The Only City Left: Part 75

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 74, Allin changed back to his human form to hide from Pogue, but perhaps a werewolf bar was not the best hiding place.

The Only City Left: Part 75

The room was lit only by the werewolves’ coils, and it took my once-again-human eyes a few seconds to adjust to the mix of bright lights and dark shadows. When I did, I saw that I had stepped into some sort of bar and that all of the tables were packed with werewolves at their leisure. Behind the bar, a werewolf was wiping the counter down.

My arrival brought them all to a halt, their snouts swiveling in my direction.

“Well what do we have here?”
“Someone order fresh meat?”

I heard raucous laughter fill the room, followed by the sound of chairs scraping as a group of them got up from their seats.

Before I could flee, several of the wolves latched on to me and dragged me into the center of the room. Back in my regular body, I had no chance of avoiding their grasp, much less escaping. One hand gripped my jaw and turned my face left and right.
“Not as pretty as the last one they sent.”

I could feel gusts of hot breath at the base of my neck as someone behind me sniffed.

“Who cares if he’s pretty? He smells good and I’m hungry.”

They tugged me this way and that, wolves pulling at their prey, and I could barely catch my breath to tell them to stop, I was in such a panic. After all I had been through to get here, I was about to be pulled apart by a pack of rabid werewolves because I had made a wrong turn. I still had so much left to do, so many people who were counting on me. It shouldn’t have ended this way.

And it didn’t.

“All right, all right, you’ve had your fun,” said the werewolf behind the bar. “Now let him go. That’s the new errand boy I requested, so if you want to keep your liquor flowing, you’ll not tear him apart.”

Abruptly, they released me and I flew forward, windmilling my arms for balance. I came up against the bar and caught myself before I smacked into it head-first. Behind me, I heard the werewolves retake their seats with mumbled complaints and disappointed comments. As they resumed their normal chatter, I looked up to see who it was who had saved me.

No.

“Long time, no see, kid. How’s life been treating you since Glin’s Rising?”

It was him. The only wolf who had survived the battle inside the department store. The wolf who killed my father.

I gripped the edge of the bar, ready to launch over it and tear his throat out, heedless of being a mere human at the moment. My father’s murderer, alive and serving drinks? There was no justice left in the world, so I would have to provide it myself.

These thoughts must have been plain on my face, because he tut-tutted me and said, “You wouldn’t want to cause a scene now, would you? After I just saved your life and all? Have a seat.”

I tamped down the rage burning inside of me, pulled up a stool, and slid onto it. He was right, he had saved me. And I would repay him, too, for everything. In the meantime, I had to keep my anger under control and play it cool until I could escape.

“Serving drinks?” I asked, my voice low and devoid of any emotion. “I would have thought you’d have a slave to do that for you.”

“Funny thing about that,” he said, and then moved further down the bar with an awkward gait, his right arm sliding along the counter. “Normally, you’d be right.”

He grabbed a mostly empty glass with his left hand, poured its remnants onto the floor behind the bar, and then slid it toward me before shuffling back my way. On the return trip, he let his right arm hang limp at his side, and he gripped the counter with his left hand. I realized that his right arm was useless, still injured from that battle in Glin’s. And from the way he walked, his left leg was similarly useless. I thought of Matthias and his speech about werewolf healing. In this case, it obviously hadn’t worked.

“Yes, I’m crippled,” he said. He pulled a bottle of some opaque brown liquid from underneath the bar and sloshed some into the empty glass before me. “Drink up.”

I was about to protest that I didn’t want any, but the look on his face told me I had no choice. If he asked me to spin on my head right now, I had better try my best to do it; he held my fate in his one good hand. The liquid sizzled down my throat and hit my stomach like a punch. My cheeks flushed and I blinked tears from my eyes.

“Good stuff, that,” he said. He grabbed the glass and finished the rest of it in one gulp before slamming it back onto the bar. “Now we’ve shared a drink. Old friends, us. Let’s catch up.”

