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.
* * *
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!
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