The Only City Left: Part 51

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 50, Allin’s mom ordered him to hide in a locker while she confronted two tough-looking punks.

The Only City Left: Part 51

“Mom, what’s going on? Are you okay?”

No response. Only the sounds of a scuffle, flesh hitting flesh, screams. I yelled and fought against the constraints of the locker. Something was happening out there. Mom needed me, and I was trapped, helpless.

More sounds. Whumps and thumps and slithers and screams. Without a clue as to what was going on, my mind provided the worst imaginable visuals, and tears began to pour down my face.

“Almost done, Allin,” came Mom’s voice from outside the locker. She sounded different, like she had been hurt maybe, but before I could question her, she was gone again.

I heard more of the same sounds, further away. I threw myself against the locker door repeatedly with what little room I had to work with. Forget Mom’s orders, I couldn’t stand to be locked up for another second while she was getting hurt out there. The door seemed to be giving way a fraction more each time I hit it, until finally it flew open on its own and I fell into Mom’s outstretched arms, crying.

“I’m sorry, hon. I’m sorry,” she said, holding me tight and patting my back. “It’s okay.”

I sniffed back my tears and pulled away.

“Why did you do that to me?”

“I couldn’t risk you getting hurt, Allin. But it’s okay now. The bad men … left.”

I looked around and saw that the relatively clean path was now strewn with garbage from the surrounding areas. It was not strewn so evenly, however, that I could not see streaks and pools of blood beneath it. I looked at Mom and saw that she wasn’t injured, so she must have really done a number on those guys before they took off.

“Come on. Your father’s over here but I wanted to get you first.”

She led me deeper into the locker room and around a corner into a room full of toilet stalls and showers. Dad rested on the grimy, tiled floor below one of the shower heads, shirtless, bleeding from cuts on his face and chest, his wrists bound with rope. He gave me a crooked smile as I knelt down to grip him in a fierce hug.

“Thanks for coming, guys, but you shouldn’t have. I would have gotten out eventually.”

Mom cut his bonds with her knife and then walked over to a nearby folding table that was covered with various nasty-looking instruments. She picked up Dad’s lantern coil from amongst those and handed it back to him.

“I’m sure you would have,” she said as I helped Dad to his feet. “But you can only keep a girl waiting for so long before she gets antsy. Did you at least get what you needed?”

“Pretty much. Dig that ad,” he said, nodding at the table.

Mom picked up a piece of paper, examined it and then crumpled it up and threw it into a waiting toilet bowl.

“Doesn’t do you justice,” she said. Then, “So they know. I took out seven. How many did you see?”

“I don’t know. A dozen? More? You stay here. I’ll do a sweep and make sure we get out clean.”

He put his lantern coil back on, put his hand on my shoulder, and said, “You did good, Allin. Don’t worry. I’ll be right back.”

“I didn’t do anything,” I said. “She stashed me in a locker.”

Mom and Dad made eye contact and Dad looked down at me with a wry smile.

“Your mother’s a smart woman, Allin. I’m sure she did what was best to keep you safe. Now sit tight. This won’t take long.”

With that, Dad left. I turned away from Mom and looked around. More blood on the floor in here.

“You were frightened in that locker,” Mom said. “It’s okay to be scared, but you need to trust that your father and I know what’s best.”

I turned around to face her. “I couldn’t move. And it was dark in there!”

“The city’s a dark place, Allin. You can’t let that scare you or keep you from doing what needs to be done. When everything is dark around you, that’s when you need to shine the brightest.”

“Hard to do that from inside a locker,” I said half-heartedly. “Mom, what’s this all about? Who were those guys? Why do they hate Dad?”

“It’s complicated, Allin. But you don’t need to worry. Dad’s chasing the rest of them away and then we can keep on going.”

