Posts Tagged ‘adventure’

NOTICE: Part 89 (the end of The Only City Left) will be posted here and mirrored at atgoldman.com, my new site. After that, lithicbee.wordpress.com will not be kept up to date.

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 88Allin returned to Pudlington, uncertain about who controls the cat city.

The Only City Left: Part 89

As it turned out, Tumble was back in control of Pudlington and I was allowed in without any confrontation, but the good news ended there. Once inside the city, I was not kept waiting for long before Tumble arrived. His face lit with a weak smile when he greeted me, but it quickly disappeared.

“Emperor Banshee?” I asked.

“Is beyond the help of our finest physicians,” Tumble said, his voice catching in his throat. “He is hanging on to the barest thread of life, but when I told him you had returned, he requested your presence. We must hurry.”

Hurry we did, to the top of the city where Banshee lay under blankets amidst a room full of the blossoms he loved so well. Their aroma was nearly overwhelming but it only barely covered the foul stench of death coming from Banshee himself. Tumble stayed at the door while I approached the bed and knelt down beside the fallen Emperor.

“Allin, is that you?” he asked, opening his eyes ever so slightly.

“Yes, your highness.”

“So formal now that I am dying,” he said with a tiny grin. “Doyle?”

“Dead.”

“Good, good. Then we are even, at least.”

“Sir, I think Fordham was working with—”

“Yes, he was, but he has fled. That is Tumble’s problem now,” Banshee said. He paused to take some shallow breaths. “Allin, you must accept my apology.”

“You have nothing to be sorry for. I made my own choices.”

“Ah, but I forced your hand,” he said, his voice starting to slur. He mumbled something I couldn’t hear and then said, “Bait to lure Doyle out. No thought for you. I was wrong.”

He put his hand out and I cupped it in both of mine.

Bait? I wasn’t sure exactly what he meant, but it didn’t matter anymore and I told him so.

“Kind. Kind of you,” he said, his eyes closing. “Tyena?”

“I don’t know. Disappeared.”

“If you see her, tell her. I’m sorry. To her. Too.”

“I will,” I said, the tears running down my face as I felt his grip weaken. “Goodbye, Emperor Banshee.”

I felt a touch on my shoulder and looked up to see Tumble standing beside me.

“He did the best he could in his life,” Tumble said. He moved around me and smoothed the fur on his brother’s face. “What more can be said?”

Nothing.

I left Tumble to mourn his brother’s passing in solitude, and made my way back to my room to bury myself in blankets and self-recriminations. Doyle was dead and the plague of the werewolves was over, but the costs had been great. I played over and over in my mind the moment when the rogue guard pulled the coil out of his hat. If I had been faster, I could have stopped him and Banshee would still be alive. He had apologized to me, something about using me as bait. But I should have been the one to offer him an apology before he died. I felt miserable. Eventually, I fell asleep.

 

For two days, I stayed in bed. When I was awake, I lay staring at the ceiling, pondering all the wrong turns I had made. Cats came by to leave me food and to take it away after I ignored it, but otherwise they left me alone.

On the third day, I had a visitor who was not so easily put off.

“Go away, Ballister,” I said when he pulled the blanket off of me.

“Whew. You have all this nice stuff, a shower, clean clothes, but you smell worse than any of us ever did crammed into our little room.”

“Your opinion has been noted. Go away and you won’t have to smell me.”

“Can’t. Been sent to get you cleaned up and presentable-like.”

“Why?”

“The mourning period for Banshee is over. Tumble’s to become the catfolk’s new Emperor today, and you’re to attend the ceremony.”

“Don’t want to,” I said, and turned over.

“I don’t much care,” he said. He grabbed me by the shoulder and wrenched me back to face him. “Tumble’s following through on Banshee’s agreement with you. Me and my people’re being allowed to stay, and more’ll be let in after us. Won’t look good if you’re in here practicing your mopey face when Tumble announces all this, you being a hero and all.”

I shook his hand off and sat up.

“Some hero. I killed a bad man and I was too slow to save a good cat. Does that balance out?”

“You followed through on your word to Banshee. The werewolves are done. Doyle’s dead. I’m not living in a room scraping algae for dinner anymore. The world’s a safer place, for a little while at least. Pretty damn heroic, if you ask me. So you couldn’t save everyone. That’s the way it is. Now get cleaned up and dressed nice and be at the throne in an hour, or you’ll embarrass us all.”

I didn’t answer him and he left without another word.

I sighed and allowed myself to notice my own stink. Damn, Ballister’s right. Again.

An hour later I stood in attendance at Tumble’s coronation, in a place of honor two steps below him (and one below a cat named Taleon whom I had never met before but who was the new new Envoy). I wore fine clothing that had been laid out for me by the cats, but I left my now-defunct coil in my room so as not to stir any bitter memories of recent events.

As Ballister promised, Tumble spoke of a new era in which Pudlington would be a refuge and a shining example of how life can thrive even in the depths of the city. He thanked me for my service to the throne and asked the citizens of Pudlington to offer me their every courtesy.

Considering the turmoil that had greeted Banshee’s similar announcement, I was surprised at the rousing cheers that Tumble’s words received. Perhaps without Fordham agitating the crowd, they were more accepting of the idea of human refugees sharing their city. Or maybe, I had to admit to myself, it was the fact that I had followed through on my side of the bargain, had proven that humans could keep their word. For whatever reason, my heart felt lighter by the time the ceremony was over. If the cats could accept a change of this magnitude, perhaps there was hope that the city itself could change, given enough work and time.

Hours later, the ceremony had become a party with the throne platform as its epicenter. I stood near the platform’s edge, looking out at the lights of the city and talking to Ballister. He nodded at something behind me and I looked back to see Tumble—Emperor Tumble—approaching.

I turned back to Ballister but he was already walking away. He waved goodbye and headed toward a buffet table for thirds or fourths.

“Ballister seems to be settling in quite nicely. Who knew there was such a gentleman underneath all that dirt?”
“I think you had an idea,” I said, and remembered to add, “Your Highness.”

Tumble sighed, and in it I heard him yearning for a time when his brother was alive and he was free to run through the city, chasing adventure with a foolish young man. Much had changed in a few days. We stood in silence for a while, festivities taking place behind us, while before us the city lay dark and still except for islands of light and activity.

