Jonathon’s abhorrence of the city grew with the more he saw of it. Since his battle with the malignant soul of the city on the roof tops, he had endeavoured to find some island of goodness in the foul, disgusting sea of inhumanity which seethed around him.
He travelled the undulating roof landscapes of brick, tile and mortar of the Lower City watching and listening in the vain hope that somewhere, someone might have escaped or resisted corruption’s grasp. But it seemed to be everywhere.
The people of Dubh were devoid of any virtue or emotion that he deemed to be pure, their free time seemingly devoted to the pursuing the insatiable desire to fulfil appetites of sexual depravity bordering on animal desperation.
He descended to street level to observe their exploits, but was forced to return to his roof top sanctuary when the daily routine of the depraved threatened to spiritually suffocate him. He ventured across the great, stagnant black river into the Upper City, to the ordered society of the Caste of the Skilled seeking out some moral or ethical sanity, only to be severely disappointed.
The Meks were just the same if not worse. Their antics were confined to the private parlours of their more civilised dwellings, but there they exercised their corruption to a more extreme and vile extent. The worse thing about the Meks, Jonathon realised, was that they preyed on the Lower City for their pleasure. The Tans shipped in prostitutes and slaves of all sexes that the Meks might extract their pleasure from those not of their caste or class. Jonathon had secretively watched, through half closed curtains and barred windows, the abominable acts which took place during their hours of leisure time. Perversion and sadism beyond his wildest nightmares caused Jonathon to flee the Upper City.
If there was any difference between the two cities it was that nothing, no practise at all, was taboo to the Meks when abusing the unfortunates supplied from the Lower City, Jonathon had soon seen enough of the Caste of the Skilled. Their leisure time skills, it seemed, easily surpassing and more darkly imaginative than their engineering prowess.
Those who sought to ply their trades from the Lower City unknowingly bought themselves one-way tickets to a hell they could have never imagined. Yet Jonathon had not seen all he wished to see in this part of the city, the Towers of the Tallmen were his final destination and a last hope. Perhaps they, the Tallmen, had avoided the spiritual infection that had spawned itself in human the culture of Dubh. Afterall, they were not entirely human. But the fact remained that they had allowed all this to happen and for this reason Jonathon had already condemned them as bad as the human overlords, the Tans and the Meks of the Upper and Lower, who dominated the two halves of city respectively.
If Jonathon had had any doubts about his self-imposed oaths against the city and Flax, his exploration of the Dubh over the past years had pushed him far beyond the threshold of that doubt and reinforced his beliefs in his own moral codes.
He would find a way to destroy it all, he knew that the creators of this realm would now how to undo it. His answers lay with the Tallmen.
Jonathon made his way up onto the huge domes of the Halls of Machines. The very roofs here vibrated in harmony with the rumbling symphony of the multitude of engines below and from where Jonathon stood the brightly lit towers were clearly visible, blazing beacons in the manufactured twilight, gigantic needles blazing with energy, illuminating the great paved expanse that surrounded them.
The area between the Halls and the Towers had been cleared and paved to create a killing zone, to provide the Tallmen with a clear view of who came and went from their domain. Jonathon studied the area with great interest from the edge of the domes, it was brighter than day out there and any movement could be detected with ease and the giant pavement stretched as far as he could see in both directions.
Despite his knowledge of the lore of the Whisperers and the phenomenal athleticism now built into his physique, the distance was far beyond his abilities. Each paved slab below him was the height of a man square and he counted fifty slabs between the domes and the nearest sentry tower.
He sighed in dismay, he could never cross that killing zone and survive. Apart from blindly running across the floodlit area, he could see no way that he could cross it undetected. He knew that unseen eyes surveyed the area. He felt the gaze of many tall beings directed down from their posts at the top of their towers.
The Tallmen were wary of what they had accidentally created around them and waited and watched for violations of their security. Jonathon could feel their presence, cold calculating and unnerving minds of great age and wisdom, unlike any beings he had ever encountered in Dubh before.
Jonathon let his mind drift towards one of these minds who studied the domes from a tower high to his left. He made what he thought was a discreet contact and thoughts and emotions from the Tallman filled his own mind.
He realised that this Tallman was far from happy. He was angry, frustrated at his predicament. He disliked his own race and was disgusted by the corruption in the human city beyond his towers. The Tallman hated himself for allowing himself to get into the predicament he was in. He felt caged and trapped like an animal, with no solution evident to him. He was more though, he was hiding something and feared discovery. Jonathon was intrigued and probed his mind deeper.
