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 34

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 1-30 and then start at Part 31. You can reach an individual part of the story by browsing the Table of Contents.

At the end of Part 33, Allin and Tumble had exited the maze of traps surrounding Pudlington and were on their way, hopefully, to the Roof of the World, the surface of the city-planet Earth.

The Only City Left: Part 34

“How far down do you think we are from the surface?” I asked.

We had been walking for half a day already, and while intellectually I knew that this was a tiny portion of the journey ahead of us, I felt an excitement in the pit of my stomach. I’m on the right path again.

“I couldn’t tell you, Allin,” Tumble replied from beneath the brim of his wide, conical leaf hat. He had produced that hat and a black and red poncho from his backpack earlier and donned them both without explanation. “I have a general sense of the route we need to take from having studied schematics for this part of the city. But those are centuries old, so forgive me if we seem to be moving in a roundabout manner. I’ll do my best.”

“Of course, of course, I understand,” I assured him. “Can’t do any worse than I have.”

The corridors we walked through showed the ravages of time. Broken, decayed ceiling panels littered our path and ages-old wiring hung down in clumps from the gaps above us. Occasionally, a light still flickered anemically, but for the most part I relied on my wristlight. Tumble walked farther ahead, taking point since he could see well enough in the dark. Because of our distance, and out of a healthy respect for whatever might be lurking around us, we spent most of the day in silence. I was used to traveling alone, but when Tumble called a halt for a meal break, I looked forward to the chance to talk to someone outside of my own head.

We picked a spot mostly free of debris, sat down with our backs against the wall, and pulled our food out of our packs. I had several nutri-bulbs, enough to tide me over for a few weeks, so I picked one out and dipped it in the remaining jelly. It actually made the usually tasteless bulbs more palatable, making me even sadder that most of it had leaked into my cocoon bag.

“You found the jelly I packed for you,” Tumble noted with a smile. “I hope you enjoy it.”

I bit my tongue and kept repeating He meant well he meant well he meant well to myself. Oblivious to the mess he had caused, Tumble gnawed on a hard roll and fish jerky. He offered me some, but I passed.

“So why the getup?” I asked to change the subject. Tumble had set his hat between us and I nudged it for emphasis.

Between bites, he explained that the existence of a city of cats was thought by many to be a legend, and the cats preferred to keep it that way.

“We were pets once, even food to some,” he said. “I’d rather our existence not become well known, lest whatever humans remain think of trying to return to those days.”

The thought of eating one of the humanoid cats turned my stomach. I scowled at him and asked, “Are you kidding me?”

His face was stern as he replied, “No.”

“That’s messed up.”

He nodded and then our conversation ebbed for a while. Illuminated by my wristlight, the corridor around us lay still in its senescence. It felt as if the whole universe consisted of the sphere of light that contained Tumble and me. It was hard to imagine the enormity of the city outside of our bubble universe, and if I thought about it too much I would want to curl up and not ever move on.

I tried to distract myself from those thoughts by eating, but Tumble’s talk of humans dining on the catfolk put me off my nutri-bulb. It seemed like no matter what amazing things humans could create—the city, genmod cats, whatever—we could find just as inventive and malicious ways to destroy them.

“What do you think happened?” I asked Tumble softly.

He didn’t need me to explain what I meant. Everyone who lives in the city must have the same question ever-present in their mind.

He nodded but didn’t answer immediately. While I waited, I snapped open a tiny compartment beneath the dome of my wristlight and slid some crumbs of nutri-bulb inside, food for the glowing algae. They must have been hungry because their glow increased considerably as they absorbed the nutrient-rich scraps. When I closed the compartment back up with a snap, Tumble was ready to talk.

He looked up and around, as if he could see through the ceiling, past the sagging wires and broken light fixtures.

“I have always thought that the humans created something they could not control,” he mused. “A virus, or a machine, or some other being, like myself, who by all rights should not exist.”

