Welcome to my serial science-fiction/fantasy adventure, The Only City Left. This is the story of Allin Arcady and his adventures through a dying, planet-sized city called Earth.
If you are new to The Only City Left and want a quick catch-up, you can read a synopsis of Parts 1-30 and then start at Part 31. You can reach an individual part of the story by browsing the Table of Contents.
At the end of Part 32, Allin met a familiar face at the bottom of a spike-lined death trap.
The Only City Left: Part 33
“I’d say ‘Don’t shoot’ but I’m curious to see your jelly gun in action,” he deadpanned. “Please, go ahead.”
It was Tumble all right, looking much as he had when I first met him, except his gun was holstered at his side and he wore a backpack. I lowered my useless, and apparently comical, grapple gun to my side and asked, “What are you doing here?”
Really, he was the last person I had expected to see again, certainly not so soon, and definitely not coming through a secret door in the bottom of a spike-lined pit.
“Would you believe it was pure chance?”
I cocked my head and raised one eyebrow in answer.
“I didn’t think so. Truth is, I have been assigned to keep track of you,” Tumble said. He eyed the room and then returned his gaze to me. “You know, keep you out of death traps and that sort of thing.”
I shoved the grapple gun back into the cocoon bag, ignoring the mess inside it.
“And a fine job you’re doing of that so far,” I mumbled as I sealed the bag closed and swung it onto my back. “Look, you can go back and tell Banshee I said ‘Thanks but no.’ I’ve been on my own for a while now. I don’t need you to keep me safe. Now if you would?”
I gestured for him to step out of the way so that I could crawl through the opening behind him. He sidestepped with a grand sweep of his arms.
“Thanks,” I offered over my shoulder as I crawled into the tunnel.
I heard the grating sound again, followed by Tumble’s voice.
“Far be it from me to wonder how you were going to leave that room if I hadn’t shown up,” he said, following behind. “I’ll give you full credit for having the ingenuity to have figured it out on your own.”
I mumbled another “Thanks” and rolled my eyes, but I couldn’t help but smile at his lofty way of speaking.
“But I am afraid I am barred from returning to Pudlington for the foreseeable future. Unless, that is, you could be convinced to return there. Then it would be my duty to ensure your safe arrival.”
The tunnel opened up into a large cylindrical shaft with ladders running up and down the walls at intervals around its circumference. I switched the wristlight to a cone of light and aimed it up, down, and around. I couldn’t see the ceiling or the floor, but there were other openings at various heights around the chamber.
“Sorry, Tumble. I’m not going back there,” I told him, my voice echoing in the open chamber before me.
My stomach felt sour at the thought of Tyena’s lies and how both she and Banshee had sought to use me to their own ends. I wouldn’t trade the freedom of the city to return to that.
“I assumed as much,” Tumble said with a tiny sigh. “Then we shall be companions!”
I switched my wristlight back to full illumination, swung out onto a nearby ladder, and started to climb.
“Uh-uh-uh, I would not go that way,” Tumble cautioned, looking up at me from the mouth of the tunnel I had exited.
I paused my climb and stared back at him.
“I want to go Up, remember?”
“Yes, but this access tunnel only leads to more trapped rooms. And, and!” Tumble raised his voice, cutting off the protest I was about to make. “And it is not without traps of its own. Look up.”
I could hear the tension in his voice, so I slowly tilted my head back and brought my wristlight up. I noticed that about a foot above me on the ladder, there was a nearly invisible piece of string just above one rung. Its ends were wrapped around either side of the ladder and then continued on into tiny holes in the wall.
“Step on that and the entire ladder will separate from the wall,” Tumble explained. “Explosively.”
I caved. “Fine, I get it. I need you to get me out of this feline death-maze.”
“Very good. Now do exactly as I say.”
We spent the rest of the journey through Pudlington’s defensive maze mostly in silence, except for Tumble’s instructions as he either led me around traps or had me wait while he disabled them and reset them once we had passed.
Twice during the trip he tried to talk to me about what was happening in Pudlington in my absence: what Tyena was doing now that she knew the cats were aware of her deception, and what alternate plans Banshee was crafting to combat the werewolves. Both times I cut him off; I didn’t want to hear it.
Finally, we dropped from a ventilation shaft into an unlit corridor that was as run-down and dismal as the ones outside of Pudlington were clean and bright.
“Here you are, Allin,” Tumble proclaimed. “Free of Pudlington’s grasp. I shall of course leave you alone if you wish it, but I cannot ignore my Emperor’s commands. Do not be surprised if you see me following behind you about fifty paces or so.”
“You’re laying it on kind of thick. You really can’t return to Pudlington?”
“If only. Following you is to be my punishment for my, ahem, oversharing,” Tumbled admitted with a wry grin.
I couldn’t exactly stay mad at him. After all, he was only in trouble because he had told me the truth. Plus, even though I wouldn’t admit it to him, I was looking forward to having his company. The city was a mighty lonely place, and I hadn’t traveled with anyone since my parents died.
“Fine, you can follow me, but enough about Tyena and Banshee. If you nag me about them, we’ll find out how effective being one with the universe is against a swift kick in the butt.”
“Splendid,” Tumble declared, as if he had known this would be the outcome all along. “You lead, I’ll follow.”
I played my wristlight in either direction down the decaying corridor. Neither way held any more promise than the other.
“You brought us here, so you should know: how do we go Up from here?”
Tumble smiled his feline grin and said, “I lead. You follow.”
* * *
9/30/12 News: The Only City Left is now listed on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction. If you are so inclined, I would appreciate any ratings/reviews/recommends on that site to help get TOCL noticed. Thanks!
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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.