Abruptly the subject’s mind recoiled in shock. He had felt Jonathon’s presence. Quickly the Tallman recovered and he swept his own mind outwards following Jonathon’s probe, attempting to ensnare him. Words filtered weakly into Jonathon’s mind, strange words he could not understand, an alien language that was full of fear and excitement. Slowly the Tallman gained control of the transmission and the words changed to the language Jonathon understood, yet still he could feel that the Tallman was disturbed by Jonathon’s presence.
The Tallman was a minor telepath, but Jonathon could have escaped him easily. Slowly, and a little reluctantly, Jonathon began to break the contact. The Tallman felt the ease with which Jonathon was escaping from his psychic grasp. He became strangely agitated, afraid of losing this contact.
“Please, please do not go, I mean you no harm.” he pleaded. “Please, my friend, who are you?”
Jonathon ceased his mental withdrawal to give him enough time to delve deep into the mind of his contact. There was no malice, no hidden emotion behind his words, his soul was open to inspection. He found no reason to fear this soul who was confused and filled with fear and guilt.
The Tallman, unable to establish whether Jonathon was still in touch, made another impassioned plea. “Listen, whoever you are, I need to speak to you.”
He hesitated, awaiting a response and then, almost reluctantly, continued. The Tallman attempted desperately to establish contact on his own terms, yet was defeated by Jonathon’s superior abilities, but Jonathon had sensed sincerity in the Tallman’s words which tempted him to reply. He spoke again.
“I have waited so long for one of you again, please answer me!”
Jonathon was moved by the genuine and immense despair he felt in the Tallman as he sat unable to locate his contact from his position in the high tower. It would do no harm to speak, Jonathon thought, as long as the Tallman did not know his location. But he was still wary, so he withdrew.
He severed the contact brutally, letting the Tallman know how strong he was, and then tried another cloaked approach which would not allow the Tallman any chance of locating him as he had been trying to do before.
Satisfied of his safety, Jonathon spoke, the words arriving in the Tallman’s head as if from nowhere, untraceable. He was shocked. He had felt Jonathon’s easy and powerful disengagement and now he spoke, his transmission completely disguised.
“I’m Jonathon, who are you.” he replied to the Tallman’s request for identification.
A relieved happiness welled up in his contact, his emotions causing him to transmit words of his own language completely beyond comprehension to Jonathon. Then he gained control again.
“I am called Rislo, Jonathon. Where are you, I cannot feel your presence are you near?”
Jonathon listened, but was wary of a trap, perhaps all the Tallmen had such abilities as this Rislo. Perhaps they were waiting now for him to give away his position.
He quickly scanned the nearest tower to see if the Tallman there was aware of their telepathic conversation. He was not, his mind idled, pictures, emotions, thoughts bubbled, ebbed and flowed on its surface. Jonathon delved no deeper.
Rislo continued, eager for contact.
“Are you there Jonathon? Please do not be afraid, it is so long since I spoke to one of you.”
“One of us?” Jonathon repeated. “There are others?” Unintentionally Jonathon directed his thoughts to Rislo who replied promptly to please his contact.
“Yes, there were others. But it has been so long. It has been almost sixty years since I spoke to their leader, Cornelius, he was the last contact I had.”
Jonathon shivered. Cornelius? Of course there were others of that name in this city of millions. But another with the powers that his Grandfather had possessed and he had passed on to his Grandson? The odds were shortening.
There was a sure way to find out.
“Rislo, did this Cornelius have anther name?” he queried.
There was a short silence whilst Rislo attempted to recall the human’s surname.
“Yes, his clan name I presume, he never used it much and is difficult to remember.” the Tallman went silent for a moment.
" Po-sill-tate perhaps, no, Posil-thwaite, yes, Postle- thwaite. ” Rislo seemed pleased that he had been able to remember the alien human name.
Jonathon was stunned, his Grandfather had been here all those years ago. But it all began to fit into place. Questions began to be answered - how his Grandfather had known the Whisperers - and why they had readily accepted Jonathon as one of them when Cornelius had decided it was time to leave this foul world. Hadn’t the Tefkin said that there used to be many of the roof top dwellers like himself, Milly and Dale ? Gradually the city had swallowed all them up. His Grandfather had been one of them too, sixty years ago. A cold, twinge of grief rose up in Jonathon again, the memories of the last moments before he had left his Grandfather’s protection rose to the surface of his mind.
He quickly recovered, for the years had numbed the pain and he had become absorbed in the mystery of this coincidence - here he was in contact with the same Tallman as Cornelius had been in the distant past. It was too much of a coincidence perhaps, had his motives been the same?
