The Only City Left: Part 62

Welcome to my serial science-fiction/fantasy adventure, The Only City Left. This is the story of Allin Arcady and his adventures through a dying, planet-sized city called Earth. (Click here for the Table of Contents.)

At the end of Part 61, Allin returned to Pudlington along with Ballister and his people and an army of ghosts. He told the guards he was there to fight Banshee’s army for him, on one condition.

The Only City Left: Part 62

After many messages to and from the authorities inside of Pudlington, we were granted entrance. Once inside, Xerxes, Ballister and I were asked to meet with Emperor Banshee. Ballister’s people were taken to a holding area and Xerxes’ ghosts agreed to wait outside of the city. Of course, if they had wanted to force the issue and come inside, there was not much the cats could do to stop them short of releasing an electro-magnetic pulse inside the city.

It was an odd return to Pudlington. The first time I visited, I was a curiosity. This time, a phalanx of armed guards escorted the three of us through the city and down one of the ramps to stand before Banshee’s stepped dais. It felt less like an honor guard and more like we were prisoners being paraded before a judge. Not a good sign.

Besides our manner of entrance, two other sights gave me pause. Instead of six imperial guards around Banshee’s throne, there were at least twenty of the feather-capped fellows standing ramrod straight, hands gripping their halberds. And instead of Tumble standing one step below the Emperor—his brother, I recalled with no small wonder—there stood a cat I had last seen at the first royal dinner I had attended in Pudlington. I couldn’t recall his name, but his attitude toward me then matched the look on his face now: haughty disdain.

A large audience of cats milled about the platform, and I was glad for the thick ropes that held up the circular floor we trod upon; it was quite a crowd. The guards had to clear a space so that we could stand a few feet out from the bottom step before Banshee.

I glanced to one side and checked on Ballister. He had a grim, determined look on his face that belied how nervous he probably felt. It’s one thing to know that there is a cat city nearby. It’s quite another to be inside of it, surrounded by hundreds of cats, many of whom are armed and unhappy that you’re near them. On my other side, Xerxes stood patiently, a bemused look upon his face, his feet not quite touching the floor beneath him.

At a sign from the cat who stood below Banshee, the imperial guards stamped their halberds on the floor three times in unison. The platform quieted to a low murmur and the same cat announced, “Our Emperor, Banshee LXXVI, recognizes Allin Arcady and companions. Kneel before the emperor.”

Not again, I thought, but this time I couldn’t afford to risk offending anyone. I nodded to Ballister and Xerxes and went down on one knee, my head bowed. Out of the corner of my eyes, I saw Ballister do the same, a scowl on his face, while Xerxes opted to sink into the floor down to his knees. I stifled a grin at that.

“You may rise,” said Emperor Banshee. “Friends of Allin Arcady, introduce yourselves.”

“Entwhistle Ballister at your service, your majesty.”

I held back another smile. Entwhistle?

“Xerxes.” No courtly flourishes there.

“Very well. And this is Acting Royal Envoy Fordham, whom I believe you have met once before, Allin.”

Banshee emphasized those last words and I caught a warning in his tone.

“Where’s Tumble?” I asked.

“Yes, what has become of your brother?” Fordham asked, pulling at his whiskers.

Banshee answered us both. “He is working on another project.”

Another project? I imagined he must be down in the Skunkworks with Professor Copper, working on the lantern coil. I placed my hand on my chest and felt Matthias’ coil beneath my shirt. I needed to speak to Copper as soon as possible about what I had figured out.

“He informed us of your death, Allin. How is it that he was so mistaken?”

“After what happened, I should be dead. The others who fell from that bridge with me didn’t make it.” Guppy. Matthias. I didn’t go into details about how they died. “I’m still alive partly by chance and partly thanks to the creatures who dwell in the dark, the merskers.”

The crowd raised its collective voice at this. Even the cats had their legends about the beings that live in the darkened voids of the city. I didn’t disabuse them of the horrifying images invoking their name must conjure.

“And I would never have made it back to Pudlington if not for the aid of Xerxes and the other ghosts.”

Fordham barely concealed a sneer at my words, and I saw Banshee catch it before it disappeared.

“Yes, it is truly amazing what can be accomplished when unlikely allies work together, is it not?” Banshee said, his fingers steepled before him.

Fordham’s fur bristled and he practically doubled in size before he shook himself to make it lay down again. “If we can get back to the matter of how Mr. Arcady broke his trust with us by leading human interlopers to our gates?”

“We ain’t no ’lopers,” Ballister said in a booming voice that briefly set Fordham’s hair on end again. “And I don’t like that my people are being kept under armed guard. I understood we’d be guests here, not prisoners.”

I expected Fordham to respond, but it was Banshee who spoke. “We made no such promises to your people, Entwhistle Ballister. For that, you have only Allin to blame.”

I was shocked. I thought for sure Banshee would back up my plan, if for no other reason than to annoy Fordham.

The Emperor continued. “For now your people are being fed and have been given access to sanitation. Given the state you are in, I see no cause for complaint with your treatment in Pudlington.”

“Where humans should not have been allowed to enter in the first place, your highness,” Fordham said. “First the Arcady boy and now this refuse. This is a disgrace!”

“Your opinion is well known, Acting Envoy. The fact remains that Ballister and his people are guests in my city for now and you shall keep a civil tongue about them while I sit the throne. Moving on.”

Fordham looked discomfited and I held my lips tight together to keep from grinning. Any hint of a grin disappeared when Banshee turned his gaze on me and said, “Allin, outside of our gates, you spoke of conditions. One does not demand conditions of emperors. Explain yourself.”

* * *

Continue to Part 63.

4/21/13 News:

This was one crazy week, with many distractions and illnesses and assorted other goodies. I managed to meet my minimum word count goal for the first draft of Book Two, but it came down to the wire on Friday night. Here’s hoping next week goes more smoothly.

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

The Only City Left is 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.

The Only City Left: Part 61

Welcome to my serial science-fiction/fantasy adventure, The Only City Left. This is the story of Allin Arcady and his adventures through a dying, planet-sized city called Earth. (Click here for the Table of Contents.)

At the end of Part 60, Allin had bested a not-quite-healed Matthias in one-on-one combat and then spared his life. All that remained was to leave Matthias to the merskers, but before Allin could leave the village, he was stopped in his tracks by a ghost.

The Only City Left: Part 61

The ghosts. What with the slavers and the merskers and Matthias, I had forgotten all about the silent army of ghosts that had followed me to the mersker village. This was the second time in recent days that one had spoken to me, and this time the ghost had addressed me by name. If I hadn’t been so weary, I might have found the trend disturbing.

“So talk,” I said, walking around and past the ghost. “But I’m getting out of here before they change their mind.”

I felt a cold touch on the back of my neck.

“Wait, please. We will ensure your safety.”

I turned and saw the ghost army lining up behind the speaker, walling me off from the village. The ghost light would certainly dissuade the merskers from interfering.

“Who are you?”

“I have been a ghost for so long, my old name is meaningless,” he said, pausing as if to sift through his dusty electronic databanks. “If you must address me, the name Xerxes will do.”

“Okay, Xerxes. So what’s with all these ghosts following me?”

“Normally we stay out of the affairs of the living, but the time has come to take a role. The werewolves have added many to our ranks, and Doyle Arcady’s machinations threaten to strike at the very nature of our beings. However, there is only so much we can do. We need a living being to champion our cause. Someone worthy.”

“So you’ve been, what, judging me?”

“Yes, Allin Arcady, we have been watching you, assessing you, for some time now.”

I shivered at the thought. The ghosts had been watching me. Banshee had been keeping track of me. Doyle had been chasing me. What other unseen forces had eyes on me and, more importantly: “Why?”

“The werewolf king already seeks you out. A confrontation is inevitable. With our might and knowledge, you will at least have a chance of surviving that encounter and redressing the wrongs that your uncle has committed.”

I was too stunned to respond. Xerxes was offering me an army of ghosts to use in the fight against Doyle. My head swam at the bizarre prospect.

Xerxes must have taken my silence for doubt, because he said, “Witness the power we wield when united.”

