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!

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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 30

Welcome to my serial science-fiction/fantasy adventure, The Only City Left. This is the story of Allin Arcady and his adventures through a dying, planet-sized city called Earth.

If you are new to The Only City Left and want a quick catch-up, you can read a synopsis of Parts 1-27 and then start at Part 28. You can reach an individual part of the story by browsing the Table of Contents.

At the end of Part 29, Allin was yelling at Tyena for lying to him, when she turned the tables and suggested he had been lying to her as well. So there.

The Only City Left: Part 30

I opened and closed my mouth several times to say something, but Tyena’s riposte had robbed me of words. I had avoided telling her certain truths about my relationship to the werewolves, but she had actually known them all along. How stupid I must have looked to her!

She nodded emphatically at me and said, “There, you see. Don’t tell me I’ve been lying when you neglected to mention it’s your own uncle who kidnapped my mother, who ordered me to watch as they killed my brother! Don’t yell at me about secrets when it turns out you’re one of them!”

It felt like a physical slap, having my newly-discovered heritage thrown in my face like that.

“Does it matter that I’m related to some madman I’ve never met? That I might be a werewolf even though I’ve never become one?”

“It matters that you didn’t tell me!” Tyena shouted.

“I was afraid if I told you, you’d hate me!” I shouted in return.

We stood there without speaking, both of us breathing heavily. Tyena’s cheeks were flushed red and her hair had fallen over half of her face.

She kneeled down and picked up the camera, inspected it, and said softly, “It’s broken.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to.”

She looked up at me and said, “Let’s start over. We know everything there is to know now. It’s not too late to change your mind, to go along with Banshee’s plan. I’ll send word to Doyle that you’re coming in peaceably. You said it yourself, they want you alive. You’ll be safe. My mom’ll be safe. It’s the best solution.”

She set the camera down, grabbed onto my hand and pulled herself up.

Without letting go of me, she leaned in and said, “Please do this for me, Allin. I love you. Don’t you love me?”

I shook my head. Maybe she meant it, maybe she did love me, or maybe it was another lie. Either way, I wasn’t going to risk being made a fool of again.

“If I loved you, I could forgive you, right?” I asked as I shook free of her grasp. “Then I guess I don’t. Bye, Tyena, and good luck.”

I turned and walked away without looking back, while behind me Tyena screamed, “No! What about my mom? Allin, what about my mom?”

I don’t know who I was crying for as I left her behind: Tyena, me, her mom? It didn’t matter. The world had become a dark, awful place, but it wasn’t my job to fix everyone’s problems.

I wiped my eyes as I was leaving through the window, and I nearly bumped into Tumble, who stood on the platform outside holding my cocoon bag. He looked at me with an inscrutable expression and held out my bag without a word.

I shouldered it in a huff and traced a path down and toward the outskirts of Pudlington, to the only exit from the city that I knew of.

When I arrived at the inner gate, the two guards on duty were leaning against the wall lazily, but they snapped to attention when they saw me. I marched up to them and said, “I’m leaving.”

“I’m sorry, sir, but we don’t open this door without official orders,” said the cat on my left. He shifted his gun ever so slightly in his hands, bringing it closer to level.

I couldn’t believe it. “Am I a prisoner here after all?” I sputtered.

“No, but guests usually say goodbye and thank you before departing,” came a low voice from behind me that raised the hairs on my neck.

I turned around and looked down at the dour face of Emperor Banshee. Tumble, head downcast, stood behind and to one side of him.

“Allin, it’s not too late to change your mind,” Banshee continued. “You can help make a difference. We can end the tyranny of the wolves.”

“Everybody wants me to go to the wolves!” I shot back, and began ticking off points on my fingers. “You want me to risk my life on the off chance I can kill my uncle. Tyena wants to trade me for her mom. Doyle wants me there for who knows what reason, but I’m guessing it’s not to have tea and cake!”

I clenched my fist shut and shook it at Banshee.

“Well I’m not having any of that. You’ll all have to find another hero to enter the werewolves’ den. I just want to live long enough to see the sun with my own eyes. Is that so wrong?”

“Your decision is final, then?” Banshee asked, ignoring my question.

