Posts Tagged ‘werewolf’

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 45, Allin inadvertently sent the wannabe werewolf, Guppy, to a watery grave, and one of his werewolf pals was none too happy about this.

The Only City Left: Part 46

The hand holding my neck twisted me around and I came nose to snout with Matthias. I grabbed onto his arm to hold myself up as best I could. He turned my head to one side and I thought, This is it. He’s going to bite my head off. Literally.

Instead, he yelled directly into my ear so that I could hear him over the pounding, rushing water that fell all around us. “You are ruthless. I like that. But stop fighting or I’ll forget that Doyle wants you unharmed. Understand?”

I did my best to nod.

“They’re here!” Kenner’s roar sounded faintly over the din of the room, even though he stood only a couple of feet away from us.

Matthias looked past Kenner, narrowed his eyes, and set me down. He grabbed my wrist and pulled me along again, away from the incoming clinkers, but came to a stop when confronted by a bedraggled Tumble. With his wet fur plastered to his skin, Tumble looked like half the cat he normally was, but he had the same calm, determined expression as ever. He didn’t speak but his message to Matthias was clear: You’re not getting past me.

Matthias likewise responded silently. He yanked me in front of him, twisted my arm behind my back, and used it to lift me onto the tips of my toes. Even if Tumble couldn’t hear my scream, he could see my anguish. Message received. He frowned and began to back away, straight toward the clinker walking out of the swirling fog behind him. They weren’t simply following us anymore; they had us surrounded.

With my free arm, I pointed the clinker out in time for Tumble to stop and see the threat. Matthias saw it, too, and let out a string of curses. He swiveled around, pulling me with him, and I saw Kenner grappling with a clinker on that side. Matthias let me go and I stumbled forward, catching myself on the waist-high railing. He must have figured I had nowhere to run to anyway. He was right.

I leaned over the rail to catch my breath and saw the next catwalk a couple of stories below us. With clinkers on either side, it seemed like the only way out. I yelled out to Tumble to jump down, but it was Matthias who noticed me first. He must have agreed with my assessment, because he swept me up in one arm, grabbed the railing, and swung up and over it.

The plunge was frightening but brief, ending in more of a collision with than a landing on the lower catwalk. Matthias lost his grip on me and we both went sprawling. I slid away from him on my back, completely out of control, until suddenly nothing was underneath me anymore. I twisted in midair and saw one more catwalk below and then only the yawning depths. There was no lighting past the next catwalk, so the pit became a black hole swallowing all the water that poured down into it. I would have been swallowed too if not for Matthias grabbing my ankle and hauling me back up.

I’m sure he didn’t hear my muttered thanks and wouldn’t have cared if he did, but I had reason once again to be grateful that Doyle wanted me alive. My heart, already pounding in my chest thanks to the jump down and near-death experience, received another shock when Tumble landed next to me. I flashed him a big grin and looked up, expecting to see Kenner leaping down next. Through the mist, I saw that the werewolf had not been so lucky. He struggled in the grips of clinkers on either side of him. I only hoped he would buy us enough time to figure out how to leave the relentless clinkers behind for good.

He didn’t. Two clinkers followed us down immediately, landing a little ways away on either side of us. And if they followed us down once, they could do it again, and then we’d be out of catwalks to land on. So down wouldn’t work and the sides were blocked. That only left going back up, and I realized I had something that might help me with that. I kneeled down, pulled my cocoon bag onto the floor, and started to open it. Matthias grabbed my hand to stop me.

Leaning in, he said, “What are you up to?”

“I have something to slow them down!”

“No surprises,” he said and let me go.

The clinkers moved ever closer, cautious in their steps on the slick metal floor. I pulled my grapple gun out, attached a claw hook to it, and slid my bag back on. I set the gun down and motioned for Tumble, who stood awaiting the clinker’s arrival, to pay attention. With my back to Matthias, I pointed down at my gun, then up, and then cupped my hands and mimed rapidly lifting them up.

Tumble looked up at how high above us the catwalk was, back at how near the clinker was, and then looked at me and shrugged. Without any hesitation, he ran at me and stepped into my cupped hands. I stood up and hefted him into the air. When my hands were as high as they could go, he leapt off. Through our combined efforts, he sailed upward far enough to latch onto the underside of the catwalk above us.

Now it was my turn. I picked up the grapple gun, turned to face Matthias, and nodded. He looked up at Tumble and then back at me.

“I thought you said down,” he yelled.

“I lied,” I said, and took a leap of faith over the railing, grapple gun in hand. My insane plan was almost worth it for the look on his face alone.

I twisted in mid-air, aimed at a higher catwalk, and squeezed the trigger. The rockets fired and the grappling hook rattled, but it remained firmly in place. Before I could think of some quick fix, the gun became too hot to hold and I reflexively threw it away. My entire plan had counted on that gun working, but it had jammed. Now I was falling without hope of rescue, retreating from the light, from the clinkers, from Matthias and Tumble, as water churned in sheets around me and all I knew was the dark embrace of the abyss. And still I fell.

* * *

Continue to Part 47.

12/30/12 News: 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 44, Allin could only watch in despair as a werewolf threw Tumble directly at one of the killer robots known as clinkers.

The Only City Left: Part 45

“Tumble!” I screamed, my voice reaching new heights to rise above the rumbling white noise that cocooned us.

Shiloh laughed as he let go of the cat, but the instant Tumble was released, he grabbed onto the werewolf’s wrist in return. He dropped to the floor and used the force of Shiloh’s throw to pull the laughing wolf off balance and propel him toward the doorway in his place. A clinker had made it through the room and now stood in the doorway, six arms outstretched to receive Tumble’s gift. Shiloh sailed upside down through the hallway and landed directly in its deadly embrace. Rather than attack him itself, it turned around and held still for its comrades, who set to with their own devices. Shiloh’s laughter turned to high-pitched screams and then silence.

Matthias, meanwhile, had ignored the entire encounter while he worked on unlocking the next door. He truly didn’t seem to care which of his subordinates died in the course of his escape. Guppy, by his side, looked paler than ever, his skin the color of his hair, his eyes rimmed with red. Kenner caught up to us and looked more angry than scared, but then werewolves tended to look angry by default, so I couldn’t really tell.

“Boss, that cat got Shiloh killed,” he said.

“Then make sure he dies next,” Matthias said. He had one hand around my arm and with the other he was tearing apart the control panel in the wall next to the door.

Tumble stopped halfway between our group and the door to the previous room, through which I could see the clinkers stripping Shiloh of his fur. He looked back and forth slowly, calmly, waiting to see what his next move would be, trapped between clinkers on one side and werewolves on the other.

