The Only City Left: Part 21

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 1-17 and then jump into the story at Part 18. You can reach an individual part by browsing the Table of Contents.

At the end of Part 20, Emperor Banshee suggested that Allin might be able to infiltrate the werewolves’ lair and kill their leader, his uncle Doyle.

The Only City Left: Part 21

“You want me to sneak into my uncle’s secret lair and kill him? The giant ghost who was trying to kill me?” I half-spoke, half-laughed. “Why don’t you ask for something big next time?”

“It is a dangerous assignment, I’ll grant you,” Banshee said. “But one you are uniquely capable of completing.”

“Why me?”

“If you could transform into a werewolf, you have the best chance of anyone to get inside the Garden, find Doyle, and complete the mission. You’ll be just another wolf to them.”

“The Garden?”

“That’s what Doyle has named his ever-expanding empire. Ironic, I know.”

“Just because I look like one of them, I don’t think it will be as simple to get to Doyle as you’re making it out to be.”

Banshee nodded. “That is the other reason you are uniquely suited for this. Even if you can’t or don’t transform, you are still Doyle’s nephew, and by your own account his people had orders to bring you in alive. It’s perfect. Your safety is ensured and you will be right where we need you to be to end this threat.”

I began to pace back and forth in front of the two cats, all this new information racing through my brain, ricocheting around inside my skull.

“Let me…. For one moment, let me entertain the idea of going along with this. How exactly do you expect me to kill a ghost?”

Tumble held up one finger in protest. “Ghosts are nothing more than swarms of nano-bots imprinted with the memories of the deceased. They are mechanical, electrical, not spiritual, and so are susceptible to the same attack as any other mechanical creature.”

I stopped, hands on my hips.

“In other words, you want me to emp him.”

In theory, using an electro-magnetic pulse to kill a ghost should work the same as it did with the tacmites. It would wipe out all the saved information contained within the Lazarus swarm, along with the machinery of the nano-bots themselves. No more body, no more soul, no more ghost. In theory.

“Exactly,” Tumble said. “Our scientists will provide you with a tiny device that will go undetected if they search you. As soon as you’re in his presence, you set it off. Once Doyle’s gone, we’ll sweep in and clear up his crew.”

“One little problem with that scenario,” I said, shaking my head. “Doyle is not like any other ghost I’ve ever encountered, so there’s no guarantee your plan will work.”

“Yes,” Banshee drew the syllable out into a hiss. “We are aware that he has evolved past the normal bounds of the afterlife. He is solid. He can transform from werewolf to human and back at will. As you’re aware, this has its drawbacks as well.”

Damn straight. If Doyle had been able to phase through the hatch I slammed shut on him, I would have never escaped him.

“It is safe to assume that his altered state is one more gift from the unknown party that turned him in the first place. But this matters not,” Banshee said. “He may be a different sort of ghost, but he’s still a ghost, and we are confident that the E.M. pulse will disincorporate him.”

I stared at Banshee for a moment and then turned and walked over to one of the flowering bushes. I closed my eyes and breathed in the cloying aroma of the flowers as I tried to wrap my brain around all this information.

My parents: werewolves who lied to me my entire life.

My uncle who I didn’t even know existed until recently: a mutant werewolf ghost who wants me back in his life for reasons unknown.

Me: probably a werewolf, too, and in a unique position to finish the job that my father started nearly two decades ago. Namely, murdering my uncle.

And Banshee is confident his plan will work, I thought. Confident enough to send me into danger while he waits to see if it works.

“No,” I murmured. Then louder, “No!”

I turned around to face Banshee and Tumble. They were having a whispered conversation but stopped to listen to me.

“I appreciate the meal and all,” I said, closing the distance between us. “But as for the job offer, no thanks. You’ll have to find someone else crazy enough to try to kill my uncle.

“As for this,” I wrapped my fist around Dad’s lantern coil and yanked on it, snapping the necklace free. I threw it to the floor at Banshee’s feet. “Your scientists can have it, for all I care. It’s a lie, just like everything else I’ve ever known.

“Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to sleep on that nice bed one more time. Tomorrow, I’m out of here.”

Banshee glared at me and Tumble made as if to speak, but I interrupted him.

“Don’t mind me, I’ll find my own way back.”

I scarcely paid attention to my surroundings as I left the rooftop garden and descended into the city. Snippets of my conversation with Banshee played over and over in my head. I had learned so much about my parents and about myself, and none of it good.

Pudlington grew darker as I navigated its byways, and it wasn’t simply my mood. The city’s night-cycle had begun, and as the lights slowly dimmed and more and more shadows filled my path, I reached for my coil and grasped an empty space. Old habits.

The coil was a thing of my past and so was the entire sector. I decided that when I left Pudlington the next day, I would do my best to leave it all behind: the sector, the coil, the cats and wolves, the memories of Mom and Dad and Glin’s Rising. I was done with the past and only wanted to look to the future.

Meantime in the present, my feet carried me to the platform outside my room despite the dimming light and being lost in my own thoughts.

A sound from within broke me out of my reverie. Had Tumble beat me back here to try to convince me to follow Banshee’s plan? Good luck.

I ducked through the window and saw not a cat, but another human. A woman in a dark green satin dress, standing with her back to me as she inspected the triptych.

She had pale skin and fiery red hair that fell to her shoulders. My heart began to pound furiously against my rib cage and I broke out into an instant sweat.

I might have been done with my past, but it wasn’t done with me.

“Tyena.”

* * *

Get reacquainted with Tyena in Part 22, or read my notes first if you like.

7/8/12 News: So Allin said “No” to Banshee’s fine offer. Imagine that. Maybe Banshee doesn’t understand human psychology enough, because he really thought his sales pitch was going to work. Allin’s a hard sell, though. The last time he played the hero, things didn’t work out so well; he’s not exactly motivated to try it again. Of course, Banshee’s sales pitch might not be over yet, after all…

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 20

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 1-17 and then jump into the story at Part 18. You can reach an individual part by browsing the Table of Contents.

At the end of Part 19, Allin discovers that the lantern coil given to him by his father is capable of emitting moonlight, and that the werewolves use the coils to transform. So why did Dad have a coil?

The Only City Left: Part 20

“Dad’s lantern coil?” I asked, lifting it up to examine it. “That makes sense, I guess. The werewolf that got away in Glin’s Rising was collecting these. But how does it transform someone into a werewolf?”

I absentmindedly pressed the buttons on the edge of the glass ovoid that housed the coil, and it lit up with its aureate yellow glow. Its light was cleaner, healthier somehow than the sterile light that poured out from Pudlington’s ceiling, but the cats reacted as if I had drawn a gun on them.

Banshee raised his hands in a defensive posture, claws out, and I instinctively backed up a step or two. I looked over and saw Tumble, similarly tense, claws out and hair puffed up.

“Hey guys, it’s just a light,” I soothed. “What’s the big deal?”

Tumble moved to stand beside Banshee, shaking his fur into place as he walked.

“Not just a light, Allin,” Tumble explained. “Sunlight, if our theories are correct. Captured and transmitted into the coil housed inside the casing.”

Sunlight? No wonder these things were so precious. To bring sunlight into the dark depths of the city, even a little bit, was a wondrous thing. Both Mom and Dad’s coils had glowed with that gentle, golden light, in sharp contrast to the ones that belonged to the werewolves.

“The werewolf coils emit moonlight instead, don’t they?” I hazarded.

I recalled the bursts of harsh, white light that lit up the darkened department store so many years ago in Glin’s. Grinty and his crew, human when we entered the store, and then transformed into gruesome beasts. All made possible by the coils they wore.

