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

At the end of Part 36, Ballister warned Allin not to use the nearby elevator, as it leads directly into clinker territory.

The Only City Left: Part 37

We took the elevator.

I felt that Ballister’s warning, while polite, was also coming from someone who had chosen to hole up in a tiny room rather than risk making something more of life. If I stayed away from that elevator, that would be the first step on a path to my own tiny room in the bowels of the city. No thanks.

When I presented the warning to Tumble during breakfast, he agreed with me. “It’s good to be forewarned, though. How was the first watch?”

“Noisy.”

We had split up into watches because there’s trust and then there’s trust, and Tumble and I weren’t about to let our guard down with the same people who had tried to kill us only hours before. The thumping and clanking of machinery had kept me from falling asleep while on watch, but had also made it pretty miserable when it was my turn to rest.

“Yes, quite a way to live,” Tumble had opined, looking around the room. The food we had shared the night before was once again making the rounds of hungry mouths, and the mood in the room was more jubilant.

Ballister made a little speech when we told him that we were leaving and would not be taking his advice.

“It is said that when humanity abandoned Earth, only the foolish and the brave chose to stay behind. I have my opinion on which group our two new friends fall into, but as they shared their food with us, I’ll keep it to myself,” he said to much laughter. He held up his hands for quiet and continued, “May the gods be kind to you on your journey and may our paths cross again.”

The crowd mumbled their approval of Ballister’s sentiment and then he lead us out of their room and down the hallway a bit.

“I’ll not mince words now that we’re alone,” he told us in a gruff voice. “You’re idiots to risk your lives for a bit of sunlight. But you’re my kind of idiots, so here’s some wisdom. That elevator only goes to one floor and that’s clinker central. It was empty when I went, had a look-around, and turned tail. Well, mostly empty. You’ll see. That’s why I’m still alive to tell you this. But if you get up there and find some clinkers, do not hesitate to get the hell out of there and find another way. Any creatures capable of doing the things I saw, you do not want to be messing with. They won’t give a wad of spit for your fancy kung fu, neither, dwarf.”

I caught Ballister’s eye and gave him a silent thanks for keeping quiet about Tumble’s felinity, and then thanked him out loud for the repeated warning.

“You’re the most over-protective would-be murderer I’ve ever met,” I added with a grin. “Don’t worry about us. We’ll be fine.”

Ballister gave me a stern look, shook his head, and walked away with a wave of his hand but without another word.

“He’s an odd guy,” I remarked to Tumble.

“Coming from you, that’s quite an indictment,” he replied.

“No argument. So if we’re heading to our doom, let’s get going.”

The corridors on the way to the elevator were in greater disrepair than those from yesterday, which I hadn’t thought possible. They had no working lights at all and the floor was strewn with broken machinery, boxes, and piles of rubble higher than my head.

It took a while to carefully navigate the terrain by wristlight, and I envied Tumble’s surefootedness as he easily tackled each new obstacle.

“What is all this junk?” I grumbled.

“It’s meant to slow trespassers down, I would think,” Tumble said while leaping nimbly to the top of a stack of rusted metal crates. “The leftovers of some turf war, perhaps.”

“This city would be a whole lot easier to travel through if people cleaned up after themselves,” I complained as I hoisted myself slowly up the same stack, flecks of rust staining my hands and clothing.

“I’m sure that weighed heavily on their minds, your ancestors,” Tumble rasped. “‘Pave over the planet, build giant city, disappear. Whoops, we forgot to clean before we left.’”

I chuckled as he gave me a final hand up, and then he bounded and I climbed down the other side of the obstruction.

After a while of making slow progress this way, the going became easier, the piled-up trash diminishing in volume until the last fifty feet or so to the elevator door had no debris whatsoever. Tumble even went so far as to run a finger along the floor and show it to me. No dirt, no dust.

“Someone’s been doing their chores, wouldn’t you say?”

“Maybe the clinkers are clean freaks.”

Tumble sniffed and said, “Which would explain Ballister’s fear of them.”

Joking aside, I approached the cargo-sized elevator doors with much trepidation. I held my wristlight up to the call panel and saw that the down button had been gouged out.

“Good thing we’re heading up, then,” I said.