“Yes.”

“Fine. Go,” he ordered and then added, “How very human of you,” before he whipped around and stalked away. I told myself he had no right to judge, but my cheeks nevertheless burned at his scorn.

“Let me out of here,” I told the guards between gritted teeth, and this time they opened the gate without a fuss and escorted me into the hallway beyond. I looked back one last time and saw that Tumble had left, too. I regretted not getting to say a real goodbye to him.

I exited Pudlington as I had entered it, crouching and sick, though this time with shame and anger rather than a virus. I eyed the murder-holes in the walls and ceiling and wondered how upset Banshee was with me, but when I reached the outer gate, the guard keyed it open and I stepped out and stood up unmolested.

I turned around, watched the doors slide shut, and whispered, “Goodbye, and thank you.”

I meant it for Pudlington as a whole and for Banshee, too. Whatever his motives, he had taken me in and patched me up, and now I was healthier and better-equipped than before. I wasn’t fool enough to not appreciate all that, despite our differences.

One of the outer guards must have thought I was speaking to him, for he nodded at me and said, “Good luck on your journey, sir. Be careful out there. The world is a dangerous place.”

“That it is,” I agreed and waved at both of the guards before leaving Pudlington behind me.

* * *

Continue to Part 31 (or read my Author’s Notes below first).

9/9/12 News: Thus ends the first one-third of The Only City Left, roughly 30,000 words of an adventure not just for Allin, but for me as well. It takes a certain kind of naïveté (and it was naïveté in the beginning, not moxie) to state: I’m going to write a novel and post the first draft of it online each week, warts and all, for anyone to take a gander at. The results have already pushed me to become a better writer. Sure, for me it is a first draft, hopefully to be improved upon once the entire story is completed, but for most people stopping by here this is the only sample of my writing they might ever see. So I’m trying to make it a polished first draft. I read and re-read each post many times, trying to ensure it fits with where the story has been and where I see it going, trying to trim the scenes that last longer than they are welcome, trying to give a little insight into characters to make them more than cardboard place-holders for later edits.

All of which amounts to this. Thank you for coming along with Allin and me on our adventures. Please stick around for the next 60,000 words or so. I think you’ll enjoy it. (And now that I’m thinking of it, you might also enjoy my short story, False Negative, published this month in Electric Spec! Yes, a shameless plug. I really am acting like a writer now.)

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 29

Welcome to my serial science-fiction/fantasy adventure, The Only City Left. This is the story of Allin Arcady and his adventures through a dying, planet-sized city called Earth.

If you are new to The Only City Left and want a quick catch-up, you can read a synopsis of Parts 1-27 and then start at Part 28. You can reach an individual part of the story by browsing the Table of Contents.

At the end of Part 28, Tumble dropped a bomb on Allin’s psyche by revealing that Tyena’s motives were suspect: she has been spying for Doyle and the werewolves since she first arrived in Pudlington!

The Only City Left: Part 29

“What are you talking about?” I demanded, my voice raised. The kittens at play in the room stopped as one to stare at me. “That’s a lie.”

Tumble looked to his charges and nodded at them to keep playing, then guided me up and away from them.

“I’m afraid not, Allin. It is Tyena who has lied to you and us both, although we’ve never really held that against her. You see, we did find her wandering the city, half-starved, but we were not the first to do so. It was the werewolves who first found her.”

I gave him a hard look and asked, “How do you know that?”

“When Tyena first arrived here, she was distraught and aimless. We allowed her to sit in our planning councils, to give her something to do and because she had first-hand experience with the ’wolves from the recent attack on Glin’s Rising. Soon after that, we suffered a series of losses amongst our outside patrols. We traced the leak to her.”

“This is Tyena we’re talking about,” I said, shaking my head. “She’s not a super-spy. How would she even get information outside of Pudlington?”

“She doesn’t have to. Doyle has spies inside our city, probably more than we know about.”

“The guardsman,” I realized. The one she had been arguing with earlier.

“Him we are aware of,” Tumble agreed. “He regularly passes along intel to Doyle’s people while on outside patrol.”

“Then why don’t you stop him?” I asked, incredulous.

