The Only City Left: Part 70

Welcome to my serial science-fiction/fantasy adventure, The Only City Left. This is the story of Allin Arcady and his adventures through a dying, planet-sized city called Earth. (Click here for the Table of Contents.)

At the end of Part 69, Allin fled from Pudlington along with Xerxes and the other ghosts, heading toward the Garden to make Doyle pay for his crimes.

The Only City Left: Part 70

Thanks to the ghosts, I once again traveled more quickly than I would have alone. It took maybe half a day to cover ground that would have normally taken me two or three even if I had known where I was going. There was nothing special about the sectors of the city that we moved through, although I don’t know what I was expecting. Signs that read Garden This Way? It just seemed like the area around the Garden would be in better condition, or cordoned off, as with Pudlington. When I mentioned this to Xerxes, he explained why this wasn’t the case.

“The Garden is no one place. Rather it is wherever Doyle chooses to stop and stay a while. Once he uses that area up, he finds another one and moves on. You never know exactly where Doyle will move it next, but you can tell where the Garden has been by the trail of devastation and ruin it leaves behind.”

“You know, the more I hear, the more my uncle seems like a really super human being.”

Xerxes accepted my sarcasm in silence, which was punctuated only by the loud grumbling of my stomach. I hadn’t had anything to eat or drink since breakfast, having fled Pudlington with none of my belongings, not even my cocoon bag. The ghosts had suggested alternate, longer paths that would bring me by some natural pools so that I could drink at least, but I didn’t want to sacrifice any time to that. I could go a little hungry.

I had to get to the Garden, find Tumble, and end Doyle’s reign. Unless I accomplished that, the chaos and destruction I had left behind in Pudlington would be for nothing. The fact that the Garden was currently so close to the cat city made it an easy guess where Doyle would head next. Ending the werewolf threat quickly was more important than ever.

“Wait here,” Xerxes said, stopping while some of his ghosts continued forward. “Before you go on, we must talk. We cannot openly follow you into the Garden.”

I had kind of figured that one out already. I wouldn’t be very inconspicuous with a legion of ghosts at my back. I nodded for Xerxes to go on.

“We will keep track of you but remain in hiding. Once you find Doyle and are in a position to kill him, we will come to you.”

To kill him. I knew that is what Banshee had tasked me to do, and it was certainly the end the ghosts were looking for in order to have their vengeance. Given all I had heard of my uncle, he certainly deserved it. Any judge would have sentenced him to death for his crimes, but I wasn’t happy about being the one picked to carry out the sentence. It had nothing to do with him being my uncle and everything to do with what Matthias had said he saw in me: a killer. If I started down that path, even for the best of intentions, would I end up being just as bad as Doyle? I couldn’t imagine it, but how many killers do?

Whatever my concerns, I accepted that killing Doyle might be the only answer. I would do what needed to be done and deal with the consequences later. For now, I needed to get my head out of my thoughts (Ballister would have guessed at a different location for it, I was sure) and concentrate on the matter at hand.

“Do you have any idea how Doyle can be killed?” I asked.

“When the time comes to confront your uncle, we will arrive and give him everything he wants. The rest will be up to you.”

Give him everything he wants? I was about to question what Xerxes meant by this when two ghosts returned and reported that the way was clear.

“This is where our journey together ends, Allin. Continue down this path. We have marked the way.”

Before I could say farewell, Xerxes and the other ghosts around him slid into the walls, floor and ceiling, taking their ghost light with them. I had my own sunlight to illuminate the corridor, but the sun’s time was at an end. Going forward, only the moon could light my way.

I pressed the buttons, spoke Dad’s passphrase, and transformed. Along with the moonlight and the heady, powerful feeling of being more than human, my senses sharpened. I smelled a mélange of soot and sweat in the distance that, as I followed the arrows scored into the floor by Xerxes’ ghosts, only grew stronger.

The smell became nearly overpowering when I cautiously opened a door and found myself on a platform high up one wall. Stairs zig-zagged to the ground below in a setup familiar to me from my escape from Glin’s Rising. From my vantage point, the town looked like a war zone, full of crumbling buildings and covered in a layer of gray haze that obscured its full scope. I choked on the foul air; I could feel particulates burning my throat and lungs.

Are they burning some sort of fuel in here? I wondered, dumbfounded. I could think of no other reason for the ashy haze, but I couldn’t believe it. Inside the city, death was always as close as a broken ventilation system. To purposefully tax it with contaminants was to condemn the area to complete disuse.

Even with Xerxes’ explanation of the Garden, I had expected more from it. Pudlington was a great, enclosed fortress of a city. Surely its biggest threat would share some of that same grandeur and sense of purpose. Instead, it looked more like the mersker’s realm than a great city.

Now I understood what Xerxes meant by the werewolves’ trail of destruction. If this was how the werewolves operated, they were making the city—never a safe place to begin with—completely uninhabitable, bit by bit. They were like some giant slug leaving toxic slime in its wake.

This was what the city would look like if Doyle had his way. If his cancerous aggression were left unchecked, there would be no city left.

* * *

Continue to Part 71.

6/16/13 News: Not much to say this week. Still chugging along on editing, laying the groundwork for a restructured outline and a plan for the new/changed scenes I need to write.

The Only City Left is listed on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction. If you are so inclined, I would appreciate any ratings/reviews/recommends on that site to help get TOCL noticed. Thanks!

If you enjoyed this post, please click the image below to give The Only City Left a vote on Top Web Fiction. (One vote allowed per week.)

Click here to vote for The Only City Left on Top Web Fiction!

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Logo Credit:The TOCL logo is courtesy of Jande Rowe of the webcomic Aedre’s Firefly. If you haven’t already read AF, I encourage you to go check it out. Not only does Jande produce the comic, she reviews other long-form webcomics, gives tips and instructions on creating a comic, and is endlessly supportive of other creators. For a great review that will bring you up to speed on Aedre’s Firefly, check out this page at Webcomic Alliance.

The Only City Left: Part 69

Welcome to my serial science-fiction/fantasy adventure, The Only City Left. This is the story of Allin Arcady and his adventures through a dying, planet-sized city called Earth. (Click here for the Table of Contents.)

At the end of Part 68, one of Emperor Banshee’s guards used a lantern coil to become a catwolf and cut the emperor down.

The Only City Left: Part 69

Panic.

At the sight of their emperor being eviscerated by a werewolf, the crowd went into full flight mode, pushing, pulling, and trampling over each other in their haste to flee this sudden danger. Cats crashed into me and the guards who were holding me back, locking us all together in a tangled mess and knocking me over. From the floor, I heard Ballister swear and saw one unlucky cat pushed over the edge of the platform.

Through a break in the crowd, I saw Xerxes reach the catwolf and grip his coil, siphoning the moonlight and momentarily halting the traitorous guard’s attack. What happened next I couldn’t see because the crowd closed in on me once more. Frightened cats climbed all over me, inadvertently but painfully digging into my flesh with their tiny clawed feet. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t fight back against the wave of fur and claws. Finally I thought, Enough of this, and grabbed my coil. I pressed the buttons, said, “Always stay alive,” and transformed.

I jumped to my feet, knocking off the cats that had been bothering me, and looked to the throne. The cat assassin wrestled with Xerxes for control of his coil, finally tearing it free and leaping down two steps from the ghost.

“For the Garden!” he yelled and transformed again.

With one leap, I launched myself over the heads of the nearby cats and onto the steps. I put one shoulder forward and let my momentum carry me straight into the catwolf. He might have the reflexes of a cat and the enhanced strength of a werewolf, but I had height and weight on him. When I hit, he flew backwards off the steps and turned end over end on the floor before coming to a stop.

Above me, Banshee lay sprawled in front of his throne, trying to hold himself together, his eyes wide. Xerxes stared down at him, palms up in a shrug. There was nothing he could do. Nothing I could do either. I felt useless, impotent. I howled my rage and turned all my energy toward revenge. The catwolf would pay.

I turned toward where he had landed and began to stalk toward him, digging my claws into my palms. He sat up, saw me coming, and lifted the box that held his coil. Thinking of turning into a cat and hiding? You won’t make it five feet before I tear you in two for what you did to Banshee.

But transformation was not what he had in mind. Before I could reach him he pressed three buttons on the box itself, not on the coil. He looked at me and said, “I’m sorry. I had to do it.”

The box in his hands beeped three times and exploded. The blast knocked me backward, left a crater in the floor, and erased the traitorous guard from existence.

I gulped. A second ago I had been set on killing him, or a part of me had been. His sudden death by suicide blast shocked me out of that primal state, though. That wasn’t me. I’m not a killer, I thought. I’m not.

But the wolf inside me is.

Fordham’s voice tore me from my reverie. “Capture the assassin. He must pay for his crimes!”

Capture? He killed himself. What’s left to capture?

I got to my feet and turned toward Fordham’s voice. He was pointing at me, and the remaining imperial guards had their halberds aimed at me, too. Oh great. Didn’t everyone see the guard attack Banshee?

