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 53, Allin had agreed to help the injured werewolf, Matthias, in exchange for help in escaping the dark underworld of the City. While searching for something for Matthias to use as a crutch, Allin instead found one of the things that live in the dark.
The Only City Left: Part 54
The creature was shorter than I had imagined, and its teeth, while sharp and misshapen, were not foot-long daggers. The scariest thing about it was the wooden spear it brandished at me. That and the fact that it had brought friends. A lot of friends.
The closest one stabbed its spear at me and I stumbled backwards, falling onto my backside next to Matthias.
“What now?” Matthias asked, but he didn’t need me to explain, for the creatures had stealthily ringed us in. A circle of spears convinced me to sit still.
“Not what I meant when I asked for a cane,” Matthias said. I could hardly believe he was joking at a time like this.
One of the creatures stepped forward and poked at him, barking orders in some incomprehensible language. It held one arm in front of its face, squinting and half looking away while it spoke. When Matthias didn’t react except to bat the spear away, the creature yelled some more. Its companions pointed their weapons at Matthias’ throat while the leader moved in closer, wincing as he approached.
“I think they want you to turn off the light,” I said.
“Not a chance.”
Matthias swiped his claws and the leader yiped and staggered back. I saw four parallel claw marks etched into its pale skin, and dark red blood began to flow from the wounds.
My admonition came too late. The leader clutched at his chest and yelled out in a high-pitched voice. From out of the darkness, a thick-roped net descended over Matthias and me. I guess I was guilty by association. Matthias kicked and clawed at the net, but the creatures reversed their spears and beat him about the head with the blunt ends. The blows hit me, too, so I curled up into a fetal position and protected my head and neck as best I could.
They must have wrested his coil away, because even with my eyes squeezed shut, I could tell when its light was extinguished. There followed the most throat-wrenching scream I had ever heard as Matthias transformed back into his human form. His scream continued until it became a rasp that sounded like metal scraping on stone. Finally, it trailed off and I could hear the jabberings of the creatures again.
“Matthias? Matthias?” No answer. Either he couldn’t speak or more likely he had fallen unconscious. I tried instead to plead with my captors. “Hello? Hello? We didn’t mean any harm. It was a mistake. Please let me go.”
The creatures continued talking, but I didn’t think they were responding to me, and even if they had been, I couldn’t understand them. Now that the light was off, though, the beating had stopped. I opened my eyes, hoping that there would be some kind of light left over after the coil had been switched off. Nothing. A return to the void.
Suddenly the net around me pulled taut and I was dragged along with it over the rough ground. It was horrible. I had no control, couldn’t avoid hitting anything, and I never knew when the next impact would arrive. When they stopped dragging us, I felt battered and bruised and all I wished for was to be as unconscious as Matthias.
Time passed as it does in the dark, like a drop of water which is poised to fall but never does. I nursed my aches, checked that Matthias was still alive, and waited.
Finally, the creatures pulled on the net again and we were lifted up and deposited on some hard surface. A moment later, I felt the sensation of rolling forward. A cart, I presumed. Where to now?
That question was still unanswered by the time Matthias groaned awake and I filled him in on what had happened.
“I’m surprised they didn’t just kill us,” I said.
Matthias chuckled wearily. “The merskers? They’re bottom feeders, scavengers. They won’t kill what they can trade away. If I wasn’t injured, they’d not have stood a chance.”
Merskers? Didn’t sound quite as ominous as the things that live in the dark. I guess I should have been happy that this was one legend that hadn’t lived up to its reputation, but it didn’t change the fact that they were still nasty little creatures who had me at their mercy. And for all his bravado, Matthias was just as helpless, stuck in his human form and injured still. Things were not looking good.
After a while, I realized that we were approaching a light source and I wondered if Matthias’ coil had been turned back on. But this light was weaker and tinged with blue. It allowed me to dimly see the cart I was riding in, the now-human Matthias sitting beside me under the net, and the other junk that had been collected along with us.
“I thought the things, the merskers, don’t like the light.”
Matthias looked around, frowned, and closed his eyes.
“Ghost light. Hardly counts.”
“There are ghosts down here?” I asked, pulling on the net so that I could sit up and look over the side of the cart.
Sure enough, dotting the garbage-strewn landscape were a number of spectral figures.
“All of the city’s garbage falls down here eventually, including the ghosts.”
Our cart was only one in a long train, each one drawn by a pair of merskers. The little creatures were definitely stronger than they looked. As the merskers pulled us along, the ghosts watched us, turning to follow our passage.
“I don’t like the way they’re staring,” I said in a low voice.
“You’re scared? Don’t be. Ignore them and they’ll ignore you.”
The ghosts we passed began to glide after us on either side of the cart. More and more of them gathered in our wake, brightening the surrounding area considerably.
“Yeah, about that,” I said, drawing out my words. “That hasn’t so much been my experience lately.”
* * *
Okay, parts 54-60 are scheduled in WordPress, so I’m good through the beginning of April. And as a reminder, the book is finished (90 parts total), so you will get to read the complete story, one way or another. I just need to load all the pieces into WordPress, which takes time, so I only schedule a few posts at a time.
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