The Only City Left: Part 43

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 1-34 and then start at Part 35. You can reach an individual part of the story by browsing the Table of Contents.

At the end of Part 42, Guppy brought Allin and Tumble to meet his friends: one of them was a werewolf and the rest all were lantern coils, which meant they could be werewolves, too. Allin was not pleased at this turn of events.

The Only City Left: Part 43

I tensed up and looked around for a quick exit, but we were out of luck. The hulking man called Crow blocked the way we had come in, and the only other exit was a hallway on the other side of the room. Even if I hadn’t been rooted to the floor in fear, I doubted I could make it past the card players.

“Seriously, do you smell it, too?” asked the werewolf as he got out of bed. Standing, he was shorter than me, which made him less imposing though still horrific. He sniffed the air with his long snout, bobbing his head. “Or am I still dreaming?”

“Cool it, Kenner,” said the card player on the left side of the table. He spoke in a cold, clipped manner, as if he only grudgingly let the words escape from his mouth. “We have guests. Guppy, where are your manners? Introduce your friends.”

I locked eyes with Guppy and silently pleaded for help. After all, we had escaped death by clinker together only a short while ago. That counted for something, right?

“Not friends, Matthias,” Guppy said. “They nearly got me killed. I figured I better bring them back here so you could decide what to do with them.”

“You son of a—” From behind me, Crow grabbed my shoulder and squeezed tight, cutting me off.

Guppy sat down on one of the cots and crossed his arms over his chest. I gave him a dirty look as I squirmed under Crow’s crushing grip, then turned to Matthias when he spoke again.

“Thank you, Crow,” Matthias said. He sniffed the air delicately. “Kenner, I do believe you are correct. Our short friend has a feline air about him. Remove his hat.”

Kenner raised his upper lip in a snarling grin and moved to follow Matthias’ orders, but Tumble preempted him. He doffed his own hat with a flourish and handed it to the werewolf.

“Keep that handy, mind you. I’ll be needing it when we leave.”

“I don’t take orders from cats,” Kenner said. He threw the leaf hat to the ground and smashed and tore at it with his feet. The man seated across from Matthias laughed at the sight.

Tumble remained unfazed, but I broke out in a sweat and began to take quick, shallow breaths. This was Glin’s Rising all over again. After three years and despite my best efforts to avoid them, I had fallen back into the hands of the werewolves.

“Shiloh, be quiet,” Matthias said to the still-laughing man across from him. Then he turned his cold, appraising stare back to Tumble and me. “A boy and a cat wandering the city. Not an everyday sight.”

“Dogs playing cards. I think I saw that in a painting once,” Tumble said.

Shiloh growled and made to leave his seat, but a clipped “Enough!” from Matthias kept him still.

Matthias crossed his legs and said, “Crow, release him. Guppy, do you know who you have brought us?”

“He said his name is Allin and the cat is Tumble.”

Matthias grinned and I could see the werewolf behind his human facade. “Really. The boy I had guessed, but to find him in the company of Emperor Banshee’s brother? What a prize.”

I turned to Tumble and gave him a surprised look. Brother? He shrugged and nodded at me.

“Forget the supplies, Guppy, you’ve more than earned your coil today. Doyle will want to reward you personally. Tell me, Allin. You were safe in Pudlington, last I heard. Whatever possessed you to leave, and to enter clinker territory, no less?”

My shoulder throbbed where the brute had gripped me. I massaged it and said, “None of your damn business.”

“Impolite whelp,” Matthias said with no real passion. “You’re lucky your uncle wants you alive and in one piece. The cat, though… Kenner, Shiloh, rough him up, but no killing.”

Shiloh laughed and grasped his lantern coil. He mumbled something I couldn’t hear and moonlight escaped from inside his closed hand. I shivered as he transformed into a werewolf in front of me. Kenner, already transformed, growled and moved toward Tumble.

“Allin, forgive me,” Tumble said. He looked sideways at me and then back at Crow, who towered behind the both of us. “You’re on your own for the moment.”

Before I could respond, he dashed forward between the two werewolves and kicked a chair sideways with such force that it knocked the card table over onto Matthias. There was a flash of white light and Matthias came out from under the overturned table as a werewolf. Behind me, Crow said something and there was another flash of moonlight. Tumble disappeared down the far hallway with Kenner and Shiloh in pursuit, while Guppy plastered himself against the wall by the cots, out of the way of his monstrous friends. I remained still, my feet like concrete blocks holding me in place.

