Posts Tagged ‘dark’

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!

onlycityleft-small

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 54, Allin and Matthias had been captured by the merskers, the things that live in the dark. While being carted toward an unknown destination, the world began to fill with light: ghost light.

The Only City Left: Part 55

At the sight of our ethereal entourage, Matthias was impressed despite himself. The number of ghosts drawn into our wake had grown into the dozens if not the hundreds.

“Very odd. You say you’ve encountered this before?”

“Kind of. The last ghost I ran into was Doyle himself, so that doesn’t exactly count.”

Matthias nodded at me to go on. He knew all about Doyle’s peculiarities already, I was sure.

“Before him, I ran into some ghosts who were really angry with me, like I had wronged them somehow. But then they also kind of saved me from Doyle.” I neglected to mention how the ghost had held me in place and dampened my coil’s light, for fear I would sound crazy. It was the stuff of horror stories, not real life. “I don’t know what I did to attract their notice, but ever since that run-in, my life has gotten pretty strange.”

Matthias made a hrmph sound that meant either “How interesting” or “You’re boring.” I assumed the latter, because he went back to ignoring me. I returned the favor.

It was disturbing to be followed by ghosts, but I was happy to have their light. The merskers, on the other hand, sounded perturbed and I noticed the carts start to pick up speed. The ghost light dimmed as we pulled away, and I began to feel cold and alone.

I badly needed some human contact. Matthias would have to do.

“Why’s Doyle so crazy to get a hold of me?” I asked.

“I don’t read his diary. All I know is, he wants you taken alive, and what Doyle wants, Doyle gets.”

“He’s not getting me. I know you can’t make any promises, but I’m warning you: don’t try to stop me once we get out of here.”

“If I weren’t already trembling in my boots from cold and shock, I would be after that speech.”

I gave up on talking to him after that bit of sarcasm. I could count on Matthias to do what was best for Matthias; I’d have to work around that obstacle as best I could.

I lay down again and we spent the rest of the trip in silence. When I felt the cart stop, I sat up and looked around. The merskers had parked their carts in a clearing surrounded by a village of squat huts. The pale creatures set to work unloading their haul, moving with an efficiency that made me believe this was not their first time at this. Looking around in the dim light (for the majority of the ghosts had not caught up to us yet), this was easy to believe. The entire village was constructed out of scrap parts, and between the huts there were great bins into which the merskers sorted the goods they brought back. Past the bins and the huts, hills of garbage ringed the village. They were scavengers, like me, but they had settled down.

My sightseeing ended when I noticed a pair of merskers approaching our cart with an intent look on their faces. Despite my protests that I could walk, they yanked on the net and pulled Matthias and me to the ground. Matthias managed to roll onto his good leg but he still let out a roar of pain when he landed. From there, the merskers dragged us in front of a particularly foul-smelling bin full of all sorts of once-living but now-rotting creatures: rats, fish, tentacled sacks of goop, and other carcasses that I couldn’t identify.

I did not want to be dumped into that morass of bio-matter, so I started yelling and doing the best I could to dig in my heels. I needn’t have worried, though, because the merskers worked the net off of us and left us in front of the bin before leaving to unload more carts.

“That’s odd,” I said. “I guess they don’t have a bin for prisoners.”

“Gah, the smell,” Matthias said. “Help me move.”

It was pretty bad, so I reluctantly helped him hobble away from the reek. I half-expected some merskers to run over and force us back to our assigned place, but now that we were in their village, they didn’t seem to care about us. The feeling was mutual until I saw one of the merskers carrying something near and dear to me: my cocoon bag! In all the chaos, I hadn’t given it a thought other than to assume it was forever lost to the abyss. I roughly lowered Matthias to the ground and sprinted toward the mersker holding my bag.

“Hey you, that’s mine!”

A pack of spear-wielding merskers disagreed. I skidded to a halt with a half-dozen sharpened wooden points aimed at my throat, while the mersker with my bag continued on his way to a bin, oblivious to my demands. I held up my hands, palms out, and spoke in a reassuring tone while backing away.

“Okay, okay, not mine. I get it. No need for violence.”

I retreated but noted the location of the bin where my bag ended up. I will get it back, you little trolls, I thought as I returned to Matthias’ side.

“See something of yours?” Matthias asked.

“Yes.”

“Well, I see something of mine,” he said, and pointed.

I looked and saw two merskers carrying a body toward the pile of dead and rotting bio-mass.

“Oh no.”

