The Only City Left: Part 89 (The End)

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 88Allin returned to Pudlington, uncertain about who controls the cat city.

The Only City Left: Part 89

As it turned out, Tumble was back in control of Pudlington and I was allowed in without any confrontation, but the good news ended there. Once inside the city, I was not kept waiting for long before Tumble arrived. His face lit with a weak smile when he greeted me, but it quickly disappeared.

“Emperor Banshee?” I asked.

“Is beyond the help of our finest physicians,” Tumble said, his voice catching in his throat. “He is hanging on to the barest thread of life, but when I told him you had returned, he requested your presence. We must hurry.”

Hurry we did, to the top of the city where Banshee lay under blankets amidst a room full of the blossoms he loved so well. Their aroma was nearly overwhelming but it only barely covered the foul stench of death coming from Banshee himself. Tumble stayed at the door while I approached the bed and knelt down beside the fallen Emperor.

“Allin, is that you?” he asked, opening his eyes ever so slightly.

“Yes, your highness.”

“So formal now that I am dying,” he said with a tiny grin. “Doyle?”

“Dead.”

“Good, good. Then we are even, at least.”

“Sir, I think Fordham was working with—”

“Yes, he was, but he has fled. That is Tumble’s problem now,” Banshee said. He paused to take some shallow breaths. “Allin, you must accept my apology.”

“You have nothing to be sorry for. I made my own choices.”

“Ah, but I forced your hand,” he said, his voice starting to slur. He mumbled something I couldn’t hear and then said, “Bait to lure Doyle out. No thought for you. I was wrong.”

He put his hand out and I cupped it in both of mine.

Bait? I wasn’t sure exactly what he meant, but it didn’t matter anymore and I told him so.

“Kind. Kind of you,” he said, his eyes closing. “Tyena?”

“I don’t know. Disappeared.”

“If you see her, tell her. I’m sorry. To her. Too.”

“I will,” I said, the tears running down my face as I felt his grip weaken. “Goodbye, Emperor Banshee.”

I felt a touch on my shoulder and looked up to see Tumble standing beside me.

“He did the best he could in his life,” Tumble said. He moved around me and smoothed the fur on his brother’s face. “What more can be said?”

Nothing.

I left Tumble to mourn his brother’s passing in solitude, and made my way back to my room to bury myself in blankets and self-recriminations. Doyle was dead and the plague of the werewolves was over, but the costs had been great. I played over and over in my mind the moment when the rogue guard pulled the coil out of his hat. If I had been faster, I could have stopped him and Banshee would still be alive. He had apologized to me, something about using me as bait. But I should have been the one to offer him an apology before he died. I felt miserable. Eventually, I fell asleep.

 

For two days, I stayed in bed. When I was awake, I lay staring at the ceiling, pondering all the wrong turns I had made. Cats came by to leave me food and to take it away after I ignored it, but otherwise they left me alone.

On the third day, I had a visitor who was not so easily put off.

“Go away, Ballister,” I said when he pulled the blanket off of me.

“Whew. You have all this nice stuff, a shower, clean clothes, but you smell worse than any of us ever did crammed into our little room.”

“Your opinion has been noted. Go away and you won’t have to smell me.”

“Can’t. Been sent to get you cleaned up and presentable-like.”

“Why?”

“The mourning period for Banshee is over. Tumble’s to become the catfolk’s new Emperor today, and you’re to attend the ceremony.”

“Don’t want to,” I said, and turned over.

“I don’t much care,” he said. He grabbed me by the shoulder and wrenched me back to face him. “Tumble’s following through on Banshee’s agreement with you. Me and my people’re being allowed to stay, and more’ll be let in after us. Won’t look good if you’re in here practicing your mopey face when Tumble announces all this, you being a hero and all.”

I shook his hand off and sat up.

“Some hero. I killed a bad man and I was too slow to save a good cat. Does that balance out?”

“You followed through on your word to Banshee. The werewolves are done. Doyle’s dead. I’m not living in a room scraping algae for dinner anymore. The world’s a safer place, for a little while at least. Pretty damn heroic, if you ask me. So you couldn’t save everyone. That’s the way it is. Now get cleaned up and dressed nice and be at the throne in an hour, or you’ll embarrass us all.”

I didn’t answer him and he left without another word.

I sighed and allowed myself to notice my own stink. Damn, Ballister’s right. Again.

An hour later I stood in attendance at Tumble’s coronation, in a place of honor two steps below him (and one below a cat named Taleon whom I had never met before but who was the new new Envoy). I wore fine clothing that had been laid out for me by the cats, but I left my now-defunct coil in my room so as not to stir any bitter memories of recent events.

As Ballister promised, Tumble spoke of a new era in which Pudlington would be a refuge and a shining example of how life can thrive even in the depths of the city. He thanked me for my service to the throne and asked the citizens of Pudlington to offer me their every courtesy.

Considering the turmoil that had greeted Banshee’s similar announcement, I was surprised at the rousing cheers that Tumble’s words received. Perhaps without Fordham agitating the crowd, they were more accepting of the idea of human refugees sharing their city. Or maybe, I had to admit to myself, it was the fact that I had followed through on my side of the bargain, had proven that humans could keep their word. For whatever reason, my heart felt lighter by the time the ceremony was over. If the cats could accept a change of this magnitude, perhaps there was hope that the city itself could change, given enough work and time.

Hours later, the ceremony had become a party with the throne platform as its epicenter. I stood near the platform’s edge, looking out at the lights of the city and talking to Ballister. He nodded at something behind me and I looked back to see Tumble—Emperor Tumble—approaching.

I turned back to Ballister but he was already walking away. He waved goodbye and headed toward a buffet table for thirds or fourths.

“Ballister seems to be settling in quite nicely. Who knew there was such a gentleman underneath all that dirt?”
“I think you had an idea,” I said, and remembered to add, “Your Highness.”

Tumble sighed, and in it I heard him yearning for a time when his brother was alive and he was free to run through the city, chasing adventure with a foolish young man. Much had changed in a few days. We stood in silence for a while, festivities taking place behind us, while before us the city lay dark and still except for islands of light and activity.

“What exactly happened with the coils?” I asked. It was something I had been curious about ever since it happened, but had been too caught up in my moping (as Ballister would have it) to ask about until now. “They got shut down just in time, but you couldn’t have gotten back here yet.”

“You’re right. You have Fordham to thank for the coils. If he had left well enough alone, Professor Copper wouldn’t have touched the satellites until Banshee or I ordered her to, but Fordham didn’t know that. He tried to shut the project down, so she ordered her team to initiate the procedure while she stalled him. Fordham was enraged. He locked her up but the damage was already done.”

“Then I owe them both my life, I guess. Any chance of me being able to thank him personally?”

“We haven’t found the exit he used yet, which you can be sure is giving me no end of worry. If he got out without us knowing, what’s to keep him from coming back in the same way?”

“The days of Pudlington hiding behind closed doors are over anyway, right?”

“True, but I still don’t like that he’s free. Who knows what he’ll be up to.”

“Yeah. And not just him. The Fifth House, whoever they are, must have given Doyle power for a reason. I doubt they’re going to sit back and take this loss without a fight.”

Tumble hummed in agreement and asked, “And you? You’ve seen the sun rise on the Roof of the World. Your uncle is no longer alive to chase you endlessly through the city. What’s next for Allin Arcady?”

I looked out at the lights in the darkness. One by one, as partygoers returned to their homes in the cat’s cradle of a city, more lights went on.

“Well,” I said. “It’s a dark world out there, and if we don’t do anything, it’ll only get darker. Ballister told me I can’t save everyone, and he’s right. But Earth is the only city left, and I’m not going to let it die without a fight.”

“My brother would be proud of that sentiment, Allin. As am I. Know that so long as I am Emperor, you shall never be alone in this fight.”

I looked away, a little too tight in the throat to reply immediately. When I could speak again, I tried to lighten the mood.

“Come on, let’s get some more to eat before Ballister finishes it all.”

“Banshee would approve of that sentiment as well.”

With that, we turned away from the darkness and headed toward the light and noise of the celebration, to enjoy the good times for so long as they should last.