Unlike me, he didn’t bother to hide the bitterness in his voice.

“So after I killed your dad”—I dug my fingernails into the bar but kept staring straight into his eyes as he growled his story—“I made my way back to the Garden. Grinty was the leader of our little troop, but since he and all the others were dead, it was up to me to tell Doyle what happened.”

He poured another glassful and nudged me to repeat the ritual. The drink burned less this time and I could feel it fuzzing the contours of my brain. He finished the rest and slammed it down again. If it was affecting him at all, I couldn’t tell.

“Orders were to bring you and your dad in alive and, of course, never lose a coil. For letting you keep your dad’s coil, Doyle made sure this never healed.” He picked up his limp right arm in his left hand and let it fall back to his side. “And for your dad dying, he mangled my leg, too. But because I had let you live, he spared my life and gave me this job serving my ‘betters.’ I guess I got you to thank for that.”

“You’re not welcome.”

His composure broke, helped along by the alcohol perhaps. He grabbed my neck in his good hand and pulled me up and across the bar so that we were nose to snout.

“I hold your life in my hand, you little snot. You might want to be a little more thankful. But now that you’re here, I’m thinking maybe Doyle might reward the wolf that brings you in. And that would be thanks enough.”

* * *

Continue to Part 76.

7/21/13 News: Another scene that will likely be changed in the novel, although there are some core elements that will remain.

The Only City Left is listed on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction.

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.)

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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 74

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 73, Allin met with Tumble after stopping him from attempting to assassinate Doyle.

The Only City Left: Part 74

In the dark recesses of the narrow alleyway, I hugged Tumble until he gasped for air. I set him down and asked, “What are you still doing here? You have to get back to Pudlington. Now.”

“Is it true? About Banshee?” he asked, his voice grave.

Of course. I couldn’t just drop a bomb on him by announcing his brother was dead and then expect that he would leave without talking to me first. I spent the next half-hour filling him in on everything that had happened since he had last seen me plummeting to my death, but I started with the most important news for him.

“It didn’t look good, Tumble. Last I saw, he wasn’t moving.”

After that, Tumble listened to my story quietly, asking questions to clarify this or that detail but mostly allowing me to get through it as fast as possible.

“Fordham in league with Doyle,” Tumble said when I was done. He stroked his chin as he mulled over that possibility. “Well isn’t that a horrible prospect. Are you sure about this?”

“Well, no,” I said. “But it was awfully convenient that he wasn’t standing next to Banshee when that catwolf attacked. And he was quick to claim leadership in the midst of that chaos. Real quick.”

“That places you in incredible danger,” Tumble said. “He knows your mission is to kill Doyle and that you can become a werewolf now. It won’t be long before he sends a warning to the Garden.”

I hadn’t considered that, but it made a scary sort of sense. If the ghosts hadn’t gotten me to the Garden so quickly, the news might have arrived before me. I might have stood in front of Doyle, semi-confident in my disguise, only to be set upon and exposed on the spot. That I hadn’t been meant one of two things were true: either Fordham wasn’t in league with the wolves or his messenger hadn’t arrived yet.

Tumble agreed but pointed out one more depressing fact. “Whether it’s Fordham or another spy who gets the word out, it won’t be long until Doyle knows you’re a wolf. You can’t stay here, Allin.”

“He may know I’m a wolf, but not which wolf. You’re the one who can’t stay. You need to go to Pudlington and knock Fordham off the throne. How fast can you get back there?”

“Less than a day if I don’t stop, now that I know the way.” He paused and stroked his muzzle. “Allin, I know my brother wanted to hold off on shutting down the coils, but you’re the one dealing with the werewolves now. Do you want me to have Copper turn them off?”

I thought about it for a moment but shook my head at the offer. “As much as I want the werewolves gone, I have a better chance of getting at my uncle as one of them. Let’s stick with Banshee’s plan.”