“Better to use him. And her,” Tumble said. “We give them just enough real but unhelpful information to keep them useful to Doyle, and much that is apocryphal. This way when we need Doyle to believe something, we have a sure path to deliver the information.”

I sat down against one wall of the dojo and put my forehead in my hands.

“So this is real, this is a real thing,” I babbled. “Tyena’s been lying to me this whole time. That cold—“

“Emperor Banshee is sympathetic to Tyena’s plight. Our best intel out of the Garden—for we have our spies, too—is that Tyena’s family is alive and being held hostage to her continued reports. She has no choice but to do Doyle’s bidding, which is another reason we have not closed her down.”

“Well, that’s just great,” I barked. “That’s so nice of you! How funny was it to watch me as I believed all her lies? And thanks for not telling me any of this earlier. I might not have been able to make such a fool of myself if you had!”

Tumble held out his hands, palms out. “I tried, Allin, I did. Remember my warning about the gerrybrook flower?”

I closed my eyes. “That was nice of you and all, Tumble. But instead of riddles, maybe you could have just told me?”

“I was under orders not to. Plus, I hoped it wouldn’t be necessary. You deserved some happiness, Allin, even if only for a brief time, and if you had accepted Banshee’s mission, you need never have known of Miss Branch’s duplicity.”

I opened my eyes and stared at Tumble.

“Well thanks a lot, buddy,” I said, standing up. “But I guess it didn’t work out for any of us, did it? I’m leaving. Alone. You can still send my stuff to Tyena’s, though. I’m going over there to tell her goodbye.”

I took his silence for assent and walked away.

My trip back to Tyena’s was filled with dark thoughts as I realized what a sucker I had been. I really thought something good had happened to me, reuniting with Tyena, clicking with her again despite the horrors of our past. But the past was inescapable, it seemed, and no matter how the cats felt, Tyena’s behavior was inexcusable. She’d get no sympathy from me.

When I tracked her down, she was walking through another floor of her museum, holding a device up to each of her paintings in turn.

“Look, Allin, a friend gave me a camera so I can record my paintings!” she beamed at me.

“Is this the same friend who passes along all your secrets to Doyle?”

The smile slowly melted from her face.

“What? No, what do you mean?”

“Stop lying to me,” I yelled. “I know you’re spying for the wolves. The cats know you’re spying. You’re not fooling anybody!”

She winced and held up her hands as if to block my words. “It’s not that simple,” she protested.

“What could be simpler than telling me the truth?”

“You want the truth, Allin? My mother is alive. She’s alive and she’s safe,” Tyena said. “And I’m doing what I have to do to keep it that way.”

“Including delivering me up to Doyle?”

“He promised to set her free if I could get you to go to the Garden.”

“What about your brother?”

“Killed three years ago. Before my eyes. To show me the cost of failure,” Tyena moaned. The light in her eyes had gone out. She looked more like the broken girl I had dragged out of Glin’s Rising than the joyful, vibrant one of the past few days.

I would have felt sorry for her but I was so full of bitterness and hurt there was room for nothing else inside of me.

“So you lied to me, you used me, so you could trade me for your mother.”

“It wasn’t a lie, Allin!” Tyena cried. “We’re not a lie. If you had only accepted Banshee’s offer, there was a good chance that you could have killed Doyle and then my mom would be free and we could be together and—”

“And angels would sing and manna would fall from heaven and everyone would live in perfect harmony!” I scoffed. “But when I changed the plans and said, ‘Let’s leave together,’ you went along with that pretty quickly. What was your Plan B?”

Tyena answered in a whisper, “I was supposed to lead you into an ambush once we were outside of Pudlington.”

“So much for my good chances then, huh?”

Tyena grabbed my hand in hers and said, “Allin, what else could I have done?”

I whipped her hand off of mine, accidentally knocking the camera out of her other hand in the process. It fell to the floor with a crack.

“You could have told me the truth!” I shouted.

“You’re one to talk about truth,” she shot back.

* * *

Continue to Part 30.

9/2/12 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 28

Welcome to my serial science-fiction/fantasy adventure, The Only City Left. This is the story of Allin Arcady and his adventures through a dying, planet-sized city called Earth.