Matthias lunged toward me and I couldn’t help but jump back in fright, only to bump into Crow’s unyielding body. Trapped, I couldn’t avoid it when Matthias gripped me painfully by the jaw with one clawed hand.

“A bold move, but futile,” he said, his rank breath filling my nostrils and making me gag. “My boys will capture him. The best he can hope for is to be killed rather than held hostage.”

“I wouldn’t count on it,” I said, fighting to pull my face out of his iron grip.

“We’ll see. In the meantime, I hope you’re ready for a trip to the Gard—” A tremendous reverberating BOOM! cut him off. It had come from the front door. Once the echoes died, Matthias squeezed my face and lowered his eyes to my level. “Did you bring friends with you, boy? Did you?”

I tried to say, “No,” but another BOOM! swallowed my answer.

He let me go and I rubbed at my face.

“Crow, take care of it,” Matthias said. “Guppy, were you followed?”

“I don’t think so. We left one behind us but it couldn’t walk.”

Matthias’ eyes narrowed and he bared his teeth. “One what?”

There was another boom followed by the sound of wrenching metal and a pained howl. Crow staggered into the room backwards and fell at our feet, bleeding from a long gash on his forehead.

I caught Guppy’s eye and his panicked face mirrored my own.

“Clinker,” he said.

* * *

Continue to Part 44.

12/9/12 News: The Only City Left is now listed on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction. If you are so inclined, I would appreciate any ratings/reviews/recommends on that site to help get TOCL noticed. Thanks!

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

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

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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 33

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 1-30 and then start at Part 31. You can reach an individual part of the story by browsing the Table of Contents.

At the end of Part 32, Allin met a familiar face at the bottom of a spike-lined death trap.

The Only City Left: Part 33

“I’d say ‘Don’t shoot’ but I’m curious to see your jelly gun in action,” he deadpanned. “Please, go ahead.”

It was Tumble all right, looking much as he had when I first met him, except his gun was holstered at his side and he wore a backpack. I lowered my useless, and apparently comical, grapple gun to my side and asked, “What are you doing here?”
Really, he was the last person I had expected to see again, certainly not so soon, and definitely not coming through a secret door in the bottom of a spike-lined pit.

“Would you believe it was pure chance?”

I cocked my head and raised one eyebrow in answer.

“I didn’t think so. Truth is, I have been assigned to keep track of you,” Tumble said. He eyed the room and then returned his gaze to me. “You know, keep you out of death traps and that sort of thing.”

I shoved the grapple gun back into the cocoon bag, ignoring the mess inside it.

“And a fine job you’re doing of that so far,” I mumbled as I sealed the bag closed and swung it onto my back. “Look, you can go back and tell Banshee I said ‘Thanks but no.’ I’ve been on my own for a while now. I don’t need you to keep me safe. Now if you would?”

I gestured for him to step out of the way so that I could crawl through the opening behind him. He sidestepped with a grand sweep of his arms.

“Thanks,” I offered over my shoulder as I crawled into the tunnel.

I heard the grating sound again, followed by Tumble’s voice.

“Far be it from me to wonder how you were going to leave that room if I hadn’t shown up,” he said, following behind. “I’ll give you full credit for having the ingenuity to have figured it out on your own.”

I mumbled another “Thanks” and rolled my eyes, but I couldn’t help but smile at his lofty way of speaking.

“But I am afraid I am barred from returning to Pudlington for the foreseeable future. Unless, that is, you could be convinced to return there. Then it would be my duty to ensure your safe arrival.”

The tunnel opened up into a large cylindrical shaft with ladders running up and down the walls at intervals around its circumference. I switched the wristlight to a cone of light and aimed it up, down, and around. I couldn’t see the ceiling or the floor, but there were other openings at various heights around the chamber.

“Sorry, Tumble. I’m not going back there,” I told him, my voice echoing in the open chamber before me.

My stomach felt sour at the thought of Tyena’s lies and how both she and Banshee had sought to use me to their own ends. I wouldn’t trade the freedom of the city to return to that.

“I assumed as much,” Tumble said with a tiny sigh. “Then we shall be companions!”

I switched my wristlight back to full illumination, swung out onto a nearby ladder, and started to climb.

