Rislo led Jonathon down a steep flight of greasy, steps from the small chamber in which they had met into a maze of corridors that spread out beneath the Halls of Machines. The corridor walls were constructed out of finely cut stones and slabs fitted together with an enviable precision and accuracy, but they now seemed deserted and filled with the dust and cobwebs which accumulate only after years of disuse.
These underground passageways were clearly made for the use of Tallmen, their ceilings high enough for Rislo to walk with ease, tall and erect. Carrying his light globe before him Rislo turned to illuminate the multitude of chambers that led off the corridor they now walked along.
The rooms were small and large, Jonathon strained his eyes too peer into their dusty, dark interiors as they passed by. Jonathon noticed furnishings still intact. These places seemed to have been inhabited by Tallmen once, he deduced by the size of beds and chairs, but now they were silent, eerily deserted, and covered with the dusty sediments of the years.
Above them, the throb of rank upon rank of hungry machines filled these catacombs with a permanent vibration. The hum disturbed the stonework to fill the air with clouds of tiny dust motes, which sparkled in the illumination from Rislo’s light orb as the pair made their way through the former Tallman residences.
A few Tallmen still resided here however. Rislo stopped at a large carved wooden door and pushed it inwards on its stiff creaking hinges that complained noisily at their intrusion. Inside the long, heavy bones of a
Tallman had been laid to rest on a huge bed where they reflected Rislo’s orb light, their stark whiteness contrasting with the grey dust which lay around them.
“Tombs ′ whispered Rislo.” Once we lived here before the expansion of the Halls, and now our dead rest here.”
He stood in silent respect for a while and looked at the skeleton. Its dark eye sockets stared, almost accusingly back at him.
They moved on. They passed many more doors closed to the living, denoting their change from living chambers to crypts. The two moved in silence, each locked in his own thoughts. Rislo with memories of the departed who lay here and of whom he had personal memories. Jonathon with thoughts of Milly and his apparent disregard for her safety, whilst he pursued his reckless, vengeful goals.
A cold chill swept suddenly through him, pictures surfaced into his consciousness. Men in black, High Hats, grinning faces flickering yellow and red. He felt threatened, afraid for Milly. He shrugged it off. Of course, she was safe, he told himself. No one could approach her and the Whisperers on the rooftops. The Tans had tried and failed. She had Dale and Tefkin to protect her anyway. He laughed quietly at his illogical fear, yet it persisted, he pushed it from his mind, out of his thoughts.
The two moved on leaving the Tallmens’ tombs behind them. The passageways became bleaker and coarser as they travelled ever downwards, leaving the fine masonry behind them. Now they walked in tunnels cut into the naked rock that cradled the city. Water dripped from above and formed oily black, lightless puddles, which they splashed through on the uneven floor.
The deeper they travelled the brighter Rislo’s orb seemed to glow yet seemed to penetrate less into the darkness which pressed in around them. In the artificial light, Jonathon studied his new ally closely. He was tall, of course, but there was little to make him different from a human.
His head and all of his facial features were elongated, but it made for a friendly combination. Rislo’s eyes drew Jonathon’s attention, deep green but sad eyes, which seemed sparkle when he spoke to him. They were so different from the deathly, glazed look of most of Dubh’s inhabitants.
His dress was of a substantially higher standard of quality than he had seen in anywhere in the Upper or Lower City. Even though his attire was one of a lowly soldier. His one piece leather coverall was alien to human fashions, decorated lavishly with brass buckles and buttons, badges of rank even as lowly as Rislo’s displayed and embroidered with the faces of unknown, and terrible looking beasts.
Despite the attire of a soldier, Rislo seemed to carry none of the conventional weapons Jonathon associated with such a profession. No swords, daggers or muskets, just a long black rod which hung by a coiled cable from a bulky, pocketed belt.
On top of his coverall, he wore a long, red cloak and a large backpack that Jonathon judged not to be part of his regular equipment. He had brought it along for this journey, wherever it would take him, he was not thinking of returning to the towers it appeared.
