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 87, Allin had survived the final encounter with Doyle and returned to the penthouse on the Roof of the World, where he saw the sun rise for the first time in his life.
The Only City Left: Part 88
I must have stood at that window for an hour, soaking up the sun’s rays and basking in its warm, comforting presence. At one point I found myself holding onto my lantern coil, happily surprised that Doyle had left it on me and that it had survived last night’s activity. It no longer worked, of course, and had never come close to the feeling of actual sunlight that I now experienced. Still, I would miss its glow. My travels through the city from now on would be that much more dark and dangerous.
Thoughts of travel spurred me to finally leave the window and search the penthouse for anything that might help once I left this room. I winced when I saw the corpses that littered the area around the bar. Doc Needles and Doyle’s guards, human once more, still wore confused and anguished expressions from their sudden demise.
I realized that one of the guards was missing and I recalled that he had fled through a door along the wall behind the bar. I followed his course and discovered another wing that included a large bedroom, a kitchen, a bathroom, and a small dining area. I also found the guard, who hadn’t made it ten feet into the room before the ghosts had caught him. I covered him with a large blanket from the bed and continued my search.
Much like the house in Clinkerville, the penthouse was well stocked. I could only imagine that Doyle had used this penthouse to impress others or maybe as a reward for good service. He certainly couldn’t have availed himself of any of its amenities. I, on the other hand, most certainly could.
I took a warm shower with the sun shining down on me through the clear walls, dressed in spare clothes I found in a closet, and filled up on water and preserved food from the pantry. I even found a canvas bag which I used to store extra food, a spare set of clothes, and a towel. Behind the bar I found some empty plastic containers which I filled with water. Even better, I found a tiny but powerful flashlight. I had food, clothes, and light. I was ready to face the world again, even if I didn’t know where I was in it.
I opened the door to leave but stopped to let the sun soak into my skin one last time. Who knows if I’ll ever see it again? I thought, but without any sadness. I’d had my time in the sun, but there was no life to live up here. Everything I knew, everyone I loved, was down in the darkness, and that was fine with me.
As I turned to go, the sunlight filtered past me into the hallway, and I saw that someone had etched a large arrow into the floor, pointing away from the penthouse. Next to it: a dash and the letter X.
I traced the X with my fingertips. Xerxes. He must have done this before the ghosts poured into the room and overwhelmed Doyle and his men. I thought again about their sacrifice. They had used their numbers to somehow provide Doyle with enough material to completely rebuild his body rather than take over mine, at the cost of their afterlives. I didn’t wholly understand why they would do such a thing, but that it had been the plan from the beginning I now had no doubt. Otherwise, Xerxes wouldn’t have left this mark. Or the next one, or the next one.
He had, as it turned out, left marks along the length of the route from the Garden to the penthouse, as if he knew I would be returning alone and would need his help one last time. Without that trail to follow, I might never have returned to a part of the city I knew. With it, I made it to the Garden in half a day.
The Garden. What a mess. From the number of lantern coils strewn about the streets, I got the sense that the slaves had gained the upper hand while I was away. Maybe the former wolves had abandoned the coils when it became clear that they were both useless and unpopular. To be on the safe side, I took mine off and hid it in my bag.
I needn’t have bothered. The entire place was abandoned except for corpses. Whatever struggle had occurred, neither the winners nor the losers (if any had survived) had stuck around this already picked-over wasteland. Fires burned unchecked, making it hazardous to breathe, but I had to look for Tyena before I left. I wasn’t surprised when, despite calling out for her and searching the building that used to be Doyle’s headquarters, she was nowhere to be found. I only hoped that she and her mother had managed to get free in all of the confusion, and would end up somewhere safe.
Me, I wanted to return to Pudlington, and with the Garden going up in flames around me, now was a really good time to get going. Fire in the city, I worried as I scampered out of there. Not good.
It would run out of air and combustible material in time, but it would leave behind one last piece of useless city in its wake. Doyle’s legacy.
I made my way back to Pudlington, reversing the route along which the ghosts had led me. Had it only been yesterday? It seemed like another lifetime.
I crawled through the ducts, thankful that the ghosts hadn’t reset all the traps they had disabled, and from there into the sterile white corridors of Pudlington’s bailey. Finally, I stood before the gates of Pudlington once more. I didn’t know if I would be met with a friendly greeting or the barrel of a gun, but there was nothing for it except to walk up to the guards, announce myself, and find out.
“Hi. It’s me, Allin Arcady. I’m home.”
* * *
10/20/13 News: The penultimate post! Next week is the nearly double-sized ending, wrapped in a bow for my loyal readers. Thank you for sticking with me to the end.
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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.