The Up button glowed when I pressed it, and there was a tiny whine of energy that I could feel more than hear. Tumble unholstered his gun and took up position on one side of the doors, so I stood on the other. Glancing around, I couldn’t help but think that the lack of cover meant no place to hide if something nasty popped out of the elevator upon arrival. But the only thing out of the ordinary when the doors opened was the working set of overhead lights inside the compartment.

Tumble leaned around to sweep the elevator with his gun, and said, “Looks clear. Now or never.”

We both stepped inside and, before we had turned around, the doors slid shut behind us and the elevator began its ascent. I spun around and saw that the controls were missing; where the buttons should be was a bare panel with some small, circular holes in it.

“Ballister didn’t mention this,” I said, my voice cracking.

“Things change,” Tumble replied. “Be ready.”

It felt like a long ride, and even though I was apprehensive about the possibility of a trap, I felt elated at how high up we were going. Finally, the elevator slowed to a stop, working more smoothly than anything in the decaying city had a right to. Tumble and I took up position on either side of the front of the elevator, and when the doors pulled apart and bright yellow light poured in, we each carefully peered around the edges.

I blinked my eyes, not only at the light but at the scene that unfolded before me. Beyond the elevator’s confines was a tableau I had only ever heard about in stories. Pastel-hued houses lined either side of a broad, paved avenue, each one with a white, wooden fence surrounding a brilliantly green lawn. Cars sat in driveways and along curbs and the sound of birds chirping came from inside the lush trees that towered in a row along the concrete sidewalks. The yellow glow came from banks of lights a few stories above street level.

“What in the world?” Tumble whispered.

He pointed with the barrel of his gun but I already saw them, the statues. Statues with clothing on? That doesn’t make sense. Maybe they’re mannequins. They were too far away for me to make out any details, but I could see that they were all posed performing mundane tasks. Some were in the middle of crossing the street, others working on their lawns, sitting on a porch swing, getting into a car.

It had probably been hundreds of years since a scene like this played out as part of everyday life, and seeing it as a still life gave me the chills. I rubbed the raised flesh on my arms and thought, Dammit, maybe Ballister was right after all.

* * *

Continue to Part 38.

10/28/12 News: The Only City Left is now listed on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction. If you are so inclined, I would appreciate any ratings/reviews/recommends on that site to help get TOCL noticed. Thanks!

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

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

#

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

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

If you are new to The Only City Left and want a quick catch-up, you can read a synopsis of Parts 1-34 and then start at Part 35. You can reach an individual part of the story by browsing the Table of Contents.

At the end of Part 35, Tumble had shared food with the bandits who moments before had tried to kill him and Allin. The bandit leader, Ballister, invited them both back to his village for a proper thanks, and Allin reluctantly agreed to go.

The Only City Left: Part 36

In order to get the jump on us, Ballister and his men had taken the high road through the ducts. I had crawled through enough ducts in the past week, so despite his protestations that it would be safer that way, I convinced him to return to his village by way of the ancient, decaying corridors. Actually, village was too kind a term for where he lived. It was more like a room. A humid, noisy, machinery-filled equipment room that about fifty people had converted into their home.

“It may not look like much, and it smells worse than that,” Ballister admitted with a rough smile as he produced a key and unlocked the great steel door to the room. “But it’s got the basics and it’s defendable.”

The basics in this case consisted of overhead lighting, a steadily dripping pipe that provided brown water, a tank used to grow edible algae, and rows of shelving that served as bunks for the people who lived there. Mostly these were adults, although two children scurried about playing a silent game of tag and one baby was asleep in a woman’s arms. All of them were filthy. It was obvious that whatever water they managed to collect, there was none to spare for something as frivolous as keeping clean. Tumble remained inscrutable underneath his hat, but I could well imagine he was thinking the same thing as me, that this room was a hellish mirror of Pudlington.

Something of my thoughts must have been clear on my face, because I caught Ballister scowling at me, but either out of pride or resignation, he chose to ignore it. I felt bad and tried to keep my face neutral from then on, but I stuck to breathing through my mouth to lessen the stench a bit.

I had grown up always on the move. Back then I thought it was simply my parents’ choice to never settle down, before I found out that they were simply on the run from my uncle. But this room was in itself a good argument for staying in motion. Sure, it’s safer to hole up in a cramped room and bar the door, but what kind of life was that?