It was unmistakably Guppy, his head skewed to a fatal angle. The merskers dumped him unceremoniously on the pile and walked away.

“You do nice work,” Matthias said.

“I didn’t mean to hurt him. I just wanted him to let me go.”

“Don’t be ashamed of your killer instinct, boy. You’re an Arcady. It’s in your blood.”

“I’m not a killer, and neither was Dad,” I said heatedly. But I had my doubts about that, given what Banshee had told me and what I had seen in Glin’s Rising. “I’m sorry about Guppy. I wish he had just left me alone.”

“Don’t be sorry. Everyone looks out for themselves in this world. No one will leave you alone,” Matthias said, his voice serious. “You have to be a killer to survive. And you, Allin Arcady, are a survivor. I can tell.”

* * *

Continue to Part 56.

3/3/13 Notes:

I had been putting off starting to write Book 2, so last week while I was waiting for the oil to be changed in my car, I used the time stuck at the dealership to just do it already. It was a slow start but it worked. I am off and running, although as you can see from my tracking sheet below, it is in fits and starts because 1) I ended up starting it at a time when I am going to be extremely busy for at least 3 weeks, and 2) after an initial writing sprint, I hit a wall. First, my stats, if you’re interested in that sort of thing.

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Yes, I like to keep track of my writing day-by-day, to make sure I’m not falling too far behind my goals. Which I am this week and probably for the next few weeks, but at least it gives me something to work toward. What I needed to remind myself after the 27th and 28th is that I am doing this for fun! I let myself be overwhelmed by the imagined importance of the work and that paralyzed me. Let me tell you, Chapter Two as it stands now is pretty awful. But it exists to be edited and I can now move on to Chapter Three secure in the knowledge that Two can be fixed or entirely rewritten later. Having something, anything, to edit is more important than worrying about getting it right the first time, especially if that worry keeps you from writing anything.

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.

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 53, Allin had agreed to help the injured werewolf, Matthias, in exchange for help in escaping the dark underworld of the City. While searching for something for Matthias to use as a crutch, Allin instead found one of the things that live in the dark.

The Only City Left: Part 54

The creature was shorter than I had imagined, and its teeth, while sharp and misshapen, were not foot-long daggers. The scariest thing about it was the wooden spear it brandished at me. That and the fact that it had brought friends. A lot of friends.

The closest one stabbed its spear at me and I stumbled backwards, falling onto my backside next to Matthias.

“What now?” Matthias asked, but he didn’t need me to explain, for the creatures had stealthily ringed us in. A circle of spears convinced me to sit still.

“Not what I meant when I asked for a cane,” Matthias said. I could hardly believe he was joking at a time like this.

One of the creatures stepped forward and poked at him, barking orders in some incomprehensible language. It held one arm in front of its face, squinting and half looking away while it spoke. When Matthias didn’t react except to bat the spear away, the creature yelled some more. Its companions pointed their weapons at Matthias’ throat while the leader moved in closer, wincing as he approached.

“I think they want you to turn off the light,” I said.

“Not a chance.”

Matthias swiped his claws and the leader yiped and staggered back. I saw four parallel claw marks etched into its pale skin, and dark red blood began to flow from the wounds.

“Matthias!”

My admonition came too late. The leader clutched at his chest and yelled out in a high-pitched voice. From out of the darkness, a thick-roped net descended over Matthias and me. I guess I was guilty by association. Matthias kicked and clawed at the net, but the creatures reversed their spears and beat him about the head with the blunt ends. The blows hit me, too, so I curled up into a fetal position and protected my head and neck as best I could.

They must have wrested his coil away, because even with my eyes squeezed shut, I could tell when its light was extinguished. There followed the most throat-wrenching scream I had ever heard as Matthias transformed back into his human form. His scream continued until it became a rasp that sounded like metal scraping on stone. Finally, it trailed off and I could hear the jabberings of the creatures again.

“Matthias? Matthias?” No answer. Either he couldn’t speak or more likely he had fallen unconscious. I tried instead to plead with my captors. “Hello? Hello? We didn’t mean any harm. It was a mistake. Please let me go.”

The creatures continued talking, but I didn’t think they were responding to me, and even if they had been, I couldn’t understand them. Now that the light was off, though, the beating had stopped. I opened my eyes, hoping that there would be some kind of light left over after the coil had been switched off. Nothing. A return to the void.

Suddenly the net around me pulled taut and I was dragged along with it over the rough ground. It was horrible. I had no control, couldn’t avoid hitting anything, and I never knew when the next impact would arrive. When they stopped dragging us, I felt battered and bruised and all I wished for was to be as unconscious as Matthias.

