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 59, Allin couldn’t sit idly by while the merskers were being rounded up by slavers, so he made a deal with Matthias. If he could find Matthias’ coil, Matthias would stop the slavers. With the help of a mersker, he found the coil and brought it back to Matthias.
The Only City Left: Part 60
Matthias wasted no time once I returned the coil. He slipped the necklace on, pressed the proper buttons, and whispered his passphrase. Just in time, too, because the slavers had finally noticed my constant comings and goings and were heading our way.
The nearest one wore a helmet in the shape of a dragon’s head, perhaps in compensation for his mouse-squeak of a voice. He said, “What’s this, then? The merskers got some human pets?”
Matthias, fully transformed, leaped out of the bin, sending mersker food flying in all directions. A loose tentacle flew forward and slapped Dragon-head in the face. He was so busy wiping the slime off from that, he didn’t even notice that Matthias had sliced him open from neck to groin until the werewolf had already moved past.
“What’s this then?” he repeated softly, and collapsed first to his knees and then face down.
Matthias stared at the remaining slavers and said, “Slave-takers! Doyle Arcady has dealings with these creatures. If you enslave them all, he will be displeased.”
“Hell with you!” said a slaver in response.
He shot at him three times, but Matthias grabbed another slaver and used him as a shield before tossing his limp body to one side. The slaver managed to land one dart successfully before Matthias tackled him and exacted his bloody revenge. If the tranquilizer slowed him down at all, I couldn’t tell.
It was clear that the slavers hadn’t expected any resistance. After another one took a shot at Matthias and met the same grisly end, the fight went out of the rest of them and they lowered their weapons.
Matthias, blood dripping from teeth and claws, said, “Doyle Arcady’s reach is infinite. Never seek to deny his will. Now take the merskers you’ve already tranked and get out of here, you scum.”
The slavers exchanged glances, their thoughts evident: Is this some kind of trick?
“Go!” Matthias roared.
He didn’t have to tell them again. They sprang into action, dragging limp merskers away toward their trucks.
I ran up to Matthias and grabbed his arm.
“What are you doing? This isn’t the deal!”
He knocked my hand away with a shrug of his shoulder. “You’re lucky I’m saving any of them. Trust no one, remember?”
“Oh, I remember all right.”
I reached into my pocket and pulled out the tiny device I had stashed there earlier. With a brief prayer that it still worked, I jammed it into Matthias’ side. Electricity flooded into him with a sizzling crackle and I could smell burnt hair. After only a couple of seconds, the battery was drained and the one-time device was useless, so I dropped it. Matthias fell, too, crashing to his knees as he fought to control his paralyzed body. I couldn’t count on that lasting for long, so I did the quickest thing I could think of to neutralize the threat. I reached out and switched his coil to sunlight mode.
As he contracted to his regular human proportions, I slipped his necklace off and tossed it away. There, now I stand a chance.
“I don’t need to be a wolf to kill you, boy,” Matthias said, staggering to his feet. The effects of the shock had worn off even sooner than I would have imagined. “I don’t care why Doyle wants you. You’re mine now.”
I backed away and waited for him to come to me. Tumble would have approved. Behind him, I could see the merskers working to break free of their chains, aided by my friend. I hoped they could free themselves and help their brethren, but I couldn’t spare them any more attention.
Matthias lunged at me, the same straightforward fighting style he used as a werewolf. Without the extra size and razor-sharp teeth and claws, it lacked the same effect. I threw myself to the side and landed hard on my right shoulder, but rolled with the fall and was on my feet again shortly. Matthias twisted around to face me, his head down and back hunched, looking savage and primal even as a human.
“Face it, Matthias. Without your coil, you’re nothing.” I had to make him angry, get him rattled. I knew that even with his injured leg, he had strength and experience I did not.
He responded with a roar rather than sensible speech. This time, when he ran at me, I didn’t dodge. Instead, I threw myself at him, tackling him at the knees. Tumble would have shaken his head.
Matthias plowed through me and knocked me aside, but I must have hurt his bad leg, because he fell to the floor and yelled out. He reached for his leg and then pulled his hand back as if afraid to touch it.
With Matthias down, I spared a glance at the merskers. They had freed themselves and were going after the slavers. Some of them had destroyed the floodlights that had hindered their ability to fight back. Score one for the little guys.
I had to decide what to do with Matthias. I got up and walked over to where he lay, looking down on him by the light of the ghosts. His mouth was set in a grimace and he groaned in pain.
