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One Threat Ends, Another Begins (Dark Aether – partly, anyway)

((Private “journal” entry, but comments welcome!))

Saturday

I kept myself awake as much as possible throughout the night, but it wasn’t always possible to stave it off.  Tealla must have told the other Folk about what had happened to me, though, for whenever I lost myself, and emerged from the wall to hunt, there were always a few cats around to lead me on a merry chase–a chase that kept me away from others until I regained my senses.  They even supplied me with rats to eat, hoping I’d be less driven if I was less hungry.

And, finally, came the time when I fell asleep in my nest in the wall…and woke up in my nest in the wall.  I looked up and saw Tealla and my mother Dewbow lying nearby–Tealla asleep, my mother awake.  When she saw me move, Dewbow turned and nudged Tealla awake, and they both approached me cautiously.

Tealla nosed me, and arched her whiskers forward.  “You smell better.”  She looked up into my face.  “You look better, too.”  I looked at my hands, and saw that the cracked skin was starting to heal and take on a flush of color.

“Are you hungry?” Dewbow asked, waving her tail at a pile of a few dead rats.  The thought of what I’d been eating over the past few days turned my stomach.  “No,” I replied thickly.  “Not hungry.”

“Good,” she replied.  “It seems the M’an-folk have cured their problem again.  Rest now, daughter.”  I nodded, and curled up again, letting sleep take me.

When I woke again, it was late afternoon, and Tealla was the only one left by me.  I nudged her awake with hands that looked nearly normal.  “It’s time I got back to the others,” I told her.  “Thank you for helping me.  Thank the other Folk for me, too.”

“Of course,” she replied.  She butted me affectionately, and took the shore route down from the wall, saying something about treating herself to some fish.  I followed the wall down to the larger entrance near the courtyard in Clockhaven, and made my way back to the hideout in the theater.  I saw other people on the streets, most in various stages of recovery–and several looking quite sheepish.  I felt rather the same way as I hurried by the building where I’d had my close call, remembering now that it was the Melniks who owned it, and whom I had nearly attacked.

When I got to the hideaway, I found many of the urchins there, and learned how my friend Tepic had organized things to keep them all safe.  It made me feel rather ashamed that I had withdrawn, instead of staying to help.  Tepic also told me of an important meeting they were having tomorrow.  And with that unsettling word, I found a place to curl up–harder this night, with so many urchins about–and slept again.

Sunday

I sat at the corner table in back, watching as even more urchins crowded into the space.  Most of them weren’t known to me, though most of the others did know them, and they carried themselves as leaders–Jimmy, Myrtil, Nat, Loki, Gadget.  Myrtil started by explaining to those of us who were new some of the history of a certain man named Moriarty.  I didn’t understand much of it, but he sounded very evil.  *Then* she said that the os–the evil–beast that I’d heard of last year was this Moriarty–that his brain had been placed inside the beast!  *That* certainly brought back unpleasant memories for me.

Nat and Gadget took up the tale, telling us that Moriarty was back in the city, and back in human form.  After making us promise to keep it secret, they took us across the city to a hidden place where they are working on a way to stop this evil man.

I must admit, I very nearly fled from it.  It was much, much too like Ambrose’s room.  And as Gadget described his work, I found myself wondering, horrified, if Ambrose had somehow been reborn as this boy.  And yet…and yet, it is being done to stop an undoubted evil.  Does that evil outweigh what Gadget is doing?  I don’t know…and so I decided to stay, and keep listening.

The point was brought up that Moriarty needs to be watched–but also that it would be very dangerous for the urchins to do it.  Someone mentioned using cats, but they were stymied by issues of communicating with them.

And so, with an encouraging look from Tepic, I spoke up.  For the first time since Tepic and Stargirl, I told humans about who I am, and who I was, and that I can still converse with cats.  I said I would ask them to help us–and I think the Folk will.  The os-beast of last year was a threat to all, and I doubt the os-man Moriarty would be any different.