“What exactly happened with the coils?” I asked. It was something I had been curious about ever since it happened, but had been too caught up in my moping (as Ballister would have it) to ask about until now. “They got shut down just in time, but you couldn’t have gotten back here yet.”

“You’re right. You have Fordham to thank for the coils. If he had left well enough alone, Professor Copper wouldn’t have touched the satellites until Banshee or I ordered her to, but Fordham didn’t know that. He tried to shut the project down, so she ordered her team to initiate the procedure while she stalled him. Fordham was enraged. He locked her up but the damage was already done.”

“Then I owe them both my life, I guess. Any chance of me being able to thank him personally?”

“We haven’t found the exit he used yet, which you can be sure is giving me no end of worry. If he got out without us knowing, what’s to keep him from coming back in the same way?”

“The days of Pudlington hiding behind closed doors are over anyway, right?”

“True, but I still don’t like that he’s free. Who knows what he’ll be up to.”

“Yeah. And not just him. The Fifth House, whoever they are, must have given Doyle power for a reason. I doubt they’re going to sit back and take this loss without a fight.”

Tumble hummed in agreement and asked, “And you? You’ve seen the sun rise on the Roof of the World. Your uncle is no longer alive to chase you endlessly through the city. What’s next for Allin Arcady?”

I looked out at the lights in the darkness. One by one, as partygoers returned to their homes in the cat’s cradle of a city, more lights went on.

“Well,” I said. “It’s a dark world out there, and if we don’t do anything, it’ll only get darker. Ballister told me I can’t save everyone, and he’s right. But Earth is the only city left, and I’m not going to let it die without a fight.”

“My brother would be proud of that sentiment, Allin. As am I. Know that so long as I am Emperor, you shall never be alone in this fight.”

I looked away, a little too tight in the throat to reply immediately. When I could speak again, I tried to lighten the mood.

“Come on, let’s get some more to eat before Ballister finishes it all.”

“Banshee would approve of that sentiment as well.”

With that, we turned away from the darkness and headed toward the light and noise of the celebration, to enjoy the good times for so long as they should last.

* * *

10/27/13 News: That’s it. The end of the serialized version of The Only City Left. This has been an incredible ride. If I had understood the amount of work involved, I might never have had the courage to start the project, but I’m glad I went into it somewhat blind. In the process, I’ve interacted with wonderful readers, discovered other creators’ amazing endeavors, and pushed myself to grow as a writer. I can’t wait until the final, edited version of The Only City Left is released, and I can get to work on my next project. Thanks to everyone who has read, commented, and shared.

In case you didn’t see the notice at the top of the post, please be aware that I have a new website: atgoldman.com. Right now it is simply a copy of this one, but after Part 89 of The Only City Left is posted, any new content will be posted to atgoldman.com. This site will be shuttered except for a notification post when The Only City Left is released in novel form.

The Only City Left is listed on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction.

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.

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 61, Allin returned to Pudlington along with Ballister and his people and an army of ghosts. He told the guards he was there to fight Banshee’s army for him, on one condition.

The Only City Left: Part 62

After many messages to and from the authorities inside of Pudlington, we were granted entrance. Once inside, Xerxes, Ballister and I were asked to meet with Emperor Banshee. Ballister’s people were taken to a holding area and Xerxes’ ghosts agreed to wait outside of the city. Of course, if they had wanted to force the issue and come inside, there was not much the cats could do to stop them short of releasing an electro-magnetic pulse inside the city.

It was an odd return to Pudlington. The first time I visited, I was a curiosity. This time, a phalanx of armed guards escorted the three of us through the city and down one of the ramps to stand before Banshee’s stepped dais. It felt less like an honor guard and more like we were prisoners being paraded before a judge. Not a good sign.

Besides our manner of entrance, two other sights gave me pause. Instead of six imperial guards around Banshee’s throne, there were at least twenty of the feather-capped fellows standing ramrod straight, hands gripping their halberds. And instead of Tumble standing one step below the Emperor—his brother, I recalled with no small wonder—there stood a cat I had last seen at the first royal dinner I had attended in Pudlington. I couldn’t recall his name, but his attitude toward me then matched the look on his face now: haughty disdain.

A large audience of cats milled about the platform, and I was glad for the thick ropes that held up the circular floor we trod upon; it was quite a crowd. The guards had to clear a space so that we could stand a few feet out from the bottom step before Banshee.

I glanced to one side and checked on Ballister. He had a grim, determined look on his face that belied how nervous he probably felt. It’s one thing to know that there is a cat city nearby. It’s quite another to be inside of it, surrounded by hundreds of cats, many of whom are armed and unhappy that you’re near them. On my other side, Xerxes stood patiently, a bemused look upon his face, his feet not quite touching the floor beneath him.

At a sign from the cat who stood below Banshee, the imperial guards stamped their halberds on the floor three times in unison. The platform quieted to a low murmur and the same cat announced, “Our Emperor, Banshee LXXVI, recognizes Allin Arcady and companions. Kneel before the emperor.”

Not again, I thought, but this time I couldn’t afford to risk offending anyone. I nodded to Ballister and Xerxes and went down on one knee, my head bowed. Out of the corner of my eyes, I saw Ballister do the same, a scowl on his face, while Xerxes opted to sink into the floor down to his knees. I stifled a grin at that.

“You may rise,” said Emperor Banshee. “Friends of Allin Arcady, introduce yourselves.”

“Entwhistle Ballister at your service, your majesty.”

I held back another smile. Entwhistle?

“Xerxes.” No courtly flourishes there.

“Very well. And this is Acting Royal Envoy Fordham, whom I believe you have met once before, Allin.”

Banshee emphasized those last words and I caught a warning in his tone.

“Where’s Tumble?” I asked.

“Yes, what has become of your brother?” Fordham asked, pulling at his whiskers.

Banshee answered us both. “He is working on another project.”

Another project? I imagined he must be down in the Skunkworks with Professor Copper, working on the lantern coil. I placed my hand on my chest and felt Matthias’ coil beneath my shirt. I needed to speak to Copper as soon as possible about what I had figured out.

