Posts Tagged ‘Garden’

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 73, Allin met with Tumble after stopping him from attempting to assassinate Doyle.

The Only City Left: Part 74

In the dark recesses of the narrow alleyway, I hugged Tumble until he gasped for air. I set him down and asked, “What are you still doing here? You have to get back to Pudlington. Now.”

“Is it true? About Banshee?” he asked, his voice grave.

Of course. I couldn’t just drop a bomb on him by announcing his brother was dead and then expect that he would leave without talking to me first. I spent the next half-hour filling him in on everything that had happened since he had last seen me plummeting to my death, but I started with the most important news for him.

“It didn’t look good, Tumble. Last I saw, he wasn’t moving.”

After that, Tumble listened to my story quietly, asking questions to clarify this or that detail but mostly allowing me to get through it as fast as possible.

“Fordham in league with Doyle,” Tumble said when I was done. He stroked his chin as he mulled over that possibility. “Well isn’t that a horrible prospect. Are you sure about this?”

“Well, no,” I said. “But it was awfully convenient that he wasn’t standing next to Banshee when that catwolf attacked. And he was quick to claim leadership in the midst of that chaos. Real quick.”

“That places you in incredible danger,” Tumble said. “He knows your mission is to kill Doyle and that you can become a werewolf now. It won’t be long before he sends a warning to the Garden.”

I hadn’t considered that, but it made a scary sort of sense. If the ghosts hadn’t gotten me to the Garden so quickly, the news might have arrived before me. I might have stood in front of Doyle, semi-confident in my disguise, only to be set upon and exposed on the spot. That I hadn’t been meant one of two things were true: either Fordham wasn’t in league with the wolves or his messenger hadn’t arrived yet.

Tumble agreed but pointed out one more depressing fact. “Whether it’s Fordham or another spy who gets the word out, it won’t be long until Doyle knows you’re a wolf. You can’t stay here, Allin.”

“He may know I’m a wolf, but not which wolf. You’re the one who can’t stay. You need to go to Pudlington and knock Fordham off the throne. How fast can you get back there?”

“Less than a day if I don’t stop, now that I know the way.” He paused and stroked his muzzle. “Allin, I know my brother wanted to hold off on shutting down the coils, but you’re the one dealing with the werewolves now. Do you want me to have Copper turn them off?”

I thought about it for a moment but shook my head at the offer. “As much as I want the werewolves gone, I have a better chance of getting at my uncle as one of them. Let’s stick with Banshee’s plan.”

“And do you have any plan for getting rid of Doyle?”

“No. I thought the ghosts were going to help me, but they didn’t show up when I confronted Doyle just now.”

“Then my plan’s as good as any,” he said, and handed over three nutri-bulb sized grenades. EMPs, just as I thought. “These are still our best chance to erase Doyle. Which I might have done already if you hadn’t intervened.”

I started to protest but he cut me off. “I know, I know. You had to make sure I knew about Banshee. You did the right thing. You’re becoming quite the brave young man, Allin.”

“Thank you,” I said, a feeling of pride swelling inside me. Coming from Tumble, those words meant everything.

“I’d best be off. We both have much to do. Good luck, Allin Arcady. I hope to see you again when all this is over. Don’t disappoint me.”

“I’ll try not to.”

We hugged one last time and then he was off down the alley until he disappeared around a corner. I held the three EMP grenades in my hands. Without my bag, I had no place to put all of them, so I stashed two beneath some rubble and put the third in my pocket. I’d only have one chance at erasing Doyle, anyway. Maybe I could even use Tumble’s original plan. I reached up and dug my claws into the brick wall to see if it would take my weight, but a shout from the mouth of the alleyway startled me. I fell to the alley floor with a thud.

“Ballister, that you?” asked a werewolf walking over to me. “What are you doing, man?”
The werewolf offered me a hand up and I accepted it, thinking of an answer while I stood up and brushed myself off.

“I was getting antsy. Figured I’d climb the walls for some exercise.”

“Yeah, well, we’re moving out early, so you won’t be bored no more. The name’s Pogue, Sergeant Pogue.” He stopped and sniffed at the air. “I think I smell cat.”

With my heightened sense of smell, so did I, but I made a show of sniffing the air and shaking my head.

“I can barely smell anything with all this smoke in the air,” I said, heading toward the street and away from the direction Tumble had taken.

Pogue sniffed a couple of more times before reluctantly following me out onto the street.

“Weird,” he said, and shrugged. “Come on, I’ll introduce you to the guys.”

This was definitely not good. I needed to stay in the Garden, not get roped into some hunt for more human slaves. Oblivious to my inner turmoil, Sergeant Pogue led me through the streets, talking all the while about this new site they had scoped out and how twenty wolves should be plenty to take it. He was either a genuinely friendly guy, as werewolves go, or he was treating me well because of the “promotion” Doyle had given me. Either way, he wouldn’t shut up or leave my side, even when I suggested I had gear I needed to get before I left.

“Oh, we got tons of good stuff you can use,” was his unhelpful response to that gambit.

Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. We were getting to the edge of town and I’d have nowhere to go but with him if I didn’t make a move. I waited until the area around us was deserted of anyone but human slaves and then said, “Over there, did you see that?”

“What? Where?”
I clapped him on the shoulder and pointed past a pile of rubble down the street.

“You were right! I just saw one of those stinking cats skulking around. He must be spying. Let’s get him!”

“Yeah!” the dim Sergeant Pogue replied, and took off running.

I ran, too, but in the opposite direction. Since Pogue could realize I had lied and turn back to find me at any moment, I did the first thing I could think of to disguise myself amidst the slaves. I removed my coil and shoved it into my empty pants pocket.

I couldn’t change my clothes, though, and even Pogue would recognize me in them if he found me, so I needed to do more to hide from him. To that end, I ducked into the first darkened doorway I could find, determined to wait him out inside of the abandoned building. Except it wasn’t abandoned.

It was full of werewolves.

* * *

Continue to Part 75.

7/14/13 News: I finished the re-outlining of The Only City Left, which entailed cutting a lot of scenes, adding new ones, and changing other ones. In this page, for instance, most everything after Tumble and Allin part has been removed in favor of a new avenue. This makes posting pages like this a little painful, but it’s all part of the process. At any rate, I need to type up all my notes, give it a once-over, and send it to my editor for evisceration, er, review. And then I’m back to writing. Yay!

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.)

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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 72, Allin stopped Tumble from assassinating Doyle, but at the cost of falling under Doyle’s gaze.

The Only City Left: Part 73

All eyes were on me suddenly and I couldn’t think of what else to say. All I could imagine was Tumble dropping that grenade at my feet. Even an emp grenade would have enough explosive force to tear me to pieces, so my split-second gamble might have been the last I ever made. When nothing else happened, I realized two things: Tumble hadn’t gone through with his attack, and I was suddenly the center of attention for not only the entire crowd and the performers, but for my uncle as well.

“What did you just say?” asked Doyle, sitting up straighter amidst the pile of cushions he lounged in.

“I said, ‘Congratulations!’ I heard you killed the Emperor of Pudlington,” I said, imitating the voice of the first person I could think of. “About time, too. Those cats think they’re so grand, but aye, you showed ‘em.”

“Did that happen already?” Doyle asked softly, as if to himself. “I thought…”

“Must’ve happened, your um greatness,” I said, working hard to keep an obviously addle-minded Doyle from having too much time to think. “The people are saying you’ll be marching on the cat city next, what with Banshee’s brother running around on a fool’s errand and all.”

That woke Doyle up from his stupor. He bared his teeth and pulled himself forward so that he sat on the edge of his cushioned seat and could lean out of the palanquin toward me.

He brought his hands up before him and I thought, This is it. What was I thinking getting this close to the monster? I might as well have turned myself in to him first thing.

But he didn’t grab me by the throat and proclaim victory. Instead he blinked twice and twisted the neck of an imaginary foe in mid-air. Even the watching crowd let out a surprised sigh.

“Banshee’s brother? Tumble? Damn him to the abyss. He let my nephew die, the coward. I’ll skin him alive and use his fur for a bath mat the next time I see him.”

News of my demise had traveled quickly from Pudlington. I wondered if Banshee knew the extent to which the cat city must be inundated with spies. And then I wondered if Banshee would ever have cause to worry about that again. The image of him lying face-down in his own blood strengthened my resolve to clue in Tumble as to what had happened. I wanted to look up to see if he was still on the roof, but I couldn’t risk the glance.

“Sounds like if he grappled with you, he’d be in a real jam. He’d be lucky to survive the fall after that.”

“Fall? What fall?

Uh-oh. Too much?

“The fall. You know, after you, um, damn him into that abyss. Damn that cat.”

It was the best I could do with my uncle the ghost werewolf in front of me and a good portion of his werewolf army staring down my back. I hoped Tumble got my message one way or another, because I wasn’t sure I’d survive this conversation.

“Yes. Yes,” Doyle said. “What did you say your name was, soldier?”

Soldier? Soldier! He was buying it. He thought I was one of them!

“Name’s Ballister.”

“Well, thank you, Ballister. Yes,” Doyle said, standing up and addressing his words to the crowd. “The so-called Emperor Banshee is dead by my order. None can stand against the might of the Fifth House!”

The crowd cheered. Doyle threw his hands above his head and they cheered again, louder.

“How come I was not immediately informed of my success?” Doyle asked, bringing his arms down and peering at the wolves closest to him, the ones running the entertainment. “Didn’t any of you hear this news?”

“No, um, no.”

“Not really.”

“I think I heard something, maybe.”

“Sorry, no, Lord Commander.”

Doyle listened to his men and then turned back to examine me more closely. I could smell the stink of my sweat as I wilted under that gaze. Abruptly, Doyle grinned and lifted his head to address the crowd.

“This is the kind of wolf I want in my service. Independent. Nose to the ground,” he said. He focused on me again. “What’s your rank, Ballister?”

I mumbled my answer. “Um, second, under, private, first class, sir.”

