The Only City Left: Part Twelve

Click Part Eleven to find out what happened last time. And here’s the Table of Contents.

The Only City Left: Part Twelve

After Tumble handed off his prize rat to a page with orders to send it to the royal chef, we made our way up a series of ramps into Pudlington proper. The clearance was enough that I could stand up straight, but I often found myself leaning against walls and posts on the way. Tumble continued his role as proud tour guide, but it was all a grey buzz in my ears as I forced my rubbery legs to keep moving.

Walking inside Pudlington was a dizzying affair, as the entire city swayed minutely but continuously. Not a problem for the sure-footed feline inhabitants, but in my sorry state I felt about to plunge to my death with every step and sway. The lack of railings and uniform color of the city were no help, either. It felt like climbing through a moving optical illusion.

Sensing my distress, Tumble took my hand and led me the rest of the way, for which I was grateful.

Soon we reached a long, thin ramp that led down at a slight angle to a wide platform in what I took to be the very center of the city. Other such ramps radiated out from it like spokes, and between them were great ropes that came down from somewhere above to hold the platform up.

In the very center of the platform, Emperor Banshee sat on a raised throne atop a set of circular stairs. He was a beast, more the size of a small child than a large cat, with a thick chocolate-grey coat marred here and there by bald patches. As I approached him, I could see ample scarring on his exposed skin.

Six guards in ornate costumes held vigil around the circular dais. They wore black caps that each had one large, white feather sticking straight up out of them, and held tall halberds by their side. Other cats milled about the platform talking in small groups, but quieted as we approached.

Once we reached the base of the stairs, Tumble let go my hand and climbed three steps to stand one below the throne. He turned and announced, “His Royal Feline, Emperor Banshee LXXVI, welcomes Allin Arcady into His presence. You may kneel.”

It took me a few beats until I realized he meant I should kneel.

“Not a chance,” I replied.

This caused a flurry of consternation amongst the cats gathered on the platform. The two guards nearest to hand stood straighter and gripped their halberds more tightly, and Tumble rolled his eyes and brought one hand to his forehead.

“You refuse to bow to a mere cat, is that it?” came Emperor Banshee’s deep rumble of a voice as he leaned forward to inspect me.

I quailed under his gaze.

“It’s not that at all, your Emperor… ness, sir,” I explained. “It’s been a really long day. If I kneel, I won’t be able to stand up again.”

Banshee continued to glare down at me for some time. When he stood up and started to stalk down the steps toward me, I wondered if maybe I shouldn’t have just knelt. Angering the Emperor in the center of his realm was not my brightest move ever, but I was so tired I hardly cared.

Once he realized what Banshee was doing, Tumble practically tripped over himself to precede him down the steps. If he planned on interposing himself between us, he was not quick enough. Banshee stopped one step above the floor, placed his hands on my shoulders, and looked me in the eyes.

“Sit,” he commanded me, and gently pushed me to the ground.

There was concern in his voice and touch, not the rough treatment I had expected, so I acquiesced and sat down, cross-legged. The Emperor sat down on the bottom step facing me, put his elbow on his knee, and rested his chin on his fist.

The members of the court tittered nervously and Tumble kept looking back and forth between us, unsure of what to do or say next to deal with this breach of protocol.

“Good boy,” Banshee said, and patted me on the head.

Polite laughs broke out and Tumble released a deep sigh. Even I couldn’t help but offer a chagrined smile in return.

“Allin Arcady, you are probably most interested to learn how it is that we have come to know of you,” Banshee said in his deep, growling voice.

I nodded mutely in reply.

Banshee stood up and paced back and forth on the step before me as he spoke, gesturing for emphasis frequently.

“With the decline of Man, much of the city called Earth lies fallow. In some places, such as this one, new beings have arrived to fill the void. Not all such beings are friendly, however. Some detest life and will not be content until the entire world is a hollow, lifeless sphere. Others seek ever to expand their empire, to put themselves in a place of lordship over the remaining pockets of life that survive here and there in this shell of a city.”

He stopped before me and leaned in. “The werewolves are one such race. Long have they been our mortal enemy, and though the world at large be not aware, long have we striven to halt their aggression and to keep them contained.

“Although he did so for selfish reasons, your father aided us and struck a great blow against the werewolves. It is in his memory that we have kept track of your adventures, Allin.”

“You’ve been watching me?” I asked, indignant and unbelieving at the same time.