“He informed us of your death, Allin. How is it that he was so mistaken?”

“After what happened, I should be dead. The others who fell from that bridge with me didn’t make it.” Guppy. Matthias. I didn’t go into details about how they died. “I’m still alive partly by chance and partly thanks to the creatures who dwell in the dark, the merskers.”

The crowd raised its collective voice at this. Even the cats had their legends about the beings that live in the darkened voids of the city. I didn’t disabuse them of the horrifying images invoking their name must conjure.

“And I would never have made it back to Pudlington if not for the aid of Xerxes and the other ghosts.”

Fordham barely concealed a sneer at my words, and I saw Banshee catch it before it disappeared.

“Yes, it is truly amazing what can be accomplished when unlikely allies work together, is it not?” Banshee said, his fingers steepled before him.

Fordham’s fur bristled and he practically doubled in size before he shook himself to make it lay down again. “If we can get back to the matter of how Mr. Arcady broke his trust with us by leading human interlopers to our gates?”

“We ain’t no ’lopers,” Ballister said in a booming voice that briefly set Fordham’s hair on end again. “And I don’t like that my people are being kept under armed guard. I understood we’d be guests here, not prisoners.”

I expected Fordham to respond, but it was Banshee who spoke. “We made no such promises to your people, Entwhistle Ballister. For that, you have only Allin to blame.”

I was shocked. I thought for sure Banshee would back up my plan, if for no other reason than to annoy Fordham.

The Emperor continued. “For now your people are being fed and have been given access to sanitation. Given the state you are in, I see no cause for complaint with your treatment in Pudlington.”

“Where humans should not have been allowed to enter in the first place, your highness,” Fordham said. “First the Arcady boy and now this refuse. This is a disgrace!”

“Your opinion is well known, Acting Envoy. The fact remains that Ballister and his people are guests in my city for now and you shall keep a civil tongue about them while I sit the throne. Moving on.”

Fordham looked discomfited and I held my lips tight together to keep from grinning. Any hint of a grin disappeared when Banshee turned his gaze on me and said, “Allin, outside of our gates, you spoke of conditions. One does not demand conditions of emperors. Explain yourself.”

* * *

Continue to Part 63.

4/21/13 News:

This was one crazy week, with many distractions and illnesses and assorted other goodies. I managed to meet my minimum word count goal for the first draft of Book Two, but it came down to the wire on Friday night. Here’s hoping next week goes more smoothly.

5thWk8

Thanks to everyone who reads, comments, and shares. It truly makes me happy to know that people are enjoying this story.

The Only City Left is 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!

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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. (Click here for the Table of Contents.)

At the end of Part 60, Allin had bested a not-quite-healed Matthias in one-on-one combat and then spared his life. All that remained was to leave Matthias to the merskers, but before Allin could leave the village, he was stopped in his tracks by a ghost.

The Only City Left: Part 61

The ghosts. What with the slavers and the merskers and Matthias, I had forgotten all about the silent army of ghosts that had followed me to the mersker village. This was the second time in recent days that one had spoken to me, and this time the ghost had addressed me by name. If I hadn’t been so weary, I might have found the trend disturbing.

“So talk,” I said, walking around and past the ghost. “But I’m getting out of here before they change their mind.”

I felt a cold touch on the back of my neck.

“Wait, please. We will ensure your safety.”

I turned and saw the ghost army lining up behind the speaker, walling me off from the village. The ghost light would certainly dissuade the merskers from interfering.

“Who are you?”

“I have been a ghost for so long, my old name is meaningless,” he said, pausing as if to sift through his dusty electronic databanks. “If you must address me, the name Xerxes will do.”

“Okay, Xerxes. So what’s with all these ghosts following me?”

“Normally we stay out of the affairs of the living, but the time has come to take a role. The werewolves have added many to our ranks, and Doyle Arcady’s machinations threaten to strike at the very nature of our beings. However, there is only so much we can do. We need a living being to champion our cause. Someone worthy.”

“So you’ve been, what, judging me?”

“Yes, Allin Arcady, we have been watching you, assessing you, for some time now.”

I shivered at the thought. The ghosts had been watching me. Banshee had been keeping track of me. Doyle had been chasing me. What other unseen forces had eyes on me and, more importantly: “Why?”

“The werewolf king already seeks you out. A confrontation is inevitable. With our might and knowledge, you will at least have a chance of surviving that encounter and redressing the wrongs that your uncle has committed.”

I was too stunned to respond. Xerxes was offering me an army of ghosts to use in the fight against Doyle. My head swam at the bizarre prospect.

Xerxes must have taken my silence for doubt, because he said, “Witness the power we wield when united.”

He turned and the mass of ghosts behind him marched into the mersker village. I started to protest that I didn’t want the merskers harmed, but except for the light they gave off, the ghosts did not molest the scavengers. They formed a line to where Matthias lay on the ground and, to his and my surprise, swarmed over him.

“What are they doing?” I asked.

“Delivering justice.”

I saw Matthias’ body rise up off the floor as a constant stream of ghosts moved down the line they had formed, surrounding and supporting him. Matthias began to scream, high and thin whines that lost their strength as more ghosts exerted their will to make one small piece of their spectral bodies solid. Hundreds of ghosts overlapped to hold him in place, using the energy from his own body to power their solidification. The more he weakened, the stronger they became, until he couldn’t resist as they passed him hand over hand down their line. They paraded him past me and away, leaving Xerxes and a few dozen other ghosts behind.

“Where are they taking him?”

“For interrogation. If he’s lucky, it will end in his death. If not, if a passing Lazarus storm happens by to resurrect him, he’ll know what it’s like to feel endless pain, anger, and bitterness.”

I digested that and shook my head.

“Look, I was already planning to fight the werewolves however I can, and I’d be happy to have your help, but unless you know the way back to the cat city, it’s going to be a while before I can do anything useful.”

“We can lead you to the cat city. Just tell us which one.”