“They do,” Banshee intoned. “But their coils are no different than the one you wear. It too can produce moonlight, if operated correctly.”

That explained why the werewolf had wanted to take it from me, but…

“Even if it did emit moonlight, what’s there to worry about? I’ve never been bitten.”

The darkened department store.

Banshee leaned forward. “Allin, your father stole the coils for a reason.”

Flashes of white light.

“Yeah, to keep them from the werewolves, and to light the darkness.”

A shape hurtling overhead to tackle the female werewolf that threatened me.

“Do you truly believe that? Your father remained with Doyle’s gang for years, during which time more coils were discovered, more werewolves were created. Do you think Doyle’s own brother would not be included?”

Grinty, dead, falling to the ground before me.

“You’re saying Dad was one of them, that he stole a coil so he could change when he needed.”

Dad, his lantern coil glowing yellow, standing weaponless over Grinty’s corpse. Could he have killed a werewolf with his bare hands?

“It is very likely.”

The sunlight from Dad’s coil. That was the first time I had seen its light in the department store. Before that, it was all white light. Moonlight.

“Mom had a coil, too.”

Mom’s lantern coil in the she-beast’s hand, and then Mom, a frail, injured human taking on the hulking she-beast.

“Yes,” Banshee agreed, his voice solemn.

As humans, Mom and Dad had been murdered by the werewolves within seconds, but the fight had gone on for some time before that. How could they have survived for so long, unless…

“You can’t be certain,” I insisted, but it didn’t matter. They were certain, and so was I.

“Getting bitten isn’t the only way to become a werewolf, is it?” I asked. “You can be born as one.”

“If both your parents are werewolves, yes,” Banshee said.

I wanted to deny it, I wanted it not to be true, but it was the only answer that made any sense. It was Mom who leaped to my defense in that store, not as a human woman but as a fearsome beast who could hold her own against an inhuman opponent. And Dad had only become human again to talk to me. He had let down his defenses so that I wouldn’t see that he was as much a monster as the creatures he was fighting.

And I was a monster, too, thanks to them, wanting only a ray of moonlight to unleash the beast inside me.

“No wonder your people aren’t thrilled you let me in,” I said, recalling the looks I had gotten after the feast. “I don’t blame them.”

“If I could not handle one werewolf cub, I wouldn’t be a fit Emperor,” Banshee snarled. “But the point is moot. You don’t know how to switch the coil to moonlight mode.”

“Still, why risk it? Because Dad tried to kill his brother twenty years ago? That didn’t work out so well, sounds like.”

“There is another reason you were allowed within these walls,” Banshee admitted. “We have a proposition for you.”

Tumble took over: “Your coil is the first one we’ve ever had access to, Allin. The werewolves guard the technology closely. Even when we manage to bring a wolf down, the others make sure to rescue the coil before we can abscond with it.

“Our hope is that if we can examine the coil, we can figure out a way to interrupt the transmission of moonlight. Without that, Doyle’s wolves go back to being just a bunch of human punks again, and we’ll make short work of them.”

“So why didn’t you just take the coil from me when I was passed out?” I asked.

Banshee answered, “Because if we can’t block the moonlight, perhaps we can make it work for us.”

I scratched my cheek and eyed Tumble and Banshee in turn.

“Make it work how?”

Tumble replied, “By allowing you to transform into a werewolf.”

I took that in and played it back in my head to make sure I had heard it right.

“And you would want that why exactly?”

Banshee folded his arms across his chest, leaned back, and said, “So you can infiltrate the wolves’ lair and finish the job your father began. Doyle Arcady must be killed.”

* * *

Infiltrate Part 21, or read my notes below first.

7/1/12 News: And now we see what all Banshee’s wining and dining and praise of Dylan’s heroics was all about: buttering Allin up so that he’ll accept a dangerous assignment into enemy territory. Hmmm, I wonder if it will work.

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 19

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 1-17 and then jump into the story at Part 18. You can reach an individual part by browsing the Table of Contents.

At the end of Part 18, we learned that Dad Arcady had murdered his own brother, Allin’s uncle Doyle. Why!? Why would he do such a thing? Read on…

The Only City Left: Part 19

Dad, a murderer? Could he have killed his own brother? The pieces of the puzzle shuffled into place inside my drink-lined skull and fit together surprisingly well, but there were still big portions of the picture left blank.

“So let’s say you’re right. Dad kills his brother and he and Mom spend the next fifteen years on the run from … from his brother’s werewolf ghost … okay, I’m not even going to touch that one right now,” I said, shaking my head and staring into the shadowed depths of Lower Pudlington. “Neither of them ever once thought it would be a good idea to let me know what was going on?”

“Fratricide is not exactly the type of thing you brag about to your son,” Emperor Banshee explained. “Perhaps when they thought you old enough, they would have laid the whole story out for you.”

I turned my head to one side and stared at the battle-scarred hulk of a cat. “I’m old enough now.”

“Just so,” he declared in his bass growl.

“Then hit me with it,” I requested, steeling myself.

Banshee nodded and beckoned for Tumble and me to continue moving.

“Your uncle, Doyle Arcady, is and always was an evil man,” he explained. “But in his youth, he was nothing more than the leader of a gang of punks, a gang which included Dylan, your father.”

We passed through an entire floor of one building and then took a series of ramps and ladders upwards.

“If he had only remained a small-time punk with small-time ambitions, this story might have turned out very different. But Doyle’s ambitions changed after he became a werewolf.” Banshee paused in his climb up a ladder and looked down at me. “Are you familiar with the legends of the werewolves, Allin?”

“I’ve heard stories over the years,” I replied quickly. “Humans transforming into wolves by the light of the full moon and all that. Kind of hard to pull off when there’s hundreds of levels of concrete and steel between you and the nearest moonlight.”

Banshee nodded and continued his climb.

“And yet you do not doubt their existence.”

“Not after Glin’s, no. The legends may be wrong, but werewolves do exist.”

Banshee reached the top of the ladder and waited on a small platform for Tumble and me to catch up.

“Ah, but what if the legends are true? How can you reconcile the existence of werewolves with the absence of the moon? Simple. If you can’t see the moon, you bring a bit of the moon to wherever you are. In this case, a device that emits moonlight, even in the depths of the city. Voilà. Instant werewolf.”

Banshee gestured for us to follow him up a ramp that led to the roof of the building we had walked through earlier.

“Of course, moonlight itself isn’t enough. You have to be infected first, through the bite of another werewolf.”

We stepped off the ramp into a beautiful garden overrun with flowering bushes and took a narrow path that led in toward the center. Banshee plucked one of the crimson flowers as he passed, sniffed it, and let it fall to the ground.

“When Doyle was bitten and given the technology to allow him to transform, he went from minor inconvenience to major threat. He transformed more of his gang, and their reach expanded into the surrounding sectors. Anyone, at any time, could be disappeared by Doyle’s gang. There were rumors of … atrocities. Whole communities that were taken and never heard from again.”

I thought of Glin’s Rising and wondered how far over the city Doyle’s shadow had spread by now.

“So Dad tried to put a stop to him?”

Banshee pondered my question, taking a few steps away before turning to face me.

“Reports are sketchy at best, and this is all second- and third-hand information,” he explained. “But there was apparently quite some time between Doyle’s transformation and the time your father killed him and fled.”

“How long is ‘quite some time’?”

“Somewhere on the order of two or three years.”

That news turned my stomach. Banshee was dancing around it, but if Doyle was doing all these evil things and Dad stuck with him for that long, what kind of person did that make Dad?

“So what happened?” I asked. “What changed?”