“Seize him. Get that necklace and he’ll be powerless!”

I roared at the oncoming guards and they froze in their tracks. “It wasn’t me, you fools. Now get help for Banshee before it’s too late.”

Behind Fordham and the guards, I saw Xerxes return to Ballister’s side and lean in to speak to him. Oh yeah. Your little friend is a werewolf, Ballister. Did he neglect to mention that?

No one was making a move toward Banshee while I was around. I owed it to him to clear out so that the frightened cats would snap out of their stupor. With another leap, I cleared the guards and landed beside Ballister.

“I can explain,” I said, but he cut me off.

“No need. Xerxes filled me in. Quite a mess, though.”

Ballister lunged past me and I twisted to see what was going on. He had grabbed onto the shaft of a halberd that one of the guards was swinging my way. With a twist, he wrested it from the guard’s hands, reversed it, and swung it back and forth in an arc before him.

“Keep back, ya curs. You’re on after the wrong wolf,” he said.

He was protecting me. He believed in me. Staring at all those accusing feline faces, it felt amazing to have someone who would stick by me despite what I had become. We stood side by side, our backs near the edge of the platform, keeping the guards at bay with swipes of halberds and claws. They had the advantage of not caring if they harmed us, but we had greater reach.

“Now what?” I asked.

“Just hold on. I sent Stinky for help.”

What help? I wondered. We’re in a city full of cats, and Fordham has them believing I attacked their emperor.

“Fordham,” I called out.

He stood well back from the line of imperial guards that made a semi-circle around us, exhorting them to greater effort. One thing to be said for him, he had not fled in the face of all the chaos and terror, unlike the rest of the court.

“Fordham,” I called again. “I’ll give myself up if you want, but get Banshee some help. Now!”

The Acting Envoy looked up to where Banshee lay, face down before his throne, limp and only taking occasional body-wracking breaths. My heart wrenched at the sight, but there was nothing I could do. Fordham, who could do something, looked back at me and I swear the little feline piece of garbage smirked.

“Take the boy alive,” he ordered the guards. “He must stand trial. Push the old one over the edge!”

Keep me alive but kill Ballister? I suddenly wondered if Doyle didn’t have friends in very high places within Pudlington.

More Pudlington guards arrived and Fordham ordered them to reinforce the ones harassing us. I was forced to consider going on the offensive, if only to keep Ballister from being overwhelmed by sheer numbers. Before I had to take that step, Stinky returned with not just Ballister’s men (seven familiar but much cleaner faces), but another contingent of Pudlington guards. That group of guards faced off against those under Fordham’s command, cats against cats, giving Ballister and me enough room to make our way to an exit ramp. Xerxes floated along in our wake, powerless to take part in the struggle.

Fordham became apoplectic at the sight of the cats aiding in our escape.

“What is the meaning of this?” he asked.

“I’m following my Emperor’s orders,” Stinky replied.

“The Emperor is incapacitated. I am in charge now.”

“That’s not how it works.”

“You will be jailed for this insubordination!”

Ballister ordered his men to close ranks around me, which they warily did. I took the opportunity to return to my human form before my rage and frustration got the best of me and I bit off Fordham’s head.

“Time to go, Allin,” Ballister said.

He was right, but I hated to run away when Banshee was in such dire straits.

“Stinky, save Banshee!”

The loyal guard looked over to where Banshee lay, nearly unmoving, and rallied his men. “Save the Emperor!” The cats under his command cheered and formed a wedge pointed at the throne. I wanted to help them, but Stinky grabbed my hand and pulled me toward a ramp.

“They can handle it,” he said.

Ballister nodded and instructed his men to buy us some time. As Stinky, Ballister, Xerxes and I retreated, the rowdy fighting men of Ballister’s village took their places at the base of the ramp, inviting the imperial guards in no uncertain terms to test their fighting prowess against some real men.

Stinky led us up the ramp and along a route with which I was familiar. We were heading to Pudlington’s gates.

“I can’t leave Banshee like that,” I said.

“There’s nothing you can do,” Stinky said. “Fordham is in control now. Us loyalists will only be able to fight so long as Banshee lives.”

He left out the part where that wasn’t likely to be for much longer.

Ballister said, “We’ll create a ruckus here so they’re too busy to follow you.”

“No, Ballister, you can’t!”

“What are they going to do? Kick us out? At least we had a wash-up and a nice meal.”

I felt awful. I had uprooted Ballister and his people and now they were on the wrong side of the cats. Banshee was bleeding out in front of his throne, and I was in flight. Everything I touched fell apart.

“Wipe that mopey look off your face,” Ballister said. “We can handle ourselves.”

I knew he could, but he shouldn’t have to. What if the cats weren’t content to only evict him? What would happen to Stinky and his men for defying Fordham’s orders? I had brought all this down on their heads. I didn’t know how I could ever make it right, but for a start I would make Doyle pay for what he had done.

While those dark thoughts rattled around my head, we made our way to the gates. Once we arrived, Stinky broke off to speak to the guards at the door. Ballister grabbed me by my shoulders and looked me in the eyes.

“I’ll see you when you get back. Good luck, kid.”

“You too, Ballister. I’m sorry. For everything.”

“Eh, you worry too much,” he said, and gripped me in a strong embrace, pounding me on my back. He let go and said, “Ghost, you keep this boy safe, you hear?”

Xerxes nodded and said, “Of course.”

“Come on,” Stinky said, joining us. “They’re loyal to Banshee. We can pass.”

I said goodbye to Ballister one last time and then followed Stinky through the passage out of Pudlington. Xerxes, ever cautious, made sure no one was manning the murder holes along the way. Once outside the doors, he drifted forward to speak to the mass of ghosts who were milling about awaiting our return.

Stinky said, “If you see Tumble, tell him to haul his butt back here. He’s the only one who has a chance of fixing this mess now. We’ll try to keep your friends safe in the meantime, but if the emperor doesn’t make it, we’ll be in as much trouble as them.”

“I can’t thank you enough.”

“Do the job Emperor Banshee asked of you and we’ll call it even. Best of luck.”

He left to speak to the outer guards, and I joined Xerxes.

“You know where the Garden is?” I asked.

“Yes, thanks to Matthias and my scouts.”

“Then let’s go make Doyle pay for what he’s done.”

“At long last.”

* * *

Continue to Part 70.

6/9/13 News: Perhaps this week’s nearly double-length entry will make up for the recent series of cliffhangers, although we still don’t know what happened to Emperor Banshee, do we?

The Only City Left is listed on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction. If you are so inclined, I would appreciate any ratings/reviews/recommends on that site to help get TOCL noticed. Thanks!

If you enjoyed this post, please click the image below to give The Only City Left a vote on Top Web Fiction. (One vote allowed per week.)

Click here to vote for The Only City Left on Top Web Fiction!

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Logo Credit:The TOCL logo is courtesy of Jande Rowe of the webcomic Aedre’s Firefly. If you haven’t already read AF, I encourage you to go check it out. Not only does Jande produce the comic, she reviews other long-form webcomics, gives tips and instructions on creating a comic, and is endlessly supportive of other creators. For a great review that will bring you up to speed on Aedre’s Firefly, check out this page at Webcomic Alliance.

The Only City Left: Part 68

Welcome to my serial science-fiction/fantasy adventure, The Only City Left. This is the story of Allin Arcady and his adventures through a dying, planet-sized city called Earth. (Click here for the Table of Contents.)

In Part 67, Allin became a werewolf (and nearly lost control) and agreed to go to the Garden for Banshee. Banshee told Allin he would allow human refugees into Pudlington and would announce it the next day, despite Fordham’s interference.

The Only City Left: Part 68

The next day, Banshee held court again first thing in the morning. I was clean, refreshed, and well-breakfasted but full of nerves. The moment I arrived at the throne platform, Xerxes floated up from beneath the floor to stand beside me. I grinned at his flair for the dramatic; he must have been a performer of some kind in his previous life. Ballister walked up chatting and laughing with his guard before the cat realized they had arrived and had to put on a more serious face.

“Looks like you two are getting on well,” I said.

“What, me and Stinky? Little guy’s all right, but I drank him under the table last night,” Ballister said with a broad smile.

Before I could hear more of that tale or remark on how well he had cleaned up, the imperial guards hammered the floor and Acting Envoy Fordham introduced Emperor Banshee.

With almost no preamble, Banshee said, “Let it be known that after discussing the matter in depth with Allin Arcady, and giving it much personal thought, I have agreed to open Pudlington’s doors to refugees from the violence outside our walls.”

The crowd raised its voice in a shocked murmur and Fordham’s tail beat the floor behind him like a whip, but Banshee rolled on.

“The fine details of our agreement will be worked out in the coming days and months, but in return for this concession, Master Arcady has agreed to provide a special and dangerous service to the throne. Allin, come forth.”

The crowd around me cleared a path and I made my way to stand before the imperial guards at the base of the stairs, my legs shaking beneath me ever so slightly.