He turned and the mass of ghosts behind him marched into the mersker village. I started to protest that I didn’t want the merskers harmed, but except for the light they gave off, the ghosts did not molest the scavengers. They formed a line to where Matthias lay on the ground and, to his and my surprise, swarmed over him.

“What are they doing?” I asked.

“Delivering justice.”

I saw Matthias’ body rise up off the floor as a constant stream of ghosts moved down the line they had formed, surrounding and supporting him. Matthias began to scream, high and thin whines that lost their strength as more ghosts exerted their will to make one small piece of their spectral bodies solid. Hundreds of ghosts overlapped to hold him in place, using the energy from his own body to power their solidification. The more he weakened, the stronger they became, until he couldn’t resist as they passed him hand over hand down their line. They paraded him past me and away, leaving Xerxes and a few dozen other ghosts behind.

“Where are they taking him?”

“For interrogation. If he’s lucky, it will end in his death. If not, if a passing Lazarus storm happens by to resurrect him, he’ll know what it’s like to feel endless pain, anger, and bitterness.”

I digested that and shook my head.

“Look, I was already planning to fight the werewolves however I can, and I’d be happy to have your help, but unless you know the way back to the cat city, it’s going to be a while before I can do anything useful.”

“We can lead you to the cat city. Just tell us which one.”

* * *

True to his word, Xerxes and the other ghosts guided me back to Pudlington. Without their help, I would probably never have found my way, or if I did, it might have taken another three years. But due to their combined knowledge and ability to scout the best route by fanning out and phasing through walls, I was able to make the trip in a week. Each day, I covered a tremendous amount of ground, and the ghosts helped me find food and water, clean and dry clothing, safe spots to sleep, and most importantly, medicine. Not only had I gotten cut up quite a bit down in the junkyard, but I had been immersed in who knows what filth. Thanks to the ghosts, I managed to stave off any illness.

They were also good for conversation. Well, some of them. Even united in their goals, not every ghost was thrilled about helping a living human. I got the cold shoulder from some of them, literally. Others were fonts of knowledge. For instance, I hadn’t known about Pudlington before I met Tumble, but I wondered if even he was aware that six other cat cities still thrived in Earth.

As exhilarating as it was to be taken on a whirlwind tour of the city from the basement up, it was a great relief to find myself once again in front of a familiar door.

I raised my fist and pounded it against the thick, steel door a few times. There was no answer, so I raised my voice and asked, “Hello, is anyone in there? It’s me.”

Silence. I had asked the ghosts to wait out of sight so as not to frighten anyone, but now I considered calling one over to peek through the wall for me.

I tried one last time. “Ballister? It’s me.”

I heard the sound of locks opening and I stepped back. The door opened, but only a crack.

“That voice can’t belong to who I think it does.”

I grinned. “Yes, Ballister, it can.”

The door opened the rest of the way and Ballister rushed through it and lifted me into the air by my armpits.

“Allin! Tumble told us you died!” he shouted.

A weight lifted from me upon hearing that Tumble had survived. I asked how he was.

“He was scraped up but mostly fine, if not a bit distressed at your passing,” Ballister said, setting me down. “Spent a night here before going back to Pudlington. Gave my people a little scare, he did, what with not wearing any disguise this time. But where’s my manners? Come in, come in!”

The people inside the room lifted hands in greeting but were otherwise rather listless when I entered. The food that Tumble and I had shared would have all been used up by now; they were back on strict rationing and as little activity as possible.

“So what happened? How did you survive falling like that? How did you get back here? Why did you come back here?”

I laughed. “That’s a lot of questions. I’ll tell you all about it, but first I have a question for you, and please don’t take offense.”
Ballister looked down his beaky nose at me and nodded for me to go on.

“How would you all like to move someplace a little bit nicer?”

* * *

Ballister was predictably suspicious, not of me, but that my plan would work. We put it to a vote and even had a few of the ghosts join in on the conversation to make sure the mere sight of my allies wouldn’t send Ballister’s people flying under their bed-shelves. I wasn’t sure if they would agree to my proposal, but in the end my promises swayed them to take a risk and leave their safe but squalid nest. After that, it was up to the ghosts to lead us safely through the maze surrounding Pudlington. They pointed out the traps along the way and helped us to avoid or defuse them, so when we reached Pudlington’s inner bailey, no one had suffered an injury or gotten lost.

Our passage did not go unnoticed. Instead of two guards outside the gates to Pudlington, there were well over a hundred filling the hallway. I faced them at the head of an odd assortment of the wretched living and stoic undead.

“We’re not here to cause trouble,” I said. “I only ask that you deliver a message. Tell Emperor Banshee that I’ll fight his war for him. On one condition.”

* * *

Continue to Part 62.

4/14/13 News:

And so ends the second third of The Only City Left. I hope you’ve been enjoying it so far and will stick around for the next 30 installments!

Here’s my word count for the week. I am so close to being caught up to my goal, but at the same time I need to be writing less and brainstorming more as I move into the endgame of Book Two’s first draft. So as much as I’d like to be caught up or ahead on my word count goal, it may be a while yet before that happens.

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Also, here’s a slightly updated version of the cover I shared last week. I guess I won’t say this is the final version, because you never know.

onlycityleft-041013a small

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

The Only City Left is 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.

The Only City Left: Part 60

Welcome to my serial science-fiction/fantasy adventure, The Only City Left. This is the story of Allin Arcady and his adventures through a dying, planet-sized city called Earth. (Click here for the Table of Contents.)

At the end of Part 59, Allin couldn’t sit idly by while the merskers were being rounded up by slavers, so he made a deal with Matthias. If he could find Matthias’ coil, Matthias would stop the slavers. With the help of a mersker, he found the coil and brought it back to Matthias.

The Only City Left: Part 60

Matthias wasted no time once I returned the coil. He slipped the necklace on, pressed the proper buttons, and whispered his passphrase. Just in time, too, because the slavers had finally noticed my constant comings and goings and were heading our way.

The nearest one wore a helmet in the shape of a dragon’s head, perhaps in compensation for his mouse-squeak of a voice. He said, “What’s this, then? The merskers got some human pets?”

Matthias, fully transformed, leaped out of the bin, sending mersker food flying in all directions. A loose tentacle flew forward and slapped Dragon-head in the face. He was so busy wiping the slime off from that, he didn’t even notice that Matthias had sliced him open from neck to groin until the werewolf had already moved past.

“What’s this then?” he repeated softly, and collapsed first to his knees and then face down.

Matthias stared at the remaining slavers and said, “Slave-takers! Doyle Arcady has dealings with these creatures. If you enslave them all, he will be displeased.”

“Hell with you!” said a slaver in response.

He shot at him three times, but Matthias grabbed another slaver and used him as a shield before tossing his limp body to one side. The slaver managed to land one dart successfully before Matthias tackled him and exacted his bloody revenge. If the tranquilizer slowed him down at all, I couldn’t tell.

It was clear that the slavers hadn’t expected any resistance. After another one took a shot at Matthias and met the same grisly end, the fight went out of the rest of them and they lowered their weapons.

Matthias, blood dripping from teeth and claws, said, “Doyle Arcady’s reach is infinite. Never seek to deny his will. Now take the merskers you’ve already tranked and get out of here, you scum.”

The slavers exchanged glances, their thoughts evident: Is this some kind of trick?

“Go!” Matthias roared.

He didn’t have to tell them again. They sprang into action, dragging limp merskers away toward their trucks.

I ran up to Matthias and grabbed his arm.

“What are you doing? This isn’t the deal!”

He knocked my hand away with a shrug of his shoulder. “You’re lucky I’m saving any of them. Trust no one, remember?”

“Oh, I remember all right.”

I reached into my pocket and pulled out the tiny device I had stashed there earlier. With a brief prayer that it still worked, I jammed it into Matthias’ side. Electricity flooded into him with a sizzling crackle and I could smell burnt hair. After only a couple of seconds, the battery was drained and the one-time device was useless, so I dropped it. Matthias fell, too, crashing to his knees as he fought to control his paralyzed body. I couldn’t count on that lasting for long, so I did the quickest thing I could think of to neutralize the threat. I reached out and switched his coil to sunlight mode.