“And do you have any plan for getting rid of Doyle?”

“No. I thought the ghosts were going to help me, but they didn’t show up when I confronted Doyle just now.”

“Then my plan’s as good as any,” he said, and handed over three nutri-bulb sized grenades. EMPs, just as I thought. “These are still our best chance to erase Doyle. Which I might have done already if you hadn’t intervened.”

I started to protest but he cut me off. “I know, I know. You had to make sure I knew about Banshee. You did the right thing. You’re becoming quite the brave young man, Allin.”

“Thank you,” I said, a feeling of pride swelling inside me. Coming from Tumble, those words meant everything.

“I’d best be off. We both have much to do. Good luck, Allin Arcady. I hope to see you again when all this is over. Don’t disappoint me.”

“I’ll try not to.”

We hugged one last time and then he was off down the alley until he disappeared around a corner. I held the three EMP grenades in my hands. Without my bag, I had no place to put all of them, so I stashed two beneath some rubble and put the third in my pocket. I’d only have one chance at erasing Doyle, anyway. Maybe I could even use Tumble’s original plan. I reached up and dug my claws into the brick wall to see if it would take my weight, but a shout from the mouth of the alleyway startled me. I fell to the alley floor with a thud.

“Ballister, that you?” asked a werewolf walking over to me. “What are you doing, man?”
The werewolf offered me a hand up and I accepted it, thinking of an answer while I stood up and brushed myself off.

“I was getting antsy. Figured I’d climb the walls for some exercise.”

“Yeah, well, we’re moving out early, so you won’t be bored no more. The name’s Pogue, Sergeant Pogue.” He stopped and sniffed at the air. “I think I smell cat.”

With my heightened sense of smell, so did I, but I made a show of sniffing the air and shaking my head.

“I can barely smell anything with all this smoke in the air,” I said, heading toward the street and away from the direction Tumble had taken.

Pogue sniffed a couple of more times before reluctantly following me out onto the street.

“Weird,” he said, and shrugged. “Come on, I’ll introduce you to the guys.”

This was definitely not good. I needed to stay in the Garden, not get roped into some hunt for more human slaves. Oblivious to my inner turmoil, Sergeant Pogue led me through the streets, talking all the while about this new site they had scoped out and how twenty wolves should be plenty to take it. He was either a genuinely friendly guy, as werewolves go, or he was treating me well because of the “promotion” Doyle had given me. Either way, he wouldn’t shut up or leave my side, even when I suggested I had gear I needed to get before I left.

“Oh, we got tons of good stuff you can use,” was his unhelpful response to that gambit.

Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. We were getting to the edge of town and I’d have nowhere to go but with him if I didn’t make a move. I waited until the area around us was deserted of anyone but human slaves and then said, “Over there, did you see that?”

“What? Where?”
I clapped him on the shoulder and pointed past a pile of rubble down the street.

“You were right! I just saw one of those stinking cats skulking around. He must be spying. Let’s get him!”

“Yeah!” the dim Sergeant Pogue replied, and took off running.

I ran, too, but in the opposite direction. Since Pogue could realize I had lied and turn back to find me at any moment, I did the first thing I could think of to disguise myself amidst the slaves. I removed my coil and shoved it into my empty pants pocket.

I couldn’t change my clothes, though, and even Pogue would recognize me in them if he found me, so I needed to do more to hide from him. To that end, I ducked into the first darkened doorway I could find, determined to wait him out inside of the abandoned building. Except it wasn’t abandoned.

It was full of werewolves.

* * *

Continue to Part 75.

7/14/13 News: I finished the re-outlining of The Only City Left, which entailed cutting a lot of scenes, adding new ones, and changing other ones. In this page, for instance, most everything after Tumble and Allin part has been removed in favor of a new avenue. This makes posting pages like this a little painful, but it’s all part of the process. At any rate, I need to type up all my notes, give it a once-over, and send it to my editor for evisceration, er, review. And then I’m back to writing. Yay!