“Do you swear your fealty to me, the Emperor of Pudlington, and agree to carry out my commands as I best see fit to give them?”

The formality of the ceremony surprised me, but I was in too deep to back out now.

“I so swear.”

“Then kneel before me and when you arise it will be as a Knight Errant of Pudlington.”

I knelt down and bowed my head.

“This has gone too far,” Fordham said, the dam of his indignation finally burst open. “Backroom dealings. Giving a human such an honor. This harkens back to the time of the Masters.”

That last word hit the crowd like a curse.

Banshee said, “Fordham, you are excused from my court,” but Fordham continued his tirade, calling for Banshee to step down and for me to be exiled from Pudlington. Banshee, in turn, called on his guards to escort Fordham from the throne.

I stood up and took a step back. The situation was quickly devolving into chaos. The imperial guards, usually impassive and reserved, shifted in their boots and glanced back and forth between Fordham and me as if unsure of whom to put hands on.

Ballister came to my side and said, “Maybe we should go.”

Xerxes drifted over and said, “I concur.”

I heard Banshee roar, “Restrain that cat!” and looked up to see Fordham stalking down the steps toward me. Yeah, definitely time to go.

The crowd on all sides of us made that somewhat difficult. Sure, I could knock over a bunch of cats half my size as I ran away, but somehow I didn’t think that would be good for cat/human relations. Unfortunately for me, Fordham wasn’t as concerned with that. I felt a shove at my waist and looked down to see him pushing me back.

“Out, out. You are not needed here, human!”

“Come on,” I said, and held him away from me by his forehead. “What is your problem?”

Banshee continued to bellow orders at his guards, who finally got it together and interposed themselves between Fordham and me. When he tried to break through that line, two more guards had to restrain him. I don’t know what took them so long, but I was relieved that they finally had the situation under some control.

Above it all, Banshee sat back down on his throne, his rhythmically-twitching whiskers a sure sign of the anger boiling beneath his calm mask. Below him, one of the imperial guards still didn’t seem to know what to do. He looked back and forth between Banshee and the guards in front of me, then doffed his feathered cap and pulled something from inside of it.

It looked like a necklace with a hand-sized metal box hanging from it, and when the guard slipped it on, I saw a familiar oval pendant embedded into the box’s face. Necklace on, he started up the steps to Banshee, letting his cap fall to the floor.

“Hey! Hey,” I yelled, but my voice was drowned out by the heated words flying all around me. “Look out. He has a coil!”

I started to push through the guards in front of me, but they did their best to hold me back.

“Stand down, guardsman. Stand down!” Banshee commanded.

The guard ignored Banshee’s order and continued up the steps to him. Banshee rose from his throne.

I turned to Xerxes, pointed at the rogue guard, and said, “Stop that cat!”

The ghost looked up to where Banshee stood facing the guard, nodded at me, and then floated through the nearby guards and up the stairs.

He was too late.

“For the Garden!” the guard yelled.

There was a flash of white light and I saw the guard transform into a werewolf version of himself: slightly taller and bulkier, his fur grown out, and his claws looking deadlier and sharper.

The yell and flash of light attracted the attention of everyone on the throne platform. Or almost everyone. Fordham continued to struggle, so he and the guards holding him back were probably the only ones who didn’t see what happened next.

The catwolf sliced once horizontally across Banshee’s throat and then brought his hand back down diagonally, slicing the Emperor from shoulder to waist.

The blood that spilled from him looked black by the light of the moon. So much black blood.

* * *

Continue to Part 69.

6/2/13 News: That’s a cruel cliffhanger. My apologies to you, my reader, and to you, Emperor Banshee. Thanks for reading each week!

The Only City Left is listed on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction. If you are so inclined, I would appreciate any ratings/reviews/recommends on that site to help get TOCL noticed. Thanks!

If you enjoyed this post, please click the image below to give The Only City Left a vote on Top Web Fiction. (One vote allowed per week.)

Click here to vote for The Only City Left on Top Web Fiction!

#

Logo Credit:The TOCL logo is courtesy of Jande Rowe of the webcomic Aedre’s Firefly. If you haven’t already read AF, I encourage you to go check it out. Not only does Jande produce the comic, she reviews other long-form webcomics, gives tips and instructions on creating a comic, and is endlessly supportive of other creators. For a great review that will bring you up to speed on Aedre’s Firefly, check out this page at Webcomic Alliance.

The Only City Left: Part 67

Welcome to my serial science-fiction/fantasy adventure, The Only City Left. This is the story of Allin Arcady and his adventures through a dying, planet-sized city called Earth. (Click here for the Table of Contents.)

At the end of Part 66, Allin prepared to transform into a werewolf for the first time in his life. He spoke his father’s passphrase, “Always stay alive,” and…

The Only City Left: Part 67

The transformation began immediately and was over in seconds, but for me it felt like an eternity. The moonlight from my coil enveloped me and set me on fire. My skin rippled and bubbled like a pot of water set to boil. A full-body cramp wracked me and I collapsed to my knees and bowed my head to the floor. It’s not working, I thought, panicked. Copper was wrong. I’m turning inside out!

I groaned at a feeling of not-quite pain but not-yet pleasure, a feeling of something about-to-happen like when you’re starting to fall but you haven’t hit the floor yet. I watched in awe and revulsion as the skin on my arms darkened, hardened, and sprouted fur. I could feel other, invisible changes, too. Although my head was bowed, I knew exactly where Copper and Banshee stood in the room, could smell Banshee’s subdued fear and Copper’s unbridled curiosity. I felt an untapped reservoir of power coursing through me, waiting to be unleashed. My groan became a series of howls.

A monstrous rage built up inside of me. Not blind fury but rather focused wrath. All those wolves out there who felt the same power: they had so much potential, but what did they use it for? To take what they wanted and kill anyone who stood in their way, to destroy. How narrow-minded.

Imagine harnessing the incredible power for good, instead. The problem with Doyle being in charge is that he was a punk before he was given this power and all it had done was turn him into a stronger punk. I wouldn’t think so small. With an army of werewolves at my command, I could force the planet to shape up. I could bring about a renewed age of peace and prosperity. And anyone who didn’t like it would be wise to get out of my way.

“Allin!” I heard Banshee’s voice as if from a distance, nearly drowned out by the sound of blood rushing in my ears, pulsing through my body. Louder, “Allin!”

I focused and saw my hands gripping the bars of my cell. I had pulled two bars together until they nearly touched in the middle. Outside of the cell, Copper peeked out at me from behind Banshee, the both of them standing well away. I let go of the bars and staggered backwards. I looked down and saw that the concrete floor had been gouged out in a set of parallel lines. I didn’t remember doing any of that.

“Turn it off!”

I looked up again and saw Banshee standing right before the cell bars. Was he mad? I could take one step forward and end him with a swipe of my great claws. Look what I had done to the floor. Flesh and fur would be like nothing to me.

“Allin, please, turn it off,” Banshee said, his voice low. Not an imperial command. A request from a friend. “This is not who you are.”

Not who I am? What was he talking about? This is who I always had been, under the surface. This was the gift my parents had bequeathed to me. A gift of unbridled power, of heightened senses, of unlocked potential. I was a werewolf now like my parents before me. Like my parents.

My parents who had fled that life to keep me safe, who had hidden their werewolf nature from me. My parents who had been murdered by the wolves. I was reveling in the power that had destroyed them. I felt sick.

With a press of the same buttons that had begun the transformation, it was over. I was human once more, on my hands and knees and retching in the corner of the cell. Banshee was by my side, patting my back and repeating, “It’s okay, Allin. It’s okay,” until I believed it enough to sit up and wipe the tears from my eyes.

“Sorry if I scared you,” I said, my voice a ragged croak.

“I had no doubt you’d pull through,” Banshee said.

“I wish I was so sure.”

“The first transformation is bound to produce some adverse effects upon both your physical and mental well-being,” Copper said. “Subsequent uses of the coil should be easier on you.”

“Thanks, Prof.” I couldn’t help but notice she still stood well back from me on the other side of the bars. I didn’t blame her. I wanted to recoil from myself, to hide on the other side of the bars, but I was trapped in my own traitorous body. “I hope you’re right.”

Banshee helped me to my feet and led me out of the cell. He asked, “Do you still think you can do it? Become a werewolf? Infiltrate the Garden?”

I rubbed my mouth with the back of my hand and said, “I can do it. I won’t like it, but if it’ll get me into the Garden and close to Doyle, I’ll do it.”

“This mustn’t leave the room, your ability to transform,” Banshee said, looking at Copper and me in turn. “The last thing I need is for Fordham and his cronies to know that there’s a werewolf in the city, no matter that you’re on our side.”

I slipped the coil on its necklace back underneath my shirt.

“I won’t be bragging about this, believe me.”

“You have my silence, Emperor Banshee,” Copper said.

“Good. Allin, let me return you to your room for some well-earned rest. Tomorrow, I’ll announce that I’ve agreed to your plan and you’ll be on your way immediately.”