* * *

True to his word, Xerxes and the other ghosts guided me back to Pudlington. Without their help, I would probably never have found my way, or if I did, it might have taken another three years. But due to their combined knowledge and ability to scout the best route by fanning out and phasing through walls, I was able to make the trip in a week. Each day, I covered a tremendous amount of ground, and the ghosts helped me find food and water, clean and dry clothing, safe spots to sleep, and most importantly, medicine. Not only had I gotten cut up quite a bit down in the junkyard, but I had been immersed in who knows what filth. Thanks to the ghosts, I managed to stave off any illness.

They were also good for conversation. Well, some of them. Even united in their goals, not every ghost was thrilled about helping a living human. I got the cold shoulder from some of them, literally. Others were fonts of knowledge. For instance, I hadn’t known about Pudlington before I met Tumble, but I wondered if even he was aware that six other cat cities still thrived in Earth.

As exhilarating as it was to be taken on a whirlwind tour of the city from the basement up, it was a great relief to find myself once again in front of a familiar door.

I raised my fist and pounded it against the thick, steel door a few times. There was no answer, so I raised my voice and asked, “Hello, is anyone in there? It’s me.”

Silence. I had asked the ghosts to wait out of sight so as not to frighten anyone, but now I considered calling one over to peek through the wall for me.

I tried one last time. “Ballister? It’s me.”

I heard the sound of locks opening and I stepped back. The door opened, but only a crack.

“That voice can’t belong to who I think it does.”

I grinned. “Yes, Ballister, it can.”

The door opened the rest of the way and Ballister rushed through it and lifted me into the air by my armpits.

“Allin! Tumble told us you died!” he shouted.

A weight lifted from me upon hearing that Tumble had survived. I asked how he was.

“He was scraped up but mostly fine, if not a bit distressed at your passing,” Ballister said, setting me down. “Spent a night here before going back to Pudlington. Gave my people a little scare, he did, what with not wearing any disguise this time. But where’s my manners? Come in, come in!”

The people inside the room lifted hands in greeting but were otherwise rather listless when I entered. The food that Tumble and I had shared would have all been used up by now; they were back on strict rationing and as little activity as possible.

“So what happened? How did you survive falling like that? How did you get back here? Why did you come back here?”

I laughed. “That’s a lot of questions. I’ll tell you all about it, but first I have a question for you, and please don’t take offense.”
Ballister looked down his beaky nose at me and nodded for me to go on.

“How would you all like to move someplace a little bit nicer?”

* * *

Ballister was predictably suspicious, not of me, but that my plan would work. We put it to a vote and even had a few of the ghosts join in on the conversation to make sure the mere sight of my allies wouldn’t send Ballister’s people flying under their bed-shelves. I wasn’t sure if they would agree to my proposal, but in the end my promises swayed them to take a risk and leave their safe but squalid nest. After that, it was up to the ghosts to lead us safely through the maze surrounding Pudlington. They pointed out the traps along the way and helped us to avoid or defuse them, so when we reached Pudlington’s inner bailey, no one had suffered an injury or gotten lost.

Our passage did not go unnoticed. Instead of two guards outside the gates to Pudlington, there were well over a hundred filling the hallway. I faced them at the head of an odd assortment of the wretched living and stoic undead.

“We’re not here to cause trouble,” I said. “I only ask that you deliver a message. Tell Emperor Banshee that I’ll fight his war for him. On one condition.”

* * *

Continue to Part 62.

4/14/13 News:

And so ends the second third of The Only City Left. I hope you’ve been enjoying it so far and will stick around for the next 30 installments!

Here’s my word count for the week. I am so close to being caught up to my goal, but at the same time I need to be writing less and brainstorming more as I move into the endgame of Book Two’s first draft. So as much as I’d like to be caught up or ahead on my word count goal, it may be a while yet before that happens.

5thWk7

Also, here’s a slightly updated version of the cover I shared last week. I guess I won’t say this is the final version, because you never know.

onlycityleft-041013a small

Thanks to everyone who reads, comments, and shares. It truly makes me happy to know that people are enjoying this story.

The Only City Left is 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. (Click here for the Table of Contents.)

At the end of Part 59, Allin couldn’t sit idly by while the merskers were being rounded up by slavers, so he made a deal with Matthias. If he could find Matthias’ coil, Matthias would stop the slavers. With the help of a mersker, he found the coil and brought it back to Matthias.

The Only City Left: Part 60

Matthias wasted no time once I returned the coil. He slipped the necklace on, pressed the proper buttons, and whispered his passphrase. Just in time, too, because the slavers had finally noticed my constant comings and goings and were heading our way.

The nearest one wore a helmet in the shape of a dragon’s head, perhaps in compensation for his mouse-squeak of a voice. He said, “What’s this, then? The merskers got some human pets?”

Matthias, fully transformed, leaped out of the bin, sending mersker food flying in all directions. A loose tentacle flew forward and slapped Dragon-head in the face. He was so busy wiping the slime off from that, he didn’t even notice that Matthias had sliced him open from neck to groin until the werewolf had already moved past.

“What’s this then?” he repeated softly, and collapsed first to his knees and then face down.

Matthias stared at the remaining slavers and said, “Slave-takers! Doyle Arcady has dealings with these creatures. If you enslave them all, he will be displeased.”

“Hell with you!” said a slaver in response.

He shot at him three times, but Matthias grabbed another slaver and used him as a shield before tossing his limp body to one side. The slaver managed to land one dart successfully before Matthias tackled him and exacted his bloody revenge. If the tranquilizer slowed him down at all, I couldn’t tell.

It was clear that the slavers hadn’t expected any resistance. After another one took a shot at Matthias and met the same grisly end, the fight went out of the rest of them and they lowered their weapons.

Matthias, blood dripping from teeth and claws, said, “Doyle Arcady’s reach is infinite. Never seek to deny his will. Now take the merskers you’ve already tranked and get out of here, you scum.”

The slavers exchanged glances, their thoughts evident: Is this some kind of trick?

“Go!” Matthias roared.

He didn’t have to tell them again. They sprang into action, dragging limp merskers away toward their trucks.

I ran up to Matthias and grabbed his arm.

“What are you doing? This isn’t the deal!”

He knocked my hand away with a shrug of his shoulder. “You’re lucky I’m saving any of them. Trust no one, remember?”

“Oh, I remember all right.”

