He felt cold water on his forehead covering his eyes, he moved groggily to remove it, but a small hand to his right prevented him, “I already told you, it’s best to leave that alone.”
The cat grimaced at her touch, as if he’d been burned, and he laid back for the moment trying to remember what had happened. He recalled the fires and trying to reach a group of people. They must have helped him after all…
“I’m telling you, it’s not human. He probably doesn’t even speak our language.” Another young voice added to his left, this one slightly deeper than the other.
A third, excited, person added from next to the young woman clutching his claw, “He’s wearing a top hat! If it wears a top hat it has to be able to talk! How else could it buy the hat?!”
The voice to the left sighed, “Aside from stealing it you mean? Besides, he’s been awake and hasn’t said anything.”
Arnold grimaced, he certainty didn’t recall being awake before this moment, but pushed it out of his memory for now as he tried to get his bearings. He felt cool rock underneath him, and he could hear the trickle of water suggesting a stream nearby as well as several distant drips of water. “Where am I?”
There was the vague sound of several people turning towards him in surprise, “See! He can talk!”
“You’ll be lucky if you didn’t go blind, walking about up here like that!”
“Up here?” Arnold asked groggily.
“You don’t know?” A muffled, but feminine, voice asked suspiciously bringing the total to four people with him in what he assumed was a cave.
“You’re on the surface!” The exited one yelled, and Arnold moved to cover his ears. “The Light nearly burnt you to a crisp!”
“The light?” Arnold shook his head confused, though only slightly due to the wet cloth. He recalled vaguely his desperation and looking for a realm of light but this hadn’t been what he’d had in mind. “I thought the light would help…”
“That’s what we thought too,” the muffled voice said softly. “That’s what we all thought, until it was abused…” Arnold wondered how light could be abused for a few moments, but she continued, “My name is Jaeger by the way.” He was slightly surprised and he couldn’t help but ask if she liked to wear hats. The woman paused for a few moments and then said, “…not especially. Why?”
“Never mind,” Arnold replied, it had been a stupid question after all. “My name is Arnold.”
“It’s good to- ” the woman holding his hand began, but the excited one interrupted her.
“I’m Nicholas, though you can call me Nick.” He seemed to be moving about here as if gesturing towards them. “This is Finn, and that’s Willow.”
Arnold noticed the individual on his left ground his teeth for a second before he answered, “He can’t see where you’re pointing, stupid.” The man on his left touched his shoulder. “I’m Willow.”
Finn let go of Arnold’s hand and more water dampened the cloth on his eyes, “Well, Arnold…it’s a good thing we ran into you when we did…how have you survived on the surface for so long?”
Arnold didn’t think that it was a good idea to tell them that he had only just gotten here, but he couldn’t think of a good partial truth either, “I didn’t mean to end up there…I was just trying to escape.”
“Something was chasing you?” Jaeger asked, with an edge to her voice.
He was glad she said things and he was able to nod. “Yes.”
This set off a lot more bickering and arguing than he had intended, “Great, they’re up here too…” “If they are we can’t just leave him here.” “We have bigger problems than a lost cat!” They said many other things that didn’t make sense to Arnold, but he was getting the impression that they were dealing with problems of their own in whatever realm this was…and he was getting the feeling that this had nothing to do with the dark aether.
A loud roar ended their argument, and there was the sound of metal and boots as the others left him alone with Finn to investigate. Arnold removed his blind, and looked about, ignoring his bodies many protests. But though he could ignore those his vision was impaired. He could barely make out the passage ways, but Finn and everything was blurred horribly.
Several roars resounded in the cave, causing Arnold to jump back and ready himself as he made out vague flashes of red light from ahead. But what made his hackles rise was a brief scent that had only lasted for an instant, possibly imagined, of azalea’s.