Afterward the meeting, I followed Nat and Gadget to the place called City Hall.  They said there was a clockwork machine there that may have some bearing on all this.  We went into a small room, where a metal man stood, with paper covered in symbols in front of it, like Ambrose’s journal.  I still cannot make sense of such, so Nat read it to me.  If I understand them correctly, they think that the pages describe what *will* happen if events now are not changed.  And what *will* happen is…terrible.  We must stop it, somehow.

I left them there to return to the theater and sleep.  I hadn’t been asleep long, though, before the two of them woke me.  They told me that just after I’d left, Moriarty found them, and threatened them!  But they were able to describe him to me, and brought me to where he is staying, in a building across from the City Hall, and described to me which room he is in.  That will help me tomorrow.

Monday

I left the hideout early in the morning, hurrying to the city gate.  I sat on my usual perch and called out for Tealla.

She must have been waiting for me, for she appeared almost immediately, running up the ramp to join me on the wall.  “You’re well now?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“Good.”  She arched her whiskers forward in satisfaction.  “Oh–and the others you live with?  All well?” she added in a somewhat belated fashion.

“Yes, all well.  But Tealla–” I laid my hand on her head, and she looked up at me soberly.  “There is another danger now.  We need the help of the Folk.  Do you remember the os-beast from last year?”

Tealla grimaced, and growled a little.  “Ugh.  Who could forget that stench?”  Then she looked up with dawning horror.  “It’s back?”

“It’s back, but in M’an form now.”  I went on to explain as much as I could, in terms she’d understand.  “We need the Folk to help us by watching him.  But Tealla, this will be dangerous.  He must be watched very, very subtly.”

“Yes,” she mused.  “We wouldn’t want everyone doing it, then.  Just those we know can keep their wits about them.”  She stood up.  “Should we go find the Elders now?”

“No.  I want to show you where he is lairing first.  Hopefully you can get his scent there.”

We walked up the ramp and back into the city.  Following the metal tracks, we were soon in sight of the place where Moriarty was staying.  “That’s it ahead,” I said to Tealla.  A flicker of movement at the building’s entrance sent me ducking immediately behind a crate.  Tealla leaped on top of the crate and sat down, tail curled around her feet, like any of the cats in the city.  “A M’an has come outside,” she said softly, “but he’s not looking this direction.”

I quickly peeked around the crate, and saw a man dressed as Nat and Gadget had described.  “That’s him,” I said, bringing my head back out of sight.  “Get close enough to get his scent, and then come back.  There’s no need to follow him yet.”

Without a word, Tealla leaped down and trotted down the street.  I kept myself hidden, hoping Moriarty wouldn’t come in my direction.  After several moments of agonized waiting, I heard Tealla call once, before she joined me in my hiding place.

“He was heading toward the docks,” she said.  “I got close enough for a good scent, before breaking off and going into an alley.  This M’an’s scent isn’t *quite* like the os-beast, but it’s very close.”

“All right.”  I thought for a moment.  “Let’s go inside and find his room.  Hopefully none of you will ever have to enter the building, but just in case…”  We scampered to the entrance and slipped inside unnoticed.  I found the door in the area the two boys had described, and Tealla confirmed that Moriarty’s scent was there.  We found a back entrance to make our escape, and began following alleyways east.

“Let’s find the Elders,” I said, “and get our help.”

The Elders were helpful indeed, ready to accept the challenge and full of useful suggestions of whom among the Folk would be able to handle the job.  We decided that I would receive their reports at a place inside the large City Wall, close to the gate.  That would be, hopefully, far enough away from any place Moriarty would know, but still relatively close to the urchins’ hideout.  Tealla took the Elders toward the building to let them get the scent, and I went to find Nat and Gadget, and let them know our plans.

But there is one thing I haven’t told them–the journal of Ambrose.  All their talk of how Moriarty’s brain was put inside the beast…could it be that something in Ambrose’s journal might help them understand how that is done, might even give them a clue to destroying him?  But what would the boy Gadget do with that information afterwards?  What if…what if *he* started doing the same thing?

No.  I’ll wait.  I’ll wait until I know more about Gadget, before I decide.

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