Behind me, Matthias finally got the door open, and the combination of sound and moist air that immediately poured through it made me whip around to search for its cause. Beyond the door was a metal catwalk leading into a large, open space lit by muted, strobing lights. Matthias pulled me through the door and Guppy followed us in. On either side of the catwalk, torrents of water plunged through the air, churning into a mist that hid the far end in fog. It was the flickering lights behind the water that caused the strobing effect and made it difficult to get a clear view of the room. From what I could tell, the room ascended and descended further than I could see, with catwalks criss-crossing above and below us in several directions. The air was heavy with vapor and my clothing was quickly soaked through.

As Matthias pulled me along the slippery, perforated metal walkway, I looked back and saw Kenner start to swing the door to the room closed. It probably wouldn’t lock anymore, but even if it slowed Tumble down for a few seconds, it would be long enough for the clinkers to get him. I cried out and fought to free myself from Matthias’ hold on my arm, but I needn’t have worried. Tumble shot through the narrowing gap at the last second and slipped past Kenner. In an instant, he caught up to us and leapt atop Matthias’ head, which he set upon with a clawed frenzy. Matthias let go of my arm and twirled in place, grabbing at Tumble, while Guppy stood nervously by and Kenner ran up to us. I bent over and rammed my shoulder into Kenner’s gut as he approached, keen to keep him out of the fight. He slipped and we both fell down on the slick metal flooring, but he got to his feet first. He raised his clawed hand and brought it down to strike me, but Matthias of all people came to my defense, kicking Kenner’s arm away and yelling something unintelligible.

He had gotten Tumble off of him but was bleeding from several deep cuts on his face. I felt a grim satisfaction upon seeing his injuries, but it turned to anxiety as I wondered where Tumble had gone. I turned over, got to my hands and knees, and looked around. There he was, further along the catwalk. He, too, had not come out of his tussle with Matthias unscathed. He would have some scars to rival his brother’s if we came through this alive.

I began to crawl toward Tumble when a weight hit my back and I collapsed to the floor, splitting my chin on the metal grating.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Guppy yelled. He flipped me over, grabbed me by the shoulders, and slammed my head against the catwalk. “No running away. You’re the only thing keeping me alive at this point.”

“Tell that to the clinker,” I yelled back, pointing behind him.

In fact, the clinkers had breached the doorway to the waterfall room, but Matthias and Kenner stood between them and us. Guppy probably realized his mistake as soon as he started to turn away, but it was too late. I pulled my knees to my chest and kicked out with all the force I could muster.

My kick broke his grip on my drenched shirt and forced him to his feet. He stumbled backward, hit the railing, and was over and gone before I had half-risen to my feet. I looked over the edge for him, but I didn’t see anything besides the never-ending torrents of water and a couple of catwalks. Guppy was gone. I had wanted him off of me, but I hadn’t meant to send him to his death. I didn’t have time to mourn, though, as a great furred hand clamped itself around my neck and lifted me off the floor.

* * *

Continue to Part 46.

12/23/12 News: I hope everyone has been enjoying some holiday cheer of one sort or another. I have a holiday tale set in the world of the webcomic LeyLines that I would love for you to read. Creator Robin Dempsey provided a wonderful illustration for the story and, of course, a fantastic world to play in.

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.

If you are new to The Only City Left and want a quick catch-up, you can read a synopsis of Parts 1-34 and then start at Part 35. You can reach an individual part of the story by browsing the Table of Contents.

At the end of Part 43, things were looking bad for Allin. Surrounded by werewolves and abandoned by Tumble, he stood frozen in fear. And then a clinker came knocking at the door. Good times.

The Only City Left: Part 44

Matthias bared his teeth. “You brought a clinker down on our heads? I expected better, Guppy. Crow, get up.”

Werewolves, a clinker, and no Tumble. I might have remained frozen by this horrible combination of events, but somehow it worked to free me from my fearful inertia. Since Matthias was distracted, I began to slowly move around the room toward the hallway that Tumble had fled down. Guppy saw what I was doing and copied me. I gave him a look. Do not sell me out again. I took his continued silence for a sign that our truce was in effect again with the return of the clinker.

Clinkers, actually. In the time it took Guppy and me to meet at the back of the room, six of those killer robots had entered from the opposite side. Each one had a unique pattern of patchwork skin over an identical frame, with an array of deadly tools in motion at the end of their four extra arms. At their feet was a seventh clinker, our old friend the car-chaser. Its ruined legs and tattered skin had been removed, and it pulled itself across the floor with its two human-like arms. It looked like some bizarre pet next to its unmarred companions.

“You are harboring fugitives,” it said from the floor. “Please remain still while processing commences.”

In the center of the room, Matthias helped Crow to his feet and then backed away from the giant werewolf.

“Crow, I’m counting on you.”

“You got it, boss.”

Matthias turned and took two bounding steps to where Guppy and I stood together in the far hallway.

“Matthias, I didn’t know—” Guppy said.

“Shut up and run,” he said, grabbing me by one arm and pushing Guppy ahead of him.

I could barely keep my feet underneath me as he dragged me down the hallway. I looked back once before we turned a corner and I saw Crow swinging one of the clinkers by its legs to keep the others at bay. There were too many to fight, though. When he turned one way, clinker arms whipped in from the other side, cutting and piercing, and Crow howled a song of pain and rage.

I continued to hear his howls long after I couldn’t see him anymore, even after the background roar that permeated the area grew so loud that Matthias had to yell to be heard.

“Guppy, you screwed up,” he said as we passed through an open door into a corridor that ran left and right. He turned and slammed the door shut, sniffed the air, and continued down the left path. “But you also brought us this kid.”

He shook me painfully by my arm for emphasis and I squeaked out an ineffectual protest.

“So I’ll give you a choice. Return to the Garden with us and let Doyle sort it out.” He paused, as if to give Guppy time to consider the implications of that choice. “Or leave now and take your chances with the clinkers. But you’re outcast. If you ever run into me or another werewolf again, we will treat you like any other pink skin.”

We reached an intersection and Matthias stopped and sniffed again.

“We’re going this way,” he said, pointing to the right. “Which way are you going, Guppy?”

Guppy didn’t hesitate. “I’m with Doyle and the Fifth all the way, sir. I’ll pay for my mistake if that’s what it takes.”

“Good. Then let’s keep going,” he said, looking back the way we had come. “Crow’s life will not go to waste if we can get this boy to Doyle.”

“You’ve really got your snout buried in Doyle’s glowing blue butt, don’t you?” I said.

His only response was an angry growl and a tighter grip on my arm as he pulled me down the right-hand corridor. Soon enough, we reached another open door, through which I heard growls and yells. We stepped inside of the room, which was full of shelves and machinery, and saw Tumble leading two werewolves on a merry chase. He was small and light enough to scamper up the shelves and leap from one unit to the next, while Kenner and Shiloh barged around knocking everything over in their attempts to grab the elusive cat.