I needn’t have tried to make something up; Doyle ignored me and barreled on over my words. “Never mind. You’re a colonel now. There’s a battalion leaving tonight to cull a new town we found. I want you there with them gathering intel for me. Pogue will fill you in. Pogue!”

I followed Doyle’s gaze and saw two werewolves carrying away the old man’s body. One of them, Pogue, stood up straighter and said, “Yes, sir!”

“You let Ballister here know the details.”
“Yes, sir!”

“Good, good,” Doyle said, sitting back down. When he looked back at me, his energetic zeal seemed to have drained from his face. He looked blankly at me and said, “What are you still doing here? Go!”

He needn’t have raised his voice at the end; I was already gone. As I moved through the crowd, I heard him ordering the next diversion, but when I spared a glance back, he was already lying down and staring into space.

Though I had survived a conversation with my uncle, I was no closer to taking him down, and if I wasn’t mistaken he had ordered me to leave the Garden on some sort of seek-and-destroy mission against another innocent group of humans. That might be trouble, but if Tumble had understood my message to him, it would be worth it. Hopefully he realized it was me underneath the fur and by now he would be high-tailing it back to Pudlington to find out if what I said about Banshee was true.

I made it out of the crowd in front of the gutted building and walked a block away before I gave into my nerves, leaned against a building, and panted like I had just run a race. It felt like the rat I had eaten was scrabbling around inside me, tearing up my guts.

I nearly jumped out of my fur when a voice drifted out of a nearby alley.

“Jam? Grapple? You needn’t have laid it on so thick. I knew it was you the moment you started talking like Ballister.”

* * *

Continue to Part 74.

7/6/13 News: I’m more than halfway through the re-outlining process of editing. Once that is done, I can start rewriting. I’m definitely looking forward to writing again, and I’m hoping that my editor’s suggestions combined with my new outline will make for a much stronger version of The Only City Left.

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 71, Allin had infiltrated the Garden as a werewolf, and was on the hunt for his uncle Doyle, the werewolf king.

The Only City Left: Part 72

I let the old lady go and followed the screams and lunatic laughter to their source, a courtyard of sorts set up in the ruins of a gutted building. The front wall was gone and the rubble had been cleared from inside, but the jagged-topped side and back walls remained to a height of one or two stories. An elaborate palanquin had been set down in front of the rear wall, its silken curtains open so that the person inside could see the spectacle arrayed before him. Even from across the street, its occupant was unmistakably Doyle. I was fairly certain that he was the only monstrously large, blue-glowing werewolf in the region.

I stepped back, bumped into the building behind me, and froze there, watching my uncle from a distance. I broke out in acrid sweat as I imagined him suddenly glaring at me from across the street and shouting for my capture. I had been counting on my transformation to allow me to hide in plain sight, but I was filled with doubts of a sudden. What if he could tell I was there by smell or some sixth sense?

I needn’t have worried. Not only was Doyle oblivious to my presence, he didn’t seem to notice the bizarre circus on display before him, either. Werewolves were clowning around, if you chose to call it that, with human slaves cast in the role of animals. It was their screams and the audience’s laughter that had led me to Doyle, but he sat in his palanquin staring into another world entirely, his gaze distant but intense.

The crowd in the ruined building was packed, so I was not alone in watching from the street, but like my uncle I paid little attention to the horrible show. Instead my mind teemed with thoughts and plans, worries and ideas.

There he is, within striking distance. But how do you kill a ghost, even a solid one? I saw his severed arm turn to mist and flow through the air. If he could survive that, what will it take to do him in? Maybe I can lure him away from his men somehow? Lead him to the abyss outside the clinker’s city and push him off? He might survive the fall, but I bet he’d be a long time putting himself back together again. Long enough to convince the cats to depower his army in the meantime.

Sure. Easy. Follow me, Doyle. I have something to show you. It’s only a couple of days away and these nice ghosts are going to lead us there. Talk amongst yourselves. You probably have a lot in common.

Idiot. I had no plan, no weapons, no clue. Weren’t the ghosts supposed to find me when I found Doyle? I looked slyly to the left and the right, as if I would see them boiling up out of the pavement, but all I saw was a sea of furry bodies. Something did catch my eye from the top of a building across the way, but when I swung my head up to look, there was nothing there.

No ghosts. No help. I was on my own.

Without a plan, I moved through the crowd, closer to the main attraction but more importantly closer to Doyle. If I was going to do anything, I’d have to be within reach first. I watched him as one act left the cleared floor that served as a stage and another took its place. He looked briefly at what it was: a large spinning disc with an elderly man chained to it in the shape of an X, and children with knives. I could tell from overheard conversations that the old man was the kids’ grandfather. The werewolves prompted the children to throw the knives by threatening their parents, who were off-stage somewhere. A family act. If I could have personally torn out the throats out of each and every one of the werewolves present, those putting on the show and those enjoying it, I would have done so and happily embraced the title of “killer.”

