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The Lifeline (Part 2)

Swarms of birds descended upon Tepic almost instantly.  Ravens, crows, magpies, whipporwills, and carrion birds of all shapes and sizes attacked him and he could feel them trying to carry him away. He snapped at them, but they weren’t deterred, and he couldn’t use his slingshot without letting go of the cord.  

Rushing forward, following the string, Tepic tried to escape pushing through the swarm and found himself in a long corridor with several turns.  He could still feel the birds outside watching him…displeased at their loss.

Tepic checked himself, and was content that he wasn’t harmed.  At worst his clothes had a few more scratches in them, but he could patch that up later.  For now he checked his possessions to make sure that he hadn’t lost anything important.  If the birds outside were preventing Mr. Arnold from coming out then he needed to be prepared.  

He still had his two pebbles of magnatized haematite, Myrtil’s tears, his sling, marbles, a small knife, a retractable pocket knife, a flat folding lantern, matches, several dead fresh-ish voles, some dice, a pencil with small ratty looking notebook, a roll of lockpicks, a small jemmy, and the net he had been hoping to catch the birdy with….

Tepic frowned at his small arsenal, but he hadn’t been expecting trouble from all those birds when he started so he was a little under equipped.  The boy shrugged, there was nothing to do for it now, and followed the string down the maze of passages.  

There were faded paintings along the walls; many were cracked and some had crumbled to rubble, he examined them in passing, but were only of some old biddy or some sort of bird, though not corvines.  As he walked the passages he could hear a wolf howling in the distance and sometimes the snapping of jaws, and the death throes of some avian.  

Tepic kept his hand round the string, grabbed the weighted net and hoped he’d find Arnold and not some giant bullman soon.  After what felt like an hour of twists and turns he arrived at a building, where Id was standing, as Arnold often stood, though dressed more flamboyantly in a silk shirt and jerkin, with leather trousers that Tepic might have expected to see worn by pirate lasses from Armada.

“ello, yer must be the bit of Mr Arnold called Id?”

“Yes,”  Id replied.  Physically she looked the same as Mr. Arnold, except her eyes were orange, but the way they held themselves was completely different.  None of Arnold’s neurotic twitches crossed her face and she didn’t seem mere seconds away from yelling.  “I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you more before now.  Arnold and the wolves need you.”

“The WOLVES need me?” Tepic asked, slightly incredulously, “An where is Mr Arnold?”

“You’re standing on him.”  Id replied with a soft smile.  “This place is Arnold, more or less.  A representation at least.  What do we look like to you?”

The boy looked down at his feet, as if wishing he could levitate before replying “Well, yer look like Mr Arnold, cept fer yer eyes, an yer look like a pirate lass…… everything else looks like a run down building, ain’t been swept in a long time, an a bit like one of them old painting places…”

“A pirate?”  Id actually laughed, “Well, perhaps.  The pictures are Arnold’s memories.  They used to be more clear and focused, until Cortman.”  She growled softly, before continuing, “As for the wolves,  I thought that you would be eager to help Rasend.”

“Well yeah, I want’s ter help Tenderpaws, cus he’s in trouble, but yer said wolves, that means more’n one…. us foxes an wolves have always had a sort of…. fruit drink arrangement, yer know, an cordial…, we don’t bother them, they don’t bother us..”

“If you want to save Rasend, and we need that, we have to work with Janus.” Id told him, and then after a moments hesitation added, “He was the wolf that Bookworm shot the other night.”

“errrrr…….. the one as wanted ter do Mr Arnold in?”

“Janus didn’t want to.  The wolf in him was compelled by the raven. That’s no longer a concern.”

“oh…. well, if yer sure… so what do we do now? Could always get some paint an try ter fix up them paintings..?”

Id smiled, “I need you to keep following that connection and find his center.  He may listen to you.  He won’t listen to me.”

Tepic looked at his circled fingers, and let his eyes follow the thread, noting where it led.

Id went to the door of the building and opened it, allowing Tepic inside.  The pictures here were less faded and ruined, but Arnold wasn’t in them.  In fact they seemed to tell the story of some cats.  They started as normal looking house cats, until one painting where they had gathered into a group in a forest and seemed to shift a bit even as he looked at the image.  After that they started to slowly grow bigger.  There were some gruesome paintings in this depicting horrid points in history as cats were drowned, crushed, and struggling to surviv in a dense forested area.  

Id indicated the pictures, “This is how it all began.  His ancestors tried to change what they were, so that they would no longer have to serve.  They broke themselves, and as they did they continued to devolve into…well what Arnold was.” Id replied sadly. “Most of them are like him.”

“Ain’t nothin wrong with Mr Arnold,” Tepic said, defending his friend even from himself, or herself.  “Cept he don’t see himself as he is… an ain’t it your history too?”

“It is,” Id replied. “But this is how Arnold began, and why I came to be.  There was something broken about him, and there was a part of him that wanted to be right again.  That was me.  But…” Id couldn’t help but grin at Tepic a bit ruefully.  “I did it in a way that may have distanced us a few times.”

“Yer don’t say…” the lad grinned back, “Guess we should find the rest of ‘im an get yer all back together then?”

“With your help, I hope to do that.”

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