Time passed as it does in the dark, like a drop of water which is poised to fall but never does. I nursed my aches, checked that Matthias was still alive, and waited.

Finally, the creatures pulled on the net again and we were lifted up and deposited on some hard surface. A moment later, I felt the sensation of rolling forward. A cart, I presumed. Where to now?

That question was still unanswered by the time Matthias groaned awake and I filled him in on what had happened.

“I’m surprised they didn’t just kill us,” I said.

Matthias chuckled wearily. “The merskers? They’re bottom feeders, scavengers. They won’t kill what they can trade away. If I wasn’t injured, they’d not have stood a chance.”

Merskers? Didn’t sound quite as ominous as the things that live in the dark. I guess I should have been happy that this was one legend that hadn’t lived up to its reputation, but it didn’t change the fact that they were still nasty little creatures who had me at their mercy. And for all his bravado, Matthias was just as helpless, stuck in his human form and injured still. Things were not looking good.

After a while, I realized that we were approaching a light source and I wondered if Matthias’ coil had been turned back on. But this light was weaker and tinged with blue. It allowed me to dimly see the cart I was riding in, the now-human Matthias sitting beside me under the net, and the other junk that had been collected along with us.

“I thought the things, the merskers, don’t like the light.”

Matthias looked around, frowned, and closed his eyes.

“Ghost light. Hardly counts.”

“There are ghosts down here?” I asked, pulling on the net so that I could sit up and look over the side of the cart.

Sure enough, dotting the garbage-strewn landscape were a number of spectral figures.

“All of the city’s garbage falls down here eventually, including the ghosts.”

Our cart was only one in a long train, each one drawn by a pair of merskers. The little creatures were definitely stronger than they looked. As the merskers pulled us along, the ghosts watched us, turning to follow our passage.

“I don’t like the way they’re staring,” I said in a low voice.

“You’re scared? Don’t be. Ignore them and they’ll ignore you.”

The ghosts we passed began to glide after us on either side of the cart. More and more of them gathered in our wake, brightening the surrounding area considerably.

“Yeah, about that,” I said, drawing out my words. “That hasn’t so much been my experience lately.”

* * *

Continue to Part 55.

2/24/13 News:

Okay, parts 54-60 are scheduled in WordPress, so I’m good through the beginning of April. And as a reminder, the book is finished (90 parts total), so you will get to read the complete story, one way or another. I just need to load all the pieces into WordPress, which takes time, so I only schedule a few posts at a time.

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.

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 52, Allin followed a light in the dark to its source: Matthias. As he attempted to lift Matthias’ coil off of the werewolf’s lifeless chest, Matthias shot a hand out and said, “I think not.”

The Only City Left: Part 53

I locked eyes with Matthias. I didn’t let go of his necklace and he didn’t let go of my wrist.

“So you survived, too, huh?”

“Let go or I’ll bite your hand off.”

I held on for another few seconds out of sheer stubbornness, then gave up and sat down a few feet away. It wasn’t worth fighting over. He could have the damnable coil; I was happy just to be able to see again.

“It wouldn’t have turned you into a werewolf,” Matthias said, letting his head fall back to the ground. He struggled to speak, letting small whines escape between his words. “Without my passphrase, it won’t work for you.”

Copper was right! And I felt certain I was right about Dad’s passphrase, too, much good it did me now.

“I know that,” I said, not mentioning that I had only figured it out in the past hour. “I don’t want to be a werewolf. But sunlight would be awfully nice down here, and you didn’t look like you needed it anymore.”

Matthias lifted his head to inspect his leg.

“Well I do. If I were to transform while in this state,” he said, indicating the bone protruding from his leg. “It would tear my leg in two.”

He’d get no sympathy from me. I had more important concerns.

“Did you see what happened to Tumble?”

“You’re worried about the cat?” he asked, his voice a mix of disbelief and disdain. “I’ll tell you what I know, if you help me.”

“How?”

“I need you to set the bone.”

“Why should I help you?” I asked.

“Because you’re far from anywhere you know, and if you’re interested in staying alive and finding a way out, you’ll need my help.”

I considered refusing. The reasons to not help him were varied and compelling. But I was tired, cold, wet, hungry, and lost. He couldn’t make my existence any worse than it already was, and he might be able to help me out of this dismal garbage heap.

“Do you promise to let me go my own way once we’re out of here?”

“Would you believe me if I did?”

“No.”