He wiggled the thin but very human-like fingers of one hand before his face, then made a fist and unsheathed his claws.

“Not that I don’t appreciate my existence,” he continued. “But it is easy to imagine that man’s hubris outpaced his caution. Yes, if you forced me to pick one, I would guess that mankind created its own destroyer.”

“But the city’s mostly empty now,” I said, not arguing, just teasing out the implications. “Or at least it feels like it. So where are they, these creatures that turned on their own creators?”

Tumble sheathed his claws and turned his hand palm up.

“Who knows? Maybe they killed each other off, or maybe I’m entirely wrong. It’s the great unknowable, isn’t it? Now I have a question for you.”

I nodded for him to go ahead.

“Say we reach the roof of the world and you see the sun. What then?”

It was my turn to sit and think. I had never considered it. Reaching the surface seemed like such an impossibility that all my focus was on getting there in the first place. I admitted as much to Tumble, and asked, “Why? Do you have a suggestion?”

I was sure he would suggest joining the fight against the werewolves, but to his credit he stayed away from that forbidden topic.

“No. Only that you consider it, lest you achieve your goal and then have nothing else to live for.”

“Do you think we can make it?” I wondered. “I’ve tried for three years and it seems like I’m no closer than when I started.”

“We can but try. If I’m not mistaken, I’m leading us to an elevator. Working or not, that should be a nice shortwait—” Tumble cut himself off and held out his hand for silence.

Whatever he sensed, I felt it, too. My neck hairs stood on end and a shiver shot down my back. We both stood up and Tumble settled his hat over his head again, tightening the chin strap with an economical yank of his hand.

“Get ready,” he warned me, one second before the ceiling caved in on either side of us.

Out of the fresh holes in the ceiling dropped several men. There were eight of them, similar in their gaunt frames, ragged clothing and dirt-streaked faces. Each carried a dagger or sword that looked as battered as the wielders. One of the men, distinctive in that the beak of his nose looked almost as sharp as the point of his sword, declared, “Give us all your supplies and we’ll kill you quick.”

I tensed, ready to fight, but I felt a gentle pressure on my calf and looked down to see Tumble pressing his hand against me.

“I’ve got this,” he whispered, and stepped forward, a diminutive, shrouded figure. To the men, he stated, “You don’t want to do this, I assure you.”

Beak-nose laughed and his men joined in. “I guess we’ll kill you slow, then.”

* * *

Continue to Part 35.

10/7/12 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!

#

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 33

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 1-30 and then start at Part 31. You can reach an individual part of the story by browsing the Table of Contents.

At the end of Part 32, Allin met a familiar face at the bottom of a spike-lined death trap.

The Only City Left: Part 33

“I’d say ‘Don’t shoot’ but I’m curious to see your jelly gun in action,” he deadpanned. “Please, go ahead.”

It was Tumble all right, looking much as he had when I first met him, except his gun was holstered at his side and he wore a backpack. I lowered my useless, and apparently comical, grapple gun to my side and asked, “What are you doing here?”
Really, he was the last person I had expected to see again, certainly not so soon, and definitely not coming through a secret door in the bottom of a spike-lined pit.

“Would you believe it was pure chance?”

I cocked my head and raised one eyebrow in answer.

“I didn’t think so. Truth is, I have been assigned to keep track of you,” Tumble said. He eyed the room and then returned his gaze to me. “You know, keep you out of death traps and that sort of thing.”

I shoved the grapple gun back into the cocoon bag, ignoring the mess inside it.

“And a fine job you’re doing of that so far,” I mumbled as I sealed the bag closed and swung it onto my back. “Look, you can go back and tell Banshee I said ‘Thanks but no.’ I’ve been on my own for a while now. I don’t need you to keep me safe. Now if you would?”

I gestured for him to step out of the way so that I could crawl through the opening behind him. He sidestepped with a grand sweep of his arms.

