The Only City Left: Part 79

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 78, Doyle was sharing his version of Arcady family history with Allin, when he revealed that he got his powers from a mysterious force called the Fifth House.

The Only City Left: Part 79

The Fifth House? That was the name of the distant kingdom that gave the older brother his powers in Mom’s story, and the slave in the Garden had used that phrase in Doyle’s title. Banshee had alluded to them without knowing their name. If any part of this story were true, this might be it.

“What’s the Fifth House?” I asked.

“Gods. Or as close to them as the Earth can afford nowadays.”

“So you met some gods.” So much for the truth.

He scowled at my sarcasm. “I have a werewolf army and I came back from the dead, and you find it hard to believe I met some gods? Well, believe what you want. I found them or they found me. Either way, they gave me the power to become a werewolf and to turn others, and the coils to allow us to transform even in the depths of the city. In return, they asked only that I expand my empire, which as you might have guessed I was quite happy to do. But first I had to protect my wife, so upon my return I infected her.”

“You!?” Doyle had been the one to turn Mom into a werewolf? Could that be true? Not that it made it any better, but I liked to think that Dad had been the one to do it. If it was Doyle, it meant I was even more connected to him, as if the werewolf side of me was his son. I felt ill.

“Yes. She was safer that way. I did Dylan next. That was my biggest mistake, sharing my power with the betrayer. But I couldn’t have known at the time. No, all I knew was that the city was dangerous and I needed to make it safer. I built a new Garden for Jessie and vowed she would always be safe within its walls. But while I worked to infect more wolves and build a fortress, my brother poisoned my wife against me. No fortress, no matter how impregnable, can withstand such rot from the inside.”

Wow, I had it so wrong all this time. Doyle isn’t the bad guy at all; it was my parents. Now that I see the light, I’ll gladly do whatever I can to help him. How could I have ever been so wrong? At least, that’s what he seemed to expect me to say. He was so earnest in his delivery of the tale, I didn’t doubt that he believed it himself. I suspected that after all these years as half a ghost, Uncle Doyle was more than a little bit insane.

“While I was busy building an army, your parents hatched their plan. And when I took a break from my works to spend time with my wife, they struck. They cut me down and left me for dead. What they couldn’t have known was that the Fifth House had given me the means to survive death via the Lazarus swarm. Once I returned, I vowed to track them down to the ends of the Earth and make them pay for their crime.”

“I guess that didn’t work out so well for you.” I couldn’t help myself. Tied to a table, waiting for who knows what horrible fate to befall me, all I had left were my words, so I used them to inflict what wounds I could. But instead of looking angry, Doyle grinned his wolfish grin.

“For a long time, yes. But now here you are, and all will be right again soon.”
“How’s that exactly?”

Doyle stood up, walked over to me, and cupped my cheek with his hand, almost a caress. I shuddered under his touch.

“You have wondered, I am sure, about my present state of being? A ghost who can touch but can’t feel? Solid one moment…”

He brought his hand up behind his head and then brought it down to slap me. I winced against the expected impact, but instead of a slap I felt like someone was pouring fine sand over my face. I opened my eyes and saw that his arm from the elbow down looked like flowing smoke. It passed over my face with all the force of a strong breeze.

“…Insubstantial the next. And back again.”

His hand and arm re-formed and he gave me a light slap on my cheek with the back of his hand.

“An amusing party trick, to be sure, but no way to live, to really live,” Doyle said. He started to pace again. “I can’t blame the Fifth House. They told me it would work best with someone of my own blood, but it was taking so long to capture Dylan, I had to try using someone else.”

Someone of my own blood.

“Use them for what?”

“To transfer my mind into their bodies, of course.”

“Mind transfer? You can’t be serious.”

“Why not? I may be mechanical and you biological, but we’re both delivery devices for consciousness. The Fifth House showed me how to overwrite a host body with my consciousness, but it has never fully worked. The host body always rejects me. But with each failure, I consumed the body. Rather, the nanobots that make up my body did. I grew stronger, more solid. But even though I can touch, I can’t feel. Even though I can tear into warm flesh with these teeth, I can’t taste the blood. It’s driving me mad!”