“A woman entered the picture. Someone who Doyle claimed as his own, as he had done many times before. This time was different, though. Dylan had feelings for this woman, whose name was Jessie.”

Mom. I remembered the conversation she had with Dad before we returned to Glin’s Rising for the final time. What was it he had said to her? Would you rather I had left you with him?

“He killed his brother to save my mom?”

“Yes, he did. Unfortunately for us all, it didn’t stick. Whoever provided Doyle with the werewolf tech had also gifted him with a Lazarus swarm that allowed him to live on as a ghost after his murder.”

We reached a circular courtyard with stone benches. Banshee lowered himself onto one of them with a sigh and I stood before him. Tumble walked around, trimming dead flowers off the bushes.

“So Mom and Dad took off, and Doyle chased after them for years. But they’re dead now. He got his revenge. Why is he still coming after me?”

“Murder was only one of your father’s crimes against Doyle. The other was the theft of two of those rare and valuable devices that allow the werewolves to transform. Perhaps that is why he follows you yet.”

“If Dad had anything like that, he never showed it to me.”

Banshee pointed to my chest and I looked down at the lantern coil hanging from my necklace.

“Why, Allin, you’re wearing it at this very moment.”

* * *

You can read my notes on Part 19 or continue on to Part 20 post-haste!

6/24/12 News: So, we get some background on Doyle Arcady and werewolves in today’s installment, and the revelation that Allin’s Dad had something of a checkered past. Also, Allin’s Mom gets a name, finally. If there’s one thing I have learned from this writing adventure, get people’s names out there ASAP. Inserting them into conversation later can be awkward.

Re: the lantern coil: When I am writing and especially when I am trying to build suspense or keep things mysterious, I sometimes have trouble putting myself in the shoes of a reader who doesn’t know what I am planning with the story. I wonder what they see coming a hundred miles a way and what surprises them. I suspect that it may have been clear for some time now that Allin’s coil can be used by a werewolf who needs moonlight to transform, but hopefully you understand why Allin didn’t realize, or didn’t want to accept it.

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 18

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 1-17. You can reach an individual part by browsing the Table of Contents.

At the end of Part Seventeen, Allin was at the darkest point in his life, as he had to watch his parents murdered before his eyes. He is finishing telling this story to an audience of cats as Part 18 begins…

The Only City Left: Part 18

“Tyena was alive. Mom and Dad had earned that much with their deaths,” I told my audience. “Together, we buried my parents in the park by the department store. There was nobody left to use it for farming anymore. After that, we risked one night in Glin’s Rising to recover from our injuries. She set my broken nose back in place (ouch!) and we cried ourselves to sleep.”

I felt detached from the story as I told it, whether due to the intervening years or the effects of the gerrybrook juice, I had no idea and I didn’t care. It made the telling easier and that was fine with me.

“The next day, I knew we had to get out of Glin’s and back on the road. We changed clothes because we were both a mess, grabbed some food, and retraced the same path I had taken with my parents the day before. Without Tyena to care for, I would have been a complete zone-out. She was in a bad way, hardly talking, only moving because I held her hand and pulled her along.

“In fact, it wasn’t until almost a week later that she really woke up, so to speak. The light inside her eyes came back on and she looked around, realized she was no place she had ever seen before. She asked me if we were almost there and what was my plan. After a little back and forth, I figured out what she meant. She thought we were following the beasts who had taken everyone from Glin’s Rising, including her mother and little brother. I had to explain that it was too late for them, that the smart move was to keep going in the directions my parents had been heading, away from the beasts.

“She disagreed. She wanted to turn around, to try to save everyone. I told her they’d kill us if we confronted them, just like they killed my parents.”

I finished my third or fourth glass of juice—I lost track somewhere along the way—and covered the empty glass with my hand when the server came by again. My story was nearly over.

“We continued like that for a couple of days, arguing the pros and cons of going back. On our last night together, we didn’t fight and we didn’t talk about our plans, we just held each other. When I woke up the next day and she was gone, I wasn’t surprised. Whatever fire had sprung up between us had been doused, stomped on, and covered in dirt by the death of my parents, the culling of her family, and her treatment at Grinty’s hands. If she wanted to follow the rest of Glin’s Rising into oblivion, I couldn’t stop her, but I wasn’t about to join in. I was going to stay alive.”

Emperor Banshee heaved a great sigh when it became clear that my continued silence signaled the end of my tale.

“It’s not your fault.”

I don’t know what I expected him to say, but it wasn’t that. “Pardon?”

“Your parents. You didn’t kill them. They were adults and they made a choice. It’s not your fault.”

“Thanks, I feel so much better now,” I spat back. “Why didn’t I ever think of that? Hey, where’s that guy with the gerrybrook juice. I could use a refill.”

I held up my glass and looked around, but as the server approached, he saw something that made him stop in his tracks and walk away. I turned around to see Banshee looming over me. He batted the empty glass out of my hand and it spiraled over the railing.

“Do not lessen their sacrifice by taking credit for their deaths,” Banshee growled, right in my face. “They fought for life. For love. They died for you, not because of you.”

He huffed and returned to his seat. I was too stunned to respond.

“Enough with the feast,” Banshee proclaimed. He eyed everyone who sat at the table, and said, “You have all heard this young man’s tale. I should hope this clears up any lingering doubts about my decision to allow him entry. Now I must share more hard truths with the boy, facts of which you are already aware. I ask that you carry forth his story to your clowders, so that all may know that the Arcady name is not wholly without merit.”

Banshee signaled for Tumble and me to remain while the rest of the cats made their way out. Several of them stopped by to mumble a few words of condolence to me, as if it were only yesterday that Mom and Dad died, but I appreciated the thought. Others only gave me sly, shifty glances, as if they feared I might attack them if they glanced away.

“What do you mean, ‘The Arcady name is not without merit?’” I asked Banshee once the last cat had departed.

“Walk with me,” he replied, ignoring my question. “I tire of sitting still.”

Banshee strode away from the table and Tumble and I were drawn into his wake. We followed him out of the feasting hall on a course that took us into Pudlington’s heights.

“You recall that I brought you to Pudlington because I learned that your uncle had picked up your trail?” Banshee asked as we walked.

I nodded. “This uncle that my parents neglected to ever mention.”

“I am not surprised. From what we can tell, your father and mother sought to insulate you from the life that they fled, in the hopes that they could keep you safe. But they never quite let go of their former lives, and your uncle, your father’s brother, certainly never let go of them.”

We stopped on a wide rope bridge between two skyscrapers and looked at the jumbled-together cat city below us.

“Why?” I asked. “Why couldn’t he have just left my parents alone?”

Banshee grimaced, revealing a row of glistening white teeth. “I suppose he never forgave your father for murdering him.”

* * *

Allin’s Dad did what now? Read Part 19 to find out more, or read my notes below first.

6/17/12 News: First off, how about that spiffy new logo for The Only City Left? It 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.

In regards to last week’s post with the death scenes of Mom and Dad Arcady, I know that was a hard scene to read (my wife’s review of the post: “Gruesome”), so we’ll see how it ends up in later drafts. As horrifying as it is, though, I think it informs much of Allin’s behavior in the rest of the story.

Finally, I realized that when I first mentioned Allin’s uncle, way back in Part 12, no one asked or mentioned which side of the family he was on. Now, 6,000 words later, I had to have Banshee explain it. Kind of kludgy and I’ll fix it in a later draft, but for now it stands.

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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The Only City Left: Part 17

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, you might want to start with the Table of Contents.

At the end of Part 16, Allin was trying to bring Tyena to safety when a slavering beast blocked his path and raised her claws to strike him down. 

