The Only City Left: Part 35

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.

If you are new to The Only City Left and want a quick catch-up, you can read a synopsis of Parts 1-34. You can reach an individual part of the story by browsing the Table of Contents.

At the end of Part 34, Allin and Tumble’s peaceful meal was interrupted by the arrival of a gang of filthy, murderous thieves. Tumble told Allin he would handle them.

The Only City Left: Part 35

I stood with my back against the corridor wall. Tumble, concealed beneath his broad leaf hat and poncho, stood before me in the center of the corridor, looking straight ahead at the far wall. The men on either side stood about ten feet away, and in the face of Tumble’s calm and quiet manner, their laughter died away. How strange he must have looked to them, standing only as tall as a child but with the confidence of a warrior. If they thought he was a child, though, they didn’t let that stop them from attacking.

Beak-nose led the charge and as a result was the first to experience the wonder of flight. I didn’t even see how Tumble did it, but one moment the bandit leader was running at him, sword held high, and the next he was hurtling past him, straight into one of his oncoming friends. The only sign that Tumble had moved was that he was now facing me.

So that’s what it’s like to be one with the universe, I thought before the remaining half-dozen men still standing reached us. I ducked a swing from one assailant, and when his sword smashed into the wall where my head had been, it snapped in two, the end flying away to clatter on the hard floor. I looked up at my would-be murderer and saw him staring at the stump of his weapon in a daze, like he had just broken his favorite toy. Maybe he had, but I didn’t feel bad for him. Instead I sprung back up and punched him in the face.

Or I would have if his face had still been there. Instead, he fell backwards with a sudden whoop, letting go of the other half of his broken sword in the process. My punch carried me forward and I might have fallen over if not for someone giving my legs a forceful push back. I looked down and saw that it was Tumble, who had one foot underneath the fallen man’s leg.

From beneath his hat, I heard him say, “Leave this fight to me, Allin.”

“He tried to kill me!” I protested, but Tumble had already moved back into the fray. He must have taken another man down before coming to my rescue, because only four remained standing.

“Observe your opponents,” Tumble said, his voice raised over the shouts and curses of the men who now circled him.

One lunged at him with a dagger, but rather than leap away, Tumble stepped toward him. With a whoosh of his poncho, he twirled around and ran his hands along the thug’s arm until they settled on his wrist. Before the poor fool could react, Tumble bent his wrist and pulled him off-balance. The thug screamed in pain and practically flipped himself over with only minimal assistance from Tumble. He landed on his back with a thud and a whimper, and when Tumble released his wrist, his arm fell limply to the floor. He let go of the knife and Tumble kicked it away.

“Accept the ki your opponents offer,” Tumble lectured, as calmly as if he were leading a class of kittens, not fighting for his life. Another bandit rushed him, apparently not paying attention to the lesson.

“And then return it to them,” he continued, redirecting the bandit into the wall opposite me.

The last two men standing took up position across from each other. I kept one eye on them and the other on their fallen comrades, although none of them appeared to be in a rush to face Tumble again.

“When you are at one with the universe,” Tumble went on, his voice rising a little as he dodged a sword thrust. “Your enemy’s ki sings to you!”

He leaped gracefully out of the way of an attack from behind him.

“It cries out, ‘This is how I will move next. Dance with me!’” he said with a laugh as he rolled underneath another blow and between that attacker’s legs.

He stood up behind the man, locked his foot around the man’s leg, and pushed him forward into his compatriot. The two men collided and went down in a heap, leaving the entire group of bandits strewn about the corridor nursing sore wrists and bruised heads.

I had never seen anyone handle so many attackers at once, much less with such grace and economy of movement. It was amazing and I told Tumble as much when he walked over to me.

“Thank you, Allin, but as bandits go, I’ve met fiercer kittens,” Tumble said, his voice pitched so that only I could hear it. Louder, “What brings you men to such a sorry state that you’d attack two defenseless travelers?”

Beak-nose sat up and wiped blood from his upper lip. “Defenseless? Ha!”

“We’s just looking to share some of your food, you little bugger,” growled one of the other bandits.

“Yeah, by trying to kill us. C’mon, Tumble, let’s get out of here,” I urged him.