Doyle for his part watched in a daze until the first knife found its mark after several near-misses, at which point his gaze drifted off into some inner or outer space again. I opened and closed my fists at my sides, stabbing my palms with my claws to try to distract myself from the sound of the children’s sobs and the terrible rage churning inside of me.

Because I was looking anywhere but at the show, I happened to notice a shadow leap from one building to another behind and a few stories above Doyle’s palanquin. A quick glance to either side and behind me convinced me that I was alone in noticing it. Everyone else was raptly enjoying the horrible drama of the knife act. The old man had so far refused to cry out in pain, the only gift he had left to give his grandchildren. I heard bets being taken: would he make a sound before he died? There were takers on both sides.

I did my best to ignore them and surreptitiously scan the roof of the four-story building directly behind Doyle’s palanquin. There! A short figure slinked along the edge of the rooftop and stopped dead-center above Doyle. I looked around again. Could I really be the only one noticing this? Sure enough, everyone else was focused on the entertainment. The old man had let out a death rattle and now the crowd was engaged in a loud argument as to whether or not that constituted making a noise before he died.

I kept my head down and my eyes on the rooftop, so I saw the exact moment that the shadowy figure leaned over the edge of the roof, a grenade in hand. It was Tumble and, at a guess, he was about to drop an emp on Doyle’s head. That might take Doyle out then and there, but then again it might not, and either way Tumble would slink away and I’d have no way of finding him again.

“Congratulations,” I shouted, forcing my way forward through the crowd until I stood mere feet from Doyle. “On the death of Emperor Banshee.”

If that didn’t get Tumble’s attention and give him pause, I was about to have a front row seat for another assassination.

* * *

Continue to Part 73.

6/30/13 News: 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 70, Allin reached the toxic wasteland of the Garden after some final advice from Xerxes.

The Only City Left: Part 71

I made my way down the switchbacked stairs to ground level and followed potholed streets toward the center of the ruined town. The air was easier to breath at ground level, but not by much, and the dirty haze above blocked the overhead lighting and lent a murky unreality to the landscape. Everything was dismal and gray, the air a fetid miasma of sweat and rot. Amidst the buildings, dirty children dressed in thin rags picked at mounds of garbage while adults in chains broke down huge concrete chunks with pick-axes and carted them away.

The enslaved humans gave me dirty looks from the corners of their eyes as I made my way past them into the crumbling town. The further in I walked, the more of them I saw, and not all in chains, either. Surreally, some seemed to be running businesses, selling food and drink and scavenged items out of stalls or broken storefronts. None of them looked especially happy, but not all were as miserable as the chained wretches or the dirt-caked ones lying half off the curb mumbling to themselves. It was a madhouse world, eerie in its quiet insanity. At least, that’s what the regular human side of the town was like.

There was another side, though, co-existing in space but barely seeming to touch: the werewolf side. Here, werewolves marched in groups or singly through the streets, talking, laughing, roaring approval or displeasure at this or that sight. Each werewolf was a beacon of bright white light, their coils illuminating the stark difference between their world and the squalid, human one around them. They walked through a party, and if they had to step over a piss-drenched human on the sidewalk or stop for a moment to buy a baked treat from a vendor, they barely acknowledged the interruption.

The normal humans made sure to keep it this way, hunching over and scurrying out of the werewolves’ paths, keeping their voices to a whisper or shutting up entirely when the wolves were near, and speaking only the minimal words required when directly addressed by one of the wolves. This was a conquered population, cowering in fear even though they vastly outnumbered the werewolves. It only made sense, I supposed. I had seen what one wolf could do. The humans—underfed, weaponless, barely clothed—wouldn’t stand a chance if they rose up against their masters. I held my stomach it made me so sick. It didn’t help that through the stench that filled the air, the delectable scent of something roasting reached my nose. My empty stomach tightened in on itself in response.

I followed the smell through the streets until I reached a stall where a haggard-looking man was cooking large rats on a makeshift grill. Tumble would be thrilled, I thought, and realized I was salivating despite myself. I guess the wolf part of me is thrilled, too.

I must have been staring, because the man, who looked like he hadn’t eaten in days himself, asked me, “Roast rat, your honor? Or I got live ones if you like.”

What the hell. I was hungry and I was a werewolf, undercover in the enemy’s lair. Werewolves wouldn’t refuse food just because they felt bad for the person selling it. But…

“I don’t have any money.”

“Oh, that’s all right,” the man started to say, but a loud voice cut him off at the same time that a thick hand clapped me hard on the back.

“Are you denying this hard-working wolf a meal, you money-grubbing little pizzant? I ought to roast you and serve you to my friend here.”

Before I could protest, the werewolf, a man about my size, stepped past me and kicked the rickety stall, knocking it to pieces. The vendor fell beneath the rain of wood planks that used to be his shop, and rats squeaked and scurried away into the nearby rubble.

“I’m so sorry, your honors. Please, take whatever you want!”
“Take? Take! We’re not shopkeeps, scum. Get up and serve us!”

The man excavated himself from the splintered wood of his stall and made it to his feet. With shaking hands, he retrieved two of the roasted rats and handed them to us. Before I could thank him, my new friend put one arm around my shoulder and led me away.