That last part I could agree with.

“For years I chased after your family, desperate to capture Dylan and transfer my consciousness into his body. I even had some notion that I could effect the transfer in secret and in that way be with my sweet, poisonous Jessie one last time, willingly, before I murdered her. Imagine the hurt and betrayal she would have felt as the man she thought was her husband choked the life out of her. But then your parents went and got themselves killed. Which left you, Allin. You’re my only family left, and I’m going to have to kick you out of that body of yours. Nothing personal.”

* * *

Continue to Part 80.

8/18/13 News: First off, I finally put a reminder in my calendar to post the new TOCL episode, and without it, I would definitely have forgotten again. Second, yes, Fiona called it. Doyle wants to kick Allin out of his body. In rewrite news, I finished Chapter 3 and it is off to my editor. She has had minimal notes on the first two chapters, which is good news. I have 43 chapters planned, so I feel like I am once more at the beginning of a long road, but I am glad that I will have a better book at the end of it.

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 78

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 77, Allin was at the mercy of his ghost werewolf Uncle, Doyle.

The Only City Left: Part 78

“You seem pretty alive to me already,” I said. Which was true. He could move around, talk, and unlike most ghosts who could only interact with a tiny bit of the physical world for a small amount of time, he was as solid as they came.

Speaking of ghosts, I thought. Here I am, all alone with Doyle. Now would be an excellent time for Xerxes and friends to show up. Where in the hell are they?

Doyle backed away and threw his hands up as if throwing my words back at me.

“Bah. This? This isn’t life. This is a waking dream. My senses are dulled. I can’t eat or drink.” He slammed his palms down on his desk. “Every sensation is deadened. What I wouldn’t give to feel again, to taste, to know the touch of a woman. Yes, especially that.”

“Creepy,” I said. “Seriously creepy. And nothing to do with me.”

“Mock me all you want, boy, but you’re the key to fixing this. Even better, it means I’ll finally have my revenge on your parents. They killed me and their son will give me new life. How perfect.”

“The only thing my parents did wrong was not sticking around to make sure they finished the job.”

In the blink of an eye, Doyle stepped toward me and punched the table beside my head. His fist left a gaping hole in the inch-thick slab of wood.

“Are you trying to get me to kill you? Clever, that would ruin my plans for now. But I won’t make it that easy on you. And I won’t allow you to keep on spewing the lies your parents fed to you about me. Before this ends, you should know the dirty truth about them.”
The possibility of finding out more about my parents made me keep my mouth shut. That and the fact that I really wasn’t trying to get Doyle to kill me. As clever as he thought I was being, I had no desire to die and I didn’t see how that would be a big win for me. So I didn’t say anything; I just listened.

“The first thing you should know is that Jessie didn’t pick your dad first. She picked me. It wasn’t until years later that he played on my trust and kindness and stole her away from me. But I’m getting ahead of myself,” he said. He dropped my coil on his desk, pulled a chair over, and sat down facing me. “The story really began in a section of the city known as the Garden, which was governed by Jessie’s parents. Now your dad and I, we kind of grew up like wild dogs, all over the place, doing what we needed to do to get by. So when we saw the Garden, and Jessie, it was like a little slice of heaven smack dab in the middle of the dirt and decay of the city. It wasn’t fair that some people had so much while we were living day to day, so Dylan and I, we went to the Garden and we made a deal with Jessie’s parents. Jessie had to choose one of us to marry, or we’d burn the Garden down. Jessie chose me.”

I wasn’t surprised that Doyle was the star of his own story, or that he cast Dad as the villain. I was prepared for his version of events to be skewed in his favor. What did surprise me was that I had heard this story before, sort of. Except…

“Wait a second. Did you have another brother who went with you to the Garden?”

Doyle’s eyes narrowed and he bared his teeth. For a moment I thought he would jump up and put a matching hole in the table on the other side of my head, but he calmed himself and said, “I don’t know what lies your parents filled your head with, but shut up and listen to what really happened.”

