Arnold had left notes for everyone who might be involved, but no one he contacted seemed able to make it. Only the urchins, Dr. Sonnerstein, and himself could make it on such short notice at the proper time it seemed. Maddox had taken to working in the asylum with Beatrixe and the sailor, trying to help them, and Arnold was glad she was in there for now. Bookworm had appeared indisposed when he went by, and Christine had been out as well. Still Tepic had made it and he was the one they really needed to talk to.
“‘ello Mr Arnold….” Tepic said and Arnold asked if he was here because he knew about the hat or if he’d just wandered here, “Yes, Gadget told me….”
“Did he tell you that Henri led us right to it?”
Tepic nodded seriously, apparently he wan not taking the business they were about to perform lightly, “Yep, an i got a few ideas bout that, may not be right, but…are they gonna let me do it?”
“We’re gathering to discuss all options…we don’t want to do what he wants.” Arnold replied carefully and then his frown deepened as he added, “Did Gadget mention that the ghost claimed he’s absorbing the dark aether?”
“Nope, dunno anything bout that, but wouldn’t surprise me, Mr Arnold, he’s a bit…. odd, that one…” Tepic replied with a shrug dismissing the information. “I knows what I wants ter happen ter the hat, an if I does, he ain’t coming back…Gadet said something bout him being claimed by lots of people?”
Arnold nodded, “I can tell you the full story when everyone gets here…”
“Ha! What I gots in mind puts a first claim on ‘im….” Tepic said triumphantly. “And ain’t in a hurry, Mr Arnold, tis a grim thing we’s doing, yer know…”
“That’s why I think it best we discuss it,” Arnold said honestly. Sending a man’s soul to perdition directly by their actions seemed like a bad idea on some level, and he said as much, but then Gadget arrived holding the hat forward jubilantly and the subject was forgotten for the moment.
Gadget nodded, “I ‘avent let it out of my sight.”
“Well found…. I brought a spade….” Tepic said as he fished around the ground for where he’d placed it. “I wonder if that bloke will turn up..? He don’t need to, but might do im some good.” Tepic then sniffed the air as did Arnold as Gilhooly’s scent entered the area and they greeted him.
“I got no shovel….” Gil confessed as he looked at them and then to the grave they were about to dig up.
Gadget chuckled, “The fox is gonna do the dirty work.”
“Don’t matter mate, we can take turns….specially Gadget,” Tepic winked at the boy who frowned deeply, while Gil giggled and agreed. Tepic added, “Yer ould do with some real work fer onece.”
Arnold shook his head. Earlier when Gadget had been going to dig up Emerson’s graveyard he hadn’t been going to soil his paws with dirt like a dog…but this was different. Reluctantly he spoke up, “I can’t leave you to do it alone. I’m not a dog, but I guess I’ll……dig.”
“Yer welcome, Mr Arnold, an right glad we’ll be of yer help, but you don’t have to, tis urchin business…”
“I was once an urchin, though I had to live without your family nature….” He’d never forgotten those times, and though he might grow frustrated or upset he always tried to treat others who had been forced to live as he did with respect and courtesy. And he couldn’t leave them to dig alone when he was much more physically capable than them.
“Thank you, Mr Arnold.” Tepic said with a smile, and then the group turned to Dr. Sonnerstein, who was finally looking a bit taller and they greeted him.
Sonnerstein smiled to Tepic, “I heard you know how to handle this…”
“Dunno bout that, Dr, but I knows what we should do, now we has it…” Tepic replied as he prepared his space, and the Dr. giggled.
“Oh… the Prof gimme somethin’…” Gil said as he reached into his pockets, and pulled a small bundle of dried herb stalks from his pocket… “‘e said it was angelica… stops, er, uncrossin’ an’ kills ‘exes… dunno wot all that means but ‘e said bury it in wif ‘at”
Dr. Sonnerstein nodded, “Good.”
“Hmmmm….. might do some good, case he’s done anything…” Tepic agreed just as the man’s apparition joined them in the graveyard. “Ah! He’s here….”
“I thought you might bloody turn up,” Gadget said as he watched the ghost suspiciously.