“Buddy, you can’t let that money thing get to their heads or soon they’ll be expecting it,” he said in between bites of his roast rat.

“Nnn-huh,” I said, and realized that I too was gnawing on my rat on a stick. My hunger and werewolf nature had conspired to feed me despite any qualms I had.

“You a new recruit?” he asked as we strolled away from the broken stall. I was slow to answer, what with a mouth full of rat, so he kept on talking. “I heard they got a new batch of coils in, but I didn’t realize they had started promoting already. The names Rinsen, by the way. You? Anyway, you’ll like it on this side of the system, lemme tell you. Hey boy! Over here!”

This last was addressed to a small boy, maybe ten years old, who lugged a heavy pail of water in his hands. He made his way carefully over to us, set the pail down without spilling a drop, and lifted a metal ladle out.

“Bah, that’s for the slaves,” Rinsen said, knocking the ladle to the dirty street before picking up the pail and drinking directly from it.

He offered it to me next and I took it gladly. Food, drink. If nothing else, this mission was satisfying my appetite. I gulped greedily and dropped the pail at my feet with a clang.

“Yah, that’s the spirit,” Rinsen said. He finished the last of his rat and tossed the stick away, so I followed suit. “Hopefully they’ll have better than water wherever we land next. Damn officers are hoarding it all for themselves now. Hey, boy, who said you could go?”

The water boy had picked up his empty pail and begun to walk away when Rinsen’s call stopped him short. He turned around and I could see the pail jumping and shaking in his hands.

“I’ve worked up an appetite, boy. Come with me.”

“Please, sir, no, I’ve got to get more water and—”

“Did you say ‘no’ to me? Did you?”

Rinsen lunged forward and grabbed the boy by his ratty shirt, which tore under the werewolf’s claws. “The only thing you’ve got to do is what I tell you to. Understand?”

Rinsen’s friendly familiarity and constant patter had gotten under my skin and distracted me from the casual injustice of the Garden. Perhaps part of it was how natural it felt for the werewolf in me to take what it wanted and damn the consequences. But watching a grown werewolf terrorize a little kid snapped me out of that mindset. It hit too close to home.

“Leave him be,” I said, putting my hand on Rinsen’s shoulder.

Rinsen turned his snout and eyed me coolly over his shoulder. He shoved the boy to the ground and turned to face me.

“What, you already got your eye on him? Plenty to go around, pal.” He poked my chest with one claw and flicked my coil. “Or do you still got mixed feelings about your promotion? Because you better get right in the head about that. You love it so much, you can always go right back to being a slave.”

“Just leave him alone,” I said, my lip rising to show some teeth.

“Man, if they’re accepting new recruits like you, they must be desperate to expand,” Rinsen said, returning my sneer. “Watch yourself, puppy, and lose that attitude. Fast.”

Rinsen shot me a disgusted look and started to walk off. He casually kicked the water boy in the stomach on his way. I felt an urge to lunge after him, to beat some manners into his flesh, or tear some of that superiority from his hide. A low growl escaped my throat and I had to squeeze my eyes shut for a moment to regain control. Focus!

The sound of the boy whimpering and crying distracted me from my violent thoughts. He hadn’t moved from where Rinsen had kicked him.

“Get up, boy,” I said. “Get someplace safe.”

He rolled over to his hands and knees and stood up, still crying. I felt bad that I couldn’t do anything for him, but a part of me, the werewolf self whose influence I could not help but recognize, also felt disgust at the weak thing before me.

“Why don’t you run away from this?” I asked. “Run and don’t look back.”

“You’re just saying that so you can chase me down,” he said. As if abashed by his own temerity, he added a hasty, “Sir.”

I could try to convince him, but what was the point. “Go,” I said, and when he didn’t move, I repeated the command louder.

This spurred him to action. He ran a ways off, his pail abandoned on the street, and then turned back to me and spit in my direction before diving into a narrow gap in the rubble piled between two buildings.

Good, he still has some fight left in him after all.

I turned in a slow circle and took in the sights. The rat vendor quietly piecing his stall back together out of makeshift parts. A woman, smiling nervously, pressed up against the wall by a werewolf who curled her hair around his finger as he talked to her. More dirty children scurrying through the streets. Three werewolves walking arm in arm singing a bawdy song. Another werewolf leading a line of chained men and women to the outskirts of town.

I couldn’t fix this by saving one person here or there. It was too big for that. I had to find Doyle and take him out so that I could convince the cats to depower the werewolves en masse. But where to find Doyle?

I decided to take the direct approach rather than waste more time wandering around. I grabbed the nearest human to hand, pulled her toward me, and asked, “Where’s Doyle?”

The woman, elderly and dressed in a thin, gray robe, bowed her head and said, “Doyle Arcady, Lord Commander of the Fifth House, blessed be his name,” as if it was a religious mantra.

“Yeah, Lord whatsiswhat. Him. Where is he?”

Before she could answer, I heard a piercing scream and maniacal laughter from somewhere nearby. The woman pointed in that direction and said, “There.”

