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
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.”
* * *
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?
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