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!

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

The Only City Left: Part 69

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

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

The Only City Left: Part 69

Panic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the wolf inside me is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Now what?” I asked.

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

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

“Fordham,” I called out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s not how it works.”

“You will be jailed for this insubordination!”

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

“Time to go, Allin,” Ballister said.

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

“Stinky, save Banshee!”

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

“They can handle it,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, Ballister, you can’t!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Xerxes nodded and said, “Of course.”

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

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

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

“I can’t thank you enough.”

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

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

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

“Yes, thanks to Matthias and my scouts.”

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

“At long last.”

* * *

Continue to Part 70.

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

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

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

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

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

The Only City Left: Part 68

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

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

The Only City Left: Part 68

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I so swear.”

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

I knelt down and bowed my head.

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

That last word hit the crowd like a curse.

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

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

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

Xerxes drifted over and said, “I concur.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He was too late.

“For the Garden!” the guard yelled.

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

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

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

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

* * *

Continue to Part 69.

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

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

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

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

#

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