Arnold found himself in an extravagant garden, with marble walkways and pillars, and a massive fountain that was a few feet away. Butterflies and birds chirped while fluttering between trees. He felt something wrong about this garden, it felt…wrong. But his watch was ticking and he at least meant to explore, before he saw a familiar face he did not want to see.
Arnold prepared himself to fight the man with the pine hair, who hailed him, “There you are Jester! I was hoping I would find you first!” The man looked him up and down happily. “I wish to congratulate you on the entertaining chase that you have given the Lady!”
He knew the answer already but he asked without thinking, “Chase?”
“Oh, you have made the Lady quite upset, and rightfully so for someone in her position! She can’t be forgiving to a servant that’s escaped of course, not even one in your pitiful situation!”
Arnold shrugged and began to back away from the fae, “I’ll find my way home somehow.”
The pine-haired man waved his hand, “Oh, not that situation! I mean your dream self!”
The cat froze, how could the man know about Id? “What do you mean?!”
“Do you not know?” The man with the pine hair giggled. “Oh you poor fellow! Doomed from the start, and you do not even know why!”
Unnerved, the cat yelled, “What are you talking about?!”
Before answering the man reached out a hand to a nearby robin, which landed on the tip of his finger and moved up to his shoulder. “I have only ever met two of the Folk that have split their being in the way that you have. One tragically managed to pull herself back together,” He lamented. As he spoke more of the birds began to fly around him looking to perch.
His momentary disappointment was replaced by amusement a moment later, “The other is now quite a joy! The Lady carts her out occasionally and we dress her up in funny clothing, and throw her food while she raves about one thing or another! It is quite entertaining! If the Lady wasn’t going to kill you, I am sure the two of you would have provided excellent amusement!”
Arnold stared at the creature horrified, “What are you saying?! What’s going to happen to me?”
“You are going to die at the end of the chase,” The pine replied as if this was the only possible outcome. “I am lamenting that you will not survive long enough to become convalescent!”
“You’re saying that I’m going to go mad then, is that it?!”
The man’s laughter was rich with melody, it did not scare the birds or butterflies away from him, “Everyone is mad, Jester! You will have simply become a lot less capable than some I would say!” With a grin he asked, “Tell me, do you know if this garden is real? Or if it and everything in it exists only because someone willed it to be?”
As he asked that the garden began to crumble to a ruin. The fountain dried, the birds evaporated, and the plants were lifeless, and the ticking noise Arnold had thought was his watch ceased. The pine-haired man turned to the unsettled cat, “How is one to ever know if they are not creating their own worlds?”
Arnold didn’t want to hear him. He didn’t want to think about anything they’d said at all. He tried to think of Dr. Maddox and how much he wished he was home right now…
That was when he saw it…a string that he hadn’t noticed before… he picked it up gently and on the other side he knew… she was on the other end. He bounded forward, ignoring the man’s cries for him to come back, and followed the string instead of retreating to the nothingness.
He was traveling somehow he knew, but he didn’t want to stop and think about it. He kept running, but as he tried to follow it he felt pushed aside, a resistance he couldn’t see was in the way. It felt…dark.
Grimacing he pushed through, focusing as much as he could on Maddox and the hotel where he had been last. Everything blurred around him, it was becoming harder to think as he passed through light and darkness alike. He closed his eyes, and gritted his teeth and went forward…
Arnold shook his head groggily. He felt like he had hit his head against something hard. He looked up at a brick wall and then looked around to get his bearings. He slumped against the wall rubbing his head.
The cat breathed in deeply, and coughed lightly. He sat up suddenly and looked around sniffing. There was no doubt that was New Babbage air. And that was the back of the Excelsior! Looking about he discovered that the wall with the crack on it had been torn down…but everything else was the same. The tracks, the station, the buildings… it was New Babbage!
He was sure that he could feel Maddox, though she was distant. But it didn’t matter. He had left her in Mondrago with that hair problem. He began to rush towards main street, happy to be home. It lasted for only a few moments when he heard yelling nearby at city hall.
He hadn’t been home. But he didn’t know that at the time. Despite that the meeting with the man with the pine-hair had disturbed the feline more than any of his other encounters in the realms outside his own. They had known about Id somehow, and were actually looking forward to what happened if he never came to peace with her.
He had to wonder, despite himself, if the man had been right. What if some of those realms had been of his own creation or were nothing more than his own mind? He knew he shouldn’t trust the man, but that had been where the idea had begun.
He knew that he had run into Tepic…that had been real on one level or another…or had Tepic walked into his mind?
He didn’t like the thought of that, and he could never be sure…not until he had repaired the one thing which had not been set right with him yet…Id.
He walked home beside the doctor without telling her any of this. She would worry about him more than she already did and all her training would go out the window as a professional. He needed Dr. Maddox, not his friend who would only lose focus on the way he needed to approach his therapy. He wasn’t ready to confront his issues with that yet…but he had already decided that he would after he finished his story.