He spoke to Rislo intent upon unravelling this mystery. ” Rislo, Cornelius was.......was one of us, but he’s gone now.....what did he want when you spoke with him?” Jonathon omitted to mention his blood relationship with Cornelius, but felt that it may have confused Rislo’s response and shrouded the object of his Grandfather’s mission here in a web of emotion. Rislo responded eagerly.
“He and his kinsmen wanted to speak to the Elders. I being merely a soldier in their service could not help. We are too lowly to speak to them. Cornelius wanted to ask the Elders to visit the city to see what a terrible place it was, and to change it, bring order and return to morality; yes, morality was the word he used.”
Rislo seemed to give little importance to his last answer, he seemed more concerned with Cornelius’s other plans. He continued.
“Did he find his portal Jonathon and leave, was the one I found suitable. Did they all leave or is my friend here still here, we meet again perhaps?”
Jonathon was now sure of the Tallman’s sincerity, he could read it in his mind so easily and here also was his secret; he had attempted to help Cornelius.
Rislo was a soldier alone amongst his own people. He was an odd man out, his special gifts and reclusive personality made him different and so disliked by his comrades. But there was something else. Rislo attached a special importance to his relationship with Cornelius, he had invested hope in him. Despite the grief that he knew the news of his Grandfather’s death would bring to the lonely Tallman, Jonathon decided to tell him. He could not hold it back from him.
" Rislo, I must tell you this - Cornelius - my Grandfather is dead and there are only a few of his friends still alive......I’m sorry Rislo.”
A dreadful silence followed. No more words filled Jonathon’s mind from the Tallman. Only Rislo’s pain. Abruptly their contact had ceased and Jonathon, mindful of the shock and grief which was rising in Rislo, withdrew from his mind, withdrew out of respect for the Tallman’s emotional privacy.
Rislo retreated into himself out of the shock of Jonathon’s statement. All the hopes he had built over the years, waiting for Cornelius’s return were shattered. Hopes and dreams which Jonathon knew little of, or the importance they had for his own mission.
High up in his brightly lit tower Rislo wept. Cornelius had been a good friend, although the two had never met. Through their shared telepathic gift they had been closer than many people could ever be. They had shared their lives, their memories, their hopes and dreams and had remained friends even when Rislo had refused to help Cornelius in the one way that he could.
He had thought his human friend mad and desperate when he had revealed the nature of this request. But now Rislo had come to know that Cornelius’s answer to the corruption of Dubh was the only one. Now that Cornelius was dead he could not give his assistance to him even though, during the years of waiting for his return, the Tallman had changed his mind. But now he could help his Grandson.
As Jonathon waited for Rislo to voluntarily re- establish contact, Jonathon explored the roof tops above the domes of the Hall of Machines. All along the edge of the Tallmens’ citadel, the open pavement stretched as far as Jonathon could see. The sentry towers stood tall and menacing, their height changing subtly, they pulsated, as if they were in fact alive. Occasionally a bright searchlight would lance through the darkness of the roof top domes, seeking out any trespasser who lurked there.
Several times Jonathon had to drop to his knees to avoid them, heart pounding, the continual vigilance tiring him. Slowly and carefully he made his way back to the place where he had concealed himself to speak to Rislo before. Something had changed, he noticed as he approached.
Half the illumination of Rislo’s tower had been extinguished, the absence of the lights creating an inky finger of deep shadow which stretched across the security zone and up onto the domes of the Halls of Machines.
Jonathon crept into the concealing shadow and waited for the Tallman to make contact, if he ever would. Just as he felt that he would not, a voice spoke inside his head.
“Look below friend, down in the shadow.” A pale hand betrayed the Tallman’s presence down below in the deep shadow close to the wall of the Halls of Machines. Rislo urged Jonathon to him.
“Quickly, come down before they correct the lights, I have something you must see, something Cornelius wanted from me.”
Jonathon moved swiftly to the building’s edge, dropping down quickly into the darkness below. His steel clawed gloves and iron wedged boots made his descent down the crumbling brickwork easy. When he reached the bottom of the wall and crouched on the great paving stones, Jonathon could not see the Tallman anywhere, but a voice from almost under his feet startled him.
“Here Jonathon” Rislo hissed.
A large, elongated head emerged from beneath a stone trapdoor. Essentially human, Rislo’s head was covered by a thick long mane of shining red hair, his long face terminating in a lantern jaw and a small mouth. Two large, emerald eyes sat astride a broad nose.