Uh-uh-uh, I would not go that way,” Tumble cautioned, looking up at me from the mouth of the tunnel I had exited.

I paused my climb and stared back at him.

“I want to go Up, remember?”

“Yes, but this access tunnel only leads to more trapped rooms. And, and!” Tumble raised his voice, cutting off the protest I was about to make. “And it is not without traps of its own. Look up.”

I could hear the tension in his voice, so I slowly tilted my head back and brought my wristlight up. I noticed that about a foot above me on the ladder, there was a nearly invisible piece of string just above one rung. Its ends were wrapped around either side of the ladder and then continued on into tiny holes in the wall.

“Step on that and the entire ladder will separate from the wall,” Tumble explained. “Explosively.”

I caved. “Fine, I get it. I need you to get me out of this feline death-maze.”

“Very good. Now do exactly as I say.”

We spent the rest of the journey through Pudlington’s defensive maze mostly in silence, except for Tumble’s instructions as he either led me around traps or had me wait while he disabled them and reset them once we had passed.

Twice during the trip he tried to talk to me about what was happening in Pudlington in my absence: what Tyena was doing now that she knew the cats were aware of her deception, and what alternate plans Banshee was crafting to combat the werewolves. Both times I cut him off; I didn’t want to hear it.

Finally, we dropped from a ventilation shaft into an unlit corridor that was as run-down and dismal as the ones outside of Pudlington were clean and bright.

“Here you are, Allin,” Tumble proclaimed. “Free of Pudlington’s grasp. I shall of course leave you alone if you wish it, but I cannot ignore my Emperor’s commands. Do not be surprised if you see me following behind you about fifty paces or so.”

“You’re laying it on kind of thick. You really can’t return to Pudlington?”

“If only. Following you is to be my punishment for my, ahem, oversharing,” Tumbled admitted with a wry grin.

I couldn’t exactly stay mad at him. After all, he was only in trouble because he had told me the truth. Plus, even though I wouldn’t admit it to him, I was looking forward to having his company. The city was a mighty lonely place, and I hadn’t traveled with anyone since my parents died.

“Fine, you can follow me, but enough about Tyena and Banshee. If you nag me about them, we’ll find out how effective being one with the universe is against a swift kick in the butt.”

“Splendid,” Tumble declared, as if he had known this would be the outcome all along. “You lead, I’ll follow.”

I played my wristlight in either direction down the decaying corridor. Neither way held any more promise than the other.

“You brought us here, so you should know: how do we go Up from here?”

Tumble smiled his feline grin and said, “I lead. You follow.”

* * *

Follow Tumble to Part 34.

9/30/12 News: The Only City Left is now listed on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction. If you are so inclined, I would appreciate any ratings/reviews/recommends on that site to help get TOCL noticed. Thanks!

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

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

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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 32

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 1-30 and then start at Part 31. You can reach an individual part of the story by browsing the Table of Contents.

At the end of Part 31, Allin had fallen into one of the many traps in the maze of ductwork surrounding Pudlington.

The Only City Left: Part 32

I screamed as I careened down a nearly vertical metal chute, a sound I could no more control than I could my descent. I kicked my legs and scrabbled my hands, but could find no purchase on the slick metal walls. Some part of my panicked brain did note, though, that when the soles of my cling-tight boots connected with the chute, I slowed down the teensiest bit.

Without a second thought, I bent my legs, slamming my feet into the ceiling of the chute and my knees into the floor. Now my screaming was only partly due to hurtling to my doom; it was also because of the intense burn where my knees scraped against the side of the chute. I didn’t let that stop me, though, because it was working! The longer I held my boots against the surface of the chute, the more they slowed me down. I was almost at a standstill when I ran out of chute and my hands flew out into empty space.

It was at that point that my boots locked into place, having finally gained the advantage over the slippery metal wall of the chute. I jerked violently to a stop and swung backwards, thwacking the back of my head against something hard and unyielding.

“Yow!” I yelled, or something equally high-pitched. As I swung back and forth like this in diminishing arcs, the beam of my wristlight traced a path over a floor covered with sharpened spikes some distance below me. I shone the light up and saw only inches of space between my boots and the end of the chute.

“Holy Ancients, that was close,” I gasped between breaths.

A second later, I heard a bumpa-da-bumpa sound and something slammed into my legs and then fell past me. I yiped in fright and waved my left arm around, trying to aim my light onto whatever it was that had been following me. In a moment I saw it, impaled on a spike.