The Only City Left: Part 17

Stunned by the sight of Mom’s lantern coil in the she-beast’s hand, I couldn’t even move out of the way to save myself as her other hand came down to eviscerate me.

Before her claws could reach me, someone flew out of the darkness on my left and tackled the she-beast to the ground.

“Mom!” I yelled, relieved and horrified at the same time.

She was bleeding from innumerable cuts and her clothing was torn. She didn’t look back at me as she lifted a dagger in either hand and yelled, “Run, Allin!”

As she plunged the daggers down, the she-beast fought to push her off, her clawed hands a frenzy of death. Blood made black in the harsh white light of the beast’s pendant sprayed from Mom’s throat and she collapsed forward. The she-beast, one dagger through her eye, the other through her throat, struggled ineffectually to push Mom off of her as her lifeblood flowed out. She managed to raise herself up on one elbow before she fell backward, unmoving. Mom’s necklace fell from her limp hand.

My world shattered. This could not be happening. In this brackish nightmare of shifting lights and dancing shadows, surely my eyes had tricked me into believing that Mom had been killed. Because it simply could not be.

I realized I was screaming my throat raw and clutching Tyena so tightly to my chest she would have protested if she had been conscious. But scream all I might, it did not bring Mom back. What it did do was make me a target.

Someone struck me a blow to the back of the head and I went sprawling forward, Tyena spilling out of my arms. I couldn’t get my hands in front of me before I landed, and my face planted onto some thin industrial carpet that covered a hard, unyielding floor. I heard something crack and felt the most unbearable pain I had ever experienced as my nose broke.

I turned over and writhed silently on my back, fighting to catch a breath, unable to see anything beyond the pain. I could hear a heated struggle nearby, though, all growls and roars and the sound of flesh colliding with flesh.

My sight returned in time for me to see a massive hairy body falling toward me, lit by the same white-light pendant that all the beasts had around their neck. I scrambled backward on my bottom until I backed into something that felt like a body and my hands slipped in something wet and viscous.

The beast transformed as it fell, snout shortening to a normal nose and mouth, hair receding into skin, limbs shrinking back to human proportions. By the time it hit the ground, head smushed sideways against the carpet, I was clear of it and could see who it was.

Grinty. The bastard had gotten what he deserved.

I looked up and saw my father, the yellow light of his lantern coil illuminating his grim face. His breast heaved with exertion as he reached down to offer me a hand.

“Allin, where’s your mother?”

His head was suddenly limned in a white corona and his shadow fell across me. I saw the beast towering behind him, but before I could warn him it had reached around and, with one hand, tore him open from neck to groin.

He continued toward me, falling into my arms, and his head came to a rest on my shoulder.

He whispered his last words into my ear, “Keep the coil. Stay alive. Always. Stay. Alive.”

With a final effort, he broke the necklace that held his lantern coil, found my left hand, and closed my fist around it.

Beyond tears, I hugged him close to me until he was completely gone. It happened from one heartbeat to the next.

I looked up and saw the lone surviving beast, illuminated by the light on his chest, inspecting the dead bodies strewn about the room. The first one he checked was the one Dad had shot at the beginning of this mess, all of maybe five minutes ago.

The beast snarled and kicked the body, clearly frustrated, before turning back around toward me.

I looked around for something to protect myself with and came face to face with Mom’s still face staring at me. She lay on top of her murderer, who in death had become human once more. I swallowed, reached out with my free hand to close her eyes, and then fought to pull her knife out of the woman’s throat. As I struggled to free it, a great hairy foot stamped down on my arm, pinning it in place. I cried out in pain.

“Nuh uh uh,” the beast growled from above me. I didn’t look up lest I stare right into its blinding pendant. “None of that, kid. Play nice.”

The beast leaned over and picked Mom’s necklace and coil off of the floor. It was only when he retrieved necklaces from Grinty and the woman, too, that I realized that each of them had the same coil as my parents did, for all that theirs had given off white light instead of yellow. I gripped Dad’s coil tighter in my fist.

He pulled back on Dad next, letting his corpse fall backwards onto the floor. When he didn’t immediately see the necklace and coil, he stepped off of my arm and kneeled down for closer inspection.

The second my arm was free, I pushed backwards and grabbed at the knife again with both hands this time, the coil pressed between my palm and the hilt. The knife slid free and I held it before me as the beast turned its head to stare at me.

“Don’t be stupid,” it growled. “If I’d wanted you dead, you’d be dead already.”

I stared back, saw that its fur was matted with blood, that it held the necklaces in its left hand while its right arm hung limp at its side.

“Then come on and finish me, you bastard,” I whispered.

The beast bobbed its nose in the air a few times in what I realized was its version of a chuckle. Then it stood up, holding up the three necklaces it had scavenged like a trophy.

“Fine, keep it. We’ll be back for you anyways, and without Mommy and Daddy to protect you, I don’t think you’ll be so lucky next time.”

The beast turned away from me and walked toward the front of the store, leaving me in near darkness. I continued to hold the knife before me.

“See you in your nightmares, kid,” the beast said, his parting shot.

I heard the scrape of metal on metal twice, the front door opening and closing, and then the darkness surrounded me completely.

* * *

Exit flashback mode and head back to the future in Part 18!

6/10/12 News: Okay, if last week’s post was dark, I guess this one is a black hole in comparison, but it needed to be told.

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The Only City Left: Part 16

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, you might want to start with the Table of Contents.

At the end of Part Fifteen, Allin and his parents had found Tyena and she was in trouble. When Allin recklessly goes to save her, Dad tries to take control of the situation.

The Only City Left: Part 16

The confidence and tone of deadly threat revealed yet another side of Dad that I had never known before. His pronouncement had an immediate effect on the thugs surrounding Tyena. The three who were standing dove for cover behind nearby racks of clothing. One of them ended up a few feet away, between Tyena and me. At that distance, I could tell she was a woman, and I thought for sure she’d turn and see me crouching there, but her attention was wholly on Dad’s voice. I froze in place and tried to breathe as quietly as possible.

Unlike the others, the one on Tyena stood up slowly, casually pulling up and zipping his pants, his back to the front of the store.

He nudged Tyena with one foot and said, “You stay there, girl,” and turned around.

“Dylan Arcady, you old dog,” he called out. “I thought you’d be running off with your tail between your legs if you knew we were here. Yup, you’ve surely surprised me.”

“It doesn’t have to go down like this, Grinty. Let the girl go, we’ll be on our way, and you can go tell your master that you were this close to catching us.”

“You came back for the girl?” Grinty asked, genuine surprise in his voice. “What, did your bitch get too old for you? Time for some young blood?”

I tensed and let out a tiny, near-silent gasp despite myself. I will kill you, I thought.

Grinty cocked his head to one side and I was sure he had heard me, although the woman was closer and hadn’t seemed to notice.

“And how’s your boy doing? Doyle is ever so eager to meet the little tyke,” Grinty said, and started to walk toward me. Damn, he had heard me.

“You take one more step and I’ll blow a hole in your chest the size of your ego,” Dad warned.

“I’d like to see you try,” Grinty spat, but he held still. “He’s here, too, isn’t he? Oh, so it’s his little girlfriend you’ve come back for then, is it? She’s a sweet little thing, I must admit.”

He looked back at Tyena, who was huddled on her side in a fetal position.

“Tasty,” he said, and barked laughter.

That did it. I sprang up and launched myself at Grinty, curses pouring from my mouth. Before I had halved the distance to him, his female associate plucked me out of the air and held me tight to her chest.