“Tumble,” I yelled out. “We’ve got clinkers on our tail!”

“How many?” he asked without slowing down.

“Seven!”

Matthias ignored our conversation. He closed and locked the door behind him and strode through the room, dragging me in his wake, to another door on the far side. Behind us, the door we had entered through burst open, framing a clinker whose shredded flesh hung in strips from its body. I despaired at how little time it had taken the clinkers to deal with Crow and catch up to us. In the face of this new arrival, Tumble and the two wolves opted to stop fighting and flee along with us. They even worked together to push more shelves into the clinker’s path on their way out.

When Matthias got the door open, the roaring sound immediately increased in intensity, becoming so much white noise. What machine is making that much sound? I wondered as we hustled into a short corridor that led to yet another closed door.

Behind us, I saw Kenner burst through the doorway, followed by Tumble and Shiloh. Behind them, I could see more than one clinker tossing shelving out of the way as they moved toward us. Even though he was my captor, I fervently hoped Matthias knew where he was heading and had a plan to get out of this. If the clinkers had overpowered Crow, none of the other werewolves, not to mention a mere human like me, stood a chance against them.

Free of clinker interference for the moment, Shiloh resumed his hunt. He lunged forward, caught Tumble by the scruff of his neck, and yanked him off of the floor. He held the much-smaller cat at arm’s length and turned to the open doorway.

I could only watch in despair as Shiloh reared back and threw my friend as hard as he could at the approaching clinkers.

* * *

Continue to Part 45.

12/16/12 News: 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.

If you are new to The Only City Left and want a quick catch-up, you can read a synopsis of Parts 1-34 and then start at Part 35. You can reach an individual part of the story by browsing the Table of Contents.

At the end of Part 42, Guppy brought Allin and Tumble to meet his friends: one of them was a werewolf and the rest all were lantern coils, which meant they could be werewolves, too. Allin was not pleased at this turn of events.

The Only City Left: Part 43

I tensed up and looked around for a quick exit, but we were out of luck. The hulking man called Crow blocked the way we had come in, and the only other exit was a hallway on the other side of the room. Even if I hadn’t been rooted to the floor in fear, I doubted I could make it past the card players.

“Seriously, do you smell it, too?” asked the werewolf as he got out of bed. Standing, he was shorter than me, which made him less imposing though still horrific. He sniffed the air with his long snout, bobbing his head. “Or am I still dreaming?”

“Cool it, Kenner,” said the card player on the left side of the table. He spoke in a cold, clipped manner, as if he only grudgingly let the words escape from his mouth. “We have guests. Guppy, where are your manners? Introduce your friends.”

I locked eyes with Guppy and silently pleaded for help. After all, we had escaped death by clinker together only a short while ago. That counted for something, right?

“Not friends, Matthias,” Guppy said. “They nearly got me killed. I figured I better bring them back here so you could decide what to do with them.”

“You son of a—” From behind me, Crow grabbed my shoulder and squeezed tight, cutting me off.

Guppy sat down on one of the cots and crossed his arms over his chest. I gave him a dirty look as I squirmed under Crow’s crushing grip, then turned to Matthias when he spoke again.

“Thank you, Crow,” Matthias said. He sniffed the air delicately. “Kenner, I do believe you are correct. Our short friend has a feline air about him. Remove his hat.”

Kenner raised his upper lip in a snarling grin and moved to follow Matthias’ orders, but Tumble preempted him. He doffed his own hat with a flourish and handed it to the werewolf.

“Keep that handy, mind you. I’ll be needing it when we leave.”

“I don’t take orders from cats,” Kenner said. He threw the leaf hat to the ground and smashed and tore at it with his feet. The man seated across from Matthias laughed at the sight.

Tumble remained unfazed, but I broke out in a sweat and began to take quick, shallow breaths. This was Glin’s Rising all over again. After three years and despite my best efforts to avoid them, I had fallen back into the hands of the werewolves.

“Shiloh, be quiet,” Matthias said to the still-laughing man across from him. Then he turned his cold, appraising stare back to Tumble and me. “A boy and a cat wandering the city. Not an everyday sight.”

“Dogs playing cards. I think I saw that in a painting once,” Tumble said.

Shiloh growled and made to leave his seat, but a clipped “Enough!” from Matthias kept him still.

Matthias crossed his legs and said, “Crow, release him. Guppy, do you know who you have brought us?”

“He said his name is Allin and the cat is Tumble.”

Matthias grinned and I could see the werewolf behind his human facade. “Really. The boy I had guessed, but to find him in the company of Emperor Banshee’s brother? What a prize.”

I turned to Tumble and gave him a surprised look. Brother? He shrugged and nodded at me.

“Forget the supplies, Guppy, you’ve more than earned your coil today. Doyle will want to reward you personally. Tell me, Allin. You were safe in Pudlington, last I heard. Whatever possessed you to leave, and to enter clinker territory, no less?”

My shoulder throbbed where the brute had gripped me. I massaged it and said, “None of your damn business.”

“Impolite whelp,” Matthias said with no real passion. “You’re lucky your uncle wants you alive and in one piece. The cat, though… Kenner, Shiloh, rough him up, but no killing.”

Shiloh laughed and grasped his lantern coil. He mumbled something I couldn’t hear and moonlight escaped from inside his closed hand. I shivered as he transformed into a werewolf in front of me. Kenner, already transformed, growled and moved toward Tumble.

“Allin, forgive me,” Tumble said. He looked sideways at me and then back at Crow, who towered behind the both of us. “You’re on your own for the moment.”

Before I could respond, he dashed forward between the two werewolves and kicked a chair sideways with such force that it knocked the card table over onto Matthias. There was a flash of white light and Matthias came out from under the overturned table as a werewolf. Behind me, Crow said something and there was another flash of moonlight. Tumble disappeared down the far hallway with Kenner and Shiloh in pursuit, while Guppy plastered himself against the wall by the cots, out of the way of his monstrous friends. I remained still, my feet like concrete blocks holding me in place.

Matthias lunged toward me and I couldn’t help but jump back in fright, only to bump into Crow’s unyielding body. Trapped, I couldn’t avoid it when Matthias gripped me painfully by the jaw with one clawed hand.

“A bold move, but futile,” he said, his rank breath filling my nostrils and making me gag. “My boys will capture him. The best he can hope for is to be killed rather than held hostage.”

“I wouldn’t count on it,” I said, fighting to pull my face out of his iron grip.