The passageways cut into the rock now ended. They found themselves travelling through natural clefts and faults in the wet rock, which widened here and there into caverns of various sizes. Here, their footfalls echoed from the pitch blackness of high roofs where Rislo’s light could not reach, a darkness which seemed to fold behind them again as they travelled on. In the darkness, Jonathon heard the screams and shrieks of disturbed subterranean animals, accompanied by the scrabble of many claws over rock or the dry slither of scales through the pebble moraine which gathered on the cave floors.
When the caverns closed back around them they found themselves in narrow, cramped passageways, where Jonathon was forced to crouch low to pass through and Rislo, leading the way, squirmed and crawled to make progress.
Jonathon wondered where they were going, but the Tallman’s determined progress instilled in him the confidence that they were not lost. He guessed that now it was dawn on the surface and he and his companion had travelled miles beneath the city.
Eventually Rislo halted and beckoned Jonathon into a narrow crevice which struck upwards away from the main tunnel, a mile long fault in the rock strata, they had travelled for the last hour. After a short, steep climb, they came upon steps carved into the natural rock. The stairway wound upwards to end in a large unadorned stone door. There were footprints in the dust on the small landing before the door, indicating that someone used the place regularly.
Rislo adjusted the intensity of his light orb and held it to a rectangular keyhole in the door, so that a beam of light shone into the room beyond. Then followed a loud clunk, and the heavy door swung inwards slightly.
The giant smiled proudly and nodded to Jonathon.
“Light lock” he informed Jonathon. ” The light, set at the correct intensity, shines through onto a sensitive plate and activates the opening or closing of the lock mechanism.”
Rislo pushed the door inwards to allow them to pass inside, then closed the door behind them, carefully sliding a plate over the lock aperture.
As they had entered the room, the source of illumination had come on of its own accord, triggered by a similar mechanism to the lock, causing two brightly shining orbs suspended from the ceiling to glow brightly. Rislo smiled contentedly at Jonathon’s surprise and approval. “My hideaway, craved out of the rock with my own hands when I was off duty - many years of lonely and hard work.” he looked around at his handiwork. ” The light lock and ceiling lights is my own design - my Father was a technician I learned much from him. The power for the lights comes from a generator driven by an underground watercourse not far from here.”
He removed his heavy backpack and cloak, dumping them amongst the collection of boxes and a vast jumble of unfamiliar equipment, which covered the floor.
Jonathon surveyed Rislo’s hideaway. It had been expanded out of a small natural cave to form a large room the size of the Tallman crypts they had passed at the beginning of their journey down here. There was room for a bed, a table, and chairs. Around the edge of the room hung odd garments and the stone floor covered, in some places, by off cuts of different coloured carpet. Bottles, jugs and cutlery cluttered the table and the numerous shelves which had been fixed to the walls. Rislo walked over to the far end of the room to a large object covered in a large green dustcover. Jonathon
moved to his side as the giant threw back the covering. The contraption that Rislo triumphantly revealed did not immediately impress the Tallman’s companion.
“What is it?” Jonathon asked in bemusement as he studied the tangled network of glass tubes and small orbs that seemed to have been thrown together in a random fashion before him.
Rislo laughed quietly.
“It’s a Field Imploder.” he replied, as a matter of fact. Jonathon shrugged.
“A Field Imploder”. Rislo repeated. “The very opposite of those machines which hold the walls of this dimension apart. His eyes twinkled.
A smile grew on his thin lips.
Jonathon’s eyes widened as he began to understand. Rislo continued.
“We Tallmen.” he frowned and corrected himself, divorcing himself from his race. “The Tallmen have three machines similar to this. One continuously to keeps the Field Walls stable and enables the Great Gate to remain open. The second is a reserve in case that the first malfunctions. A third is kept to replace either at any time.” he turned and pointed to his own device. “I constructed this from spare parts and parts I made or removed from the service expander,” he said proudly. “This….” he said as his long fingers followed the crystal tubes fondly. “This, this works in the opposite manner. It collects energy rather and expending it to keep the dimension inflated - or at least it will when I have a power reservoir.”
