The passage of time went unnoticed, as did many other things, while Arnold remained in a state that bordered the lines of awareness. Sometimes he thought he heard Maddox talking to him, or Professor Lionheart, but try as he might his voice never seemed to reach them back.
He sat in that state, trapped, until a feminine voice spoke to him as if it was right in his ear, an ear he soon realized he didn’t actually have right now, “Can you finally hear me?”
Arnold couldn’t move, he had no body in whatever state he was in wherever he was. He could only think back in a haze, “I can…”
The presence felt ecstatic and then it was gone just as suddenly as it had come. Arnold would have frowned if he could have. It was the beginning of his recovery though…his mind was starting to wake up more thanks to that new stimulus, but it still felt like there was cotton in his brain. The more he woke up and thought about his situation the more he began to question who had been speaking to him. He couldn’t help but distrust them since it didn’t sound like anyone he knew…
It was sometime yet when the images started to appear in Arnold’s mind. He could see himself laying down on a pallet on a dirty floor as Gilhooly sat watch next to him. How he was able to look down at himself was beyond his understanding, and he began to doubt that the images were real. They had to be illusions created in his mind by whoever was talking to him.
“You’ve been like this for weeks now,” she explained. “Your friends have been trying to call you back.”
“So you’ve kept me trapped here, despite their best efforts?” Arnold asked.
“No, the nature of your wounds and your own distrust have done that all on their own,” she lectured. “But at least now I can finally lead you to the truth.”
Lead him to the truth? Arnold didn’t believe a word of it for even a moment. He was starting to hope that ‘Looses his head’ had a deep masculine voice, because if this was him then he was very unimpressed. Maybe it was one of Lionheart’s cousins coming for a visit.
The images shifted around, until he saw himself laying on a bed in the triage, watching as Dr. Sonnerstein took care of him after he’d been shot. The wound hadn’t been very bad, but he had pulled it trying to flee he supposed.
“You know that he wasn’t using lead,” she told him as he watched Dr. Sonnerstein apply that strange powder and then prepared to stitch the wound.
“Lead bullets, steel bullets, bronze bullets,” Arnold began in response, although he’d never actually asked what they were, “It doesn’t matter very much as they’ll all kill you in the end, does it?”
“It matters very much, as they were neither lead, steel, or bronze, but iron prepared should your charge have bonded a friend such as his own.”
Arnold wondered what the difference could possibly be, until he realized what that would mean for some of the people he knew and he silently cursed himself. He should have found out and warned more of Maddox’s friends of the danger they could also be in. Then again Sonnerstein had probably done that.
The scene just dissolved around him and was replaced by a time before Arnold had come to Babbage. He had been curled up, resting on top of Dr. Solsen’s desk once again, and intending to go to sleep from the look of things. He was a few years younger than he was now, and the uncomfortable woolen jacket and ripped cotton pants he was wearing led Arnold to assume that this was before Maddox had finally gotten him to dress in something better than the rags he would throw together. He could also tell that he must have had a particularly unlucky day already judging by all the mud that he hadn’t even bothered to clean off. He only did that if he felt as if the day was a lost cause and it would start raining mud the second he got clean, or that he’d get struck by lightning depending on how bad the day had gone.
Suddenly, and to Arnold’s own surprise, the younger version of himself sat up as if he had heard something. Arnold listened, but didn’t hear anything, though his younger self went running as if someone was calling for his help.
Confused, and not having any control of the images flooding into his mind, he saw himself rush through the city at speeds that surprised himself, and then was further shocked to realize what alley he was running towards.
Now that he seemed to have realized where this was going the scene just switched to his arrival at the alley. Seven men were there, two were well dressed gentlemen who were speaking with a coachman, while four very large orderlies went about their duties. Two of those men were carrying Maddox on a gurney into the horse drawn ambulance, while the other two were keeping an eye on the interior.
Most people might have thought nothing of it, or at least would have tried a more diplomatic approach to be sure if they were suspicious since they probably hadn’t heard Maddox’s cries for help any more than the present Arnold had. However, when he had arrived the first time he could clearly recall her screaming for help and knowing that they were trying to take her and several other women that day who had been clubbed then brought to the ambulence to be sedated, and that they were armed with cudgels and pistols between them. But watching it without having heard these cries this time made it seem more like he had been possessed.
Arnold remembered what happened next very well, up until the moment when they brought him down at least. He rushed the seven men with no concern for his own safety, nor how outnumbered or outgunned he was. One of the gentlemen saw him coming and went for his gun calmly, though he did attempt to greet him and explain that she’d had an accident.