I reached into my pocket and pulled out the tiny device I had stashed there earlier. With a brief prayer that it still worked, I jammed it into Matthias’ side. Electricity flooded into him with a sizzling crackle and I could smell burnt hair. After only a couple of seconds, the battery was drained and the one-time device was useless, so I dropped it. Matthias fell, too, crashing to his knees as he fought to control his paralyzed body. I couldn’t count on that lasting for long, so I did the quickest thing I could think of to neutralize the threat. I reached out and switched his coil to sunlight mode.

As he contracted to his regular human proportions, I slipped his necklace off and tossed it away. There, now I stand a chance.

“I don’t need to be a wolf to kill you, boy,” Matthias said, staggering to his feet. The effects of the shock had worn off even sooner than I would have imagined. “I don’t care why Doyle wants you. You’re mine now.”

I backed away and waited for him to come to me. Tumble would have approved. Behind him, I could see the merskers working to break free of their chains, aided by my friend. I hoped they could free themselves and help their brethren, but I couldn’t spare them any more attention.

Matthias lunged at me, the same straightforward fighting style he used as a werewolf. Without the extra size and razor-sharp teeth and claws, it lacked the same effect. I threw myself to the side and landed hard on my right shoulder, but rolled with the fall and was on my feet again shortly. Matthias twisted around to face me, his head down and back hunched, looking savage and primal even as a human.

“Face it, Matthias. Without your coil, you’re nothing.” I had to make him angry, get him rattled. I knew that even with his injured leg, he had strength and experience I did not.

He responded with a roar rather than sensible speech. This time, when he ran at me, I didn’t dodge. Instead, I threw myself at him, tackling him at the knees. Tumble would have shaken his head.

Matthias plowed through me and knocked me aside, but I must have hurt his bad leg, because he fell to the floor and yelled out. He reached for his leg and then pulled his hand back as if afraid to touch it.

With Matthias down, I spared a glance at the merskers. They had freed themselves and were going after the slavers. Some of them had destroyed the floodlights that had hindered their ability to fight back. Score one for the little guys.

I had to decide what to do with Matthias. I got up and walked over to where he lay, looking down on him by the light of the ghosts. His mouth was set in a grimace and he groaned in pain.

“Now what?” I asked him. “Do we keep going until one of us kills the other? Is that how you want to do it?”

Matthias’ grimace transformed into a grin, and his whimpers of pain disappeared.

“Yes. That’s generally how it’s done.”

He swept his legs to one side and took my feet out from under me. I hit the floor hard and the impact knocked the breath from my lungs. He jumped nimbly to his feet and reached down to grab me by my hair. The shock and pain of that did nothing to help me catch my breath, and dark spots filled my vision as I gasped for air. He pulled me to my knees and leaned down to speak directly into my ear.

“You should know, we heal a little each time we transform, so my leg’s all better now. I went to a lot of trouble to protect you, but I’ve reached my limit.”

He shook me by my hair and it felt like my scalp would tear off my skull. I cried out in pain and he continued.

“When I see Doyle again, I’ll share with him the sad tale of how you perished in the bowels of the city at the hands of the merskers, and how I killed them all in return. I’m sure he’ll get over the loss somehow.”

I found my breath and said, “I liked you better when you didn’t talk so much!”

With all my strength, I elbowed him in his freshly-healed leg. The snap of his bone breaking again was the most satisfying sound I had heard in ages. He let me go and collapsed to the floor, his screams of pain genuine this time. I got to my hands and knees and saw one of the mersker’s spears on the ground next to me. I grabbed it, used the blunt end to help me to my feet and then reversed my grip on it and stood next to where Matthias writhed on the ground.

“I’ve had enough of you, too, Matthias.”

His eyes widened as I lifted the spear above my head. He squeezed them shut as I thrust it down at him.

And buried the point in the ground beside his head.

He opened his eyes and looked at the spear, mere inches away.

“So much for my killer instinct.”

I pulled the spear out of the ground and walked away. In his state, he wasn’t a threat any longer. The slavers, on the other hand…. It seemed they weren’t a threat any longer, either. The freed merskers had managed to overwhelm the remaining slavers and had bound them in their own chains. One of the merskers broke off from his comrades and headed my way. I saw four parallel claw marks on his chest, so I pointed to Matthias and said, “He’s the one you want.”

The mersker ignored my foreign words and raised his spear. I brought mine up in return and thought, I won’t let them take me this time.

Instead of attacking, the mersker pointed his spear at me and then swept it around to point out of the village, past the ghosts. He jabbed the spear for emphasis.

“I get it, I get it. You don’t have to tell me twice.”

It wasn’t exactly gratitude, but given the way the merskers were licking their lips while eyeing the captured slavers, I was glad to accept the free pass.

I dropped the spear, disgusted by what it represented. It had been a split-second decision to bury it in the ground rather than in Matthias’ skull, and I wasn’t sure which choice I would make if I had to do it again. I felt the darkness of the city creeping into my soul.

My mood lightened a bit when, before I reached the edge of the village, my mersker friend caught up to me. He had my bag in one hand and Matthias’ coil in the other. In my haste to leave, I hadn’t even thought of retrieving them, but he had remembered.

We couldn’t understand each other’s language and my throat was too tight to speak, so I accepted the gifts without words, head bowed and eyes closed. When I opened them, the mersker was scurrying back to his people.

I turned once more to leave, only to find myself face to face with a ghost.

“Allin Arcady, we must talk.”

* * *

Continue to Part 61.

4/7/13 News: Another busy week, but I fought and clawed my way forward on the Book Two first draft, determined to catch back up to my goal sooner rather than later. If I can keep up this pace, it will still be a couple of weeks before I’m back on track, and then there’s only two or three weeks before the first draft should be done, but I’d rather not be so far behind until the very last day.

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Okay, I’m writing. That’s good. What else? I’m also getting notes back on The Only City Left from my editor. Perhaps the word “notes” does not encompass the amount of suggestions, questions, and polite ridicule that is included in each chapter’s editorial response. Some of these “notes” equal or outweigh the amount of original text. And I’m loving it. Even though I worked hard to improve TOCL when I created a full-length novel from the serial version, there was still a lot that needed to be done to make the book more engaging. My editor is pointing those areas out to me and, when needed, whacking me upside the head with them. Once I am done drafting Book Two, I’ll be working on the edit/re-write of Book One. I am really really really looking forward to it.