“We’ll see. In the meantime, I hope you’re ready for a trip to the Gard—” A tremendous reverberating BOOM! cut him off. It had come from the front door. Once the echoes died, Matthias squeezed my face and lowered his eyes to my level. “Did you bring friends with you, boy? Did you?”

I tried to say, “No,” but another BOOM! swallowed my answer.

He let me go and I rubbed at my face.

“Crow, take care of it,” Matthias said. “Guppy, were you followed?”

“I don’t think so. We left one behind us but it couldn’t walk.”

Matthias’ eyes narrowed and he bared his teeth. “One what?”

There was another boom followed by the sound of wrenching metal and a pained howl. Crow staggered into the room backwards and fell at our feet, bleeding from a long gash on his forehead.

I caught Guppy’s eye and his panicked face mirrored my own.

“Clinker,” he said.

* * *

Continue to Part 44.

12/9/12 News: 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!

#

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. If you are new to The Only City Left, you might want to start with the Table of Contents.

At the end of Part 16, Allin was trying to bring Tyena to safety when a slavering beast blocked his path and raised her claws to strike him down. 

The Only City Left: Part 17

Stunned by the sight of Mom’s lantern coil in the she-beast’s hand, I couldn’t even move out of the way to save myself as her other hand came down to eviscerate me.

Before her claws could reach me, someone flew out of the darkness on my left and tackled the she-beast to the ground.

“Mom!” I yelled, relieved and horrified at the same time.

She was bleeding from innumerable cuts and her clothing was torn. She didn’t look back at me as she lifted a dagger in either hand and yelled, “Run, Allin!”

As she plunged the daggers down, the she-beast fought to push her off, her clawed hands a frenzy of death. Blood made black in the harsh white light of the beast’s pendant sprayed from Mom’s throat and she collapsed forward. The she-beast, one dagger through her eye, the other through her throat, struggled ineffectually to push Mom off of her as her lifeblood flowed out. She managed to raise herself up on one elbow before she fell backward, unmoving. Mom’s necklace fell from her limp hand.

My world shattered. This could not be happening. In this brackish nightmare of shifting lights and dancing shadows, surely my eyes had tricked me into believing that Mom had been killed. Because it simply could not be.

I realized I was screaming my throat raw and clutching Tyena so tightly to my chest she would have protested if she had been conscious. But scream all I might, it did not bring Mom back. What it did do was make me a target.

Someone struck me a blow to the back of the head and I went sprawling forward, Tyena spilling out of my arms. I couldn’t get my hands in front of me before I landed, and my face planted onto some thin industrial carpet that covered a hard, unyielding floor. I heard something crack and felt the most unbearable pain I had ever experienced as my nose broke.

I turned over and writhed silently on my back, fighting to catch a breath, unable to see anything beyond the pain. I could hear a heated struggle nearby, though, all growls and roars and the sound of flesh colliding with flesh.

My sight returned in time for me to see a massive hairy body falling toward me, lit by the same white-light pendant that all the beasts had around their neck. I scrambled backward on my bottom until I backed into something that felt like a body and my hands slipped in something wet and viscous.

The beast transformed as it fell, snout shortening to a normal nose and mouth, hair receding into skin, limbs shrinking back to human proportions. By the time it hit the ground, head smushed sideways against the carpet, I was clear of it and could see who it was.

Grinty. The bastard had gotten what he deserved.

I looked up and saw my father, the yellow light of his lantern coil illuminating his grim face. His breast heaved with exertion as he reached down to offer me a hand.

“Allin, where’s your mother?”

His head was suddenly limned in a white corona and his shadow fell across me. I saw the beast towering behind him, but before I could warn him it had reached around and, with one hand, tore him open from neck to groin.

He continued toward me, falling into my arms, and his head came to a rest on my shoulder.

He whispered his last words into my ear, “Keep the coil. Stay alive. Always. Stay. Alive.”

With a final effort, he broke the necklace that held his lantern coil, found my left hand, and closed my fist around it.

Beyond tears, I hugged him close to me until he was completely gone. It happened from one heartbeat to the next.

I looked up and saw the lone surviving beast, illuminated by the light on his chest, inspecting the dead bodies strewn about the room. The first one he checked was the one Dad had shot at the beginning of this mess, all of maybe five minutes ago.

The beast snarled and kicked the body, clearly frustrated, before turning back around toward me.

I looked around for something to protect myself with and came face to face with Mom’s still face staring at me. She lay on top of her murderer, who in death had become human once more. I swallowed, reached out with my free hand to close her eyes, and then fought to pull her knife out of the woman’s throat. As I struggled to free it, a great hairy foot stamped down on my arm, pinning it in place. I cried out in pain.

“Nuh uh uh,” the beast growled from above me. I didn’t look up lest I stare right into its blinding pendant. “None of that, kid. Play nice.”

The beast leaned over and picked Mom’s necklace and coil off of the floor. It was only when he retrieved necklaces from Grinty and the woman, too, that I realized that each of them had the same coil as my parents did, for all that theirs had given off white light instead of yellow. I gripped Dad’s coil tighter in my fist.

He pulled back on Dad next, letting his corpse fall backwards onto the floor. When he didn’t immediately see the necklace and coil, he stepped off of my arm and kneeled down for closer inspection.

The second my arm was free, I pushed backwards and grabbed at the knife again with both hands this time, the coil pressed between my palm and the hilt. The knife slid free and I held it before me as the beast turned its head to stare at me.

“Don’t be stupid,” it growled. “If I’d wanted you dead, you’d be dead already.”

I stared back, saw that its fur was matted with blood, that it held the necklaces in its left hand while its right arm hung limp at its side.

“Then come on and finish me, you bastard,” I whispered.

The beast bobbed its nose in the air a few times in what I realized was its version of a chuckle. Then it stood up, holding up the three necklaces it had scavenged like a trophy.

“Fine, keep it. We’ll be back for you anyways, and without Mommy and Daddy to protect you, I don’t think you’ll be so lucky next time.”

The beast turned away from me and walked toward the front of the store, leaving me in near darkness. I continued to hold the knife before me.

“See you in your nightmares, kid,” the beast said, his parting shot.

I heard the scrape of metal on metal twice, the front door opening and closing, and then the darkness surrounded me completely.

* * *

Exit flashback mode and head back to the future in Part 18!

6/10/12 News: Okay, if last week’s post was dark, I guess this one is a black hole in comparison, but it needed to be told.

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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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. If you are new to The Only City Left, you might want to start with the Table of Contents.

At the end of Part Fifteen, Allin and his parents had found Tyena and she was in trouble. When Allin recklessly goes to save her, Dad tries to take control of the situation.