“We have felt the ripples you have caused,” Banshee explained enigmatically, twitching his whiskers.

“So why bring me here all of a sudden? What changed?”

“When we heard that your uncle had picked up your trail, we knew we had to get to you first.”

I tilted my head to the side and scrunched up my face, “What are you talking about? I don’t have an uncle.”

The face of the werewolf ghost in his human form sprang suddenly to my mind.

“There is much your father kept secret from you, Allin.”

* * *

Click ahead to Part Thirteen to wring the secrets from Emperor Banshee (or read my notes below first, if you can stand the suspense).

5/6/12 News: I think it is kind of amusing that I started this piece of the story with Tumble and his dead rat, but I had to get rid of the rat somehow and it is just fit there. The alternative was to take that line out of the previous post, but I enjoyed that joke too much to excise it. That’s just how I roll.

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!

Fiction Friday: 5/4/12


For my latest alliterative day of the week, I present: Fiction Friday, an occasional fearless feature. Okay, enough alliteration. So what is Fiction Friday on the Lithicbee blog? Just me talking about what I’ve been reading lately. It may be a novel by a big-name author or short fiction by an up-and-comer, or anywhere in between. So with no further ado:

Dinocalypse Now by Chuck Wendig

This is the first book from Evil Hat’s new fiction line based on the Spirit of the Century RPG, and the copy I read was a pre-release PDF sent out to Kickstarter backers.  The book promised to be a pulp-filled good time full of jetpacks, dinosaurs, and talking apes, and it did not disappoint. In fact, I can easily say that this is the most fast-paced, fun-filled, inventive book I have read in quite some time.

It starts off with members of the Century Club patrolling a speech that Franklin Delano Roosevelt is giving in front of the Empire State Building. Our intrepid heroes are Jet Black, Mack Silver, and Sally Slick, and they have been notified of an assassination attempt against FDR. Jet is patrolling the skies courtesy of his jetpack (of course). Sally, the inventor who created the jetpack, is sticking close to the President. And Mack is in the audience looking for threats and wishing he were in the cockpit of his plane, Lucy.

Events quickly go egg-shaped when it turns out that the danger is much greater than the Centurions could ever have known. Psychic bipedal dinosaurs show up and try to mind-control the heroes. They barely escape the psychosaurs (Sally gets an assist by the wheelchair-bound FDR) before running into real dinosaurs out of pre-history who  are hell-bent on crushing them.

The story spirals out from there, with talking apes, flying fortresses, Tesla coils, Atlantean artifacts, mystic detectives, sassy flirting, thrills, chills, and more. For all of the hammy pulp dialogue, the characters are all fleshed out pretty well and there wasn’t one in the bunch that I didn’t find myself rooting for. My favorite has to be Professor Khan, the kilt-wearing, British-accented, talking gorilla who must learn to stop living his life entirely in books and, when appropriate, give in to his jungle nature.

I read this book in two days, both because it is a brisk read and because I didn’t want to stop. It is like reading a comic book with the visuals beamed directly into your brain. The end slapped me across the face like a dame I’d done wrong and left me wanting more. As there are two more planned Dinocalypse books by Mr. Wendig, I’ll be on the edge of my seat until the next book is out.

If you want a sneak peek at the first six chapters of Dinocalypse Now, click on the PDF link at Fred Hicks’ blog, but you can take my word for it, this is a great read and worth every penny. You can find Dinocalypse Now at DriveThruFiction, Amazon, Evil Hat’s online store, and eventually at Barnes and Noble (although not at the time of this writing on Thursday evening).

Stone Eater by Brent Knowles

Stone Eater is a short story that can be found in Issue 42 of the webzine Abyss & Apex. Check out this first line: “Ongar stopped eating the pebbles on the eleventh night of his impalement.” It is so concise but manages to intrigue on several levels: “He’s eating what now? Pebbles? And he’s been impaled for eleven days and he’s not dead? I want to know what’s going on!” Well, I won’t spoil the story by revealing the secrets behind that first line, but I can say that the story continues by revealing that Ongar has been tied to a stake facing the tower that he has helped create, his grand masterpiece, which is now being built in ramshackle fashion by an inept overseer. Yes, it’s not the impalement so much that bothers him, it’s being forced to watch someone ruining his creation.