My cocoon bag.

“Now that’s just unfair,” I moaned, already thinking about how I could get it back. It contained everything I needed to survive; abandoning it was not an option.

I switched the wristlight to full illumination and was satisfied that the light just reached the edges of the room. The spikes below me looked to be about waist-high if I was standing next to them. From my upside-down perch they were still two or three arm-lengths away from my outstretched hands, so there was no way I could get my bag without being down there. Luckily, there was space to move around in between the spikes if I could get down to the floor.

I pulled one foot off the wall of the chute and felt the strain on my other ankle. As fast as I could, I moved my free foot to the ceiling of the spike chamber and made sure it was secure. I groaned in agony as I pulled back on my other foot. It felt like my ankle was going to break before the seal did, but it finally came free and I was able to stomp it into place on the ceiling.

All this hanging and swaying upside down made my vision swim and stomach churn, and the walk to the wall was terrifyingly slow. With each step I wondered if my boots would finally lose their grip or if I would slip out of them. When I finally made it across the ceiling, I turned around to face away from the wall and made my way down it in a sort of upside-down, reverse crab-walk. By the time I reached the bottom and slid into a clear patch between spikes, my ankles and legs felt like stone weights and I was ready to pass out. I sat up slowly and gave my head time to adjust to being right-side up again. Once I felt better, I stood up and gingerly threaded my way into the center of the room to retrieve my bag.

“Oh no,” I moaned, examining it. It wasn’t the holes in either side of the bag that bothered me, because once I held the fabric together it bonded back together just fine. The contents of the bag were another matter. The spike had pierced a food-pack I didn’t even know I had; one of the cats must have provided me with it. Thoughtful of them, but now there was nutrient jelly over everything in my bag. What a mess.

What’s more, there was a nice hole through my towel, which could not be as easily repaired as the bag itself. Needle and thread were not amongst the tools I had thought to bring.

I shoved everything back into the bag in disgust, dropped it unceremoniously to the ground, and wiped my hands on the front of my pants.

“Okay, now what do I do?” I wondered out loud, eyeing the square opening in the ceiling. I had used my only glue grapple already; the rest were clawed and would likely prove useless in this predicament.

While I considered trying one anyway, a grating sound from behind me set the hairs on the back of my neck a-tingling. I very nearly fell backwards and impaled myself in my haste to whip around and determine its source. A small portion of wall along the floor was sliding to one side. I heard something padding towards me from inside the opening, but it was still out of view.

I glanced quickly to the left and the right, searching for some improvised weapon, but this death trap was surprisingly clean of any debris. There wasn’t even a bone I could wield as a club. As a last resort, I kneeled down, plunged my hand into my bag and came up with the grapnel gun. Sure, it was unloaded and sticky with jelly, but the possible intimidation factor was all I had going for me at the moment.

I remained kneeling, gun pointed at the opening, until a creature stepped forth from the darkness. A small creature. A familiar creature.

I lowered the gun and cried out, “Tumble!?”

* * *

Continue to Part 33.

9/23/12 News: The Only City Left is now listed on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction. If you are so inclined, I would appreciate any ratings/reviews/recommends on that site to help get TOCL noticed. Thanks!

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

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

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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 31

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 1-30. You can reach an individual part of the story by browsing the Table of Contents.

At the end of Part 30, Allin struck out on his own again, leaving behind a distressed Tyena and a disappointed Banshee.

The Only City Left: Part 31

After leaving the Pudlington guards behind, I tried to retrace the path that Tumble and I had taken when we arrived here. Problem was, every hallway looked the same, the carpet a thin, gray, industrial-looking affair, the walls a uniform tan in color interrupted only by the occasional off-white, sealed-shut door.

Since I couldn’t find the exact way I had come in, and crawling through claustrophobic ventilation shafts didn’t sound appealing to me anyway, I decided to search for an alternate route out of the area.

An hour later, exasperated, I gave up on that idea. The hallways were like a maze, and though they were well-lit and safer than most of the City, I wasn’t making any progress. Instead of an exit, all I found were numerous dead-ends, locked doors that wouldn’t budge, and blank walls where I would have expected something, anything, stairs or an intersecting passageway or an empty elevator shaft. The cats had this sector locked down tight; I should have expected as much.

