Archive for June, 2012

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

If you are new to The Only City Left and want a quick catch-up, you can read a synopsis of Parts 1-17 and then jump into the story at Part 18. You can reach an individual part by browsing the Table of Contents.

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

The Only City Left: Part 19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Banshee nodded and continued his climb.

“And yet you do not doubt their existence.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So Dad tried to put a stop to him?”

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

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

“How long is ‘quite some time’?”

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

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

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

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

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

“He killed his brother to save my mom?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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.

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

If you are new to The Only City Left and want a quick catch-up, you can read a synopsis of Parts 1-17. You can reach an individual part by browsing the Table of Contents.

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

The Only City Left: Part 18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s not your fault.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

6/17/12 News: First off, how about that spiffy new logo for The Only City Left? It is courtesy of Jande Rowe of the webcomic Aedre’s Firefly. If you haven’t already read AF, I encourage you to go check it out. Not only does Jande produce the comic, she reviews other long-form webcomics, gives tips and instructions on creating a comic, and is endlessly supportive of other creators. For a great review that will bring you up to speed on Aedre’s Firefly, check out this page at Webcomic Alliance.

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

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

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

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

The Only City Left is my serialized, science-fiction/fantasy action-adventure tale about Allin Arcady’s adventures through a planet-sized city called Earth. Yes, thousands of years in the future, the Earth has become one giant layer-cake of a city. Once home to trillions of humans, it is now largely abandoned except for pockets of humanity here and there. In the absence of humans, other beings have begun to fill the void, making Earth a dangerous place for the remaining humans.

Since one of the difficulties of getting into a long-form serialized story is catching up on everything that happened before you discovered it, I offer this as-brief-as-I-could-make-it synopsis of The Story So Far. If at any point you want to jump into reading the actual story, head to the Table of Contents.

In Part One, we are introduced to Allin Arcady, a young man on his own who has one goal: to one day reach the roof of the world and see the Sun. To do that, he has to survive the perils of the city, like rogue cleaning machines called tacmites, or all-too-real ghosts that take offense at his presence. Normally Allin would just ignore the ghosts; they’re insubstantial and can’t do any real harm. Or so he thinks until he runs into a giant, snarling werewolf-looking ghost who is all too solid and who chases Allin into the tunnels between levels of the city. After barely making it through a flooded section of the tunnels, Allin loses consciousness and dreams of a time in his past when his parents were still alive.

This flashback begins in Part Four with Allin’s dad letting him know that they will be moving on from the community of Glin’s Rising post-haste. This is not happy news for 15-year-old Allin, who has fallen in love there with a girl named Tyena. When Allin asks his mom for help, she just tells him to say his goodbyes. When Allin tells Tyena that he has to leave, they come up with a plan for Tyena to follow the Arcady family out of Glin’s Rising.

When the Arcady family leaves Glin’s Rising via some maintenance tunnels, Allin spies Tyena chasing after them. She looks excited, or so Allin thinks. As he is walking with his parents, he realizes from their conversation that they are worried about someone who might have followed them to Glin’s Rising. It soon becomes clear to Allin that his parents bring trouble in their wake, and that’s why they were so eager to move on. Worried for Tyena, Allin runs back toward Glin’s Rising…

In Part Seven, Allin awakes just in time to realize the ghost werewolf is still chasing him. He narrowly escapes the ghost, but not before the werewolf reverts to his human form, which bears an uncanny resemblance to Allin’s father. After a feverish sleep—Allin picked up a virus swallowing some of the fetid water from the tunnels—Allin awakes to find a talking, bipedal cat named Tumble waiting for him. It seems Tumble is one of a whole society of genetically-altered felines which has survived and prospered in the time after the decline of humanity. Tumble bears an invitation for Allin from the cat emperor, Banshee. Allin accepts and they head to Pudlington, a human city entirely converted for feline use, with platforms, ramps, and rooms strung up between skyscrapers like a gigantic cat’s cradle.