As he contracted to his regular human proportions, I slipped his necklace off and tossed it away. There, now I stand a chance.

“I don’t need to be a wolf to kill you, boy,” Matthias said, staggering to his feet. The effects of the shock had worn off even sooner than I would have imagined. “I don’t care why Doyle wants you. You’re mine now.”

I backed away and waited for him to come to me. Tumble would have approved. Behind him, I could see the merskers working to break free of their chains, aided by my friend. I hoped they could free themselves and help their brethren, but I couldn’t spare them any more attention.

Matthias lunged at me, the same straightforward fighting style he used as a werewolf. Without the extra size and razor-sharp teeth and claws, it lacked the same effect. I threw myself to the side and landed hard on my right shoulder, but rolled with the fall and was on my feet again shortly. Matthias twisted around to face me, his head down and back hunched, looking savage and primal even as a human.

“Face it, Matthias. Without your coil, you’re nothing.” I had to make him angry, get him rattled. I knew that even with his injured leg, he had strength and experience I did not.

He responded with a roar rather than sensible speech. This time, when he ran at me, I didn’t dodge. Instead, I threw myself at him, tackling him at the knees. Tumble would have shaken his head.

Matthias plowed through me and knocked me aside, but I must have hurt his bad leg, because he fell to the floor and yelled out. He reached for his leg and then pulled his hand back as if afraid to touch it.

With Matthias down, I spared a glance at the merskers. They had freed themselves and were going after the slavers. Some of them had destroyed the floodlights that had hindered their ability to fight back. Score one for the little guys.

I had to decide what to do with Matthias. I got up and walked over to where he lay, looking down on him by the light of the ghosts. His mouth was set in a grimace and he groaned in pain.

“Now what?” I asked him. “Do we keep going until one of us kills the other? Is that how you want to do it?”

Matthias’ grimace transformed into a grin, and his whimpers of pain disappeared.

“Yes. That’s generally how it’s done.”

He swept his legs to one side and took my feet out from under me. I hit the floor hard and the impact knocked the breath from my lungs. He jumped nimbly to his feet and reached down to grab me by my hair. The shock and pain of that did nothing to help me catch my breath, and dark spots filled my vision as I gasped for air. He pulled me to my knees and leaned down to speak directly into my ear.

“You should know, we heal a little each time we transform, so my leg’s all better now. I went to a lot of trouble to protect you, but I’ve reached my limit.”

He shook me by my hair and it felt like my scalp would tear off my skull. I cried out in pain and he continued.

“When I see Doyle again, I’ll share with him the sad tale of how you perished in the bowels of the city at the hands of the merskers, and how I killed them all in return. I’m sure he’ll get over the loss somehow.”

I found my breath and said, “I liked you better when you didn’t talk so much!”

With all my strength, I elbowed him in his freshly-healed leg. The snap of his bone breaking again was the most satisfying sound I had heard in ages. He let me go and collapsed to the floor, his screams of pain genuine this time. I got to my hands and knees and saw one of the mersker’s spears on the ground next to me. I grabbed it, used the blunt end to help me to my feet and then reversed my grip on it and stood next to where Matthias writhed on the ground.

“I’ve had enough of you, too, Matthias.”

His eyes widened as I lifted the spear above my head. He squeezed them shut as I thrust it down at him.

And buried the point in the ground beside his head.

He opened his eyes and looked at the spear, mere inches away.

“So much for my killer instinct.”

I pulled the spear out of the ground and walked away. In his state, he wasn’t a threat any longer. The slavers, on the other hand…. It seemed they weren’t a threat any longer, either. The freed merskers had managed to overwhelm the remaining slavers and had bound them in their own chains. One of the merskers broke off from his comrades and headed my way. I saw four parallel claw marks on his chest, so I pointed to Matthias and said, “He’s the one you want.”

The mersker ignored my foreign words and raised his spear. I brought mine up in return and thought, I won’t let them take me this time.

Instead of attacking, the mersker pointed his spear at me and then swept it around to point out of the village, past the ghosts. He jabbed the spear for emphasis.

“I get it, I get it. You don’t have to tell me twice.”

It wasn’t exactly gratitude, but given the way the merskers were licking their lips while eyeing the captured slavers, I was glad to accept the free pass.

I dropped the spear, disgusted by what it represented. It had been a split-second decision to bury it in the ground rather than in Matthias’ skull, and I wasn’t sure which choice I would make if I had to do it again. I felt the darkness of the city creeping into my soul.

My mood lightened a bit when, before I reached the edge of the village, my mersker friend caught up to me. He had my bag in one hand and Matthias’ coil in the other. In my haste to leave, I hadn’t even thought of retrieving them, but he had remembered.

We couldn’t understand each other’s language and my throat was too tight to speak, so I accepted the gifts without words, head bowed and eyes closed. When I opened them, the mersker was scurrying back to his people.

I turned once more to leave, only to find myself face to face with a ghost.

“Allin Arcady, we must talk.”

* * *

Continue to Part 61.

4/7/13 News: Another busy week, but I fought and clawed my way forward on the Book Two first draft, determined to catch back up to my goal sooner rather than later. If I can keep up this pace, it will still be a couple of weeks before I’m back on track, and then there’s only two or three weeks before the first draft should be done, but I’d rather not be so far behind until the very last day.

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Okay, I’m writing. That’s good. What else? I’m also getting notes back on The Only City Left from my editor. Perhaps the word “notes” does not encompass the amount of suggestions, questions, and polite ridicule that is included in each chapter’s editorial response. Some of these “notes” equal or outweigh the amount of original text. And I’m loving it. Even though I worked hard to improve TOCL when I created a full-length novel from the serial version, there was still a lot that needed to be done to make the book more engaging. My editor is pointing those areas out to me and, when needed, whacking me upside the head with them. Once I am done drafting Book Two, I’ll be working on the edit/re-write of Book One. I am really really really looking forward to it.

Finally, I have a cover for Book One! So without further ado, here it is!

onlycityleft-small

I feel that I am finally making some good progress on getting this book produced, but at the same time, I’m not rushing it just to have it out there. My goal is to have it done at least before the serialized version ends (in about 7 more months) and hopefully well before that. We shall see.

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

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

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.

The Only City Left: Part 59

Welcome to my serial science-fiction/fantasy adventure, The Only City Left. This is the story of Allin Arcady and his adventures through a dying, planet-sized city called Earth. (Click here for the Table of Contents.)

At the end of Part 58, Allin and Matthias’ plan to escape the merskers was put on hold due to the arrival of a bigger threat: slavers.

The Only City Left: Part 59

“That’s your big plan? ‘We wait’?” I whispered to Matthias while watching the oddly-armored invaders begin to round up the merskers.

Each of the invading humans had a unique set of armor that was as much a work of found art as anything in the mersker’s village. They were clearly no strangers to life in this trash-filled under-city, but their cars and lights showed that they lived at a much higher level of civilization than the merskers did.

“Yes. We wait,” Matthias whispered back. “Hopefully they take what they want and leave without finding us.”

“And what if they do find us?”

“The Garden has dealings with the merskers and the slavers. I’ll invoke Doyle’s name. They’ll respect that.”

“Fat chance of that working without you being able to turn into a wolf.”

“Then why don’t you be quiet and pray they don’t find us?”

I took the first part of his advice, at least, but what ran through my head were questions, not prayers. Out in the center of the village, the slavers were lining up the merskers and putting them in chains. The ones who were already knocked out were piled together like sacks of flour. For all that the slavers had cars and weapons and art, they had no civility, no empathy toward their fellow residents of Earth. It sickened me to see them mistreat the merskers and laugh about it all the while.

Meanwhile, the silent army of ghosts remained in place, doing nothing. The slavers gave the ghosts a wide berth but otherwise ignored them. And what was I doing? Hiding in a disgusting stew of rotting carcasses, a potpourri of putrescence that included Guppy. He was just a kid, really, like me. We both made choices, good and bad, that led us to this bin. The difference was, Guppy had no more choices to make and I still did.

