Welcome to my serial science-fiction/fantasy adventure, The Only City Left. This is the story of Allin Arcady and his adventures through a dying, planet-sized city called Earth. (Click here for the Table of Contents.)
At the end of Part 72, Allin stopped Tumble from assassinating Doyle, but at the cost of falling under Doyle’s gaze.
The Only City Left: Part 73
All eyes were on me suddenly and I couldn’t think of what else to say. All I could imagine was Tumble dropping that grenade at my feet. Even an emp grenade would have enough explosive force to tear me to pieces, so my split-second gamble might have been the last I ever made. When nothing else happened, I realized two things: Tumble hadn’t gone through with his attack, and I was suddenly the center of attention for not only the entire crowd and the performers, but for my uncle as well.
“What did you just say?” asked Doyle, sitting up straighter amidst the pile of cushions he lounged in.
“I said, ‘Congratulations!’ I heard you killed the Emperor of Pudlington,” I said, imitating the voice of the first person I could think of. “About time, too. Those cats think they’re so grand, but aye, you showed ‘em.”
“Did that happen already?” Doyle asked softly, as if to himself. “I thought…”
“Must’ve happened, your um greatness,” I said, working hard to keep an obviously addle-minded Doyle from having too much time to think. “The people are saying you’ll be marching on the cat city next, what with Banshee’s brother running around on a fool’s errand and all.”
That woke Doyle up from his stupor. He bared his teeth and pulled himself forward so that he sat on the edge of his cushioned seat and could lean out of the palanquin toward me.
He brought his hands up before him and I thought, This is it. What was I thinking getting this close to the monster? I might as well have turned myself in to him first thing.
But he didn’t grab me by the throat and proclaim victory. Instead he blinked twice and twisted the neck of an imaginary foe in mid-air. Even the watching crowd let out a surprised sigh.
“Banshee’s brother? Tumble? Damn him to the abyss. He let my nephew die, the coward. I’ll skin him alive and use his fur for a bath mat the next time I see him.”
News of my demise had traveled quickly from Pudlington. I wondered if Banshee knew the extent to which the cat city must be inundated with spies. And then I wondered if Banshee would ever have cause to worry about that again. The image of him lying face-down in his own blood strengthened my resolve to clue in Tumble as to what had happened. I wanted to look up to see if he was still on the roof, but I couldn’t risk the glance.
“Sounds like if he grappled with you, he’d be in a real jam. He’d be lucky to survive the fall after that.”
“Fall? What fall?
Uh-oh. Too much?
“The fall. You know, after you, um, damn him into that abyss. Damn that cat.”
It was the best I could do with my uncle the ghost werewolf in front of me and a good portion of his werewolf army staring down my back. I hoped Tumble got my message one way or another, because I wasn’t sure I’d survive this conversation.
“Yes. Yes,” Doyle said. “What did you say your name was, soldier?”
Soldier? Soldier! He was buying it. He thought I was one of them!
“Well, thank you, Ballister. Yes,” Doyle said, standing up and addressing his words to the crowd. “The so-called Emperor Banshee is dead by my order. None can stand against the might of the Fifth House!”
The crowd cheered. Doyle threw his hands above his head and they cheered again, louder.
“How come I was not immediately informed of my success?” Doyle asked, bringing his arms down and peering at the wolves closest to him, the ones running the entertainment. “Didn’t any of you hear this news?”
“No, um, no.”
“I think I heard something, maybe.”
“Sorry, no, Lord Commander.”
Doyle listened to his men and then turned back to examine me more closely. I could smell the stink of my sweat as I wilted under that gaze. Abruptly, Doyle grinned and lifted his head to address the crowd.
“This is the kind of wolf I want in my service. Independent. Nose to the ground,” he said. He focused on me again. “What’s your rank, Ballister?”
I mumbled my answer. “Um, second, under, private, first class, sir.”
I needn’t have tried to make something up; Doyle ignored me and barreled on over my words. “Never mind. You’re a colonel now. There’s a battalion leaving tonight to cull a new town we found. I want you there with them gathering intel for me. Pogue will fill you in. Pogue!”
I followed Doyle’s gaze and saw two werewolves carrying away the old man’s body. One of them, Pogue, stood up straighter and said, “Yes, sir!”
“You let Ballister here know the details.”
“Good, good,” Doyle said, sitting back down. When he looked back at me, his energetic zeal seemed to have drained from his face. He looked blankly at me and said, “What are you still doing here? Go!”
He needn’t have raised his voice at the end; I was already gone. As I moved through the crowd, I heard him ordering the next diversion, but when I spared a glance back, he was already lying down and staring into space.
Though I had survived a conversation with my uncle, I was no closer to taking him down, and if I wasn’t mistaken he had ordered me to leave the Garden on some sort of seek-and-destroy mission against another innocent group of humans. That might be trouble, but if Tumble had understood my message to him, it would be worth it. Hopefully he realized it was me underneath the fur and by now he would be high-tailing it back to Pudlington to find out if what I said about Banshee was true.
I made it out of the crowd in front of the gutted building and walked a block away before I gave into my nerves, leaned against a building, and panted like I had just run a race. It felt like the rat I had eaten was scrabbling around inside me, tearing up my guts.
I nearly jumped out of my fur when a voice drifted out of a nearby alley.
“Jam? Grapple? You needn’t have laid it on so thick. I knew it was you the moment you started talking like Ballister.”
* * *
7/6/13 News: I’m more than halfway through the re-outlining process of editing. Once that is done, I can start rewriting. I’m definitely looking forward to writing again, and I’m hoping that my editor’s suggestions combined with my new outline will make for a much stronger version of The Only City Left.
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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.