In Part Twelve, Allin meets Emperor Banshee, who tells him that the werewolf ghost chasing Allin is in fact Allin’s own uncle. Banshee implies that this is the least of the secrets Allin’s parents kept from him. But before Banshee can share any more family history, he commands that the now-very-ill Allin be rested and healed. Allin protests to no avail. When he is better, a feast is thrown in his honor. At the feast, Allin asks to know why Banshee thinks that the ghost of a werewolf could be his uncle. In response, Banshee asks Allin to first share what he knows of his parents and their involvement with the werewolves, so that Banshee can know exactly what blanks need to be filled in. There is only one story Allin can think of to share on that subject: the story of how his parents died.

Part Fourteen begins that story, which also happens to be the continuation of the events in the earlier flashback. Allin makes it back to the outskirts of Glin’s Rising and is very worried since he has not run into Tyena along the way. Maybe she wasn’t running toward him earlier, but rather away from something else. He is about to go search for her when Mom and Dad show up. After a bit of a row, Dad agrees that they can go try to rescue Tyena. But when they enter Glin’s, it is entirely empty. Dad, hearing something that Allin does not, realizes that there are some people still around inside of an abandoned department store, and Tyena is one of them. The bad news is that she is with some of the dangerous people who are following the Arcadys. Dad forms a plan for him and Mom to distract the bad guys while Allin grabs Tyena, but when she screams from inside the store, Allin throws caution to the wind and runs in to save her. A fight ensues inside the darkness of the store, full of inexplicable flashes of light and the sound of beasts. Allin manages to grab Tyena but is confronted by a towering werewolf who blocks his path. He is about to be killed when Mom tackles the beast and plants a knife through its eye, but not before the beast guts Mom right before Allin’s eyes. Dad dies soon after, his last act to give Allin a glowing pendant that he always wore around his neck. One werewolf also survives the battle and collects similar pendants from the dead werewolves and from Allin’s mother. He tries to take the pendant from Allin but is too injured, so he flees with a promise to get it later. Surrounded by dead werewolves and his slain parents, Allin’s world goes dark.

Now that you’re all caught up, be here on Sunday for The Only City Left Part 18, in which we find out a little about the man who sent the assassins after Mom and Dad Arcady in the first place: Allin’s uncle.

Lithicbee Unchained?

Posted: June 14, 2012 in Writing
Tags: ,

Before I begin, let me say that this post is about my goals, my writing, and this blog. I’m not sure anyone really cares about that (and that’s cool), so this might just be me standing at the edge of a cliff yelling into empty space, but the scenery is pretty, so I don’t mind. On the off chance, though, you have noticed that I am not posting as frequently lately, or I am posting more frequently but on different subjects, here’s the explanation:

I began this blog with a goal of forcing myself to write again on a regular basis and, hey, it worked! I had no idea what I was going to write about at first, but through fits and starts I discovered some topics that I was interested in and that at least some other people seemed to be searching for as well, like e-books, writing ideas, and webcomics. To meet my goal of three posts a week, I added one post per week of my own writing, basically throwing myself into a story feet-first and treading for dear life. I am actually most proud of that, my weekly serial, The Only City Left. It is a rough first draft, yes, but for all that, I’m enjoying it and I know at least a few other people have found it and are following it (thank you to those people, you rock!).

I also started some “themed” days, like Webcomics Wednesday and Fiction Friday, to help me out by taking the guesswork out of what to write about. That worked well for a while, but now I am feeling a bit trapped by it. When I have to decide on spending my free time creating my own works or reading a 400-page webcomic so I can review it in time for Wednesday’s post, that is not a good thing. It’s a trap of my own invention and, given that this is only a blog read by a handful of (wonderful) readers, one that I do not need to remain in.

So, I’m still going to talk about webcomics I like, short stories that impressed or moved me, comics, movies, e-books, and all that jazz, because 1) it is fun to share the media I am enjoying, and 2) it is still good to force myself to write on a regular basis. But: I am not going to force myself to adhere to a rigid schedule if doing so is holding me back from my other endeavors.