Finally, I have a cover for Book One! So without further ado, here it is!

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I feel that I am finally making some good progress on getting this book produced, but at the same time, I’m not rushing it just to have it out there. My goal is to have it done at least before the serialized version ends (in about 7 more months) and hopefully well before that. We shall see.

Thanks to everyone who reads, comments, and shares. It truly makes me happy to know that people are enjoying this story.

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!

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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. (Click here for the Table of Contents.)

At the end of Part 58, Allin and Matthias’ plan to escape the merskers was put on hold due to the arrival of a bigger threat: slavers.

The Only City Left: Part 59

“That’s your big plan? ‘We wait’?” I whispered to Matthias while watching the oddly-armored invaders begin to round up the merskers.

Each of the invading humans had a unique set of armor that was as much a work of found art as anything in the mersker’s village. They were clearly no strangers to life in this trash-filled under-city, but their cars and lights showed that they lived at a much higher level of civilization than the merskers did.

“Yes. We wait,” Matthias whispered back. “Hopefully they take what they want and leave without finding us.”

“And what if they do find us?”

“The Garden has dealings with the merskers and the slavers. I’ll invoke Doyle’s name. They’ll respect that.”

“Fat chance of that working without you being able to turn into a wolf.”

“Then why don’t you be quiet and pray they don’t find us?”

I took the first part of his advice, at least, but what ran through my head were questions, not prayers. Out in the center of the village, the slavers were lining up the merskers and putting them in chains. The ones who were already knocked out were piled together like sacks of flour. For all that the slavers had cars and weapons and art, they had no civility, no empathy toward their fellow residents of Earth. It sickened me to see them mistreat the merskers and laugh about it all the while.

Meanwhile, the silent army of ghosts remained in place, doing nothing. The slavers gave the ghosts a wide berth but otherwise ignored them. And what was I doing? Hiding in a disgusting stew of rotting carcasses, a potpourri of putrescence that included Guppy. He was just a kid, really, like me. We both made choices, good and bad, that led us to this bin. The difference was, Guppy had no more choices to make and I still did.

I could stay in hiding and wait for the slavers to leave. That might be the smart thing to do, the safe thing. Matthias would approve and, disturbingly enough, Dad probably would, too. After all, it fit perfectly with his “Always stay alive” maxim. But outside my safe, stink-filled hiding place, merskers were wailing. The invaders dealt harshly with the few who still struggled against their fate, forgoing the trank guns in favor of beating their recalcitrant captives into submission.

I owed the merskers nothing really. Some device of theirs had plucked me from a certain death, as it had for Matthias, but Guppy had not been so lucky. It was chance that saved me, not the merskers. Who knew what they had been planning to do to me if the slavers hadn’t shown up. I certainly hadn’t been free to leave. It would serve them right to get taken away and held captive in return, and it would free me to continue making my way to the roof of the world as best I could, once I ditched Matthias.

I looked over at him and saw that he had his eyes closed. The attack on the village was of such little concern to him that he could use this time to rest. I guess I shouldn’t have expected anything else. After all, as one of Doyle’s werewolves, he had probably participated in a scene like this hundreds of times. I felt disgusted. Not with Matthias. With myself.

If I did nothing, that would mean one more pocket of life, of light, would be snuffed out in the city. More lights would follow until the Earth became darker and darker and was snuffed out entirely. We might be the last remnants of humanity, but instead of helping one another out, we were killing each other off in a race to extinction.

In the end, Dad’s motto wasn’t enough. What good would it be for me to stay alive if the rest of the world died. I had to do more than survive and go sightseeing on the city’s roof. I had to follow Mom’s advice, not Dad’s. With darkness engulfing the world, I had to be a light in the dark.

I nudged Matthias and his eyes snapped open.

“If I can get you your coil, will you help the merskers?

He raised an eyebrow. “You have a plan?”

“I think so.”

“Fine, you bring me the coil and I’ll grind those slavers into dust. Not for the merskers. For me.”

I grimaced and pulled myself out of the muck. Matthias could justify his actions however he liked, so long as he helped. The slavers were loading the unconscious merskers into their trucks. I didn’t have much time.

I made the now-familiar trip back to the electronics bin, leaned over the back wall, and said, “Hey, guy, get your butt out here. I need your help.”

I didn’t get a response, so I pounded on the top of the junk pile a few times and said, “Come on! We don’t have much time!”

Maybe he recognized my voice, or figured out that a slaver wouldn’t bother to ask him to come out of hiding. Either way, the mersker poked his head out and eyed me warily.

I pointed to the center of the village, showing him that the slavers were finishing up loading his tranked kinfolk. The ones who were awake and chained together in lines would be next. The mersker made a tiny moan and turned back to me. His lips trembled and his eyes glistened with moisture.

I pointed first at myself and then to the other merskers. “I can help you, but I need the coil you guys took.” Gestures for necklace and blinding light. “Can you get it for me?”

The mersker blinked twice, looked at his friends again, and then crawled back into his hole.

Dirt! He’s not getting it. Or he’s too afraid to help. Now what? I could take out one of the slavers if I could get close enough, but then I’d be the next one in chains and loaded into a truck. I needed the coil so that Matthias could wolf out, or the merskers wouldn’t stand a chance.

I pounded on the trash again, in frustration this time, when out popped my mersker friend. He held the coil up to me with a questioning look on his face, as if he was asking, “Is this what you wanted?”

I smiled and took the coil from him

“Buddy, you just saved your village.”

* * *

Continue to Part 60.

3/31/13 News:

It’s been a busy week for me personally and also for The Only City Left. I have an editor for Book One now and a second cover artist after the first had to bow out due to other commitments. I am also doing my best to catch up to my arbitrary word count goal for Book Two. Here are my stats for those who are interested in that sort of thing. For the next book, I will start my writing week on Monday, not Saturday, so I don’t start every week in the hole! (Sure, it’s all relative, but this is the kind of stuff that drives me crazy.)

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For a quick way to show support (one click; you don’t need to sign in), please vote for The Only City Left at topwebfiction.com.