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

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

The Only City Left: Part 28

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

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

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

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

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

Words and tears spilled out of her simultaneously.

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

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

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

“You’re not mad at me?”

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

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

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

“When are we leaving?” Tyena asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Allin, please wait,” Tumble requested softly.

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

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

I rounded on Tumble and pointed at him accusingly.

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

“A part of what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s going on here? I wondered.

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

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

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

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

* * *

Continue to Part 29.

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

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

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

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

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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 27

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 1-24 and then start from Part 25. You can reach an individual part of the story by browsing the Table of Contents.

At the end of Part 26, Allin was feeling the pressure to agree to Banshee’s mission, so he told Tyena he would think about it. But while she slept, he just ran the same arguments for and against over and over in his mind, without coming to a conclusion.

The Only City Left: Part 27

Tumble woke us up the next morning and suggested I might want to return to my apartment to clean up before going down to the Skunkworks.

I ran a hand through my hair and turned to Tyena, who sat next to me. We both looked worse for having slept on the couch instead of a proper bed.

“What do you think,” I asked. “After we get ready, do you want to see what I’m working on down in the Skunkworks?”

Tumble coughed politely into his hand and cut in, “I am afraid the lovely Miss Branch does not have the Emperor’s permission to enter the ’Works. Perhaps you would like me to inquire about that?”

Before I could reply, Tyena answered, “That’s okay, boys. Allin, you can show me what you’re making when it’s done. I have some chores to do this morning anyway.”

She leaned over and gave me a peck on the cheek.

“Don’t stay down there all day today, huh?”

That tiny kiss left me flustered—it certainly didn’t help that Tumble witnessed it—but I assured her I wouldn’t.

“Your reunion seems to be going… well,” Tumble said as he walked with me to my place. “Do you even need a room of your own anymore?”

I stopped in my tracks and I’m sure I blushed as I protested, “It’s not going that well, you pesky cat! Geez, we’ve barely had a few hours together awake. You don’t have to rush me!”

He gave me a sideways glance, twitched his whiskers, and said cryptically, “Time waits for no-one, young man,” before walking ahead with a chuckle.

In his curious feline way, Tumble was all too right. The next few days were some of the best of my life but they passed in a blur as I alternated between spending time with Tyena and tinkering in the Skunkworks. The only power outage in the sector was that I had a tough decision ever-present in the back of my mind: would I or wouldn’t I accept Emperor Banshee’s mission to infiltrate the Garden and assassinate my uncle?

No matter how hard I tried to avoid it, the question dogged me. In Pudlington Above, Tyena and I spent our days exploring the city, making our way through and between ancient buildings, marveling at hanging and rooftop gardens, and getting lost in the immense maze of platforms and rigging. In Pudlington Below, I continued to craft whatever useful gadgets I could fit into my cocoon bag, and I kept track of Professor Copper’s progress in analyzing the lantern coil.

As much as I tried to live in the moment and enjoy myself, it seemed that around every corner there was some reminder of what was at stake. While out exploring with Tyena, a wayward kitten ambushed us, keeping us at bay (and in fits of laughter) with his clumsy ferociousness, until his mother came along, cuffed him behind the ears, made him apologize, and carried him away. The kitten stuck his tongue out at us over his mother’s shoulder and I returned the gesture, laughing. When I looked to Tyena, though, her face had grown serious.

“I miss my mom,” she admitted, and then was quiet the rest of the afternoon.

Down in the Skunkworks, Professor Copper put her search for the lantern coil’s moonlight mode on hold.

“It’s like there’s a password, but I don’t even know how to input it, much less what it is,” she explained in frustration.

I commiserated with her, but couldn’t help but think that this meant I only had one option left now if I accepted the mission: give myself up to the wolves and hope for the best. It wasn’t a prospect that filled me with much hope.

Copper distracted me from my worried thoughts with her theory about how the sun- and moonlight were emitted by the coils in the first place. She was sure that the coils contained one end of a quantum tunnel, the other end of which was in orbit around the moon.