As the story goes on, we learn how Ongar ended up in his predicament and what becomes of him, and the entire story feels very emotionally honest and real for a work of fantasy (as good fantasy should). The world at large is hinted at in such a way that makes this story feel like part of a larger and realistic land that I would be interested in reading more about, but the story itself is nicely self-contained. In other words, this is an ideal short story and makes me want to check out more by the author. To find more information on and stories by Brent Knowles, check out his blog.

Space and Time, Parts 1-9 by Sharon T. Rose

I found the serial SF story Space and Time through the SFstories subreddit on reddit.com. In the first installment, we meet Jegri, a deformed slave girl who uses her cunning to get herself traded to a kinder master in a more comfortable setting. Jegri is a Yerbran, just one of the races of aliens in a galactic coalition called the Mutuality, and she ends up on Fredan Space Station 5. As the series progresses, it becomes clear that Jegri’s new master, the Yerbran Shdr’edno, is a dangerous opponent to have. Outwardly, they are niece and Uncle, since slavery is outlawed in the Mutuality, but beneath the surface, they are playing a game of wits that could have disastrous results for Jegri. She has shamed him by tricking him into taking her into his service, and he is determined to make her life miserable. Their interplay and the question of how Jegri will overcome her role as a slave and best Shdr’endo (for surely she will, right?) is keeping me reading this story.

There is another plotline involving the space station’s human commander and a nearby wormhole that is also shaping up to be interesting. Seems the inhabitants of the wormhole might be holding back a tide of really bad things from elsewhere, and the Mutuality’s increased use of the wormhole as a shortcut could be weakening the barrier.

This story feels a bit familiar: Fredan Space Station 5 and Yerbrans could be seen as a take on Deep Space 9 and Ferengi, and the many types of aliens on a space station story is reminiscent of C.J. Cherryh, but Sharon does make the story her own. The different types of aliens are described well and are not simply two types of earth animals mixed together, for instance. The descriptions of normal Yerbrans and the specific ways in which Jegri is a deformed Yerbran also show that a lot of thought has been put into alien physiology.

There are some sections of the serial that slow me down when reading, such as exposition-heavy sections front-loaded into the story, which might be better served by being spread out more naturally over time. And speaking of time (and space), units of measurement are agonizingly elongated into “Star-Standards,” such as “Star-Standard Measures of Annual Time” instead of year, and “Star-Standard Units of Immediate Distance” instead of, I guess, feet. Granted, with many alien races working together, they will have different definitions of what makes up a second, a minute, a foot, a year. I get that, but perhaps there is a smoother way to handle this.

Those small criticisms aside, I am obviously enjoying the story because I devoured the first nine parts in short order. If you’re looking for some imaginative science-fiction with the promise of fights both small-scale (slave vs. master) and large- (Mutuality vs. world-ending beings from the Void), check out Space and Time!

The Were-Traveler Issue #4

Finally, I have mentioned this webzine before, but I would be remiss if I did not mention that the latest issue went live yesterday and my short story, “Foreign Soil,” is included.

The theme of this issue is Blood Vengeance: Vampyre and the remit was it had to have vampires and revenge, and some kick-ass action. If you like the story, please give it a vote. Thank you!

The header photo is courtesy of balise42 on Flickr. See the full-sized picture here.

Webcomics Wednesday: 5/2/12

For today’s post, I present unto you: Holiday Wars and Two Keys. Let’s get right into it, shall we?

Holiday Wars

Some mean-looking Holidays (and Tegan)

First up is Holiday Wars by Scott King (writer/creator), Michael Odom (penciler/Volume 2 inker), Giuseppe Pica (colorist), and Arturo Said (Volume 1 inker). With 300+ pages in Volume 1 and several multi-page prequel stories written by Scott and drawn by guest artists, there was a lot for me to catch up on with Holiday Wars, but with Volume 2 and the Kickstarter for Volume One both starting last week, now seemed like a good time to dive into the archives.

Holiday Wars starts with a quaint, snow-covered house, the sounds of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” echoing from inside. As we step through the front door, we see that things are not quite as idyllic as they first appear. The singer is the Easter Bunny and he is torturing poor old Santa Claus, extracting fingernails and information. You see, E.B. is after the Holiday Spirit, but Santa won’t spill. Thus the stage is set for Holiday Wars, with some holidays on the side of the Bunny and others with the Claus.