I could stay in hiding and wait for the slavers to leave. That might be the smart thing to do, the safe thing. Matthias would approve and, disturbingly enough, Dad probably would, too. After all, it fit perfectly with his “Always stay alive” maxim. But outside my safe, stink-filled hiding place, merskers were wailing. The invaders dealt harshly with the few who still struggled against their fate, forgoing the trank guns in favor of beating their recalcitrant captives into submission.

I owed the merskers nothing really. Some device of theirs had plucked me from a certain death, as it had for Matthias, but Guppy had not been so lucky. It was chance that saved me, not the merskers. Who knew what they had been planning to do to me if the slavers hadn’t shown up. I certainly hadn’t been free to leave. It would serve them right to get taken away and held captive in return, and it would free me to continue making my way to the roof of the world as best I could, once I ditched Matthias.

I looked over at him and saw that he had his eyes closed. The attack on the village was of such little concern to him that he could use this time to rest. I guess I shouldn’t have expected anything else. After all, as one of Doyle’s werewolves, he had probably participated in a scene like this hundreds of times. I felt disgusted. Not with Matthias. With myself.

If I did nothing, that would mean one more pocket of life, of light, would be snuffed out in the city. More lights would follow until the Earth became darker and darker and was snuffed out entirely. We might be the last remnants of humanity, but instead of helping one another out, we were killing each other off in a race to extinction.

In the end, Dad’s motto wasn’t enough. What good would it be for me to stay alive if the rest of the world died. I had to do more than survive and go sightseeing on the city’s roof. I had to follow Mom’s advice, not Dad’s. With darkness engulfing the world, I had to be a light in the dark.

I nudged Matthias and his eyes snapped open.

“If I can get you your coil, will you help the merskers?

He raised an eyebrow. “You have a plan?”

“I think so.”

“Fine, you bring me the coil and I’ll grind those slavers into dust. Not for the merskers. For me.”

I grimaced and pulled myself out of the muck. Matthias could justify his actions however he liked, so long as he helped. The slavers were loading the unconscious merskers into their trucks. I didn’t have much time.

I made the now-familiar trip back to the electronics bin, leaned over the back wall, and said, “Hey, guy, get your butt out here. I need your help.”

I didn’t get a response, so I pounded on the top of the junk pile a few times and said, “Come on! We don’t have much time!”

Maybe he recognized my voice, or figured out that a slaver wouldn’t bother to ask him to come out of hiding. Either way, the mersker poked his head out and eyed me warily.

I pointed to the center of the village, showing him that the slavers were finishing up loading his tranked kinfolk. The ones who were awake and chained together in lines would be next. The mersker made a tiny moan and turned back to me. His lips trembled and his eyes glistened with moisture.

I pointed first at myself and then to the other merskers. “I can help you, but I need the coil you guys took.” Gestures for necklace and blinding light. “Can you get it for me?”

The mersker blinked twice, looked at his friends again, and then crawled back into his hole.

Dirt! He’s not getting it. Or he’s too afraid to help. Now what? I could take out one of the slavers if I could get close enough, but then I’d be the next one in chains and loaded into a truck. I needed the coil so that Matthias could wolf out, or the merskers wouldn’t stand a chance.

I pounded on the trash again, in frustration this time, when out popped my mersker friend. He held the coil up to me with a questioning look on his face, as if he was asking, “Is this what you wanted?”

I smiled and took the coil from him

“Buddy, you just saved your village.”

* * *

Continue to Part 60.

3/31/13 News:

It’s been a busy week for me personally and also for The Only City Left. I have an editor for Book One now and a second cover artist after the first had to bow out due to other commitments. I am also doing my best to catch up to my arbitrary word count goal for Book Two. Here are my stats for those who are interested in that sort of thing. For the next book, I will start my writing week on Monday, not Saturday, so I don’t start every week in the hole! (Sure, it’s all relative, but this is the kind of stuff that drives me crazy.)

5thWk5

For a quick way to show support (one click; you don’t need to sign in), please vote for The Only City Left at topwebfiction.com.

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

If you have a little more time and don’t mind registering first, I would appreciate any ratings/reviews/recommends on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction.

You can also share The Only City Left by clicking on any of those handy social media buttons at the bottom of the page.

All these methods help to bring in new readers, which is great for moral support. Thank you for reading!

#

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 58

Welcome to my serial science-fiction/fantasy adventure, The Only City Left. This is the story of Allin Arcady and his adventures through a dying, planet-sized city called Earth. (Click here for the Table of Contents.)

At the end of Part 57, Allin was trying to exit the mersker village so that he could sneak around it and search for Matthias’ coil. The merskers, however, wouldn’t let him leave. Allin hit upon a plan involving the mersker’s weakness: light.

The Only City Left: Part 58

I once again casually strolled over to the edge of the village, but this time the suspicious merskers were on to me sooner. That was okay, though, because this time I headed to a different edge, the one where all the ghosts stood watching and waiting. I broke into a sprint and my pursuers did likewise, but I reached the ghosts first. Ignoring their stares—stare all you want, guys, but stay put, all right?—I looked back to see the approaching merskers already squinting against the concentrated ghost light. I smiled and plunged into the mass of ghosts.

The cold wiped the smile right off my face. Running through this many ghosts felt like swimming through a frigid pool. I looked back and saw the merskers stop and shield their eyes before giving up the chase. My plan had worked, but by the time I reached the far side of the ghostly crowd, I felt as if all my body heat had been sucked right out of me. I shook violently from the cold, and if that wasn’t enough to make my knees knock together, I noticed that the ghosts had turned as one to face me. This kind of attention I did not need.

I hugged myself, rubbed my arms for warmth, and waved a shaky goodbye to the ghosts.

“Thanks for the help. Be seeing you,” I said, teeth chattering. If I had expected any of the ghosts to crack a smile, I would have been disappointed.

Free from interference, I skulked around the outside of the village. Though the area was hilly with mounds of junk, the ambient ghost light allowed me to navigate. I topped a final hill and reached the back end of the bin I wanted, only to find that my mersker friend was back to work inside it, picking over and examining this and that broken device. He had his back to me but could turn and raise the alarm at any moment.

What now? I wondered. Wait for him to go away? That could take time I don’t have. I’m hungry. I’m cold. I’m tired of being pushed around. I’m tired of waiting.

I looked around at the trash around me until I saw a metal bar about two feet long. Carefully, I reached over and picked it up. It had a good heft to it but wasn’t too heavy to swing: a nice, makeshift club.

That’s when I realized: I was seriously considering braining the mersker in the bin because he stood between me and a chance at freedom. I didn’t owe the merskers anything, to be sure. They were holding me against my will, or had been until I scampered off, and they still had my bag and Matthias’ coil. But could I strike one of them down in cold blood to get what I wanted?

I gripped the metal bar tighter, scooted forward a little, oh so quietly, and reached the edge of the bin. I gripped it with my free hand and lifted one leg and then the other over the edge. Now I was sitting on the rear wall and the mersker stood within my reach.

I had to decide now, before he moved away or heard me: Do what needs to be done or stay my hand and remain a prisoner?

Before I could make up my mind, I heard a gunshot in the distance, followed by the sounds of engines revving. The mersker stopped what he was doing and his head shot up, facing away from me. He listened for a moment as the engine sounds grew louder, and then burrowed into a narrow crack in the pile of electronics and disappeared.

Had I really been about to brain him? Did I have the Arcady killer instinct after all? I didn’t have time to ponder those questions. Bright white floodlights lit up the village, sending the merskers into a panic. The sound of the engines cut off, to be replaced by hoots and hollers and more gunshots. Whatever this commotion was, it dashed my already fragile plan to pieces. I needed to get back to Matthias, to decide what to do next.

I stepped into the bin and crunched my way down the mound of electronics to the low front wall. Wrecked gadgets and broken machinery poured onto the ground around me as I slid out of the bin and landed on my backside. When I stood up I saw my cocoon bag nestled near the front of the bin, uncovered thanks to the mini-avalanche I had caused.

