear in her eyes, she resisted too, she fought as he did.
“No,” she moaned. “No, Dale.”
Dale’s name hit Jonathon like a hammer. Why had she uttered it? Did she think he was Dale? Why, now? Had he......?
Jonathon’s mind tore out towards the mind of Dale. With an energy fuelled on anger, he tore down Dale’s barriers and sought the memory he thought he might find. But there was none, only a memory of a brief temptation which Dale had had, and resisted.
Dale was ashamed of it and guarded the memory earnestly. But he could not suppress his desire always and tonight it surfaced in a dream that would fulfil that wish. Through that dream the dark soul of the city had flowed to the roof tops where it could not normally reach, attempting to corrupt and defile Jonathon and Milly, and in doing so, crush Flax’s guardian of the gate. Dale was the portal here Jonathon realised!
Jonathon’s out of control body reached out his quivering arms about to take Milly in their first, final and terminal embrace. His mind reached out to Dale again, his message clear and simple. “DALE WAKE UP!”
Dale awoke, shocked by the voice inside his head and corruption’s gateway to the roof tops slammed shut. On the roof tops a scream finally broke from Jonathon’s lips, a hollow scream which leapt into the wind and tore into the heart of the city. All the inhabitants of Dubh heard it, the clean, cutting edged scream of defiance and victory.
The army of wraiths began to melt away, flowing in black rivers back to the dark ravines and the underworld where they dwelt. Jonathon took control of himself again and the animal was caged, the wild, dark horse back on the bit. He collapsed at Milly’s feet, exhausted and shivering uncontrollably, gasping for breath in the rising, gale which buffeted the roof top fortress from where corruption had been repelled.
Two arms enveloped his shoulders, yet no lust arose in him now, only the warmth of love which had arisen in their mutual struggle. He looked into the tear stained face of the girl he had treated for years as a sister, she smiled and held him closely.
“I could not hold it back Jonathon” she sniffed. “I wanted what the city demanded, but it was truly not me.”
Jonathon shifted to put an arm around her waist.
“It could not have us like that, we would not truly have had one another.....It was devouring us. I never conceived of Its real power before tonight. It lives and preys on the humanity we build around us to cage the beast we have in us all. It is as I have feared. It is running out of humanity here in Dubh to consume and Flax will make way to new pastures for It to harvest, I must stop it. ”
Milly kissed him gently on his sweat drenched forehead.
“I saw and felt it too. I was in Dale’s dream, it tries to destroy him through his dream. It tries to destroy us all. We must destroy it Jonathon.” she implored
Jonathon nodded at her simple statement and realised that Milly no longer spoke in whispers, her childish dialect was gone. The child had left her too. Nothing physical had occurred, but she was now a woman, she had fallen in love with Jonathon in the wake of their mutual crisis and that love, that real and pure emotion, untainted by asexual lust, had confirmed her sexual humanity.
Together they sat high on the roof ridge and watched as the Tallmen’s mimicking of the dawn cast its wan light over the city. It was strangely beautiful. They felt strong, they had fought together and won, reinforced by a powerful, untainted love.
The malignant soul of the city had been defeated, it had retreated. Now it watched and waited. These two could not be tolerated, their seed could spread. It had failed once, but there were other channels to use, other means to defile them and destroy them.