I was surprised, to say the least. I thought he had been adamantly against the idea.

“What made you change your mind?” I asked.

“Let’s just say: it’s the right thing to do.”

“What about Fordham?”

“I’ll remind him who truly runs this city.”

* * *

Continue to Part 68.

5/26/13 News: I am moving slowly along on edits for Book 1. I have such mixed emotions about the whole process, so part of editing is getting into the right mental space and figuring out exactly what are my goals for the book. Part of the oddity of this process for me is that I know people are enjoying this serialized rough draft, but at the same time, I am going to be making considerable changes to it. Hopefully it all works out.

Oh well, this is all an experiment and based on how it turns out, I’ll decide how I would like to change how I do things for Book 2. Thanks for being part of the experiment!

The Only City Left is listed on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction. If you are so inclined, I would appreciate any ratings/reviews/recommends on that site to help get TOCL noticed. Thanks!

If you enjoyed this post, please click the image below to give The Only City Left a vote on Top Web Fiction. (One vote allowed per week.)

Click here to vote for The Only City Left on Top Web Fiction!

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Logo Credit:The TOCL logo is courtesy of Jande Rowe of the webcomic Aedre’s Firefly. If you haven’t already read AF, I encourage you to go check it out. Not only does Jande produce the comic, she reviews other long-form webcomics, gives tips and instructions on creating a comic, and is endlessly supportive of other creators. For a great review that will bring you up to speed on Aedre’s Firefly, check out this page at Webcomic Alliance.

The Only City Left: Part 66

Welcome to my serial science-fiction/fantasy adventure, The Only City Left. This is the story of Allin Arcady and his adventures through a dying, planet-sized city called Earth. (Click here for the Table of Contents.)

At the end of Part 65, Allin learned how Emperor Banshee and Professor Copper intend to destroy the system that allows werewolves to exist.

The Only City Left: Part 66

“We’ll have to repeat the process, of course, for however many satellites there turn out to be. You see, there needs to be overlap for the times when—”

“Enough. Save the details for the scientists,” Banshee said. “All you need to know, Allin, is that we can take away the powers that Doyle’s army has been given.”

“That’s great,” I said. “So why haven’t you done it yet?”

Copper said, “For one, we haven’t stabilized the inverted coil yet, so it can close at any moment. We’re also working on a spacesuit with its own oxygen supply and a tether. You couldn’t tell, but the coil room is currently in vacuum due to us needing to open a portal into outer space. We already lost one cat when we inverted the coil quite by chance. Poor, poor Jaspers. His sacrifice shall not be forgotten.”

“And for another, I won’t authorize it until Doyle is out of the picture or the wolves are at our door.”

“You can take away all the werewolves’ powers at once and you won’t do it?” I couldn’t believe Banshee wouldn’t jump at the opportunity. “Why not?”

“Until Doyle is gone, it is pointless,” Banshee said. “Take away the werewolves’ power and he’ll still have an army of normal humans under his command. If we wait until he’s gone to flip the switch, his people will be disorganized, confused. If they don’t fall to infighting and destroy themselves first, we’ll sweep in and mop them up.”

“So you’re saying that until Tumble or I invade the Garden and come back to report that Doyle is well and truly dead, you won’t do the one thing that would make it easier to get into the Garden in the first place?”

“I’m sorry, Allin, but that’s the way it needs to be. If you’re dead set on going into the Garden, you’ll have to accept that it will be full of werewolves.”

That would be pretty bad news if I had to enter the Garden as Allin Arcady, regular human. But if I looked like any other werewolf, things would probably go a lot smoother.

“Is Dad’s coil still usable after you turn it inside out like that?”

“Oh yes,” Copper said. “As long as the satellites exist, the coil should work.”

I realized then that once the satellites were destroyed, not only would the moonlight be cut off, the sunlight would be, too. Dad’s coil would be no more than jewelry, a powerless memento. The loss of sunlight was a shame, but a world without werewolves would be worth it.

“And even if we knew how to activate the moonlight mode,” Banshee said. “We can’t lend you the coil at this point, Allin. If you get caught, we would lose our one chance to stop the wolves.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t think of leaving you without a coil,” I said, reaching into my shirt. I pulled out and held up Matthias’ coil for inspection. “But would you consider a trade?”

# # #

About an hour later, I had Dad’s coil in my hands again. There had been a painstakingly careful process to pump air back into the coil room, ensure that the QUIPS system could not accidentally turn on (“We must never forget Jasper’s lesson,” Copper said solemnly), and swap out the coils. Banshee wouldn’t agree to return my coil until Copper was sure that Matthias’ could be used in the same manner, so the coil room had to be evacuated of air and another test performed. Only when the replacement coil had worked to reverse the quantum tunnel was Dad’s coil returned to me.

When I had cast it off, I had been angry at my parents for lying to me, for never telling me that they were werewolves and that I was probably one, too. A lot had happened since then. Now here I was, ready to put my theory to the test and become a werewolf myself. If it worked, I would use that horrible power to kill my own uncle. Quite a family, werewolves the lot of us.

Werewolf or human, we all have choices to make. My parents’ chose to save me at the cost of their own lives. Whatever lies they had told or truths they had kept from me could not erase the power of that ultimate act of love. How could I possibly stay angry with them?

I looked up to see Copper staring at me, her head cocked. I turned to Banshee, who nodded as if he understood what I had been thinking. I nodded back and slipped the necklace over my head. Though Matthias’ coil had been identical, this one felt more right somehow.

“You’re sure this is back to normal? I don’t want to turn it on and get pulled inside out.”

“At least 97% certain,” Copper said. My eyes grew wide. “Kidding. Yes, it will work.”

I might never get used to her sense of humor, but if she said it worked, I trusted her.

“Let’s try it out then.”

We had moved to a different lab on another sub-floor for two reasons: it was currently vacant and it had a row of cells along its rear wall. Banshee opened the door to one of them, waved me in, and closed it behind me. Copper locked it with a key from a crowded keychain.

Before I tested my passphrase theory out, I powered up the coil’s sunlight mode. The amber glow felt reassuring but left me with a question.

“Professor, why was the sunlight white when you inverted the coil but yellow now?”

“An astute question, young sir. It should be white in both cases. I can only assume that the coil filters the light to prevent it from blinding anyone, and in so doing, creates the yellow glow you are witnessing.”

“If we’re done with the science lessons, perhaps you can see if all this switching of the coils was worth it?” Banshee asked.

He was right, of course. My question was a delaying tactic. I rubbed my sweaty hands on my pants and swallowed past a tightness in my throat.

“Which buttons do I press?”

“Here, here and here at the same time,” Copper said, reaching through the bars and tapping them with one claw. “That’s the combination I found that produces a brief power surge with no commensurate change in the coil’s appearance. I believe that is what will initiate the transformation, in combination with the correct passphrase.”

“Okay, here we go then,” I said, walking to the back of the cell. I pressed the indicated buttons and whispered, “Always stay alive.”

* * *

Continue to Part 67.

5/19/13 News:

This week I can report that my editor and I are done going over the notes for Book 1 of The Only City Left. I have a lot of big decisions to make as to how I want to implement those edits, and if I say I feel daunted by the task, I think that’s an understatement. I am also genuinely curious to see how TOCL will look on the other end of the process. Thank you for being part of the journey with me.

The Only City Left is listed on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction. If you are so inclined, I would appreciate any ratings/reviews/recommends on that site to help get TOCL noticed. Thanks!

If you enjoyed this post, please click the image below to give The Only City Left a vote on Top Web Fiction. (One vote allowed per week.)

Click here to vote for The Only City Left on Top Web Fiction!

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Logo Credit:The TOCL logo is courtesy of Jande Rowe of the webcomic Aedre’s Firefly. If you haven’t already read AF, I encourage you to go check it out. Not only does Jande produce the comic, she reviews other long-form webcomics, gives tips and instructions on creating a comic, and is endlessly supportive of other creators. For a great review that will bring you up to speed on Aedre’s Firefly, check out this page at Webcomic Alliance.

The Only City Left: Part 65

Welcome to my serial science-fiction/fantasy adventure, The Only City Left. This is the story of Allin Arcady and his adventures through a dying, planet-sized city called Earth. (Click here for the Table of Contents.)

At the end of Part 64, Allin learned that Tyena had been taken back to the Garden, the werewolves’ den.

The Only City Left: Part 65

“Taken to the Garden? Who took her?” I asked, struggling to come to terms with the thought of Tyena being snatched out of Pudlington.

“She was spotted in the company of a guard named Halifax. We knew he worked for Doyle and we had him under surveillance, but he slipped his watch and got to Tyena before we could.”

Halifax? That must be the cat I had seen arguing with Tyena.

“When did this happen?”

“Immediately after you left Pudlington.”

After I left. That meant…

“He took her because she didn’t get me to walk into Doyle’s trap!”

