You can find the Table of Contents here if you need it.
As a quick reminder, Part 12 ended with Emperor Banshee dropping this bomb on Allin: “There is much your father kept secret from you, Allin.”
The Only City Left: Part Thirteen
Despite my tired, aching body, the Emperor had my complete attention. At last, I would get answers to questions that had been running laps in my mind for the past three years.
“Tell me everything,” I demanded. Then, remembering who I was speaking to, I added, “Please.”
“My boy, I know you are eager to learn these things, and you deserve to know of them, but you are shaking with fever,” Emperor Banshee said.
It was true, I was in a bad way and the long journey here had only exacerbated it. The more I tried to stop the shakes, to hold myself still, the worse it seemed to get.
“You need rest, food, and a cleaning. You are safe here. Let us care for you. When you are recovered, there shall be a feast and we shall speak of events past, present, and future.”
“No, I want to know now!” I insisted.
Banshee raised an eyebrow but otherwise ignored me. He turned to Tumble and said, “Arrange for him to be tended to, and get that bite looked at before it festers.”
“Yes, your majesty.”
I continued to protest as Banshee turned his back to me and ascended to his throne. I even went so far as to push myself to my feet and start to follow him.
Two guards blocked my path, halberds crossed before me, and Tumble tugged insistently at my elbow.
“Come, Allin, all in good time,” he purred.
I looked up at Banshee, who now sat stoic and silent above me. If he held the answers I needed, I could not afford to anger him with a tantrum, but I didn’t need to be happy about it.
“Fine,” I managed to spit out, my teeth clenched. “Let’s go.”
“Ahh, splendid,” Tumble replied nervously. “This way, please.”
I didn’t pay attention to where Tumble led me from that point. It all looked the same to me and my eyelids kept drooping closed anyway, making the trip a series of images interspersed with darkness.
Spiraling ramps, rope ladders, narrow bridges, and then an entrance into an old-world building through a window. That’s all I remember about the trip from the throne platform.
Next thing I knew I was waking up in a bed, a real bed with real sheets and blankets. It was a first for me and I rolled around under the covers simply to feel the play of the smooth fabric on my skin. I never wanted to leave.
Other than the bed, there was a chest of drawers across from me, a table beside the bed, and a light in the ceiling overhead that glowed bright and strong. The floor was covered in a thick, brown carpet and there was a framed triptych of paintings on the wall depicting some nature scene from ages past, with clear blue sky above a dark, foreboding forest. There were two doors leading off the room, one closed and one open to a bathroom, and an open, uncovered window. All in all, it was the most luxurious room I had ever slept in.
As I moved around in the bed, I realized that my body didn’t ache anymore, and my muscles felt fresh and relaxed. I sniffed the air and smelled perfume, ducked down to check my armpit and realized it was coming from me. I marveled at all the cats had accomplished while I had been passed out. I had no idea how much time had passed since I had arrived in Pudlington, but I was clean, rested and healthy, all of which put me in a much better frame of mind.
My clothing had been laid out on the table next to my bed, not the tan set I had worn on the trip to Pudlington, but my original clothing, all clean and dry. My cling-tight boots and cocoon bag were on the floor in front of the table. It looked like the cats had returned all my belongings to me. But what about…?
My hand shot up to my chest and gripped my lantern coil where it hung at the bottom of my necklace. Still there! For a moment I had feared that it might have been removed by someone who didn’t understand its value to me. I squeezed it and let it fall back to my chest.
As good as it felt to lie between clean sheets on a soft bed, I was more excited about the prospect of meeting with Emperor Banshee again. Now that I felt better, he had no excuse to not tell me about Dad and his history with the werewolves. My heart rose into my throat at the thought that I would finally learn why they had been after us. And why they were apparently still after me.
I got up and dressed, put on my cocoon backpack, and stuck my head out of the window. I was not at all surprised to find Tumble on a narrow ledge next to the window, leaning against the building. He was polishing his claws with a cloth.
“Feeling better, I hope?”
“As good as new. How long was I out?”
“Over a day.”
I saw that Tumble’s shoulder was wrapped in a bandage and nodded at it.
“You all better?” I asked.
“Indeed,” he replied, and tucked his polishing cloth away. “Dinner is in two hours. Care to explore Pudlington a little until then?”
I grinned. Climbing through the cat city seemed like a perfect way to keep my mind off of the questions parading through my head.
Pudlington was immense, and so tall I thought for sure that its ceiling had to be the limit of the city’s height. Tumble quickly disabused me of this notion.
“You could fit five or six Pudlington’s on top of one another before you scratch the roof of the world,” he explained.
Besides that minor letdown, crawling through, over, and around Pudlington was a treat. Between my boots and getting used to the sway of the city, I was able to keep up with Tumble and traverse the city like a native.
Everyone we passed seemed cheerful and friendly and engaged in some activity or another. There were hunters chasing down birds, farmers tending hanging gardens, craftsmen repairing and adding on to the city’s network of support ropes, and my favorite, a group of school-kittens led by an exasperated teacher. Pudlington was the most alive place I had ever been in my life and I was the only human present. It didn’t speak well for the future of humanity, I suppose, but I couldn’t help but have my spirits lifted by the vitality of it all.