Of course.

* * *

Continue to Part 72.

6/23/13 News: Another nearly double-sized installment this week. Work proceeds apace on the rewrite. And I have discovered a new means of procrastination: Scrolls. Oh no!

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 69, Allin fled from Pudlington along with Xerxes and the other ghosts, heading toward the Garden to make Doyle pay for his crimes.

The Only City Left: Part 70

Thanks to the ghosts, I once again traveled more quickly than I would have alone. It took maybe half a day to cover ground that would have normally taken me two or three even if I had known where I was going. There was nothing special about the sectors of the city that we moved through, although I don’t know what I was expecting. Signs that read Garden This Way? It just seemed like the area around the Garden would be in better condition, or cordoned off, as with Pudlington. When I mentioned this to Xerxes, he explained why this wasn’t the case.

“The Garden is no one place. Rather it is wherever Doyle chooses to stop and stay a while. Once he uses that area up, he finds another one and moves on. You never know exactly where Doyle will move it next, but you can tell where the Garden has been by the trail of devastation and ruin it leaves behind.”

“You know, the more I hear, the more my uncle seems like a really super human being.”

Xerxes accepted my sarcasm in silence, which was punctuated only by the loud grumbling of my stomach. I hadn’t had anything to eat or drink since breakfast, having fled Pudlington with none of my belongings, not even my cocoon bag. The ghosts had suggested alternate, longer paths that would bring me by some natural pools so that I could drink at least, but I didn’t want to sacrifice any time to that. I could go a little hungry.

I had to get to the Garden, find Tumble, and end Doyle’s reign. Unless I accomplished that, the chaos and destruction I had left behind in Pudlington would be for nothing. The fact that the Garden was currently so close to the cat city made it an easy guess where Doyle would head next. Ending the werewolf threat quickly was more important than ever.

“Wait here,” Xerxes said, stopping while some of his ghosts continued forward. “Before you go on, we must talk. We cannot openly follow you into the Garden.”

I had kind of figured that one out already. I wouldn’t be very inconspicuous with a legion of ghosts at my back. I nodded for Xerxes to go on.

“We will keep track of you but remain in hiding. Once you find Doyle and are in a position to kill him, we will come to you.”

To kill him. I knew that is what Banshee had tasked me to do, and it was certainly the end the ghosts were looking for in order to have their vengeance. Given all I had heard of my uncle, he certainly deserved it. Any judge would have sentenced him to death for his crimes, but I wasn’t happy about being the one picked to carry out the sentence. It had nothing to do with him being my uncle and everything to do with what Matthias had said he saw in me: a killer. If I started down that path, even for the best of intentions, would I end up being just as bad as Doyle? I couldn’t imagine it, but how many killers do?

Whatever my concerns, I accepted that killing Doyle might be the only answer. I would do what needed to be done and deal with the consequences later. For now, I needed to get my head out of my thoughts (Ballister would have guessed at a different location for it, I was sure) and concentrate on the matter at hand.

“Do you have any idea how Doyle can be killed?” I asked.

“When the time comes to confront your uncle, we will arrive and give him everything he wants. The rest will be up to you.”

Give him everything he wants? I was about to question what Xerxes meant by this when two ghosts returned and reported that the way was clear.

“This is where our journey together ends, Allin. Continue down this path. We have marked the way.”

Before I could say farewell, Xerxes and the other ghosts around him slid into the walls, floor and ceiling, taking their ghost light with them. I had my own sunlight to illuminate the corridor, but the sun’s time was at an end. Going forward, only the moon could light my way.

I pressed the buttons, spoke Dad’s passphrase, and transformed. Along with the moonlight and the heady, powerful feeling of being more than human, my senses sharpened. I smelled a mélange of soot and sweat in the distance that, as I followed the arrows scored into the floor by Xerxes’ ghosts, only grew stronger.

The smell became nearly overpowering when I cautiously opened a door and found myself on a platform high up one wall. Stairs zig-zagged to the ground below in a setup familiar to me from my escape from Glin’s Rising. From my vantage point, the town looked like a war zone, full of crumbling buildings and covered in a layer of gray haze that obscured its full scope. I choked on the foul air; I could feel particulates burning my throat and lungs.

Are they burning some sort of fuel in here? I wondered, dumbfounded. I could think of no other reason for the ashy haze, but I couldn’t believe it. Inside the city, death was always as close as a broken ventilation system. To purposefully tax it with contaminants was to condemn the area to complete disuse.

Even with Xerxes’ explanation of the Garden, I had expected more from it. Pudlington was a great, enclosed fortress of a city. Surely its biggest threat would share some of that same grandeur and sense of purpose. Instead, it looked more like the mersker’s realm than a great city.

Now I understood what Xerxes meant by the werewolves’ trail of destruction. If this was how the werewolves operated, they were making the city—never a safe place to begin with—completely uninhabitable, bit by bit. They were like some giant slug leaving toxic slime in its wake.

This was what the city would look like if Doyle had his way. If his cancerous aggression were left unchecked, there would be no city left.