“That is one possibility. The citizen who saw the two of them didn’t think anything was wrong at the time. When we questioned him later, he reported that Miss Branch did not appear to be trying to get away. She went with Halifax of her own accord.”

“They have her mother,” I said. Though I couldn’t be sure how much of what Tyena had told me had been true and how much a convenient fiction to lure me out of Pudlington, Tumble had confirmed that much at least. “Everything Tyena was doing, she was doing for her mom. If she refused to leave, Doyle would have her mom killed, so of course she went willingly.”

“Perhaps that is so. At any rate, once Tumble returned and found out about this, he immediately went after her. Oh, he claimed he was going after Doyle, but knowing my brother, he’s going to try to accomplish both goals.”

“You let Tumble go to the Garden by himself? That’s crazy!”

“He is an adult and he made his choice.”
“Great. Now he and Tyena are both in trouble because I didn’t go to the Garden in the first place. Look, Banshee. I mean Emperor Banshee,” I said, but he waved off the informality. “You’ve got me. Whatever you decide about opening up Pudlington, I need to go to the Garden. I owe it to Tumble and Tyena.”

“I see,” Banshee said, giving no indication as to how this would affect his decision.

“But first I need to know: how is Professor Copper doing with her work on the lantern coil?”

“Progress is being made. Let me show you.”

# # #

Down in the Skunkworks, Copper seemed pleased to see me again. “We’ve had a breakthrough since I saw you last!”

Her lantern coil project had moved out of her small room into a much larger laboratory, and she now had a team of white-coated cats working under her lead. The coil itself was nowhere to be seen.

“Did you figure out how to turn on the moonlight mode?” I asked.

“No. Something equally exciting, though.”

“Give him the demonstration,” Banshee said.

“Of course. This way.”

Copper led us to a large desk and sat down facing a bank of monitors, all but one of which were full of graphs and columns of numbers. The exception was one screen which had a picture of a room bare of anything except for the lantern coil in its cradle. Strands of wires ran from all around the coil’s circumference into a pedestal upon which the cradle rested.

Banshee and I stood to either side of Copper, who pressed a button on her desk and said, “Quips testing imminent. Quips testing imminent. Hold all intensive functions until the all clear is given.”

As she spoke, her voice echoed throughout the room from speakers set into the wall.

“Quips?”

“Quantum-inverted phase state,” Copper said. “QUIPS, for short. Get it? Because it shouldn’t be possible, so it’s a joke of sorts.”

“Sure,” I said, not getting it at all, but she seemed happy with my response.

“Just show him,” Banshee said.

“Very well. Eyes on the screen, gentlemen.”

She began typing commands into a keyboard on the desk. The cats moving about the lab stopped what they were doing and joined me in watching the screen.

The first thing I noticed was that it went black.

“Is it broken?” I asked.

“No. I turned off the lights. It’s more dramatic that way. Watch.”

So I watched. The coil turned on, lighting up the room with its familiar golden glow.

“Wait for it,” Copper said, as she nudged a slider forward.

The glow abruptly cut off and the room darkened except for a tiny beam of white light pointing out from the coil to the right side of the screen.

“Extending inversion field.”

The beam grew in size and the room lit up with brilliant white light. The beam itself was almost too bright to look at until the entire screen dimmed. The lights in the room we were in flickered and buzzed before themselves dimming out almost completely.

“What’s going on?”

“Don’t worry, we’re almost at our limit. There,” Copper said.

With that pronouncement, the white light filling the coil room promptly disappeared and the room was once again dark until it suddenly brightened to show the coil, sitting undisturbed in its cradle. All the cats in the room cheered as the lights in our room returned to their normal brightness. Copper pressed a button, announced, “All clear,” and swiveled her chair around to look at me triumphantly.

“It wiped out the sensors on the camera the first time we tried it,” Copper said. “We had to reinvent polarized lenses. Not much use for them these past few millennia. Sunglasses, you see.”

“No, I don’t see. Can someone tell me what just happened?”

“Think of it this way,” Copper said, grasping my hand between both of hers. “There’s a satellite orbiting the moon, and one side of it faces toward the sun, while another side faces the moon. Can you picture that?”

“Sure.”

“Now the way the lantern coil works, and this is technology centuries ahead of anything we have, is that there’s a quantum tunnel that connects the satellite on one end and the coil on the other. The coil end remains static. It’s always tied to the coil itself. But on the satellite end, there are two possible anchors for the tunnel to latch onto: one on the side facing the sun and the other on the side facing the moon. With me so far?”

“Sun. Moon. Tunnel. Got it.”

“Right. So the key thing to realize is that the flow of particles through the tunnel is always one way, from the satellite to the coil. But introduce enough power into the coil, the amount you’d use to run a medium-sized city for a few seconds, and you can effectively invert the coil, which is a space-time construct and not a physical artifact as you probably assumed.”

Banshee cleared his throat. “Keep it simple, please. For the boy.”

“Simple? I thought I was,” she said as if to herself. “Don’t you see? We’re able to switch the direction of the quantum tunnel, to send items, or people, from here to there. All we have to do is stretch the inverted coil wide enough! Then you simply pop through, turn around and you’re looking at the satellite, not to mention the moon and the Earth and don’t think I won’t be taking pictures while I’m there.”

“I think I get it, but you’d want to do this why?”

“Because besides sightseeing, she’s going to slap a bomb on the satellite,” Banshee said. “Close the portal, timer ticks down, bomb goes off. No more satellite. No more moonlight. No more werewolves.”

* * *

Continue to Part 66.

5/12/13 News:

Happy Mother’s Day to all the Moms out there! Sorry for the late post. I’m sick and a bit out of it. In lieu of writing this weekend, I’ve been working on making some stuffed Totoro dolls for my daughters. Here’s one that I’ve finished already. Have a good week everyone!

IMGP8845

Thanks to everyone who reads, comments, and shares. It truly makes me happy to know that people are enjoying this story.

The Only City Left is listed on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction. If you are so inclined, I would appreciate any ratings/reviews/recommends on that site to help get TOCL noticed. Thanks!

If you enjoyed this post, please click the image below to give The Only City Left a vote on Top Web Fiction. (One vote allowed per week.)

Click here to vote for The Only City Left on Top Web Fiction!

#

Logo Credit:The TOCL logo is courtesy of Jande Rowe of the webcomic Aedre’s Firefly. If you haven’t already read AF, I encourage you to go check it out. Not only does Jande produce the comic, she reviews other long-form webcomics, gives tips and instructions on creating a comic, and is endlessly supportive of other creators. For a great review that will bring you up to speed on Aedre’s Firefly, check out this page at Webcomic Alliance.

The Only City Left: Part 64

Welcome to my serial science-fiction/fantasy adventure, The Only City Left. This is the story of Allin Arcady and his adventures through a dying, planet-sized city called Earth. (Click here for the Table of Contents.)

At the end of Part 63, Emperor Banshee told Allin that he had returned to Pudlington at the worst possible time.

The Only City Left: Part 64

“You have to understand that when you left, it was a great victory for Fordham and his ilk, who sought to portray me as weak for seeking a human ally. When Tumble returned with news of your death, this was further proof that I had been unwise to place my trust in you.”

A few minutes after our meeting in Tyena’s loft, a retinue of servants had entered the room and set out a meal for us on the rug in between three couches. Once they were gone, we continued our conversation over the delicious food and drink I had come to expect from an imperial meal in Pudlington. My enjoyment of the food was soured somewhat by Banshee’s breakdown of the political situation.

“To bring Ballister’s people and the ghosts with you when you returned, demanding that we open our gates…. You couldn’t have put me in a more precarious position. If I deny you, Fordham gets what he wants. But if I accept your offer, Fordham will claim I want humans to be our masters once again. I cannot rule a people who despise me, Allin.”

“I’m sorry for the trouble I’ve caused,” I said, and I meant it. I hadn’t considered Pudlington’s internal politics when I came up with my plan. To me, Banshee had seemed like he had everything under control. “I can’t take back what I’ve done, but I’ll do whatever I can to fix it. I’ll prove to Fordham that humans and cats can work together.”

Banshee laughed and ate half a pastry in one bite. Delicate flakes of crisp dough catapulted from his mouth and settled onto the fur of his chest and stomach before he brushed them off.

“You’ll sooner convince that Xerxes fellow that he’s alive than change Fordham’s mind. There are many cats who share his sentiments, and he is looking to ride their fears all the way to my throne.” He sighed, slapped his hands on his thighs, and moved from the floor to the couch, a glass of juice in one hand. He sank wearily into the cushions and took a sip. I stood up and took a seat across from him.

“But enough of that flea in my fur. What were you thinking, trying to force my hand like that? The cats are a proud and powerful people, Allin, and I will not allow a human boy to enter my realm and dictate policy, however any other cat feels about it.”

“I may not have handled it as well I could have, but I came back because you were right. Doyle needs to be stopped,” I said. I sat on the edge of the cushion and leaned forward. “But stopping him won’t be enough. What happens after that? Your people continue to live their comfortable lives in isolation and I keep on looking for the roof of the world? That’s all well and good for us, but is that enough? There are people suffering out there, and from worse dangers than werewolves.”