Anyway, maybe this post is nothing more than a look into a writer’s neurotic mind (behold, and tremble!), but I wanted to put it out there for those who do follow the blog. I’m not going away, but the blog is evolving as my goals evolve. Please pardon my dust during the (de)construction.

Up Next on Lithicbee:

Friday: The Only City Left: The Story So Far. For those of you who might not have read my serial SF/F adventure yet, a synopsis to bring you up to speed so you can leap from your horse of not-reading to the moving train of The Only City Left without serious injury. (No, I could not write that without laughing.)

Sunday: The Only City Left Part 18. The flashback is (mostly) over and now you know how Allin’s parents died. (For my new readers, don’t worry, this is not a spoiler: you pretty much know this happened from Part One.) So what’s next? How about some info on the man who sent the assassins after Mom and Dad Arcady in the first place?

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Photo credits: Cliff View by dans le grand bleu on Flickr.

This is not my typical Webcomics Wednesday post, but more of a grab bag what I have read and enjoyed lately. I think this mix of different media will be the new norm for Lithicbee; less one-medium-per-day, more whatever-I-want. To that end, I need a new name for these types of general posts. Any ideas? (Today’s title, “Pro-Lithic Ramblings,” is courtesy of my wife, Danielle, and I may stick with it. Kind of catchy.)

So no more Webcomics Wednesday for me, but does that mean I am forsaking the wide world of webcomics? Hell no! Up first…

Polterguys (webcomic)

Polterguys, by Laurianne “Laur” Uy, is a black-and-white, manga-style  “story of a nerdy college girl befriending a bunch of ghost guys and solving their unfinished businesses.” The nerdy girl is named Bree, the college town is a take on Berkeley, and the guys are all hiding in an old rental house for reasons that become clear as the story progresses. First off, let me say that this is a super-professional-looking manga comic, one that I would not have been surprised to read in Shonen Jump (yes, I subscribed to SJ for 5 years, as an adult; there was much about it aimed at a younger audience, but it was a great deal and I would love to see more monthly digests like that in the U.S., perhaps targeted to those of us older than 13).

The art is excellent and the writing is smart and funny (check out the poster wannabe-doctor Bree puts up on her wall; classic). As a main character, Bree is the right mix of smart and spunky, cute and awkward (oh so awkward). Her high school life was hell, and she is hopeful that college will be better, but initial results are mixed, especially when every dorm-mate she is assigned drives her crazy. This is how she ends up renting a room in an otherwise empty house, or at least what she believes is an empty house. She quickly discovers the polterguys that are living there, and their fates become intertwined.

I don’t want to ruin anything by giving more away, so I will simply say that I cannot stress enough that this comic is fun fun fun and it was just what I needed this week. If you’re looking for a light-hearted supernatural romp, be sure to check out Polterguys.

Ignition Zero Kickstarter

As I was writing this post, I switched over to TweetDeck to procrastinate and noticed that Noel Arthur Heimpel has a Kickstarter up for Volume One of Ignition Zero. I have been waiting for a collected volume since I first discovered IZ, so I was happy to see this news, which comes one day after I posted the piece I commissioned from Noel: The Dream Bear (my name for it). There are good rewards at many levels, so I am pretty certain he is going to blow past his $600 goal in no time flat. I backed the project, how about you?

The Children of Hamelin (short story)

Lately I find that the short stories I am most likely to enjoy and recommend have a strong emotional component. “The Children of Hamelin,” by Dale Bailey, is no exception. This is basically a story of loss and dealing with it, and it makes no bones about it. All the children in the world have gone missing, vanished in a moment (hence the Pied Piper reference), and so this could have been a story about discovering how and why this happened. Instead, it is a story of one father simply dealing with the loss that this bizarre event has caused, and as such the story really spoke to me.

You can find the story in the May 2012 issue of Lightspeed Magazine.