Jonathon was slightly confused.
“So you do not have this power reservoir then. What good is this machine then?”
Rislo pointed to a gap in the network of tubes and globes. “All it needs is the power reservoir… and the device will function.” He explained.
Jonathon nodded , understanding what Rislo implied. “And where might we get one then, can you make one?” The giant shook his head.
“The Power Reservoir which fits here is a little like this light globe. The energy from the Halls of Machines is fed into the reservoirs and dissipated through the mechanism of the Field Expanders.......to keep the Field Walls inflated. What we need is one that’s fully discharged. When it is placed in my machine it will draw all of the energy in Dubh into the globe, the Field Walls will fail and all of Dubh will slowly collapse into the reservoir. Do you understand? “he looked quizzically at Jonathon.
Jonathon nodded his comprehension.
“If we get this reservoir, then we’ve the means of destroying Dubh and all those in it, yes? ”
“Yes, but its not quite that simple. The only place we can get one from is the Great Dome, a hall beyond the Towers and it must be from the discharged machine.”
Jonathon saw their plan taking shape.
“So, we enter this Dome, steal the reservoir, set this machine functioning and escape?” Jonathon looked questioningly at the giant who nodded affirmatively again. “In essence yes. The difficult part will be getting the discharged reservoir out of the Dome to wherever we have located our machine, the Tallmen won’t be giving it away” he laughed. “They won’t give up their future that easily.”
Jonathon laughed with Rislo, the two partaking in a false bravado. Both would be risking their lives by entering the City of the Tallmen. Jonathon looked at Rislo’s construction approvingly now.
“Why did you make the machine Rislo? After all you refused to help Cornelius before, so why take the risk of building this?” The Tallman walked over to a small cupboard fixed to a roughly hewn rock wall and extracted a large flagon of wine. After he had taken a large swill he smiled wearily and sat down heavily at the table that occupied the centre of the room. His attention was fixed on the wine jar, his long, slender fingers wrapped tightly around its neck as if he were attempting to strangle it.
" When your Grandfather came to me, more than sixty years ago, the Tallmen were different. Our leaders did discuss the human situation in the city, its corruption, its degeneration. They spoke of intervening, putting things to right. I thought that eventually something would be done about it. I enjoyed speaking to Cornelius, contact with his mind did something for me, I felt refreshed, stronger after speaking to him.” Rislo took a prolonged swig from the jar. “Despite my reluctance to act against my own people, I still had doubts about what they would do. Cornelius convinced me to build the machine. Anyway, after all I had it - no-one else could use it, and I found predictable stable gates that could take me, Cornelius and his people away from here - should I have chosen to act. But I could not act against them........I had friends here.” Rislo began to tremble, tears welling up in his eyes. “You cannot desert your friends, your own people can you?” he said apologetically.
A tear rolled from his eye. He took another draught from the flagon and wine spilled out of his mouth onto his chin. ” I was torn between two peoples though, Cornelius and his friends and my own. When it came to it, couldn’t do anything.” he shook his head furiously, his face reddening and the tears flowing profusely now. He looked to Jonathon.
“What would you have done?” his question was aimed at his human ally, but he expected no answer. He knew Jonathon would understand the nature of his dilemma as Cornelius had done. “But things changed. I saw it happening gradually, corruption spread here like a disease. The evil in the city grew more intense, like it was actually a living being. The Elders saw nothing, or didn’t want to. They lost any conscience they had, they retreated into themselves, - all that mattered was that they survived, it didn’t matter how. As long as the city supplies the energy for the machines they seem to care for nothing except that their slide into depravity be as long and pleasurable as possible.”