The Only City Left is listed on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction.

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.)

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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 73

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 72, Allin stopped Tumble from assassinating Doyle, but at the cost of falling under Doyle’s gaze.

The Only City Left: Part 73

All eyes were on me suddenly and I couldn’t think of what else to say. All I could imagine was Tumble dropping that grenade at my feet. Even an emp grenade would have enough explosive force to tear me to pieces, so my split-second gamble might have been the last I ever made. When nothing else happened, I realized two things: Tumble hadn’t gone through with his attack, and I was suddenly the center of attention for not only the entire crowd and the performers, but for my uncle as well.

“What did you just say?” asked Doyle, sitting up straighter amidst the pile of cushions he lounged in.

“I said, ‘Congratulations!’ I heard you killed the Emperor of Pudlington,” I said, imitating the voice of the first person I could think of. “About time, too. Those cats think they’re so grand, but aye, you showed ‘em.”

“Did that happen already?” Doyle asked softly, as if to himself. “I thought…”

“Must’ve happened, your um greatness,” I said, working hard to keep an obviously addle-minded Doyle from having too much time to think. “The people are saying you’ll be marching on the cat city next, what with Banshee’s brother running around on a fool’s errand and all.”

That woke Doyle up from his stupor. He bared his teeth and pulled himself forward so that he sat on the edge of his cushioned seat and could lean out of the palanquin toward me.

He brought his hands up before him and I thought, This is it. What was I thinking getting this close to the monster? I might as well have turned myself in to him first thing.

But he didn’t grab me by the throat and proclaim victory. Instead he blinked twice and twisted the neck of an imaginary foe in mid-air. Even the watching crowd let out a surprised sigh.

“Banshee’s brother? Tumble? Damn him to the abyss. He let my nephew die, the coward. I’ll skin him alive and use his fur for a bath mat the next time I see him.”

News of my demise had traveled quickly from Pudlington. I wondered if Banshee knew the extent to which the cat city must be inundated with spies. And then I wondered if Banshee would ever have cause to worry about that again. The image of him lying face-down in his own blood strengthened my resolve to clue in Tumble as to what had happened. I wanted to look up to see if he was still on the roof, but I couldn’t risk the glance.

“Sounds like if he grappled with you, he’d be in a real jam. He’d be lucky to survive the fall after that.”

“Fall? What fall?

Uh-oh. Too much?

“The fall. You know, after you, um, damn him into that abyss. Damn that cat.”

It was the best I could do with my uncle the ghost werewolf in front of me and a good portion of his werewolf army staring down my back. I hoped Tumble got my message one way or another, because I wasn’t sure I’d survive this conversation.

“Yes. Yes,” Doyle said. “What did you say your name was, soldier?”

Soldier? Soldier! He was buying it. He thought I was one of them!

“Name’s Ballister.”

“Well, thank you, Ballister. Yes,” Doyle said, standing up and addressing his words to the crowd. “The so-called Emperor Banshee is dead by my order. None can stand against the might of the Fifth House!”

The crowd cheered. Doyle threw his hands above his head and they cheered again, louder.

“How come I was not immediately informed of my success?” Doyle asked, bringing his arms down and peering at the wolves closest to him, the ones running the entertainment. “Didn’t any of you hear this news?”

“No, um, no.”

“Not really.”

“I think I heard something, maybe.”

“Sorry, no, Lord Commander.”

Doyle listened to his men and then turned back to examine me more closely. I could smell the stink of my sweat as I wilted under that gaze. Abruptly, Doyle grinned and lifted his head to address the crowd.

“This is the kind of wolf I want in my service. Independent. Nose to the ground,” he said. He focused on me again. “What’s your rank, Ballister?”

I mumbled my answer. “Um, second, under, private, first class, sir.”

