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 1-24 and then start from Part 25. You can reach an individual part of the story by browsing the Table of Contents.
At the end of Part 25, Allin and Tumble were working on gadgets down in the Skunkworks.
The Only City Left: Part 26
After a full day down in the Skunkworks, we returned to Pudlington Above. Tumble dropped me off outside of Tyena’s window with a promise to have dinner sent to us. I thanked him and stepped inside.
Unlike the small but luxurious room I had been given, Tyena’s place turned out to be a wide-open loft. I made my way through a maze of easels, tables, couches, stacks of canvases, and shelves full of books and supplies until I found Tyena at a canvas that stood taller than she did. She had a brush in each hand and a semi-circle of paint cans around her feet.
I watched as she wielded her brushes like weapons, alternately dipping them into the paint and then attacking the canvas, mixing the colors together furiously. Under her assault, the canvas revealed a raw pustule of a creature from some chaotic realm, its array of arms ending in claws, tentacles, furred snouts and other strangenesses. Its eyes were rheumy but intense, staring at me over Tyena’s shoulder.
I guess I don’t need to ask how she’s feeling, I thought, and then said aloud, “Am I interrupting?”
She did a little full-body jerk and turned to me.
“Allin, I was beginning to worry you were going to stay hidden away all day.
“Sorry about that. I kind of lost track of time.”
She smiled and turned back to her painting.
“Me too, actually. What do you think?”
I walked up next to her and examined the hellspawn more closely. It gave me the chills and I told her so.
“Good,” she grinned, and set her brushes down. “Want to see more?”
I agreed and Tyena took me on a tour of her studio, which turned out to be the entire floor, more of a museum than a workspace.
“Well, I’ve been here for years,” she explained as I gawked at her prolific works. “I had to keep busy somehow. There’s loads more, anyway. I only moved onto this floor a few months ago. I’ve three other floors full besides this one!”
Not all of her paintings were dark and disturbing. In fact, many a cat had come to her for a portrait during her residence in Pudlington, and while she had given most away to the subjects, she had kept some “rejects” for herself, including one of Emperor Banshee.
She showed me where she hadn’t done justice to the scars on his cheek.
“It looks fine to me,” I said, and added, “What do you think of him?”
“I haven’t talked to him much, but he is the one who allowed me to stay in Pudlington, so he’s a good guy in my book,” she said. “The cats I talk to seem to think he’s a good leader, and fair. Why? What do you think?”
I shrugged. “He seems … earnest, if that makes sense. I don’t doubt his motives, but I think he wouldn’t hesitate to sacrifice some pawns to achieve his goals.”
“And you’re worried you’re a pawn?”
“I know I am. That’s what worries me.”
While we were talking, a pair of cats announced their presence. They were sent by Tumble and carried baskets full of fresh goodies for dinner. Once we assured them we wouldn’t need anything else for the evening, they left us alone.
We set up and ate dinner on a large rug between three couches. While we ate we talked about all sorts of things: our lives since we had seen each other last, close calls I had had out in the city, projects Tyena was working on, my visit to the Skunkworks. It was the most far-ranging conversation I had had since my parents died, and it went on long after the remains of our meal had grown cold on their plates.
Inevitably, the topic turned back to Banshee’s plan for me to invade the Garden. Tyena and I were snuggled up together on a couch, her back to me, and I had my arms around her. “What I said about Banshee earlier, I meant it,” Tyena explained. “I think you can trust him. If he believes you can get into the Garden, complete your mission, and get out safely, maybe you can.”
“Maybe,” I replied. “But I don’t share his confidence.”
With Copper unable to crack the mystery of the moonlight mode, the only option left was for me to walk straight into the Garden and hope Banshee was right in his assumption that the wolves still wanted me alive.
Doyle had sure seemed to be doing his level best to catch and kill me the other day, so I wasn’t too keen on putting Banshee’s assumption to the test.
“Is there any chance you’ll do it?”
That appeared to be the question of the day, first Tumble and now Tyena. It was wearing on me, but I knew that for Tyena it was wrapped up in her hopes that her family might yet be alive somewhere beyond the Garden’s walls. I had rejected Banshee’s offer the night before, but did Tyena’s presence—and her need—change my answer?
I know what Dad would have said. No way, Allin, it’s not worth the risk. And he was right. Look what happened to him and Mom when they tried to save Tyena. But they had saved her, and now she was here with me again. Mom would have said that was a sign. Maybe we died so that you could be here now, Allin, for her. Great, some help my parents were; they couldn’t even agree in my imagination.
What it came down to was that part of me wanted to say yes to please her and part of me wanted to say no because that was the smart play, the safe play.
Finally, because I needed to say something, I told her, “I’ll think about it.”
This seemed to be enough, because she pulled my arms tighter around her and squeezed herself against me.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
Hours after she fell asleep that way, I still lay awake, the same arguments running endless circles through my mind without getting anywhere new.
* * *
8/12/12 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!
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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.