* * *

10/27/13 News: That’s it. The end of the serialized version of The Only City Left. This has been an incredible ride. If I had understood the amount of work involved, I might never have had the courage to start the project, but I’m glad I went into it somewhat blind. In the process, I’ve interacted with wonderful readers, discovered other creators’ amazing endeavors, and pushed myself to grow as a writer. I can’t wait until the final, edited version of The Only City Left is released, and I can get to work on my next project. Thanks to everyone who has read, commented, and shared.

The Only City Left is listed on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction.

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.)

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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 74

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 73, Allin met with Tumble after stopping him from attempting to assassinate Doyle.

The Only City Left: Part 74

In the dark recesses of the narrow alleyway, I hugged Tumble until he gasped for air. I set him down and asked, “What are you still doing here? You have to get back to Pudlington. Now.”

“Is it true? About Banshee?” he asked, his voice grave.

Of course. I couldn’t just drop a bomb on him by announcing his brother was dead and then expect that he would leave without talking to me first. I spent the next half-hour filling him in on everything that had happened since he had last seen me plummeting to my death, but I started with the most important news for him.

“It didn’t look good, Tumble. Last I saw, he wasn’t moving.”

After that, Tumble listened to my story quietly, asking questions to clarify this or that detail but mostly allowing me to get through it as fast as possible.

“Fordham in league with Doyle,” Tumble said when I was done. He stroked his chin as he mulled over that possibility. “Well isn’t that a horrible prospect. Are you sure about this?”

“Well, no,” I said. “But it was awfully convenient that he wasn’t standing next to Banshee when that catwolf attacked. And he was quick to claim leadership in the midst of that chaos. Real quick.”

“That places you in incredible danger,” Tumble said. “He knows your mission is to kill Doyle and that you can become a werewolf now. It won’t be long before he sends a warning to the Garden.”

I hadn’t considered that, but it made a scary sort of sense. If the ghosts hadn’t gotten me to the Garden so quickly, the news might have arrived before me. I might have stood in front of Doyle, semi-confident in my disguise, only to be set upon and exposed on the spot. That I hadn’t been meant one of two things were true: either Fordham wasn’t in league with the wolves or his messenger hadn’t arrived yet.

Tumble agreed but pointed out one more depressing fact. “Whether it’s Fordham or another spy who gets the word out, it won’t be long until Doyle knows you’re a wolf. You can’t stay here, Allin.”

“He may know I’m a wolf, but not which wolf. You’re the one who can’t stay. You need to go to Pudlington and knock Fordham off the throne. How fast can you get back there?”

“Less than a day if I don’t stop, now that I know the way.” He paused and stroked his muzzle. “Allin, I know my brother wanted to hold off on shutting down the coils, but you’re the one dealing with the werewolves now. Do you want me to have Copper turn them off?”

I thought about it for a moment but shook my head at the offer. “As much as I want the werewolves gone, I have a better chance of getting at my uncle as one of them. Let’s stick with Banshee’s plan.”

“And do you have any plan for getting rid of Doyle?”

“No. I thought the ghosts were going to help me, but they didn’t show up when I confronted Doyle just now.”

“Then my plan’s as good as any,” he said, and handed over three nutri-bulb sized grenades. EMPs, just as I thought. “These are still our best chance to erase Doyle. Which I might have done already if you hadn’t intervened.”

I started to protest but he cut me off. “I know, I know. You had to make sure I knew about Banshee. You did the right thing. You’re becoming quite the brave young man, Allin.”

“Thank you,” I said, a feeling of pride swelling inside me. Coming from Tumble, those words meant everything.

“I’d best be off. We both have much to do. Good luck, Allin Arcady. I hope to see you again when all this is over. Don’t disappoint me.”

“I’ll try not to.”

We hugged one last time and then he was off down the alley until he disappeared around a corner. I held the three EMP grenades in my hands. Without my bag, I had no place to put all of them, so I stashed two beneath some rubble and put the third in my pocket. I’d only have one chance at erasing Doyle, anyway. Maybe I could even use Tumble’s original plan. I reached up and dug my claws into the brick wall to see if it would take my weight, but a shout from the mouth of the alleyway startled me. I fell to the alley floor with a thud.

“Ballister, that you?” asked a werewolf walking over to me. “What are you doing, man?”
The werewolf offered me a hand up and I accepted it, thinking of an answer while I stood up and brushed myself off.

“I was getting antsy. Figured I’d climb the walls for some exercise.”

“Yeah, well, we’re moving out early, so you won’t be bored no more. The name’s Pogue, Sergeant Pogue.” He stopped and sniffed at the air. “I think I smell cat.”

With my heightened sense of smell, so did I, but I made a show of sniffing the air and shaking my head.

“I can barely smell anything with all this smoke in the air,” I said, heading toward the street and away from the direction Tumble had taken.

Pogue sniffed a couple of more times before reluctantly following me out onto the street.

“Weird,” he said, and shrugged. “Come on, I’ll introduce you to the guys.”

This was definitely not good. I needed to stay in the Garden, not get roped into some hunt for more human slaves. Oblivious to my inner turmoil, Sergeant Pogue led me through the streets, talking all the while about this new site they had scoped out and how twenty wolves should be plenty to take it. He was either a genuinely friendly guy, as werewolves go, or he was treating me well because of the “promotion” Doyle had given me. Either way, he wouldn’t shut up or leave my side, even when I suggested I had gear I needed to get before I left.

“Oh, we got tons of good stuff you can use,” was his unhelpful response to that gambit.

Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. We were getting to the edge of town and I’d have nowhere to go but with him if I didn’t make a move. I waited until the area around us was deserted of anyone but human slaves and then said, “Over there, did you see that?”

“What? Where?”
I clapped him on the shoulder and pointed past a pile of rubble down the street.

“You were right! I just saw one of those stinking cats skulking around. He must be spying. Let’s get him!”

“Yeah!” the dim Sergeant Pogue replied, and took off running.

I ran, too, but in the opposite direction. Since Pogue could realize I had lied and turn back to find me at any moment, I did the first thing I could think of to disguise myself amidst the slaves. I removed my coil and shoved it into my empty pants pocket.

I couldn’t change my clothes, though, and even Pogue would recognize me in them if he found me, so I needed to do more to hide from him. To that end, I ducked into the first darkened doorway I could find, determined to wait him out inside of the abandoned building. Except it wasn’t abandoned.

It was full of werewolves.

* * *

Continue to Part 75.

7/14/13 News: I finished the re-outlining of The Only City Left, which entailed cutting a lot of scenes, adding new ones, and changing other ones. In this page, for instance, most everything after Tumble and Allin part has been removed in favor of a new avenue. This makes posting pages like this a little painful, but it’s all part of the process. At any rate, I need to type up all my notes, give it a once-over, and send it to my editor for evisceration, er, review. And then I’m back to writing. Yay!

The Only City Left is listed on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction.

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.)

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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 73

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 72, Allin stopped Tumble from assassinating Doyle, but at the cost of falling under Doyle’s gaze.

The Only City Left: Part 73

All eyes were on me suddenly and I couldn’t think of what else to say. All I could imagine was Tumble dropping that grenade at my feet. Even an emp grenade would have enough explosive force to tear me to pieces, so my split-second gamble might have been the last I ever made. When nothing else happened, I realized two things: Tumble hadn’t gone through with his attack, and I was suddenly the center of attention for not only the entire crowd and the performers, but for my uncle as well.

“What did you just say?” asked Doyle, sitting up straighter amidst the pile of cushions he lounged in.

“I said, ‘Congratulations!’ I heard you killed the Emperor of Pudlington,” I said, imitating the voice of the first person I could think of. “About time, too. Those cats think they’re so grand, but aye, you showed ‘em.”

“Did that happen already?” Doyle asked softly, as if to himself. “I thought…”

“Must’ve happened, your um greatness,” I said, working hard to keep an obviously addle-minded Doyle from having too much time to think. “The people are saying you’ll be marching on the cat city next, what with Banshee’s brother running around on a fool’s errand and all.”