I needn’t have tried to make something up; Doyle ignored me and barreled on over my words. “Never mind. You’re a colonel now. There’s a battalion leaving tonight to cull a new town we found. I want you there with them gathering intel for me. Pogue will fill you in. Pogue!”

I followed Doyle’s gaze and saw two werewolves carrying away the old man’s body. One of them, Pogue, stood up straighter and said, “Yes, sir!”

“You let Ballister here know the details.”
“Yes, sir!”

“Good, good,” Doyle said, sitting back down. When he looked back at me, his energetic zeal seemed to have drained from his face. He looked blankly at me and said, “What are you still doing here? Go!”

He needn’t have raised his voice at the end; I was already gone. As I moved through the crowd, I heard him ordering the next diversion, but when I spared a glance back, he was already lying down and staring into space.

Though I had survived a conversation with my uncle, I was no closer to taking him down, and if I wasn’t mistaken he had ordered me to leave the Garden on some sort of seek-and-destroy mission against another innocent group of humans. That might be trouble, but if Tumble had understood my message to him, it would be worth it. Hopefully he realized it was me underneath the fur and by now he would be high-tailing it back to Pudlington to find out if what I said about Banshee was true.

I made it out of the crowd in front of the gutted building and walked a block away before I gave into my nerves, leaned against a building, and panted like I had just run a race. It felt like the rat I had eaten was scrabbling around inside me, tearing up my guts.

I nearly jumped out of my fur when a voice drifted out of a nearby alley.

“Jam? Grapple? You needn’t have laid it on so thick. I knew it was you the moment you started talking like Ballister.”

* * *

Continue to Part 74.

7/6/13 News: I’m more than halfway through the re-outlining process of editing. Once that is done, I can start rewriting. I’m definitely looking forward to writing again, and I’m hoping that my editor’s suggestions combined with my new outline will make for a much stronger version of The Only City Left.

The Only City Left is listed on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction.

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 72

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 71, Allin had infiltrated the Garden as a werewolf, and was on the hunt for his uncle Doyle, the werewolf king.

The Only City Left: Part 72

I let the old lady go and followed the screams and lunatic laughter to their source, a courtyard of sorts set up in the ruins of a gutted building. The front wall was gone and the rubble had been cleared from inside, but the jagged-topped side and back walls remained to a height of one or two stories. An elaborate palanquin had been set down in front of the rear wall, its silken curtains open so that the person inside could see the spectacle arrayed before him. Even from across the street, its occupant was unmistakably Doyle. I was fairly certain that he was the only monstrously large, blue-glowing werewolf in the region.

I stepped back, bumped into the building behind me, and froze there, watching my uncle from a distance. I broke out in acrid sweat as I imagined him suddenly glaring at me from across the street and shouting for my capture. I had been counting on my transformation to allow me to hide in plain sight, but I was filled with doubts of a sudden. What if he could tell I was there by smell or some sixth sense?

I needn’t have worried. Not only was Doyle oblivious to my presence, he didn’t seem to notice the bizarre circus on display before him, either. Werewolves were clowning around, if you chose to call it that, with human slaves cast in the role of animals. It was their screams and the audience’s laughter that had led me to Doyle, but he sat in his palanquin staring into another world entirely, his gaze distant but intense.

The crowd in the ruined building was packed, so I was not alone in watching from the street, but like my uncle I paid little attention to the horrible show. Instead my mind teemed with thoughts and plans, worries and ideas.

There he is, within striking distance. But how do you kill a ghost, even a solid one? I saw his severed arm turn to mist and flow through the air. If he could survive that, what will it take to do him in? Maybe I can lure him away from his men somehow? Lead him to the abyss outside the clinker’s city and push him off? He might survive the fall, but I bet he’d be a long time putting himself back together again. Long enough to convince the cats to depower his army in the meantime.