“Thanks,” I offered over my shoulder as I crawled into the tunnel.

I heard the grating sound again, followed by Tumble’s voice.

“Far be it from me to wonder how you were going to leave that room if I hadn’t shown up,” he said, following behind. “I’ll give you full credit for having the ingenuity to have figured it out on your own.”

I mumbled another “Thanks” and rolled my eyes, but I couldn’t help but smile at his lofty way of speaking.

“But I am afraid I am barred from returning to Pudlington for the foreseeable future. Unless, that is, you could be convinced to return there. Then it would be my duty to ensure your safe arrival.”

The tunnel opened up into a large cylindrical shaft with ladders running up and down the walls at intervals around its circumference. I switched the wristlight to a cone of light and aimed it up, down, and around. I couldn’t see the ceiling or the floor, but there were other openings at various heights around the chamber.

“Sorry, Tumble. I’m not going back there,” I told him, my voice echoing in the open chamber before me.

My stomach felt sour at the thought of Tyena’s lies and how both she and Banshee had sought to use me to their own ends. I wouldn’t trade the freedom of the city to return to that.

“I assumed as much,” Tumble said with a tiny sigh. “Then we shall be companions!”

I switched my wristlight back to full illumination, swung out onto a nearby ladder, and started to climb.

Uh-uh-uh, I would not go that way,” Tumble cautioned, looking up at me from the mouth of the tunnel I had exited.

I paused my climb and stared back at him.

“I want to go Up, remember?”

“Yes, but this access tunnel only leads to more trapped rooms. And, and!” Tumble raised his voice, cutting off the protest I was about to make. “And it is not without traps of its own. Look up.”

I could hear the tension in his voice, so I slowly tilted my head back and brought my wristlight up. I noticed that about a foot above me on the ladder, there was a nearly invisible piece of string just above one rung. Its ends were wrapped around either side of the ladder and then continued on into tiny holes in the wall.

“Step on that and the entire ladder will separate from the wall,” Tumble explained. “Explosively.”

I caved. “Fine, I get it. I need you to get me out of this feline death-maze.”

“Very good. Now do exactly as I say.”

We spent the rest of the journey through Pudlington’s defensive maze mostly in silence, except for Tumble’s instructions as he either led me around traps or had me wait while he disabled them and reset them once we had passed.

Twice during the trip he tried to talk to me about what was happening in Pudlington in my absence: what Tyena was doing now that she knew the cats were aware of her deception, and what alternate plans Banshee was crafting to combat the werewolves. Both times I cut him off; I didn’t want to hear it.

Finally, we dropped from a ventilation shaft into an unlit corridor that was as run-down and dismal as the ones outside of Pudlington were clean and bright.

“Here you are, Allin,” Tumble proclaimed. “Free of Pudlington’s grasp. I shall of course leave you alone if you wish it, but I cannot ignore my Emperor’s commands. Do not be surprised if you see me following behind you about fifty paces or so.”

“You’re laying it on kind of thick. You really can’t return to Pudlington?”

“If only. Following you is to be my punishment for my, ahem, oversharing,” Tumbled admitted with a wry grin.

I couldn’t exactly stay mad at him. After all, he was only in trouble because he had told me the truth. Plus, even though I wouldn’t admit it to him, I was looking forward to having his company. The city was a mighty lonely place, and I hadn’t traveled with anyone since my parents died.

“Fine, you can follow me, but enough about Tyena and Banshee. If you nag me about them, we’ll find out how effective being one with the universe is against a swift kick in the butt.”

“Splendid,” Tumble declared, as if he had known this would be the outcome all along. “You lead, I’ll follow.”

I played my wristlight in either direction down the decaying corridor. Neither way held any more promise than the other.

“You brought us here, so you should know: how do we go Up from here?”

Tumble smiled his feline grin and said, “I lead. You follow.”

* * *

Follow Tumble to Part 34.

9/30/12 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!

#

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.