I heard the sizzling discharge of a gun, Grinty’s laughter, the metallic tinkle of empty racks falling to the ground. I struggled in the woman’s arms and she squeezed me tighter, so I jabbed the magma stick over my shoulder and triggered it when I felt it hit something. There was a sizzle and pop, and she cursed and let me go.

As I fell to the floor, there was a flash of blinding white light and I felt rather than saw something pass over me. When I turned around to see what had happened, the woman was gone but I could see two indistinct shapes about twenty feet away, struggling in the murk at the back of the store. The light was coming from between them, but as they were locked together, it only intermittently escaped, creating a strobe-like effect.

My attention was pulled from that scene when I heard more gunshots. One of the men, not Grinty, fell before me with a cauterized hole in his chest the size of my head, the edges sizzling.

“Allin, go!” Dad called out from somewhere in the store.

I turned to find Tyena but was blinded anew by more flashes of white light. I held my left arm up before my eyes and blinked tears away to try to see clearly.

That’s when the howls began. Inhuman, throaty howls the likes of which I had never heard before, and which made the hair on my arms and the back of my neck stand at attention. The howls fought inside my brain with Dad’s orders to move, and I hesitated for precious seconds.

Around me I could hear the sounds of a battle: curses, yells, snarls, the last shots from Dad’s gun, followed by a clank and skitter as he must have tossed it away.

I tried to look around, to understand what was happening, but the bright lights moved quickly around the darkened room, turning it all into a blur of light and shadows.

A weak cry of “Allin” reminded me why I was there, and I turned to see Tyena, still curled up on the floor, with a hand out to me.

I shut out the chaos of the world around me and rushed to her side. I kneeled down and got my arms underneath her, and she limply draped her arms around my neck.

“Allin, Allin, you’ve got to go,” Tyena whispered. “They’re looking for you.”

“I know, shhh, it’s okay, it’ll be okay,” I told her as I stood up.

She felt too light in my arms, a hollow shell devoid of the fierce spirit that once animated it. I hugged her close to me and moved as quickly as I could to the back of the store, toward the Employee’s Only section and the stairs to the roof.

I hoped that in the heat of the battle, the two of us would be ignored. No such luck.

All of a sudden, a towering beast stood before me, panting quick, sulfurous breaths. A glowing oval of white light hung directly before my eyes between the beast’s fur-covered breasts, so bright in the darkness that it hurt my eyes. I squinted and looked up from there to a bared snout full of dirty, deadly-looking teeth and then to its eyes, one of which was collapsed and leaking pus into the fur on its cheek.

“I don’t care if Doyle wants you alive, boy,” she growled. “You’re going to pay for what you did to my beautiful face!”

It was such a ridiculous statement that a sarcastic reply was out of my lips without conscious thought.

“Really,” I stammered. “Looks like an improvement.”

The beast roared an inferno of rancid breath and lifted one fist to dangle something in front of me. It was a lantern coil like Mom and Dad wore, but unlit, hanging from a leather strap. No! It was Mom’s lantern coil.

As if she could read my thoughts, the beast laughed and said, “Don’t worry. She won’t need it anymore.”

And then her other hand came up, empty but for the razor-sharp claws at the tips of her fingers, ready to strike.

* * *

Find out how Allin dodges certain death in Part 17, or read my notes on today’s post first.

6/3/12 News: This is perhaps the darkest TOCL post to date, but it is the story of how Allin’s parents die, so I think it’s appropriate. Note: When I first started writing this sequence, back in Part Four, I had Allin written as being thirteen years old. For various reasons, having Allin be 13 didn’t make sense, so I bumped him up to 15. Either way, this is kind of a lot for a young man to handle. I am such a meanie.

Enjoying The Only City Left? If you could share the link to this story with even one person who you think might enjoy it, I’d be ever so appreciative. Thanks! (And thanks to Kevin for sharing TOCL on Facebook last week!)

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The Only City Left: Part Fifteen

If you are new to The Only City Left, you might want to start with the Table of Contents.

At the end of Part Fourteen, Allin had reunited with his parents and gotten them to agree to return to Glin’s Rising with him to rescue Tyena, the love of his 15-year-old life. Let’s see how that goes for them, shall we?

The Only City Left: Part Fifteen

The sense of wrongness only intensified as we approached. Dad led the way, his gun drawn. I knew then how seriously he took the threat of attack; the gun was down to half-charge on its last power cell and might as well have been locked behind a glass case that read “For extreme emergency only,” for all that I had ever seen him use it. Mom followed close behind, a knife ready in each hand, and I trailed them both, weaponless. Feeling a bit defenseless, I stopped and kneeled down to rummage through my cocoon bag.

“What’s that you’ve got there?” Mom whispered, looking back when I caught up to them.

“Magma stick,” I whispered back, holding it up for her inspection. It was a screwdriver-shaped tool I used when tinkering. The tip was hot enough to solder components together, but at most it would be a minor annoyance to be stung with it. “Better than nothing.”

She nodded and we continued on. We made our way down alleys and side streets rather than use the main road, but all three of us knew that if anyone had been watching closely, they could have seen us already at the top of the utility platform.

Once we were inside the town proper, we stopped a few blocks away from the main intersection where the Glinites held their swap meet.

From a distance, we could see that it was abandoned, tables overturned, produce scattered. My stomach tightened into a fist, tugging on my insides until I wanted to cry out.

“Where did they all go?” I whispered.

Glin’s Rising wasn’t the largest community we had ever passed through, but there had been at least a hundred people making a life here and it had only been a couple of hours since I had seen them last. Now, Glin’s was a ghost town.

“I don’t like this at all,” Dad declared. “Even if they culled Glin’s Rising, they’d have left a group behind to follow us. Let’s keep going, but be careful. It may be a trap.”

I had so many questions for him, but it wasn’t the time to get into a long discussion, so I forced them down and kept quiet.

We slunk along abandoned storefronts, small businesses turned into apartments for the current residents. There was no sound of life in the town, no sense of presence that you get from the inhabited portions of the city. Where is everyone?, I wondered again.

In my darkest moments on the run back to Glin’s, I had steeled myself for the death and devastation I might confront when I returned. This absence of any presence felt much worse.

A firm hand on my shoulder broke into my thoughts. Dad pulled me to a stop around the corner from the department store, a finger to his lips.

He stood still, listening, although I could hear nothing but the stirring of wind from the ventilation system far overhead. He nodded and then turned to me, nearly backing me up against a brick wall.

“They’re in the department store,” Dad began. I tried to interrupt, to ask how he could possibly know that, but he cut me off. “Allin, you have to do exactly as I say. You were right, Tyena’s in trouble. There are four of them with her. When we go in there, your Mom and I’ll deal with them. I want you to get Tyena someplace safe. Someplace you can hole up until we’re done. Can you do that?”

Eyes wide, I nodded. The roof of the department store, Tyena’s hideaway. There was only the one door that let out onto it from inside and Tyena had all sorts of things up there that I could use to block the door.

Dad turned to Mom. “You’re sure about this?”

She nodded, head held high, a wistful look on her face.

“This is the man I remember,” she said, and I had to look away as they shared a moment.

“Let’s do this,” Dad said after that was over. “Allin, prepare yourself. This will not be pleasant.”

We rounded the corner and crept past the ancient ads and decrepit mannequins that filled the darkened window displays. Before we reached the front door, Dad stopped us and listened again.

“They’re… distracted,” he whispered. “Allin, we’ll draw their attention. You get Tyena and don’t look back. Got it?”

I nodded twice and goose-pimples rose on my arm at the thought of what lay in store.