The Only City Left: Part 16

The confidence and tone of deadly threat revealed yet another side of Dad that I had never known before. His pronouncement had an immediate effect on the thugs surrounding Tyena. The three who were standing dove for cover behind nearby racks of clothing. One of them ended up a few feet away, between Tyena and me. At that distance, I could tell she was a woman, and I thought for sure she’d turn and see me crouching there, but her attention was wholly on Dad’s voice. I froze in place and tried to breathe as quietly as possible.

Unlike the others, the one on Tyena stood up slowly, casually pulling up and zipping his pants, his back to the front of the store.

He nudged Tyena with one foot and said, “You stay there, girl,” and turned around.

“Dylan Arcady, you old dog,” he called out. “I thought you’d be running off with your tail between your legs if you knew we were here. Yup, you’ve surely surprised me.”

“It doesn’t have to go down like this, Grinty. Let the girl go, we’ll be on our way, and you can go tell your master that you were this close to catching us.”

“You came back for the girl?” Grinty asked, genuine surprise in his voice. “What, did your bitch get too old for you? Time for some young blood?”

I tensed and let out a tiny, near-silent gasp despite myself. I will kill you, I thought.

Grinty cocked his head to one side and I was sure he had heard me, although the woman was closer and hadn’t seemed to notice.

“And how’s your boy doing? Doyle is ever so eager to meet the little tyke,” Grinty said, and started to walk toward me. Damn, he had heard me.

“You take one more step and I’ll blow a hole in your chest the size of your ego,” Dad warned.

“I’d like to see you try,” Grinty spat, but he held still. “He’s here, too, isn’t he? Oh, so it’s his little girlfriend you’ve come back for then, is it? She’s a sweet little thing, I must admit.”

He looked back at Tyena, who was huddled on her side in a fetal position.

“Tasty,” he said, and barked laughter.

That did it. I sprang up and launched myself at Grinty, curses pouring from my mouth. Before I had halved the distance to him, his female associate plucked me out of the air and held me tight to her chest.

I heard the sizzling discharge of a gun, Grinty’s laughter, the metallic tinkle of empty racks falling to the ground. I struggled in the woman’s arms and she squeezed me tighter, so I jabbed the magma stick over my shoulder and triggered it when I felt it hit something. There was a sizzle and pop, and she cursed and let me go.

As I fell to the floor, there was a flash of blinding white light and I felt rather than saw something pass over me. When I turned around to see what had happened, the woman was gone but I could see two indistinct shapes about twenty feet away, struggling in the murk at the back of the store. The light was coming from between them, but as they were locked together, it only intermittently escaped, creating a strobe-like effect.

My attention was pulled from that scene when I heard more gunshots. One of the men, not Grinty, fell before me with a cauterized hole in his chest the size of my head, the edges sizzling.

“Allin, go!” Dad called out from somewhere in the store.

I turned to find Tyena but was blinded anew by more flashes of white light. I held my left arm up before my eyes and blinked tears away to try to see clearly.

That’s when the howls began. Inhuman, throaty howls the likes of which I had never heard before, and which made the hair on my arms and the back of my neck stand at attention. The howls fought inside my brain with Dad’s orders to move, and I hesitated for precious seconds.

Around me I could hear the sounds of a battle: curses, yells, snarls, the last shots from Dad’s gun, followed by a clank and skitter as he must have tossed it away.

I tried to look around, to understand what was happening, but the bright lights moved quickly around the darkened room, turning it all into a blur of light and shadows.

A weak cry of “Allin” reminded me why I was there, and I turned to see Tyena, still curled up on the floor, with a hand out to me.

I shut out the chaos of the world around me and rushed to her side. I kneeled down and got my arms underneath her, and she limply draped her arms around my neck.

“Allin, Allin, you’ve got to go,” Tyena whispered. “They’re looking for you.”

“I know, shhh, it’s okay, it’ll be okay,” I told her as I stood up.

She felt too light in my arms, a hollow shell devoid of the fierce spirit that once animated it. I hugged her close to me and moved as quickly as I could to the back of the store, toward the Employee’s Only section and the stairs to the roof.

I hoped that in the heat of the battle, the two of us would be ignored. No such luck.

All of a sudden, a towering beast stood before me, panting quick, sulfurous breaths. A glowing oval of white light hung directly before my eyes between the beast’s fur-covered breasts, so bright in the darkness that it hurt my eyes. I squinted and looked up from there to a bared snout full of dirty, deadly-looking teeth and then to its eyes, one of which was collapsed and leaking pus into the fur on its cheek.

“I don’t care if Doyle wants you alive, boy,” she growled. “You’re going to pay for what you did to my beautiful face!”

It was such a ridiculous statement that a sarcastic reply was out of my lips without conscious thought.

“Really,” I stammered. “Looks like an improvement.”

The beast roared an inferno of rancid breath and lifted one fist to dangle something in front of me. It was a lantern coil like Mom and Dad wore, but unlit, hanging from a leather strap. No! It was Mom’s lantern coil.

As if she could read my thoughts, the beast laughed and said, “Don’t worry. She won’t need it anymore.”

And then her other hand came up, empty but for the razor-sharp claws at the tips of her fingers, ready to strike.

* * *

Find out how Allin dodges certain death in Part 17, or read my notes on today’s post first.

6/3/12 News: This is perhaps the darkest TOCL post to date, but it is the story of how Allin’s parents die, so I think it’s appropriate. Note: When I first started writing this sequence, back in Part Four, I had Allin written as being thirteen years old. For various reasons, having Allin be 13 didn’t make sense, so I bumped him up to 15. Either way, this is kind of a lot for a young man to handle. I am such a meanie.

Enjoying The Only City Left? If you could share the link to this story with even one person who you think might enjoy it, I’d be ever so appreciative. Thanks! (And thanks to Kevin for sharing TOCL on Facebook last week!)

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You can find the Table of Contents here if you need it.

As a quick reminder, Part 12 ended with Emperor Banshee dropping this bomb on Allin: “There is much your father kept secret from you, Allin.”

The Only City Left: Part Thirteen

Despite my tired, aching body, the Emperor had my complete attention. At last, I would get answers to questions that had been running laps in my mind for the past three years.

“Tell me everything,” I demanded. Then, remembering who I was speaking to, I added, “Please.”

“My boy, I know you are eager to learn these things, and you deserve to know of them, but you are shaking with fever,” Emperor Banshee said.

It was true, I was in a bad way and the long journey here had only exacerbated it. The more I tried to stop the shakes, to hold myself still, the worse it seemed to get.

“You need rest, food, and a cleaning. You are safe here. Let us care for you. When you are recovered, there shall be a feast and we shall speak of events past, present, and future.”

“No, I want to know now!” I insisted.