I guess it’s back into the ducts after all, I thought sourly. I stopped underneath the next grate I found, looked up at it, and took a moment to think about my next move.

This whole area was part of Pudlington’s outer defenses, after all. If someone could simply climb in and out through the air ducts, it wouldn’t be very effective. Tumble had disarmed traps along our way in, and I’d have to watch out for the same on the way out, but would the grate itself be dangerous?

“Only one way to find out,” I said out loud, my voice eerily muted in the empty, carpeted corridor.

I kneeled down and rummaged through my bag, pulling out a few tools and laying them on the floor beside me: magma stick, grapple gun, wristlight. I thought of the Skunkworks and sent a silent “Thank you” to the cats for not only sheltering me but also giving me access to a workshop. Without these gadgets, I wouldn’t even be able to make it out of Pudlington’s outer bailey.

The wristlight was the replacement I had made for my donated lantern coil. Simplest description: it was a tiny dome light on top of a plasteen wristband. Twist the dome one quarter turn and it emitted a cone of light pointing past my hand. Another quarter turn and it narrowed to a beam. A half turn and it opened fully to provide general illumination, like my lantern coil but not as strong. I also couldn’t reproduce the same vivid golden light as the coil, but given that I was using algae instead of sunlight, I thought I had done pretty well.

Next up on my list of gadgets to use was the grapple gun. It was a shame to use one of my few grapples to climb such a short distance, but without Tumble holding open the grate, there was no way I could jump up and climb into the duct behind it on my own. With a sigh, I stood in front of the wall to the left of the grate, held the gun straight up above me, and pulled the trigger.

The grapple slammed into and clung against the ceiling with a quick-acting epoxy I had cooked up, and I pulled myself up the few feet of rope that trailed from it, bracing myself against the wall with my cling-tight boots. Once I was situated next to the grate, I tested it with my magma stick. Unlike the grate I had entered through, this one didn’t lift up.

I shined the wristlight’s beam into the angled vents on the grate, but couldn’t tell if there was anything rigged on the other side. There was nothing else for it, though. I was going to have to risk that it wasn’t rigged with a trap, or if it was, that I could evade it. I clicked the magma stick on and slowly, carefully, dragged it along the perimeter of the grate. When I finished, the grate dropped to the floor below and I leaned away from the exposed opening, waiting for some sort of explosion or rain of metal shards to be triggered. When nothing happened, I leaned over and shone the wristlight into the shaft. Nothing but smooth metal walls ending in a T about ten feet back.

I sighed in relief and dropped back down to the floor, where I disconnected the rope from the grapple, retracted it, and stowed the gun and the magma stick back in my bag. Then I reached up and pushed the bag into the shaft ahead of me, gripped the bottom of the duct, and pulled myself up and in after it.

I made it in safely. No traps, no surprises, and my wristlight provided enough light to see by. I slithered forward, pushing my bag along. The shaft was barely wider than my body, and the sooner I was quit of it, the happier I’d be, but at least I had made it in. At the T, I chose the left path at random, pushed my bag in that direction, and contorted myself to follow after it. After some time in which the only other paths led back to the left (and presumably back to the same corridor I had just come from), there was a turn to the right in addition to the duct running straight ahead. For a change of pace, I went down the right path, stopping only when I heard an eerie clickclickclick sound.

My first thought was of the obscenely large rat that had attacked Tumble in these very ducts, but this fear was eclipsed by a second, more pressing concern as the metal floor beneath me tilted down suddenly. I fumbled at my backpack, which rested ahead of me on a stable piece of ductwork, but the floor beneath me angled away too quickly and I couldn’t get a firm grip. My fingers slipped off one by one and I found myself sliding headlong toward some uncertain fate.

* * *

Continue to Part 32.

9/16/12 News: The Only City Left is now listed on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction. If you are so inclined, I would appreciate any ratings/reviews/recommends on that site to help get TOCL noticed. Thanks!

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

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

#

Logo Credit:The TOCL logo is courtesy of Jande Rowe of the webcomic Aedre’s Firefly. If you haven’t already read AF, I encourage you to go check it out. Not only does Jande produce the comic, she reviews other long-form webcomics, gives tips and instructions on creating a comic, and is endlessly supportive of other creators. For a great review that will bring you up to speed on Aedre’s Firefly, check out this page at Webcomic Alliance.