That woke Doyle up from his stupor. He bared his teeth and pulled himself forward so that he sat on the edge of his cushioned seat and could lean out of the palanquin toward me.

He brought his hands up before him and I thought, This is it. What was I thinking getting this close to the monster? I might as well have turned myself in to him first thing.

But he didn’t grab me by the throat and proclaim victory. Instead he blinked twice and twisted the neck of an imaginary foe in mid-air. Even the watching crowd let out a surprised sigh.

“Banshee’s brother? Tumble? Damn him to the abyss. He let my nephew die, the coward. I’ll skin him alive and use his fur for a bath mat the next time I see him.”

News of my demise had traveled quickly from Pudlington. I wondered if Banshee knew the extent to which the cat city must be inundated with spies. And then I wondered if Banshee would ever have cause to worry about that again. The image of him lying face-down in his own blood strengthened my resolve to clue in Tumble as to what had happened. I wanted to look up to see if he was still on the roof, but I couldn’t risk the glance.

“Sounds like if he grappled with you, he’d be in a real jam. He’d be lucky to survive the fall after that.”

“Fall? What fall?

Uh-oh. Too much?

“The fall. You know, after you, um, damn him into that abyss. Damn that cat.”

It was the best I could do with my uncle the ghost werewolf in front of me and a good portion of his werewolf army staring down my back. I hoped Tumble got my message one way or another, because I wasn’t sure I’d survive this conversation.

“Yes. Yes,” Doyle said. “What did you say your name was, soldier?”

Soldier? Soldier! He was buying it. He thought I was one of them!

“Name’s Ballister.”

“Well, thank you, Ballister. Yes,” Doyle said, standing up and addressing his words to the crowd. “The so-called Emperor Banshee is dead by my order. None can stand against the might of the Fifth House!”

The crowd cheered. Doyle threw his hands above his head and they cheered again, louder.

“How come I was not immediately informed of my success?” Doyle asked, bringing his arms down and peering at the wolves closest to him, the ones running the entertainment. “Didn’t any of you hear this news?”

“No, um, no.”

“Not really.”

“I think I heard something, maybe.”

“Sorry, no, Lord Commander.”

Doyle listened to his men and then turned back to examine me more closely. I could smell the stink of my sweat as I wilted under that gaze. Abruptly, Doyle grinned and lifted his head to address the crowd.

“This is the kind of wolf I want in my service. Independent. Nose to the ground,” he said. He focused on me again. “What’s your rank, Ballister?”

I mumbled my answer. “Um, second, under, private, first class, sir.”

I needn’t have tried to make something up; Doyle ignored me and barreled on over my words. “Never mind. You’re a colonel now. There’s a battalion leaving tonight to cull a new town we found. I want you there with them gathering intel for me. Pogue will fill you in. Pogue!”

I followed Doyle’s gaze and saw two werewolves carrying away the old man’s body. One of them, Pogue, stood up straighter and said, “Yes, sir!”

“You let Ballister here know the details.”
“Yes, sir!”

“Good, good,” Doyle said, sitting back down. When he looked back at me, his energetic zeal seemed to have drained from his face. He looked blankly at me and said, “What are you still doing here? Go!”

He needn’t have raised his voice at the end; I was already gone. As I moved through the crowd, I heard him ordering the next diversion, but when I spared a glance back, he was already lying down and staring into space.

Though I had survived a conversation with my uncle, I was no closer to taking him down, and if I wasn’t mistaken he had ordered me to leave the Garden on some sort of seek-and-destroy mission against another innocent group of humans. That might be trouble, but if Tumble had understood my message to him, it would be worth it. Hopefully he realized it was me underneath the fur and by now he would be high-tailing it back to Pudlington to find out if what I said about Banshee was true.

I made it out of the crowd in front of the gutted building and walked a block away before I gave into my nerves, leaned against a building, and panted like I had just run a race. It felt like the rat I had eaten was scrabbling around inside me, tearing up my guts.

I nearly jumped out of my fur when a voice drifted out of a nearby alley.

“Jam? Grapple? You needn’t have laid it on so thick. I knew it was you the moment you started talking like Ballister.”

* * *

Continue to Part 74.

7/6/13 News: I’m more than halfway through the re-outlining process of editing. Once that is done, I can start rewriting. I’m definitely looking forward to writing again, and I’m hoping that my editor’s suggestions combined with my new outline will make for a much stronger version of The Only City Left.

The Only City Left is listed on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction.

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 69

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 68, one of Emperor Banshee’s guards used a lantern coil to become a catwolf and cut the emperor down.

The Only City Left: Part 69

Panic.

At the sight of their emperor being eviscerated by a werewolf, the crowd went into full flight mode, pushing, pulling, and trampling over each other in their haste to flee this sudden danger. Cats crashed into me and the guards who were holding me back, locking us all together in a tangled mess and knocking me over. From the floor, I heard Ballister swear and saw one unlucky cat pushed over the edge of the platform.

Through a break in the crowd, I saw Xerxes reach the catwolf and grip his coil, siphoning the moonlight and momentarily halting the traitorous guard’s attack. What happened next I couldn’t see because the crowd closed in on me once more. Frightened cats climbed all over me, inadvertently but painfully digging into my flesh with their tiny clawed feet. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t fight back against the wave of fur and claws. Finally I thought, Enough of this, and grabbed my coil. I pressed the buttons, said, “Always stay alive,” and transformed.

I jumped to my feet, knocking off the cats that had been bothering me, and looked to the throne. The cat assassin wrestled with Xerxes for control of his coil, finally tearing it free and leaping down two steps from the ghost.

“For the Garden!” he yelled and transformed again.

With one leap, I launched myself over the heads of the nearby cats and onto the steps. I put one shoulder forward and let my momentum carry me straight into the catwolf. He might have the reflexes of a cat and the enhanced strength of a werewolf, but I had height and weight on him. When I hit, he flew backwards off the steps and turned end over end on the floor before coming to a stop.

Above me, Banshee lay sprawled in front of his throne, trying to hold himself together, his eyes wide. Xerxes stared down at him, palms up in a shrug. There was nothing he could do. Nothing I could do either. I felt useless, impotent. I howled my rage and turned all my energy toward revenge. The catwolf would pay.

I turned toward where he had landed and began to stalk toward him, digging my claws into my palms. He sat up, saw me coming, and lifted the box that held his coil. Thinking of turning into a cat and hiding? You won’t make it five feet before I tear you in two for what you did to Banshee.

But transformation was not what he had in mind. Before I could reach him he pressed three buttons on the box itself, not on the coil. He looked at me and said, “I’m sorry. I had to do it.”

The box in his hands beeped three times and exploded. The blast knocked me backward, left a crater in the floor, and erased the traitorous guard from existence.

I gulped. A second ago I had been set on killing him, or a part of me had been. His sudden death by suicide blast shocked me out of that primal state, though. That wasn’t me. I’m not a killer, I thought. I’m not.

But the wolf inside me is.

Fordham’s voice tore me from my reverie. “Capture the assassin. He must pay for his crimes!”

Capture? He killed himself. What’s left to capture?

I got to my feet and turned toward Fordham’s voice. He was pointing at me, and the remaining imperial guards had their halberds aimed at me, too. Oh great. Didn’t everyone see the guard attack Banshee?

“Seize him. Get that necklace and he’ll be powerless!”

I roared at the oncoming guards and they froze in their tracks. “It wasn’t me, you fools. Now get help for Banshee before it’s too late.”

Behind Fordham and the guards, I saw Xerxes return to Ballister’s side and lean in to speak to him. Oh yeah. Your little friend is a werewolf, Ballister. Did he neglect to mention that?

No one was making a move toward Banshee while I was around. I owed it to him to clear out so that the frightened cats would snap out of their stupor. With another leap, I cleared the guards and landed beside Ballister.

“I can explain,” I said, but he cut me off.

“No need. Xerxes filled me in. Quite a mess, though.”

Ballister lunged past me and I twisted to see what was going on. He had grabbed onto the shaft of a halberd that one of the guards was swinging my way. With a twist, he wrested it from the guard’s hands, reversed it, and swung it back and forth in an arc before him.

“Keep back, ya curs. You’re on after the wrong wolf,” he said.