“Worrying about the greater good? Sounds like teenage philosophical moping to me.”

“Tumble put the ideas in my head, actually.”

“Why am I not surprised? My little brother always had too much idealism for his own good.”

“But he was right. It took me some time to realize it, and I know that whatever I do, there will always be darkness out there, but I’m tired of living my life hiding from it. I choose to face the darkness and fight back,” I said, punching my fist into my palm. “I’m asking for you to help me do that, to make Pudlington a safe haven for whoever needs it. Not just Ballister’s folk. Anyone.”

I thought of the merskers, of the people who lived openly in communities like Glin’s Rising or holed up in rooms like Ballister, of the drifters like me who couldn’t settle down because no place had the safety and resources needed to do so. Not all of them would accept an offer to live in Pudlington, but it would be nice to give them the option.

“You don’t know what you’re asking for, Allin,” Banshee said, leaning forward to match my pose. “One or two humans my people could accept, but not hordes of them. How long until they outnumber us? Until Pudlington belongs to them and we are tolerated as clever pets?”

“Is that Fordham speaking or you?”

“It is history speaking, Allin. Our fears are not unfounded.”

“It’s a problem to be solved. Together. You’re exaggerating human behavior and how quickly this would happen, anyway. The city isn’t exactly teeming with life out there.”

“Let’s say I allow this and people trickle in. Pudlington is big but it has limited resources. What happens when we run out of room, clean air, food, water? Where do you draw the line of who can come in and who can’t once we’re stretched to the limit?”

“Don’t draw a line; erase it. Expand the city. There’s no lack of uninhabited levels out there.

“Bah. It’s too risky.”

I got to my feet and began to pace back and forth in front of the couch.

“Doing nothing while people are dying, that’s what’s risky. You can’t keep Pudlington running forever if the rest of the world falls down around it. I’m sorry if humans mistreated your people in the past, but now it’s time to band together and fight or admit that we’re all just keeping busy while we wait for the Earth to die.”

I dropped back down to the couch with a flumph of cushions, exhausted by my own rant. Banshee set his glass down on the floor and leaned back, arms folded over his belly.

“You’ve changed, Allin. Your cynicism has been replaced with the idealism of youth, the certainty that the way you see things is the only right way. I liked the old you better.”

“The old me left you hanging.”

“Just so,” Banshee said with a nod. “You have given me much to think about, and I already had much on my mind before this talk. Now I am afraid I must transfer some of that burden to you. As you can see, Tyena is gone.”

“You haven’t locked her up, have you?”

“Would that I had done so, she’d be safer now.”

My heart beat faster. The last time I saw her, she told me she loved me and I threw it in her face. Had she done something rash in response?

“What do you mean? Where is she?”

“She was taken back to the Garden.”

* * *

Continue to Part 65.

5/5/13 News:

This was a weird week. I got to the end of Book 2’s first draft sooner than I expected, and then I felt a bit adrift. After all, I’ve been working on it for the past 10 weeks (minus a 3-week break for packing, moving, and unpacking). Suddenly being “done,” I didn’t quite know what to do next. So far, I’ve caught up on sleep and written a couple of non-TOCL blog posts. This week, I think I will catch up on some personal projects like organizing and uploading digital camera pictures and scanning documents, while also starting to make a to-do list of Book 1 edits. Here’s my stats for the week, such as they are. You’ll notice I didn’t reach my word goal, but I half-expected that. 1) I left out an epilogue, deciding instead to move that story to the beginning of Book 3. 2) There is one character whose story I struggled with and need to rework. At a certain point, I stopped worrying about writing his scenes. I know what will happen in them, but I’ll write them later. 3) Knowing that Book 1 might have some structural changes during the editing process ended up slowing my progress on Book 2. I don’t want to spend a lot of time writing something that might be affected by changes in Book 1.

5thWk10

Thanks to everyone who reads, comments, and shares. It truly makes me happy to know that people are enjoying this story.

The Only City Left is listed on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction. If you are so inclined, I would appreciate any ratings/reviews/recommends on that site to help get TOCL noticed. Thanks!

If you enjoyed this post, please click the image below to give The Only City Left a vote on Top Web Fiction. (One vote allowed per week.)

Click here to vote for The Only City Left on Top Web Fiction!

#

Logo Credit:The TOCL logo is courtesy of Jande Rowe of the webcomic Aedre’s Firefly. If you haven’t already read AF, I encourage you to go check it out. Not only does Jande produce the comic, she reviews other long-form webcomics, gives tips and instructions on creating a comic, and is endlessly supportive of other creators. For a great review that will bring you up to speed on Aedre’s Firefly, check out this page at Webcomic Alliance.

The Only City Left: Part 63

Welcome to my serial science-fiction/fantasy adventure, The Only City Left. This is the story of Allin Arcady and his adventures through a dying, planet-sized city called Earth. (Click here for the Table of Contents.)

At the end of Part 62, Emperor Banshee asked Allin to explain why he was making demands of an Emperor in exchange for Allin’s cooperation. One does not make demands of an Emperor….

The Only City Left: Part 63

I swallowed and struggled to find the words. Outside the gates I had felt unstoppable, with an army behind me, safe in the knowledge that I was doing the right thing. Now, under Banshee’s gaze and Fordham’s glare, with the weight of the entire court bearing down on me, I felt like exactly what I was: a foolish, inexperienced child making demands of his elders.

“Well?” Fordham said, drawing out the word.

I imagined him asking, “Cat got your tongue?” which almost made me laugh. I covered it up with a cough and a smile. Here goes nothing.

“The last time I was here, I was asked to”—Here Banshee gave me a stern look and a tiny shake of his head. Okay, not entirely public knowledge then—“do something very dangerous. I declined.”

There were titters from the crowd. News of my public refusal of Banshee’s offer must have spread out from the guards at the gate. They might not know the details, but they knew that I had denied their Emperor. At least now they would know I hadn’t done so lightly.

“A lot has happened to me since I left. I nearly died. I saw some terrible things that humans can do. I met people who thought they needed to prey on others to survive.” I glanced at Ballister, who found something interesting on the floor to examine at that moment. “And I saw some of the threats that exist beyond these walls. The Earth is a dangerous, dark place.”

Banshee gave me a twirl of his fingers. Let’s hear it.

“You cats have created an amazing oasis of peace and light in the midst of all that darkness. I’m willing to fight to ensure it stays that way. All I ask in return is that you share your refuge with those who need it, even if they’re not cats.”

“No!” Fordham shouted as the platform erupted in conversation. “You’re trying to destroy us! Guards, guards! Silence him!”

Emperor Banshee stood up and roared. As one the crowd shrunk back and quieted. Fordham, closest to the source, crouched to one side and buried his head in his arms.

“Enough! Can I no longer speak for myself, Fordham? Do you doubt my ability to safeguard our city? Answer me.”

Fordham stood back up and wiped his hands on his chest, as if he could clean off the cowardice he had displayed. “I wouldn’t want you to waste even one breath responding to such nonsense,” he said.

“I can decide for myself what is and isn’t nonsense, Fordham. Do not think to save me such troubles,” Banshee said. He switched his furious gaze from Fordham to me and continued. “You bring human rabble and the undead to my door and expect me to take your demands seriously?”

“I brought those in need and those who are willing to stand up to the werewolves and I’m not sorry for that,” I said. I looked away from Banshee and swept my gaze across the crowd. “You all know that the werewolves are a dire threat. One day even Pudlington will not be safe from their expanding empire. Can you afford to ignore anyone who would ally with you against them?”

I turned back to the throne as I ended my speech. Fordham looked like he had more to say, but Banshee spoke first, his voice booming.

“This human boy poses an interesting question, does he not?” He glanced down at Fordham as if daring him to answer, and then addressed the crowd. “Though it was unwise to approach us with uninvited guests, perhaps this can be forgiven when we understand that he is young and impetuous. Yes, he has given me much to ponder. But know this. I will make the decision that is best for Pudlington and for the cats. Of this, you can be certain.”

“Of course, Emperor,” Fordham said, his manner obsequious and unconvincing. “Who could doubt but that you will make the wisest decision?”

He’s a dangerous one, I thought. What is Tumble doing that’s so important that Banshee would replace him with Fordham?

“Since this won’t be decided today, I invite you to make use of your old room, Allin. Ballister, you will be escorted back to be with your people. Xerxes, I assume you can find your own way out of the city.”

Polite laughter from the crowd, which began to disperse. I thanked Xerxes for standing with me and told him to find me again tomorrow.

“Ballister, I’m sorry about the house arrest. We’ll sort it out.”

“Ah, never mind. I’d be just as suspicious if I was them. Anyway, this guy,” he said, pointing to one of the guards who had escorted us to the throne room, “tells me that he’s going to introduce me to something called gerrybrook juice. Local hooch. Sounds good.”