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

If you have a little more time and don’t mind registering first, I would appreciate any ratings/reviews/recommends on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction.

You can also share The Only City Left by clicking on any of those handy social media buttons at the bottom of the page.

All these methods help to bring in new readers, which is great for moral support. Thank you 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.

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 57, Allin was trying to exit the mersker village so that he could sneak around it and search for Matthias’ coil. The merskers, however, wouldn’t let him leave. Allin hit upon a plan involving the mersker’s weakness: light.

The Only City Left: Part 58

I once again casually strolled over to the edge of the village, but this time the suspicious merskers were on to me sooner. That was okay, though, because this time I headed to a different edge, the one where all the ghosts stood watching and waiting. I broke into a sprint and my pursuers did likewise, but I reached the ghosts first. Ignoring their stares—stare all you want, guys, but stay put, all right?—I looked back to see the approaching merskers already squinting against the concentrated ghost light. I smiled and plunged into the mass of ghosts.

The cold wiped the smile right off my face. Running through this many ghosts felt like swimming through a frigid pool. I looked back and saw the merskers stop and shield their eyes before giving up the chase. My plan had worked, but by the time I reached the far side of the ghostly crowd, I felt as if all my body heat had been sucked right out of me. I shook violently from the cold, and if that wasn’t enough to make my knees knock together, I noticed that the ghosts had turned as one to face me. This kind of attention I did not need.

I hugged myself, rubbed my arms for warmth, and waved a shaky goodbye to the ghosts.

“Thanks for the help. Be seeing you,” I said, teeth chattering. If I had expected any of the ghosts to crack a smile, I would have been disappointed.

Free from interference, I skulked around the outside of the village. Though the area was hilly with mounds of junk, the ambient ghost light allowed me to navigate. I topped a final hill and reached the back end of the bin I wanted, only to find that my mersker friend was back to work inside it, picking over and examining this and that broken device. He had his back to me but could turn and raise the alarm at any moment.

What now? I wondered. Wait for him to go away? That could take time I don’t have. I’m hungry. I’m cold. I’m tired of being pushed around. I’m tired of waiting.

I looked around at the trash around me until I saw a metal bar about two feet long. Carefully, I reached over and picked it up. It had a good heft to it but wasn’t too heavy to swing: a nice, makeshift club.

That’s when I realized: I was seriously considering braining the mersker in the bin because he stood between me and a chance at freedom. I didn’t owe the merskers anything, to be sure. They were holding me against my will, or had been until I scampered off, and they still had my bag and Matthias’ coil. But could I strike one of them down in cold blood to get what I wanted?

I gripped the metal bar tighter, scooted forward a little, oh so quietly, and reached the edge of the bin. I gripped it with my free hand and lifted one leg and then the other over the edge. Now I was sitting on the rear wall and the mersker stood within my reach.

I had to decide now, before he moved away or heard me: Do what needs to be done or stay my hand and remain a prisoner?

Before I could make up my mind, I heard a gunshot in the distance, followed by the sounds of engines revving. The mersker stopped what he was doing and his head shot up, facing away from me. He listened for a moment as the engine sounds grew louder, and then burrowed into a narrow crack in the pile of electronics and disappeared.

Had I really been about to brain him? Did I have the Arcady killer instinct after all? I didn’t have time to ponder those questions. Bright white floodlights lit up the village, sending the merskers into a panic. The sound of the engines cut off, to be replaced by hoots and hollers and more gunshots. Whatever this commotion was, it dashed my already fragile plan to pieces. I needed to get back to Matthias, to decide what to do next.

I stepped into the bin and crunched my way down the mound of electronics to the low front wall. Wrecked gadgets and broken machinery poured onto the ground around me as I slid out of the bin and landed on my backside. When I stood up I saw my cocoon bag nestled near the front of the bin, uncovered thanks to the mini-avalanche I had caused.

The sight of that old bag did more to warm me up than a raging fire could have. I grabbed it and was about to rush back to Matthias when I thought better of it. I could get caught and have it taken away again, so I stopped first and pulled out two items that I didn’t want to lose. One was my leftover nutri-bulb, which I immediately started to chew on, and the other was the only item I had made in the Skunkworks that could really be considered a weapon. I slipped it into my pants pocket and hoped it would still work in a pinch.

That done, I slipped the bag on again and sneaked around the edge of the village, back toward Matthias. I needn’t have worried about being stopped. The merskers had their hands full defending against the invaders.

I thought they were werewolves at first but realized that it was actually humans in bizarrely-decorated armor. They had pulled up in vehicles mounted with huge lights and directed them at the merskers, effectively paralyzing the light-sensitive creatures. Some merskers fought blind, inadvertently menacing friend and foe alike, but the invaders made a sport of shooting them down, laughing all the while. I thought of the weapon I had pocketed and felt deflated. At best I could take down one of them with it before they got me. Not good.

I managed to stay out of sight by dashing from hut to hut, but when I reached the merskers’ food bin and looked out to where Matthias had been lying in the clearing, he was gone.

Hsst, boy. Don’t stand there like a fool. Hide!”

I looked down at where Matthias’ voice was coming from and saw that he had followed much the same plan as the mersker in the electronics bin. Except Matthias had been closest to the bin full of slimy, rotting fish and animals. Only his head showed above the mass of putrid food-stuff, and if he closed his eyes he could be just another mersker-meal waiting to happen as far as the invaders were concerned.

“Get in here before you draw their notice!”

Reluctantly, I squirmed my way in next to Matthias, but not before setting my bag down outside of the bin. No reason to foul that, too.

“You found your purse, I see. How about the coil?”

“I barely had a chance to look before these guys showed up. Friends of yours?”

“Slavers, most likely, since they’re using trank guns.”

I hadn’t realized that and I wasn’t sure if this made me feel better or worse for the already-downed merskers.

“So what do we do now?”

“We wait.”

* * *

Continue to Part 59.

3/24/13 News:

I moved into a smaller place recently, which took a lot of my time and energy, so for 11 days I did not write at all, and for a few days before that I only wrote a little. Two weeks without writing, so as you can see from my spreadsheet snapshot, I am far behind my goal. But we’re mostly settled into our new place and I am getting back into my routine of writing before everyone else wakes up and also during my kids’ nap-time. It feels good and I am confident I can get back on track with my goals, although it might take a couple of weeks. While I can be hard on myself, I still allow myself to be amazed that I am writing more now, consistently, than any other time in my life.