Ballister introduced us to his people, who were nonplussed about our arrival but mutedly excited once they realized he had brought some supplies with him. No one fought or yelled at one another; they hadn’t the energy for it. They meekly accepted their small portion of the rolls and jerky that Tumble had shared and immediately set to eating. It was not much, but I could see them savoring it as if it were the sweetest candy.

“Here,” I told Ballister, emptying all but one of my remaining nutri-bulbs onto a table. What could have fed me for a month would only be a few days worth for these folks if they stretched it, but the way their eyes lit up when they saw the bounty, it was as if I had just shown them the gates to heaven and promised them their own cloud.

“Are you sure about this?” Ballister asked me before he would let anyone else touch the bulbs.

I gnawed on my lip and briefly looked over to where Tumble sat on a nearby shelf, his legs tucked up under his poncho. “Yeah, I’m sure,” I replied. “Anyway, I can always find more.”

Actually, I wasn’t so sure of that; finding food is always an iffy proposition in the city. But how could I leave here with a full backpack when these people were obviously on the edge of starvation?

After the additional food was distributed, the mood in the room grew more relaxed. Most of the people went off to do their own thing, but a few stayed and spoke with Ballister, Tumble, and me, including the two kids and the mother with her baby. I ended up sharing stories of some of my adventures and mishaps in the city, and though Ballister warned the children to not be enticed by such nonsense, I imagined that I saw their eyes light up with the possibilities of life outside of their room.

Later on, after the lights were dimmed in preparation for sleep, I was sitting on the top shelf of a tall storage rack against one wall. Tumble was nestled into the corner next to me, asleep sitting up. His hat was tilted down so that his face remained hidden. Ballister sat on the top shelf across from me, his head nearly hitting the ceiling, while below and around us, his people busied themselves with their bedtime routines.

“Where did you all come from?” I asked Ballister across the narrow gap between shelving units.

“From all over,” he replied, giving the familiar look-up-and-around movement that meant “somewhere in the city.” “We pick up strays here and there. Lose people to disease, hunger, and worse. It about balances out. Though we may need to find bigger digs soon. We’re busting out the door here already, and thanks to you I can’t count on any of them starving to death anytime soon.”

My mouth must have been hanging open, because Ballister guffawed quietly into his hand and said, “Shut your trap boy. It’s not as bad as all that. It may not be pretty, but we’re mostly staying alive, ain’t we? ’N what about you? How is it that you came to be running around with one of the catfolk?”

My first instinct was to deny his guess, but a quick glance at Tumble showed me that his tail had escaped from his poncho and was twitching sleepily back and forth. When I looked back at Ballister, he grinned and said, “I had a feeling even before I saw that.”

“He’d like to keep it quiet,” I said, pulling a blanket over my friend. “You don’t seem surprised.”

“Well, there’s lots of talk about them, there’s sightings here and there,” Ballister explained. “Put that together with a great big chunk of the city nearby what’s blocked off tighter ’an a seedweevil’s whatsus, and it’s not too big a guess that they live there.”

“They like their privacy,” I cautioned, thinking of the plentiful murder holes lining the one path into Pudlington. “I wouldn’t try to get in there if I were you.”

“Gods, but you’re an untrusting sort,” Ballister chuckled. “Don’t worry, if one cat can take apart me and my men, I don’t need to be dealing with a whole city’s worth. But back to you. What are you doing traveling with yon feline friend?”

“You’ll think it’s stupid.”

“Maybe, but what does what I think matter?”

“I want to reach the surface,” I admitted.

Ballister gave a low whistle and said, “No small goal. I’m sure you have your reasons, but I don’t envy your prospects. And your friend there?”

“He’s kind of along for the ride. Plus, he knows his way around here better than I do,” I said, adding that Tumble knew of an elevator that would hopefully take us Up a ways.

“The only working elevator ’round here belongs to the clinkers, so I’d stay well shut of it if I were you.”

“Clinkers? They’re just boogeymen. My mom used to tell me stories about them.”

“Boogeymen, eh? Legends? Old wives’ tales? That’s what we’re to believe about the cats as well, but one’s snoring away across from me this very moment, ain’t he? No, clinkers are real, and if you’d seen what I seen, you wouldn’t risk meeting one,” Ballister said. “Find the Roof of the World. I wish you the best of luck. But if you value your life, do not take that elevator.”