After the initial setup, the story moves forward sixteen years to focus on an orphan named Tegan who has a mysterious snowflake tattoo on her neck. Turns out she will be instrumental in tracking down the still-missing Holiday Spirit. Tegan is a pretty fun viewpoint character. She quickly gets a handle on the whole Holidays-as-actual-beings idea and is able to stick up for herself and make her own way when she suddenly finds herself surrounded by these supernatural and sometimes super-powered beings.

What is really fun for me about Holiday Wars is the inclusion of lesser-known holidays such as Talk Like a Pirate Day and Ask a Stupid Question Day, and seeing how their personifications look and act. There is a nice mythology brewing about holidays vs. mere observances, what happens when a holiday is no longer observed by humans, and the like, and the central battle between holidays is over a key philosophical debate between them: should they keep their existence hidden from humans or not?

"Also, never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line!"The setting and mythology make for some fun (and funny) action sequences, and Holiday Wars mixes the serious with the ridiculous at every turn. Scott comes up with some good one-liners for almost every character, like when Tegan and Arbor Day are trying to get away from a murderous Easter Bunny (see picture on right).

I also appreciate the giant cyber-turkeys and their varied deaths, such as by Christmas Tree and Air Elemental. (I never thought I’d be writing about of the demise of giant cyber-turkeys. That’s why I love webcomics, so many grand ideas.)

Holiday Wars has action, humor, and a clever premise, so go check it out and consider supporting the Holiday Wars Kickstarter before time runs out.

Two Keys

Next is Two Keys, a black-and-white supernatural noir by Chloe Chan and Aliena Shoemaker (aka Nuu and Schumie). Note: I found Two Keys through a sidebar ad that lead to www.two-keys.net, and there are 11 chapters there (chapter 11 is not completely up to date yet). However, Two Keys is also available at mangamagazine.net, all the way up to Chapter 19, so you might want to read it all there. Confusing? Yes, but I am here to be confused so that you don’t have to be!

The story starts off with retired Private Investigator Colin Aston sitting in a diner with a blonde femme fatale. She wants him to come out of retirement to help find a high-profile missing person whose disappearance is being kept hush-hush. So why does she want Aston, since he now runs the crummy diner they are meeting at and claims he wasn’t a very good P.I.? It doesn’t take a noir aficionado, or a retired P.I., to smell a setup, but Aston takes the case despite his own misgivings.

With that, we’re off into the underworld of Exodus City, where the “occult” (any beings with supernatural blood in them, whether they look inhuman or not) are a hunted underclass, and the AFIA (Anomalous Forces Intelligence Agency) practices extraordinary rendition in attempts to “cure” the occult of their affliction. Funny that no one has ever come back from such a cure.

As the story progresses, you learn more about the past of Exodus City and relations between the humans and occult. There was a war between them that ended seven years ago, but the cold war that has ensued since may be heating up again. To discuss the plot more would be to give too much away. Needless to say, mysteries pile up as we learn more and more about the history of the human/occult war.

The world that Nuu and Schumie have created is an interesting one, the art is good, the characters are fun, and the mysteries and history have me hooked.

Quick Hits

Here are some pages from the past week or so that I especially liked:

The Bean Page 377: Ravna gets some good advice on how to handle the death of a loved one. This page spoke to me.

Everblue, Volume 1, Vignette 2, Page 3 (whew): Looks like Ten may have met Luna earlier than he realizes. I like the flashback and the hopeful look to the future. Plus, Luna and Ten are so darn cute, I am just happy there is a new page up!

Hominids, Chapter 3, Pages 8 and 9: Sno is a Neanderthal ninja apparently. Some badassedness on display here.

reMIND, Volume 2, Pages 19 and 20: Victuals SMASH!

Leylines, Chapter 5, Page 25: A light moment of bromance amidst the danger.

And check out the first page of this adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Doom That Came to Sarnath, by Jason Thompson. I just finished my first read-through of his hardcover graphic novel, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath & Other Stories (review to follow at some point), and if that is any indication, this planned 20-page short story adaptation should also be excellent.

Next Up on Lithicbee

Friday: Fiction Friday, including a review of Chuck Wendig’s Dinocalypse Now.

Sunday: Part 12 of The Only City Left. This is the continuing story of Allin Arcady, a young man who is lost amidst the ruins of a planet-sized city called Earth. Think Trantor meets Cube meets Mad Max meets monster movies, and you have some idea of the setting. I am having fun writing and sharing this story and would love for you to give Part One a chance and let me know what you think, if you haven’t already.