“And well you shouldn’t, but I promise it anyway.”

I would get no better offer. I knelt beside him and said, “I’m no doctor.”

“Just do it.”

“Give me some light.”

Matthias lifted the coil off of his chest as far as his necklace would allow and held it there, his hand shaking. When I saw the open wound I turned my head away and clamped a hand over my mouth.

You can do this, you can do this, I told myself over and over. I steeled myself for the task, breathing quickly through my nose. Slowly, carefully, I placed one hand above the tear in his thigh and grabbed his ankle with the other.

“Do it already,” Matthias said with a snarl.

Fine. I pulled his ankle and lifted it up, while holding pressure on his thigh. The bone slid back into his leg with a gut-twisting squorch, and while Matthias howled and screamed enough to wake the dead, I turned and retched up whatever was in my stomach. When I finished, Matthias had quieted down, having passed out. His chest rose and fell in huge, bellows-like gusts and he twitched and grasped at invisible foes in his sleep, his claws raking the ground around him.

I considered trying to steal the coil again, but decided it was pointless. We would work together for now, but once an exit was in sight I would need to find a way to slip his grasp before I ended up his captive once more.

After maybe half an hour of fitful sleep, Matthias came to with a gasp. His first words surprised me.

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Now start returning the favor. What happened to Tumble?”

Matthias sighed. “Last I saw him he was screaming your name over and over, so loud I could hear him above the waterfalls. He was still free from the clinkers when I chose to follow you into the abyss rather than be torn apart. By the way, how did you know you’d survive?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” I said, thinking of the jammed gun. It was too embarrassing to mention.

“Suit yourself. I for one am glad it worked,” he said, shifting in place and then groaning. “Mostly.”

“Yeah, so now what? When are you going to be able to move again?”

“Find me something I can use as a cane and I can go now.”

I doubted that, but having nothing better to do I stood up and looked around. My mood was dark despite the moonlight provided by Matthias’ coil. Here I was, deep in the bowels of the Earth, grubbing through piles of garbage on an errand for a werewolf. If there were a polar opposite to what I wanted out of life, this would be it. I kicked through piles of garbage until I saw a length of metal on top of one mound. It might work. I clambered up the trash pile, reached out my hand to grab the bar, and froze. A pale, humanoid creature with huge, round eyes stared back at me from the other side of the mound. It bared its teeth to reveal twin rows of jagged spikes.

My heart hammered in my chest. It was one of the things that live in the dark.

* * *

Continue to Part 54.

2/17/13 News:

Part 53 is most of a day late to post. That will teach me to forget to schedule the page before going away for the weekend! Well, I’m exhausted from a first hotel stay with toddlers, so I’ll keep this brief. Progress continues on the cover for Book 1 of The Only City Left, and outlining continues for Book 2. See you next week!

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.

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 51, Allin woke up alone in the darkness after falling into the abyss and his own memories. Where is he now and how did he survive?

The Only City Left: Part 52

Wherever I was and however I had gotten there, I took solace in the knowledge that I had escaped the clinkers. I only hoped Tumble had been able to get away from them, too. At least that part of my plan had seemed to work. The part with the grapple gun: not so much. I began to laugh as I realized what must have happened. The nutrient jelly, loose in my backpack, had gotten into the gun and gunked it up, preventing it from firing. Thanks again, Tumble.

I continued to laugh in the darkness, a cackle tinged with hysteria, verging on sobs. Suddenly, the thought of what else might be in the darkness clamped my throat shut. My laughter turned into a choking fit, and when I got that under control, I held very still and listened carefully for anything that might be sneaking up on me. Besides my breathing I heard nothing, not even the sound of water falling that I would have expected if I were at the bottom of the abyss. Complete silence. If something were ready to pounce, it wasn’t betraying its presence in the slightest.

Maybe the things that live in the dark don’t make sounds. Maybe you don’t know they’re there until you feel their long, cold teeth separating your head from your neck in one go. Maybe, maybe, maybe. Maybe if I didn’t stop thinking such thoughts, I would scare myself to death before anything else had a chance to kill me.

I took a deep breath of salty, slightly rotten air, choked back a gag, and resolved to get up and quit being frightened. Since the ground beneath me was unstable, I crawled rather than walked through a silty, slimy concoction that I was glad I couldn’t see. To protect myself as best I could, I moved slowly and kept my head down. Despite my best efforts, I soon had innumerable tiny cuts stinging my arms and legs.

