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 62, Emperor Banshee asked Allin to explain why he was making demands of an Emperor in exchange for Allin’s cooperation. One does not make demands of an Emperor….
The Only City Left: Part 63
I swallowed and struggled to find the words. Outside the gates I had felt unstoppable, with an army behind me, safe in the knowledge that I was doing the right thing. Now, under Banshee’s gaze and Fordham’s glare, with the weight of the entire court bearing down on me, I felt like exactly what I was: a foolish, inexperienced child making demands of his elders.
“Well?” Fordham said, drawing out the word.
I imagined him asking, “Cat got your tongue?” which almost made me laugh. I covered it up with a cough and a smile. Here goes nothing.
“The last time I was here, I was asked to”—Here Banshee gave me a stern look and a tiny shake of his head. Okay, not entirely public knowledge then—“do something very dangerous. I declined.”
There were titters from the crowd. News of my public refusal of Banshee’s offer must have spread out from the guards at the gate. They might not know the details, but they knew that I had denied their Emperor. At least now they would know I hadn’t done so lightly.
“A lot has happened to me since I left. I nearly died. I saw some terrible things that humans can do. I met people who thought they needed to prey on others to survive.” I glanced at Ballister, who found something interesting on the floor to examine at that moment. “And I saw some of the threats that exist beyond these walls. The Earth is a dangerous, dark place.”
Banshee gave me a twirl of his fingers. Let’s hear it.
“You cats have created an amazing oasis of peace and light in the midst of all that darkness. I’m willing to fight to ensure it stays that way. All I ask in return is that you share your refuge with those who need it, even if they’re not cats.”
“No!” Fordham shouted as the platform erupted in conversation. “You’re trying to destroy us! Guards, guards! Silence him!”
Emperor Banshee stood up and roared. As one the crowd shrunk back and quieted. Fordham, closest to the source, crouched to one side and buried his head in his arms.
“Enough! Can I no longer speak for myself, Fordham? Do you doubt my ability to safeguard our city? Answer me.”
Fordham stood back up and wiped his hands on his chest, as if he could clean off the cowardice he had displayed. “I wouldn’t want you to waste even one breath responding to such nonsense,” he said.
“I can decide for myself what is and isn’t nonsense, Fordham. Do not think to save me such troubles,” Banshee said. He switched his furious gaze from Fordham to me and continued. “You bring human rabble and the undead to my door and expect me to take your demands seriously?”
“I brought those in need and those who are willing to stand up to the werewolves and I’m not sorry for that,” I said. I looked away from Banshee and swept my gaze across the crowd. “You all know that the werewolves are a dire threat. One day even Pudlington will not be safe from their expanding empire. Can you afford to ignore anyone who would ally with you against them?”
I turned back to the throne as I ended my speech. Fordham looked like he had more to say, but Banshee spoke first, his voice booming.
“This human boy poses an interesting question, does he not?” He glanced down at Fordham as if daring him to answer, and then addressed the crowd. “Though it was unwise to approach us with uninvited guests, perhaps this can be forgiven when we understand that he is young and impetuous. Yes, he has given me much to ponder. But know this. I will make the decision that is best for Pudlington and for the cats. Of this, you can be certain.”
“Of course, Emperor,” Fordham said, his manner obsequious and unconvincing. “Who could doubt but that you will make the wisest decision?”
He’s a dangerous one, I thought. What is Tumble doing that’s so important that Banshee would replace him with Fordham?
“Since this won’t be decided today, I invite you to make use of your old room, Allin. Ballister, you will be escorted back to be with your people. Xerxes, I assume you can find your own way out of the city.”
Polite laughter from the crowd, which began to disperse. I thanked Xerxes for standing with me and told him to find me again tomorrow.
“Ballister, I’m sorry about the house arrest. We’ll sort it out.”
“Ah, never mind. I’d be just as suspicious if I was them. Anyway, this guy,” he said, pointing to one of the guards who had escorted us to the throne room, “tells me that he’s going to introduce me to something called gerrybrook juice. Local hooch. Sounds good.”
“Only if you bathe first,” the guard said with a face. He seemed like a genial fellow and I took it as a good sign that Banshee had assigned him to babysit Ballister.
“Enjoy, but don’t overdo it,” I said. “That stuff sneaks up on you.”
Banshee and Fordham were gone by the time I finished talking to Ballister, and most of the crowd with them. None of the remaining cats wanted anything to do with me and I couldn’t blame them after that show between their Emperor and Envoy. Talk to me and one side or another would be furious.
It didn’t matter, though. I was exhausted from the past week’s journey, and all the adrenaline was fleeing my body now that I wasn’t on display in front of Pudlington’s collected political might.
I made my way to my room fully intending to go straight to bed, but when I climbed in through the window and saw the triptych on the wall, I changed my mind.
I had put off thinking about her on the trip back because I had enough to worry about. But now I had set events in motion and could do nothing but wait to see what happened. There would be no way I could sleep until I at least said hello to her and let her know I was back.
I half expected Tumble to be standing on the platform outside my window when I climbed back out, but he was not there. Nor did I find Tyena at home. Even before I searched all three floors of her place, I could tell she wasn’t there. The place felt empty, cold.
On my way back to the top floor, I heard someone entering through the window. It didn’t sound like Tyena’s footsteps, so I hazarded another guess.
“Tumble?” I asked, rounding a corner.
But it wasn’t him. It was his brother, standing before me with his shoulders bowed. He sighed and his entire frame jiggled with the out-breath.
“Allin, you couldn’t have returned at a worse time.”
* * *
I’m a little happier with how this past week went. I fell down at the end (thank you, all-day headache and vague outline) but overall I gained a little ground on my word count goal. The crazy thing is, my schedule says I should be done writing Book 2 (1st draft) by Friday, with a total of about 92,000 words. I am near the end, certainly, but something tells me I might need a few more days and a few thousand more words. On the Book One front, my editor continues to push me to make the book better. Why would this happen? This character acts differently each time we meet them. This only seems to happen because it’s convenient to the plot. I can’t wait until I’m done drafting Book Two so that I can get to work on making Book One better.
Thanks to everyone who reads, comments, and shares. It truly makes me happy to know that people are enjoying this story.
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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.