* * *

Continue to Part 37.

10/21/12 News: As of this page, Part 36, I have written to the end of Part 43, about 48,000 words total of an estimated 90-100,000. Since I am smack dab in the middle of the story, I recently reread the story so far, to make sure I am not leaving out anything from the early days of this project as I move forward toward the endgame. Needless to say, I noticed a lot of elements that need to be fixed, but overall I am happy that I have come so far with this first draft. Every time I see someone reading through the story from the beginning, or returning each week, it encourages me to keep writing. Thank you.

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.

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

If you are new to The Only City Left and want a quick catch-up, you can read a synopsis of Parts 1-34. You can reach an individual part of the story by browsing the Table of Contents.

At the end of Part 34, Allin and Tumble’s peaceful meal was interrupted by the arrival of a gang of filthy, murderous thieves. Tumble told Allin he would handle them.

The Only City Left: Part 35

I stood with my back against the corridor wall. Tumble, concealed beneath his broad leaf hat and poncho, stood before me in the center of the corridor, looking straight ahead at the far wall. The men on either side stood about ten feet away, and in the face of Tumble’s calm and quiet manner, their laughter died away. How strange he must have looked to them, standing only as tall as a child but with the confidence of a warrior. If they thought he was a child, though, they didn’t let that stop them from attacking.

Beak-nose led the charge and as a result was the first to experience the wonder of flight. I didn’t even see how Tumble did it, but one moment the bandit leader was running at him, sword held high, and the next he was hurtling past him, straight into one of his oncoming friends. The only sign that Tumble had moved was that he was now facing me.

So that’s what it’s like to be one with the universe, I thought before the remaining half-dozen men still standing reached us. I ducked a swing from one assailant, and when his sword smashed into the wall where my head had been, it snapped in two, the end flying away to clatter on the hard floor. I looked up at my would-be murderer and saw him staring at the stump of his weapon in a daze, like he had just broken his favorite toy. Maybe he had, but I didn’t feel bad for him. Instead I sprung back up and punched him in the face.

Or I would have if his face had still been there. Instead, he fell backwards with a sudden whoop, letting go of the other half of his broken sword in the process. My punch carried me forward and I might have fallen over if not for someone giving my legs a forceful push back. I looked down and saw that it was Tumble, who had one foot underneath the fallen man’s leg.

From beneath his hat, I heard him say, “Leave this fight to me, Allin.”

“He tried to kill me!” I protested, but Tumble had already moved back into the fray. He must have taken another man down before coming to my rescue, because only four remained standing.

“Observe your opponents,” Tumble said, his voice raised over the shouts and curses of the men who now circled him.

One lunged at him with a dagger, but rather than leap away, Tumble stepped toward him. With a whoosh of his poncho, he twirled around and ran his hands along the thug’s arm until they settled on his wrist. Before the poor fool could react, Tumble bent his wrist and pulled him off-balance. The thug screamed in pain and practically flipped himself over with only minimal assistance from Tumble. He landed on his back with a thud and a whimper, and when Tumble released his wrist, his arm fell limply to the floor. He let go of the knife and Tumble kicked it away.

“Accept the ki your opponents offer,” Tumble lectured, as calmly as if he were leading a class of kittens, not fighting for his life. Another bandit rushed him, apparently not paying attention to the lesson.

“And then return it to them,” he continued, redirecting the bandit into the wall opposite me.

The last two men standing took up position across from each other. I kept one eye on them and the other on their fallen comrades, although none of them appeared to be in a rush to face Tumble again.

“When you are at one with the universe,” Tumble went on, his voice rising a little as he dodged a sword thrust. “Your enemy’s ki sings to you!”

He leaped gracefully out of the way of an attack from behind him.

“It cries out, ‘This is how I will move next. Dance with me!’” he said with a laugh as he rolled underneath another blow and between that attacker’s legs.

He stood up behind the man, locked his foot around the man’s leg, and pushed him forward into his compatriot. The two men collided and went down in a heap, leaving the entire group of bandits strewn about the corridor nursing sore wrists and bruised heads.

I had never seen anyone handle so many attackers at once, much less with such grace and economy of movement. It was amazing and I told Tumble as much when he walked over to me.

“Thank you, Allin, but as bandits go, I’ve met fiercer kittens,” Tumble said, his voice pitched so that only I could hear it. Louder, “What brings you men to such a sorry state that you’d attack two defenseless travelers?”