“Only if you bathe first,” the guard said with a face. He seemed like a genial fellow and I took it as a good sign that Banshee had assigned him to babysit Ballister.

“Enjoy, but don’t overdo it,” I said. “That stuff sneaks up on you.”

Banshee and Fordham were gone by the time I finished talking to Ballister, and most of the crowd with them. None of the remaining cats wanted anything to do with me and I couldn’t blame them after that show between their Emperor and Envoy. Talk to me and one side or another would be furious.

It didn’t matter, though. I was exhausted from the past week’s journey, and all the adrenaline was fleeing my body now that I wasn’t on display in front of Pudlington’s collected political might.

I made my way to my room fully intending to go straight to bed, but when I climbed in through the window and saw the triptych on the wall, I changed my mind.

Tyena.

I had put off thinking about her on the trip back because I had enough to worry about. But now I had set events in motion and could do nothing but wait to see what happened. There would be no way I could sleep until I at least said hello to her and let her know I was back.

I half expected Tumble to be standing on the platform outside my window when I climbed back out, but he was not there. Nor did I find Tyena at home. Even before I searched all three floors of her place, I could tell she wasn’t there. The place felt empty, cold.

On my way back to the top floor, I heard someone entering through the window. It didn’t sound like Tyena’s footsteps, so I hazarded another guess.

“Tumble?” I asked, rounding a corner.

But it wasn’t him. It was his brother, standing before me with his shoulders bowed. He sighed and his entire frame jiggled with the out-breath.

“Allin, you couldn’t have returned at a worse time.”

* * *

Continue to Part 64.

4/28/13 News:

I’m a little happier with how this past week went. I fell down at the end (thank you, all-day headache and vague outline) but overall I gained a little ground on my word count goal. The crazy thing is, my schedule says I should be done writing Book 2 (1st draft) by Friday, with a total of about 92,000 words. I am near the end, certainly, but something tells me I might need a few more days and a few thousand more words. On the Book One front, my editor continues to push me to make the book better. Why would this happen? This character acts differently each time we meet them. This only seems to happen because it’s convenient to the plot. I can’t wait until I’m done drafting Book Two so that I can get to work on making Book One better.

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Thanks to everyone who reads, comments, and shares. It truly makes me happy to know that people are enjoying this story.

The Only City Left is listed on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction. If you are so inclined, I would appreciate any ratings/reviews/recommends on that site to help get TOCL noticed. Thanks!

If you enjoyed this post, please click the image below to give The Only City Left a vote on Top Web Fiction. (One vote allowed per week.)

Click here to vote for The Only City Left on Top Web Fiction!

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Logo Credit:The TOCL logo is courtesy of Jande Rowe of the webcomic Aedre’s Firefly. If you haven’t already read AF, I encourage you to go check it out. Not only does Jande produce the comic, she reviews other long-form webcomics, gives tips and instructions on creating a comic, and is endlessly supportive of other creators. For a great review that will bring you up to speed on Aedre’s Firefly, check out this page at Webcomic Alliance.

The Only City Left: Part 62

Welcome to my serial science-fiction/fantasy adventure, The Only City Left. This is the story of Allin Arcady and his adventures through a dying, planet-sized city called Earth. (Click here for the Table of Contents.)

At the end of Part 61, Allin returned to Pudlington along with Ballister and his people and an army of ghosts. He told the guards he was there to fight Banshee’s army for him, on one condition.

The Only City Left: Part 62

After many messages to and from the authorities inside of Pudlington, we were granted entrance. Once inside, Xerxes, Ballister and I were asked to meet with Emperor Banshee. Ballister’s people were taken to a holding area and Xerxes’ ghosts agreed to wait outside of the city. Of course, if they had wanted to force the issue and come inside, there was not much the cats could do to stop them short of releasing an electro-magnetic pulse inside the city.

It was an odd return to Pudlington. The first time I visited, I was a curiosity. This time, a phalanx of armed guards escorted the three of us through the city and down one of the ramps to stand before Banshee’s stepped dais. It felt less like an honor guard and more like we were prisoners being paraded before a judge. Not a good sign.

Besides our manner of entrance, two other sights gave me pause. Instead of six imperial guards around Banshee’s throne, there were at least twenty of the feather-capped fellows standing ramrod straight, hands gripping their halberds. And instead of Tumble standing one step below the Emperor—his brother, I recalled with no small wonder—there stood a cat I had last seen at the first royal dinner I had attended in Pudlington. I couldn’t recall his name, but his attitude toward me then matched the look on his face now: haughty disdain.

A large audience of cats milled about the platform, and I was glad for the thick ropes that held up the circular floor we trod upon; it was quite a crowd. The guards had to clear a space so that we could stand a few feet out from the bottom step before Banshee.

I glanced to one side and checked on Ballister. He had a grim, determined look on his face that belied how nervous he probably felt. It’s one thing to know that there is a cat city nearby. It’s quite another to be inside of it, surrounded by hundreds of cats, many of whom are armed and unhappy that you’re near them. On my other side, Xerxes stood patiently, a bemused look upon his face, his feet not quite touching the floor beneath him.

At a sign from the cat who stood below Banshee, the imperial guards stamped their halberds on the floor three times in unison. The platform quieted to a low murmur and the same cat announced, “Our Emperor, Banshee LXXVI, recognizes Allin Arcady and companions. Kneel before the emperor.”

Not again, I thought, but this time I couldn’t afford to risk offending anyone. I nodded to Ballister and Xerxes and went down on one knee, my head bowed. Out of the corner of my eyes, I saw Ballister do the same, a scowl on his face, while Xerxes opted to sink into the floor down to his knees. I stifled a grin at that.

“You may rise,” said Emperor Banshee. “Friends of Allin Arcady, introduce yourselves.”

“Entwhistle Ballister at your service, your majesty.”

I held back another smile. Entwhistle?

“Xerxes.” No courtly flourishes there.

“Very well. And this is Acting Royal Envoy Fordham, whom I believe you have met once before, Allin.”

Banshee emphasized those last words and I caught a warning in his tone.

“Where’s Tumble?” I asked.

“Yes, what has become of your brother?” Fordham asked, pulling at his whiskers.

Banshee answered us both. “He is working on another project.”

Another project? I imagined he must be down in the Skunkworks with Professor Copper, working on the lantern coil. I placed my hand on my chest and felt Matthias’ coil beneath my shirt. I needed to speak to Copper as soon as possible about what I had figured out.

“He informed us of your death, Allin. How is it that he was so mistaken?”

“After what happened, I should be dead. The others who fell from that bridge with me didn’t make it.” Guppy. Matthias. I didn’t go into details about how they died. “I’m still alive partly by chance and partly thanks to the creatures who dwell in the dark, the merskers.”

The crowd raised its collective voice at this. Even the cats had their legends about the beings that live in the darkened voids of the city. I didn’t disabuse them of the horrifying images invoking their name must conjure.

“And I would never have made it back to Pudlington if not for the aid of Xerxes and the other ghosts.”

Fordham barely concealed a sneer at my words, and I saw Banshee catch it before it disappeared.

“Yes, it is truly amazing what can be accomplished when unlikely allies work together, is it not?” Banshee said, his fingers steepled before him.

Fordham’s fur bristled and he practically doubled in size before he shook himself to make it lay down again. “If we can get back to the matter of how Mr. Arcady broke his trust with us by leading human interlopers to our gates?”

“We ain’t no ’lopers,” Ballister said in a booming voice that briefly set Fordham’s hair on end again. “And I don’t like that my people are being kept under armed guard. I understood we’d be guests here, not prisoners.”

I expected Fordham to respond, but it was Banshee who spoke. “We made no such promises to your people, Entwhistle Ballister. For that, you have only Allin to blame.”

I was shocked. I thought for sure Banshee would back up my plan, if for no other reason than to annoy Fordham.

The Emperor continued. “For now your people are being fed and have been given access to sanitation. Given the state you are in, I see no cause for complaint with your treatment in Pudlington.”

“Where humans should not have been allowed to enter in the first place, your highness,” Fordham said. “First the Arcady boy and now this refuse. This is a disgrace!”

“Your opinion is well known, Acting Envoy. The fact remains that Ballister and his people are guests in my city for now and you shall keep a civil tongue about them while I sit the throne. Moving on.”

Fordham looked discomfited and I held my lips tight together to keep from grinning. Any hint of a grin disappeared when Banshee turned his gaze on me and said, “Allin, outside of our gates, you spoke of conditions. One does not demand conditions of emperors. Explain yourself.”

* * *

Continue to Part 63.

4/21/13 News:

This was one crazy week, with many distractions and illnesses and assorted other goodies. I managed to meet my minimum word count goal for the first draft of Book Two, but it came down to the wire on Friday night. Here’s hoping next week goes more smoothly.

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Thanks to everyone who reads, comments, and shares. It truly makes me happy to know that people are enjoying this story.