“Satellites, most likely,” she confided in me. “The light, either straight sunlight or reflected first off of the moon, enters the tunnel and is instantaneously co-translated into the coil, which diffuses it.”

“How can knowing that help you stop the werewolves?”

“Well, if we can’t destroy all the coils, which are the output end of the tunnel, perhaps we can destroy the satellite that harbors the input end. Then the coils are useless!”

It seemed like a good idea to me, if you didn’t let the fact that a satellite in orbit was even more unreachable than the roof of the world itself. Copper read my expression and nodded her head sadly.

“I know, there is little chance of success,” she acknowledged. “But I must continue to try. Did you hear? The wolves took another settlement today. The humans fought valiantly, but hundreds died and hundreds more were taken. I fear if we don’t stop the wolves soon, even the walls of Pudlington will not stand against them.”

With that heavy load on my chest, I had Tumble escort me out of the Skunkworks and I went to find Tyena to talk things over with her. When I reached her window, I heard indistinct raised voices from inside. I slipped through the window as quietly as I could and made my way through the cluttered floor until the voices grew loud enough that I could make out the words.

“I’m doing everything I can,” Tyena said, her voice pleading. “He has to understand that!”

“He understands that you’re playing around while lives are at stake!” came a male voice I didn’t recognize. “Do you understand the cost of any further delays?”

“I understand. Now let me go,” Tyena cried.

Her distress shocked me out of my curious eavesdropping. I rushed to her defense and was surprised to find her in the grip of a Pudlington Guardsman.

I yelled out and the pair of them looked at me in surprise. The guardsman pushed Tyena’s arms away and stalked past me.

“I was just leaving,” he said brusquely.

“Hey, you wait!” I yelled lamely at his retreating back, but Tyena came up to me and put a hand on my shoulder.

“It’s okay, let him go.”

I spun around to face her.

“It’s not okay. What’s going on? Who was that?” I demanded.

“A client,” Tyena said. “I mean, he works for a client. A rich, nasty client. I’m late on his portrait.”

I didn’t believe that story for an instant.

“Tyena, why are you lying to me?”

* * *

Continue to Part 28.

8/19/12 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 26

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 1-24 and then start from Part 25. You can reach an individual part of the story by browsing the Table of Contents.

At the end of Part 25, Allin and Tumble were working on gadgets down in the Skunkworks.

The Only City Left: Part 26

After a full day down in the Skunkworks, we returned to Pudlington Above. Tumble dropped me off outside of Tyena’s window with a promise to have dinner sent to us. I thanked him and stepped inside.

Unlike the small but luxurious room I had been given, Tyena’s place turned out to be a wide-open loft. I made my way through a maze of easels, tables, couches, stacks of canvases, and shelves full of books and supplies until I found Tyena at a canvas that stood taller than she did. She had a brush in each hand and a semi-circle of paint cans around her feet.

I watched as she wielded her brushes like weapons, alternately dipping them into the paint and then attacking the canvas, mixing the colors together furiously. Under her assault, the canvas revealed a raw pustule of a creature from some chaotic realm, its array of arms ending in claws, tentacles, furred snouts and other strangenesses. Its eyes were rheumy but intense, staring at me over Tyena’s shoulder.

I guess I don’t need to ask how she’s feeling, I thought, and then said aloud, “Am I interrupting?”

She did a little full-body jerk and turned to me.

“Allin, I was beginning to worry you were going to stay hidden away all day.

“Sorry about that. I kind of lost track of time.”

She smiled and turned back to her painting.

“Me too, actually. What do you think?”

I walked up next to her and examined the hellspawn more closely. It gave me the chills and I told her so.

“Good,” she grinned, and set her brushes down. “Want to see more?”

I agreed and Tyena took me on a tour of her studio, which turned out to be the entire floor, more of a museum than a workspace.

“Well, I’ve been here for years,” she explained as I gawked at her prolific works. “I had to keep busy somehow. There’s loads more, anyway. I only moved onto this floor a few months ago. I’ve three other floors full besides this one!”

Not all of her paintings were dark and disturbing. In fact, many a cat had come to her for a portrait during her residence in Pudlington, and while she had given most away to the subjects, she had kept some “rejects” for herself, including one of Emperor Banshee.