Beak-nose sat up and wiped blood from his upper lip. “Defenseless? Ha!”

“We’s just looking to share some of your food, you little bugger,” growled one of the other bandits.

“Yeah, by trying to kill us. C’mon, Tumble, let’s get out of here,” I urged him.

Instead of leaving, though, Tumble had his backpack out from under his poncho. He pulled out hard rolls and fish jerky and set about distributing food to each of the men.

“What are you doing?” I said in an aggrieved tone.

The men, who just moments ago had been doing their level best to end our lives, seemed to be wondering the same thing as they sat up with Tumble’s gifts in their hands. One of them immediately began to eat the food he had been given, but Beak-nose lunged over and slapped the food into the man’s lap.

“You save that for the others,” he ordered, then turned to Tumble. “Is this some kind of trick?”

“No trick,” Tumble replied, sliding his backpack on again beneath his poncho. “You’re obviously starving, and as you said I have food to share. But perhaps next time you’ll think to ask politely before making threats.”

I shook my head and said, “You’re wasting your time with these jerks, Tumble. Let’s go.”

“Mind your manners, boy,” Beak-nose spat. “Take a lesson from your friend.”

“Manners! You tried to kill us!”

“And for that I’m sorry,” he said. He stood up and brushed his hand off on his dirty pants before holding it out to me in greeting. “The name’s Ballister. Why don’t you come back to our village with us and we can offer you a proper reception.”

“No thanks,” I answered, not lifting my hand in return. “One ambush a day is enough for me.”

Hand still out, Ballister roared, “For the Good One’s sake, boy. You’re looking at the strength of our village here, and this dwarf proved how much that’s worth. You don’t got none to fear from us, but there’s some folk back there who’ll want to thank you for the food. And we can offer a safe place to rest if you’d like.” He grinned, revealing a smile only sporadically filled with teeth. “These old corridors ain’t none too safe. Never know who you’ll run into here.”

“Did I mention you just tried to kill us?” I asked, but with none of the spirit I had put into my earlier pronouncements. I sensed something sincere in Ballister’s speech, and when I gripped his hand, his gap-toothed grin broadened.

“Well, our relationship can only get better from here, then, can’t it?”

* * *

Continue to Part 36.

10/14/12 News: The Only City Left is now listed on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction. If you are so inclined, I would appreciate any ratings/reviews/recommends on that site to help get TOCL noticed. Thanks!

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

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

#

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

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.

Part Eighteen brings us back to the present, as Allin finishes telling his story to Emperor Banshee and the other assembled felines. The story ends with Allin and Tyena arguing over their next course of action. He wants to keep going in the direction his parents were traveling, away from the werewolves. Tyena wants to try to find her family members who have been taken by the wolves. Eventually, they split up and go their own ways.  Banshee chides Allin for thinking that Allin caused his parents’ death, saying that Mom and Dad Arcady made a choice for love, so Allin should not lessen their sacrifice by taking credit for their deaths. Banshee then dismisses his guests except for Allin and Tumble, and tells Allin he needs to talk about Allin’s uncle and why he has always been chasing Allin’s family. The answer: he never forgave Allin’s dad for killing him.

In Part Nineteen, Uncle Doyle Arcady’s history is discussed. Doyle was a small-time gang punk who somehow became a werewolf and started building a werewolf army. But if it is true werewolves need moonlight to transform, how would you do that underground? Doyle and his wolves were given a piece of technology that can emit moonlight even in the depths of the Earth. With that power, the gang of wolves bred terror and fear in the sectors it ruled over, and committed atrocities. Shockingly, Allin’s dad, Dylan, remained with this fearsome army for years, until he killed his brother Doyle over a girl, Jessie, who would become Allin’s mom. Unfortunately, Doyle survived his own death as a ghost (trust me on this one, too long to explain here), and after that hounded Dylan and Jessie for the rest of their days. Murder wasn’t Dylan’s only crime, though. He also stole some of the rare tech that allows werewolves to transform. Allin claims to have never seen such a device, but Banshee points out that Allin is wearing it around his neck: Dad’s lantern coil. Allin is not so sure. The coil has only ever emitted yellow light, as he demonstrates. Banshee and Tumble tense up, and Allin asks what their worry is. Banshee explains that the coils can emit either sunlight or moonlight, if you know how to operate them. Allin points out  that even if he somehow turned on the moonlight mode, it’s not like he’s a werewolf, right? Right? Well, as it turns out, both of Allin’s parents were werewolves, which makes him one by birth, albeit one who has never transformed before. Allin asks why Banshee would bring him into Pudlington if he might werewolf out at a moment’s notice. Banshee responds that if Allin could transform, he could infiltrate the werewolves’ lair and finish the job his dad started, namely, killing Doyle.

