The imagery that appeared next was the inside of a home that looked as if some sort of medicine woman lived here, and as there was an elderly woman putting several herbs into a mortar while another, obviously pregnant and noble, woman sat across from her there was a good chance it was. They were the only people present inside, though there were several people were waiting outside by a carriage, or rather the only humans present as there was a black cat (four legged) with orange tinted eyes lounging on a chair inside watching everything going on without seeming to blink. After several more ingredients and a few muttered words that could have been a prayer, the woman stretched out a wrinkled hand and offered the mortar to the other woman and spoke in a foreign language that Arnold didn’t speak, but he still felt like he understood her at the same time.
The other woman appeared nervous but the herb woman insisted, so the woman took it nervously, and then sipped the concoction. Apparently it tasted vile, but she downed the rest in the end. The mid-wife then gestured to the door, and gave her a few more instructions, that Arnold both didn’t and did understand at the same time, and the woman stood up and seemed only too glad to be gone. After she was gone the medicine woman got up and moved to the chair where her ‘pet’ continued to watch the door. Neither relaxed until the carriage and men were gone, and then it allowed her to lift him up and then she set it upon her lap. The two then stared at each other silently for a long time, and Arnold watched this without question for awhile before he couldn’t stand not knowing what was going on any longer, “What are you trying to show me now?”
“The past,” the unknown person who was showing him this explained, but Arnold had already figured that part out.
“I mean why are you showing me it,” Arnold specified, no longer paying attention to the woman who had sighed and then gone to her room and had begun to pack her things away. “Is he supposed to be one of my ancestors?”
“Yes,” his new acquaintance told him as the old woman in the vision continued to pack. “And he may well have spared that woman’s life.”
“How?” Arnold asked incredulously. “All they did was stare at each other for ten minutes.”
“Your ancestors were ‘servitors’, Arnold. ‘Familiars’ that granted those who were receptive their magic and used them to gain insight beyond the bounds of the mortal realm. She learned that the child would be born deformed and is leaving before she will be blamed for laying a curse on their child.”
This was sounding vaguely familiar to Arnold, who had read a little on the side about divinatory familiars while doing research on Pip, though he didn’t know much about it he did think he was starting to understand what she was trying to say, “So what you want me to believe, is that my ancestors were walking, talking crystal balls that doubled as batteries.”
There was silence in response for a long time, and then she responded, “Showing you the past isn’t going to be enough…”
Arnold didn’t know what was happening now, but his perception had changed. He felt like he had a body, for the moment, but not one that he had control over…and everything seemed to be much larger than it was before…and soon he could feel the thoughts and feelings of another…
It had adopted the name of Eclipse long before it had met or bonded to its current human, who called herself Mistress Crina. It had served others before her, and intended to serve another after she passed. While it had felt a special connection with each of them, Eclipse had never chosen to follow them into the hereafter, a trait that would have come as naturally to it as walking through air or walls. Then again it could step through to any number of realms had it the inclination since blurring through the boundaries of reality was one of the things its kind did normally, and is what allowed its mistress to divine into those realms through him.
Eclipse had been born a creature that would be compelled to connect with someone in order to feel whole and happy, and it was content with such a purpose. However, it would have felt trapped even considering serving the same human long after they were dead. It could serve a human for a life-time, but beyond that it felt the need for some freedom and it let death sever the connection as it then searched for another to serve.
His current human was old and had no children to help her, but she did have family back east and a hidden wagon that had always been ready to move when the need had finally come.
The scene changed once again and Arnold was no longer looking through Eclipse’s eyes. He was confused as to how the voice had managed that little display, but it was probably just another trick of some kind. She’d probably sent him the thoughts for his ‘ancestor’ the same way she was sending him the images.
He was now overlooking a caravan in a forested area that he had never been to before. He could see several people of all ages gathering together as they went about their lives, as well as several different animals, and over a dozen cats. He recognized Eclipse, who hadn’t seemed to have changed at all, next to Crina, who seemed almost two decades older and didn’t look like she was long for this world. “Sometimes a great number of your people came together in the same location, as you can see.”
And when that happened litters were usually born, Arnold thought as he continued to watch the scene below him, until once again he felt displaced.
His adopted name was Alin, or at least that’s what the humans had called it after it had been born. He was one of Eclipse’s sons, born to his second of three litters. Before it was even a few months old it had bonded to a young girl, called Mirela before it had understood what his selection would mean. It had been almost fifteen years since then and it had not once regretted it’s decision. The young girl had turned into a young woman, who was both amused and annoyed that any potential suitor in their caravan or from the outside had to meet with it’s unyielding approval to even come near her. Several men had learned the hard way how his kind were capable of protecting their charge from threats.