I whimpered as I moved, a primal sputtering born of pain and panic and the belief that I would soon be dead in this dark, hellish underworld. There was a pleasant thought: maybe I was dead already and this was my personal hell. No, my hell would involve crawling through ducts for all eternity. This was just damned scary.

I pushed on despite the bile rising in my throat and the imagined creatures about to lunge at me. Left hand, left knee. Right hand, right knee. Repeat. I thought of my parents, who had fought so hard to keep me alive, who had given their lives for mine.

Always stay alive. Dad’s favorite bit of advice for me. His last words to me, in fact.

You’re a light in the dark. Mom’s wisdom.

I used their words to keep me moving.

Always stay alive. Left hand. You’re a light in the dark. Left knee. Always stay alive. Right hand. You’re a light in the dark. Right knee. One after the other after the other as I crawled over and through and between who knows what, headed who knows where. To their wisdom I added my own. Never stop moving. Since Mom and Dad had died, that more than anything else had been my motto.

Mottos. Words of wisdom. Something about Mom and Dad’s advice suddenly struck me as having a deeper meaning than that. I stopped in my tracks and hovered there in the darkness as my mind raced through memories to test this insight.

Professor Copper trying to figure out how to switch the lantern coil to moonlight mode: “It’s like there’s a password…”

Mom’s oft-repeated refrain: “You’re a light in the dark.” That was the last thing she said when she left me in the locker. And then there was a flash of white light.

“Always stay alive.” Dad’s last words to me. One final bit of fatherly advice? Or, as he wrapped my hand around his lantern coil, was he was giving me the passphrase to unlock it. And maybe “You’re a light in the dark” was Mom’s passphrase! If I was right, I had had the key to unlock Dad’s lantern coil the whole time, without ever realizing it. Poor Professor Copper. I hoped she wasn’t banging her head against the wall too much trying to figure it out. I doubted that she would happen across the proper passphrase by chance.

I was distracted from this train of thought when I noticed a hint of illumination to my right. It wasn’t a distinct light so much as a less-inky black, but since I had no better destination, I turned toward it and continued my trek through the sludge.

It might have been minutes or hours by the time the world began to slowly reveal itself. I crawled over broken machines, dead fish, and jagged chunks of concrete with steel rods dangling from them like giant eyelashes. There were lengths of twisted metal and viny tangles of sodden foliage, pools of multi-colored slime and chunks of decayed dreck that I couldn’t begin to identify. I had ended up in a junkyard.

There was enough light now that I could stand up, trembling from cold and exhaustion, and take my final steps toward the white light. I wasn’t too surprised when I shambled over a pile of rubble and saw a werewolf on the ground, the white light emanating from his coil. His left leg was bent at an improbable angle, a jagged white bone sticking out of his thigh. I recognized Matthias. He looked dead.

Serves him right, I thought, and knelt down to remove the coil from around his neck.

As I grabbed the necklace, his hand shot out and gripped my wrist.

“I think not,” he growled.

* * *

Continue to Part 53.

2/10/13 News:

  • I have secured a cover artist for the eBook and Print-on-Demand versions of The Only City Left. He should be getting back to me with some thumbnails this week and I can’t wait to see them.
  • I will be seeking the input of one or two beta readers in the meantime. If you’re a long-time reader and would like to read all of The Only City Left in one go and provide me with some constructive feedback, let me know in the comments. I would be looking for readers who have enough time in their schedule that they could get notes back to me within one month (mid-March).
  • I am in brainstorming mode for Book 2 right now, and to a lesser extent Book 3, insofar as I need to know some general details from the last book in order to pace the second book appropriately. I do have ideas for more stories in the same universe after that, but I have other stories I want to write as well, so I will likely take a break from the TOCL universe after Book 3. (My, don’t I sound ambitious?)

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.

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 50, Allin’s mom ordered him to hide in a locker while she confronted two tough-looking punks.

The Only City Left: Part 51

“Mom, what’s going on? Are you okay?”

No response. Only the sounds of a scuffle, flesh hitting flesh, screams. I yelled and fought against the constraints of the locker. Something was happening out there. Mom needed me, and I was trapped, helpless.

More sounds. Whumps and thumps and slithers and screams. Without a clue as to what was going on, my mind provided the worst imaginable visuals, and tears began to pour down my face.

“Almost done, Allin,” came Mom’s voice from outside the locker. She sounded different, like she had been hurt maybe, but before I could question her, she was gone again.