The Only City Left is listed on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction. If you are so inclined, I would appreciate any ratings/reviews/recommends on that site to help get TOCL noticed. Thanks!

If you enjoyed this post, please click the image below to give The Only City Left a vote on Top Web Fiction. (One vote allowed per week.)

Click here to vote for The Only City Left on Top Web Fiction!

#

Logo Credit:The TOCL logo is courtesy of Jande Rowe of the webcomic Aedre’s Firefly. If you haven’t already read AF, I encourage you to go check it out. Not only does Jande produce the comic, she reviews other long-form webcomics, gives tips and instructions on creating a comic, and is endlessly supportive of other creators. For a great review that will bring you up to speed on Aedre’s Firefly, check out this page at Webcomic Alliance.

The Only City Left: Part 61

Welcome to my serial science-fiction/fantasy adventure, The Only City Left. This is the story of Allin Arcady and his adventures through a dying, planet-sized city called Earth. (Click here for the Table of Contents.)

At the end of Part 60, Allin had bested a not-quite-healed Matthias in one-on-one combat and then spared his life. All that remained was to leave Matthias to the merskers, but before Allin could leave the village, he was stopped in his tracks by a ghost.

The Only City Left: Part 61

The ghosts. What with the slavers and the merskers and Matthias, I had forgotten all about the silent army of ghosts that had followed me to the mersker village. This was the second time in recent days that one had spoken to me, and this time the ghost had addressed me by name. If I hadn’t been so weary, I might have found the trend disturbing.

“So talk,” I said, walking around and past the ghost. “But I’m getting out of here before they change their mind.”

I felt a cold touch on the back of my neck.

“Wait, please. We will ensure your safety.”

I turned and saw the ghost army lining up behind the speaker, walling me off from the village. The ghost light would certainly dissuade the merskers from interfering.

“Who are you?”

“I have been a ghost for so long, my old name is meaningless,” he said, pausing as if to sift through his dusty electronic databanks. “If you must address me, the name Xerxes will do.”

“Okay, Xerxes. So what’s with all these ghosts following me?”

“Normally we stay out of the affairs of the living, but the time has come to take a role. The werewolves have added many to our ranks, and Doyle Arcady’s machinations threaten to strike at the very nature of our beings. However, there is only so much we can do. We need a living being to champion our cause. Someone worthy.”

“So you’ve been, what, judging me?”

“Yes, Allin Arcady, we have been watching you, assessing you, for some time now.”

I shivered at the thought. The ghosts had been watching me. Banshee had been keeping track of me. Doyle had been chasing me. What other unseen forces had eyes on me and, more importantly: “Why?”

“The werewolf king already seeks you out. A confrontation is inevitable. With our might and knowledge, you will at least have a chance of surviving that encounter and redressing the wrongs that your uncle has committed.”

I was too stunned to respond. Xerxes was offering me an army of ghosts to use in the fight against Doyle. My head swam at the bizarre prospect.

Xerxes must have taken my silence for doubt, because he said, “Witness the power we wield when united.”

He turned and the mass of ghosts behind him marched into the mersker village. I started to protest that I didn’t want the merskers harmed, but except for the light they gave off, the ghosts did not molest the scavengers. They formed a line to where Matthias lay on the ground and, to his and my surprise, swarmed over him.

“What are they doing?” I asked.

“Delivering justice.”

I saw Matthias’ body rise up off the floor as a constant stream of ghosts moved down the line they had formed, surrounding and supporting him. Matthias began to scream, high and thin whines that lost their strength as more ghosts exerted their will to make one small piece of their spectral bodies solid. Hundreds of ghosts overlapped to hold him in place, using the energy from his own body to power their solidification. The more he weakened, the stronger they became, until he couldn’t resist as they passed him hand over hand down their line. They paraded him past me and away, leaving Xerxes and a few dozen other ghosts behind.

“Where are they taking him?”

“For interrogation. If he’s lucky, it will end in his death. If not, if a passing Lazarus storm happens by to resurrect him, he’ll know what it’s like to feel endless pain, anger, and bitterness.”

I digested that and shook my head.

“Look, I was already planning to fight the werewolves however I can, and I’d be happy to have your help, but unless you know the way back to the cat city, it’s going to be a while before I can do anything useful.”

“We can lead you to the cat city. Just tell us which one.”

* * *

True to his word, Xerxes and the other ghosts guided me back to Pudlington. Without their help, I would probably never have found my way, or if I did, it might have taken another three years. But due to their combined knowledge and ability to scout the best route by fanning out and phasing through walls, I was able to make the trip in a week. Each day, I covered a tremendous amount of ground, and the ghosts helped me find food and water, clean and dry clothing, safe spots to sleep, and most importantly, medicine. Not only had I gotten cut up quite a bit down in the junkyard, but I had been immersed in who knows what filth. Thanks to the ghosts, I managed to stave off any illness.

They were also good for conversation. Well, some of them. Even united in their goals, not every ghost was thrilled about helping a living human. I got the cold shoulder from some of them, literally. Others were fonts of knowledge. For instance, I hadn’t known about Pudlington before I met Tumble, but I wondered if even he was aware that six other cat cities still thrived in Earth.

As exhilarating as it was to be taken on a whirlwind tour of the city from the basement up, it was a great relief to find myself once again in front of a familiar door.

I raised my fist and pounded it against the thick, steel door a few times. There was no answer, so I raised my voice and asked, “Hello, is anyone in there? It’s me.”

Silence. I had asked the ghosts to wait out of sight so as not to frighten anyone, but now I considered calling one over to peek through the wall for me.

I tried one last time. “Ballister? It’s me.”

I heard the sound of locks opening and I stepped back. The door opened, but only a crack.

“That voice can’t belong to who I think it does.”

I grinned. “Yes, Ballister, it can.”

The door opened the rest of the way and Ballister rushed through it and lifted me into the air by my armpits.

“Allin! Tumble told us you died!” he shouted.

A weight lifted from me upon hearing that Tumble had survived. I asked how he was.

“He was scraped up but mostly fine, if not a bit distressed at your passing,” Ballister said, setting me down. “Spent a night here before going back to Pudlington. Gave my people a little scare, he did, what with not wearing any disguise this time. But where’s my manners? Come in, come in!”

The people inside the room lifted hands in greeting but were otherwise rather listless when I entered. The food that Tumble and I had shared would have all been used up by now; they were back on strict rationing and as little activity as possible.

“So what happened? How did you survive falling like that? How did you get back here? Why did you come back here?”

I laughed. “That’s a lot of questions. I’ll tell you all about it, but first I have a question for you, and please don’t take offense.”
Ballister looked down his beaky nose at me and nodded for me to go on.

“How would you all like to move someplace a little bit nicer?”

* * *

Ballister was predictably suspicious, not of me, but that my plan would work. We put it to a vote and even had a few of the ghosts join in on the conversation to make sure the mere sight of my allies wouldn’t send Ballister’s people flying under their bed-shelves. I wasn’t sure if they would agree to my proposal, but in the end my promises swayed them to take a risk and leave their safe but squalid nest. After that, it was up to the ghosts to lead us safely through the maze surrounding Pudlington. They pointed out the traps along the way and helped us to avoid or defuse them, so when we reached Pudlington’s inner bailey, no one had suffered an injury or gotten lost.

Our passage did not go unnoticed. Instead of two guards outside the gates to Pudlington, there were well over a hundred filling the hallway. I faced them at the head of an odd assortment of the wretched living and stoic undead.

“We’re not here to cause trouble,” I said. “I only ask that you deliver a message. Tell Emperor Banshee that I’ll fight his war for him. On one condition.”

* * *

Continue to Part 62.

4/14/13 News:

And so ends the second third of The Only City Left. I hope you’ve been enjoying it so far and will stick around for the next 30 installments!

Here’s my word count for the week. I am so close to being caught up to my goal, but at the same time I need to be writing less and brainstorming more as I move into the endgame of Book Two’s first draft. So as much as I’d like to be caught up or ahead on my word count goal, it may be a while yet before that happens.

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Also, here’s a slightly updated version of the cover I shared last week. I guess I won’t say this is the final version, because you never know.

onlycityleft-041013a small

Thanks to everyone who reads, comments, and shares. It truly makes me happy to know that people are enjoying this story.

The Only City Left is listed on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction. If you are so inclined, I would appreciate any ratings/reviews/recommends on that site to help get TOCL noticed. Thanks!

If you enjoyed this post, please click the image below to give The Only City Left a vote on Top Web Fiction. (One vote allowed per week.)

Click here to vote for The Only City Left on Top Web Fiction!

#

Logo Credit:The TOCL logo is courtesy of Jande Rowe of the webcomic Aedre’s Firefly. If you haven’t already read AF, I encourage you to go check it out. Not only does Jande produce the comic, she reviews other long-form webcomics, gives tips and instructions on creating a comic, and is endlessly supportive of other creators. For a great review that will bring you up to speed on Aedre’s Firefly, check out this page at Webcomic Alliance.