Sure. Easy. Follow me, Doyle. I have something to show you. It’s only a couple of days away and these nice ghosts are going to lead us there. Talk amongst yourselves. You probably have a lot in common.

Idiot. I had no plan, no weapons, no clue. Weren’t the ghosts supposed to find me when I found Doyle? I looked slyly to the left and the right, as if I would see them boiling up out of the pavement, but all I saw was a sea of furry bodies. Something did catch my eye from the top of a building across the way, but when I swung my head up to look, there was nothing there.

No ghosts. No help. I was on my own.

Without a plan, I moved through the crowd, closer to the main attraction but more importantly closer to Doyle. If I was going to do anything, I’d have to be within reach first. I watched him as one act left the cleared floor that served as a stage and another took its place. He looked briefly at what it was: a large spinning disc with an elderly man chained to it in the shape of an X, and children with knives. I could tell from overheard conversations that the old man was the kids’ grandfather. The werewolves prompted the children to throw the knives by threatening their parents, who were off-stage somewhere. A family act. If I could have personally torn out the throats out of each and every one of the werewolves present, those putting on the show and those enjoying it, I would have done so and happily embraced the title of “killer.”

Doyle for his part watched in a daze until the first knife found its mark after several near-misses, at which point his gaze drifted off into some inner or outer space again. I opened and closed my fists at my sides, stabbing my palms with my claws to try to distract myself from the sound of the children’s sobs and the terrible rage churning inside of me.

Because I was looking anywhere but at the show, I happened to notice a shadow leap from one building to another behind and a few stories above Doyle’s palanquin. A quick glance to either side and behind me convinced me that I was alone in noticing it. Everyone else was raptly enjoying the horrible drama of the knife act. The old man had so far refused to cry out in pain, the only gift he had left to give his grandchildren. I heard bets being taken: would he make a sound before he died? There were takers on both sides.

I did my best to ignore them and surreptitiously scan the roof of the four-story building directly behind Doyle’s palanquin. There! A short figure slinked along the edge of the rooftop and stopped dead-center above Doyle. I looked around again. Could I really be the only one noticing this? Sure enough, everyone else was focused on the entertainment. The old man had let out a death rattle and now the crowd was engaged in a loud argument as to whether or not that constituted making a noise before he died.

I kept my head down and my eyes on the rooftop, so I saw the exact moment that the shadowy figure leaned over the edge of the roof, a grenade in hand. It was Tumble and, at a guess, he was about to drop an emp on Doyle’s head. That might take Doyle out then and there, but then again it might not, and either way Tumble would slink away and I’d have no way of finding him again.

“Congratulations,” I shouted, forcing my way forward through the crowd until I stood mere feet from Doyle. “On the death of Emperor Banshee.”

If that didn’t get Tumble’s attention and give him pause, I was about to have a front row seat for another assassination.

* * *

Continue to Part 73.

6/30/13 News: The Only City Left is listed on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction.

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 71

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 70, Allin reached the toxic wasteland of the Garden after some final advice from Xerxes.

The Only City Left: Part 71

I made my way down the switchbacked stairs to ground level and followed potholed streets toward the center of the ruined town. The air was easier to breath at ground level, but not by much, and the dirty haze above blocked the overhead lighting and lent a murky unreality to the landscape. Everything was dismal and gray, the air a fetid miasma of sweat and rot. Amidst the buildings, dirty children dressed in thin rags picked at mounds of garbage while adults in chains broke down huge concrete chunks with pick-axes and carted them away.

The enslaved humans gave me dirty looks from the corners of their eyes as I made my way past them into the crumbling town. The further in I walked, the more of them I saw, and not all in chains, either. Surreally, some seemed to be running businesses, selling food and drink and scavenged items out of stalls or broken storefronts. None of them looked especially happy, but not all were as miserable as the chained wretches or the dirt-caked ones lying half off the curb mumbling to themselves. It was a madhouse world, eerie in its quiet insanity. At least, that’s what the regular human side of the town was like.