In Part Twenty-One, Allin points out that he doesn’t know how to turn on his coil’s moonlight mode. Banshee says that, as an alternative, Allin could turn himself in to Doyle, since Doyle wants him alive anyway. Once inside the Garden (the ironic name for the werewolves’ lair), Allin could murder Doyle and open the doors, so to speak, to a commando cat army. The more Allin thinks about this offer, the more horrified and offended he gets. He has just found out his dad was a murderer and possibly worse, that his mom and dad were secretly werewolves, and that he is also a werewolf. That’s a lot to take in, and on top of that, Banshee wants to recruit him to be an assassin? Allin isn’t having it. He gives his coil to the cats since they want to study it and because he sees it as part of the lies of his past, and he wants nothing more to do with his past. He tells Banshee he is leaving Pudlington tomorrow and then returns to his room for a final night’s rest in a comfortable bed. Who is waiting in his room when he arrives? None other than Tyena. Sometimes the past just won’t let go.

In Part Twenty-Two, Allin learns what happened to Tyena after she left him three years ago. Namely, she got lost and was rescued by the cats, who took her in. Allin gives her an abbreviated version of his life events. After all, she might not take kindly to finding out that the man who ordered the werewolf invasion of Glin’s Rising, who kidnapped her family, is actually Allin’s uncle. Or that Allin is actually a werewolf, too. And when Tyena kisses him, he realizes he still has feelings for her.

The next morning, Allin wakes up with a hangover from his gerrybrook juice binge. Apparently, he ended up passing out before his makeout session with Tyena could lead to anything else. Tyena goes back to her place to get ready for breakfast, and Allin gets ready, too. Tumble arrives and escorts Allin to breakfast. He also shares that Emperor Banshee brews his own gerrybrook juice from a deadly flower; in fact, he’s a master of that craft. Still sick from drinking too much of the juice, Allin is glad when Tyena shows up and Tumble’s story is interrupted.

At breakfast, Tyena learns about the dangerous mission Banshee wants to send Allin on. In light of Tyena’s presence in Pudlington, Allin decides to reconsider Banshee’s offer, but this is really an excuse to spend time with Tyena. When Allin asks Tyena if she thinks her mom and brother might still be alive inside the Garden, she becomes sad and this puts a damper on the breakfast. She leaves to spend some time alone, leaving Allin with nothing to do, so he asks Tumble if there is a workshop he can use.

In Part Twenty-Five, Allin visits the Skunkworks, a huge lab and engineering bay in the subway tunnels below Pudlington. He meets Professor Copper, who is working on solving the mystery of Allin’s lantern coil. She has found a way to increase the output of the sun mode, but is unable to access the moon mode. He then works on his own gadgets, such as making a light source to replace his coil and grapples for his gun. When he is done for the day, he visits Tyena for dinner and finds her painting. He learns that she has filled several floors of one building with her artwork as a way to keep busy. They discuss Banshee’s character and his plans for Allin. Tyena evidently wishes Allin would accept the mission, on the chance he could rescue her family. Allin agrees to think on it further, but he is inwardly anxious about the prospect of accepting such a dangerous assignment. He spends the next several days alternating between time with Tyena and time down in the Skunkworks, and as much as he tries to avoid thinking about the mission, he is always being reminded of it. Upon returning to Tyena’s loft one night, he hears her arguing with someone who is telling her time is of the essence. When Allin confronts them, he sees a Pudlington Guard holding Tyena by the arms. When the guard abruptly leaves, Allin tells Tyena he knows what’s going on.