The sight of that old bag did more to warm me up than a raging fire could have. I grabbed it and was about to rush back to Matthias when I thought better of it. I could get caught and have it taken away again, so I stopped first and pulled out two items that I didn’t want to lose. One was my leftover nutri-bulb, which I immediately started to chew on, and the other was the only item I had made in the Skunkworks that could really be considered a weapon. I slipped it into my pants pocket and hoped it would still work in a pinch.

That done, I slipped the bag on again and sneaked around the edge of the village, back toward Matthias. I needn’t have worried about being stopped. The merskers had their hands full defending against the invaders.

I thought they were werewolves at first but realized that it was actually humans in bizarrely-decorated armor. They had pulled up in vehicles mounted with huge lights and directed them at the merskers, effectively paralyzing the light-sensitive creatures. Some merskers fought blind, inadvertently menacing friend and foe alike, but the invaders made a sport of shooting them down, laughing all the while. I thought of the weapon I had pocketed and felt deflated. At best I could take down one of them with it before they got me. Not good.

I managed to stay out of sight by dashing from hut to hut, but when I reached the merskers’ food bin and looked out to where Matthias had been lying in the clearing, he was gone.

Hsst, boy. Don’t stand there like a fool. Hide!”

I looked down at where Matthias’ voice was coming from and saw that he had followed much the same plan as the mersker in the electronics bin. Except Matthias had been closest to the bin full of slimy, rotting fish and animals. Only his head showed above the mass of putrid food-stuff, and if he closed his eyes he could be just another mersker-meal waiting to happen as far as the invaders were concerned.

“Get in here before you draw their notice!”

Reluctantly, I squirmed my way in next to Matthias, but not before setting my bag down outside of the bin. No reason to foul that, too.

“You found your purse, I see. How about the coil?”

“I barely had a chance to look before these guys showed up. Friends of yours?”

“Slavers, most likely, since they’re using trank guns.”

I hadn’t realized that and I wasn’t sure if this made me feel better or worse for the already-downed merskers.

“So what do we do now?”

“We wait.”

* * *

Continue to Part 59.

3/24/13 News:

I moved into a smaller place recently, which took a lot of my time and energy, so for 11 days I did not write at all, and for a few days before that I only wrote a little. Two weeks without writing, so as you can see from my spreadsheet snapshot, I am far behind my goal. But we’re mostly settled into our new place and I am getting back into my routine of writing before everyone else wakes up and also during my kids’ nap-time. It feels good and I am confident I can get back on track with my goals, although it might take a couple of weeks. While I can be hard on myself, I still allow myself to be amazed that I am writing more now, consistently, than any other time in my life.

5thWk4

In other news, I have finally taken a stab at making a banner ad for The Only City Left, like many of the other Top Web Fiction serials have. So if you click the banner below, it will take you to the voting page for The Only City Left (and I’d appreciate the vote if you enjoyed this part of the story). I have no idea how to get the banner up at TWF, but perhaps one of my readers does? *Cough* Fiona? *Cough*

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

Not to be redundant, but for a quick way to show support for my writing (one click; you don’t need to sign in), please vote for The Only City Left at topwebfiction.com.

If you have a little more time and don’t mind registering first, I would appreciate any ratings/reviews/recommends on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction.

You can also share The Only City Left by clicking on any of those handy social media buttons at the bottom of the page.

All these methods help to bring in new readers, which is great for moral support. Thank you for reading!

#

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 57

Welcome to my serial science-fiction/fantasy adventure, The Only City Left. This is the story of Allin Arcady and his adventures through a dying, planet-sized city called Earth. (Click here for the Table of Contents.)

At the end of Part 56, Matthias was ridiculing Allin’s attempts to communicate with the merskers. Matthias claimed to have a better plan.

The Only City Left: Part 57

“The merskers are traders, pure and simple. In exchange for their scavenged items, they get goods from up-city. To them, we’re just more trash to be traded for something better.”

“Traded to who?”

“Whoever needs cheap labor.”

“You mean we’d be slaves?”

“Yes. That is only one possibility, however. It might be that we’re, how shall I say this, unspoiled meat.” He nodded over at the food bin that my mersker friend had dipped into. “You’ll note that Guppy is in there, so we know they don’t exactly discriminate about what, or who, they eat. And that’s where they dropped us off, too.”

The possibility had a disgusting logic to it. “I thought you said they were harmless.”

“I said they won’t kill what they can trade. But maybe they’re not interested in trading us. The point is, we can’t wait around to see what they do. We need to act.”

“So what’s your plan?”

“We don’t stand a chance unless I have my coil, first of all. With it, we have options. So we need to steal it back. Well, since I’m injured, you need to steal it.”

I looked around at the huts made of junk, which were interspersed with bins full of junk, the whole thing built on a layer of compressed junk and surrounded by hills of the stuff. I had no idea where I would start looking for one tiny lantern coil on a necklace in all of that mess. I told Matthias as much.

“I’m sure you’ll figure it out. Now if you’ll excuse me, I tire.” With that, Matthias lay down and closed his eyes.

Nice, give me an impossible task and then take a nap. What was I even doing, looking to Matthias for a plan? I walked away from him toward the center of the village. The ghost-light was less vivid here but I still saw the merskers slitting their great, round eyes against the glow and heard them muttering angrily in passing. I felt their pain; there’s not much you can do about ghosts except put up with them or emp them, and the merskers didn’t look to have that level of tech available.

Merskers. Bottom feeders, Matthias called them. It looked like whatever trash got flushed out of the upper city ended up here. If there was a roof of the world, I was in its basement now. I was so close! So high up! But as usual, something knocked me back down, sent me to this underworld full of indifferent jailers and accusing ghosts, where the only person who would talk to me would also stab me in the back given half a chance. I missed Tumble. I missed feeling warm and dry and full. I missed the times when it was just me alone, barely scraping by but free to explore the damn maze of a city at my leisure.

While I pondered these dismal thoughts, the merskers bustled around setting up stalls and laying out goods. Some monsters, I thought. Merchants, more like it. And if they’re getting ready to sell, traders must be coming soon. I guess time’s running out.

I returned to Matthias and nudged him awake. “I’ll find your coil, but you need to give me the passphrase so I can wolf out.”

“Oh no,” he said, sitting up. “I don’t think so. If you could ‘wolf out’ as you say, what would you need me for?”

“It just makes sense. You’re injured. Look what happened the last time you went up against the merskers.”

Matthias gently patted his leg where the bone had pierced the skin. “I’m feeling better, thanks to you. I’ll be the one to use the coil.”

“It’s hard to work together when we can’t trust each other!”

“Trust no one, boy, and your life will be better, and longer, for it. Now go find that coil before it’s too late!”

I thought to argue about it some more, but couldn’t see the point. We needed each other but couldn’t trust each other. Nothing would change that, so I would just have to do the best I could and watch out for myself.

I wandered away from Matthias again, still struck by the difficulty of the task he had assigned me. I had no idea where the coil had been taken or where to start my search for it. I looked back at Matthias and shrugged my shoulders: where to start? He responded with a shooing gesture. Thanks a lot, I thought, but the gesture called to mind my earlier mimed conversation with the mersker. The bin he was working in had my bag and other electronics in it. There was nothing to say the coil would be there, too—it might be in a bin full of jewelry for all I knew—but it was as good a place to start the search as anywhere else.

The direct approach had already failed, so I would need to try something else. As casually as I could, I walked toward the edge of the village, thinking to skirt around it and come at the bin from behind. My mersker jailers weren’t that indifferent to my comings and goings, though. One of them shouted when he noticed me nearing the edge of the village. Immediately, four of them were herding me back at spear-point.

“Okay guys, I get it,” I said, hands up. “I just needed to evacuate the bladder. I’ll hold it.”

Not that they understood me or my made-up excuse, but they lowered their weapons and walked away anyway, apparently satisfied that I had gotten the gist of their warning. I had understood all right. If I was going to put my plan into action, I couldn’t make it so easy for them to chase after me. I looked around the village for something I could use to create a diversion, when suddenly I saw the light.

The ghost light.

* * *

Continue to Part 58.