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In other news, I have finally taken a stab at making a banner ad for The Only City Left, like many of the other Top Web Fiction serials have. So if you click the banner below, it will take you to the voting page for The Only City Left (and I’d appreciate the vote if you enjoyed this part of the story). I have no idea how to get the banner up at TWF, but perhaps one of my readers does? *Cough* Fiona? *Cough*

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

Not to be redundant, but for a quick way to show support for my writing (one click; you don’t need to sign in), please vote for The Only City Left at topwebfiction.com.

If you have a little more time and don’t mind registering first, I would appreciate any ratings/reviews/recommends on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction.

You can also share The Only City Left by clicking on any of those handy social media buttons at the bottom of the page.

All these methods help to bring in new readers, which is great for moral support. Thank you for reading!

#

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. (Click here for the Table of Contents.)

At the end of Part 56, Matthias was ridiculing Allin’s attempts to communicate with the merskers. Matthias claimed to have a better plan.

The Only City Left: Part 57

“The merskers are traders, pure and simple. In exchange for their scavenged items, they get goods from up-city. To them, we’re just more trash to be traded for something better.”

“Traded to who?”

“Whoever needs cheap labor.”

“You mean we’d be slaves?”

“Yes. That is only one possibility, however. It might be that we’re, how shall I say this, unspoiled meat.” He nodded over at the food bin that my mersker friend had dipped into. “You’ll note that Guppy is in there, so we know they don’t exactly discriminate about what, or who, they eat. And that’s where they dropped us off, too.”

The possibility had a disgusting logic to it. “I thought you said they were harmless.”

“I said they won’t kill what they can trade. But maybe they’re not interested in trading us. The point is, we can’t wait around to see what they do. We need to act.”

“So what’s your plan?”

“We don’t stand a chance unless I have my coil, first of all. With it, we have options. So we need to steal it back. Well, since I’m injured, you need to steal it.”

I looked around at the huts made of junk, which were interspersed with bins full of junk, the whole thing built on a layer of compressed junk and surrounded by hills of the stuff. I had no idea where I would start looking for one tiny lantern coil on a necklace in all of that mess. I told Matthias as much.

“I’m sure you’ll figure it out. Now if you’ll excuse me, I tire.” With that, Matthias lay down and closed his eyes.

Nice, give me an impossible task and then take a nap. What was I even doing, looking to Matthias for a plan? I walked away from him toward the center of the village. The ghost-light was less vivid here but I still saw the merskers slitting their great, round eyes against the glow and heard them muttering angrily in passing. I felt their pain; there’s not much you can do about ghosts except put up with them or emp them, and the merskers didn’t look to have that level of tech available.

Merskers. Bottom feeders, Matthias called them. It looked like whatever trash got flushed out of the upper city ended up here. If there was a roof of the world, I was in its basement now. I was so close! So high up! But as usual, something knocked me back down, sent me to this underworld full of indifferent jailers and accusing ghosts, where the only person who would talk to me would also stab me in the back given half a chance. I missed Tumble. I missed feeling warm and dry and full. I missed the times when it was just me alone, barely scraping by but free to explore the damn maze of a city at my leisure.

While I pondered these dismal thoughts, the merskers bustled around setting up stalls and laying out goods. Some monsters, I thought. Merchants, more like it. And if they’re getting ready to sell, traders must be coming soon. I guess time’s running out.

I returned to Matthias and nudged him awake. “I’ll find your coil, but you need to give me the passphrase so I can wolf out.”

“Oh no,” he said, sitting up. “I don’t think so. If you could ‘wolf out’ as you say, what would you need me for?”

“It just makes sense. You’re injured. Look what happened the last time you went up against the merskers.”

Matthias gently patted his leg where the bone had pierced the skin. “I’m feeling better, thanks to you. I’ll be the one to use the coil.”

“It’s hard to work together when we can’t trust each other!”

“Trust no one, boy, and your life will be better, and longer, for it. Now go find that coil before it’s too late!”

I thought to argue about it some more, but couldn’t see the point. We needed each other but couldn’t trust each other. Nothing would change that, so I would just have to do the best I could and watch out for myself.

I wandered away from Matthias again, still struck by the difficulty of the task he had assigned me. I had no idea where the coil had been taken or where to start my search for it. I looked back at Matthias and shrugged my shoulders: where to start? He responded with a shooing gesture. Thanks a lot, I thought, but the gesture called to mind my earlier mimed conversation with the mersker. The bin he was working in had my bag and other electronics in it. There was nothing to say the coil would be there, too—it might be in a bin full of jewelry for all I knew—but it was as good a place to start the search as anywhere else.

The direct approach had already failed, so I would need to try something else. As casually as I could, I walked toward the edge of the village, thinking to skirt around it and come at the bin from behind. My mersker jailers weren’t that indifferent to my comings and goings, though. One of them shouted when he noticed me nearing the edge of the village. Immediately, four of them were herding me back at spear-point.

“Okay guys, I get it,” I said, hands up. “I just needed to evacuate the bladder. I’ll hold it.”

Not that they understood me or my made-up excuse, but they lowered their weapons and walked away anyway, apparently satisfied that I had gotten the gist of their warning. I had understood all right. If I was going to put my plan into action, I couldn’t make it so easy for them to chase after me. I looked around the village for something I could use to create a diversion, when suddenly I saw the light.

The ghost light.

* * *

Continue to Part 58.

3/17/13 News:

I’m still unpacking from our move, and feeling exhausted, so there was no new writing in Book 2 this week. Hopefully I can get back to my routine soon.

For a quick way to show support (one click; you don’t need to sign in), please vote for The Only City Left at topwebfiction.com.

If you have a little more time and don’t mind registering first, I would appreciate any ratings/reviews/recommends on the Web Fiction Guide, a wonderful place to find all sorts of online fiction. 

You can also share The Only City Left by clicking on any of those handy social media buttons at the bottom of the page.

All these methods help to bring in new readers, which is great for moral support. Thank you for reading!

#

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.