Lies. Stories. I always thought my parents had kept the details of their past hidden from me, but what if it was all out there for me to see, plain as day, only disguised as a fairy tale instead of a history lesson? The Princess and the Three Brothers. But if that was the case, why would Doyle deny the existence of the third brother in the tale? I decided it was best not to anger him further by pushing him on the subject, but I kept that question in the back of my mind as he continued.

“Unbeknownst to me, Dylan was consumed with jealousy that Jessie had chosen me over him. He showed me no hint of his true feelings, but he plotted behind my back while continuing to play the role of the loyal brother. A year or so passed in this way and then we received news that the Garden had been destroyed and all its people murdered. Dylan acted as shocked at this news as I was, and it wasn’t until much later that I learned that his were the hands that had committed the crime. By then it was too late to let Jessie know, because he had already turned her against me.”

The story was so obviously altered from what Mom had told me, I considered it almost useless. But where the two stories overlapped, perhaps there was some truth to be found. I continued to listen, helpless at any rate to do anything else.

“When I heard of this travesty, I vowed to Jessie to never allow such a fate to befall us. But what could I do to protect her? I was just one man, facing powers that had wiped out an entire town. So I decided to look for some way to grow more powerful, to become strong enough that I could protect Jessie from the dangers of the city. And that’s when I found the Fifth House.”

* * *

Continue to Part 79.

8/11/13 News: Late post again! No excuses. WTH, Andy? (Okay, time to add reminders to my calendar.) Also, this is more behind-the-scenes stuff that will likely not be appearing in the final version. Enjoy!

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 77

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 76, Allin was caught by the werewolves and was knocked unconscious.

The Only City Left: Part 77

When I woke up in the darkness, I heard someone say, “One grenade. Looks to be an emp. Get that out of here before the Lord Commander arrives. One coil. Set it aside. He’ll want to examine it. No other belongings in his pockets. Cavity search?”

No thanks, I tried to say, but my throat felt like it was filled with grit and I couldn’t speak past something that had been shoved into my mouth.

“You better,” came Sergeant Pogue’s voice.

I couldn’t talk but I could move, and at Pogue’s command, I tried my best to get away. Since I was laid out on some flat surface with my arms stretched out above my head and my hands and feet tied down, all that amounted to was bucking against my restraints.

“He’s awake.”
“I can see that,” Pogue said. “Here, I’ll flip him and hold him down.”

“Mrph um nurmph!” I said in protest. The gag not only blocked my words, but it made me feel like I couldn’t get enough air, either. When someone turned me face-down, my nose was smushed into the bag covering my head and I truly did find it hard to breathe. I struggled to break free, to get into a better position to clear my airway, but to no avail. One set of hands held me down by my shoulders, while another tugged on my pants. I couldn’t draw in enough air and I began to see flowing, geometric lights dance before my eyes. So soon after waking up, I was on my way back to being unconscious.

“Very thorough, boys, but there’s no need for that. Flip him over.”

Pogue and the other set of hands followed Doyle’s orders immediately, and then someone pulled a hood off of my head and removed the gag. I sucked in great gulps of air and slowly let my eyes adjust to the light provided by two coils and Doyle’s usual luminescence.

“Welcome to my home, Allin. You could have saved us all a bit of trouble and come when I first invited you.”

“How long was I out?” I asked. I had a sudden hope that Tumble had made it to Pudlington, imprisoned Fordham, and was now marching on the Garden to rescue me.

“Oh, less than an hour,” Doyle said. Damn. “Pogue, Geracy, you may leave.”

The two werewolves thanked Doyle and departed without another word, but Pogue gave me a stern glare before disappearing from my sight. Maybe I hurt his delicate feelings by lying to him, I thought with a chuckle.

“You laugh,” Doyle said, no anger or surprise in his monotone voice. “You’ve got more spine than I expected from the spawn of my brother and his mongrel doxy. Or you’re too simple to realize the trouble you’re in. Which is it?”