3/17/13 News:

I’m still unpacking from our move, and feeling exhausted, so there was no new writing in Book 2 this week. Hopefully I can get back to my routine soon.

For a quick way to show support (one click; you don’t need to sign in), please vote for The Only City Left at topwebfiction.com.

If you have a little more time and don’t mind registering first, I would appreciate any ratings/reviews/recommends on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction. 

You can also share The Only City Left by clicking on any of those handy social media buttons at the bottom of the page.

All these methods help to bring in new readers, which is great for moral support. Thank you for reading!

#

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 56

Welcome to my serial science-fiction/fantasy adventure, The Only City Left. This is the story of Allin Arcady and his adventures through a dying, planet-sized city called Earth. (Click here for the Table of Contents.)

At the end of Part 55, Allin and Matthias are prisoners in the mersker village, and they discover that the first person to fall into the abyss, Guppy, didn’t survive the fall.

The Only City Left: Part 56

I stalked away from Matthias, unwilling to stand there and listen to his nonsense. Guppy’s fall was an accident and it was his bad luck that he hadn’t survived while Matthias and I had. I wasn’t a killer simply because I had defended myself, and I didn’t believe that I had some sort of killer instinct simply because I was related to Doyle.

As I turned these dark thoughts over in my mind, the village around me grew brighter. I looked over and saw that the ghosts had caught up to us, a veritable army of them, too many and too transparent to count. They stopped at the border of the mersker village and stood still, watching, waiting. They seemed to be staring right at me, reading my thoughts. Judging me.

Enough.

I walked over and stood face to face with one of them. He didn’t look angry, or sad, or much of anything at all. His face was neutral, but his eyes followed me as I paced back and forth along the line of ghosts. All their eyes followed me.

“What do you want?” I asked.

No answer except for an abundance of accusing stares.

“Say something. Say anything. Tell me what I did to make you upset. Maybe I can fix it.”

Still no response. They stood and watched and waited for I knew not what. I couldn’t explain why exactly, but this upset me even more than Matthias’ words.

“Fine. Keep your mouths shut for all I care, you freaks.”

I dismissed them with a wave and walked back into the center of the mersker village. I could feel the weight of their collective gaze on my back, but I shrugged it off.

The merskers had emptied their carts in short order and pulled them to one edge of the village. There were maybe a hundred of them, and I watched as they busied themselves with their individual tasks. Although some appeared more masculine or feminine, they were mostly androgynous, clothed in thin rags over their pale, wiry frames. I looked at the large, circular eyes that dominated their faces and I wondered if they were genetically modified like the catfolk or had just adapted to this environment over time. Either way they were a puzzle to me, one I needed to solve if I hoped to get out of their dismal under-realm.

I headed over to the large bin where I had seen my bag deposited earlier. The front of the bin was knee-high, but the sides and back towered above me. Inside, a mersker crawled to and fro over mounds of miscellaneous junk.

“Hey, buddy, you mind if I look for my bag?” I asked.

He stopped, gave me a quick glance, and returned to his work with a mumble of foreign words. Well, it wasn’t a “no.”

I lifted away a huge circuit board of some sort, but the mersker immediately scrambled over and knocked it from my hands. He shook his fist at me and yelled something unintelligible. A shaken fist for anger. It wasn’t exactly communication, but it was a start. Now that I had his attention, I tried to keep the conversation going.

“I’m looking for my bag,” I said, miming the act of putting a backpack on, taking it off, and looking inside of it.

The mersker tilted his head at me and then turned away.

“Wait!”

I grabbed him by the arm and pulled him around, which elicited a low hiss and a baring of those sharpened teeth.

“How about food,” I said. “Can I at least get my food out of my bag?”

Again, I followed up my words with gestures for eating: hand to mouth, patting my belly.

The mersker slipped out of my grip and held onto my arm instead. He jumped down and pulled me along to the bio-mass bin. I saw Guppy inside it and looked away, but the mersker tugged at me to watch him. He let me go, plunged his hand into the bin, and came out with a hunk of torn, scaly flesh. He offered it to me and I took a step back, revulsed. He had no such qualms. He buried his face in it and messily devoured his meal in seconds. And this is where they put Guppy? I thought, horrified.

The mersker offered me the scraps, but I waved him off. No thanks. But he was talking to me now, in a way, so I pressed my advantage.

I pointed at Guppy and said, “He fell down here.” I wiggled my fingers in a line from above my head down toward the ground. “He didn’t make it.” I slapped my palms together, tilted my head, and stuck out my tongue. “I fell down. He fell down.” I pointed at my chest and at where Matthias lay nearby, and repeated the falling act. “We’re okay.” I flexed my arms and inflated my chest, a picture of health.

I had no idea if this was making any sense to the mersker. Maybe I looked foolish, but I didn’t know what else to do. The little guy seemed to get it, though. He pointed at me, mimicked my wiggled-fingers falling gesture with one hand, and dropped that hand into his other palm. Then he then drew both hands close to his body. Next, he pointed at Matthias and repeated the sequence. He pointed at Guppy and started the gestures again, but this time the falling fingers missed his palm, so he mimicked my palm-slapping gesture.

“You guys have some sort of device that grabs the falling garbage?” I asked, pulling my outstretched palm in toward my body.

The mersker repeated the same gesture, nodded, and grabbed some more food scraps before returning to his bin.

“You must be a wonder at parties,” Matthias said.

“At least I’m doing something,” I said, walking back over to him. “If I can figure out how we got here, maybe I can figure out how to get out.”

“Sure. And by that logic, all we need do is this,” Matthias said, putting one hand into the other and then lifting it into the air while wiggling his fingers. “Poof!”

I could feel my face coloring. “And you’ve got a better idea?”

He beckoned me closer and said, “Indeed I do.”

* * *

Continue to Part 57.

3/10/13 News:

I’m writing this on Friday night before I unplug the Internet access for our house as part of packing. Yes, I am moving, and no, I did not write very much this week. Yes, I am exhausted. Thank you for asking. I may not have Internet again right away, so if you leave a comment, know that I will respond to it once the computer is set up again and the Internet is on. I hope you are having a more relaxing time than me!

For a quick way to show support (one click; you don’t need to sign in), please vote for The Only City Left at topwebfiction.com.

If you have a little more time and don’t mind registering first, I would appreciate any ratings/reviews/recommends on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction. 

You can also share The Only City Left by clicking on any of those handy social media buttons at the bottom of the page.

All these methods help to bring in new readers, which is great for moral support. Thank you for reading!

#

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 55

Welcome to my serial science-fiction/fantasy adventure, The Only City Left. This is the story of Allin Arcady and his adventures through a dying, planet-sized city called Earth. (Click here for the Table of Contents.)

At the end of Part 54, Allin and Matthias had been captured by the merskers, the things that live in the dark. While being carted toward an unknown destination, the world began to fill with light: ghost light.

The Only City Left: Part 55

At the sight of our ethereal entourage, Matthias was impressed despite himself. The number of ghosts drawn into our wake had grown into the dozens if not the hundreds.

“Very odd. You say you’ve encountered this before?”

“Kind of. The last ghost I ran into was Doyle himself, so that doesn’t exactly count.”

Matthias nodded at me to go on. He knew all about Doyle’s peculiarities already, I was sure.

“Before him, I ran into some ghosts who were really angry with me, like I had wronged them somehow. But then they also kind of saved me from Doyle.” I neglected to mention how the ghost had held me in place and dampened my coil’s light, for fear I would sound crazy. It was the stuff of horror stories, not real life. “I don’t know what I did to attract their notice, but ever since that run-in, my life has gotten pretty strange.”

Matthias made a hrmph sound that meant either “How interesting” or “You’re boring.” I assumed the latter, because he went back to ignoring me. I returned the favor.

It was disturbing to be followed by ghosts, but I was happy to have their light. The merskers, on the other hand, sounded perturbed and I noticed the carts start to pick up speed. The ghost light dimmed as we pulled away, and I began to feel cold and alone.

I badly needed some human contact. Matthias would have to do.

“Why’s Doyle so crazy to get a hold of me?” I asked.