She showed me where she hadn’t done justice to the scars on his cheek.

“It looks fine to me,” I said, and added, “What do you think of him?”

“I haven’t talked to him much, but he is the one who allowed me to stay in Pudlington, so he’s a good guy in my book,” she said. “The cats I talk to seem to think he’s a good leader, and fair. Why? What do you think?”

I shrugged. “He seems … earnest, if that makes sense. I don’t doubt his motives, but I think he wouldn’t hesitate to sacrifice some pawns to achieve his goals.”

“And you’re worried you’re a pawn?”

“I know I am. That’s what worries me.”

While we were talking, a pair of cats announced their presence. They were sent by Tumble and carried baskets full of fresh goodies for dinner. Once we assured them we wouldn’t need anything else for the evening, they left us alone.

We set up and ate dinner on a large rug between three couches. While we ate we talked about all sorts of things: our lives since we had seen each other last, close calls I had had out in the city, projects Tyena was working on, my visit to the Skunkworks. It was the most far-ranging conversation I had had since my parents died, and it went on long after the remains of our meal had grown cold on their plates.

Inevitably, the topic turned back to Banshee’s plan for me to invade the Garden. Tyena and I were snuggled up together on a couch, her back to me, and I had my arms around her. “What I said about Banshee earlier, I meant it,” Tyena explained. “I think you can trust him. If he believes you can get into the Garden, complete your mission, and get out safely, maybe you can.”

“Maybe,” I replied. “But I don’t share his confidence.”

With Copper unable to crack the mystery of the moonlight mode, the only option left was for me to walk straight into the Garden and hope Banshee was right in his assumption that the wolves still wanted me alive.

Doyle had sure seemed to be doing his level best to catch and kill me the other day, so I wasn’t too keen on putting Banshee’s assumption to the test.

“Is there any chance you’ll do it?”

That appeared to be the question of the day, first Tumble and now Tyena. It was wearing on me, but I knew that for Tyena it was wrapped up in her hopes that her family might yet be alive somewhere beyond the Garden’s walls. I had rejected Banshee’s offer the night before, but did Tyena’s presence—and her need—change my answer?

I know what Dad would have said. No way, Allin, it’s not worth the risk. And he was right. Look what happened to him and Mom when they tried to save Tyena. But they had saved her, and now she was here with me again. Mom would have said that was a sign. Maybe we died so that you could be here now, Allin, for her. Great, some help my parents were; they couldn’t even agree in my imagination.

What it came down to was that part of me wanted to say yes to please her and part of me wanted to say no because that was the smart play, the safe play.

Finally, because I needed to say something, I told her, “I’ll think about it.”

This seemed to be enough, because she pulled my arms tighter around her and squeezed herself against me.

“Thank you,” she whispered.

Hours after she fell asleep that way, I still lay awake, the same arguments running endless circles through my mind without getting anywhere new.

* * *

Continue to Part 27.

8/12/12 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 24

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 1-21 and then start from Part 22. You can reach an individual part of the story by browsing the Table of Contents.

At the end of Part 23, Tumble was telling Allin something about how gerrybrook juice is produced from a poisonous flower, but Allin didn’t really pay attention once Tyena showed up. Together, they headed off to breakfast with Emperor Banshee.

The Only City Left: Part 24

As with dinner, breakfast began when Banshee arrived and took his seat. Tyena and I sat on his left-hand side, Tumble on his right. Unlike dinner, no other cats were in attendance besides the ones serving us. It seemed that I was no longer a star attraction, which was fine with me.

Breakfast was such a feast that I quickly forgot my headache and queasy stomach and just tucked in. There were tiny hard-boiled eggs, breads with strange fruits baked in them, smoked fish laid out on a bed of leafy greens, flat cakes topped with jams and creams, and chunks of fresh fruit in all the colors of the rainbow. How the cats managed to produce such a meal, I had no idea, but it was another reason for me to re-think my intention to leave Pudlington. I could get used to this kind of living.

Which of course was exactly Banshee’s point, I was sure.

He wasted no time in pushing his advantage, either.