Arnold let out a screech as he bounded forwards and tackled the man who seemed surprised by how quickly he’d covered the distance, and now that Arnold could see it from the outside he could understand why. The two of them knocked several of the others aside and were carried far enough by his momentum that they skidded past the end of the carriage. Arnold thought about it for a moment and rationalized that the threat of the gun must have set his heart beating even faster, perhaps dangerously so, carrying with it even more adrenaline than before gifting him with insane speed and strength. It is considered perfectly normal for a cat’s heart to beat at 220 beats a minute, and if Arnold had been pushed even further than that then that would give him an advantage that these men could not match.
The ‘gentleman’ had dropped his gun and was now trying to wrestle Arnold off of him while he reached into his pocket for another weapon, but the cat scratched at the man’s larynx and his claws tore through his flesh like butter. Blood seeped out of the deep wounds and the man began a gurgled death rattle as he clutched at his throat, Arnold turned back to the other men as the other began to drown in his own blood…just like many of the other men he’d been forced to kill in self defense.
The men were dispassionate that one of their own had just passed, suggesting that these men were professionals. Each of the ‘orderlies’ was more than twice his size and the gentleman and driver had been going to draw their guns until they went for their knives instead since they would have to fight in close quarters…or rather to defend themselves in the close quarters it turned out to be. Arnold had never had the opportunity to be on the outside looking in before, and never thought of what he did as special. But as he saw his past come to life and how he threw himself at them like a wild animal, leaping from one to the other, he couldn’t understand how he was doing it.
Even when they managed to get a hold or hit him with a cudgel or cut him with their knives he didn’t slow down as he continued to scratch at them, making deeper claw marks in them each time. Where his claws sank in he could see bones showing and at least two more men died from blood loss and many had been forced to drop their weapons from lifeless arms. His own body was starting to bruise and bleed, but that was nothing compared to the broken bones from the punishment he should have recieved from the times the clubs did manage to connect with him. People of all ages and walks of life heard the fighting, but the people in this part of the city had learned to walk away from such things. Maddox had always been too intrigued by rougher neighborhoods…like a moth to a candle.
The fighting came to an end though when one of the ‘orderlies’ finally managed to club Arnold on the head. He became momentarily dazed and the bloodied men took no chances and seized the opportunity to beat him down. Only when they were satisfied he was no longer capable of moving anymore did the equally damaged driver and gentleman, who were breathing raggedly now, reach for their guns to finish him off. Arnold waited for what happened next, curious despite himself because he still did not know who had saved their lives that night.
While they were beating him down the voice mused to Arnold, “Most mortals could not hope to overpower seven armed men when they themselves are unarmed. But would you expect Pip to be defeated by such methods outside of Babbage? Or perhaps our dear friend the mayor? Rawhead perhaps?”
Arnold didn’t know what he had in common with any of them or why she was bringing it up, until he saw his younger-selves eyes jump open, and the feline was shocked to see a tinge of orange glowing within them, and a smile growing on his lips.
What happened next was not natural in the slightest, the coachman did manage to get a shot off but he might as well have aimed it at the surrounding mist. Everything else he had accomplished tonight he could explain was simply adrenaline providing what had only seemed like limitless strength and the ability to ignore the pain that was being dealt to him, the same as he had always done and how he had gotten away from Metier, but this was different. The last four men were dead in moments, they had not stood a chance in the end, and a black cat covered in blood was now grooming itself on their remains.
Arnold was horrified, was that really supposed to be him? He didn’t believe it, he couldn’t. He shouted as much to the thing trying to show him these strange lies, but it didn’t respond.
“Arnold?” Maddox asked, as she was getting up. From his omniscient viewpoint at the moment he could tell that she could only see his back. The creature that Arnold was supposed to believe was him twitched at the sound of her voice and then ran off without explanation. Maddox called after him, before falling over again and the image faded.
“Wooden cudgels, steel knives, and lead could not stop you,” the voice explained. “But an iron bullet was another matter. It could have killed you, and the only reason it didn’t was because it merely grazed you and passed through your body. It was Dr. Sonnerstein’s strange powder that counteracted the toxic effect on your physical form at least. It did however aggravate the damage upon your soul on the other hand…”
“Are you trying to make me believe that I’m laying on the floor of what I can assume is an urchin hideout completely comatose, because Metier shot me with an iron bullet over a month ago?”
“No. That and the stone only made you worse,” she explained. “You and your family have been broken bodily, spiritually, and magically for centuries, taking your collective health and minds along as well. To understand what really happened to you, I’m going to have to show you everything.”
“I’m not going to believe you,” Arnold told the voice as more images appeared before him unbidden.