“Quickly Jonathon! Down here before my comrade directs his searchlight in this direction again.” he whispered urgently. Jonathon moved toward Rislo and half dropped, half fell into the trapdoor’s aperture. The Tallman reached up and pulled the stone slab back into position, plunging their pit into total darkness as a search light beam swept over them.
He heard his new acquaintance rustling through his pockets before a light, increasing gradually in intensity, illuminated the small chamber enough to allow them to see one another.
Standing upright, Jonathon’s head touched the ceiling above him. Opposite him, Rislo crouched, his shoulders, hunched against the roof. Jonathon was tall at around six feet, taller than most of the stunted inhabitants of the city. Rislo, if he were standing upright, would tower at least two feet above him.
The soft light from the glass orb Rislo held before him lit his long face, revealing his tear reddened eyes, but he smiled.
“We are ‘Tallmen’ indeed, yes? ” he chuckled, responding to Jonathon’s facial reaction to his size. “Yet I am considered small for my race, a ‘runt’ they call me.” he waved a long, slender finger around the small chamber in which they stood.
“Cornelius and I spoke often of the City’s demise and he asked me, finally, how it could be destroyed.”
Rislo squatted low and peered into the orb’s soft warm light. His eyes lifted to meet Jonathon’s apologetically. “But you must understand, I could not help him then. We Tallmen, at that time, spoke sincerely of putting things right.” he sighed deeply and shook his head, his long, red locks brushing his cheeks. “But now they have been infected by the same malign spirit which masters the humans of Dubh, the place has become fouled, souls diseased. There is no honour here now. For me to stay here will mean the darkening of my soul too Jonathon. Now I will help in the way Cornelius asked, before I leave this place – if you still want that help?” he looked into the human’s surprised eyes.
Jonathon had taken in the giant’s statement and the implications that the offer of help had for his own goals, but was still taking in the Tallman’s appearance. He was surprised at his youthful appearance, he knew that he had last spoken to Cornelius at least sixty years ago. His curiosity forced him into questions.
“How old are you Rislo?”
The question did not surprise the Tallman, despite the change of subject. ” Two hundred and seventy of your years, a relative youngster, such longevity is natural to we `Tallmen’ as you call us, and it is that longevity that has allowed our Elders to class human beings here as a lower form of life, a lesser order to be used to our ends.” he sneered in disgust. “Our beloved, respected Elders, whose virtues decline year after year, are becoming as corrupt and as despicable as the forces that really rule this world.” he paused and shook his head. “That is why I am giving you the means to unhinge this realm, Jonathon, the gift I denied your Grandfather.
Jonathon studied the disillusioned giant. He meant what he said.
“Where will you go Rislo?” he asked. Rislo shrugged, his eyes narrowing in surprise.
“Out of Dubh, through the rifts in the Field Walls. I don’t know exactly where, but anywhere must be better than here.” he paused as he began to realise the apparent naivety behind Jonathon’s question.
He began again with questions of his own.
“Do you mean that you know nothing of the portals, doors, gates, call them what you wish, from this dimension to others? - Cornelius knew of them.”
Jonathon shrugged his shoulders.
“Only through rumour and another man’s insane dreams, I’ve never seen one.”
Rislo continued, he felt that Jonathon should know more than he did.
“You have never seen the fissures that occur in the Field Walls and other places in the city where a man can walk through to other worlds?”
Jonathon became uneasy.
“They are real then? I have heard that such doors exist, but never knew that there were more than a few.” Jonathon, shivered. If there were so many had Flax already found his door? Rislo continued and confirmed that the rifts in the energy fields were many and that they were increasing, the Tallmen scientists had no idea why.
But Rislo had a theory of his own - corruption, the malign spirit of this city was feeding on energy from the Field Walls as well as the dark energy of human depravity, the energy loss was destabilising the Field Walls.
“Jonathon? Rislo asked, “I am right to understand that your motives are the same as Cornelius, aren’t I ?” Jonathon nodded.
The Tallman was confused.
“So how would you save yourself, if you know little of the doors, how would you escape, Jonathon?
Jonathon had no real answer to the question, he had only assumed that he would eventually find the gate Flax searched for and use that, but now he realised that his plans lacked any practical substance. He shrugged, embarrassed by his own stupidity.
“I never really thought it all out. The desire to end the ills of this place sometimes overpower me, I don’t think straight. I’m just urged on by something from deep inside of me” The Tallman’s green eyes widened in surprise. “You never planned escape for yourself and your friends, yet you found me just as Cornelius did and share his quest, what drives you drove him. But if you do not think Jonathon it will drive you to destruction too, it will use your anger as a weapon against you!”