There was another side, though, co-existing in space but barely seeming to touch: the werewolf side. Here, werewolves marched in groups or singly through the streets, talking, laughing, roaring approval or displeasure at this or that sight. Each werewolf was a beacon of bright white light, their coils illuminating the stark difference between their world and the squalid, human one around them. They walked through a party, and if they had to step over a piss-drenched human on the sidewalk or stop for a moment to buy a baked treat from a vendor, they barely acknowledged the interruption.

The normal humans made sure to keep it this way, hunching over and scurrying out of the werewolves’ paths, keeping their voices to a whisper or shutting up entirely when the wolves were near, and speaking only the minimal words required when directly addressed by one of the wolves. This was a conquered population, cowering in fear even though they vastly outnumbered the werewolves. It only made sense, I supposed. I had seen what one wolf could do. The humans—underfed, weaponless, barely clothed—wouldn’t stand a chance if they rose up against their masters. I held my stomach it made me so sick. It didn’t help that through the stench that filled the air, the delectable scent of something roasting reached my nose. My empty stomach tightened in on itself in response.

I followed the smell through the streets until I reached a stall where a haggard-looking man was cooking large rats on a makeshift grill. Tumble would be thrilled, I thought, and realized I was salivating despite myself. I guess the wolf part of me is thrilled, too.

I must have been staring, because the man, who looked like he hadn’t eaten in days himself, asked me, “Roast rat, your honor? Or I got live ones if you like.”

What the hell. I was hungry and I was a werewolf, undercover in the enemy’s lair. Werewolves wouldn’t refuse food just because they felt bad for the person selling it. But…

“I don’t have any money.”

“Oh, that’s all right,” the man started to say, but a loud voice cut him off at the same time that a thick hand clapped me hard on the back.

“Are you denying this hard-working wolf a meal, you money-grubbing little pizzant? I ought to roast you and serve you to my friend here.”

Before I could protest, the werewolf, a man about my size, stepped past me and kicked the rickety stall, knocking it to pieces. The vendor fell beneath the rain of wood planks that used to be his shop, and rats squeaked and scurried away into the nearby rubble.

“I’m so sorry, your honors. Please, take whatever you want!”
“Take? Take! We’re not shopkeeps, scum. Get up and serve us!”

The man excavated himself from the splintered wood of his stall and made it to his feet. With shaking hands, he retrieved two of the roasted rats and handed them to us. Before I could thank him, my new friend put one arm around my shoulder and led me away.

“Buddy, you can’t let that money thing get to their heads or soon they’ll be expecting it,” he said in between bites of his roast rat.

“Nnn-huh,” I said, and realized that I too was gnawing on my rat on a stick. My hunger and werewolf nature had conspired to feed me despite any qualms I had.

“You a new recruit?” he asked as we strolled away from the broken stall. I was slow to answer, what with a mouth full of rat, so he kept on talking. “I heard they got a new batch of coils in, but I didn’t realize they had started promoting already. The names Rinsen, by the way. You? Anyway, you’ll like it on this side of the system, lemme tell you. Hey boy! Over here!”

This last was addressed to a small boy, maybe ten years old, who lugged a heavy pail of water in his hands. He made his way carefully over to us, set the pail down without spilling a drop, and lifted a metal ladle out.

“Bah, that’s for the slaves,” Rinsen said, knocking the ladle to the dirty street before picking up the pail and drinking directly from it.

He offered it to me next and I took it gladly. Food, drink. If nothing else, this mission was satisfying my appetite. I gulped greedily and dropped the pail at my feet with a clang.

“Yah, that’s the spirit,” Rinsen said. He finished the last of his rat and tossed the stick away, so I followed suit. “Hopefully they’ll have better than water wherever we land next. Damn officers are hoarding it all for themselves now. Hey, boy, who said you could go?”