Banshee raised an eyebrow but otherwise ignored me. He turned to Tumble and said, “Arrange for him to be tended to, and get that bite looked at before it festers.”

“Yes, your majesty.”

I continued to protest as Banshee turned his back to me and ascended to his throne. I even went so far as to push myself to my feet and start to follow him.

Two guards blocked my path, halberds crossed before me, and Tumble tugged insistently at my elbow.

“Come, Allin, all in good time,” he purred.

I looked up at Banshee, who now sat stoic and silent above me. If he held the answers I needed, I could not afford to anger him with a tantrum, but I didn’t need to be happy about it.

“Fine,” I managed to spit out, my teeth clenched. “Let’s go.”

“Ahh, splendid,” Tumble replied nervously. “This way, please.”

I didn’t pay attention to where Tumble led me from that point. It all looked the same to me and my eyelids kept drooping closed anyway, making the trip a series of images interspersed with darkness.

Spiraling ramps, rope ladders, narrow bridges, and then an entrance into an old-world building through a window. That’s all I remember about the trip from the throne platform.

Next thing I knew I was waking up in a bed, a real bed with real sheets and blankets. It was a first for me and I rolled around under the covers simply to feel the play of the smooth fabric on my skin. I never wanted to leave.

Other than the bed, there was a chest of drawers across from me, a table beside the bed, and a light in the ceiling overhead that glowed bright and strong. The floor was covered in a thick, brown carpet and there was a framed triptych of paintings on the wall depicting some nature scene from ages past, with clear blue sky above a dark, foreboding forest. There were two doors leading off the room, one closed and one open to a bathroom, and an open, uncovered window. All in all, it was the most luxurious room I had ever slept in.

As I moved around in the bed, I realized that my body didn’t ache anymore, and my muscles felt fresh and relaxed. I sniffed the air and smelled perfume, ducked down to check my armpit and realized it was coming from me. I marveled at all the cats had accomplished while I had been passed out. I had no idea how much time had passed since I had arrived in Pudlington, but I was clean, rested and healthy, all of which put me in a much better frame of mind.

My clothing had been laid out on the table next to my bed, not the tan set I had worn on the trip to Pudlington, but my original clothing, all clean and dry. My cling-tight boots and cocoon bag were on the floor in front of the table. It looked like the cats had returned all my belongings to me. But what about…?

My hand shot up to my chest and gripped my lantern coil where it hung at the bottom of my necklace. Still there! For a moment I had feared that it might have been removed by someone who didn’t understand its value to me. I squeezed it and let it fall back to my chest.

As good as it felt to lie between clean sheets on a soft bed, I was more excited about the prospect of meeting with Emperor Banshee again. Now that I felt better, he had no excuse to not tell me about Dad and his history with the werewolves. My heart rose into my throat at the thought that I would finally learn why they had been after us. And why they were apparently still after me.

I got up and dressed, put on my cocoon backpack, and stuck my head out of the window. I was not at all surprised to find Tumble on a narrow ledge next to the window, leaning against the building. He was polishing his claws with a cloth.

“Feeling better, I hope?”

“As good as new. How long was I out?”

“Over a day.”

I saw that Tumble’s shoulder was wrapped in a bandage and nodded at it.

“You all better?” I asked.

“Indeed,” he replied, and tucked his polishing cloth away. “Dinner is in two hours. Care to explore Pudlington a little until then?”

I grinned. Climbing through the cat city seemed like a perfect way to keep my mind off of the questions parading through my head.

Pudlington was immense, and so tall I thought for sure that its ceiling had to be the limit of the city’s height. Tumble quickly disabused me of this notion.

“You could fit five or six Pudlington’s on top of one another before you scratch the roof of the world,” he explained.

Besides that minor letdown, crawling through, over, and around Pudlington was a treat. Between my boots and getting used to the sway of the city, I was able to keep up with Tumble and traverse the city like a native.

Everyone we passed seemed cheerful and friendly and engaged in some activity or another. There were hunters chasing down birds, farmers tending hanging gardens, craftsmen repairing and adding on to the city’s network of support ropes, and my favorite, a group of school-kittens led by an exasperated teacher. Pudlington was the most alive place I had ever been in my life and I was the only human present. It didn’t speak well for the future of humanity, I suppose, but I couldn’t help but have my spirits lifted by the vitality of it all.

Soon enough Tumble called a halt to our circumnavigation of the city so that we could head over to the Emperor’s dinner. It was held in a long, rectangular hall, its floor supported by ropes and accessible by ramps and ladders, like most rooms in the city. There was a low railing on three sides of the floor, and at one of the short ends, a full wall covered in fronds and vines, with a waterfall that crested over the top and gathered in a small pool below. It was impressive given that we were untold stories above the ground.

Tumble led me to the low table that filled the hall, around which twenty or so cats were engaged in chatter in small groups.

“The Emperor will sit there,” Tumble explained, pointing to the end of the table by the waterfall. “I will be on his right hand side and you shall sit across from me. It is a place of honor but it means I will not be able to assist you during the meal. Follow the cues, speak when spoken to, be polite.”

“I’ll be a good boy,” I assured him while rolling my eyes.

He arched an eyebrow in return, then gestured that I should take my place.

Banshee dropped in to the room between the table and the waterfall, going down to one knee and then standing back up. The floor perceptibly shook but settled down within a few seconds.

The hum of conversation in the room faded to silence as all the cats turned and acknowledged their Emperor’s presence with a bow.

Without a word, Banshee took his seat, and only when I saw everyone follow suit did I sit down also. The table was so low that I had to kneel in order to be near it.

“Welcome, guests. Tonight we are honored by the presence of this young man who sits beside me,” Banshee addressed the room. “He is here at my request and I wish you all to accord him the highest respect. There is much he needs to learn from us, and likewise much I need to know from him, but first: food and drink in honor of this day!”

With that pronouncement, a line of servers strode into the room bearing the first course, a soup. From that point on it seemed like there was always a line of them snaking around the table, bringing out new dishes, refilling drinks, and clearing the emptied plates away.

It was the most extravagant meal I had ever eaten, and for all I could not recognize some of the courses, everything was delicious, even the rat that Tumble had caught and which was served solely to Banshee, Tumble, and me. It sure as heck beat a steady diet of nutri-bulbs.

As the evening progressed, however, I became more and more antsy to speak with the Emperor, to wring from him every drop of information about my family that he had to give, to find out about my supposed uncle. Keeping silent and answering polite questions might have earned me Tumble’s appreciative smile, but my veneer of pleasant sociality was wearing thin.

Finally, Banshee appeared to be done eating, which signaled the end of everyone’s dining. Servants cleared the remainder of the plates and dishes and set out tall, fluted glasses full of a bubbly, pink liquid in front of each guest.