Metier chuckled, as carefree as ever apparently, “Oh don’t mind me, I’m just here to watch and hear when the funeral is to be held! If there is to be one at least.”
“Blimey…” Gil said softly, and Tepic responded, “Tain’t your funeral, mate…”
“Either way is fine with me.”
Gilhooly handed the sachet to the doctor, who thanked Gil and took it into his hands.
Gadget stared at the ghost defiantly, “It aint right you being ‘ere after wot you did.”
“Yer knows what i’m planaing fer yer hat?” Tepic asked the apparition.
Henri chuckled, “I’m just here to see.”
Arnold was really starting to doubt that Henri was unaware of what they were planning, and he needed to make his voice heard soon it seemed, but the doctor beat him to the important question, “Should we go through with this… It seems to be what he wants, but why, we can’t seem to determine…”
“Might be yer best chance if it do work, i recons….” Tepic said, talking to Henri but speaking for the others benefit.
“Wot ye mean?” Gil asked with a tilted head in confusion.
“Cus he sold his soul ter all them gods, an now they is fighting over what ter do to im, an I guess none of em is that good…”
“praps ‘e wants a rest…” Gil nodded, thinking this reasoning was sound.
Kristos nodded to Tepic. “That would be my only guess. But just a short time ago he seemed fine with lingering. I don’t know if we’re playing his game here…But I can’t see how this would benefit him aside from putting him to rest…” The doctor spoke once again to the dead man, “Metier… Why do you wish this to happen?”
“When the deed is done you get to know!” Metier laughed as he paced about, the same as he had done in life.
Sonnerstein frowns at Metier, motioning a hand towards him. “This is why I doubt…”
Gilhooly rolled his eyes, “I bloody ‘ate grownups, specially croaked ones….”
Arnold sighed and spoke up finally, “I suppose we should start at the beginning. He’s been haunting the graveyard behind Emersons home. That’s when we first saw the hat. He must have made a representation appear there, since it was not wrinkled like this one. What’s more, when we encountered him later on Halloween he said he was absorbing the Dark Aether and claimed he was depositing it on a train to bump. That could be a lie though Lionheart did say he sensed it within him though.
“What, the red mist stuff?” Tepic asked.
Gadget muttered, “I wish ‘e could absorb my slingshot pellets, but they goes right through ‘im”
“That why Bumpers’re like they are?” Gil asked.
“Naw, they been like that fer ages…” Tepic and the doctor pointed out, and Gil nodded.
Arnold continued, “He said Babbage wanted him to perform this function and it had the greatest claim to his soul…”
Tepic waved a dismissive hand, “This ain’t got nuffing to do with them machines though, it’s between us urchins an im….”
“Again though…he could be working with those people who put the things here…” Arnold said, trying to urge the urchins to take the threat seriously, that something about this seemed wrong, and even if he had nothing to do with them there was something very worrisome about this entire affair.
Gadget nodded and said, “That’s the Van Creed.” Arnold looked up, wondering what and who they were, but those were questions for later.
Gilhooly however stood beside his friend, “Tepic’s right… ‘e croaked one o’ us…”
Gadget agreed, “You shoot one of us you answer to all.”
Metier positively giggled as soon as they said that, and that sense of foreboding grew. Henri then added, “More than one shot, if you count the injured.”
Dr Sonnerstein’s head came up as another approach occured to the doctor, “Metier… You said before you didn’t need anything to manifest… something along those lines… Is that because the dark aether has been fueling you?”
“Fueling me? No.” Metier chuckled, but once again Arnold thought that was another lie.
“If this works, an i don’t say it will,” Tepic added for clarification, “He’ll be serving the urchin until the final trump…”
Dr. Sonnerstein nodded to Tepic, “That’s how it should work. I only hope it will…”
“Which he could see as a bit better than what else might happen ter him….” Tepic added, thinking about all the other gods which might want him to suffer a much worse fate.
“I’d make ‘im clean out my litter box.” Gilhooly said with a grin, but then turned to Arnold and said much quieter, “is all that true… bout the dark eefer?””
