Trees and overgrowth surrounded the black cat as far as he could see. Arnold felt a surge of hope as it occurred to him that he might have made it the Amazon. At the very least it was the first realm which had supported life that he had encountered.
His hope faded to unease as he examined his surroundings more closely. There was something off about the area…as vibrant and as full of life as the plants were. He began to explore carefully, stalking behind trees and attempting to find a way out of this forest.
It didn’t take him long to notice some unsettling things that were missing. There were no birds singing, or animal calls of any kind. There weren’t even any bugs. The cat began to wonder if this was a vegetation world, when he noticed that there was a sound in the distance.
It was almost a dirge it was so depressing. Arnold was torn between his dread, his curiosity, and his need for help. He had no desire to go back to searching empty realms, so he moved towards the music.
As he got closer he noticed the air began to smell different, and his chest began to feel constricted. He coughed lightly and moved forward nonetheless, keeping an eye out for anything suspicious. He noticed that there was now a swarm of butterflies coming towards him. He backed away for a moment…but they simply flew towards him and then back the way they came several times…as if to lead him.
He moved forward cautiously, following the butterflies and coughing now and again. He hoped it was only that he was allergic to something in the air…when as if summoned they arrived at the entrance to a wooden palace made of trees.
Arnold leapt back, his heart racing, claws extended as he looked about himself. Except for the butterflies there was no one there, and they kept leading him forward. Inside.
Cautiously he followed them, coughing, and hoping that they were leading him to someone who would help him…and not into a trap.
He soon heard the sounds of laughter as they led him into a labyrinth of passages. The music didn’t change, he could still hear that dirge playing, but a lighthearted melody was overshadowing it.
Finally, he came to a grand ball room filled with strange people wearing masks and dancing. He felt out of place at this masquerade, filled with flowers and trees creating the architecture…it made him think of a reverse image of Babbage.
Arnold did his best to stay out of everyone’s way, fighting his urges to cough and call attention to himself, as the dancers mingled with one another. They only seemed to talk about themselves, never really paying attention to anything else going on around them. It was hard to follow any of their conversation at all…and despite understanding them he knew it was unlikely they were speaking cat…or English.
No one looked at him twice as he made his way around, until one of the servants bent down to his level and pushed a tray of wine at him. Arnold was confused as he took the tray and the servant walked off. He looked about for someone to give it back to but there was no one…finally he just set the tray down to the side.
The cat looked about for a few moments and tried to find some way to tell what time it was, and then remembered that he had a watch on his hat. Reaching up for it, he was happy to find that it was still there. He removed it, but was disappointed to find that it had stopped. He wound it a few times and then waited for it to begin ticking again…
The hands never moved, the gears inside didn’t sound like they were working either.
Arnold shook the watch wondering for a moment, and that was when he heard a gasp of delight. Looking up the cat found that a laughing man with hair that looked almost like pine was staring right at his device, “Servitor, what is that thing?”
“It’s just a watch,” Arnold answered without thinking, and then paused…what had the man just called him?
A confused and entertained crowd was beginning to gather around him, “What is a watch?”
“It’s…” Arnold coughed roughly. “It’s something that helps you tell what time it is…”
Everyone laughed as if he had made a grand jest. The man with the pine hair, it really was pine Arnold finally realized, had turned towards the tallest woman in the room. She was wearing an extravagent yellow gown and had azalea’s for hair. “Is he your new Jester! Wonderful! It has been too long since you’ve had one!”
“I didn’t claim him to be a Jester,” she said with a melodious and amused voice, and yet Arnold realized that she was the source of the dirge music he had been hearing. It came off of her in waves…coming right at him. “But I don’t see why we can’t dress him in motley as well.”
The crowd belowed again, and Arnold had been about to comment when the congestion in his chest became unbearable. The cat struggled to breathe as he went to his knees coughing, which seemed to displease the woman with azalea hair. The dirge music got louder, and more pronounced. “Now I must insist that you get back to your post, Servitor, and no more nonsense about time.” She waved her hand dismisively. She still sounded amused, but there was a command in that all the same.
Arnold coughed until he couldn’t anymore and fell to the floor heaving as if he had a hair ball stuck in his throat. The people around him were still laughing, as if his struggle was part of a show. The only person not gripping their sides with joy was the hostess who grew more angry as his display went on.
Finally Arnold heaved and dozens of rose petals erupted from his mouth and stained the floor to the amusement of the folk surrounding him. The congestion faded and Arnold collapsed, breathing heavily.
The crowd continued to roar their mirth, but they weren’t just pointing at Arnold anymore. They were also laughing at the hostess, who was staring down at the cat angrily. Murderously.
He fled back to the void.