Instead of leaving, though, Tumble had his backpack out from under his poncho. He pulled out hard rolls and fish jerky and set about distributing food to each of the men.

“What are you doing?” I said in an aggrieved tone.

The men, who just moments ago had been doing their level best to end our lives, seemed to be wondering the same thing as they sat up with Tumble’s gifts in their hands. One of them immediately began to eat the food he had been given, but Beak-nose lunged over and slapped the food into the man’s lap.

“You save that for the others,” he ordered, then turned to Tumble. “Is this some kind of trick?”

“No trick,” Tumble replied, sliding his backpack on again beneath his poncho. “You’re obviously starving, and as you said I have food to share. But perhaps next time you’ll think to ask politely before making threats.”

I shook my head and said, “You’re wasting your time with these jerks, Tumble. Let’s go.”

“Mind your manners, boy,” Beak-nose spat. “Take a lesson from your friend.”

“Manners! You tried to kill us!”

“And for that I’m sorry,” he said. He stood up and brushed his hand off on his dirty pants before holding it out to me in greeting. “The name’s Ballister. Why don’t you come back to our village with us and we can offer you a proper reception.”

“No thanks,” I answered, not lifting my hand in return. “One ambush a day is enough for me.”

Hand still out, Ballister roared, “For the Good One’s sake, boy. You’re looking at the strength of our village here, and this dwarf proved how much that’s worth. You don’t got none to fear from us, but there’s some folk back there who’ll want to thank you for the food. And we can offer a safe place to rest if you’d like.” He grinned, revealing a smile only sporadically filled with teeth. “These old corridors ain’t none too safe. Never know who you’ll run into here.”

“Did I mention you just tried to kill us?” I asked, but with none of the spirit I had put into my earlier pronouncements. I sensed something sincere in Ballister’s speech, and when I gripped his hand, his gap-toothed grin broadened.

“Well, our relationship can only get better from here, then, can’t it?”

* * *

Continue to Part 36.

10/14/12 News: The Only City Left is now listed on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction. If you are so inclined, I would appreciate any ratings/reviews/recommends on that site to help get TOCL noticed. Thanks!

If you enjoyed this post, please click the image below to give The Only City Left a vote on Top Web Fiction. (One vote allowed per week.)

Click here to vote for The Only City Left on Top Web Fiction!

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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.

The Only City Left: Part 28

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.

If you are new to The Only City Left and want a quick catch-up, you can read a synopsis of Parts 1-27. You can reach an individual part of the story by browsing the Table of Contents.

At the end of Part 27, Allin caught Tyena having a heated argument with a Pudlington Guardsman. He was yelling at her about delays and lives being at stake. He fled when Allin arrived and Tyena said he was the messenger for a rich client. Allin told her he knew she was lying.

The Only City Left: Part 28

Tyena opened her mouth to answer me but no words came out. Rather than give her time to create a better story, I barreled ahead.

“I know what’s really going on,” I told her. I had suspected it for a while, but the presence of the guard confirmed it. “Did you guys think I was too stupid to figure it out?”

“Allin, no, you don’t understand,” she protested.

“I understand. Banshee knew I might say no, so he held you in check. Then sure enough, I tell him I’m leaving and who shows up in my room but you?” I asked rhetorically while pacing back and forth. I had anger and energy to burn, and it all came out in one torrent that didn’t allow Tyena to get a word in. “Your job was to what, keep reminding me that your family might be alive, until I felt bad enough to try to save them, to go on Banshee’s mission? Even though it’s more likely I’d die than be able to kill Doyle?”

Tyena stared at me, eyes wide, throughout my tirade. Only the tears pooling in the corners of her eyes slowed me down.

Words and tears spilled out of her simultaneously.

“He, he, Banshee told me I had to convince you to go,” she gasped out between sobs. “That if you wouldn’t do it, he’d exile us both.”

I cursed Banshee for his villainy and myself for being fool enough to trust him for this long.

“Let him exile us,” I said. “I don’t need Pudlington to be happy. And neither do you! Come with me, Tyena. We can find the Roof of the World together, feel real sunlight on our skin!”

“You’re not mad at me?”

“No, it’s not your fault that Banshee put you in an impossible situation. Will you come with me?”