“He’s the first person we’ve seen to claim to have any effect against them…thus far, but I’m worried he’s the one we can’t trust.” Arnold said honestly.
Gadget nodded, “Only one way to find out.”
“Ha! Why’d anyone trust im anyhow?” Tepic said and then picked up the spade and headed to the grave.
Gil added his vote aloud, “I say do it…. ‘e ain’t uncroakin’ those blokes ‘e croaked, cept ‘imself.”
“We can’t flounder forever… I guess the best we can do in the end is act and hope it’s the right choice.” Dr. Sonnerstein sighed and joined them at the grave and then breathed in deeply, and then held a hand out towards the ground.
They began to excavate as best they all could, the doctor and the rest kneeling beside the grave and rolling up his sleeves to dig his hands into the dirt and help dig down, all of them avoiding Tepic’s spade.
Henri Metier chuckled to himself and suddenly the weather changed and grew darker as a wind picked up. Arnold was sure he wasn’t the only one to notice this fact, but the others didn’t even pause, though Gil was looking at everything nervously now.
“Gonna take a time, they’s bout five feet down…”
“Doesn’t bother me none,” Dr. Sonnerstein claimed. “My dad had me doing this lots when I was little the first time.”
Tepic suddenly added, “Tis goin ter be grim, Gilhooly, they been down ther a while….”
“I’ll be all right…. I’m tough.”Gilhooly said, very unconvincingly, his growing tension apparent.
Dr. Sonnerstein leaned over into a crouch and picked up the pace, digging more like an animal than a human, and while it went on Arnold felt outvoted, so he kept his mouth shut for now.
Dr. Sonnerstein apparently noticed his discomfort anyways and asked, “Something on your mind?”
“He’s still over there, happy,” Arnold informed him. “I’m worried.”
“So am I.. But we can’t just leave this matter forever.”
“An happy he should be, we’s saving him from the fate as he deserves, but the urchin derserves im….” Tepic replied digging deeper. “Geeee…. he were a new un too, we didn’t rightly know is name even…” The young foxes eyes flashed for a moment, or so it seemed to Arnold out of the corner of his eye, but he didn’t say anything about it for now.
They continued to dig, and finally Tepic and Sonnerstein nodded, “Right…. should be bout here…. good the earth’s still loose…”
“And so the deed is done!” Gadget cried jubiantly with the hat at the ready, but Metier was chuckling even louder as the wind picks up even more.
“Just gotta finish it up, Gadget, this could be messy…..” Tepic told him.
Kristos nodded, and shifting the earth aside a bit more, and then placed a hand on a shroud as Tepic did the same and felt under for the shapes below, ignoring the smells. Dr. Sonnerstein asked, “Should we wake him? He should find it just fine without waking….”
“Wake im? wot, the urchin? NO!!!” Tepic cried. “e’s where he should be, we just giving that daft bugger to im….”
Gadget leaned down, ready to offer the hat, but just then the wind picked up heavily and the sky grew darker as a glowing figure appeared and rose out of the grave. Gilhooly cried and fell back, hitting his head and losing consciousness, while Dr. Sonnerstein took in a sharp breath and everyone moved back from the grave a little. Metier was now laughing uncontrollably, even more maniacally than he had on their previous encounters. The glow died a little and finally the mousy figure of the dead urchin with it’s eyes closed to the world shook it’s head and said again and again, “You shouldn’ ‘ave…”
Sonnerstein looked at the others, frowning and his ears tipping back. “I swear, I didn’t do it..something’s gone wrong here!”
“Wot is it?!” Gadget asked, as he stared at the ghost of the urchin whose name none of them had ever known. Arnold felt like he should know it, but when he tried to think of it he couldn’t.
“Wot yer doing here, yer silly lad, yer got yer coin an all….” Tepic wondered, confused as to what could have possibly gone wrong.
Dr. Sonnerstein quickly placed the pouch of angelica root on the body, turning his head to the spirit which slowly began to dissipate back down.
“Well, this has been fun!” Metier cried and gave another laugh.
Dr. Sonnerstein growled angrily, “Henri, what’s happened?! What did we just do to the poor lad?!”
Tepic turned to Gadget quickly, “Give me that hat!”