“I don’t read his diary. All I know is, he wants you taken alive, and what Doyle wants, Doyle gets.”

“He’s not getting me. I know you can’t make any promises, but I’m warning you: don’t try to stop me once we get out of here.”

“If I weren’t already trembling in my boots from cold and shock, I would be after that speech.”

I gave up on talking to him after that bit of sarcasm. I could count on Matthias to do what was best for Matthias; I’d have to work around that obstacle as best I could.

I lay down again and we spent the rest of the trip in silence. When I felt the cart stop, I sat up and looked around. The merskers had parked their carts in a clearing surrounded by a village of squat huts. The pale creatures set to work unloading their haul, moving with an efficiency that made me believe this was not their first time at this. Looking around in the dim light (for the majority of the ghosts had not caught up to us yet), this was easy to believe. The entire village was constructed out of scrap parts, and between the huts there were great bins into which the merskers sorted the goods they brought back. Past the bins and the huts, hills of garbage ringed the village. They were scavengers, like me, but they had settled down.

My sightseeing ended when I noticed a pair of merskers approaching our cart with an intent look on their faces. Despite my protests that I could walk, they yanked on the net and pulled Matthias and me to the ground. Matthias managed to roll onto his good leg but he still let out a roar of pain when he landed. From there, the merskers dragged us in front of a particularly foul-smelling bin full of all sorts of once-living but now-rotting creatures: rats, fish, tentacled sacks of goop, and other carcasses that I couldn’t identify.

I did not want to be dumped into that morass of bio-matter, so I started yelling and doing the best I could to dig in my heels. I needn’t have worried, though, because the merskers worked the net off of us and left us in front of the bin before leaving to unload more carts.

“That’s odd,” I said. “I guess they don’t have a bin for prisoners.”

“Gah, the smell,” Matthias said. “Help me move.”

It was pretty bad, so I reluctantly helped him hobble away from the reek. I half-expected some merskers to run over and force us back to our assigned place, but now that we were in their village, they didn’t seem to care about us. The feeling was mutual until I saw one of the merskers carrying something near and dear to me: my cocoon bag! In all the chaos, I hadn’t given it a thought other than to assume it was forever lost to the abyss. I roughly lowered Matthias to the ground and sprinted toward the mersker holding my bag.

“Hey you, that’s mine!”

A pack of spear-wielding merskers disagreed. I skidded to a halt with a half-dozen sharpened wooden points aimed at my throat, while the mersker with my bag continued on his way to a bin, oblivious to my demands. I held up my hands, palms out, and spoke in a reassuring tone while backing away.

“Okay, okay, not mine. I get it. No need for violence.”

I retreated but noted the location of the bin where my bag ended up. I will get it back, you little trolls, I thought as I returned to Matthias’ side.

“See something of yours?” Matthias asked.

“Yes.”

“Well, I see something of mine,” he said, and pointed.

I looked and saw two merskers carrying a body toward the pile of dead and rotting bio-mass.

“Oh no.”

It was unmistakably Guppy, his head skewed to a fatal angle. The merskers dumped him unceremoniously on the pile and walked away.

“You do nice work,” Matthias said.

“I didn’t mean to hurt him. I just wanted him to let me go.”

“Don’t be ashamed of your killer instinct, boy. You’re an Arcady. It’s in your blood.”

“I’m not a killer, and neither was Dad,” I said heatedly. But I had my doubts about that, given what Banshee had told me and what I had seen in Glin’s Rising. “I’m sorry about Guppy. I wish he had just left me alone.”

“Don’t be sorry. Everyone looks out for themselves in this world. No one will leave you alone,” Matthias said, his voice serious. “You have to be a killer to survive. And you, Allin Arcady, are a survivor. I can tell.”

* * *

Continue to Part 56.

3/3/13 Notes:

I had been putting off starting to write Book 2, so last week while I was waiting for the oil to be changed in my car, I used the time stuck at the dealership to just do it already. It was a slow start but it worked. I am off and running, although as you can see from my tracking sheet below, it is in fits and starts because 1) I ended up starting it at a time when I am going to be extremely busy for at least 3 weeks, and 2) after an initial writing sprint, I hit a wall. First, my stats, if you’re interested in that sort of thing.

5thWk1

Yes, I like to keep track of my writing day-by-day, to make sure I’m not falling too far behind my goals. Which I am this week and probably for the next few weeks, but at least it gives me something to work toward. What I needed to remind myself after the 27th and 28th is that I am doing this for fun! I let myself be overwhelmed by the imagined importance of the work and that paralyzed me. Let me tell you, Chapter Two as it stands now is pretty awful. But it exists to be edited and I can now move on to Chapter Three secure in the knowledge that Two can be fixed or entirely rewritten later. Having something, anything, to edit is more important than worrying about getting it right the first time, especially if that worry keeps you from writing anything.

For a quick way to show support (one click; you don’t need to sign in), please vote for The Only City Left at topwebfiction.com.

If you have a little more time and don’t mind registering first, I would appreciate any ratings/reviews/recommends on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction.

You can also share The Only City Left by clicking on any of those handy social media buttons at the bottom of the page.

All these methods help to bring in new readers, which is great for moral support. Thank you for reading!

#

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 54

Welcome to my serial science-fiction/fantasy adventure, The Only City Left. This is the story of Allin Arcady and his adventures through a dying, planet-sized city called Earth. (Click here for the Table of Contents.)

At the end of Part 53, Allin had agreed to help the injured werewolf, Matthias, in exchange for help in escaping the dark underworld of the City. While searching for something for Matthias to use as a crutch, Allin instead found one of the things that live in the dark.

The Only City Left: Part 54

The creature was shorter than I had imagined, and its teeth, while sharp and misshapen, were not foot-long daggers. The scariest thing about it was the wooden spear it brandished at me. That and the fact that it had brought friends. A lot of friends.

The closest one stabbed its spear at me and I stumbled backwards, falling onto my backside next to Matthias.

“What now?” Matthias asked, but he didn’t need me to explain, for the creatures had stealthily ringed us in. A circle of spears convinced me to sit still.

“Not what I meant when I asked for a cane,” Matthias said. I could hardly believe he was joking at a time like this.

One of the creatures stepped forward and poked at him, barking orders in some incomprehensible language. It held one arm in front of its face, squinting and half looking away while it spoke. When Matthias didn’t react except to bat the spear away, the creature yelled some more. Its companions pointed their weapons at Matthias’ throat while the leader moved in closer, wincing as he approached.

“I think they want you to turn off the light,” I said.

“Not a chance.”

Matthias swiped his claws and the leader yiped and staggered back. I saw four parallel claw marks etched into its pale skin, and dark red blood began to flow from the wounds.

“Matthias!”

My admonition came too late. The leader clutched at his chest and yelled out in a high-pitched voice. From out of the darkness, a thick-roped net descended over Matthias and me. I guess I was guilty by association. Matthias kicked and clawed at the net, but the creatures reversed their spears and beat him about the head with the blunt ends. The blows hit me, too, so I curled up into a fetal position and protected my head and neck as best I could.

They must have wrested his coil away, because even with my eyes squeezed shut, I could tell when its light was extinguished. There followed the most throat-wrenching scream I had ever heard as Matthias transformed back into his human form. His scream continued until it became a rasp that sounded like metal scraping on stone. Finally, it trailed off and I could hear the jabberings of the creatures again.

“Matthias? Matthias?” No answer. Either he couldn’t speak or more likely he had fallen unconscious. I tried instead to plead with my captors. “Hello? Hello? We didn’t mean any harm. It was a mistake. Please let me go.”

The creatures continued talking, but I didn’t think they were responding to me, and even if they had been, I couldn’t understand them. Now that the light was off, though, the beating had stopped. I opened my eyes, hoping that there would be some kind of light left over after the coil had been switched off. Nothing. A return to the void.

Suddenly the net around me pulled taut and I was dragged along with it over the rough ground. It was horrible. I had no control, couldn’t avoid hitting anything, and I never knew when the next impact would arrive. When they stopped dragging us, I felt battered and bruised and all I wished for was to be as unconscious as Matthias.

