The Only City Left: Part Twelve
After Tumble handed off his prize rat to a page with orders to send it to the royal chef, we made our way up a series of ramps into Pudlington proper. The clearance was enough that I could stand up straight, but I often found myself leaning against walls and posts on the way. Tumble continued his role as proud tour guide, but it was all a grey buzz in my ears as I forced my rubbery legs to keep moving.
Walking inside Pudlington was a dizzying affair, as the entire city swayed minutely but continuously. Not a problem for the sure-footed feline inhabitants, but in my sorry state I felt about to plunge to my death with every step and sway. The lack of railings and uniform color of the city were no help, either. It felt like climbing through a moving optical illusion.
Sensing my distress, Tumble took my hand and led me the rest of the way, for which I was grateful.
Soon we reached a long, thin ramp that led down at a slight angle to a wide platform in what I took to be the very center of the city. Other such ramps radiated out from it like spokes, and between them were great ropes that came down from somewhere above to hold the platform up.
In the very center of the platform, Emperor Banshee sat on a raised throne atop a set of circular stairs. He was a beast, more the size of a small child than a large cat, with a thick chocolate-grey coat marred here and there by bald patches. As I approached him, I could see ample scarring on his exposed skin.
Six guards in ornate costumes held vigil around the circular dais. They wore black caps that each had one large, white feather sticking straight up out of them, and held tall halberds by their side. Other cats milled about the platform talking in small groups, but quieted as we approached.
Once we reached the base of the stairs, Tumble let go my hand and climbed three steps to stand one below the throne. He turned and announced, “His Royal Feline, Emperor Banshee LXXVI, welcomes Allin Arcady into His presence. You may kneel.”
It took me a few beats until I realized he meant I should kneel.
“Not a chance,” I replied.
This caused a flurry of consternation amongst the cats gathered on the platform. The two guards nearest to hand stood straighter and gripped their halberds more tightly, and Tumble rolled his eyes and brought one hand to his forehead.
“You refuse to bow to a mere cat, is that it?” came Emperor Banshee’s deep rumble of a voice as he leaned forward to inspect me.
I quailed under his gaze.
“It’s not that at all, your Emperor… ness, sir,” I explained. “It’s been a really long day. If I kneel, I won’t be able to stand up again.”
Banshee continued to glare down at me for some time. When he stood up and started to stalk down the steps toward me, I wondered if maybe I shouldn’t have just knelt. Angering the Emperor in the center of his realm was not my brightest move ever, but I was so tired I hardly cared.
Once he realized what Banshee was doing, Tumble practically tripped over himself to precede him down the steps. If he planned on interposing himself between us, he was not quick enough. Banshee stopped one step above the floor, placed his hands on my shoulders, and looked me in the eyes.
“Sit,” he commanded me, and gently pushed me to the ground.
There was concern in his voice and touch, not the rough treatment I had expected, so I acquiesced and sat down, cross-legged. The Emperor sat down on the bottom step facing me, put his elbow on his knee, and rested his chin on his fist.
The members of the court tittered nervously and Tumble kept looking back and forth between us, unsure of what to do or say next to deal with this breach of protocol.
“Good boy,” Banshee said, and patted me on the head.
Polite laughs broke out and Tumble released a deep sigh. Even I couldn’t help but offer a chagrined smile in return.
“Allin Arcady, you are probably most interested to learn how it is that we have come to know of you,” Banshee said in his deep, growling voice.
I nodded mutely in reply.
Banshee stood up and paced back and forth on the step before me as he spoke, gesturing for emphasis frequently.
“With the decline of Man, much of the city called Earth lies fallow. In some places, such as this one, new beings have arrived to fill the void. Not all such beings are friendly, however. Some detest life and will not be content until the entire world is a hollow, lifeless sphere. Others seek ever to expand their empire, to put themselves in a place of lordship over the remaining pockets of life that survive here and there in this shell of a city.”
He stopped before me and leaned in. “The werewolves are one such race. Long have they been our mortal enemy, and though the world at large be not aware, long have we striven to halt their aggression and to keep them contained.
“Although he did so for selfish reasons, your father aided us and struck a great blow against the werewolves. It is in his memory that we have kept track of your adventures, Allin.”
“You’ve been watching me?” I asked, indignant and unbelieving at the same time.
“We have felt the ripples you have caused,” Banshee explained enigmatically, twitching his whiskers.
“So why bring me here all of a sudden? What changed?”
“When we heard that your uncle had picked up your trail, we knew we had to get to you first.”
I tilted my head to the side and scrunched up my face, “What are you talking about? I don’t have an uncle.”
The face of the werewolf ghost in his human form sprang suddenly to my mind.
“There is much your father kept secret from you, Allin.”
* * *
Click ahead to Part Thirteen to wring the secrets from Emperor Banshee (or read my notes below first, if you can stand the suspense).
5/6/12 News: I think it is kind of amusing that I started this piece of the story with Tumble and his dead rat, but I had to get rid of the rat somehow and it is just fit there. The alternative was to take that line out of the previous post, but I enjoyed that joke too much to excise it. That’s just how I roll.
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