“You were to ensure him an eternity with me! Think about it for a moment Dr!” Metier laughed so loudly that he probably would have hurt himself if he had been alive. “Do you really think he wanted that?!”
Gadget had been handing the hat to Tepic, but Dr. Sonnerstein grabbed for the hat instantly and shook his head no to Tepic. “We can’t do this…” Tepic didn’t argue however and he had probably been thinking the same thing.
“Besides,” Metier shrugged. “It would have meant I’d follow him to his place in the beyond.” Something about his emphasis on the word ‘would’ made Arnold think that this wasn’t possible for several reasons and Arnold probably wasn’t going to like any of them. “You nearly sent me to a ‘Heaven'” Henri added, and Arnold changed his mind about not liking any of these reasons. Henri would never be allowed into any form of paradise he was sure, and so was everyone else in the group, including Gil who had just stood up again having regained conciousness.
“Ha! You don’t know nuffing, smart madman!” Tepic yelled and Dr. Sonnerstein hissed at Metier.
Gilhooly rubbed his head, and though he wasn’t clear on everything that had just happened he said, “Long as ye ain’t ‘ere no more…”
Sonnerstein shook his head insistently, “But we disturbed the boy to do it…his spirit shouldn’t even have left his rest uncalled for this.”
Arnold nodded his head, and growled at Metier for this turn of events. In many ways it was their own fault for going through with it, but it was he who had set them up for this failure and was laughing about it the whole time.
“It were the right thing,” Tepic insisted. “An if he didn’t say no, that nutter would have been bound ter him fer ever, to do is bidding!”
“But he may not have been able to move on with Metier bound to him..” Sonnerstein began, but Metier finally seemed willing to talk.
“He was called here, because I am held here more tightly than he is held where he is,” Metier explained.
“Ha! He had is coin, he’s safe enough…yer wouldn’t have been able ter play none of your games….” Tepic said resolutely.
“Oh, in that eventuallity, I most certaintly would have gone along, but the evidence was before you,” Henri chuckled gleefully at their torment and frustration, or so it felt to Arnold who growled deeper and wished he could claw the man’s eyes out. “He came here. I didn’t go there.”
“Hmmm…..” Tepic mused, and then responed, “That’s true enough, mate, ain’t that nice fer you, not even a poor urchin wants yer fer a servant!” Tepic chuckled himself then.
Dr. Sonnerstein stood and nodded, “The shining places are barred to you, Metier.. That I know.. Even bound to another soul, it would either remain here with you or the bind would break and leave you to this grave alone…”
“Just as well ‘e said not ter do it then, ain’t it?” Tepic said as he looked down into the grave, the wind had finally died down and things had returned to normal…for Babbage. “Hmmmmm…. anyone got a copper nail?”
Henri answered the surgeon, “Possibly Dr, but in the end it’s quite irrelevant. You choose poorly, and selfishly, as I knew you all would.” Metier laughed at them mockingly. “You choose yourselves before Babbage.”
Gilhooly Skute cried, “Did not!”
Kristos Sonnerstein frowned. “Selfishly? To keep you from haunting and harming those we care for?” Arnold was also wondering for a moment what he meant…the only thing that made sense to that is if they actually believed him about his helping the city against the dark aether which the cat didn’t. He was more likely tied to whatever creatures intended to destroy the place…
“That was why I offored the hat.” Metier explained, his mirth at their choice unmistakable as he walked away. “To see what you would do.”
“Ha! Babbage knows we cares fer her, an she wouldn’t worry bout us doing something right!” Tepic claimed, but Arnold was not so sure that claim was entirely accurate either…
Gil rubbed the back of his head from when he fell and asked… “well… wot now?”
Dr. Sonnerstein nodded to Tepic, ignoring the madman and digging around inside his pockets and then offored a copper nail to the fox. “We can still bind him to the graveyard at least, bind him to one spot so he can’t wander…”
Gil nodded enthusiastically, “Aye, let’s bind ‘im.”
Tepic took the nail and turned to everyone, “Afer, we fills in the grave, an lets the young un get on with heaven…”
Sonnerstein smirked, “You know, you discredit your knowledge too much, Tepic…I’ll fill in the grave and see to the boy’s rest… You see to this?”