He was protecting me. He believed in me. Staring at all those accusing feline faces, it felt amazing to have someone who would stick by me despite what I had become. We stood side by side, our backs near the edge of the platform, keeping the guards at bay with swipes of halberds and claws. They had the advantage of not caring if they harmed us, but we had greater reach.

“Now what?” I asked.

“Just hold on. I sent Stinky for help.”

What help? I wondered. We’re in a city full of cats, and Fordham has them believing I attacked their emperor.

“Fordham,” I called out.

He stood well back from the line of imperial guards that made a semi-circle around us, exhorting them to greater effort. One thing to be said for him, he had not fled in the face of all the chaos and terror, unlike the rest of the court.

“Fordham,” I called again. “I’ll give myself up if you want, but get Banshee some help. Now!”

The Acting Envoy looked up to where Banshee lay, face down before his throne, limp and only taking occasional body-wracking breaths. My heart wrenched at the sight, but there was nothing I could do. Fordham, who could do something, looked back at me and I swear the little feline piece of garbage smirked.

“Take the boy alive,” he ordered the guards. “He must stand trial. Push the old one over the edge!”

Keep me alive but kill Ballister? I suddenly wondered if Doyle didn’t have friends in very high places within Pudlington.

More Pudlington guards arrived and Fordham ordered them to reinforce the ones harassing us. I was forced to consider going on the offensive, if only to keep Ballister from being overwhelmed by sheer numbers. Before I had to take that step, Stinky returned with not just Ballister’s men (seven familiar but much cleaner faces), but another contingent of Pudlington guards. That group of guards faced off against those under Fordham’s command, cats against cats, giving Ballister and me enough room to make our way to an exit ramp. Xerxes floated along in our wake, powerless to take part in the struggle.

Fordham became apoplectic at the sight of the cats aiding in our escape.

“What is the meaning of this?” he asked.

“I’m following my Emperor’s orders,” Stinky replied.

“The Emperor is incapacitated. I am in charge now.”

“That’s not how it works.”

“You will be jailed for this insubordination!”

Ballister ordered his men to close ranks around me, which they warily did. I took the opportunity to return to my human form before my rage and frustration got the best of me and I bit off Fordham’s head.

“Time to go, Allin,” Ballister said.

He was right, but I hated to run away when Banshee was in such dire straits.

“Stinky, save Banshee!”

The loyal guard looked over to where Banshee lay, nearly unmoving, and rallied his men. “Save the Emperor!” The cats under his command cheered and formed a wedge pointed at the throne. I wanted to help them, but Stinky grabbed my hand and pulled me toward a ramp.

“They can handle it,” he said.

Ballister nodded and instructed his men to buy us some time. As Stinky, Ballister, Xerxes and I retreated, the rowdy fighting men of Ballister’s village took their places at the base of the ramp, inviting the imperial guards in no uncertain terms to test their fighting prowess against some real men.

Stinky led us up the ramp and along a route with which I was familiar. We were heading to Pudlington’s gates.

“I can’t leave Banshee like that,” I said.

“There’s nothing you can do,” Stinky said. “Fordham is in control now. Us loyalists will only be able to fight so long as Banshee lives.”

He left out the part where that wasn’t likely to be for much longer.

Ballister said, “We’ll create a ruckus here so they’re too busy to follow you.”

“No, Ballister, you can’t!”

“What are they going to do? Kick us out? At least we had a wash-up and a nice meal.”

I felt awful. I had uprooted Ballister and his people and now they were on the wrong side of the cats. Banshee was bleeding out in front of his throne, and I was in flight. Everything I touched fell apart.

“Wipe that mopey look off your face,” Ballister said. “We can handle ourselves.”

I knew he could, but he shouldn’t have to. What if the cats weren’t content to only evict him? What would happen to Stinky and his men for defying Fordham’s orders? I had brought all this down on their heads. I didn’t know how I could ever make it right, but for a start I would make Doyle pay for what he had done.

While those dark thoughts rattled around my head, we made our way to the gates. Once we arrived, Stinky broke off to speak to the guards at the door. Ballister grabbed me by my shoulders and looked me in the eyes.

“I’ll see you when you get back. Good luck, kid.”

“You too, Ballister. I’m sorry. For everything.”

“Eh, you worry too much,” he said, and gripped me in a strong embrace, pounding me on my back. He let go and said, “Ghost, you keep this boy safe, you hear?”

Xerxes nodded and said, “Of course.”

“Come on,” Stinky said, joining us. “They’re loyal to Banshee. We can pass.”

I said goodbye to Ballister one last time and then followed Stinky through the passage out of Pudlington. Xerxes, ever cautious, made sure no one was manning the murder holes along the way. Once outside the doors, he drifted forward to speak to the mass of ghosts who were milling about awaiting our return.

Stinky said, “If you see Tumble, tell him to haul his butt back here. He’s the only one who has a chance of fixing this mess now. We’ll try to keep your friends safe in the meantime, but if the emperor doesn’t make it, we’ll be in as much trouble as them.”

“I can’t thank you enough.”

“Do the job Emperor Banshee asked of you and we’ll call it even. Best of luck.”

He left to speak to the outer guards, and I joined Xerxes.

“You know where the Garden is?” I asked.

“Yes, thanks to Matthias and my scouts.”

“Then let’s go make Doyle pay for what he’s done.”

“At long last.”

* * *

Continue to Part 70.

6/9/13 News: Perhaps this week’s nearly double-length entry will make up for the recent series of cliffhangers, although we still don’t know what happened to Emperor Banshee, do we?

The Only City Left is 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 68

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.)

In Part 67, Allin became a werewolf (and nearly lost control) and agreed to go to the Garden for Banshee. Banshee told Allin he would allow human refugees into Pudlington and would announce it the next day, despite Fordham’s interference.

The Only City Left: Part 68

The next day, Banshee held court again first thing in the morning. I was clean, refreshed, and well-breakfasted but full of nerves. The moment I arrived at the throne platform, Xerxes floated up from beneath the floor to stand beside me. I grinned at his flair for the dramatic; he must have been a performer of some kind in his previous life. Ballister walked up chatting and laughing with his guard before the cat realized they had arrived and had to put on a more serious face.

“Looks like you two are getting on well,” I said.

“What, me and Stinky? Little guy’s all right, but I drank him under the table last night,” Ballister said with a broad smile.

Before I could hear more of that tale or remark on how well he had cleaned up, the imperial guards hammered the floor and Acting Envoy Fordham introduced Emperor Banshee.

With almost no preamble, Banshee said, “Let it be known that after discussing the matter in depth with Allin Arcady, and giving it much personal thought, I have agreed to open Pudlington’s doors to refugees from the violence outside our walls.”

The crowd raised its voice in a shocked murmur and Fordham’s tail beat the floor behind him like a whip, but Banshee rolled on.

“The fine details of our agreement will be worked out in the coming days and months, but in return for this concession, Master Arcady has agreed to provide a special and dangerous service to the throne. Allin, come forth.”

The crowd around me cleared a path and I made my way to stand before the imperial guards at the base of the stairs, my legs shaking beneath me ever so slightly.

“Do you swear your fealty to me, the Emperor of Pudlington, and agree to carry out my commands as I best see fit to give them?”

The formality of the ceremony surprised me, but I was in too deep to back out now.

“I so swear.”

“Then kneel before me and when you arise it will be as a Knight Errant of Pudlington.”

I knelt down and bowed my head.

“This has gone too far,” Fordham said, the dam of his indignation finally burst open. “Backroom dealings. Giving a human such an honor. This harkens back to the time of the Masters.”

That last word hit the crowd like a curse.

Banshee said, “Fordham, you are excused from my court,” but Fordham continued his tirade, calling for Banshee to step down and for me to be exiled from Pudlington. Banshee, in turn, called on his guards to escort Fordham from the throne.

I stood up and took a step back. The situation was quickly devolving into chaos. The imperial guards, usually impassive and reserved, shifted in their boots and glanced back and forth between Fordham and me as if unsure of whom to put hands on.

Ballister came to my side and said, “Maybe we should go.”

