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 85, Allin revealed his plan: keep Doyle outside in the thin, freezing air until the moon sets, they both revert to their human forms, and they die. Whoa, heavy.
The Only City Left: Part 86
Doyle took his foot off of my neck and offered me a hand. Alert for any treachery, I took it. I was actually surprised when all he did was help me up and step back a few paces.
“I’ve been chasing you for your entire life, Allin,” he said. “And now the chase is finally at an end. But you’re not half so clever as you believe if you think I’m just going to give up and let the moon set on me out here.”
“Go ahead, try to make it back in time. I may not be able to kill you, but I can slow you down for long enough.”
“You’d really sacrifice yourself just to make sure I die?” he asked. He seemed genuinely confused.
He shrugged. “Then I’ll have to kill you quick.”
He leaped toward me, claws out, but I expected the attack and caught him by his wrists. I couldn’t stop him from continuing to barrel toward me, though.
He smashed into me and we ended up in a rough embrace, each trying to claw and bite the other to pieces, but we were so evenly matched that neither could get the upper hand. We stumbled to and fro in the maze of protrusions that littered this section of the roof, crunching into machinery and vents and pipes that hopefully no one below us was relying on. As we crashed around, I wondered how it was that he hadn’t torn me apart yet. He was bigger and had more strength and experience; it should have been an easy victory.
Listening to his ragged breathing, I realized what was working in my favor. He wasn’t used to this kind of exertion. As a ghost, he never got tired, never wore himself down. If he needed more energy, his nanoswarm could siphon it from the world around him. Up here, in his physical body and dealing with the bitter cold and thin air, he had spent himself chasing me. His reserves were running low.
I, on the other hand, felt energized by this realization.
“Getting tired, Doyle? Need a break?” I asked as I took the lead in our dance.
I swung him around and ran him into a chest-high exhaust vent, then reversed direction to smack his head into a thick stand of pipes.
“Is this what you’ve wanted all these years, Doyle? To feel?”
I lunged out and raked him with my claws, giving him a set of wounds to match mine. He put his hand to his chest and looked down at the blood oozing through his fingers.
“Hurt. Pain. Fear,” I said. “Is being alive again all you ever hoped it would be?”
I laughed at his distraught expression. It felt good to be on the offensive for once, to be the one in power, the hunter instead of the hunted. I imagined that with one leap I could be on Doyle, ripping out his throat with my teeth. His imaginary blood tasted delicious to my fevered mind. Standing there watching him cower, I felt like a true werewolf for the first time.
Only I didn’t want to be a werewolf, didn’t want to beat Doyle at his own game.
The moon was lower in the sky now; if I could hold out a little longer, I’d never have to fight the wolf inside of me again. Warring against my instincts, I put my hands up and said, “There’s no point in fighting anymore. Let’s wait out the end peacefully.”
Doyle sneered and licked his own blood off of his palm. “Peacefully? And just when I was beginning to be proud of you.”
He ran at me with a surprising burst of speed, but I easily caught his outstretched hands in mine and began to push him back.
“One thing I want to know before the end,” I said. “What did you get out of all this death and destruction?”
“That’s the difference between you and me, Allin,” Doyle said as I pushed him further and further backward despite his attempts to dig in his heels. “You need reasons. I just did it because.”
He gave up trying to stop me and instead fell backward. He used my momentum to pull me into his embrace, where he took the opportunity to bury his teeth in my shoulder. I howled in pain. He wouldn’t unclamp his jaw, so I dug my claws into his sides and twisted my fingers underneath his skin. That worked.
He roared and tried to throw me off of him but I wouldn’t let go. We ended up rolling around like boys roughhousing except for the part where we were really trying to kill each other.
Over and over we rolled and if that didn’t make me dizzy enough, the lack of good air didn’t help, either. Our rambling path took us far and wide, and we ended up beside the chasm once more.
This wasn’t the same one, though, or we were at a different point along it, because here the far wall towered a few stories above us. Wherever we were, one important detail stood out: there was nothing I could do to slow our progress toward it. One more roll and we were over its edge.
I barely managed to reach out and grab the ledge with both hands to keep from falling into the depths. A second later, I nearly lost my grip as Doyle clamped onto my legs for the same purpose.
He began to laugh. “If you want it to end, Allin, just let go.”
I looked down at his ugly, laughing face and then beyond to where the chasm fell into shadow. Shadow? I craned my neck up and saw that the moon was setting above the high wall opposite us. Soon we would be in the wall’s shadow and it would all be over.
But Doyle will be in the shadow first. Could I…?
I dug my claws into the ledge above me and held on with all my might.
“Let go, boy. Let go! Isn’t this what you want?”
Through a snoutful of gritted teeth, I said, “Change of plans. Look down.”
He must have done as he was told, because the next thing I knew he sunk his claws into my calves for extra purchase. I moaned in agony and my grip slipped ever so slightly. I looked down and saw the shadow line steadily rising up the chasm wall.
“Pull us up. We should fight and die as wolves.”
“Sorry, Doyle. The time of the wolves is at an end.”
The shadow line climbed up his body and overtook him entirely. I watched as he transformed back into a human being. He looked frightened, and younger than I would have imagined. His claws retreated from my flesh, leaving only human hands to grasp the fur of my legs.
As the shadow that fully engulfed him began to climb up my legs, too, Doyle cried, “Allin, don’t do this. We’re family!”
“You killed my only family. Goodbye, Doyle.”
In the end, it wasn’t tooth or claw or gun or knife that ended Doyle Arcady’s evil reign. All it took was one swift shake of my leg to loosen his grip and send him plummeting into the darkness.
As he fell, the hungry shadows continued to climb higher, eager to make me their next victim. But I wanted more now. I wanted to see Tumble again. To find Tyena and ask for a second chance. To share a drink and a story with Ballister.
For years I had been living to see the Roof of the World, but that hadn’t really been living. That had been waiting. That had been me adrift and grieving for my parents.
I would never forget them, but that part of my life was over now. I wanted to live not for the past and not for some illusory tomorrow, but for the now, wherever that took me. I wanted to live.
First, though, I had to avoid sharing Doyle’s fate.
* * *
10/6/13 News: Wow, I can’t believe we’ve reached the story’s climax already. I hope you’ll stick around for the next three weeks and coast toward the end of Book 1 with me. There’s still a thrill or two left in store for Allin, and some loose threads that need to be tied up. Thanks again for reading!
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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.