Tepic took the nail, and places the point on the crown of the hat, right against the old tree and then shouted: “With this nail, i binds thee mad old nutter, neve to venture from this spot, an when this old tree falls an dies, to drop into whatever hell decides yer it’s property!”
Tepic began to hammer it in, and Gil turned to Arnold. “So iffen we did nuffin, Metier woulda been all nice an’ not ‘aunted no more? bollocks that is…fink ‘e knows we was close ta right…. made ‘im jumpy.”
“I doubt that too,” Arnold said while watching Dr. Sonnerstein kneel back down beside the grave. The Stormified man reached down to touch the shrouded head of the corpse, whispering a little prayer of rest to soothe the boy’s spirit back to where he belonged. There was a definite sense of relief in the air afterwards. After a moment Arnold turned back to Gil.
“He’s still mad, dead or alive,” Kristos added, uncomfortably.
“Well then…” Gil lamented, “We canna do the right thing, we canna do nuffin’…”
Tepic stepped back from the tree, having finished banging the nail through the hat, securing it firmly to the old tree in the short time with a few good blows.
Dr. Sonnerstein smiled back over to Tepic as he started to fill the dirt back in.
“‘ow’d ye get all ghost smart, Tepic?” Gil asked his friend,
Tepic shrugged, “Yer just listen ter the old stories, Gilhooly, an remember….”
“Foxes and cats always have a good ear for them,” Sonnerstein said, and Arnold raised a brow at him. Sonnerstein stuck his tongue out at Arnold and added, “Usually.”
Metier’s apparition came walking back, and then stopped in front of them, “You shouted?”
Tepic indicated the deed proudly, “Yer hat’s nailed ter this old tree, with a nail of copper, lets see yer wander off now, nutter!”
Gil also stuck his tongue out, but he did it towards the madman, but Henri laughed at them all, and then said through his chuckles, “It’s a shame you are using a trinket for that though. I’ve got a better pact with something larger, sorry.” He then turned and walked right out of the graveyard and towards city hall giggling. “I told you, I have a greater hold on me. The hat given to your friend wasn’t ever enough to send me anywhere.”
The man and his laughter faded from sight and hearing, and Gil muttered petuantly, “Ye got an ‘old on bein’ a nutter is all…”
Tepic mused, he had let everyone know from this start it might not work, but he’d been really hoping. “Maybe we need ter dredge the canal where he got done in, find a few bits….”
Gadget also muttered, “That ghost is really starting to get on my wick.”
Arnold wondered what that hold could be, and then Professor Lionhearts words came back to him, “The pacts. How many of those altars still remain Dr?!” He then added for clarification, “The ones we had to desecrate?”
“Eh?” Tepic said with a turn of his head and Gil turned his head.
“Ye mean like whiz on ’em?” Gil raised his hand high. “Dibs on the builders!”
Arnold looked at Tepic and tried to explain his thoughts, “Lionheart suggested that we had to desecrate the places he prayed to get rid of him. Until we desecrate those alters we may not be able to bind him with the hat.”
“So ‘e bound imself ter them?” Tepic wondered aloud, taking in this information.
Gil turned frowned, “Wot if that dinna work neither?”
“It should take effect once they are reconsecrated though…” He then turned to Tepic. “To them, but to the city as well. That’s the main problem. The city itself has a claim to his soul.”
“Bloomin heck! Thought New Babbage had better taste than that!” Tepic said with a wrinkle of his nose.
Dr. Kristos Sonnerstein finished pushing the last of the dirt back in, packing it down with his hands. “We need to find a way to break that.”
“We gotta talk ta the city then…. ‘oo can do that? Tenk?”
Kristos smirked, “I’ve found she’s not all that terribly picky.” He then turned his head to Gil, “Possibly…he keeps it’s tickers going, doesn’t he? He’s not exactly it’s heart, but he keeps it’s time going…”
Tepic turned to everyone appologetically, “I’m sorry the youn un didn’t want im, but it’s is choice…”
Dr. Sonnerstein and Arnold both nodded to Tepic, and Gil added, “Babbage could learn a lesson from ‘im.”