Alin was now enjoying having it’s ears scratched by Mirela, while two of Alin’s cousins nearby were arguing over a spot on a chair. It dissolved into what humans would refer to as a cat fight, but it was what amounted to their version of politics. Telling any cat what they were going to do was the quickest way to upset them and would often lead to a fight over it. ((Which was one of Arnold’s biggest problems with Maddox, who would consistently volunteer him for things without his permission or even asking. It honestly made him want to scratch her, but he had learned to suppress this part of his nature long before he met her when he’d found himself forced to live in human society.))
The fight ended rather quickly as their humans called them off, and the actual owner, Mirela’s father, of the now bloody and ruined chair came to see if it could be salvaged. Mirela chuckled to herself and set Alin to the side as she went to calm her father down. Alin was disappointed, but went off on it’s own. Perhaps it would find a mouse to offer her before she returned.
His father, Eclipse, watched him pass slightly amused by the lengths it was going to please its human, and had often joked in their own language that he had fallen in love.
Perhaps, it thought to itself as it continued its trek, but he had found a mate and was not attracted like that to his human. As it passed there were several humans from a nearby village that had just arrived and were now causing a commotion. Just a few superstitious fools who could not tell the difference between those who meant harm and those who were benevolent.
Arnold continued to see things from Alin’s point of view for a long time. He saw the villagers quarrel with the caravan and eventually one of the locals struck one of the travelers. Things did not go well as everyone reached for their weapons and the…servitors prepared themselves as well. The residents ran off and the caravan began to pack up to leave as soon as possible. That night they were attacked by a large group of them, but they were sent running in fear from forces they did not comprehend and cats that had suddenly shifted into a much more intimidating shape.
All the while Arnold experienced it from Alin’s view point.
The ringing of bells had been the first physical warning that the hunters had found them, though Eclipse and Crina had already warned everyone they had finally been surrounded, despite both their efforts to continue to divine a safe passage for them. They had just been about to travel a faerie road that their pursuers would not dare travel, but it was too late now to make the passage possible for the whole caravan. Arrows and fire had started to fall among them and men were rushing forward carrying their iron, as well as cloves of garlic, rice, stakes, and other such things that they believed they could use to protect themselves from their kind.
Alin was leading Mirela towards the underbrush to hide as the battle began and people started to die. Mirela was terrified. He could smell it and feel it through their bond. He wanted to show her that everything would be all right, but he had no time to comfort her. She was fiery and passionate, and had hit a man with a skillet a time or two, but she couldn’t fight dozens of trained men armed with bows and swords while her people died around her.
Still they were in a large forest, to begin with and the trees were right beside the wagon. Alin moved into the bushes as Mirela followed hoping to reach safety, but she fell over suddenly as an arrow caught her in the base of her skull, and Alin let out a screech as he could feel her life coming to an end. Alin started to shift and grow intent on revenge, until he was about the size of a panther, when he felt her pass beyond this realm.
He looked for the one who had shot the arrow, but the man appeared to have already been slain by one of his kin. That was all right, there were others that he could take his desire for blood out on, when he felt Mirela call him through the bond.
He could join her after he had helped kill these men that had took her from this world, but Mirela begged him not to. If they killed him with those weapons he would not be able to join her at all…Alin left vengeance behind and traveled after her into a world beyond this one.
Arnold watched the rest of that fight omnisciently. He had watched the people and witches die, though some did escape into mirrors and other strange paths, and more than a few of the cats were stabbed with the weapons or subdued by other means, but in the end about two dozen now owner-less cats were standing alive on a battlefield of dead humans, animals, and servitors who had been slain. Eclipse was among the survivors, looking at his charge and his mate sadly for a moment and then walking back to join the others for now.
A few of the cats elected to follow their charges beyond the grave, but many more felt as Eclipse did, that they could never be tied to one human forever. Some left to find someone on their own, while others followed Eclipse into the forest.
“Let their demise show you the fate that may befall your own charge,” his captor told him. “You must hide what I am revealing to you, for her safety.”
“I don’t intend to tell anyone about this,” Arnold said, leaving out that he saw no point in talking about something he himself doubted.
The images were coming faster now, shifting forward as the cats searched for those that they could bond. It seemed like a long time passed as the group began to dwindle, not as they started to find suitable candidates individually or went off to look on their own, although at least one new liter was born. However some of those that remained unbound began to move sluggishly.
“Serving in this world and the next is the purpose that allowed them to continue to exist. Without anyone to serve they would start to feel that they had no purpose and empty as well, until they slowly fade away, one by one.”
It was along a road with a new liter that Arnold once again saw from the point of view of one of his ancestors, a kitten whose given name could still only be pronounced in their own tongue.
The tiny kitten was the son of the first son of Alin, and had taken upon itself to help Eclipse, who had started to become tired and was beginning to show signs of aging. It offered him a mouse that it had caught and pushed it closer to his mouth as gently as it could. The elderly cat didn’t even look as if he saw it at all, they all knew that he wasn’t able to take care of himself anymore, and that he resented having to be taken care.