* * *

Continue to Part 71.

6/16/13 News: Not much to say this week. Still chugging along on editing, laying the groundwork for a restructured outline and a plan for the new/changed scenes I need to write.

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 48, Allin is remembering a fairy tale his mother told him once. In it, a princess was forced to marry a monster, who locked her up when she tried to steal his magic.

The Only City Left: Part 49

Locked in darkness, the princess would surely have gone mad if not for secret and risky visits from the monster king’s younger brother. Each day, he snuck in to spend some time with her and share the light from the orb that had transformed him into a monster. Knowing that the monster king had dispatched his other brother without a second thought, the princess asked the younger brother why he risked seeing her. He lowered his head and did not answer, but it was clear that he was in love with her.

In the times when he was gone and she was alone in the dark, the princess thought of him often. He was a monster and had not stopped his brother from committing countless evil acts. But where the monster king reveled in his crimes, his brother seemed ashamed of what he had become. Despite her misgivings, she slowly found herself coming to love the younger brother in return, for he was the only light in her dark world. Because of this growing love, the princess entrusted the younger brother with the secret she had kept hidden all these months: she planned to have her revenge on the monster king for his many misdeeds.

At first, the younger brother tried to talk her out of her plan, not out of any love for the monster king, but out of fear for the princess. The monster king was too powerful to fight. All who had tried to knock him from his throne had perished in the attempt. The princess would have none of this, though. She would not spend the rest of her life in servitude to the monster king, not when there was any chance of escape.

She asked the younger brother why the king’s magic orb had not worked for her and he explained that the orb alone did nothing. It only worked on those who had been cursed with a monster’s bite. Even then, the orbs would only work for those who know the magic words to unlock their light. The princess asked the younger brother if he knew where extra orbs were kept. As she suspected, there was a trove of them, and the younger brother reluctantly admitted that he could get her one.

“But it will be useless to you, unless…”

“Unless I, too, am cursed,” she said, and bared her neck for him.

When the month was over, the princess emerged from her dark prison as the perfect picture of submissiveness. The monster king was well pleased at the effect his punishment had produced. He would brook no misbehavior from his subjects, much less his wife. She obeyed all his commands and made sure he stayed in a good mood, for she feared him becoming suspicious and punishing her again before she could put her plan into action.

A few nights later, when his younger brother came to visit, the monster king was in such a boisterous state, he invited him in despite the late hour. He ordered his wife to serve them drinks while they regaled each other with stories of conquest. The princess could see how nervous the younger brother was, so she made sure to stay nearby and offer the monster king sweets and heady drinks whenever there was a lull in the conversation. The longer the younger brother could keep him talking and drinking, the better their chances of success would be. Soon, the king began to yawn and stretch his great arms above his head. The princess knew he would next demand that his brother leave so that he could sleep. The time was ripe to enact her plan. She could only trust that nerves would not prevent the younger brother from performing his part in this dark play.

The princess offered the monster king one last drink, and at the same time begged him to tell a story of when he and his brother were young, for she (truly) could not imagine them at such an age. Well into his cups and feeling benevolent, the monster king readily agreed to this nostalgic request, curiously glossing over any reference to their other brother as he told his tale.

While the monster king was thus engaged, the princess took a step back and produced the magic orb that the younger brother had given to her while she was in prison, which she had kept hidden until this moment. Speaking the magic words, she transformed into a foul monster and felt the great power of which the monster king oft boasted.

So shocked was he at his wife’s transformation that he lost the power of speech. Instead he roared in anger and stood up, ready to punish her severely for her crimes. He was in such a rage that he did not notice his younger brother move in behind him until he looked down and saw a great blade piercing his chest. When the blade was pulled back out, he turned around and asked, “What treachery is this that my own brother would wrong me so?”

Any doubts the younger brother had were erased upon hearing those words from the mouth of a fratricide. Both the princess and the younger brother took their revenge upon the monster king. They fatally wounded him, but before he succumbed to his many wounds he managed to call out for his guards. The princess and the younger brother were forced to flee before they could watch the monster king die, but as the princess was now a monster, too, they blended in with the other monsters and were able to escape the Garden unmolested. The End.

Mom didn’t like interruptions during the telling of tales, but once the story was over, I was allowed to ask all the questions I wanted.

“You didn’t say they lived happily ever after.”

“No.”

“Well, did they?”

“More or less.”

I was old enough to know that meant “not really.”

“Did the princess stay with the younger brother after they escaped?”

“Yes, I believe she did.”

“Why? I mean, he wanted to lock her up in a dungeon at first, too, didn’t he?”

“He did, and that wasn’t the only terrible thing he had done or would do, but the princess fell in love with him anyways.”

“I don’t think she really loved him.”

“No?”

“Sounds to me like she needed his help. Which is cool. But if it were me, I would have split after they escaped. All the brothers were messed up.”

Mom smiled and looked at the door. Still no Dad. She looked back at me and said, “Maybe that would have been the smarter choice, but things aren’t always that simple, Allin.”

She grabbed her backpack, stood up, and said, “Now let’s go find your father. I’m tired of waiting for him.”