“I see you have been reacquainted with the beautiful Miss Branch,” he remarked.

“Yes,” I replied. “Curious that you didn’t mention she was here when I shared my story last night.”

“I did not want her presence to sway your decision,” he said.

I didn’t believe that for a second, but I didn’t want to call him on it.

Tyena set down her glass of something called orange juice (non-alcoholic, Tumble had assured me), and looked between Banshee and me.

“What decision would I have swayed?” she asked, her expression at once amused and sharp.

“It seems that despite our hospitality, young master Arcady does not wish to remain in Pudlington,” Banshee allowed.

If that isn’t putting his own spin on it! I thought. He’s making me sound like an idiot, wanting to leave all this.

Banshee seemed to want Tyena to be in the dark about why I was really leaving. I wasn’t having that.

“What he’s not telling you is that he wants to send me into the werewolves’ den.”

Tyena dropped her fork onto her plate with a loud tink of metal on china.

“Why would you risk sending Allin there?” she demanded of Banshee, leaning over me to get right in Banshee’s face.

“He seems to think that they want me alive,” I told her, putting my hand on hers.

She turned to face me, still half in my lap.

“But why would you give yourself up?”

“Allin,” cautioned Banshee.

“He wants me to kill their leader,” I told her, still unwilling to share all the details about my uncle. “The man who had my parents murdered and your family taken.”

Tyena sat back on the floor and returned her attention to Banshee.

“That sounds dangerous,” she said. “Why send Allin to do something you’re not willing to?”

“Fighting our way into the Garden would be a waste of catpower,” Banshee scoffed. “It’s as well defended as is Pudlington. But they want Allin there. They would let him in past all their defenses. What an opportunity! Alas, Allin has declined and chosen of his own will to leave.”

The anger Tyena had displayed toward Banshee was now redirected to me.

“You’re leaving?!”

“Yes. No. I mean, I was going to, but that was before I knew you were here,” I said, flustered. It suddenly felt ten degrees hotter and I wondered if the environmental systems in this sector were failing.

To save myself, I turned to Banshee and said, “If it’s all right with you, I would like to stay in Pudlington a little longer. I was… angry last night. I could use some more time to make up my mind.”

Truly, I had no intention of going along with Banshee’s plan no matter how long I thought on it, but I was afraid that if I didn’t at least pretend to consider it, I would no longer be welcome. Now that I had a reason to stay longer, I didn’t want to be on Banshee’s bad side.

“Pudlington is yours for as long as you like, Allin,” Banshee declared. “It was never an either/or proposition. Tumble will continue to assist you with all your needs while you remain here.”

“Thank you, sir.”

I felt more than a little bad to be abusing Banshee’s hospitality, but not bad enough to refuse it.

Tyena remained quiet and I noticed that although she pushed food around her plate, she had stopped eating.

“I wouldn’t have left without telling you first,” I told her.

She shook her head as if to clear it and turned to me. “No, Allin, it’s not that. Talk of the Garden. It reminded me of my mother is all.”

“I’m so sorry. Your mother and your brother. Do you think, I mean, might they still be alive?”

Tyena looked stricken and I felt like the world’s biggest fool for being so blunt about the fate of her family.

“It’s hard to have hope after all these years,” Tyena replied and then fell silent.

Banshee and Tumble held their tongues during this exchange, so it was on me to salvage the situation.

The problem was, I couldn’t think of an encouraging word that wouldn’t ring false, so I finished my breakfast in silence and the others followed my cue.

Banshee was called away on business toward the end of the meal and soon after that the servers cleared the plates and trays from the table, leaving the three of us in awkward silence until Tyena spoke up.

“I’m sorry for my dark mood, gentlemen. If you’ll excuse me, I need some time alone.”

Tumble stood and bowed, so I followed suit, feeling even more foolish as I mimicked his courtly behavior. Once Tyena had left, Tumble asked me how I intended to spend my time now that I was staying.

I had thought I would be spending it with Tyena, so now I was at a loss. Then a thought occurred to me.

“You wouldn’t happen to have a workshop I could use, would you?”

* * *

Continue to part 25.

7/29/12 Notes: 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.