The kitten tried to paw at his nose, to make sure he was awake, but Eclipse still didn’t react…at least until his head dropped lifelessly and his eyes closed. The kitten whined in dismay as the older cat started to fade away.
As the kitten cried out several others came to look, but they could only watch impotently as the kitten tried to nibble his ear to hang onto him, while other young kittens tried to hold him with their paws, and others began to suggest everything they could think of to make him come back. They begged him to just wait a little longer, that he’d find someone to bond soon, that they’d help him, carry him somehow if it was getting too hard. They even begged him to go after Crina or one of his others that had passed on, but nothing they did or said could convince Eclipse to fight for his own existence. Eclipse simply let himself fade away, as the kitten sank into his disappearing flesh until there was nothing left and it sat on the ground mourning his passing.
“What happened?” Arnold asked sadly, despite himself, attempting to separate the feelings of the kitten from his own.
“He gave up,” the girl told him. “He had felt incomplete for so long that he slowly gave in to depression, and after over a year of searching, scrounging, and struggling to maintain control of the forces he would absorb he simply grew sick from exhaustion. Once that happened it became easier for him to believe that in an era of fear and superstition he would never again find someone who would willingly bond him. He began to think that he had lived for long enough, and when a kitten had to feed him he felt that he could no longer be of use to anyone. Faced with a life without purpose it choose to fade away rather than wander endlessly, or be chained to a former master for the rest of his life and forfeit his freedom.”
Arnold didn’t know what to say in response, though he wished he hadn’t done it…he could both understand and appreciate Eclipse’s choice.
“The others wouldn’t fade for some time, but they all knew that this fate could befall them as well,” she went on to tell him. “But the younger ones asked the elders why. Why should they continue this way? Why must they have a purpose? Why must they serve or die? Why couldn’t they be free to live as the humans do, completely on their own? The older ones tried to explain that this was simply the way it was, but already the younger generations were starting to think that perhaps it was time to create a new purpose. They wanted to change who and what they were fundamentally, forever, so that they would never have to hunt for an other or fade again.” The imagery changed again, and the kittens looked quite a bit older by now and more of the older cats were gone. They were alone in a circle and were shifting before his eyes in ways he couldn’t describe. “Less than a year later, they discovered a way…and then all of the ones who had not already bonded or had faded collectively shifted their entire beings, and in doing so cursed themselves to an existence of misery and pain.” They didn’t come out having appeared to have changed much, they still looked like normal cats again on the outside…but many of their eye colors had shifted and everything about them seemed….wrong. Familiar, but wrong at the same time. He hadn’t had a feeling like this around anyone except for…his family. “In other words Arnold, that was the day your ancestors ‘cursed’ themselves, to borrow your phrase.”
Arnold paused as he considered this information, though he wasn’t sure what to make of it, or if he should even believe it though he was starting to despite himself, “What’s the curse then exactly?”
“It’s not a ‘curse,'” the feminine voice told him. “They shattered everything about themselves on every possible level and lost all control.” As if to illustrate her point she showed him images from a time later when a sudden force seemed to jump out of one of his ancestors and a tree fell over on top of a dwelling. “The only way they benefited from this at all was they were tied to the mortal realm so tightly now that they wouldn’t fade no matter how miserable they became, without help from an outside source like iron or that [i]thing[/i] you were carrying, if you could even consider that a benefit.
“Other than that, your ancestors had made a terrible mistake. They lost the ability to control the magic they stored, and it would eventually spill out and go out of control. They began to age rapidly and instead of living far longer than any human could hope to they aged at least twice as fast as a human did. Your souls had become fractured and pitiful things, and with everything else wrong with you it was no wonder your psyche’s developed problem after problem.”
“And how would you know any of that anyways?” Arnold asked, his patience at an end. “Who are you?!”
There was a brief moment of silence, and then she spoke again, “Arnold…imagine for a moment that you are like an engine. A piece of machinery that is broken and dangerous to get near, because you could explode or do one of a million unexpected things. Worse you’re a magic engine so the possibilities of what could go wrong are completely unpredictable now. But as this sentient engine you know deep down that you need to be fixed. You are sick, miserable, and while there is a part of you just wants to be put out of your misery…there’s always that piece of you that wants to be set right. That wants to be fixed and to work again. In a way Arnold, that is what I am, to an extent. I’m the part of you that wants to help you.”
“This has gone on long enough,” Arnold shouted angrily at the voice. The fact that he had only just realized they hadn’t been speaking English this whole time didn’t help him calm down at all. “Get out of my head!”
“I’m not lying to you!” the woman said. “You have to listen to me!”
The voice left him in solitude, as he tried not to think about anything she had said.