In Part Twenty-Eight, Allin tells Tyena he knows that she and Banshee are working together to convince him to accept the mission to infiltrate the Garden. Tyena admits Allin is right but explains that Banshee threatened her and Allin both with exile if she couldn’t convince him to accept. Allin resolves to leave Pudlington and invites Tyena. She accepts but asks for some time to get her stuff together. They agree to meet at her place in two hours. Allin seeks out Tumble so that he can go get his cocoon bag and gadgets from the Skunkworks, but when Tumble learns of Allin’s plans, he informs Allin that Tyena is actually a spy for Doyle and the werewolves! Allin is stunned and feels like an idiot for allowing her to manipulate him. Tumble admits Banshee was using her to coerce Allin, but there was never any threat of exile. Allin now resolves to leave Pudlington alone, but first he goes to tell Tyena off. Tyena admits she wanted to get Allin to go to the Garden since if he did, Doyle would free her mom (her brother is dead, murdered by the werewolves in front of her). She tells Allin that she wanted him to accept Banshee’s mission because then her mom would be free but Allin would still have a chance to survive his encounter with Doyle. Allin wonders why she didn’t just tell him the truth in the first place, but Tyena points out he wasn’t truthful about his connection to Doyle and the fact that he was actually a werewolf, too. Despite all that, she professes her love for Allin and asks him to go along with Banshee’s plan. Allin feels foolish and betrayed, so he rejects her and leaves her behind. At the gates of Pudlington, Banshee confronts Allin about his decision to leave, shaming him but not changing his mind. Outside of Pudlington, Allin readies himself to once again venture alone into the city called Earth, The Only City Left.

Starting in Part Thirty-One, Allin has to make his way out of Pudlington’s outer defenses, which means heading into the maze of trap-ridden ductwork surrounding the city. He ends up falling down a shaft to a spike-lined pit (an oldie but a goodie), but manages to grab on to the shaft wall with his cling-tight boots right before he would have been impaled. His cocoon bag was not so lucky, falling onto a spike and spilling nutrient jelly all over its contents. Allin makes it down to the floor and retrieves the bag when who arrives but Tumble, who has been assigned to watch over Allin. Reluctantly at first, Allin accepts Tumble’s help and they make it out of the feline death maze together. Allin then recruits Tumble to help him reach the Roof of the World. Tumble knows there is an elevator not that far away, so they head for it, only to be waylaid by a group of dirty, starving brigands on the way.

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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.

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 33, Allin and Tumble had exited the maze of traps surrounding Pudlington and were on their way, hopefully, to the Roof of the World, the surface of the city-planet Earth.

The Only City Left: Part 34

“How far down do you think we are from the surface?” I asked.

We had been walking for half a day already, and while intellectually I knew that this was a tiny portion of the journey ahead of us, I felt an excitement in the pit of my stomach. I’m on the right path again.

“I couldn’t tell you, Allin,” Tumble replied from beneath the brim of his wide, conical leaf hat. He had produced that hat and a black and red poncho from his backpack earlier and donned them both without explanation. “I have a general sense of the route we need to take from having studied schematics for this part of the city. But those are centuries old, so forgive me if we seem to be moving in a roundabout manner. I’ll do my best.”

“Of course, of course, I understand,” I assured him. “Can’t do any worse than I have.”

The corridors we walked through showed the ravages of time. Broken, decayed ceiling panels littered our path and ages-old wiring hung down in clumps from the gaps above us. Occasionally, a light still flickered anemically, but for the most part I relied on my wristlight. Tumble walked farther ahead, taking point since he could see well enough in the dark. Because of our distance, and out of a healthy respect for whatever might be lurking around us, we spent most of the day in silence. I was used to traveling alone, but when Tumble called a halt for a meal break, I looked forward to the chance to talk to someone outside of my own head.

We picked a spot mostly free of debris, sat down with our backs against the wall, and pulled our food out of our packs. I had several nutri-bulbs, enough to tide me over for a few weeks, so I picked one out and dipped it in the remaining jelly. It actually made the usually tasteless bulbs more palatable, making me even sadder that most of it had leaked into my cocoon bag.

“You found the jelly I packed for you,” Tumble noted with a smile. “I hope you enjoy it.”

I bit my tongue and kept repeating He meant well he meant well he meant well to myself. Oblivious to the mess he had caused, Tumble gnawed on a hard roll and fish jerky. He offered me some, but I passed.

“So why the getup?” I asked to change the subject. Tumble had set his hat between us and I nudged it for emphasis.