Jonathon felt embarrassed. A thousand questions uncovered themselves in his mind. Questions he had never considered. Rislo, however, had never meant to ridicule him. Jonathon’s self-less quest actually impressed him.
“The spirit of your Grandfather lives in you Jonathon Postlethwaite. You are prepared to sacrifice yourself for a greater good. Cornelius would be proud of you..........but even he did not see himself as dispensable.
“Sacrifice....” Jonathon echoed. He had never seen it that way. When he had sworn his oaths against Flax and the city, the consequences of achieving the his goals had never really been clear to him. His love of the roof top dwellers and his deepening relationship with Milly had never affected his plans. But now he began to consider their implications. When the city died so would they. His own safety, his own end, had seemed of no consequence.
Now what? Rislo had brought him down to earth with a bang. He really had to think what he was doing. A shadow of doubt had been cast in his mind. Was he really intent on sacrificing his friends, those he loved, for his own goals? The Tallman sensed his dilemma.
“It need not be that way, the ultimate sacrifice is not necessary. Your Grandfather’s plan’s included a way out for him and his friends. Did he not tell you of it? ”
Jonathon looked at Rislo in surprise. A moment ago he had begun to doubt himself, now a splinter of light had been cast by the very person who had cast him into that darkness.
" I knew nothing of these plans, or that we might meet in this way, but something guides us Rislo, something has brought us together like this.....it’s more than fate or coincidence. We must make the best of this situation...... we’re not alone in our quest. We must work together. You are part of this. “he looked determinedly at Rislo.
“You must tell me all of Cornelius’s plan”
Rislo, until this moment, had felt like an outsider watching some great drama unfold, this historic individual poised to sacrifice all in an emotional, revenge driven and suicidal crusade. If Jonathon had already known the means to the end of the destruction of Dubh, he would already have done it, Rislo sensed; and to hell with the consequences it appeared.
Now the potential suicide was showing some signs of sanity, Rislo felt relieved. And Jonathon was right, he Rislo, was also part of this.
He could just give Jonathon the information he required, but that would have been wrong. Their destinies had become entwined, brought together by some force opposed to Flax and the city, just as Cornelius and he had been brought together all those years ago. And what was more he owed it to his friend Cornelius Postlethwaite, who had made his own life bearable when he had become lost in his own lethargy and cowardice.
Cornelius had been right when he had said that the Tallmen would become like the humans of the city. Rislo had been too proud of his own race, their integrity, and denied that it could happen, but now it was happening.
If Jonathon had not arrived when he had Rislo knew that he would eventually have allowed himself to be swallowed up by it. He had not the courage to do anything on his own. He dreamed of escaping alone, but they were mere dreams. Jonathon was a catalyst. He had the courage and conviction to carry out his task. He had already infected Rislo and drawn him from the refuge of the Towers, where he dreamed daily of escape, but was paralysed by the fear of the consequences of failure.
This young man was a powerful force in Dubh, Rislo saw this clearly. He plunged headlong towards a seemingly impossible goal, despite the odds stacked against him. Something had to give, and it had. He had punched a fateful hole in the web of predictable events of in Dubh, coincidence had bent to fate, they had given Jonathon Rislo who woudl become a weapon in his hands. Now he was no longer alone and the knowledge he required was within his reach in the mind of his giant friend Rislo.
He turned to him now.
“You will tell me how then Rislo, you’ll help me?” Rislo nodded, enthusiastically.
“Of course, I have the means of destroying this place, I have worked for years on it, waiting for Cornelius to return. And there are many potential escape `doors’ I have located which we can use to escape.” He spoke with a new determination in his voice.
“Now is the time then Rislo, we must begin. ” The giant nodded,
“You are right my friend, we must move quickly, soon I will be missed and I have many things to show you and we both have much to do. ”
The giant lifted his pack onto his back and prepared to move from the chamber. Jonathon realised he had moved closer to fulfilling his oaths. Possibilities had become probabilities, thoughts and dreams – now threatened material realities.
The foul soul of Dubh cringed as a chill wind blew through its heart. It feared for its existence, yet the fear spurred it into action and its allies were already scheming. Its enemies were vulnerable and, after all, merely human. Jonathon cared - that was his weakness, she was the key, she was his soft spot, and the Tallman; without him he was weak and fragile. It laughed to itself and all across the city many humans laughed inexplicably with it as its darkness shone through their souls. Already its dark champion was moving against him, It had failed once, but this time It would not fail; It had to destroy the sickly sweet goodness that threatened It, the city and Dubh.