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