“It was a good enough idea though,” Kristos reassured the youg fox.
“I guess whichever heaven e’s in didn’t fancy having that nutter running around,” and that did make Sonnerstein giggle. Arnold on the other hand just had another reason to be upset.
“Allow me to say again…I hate this city, and it IS perdition.”
“But it’s a wonderful place, Mr Arnold!” Tepic said in the cities defense, “gave us shelter when we needed it, has lots of voles…..so many good people ter chat to….”
Dr. Kristos Sonnerstein stands up, dusting his hands off and brushing down the knees of his pants, “Heh, I doubt you could really convince him fully of that, Tepic. So… who will talk to Tenk about this…? He wouldn’t listen to me. He hates me, I think…”
“With our luck he’ll say he doesn’t believe in them,” Arnold muttered.
Gil nodded, “Rather think ‘e’ll think I’m jes tellin’ stories or imaginin’ things.”
Tepic agreed, “Recon it best be you or Mr Arnold, Dr., he ain’t gonna listen to us urchins much…”
Arnold shook his head, “The last time I spoke to him wanting something he wanted to make a deal out of it.”
“I took a load of stuff from that warehouse to show ‘im, dont want ‘im to think I am the ‘arbinger of doom who aint to be listened to,” Gadget added, which meant that no one present could ask him.
“Oh! i made lots of notes when i brok… errr…. when i checked out if it were secure….” Tepic grinned at them all innocently. Arnold wondered vaguely what they had both found, but left it alone for now.
“Perhaps Miss Hermit or Bookworm? Bookworm he might listen to,” the cat said as he suddenly remembered that she too might have seen the apparition recently.
Tepic agreed, “Miss Hermit might be good, an she is good with ghosts too!”
Sonnerstein nodded, “I could talk with Book and see if she’d ask him about it…is Ms. Hermit back in town yet though? Book told me she’s been away.”
Gil shrugged, “Ain’t seen ‘er in a long time.”
“Don’t think she is here just now, shame, we could use her help jus now…” Tepic murmured. “Well, guess that’s about that then…. thanks fer coming, fellas….”
Gadget suddenly brightened, having thought of someone else, “Ya’ know that Sebastian Knight might ‘ave some good advice on dealing with this blighter of a ghoul.”
Arnold then remembered another tactic they could still employ, “We still have Erehwon’s aether trapper…thing.”
Sonnerstein smiled at them all. “You lot really make me wish I didn’t have to go back to being a grown-up so quick..” His added height did seem to indicate he’d be his normal self again soon potentially…then again Arnold realized he could have just hit a growth spurt.
Gil suddenly looked like he remembered something important as well, “I ‘eard Kane tried ta move one o’ them fings an’ it broke ‘im.” They asked him for details and Tepic wondered if Erehwon’s device could be used on the canisters…and told them the Van Creed had been digging for that stuff apparently.
Dr. Sonnerstein furrows his brow, looking to Tepic. “Scald told me you found something you were going to show us..”
“Yep, there is a building behind the Freak Show….” Tepic told them all.
“Bloody nightmares that place ‘ave been giving me.” Gadget said uncomfortably.
“Did ya see the hole in the floor, Gadget?” Tepic asked, and Gadget nodded.
“And the stuff wot were coming out of it,” the young scientist added.
Arnold said something and then shook his head, she’d said something again and he growled. He didn’t even remember what this time.
“Well… yer know….. if the Van Creed were drilling one way……maybe the machines are whatever it is on the other side drilling back!”
Gil stiffened, “That’s spooky that is…”
“It aint natural wot they is trying to do…” Gadget agreed.
Dr. Sonnerstein nodded, “I’d like to have a look around there…” Arnold didn’t say anything to them about going have a look. He decided he could ask them about it later…probably…at this point he might as well admit his sabbatical was over. He hadn’t learned everything he’d wanted, but he had come to the conclusion over the past few weeks that he was still mostly himself..for the moment. And if he wanted to remain that way he had to either run or help against the Dark Aether, one or the other.