“Now what?” I asked him. “Do we keep going until one of us kills the other? Is that how you want to do it?”
Matthias’ grimace transformed into a grin, and his whimpers of pain disappeared.
“Yes. That’s generally how it’s done.”
He swept his legs to one side and took my feet out from under me. I hit the floor hard and the impact knocked the breath from my lungs. He jumped nimbly to his feet and reached down to grab me by my hair. The shock and pain of that did nothing to help me catch my breath, and dark spots filled my vision as I gasped for air. He pulled me to my knees and leaned down to speak directly into my ear.
“You should know, we heal a little each time we transform, so my leg’s all better now. I went to a lot of trouble to protect you, but I’ve reached my limit.”
He shook me by my hair and it felt like my scalp would tear off my skull. I cried out in pain and he continued.
“When I see Doyle again, I’ll share with him the sad tale of how you perished in the bowels of the city at the hands of the merskers, and how I killed them all in return. I’m sure he’ll get over the loss somehow.”
I found my breath and said, “I liked you better when you didn’t talk so much!”
With all my strength, I elbowed him in his freshly-healed leg. The snap of his bone breaking again was the most satisfying sound I had heard in ages. He let me go and collapsed to the floor, his screams of pain genuine this time. I got to my hands and knees and saw one of the mersker’s spears on the ground next to me. I grabbed it, used the blunt end to help me to my feet and then reversed my grip on it and stood next to where Matthias writhed on the ground.
“I’ve had enough of you, too, Matthias.”
His eyes widened as I lifted the spear above my head. He squeezed them shut as I thrust it down at him.
And buried the point in the ground beside his head.
He opened his eyes and looked at the spear, mere inches away.
“So much for my killer instinct.”
I pulled the spear out of the ground and walked away. In his state, he wasn’t a threat any longer. The slavers, on the other hand…. It seemed they weren’t a threat any longer, either. The freed merskers had managed to overwhelm the remaining slavers and had bound them in their own chains. One of the merskers broke off from his comrades and headed my way. I saw four parallel claw marks on his chest, so I pointed to Matthias and said, “He’s the one you want.”
The mersker ignored my foreign words and raised his spear. I brought mine up in return and thought, I won’t let them take me this time.
Instead of attacking, the mersker pointed his spear at me and then swept it around to point out of the village, past the ghosts. He jabbed the spear for emphasis.
“I get it, I get it. You don’t have to tell me twice.”
It wasn’t exactly gratitude, but given the way the merskers were licking their lips while eyeing the captured slavers, I was glad to accept the free pass.
I dropped the spear, disgusted by what it represented. It had been a split-second decision to bury it in the ground rather than in Matthias’ skull, and I wasn’t sure which choice I would make if I had to do it again. I felt the darkness of the city creeping into my soul.
My mood lightened a bit when, before I reached the edge of the village, my mersker friend caught up to me. He had my bag in one hand and Matthias’ coil in the other. In my haste to leave, I hadn’t even thought of retrieving them, but he had remembered.
We couldn’t understand each other’s language and my throat was too tight to speak, so I accepted the gifts without words, head bowed and eyes closed. When I opened them, the mersker was scurrying back to his people.
I turned once more to leave, only to find myself face to face with a ghost.
“Allin Arcady, we must talk.”
* * *
4/7/13 News: Another busy week, but I fought and clawed my way forward on the Book Two first draft, determined to catch back up to my goal sooner rather than later. If I can keep up this pace, it will still be a couple of weeks before I’m back on track, and then there’s only two or three weeks before the first draft should be done, but I’d rather not be so far behind until the very last day.
Okay, I’m writing. That’s good. What else? I’m also getting notes back on The Only City Left from my editor. Perhaps the word “notes” does not encompass the amount of suggestions, questions, and polite ridicule that is included in each chapter’s editorial response. Some of these “notes” equal or outweigh the amount of original text. And I’m loving it. Even though I worked hard to improve TOCL when I created a full-length novel from the serial version, there was still a lot that needed to be done to make the book more engaging. My editor is pointing those areas out to me and, when needed, whacking me upside the head with them. Once I am done drafting Book Two, I’ll be working on the edit/re-write of Book One. I am really really really looking forward to it.
Finally, I have a cover for Book One! So without further ado, here it is!
I feel that I am finally making some good progress on getting this book produced, but at the same time, I’m not rushing it just to have it out there. My goal is to have it done at least before the serialized version ends (in about 7 more months) and hopefully well before that. We shall see.
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 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!
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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.