“Allin, we love you,” Mom added, but before I could reply to her, a muffled scream came from inside the store.

It pierced my heart and brain with one shot, erasing all plans, spurring me into action.

I pushed past my parents and tore open the door, which protested with a shriek of metal on metal. Inside, the abandoned store was dim and murky, the only light that which filtered through the grimy glass of the front doors. As I stumbled toward where I thought Tyena’s scream had come from, jumbled silhouettes blocked my path, the detritus of another civilization.

“Shhh, someone’s here,” a man said, his whisper carrying like a shout.

“Those idiots,” said another man. “They probably forgot how to get back.”

And: “Shut up, you,” from a third voice, a woman, followed by a meaty smack and the sound of Tyena sobbing. “We won’t let them have you. You’re all ours.”

While they spoke, I dropped to all fours and crawled closer to where the voices were coming from. Toward the back of the store, I found them. In the tenebrous light, I couldn’t make out their features, but I could see Tyena pinned to the floor beneath someone, and three others loitering around them.

Fountains of rage coursed through my veins and I gripped the magma stick as if it were a sword out of legend. I was ready to throw myself into their midst, despite the odds, when Dad’s voice boomed out across the room.

“Step away from the girl, you mewling pukes. This ends now.”

* * *

See how the mewling pukes react in Part 16, or read my notes below first!

5/27/12 News: Go Allin’s Dad! (Huh-what? Fifteen parts in and Allin’s Dad doesn’t have a name yet? You’ll have to wait one more week to learn it.)

Note: I only today realized that I am losing italics when I copy from Scrivener into WordPress. Wonderful! I’ll have to go back and check all my previous posts to see how often that happened (I know some posts were copied from Word…).

Enjoying The Only City Left? If you could share the link to this story with even one person who you think might enjoy it, I’d be ever so appreciative. Thanks! (And thanks to Jande and Jorine for spreading the word last week!)

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The Only City Left: Part Fourteen

If you are new to The Only City Left, you might want to start with the Table of Contents. Also, in case you missed it, I had a The Only City Left: Behind The Scenes post on Friday that you might be interested in.

At the end of Part 13, Allin started to retell the story of his return to Glin’s Rising, the story of how he killed his parents. Let us enter “flashback mode” for the rest of the story.

The Only City Left: Part Fourteen

It was easy enough to retrace the path we had taken from the utility door. Even if I had not marked the way for Tyena, I was pretty good with directions and landmarks. Mom and Dad had drilled that into me: be familiar with your environment, even if you’re only passing through. The whole time I ran back along our route, I warred between believing I would meet up with Tyena on her way to find me, and worrying that something bad, something really bad, had happened to her and possibly all of the Glinites. With each passing minute, my worry grew stronger.

When I reached the utility door that would open onto the platform that overlooked Glin’s Rising, I put a hand against the wall and leaned over to catch my breath. Frenzied thoughts filled my head. No Tyena. She was right behind us! She’s in trouble. Maybe she got lost. She couldn’t have gotten lost. She’s in trouble. Glin’s Rising is in trouble. I’m in trouble.

My parents had said that the people following us were dangerous. If they had already reached Glin’s Rising and I returned there, I would be throwing myself right into that danger. It went against everything I had been taught. But there was nothing else for it. If Glin’s Rising was in danger, if Tyena was, it was because of us. I had to do something.

Sufficiently recovered from my run, I stood up straight, took a deep breath, and pushed the utility door open a crack. All was silent except for the usual background hum of air being circulated. I half expected someone to be lying in wait on the other side of the door, but the platform was empty when I stepped outside. My growing sense of foreboding did not lessen, though. If anything, the area was too quiet, too still. Which is why I should have heard someone sneaking up behind me, but I didn’t.

All I knew was that all of a sudden a hand was clamped around my mouth and an arm around my chest and arms, and I was lifted up and carried backward into the utility tunnels. Once inside, I saw Mom easing the door shut and I relaxed my frantic struggling, at which point Dad, for it had to be him, loosened his grip on me a little.

“What do you think you can accomplish back there, Allin?” he whispered in my ear from behind me. “If they are in danger, and we don’t know that they are, what can you do except die with them?”

Dad’s voice was cold and hard; I barely recognized this new version of him.

“Lemme go! Tyena’s in trouble,” I spat out from behind the palm of his hand.

“Hon, what makes you think that?” Mom asked gently.

“Let. Me. Go,” I insisted, tired of being restrained by my own father.

He did, but not without moving around to block the door first. Once out of his grip, I stumbled forward and then turned on him, tears in my eyes.

“She was going to follow me. Us. I saw her running, waving. I thought she was excited. But now, now—” I couldn’t finish the sentence. My nose was full of snot and my vision was blurry and my father stood between me and the door, his face set. I could tell I wasn’t getting through to him.

“You think she was running away from someone?” Mom asked, glancing back and forth between my father and me.

“Of course I do!” I yelled, and she winced. “Otherwise where is she?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Dad said. “We’re going. It’s not our problem.”

“How many?” Mom asked.

“What?”

“How many more will have to die so that we can survive?”

“You never complained before. Should I have left you there for him to play with until he killed you?”

Mom gasped as if Dad had struck her, and he instantly looked regretful, but the hard mask returned to his face. I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience, watching my parents argue like this, hinting at a past to which I had never been privy.

Twin tears glided down Mom’s cheeks. “You don’t get to throw that in my face. You know I’m grateful. But it was your choice. We’ve been on the run his entire life! When is it going to stop?”

Dad started to reply but I interrupted, loudly.

“Shut up!”

Both of them turned to me with shocked looks on their face. Dad started to speak and I cut him off again.

“Enough! Stop! While you’re fighting, Tyena’s in trouble. So get out of my way and let me go help her!”

“Allin, wait,” Dad began.

“No! I’m not a little kid anymore, Dad. You can’t stop me from going back. You can only delay me. And if Tyena’s hurt because you slowed me down, I’ll hate you forever. Both of you!”

I seethed with frustration, not sure what my next move would be when Dad refused to budge, which seemed likely.

Mom moved in close and put a gentle hand on Dad’s shoulder. He closed his eyes and sighed, then re-opened them and stared at Mom and me in turn.
“It’s a bad idea,” Dad insisted. Before I could argue more, he said, “So stay close to me and do exactly what I say. We’ll try to rescue Tyena, but if she’s… if we can’t, we get out of there and don’t look back.”

“Thank you,” I whispered.

I threw my arms around him and squeezed him as hard as I could, and he squeezed back. Mom joined in on the group hug and then we each stood apart.

“Okay, let’s do this,” Dad said, his voice wary.

Together, we made our way back to Glin’s Rising.

* * *

Continue to Part 15, or read my notes below first!

5/20/12 News: Whoa, Part Fourteen almost didn’t get posted on time, not because it wasn’t written but because I forgot what day it was! I blame Diablo III for distracting me.

Thanks to everyone for reading. Comments are always appreciated; I’d love to know who is reading and what you think. For my new readers, welcome! Care to let me know how you found The Only City Left? Finally, if you could share the link to this story with even one person who you think might enjoy it, I’d be ever so appreciative. Thanks!

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The Only City Left: Part Thirteen

You can find the Table of Contents here if you need it.

As a quick reminder, Part 12 ended with Emperor Banshee dropping this bomb on Allin: “There is much your father kept secret from you, Allin.”

The Only City Left: Part Thirteen

Despite my tired, aching body, the Emperor had my complete attention. At last, I would get answers to questions that had been running laps in my mind for the past three years.

“Tell me everything,” I demanded. Then, remembering who I was speaking to, I added, “Please.”