Rislo he wiped the tears from his face with the back of his hand. “They had created this monster that has devoured Dubh, Jonathon, and now it is devouring them. Soon It will be master of Dubh! And what do they care! Nothing at all. Now they act as the human beasts from the city do. They debauch human women by the hundred, they spend whole days drunk, drugged and helpless. They have lost, they Tallmen who fled here with their fine ideals, ideals which led me to join them, have surrendered to the most primitive forces in humans and Tallmen, they are sliding back to the pit of animal barbarism. It makes me so angry!” Risloo finished of the flagon of wine and thumped it down so hard on the table that it shattered into a thousand dark pieces.
He remained silent for a while, staring blankly at the tabletop and the broken pottery. He sniffed. “I waited for Cornelius to return. I had decided to act. I made plans, constructed the Imploder.” he strode over to it. “I manufactured their destruction here in my spare time. Years of trial and error, years of toil. But Cornelius never returned, I tried to contact him, but there was nothing. I almost gave up hope.....then you came. I could have run to many worlds alone, but I had to wait. I had to be sure that Cornelius and his people did not suffer from my actions. Now you are here and can answer my questions. How many are left?”
Jonathon shook his head.
" Only a few, Milly, Tefkin and Dale, I know of no others.” Rislo rose unsteadily to his feet and began to pace the room. The plans he had formulated over many years, now whirring like well oiled machines inside his head.
“They must be brought here soon, we will choose the world we wish to flee to and complete the Imploder.” He sat down heavily at the table his head held in his hands and added, ” Before it’s too late.”
Jonathon walked over to the table. “Too late? ”
The giant sighed deeply.
“Yes my friend, before it’s too late. The evil that envelops this world seeks the flesh in which it can manifest itself. It lives now, it schemes. The energy the Tallmen require to support this realm increases daily. They do not know why, but I do. The beast drains it - weakens the Field Walls deliberately - if it can find no other way it will tear this dimension apart and move on to others. It is so strong now, I feel it and its work is almost complete. There are few left to corrupt and feed off. I cannot let it happen, as you cannot. I will not be responsible for its release beyond this realm. I have the means, it must be destroyed.”
Jonathon was concerned about what he had heard, he had experienced the power of city’s malignant soul himself on the rooftops years ago when it had attempted to defile Milly and himself. But it would escape if Dubh was destroyed, it was trying through Flax he realised, but it would tear the dimension apart itself if he failed to open a door for it.
“But Rislo, if we destroy the Field Walls, won’t it escape anyway, isn’t that what it wants? ”
Rislo shook his head.
“The way this machine will destroy Dubh will not allow it to escape. Remember, the Imploder will drain all the energy of this realm into itself. The spirit of corruption is pure, dark energy - it will not be able to escape - it will be trapped forever. It will not have the strength to escape. All those who fed it will be dead, the energy it drains from the Field Walls will be gone, and it will be trapped in the power reservoir, lost between the dimensions.”
Rislo spoke with authority, Jonathon felt it and was confident that his Tallman companion was right. Then the room grew cold. His thoughts became misty. Pictures began to form in Jonathon’s mind. He saw child bound with ropes so tightly it could not move. To a grown man these bonds would have been snapped with ease. But this immature dark-eyed infant was trapped.
Jonathon suddenly felt dizzier. He struggled to the chair opposite Rislo. The visions would not fade, they developed their own momentum.
He began to sweat with the mental effort he was using to escape the hallucination that had developed a life of its own. Jonathon sensed it was metaphorical.
The room receded into darkness and Jonathon fell into the images that developed in his own, or some others mind. He found himself in a room with no doors or windows. The dark-eyed child struggled desperately against it bindings in a cot in the centre of the room. Its terrified cries pierced his heart. He was visibly alone with the child. But he felt that suffocating multiple presence he had felt on the rooftops all those years ago pressing in on him again. As Jonathon adjusted to the surroundings into which his consciousness had been drawn, he realised was not in a room at all, but standing in a sphere of light suspended in pitch darkness.