I heard more of the same sounds, further away. I threw myself against the locker door repeatedly with what little room I had to work with. Forget Mom’s orders, I couldn’t stand to be locked up for another second while she was getting hurt out there. The door seemed to be giving way a fraction more each time I hit it, until finally it flew open on its own and I fell into Mom’s outstretched arms, crying.

“I’m sorry, hon. I’m sorry,” she said, holding me tight and patting my back. “It’s okay.”

I sniffed back my tears and pulled away.

“Why did you do that to me?”

“I couldn’t risk you getting hurt, Allin. But it’s okay now. The bad men … left.”

I looked around and saw that the relatively clean path was now strewn with garbage from the surrounding areas. It was not strewn so evenly, however, that I could not see streaks and pools of blood beneath it. I looked at Mom and saw that she wasn’t injured, so she must have really done a number on those guys before they took off.

“Come on. Your father’s over here but I wanted to get you first.”

She led me deeper into the locker room and around a corner into a room full of toilet stalls and showers. Dad rested on the grimy, tiled floor below one of the shower heads, shirtless, bleeding from cuts on his face and chest, his wrists bound with rope. He gave me a crooked smile as I knelt down to grip him in a fierce hug.

“Thanks for coming, guys, but you shouldn’t have. I would have gotten out eventually.”

Mom cut his bonds with her knife and then walked over to a nearby folding table that was covered with various nasty-looking instruments. She picked up Dad’s lantern coil from amongst those and handed it back to him.

“I’m sure you would have,” she said as I helped Dad to his feet. “But you can only keep a girl waiting for so long before she gets antsy. Did you at least get what you needed?”

“Pretty much. Dig that ad,” he said, nodding at the table.

Mom picked up a piece of paper, examined it and then crumpled it up and threw it into a waiting toilet bowl.

“Doesn’t do you justice,” she said. Then, “So they know. I took out seven. How many did you see?”

“I don’t know. A dozen? More? You stay here. I’ll do a sweep and make sure we get out clean.”

He put his lantern coil back on, put his hand on my shoulder, and said, “You did good, Allin. Don’t worry. I’ll be right back.”

“I didn’t do anything,” I said. “She stashed me in a locker.”

Mom and Dad made eye contact and Dad looked down at me with a wry smile.

“Your mother’s a smart woman, Allin. I’m sure she did what was best to keep you safe. Now sit tight. This won’t take long.”

With that, Dad left. I turned away from Mom and looked around. More blood on the floor in here.

“You were frightened in that locker,” Mom said. “It’s okay to be scared, but you need to trust that your father and I know what’s best.”

I turned around to face her. “I couldn’t move. And it was dark in there!”

“The city’s a dark place, Allin. You can’t let that scare you or keep you from doing what needs to be done. When everything is dark around you, that’s when you need to shine the brightest.”

“Hard to do that from inside a locker,” I said half-heartedly. “Mom, what’s this all about? Who were those guys? Why do they hate Dad?”

“It’s complicated, Allin. But you don’t need to worry. Dad’s chasing the rest of them away and then we can keep on going.”

True to her word, Dad returned shortly and announced the way was clear. We left the factory behind and neither of my parents ever again spoke of that day, the day I had gotten a glimpse behind their veil of secrecy. Nor did Mom repeat that particular fairy tale, perhaps for fear it would dredge up forbidden memories. I wouldn’t see that side of my parents’ lives again for years, by which time I had forgotten the factory incident.

When this dream or memory or end-of-life vision ended, I was no longer falling, but I couldn’t tell if I was asleep or awake, alive or dead. I was fairly certain my eyes were wide open, but I couldn’t see anything. Rationally, I knew I should be dead, but my body told me otherwise. I could feel that I lay on a bed of objects, some painfully hard and others disgustingly soft, and that my legs were submerged in some clinging, viscous goo. There was a sick-sweet odor of rot and salt in the thick, moist air and I could hear myself moving and breathing, but beyond that I existed in a void that led me to believe I was either blind or in complete and utter darkness. Thinking to test which one it was, I felt for my wristlight, only to be rewarded with a sliced finger. The wristlight was cracked open, its algae long gone. The pain of the cut told me I was alive, at least, but I was clueless as to how I had survived.

All I knew for sure was that I was cold and alone in the darkness, and despite what my mother would have had me believe, there was no light to be found.

* * *

2/3/13 Notes:

Continue to Part 52.

And so the flashback comes to an end. In the present (mine, not Allin’s), I am reading through the completed book for a third time, and still catching errors. This may be my last read-through before I offer it up to some beta readers. I’m looking forward to being done with editing and started with writing Book 2!

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.