“My boy, I know you are eager to learn these things, and you deserve to know of them, but you are shaking with fever,” Emperor Banshee said.

It was true, I was in a bad way and the long journey here had only exacerbated it. The more I tried to stop the shakes, to hold myself still, the worse it seemed to get.

“You need rest, food, and a cleaning. You are safe here. Let us care for you. When you are recovered, there shall be a feast and we shall speak of events past, present, and future.”

“No, I want to know now!” I insisted.

Banshee raised an eyebrow but otherwise ignored me. He turned to Tumble and said, “Arrange for him to be tended to, and get that bite looked at before it festers.”

“Yes, your majesty.”

I continued to protest as Banshee turned his back to me and ascended to his throne. I even went so far as to push myself to my feet and start to follow him.

Two guards blocked my path, halberds crossed before me, and Tumble tugged insistently at my elbow.

“Come, Allin, all in good time,” he purred.

I looked up at Banshee, who now sat stoic and silent above me. If he held the answers I needed, I could not afford to anger him with a tantrum, but I didn’t need to be happy about it.

“Fine,” I managed to spit out, my teeth clenched. “Let’s go.”

“Ahh, splendid,” Tumble replied nervously. “This way, please.”

I didn’t pay attention to where Tumble led me from that point. It all looked the same to me and my eyelids kept drooping closed anyway, making the trip a series of images interspersed with darkness.

Spiraling ramps, rope ladders, narrow bridges, and then an entrance into an old-world building through a window. That’s all I remember about the trip from the throne platform.

Next thing I knew I was waking up in a bed, a real bed with real sheets and blankets. It was a first for me and I rolled around under the covers simply to feel the play of the smooth fabric on my skin. I never wanted to leave.

Other than the bed, there was a chest of drawers across from me, a table beside the bed, and a light in the ceiling overhead that glowed bright and strong. The floor was covered in a thick, brown carpet and there was a framed triptych of paintings on the wall depicting some nature scene from ages past, with clear blue sky above a dark, foreboding forest. There were two doors leading off the room, one closed and one open to a bathroom, and an open, uncovered window. All in all, it was the most luxurious room I had ever slept in.

As I moved around in the bed, I realized that my body didn’t ache anymore, and my muscles felt fresh and relaxed. I sniffed the air and smelled perfume, ducked down to check my armpit and realized it was coming from me. I marveled at all the cats had accomplished while I had been passed out. I had no idea how much time had passed since I had arrived in Pudlington, but I was clean, rested and healthy, all of which put me in a much better frame of mind.

My clothing had been laid out on the table next to my bed, not the tan set I had worn on the trip to Pudlington, but my original clothing, all clean and dry. My cling-tight boots and cocoon bag were on the floor in front of the table. It looked like the cats had returned all my belongings to me. But what about…?

My hand shot up to my chest and gripped my lantern coil where it hung at the bottom of my necklace. Still there! For a moment I had feared that it might have been removed by someone who didn’t understand its value to me. I squeezed it and let it fall back to my chest.

As good as it felt to lie between clean sheets on a soft bed, I was more excited about the prospect of meeting with Emperor Banshee again. Now that I felt better, he had no excuse to not tell me about Dad and his history with the werewolves. My heart rose into my throat at the thought that I would finally learn why they had been after us. And why they were apparently still after me.

I got up and dressed, put on my cocoon backpack, and stuck my head out of the window. I was not at all surprised to find Tumble on a narrow ledge next to the window, leaning against the building. He was polishing his claws with a cloth.

“Feeling better, I hope?”

“As good as new. How long was I out?”

“Over a day.”

I saw that Tumble’s shoulder was wrapped in a bandage and nodded at it.

“You all better?” I asked.

“Indeed,” he replied, and tucked his polishing cloth away. “Dinner is in two hours. Care to explore Pudlington a little until then?”

I grinned. Climbing through the cat city seemed like a perfect way to keep my mind off of the questions parading through my head.

Pudlington was immense, and so tall I thought for sure that its ceiling had to be the limit of the city’s height. Tumble quickly disabused me of this notion.

“You could fit five or six Pudlington’s on top of one another before you scratch the roof of the world,” he explained.

Besides that minor letdown, crawling through, over, and around Pudlington was a treat. Between my boots and getting used to the sway of the city, I was able to keep up with Tumble and traverse the city like a native.

Everyone we passed seemed cheerful and friendly and engaged in some activity or another. There were hunters chasing down birds, farmers tending hanging gardens, craftsmen repairing and adding on to the city’s network of support ropes, and my favorite, a group of school-kittens led by an exasperated teacher. Pudlington was the most alive place I had ever been in my life and I was the only human present. It didn’t speak well for the future of humanity, I suppose, but I couldn’t help but have my spirits lifted by the vitality of it all.

Soon enough Tumble called a halt to our circumnavigation of the city so that we could head over to the Emperor’s dinner. It was held in a long, rectangular hall, its floor supported by ropes and accessible by ramps and ladders, like most rooms in the city. There was a low railing on three sides of the floor, and at one of the short ends, a full wall covered in fronds and vines, with a waterfall that crested over the top and gathered in a small pool below. It was impressive given that we were untold stories above the ground.

Tumble led me to the low table that filled the hall, around which twenty or so cats were engaged in chatter in small groups.

“The Emperor will sit there,” Tumble explained, pointing to the end of the table by the waterfall. “I will be on his right hand side and you shall sit across from me. It is a place of honor but it means I will not be able to assist you during the meal. Follow the cues, speak when spoken to, be polite.”

“I’ll be a good boy,” I assured him while rolling my eyes.

He arched an eyebrow in return, then gestured that I should take my place.

Banshee dropped in to the room between the table and the waterfall, going down to one knee and then standing back up. The floor perceptibly shook but settled down within a few seconds.

The hum of conversation in the room faded to silence as all the cats turned and acknowledged their Emperor’s presence with a bow.

Without a word, Banshee took his seat, and only when I saw everyone follow suit did I sit down also. The table was so low that I had to kneel in order to be near it.

“Welcome, guests. Tonight we are honored by the presence of this young man who sits beside me,” Banshee addressed the room. “He is here at my request and I wish you all to accord him the highest respect. There is much he needs to learn from us, and likewise much I need to know from him, but first: food and drink in honor of this day!”

With that pronouncement, a line of servers strode into the room bearing the first course, a soup. From that point on it seemed like there was always a line of them snaking around the table, bringing out new dishes, refilling drinks, and clearing the emptied plates away.

It was the most extravagant meal I had ever eaten, and for all I could not recognize some of the courses, everything was delicious, even the rat that Tumble had caught and which was served solely to Banshee, Tumble, and me. It sure as heck beat a steady diet of nutri-bulbs.

As the evening progressed, however, I became more and more antsy to speak with the Emperor, to wring from him every drop of information about my family that he had to give, to find out about my supposed uncle. Keeping silent and answering polite questions might have earned me Tumble’s appreciative smile, but my veneer of pleasant sociality was wearing thin.

Finally, Banshee appeared to be done eating, which signaled the end of everyone’s dining. Servants cleared the remainder of the plates and dishes and set out tall, fluted glasses full of a bubbly, pink liquid in front of each guest.

I must have looked askance at it because Tumble explained from across the table, “Gerrybrook Juice. From the flower of the same name. Never tried it? A delicacy, I assure you, but it packs quite a punch so tread lightly.”

I took a tentative sip and found it to be delightful, not too sweet but with a fizzy kick.