* * *

Continue to Part 50.

1/20/13 Notes:

I printed out the first complete draft of The Only City Left recently and am in the midst of doing a red-pen edit and then making those changes in the master file. It’s exciting and daunting at the same time to be in this phase of the project. I’ve also started throwing out ideas for Books 2 and 3. Fun times.

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!

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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 47, Allin is lost in memory again. This time it is of a fairy tale his mother told him once. But is there some truth hidden in this story?

The Only City Left: Part 48

The princess could not believe her eyes. Gone. Everything she had known was gone. Her husband could only stand by and watch as she kneeled in the ashes of the Garden and wept. When she had cried herself out, her husband suggested that they return to his home and inquire of his brothers if they knew aught of the Garden’s fate. Numb, she let herself be led away.

Upon returning to his home, however, he was astonished to find that it too had been transformed. Unlike the princess’ home, it had not been destroyed, though. Instead it had been turned into a mighty fortress that was patrolled by monstrous guards. In fact, everyone seemed to have become a monster. Seeing this, the princess and her husband sought to flee, but before they could do so, they were captured and brought before the fortress’ ruler. This turned out to be none other than her husband’s older brother, who had become the most powerful monster of them all.

“Welcome home, Princess,” said the older brother.

“I have no home,” she said.

“And yet I have named my kingdom the Garden, in honor of your town, which I destroyed.”

This only confirmed the princess’ suspicions, for who would destroy a peaceful town except for a monster?

“What has become of you, brother? What madness has seized you?” said her husband.

“No madness, only power. The power of the Fifth House,” the monster king replied. “I offer this power to you as well, brother, but in exchange, you must give me your princess.”

“Never,” said her husband, which was an act of defiance at once valiant and unwise, for the monster king lashed out at him and in the next instant he lay bleeding on the floor.

“Dispose of him,” the monster king said to his nearest guard.

As he knelt down to drag her husband away, the guard caught the princess’ eye and she saw in that monstrous face a hint of familiarity. This was the younger of the three brothers, she was sure of it. Once the two brothers, one living and one now dead, were gone, the monster king made the princess an offer: “You made the wrong choice when last we met, your highness, so let me make my intentions plain this time. You can become my bride now or you can share the same fate as your husband, your parents, and everyone else in your town.”

The princess considered his offer carefully, for the monster king was obviously a cruel man and life with him might be worse than death. In the end, she accepted his offer, vowing to him to ever be faithful while on the inside promising to have her revenge on him. The monster king cackled in glee and pulled the princess to him. She found him repulsive but hid her true feelings behind a mask, and the monster king was pleased.

Days passed and turned into months, and all the while the princess pretended to be a dutiful wife and servant to the monster king, who was either blind to the revenge that burned in her heart or did not feel threatened by it. She spent every minute of every day searching for clues as to how the older brother had become the monster king, but even though she was a princess and his bride, she was treated as the lowliest of servants and no one would speak to her of matters of import. She would have gone mad during this time if not for acts of kindness from an unexpected source: the king’s surviving brother. He had vowed to protect her if she chose him as her husband, and even though she had not, he was not angry with her.

The younger brother found moments throughout each day when the monster king was away or distracted, and he used these to talk to the princess. Each of these moments became a light in her otherwise dark existence. Eventually, she convinced him to reveal to her the secrets of how he and everyone else in this new Garden had become monsters. He spoke to her of powerful beings that had visited his older brother and made a bargain. The beings, who belonged to a distant kingdom called the Fifth House, gave the older brother a magical orb that allowed him to change into a monster, and more orbs to change others as well. In return, he and everyone he transformed would owe the Fifth House a favor, to be collected at a later time. The older brother accepted this bargain and, with his new monstrous powers, forced everyone he knew to accept it as well. The younger brother explained that without the orbs, the monsters would appear human again, but that the monster king had forbid them to change back unless under his direct orders. Not everyone agreed with the monster king’s rule, but he struck such fear in everyone’s hearts that no one defied him.

There was no room for fear in the princess’ heart, however, as it was already full to the brim with her plans for revenge. Armed with the knowledge shared by the younger brother, she set out to procure one of the orbs for herself, for what chance did she have to fight back against monsters unless she was as powerful as them? The orbs proved to be difficult to obtain, however. Each person who had one guarded it closely, and though the princess suspected there must be a trove of them somewhere, she was not allowed to explore the Garden on her own.

One night, while the monster king slept, she risked taking his orb, which he wore on a necklace. She slipped it off his neck and he became human once more, but when she put it on, she did not change.

The monster king awoke to find her wearing his treasure, and he might have killed her there and then were it not for her quick tongue. She convinced him that she was only fascinated by the beautiful light the magic orb gave off and had wanted to wear it to look more beautiful for him. He accepted this, and in his benevolence he chose not to kill her. Instead her punishment for stealing his light would be thirty days spent locked in a lightless cell. Her screams and tears as his guards carried her away pleased the monster king greatly.

* * *

1/13/13 Notes:

Continue to Part 49.

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.