Xerxes drifted over and said, “I concur.”

I heard Banshee roar, “Restrain that cat!” and looked up to see Fordham stalking down the steps toward me. Yeah, definitely time to go.

The crowd on all sides of us made that somewhat difficult. Sure, I could knock over a bunch of cats half my size as I ran away, but somehow I didn’t think that would be good for cat/human relations. Unfortunately for me, Fordham wasn’t as concerned with that. I felt a shove at my waist and looked down to see him pushing me back.

“Out, out. You are not needed here, human!”

“Come on,” I said, and held him away from me by his forehead. “What is your problem?”

Banshee continued to bellow orders at his guards, who finally got it together and interposed themselves between Fordham and me. When he tried to break through that line, two more guards had to restrain him. I don’t know what took them so long, but I was relieved that they finally had the situation under some control.

Above it all, Banshee sat back down on his throne, his rhythmically-twitching whiskers a sure sign of the anger boiling beneath his calm mask. Below him, one of the imperial guards still didn’t seem to know what to do. He looked back and forth between Banshee and the guards in front of me, then doffed his feathered cap and pulled something from inside of it.

It looked like a necklace with a hand-sized metal box hanging from it, and when the guard slipped it on, I saw a familiar oval pendant embedded into the box’s face. Necklace on, he started up the steps to Banshee, letting his cap fall to the floor.

“Hey! Hey,” I yelled, but my voice was drowned out by the heated words flying all around me. “Look out. He has a coil!”

I started to push through the guards in front of me, but they did their best to hold me back.

“Stand down, guardsman. Stand down!” Banshee commanded.

The guard ignored Banshee’s order and continued up the steps to him. Banshee rose from his throne.

I turned to Xerxes, pointed at the rogue guard, and said, “Stop that cat!”

The ghost looked up to where Banshee stood facing the guard, nodded at me, and then floated through the nearby guards and up the stairs.

He was too late.

“For the Garden!” the guard yelled.

There was a flash of white light and I saw the guard transform into a werewolf version of himself: slightly taller and bulkier, his fur grown out, and his claws looking deadlier and sharper.

The yell and flash of light attracted the attention of everyone on the throne platform. Or almost everyone. Fordham continued to struggle, so he and the guards holding him back were probably the only ones who didn’t see what happened next.

The catwolf sliced once horizontally across Banshee’s throat and then brought his hand back down diagonally, slicing the Emperor from shoulder to waist.

The blood that spilled from him looked black by the light of the moon. So much black blood.

* * *

Continue to Part 69.

6/2/13 News: That’s a cruel cliffhanger. My apologies to you, my reader, and to you, Emperor Banshee. Thanks for reading each week!

The Only City Left is 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 67

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 66, Allin prepared to transform into a werewolf for the first time in his life. He spoke his father’s passphrase, “Always stay alive,” and…

The Only City Left: Part 67

The transformation began immediately and was over in seconds, but for me it felt like an eternity. The moonlight from my coil enveloped me and set me on fire. My skin rippled and bubbled like a pot of water set to boil. A full-body cramp wracked me and I collapsed to my knees and bowed my head to the floor. It’s not working, I thought, panicked. Copper was wrong. I’m turning inside out!

I groaned at a feeling of not-quite pain but not-yet pleasure, a feeling of something about-to-happen like when you’re starting to fall but you haven’t hit the floor yet. I watched in awe and revulsion as the skin on my arms darkened, hardened, and sprouted fur. I could feel other, invisible changes, too. Although my head was bowed, I knew exactly where Copper and Banshee stood in the room, could smell Banshee’s subdued fear and Copper’s unbridled curiosity. I felt an untapped reservoir of power coursing through me, waiting to be unleashed. My groan became a series of howls.

A monstrous rage built up inside of me. Not blind fury but rather focused wrath. All those wolves out there who felt the same power: they had so much potential, but what did they use it for? To take what they wanted and kill anyone who stood in their way, to destroy. How narrow-minded.

Imagine harnessing the incredible power for good, instead. The problem with Doyle being in charge is that he was a punk before he was given this power and all it had done was turn him into a stronger punk. I wouldn’t think so small. With an army of werewolves at my command, I could force the planet to shape up. I could bring about a renewed age of peace and prosperity. And anyone who didn’t like it would be wise to get out of my way.

“Allin!” I heard Banshee’s voice as if from a distance, nearly drowned out by the sound of blood rushing in my ears, pulsing through my body. Louder, “Allin!”

I focused and saw my hands gripping the bars of my cell. I had pulled two bars together until they nearly touched in the middle. Outside of the cell, Copper peeked out at me from behind Banshee, the both of them standing well away. I let go of the bars and staggered backwards. I looked down and saw that the concrete floor had been gouged out in a set of parallel lines. I didn’t remember doing any of that.

“Turn it off!”

I looked up again and saw Banshee standing right before the cell bars. Was he mad? I could take one step forward and end him with a swipe of my great claws. Look what I had done to the floor. Flesh and fur would be like nothing to me.

“Allin, please, turn it off,” Banshee said, his voice low. Not an imperial command. A request from a friend. “This is not who you are.”

Not who I am? What was he talking about? This is who I always had been, under the surface. This was the gift my parents had bequeathed to me. A gift of unbridled power, of heightened senses, of unlocked potential. I was a werewolf now like my parents before me. Like my parents.

My parents who had fled that life to keep me safe, who had hidden their werewolf nature from me. My parents who had been murdered by the wolves. I was reveling in the power that had destroyed them. I felt sick.

With a press of the same buttons that had begun the transformation, it was over. I was human once more, on my hands and knees and retching in the corner of the cell. Banshee was by my side, patting my back and repeating, “It’s okay, Allin. It’s okay,” until I believed it enough to sit up and wipe the tears from my eyes.

“Sorry if I scared you,” I said, my voice a ragged croak.

“I had no doubt you’d pull through,” Banshee said.

“I wish I was so sure.”

“The first transformation is bound to produce some adverse effects upon both your physical and mental well-being,” Copper said. “Subsequent uses of the coil should be easier on you.”

“Thanks, Prof.” I couldn’t help but notice she still stood well back from me on the other side of the bars. I didn’t blame her. I wanted to recoil from myself, to hide on the other side of the bars, but I was trapped in my own traitorous body. “I hope you’re right.”

Banshee helped me to my feet and led me out of the cell. He asked, “Do you still think you can do it? Become a werewolf? Infiltrate the Garden?”

I rubbed my mouth with the back of my hand and said, “I can do it. I won’t like it, but if it’ll get me into the Garden and close to Doyle, I’ll do it.”

“This mustn’t leave the room, your ability to transform,” Banshee said, looking at Copper and me in turn. “The last thing I need is for Fordham and his cronies to know that there’s a werewolf in the city, no matter that you’re on our side.”

I slipped the coil on its necklace back underneath my shirt.

“I won’t be bragging about this, believe me.”

“You have my silence, Emperor Banshee,” Copper said.

“Good. Allin, let me return you to your room for some well-earned rest. Tomorrow, I’ll announce that I’ve agreed to your plan and you’ll be on your way immediately.”

I was surprised, to say the least. I thought he had been adamantly against the idea.

“What made you change your mind?” I asked.

“Let’s just say: it’s the right thing to do.”

“What about Fordham?”

“I’ll remind him who truly runs this city.”

* * *

Continue to Part 68.

5/26/13 News: I am moving slowly along on edits for Book 1. I have such mixed emotions about the whole process, so part of editing is getting into the right mental space and figuring out exactly what are my goals for the book. Part of the oddity of this process for me is that I know people are enjoying this serialized rough draft, but at the same time, I am going to be making considerable changes to it. Hopefully it all works out.

Oh well, this is all an experiment and based on how it turns out, I’ll decide how I would like to change how I do things for Book 2. Thanks for being part of the experiment!

The Only City Left is 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 66

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 65, Allin learned how Emperor Banshee and Professor Copper intend to destroy the system that allows werewolves to exist.

The Only City Left: Part 66

“We’ll have to repeat the process, of course, for however many satellites there turn out to be. You see, there needs to be overlap for the times when—”

“Enough. Save the details for the scientists,” Banshee said. “All you need to know, Allin, is that we can take away the powers that Doyle’s army has been given.”