Soon enough Tumble called a halt to our circumnavigation of the city so that we could head over to the Emperor’s dinner. It was held in a long, rectangular hall, its floor supported by ropes and accessible by ramps and ladders, like most rooms in the city. There was a low railing on three sides of the floor, and at one of the short ends, a full wall covered in fronds and vines, with a waterfall that crested over the top and gathered in a small pool below. It was impressive given that we were untold stories above the ground.
Tumble led me to the low table that filled the hall, around which twenty or so cats were engaged in chatter in small groups.
“The Emperor will sit there,” Tumble explained, pointing to the end of the table by the waterfall. “I will be on his right hand side and you shall sit across from me. It is a place of honor but it means I will not be able to assist you during the meal. Follow the cues, speak when spoken to, be polite.”
“I’ll be a good boy,” I assured him while rolling my eyes.
He arched an eyebrow in return, then gestured that I should take my place.
Banshee dropped in to the room between the table and the waterfall, going down to one knee and then standing back up. The floor perceptibly shook but settled down within a few seconds.
The hum of conversation in the room faded to silence as all the cats turned and acknowledged their Emperor’s presence with a bow.
Without a word, Banshee took his seat, and only when I saw everyone follow suit did I sit down also. The table was so low that I had to kneel in order to be near it.
“Welcome, guests. Tonight we are honored by the presence of this young man who sits beside me,” Banshee addressed the room. “He is here at my request and I wish you all to accord him the highest respect. There is much he needs to learn from us, and likewise much I need to know from him, but first: food and drink in honor of this day!”
With that pronouncement, a line of servers strode into the room bearing the first course, a soup. From that point on it seemed like there was always a line of them snaking around the table, bringing out new dishes, refilling drinks, and clearing the emptied plates away.
It was the most extravagant meal I had ever eaten, and for all I could not recognize some of the courses, everything was delicious, even the rat that Tumble had caught and which was served solely to Banshee, Tumble, and me. It sure as heck beat a steady diet of nutri-bulbs.
As the evening progressed, however, I became more and more antsy to speak with the Emperor, to wring from him every drop of information about my family that he had to give, to find out about my supposed uncle. Keeping silent and answering polite questions might have earned me Tumble’s appreciative smile, but my veneer of pleasant sociality was wearing thin.
Finally, Banshee appeared to be done eating, which signaled the end of everyone’s dining. Servants cleared the remainder of the plates and dishes and set out tall, fluted glasses full of a bubbly, pink liquid in front of each guest.
I must have looked askance at it because Tumble explained from across the table, “Gerrybrook Juice. From the flower of the same name. Never tried it? A delicacy, I assure you, but it packs quite a punch so tread lightly.”
I took a tentative sip and found it to be delightful, not too sweet but with a fizzy kick.
The Emperor quaffed his glass in one gulp and a server immediately refilled it. Glass in hand, he focused on me and said, “You have been exceedingly patient, Allin, for which I thank you. I must ask you to extend that patience further before I answer the questions so plainly written on your face.”
Not again! I thought, but kept my face emotionless. I sipped at my drink to keep from saying anything rash.
The room fell silent as everyone hung on the Emperor’s words.
“You will learn all that we know by evening’s end, I assure you. But first it would be helpful if you could tell us what you know of your parents and their involvement with the werewolves, so I know what gaps in your knowledge need to be filled in.”
That took me aback. To buy some time, I took another sip of that wonderful, frothy nectar and set my cup down carefully before me.
My parents and the werewolves? There was only one story I had to tell on that subject, and I had never shared it with anyone before. Not only because it was too painful, but who would I have told?
Well, now I had an audience and the story needed to be told, even if it shamed me in the process.
I had to force the words past the lump that had formed in my throat, but after a slow, halting start, the story began to pour out of me. I needed to tell this tale.
“We arrived in Glin’s Rising to trade for food,” I began. “And that’s when I met a girl named Tyena.”
As I described her and our instant connection, the cats around the table exchanged curious glances. Perhaps human customs of love sounded strange to them.
I went on to tell of how I wanted to stay in Glin’s Rising, and how Mom and Dad insisted we move on. Of the plan Tyena and I made for her to secretly follow me. Of the fight I had with Mom and Dad when I realized that our visit had put the Glinites in danger. And how I had run away from my parents to go back and make sure Tyena was safe.
I stopped, took another gulp of my drink, and held the glass up to be refilled. I would need a lot more of that heady stuff to give me the courage to finish my story. The story of how I killed my parents.
* * *
Immediately enter “Flashback Mode” with Part Fourteen, or read my notes on this week’s episode first.
5/13/12 News: Part Thirteen is double-sized because I did not want to break it up into two segments and delay the next part even longer. As it is, I had to rush through a few scenes to fit in everything I wanted and keep it to 2,000 words or so. Allin summarizes some details of his story at the end here. Astute readers will recognize it as the Cliff’s Notes version of the flashback sequence that began in Part Four and ended in Part Seven. The rest of that flashback sequence will unfold over the course of the next four weeks.
Thanks to everyone for reading. Comments are always appreciated; I’d love to know who is reading and what you think. For my new readers, welcome! Care to let me know how you found The Only City Left? Finally, if you could share the link to this story with even one person who you think might enjoy it, I’d be ever so appreciative. Thanks!
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