The Emperor quaffed his glass in one gulp and a server immediately refilled it. Glass in hand, he focused on me and said, “You have been exceedingly patient, Allin, for which I thank you. I must ask you to extend that patience further before I answer the questions so plainly written on your face.”

Not again! I thought, but kept my face emotionless. I sipped at my drink to keep from saying anything rash.

The room fell silent as everyone hung on the Emperor’s words.

“You will learn all that we know by evening’s end, I assure you. But first it would be helpful if you could tell us what you know of your parents and their involvement with the werewolves, so I know what gaps in your knowledge need to be filled in.”

That took me aback. To buy some time, I took another sip of that wonderful, frothy nectar and set my cup down carefully before me.

My parents and the werewolves? There was only one story I had to tell on that subject, and I had never shared it with anyone before. Not only because it was too painful, but who would I have told?

Well, now I had an audience and the story needed to be told, even if it shamed me in the process.

I had to force the words past the lump that had formed in my throat, but after a slow, halting start, the story began to pour out of me. I needed to tell this tale.

“We arrived in Glin’s Rising to trade for food,” I began. “And that’s when I met a girl named Tyena.”

As I described her and our instant connection, the cats around the table exchanged curious glances. Perhaps human customs of love sounded strange to them.

I went on to tell of how I wanted to stay in Glin’s Rising, and how Mom and Dad insisted we move on. Of the plan Tyena and I made for her to secretly follow me. Of the fight I had with Mom and Dad when I realized that our visit had put the Glinites in danger. And how I had run away from my parents to go back and make sure Tyena was safe.

I stopped, took another gulp of my drink, and held the glass up to be refilled. I would need a lot more of that heady stuff to give me the courage to finish my story. The story of how I killed my parents.

* * *

Immediately enter “Flashback Mode” with Part Fourteen, or read my notes on this week’s episode first.

5/13/12 News: Part Thirteen is double-sized because I did not want to break it up into two segments and delay the next part even longer. As it is, I had to rush through a few scenes to fit in everything I wanted and keep it to 2,000 words or so. Allin summarizes some details of his story at the end here. Astute readers will recognize it as the Cliff’s Notes version of the flashback sequence that began in Part Four and ended in Part Seven. The rest of that flashback sequence will unfold over the course of the next four weeks.

Thanks to everyone for reading. Comments are always appreciated; I’d love to know who is reading and what you think. For my new readers, welcome! Care to let me know how you found The Only City Left? Finally, if you could share the link to this story with even one person who you think might enjoy it, I’d be ever so appreciative. Thanks!

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The Only City Left: Part Twelve

Click Part Eleven to find out what happened last time. And here’s the Table of Contents.

The Only City Left: Part Twelve

After Tumble handed off his prize rat to a page with orders to send it to the royal chef, we made our way up a series of ramps into Pudlington proper. The clearance was enough that I could stand up straight, but I often found myself leaning against walls and posts on the way. Tumble continued his role as proud tour guide, but it was all a grey buzz in my ears as I forced my rubbery legs to keep moving.

Walking inside Pudlington was a dizzying affair, as the entire city swayed minutely but continuously. Not a problem for the sure-footed feline inhabitants, but in my sorry state I felt about to plunge to my death with every step and sway. The lack of railings and uniform color of the city were no help, either. It felt like climbing through a moving optical illusion.

Sensing my distress, Tumble took my hand and led me the rest of the way, for which I was grateful.

Soon we reached a long, thin ramp that led down at a slight angle to a wide platform in what I took to be the very center of the city. Other such ramps radiated out from it like spokes, and between them were great ropes that came down from somewhere above to hold the platform up.

In the very center of the platform, Emperor Banshee sat on a raised throne atop a set of circular stairs. He was a beast, more the size of a small child than a large cat, with a thick chocolate-grey coat marred here and there by bald patches. As I approached him, I could see ample scarring on his exposed skin.

Six guards in ornate costumes held vigil around the circular dais. They wore black caps that each had one large, white feather sticking straight up out of them, and held tall halberds by their side. Other cats milled about the platform talking in small groups, but quieted as we approached.

Once we reached the base of the stairs, Tumble let go my hand and climbed three steps to stand one below the throne. He turned and announced, “His Royal Feline, Emperor Banshee LXXVI, welcomes Allin Arcady into His presence. You may kneel.”

It took me a few beats until I realized he meant I should kneel.

“Not a chance,” I replied.

This caused a flurry of consternation amongst the cats gathered on the platform. The two guards nearest to hand stood straighter and gripped their halberds more tightly, and Tumble rolled his eyes and brought one hand to his forehead.

“You refuse to bow to a mere cat, is that it?” came Emperor Banshee’s deep rumble of a voice as he leaned forward to inspect me.

I quailed under his gaze.

“It’s not that at all, your Emperor… ness, sir,” I explained. “It’s been a really long day. If I kneel, I won’t be able to stand up again.”

Banshee continued to glare down at me for some time. When he stood up and started to stalk down the steps toward me, I wondered if maybe I shouldn’t have just knelt. Angering the Emperor in the center of his realm was not my brightest move ever, but I was so tired I hardly cared.

Once he realized what Banshee was doing, Tumble practically tripped over himself to precede him down the steps. If he planned on interposing himself between us, he was not quick enough. Banshee stopped one step above the floor, placed his hands on my shoulders, and looked me in the eyes.

“Sit,” he commanded me, and gently pushed me to the ground.

There was concern in his voice and touch, not the rough treatment I had expected, so I acquiesced and sat down, cross-legged. The Emperor sat down on the bottom step facing me, put his elbow on his knee, and rested his chin on his fist.

The members of the court tittered nervously and Tumble kept looking back and forth between us, unsure of what to do or say next to deal with this breach of protocol.

“Good boy,” Banshee said, and patted me on the head.

Polite laughs broke out and Tumble released a deep sigh. Even I couldn’t help but offer a chagrined smile in return.

“Allin Arcady, you are probably most interested to learn how it is that we have come to know of you,” Banshee said in his deep, growling voice.

I nodded mutely in reply.

Banshee stood up and paced back and forth on the step before me as he spoke, gesturing for emphasis frequently.

“With the decline of Man, much of the city called Earth lies fallow. In some places, such as this one, new beings have arrived to fill the void. Not all such beings are friendly, however. Some detest life and will not be content until the entire world is a hollow, lifeless sphere. Others seek ever to expand their empire, to put themselves in a place of lordship over the remaining pockets of life that survive here and there in this shell of a city.”

He stopped before me and leaned in. “The werewolves are one such race. Long have they been our mortal enemy, and though the world at large be not aware, long have we striven to halt their aggression and to keep them contained.

“Although he did so for selfish reasons, your father aided us and struck a great blow against the werewolves. It is in his memory that we have kept track of your adventures, Allin.”

“You’ve been watching me?” I asked, indignant and unbelieving at the same time.

“We have felt the ripples you have caused,” Banshee explained enigmatically, twitching his whiskers.

“So why bring me here all of a sudden? What changed?”

“When we heard that your uncle had picked up your trail, we knew we had to get to you first.”

I tilted my head to the side and scrunched up my face, “What are you talking about? I don’t have an uncle.”

The face of the werewolf ghost in his human form sprang suddenly to my mind.

“There is much your father kept secret from you, Allin.”

* * *

Click ahead to Part Thirteen to wring the secrets from Emperor Banshee (or read my notes below first, if you can stand the suspense).

5/6/12 News: I think it is kind of amusing that I started this piece of the story with Tumble and his dead rat, but I had to get rid of the rat somehow and it is just fit there. The alternative was to take that line out of the previous post, but I enjoyed that joke too much to excise it. That’s just how I roll.

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