“That’s great,” I said. “So why haven’t you done it yet?”

Copper said, “For one, we haven’t stabilized the inverted coil yet, so it can close at any moment. We’re also working on a spacesuit with its own oxygen supply and a tether. You couldn’t tell, but the coil room is currently in vacuum due to us needing to open a portal into outer space. We already lost one cat when we inverted the coil quite by chance. Poor, poor Jaspers. His sacrifice shall not be forgotten.”

“And for another, I won’t authorize it until Doyle is out of the picture or the wolves are at our door.”

“You can take away all the werewolves’ powers at once and you won’t do it?” I couldn’t believe Banshee wouldn’t jump at the opportunity. “Why not?”

“Until Doyle is gone, it is pointless,” Banshee said. “Take away the werewolves’ power and he’ll still have an army of normal humans under his command. If we wait until he’s gone to flip the switch, his people will be disorganized, confused. If they don’t fall to infighting and destroy themselves first, we’ll sweep in and mop them up.”

“So you’re saying that until Tumble or I invade the Garden and come back to report that Doyle is well and truly dead, you won’t do the one thing that would make it easier to get into the Garden in the first place?”

“I’m sorry, Allin, but that’s the way it needs to be. If you’re dead set on going into the Garden, you’ll have to accept that it will be full of werewolves.”

That would be pretty bad news if I had to enter the Garden as Allin Arcady, regular human. But if I looked like any other werewolf, things would probably go a lot smoother.

“Is Dad’s coil still usable after you turn it inside out like that?”

“Oh yes,” Copper said. “As long as the satellites exist, the coil should work.”

I realized then that once the satellites were destroyed, not only would the moonlight be cut off, the sunlight would be, too. Dad’s coil would be no more than jewelry, a powerless memento. The loss of sunlight was a shame, but a world without werewolves would be worth it.

“And even if we knew how to activate the moonlight mode,” Banshee said. “We can’t lend you the coil at this point, Allin. If you get caught, we would lose our one chance to stop the wolves.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t think of leaving you without a coil,” I said, reaching into my shirt. I pulled out and held up Matthias’ coil for inspection. “But would you consider a trade?”

# # #

About an hour later, I had Dad’s coil in my hands again. There had been a painstakingly careful process to pump air back into the coil room, ensure that the QUIPS system could not accidentally turn on (“We must never forget Jasper’s lesson,” Copper said solemnly), and swap out the coils. Banshee wouldn’t agree to return my coil until Copper was sure that Matthias’ could be used in the same manner, so the coil room had to be evacuated of air and another test performed. Only when the replacement coil had worked to reverse the quantum tunnel was Dad’s coil returned to me.

When I had cast it off, I had been angry at my parents for lying to me, for never telling me that they were werewolves and that I was probably one, too. A lot had happened since then. Now here I was, ready to put my theory to the test and become a werewolf myself. If it worked, I would use that horrible power to kill my own uncle. Quite a family, werewolves the lot of us.

Werewolf or human, we all have choices to make. My parents’ chose to save me at the cost of their own lives. Whatever lies they had told or truths they had kept from me could not erase the power of that ultimate act of love. How could I possibly stay angry with them?

I looked up to see Copper staring at me, her head cocked. I turned to Banshee, who nodded as if he understood what I had been thinking. I nodded back and slipped the necklace over my head. Though Matthias’ coil had been identical, this one felt more right somehow.

“You’re sure this is back to normal? I don’t want to turn it on and get pulled inside out.”

“At least 97% certain,” Copper said. My eyes grew wide. “Kidding. Yes, it will work.”

I might never get used to her sense of humor, but if she said it worked, I trusted her.

“Let’s try it out then.”

We had moved to a different lab on another sub-floor for two reasons: it was currently vacant and it had a row of cells along its rear wall. Banshee opened the door to one of them, waved me in, and closed it behind me. Copper locked it with a key from a crowded keychain.

Before I tested my passphrase theory out, I powered up the coil’s sunlight mode. The amber glow felt reassuring but left me with a question.

“Professor, why was the sunlight white when you inverted the coil but yellow now?”

“An astute question, young sir. It should be white in both cases. I can only assume that the coil filters the light to prevent it from blinding anyone, and in so doing, creates the yellow glow you are witnessing.”

“If we’re done with the science lessons, perhaps you can see if all this switching of the coils was worth it?” Banshee asked.

He was right, of course. My question was a delaying tactic. I rubbed my sweaty hands on my pants and swallowed past a tightness in my throat.

“Which buttons do I press?”

“Here, here and here at the same time,” Copper said, reaching through the bars and tapping them with one claw. “That’s the combination I found that produces a brief power surge with no commensurate change in the coil’s appearance. I believe that is what will initiate the transformation, in combination with the correct passphrase.”

“Okay, here we go then,” I said, walking to the back of the cell. I pressed the indicated buttons and whispered, “Always stay alive.”

* * *

Continue to Part 67.

5/19/13 News:

This week I can report that my editor and I are done going over the notes for Book 1 of The Only City Left. I have a lot of big decisions to make as to how I want to implement those edits, and if I say I feel daunted by the task, I think that’s an understatement. I am also genuinely curious to see how TOCL will look on the other end of the process. Thank you for being part of the journey with me.

The Only City Left is 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 65

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 64, Allin learned that Tyena had been taken back to the Garden, the werewolves’ den.

The Only City Left: Part 65

“Taken to the Garden? Who took her?” I asked, struggling to come to terms with the thought of Tyena being snatched out of Pudlington.

“She was spotted in the company of a guard named Halifax. We knew he worked for Doyle and we had him under surveillance, but he slipped his watch and got to Tyena before we could.”

Halifax? That must be the cat I had seen arguing with Tyena.

“When did this happen?”

“Immediately after you left Pudlington.”

After I left. That meant…

“He took her because she didn’t get me to walk into Doyle’s trap!”

“That is one possibility. The citizen who saw the two of them didn’t think anything was wrong at the time. When we questioned him later, he reported that Miss Branch did not appear to be trying to get away. She went with Halifax of her own accord.”

“They have her mother,” I said. Though I couldn’t be sure how much of what Tyena had told me had been true and how much a convenient fiction to lure me out of Pudlington, Tumble had confirmed that much at least. “Everything Tyena was doing, she was doing for her mom. If she refused to leave, Doyle would have her mom killed, so of course she went willingly.”

“Perhaps that is so. At any rate, once Tumble returned and found out about this, he immediately went after her. Oh, he claimed he was going after Doyle, but knowing my brother, he’s going to try to accomplish both goals.”

“You let Tumble go to the Garden by himself? That’s crazy!”

“He is an adult and he made his choice.”
“Great. Now he and Tyena are both in trouble because I didn’t go to the Garden in the first place. Look, Banshee. I mean Emperor Banshee,” I said, but he waved off the informality. “You’ve got me. Whatever you decide about opening up Pudlington, I need to go to the Garden. I owe it to Tumble and Tyena.”

“I see,” Banshee said, giving no indication as to how this would affect his decision.

“But first I need to know: how is Professor Copper doing with her work on the lantern coil?”

“Progress is being made. Let me show you.”

# # #

Down in the Skunkworks, Copper seemed pleased to see me again. “We’ve had a breakthrough since I saw you last!”

Her lantern coil project had moved out of her small room into a much larger laboratory, and she now had a team of white-coated cats working under her lead. The coil itself was nowhere to be seen.

“Did you figure out how to turn on the moonlight mode?” I asked.

“No. Something equally exciting, though.”

“Give him the demonstration,” Banshee said.

“Of course. This way.”

Copper led us to a large desk and sat down facing a bank of monitors, all but one of which were full of graphs and columns of numbers. The exception was one screen which had a picture of a room bare of anything except for the lantern coil in its cradle. Strands of wires ran from all around the coil’s circumference into a pedestal upon which the cradle rested.

Banshee and I stood to either side of Copper, who pressed a button on her desk and said, “Quips testing imminent. Quips testing imminent. Hold all intensive functions until the all clear is given.”