While he spoke, I took the time to look around the room I found myself in. There wasn’t much to see: a wooden desk and chair, a large bed, and a number of shelves full of books. I guess you don’t need much in terms of physical comforts when you’re half a ghost. I appeared to be tied down to a large table of some sort and I could barely feel my hands and feet they were bound so tightly.

“Allin, Allin, am I losing you here?” Doyle asked, his face looming into view.

Maybe I had been spacing out a bit, a side effect of the alcohol and having my head used as a battering ram. I tried to use it to my advantage.

“Yeah, I’m out of it,” I said weakly. “Can you untie me so I can sit up and clear my head?”

“How about this?”

Doyle reached behind me and worked some mechanism. Next thing I knew, the table below me rotated so that I was nearly vertical. I groaned as my bound wrists took the weight of my body. It felt as if my arms were going to tear out of my shoulders.

“Is that better? Good,” Doyle said, moving to stand a few feet in front of me. “Now let me get a look at my nephew. Why, Allin Arcady, as I don’t live or breathe, it seems news of your demise was fabricated. Well played. You had me greatly worried.”

“So nice of you to care, Uncle,” I said through clenched teeth.

Doyle seemed to notice my pain. He took some books from a shelf and placed them beneath my feet so that I could stand. The relief was instantaneous. It was still awkward to hold my arms above my head, but at least I wasn’t in constant agony anymore.

“Better? Good. You see? We can work together. It doesn’t always have to be adversarial between us. We’re family, after all.”

His words were calm, but he paced back and forth in front of me like a caged beast. He stopped and whipped his head to the side to glare at me.

“But then you come into my home, my domain, and make a fool of me in front of my people,” he said, acid tingeing his words now. “Really, Allin. Tongues will be wagging for weeks about how I promoted my own nephew without even recognizing him. If I wasn’t so happy to see you, I would be very, very cross.”

He picked up my coil from where it lay on the desk and dangled it in the air by its necklace.

“And you figured out Dylan’s passphrase, too. Very resourceful. Or did the cats unlock it for you? Never mind. You got it to work and it got you here, with me. That’s what’s important.”

He moved closer, nearly poking my face with his spectral snout. Up close, I saw a storm lurking in his eyes, belying his calm facade.

“Now let’s talk about how you’re going to help me return to the world of the living.”

* * *

Continue to Part 78.

8/4/13 News: Late post today! Thanks to Fiona for the reminder.

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 76

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 75, Allin ended up face to face with his dad’s killer, the now-crippled werewolf named Verrut.

The Only City Left: Part 76

He let me go with a shove and I had to grab the bar to keep from falling backwards. I kicked my legs out to find some purchase and knocked over my stool. It fell with a clatter.

“Pick it up,” he said, and then to the wolves who had turned to watch the entertainment, he added, “On-the-job training.”

This got some laughs and then they returned to ignoring us. I righted the stool and sat down again.

“So if you’re going to turn me in, turn me in already,” I said, tired of this game. My stomach was upset, from fear or the drink or both, and behind my bold words, I was desperately trying to devise a way out of this situation.

As a human, I had no chance of escape. And even if I was able to get my coil out of my pocket, slip it on, and activate it before anyone stopped me, I would still be one werewolf against a room full of them. Maybe if Xerxes and friends showed up at this moment and drained everyone’s coils of moonlight, I could escape in the confusion, but there was no sign of my ghostly companions.

Instead I had this werewolf, the one who murdered my father, pouring me another drink.

“I didn’t say I was going to give you to Doyle. Just said I could. I don’t owe Doyle anything, and whatever reward he could give me won’t fix this,” he said, nudging his limp arm forward. “But I’m curious. What’re you doing in the Garden here and now? Last I heard, you were dead.”

“Business trip,” I said.

The werewolf grinned. “The only business you’d have here is revenge, and you didn’t expect to see me, so… Ah, you’re here for Doyle, are you? Well, good luck and I’ll drink to that.” He did. “But you haven’t a hope in hell of hurting our beloved leader. If I were you, I’d scoot on out of here while you can.”