I must have looked askance at it because Tumble explained from across the table, “Gerrybrook Juice. From the flower of the same name. Never tried it? A delicacy, I assure you, but it packs quite a punch so tread lightly.”

I took a tentative sip and found it to be delightful, not too sweet but with a fizzy kick.

The Emperor quaffed his glass in one gulp and a server immediately refilled it. Glass in hand, he focused on me and said, “You have been exceedingly patient, Allin, for which I thank you. I must ask you to extend that patience further before I answer the questions so plainly written on your face.”

Not again! I thought, but kept my face emotionless. I sipped at my drink to keep from saying anything rash.

The room fell silent as everyone hung on the Emperor’s words.

“You will learn all that we know by evening’s end, I assure you. But first it would be helpful if you could tell us what you know of your parents and their involvement with the werewolves, so I know what gaps in your knowledge need to be filled in.”

That took me aback. To buy some time, I took another sip of that wonderful, frothy nectar and set my cup down carefully before me.

My parents and the werewolves? There was only one story I had to tell on that subject, and I had never shared it with anyone before. Not only because it was too painful, but who would I have told?

Well, now I had an audience and the story needed to be told, even if it shamed me in the process.

I had to force the words past the lump that had formed in my throat, but after a slow, halting start, the story began to pour out of me. I needed to tell this tale.

“We arrived in Glin’s Rising to trade for food,” I began. “And that’s when I met a girl named Tyena.”

As I described her and our instant connection, the cats around the table exchanged curious glances. Perhaps human customs of love sounded strange to them.

I went on to tell of how I wanted to stay in Glin’s Rising, and how Mom and Dad insisted we move on. Of the plan Tyena and I made for her to secretly follow me. Of the fight I had with Mom and Dad when I realized that our visit had put the Glinites in danger. And how I had run away from my parents to go back and make sure Tyena was safe.

I stopped, took another gulp of my drink, and held the glass up to be refilled. I would need a lot more of that heady stuff to give me the courage to finish my story. The story of how I killed my parents.

* * *

Immediately enter “Flashback Mode” with Part Fourteen, or read my notes on this week’s episode first.

5/13/12 News: Part Thirteen is double-sized because I did not want to break it up into two segments and delay the next part even longer. As it is, I had to rush through a few scenes to fit in everything I wanted and keep it to 2,000 words or so. Allin summarizes some details of his story at the end here. Astute readers will recognize it as the Cliff’s Notes version of the flashback sequence that began in Part Four and ended in Part Seven. The rest of that flashback sequence will unfold over the course of the next four weeks.

Thanks to everyone for reading. Comments are always appreciated; I’d love to know who is reading and what you think. For my new readers, welcome! Care to let me know how you found The Only City Left? Finally, if you could share the link to this story with even one person who you think might enjoy it, I’d be ever so appreciative. Thanks!

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Click Part Eleven to find out what happened last time. And here’s the Table of Contents.

The Only City Left: Part Twelve

After Tumble handed off his prize rat to a page with orders to send it to the royal chef, we made our way up a series of ramps into Pudlington proper. The clearance was enough that I could stand up straight, but I often found myself leaning against walls and posts on the way. Tumble continued his role as proud tour guide, but it was all a grey buzz in my ears as I forced my rubbery legs to keep moving.

Walking inside Pudlington was a dizzying affair, as the entire city swayed minutely but continuously. Not a problem for the sure-footed feline inhabitants, but in my sorry state I felt about to plunge to my death with every step and sway. The lack of railings and uniform color of the city were no help, either. It felt like climbing through a moving optical illusion.

Sensing my distress, Tumble took my hand and led me the rest of the way, for which I was grateful.

Soon we reached a long, thin ramp that led down at a slight angle to a wide platform in what I took to be the very center of the city. Other such ramps radiated out from it like spokes, and between them were great ropes that came down from somewhere above to hold the platform up.

In the very center of the platform, Emperor Banshee sat on a raised throne atop a set of circular stairs. He was a beast, more the size of a small child than a large cat, with a thick chocolate-grey coat marred here and there by bald patches. As I approached him, I could see ample scarring on his exposed skin.

Six guards in ornate costumes held vigil around the circular dais. They wore black caps that each had one large, white feather sticking straight up out of them, and held tall halberds by their side. Other cats milled about the platform talking in small groups, but quieted as we approached.

Once we reached the base of the stairs, Tumble let go my hand and climbed three steps to stand one below the throne. He turned and announced, “His Royal Feline, Emperor Banshee LXXVI, welcomes Allin Arcady into His presence. You may kneel.”

It took me a few beats until I realized he meant I should kneel.

“Not a chance,” I replied.

This caused a flurry of consternation amongst the cats gathered on the platform. The two guards nearest to hand stood straighter and gripped their halberds more tightly, and Tumble rolled his eyes and brought one hand to his forehead.

“You refuse to bow to a mere cat, is that it?” came Emperor Banshee’s deep rumble of a voice as he leaned forward to inspect me.

I quailed under his gaze.

“It’s not that at all, your Emperor… ness, sir,” I explained. “It’s been a really long day. If I kneel, I won’t be able to stand up again.”

Banshee continued to glare down at me for some time. When he stood up and started to stalk down the steps toward me, I wondered if maybe I shouldn’t have just knelt. Angering the Emperor in the center of his realm was not my brightest move ever, but I was so tired I hardly cared.

Once he realized what Banshee was doing, Tumble practically tripped over himself to precede him down the steps. If he planned on interposing himself between us, he was not quick enough. Banshee stopped one step above the floor, placed his hands on my shoulders, and looked me in the eyes.

“Sit,” he commanded me, and gently pushed me to the ground.

There was concern in his voice and touch, not the rough treatment I had expected, so I acquiesced and sat down, cross-legged. The Emperor sat down on the bottom step facing me, put his elbow on his knee, and rested his chin on his fist.

The members of the court tittered nervously and Tumble kept looking back and forth between us, unsure of what to do or say next to deal with this breach of protocol.

“Good boy,” Banshee said, and patted me on the head.

Polite laughs broke out and Tumble released a deep sigh. Even I couldn’t help but offer a chagrined smile in return.

“Allin Arcady, you are probably most interested to learn how it is that we have come to know of you,” Banshee said in his deep, growling voice.

I nodded mutely in reply.

Banshee stood up and paced back and forth on the step before me as he spoke, gesturing for emphasis frequently.

“With the decline of Man, much of the city called Earth lies fallow. In some places, such as this one, new beings have arrived to fill the void. Not all such beings are friendly, however. Some detest life and will not be content until the entire world is a hollow, lifeless sphere. Others seek ever to expand their empire, to put themselves in a place of lordship over the remaining pockets of life that survive here and there in this shell of a city.”