As she spoke, her voice echoed throughout the room from speakers set into the wall.

“Quips?”

“Quantum-inverted phase state,” Copper said. “QUIPS, for short. Get it? Because it shouldn’t be possible, so it’s a joke of sorts.”

“Sure,” I said, not getting it at all, but she seemed happy with my response.

“Just show him,” Banshee said.

“Very well. Eyes on the screen, gentlemen.”

She began typing commands into a keyboard on the desk. The cats moving about the lab stopped what they were doing and joined me in watching the screen.

The first thing I noticed was that it went black.

“Is it broken?” I asked.

“No. I turned off the lights. It’s more dramatic that way. Watch.”

So I watched. The coil turned on, lighting up the room with its familiar golden glow.

“Wait for it,” Copper said, as she nudged a slider forward.

The glow abruptly cut off and the room darkened except for a tiny beam of white light pointing out from the coil to the right side of the screen.

“Extending inversion field.”

The beam grew in size and the room lit up with brilliant white light. The beam itself was almost too bright to look at until the entire screen dimmed. The lights in the room we were in flickered and buzzed before themselves dimming out almost completely.

“What’s going on?”

“Don’t worry, we’re almost at our limit. There,” Copper said.

With that pronouncement, the white light filling the coil room promptly disappeared and the room was once again dark until it suddenly brightened to show the coil, sitting undisturbed in its cradle. All the cats in the room cheered as the lights in our room returned to their normal brightness. Copper pressed a button, announced, “All clear,” and swiveled her chair around to look at me triumphantly.

“It wiped out the sensors on the camera the first time we tried it,” Copper said. “We had to reinvent polarized lenses. Not much use for them these past few millennia. Sunglasses, you see.”

“No, I don’t see. Can someone tell me what just happened?”

“Think of it this way,” Copper said, grasping my hand between both of hers. “There’s a satellite orbiting the moon, and one side of it faces toward the sun, while another side faces the moon. Can you picture that?”

“Sure.”

“Now the way the lantern coil works, and this is technology centuries ahead of anything we have, is that there’s a quantum tunnel that connects the satellite on one end and the coil on the other. The coil end remains static. It’s always tied to the coil itself. But on the satellite end, there are two possible anchors for the tunnel to latch onto: one on the side facing the sun and the other on the side facing the moon. With me so far?”

“Sun. Moon. Tunnel. Got it.”

“Right. So the key thing to realize is that the flow of particles through the tunnel is always one way, from the satellite to the coil. But introduce enough power into the coil, the amount you’d use to run a medium-sized city for a few seconds, and you can effectively invert the coil, which is a space-time construct and not a physical artifact as you probably assumed.”

Banshee cleared his throat. “Keep it simple, please. For the boy.”

“Simple? I thought I was,” she said as if to herself. “Don’t you see? We’re able to switch the direction of the quantum tunnel, to send items, or people, from here to there. All we have to do is stretch the inverted coil wide enough! Then you simply pop through, turn around and you’re looking at the satellite, not to mention the moon and the Earth and don’t think I won’t be taking pictures while I’m there.”

“I think I get it, but you’d want to do this why?”

“Because besides sightseeing, she’s going to slap a bomb on the satellite,” Banshee said. “Close the portal, timer ticks down, bomb goes off. No more satellite. No more moonlight. No more werewolves.”

* * *

Continue to Part 66.

5/12/13 News:

Happy Mother’s Day to all the Moms out there! Sorry for the late post. I’m sick and a bit out of it. In lieu of writing this weekend, I’ve been working on making some stuffed Totoro dolls for my daughters. Here’s one that I’ve finished already. Have a good week everyone!

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Thanks to everyone who reads, comments, and shares. It truly makes me happy to know that people are enjoying this story.

The Only City Left is 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 64

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 63, Emperor Banshee told Allin that he had returned to Pudlington at the worst possible time.

The Only City Left: Part 64

“You have to understand that when you left, it was a great victory for Fordham and his ilk, who sought to portray me as weak for seeking a human ally. When Tumble returned with news of your death, this was further proof that I had been unwise to place my trust in you.”

A few minutes after our meeting in Tyena’s loft, a retinue of servants had entered the room and set out a meal for us on the rug in between three couches. Once they were gone, we continued our conversation over the delicious food and drink I had come to expect from an imperial meal in Pudlington. My enjoyment of the food was soured somewhat by Banshee’s breakdown of the political situation.

“To bring Ballister’s people and the ghosts with you when you returned, demanding that we open our gates…. You couldn’t have put me in a more precarious position. If I deny you, Fordham gets what he wants. But if I accept your offer, Fordham will claim I want humans to be our masters once again. I cannot rule a people who despise me, Allin.”

“I’m sorry for the trouble I’ve caused,” I said, and I meant it. I hadn’t considered Pudlington’s internal politics when I came up with my plan. To me, Banshee had seemed like he had everything under control. “I can’t take back what I’ve done, but I’ll do whatever I can to fix it. I’ll prove to Fordham that humans and cats can work together.”

Banshee laughed and ate half a pastry in one bite. Delicate flakes of crisp dough catapulted from his mouth and settled onto the fur of his chest and stomach before he brushed them off.

“You’ll sooner convince that Xerxes fellow that he’s alive than change Fordham’s mind. There are many cats who share his sentiments, and he is looking to ride their fears all the way to my throne.” He sighed, slapped his hands on his thighs, and moved from the floor to the couch, a glass of juice in one hand. He sank wearily into the cushions and took a sip. I stood up and took a seat across from him.

“But enough of that flea in my fur. What were you thinking, trying to force my hand like that? The cats are a proud and powerful people, Allin, and I will not allow a human boy to enter my realm and dictate policy, however any other cat feels about it.”

“I may not have handled it as well I could have, but I came back because you were right. Doyle needs to be stopped,” I said. I sat on the edge of the cushion and leaned forward. “But stopping him won’t be enough. What happens after that? Your people continue to live their comfortable lives in isolation and I keep on looking for the roof of the world? That’s all well and good for us, but is that enough? There are people suffering out there, and from worse dangers than werewolves.”

“Worrying about the greater good? Sounds like teenage philosophical moping to me.”

“Tumble put the ideas in my head, actually.”

“Why am I not surprised? My little brother always had too much idealism for his own good.”

“But he was right. It took me some time to realize it, and I know that whatever I do, there will always be darkness out there, but I’m tired of living my life hiding from it. I choose to face the darkness and fight back,” I said, punching my fist into my palm. “I’m asking for you to help me do that, to make Pudlington a safe haven for whoever needs it. Not just Ballister’s folk. Anyone.”

I thought of the merskers, of the people who lived openly in communities like Glin’s Rising or holed up in rooms like Ballister, of the drifters like me who couldn’t settle down because no place had the safety and resources needed to do so. Not all of them would accept an offer to live in Pudlington, but it would be nice to give them the option.

“You don’t know what you’re asking for, Allin,” Banshee said, leaning forward to match my pose. “One or two humans my people could accept, but not hordes of them. How long until they outnumber us? Until Pudlington belongs to them and we are tolerated as clever pets?”

“Is that Fordham speaking or you?”

“It is history speaking, Allin. Our fears are not unfounded.”

“It’s a problem to be solved. Together. You’re exaggerating human behavior and how quickly this would happen, anyway. The city isn’t exactly teeming with life out there.”

“Let’s say I allow this and people trickle in. Pudlington is big but it has limited resources. What happens when we run out of room, clean air, food, water? Where do you draw the line of who can come in and who can’t once we’re stretched to the limit?”

“Don’t draw a line; erase it. Expand the city. There’s no lack of uninhabited levels out there.

“Bah. It’s too risky.”

I got to my feet and began to pace back and forth in front of the couch.

“Doing nothing while people are dying, that’s what’s risky. You can’t keep Pudlington running forever if the rest of the world falls down around it. I’m sorry if humans mistreated your people in the past, but now it’s time to band together and fight or admit that we’re all just keeping busy while we wait for the Earth to die.”

I dropped back down to the couch with a flumph of cushions, exhausted by my own rant. Banshee set his glass down on the floor and leaned back, arms folded over his belly.