The water boy had picked up his empty pail and begun to walk away when Rinsen’s call stopped him short. He turned around and I could see the pail jumping and shaking in his hands.

“I’ve worked up an appetite, boy. Come with me.”

“Please, sir, no, I’ve got to get more water and—”

“Did you say ‘no’ to me? Did you?”

Rinsen lunged forward and grabbed the boy by his ratty shirt, which tore under the werewolf’s claws. “The only thing you’ve got to do is what I tell you to. Understand?”

Rinsen’s friendly familiarity and constant patter had gotten under my skin and distracted me from the casual injustice of the Garden. Perhaps part of it was how natural it felt for the werewolf in me to take what it wanted and damn the consequences. But watching a grown werewolf terrorize a little kid snapped me out of that mindset. It hit too close to home.

“Leave him be,” I said, putting my hand on Rinsen’s shoulder.

Rinsen turned his snout and eyed me coolly over his shoulder. He shoved the boy to the ground and turned to face me.

“What, you already got your eye on him? Plenty to go around, pal.” He poked my chest with one claw and flicked my coil. “Or do you still got mixed feelings about your promotion? Because you better get right in the head about that. You love it so much, you can always go right back to being a slave.”

“Just leave him alone,” I said, my lip rising to show some teeth.

“Man, if they’re accepting new recruits like you, they must be desperate to expand,” Rinsen said, returning my sneer. “Watch yourself, puppy, and lose that attitude. Fast.”

Rinsen shot me a disgusted look and started to walk off. He casually kicked the water boy in the stomach on his way. I felt an urge to lunge after him, to beat some manners into his flesh, or tear some of that superiority from his hide. A low growl escaped my throat and I had to squeeze my eyes shut for a moment to regain control. Focus!

The sound of the boy whimpering and crying distracted me from my violent thoughts. He hadn’t moved from where Rinsen had kicked him.

“Get up, boy,” I said. “Get someplace safe.”

He rolled over to his hands and knees and stood up, still crying. I felt bad that I couldn’t do anything for him, but a part of me, the werewolf self whose influence I could not help but recognize, also felt disgust at the weak thing before me.

“Why don’t you run away from this?” I asked. “Run and don’t look back.”

“You’re just saying that so you can chase me down,” he said. As if abashed by his own temerity, he added a hasty, “Sir.”

I could try to convince him, but what was the point. “Go,” I said, and when he didn’t move, I repeated the command louder.

This spurred him to action. He ran a ways off, his pail abandoned on the street, and then turned back to me and spit in my direction before diving into a narrow gap in the rubble piled between two buildings.

Good, he still has some fight left in him after all.

I turned in a slow circle and took in the sights. The rat vendor quietly piecing his stall back together out of makeshift parts. A woman, smiling nervously, pressed up against the wall by a werewolf who curled her hair around his finger as he talked to her. More dirty children scurrying through the streets. Three werewolves walking arm in arm singing a bawdy song. Another werewolf leading a line of chained men and women to the outskirts of town.

I couldn’t fix this by saving one person here or there. It was too big for that. I had to find Doyle and take him out so that I could convince the cats to depower the werewolves en masse. But where to find Doyle?

I decided to take the direct approach rather than waste more time wandering around. I grabbed the nearest human to hand, pulled her toward me, and asked, “Where’s Doyle?”

The woman, elderly and dressed in a thin, gray robe, bowed her head and said, “Doyle Arcady, Lord Commander of the Fifth House, blessed be his name,” as if it was a religious mantra.

“Yeah, Lord whatsiswhat. Him. Where is he?”

Before she could answer, I heard a piercing scream and maniacal laughter from somewhere nearby. The woman pointed in that direction and said, “There.”

Of course.

* * *

Continue to Part 72.

6/23/13 News: Another nearly double-sized installment this week. Work proceeds apace on the rewrite. And I have discovered a new means of procrastination: Scrolls. Oh no!

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.)

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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 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!

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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 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!

#

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.