He stopped before me and leaned in. “The werewolves are one such race. Long have they been our mortal enemy, and though the world at large be not aware, long have we striven to halt their aggression and to keep them contained.

“Although he did so for selfish reasons, your father aided us and struck a great blow against the werewolves. It is in his memory that we have kept track of your adventures, Allin.”

“You’ve been watching me?” I asked, indignant and unbelieving at the same time.

“We have felt the ripples you have caused,” Banshee explained enigmatically, twitching his whiskers.

“So why bring me here all of a sudden? What changed?”

“When we heard that your uncle had picked up your trail, we knew we had to get to you first.”

I tilted my head to the side and scrunched up my face, “What are you talking about? I don’t have an uncle.”

The face of the werewolf ghost in his human form sprang suddenly to my mind.

“There is much your father kept secret from you, Allin.”

* * *

Click ahead to Part Thirteen to wring the secrets from Emperor Banshee (or read my notes below first, if you can stand the suspense).

5/6/12 News: I think it is kind of amusing that I started this piece of the story with Tumble and his dead rat, but I had to get rid of the rat somehow and it is just fit there. The alternative was to take that line out of the previous post, but I enjoyed that joke too much to excise it. That’s just how I roll.

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Read Part Seven first if you need to. And here’s the Table of Contents.

The Only City Left: Part Eight

I locked eyes with the ghost for a moment. This was the best look I had gotten of him since my flight began. He was humanoid but not human. In fact he looked like nothing less than a giant dog, his snout full of wicked-looking teeth that snapped at me in frustration as he fought to force himself into the shaft. He had one arm raised above his head and I could see the claws at the ends of his fingers dripping spectral blood. His other arm was pinned to his body as he struggled to push himself further up.

Great. Giant monstrous corporeal ghosts chasing me around aren’t bad enough, mine had to be a werewolf, too. I kicked out again and my foot caught the ladder, so I shifted my weight to my feet and let go of the wheel lock.

The sound of straining metal filled the air and I looked down to see the spectral werewolf pulling himself up the shaft on the ladder, one-handed, each rung bending downward under the pressure. Time to go.

I reached up and turned the now-loose wheel lock until it clunked to a stop again and then pushed on the hatch. It resisted at first but then the seal broke and I was able to push it open. One hand on the hatch, the other on the lip, I climbed out of the shaft and tumbled onto a dust-covered floor, inside of some sort of shelf-lined maintenance room that was lit only by the glow of my lantern coil.

I lay there panting and shaking for a few seconds before I could convince my body to move again. Something was wrong, it was too quiet. Rolling over onto my stomach, I got my knees under me and leaned over the open hatch to check the progress of my pursuer.

“I smell your father on you, boy,” said the now-human ghost who was looking up at me from only a few rungs down.

My heart slammed against my rib cage like it was trying to break free and my vision darkened for a moment. The translucent blue hand rising up over the lip of the open hatchway brought me back to myself.

“What’s your name, cub? We’ve never been properly introduced?”

I stood up and looked down at the ghost who was now poised just inside the open hatch, one arm over the edge, pulling himself up.

“Go to hell,” I stuttered as I slammed the weighty hatch down.

As the hatch fell, the ghost transformed, one second a man, the next a ravening beast. The hatch door was unimpressed. It nestled into place with a ringing gong, neatly slicing through the fur and muscle of the ghost’s extended arm.

I threw myself onto the hatch and turned the wheel lock until it jammed to a stop. Beside me, the ghost arm fizzled away into wisps of smoke which flowed, not up, but around the hatch itself, trying to find an opening to reunite with the rest of its body.

Even through the thick hatch I could hear the roar of the ghost beast, and the hatch started to buck below me. I knew I couldn’t stay here forever holding the wheel, so I jumped up and ran to the nearest set of shelves. They were metal and free-standing, and with some effort, I was able to pull them down onto the top of the hatch. One after the other I collapsed the shelves onto the floor, creating a jumbled pile of heavy debris above and around the hatch.

Satisfied that I had done all I could, I found the door out of the maintenance room, opened it, and ran for my life. I had no idea where I was or where I was going, I just knew I needed to get as far away as possible. I barely saw my surroundings. Instead, the same picture kept replaying in my mind. The ghost’s face as I slammed the hatch shut. His anger, his transformation into werewolf form. And how, as a human, he looked uncannily like my own father.

* * *

Some time later, I was well and truly lost, which was fine by me. Lost is my normal state of affairs. Lost means I have never been somewhere before. If I recognized my surroundings, it might have meant that I had doubled back, and since I hadn’t heard from the big bad wolf-ghost in a while, doubling back toward the site of our last encounter would not be good. Maybe my attempts to cover up the hatch had kept him at bay, maybe not. For now I just needed to stay ahead, stay alive.

So this is how Mom and Dad must have felt. Dangerous people, dangerous things, always on their tail. Maybe the same one who was pursuing me, since he seemed to know Dad. Hell, he looked like Dad. What was that about?

So many questions but no one around to answer them. Welcome to my life.

With the adrenaline of my flight leeched out of my system, I realized that I was in just as much danger from freezing as from the ghost, maybe more. My wet clothes had not warmed up in the cool, stale air of the complex I ended up in. Where had I ended up, anyway? Another residential block, from the looks of it, but not as packed in as the one I had started out in, some unknown number of stories further up. Up. That reminded me of my failure once again to ascend through the city. Sometimes it seemed like there was a barrier between the lower and upper portions of the city, like maybe the undercity was buried and forgotten at some point, and I could try for a hundred years and never find a crack in the armor between the two. Maybe I should have a new goal instead: head down. At least that way I’d be succeeding.

* * *

Achieve your own success by reading Part Nine (or stick around and read my commentary below first.)

4/8/2012 News: This week I wrote more words of notes and backstory than words for this post, which is due to the fact that now that I have put some pieces in place, I am starting to see connections I had no idea about when I started writing the story. I know some writers have intricate world-building and plotting done before they write one word of their story, and I think that is great, but it can get boring for me as a writer to do that. I like discovering the world as I write. The flip side is the danger that I could write myself into a corner. I think writing the story and the backstory in parallel from now on will help me prevent that from happening.

On another note, as you may have noticed, some fantasy seems to have fallen into my science fiction. There are ghosts, werewolves, and more to come. This was the plan from the start. I want a big, jumbled-up, throw-in-everything fantasy adventure story set in a sci-fi, planet-sized, run-down city. (Whew, I’m almost out of hyphens now.) I may be able to “explain” the fantasy elements in a pseudo-scientific manner (that’s my last hyphen, I promise), but I’m not sure if it really matters to me so long as it is fun.

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