Between bites, he explained that the existence of a city of cats was thought by many to be a legend, and the cats preferred to keep it that way.

“We were pets once, even food to some,” he said. “I’d rather our existence not become well known, lest whatever humans remain think of trying to return to those days.”

The thought of eating one of the humanoid cats turned my stomach. I scowled at him and asked, “Are you kidding me?”

His face was stern as he replied, “No.”

“That’s messed up.”

He nodded and then our conversation ebbed for a while. Illuminated by my wristlight, the corridor around us lay still in its senescence. It felt as if the whole universe consisted of the sphere of light that contained Tumble and me. It was hard to imagine the enormity of the city outside of our bubble universe, and if I thought about it too much I would want to curl up and not ever move on.

I tried to distract myself from those thoughts by eating, but Tumble’s talk of humans dining on the catfolk put me off my nutri-bulb. It seemed like no matter what amazing things humans could create—the city, genmod cats, whatever—we could find just as inventive and malicious ways to destroy them.

“What do you think happened?” I asked Tumble softly.

He didn’t need me to explain what I meant. Everyone who lives in the city must have the same question ever-present in their mind.

He nodded but didn’t answer immediately. While I waited, I snapped open a tiny compartment beneath the dome of my wristlight and slid some crumbs of nutri-bulb inside, food for the glowing algae. They must have been hungry because their glow increased considerably as they absorbed the nutrient-rich scraps. When I closed the compartment back up with a snap, Tumble was ready to talk.

He looked up and around, as if he could see through the ceiling, past the sagging wires and broken light fixtures.

“I have always thought that the humans created something they could not control,” he mused. “A virus, or a machine, or some other being, like myself, who by all rights should not exist.”

He wiggled the thin but very human-like fingers of one hand before his face, then made a fist and unsheathed his claws.

“Not that I don’t appreciate my existence,” he continued. “But it is easy to imagine that man’s hubris outpaced his caution. Yes, if you forced me to pick one, I would guess that mankind created its own destroyer.”

“But the city’s mostly empty now,” I said, not arguing, just teasing out the implications. “Or at least it feels like it. So where are they, these creatures that turned on their own creators?”

Tumble sheathed his claws and turned his hand palm up.

“Who knows? Maybe they killed each other off, or maybe I’m entirely wrong. It’s the great unknowable, isn’t it? Now I have a question for you.”

I nodded for him to go ahead.

“Say we reach the roof of the world and you see the sun. What then?”

It was my turn to sit and think. I had never considered it. Reaching the surface seemed like such an impossibility that all my focus was on getting there in the first place. I admitted as much to Tumble, and asked, “Why? Do you have a suggestion?”

I was sure he would suggest joining the fight against the werewolves, but to his credit he stayed away from that forbidden topic.

“No. Only that you consider it, lest you achieve your goal and then have nothing else to live for.”

“Do you think we can make it?” I wondered. “I’ve tried for three years and it seems like I’m no closer than when I started.”

“We can but try. If I’m not mistaken, I’m leading us to an elevator. Working or not, that should be a nice shortwait—” Tumble cut himself off and held out his hand for silence.

Whatever he sensed, I felt it, too. My neck hairs stood on end and a shiver shot down my back. We both stood up and Tumble settled his hat over his head again, tightening the chin strap with an economical yank of his hand.

“Get ready,” he warned me, one second before the ceiling caved in on either side of us.

Out of the fresh holes in the ceiling dropped several men. There were eight of them, similar in their gaunt frames, ragged clothing and dirt-streaked faces. Each carried a dagger or sword that looked as battered as the wielders. One of the men, distinctive in that the beak of his nose looked almost as sharp as the point of his sword, declared, “Give us all your supplies and we’ll kill you quick.”

I tensed, ready to fight, but I felt a gentle pressure on my calf and looked down to see Tumble pressing his hand against me.

“I’ve got this,” he whispered, and stepped forward, a diminutive, shrouded figure. To the men, he stated, “You don’t want to do this, I assure you.”

Beak-nose laughed and his men joined in. “I guess we’ll kill you slow, then.”

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Continue to Part 35.

10/7/12 News: The Only City Left is now listed on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction. If you are so inclined, I would appreciate any ratings/reviews/recommends on that site to help get TOCL noticed. Thanks!

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

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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.