True to her word, Dad returned shortly and announced the way was clear. We left the factory behind and neither of my parents ever again spoke of that day, the day I had gotten a glimpse behind their veil of secrecy. Nor did Mom repeat that particular fairy tale, perhaps for fear it would dredge up forbidden memories. I wouldn’t see that side of my parents’ lives again for years, by which time I had forgotten the factory incident.

When this dream or memory or end-of-life vision ended, I was no longer falling, but I couldn’t tell if I was asleep or awake, alive or dead. I was fairly certain my eyes were wide open, but I couldn’t see anything. Rationally, I knew I should be dead, but my body told me otherwise. I could feel that I lay on a bed of objects, some painfully hard and others disgustingly soft, and that my legs were submerged in some clinging, viscous goo. There was a sick-sweet odor of rot and salt in the thick, moist air and I could hear myself moving and breathing, but beyond that I existed in a void that led me to believe I was either blind or in complete and utter darkness. Thinking to test which one it was, I felt for my wristlight, only to be rewarded with a sliced finger. The wristlight was cracked open, its algae long gone. The pain of the cut told me I was alive, at least, but I was clueless as to how I had survived.

All I knew for sure was that I was cold and alone in the darkness, and despite what my mother would have had me believe, there was no light to be found.

* * *

2/3/13 Notes:

Continue to Part 52.

And so the flashback comes to an end. In the present (mine, not Allin’s), I am reading through the completed book for a third time, and still catching errors. This may be my last read-through before I offer it up to some beta readers. I’m looking forward to being done with editing and started with writing Book 2!

For a quick way to show support (one click; you don’t need to sign in), please vote for The Only City Left at topwebfiction.com.

If you have a little more time and don’t mind registering first, I would appreciate any ratings/reviews/recommends on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction. 

You can also share The Only City Left by clicking on any of those handy social media buttons at the bottom of the page.

All these methods help to bring in new readers, which is great for moral support. Thank you for reading!

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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.

Webcomics Wednesday: 3/28/12

For this week’s Webcomics Wednesday, I am reviewing LeyLines, which I discovered through the #lfwc hashtag on Twitter, and Hunter Black, which I had heard about but never checked out until after I met the creative team at WonderCon. Speaking of WonderCon, I will be sharing some links to the great artists I met there, too.

First up, LeyLines by Robin Dempsey. The story is actually very intricate, so I’ll start by sharing the logline from the site: “Three siblings from a broken family are caught in the conspiracy that claimed their mother’s life. To save their family and nation, they seek out ancient gods for answers — but the gods give nothing for free.” Of course, that barely scratches the surface of this fantasy story about High Sage Koruval va Naza, his daughter Mizha, son Tama, and adopted son Zhiro. The va Nazas are Tamakepe, a tall, pale race, while Zhiro is a Timu, a short, darker-skinned race. While Zhiro is technically part of the va Naza clan, there is some bad history between him and Mizha, perhaps to do with the fact that Timu are considered lower-caste.

If that seems like a lot of new words and information to get your brain around when reading a new webcomic, I wouldn’t worry. Ms. Dempsey shares bits and pieces of the story bible with each new page, so you can learn as you go, or you can just let the story unfold and all will be made clear. For those who enjoy seeing behind the scenes, Ms. Dempsey shares a wealth of information on characters, the land, the gods, the politics, language, etc. It is evident that she has done a huge amount of world-building and plotting before page one of the story, and this pays off more and more as the story goes on and you see how it all fits together. So far there are three chapters of about 40 pages each and Chapter 4 has just recently started, and already it bears re-reading the story to appreciate early events in light of later ones.

It would take me many paragraphs to lay out the story and all the characters so far in a way that does the comic justice, so instead I will just talk about what I am enjoying in the comic: 1) an extended, prophetic dream sequence in Chapter 1, and the commentary below it; 2) Mizha’s illusion powers; 3) the high-caste/low-caste forbidden love history between Mizha and Zhiro; 4) the hyper-alert but odd Pakku; 5) Ms. Dempsey’s ability to show subtle action taking place without needing a caption to describe the action (for example, this exchange); 6) nicely-laid out pages such as this one; and, of course, 7) whenever characters look like they are ready to kick some ass, like someone hiding knives under his robe.