The Confessions of Jonathan Pratt (serial)

The Confessions of Jonathan Pratt, by Robert Wilhelm, caught my interest at first simply due to the design of the web page.  It is set up to look like you are reading out of an old book, and the layout makes it very easy to navigate. It is the best example that I have seen of a web page design for a serial story fitting its content. And with so much free stuff to read out there, sometimes the first look can be the most important. Beyond its look, though, the story itself pulled me in. The writing is good, well-detailed but not rambling. Plus, you can’t go wrong with this subtitle: Being An Account of His Travels Through the State of New York in 1848 and of the Wickedness Which He Found There. This is the same time period as Gangs of New York, which I enjoyed (movie and book), so I am looking forward to what wickedness Jonathan gets up to in the same setting.

The beginning of the tale is compelling, with Jonathan Pratt in his cell the night before he is to be executed for murder. He is being urged to confess and he agrees to do so in order to have some peace and quiet; his written account of his crimes is the story that follows. But while he will admit to many instances of breaking both man’s law and God’s commandments, he claims he is innocent of murder. The story then jumps back to earlier in his life when he takes his first steps off his family farm and onto the path that ends up with him in a jail cell. The story is only two posts in, but it is promising enough that I will be following it and I recommend you get in on the ground floor and follow it as it progresses.

Also, Robert has a companion website, The National Night Stick, a faux newspaper covering “Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America,” which is really cool to explore. It is a curated collection of stories from and about the 1800s, and it includes references to original sources, which gives me hope that Robert really knows his stuff and will be serving up a fairly accurate portrayal of 19th century America in his serial as well.

FYI: I found this story at Tuesday Serial, a great place to find new serials to read.

Up Next on Lithicbee:

Tomorrow: “Lithicbee Unchained?” A  look at the changing face of the Lithicbee blog.

Friday: The Only City Left: The Story So Far. For those of you who might not have read my serial SF/F adventure yet, a synopsis to bring you up to speed so you can leap from your horse of not-reading to the moving train of The Only City Left without serious injury. (No, I could not write that without laughing.)

Sunday: The Only City Left Part 18. The flashback is (mostly) over and now you know how Allin’s parents died. (For my new readers, don’t worry, this is not a spoiler: you pretty much know this happened from Part One.) So what’s next? How about some info on the man who sent the assassins after Mom and Dad Arcady in the first place?

I wanted to share this watercolor I commissioned from Noel Arthur Heimpel, creator of the webcomic Ignition Zero. (Check out his Tumblr to see some of his other commissions.)

Noel’s art reminds me a lot of Bill Sienkiewicz’s at times, so I asked him to do a riff on Bill’s demon bear from the classic Claremont/Sienkiewicz “Demon Bear Saga” in New Mutants 18-21. I really like the results, especially how the bear is exhaling the Aurora Borealis.

I’ve had the digital image for a while now (he works fast!) but I just got the original in the mail, which reminded me I needed to share this. The original looks great; I have to get a nice frame for it. And now I’m tempted to commission a bigger piece. Hmmm, wonder what Noel’s take on the entire New Mutants team would be? Amara and Warlock in particular would look amazing, I bet. And Rahne in werewolf form. And Cannonball’s fire-trail. And Sunspot! Hmmmmm, this sounds like a good idea! (Yes, although it is 2012, I may in fact be stuck mentally in the late 80s/early 90s, my “formative” years.)

Which reminds me, why do I call this piece the Dream Bear if I asked for “a giant spirit demon bear” (my exact commission request)? Around the same time I was reading that classic New Mutants run, I was listening to a lot of Yes, and every time Long Distance Runaround played, I heard the line “I still remember the dream there” as, “I still remember the dream bear,” and pictured Sienkiewicz’s demon bear. Now I basically accept my version as the proper lyric.

Anyhoo, if you’re looking to commission a cool watercolor, I recommend Noel. His commission information can be found here. (Oh! I just noticed it says to not ask him to draw animals. Whoops. Well, I think the bear looks great. Sorry, Noel!)

Welcome to my serial science-fiction/fantasy adventure, The Only City Left. This is the story of Allin Arcady and his adventures through a dying, planet-sized city called Earth. If you are new to The Only City Left, you might want to start with the Table of Contents.

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

The Only City Left: Part 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grinty. The bastard had gotten what he deserved.

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

“Allin, where’s your mother?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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