“You’ve changed, Allin. Your cynicism has been replaced with the idealism of youth, the certainty that the way you see things is the only right way. I liked the old you better.”

“The old me left you hanging.”

“Just so,” Banshee said with a nod. “You have given me much to think about, and I already had much on my mind before this talk. Now I am afraid I must transfer some of that burden to you. As you can see, Tyena is gone.”

“You haven’t locked her up, have you?”

“Would that I had done so, she’d be safer now.”

My heart beat faster. The last time I saw her, she told me she loved me and I threw it in her face. Had she done something rash in response?

“What do you mean? Where is she?”

“She was taken back to the Garden.”

* * *

Continue to Part 65.

5/5/13 News:

This was a weird week. I got to the end of Book 2’s first draft sooner than I expected, and then I felt a bit adrift. After all, I’ve been working on it for the past 10 weeks (minus a 3-week break for packing, moving, and unpacking). Suddenly being “done,” I didn’t quite know what to do next. So far, I’ve caught up on sleep and written a couple of non-TOCL blog posts. This week, I think I will catch up on some personal projects like organizing and uploading digital camera pictures and scanning documents, while also starting to make a to-do list of Book 1 edits. Here’s my stats for the week, such as they are. You’ll notice I didn’t reach my word goal, but I half-expected that. 1) I left out an epilogue, deciding instead to move that story to the beginning of Book 3. 2) There is one character whose story I struggled with and need to rework. At a certain point, I stopped worrying about writing his scenes. I know what will happen in them, but I’ll write them later. 3) Knowing that Book 1 might have some structural changes during the editing process ended up slowing my progress on Book 2. I don’t want to spend a lot of time writing something that might be affected by changes in Book 1.

5thWk10

Thanks to everyone who reads, comments, and shares. It truly makes me happy to know that people are enjoying this story.

The Only City Left is 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 63

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 62, Emperor Banshee asked Allin to explain why he was making demands of an Emperor in exchange for Allin’s cooperation. One does not make demands of an Emperor….

The Only City Left: Part 63

I swallowed and struggled to find the words. Outside the gates I had felt unstoppable, with an army behind me, safe in the knowledge that I was doing the right thing. Now, under Banshee’s gaze and Fordham’s glare, with the weight of the entire court bearing down on me, I felt like exactly what I was: a foolish, inexperienced child making demands of his elders.

“Well?” Fordham said, drawing out the word.

I imagined him asking, “Cat got your tongue?” which almost made me laugh. I covered it up with a cough and a smile. Here goes nothing.

“The last time I was here, I was asked to”—Here Banshee gave me a stern look and a tiny shake of his head. Okay, not entirely public knowledge then—“do something very dangerous. I declined.”

There were titters from the crowd. News of my public refusal of Banshee’s offer must have spread out from the guards at the gate. They might not know the details, but they knew that I had denied their Emperor. At least now they would know I hadn’t done so lightly.

“A lot has happened to me since I left. I nearly died. I saw some terrible things that humans can do. I met people who thought they needed to prey on others to survive.” I glanced at Ballister, who found something interesting on the floor to examine at that moment. “And I saw some of the threats that exist beyond these walls. The Earth is a dangerous, dark place.”

Banshee gave me a twirl of his fingers. Let’s hear it.

“You cats have created an amazing oasis of peace and light in the midst of all that darkness. I’m willing to fight to ensure it stays that way. All I ask in return is that you share your refuge with those who need it, even if they’re not cats.”

“No!” Fordham shouted as the platform erupted in conversation. “You’re trying to destroy us! Guards, guards! Silence him!”

Emperor Banshee stood up and roared. As one the crowd shrunk back and quieted. Fordham, closest to the source, crouched to one side and buried his head in his arms.

“Enough! Can I no longer speak for myself, Fordham? Do you doubt my ability to safeguard our city? Answer me.”

Fordham stood back up and wiped his hands on his chest, as if he could clean off the cowardice he had displayed. “I wouldn’t want you to waste even one breath responding to such nonsense,” he said.

“I can decide for myself what is and isn’t nonsense, Fordham. Do not think to save me such troubles,” Banshee said. He switched his furious gaze from Fordham to me and continued. “You bring human rabble and the undead to my door and expect me to take your demands seriously?”

“I brought those in need and those who are willing to stand up to the werewolves and I’m not sorry for that,” I said. I looked away from Banshee and swept my gaze across the crowd. “You all know that the werewolves are a dire threat. One day even Pudlington will not be safe from their expanding empire. Can you afford to ignore anyone who would ally with you against them?”

I turned back to the throne as I ended my speech. Fordham looked like he had more to say, but Banshee spoke first, his voice booming.

“This human boy poses an interesting question, does he not?” He glanced down at Fordham as if daring him to answer, and then addressed the crowd. “Though it was unwise to approach us with uninvited guests, perhaps this can be forgiven when we understand that he is young and impetuous. Yes, he has given me much to ponder. But know this. I will make the decision that is best for Pudlington and for the cats. Of this, you can be certain.”

“Of course, Emperor,” Fordham said, his manner obsequious and unconvincing. “Who could doubt but that you will make the wisest decision?”

He’s a dangerous one, I thought. What is Tumble doing that’s so important that Banshee would replace him with Fordham?

“Since this won’t be decided today, I invite you to make use of your old room, Allin. Ballister, you will be escorted back to be with your people. Xerxes, I assume you can find your own way out of the city.”

Polite laughter from the crowd, which began to disperse. I thanked Xerxes for standing with me and told him to find me again tomorrow.

“Ballister, I’m sorry about the house arrest. We’ll sort it out.”

“Ah, never mind. I’d be just as suspicious if I was them. Anyway, this guy,” he said, pointing to one of the guards who had escorted us to the throne room, “tells me that he’s going to introduce me to something called gerrybrook juice. Local hooch. Sounds good.”

“Only if you bathe first,” the guard said with a face. He seemed like a genial fellow and I took it as a good sign that Banshee had assigned him to babysit Ballister.

“Enjoy, but don’t overdo it,” I said. “That stuff sneaks up on you.”

Banshee and Fordham were gone by the time I finished talking to Ballister, and most of the crowd with them. None of the remaining cats wanted anything to do with me and I couldn’t blame them after that show between their Emperor and Envoy. Talk to me and one side or another would be furious.

It didn’t matter, though. I was exhausted from the past week’s journey, and all the adrenaline was fleeing my body now that I wasn’t on display in front of Pudlington’s collected political might.

I made my way to my room fully intending to go straight to bed, but when I climbed in through the window and saw the triptych on the wall, I changed my mind.

Tyena.

I had put off thinking about her on the trip back because I had enough to worry about. But now I had set events in motion and could do nothing but wait to see what happened. There would be no way I could sleep until I at least said hello to her and let her know I was back.

I half expected Tumble to be standing on the platform outside my window when I climbed back out, but he was not there. Nor did I find Tyena at home. Even before I searched all three floors of her place, I could tell she wasn’t there. The place felt empty, cold.

On my way back to the top floor, I heard someone entering through the window. It didn’t sound like Tyena’s footsteps, so I hazarded another guess.

“Tumble?” I asked, rounding a corner.

But it wasn’t him. It was his brother, standing before me with his shoulders bowed. He sighed and his entire frame jiggled with the out-breath.

“Allin, you couldn’t have returned at a worse time.”

* * *

Continue to Part 64.

4/28/13 News:

I’m a little happier with how this past week went. I fell down at the end (thank you, all-day headache and vague outline) but overall I gained a little ground on my word count goal. The crazy thing is, my schedule says I should be done writing Book 2 (1st draft) by Friday, with a total of about 92,000 words. I am near the end, certainly, but something tells me I might need a few more days and a few thousand more words. On the Book One front, my editor continues to push me to make the book better. Why would this happen? This character acts differently each time we meet them. This only seems to happen because it’s convenient to the plot. I can’t wait until I’m done drafting Book Two so that I can get to work on making Book One better.

5thWk9

Thanks to everyone who reads, comments, and shares. It truly makes me happy to know that people are enjoying this story.

The Only City Left is 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.