LeyLines is an intricate fantasy story full of gods and intrigue, dreams and visions, base villains and plucky heroes, and genuine characters. Check it out!

Hunter Black, written by Justin Peniston and illustrated by William “Will” Orr, is an out and out fun fantasy noir. It is in greyscale with occasional use of color for emphasis (red blood, green cough SFX, yellow crazy eyes). The art is flat and geometric, and very angular, which looks really cool. I especially like the jagged, thick-pixel blood splatters (as in the picture to the right and also  here, but don’t follow the link if you don’t like spoilers). Mr. Orr’s art in Hunter Black reminds me a bit of Samurai Jack, which to me at least is a good thing.

The premise of the story is that Hunter Black took the fall for a huge crime and was sent to an inescapable prison, which he of course escapes from. While in prison he contracted a wasting disease and he would surely be dead already if not for his sword, The Revenger. When he uses Revenger to kill someone who betrayed someone else, the sword feeds him their life force. When he kills someone who didn’t betray anyone, things don’t work out as well. The magic sword reminds me of Michael Moorcock’s Elric and Fred Saberhagen’s Sword books, both of which I really like, so a story with a well-done magic sword is one I will tend to favor. The Revenger is a worthy addition to the ranks of famous magic swords, and there are apparently more of them out there in Hunter Black’s world, so I can’t wait for him to clash with the wielders of those weapons.

Anyway, back to the story: Hunter Black wants to find out who set him up, and he wants to kill them. It’s a simple setup but the payoff is in the characters that Black has to interact with and (often) fight along the way. As I mentioned in the LeyLines review above, I like it when characters kick ass, and Hunter Black, although only about 75 pages in, is already full of them. I am looking forward to following Black’s ups and downs as he Revenges his way through the world. Will he kill all his betrayers before they kill him or he falls prey to his sickness? Damn right he will, and we get to watch.

My only complaint, and a minor one, is that I wish each page had a comments section attached to it. As it stands, you can leave comments by going to a blog post that may or may not have been posted on the same day as the page you are reading, which makes it a bit confusing if you want to actively participate in the commenting.

I’m glad I met Mr. Peniston and Mr. Orr at WonderCon—and especially glad I picked up the three Hunter Black posters—or else I might not have gotten clued in to this awesome webcomic. Read it for yourself and watch the blood fly.

Speaking of WonderCon, I promised last week that I would share more about the art that my wife and I liked, so here are some links in no particular order:

Eunjung June Kim had some very nice, whimsical prints that my wife described as making her feel happy. Check out “Three Indian Girls,” “Fly pig,” “Bedtime Story,” heck any of her prints. They do make you feel happy.

I felt the same way about some prints by Pascal Campion. Check out “Midnight Friends” or “Cinemascope” on the first page of his store. I could totally put these up in my girls’ room, they are so sweet.

Along the same lines, we both liked Nidhi Chanani’s prints. Her express goal with her art is to make people happy, and she shares her art daily as a means of everyday love. Mission accomplished. I won’t even single any particular print out; any of them would be great to own.

In the just plain cool category, I really dug these East-meets-West prints from Moira Hahn. I especially like “Year of the Rooster/Attack of the Hummingbird” as it reminds me of some of my cat friends past, and “Year of the Rooster/Attack of the Tengu” because it is a samurai cat. ‘Nuff said.

Finally, last week I showed a picture of Arlyn Pillay of Ogre Shop working on a painting and he has since posted a sped-up video of him working on it. I am still blown away that he used leftover house paint to create such a cool piece.

Okay, that’s it for this week. Next week I will finish up my WonderCon sharing by talking about the handful of indie comics I picked up there.