Time passed as it does in the dark, like a drop of water which is poised to fall but never does. I nursed my aches, checked that Matthias was still alive, and waited.

Finally, the creatures pulled on the net again and we were lifted up and deposited on some hard surface. A moment later, I felt the sensation of rolling forward. A cart, I presumed. Where to now?

That question was still unanswered by the time Matthias groaned awake and I filled him in on what had happened.

“I’m surprised they didn’t just kill us,” I said.

Matthias chuckled wearily. “The merskers? They’re bottom feeders, scavengers. They won’t kill what they can trade away. If I wasn’t injured, they’d not have stood a chance.”

Merskers? Didn’t sound quite as ominous as the things that live in the dark. I guess I should have been happy that this was one legend that hadn’t lived up to its reputation, but it didn’t change the fact that they were still nasty little creatures who had me at their mercy. And for all his bravado, Matthias was just as helpless, stuck in his human form and injured still. Things were not looking good.

After a while, I realized that we were approaching a light source and I wondered if Matthias’ coil had been turned back on. But this light was weaker and tinged with blue. It allowed me to dimly see the cart I was riding in, the now-human Matthias sitting beside me under the net, and the other junk that had been collected along with us.

“I thought the things, the merskers, don’t like the light.”

Matthias looked around, frowned, and closed his eyes.

“Ghost light. Hardly counts.”

“There are ghosts down here?” I asked, pulling on the net so that I could sit up and look over the side of the cart.

Sure enough, dotting the garbage-strewn landscape were a number of spectral figures.

“All of the city’s garbage falls down here eventually, including the ghosts.”

Our cart was only one in a long train, each one drawn by a pair of merskers. The little creatures were definitely stronger than they looked. As the merskers pulled us along, the ghosts watched us, turning to follow our passage.

“I don’t like the way they’re staring,” I said in a low voice.

“You’re scared? Don’t be. Ignore them and they’ll ignore you.”

The ghosts we passed began to glide after us on either side of the cart. More and more of them gathered in our wake, brightening the surrounding area considerably.

“Yeah, about that,” I said, drawing out my words. “That hasn’t so much been my experience lately.”

* * *

Continue to Part 55.

2/24/13 News:

Okay, parts 54-60 are scheduled in WordPress, so I’m good through the beginning of April. And as a reminder, the book is finished (90 parts total), so you will get to read the complete story, one way or another. I just need to load all the pieces into WordPress, which takes time, so I only schedule a few posts at a time.

For a quick way to show support (one click; you don’t need to sign in), please vote for The Only City Left at topwebfiction.com.

If you have a little more time and don’t mind registering first, I would appreciate any ratings/reviews/recommends on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction. 

You can also share The Only City Left by clicking on any of those handy social media buttons at the bottom of the page.

All these methods help to bring in new readers, which is great for moral support. Thank you for reading!

#

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 53

Welcome to my serial science-fiction/fantasy adventure, The Only City Left. This is the story of Allin Arcady and his adventures through a dying, planet-sized city called Earth. (Click here for the Table of Contents.)

At the end of Part 52, Allin followed a light in the dark to its source: Matthias. As he attempted to lift Matthias’ coil off of the werewolf’s lifeless chest, Matthias shot a hand out and said, “I think not.”

The Only City Left: Part 53

I locked eyes with Matthias. I didn’t let go of his necklace and he didn’t let go of my wrist.

“So you survived, too, huh?”

“Let go or I’ll bite your hand off.”

I held on for another few seconds out of sheer stubbornness, then gave up and sat down a few feet away. It wasn’t worth fighting over. He could have the damnable coil; I was happy just to be able to see again.

“It wouldn’t have turned you into a werewolf,” Matthias said, letting his head fall back to the ground. He struggled to speak, letting small whines escape between his words. “Without my passphrase, it won’t work for you.”

Copper was right! And I felt certain I was right about Dad’s passphrase, too, much good it did me now.

“I know that,” I said, not mentioning that I had only figured it out in the past hour. “I don’t want to be a werewolf. But sunlight would be awfully nice down here, and you didn’t look like you needed it anymore.”

Matthias lifted his head to inspect his leg.

“Well I do. If I were to transform while in this state,” he said, indicating the bone protruding from his leg. “It would tear my leg in two.”

He’d get no sympathy from me. I had more important concerns.

“Did you see what happened to Tumble?”

“You’re worried about the cat?” he asked, his voice a mix of disbelief and disdain. “I’ll tell you what I know, if you help me.”

“How?”

“I need you to set the bone.”

“Why should I help you?” I asked.

“Because you’re far from anywhere you know, and if you’re interested in staying alive and finding a way out, you’ll need my help.”

I considered refusing. The reasons to not help him were varied and compelling. But I was tired, cold, wet, hungry, and lost. He couldn’t make my existence any worse than it already was, and he might be able to help me out of this dismal garbage heap.

“Do you promise to let me go my own way once we’re out of here?”

“Would you believe me if I did?”

“No.”

“And well you shouldn’t, but I promise it anyway.”

I would get no better offer. I knelt beside him and said, “I’m no doctor.”

“Just do it.”

“Give me some light.”

Matthias lifted the coil off of his chest as far as his necklace would allow and held it there, his hand shaking. When I saw the open wound I turned my head away and clamped a hand over my mouth.

You can do this, you can do this, I told myself over and over. I steeled myself for the task, breathing quickly through my nose. Slowly, carefully, I placed one hand above the tear in his thigh and grabbed his ankle with the other.

“Do it already,” Matthias said with a snarl.

Fine. I pulled his ankle and lifted it up, while holding pressure on his thigh. The bone slid back into his leg with a gut-twisting squorch, and while Matthias howled and screamed enough to wake the dead, I turned and retched up whatever was in my stomach. When I finished, Matthias had quieted down, having passed out. His chest rose and fell in huge, bellows-like gusts and he twitched and grasped at invisible foes in his sleep, his claws raking the ground around him.

I considered trying to steal the coil again, but decided it was pointless. We would work together for now, but once an exit was in sight I would need to find a way to slip his grasp before I ended up his captive once more.

After maybe half an hour of fitful sleep, Matthias came to with a gasp. His first words surprised me.

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Now start returning the favor. What happened to Tumble?”

Matthias sighed. “Last I saw him he was screaming your name over and over, so loud I could hear him above the waterfalls. He was still free from the clinkers when I chose to follow you into the abyss rather than be torn apart. By the way, how did you know you’d survive?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” I said, thinking of the jammed gun. It was too embarrassing to mention.

“Suit yourself. I for one am glad it worked,” he said, shifting in place and then groaning. “Mostly.”

“Yeah, so now what? When are you going to be able to move again?”

“Find me something I can use as a cane and I can go now.”

I doubted that, but having nothing better to do I stood up and looked around. My mood was dark despite the moonlight provided by Matthias’ coil. Here I was, deep in the bowels of the Earth, grubbing through piles of garbage on an errand for a werewolf. If there were a polar opposite to what I wanted out of life, this would be it. I kicked through piles of garbage until I saw a length of metal on top of one mound. It might work. I clambered up the trash pile, reached out my hand to grab the bar, and froze. A pale, humanoid creature with huge, round eyes stared back at me from the other side of the mound. It bared its teeth to reveal twin rows of jagged spikes.

My heart hammered in my chest. It was one of the things that live in the dark.

* * *

Continue to Part 54.

2/17/13 News:

Part 53 is most of a day late to post. That will teach me to forget to schedule the page before going away for the weekend! Well, I’m exhausted from a first hotel stay with toddlers, so I’ll keep this brief. Progress continues on the cover for Book 1 of The Only City Left, and outlining continues for Book 2. See you next week!

For a quick way to show support (one click; you don’t need to sign in), please vote for The Only City Left at topwebfiction.com.

If you have a little more time and don’t mind registering first, I would appreciate any ratings/reviews/recommends on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction. 

You can also share The Only City Left by clicking on any of those handy social media buttons at the bottom of the page.

All these methods help to bring in new readers, which is great for moral support. Thank you for reading!

#

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.