Tyena wrapped herself around me, cried “Yes!” and kissed me. This was no peck on the cheek and there were no cats nearby to make me feel awkward.

Minutes later, we forced ourselves apart. Tyena looked happier than I had seen her in days, and I finally felt like I was doing the right thing. Banshee’s heavy-handedness had given me the freedom to choose my path without regrets.

“When are we leaving?” Tyena asked.

“Right now?” I answered, still in a daze.

Tyena made a face and looked all around her. “You’ve got to give me a little time to get some of my belongings together,” she insisted. “And don’t you have anything you need to do before we go?”

She was right. All my gadgets and my cocoon bag were still down in the Skunkworks.

“Okay, yeah. Meet back here in… two hours?”

“Perfect,” she agreed, and pulled me in for another long kiss. “See you then.”

“Yeah, perfect,” I repeated airily as she walked deeper into her loft.

I traced my path back to the exit, the dumb grin on my face transforming into a grimace as I made my way. Getting into the Skunkworks meant dealing with Tumble again, and I wasn’t exactly in the mood to deal with Banshee’s lapcat at the moment.

I didn’t really know what Tumble got up to when he wasn’t baby-sitting me, but with the help of some friendly cats I was able to track him down.

I found him leading a class of a dozen or so kittens in some sort of martial arts training, and when I arrived he nodded for me to wait at the back of the room.

He must have been near the end of the class already, because soon enough the kittens were bowing to him, he bowed back, and the kittens broke into raucous play, pitting their newly-learned skills against one another.

“Karate?” I asked when Tumble made his way over.

“Aikido,” he corrected. “A way to be one with the universe.”

I looked past him at kittens flinging each other around and giggling, and skeptically said, “Uh huh.”

“I thought you would be spending the rest of the day with Miss Branch,” he continued. “Is anything the matter?”

“No, things are great,” I answered. “But I want to get my things out of the ’Works. Will you take me?”

“If you want, I can have them sent up to you,” Tumble offered.

I wouldn’t get to say goodbye to Professor Copper, but if it meant less time with Tumble, all the better. I accepted.

“Have it sent to Tyena’s place,” I ordered, and turned around to leave.

“Allin, please wait,” Tumble requested softly.

I stopped, facing away from him, arms held stiffly at my side.

“Were you planning on saying goodbye?” he asked.

I rounded on Tumble and pointed at him accusingly.

“I don’t know. Were you a part of it?”

“A part of what?”

“Banshee’s plan to manipulate me into walking into the Garden.”

“I warned him not to push too hard,” Tumble whispered as if talking to himself. Louder, “The choice was always yours, Allin. Emperor Banshee merely wanted to help you see the necessity of his plan.”

I sneered. “By threatening to kick Tyena out unless she convinced me to go along?”

“Is that what you—?” Tumble started to ask.

He sighed and turned to watch his students, his hands clasped behind his back. He observed them for a while without speaking, and I was about to give up and leave when he spoke again.

“Allin, I was hoping you would have seen it on your own, but love is too powerful, I suppose, and can blind us all.”

I stepped up beside him and asked, “What are you talking about?”

He looked up and gestured for me to kneel, which I reluctantly did.

What’s going on here? I wondered.

He placed his hands on my shoulders and looked me straight in the eyes.

“There’s something you need to know before you go running off with Tyena. Yes, the Emperor asked her if she would help you see the importance of the mission, but he didn’t threaten her. She agreed to the plan gladly, for her own reasons.”

I could feel blood coursing through my temples, and my brain slowed down time as if to prevent Tumble from finishing his thought.

“You see, Allin, Tyena is a spy for Doyle, and has been ever since she arrived here.”

* * *

Continue to Part 29.

8/26/12 News: While this ending may not come as a surprise to you, it never fails to bring a smile to my face and produce a dun-dun-dunnnnnnn sound effect in my head.

The Only City Left is now listed on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction. If you are so inclined, I would appreciate any ratings/reviews/recommends on that site to help get TOCL noticed. Thanks!

If you enjoyed this post, please click the image below to give The Only City Left a vote on Top Web Fiction. (One vote allowed per week.)

Click here to vote for The Only City Left on Top Web Fiction!

#

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.