Arnold tried to piece together what he had seen and heard since arriving so that it made sense to him, but Metier was waiting for him at the top of the lift. He growled at the dead man, who was apparently happy to see him.
“Don’t worry, you won’t have to talk to me!” Henri said, placating him and then gestured for him to follow. “It’s just that a few of the others wanted me to get your attention for them!”
“Who?!” Arnold asked suspiciously, wanting to avoid a worse fate than the last time he followed the madman.
“Just a few wandering spirits who would like to help you get back home!” Henri chuckled and walked off leaving him there. Arnold frowned as he wondered how Henri had known he didn’t belong here. Debating with himself for a few minutes he growled and chased after the shimmering being.
“I’m actually glad that I was able to help your other side,” Henri commented as they made their way to the graveyard behind the Mechanix Arms. “I wasn’t so sucessful here.”
“Good!” Arnold shouted as he followed the apparition.
Henri laughed and continued to lead him forward, talking, “Maybe she’ll take matters into her own hands before the end comes.” Arnold wondered what he was talking about, but he decided there was no point in trying to figure it out. They arrived at the cemetary and Henri then waved and left him alone with spirits he had never seen before, and without introducing them.
A small girl stepped forward though, “Hello, it’s good to finally meet you.” She said sweetly, if sadly. “My name is Evie.” He said hello, and she introduced Mac, Daniel, and Sophie behind her. “You know this isn’t your Babbage?” she asked and the cat nodded. “I wish Tepic was here so he could help you get back home…but he left in the middle of October.”
Arnold blinked in surprise, and Mac added. “Many of the new urchins were already making him feel the need to leave the city in September. When they started to fight amongst themselves he left saying he was going on walkabout.”
“I wanted to tell him everything that was happening so that he wouldn’t go,” Evie said sadly. “The city needed him!”
“You couldn’t tell them anything they didn’t already know,” Sophie told her softly, bending down to her level. “Not safely…not without reprecussion…”
“So you couldn’t tell them anything about the dark aether?” Arnold asked, and Daniel shook his head.
“No, we couldn’t,” The ghost replied. “Metier tried riddles, and the knight Sebastion did his best to warn the men of faith, and the spirit tried to reach out to her citizens, but many did not take their warnings of Babbage’s danger to heart before the Aether got to them.”
Arnold considered this for a moment, and then mused aloud, “Without the writer…” Arnold paused, “No…it wasn’t the writer alone…without the events at the Town Hall with everyone gathered together no one would have had reason to take them seriously or to even think there was a chance that the city would be destroyed at first.” Arnold recalled leaving that same town hall trying to ignore the issue completely, but fortunately he had been in the minority.
It was at the same meeting that the Van Creed had revealed that they were in town again. How much longer had it taken the people to originally discover that he wondered…without that one moment where they all came together they must have been a scattered lot. Some staying in their homes and affected by the Aether before they even knew its name or that they should resist it. Others investigating the strange devices on their own only as a curiosity and without feeling the need to coordinate their findings…a world where the aether had gotten people like Mariah to protect its eyes.
There were things he still didn’t understand though, “Wasn’t this world in the future?”
Daniel answered. “Though you recieved a visitor from our future, Babbage’s present is set. Our time and yours shall exist side by side for now, and we will continue to co-exist for a time along the same path.” He paused and looked up towards the stars. Arnold glanced up but didn’t see anything at first…but after a moment he felt it too. “There are other Babbages, other worlds out there, but unlike them our world broke itself in order to save itself. Unlike them our world will not last…this reality, that never was, will cease to exist sometime after the moment of its creation.”
After Jimmy departed he probably meant, the moment that still had to occur for Arnold’s world to be allowed to become the new reality, “How long?”
“Days. Two weeks perhaps…but it will cease to be.” Daniel replied softly, unhappily. “The only console this gives us is we may not be merged into the other worlds the Dark Aether invades…”
“There is only one Dark Aether…but it is capable of manifesting in more than just one existence,” Daniel explained grimly and Arnold grimaced at the thought. “It is not only your Babbage or ours that is in danger. It wishes to consume all.”
Arnold shook his head, trying not to think about other worlds or what it would be like to manifest in more than one world…he had trouble keeping track of where he was now at the moment. Besides, his own world was in enough trouble without worrying about any other Babbage. But as he looked down at Evie and the others he did have to ask…”What will happen to everyone here?”
“The living will cease to exist.” Daniel informed him. “If we are lucky, someone may intevene before and merge them with their counterparts in the world that has become the reality. That is unlikely, your world has been made fragile enough. Even if it did they would only remember their other life after they are dead.”
Sophie added more, “The living who have fallen into the cracks will never be able to return here…and those of us who are already dead in this world will be forced to the realms beyond life and beyond time.”
Arnold turned to the four slowly, he had seen some of the places they might end up and commiserated for them. Only Mac didn’t look completely disappointed, “You won’t be able to enter our world?”
“We already exist in that world,” Daniel informed him. “Unless something intervenes and merges us…we will be forced to move on.”
Arnold remained silent for their fate for a short time, and then asked another question, “You seem to be aware of other worlds, my world…how?”
“That’s an awareness that comes with being dead,” Sophie answered. “We can see what is, what was, or what could be without filter. Even now we are trying to save this world with that gift, despite that which prevents us from doing so.”
“So you can’t share your knowledge freely with the living…and even though you know you are a world that must die you’re still attempting to try?” Arnold asked.
“We can’t just give up on Babbage,” Evie told him. “If we did how could we live with ourselves after she was gone?” He didn’t know what to say to that, but he nodded in appreciation of their tenacity.
“How can you share it with me freely then?”
Mac shrugged, “We haven’t told you anything about the Dark Aether except that it can be in more places than one even though it only comes from one place. And you can share that knowledge now at your own risk!” Arnold grimaced slightly. He didn’t want to talk about this when he got home, but he would certaintly avoid that topic now.
“It is November 30th,” Daniel said, catching Arnold’s attention. “In our world and in yours.”
“November 30th?!” Arnold shouted in surprise. He had only been gone 18 days?! After all of that?!
Daniel didn’t so much as nod, “You found this world by following your connection to your witch. Follow it again to your own world.”
Arnold nodded as he glanced down at his chest, there was a difference, miniscule, but he could now discern them. He said goodbye to Evie and then broke out into a run away from Clockhaven. It was even more difficult this time than it was the first, but he pushed himself harder and the world began to blur together as he tried to focus on home…but that darkness that pushed and resisted him was too much this time around. He hadn’t slept or eaten in some time…but he wouldn’t quit now that home was so close.
But just as he felt like he was about to make it home, he felt knocked off course and fell to the ground in a strange place. When he sat up and looked around he found himself he was staring at several large dark flesh creatures with boney legs and a large eye at the centre.