He knew too that the child was not a child, but even so its cries seared his soul, it touched him and drew him away from reality. He watched as the child screamed, its face turning blue, as its bonds restricted its circulation. Soon it would cease to cry and die. Just as the evil in the city would die as its source of sustenance was removed when it found itself trapped in the Power Reservoir. Jonathon wavered at the edge of reality - was the child real or not? He began to weaken, his grasp of the real and the unreal slipped slowly into one another. He felt a powerful inner compulsion to cease the child’s suffering, release it from its bonds. But he knew what it symbolised and what such an act would mean for him. This was more than a mental image. He heard a murmuring of voices and could see a circle of shadows detach themselves from the pitch blackness which had him trapped. They advanced but did not venture into the sphere of light.
A hysterical woman’s voice cut through the murmur. She pleaded with Jonathon.
“Release the child, surely the goodness in you must prevail, you cannot let it suffer anddie; you of all people.” Jonathon detected a taunt of mockery in the voice. She continued, her tone starkly different now It accused him. “Does the good boy murder children then!” Voices from the darkness rose in agreement as the child’s howling grew in intensity, it plaintive cries cutting into Jonathon’s heart. He held firm. It was not real! he told himself. A man’s voice rose above the growing tumult around him.
“Bah!” he spat. “You are no better than us then, does this avatar condone the murder of children.......what will you do for an encore......eat its sweet raw flesh? ’Tis you who are different Postlethwaite, you who are sick.”
Jonathon felt a pang of self doubt, was it real? The circle of light around him drew in closer, the shambling, shadowy figures moving in towards him. Now he could see their grey faces, their dull red eyes lit by his own shining soul. He illuminated this place deep in the heart of darkness himself! And here were the faces of the dead, non-departed souls of Dubh surrounding him, gaunt and drawn skeletal faces, contorted into visages of pure evil and hatred.
They pressed inwards around him, his protective aura of purity flickered and wavered as they pushed against its borders. They were intent on him. Trying to break him down, to get him to doubt who and what he was. If he wavered from his cause they would engulf him and he would be lost. He would never return to the body which slept in Rislo’s hideaway.
“Jonathon” a voice whispered, yet it cut the muttering accusing souls to silence. Jonathon looked in the direction of the child’s cot to see an old man stooped over the child, a shining blade in his liver spotted arthritic hand. It was Cornelius. The old man smiled.
“It’s an illusion built from your own thoughts. The child must die.” Cornelius brought the knife down in a savage arc into the infant’s chest, the howling child jerked and convulsed and was silent. The spirits around them hissed, then slowly turned their backsand retreated into the obscurity of the all-enveloping darkness.
Cornelius came across to Jonathon and stood before. “I have nothing to lose in my actions, if you had released the child you would have condemned yourself to inaction, your conscience would have been distorted. You would never have been able to carry out your tasks.” Cornelius smiled and attempted to touch his Grandson, but his spirit hands slipped through his Jonathon’s outstretched palms.
“Forget the tortured souls here, they are beyond redemption, they built their own hell and forget me. There is no way you can help me here; and there is much work I can do.” Jonathon’s Grandfather sighed and moved away, slowly walking back, to the spirit world of Dubh where he would be imprisoned forever, if Jonathon succeeded in his plans.
Cornelius did not look back. Jonathon watched him go, transfixed as Cornelius merged with the darkness and then a voice echoed from the void.
“Do as you must and do not falter, you must brush these evil beings aside. They are lost and irretrievable, destroying them is not an act of evil. ”
The voice faded and Jonathon’s mind blackened. He became aware of a vigorous shaking, fear washed over him in great waves, but it was not his own. Someone was shouting frantically and from the distance, a terrible, soul tearing howling, invaded his consciousness.
When he opened his eyes, it was Rislo who was shaking him, his eyes staring wide at him in fear. Jonathon awoke fully and heard the terrifying, soul chilling, banshee howl which reverberated in distant passageways.
“What is it Rislo?” He stammered.
“The Tallmen are coming.” he blubbered in acute fear. “And they bring, they bring their Turkanschoner.”