What the hell, I thought. No point in lying anymore.

“Can’t do that. Gotta see it through. But if you want revenge, you could help me get close to him.”

He rubbed his chin and leaned in closer to me.

“You’d trust me, the man who murdered dear old dad?”

“What have I got to lose? You’ve already caught me. But if I can kill Doyle—”

“Shhhh!” he said, and nodded his head at something behind me.

I swiveled around to see another werewolf approaching the bar. No, not just any werewolf. Pogue.

“Colonel Ballister, I don’t know how we got split up, but we’re on a schedule here. And why in the world are you wearing your pink skin? It’s disgraceful.”

“Ah, but the liquor hits harder that way, doesn’t it, Colonel?” the werewolf asked, pouring me another glass.

“Yes, exactly” I said.

I took another sip to emphasize the point and to buy some time. This was getting ridiculous. Is he really helping me? I thought. Is Dad’s murderer going to help me get revenge on the one man ultimately responsible for my parents’ deaths?

“There’ll be plenty of time for drinking when we get back, Colonel,” Pogue said in an exasperated tone. “And hopefully something better to drink than this swill.”

“Awww, you’re hurting my feelings, Pogue.”

“Shut it, Verrut,” Pogue said to the bartender, and I thought, I finally have a name. To me, Pogue said, “Come on, Colonel. Suit up and let’s go.”

Verrut slammed his hand on the bar and said, “Dammit, Pogue. The colonel and I have matters to discuss. Go without him.”

“He was assigned to this mission by the Lord Commander himself. Do you want me to tell him you countermanded his orders?”

“By the Lord Commander?”

Verrut sounded confused, and well might he be. I could barely follow it myself, but that might have been due to the liquor. I looked at my hand and realized I had drained the entire glass while trying to decide what to do.

“Doyle sent you? This whole thing was a trick?”

“What? No,” I said, and then an evil thought occurred to me, which I acted on immediately. “Sergeant Pogue, this bartender here has been conspiring to assashin, ashassin, kill the Lord Commander. Arrest him at once. I’ll go summon the guards.”

“You little pink worm, I’ll gut you,” Verrut said and lunged at me.

Pogue blocked him with ease and stood between the two of us.

“What in the world is going on here, Verrut?” he asked.

“You tell me. First Doyle lies about his nephew dying and then he sends him to spy on me? That ain’t right. I don’t like being played with!”

A thought surfaced from my clouded brain: Hey, he told him who I am. That wasn’t supposed to happen.

Pogue looked at me and asked, “Doyle’s nephew? No, this is Ballister. Doyle himself promoted him.”

“Well no offense, but Doyle couldn’t smell a dump in his own lap. I’ve met the kid and this is him!”

“Is this true?”

I shrugged, glass still in hand, and then smashed it into the side of Pogue’s head as hard as I could, ready to duck away in the confusion. The glass didn’t shatter and Pogue barely flinched under the blow. Chairs scraped the floor throughout the room and Verrut chuckled behind the bar. Pogue plucked the glass from my hand and set it on the counter.

“You really shouldn’t have done that.”

I didn’t see his punch coming, either because of the weird shadows that filled the room or because he was just that fast. All I knew was that my jaw felt like it had been knocked loose and the floor was a dirty, sticky mess that I was face down in all of a sudden.

“You men help me secure him,” Pogue said. “Something funny is going on here. I’ll let the Lord Commander sort it out.”

Rough hands lifted me by my arms and legs and my head lolled backwards as they carried me horizontally out of the bar. I saw Verrut, upside-down, tsk-tsking me, and I managed to say, “I know your name now, Verrut. I’ll see you in your nightmares,” before someone knocked my head into the door frame on the way out.

And then there was nothing.

* * *

Continue to Part 77.

7/28/13 News: Nice try, Allin. In writing news, my editor gave me the go-ahead on my revised outline, so the rewriting has begun. Hopefully the fact that I already know what happens from start to finish this time will balance out the difficulty of trying to improve my writing style at the same time. We shall see!

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 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.)

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 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!

#

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.