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 88, Allin 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?”
“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?”
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.”
“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.
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